Frankie and I sat at the bar in the Pink Panther. I was midway through my third Johnnie Walker, Frankie nursing a soda.
Frankie asked, "So you're firing Calm Steve?"
"I can't. First of all, this all happened away from the mansion and on personal time. Second, replacing him would take some work. You can't just call up a temp agency and tell them you need a cameraman. And third, he'd be hard to replace, he's good at what he does. I'm over a barrel so far as replacing Steve goes."
"I dunno," said Frankie, "having him around is gonna make things really uncomfortable for both you and Bekka. Start looking around for a new cameraman."
"If he keeps his hands of my damn wife and keeps his mouth shut around me, I won't need to. He's not an idiot, and I put the fear of God into him when I pointed my Beretta at him. He'll be a good boy."
"Would you have shot him?"
I considered it. "No. I'd have shot into the floor near his feet or something, but I wouldn't have shot him. I don't think I could shoot another person."
Frankie smirked at me and said, "You shot Rick. You've already drawn blood with a gun, and that's more than I can say. You're ahead of me there."
The bartender horned in on the conversation. "You guys are talking about shooting people? What gives?"
Frankie and I looked at each other, then opened our jackets to display our respective Berettas to the bartender. We both smiled at him.
The bartender paled, then said, "You can't have those in here."
"We wear them all the time," I told him. "It's all part of the job.
"What the hell do you do?" he asked.
"We're in the mafia. Personal protection is job one when you are in the family."
"Look," he said, "you guys have either gotta leave or put those in your car or something, but you can't have them in here. People will freak out."
I pouted. "But you didn't know we had them until we showed them to you. We button our jackets back up, and no one's the wiser. You dig?"
The bartender sighed, "All right, just keep your fucking jackets closed. For God's sake don't pull them out for any reason. That cool?"
"That's fine. We're just a couple guys having a few drinks. Speaking of, I need another Johnnie Walker on ice. Make sure the ice is cold, okay?"
"Yes sir." He grabbed a fresh glass and poured me my drink.
I turned to Frankie and said, "After this we're going to the Ferris Wheel. It's a dive bar down in South Park, and they have live music most nights. It's like a staging area for local bands, so you'll hear all kinds of stuff. Sound good?"
Frankie rolled his eyes. "Are they gonna sound like what's been getting played here?"
"I have no clue. Seriously, it could be a bluegrass combo for all I know. And what's been wrong with what we've been listening to?"
"It's atonal noise."
"It's the Misfits. Not my favorite band, but they're alright. If these guys bug you, you'd really hate some of the stuff I listen to. I should have grabbed a couple tapes out of my car before we took off, it'd blow your mind."
"Sorry Lenny, no tape deck in the rental. You'll have to wait until tomorrow to listen to your noise."
I stepped out to Frankie's rental to grab the pack of smokes I'd left in the visor. When I went to light one, I found my Zippo was dead: I'd forgotten to fill it when I was at home. I knew Frankie smoked, at least on occasion, so I went to the center console of the Oldsmobile to search out matches.
Jackpot. There was a whole stack of them in there. I idly fumbled with a book, reading the cover. A guns and ammo place in Chatsworth. Huh.
I looked at some of the other books. Three restaurants and a liquor store, all located in Chatsworth. This was interesting. The books were all either untouched or were missing one or two matches. Which meant he'd been spending time in Chatsworth in the past couple weeks, since he'd lost the Tesstarossa. Now why would Frankie be spending time in Chatsworth? And why would he be in a gun store, when he could get all the iron and ammo he wanted from the family?
I was being paranoid. He couldn't have had anything to do with the Chatsworth killings. What would he have to gain? I figured the only solution was to ask him.
We pulled up in front of the Ferris Wheel, finding parking nearly in front. This meant that either no band was playing that night or they were so obscure they couldn't even get friends to show up for the gig. We went in and ordered at the bar, a Johnnie Walker for me and a Pepsi for Frankie.
I popped the question as soon as we were served. "Frankie, why did you kill those Mexicans in Chatsworth?"
His jaw dropped. "How did you figure it out?" Bingo.
"You've been spending too much time in that town, recently, and for no reason that the family has assigned to you. And I guessed. It just made sense. I'll bet you haven't cleaned your Beretta since you used it, so it's full of powder, proving you used it. And I'll bet running it through a ballistics test would prove a match to the bullets recovered at the Chatsworth shooting site. I guess the only question is why?"
Frankie eyed the barmaid and said, "Let's talk outside." I knocked back my Johnnie Walker and we went out.
I lit a Marlboro and leaned against the wall. "So, why?" I asked.
"The bastards were blackmailing me. They did contract work for the family, knocking off stooges and chumps for a low price. The higher ups considered them loose cannons and didn't use them for anything important. Still, they worked for the family, which is why it was so important to them to find who did it. The family only likes killings like I did when they're in control of them.
"That's what they were trying to blackmail me over. I paid their price to have Todd offed, but they knew I was acting on my own. They tried to squeeze me for more money, and I didn't squeeze easily. They threatened to tell Don Ventimiglia of my actions, and that would have been the end for me."
"Wait a minute," I said. "Why did you have Todd killed? The family was going to take care of him in one way or another."
Frankie's eyes got huge, and he raised up on his toes. "Because he torched my fucking Ferrari! I loved that car, and he had it destroyed! I may burn in hell, but Todd will be right there with me. I don't regret having Todd killed at all. He was a motherfucker, and I hope people piss on his grave."
I ground out my cigarette. "So how did you arrange to kill the Hernandez brothers?"
"When they first started putting pressure on me, I bought the Beretta. I wanted more gun than I normally carry. I picked it up after the seven day wait and waited for those bastard wetbacks to get in touch with me again. When they called, I said I wanted to meet with them, and went to their house. You can figure out the rest from the police report you got."
While he was talking his right hand was slowly crawling up his chest toward the lapel of his jacket. I reached forward and beat his hand to its goal, pulling his Beretta out of its holster. I shoved it in my jacket and told him, "Frankie, we're friends, you shouldn't point guns at a friend."
He looked embarrassed. "I know that, but you're going to turn me over to the don, and that will be the end of me. Los Angeles will have one more widow. By the way, you forgot about my .380."
And with that, he reached in his pocket and shot me in the foot.
I jumped forward and grabbed for the hand holding the gun in his pocket. He tried to push me away, but between the speed and the adrenaline I had the strength of ten punk rockers. I got the .380 away from him and covered him with it. I told him, "False move and I shoot you in the crotch. So help me I will. We're getting in the car and driving to Angel's house. I need doctor Liu. Holy Christ this hurts."
I was thankful his rental was an automatic, as I'd been shot in my left foot and operating a clutch would have been agony. We sped towards LA with me at the wheel, me with a .380 in my hand the entire time, covering Frankie. He behaved himself all the way to Angel's house.
I told Frankie, "Just sit in the car," and limped up to ring the bell. Angel answered, annoyed at someone showing up at this late hour.
He was even more annoyed when he saw who it was. "Lenny, what the hell are you doing, coming to my house this time of night? What's the matter now?"
I told him, "I have the Chatsworth killer in the car and I have a hole in my foot. Please get Frankie out of the car, with a gun on him, you can use this one, and call doctor Liu. Now I know how you felt when you lost your finger."
He took the gun from me but didn't move. "What are you saying? Frankie is the killer?"
"Go ahead and ask him. He told me all about it."
Angel went and got Frankie out of the car, apologizing for the treatment he was getting. We went inside and cornered Frankie in the kitchen while Angel called doctor Liu. Then Angel started to quiz Frankie.
"Did you do the killings in Chatsworth?"
"Those wetbacks tried to blackmail me after I hired them to kill Todd."
"You had Todd killed? Why?"
"He killed my Ferrari. He deserved to die for that."
Angel stared at the floor for a little while. He said, "Okay, here's what's gonna happen. After doctor Liu shows up I'm driving you home. You're going to stay there until you have permission to move around. I'll find out what don Ventimiglia wants to do with you, and pass the word along. Don't try to run, don't kill yourself, just stay calm and let me take care of things. Is that clear? All makes sense?"
Frankie nodded vacantly and said, "I got it."
"Then c'mon, let's go."
Doctor Liu showed up and saw he was dealing with yet another bullet wound. He knocked me out, then cut the engineer boot off my foot. I'd had two bones broken by the bullet, but I was lucky: they were clean breaks and he was able to put them back together. Then he stitched the holes shut, put on a breathable cast, and I was done.
I woke up to find Angela holding my hand. She said, "I am sorry to hear of Bekka's betrayal of you. You do not deserve to have that happen. I know you are an honorable man, and would not do that to her. I told her as much when she called me earlier."
Angel's voice came from the next room. "Is he awake? Listen punk, don't you go hitting on my wife, you hear me? Hahahahaha!"
I slurred back, "Don' worry about it, I gotta beautiful woman down In Encinitas. She'll be pissed that I got shot again, though. So wassa story with Frankie?"
"He's at home with Chelsea. He's got to get things in order, 'cos he's probably gonna get relocated to someplace out of state. Safest for everyone involved. Good work, finding the killer. That should keep the don happy."
"Hey, no problem, glad to help. Will this get me off the hook with Ventimiglia?"
Angel thought about it and said, "You'll still have to meet with him, but with the killer found. the pressure is off. Who knows, given your brains and luck, you may get a promotion."
"Some luck. Like you said, I'm a bullet magnet. Am I allowed to move around yet?"
Doctor Liu said, "If you are sufficiently recovered from the anesthesia, then feel free to try and walk. You may feel some discomfort."
Discomfort, hell. I stepped down on my new cast and the pain woke me right the hell up. I said, "Doc, you got any Vicodin on you? This is no fun."
He said, "I can provide you with several Dilaudid. I will write you a prescription for appropriate pain-killers. I will also need to see you in four weeks so that I may check on your progress in healing. Shall we meet here again?"
"That's fine, we'll set an appointment. By the way, I drive a stick shift. Will I be able to use the clutch with this cast on?"
"That is entirely dependent on your pain level. I recommend driving an automatic for the next week, while your foot heals and your bones mend. Any other questions?"
"Naw, I'm good. Thanks for patching me up."
"My pleasure. Let me write the prescription for you."
I left Angel's house with a prescription for 120 Vicodin and the honest blessing from both Angel and Angela, plus the keys to the Oldsmobile. It was paid for through the end of the month, so what the hell.
Then I headed for home.
Not a motel, but home. I may as well get it over with.