The address was in La Mesa. We did a post-meal line of speed in the parking lot of the Seafarer, popped the Hickoids in the tape deck, and headed that direction. I was stressed about this confrontation, to the point of carrying a second gun: a .380 revolver tucked in my boot. It was a gift from the guy who'd shot me with it.
Having Bekka with me didn't make me happy, either. I was calling on either an obsessed fan or a religious crusader, and here I was delivering a porn star to his house. Bekka's presence would either overjoy or infuriate.
The house was in a sun-beaten neighborhood of small bungalows, a land of dead lawns and old cars. It hadn't quite given over into despair, but was on the way. A small brown church crouched across the street, its parking lot empty. I anchored the Fury at the curb and we got out.
"Looks pretty dead," commented Bekka.
"Let's find out," I replied, and we went up to the front door.
I knocked, to no response. I knocked a bit harder, and the door swung open a bit. Bekka and I looked at each other, and stepped inside. It was dim, so I felt for and found a light switch.
We had walked into a shrine of porn.
Centerfolds were stapled haphazardly on the walls. Couplings out of hardcore magazines had been cut out and glued up. The pictures ran all the way up to the ceiling. There was no theme, no reason to how the photos went up, they were simply there. Bekka and I gawked.
"Look," she said, "there's my Penthouse centerfold...."
Her photo stared at us, only it didn't. The head had been carefully cut out. We located her Hustler and Gallery shoots, which had received the same treatment. "I don't like this," Bekka said.
The sound of a car in the driveway snapped us back to reality. There was no time to get back outside, so we arranged ourselves in a casual position on the sofa and waited. Presently someone entered.
He was a tall dude, about thirty, with fair hair and blue eyes. He was wearing dark grey pants, a dark shirt, and black sneakers. He'd beaten us to the punch by already having a gun in his hand. He pointed the gun at us in a casual way and said, "I wasn't expecting visitors. I'm glad you're here, though. It saves me time."
"We came to talk," I said.
"About what?" Tall Man asked.
"About why you killed a guy on our front porch, and have been hovering around ever since."
Tall Man smiled. "I had to kill John. He was losing his nerve. And I have been hanging around your place trying to figure out the best way to retrieve Becky Page here. Hey, you brought her to me! What service!"
"You need to find a better hobby," I told him.
"What I do is not a hobby. It is my life. To have captured someone who corrupts as thoroughly as Becky Page is a triumph for me. You, Becky, you go through life destroying men, feeding off their weakness. Your reign of terror is at an end. You shall join the others."
"Who are the others?" asked Bekka, a quiver in her voice.
"Harridans, just like you. I find them on El Cajon Boulevard, flaunting themselves, selling themselves. Just like you. I utilize them, then I take them away, just I shall with you. Your pimp here shall join you. I'm an angel of death, and I usher those who corrupt away to be judged."
I almost had my hand up to my Beretta when he reached in my jacket and snatched it away. "Don't think I'd forgotten about the gun you carry there," he said, then flipped it in his hand and bashed me in the head. I slid off the sofa, down but not out. He stepped in front of Bekka.
"You carry a gun too," he said, and slapped her with the flat of the Beretta. "I want it. Then I shall use you for my pleasure."
Shaking, Bekka pulled her mini Beretta out of her purse and handed it over. I slid my hand into my boot, feeling the handle of the .380. He didn't notice the movement. I just needed the right moment.
I didn't need to wait long. He dropped his hands and unzipped his fly, pulling out his penis. He was already hard. "Suck it, whore," he said.
I started pulling the trigger as my gun cleared the top of my boot. I fanned it upwards, firing four times. I caught him in the leg, the hip, the chest, and the head. A gusher of blood came out from the opposite side of his skull on the last shot. It took him forever to fall over. He collapsed on the floor in front of Bekka, dead before he hit the ground.
Bekka jumped up on the sofa, away from the blood soaking the carpet. "About time, pally," she said. "I couldn't get at my Colt, and I was afraid I was gonna have to suck his dick."
We stared briefly at the now-dead Tall Man, then I bent over and grabbed my Beretta away from him. "We'd better cut out fast," I said. I reached in his pocket and got Bekka's purse gun back for her.
"Not yet," came a voice from the entry way. Bekka and I jerked our heads over towards the voice. It came from a heavy-set middle aged man who I recognized from the TV news. It was the pastor of Grace Chapel, the church that had picketed in front of the mansion. He held a revolver in one hand.
"Stay very still," he said, and relieved me of all the guns I had. He then frisked down Bekka, locating her Colt on her waist. He shoved all the iron into his pockets.
When he had all the guns stashed, he said, "We've never met, but I know you just the same. You are Leonard Schneider, and you are Becky Page. You are the two principals at Inana Productions of La Costa. You're probably the two most arrogant people I've ever come across. Julian went to kill you, and he failed at that, allowing you two to traipse around in front of the news cameras, spreading the word of your filth all over the country. You don't frighten easily.
"The picketing didn't phase you. Being shot didn't phase you. Having a man murdered at your front door didn't phase you. You kept on producing your trash for the world to see.
"And yet I have to thank you. You have eliminated Joshua here for me. It was time for him to go. He was becoming too unpredictable, too much of a loose cannon. He put my plans at risk."
"And what the hell are your plans?" asked Bekka.
"To create an area where there are no more pleasures of the flesh," he said grandly. "In ten years, Jesus shall arrive, and I wish San Diego to be a welcome area for Him. I will eliminate the prostitutes, the unholy carnivals known as adult book stores, and --- in your case --- the production of pornography. Kill the head and the body will die. Eliminating you, Leonard, would help with the cleansing. And eliminating you, Becky, would rid the world of a champion whore, a woman who has intercourse for profit while married to another man."
"So, what, you're gonna call the cops now?" I asked.
"No, we're going for a drive. Please, outside. There is a red Oldsmobile parked at the curb. Get in the front and remain quiet."
Bekka and I walked out to the mid-Seventies whale parked out front. Pastor Wertham instructed us to get in the front. He got behind the wheel and started up. "Despite your transgressions, I will not separate a husband and wife. In life or in death." He fired up and pointed towards Interstate 8.
We went eastbound. Around Alpine, Bekka said, "So where are you taking us?"
Wertham replied, "Jesus survived forty days in the desert. We shall see if you can survive two. If I allow you to live that long."
We went down the Carrizo Gorge and into Plaster City. The whole way I kept my eyes on Wertham, hoping his attention would flag and I could make a dive for the gun. I was sure Bekka was watching him too, for the same reason. No luck, he kept his revolver leveled on Bekka, constantly glancing at us.
On the far side of Plaster City he turned north, pointing towards the Superstition Mountains. Fifteen miles up and he turned on an unmarked track. He drove in a few miles and stopped. "Get out," he ordered.
We slid out. The lights of El Centro shined dimly to the southeast. Keeping the revolver on us, he got in the trunk and removed a shovel, which he handed to me. "Start digging," he said.
"What for?" I asked. But I knew.
"A grave big enough for the two of you," said Wertham. In the stillness I heard Bekka swallow. He ordered Bekka to kneel on the ground between us. I began shoveling spadefuls of sand.
After an hour I said, "I need a cigarette." Bekka concurred, standing up next to me. I reached inside my jacket.
"Hold it right there," Wertham cautioned. He walked up and reached in my jacket, feeling for my Marlboros. Now or never, I thought: even if he gets a hole in me, Bekka can run and hide in the desert. I grabbed for his wrist, pushing up and out. Wertham hit the ground on his back, me on top of him. I twisted his hand towards him, sliding my finger inside the trigger guard. When the barrel of the revolver reached his chin I squeezed, and evacuated the contents of his skull across the sand. His body tensed under me, then went limp. I stood up and stared at the late Pastor Wertham.
Bekka leaned against the fender of the Oldsmobile and retched briefly. When she was done she said, "Get him in that hole and let's get out of here." I dragged what was left of Wertham into the hole I'd dug and began filling it in. Then I remembered our guns. I drug him back out and retrieved our pistols, each of us putting them back where they belonged. Then I finished burying an insane man of the cloth in a shallow grave in the desert.
When I finished Bekka said, "You caught up to me tonight. I've killed two, you've killed two. How do you feel?"
"I've got nausea and a headache from adrenaline. I think I need some drugs, and quite a bit to drink when we get home. You want a line?"
"You bet," she said. "Just set 'em up here on the trunk." She wiped a clean spot with her hand on the finish, and I poured speed out of my vial, using my bank card to tap out lines. After railing up I managed to get the Oldsmobile turned around without miring it in the sand and headed back towards pavement. Bekka and I rode in silence until we were back on I-8 West again.
"So how did you cope with it?" I asked.
"With what?" She knew damn well what I meant.
"With having killed."
Bekka sighed. "I was lucky. I didn't have to look at the men I killed while I did it. There was a level of disconnect. And if you'll remember correctly from the Santa Monica shooting, I dived deep into the scotch and cocaine immediately afterwards. Having you there helped too.
"I'm glad this is a Friday, so you have the weekend to get your head together. I'll do whatever I need to help you cope. I don't know, want me to suck your dick right now?"
I sighed. "I can't remember ever having felt less horny. Just slide on over here and hold me while I drive."
We got back into La Mesa around midnight, leaving the Oldsmobile in the lot of the church. We scurried back to the Plymouth and got in motion towards La Costa, stopping at a liquor store for Johnnie Walker and Tecaté. Then we went home, stripped down, and got in the spa with bottles at the ready. We headed for bed around three in the morning.
And I laid there for a long, long time.