Rev. Franco peered out the window. On the boulevard, a procession of wild-eyed men in hair shirts marched, chanting and flogging themselves. A taco truck was accepting Academy Award DVD screeners as payment. An old lady pushing an oxygen tank and hauling a garish painting was making her slow, crab-like way toward . . . .
Bunny threw open the church door and shuffled in.
"Franco? Baby Franco?"
Franco gulped. Only one person had ever called him that.
It couldn't be . . . not after all these years. And not right now, when he had to come up with a new plan. The Almighty would not be so cruel as to throw him into spiritual crisis on top of the financial one. His eyes dropped lower. Ahhh. Despite himself, he reached out a trembling hand.
"So you remember," Bunny said, slapping him away. "We don't have time for that. I've come to save you. After taking your innocence all those years ago, it's only right that I give something back."
Bunny propped the painting reverently upon the carved wooden pew.
"Behold your salvation."
Franco shuddered. It was like something done for art therapy at an asylum, back when patients still got therapy. The Governator had blown such frills away one year during budget cuts, promising, "It'll be back." He'd been wrong.
The haunted eyes in the painting seemed to beg and reproach him.
"Salvation, hell," said Franco. "Damnation is more like it."
"It's an Egon Schiele, you cretin," Bunny said. "Bobby told me, before he OD'd, and I've got the provenance papers to prove it. His father looted it from Goering's bunker and smuggled it home from the war in his underwear. It's worth millions. Sell it to David Geffen. All those Hollywood types love degenerate art."
Bunny put her hands on her osteoporosic hips.
"You need to sell this painting to someone who's liquid. And Hollywood people have cash. Sinatra and Sammy had buckets of it laying around. They used it to pay off reporters, hookers, cops, blackmailers, drug dealers, illegal nannies and gardeners. Those things don't change."
"You think Geffen will put up a bundle?" said Franco, eyes shiny with hope.
"Put up your hands," said a familiar voice. "Egon be gone with us, carnal."
Angie and Rudy stepped out of the shadows. Rudy was on crutches, holding a copy of "Das Kapital" liberated from a struggling independent bookstore. Angie's gun was twice as big as the one Theresa had fired.
"R-Rudy!" stammered Rev. Franco. "What happened to Convicts for Christ?"
"Delete button, baby," said Rudy, grinning. "We broke into the hard drive and sent the whole file to 'recycle.' The last writer's slumped over her keyboard, heart gave out when the 'unrecoverable' message popped up. Make way for a whole new serial. The workers have seized the means of production, ese, and we're about to hold a little Stalinist purge in the City of Angels."
Hamilton's most recent novel is "The Last Embrace." On Saturday, she will interview Chip Flaherty on the Etc. Stage at 10 a.m. and be on the "Mysteries in Black & White" panel at 1:30 p.m. in Dodd 147; on Sunday, she will be on the "Mystery: Cold Cases" panel at 10:30 a.m. in Dodd 147 at UCLA at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.