We entered the ballroom which was being used as a gathering space to a mood of consternation. Don Ventimiglia, along with his chosen heir and the guest of honor of the night had all just.... Disappeared for a half hour. No word to anybody. When we returned, there was a lot of knowing nods and muttered gossip: of course the program is getting fucked up, Lenny The Punk is around. I was considered a harbinger of chaos, someone who attracted trouble. That goddamn Lenny, he's trouble looking for a place to happen. Shot three times. Goddamn dope fiend, too, him and his wife both. They're hooked on crank, no wonder they're so damn crazy. Why Angel Morelli recruited him is anybody's guess.... But he took a tiny porn studio down in San Diego and turned it into a powerhouse, so you can't say he's stupid. Just crazy.
The five of us drifted up to the bar and got our drinks. Men and women both kept approaching Bekka to shake hands and wish her all the best. It reminded me of when we'd go to the mall and be mobbed by teenage Becky Page fans. Here, there was no hugging, and no autographs. I kept my distance. I did notice that the women who approached Bekka seemed to want to talk a lot longer, and were often in groups of two or three. I asked her about it when she came to get a fresh Johnnie Walker.
"Jesus," Bekka said, rolling her eyes. "About a quarter of these women asked me what they can do to become the next female mafioso. And the rest are pretty damn sure how I got to be where I am."
"No one has accused me straight out of sleeping my way into the family, but a few danced around that line fairly closely. No, while I may have not fucked my way into being mafioso, it seems to be a given that I did use my feminine wiles. After all, I am a porn star, and can use my wiles like a pro. Literally."
"Shit. I had these shrews pegged as jealous wives, very displeased their husband will be associated with that porn star slut."
Bekka chewed an ice cube and said, "Oh, I guarantee there's plenty of that in the mix. Well, I know Becky Page can handle them, so I'm not going to worry about them. Heh, Becky will probably mess with their heads by sermonizing about polyamory."
"You know, most people would be more disturbed than you are about having a split personality," I said. "And I can tell the difference between the two in a second. Try to keep Becky under wraps when you're dealing with the family, she'll only get you in trouble."
"But I need Becky here. Becky is the one with twenty pound balls, not Bekka. Bekka looks around and wonders how the hell she got involved with all these damn wop criminals. Becky is delighted with her new stature, and can't wait to see what sort of adventures we'll get into now. Bekka is worried that her husband feels emasculated. Becky thinks Lenny should chase some mafia wife pussy.
"Without Becky around, my front would evaporate. Bekka Schneider doesn't have stones. She borrows them from Becky Page. Becky is the ass-kicker of the two. So she will always be present whenever I'm dealing with the family."
A woman working on her sixth martini with a voice like Fran Drescher tottered up to us. She said, "Hello, Bekka the lady mafioso! How are you feeling?"
Bekka detected the woman's heavy buzz, felt danger, and WHAM. Becky Page was there in the forefront, shaking the woman's hand, saying, "A little overwhelmed, but I can deal with it. Really, I'm waiting for my marching orders at this point. So, are you an associate or a wife?"
The woman's eyes narrowed. "I am a wife. That's my husband over there. Please remember him, so you don't make the mistake of getting too, um, friendly with him. He is an honorable man. I would hate to hear of his honor being challenged in any way. My honor, either."
Becky took this all in with a single cocked eyebrow. She replied, "Don't worry. The honor of you and your husband is safe around me. I have honor too, you know. I am sure our paths will cross at some point, but your husband is fellow mafioso, not a target.... Tell me, does your husband have pictures of me up anywhere at your house?"
"He does," came the tight reply. "He has two posters of you in the gym room, and two of your centerfolds up in his workshop. He says you're the most beautiful woman in the world, certainly the most beautiful Sicilian. He enjoys your movies.... So do I, you do have talent. I particularly liked your most recent role, as the office manager. You kept your clothes on through much of it, showing you can actually act even when you're not nude. Who knows, maybe you can learn to not rely on your body to achieve your goals."
Becky said, "You know, that may be taken as an insult by someone more sensitive than me. Fortunately, I am not sensitive. Call me a bitch, call me a porn slut, call me a dago whore with permanent dick-breath. You would be expressing anger, and the source of the anger is irrational. I cannot seduce husbands through printed media, and I do not seduce them face to face, either. I already have a husband of my own, I don't need any more. Your husband is perfectly safe around me."
The woman opened her mouth to speak, then froze. She looked helplessly between Becky and I, then wandered off in the direction of her husband. Becky said, "Now that was a jealous wife. She is upset with me because her husband likes to look at me naked. I can't help that, it's my damn job. What I wanna know is what magical fucking pixie dust they sprinkle on my posters that makes men lose their minds over me. How can an unmoving flat image of me be so intriguing?"
I looked Becky right in the eyes and said, "Becky, go away. I want to speak with Bekka."
And Becky/Bekka's face.... Changed. There was the tiniest shift in the topography, and Bekka said to me, "I'm right here. What's up?"
I said, "You've got another enemy, another woman who thinks you steal husbands away through the power of your media. How much of that did you catch?"
"The whole thing. I've been here the entire time. I don't suffer from multiple personality disorder, where I'd be unaware of my other selves. I have simply had a separation happen between my self and my alter ego. They handle situations according to their strengths."
"You're not bothered by the situation? You're not bugged that I could have conversations with two entirely different women, just by changing which name I address you with."
Bekka rolled her eyes. "So long as the two don't fight, I'm okay with the arrangement. Look, I used to worry. I felt like I was fragmenting. Then I realized it was different parts of the same personality demanding a voice. In a way, it's actually peaceful. Depending on the situation, you turn over responsibility to whoever will handle it best. You can relax and let things work out on their own."
"I think I need a drink," I said.
"Watch yourself, pally. Remember, we've got two cars to get home. And while I'm sure you have a loaded glass pipe in your pocket, this is such the wrong time and place for that action."
"Don't worry, dinner still awaits. So who is driving which vehicle?"
Bekka sighed. "You take the Falcon. I know it's supposed to be my car, but you always do the driving whenever we go someplace together, which is always. I will freely admit, you're the better driver. You put the thing through its paces, give me a report later on how it drives. Shit!"
"What?" I asked.
"Where are we going to park it?"
"Shit. Um, at the mansion. We'll drop it off on the way home. Then, when you want to drive it, just take the Plymouth over and leave it. We'll play Musical Cars, we'll just always have one vehicle or another sitting in the garage at the mansion."
Jane drifted past, in the company of a craggy-looking dude, heading for the bar. The word "warrior" floated past, and I knew Jane was letting the Ecstasy do the talking for her. When she was high, Jane was an absolute evangelist for the use of Ecstasy. When high, she was also sure that the Southern California mafia was made up of trans-dimensional warriors.... Or something like that. Her story seemed to constantly change and shift, it had no set narrative. Well, just so long as she didn't view the ugly bastard as a sexual target, so we wouldn't have a mafia wife trying to render Jane into a fine paste. There were no bachelors of either gender at this shindig.
I didn't pay attention to the blonde woman who swept past. Then I heard a loud exclamation of "Just who the hell are you?" followed by Jane's voice saying, "What the fuck, lady!" Then I turned in time to see Jane jacking the blonde woman's wrist up between her shoulder blades. Bekka and I both decided it was time to move in that direction.
The blonde woman is hissing, "Let go of me, you little bitch." Jane responds, "No way. You want to try and hit me again. I'm happier with you being pinned like this."
"Rocco, do something!" the blonde woman shrieked at the ugly dude.
He muttered something and said, "Look, do you both promise to not try and hit each other?"
"Yes!" said the blonde.
"No problem," said Jane.
"Gator Bait, let go of my wife," said Rocco. Jane did so.
The blonde woman stood there with murder in her eyes, but not moving. She extended a finger towards Jane and said, "Care to explain why you're hanging around with this little.... Thing?"
In a bored voice, Rocco said, "Lacey, this here is Jane, a.k.a. Gator Bait. Gator Bait is the mascot and good luck charm for anyone who works on a strike team or does wet ops. She's sort of the adoptive daughter of Bekka and Lenny Schneider. I have her fucking picture in my wallet, but I've never met her until tonight. Gator Bait, this is Lacey. Lacey, this is Gator Bait."
Lacey and Jane shook hands for about three nanoseconds. Lacey asked, "So do you run your mitts over everyone's husbands, or does Rocco have some special appeal?"
Jane looked confused briefly, then said, "Oh! You mean like us holding hands, and me putting my arm around his waist, or kissing his cheek. No, see, I'm really high on Ecstasy right now, and when I get high I just like being really close to other people. If you had introduced yourself first, I'd be hanging all over you. As it is, Rocco is like one of my uncles. All mafia soldiers are my uncles."
Lacey growled, "So when did you have the opportunity to give a photo of yourself to my husband?"
I stuck my nose in. "Actually, he would have gotten the photo from Angel Morelli. I sent Angel about sixty or so prints of the photo, so they could be distributed. It's a perfectly innocent picture, Rocco, pass that photo around."
The photo, which I had taken, was of Jane smiling into the camera. While the shot was just head and shoulders, Jane came across looking rather punky: her hair is at its spikiest and most voluminous, she's wearing super heavy makeup, her t-shirt has had the collar ripped out, and she's wearing a bondage neck restraint. Angel was bitterly amused: he was the one who'd requested the pictures, to be passed out among the fighting elite of the Southern California Cosa Nostra. "I ask for a nice picture of Jane, and this is what you come up with?" he asked.
"You should have seen what she wanted to do," I pleaded.
Lacey stood and glowered at Jane's photo. She got bored of glowering at the picture and glowered at me instead. "May I help you?" she asked.
"Nope," I said. "Just making sure Jane isn't getting into trouble."
"Is she of any concern of yours? I thought she was Don Ventimiglia's little prize."
"No, she lives with me and my wife Bekka. We try to do right by her, make sure she's pointed in the right direction. Is there some sort of misunderstanding here?"
"This little girl needs to learn to keep her hands to herself. She can't go around trying to seduce men old enough to be her father...." said Lacey.
Jane laughed with glee at this. "You think I was acting seductive? Ma'am, please. When I set out to seduce a man, there is no question about what is going on. And I rarely fail. If I had been after Rocco, we would have left to find a motel room at least a half hour ago. No, I'd been warned that everyone here tonight would be attached, so I put the idea out of my mind. The men of the mafia are safe from Gator Bait."
"Why are you called that?"
"Because I'm swamp-dwelling white trash from Gainesville, Florida. The swamps are where you go to drink beer and fool with boys, so that's where I started spending my time when I was twelve. I grew up fast, by choice. I was learning life's lessons about physical pleasure when I was thirteen, and I still love to study those lessons, if you get what I'm saying. But yeah, I've been chased by alligators. Nothing scarier than being in the water and realizing you've got company. You aim for the nearest piece of land. Gators are excellent swimmers, but are slow on land. Hell, you could grab a cypress branch and brain the damn thing if you wanted. But that's why I'm called Gator Bait. Because I was."
In a voice still deep with suspicion, Lacey asked, "And you came to California.... How?"
"Greyhound," chirped Jane. "See, my parents threw me out after a fight. I had a little money, and I'd always wanted to check out California. Lenny and Bekka were the only people I knew out here, and all I was hoping for was them to let me couch-surf for a couple nights while I made my mind up what to do. After four days on a bus, I dragged my sorry ass to the Inana mansion, where I had to wait until two in the morning for those two to get home. Lenny had shot somebody, so they had to straighten things out with the cops.
"Lenny and Bekka invited me in and gave me a home. I have my own room overlooking the beach, food in the fridge, money in my pocket, cars and motorcycles to play with, and two people who love me. I love them back. All they ask of me is that I get good grades, stay out of trouble, and help around the house. When I graduate, I'm going to UC Berkeley. After that I want to become an associate of the family and start running one of the businesses. And I don't consider these dreams, these are plans."
The realization hit Lacey that she was squabbling with a high school girl. She changed targets, to Bekka. "First, I want to congratulate you for breaking the glass ceiling. I do have a question about your career, though." (Rocco moaned.) "My husband has a couple of your posters up. They leave little to the imagination. What I was wondering, um, was...."
Becky Page grinned at Lacey. "Just what the hell sort of trollop am I, that I do the things I do for a living? Is that it?"
Lacey was briefly stunned into silence, then said, "I suppose you can answer that, too. But what I want to ask is how you manage to captivate men just through your photographs. I've caught Rocco staring at your posters as if willing them to come alive."
Rocco said, "Hey, I told you, I was just tired. I was zoning out."
"Bullshit. You were staring at her. Admit it, you're obsessed, like a little high school kid going through his first real crush. You have a crush on Becky Page, a Sicilian porno queen. You're pathetic."
"I don't know how to answer that," said Becky. I keep my eyes forward and my smile warm, the same strategy that's gotten me through over eight years of making hardcore porn. The posters are lighthearted, they're not meant to captivate. Um, I know that when I have my picture taken, my eyes will always follow the viewer around the room. No matter where you stand, I'm looking at you. Maybe that's why people go ape for my posters: I look like I'm alive. That's all I can think of, unless the printers is under the control of a voodoo curse."
"It could be," said Rocco, "that maybe I like looking at beautiful women. I have a lot of stress in my life, and looking at Becky Page helps relax me."
"Aw, thank you," said Becky.
Lacey said, "This seems like a good segue into why you do what you do at all. Seduction by proxy is an unusual career, why did you choose it?"
Becky said with a smirk, "I chose it because I needed a job that paid well and had very short work weeks, so that I could help take care of my dying mother. Reaching the level of celebrity I have never entered into my mind, I was just another porn slut sucking and fucking for the cameras.
"What changed was me falling in love with the new head of the studio. Lenny here had dreams. He figured we could all actually do work we were proud of, that we'd brag about. Lenny turned us from being just another studio producing fuck loops into a studio that produces engaging, intelligent porn, a studio that makes movies. And he did it."
I interjected, "The thing is? Generally speaking, I hate porn. Yeah, there's the visceral thrill of watching people fuck, but that looks all the same after a while. And full features sucked shit. I could never figure out why porno movies sucked, I could honestly see no reason for it. So, I decided I was going to make hardcore features that I would actually want to watch all the way through. Everybody said making genuinely good porn couldn't be done. You can't find talent willing to do hardcore. Budgets are too small. Nobody gives a shit about the plot, including the writers. Hardcore porn as an engaging entertainment medium isn't going to happen.
"So I sat down and wrote the movies, made sure the plots and scenes were able to be shot on a soundstage that would be redressed over and over to save money, then I started interviewing performers. It wasn't easy, but I managed to fill my roster with people, guys and girls, who were happy to suck and fuck on camera and could actually fucking act. I've got an incredible talent pool to work with at this point. And when I released my fourth feature, I finally proved myself right. I showed the world that just because you're watching hardcore doesn't mean your brain has to shut off. I made porn I actually liked. On time and under budget, too."
"He's always written great characters for me to play, in great features," said Becky. "My stardom wouldn't exist if I hadn't appeared in movies people love. It's strange. Work-wise, I'm doing the same things I always have, suck and fuck. But I'm also called on to actually act, to play a full role. I was lucky enough to be blessed with a modicum of acting talent, and lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. Lenny's movies shatter the paradigm of what hardcore porn is supposed to be like. Have you seen any of his features?"
Rocco said, "Yeah. We watched 'Bewitched,' and 'Bad Babysitter,' and 'Dangerous Desires.' I liked that one a lot. Who expects a car chase in a porno? How did you afford to hire the stunt drivers?"
I said, "We didn't. All the driving was done by me and Bekka. Shit, we broke so many laws filming that freeway chase. We just jammed through traffic in the middle of the day, with the cameraman getting footage from the bed of a pickup truck. No permits, no permission, no nothing. We just did it."
Lacey said, "Becky --- Bekka --- now that you're famous, why not go straight? With your name recognition, Hollywood would bring you on in a second. The studios would hire you."
Becky laughed at this. "No, that's not going to happen, for a few reasons. First, I would hate the commute. We live in a custom home on the beach down in Encinitas, and I like being home at night. I go to sleep to the sound of waves breaking. Working in Hollywood would mean having an apartment in the area, away from my husband. Also, I am sure I would hate working in the Hollywood system. At Inana, our features have a production time of three weeks. Shit in Hollywood gets dragged out for months. The slow pacing and the politics would drive me crazy. And lastly, I am at heart a porn slut. Porn shaped who Becky Page is. Right now I'm making too much money and having too much fun to cut bait. Hollywood wouldn't give a shit about the roles I played for Inana. Because of my breeding and background, I would constantly be called upon to play whores, of one flavor or another. No thanks. I'll keep getting rich, working for anarchists and malcontents down in San Diego. I'm a porn slut, and I'm proud of it."
Rocco said, "Well, what about you, Lenny? You've proven you're capable of making really good movies, which you say came in under budget. What do you guys spend? A million? Two million?"
"Lower than that," I said. "I've never had a budget over $400,000. The exception to that is what we're working on right now, the sequel to 'Bewitched,' We want it to be visually stunning, and it's going to have a lot of really cool special effects. Plus hiring extras who don't mind getting naked, and paying for the permits to do a lot of exterior shots. We're filming a lot in Oceanside, right next to Camp Pendleton, which saved us some money and headaches. Cheaper than filming in San Diego. Check it, in one scene there's gonna be, like, forty people having sex with each other in the middle of the street. No way would San Diego allow us to shoot that. Oceanside will, though, they want the permit fees. Angel told me to spend as much as I want to make sure this sequel kicks as much ass as the original."
"So you make good movies for four hundred grand. Why not go to Hollywood? They'd love you, you're massively creative with almost no money."
I laughed. "Dude, I'm an anarchist. There is no room in Hollywood for an anarchist producer. You know why we shot that freeway chase scene the way we did? Because I didn't feel like dealing with the hassle of getting the permits. I looked into it, decided it was a headache, and shot my damn video anyway. There are so many things wrong with the idea of me trying to go Hollywood it isn't funny. They would hate my attitude, my managerial style, my sense of humor, my music, and my breath. Think about how fast we turn around our features at Inana. Once the script is written, we've got two weeks of pre-production, three weeks of actual production work, and five weeks of post-production, when the editing gets done and the music is written. Bam, ten weeks, another feature. Shit, in Hollywood it takes them that long to decided what food to have on the catering truck. I'd go ballistic if I had to work in the Hollywood machine."
"So you and Bekka are going to spend your careers making porn," said Lacey.
"Making really good porn," said Becky. "We've got the sales records and the fan mail that proves it's not just lonely men who are buying our stuff. Apparently I am the post-feminist Wonder Woman, judging by all the young women who are my fans."
"We figure Bekka can be in front of the cameras until she's at least forty, if not longer. After that she becomes a producer. Maybe she starts her own boutique studio. That would be something, hardcore being produced by a woman, and a woman who knows the industry. Me, I'll keep writing and producing. I seem to have a system down that works, because I keep making piles of dough for myself, for Angel, and for the family. I'd be stupid to cut bait and run now."
Lacey returned to Bekka/Becky. "You're not bothered by the fact that grown men obsess over you, that they'd rather see an image of you naked than be with their wives? You wreck marriages."
Becky stared at her shoes briefly. She said, "I don't know how to respond to that accusation. I am one porn star in a world with hundreds of porn stars. From my perspective, my fame makes no sense. Why do guys get worked up over me? My body is passable, and I have some basic acting talent. I've been in several popular movies. But I'm nothing to write home about.
I hope the guys who obsess over me get into counseling, because it's not healthy. Their dream girl is a two-dimensional image. The married guys especially need couples counseling. It's like I said before, I'm seen as Wonder Woman, something larger than life. I'm not, I'm just some bitch who happens to make dirty movies for a living."
I tittered. "There seems to be some vibe going around among the wives here that Bekka will start seducing her way through the ranks of the SoCal mafia. Over my dead body. Care to comment, Lacey?"
Lacey did a bit of her own shoe-staring. "Yes, women here feel threatened by Bekka. All their damn husbands have her videos, or her posters, or her centerfolds. Becky Page is the full-blooded Sicilian girl with the perfect body and gorgeous face. They love her with a combination of basic lust and ethnic pride. Bekka, the women here aren't worked up because there is now officially a lady mafioso. They're worked up because it's you, the hot-bodied sexual dynamo. And you will routinely be interacting with their husbands. They're already lust-stricken over you, and now you're one of the guys. How can the wives compete with you?"
Becky stopped rubbing her temples and said, "I wish.... I could take them all out to lunch. Just talk with them, make them see I'm a normal woman with a strange job. Somehow prove to them that I'm not some sort of turbocharged seductress, but a married woman just like them."
"So, you take them all out to lunch," I said.
"Host a lunch at the mansion. Tell all the wives to bring their bathing suits, we hire caterers, hand out Ecstasy like gum, everybody has a nice Saturday at Bekka Schneider's place. Piece of cake. It would be a good gesture, you know?"
Becky brightened. "Yeah.... Yeah! Honey, that's a great idea! And it would be nice to be around women who aren't in the industry. I could deal with some female bonding. Lacey, if I throw a big party down in La Costa for all the wives of the mafioso, would you come?"
"You'll need to tell me where La Costa is, but sure. Where is this going to be?"
"Well, the Inana studios are housed in a mansion in a chi-chi neighborhood called La Costa. We've got plenty of room, inside and out. If people want, I can give tours of the studios and explain what really goes in to making a video. Eliminate a lot of the mystery about the industry. Maybe have people understand that it really is work that I do."
"Have Jane attend, too," I suggested. "She could stand to be around proper ladies every now and then."
Lacey chuckled at this. "Mafia wives are the cattiest women around this side of a Broadway musical. Jane would sharpen up her gossiping skills, and that's about it."
Jane said, "I don't gossip. I keep secrets. And I'll attend, so long as there's pesto."
"You want the pesto on anything?" asked Becky.
"Exactly. I want pesto on anything. Pasta, pizza, pancakes, Pop-Tarts, whatever. I just like pesto."
"Cool!" I exclaimed. "Doing your birthday shopping will be real easy now."