The townhouse remained unmolested overnight. I returned in time to catch Boss' morning call, checking in. He wasn't happy to hear how Bekka and I had spent our evening.
"Th' hell did you go and do that for, Lenny?" he asked.
I assured him there had been no temper involved, at least not at the outset. We simply wanted to get the message across to the Hellbound that Boss was not alone in the world, that he had people watching his back, and well-armed ones. Maybe they'd back off now.
"Or they'll come on twice as strong, lookin' to finish the job. Wish you'd let me know you were gonna pull a stunt like that beforehand, I'd have come with."
"And you'd have caught a knife in the gut the second you walked in the door," I said. "No, I figure they'll think they're being watched at this point, or at least having an eye kept on them. They won't be quite so cocky."
"I hope so," Boss replied. He paused. "I'm going up to meet with Angel today."
"Where you going?" I asked.
"We're meetin' up at a place in Century City, he didn't give me a name, just an address. We got a lot of business to discuss. I got him prices on trailers, new and used, and some land parcels outside Needles. I'd say to just use BLM land but that's a risk these days."
"You'll like the food at Angel's place. The address is 5110 Century Park East, right? It doesn't have a name. It's an exclusive Italian trattoria that Angel opened. Real high end, but they let me in there, so don't worry about having to dress up. What time do you need to be there?"
"'Bout two o'clock," Boss said. "I'll get there a few minutes early so I can find someplace safe to park my bike."
I chuckled. "Don't feel like trusting the valet parking?" I asked.
"Oh hell no! I did that once and the damn fool laid my bike on its side pulling away!"
I couldn't help but laughing at this. "Listen Boss, I've gotta get up to the mansion and start the work day. Hit my pager when you're done with lunch, maybe you and me and Bekka can meet for drinks."
"Sounds good. Talk to you later."
Bekka's and mine insistence on wearing our respective holsters was a source of great curiosity among both crew and performers. I'd been seen often enough in mine, but Bekka with her Beretta Nano and waist holster had tongues wagging, particularly among the female performers. Obviously they knew of her knife attack and assumed the two were related, and they were, in a way. It was also the sort of caution one takes when you're married to a mafia soldier. Purse guns were a common accessory among family wives.
"So how do I get one?" was a common question. We gave them the most obvious advice which was to go to a damn gun store and go shopping. So far as legally carrying concealed goes, it's a bit more tricky. You have to show a need, take a training course, prove you're a county resident, and be of good moral character. Around a porn studio, this last one was considered a real cruncher. We pointed out that Bekka and I were honest about what we did for a living and still got our permits.
Showing a need to carry concealed was the more difficult one. They may or may not accept "personal protection" as a valid need: it depends on the interviewer. Me, I had the large bank deposits I did as an excuse, Bekka only needed to show them where the knife had gone in. (The plastic surgery was good, but not flawless. Jeanette, our stylist, would smooth some cover over the area to make it even less noticeable.)
The training is nerve-wracking and dull at the same time. You spend the afternoon in the company of a moonlighting cop, who will put you through your paces on gun safety and handling with your own firearm. Some of your fellow classmates will be creepy. In our case, our classmates thought we were the creepy ones. We didn't fit in with any of the paranoid housewives, court officials, or gun freaks we shared the classroom and gun range with. Big surprise there.
"Those concealable pistols are difficult to control," we were told, and Bekka proved him wrong by keeping the rounds well in the point-scoring target area when I took her to the range with the tiny Beretta Angela had given her. She also worked out with my own full size Beretta 92, getting used to the weight. We figured her being proficient with both guns would help matters if it came down to it.
I tried out her Nano and saw what the instructor meant. I don't have the biggest hands, but it was difficult to hold: the gun has no butt to it, so I was holding it with my thumb, index finger, and middle finger. The damn thing also kicked pretty good, the result of 9mm ammunition kicking back against a very light frame. Rapid firing would be difficult, but doable with practice.
At their insistence, Bekka showed off the Beretta to the girls she was working with. Most decided they wanted one just like it, with or without a concealed carry permit. "Better to be tried by twelve than carried by six" seemed to be the spirit they approached gun ownership with, which was understandable. Two girls expressing interest were starting to be featured on the box cover art, making them (however unlikely) recognizable to the general public. There are enough creeps in the world that if I was a woman in porn, I'd want a gun too.
Bekka and I met Boss at a bar in Del Mar, a yuppie dive. Our arrival was greeted with consternation, but nothing we hadn't dealt with before. We got a table and ordered.
"Th' damndest thing," said Boss, "your man Angel talked to me human the whole time during lunch. I gave him a list I made of trailers and equipment, plus some real estate prices out near Needles. He was fine with all that. He says he wants this to be an ongoing operation for friggin' years, mebbe even build out a warehouse to work in. You know he owns that restaurant? He said I could eat free whenever I show up."
I laughed and said, "I have the same deal. You were seated on the patio, right? That's a privilege of Angel's friends. And when you walked in the two of you were seated right away even though people were there ahead of you? That's the way it works there. You want to take a date out for a good dinner, make the drive and go up there. Hell, you saw how chi-chi it is, and you can eat and drink for the cost of tipping."
"I dunno Italian food that well, so I had Angel order for me, and not spaghetti. Not sure what it was called, but I liked what I had."
"Cool," I said. "So did you guys come to an agreement?"
Boss said, "Yeah. They retain ownership of the trailers, equipment, and land, but they're paying for them a hundred percent, so that makes sense. They want my lab boys cranking out five thousand hits per week to start, and that number will go up as they expand. This is on top of the speed, so I'm gonna need some new bodies out there. Hell, I wish you weren't already tied up with a job, you're smart enough, you'd make a good lab rat.
"Anyway, I'm gettin' eight dollars per hit produced, so I'm grossin' forty grand a week. My expenses out of that are paying the lab guys, water, propane, electricity, the cost of chemicals, and food and beer. It's gonna take a while for them to make back what they're spending on everything, but like I said, they plan on expanding quickly. Including land, their initial investment is gonna be around $140,000, give or take a few thousand."
"Maybe I can help out when I don't have any filming to do," said Bekka, sipping her beer. You'd need to teach me what to do, but I'm sure I could pick it up."
"And we could both come out on weekends every now and then," I said. "I've seen meth being made once, and that was a garage lab, nothing major."
Boss said, "I'm sure my foreman can put you both to good use, even if it's just you running in to town for groceries. We'll ride out in the Chevelle soon and you can meet people, Bekka. Lenny already knows them folks, I think, from when he was my mule. We got a tight crew."
"That was a couple years ago," I pointed out. "You still have the same people out there in the desert?"
"I got two teams, and they circulate out weekly: one week on, one week off. Glen, David, and Willy are one team, with Michael, Ross, and Pete on the second. I'll have to create a third team, maybe a fourth, to cover all this Ecstasy yer people want. We'll see how it goes." He leaned back in his chair. "Of course, all this is assuming I live through the week."
Bekka said, "That's what we plan on doing with our spare time: keeping you alive. In for a penny, in for a pound. Hopefully our message got through to them last night. Hey, why don't we go back to our place and hit the bong?"
That sounded like a bitchin' idea to me and Boss, so we paid off our tab and went back up to Encinitas and Olivehurst. It was a few minutes before five when we walked in the door, so I switched on the TV for the local news. I was glad I did.
"An explosion rocked the neighborhood of Encanto today, killing at least nine, seriously injuring twelve, and leveling a home," the pile of clothing on Channel Ten said. "Doug Veirrial is on the scene. Doug?"
"Thank you Rick. As you can see from here ---" he pointed past police cordon tape "--- one house on Oriole Street is gone and several others are damaged. The house was reportedly the clubhouse for the motorcycle gang The Hellbound...."
"Ho-lee shit," said the three of us in unison.
".... a club well known to the local police. We spoke with Sargent Mayer Preston."
Preston: "The Hellbound is a club with a violent reputation. The suspicion is someone was handling explosives in the residence, and this is what happened."
Veirrial continued. "Arson and bomb squad investigators are combing through the wreckage for clues as to what might have caused the explosion, although they are confident high explosives are the culprit. While other homes were damaged, injuries were limited to just the house that blew up. According to a neighbor who did not wish to go on camera, the neighborhood has been uneasy since the bikers moved in several months ago. It would seem that they were justified in feeling that way. Back to you Rick."
"Thank you Doug. The police have identified those killed in the explosion, but have not made the names public pending notification of family. In a contentious city council meeting today...."
I muted the sound and swung towards Boss. "So what do you make of that?" I asked.
He sat there with his mouth agape. He finally said, "There's so many ways to read that."
"How so?" I asked.
Boss cracked his knuckles and said, "Well, were they building a bomb and it got away from them? Was the bomb meant for me? Was it someone else? Or did somebody plant something on the property, or mail them a bomb? Did they just plain screw up?"
"I'm wondering how this affects the club," I said. "They said at least nine people were killed in the house, and there's, what, a total of thirty Hellbound? They just lost a third of their membership, not to mention the ones in the hospital."
"All depends on who it was that got killed. If they lost their president and officers, they've been dissolved. They can't come back from that, not easily. Tell ya what, I'm ridin' past their bar on my way home tonight and counting the number of bikes parked out front. That'll tell us if they're trying to regroup or not."
Bekka got up to grab the bong and weed. "You're not going to stop and offer your condolences, Boss?"
Boss cackled, "Yeah right, lil' girl. Those that are still around are edgier than cornered rattlesnakes right about now. An' don't you two try any more stunts, either!"
"Wouldn't dream of it," I said. "We got our message across, and from the sound of things, it doesn't seem like it'll matter much. The survivors won't be riding for a while, what with them being described as 'seriously injured.' I'd say the pressure is off, Boss.... Although the ones that are left do bear watching. Think they'll try to join other clubs?"
"Yeah. H.A., no doubt. Hey, where's Squeak?" Boss asked.
Bekka said, "Oh, he's up at the mansion. We were feeling justifiably paranoid last night, so we spent the night there. We figured the night they took a shot at you they had to have followed you to our place, so they knew where we lived. We didn't want to be shot in our bed--- "
"Or firebombed," I said.
" ---or firebombed, so we packed some stuff, grabbed Squeak, and headed for La Costa. We slept better that way."
Boss was our guest, so he was handed the bong first. Groping his pockets for a lighter, Boss said, "A wise choice.... But how long would you have stayed up there?"
"As long as necessary," I said. "The penthouse has been offered to us as a permanent residence, rent free, but living where we work doesn't have much appeal. If we wanted to do that we'd managed a storage yard."
Boss nodded, not removing his mouth from the bong. He coughed explosively for a moment, then said, "Hell, I never seen this place. Is it really a mansion?"
Bekka said, "Shit, we gotta go back up there to get our stuff. I don't think we're high on the list of priorities for what Hellbound remain, so we can sleep in our own bed. You wanna come with?"
"Sure, sounds good, lil' girl. It'll gimme a little time for my head to acclimate to that weed you git a hold of. Where the hell do you get that stuff, anyway?"
"It comes out of the Sierras, and I get it through a friend of mine in LA. It's definitely an ass-kicker if you're not prepared for it or used to it."
Boss passed the bong to me. I passed it right on to Bekka, explaining that I needed to drive. "That's never bothered you before," said Bekka.
"Yeah, well.... My antennae are still up. Smoking would just make me paranoid, which is never a good thing at the wheel. We go for a couple days without incident, I'll be okay."
Bekka loaded the bong and sparked the bowl. Through lungfuls of smoke she said, "Want me to make dinner for you two after we get back? Or should we go out?"
Boss said, "Hell, I could go for another halibut steak. Why don't we go back to that place where I got shot at? What's it called, the Seafarer? This time I'll buy."
"Sounds fine with me. I'll call and set us up a table for 7:30," I said, reaching for the phone.
Boss rode with us in the Falcon. We gave him the grand tour of the mansion, explaining to him just how much of it had been converted into film studio space. He was impressed with the massive pool with its two spas and fountains. After seeing the giant penthouse suite he suggested that we could adapt to living where we worked, given what we would be getting for free..
"Never gonna happen," I said. "I like my private life private."
We gathered our things and our cat and dropped it all off at the townhouse, pausing for a quick beer before heading to the restaurant. Our arrival was not greeted how we expected. The girl at the desk turned pale and gulped when we walked in, nearly dropping her stack of menus on the floor.
"Hi, reservation for Schneider at 7:30," I said.
"Yes, of course sir," said the girl. gathering her composure. She led us to our table.
The waitress took our drink orders after a few moments. And a few moments later saw the arrival of the manager. He wasn't happy with our presence.
"You're not expecting any.... Trouble tonight, are you?" he asked.
"What kinda trouble?" asked Boss.
"The last time you were here there was shooting in our parking lot. That kind of trouble. To be frank, if you weren't already seated I would refuse to serve you."
"Hey," protested Bekka, "we didn't start it. We only shot back at those bastards."
The manager said, "That's another thing. We don't like the idea of guns in our restaurant. Are you carrying guns tonight?"
"Just me," I volunteered. "Got my Beretta in my shoulder holster, like always."
"No one else has a gun?" We all shook our heads.
The manager cleared his throat and said, "Sir, I'm going to ask you to put your gun in your car until you've finished your meal. While it is not a written policy, we do not allow firearms inside the restaurant. Please understand."
"Sure, no problem," I said brightly. "Restaurants in Texas have the same policy. Hell, they have big signs at the front door telling people guns aren't allowed inside. Maybe you guys should get one."
Bekka piped up with, "Yeah, and one in the parking lot saying 'No Assassination Attempts.' That's what all the shooting was about the last time, someone trying to kill Boss here."
Boss explained to the manager, "See, these two are my self-appointed bodyguards. They keep pests off of me, and get rid of would-be killers. I'd probably be dead if it weren't for these two, and it would have happened in your parking lot. You really worried about Lenny here wearing his gun while he eats dinner?"
"Don't sweat it, Boss," I said, "I'm just gonna tuck the thing under the front seat. I don't have any concerns."
"Thank you, sir. The three of you enjoy your meals," said the manager.
We did. Boss had his halibut, Bekka ate a salmon steak, and I tried rainbow trout with a cream sauce. We were all satisfied, enough to agree on returning again on Saturday for dinner again. We'd become the most hated fixtures the place had.
In the parking lot, Bekka pointed out, "I noticed you didn't mention either of the guns I had on me."
"I decided that was up to you," I said. "And are you carrying that damn illegal Charter Arms .38 in your purse again?"
"Yeah.... But that's only there as a backup. If I needed to fire at anything, I'd use my little Beretta first. The way things have gone recently, I feel like I can't be too cautious, and I'd rather bite down on a stolen weapons charge than get killed. Come Saturday, I'll have my new Colt Defender in its place."
"Oh yeah. Are you keeping the Nano in your holster, or swapping out for the Colt?"
"I wanna put a couple hundred rounds through each one, then make my decision. Whichever is more comfortable, and more accurate, goes in the holster."
Boss interjected, "Y'all are gettin' heavy into guns these days, aren't you?"
Bekka replied, "Not on purpose. They just seem to be part of life lately. If I'd been wearing a gun I probably wouldn't have been stabbed. It's weird, six months ago I hated the very idea of guns. At this point I've killed at least one person, possibly two. That's more than Lenny, who's only crippled a guy."
I told Bekka, "If you'd been the one driving up in Hollywood it would have been me who killed that guy chasing us. It's just pure chance my Beretta 92 stays in its holster more of the time. Shall we go to the range on Sunday?"
"Absolutely," she said.
"What range you guys go to?" asked Boss.
"The Gun Range on Balboa Avenue," I told him. "C'mon, let's get going."
As we got in the car, Boss said, "I wanna meet you guys there. I should work out with my Smith & Wessons some. They sell ammo on site?"
The next night Bekka's Falcon exploded in the parking lot.