Two Months Later
It was half past nine in the morning and Bekka and I were headed to Inana. We were in my new car, an Acura. I figured that if Honda built them, they've gotta be worth the money.
I didn't think much of the old Skylark sitting at the curb as we went through the gate of our complex. A second glance revealed there was a driver, and one I knew.
Rick was back in California.
He pulled into traffic behind me, two cars separating us. I held a legal speed, waiting to see if he wanted to catch up. "Don't mean to alarm you, hon, but Rick is following us in an old shitbox. He was waiting at the complex."
Bekka turned around in her seat and looked for him. "What's he driving?" she asked.
"An old Skylark, grubby looking."
"You know how I never wanted you to carry a gun? I'm regretting that statement now. What do we do?"
"Make like we're going to the mansion, only get on the freeway. If he follows, I drop the hammer and lose him. And there is a gun at the mansion."
Bekka goggled at me. "Where did it come from?"
"It's the one Vinny gave me, the one you were pissed I was wearing when we went to Chatsworth. He left it with me and I never told you. It's been shoved under the mattress of the bed upstairs all this time. I didn't want to trash it, but I didn't want it around, either. Until we dispose of Rick, though, I'm wearing that damn shoulder holster."
Instead of getting on the S11 and heading straight up to La Costa, I went the opposite direction and turned on Quail Gardens Drive, winding us around onto Saxony Road then to La Costa Avenue. Rick stayed glued to us, staying five lengths back. He didn't seem to care if we knew we were being followed or not.
At I-5 I signaled my intention to get on the freeway northbound. He fell right in line. "Hold onto your garters," I told Bekka.
I was third in line at the light. When the signal turned green, I popped the clutch and passed the car in front of me on the outside. Winding it out in second, I double-clutched and passed the lead car on the right shoulder. I made no friends on the road that day. I worked through the gears and across a couple lanes, settling in at about seventy in the number two lane. Both Bekka and I scanned the road behind us, but couldn't spot any old Buick beaters. We drifted as far north as Tamarack Avenue, then jumped off the freeway and headed back to La Costa.
When we arrived at the mansion, I did something no one had ever done, so far as I knew: park in the garage. Rick knew my car, and if he couldn't find it, he'd keep looking. Or, he'd just wait for us at Olivehurst. Dandy.
Our detour made us late. Both Steves and Mickey were already there, arranging things for the morning shoot, a basic loop. I got a questioning look from Small Steve, so I pulled him aside.
"Rick is back in town. If he shows up here, he is not welcome. Don't get yourself hurt keeping him out of the building --- that's my job --- but get rid of him if you can. And as far as he's concerned, neither me or Bekka are here at all, okay?"
"What's going on?" he asked.
"Look, Rick isn't supposed to be in California, but he was at me and Bekka's complex this morning. I don't think he wants to have a friendly chat. Savvy?"
"Got it. I'll tell the other guys."
"Thanks. And let's try to keep this a normal work day. I've got a few interviews in the afternoon, so there'll be people coming and going. And don't say anything to the performers."
I went upstairs and pulled the holster and Beretta out from under the mattress. Got the shoulder holster around my back and the pistol in the holster, then pulled my denim back on over it all. I checked in the mirror how low I could unbutton my denim without the butt of the gun showing.... Not very low. It would be a warm day.
Then I went to call Angel.
I dialed Angel's number from memory. "Angel, sir, it's Lenny, and I'm about to ruin your morning."
"No sir. A much bigger aggravation. Rick is back in town. He's driving an old brown Buick Skylark, Nevada plates. He was waiting for Bekka and I outside Olivehurst this morning as we left to come here. It's definitely me he's interested in, otherwise he'd have just come to Inana. Your advice would be appreciated."
"You still have the Beretta Vinny gave you?"
"I'm wearing it right now."
"Where's your car?"
"In the garage here at Inana."
"Smart thinking. I'm gonna send Vinny down to keep you company until we wrangle up Rick. I don't know if Paul's services will be needed, if we can convince him he's making stupid choices we may not need him. Stay cool.... Is Bekka on the board today?"
"Yeah, she's in a three-on-three loop this morning. She'll either take a cab home or hang around and help me interview potential performers. I'd rather have her close to me than alone at home."
"Okay. Yeah, keep her with you, or with Vinny if she wants to go out. I'm telling Vinny to pack his bag and get down there A.S.A.P. I won't have my employees threatened."
"Thank you, Angel. I owe you."
"Just keep working like you do. It's nice having a business where everything works right." With that he hung up.
I put the phone back in the cradle and stared at the wall. Wendy O. Williams stared back. I wondered what an adrenaline junkie like Wendy would do in this situation. In Wendy's case, probably fuck something. I had the sex drive of a stick of gum at the moment.
I went and told Bekka that Vinny was coming down to keep us company. Paul wouldn't be around.... Yet. Then, for lack of anything constructive to do, I brought the cash logs up to date. This thrilling task completed, I stared at Wendy a little longer, hoping for inspiration.
What came to me was "be on the lookout."
I went to the third floor and dragged a chair into one of the empty bedrooms that overlooked the street. Then I grabbed an ashtray and a soda from downstairs and sat in front of a bay window and watched. And waited.
After forty minutes a brown Skylark rolled slowly past the mansion. Rick knew who drove what, so he could tell who was inside. He kept rolling.
He made another pass an hour later, hoping to see the Acura in the driveway. Sorry Rick, it's hidden. Whether you'll figure that out remains to be seen.
Not more than five minutes later a grey Porsche 911 pulled in the driveway. I went downstairs to greet Vinny, who stood stretching in the walkway. He had a bag with him, in anticipation of being at the mansion for a couple nights.
"How's things, Vinny?" I greeted him. We gave each other the Italian man-hug.
"Going pretty good. Hearing good things about Inana. You're doing fantastic with the place, I wish there was some way to talk you into joining the family."
"Sorry Vinny, but as long as I'm married to the woman I love, that's off the table. You still have a very loyal employee, at least."
"So that damn pest is back," he said, changing the subject.
"Stalking me and Bekka at our complex, waiting for us to leave this morning. I let him follow me for a while, then ditched him on a freeway on-ramp. Like I told Angel, it's me he's interested in, not Inana. He's driven by a couple times looking for my Acura, we should probably put your Porsche in the garage along with mine, otherwise he'll know you're here."
"Good point. And pull yours out. Let's get this over with. You carrying?"
I opened my jacket and displayed my Beretta. "Loaded and ready," I said.
"Me too. Let's move vehicles around."
Vinny and I sat by the pool playing gin and listening for anything driving past. I got the feeling I understood how cops on stakeout feel. You're waiting for something to happen that you hope, deep down, doesn't happen at all.
Ninety minutes into our vigil, something large and in need of a valve job pulled into the driveway. We got up and went to the gate, listening for the sound of a car door. We heard it slam, and we went through the gate onto the walkway.
Rick didn't seem to have heard us. He was staring at the Acura.... Then dragged his key along the side.
"That's enough of that," I told him. "You're not supposed to be in California, and you're busy stalking me. What the fuck is your problem, Rick? I know you hate me, so why don't you let it drop?"
"You need another talk with Paul?" asked Vinny. "The first chat didn't seem to take."
"I just wanted to talk with Lenny, that's all," Rick whined. "I wanted to straighten things out. We used to be friends, you know."
"And your idea of an olive branch is keying my new car? I hate to think what an expression of genuine affection would be."
"This," he said, and fired a cheap .25 caliber pistol into Vinny.
I got my Beretta into motion faster than I would have thought possible. I thumbed off the safety and fired four times in the general direction of Rick's legs. Two connected, hitting each femur.
Rick screamed and hit the ground backwards, spilling his own gun from his hand. I ran over and kicked his .25 under my car. He wasn't about to move around much, but I wanted it where it would be hard to reach.
I ran back to check on Vinny. He'd been hit below his left shoulder; a few inches lower and he'd have been a goner. "Lenny," he said, "There's cuffs in my right jacket pocket. Put 'em on that asshole, will ya?" I did as instructed, rolling over a violently swearing Rick and once again securing his hands behind his back. I wondered if Rick had aimed at Vinny on purpose, or if the Raven he had fired was that inaccurate. I figured I'd find out in court.
At his request, I got Vinny on his feet. He pulled his own Beretta out and held it in his left hand, keeping an eye on Rick. "Go inside and call Angel, let him know what happened. Then call 911, we can't avoid it this time. Don't worry, Angel will take care of things. I'm okay, go make those calls."
I went in to find a crowd in the living room. They'd heard the shooting and were too afraid to step out front to see what was going on. Several were still naked. "Shoot's over for the day," I announced. We've had some trouble out front, big trouble, and how long it takes you to leave will determine how much time you spend talking to cops. I'd say go home quickly." I realized I still had my pistol in my hand and was gesturing with it. People certainly paid attention to what I had to say.
Bekka came up to me, asking what happened. "Rick shot Vinny, I shot Rick. I've gotta get on the phone," I said, brushing past her to the office.
I hit redial on the phone --- his was the only place I'd called so far that day --- and got Angel on the line. "Angel, Lenny. We got shooting trouble here at Inana. Vinny's hurt, so is Rick, I'm okay. I'll probably be going to jail for shooting Rick, so Frankie will need to run things here."
"Nonsense," said Angel. "We'll have you out in about six hours. Don't worry. How bad is Vinny."
"I caught him in each leg. I don't know how bad."
"Remember, say as little to the cops as possible. Just tell them Vinny loaned you the Beretta because you were expecting trouble. Don't worry, the cavalry is on the way."
I made the next call. Yes, 911? There's been a shooting on ________ Road, at number 12818. Two wounded. Neither life-threatening....."