Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Associate (Part 4)

    Saturday morning Bekka woke me up, announcing her plans to get an early start up to Encino for her usual lunch and gossip session with the guys' wives.  I rolled over and went back to sleep as the front door closed....
     .... Then snapped awake and dived for the phone when I realized where she was headed.  I hadn't told her what had happened to  me in Lawndale, with Angel and I sticking to our story about why I hadn't driven the Acura home the day before.  I quickly dialed Angel's number, hoping he wasn't sleeping in.  He wasn't.
     "Angel, Lenny.  You've got to get the Acura moved, like, now.  Bekka is coming up there to hang out with Angela and the other girls.  She can't see what condition that car is in, no way."
     "But I have the mobile glass people coming out this morning."
     "Um....  Move the damn thing a couple blocks away, and when the glass dude shows up, you just ride with him to wherever you put the car.  Bekka will kill me if she finds out I got shot at again.  She'll seriously succeed where the last couple people failed."
     "I'm glad you had the forethought to leave me your keys.  Don't worry Lenny, I'll take care of things.  Talk you you later."
     And all of this would have worked perfect, if it weren't for Angel's wife Angela.  Both me and Angel forgot to let her in on our little subterfuge, so over lunch she began talking about what a shame it was, all that damage to  Lenny's car.
     "Well, it's only a passenger window and some bullet holes," said Bekka.
     "Well, those and the windshield and back glass being taken out.  Lenny was lucky he didn't catch a bullet to the back of the head, from the look of things."
     "What are you talking about?  What's wrong with Lenny's car?"
     Angela explained about the driver's side window being the only glass left in one piece, and wasn't  it a shame?
     "Yes.... A shame...."

     I learned that night just how heavy a temper Sicilian girls can carry around with them, like a time bomb, waiting for the right moment.  She also committed the first act of violence by walking in the door and slapping me.
     "Ow!  Son of a bitch!  What the hell was that for?"
   "You try to hide things from me?  I found out what happened to your car --- what really happened --- and you play it off like nothing happened at all.  You get shot at and you don't tell me?  What the hell, pally?  What is wrong with you?"
     "I didn't want you to worry, is all.  Is that so wrong?"
     "It just....  It feels like a trust issue, that you think I can't take it and I'll go running home to daddy if you have danger in your life.  I've come to terms with it.  Dammit, you work for the mob, they aren't going to have you on a paper route.  But mostly it's about you being deceptive.  Can I trust you to let me in on what's going on in your life?"
     "Of course you can.  It's just....  Getting shot at twice in one week is pretty bad, and I didn't want you getting scared.  They promised they'll put me on paperwork runs for a while.  I just don't want my wife worrying about me every time I leave the house, y'know?"
     "At least my worries are justified.  It's better than thinking you've gone paranoid.  You can't stop me from worrying any more than you can stop me from loving you.  Those two are intertwined.  Accept it."
     "Look, I wasn't trying to be deceitful,  I only kept it from you because of what happened in South Gate earlier in the week.  I mean, what are the odds, you know?  And I couldn't stand the idea of you having all that stress in your life, worrying about me when I do jobs for the family.  I was just trying to protect you.  There was no malice."
     "I know there wasn't.  But there was deception, and I think that's what hurts the most.  I'm a big girl, I can take bad news."  She  sighed.  "It's my own damn fault in a way."
     "How  so?"
     "I'm the one who gave the approval for you to hook up with the family to begin  with.  If I hadn't given the okay, you'd just be living a sedate life at Inana.  Except for Rick, there's been no gun play at the mansion.  A nice quiet life."
     "Well, like I said, I believe the guys are going to have me just doing paperwork runs for quite a while, the sort of jobs where I really am a glorified courier.  And I can't say I'll mind a bit.  I don't like being shot at any more than you like hearing about it."
     "How's your face?"
     I rubbed my cheek.  "Stings, but I'll live.  I'll probably be a bit red for a couple days."
     She smiled and said, "I'm sorry.  It won't happen again."
     "I promise to not be deceitful with you again, even if the news sucks."
     She wrapped her arms around me.  "Remember, we're a team, you and me.  I can always take the heat.  Just no going to prison, you have to wait a while before you're allowed conjugal visits."
     "I'm playing safe, and I've got good people at my back.  None of the guys have ever been to  prison, so they're doing something right.  I'll follow their lead.  Besides, working for them pays a hell of a lot better than having a paper route."

     On Wednesday Bekka and I drove up to Angel's house to pick up my car.  Fresh glass, and you couldn't tell where the bullet holes were from the outside.  I'd have to go to a dealership to get the inside of the passenger door fixed.
     Since we were sort of in the neighborhood, I suggested we eat at Angel's trattoria.  Bekka followed me down into Century City and into the circular driveway.  I swear the valet licked his lips when the Falcon pulled in: it would be the most fun he'd have that night.
     We went inside and I walked up to the maitre'd's stand.  He was less than impressed with my appearance, which did not surprise me.  "I'm a friend of Angel's," I told him.
     "Angel has many friends.  Your name, sir?"
     "Lenny Schneider."
   He looked suspicious as he went over a couple small handwritten lists.  Suddenly he stopped....  I wasn't kidding, and I was on the short list.  He went from hostile to simpering in a matter of two seconds, saying, "Yes sir, we shall have you seated within moments."
     "If there's nothing available on the patio, we'll take a table indoors," I told him.
     "Nonsense sir, we have a patio table available.  Please come this way."
     Bekka gave me a nudge and a subtle pointed finger.  It would seem that Jack Nicholson also enjoyed Italian food, as he was eating twenty feet from where we sat.
     "Angel wanted exclusive, and he got it.  We'd probably wait two hours for seating if we were just plebes."
     "So what other benefits are there in your new position?"
     "The same treatment at five other restaurants, and I think access to really good cocaine.  If you're interested."
     "The cocaine I already knew about.  We indulge on Saturdays, and it's as good as what we got on our honeymoon."
     "Rockin'.  I think Angel shared some with me last week, only I was too stressed out to enjoy it.  By the way, you know I'm not a wine drinker, but I like the house red here.  Did you want to try something else?"
     "Red is fine, I'm having the beef stroganoff.  You?"
     "The manicotti.  So how's Jack doing?"
     Bekka  turned red and said, "Am I that obvious?"
     I smiled and replied, "You keep looking that direction.  Whatever you do, don't go over for an autograph.  This restaurant exists so  that people can avoid that shit.  To me, he's just some guy eating his dinner.  I'm leaving it at that."
     We had just finished placing our orders and having the wine arrive when the maitre'd came up to the table with a concerned look on his face.  "Mr. Schneider, sir?  May I have a word with you?"
     "Sure, what's up?"
     "Do you drive a blue Acura?"
     "It was involved in a minor accident in our garage.  Would you please come with me?"
   "This  doesn't sound good," I told Bekka, and followed the maitre'd out of the restaurant, across the street, and into the parking garage of the office tower next door.  We took the elevator up several floors, riding in silence.
     The long and short of what happened was the valet had forgotten to set the brakes or leave in gear a 3-series BMW, which rolled backwards into my Acura.  My front end was fairly well bashed in, but I could pop the hood with the aid of my Leatherman, and the radiator looked to be in one piece.
     The owner of the BMW was throwing a fit.  "I can't believe this!  Look at the rear end of my car!"
    "Dude, calm down," I told him.  "You got some scuffs and a couple small dents in the bumper.  Any shop can correct those in a day."
     "But my car...."
     "My car too, ace.  The dealership will have their paws on mine for a few days.  It's driveable, but I guarantee there's a lot of stuff under there that's tweaked.  I ain't gonna panic, and I gotta get back to San Diego tonight."
     "Just who the hell are you, anyway?"
     "He is a close personal friend of the owner, Mr. Mulvoney," interjected the maitre'd.  "Neither of you gentlemen have to worry, as our insurance will cover the damages."
     "Just great," said Mulvoney.  "What do I drive until mine's fixed."
     "Dude, yours ain't broken.  Don't tell me you won't drive it because the bumper got used for its named purpose."
     "I can't drive it like that!"
    "You probably don't have a lot of choice, sucker.  Look at the bright side: you weren't between the two cars when your brakes failed.  Your troubles ain't shit."
     Mulvoney turned his impotent bile on me.  "Listen asshole, I'm getting sick you you!"
     "And you're boring me.  What should we do?"
     He threw a punch, I guess.  It approached so slow that I could have smoked a cigarette in the amount of time it took to get remotely close to my face.  So I grabbed him by the throat and gave him a leg-sweep which landed him on his back.
     It took him a couple seconds, but he bounced back to his feet yelling, "Asshole, I  know judo!"
     "And I'm used to street brawls," I told him.  "We're about even, I suppose.  You wanna go first again?"
     He aimed a roundhouse kick at me, which I grabbed out of the air and lifted, putting him on his back again.  "You must like it down there," I said.  "Who knows, maybe you could start a whole new trend in bedding."
     He wasn't done yet, even if I was.  He aimed a karate chop in the general direction of my neck.  I grabbed the arm and twisted it behind his back, bending him over the trunk of his own car.  Then I explained, "See, right now my wife is waiting for me on the patio.  I'm looking forward to dinner.  These are pleasant things.  If you want to be a spaz, that's fine, but don't count me in.  I'm in a good mood."  Then I let go and shoved him away, walking towards the elevators.
     "Bastard!  I'll sue you!" he yelled at my back.
     "You'll sue me.  Shit, you are from LA, aren't you?"
     I rode down with the maitre'd.  I told him to provide my name to Mr. Mulvoney, to aid him in his quest to sue me over a fight he started and lost.  We went back across the street and into the restaurant.

     Bekka asked me what happened.  I explained, "A BMW rolled backwards into the Acura and mashed in the front end.  It's still driveable, but needs to go into the dealership to make sure nothing got knocked out of whack.
     "While I was up there the owner of the Beemer decided he didn't like my attitude and tried to pick a fight with me.  He wasn't successful."
     "Lenny, are you holding back on me again?"
     "Well.... I put him on the ground a couple times.  No big deal.  Hell, you're facing the direction of the doors, watch for a pissed off looking guy coming in.  And the restaurant insurance is covering the damage to both vehicles."
     Almost as if on cue, Mulvoney came onto the patio, searching me out.  He put his hand on my shoulder and said, "You tweaked my arm and you're gonna  pay."
     I told him, "Leonard Schneider, currently in Encinitas, down on the coast above San Diego.  Any more than that and you have to hire a lawyer."
     Bekka  chimed in with, "You've got your hands on my husband right now.  That pisses me off, and from what I heard even I could take you.  So are you gonna back off, pussy?"
     "Did you call me a pussy.... Bitch?"
     I shot a hand up and grabbed him by the collar, pulling him down to my level.  "You know, you can cause a lot of trouble by calling a man's wife a bitch.  I'd love to go out in the street and show you all the problems it can cause.  Would you like that?"
     "Let.... Go.... Of.... Me!" he garbled, so I did.
     "Go back to your table, sir, " I told him.
     A voice said, "The gentleman has not been seated, nor will he be.  Please come quietly, sir."  And with that the maitre'd led off the evening's entertainment.
     And from Nicholson's table we heard a familiar voice cry, "Get rid of that damn nut!"
     "Thank you, Jack," I said.

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