I stationed myself at the front door with my jacket off and Beretta exposed. I wanted to serve as a warning to any other would-be assassins that they were covered. This crowd was mostly civilians, with some sailors mixed in. Boss was positioned behind the girls, a deterrent to ardent fans. Alexi sat in the back office under the guard of Bud. Things were running smoothly, the fans well-behaved.
Time progressed and the line shortened to inside the store. I shifted back to inside the store. Presently there was the sound of a Harley on the sidewalk, right outside the door. Some people will do anything for good parking, I thought. Then the door burst open and a blue-haired girl in a leather came in. She launched herself into my arms.
"Gator Bait, what are you doing here?" I asked.
"I got followed," she trembled at me. "They were waiting in a red Pontiac in the school lot. They approached me as I was getting on my putt, so I juiced it and took off. They followed me. Lenny, they shot at me. I got on the freeway and managed to outrun them. Heh, I guess I'm the first of the three of us to break a hundred on one of the bikes. I lost them around Oceanside, and I just kept coming this direction."
"You did right," I said. "We're about halfway through here. I suggest you go fuel up the Sportster for the ride home, then come back here. You can hang out in the office with Bud until we're done."
Jane began pulling her gloves back on. "Lemme give a hug to Bekka, then I'll go find a gas station. How are things around here?"
"We had a threat at the last store, but it was neutralized. You'll meet the threat when you go in the office, he's the one with the bad haircut."
Jane walked around the back of the tables, pausing briefly to get a hug from Boss. She continued on to Bekka, who excused herself from the swab she was currently signing a box for, stood up, and gave Jane a hug. They talked for a few moments, with Bekka exclaiming, "Pet, I'm so sorry!" All the guys in line watched this exchange with great curiosity, wondering who the punk rock girl was who got to hug Becky Page. After a kiss, Jane made her way back out from behind the tables and Bekka took her seat again.
Jane zipped up her leather and headed for the front door, promising to be back as quickly as possible. I heard the Sportster fire up and take off in search of gasoline. I went over to Bekka and crouched down, asking, "Did Jane tell you what happened?"
"She did. Thank you, sweetie," she said, handing a now-signed video box back to the nebbish in front of her.
I started to speak, but the next eager fan stepped in front of Bekka, saying, "Becky, you're wonderful. I've been a fan of your since 'Bad Babysitter.' Um, I know this great seafood place right here in town. What say we go and get some dinner after you're finished? I'd love to get to know you better."
Bekka flashed on her most charming smile and said, "I'm sorry, but after I'm done here I'm going home with my husband."
The fan jerked his head. "Your.... Husband?"
She put a hand on my shoulder and said, "This is my husband and producer, Lenny Schneider."
I put a hand out and said, "Hi, I'm Lenny. You may recognize my name from the credit roll at the beginning of the videos. You are?"
He unwillingly shook my hand and said, "Um, I'm Phil. Are you two really married?"
"Working on two years of it," I smiled. "I know the blurbs in the magazines said she was single, but they also said she was twenty-two years old. That's easily disproved, as she first started doing loops over seven years ago. In fact, since you're a fan, you'll be happy to know that Inana is compiling and re-releasing a bunch of her early stuff, back when she was twenty-one. How does that sound?"
Bekka finished writing "Kisses for Phil from Becky Page" in his video box and said, "Inana owns the rights to all my stuff, so I can't say anything. I'm just embarrassed that stuff I did when I was younger is going to be available again. I thought I was terrible back then."
Phil said, "I'm sure you did great. I'll watch for the video."
Bekka said, "You're too kind. And if you hate it, you can always tape soap operas over it."
The next guys along were busy chatting up Donna and Elspeth, so I quickly said, "They tried to get Jane at her school again. I have no clue if they know where we live. They certainly know the location of the mansion, that seems to be common knowledge these days. We're gonna be babysitting this dude Alexi for a day or two, until I hear from the don as to what to do with him. But the fact that they went after Jane again has me paranoid. We've gotta be on high alert."
"I dig it," Bekka said. "I think maybe it's time for me to give up my tiny Beretta to Jane, at least temporarily. I think we'd all prefer her getting in trouble with her school and the law than her being snatched again. Hell, I'd be in trouble to, for giving her the gun."
I considered. "Let me think that one over. Not a bad idea, though. After school tomorrow we go to the range and have her put a hundred or so rounds through it, so she's accurate and comfortable."
We cut short our conversation, as the next guy was approaching Bekka. He said, "Ms. Page, I'm glad to meet you. I'm a big fan. In fact, I'm trying to start my own production company, and was wondering if you would be willing to work for me. I'd do my best to keep you busy, and I'll pay good. Interested?"
Bekka appraised him coolly. She said, "I'm happy being at a company where my husband is the producer. I've been with Inana Productions over seven years, and am reaching a level of success I never counted on. It would be silly to jump ship now. Tell me, are you going to produce loops, or features?"
The dude said, "Um, just loops for now. What's this about your husband?"
I reached out again and said, "Hi, Lenny Schneider. Look at the print on the back of the box you're holding and you'll see my name listed under 'producer.' And yes, I know I'm young for the job."
Dude reluctantly shook hands and said, "John Eiger. So you produced this video? What else have you done?"
"All of Inana's features starting with 'Bad Babysitter' and about half of their loops. My director and me split the producer duties on loops. It frees up time I need to get other things done. You have a lawyer yet?"
John Eiger looked suspicious. "What do I need a lawyer for?" he asked.
I smiled. "Lots of things, but primarily documentation of ages of your performers. I don't care if you just hired Grandma Moses to perform, you want that shit documented and kept with a lawyer. Traci Lords saw to that. So where were you going to be shooting?"
He shrugged. "Starting off, at my house. I'll rent some space once I get far enough ahead."
"Do you have any investors?"
"I've got some savings."
"How about equipment? You can't buy the crap they have at Circuit City and expect decent shots. Plus editing equipment, lights, sound recording...."
John was getting annoyed. He said, "Look, I'm just starting out at this. I don't have anything firmed up yet."
Bekka said, "Find investors and firm things up. And remember, it's more than a full time job. You're going to live, breathe, and eat production. Adjust to delivery pizza being your primary food source. Get used to napping on a sofa that reeks of sex because you just finished taping your performers fucking on it. And prepare for being involved in other people's drama, since porn performers --- male and female --- can be the cattiest people on the planet. You know who your performers are yet?"
"No." He looked sullen. "Are you guys trying to discourage me from starting a company?"
"Not at all," I said. "It's more of a warning. Producing will consume most of your life, especially at first, and it's not a cheap industry to get into. It really is work."
"So what do you suggest?" John asked.
"Find investors, ones who understand video production, preferably. Be prepared to quit your day job and devote your life to taping other people fucking. And don't expect to see a return for a while. Oh, that's another thing, you'll need distributors for your tapes. And tape duplication plants insist on payment on delivery."
"You guys make it sound like a regular business!"
Bekka and I burst out laughing. "That's because it is, you doorknob!" said Bekka. "And a tough one."
The next guy in line was giving John dirty looks. I said, "Look, we're holding up the line here. Just trust us when we say making porn is a lot more work than people think. Have a nice day."
John stalked off, not looking happy. Like a lot of people, he almost certainly assumed that making porn was a party. Nope. The drugs that are around are there to keep the performers interested in what they're doing.... And they get first crack. I can't think of a single script I wrote where I didn't fall asleep in my chair, either while writing or editing. While John was planning on doing loops exclusively, you still have a ton of details to worry about from day to day. I hadn't even got around to asking him how he planned to pay his performers. For all I knew he was going to try and find people willing to take a percentage of sales.
The next guy stepped in front of Bekka and said, "Wow, I can't believe I'm meeting you in person. Becky, you're an angel. Can I buy you dinner? I promise I'm not a creep...."
Bekka shined her smile at him and said, "Sorry, but my husband is taking me out. What's your name, honey?"
"Um, Rob. Wait, you're married?"
Still keeping her smile on, she said, "Yes, and happily. You see surprised."
Rob said, "No, I'm not, it's just.... Why don't you tell your husband you're busy and have dinner with me?"
I said, "Because her husband just heard your suggestion and won't believe her, not now anyways."
"Wait, where's her husband?" He looked around. "Is it that big biker?"
"This is my husband right here," said Bekka, putting a hand on my shoulder. "Who did you think he meant?"
Rob gave me an eye of anger and despair. "How come you had to go and marry Becky?" he asked.
I said, "Because two years ago when I proposed, I didn't know you were on your way. What the hell sort of question is that to ask? Marriage is a natural progression when two people fall in love."
"I love Becky. You don't." He threw out what little chest he had.
Bekka finished signing the video box and slid it across the table to Rob. She said, "How can you say you love me? We've never even met."
Rob confidently said, "It's a vibe I get from your movies. You're a warm person. You're wonderful. And I bet if you got to know me you'd fall in love with me."
"The address for Inana Productions is on the back of the box. Send me a letter. Tell me about yourself. Who knows, I may write you back. Stranger things have happened."
"I make no promises. But I do promise I'll at least read your letter."
"Okay." Rob grabbed his video and scurried off, giving me another dirty look as he did so.
"I was afraid he was going to threaten to hold his breath until he turned blue if you didn't go out with him," I said. Standing up, I headed over to where Boss was standing. He was alert behind his wraparound sunglasses, watching the door for anyone who appeared remotely suspicious.
"Twenty minutes and we're outta here," I told him. He nodded, scanning the crowd. There was a steady backup of maybe ten fans. They purposely avoided eye contact with the punk rocker or the biker. As we seemed to be able to wander anywhere we damn well pleased, it was assumed that we were some form of hired goons, taking care of security. We'd had no problems at this store at all.
Jane returned, to the great interest of those in line. It was presumed that any female in an adult book store must be in a state of heat. She disappointed the crowd by heading straight for me and giving me a hug. I led her back to the office, where Bud and Alexi were keeping each other company. We went in, and I explained the situation to Bud. He sneered at Alexi and said to him, "Your amigos are stirring up plenty of trouble. They'll dig their own graves." Alexi simply looked confused at this: his grasp of English didn't cover slang. Bud and Jane exchanged pleasantries briefly, then Jane grabbed a back issue of Fox that was sitting in a rack and began reading. Bud silently watched this with interest and curiosity. I'd already told him Jane's age, and that she was strictly off-limits. Like, me ripping him into many small pieces if he hit on Jane or even made her a bit uncomfortable. I'd given Lou the same warning weeks earlier.
I went and checked with Donna and Elspeth to see how they were doing. Fine, fine. Donna quietly asked me if Boss was seeing anyone. I stared at her briefly, then told her that yeah, he had a very nice little scooter tramp named Mona on the hook. Why?
"Oh.... You know. Just curious," Donna said.
"I thought you had a boyfriend," I commented.
Donna looked disgusted. "That is rapidly dissolving. He can't accept that what I do is performance, that it doesn't mean anything. And he got majorly pissed when he found out about these autograph-signing junkets. He can't understand why I'd be getting a per diem to ride around in a limo and write the words 'Donita Dare' on video box inserts. You know he hasn't even seen 'Dangerous Desires' yet? He's sure that something crooked is going on."
I said, "My own self-interest is telling me to ask you if he may make a pain in the ass of himself around the mansion, like stalking you or causing trouble."
"Doubt it. He's shutting me out. It's only a matter of time before he cuts bait and runs. Besides, he's tiny compared to you. You'd break him in half. Not to mention your gun under your arm."
"Just for reference, what does he drive?"
Donna thought for a second. "A Mazda 626, about five or six years old. Blue. Smells like pizza due to his part-time job."
"Okay. That way if I see the car hanging around the mansion, I'll feel justified in being suspicious."
Donna waved her hand. "Aw, he doesn't even know where Inana is headquartered. And trust me, that's really not his style. He's more likely to tell me to fuck off and never return phone calls again. Anyway, he's afraid of Inana. He's sure the place is run by scary mafia goons, not a twenty-two year old punk."
"Nope, no goons here," I said nervously.
I went back to the office to see if anything had developed. Nope. Jane lamented that Fox, Gallery, Hustler, or any other magazines of that ilk didn't have crossword puzzles in them.
"You could write them and suggest it," I said.
Bud grinned. "Hey, that would be fun to write every month. Easy, too. Like, synonym for cat, five letters."
"Is the first letter a P?" I asked.
"Shut up, Bud. Alexi, how are you doing?"
He sulked, "I should not be here. I should be doing what I can to save my family."
"Like what, pointing a junk .32 at people again? Sure didn't help you today."
Alexi said, "I wish to leave."
Bud and I both laughed. "Sorry, not happening. You're not much of a chip, but you're what we've got. Don't worry about your wife and daughter, there's no way they'd harm them with you running loose. You're too good of a witness. Relax, enjoy being a temporary guest of the mafia. I'll bet we feed you better than the bastards you're hooked up with."
"How old is your daughter?" asked Jane.
"She is.... Ten month old," replied Alexi.
"Bastards," muttered Jane, getting up and heading for the rack to find another porno magazine to read.
I checked my watch. It was time. I went out front and told everyone, "It's the witching hour." There were still seven guys in line. I dragged one of the velvet rope posts over to the opposite side of the aisle, effectively closing the lane. Just as I was doing that a shortish sailor with an alarming skin condition came charging through the door. He grabbed a copy of Dangerous Desires and turned to get in line.... Only he saw the blocked off lane and me standing there, shaking my head.
Bekka saw all this and said, "Let him in. I'll sign him." Elspeth and Donna also agreed to take the late arrival. He got a grateful look on his face and thanked everyone within hearing distance. He looked at me and asked, "So have you seen the new movie yet?"
"Matter of fact, I have," I said.
"I haven't, but I really liked the last Becky Page movie I saw, and all the porno magazines are giving this new one really good reviews. I'm stoked I'm going to meet Becky Page. Have you ever met her?"
"Yeah, I know Becky."
"Think she'd let me take her out tonight?" the sailor asked.
"Doubt it," I said. "She's married."
"What? No way."
I smiled down at him. "Yeah, she's married to her producer. Want to know how I know this?"
"Aw, you're bullshitting me," the sailor said. "No way would someone as hot as Becky Page have settled down into marriage. Besides, she's only twenty-two."
"Ah, you read Hustler," I said. "No, Becky is not twenty-two, she is twenty-eight. And she is happily married. She will attest to this."
I got a suspicious look. "So how do you know all this?"
"I'm married to her," I said.
The sailor looked ready to punch me. "You're a liar," he said.
I said, "Watch this. Hey Bekka!"
Bekka looked over and said, "Yeah, baby?"
"Who am I?"
She said, "You're Lenny Schneider, my husband and producer. Why?"
I indicated the sailor and said, "This gentleman was curious."
I grinned down at the sailor again. "Now do you understand why it would be both wrong and futile to try and convince Becky to go out with you tonight?"
The sailor looked up at me. He was in a state of awe, or something. He said, "You really are married to Becky Page. Wow. Can you keep up with her?"
"Like, how did you meet?"
"I was hired as the still photographer at our studio, Inana. Her and I hit it off, became friends, and fell in love. We just happened to be two people working in the same place, that's all."
"Yeah, but marryin' her, that's something else. How do you handle what she does for a living, being her husband?"
I sighed. "It's what she was doing when we first met, it's what she was doing when we became friends, it's what she was doing when we fell in love. It's what she continues to do, because it's our career. It's only performance. It means nothing."
By this time the others in front of him had gotten their autographs and headed out. I walked over to where Bekka was sitting and leaned against the table. The sailor got Donna and Elspeth's autographs, and approached Bekka. He put the video box down for signing and said, "Ms. Page, I think you're fantastic, and I was wondering if you'd like to go out with me tonight."
Bekka stifled a laugh. "You realize you're asking me out in front of my husband, right? You don't see a problem there?"
"I don't think he believes us," I said. "He believes you're too much of a dynamo to be contained by the tenets of marriage. As far as I go, I think I'm too ugly for Becky Page."
The sailor looked dumbfounded. He said to Bekka, "You and him really are married? No bullshit?"
"No bullshit," replied Bekka.
"Oh. Well, if you get divorced, my name is Specialist First Class Arthur Hayden, I'm stationed here in Long Beach, and I'd love to see you. Okay?"
"Sure thing. Just don't hold your breath, Arthur. Lenny and me have survived some tense situations, and they've only made us tighter."
The sailor slowly nodded, then turned on his heel and headed out the door. Bekka watched him go, then said, "I'm telling you, it was a big mistake allowing the magazines to print that I'm single. I broke hearts in LA last week, and now I'm breaking them in Long Beach."
"And on Friday you'll be breaking them in Orange County," I said. "Your fans will have to deal with it, and me."
All of us gathered in the office. Alexi and Jane sat there, considering each other. It was obvious that Alexi's mind was blown by Jane. He simply had no reference point for dealing with a sixteen year old girl with spiked blue hair and a leather jacket, who casually sat around in adult book stores reading porno mags like they were back issues of People. Jane was a combination of four things that he couldn't handle all at once: youthful, outrageous, confident, and female. Jane, meanwhile, had a vague grasp as to why Alexi was there, but still wasn't comfortable with this foreign guy in his early twenties with a tragic haircut.
I stepped up front and out onto the sidewalk, looking for the limo. Harris was just rolling up the street, moving slow to encourage other drivers to pass him so he wouldn't be creating a jam-up when he double-parked. I went back in and let everyone know our transportation awaited.
Bud asked me if I wanted to cuff Alexi. I told him no, the guy had behaved himself so far, and didn't seem to be eager for trouble. He seemed to be going with the flow, and right now the flow pointed towards following the instructions of these strange-looking people and the women they're with. He understood that we were connected with the mafia, but that was about it. Harris held the door for us, and we all got in. As a bit of caution, Alexi sat in the middle of the rear seat, with me on one side and Boss on the other. As usual, the girls kicked off their shoes and lounged around on the floor. Jane agreed to follow the limo as far as the freeway, then she could do what she wanted.
Harris fired up and we rolled out, headed back to the mansion.