I called Vinny back first. "What do you mean, where's your wife?"
He yelled into the phone, "You scumbags carted her off four hours ago and she's still not back! I mean what the hell did you do with her? Where is she!?"
"Hey, we gave her a ride to the Safeway and let her out. She said she was gonna take a cab back to your place. What, she's not there? You haven't heard from her?"
"No, she's not here! I don't know what to do. You say you took her to Safeway?"
I cleared my throat and said, "Yeah, down on the Valley floor. Have you already talked to Angel about this? I got a message from him telling me to come back up there, and he didn't say why. You sounded more disturbed, so I called you first. Are you sure she's just not over at a friend's house?"
He spoke calmly. "Yes, I have called her fucking friends. They haven't seen her. She's disappeared off the radar, and that's not like her. And yes, I did call Angel. Right now he will make a better administrator for this than me. All I want to know is where my wife is."
"Lemme call Angel."
I dialed a familiar number and Angel picked up on the first ring. "Vinny?" he said.
"No, Lenny. What's going on? I just talked to Vinny and he said Chrissie is nowhere to be found. Is that what your call was about?"
He paused before speaking. Then he said, "Get your ass up here. Now. We're not playing games. This shit isn't funny."
I said, "Is it all right if I bring Bekka along with me? The way you and Vinny sound, it would seem like I'm not gonna live through the day. May as well have company when I go."
"Fine, fine, bring her along. I don't care. And you may not live through the day."
Words everyone wants to here, especially on top of a drug hangover.
I hung up and said to Bekka, "Hey honey, if you've ever wondered what a mob execution looks like, you may get to see one. Chrissie is missing, and I've got both Vinny and Angel barking down my snorkel. I'm the raw meat of the day."
She emerged from the bedroom half-dressed, looking edible as always, stretching and yawning. "What's up? What's with Chrissie being missing?"
"All I can tell is that I've got a couple guys higher than me in the organization pissed off, and no one has seen Chrissie since we dropped her off. Pull you shoes back on, we're headed back to Los Angeles."
"Lemme do a line first. You got that bag on you still?"
I tossed the speed to her, advising her to chop one for me.
The Falcon shot up the freeway. I cut through traffic like a hot knife through butter. When I reached Angel's place, Angela, his wife, was waiting in the driveway. "I'm sorry about all this," was all she said to us.
I stepped in the door and was punched in the face. A good punch, too, one with practice and skill behind it. Bekka shrieked in protest behind me.
"Vinny! Cool it, man!" came Angel's voice. "They're here now, they're not trying to run, that's gotta be a good sign, right?"
Angel picked me up and said, "I'm sorry about that. Vinny is a little bit upset."
"I can tell," I said, rubbing my cheek. "What the hell is going on? Chrissie is missing?"
"And you were the last people to see her," said Vinny. "What the hell did you do with my wife?"
"Look, she's gotta turn up. Maybe she decided to go to the beach and walk off her hangover. I don't know what to tell you."
"It's up to you to find answers," Angel said. "She was left in your trust. Dammit Lenny, why did you just leave her at the store?"
Bekka piped up. "She asked us to. If you guys are so worried, why haven't you called the cops? They handle these kind of things for a living."
"Because we're the fucking mafia, and we handle things like this on our own."
I said, "Look, tell you what. You got a picture of her around? I'll go down to the Safeway and see if anyone remembers seeing her."
"I've got one right here," said Vinny. He pulled a curled 5x7 of her with her hair up out of his pocket. It was a glamour shot a couple years old. There was no mistaking it was Chrissie, though. I curled the photo back on itself to straighten it out.
"Okay, this works," I said. "We'll go down to the Safeway and collar the cashiers, find which one checked her out and called the cab for her. Look guys, she's gotta turn up. Don't panic. Where could she have gone? You guys work that out while Bekka and I harass supermarket employees. We'll be back in a little while, and I'll bet she beats us here. Okay?"
"Get going," Angel said. "I want her home by sundown. Otherwise, Lenny the punk, you are in deep shit. You two were the last people who saw her. You get her back here, and there won't be any trouble. You lost her, you find her, capiche?"
"We're going. We'll be back in a little while. It'll work out, you'll see."
Promises of monogamy are made as easily. "It'll work out" was a promise I couldn't fulfill, but I didn't know that yet. Our day (and night, and day, and night, and day) were just beginning.
I got in the Falcon and shoved Black Flag's "Loose Nut" in the tape deck. Bekka turned to me and said, "The guys are stressed out."
"No shit," I said back. "She's got a lot of explaining to do when she does show up. They're coked out --- notice they didn't offer a line? --- and tweaking off it. Chrissie is tweaking too, which is why she's pulled a powder. She's off at the damn beach or something. Let's go do our work at Safeway, maybe they'll have some answers."
Bekka said, "Let's pull a rail first. I need the rush."
"Not a problem." I pulled the vanity mirror off the passenger side sun shade and cut two lines on it, sitting in Angel's driveway with the engine running. We snorted up and headed down into the Valley, aimed for the Safeway.
The cashiers were of no use. They barely glanced at the photo. One finally advised us to check with the Courtesy Desk, as that's where anyone desiring a cab would have to go. We walked up to the desk and waited in line. When we finally got to the front, we were stymied by a language barrier. The girl only spoke Val.
"Oh, I totally remember her. She was, like, really spun out and shit, y'know? I called her one of the Royal Cabs that we use, they're the full-on quickest around here, so we call 'em all the time, you know? Can I help you with anything else?"
"Yeah, I want the number for Royal Cab's back line. Not dispatch, but their office. Dig me?"
"I dunno if we have that.... Oh wait, here it is, 555-7824. There anything else?"
Bekka spoke up. "Yeah, did the driver come in the store to get her, or they meet out front?"
"The cabbies, like, always stick with their cars. Just as well, they're total uggos, you know?"
We thanked her for her time and headed back to the Falcon. I shrugged and said, "So we call Royal Cab and find which of their drivers picked up Chrissie, and where he took her. Simple as that. Let's go back to Angel's."
I pointed the Falcon back up the hill and into Angel's driveway. Vinny's Porsche was gone, which I took as a good sign.
I rang the bell, the door opened, and I caught another fist to the face. The person delivering it this time was Angel himself. He didn't knock me down: not as good of a shot as Vinny was capable of delivering. I was still surprised by it, though.
"Angel! What the hell, it's me, man!"
He said, "I know, and I have something for you to look at. That's why I didn't punch you in the eye." He gave both me and Bekka a dirty look and led us into the house.
He picked a piece of fax paper off the counter and handed it to me. I took a look. Across the top was the note, "200K or she dies!" Below was a picture of Chrissie....
.... In a stockade. With a ball gag in her mouth. She appeared to be wearing a negligee which didn't fit her. From her wrist dangled a white board with the message "TALK TO THE PUNK" written on it. Chrissie didn't look happy.
"You wanna explain that?" queried Angel. "They say to talk to you, so I'm talking to you. What the fuck did you have to do with this? And answer me straight."
I could feel myself go pale. "Angel, I don't know what's going on. That's her in the picture, yeah, but I have no clue. This is a complete mystery to me."
"Well, you've got a whole new mystery to be solved. You tracked down Todd, you tracked down those two Mexicans, now you can track down Christina. I'm giving you seventy-two hours to get the job done. After that, you'd either get used to running or take your medicine. That goes for you too, Bekka."
"Hey, leave Bekka out of this," I protested.
"You two were in this together, as near as I can tell," said Angel. "You're both culpable, between the two of you there's half a brain so far as I'm concerned.... Hang on, the fax machine is going off again."
He trotted down the hall, returning with one long sheet of fax paper. Across the top was written, "For more like this try the Sex Shack in Hollywood." Below were three pictures of Christina, chained naked and spread on a bed. She didn't look concerned, though. It was hard to tell from the resolution --- fax machines aren't great with photos --- but she looked high as shit on something, who knows what. I didn't want to guess.
I looked at Angel, he looked back. I said, "We have something to work with here. At least they're leaving my name out of it, and no, I don't know what to tell you about that. I want to talk to Chrissie's cab driver, and I want to visit the Sex Shack. Can I use your phone, Angel?"
I went in the kitchen to call Royal Cab. An Indian voice answered.
I told him, "Yeah, I need to find the driver who picked up a woman from the Safeway in Van Nuys today. It would have been right around noon. Any clue as to who it was?"
"And who is asking, please?"
"My name's Lenny, okay. The woman's my sister, and she's not turned up yet."
"You must contact the police," was the response.
"Well, I'm contacting you. Cough up!" I yelled.
"Just a moment, please," and the phone was set down. I waited several minutes in silence. Angel was glaring at me, leaning on the kitchen island. Bekka came and put an arm around my waist.
"What's up?" she asked.
"Waiting for an answer--- yes, hello?"
"That would have been our driver Richard. He is an owner/operator, working when he wishes. This was his last fare for the day, for a woman named Christina. Is this useful?"
I said, "Some way of contacting him would be great. It's either me or the cops, and I won't jam him up for as long as Johnny Law will. Understand me?"
"Absolutely, sir. One moment." The phone was set down again.
He returned with an address for me. "He is at 13769 ______ Street in Van Nuys, apartment four. Is this useful?"
"More than useful, sir. Thank you for your time.
"Thank you, please call again," he said, and hung up.
I turned to Angel and said, "Okay, some forward momentum. I've got the first name and address of Chrissie's cab driver. I'll bet you anything he was in on the snatch. Do you want to go visit him, or should I?"
Angel scowled and said, "This is your baby, Lenny. How about you go visiting?"
"You sure you don't want to visit the Sex Shack?"
"Fuck off, Lenny. Get to work. If it turns out you had anything to do with this, you're a dead man. Speaking of which, there'd better be no trail of corpses behind you, like there was down in the Valley. Now go on."
Me and Bekka headed for the door. We were nearly there when Angel called, "Wait."
He held his hands out and said, "I don't think you had anything to do with this. I've already talked to don Ventimiglia and he'll provide what resources you need. That doesn't mean you can just put Paul on this job and go home. And it's the people above me who insisted on the seventy-two hour deadline. I don't want to have to kill you, but I will. You guys want a line of coke to start off things?"
I said, "Sure, what the hell." Bekka nodded vigorously.
I watched Angel tap out the lines. He looked more tired than I realized. I told him as much.
"Yeah, I didn't really sleep last night. That was a long party."
"Go and get some rest," I told him. "Me and Bekka will start working on finding Chrissie. Is it okay if I come back here if I need to do some phone work? I'll call first."
"Yeah, that's fine," he said distractedly. He held up his gold-plated straw to Bekka, saying, "Ladies first."
She knelt down on the carpet opposite Angel and did up the line on the left. Angel took the one in the middle, and I took the last. We all gave rictus grins to each other as the cocaine took hold. Nothing like having a chemically-induced good mood installed in your head.
Angel licked his lips and said, "Okay, I guess you two have some work to do. You'd better get going." Bekka and I went out..
Finding the address was simple enough. It was one ass-ugly apartment building, it looked like a horribly misplaced motel. I cruised through the parking lot in back and located an older Ford LTD painted orange with ROYAL CAB on the doors. I was guessing we'd found our pigeon. I drove back out of the lot and parked on the street in front. Apartment four was ground level, facing the street. At her insistence, Bekka came with me to the door.
I knock and the door was answered by a greasy looking guy in his mid-thirties, casting me a suspicious eye. "Help you?" he said.
"Yeah, hi, we know you drive a cab, and we want to know what happened to one of your fares today. She went missing," I told him.
"I carry a lot of people," he replied.
Maybe you'll recognize her from a photo," I said, pulling Chrissie's picture out and displaying it to him.
He looked at it, he looked at me, then tried to slam the door. I got an engineer boot, steel-toed, into the space between the door and the jamb. He began stomping on the toe and leaning on the door, trying to get rid of me. I leaned back, finally forcing him off-balance and sending him on his ass in his living room.
He ran backwards into his small apartment. I followed, expecting him to get a gun, so I had mine out and ready. My guess wasn't off. I caught up with him as he reached in a night-side table next to the bed, pressing my Beretta against the back of his skull. "Don't even bother with it," I told him.
And I've got Bekka next to me, shoving her .38 Banker's Special into his lower back and reaching forward to relieve Richard of whatever gun he had. It was a revolver with a short barrel, a belly gun. She shoved it in her purse, saying, "Cool, a souvenir!"
"Sit on the bed, Richard," I said. "So you recognize this woman. Where did you take her? Her husband would like to know where she is. Can you provide some answers?"
He gibbered, "I don't know anything! They took her off my hands at the spot, that's all I know! You can't tie me up with them! No way!"
"And who is 'they', Richard?" asked Bekka.
"They'll kill me if I tell you," he said.
Bekka said, "And we'll kill you right now if you don't come across. Who and where, and how did you pull off the snatch?"
"Answer her," I said, "because she's a lot meaner than me. She loves that .38 of hers. I watched her blow a man's arm clean off with it. He bled out. Or she'll shoot you in the crotch and we'll stand here and watch you bleed to death through your dick. Who will it be, us or them? With them, you have a chance to run."
"All right," he sweated. "I'll tell you. When I have a woman on the hook, I take her to a place on Sepulveda Pass, down below the museum. I always am sure to get women who seem reckless, like this one was. Then I call dispatch, tell 'em I'm going off duty, and have them call to my contacts. I just tell them to say I'm headed to their house. No one's the wiser."
I said, "Okay, that's the how and where. Now I want to know the who. Who are they, Richard?"
"Look, I just know first names, and I have no idea where they take them. One guy is Grant, the other is Mikey. Mikey is easy to spot, he's missing fingers on his right hand...."
"Wait a minute. Is Mikey a punk rocker, by any chance?"
"Yeah. Leather jacket, the whole nine yards."
I looked over at Bekka and said, "I think I know Mikey. Hell, he was at our wedding, one of several punks I invited."
"I remember him," she said. "He kept freaking out my flower girl at the reception."
"Well it sounds like he's moved up in the world. Hey Richard, how come these women don't just jump out of the cab when you start heading for the Pass?"
"I offer them a line of coke, only it ain't coke, it's heroin. If you're not used to good China White like I am, it'll knock you on your ass. They're as meek as lambs by the time we hit the freeway."
"So give us the phone number for these guys and we'll be on our way."
He blanched at this. "No way. I can't. There's just no way."
I smiled and said, "Bekka, shoot off one of his balls. Use a pillow to muffle the sound of the shot."
He looked ready to jump out of his skin. "You wouldn't."
"And why not?" said Bekka, reaching for one of the pillows at the head of the bed. She jammed the pillow into Richard's crotch, then slid her gun underneath the pillow. "The left or the right one, which is your favorite?" she asked. I could see her moving the gun back and forth.
Richard broke. "Okay! Okay, okay, okay. The number is 555-2961. I doubt they'll talk to you, so I'm not sure what you'll gain by having the number."
Bekka started backing out of the room, keeping Richard covered. I said, "Look, I know there's things you aren't telling us. We'll have to live with that for now. When we find out what you've held back, we may come over for another chat. Capiche? Oh, and we're taking your phones. You don't get to sound an alarm." I ripped the one at his bedside off the cord at the base of the phone.
"Hey, don't I get my gun back?" he asked.
"Like I said before, it's a souvenir. Unless you want to try taking it back from me," said Bekka, waving her .38 in a lazy manner. I grabbed the phone in the living room. Then we got to the front door and jogged to the Falcon.
Getting in, I said to Bekka, "You're good at this. Are you gonna be my moll?"
She giggled and replied, "What can I say? I'm feeling really amped, and there was a strange level of fun involved with that whole deal. I'm glad I thought to put my gun in my purse."
"Always the pragmatist, you are. I pointed the car back towards Angel's.