We got back to the club to find the front door still open, but it was obvious the night was over. While it was impossible to separate club workers from the audience just by looking, just the lack of human beings, and the ones who were there seemed to be involved in some sort of task, made it clear the night was over. I walked up to a door behind the front counter that had OFFICE spray-painted across it and pounded on it. A scrawny kid with thick glasses and an unfortunate haircut swung the door open and stared blankly at me.
"What can I do for you?" he asked.
"I need to use the phone," I replied.
"What for?" came the obnoxious response.
I said, "Because someone has stolen our fucking car. We need to call the cops, and we need to call for a cab."
"Those are valid reasons to use our phone. Come on in."
The inside of the office looked like the outside. Graffiti everywhere. The only real difference was that the sofas in here were in better condition than the ones in the snack bar or main hall. The scrawny kid guided me to where the phone sat in an alcove. Then he realized that Becky Page was in the same room with him and fanboy-ed out on her.
"Oh my god! It really is you. I'd heard you were here, but I didn't believe it. Why would the subject of so many of my masturbatory fantasies be here, of all places? Does it bother you that I masturbate while watching your videos?"
"That's the whole point of the videos, dear," said Bekka. Tell me, do you masturbate through a whole video, or do you keep watching the same scenes over and over?"
"Depends on which video it is. 'Bewitched' is one I watch all the way through. 'Lust Instructor' and 'Bad Babysitter' both have scenes I could watch a hundred times and not get bored. Tell me, what would it take for you to let me go down on you?"
Bekka laughed. "You're too eager, kid. You'd need a lot of video equipment, a blood test, and my usual fee. All you want to do is go down on me, huh?"
The kid said, "Yes. I think it would be fun to give pleasure to a woman who receives pleasure from people much more skilled at giving it than me. But then again, I'm the product of a patriarchal society. My upbringing has taught me that I should be demanding you go down on me. But I like to subvert norms. You play strong women in strong roles in your movies, so you're used to upsetting the patriarchy. We should upset the patriarchy more. I know, treat me like a sex object. I'm willing to take on the burden, just so long as we understand we're doing it to upset societal norms. Please?"
I finally located the phone book and said, "Kid, you're walking on thin ice." I dialed the number for Berkeley PD and waited while it rang.
Bekka said, "Jane, do me a favor. Take this guy out into the hallway and scare the shit out of him, okay?"
Jane said, "Will do." She grabbed the scrawny kid by the arm and dragged him out the door.
Ginny asked Bekka, "What's she gonna do with him?"
Bekka replied, "No damn clue. She's a creative girl, though. I'm sure whatever she does to him will leave a permanent impression on his psyche. Whether she threatens him, hurts him, or fucks him, she'll leave a mark."
I explained to the Berkeley PD dispatcher that I was calling from 924 Gilman St., that my car had been stolen, and I was rather upset by this. Yes, I had the vehicle information with me. 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass, red with a black stripe and black hood scoops. Plate number GFO 471. No, nothing of value in the car, other than the stereo. No, it had been locked when we left it. We all had our keys. Yes, we'll wait here at the club for an officer to come out and take a report. Schneider, Leonard Schneider. Thank you, goodn--- What? Why didn't I call 911? Because this is a personal tragedy, not an emergency. No life or property is under immediate threat. Okay, goodnight. Click.
Jerry stepped into the office. For some reason I wasn't surprised that he had a key. He saw me and Bekka and smiled. "Hey, how you kids doing?" he asked.
"Shitty," I told him. "Our car got stolen."
"What? No way. That's bullshit. What was it?"
"A '71 Cutlass 442, red and black. A hard car to miss."
"A classic like that, wow," he said. "I'm guessing you want it back."
"Damn right," I said. "Poor Jane is heartbroken. It was her car to drive. I owned it, but she was the one who used it day to day."
"Jane have spiky blue hair?" asked Jerry.
"Yeah, that's her."
Jerry began snorting with laughter. "She's working through her grief. She currently has Claude pressed up against the wall by his throat with one hand, and is manipulating his dick with the other. Is she always so aggressive?"
Bekka said, "He was saying inappropriate things to me, so I told Jane to take him out and scare him. She's a good judge of what will frighten a person, so right now this kid Claude is either in heaven or hell."
"Hey Jerry, who's the big cab company in Berkeley?" I asked.
"That would be Yellow Checker," Jerry replied. "Biggest is not always best, though. You will probably be happier with Green Cab. You're really gonna take a cab all the way back to the City? That's gonna set you back some. You guys can sleep on my floor and just take BART back over in the morning."
Recalling the condition of his carpet, I said, "Naw, the money is not a problem. Tell you what, I'd like to get my hands on whoever it was that pulled my car. It's too nice to go to a chop shop, and it's too obvious to go for a joy ride in. There's no doubt in my mind that somebody had a purchaser in mind when they stole it. Know what I mean?"
Jerry pondered what I said with a frown. Suddenly he snapped his fingers and said, "Hey, you're waiting for the cops, right? Then for a cab?"
"That's where we're at, yeah."
"Stick around. I've got a couple ideas, I'll be back in half an hour. If anybody tries to kick you out, tell them that you're waiting on me and that I'll lock up. Who knows, maybe I can find your car." He pushed back out of the office.
"Think he'll come up with anything?" asked Bekka.
"Who knows?" I shrugged. "He's kind of a weird guy, but I like him. He may know where to track down a lead. Hell, he was talking with a gang of cat burglars earlier. He's got ideas, that's for sure."
"Did you give that dude some of your Ecstasy, Lenny?" asked Ginny. "I couldn't tell if he's high or is just a spaz."
"A little of both, I'm afraid," I answered. "He's a good guy, though. Bekka and I were at his house for a couple minutes earlier. Judging by what I saw, the man is a music junkie. Records and tapes everywhere."
A loud knocking came on the door. I opened it up and there was a BPD uniform standing there. His mouth smiled, but the smile didn't touch his eyes. That was okay, I was so not used to seeing cops smile at all that the attempt on this one's part was a welcome relief. I was rather confused. I'd never seen a cop with a beard before, but this one had one. I asked him, "You're looking for Leonard Schneider, right?"
"Yes sir, I am," he replied.
"You found him," I said.
He took the report, pretty much getting the same information I'd already given over the phone. This annoyed me, but I hid it. He was acting surprisingly human towards me. He didn't seem bothered at all by the surroundings, either. He wanted to see where the car had been parked: an act of futility, personally, but I decided to humor him. We walked down Seventh St. to the empty parking spot. The cop shined his flashlight on the ground, looking for god knows what.
"A Cutlass 442," he suddenly said. "A serious hot rod, right?"
"You'd better believe it," I replied. "Mine was tough as dirt and fast as hell. I never got official times on it, but there wasn't much I wouldn't go up against, if I was challenged. A real slingshot."
"What sort of mileage did it get?"
I laughed at this. "Crap mileage. With that big 442 motor, even conservative driving would show you only about seventeen miles per gallon. Rocket everywhere and the mileage would drop to eleven or twelve. It was a serious racer. Hell, I'm just glad it ran good on unleaded gasoline, I didn't have to put additives in, no lead substitute or anything. I hope it gets found."
We began walking back to the club. The cop said, "Off the record, sir, you've been acting in an irresponsible manner."
I was affronted. "How so? We'd locked the doors, the windows were up, and anybody who had a key to the damn thing still does. How am I being irresponsible?"
The cop replied, "It's the car itself. You said it only gets eleven miles per gallon. Your vehicle is a drain on an already crippled resource pool. We are all responsible for this planet, yet you drive a hot rod like the one you described. Should I even ask about its smog rating?"
I glared out of the corner of my eyes. "It's a '71, it's exempt from smog checks. Sorry I can't give you any more information than the fact that it didn't blow clouds of smoke."
"Maybe this is a sign it's time to start using a more efficient vehicle."
"Dare I ask what you suggest?" I chortled.
"Why not a bicycle?" the cop suggested. "I get to work on one. They're efficient, they don't break down, I'm healthier than I've ever been. You should get a bicycle."
I started laughing. I said, "Tell me, officer, have you ever been to Southern California? That's where I live."
"See, everything in SoCal is spread out. Wide. I have a nine mile commute to my job, and that's considered short. My parents have to drive about thirty-five miles to get to their jobs. For my own job, I routinely have to go up to Los Angeles from San Diego. That's ninety or a hundred miles right there. How am I supposed to do all this on a bicycle?"
"What about public transportation?" asked the cop.
This was the best comedy I'd heard in a while. When I stopped laughing, I said, "Transit in San Diego is a joke. The buses run once an hour, and stop at eight. There's the trolley, but that's centered around getting people in and out of downtown, and that's pointless. Economically, San Diego has no geographic focal point, so getting people into downtown doesn't really help. And both the buses and the trolley are slow. If you value your time, you don't take transit.
"I don't have any direct experience with transit in LA, but I've heard stories. It's no more efficient than San Diego's system, plus the added bonus of loads of violence to contend with. Dude, Southern California is set up for cars. Probably short-sighted planning in retrospect, but that's how things are. There's neighborhoods down there, like Rancho Bernardo, where you gotta travel a couple miles just to grab a pack of smokes or a soda. There is no such thing as a convenient location in SoCal, everything is far apart and designed for access by cars. Not bicycles, not pedestrians, not buses, it's all about cars. And dammit, I'm in a position in my life where I can drive what I please. Should I tell you about the other two cars I own? Or the three motorcycles?"
We got back to the front of the club. I looked at the cop's squad car: a Caprice. I said to him, "Officer, unless this car of yours runs on unicorn farts, you're in no position to criticize what I drive. Capiche?"
The cop rolled his eyes. "I've tried to explain to the higher-ups that we need more efficient vehicles, but nothing meets the requirements police have of their vehicles. They have to be quick, they have to be tough, they need to hold five adults, large trunks to store equipment, and American built. That narrows it down to the Chevrolet Caprice --- like this one --- and the Ford LTD Crown Victoria."
"Huh," I said. "So I have the same requirements of a car as a cop. I want fast, tough, seats adults comfortably, and plenty of storage. Amazing."
The cop --- R. Hinkley, according to his name tag --- gave me a despairing look and said, "Good luck with it, sir. Good night." He got behind the wheel of his squad car and started talking into the radio. I stepped into the club to see what was new.
I heard voices both in the office and in the main hall. Recognizing Jane's voice, I stepped into the hall to find her as Jerry had described her: holding a kid named Claude by his throat with one hand, jerking him off with the other. What Jerry hadn't mentioned were the threats. She was saying shit like, "If you come before I give you permission, I'm ripping it off" and "Hold still, or I'll chew on it." Claude's face was unreadable. He was either terrified into paralysis or in the middle of the most incredible sexual high anyone has ever experienced. I slid backwards without them noticing me.
In the office I found Bekka, Ivanka, and Ginny in terse discussion with a kid whose jacket was so covered in studs it was more metal than leather. The kid was insisting they leave: everybody else had finished their work assignments and had headed home. This kid and Claude were the last two Gilman volunteers left in the building, and this kid was going to break up Claude's little party as soon as he got the girls outside.
Bekka said, "Lenny, this little cretin is insisting we wait outside. Could you convince him that we're waiting on Jerry to return?"
I said, "Let me call the cab and then it won't matter so much."
I headed for the phone, and the kid asked, "What are you doing?"
Considering my words, I explained, "See, you pick up this piece here, called the receiver. That's a bit of a misnomer, as it sends as well as receives. Then I push various numbered buttons seven times. Pushing a button makes a tone, and all the tones are different. These tones are sent along the wires from here to the nearest Pacific Bell central office, where a computer translates the tones from sound into numbers again, and locates the phone whose numbers match what came through and makes it ring. When somebody picks up the phone on the other end, we are able to communicate via a low-wattage, low voltage protocol for voice communication. This, all together, is known as making a phone call. Do you follow me, or should I have made diagrams?"
The girls snickered, the kid was un-amused. "Do you always walk in places and start using the phones without saying anything?"
"No, and I haven't here either," I replied. "Claude knows I'm here using the phone, Jerry knows I'm here using the phone. I've been outside talking to the weirdest cop I've ever met. Dude, unclench and let me call my fucking cab. Our car got stolen tonight, so I'm not in the best of moods."
"Where is Claude, anyway?" asked the kid.
"He's in the main room being sexually terrorized," I said. "Becky told Jane to scare the kid, so Jane is. We made the mistake of not putting any parameters on the methods to be used."
Looking even more annoyed, he asked, "And Jerry? Any idea where he went?"
"Not a damn clue. He buzzed out of here with something important on his mind. He thinks he can help us recover our car. He said he'd be gone about a half an hour, and it's been that long right about now. Now can I call for my cab, or do I need to get up on your roof and send smoke signals?"
"Make your call, then you all have to go. Where did you say Claude was?"
"He's in the main room, near the bathrooms, being simultaneously jerked off and threatened with physical violence. I can't tell if he's enjoying himself or not."
The kid muttered something under his breath and left the office. I made my call to Green Cab, explaining to the dispatcher that not only did we need a cab to San Francisco, the driver would be dropping at two separate addresses. Dispatch warned me that it would be an expensive ride. I promised to tuck a hundred dollar bill in the teeth of the driver when he arrived. Ten minute wait, I was told.
Jane came back in the office with a positively evil smile on her face. "Fuck porn, I'm gonna become a dominatrix when I turn eighteen. I scared that dude, just like you asked me to."
"And under what circumstance did you get his dick out of his pants?" I asked.
"Oh, that was easy. I kissed him, then I asked him to whip it out so I could play with it."
Ginny smirked, "Do you often use sex to manipulate people?"
"No. But it's nice to know I can do it when I need to," smiled Jane. "Well, I kind of manipulate my boyfriend, but.... I don't know if it counts. What if you're you're using sex to manipulate someone into more sex? Wouldn't they cancel each other out or something? All I know is I promise to do things he likes so long as he does things I like, too."
"That's not manipulation, that's good old fashioned bargaining," said Bekka. "Like with me and Lenny. He performs cunnilingus on me for a minimum of half an hour, then he gets to tit fuck me."
I added, "That's a half hour of straight working, too. No coming up for air, no pause to relax your jaw, just going like Pac Man for thirty minutes."
Just then Jerry walked in. He said, "Lenny, I may have good news for you. I think I found the local car thief who stole yours. He wasn't home, but I leaned on his wife a little and she said he pulled one tonight, and it was a hot rod. She didn't see it, so she couldn't give me a description of it. She's a little blurry with details anyway, her and Wallace, her husband, are drunks. He's got a regular job, but steals cars to keep the two of them in gin and orange juice. Anyways, he's out hitting the bars, which means he got paid well for whatever he stole. He'll be up and about around nine tomorrow morning. Think you can make it back here around that time?"
"Yeah, I'll take another cab across," I said.
"Do not do that," said Ivanka. "I shall loan you my car while you are searching for your own. Mine sits in my driveway too much of the time, it must be driven now and then. Please, use my Cougar."
I stared at Ivanka. I said, "That's really appreciated, but I'm gonna be going up against professional car thieves while I try to track down the Cutlass. They aren't going to like the fact that I'm showing up and being nosy. No, I figured I'd rent a car, something with a complete damage waiver on it, so it doesn't matter what happens to it."
Ivanka came back with, "But I know how you drive, Lenny. You are good driver. You will be limited by driving a rental car, it will be sluggish and not handle well. My Cougar is fast and handles very good. If you are again up against men who wish to harm you, it is better that you are able to escape. You need my car to accomplish what you want."
I rubbed my chin and said, "Okay. Deal. Jerry, should we just be at your place at nine tomorrow?"
"That works," Jerry said. "Wait, are all of you coming?"
"Me, Bekka, and Jane. Or maybe not Jane. We're gonna be up against some danger, is my guess, and she's already had enough in her life. Ginny, Ivanka, would you two mind keeping half an eye on Jane for us? You could give her a tour of all the cool spots around, and she wouldn't be wandering around the city blindly."
Bekka and Jane both began carping on me at the same time, and in about the same tone. I held up my hands and said, "Whoa, whoa. Hold on. Okay, Bekka, you go first."
Bekka said, "Look pally, you're not a one man riot squad. Remember, it's just a car. We can always get another one. While we're out looking for the damn thing, if we run into any heavy resistance, we fade out. We ain't going to war with anybody. Am I clear on this?"
"Loud and clear, darling," I replied. "Jane, you were saying?"
"You're not leaving me. I can help, somehow. I dunno, it seems like it's my car, so I should have to do some of the work to get it back. Ginny, Ivanka, don't take this the wrong way. You're both really cool, but I belong with them, not hanging out with you guys while they look for my car. Lenny, don't abandon me. I'll be so pissed if you leave me behind."
"Your objection to my plan is duly noted, and will be taken under consideration," I said. "But c'mon girl, it's not like we're gonna be out having fun. We'll be chasing a car around, hoping to get it back. If we run into too much flack, we quit. Believe me, you won't be missing anything."
A horn hooted outside. Jerry peeked through the blinds and said, "Cab's here. Okay, so tomorrow at nine, at my house, right?"
"Sounds like a plan," I replied. The five of us, me and four girls, went out and crammed ourselves into the cab, Ivanka sitting next to the driver so as to give him directions. The gentle-faced Pakistani at the wheel seemed to understand English better than he spoke it, as he followed Ivanka's instructions to the letter. When he pulled up at Ivanka's place I paid the meter plus a $25 tip.
We all felt tired, so I simply waited at the front door for Ivanka to bring me keys. Me, Bekka and Jane piled in our temporary ride and I fired up. Just by the engine note I could tell I'd be happy in this thing. Sixties-era Mercury Cougars had more weight than their brethren, the Ford Mustang (which shared a lot of parts). Personally, the excess body weight was rendered meaningless by the fact that the Cougar was the far sexier of the two hot rods. In the Cougar, you'd turn in worse track times than a Mustang would, but so what? You'd still look cooler doing it. With the pointed nose, flip-up headlights, sharp fender tops, and --- it must be said --- a gorgeous ass, the Mercury Cougar ran rings around a lot of other vehicles of its time when it came to style. By 1971 the Cougar had entered its "fat Elvis" phase, an overweight caricature of itself. But the Sixties-era Cougars will always hold a warm spot for me.
We got back to the motel and I hit our space. Dragging ass from a long day, we stripped down and got in bed, too tired to even make out briefly. We were asleep in moments.