9:45 a.m. on a Saturday, and someone rings the bell at the mansion. Anyone familiar with the place would simply walk in and announce their presence,loudly. Strangers would ring multiple times, hoping to attract the attention of anyone in the further reaches of the place. No, this was a single ring, which meant whoever it was knew our layout. Curious.
I was in my office trying to figure out where $162.51 had disappeared to. Bekka was floating around nude on an inflatable raft in the pool, eliminating tan lines. No one was expected, so I grabbed my bat and walked down the hall to the door, leaning the bat out of sight on the side of the door jamb.
I'd have felt better keeping the bat in view. It was Rick, my former boss. The man whose job I'd taken over (and how) when he'd driven himself mad with drugs and hubris and decided to rip off Inana Productions of its equipment. The man whose messes I as still cleaning up. The man who, as a member of The Family, was demoted to mop-jockey for the five LA studios.
And he's at my door with a smile on his face.
"Hi, Lenny! I'm here to shampoo your carpets!" he piped at me. "Angel said that with all the carpeting in the studio areas, it made sense to get it done on a regular basis."
"Okay, you go get your equipment and get started."
Rick went down to the shelled pick-up truck he was driving and began removing a carpet shampooer, attachments, and hoses. I went to the office and got Angel on the phone.
"Hello, Angel? It's Lenny. Um, Rick just snowed up saying he's here to shampoo carpets. Is this all kosher, or should I bounce him?..... Frankie's idea?..... Okay, I'll call him."
"Frankie, it's Lenny. Listen, Rick's just showed up here at the mansion to clean carpets. Is this legit?.... Okay, good enough, just, y'know, let me know when to expect guests. Especially on a Saturday. Later."
Rick was hauling hoses up to the second floor, so I went out to the pool area to let a naked Bekka know we had company.
"Who?" she asked.
"Rick, believe it or not. He's here to shampoo the rugs."
"Thanks for letting me know," she said. She climbed out of the pool, pulled on a t-shirt, and climbed into one of the umbrella chairs with her book.
"You seem disturbed by this news," I said.
"Rick is a total lech," Bekka replied. "He enjoyed his work a bit too much. Now that he's a mop jockey, he only gets to see me naked by buying my videos."
"Huh. Never noticed. Guess I was too busy taking care of my own business to see if Rick was gawkin' at female performers."
"Is he doing the whole mansion?" Bekka asked.
"Naw, just the second floor. All the studio rooms, I guess. Of course, that's gonna take a while, longer than we'll be here, so I'd better check to see if he has a key."
I asked, and he did have a key, at least for the day. Frankie had loaned him his. Good. I didn't want Rick having unfettered access to the mansion. We lost nearly $100,000 worth of equipment the last time that had happened.
To satisfy my own curiosity, I decided to make small talk with Rick while he assembled his machine. "So, what's keeping you busy?"
"Me? I'm the custodian for all five studios up in LA. Most of 'em are pretty simple, except for the Dirty Angel studio. They get lube everywhere. I'm living in North Hollywood, and I've got the truck to drive. Considering the family could have just killed me, I'm damn lucky to be where I am. Oh, and Todd is missing."
"Really? Do tell."
"I guess a couple weeks after you guys pulled me out of Chatsworth, his phone was disconnected, his apartment got emptied out, and nobody's seen him or his car since."
"You think it was the family?"
"Easily," muttered Rick. "The family is thorough when it comes to that sort of thing. What's odd is they didn't touch his studio, from what I hear. Everything's still there, including the video equipment. Personally, someone's gonna find a burned-out Lexus in the desert with the VIN numbers scraped off. They'll never find Todd, too many carrion animals around. Now you know who you're employed by, Lenny."
"Seems to me the simple solution is to not fuck up, just do your job, do it well, and never get greedy, " I said pointedly.
"I'm just sayin'...." he started.
"You're just sayin' that these are people to play it straight with. I've already dealt with dangerous people, and I know how to treat them. You can tell me horror stories if you want, but I'm not too worried. I'm just an employee, I do my job, I keep my nose clean, and I don't ask questions."
"Have it your way, Lenny. But you're up to your neck and you don't even know it. Pardon me, I have to get these rugs clean."
I went downstairs and tracked down a receipt from a video supply store for $162.51 that had been misfiled.
While Rick was getting carpets clean, I got on the phone with Angel.
"Hey Angel, it's Lenny. I have what may or may not be a quick question for you. If you asked me to join the family again, and I refused, preferring to remain an employee, would there be any repercussions?"
There was silence on his end of the phone briefly. Then he said, "Lenny, nothing would make me happier than you joining the family. You're young, you're smart, you think on your feet.... You're exactly the sort of man we'd love to have. I also know that as long as you're married to Bekka --- and I wish you a long marriage --- that isn't going to happen, so I don't think about it.
"T'm gonna take a wild guess and say you've been talking with Rick. Do yourself a favor and disregard whatever he says about our organization. He's a bitter little man who got demoted from your job to being a janitor. He would love to leave the family, but like any family, you're in for life, That truck he's driving is in our name, so if he tries to bolt all we have to do is report it stolen.... If we didn't find him first anyway.
"Rick may be bitter about it, but he has some humility to learn before he's given any responsibility. If you fuck up, we just fire you. But Rick is part of the family, so we can't get rid of him.. And keep in mind that Rick doesn't like you: after all, you got his job and then some, with pay to match the responsibilities you have."
I said, "So take anything he says with a few grains of salt?"
I went out to the pool area where Bekka was dozing in a deck chair. My shadow awoke her.
"I have good news and bad news. Which first?"
"The bad news," said Bekka.
"Angel will still want me to be a member of the family. The good news is he is never going to discuss the subject unless I do."
"Keep it that way. I don't want you owned by anyone. What brings the subject up?"
"Aw, I was just talking with Rick and he was warning me how dangerous the family can be. Like, duh. I know that."
"So don't piss 'em off. Besides, remember you're listening to the words of a very bitter man. You now hold his job --- hell, you have more responsibility than he ever did, with commensurate pay ---and he got demoted to janitor. Anything out of Rick's mouth is motivated by anger and bitterness. Do right by the family and they'll treat you fine. Try to screw them and they'll ruin your life."
"Well, since I just spent ninety minutes locating a $162 receipt so that this months books would balance to the penny, I'll say I'm doing right. A lot of other people would have let it slide and shrugged their shoulders. In fact, now that that's done, we have the rest of the day off. Any plans?"
"What about Rick?" asked Bekka.
"He already has a door key, and I've locked up the office. Everything else got locked yesterday."
Bekka said, "Call Angel or Frankie and let them know you're outta here and leaving Rick to his shampooing. That way there's no confusion about who was where and when."
I called Frankie from the kitchen phone to let him know I was taking off, and Rick would be there by himself.
"Little concerned?" he asked.
"I can't lie. Yeah."
"Don't sweat it. Rick's not about to pull any more fast ones. He knows just what a world of hurt he'd be in if he did."
"Okay, I'll relax. Hit my pager if you need me; me and Bekka are gonna be out and about.."
I went up to let Rick know we'd be taking off. He shut off the machine and asked me, "So have you considered what I told you?"
I stared at my shoes for a moment, and told him, "Yeah I have, and I'm staying. I'm doing too good of a job for too good of money, and my bosses like me. They know I'm not going to join the family, and they're kosher with that. I can see no reason to cut bait and run."
"Well, if you think you're happy, great. Look where working for the family has gotten me."
"Jesus Christ Rick, you ripped off the company. Of course they got mad at you and demoted you. Any job would have. Shit, fifty years ago they'd have driven you out to the desert and made you dig your own grave. You may not have much now, but that can change over time. Just show 'em you're trustworthy again. And stay off the dope.
"Speaking of which, that's something I've changed. No more free-for-all with the Ecstasy and meth around here. You've gotta ask for it. It stays locked in my desk until someone wants it. We've had a lot more effective shooting being done that way."
"How about your own use?" asked Rick.
"I've cut down. It's weird, after I married Bekka it lost a lot of it's appeal. Some days I get by on coffee and that's it."
"And how is married life treating you?"
I simply smiled and said, "Wonderfully."
"I used to be married, you know. This industry destroyed it."
"Was she part of the industry in any way?"
"That was your problem right there. People on the outside don't understand how things work. When Bekka and I met, she was a performer and I was the still photographer. We got it, you know? I"m not bugged by Bekka still performing, and she's not bugged by me interviewing naked girls I've never met. We understand each other's jobs."
His look told me that understanding had never been there.
I said, "Look, um, Bekka and I are taking off. You want us to bring you some lunch or something?"
He said, "Naw, I got lunch in the truck. Thanks though." He fired back up the shampooer, signifying an end to the conversation. I headed back downstairs.
Bekka was just coming in through the glass slider. "I was starting to wonder. What's up?"
"You nailed it on the head. He is one bitter man."
We caught lunch in a restaurant in Del Mar and pondered what to do with the rest of the day. Something outdoors. We'd both been trapped working inside the mansion all week and needed fresh air. It had been a couple weeks, so we decided on doubling up on Ecstasy and going to Balboa Park to wander around. Stare back at the tourists. Make up new meanings for things in the museums.
We found parking on 6th St. near El Prado and walked in through the playground. Even in off season, the sidewalk was clogged with Bermuda shorts, fanny packs, and clip-on sunglasses. Between my spikes, denim, and engineer boots and Bekka's goth-y skirt, see-through blouse (with a black bra underneath) and black neck scarf, we may as well have been requesting blood samples from the tourists. A couple asked if they could take our picture, to which we obliged.
We hit the Museum of Man, the Natural History museum, and the Fleet Science Center. We ate ice cream bars and watched jugglers. In short we had a good time. The downside was this was all stuff we'd done before, and not much had changed, even if we were high. A swim and some fun in the mansion pool had appeal.