Alexi was nervous. He couldn't get over the feeling that we were going to kill him at any minute. After all, he had threatened and attempted to kill the girls. Now he was seated in a limo with them, Bekka, Donna, and Elspeth sitting on the floor rolling dice. This wasn't what he expected. No doubt our casual attitude came from having killed so many others in the past, and we were now headed to a pre-selected location for his murder.
"Where do we go?" Alexi asked. We were passing through Mission Viejo.
I told him, "Our final destination is my house in Encinitas. We will change to a different vehicle in a while, my own car. You can relax at my place. Speaking of relaxation...."
I pulled a fat joint out of my jacket and lit it. I offered it to Alexi, but he refused. So did Boss. I passed it down to the girls, who began working away on it. The familiar odor quickly filled the limo. Realizing what it was we were smoking (and that it wasn't killing the girls), Alexi stuck his hand in and took a hit. He hacked briefly, then settled down in the cushions and stared blankly out the window. He was resigned to his fate, real or imagined.
We pulled up in front of the mansion. Harris trotted around to the side and we all piled out as he held the door. I shook his hand goodnight, tipped him, and told him I'd try to get him on Friday for the same routine, only this time in Orange County. He was glad to hear it. "Y'all may smoke weed, but I prefer that over people who been drinkin'. They just a headache."
We all stood in the driveway as the limo drove away. Boss coasted his soft tail out from the entryway, then fired it up, which startled Alexi. He stared at the machine in amazement. Then he screwed up his courage and actually spoke to Boss, who was sitting astride the motorcycle letting it warm up.
"Excuse me," said Alexi over the noise of the engine. "What is this?"
Boss smiled and adjusted the choke. "This is a Harley Davidson soft tail, with a 1200 cc. engine. You like it?"
Alexi stared some more and said, "I have never been this close to such a machine."
Boss said, "They're addictive." He clapped Alexi on the arm and said, "You take care. Don't worry, you'll git yer wife and daughter back. You got the mafia on your side. Talk to ya later." And with that Boss powered down the driveway and down the street.
I gave hugs to Donna and Elspeth, reminding them that we were playing the same game again, at the same times, on Friday. If they had any questions I'd be in my office by 9:15 in the morning. In the meantime, go and get some rest.
Bekka and I ensconced Alexi in the back seat of the Fleetwood. He continued to be amazed, peering over the front seat at the dashboard and instrument panels, running his hands along the leather seats. I let the engine warm up for about thirty seconds, then rolled out towards home. Alexi asked me, "Do you own this car?"
"Sure do," I said.
"You can afford such a car?"
"Yes I can. I have been lucky in business."
He muttered something that sounded like "Wuff!" and settled back into silence.
We arrived home. Jane greeted us with a call as soon as she heard the door open. We confirmed that it was us, and to not shoot. Jane settled back down on one of the sofas, watching a rerun of M*A*S*H. I gestured Alexi onto the love seat, then went and got drinks for everyone: three sizable Johnnie Walkers over ice for me, Bekka, and Alexi, and a bottle of Anchor steam for Jane. Alexi took his glass, stared into it doubtfully, sniffed, and finally tasted. It met his approval and he took a real sip. We weren't trying to poison him.
"So Alexi," I said, "I understand we need to get your wife and child back. We'll need your help, but we can do it. When was the last time you saw them?"
"Yesterday. I was allowed to visit them."
"How were they doing?"
"My baby seemed to have a cough. My wife looked tired, as though she did not sleep."
"You look pretty worn out yourself, man. So where did you go to see them?"
Alexi's face brightened slightly. "I thought to look at the address as I was driven there. It was a house in Downey. The address is ____ Ellis Street. I make myself remember it."
"How many people were in the house? There was you, the goon who drove you, your wife and child.... How many others?"
He thought briefly. "Five. Five men, and one woman. They seemed to expect more. I glance through a doorway while being escorted to see my family, and I see many guns lined up on a bed."
Time to change gears. I asked, "So how did you get involved with these assholes, anyway?"
Alexi held his hands out in front of him. "My wife and I, we arrive in this country knowing few people. A few contacts passed on to us. I look them up. One man, older man, he invite us to visit him. After a meal he tell me that it is easy to make money in United States, all you have to do is break the law. I refuse. We go our own way, I think. Four days ago he showed up at my home with two other men. They all have guns. We are put in two cars, separated. I am blindfolded and told that to keep my wife and daughter alive, I must do things for them." He had a haunted look right about then.
"What things do you need to do?" I asked.
Alexi ran his hands through his hair. "I have killed. I kill a man in a liquor store, and another in a house. I do not know either one, yet I kill them. They tell me it is what I must do to be with my family."
"Where have you been staying over the last four days? At your home?"
"No. I am put in an empty room in an apartment in Lawndale, and told to rest there. I lie on the floor and try to rest but do not, for worry."
"How old are you and your family?" I asked.
Alexi pondered his response, remembering his English. "I am twenty-four. My wife is twenty-two. Our daughter is ten months. We are married just over two years."
Bekka elbowed in. "Alexi, are you hungry?"
"I am," he said. "They do not feed me for three days. I thank you again for the food you give me at the magazine shop."
"Jane," I said, "go grab the Leucadia menu off the fridge. I think we can all eat."
"Sounds good. Can I have another beer?"
"Just one more," said Bekka. "We'll hit the bong later."
While Jane was in the kitchen, Alexi said to me, "She is.... Sister? Cousin?"
I laughed and said, "She is of no relation at all. She is simply a young friend who lives with us. Her parents rejected her, so she came here. She is in high school. We take care of her, and she gets good grades."
Jane brought in the menu, and handed it to me. I in turn handed it to Alexi, who stared at it in a desperate attempt to grasp some meaning, some clue as to what it said. It didn't happen. He held the menu out and said, "I do not, ehh...."
I said, "That's the menu for a local restaurant we're gonna order food from. They mostly do Italian food, you like Italian?"
He said, "Please, order food for me, thank you. Please, I do not understand."
"I'll order you lasagna and a salad. That'll hold you together until morning."
Bekka fetched the weed and bong while I got on the phone and ordered our food. Alexi engrossed himself in the TV. During a commercial break, I asked him, "Do you know why they wanted you to kill the people you did?"
"Yes. Revenge. They are angry."
"Do you know why they are angry?"
Alexi frowned. "It is something to do with a drug called Ecstasy. They lose much money. I do not know how they lose the money. They start to talk, but stop because I am there."
I knocked off the last of my scotch. I asked, "So they drove you to places and gave you a gun to kill the people they said to. Why didn't you turn the gun on them?"
"They always have a gun pointed at me. If I behave wrong, they would kill me." He paused. "I came to kill you, and yet you let me live. Why?"
"Because there would have been no point in it. You had your reasons for doing what you did, which you explained to me. You were getting played, you were a pawn. Besides, you're more valuable alive than dead. No, don't worry about us killing you. Alexi will live. The mafia doesn't kill without reasons."
Alexi snapped his fingers and said, "Mafia. That is who they are angry at. The mafia make them lose money over the drugs. Does this make sense?"
"Plenty," I assured him. "Your former friends were importing a lot of Ecstasy. The mafia decided that moving Ecstasy would be good business, and set about cornering the market on the stuff. The goons pushing you around didn't like that. The mafia had a better product at a cheaper price, so everybody decided to buy from us. We offered to make a deal, but were turned down. That's when this little war started. You just got dragged in."
Alexi had a stressed look on his face. "Earlier you say mafia can get my wife and daughter back. Can mafia do this? Truly?"
I gave my best reassuring smile. "I'm constantly amazed at what the mafia can accomplish. I give you my word that we will do everything we can to get you all back together again."
Jane piped up with, "These same assholes kidnapped me a while back. The mafia used a helicopter to help rescue me. They said they would save me, and they did. Your wife and kid will be okay."
Concerned, Alexi said, "They may believe me to be dead."
"And that's to your advantage," I said. "That means they aren't expecting you to show up at that house in Downey with the cops."
"What if they have moved my wife and daughter?"
"Then we just find 'em again. Somebody will know where they were moved to, so we squeeze them for the information. The mafia will grab a couple of those assholes and make them talk, they're good at that. We don't mind putting a snatch on people when it serves our purposes. Like you. When you walked into that book store, we knew you were an assassin, but we thought you were connected. It's a bit of a fuck-up that you're here now. So far as strategy and information go, you're useless. But we're gonna help reunite you with your family anyway, because we fucking said we would. The mafia is strong on family."
Bekka finally began toying with the bong, putting in a load. She said lazily, "Don't worry about getting home. The don said to hold onto you, so that's what we're doing. You're here, you may as well relax. We'll feed you, and you'll have a real bed to sleep in. And don't worry about your wife and kid, we'll get the three of you back together. Unless these guys are complete monsters, they're fine."
"They are dangerous men," said Alexi.
"So are Lenny and Boss," giggled Bekka. "No, unless they're monsters, they're not about to kill a woman and an infant in cold blood. Your wife and kid were the bargaining chips to get you to do their dirty work. Now that you've been captured, and presumably killed, by the mafia, they have no need to lean on your family. They won't kill them."
"Unless they're monsters," muttered Jane from the other couch.
"Jane...." I said warningly.
"I'm not trying to be funny," Jane said, taking the bong from Bekka. "But remember, I've spent time around these creeps. They're ruthless and violent. I'd get slapped because I dared to start to speak. Remember, they were gonna gang rape me just to pass the time in the afternoon. They're dangerous scumbags. If we do an extraction like the family did for me, I want in. Give me a gun to use and bring me along." She began firing through the bong load.
"Not no but hell no," I told her. "It'll never happen. No way is the family going to allow a sixteen year old girl to take part in a maneuver. All your uncles have experience in this sort of thing. Hell, the only reason I was part of your extraction was I was the bait. Also, keep in mind that the mafia is a really sexist organization. There are no female members or associates. Bekka not only is Sicilian, but she's also killed for the family. She's held in high esteem and gets a lot of respect, but she'll never be a member. Blue haired teenage girls are even less likely to become involved with the family like that. Capiche?"
"Yeah. Kinda sucks though."
I loaded the bong and handed it to Alexi. He took it, frowned down at the bowl, then set it on the coffee table. "No, no," he said. "It is too strong. I do not enjoy."
"Then how about another drink?" I said, getting up and grabbing his empty glass. I went into the kitchen with all three glasses, rinsed them, put in fresh ice, and poured Johnnie Walker in them all. Alexi had an appreciative look on his face and thanked me. Jane sat on the floor in front of the coffee table and began doing her homework.
Homework. School. Oh shit. I said to Bekka, "Hon, remember what we discussed briefly earlier? About giving something to Jane? Should we?"
Bekka said, "I think we should. With a few caveats. After what happened to her yesterday, I think it's only fair."
"What are you guys talking about?" asked Jane.
"We have a temporary gift for you," I said. Bekka got up and grabbed her purse, fishing out the tiny Beretta and its spare clip. She set them both in front of Jane, who went wide-eyed. Alexi watched this with interest.
Bekka said, "You've wanted it, and now you've got it, for a while anyway. This is not a permanent thing, this is only while this war is going on. We don't want you kidnapped again. That'll fit in your front pocket without too much of a bulge."
"It comes with some warnings, though," I said. "First of all, that's a real gun. It's made to kill people. Only point it at someone if you intend to kill them Am I clear? Next, you're going to be working out with it. You're hitting the range with us every Sunday and you put at least a hundred rounds through it. Then you come home and clean it. Third, don't even dream of showing that damn thing off at school. That is trouble we don't need."
"Yeah. If you do that, it's hard to say which one will have me more pissed off: the fact that I'll have lost a gun I like, or the fact that I'll be in jail. Unless more kidnappers are coming after you, that damn thing stays in your pocket. It is for your protection, and that is all."
Alexi took all this in, and stared at the baby Beretta. He said, "This is a working gun? It is very small."
I grinned and said, "Yeah, but it packs a wallop and fits in the front pocket of a pair of pants. And it's a Beretta, so it's accurate and reliable."
Jane stood up and put her new acquisition in her front right pocket. The spare clip went in her book bag. She looked somewhat pleased, but she wasn't smiling. The gravity of the situation outweighed the fact that we were letting her carry a gun now. She stood in front of me and asked, "Can you see the bulge?"
I told her, "Yes, but you can't tell what it is. That's the important thing, especially at your school. We can't stress enough how heavily the shit will hit the fan if you get caught with that thing. The only reason you should ever have it out at school is if your life or well-being are in danger. Basically, if someone's starting to point a gun at you, you point yours back. The other party either drops theirs and runs, or you put a hole in them. You'll have to accept that if you do use the gun in an appropriate manner, you'll still be leaving school in the back of a police car. Yes, you will have protected yourself, and you're alive. You're still a minor in possession of an illegally-concealed gun."
Jane understood the seriousness of what I was saying, you could see it on her face, and nodded at me. "Safe to assume I shouldn't tell Lance I have it?"
Bekka said, "Oh, if word got back to his stepdad, that would be a disaster. The good detective would have us in jail like shit through a goose. No, the people who know you have that gun with you are in this room. No one, but no one, learns that you're heeled."
Dinner arrived. Lasagna was a new one on Alexi, but he immediately fell in love, gobbling down his lasagna, salad, and garlic bread, plus a couple slices of the pizza I'd also ordered. Given how scrawny the guy was, I was glad to see him eating with enthusiasm.
Jane got on the phone and called Lance, to see how his day had gone. With Jane riding the Sportster to school, Lance was back to riding the bus. He'd gotten spoiled. Jane explained why it was just as well.
"Yeah, I rode to Long Beach this afternoon, and met up with Lenny and Bekka. They, uh, were just worried about me.... An autograph signing. Three of them, actually.... Bekka and two other girls from Inana, who had big roles in the newest movie.... Oh, it's great, you'll have to come over and watch it this week.... So, just don't tell them you're watching porn.... Well you met Eddie and Elspeth, and they were polite with you.... No way!... Well, she's insulting Bekka, talking shit like that, I'll have it out with her.... He is? Okay, good night."
"So how am I being insulted?" asked Bekka.
Jane said, "Lance's mom told Lance that women in porn have no moral base at all, they are utterly free of a sense of right and wrong. Lance defended you, telling her that your moral compass functions just fine. His mom didn't want to hear it, saying that you've got everyone fooled, so obviously you're both morally vacant and a sociopath. Shit, what if she says he can't come over here any more?"
"Well, we're no longer living in the mansion, so that's gotta be viewed as an improvement. So far as Lance's mom goes, I don't know what to tell you. The woman barely knows me, so if she had me in mind when she said that, I don't know where she got it from. I'll probably have to rescue a drowning child or something for her to stop generalizing about the morals of people in porn. Did Lance say how the subject came up?"
"He mentioned last week's autograph signings in LA," said Jane. "He basically passed along things I'd said, about how you're a star, and the other girls are going to also get famous, and how the three of you were getting the movie star treatment with the limo and everything. The idea of porn performers having a measurable degree of fame didn't set too well with her."
Bekka laughed, but it had a bitter tone to it. "The next time I see this woman, I'll have to remind her that I worked like hell to get where I am. I earned what I have, and that includes my husband and my house. On second thought, maybe it's better if I don't see her around. Who knows, maybe being a porn slut is contagious."
Alexi had a slightly awed look on his face. "Excuse me.... You make the sexy movies?"
Bekka tittered. I brayed with laughter. I told him, "Yes we do. Why don't we watch one so you can understand how we make a living?"
"'Rocker Girls'! 'Rocker Girls'! 'Rocker Girls'!" chanted Jane.
"Suits me," shrugged Bekka.
I grabbed the tape and shoved it in the VCR. The words "Becky Page as Lila" splashed across the screen, so I whistled and clapped. So did Jane. Her and Bekka returned the favor shortly, as "Producer: Lenny Schneider" appeared. I leaned over to Alexi and said, "They didn't tell you what kind of business you were going in to assault?"
Alexi replied, "They tell me it is a magazine store, not a sex store."
We watched the movie all the way through. Most of us did, anyway. Alexi fell asleep at some point. I shook him awake, then gave him a hand out of the love seat and guided him upstairs to the guest bedroom that was complete. He saw the bed and nearly collapsed with joy. "Thank you very much," he said.
The girls were coming up the stairs, feeling that Alexi had the right idea. Jane turned into her room, removing and carefully placing the tiny Beretta on her dresser. Bekka and I continued up, feeling more exhausted than one would expect. It wasn't that late, and we're both speedfreaks. It probably had a lot to do with the general stress of the day. Our would-be assassin was currently sleeping one floor below us. And I was reminded that there were men in the world whose attraction to my wife would best be described as pathological.
Bekka and I stripped down and got in bed. As we lay there, Bekka asked me, "So you think Alexi will still be in the house when we get up tomorrow?"
"Yeah. He knows it's too far to walk, nobody picks up hitchhikers these days, and he has only the vaguest inkling as to where he is anyway. What would he do, try to walk the beachfront the entire distance?"
"What do you think will become of him?"
I scratched. "We'll eventually ponce him off to family members up in LA, who will reunite him with his wife and kid. While they're doing that they'll learn what I did, which is that Alexi is not a valuable font of useful information. Hopefully they don't twist him to hard. He's just some poor dope that got sucked into this mess against his will."
Bekka cuddled against my arm. "You think we'll end up in another firefight this time around?"
"Baby, I have no clue."
"I was afraid of that."