This was going to be entertaining. The Cadillac Brougham was only four feet short of being a classy limousine. Missing the wet bar too, what a shame. I got used to the feel of it on the freeway and on surface streets, making mental notes of any handling quirks and peccadilloes (it wanted to launch from a standing stop, it had a vague drifting feeling on right turns). I fueled with my own money, saving the receipt. I went to AAA and picked up quadrant maps of San Diego, although I doubted I'd need more than two: I'm sure there was someone in Encanto trying to rent out their house short-term, but one of their requests of me was to only point them at decent neighborhoods. I'd be able to do that without leaving the mansion, assuming they'd done their homework.
I backed up the driveway of the mansion, giving the horn a couple quick beeps. All four men appeared at the gate. Vinny One smiled and clapped me on the back, saying, "See, that's more like it! Don't take this the wrong way, but when we saw that race car this morning, I was pissed off. If the ride wasn't so important, I'd have told you to fuck off and went back inside."
I said, "I do understand, I'd have been upset too. I was working with limited resources and a severe time constraint, and had to make do with what I had. You do have to admit, that car's design did work in our favor when dealing with the guy in the Lexus."
Vinny Two said, "Yeah, it did at that! My fingerprints are still embedded in the padding of that roll bar! So it's your girlfriend that drives that hot rod?"
"Well, she's not exactly a girlfriend. A close friend, and we have a sexual relationship. No real romance, by choice and design. You'll be meeting her at some point if you're around during shoots, as she's one of the performers. You've probably seen her already, she goes by the name Becky Page...."
"Oh! Becky Page! Short dark hair, big dark eyes, great breasts.... That the one?"
"This may be in poor taste, but may I congratulate you? She truly is a beautiful woman. With six companies to run, any woman who attracts my attention definitely, uh, well, she's got something."
"I think so too. I consider myself lucky to have her as both a lover and a friend."
Vinny One said, "Lenny, you made the offer of some Ecstasy earlier in the day. Does the offer still stand?"
"Absolutely, sir. Would you like one or two?"
"Just one. We still have work to do...."
"Perfectly understood. We'll be inspecting the short-term housing?"
"Exactly. We'll need your maps and three tablets. Rick will not be partaking of drugs for a while, in the hope that his focus returns," said Vinny One. "Rick needs to get his priorities straight." Rick sat at the table looking like a chastised child.
I grabbed my maps, while Vinny One got a notepad with about twenty addresses written on the pages. I borrowed a pen and confirmed, "Safe to say relative convenience to the mansion is a priority?"
"I'll eliminate more than a few locations just based on that litmus. Normal Heights, North Park, Kensington, they'd be fun places to live, but you're looking at a thirty-five minute drive at the best of times, no off-street parking, minor problems with street crime, North Park in particular is pretty sketchy.... That's five fewer addresses."
Vinny One said, "Gosh darn, who was it that suggested those locations?" and shot an angry glare at Rick. I had to wonder myself what the hell he was thinking. There were a couple more located in Mission Hills that were certainly fantastic properties, but were utterly impractical for daily drives to La Costa, unless they carpooled with Rita. Those got crossed out too, with me explaining why. They were marvelous locations to live on a permanent basis, and you could adjust to the drive, but it had been made clear this was a business trip, and sitting on Interstate 5 every morning and afternoon would tax the patience of Gandhi.
After consulting my maps, I eliminated four more, all in Mira Mesa. All three Vinnys asked why I crossed them out. I explained that while these would be stand-alone suburban homes, the attendant problems --- noisy kids, noisier teenagers, having a yard to maintain --- made them less than ideal spots for anyone looking to come home and relax. And not to sound racist, but the neighborhoods were made up primarily of immigrant families, so every house would have at least one broken car in the yard and possible gang problems. I was doing The Director no favors, as he was the one who had compiled the list. His decision-making process was completely twisted. He should know the rep Mira Mesa had for Southeast Asian gang-banger violence, with a good percentage of Filipinos in the mix too.
Two places stuck out in my head: University Terrace and Olivehurst. University Terrace was a development of town-homes down the side of the canyon from the University Town Center mall, which I knew to be secure and quiet, and well-patrolled. They had their own security guards, as I knew from personal experience, trying to hop the gate to "borrow" their hot tub. Safe to assume three-bedroom town-homes would be stand-alone dwellings.
Olivehurst stuck out because it was Bekka's complex in Encinitas. My personal opinion was they should stop looking there: it was ten minutes or so to the mansion, stand-alone town-homes, great amenities, very secure, and a property manager who took his job seriously, now that the old one was in jail. I suggested to the Vinnys that we inspect the properties I hadn't vetoed, maybe check a couple of the suburban homes in Mira Mesa, and check University Terrace and Olivehurst. I mentioned that Olivehurst had a weight room, spa, and lap pool, which got Vinny One's attention right away. He had that look about him.
We decided to look at three places that afternoon, two in Del Mar and one in Solana Beach The Solana Beach property had such a strong hippie influence you could almost smell the patchouli oil. The Del Mar places were very nice.... Except they both were one bedroom short of what we'd been told. The property manager was confused by this.... "It's not the sort of thing you can lie about, somebody got their wires crossed." Vinny Two growled, "Fuckin' Rick..."
Before we left for Del Mar, I'd availed the use of my vial at the coffee table. Vinny One followed me in looking for a soda to wash down his Ecstasy, and was surprised to find me chopping a line. He stared for a moment, then said, "You're no tweaker."
"Thank you," I replied. "I have a strong policy of using the drug, and not having the drug use me, if you understand what I mean."
"That's a good way of looking at it," he said. "Like the 'E', I keep that to once, maybe twice a week depending on my mood. But your boss, he's developed some problems in my view. Some are related to drugs. Also, he... Well...."
"Please don't say any more. It's none of my business, so I'll forget what you've said."
He smiled and said, "That's why I like you. You understand the concept of discretion."
We had to return to the mansion for the Vinnys' luggage; I apologized for my oversight. "No big deal," I was told. They wanted to talk to Rick/The Director again anyway. I followed them in and idly cleaned camera lenses. This time they talked, and not yelled. I couldn't hear the conversation, which was fine by me. Vinny One came through to get his briefcase, and I flagged him down.
"If you have a moment sir, I'm in a quandry."
"What's the problem, Lenny?"
"Well, I'm not sure how I should handle my duties as photographer if I'm doing the driving for you gentlemen. We have no back-up cameraman. To be frank, I saw the prints from when I was in San Francisco for my court business and felt they'd come out.... sub-par."
Vinny One rubbed his temples and said, "No Lenny, they were crap, front to back. Don't worry about getting the stills shot this week. Rick'll be handling that. Hell, it's what he started off doing for the companies to begin with. You do great stills, and we want you behind a camera, but this current assignment is something you're cut out for. You know the town and you're a great driver, so that's what we need you to do. We'll be getting our own vehicles by the end of the week --- I won't lie, being chauffeured is something I could get used to --- and things will be back to normal, if not better. Anyway, they're waiting for me." He walked down the hall to Rick's (that'll take some getting used to) office. I organized things as best as I could in my "locker" so that Rick could find everything easily.
After about a half-hour the Vinnys exited the office, Vinny Three asking for the keys to the Cadillac so they could store their luggage. All three had unlit cigarettes in their mouths.... A bit strange as I hadn't seen any of them smoke all day. Maybe it was the MDMA.
Rick called to me from down the hall, so I went down. He was standing in his office looking pissed off.
"Didn't know you could kiss ass quite that well, Lenny. 'Sir' to everyone, that's sweet."
Well. Sounds like someone's kicking downwards.
"Actually, I call them sir because I don't know their names, and as our bosses, it seemed like the correct thing to do. Would you prefer being called 'sir'?"
"What's gonna happen," he yelled, "is that you people are gonna treat me with a lot more respect around here. Cut out the pranks, enough with the jokes. This is a place of business and will be treated as one."
I told him, "Boss, we joke around with you because we like you. You can't not be aware when I'm yankin' your chain, c'mon. But you know what? If you want to be addressed as 'sir' from now on, I am fine with that. I can let Bekka know tonight, I'm meeting her for dinner. You shall be known as 'sir' by crew and performers alike."
"Your job is hanging on a thread, Lenny."
A voice had come from just outside the door. I only thought I was uncomfortable before.
Vinny One stepped into the doorway. He didn't look enraged, he actually looked a little sad. "I was kind of afraid you'd have this reaction, Rick. We've been on you for most of the day, and you decided you had to work out on someone below you. That's bullshit, it's a terrible way of treating people, especially very competent employees like Lenny. So he can't talk back to you because you're his boss.
"What we said to you today had to be said, the gestalt we used to have had fallen apart, and there was only one way to get our message across. Lenny, on the other hand, has functioned as a stellar photographer, and all day has performed the tasks given to him with efficiency and speed, making sure we never once were left in the lurch. And you're supposedly mad because he doesn't call you 'sir'?"
While he talked, Vinny One had been slowly backing Rick across the room and up against his desk. I'd have preferred to have been anywhere else right then. Jupiter sounded nice.
"You've always spoken very highly of Lenny, and all of a sudden he's an asshole? Okay, you're feeling frustrated, duh. But you don't work out your frustrations on people just because they can't swing back. Right now I feel like punching you out, because I'm frustrated over how you've treated someone who I have come to view with respect, as a hard and diligent worker. But all that would accomplish is feelings of suspicion and continued anger. So what I want you to do tonight...." Vinny One gave him a healthy smack on the face. ".... is think over your methods of anger management, consider how you treat others affects the both of you, and how those of value in your organization can be treated equitably." He smiled at Rick. "Fair enough? C'mon Lenny, we're ready to go."
Walking to the Cadillac, I felt compelled to say, "He'd have apologized in the morning."
"Yes," said Vinny One, "but that was a symptom of bad habits he's picked up over the last six months or so. We're down here to correct those habits.."
Vinny Three said, "We haven't eaten since breakfast. You know a good restaurant around?"
"Yes sir, I do. I'm supposed to meet Bekka for dinner, we could all eat there, if you don't mind. Decent atmosphere and very good food." I paused a moment. "In fact, you could get a grasp of one of the residences if we went to pick her up."
Vinny Two asked, "Who's Bekka?"
"I'm sorry, Bekka is Becky's real name. Bekka Luchessi, to be complete."
"Is she Sicilian?" asked Vinny One.
"Oh, very much so. Including the temper, if she's sufficiently angry." This prompted chuckling throughout the car. "So is it all right if I call her and tell her we'll be eating with our employers?"
"Tell her your bosses are taking the two of you out to dinner."
"Thank you sir, much appreciated. Although that brings up a small quandry...."
I explained to him about the gasoline, and should I simply save receipts and square up at the end of the week, or just use his card when fueling?
"Can you cover the gas bills for that whale?"
"Yes, no problem."
"Then go ahead and fuel using your own money, and we'll pay you back. Didn't know you were getting paid that well through us."
"Weeelllll..... I, um have a side job. You know the yellow tablets I passed out earlier? They're worth quite a lot of money to people, along with white powder. Really, those are my primary source of income. I hope you're not offended by this."
All three laughed, with Vinny One saying, "Be mighty hypocritical of us, given we've just taken some of the drugs in question! G'wan and call Becky."
I trotted up to the door, only to find it locked. That door was never locked, often even when no one was home. Rick was seriously buggin'. I rang the bell and it was eventually answered.
"If it's okay, I just need to use the phone to call Bekka."
I used the phone in the kitchen. "Hey, it's me. Dinner at the chop house sound okay? Cool. Oh, and we'll have company. Yes, them, you finally get to meet The People From LA. We'll be there in ten or fifteen minutes, 'kay? See you soon, toots."
Rick was standing there with a hang-dog expression. I told him, "Rick, you're still my friend. I hope that means something to you, it's important to me, you know?"
He gave a small smile and said, "It does mean something. Thank you, Lenny." I bid him goodnight and headed back to the Cadillac.
"Bekka is expecting us. I thought we could eat at one of the best chop houses in Southern California, they're famous for their pork ribs." This sounded wonderful to the three high gentlemen riding with me.
"Now this is more like it!" said Vinny One of the smooth roomy ride in the Brougham. As always, he rode shotgun. "No weird-ass seat belts in this one, either!"
"No roll cage, either," I pointed out to the amusement of the others.
I used the key code at the gate to get us in and pulled into one of two of Bekka's spaces, right next to the Falcon. "Each unit has one parking space per bedroom, so you'd have your own parking. I'll have Bekka give you gentlemen a quick walk-through of the grounds. She may even know which unit is up for rent."
She answered the door in a modest-but-slinky dress, dark blue. "Please, come in! I'm about ready to go. I'm Bekka, and you are....?"
"I'm Angel," said Vinny One, kissing the back of her hand.
"I'm Frankie," said Vinny Two, also giving a kiss
"I'm Vinny, only my mother calls me Vincent," providing a kiss on the cheek.
I said, "If it's all right with you, these gentlemen would like a brief tour of the complex. This is one of several places they are considering for a short-term lease. They'll be working out of the mansion for a few months."
"Absolutely. May as well do it now while there's still some daylight."
Bekka showed them the pool and spa, and let them into the gym (treadmill, both pulley and free weights --- by the look on Angel's face it lacked only an automated blowjob machine to make it complete --- and we walked the grounds, ending up at the three bedroom townhouses. They were individual units, no common walls. "These are the ritzy ones," explained Bekka. "One bedroom per floor, and a master bathroom for each floor plus a half-bath downstairs. I love the kitchens --- the Sicilian in me --- and the downstairs have both living rooms and media rooms, with humongous TVs already in place, you just need to have the cable turned on. "
"How secure are the grounds?" asked Frankie.
"I've been here four years, and there hasn't been a single break-in that I've heard of. A pretty good track record."
"Hell guys, I think we could stop looking here," said Angel. "Any chance we can get inside at this hour?"
"If Bobby the property manager still has his lights on, that shouldn't be an issue," said Bekka.
Bobby's lights were on, and he was happy to show them the unit. Bekka hadn't mentioned the office off the media room, or the conversation pit in the living room. The upper bathrooms were all full size, not crammed in. And the TV was about the largest you could get for the time, like a 32" screen. Any larger and you'd be looking at one of the projection screen TVs, and those things sucked.
"You know me, I'm not rash," said Angel, "but this place is perfect, personally I say yes."
Vinny said, "Gets my vote."
"Mine too," said Frankie.
"I have a question about hot water," I said.
Bobby smiled and said, "Thirty-two gallon heaters on each level. You can all shower at the same time in comfort."
"And the hours of the spa and gym?"
"Six a.m. to ten p.m., seven days. We just ask no glass or alcohol in or around the spa.
"And parking for three?"
"Absolutely. One per bedroom."
Angel said,, "Lets's go sign some paperwork, Bobby. It'll be a few days for us to get our clothes and stuff down from LA."
Angel, Frankie, and Vinny --- there had to be a Vinny, didn't there --- read paperwork and signed things while Bekka and I stood outside and smoked. "So what do you think of the new neighbors?" I asked .
In a very low voice, Bekka said, "To hell with the California way of talking, those dudes are straight-up mafioso. Just accept what I'm saying and don't get involved too deep with them. Your mega-politeness act you've got going right now? Keep it up. And do not go into business with them. You're happy being a cameraman and slingin' dope to white trash. You're lucky: they won't touch meth. They dabble in Ecstasy, but not in a heavy way, they don't take it seriously. If you were in coke, your future would already be planned."
"What if I said I just didn't want to do business?"
She gave a bitter chuckle and said, "Nice knowing ya. You'd just disappear."
"But.... They seem like really cool guys. They took me showing up in your car this morning with good grace, and they could have been total dicks about it. You heard The Director, they were expecting a Lincoln and they got a two-door hot rod. With roll bars."
"I'm not saying to be terrified of them, just don't go into business with them. Get me?"