Boss set his empty beer down and said, "I never expected an operation this big to go so smooth, but it is."
It's Saturday afternoon, and we're all sitting around in the conversation pit. We've been ingesting various drugs, and are getting ready to head up to LA for dinner at the trattoria. It was a celebration dinner for Boss. He was now cranking out 20,000 hits of Ecstasy a week from his labs outside Needles, plus plenty of extra to keep dope fiends like Bekka and myself in good supply. He idly stroked Squeak, who was curled up in his lap, enjoying the mix of marijuana, cocaine, Ecstasy, methamphetamine, and Anchor Steam running through his system. We were all good and high.
Boss had a woman with him. She's a nice girl, a scooter tramp named Mona who Boss met at a bar in Lakeside. She's the same size as Jane, about five foot five, which brought up practical questions so far as romance goes between her and Boss. He's six foot seven. The two of them making love must have had some physical challenges.
Jane prances out of the kitchen area bearing a tray full of snacks. "Not too many, I don't want to spoil everyone's appetite." She's feeling the effects of the drugs too, excluding the meth, which she doesn't like. She shimmies over to the stereo and replaces the Big Black tape with the Wipers, in deference to Boss and Mona. They aren't into hardcore or noise they way we are.
Boss continues, "The best part is my crews take the work seriously. They're at the lab when they need to be, and they work hard. The week on, week off schedule is workin' out all right. Nobody's getting burned out, nobody's going stir crazy from bein' out in the desert fer a week at a time."
"Right on," says Bekka. "So are Angel and Vinny visiting?"
"They've come out a few times to look around. But they're happy with the product, and I guess they see it as bad luck to hover around. I meet Vinny once a week at his restaurant to drop off the product. We have dinner, talk, and I head home. It's all working out. So are y'all gonna come up and visit again?"
"We don't want to be in the way," I said.
"Aw hell, the worst that could happen is we'd put you to work. You'd get shanghai'ed into running a lab."
"I'll do it," says Jane. "Come Christmas break, I'll help you."
Boss laughed at this. "Izzat so, Gator Bait? You gonna come out to the desert and learn how to make meth?"
"Sure. I'm always up for learning new things."
"Yeah, well, I'll think about that one. The mamas I got working there now might see you as a threat."
We finished the snacks and I suggested we saddle up and head out. We were taking the Fleetwood, Boss leaving his Harley on the front walkway during his absence. The car would seat five comfortably, so long as Boss was up front. I piloted us down the hill and onto the freeway.
"Yeah, this is an improvement over yer last car," commented Boss. "My knees aren't gettin' shoved into the dashboard."
We laughed and made small talk all the way into Century City. When we arrived, Mona was awed by everything. Valet parking was new to her: just turning your car over to a stranger, and assuming they'd park it for you somewhere safe amazed her. The treatment we got when we walked inside also awed Mona. Boss and I had explained that this was a fairly exclusive restaurant, but by dint of our association with Angel, we'd be treated well, no matter what we looked like. We walked in, the maitre'd recognized both me and Boss (a hard man to forget), and within a minute's time we were seated out on the patio, ordering drinks. Bekka and I got our Johnnie Walker, Boss and Mona got their Budweiser, Jane got her Miller, and we asked for a bottle of the house red to go with dinner.
Mona gazed around and said, "Boss baby, you've outdone yourself. I wasn't expecting this when you said we were going out for dinner. Oh my god, is that Don Johnson over there?"
Boss said, "If'n it is, you leave him alone. Hollywood types eat here knowing they won't git bugged, it's part of the policy. Why don't you figure out what it is you want to eat, instead?"
Bekka chose her antipasto. Jane and I decided we wanted their night's special, a veal lasagna. Boss, having adjusted to the menu, chose grilled eggplant with a side of tortellini. Mona gave up.
"I hardly recognize most of this stuff," she protested.
"Try the sausage ravioli," I suggested. "You won't be disappointed. I love it."
"But I can get ravioli out of a can."
Bekka and I glanced at each other. Bekka said, "Believe me, sweets, this will be like no ravioli you've ever had. They hand-make it here. It's fresh pasta stuffed with mild spicy sausage, and covered in a meat sauce. You'll be amazed."
We placed our orders and received our wine. That's when Angel came in with a dude I didn't recognize. I went over to say hi.
Angel looked uncomfortable. "Hi Lenny, we're here to discuss business. I see you're eating with Boss and your teenage pet, I'll come over and talk with you all in a little bit."
"Okay, got it." I headed straight back for my chair.
Boss asked, "So how's Angel?"
I shrugged. "Not in a social mood at the moment. He said he's here to talk business with the other dude at the table. He wants to be left alone, is what the vibe I got was."
"Let him have at," said Boss. "They both look like they got important things on their minds."
Our meals arrived and we dug in. Mona was duly impressed with her ravioli. "I didn't know it could taste this good!" she said. Boss cackled and went after his eggplant with gusto.
I noticed that a waiter hadn't been by to take an order from Angel and the man he was with. They'd been served drinks, a few times, but weren't ordering food. I mentally filed it away as none of my business.
It became my business after a few minutes. I was chewing on some of the trattoria's excellent garlic bread when a voice from Angel's table sang out, "Well, if you don't want to do business, then fuck you!" I looked over to see the dude Angel was sitting with reaching into his jacket pocket, pulling out a small pistol.
I nudged Boss, who had heard the outburst, and pointed in Angel's direction. I made my chair pivot that way and got out of it, reaching in my jacket for my Beretta. I crossed the short distance between Angel's table and mine, and grabbed the aggressor by the back of the jacket, shoving my gun in his eye. Boss sat there, keeping an eye on things.
"There, there, precious," I said. "You don't want to do anything rash, do you?"
And Boss is towering over him, saying, "This here is a nice restaurant, an' here you go pullin' guns on people. What's wrong with you?" Then he sweeped the guy's arm forward and grabbed the small pistol he held. It clattered to the floor, harmless to anyone.
Angel looked at the dude and folded his arms across his chest. "Ivan, meet Boss and Lenny. They're friends of mine. You didn't think I'd come here alone, did you. The way you rats have been behaving?"
Dude looked nervous. So did many of the other people in the restaurant. He said, "Is our transaction concluded?"
"No," said Angel, "but your bosses can send someone with better manners the next time they want to talk business. You're just a goofball."
Bless her heart, Bekka came up beside Angel and gave him a squeeze with her left arm, the right holding her Colt. She pressed the Colt against the dude, saying, "Angel honey, is there a commotion going on?"
Angel patted her arm. "Nothing we haven't settled."
Bekka got a certain look in her eye when she had a gun in her hand. She had it now. She glared at the dude. "Is this asshole giving you trouble in your own restaurant? Is he? I'll take him out back and get rid of him for you, if you want."
"Be cool, Bekka, be cool," said Angel. "This gentleman was just leaving. Weren't you, Ivan?"
The dude finally spoke again. "Yeah, I'm leaving now." He straightened his jacket and headed towards the door, minus his gun.
There was a collective outburst of breath on the patio. All the other diners had watched this like it was a play being put on for their entertainment. Don Johnson leaned over and began discussing things with the guy across from him. Nobody seemed to be bothered that we were all playing for keeps.
Angel stuck a Marlboro in his mouth, regardless of the No Smoking policy inside the restaurant. He lit up, and said, "Guys, I owe you one."
"Hey, no problem chief," said Boss, lighting up his own cigarette. "I see someone gettin' tough with one of my friends, I ain't gonna just sit there, y'know?"
My Zippo was not firing, so I got a jump-start off of Angel's shaking hand. "I wasn't expecting that at dinner," I said.
"So who was he, anyway?" asked Bekka. Mona and Jane sat there with their mouths open. It was more than they were expecting at dinner.
Angel said, "An Ecstasy dealer here. He's not happy that we're starting to move as much product at him, or that our product is of higher quality. Our stuff just ices the crap they're importing. All the dealers are looking for the smiley face we have on our pills, 'cos they know it will kick ass. Right now, we have what moves at a consumer level, and that's what counts. Boss, you got people begging for your shit. If we can clear up this conflict, you're getting your warehouse."
"But who is that guy?" I asked. "Last time I checked, it's not like Ecstasy dealers were all that organized. But you got a guy pulling a gun on you. What gives, Angel?"
He looked around. The other diners had settled back into their own conversations. He said, "The ones importing are organized. All the offshore dope comes in through these half-organized thugs from the Soviet bloc countries. They're not used to competition. I was here to make a deal for the California market. We'd take the roost, and they'd get a percentage of what was left. Last man standing. Boss has the best dope around right now, so we'd end up taking over their share of the market just through force of demand. Boss, I can tell you right now, you could be knocking out a hundred thousand a week, and we'd still be starved for your product.
"Anyway, that chump didn't like the market forecast. He doesn't want to know that a boring old group like La Cosa Nostra has the best Ecstasy around, cranking out dope that people are clamoring for, begging for. Their shit is okay, I guess, but compared to what we have? No way. He especially didn't want to hear that the mafia could flood the market if we felt like, drop our prices to the wholesalers so that nobody'd want their crap. Oh, he was pissed that we'd be in such a position. Boring old mafia, who are they? What can they do?
"I'll tell you. We're old timers, but we can play a hard game. Those scumbags from Eastern Europe don't bother us a bit. Anybody presses us, we come back, five fold. It don't matter what the game is, the mafia is gonna come out on top."
Bekka said, "But it was just sheer chance we were sitting there."
Angel grimaced and said, "Yeah.... But even if he'd unloaded on me, I would have got a couple into him. I might have bought the bullet, but I'd have taken him with me, no doubt."
I smiled. "But that's not how we want you to go out, Angel. We want you to die in mid-orgasm with Angela. Just croak it in the middle of coming."
Angel smiled. "Generous of you. And I'm the luckiest bastard on the planet right now. A guy pulls a gun on me, and I got my friends at his back without him even knowing it. Shit, I don't know what to do for you all. Can I pull you a line of coke, at least?"
Bekka snickered. "So long as you have one for Mona and Jane, that's okay."
Angel froze up. "You want me to pull one for that teenage girl?"
Angel sighed, and grabbed for his drink. "Let me at least have you finish with your meals first, okay?"
We sat back down at our table and scarfed up the rest of our plates. Jane asked in mid-bite, "So what's going on?"
Bekka took a sip of her wine and said, "Just business. You want another blast of coke before we head towards home?"
"Hell yeah!" Jane exclaimed.
"Then be a good girl and finish your dinner. Do you like their lasagna?"
Jane cackled. "I wanna learn how to do this for myself. I wanna crank this out at home, we can have it once a week."
Bekka laughed back. "Sorry pet, this is one you'll only be enjoying at the restaurant here. Some things are made to be special, y'know?"
"Got it," said Jane, scarfing back the last of dinner.
Mona said, "So this is what real Italian food is supposed to be like."
I responded, "A good approximation."
"In that case, I never had it before. Does it always include the show?"
"Thank god, no," I laughed. "No, we don't like doing things around here like that. Were you at least entertained?"
"Alarmed," said Jane. She had an alert look on her face that could be taken as panic to the untrained eye.
"All the fun is over with," I told the two of them. "We're gonna finish our meals, then do coke with Angel, okay?"
"Got it," they said in unison. Jane said, "So Lenny, you've talked about needing your gun in strange situations. Does this count as one of them?"
"You'd better believe it," I replied, gulping down the last of my wine.
Angel called to me. "I need to talk to you alone for a minute," he said.
We went out front and lighted fresh cigarettes. "If you haven't guessed already, this is a heavy situation."
"I can tell," I said.
"You're gonna be on alert at the studio. If they wanna pull this shit here, they could pull it anywhere," Angel continued.
"We're far out of bounds for this conflict," I said. "What makes you think they'll try to pull shit as far south as me?"
"They're reckless, and they want the business. They don't care how they get it. But you keep your eyes open, okay?"
"Got it. Any backup?" I asked.
"If anyone, Bud and Lou. Get ready to house them if need be."
I rolled my eyes. "Great, just what a sixteen year old girl needs as housemates, those two. You can't spare anyone else?"
"This is fresh. I need to sit down with the don and work things out. That's who I can spare off the top of my head."
We finished our cigarettes and ground them out into the curb. What the hell, Angel paid people to take care of that kind of mess. He said, "Let's go inside and retrieve everyone, we can all do with a line of coke."