It was after seven when we reached Vinny's. Angel and Vinny were loitering in the driveway, killing time before my arrival with cigarettes and a couple bottles of beer. I had the feeling this was not how they wanted to spend Monday night. I agreed. I wanted to hand over Mikey and go eat dinner with Bekka. At this point I didn't care what they did to Mikey, save killing him.
"So, I got Mikey, I got the suitcase. Anything else I can do?" I asked Angel.
Vinny said, "Yeah, bring the both of them into the living room. I want to take account of what we've got here."
I got the suitcase out of the trunk and guided Mikey into the house. Vinny pulled Mikey's blindfold down around his neck.... Then used it to lightly strangle him.
"What the fuck were you thinking, kid? Try to steal from us? You've got a goddamn screw loose," muttered Vinny. "You're gonna live, but you're also gonna pay. Nothing permanent, no shattered kneecaps or severed fingers, but you caused us a lot of pain and worry and aggravation over the last couple days. Do you get me?"
Mikey sighed and said, "Yes sir."
"Good." And with that Vinny drove his fist into Mikey's stomach, doubling him over.
Bekka and me looked at each other. I said, "Hey Vinny, if it's okay with you, Bekka and I are going to get some dinner. You can hit my pager if you need me."
"Yeah, that's fine. Thanks for the fast work picking up this asshole and getting our product back. Where you going for dinner?"
"Probably the trattoria. You got any specials going on at your bistro right now?"
"Matter of fact, yeah. We got bison burgers. You try one of those, you'll never want regular ground beef again. That and we got a new chef, the guy worked under Wolfgang Puck while he was training. I was happy to score him, he can actually make a fucking salad interesting. Say, you two want a snort of coke before you take off?"
Bekka poked at my shin and shook her head. I said, "Thanks, but not tonight. Page me if you need anything."
"Okay, we'll talk to you later. Angel, where should we start this?"
Bekka and I got in the Acura and I fired up. "So, bison burgers for dinner?" I proposed.
"Sounds good," she said. "You think Mikey will get the same treatment that Rick did? Get the shit beat out of him, then driven to Vegas and handed a thousand dollars?"
"Probably just get the shit beat out of him, then ensconced back at his garbage truck job, where they can keep a close eye on him. The only reason I'd want to be back at Vinny's right now is to hear Mikey's excuse for what he did. I mean, he had no customers for that amount of blow lined up, he was in prime shape to be ripped off, and he had the damn mafia's drugs. How could he think he'd get away with it?"
Bekka pondered her answer while swapping tapes in the stereo, trading the Descendents for a power pop band called Green Day from up in East Bay. Then she said, "You said he had twenty-two kilos with him, right? By my guess, that's at least $400,000 worth of drugs. Mikey knew he was sitting on a fortune and just needed to somehow cash in.... Like it'd come to him in a dream or something. He probably figured if he put out enough feelers he could find customers. Did you know anyone who moved coke?"
"Oh hell no," I said. "Cocaine was viewed as too ghetto to bother with. Yeah, the guys move plenty of it, but look at the neighborhoods I'd deliver to: Compton, Lawndale, Inglewood, Long Beach, all total garden spots. It's getting turned into crack these days, and nobody wanted to deal with that whole scene. Meth and coke do not cross lines, and I dealt to meth dealers. To move coke was to move in entirely different circles."
"Mikey might have thought otherwise," said Bekka.
"Well, Mikey has made a lot of stupid assumptions in the recent past."
We pulled up to the front of Vinny's bistro and waited for the valet. And waited. One finally ambled over and leaned in Bekka's window, saying, "There's no parking here, sir."
I said, "I know. We're here to eat. You have valet parking, correct?"
"Yes sir. Unless you care to park it yourself."
"If we were in her '64 Falcon, I probably would. I'll trust you guys with my Acura, though."
He held Bekka's door for her, came around to my side and handed me a ticket. As Bekka and I headed towards the front door, I heard him mutter, "Good luck, sir."
Stepping in, I saw what he meant: the foyer was standing room only with people waiting to be seated. What the hell, I routinely get guns pointed at me working for the family, I may as well enjoy the perks. I stepped up to the maitre'd and told him, "I'm a friend of Vinny's and I'd like a table please."
The maitre'd was nonplussed. "You are a friend of Vinny's."
"And what is Vinny's last name?"
"Morelli. Are the bison burgers still happening?"
He ignored me and asked, "Your name, sir?"
"Schneider. Lenny Schneider, darling," I told him.
He consulted a couple lists and choked on his own spit when he found my name on a fairly short list entitled "Close Personal Friends." He looked at the list, then at me, the list again, and back at me. His eyes narrowed.
"What, you wanna see my ID?" I asked him.
"No, I can determine this with a phone call," he seethed. "I shall simply call Vinny and ask him who you are." His hand went to a Rolodex.
"It's 555-4027," I told him. He didn't like that. He liked the fact that I was right even less.
The maitre'd dialed --- on speaker phone --- and Christina picked up after about four rings. I knew it was Chrissie because she had grown up in farm country and was in the habit of SPEAKING VERY LOUDLY on the phone due to poor connections. After a wait --- presumably to come to a good stopping spot in Mikey's beating --- Vinny got on the phone.
"Yeah, this is Vinny."
"Mr. Morelli sir, this is Jonathan at the bistro. I have a Lenny Schneider here wishing to be seated. Is he a friend of yours?"
"Yeah he is. His name ought to be on my list of personal friends. So what's the problem?"
"Well.... Would you describe him for me? I want to make sure of him."
"Look, he's a punk rocker, a little over six feet tall, white hair.... And he's got a girl with him with jet black hair and big eyes. So again I ask, what's the problem?"
"Uh.... No problem at all. I just wanted to make sure this gentleman was who he said he was. Sorry to disturb you at home, sir."
"Ah, I needed a break from what I was doing anyway. But you take care of those two, you got me? He's a friend and a business colleague, she's his wife, so you hang up the phone and get them seated. Capiche?"
"Absolutely, sir. I'll be right on it. Goodnight."
The maitre'd looked up at me and nearly flinched. He told me, "I'll be back in one moment while I find you a table." He scurried into the dining room.
"Bet we end up next to the kitchen door," said Bekka.
I said, "Being friends of the owner? No way. We get seated well, or we wait until we can be seated well. But we'll eat before just about everyone else here."
We were seated well. We were placed with good grace at a nice high-backed booth, overlooking the boulevard. Our drinks --- Bekka's usual Tecate, my usual Johnnie Walker over ice --- arrived within moments of us ordering them, the perfect amount of time was given for us to enjoy our drinks before placing our orders, and our bison burgers arrived hot and fresh. My tipping was commensurate with the service. And while pricey, bison burgers really are the tops. I sent an extra twenty in to the chef.
Bekka and I departed our table and made our way back through the restaurant. We were nearly out the door when some tourist type grabbed my arm. He wasn't happy, as he and his family had been waiting since before Bekka and I had even arrived. He would let his displeasure be known.
"How come you get to walk in and be seated while I gotta wait for a couple hours? What the hell is that about?"
I told him, "Oh, um, we had reservations."
He scowled, "I tried to make reservations and was told they don't take them."
"Well, you gotta make 'em a couple months in advance.... You're from out of town, are you sir?"
"How can you tell?"
"The fanny pack is a dead giveaway. You enjoy your meal, sir."
He wasn't done. He grabbed my arm and said, "I want you to tell me why the hell you can waltz in and be seated, and me and my family have to wait. You some kinda rock star?"
I smiled at him and said, "No, nothing so romantic. Actually, this restaurant is mafia-owned and I'm a member of the mafia. It's a perk of my association, sort of like using the office copier to make yard sale flyers, only most people don't have guns pointed at them on a routine basis. Preferred seating, along with good money, make up for the guns. I'm on a short list of people who the owner wants to be treated well. That's why I ate before you."
The man scoffed. "You ain't in the mafia. Not looking like that."
"He is so," interjected Bekka.
"Now Bekka," I said, "we shouldn't yank this guy's chain too much. Actually sir, I'm a record producer and I've just been exercising the amount of water I draw in this town. Really I'm a spoiled brat, and this is my spoiled wife Bekka."
"Hi. He's Lenny," Bekka said.
"So you're just a couple Hollywood types," he scoffed.
"Not even a little, actually. But we figured you'd feel better if you thought so," replied Bekka.
"So what is your damn story?"
I said, "I told you, I'm in the mafia and this restaurant is mafia-owned. I also never receive a bill when I eat here. Excluding tips, this was a free meal. By the way, try the bison burger, they rock."
The maitre'd slid up from behind. "Is there a problem here, gentlemen?"
I smiled and said, "None at all. I was simply explaining to this gentleman some of the benefits of being associated with La Cosa Nostra. He doesn't seem to believe me, though. I even tried lying to him by saying I'm a record producer. We're gonna go now." Bekka and I exited arm in arm.
Waiting on the Acura I told Bekka, "See, that's the sort of bullshit I have to deal with all the time."
"What bullshit?" she asked.
"No one ever believes me when I tell them I'm an associate of the mafia. Yeah, I know I don't dress the part, but everyone in the mob starts off pretty much the same as me. About the same age, too. It'd be like if you told people you were a porn queen and they always laughed at you. Wouldn't you get annoyed at never being believed?"
The Acura came zipping up in front of us. Our doors were held for us and we got in, me tucking a ten dollar bill in the valet's hand as I did. Bekka said, "I guarantee I've told people that I'm in porn and had them not believe me. Same reason as you, too: I don't dress the part. I guess it's our burden to carry."
"Probably just as well. I'm sure there's some downside to being believed that I'm just not seeing right now," I said.
"Not being followed around by cops is one advantage. Besides, I don't think full-fledged members of the mafia are allowed to round off a rather expensive meal by going to Jack In The Box and getting a milkshake. Hint hint."
"I like the way you think, Mrs. Schneider."