In the morning I took a cab over to the restaurant to pick up the Acura. My destination was an auto glass place in Oceanside, but first I wanted to stop by the police station and get my Beretta back. I put the Acura in a visitor space and went in.
I identified myself to the officer at the front desk and explained why I was there. He looked confused for a moment, then told me to wait while he checked on something. He disappeared into the warren.
He was back a few minutes later. "Mr. Schneider? Your gun has been sent out for ballistics testing."
"What does that mean?" I asked.
"What they're doing is putting ammunition through your gun and comparing the unique ballistics to slugs retrieved from other crime scenes. Basically, we're checking to see if your gun was used at any unsolved crime scenes. Is that clear?"
"Yeah, crystal. Never occurred to anyone that if I'd used that gun to commit a crime I'd be real damn unlikely to walk around with it under my arm? That I would have ditched it? I mean, the Pacific Ocean is right over there."
"If there are no conflicts, you can pick up your gun on Monday. Have a nice weekend, sir."
"Yeah, you too. And say hi and fuck you to Lieutenant Donner for me." I walked back out of the cop shop and got in my car, aiming towards Oceanside. Oh well, I could wear the spare Beretta, the one I got from Frankie when he shot me. When the family had shipped him off to Oregon, he had gifted me his Beretta and his .380, getting the registrations for both in my name. It was his way of apologizing for his actions, I guess. I now owned a gun, the .380, that I'd been shot with.
I took a cab from the auto glass place back home, then Bekka and I trekked back out to El Cajon to go gun shopping. Our favorite place to shop had guns on one side of the room, booze on the other. There was usually sports playing on the big overhead TVs. All the place needed was strippers and it would be a true monument to pent-up testosterone, a shrine to psychological blue balls.
After bandying it about with the clerk and me, Bekka settled on a Colt Defender, a 9mm automatic. She was happy with the size, the (unloaded) weight, and the stopping power. We asked about holsters and were sent to the end of the counter, where a cigarette-voiced woman asked Bekka where she wanted to carry the gun.
"Um, in the holster," was her reply.
"No honey, where on your body do you want the gun? Hip, waist, leg, chest....?"
"Whichever holster won't be noticeable when I'm dressed about how I am now, I guess." Bekka had her slutty goth look going, which eliminated a leg holster.
Bekka said, "Lemme try one of the waist holsters. I guess to get at the gun you just rip open your blouse, but if you need the gun it doesn't matter."
Bekka took her blouse off in the middle of the store so that her and the saleslady could get her fitted. While there were no cat calls, she certainly did attract attention: either black bras are a rarity in El Cajon, or it was Lonely Male Day there at the gun store. Bekka slid the holster band on over her head, tucked the Colt into the holster, and put her blouse back on. Even when she was wearing semi-opaque material, it would be hard to spot the small bulge under where her left arm rested.
She set the Colt back on the counter and said, "Cool! I'll take the gun and the holster, and I'll just wear the holster, so I can get used to the feel. What do we owe you?"
The saleslady rang us up to a total of $833.10, instructing us to not lose the receipt, as we would need both it and the special purchase slip they used in order to claim our Colt in seven days. As we were leaving the saleslady asked, "So why did you decide to purchase a gun?"
Bekka answered her truthfully. "Well, my husband here is in the mafia, so he carries a gun, but he can't be around every second of the day, and the mafia has enemies. I learned that the hard way a couple months ago when I was nearly stabbed to death in my own home. That, and we've got a cop up where we live with a vendetta against us, and he took away my Banker's Special yesterday because I had the gall to use it. I mean, if someone's shooting at you, and you have a gun, you're gonna shoot back, right? Apparently you can't do that in Encinitas, else they arrest you for discharging a firearm within city limits.
"So yeah. That's why I needed the Colt Defender."
The saleslady blinked a couple times and said, "Most people just say 'personal protection' when I ask them that. Thank you for your honesty.... And did you say your husband is in the mafia?"
"And this is your husband here."
The saleslady cracked a wide grin. "You're trying to tell me that a punk rock kid like this is involved with organized crime."
I interjected, "Don't feel bad, nobody ever believes me. I guess I'm well-camouflaged."
Bekka said, "He really is in the mafia. Even wears a Beretta. You'll just have to take our word for it."
The saleslady winked and said, "Too bad they don't have membership cards."
"It would simplify my life if they did," I said.
Back in the car, I said, "Let's head out to Boss's place, see if he's back yet."
Bekka asked, "Why don't we just call?"
"Nah. Besides, if he's not around I want to pick the brains of Gary and Chet as to who might have shot at Boss yesterday. Maybe they have some ideas."
I could feel Bekka's eyes on me, giving me a look. She said, "Why do you care? The family hasn't given you an assignment, and there's three jurisdictions of cops working on the case. You can relax."
"It's just idle curiosity," I told her. "Don't tell me you're not wondering too. Hell, you have to go the court system because of the responsible parties."
I could still feel Bekka's look. "Don't go making extra work for yourself, let me put it that way. If the family wants you to look in to who shot at Boss, that's fine. But don't freelance this one, you don't have the blood to spare for it."
"I promise I won't. But I'd still like to go out to Boss's and see what people think. Is that okay?"
"It's fine. If I get bored I'll go play pinball."
We drove through Santee to the edge of town. Boss' place was a fairly standard suburban ranch home sitting on a couple acres of land. Absolutely nothing about the place, from the outside, would hint "bikers live here." The lawns were watered and mowed, the walkways were swept, and there was no detritus lying around. Motorcycles were parked in the garage (or the house itself), and mechanical projects were kept inside the garage. Any auto work being performed would be restricted to the driveway. Given the nature of Boss' business --- warehousing and selling huge amounts of methamphetamine and Ecstasy --- he wanted there to be nothing of note about his house. He was on good terms with his neighbors, having the reputation of being the go-to guy when the car is acting funny.
I parked on the street and beeped my horn twice before getting out, a signal assigned to me to let them know someone is coming to the door. Bekka and I went up to the door and rang the bell. And waited. And waited.
I heard a voice stage-whisper my name. Me and Bekka both looked around, seeing no one. I finally caught a glimpse of motion to my right. Chet was peeping around the side of the house at the two of us. He gestured at us to follow him.
We entered the house through a rear slider, coming in through the dining area. I said to Chet, "What's with all the mystery?"
Chet replied, "You know what happened yesterday.... Hell, you were there, of course you do. Well, we got a call this morning from the scumbags that did it. They're royally pissed that Bekka dropped their gunman. And they say they're gonna complete the job. Until we think of a better way of handling it, we're gonna be plenty cagey.
"What else did they say?" I asked.
"That was about it. They're pissed at Bekka for killing their gunner, and that Boss is a dead man."
"Did the caller have any kind of accent, like Filipino or Vietnamese?"
"Naw, it was definitely a white guy on the phone. Why, what were you thinking?"
I cleared my throat and said, "See, what we're dealing with is gang warfare tactics. The Vietnamese and Filipino gangs already move some meth, and this could be a power play on their part to lock up supply. They get rid of Boss, you guys are rudderless, they muscle in and offer their assistance.
"I thought of Asian gangs because they're the most active these days. The Crips and Bloods have minor skirmishes every now and then, but mostly leave each other alone. They'd never touch meth anyway. So that leaves the Filipinos, the Vietnamese, and I guess seriously felonious bikers...." I trailed off.
"What? What?" said Chet.
"What is the most money-hungry outlaw club you can think of?" I asked.
"Impossible to say. Everybody's got their own hustle going, trying to raise scratch in the biggest and fastest way they can. What would that have to do with someone trying to kill Boss?"
Bekka spoke up. "There has to be a financial justification for killing Boss. Obviously, the labs are a prize to whoever controls them, and with Boss out of the way it would be easy to muscle in and take over, at gunpoint if necessary. Boss said he hasn't pissed anyone off recently, and any wars that were happening are dead. If Boss gets killed, it will, in one way or another, be over money. Try and think of clubs that are both money hungry and violent, the types that would see murder as a means to an end."
"Hey, where's Gary?" I asked. "Maybe he'd have some ideas."
"I'm up here," came a muffled voice. "Hold on, I'm coming down."
It was then that I realized the drop ceiling above the dining room table was missing a panel. Presently the hole disgorged a tall, lean biker. For whatever reason, Gary had been hanging around in the rafters.
As if reading my mind, Gary explained, "There's a vent above the front door. I pulled the screen off and you can see the whole street from up there. I've got a shotgun and a 30.06 hunting rifle, and I can pick off anyone trying to get in."
Bekka asked him, "How much of our conversation did you catch?"
"Most all of it," he said.
"Do you have any ideas or thoughts?"
Gary scratched at his beard. "I think you guys are heading the right direction. So far as which clubs I'd suspect, lessee, there's the Paddys, the Warlocks, the Hellbound...."
"Forget the Paddys," said Chet. "They're brawlers, yeah, and one of 'em would try to deck a moose if he thought the moose looked at him funny, but all they do is drink and fight. Meth doesn't enter into their lexicon of consciousness. If it didn't come out of a bottle, they could care less."
"In other words," I said, "if you guys were running a still, they'd be all over you."
"Exactly. Supposedly they're all Irish, but I doubt that. The only real qualifications for becoming a Paddy is permanently scabbed knuckles and the ability to drink your weight in cheap scotch."
"How about the Warlocks?"
Gary answered this time. "They're kind of a new club, they've only been together five years. It's mostly made up of expatriate Satan's Slaves and Coffin Cheaters, guys who got kicked out of those clubs for whatever reason. My understanding is that they move a lot of junk, and hope to control the heroin market in Southern California. They fit the bill for violence, their favorite weapon would be a motorcycle chain that's had the links sharpened. That's a throwback to the Satan's Slaves.
"I can see them being ambitious enough to want to move into meth, and could even see them doing it in a reckless manner. Whether or not they consider offing someone to be fair game in business, I can't say. When you're dealing with any of them, keep in mind you're dealing with someone who did something so heinous he got thrown out of an outlaw club. I can't imagine what some of those bastards did."
Bekka and I stood there digesting this information. I finally said, "And the Hellbound?" which prompted much snickering and snorting from Chet and Gary.
"A-heh! Yeah, the Hellbound are a bunch of damn brats," said Chet. "Seriously, if any of 'em are over twenty-eight I'll eat the upholstery out of Boss's Chevelle. They utterly worship the Hell's Angels, to the point of trying to get sanctioned by the San Diego chapter. This from a club that's only been in existence for less than three years.
"None of the other local clubs can stand them, because saying you ride with Hellbound is like saying you're a snot-nosed little punk with a big mouth. I'll give 'em this much, though: they never run from a fight, even if they're outgunned. They'd rather take an ass-kicking than lose face.
"Believe it or not, their money comes out of prostitution. The women you'll see hanging around them don't have boyfriends, they have pimps. They'll run other pimps out of a neighborhood, often by way of the hospital, and take their place. They'll gun down competition for the hell of it."
"Think they had anything to do with that shooting on El Cajon Boulevard a couple weeks ago? A pimp and two of his girls shot up while sitting in a donut shop?" I queried.
Gary said, "Sounds about right. Say.... That was shotgun work too, if I remember correctly. Now we're dealing with too much coincidence. I'd say we found our responsible parties."
"Okay," said Bekka, "we figured out who the perpetrators are. So what can we do about it? We don't have anything resembling evidence, so we can't call the cops."
"And with the amount of dope moving through this house, we don't want to call the cops. No way on that."
"So what do we do?"
There was a long silence, interrupted only by Boss coming home.