I would like to report that everything want smoothly in Chatsworth. The equipment was retrieved, Todd was conciliatory, and Rick returned to the fold of Inana Productions, Inc.
Yes, that's what I'd like to report. Unfortunately, I can't. Perhaps describing a crappy day should start at the beginning.
It started off well enough: Small Steve and I drove to the Dirty Angel studios and lay claim to two of their five cameras. What was disturbing was the damn things were sticky to the touch. Dirty Angel was the "kink" label for the gentlemen, producing BD/SM and fetish video. So why were the cameras sticky? We really would rather not think about it. We knew the crew were in the lifestyle, the performers not so much. (They're called performers for a reason.) Oh well, at least the damn lenses were clean.
Traffic heading towards LA was fine. Heading back to the mansion was a disaster, we arrived with enough time to unload the equipment. The worst part was when Bekka hugged me.... And felt the butt of the pistol jabbing her.
She was unamused.
"What the fuck are you carrying that for? Are you one of the boys now? Huh!?"
"Look, they asked me to carry this for the night, that's all. Besides, I can, y'know, protect you and shit...."
"Bullshit! You're turning into one of them! You always call yourself a criminal and now you really will be one."
"Now wait a min---"
"No, you wait. Right here. I'll be back, maybe." Bekka jumped in her car and peeled off down the street.
The gentlemen came out the front door of the mansion, Frankie saying, "Did I just hear Bekka's voice? Was she yelling?"
I confirmed that it was indeed Bekka he heard. She'd become upset over my pistol and drove off. She said she'd come back, but....
"She's our damn ride!" yelled Vinny. "Why the hell didn't you stop her?"
"What was I supposed to do!?" I yelled right back. "Pull her distributor cap while she's driving down the street?"
Vinny began walking towards me with his head on fire. I stepped towards him, fists balled. He was six feet away when he stopped and began laughing. "Jesus Christ, Lenny, I've never seen you get pissed off before. I'm glad you're capable of it."
"I get angry. I just don't make a lot of noise most of the time."
The five of us stood in the driveway waiting for Bekka.
She returned fifteen minutes later, sliding the Falcon sideways into the driveway. "Get in the car, assholes!" she yelled out the passenger window. The three gentlemen looked at each other and slowly walked in her direction. I figured they'd either strangle her or promote her.
Steve and I piled into the moving van. Angel saw this and began yelling. "Steve! Go ahead and go home. Thanks for your work today." I guess Angel figured that with the three of them plus me and Bekka, we'd have enough manpower to handle everything.
I didn't want to speculate on the conversation happening in the Falcon. Too scary. However, both parties pretty much confirmed what I suspected....
Angel asked, "You're upset. Why?"
Bekka responded, "You're trying to get my friend hurt. Damn right I'm upset."
"How are we hurting Lenny?"
"You gave him a gun. You keep trying to suck him in closer to you and your family. I won't put up with it. Lenny's too sweet to get tangled with you."
Vinny leaned over from the back and said, "Maybe we're trying to help him out. He wouldn't have to be a speed dealer his whole life."
"I know your help. Pensi che io non so chi sei? (You think I don't know who you are?)"
Vinny responded, "Noi non operiamo così. Che è storia antica. (We don't operate like that. That's ancient history.)"
"Allora perché le armi? (Then why the guns?)" Bekka seethed.
Angel threw in, "Because, my little Sicilian, we must protect ourselves. Lenny is carrying a gun so he can protect you. Not himself, but you. You haven't noticed he concerns himself with your happiness over his own? He is in love with you, and would do anything for you. Maybe we should offer him a job: he could keep you very comfortable."
"I'd hate it, and I'd hate him. I prefer working for what I earn, and if that means sex with eight different guys in a week, fine. My morality doesn't plague me."
Angel purred, "But what if Lenny was simply an employee of ours, like he is now? Only he has a larger scope of responsibilities. Who knows, maybe he could end up with Rick's old job, or something much like it. He'd be making enough of a legitimate salary that he could quit dealing that hillbilly crank that he does now. Admit it, you're scared of being around the stuff. It's an instant bust.
"But with Lenny employed at a legitimate business, you wouldn't have to worry about him or yourself. No wondering if the door is gonna get kicked in by angry cops. No worries about the bottom falling out, and being stuck with drugs you can't give away. See? It's in the best interests of everyone involved for Lenny to work for us.... And strictly as an employee, he wouldn't be 'one of the guys'.
"So.... everything totally above board, no connection with the family. Lenny would be holding a job that is completely legal."
"I'm gonna hold you to your word. After tonight, if I ever see Lenny wearing a piece again, I swear I'll crush you all into a fine powder. And I'm not exaggerating."
I followed along in a state of grim speculation. Dammit, I wanted to make good money out of Inana. I was tired of slinging dope, and would prefer to just buy the crap for personal use, not going through two pounds a week keeping San Diego spun. So what if my bosses wanted me to carry a gun? I could adapt to that. I was sure they could get me a Concealed Carry permit without much trouble, they had connections....
Although it was scary to think about, especially after the things Bekka had told me. Could I simply be an employee, minding my own business, or would I become One Of The Guys over time? It hadn't seemed to have happened to Rick, with his "fitness guru" ways and hours on the beaches. Of course he'd driven himself mad with drugs over time, so there was that.
Bekka hated me now, I was sure of that. I would remain civil to her until all this was done, then go home and sob into my pillow. I was losing the closest friend I'd ever had because.... I wanted to get in the good graces of three damn guidos from The Valley. What the hell was I doing? I'd never needed a gun in my life, not even when I was carrying ten pounds of lab-fresh crystal meth in my Honda. Boss hadn't encouraged it --- "It's only dope, ya don't git yerself killed over it" --- and I was fine with that.
Damn you, Bekka. Like I didn't have enough stress in my life tonight.
We arrived in Chatsworth's "industrial" area just before dark. The complex we pulled up at had seen better days, but would serve Todd's purposes quite well. Bekka and I were instructed to wait at our vehicles and not budge, no matter what.
Fifteen minutes passed. It would seem a state of detente had been reached, and they were dukkering over the return of the equipment.
One can be wrong about such things. A sudden burst of gunfire rang out from the studio. Standing next to Bekka, I said, "I've gotta go in there."
"You'll need this," she said, and handed me.... My aluminum baseball bat, the one I'd used to dispatch Ivanka's would-be rapist. "Sorry, I forgot the duct tape, baby."
"You're done hating me?"
"Short answer? Yes. Go knock 'em dead, I've got my .38."
I ran across the street and slipped through the front door.
There was scrap wood everywhere, like the end of some set construction no one had bothered to clean up. Through some glass I could see some guy who looked like a strung-out Jeff Spicoli loading a clip for a Glock. Think, Lenny, think. Or don't bother and leap into action, which is what I did: I snuck down to the doorway he was facing away from, ran up behind, and crippled his right shoulder with the bat, driving it into his collarbone like it was the final spike on the Transcontinental Railroad.
Dropping the gun and clip, Todd keened and shrieked as I flipped him over to check for more guns. I collected four, mostly light .32s. Then I threw them out the open doorway onto the lawn. I started calling for the gentlemen: "Angel?" "Here!" Frankie?" "Here!" "Vinny?" A brief pause, then an agonized "Here! I'm hit!"
"Can you walk?"
"I'll try.... No good, I'll need help."
"Be right there."
Angel and Frankie went down to keep an eye on Todd while I tracked down wherever Vinny had holed up. When I found him, he was in a fetal position holding his upper leg. And he was pissed at me for disobeying orders. "We told you to stay with those vehicles!" I told him that when I could hear my friends getting shot up, that edict went out the window. I told him I'd immobilized Todd, for which he was grateful.
I told Vinny, "Your night is through, And we gotta cut out but quick. Someone's gonna report those shots, so we gotta jam. Can you make it to the Falcon on your own?"
"Yeah, no problem."
Problems. He fell on the lawn from the pain --- we'd learn later he had a hole blown through his leg you could store a cigar in --- and was oozing enough blood to make him lightheaded (well, that and the shock). Meanwhile the three of us still standing gathered the pistols from the lawn and stowed them in the trunk of the Falcon.
We were firing up engines and preparing to split when a familar voice screamed, "Wait! Don't leave me here!" It was Rick, wishing to jump ship again. He was in running shorts, a t-shirt, and no shoes. He looked tore up, the way anyone who had foregone food in favor of drugs looks. And he wanted to escape from Todd. His presumption knew no bounds.
"So do we take him?" I asked. "Me, I could care less one way or another."
Angel said, "Let's flip a coin. Heads he comes, tails he stays here."
A quarter was flipped, telling us to take Rick with us.
"So where are we going?" asked Bekka. "I hear sirens." Far off, they wailed.
"To Vinny's place, we can get a doctor there. Rick, you're riding in the moving van. When the fuck did you shower last?" said Angel. It wasn't my imagination, Rick really stunk. Well, we could always hose him off in Vinny's front lawn. In the meantime, he was getting sequestered in the cargo area of the moving van.
I told Bekka, "I don't know how to get to Vinny's from here, so I'll follow your lead."
"No problem babe. Did you get rid of Todd?"
"Using the bat?"
She smiled and gestured me closer so she could kiss me. Apparently all was forgiven. "See? You never needed a fucking gun, ever. You don't now. So get rid of it."
"I will. Promise."
I followed the Falcon through the valley and up into the hills to Vinny's place. Vinny's wife was horrified, both at her husband's condition and at the arrival of all these guests: she didn't have a single canapé to serve! Angel and Frankie comforted Ms. Morelli while Vinny called a doctor Liu, who apparently specialized in house calls of this nature. Half hour to an hour, and he'd be there
"Should we let Rick out of his box?" asked Bekka.
"Lord no. He'll set off the carbon monoxide detectors," said Frankie, to the amusement of all.
"Seriously, he is just plain ripe. If he's been doing both coke and Ecstasy, small wonder."
"We ought to go check on him, see if he needs to piss or something," I suggested. "Let him get some fresh air."
"Just have him piss in the gutter," said Angel. "I'll come with you."
We walked out to the street to the back of the truck. Dead silence from inside. We slid the door open and Rick was lying flat on his back, mulling over the top of the cargo container.
"Do I get to come out now?" he asked.
"Shit no," said Angel. "The way you smell, you're not getting out of there except to piss until we're back home. And the first thing you do is shower when we get to the mansion. Have you not bathed since we last saw you?"
"Oh god, all my clothes! We have to go back to Todd's studio---"
"We'll take you to Bargain Town and get you new stuff," I teased. "You still have some money, or did it all get blown on drugs?"
"I still have money in the bank," he pouted.
"Slide back in there, we gotta close you back up. If Ms. Morelli makes some food, we'll bring it out to you. But you staying in that cargo area is one of the prices you gotta pay for freedom. Don't worry, you'll be sleeping in your own bed tonight. But we've got some questions for you first. Quite a few questions, really."