We took Dawn to Triplet's for brunch, where we insisted upon her making a pig of herself. "I can see your damn ribs, girl," said Bekka. "Fucking cigarettes and dope don't have any calories in them, they won't keep you alive. Don't worry, with luck on Wednesday you'll be going to Safeway and buying some of your own groceries, and you'll have a kitchen to cook things in.
Dawn started slow, but built momentum. Over the course of brunch, she had waffles, eggs over easy, bacon, a ham steak, fresh melon, whole wheat toast with jam, two glasses of orange juice, three glasses of milk, and four vodka mimosas. At first she was loath to order what she felt out of good manners, but we pressed her to have all of everything she wanted. It was obvious even to the untrained eye she was malnourished, her using dope to kill her appetite and save on the expense of eating.
"Oh my god, I am stuffed," said Dawn as we walked to the car. The four mimosas seemed to have mellowed her and made her more friendly, less wary. One got the impression that she was sure another shoe was going to drop. There had to be a catch to her turn in fortune. And there was, of course, but she didn't see it as a catch. She was going to hold a job that essentially amounted to her being an automated blowjob machine, a position you wouldn't put on a resumé even to get a different job in porn. The sleaziness and the brainless repetition of being a fluffer pretty much guaranteed you didn't get a lot of respect (except at Inana). Fluffers are generally viewed as having low self esteem, but whether this is due to holding the job or if it was already installed in the girl is a chicken-and-egg question. It is assumed that fluffers have drug habits; given the tedium of their work day, who can blame them. So Dawn knew the Yang to the Yin of her recent fortune, but wasn't bothered by it. She was getting a decent wage to mostly sit around being bored and occasionally suck some dicks. She was fine with that.
We drove to the Inana mansion and gave Dawn the grand tour. First the garden and massive pool area, then inside where we showed her the offices, living room, media room, and "performer's lounge," the family room where everyone ate lunch, did drugs, gossiped, and relaxed. We took her up to the second floor and showed her the sound stages, one of which was once again dressed like Ursula the witch's shop. Dawn had heard about, but not seen, Bewitched. We would have to remedy that.
Up on the third floor we pointed out the vast selection of showers available for the use of performers, then took her into the penthouse. She was amazed and aghast. The conversation pit, the 32" TV, the standalone fireplace, the giant water bed, the four-head shower.... And she was going to live there.
"For a few weeks," Bekka reminded her. "Just until you find a decent apartment, and have the money to pay for it. Is there any trouble with your car?"
"Um, it needs a couple tires...."
I stifled a laugh: I'd heard it run. If it had been mine I'd have thrown it away, sold it to a high school kid for a dollar and ran like hell. It was out of tune, it needed a valve job, the exhaust system was crap, and that's what I noticed just listening to it. Given what an aging bomb it was, it probably needed new shocks, alignment, and bushings. Brakes were a given.
"You'll be making decent money," I said. "You'll be able to get something new, dump that old bomb."
"What's wrong with my car?" growled Dawn. She sounded genuinely insulted.
"I'm just saying you could get something newer and nicer now...."
"I've had that car since I was sixteen. I am not giving it up. It is fine."
I gave an apologetic grin and said, "Well, then, you could put some money into it, get it mechanically sound. It needs exhaust and it needs a valve job, trust me on these things. You'd be able to chuck it at a garage and tell them, 'Fix everything.' In fact, I know a good mechanic out in Santee who could work miracles with the Oldsmobile. It's worth a thought."
"Actually, I know a guy in O.B. who says he can get it running good for cheap. He---"
I cut her off. "You'll get what you pay for. If you really love that car, I'd rather have you living in the penthouse here for a couple extra weeks and drop a few grand into getting it running like new, instead of letting some Ocean Beach tweaker fuck around with it, trying to do a job for cheap. You'll be happier in the long run."
"What would I do for a car while it's being worked on?" asked Dawn.
"Rent one. Or hell, if you live here for the duration, me or Bekka could take you shopping and on errands."
Bekka said, "We could just loan her the Plymouth. Given what she drives right now, we know she can handle that one."
"Yeah, that works," I said. "You'll like the Plymouth, it's a big bomb, and it's really quick, too."
Dawn blurted, "Why are you guys being so nice to me? You're giving me a job, you're letting me stay in this damn place, you're gonna loan me a car.... Why are you doing all this?"
"Because we feel like it," said Bekka. "We're in a position where we can help people. Well shit, here's some tiny tweaker chick who's living in her car in a lousy neighborhood. Why shouldn't we help you get a leg up, live better, feel better about yourself? We're being nice to you because it's the right thing to do. Damn girl, you were offering to suck dick in exchange for a small amount of drugs. I think you're a better person than that. You're just caught up in a shitty situation, you can't see any other options than whoring yourself for dope and shoplifting candy for breakfast."
"You're not gonna, like, try to turn me into a prostitute or anything, right?"
Bekka burst out laughing. "Oh honey, we just gave you a job as a fluff girl. In the social stratum that is the sex trade, you being a call girl would be a step up."
"She's right," I said. "The only favor we've done for you is putting you in a job with a decent pay rate. Socially, you're somewhere between twenty dollar hookers and crack dealers. I'm hoping it turns out you can act, so we could make you a performer and get someone else to fluff."
Dawn said, "Okay. Okay, okay, okay. I get it, fluffers aren't respected. But right now, for the sort of money you're talking, I'd blow dobermans. You may not think much of what you're doing for me, but to me, it's the fucking brass ring to reach for. You've essentially told me my days will consist of getting spun, sucking dick, and watching other people fuck in front of a camera. It will beat the hell out of begging for food and money, scrounging for shit, and sitting in my car watching winos fight on the beach. You're giving me a chance to live.... Like a normal person, even if I have a strange job. I'll take it. And to me it feels like unbelievable kindness and generosity."
"And to us, it's no big thing. Hopefully things work out. Your future will be determined on Tuesday morning, when your blood test results come back in. In the meantime, let's go to the Seafarer and have a few drinks."
On the way there, Dawn said, "I know this is a rude thing to bring up, but uh, you guys are really, really rich, aren't you?"
Bekka said, "We are well off. We have been more successful in our chosen industry than we ever dreamed possible. Between my celebrity and Lenny's skills as a businessman and producer, we've made a lot of money, and will continue to make more."
"So are you going to move to La Jolla or Rancho Santa Fe? You drive American cars.... This one is pretty new, but the others I've seen are old hot rods. Are you going to buy Mercedes?"
"Shit no," I said. "Me? I'm suburban white trash, and always will be. We'll have fun with our money in our own way. Hell, we haven't been in a house we had custom built for a year yet, and it's right on the beach. Why would we want to move? Just to have a status zip code? And I'm not enough of a honky to drive anything built by the Germans. No, for as extravagant as we appear to live, the money is coming in much quicker than we spend it. Our goal is to have a long and comfortable retirement. What are your long-term goals?"
Dawn chuckled bitterly. "I barely have short-term goals, and for a long time those were pretty simple and narrow. Get spun, somehow. Eat. Bum a cigarette. Avoid the cops. Put a little gas in the car. It's been a while since I've had goals that couldn't be satisfied in three hours. Shit, twelve hours ago my goals were to smoke a cigarette and find some dude with shit who would let me blow him for a line. Now I'm riding around in a Cadillac in North County, headed to go drink in a bar on someone else's dime. I'm still really tripped out by this turn of events."
"It's been noted," said Bekka, "that me and Lenny mess with people's heads without even trying. If that's true, you're just another victim of ours."
We walked into the bar of the Seafarer. In the middle of the afternoon things were quiet. We grabbed a booth and waved to the waitress. "Two double Johnnie Walkers over ice, please. What are you having, Dawn?"
"Uh.... A double Jack Daniels, please. No ice." The waitress went off.
Dawn looked around. "Pretty snazzy place," she commented. "Do you guys drink here a lot?"
"More than we'd like," I said. "Not really our sort of place, but we can come here and be left alone. Bekka doesn't get hit on by autograph hounds here. There's a place in Pacific Beach called the Pink Panther that's more our style, but I don't think they're even open yet. No, this place is an expensive yuppie dive, but we can drink in peace."
"Hey, um, is your name Becky or Bekka? I'm not sure which one you like being called."
"My real name is Bekka Schneider," said Bekka. "And that's Bekka with two Ks. Becky Page is the name of my screen personality and alter ego. I actually have a split personality, Becky and Bekka are two different people. Becky was the one last night who gave approval for you to suck my husband's dick. Bekka is the one who rescinded that offer. Becky is the one who decided that eating at the world's sketchiest taco stand at two a.m. was a good idea. Bekka is the one who offered a homeless chick a place to stay for a couple nights. I prefer being called Bekka, it differentiates my friends from my fans."
Our drinks arrived. We toasted and sipped. I guessed Dawn was not a drinker, as she reacted to her Jack Daniels as though it was croup medicine. She lit a cigarette (I'd given her a pack) and said, "This is the first time I've been in a bar since I left Modesto. If we had some money we'd go bar-hopping on Yosemite Avenue, hitting all these shitty little dumps where the stools were bolted to the floor so they couldn't be used as weapons. The Mexican places were the worst. I guess in Mexico women aren't supposed to go in bars, because me and my friends would be the only chicks there. If you're a woman, and you're in a bar, you're either a hooker or horny. Dudes would say stuff to us and we didn't know what they were saying, except for my friend Matthew. He spoke Spanish really well. He'd hear what the local dudes were saying in Spanish and start cursing them, calling them the Spanish version of chickenshit faggots or whatever. We'd beat a retreat when we'd realize everybody is holding a pool cue and the bartender is nowhere to be found. So we'd end up at fucking Yosemite Bowl, doing more shit and wasting space. This was about as socially advanced as me and my friends ever got."
"Are there any nice places in Modesto?" I asked. "Due to one thing and another, some business I had to take care of, I got stuck in a motel on South Ninth St. for two days. The place was a dump, but it's where I'd been told to meet my connection. I befriended an alcoholic hooker. Nice enough, and not terrible looking, and she didn't start trouble. She'd just drink until she literally fell over unconscious where she was. Her boyfriend and pimp was a junkie, so he was useless too. The first time she did this routine she was standing on the sidewalk between the rooms and the parking lot. She just went over, dead to the world. I didn't know what was up, so I freaked out. I treated her for shock and ran into her room to call 911. Her boyfriend blocked me off, had me help him carry her to the bed, and we dropped her. The boyfriend says, "She's just drunk, she always does that shit. Then he sat down at a table and nodded off. Two days of eating at the same shithole restaurant for every meal, two days of those two as my only company."
"So were you a customer of the lady?" asked Bekka.
"Shit no. Okay, not only is she fucking anybody with a twenty at hand, she's also fucking a junkie. I don't think I could have layered on enough condoms to actually feel safe. The weird thing was, she would sound fairly lucid when she was talking. Then she'd just hit the dirt. I watched her do it six or seven times over the course of the two days. She'd pass out, sleep for an hour, then walk up the street to buy more cheap vodka."
Dawn said, "Personally, she had the right way of dealing with Modesto. It's so the wrong town to be spun in, there's nothing to do. I was always saying to my friends, look, it's ninety minutes to San Francisco from here. We could go have some real fun on a Friday night. They always answered, no, too far, too expensive. So everybody would sit around at someone's house and smoke and stare at each other. One of the guys would just have to show off his new gun, to be carried as protection against.... Who knows. Modesto is full of people who are waiting to die."
I signaled for the waitress. While waiting, I said to Dawn, "I take it you don't drink too often? You didn't seem to enjoy that Jack Daniels."
"I dunno, it just tasted really.... Wrong. It burned."
"Try a Long Island iced tea. When they're made right, you don't even know there's alcohol in them by the taste."
"Ooh, good idea!" said Bekka.
The waitress approached and I ordered three Long Island iced teas. She went to go tell the bartender he actually had to work for a couple minutes. Bekka stole a Marlboro from Dawn and lit up with a sigh. "Think they'd notice if we heated up the pipe sitting here?" she asked.
"I'm sure somebody would say something," I replied. "Feeling run down already?"
"I just feel blah," Bekka said. "Nothing has appeal. Ecstasy doesn't even sound like fun. I think about taking mushrooms, and the only thing that runs through my mind is the stomach ache. What the hell, maybe we're meant to stay here and drink until dinnertime. We could get fairly well stinking in three hours."
"That's no good, they won't serve anyone who's drunk here, even if it's their own fault. We'd be cut off by the end of the first hour."
"Um...." Dawn shyly said.
"What's up?" asked Bekka.
"Is there any way I could talk you into going to Ocean Beach? I'd like to get my car, and I'll bet we could keep from being bored down there."
Bekka and I looked at each other. "Sure, no problem. You'll have to leave your car at the beach lot or at the studios, but you'll have it close to hand. You need to put gas in?"
I smiled and handed her a couple twenties. "Here, drop that in the tank. We'll follow you back up."
She pocketed the bills and said, "Thank you. Really, I'm trying to not be too much of a leech."
Bekka said, "But you rarely ask. We offer. You're not a leech at all."
Our drinks arrived. Dawn tentatively sipped at hers, then said, "Hey, that's really good," and knocked some back. Bekka grinned and warned her that Long Islands are deceptively strong, and to not just pound the whole thing like a glass of water. We worked through our drinks. Just as well we were planning on leaving, as Bekka and I hadn't agreed on who would be the designated driver. I was doing okay, I wasn't worried.
Dawn announced, "Yeah, I am feeling this. This is stronger than those mimosas. I almost never drink."
"Why not?" asked Bekka.
"Because alcohol always kills my wire. I like feeling spun more than I like feeling buzzed. Weird, I have a buzz, but my wire still feels strong. What is with that shit you have? It's fucking awesome."
I said, "It's uncut and made by people who know what they're doing. I know the source. They're not using Sudafed and kitchen matches to make this stuff, they've got a line on real chemicals, ephedrine, red phosphorus, hydriotic acid, everything. It's pharmaceutical grade methamphetamine."
"Damn. I'm gonna see how long I go before I start to jones. I still feel fine from what we did this morning."
"My hunch is you've probably been getting a hold of a lot of bathtub crank, shit that's toxic but weak. That, or it's the same as what I have only it's been cut to shit. Thirty pounds a week come into San Diego, it's all going somewhere."
Dawn vaguely stared at her drink and said, "You could get $120 per sixteenth for your shit. I'm surprised you don't deal, if you have such a good connection."
I said, "I told you, I used to deal. Now I'm making plenty of legal money. Bekka knows the volume I used to move, I shifted four pounds a week, plus a shitload of Ecstasy. No, I'm happier just buying the crap for myself and having a lot less stress in my life. I'm not about to run out."
We finished our drinks, paid the tab, and went out to the Fleetwood. The parking lot was pretty dead, so I slid down in my seat and took a hit off the glass pipe. Bekka took one too. She held it towards Dawn, who started to reach for it, then threw herself back in the seat. "I.... Ugh! I promised I wouldn't bug you for any shit until I started to jones. Dammit, I feel fine, I don't need a hit. Will you smoke a little with me later, when I start to hit the wall?"
"Yeah, no problem," I said, turning the key in the ignition. We rolled out and headed for Ocean Beach.
Once in OB, I aimed for the street where Dawn's Oldsmobile sat. It was undisturbed. First she got in the trunk for something, then slid behind the wheel and started the engine. It caught after a few seconds, the bad valves and the exhaust leaks making themselves known. I looked in through the passenger window. The floor needed vacuuming, but there was no trash or debris in either the front or the back, save for a newspaper sitting alone on the back seat. I casually checked out the tires. They were all worn, not quite bald but headed that way. A blue haze emitted out of the exhaust pipe. The paint was oxidized and the vinyl top looked as if cats had sharpened their claws on it. The interior looked worn but still in one piece.
I looked in at Dawn. She was frowning at the instrument panel. She said, "Thank you again for the gas money. I'll need it. The first place we head is the Texaco on Sunset, that's about as far as I'll make it. So you guys wanna walk around some?"
"Sure," I said. "You can give us the grand tour, I've never spent much time in OB, and what time I did spend was wasted."
She led us towards the water. At Dog Beach she introduced us to three sketchy-looking dudes, all of whom wanted to know if we were looking to score. Speed, single hits of acid, dimes of weed, and one of them claimed to have China White. We refused. We walked further and Dawn was greeted by name by an odorous wino, who demanded to know who the fuck we were. "They're friends from Encinitas, Drummer. Meet Lenny and Bekka."
Drummer squinted at us and said in a screechy voice, "I think they're undercover cops. Fuck 'em. As bad as the criminals."
"They're not cops, they make porn," said Dawn.
"Porn, huh? Tell ya what, ya goddamn brat. Porn died when Bettie Page stopped working. I don't care what you show these days, nothin' beat Bettie Page."
"I know," said Bekka. "My stage name is a play off her name, I'm Becky Page. And come check my bangs. Pure Bettie."
The wino stared with one eye at Bekka and suddenly said, "Hah! Goddamn right, missy! You get it! Gimme a kiss!"
I blocked off Drummer with one shoulder and said, "The lady is married. You wouldn't want to anger her husband, now, would you?"
Dawn tugged at one of Drummer's filthy sleeves and said, "I been gone since last night. I miss anything?"
Drummer thought, and said, "A passel o' them skinheads came through this morning. Dunno where they went to. Cops picked up Sammy on a drug warrant. The dealers at Dog Park are still holdin' their truce. Whitey's kid Mitch just got a shipment of speed in, that meth shit you like, so he's probably lookin' to party. Naw, been quiet, 'cept for Sammy's arrest. He pitched a bitch."
Dawn said, "Cool, thank you Drummer. Want a couple cigarettes? I'm gonna be gone for a few days, I got a lead on a good job. Fat money for easy work."
"Hell yes and thank you. So they still hiring where you're going?"
I stifled a laugh. Dawn said, "Sorry man, they, uh, only wanted a woman for the position. Later."
We wandered along in the direction of the pier. Surfers surfed, hippies played Hacky Sack on the sand, mentally ill wrecks crouched on the sidewalk. We walked up the pier. About two-thirds of the way up stood a snack stand, offering candy, soda, chips, and various deep fried items. Dawn angled towards the shack, pulling out one of the twenties I gave her.
The shack, which had window service only, was occupied by a Rastafarian who began throwing a fit as soon as he saw Dawn approaching. "Tiny white bitch! Where my money? You say you pay for corn dogs five days ago! Where my money? Tiny bitch, tiny thief!"
Dawn stepped up to the window and said, "Relax, Lester. First off, it's only been four days. And look, money. I'm here to pay you. How mch was it?"
"$1.78, pay in full."
"Here." Dawn slid the twenty through the window.
The rasta picked up the bill, stared at it, and gave a wide grin. He folded it and put it in his pocket.
"Gimme my change, Lester," said Dawn.
The rasta grinned wider. "No, I keep. Interest on loan. Me wait five day, you no pay. You no cheat a rasta man. My money now."
I stepped up to the window. I said, "Tell me, Lester, are you an honest to God Rastafarian?"
"Yeah. I rasta. Why you ask, punk rocka?"
"Well, you racist violent queer-bashing wife-beating piece of shit, I was just curious. Let's face it, dreadlocks and a Peter Tosh tape don't mean shit these days. Anyway, what I wanted to tell you was that you're going to give the $18.22 you owe Dawn back to her. Now, while I wait. You're going to do it with a smile, and with your fucking mouth shut. Crack open that till and get her money."
Lester began laughing. "Fucking pussyclot! White punk bitch! You mother call, me hear her, you go. Off the pier with you, pussyclot. Go, while you can."
While Lester was hurtling his abuse I opened my jacket, displaying my Beretta. Either he didn't see it or he didn't care. To get my point across, I got the gun in my hand, held it up in a general manner, and said, "Lester, just give the girl her fucking money. I mean, really."
"Pussyclot, you tax me nerve. Where you get, toy shop? Go 'way."
I sighed, stuck my hand holding the gun through the window, and pulled the trigger. A half dozen bags of chips on a display rack were destroyed. Lester shrieked. I pointed the gun in a different angle and pulled the trigger again. The deep fryer sprung a leak, and began pissing hot grease. Lester's eyes bulged out and he shrieked again. I adjusted my aim again so the gun was pointed right at Lester. I knew that from his perspective, the barrel of my Beretta looked as big as the Caldecott tunnel. He froze.
"Eighteen dollars and twenty-two cents, Lester," I said. Pay it to this young lady."
Wordlessly, Lester stomped to the till and opened it. He pulled out the correct bills and coins and slapped them through the window. I scooped them up and handed them to Dawn, who was standing in a state of shock. I smiled at Lester and said, "Gosh, apparently I'm no longer a pussyclot."
Lester railed in a hoarse voice, "I 'member you, punk! I know you!"
"That's nice," I replied. "Ladies, I'd say it's time to be leaving. Why don't we?"
Bekka, who still had her hand inside her blouse resting on her Colt, began walking at a solid pace Dawn was still frozen, so I grabbed her arm and dragged her along. This was inefficient, so I picked her up and got her in a fireman's carry. When we got to the foot of the pier, Dawn cried, "What the hell did you just do?"
"You ready to walk?" I asked her.
"Yes...." I set her down. "My god, what did you do?"
"It was a matter of honor. Nobody fucks around my friends and gets away with it. Um, look, Bekka and I have some things to explain to you...."