Now I really was at loose ends. Eight days before my deadline with Don Ventimiglia and I had nothing to show except a list of Mexican fast food places in Chatsworth. Angel was too busy sweating over his own hide to worry about me, and a third reading of the police reports gave me no new information. Wait, one small possibility....
The next day found me back at the clubhouse for Los Caballeros Locos. Three guys were there, cleaning up after the party. I asked one with a pushbroom, "Do you think you could give me some information about the Hernandez brothers?"
He cast me a suspicious eye. "What do you want to know?"
"If they had enemies. And if so, who were they?"
"My name's Lenny, and I represent La Cosa Nostra in investigating their deaths. It's weird, if I screw this up I'll probably get killed myself. I have strict bosses."
He went from suspicion to scorn. "You some kinda loco, punk?"
"Not at all," I told him. "Seriously, the local mafia have a great interest in learning who murdered Roberto and Luis. The cause for their curiosity is not for me to wonder about, I'm just a low-ranking player. But they left it up to me to find out who killed them, and for various reasons, I'll get killed myself if I don't get the job done. A little unfair on their part, personally, but we all have to deal with stress at work."
He started to walk away. I put a hand on his shoulder and he spun on me, swinging the broom handle forward and catching me in the solar plexus. I doubled over, gasping for air as his buddies came over to see what was going on.
"Mister punk rock here says he's in the mafia. Asking about los Hernandez. What should I do with him?"
"Shove him in his car and keep sweeping. Don't have no time for games."
Strong hands grabbed me by each arm and more or less carried me to the Acura. I still wasn't getting air the way I liked, so there wasn't much I could do. I couldn't even argue with them just then.
And so much for that. I considered waving the Beretta at them, but what I wanted was answers, not to create a hostage situation. I fired up the Acura and pulled into traffic.
Fifteen minutes later I reconsidered my Beretta-waving. It worked for other people....
I pulled back into the former gas station and got out. I had the Beretta in my hand, held down at my side. I walked up to the three of them, stopping about fifteen feet away. "Excuse me!" I called.
They looked up and were amused to see me standing there. They turned to walk towards me, so I held the gun up, simply displaying it so they knew it was there. "What is this, a holdup?" one of them asked.
"Not at all," I said. "I just think we got off on the wrong foot before, and as I explained to the guy with the pushbroom, I really need some answers to a couple simple questions. Why don't the three of you step further back into this garage and we can talk?"
"How we know that's even a real gun?" asked a stocky one.
I pivoted slightly and shot out the tire of a shiny 1964 Impala that was squatting on the ground. I didn't know it was possible for a Mexican to go white, but I swear these guys did. I said, "Please gentlemen, further into the garage now. Don't tax my patience." They moved.
"As I asked one of you earlier, I want to know if the Hernandez brothers had enemies, and who they were. Can anyone answer that for me?"
They alternated between staring at the ground and looking at each other. Finally the one with the broom said, "Look, they were dealing coke, okay? We didn't like it, but what could we do? They could have picked up enemies from that, they didn't talk about business around here. Other than that, what can I say?"
"We know they were dealing coke. We also know none of it was touched, so that rules out a robbery. Did they have any real enemies?"
The thin one said, "None that we know of, no. Check out their customers, you'll find the killers then."
I told them, "You milk easily, but you give thin milk. Thank you for your time, gentlemen. Do I need to give you the lecture about why you shouldn't call the police over a flat tire?" They all shook their heads. "Then I bid you good day."
I trotted back to the Acura with the gun still in my hand, shoving it into the holster as I sat down and drove off.
Well. That went nowhere.
With eight days rapidly turning into seven, I considered what I had. Absolutely nothing. Not even a crumb of a trail to follow. The Hernandez brothers most certainly didn't keep a roster of their customers, and if they did, it was sitting in a Los Angeles Sheriff's office evidence room. Out of reach of Angel's contacts on the force. Or maybe not, I'd have to call him.
Before that, however, I wanted to call Frankie and see if he'd learned anything. Also to ask him why he'd lied about Angel sending him up to Chatsworth. I headed back to the motel to use the phone. I dialed the back line into Inana.
"Hey Frankie, it's Lenny. So did you learn anything in Chatsworth?"
"Not a damn thing, Lenny. If anyone knows something, they're keeping their mouth shut. How about you?"
I chuckled and said, "I was given obvious advice about chasing down their customers. Like, duh. This is working out to be a snipe hunt, and I'm starting to worry. Oh, by the way...."
"Why did you tell me Angel sent you up there? He says he didn't."
There was silence on the line. Then Frankie said, "Look, I was up in Chatsworth to see if I could help you out. You're new to the organization and you're under a lot of pressure. I lied about Angel because Chatsworth is your baby. If it got around to the higher ups that I was cutting in on your work, they'd want words with me. That's all. I just didn't want either of us to get in trouble."
"Okay. Thanks for your help. Sorry nothing came of it."
"Yeah, me too. I'll talk to you later, Lenny."
I sat on the side of the bed and wondered why my friend Frankie was lying to me.
My talk with Angel was brief. I had nothing of consequence to report, and he doubted he could get access to an evidence room, even if it mattered. I double-checked the police report, and there was no mention on the "Property Seized" page indicating they picked up a list of customers. Another dead end.
I stayed in bed until nearly checkout time the next morning. Then I threw my crap into my bag and checked out, telling the clerk I was having no luck in solving my murder mystery. He gave me his smile again, and asked if I still expected to be killed. Absolutely, I said.
I headed south, my one solace being that I'd be able to spend more time with Bekka before I went to my fateful meeting with the don. Maybe we could spend next Saturday night at the Hotel Del Coronado, one last blowout before the hammer fell. Hell, who knows, maybe Bekka would think of an angle I was missing and save the day.
I pulled into the lot at Olivehurst and was again stymied by a Ford Taurus parked in my space. This was odd, it was the middle of the day, Calm Steve should be up at the mansion with his eyes glued to the viewfinder of a video camera.
There was no one in the living room when I walked in the door. I called out to Bekka and heard a muffled "Oh shit!" from the bedroom. Walking in, I was treated to the sight of a naked Calm Steve trying to throw himself on the floor on the opposite side of the bed. Bekka was frozen in position, on her hands and knees. I pulled my gun and walked to the far side of the bed.
I grabbed Steve by the shoulder. "In Texas I could kill you both and never see prison time," I told him. "Get up, get dressed, and get out." I didn't look at Bekka.
Beer was calling my name. Into the kitchen I went, ignoring Steve as he retrieved his shoes. He started to speak, so I pointed the gun at him again and said, "Don't say a fuckin' word. Just go." He went. I opened my beer and downed it like a frat boy showing off, then got another one and went to sit on the sofa. For fun, I alternated sticking the beer and the barrel of the Beretta in my mouth.
Clad in a t-shirt and sweats, Bekka finally came into the room. I'd heard her sobbing in the bedroom but couldn't be sussed to get up and comfort her. She leaned against the doorway and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
"Let me grab some stuff and I'll head for a motel," she said.
I told her, "No. I already have a bag packed. So how long?"
"How long what?"
"How long have you and Steve been seeing each other?"
"A little over five years. We started hooking up casually when he got the job at Inana, and we've kept each other company like that off and on, usually when one of us was single. Are you going to kill me?"
She pointed at my right hand, which still held the Beretta. I'd forgotten it was there, a bad habit to have with a gun. I started to stuff it in its holster, then changed my mind and threw in on the carpet at Bekka's feet. She stared at it, then picked it up and threw it on the sofa next to me.
"I don't want it. You're the one with the job that dictates you need it, so you keep it. Hell, you just threatened Steve with it, you're used to it now. Go on, pick up your toy and go to your motel, like you said you would. I am tired, I'm going to bed. What you do doesn't matter to me."
I smiled and said, "Is that a fact, tough girl?" I picked up the gun and placed it on the kitchen counter. "You're so tough you can't go four days alone. If you want to be angry with me for whatever reason, that's fine. I'll still love you, no matter what. Okay, you and Steve have been hooking up for longer than we've known each other. I can deal with that. I can even deal with you seeing him now. But I can't deal with it being hidden from me. That's a shitty thing to do." I took off my jacket so I could unstrap my shoulder holster. I placed it on the counter, next to the gun.
Bekka was crying again. I went to her and put my arms around her, stroking her hair. She struggled for a moment, then wrapped her arms around me in turn, leaning into my chest.
"What are we gonna do?" she sobbed.
"What we're supposed to do, which is work through this. I love you."
For some reason, me saying that only made her cry harder.
I threw my bag back into the Acura. Bekka stood in the doorway and said, "Call me later?"
"Probably not a good idea. I'm gonna go get drunk someplace. I'll be at the mansion in the morning, so I'll either see you or call you. Goodnight."
"Goodnight." She slammed the door closed.
I thought for a moment, then pointed the car towards La Costa and Inana. Frankie was still in the office when I walked in.
"Hey Frankie, we're gonna go and get drunk tonight," I told him. "Actually, I don't care if you get drunk or not, but I'm getting drunk. Sound like a plan, good, let's go."
He stared at me. "What the hell are you on about, Lenny?"
"I just got some bad news and I'm not coping with it well. Hand me that bag of speed in the desk, will ya? I'm going through the night drunk and wired at the same time."
He handed me the bag and I dumped some on the desk. Pulled out a credit card and began chopping it all into one large line, crushing up rocks as I came to them. Frankie watched all this in confusion and amazement. I was about to snort up a good half gram at once. I should split this between both nostrils, I thought.
Frankie said, "Lenny.... Are you okay?"
"No, not even a little. I'll probably tell you all about it over our second drink. Excuse me...." I bent down and put back the line of speed. It had been a long time since doing a line made my eyes water, but that one did it. I gripped the edge of the desk as it took hold.
"Whose car should we take? If you want me to play designated driver, that's fine. We'll leave your car here and Bekka can give you a ride in in the morning."
"That won't be necessary. I'm spending the night in a motel, don't let me forget my bag, it's in the back of the car. Sure you don't want a line?" I offered.
Frankie wrinkled his nose and said, "I don't like that stuff. Keeps me awake for way too long, like one line will have me up for two nights. That's not fun to me. I'll stick with coke."
I gave him a bug-eyed stare and said, "Well then do up some coke and let's go! Hahahahaha!"
"Maybe a little later. So where are we going?"
"We'll start off at a bar called the Pink Panther, it's down on Morena Boulevard near Pacific Beach, I'll give you directions. You'll love the place, it has my sense of fashion."
"What do you mean? Aw Lenny, you're not taking me to a punk rock club...."
I gave him a grin and said, "It's a punk rock bar, and there's too many trendies around for it to be totally punk rock. Don't worry, you won't be scared. Just don't order a blender drink, or the bartender will hit you with a pool cue."
"You're kidding, right?"
"Yeah, but be glad it's not a weekend night. They check people for weapons on weekends, so we'd have to leave our arms in the car." My gun and holster were in my bag, at Bekka's insistence. She said she didn't feel safe having it in the house. "That reminds me, I need to reinstall my holster. It was taken off in a fit of pique earlier."
Frankie drew up short. "Wait a minute. How come you're spending the night in a motel? Did you and Bekka have a fight?"
"I'll tell you about it over the second drink."
"Are you stressed out about how things are going in Chatsworth?"
"I'll tell you about that over the first drink."
"Tell you what, you go outside and have a cigarette, try not to explode from all that damn meth you just did up. I just need to finish up a couple things here, then I'll be out. Okay?"
I said, "Fine, fine. I'll be out in the driveway. Which is your car?"
"It's the blue Oldsmobile parked on the street. Go try to relax."
I went down to the Acura and grabbed my bag. After considering things, I put my holster back on, sliding the Beretta in its place. Then I located Frankie's dopey little rental car, parked at the curb. Everything about it screamed "fleet fodder." I tried the passenger door and found it unlocked. Cool, I can have a smoke sitting down.
I flopped in the passenger seat and stared out the glass toward the ocean. It would be a nice evening. We were in San Diego county, it was always a damn nice evening, even when it shouldn't be. Cold fog and drizzle fit my deeper mood. I was masking massive depression with drugs.... And as soon as Frankie got us in motion, with alcohol too.
I scratched under my holster, lit another cigarette, and stared out to sea.