Those waiting for us included Angel, Bud, Bekka, the pizza delivery kid, and six cops. More cops were inside. I was Mister Popularity. Several Hustler big-wigs also stood around, wondering how their weekend had gone to hell in such a dramatic manner. News vans were in the driveway, camera crews and talking heads trying to decide whether the drama was over for the time being. Chaos and kidnapping at a porn convention, such a juicy lead-off story. I stopped at the curb and powered down, letting Lois get off the bike before I dropped the kickstand.
The delivery kid was the first one to register our presence. "My bike!" he said, and headed towards us. I tossed the keys to him and said thanks.
Lois and I were mobbed. The handlers from Hustler began escorting her back inside. Lois stopped and came back, giving me a hug. Then she allowed herself to be guided back to the booth. Bekka hugged me, kissed my neck, and said, "Idiota." Angel whacked me on the back, all smiles, and declared to no one in particular, "This kid is a fucking superhero!" The news crews were undecided whether to follow the sexy woman being led inside, or to talk to the punk that had shown up with her. And the cops force-marched me to the front of the building, put me up against the wall, and frisked me.
Naturally they were overjoyed to find my Beretta. They were disappointed to learn that I carried it legally. I may have rescued Lois Ayres, but I was still a punk, which would not be tolerated. I ran a million dollar business, but I was still a punk. And those idiots down in San Diego had given a punk a concealed carry permit. What was the world coming to?
I was taken inside to an office that convention center management had forfeited to the cops to interview people, mostly witnesses. I was more than a witness. I'd shot a man in the convention center, one of the kidnappers. I had "borrowed" a motorcycle from a stranger. And I had miraculously returned with the kidnapping victim safe and sound. By my watch, all this action had taken place in under an hour. Eroticon was still rolling strong, not closing for over an hour.
Angel followed me and the cops inside all the way to the offices, him berating the police every step of the way. "You're just pissed that he did your job for you" and "Book him on anything, I'll have him out in four hours" and "You will treat him with respect." He sent Bud down to the booth with the message for everyone that Angel would be sticking with Lenny, no matter where the cops took him. In Lenny and Angel's absence, Bekka would be in charge. She had seniority.
Relieved of my Beretta, I was in a borrowed office with a plainclothesman and a patrolman. The detective, or whatever he was, sat across from me at the desk. The uniform just leaned against the wall by the door. A tape recorder sat between us. We started in.
"Mr. Schneider, how did you come to shoot a man in the main exhibit hall?" he asked.
"Confidence in my aim," I told him.
"I'm not in the mood for comedy," the cop told me. "What I've got in front of me is a punk who shot a man in the main exhibit hall of the LA Convention Center. Then the punk runs out, commandeers some delivery kid's Ninja, and takes off after the perpetrators of a kidnapping, the victim being one Lois Ayres, a famous porn star. Thirty-five minutes later the punk returns with the porn star in tow. There's a lot I'm missing here, and I'd like that information."
"Well, I was walking up front to wait on the pizzas I'd ordered. Two dudes with guns show up on the walkway in front of me, and one of them is dragging Ms. Ayres along, her not cooperating. It was obvious it was a snatch job. The one who didn't have Ms. Ayres fired at me. I dove. He put a second shot in my direction, so I shot him. I didn't want to kill him, so I aimed for his waist and connected. He went down. What else did you want to know about?"
"You hit where you wanted to, huh?" murmured the cop.
I gave a friendly grin across the table. "I spend a lot of time on the range. Every Sunday I burn through a hundred rounds at a fifteen yard target, plus trips to the range midweek to burn off stress. I like shooting. Bet I can get better points than you at fifteen yards."
I got a cold glare. "A punk who's also a gun freak. Okay. Now you just shot this guy, then what next?"
"I couldn't get a clear shot at the second homeboy, who's carrying Ms. Ayres. He's running, so I do too. He's ---"
The cop interrupted. "So what made any of this your business, anyway?"
I gave a glare back. I said, "When people shoot at me, I shoot back. I can do that. And it was my business because I like Lois Ayres, and didn't want to see her come to harm. It seemed like the more intelligent choice to see what I could to to end this situation, rather than waiting on the cops and hoping."
"You stole the motorcycle," said the cop. "Why?"
"I borrowed the motorcycle. It was there, it was available, and I'd bring it back when I was done. Does the rider say I stole it?"
The cop looked flummoxed. "No. He says he loaned it to you. I don't believe him. I've seen a lot of coerced statements, and his is classic. He was coached into saying he gave up that bike voluntarily, by those mob thugs you work with. Those wops in your display booth know their beans, I'll give them back."
"Don't talk shit about my bosses, and I won't talk shit about yours," I said. "The name Chief Gates still makes me nauseous. So what else do you want to know?"
"I'm following a timeline," said the cop. "You take control of this motorcycle, and then what?"
"I follow them. They're in a Buick. We get on the freeway, I-10 westbound. They figure out I'm back there and fire at me. I'm on a fucking motorcycle, I can't fire back. I kill the lights and keep them in sight, follow them off at Venice and towards the ocean. They don't know I'm back there, but I lose them at a left turn. All I could do was what I did, which was to start cruising the streets, eyeballing every car and driveway, hoping I'd find them again."
"You didn't find them."
"No sir. What I did eventually find was Ms. Ayres walking down the street, trying to cover distance walking in pumps. I pulled up alongside of her and reminded her of who I was, and how I came to find her. She was glad to see me, which is nice. We each smoked a cigarette, then she got on the back of the bike and I brought her here again. At which point you dicks practically tackled me and then dragged me up here, took away my iron and Leatherman and other stuff, then set me in this room with you, where you and I began to talk. Are you all caught up now, or do I need to review our conversation so far?"
The cop said, "You fucking punks, you're always comedians. You're going to wait here, I need to talk to some people."
"I did your job for you," I said. "I got back a kidnapping victim, and a fairly famous one. I think I'll be as funny as I feel like."
The cop stood up, grinned, then hit me in the side of the mouth. Hard. I tasted blood on my molars. "Always attitude with you weirdos," the cop said. "I'm gonna go find out how many lies you told me."
He went out, it was just me and the uniform. They'd taken my cigarettes and lighter. Time ticked by. I think the uniform shifted once, I wasn't sure. Thirty, thirty-five, forty, forty-five minutes passed. Nothing happened. I was stuck in a capsule created by the Los Angeles Police Department.
The cop returned. He was red with frustration. He sat down and opened up a drawer in the desk and began removing items from it. My cigarettes, my lighter, my Leatherman, and my gun and extra clip. Almost all these items he slid across the desk at me. He held back my pistol. He looked it over, examined it, then slid it and the clip across the desk.
"You have no idea how much it pains me to return this to you," the cop said. "But we can't legally detain it. A good gun like the Beretta 92FS, in the hands of a fucking punk scumbag motherfucker. Now you can go back to robbing liquor stores, or whatever you use it for."
I laughed at him. "So that's what you think? No, it's more complicated, but at the same time very simple. I don't steal by using a gun, I steal by using human weakness. I steal using sex. The people I rob beg me to do it again, and again. Images on video. My robbery victims are crawling through the mud demanding I take their money again. I'm a pornographer. I prey on human weakness, an instinctive drive we all have. And it's being celebrated here this weekend, so come on down and meet the stars, shake hands with your fantasies. My own wife has made more men come than every prostitute in France. My theft is legal. And by the way, fuck you officer, there's not a thing you can do about it."
The cop gestured. "Get out. You're boring me."
"Good. And thanks for letting me get going at this hour, maybe there's still some pizza left at my booth. See you around." I headed out the door.
At the end of the hall were some stairs, which I started to traverse. I came across another uniform, who let me past, then Angel. He was planted on the stairs, waiting for my appearance. He snapped up when I laid a hand on his shoulder.
"Lenny!" he said, when he saw who it was. "They let you go. You've got to tell me, what the hell happened? How did you get Lois Ayres back? In other words, what the fuck?"
"Not here," I said, eyeballing the uniform above us. "Back at the booth, where I can get something to eat and some drugs. In that order, I'm ready to chew on my own arm. First a cigarette though. Out front?"
Angel nodded, and we poked Marlboros in our mouths as we went out the main doors. We leaned against a retaining wall and I told him the whole story, the true story, not the one I'd laid on the cops. He gave me a blank look and gawked when he learned I'd killed two more times, and not for the family. And he was elated that Lois had stuck with her story.
We got back to the booth, where there was still now-cold pizza lying around. Rio snapped into action, saying, "There is a microwave in the lounge. After what you have done today, you should at least have warm pizza." She went off to nuke me four slices. I thanked her.
I sat on the floor behind the tables. Bekka finished with the fan she was dealing with and came over to me. She asked me what had happened, and all I could do was to start laughing. I calmed down a bit and gave her the whole story, just as it had happened. She was enthralled, and annoyed, and enthralled again.
"Idiota!" she exclaimed. "You're out playing superhero again. So if had been just a random booth babe from one of the other studios, would you have done the same things?"
I considered, and said, "Yeah. What a harsh thing to happen to some chick, any chick, not just Lois Ayres. After it was all over with, it occurred to me that maybe I should have just gone and got the cops once I had them run to ground, but by the time the cops got there the victim may not have been alive. I didn't kill anyone who wasn't trying to kill me. And I got the victim out unscathed, which is the important part to me. Lois is an awesome passenger on a motorcycle, you know that? That was a cool payoff, I had Lois Ayres hanging onto my waist from Marina Del Rey to back here."
Bekka snickered at me. "You've still got a hangup for her, don't you?"
"Well, shit, you masturbate while thinking of someone so many times, that feeling never goes away. Yeah, Lois still impresses me. You know, I've never asked, who do you think about when you masturbate?"
I got a cackle in response. "It's a good thing you've never asked," Bekka said, "because I'm never giving you an honest answer."
"None of my business, is it?" I asked.
"Not even a little. And you'd laugh if I told you."
I pondered this and said, "The dude from the Mr. Clean commercials."
Bekka's face went from amusement to horror. "How did you know?" she gasped.
"I guessed. I hate to break the news to you, but I think he's gay. That's the vibe I get from him, anyway."
"Well, it is a fantasy."
Rio returned and presented me with two paper plates bearing warm pizza. I thanked her and began chewing. The hangover of an hour-long adrenaline rush is headache, nausea, and an incredible appetite. I'd gone through the first two while being interviewed by the cop. Now I needed food, and drugs. I asked Bekka for a couple hits, which she pulled out of her bag and gave to me.
"So how's your dream girl?" asked Bekka.
"She got whisked off by a couple of handlers from Hustler, not to be seen again. She was probably lucky, she got interviewed at their booth by a couple very polite cops, instead of the total dick I was saddled with. Listen, only you and Angel know what happened, okay? Everyone else gets the same story I gave to the cops. I want no variations in that."
Bekka cuddled me and said, "No problem. So your count is now up to four, isn't it? And unlike me, you watched them all die in front of you. You should tell Sue what really happened, she'll bask in it."
"Maybe I will, after a while. She'll like the story. She seems like she can keep a secret. Yeah, some afternoon I'll tell her about what happened instead of fucking her ass. She'd like it just as much."
Bekka stood up and stretched. "We've still got plenty of guests in the room, I should make myself available. You gonna go back to the motel and maybe relax for a couple hours? Do a line and kick it in front of the TV?"
I said, "Naw, I just doubled on a couple hits, that'll keep me going. I'm sure I can find productive things to do around here. So how many hits did you give away in my absence?"
Bekka replied, "Damn few. My mind has been on other things, like my husband out playing Batman on a stolen motorcycle. We'll just have to see the results of our experiment on a smaller scale, and give away hits at the party. Sound reasonable?"
"That works. Get back on the floor, girl." I stretched out on the indoor/outdoor carpeting laid down in our booth and fell asleep for forty-five minutes. My last aware thought was, My god, I'm a mutant. I just rescued a kidnapping victim and was grilled by the cops, then took two hits of high-powered Ecstasy. And now I'm falling asleep. My brain chemistry is not that of a normal human being.
The drugs didn't wake me up. Well, they helped, but my nudging into the conscious realm was provided by Bekka and Sue kneeling on each side of me, trying to lift me into an upright position. They were amused by my ability to fall asleep while dosed on Ecstasy, and wanted to see how I'd react around other people. And more girls from Vivid were there to give their payment.
It was ten before ten. The hall had mostly cleared, and vendors were tightening up their booths for the next morning. Ellen had got a hold of a vacuum from somewhere and was doing our floors. The Vivid girls were waiting outside the booth, so they weren't walking on the clean rug. They all gave me hugs and told me they'd love to see me in the morning with the same deal. Two intimated that they'd give me more than a hug. I told them to speak with my wife about that.
I told Bekka that I needed a cigarette and headed for the lounge. She joined me. When we got there, I saw Eddie seated at a table with a crowd around him. He had cards spread out in front of him. I beelined in to see what he was up to. He saw me coming and smiled. "Don't worry boss, no money changing hands here, I'm just entertaining."
"Just what I want to hear," I said. "Remember Eddie, they're your hands that get broken, and you can't rent spares."
I stood smoking and watched him work his magic. He was hot, and he was good. Eddie shouldn't be on sound stages earning a living with his dick, he should be in nightclubs in Vegas, amazing large crowds of paying customers. People in porn tend to be a cynical lot, but he had this gathering gasping and wowing and applauding. It was a fantastic thing to watch. His constant line of humorous patter had everyone laughing, too. There had to be some way for me to work his skills into a feature at some point.
A woman's sexy voice over the P.A. was telling guests it was now ten o'clock and time to go home for the night, thank you for attending Eroticon, be back tomorrow for more fun. Bekka and I headed back for the booth. Angel was scooping money out of the register and portable drop safe. Him and I inventoried our videos, and he was right: there was no way we had enough tapes to make it through all of Sunday. Our guess was we'd be empty of tapes by six. After that, our fans would have to suffice with meeting the girls and watching the movies.
"Next year, we add two items," I said. "T-shirts, and Becky Page posters. I saw plenty of people in Vivid Video shirts, and they couldn't all be crew."
"A good idea," said Angel. "Maybe get Elspeth on a poster, too. Our Ella Belle seemed to be quite popular."
"Looking forward to this party?" I asked Angel.
He shook his head. "I'm looking forward to getting back to my room. Even with the drugs, I'm tired. Don't you hang around too long, we've got another full day ahead tomorrow. Your youth may carry you, but you can't live on speed and Ecstasy."
"Hell Angel, I'm feeling frustrated because I didn't bring my flask with me. It's at home in my kitchen, waiting to be filled."
Angel smiled and reached in his jacket. He extracted a flask. "Southern Comfort," he said. "I was in the mood for something sweet."
I opened the flask and took a few good swallows. "That'll keep body and soul together," I told him.
Angel put his arm around my shoulders. "You know, I never even dreamed I'd see the success we have. When I started in this racket, I figured I'd just be cranking out jack fodder, loops. Now we have the best selling adult movie on the planet, the fans and critics love our videos, we've got a stable of happy performers, the industry respects us.... Lenny, I'm amazed. And I owe so much of it to you. You're the one who turned Inana into a creative powerhouse, making video people go crazy for. I can't thank you enough. The least I can do is give you another raise. Just keep generating hot video, that's all I ask. Can you do that?"
"Not a problem, Angel," I said. "It doesn't hurt things that I'm married to one of the biggest adult stars in the world. I'll keep trying to come up with good ideas for features, that's the important thing. And thank you for the raise."
He gave me the Italian man-hug and said, "I'm taking off. Remember, not too late tonight. I might want another one of Boss's pills in the morning, so save one for me."
"We still have a ton, more than enough to get everybody through the day. I'll be here around 10:30, to rack videos and tidy up. You have a good night, Angel."
There were voices and commotion at one corner of the exhibit hall. That's where the doors would open to let people in to the party. I gathered everyone up and headed in that direction. Bekka checked to see if anyone wanted another hit. This was refused except by Sue, everyone else wanting to get at least some sleep in anticipation of another long day. Eddie slid up next to me and asked, "Hey, we never film on weekends, right?"
"Only when we're making a feature. Then it's a seven day a week gig for some of us. Why?"
"Some guy saw me working the crowd in the lounge and wants me to perform at a party he's throwing in a couple weeks. Five hundred bucks for cards and coins, can you believe that?"
I chuckled. "Yes, I can. I've watched you work, you're good. Go for it."
We arrived at the door, where the crowd had gathered to get in. Our arrival sent a ripple through the crowd: those kids from Inana were here. The doors opened a few moments later, and everyone poured in. Out of force of habit, I held back by the side of the door and took it all in. A DJ booth sat up on risers. Tables and chairs and sofas all around the edges of the dance floor. And best yet, a bar in one corner. I grabbed Bekka and we headed in that direction, getting Johnnie Walker with beer behind it. The DJ cranked up some music, some early Bronski Beat. I saw Sue head towards the DJ, to play Twenty Questions with him about his selection.
Bekka gave me a cunning smile and said, "I'm gonna go try to get more people high. Talk to you in a while."
I told her, "Hold back at least forty for tomorrow. There are gonna be people around who will want the boost, including me and Angel. The Vivid girls will probably want to get high again, too."
"So what are you charging them tomorrow?"
"Nothing. I figure I got them strung out, I may as well cushion their landing."
I finished my scotch and began working on my beer, leaning against the bar, watching the crowd. Standing several yards away was a heavyset guy around sixty, who looked like a small-town sheriff from the South. He was dressed as dapper as Angel. He was staring at me. I nodded, and he approached.
"You're Lenny Schneider?" he asked.
I assured him I was.
"Lawrence Pelton, Hustler." He put out a hand and we shook. "We need to talk. Go ahead and finish your beer, we'll go outside so I can hear."
I killed my beer and my Marlboro at the same time, then we stepped back into the main exhibit hall. We walked a bit, away from the crowd still funneling into the party. He came to a stop and I leaned against the wall, putting one foot up.
"So what's up?" I asked.
"First of all, I want to thank you for rescuing Lois," he said. "She told me what happened."
"Yeah, well, I was just glad I found her cruising around," I shrugged.
"Lois told me the real story. Not the one the cops got."
I went a little cold. "Do tell."
Pelton gave a tight grin. "You killed two men tonight, and here you are at a party. Jesus Christ, kid, you've gotta have balls like watermelons. Don't worry, your secret is safe with me. How'd you like a job?"
Pelton's grin expanded. "You're somebody I wanted to talk to even before this shit went down. You wrote and produced 'Bewitched,' and you've done other features that got good reviews. Hustler Video could use you. You're young, you're sharp, and you've got a knack for putting out great adult video. Inana is small, it's a boutique. With Hustler you'd have big budgets and top stars. You could do anything you wanted to with us, no limits. You're too skilled to be at a tiny operation like Inana. What do you say?"
I gave my own tight grin and said, "Inana won't remain small. I intend to see to that personally. I appreciate your offer, sir, but I'm happy where I am. Inana is home for me. I'm having too much fun in that boutique for me to want to leave. You're not the only people to offer me a job. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go have another drink and dance with my wife."
"Oh hey, is it Becky you're worried about? She could come along too, we'd love to have Becky Page under contract. She could work as much or as little as she wanted to. Don't shut me out here, give it some thought. Here...."
He reached in his jacket and pulled out a business card. He said, "That there is my private line. You want to talk about anything at all, ring me up. Trust me, Hustler will do right by you. And we look into the future, this wouldn't be a one year gig and then you're out. You could have a career with us."
I nodded and said, "I'll think about what you've told me. Thank you for your time. Let's go enjoy the party." I started walking towards the entrance.
Pelton stood in the same spot. Then he called after me, "What was it like?"
I walked back towards him. "What was what like?"
"Killing two men tonight."
"Not as stressful as the first two men I killed. With these two tonight, I wasn't scared at all, I was just pissed off. Now my total is up to four. Mr. Pelton, you'd hate living like I do."
His grin got a little uneasy. He wiped at his forehead.
"So is Ms. Ayres going to be at the party?" I asked. "I'd like to see her again."
He shook his head. "She's avoiding parties right now. Stop by the booth tomorrow, I'm sure she'll be glad to say hi." Pelton began walking in the general direction of the Hustler booth.
I turned and walked back to the party.