Angel said to me, "You've got an assignment, what with you being our errand boy and all." (Laughter filled the table.) "It's up to you to locate a U-Haul center in Encino or Sherman Oaks or wherever and reserve a truck, make sure they'll have the boxes we need, and also locate an Avis lot so we can drop off the Caddy. I figure we can take taxis up to our houses while you take one to the U-Haul, assemble boxes, then just do a route of dropping off boxes at everybody's house. You load up, we take off, we meet at the townhouse. Make sense?"
"Works well for me," I said. I pulled out a notepad and pen --- another day where following a hunch paid off --- and asked for everyone's addresses and cross streets. "Do you all live in the San Fernando area?"
Vinny said, "We're all in the hills above Encino. A beautiful view when it isn't too brown out (more laughter). In fact we're all within about six blocks of each other."
"That was good luck."
"We all graduated from USC together, and we all had the same goal in mind."
"To be rich."
Angel said, "We were able to rely on some support from family, we're all cousins, to help get us going. We'd decided adult film and later adult video were the best routes to take. We started small, just doing eight and sixteen millimeter films, mail order crap. By 1979 home video was booming, we jumped on board, and we've got the six companies. We still have a lot of growing to do."
"Well, I'll do what I can to help," I told them.
"You already are, Lenny," I was told.
"On the subject of helping, is Bekka on the board for today? I left my Los Angeles North map in her Falcon. If she's not working I'll need to stop by the complex." We finished our coffee, Angel signed for the bill, and we went out. (Angel seemed to have become more rich than the other two, quicker. He certainly wasn't cheap, though.)
Bekka was having her coffee when I swung in. I asked about her working, and she said no. "I can afford to miss four days work. A lot of the girls on the board can't, so I'm not about to ask them to knock someone off so I can get back on. That just wouldn't be fair. I can start being a star next week, you know?" I got my map and we headed for the mansion.
On our way there, I explained what Bekka had told me, and it was agreed she was being fair and generous. "She has that kind of savings?" asked Angel.
"Oh yeah," I replied. "She's not tight with her money, but she grew up poor and so she's..... I guess 'thrifty' would be the best descriptive. And she does work a lot. I don't know her to turn down work, except for anal scenes. She doesn't do anal."
"Good information," said Vinny.
We pulled in the driveway to find Steve smoking another cigarette. "Thank God you're here! I was worried I was going to be with the boss all day again."
"Uhhh.... I have bad news for you. I'll be with you in the afternoon, and we'll all be gone tomorrow, all day."
"The boss has this brilliant idea that everything should be shot twice: first for the Nikons, then for video. Time wasting, impractical, hell on the performers, but easier for him.... He says that since the still shooting would all be posed it won't matter, but we're dealing with men, not cyborgs. No matter how talented the guy, he's gonna drop.... And this is a three-on-one gang bang we're doing this morning. Rita is talented, but she only has one mouth, you know?"
Frankie suddenly popped up with, "I'll do the stills."
The four of us stared in amazement. Angel finally said, "You haven't done photo work in years. This is a lot more fast paced, the cameras are different.... Are you sure you can handle it?"
"If I fuck it up, you can cut off a thumb. But I know the video cameras get precedence, changing film quick is like riding a bicycle, and you and Vinny can get a full morning's work done with Rick. I can handle it, and Lenny can handle our transportation arrangements. If he finishes quick, I'll just hand over to him."
"He does seem to have the confidence," I said.
"Like I said, it's like riding a bicycle."
"Look at how it went with Rick yesterday."
"I've never seen him ride a bicycle."
I dove in Rick's office before they got started and grabbed the San Fernando phone book. Rick smirked at me while I did, I smiled back. Angel chose that moment to tell Rick, "Your plan about getting Lenny off the cameras? That's not happening. He's too good at his job for us to waste his talents. You'll be on the cameras tomorrow, and then that's it. Lenny is pretty much the permanent cameraman around here. I don't know why the fuck you thought that would change. I don't care that he's fairly new to it, everyone likes his work too much for us to sacrifice his talents acting as some kind of gofer. After tomorrow he is permanent, and will be where he belongs: with a goddamn Nikon in his hands. You don't make decisions like that anymore without checking with us first. Frankie is running the cameras this morning, it's work he's done before --- just like you --- and you, Vinny and I will work on your financials. I don't care if we have to go day by day, we're sorting that shit out.. Am I clear?"
Looking deflated, Rick said, "No problem, Angel. But I still think ----- "
"Don't bother to think about it, the decision has been made. The man with the talent will be the man holding the job. Okay, we're still in May, second week...."
I interrupted. "Angel, do you have a preference between U-Haul and Penske? I prefer Penske, their vehicles are safer, but cost a bit more."
"Go with safety. Oh, and you'll need my plastic, huh?" He pulled out his AmEx card and license and I went on my way.
From down the hall --- I was using Small Steve's office --- I could hear Rick saying, "You really trust him with your credit cards?"
"I regard Lenny as inherently trustworthy. Can you name a reason he's not? And don't name his extra income as a reason, since we're all criminals so far as that goes. Hell, he's got the best product around I've seen for a while...."
I got up and quietly closed the door.
Avis and Penske were within eight blocks of each other. I could walk from one to the other, taking in a lovely walking tour of Van Nuys while I did it, absorbing all those lovely carcinogens. I called the local Avis to let them know the Cadillac would be dropped in Van Nuys, and not locally. An extra $35, and return it full.
The Penske yard assured me they had boxes galore, of all styles. Hand truck, $5 extra, wall straps free if undamaged. Instead of a daily-plus-mileage rate, they calculated the distance from yard to yard and charged a flat rate.... Within reason. You were given an allowance of mileage, over that level and they did start charging you. Cruising a moving van didn't sound like a real thrill to me, so I wasn't worried about it. U-Haul might have been a little cheaper, but considering the rolling wrecks they put on the road, I was happier with a Penske, which I knew wouldn't blow a tire or throw a rod at 65 mph.
I confirmed with Penske that all I'd need was the reservation number --- I was using my boss's credit card, after all --- and they took my name and driver's license number just for safety's sake. I got the clerk's name for my own safety.
I stepped out of Steve's office into a small collection of men with erections, an unknown woman who was looking rather stressed, and a tiny Mexican girl who had her usual perky look on her face. "Lenny! I heard you were being fired! ¿Que paso? I've been sad all day!"
I told her, "The boss thought he didn't need me anymore, and his bosses convinced him otherwise. Tell me, did the shoot yesterday morning really start off as bad as I heard?"
We stepped outside to smoke, and she began ramrodding Spanish at me: "Oh, las cosas comenzaron a volar en pedazos la derecha del palo, con el jefe golpeando en las cámaras y entrar en la línea de visión y---- "
"Whoa, whoa, whoa! Slow down, babe!" I smiled at her.
"Sorry. Oh, things began flying to pieces right off the bat, with the boss knocking into cameras and getting into the line of sight and he even spoke once. It was like having a kid in the room, no lie. And I've got a bigger problem."
She leaned close to me and said, "He wants to marry me. The boss does."
I did an admirable job of feigning surprise, asking, "What did you say?"
"I haven't said anything yet, but.... No. He is twenty-five years older than me, and I do not love him. I think he got un enamoramiento romántico when I blew him that one time, he took it the wrong way. He hasn't actually asked me, but he has made hints. I shall wait until he asks."
We went back upstairs and I ran into Frankie. I told him I was ready to take over, I had the transportation arranged. "Do you mind if I finish?" he asked. "I'm having fun."
I told him it was up to Steve: his shoot, so he calls the shots. I had no objections, since I had map work I could be doing, but he needed to ask Steve, and if Steve said no, them's the breaks.
Steve said yes, he was doing fine.... Just spend less time tracking the video cameras and get some shots on his own. "Lenny learned real quick that you can have a whole different product by saying to hell with the video angles and making the shoot your own. You watch the video and then look at his stills, they're like two different events. The magazines come across as whole separate shoots."
Frankie gave him a thumbs-up and checked his film. I went back downstairs for a bump, a smoke, and to start map work. The afternoon shoot was a two-on-one outdoor, using the lawn and not the pool. I didn't know the names anywhere on the board except Vince. The boss had done his best to replace as many regulars as possible, it seemed, replacing them not just with irregulars, but with utter novices.
I know what subject is being brought up at lunch. This isn't about friendship, but business. And the boss was pissing me off.
My suspicion about why putting novices in front of a camera was confirmed several moments later when Steve came downstairs with a cassette in his hand and chucked it in the trash bin. "That," he said, pointing at the bin, "will never see the fucking light of day. Only a fucking sicko would want to watch that. That girl spent the last ten minutes choking back tears. That wasn't a fuck scene, that was a goddamn rape, and if that's what we're doing around here everybody can fuck off! Goddamn but I want a fucking drink!"
"Whoa, slow down a bit....."
"I won't have one, I just want one, you know?"
I asked, "Where is the girl? How is the girl?"
"Rita and Jeanette are getting her calmed down, the guy doing stills is trying to help too, but I don't think she needs a male voice right now. You know how bad it went? The guys were apologizing to her during breaks. And boy, did we have breaks.... Hard to film a loop when the female performer is fucking crying!"
I went for the phone. "Who are you calling?" Steve asked.
"The girl needs counseling, and Bekka has done this sort of thing before. If anyone can help her, Bekka can."
She answered on the fourth ring. "Bekka, we need your help here bad."
"A novice was lined up to do a triple penetration loop, and she's had a bad reaction. I guess she finished the shoot, but it's unusable. You're good at this, please, please come up here. You can help this poor girl better than anyone else can. She needs more than the comfort she's getting from Rita and Jeanette, she need some strength, you know?"
"Let me get some shoes one and I'll be right there. And thank you."
Bekka must have drove like, well, me, to make the time she did. I led her upstairs to where the girl, whose name was Candace, was getting dressed. I shooed Frankie out and left the women to themselves.
Steve was standing in the kitchen nursing a soda. He said to me, "What kind of idiot puts a damn novice on a triple penetration---- why am I asking? I know exactly which idiot. The one who's become cheap and stupid recently. Seriously, if if he's gonna be at lunch today, I'll eat at Carl's Jr.instead. Right now I'm ready to walk, I really am."
I said, "Don't be rash. Ain't no problems we can't solve. Besides, then you'll leave me with him to deal with alone, y'know?" I finally got a chuckle out of Steve.
Steve turned to Frankie and said, "I'm really sorry you had to see that. And I know how much that viewfinder can protect you, but that still must have had to have hurt. What was your take?"
Frankie said, "I'll tell you in a minute," as he'd heard the women coming down the stairs. I offered them sodas, which they accepted and went out to the patio.
"It was just.... A vibe, you know? right before that break, she seemed to be having a hard time with what she was doing, like she'd made a bad decision and now there was no way out of it. She looked.... trapped. That's the best way of describing it. As if she'd volunteered for a dangerous situation and all she could do was play it out, no matter how bad it was."
"At least the guys weren't laughing it off."
"If they had," said Steve, "I'd have cut it off right there, told 'em 'you'll get your checks in the mail, get dressed and fuck off' and ended the shoot. We were telling her, 'Buck up, just another few minutes, you're doing fine,' and in my head I'm cussing out Rick for putting a novice in a scene that pros will turn down. Shit, I don't even know if any of them had their blood tests, if she'd ever even done anal, just no information at all about my performers. Fuckin' Rick put her in that situation when he knew he shouldn't have. This was totally avoidable, all he would have needed to do is bring in Tawny or Ellen or Josie or even a couple different irregulars that do anal. Have that poor girl do a basic one-on-one with lots of oral to keep it interesting."
The slider opened and Bekka called for me. "Can you give her a ride home? She lives in Oaceanside."
I looked to Frankie for approval, and he nodded his head. "We can wait," he said. "Maybe sort out some of what happened, prevent it from happening again."
Steve said, "There's already protocols in place to prevent such things from happening."
"I see," said Frankie.
I said to Bekka, "I'll be a lot more comfortable if you rode with me,"
"Not a problem. I was thinking the same thing."
Bekka ushered her into the back of the Cadillac and got in beside her, saying, "We're getting the limo treatment today. Just give Lenny directions and we'll get you home. Do you want to stop anywhere on the way?"
"Yes. A liquor store."
"Yeah, no. That will make things worse. That will bring things up to the surface in a bad way. Maybe a few wine coolers to help you relax, but getting a heavy buzz will have the opposite effect of what you want to happen. I wish I had some Valium, something that would slow your brain down. Do you mind if I meet your roomies, talk to them for a few minutes and let them know what's going on? Actually here...." And Bekka dug through her purse for pen and paper, putting down her phone number. "If you are feeling fractured, please call me, any hour, and we can talk things through. And I mean that. Call if you need a voice, any time. Now let's go meet your house-mates. They will be understanding, won't they?"
"Yeah, they're very supportive."
"Okay, very cool."
The roommates were on the porch, attracted by the monstrous Cadillac. As near as I could tell Bekka did most of the talking, using her hands and arms to talk in the classic Italio-Sicilian manner. I purposely kept my window up to provide them some privacy. They talked for several minutes, then Bekka hugged all those present and came back to the car. As she opened the door, she called, "Remember, easy on the booze, it only sounds like it makes sense!" She jumped in and we rolled out.
"So what was the story? Rape victim?"
Bekka said, "No.... But you'd have assumed so by her reactions. Just a little girl who got in way over her head way too fast. She was expecting a one-on-one, or even a girl-girl, for her first time out, not a fucking triple-penetration the first time she's in front of a camera. She'd never done anal before, bu here's the fucking boss handing her a couple disposable Fleet enemas and telling her, 'No problem, it doesn't hardly hurt at all!' I'd like to fuck his ass and see how he likes it!"
"You'll have to wait in line," I told Bekka. "Frankie, Calm Steve, and Small Steve felt like they were filming a rape scene, Rita and Jeanette did their best to comfort her but were in way over their heads --- that's why I called you --- even the guys were trying to comfort her, telling her 'It's over with in a few minutes, we'll go gentle, honest, we're not trying to cause pain....' I'm just glad we didn't have total jockos on today. Where did they come from?"
"Hell, where did anyone on the board this week come from? They're all novices, I swear. It's like we're recruiting from the bus station or something."
"With a bit of luck," I said, "You can ask at lunch."