I dropped off the the three gentlemen and went back out to buy Windex and paper towels and Armor all and cigarettes. When I returned, Small Steve was standing at the gate looking peeved. I got out and asked him what was up.
"Well, if there was any question as to who you meant about having a short temper, the answer is being demonstrated inside. Angel is rippin' the boss a new one over the whole thing with Bekka. It's scary to hear, I'm waiting for the boss to go flying through a window, and I'm not kidding." Steve was stressed: he bummed a cigarette off me.
"I'll go see if they'll quiet down.," I told Steve.
"There's not enough money to get me to walk in that room. No way."
"You know what? The worst that can happen is that I get beaten up and fired. I've had both happen on the same day --- not by the same person --- but what are the odds?"
I walked in through the glass slider to hear Angel roaring ".... and you never, ever, speak for me again. If I've got something I need to tell someone, I do it myself.... And I don't fuckin' lie about who's saying what. That was bullshit you pulled, saying we'd talked it over. Our most valuable performer in this studio, and you try to run her off saying----- what do you want, Lenny!?"
"Would you mind if I closed the door?" I deadpanned.
And he pulled a complete Jekyll/Hyde on me. He opened his mouth to yell, then closed it and smiled at me. "We've been a bit loud in here, huh? Sorry about that, go ahead and close the door." I thanked him and went out, pulling the door closed behind me.
I went and let Steve know the coast was clear, to his utter amazement. "How did you do that?" he gasped.
"I simply asked, in a direct and respectful manner. Demonstrating respect seems to work wonders with Angel, that and not mincing words. I joke with him, lightly, but light quips and that's it. He really is a good guy, he just has some anger management issues. And he is genuinely angry with the boss at the moment. It's more than the thing with Bekka,; I couldn't tell you what all the issues are, but they've been building for months, as near as I can tell. It's not my business, and I intend to keep it that way, They ask for opinions, I provide them in an objective and succinct manner. And honest, too. If they asked if I thought the boss was ripping off the company and I thought he was, I would tell them I had my suspicions. And leave it at that, allowing them to do the prodding.
"You see? With these guys, especially Angel, it's all about good manners without kissing ass, and not wasting words. They're alright guys --- hell, you had lunch with them. Ain't nothing wrong with them."
"Okay, okay. I'll try to relax around them."
"They already like you, just for your work if nothing else. You're fine."
I left Steve to his chopping and went out to make the interior of the Cadillac nice and shiny. Dashboard then doors with the Armor-All, then the interior glass with the Windex. I mopped down the exterior with a wet chamois, then polished it with the dry one. An hour later, the Cadillac looked better than it did when I picked up. I hung up the two chamois in the garage to dry and disposed of the paper towels, tucking the roll and and Windex under the kitchen sink.
With nothing better to do, I hung around in the kitchen cleaning lenses, total busy work. There was already fresh film in both Nikons. I wished Bekka was around, we could do some solo glamour shots of her in and around the pool, just run of three or four rolls of her suited, semi-nude, nude, and spread-shots. Maybe go upstairs and fart around with the lighting, I could get a better feeling for the lights and how to bring up different effects. That was one thing that had been made clear to me: go through all the film you feel like. Even just dicking around, don't be afraid to run through rolls for fun.
What the hell, give her a call.
And get her answering machine. Damn.
I'd call Ellen to see if she's bored and up to it, but I don't have her number memorized, and it's only listed in the boss's office. No way am I going in there until the boss, Angel, Vinny, and Frankie come out. I walk down the hall, but the door is still shut. I can hear Angel going on about "the company's core competencies" and decide to leave it alone.
What the hell. I grab a dirty towel from the bin --- we used a laundry service --- grab the Armor-All, and do the tires on the Cadillac. Okay, now it looks sharp.
I was meticulously cleaning the overspray off the spokes of the Cadillac wheels when a familiar small V8 rumbled up into the driveway. "Hey girl!" I said, as we kissed hello. "what brings you by?"
"Weirdest thing, and I'm not sure how to deal with it," she said. That one guy, Angel, calls me up and says, 'If it's all right, Rick needs to talk with you.' Okay.... I told him I needed to get dressed first and then I'd be over. So here I am. Any idea what's going on?"
"Things were stressful, but they've calmed down as near as I know. Me, I'm just here polishing the Caddy. Wishing they had someplace to go. Say, if you're bored, you wanna do some glamour shots? You have a bathing suit here?"
"Sure, and three to choose from. I'll go see what's up. I'll need to do my own makeup, but if we shoot outside any mistakes I make won't show."
"Go on in and say hi, then," I told her. "And ask if there's anything they want me doing besides us playing with the Nikons."
"Oh! Help eliminate a pet peeve of mine when you're doing your makeup? Apply that shit light, like you're actually at a pool to be at a pool? Lay off the mascara, mostly. It just looks.... weird, you know?"
She laughed and promised not to cake it on.
Ten minutes later she came back out, wearing reasonable makeup and what passed as swimwear, and a slightly shell-shocked look on her face. "Well.... The boss apologized for trying to lay me off."
"You don't seem happy about it."
"I think it was a little coerced."
"Like, punching-him-until-he-agrees coerced."
"Well.... Hopefully Angel got it out of his system. I've been trying to keep him from doing that since yesterday, but it was bound to happen. I don't know what the boss has done to make Angel so angry, but it's been brewing for a while now. So what were they working on?"
"Um, Vinny was on the phone with Pac Bell, Angel was on the kitchen phone, Frankie was sitting behind Steve watching him work. You know how much Steve loves that.
"When I walked in, Angel told whoever it was he'd need to call him back. He said to me, 'Someone owes you an apology' and escorts me into the boss's office. The boss is sittin' there red-faced, and when I walked in he starts spurting out about how he'd made a complete mistake, there's no way he want's to give me the sack, he doesn't know what he was thinking, he's terribly sorry, and on and on.
"He finally stops and Angel says, 'We just felt that needed to be cleared up. For any scheduling conflicts or requests, please talk to me or Frankie from now on., okay hon?' and ushers me back out. I ask him about you and I doing glamour shots, and he says it sounds like a great idea, that we'll be needing the photos in a while. He got back on the phone, I changed and came out here. Wild, huh?"
"He's a man I never want angry at me," I told her.
"Oh, and he has an assignment for the both of us after we're done shooting. He wants us to stock the townhouse with all the random stuff they'll need: towels, toilet paper, dish soap and sponges, pots and pans, toilet brushes, just.... All the random stuff you need in a house. He gave me a grand, and let him know if we need more. Also, he said they'll be working late, so don't worry too much about time. I gave him your pager number in case he needs to talk to you."
As if on cue, Angel popped out the slider and called, "Hey Lenny! I know you want your evenings to yourself, so I'll only call after six if it's real important, okay?"
"Sounds perfect!" I reply, and Bekka start deciding what to shoot and how. We've only got an hour of good sunlight left, so we gotta make it snappy.
Two hours later Bekka and I are each pushing a shopping cart around the Target in Oceanside. We've written out as complete of a list as we can, and have collected most of it. Now we're standing in an aisle trying to think of what we've forgotten.
"Um.... Oven mitts, glass lasagna pan, cooking spray.... Let's leave food up to them, they might be picky about brand, so we'll just show 'em where the Safeway is. Kitchen towels.... Was there a toaster?"
"I don't remember."
"Fuck it, we'll pick one up, and if it's not needed, we'll just return it. How much cash do you have?"
"Of my own? About $800. We're good on cash, we'll just give them the receipt and they'll pay back the difference. It's the pots and pans that ran up the bill."
"Yeah, but if these guys are even part-Sicilian, they'll want that stuff, and good stuff, too. Again, we can return what's not needed---- Oh! Powder for the automatic dishwasher!"
"Good point. I had a roommate who tried using Tide instead. Let's just say the floor was good and clean."
"Did we get Tide?"
"Nope. Better grab some. Look, we're gonna forget something, I'm sure of it. We apologize and go get it. Still, we have definitely hit the high spots, they can't complain too loud. The plates and bowls actually kind of match the kitchen colors, the glasses too. We should get some big plastic tumblers for ice water. I'd say to get drinks glasses, but they don't strike me as drinkers, at least not at home. Angel had a scotch and soda at dinner, and the other two just stuck with soda. Grab these last bits of business and we're done, except for what we've forgotten. We can get what we've forgotten later."
We checked out ($1,244.67) and loaded up, then headed for the mansion to get keys to the townhouse. They were still at it hammer and tong with the boss looking pasty and all three gentlemen looking irritated. It was my guess that numbers were not matching up to where they should be: a very, very bad situation.. We collected keys and headed to Olivehurst.
We had just finished making the final bed when my pager went off. I checked the phone and found it operable, so I called the mansion. Angel answered and told me it was time to get out for the night. He sounded tired and cranky, so I suggested we have Bekka pick a decent restaurant, someplace with a good scotch and soda to start things off and help him unwind. He thought this a stellar idea, so I ran over to collect the three gentlemen, then we headed for the townhouse to pick Bekka up.
She was just returning from the dumpsters with the last load of trash, and had put the finishing touches on things when we arrived. They were delighted, from the entryway rug to the made beds to the equipment-stocked kitchen to the plates to the bathroom towels: we had brightened the end of their day. They'd spend their last night in the Marriott, then begin staying in the townhouse. After that they'd give up the luxury of being chauffeured and I'd drive them up to retrieve their own cars.
Their clothes were another matter, but I had an idea. Rent a Penske or U-Haul truck and purchase six wardrobe boxes plus some standard storage boxes. Assemble the boxes and move from home to home, collecting the loaded boxes in the truck. They'd just car pool up from La Costa, with me bringing up the rear.
At Bekka's suggestion we went to a seafood place, which left me in the cold as they had no Pacific salmon. I settled on a tuna steak instead. Frankie said, "So how come there's so many good restaurants in La Costa?"
"It's a snooty sort of town, to be frank. Restaurants which aren't up to snuff will wither away very quickly. To be blunt, I've eaten better being around you gentlemen in the last two days than I have in the last month.. I will confess to being both lazy and incompetent as a cook. Bekka's cooking alone has prevented me from contracting scurvy."
"It's true," said Bekka. "His freezer is literally stuffed with Hungry Man dinners."
Vinny said, "Bekka, you and I should put together a good Italio-Sicilian meal for these guys some night. Sound good?"
"We can blow their minds," smiled Bekka. "San Diego has a Little Italy neighborhood downtown that we can exploit for raw ingredients and specialty items. There's a place that sells hand-made sausages."
"We should buy a cooler, do a lot of grocery shopping down there."
"I've done it, it's a blast. Especially when you throw the clerks by speaking to them in Italian."
Vinny said, "Così si è fluente in italiano? <So, you're fluent in Italian?>"
Bekka replied, "Abbastanza vicino. Sembri sorpreso. <Fairly close. You sound surprised.>"
Bekka smiled cruelly and said, "Vogliamo irritare gli altri, continuando su questa strada? <Shall we irritate the others and continue on like this?>"
"Frankie e Angel possono entrambi parlare italiano ad un grado. Ho paura che avremmo solo essere imbarazzante tuo ragazzo. <Frankie and Angel both speak Italian to a degree. I'm afraid we'd merely be embarrassing your boyfriend.>"
"Lenny avrebbe preso come una sfida e cercare di insegnare a se stesso durante la notte italiana. <Lenny would take it as a challenge and try to teach himself Italian overnight.>"
Halfway through dinner and after everyone who mattered had two drinks, I asked, "So were you able to sort out the fiscal problems Rick was having?"
Frankie stated simply, "It's a clusterfuck."
Vinny said, "It's like he's invented his own math, where two plus two equals five, and while it's consistent, it doesn't help when it doesn't follow reason to begin with."
Angel said, "I am seriously beginning to suspect that Rick is purposely triggering my rage in order to keep us distracted from the problems at hand. I will admit I have issues with controlling my temper, that I vent rage when it is inappropriate, and these neuroses affect my interactions with both strangers and close companions.
"I'm telling this to you two under the strictest confidence: my inability to control my anger nearly killed me. My wife and I got in an argument over.... Something stupid, totally inconsequential, and, um, I hit her."
He paused to take a couple breaths.
"I realized what I had done, to the person on this earth that means more than anything, and I spent a while sitting in the garage with a gun in my mouth. My wife --- my beautiful wife, who I had given a black eye to, came out and talked me down. I spent a couple weeks in the hospital, and I've been in therapy ever since. I know my behavior doesn't necessarily demonstrate it over the last couple days, but I'm doing much better than I used to. It's been hard, but I haven't let loose on Rick. I've done a lot of yelling, but breaking your door is the worst thing I've done in a while so far as physical abuse goes." He chuckled sadly. "It kind of sucks that yelling and screaming is considered an improvement."
"But anyway, what I suspect Rick is doing is triggering me on purpose, so that I won't get into the financials. He's aware of my problems, so he knows all he has to do is push my buttons and I'll lose track of what we're working on: the subject creating anger distracts me from the subject at hand."
"I can empathize, Angel," I said quietly. "I suffer fairly severe bipolar disorder, which is controlled via medication. If I go without my Klonipin or my Lithium who knows what I'll wake up as."
"Don't take this the wrong way, but I don't envy you. Bipolar syndrome is just too unpredictable." Angel laughed. "My moods only have two phases, and you could go through a dozen in a day!" We both laughed.
"Seriously though," I said, "what intrigues me is all the faxing and calling. Who and why? Especially the faxes. Getting the records from Pacific Bell and finding a pattern may explain some of the fiscal errors, possibly."
"The phones are in my name, so I'll retrieve all that tomorrow," said Frankie.
I got home and checked messages, to find it was my turn to be made redundant....
"Hello, Lenny, this is the boss. I've been giving it some thought. With you functioning as the errand boy for Frankie and Vinny and Angel, there's not much point in having you spending time with a camera in your hand, y'know? They can pay you what they want and I'll just take over shooting stills.. And I've been shooting stills since you were in junior high school, plus the fact that I doubt you'll suffer financially. Long and short, you don't need to worry about being here tomorrow, okay? I'll talk to you later."
Well. My my.
Angel's hypothesis that the boss was purposely trying to aggravate Angel just gained more traction.. He knew this edict wouldn't stick, he had to, he had to. First of all, Rick knew my work as a photographer was too well-valued for the gentlemen to simply roll over and say, "Gosh, we really don't need him at all, do we? We'll replace him with you, Rick, and keep going business as usual." I took too much pride in my work to believe that would happen.
That, and Rick trying to step over Angel's head on any decision, especially the hiring and firing of staff that the boss knew Angel liked, just wasn't going to happen. I wasn't concerned about my job --- I'd simply be reinstated like Bekka had been --- but a genuine concern for Angel's physical and mental health.
I had a few thoughts. The first was it would be better to let the three gentlemen know what had happened tonight, and not in the morning, for no other reason than patching drywall would be cheaper than replacing auto glass. The second was Angel would have the night to calm down and plan his behavior: instead of just blowing up at Rick, he would be able to organize his thoughts.
And the third? That would involve psychological assault on our part.
I made the call I dreaded most, calling Angel.
"Hello, Angel? This is Lenny. Um, apparently I'm no longer going to be functioning as the still photographer for Inana. I got a message on my machine from Rick telling me that since I'm having all my time monopolized as, and I quote, 'an errand boy' for you gentlemen, my services are no longer needed. Rick will be taking over as the cameraman."
"So the sonofabitch changed targets, huh? Bull. Shit. Don't worry about that, you're still the cameraman. In two days we'll have gotten our clothes and cars and you'll be back to full-time camera work. Rick's just a fuckin' flunky filling in until then."
"Actually," I said, "I had a different idea. Obviously you still need him to go over the financial records with you, so have him do both, at the same time. The financial stuff is unavoidable, so at every cut and break you demand he pick up where he left off, no break. It will be interesting to see how he handles that sort of intellectual gear change all day. He doesn't handle that sort of stress well, and I doubt he would in this situation. Being leaned on in two different directions would not agree with him."
Angel was silent a moment, then chuckled. "Lenny, be out front here at eight o'clock tomorrow morning. We're gonna get some work done. I wanna see how well Rick handles two jobs at once. Okay?"
"Fine with me, sir.
Then I went and took care of three people looking for product, went home and showered, and talked on the phone with Boss (not the boss, but Boss) for a while. He was surprisingly learning the art of Italian motorcycles, via Dutch. Their mutual interest in Sportsters had carried over into leg-burners in general. I told him I'd be picking up from him in a day or two, my day job was really jamming me up ("Poor baby, gotta take pitchers a hot chicks all damn day!" was his response), we set a tentative time, and signed off. I checked my alarm and went to bed.