Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Girl Trouble (Part 1)

     The three of us got our motorcycle licenses in the same week, and we felt like celebrating with a ride.  We decided on lunch in the mountain town of Julian, then dropping down into the desert and having fun out there.  Out through Ocotillo Wells, then a cruise on I-8 back to San Diego.  Maybe stick our heads in and say hi to Boss, if he was around.  Drink a couple Budweisers.

     A sign on the front of the restaurant in Julian announced Family Dining.  Hey, that's perfect.  We're a family.  A horrible, twisted parody of a family, but a family nonetheless.  And I was part of a (violent, criminal) family at work, too.  That family is why I carry a gun.
     We went in, all smiles.  The hostess sucked in air and took a step backwards as we approached.  I'm not sure which one of us set off her alarm bells, but we did.  As we were seated, she asked if we were "expecting trouble."
     "Not at all," I said.  "Should we be?"
     "No-ooo, no.  Your waitress will be with you shortly."
     Our waitress was more professional, she actually smiled at us.  She brought us our drinks, we placed our orders, and relaxed.  Bekka and Jane removed their leathers, an option I didn't have.  Doing so would expose my shoulder holster, and I didn't feel like alarming people.  Jane said, "Why don't you wear your Beretta somewhere else?"
     "Like where?" I asked.
     "Well....  I dunno.  Maybe you could get a pocket gun, like the one I have right now."
     I shook my head.  "Too slow to get to.  I'm a fast draw with my shoulder holster, and there have been too many situations where that has been important.  I'll keep my gun where it is, and be resigned to being sweaty."
     Bekka said to Jane, "You may be losing your little gun soon.  It all depends on the intel Angel has about those Iron Curtain gangsters.  If they've folded up shop, I will want my baby Beretta back."
     "They're in their death throes," I said.  "Word is they lost a few highly placed men when we hit them in Downey, and their grunts are all living in a state of fear.  Any knock on the door could be the mafia coming to off them.  We've got the upper hand.  Really, it's a matter of whether they feel like holding onto a lost cause."
     A hand fell on my shoulder.  I looked over, and the hand was attached to a grinning idiot in his sixties, a Good Sam Club type.  His skin was leathered from over-exposure to the sun.   He said, "Hey buddy, are you talking about the mafia?"
     "Sure am," I replied.  "Why do you ask?"
     Him and his buddy laughed.  "Hell, this ain't New York, why would anyone worry about the mafia around here?"
     "I'm not worried about them.  Actually, they're my employers, I'm an associate.  We were just discussing a nasty little war that's been going on in LA.  Things are settling down, we hope."
     "Oh, you're in the mafia?" the idiot asked.  This prompted more laughter.
     "Yeah, but it's a secret.  Believe me, I was surprised as anyone when they recruited me.  You don't join the mafia, the mafia picks you."
     The idiot's friend said, "Screw the mafia.  What the hell do they even do, anyway?"
     I smiled and said, "We're criminals.  We run drugs, hot cars, high-end prostitution, pornography, gambling, loan sharking, and guns.  Me, I'm just a low-ranking soldier.  I run my business, I do it well, and I go to help handle things when they get messy.  I'm secure in the knowledge that I'll have a job for life."
     "Kid, you're either a liar or crazy or both.  You sound like you actually admire those scumbags."
     Jane said, "They aren't scumbags, they're awesome people.  They saved my life when I was kidnapped.  My uncles in the family are really cool."
     I added, "Don't call my family scumbags.  The vast majority of them are just businessmen.  The only difference is the business is illegal.  And yeah, I do have admiration for members of the family, they're good people.  I also have a lot of gratitude for them, they taught me a lot.  I run a successful porn studio, and I could never have pulled it off without them teaching me what to do."
     Bekka said, "I work at the studio, and have for years.  They ran a tight ship.  Then they put Lenny here in charge, and now he runs it tight.  Mafia-owned businesses are great, they never go out of business.  Unless the owner goes to prison."
     The idiot and his friend gave us hollow-eyed looks.  "You're serious," one of them said.  "You really are part of the mafia?"
     I smiled at them.  "I'm just one small part in a large and complex organization.  But yeah, I'm an associate of the family."
     "How about these two?" the idiot asked, gesturing at Bekka and Jane.
     "Bekka here is my wife.  Jane is a high school student.  Socially the mafia is fairly backwards, there are no female members or associates.  If there were, Bekka here would be a shoo-in.  The mafia is in her debt."
     Jane said, "I want to be the one to break that wall.  I figure as soon as I'm out of college I can start running one of the businesses, and I'll do it so well they won't be able to ignore me.  They already know I don't lose my shit in tense situations."
     The two of them stared at Jane.  The idiot's friend said, "Girl, how old are you?"
     "I'm sixteen," Jane replied.
     "And your life's dream is to be in the mafia?"
     I noted, "Unofficially, she already is.  She's the mascot for a lot of mafia soldiers in LA.  Between them and us, Jane here is well protected.  Nobody is about to hurt her, not without serious repercussions.  She is well loved."
     In an alarmed voice, the idiot asked, "What the hell are you people doing here in Julian?  This is a nice town."
     "We fully agree," said Bekka.  "That's why we like to visit.  We're just out on the Harleys on a day ride.  This restaurant was recommended, and even mafioso and their women need to eat.  What brings you here?  Where are you from?"
     "Um, we live in Poway.  We just felt like driving up here for lunch."
     Bekka gave one of her dazzling smiles and said, "See?  We're here for the same reasons.  We're just a nice family out for a Saturday cruise."
     The idiot's friend asked me, "So how do I avoid getting tangled up with the mafia?"
     I told him, "That's easy.  Stay out of their business.  If you are in their business, they'll let you know.  Your smartest move is to drop everything, take the loss, and walk away.  If for some reason the mafia takes an interest in you, there's nothing you can do.  I learned that when they were recruiting me.  They knew my private life better than I did.  There was no malice, they're just picky about who they recruit, and wanted to learn more about me.  If you're asking me how to hide from the mafia, I have no advice.  They will find you.  Yeah, you could shave your head and join a cult in Texas, but even that is no guarantee.  They've had too much practice going after people trying to run from them."
     "And you're comfortable being involved with people like that?  I've read a little about the mafia, and you're right, you're in for life.  Doesn't that bother you?"
     I gave him my thousand-watt smile and said, "All family is for life.  I'm part of the family.  It's a large, well-armed, somewhat dysfunctional, and rowdy family, but it's family nonetheless.  If I had a fight with Bekka and she threw me out, my capo would make sure I had a place to stay better than just a motel.  If Jane was seeing some guy who was a crud, the family would convince the guy to break it off.  I have a custom Cadillac Fleetwood at home, the sort of machine that you can't just walk into a dealership and buy.  But I did, because the owner of the dealership is in the family.  I told him what I wanted, and he made it happen.  The family is tight.  We take care of each other, and your mind would boggle at the amount of resources we have.
     "Everyone knows who the mafia is.  There's a reason for that.  We'll always be number one, no one can beat us at any game they name.  When trouble hits, and the family tightens up, the level of efficiency and ability the mafia has at its disposal would scare the shit out of you.  We're not thugs with tommy guns, we're seasoned professionals who don't make mistakes.  And we'll solve the problem that is in front of us, no matter the source.  We're fucking number one.  Dig it?"
     Both of the men looked pale.  One finally asked, "How old are you?"
     "I turn twenty-three at the end of November."
     "And you're living in the world you've described...."
     "It's like any other job.  Maybe a little more stressful.  And sometimes people try to kill you, or they kidnap your little girl, so you and a few fellow soldiers have to walk into a building and kill everyone to get her back.  If you value a sedate lifestyle, the mafia is not for you.  That's why they screen potential recruits so tightly: it takes a certain mindframe to successfully function as a mafia operative.  But if you make it, that's saying something.  It means you got balls, serious ten-pounders.  And if you got the balls to become a mafia soldier, you don't have a thing to fear anywhere on this planet.  You're set."
     Their food arrived, and they pointedly focused on it, ordering fresh beers to go with their meals.  Our table was studiously ignored.  Bekka was gossiping with Jane about the sexual proclivities of certain male performers at Inana.  I stared out the window, watching the motorcycles.  Pedestrians walking past the lot would angle off to stare at Bekka's purple machine.  It really was the sexiest of the three bikes.
     Our own food arrived, and we dug in.  The rave reviews I'd received were accurate, this was some great chow.  I was digging into my meatloaf and scalloped potatoes when the idiot put a gentle hand on my shoulder.  He asked, "Is it true about honor killings?  That shit's insane."
     I laughed.  "That's ancient history.  These days that level of conflict would be mediated from the get go.
     "Tell you what though.  There's nothing more important than loyalty to family.  Both the family, and one's personal family.  Family is what makes you what you are.  Who you are.  You'll always be tied to family.  Shit, I'm probably not the only mafia soldier who has greater loyalty to his adoptive family, the mafia, than to the family I was born into.
     "And honor is key.  No one insults the family.  I probably should cave your head in where you sit for saying the mafia are scumbags.  Either that, or follow you to your car, get the plate number, learn about you, and ruin your life.  I won't do that, you're just some stupid chump from Poway with a big mouth, speaking out of turn.  But it's happened.  You have poor opinions of my adoptive family, you keep them to yourself.  You insult my family, you insult my honor.  Everyone from the lowest soldier to the don will protect the honor of the family with their last breath.  Your family made you, so you protect the honor of the family.  Extended family is part of that mix, too.  No one will speak poorly of my wife, or of Jane.  Not without paying heavily for their badly chosen words."
     The idiot's friend asked, "What if you wanted to leave the mafia?"
     I smiled and shoveled some food in my mouth.  "Then I'd take my Beretta out of its holster, put the barrel in my mouth, and pull the trigger.  That's the only surefire way of leaving the mafia.  Remember, I'm not a mafia member, I'm an associate.  I'm not Italian or Sicilian, so I will never be a member, I'll always be an associate.  Doesn't matter.  You're in for life.  You can try to run, and that may work for a while, but the family will always be looking for you.  There's the witness protection chumps, but they had information they could sell, and they'll always be looking over their shoulder.  Can you imagine living like that?  Having to trust government agencies to keep you alive?  No, you don't leave the mafia.  I've learned to accept that.  The family is good to me, why would I want to leave?  I'm a twenty-two year old fuck-up who's earning more legitimate money than I know what to do with, my bosses love me, I run a successful adult video studio, my fellow soldiers think I'm a little crazy but we're tight....  I've got it made, at an age when my peers are just graduating college and have no clue what to do with their lives.  Me, I'm a fucking soldier in the world's biggest underground army, and I'll get my orders.  I'm set."
     "Got it all figured out, do you?"
     "No, not at all.  But I know intelligent men I can ask for advice when I need to.  That helps.  Being fairly rich at my age helps too."
     The idiot gestured at Jane.  "Who is this girl, anyway?  You're far too young to have a daughter her age.  Girl, who are you?"
     Jane leered at him.  "Just call me Gator Bait.  I'm a runaway from Florida, Lenny and Bekka took me in and take care of me.  Bekka is my mommy, and Lenny is my daddy.  We're a family."
     "And you said earlier that you were kidnapped?  By who?" asked the idiot's friend.
     "These Iron Curtain scumbags snatched me out of my school parking lot.  They were pissed that the family was taking away all their business, so they were holding me hostage in a warehouse in Long Beach.  As soon as Lenny got the location, him and some other guys came in and got me back.  There were seven dudes in that warehouse, and they left one alive, like as a warning.  None of us got a scratch."
     "So what business was being taken away?" asked the idiot.
     "Ecstasy," I said.  "The mafia in California is bullish on Ecstasy, sees it as a good long-term market.  We began producing a better product at a better price, and very soon were running these Eastern European chumps out of business.  We began to take over, fair and square, responding to the demands of the market and making our customers happy.  Boy, was that Eastern Euro-trash pissed, heh heh."
     "So you're a drug dealer," he scowled.
     "Me?  No.  Only by proxy.  I was actually the one to introduce my bosses to the chemical genius responsible for producing good Ecstasy, helped them set up a business agreement and get to work.  I'm indirectly responsible for Southern California being flooded with so much good dope right now, I suppose.  Things just worked out that way."
     Bekka said, "Speaking of, shall we?"  She began rooting through her purse, looking for the Tic-Tac container full of yellow pills.
     "You promised, daddy," pouted Jane.  "It's the weekend."
     "I know, pet," I told her.  "Don't worry, we're all getting high."
     Bekka located the Tic-Tac box and shook out a few pills.  Jane and I each grabbed one and put them in our mouths, washing them down with our drinks.  The three of us toasted with our glasses.
     Bekka looked over at the idiot and his friend, who had watched this in silent amazement.  "How about you gentlemen?  Would you like your afternoon to be really fun?  First hits are free."
     "What....  What does it do?" asked the idiot's friend.
     "Euphoria, confidence, and a sense of well-being," I replied.  "It's not your everyday high."
     Jane said, "If you're a warrior, you appreciate Ecstasy that much more.  The weak should not use Ecstasy, they'll be frightened.  It's wasted on the weak.  It's a drug for warriors."  (Jane had a running MDMA fantasy that the members of the Southern California mafia were all warrior princes who were displaced in time.  They would be the ones to take care of things when the shit hit the fan in LA.  She liked to think the mafia had an arsenal of laser guns tucked away somewhere, for when the warriors all rose up.)
     "Um....  I'm okay, thanks," said the idiot, his friend nodding along.
     Bekka rattled the Tic-Tac container like a maraca and said, "You sure?  Last call, gents."
     They both shook their heads.  "Are you safe to ride a motorcycle after taking that stuff?" one of them asked.
     I laughed and said, "It doesn't affect equilibrium.  Looking at all the empties on your table, I'm guessing you each had five beers with your lunch.  You're far worse off to drive than we are....  Or will be, when the drugs kick in."
     "Riding high is fun.  You feel yourself moving through the universe," said Jane.
     "Especially when the first rush hits you.  Jane is right, Ecstasy is not a drug for cowards.  Being able to see the possibilities of everything around you, good or bad, can be a jarring experience."  Bekka finished her drink and excused herself to go find the bathroom.
     "And you say Southern California is going to be flooded with this drug?" asked the idiot's friend.
     "If things go well, yeah," I said, knocking back the last of my coffee.  "Between what we're producing domestically and the imported Dutch stuff, it should be easy to get your hands on decent Ecstasy anywhere in San Diego or LA.  Street price is twenty to twenty-five bucks per hit.  That gets you high for eight to ten hours.  It's a good way of taking a little vacation from ordinary existence."
     The idiot said, "So why the hell shouldn't we go and flag down a cop and tell him what you're up to, that your wife has a box full of hard drugs?"
     I gave a wolfish grin and said, "Your instinct for self-preservation, for one.  You did that to me, the family would come after you.  They'd make a project of it.  There are some mean people in the family, hell, they'd be fighting over who gets to be the ones to take you down, ruin your life, fuck you up.  These are people who consider that sort of action fun.  You wouldn't stand a chance."
     "Do you always threaten complete strangers?"
     I raised my eyebrows.  "What threats?  Jane, have I threatened this man?"
     Jane giggled and said, "Hell no.  You're just explaining how things work to him."  She slid out of her chair and planted herself in my lap.  "My daddy here is the sweetest, most giving man in the world, unless he's crossed.  Then he turns into a motherfucker.  Like when I was kidnapped, my captors didn't all have to die...."
     "Yes they did," I interjected.
     "Well, there was the one who got cut up by Angel.  The survivor.  The one they left to tell what had happened."
     "Don't give the impression that we gunned them down in cold blood.  It was a firefight.  No negotiations, no prisoners.  And don't wiggle like that, you'll get me turned on."
     Jane ground her ass into my crotch even harder.  "This is bad?" she asked.
     "Depends on if you like it when Bekka slaps you.  And I won't hold her back."
     Jane reluctantly got out of my lap and sat back down in her own chair.  "See what I have to live with?" she asked the two men.  "I want him, bad.  He can take me any way he feels like, and he still won't have me.  Always on with 'I'm married' this and 'legal age of consent' that.  All I want is for him to give me a good---"
     "Jane!" I barked.
     Bekka came back to the table.  "I miss anything?" she asked.
     "I was just explaining to these two guys how I can't get Lenny in bed with me," said Jane.
     "And you never will," said Bekka.  She bent down and kissed Jane on the mouth.
     The idiot and his friend took all this in with jaws agape.  One of them finally said, "You're just sixteen.  Why are you having sex?"
     "Because it's the most beautiful thing human beings can do," replied Jane.
     "Look, we gotta go," said the idiot.  "You people have a nice afternoon."  He and his friend threw money on the table and split out of there like the place was about to catch fire.
     The three of us watched them go.  "That was unusual," said Bekka.
     "How?" I asked.
     "Usually when we frighten people into leaving, it's because we're talking about work.  The subject never came up with them."
     "Say, you're right."
     We paid up and left.


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