Brianna showed up at my door around noon the next day. She seemed surprised I was there. I let her in (to the annoyance of the Punjabi cannonball) and she landed in the same spot on the bed. She asked, "You're really gonna pay me to hang around and eat pizza with you? Don't you fool around?"
"This may have escaped your notice," I said, holding up my left hand and displaying my wedding band. "Yeah, I fool around, but always with the woman I'm married to."
"That ring doesn't mean shit to most of the guys I meet," Brianna muttered.
"Does to me," I replied. "So what do you want on the pizza today?"
On Wednesday she showed up with a swollen place above her eye and a lot of pancake makeup applied. "Bad night?" I asked.
"My pimp got pissed at me," she explained. "He doesn't like that I'm disappearing off the stroll for ninety minutes at a time. I told him I was getting a c-note for watching TV and eating pizza and he didn't believe me. He thinks I'm holding out on him. He's watching me, I can't stay."
"I'd like to meet him."
"In fact I insist on it. Lead on."
Beneath her makeup I could see Brianna go pale. "Look, I'm okay, don't worry about me. You can't meet him, he'll kill you, he'll cut you up. Just take care of yourself, stay away from him, he's bad news."
I gave her a smile that showed far too many teeth. "If you don't take me to him right now, I will follow you around and disrupt every transaction you have. I'm sure I'll meet him then anyways."
Brianna dropped her head and said, "He's across the street watching us."
"So lead on."
We dodged traffic across Hollywood Blvd., making it to the far side in one piece. Standing glaring at us was an ugly goon whose fashion sense came straight from Harvey Keitel in Taxi Driver. He stood with his arms crossed, sizing me up.
"So who's this punk?" he asked Brianna.
I showed him my teeth and said, "That's not important. Your questions don't count today. You are going to provide me with some answers, though. Like, why did you hit Brianna here?"
He made a harsh barking noise that could have passed for laughter, given enough filtering. He said, "Bitch was holding out on me. Bitch wants to play games instead of working. Bitch lies."
"So you hit a fourteen year old girl. And you call her a bitch."
"She's gotta learn to not fuck me around."
I stood and stared, then smiled at him again. "You know, I've always really hated pimps. You do nothing, but expect others to work for you. You're violent, you're crass, you usually dress like crap, you---"
"Shut up, fucknuts. That's it, you're getting cut, punk."
He reached behind him, towards the small of his back. I had less distance to cover. I pulled my jacket open with my left hand and grabbed my Beretta out of its holster with my right, swinging it towards him. The pimp was still game though. He swung at me in a sweeping motion, aiming towards my stomach. I danced backwards out of the way, then put a shot into his left knee.
The pimp hollered in pain. He dropped the knife. I hate knives. I grabbed him by the throat and forced him backwards while punching the barrel of the pistol into his mouth. I felt teeth break. Good. I used my momentum to push him into a stairwell in the building behind him. He collapsed onto the stairs. I stood above him. His mouth was a perfect O of shock.
I looked down at the pimp and said, "Yeah, I've always really hated pimps. You just lost your job." Then I stuck my Beretta's nose onto his right knee and pulled the trigger. He didn't yell out that time, strange. I straightened up, looked him over, and stepped back out of the stairwell.
Brianna was standing dazed, unable to process what had just happened. I grabbed her arm and jerked her back across the street to the motel. A glance behind me showed that no one was stopping, no one was coming to the pimp's aid. A couple pedestrians walked right by, not giving him a glance. I opened the door to my motel room and guided Brianna inside.
I lit two cigarettes and stuck one in Brianna's mouth. She dragged on it and said, "Did you kill him?"
"No," I told her, "he'll live. Just not very well."
"Did you have to shoot him?"
"I didn't have to, but I wanted to. Have I mentioned how much I hate pimps?"
I gave my winningest smile. "And you're free. You can call your own shots. Keep working the streets and keep the money you earn. Check into a shelter and get some help. Live on the beach with the hippies. Just do something different from what you've been doing. Your pimp is out of the picture, probably permanently. And I'll blow holes in every other pimp I meet."
Brianna looked wildly around the room. "I have to go," she said.
"You don't want to stay for pizza again?"
"Here, take this...." And I gave her an Inana Productions business card. "If you're deep in trouble, call that number, I'll see what I can do."
"Thanks." She took the card and dropped it in her clutch. Then she was out the door and down the driveway. I could see her through the window, walking east on Hollywood Blvd., swinging her ass as she walked, waving at traffic, looking for business. Then I looked across the street at the two cop cars blocking traffic, presumably waiting for the ambulance for the pimp. I sighed and left the room, headed up the block towards the liquor store. I'd have Mountain Dew and Twinkies for breakfast.
Brianna never did call for help. I figured she'd written me off as a psycho. I hoped she turned out okay.
I didn't tell Angel or Vic how my day had gone. None of their business. The valets, as always overjoyed to see me arrive in the Cutlass, wheeled the car into the garage across the street for safe storage. They would give me my keys when they shut down for the night.
I went inside to let Angel know I was there, and to get my usual complimentary line of cocaine. He gave me the news: two liquor stores, both gambling front, had been hit the previous evening. One in South Gate, one in Inglewood. Inside word from LAPD was that they were treating this streak of arsons as connected, but they weren't sure how. They hadn't worked out the commonality, and hopefully never would.
Angel and I stepped out the front entrance to smoke and say hi to Vic. He was planted in a dining room chair at the far end of the walkway, where the circular drive begins. Sick of cleaning up all his cigarette butts, someone had provided him (or us) with a five gallon bucket to be used as an ashtray. Vic looked annoyed but not complacent. He expected something to happen.
"It's that time, Vic, ready to pack it in?" I asked.
"Yeah." He coughed. "Go home, pour a Chivas Regal, walk the dogs, and see what the missus is planning for supper."
"It's good to have order in your life," I said. "Me and Bekka are working on that. Having a kid in school helps."
"Oh yeah, the runaway you told me about. It's good you three are working out under the same roof. I wouldn't have teenagers again for all the rice in China. And you picked one up voluntarily. Heh, better you than me, Lenny."
"She's a good kid. Always made the honor roll back in Florida, and plans on doing the same thing out here. She drives the faculty crazy with her blue hair and her hot rods, but that's their problem. They can't fault her as a student."
Angel asked me, "Is Jane going to come up for Saturday lunches with Bekka and the girls?"
I answered, "Probably, as soon as she's done with the novelty of her boyfriend. They're still at the 'attached at the hip' stage of their relationship."
"Better the hip than the crotch," muttered Vic.
"Yeah, well, there is that. Don't worry, they play safe."
"Hmmph." Vic stood and headed inside for a quick drink before heading home.
"So, no news, huh?" I asked Angel.
"Nothing. The cops know there's a wave of arson happening, but they have no clue why."
We stood and stared at the street. I was getting to know every tiny wave and crease in the asphalt. Presently an early Ford Taurus came rolling down the block. It slowed approaching the trattoria, weaving slightly. I tightened up.
When it was directly across from the entry, a figure popped out of the rear driver's side window. He had a flaming object in his hands, which he threw in a high lob towards the entry.
Nobody can explain my next decision, least of all me. Out of instinct, I ran and caught that damn Molotov cocktail like it was a football. Then I stepped into the street and threw it back at the departing Ford, catching it right in the ass end. Flaming gasoline began running down the back glass, pooling on the trunk, dripping on the tires and the street. Belatedly I got my Beretta in my hand, putting shots low in hopes of connecting with the tires. The Ford took off like a bee-stung bull. I watched the flaming car turn left onto West Olympic Dr.
Angel trotted up next to me. "God dammit Lenny, you're nuts. I can't believe you just did that."
"Worked, didn't it?" I pointed out.
"You smell like gasoline. Do you know what would have happened if you'd fumbled that catch?"
The enormity of it sank in. "Yeah, I just now realized. Don't worry, I won't do that again unless it's really necessary, okay?"
I took off my gasoline-soaked jacket so that I could smoke. Two seconds later there was a loud WHUMPH sound from the direction of Century Park East. Angel and I looked at each other.
"Think that was him going up?" I asked.
"I'm gonna go try and find out," replied Angel, who trotted off in the direction of the valet kiosk. He explained that he needed his car right now, and him and the valet driver jogged into the parking structure. His Maserati appeared a minute later, turning south on Century Park West. He was back ten minutes later.
"That was bad," he said, turning the car back in. "From the looks of it, the gas tank went up while they were still moving. It looked like there was one survivor, but I doubt he'll live an hour. He was burned very badly. I'll be drinking myself to sleep tonight, after seeing that."
Vic came out, ready for his drive home. He asked if he'd missed anything. Angel and I looked at each other, and started laughing.
On Friday afternoon, Angel told me to head home when I was done early Saturday morning. His instincts told him the rash of firebombings was going to stop for the time being, or at least take a break. The Ivans would need to find new people crazy enough to drive around with big bottles of gasoline in their car. A difficult task.
As soon as Vic relieved me at three a.m. I headed back to the Moonglo and stuffed all my crap in the bag. Late-working hookers, desperate for tricks, flashed me as I drove past. I drove slowly, hoping to catch a glimpse of Brianna. No such luck.
I stopped at a closed gas station in Beverly Hills to call home, letting Bekka know I'd be walking in the door in about two hours and to not shoot. She mumbled her understanding and promised to keep the bed warm for me. I could live with that little courtesy. I could bathe in Bekka's body heat.
The sky was just starting to lighten when I poked the Cutlass into the driveway. I let myself in and headed up the stairs. Bekka, bless her heart, had left the kitchen light on for me. I poured myself a Johnnie Walker and headed into the bedroom. The boots came off and I landed. Bekka propped herself up on one elbow and asked, "So how was Hollywood?"
"Let's see. I firebombed a car, briefly befriended a teenage hooker, and crippled a pimp for life. How much detail do you want?"
Bekka smirked at me in the dark. "Start with the hooker."
"I met a fourteen year old prostitute named Galaxy. I gave her a hundred bucks to eat pizza and watch TV in my motel room. She got some money out of the deal and was able to spend a little time off the street, without working. She was impressed that she'd met a man who took his wedding band seriously."
"And you hurt a pimp?"
"Yeah. Galaxy's pimp. He hit her for not working hard enough. That made me mad, so I blew both his kneecaps off with the Beretta. He'll never walk right again, if he does at all. He's a pimp, I hope every day of his life from now on is filled with pain."
"Okay.... And you firebombed someone."
"Well, they were trying to firebomb us. I caught the Molotov they'd thrown like a football and threw it back. Soaked the car they were in. The car blew up over on Century Park East. I don't think there were any survivors."
"Jesus, Lenny. You're only supposed to have that level of adventure when I'm around, remember?"
I killed off my scotch. "I'm glad to be home. Today's the day we shoot those driving scenes, and I didn't want to miss those."
Bekka leaned up against me. "We'd worked out a contingency plan. We were gonna have Jane drive the Grand Am while I drove the Fury. Small Steve was kosher with that, even if Jane is underage for what is technically stunt driving. We figure that all she has to do is drive a car around forty miles per hour, then make a right turn. Nothing complicated, and we know she's a good driver."
"How's Jane doing, anyway?"
"Same old, same old. Her and Lance play in the pool and spa for a while, then go up to her room and fuck. She drives him home, we see about dinner, she does her homework, we watch TV, she goes to bed. A nice sedate routine."
"Good, good," I yawned. "Hon, I need to sack out, okay?" I stripped down and got under the covers.
Bekka draped herself over my chest. "If you were single, would you have fucked that teenage hooker?" she asked.
I considered and said, "Doubtful. Paying for sex is such a bizarre thing to me. I've paid for sex once in my life, in Tijuana. Twenty bucks for a blowjob, and it didn't work out. I was really high on mushrooms, and halfway through it struck me just how silly the whole situation was. I started laughing hysterically and couldn't stop. The girl got pissed off and left, totally insulted. I tried to explain to her that I was on heavy drugs, but that didn't make her feel better."
"Too wild. Only you could offend a Tijuana hooker just by being high."
"What can I say, I'm gifted," I said, and wrapped my arms around her.