My preferred time of departure from the Marriott had been four a.m., so as to beat traffic. This was vetoed aggressively, in favor of putting trust in the HOV lanes to make time. (I suspected Frankie had the loudest veto, as he didn't want to miss his last breakfast at the Marriott.)
The trip north wasn't too bad: a jam-up in Culver City, then over the Sepulveda Pass and off at Sherman way. The Avis was on Van Nuys Blvd. I fueled then checked the Cadillac in while the gentlemen called for a cab. The counter guy commented on how clean and shiny Mira Mesa kept their vehicles. I told him, "Naw, that was me. I was bored and since this thing was being used as a limo, well...." He offered me a job, I told him I already had one taking pictures of naked people. He seemed rather blasé about this answer. Then I started walking.
I hadn't really figured in scale when I planned my route. It was nearly two miles from the Avis to the Penske dealership, in that lovely chewy valley air. I was well soaked when I reached Penske; the counterman asked if I'd walked from someplace.
"Yeah," I wheezed, "the Avis Dealership up the street."
"Why didn't you just take a cab?"
"The blocks look shorter (*gasp*) on a map."
We began gathering boxes: nine wardrobe boxes and fifteen 24x24x18 standard packing boxes. They would take unused boxes so long as they hadn't been assembled. I also bought a tape gun and an extra roll of tape.and a marker, to keep everyone's stuff separated.
There was a bit of hassle at check-out when it turned out --- as I'd told them --- that I would not have my boss's credit card with me. "No, we need the physical card to complete the transction.."
"Really? Because I spoke with...." I consulted my notepad ".... Julian yesterday and he assured me that all I needed was the reservation number. I brought other information with me, but I do not have the physical card. Why don't we get Julian and sort this out?"
Julian appears and begins to apologize, the card is needed, why don't I run up to my boss's place and get the card from him. I point out the car that I didn't drive sitting at the curb. Very special car: it's invisible. I ask to use the phone and call Angel, explaining what has happened and that I'll be swinging by in a cab as quickly as possible. "Don't let me down, Lenny," he tells me.
"Absolutely not, sir."
"Your boss kind of a ball-buster, huh?"
"He does not tolerate mistakes well," I reply.
Julian snaps his fingers and says, "I know what we can do. We'll get the imprint made at the yard in San Diego. We've got the information for payment already, and so long as you don't steal the truck, no one will be any the wiser."
"Works for me, and thank you," i tell him.
"Ah, I've worked for ball-busters before myself, I know how it goes."
I read my map and head up the hill, aiming for Angel's house first.
Angel is pleasantly surprised to see me pull up in the truck. "Talked 'em out of it, did you?"
"Something like that," I said. "I just need the card when I turn the truck in. I got three wardrobe boxes each and five good-sized storage boxes each. Here, let me get the boxes assembled for you, and then I'll do the same over at Vinny and Frankie's houses. You should fit five suits per wardrobe box, so you should have plenty of room for hanging clothes."
I popped the sides, taped the bottom,and dropped in the hanger bar. "Clever design, eh? When the boxes are full, I just tape them shut, wheel them up the ramp, and we're ready to go. Let me knock out the rest real quick....."
I noticed a couple things at all three houses. All three men liked their cars fast.
Angel had a Maserati, Vinny had a Porsche 911, and Frankie had gone all out and bought a Ferrari. The other thing I noticed was their wives. From what I could tell, they were Mediterranean, beautiful, and rather pointedly not introduced to me. While a
|Vinny's Porsche 911|
|Frankie's Tesstarossa Ferrari|
So I went from house to house, loading boxes in the back, marking off what belonged to who, and knocking out the accumulated stuff of three rather rich men. I was curious as to which vehicles they would bring down: the garages also held Volvos and Nissans, practical cars made for hauling groceries and kids. I knew at least Frankie had a child.... Either that or he liked riding around on a tiny pink bicycle with a banana seat.
As soon as each house was finished, I took off, to give the men and their wives some privacy to say goodbye. While they almost never talked about their spouses, according to Bekka (who picked up extra money acting as a maid after shooting in the afternoon; they wanted someone they could trust and the Sicilian girl fit the bill) all three kept pictures of their wives next to their beds and called them every night. Cool, and good on them, y'know? Twice a week Angel would have a phone therapy session with his anger management counselor. She made sure to find things to do elsewhere in the house during those sessions.
I'd been given instructions to bring three hits of my MDMA, meet them at the Denny's in San Clemente to distribute them, and grab a bite of lunch. I went in the bathroom to do a quick rail. They wanted to see how things were going with Steve being Rick's boss. They gave me the house keys and told me to unload.
"Gentlemen, I don't know who has which room," I pointed out.
Angel said, "I'm up top, Vinny is in the middle, and Frankie is on the bottom."
"Not a problem. Should I unpack at all?"
"Go ahead and get the wardrobe boxes emptied, leave the storage boxes to us."
I whistled while I worked, getting the boxes to their respective rooms, then cutting tape. I did Angel's room first, filling his closet with with anything on a hanger. I got down to the last and realized there was something rattling around in the bottom. I inverted the box and found myself staring at a Beretta 9 mm automatic, tucked into a shoulder holster, lying on the floor.
I didn't feel it wise to just leave it lying on the bed, so I put it in the top left dresser drawer. And then the phone rang: Angel had remembered what was in one of his boxes.
"Lenny, you, uh, find something in one of the wardrobe boxes?"
"Yes I did. I placed it in the top of your drawers, left side. If Vinny and Frankie also have such hardware in their boxes, I'll place them in the same location, top left."
"And I can count on your usual discretion?"
"Thank you, Lenny." (*click*)
Knowing when to not know things seemed to be a big part of working for these guys.
Vinny was the jackpot, a relative arsenal: the twin brother of the Beretta he normally wore, a snubnose .38 revolver, and a sawed-off shotgun which would clear a room. It had maybe nine inches of barrel, making it useless for anything but indoor work. Up close, it would blow a hole through somebody you could throw a terrier through. Past thirty feet and it was useless, the shot would clatter to the ground after bouncing off the target.
Frankie carried the lightest, a single .380 automatic. With work, the .380 could be very effective against anyone on the same block: not necessarily lethal, but enough to drop someone. If anything, it had a lot of practicality, since it made no noise. Just a CRACKing sound and that was it.
I was finishing breaking down the wardrobe boxes, stacking them behind the washer and dryer, when the sound of European hot rods rumbled up outside. They came in, calling for me. I greeted them, letting them know the wardrobe boxes were taken care of and I was ready to move on. Then Vinny's voice came from his room, demanding my presence.
"Something of mine is missing, and I'd like it back," said Vinny
"I don't understand sir, what is missing?"
He jerked the drawer with the guns open, pulled out the Beretta, cocked it, and pointed it at me. "One that looked just like this. Take a good fucking look at it, Lenny. Go on, look at it. Maybe you'll remember seeing it around." Frankie and Angel had positioned themselves on either side of me.
I said to Vinny, "Are you sure you packed it? That it did come down with you?"
He said, "I checked my gun safe right before I left, and what I wanted I had. Where's my fucking Beretta, Lenny?"
There was surprisingly little panic in my voice as I said, "Sir, the firearms that are in that drawer are the only ---- Sir, would you please do me a small favor?"
"Would you unbutton your jacket and open it?"
He did it to humor me, after handing off the Beretta to Angel. He jerked his jacket open.... exposing the "stolen" pistol. He pulled it out and stared at it, holding it flat in the palms of his hands
Then he began crying.
"Lenny, Lenny.... I am so sorry. I cannot apologize enough. To render such great offense upon you, and the only evidence was my own anger. Please forgive me, please....."
"Of course I forgive you, we all make mistakes." I put an arm around him. "It's okay, man, it really is. We'd have straightened it out, and we did. No worries, Vinny." Meanwhile, my stomach had un-knotted itself out of my chest and my heart stopped doing a Neil Peart solo.
"I am in your debt, Lenny."
"Buy me lunch tomorrow."
"If you ever need help, know that Vinny Morelli will be there for you."
"I will remember that. In the meantime, shall we get some dinner?"
There was an Italian place on the main drag of Encinitas, and the gentlemen wanted to try it out, see if it cut the mustard. We took the Maserati, as it seated four, sort of. While walking towards the restaurant, I saw someone who needed to be jumped upon.
"Mikey!" I yelled.
"Lenny!" he yelled back. We ran towards each other and began trying to get the other one in a wrestling grip. I finally got him around the waist and began spinning him around. Then I set him down and watched him stagger across the sidewalk. It's not like I came out unscarred: he had a lot of spikes on his leather.
The gentlemen watched this with a combination of amusement and confusion. Mikey and I had our arms around each other's necks, laughing. Then Pill --- Pill being a girl in torn fishnets, a leather mini, turquoise hair, and a Crucifucks t-shirt --- popped up out of nowhere and grabbed Mikey's hand while giving me a kiss on the forehead.
Still laughing and slightly winded, I said, "I should probably make introductions. Angel, Frankie, Vinny, this is Mikey Stubs and Pill. Mikey Stubs and Pill, these are Angel, Frankie, and Vinny. These are the gentlemen I work for.
Angel asked, "So where did the name 'Stubs' come fro-ooohh." Mikey was holding up his right hand, which was missing most of its fingers.
"Personally I blame you guys for the loss of his fingers. You're the ones who make the porno movies, right? Well, he jacked off so much it cut off the blood flow to his hand and his fingers just withered away."
Vinny laughed and said, "Yeah, the dangers of pornography!" The other two also laughed, to my relief.
"So what are you two doing up here?" I asked. They were Clairemont punks.
"Living and working," said Mikey. "I got a job at the gaming shop two blocks down, Pill scored a gig at Lou's Records, and some trendies had a room for rent a few doors down. We told 'em we're a couple and bingo, half rent."
I asked, "But what if one of you gets sprung?"
Pill responded, "So we tie a bandanna on the doorknob and tell 'em we're in an open relationship. They're trendies, they'll probably think it's hip and groovy."
Angel asked, "Have either of you ever eaten at the Italian restaurant on the next block? Could you offer an opinion on the place?"
"Screw them," said Pill. "They won't let you use the bathroom."
"So you've never eaten there."
"Too rich for my blood."
Mikey, smelling a free meal, said, "I've heard good things about the food, but I've never eaten there either."
And who should come around the corner but Xandra, the biggest mooch north of Mission Valley. Her eyes lit up when she saw me: free speed! Xandra had a thing for rather theatrical makeup, the end result being that she looked like a low-level DC Comic superhero. Her endless supply of patent leather bustiers helped complete the look.
"Lenny sweetie! Anything going on?" That was her code phrase for "Are you holding and can I have some for free?" I disappointed her by telling her I was on my way to dinner and didn't know how long I'd be.
Vinny made me drop my jaw by saying, "Hey Lenny, why don't we treat your friends to dinner? They could stand a good meal."
"Um, okay.... Hey, you guys wanna have dinner at the Italian place?" A cry of "Hell yeah!" rang out. "No trashing, though, this ain't the food court at UTC."
Pill said, "Wouldn't dream of it, especially with these guys as our hosts. They'd probably shoot us."
Playing along, Angel said, "Not all of us, just Vinny here. Show 'em, Vinny." And Vinny unbuttoned his coat to show off his Beretta jutting from his shoulder holster. Everyone's eyes got big as saucers. Vinny said, "So best table manners, right?"
"Great! Now let's go see what their food is like."
I had the manicotti, and enjoyed it immensely. Pill and Mikey got huge plates of spaghetti and meatballs, Xandra and Angel each got lasagna, Frankie got veal scallopini, and Vinny got eggplant. There was much trading of plates back and forth, rating the different dishes. It was agreed the spaghetti hadn't been drained well enough, but the veal and lasagna were top-notch.... at least to us blue-eyes; the food overall was viewed as "serviceable" by the Mediterraneans at the table. It would do, but it sure wasn't Mama's. "We'll have to check around for other places," said Frankie. "Either that or somehow convince Bekka to make a meal for us three nights a week or so."
"Hey, I can cook a good meal," said Vinny.
In a boisterous voice, Frankie said, "No, you can cook a fair meal. I can cook a good meal." Uh oh.
"I can make a chicken alfredo that would make your grandmother cry!"
"I'll make a lasagna that would embarrass your wife!"
Then, holy shit, both Frankie and Vinny had guns in their hands and were jamming them into each other's necks.... Then they began laughing and hugging each other. Angel said, "I think we've frightened our guests," pointing across the table. Mikey, Pill, and Xandra had all hit the floor. I stood up and leaned over the table, telling them, "They're done playing, you can come up."
Pill and Mikey Stubs resumed their seats, while Xandra grabbed her bag, announced, "You people are crazy," and went out the door.
"Don't worry, we'll see her outside," I told the gentlemen.
"Why do you say that?" asked Angel.
"Because she knows I have drugs on me, and she'd blow me in the parking lot for a fat rail. She is a champion mooch." Pill and Mikey nodded in agreement.
"So why put up with her?" asked Vinny.
"Mostly entertainment," I said, mopping garlic bread through sauce. "It's so easy to yank her chain it's hard to not do it, just for amusement."
"Especially in your position, Lenny," said Pill. "You having the pharmacopoeia you do, she's like a moth to a light bulb. You got meth, MDMA, Valium, your girlfriend's pot.... What am I forgetting?"
"Magic mushrooms, but those aren't commercial, just for personal use. Same with the Valium and weed. My fiscal interests are limited to the speed and the Ecstasy. You know, the old stand-bys, what always moves."
We paid up and went outside and sure enough, Xandra was hanging around in the next doorway. "Lenny," she whined, "could I talk you out of a nice bump? You know I'll get you back, one way or another." She leaned in close and said, "I'll make you very happy sometime soon."
"How about I just give you a bump, okay," not quite resisting the urge to roll my eyes. "You got a tube?"
She dismantled a pen from her bag and held her thumb and forefinger apart, forming a trough. I used the cap of the pen to scoop dope out of my vial, filling the trough and handing her the pen tube with the other hand. She snorted up, her eyes growing big. as the speed took hold. I asked, "Anyone one else want at bump? You gentlemen?" All three refused, making "yuck" faces. Mikey and Pill refused, as they had work the next day and didn't want to be crashing at their relatively new jobs. I planned on sleeping that night, so I wasn't about to do more.
Naturally, Xandra was ready for anything except going home. We made it clear her plans would not include us: Angel, Frankie, and Vinny still had plenty to unpack, and so did Mikey Stubs and Pill. I was planning on hanging around with Bekka.... By myself. Oh well, Xandra could take transit down to Pacific Beach and spare-change tourists.
In fact, she was skipping that direction when Angel stopped her in her tracks. "Young lady! Come here!"
She walked slowly back towards the men with the guns. Angel stepped toe to toe with her and bent down, showing the distance between her 5'4" and his 6'3". She looked ready to wet herself.
"You forgot to thank Lenny," Angel growled down at her.
"Ohmigod you're right! I did! Thank you Lenny, that was a good bump! Thank you so much!"
"Give him a hug."
She wrapped her arms around me and squeezed hard. I hoped he didn't demand a kiss.
"Good girl. That is all." Xandra shot down the street like she was fleeing the devil. Smiling, Angel looked at us and said, "You're right, it is easy to yank her chain." We all burst out laughing.