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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 cars. 

Lainie dropped into her Volkswagen. She was grinning. Karen slid into the bucket seat next to her and retrieved a bottle of champagne from the floor. 

“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 course.” 

“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 funny.” 

“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 do.”

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 faces.

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 hair. 

“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 ID’s.”

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 contest.” 

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. 

“Keep coming.” 

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 happen here. 

“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 to me. 

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 people here.

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 staying.”

“No,” said Lainie, nodding her head toward the crowd that had caused the deputies to retreat. “Let’s go see what’s going on.”

“Right 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 tricks.” 

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 now.”  

“Huh,” Lainie said and kept staring into the bright orange light. 

“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.

 

Gay 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.
     
 




 





  


Copyright 2009