Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Associate (Part 5)

     We walked in the house still laughing at the efforts of the Mighty Mulvoney.  "And you wondered why I didn't want to own a BMW.  I'd be associated with the likes of that guy.  Shit, I'm embarrassed to share the same ethnic makeup as him."
     "So you blue-eyes don't all stick together?" asked Bekka.
     "Hell no.  Look how much  time England and France spent at war with each other.  The only way we appear to have any advantage is we're the ones who always get elected to office.  Other than that, being a white boy can be as much of a drag as it can for anyone else.  Except the blacks.  And  the Mexicans.  Oh, and the Southeast Asians.  Okay, I guess being a white boy ain't that bad a gig."
     After Bekka finished laughing at that, she said, "Be glad you're not Sicilian.  Everybody just assumes you're Italian, and the Italians regard you as those weirdos on that island out there.  Mt. Etna is our biggest claim to fame.  Big whoop."
     "Don't forget Etna is still an active volcano.  It could fuck some shit up."
     "Yeah, that's another  problem.  Our biggest tourist draw can kill people."
     She wrapped her arms around me and said, "I love you, Mr. Schneider."
     "And I love you, Mrs. Schneider."  We kissed for a while.
     I  told her, "Unfortunately, I have plans for the evening."
     She pouted, "And they don't include me."
     "Only if you're a purchase order.  I've gotta get them organized, it's too close to the  end of the month."
     "Well.... Try to get it over with, so we can both be ready for bed at the same time."
     "Will do."

     By 11:30 I had a large stack of invoices piled up, added together, and ready to go up to Encino with the courier.  I kept  copies of them all, to be paired off with  incoming checks.  Rick never would have had the responsibility of billing the hundreds of vendors; I myself was grateful for the Macintosh computer and printer we had.
     Obviously, checks did not arrive en masse.  They came in fits and starts, three arriving one day, sixty the next.  Deposits were an all-day event, depending on how far behind I was.  Oh well, at least I was able to use the commercial window at the bank.
     I sat at the table trying to get my eyes to focus.  Bekka walked in naked and draped herself over me.
     "Mrs. Schneider," I  said, "are you trying to seduce me?"
     "You better believe it, baby.  You almost done?"
     "As of about three  minutes ago.  I was just sitting here waiting for my brains to roll back into  place."
     "Come to bed with me and I'll roll 'em right the hell back out again."
     "Race you there."

   Friday morning Angel called and gave me a new assignment.  Pick up from the Southwestern freight terminal at LAX and deliv----
     Aw, come on, Angel.
    "Lenny, you're just picking up a single briefcase and taking it to a place all the way up in Gorman, on the Grapevine.  You're even meeting the guy at a restaurant, totally out in public.  You should have no worries with this one.  Nothing can go  wrong, it's a paperwork run.  Okay?"
     "Okay, Angel.  Just a paperwork run?  No products of any kind?"
     "What would we move in a briefcase?"
    "Fair enough.  Let me call Bekka and let her know I'll be  putting some miles under her Falcon today, and I'll be back mid-evening.  Talk to  you later, sir."
     "Remember, Lenny: nothing  to worry about."  (*click*)
     Ninety  minutes later I pulled into a familiar lot at LAX, went through a familiar set of doors, and signed a familiar piece of paperwork to claim "my" property.  Then it was back on the 405 northbound, merging with the 5, and into the eastern edge of Los Padres National Forest, known generally as The Grapevine.  Stop at the Ranch House coffee shop and locate a gentleman dressed too nice for the area, in his sixties.  Have lunch with him.  Leave without the briefcase and go home.

     That was the plan, anyway.

     What wasn't counted upon was the old guy following me into the parking lot and jamming a gun in my spine.  He grabbed my ass and crotch looking for weapons....  Skipping my shoulder holster completely.  It just never occurred to him.
     "Okay, we're gonna get into your car.  Which one  is it?"
     "The '64 Falcon over  there.  What is this?"
     "You'll find out.  Just keep walking and get behind the wheel."
     You have no  idea how pissed I was, and pissed off people do rash, crazy things.  I jammed the heel of my engineer boot into his shin, spun to one side, and grabbed for the gun.  His only advantage was having that gun: he himself was pretty frail.  I yanked the gun away and put it in his belly.
     "Alright, let's have it.  This isn't a cash run, so what did you think you'd get out of holding me up?"
     "Vincent paid me to do it!" the old guy gibbered.  I was told to  just get you to a house in Lancaster, I don't know why."
     "So who the hell is Vincent?"  The name scratched at my brain, but I couldn't make a connection.
     "He's just....  He's a guy, he moves a lot of coke through Los Angeles."
     "I don't have anything to do with coke,  What does he  want with me?"
     "I don't know, honest!"
     I considered my options.  Angel and the guys had said  to not improvise unless it was absolutely necessary.  It was time.
     I told the old guy, "Walk towards that Falcon hot rod.  Stop at the trunk."
     He did as he was instructed.  I popped the  trunk with my key, and ordered him in.  He stared in disbelief at me.
     "In the trunk?"
     "In the trunk."
     "You know this is a kidnapping."
     "And what the hell was it you were doing to me?"
     "Well.... Shit."
     He did as ordered and got in the trunk.  I took the briefcase from him before closing the lid.  Then I did what I had been instructed to absolutely never do, which was open a delivery.
     It was paperwork.
     Pages of numbers, post-it notes, sentences starting with phrases "In fiscal year 1986...."  I could care less, and unless I knew what the numbers were attached to, I'd never care.  I whacked the briefcase shut again, smearing my hand on the latches.  Then I went in to use the pay phone to call Angel.
     "Angel, it's  :Lenny.  I'd like you to meet me in the Magic Mountain parking lot as soon as humanly possible.  I've got something I'd like to show you.  Okay?  Good, see you there."
     "Lenny, wait---"  I hung up on him.

     He beat me there by a couple minutes.  He'd parked out in a vacant area; between that and the distinctive lines of his Maserati I picked him up quickly.  I pulled up next to him and bid him good day.  He looked in and saw the briefcase sitting on the passenger seat and got mad.
     "Why the hell haven't you made the drop yet?  You should be fifty miles away right now!"
     I smiled and said, "I've got the weirdest thing in my trunk, and I'm not sure what to make of it.  I was hoping you'd be able to solve this  puzzle."  And I opened the trunk.
     The old guy looked up at us in fear.
     "Recognize it?" I asked Angel.
     "Lenny.... For God's sake what have you done?" Angel queried, his eyes gone huge.
     "This is the well-dressed older gent I found at the Ranch House, and he was interested in my briefcase.  After we finished our meals, we left together, at which  point he shoved a gun in my back and began marching me towards my car.  I cracked him in the shin  and got his gun away from him, put him in the trunk, called you, and drove down here.  All caught up?  Now then, who the hell he is doesn't concern me.  But he was operating on orders of a guy named Vincent out in  Lancaster.  Vincent is involved in the cocaine trade.  Ring any bells?"
     Angel gave an exasperated sigh. "I know Vincent, and so do you.  He  was the white guy you dealt with on the first suitcase run that went bad.  And this guy tried to  snatch you?"
     "Yeah.  He insists he was doing this for a payoff."  I scratched at my neck.  "So what do I do with him?  Give him bus fare, drive him back to where I found him, or kill him?"
     "I can't think what Vincent would gain by grabbing you," said Angel.
     "Yeah, you're right, we should just kill him.  It's simplest," I said, opening my jacket to expose my Beretta.
     "Lenny, cut that out, you're gonna make him piss himself with fear.  Just drive him back to where you found him and cut him loose.  Hell, give his  gun back too."
     "Without the clip?" I asked.
     "Exactly.  And come to my house when you're done."
     "What about the briefcase?"
     Angel pondered this, then said, "Leave it with him.  He knows Vincent, and that's who it's supposed to go to.  See you in a while."
     "Do I have to ride in here on the way back?" came a voice from the trunk.
     Angel and I  looked at each other, then I said, "Naw.  C'mon, let's get you out of there."

     Our ride back to Gorman was silent.  After I pulled in, I popped the clip out of the old man's pistol and threw it in  the back seat.  Then I handed him the gun.  I told him, "See, this is what happens when you scare us crazy kids these days.  We go all to pieces and start kidnapping people and taking their guns away.  You have anything you want to tell me?  I'm a good  listener."
     "With that, get the fuck out of my car, and have a nice day.  Meeting you has been positively ill-inducing."  He got out and began hurrying across the parking lot towards his own car.  I jammed it into  reverse and got out of the space, then sprayed gravel all over the coffee shop leaving.

     Angel greeted me at his house by smacking me in the face.  "Dammit Lenny, don't you ever pull a fucking stunt like that again," he blustered.
     "I felt like I had no choice.  The third time in two weeks where I have people pointing guns at me?  Who painted the target on my back?  Angel, I wasn't scared, I was just plain pissed off.  I still am.  Look, why would this Vincent guy want to put a snatch on me?  Have you figured that one out?"
     Angel ruffled his hair and sat on the  arm of the sofa.  "It's a complete damn mystery.  I want to know if that old man was supposed to grab anyone making a delivery, or you in particular.  It would be easy enough to narrow it down to you, you're easy to spot."
     "Fair enough," I said.  "Okay, they've snatched me, or anyone doing a transport.  Then what?  Ransom?  Killed as an example?  Sex slavery?"
     "Lenny, I just don't know.  Why Vincent is behaving like this has me beat."
     "Is he an  associate?"
     "No.  He is a coke dealer, a customer of ours.  Surely you didn't think those suitcases held nothing but laundry."
     "Mind if I pour myself a drink?" I asked, heading for the kitchen.  Angel gave his approval.
     When I came back with my Johnnie Walker, Angel said to me, "There's nothing else for it.  I have to go have a talk with Vincent.  How do you feel like driving me and my Maserati out to Lancaster?"
     "Right now?"
     "No, in the morning.  Do you have much to take care of at Inana?"
     "Nothing urgent," I told him.  "There's always business to take care of.  No interviews tomorrow."
     "Good.  Get up early, I want to be in Lancaster by nine."
     "I'll be here at 7:30."

     At that early hour we made a blur of the freeway, cutting off the 5 onto the 14 and shooting into the "heart" of Lancaster.  Vincent owned a ranch on the outskirts of town.  I simply followed Angel's directions to get there.
     A horse leaned its head over a decrepit fence at our location.  For someone dealing coke, Vincent was not living extravagantly, not as evidenced by the collapsing outbuildings and plain ranch house where he lived.  It was isolated, though, which I considered to be both a good and a bad thing.  My instructions: wait in the car.  Period.  Ignore gunfire.  If Angel wasn't back within thirty minutes, leave and don't look back.  The family would take care of things from that point on.
     I kept my Beretta on the passenger seat.  Anything other than Angel would get covered.  Anything other than Angel was suspect.
     He sighed and said, "Well, wish me luck," and got out of the car.  I said a prayer to Saint Wendy O. Williams, the goddess of adrenaline.  Ten minutes passed, fifteen.  At twenty-two minutes I heard a shot.  At twenty-eight minutes Angel emerged, clutching his right hand, which appeared to have sprung a leak.
     He got in the car and said, "Get going."
     I spun the car around and headed back towards the highway.  "What's wrong with your hand?"
     He held it up and I nearly puked.  His index finger had been shot off at the base, was still lying on the floor in Vincent's house.  Angel said, "We need to stop at a phone, call Dr. Liu.  Let him know to meet us at my house.  God damn but this hurts...."
     "I'll get us there as quick as I can," I told him.
     "Don't get us pulled over, I don't want to have to explain this to a cop."
     I slid into a 7-11 and ran for the pay phones.  Dr. Liu picked up on the second ring.
     "Dr, Liu, this is Lenny Schneider, I'm a friend of Angel Morelli's.  Look, you gotta be at Angel's  house in about ninety minutes with all your gear.  Angel just had his finger shot off.  We're in Lancaster and headed that way.  Got that?  We'll see you there."


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