Wild card

When Alex Austin’s pages showed up in my inbox last week, my natural elation was mixed with a hint of concern. Al, you may remember, is the guy who almost sent our noir drama off the rails with an early contribution that hinted at a murderous L.A.-based Scottish mafia and introduced the peat brick as their weapon of choice.

It was a brilliantly original vision, which was perhaps overzealously embraced by subsequent writers and took us nearly 80 pages to build a story around that made any sense. Now that we were starting to wrap things up neatly, we could ill afford another such flight of fancy.

This week, Al becomes only the fourth two-time contributor to “Right of Way.” His pages 90-94 do indeed introduce a couple of startling new twists which, I’m thrilled to say, are not only manageable but necessary for our story’s final act.

For starters, he has Rachel wandering Hollywood Boulevard, where she runs into an Order recruiter, who’s pitching his cult’s mythology regarding the “miracle of the quanta,” previously referenced by the villainous Prefect Duvane. According to church doctrine, one can achieve infinite wisdom by bonding with the patriarchs, who have disappeared from this plane of existence and turned to perfect intelligence.

What Al and Duvane know, and a future writer must eventually incorporate into our script, is that the patriarchs were murdered by the prefect and buried under The Order headquarters, where Duvane now worries they are perfectly preserved in subterranean peat deposits.

The building and indeed the religion itself were erected to hide the evidence of Duvane’s long-ago triple-homicide.

Remarkably, Al has tied up our script’s entire wacky peat detour, giving Duvane a motive beyond the weaker financial one for making certain the mayor’s preferred subway route is never excavated.

But he doesn’t stop there. Al then puts a couple of toughs on the train with the mayor, to menace him, expose his identity, and send him fleeing into a vacant tunnel -- his third hidden tunnel excursion in the script, for those keeping track -- where he encounters a mysterious underground guide who will eventually lead him out of this mess.

It’s all in a day’s work for Al, a schoolteacher and former magazine editor, who kept busy between appearances here by publishing a novel, “The Red Album of Asbury Park,” and mounting a new play, “Dupe,” in Studio City.

If Al’s plotlines tend to include some fantastic convolutions, they merely reflect the reality of his own life. Listen to this story he tells about a matinee performance of his play on a brutal, Valley summer day when the air conditioning went out:

“By the end of the first act, the theater’s temperature was approaching triple digits, and the audience members were fanning themselves with anything not tied down.

At this point, Al says, his lead actress points in panic to an unseen stalker, and her co-star is supposed to jump off the stage and run down the center aisle into the closed theater lobby in pursuit of the threat.

“On this afternoon, with the fanning audience sounding like a flock of seagulls, the actress screamed ‘Stalker!,” the theater door swung open, and standing in the doorway was Irish Brian, a private detective guy I play basketball with, who had arrived an hour late to the play.

“The audience, thinking Irish Brian was the stalker/actor, stopped their fanning. The cast went silent. But Irish Brian didn’t bat an eyelash.

“‘Brian Mahoney, P.I.,’” he announced. ‘Does anyone here own the late model black Jeep parked out front?’


“‘You've got a one-legged drunken cyclist ramming it with his bicycle.’”

With that, Al hustled Brian out the door and into the lobby, and the play went on.

“And by the way,” Al says, “out front there was a one-legged, drunken cyclist ramming his bicycle into a black jeep. Quite a crowd had gathered to watch him.”

By now, quite a crowd has gathered here too. Let’s hope they’re all properly insured.

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