Jane slithered into my office the next afternoon, after school. She asked, "That was okay with you, right?"
I said, "If it wasn't, we'd have told you to fuck off. We're honest with you. Why do you ask?"
She wrapped her arms around my neck and said, "I dunno. I was afraid you'd go all adult on me."
In Bekka's absence, she perched up in my lap. She felt safe there. She asked, "The other night, when I slept with you, did that bother you?"
I patted her head. "You were scared, I wasn't about to throw you out."
"But all the time you were pressed up against me, I wasn't thinking about you. I was thinking about Bekka. I wanted to fool around with her. I've been with a couple girls, and we had fun. Bekka was right there, you know? I'm sorry, I don't know what I was thinking."
Right on cue, Bekka came into the office. I hadn't heard her walking down the stairs at all. She looked at the two of us and said, "Well, this is cozy."
Jane wrapped herself tighter around me and said, "Bekka, I think I want to sleep with you."
Bekka smirked. She leaned across the desk and grabbed at my pack of cigarettes, shoving one in her mouth. She lit it and said, "Okay. Tell more."
Jane sighed and said, "You turn me on."
Bekka laughed. "You liked seeing me in the videos we've shown you, huh? Tell you what girl, we can go upstairs and I'll eat you like a cream pie. You'll never have it better.
"But there's a catch, see? From that moment on, you'll be known as Bitch. By me and Lenny both. You're not Jane, you're not pet, you're not Gator Bait, you're known as Bitch. Because you'll be my bitch. You'll be my little pet pussy, that I can do anything I want with. Do you get it? You'll be Bitch until the day you die, so far as I'm concerned. Do you want that?"
Jane loosened her grip on my neck. "I.... Would you do that?" she asked.
Another laugh from Bekka. "I find you down here in the lap of my husband, you've got a boyfriend, and you're telling me you want to sleep with me. Is there any other name for you? Get out of my husband's lap, bitch, that's where I belong. You've got your own toys, one of which I bought for you. What you want, you have to find on your own. Don't count on me."
A tearful Jane said, "I'm sorry. I didn't want to piss you off." She got out of my lap and positioned herself in the doorway.
Bekka stood up. She walked to Jane, and gave her a hug. "Listen pet," she said, "You can't do all your thinking with your pussy. Look at the trouble it seems to cause. You can't go through life like that."
"I know," whimpered Jane. "It's just that I trust you."
"What you want will come," I said. "Give it time. You'll find girls to fool around with, and they won't carry the same baggage that getting together with Bekka would. Understand?"
"It's just.... A trust issue. That's one of the things that makes me want you two so bad. Yeah, you're older than me, but I know you guys would do right by me. If I went after a girl at school, I have no idea how she'd react when we were done, or what."
Bekka smiled, "You can just do what most girls do, which is wait until you're in college to experiment."
"But I don't wanna wait. I already know I like girls."
"What about Lance?" I asked.
Jane rolled her eyes. "Jesus, I don't know. It's not like I want to throw him over in favor of some girl. I don't really think I even want to date a girl. That would make things complicated at school, for one. I just, I wanna have fun with a girl, I've done it before, and get it out of my system. It feels like an itch I need to scratch. Lance is great, and I wanna stick with him, but.... Okay, like at volleyball practice? I'm losing concentration because I'm checking out the other girls' butts. I wish my stupid libido would leave me alone for a while."
"Tell me," Bekka said. "So far your libido has gotten you slapped and verbally abused by me. Did you get into such trouble back in Gainesville?"
"No. At least I didn't piss people off, the way I have you. Besides my parents, anyway. Yeah, I was kind of slutty, but so were a lot of other girls. I wasn't making people mad at me."
I said, "I think one of the biggest problems is that you're viewing Bekka and me as sexual targets. We can't be. I may only be six years older than you, but I'm still one of the adults in your life. Like it or not, that's the role we've taken on unofficially. We intend to go to PTA meetings, and --- for better or worse --- people will hold us accountable for your actions. As much leeway as we give you, you're still viewed as a kid, and as the adults you live with, we're expected to keep you from fucking up. Capiche?"
Jane pouted. "So my emancipation hasn't changed that much for me."
I stared at her for a moment. Then I said, "Got a dollar?"
She looked confused. "Yeah, why?"
"Because I'm willing to sell you the Cutlass for that much. You're able to enter into a contract like that as an emancipated minor. Of course, as the owner of the car, you'd be responsible for things like oil changes, tires, maintenance, insuring it, and keeping it registered. If it broke down, it would be up to you to figure out how to get around. And you'd have to do this on the same hundred bucks a week that you get now.
"Yeah, emancipation gave you a lot of legal freedoms, but there are also a lot of aspects of your life where you should be happy we still treat you like a minor. Let us be your adults, and enjoy that comfort. I promise you we won't turn into your parents."
Bekka added, "And as your adults, we're saying to not let your libido ride you so hard. We can't help you with it, not physically anyway. Letting it out to air at school will only get you in big trouble. Pet, my advice is to continue shaping Lance into your sexual scratching post and take your aggressions out on him. It's safe, it's sane, and we'd only be dealing with one set of angry parents."
"No girls?" asked Jane.
"Not unless one falls in your lap. In the social pressure cooker that is high school, you hitting on a girl who has no interest would start a lot of damaging talk, no matter how unfair that is. You'd end up a pariah."
"I don't care what other people think of me."
I told her, "Unless the faculty decides you're a disruptive influence, and starts riding you for every little thing. I guarantee there are people in the office who would love the excuse to take away your parking permits. They'd do it out of sheer pettiness, just to get back at that blue-haired girl who causes so much trouble."
"They wouldn't!" Jane protested.
"Pet, you wouldn't believe how difficult the faculty and administration can make your life if they feel like it. I speak from personal experience."
"What did you do?"
"I was a practical joker," I smiled. "Like on Sixties Dress-up day, everybody else dressed as hippies, and I showed up with bloody bandages around me. They asked what I was doing, so I explained that I was a protester from the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. The military recruiters would show up, so I would sign up for an interview and act like a flamboyant queen the entire time. I'd put porno magazines in the periodicals rack in the library. At pep rallies, I got the stoners to cheer for no reason throughout the rally. Except for the porn, I wasn't breaking any rules, so they couldn't just chuck me in detention. I upset people."
Jane asked, "So what did they do to you?"
"Besides dropping my grades? God help me if I was three seconds late for a class, I'd immediately get a tardy slip. I was in the vice principal's office about once a week for imagined defiance on my part against a teacher. They 'lost' the paperwork for my parking permit and put a Denver boot on my car. And I was constantly reminded of what a fuck-up I was, just what a kid who's really insecure deep down needs to hear from adults."
"Still, you came out okay. You graduated, and look at you now."
I laughed. "I graduated so they could get rid of me. If I'm okay, why do I feel like such a fuck-up a lot of the time? And my current success is the result of chance, being somewhere at the right time. By rights, I should still be selling speed out in El Cajon. Or in prison."
Bekka said, "I didn't go through the same things Lenny did in high school. I was pretty much a non-entity. Nobody paid me much attention. I would bet that there are plenty of people from back then who have seen my videos, or photo shoots in magazines, and have been amazed at how mousy little Bekka has changed.
"I changed by taking one of the worst entertainment jobs in the world and sticking with it for years. Between being over-exposed to sex, the drugs, the vermin this industry attracts, and general fast living, I can definitely say I'm not the same person I was in high school."
"Wow," was all Jane had to say.
"Don't make waves, is what we're trying to tell you," I said. "That doesn't mean you have to grow your hair out to its natural color, or stop wearing your leather pants, or stop driving the Cutlass. But you can avoid trouble with a bit of restraint. A good place to restrain yourself is in the showers after volleyball practice. Get what I'm saying?"
"Yeah. I just need to suppress my urges, huh."
"Until you're in college," Bekka said. "Then you can wear your bisexuality like a cape, for all to admire."
In the need of some entertainment, we decided to have dinner at the Boll Weevil on Convoy St. and then hit the gun range for a while. On her first time out, Jane had good scores on the targets. I wanted to see if it was beginner's luck. That, and make sure the safety instructions we'd given her had stuck. She was looking forward to working out with my Beretta again.
We bought practice ammo and rented two lanes, allowing Jane to jump back and forth between us. We wanted her proficient with all three guns we carried. Jane and I were loading up my clips when a shadow came over the load table. I looked up and Boss was standing there with a grin.
"Hey Lenny! You gonna teach Gator Bait here how to shoot?" he asked.
"Yeah. She's learning my big Beretta, plus Bekka's baby one and her Colt. May as well have the girl ready in case anything happens. What brings you by, working out with your Smith & Wessons?"
"Yeah. I got my own pupil, Mona. She's never shot before, so I'm giving her the safety lecture and running over the basics. She hates the weight of the .357 I brought, though. Hey, ya think Bekka would let her use that Colt she wears on her waist for a few?"
"Can't hurt to ask," I replied.
Boss went and stood behind Bekka, waiting for her to step away from the firing line. Jane and I finished with our clips. She said, "Boss scares me."
"Why?" I asked.
"He's so big! I know you said he's a good person, but to me he's really intimidating."
"Don't be intimidated," I said. "First off, Boss likes you. Hopefully you two will work out to be friends. Second, Boss is a good man to have on your side in any situation. Not just because of his size, either. He's smart and he's got a cool head. He's honest, too. If he found someone's wallet, you'd better believe they'd get their wallet back with all the cash intact."
"How tall is he, anyway?"
"Six foot seven."
"Wow. You wanna shoot first, or shall I?"
"You go ahead, pet."
Jane put on her hearing protection and ran the target out to fifteen yards. She stepped to the line, got in a stance, and unloaded. She was keeping the rounds within the target area, which was good enough for me. With her empty clip in her hand, she motioned me up.
A hand landed gently on my shoulder: proper etiquette, as a firing range is the last place you want to be startling people. I turned to find Boss behind me. He said, "Bekka is lettin' me use the Colt fer a few minutes. She said for Jane to go to her lane so they can practice with that tiny gun she has."
I asked him to tell Jane in my stead and ran out a fresh target. My clip empty, I walked down to where Boss and Mona were to see how she was handling the Colt.
"I like the size and weight, but it jumps around too much when I fire," Mona complained.
"Come down to my lane," I suggested. "I'll reload and you can try my Beretta. It's a bit lighter than that Smith and Wesson, so that may help."
I slid bullets into my clip, inserted it, and handed it to Mona. "Ready to fire," I told her.
She took her time firing. The improvement was there, however, as she did much better with the Beretta than she did with the Colt. And unlike the Smith and Wesson, the weight of the Beretta didn't pull on her wrists. Mona handed me the pistol back and smiled. "I like that one," she said.
I suggested, "Check and see if they have a Beretta 92 in their assortment of rental guns. They ought to." Boss handed me back Bekka's Colt and the two of them went out front.
Jane was killing it with the baby Beretta, getting good scores. I handed the Colt off to Bekka and she reloaded it.
"From what I've seen, Jane is going to make quite the sharpshooter," said Bekka.
"Wait until she runs in this target and check out the sort of points she's getting with that tiny thing."
Jane drew the target in and smiled at the results. Nothing less than an eight, out of twelve shots. Damn good considering the size of the gun she was using. Having her handle something with better accuracy would make a difference. I wrote off the scores she got with my 92 as lack of warm-up.
Jane suddenly announced the need for a smoke and a soda. She'd left her pack of Newports in the Cadillac, so I handed her the keys. She was back a couple minutes later, with an annoyed look on her face.
"What's up?" I asked.
"There's some dude hanging around your car. Dorky looking. I asked him what was up, and he told me, 'None of your concern, little girl.' He acted like he was doing me a favor when he moved out of the way so I could open the door."
"How did he look dorky?"
"He's about fifty, and wearing a golf shirt with a plaid sports coat. A dork."
"You two wait here, I'll be right back," I said, tucking my Beretta in my holster and heading for the front.
There was someone leaning against the opposite side of the Fleetwood. Jane wasn't kidding about the jacket. It was the signature plaid from the Scottish family the Dorkenzies. I approached noiselessly, sliding my gun into my hand as I did. When I was on the other side of the car from him, I asked, "Help you?"
The man turned around, and I realized I knew him. It was Lou, a mafia crony, one of two perverts who had a hang-up for Bekka. He and his partner, Bud, ran a chain of adult book stores for the family in South Bay and Long Beach. We'd had dealings before. And Jane was right, Lou was a dork.
"Lenny!" Lou smiled at me. "Just the man I need to talk to, and we need to talk right now. Someplace quiet. Capiche?"
I put the key in the door of the Fleetwood, then popped the door lock on his side. "This thing is good and quiet, hop in," I said, gesturing.
Lou got in and sat down, looking around the car. "Very nice," he said. "How's it handle?"
"Just about perfect. Anti-sway bars, good tires, and a hot motor. Also armor plated doors and bulletproof glass. And it's comfortable as being in a living room."
"Whoa. How'd you pick this thing up?"
"Through Rico Carelli. Good deal, too. With the trade-in on my Acura, that damn car thief practically gave me this thing. You wanna dump your Mercedes and get some good American steel, talk to Rico."
"I'll think about it," Lou said, fiddling with the sun visor.
I said, "So Lou, couple questions. First of all, how did you find me here, and second, what's so damn important?"
"In answer to your first question, I shadowed you. I was headed for the Inana studios, but you were just leaving, so I whipped it around and tailed you here. Angel told me what you would most likely be driving, so I knew what to watch for.
"Now, what's so damn important is that the family is in a state of high alert. Some Eastern Europeans we used to deal with are unhappy with some of our current business plans. We--- "
I cut him off. "Does this have anything to do with Ecstasy distribution in California?" I asked.
"How do you know that?" queried Lou.
"I believe I was present for the souring of relations. Angel Morelli was meeting a guy, talks went south, dude pulled a gun, me and my friend Boss took it away from him with Bekka's help. So what have these Eastern Europeans said so far?"
"Said and done. A lot of family-owned businesses are being threatened, and they've hit two so far. They bombed your friend Rico's lot, threw in a grenade, they guess, took out three cars. Middle of the day. They also hit one of our stores in Long Beach. Molotov against the front wall. Not much damage, but I think they were making it clear they'd have hit the door if they'd wanted to."
"Heavy," I said, for lack of anything better. "So are they expected to come this far south? Has Inana been threatened?"
"They haven't named the places they're gonna hit," said Lou. "And we've only had two strike so far, like they're waiting to see what our reaction will be."
"Like I said, heavy. Out of curiosity, why didn't you just call me with the news? Why beat cheeks all the way down here?"
"The higher-ups are feeling paranoid. They don't want business discussed over the phone right now. That, and they like situations like this to be handled with more personal feeling. So if you need to talk to Angel or Vinny or don Ventimiglia or anyone else, you get in your fucking car and drive up to see them. You got that? Now, I need to talk to a guy named Boss. Any clue where I could find him?"
"Boss is a close friend of mine, and he's inside working out with a .357. Has he been threatened?"
"Not directly, but the assumption is there. He runs the dope labs, right?"
"Yeah, that's him," I confirmed.
Lou said, "Considering that's the source of all our current troubles, we feel it may be in his best interest to beef up security. Would you bring him out here? I'd like to talk to him in your car."
I got out and headed in, just as Boss and the three girls were coming out, looking for me. I stopped the girls and said, "Everything's fine. Bekka, our friend Lou is sitting in our car. He had news for me. Boss, I have a guy that wants to talk to you. He's part of the family, like Angel."
"Got it," Boss said grimly. The girls all lit cigarettes and waited outside the door. Boss and I walked to the Fleetwood, where I made introductions. Lou said, "This'll just be a few minutes, Lenny. We need some privacy." He and Boss both got into the car, while I joined the girls and lit a cigarette of my own.
"What's up?" asked Bekka.
"I'll tell you later. It's business," I said, with a pointed look at Mona.
"You look stressed," said Jane.
"Yeah, well.... Like I said, it's business. It's nothing that affects me directly I don't think. I'll explain on the way home."
We finished our cigarettes and stood around. One of the range officers came out and asked us to please not loiter outside, return to our lanes. We did. I'd just started giving Jane pointers on the best grip for the Beretta when Boss came back in and told me that Lou was still sitting in my car, and wanted to speak with me again. He didn't look happy.
Jane said, "You look stressed" to Boss.
He waved a hand and said, "It's just business," forcing a smile like he was passing a two pound kidney stone.
"So what's the scoop, brother?" I asked Lou as I got back in the Cadillac.
"I needed to let you know, you need to keep a bag packed in case you get called into action. If you are, grab your guns and head to where you're told. It's impossible to say how heavy these Ivans are gonna want to take things. The higher-ups know you're the only source of security for Inana...."
"Besides Bekka," I interjected.
"They aren't counting her, god knows why not. You married a tough little bird. Speaking of, who's the chica with the blue hair?"
"That's Jane and get it out of your head, she's sixteen. You and Bud can be on your best behavior around her, otherwise I will pull your eyeballs out and fuck your skull. Am I clear?"
"Got it, got it, no problem. She family?" asked Lou.
"You could say that," I replied.
Lou opened his door and slid out. I rolled down my window and lit a cigarette. He came to my side of the car and leaned down.
"Listen, if you get the call, you've got about enough time to take a piss and give Bekka a goodbye kiss before you should be on the road. It means the shit is about to hit the fan somewhere, capiche? I'll talk to you soon, Lenny." Lou made his way towards his E-class Mercedes across the lot.
I got out of the Fleetwood and watched Lou pull into traffic. A fellow soldier sent down to let me know of impending war. I had a hunch the next few days were going to be very interesting, indeed.