Jane showed up around 3:45. "Nobody after me today," she said. "I showered after volleyball and went out to the lot with another girl, a senior who drives to school. I wanted the company. I didn't see anyone hanging around, and no red Pontiacs. Think they gave up?"
"More likely they were sent on another errand, and were told to take care of you later. And you are their assignment, otherwise they'd have turned up here."
"How did it go with Alexi?" Jane asked.
I said, "Rizzo came and got him around two. He spent the day watching television and drinking random sodas. He's still scared, but I think he's figured out we're not gonna kill him unless he does something really stupid, like attack one of us. They'll interview him, and after that I don't know."
"Him and I talked some last night."
Jane said, "Yeah, he came to my room. He was curious about my hair, for one. He was surprised I'm allowed in school looking the way I do. He wants to go to school. He can speak English fair, but can barely read it. He wants to learn, he wants to be more than a landscaper, which is what he's been doing. I told him to check out his local community colleges for ESL courses. He's a nice guy."
"Yeah, he is," I said. "And now he's tangled up with the mafia."
Jane giggled. "You're a nice guy, and you're a mafia associate."
"But I'm not a nice guy. I'm a fuck-up, an ex speed dealer who now runs a porn studio. If I was a nice guy my life would be a lot more sedate."
Jane came around to my side of the desk and sat in my lap. "I think you're a very nice guy. You take in stray bitches in heat from Florida, and treat them well. You're good to your wife. The people who work for you are happy, and like you. You're a sweetheart, and you can't even see it."
Bekka came downstairs in her kimono robe. She walked into the office, sized up the situation, and sat down in Jane's lap. I now had two women on me. She said to Jane, "What have I told you about your current seating arrangement?"
Jane said, "I was just being friendly. I was trying to convince Lenny that he's a good guy, despite his low opinion of himself. I wasn't wiggling around or anything."
"Um, I think my legs are falling asleep," I said.
Bekka and Jane removed themselves and sat on the couch opposite me. Bekka asked, "So Alexi got off okay?"
"Yeah. Rizzo was friendly with him, so that helped him relax a little. He's aware that he's going to be grilled by the mafia when he gets to LA, but I'd explained to him that he'll be treated well as long as he's cooperative. Wonder if we'll ever see him again?"
"Only if the family gives him a job," said Bekka. "If the family kicks him and his wife and baby loose, they're gonna run. At least they will if they have any sense.""
"That reminds me," I said. "Apparently I'll be assisting in the extraction. I have no idea what they expect of me, but Angel told me I'm part of it."
"Just great. Now I'll have something new to worry about." Bekka stood up from the couch. "If you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go shower the smell of dick off of me. Let's go have an early dinner at Evelyn's. I've got a jones for ribs."
Angel called me around eleven that night, late for him. "I have instructions for you," he said. "Tomorrow you will be at the gate of the Long Beach airport heliport at noon. You will be met. Wear your Beretta, and bring an extra clip. Also wear comfortable clothes, things you can be physically active in. You wanted this extraction, and it's happening. You'll be with Rico, Rizzo, and Dougie. One of them will get you through the gate and to the helicopter."
I was surprised. "We're really using the helicopter? We're only going to Downey."
"Coming in from on high is excellent psychological warfare," Angel assured me. "It shows we are a force to be reckoned with."
"So how did the interview with Alexi go?" I asked.
"Your description of him was on the mark. He really is some poor sap who got dragged into a situation against his will. He had no information about the organization, other than the fact that they're acting in a violent and desperate manner right now. We have put him up in a motel room, with the instructions to not leave until we come for him. We wish to speak with him again tomorrow."
"Anything I should know?"
"So far as Alexi goes, no. He holds you and Bekka in high regard. Insofar as your duties tomorrow go, keep in mind that people will probably be trying to kill you while you're on the ground in Downey. You don't have body armor, do you?"
"No," I sighed.
"Then stay low, keep your eyes open, and stick with whatever game plan Dougie has. This will be a lightning strike: eliminate opposition and remove the woman and her child. In and out. Think you can handle it?"
"Yeah. This will all be new to me, so I'll get advice from the other three guys. Do you have any advice?"
"Yeah. Don't walk in front of a bullet. They hurt."
I chuckled. "Angel, you're too fucking kind. You gonna be around?"
"I'll be on the ground when you get back to Long Beach, to handle any casualties. Otherwise, you won't see me until it's all over."
"You think this will be a bullet opera?" I asked.
"We'll see. We got a job to do. You, you're lucky, you're immune to bullets, because you've taken so many."
"I don't want to test that idea. See you tomorrow."
Bekka asked me, "Who the hell was that? One of the family?"
I said, "Yeah. Angel. Feel free to start worrying, we're mounting the action tomorrow, and I'm part of the action. I'm riding the helicopter into Downey and helping get back Alexi's wife and kid. We're expecting fun."
"Dammit, they have professionals for this kind of action," Bekka pouted.
"Maybe they want me to be a professional. I'm getting on the job training. This is the mafia, they expect everyone to be useful in a lot of ways. I've got the youth, I've got the energy, and god knows I've had so many guns pointed at me that I've stopped being afraid of them."
"Don't even joke about that. You're not bulletproof."
I leaned over and kissed her, saying, "I know it. Give the gift of Kevlar for Christmas this year. And don't worry too much about me tomorrow, I've got good men on my side."
Bekka flopped on her side. "Don't worry, he says. There's good advice."
"I don't know what else to tell you. This is a job, a technical job. It's all about being part of the family. And it's for a good cause, saving that woman and her daughter. This is the mafia, we'll come out on top, you'll see."
"Let's try to sleep. I need you to hold me."
I stripped down and threw back the covers, getting into bed with Bekka. I gathered her into my arms, saying, "There, better?"
She snuggled against me. "Yes. I love you."
"I love you too."
I found the lot for the heliport and grabbed a space, then walked to the gate. I didn't see anyone around. For the twentieth time I checked my Beretta and the spare clip in my back pocket. From behind me a voice called, "Lenny."
I turned and spotted the source of the voice. "Rizzo," I said back.
"I got something for you," he said, and tossed me a black mass of cloth. I unfolded it. It was a black windbreaker with the letter M stenciled across the back in luminescent paint.
"Go back to your car and swap that out for that damn punk rock jacket you always wear," Rizzo told me. "It's what you're wearing tonight."
I did as I was told, leaving my denim in the back seat after stripping it of my cigarettes and lighter. The windbreaker got pulled on. It was baggy. I pointed out to Rizzo that they'd got my size wrong.
"Naw," he said, "that's to give you room for your body armor. Where is yours, anyway?"
"I don't have any," I said.
"Jesus!" he exclaimed. "Great, we're gonna have a man walking naked today. Why the hell didn't you bring it?"
"I don't own any. It got left off my Christmas wish list."
"You at least have a fucking gun, right?"
I opened the jacket, exposing my pistol. "Beretta 92 FS, fifteen in the belly, a spare fifteen round clip in my pocket."
"Okay. C'mon, let's go to the chopper, Rico should already be there."
He pulled a key out of his pocket and let us in through the gate. I followed him through a maze of parked helicopters to a large black job whose rotor was spinning slowly. The side door was open, so we climbed in. Rico looked up from the pilot's seat and smiled.
"Rizzo! Lenny the punk! Have a seat," he said. "We're just waiting on Dougie, and we can get this show on the road."
We didn't wait long. Dougie showed up three minutes later, toting a gym bag. He threw it in first, then climbed in the chopper. He shook hands all around, then told Rico to get airborne. "How are you all?" he asked.
Rizzo said, "Me and Dougie are great. The punk here don't have any body armor. He's naked."
Dougie frowned. "I heard you like risks," he said. "You're taking one."
I shrugged. There was no comment to make.
"So what's the plan?" asked Rico, flipping switches. The sound of the engine gained an urgency.
Dougie said, "We're doing this in daylight, and we're dropping this bird into a residential neighborhood. There will be nothing subtle about our approach. You and me and Lenny hit the ground running while Rico is still landing. I cover the front windows while you and Lenny take down the front door. I follow you in. Anything that moves gets dropped. We go room to room until we locate the woman and her kid. Rico watches the front and drops anything trying to run out that ain't us. As soon as we have our targets, we get them in the bird and get the fuck out of there. We're looking at ninety seconds of action, if all goes well. Make sense?"
Me, Rico, and Rizzo all nodded.
"Good. Then let's get in the air. I hate flying in these things."
Rico pulled back on the stick and we were in the air. Rico flew like he drove: fast, low, and aggressively. As we flew along, Dougie unzipped his bag and took out two Uzis. He handed one to Rizzo, then looked at me and asked, "You got your own iron, right?"
"A Beretta, with thirty rounds," I said.
He looked doubtful. "I guess that will do. I hope you're a snap shot."
I smiled and said, "I get good scores."
Rico dropped us even lower and aimed at the blacktop of a residential street. Dougie told me, "Open that door."
While we were still six feet off the ground and dropping, Dougie plunged out, Rizzo following him. I did the same, glad I'd worn my Doc Martens. Dougie put a quick spray into the front windows while Rizzo and I went to the front door. It was locked. I stood back and kicked with my heel, and the door swung open.
Three shots whiffed by my face. Rizzo mashed his elbow into my shoulder and opened up with his Uzi, dropping a guy leaning out of a closet. Rizzo shoved me forward and said, "Take point, asshole."
I went further into the house. A hallway with lots of doors. One at a time, that was the only way to do it. The first one, an empty closet. From behind me I heard Dougie yell, "I'm in! You okay?"
Rizzo yelled back, "Yeah, get the front room!" From the front of the house I heard the spray of an Uzi. "One less!" yelled Dougie.
The next door was locked. I kicked it open and saw a figure lying on a bed. It held a gun aimed at me, so I shot it four times. I went in the room while Rizzo got my back, checking for more gunmen. None.
The next door was unlocked. I stepped in and surveyed. I was about to write it off when I noticed the baby bottle sitting on the dresser. Smiling grimly, I jumped up on the bed and looked down at the space between the bed and the wall. There lay a young woman, face pressed into the carpet. She held a swaddled infant, protecting it with her body.
I dropped to my knees on the bed and wrenched her upwards. She had terror in her eyes. I smiled again and said, "We are here to save you. On your feet." She followed instructions well, standing up. I yelled out the door, "Got her! Let's go!"
She wasn't quick on the uptake, so I grabbed her by the arm and hustled her out into the hallway. Rizzo was now behind me, jogging backwards as I pulled her along towards the front door. Dougie was the first out, running for the chopper. Rico was already in, getting the engine spooled up.
The woman froze on me on the sidewalk, staring at the helicopter in fear. Rizzo shot past me, yelling, "Get her on the fucking bird!" With no alternatives, I scooped her up under one arm and ran forward. A couple shots rang out from the house. I threw her in the chopper and got my foot on the rail just as Rico began to lift off. Heaving myself forward, I landed on the floor. Dougie provided covering fire as I dragged myself in, hot shells landing on my head. Rico banked hard and we were on our way.
Rizzo lifted the petrified woman and infant off the floor and into a seat. She gaped around at us. "Who are you?" she asked.
Dougie gave her a gentle smile. "The mafia," he replied. "We are taking you to your husband. Do you understand?"
"My hus-band? He is alive?"
"Alive, well, and waiting. You will see him soon."
Up in the cockpit, Rico was on a cellular phone. "Yeah, Angel, clean job. Meet you at the Marriott in half an hour.... Yeah.... Yeah, okay. See you there."
Rico leaned back into the passenger compartment and asked, "Hey, Angel wants to know how Lenny handled himself."
Rizzo said, "Like a pro. He's a snap shot with that Beretta he carries."
"Okay. We're meeting him at the bar in the Marriott as soon as we land. Lenny, this was your gig, you carry the cargo."
From the floor, I said, "Got it." Then I crawled over to the young woman and said, "You are safe now. We will take you to your husband in a little while. Do you understand?"
"You are not here to kill me?" she whimpered.
"No. You are safe with the mafia."
She let the tears flow.
We landed, everyone disembarking except Rico, who sat there hitting switches and pushing buttons. We headed towards the gate, me leading the young woman by the hand to my Fleetwood. I opened the door and ushered her in. She held on to her infant as though I may decide to snatch her away and leave her in the parking lot. I got in the driver's seat and piloted us to the Marriott.
We were the first ones there, so we waited outside until Rizzo and Dougie showed up. Walking up, Dougie high-fived me, saying, "First time out, and you played a tight game. Right on." We went in and got a table.
Rico showed up next, followed by Angel. Dougie asked the woman if she was hungry, and got a shy yes in response. He flagged down a waitress and ordered a cheeseburger with fries, mozzarella sticks, and a salad. Angel beamed over at the mother and child and asked an obvious question: "What are your names?"
The woman said, "I am Nina. My daughter is Nikita. I see my husband? He is not dead?"
"Alive, well, and in Hollywood," replied Angel. "We all need a beer, then Lenny here will take you to him. He's at a motel waiting with Vic."
The baby started squalling, and Mom recognized the sound. She freed one breast from her blouse and started to nurse. Rico looked away, embarrassed. Dougie and Rizzo both had kids, and paid it no mind. Me, I was just happy to see a breast used for its primary purpose.
Our beers arrived, one each. Nina stared at hers briefly, then quaffed. Her food showed up, and she dug in with gusto. It was obvious by the way she ate that they'd only fed her when they thought about it. The organization wasn't as kind to their captives as the mafia was.
Everyone had two beers while Nina finished her food. She looked embarrassed and said, "I must change my girl. I do not, ahh.... I cannot."
"Nonsense," I said, swinging out of the booth. "Come with me."
I led Nina up to the bar, where I explained the situation to the woman tending bar. She smiled, nodded, and disappeared for forty seconds. She returned bearing a diaper, a towel, and a container of baby wipes. "You can change her here," the barmaid said. "It's the right level."
Nina changed Nikita on the bar while the barmaid and waitress cooed and gurgled at Nikita. I watched Nina and realized her hands were shaking. Her eyes didn't have bags under them, they were positively gouged. I realized that she was exhausted and still in fear. She still didn't know what to expect of these well-armed men who showed up and spirited her away in a helicopter. She had the same resigned look Alexi had: there was no point in trying to flee, that way led death. Best to accept one's fate.
We wrapped up and went out front. Angel said to me, "With that tank you drive, you've got the safest wheels. The woman rides with you. You're headed to the Moon Glo motel in Hollywood, the one you stayed in. Room 211. I'll be right behind you, I've got a key. Alexi is waiting. Let's go."
I shook hands with Rizzo, Dougie, and Rico, and thanked them for their patience. They clapped me on the shoulder and told me I'd done well. I escorted Nina and baby back to the Cadillac and we pointed towards Hollywood.