"Oh my god, look," said Ellen.
We all looked out the windows of the stretch limo, which was rolling slowly down Balboa Ave. towards Smut 'N' Stuff. There was a single file line of (mostly) men stretching up the sidewalk from the front door of Smut 'N' Stuff all the way to Convoy. My eyes zipped up to the advertising marquee on top of the building. It read, "BECKY PAGE LIVE! NEW VIDEO SIGNING" Then we were in the parking lot of the store, Angel and an unknown man trotting towards the limo.
The limo released three porn stars: Bekka (Becky Page), Ellen (Skye Tyler), and Elspeth (Ella Belle). Also exiting were two criminals, myself and Boss. The ladies were there for an autograph session for their fans and for the release of our latest feature, Temporary Pleasures. Me and Boss were there to dispatch unruly fans and otherwise keep our performers safe and secure. Smut 'N' Stuff corporate --- they're a chain of seven stores, all in the San Diego area --- promised us extra security, but provided no description. They could be bringing in rent-a-cops, or professionals, or gang-pressing a few extra clerks into working some overtime. Boss, a biker straight out of central casting, is six foot seven and weighs 260 lbs, so he would be taking point. I was next in line, at six foot one and 190 lbs, of punk rock tweaker ugliness. Me and Boss knew we could keep order at the signing tables, we'd done it before. There was still the massive crowd inside waiting in line, and now this procession stretching up to the signal.
Angel, my capo and owner of Inana Productions, the porn studio I run, clapped me on the back and said, "Glad to see you, Lenny. It's gonna be one hell of a day. Let's get the girls inside and at the tables, maybe we can crank up early so we're not disappointing too many people at seven."
This was the first of ten signings, stretching from San Diego to Fresno. This one was scheduled to run from three until seven, a grueling appointment. My wife Bekka, better known to the world as Becky Page, was the primary reason for the overflow crowd. Having Bekka show up at Smut 'N' Stuff was like having Elton John show up at a sixth grade piano recital. Her adoring fans spanned both age and gender; her female fans were attracted to "Becky's" film image as a post-feminist sexpot, a symbol of powerful feminine sexuality that would not be treated as less than an equal in the bedroom. Men just plain thought she was hot, but also appreciated Becky's strength. We had learned her female fans felt an incredible personal kinship with Becky, as though her words and actions in her porno movies were speaking directly to them. They saw Becky Page as a role model, which frightened Bekka: she didn't feel she could live up to her strong badass reputation. Bekka didn't want her public persona to be seen as a real live superhero.
The girls clustered together and we headed towards the door, Boss leading the way, me to the right, Angel to the left, and the unknown man at the rear. The line of autograph seekers snaked through the front of the store, terminating at a row of three small tables, where the girls would sit. Angel advised them to use the bathroom now, before things got started. Me and Boss surveyed the layout and decided that he would stand a bit off from the last table, I would assume a position behind the girls, and Angel would station himself near the front of the line, a backup to the crowd-minding employee whose job it was to regulate the number of fans at the tables. We'd have Smut 'N' Stuff's extra security hustle people along, they can't have a conversation with the girls. Others could police the line outside. After they were done at the bathroom but before sitting at the tables, I gave the girls a little pep talk: yes, Ellen and Elspeth, Bekka is the primary draw at this event, your time will come. Keep smiling, discourage any long-winded talking, and as always, just raise your hand if you need anything. Dinner and drinks are on me and Angel tonight. Remember, these people love you, so try to have fun. Everybody feeling nice and vibed from the Ecstasy we all took? Good, then let's knock them dead.
Angel returned from the manager's office sans suit jacket, his shoulder holster and Beretta on display for everyone to see. I felt this was a good idea and removed my denim, showing off my own holster/Beretta fashion combo. I felt conflicts would be handled much more quickly if the combatants were aware the mediator could blow a hole in either of them you could throw a cat through. To underline our point about taking the safety of our performers seriously, I took a position behind Bekka. Becky Page fans would be aware of the punk rock scumbag with a cannon-like pistol under his arm, and (hopefully) not act out. The line-minder was in position, we all took a deep breath, I kissed Bekka and high-fived Boss, the clock struck three, and away we went.
The line-minder let the first few guys past. All three crowded around Becky Page's table. Seeing two empty tables, the line-minder let a couple more guys through. Now there was a cluster of five fans in front of Becky Page. All five were trying to talk to Becky at once. I stepped up and said, "Gentlemen, you must avail yourselves of Becky's autograph and be content with what conversation she can have in the amount of time it takes her to write her name and a short message. I promise you she reads all her fan mail, every scrap, so feel free to write a letter care of Inana Productions. One at a time, please." They paid attention to the ugly well-armed bastard. They got their autographs and split.
Thankfully, the next few dudes were fans of Inana, and wanted their brand new cassettes of Temporary Pleasures signed by all three stars. They lingered a bit longer with Ms. Page, but didn't jam things up. Three more fans, all of whom headed straight for Becky, all talking at once. I stepped forward and said, "Jesus, if you all want to talk to her, at least form a line and do it one at a time, instead of yelling over each other. And keep it short, we got a lot of people who also want to see her."
They did as instructed. They would talk while Becky signed their video boxes or paper. Two of these three asked Becky out to dinner that night, which she politely refused. The third just said he loved her, he knew she was attached, he just had to get it off his chest. Becky replied, "That's sweet. Sometimes I think I'm the most loved girl in the world."
After a half hour we adjusted tactics. Angel and I switched positions, him hovering a bit back from Becky, me policing things from the head table, where Ellen sat. I was getting too many idiots wanting to argue with me when I told them they'd monopolized enough of Ms. Page's time, and the fans all wanted to crowd around her table. Angel was six foot four, and looked and sounded like the mafia career man he was. He garnered more respect, faster, than the punk scumbag with the gun did. The fans processed me as a dangerous human being, but still didn't take me seriously. Mercifully, Ellen and Elspeth were being kept busy, it wasn't just The Becky Page Show going on. I knew Smut 'N' Stuff had brought in 250 copies of Temporary Pleasures for the signing, and I wondered if they would last. Even the dudes who wanted to only see Becky were buying copies. I hoped they wouldn't be too disappointed, this was a Skye Tyler vehicle, not a Becky Page vehicle. Becky had plenty of screen time, but had her clothes on in much of it. That's just the way the role was.
Ellen signaled me and said she needed something, anything, to drink. Smut 'N' Stuff didn't have a Coke machine, so I motioned to Angel and Boss that I was stepping out for a minute. I went to the parking lot in hopes of raiding the limo's wet bar, but the limo was gone. So I sprinted up the street to the liquor store and grabbed three bottles of Evian. The cashier was disturbed by the sight of a breathless punk rocker wearing a gun, but said nothing. Stepping back outside, I realized the line now curved onto Convoy. And I found the extra security. They were doing crowd management, keeping driveways clear. They were calming angry business owners who didn't want their places blockaded just because there were three famous whores at that damn porno shop. I ran back to the shop and distributed the waters. Then I continued my vigil, keeping a watchful eye on my girls and checking out the crowd in line for any flare-ups of temper among our visitors.
Around 4:30 a voice said in my ear, "Jesus Lenny, you haven't changed a bit." I turned and saw it was my old manager from when I worked at Smut 'N' Stuff back in '87. I smiled and shook his hand.
I said, "I got gray hair now. The bleach is now self defense. And I gotta admit, I''m doing pretty well for myself."
"Pretty well!" said Jeff. "You wrote and produced the single most popular fuck flick ever. You run an entire damn studio, and I hear you're married to a superstar now. Unless it's a different Lenny Schneider I read about in Adult Video News. So did you expect to have a full career in porn when you were here?"
"No, I figured my career would be in drugs. Shit, I initially started working at Inana on a total fluke. I'd finished dropping off their dope and was standing around with my hand up my ass when the director collars me and tells me he needs a still photographer, his just quit, and would I be willing to try? I did, and it worked out. I got my gig running the place when the director, who also ran the business end, went crazy and lost his job. We started getting big when I decided it was time to put out full features and not just loops. The critics have always loved us, and we got punched through the roof with 'Bewitched.' I've got stress, but I'm making bank and having fun, I can't complain. What's new around here?"
Jeff rolled his eyes. "We've been trying to open an eighth store up in Escondido, and the city fathers up there are freaked out. They like to think they're this nice wholesome town, ignoring the meth labs and knocked up teenage girls. We're willing to build out, but every time we find a location or site that we like there's some niggling problem with the zoning, and they laugh at us when we ask for a variance. Personally, it's time to sic a few rabid lawyers on them, get them to quit yanking our chain and let us open a nice tax income-generating business in town. We were thinking of a store in Oceanside, get some of that Marine money, but we said fuck it. There's already book stores in town, and Oceanside is a shithole. They wouldn't appreciate classy merchandise."
I chuckled. "Yeah, those Oceanside book stores are ghetto. One of 'em called up, wanting to do a video signing with Becky Page. I asked him about square footage of his place, and a goddamn AM/PM would be larger. I asked what was in it for me, and he says, 'I can sell fifty of your tapes that day.' Shit, I could sell fifty of Becky's tapes in an hour, standing in a parking lot and waving them in the air. I go to Oceanside to buy practice ammo and that's it."
Jeff said, "Yeah, I was wondering about that piece of jewelry under your left arm. Did you really feel you needed it here?"
I rolled my eyes. "No, that's not it at all. I always wear my gun. If I'm awake and not in the shower, it's on me. It's kind of a long story. All I know is I feel naked without it these days. I've worn it for a while, but after I got shot up it really became a part of me."
"Yeah, last spring. It was on the news, both for the shooting and the trial. Some psycho with an AR-15 decided he was gonna put Inana out of business in a big way. Me and Bekka managed to stop him. I took five rounds, three in my left shoulder, two in my left leg. You never heard anything about it?"
Jeff snapped his fingers. "Oh yeah! I wasn't connecting a La Costa porn studio with you or Inana. Like there's dozens of porn studios in La Costa, right? So you came out of it okay?"
"Let's just say I have a heightened demand for security, wherever I am. I'm a little paranoid, and that isn't helped by my wife being a celebrity. We'll be minding our own business when total strangers will walk up to her so say how much they love her and ask for an autograph."
"So your lives are like one long signing engagement."
I laughed at this. "Yeah, sort of.... But signings are controlled! We can't go to Safeway without some random fuck going into fanboy mode and coming over to make friends. I'm just grateful that our home address is still a secret. I love Bekka, and will do anything for her, but sometimes I wish we had just stuck to doing jack off loops. Her success is making us rich, though. At this point I could market Becky Page diapers and we'd make a mint."
Jeff asked, "Wait, is her name Bekka or Becky?"
"Becky Page is her stage name," I replied. "Her real name is Bekka Schneider. I refer to her as both names, to differentiate between the woman who is my wife and the fast-living celebrity. The world loves Becky Page, and everyone wants a piece of her. Bekka Schneider is the woman I make love to. Get me?"
"Yeah, I get it. So does the whole Becky Page thing ever---"
We were interrupted by angry yelling back in the line. Me and Jeff both headed towards the noise, stepping over the ropes, roughly cutting between people. We reached the location of the sound to find two dudes toe to toe, yelling in each others faces. They hadn't swung yet, but were about to. I grabbed one, Jeff grabbed the other, and we pulled in opposite directions. I announced loudly, "I don't give a shit what it was about, it's over with now. You, you just lost you place in line, you're ten places back now. And if you shitheads start baiting each other after you're separated, you both hit the sidewalk."
I began tugging my miscreant down the line by his collar, tucking him back in line between two fans who made room for him. He declared, "Why should I lose my place in line? This is bullshit."
I told him, "Because I don't give a fuck about justice, I want quiet. What were you morons beefed about anyway?"
"He said Becky Page has fake tits! I called him an idiot and a liar, and he got in my face."
"Be happy, the moral victory is yours. They're real. I routinely grope them, so I would know."
"Who the hell are you, anyway?" the would-be brawler asked.
I took the video box out of his hand and looked at the credits, locating my own name under Producer. I pointed at my name. "See who that is?" I asked.
He said, "Yeah, duh, Leonard Schneider. He produces all of Inana's stuff. He's a genius, just like George Lucas."
I grabbed my wallet and extracted my driver's license, and handed it to him. "Check the name," I said.
He looked, and his jaw dropped. I plucked my license away and said, "See, I got a big stake in seeing this little shindig run smoothly. Any other questions?"
He gaped at me, then said, "Um, can I get your autograph?"
At 5:15 a fifteen minute break was called, so the girls could stretch their legs. There was minor grumbling at the delay from the crowd, but it could have been worse. Angel ushered everyone into the manager's office, where he offered cocaine. This was accepted gratefully by almost everyone. Me and Bekka had other plans. I'd melted a big fat load into one of my new meth pipes before leaving the house, wrapped it in half a paper towel, and shoved it in my pocket. I busted this out, and me and Bekka stood to one side, taking big puffs of speed smoke. This was greeted with curiosity and confusion by the others. Whatever it was we were smoking had no odor, despite the clouds of white smoke we were blowing around. Boss knew what we were doing, and came over chuckling.
"So, yer burning your dope now, huh?" he said. "Too many nosebleeds?"
I said, "No, we're just enjoying getting high again. Want a puff?"
"No thanks. I'm trying to lay off all dope fer a while, see how I feel."
Ellen shimmied up, wiping her nose. "What the hell are you guys doing? I can see smoke, but I don't smell anything."
"Smoking methamphetamine," I answered. "A new twist on an old favorite."
She wrinkled her nose. "That's right, you guys like crank. Why can't I smell it? Do you know what they make crank with? It's, like, battery acid and sinus medicine and lye and starter fluid. It's poison."
I glanced over at genius chemist Boss, who was giggling to himself at this bit of information. He said, "Young lady, you have misconceptions about how real meth is made. If you'll allow it, mebbe I could take ya to dinner and explain how the process works."
Ellen looked up at Boss. She was flattered, this giant of a man was expressing interest in her. Probably due to her Midwest upbringing, she liked big guys. Surfer boys held no appeal to her. She said, "Okay. When and where?"
Boss replied, "I'll pick ya up at seven on Saturday at yer house, just gimme the address at dinner. You like seafood? I know the perfect spot. Oh, do you like motorcycles?"
"Yeah, they're really cool," smiled Ellen.
"I'll pick you up on my soft tail, then. We'll cruise a little, then go eat."
"Cool. Talk to you later." She went back over and began discussing something with Elspeth.
I said, "Um, Boss? Where's Mona?"
I got a sour, "Dunno, don't care," in response.
"She was runnin' around on me. I had proof positive, too. I contracted the clap, and it couldn't have come from nobody but her. I dragged her to the clinic for test and treatment, paid for her antibiotics, took her home, and told her ta fergit my phone number an' fergit my address. She's it, she's my last scooter tramp. They're all trouble."
Bekka and I glanced at each other. Boss refusing to date scooter tramps would put a big dent in his dating pool. Given his lifestyle, appearance, and demeanor, he couldn't just start hanging around the local singles bar in hopes of dating some pretty little thing. For better or worse the scooter tramps, steeped in biker subculture, would at least understand Boss' worldview, thinking process, and method of approaching problems. How Boss lived, and why he did, would be a frightening mystery to most other women out there. Maybe to Ellen, too, but she was an adaptable girl. She'd gone from being a Nebraska farm girl to a California porn star without sacrificing her optimism and positive outlook.
Angel wandered over, now feeling in an expansive mood. He, too, was curious.
"Lenny, Bekka, what strange and esoteric new drugs are you abusing now? You don't like my coke any more?"
Bekka said, "We didn't feel like mixing highs. And we're doing the same drug we always do, only now we're smoking it. Doing it this way gives you a zippier high, your dope lasts longer.... Like Lenny said, a new twist on an old favorite."
Angel's face registered surprise. "Wait, now you're smoking your crank? Seriously? You'd think the office would smell like a chemical fire, with all the smoke you two have been blowing."
"Just the nature of the beast," I said. "It's odorless, it's flavorless, you don't even feel it when you inhale."
"That's my dope they're smokin'," said Boss. "You won't find cleaner batches than what I make, and since they git it from me, ain't no cut in it. Smokin' it, they got pure-dee rocket fuel."
Angel held his hand out. I handed him the pipe. He held it up to the light, examining the solidified yellow puddle in the bottom of the bowl, and considering the pipe itself. "How, uh, how does it work?" he asked.
I said to Bekka, "You want to take one last puff and show him? I'm good."
She said, "Yeah, I could stand one more." She pulled out her Bic and took the pipe back from Angel. He bent down to watch.
Bekka began melting down the speed. She said to Angel, "See that yellow lump in the bottom? That's your drugs. You use your lighter to melt it, like this.... Then it starts to smoke. You roll the bowl back and forth so the liquid speed hits the cooler areas of the glass, which makes it smoke more, and you take your hit. Don't constantly keep it flamed, you'll just scorch your drugs. Here, watch...."
Bekka brought the pipe to her lips and began re-firing the bowl. She began rolling the pipe back and forth between her fingers, drawing in. She moved the lighter away and continued to draw, rolling the pipe. Then she stopped, stared at the ceiling for a moment, and blew out a plume of thick white smoke. She handed the pipe back to me. I began waving it around to cool it off.
"Did you want to try a hit, Angel?" I asked. "Still plenty in the bowl."
He said, "I.... No. I have things to do tomorrow, and wish to be rested for them. Maybe some other time."
"Definitely some other time," said Bekka. "We'll come up and visit. I think you and Angela would be really fun to get spun with. We'll keep you up for a few days, just long enough to get plagued by speed demons."
"Speed demons being...?" asked Angel.
I said, "Speed demons are the hallucinations and random inexplicable thoughts you have when you're sleep deprived and overstimulated from drugs. They're why people say meth drives folks nuts. If you can go for a week without sleep, taking speed, and successfully battle your speed demons, you don't have much to fear in this world. Your brains are pretty strong."
Angel considered this and said, "When Chrissie was kidnapped, how long were you two up?"
"Six days, five nights."
"So you were doing things like driving on the freeway in your old hot rod, and interacting with threatening people, and pulling off Chrissie's rescue, and meeting the Don, while hallucinating?"
Bekka said, "They're not involving hallucinations, not like with LSD. You're just always seeing movement in the corners of your eyes. You stare at a flat surface and it will begin to warp. Text on a page will shift and leap out at you. And you hear things, it's like hearing a radio softly playing in the next room. You strain, but you can't make out the details of the sound. You'll hear voices without words. Really, it's more like a state of psychosis, God knows you feel insane. Some people get really paranoid, they're the dangerous ones, because they've got all that speed-fueled energy and they're convinced they're in the right. And sleep is the only cure. Of course, speed prevents you from sleeping, so you have to wait for the drugs to wear off some. Otherwise you just lie there staring at the ceiling, watching it wobble and shift colors, while listening to a far-off radio play songs you can't quite recognize. Congratulations, you've been plagued by speed demons."
"And you two do this for fun?" chortled Angel.
I said, "No, not at all. We're addicts, we have an incredible tolerance to amphetamines. It's rare for us to even stay awake overnight. We'd have to constantly be doing more dope to stay awake for extended periods. Like when we were hunting down Chrissie, we were doing a line every four hours, just so we could keep going. Plus the coke you were giving us, plus alcohol. We would do a line and not even feel it burn. I won't lie, Angel. That last day, when we went and had breakfast with Don Ventimiglia, I was questioning whether I was still human. I couldn't focus on the Don's face, because it would warp and he'd start to turn into a monster. I'd look away, then look back, and he'd be normal again. I was convinced there were kittens all over the floor, like dozens of them. I'd see them moving, but when I'd try to focus on them they'd disappear. Yeah, it would be fair to say that during my first pleasant interaction with Vito, I was quite insane."
"You were seeing kittens?" exclaimed Bekka. "I was seeing tribbles. They would be piled up in the corners and against the walls, but when I'd look directly at them, they'd disappear. And I could faintly hear an opera singer doing complex voice exercises somewhere else in the building. I wanted to ask the Don about it, but I wasn't sure if I was imagining it or not. Oh, I know I was totally nuts at that point."
Angel said, "Jesus, you two were completely out of your skulls the entire time you were doing all that detective work, running around Hollywood, chasing leads.... How the hell were you able to pull it off?"
"Finding Chrissie gave us focus. Dealing with the scumbags we were provided us with enough adrenaline to temporarily snap us into reality. And of course, we kept snorting more speed."
I added, "We were fully aware of our condition, and knew what to expect, so we were able to discount and dismiss the demon attacks.... Although.... Remember when we went for fast food down in Van Nuys at three in the morning? I'm still convinced that stretch of Van Nuys Boulevard is painted with a green tint. And that Burger King milkshakes give off a humming noise, if you listen closely."
Angel gave me a crooked grin and said, "Everybody in the family thinks you're mentally unstable, kinda crazy. You're trying to prove to me they're right, aren't you? Lenny and Bekka, demon masters. Two mafioso who put themselves into states of psychosis for fun. At least you two are never boring."
"Go back a step, Angel," said Bekka. What do you mean, two mafioso? Lenny is just an associate, and I'm his wife."
Angel replied, "Due to his business skills, creativity, and high intelligence, Lenny is held in high regard in the family. His not being a family member is considered an annoying formality. Lenny will always have the same opportunities, and respect, that a member would. His time with the family will be prosperous. As for you, the Don has told me of his plans to make you the first full-fledged female family member. I think it's a wonderful idea, it will help bring the organization into modern times. He has also told others of this idea, and met resistance. Some people do not understand the difference between 'traditional' and 'out of date.' Don V. made you a promise, and he will see it through. You will be a full member of La Cosa Nostra, the first lady mafioso. You will be, as it were, a made woman."
"Well hot damn," said Boss.
The door to the office popped open and a Smut 'N' Stuff clerk put his head in. "It's time," he said. "They're getting restless out there."
I called to the room, "Okay people, let's do this. Places, everyone. Time for more fun." We went out and took our positions. I was walking towards the front of the line when Bekka stopped me, gave me a kiss, and said, "At least I'm not giving out hugs today."
"Where's your sense of adventure?" I asked, and went to stand near the front of the line.
A hand tapped my shoulder. I turned to see the first guy in line giving me a pleading look. "Did she just kiss you?" he asked.
"Yes she did," I answered.
I smiled. "Because she loves me," I told him.
He said, "I love her. Can I kiss her?"
"Such an attempt would get you thrown out. Quite literally. See that big biker over there? He'd see to it that you landed in the middle of Balboa Avenue, where you'd be lucky if you were only run over twice."
The line-minder let the next small group through, including Lothario. He walked straight to Becky/Bekka and spoke. She shook her head. He spoke some more, pointing at me. She looked at me, smiled up at him and answered. He turned and stared at me in shock. Then, defeated, he handed over his video box for signing. After it was signed, he came back to me and said, "Why didn't you tell me you're married to her?"
"Would it have made any difference?" I asked. "I told you she loved me, that should cover all bases. And believe it or not, Becky Page is a one guy kind of girl. Good day." He left.
At a quarter to seven, I told the Smut 'N' Stuff security guys to cut off the line at the door. Anyone outside was screwed, we'd take care of anyone inside the building, but that was it. Even then we'd be running past our time. I snuck a peek out the front door, to see at least fifty people who were shit outta luck. One of the extra security guys, a fairly large dude, said in a booming voice, "If you are out here waiting for signatures, we are sorry but the line has been cut off! The event ends at seven! We can only accommodate those who are already inside the building! There will be another signing event at our Mira Mesa location in two days, three to seven. Show up early, we are expecting a crowd there, too. Thank you, and good night."
Most of the disappointed ones dropped their heads, swore for a little bit, then slouched off to wherever they had parked. Eight or so sort of hung around, trying to drift towards the doors in a casual way. I brought my head back inside and stepped over to Boss.
I told him, "Hey man, you and me need to be by that door. I think some fools are going to try and bum rush."
"No problem," said Boss. "I'll just throw 'em the hell right back out."
As if on cue, some putz who looked like a college student managed to dodge the outside security and pour himself through the doors, moving at a full run. I braced myself with my right leg and blocked him with my arms, bringing him to a full stop. Boss took it from there. He grabbed the college boy by the neck and belt, picked him up, stepped outside with one foot, and heaved. I heard a squawk of panic, then a thud. Boss stepped back in with a small smile on his face. The outside door security guy stuck his head inside, looked at Boss with an expression of awe, and said, "Damn, dude."
Boss caught my curious expression and explained, "Well, I tried, but I didn't get him into traffic. He fell short, landed on the roof of somebody's old Corvair."
Security guy stuck his head in again. He said to Boss, "Dude, you just made my job a lot easier. Everybody who was hanging around outside saw what happened, and they've all taken off. They probably had plans of their own, but decided against it. How'd you learn to throw somebody like that?"
Boss shrugged. "I didn't think about it, I just did it. I'm kind of a big guy."
At 7:17 the last fan walked away from Elspeth's table and out the exit. The air pressure changed in the building as everyone sighed at once. Bekka announced a long-overdue need for a cigarette, Elspeth and Ellen concurring. They started to head for the door, but I blocked them off. "Let me do some recon first."
I stepped out front. A few loiterers hanging around. I went around the corner of the building to check out the parking lot. The limo was back, and so were twenty-five or so fidgety-looking dudes. They all seemed to be waiting for something, and were constantly glancing at the limo. I went back inside and said to the girls, "No way. The limo has returned, and it's drawn worked-up fanboys like flies to shit. Just getting you three inside the limo is gonna be a challenge, we're gonna have to vanguard you through the parking lot."
Jeff appeared and said, "They can smoke in my office. There's an ashtray in my desk. Lenny, Boss, let's go assess the situation."
The three of us stepped into the parking lot. Jeff looked around. All the fanboys paced around in small areas, like asylum inmates. It was quiet, they seemed to studiously avoid any interaction with the others. Jeff strode forward, crossed his arms, threw out his chest and yelled, "Hey! What the fuck are all you morons doing in my parking lot?"
He was greeted by silence. Then a single voice said, "I'm, uh, waiting for a ride."
This lie was seen as an excellent answer. Others also responded. "Yeah, me too." "Me too." "Yeah, a ride."
Jeff said, "Well, since you're all waiting for a ride, that means none of these cars are yours. Which means you have no fucking business back here. You're trespassers. You can wait for your goddamn rides out on the sidewalk, and away from my store. All of you, clear out."
Boss and I stepped forward, to let our presence be known. Boss boomed, "Don't make us have to throw y'all out. You won't like it."
One guy suddenly shuffled past us, down the driveway, and up the sidewalk towards Convoy. That started the exodus. I drifted onto the sidewalk to see their progress. They were diligent, they didn't stop until they were in front of the next building up. The parking lot was clear of people, except for ourselves. I went over to the limo and told the driver that if people started drifting into the lot, he was to lay on his horn. We went back inside.
Back in Jeff's office, Jeff said, "First, something very pleasant." He reached in the bottom drawer of his desk and extracted a large bottle of Jack Daniels and a stack of paper cups. He lined up cups on the desk and began filling them, then gestured for us to all take a drink. The alcohol was greeted well. Angel pulled out his cocaine and offered everybody a toot, which was also accepted. I gestured to Bekka and pulled out my pipe. She nodded. We hovered in the back of the office and hit the pipe while everyone else snorted up their coke. Jeff offered refills, then said, So, right now the goal is to get all of you into your limo with the least amount of trouble. The trouble is currently hanging around in front of the auto glass shop next door, about twenty-five of them. Are they after all three of you girls?"
Elspeth said, "No, it's Bekka they want. She has aggressive fans."
Bekka corrected, "They don't want me, they want Becky Page. Know what I mean?"
Jeff stared at Bekka. He said, "Girl, from what I've observed today, your fans aren't dedicated, they're zealots. I've seen your features and they're great, but what did you do to inspire such rabid loyalty?"
Bekka blew out a cloud of speed smoke and said, "Damned if I know. I wish I knew, I'd undo it."
Angel said to Jeff, "Practical matters first. I say you, me, Lenny, and Boss walk the girls out in a cluster, and anybody who gets too close for comfort or otherwise annoys us eats a fist. Simple enough."
Jeff replied, "I dunno, I was hoping to get through the day without assault charges laid on me. We can't just clock people for walking too close to us."
I said, "The limo's too far away right now. We get the driver to double park right in front of the entrance, and all three girls bolt out of the store and into the limo. They'll be on the sidewalk for two seconds. Us four can body-check anyone who tries to go after the limo. The girls are in, me and Boss follow, limo takes off, we're done. Simple enough?"
Angel, Jeff, and Boss all looked at each other. Boss said, "Yeah. Just git it the fuck over with an' roll out." Jeff and Angel nodded in agreement.
I said, "I'll go tell the driver wassup. Hey hon, put the pipe in your purse when it's cool, okay?"
Jeff gave me a snide smile and said, "Hey Lenny, still tweakin', huh?"
I said, "Well, you know, we all need hobbies."
I went out to the lot and told the limo driver to loop around and stop in front of the entrance, get the passenger door open, then get back behind the wheel and lay on the horn. He was to be ready to roll as soon as he heard our door close. Bully anyone trying to block the limo.
The driver asked, "What the hell is going on today? I had a guy offer me $200 to lock him in my trunk and let him back out when you all reached a destination."
I told him, "You're carrying a celebrity with slavishly dedicated fans. We're trying to keep her safe. Remember, don't worry about doing the valet routine with our door. You be at the wheel, in gear, and ready to stomp it the second you hear that door close, capiche?"
The driver shrugged doubtfully. "These things aren't hot rods, you know."
"You only have to outrun pedestrians, you'll be fine." He got out of the parking lot and into traffic, going around a very, very large block to get in position.
I trotted inside and told everyone it was time to wait at the front door. As soon as they heard a horn, the girls were to charge out and hit the limo. Me and Boss would be on their backs. With a bit of luck, we'd be gone before the fanboys realized what had happened.
It worked. When the horn sounded, Boss and I got on the sidewalk, facing up the street towards the crowd. The girls sprinted across the sidewalk, into the street, and dove into the limo. Boss and I followed. I landed on Elspeth, and Boss landed on me. I heard the door clunk as Boss pulled it closed, and the limo took off. Boss got up onto a seat, allowing me and Elspeth to breathe again. I rolled into a seated position on the floor and said, "We did it, too cool. Anybody have a clue as to where we're going?" I received blank looks.
I crawled up to the front of the cabin and got on the driver intercom, asking him if he had a destination in mind, or if we were just mindlessly cruising like Prom Night kids.
The driver answered, "Mr. Morelli said to go to a Japanese restaurant in the Morena district called Yakatori, so that's where I'm headed. Did you have a different idea?"
"Hell no," I answered. "I ain't about to piss off my boss by wandering off in a limo he paid for."
I crawled back towards the girls. Bekka was extracting a fat joint from her purse, lighting it and passing it on to Ellen. I said, "Well, one down, nine to go."
"God help us," Elspeth muttered.
You could practically hear the sense of dread flowing into the limo.