dot-com: The Novel

Written by John Bankston and Sean Strebin
From the screenplay and original story by Geoffrey de Valois
Copyright 2000 Digital Entertainment Group


April 16, 1991

Shay Conner couldn't imagine anywhere as desolate and ugly as Rutland Texas. She was a girl raised by the television. Every day she watched perfect images dance across the blue screen of her pawn shop Zenith. Every night those same images inhabited her dreams. Until she awoke to her reality. Rutland, there wasn't a single place more empty of hope and promise.

The patch of land where she'd collected her first twelve years was a family heirloom, grown tarnished and worn from neglect. There'd been a house, once – she'd even seen the pictures. Her daddy once told her, "there's never been a Connor alive who could hold onto anything -- 'specially somethin' beautiful."

He'd been talking about her mother, who'd left for the Winn Dixie five years back, and far as Shay knew was still in the check out line. Her daddy could have been talking about the house. All Shay knew besides the handful of crispy photographs was its grown over foundation, and a few busted in windows.

That was all.

Shay shared the family trailer with her dad, and until last year, her brother Jimmy. It lost heat in the winter; in the summer it became as stifling as a closed up car by 10 a.m. It smelled and it leaked, but it was the only home Shay had ever known. It was one reason why she hated to get up, why sometimes she wished could go to sleep forever. Shay rose from the couch, a Goodwill reject, and stretched.

The TV reception started going bad an hour before, a picture of the American flag, rolling, was consumed by static. The Star Spangled Banner drowned in the hiss and crackle of antenna buzz. It wasn't even worth watching. In the far corner, Jimmy's computer gathered dust on a rickety table.

Not very long ago, Shay would have killed hours on the thing -- Jimmy taught her to hack when she was still a third grader. Shay lost contact with her only sanctuary when the phone was disconnected five months earlier after her father's unemployment ran out. Daddy was right. We couldn't hold onto anything beautiful. Now... well, everything was different.

Shay crossed the living room floor and banged on the TV. It didn't help - the swirling red and blue turned into a sea of static. Irritated, Shay switched off the set.

Suddenly the world outside became an inside presence.

It was a Saturday afternoon, the day passed camped out before the TV. She'd been grateful for the solitude - Dad was at Taylor's with his buddies.

Jimmy.... Jimmy had died in the Gulf War 3 months before but Shay found this reality difficult to absorb - when he'd shipped out last August his tour was supposed to last a year. She hadn't been expecting him home this early, and the only way to stop missing someone was to stop thinking about them.

Shay was good at this. She was so good, so used to not thinking about him, she found it hard to believe he was really dead. He wasn't coming home. Shay sniffled as she passed by the computer and told herself it was only dust.

Earlier Shay woke to an empty trailer, if today was like all the other days, she'd go to bed with the same vacancy. If she was lucky. Once upon a time, she'd been afraid to be alone. Solitude was lonesome, even frightening, but now those emotions seemed long ago and far away. The only memory Shay let herself remember was the night when a Tornado landed in nearby county. Mom sounded so pretty when she sang. She sang all night until the storm passed. Mom only paused to wipe the tears from our eyes. Mom, why did you leave.

After her father received two captains into the living room, and learned what happened to his son, he changed. His weird attentions grew, just like his boozing. Jimmy wasn't around to protect her, so given the choice, Shay began to appreciate the quiet safe moments.

She went to the window and parted the dingy, tattered drapes. Outside the dust was thick and impenetrable as fog. Hot winds whipped up the dirt, pelting the windows with debris. Tornado weather.

Shay retreated nervously towards her bedroom. Her bare feet sent signals to her brain - four steps, three steps...two - and her toes tracked lightly over the hallway's carpet of old newspaper want ads, comic books and computer magazines.

At first the screams were quiet. Shay didn't recognize the noise as human, until the wind ebbed and she heard them - the shouts. They seemed to separate from the storm and grow distinct just as she crossed the threshold. The voices blended, merged with the storm - an orchestra of chaos.

A single shout, male and angry, rose above the din.

It was familiar.

It was Jimmy.

Shay didn't question it, didn't dispute it with logic; she believed it with her heart.

Her brother called her name.

Just like the old days.

He'd always been the one who defended her. He'd fought her battles, sheltered her when her father drank. Shay was eleven when she began to develop: she noticed how Jimmy came even quicker to the fight than before. To Shay her figure was an angry brand, attracting attentions she'd never asked for.

The week before his tour began, Jimmy kept her company at the bus stop. Sad faced Saul Peterson made a joke about nipples, then glanced in Shay's direction. Jimmy reacted. He was still viciously beating Saul when the squeal of air brakes signaled the bus's arrival. Shay climbed the stairs, and noticed the driver's straight ahead stare - ignoring the assault he'd just interrupted.

Then there was Gary. Gary was older. A lot older - old enough to be through with school and onto his third job when he finally got around to enlisting. He'd been on the periphery of Jimmy's friends, just one of the gang who hung out with her brother for his humor and easy access to beer. They wound up in the same unit.

It was a similar Saturday, about a month before Jimmy's unit was called up. Shay was alone. Opening the ratty screen door, she was struck by how odd Gary seemed. He looked like he hadn't slept in a week: his eyes dancing over baggy shadows, his hands twitching nervously against his legs. Shay told him Jimmy was out. For a moment, Gary just stood there quietly. The silence expanded and Shay grew uncomfortable. Until Gary smiled.

"Could I like, wait around a spell. I don't have anywhere else to go."

As near as Shay could remember, it was the first time he'd ever talked to her directly. She didn't say anything, just stepped back to let him in. She felt an unfamiliar tingle when he passed by. His visits became regular.

Gary seemed to know when Jimmy would be gone - he never came over when her brother was home. It became the two of them, sitting on the couch watching TV - silent except for the occasional joke which Gary would tell slowly – as if was afraid of forgetting the punch line.

Gary came over three days before he was supposed to ship out. It was a cloudy Wednesday afternoon and Shay was in a lonely place. She was by herself; for some reason she knew it was him. She'd been wearing a halter top and shorts and when he looked at her, she was glad she'd worn something sexy.

Later, when his arm brushed her chest as he reached for the bag of chips, Shay didn't say anything. In fact, she didn't say much of anything that day. But when he looked at her, she felt her face go warm. Maybe she was only twelve, but she knew what he was thinking. And then he left.

They were never alone again. The next Sunday, when Jimmy hugged her good- bye, Shay saw tears in his eyes. When she hugged Gary, his eyes were cryptic, unreadable. She knew they were headed to the front lines, where Gary boasted he'd "be in the shit, where the action is." She'd wished for a good-bye straight from a World War Two movie and got instead a mumbling "See ya."

Jimmy and Gary were shipped out without warning, four days after they arrived at the base in Plano.

Alone at night, Shay would recreate Gary, imagining him taller, smarter, better looking. Sometimes in quiet moments she'd wish there was a man like her imagined Gary in Rutland, but in her heart she knew the real Gary was the best she could hope for. Besides, the real Gary was the only man who'd shown an interest – at least the only one who wasn't related.

Alone in her dim bedroom, as the shouts and storms increased outside, Shay suddenly wished Gary was inside with her.

It was magical.

Even as Shay wished for Gary, she pulled back the blinds in her room and there he was!

Gary was moving backwards, almost dancing, one hand raised as he swam from view.

The shots were an interruption.

There were two of them, one right after the other, muffled by the storm. Shay learned to shoot when she was five. She'd shoot at cans- giggling when her daddy told her it was training for shooting at other cans - Mexicans, Africans, Native Americans - so Shay knew a gunshot when she heard it. It seemed to expand and then fill in on itself. It didn't own the distinct startle of a backfiring car, nor the brace of distant thunder.

It was gunfire, and it was right outside her window.

Shay squinted but the light was fading fast with the early dusk and shadows were indistinct. For a heart stopping moment Shay thought she saw Jimmy and she inhaled in one sharp burst. Then she realized it was just a branch, moving lazily across the rusted hulk of a '56 Bel Air her father claimed to be restoring. Last month the engine sparked a four day binge.

Shay squinted past the car, and saw movement, but she wasn't sure if it was human or just the storm. And then the screen door spanked loudly against the frame.

Someone was inside.

Daddy never got back this early.

"Daddy?" Shay heard her voice catch and climb an octave. She became aware of her own sweat, which collected in the crevasse of her lower back despite the temperature.

The living room answered with a crunch of newspapers and the squeak of bad wood. Shay retraced to the doorway, but was afraid to peer around and try to see the living room.

She'd never believed in ghosts before, but she'd never had a reason to.

"Jimmy?" She whispered her brother's name so quietly it was buried beneath the storm's violence.

A shadow tracked its way along the wall. Shay tried to see its owner, tried to remember if spirits acted like this. If they had shadows.

"No." The voice was unidentifiable, so low it too was nearly consumed by the wind. Shay wondered if she'd heard it in her head.

And then the voice spoke again.

"It's...Gary." He stepped into the lit door frame, and Shay stepped back. She knew he returned, but she hadn't tried to see him. Her dad said he'd been with Jimmy when he was killed.

Shay looked at Gary now. At first all she noticed were his eyes: they weren't focused on her, they seemed to be looking at something far away. Like he was looking through her bedroom wall. After a moment, Shay drank in the rest of him.

He was covered in dirt and leaves, blood matted in his hair, streaked down his face, tattooed his arms. His skin was blotchy. Sweat was carving tracks through the grime on his brow. Worse, there was a coppery, frightening smell to him. Shay felt sick.

She retreated until the backs of her legs hit the edge of the bed. She sat without looking, her eyes frozen on Gary. He didn't seem to notice. Instead he lowered his gaze to his feet, as if his next words were written on top of his steel-toed boots.

"Why.... Why did you call for....." Gary paused, looked up at her and then seemed to focus on a spot five feet over her head. "Jimmy's dead."

"I know." Shay said it quietly, as the storm rose outside. "I don't know, I thought...." Shay looked away embarrassed. But Gary never looked at her, his focus still far away. "Sometimes I think I see him."

"Me too," Gary's voice sounded clotted. "Tonight. Just a few minutes ago. By the old car." Shay wanted to go to Gary then, hold him, but something held her back. "Killed a deer. You can have some. If you want."


"Too much for me. Just by myself - never eat that much venison…"

Shay stood up then, and Gary stopped talking. She didn't move forward, but now she was in his eye line. "Gary...Gary, what happened that day?"

Gary looked at her carefully. He knew what day she meant. "He wasn't killed in the war. I mean, it weren't the Iraqis...." Shay felt her face grow hot, and the tears, as Gary continued. "This n***** killed him in the barracks. Give them people a gun and it's like a license for shit to happen. Jimmy got into an argument with this mud, just over bullshit and he whips out his sidearm."

Shay was about ready to unravel too.

"Shay I ain't never told nobody what went down that day. What really happened. And if I tell this to you, it’s yours - you can't give it up to anybody. Never." Shay nodded slowly, listening, but knowing what he was going to say. Already she could sense it.

"Okay." Shay spoke the word religiously.

"I shot him. The mud who killed Jimmy. I got him back. Then I fixed it to make it look like Jimmy done it himself."

Time seemed to wait even as her world melted. Shay saw herself, like an image on a screen, and she moved to Gary, ignoring his smell, and the fresh blood soaking through her shirt. She felt the muscles in his arms and sighed as Gary's fingers drew messages on the back of her neck. She felt his chest as she pressed her face against it, and cried so hard she thought she'd drown.

Gary spoke again that night - a long time later, after she'd stolen a shirt from her father's closet - not from Jimmy's room - that would be too hard. She finally stopped crying, and the two collapsed on the couch.

By that time Gary had showered and he smelled as fresh and sweet as laundry.

As Shay sank into the chintzy couch, the cushions seemed to cover her, the room began to spin, the walls billowed like sails. She told Gary how she felt, like the couch was their own boat, the trailer just part of an angry sea. Gary smiled at this, and kissed her forehead. Nothing more. And then he spoke a sentence with a breath, so the words clumped together like just one word, repeated over and over, until it clarified and made sense.

"I took care of him."

Chapter One

April 13, 2002

Tina Glover hated locking up.

At 24, she owned a condo in Reseda, a nursing degree, and had an understanding boss. Last summer, she'd met a young man at a friend's party and now Robert was hinting at marriage. Okay, he was white. Her folks back home were sure to have an issue with it. But, Jesus Christ, this was LA - in a new century.

All in all, Tina loved her life. Most mornings she'd wake up before the alarm, and she didn't mind staying late at work. She considered herself the luckiest girl in LA. She just hated locking up.

Her job at "Smithson's Walk-In Clinic" began right after her graduation three years ago, and she quickly became the nurse Dr. Smithson turned to. She was dependable. Besides, the other four were all married with kids. Tina could come in off a page - sometimes she would even stitch up the weekend rollerbladers solo.

Although Dr. Smithson signed off on all the insurance forms, he relied on Tina to double check his office manager's accuracy. Since Melissa was moderately alcoholic and forgetful, the city was usually dark by the time Tina finished.

The clinic was located in a nicer area of Van Nuys but just a block away from local gang warfare. There were a few late evenings when Tina's concentration was broken by wailing sirens. Last week, she'd heard gunshots. Dr. Smithson promised at the last staff meeting to hire a security guard; tonight as she traversed the dim office she planned to hold him to it.

The clinic itself was small - three exam rooms tucked behind a living room sized waiting area - but it wasn't set up for night time. The overhead flourescents were inadequate and as Tina set the reports on the front desk she could see nothing but shadows.

Locking up consisted of setting a timer for the lights in Dr. Smithson's private office, then covering the distance across the office to the front entrance as quickly as possible. The door itself was glass, and Tina considered its lock cheesy. Worse, the alarm couldn't be engaged until she left. Tina went into Smithson's office.

It was a study in disarray - papers and notebooks piled on one end of the desk and stacked medical journals concealed the other. She'd learned from the one time she straightened that Dr. Smithson had his own bizarre filing system.

At the desk's center was the phone. Tina checked her watch - 8:20. T.G.I.F. she thought. So - should she call Robert? A first year associate at a downtown law firm, he was the only one she knew who worked harder - and later than she did. He probably wouldn't be done until ten. And besides, the two had already made plans for tomorrow. She didn't want to seem smothering. Tina decided to head home - maybe take a bubble bath. Hopefully, 10 hours of sleep.

Tina stood. The berber carpet cracked loudly and with it a shiver which worked it's way down her spine. "Breathe, girl," she commanded herself. The office answered with silence. She moved the timer and set the lights. The lights dimmed.

God, I hate this shit.

She hurried out of the office with her nerves tingling, her heart a snare drum with a jazz beat. Maybe I should start meditating or something, Tina thought, I'm too young for a heart attack. Then again, maybe Smithson should get us better security. When Tina reached the reception desk, she could see the door just a few feet away. It looked open. She squinted in the dead light, feeling suddenly cold and nervous. "It's the light. That's all." she whispered to herself.

She moved forward, attempting to determine if the slice of brightness cutting into the lobby, was an optical illusion - or the moon. Or something?

"Where you going, bitch?"

The voice arrived low and throaty, generic cigarettes with a Southern twang. Tina spun towards the direction of the voice, her arms already raised, but he was on her too quickly. In her head, she was running through the women's self-defense course she'd taken at the Y, even as she heard herself say, "I'll give you all my money if you'll go."

He didn't respond.

"Or drugs....Drugs? That's it, you want drugs. We have some - but..." Tina's voice trailed off in fear.

The man said nothing. His arms tightened around her as she felt the heat from the stranger's body.

Tina yanked her arm free and raked her nails across his face, but she missed his eyes. She didn't miss his temper. His hand reached up and collapsed around her fingers. She felt her knuckles pop.

"Aw, fuck - stupid bitch," she heard the attackers' drawl thicken as she felt herself rise off the floor. He hit her - harder than she'd ever been hit before. All she could hear was the rush of air escape from her body when she hit the floor behind the reception desk. Instinctively, senselessly - Tina back pedaled across the floor.

To the nearest examining room.

Another man was already there.

She saw the lights and cameras. Saw their faces for a flashing instant before they put the black hoods on.

"And Satan laid with Eve and spawned cursed demon Jews."

The frayed ropes tightened and cut deeper into her wrists. She felt herself bent over the examining table. She noticed her hands were tied in front of her and her legs - held down – spread open.

Oh God!

“Then Satan made vile little brown, yellow and black sub-humans from the mud. They’re not people. They have no soul”.

And then Tina heard her own voice. It seemed to come from another place, another person. It sounded like the cries of a helpless little girl.

"Please. Don't do this to me. You don't need to hurt me. I'll do anything you want." Tina pleaded. Sweat of desperation poured from her face.

"Oh, I know you will," a voice whispered in her ear, "you'll die for me. You're gonna be famous you 'lil mudrat."

Tina smelled cigarette smoke, then something else. Suddenly, her body arched upward as she felt pain, pure pain sear through her body. Tina smelled the stink of burning flesh. Her burning flesh. At that moment, time froze as she screamed and screamed. Tina's vocal cords were course when she finally passed out. Not from the pain, but from exhaustion. Her body went numb what felt like hours ago. Just before disappearing into this netherworld, Tina heard a man's voice cut through her pain.

"Racial Holy War!"

Shay felt nervous. Gary was late. Again.

She'd shown up at the recording studio twenty-minutes ago on time at 10 p.m. So far, the only other person around was the engineer, a clean-cut kid with stringy blonde hair. He'd be kind of cute, if he'd just stop staring at me, Shay told herself. Then again, maybe it's not my tits. Maybe it's the fuckin' White Power t-shirt Gary got me for my last birthday. And not wearing a gift of Gary's is asking for trouble. One of eight thousand ways to get a beating.

Gary had always been proud of his race. Shay guessed after he told her what had happened to her brother, she'd become quite the n***** lover herself. But lately, well lately, Gary had been moving more and more into extremes.

Gary and Shay moved to San Bernadino six years ago - soon as Shay was legally old enough to drop out of high school. They hooked up with two of Gary's war buddies. Guys Shay didn't know. Art was okay. He was a religious nut, but seemed harmless. Roy? Well, as long as Shay could keep at least a room of distance between them it would be fine.

Except, Roy kept trying to brush up against her when Gary wasn't around. Shay also noticed that all the money they made from the porn sales on the net, and from the ice sales - all seemed to be going into guns. Lots of guns. Along with other things, things Gary kept locked in a shed behind the house. Going in there would make the 8001 thing to get a beating for.

Angry as he was most days, Shay wondered why she missed him. After all, whenever he did get home, he'd be pissed off, horny, and coming down from his rush. A bad combination if there ever was one. Gary was late. He was always late. It started pissing her off.

Tonight, waiting for Gary, Shay killed time the best way she knew how - on a computer. There was one site - – a streaming internet news portal, although Shay could give a shit what went on in the rest of the world. Her own part of the planet was ugly enough without her taking in the rest, thank you. It's just, there's this one reporter - Janelle Warner - and Shay couldn't stop watching her. Shay was mesmerized. Janelle was beautiful, smart, and well spoken. All the things Shay wished she could be.

Her interest would be fine and dandy except for one troubling detail. Janelle was black.

“Southern California is on edge again tonight with yet another brutal murder. African-American groups are charging that police are not doing enough to stop the current wave of murders of young black women here in LA. LAPD spokesman, Detective Darryl Egars refused to categorize the attacks, but admited the latest victim - discovered outside a Van Nuys Medical Clinic, shortly after 9 p.m. - was tortured, before being killed. Anonymous sources say the young African-American woman was branded with a swastika-shaped instrument. A tip from an anonymous caller identified the group and told police of the body. Detective Egars refused to comment on the identity of the group and would neither confirm nor deny the existence of a Nazi brand. The identity of the victim is being withheld, pending notification of her next of kin”.

Shay felt her insides tumble. She didn't know why, but something told her Gary was involved.

She listened as the net cast continued. "Next on WorldWebDay's Internet News, investigative reporters Monica Sample and Janelle Warner with a Special Report on the economic devastation being caused by the growing inequality of high-speed internet access in Russia and other 3rd World countries".

Sounds boring. Shay thought, but at least I'll get to see Janelle some more.

"Where's my favorite bitch?" Gary's voice sliced ribbons into Shay's skin. She felt paper cut. She clicked off the site quickly, so he wouldn't notice the last image on the screen - that exotic, high cheek-boned Africa-American woman, Janelle Warner.

"Coming, Gary." Shay replied. She trotted to the alcove where Gary stood with Art and Roy. They were behind Gary, who faced her with arms crossed tightly over his chest, as if she's kept him waiting. As she got closer, Shay noticed the red claw marks over his left eye. She wasn’t shocked. She’d seen similar ones before. Gary caught her staring at his wounds.

"Got into a fight with an angry alley cat. Right, guys?"

Roy giggled and Art just stared at his shoes, bouncing his ever present Bible off his leg. Shay knew better than to ask. That was thing number one that pissed off Gary. To Gary, it was a need to know basis. You never asked Gary questions or questioned Gary's decisions.

"Got a kiss for your good ole' Daddy, baby?" Gary opening his arms.

Shay went to Gary reluctantly, and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. Gary stank of blood and sweat. She was reminded of the first day they'd kissed. Shay would never forget that smell. Or that night.

"Okay Shay, 'nuff messin' 'round. We gotta get your track recorded and mixed down so they can play it tomorrow." Gary nudged her.

Shay made her way to the recording booth and shut herself in. She pulled a set of headphones off the microphone boom and slid them on, forcing her long black hair back. No matter what, she always felt safe in here. She watched through the glass as the three men joined the cute engineer behind the mixing console. Art was at the computer, his face forward, eyes focused; Roy stood just behind Gary - ever the eager puppy.

The cue light came on over the window. The engineer pointed at Shay. She smiled. The music filled the headphones. Her world disappeared as she began to sing. In her head, she imagined herself as a little girl - a happy little girl. When Jimmy was alive. When she wasn't in a weird place where the best friend she had, slapped her every time she breathed wrong.

Well if Gary ever needed a reason to beat her, she was about to give him a good one. He'd written this white power ditty - a country/punk song about 'killin n****** and spics'. He planned to get it to a friend on a talk radio program who often played country songs as breaks.

Shay had other ideas.

She'd slipped the engineer a tape when she came in last week. It was an acoustic recording just her and a guitar. The engineer had already cleaned up the track and set a click track for timing. She heard the opening chords. Smiling, she watched Gary explode inside the booth. He was yelling at the engineer when Roy grabbed him. She couldn't make out what he was screaming. He was a silent phantom. And she liked that.

Shay watched as Roy and Art silenced Gary and kept him from getting out of the booth.

The engineer was snickering and giving Shay the thumbs up as she began to sing.

"As I lay beside you, all through the night, I'm watchin' you sleeping, and I know it's all right."

She winked at Gary. Maybe if he thought it was about him, he'd leave her alone. Maybe he wouldn't beat me.

"I need you beside me, for always you see - for my heart is yours now and you hold the key -"


"Mommy, it looks just like a postcard." Janelle Warner smiled at Juliette's observation. Juliette was the eight year old daughter of Monica Sample, Janelle's “boss” at, and for the last two years, her partner. Her partner in life, and her partner in the IPO that had just made the two of them, and their editor Tommy in NYC, instant multi-millionaires.

The post card the three were sharing was a view of Santa Monica taken from the vantage point of the ferris wheel down on the pier. Pale blue ocean broken only by three foot waves and wet-suited surfers, crashed against the beach. From their height the surfers looked like seals; the crowds a swelling, multi-colored amoeba.

It was a Southern California fantasy.

"Just like the post-card, hon," Monica said, smiling. She too played into the 'SO- CAL' fantasy. Monica was the stereotypical 30 year old, blue-eyed, blonde very successful mother of one. Her daughter was nearly a tanned identical. Only Janelle contrasted with this idealized version of this 21st century family. She was black... and lesbian.

But, Janelle was also very successful, and part of a family even if the skin tones didn't quite add up to most people.

The Ferris wheel began its descent. "Where are we going now, Mommy?" Janelle wanted to answer as she looked over at Monica. Although Juliette saw her daddy every weekend - Monica's ex-husband Terry - Janelle felt like a parent.

But Monica was the only Mommy.


"Cool," Juliette yelled. "You comin', Janelle?" Juliette asked as she grabbed Janelle's fingers. The trio exited the amusement park and pushed their way through the crowded pier. Hustlers shouted out bargains as vendors hawked - what was supposedly the best buy of this lifetime - and the children screamed and shouted. The cacophony was comforting - it seemed like home.

They took the stairs to the beach where a pair of volleyball nets were getting heavy practice. "Janelle!" She turned at the sound of her name. Across the beach, she recognized a pair of players warming up. Vanessa and Andrea had been teammates of hers - when they made it all the way to the Atlanta Olympic. They'd also been the first openly inter-racial lesbian couple Janelle had ever known.

They had encouraged her to come out to her parents. It had sucked, of course, but to this day she believed it was her confidence which attracted Monica. She owed them a lot.

Two years. It felt like a life time.

"Hey kids, I think I'm gonna play some V-ball. Page me when you're ready to leave." Janelle squeezed Monica's hand before heading off to join her former teammates.

"Will do." Monica said giving Janelle a quick hug then chased after Juliette who managed to sneak off and was haggling with a blade renter. Janelle smiled at their departure.

It was turning into a perfect California day. Can never ending sunshine be considered a cliche?

Even with the shades drawn, Shay could still see herself in the mirror. She didn't like the reflection. Staring back at her was a girl in a dime-store blonde wig, garish make-up and whorehouse red panties and bra. Her own T-shirt and jeans were balled into a pile beside the stiff motel bed.

Gary had rented the motel room for her, signing the register Al Coholic. Gary's idea of a joke actually that matched his intelligence level. As far as Shay was concerned there was nothing funny about pretending to be a hooker. Not for Gary.

Not for anyone, Shay thought.

The worst part was not knowing where the pretending ended and her life began. Shay Conner didn't just feel like a hooker. No, she felt worse; she doubted there was a hooker alive who felt as used up and dirty as she did. Her music was the only thing that kept her sane. Singing gave her hope.

She turned on the radio and scanned through the stations to find one she liked. Moments later, a knock on the door interrupted her quest. The knock was steady and persistent. A knock with a purpose.

Shay knew who it was, and as she moved to answer, a single thought formed.

Jesus forgive me, for I will sin.

Janelle was set to deliver the game winning spike when she felt the electronic pulse on her hip. Her concentration broken, she watched helplessly as the ball rolled impotently over the sand.

"What the fuck?" Vanessa asked with her characteristic diplomacy. She stared at Janelle.

Janelle eyed her pager. It was Monica.

"Nice vibrator," Andrea commented.

"Lonely girl's best friend," Janelle chimed back.

"Had one of those once," Vanessa added, "wore it out from paging myself."

The pager vibrated again. Same number, but this time there was a 911 attached at the end of the sequence. Janelle slid the pager back into her khaki shorts. "Gotta go," she said.

"One more game?" Vanessa asked twirling the ball.

"Can't - it's my boss."

One of their opponents, a spiked-hair pretty boy, named Bruce grabbed the ball.

"He'll wait."

Janelle swiftly swatted the ball from Bruce's arms away into the air. The volleyball arched over the net. Bruce looked back at Janelle.

"No....She won't." Janelle smiled as she shook her head.

Shay's song was playing on the radio. She lay back against bed, the melody of her own words and guitar playing wrapped around her. It was like a meditation as she returned to the recording studio's serenity. "I want you, I need you, please hold me so tight."

"Why ya listenin' to that country shit?" Reggie's voice clawed into Shay's revelry.

He was an older black man. His body reflected a lifetime of hard work in its well defined musculature. As Shay looked at him, his eyes seemed to dance with an anger Shay couldn't explain. After all, he was the one who'd answered her internet ad:

Seeking married black men.

He'd been the one who set the date. He was the one who'd shown up with a hard on and a credit card.

"It's mine," Shay said so softly her own voice was buried beneath the song lyrics.

"It's mine." she said again, because it was the only thing that was hers - even her body belonged to others.

She looked again at Reggie and almost felt sorry for him. He didn't know what was coming.

Then Reggie grabbed her.

Shay felt his hands on her bare arms, felt the rough calluses scraping against her skin as his knees pushed her legs apart, his weight holding her down. She could usually talk to them, keep them from going this far -

"You wanted it rough. Here it comes."

Reggie spoke softly. His voice thick and menacing. It was his quietness which terrified Shay the most. His voice was the whisper of a man planning to kill someone.

He worked his hand into the cups of her bra, and Shay felt a sharp twist painfully into her skin. And then he twisted hard and Shay heard herself screaming.

She swung up a knee, but Reggie shifted and instead of hitting his groin, it banged ineffectively against the inside of his thigh. She struggled to no avail.

"Please, God, don't do this."

“You're one crazy bitch," Reggie laughed, ignoring her pleas.

Shay separated herself; saw herself being attacked even as Reggie struggled with her underwear. It was a familiar tactic. But for Shay, this was a familiar experience.

She stopped struggling.

Janelle spotted Moesha from twenty yards away. Her cousin owned a distinctive walk, courtesy of teen years spent on a model runway. At five-foot-eleven, Moesha was taller than most of the men at the beach.

Janelle jogged towards the beach bathroom and intercepted her cousin just before she entered.

Hey, cuz, what's up?"

Janelle smiled tolerantly. Moesha had been blessed with a similar middle class upbringing, but insisted on talking like a hood rat.

"Haven't heard from you in a while, how've you been?" Janelle always felt formal around Moesha - as if she was hoping her own grammar and syntax would rub off.

"Ah-right. Same tricks, different day."

"Maybe you'd like to drop by the house? Have dinner - ?"

"Can't. Work."

Her cousin.

"You modeling again?"

"Yeah...something like that -"

Janelle watched Moesha stammer and fidget. She was always secretive, but this was too much. Janelle was about to say something when her cell phone rang. It was Monica. Janelle turned to cover her ear.

"Did you get my page -"

"Yes - I'm right home, I just have to..." Janelle's voice faded as she turned back in Moesha's direction. Her cousin had already left. Janelle glanced around and picked up her cousin's smooth gait almost dancing through the crowd.

What was taking so long? It had never gone this far, another moment and Reggie would be inside her -

the motel room door banged open, revealing in it's frame three men - Art concealed behind a digital camera, Roy and Gary sporting matching 9mm automatics with laser sights and silencers.

"Get off her motherfucker," Gary barked, as the group stormed into the room.

Shay was free and getting up as Roy rifled through Reggie's wallet.

Roy caught Reggie under the chin with his 9mm. Reggie's head smacked the headboard before he grasped he was set up. He was in it deep.

"Nice collection. Looks like ATM time." Roy said pulling out several ATM cards, along with several other cards and photos.

Gary leaned over the bed and plucked a snapshot from Roy's fingers. Before Gary was able to look at it, Shay caught a glimpse of a gorgeous mother flanked by two smiling little girls.

Gary eyed the photo then glared over the snapshot at Reggie.

Gary fanned the picture slowly.

"Call the cops," Gary threatened, "we'll pay your whore a visit...kill your kids while she watches... how you like that?" Gary leaned in closer to Reggie.

"My wife ain't no whore," Reggie said, suddenly oblivious to the twin 9mm’s pointed at his chest.

"She's the whore -" he said pointing at Shay.

Gary spun his gun around and smacked Reggie across the face with the metal gun barrel. THWACK! A stream of blood burst from Reggie's face and splattered across Shay's flushed breasts.

Reggie's body went limp as his face was forced into the mattress - then yanked suddenly upright by his hair. Roy's fingers clawed into Reggie's scalp. Reggie felt warm liquid draining down his face. He was lightheaded.

"That's for touching a white woman." Gary said. Gary looked over at Shay. For a moment, he hesitated. He just stared at her, her uncovered body, fresh blood trailing down the contours of her stomach.

She swore she saw hatred flashing in his eyes. And for what? Gary made her do this, this vile -

"You!" Gary commanded in a voice just as threatening as Reggie's had been earlier, "Go wash that stink off you."

Shay felt herself wilt under Gary's harsh orders.

"Yes, sir."

Shay picked the remains of her torn clothes off the motel room floor and headed for the bathroom. She bolted the bathroom door behind her. Checked the lock twice. She collapsed against the door in tears, and yanked the wig from her head. Then she heard it. Gary's game began.

Gary turned back around to his cowering, bleeding victim. He quickly reached down into his boot and pulled out a bayonet knife. He spun it around in his hand before slipping it under Reggie's chin.

Gary whistled through his teeth as he leaned in closer to Reggie. Gary seemed to enjoy himself, passing the knife through the blood pouring from Reggie's face.

"Listen, n*****.... listen real good. Tell your n***** family, and the rest of your fuckin’ n***** friends to get the fuck of our country. Get your black asses back to Zimbabwe while you still can. We're doing ethnic cleansing - Amerikkan style."

Roy just giggled and nodded his head.

Gary nodded.

"You understand me, monkey?" Gary huffed.

Art moved in front of Gary. The bright light blinded Reggie.

"Say, Goodbye, Porch swine." Art said as he filmed Reggie’s contorted face.

On the other side of the door, the yelling began again. This time the yells were brief followed by sounds of pummeled flesh. Shay heard the wet meshing sound of a man being beaten. Reggie's groans of pain were drowned out by the impact of Gary and Roy's blows. And it continued. Shay bent down by the tub, and reached and turned on the water.

Gary was getting worse. This was just supposed the a simple robbery - an easy way to quick cash so they can finance their next gun shipment. But, the way Gary was behaving, it was just a matter of time before he killed someone - again.

Shay ran her fingers under the water to test the temperature. Turning on the shower, she slid underneath the spray and pulled the glass door closed. Steam billowed up as hot water soothed Shay's tired muscles. Shay looked down at herself just as Reggie's blood washed off her body. She noticed the outlines of his fingers were still on her breast. She was going to bruise. She knew it.

Shay grabbed the soap and began scrubbing it all over her body. Hard. She wasn't scrubbing to get rid of the remaining blood - or the stink as Gary would put it - but of the memory of what she had just done for 'the cause.'

Of course, the memory didn't go away. Those memories never go away.

But she did succeed in scraping away the heavy coat of pancake make-up which had covered her arm. Rinsing soap off her arm revealed a tattoo: an eagle carrying a swastika in its claws, all in black and red colors. It was as red and angry looking as it had been the day Gary got it for her.

Janelle and Monica lived in the world of tele-commuting fantasy. Their old house was on the border between Santa Monica and Venice Beach, three blocks from the Pacific Ocean. Their computer time was divided between work and Juliette's computer games and homework.

Unfortunately, as Janelle often noted, their 'on earth, on-line paradise' is always interrupted.

"I just dumped a good 100 gigs of compressed and encrypted video to you this morning," Tommy told the pair. Twenty-five and Asian-American, he was supposedly Monica and Janelle’s boss, but since the IPO had made them all multi-millionaires last week that didn’t really seem to matter so much anymore.

Monica sat perched before the screen, watching as the digitized teleconference image of Tommy gained focus. Janelle paced the office. Her nerves weren't work related - everything about her chance encounter with Moesha was sending signals of chaos. Her body tangled with frenetic energy - the last thing she felt like doing was dealing with the minutiae of computer code. She had a real life problem to hack.

"Have Janelle work it with her new decrypto program - make it Top Priority."

"I'm right here, Tommy," Janelle said, stepping forward into view of the computer mounted camera.

"Sorry, didn't see ya.... Listen, either of you heard of WAM?"

"Eighties gay white boy music, right boss," Janelle offered smiling.

"Negative - WAM - White Aryan Militia. I need you two to investigate the hell out of it. I got this video off a net server we cracked into in San Bernadino using that beta-test Hellfire program. ” I think it might be some kind of militant home video footage compressed for editing or maybe streaming. My hunch is that it might have something to do with your hate crime wave out there in LA”.

Janelle wasn't cold, but she still shivered. " I love the smell of white supremacists in the morning....They smell like.... Hell, I don't know! dog shit, maybe?"


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