I was nosy on the way back and asked how the day's shoots had gone.
"If I haven't mentioned it before, Lenny, one of the things I like about you is your reliability. Rick pulled a powder on us today, we have no stills. We don't know if it was a tantrum on his part, an attack of idiocy, or a dead family member. All we know is all day, no Rick. I have a hard time believing he'd be so unprofessional as to simply refuse to work with Steve," said Angel.
"I'm dying to hear the excuse he has," said Vinny. I'd decided that while Angel might be the one with anger management issues, Vinny was the genuinely dangerous one.... The paranoia, the fascination with guns, the strange sense of humor.... all of them pointed towards a man to be watched closely. The incident that afternoon was a big tell.
"I'm in no mood to play games or have my blood pressure raised by the sonofabitch tonight," said Angel. "We'll find out in the morning where he's been. Hey Lenny, how the hell are you getting home?"
That was a detail that had slipped my mind. I'd taken Bekka's car to pick up the rented Cadillac, and mine had been sitting in its space in El Cajon for nearly four days. "I guess I'll call a cab. I've got the cash on me. Unless one of you gentlemen would be willing to drive me out there...."
"Hell Lenny, none of us know where the hell El Cajon even is! Tell you what, you pick a car you want to drive home, and the owner rides shotgun. You get the pleasure of driving a real car for once, and the owner will know how to get back. Sound fair?"
"Sounds wonderful, and Frankie? Sir? You'll be riding out to a town whose name translates to 'The Box'."
Laughter filled the Maserati. "Of course he chose the Ferrari!" someone said.
When they quieted down, I said, "And there's a reason for my decision. I've driven the other two. Vinny, I'm sorry, but I hate the bear-trap of a clutch that's installed in Porsche 911s. I found myself limping after getting out of the 911, due to pain in my left ankle. The Maserati has a high top speed and takes well to the road, but has a generic feel to it, like it's an unbelievably fast Toyota. Yes, it sounds strange, but it's too easy to drive for what it's capable of.
"The Ferrari Tesstarosa, however, has appeal for me on a few points. First of all, I've never driven a Ferrari, period. While I don't plan on showboating and scaring the owner, I am curious about just how tight it handles. It reportedly has quite the launch to it, too. And finally, I wish to find out for myself if gated shifters are as big of a pain as they are rumored to be. I understand the common practice is to double-clutch on the first three of five shifts, which seems strange to me. You can correct me on this, Frankie."
Frankie said, "Drive my Ferrari like a street rod and you'll be walking home. Shift normally."
"Point taken. And by the way, this is not to cast aspersions on the other two vehicles. Of the three, if I had to drive it daily, the Maserati would be my first choice: comfort and high performance cannot be ignored.. And lets face it, you have to keep the passenger door locked on the Porsche to prevent women from just getting in of their own volition. While I'm sure that, as a married man, this is not Vinny's intent, one must admit the vehicle still has a certain caché."
"Hey, I'm married, not dead!" said Vinny from the front seat.
I simply said, "Touché" and left it alone.
We arrived at Olivehurst and pulled into one of the unit's stalls. Frankie tossed me the keys and said, "Fire up, kid."
I sat down and started the engine, unlocking the passenger door for Frankie and began adjusting the seat, then the mirrors. I also turned off the stereo.
"Okay, I'm already comfortable with this," said Frankie.
You adjusted your mirrors straight off, before moving the car. That means you pay attention."
"Absolutely, sir. The same reason the stereo is off: I'm driving someone else's extremely expensive car, and I can do without distractions of any kind. To be honest, Frankie, I'm a bit nervous, so I'll probably drive like a little old lady for the first several miles. I refuse to let egotism outweigh common sense."
"What I wanna hear. Reverse is at the bottom right."
Moments later we were rumbling up Encinitas Blvd., me adjusting to the gated shifter. It felt awkward and a bit clunky, but wasn't the roaring pain in the ass it had been made out to be. Getting on the freeway was an exercise in restraint: you could hit 55 in second and still be nowhere near the red line on the tachometer. I doubted I'd even see fifth gear, not without begging for a citation..
Beyond that, the operation of the Ferrari was straightforward. As I said, shifting was balky, but nothing that an owner wouldn't adjust to within several days. The height of the vehicle made me nervous, as there was none. You sat right on the ground, staring under semis at other cars. (And to clarify, what the other peons on the road were driving were cars. We.... were in a vehicle. Oh yeah.)
At the 805 split I received permission to open it up ("Under 160, please") and did so. Without trying. I finally moved up to fifth gear around 100 mph and realized I was just above idle, the engine just sort of burbling along, the tachometer indicating something like 1800 rpm. The motor was half-asleep from boredom. For legal reasons I refused to move above 125 mph --- we'd still go to jail, but wouldn't be given a beating first --- and amused myself darting through traffic, occasionally dropping to fourth to circumvent a larger cluster. It took the ramp from the 805 to the 8 like it was on rails, me pushing it through the ramp and still getting no tire noise.
I kept it fairly mellow through La Mesa and into El Cajon, explaining to Frankie that the stretch was Happy Hunting Grounds for the CHP. We got off at Second St., Frankie marveling at seeing so many fast food places jammed into such a small area. I told him Second St. was known locally as "Ptomaine Row."
Pulling into my complex's driveway on Anza, I asked Frankie how I did.
"I tell you what, Lenny, I'm gonna flatter you. If you feel like borrowing my car --- like for a date or something --- It is at your dispense. You handled that thing like you'd been driving it ten years. Hell, you're probably one of the best drivers I've ever met, period. Like the moving van? I'd have been a nervous wreck trying to operate that thing, but you, you drove it like it was your little Honda. It's a shame we can't afford a limo and driver, 'cos that's what my vote would be for you to do. Have you ever been in a wreck?"
"Yes, " I told him. "I was rear-ended at a stop light."
"One wreck, and it wasn't your fault. Yeah, you wanna borrow the Ferrari, just let me know ahead of time."
"Sir, I don't know what to say, beyond..... Thank you. Thank you very much. It's probably one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. Again, thank you. Rest assured that if I take you up on your offer, it will be returned in the same condition I received it in."
We got out and shook hands. I felt like hugging him. Instead I smiled and said, "Do you think it would be possible for me to borrow it on, say, Sunday afternoon? I'd like to take Bekka out on a joyride."
"Sunday afternoon sounds fine," Frankie replied. "I've gotta ask you: how close of a relationship to you and Bekka have, anyway?"
"We are very close friends."
"Just friends, huh?"
"we are very, very close friends. If you catch my meaning. We neither advertise nor hide the nature of our relationship. We do not hide the sexual aspect of our friendship, but still feel it is our own business, and no one else's. Do you understand?"
"I do. Thank you for satisfying my curiosity."
"Not a problem. Good night, sir."
"Good night, Lenny. Sunday afternoon, I'll mark it!"
"Hey girl, how ya doin'?"
"Okay. Thought you'd stop by this afternoon."
"Hoo boy. No time. I just got home fifteen minutes ago, and I gotta go out again on business. The move took a bit longer than I expected, plus the drive, plus unpacking stuff, plus Vinny pointing a gun at me, plus a very str---- "
"Wait, repeat that last bit. Vinny pointed a gun at you? Why?"
"You know he always wears that Beretta in a shoulder holster, right? Well, he forgot he was wearing it --- he brought a few guns with him, they all brought at least one --- and since it wasn't with his other firearms he leaped to the conclusion that I'd decided to lift it, so he pointed its twin at me demanding I return the first one. I finally convinced him to, y'know, check under his left arm and see if it was there. Lo and behold, one Beretta. Don't tell anybody any of this obviously, but he started crying. Not embarrassment, but straight up up shame, I guess. Now he says he's in my debt, like an honor thing."
Lenny, never collect on that debt. You'll be that much more tied up with them. It's a scale that will never balance. Remember what I said about not doing business with these guys? This is the same scenario. Keep on friendly terms, fine, but ultimately you're just an employee, you just work there. You're just some dummy who drives them around and takes their dirty pictures. Understand?"
"How do you know so much about these guys?"
People like them are the reason I grew up poor. My Papa wouldn't play with them, so they kept him from getting a decent job. Papa spent his life pouring cement because that's what they'd let him do. It was a family thing, okay?"
"Um.... All right. You probably don't want to hear that I've got a Ferrari to play with on Sunday afternoon...."
"Frankie has a Tesstarossa, right? I needed a ride home tonight, and he let me drive it. He was so impressed with my driving --- I hotdogged a little bit --- he said I could borrow the Ferrari when I wanted, if he wasn't using it."
Silence from the other end of the line.
"Come on, it's not like they offered to buy me one."
" (*sigh*) Okay, fair enough. And it is Frankie, he's a nice guy."
"So where do you want to go? I was thinking a desert run, come back up through Julian, pick up some cider. "
"Maybe stop in Ramona for dinner.... sounds good."
"Oh hey, one question: have you seen the boss around today?"
"Boss, or the boss?"
"The boss. Rick."
"No, but I haven't been anywhere near the mansion today. Why, what's up?"
"He completely flaked on Steve today. He was supposed to fill my job running the Nikons and he was AWOL all day. He's been getting flaky recently, but this is out of line even for him."
"Hospital, maybe? Chest pains? He eats too much Ecstasy and he's been under some heavy stress recently."
"Well, tomorrow will provide answers. Excluding staking out the mansion and bracing him when he gets home, not much we can do tonight. I'm gonna turn in, myself."
"Okay. G'night, toots."
Staking out the mansion was actually a good idea. It would have saved us a lot of pain in the long run.
I walked into pandemonium when I arrived at the mansion the next morning. There were three sheriff's cars out front --- I quickly shoved my vial under a floor mat --- and enraged people everywhere. It would seem that during the night huge amounts of our equipment had grown legs and wandered off: both video cameras, stand lights, tape drives, sound equipment, Steve's editing machine, and strangely, just one of my Nikons. Not both, just one. The thieves did take several cases of film, though.
Basically, everything we needed to produce video had been lifted during the night. Jeanette's makeup room had gone untouched, and with my one camera we could produce some nice poolside magazine shoots. In the real world, we were out of business.
Mere words couldn't express the indifference the cops felt for our plight. Gosh, the makers of fuck-flicks had their toys taken away. Damn shame. They were treating it like a house burglary and not the loss of a hundred thousand dollars worth of high-end video equipment, and the loss of livelihood of fifteen or so employees of Inana Productions, Inc. No concern of theirs.
The only clue was a sheet of paper with "THANKS, SUCKERS!" written in lipstick. I took one look at it and said, "That's not Rick's writing."
Angel said, "You're sure about that?"
"Positive. His writing has a swirly quality to it. I've looked at it too many times during shoots to not know it. Whoever helped him left the note, and felt like working your nerves. Tell me, are Rick and that guy Todd on speaking terms?"
"You think Rick has decided to jump ship?"
"It's a possibility," I said. "One way to find out...." I headed up the stairs to the penthouse, with the gentlemen in tow.
As I suspected, Rick's closets and drawers had been well-looted of clothing and toiletries. Too much stuff missing for just a weekend away. Another thought hit me. "Angel, you should probably call the bank and lock down the Inana account. Fifty bucks says the checkbook is missing too."
"Shit, you're right!" he cried, and ran down the stairs. Vinny and Frankie sat on the tidily-made bed, Vinny muttering, "Rick, Rick, Rick, how could you be so fucking stupid?"
I answered, "Hubris and drugs. Between the MDMA and his own ego,he honestly thinks he can get away with this. Does Todd do his own production?"
Frankie laughed bitterly and said, "Yeah, and his stuff is shit. His performers are coke freaks and reckless students from Cal State Northridge. It's all single camera shoots using the camera-mounted microphones, just amateurish crap that make our loops look like Orson Welles by comparison. Not a knock against our production here, just that our stuff on a bad day is better than anything Todd does on his best days. He produces garbage that will never see the inside of a decent book store, just crappy liquor stores for ten bucks per tape."
We went back downstairs to begin greeting people as they arrived to work, to tell them there was no work to be done. We'd already told the cops who they were looking for, but they insisted upon interviewing crew and performers --- more of Rick's novices, actually --- as to their movements over the last eighteen hours. Angel treated the deputies like recalcitrant, slightly stupid servants, asking in a patronizing voice, "Why don't you track down the person who actually stole our equipment instead of wasting your time here? We've told you who to look for." He was ignored, which is a bad thing to do with Angel: his frustration level rose noticeably.
I snapped a tablet in half and pressed it into his palm. He looked at it, then me, then nodded and went into the house for a soda.
Small Steve showed up to have his heart broken. I caught him as he got out of his car. "Steve, I got bad news. We've been ganked."
"We got ganked, ripped off! The equipment is all gone, and so is Rick."
"Oh my God...." He ran upstairs past the cops to stare at an empty room. "My editor is gone too?"
"So what do we.... do?"
I said, "We'll start making plans as soon as las chingaso policias are gone. I don't know if we'll rent equipment, or borrow it from one of the other studios, or buy more, or what. I think Angel, Vinny, and Frankie are all too pissed to speak. All I know to do is await instructions and wave off the performers we had today. At least it's the end of the week, y'know?"
"There's gotta be something we can do to get back in action, rent equipment, whatever...." Small Steve seemed physically defeated at the loss of the cameras. Huge amounts of his psyche was centered on working, and being deprived of the opportunity was a huge blow.
Angel came upstairs and began issuing orders. "Lenny, call Penske and reserve a truck for Monday morning, nothing too big. Enough to carry cameras and lights. We'll be going up to LA and borrowing equipment from the other studios. You'll be going with us, Steve, to make sure what they have suits your needs. Also, we need to borrow Bekka's car Monday to see about tracking down a couple of thieves. We may be able to get our equipment back, I don't know. But I do know where the hell Todd lives and I want to look in his apartment for our equipment. You'll need your baseball bat with you on Monday."
"You think they'll be recalcitrant in returning stolen merchandise?"
"Todd's dumb enough to want to play a game of Finders Keepers, yeah."
I asked, "Think we'll find Rick?"
Angel replied, "I don't see why we shouldn't. Steve, you can drive a rental van, right?"
Steve shrugged and said, "Yeah, sure. They're not much bigger than a news van."
"Okay, all settled then. We pick up the truck and roll out Monday morning. You two enjoy a long weekend. Oh, and Lenny? Would you do the honors of asking Bekka if we can use her car?"