Monday, July 13, 2015

Powder (Part 1)

When Mikey rolled over, he didn't do things by halves.  He flipped on three separate addresses, two of which we already had plus a third, and names to go along with all three.  His only request of the mafia at this point was that he didn't have to go through detox uncushioned, being provided with at least negligible amounts of China White to help ease him off the drug.  The family kept him high, and he provided information.

     The family already had him under their thumb.  Mikey was now a garbage man, working from four till noon every day.  He got a decent wage from this, having skipped over other applicants who wanted to throw trash around for a living.  Shit, he was ahead of me: he had health insurance after ninety days.  The way I attracted bullets, I felt this was unfair.  I just felt it would be nice to have my various wounds attended to in a hospital, and not on my capo's dining room table.  Picky me.
     1990 brought about a general air of relaxation in the country: sure the President is a complete dunce, but he isn't scouring trains  and light aircraft in hopes of scoring drug busts, either.  The bastard would claim to have brought Escobar to his knees, but that was bullshit.  Escobar ran coke, and that was what fueled the CIA.  A network like that which brought cocaine into the States was a hydra, and if you cut off one head, a few more would sprout up.  And they all wanted to be fed.
     Afghani junk kept the world's  addicts on their knees and begging for more.  Never mind that the people growing and refining it ducked their heads to Allah, for them it was a strange obsession in the West that prevented them from starving to death and bought them cars if they were lucky.  Not even the Taliban wanted to see opium production ended: it would starve people into defecting to the West, and then where would they be?  Cleaning their rifles in caves, like usual.  No, leave the poppy growers alone.
     The poppy growers aren't the only ones who wished to be left alone.  There's me.  I just want to be be a good soldier for La Cosa Nostra, but circumstances inflicted upon me always suck me into a quagmire.  I already have the reputation as a bullet magnet.  My insistence that an old friend not be shot through the head and dumped at sea pegged me as too sentimental for the work, which I felt unfair.  Mikey was a teenage friend, a partner in crime going back to the age of fourteen or so.  While he'd dug himself some deep trenches, it was nothing he couldn't climb out of.  I thought.  Maybe some people are happy living their lives in holes.

     I climb over Bekka, grunting, "Annihilate, all week long," over and over.  She giggles at me.  We've been fucking to the sound of Black Flag.  I'm headed for the pizza that still sits on the coffee table in the living room.  We've been burning calories in the best possible manner and I've worked up an appetite.  "Bring me a slice," calls Bekka.
     "You gotta come here and get it, so I don't finish it off," I reply.
     And with that the phone rings. At 10:30 on a Saturday night, when normal people are either asleep or out partying.  Bekka picks it up with a grunt, then calls to me, "Hey Lenny, it's Angel."
     Angel, on a weekend night.  What could possibly have gone wrong that he needs my attention?  I pick up the phone in the living room and simply say, "Yeah?" into it.  Not the nicest way of greeting one's capo.
     "Look, Lenny, Mikey has made himself and a suitcase of product disappear.  Have you heard from him?"
     "I haven't talked to him since he was chained to a water heater in your garage.  That's been four months of quiet living, which I've relished.  If he's gone stupid, you cannot hold it on me, by any stretch."
     "Nonetheless, he's your ward, and...."
     "Wait a minute, when did he become my responsibility?  All I asked is that he didn't get killed over that whole scene in Hollywood.  After that, it was up to you guys as to what to do with him."
     Angel said, "Okay, let's put it this way.  Starting at six  a.m. Monday, you have a new assignment.  Find Mikey, and find that suitcase.  We'll provide what assistance you need, but you can't toss the job off.  And we expect fast results."
     "And who takes over Inana during my absence?"
     He huffs and says, "Either me or Vinny, of course.  We're not about to let one of our most prized businesses go by the wayside."
     Inana is the porn studio I run in La Costa, north of San Diego.  Out of six studios owned by Angel and Vinny, it's the prize jewel in the crown.  We turn a profit and all our books make sense.  Not too shabby for a place run by a 22 year old punk rocker.  This being 1990 I run everything off an Apple Macintosh, keeping my books ship-shape.  Angel keeps threatening to parcel me out to the other studios, which I refuse.  They have people who should be running things up to snuff already.
     So Bekka and I have a Sunday of relative leisure to enjoy, then I need to play private eye again.  Happy day.  We'll spend it in front of the TV, hitting the bong, eating delivery food, and fucking.  In other words, how half of Southern California spends Sunday.  Most of California doesn't have access to lab-fresh Ecstasy, though, so  we have an advantage there.  We'll smile through the day, no doubt.
     I tell Angel, "Okay, on Monday I'll do what I can to find Mikey.  If he's bolted, I make no promises, since I'm just one guy and you've got a whole organization at your disposal.  And if he's back on the junk I don't know what to tell you.  He could go far with a suitcase full of cocaine, further than I can reach.  But he's gotta come up for air at some point.  He can't have gone far."
     "Hope he hasn't," said Angel.  "We did you a favor by not just killing him.  Your turn to return that favor."  And with that he hung up.
     I put the phone back in the cradle.  My lovely bride stood above me, nude, mercifully distracting me from my thoughts.  "So  what's happened?" she asked.
     "Mikey and a suitcase full of coke have gone missing.  On Monday I get to play private eye again.  Lucky me."
     Bekka scooped a piece of pizza out of the box.  "Ten bucks says he headed down here with it.  This is his home turf."
     "Yeah, but dumping that much product at once?  I doubt he has the connections here to do it.  If it was meth, sure, but not coke."
     "You guys have been out of touch for a while.  He could have made new friends."
     "You may be right," I said, grabbing my own slice.  "I'll start up there and see where the trail leads.  At least there doesn't seem to be any pressure this time.  They don't want me to start until Monday.  In the meantime...."
     I threw myself on Bekka.  We proved it's possible to fuck and eat pizza at the same time.

     I figured the simplest place to start was with Mikey's roommate, Grant.  The two of them lived above a garage south of Melrose just outside of Hollywood proper.  I drove up Monday morning to see if he had any answers for me.  Given how Bekka and I had treated him the last time we'd met, I doubted he'd be happy to see me.
     Thanks to a four-car pileup in Long Beach, I was running later than I wanted to.  I got to their place around 10:30, blocking in Grant's Toyota when I parked.  I went up the steps and banged on the door.
     "Who is it?" a voice called.
     "It's Lenny, open up," I called back.
     "Someone you don't like.  The guy who took your shotgun away the last time we met.  Open the door or I go through it.."
     The door opened, and Grant frowned out at me.  He was half-dressed for his job at Angel's trattoria.  "You," he spat.  "What do you want?"
     "Mikey," I answered.
     "He isn't here.  Did you see his car out front?  It's not my job to keep tabs on him.  I haven't seen him since Saturday morning."
     "He say where he was headed?"
     "I can't remember," Grant sneered.
     "How about you letting me in and we'll see if your memory improves," I suggested.
     He tried slamming the door, but I already had one engineer boot in the way.  He tried stomping on my foot: a useless endeavor, as I had steel toes and he was in socks.  I bade my time while he went to work with the door again.
     I told him, "Grant, this is getting boring.  Just let me in and answer a few questions for me.  This is only as hostile of a visit as you make it."
     The slamming stopped.  "Okay, get in here.  But this has to be quick, I have to get to work."  He opened the door for me.
     The first thing I noticed was the pile of translucent white powder on the coffee table.  "Is that coke or smack?" I asked.
     "Coke.  I could only dream of seeing that much China White all at once."
     "So where's Mikey?"
     He scowled at me, then sat down on the sofa and began pulling himself a line.  "Want one?" he offered.
     I accepted and leaned against the front door.  "Where'd you get all that from, anyway?"
     He snorted back his line and said, "Mikey scored it somehow.  I didn't feel like looking a gift horse in the mouth, you know?  All I know is it's super clean.  Here."
     I accepted the proffered pen tube and lashed the line up my nose quickly.  I didn't like having my eyes off Grant for very long.  He was right though, it was good and clean, the sort of quality you'd find from kilo bags sold by the mafia.  I congratulated him on his good luck.
     "Where'd Mikey go?" I asked, standing over him.
     "Why should I tell you?"
     "Because it will keep both you and Mikey healthy.  See, I know you're holding out on me, and if I have to blow your kneecap off--- "  I got my Beretta in my hand  " ---to get answers out of you I will.  I don't consider myself a violent man, but I am in a hurry.  You don't want to be late for work, right?  So cough up."
     Grant didn't like guns.  Just the sight of one made him go a bit sweaty.  "Look," he said, "Mikey said he was going to San Diego to take care of some business.  He was gonna visit with his folks and take care of whatever needed taking care of.  Honest, that's all he told me.  I don't know anything else."
     I smiled and said, "See?  You did have some answers.  You could have told me that just standing in the doorway, without all the drama.  I thank you for your time, Grant, and I may see you later in the day.  I feel like Italian food for lunch, and the trattoria has the best around."
     Grant scoffed, "They won't let you in the door looking like that."
     "You'd be surprised.  Like a lot of shit here in LA, it's all about connections.  Use your phone real quick?"
     "You're not taking them this time, right?"
     "No.  Today I don't care who you call.  You're still not getting your shotgun back, though."
     I dialed Angel and let him know what I'd learned, and that I'd be eating lunch at the trattoria around 12:30 if he wished to join me.  He gave a pass --- he wanted to stick his head in at a couple of the local studios which had flawed bookkeeping --- and wished me bon apetit.
     "One last thing," I said, "how many kilos were in that suitcase?"
     He thought and said, "Twenty-two.  Want to make sure we have an accurate count?"
     "That, and one has probably been broken into already.  The gentleman whose house I'm in just gave me a line of extremely clean product, and it came from Mikey."
     "Is that Grant?  Remind him how fucking lucky he is.  By all rights he should be fucking fish food right now.  You tell him that."  On that note, Angel hung up.
     I turned to Grant and said, "That was your boss, like your boss's boss.  He wanted me to remind you that you're one lucky sonofabitch and to keep your nose clean.  He mentioned something about you becoming fish food.  Make sense to you?"
     I only thought Grant looked sweaty before.  He said, "Yeah.  It makes sense."
     I said, "Well, right now I'm gonna go up on Melrose and do some shopping, see if I can find something cute for my wife Bekka.  I'll be in for lunch around 12:30, so stop by my table if you think of anything else I should know.  I'll be on the patio somewhere."
     Grant was amazed.  "You get patio seating?"
     "Sure do," I replied.  "I also never receive a check."
     "So you're a friend of Mr. Morelli."
     "That I am," I assured him.  "I'm more than an employee, but not quite a co-worker.  He gives me jobs to do, I carry them out.  Like this right now.  You didn't think I was so curious about Mikey's whereabouts because I wanted to borrow some records?"
     "By the way, I don't think I need to say this, but I wasn't here this morning.  You and I never spoke.  Just a normal morning for you.  Got it?"
     "No problem."  He paused.  "Are you gonna kill Mikey?"
     "Me personally?  I doubt it.  Right now he has twenty-two kilos of the mafia's cocaine, and unless it all comes back with a good explanation, I can't give you any answers.  Remember, he's my friend too.  I hope all this works out okay.  I kept him alive once, but this....  I don't know what will happen.  If you hear from him, don't let him know I'm trying to track him down."  With that I went out.

     Up on Melrose I got a new belt for myself, plus a blouse and some really cute boots for Bekka.  Then I scooted over to the trattoria.  Left the Acura with the valet, and my six foot of punk rock scumbag ambled up to the maitre'd, where I dropped my name and assured him I was a friend of Angel's.  I was escorted straight out to a table on the patio.  I recognized Val Kilmer as being a fellow patron that day.
     Midway through my Johnnie Walker a familiar-looking busboy drifted up to my table and dropped a slip of paper.  He muttered, "Mikey called, he has a pager now.  He's still in San Diego," then drifted off.  The paper simply had a 619 area code phone number on it, nothing else.

     At least this time around I'd be able to work from home.


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