The two agents board a flight for Los Angeles, coach, only one checked bag each; the Director of National Intelligence is already applying the budgetary squeeze on them. They get just one soda and one snack pouch apiece and scolded when they ask the air hostess for more. It is fucking humiliating.

Dale asks Donnie, again, what he thought of the first Dunston film, and Donnie starts laughing.

I was in grad school then, like my last year of it, and we just got really stoned one night, me and my roommates. Well, I should say stayed stoned, because we got high like two days before and just fucking stayed that way. I mean, we were fucking stoned like you wouldn’t believe, and one of my roommates was flipping through the Reader, and he’s like, man, we should got to a movie, and I was like all for it, but the other dude had passed out, so we drew a bunch of dicks all over his face, then went and got on the L to go uptown to Century, and we realized we’d gone to the wrong theater, that the movie we wanted to see was crosstown at Regal City, but it was late and we were way too fucking high to put up with that bullshit, so we decided to just catch something there.

I also wrote I EAT COCK in giant block letters on that dude’s forehead and he had to go to the airport the next day. He tried to get through security wearing a baseball cap, but they wouldn’t let him. He said they photographed him.

Anyway, so we’re looking for a film there, and realize there’s actually only one, on both screens, so we’re like, fuck it, we buy our tickets and head in.

I was starving, man, I had the faminous munchies of death, so I just loaded up at the concession stand. I mean, we’re talking probably like five pounds of snacks here, easily a hundred bucks. The chick at the register just sneered the whole time, the fucking cunt.

So, we go in, and I’m power snacking, and this fucking thing is just ridiculous. I can’t keep track of shit, I don’t understand what Faye Dunaway is doing there, there’s some courtly English homosexual abusing that monkey the whole fucking time, but his antics! That slick, precocious fucking ape! I was laughing my ass off, man. Loud as fuck, fucking choking. These people in there with their kids, trying to shush me; I’m like, you fucking shush, it’s a fucking comedy, you stupid bitches.

But after about an hour of slamming Coke, popcorn and all that other shit, I really don’t feel so hot, and I stepped out to go to the restroom, but I made it only like one step into the hallway and just fucking threw up, just this giant patch of vomit, burnt caramel in color, smelled like acid, and then I realize there’s a woman and her kids right there, just looking on in horror. I try to catch my breath to apologize but all I can do is burp and she skitters off with her children toward the lobby. I shrug and go back inside.

Like maybe a minute later, the fucking usher comes in with his flashlight, and I can hear a woman behind him, describing me, calling me fat-faced, like an overweight rat, the fucking stuck-up cunt, so I grab my friend, because he had really long hair, and I was like, we have to pretend we’re making out so I can hide my face or we’re getting arrested. So we do that for a bit, and my roomie gags from the smell of my vomit breath, almost puking on me, and the usher eventually leaves.

And I have to puke again. I don’t want to go out into the hall a second time, because they might be there, so I pick up my empty popcorn bucket and just fill the motherfucker to the brim. I could not believe how heavy it was, or how much worse it smelled than the first batch. My roommate retched some more, then got up and moved like five seats down. Then that bitch behind me started in again, so kicked it over and walked out the emergency exit.

I’m actually not even sure how it ended.

They’re silent for a while in the sterile, still atmosphere of the plane, limp in the rushing sound that ruptures everything you hear in a plane, then Donnie asks Dale if the guy has to work anymore or not, what with royalties and all. Dale shrugs, says he’s not entirely sure if the writer has to work per se, but he does, and he seems desperate.

What do you mean?

Dale passes him his smartphone; it’s open to a YouTube advertisement made by the writer.

The writer is wearing tennis gear and offering lessons at $50 an hour, insistent that he can double the force generation of your serve.

The air hostess confronts them, mewling something about phones in flight, and Dale flashes his badge at her, hisses.

The writer’s tennis costume is filthy. Something about it seems familiar to Donnie. Dale fills him in.

It’s custom, done up like Blade Runner.

Oh…yeah. Yeah, I see the tie pattern, but it’s in his sweatbands instead.

Yeah, and then the shorts are like the jacket, and the shirt is the same but short-sleeved, in a polo-style.

That is actually pretty fucking cool. If I ever retire my Hot Miami look, I’ll definitely think about scamming into some custom, movie-based threads.

They deplane, gather their bags, hail a cab, set out. The sun is low, flattened into a burning orange strip slicing into the flat, unending expanse of the sea, blue and shimmering. Dust and smog hang in the air, filtering the portrait in brown. They pass cars and people, hundreds of thousands of them in another flat, unending expanse, shimmers of heat waves distorting them into funhouse mirrors, their colors more diverse than the sun and sea and bad air, in shades of confrontational neon, burning hot and bright, a flower garden the size of a factory farm filled with blossoming, garish pinks and reds and blues.

The agents feel like they stand out, limpid; their colors are softer, subtler, more relaxed; ice cream tones, their tans more natural. Everything is amplified here. Everything is sharper and more dangerous. They feel transplanted.

Where are we going, exactly?

To his house.

Where’s that?

The Hills.

Like, the Hills Hills?


There’s a lot about this guy I’m not understanding.

Like what?

Like…for instance, how you fucking know him in the first place.

Do you remember a Congressman named Winchell?

Yeah, Whig from Kentucky?

Yeah. You remember what happened to him?

Donnie jumps out of his seat, nearly out of the cab, rattling it, unnerving the driver, who starts to yell in a stream of broken English commingled with…whatever, something else. Donnie screams back, waves his badge around, threatens him. The driver calms himself but glares into the backseat from time to time in the rearview.

But Donnie’s frightened now at the mention of Congressman Winchell. He gapes at Dale, somehow in his gaze begging Dale to admit he’s joking, he’s making it up, that he didn’t do it, that the writer didn’t conspire with him. But Dale sets his jaw firmly, loosens his tie, opens the top button of his shirt, and reveals the dog tag chain around his neck. He holds out the object at its end. It is a signet ring with the Seal of the United States House of Representatives.

Donnie’s face melts into a shocked resignation as Dale holds up the ring, shows him the inscription. Donnie starts mumbling oh my God oh my fucking God over and over again, but it won’t help.

They finally pull up outside the writer’s house, a place which seems inconsistently opulent weighed against his desperate tennis coaching commercials and the other known contours of his life. Donnie, still catatonic, doesn’t offer to help pay for the cab, merely slides out the door, walks up the driveway. Dale pays and is enraged when the driver can’t crack a $50, so he slams the door and stomps a dent in it, then threatens to have the driver deported. The driver screams in his unrecognizable tongue, gestures wildly, then screeches off down the canyon road.

Fuckin’ dude-man.

Dale spins around to see the writer at the top of the driveway, smiling, wearing his filthy tennis costume, then walking down the driveway, ignoring Donnie and his outstretched hand. He breaks into tears and hugs Dale tightly, like a parent reunited with a long-lost child.

Fuckin’ dude-man. It’s been a minute.

They walk up and out back, by the pool, and Dale introduces Donnie, and the writer fires up a smoke and just starts rambling, weeping intermittently, he’s glad he finally got out from under that cartel, he’s glad Dale helped him so much.

I’m just fully stoked I’ll get to create something real again.

He starts bawling once more, choking on his tears, exorcising something buried deep inside him. Donnie, as delicately as he can, asks how he can still afford the house on a tennis instructor’s salary, and the writer explains that’s actually a farce, he’s never taught tennis, it’s just a front for the tax authorities, he’s got a lot of irons in the fire, but mostly ghostwriting, both for TV and the government.

I got some ideas from there we can probably recycle a little.

He starts bawling yet again, half-enraged, half-terrified at how his work’s been abused, at who’s profited from it, rambling, not making a lot of sense.

I need…I f-fuckin’…I need a fuckin’ margarita…

Dale gestures to Donnie, then at the bar inside, but Donnie shakes his head, confused. Dale says outright, you know, make him a fucking pitcher of margaritas, and Donnie says he doesn’t know how. Dale and the writer look at each other, then Donnie, then cry out in unison:

dude what the fuck man

Donnie goes inside to struggle with preparing a pitcher of margaritas.

I just can’t believe what they did with my Benson Returns story.

The Espionage Act one?

Yeah. Those fucking rat animal bastards.

Dale stares off, silent, while the writer mumbles softly, incoherently. The roar of a blender is heard from inside at the bar.

What the fuck is that idiot doing?

I don’t know. I’ll go cool him out.

Dale passes through the sliding door, indistinct shouting is heard before Donnie storms out and Dale takes over making the pitcher.

sorry I don’t know how to fucking mix drinks dude I’m an intelligence officer not a fucking barmaid

The writer glares for a moment, lights another cigarette.

Well, a lot of other agencies already stole my best ideas from TV, so we’re gonna have to really screw on our thinking caps here.

Dale returns with the pitcher and the writer pours himself a drink in the largest hurricane glass any of them has ever seen. He takes a sip, nods approvingly at Dale, then appears to realize something.

I’ve got it.

The agents ask him what.

A domestic terror plot.

The writer says it’s best to prep this with a minor act, a pipe bomb, something potentially lethal but not actually casualty-producing, not yet, and to decorate the act with a graffito, the symbol of the organization, a sigil called the POEE, a C and a backward-C conjoined by an I; they could target some fucking asshole who actually deserved to have his car fucking torched, some shitbag producer, and then the agents can, in the course of their overt duties, access the crime scene photos, or respond with local police by coincidence of the fact they were already here on unrelated business, then they can hold a press conference or at least release a Tweet showing Congress their agency has their hands on this threat, they know it, they can brief them.

And they do, they bomb George Lucas’ MT900S.

Events move quickly, and the writer is so convincing in his advice to the agents (he should’ve been an actor), they bring him along to pose as a special advisor and press consultant, so breezily does he speak on this topic and its import, on what must be done.

He speaks before a closed-session subcommittee, the two agents flanking him, and he talks about ideological infrastructure, the neglect of the domestic security threat by the intelligence establishment, how unprepared they were for this, how quickly the Intelligence Service Bureau can respond, how they’ve stayed on top of this ever-changing security threat. He talks about Discordianism, its suicidal adherents, the lengths they’ll go to, the number of attacks they’ve committed which were mistaken for street crimes. They are a clear and present danger to the internal security of the United States and the only agency prepared to meet that threat is on the chopping block. We don’t have much time. They’ve escalated to bombings.

A congressman responds favorably to the presentation, and they all in fact express how impressed they are by the writer’s use of important-sounding words or phrases like “multilateral” or “cooperating security partners”. An adorable congresswoman from Long Island does, however, express her concern at a stunning lack of abbreviations, acronyms, and a PowerPoint presentation. She loves PowerPoint presentations. They’re so official-looking.

Fearing she’s derailing the mood, Donnie jumps to his feet, claps his hands together loudly, and says, motion to close debate, then does some finger guns, and whatever traction they may have had with these legislators is drained out of the room with a handful of groans and sighs. The adorable Congresswoman from Long Island sneers that this isn’t how this works, and they begin filing out of the room over the polite protests of Dale and the writer.

dude-man what the fuck were you thinking

Donnie just ignores Dale and finishes his milkshake, reading from a newspaper with the headline Is DC Cooler Than New York City?

Later that night, the three are at a hotel bar, sending off the writer, who’s flying home in the morning. On television, they’re watching a group of actors receive an Emmy for a show that the writer hates so much he won’t even mention it by its name, instead calling it that fucking piece of shit that those cocksuckers made with the kids and the aliens. One of the actors, a cretin named Denis LaPorte who is so fucking ugly it will never be understood how he made a living being looked at, is offering the acceptance speech on behalf of the ensemble. It’s off the cuff, rambling, meant to seem bashful and folksy in terms of its presentation, as if he were capable of the same sort of humility a normal human being is, and also meant to imply he was unprepared to speak, as if it were some sort of surprise the world’s most popularly consumed television show weren’t going to get a trophy for being the world’s most popularly consumed television show.

The content of it, however, however it may have been presented, is a call for physical violence against anyone who doesn’t share the actor’s political values.

The writer bolts out of his stool.

That’s it. That’s it. That’s our new in.

They decide there in the bar to catch the redeye, all three of them.

The writer tells them in-flight he could use a solid, too. Nothing that would break the covenant of the security clearance, but just something wild, something no one would believe, something he could maybe use to get back in the game.

Donnie and Dale laugh, almost in unison, a kind of snort, and Donnie asks Dale, you wanna tell it?

Dale agrees and, before beginning, snaps his fingers at the air hostess, the same cunt from the last flight, holding his empty cup, pointing at it, painting a strangely vicious, sarcastic expression over his face of a child begging. The bitch grimaces, sighs, brings him another, he tosses a pocketful of change at her, tells her to keep it, buy a fucking life.


For all installments of “Emperors,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1