They were right about my jobs being boring, initially. My first assignment was to drive out to Montrose, out past Burbank, and pick up a suitcase to be delivered to Frankie's house. This was all conducted past ten p.m. for some reason, but that --- like the contents of the briefcase --- was none of my business. I made the delivery, was thanked by Frankie, and went the hell home.
The next one was along the same lines: pick up a duffel bag in Irvine and take it to Vinny's house, at night. Hell, if this was all they wanted me to do, I could adjust very quickly.
My assignment was to pick up a suitcase from the Southwest freight terminal at LAX and deliver it to a house in Southgate. Okay, not a problem. This was conducted during daylight hours, so the only stress was me thinking about all the crap I could be doing back at Inana instead of making this drive. I'd catch up in the evening....
The shipment was under my name, simplifying matters. I was under strict orders to not open the suitcase for any reason, exchange it for a duffel bag, and bring the duffel bag up to Angel in Encino. I could handle that. What was in these bags was none of my business. I kept it that way.
The first tip-off that things would go wrong was the South Gate address. It was to a residential address, which to me is unusual for South Gate. I pulled up front to what appeared to be an unoccupied residence.
The porch lights came on as I went up the walkway. They'd been watching for me, no doubt. I knocked and was let in by a young blood and an older white guy, who resembled George Carlin. The two of them being in business together intrigued me.... But I wasn't being paid to be intrigued, just to make the delivery and get the hell out.
"Who the fuck are you?" the young one asked.
"That doesn't matter, he's got the delivery and that's what's important," said the older guy. "Go get the bag."
"I ain't givin' shit to white bread until I know who the fuck he is," said the brother.
"My name's Lenny. You wanna see my ID?" I asked.
"That checks out," said the older guy. "Go get the bag. They've never stiffed us before."
I was grudgingly handed a duffel bag which, by its weight, contained lots of paper. The older guy said, "Okay, that's all," and gestured me out of the house. I had no problem with leaving.
I was in my driver's seat and lighting a Marlboro when the brother burst out the door yelling, "You sent us coffee, mothafucka!" and put two shots into the Acura, He had good aim, I'll give him that: I could feel the breeze of both of them whiz past my face. One blew a hole in my passenger door, the other shattered the passenger side glass. I pulled my Beretta and returned the favor, jamming the transmission in gear with the gun still in my hand. I stuck around long enough to witness the older guy drag the brother inside, yelling, "The bags are in the coffee, you asshole!" Then I was gone, not sure how many friends homeboy had on that block. I used the flashlight to knock out the safety glass onto Firestone Boulevard.
I flew up the 710 and connected with the 10, and then to the 405, seething at the damage done to the Acura. It had suffered four bullet holes when I'd shot Rick, now I had missing glass and an exit hole in my passenger door. Fun to explain to Angel.... Or Bekka, for that matter. Or even to a body shop.
I pulled into Angel's driveway, still rattled and pissed off. He answered the bell immediately. I walked into the hallway, saying "I need a drink."
"You almost never drink, Lenny, what has happened?" asked Angel.
"I got shot at in South Gate. Some young blood at the house decided there was something wrong with the delivery and put a couple fresh holes in the Acura, took out my passenger glass. He was aiming for me. If you have any answers, I'd love to hear them."
"I'll have some, soon enough." He stepped into the living room, leaving me in the entry way. I stayed there, my drink would come soon. He had business to take care of.
"Lemme talk to Vincent.... Yes, now, I don't care what he's doing! Hello, Vince? Just what the hell is going on down there? .... I could care less, I have my drivers shot at, and I am not amused. I don't like these kind of games.... Well fire him, if you can't do it I'll get down there and do it myself.... Good, by this time tomorrow he's gone, is that clear? All right."
Angel retrieved me from the hallway and said, "Fucking loose cannons."
"Just some jackoff gang banger who thought he knew the business. Didn't know when to behave himself. Accept my apologies, I'll pay for the damages done to your car."
"I still haven't got the damages done from my altercation with Rick taken care of. Don't worry about it, I'll fix it."
"At least let me pay for the body damage," pleaded Angel.
"Okay, fine. I'll let you know how much it costs," I replied. "Now let's have a drink, okay? It's been a distracting day. I know I need a drink and a rail."
"Don't do that speed you're so used to. Here, I've got some good cocaine that just arrived. If you're going to get wired up, at least let it be with something that has some class."
We railed up. I wasn't disappointed.
I said nothing to Bekka about my fresh damage to the Acura. No sense in having her worry about things that had already passed. It didn't help, as she noticed the exit wound walking out to the car on Wednesday morning.
"You picked up another bullet hole," she commented, getting in the passenger side.
"Yeah, happened Monday afternoon on that run to South Gate. No big deal, Angel is gonna pay for the damage done."
"My glass is missing too." The door shook like a maraca when opened.
"The guy didn't have very good aim. You're not visiting me in the hospital, or in jail. I'm not supposed to be wearing the shoulder holster, remember? Remind me to take it off on the 27th, okay? That's my probation appointment."
Bekka yelled in my ear, "Do I have to go have a talk with Angel and the others? You're just an associate, you're not supposed to have to deal with this bullshit! I can't wait to talk to the girls this weekend...."
"Nothing they haven't heard before. It's part of the game. It doesn't happen very often. With me, it happened sooner rather than later. I can handle it as well as any other fucker can."
"You're my fucker. Something happens to you, I'm gonna go on a killing spree."
"After this, I can guarantee you they'll be giving me sedate runs. They don't want to scare me off. I'm still in a probationary period, and I think that works both ways."
I had her tongue in my ear. "You'd better stay safe. I'll spend prison time to avenge you, if need be.... And don't question that. You're mine, not theirs."
I dodged my head away. "Don't get me worked up. I have interviews today, so no sense in getting me horny before I deal with girls who expect to get naked in front of me."
Her tongue was back. "I'm the one who gets you horny, and vice versa. What say we have some fun in your office before things get happening?"
We were interrupted twice, once by Small Steve, and once by Rita, who wanted to watch. "You two are so beautiful together, how could I not want to see it?" was her explanation for standing in the doorway while I fucked Bekka over my desk. I had a policy of removing the gun holster when we had sex, unless she asked it to remain. Rita was not bothered by the gun on my desk. We let her stay until the end, a courtesy we didn't extend to many.
Afterwards I insisted both of them leave so I could get to work. Knock back a line with the two of them and drill down on the nuts and bolts of running a business.
We went to lunch around one, my interviews finished. Bekka asked, "So how did they go?"
"The usual bullshit. For chrissake, is it too much to ask for potential performers to both have an interest in sex and an ability to perform? All four wanted to party and fuck in front of a camera in that order. I need a couple who understand there's work involved...."
Bekka scanned over a menu she's already memorized. We were at Triplets, sitting at the counter.
"Heard anything from the guys?" she asked.
"Not yet," I replied, "but I expect to sometime today. They'll either apologize or give me a new assignment.... And I bet it'll be a sedate one. I'm too useful to Inana, they don't want to risk losing me."
One can be wrong about these things.
".... You'll be picking up from Southwest air freight and delivering to a house in Lawndale, then picking up a bag from there and bringing it here. Just like the last one except you won't be getting shot at, promise. Got that?"
I asked, "You're sure about that. No gun play?"
"A million to one chance, on the outside," said Angel.
So on Friday afternoon I left Bekka in charge of interviews and drove to LAX to retrieve yet another large suitcase, waiting at freight with my name on it. Shove it in the trunk of the Acura and jump on the 405 South for a few miles into Lawndale.
This wasn't so pleasant a neighborhood, but Angel had promised the recipients of the suitcase would be on their best behavior. I made the drop, grabbed the bag, and headed out. When I left, so did two of the three occupants of the house.
Right behind me, in some '70s bomb.
Stay cool, I told myself. They're just running to the store. I went down Jefferson to West Rosecrans, then turned left on Hawthorne, heading for the freeway.
They stuck with me.
Screw this, I thought, and opened it up a bit on Hawthorne, trying to earn some distance. They were having none of it, keeping with me. I got in the turn lane onto the freeway and waited on the light. They sent me a message right then....
.... By blowing out my glass with a gun. My rear glass shattered, and the windshield earned a hole plus some cracks.
I decided against waiting for the light. I punched up the tight cloverleaf ramp, winding it out into a drift. They followed, pushing the boat they were driving hard. I worked my way up to fourth gear and held it there, wanting the extra jump the lower gear would give me. By the time we hit the 105 we were holding 110 mph, weaving through traffic
At West Manchester I jerked across three lanes of traffic and aimed for the ramp, heading into it at about ninety. This possibility had never occurred to them, and I heard their tires lock up as I jumped off the freeway.
I cut over to La Cienega Boulevard and ambled north, the Acura still shedding safety glass off the trunk. A left onto Slauson and I was back on the 405, hopefully without pursuers. With a bit of luck they'd taken the West Florence ramp and were searching for me on surface streets. Since I'd blown down La Cienega at about seventy, I had a good chance of evading them. I'd have welcomed a cop right about then anyways, so long as they didn't look in the bag sitting next to me.
As usual, Angel was waiting for me. I wanted a few words with him, believe me. He opened the door, I pressed the bag into his hands, and said, "C'mere, I've got something I want to show you." I led him out to the Acura.
"Notice anything about it? Your million to one odds were beaten. A couple guys from the house followed me in their car and shot at me as I was waiting to get on the freeway. I'd be a dead man if I hadn't taken a quick tour of Inglewood on my way here. Any explanation? This shit is getting old, Angel."
I'd done something I hadn't thought possible: rendered Angel speechless. He finally came out with, "Lenny.... I'm so sorry. I don't know what's going on. Two of our dump houses in one week firing at my courier.... This is unprecedented. I need to use the phone. Drink?"
"So long as it's large," I told him.
He got me a Johnnie Walker over ice and made his call. No one home but the answering machine. He simply yelled into it, "This is Angel. You will call me as soon as possible. Do not delay."
I didn't ask for permission, simply pulled my vial out of my pocket and began cutting a line of speed on the glass coffee table. He watched this silently, declining my offer of a line.
I looked up from where I sat and said, "The Acura is undriveable as it is. I'm open to your suggestions.... Maybe have it towed to the nearest auto glass place, and drop me at a car rental agency."
"Leave the car here, I will deal with it. And I will personally drive you back to Encinitas," said Angel, with a surprising tone of humility in his voice. "Just let me leave a note for Angela." I handed him my car keys.
We mostly rode in silence back south. Angel scared the shit out of me by getting off the freeway in Lawndale and cruising past the house I'd done business at. I pointed out the car I'd been pursued by and he merely nodded. Then we picked up the freeway again and continued on our way.
"You're not thinking about going back there, are you?" I asked.
"No. A meeting will be called, on my terms and my turf. Dammit, how could they be so stupid as to think...." He trailed off.
After a while Angel said, "I suppose you are reconsidering your decision. I cannot blame you, and if you wish to return to simply running Inana I will understand."
I thought about it, then said, "No. Like you pointed out, family is for life. I may never be tied in deep with you guys, but I made you a promise. Tell you what, just don't give me any more freight runs for a while. I don't know what's in those suitcases, I don't wanna know what's in those suitcases, I don't even want to know about the duffel bags. Just give me runs where shit can't go wrong for a while. Get me?"
"Understood." He looked over at me. "Many men would have taken the exit I afforded you. Why are you staying?"
I sighed. "A few things. I want to be able to provide for Bekka in the future, and I'll have a stable career with you guys. If she stops performing for any reason, I want her to have the same quality of life she's used to. Maybe I'm an adrenaline junkie: I'm not such a big fan of being shot at, but the resultant car chase was a rush.... I got to test all my skills, literally with my life on the line.
"And I made a promise to you. I'm part of the family. I may not have been in it for long, but I'm still part of it. Maybe I like the sense of belonging."
Angel cleared his throat. "That means a lot to me, Lenny. I am pleased you take being part of the family so seriously. Now the question is, what do we tell Bekka as to why your car is not with you?"
"What's to explain? You promised to take care of the glass and the body damage, so of course I had to leave the car with you. We'll just run up and grab it when it's done. And I'll pay for the body work and paint. I'm well paid at my job, you know."