Bekka and I made an attempt at sleep around 1:30. It was futile, between the drugs and the adrenaline we were stuck to the wall. We drifted off around 4:30....
.... Only to be awakened by the alarm at 5:55. I felt like throwing it through a window, but grudgingly got up and pulled on some pants, then waking Bekka so she could dress. I stumbled out into the living room and considered things, then went back to the room and got the speed out of my jacket. I chopped two lines while humming "Master of Puppets" by Metallica in the back of my throat.
Bekka and Angel walked into the room at the same time, Angel giving a whistling gasp at the sight of me working out the two lines. "Don't you ever take time off?" he asked me.
"I haven't had any time off recently," I pointed out. "I've been tired since Sunday morning, and I haven't been able to relax since the party. Can you believe me? Look at the bright side, at least I'm not insisting on staying fueled on coke."
Angel seemed affronted. "Coke is practical," he said.
"In short bursts, sure. For the long term, and when your life is on the line, stick with meth. It's far more predictable and won't leave you in the lurch," I told him.
Angel inhaled through his nose and said, "Jesus, is that you? Allow me to loan you a clean shirt and some deodorant before you see don Ventimiglia. No sense in continuing to offend the man."
"It's appreciated," I told him. "Do you think it will matter? I'm putting even odds on me and Bekka being rose fertilizer in his garden by noon."
Angel looked away and said, "I don't know. He doesn't mind you knowing where he lives, which could be good or bad. Either way it doesn't matter. One of you leave your house key with me, so if you do disappear Angela and I can adopt your cat."
"Oh, you're a fucking comfort, Angel. Mind if I turn on some music?"
"Depends on what."
"The Stranglers, at about a hundred ten decibels."
"Whatever, Lenny." Angel pulled a small piece of paper out of his robe and dropped it on the table in front of me. It was a rolling paper with an address written on it. I was curious about his choice in stationary, and said so.
"After you memorize that, you eat it. You can still suck it down and swallow it if you're in his driveway. But you want no written proof showing you know where he lives, do you understand? His home is his castle."
I brushed past Angel and headed, shirtless and shoeless, out to the Falcon. I plucked the correct tape, The Stranglers' Rattus Norvegicus, out of the rack and sashayed on in. Dropped that sucker in the drive and let it rip. The song "Peaches" filled Angel's home. If her husband hadn't got Angela to crawl out of bed before this, the sound certainly would. I couldn't help but notice Angel was humoring the two of us like we were expected to die soon. As if our last moments on earth should be ones of happiness.
At the break in songs I was aware of someone yelling. I hit pause, and was greeted by the words "Thank you!" from the direction of the garage. Then I remembered Mikey was still in there, chained to the water heater. And he absolutely hated The Stranglers.
I walked in the garage, switched on the lights, and looked at the floor. There was a pasty-looking Mikey. "Okay.... Starved of drugs.... Starved of food.... Sensory deprivation.... And now you bastards are gonna torture me!?" He struggled against his restraints.
"Hey hey hey," I said. "I forgot were out here, and how much you hate that band. Look, you need to use the can or anything? All I gotta do is get the okay from Angel and I'll have you un-cuffed in a minute."
"I need the can, and I need anything to eat. You know, some basic sustenance and shit. I think the China White has left my system, because food has more appeal right now that it has in weeks. At least weeks. Hard to say. All I know is I'm hungry."
"Okay, wait a minute." I went in the house and let Angel know his other house guest was awake and moving. He grabbed his Beretta from the bedroom and told me to piece together a sandwich from what was in the fridge.
Angel marched Mikey through the house. Mikey saw me slaving away in the kitchen and said, "I hope that's for me." I assured him it was, as Bekka and I had a breakfast date to keep and I didn't want to ruin my appetite.
We ensconced Mikey back in the garage, with one arm free so he could eat. He'd behaved himself so far, we didn't expect him to make trouble now. He continued to grouse about the possible lack of employment.
"Don't worry," Angel said, "the worst that could happen is that you end up working on a garbage truck. They're union, so you make good money."
"I dunno if I could hack that," said Mikey.
"You're young and healthy, you would do fine," Angel replied. "Besides, with you on a garbage truck we can keep an eye on you. Do you understand me?"
"Crystal clear," said Mikey through a mouthful of sandwich
At 7:15 Bekka and I were back in the Falcon. It was more time that we needed, we only had to get off at Sunset Blvd. and jump up the hill, but I had the hunch that don Ventimiglia would not want to be kept waiting on his breakfast. We jammed along Sunset and cut up the hill on Stone Canyon Road, cutting off on one of the finger streets that feeds off of it.
I rolled up the driveway and pressed the buzzer on the squawk box. Apparently we were being watched, and they knew what to watch for, as the giant gate in front of me began to trundle on its tracks out of our path. No fooling these people. I drove through and set anchor in the big turnaround in front of the main entrance.
"Look at that," said Bekka as we got out, "there's Paul's car. Imagine that."
"I'd be surprised if he wasn't here," I told her. "Come here." I held her close and got my tongue in her mouth. She responded in kind, pulling me towards her.
"That was nice, but why?" she asked.
"Because it may be the last time we ever get a chance to do that again."
"Point well taken."
We went up the steps and rang the bell. Gaines greeted us, looking as sharp as ever. He led us deeper into the house, to a sun-lit room where the don was sitting, leafing through a newspaper. He was already fully dressed in a sharp looking suit, ready for the day. He set the newspaper aside and said, "Lenny, I am glad to see you are not late. You, young lady, you must be Bekka. Please have a seat up here where I can see you."
Don Ventimiglia held up a section of the LA Times. "I have been reading of your exploits in the paper. I am assuming this was you." He tossed the paper over to me.
The headline read, "Shooting On Santa Monica Blvd." The accompanying photo was that of a Toyota with its nose augured into a fire hydrant. The text of the article didn't tell us anything we hadn't heard on the news the night before. Sure enough, driver dead of gunshot, no suspects, police continue to investigate, yadda yadda yadda.
"Yeah, that was us," I said. "The situation was dictated by them, not us. We thought we were free and clear. They shot out my back glass, and Bekka dispatched of them."
"Is this true?" the don queried. "Have you killed for the family, young lady?"
Bekka slouched in her chair. "It was us or them. I didn't do it for the fucking family." She stared at the tiles on the floor.
Don V. chuckled and said, "But that is the end result. Whether you love him or not is immaterial, you prevented the arrest or death of an associate of the family. For that reason, the family is in your debt."
"You wanna pay off that debt? Make sure fucking Lenny gets some easy assignments for a while, where he's not getting guns pointed at him, where he's home at a decent hour, where I get to have my husband to myself." She was practically shouting at the end of this.
Don Ventimiglia seemed taken aback by this. "I am sorry, I have never wished to create marital strife. Unfortunately your husband seems to be someone who has things happen to him. Never have I seen a paperwork delivery turn into a kidnapping, but it did with him. The kidnapper had the tables turned on him thanks to your husband's bravery...."
"Bravery, nothing," I said. "I was just pissed off."
".... And he prevented both the loss of life and the loss of resources for the family. I owe three things to your husband from this most recent escapade of his."
He stood up and walked to where I was sitting. "This ---" and he slapped me across my left cheek "--- is for fucking up and losing Vinny's wife. This ---" he slapped me across the other cheek, quite hard "--- is for the agony that Vinny went through."
He said, "And this ---" and he's just reached into his jacket and I know there's a gun being pulled out "--- is for a job well done. I hope you use it wisely."
I looked on the table in front of me. There were four bundles of bills there, each of twenty-five bills, all of hundreds. Ten thousand dollars. Bekka and I gaped at the money.
"Don Ventimiglia," I said, "I cannot take this. I've spent the last few days cleaning up my own mess, one that wouldn't have existed if I hadn't left Chrissie alone at the Safeway. How have I earned this money?"
He smiled and said, "You put the finger on people who have interested us for a long time. The police do not seem to be able to add one and one, and could not figure out the connection between the snatch racket and the illicit pornography. The family views both with great distaste, and wanted to see them ended. You may well have helped end them both. That is how you have earned that money."
For the first time that morning, I smiled. "Well.... Great! Um, I'm glad I could help out. Although I think me and Bekka would trade that stack for a couple days off so we can get some sleep. We've been moving around since Friday without sleeping and we're both pretty burned out."
Don V. smiled again. "That is right, you prefer crank over cocaine, do you not? I always found amphetamines too jarring of an experience. I am glad it has suited you well over the last several days."
Bekka said, "I'm sick of the stuff. I wanna wrap myself around a six pack of Tecate and just crash out. And we gotta get a bottle of Johnnie Walker for our hero, here."
He gave a knowing grin to Bekka and said, "Consider yourselves clear of work until next Monday. That includes you, young lady. If Inana misses a few shoots things will not fall apart at the seams. I shall have Angel go and look after things. And while it is early in the day, I am under the impression that the concepts of day and night are irrelevant to the both of you. You said you wished Mexican beer, young lady? And you would like Johnnie Walker, Lenny?"
We confirmed our wishes.
"Then we shall have drinks before our breakfast." He clapped his hands and yelled, "Nguyen! Please come here."
A Southeast Asian kid scurried into the room. Don V. told him, "We wish to place our orders for breakfast, and also to have drinks. I will have my Hennessy, the gentleman would like Johnnie Walker over ice, and the young lady will have a Tecate beer, in a glass. Give us some time to enjoy our drinks before bringing our food out. Bekka, what will you have to eat?"
Ninety minutes and a line later, Bekka and I were headed back towards San Diego. It was a windy drive with no back glass.
Over the roar of the wind Bekka said to me, "What I can't figure out is how the snatch gang knew to try and finger you."
"How do you mean?"
"With that one fax that said, 'talk to the punk' on it. How would they know you?"
"You got me. I almost forgot about that. Unless.... They weren't talking about me."
"Well then who?" Bekka asked.
"Mikey. His roomie Grant recognized her from the trattoria and tipped off Mikey as to what a gold mine they were sitting on. They never thought about how stupid it would be to kidnap the wife of a mafia soldier. Mikey knew that the people above him would have the organization to pull off a stunt like that, so he arranged his own price and turned over the reins to them. The way he's been acting, he probably took his cut in heroin."
Bekka looked panicked. "We're not headed back to Hollywood, are we?"
I said, "Not if I can help it. We're in Irvine right now, and it'll be quicker to get to the mansion or home from here. The mansion has phone books I need to use, so we'll go there."
I headed straight for Inana. What the hell, may as well stick your head in at the place you're supposed to be running every now and then. There was shooting going on, so we were unmolested as I let us in the office.
I grabbed the Los Angeles phone book and looked up the Sex Shack. Dialed the number, and when someone picked up I asked, "Hi, is Mikey working today?"
The response was gruff. "Naw, he won't be here till evening. That's if he still has a job. The little bastard missed two shifts in a row, no call. Who are you?"
I told him, "Well, I'm from the mafia and I wanted to check and make sure he works there and not a place called Cynthia's Dream. It's our fault he's missed work, he's been chained to a water heater over in the Valley."
"Izzat so? Next time you have somebody call before his shifts. And he only works at Cynthia's to fill in. He's here permanent-like."
I thanked him for his time and hung up. I turned to Bekka and said, "Mikey doesn't work at the store he said he does. He works at the one where we bought the pictures. I'll give back this ten grand if he isn't the punk we were supposed to talk to."
Bekka asked, "So now what? Call Angel? What can we do?"
I said, "No. We're doing nothing. We're going home, and showering, and getting some long overdue sleep. When we wake up I'm calling Mikey and telling him what I figured out, and that it's basically on my whim that he continues to live. It's time for him to straighten up."
"The same could be said of us." She hit the lights and turned the lock in the knob.
I followed her out the door. "Yeah, but we have been playing straight. We're employed by well-connected people, folks who know how to solve problems."
We reached the Falcon and got in. I sighed and said, "Think about it. Including a stop at the liquor store, we'll be home in twenty minutes. Poor Squeak, he's been lonely all this time."
"Oh, the poor little guy!" Bekka exclaimed. "Do you think he'll forgive us?"
"He'll get over it," I told her.
"But he was home alone, and in the dark, for so long...."
"He has less to recover from than we do. He'll be fine."
I went to the liquor store and broke one of my brand-new hundreds on two six packs of Tecate and a fifth of Johnnie Walker. What I would do with the other ninety-nine of the damn things was anybody's guess.
Then we went home, showered, drank, and took turns petting the cat.
Around two we went to bed, and stayed there until eight the next morning. Angel called to let me know he was on his way to Inana, and that Chrissie had received a clean bill of heath from her doctor. She would be suffering a bit of a hangover from all the junk that had been pumped into her, but was otherwise fine. I mumbled something along the lines of "That's great," and fell back on the pillows, where I remained until noon. Bekka didn't even move.
It was by far the most troublesome house party I'd ever attended.