They finished shooting around 12:15. Not needing showers (merely mouthwash) Rita and Dawn came downstairs, giggling about something. I was shocked: I'd never heard Dawn giggle about anything. I asked what the comedy was, and Rita said, "I explain to Dawn that the men we work with are muy tonto. And cattier than the women. Stallion, he has this job, spends his time in the gym, yet is still jealous of Eddie, because Eddie is the one with nine inches. And bench presses cannot change that!"
Heading out to the cars, I asked Rita, "So did you, um, get waxed like we talked about?"
"Oh yes," Rita replied. "I call around to the salons, asking about Brazilian wax. I tell them, 'I want my pussy to look like Becky Page's!' The one I go to, they said they get a lot of requests for that these days. I don't tell them just how close of a comparison I could make, though! Would you like to see?"
"After lunch will be fine," I told her.
"Whose car should we take?" asked Dawn.
"Let's take yours," I said. "We'll go to the Carl's Jr., if that's okay with you."
"That's fine, I love their zucchini. I'm hungry for normal fast food, too, you guys have been spoiling me. Do you ever eat at home?"
I said, "Yeah. Jane cooks a few times a week. She'll be cooking tonight, in fact. No clue as to what we're having, but she's a good cook."
We got into Dawn's Oldsmobile and headed out, me pointing the way. Watching her drive was entertaining. She seemed to keep the steering wheel constantly in motion, without altering the course of the car. I was guessing there was a good quarter-turn of play in the steering wheel. Another thing to be rectified in the shop. She anchored us in a space at Carl's Jr. and shut off the motor. I noticed a couple seconds run-on time when she did. As we got out, I said, "Well, you're employed now. You'll have a commute consisting of one flight of stairs. We can take this thing into my mechanic now."
Dawn said, "I thought I'd save up a couple checks, y'know...."
I told her, "Dammit, I just got a free seventy-five grand yesterday. Let's take your car in, consider it a 'welcome aboard' present from Inana. But you've gotta get a lot of stuff done on that car, and soon, or it really will give up the ghost. You can pay for the paint and vinyl. Please, let me get your Olds running and driving right. You'll have the Plymouth to use until you get it back, all we ask is that you lock the doors because of the cell phone."
She stopped outside of the doors and said, "Stop being so fucking nice to me."
"Why?" I asked.
"Because you have no reason to. I'm just tweaker bitch street trash you found in Ocean Beach. I suck dick for drugs, I beg for money, I live in a shitty old car, I dumpster dive behind pizza places for food. I'm trash. Even after I'm living in my own apartment, I don't know that I won't steal from Safeway or spare change people in gas stations for fuel, because I'll still be trash. You shouldn't help me, you should hate me, you should feel nothing but contempt for me, I'm just a goddamn leech. Why don't you hate me?"
"I don't carry around a lot of hate," I said. "Not enough to spare, anyway. And I hate to break the news to you, but you're not trash. You never were. You've just been lost for a while."
Dawn's face crumbled. She began to cry. I pulled her close and held her. She wrapped her arms around me and leaned against me with all her weight. It didn't make a difference. I backed us up a few feet so we were leaning against the glass of the restaurant. I held her and stroked her head while she cried. After a while she stopped, and we went inside and ordered lunch.
"It's just all so scary," Dawn said as we ate.
"What is?" I asked.
"Just.... Meeting you and Bekka and having you take me in, keeping me spun, feeding me.... Everything. You've been so nice to me and I haven't done anything to deserve it. Now I'm gonna have a job that pays well, and I'll be able to live in my own apartment. I'll be able to buy food and keep it in a refrigerator. If I want cigarettes, I can just go out and buy them. I won't need to beg for help. I've been a leech for so long, it's ingrained behavior. And I'm used to it. Leaving that behavior behind is scary."
"You were in a rut deep enough to hang up posters," I said. "After a year of it, I'm sure it's all you understood. No matter how terrible it was, you could count on it. Now shit is gonna change, and change is always scary. But this will be change for the better, I promise. So go with it."
"Am I gonna be spending the night up in that penthouse?" Dawn asked.
"Yeah. We can move your stuff up there after the second shoot is over."
"I don't have much stuff, like six milk crates of clothes and random junk.... So what's it like?"
"Well, you've seen it," I said. "You've got the water bed, that's nice, and a modern kitchen that does everything but go shopping for you. The TV has cable with all the movie channels activated, and that's our old stereo system up there. We got a new one when we moved into our house. Um, oh yeah, there's the four-head shower. That thing rules. Climate control is on the wall by the door, it's independent of the rest of the mansion. Ah, beyond that, I don't know what else to tell you. The phone works, just let us know if you call out of the country so we're not confused when we get the bill."
Dawn ate the last of her fried zucchini. "I'm just afraid.... I'll be lonely there, by myself. No, I'll be okay, I'm a big girl. Whatever."
"You've got the TV, that helps. And like I said, the phone works. I'm sure not every tweaker in Ocean Beach has had their line disconnected, surely you have some numbers of friends. You can call them up and let them know of your good turn in fortune."
"Can I have people over?"
I sighed. "That is a request I must turn down. Not to cast aspersions on the people you know, but some of them might see all that expensive video equipment sitting around and get tempted."
Dawn chuckled and said, "Yeah, looking at it that way, I can't think of anyone I'd want over."
"I'd prefer it if you got some of whatever you consider rest. Okay, you saw this morning, and you'll see again this afternoon, mostly you're just sitting around watching other people fuck. But you can't be nodding off, either. This will hold especially true when we're shooting features and you're acting as our script girl. I know you're opposed to sleeping --- and dammit, we have to fix that --- but try to be rested for work. You're part of the machine that makes Inana run now, you have a valid role or two to play."
We got up, dumped the trash off our trays, and headed for the car. Dawn said, "I was wondering about something. I thought people were going to treat me like shit, from what you said. Everyone was real nice to me, though. I thought fluff girls were hated."
"No, not at all," I said. "Especially not around Inana. Fluff girls just don't have any status, you know? You're in a better position, because you'll also be doubling as script girl. Besides, one of the advantages of me doing the hiring is that I can eliminate fuck-heads. You should find everybody pretty friendly. The girls will invite you along if they're going out for drinks. You won't be a pariah."
Dawn found this highly amusing. "Going out for drinks with the girls. Wow, I've never done that in my life. There were always guys along too. Should I take them up on it?"
"Why not? A common denominator you will find in all Inana girls is intelligence. Another is acceptance. They're aware they're in a strange industry, and that it would be considered rather inappropriate for them to talk about work with their neighbors. So performers socialize with close friends and coworkers, not with acquaintances. You're all in the same boat as far as that goes. They're hard-pressed to explain to people they've just met that they earn a living by having men fuck them. 'I'm in the entertainment industry' is the go-to short answer when the subject comes up."
We got back to the mansion and fired up the pipe in my office. As we lit cigarettes, Dawn said, "If I haven't said it before, thank you. For everything."
"No problem," I grinned. "And remember, you are not trash. That is provably false. You are worthwhile, okay? Remember that."
She went upstairs. I got on the phone to Mitch, the mechanical genius of Santee. He picked up on the fourth ring.
"Hey Mitch, this is Lenny, Boss's friend out in Encinitas. How you doing?"
"Twiddling my thumbs, man. Bored. You?"
"Just hired a new girl at the studio. In fact I want to do her a favor. She drives a 1975 Oldsmobile Delta 88 that she loves, it's the only car she's ever owned. Well, the damn thing has problems with it in so many directions it's not funny. I want to restore it to showroom condition for her. Just off the top of my head it needs a valve job, exhaust, tie rods or steering box, obviously a tune, and who knows what else. Not to mention paint and vinyl. Can you handle that?"
"Well.... Yeah, I can get it so it's like it just left the lot. But, uh, why? A '75 Delta isn't exactly a classic, and restoring it that way, shit, she could probably just pick up another car for what all it'll cost."
"This thing is very special to her. She's twenty-three now, and she's had it since she was sixteen. Her grandpa gave it to her when she got her license. Grandpa's passed on, so she holds onto the car to remember him by. Besides, she ain't paying, I am. My latest feature has shot the moon, and my boss is being incredibly generous with me, so I got the money to burn. So you can handle it?"
Mitch giggled into the phone. "Yeah, bring that bomb out here. I'll get it so cherry you'd think Ford was still in office."
"I'll be out there around six," I said. "Hey, you want a copy of the new movie? It's a comedy."
"Your wife starring again?" (Mitch was another Becky Page fan.)
"Actually, no. Becky is second lead. Plenty of screen time, but she has her clothes on in a lot of it. Becky has some good scenes, though. A girl named Skye Tyler is the lead in this one. Young, blonde, and an awesome rack."
"Sure, I'd love to see it," said Mitch. "Bring it on out."
"No sweat. See you later, brother."
5:15 that afternoon saw me driving Dawn's Oldsmobile towards Santee. Dawn was riding shotgun, and Bekka was tailing us in the new Falcon. Dawn saw the wisdom of me doing the driving, since I knew where I was going. I was regretting not being the passenger, as Dawn would have been used to the little behavioral fillips in the car, like the floppy steering and mushy brakes. I rolled straight into Mitch's shop, Bekka pulling up outside. Mitch got up from the ruined recliner he was lounging on and set down his beer.
"Well what have we here?" said Mitch, walking up to shake hands.
"Take it for a spin," I said. "Listen and learn."
Mitch got behind the wheel, started it up, and backed out onto the driveway. He turned the car around, got on the street, and took off. He was gone exactly for the duration of one cigarette. He did not look amused when he got out, merely popping the hood to take a look-see. After a couple minutes poking around he stuck his head up with a flat expression on his face.
Mitch said, "Well, I guess the good news is there's nothing here I can't fix. But that begs the question of whether you want to bother. So this is your bomb, little missy?"
Dawn nodded her head.
"You are aware that you need to change the oil in a car from time to time?"
Dawn scowled. "Things have been a little tight for me."
Mitch looked doubtful. "Lenny said this car means a lot to you. Okay. I can get it so it's like it just rolled off the assembly line. It's gonna take some time and money, but I can do it. I'll warn you right now, though, this thing is never gonna be a classic. Not now, not in fifty years. And to keep it running, you need to take care of it. You gotta change oil, you gotta change coolant, you gotta service the transmission, check your tires, air filter, all that happy horseshit. Lenny, talk to you a minute?"
We stepped out the back door of the shop and lit cigarettes. Mitch said, "You said you're the one footing the bill for this, right?"
"Yeah," I replied.
"Any way you can talk her out of this? That damn thing will never be worth as much as she wants to put into it. Shit, if she's a porno queen now, she can afford payments on something new and idiot-proof."
"Cut to the chase."
"Gimme two weeks and five grand."
I said, "Ouch."
"Exactly," responded Mitch. "Okay, her grandpa gave it to her. The damn thing is at the end of its life as it is right now. I'll be starting from bolt one."
I stared at the ground briefly, and said, "I'll see you in two weeks. You want a check now?"
"Oh yeah. I've only known this little chick for a few days now, but I know she's been kicked around a lot, and doesn't have much to feel sentimental about. This car means a lot to her, it was a sign somebody loved her. Me, I've got a boss who just sent me seventy-five grand because he's happy with my work. Such is show business. I can do this for her and not break a sweat. Maybe she'll feel like someone loves her again, you know?"
Mitch stared at me, then smiled. "Another $200 and I'll get the seats re-covered."
I chuckled and said, "I'll leave a little bit up to her."
We stepped back into the shop. Dawn and Bekka gave us expectant looks. I announced, "Two weeks. He'll get this thing so cherry you'll look for an invoice sticker in the window."
Mitch said, "But before I turn the keys back over, we're gonna review proper vehicle maintenance. You understand, little missy?"
"Yes sir," said Dawn.
We had a beer with Mitch and took off, Bekka at the wheel of the Falcon. Traffic had lightened, and we were headed the opposite direction of commute anyway. I looked over at Bekka. She had her sunglasses on. Her right hand was casually draped over the pistol grip shifter. There was a confident, assured look on her face. I realized I hadn't seen her look that happy at the wheel since, well, since the old Falcon had been blown up.
"This is your new daily driver, isn't it?" I asked.
"Oh yes," Bekka assured me.
"I'll call the car stereo place, set up an appointment to get the cell phone moved into this one."
From the back seat, Dawn said, "So.... The same guy who just gave Lenny all that money also gave you this car on Friday?"
"No," Bekka corrected. "Lenny's boss Angel, who owns the studio, gave Lenny the money. Don Vito Ventimiglia, the head of the Southern California mafia, gave me the car. I used to have a Falcon hot rod, but it was blown up in a dispute. The Don knew I loved that car, and wanted me to have another just like it.... Only better."
"Wow. What did you do for him?"
Bekka smiled into the rear view. "We were his ally, when he felt he had none. He stayed with us for four days, and in that time, he came to trust us intimately. Since we are the least likely mafia couple ever, he felt we would be the least likely to roll over on him. Don Vito is more than our capo's capo, he is a friend."
After a few minutes of silence, Dawn switched over to me. "So what did that guy want to talk to you about in private?"
I said, "He just, um.... He wanted to firm up the deal."
"Donnola," said Bekka.
"I recognize that voice pattern. You're being a donnola about something."
I huffed and said, "Look, it's gonna cost more than what he thought I might think it was worth, okay? Like he said, that thing is never gonna be a classic."
"How much is it costing?" asked Dawn.
"It's a present, you don't get to know."
"Lenny!" barked Bekka.
"Fine. Five grand, top to bottom. Shit, I forgot to ask him about tires...."
Bekka said, "Five grand for a complete rebuild? Okay. I was afraid you were going to say something like fifteen grand. Then he'd have been ripping you off."
"Oh my god," said Dawn. "That much? Was it that broken? You can't.... I.... You sure you wouldn't want that dude I know in OB to fix it? He was going to tune it for me for cheap."
I leaned over the seat and said, "No damn OB tweaker is working on the car of any of my friends. This guy is gonna get everything right, make it mechanically bulletproof. It will stay fixed. He's the man that built what we're riding in right now, if that's any hint to his abilities."
Bekka said, "You haven't been in this thing with the supercharger activated, have you? It's amazing, it's like being in a jet on takeoff."
We got back to the mansion around 7:30 and moved Dawn's stuff into the penthouse. It took one trip. It was four milk crates full of clothes, and two full of.... Random crap. A clock radio. An old Walkman. Stationary that was mildewing. A phone. We moved all six crates into the bedroom and left them, Dawn saying she would sort through them later.
"Okay, let's head for home," said Bekka. "I promised Jane she could serve dinner at eight."
"What are we having?" I asked.
"Chicken and dumplings with steamed vegetables. Come on, tiny tweaker, dinnertime. And you have to pick up the Plymouth."
We got to the house, where Bekka and I swapped cars, leaving the Plymouth blocking the driveway. Dawn stood and stared at the Plymouth. "So you want me to drive this car back to the mansion?" she asked.
"Actually...." I pulled three hundreds out of my wallet. ".... Stop by Safeway and get yourself what groceries you feel like getting tonight. I promised you I'd give you an advance on your first check, so there you go."
Dawn stared at the money I'd handed her. "You're being too nice to me again," she muttered.
"No, see, that's the advance I promised you. That's money you'll be earning. Shit, it's money you already have earned. You worked both loops we shot today, right? You have a dick in your mouth both times?"
"Yeah. There were two guys to prep in the afternoon, um, it was a double penetration, so Rita and I took care of one guy each."
"Then I still owe you $200 on the day," I smiled. "And tomorrow you'll earn another $500. And so on, and so forth."
"Lenny, what if I drove off in your car and never came back? Would you believe I was trash then?"
"No. You'd just be showing me how frightened you are."
"What am I frightened of?" asked Dawn.
I said, "You're frightened of anyone showing you anything resembling love, or affection, or caring, or friendship. You think you're unworthy. So how did you learn to hate yourself, anyway?"
Dawn looked away. "Practice," she muttered.
I walked up and held her by the shoulders. "Someday you'll tell me. And you're going to be a total fucking wreck, and I'm going to hold you through it all, just to prove you are worthwhile."
"No I'm not."
"I don't believe you, so fuck off. I'll find the real Dawn Nixon, just you wait. And we'll both be happy when I have. Now let's eat dinner."
We went up. Bekka said from the sofa, "Everything okay?"
"Yeah," I said. "Dawn was questioning her self-worth again, and I was correcting her. How's dinner coming?"
Jane said, "I just need to steam the vegetables a few more minutes. So Dawn, why are you questioning your own worth?"
"Because I'm trash," said Dawn with a grim smile. "I told you how I was living."
"Sounds like bullshit to me. You were just in a shitty position. So you're going to be staying in the mansion, right?"
Jane smiled. "The penthouse is way rad. I lived in the mansion for about five weeks when I first showed up, staying in one of the guest rooms, and except for sleeping or fucking my boyfriend I spent all my time in the penthouse. Too cool."
"I'm afraid...." Dawn started. "I'm afraid I'll get lonely there, that whole fucking place to myself."
Jane stared at Dawn briefly, then said, "Wait here." She charged up the stairs, then came back down with a stuffed plush bird, brightly colored, about twelve inches tall. She held it out to Dawn.
"Here, take it," said Jane. Dawn did. "That's Gwen the parrot. I've had her since I was five, my dad won her at a carnival. She has kept me company through a lot. She's good at keeping secrets, too. She can keep you company while you're in the penthouse."
Dawn stared at the plush toy and said, "I.... I can't. This is too important to you." Tears began running down Dawn's face.
"Yes you can," said Jane. "She'll just live in the penthouse, and be there for you. She's great at listening, I used to talk to her all the time. And she absorbs tears well, too."
Bringing Gwen the parrot to her chest, Dawn squeezed her tightly. "She's good to hold," she said.
Jane said, "She is. I've gotta go check the veggies, so they don't turn to mush."
Wiping her eyes with her wrist, Dawn said, "I'm gonna put Gwen in the car right now. Thank you Jane, this is one of the sweetest things anyone has ever done for me."
I handed the keys to the Plymouth to Dawn, who trotted down the stairs. Stepping into the kitchen, I said to Jane, "That was wonderful of you."
Shrugging, Jane said, "I think she's really lonely. After all, who makes close friends with the homeless? She doesn't get why y'all are so nice to her. I tried explaining to her when we stayed up watching movies that that's just how y'all are. After all, you took me in."
I heard the front door close and small steps coming up the stairs. "So dinner's almost ready?" I asked Jane.
She speared a chunk of zucchini and chewed thoughtfully. "Ready now. Pull plates down for me and I'll serve."