"I need you to haul ass up to Los Angeles and pick up the people up there and bring them back here. It is crucial you're at their front door no later than eight. Get them, make any stops they need to make, and bring them here to the mansion. This is deadly important, Lenny. Got all that? Okay." (*click*)
I sat on the edge of the bed and counted to thirty. The phone didn't ring, so I dialed the mansion and let it ring. The Director finally picked up; he'd apparently fallen back asleep after poncing off his task. When he asked why the fuck I was calling him back, I reminded him that I needed details like an address and what vehicle to use, niggling things like that.
"Oh shit! You got pen and paper?" He gave me the address. "And I want you to drive the Linc---- SHIIITTT!! I was gonna rent a Town Car for the trip and I blew it off. Oh God Lenny, what are we gonna do? We can't use your damn tiny car, my Mazda is a two-seater --- say, do you think Bekka would let us use her car? It's scary, but it'll hold four people at least. Lemme give her a call and I'll--- "
"How about I roll over and ask her, it'll save you the stress."
Without opening her eyes, Bekka held her hand out from her side of the bed to take the receiver. "S'up, boss?"
She listened to his frantic pleading and finally cut him off with, "$500 and we cover gas. Fair enough?"
Protesting noises came from the earpiece, to which she responded with, "Because you're over a barrel and I'm a queen bitch at this hour. Cheaper and faster than a limo service, and much more personal. Deal? Thought so. I'm going the fuck back to sleep, boss."
I was already pulling on pants and boots, deciding my engineers looked more formal . In fact, I put on a dress shirt and the one blazer I owned: may as well not look like too much of a thug for the people who figuratively sign the checks. While I stuck my head under the sink, I organized things in my head: fuel the Falcon, vacuum the interior, find the right maps of LA, maybe bring some MDMA with me to improve moods when they realized they'd be in a 24 year old hot rod for nearly two hours.... Would buying coffee be too kiss-ass? Didn't matter, since I didn't know where a donut shop was in the area up there. I'd bring a small vial of speed for myself, in case I started to droop coming back.
I irritated Bekka by turning on a light to find a non-wrinkled shirt and then button it correctly. She propped herself up on one arm and asked, "You're really gonna pick up the People From LA?"
I assured her this was true.
"They've been looking at videos of me fucking for nearly six years now, and I've never met them. There's something wrong with that."
"I'd say ride shotgun, but I have a hunch that would be a major faux pas."
"Well, while you're driving through LA, I'll be asleep in this nice warm bed."
"Means nothing to me, since I've already done a great big rail and I'm ready to rock and roll. Right now, the only appeal getting in bed has would be sex, and you're half-asleep. I'll be back in.... Shit, I have no idea how long this will take. I may be chauffeuring them around all damn day, I have no clue what to expect. Wish me luck."
I gave her a kiss and headed out the door, maps tucked under my arm. Fuel, a quick vacuum job, and I was headed north to Los Angeles.
It was a Van Nuys address of course, in an office park, the kind that looks ritzy from the front and has loading docks in back. Following instructions, I waited until exactly eight then laid on the horn, twice. I wished I had Tawny's cell phone after fifteen minutes, so I could call The Director, who could call them and tell them to get the lead out. They must like sitting in traffic, even with the use of diamond lanes we'd be slogging.
At 8:25 they emerged, three guys around forty wearing suits that cost more than any car I'd ever own. They had California accents, their mannerisms were Californian, but something about them screamed "Guido," like all three were named Vinny. There were no introductions, beyond me saying, "Good morning, I'm Leonard and I'm your driver." This courtesy was not returned. Oh well.
They froze up when they saw the car. "We're riding to San Diego in this?" Vinny One asked. I explained there had been "a foul-up" with renting the Town Car and we had to scramble to find a vehicle that would hold four adults comfortably. And we'd get there quickly, as quickly as traffic and safety would allow. Vinnys Two and Three clambered in back, laughing (thank God) at the roll bars. Vinny One took shotgun; I helped him wiith the four-point belt, which he was also amused by. A big relief: they weren't pissed off about the mode of transportation. Or maybe they were and were laughing at the thought of the entertaining methods they'd use to murder The Director and me. Jesus, one was wearing a shoulder holster, I saw it when his jacket fell open while he clambered into the back seat. It was Vinny Two, I think, the one who was balding. Maybe he'd let me use it to clear traffic, get rid of schmucks who dawdled in the diamond lane.
The 405 ramp was up a half a mile, then a straight shot home. I'd arrived with enough time to refuel , so any stops would be at their request. Vinny Three asked, "So what is this this thing, anyway?"
"Well sir, this is a 1964 Ford Falcon. It has the 289 c.i. V8 with a Holley four-barrel carburetor, the suspension is tuned for road travel and not drag racing, and it's rolling on Pirelli tires, road traction. Four speed transmission with the Hurst shifter, and the gearing is set up to handle the road.... Again, set for road-running and not drag racing. It'll hit a hundred in third if I need it to. And it's not mine, it's my girlfriend's."
"Yes sir. My own is a ten year old Honda CVCC, a pregnant roller skate. We would not have been comfortable in that, sir, so I borrowed hers."
"Jesus," said Vinny Two, "all the way to San Diego in the back of a white trash street rod. Need to talk to The Director about arranging contingencies for situations such as this. He doesn't plan ahead enough these days. Why didn't you take care of this?"
"I didn't know I was making this trip until five this morning, barely enough time to get clean and fuel and head north. This trip was surprising news to me, believe me sir. And I'd have picked up something besides a Town Car, something like one of the big Cadillacs, a Brougham or a bomb just like it. They're a bit stiffer, but handle better. Possibly one of the foreign luxury models, if a full-size Mercedes can be rented in San Diego. On that subject, sir, you have any friends that would be following us?"
"What makes you ask?"
"I've had a tan Lexus shadowing me about a hundred yards back for the last few miles. I change lanes, he changes lanes. He wants me in his sights, I'm sure of it. He doesn't catch up, but he also doesn't want to lose us. Am I being paranoid, or....?"
As one voice, all three Vinnys said, "Fuckin' Todd."
Vinny One turned to me and asked, "Can you lose him in this box?"
"I should be able to. Shall I?"
"Please do. He's a dangerous pest. Hah, he probably spent the night sitting outside the office waiting for us to move around. He's a coke freak who likes guns, which makes him damn dangerous."
"May I be nosy and ask what he wants?"
Vinny One gave me a grin that told me I was in fact being nosy, and simply said, "He wants our business," and left it at that.
"I'll do what I can, sir." I drifted out of the diamond lane, ignoring the double yellow lines, then dropped to third and began punching it through traffic, challenging fenders, coming close to splitting lanes. My three passengers were made nervous by my driving style, but I wanted to get as much distance between Todd and myself as possible.
Traffic loosened up around Torrance, and I moved up to and held fourth and gave it the power, pushing through at 95 or so, weaving through the lane-turds. Todd couldn't hack it:he was too nervous to hold that speed, and I made him disappear in my rear-view, holding high speed until he had disappeared. Even then, I kept up about 80 to 85 as long as traffic would allow, finally easing into the diamond lane, minding my own business. Todd did not reappear.
Vinny One let go of the roll bar. "You're a hell of a driver," he said. "I wasn't expecting you to dust the guy off quite that hard." He adjusted his tie.
"Yes, well, may as well get the job over and done with. What you said about this Todd fellow, I didn't want to be anywhere near him. I'd ask questions but they're none of my business so I'll shut up."
I realized all three Vinnys were staring at me. Vinny One finally said, "We've been told you were smart." Silence returned to the Falcon, with all three Vinnys looking out their respective windows like they'd never seen the view before. I felt like some music, but I doubted my passengers were big Bad Brains fans.
In Irvine I backed off from the 75 or 80 I'd been holding to a nice legal 65. Vinny One asked, "Did you just lift off the gas?" I affirmed I did. The guy behind me rode up my ass briefly, before pulling out ignoring the double yellow, giving me the finger as he went by.
"Son of a bitch," said Vinny One, starting to roll down the window to return the gesture. "Don't worry about him," I said, "he'll be getting pulled over here in a moment." And sure enough, a CHP cruiser eased in behind him and hit the lights. Both vehicles drifted over to the right shoulder, Slappy getting nailed for speeding and crossing the double yellow in a diamond lane, plus no passengers in a diamond lane. I could think of better ways of spending $600, personally.
Vinny One --- who did almost all the talking --- asked, "What, you saw the cop coming up the ramp?"
"How'd you know....?"
"Just.... An instinct, a hunch. I'm not superstitious, but I do seem to have a bit of a sixth sense when it comes to the presence of police, especially on highways. I get a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach, and I'm usually right. Given my driving patterns, I'm glad it's there."
The Vinnys all laughed, with the comment made about the convenience of having a radar detector built into my head.
We were coming in to San Clemente when Vinny Three announced that some breakfast sounded like a good idea. A consensus was quickly reached, and we jumped off the freeway and pulled into a Denny's. Vinny Two, buttoning up his jacket to hide his pistol, told me, "You know, you're not like what we expected. We thought we'd be getting a class-A punk rock lunatic, with a mohawk and ripped clothes. Beyond the boots and the hair.... And I guess the jeans.... You look like a normal guy. What's your story?" There was a bit of challenge in his voice.
"Just seemed appropriate to dress fairly well. I mean, you three are the heads of the company I work for, why would I wear party clothes? That would be in pretty bad taste, especially given the fubar with the rental car, I cleaned this one out as best I could and wore what you see. My, uh, girlfriend will probably appreciate the cleaning it got, heh heh."
"Hey, you look fine, just not what we were expecting," said Vinny One.
"Yeah, Rick made you out to be some sort of monster!" said Vinny Three. The three of them laughed.
I smiled and said, "Well, after I drop you off, I could go home and change, and pick up my Honda instead. I don't think you'd like the results, though." They laughed at this too. They stopped laughing when I asked, "By the way, sir, who is Rick?"
Vinny One looked at me like my brain had fallen out. "Um, Rick? Your boss? The guy you currently answer to?"
"Oh! In all this time, everyone has either called him 'The Director' or just 'Boss.' Never knew his real name. It's what he answered to, so...."
Vinny One said, "Well, since he can't pull off renting a damn car, you may not be calling him boss for too much longer." A funny feeling developed in the pit of my stomach; I remained silent. "Don't get us wrong kid, you've done great. You're smart, you came through in the clutch with finding a car, and you drive like a bat outta hell.... But Rick keeps slipping up, and it's starting to affect how things are run. He needs to get his act together, fast. And you aren't hearing a word I'm saying right now, do you understand?"
"I'm sorry, I spaced out there for a moment. We were talking about punk rock fashion style, right?"
"No, we were talking about----- heh, yeah, that's right, punk rock," said Vinny One with a smile. I hoped this guy just needed some coffee in his system, because if he got confused by me dummy-chucking him, I feared for the future of the whole company. I'd offer up the Ecstasy once we were seated, maybe their overall moods would improve and I could save The Director's position. He wouldn't end up driving an old Ford Escort and mopping the floors after shoots.
The offer of Ecstasy was politely declined for the time being: there was too much work they needed to do, and it was too early in the day. Late in the afternoon they'd love it so keep a hold of it --- apparently my services were going to be needed all day --- and they'd roll through the evening. I was dying to see the personality effects MDMA had on these three guys, personally. I'd gotten high several days earlier, so it was too soon for me to join them. Unless they insisted. Then I'd get rolling right along with them.
Breakfast consumed, we jumped back on the 5 south and made the last short hop into La Costa. I knew it was a special day the moment the door to the mansion opened: The Director was wearing a shirt with buttons and pants with a fly, and real shoes. This compared to his usual "fitness guru" look.
The Director greeted them bright and smiling. His mood was not returned. "Lenny, you like cigars, right? You wanna join us in one?" He did not want to be left alone.
"Lenny has things to do," said Vinny One. "He needs to track down a car for us, one that he likes, because I want him doing the driving. He demonstrated his skill at the wheel on the way down. I'm leaving it up to him to handle that fairly simple task, renting a luxury car. Lenny, do you have a credit card?"
"Here." He handed me an American Express Silver. "Get me if they need more information ---- here, take my driver's license, and my phone is 310-555-6943. We need to talk with Rick in private for a while, so please don't disturb us. 'Kay? Thanks."
The shouting started as soon as the door closed: "You send some kid in a hot rod to pick us up? What is your problem? He's a great driver and that's why we're keeping him, so you....."
They were mostly inaudible in the kitchen. I scored almost immediately: the Avis in Mira Mesa had a Cadillac Brougham sitting on the lot, ready and waiting. I gave them the information and told them we'd be by for it within two hours. Then I did a short rail out of the company supply, and went outside for a cigarette.
Whatever The Director was being chewed out over ran much deeper than poor transportation planning. The Director had made comments in the past about having his knees broken, now I wondered how much of that was real. I had no knowledge base to work from as to why The Director would be in such deep shit. The product had never been better, with Small Steve directing plus my stills, we were cranking out some first class smut.
With the way he talked, The Director was in no way so stupid as to steal from the company. That would be greed of the highest order, from what I understood about his pay and his "benefits." Gross incompetence? Possibly.... But he was an old hand at running this type of business. Why would his brains fall out now?
Well, there was his crush on Rita, but I just couldn't imagine him losing it so bad over a woman that he'd neglect basic office work, screw off so badly that the Vinnys felt it necessary to come down and have the close personal chat they currently were.
What I did know was that these were men who were potentially dangerous, and best to keep happy. If I was going to be their chauffeur, I'd better be where they wanted me, at what time, and in a clean vehicle. Hell, I didn't even know where I'd be carting them around to.
The sliding glass door came open and Vinny Three called me in. Vinny One clamped a hand on my shoulder and said to a pale looking Director, "See, this here is someone who knows how to follow instructions. He minds his own fucking business, he knows what his job is, and he accomplishes it with the highest of skill. Are you getting my point, Rick?"
The Director said, "Yes, absolutely."
I interjected with, "Sir? I located a car at the Avis in Mira Mesa. A full-size Brougham, and it's ready to be picked up. Shall I retrieve it?"
"That'd be great. See? He had a job, he pulled it off in good time and he made sure everything went smoothly! That is how things are going to start running here, do you understand me? Am I clear?"
"Absolutely. No worries."
"And to keep that positive spirit, we're going to be down here for three months helping things along, providing aid and assistance, maintaining a positive synergy in Inana, Inc. That's what Lenny will be doing over the next two or three days, driving us to short-term lease properties, helping us locate a good place to live. I understand he's a life-long resident of San Diego, so he'll know the good neighborhoods. We'll defer to his judgement. Can you handle this, Lenny?"
"I can. I just need to run by a Triple-A office and pick up some maps. San Diego grows so fast that what made sense two years ago is completely out of date now. In fact, there's an office in Kearney Mesa, not too far away from the Avis lot, I can pick up the Cadillac and then get the maps. I'll have my girlfriend take a cab to pick up the Falcon. Oh, and what hotel are you staying at?"
"Someplace, um, the La Jolla Village Marriott. Do you know it?"
"I grew up across the canyon from it.. Very familiar to me."
"Cool. Take your time, we want to tour the mansion, see what our investment bought us. I'm curious as to what fifty-five grand worth of swimming pool looks like."
"Quite beautiful, sir, and from a filming standpoint it will work very well. Shallow points that lend themselves well to filming and still photography. Drop the umbrellas and the lighting is wonderful. Anyway, let me retrieve the Cadillac and the maps, I'll be back as quick as I'm able."
|1988 Cadillac Brougham. Hood big enough for tennis|
and surprisingly roadworthy handling. Classic road yacht
The rental went quicker than than I expected; I wasn't the only person sent off with the boss's credit card to pick up wheels. They accepted the plastic and license with no questions, and the agreement the Falcon would be picked up before the end of the day, so that people wouldn't try to rent it.... A genuine possibility, given the style it carried. At first they pointed me towards the pay phone, but I pointed out I was renting an $89 per day car from them, surely me using their phone is not out of the question? (Truth be told, I just had no change on me.) They handed me the receiver and asked for the number.
Coming into early afternoon, Bekka was starting to fret.... Then jumped to annoyance when I told her she'd be getting her car back by using a cab.
"Look, I've been drafted as their driver. I don't know who's doing the still work over the next couple days, but it ain't me. They gave me the assignment of renting a luxury car I was comfortable driving, and I'm their chauffeur until.... They're done with me, basically. Babe, I'm stuck with this gig for like three days. I really am their chauffeur until they go get their own cars. And these guys do not tolerate mistakes."
Bekka gave a whistling sigh. "What about business?"
I said, "I doubt they'll want me at their beck and call twenty-four hours a day, so business can continue as usual at night. If it's okay, I'll leave the pager with you at night and you can make drops. Is that okay?"
"Doesn't bother me.... Although running product isn't how I feel like spending my evenings, especially if I've been working."
"It should only be for a few days, if it's necessary at all. I think I'm just running these guys around during the day and I'll have my nights off like normal. You'll finally get to meet them, too, since they're gonna be hanging around for three months. That's a secret, though. They don't like people having information they haven't given out themselves."
"Okay. Look, I'm picking up my car and headed to my place. Call me tonight. You already have your pager, so you should be able to take care of things yourself. Later."