Monday, July 13, 2015

Powder (Part 8)

     I picked up Paul from his house at eleven on Monday.  I was driving the Falcon out of sheer superstition.  That car had got me out of more tight spaces than anything I'd ever driven, and I was not expecting a joyous time when we arrived at Mikey's place in Hollywood.  I'd kept an eye on the rear view, watching for any unmarked police cars or anything else following me, but it was a quiet ride up to Mission Viejo.

     Paul was waiting in his driveway, smoking a cigarette.  I considered this.  By my own observations, one of the primary characteristics of being well-ranked in the family was the ability to smoke cigarettes in driveways.  Always waiting on someone or something.  By that litmus, I was sure to go far in the mafia, since I could smoke with the best of them and hanging around in driveways was second nature to any product of the suburbs like me.
     Paul got in and I assisted him with the four point harness belt.  He made a guttural hissing sound and I realized he was laughing.  I let the clutch out and headed for the freeway.
     "So what is this?" asked Paul.
     "This is a 1964 Ford Falcon, set up for road racing.  It has the 289 V8 with a Holley four-barrel carburetor, the transmission and suspension are set up for high speeds on the road or track.  This is not a drag racer."
     "Interesting.  How long have you had it?"
     I explained, "This is not my car, it's Bekka's.  She's owned it for just over four years now, she bought it off her little brother.  Being married, the distinction between whose car is whose has been eaten away.  I drove this one today because I've always had good luck in it."
     Paul actually looked at me to speak.  "You believe in luck?" he asked.
     "To an extent," I said.  "Certain things happen in certain circumstances, and there is no reason or rationale behind them.  I was driving this car the last time someone wanted to kill me, and we were able to get away.  Bekka killing the driver of the other car helped, but this vehicle aided us greatly in our getaway."
     "That's right, the Santa Monica Boulevard shooting."
     "That's the one.  Bekka drew blood for the family."
     "I wish my wife was more like her."
     I didn't know how to respond to that, so I turned my full attention to the road, nuzzling over into the diamond lane at the first legal opportunity.  Paul simply rode in silence, staring out the window at other vehicles.  Angel had told me months ago that Paul did not like idle chat, so I respected that and kept silent.  I was willing to guess he was not a big fan of hardcore punk, so I kept the stereo off too.  We rolled up the 405 and towards Hollywood.

Off of Santa Monica Blvd. we dived down Highland, then cut over to North Las Palmas, Mikey's street.  Paul interrupted his silence to tell me to not slow down, but to jump up to Melrose and find a pay phone.  He didn't say why, and I didn't ask.
     Finishing his call, Paul got back in the car and said, "Okay, let's go talk to Mikey.  Hopefully this won't take long."
     I anchored across the driveway, blocking the black 280ZX in its space under the pepper tree.  We trudged up the stairs and I knocked on the door.  I heard Mikey's voice yell "Who is it?" so I yelled back, "Lenny!  We need to talk."
     Mikey opened the door and was stupefied to see me standing there with Paul.  Knowing the wrong time to fight a battle, he simply said, "C'mon in" and stepped backwards.  Paul strode in like he was boarding a battle cruiser, leaving me in his wake.
     I said, "Hey Mikey.  This is Paul.  You may remember him from all that bullshit a couple months ago here in Hollywood.  Um, I'm under the impression that you can tell us more than you let on about Bekka's stabbing.  See, you knew what kind of knife she'd been stabbed with even though I never told you and it was never in the news.  I found that curious.  So tell me Mikey, what do you know about knives?"
     Mikey held out his hands and said, "I don't know dick about knives.  The person you want to talk to is in the shower right now.  He knows knives."  He sat down in the chair by the door.
     We heard the water shut off, and Paul and I stepped towards the door.  I pounded on it and said, "Hey Grant, this is Lenny.  It's time for one of those fun talks we all enjoy so much.  Cinch up your towel and get out here."  We were greeted with silence.
     I tried the knob and found it locked.  Paul said, "I can fade that" and kicked the door just below the knob, causing it to swing open like it was never locked.  From inside, a naked Grant blinked at us.  There was a whirring noise, the sound of the exhaust fan sucking damp air out of the room and into the LA sky.
     Grant scowled and said, "Mikey's right over there.  Talk to him while I get dressed.  I have no  new information to give you."
     "That's all good and fine," I said, "but we want to discuss knives.  What do you know about hunting knives, say?  My wife was stabbed with one and we'd like to know who did it."
     Grant ignored us in favor of pulling on boxers and a t-shirt.  His work uniform was laid out on the bed already.  Paul got tired of the domestics and grabbed Grant by his shirt, sliding him up the wall.  "He asked you a question.  What can you tell us about knives, and especially the people who use them?"  Paul set Grant back down again.
     "All right, all right.  Jesus Lenny, do you know anyone who is calm?  Even your wife took a pot shot at me with her damn pistol."
     I said, "See, you're confused there.  You're mistaking rowdy behavior with simply being in a hurry.  Like right now, we're trying to figure out who tried to kill my wife.  Due to various bits of evidence, we know it was someone who likes hunting knives.  For all I know it could be you."
     Grant looked up from tying his shoes and said, "No way can you pin that on me."
     "You make it sound like a done deal.  Paul, you may want to have a chat with Grant here first.  I have a hunch he knows more than he lets on.  A lot more."
     With that, Mikey leaped out of his chair and tore down the stairs.  He saw how I'd parked the Falcon and simply began running up the street, headed towards Melrose.
     Two houses up, a man stepped out of the shadow of a palm tree.  He observed Mikey, gauged his speed and distance, then body checked Mikey into the street.  A second man sprang from a parked car and pulled Mikey's arms behind him, snapping handcuffs into place.  I ran up to where all this was transpiring to try and figure out who the hell these guys were.  When I got closer closer I realized I recognized them from Vinny and Chrissie's big party.  They were fellow mafioso, here to lend a hand.
     One of my fellow soldiers trotted up to me.  "What should we do with this guy?"
     I said, "Blindfold him and take him up to Angel's.  I want him on ice for a while.  He always has information, but needs persuading to let it go.  Thank you guys, I gotta go see how Paul is doing and make a call."  I ran back to the garage.
     I got upstairs and went for the phone, dialing Angel's number from memory.  He picked up on the second ring.
     "Hello, Angel?  This is Lenny.  Look, I got a couple of the guys taking Mikey up to you.  He's cuffed and blindfolded.  I believe Mikey is the one who fingered our place to the killer."
     "So who is the killer?"
     "Grant, Mikey's roommate.  It would seem that he's a knife freak, and he hates me.  That's my guess anyway.  I'll bet Grant's prints match up what are on the knife they pulled out of Bekka.  Anyway, Paul and Grant are having a chat right now."  I could hear Grant being bounced off walls.
     "What should I do with Mikey?" Angel asked.
     "Anything you want.  He fingered my wife to get killed --- a bit of pressure on him will firm that up --- so I have no  use for him.  Drive him to Vegas, dump him in the ocean, I don't care at this point.  A man I used to call friend nearly had my wife murdered.  He can burn in hell."
     "For the time being, he'll be cuffed to the hot water heater.  Are you going to come up here and help deal with him?"
     "I don't think I should.  Given the circumstances, I think I'd be a complete mess.  I certainly wouldn't be able to remain objective.  Squeeze Mikey for what information you think is valid and then do what you want with him."
     Angel asked, "What should we do with Grant?"
     I told him, "Grant is going to the police in my neck of the woods.  I'm taking off my holster and gun and leaving them at the mansion on my way down, then I'm going to take the piss out of one asshole cop."
     Looking winded and a bit sweaty, Paul came into the room.  He pointed at the phone and said, "Is that Angel?  Can I talk to him?"  I simply handed the phone over and waited.
     Paul said, "Yeah, it was that kid Grant who tried to take out Bekka.  He told me all about  it.  I've got a tape recorder in the car, he can continue to talk while we drive....  No, nothing like that, he's just cuffed....  Well, you know, once a Chicago cop, always a Chicago cop....  We'll be heading out quick enough.  Okay, goodbye."  He handed the phone back to me.
     Angel said to me, "By rights we should be the ones taking care of Grant.  However, I understand you've been having trouble with the local law where you live.  We'll play it straight.  So far as the cops are concerned, Paul was hired by you to investigate Bekka's stabbing.  That's why he is bringing Grant in, we're acting like this was all on Paul."
     "How would I have hired Paul?" I asked.
     "He's a licensed private investigator.  I guess I never told you that about him.  You two tracked down a knife freak with a grudge against you, who 'fessed up over the course of the interview.  Paul is going to conduct another interview with him while you drive back to Encinitas and get it all on tape.  Legally it doesn't count as a confession, but it will make one hell of a good piece of evidence when this show hits court."
     "Have you decided what to do with Mikey?"
     "Yeah.  He'll be going to Vegas, just like Rick did.  He'll be instructed to stay out of California from now on, given a thousand dollars, and told to start a new life.  One which does not involve the family.  Vinny will work out on him some, to make sure the lesson sticks.  Is that okay with you, or did you want to drop him in the water ten miles out?"
     I said, "No, that's good.  He'll finally be out of our hair.  Despite the rage I feel for Mikey, I'm sentimental enough that I don't want him killed.  We were tight back in high school."
     Angel replied, "I thought you might feel that way.  That's why I made the decision I did.  Look, I've gotta get a hold of Vinny.  Good luck with Grant, and remind him how lucky he is to be going to the cops and not remaining in our care.  In his case, hitting the water ten miles out would be the only solution.  Nearly killing a family wife?  Yeah, he's damn lucky with the deal he's getting."  And with that Angel hung up.
     I went into Grant's room.  He was sitting on the bed, Paul leaning against the wall opposite him smoking a cigarette.  I crouched down in front of Grant.
     "So you'll be going to the cops down in Encinitas, not out on a boat like you should be.  This question may have been answered already and I missed it, but....  Why?  Why would you do that to Bekka, a woman you met once in your life?"
     Grant gave a stuttering sigh and said, "I did it for Mikey.  I love him.  He  doesn't know it, but I do.  You've always been nothing but trouble for him and me, and I wanted to get a message across.  Mikey is beautiful, he doesn't deserve the headaches you and her cause him.  Leave Mikey alone."
      I responded, "That'll be an easy task.  Mikey's getting exiled to Las Vegas.  He'll be dropped off with a thousand dollars and the clothes on his back.  After that his choices are his own, so long as they don't involve returning to California.  The family wants him gone, and it's either this or kill him.  Which do you prefer?"
     "Maybe I could join him."
     "No, you have to pay the price for what you did.  Angel pointed out that you're getting a break: instead of becoming fish food, you get to fight it out in the court system, all nice and legal like.  Not the way the family wanted to do things, but they see the logic in this course of action.  You're going to help get the cops off my ass.  I didn't tell you that, did I?  The cops think I'm the one who stabbed my wife, to the point of refusing to do any more investigative work.  They've been waiting for me to bolt, or attack Bekka.  They will be both surprised and  disappointed when I show up with you."
     "But I don't wanna go to jail."
     "Right now your options are jail or death.  You don't know how lucky you are.  Paul, what say we get moving south.  You can interview Grant in the back seat.  I'll keep the windows up so we get a decent recording."
     Paul pushed himself away from the wall and pulled Grant to his feet.  They went out the door first, with me following and locking the door behind me.  Paul guided him to the Falcon, then into the back seat, getting in next to him.  I fired up the engine and handed Paul the micro-cassette recorder sitting on the floor.  Paul started in immediately, documenting the time and date and location.
     "What is your name?"
     "Grant Rush."
     "Where do you live?"
     "____ North Las Palmas, Hollywood."
     "Do you know why I am bringing you into custody?"
     A deep sigh, then "Because I stabbed Lenny's wife."

     Listening to the details being poured into the tape deck, I was beginning to regret my decision.  Hearing the details of Bekka's stabbing being discussed in such a cavalier way made me wish I'd gone for the fish food option for Grant.  The way he talked, it was like Bekka wasn't a person at all, merely a goal to be accomplished.  He nearly had.
     I arrived back at the mansion around four.  My gun and holster went in one of the file cabinets, where they would hopefully remain until I was off probation in a couple weeks.  I went back out to the Falcon and got us in motion again.  The interview had concluded twenty minutes earlier, and Grant and Paul rode in silence.  I guess Grant had reached a state of peace with his fate....  And like we pointed out, this way he'd live.

     I headed for the Encinitas police station.


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