My instincts about Bud and Lou were well founded, but I wouldn't learn that until the following night. In the meantime, they held true to their word and called me around 10:30 Saturday night from their hotel at Vacation Village.
"Lenny buddy! We just got back from that bar. What a dive."
"How did things go?" I asked.
Lou said, "Well, we made some money. We played nine-ball for twenty bucks a game, and none of those guys can shoot pool worth a damn. We're $200 richer."
"No, how did your fact-finding go?"
"Oh yeah! Well, we got the impression that the ones in the hospital are still there, and many of them are missing limbs. The ones that got killed are still dead. And the ones that are still able to move around are all meeting there tomorrow night at nine. I guess they have to choose all new officers, 'cos their president got killed along with the treasurer, and the others are in no condition to ride a motorcycle, and probably never will be again."
"Mm, damn shame. I'd give anything to be a fly on the wall at that meeting," I said.
"Oh, but we will be there! You, me, Bekka, and Bud. We figure there's no better time to explain our position."
"Are you serious?"
Lou laughed. "Of course! It's the perfect time to get things out in the open and convince them to leave you guys alone. Course, me and Bud have to run back home to LA in the morning to pick up a few things. Bud's Mercedes sticks out too much, so we'll take my Chevy. It'll come in useful."
"How so?" I asked.
"Oh, you'll see. I had a few modifications done to it. Anyway, I'm gonna go hang out at the Jacuzzi now, see if there's any chicks that swing around. Tell ya what, we'll be at your place at eight tomorrow night. That work?"
"Great, see you tomorrow night." (*click*)
Bekka looked at me from the love seat. "So how are the boys?" she asked.
I ran my fingers through my hair and said, "Lighthearted as ever. They hustled the Hellbound out of $200 tonight playing pool. And we're going back to the bar with them tomorrow."
She looked alarmed. "You're kidding."
"I'm carrying that .32 Ruger you took from Mikey's mom as a backup to the other two. The Ruger goes in my purse, my Colt will be on my waist, and the tiny Beretta goes in my sock in my boot."
"I concur," I said. "Tomorrow morning I'm going to that gun store in Oceanside and buying a couple of fifteen round clips for my own Beretta. I'm tired of being limited to ten shots."
Bekka slid onto the sofa next to me. "So do these guys have a plan?" she asked.
"If they do, they're keeping it to themselves. Figure they spent at least ninety minutes in that bar, so they know who they're dealing with to an extent. I hope so anyway."
"These guys better not be the clowns I think they are. They'll get us all killed."
"Don't I know it. But they've been around for a while, so they must have some brains."
"Call Angel in the morning," suggested Bekka. "Maybe he can explain these guys to you."
"I'll do it."
"Hey Angel, it's Lenny."
"Lenny! Yet another Sunday call! To what do I owe the honor?"
"Look, I wanna know what you know about these two guys Bud and Lou. They're down here in San Diego and they say they're here to help me."
A brief pause on Angel's end. "You can trust them."
I inserted my own pause and said, "That doesn't comfort me."
"What would comfort you?"
I paused again. "You telling me that these guys aren't clowns."
Angel chuckled and said, "Oh, but they are. That's obvious to anyone who ever meets them. They're also perpetually horny, sex obsessed. Didn't they try hitting on Bekka at Vinny's party?"
"Yeah, I learned about that yesterday morning. They actually stopped smiling when I stood up."
"It was me that told them to point it another direction, that Bekka was spoken for, and was with the craziest person in the house. Despite you two sort of sharing the same fashion sense, they didn't realize you and Bekka were together."
"Well, they were apologetic. Are they capable of making sane plans? Tonight the four of us are going back to that biker bar, which I consider insanity."
"Lenny, they've been around long enough and are wise enough to not endanger anyone. Whatever's gonna happen, they've thought it through. And if things go bad, you and Bekka can shoot a path out. Bud and Lou don't like carrying guns."
I rolled my eyes hard enough that Angel could probably hear it. "Oh great. I was just hoping they left their holsters off because they were on vacation."
"Nope," said Angel, "they avoid wearing guns if they can."
"Well, I'm off to go pick up a couple of fifteen-round clips for my Beretta, and Bekka plans on carrying three guns with her, including a throwaway. We'll be covered enough so far as firepower goes. You sure these guys are all right?"
"Hell, they've been involved with the family longer than me, they're both in their late forties."
"Yet you manage to outrank them. I take it neither one is a capo."
"Like you said, they're clowns. They're happy running their businesses, a bunch of adult book stores in South Bay and Long Beach, they're happy doing work for the family. They're comfortable."
"So how come you became a capo and neither of them did?"
"I was ambitious and I was willing to take risks. All six video studios were started by me, Vinny, and Frankie, but I've been the one to helm them. When we switched from film to video back in '79, it was me who mortgaged his house to buy all the new equipment. As we opened new studios through the eighties, it was me who leaned on competitors, making it clear they needed to stay out of our way. And it was me who decided that owning the property that Inana currently resides in was the best move. That was in '83, and the damn place is already paid for. Can't do much better than that.
"Meanwhile, Bud and Lou were placed as co-C.O.O.s of the dozen or so bookstores they run, and have stayed there. They're in the same position you are with Inana: they may be in charge of everything, but they don't hold a stake. What the hell, they seem to be happy."
I said, "I can't imagine either one of them not grinning. That's the thing, they come off as too goofy for the sort of scene we're dealing with.... Like they don't really believe this club is dangerous."
Angel cleared his throat. "I know they've been in stressful situations before, and have always come out on top. When I say they avoid guns, I don't mean they refuse to carry them. You can't do that and be in the family. You can relax some if they show up tonight wearing their usual loud blazers, it means they've installed shoulder holsters."
"So I just need to have a little faith?"
"Don't worry about them, Lenny. They have something in mind."
"Okay. Thanks, Angel. Later."
Bekka was slouched on the love seat for this entire conversation. When I hung up, she asked me, "We need to have faith, huh?"
"That's what the man says," I shrugged.
"I'm still carrying all three guns."
"Just as well, since Bud and Lou may not be armed at all. They don't like carrying, and may feel it's not necessary for this scene tonight."
Bekka was amazed. "Two of the guys, two made men, and they shy away from guns? What the hell do they do for personal protection?"
I shrugged again. "Beats me. You'd think they'd want it, since some of the businesses they run are in Long Beach. They run a string of adult book stores."
I stood up from the sofa. "I've gotta run to that gun store in Oceanside and pick up my new clips."
I had an interesting time of it at the gun store. Normally I would have gone to The Gun Range in Kearny Mesa or all the way to Smokey's in El Cajon, but I didn't want to make the drive. Besides, I was taking Bekka's new car and it was definitely a bigger gas hog than the Falcon. I just wanted to get used to piloting that boat.
My problem with Seaside Guns & Ammo was the vast number of Marines that seemed to always be hanging around, thanks to the proximity of Camp Pendleton. They were serious about their guns.... And so was I, but I didn't read the magazines and wasn't really concerned with anything other than the guns that Bekka and I (legally) owned. The Marines were obsessed, drooling over the latest models, comparing muzzle velocity, arguing sight style. I didn't care. Will it blow a hole in whatever I'm pointing it at? It will? That's what I need to know.
My punk rock fashion sense really worked on their nerves, too.
I pulled into a space and got out, unbuttoning my jacket as I walked towards the door. It was considered good manners to let the clerks know you were carrying, even if you had a concealed carry permit. There were a couple jarheads hanging around outside, both of whom gave me the eye when they saw the butt of my Beretta peeking out.
I walked up to the counter and said to the clerk, "Hi, I called earlier about picking up a couple fifteen round clips for my Beretta here. You have 'em?"
The clerk smiled and said, "We do, sir. Is that the pistol they'll be going into under your arm?"
"It is," I said, sliding it out of the holster and dropping out the ten round clip, then racking the slide to make sure it was empty. "I'd also like two boxes of hollow point ammunition, 9mm."
As the clerk grabbed my clips and my ammo, the two jarheads from outside came up to the counter. "That's a Beretta 92," said one of them.
"You win a prize," I responded.
"What series?" asked the other.
"It's the FS."
"So why do you want to carry around that much gun under your arm?" asked the first one.
I held up my hands and said, "I dunno, it's what I'm used to. A full size Beretta is what I was gifted when I first started carrying a gun, so it feels natural to me. Despite its size, it conceals well in a shoulder holster, which is important."
The second one asked, "What the hell do you need to carry concealed for?"
I smiled. "I'm in the mafia, and sometimes I carry large amounts of cash. It's up to me to protect a delivery."
They both began laughing. "You ain't in the mafia!"
I shrugged and said, "Think what you want." I turned back to the clerk. He cashed me out and we loaded my new ammo into my new clips, him showing me how the bullets were staggered inside the clip. The Marines watched all this with interest.
"Care to step out on the range, see if the extra weight makes any difference?" the clerk offered, gesturing towards the hallway.
"Sure, what the hell," I said. "In a two pound gun, I don't think five extra bullets are going to make much difference." I followed him to a lane. The Marines followed.
He clipped a target up, and I ran it out to fifteen yards. Rack the slide, safety off, fire. What little extra weight that was there didn't impact my shooting. I grouped well, right in the center. For the hell of it I put the last four rounds into the head of the target silhouette. Of the ones in the target area, I didn't get less than an eight, with two tens.
The jarheads examined my handiwork. The tall one commented, "Not bad, sir. May I try? You were at fifteen yards, right?"
I ran out a new target, slapped the fresh clip in, and handed him the gun. He stepped to the line and rapid fired through the clip. His grouping was only mediocre, probably due to the speed which he went through the clip. He pulled the target in and considered it.
"I'd do better with my Colt," he said. "Why do you carry a foreign gun like that, anyway?"
"First of all, Berettas are made back East, in Maryland I believe. Second, the Beretta 92 is what is issued to anyone carrying a handgun in the U.S. military. Third, Beretta is an Italian company. Like I told you, I'm in the mafia. It's a bit of brand loyalty that seems to go on, I'd be surprised at any made man carrying something else as his primary gun. Where's your Colt?"
"It's in my trunk."
"A 1911?" I asked.
"I've never fired one before," I told him. "Mind if I borrow yours?"
The jarhead smiled. He said, "It's a .45. Sure you can handle it?"
"Live and learn," I said.
The two Marines went out and came back a minute later with a gun case and a box of ammo. One loaded the eight round clip while the other ran out the target. "Here you go, Mister Corleone," the tall one said.
I stepped up to the line and began making my shots. I took my time, concentrating on keeping the tip down, as the Colt did have more kick than my Beretta. My pattern was more spread out than I would have liked, but not bad at all for a gun I'd never held before in my life.
"So what do you carry concealed for, anyway?" asked the shorter one.
"You asked me that before. Like I said, I'm in the mafia. Not only do I carry large amounts of money sometimes, the mafia has enemies. Hell, I have enemies. So it only makes sense--- "
"Yeah, I didn't believe you the first time. Drop the bullshit."
"Believe what you want, soldier."
He stiffened. "I'm not a soldier, I'm a Marine," he said, throwing his chest out.
"Whatever," I said, waving a hand.
The tall one laughed and said, "Hey, maybe Vito Corleone here would want to have a little contest."
"How so?" I asked.
"Best points in fifteen shots wins."
"And what's at stake?"
"Our guns. Dave up front can handle the transfer of registration. Winner takes the loser's gun home with him."
"Sounds like fun. You go ahead first," I said.
He loaded seven bullets into his second clip and set it on the pad, then ran out a fresh target. He got into a stance and blazed away, firing faster than I would have thought advisable. Switched clips, and did the same thing again. Bringing the target in, I saw he had good grouping. The math showed him with 125 points. I hoped I wasn't about to lose my favorite Beretta to a total stranger.
I ran out the target, checked my sights, and put in my ear protection. Stepped up to the line and began steadily blasting away at the dead center of the target, keeping the three dots aligned with the X in the middle. Trying to decide whether Bekka would be proud of me or think I was an asshole for taking on this bet. Clearing that from my mind because it wasn't helping me aim correctly. I emptied the clip and ran in the target.
I scored 128 points.
The tall jarhead did not look happy. This was not a cheap gun he was forfeiting to me. Losing it to a fellow gun enthusiast would be one thing, but he was losing it to some crazy punk rocker who keeps going on about being in the mob. He was an honorable man, though, sighing, dropping it in the gun case, and saying, "Well, we gotta go fill out some paperwork up front."
His friend was throwing a fit. "No way! Let's go two out of three! You're not gonna let this guy take your Colt!"
We filled out our respective forms for the transfer, and gave them back to Dave the clerk. He affirmed that I was taking custody of the firearm, that I had provided my current residential address, and the sale cost was zero. Conditionally, the gun was mine.
The smaller Marine asked, "So what are you gonna do with it, anyway?"
"Fire it, what else?" I said. "It'll be a fun range gun for me and my wife, add a bit of challenge to our usual regimen. It won't replace my Beretta under my arm, just because I believe the stopping power of hollow point 9mm ammunition is as effective as .45 caliber ammo. That, and I like having the extra rounds in the belly."
"Ever consider joining the Marines?" asked the tall one.
"No. I have issues with authority figures. There's some irony in that, considering the mafia is every bit as regimented as the military. I already am a soldier."
"Would you shut up about the mafia," growled the short one.
"Would you prefer I make something up?" I asked. "How's this: I'm not a Marine, and never will be, but my dad was before he died. I shoot in memory of my old man, who loved him some guns. The concealed carry permit is just a lark of mine. Would that make you happy? It's all bullshit, my dad was in the Air Force and is alive and well out in Lemon Grove."
The tall one gaped. "You're serious about being in the mafia."
"Jesus Christ, they're taking punk rockers in the mob these days. Maybe I should join."
I laughed at him. "You don't seek them out, they choose you. In my case, they had their eye on me for months before approaching me. They liked how I thought. Even then, I almost didn't join because my wife was so opposed to the idea."
"What the hell were you doing?" asked the short one.
"Making porn. They owned the studio."
The tall one shook his head. "Fuckin'.... Whatever, sir. Enjoy the Colt." The two of them went out to their car and drove off. I stood there wondering if I maybe changed how I dressed would convince people I was in the mafia. Probably not. And I didn't feel like giving up my jeans and t-shirts, anyway.
Bekka was astounded at my new acquisition. "You really won it?" she asked.
I said, "It's a gun shop. Not the sort of place you want to try and steal from. I managed to outshoot some Marine --- barely --- and he gave me his gun. Now we've got something new to take to the range. It's not replacing my Beretta under my arm, though. It's only an eight shot clip, and it weighs more."
"And you would have lost your Beretta if you'd lost the contest."
"That's the shape of things, yeah."
She punched me in the arm. "Stupido idiota! Encinitas PD still hasn't given back your other Beretta or my Banker's Special! We're strapped on pieces to carry legally right now, unless you want to carry my tiny Beretta. What were you thinking?"
"I wasn't," I smiled. "And I thought of your opinion of this bet even as I was firing."
She lifted the Colt out of the case. "Definitely heavier than the Beretta," she said. "And it's a .45? How does it kick?"
"It's no wrist-breaker, but it definitely has a heavier kick than mine. You'll get used to it though. I figured we'd both work out with it. You'd develop more wrist strength, which would help you in controlling your purse guns."
Bekka checked to make sure it was empty, then sighted on the coffee maker in the kitchen and dry-fired. "I can handle this thing," she said. "Oh well, at least you didn't come home with something stupid, like a boat."
"How the hell would I have won a boat?" I asked.
"I wouldn't put it past you. You already have friends that give us cars for free."
"Maybe I'm luckier than I thought. I figured my good luck was all used up when I managed to get you to marry me."
"The fact that you're still alive is proof you have plenty of good luck," she said.
We put away the new gun and turned on the TV, waiting for something to happen.