by Richard Rushfield
E and Vince climbed up over the rim of the hill, and there they stopped to gaze down upon the ruins of the city below. Thirteen years since the SAG/AFTRA split-up and the city was still burning. Vast sections of the canvas below were nothing but charred smoldering dirt. And higher up, by the shell of the old Hollywood sign, they could make out the screams of anguish, the clatter of swords, the unholy battle cries of the Test Audiences as they stampeded down toward the deserted boulevards in search of fresh hot blood. A decade after they had fled, the marauders looked more zombie than human; more creatures infected with an untested serum than zombies.
“This is very 28 Weeks Later,” Vince said.
“I wouldn’t know,” E said, and spat out his gum. “I never saw that one. I was too busy cleaning up one of your messes.”
E gazed down at the spot of blackened earth where Kitson Men had once stood. Fifteen years ago, on that now-ravaged soil, he had bought his first $700-shirt. It was lavender. Today, you couldn’t even get a pair of Ray-Bans there.
“Let’s move out,” E ordered Vince, who dutifully followed. As they picked their way down the hill, E suddenly felt the ground slip away beneath him. His foot slid over something round. He fell to the ground, and as he laid there dazed, the object stared at him. The object was no ball, but a head. And not just any head. It was the head of Jaden Smith.
“Tell me again what we’re doing here?” Vince asked, helping E to his feet. “Jaden Smith is a bigger star than I ever was, and this is what they do with him?”
E scampered to his feet and made a defiant fist pump. “Vince, I’m not going to let them cut your head off.”
“Well that’s a relief.” Vince rolled his eyes.
“But we gotta get down there. Ari is alive.”
“According to some dehydrated D-lister who was trying to save his skin!”
E sighed. They’d been over this probably forty times since they had started their journey out of their hideout in the Fucking Epic Wasteland three months ago. “I know he’s alive. I’ve always known it. We never should have left him.”
E thought back to that night, more than a decade ago. The night the roof caved in on Hollywood. The AFTRA mondo-gangs roamed the streets, wearing the skins of SAG actors and their agents draped over their shoulders like pashminas. Bloody, acne-scarred pashminas. A mondo-gang had found their hide out, in the VIP room of Hyde. It had been years since anyone had gone to Hyde; who would have thought to even look in there? But someone had sold them out.
Someone…. E had a bad feeling whenever he thought about who that someone might be. But there had been extras everywhere, swarming over every corner of the out-of-fashion hot spot.
That night, as the mob closed in on the VIP room, Johnny Drama rose to his feet. “This is my moment, bro,” he had told them. “I’m going to give these people the performance of my lifetime.”
E begged: “Don’t do it Drama. We can all get out of this.”
“No way you’re going to step on my big scene this time, E,” Drama said. Jaw jutting forward, he fist bumped them all and, with a yell of “Viking Quest,” he leaped out onto the mobs. Vince, E and Ari had run, run faster than they had ever run before, as the AFTRA’s ripped Johnny to shreds, his voice crying out long after his body was rent asunder. Just like that, the incredible odyssey of Johnny Drama had come to a pointless end.
They had almost made it out the door when, from out of nowhere, Ari got a text message.
“Guys,” he said. “I’ve got to deal with this.”
“No, Ari. No you do not!” E had cried, realizing for the first time in his life that he loved this man, the man who had made him the talent representative he was. But through the fury of his texting, Ari could no longer hear their pleas. Vince pulled E away as the door slammed shut, and Ari disappeared from their life, forever.
In all the years that passed, there had not been a single moment when E had stopped believing that Ari was still alive. And so when that freaked-out D-lister stumbled into their batcave and had told them he had seen Ari, it was a matter of minutes before E was dragging Vinny down the road, the road back to the place that had been Hollywood.
E shook his head, as if to shake away the memories, like a bad hangover from Turtle’s rockgut Tequilla. Turtle! Missing since the first day the Viacom Gunships gravilocked over the city. How long could Turtle have lasted in that mayhem without Vince’s name to open doors for him? A week? A day? A second? Poor fucking Turtle. America’s born loser. He didn’t deserve much, but he didn’t deserve the apocalypse.
E looked Vinny in the eye. “If we don’t even try, what are we going to do? Rot in the middle of the Fucking Epic Wasteland shooting straight-to-Nexflix softcore thrillers?”
“Sounds better than having my ears cut off by a rampaging test audience.”
They stared deep into each others’ eyes. A stare-down. It was on. Locked together, they were transported back to Queens Boulevard, back so many years ago when they could only dream of driving Lamborghinis. But here they were. E took a deep breath and put his arm on Vince’s shoulder, caressing it gently.
“Oh my God, you called me Sloan again!” Vince jerked his shoulder away sending E spinning backwards into the brush.
“I did not! I called you Vince. Vincent Chase.” E’s mind reeled. How had he let that slip out? Again! He looked at Vinny, but all he could see was his Gucci-wearing ex-fiancee. They were the same size, the same hair color, the same body fat ratio. Why couldn’t Vince be Sloan?! But no, he couldn’t let himself think that way. This was Vince, his oldest friend in the world. His road dog. His bro. And Sloan was, well, Sloan was not here.
“You’re totally not over her! That’s what this is all about! We’re not looking for Ari. You’re here to get back together with Sloan!”
“Come on, that’s crazy….” Eric said.
And then a man walked into their clearing. They smelled him before they saw him and the smell was not Paco Rabanne’s Eau de Toilette. Not at all. He smelled like something had died, and then had gotten up and walked down the hill where he ran into E and….
“Well, well, well. If it isn’t Vincent Chase,” the man said.
“E! You said — “
E cursed. How had this happened? They had taken every possible step to disguise Vince before coming back to L.A. They had dressed him in Dockers and a teal button-down Oxford. On his feet, they had gone so far to put him in a pair of white New Balance sneakers. And in thirty seconds, this blundering jerk had seen through it all. Now Vince was in bigger trouble than he’d been since that time 18 years ago when he thought the Aquaman deal was final and put a down payment on a house only to find out the deal wasn’t actually totally final yet!
But E looked closer and saw that this man on the mountain was no man. It was the man they thought they would never live to see again.
“Billy Walsh,” said E. “It’s really you.”
“You got that right, suit.” Walsh spit. “Only this time, it’s motherfucking personal.”
Vince looked confused. “What is?”
“Just fucking roll with it, Aquaman.” It was Billy Walsh alright, on the outside. It had been 26 years since Johnny Bananas had become the biggest show in the history of show, or at least television, making him the richest man on Earth. But times had changed, and the hot breath of history had blown away the swagger and worn him down to man at his essence; something hard, unbreakable. Something like death. That hardness was there now in his ugly clothes, in his unbouncy walk, in that look in his eyes.
Walsh saw that they noticed the change and shrugged. “I know, fucking apocalypse, right?”
Vince shook his head. “But Billy, you’re the richest man in the world. Surely the berserkers couldn’t get to you!”
“Was the richest man on Earth. Then, just after the gunships showed up, I plowed all my money into developing a horror script for Channing Tatum.” He looked at the ground. “Now I’m only the sixth.”
“Holy shit,” E said. This was a world without mercy. He reached out and gave Walsh a piece of the squirrel jerky he’d been hoarding.
“Thanks, suit,” Walsh said. “That’s the first meal I’ve eaten in a week.”
They gazed off together at the ashes of what had been their city, their playground and their domain. “So Billy…” E broke the silence. “We heard something. We came back for Ari.”
The iron inside Billy Walsh flinched. “Whoa, suit, you did not just say that.”
“I did,” E said.
“If you’re planning to go down there after Ari, you’re either dumber than I thought — or crazier.”
E stared him straight down. “Or both.”
Walsh took a step back. “Holy shit. You really are. Now you know, suit, that Ari was #1 on the AFTRA hit list. Right above this pretty face here,” he said, gesturing to Vince.
“We know that. But we’re going after him anyway. Do you know where we can find him?”
Walsh shook his head. “I hear some things, but they’re not good. I don’t know if its true or not but I heard The Kahuna Suave has got Ari chained up as his personal galley slave.”
“The Kahuna Suave? Who the fuck is that? A new deodorant?”
“No, E, Kahuna Suave is not a fucking deodorant, he’s the man who could put you in the grave, dead, with one word. After the fall of the Studio Chiefs, Kahuna Suave swept up all their distribution, and for good measure, he got the AFTRA dancing to his tune too. He’s the fucking distributor and the supplier and the exhibitor all in one. Talk about your fucking alpha and omega.”
“Holy shit squared, suit. And if Ari is still alive, he’s in the stinking dungeon underneath his castle, living on rats. Working the phone and negotiating deals for the Kahuna until he drops where he stands. If he’s still alive, which I doubt, you’re not going to like what you find. If Ari has survived 43 years of that, he’s going to be more zombie than dude by now.”
“He’s still Ari,” E said.
“Suit, I don’t even know what that means anymore, yo.”
Despite his misgivings, Walsh was still Walsh. Within minutes he had a plan, a manuever so elaborate and desperate that anything less would seem too simple. The plan required Vince to go down into the embers and find Rachel Bilson, whom he would seduce. Bilson would then take him to lunch at her regular table on the spot where Newsroom used to be. At the last minute, E would sweep in and join them, walking in at the precise moment when the Kahuna Suave’s right hand man’s sister would come in for her lunch, as she did every day at that time. The sister, Walsh knew, was a big fan of 1920’s banjo music, so E would in the meantime have found the last remaining descendent of Rudy Vallee’s Connecticut Yankees, who was himself a big Viking Quest fan and would come in and serenade them with “Lady of Spain.” The sister would be so enamored that she would take their fake revival banjo group all home to perform. Once they got there, Walsh would ask them if he could scout the dungeon as a possible location for a bondage video he was making and there, if they were very very lucky, they would find Ari.
It was brazen plan, insane even. E estimated the chances of success at fourteen to one. But when he thought back to the close scrapes they’d had before — the time Medellin almost didn’t happen… the time Johnny Bananas almost didn’t happen… E knew they’d been through far far worse.
“Let’s do this,” E said. “Let’s go get our agent.”
An hour later, they stood on the front lawn of the Kahuna Suave’s castle, the flames of the fiery moat lapping at their bandanas. Overhead, winged jackals circled and cackled.
“Wait a second,” Vince said. “We know this house!”
Indeed they did. When they had last cruised these streets, this castle had been Hillhaven Lodge, the home of Brett Ratner, the man whose name for them had been synonymous with everything cool and fun and crazy and partyrific. This house had been like a temple to four young men with dreams in their hearts and now, now it was just a bad, bad place. For the first time, E wished to hell he’d never come on this road trip. Gods, he silently cried up to the heavens, why couldn’t you let me keep this one last illusion?
But the Gods had no answer.
The final part of Walsh’s plan worked like clockwork; they slipped into the dungeon with him. Looking around at the slaves all working their Blackberries like the troops of the damned, E saw no sign of Ari. Something about a door at the other side of the room made E suspicious, however. Something about the “DO NOT ENTER” sign made him think there was something in there that the Kahuna didn’t want them to see. At first the door refused to budge and then when he pushed slightly harder, it swung open like the gates of heaven welcoming Justin Bieber. And on the other side, bound by chains, his suit in tatters, his hairpiece askew, sat superagent Ari Gold.
With eyes dead to the world, he looked up from his conference call, ignoring the machine guns pointed at his head. Ari looked from E to Vince to Walsh, and said, “Oh, after all this time, you expect me to just lick your balls, pizza boy?”
E shook his head. Man, it felt good to be bitch-slapped by a pro once again. “Come on Ari. Let’s get out of here,” he said. Just then the door swung open. And in walked… the Kahuna Suave himself, flanked by a hundred men bearing machetes and grenades.
“Looks like we got ourselves a little house party here. Oh Vince, do you need me to give you a ride?” The Kahuna threw his head back and laughed. It was an immense laugh summoned straight from the pits of hell.
“A ride?” E asked… “No, it can’t be.” He looked at the round shoulders, the askew jaw. The Kahuna Suave… was Turtle! But a grotesque, inflated version of Turtle. Where once he had worn a baseball cap, now he wore twenty. Where once he wore a basketball jersey, now he wore an astronaut’s space suit. His eyes sparkled with menace.
Five minutes and nine plot twists later, the boys were driving down Sunset Boulevard in Turtle’s Sherman tank, trading high fives and laughing.
“Only one thing doesn’t seem right,” Vince said, his Dockers now swapped for the world’s last pair of distressed skinny jeans. “I can’t do this without Drama.”
Ari turned and hit him in the face. “If I had known anyone wanted to see that no talent putz, I would have invited him.”
Then, from the bottom of the tank, Johnny Drama leaped up. “Johnny Drama waits for no man’s call! How’s it going, baby bro?”
“Johnny,” E said. “We saw you die!”
“Funny thing about that, asshole. I am made of rubber. You are made of glue. Everything you say bounces off me and sticks to you!”
E and Vincent looked at each other and shook their heads. Then everyone laughed. “Fucking Hollywood, I know, right?” Walsh said.