(Fiction. For now.)
It was raining again, but that wasn’t the weird thing about the night. It was a Tuesday and on most Tuesdays this stretch of La Cienega — art galleries, body shops, and taco trucks — would have been deserted. But someone had booked the event space across the street for a wedding, a scheduling snafu courtesy of Leap Year, an overworked assistant, and an errant click inside Calendar. And that meant the bar was jammed full of bodies, its low ceilings even lower thanks to the post-wedding revelry. There was singing: heads thrown back, fists in the air. There were shots: good tequila and better whiskey (because the groom’s family had money, if not scheduling acumen). There was dancing: most of it bad, all of it enthusiastic.
Until there wasn’t.
“Alright everybody, let’s get those hands out of the air.”
This was the joke he always used when he slouched through the door after the call came in from the Ministry. On this night, he’d been three-quarters of the way through his cup of chamomile and a vintage crossword puzzle he’d had to pay a day’s wages for.
He cleared his throat, reaching back for his public-address voice one last time.
“Ladies and gentlemen, as you may or may not be aware, District Ordinance 2692-E prohibits dancing in establishments that serve alcoholic beverages.”
“Fucking lame,” said a voice from the back.
It was always in the back, this voice. Then again, he couldn’t blame them after the video. Not of him, thank god, but a guy he’d known, overworked and underpaid and just trying to do his job. The schmuck had tasered someone and it had been a whole thing: District Superintendent hauled before the Council and all that.
“I’m sorry, sir,” he said. “Now, if you’ll all just display your comms.”
The crowd was quick to it and the lights from the comms made him think of a concert he’d seen, back when the Council had first issued the devices to every taxpayer in the District — back when they’d still seemed fun. Everyone in the crowd had been able to hook into a 7G channel and the comms had changed color with the music. Like cigarette lighters, except times 1000.
He got to work like he’d done so many other times, scanning one comm after the next, registering the violation. Still only a misdemeanor, at least.
One of the bartenders was eyeing him from the register. She was cuter than she had any right to be
“You know I can’t say,” he said.
“Young, old, male, female, smart, stupid?”
He shook his head and bent to another comm. He almost wanted to tell the poor girl: it had been a long time since you had to call to get the Ministry of Disorderly Conduct out. They were linked into the comms now and it was all about the algorithm. It could tell, thanks to the gyroscopes inside the comms, when people switched from swaying to dancing. Al Go Rhythm, they called it, whenever they got together. Which wasn’t often — the occasional lackluster Holiday Party or Fulfillment Hour.
Then it happened. An empty shot glass arced through the bar, just clearing the low ceiling before making impact with a bottle of bad Merlot behind the cute bartender. She’d left it there, on the register, in a hurry to get the groomsmen another round of 3–2s.
The wine bottle didn’t explode, like it might’ve if it had been a hatchet delivered by Carrie Nation. Instead, it hesitated, teetering on the edge like the mood of most everyone in the District in those days.
When it did fall, it fell like it didn’t want to, knocking into two bottles of above-average mezcal that became three bottles of mediocre bourbon that became five bottles of well vodka that hit the bar’s concrete floor at the same time — the signal the crowd had been waiting for, even if they hadn’t known it.
That was the start.
And even though he was on the wrong side when he got there, he was proud to say it didn’t end up that way.