Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Tape (Part 3)

     I missed the serving of the search warrant by about ten minutes, according to Bekka.  Donner had caught a judge as he got out of bed, processed the paperwork, and headed straight over.
     Two detectives, Donner and another guy, plus four deputies showed up to serve the warrant.  They got straight down to work, starting with our living space.  Drawers were pulled out and gone through, rugs were lifted.  They took all the heads off in the shower.  Containers of food were gone through.  My records were gone through and shoved back in out of order.  The sofas and recliners were dismantled.  The big block of kitchen knives was confiscated, to test for blood.
     Bekka watched all this while drinking coffee, and made suggestions as to where to look next.  "Take the back off the TV set, that's where I'd hide a murder weapon," she said, to the annoyance of all.
     I was glad I'd left the keys to the sound stages, as they initially threatened to bash their way in.  All the prop furniture was gone through.  The main stage was still dressed to look like the manager's office of a punk rock nightclub, which confused the cops.  The shower rooms got the same treatment as ours did.
     They were getting ready to start downstairs when I got home.  I let two deputies into my office with my key so they wouldn't kick the door down.  They immediately went after my file cabinets, pulling the drawers out and rifling through my files.  My Wendy O. Williams poster briefly entertained them.
     Bekka and I retired to the patio to smoke.  "It's a subtle form of rape," I pointed out.  "I'll bet Donner is enjoying every second of this."
     "Well, they better put shit back when they're done," said Bekka.  "I don't like having to clean up after cops."
     Donner came outside to talk to me.  "Where the hell did you go this morning?" he asked.
     "I had to go up to LA and take care of business," I told him.  "Why?"
     "Had any luck yet?" asked Bekka.
     "Thank you, Bekka," said Donner.  "Believe me, you'll know when we do.  That's when the cuffs go on."
     "It hasn't occurred to you that I'm telling the truth, has it?" I asked.  "Right now there's some dude with a knife wandering around in San Diego, confident he got away with killing his partner.  Doesn't that bother you at all?"
     Donner sneered.  "I think you knew the dead guy.  I think you killed him.  I think you called 911 to help clean up your mess.  And any shred of evidence I find that ties you to the deceased will be grounds for arrest.  Now if you'll excuse me, I have work to do.  We can't get into one of the offices.  Do you have a key, or should we just crush our way in?"
     "Which office is locked?"
     "The one across the hall from yours and up a bit.  Looks like it's full of TVs."
     "That's our director's office, and yes I have a key.  Be careful in there, there's lots of expensive electronics."
     I went and let them into Steve's office.  The monitor for the security cameras glowed at ankle level.  I considered giving Donner the surveillance tape, but decided to hold off until I'd watched it.  I wanted to learn what I could first, then turn the tape --- or a copy --- over to the police.  If anyone had a brain, they'd know we had a security setup and demand the video.  I was giving them too much credit for brains, as the deputy assigned to that room ignored the monitor completely.  He began dismantling the desk and shaking the spare tape drives.
     They finished around two, their final act being to go through the filter systems for the pool and spas.  The other detective, whose name I never learned, wandered around on the lawn looking for freshly turned earth.  We were glad to see them go, as both Bekka and I were hungry and wanted to get some lunch.  No way were we leaving them at the mansion unsupervised.
     "Detectives," I called as Bekka locked the front door, "would you care for some lunch?"
     "Are you serious?" asked the unnamed detective.
     The two looked at each other and shrugged in a "what the hell" sort of manner.
     "Where?" asked Anonymous.
     "Triplets, on El Camino Real.  Great diner food."
     "We know it.  Meet you there."  They got in their cars and began talking into their radios.
     "That was generous of you," said Bekka as we got in the Fury.
     "I'm hoping to pick their brains, if there's anything to pick.  I want to try and figure out if Donner thinks he has a genuine lead on me, or if this is just more of his personal distaste in me."
     "Maybe they've identified the body.  That would be good to know."
     "Mrs. Schneider, are you suggesting I gumshoe around?  Go out and play detective and solve this mystery?"
     Bekka stared at me.  "Jesus Lenny, there's a damn murderer out there who has an unhealthy interest in Inana, which is also where we live.  I figured your own self-preservation would have you interested."
     "I'm ahead of you," I said.  "We've got a piece of evidence the cops don't.  We've got the murder on tape, sitting in Small Steve's office."
     "Shit, the surveillance cameras.  I forgot all about them.  Have you watched it yet?"
     Bekka chuckled.  "And as a good citizen, you will of course turn the tape over to the police immediately."
     "Nearly immediately."
     We beat the detectives to the restaurant by a few minutes, so we stood outside and smoked.  They rolled up soon enough, and we went in and got a table.  It was obvious Donner was uncomfortable with the whole arrangement.
     I started off.  "So, what did we learn today?"
     "That you ditched a murder weapon between here and LA," growled Donner.
     "Actually, I was hoping you'd tell me whether you'd identified the body."
     "No such luck.  Still a John Doe," said Anonymous.  "Tell me, you live in that place, and they make porno movies there too?"
     "That's right," said Bekka.
     "How do you stand it?"
     "What do you mean?"
     "It's noisy as hell, ain't it?  And people all coked out, coming and going at all hours.  It must be bughouse."
     I said, "No, we keep regular business hours.  The only person there past 5:30 would be Steve Stillman, our director, and he's working on editing the day's video.  And it's as quiet as any other business environment.  Police stations are noisier."
     "Still, it's gotta be one hell of a business," said Anonymous.
     Bekka and I looked at each other.  Bekka said, "I don't know what this says about me, but I've been at it for over seven years now, and am enjoying a relative degree of fame.  Not to mention the money."
     "What sort of fame?" asked Donner.
     "Well, I've been in several successful movies, plus appearing in Gallery, Hustler, and Penthouse.  Becoming a Penthouse Pet really pushed me over the edge."
     Anonymous chuckled.  "I haven't seen a fuck flick since 'Deep Throat.'"
     "They've changed.  Our films are far more ambitious.  Go find a copy of our record-breaker, 'Bewitched.'  It's a good movie."
     Donner asked, "So what do your families think?"
     Bekka and I burst out laughing.  "Oh, they hate it!" I said.  "They can't believe we spend our time and energy in such a tawdry enterprise."
     Donner said, "See, you, Lenny, I don't expect anything else of you.  But Bekka, you're a smart young lady.  Why do you insist on doing such things for a living?"
     "Would it help if I was an airhead?" Bekka asked.  "I have fun, and I make really good money.  There's a combination that can't be beat.  Although I'm envious of the airheads.  They seem to be happier much more of the time."
     "I know Bekka here, uh, performs," said Donner.  "Just what is it you do, Lenny?"
     "I run the business end of the company and I'm a producer and writer.  The scripts for the last six full features came from me.  And because of how we make our features, I'm writing real scripts.  Our features have dialogue and plot."
     "Seriously, go rent 'Bewitched' or 'Bad Babysitter' or our new one, 'Rocker Girls.'  You'll see what we accomplish.  It's not just video to masturbate to."
     "Which one could I watch with my wife?" asked Anonymous.
     Bekka said, "I suggest 'Bad Babysitter.'  It's a drama with some good suspense thrown in.  'Bewitched' is by far the most fun.  It's all about a rebellious witch who starts casting hexes on people without letting them know.  I played the lead and had a blast.  That one actually has special effects in it."
     I said, "All of them are going to have no-holds-barred sex scenes in them, but in our features, the plot and the sex support each other.  I write scripts where the sex flows naturally through the story, where the sex scenes make sense.  The sex isn't just there because it's a triple-X film."
     "You're surprisingly creative for a thug," said Donner.  "Don't worry, they have typewriters in prison."
     I said, "That brings up a question I have, Detective.  You seem so sure that I had something to do with the murder.  Why?  Are you just exercising your own personal distaste for me again, or what?"
     Donner stared at the table with his arms crossed.  Anonymous answered for him.  "Look son, you were right on top of a murder when it went down.  Hell, we have your footprints from where you walked through the blood.  But you didn't do anything about it, beyond calling 911.  You  didn't yell for help, you didn't try and see if the victim was alive....  You just went and calmly used the phone, like you were ordering a pizza."
     "I couldn't do anything.  If I had my shoulder holster on I would have confronted them in a second.  But all I was wearing was a pair of boxer shorts.  I couldn't even chase them if I'd wanted to.  Yelling for help is a waste of time in that neighborhood.  Hell, you saw how far apart the houses are.  I didn't approach the victim because it was obvious he was a goner, his guts were on my stoop.  So far as using the phone goes, you can ask Donner here about my demeanor when I'm in shock.  I'm very calm, very formal.  He saw me after Bekka got stabbed, he can vouch for my behavior."
     Donner said, "And the very first time we met you said, 'Fuck you, officer' to me."
     "I was rather upset with you.  You'd just accused me of nearly murdering my wife.  And it wasn't me, now was it?"
     "It proved to me that you're a cop-hater."
     I grinned and said, "I don't hate cops.  I just feel better when they're not around.  But we're here for lunch, not to snipe at each other.  Bekka, what are you going to have?"

     Back at the mansion I pulled the surveillance tape and shoved it into one of Steve's playback units.  I cued up to three a.m. and began watching.  Nothing happened for thirty-seven minutes.  Then two figures appeared in one of the windows on the screen, the one at the front door.  Both were in dark clothes.  They simply stopped at the front door, talking.  The smaller of the two was gesturing, as if trying to get a point across.  The larger one stood stock still, facing the smaller man.  Then he stepped forward and swung his arm into the first man.  He lifted his arm, then drew back, pushing the smaller man away from him.  Small Man crumpled against the door.  A dark wave seemed to run over the steps.  The tall man turned and walked out of shot.  I sat there, aware that I was watching a murder.
     Forty seconds later I appeared, looking down at the dead man.  Then I dashed out of shot, leaving Small Man to his one-man TV show.  I fast-scanned backwards to where the action started and made a note of the time stamp.  The one nice thing was the tape would exonerate me in the unwilling eyes of Detective Donner.  The bad thing was the faces were blank spots on the screen, the low-fi recording of a 24 hour tape reducing everything to shapes.  I was no closer to knowing who the murderer was.  Or what he wanted.

     I began to actively worry.


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