I stopped and picked up mail before heading to the mansion. Happy news: two of our five distributors had sent checks. Always a nice thing to find. Plus three demo tapes from couples who hoped to be on video, and most certainly wouldn't. I knew what I'd see when I watched the tapes, puffy couples in their forties having it off in front of a tripod camera and acting like they'd both just got off work. Which they probably had. No use to anyone but their friends.
I dropped the tapes in the round-file, and checked messages. Two possible performers, both confirming their appointment times. Good. The smart ones always confirmed, even if they were useless. Eagerness always demonstrated either desperation, or a willingness to work. I could deal with either of the two.
What to do with Mikey stood alone. Angel or Vinny would hold down the fort while I rounded him up, bu then what? Presumably deliver him and the contents of the suitcase to don Ventiglimlia, but I'd just as soon not seen my childhood friend disposed of in the manner I expected of. The expectation of death came too quick in this racket.
I decided a trip down to Clairemont would not be out of line. After all, he said he'd visit his parents. Why not look him up and see if he'd put his nose in.
Like all the houses in his neighborhood, Mikey's childhood home had a faux Mexican look to it, with lots of stucco and an arched walkway to the porch. I was in luck: a familiar black 280ZX was sitting in the driveway. I pulled in behind, blocking it from leaving again without my allowing it to. Mikey's mom was out sweeping the front patio.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Prentiss! I need to speak with Mikey," I greeted her.
"Oh, hello Lenny. Mikey isn't here, he borrowed my car. He said his was overheating," she told me.
"I see. May I use your phone?"
"You go right ahead. Tell me, is Mikey in some sort of trouble right now?"
"Very much so. I'm trying to get him out of trouble."
I went in the house and straight to the kitchen to use the phone. I dialed Mikey's new pager and entered his parent's number for the call-back. I had no idea whether he'd shared his number with his folks or not, but I knew seeing that number pop up would get his attention.
He wasn't on the road, as he called back within two minutes. "Yeah, Mom?" he said.
"No, Lenny," I replied.
I said, "Oh shit indeed. Mikey, you know why we're talking. Nearly fifty pounds of the mafia's cocaine is in your possession, and they want it back. Don't make this harder on yourself than is necessary.... You want to deal with me, or one of their enforcers?"
He sighed and said, "You," in a faint voice.
"Is the suitcase still full?" I asked.
"I broke into one of the bags to party with. You know coke can still get you laid?"
"Never a doubt in my mind, you just need to know the right girl. Where are you right now?"
"Out at Cat-Man's house in Lemon Grove."
"Well, tell Cat-Man hello for me and come home. Any deals you have pending are off the table. You and the suitcase are coming back to your parents' house, is that clear?"
"Do I have any fucking choice?" he asked.
"Not even a little," I told him. "We'll be taking a ride up to LA after you get here. After that, I don't know. Your car will stay here at your parents' house, you can come get it after everything is settled."
"I feel like doing a face-plant into that open bag, just like in Scarface," Mikey complained.
I said, "You haven't been thinking too clearly as of late. That's the last thing you need. It's 3:20 right now, I'm giving you till 4:10 to get here. After that the car gets reported as stolen and I notify the organization you're trying to run. Much meaner people than me will be after you, and they don't give up. You get me?"
"Got it," Mikey said.
"Good," I said, and hung up.
I headed back towards the front door with a cigarette in my mouth. I came upon Mrs. Prentiss in the entry hallway, tears running down her face.
"He's in deep trouble this time, isn't he?" she rasped.
"He is. I'm trying to do some damage control. How much of the conversation did you hear?"
"Everything on your end. Is he involved with the mafia now?"
I said, "Him? No, not really. I am. They're my employers."
Mrs. Prentiss gave me a tight smile and said, "You're kidding, Lenny."
"Don't feel bad, no one ever believes me. Yes, it's all a joke."
I ran to the liquor store for something to drink, then sat on the trunk of the Acura, smoking cigarettes and drinking Mountain Dew. I'd already called Angel for instructions, and was told to blindfold Mikey and bring him to Vinny's place. I was given the impression my further participation would not be necessary.
Mikey rolled up in his Mom's car with about forty-five seconds to spare. His face was a mask of alertness and borderline paranoia. I walked up and relieved him of the car keys to get in the trunk, him brushing past me and going in to the house. I moved the suitcase from his mom's Citation to the trunk of the Acura.
I already had handcuffs in my pocket and a bandanna folded for a blindfold. I felt it only fair that he have some privacy with his mother, so I waited out front for him to finish. He came out with his leather over his arm, saying, "Let's do this."
I was feeling cagey. I didn't like how his hand was completely obscured by the jacket. I started to turn towards the car, then stopped and whipped the leather away from him, exposing the small revolver he held.
Mikey chuckled, smiled at me, and pulled back the hammer. I grabbed the gun by the barrel, pulling it up and away from us, prying it from his hand and firing in the air. It startled Mikey much more than me, and I got the gun away. His Mom came out at the sound of the shot, calling for him.
"I'm right here, Mom," he called back. "Nobody hurt."
"Thanks for the souvenir, Mrs. Prentiss," I said. "I'm keeping this one. And that was not very sporting of you two, sneaking a gun to Mikey. Somebody could have gotten injured. And now Mikey gets to ride up to Los Angeles wearing handcuffs the whole time. Your son has a knack for making things more difficult than they need to be."
The sight of me putting the cuffs on Mikey enraged his Mom. She began kicking me in the shins, yelling, "Don't you dare hurt my boy!"
I explained, "He's been doing a good enough job on his own. He has a lot to answer for, and it's not me he needs to answer to. With some luck he'll be back for his car in a couple days, and he can tell you all about it then."
"Where are you taking him?"
"Like I said, Los Angeles. He doesn't get to know where, and that's a good thing. It means he'll live."
I marched Mikey to the Acura and got him in the passenger side. Then I got behind the wheel and pulled out the blindfold. He eyed it with trepidation. "That routine again, huh?" he asked.
"Yeah, and you should know why it's a positive thing. If they wanted you dead they wouldn't care about you knowing where you are. I was told to use it, so they aren't killing you.... At least not tonight." The blindfold was tied on.
I started the engine and let the clutch out. "Fresh out of tricks, right Mikey?" I asked
"Fresh out. I figure I'm blind, I can't use my arms, and you've got a gun on me."
"Two guns, actually," I corrected.
"Fuckin' whatever. Are you gonna give my Mom's gun back to her?" he asked.
"Wasn't planning on it," I said. "I keep guns that have been pointed at me and that I end up taking away. I've built up quite an arsenal: between me and Bekka we've got two Beretta 9mm automatics, Grant's twelve gauge, a Colt Banker's Special, a Colt .380 revolver, a Charter Arms .38 revolver, and now whatever you were pointing at me. And only some of them are hot, as near as I know."
I considered things as I got on the freeway north. I wouldn't mind having a bit more insurance with me. I knew Mikey could be a slippery bastard. I got as far an Encinitas and jumped off the freeway, headed for home. Hopefully Bekka was in the mood for a bit of a drive this evening; I'd take her to dinner at the trattoria afterwards.
Anchoring the Acura next to her big '64 Falcon, I escorted Mikey up the walk and into our place. Bekka took one look at who was in front of her and said, "Jesus Mikey, you really like to wade through the shit, don't you? So why are you two here?"
"Came to ask a favor from you," I said, "and dinner at the trattoria is part of the bargain. I just need you to keep him covered for me while I get him up to our destination. He's already tried a fast one on me today, I'm not in the mood for any more."
"One condition," said Bekka. "You be the designated driver. That way we're not stressed over who had how much wine."
I said, "It's a deal. Hey Mikey, if you gotta go say something now. I'm not stopping until we hit our address in LA."
"How do I go in handcuffs?" he asked.
Bekka volunteered, "I'll help you. Just don't get the wrong idea. I'm married to a jealous man, and you're in no position to defend yourself."
"Either her or me grabbin' your crank, Mikey," I said, "but the cuffs stay on. And I don't want you pissing yourself in my car."
"Wouldn't dream of it," he said. "Given the level of violence you two are capable of, the last thing I want to do is piss you off."
I said, "An admirable position.... But we're not violent people."
Bekka added, "We just take care of each other, as the situation dictates."
"Well.... With all your guns and shit, you can see how people could leap to conclusions. I mean, you shot at Grant in his bedroom, and I know it was you that killed Gil on Santa Monica Boulevard. It had to be," Mikey responded.
Through gritted teeth Bekka told Mikey, "That was a situation dictated by them. They were shooting at us. They would have killed us given the chance. Am I clear on this? Do you need to use the fucking bathroom or not?"
Mikey said yes, so they traipsed into the bathroom together. A few moments later I heard Bekka exclaim, "Oh, come on!" followed by Mikey saying, "It's not my fault! I got a good looking woman holding my dick!"
Out of curiosity I walked into the bathroom. Bekka said, "Valentino here can't have another person hold his dick without getting a hard-on."
I said, "Well, I guess it's up to me to hold the job. 'Scuse me, Bekka. Besides, I know how to aim one of those better."
Mikey protested, "Oh no. No way. Look, I'll behave, I'll try anyway. It's got a mind of its own."
I pulled back the hammer of the .32 Ruger and tucked the end of the barrel behind his ear. "Just piss, Mikey. Or do you want to do the rest of this trip in the trunk of Bekka's Falcon?"
Mikey pissed like a good boy.
Before we left, Bekka got in our bedroom closet and began dismantling a wire coathanger. I asked her about it, and she explained, "It's for laughing boy here. It's going around his neck. I'll be behind him all the way up, and if he misbehaves all I have to do is grab each end and pull. It should black him out real quick."
"Are you guys threatening to strangle me now? Lenny, you've changed," said Mikey.
"So have you. You never used to be a thief. And you would never have gone after as dangerous a target as the mafia if you had been. Seriously, what were you thinking? That the family would write off the loss and go about their day?"
Mikey shrugged and said, "Let's get going already. Whatever's gonna happen to me, I want to get it over with." He paused. "Lenny, what do you think is going to happen to me?"
"I honestly don't know," I replied. "I think you'll live, but you'll probably need some time to recoup from your punishment. I'm guessing here."
"You really know how to cheer a guy up," he said as I got him in the passenger seat of the Acura again. Bekka jumped in the back seat from the driver's side and got her coathanger around Mikey's neck. There, we were ready to travel.