I stopped Angel at the door. "You know that in two days he's gonna be a complete basket case, right?"
I explained. "I figure he's been partying extremely hard on cocaine and ecstasy since Thursday. He's burned out all the endorphines in his brain, and without the drugs to pump them back up, he'll have a depressive crash like you won't believe. Like, hide all the razor blades and rat poison depressed. So what do we do with him? Wean him off? Hospitalize him?"
Angel rubbed his face. "Right now I want to hand him a hundred bucks and tell him to go wherever he feels. But he's part of the family, and we take care of our own."
"What about the equipment?" I asked.
"We just point the LA County Sheriff's office at Todd's studio and let them extract it. We brought the truck tonight in case Todd was feeling smart and would give it all up without a fight. But he's not smart, never will be. To get the equipment ourselves will involve a firefight, which is what we didn't want. Todd was the only one pulling a trigger.... I noticed you never pulled your gun, relying on your trusty bat to get the job done," he sneered at me.
"It worked, didn't it? Second time I've gone against an armed man and come out on top using that aluminum baseball bat."
"The first time you got shot."
"Yeah, well, it's an imperfect world."
We were interrupted by headlights pulling in the driveway. Both Angel and I slid our hands in our jackets (one Armani, one patch-and-spike-covered denim) in anticipation of Todd appearing. But no, it was Dr. Liu, who greeted Angel cordially.
"Mr. Morelli, pleased to see you again. The patient isn't whoever is pacing around inside that moving van, is it?"
I told him, "Only if you're carrying Thorazine in one of those bags." The doctor laughed.
Angel introduced us. "Lenny, this is Dr. Liu, an emergency trauma surgeon. Dr. Liu, this is Lenny, one of the brightest young men I've ever met." We shook hands and went inside.
"We were starting to wonder," said Bekka.
"We checked on Rick, then we talked for a few," I told her.
Dr. Liu exclaimed, "Mr. Vinny? This is not the first time I've had to visit you! You need to meet men with worst aim, ha ha! So what has happened this evening that requires my attention?"
"Took a bullet in the thigh, left leg. It went all the way through, so you don't need to do an extraction. Really doc, a couple band-aids and I'll be okay," said Vinny.
"This not being a Civil War battlefield, I think we'll give you the gold star treatment. Anesthetize you, clean and sterilize the wound, then close both ends up. Unless you prefer sepsis."
"I think I'll be a high roller and take the gold star treatment."
"Very good. If you're squeamish, I suggest you remain in the living room with the TV on."
Vinny's wife said, "I'll stay with him." The rest of us filed in to watch television.
After another half hour Angel and I went back out to check on Rick. He was in the same position we'd first found him in, flat on his back. He slowly sat up and stared at us as if we were aliens.
"Please remain sitting, Rick, thank you. I want to ask you a few questions.... And don't worry, I won't be punching you out. I just want honest answers. Like, in general, what the hell were you thinking?"
Rick paused and said, "I was thinking about how nice it would be to run my own studio. No one over my shoulder, complete control, no funny haircuts on the women (he directed this at me), and the ability to knock out money-making loops, and get rich doing so."
"But why steal the equipment?" I asked.
He shrugged. "We needed it and it was there."
"Very greedy of you," said Angel.
Rick smiled, shrugged, and said, "Can I take a piss? I gotta go bad."
"Yeah, go here in the gutter."
He relieved himself, then did what I was expecting, which was to run. Barefoot on gravel-strewn asphalt. He made it twenty feet before falling. I picked him up with his wrists between his shoulder blades and marched him back to the truck. "Get back in," I told him, "and stay good and quiet , or I'll use my bat on you."
"He's kidding, Rick," said Angel. "I'll use my fists on you. Capiche?"
"It's so fucking boring back there!" he complained.
"We'll be leaving soon. Going home so you can take a shower and get some sleep."
"When did you sleep last?" I asked.
"Ummm..... I don't remember. A while. Five days?" Rick told me. Uh boy.
"How about food.... When was the last time you ate?"
He pondered this. "Uh, heh! Been a couple days I think. Just haven't felt hungry, really."
Rick asked, "So how long do I stay in the back of this moving van? It's dark and lonely back there with the door closed,"
Angel responded, "Until we're home again. You remember home, right? Where you do things like sleep and eat?"
"A few hours, Rick. Say, do you want some ecstasy?" I asked.
He smiled widely and said, "Yes, please!"
"Well you have to wait until tomorrow. It's too late at night to be taking it now. Tomorrow you get two hits, and that's it. Time to start getting the stuff out of your system."
Rick looked shocked and crestfallen. "Two hits all day? I'm used to, like, six or seven."
"And look where it's gotten you. You're torn up, you stink, you don't even have a pair of shoes to your name. We're getting you clean whether you like it or not."
"I'm doing okay," he grumbled.
"Yeah, sure you are," said Angel. "Get back in the box."
We closed him back up in the truck and went in the house again.
Dr. Liu was done stitching up Vinny and was monitoring him as he came out of the anesthesia. Apparently bullets are dirty little things, and the doctor already had a jar of antibiotics ready. It had been a clean shot --- the bullet hadn't tumbled --- which also helped things. Seeing Angel, Vinny's wife told him, "I want Vinny to stay here for a few days."
"That's fine," he said. "We won't be getting any work done for a little while anyway. Just filming."
"Is this what this was all about? Making video?" she asked.
"No, this was about having all our equipment stolen by a rat and a man we thought we knew," Angel replied.
"Is it over with?"
"As far as I'm concerned, yes. We aren't going to war with anyone. The cops can get our equipment back. If they don't, we'll replace it. I'm too old for gun battles over video gear."
Bekka patted the sofa beside her, inviting me to have a seat. I sat down and gave her a kiss. Vinny's wife saw this exchange and teasingly said, "Aw, young love."
In unison we responded, "We're just friends." Vinny's wife begged to differ, saying, "Nonsense, not with the way you two look at each other. Don't try to lie, you two are more than friends."
Bekka suddenly sprang to her feet, announcing the need for a cigarette, and would I join her? I realized I hadn't had one since before we arrived in Chatsworth, so I agreed. We went out front to indulge.
We lit up and Bekka came straight to the point: Did I love her?
"C'mon Bekka, you know the answer to that. You've known the answer for what, six months or so, ever since that night in the Day's Inn. I recall your response was not a happy one."
"Lenny, this is difficult for me to say, but.... I love you. I think I have for a while. And I hate it."
"Because I can't get over the feeling that you'll hurt me the way all the other guys in the past have. Finding out you were wearing that fucking gun tonight felt like a betrayal, like you were gonna end up being one of the guys. I will tell you right now, if you join the family we're through. No leeway, I'm gone. And it will tear me apart.
"Angel wants to offer you a job. If it's just a job, I say take it. You could quit slinging dope and still have a good income, and a legitimate one. Heh, you could buy a new car!"
I gaped at her. "And you don't have a problem with this? I mean, it seems like a matter of changing terms, whether I'm an employee or one of the guys...."
"If you joined the family, you'd be working for them for life. You can't quit. But you maintain your freedom as an employee. And the money wouldn't be as good, but still would be more than fair. And nobody would expect you to carry a gun. I'd still be a part of your life, too."
"Okay. If Angel offers me a job, I'll take it. If he wants me to be a part of the family, I will politely turn him down."
"Thank you," she sighed. "Now give me a real kiss."
I was happy to oblige.
Forty-five minutes later Vinny was out of the ether and talking. We had to convince him that yes, staying at home was the wisest choice, there was nothing to be accomplished in La Costa that couldn't wait for him, and he needed to heal. Let your wife pamper you, we told him.
"So where the hell is Rick?" he asked. We told him, locked in the back of the moving van. He needed a lot of help of his own.
"Getting off all those fucking drugs?"
"Yeah, and he's gonna be a mess for a while," I told him. I explained about how his brain was sapped of endorphins due to the MDMA and cocaine and how he would be in a depressive state for a couple weeks, at least. We were going to wean him off the ecstasy (the assumption being I'd use my own supply with no recompense), cocaine was gone, and he'd be back to normal in a month. We hoped. Nobody talked about what to do with him after that; personally, we should have left him in Chatsworth.
We all left at the same time as the doctor, promising we'd keep Vinny up to date. To my surprise, Bekka handed her keys to Frankie, telling him to head for the townhouse. We'd pick up my car from the Penske lot and put the truck keys through the night drop.
We rode in silence for a while, me finally breaking it with, "Nice to have company on the way back. Nice to not be in an ambulance, too."
Bekka said, "Were you expecting to be shot? Again?"
"From the moment they handed me that gun I knew things were gonna go wrong. I'm not cut out to be a gangster."
"But you came through in the pinch yet again, you and your trusty bat. Tell me, why didn't you use the gun? It was right there."
"Maybe the bat feels more personal," I told her. "I just didn't like the idea of possibly killing someone I'd never met, someone I didn't hate. I'd have to hate someone pretty hard to point a gun at them. That Todd guy is a creep and a jerk, but I don't hate him. You know?"
"You don't hate easy. That's why you'd make a lousy gangster. Think of all the hate they have in the family.... Not for each other, but for other people. They hate Todd, and assumed you would too."
"The gentleman riding behind us is damn lucky," I said. "His fate was literally decided on a coin toss. He could still be in Chatsworth dealing with the cops and trying to remember what he'd done with his shoes."
"I refuse to worry about him," said Bekka, "or his problems. The way he treated performers over the last few months I'm not feeling generous with my sympathy."
"He's been sick."
Bekka sighed and said, "He has been at that. He's the poster boy for not taking 'E' right now, that and coke. You didn't notice how quick we were going through ecstasy at the mansion? Did you think everyone else was eating the stuff down that fast?"
I told her, "He never increased his order so I assumed that yeah, everyone who came through was getting high. The gentlemen have a taste for the stuff, you know."
"Nope, the lion's share was going into him. No wonder he was making bad decisions."
We rode in silence for a while. It was a tip-off, that she was somebody I could drive in a car with and not feel the need to keep up constant chatter. We could relax in quiet and not be bugged by it.
I broke the silence. "Hey Bekka, let's move in together."
She stared at me. "This is new."
"Maybe it's been on my mind."
"Would we get a new place, or move in one of ours?"
"I haven't thought that far ahead," I said. "I'm open to suggestions. Unless we got a house, one of us would be selling off furniture."
"I have to think about it.... Okay, I've thought about it, and the answer is yes."
"Sure you can handle living with drug dealing white trash?"
"If Angel offers you that job, you won't need to deal drugs. Can you handle not being a drug dealer?"
"I'd welcome it."
We rode in silence a while longer.
Bekka said, "You should move in with me. I've got the spare bedroom, so you'll have a place to sleep when you piss me off."
"Funny, I was thinking the same thing."