I dialed Angel's number. My stomach burned. I felt frantic. I wanted a damn drink with a line of good coke behind it. The phone rang three times, then Angel's wife Angela picked it up.
"Lenny?" she said.
"Yeah, me. I got more info for Angel."
"He's on the phone in the office, let me get him." The receiver was put down.
Angel picked up. "What's the word?" he asked.
"Tonight at 8:30. A place called Southern Steel by the Long Beach airport. They want instructions on how to get to the Ecstasy labs, presumably to take over. It would be easy to do, enough automatic weapons and the place is a pushover. I give them maps, they give me Jane. They want me to go in alone."
Angel laughed at this, and I didn't like it. "Don't worry, Lenny, we'll have you covered. No problem."
"Yeah, problem. If anyone besides me rolls into that place, all bets are off. They kill me and torture Jane to death."
"I said there's no problem, and there's no fucking problem. Get the shit out of your ears."
"God dammit Angel, anyone rolls into that yard behind me and I'll shoot them myself. They want this to be my play."
"It will be.... Up to a point. Lenny, you need to learn to trust the family a little bit more than you do. Your exchange will work, and we'll have you covered. Don't ask too many questions."
"Well, you have the same information I do now. I need to go draw a map."
"I'll see you tonight. Or maybe not. We'll see how things work. Okay?"
"All right. Here's to not fucking up."
Bekka looked away from the TV and said, "What the hell was all that about?"
I grimaced and went into the kitchen for the scotch. "We'll have company in Long Beach. Angel insists upon it."
"Are you really gonna draw an accurate map out to the labs?"
"Mostly accurate. They'll be turned in through the wash at the wrong point. Their dust will give them away, so anyone on rifle duty out there will be able to spot them and get them covered."
I went downstairs and grabbed some printer paper and a Sharpie. Starting off of I-40, I sketched in an inaccurate map to the mafia-owned Ecstasy labs outside of Needles. Then I was done. I went upstairs, ate a slice of cold pizza, took another big shot of Johnnie Walker, did a line of speed, and Bekka and I headed out the door to my car. The big Fleetwood fired up like it had been waiting all day. I said, "You spend too much time riding shotgun."
"You want me to drive?" Bekka asked.
"No, I mean you literally ride shotgun. You point your gun at things while I'm busy driving. I was hoping my wife would not spend so much time in stressful situations."
"We're a pair, aren't we?" was her only response. We had a quiet drive all the way into Long Beach.
Southern Steel was one of many prefab sheet metal structures in the area. Scrubby looking trees grew around it. The building itself was set far back on the lot. Piles and rolls of unprocessed steel sat around. Two cars had followed me into the neighborhood, and both angled off when I pulled up to the open gate. I sat and was greeted by the sight of headlights behind the building. My escorts had come in via a back way. I rolled in and stopped in front of what appeared to be the only pedestrian door on the building. Above me, I could hear a helicopter whop-whop-whopping its way through the night sky.
"Here goes nothing," I said, and honked the horn twice. I got out and leaned against the hood of the Cadillac. Nothing.... Then the door opened and a skinny guy with a homemade haircut stepped out. He looked at me, smiled, and said, "Mr. Schneider?"
"That's me," I replied.
"I want the map."
"And I want my little girl. Where is she?"
He gestured. "Come, come. You may give me the map inside. So long as it is accurate, you will never know us again."
We stepped into the work floor of Southern Steel. Skinny motioned me towards what appeared to be an office room, set apart from the rest of the building. I followed, no other options.
Stepping into the office, I heard a voice squeak, "Lenny!" I turned my head and there was Jane, sitting in an office chair. She was barefoot. I went to embrace her and was blocked off by a standard-issue goon. Besides Skinny, there were five goons sitting around that room. Mentally I marked their locations, all sitting in what appeared to be second-hand office furniture. The goon who blocked me simply said, "She well."
"I'll believe her when she says so," I replied. I got a blank look in response. Apparently Skinny was the only fluent English-speaker around, so I turned my attention to him.
"Here's your map," I said, pulling papers out of my jacket. "It's easy to figure out. Her and me will be going, okay?"
"No. You explain the map to me. Then you two go."
"Dude, it's a map. What needs explaining?"
The door creaking open caught everyone's attention. Bekka stood there with a salty expression. "This exchange is taking too long," she said. "What's the hold up?"
"He wants me to explain the map to him," I said.
"Gator Bait!" exclaimed Bekka, heading towards Jane. "Honey, what have we said about trusting strangers?"
"They had a gun on me," complained Jane. "I couldn't do anything."
One of the goons stood up and threw Bekka into a wall. "No," was his only word.
Bekka straightened up and looked at the collected goons. "You'll pay for that little indignity."
I felt the situation was rapidly devolving. I said, "Okay, here's I-40. Running east and west, okay? You take this exit here...."
I had to stop talking because the sound of the helicopter had been growing louder and louder. It was now deafening, right above our heads. Suddenly the roof buckled, sending rust and chunks of sheet metal into the room. There was a rush for the door, the goons yelling in panic in whatever the hell language they were using. Bekka and I each grabbed one of Jane's arms and aimed for the outside door. No luck. Shots rang out. I felt one whiff past my ear.
The three of us dived behind a stack of steel rods. More shots were fired in our direction. I had my Beretta out, Bekka had drawn her Colt. I saw moving shapes by the office and shot at them. One went down. Bekka rolled on her back and dropped a goon who had us pinned. With her heel, she dragged his gun up close enough to grab.
The helicopter noise was dropping low, as though the engine had been cut. The outside door burst open and in danced four guys in black windbreakers. They found targets and aimed, destroying the rest of the goons. I heard Angel's voice yell, "Lenny, Bekka, Jane, are you all right?"
"All in one piece," I yelled back.
"Then get the fuck out of here. Head for the Marriott by the airport entrance, we'll meet you in the bar."
Angel sprung forward and grabbed Skinny by the neck. Skinny looked fully prepared to die at that moment. Instead, Angel whipped out a switchblade and cut his shirt open. Then he carved the letter M into his chest.
The other three windbreaker dudes were already outside and climbing into the helicopter. The girls and I exited with Angel. I asked him, "M?"
He gave me a feral smile. "For mafia. He'll have that warning every time he looks into the mirror without his shirt off. Get going, cops here soon."
Jane, Bekka and I all dived into the Fleetwood. I fired up and headed out, aiming for the main thoroughfares around the airport. I didn't have the slightest idea where the Marriott was, but since Angel's crew had to park a helicopter before they joined us, I figured I had time to find it.
We located the hotel and went in. I ordered a basket of mozzarella sticks to keep us amused, plus three bottles of Miller. They didn't ask for Jane's ID. I finally asked Jane, "How are you?"
She lifted her beer with a shaking hand. "Okay. They were gonna rape me, but then they saw I was on the rag. I have a napkin on. They freaked. Then they were gonna make me suck their dicks, but I told them that anything they tried to put in my mouth I'd bite off. They slapped me a few more times and went back to playing cards. I'm still feeling really panicked right now, I could drink ten of these, any chance you guys have weed with you?"
Bekka said, "We've got to have a meeting with Angel and his friends, then we'll head home. You're not going to school tomorrow, you're taking it easy, and if that means spending the whole day with your mouth on the bong, so be it. Don't worry, we're headed home in just a little while."
Ten minutes later Angel and his crew entered. I recognized Rico as one of them. The others were introduced to me as Dougie, Mel, and Rizzo. It turned out Rico was the pilot. All of them were in black windbreakers with the letter M stenciled in luminescent paint across the back.
"It's so we can spot each other in tense situations, you know?" explained Rizzo.
"Got it," I said. I'd moved on from Miller to Johnnie Walker. Fuck it, if need be I'd lash more speed up my nose.
Angel said to me, "Now do you understand why I wasn't worried about you having backup?"
"Where the hell did you get a helicopter from?" I asked.
He grinned at me through his scotch and soda. "Lenny, we're the fucking mafia. We have resources like you wouldn't believe. I was more worried about our pilot being late than I was about the helicopter. The damn thing sits at Long Beach airport ready and waiting. When you told me where you had to head I knew exactly how things would go down."
Jane looked around the table at all the large men and said, "Thank you. Thank you all for saving me," in a shy voice.
The one known as Dougie said, "There's one thing you have to do for all of us, little girl."
Jane looked frightened. "What's that?"
"You have to give us all a hug."
She stood and made her way around the table. "Thank you, Uncle Dougie. Thank you, Uncle Rizzo. Thank you, Uncle Mel. Thank you, Uncle Rico. And thank you, Uncle Angel."
Mel gave a beery smile and said, "So if we're all your uncles, what does that make Lenny over here?"
Jane wrapped her arms around my neck. "He's my daddy," she stated.
"And I'm mom," said Bekka.
"You guys really are turning into a family, aren't you?" asked Rico. "You're all getting settled into a routine, you spend time together, you got each others backs."
"And worrying about each other, don't forget that."
"So long as you're not yelling at each other to fuck off.... Oh wait, you guys aren't a bunch of wops," muttered Angel. The rest of the table burst out in laughter.
Rizzo put his arm around Jane. "You're doing okay, right? I got a daughter about the same age as you, and I can't even imagine what Lenny and Bekka were going through. You're okay? They didn't hurt you or touch you?"
Jane grinned up at the large man. "No, I'm fine. They didn't hurt me at all."
"Just remember, it's okay to be scared. Have Lenny give you a few drinks of that damn Johnnie Walker he's always sucking on when you get home. You'll sleep better."
Angel raised his drink in the air. "Guys, we've covered a lot of shit in our time, but rescuing a kidnapped little girl is a new one. And she came out of it just fine. Personally, I elect her as our new mafia fucking mascot. With me?"
"Oh yeah!" we all said, and cheered. Jane looked pink.
Everybody cleared a few more drinks, winding the adrenaline out of our systems, before going home. Bekka had a total of two beers, so she was the designated driver. She got behind the wheel of the Fleetwood and began adjusting mirrors and seat. Jane leaned up on the seat between us from the back. "I need to do this," she said, and gave us each a kiss. "I love you guys."
"And we love you," I replied.
"Look what we go through for you," said Bekka. Her and Jane laughed.
Jane said, "Can I do two things tonight? First, can I have some scotch, like Uncle Rizzo said I should? And can I sleep with you two again? Please? I just don't want to be alone."
"You want scotch on top of weed?" I asked.
Bekka said, "Well, you've had a stressful day, so okay. Tomorrow is when you debrief us on everything that happened. You can't hold that stuff in."
Jane said, "They were scary, but they were stupid. They thought they could get one over on the mafia. That's dumb, right?"
I said, "Very dumb. Everybody knows who the mafia is for a reason. They had one survivor out of six. And now you're their mascot."
"What does that mean?"
Bekka said, "It means you start coming to lunch with me up in LA on a regular basis. It means lots of good cocaine. And it means you don't have a fucking thing to fear anywhere in this country, because the family has your back."
"Does it mean I get to carry a gun?"
"No," Bekka and I both iterated.
"Not even after today?" Jane protested.
"We'll think about it," I said.
"'Kay. I'm gonna lie down on the seat for a while." Jane snuggled back into the cushions.
When we got home, I carried her sleeping form up to our room. Bekka got off as many clothes as seemed appropriate and tucked her into our bed. She barely moved through all of this. I poured us each short Johnnie Walkers.
We clinked glasses. "How you doing, mom?" I asked Bekka.
"Our little girl is home and safe. I'm doing just fine, daddy."
We stripped down and got in bed, snuggling up against our little girl. We were asleep in minutes.