“You won, you won,
you won, you fascist!”
“Shhhh. Stop that, Karen. You goof.” The auditorium parking
lot was almost empty, but some of the judges stood by the Master of
Ceremonies’ Cadillac, laughing loudly, watching the girls retreat
across the asphalt. Doors slammed as losing contestants found their
Lainie dropped into her Volkswagen. She was grinning. Karen slid into
the bucket seat next to her and retrieved a bottle of champagne from
“That story about chasing the peas around with your fork won it
for you,” said Karen as she twisted the wire from the bottle.
“And because you’re a fascist like the rest of them, of
“Oh stop. I’m just as liberal as you are. Open that
outside, will you?”
“Er, no you’re not, sorority girl.” Karen rolled down
the window. Put the bottle out and popped the cork. Liquid dripped over
her hand has she handed it to Lainie.
Lainie took a long swig, wiped her mouth, handed the Champagne back.
“I never told that pea story before. Who knew I could be
“You even had me in stitches. But those questions, damn,
they’re so lame. Wouldn’t you think they’d ask about
what’s going on in the world? Get with the times?”
“Those people don’t give a shit about Bill Allen’s
firing, the demonstrations, people’s rights, or anything else
that has to do with us.”
“Now you see? That’s exactly, why I don’t get why you
did this. You act like you don’t care about things, but you
Lainie shrugged. Karen had been her freshman room mate and they were
still close though Karen was a staunch “Independent” and
Lainie was a Greek. She flipped the radio on full blast and started
singing along to “Dancing in the Street,” Karen joining
her, the windows of the VW rolled down, salt breeze cooling their
When she saw the flashing lights, the angled sheriff’s car, and
the sawhorse roadblock up ahead, Lainie slowed down and edged close to
the curb. Karen tossed the nearly-empty champagne bottle into the
bushes. They sat up straighter in their seats.
“Cops... assholes.” muttered Karen.
The county sheriff’s deputy dipped his head down to the window,
the beam of his flash light picking out the face of each girl,
lingering on Lainie who was driving, the tiara still tangled in her
“Turn that noise off.” His voice was gruff.
Lainie shut down the radio and her ears rang with the sudden stillness.
The usual party racket, the laughter, music, car horns, the hum of Isla
Vista at night was missing. Far off, a dog barked, followed by a single
shout, and then another.
“Would you step out of the car please. Bring your
The girls exchanged glances and did as they were told. The other deputy
moved to the passenger side and reached for Karen’s elbow. She
yanked her arm away and hurried around the car to stand next to Lainie.
“Have you been drinking?” the first deputy asked as he
snatched their licenses.
“No…sir. I…we came from the Miss Santa Barbara
He studied her from tiara to high heels. “Really?” He
didn’t sound impressed.
Lainie looked down at the white and gold sash cutting across her blue
strapless gown. “I won.”
Karen let out an exasperated sigh. “Do we look like we’re
out here protesting?”
“Have you been smoking marijuana?” The deputy said.
“Miss Santa Barbara doesn’t smoke marijuana.”
“Stop it,” Lainie hissed at Karen, then turned to the
deputy. “I had to be there…at the pageant…early and
I guess I forgot we might have trouble getting back in. I’m
sorry. I live just a couple of blocks from here.”
“Wait here.” The deputy signaled his partner and walked
back to their sedan. The girls swayed toward each other. When Karen
mouthed the word “pigs,” Lainie glared at her. She was cold
and tired and her feet hurt.
“You,” said the deputy pointing to Lainie, “stand in
the headlights of your vehicle.”
She did it. She wasn’t drunk. She could pass the test. All she
wanted was to get back in the car and go home.
The deputy handed the licenses over to his partner and positioned
himself in front of the car, just out of the beams. Took his time
before he spoke. “Stand straight. Hold your arms out from your
sides, parallel to the ground.
Lainie did this.
“Bring your left index finger to your nose.”
Lainie did this.
“Walk toward me one foot in front of the other.”
Lainie did this.
When she finally reached the deputy in the shadows—he was farther
back than she’d thought—he stepped in close to her, fast,
his lips touching her ear. She flinched but his right hand gripped her
shoulder. “So Miss Santa Barbara, you’ve been
drinking,” he whispered. She tightened up, thinking, nothing can
“But…” he murmured as he slid the back of his left
hand down the front of her dress.
She thought, biting hard on her lip, he can’t really do anything
His hand was rough and hard inside her dress. His fingers
pinched her nipples.
Feeling her nose clog, tears verging, she thought, there are other
His breath was moist in her ear.
“Keep your fucking mouth shut.” He pinched her again, then
his hand slithered out and he stepped away, hollering to his partner.
“She’s okay to drive.”
Lainie stumbled back to the car, Karen already inside. The
deputy’s bulk darkened the window. Both girls jumped. He handed
them their IDs, gave them a cheerful “Drive safe,”
and smacked the roof of the Volkswagen.
Once Lainie managed to get the car into second, Karen asked,
“What did he say to you over there in the dark?”
Lainie closed her eyes, her face hot. Kept her voice even.
“Don’t drink and drive.”
“Really? That’s it?”
The Volkswagen jerked and stalled. Lainie shifted back into
first, restarted the engine. As the car jolted forward, she said, voice
barely audible. “You’re right, you know. Cops are pigs.”
Embarcadero del Norte was lit by apartment windows, street lights; cars
moved slowly toward the Loop; one or two going past the Volkswagen the
other way. Students in groups stood on lawns drinking beer.
Somewhere ahead, Lainie spotted a column of smoke. “What’s
that burning up there?”
“I can’t tell. Let’s park and go see.” Karen
was already reaching into the backseat for a sweatshirt.
“Here’s my street,” said Lainie, starting to turning
left. “You can go if you want, but—”
Sirens blared in front of her. Lainie hesitated, then slammed the
brake. Two deputy sheriff’s vehicles whizzed by heading out
of town, both of them almost clipping the Volkswagen. Karen screamed
out the window, “Pigs!” Lainie’s feet came off
the gas and clutch and the VW stalled again, this time in the middle
of the intersection. Another cop car swung around them and the two
girls bailed out of the car, racing to the sidewalk.
A couple of guys ran over. “You okay?” And pulled them back
toward their fraternity house, out of the way of the deputies
retreating on foot.
Lainie was breathing hard, leaning over, her eyes focused on a folded
paper cup in the grass. Karen kept yelling,
“Pigs! Pigs!” and Lainie wanted to shut her up before one
of the uniforms decided to use his baton, but her head was spinning.
She could still see the flashers of the first cop car as it sped by,
and realized she’d thought she might just keep turning left, keep
going, get out of this mess, even if the cops smacked into them.
She’d actually had that thought and now she was angry. She might
have killed herself and Karen too if the car’s engine
hadn’t cut out. She looked toward the Loop.
She could see now the smoke was coming from a car turned on its side,
flames licking out of windows. In front of that came a crowd of people,
pounding trashcans, from Perfect Park toward the bank. Karen was
talking to one of guys who’d dragged them away from the sidewalk
and was telling her that some kid had been run over, the cops had aimed
the nose of their vehicle right at him. He’d been taken by
ambulance to Hope Memorial. No one knew for certain if he survived.
Lainie tugged on Karen’s arm. “Let’s go.”
Karen turned, her eyebrows pulled together, her face flushed.
“You go home if you want to,” she said. “I’m
“No,” said Lainie, nodding her head toward the crowd that
had caused the deputies to retreat. “Let’s go see
what’s going on.”
Two of the frat boys came with them, walking along the sidewalk. The
street was sweet with the smell of marijuana, booze, and bodies.
Tension ricocheted from one person to another. Sly Stones’ We are
Family wove its way through the sirens, the rumbling conversations, the
shouted slogans “7-7-7-7-6, no more bureaucratic
The windows of the Bank of America were broken, shards of glass
scrunching under their feet. They stood at first on the edge of a group
of on-lookers, talking, arguing, some faces creased with concern.
There was another group too. The ones who seemed convinced that
what they were doing was right. They were the ones clapping trash can
lids, chanting, “Power to the people.” They absorbed the
bystanders, mingled among them, infecting many with their anger. The
energy connected them, turned them into one.
She looked at Karen who pumped her fist high in the air. “Power!
Power! Power!” Music floated around them, a flute in time with
the beat of the trash lids. Lainie chanted along.
Someone shouted. Everyone turned to see curls of smoke coming from the
bank, flames lighting the darkness. Lainie and Karen moved
closer. In the center of the bank, broken chairs, data reports,
papers, parts of tables made a huge bonfire. Other scattered debris
smoldered or burned. Some guy was inside trying to put one of
them out, but as the heat built, he came coughing through the shattered
front of the bank.
After a while, the crowd grew quiet as the brick building became
engulfed in flame. Light winds off the ocean fed the fire. Karen, her
face red and perspiring, took Lainie’s hand and whispered,
“You don’t look much like Miss Santa Barbara
“Huh,” Lainie said and kept staring into the bright orange
“Can I ask what really happened with that deputy,” Karen
said. “Something happened.”
Lainie gave her a grim smile, then reached down and yanked off the Miss
Santa Barbara sash. She let it go and a breeze tumbled it over the
sidewalk toward the fire.
Degani has published in journals and anthologies including The Best of
Every Day Fiction 2008 and TWO (2009). Nominated for a 2008
Pushcart, her online stories can be read at Smokelong Quarterly, Short
Story America, Metazen, Night Train, Paradigm, and Emprise Review, as
well as other publications. Her chapbook of short fiction,
Pomegranate, came out in December of 2009. She’s a staff editor
at SmokeLong Quarterly, edits EDF’s Flash Fiction Chronicles, and
blogs at Words in Place.