On Thursday we met the furniture guys at the new house. Neptune St. is not large, but they'd managed to get the moving van in front of our place and still left room for other cars to get around. We were their afternoon assignment. Much of the furniture still required some assembly, so we would direct them as to where stuff went and they would put it together on the spot. They got beds in place and worked around them.
Into this calamity came Jane and her boyfriend Lance, Jane eager to show off her new room. "Is this too cool, or what?" she exclaimed. "I'm gonna practically live on my deck, once I get a couple chairs and a table out here."
"This place is amazing," said Lance, as he toured Bekka's and mine suite on the top floor. "And you guys are able to afford this place, um, doing what you do?"
"We've been successful in a competitive industry," I told him. "A combination of luck and a good product make sure I'm paid well. We seem to know what people want."
Lance looked nervous. "Richard wants to know when you're moved in."
Bekka and I glanced at each other. "You can tell him we'll be in here full time by the beginning of next week. Why does he care?" asked Bekka.
"I dunno. I told him at dinner the other night that I'd be helping you move, and he got real curious. Like, wanting to know if you were moving cameras in."
I laughed. "You can tell your stepdad that we aren't doing any production work here. Anything he wants to talk to us about, he can call us up, he has our number at the mansion, and we'll satisfy his curiosity. We don't plan on having any more incidents where we live like we have had in the past."
Bekka added, "Remind him that none of the things that happened at our old Encinitas address were our fault. I didn't ask to be stabbed, and we didn't blow up our own car. We wish to live peacefully."
"Tell the good detective that as soon as we're settled in, he can come by and we'll give him a tour of the place. He'll be disappointed to see that it's just our home, nothing more."
"I'll tell him," said Lance. "I've told him you guys have been nothing but good around me, I haven't seen anything weird, but.... Well...."
"Don't worry about it. Your stepdad is going to think what he likes," said Bekka. "Saturday morning Jane will collect you from your house and bring you to the mansion. We have a day of packing and shuttling stuff ahead. We'll feed you and tip some cash your way for your trouble. Cool?"
"Yeah, that's great. I'm glad to help."
Jane grabbed Lance by the arm and said, "C'mon sweets, you can help me make my new bed, then we can go for a walk on the beach." The two kids went out and down the stairs.
One of the furniture guys, a bruiser named Carl, stuck his head in the doorway. He said, "There's somebody at the door for you. Cop. Are you home?"
"That would be Detective Ross, right on cue. Thanks. Yeah, tell him we'll be down in just a second."
We went down to the front door. Sure enough, Detective Ross, Lance's stepdad, was waiting there. Bekka greeted him with a singsong "Hel-lo, detective! And what brings you to see us on this fine day?"
Ross plastered on a dishonest smile and said, "Just thought I'd welcome you to the neighborhood."
I said, "Please come in. We're just getting some new furniture in place today, we won't be living here until the weekend. How are things treating you? Would you like the grand tour?"
Ross followed us up into the living room, saying, "I'd love the tour. And things are nice and quiet with me. I intend to keep them that way. So you have a lot of room here, by how it looks from the outside. What are you intending to do with all this space?"
"Live in it. Have room for guests. Enjoy ourselves, and relax."
"Knock out your dirty videos?"
I laughed in his face. "I've got a whole mansion set up for doing that. We're moving out of that mansion because we don't want to be around production. Why would I shoot video here?"
We stopped in the kitchen. I casually dragged my hand across the glass stove top, getting rid of the powder traces from the line of speed Bekka and I had done earlier. Ross said, "If I find out you're making your movies here, I'm busting you. I want you to know that."
"You worry about nothing," I told him.
"And I want things quiet in this neighborhood. No shooting, no protesters, no dead men on your front porch.... Didn't think I knew about that one, did you? I read the sheriff's reports, and Donner and I spend time sharing ideas. I got bad news, Leonard, you're pegged as trouble all over North County. You've managed to avoid any trouble for yourself so far, but you had trouble here before the damn place was even done being built. You're like a lightning rod. And I could give less of a shit about justice, I want my town to be quiet."
I was fed up. I pulled my shirt up and pointed at my scars. I said, "You don't think I want quiet too? Look where getting noisy has gotten me. I don't ask to be shot, I don't ask for trouble. But it finds me. That's why I wear this damn Beretta from morning till night. Don't talk to me about quiet, I'm all for it. Do you want to see the rest of the house?"
"Let's show the good detective our suite," said Bekka.
We led Ross to the top of the stairs, then out onto the deck. I could just make out Jane and Lance walking along the water's edge, Lance explaining something with a lot of hand gestures. Ross took it in with a cop's eye, excluding beauty to the observation of movement. We briefly showed off our bathroom with its four head shower and sauna, then took him to the middle level. Not much to show, three empty bedrooms, two bathrooms, and Jane's room. He scoped Jane's room with interest.
"She's a lucky girl," he observed. "A sixteen year old runaway, and she finds herself with people who give her a beachfront room and a fast car to drive. You know, that sort of luck doesn't just happen."
"She's just lucky she had someplace to run to," said Bekka. "Better us than being up in Hollywood turning tricks."
"I think they're one and the same," sneered Ross.
"Oh! And where are you going with that statement?"
"I think you're pimping out that little girl."
I said, "Come on downstairs, I want witnesses to you making that statement. Nothing like a good slander case to keep me busy in my off time. And I have more free time than you do, officer."
Ross sneered. "No need for that. You know I have you pegged. I just have to wait for your little girl --- Gator Bait, is that the name she likes? --- to get picked up in the back seat of some john's car, she'll roll over on you in a panic, and I've got you both on pandering and sexual slavery charges. I don't care that she's screwing my stepson, he's just one more good witness to call. I have you both pegged. I'll do what Donner couldn't do, which is send you to prison. And what are you going to do about it?"
"I notice you refuse to say any of this in front of witnesses. Unless you have official business here, Ross, get out. You are no longer welcome in my house. You have insulted my wife and I enough. Go."
He wanted to back up. "You think you can--- "
I grabbed the dirty little cop by the collar and said, "I think I'll learn on my own. You talk that way about a little girl I love, that I care for, and expect me to not be angry? Fuck you. And if you try to interfere with Lance and Jane, I will make your life a mess. I can do it. Try me. You wouldn't believe the sort of friends I have."
"Oh yeah?" he laughed. "What kind of mess could you get me in?"
"It would take me a week to get photos of you in bed with two prostitutes, one of whom is a male. The things the three of you are getting up to, oh! It boggles the mind. Nothing your wife or kids would like to see, nothing you want anyone at HQ to see, either. You can't argue with photo negatives."
Ross frowned. "No way."
Bekka leaned in and say, "Way. Okay, the prostitutes you're with are over eighteen, but two at once? And one a male? You should be ashamed, detective."
"And how would you pull this off?"
Bekka gave off a psychotic laugh. "Oh, that is a tale you'll never hear. But just trust us when we say we can pull it off, with no wrinkles or flaws."
Ross chuckled, but it had a nervous tint to it. He said, "You think you have the connections to pull this off, huh?"
I leaned on the edge of the stairs. "We're in the mafia. We do whatever the hell we feel like, and nobody stops us."
He pealed off a more genuine laugh this time. "That's right, Donner told me you had that little fantasy going! And the mafia is going to frame me up, just because you asked them to?"
"It's what they do," I shrugged. "One cop in some beachfront town is no challenge to them. Better than ending up dead, though, right?"
Bekka said, "Donner didn't believe us, but Donner never leaned on us they way you're trying to. You're saying we pimp out a little girl that we care about, and love, and would do anything to protect. Fuck you. Jane is our little girl, she's got more protection than you'll ever believe, and we'll do anything to protect her. She's ours. All these sick little fantasies you have about her? Drop them, and you won't get hurt. And leave her relationship with Lance alone, we like the kid. Are we making ourselves clear?"
Ross looked a little pasty and sweaty. "You're serious."
"Damn right," I said. "Gator Bait is our little girl, and we love her. And also, any incidents that happen around here are treated as unconnected to us. No trying to link trouble to us. The sheriff's department doesn't, why should you?"
There was a silence. Then Ross said, "You claim some strong links. Maybe someday I'll find out how strong those links really are. I've been here too long, I need to get back on the radio and let them know things are quiet around here."
Ross headed down the stairs. Bekka called after him, "Good afternoon, detective! And remember, click click." She held up an imaginary camera and took photos of the detective as he headed down the stairs to the front door.
After the detective had departed, Carl stuck his head up the stairwell and asked, "So what did he want?"
Reassuringly, I said, "Nothing new. We've had dealings with him in the past, and he wanted to let us know we were still under observation."
"Huh. Fuckin' cops." Carl returned to his assembly.
"Fuckin' cops indeed," said Bekka, bracing me against the wall. She began feeling me all over.
"What the hell are you doing?" I asked.
"Looking for your flask," she replied.
I held my jacket open and pointed. She grabbed and got the top off, taking a few quick drinks. I refused, even though I wanted to. She ruined my breath anyway by pressing me against the wall and getting her tongue in my mouth. At that moment the downstairs slider opened and the two kids came in, carrying the smell of ocean with them.
"Ooh! Yay!" said Jane upon spying the flask. She grabbed it and took a couple quick swallows. Lance watched her wide-eyed. She capped it and handed it to me.
"Your stepfather has been by," said Bekka to Lance. "Things could have gone better."
"What did he say?" asked Lance nervously.
"Nothing much, he just accused Lenny and I of pimping out Jane here. Accusations of sexual slavery I'd expect from any cop, really."
Lance buried his face in his hands. "Oh, god...."
Jane hit the roof. "God dammit, I've told that asshole that you two are good to me! What do I have to do to convince him that y'all treat me right? That's it, I'm gonna find him, settle his hash...."
I put my hands on her shoulders. "Do it when you don't have scotch on your breath, pet. Leave it for now, Bekka and I put a scare into him, you don't need to worry about Detective Ross...."
"This is bullshit," said Lance. It was the first time I'd ever heard him swear. "Baby, don't worry, I'll talk to him tonight. If you were in trouble like that I'd know it, right? Don't you worry about a thing, I'll take care of it."
I told them both, "I like to think we've set the detective straight. Don't get yourself in trouble. I'm not worried about him."
Carl and his helper were gathering the last of the bits of cardboard that furniture had come packed in, throwing it all in the back of the truck. I asked him if tipping was appropriate.
"It don't bother us," he said.
I handed each man a fifty and thanked them for a job well done. I told him that we'd be having more furniture installed, and if possible I wanted the two of them to do the work. They were happy with this situation, and Carl promised to see what he could do to make sure they got the job. They departed and rumbled off in the big moving van.
"We're getting there," I announced. "After dinner I'm heading to Circuit City to pick up a TV. What are we having for dinner, anyway?"
"Good Southern fare," said Jane. "Chicken and dumplings."
"Great. Lance, you joining us?"
He said, "I'd love to, but I really want to be home when Richard gets there. He's calling the girl I'm in love with a whore, and I won't put up with it. I don't get into it much with him, but this is one of those times. That, and you and Bekka have always been good to me, so this is just.... I don't know...."
"Just don't get grounded," Bekka said. "We need you on Saturday."
"I'm just planning on talking to him over dinner. Jane, could you give me a ride home now?"
"No problem, sweets. Gonna knock out your homework?"
"Yeah, and decide on how to get my message across to Richard while still being diplomatic. I don't care he's a cop, I'm sick of walking on eggshells."
The two lovebirds left. I heard the Cutlass fire up. Bekka said, "We're a bad influence on that boy, I think."
"How so?" I asked.
"We spurred his teenage rebellion gland into action. I heard him swear for the first time ever this afternoon. What if he wants to try smoking weed with us?"
"He can smoke with Jane when we're not around. They'll have plenty of opportunities soon enough. Maybe they can convince his folks to let him spend the night again, they can get stoned and play on the beach."
Bekka sighed. "Anyone who says being a teenager is easy is an idiot."
"I wouldn't do it again," I agreed.
"So what kind of TV are you going to get?"
"Something large and brand name. And a smaller one for Jane's room. And I want to take her stereo shopping, so she has a system in her room."
Bekka laughed. "You spent enough time fencing the damn things, you know stereos. Surprise her and buy her one, and a small entertainment center to put the TV and stereo on. She'll love you for it."
"She loves me enough as it is. She still has the habit of grinding against me in public. I'm surprised you haven't put a stop to it."
"Hell, she does the same thing to me. It's just her being naughty on purpose, trying to shock onlookers. I only get pissed when she propositions you when we're alone, because then I know she's not kidding. But she hasn't done that for a little while. Her having a boy in her life is helping, I think. Come on, let's blow this Popsicle stand, we've got things to do back at the mansion."