It's a Saturday morning, and we're all in a merry mood. The three of us --- Bekka, Jane, and myself --- are crammed in my Acura, heading north on I-5 towards Anaheim. It's our last ride in the Acura. It's being traded in for a Cadillac Fleetwood I special ordered through one of my mafia cronies, a hefty dude named Rico Carelli. Rico owns Carelli Cadillac of Anaheim, and also turns a pretty penny shipping hot cars to foreign buyers. He's a good guy, and still only mildly pissed that I got his wife tweaked out on meth at a party.
So what's so damn special about my Fleetwood? For one thing, it's bulletproof, a feature lacking in the Acura. In the year or so I owned it, that damn car took more bullets than road crews take breaks. The Fleetwood is armor plated and has bulletproof glass all the way around. And thanks to Rico's wrench geniuses in his shop, my Fleetwood has the Police Interceptor package installed under the hood, giving it quite a bit of pep for something of its size and weight. He also had the shop tweak the suspension for better handling, without sacrificing comfort. I'll be driving the world's most luxurious battle cruiser.
Bekka laughed when I told her what I was trading the Acura in for. Old geezers drive Fleetwoods. Twenty-two year old punk rockers don't. When I explained to her the special equipment going into my Fleetwood, she was more understanding.... But still expected me to start driving with the left blinker constantly on and the thermostat turned up to eighty.
We pull in the lot of the dealership and pile out, heading inside. Our presence is not greeted warmly: I'm six foot one of punk rock ugliness, Bekka is five foot eight of gothy trendiness, and Jane, our pet teenager, has a mass of spiked blue hair, a ripped Dead Kennedys t-shirt, and skin-tight alligator skin pants. We are the last people you expect to see buying brand new Cadillacs. We don't blend in. Our very presence is an affront to the luxury division of General Motors.
I walk up to the nearest occupied desk and ask the sales-drone to call upstairs and ask Rico to come down, Lenny's here. I get a disbelieving look. "Who are you again, sir?"
"My name's Lenny Schneider. Don't worry, Rico is expecting me. Just call him up and let him know I'm down here."
With a doubting look, the drone picks up the phone and calls to the upstairs offices. He relays the message, waits, then gets a shocked look on his face. He looks at the receiver in disbelief, then at me.
"Mr. Schneider, sir? Rico asked you to come up to his office."
"Okay, great, thanks." I head towards the stairs, the girls trailing behind me.
I knock on the door to Rico's private office and am called in. Rico is just coming around from his side of the desk, all smiles. He and I give each other the Italian man-hug. He gives a more real hug to Bekka, then stops and beams at Jane, saying, "I'm sorry, I'm afraid I don't know you."
Jane gulps and says, "Um, I'm Jane, sir." She is intimidated by large men, and I keep introducing them to her: Angel, Boss, and now Rico.
"Well, I'm Rico," he says back, and gives her a hug too. "So how do you know Lenny and Bekka?"
Bekka says, "We found her on our porch one night and decided to keep her."
Recovering her composure, Jane says, "It's true. I'm a foundling."
Rico laughs at this. He says, "So Lenny, your car is ready and waiting. Before we go down for it, though, you guys wanna do some coke?"
Rico goes back to his desk and pulls an ounce bag of cocaine out of a drawer. He shovels some out using the handle of a letter opener, then begins arranging four lines on the desk with a credit card.
"I won this playing poker with some of the guys. The sucker at the table was tapped for cash, so he put this up. Some guys don't know when to quit, you know?"
"What's it like?" I ask.
Rico smiles broadly again. "Good as Vinny's."
Rico finishes working the lines, then rolls up a bill and holds it up. "Ladies first," he says.
Bekka elbows Jane and says, "Go ahead, pet. You can tell us how it compares to Florida shit."
Jane takes the tube, bends down, and does up one of the lines.... Then stands there, a rictus grin crawling across her face. "Whoa," she says. "That's better than any of the stuff I was getting a hold of. Here, you try it Bekka."
As Bekka does up hers, Rico asks Jane, "So you're from Florida? Where abouts?"
Jane replied, "From Gainesville. I'm gator bait, a swamp rat."
"Is being out in the swamps how your hair got to be like that?"
"Yeah. They dump a lot of toxins and poisons in those waters, and it's where we used to go swimming."
Rico laughs at this, then gestures at me with the tube. I step forward and do up my line, feeling the icicle rats run through my head. I hand the tube back and thank him. Rico leans forward and does up the remaining line. Then he claps his hands, springs out of his chair, and says, "Right on! Come on, Lenny, it's time for you to see your new toy."
We follow Rico downstairs and out the back door of the showroom. He leads us to a service bay where a black behemoth sits. My custom Fleetwood. Rico grins and slaps the roof of the car. "This is it, Lenny, in all its glory. Here, lemme show you a few things...."
He opens the driver's door and gestures me around to the passenger side. We both get in. He reaches down by where the steering column disappears and tugs. A panel opens up, lined with padding. Rico smiles and gestures.
"Gun safe," he says. "Given what a fuckin' bullet magnet you are, I knew you'd appreciate that. Big enough to hold a Beretta 92. Okay, now look down underneath at the axles."
We both get on our hands and knees, pressing our heads into the concrete. "See 'em?" Rico asks. "Anti-sway bars. They're the same ones that go on the cop car Caprices. Gives you better handling without sacrificing ride comfort."
He grunted and struggled to his feet. "Last but not least, come around to the back." He went and stood by the trunk, pointing down at each corner. "I had my guys install dual exhaust. Normally you can't cut a fart through a Cadillac exhaust system, that's why they're so quiet. I figured you're used to your hot rods, you won't even notice the tiny bit of extra noise this system makes."
I said, "Too much. My god, Rico, you've outdone yourself. This is exactly what I wanted. I don't know how to thank you."
He stepped closer and said conspiratorially, "Can you get a hold of any Ecstasy?"
"How many do you want?"
I grinned and said, "I'll bring you forty. You can do whatever you want with them. Hand 'em out to your salesmen as bonuses."
We gave each other another man-hug. Rico asked, "So what are you all doing with the rest of your day?"
I sat down behind the wheel. It was like landing in a recliner. I said, "Since we're up here, I thought we'd take Jane to Knott's Berry Farm."
"Hell, she grew up in the shadow of Disney World. Knott's has better rides anyway. Keys?"
Rico proudly handed over the Fleetwood's keys to me. I turned the motor over and listened to the quiet burble of the massive V8. I said, "Rico, I can't thank you enough."
He winked and said, "No need. This is family business, you know? Are the keys in your Acura?"
"They are," I confirmed.
"Then get out there and enjoy your new ride, Lenny The Punk!"
"I will, I will! Hey girls! Ready to go?"
Bekka and Jane ground out their cigarettes, giggling about something, and walked towards the car. Rico stepped forward to get goodbye hugs.
"See you later, Bekka. Don't be a stranger. And good meeting you, Gator Bait."
As the girls got in, I leaned out the window and said, "I'll get those to you sometime this week, okay? Maybe Wednesday?"
"That works, I'll be here," Rico called back.
I put the window back up, looked at the girls, and said, "Here goes nothing." I dropped the Fleetwood into gear and gave it the gas. The beast took off with far more enthusiasm than I was expecting. I cut through the lot and pulled onto the street, pointing in the general direction of Buena Park.
"Wow, this thing is comfortable," said Jane from the back seat.
Bekka said, "Holy shit Lenny, this thing doesn't make any noise. It's dead quiet in here with the windows up."
"That's another advantage of all this bulletproof glass," I said. "Believe it or not, but this thing has dual exhaust on it. We should hear an exhaust note, but we never will. Cool, huh?"
I want to cruise the Fleetwood for a bit. Instead of getting back on I-5, I head north on Harbor Blvd., aiming for the 91. The beast responds well to input on surface streets, sharply jumping off the line at stoplights if I want it to. There is no brake fade coming to a stop, no matter how much I jab at the pedal.
Getting on 91 westbound, I launch up the ramp and onto the merge lane. It's quick. While not as fast as Bekka's 1970 Plymouth Sport Fury or the '71 Cutlass 442 we bought for Jane, it still takes to acceleration in a healthy way. I have to back off the gas to merge onto the freeway, as I'm passing the traffic to my left.
The ramp we're headed for, Beach Blvd., is a cloverleaf. Perfect. I dive onto the ramp at a stupid speed. I can just barely hear the tires howl in protest. The Fleetwood takes the 270 curve in good fashion, with barely any body roll and no real loss in traction. Then we're on Beach and pointed at Knott's.
We park and head for the main gates. Bekka says to me, "Okay, that thing gets my respect. But Jesus Christ, that big ol' slab of a car, painted black, and good handling? Are you gonna put death heads on the doors?"
"Ooh, do it," says Jane. "You need a chrome skull for a hood ornament."
"No, I wanna keep that thing looking stock," I say. "I want it to be as incognito as possible. That's the whole idea."
"So you had it painted black?" asks Bekka. "You'll only really blend in if you're in a funeral procession."
"Yeah, it does have a hearse-like quality to it," I agree.
We get in line and I pay our way in. We're here for the rides. Jane says she wants to go on every scary ride they have in the park. Given how conservatively she drives her hot rod, I'll believe it when I see it. We hit a snack stand for sodas and I pass out the Ecstasy. Given how long the lines can be for the rides, the first good rush should hit us at the same time we're being seated on our first roller coaster. We head for one called the Silver Bullet, an inverted coaster where you're suspended from the track.
It's still fairly early in the day, so the wait time isn't too bad, only about twenty minutes. We get in line and shuffle forward.
After a few minutes, there's a tap on my shoulder. I turn. It's a tourist, Harold Pinkheart and family. "Excuse me, mister," he says, "but could I take a picture of you all?"
We look at each other and shrug, why not. We'll do our own sick part for the California chamber of commerce. We line up, Jane in front of me, and he snaps away. I guess we are photogenic in a twisted way. Harold smiles and puts his camera away again.
"So where are you from?" I ask.
"We're from Fon du Lac, Wisconsin. We don't have punk rockers there."
"None at all?"
"Nope. Hell, the schools wouldn't let a kid in if he shows up lookin' like that."
Harold's fourteen year old daughter is fascinated by Jane. "How did you get your hair to look like that?" she asks.
Jane says, "Well, I cut it myself. I bleach it out, then use a permanent dye that goes by the brand name of Fudge for the color, and I just spike it up with styling gel."
"I think it looks great," the girl says shyly.
Jane smiles. "You like it? Tell you what, after the ride I bet we can find a pair of scissors and I can cut your hair for you. Then you just need to find a beauty supply store to do the color. How does that sound?"
Bekka says, "If we can't find scissors, we can just use the knife blade on Lenny's Leatherman. We'll just hack big hunks off until it looks right."
"Like hell if you're doing that to my daughter!" says Harold. "So are you all a family?"
We look at each other. "Yeah, I guess we are," I say. "Bekka and I are married, and Jane here is our adoptive teenage daughter. I didn't expect to have a teenage daughter at the age of twenty-two, but that's the way life goes."
Ma Pinkheart asks Jane, "Where is your family?"
"Back in the Florida swamps," she responds. "I left Gainesville for California, and now I live with Bekka and Lenny in San Diego. Not a bad turn of events for a sixteen year old gator bait bitch."
Ma is affronted by Jane's choice of phrase. She asks, "So.... Are you a runaway?"
Jane laughs. "No, I'm a throwaway. My parents kicked me out."
"She just started her junior year of high school," I say.
Bekka adds, "And if she keeps her grades up, we're going to get her in UC Berkeley when she graduates high school."
"We're a happy family," giggles Jane. "Isn't that right, daddy?" she says, and rubs herself against me in a lewd manner.
All three Pinkhearts are now looking uncomfortable. Harold says slowly, "You sure do things different here in California. Tell me, fella, what do you do for a living?"
"I produce adult video. Bekka here is a performer."
"And in less than two years, I get to be a performer too," adds Jane.
I say, "Pet, you're going to college in two years."
"So, I can pick up some extra money working for you."
"We'll discuss that later. So what do you do, sir?"
Harold looks pale. He says, "Um.... I'm a dairy farmer."
"Is it fun?" asks Bekka.
"It's hard work."
"So is porn," Bekka says lazily. "Most people don't realize the amount of effort that goes into making adult films. Poor Lenny here will be gray by the time he's thirty. Not that anyone will know."
Our Wisconsin tourist is aghast. "Wait, you act in those pictures?" he asks.
"Sure do. I've been performing for over seven years now, and I'm successful. I was a Penthouse Pet a few months back. I've also been in Hustler and Gallery, plus the features that Lenny produces."
"They're mean," Jane says. "They won't let me watch them work."
"You're sixteen, no way can I have you on a set," I tell her.
Harold asks of Bekka, "How can you be married and act in those movies?"
Bekka laughs. "We get asked that all the time. It's what I was doing when we met, and it's what I was doing when we fell in love. There's a disconnect between what you're doing on set and real life. We're comfortable with how things work."
Mrs. Pinkheart says, "I think it's horrible. I've never met anyone who would do such things for a living."
I gave her a shining grin. "No, but I guarantee you've met plenty of people who think they want to."
"I want to," says Jane.
I tell Jane, "Look, I've told you I don't want you in the industry. Maybe when you're up in the Bay Area you can do pinup work or get a gig as a fetish model. But I'm uncomfortable with the idea of you performing. It won't be as much fun as you think it will be, honest."
Mrs. Pinkheart is horrified. "You want to work in porn? You're just a little girl!"
"Shall I tell her why my parents threw me out?" Jane smirks.
"Probably not, Gator Bait," I reply.
The daughter asks, "Why do you call her Gator Bait?"
Jane answered, "Because I'm a swamp rat from Florida. They also call me pet, and Swamp Rat."
"Did you really live in the swamps?"
"No, I lived in town. But the swamps are where you go to drink beer and make out with boys, so that's where I spent a lot of my time."
"That's terrible," said Ma.
Jane shrugged. "Gainesville is a boring place. There's not much else to do except get a buzz and fool around. Well, there's college football, but I wasn't into that."
"Did you ever see live alligators?" asked the daughter.
"All the time," Jane replied. "As long as you're out of the water, you're safe. Gators are slow on land. They're good swimmers though, so you had to watch out in the water. That's when they're dangerous."
"And now that you're in California, you want to make dirty movies?" the daughter continued.
"I want to. They won't let me," Jane said, gesturing at me and Bekka.
I said, "You're underage, so it's a moot point. Come on, we're almost to the front of the line. You sure you're up for this?"
"Fuck yeah. This is gonna be fun."
Harold repeated, "You sure do things different here in California."
I told him, "Hell, maybe after the ride we can find someplace to get a drink, and Bekka and I can explain the industry to you a bit better. I'd say your view of it is not in line with reality. It's a business, just like any other."
Then it was our turn to get on the ride. I had Jane next to me. She adjusted her sunglasses and said, "Here goes nothing."
On the Silver Bullet, the track is above your head. You're in a narrow seat, with your legs dangling. The sensation is probably as close to flying as you can get without using a hang glider. The attendant made sure our safety bars were locked in place and away we went.
I didn't realize just how healthy of lungs Jane had. She screamed through the entire ride, making my right ear ring. When it was all over, Jane jumped on the platform and exclaimed, "That was fucking awesome! Come on, let's go find another to ride!"
"Lemme smoke first," I said, shoving a Marlboro in my mouth. Jane and Bekka each grabbed one from me. The Pinkhearts came up from behind us on the platform. I asked them, "So what did you think?"
"That was terrifying," said the daughter.
Jane danced in place and said, "Are you kidding? That was almost as good as coming! Lasts longer, too."
Ma gave Jane a disapproving look and asked, "Are all the rides like that?"
"No, they have more traditional roller coasters, plus a couple drop rides, and a loop the loop called Montezuma's Revenge," I explained.
"Let's smoke, then get on Ghost Rider. I like that one, it's vintage," said Bekka. I could tell by the look on her face that the Ecstasy was kicking in.
The drugs were working on Jane, too. She had a manic grin on her face and was swaying back and forth to music only she could hear.
We began trekking towards the Ghost Rider coaster. Bekka said, "I wonder if we'll run into more tourists to scare at this ride?"
"It's not our fault their lives are boring," said Jane.
"Actually, sometimes I envy their boring lives. Having the same things happen every day, like clockwork. Stuff you can count on."
I told Jane, "Even your life should have a routine to it. You just got out of your first week of school, and you'll settle in to that. I know Bekka and I have unusual jobs, but please don't count on us to keep your life interesting. You've got to do that for yourself. Throw yourself into Drama Club. Oh, what's the word on the volleyball team?"
"They're going to give me a tryout on Wednesday. They play on sand, which is cool. Less painful when you're diving for the ball."
"And how's drama club?"
"Dramatic. There's cute boys there, but I think they're all gay and closeted."
I put my arm around her shoulders and gave her a squeeze. "Don't worry, Gator Bait, you'll find a cute boy quick enough. Come on, let's go ride more roller coasters."
She squeezed my waist and said, "Okay, daddy."