Angel called around 3:30, sounding peeved because I was delaying his lunch. "So what do you know, Lenny? Found Todd yet?"
"I found him, and there won't be any more trouble from him. He's dead."
I swear I heard Angel choke on his own spit. "Lenny, what do you mean? Why is he dead?"
"He's dead because two Mexican homeboys blew his head off. I saw them arrive, I saw them leave, and I went in the house afterwards and found Todd. It was bad, Angel, real bad. "
"And then what did you do?"
"I dialed 911 and set the phone down. I didn't leave any prints. Then I got the hell out of there. I had no excuse to be in his house, so sticking around and talking to the cops sounded like a bad idea. Especially while wearing a fucking gun I'm not supposed to have."
Angel cleared his throat. It sounded like a Harley starting up. He said, "You and I are having dinner at the trattoria tonight. I want you to debrief me on what the last thirty-six hours of your life have been like. Be there at eight, okay?"
"I'll be there. No problem."
"Lenny, this is not good."
I was at the restaurant five minutes early, Angel running ten minutes late. We were given our usual immediate patio seating, Angel demanding a scotch and soda as soon as possible. I asked for my usual Johnnie Walker. From across the table Angel scowled at me, opened his mouth to yell, then began giggling.
"What's so funny?"
"You are," he said. "I swear Lenny, you're a goddamn magnet for bullets."
"It would seem that way. So you want to hear about the last two days?"
"Lay it on me."
"First of all, I had Bekka call Todd and pretend to be out of work. He came across with his new studio address in a second. I staked out the address, it's in Canoga Park, and waited for Todd to move around. When he did I followed him. He went to get lunch, and finally headed for home around seven. I followed him. I wanted to make sure he was home and not at a girlfriend's house, so I sat a couple blocks up and watched for quite a while. Some neighbor braced me, so I told him I was a repo man.
"By ten last night it was obvious Todd was staying put, so I went to my motel. I resumed my vigil at eight this morning. The two Mexicans showed up around eight thirty, and were in the house for five minutes. I heard the shots, I had parked a lot closer. After they split, I went in the house and found Todd with his head blown off. I made the 911 call and got out of there. Then I went back to my motel and called your house. Most of my day was spent watching TV."
"And you had nothing to do with the killing," Angel said.
"Not a thing."
"You weren't trying to show off for the organization."
"No sir. I told you before I don't want to do any killing."
Angel sighed and said, "All right, I believe you. There are some people higher up than me that don't. I'll tell them what you told me and we'll go from there. I got my ass chewed off this afternoon when I relayed the news about Todd being killed. Somebody did our job for us, and we don't like that. We want to know who it was."
I told Angel, "Just find some Mexican homies with a late-model blue Caprice. The work will be done."
"Actually, I was thinking of having you do that."
"What? Aw, c'mon Angel, not more detective work...."
"Who else to do it but you? You should feel flattered that we hold your intelligence in such high regard."
"I thought they assumed I killed Todd."
Angel chuckled and said, "You wouldn't be the first associate to decide he'll move higher faster by taking matters into his own hands. It's a bad idea, and it doesn't work. However, the question had to be asked. When I get pressure from above, some of that pressure will be exerted downwards from me. Can't be helped."
"I'm not that greedy. I'm happy running Inana and doing deliveries for you guys. I don't want to be the go-to guy for detective work for the family."
Angel sighed. "Lenny, you're too smart to be wasting your time delivering suitcases full of drugs. Just like you were too smart to be a speed dealer. Why not be our go-to guy? You won't be bored, you get to use your brains."
I asked, "And when do I take care of running Inana? What are my resources? One guy trying to find two killers, and I'm supposed to do a better job than the cops? You gotta be kidding me, Angel."
"As a matter of fact, we have lines into both LAPD and the Sheriff's Office. What do you need to know?"
"Well.... I would love to have copies of the reports a few days from now. No sense in getting the patrolman's report, it won't tell me anything I don't know already. But you can bet they're taking Todd's house and studio apart inch by inch, looking for motive. Those are the reports I'd want to have. You know, if I was gonna play detective. Which I don't feel like doing."
"Taking care of unpleasant tasks is a burden we all have. Your burden is to find two Mexicans who killed a guy in Canoga Park and finger them to the family. I can get you those reports. Take a few days off until they're ready. I'll let you know when we need you."
"This will make the coke runs look sedate."
"You're less likely to be shot at looking for your killers. You don't have to arrest them, just find them, and let me know where they are."
"And when do I run Inana?" I queried.
"Frankie will look after the day-to-day operations, no problem. You'll be back down at Inana before you know it."
"This will be fun to explain to Bekka."
Angel frowned, then relaxed. "You have a few days to explain to her that you'll be up here working for the family. She may speak with me or Angela if she has any worries. Really Lenny, I don't want you to be shot at any more. This assignment should not be dangerous."
Angel, you liar.
"And you don't know how long you'll be gone?"
Bekka was not happy with my new assignment.
"At least a few days. Odds are the homeboys will get picked up by LA Sheriffs and my work will have been done for me. That's my hope, anyway."
"But you'll be around here for a little while."
"Yeah. I'm waiting on police reports, they'l come over the fax at the mansion. Me and Frankie are the only two people who use the machine, so it'll be safe."
"I'm starting to regret ever having said it's okay for you to hook up with the guys. I never imagined you'd be gone so much of the time, or that I'd worry so much. I need to talk to Angela. Do you mind if it's a private call?"
"Not at all. I'll go sit out by the pool."
I grabbed a couple beers and my smokes and went to sit on the lawn by the pool. Not a year into it and I felt like I was wedging apart our marriage. This wasn't fair, I thought. Being in the family was supposed to just be a job, not a way of life. I stubbed my cigarette out on the grass and lay back, balancing my beer on my chest. Then I dozed off, waking up long enough to move the beer.
Bekka came looking for me after a while. "I couldn't find you at first, but the Acura and the Falcon were both in their spaces. What are you doing?"
"Meditating," I said. "The unique discipline of meditation where you keep your eyes closed and snore while you're doing it. For some reason those few days in the valley were exhausting."
"And there's the tiniest chance that you were traumatized by finding Todd dead, and won't admit it to yourself. Did that ever strike you?"
"Oh, I know I was traumatized. I also know there's not a thing I can do about it. I can't see a shrink, I'd just end up in jail. Besides, tough guys like me aren't supposed to be affected by such things as seeing a dude missing half his head. No sirree Bob."
Bekka laughed bitterly. "Just keep telling yourself that, pally. You tell a lie long enough and people take it as gospel after a while."
I ignored this comment. "It's weird. I have a job I can't quit, that makes very high demands of me, and I haven't even seen my new paycheck. For all I know they tacked on an extra hundred bucks and called it done. I want us to be comfortable.... How did your talk with Angela go?"
"She said demands are always put on new associates and members, and to not worry about it, things will calm down. Angel described you to her as being a bullet magnet. I didn't need to hear that."
"I wasn't shot at the entire time I was in The Valley."
"No, but you had a gun pointed at you in a gay bar, and you were practically outside the door when a murder went down. Tell me, right now do you feel naked not having your holster on? Are guns going to be a part of you?"
I sighed angrily and said, "No they aren't. I have the one, and I never use it. I'd prefer to carry my baseball bat, but people don't take you seriously. Especially when they're pointing a gun at you.
"You have to understand my position. I am placed in situations where I need to have a gun. Those situations are dictated by my job. My job is something I have because I got the approval of my wife. My wife is my muse, the center of my life. I will do anything for her, including dangerous work that requires I carry a gun. And around in a circle it goes."
"Are you saying," said a tearful Bekka, "that you joined the mafia for me?"
"I did it for us. We save our nickels, we can be comfortable when we reach retirement age. Hell, we can be comfortable now."
"But we already are comfortable. Do you want us to be rich?"
I thought about that. Then I asked her, "Do you mean rich like Frankie or Vinny? Because that's the level of comfort I'm aiming at for you. Don't you think it would be nice to actually live in La Costa, instead of just working there?"
She sniffed and said, "I'm happy here. Besides, I hate moving."
"That would be the nice thing. We could just pay other people to move our shit for us. And I never really think of Frankie and Vinny as rich, 'cos they don't have the attitude that goes along with it. Growing up in the shadow of La Jolla is where my punk rock class war attitude came from. Seriously, wouldn't it be nice to live like Vinny? Or Frankie?"
"Both of whom have wives that don't work, and pull their first lines of coke at lunch. I don't want to live like that."
"And you wouldn't have to. Nothing to prevent you from working, least of all me. And confound the girls on Saturday by refusing the coke. If you want to, anyways."
Bekka finally gave me a smile. "Turning down Angela's coke is a stupid decision. I think what it ultimately comes down to is that I don't want you to stop being you because of your new job, as it were. Stay Lenny the punk. Stay my husband, too. Don't get sucked in too deep by working for the family. And somehow get Angel to give you some simple work where you don't need to wear the gun."
"Well, I'm already Lenny the punk, according to Angel. I want to always be your husband. And getting simple jobs is easier said than done. If they were simple they would hire them out. And they wouldn't need me."
"They need you now, don't they?"
I shrugged and said, "They think they do. I hope I'm as smart as they assume, otherwise I'm wasting everyone's time. I'm no private eye."
"Yet they treat you as one," Bekka said, wrapping an arm around my neck. I kissed the arm.
"Their mistake. When I fuck this up, we'll all have learned a lesson."
Two days later, on Friday, the police reports flooded in. Pages and pages of them. Much of it was so much gibberish to me, tech-speak I couldn't unscramble. I didn't try.
What it boiled down to was the late Todd Agnew had a shitload of guns, both registered and unregistered, at both his home and his workplace. He also had plenty of cocaine, 528 grams of the stuff. After doing the math it came to just over a pound between the two locations, less at his studio. What was interesting was I could find no mention of a scale being found anywhere, which meant that Todd wasn't dealing.... Or if he was, he was really stupid with it.
Stupidity has gotten people killed before, maybe Todd was no exception. Or he was such a heavy user he hoarded the stuff. The man responsible was in no position to talk. The reports indicated the bags were in uneven measures, further hinting at him not being a dealer.
I decided looking into the cocaine trade in the San Fernando Valley would be worth my while. Maybe I'd find some answers that way.