I stood in line at the Hustler booth. All those around me were waiting to get Lois Ayres' autograph, and briefly tell her how much they loved her. I didn't have anything to sign, and I didn't love Lois. A teenage crush, maybe, but I was no longer a teenager. I just wanted to see how she was doing. She'd had an eventful night, and that was partially my fault. I just hoped she was okay.
She was certainly the model of poise as she sat at her table, signing videos and autograph books. Nobody would have guessed that she had been dragged off by scumbags with guns less than twenty hours earlier. If they did, they kept it to themselves.
It was my turn. I stepped in front of her. She didn't glance up, simply saying, "Hi honey, what's your name?"
I said, "Hi Ms. Ayres, it's Lenny. How are you doing?"
Her eyes flicked up at me, then locked on my face. "You," she breathed. She motioned to a burly dude and said, "I'm taking five, um, I'm taking a cigarette break. Hold the line where it is. I'll be back."
There was a disgruntled moan as Lois stood up, grabbed me by the hand, and tugged me out of the booth. Their star had just left with some ugly punk rock Frankenstein, just taken off. And the dude had waited in line with the rest. There was a juicy story there somewhere. And there was, but they'd never hear it.
Lois said, "Where can we go to talk privately?"
I replied, "The lounge. People make it a point to ignore the conversations of others there. And we can smoke there."
She laughed bitterly. "Yeah, I can stand a cigarette. Two cigarettes over the course of the past day, more than I've smoked in the last three years. I thought I was done with them."
I said, "Smoking is something people do when they're under stress. You smoke when you're around me. I'm a source of stress for you. I apologize for that. I don't like you to think of me that way."
We got to the lounge and stepped in. Lois poked one my Marlboros in her mouth and I lit it for her, then lit my own. We stared at each other briefly, then Lois wrapped her arms around me and squeezed.
"I did that last night, but I don't think it was very good," she said. "My god , you saved my life last night, and I'm still terrified of you. You're the most scary man I've ever met in my life. I'd invite you into bed with me, but I don't know if that would be enough.... And I know what the problem is."
"What is it?" I asked.
"I watched you kill. You killed a man while I watched, and you did it with all the emotion of stepping on a bug in your kitchen. You'd already killed the guy in the living room, then you went and killed the one with me. I just.... I can't grasp being that so cold, that unfeeling. It's like it was a job to you, and meant nothing. You killed two men last night, and I'll bet you slept just fine. I'm not used to dealing with men like you. That's why you terrify me."
I laughed, I couldn't help it. "Yeah, I slept fine. After two hits of Ecstasy, about fourteen drinks, and making love with my wife. Then I slept like a baby. Ms. Ayres, I'm a monster. But like Frankenstein's monster, a heart still beats. I have killed four men in my life, and watched all four of them die, watched the lights go out of their eyes. Pulling the trigger of a gun has made me into the man that I am. I can't help what you think of that man. I'm not proud of what I've done. But no one will own those things except for me. I'm sorry I scare you, I'd like to be your friend. Something I can assure is that no harm comes to my friends, to those I love. I see to that. My wife will attest to that. I've lost little chunks of my soul, it's happened every time I've killed. Ms. Ayres, could you --- would you --- be friends with me? You'll always have someone to run to. So long as I'm alive, you have nothing to fear in this world. I showed you that."
Lois asked, "What do you do for fun? How do you relax?"
I answered, "I don't relax. I'm married to the hottest porn star on the planet right now, I've got a sixteen year old ward who wears me out with her energy, and I'm running a rather energetic adult video company at the age of twenty-three. I made the most popular porn film ever when I was twenty-two, and the world wants more out of me. I sleep with the covers over my head, that childhood instinct to hide. In my spare time I ride my motorcycle way too fast, and I work out at the shooting range. I drink Johnnie Walker and smoke marijuana. I have sex with two women who aren't my wife, but she arranged them, so it's okay. And I sit on the deck of my house and watch the waves come in, knowing there is nothing that can stop them, that any activity or action I do is meaningless. Despite the ripples I create --- someone loved the men I killed last night --- ultimately I have no effect on the world. And I find that comforting. I sleep well at night, Ms. Ayres, because I know I am not important. I do not affect the world. See what I'm getting at?"
"How old are you?" asked Lois.
"Twenty-three," I answered.
She dragged on her cigarette. "You shouldn't be as old as you are, not at your age. You've had too much living, seen too much. God Lenny, you make me feel young just talking to you. Yes, I'll be your friend. Conditionally. First, I get to meet your wife. I've wanted to meet Becky Page for a while. How old is she really?"
"Twenty-eight," I answered.
Lois chuckled and said, "Okay, that I can accept. Not twenty-two. Anyone who goes back in her history can see that's not true, not and see her early shit still available. The next condition is that you smile every now and then. You're like a cyborg too much of the time."
I gave her a grin, a genuine one, and said, "What else?"
Lois said, "We're just exchanging phone numbers for now. We can talk on the phone, you me and your wife. Hell, you said you have lovers, I'd love to hear from them. I'm curious. You have your wife and two lovers, you must have something more to offer than cock. I want to know why these women love you. I would love to know."
I said, "I can answer that for you now. I have lost chunks of my soul, but I still have my heart. No one can take that away. If it weren't for my heart, I wouldn't have been able to dance with my wife last night after having killed two men. I will always share my heart. Am I making sense?"
Lois tapped my chest with a finger. "You make sense. Stay in your booth, I want to see you when I break for lunch, you and your wife. Take care, I'll see you in a while."
Lois Ayres took off, aiming at the exit door. I sat down on the sofa we'd been standing next to, trying to analyze who'd been had in the previous few minutes of conversation. Both of us, probably. It had been one of those sort of talks.
A small animal with sharp claws bounded up and landed on my chest. It began pounding on my sternum, grabbing at it, seemingly trying to tear my chest off so it could get to my lungs and heart. I beat at it, and howled from the pain. It wouldn't let go. My howling and chest-pounding attracted the attention of others. I couldn't knock the beast free. After a while I gave up.
Then I was in a stainless steel box, me yelling at the two other people there that I had important things to do, dammit, I didn't have time for a ride.
After that I was someplace white, where dudes with some heavy mileage on their faces looked down at me and nodded to each other. The first thing that came to my mind was that they were going to harvest my organs. I tried to get up, but felt chained to the tiny bed I was on. I had to get out of there. I reached for my pistol, but it was gone, including the holster. I grabbed for one of the two men and gasped, "Who the fuck are you? Let me out of here."
He removed my hand and said, "Mr. Schneider, you're with us. Good. How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine. Who are you? Gimme back my Beretta, I need to leave, I've got shit I gotta do. Where am I?"
He peered at me and said, "I am Doctor Allston, and you're at Cedars-Sinai hospital. Do you remember getting here?"
"No I don't," I said. "I remember having terrible.... chest.... pains.... Holy shit, did I have a heart attack?"
"That's what we first suspected, too," said the second dude. "No, nothing that severe. You were hyperventilating, which can cause the same symptoms. Tell me, do you have any serious sources of stress in your life?"
I couldn't help but laugh at this. "Yeah, I can think of some. Why do you ask?"
"Try to eliminate them," said Dr. Allston. "At your age, you shouldn't be having chest pains. What are your sources of stress?"
I figured I may as well be honest with the men who were there to take my organs for money. I was still out of it, and paranoid. I said, "Well, besides my addiction to speed, there's the fact that I'm married to a porn star, a famous one, and I worry about her safety. Let me see her before you kill me, okay? I have a sixteen year old mistress who wears me out, at her age. I'm fucking a girl from work who only wants me to do her ass. I run a business that's owned by the mafia, I have an association with them. I've been shot three times in my life, once by a friend. I've killed four men in my life. And I've got a crush on a porn star who isn't my wife. You want stress? Fuck you. I've got it in spades, pally. So who are you selling my organ to, anyway? Arabs? Or just whatever rich fuck-head that has my blood type?"
"I'm afraid you lost me, Mr. Schneider. What about your organs?" asked Allston.
I glared. "'S why I'm here, isn't it? You're gonna kill me and harvest my organs, sell them to the highest bidder. I hope whoever gets my kidneys and liver end up as speedfreaks, and don't know why. Don't think you have me fooled, I know my fate. Just communicate to my wife that I loved her, that's all I ask. I'm not afraid to die, so fuck you, don't expect me to beg. Cut me up."
Allston and the other one looked at each other. The other one said, "Mr. Schneider, you're in the emergency room of Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. You aren't about to be cut up by anyone. You're safe here, and your wife is waiting outside to see you, as soon as you feel up to it. I promise you, we're not going to harvest your organs. You are safe."
"Where the fuck is my gun?" I demanded. "Tell me where I get my gun back from, and I'll believe you."
Allston said, "Your gun is in the security office, along with the holster. You have a receipt for it, you can get it back when you leave. To be frank, I'm a bit reluctant to sign a release on you, you seem highly agitated...."
"Nonsense," I said. "I'm doing okay. You just learn to stay on guard when you're married to a star. We can't even go to Safeway without getting harassed for an autograph by some dweeb, you'll see, go ahead and marry a famous woman. Or let her get famous, either way. Where is she, anyway? You said I could see her."
"Wait right here, we'll get her for you," said the second guy. I realized he wasn't as old as the first guy, Allston, he was just really tired. It occurred to me that they may not be lying to me, that I really was in an ER, and something really happened to me. If I was here, and not an organ-harvesting station, then something had happened to me. But I wouldn't die, at least by not by their hands. I would be okay, so long as I kept a low profile.
Bekka, the light of my life, came in wet-eyed. "Lenny, I've been so worried...." she sobbed, leaning on the gurney. "Don't you ever do this again, you understand?"
"I'll try not to," I said, "and I'm glad you came after me. I think they want to harvest my organs, but I'm not sure. So how do I go about getting my gun back?"
Bekka gave me a worried look. "I'll get the receipt from you, and I'll get it back for you. You'll have it by the time we get in the car. You can get it installed while we head home, okay?"
"Home, hell," I growled. "We've still got over five hours of Eroticon to work before we can head home. Keep your priorities."
Bekka leaned over my face and barked, "I've got my fucking priorities already. And number one is taking care of my idiota husband and getting him home where he's going to do nothing but relax until Tuesday morning. I don't care about my fans, I don't care about Inana, I care about the man I love. Am I clear, or do I have to draw a diagram?"
I started to yell, and then changed my mind. "What about our stuff? We still haven't cleaned up in our motel room yet."
Bekka said, "Sue will take care of it, she's doing it right now. She'll drop off our suitcases at home, we'll sort things out in the morning. In the meantime we'll collect your gun and head straight home, you have no worries. Angel and the boys will take care of any problems, you get to relax. You had a hard day so far."
"I've hardly done anything," I complained. "I talked with a few guests and stocked the racks. Tell me there isn't work to be done, dammit."
"Nothing they can't cover. Get your pants on, we're going home."
I got off the gurney, feeling wobbly. My clothes were in a bag, along with my other stuff, on a tray underneath the gurney. They'd left me in my boxers and socks. I began pulling clothes on. Allston returned and said he had a couple of forms for me to sign, and to wait there until he returned. Bekka went to retrieve my Beretta and holster from security. She was back a few minutes later, apparently I needed to go sign something to get my pistol back. Allston brought me the forms and had me sign them, no problem. Jacket over my arm, Bekka and I went to the security office.
The rent-a-cop was not amused with me. "Why did you feel it necessary to bring a gun to a hospital?" he asked.
"I didn't know I was coming here," I told him. "This was not in my plans for the day."
"Leave it at home next time," said the rent-a-cop. "I don't feel like dealing with it."
I began pulling on my holster. "Damn shame, that. Since I'm from San Diego, the odds of us crossing paths again is remote. If we do, you'll have to deal with it again. I wear it legally, and I always wear it. What's the matter, Cedars won't spring for a permit for you?" The Beretta went back in its place.
"What the hell do you need a gun for, anyway?" he asked.
"It keeps coming in handy at the oddest moments. I used it just last night at the convention center, stopping a kidnapper. I was glad I had it."
The rent-a-cop said, "Say, wait a minute. I saw that on the news. Some porn star called Lois something got snatched, and then got brought back. I take it you were the guy who did the work."
"Her name is Lois Ayres, and yes, that was me. I had to borrow a motorcycle to get the job done, but it worked out just fine. Ms. Ayres was returned safe and sound."
He laughed. "Local law doesn't like no vigilantes. They'll stick it in you and break it off."
I shrugged. "They had to deal with the facts as they were. Too damn bad if their feelings were hurt. Bekka, you ready?"
The two of us went out to the lot and located the Fleetwood. Bekka physically blocked me from the driver's door, grabbing me by the shoulders and marching me around to the passenger side of the car, where she told me to relax and enjoy the fucking ride, idiota, your wife is doing the driving back to Encinitas. She got behind the wheel, adjusting the seat and mirrors --- I'd trained her well --- and fired up, guiding us onto the street.
Bekka made short shrift of the LA freeways, relying on the diamond lanes and the massive engine under the Fleetwood's hood to get us back home in no time flat. I requested we swing by a taco stand in Carlsbad for lunch. "That's fine, but we're eating at home. I want your chances of adventure decreased to nil. I'm planting you on the sofa with your food and the bong, where I can keep an eye on you. Capiche?"
"I feel like I'm running out on Angel," I complained.
"Gesù Cristo! You got taken to the hospital while hallucinating and complaining of chest pains. Right now you're following doctor's orders, and those orders are for you to fucking relax. Angel and Bud and Lou can handle things. I'm hitting the drive-thru at the taco place, what do you want?"
"Carne asada burrito, quesadilla with guacamole and green sauce on the side, and a side order of rice. Dunno why, but I'm starving."
"No big surprise, you've eaten like crap this weekend. You had nuked pizza last night, and you had two fritters to eat today. Whatever me and Jane arrange for dinner tonight, you're having a salad. You're a candidate for scurvy."
"You sound like a wife," I teased. "It's almost like you care about me or some shit."
"Un fardello di amore," Bekka said. "A burden of love. We both carry it. Right now it's my turn. And by the way, you don't get any more drugs today. If that means you go to bed right after dinner, so be it. I want you as relaxed as possible until Tuesday morning. That means tomorrow you're not going near il cazzo di palazzo--- sorry, you're not going anywhere near the fucking mansion. There's nothing that won't wait. And that includes your script."
We sat at the drive-thru window waiting for our food. I said, "You're upset with me. You always get all Sicilian when you're upset. I'm sorry."
Bekka put her hands on the roof liner to stretch. "Like I said, un fardello di amore. I'm allowed to worry about the man I love. You having chest pains in the middle of a convention nearly sent me over the edge. It means I'm not taking good enough care of you, or that I'm doing it wrong, or something. The doctors say you need to relax, so dannare, I'm going to see you do. I'll duct tape the bong to your face tomorrow if I need to. When was the last time you went twenty-four hours without taking speed?"
"A-heh! When I was laid up in the hospital after being shot at the mansion. If you exclude hospital stays, it's probably been since before I met you."
She gave me a glare. "Maybe this is your body giving you a warning shot."
"I dunno," I shrugged. "They gave me a clean bill of health. It was stress-induced hyperventilation. I mean, shit, I killed two men last night, then doubled up on Ecstasy and partied until four. That, and just the worries over everything going well with the convention, keeping things under control, worrying about your safety, trying to cultivate a friendship with a woman I've had a crush on since I was seventeen and learning she's terrified of me.... Yeah, I've been under an unusual amount of stress this weekend. This was a fluke, though."
"Maledetto bastardo, I'm laying down the law. No more speed past five. Ecstasy on weekends only. And you take time in the day to relax. Doing coke and fucking Sue's ass doesn't count. Fucking me or Jane doesn't count either. You sit and collect your thoughts. Read. Watch TV or something. Work on your art. But I'm not letting this industry kill you. The problem is you had too much success too soon. Your third feature, produced for three hundred grand, and it's the top adult film of all time. Produced by you, at twenty-two years old. You've released two more hit movies since...."
"'Rocker Girls' doesn't count. That was my pet project, and you know it. If it hadn't had Small Steve's excellent fuck scenes, nobody would have bought it."
".... And you still are under pressure to produce more gems. Okay, 'Rocker Girls' scared a lot of the critics, they'd never seen hardcore punk and sex blended the way you did it, but just the way it sold this weekend should be proof that it was a hit. Get the sales charts from Angel, 'Rocker Girls' did great overall. That's because it had the names Schneider and Stillman attached to it. You two are a powerhouse in this industry."
Our food began coming out of the window. I stacked it on the floor and we took off. Bekka continued, "What you need to do is what you've threatened already, which is to give Eddie The Jew a hand in this new script. You know he's creative, he's funny, he could open up this project. You lay a couple grand on him, give him a writing credit, you're golden. Who knows, we might end up with comedy in an adult feature that actually works. That's never happened before. It would be another breakthrough for you, genuinely funny porn. And porn that's funny on purpose, god knows there's too much that is funny despite itself. You'll continue your streak of hits, Eddie is a bit richer, Angel has another feather in his cap, it can't go wrong."
"What if Eddie says no?" I asked.
Bekka chuckled. "You're kidding. Anyone as creatively restless as Eddie turning down the opportunity to write a screenplay, even in porn? He'll leap at the chance. Eddie used to be an office temp, this would come natural to him. And he's a funny guy, he'll find humor in the mundane. He'll jump at this chance."
I thought, and said, "All right. I'll call him first thing in the morning."
She shot another glare my direction and said, "No, you talk to him on Tuesday afternoon, after he's worked that two-on-two with me and Tawny. You know he's gonna come sniffing around hoping for a line of coke. He's doing an anal scene with Tawny. I swear, if that boy spent any more time up a girl's ass I'd think his dick was a turd."
We pulled on to Neptune and up to the front of our house. My parking space was blocked by a minivan. I set anchor in a rarely-free parking space on the street and we walked in the house.
Things were suspiciously clean inside. Like someone had vacuumed that morning. The drainer by the sink was empty. None of my records were out, a rarity for when Jane was left unattended with them. Present, however, were two pairs of shoes I didn't recognize.
We went upstairs and knocked on Jane's door. I heard a muffled, "It can't be...." and the rustling of sheets. The door was flung open and Jane stood there, wild-eyed.
"Y-you're back! And so soon!" she said.
"Yes we are. Anything you care to tell us about the weekend?" asked Bekka.
Jane gestured with her thumb and said, "I had a couple friends stay over. I didn't think it was a big deal. They're in the room next door. Um, we were up late last night, so they're probably still out, you know?"
Bekka said, "We'll get coffee on. Lenny, you don't get any. Jane, you've noticed we're home early. There are reasons for that. Would you like to hear them?"
"Um.... Sure!" said Jane. "Let me get something on, and I'll get my friends up, okay? See you downstairs."
Bekka and I headed down to the kitchen and set up a full pot of coffee. We could hear three.... No, four sets of feet dancing around in the upstairs bedrooms. Presently Lance appeared in the living room, looking tired but strangely satisfied. We wished him good afternoon. He started at the sound of our voices.
"Um, hello!" he said. "So, uh, how was your business in LA?"
"Hectic," I replied. "We'll tell you about it when Jane gets down here. I take it you weren't the only overnight guest?"
"No, a couple of Jane's friends from the volleyball team spent the night. Jen and Sophie. We, um, we stayed up all night, that's why we were still in bed. We had a good time, you know, sitting up and talking...."
Bekka said, "Do me a favor, Lance, and put the cover back on the spa. Jane should be down at any moment."
Jane appeared, fully clothed, in the company of two tall girls. We were introduced to Jen and Sophie, who looked embarrassed to be there but were appreciative of the mugs of coffee we thrust into their hands. By the glint in their eyes when they looked at each other, I felt it was safe to assume that they were more than just friends. Well, more power to them. I said, "I apologize for my rudeness, but I need to get some food in me. I can reheat the rest later."
I dug into my Styrofoam container of Mexican rice and placed my burrito and quesadilla in the oven. Thirty minutes on Low would set them right. Jane was explaining, "We wanted to have kind of a girl's night, okay, girls and Lance, so we hung out in the hot tub and ordered pizza and had a few drinks and talked. No big party, just a few of us having a quiet time."
Bekka looked Jane in the eyes and said, "You took the Ecstasy we left?"
"Pet, your pupils are still dilated, and you're full of the same nervous energy you have every morning after you get high. How was it? I'm assuming you shared."
The one named Sophie piped up with, "It was amazing," then clapped her hand over her mouth. She turned red.
Bekka said, "Yes, well, feel free to share your feelings here. Not in front of your parents. Neither Lenny or I are in the mood to go to prison, and word getting out of us sharing drugs with high school kids would result in that happening in a heartbeat. We'll just keep it our little secret, okay? So you two spent the night with each other, did you?"
They both instantly turned beet red and looked at the floor. Jane said, "You can talk to them, it's cool. They're not like other adults, they're my friends, and they're gonna listen."
Jen said, "Um, we uh.... We've both always wondered what it was like to, y'know, be with another girl. Jane always seems to know a lot more about that kind of thing, so we asked her, and she said we should just give it a try, see what happens, um, and she said she'd give us a drug that would make us feel more open with each other and we could spend the night here. So we did, and we did. I'm glad it happened, and um.... Sophie, you wanna add anything?"
Sophie said, "Look, I don't know you, this is hard to talk about, but uh.... Yeah, I'm glad it happened too. With Jen. That was important. We've been friends forever, but I never knew if she felt the same, and, y'know...."
Bekka beamed a smile and simply said, "Aw, that's sweet. I only wish my first girl had been as precious as it is for you two."
Jane said, "See? Told you they wouldn't be pissed."
I said, "I'm glad you two found each other. The first time for both of you. No boys at all?"
"I'm not a virgin, but I don't see what the big deal is," said Sophie. "I had fun with Jen. I didn't with my old boyfriend. I don't know what I'm doing wrong."
"I don't suppose, um, Lenny...." started Jane.
"Not no but hell no," I cut her off. "I refuse. Don't finish that thought."
"But it would be--- "
"Gator Bait, drop it," I snapped. "I will not. It won't happen."
Bekka saw where Jane was headed and said, "Pet, I won't allow it. It's a non-starter, so shut up."
Jane said, "I think you two should start dating. That would be beautiful. Seeing you two holding hands and kissing in the hallways, shifting the fuck out of some paradigms, that would be so awesome."
Jen said, "Um.... Not everyone likes to cut as big of a swath as you do, Gator Bait. I think we'll keep things quiet for now. You know?"
"Tell you what," said Bekka. "You two want some together time, you can come over here. You can hang out on our deck up top, or use the hot tub, or one of the spare rooms. You deserve a bit of privacy from time to time. What do you say?"
Sophie said, "Wow, that'd be great. You'd really do that for us?"
"So long as you are good guests, it's fine. You can come home with Jane after school and be together for a couple hours," smiled Bekka.
"I don't know about y'all, but I'm hungry," said Jane. "Can I buy you lunch at the IHOP? You guys can head home afterwards."
Jen and Sophie were amenable to that, as was Lance. They headed down to the vehicles. Bekka positioned me on one of the sofas, handed me the remote, and gave me a kiss. "You will relax," she said. "I'm bringing you the bong, a beer, and your food. You stay there and relieve your mind from the effort of thinking. You need to do nothing, there is no business that isn't being handled. Okay?"
"All right," I replied. "You know, this place is turning into a teenage sex den. It's nice of you to make that offer to those two girls, but what about the next pair of young lovebirds Jane brings home? Do we accommodate them too?"
"We'll install them in the sauna," said Bekka. "I made that offer to keep them safe. They wouldn't have any risk-free place to be together if it weren't for us and Jane. What if one of their parents were really conservative? What if they were caught making out in one of their rooms? No, better for all concerned that they have fun here, in private. We're just providing a bit of refuge for a pair of kindled spirits. We won't be home, so we'll not be culpable if they get found out."
I torched through my first bong load and set it back on the coffee table. Bekka brought me my food. Squeak jumped up on my lap to be petted and maybe be fed guacamole. Our cat loved guacamole. He settled and waited for a handout. I dipped my finger into a vein of avocado and he slurped at it. HBO was showing Big Trouble In Little China again, so I stayed there. I ate my food and relaxed.
Around 7:30 Bekka and Jane stroked me awake, asking what I wanted to do for dinner. I told them I just wanted an antipasto from Leucadia Pizza.
An hour later I was woken so I could eat.
And an hour after that the two of them guided me up the stairs, stripped me of my clothes, and got me in bed, where I didn't move until ten the next morning.
Guess I needed the rest.