Friday, August 5, 2016

Angels (Part 14)

     I returned to a quiet studio.  Loops were being made, video was being edited, performers were happy, everyone was paid, there was nothing to worry about.  Spike and Goose were working out on their jobs.  I put my feet up and concentrated on my job.  No sweat.
     It was a Tuesday when the gunfire broke out.  Somebody knew our schedule.  Checks were made available at nine a.m. on Tuesdays, but most performers didn't pick them up until lunch, whether they were working or not.  There was a line stringing out of my office, everyone, cast and crew, wanting to get their money for the week.  I'd ordered pizza in, it was a tradition, get your check and a little bit of lunch while you're there.  Nothing big.  Just business.

     I heard the shots from outside and vaulted out of my seat.  Tradition would wait.  I plunged through the cloud of startled performers and stage hands, aiming for the door.  I kicked the door open and saw Goose, the Angel of the week, trying to struggle to his feet.  This wasn't an easy job, as chunks of his leg were missing on the left side. Another shot rang out, plunking into the wall by my right side.  It came from outside the small courtyard which was at the front door, the general direction of the walkway and driveway.  I dived for Goose and dragged him to one side, away from the courtyard entry.  He yelled with pain at the movement.
     I got my Beretta in my hand and started moving towards the entry.  Goose grabbed my cuff and said, "I'm sorry, I fucked up, man.  I let some bastard get the drop on me."
     "Who is he?" I asked.
     "Looks like a damn college kid, about that age, clean cut.  Parked across the street, walked straight up to me, and said he's Skye Tyler's brother.  I told him if that was the case, he'd know her real name.  He said Ellen MacPherson, and I knew that was right from talking to Boss.  I told him to wait while I got her and you, he said, 'Wait,' then opened up and blew holes in my leg.  I managed to punch him in the face, hopped in here, fell down, then you came out."
     "Ellen's an only child," I told Goose.  "What's this guy carrying?"
     "Looked like a mid-size automatic," said Goose.  "Sorta like what Becky carries."
     There was no way in hell I was letting the attacker get away.  I wanted him down, but not dead.  Crouching down by the entry, I peered around the edge of the wall.  Leaning on the roof on the far side of the Fleetwood was a dude about twenty years old.  He really did look collegiate.  From his position, he had direct line of sight to the front door, and was keeping it covered with a pistol.
     "What do you want?" I yelled.
     College Dude yelled back, "I want Skye Tyler and I want Becky Page.  Send them out and I won't kill anyone."
     "Why do you want them?  What have they ever done to you?"
     "I love them.  I just want to take them out to lunch, but I knew you fucking goons would want to try to stop me.  You're Becky's so-called husband, right?"
     "That's me," I confirmed.
     "I've got you pinned, and I'm going to get rid of you.  Fucking asshole, scumbag.  You're tough when you've got those Hell's Angels backing you up, when you've got a gun on you, now you're not shit.  Becky will understand why I had to kill you, she'll be free of you.  You're a bully piece of shit and I hate you."
     "So what are you waiting for?  Come on, get in here and kill me and Goose.  Then you can go in the studio, where you'll be surrounded by frightened porn stars and video crew.  So you're going to convince both Skye and Becky to be with you?"
     "Why not?" said College Dude.  "They're already lovers.  I've seen them together, you can't tell me they were faking that."
     I heard a slight crunch of gravel: someone waking on pavement.  Steadying myself against the courtyard wall, I sighted at the entryway.  Anything coming through it would get a hole blown in it.  The sound of gravel being compressed told me College Dude was coming up the walkway.  He led with his gun, it was the first thing I saw, so I fired at it twice.  The gun jerked back and I heard running steps.  I charged out of the courtyard and into the driveway.  College Dude heard my footsteps and spun, getting off a snap shot.  A bullet dug into my right arm.  He was running down the driveway, heading for a Hyundai shitbox parked on the opposite side of the street.  Left-handed, I fired at him, generally aiming for his legs.  No luck.
     College Dude threw himself into the Hyundai Excel and pivoted to take another shot at me.  I realized I was totally exposed, and dived for the bushes on the side of the driveway.  He let off a couple more shots and fired his engine.  I heard rubber squeal on asphalt and climbed back out of the shrub, ran to the Fleetwood, fired up, got in the street, and shot down the hill towards the fleeing red Hyundai.  He made the right turn onto El Camino Real and cut over to the left lane.  There was no traffic, so I pulled out too.
     It hadn't occurred to him that he might be followed.  College Dude got in the left turn lane for La Costa Ave., presumably to head for Interstate 5 and home to refine his plans.  There was no one else at the light.  I swung wide, then stomped the gas and barrelled across the empty lanes and bashed into the side of the Excel, nearly a t-bone.  Being a Hyundai, the Excel reacted to this impact like an inflated condom to a lit cigarette.  The entire right side of the car was caved in; I doubted if I'd scratched the chrome on the Cadillac.  I backed away and put the Fleetwood into the lane beside him.
     College Dude got out of the ruined Hyundai with murder on his mind.  He saw me at the wheel of the Fleetwood and raised his pistol, aiming right at my head.  I gave him the finger.  He smiled and fired, sure he was going to make my head disappear.  The bullet made a chirping noise as it ricocheted off the bulletproof glass of the Fleetwood, leaving a good chip missing.  I gestured with both middle fingers at College Boy.  He stood ten feet away from the driver's door, aimed at me, and began pulling the trigger.  Three more shots erupted, two of which slightly starred the driver's window glass, but did not enter the vehicle.  Then the gun was empty, I could see College Dude pulling the trigger but nothing happened.  He looked rather appalled at this turn of events.
     I got out of the Fleetwood and leveled my Beretta at him.  College Boy was now slack-jawed.  I yanked the pistol out of his hand and shoved it in my pocket.  "Please, try to run away," I said.  "Nothing would amuse me more, right now."
     I could hear sirens approaching from the south.  That would be the ambulance for Goose, and the vanguard of law enforcement coming to make my life fun.  Approaching me directly was the sound of a Harley-Davidson.  A glance showed the motorcycle to be a custom purple Sportster, lots of chrome, and the rider appeared to be wearing nothing but a very short kimono and boots.  I shoved College Dude into the Cadillac, rolling the window down on his side and warning him to stay still and shut up.  "Move, and I pistol whip you," I said.
     Bekka spotted us and pulled up on the Sportster.  "What's the story?" she called, dropping her kickstand and hopping off the bike.
     I gave her a quick briefing, interrupted by the honking of horns.  We were blocking both the turn lane and the left through lane.  People up front were very polite and differential, as most people are when confronted by a punk waving one hell of a big pistol.  The people further back wanted to know what the holdup was.  I leaned down at College Dude and said, "Hey Skeeter, your keys still in your car?"
     "Bekka, move his car to the other side of the street so we're not jamming things up here.  Then I want you to meet me in front of the Pizza Hut.  We're gonna leave the Sportster there, and you're going to help me keep an eye on this little bastard while we drive back to the mansion.  You keep him covered from the back seat."
     "Got it, babe.  You're aware you're bleeding, right?" said Bekka.
     I shrugged.  "Yeah.  Nothing major, they'll stitch me up when the cops are done interviewing me.  Let's get back to the mansion, but quick.  I have a hunch our presence is demanded."
     Bekka leaned down and said to College Dude, "You fucking prick.  You shot my husband.  What I feel like doing is blowing your fucking head off and throwing you into Batiquitos Lagoon.  In better circumstances, I would.  I'll have to settle for watching the cops haul you away."
     College Dude looked at Bekka with tears in his eyes.  He said, "Becky, I love you...."
     "Oh, suck my dick.  Back in a minute, Lenny."
     We wrangled vehicles and headed back towards the mansion.  In a way, College Dude was having a wish fulfilled: he had Becky Page's undivided attention.  He said, "Becky, I want you to be with me.  I want to be your friend, I'm better than the criminals you hang around with...."
     "What criminals would those be?" she asked.
     "Well....  This dude, your so-called husband, or that giant biker who was with you at the party in La Mesa, or the guy out in front of your studio.  I'm the only friend you and Skye need.  I could keep you safe, I could make you happy.  You and me and Skye could live together, I'd do anything you wanted me to."
     "You were at the La Mesa street party?" I asked.  "What's your user name on the BBS?"
     College Dude said, "My real name is David Schultz.  I post under the name of Simian.  You, you're Lenny Schneider.  You and that huge biker and that punk rock chick spent the entire party breathing down Becky's neck, never letting people spend time alone with her.  Becky, I told you at the party how important you are to me, didn't that mean anything?"
     Bekka replied lazily, "I had a couple hundred people tell me how important I am to them that day.  I am continually surprised at how I impact the lives of strangers just by having sex in front of video cameras.  Wait....  Simian....  I know who your are now.  You're always posting dirty, Anne Sexton-style poetry to the board dedicated to me and Skye Tyler.  Funny, you're not someone I would have suspected of showing up at the studio with a gun.  So what did you hope to accomplish?"
     David said, "I just wanted to take you and Skye out to lunch.  I could tell you both what a great time we could have together, the three of us.  I am perfect for you both, I would be your perfect man."
     "Instead you shot two people."
     "Fuck them!  They're criminals!  Who cares about scumbags like the Hell's Angels....  Or about this asshole next to me!  Just some punk with a gun, keeping you away from the people who would really love you.  He lives off the money you make, doesn't he?  Doesn't he?  Becky, you are so much better than this guy.  I'd have been doing you a favor by killing him!  He's worthless, I would have gotten him out of your life and you'd have been free to do what you want."
     Bekka didn't get a chance to respond, because we had pulled up in front of the mansion.  Due to all the official vehicles blocking the driveway --- the ambulance bearing Goose had already departed --- I simply pulled up to the curb facing the wrong way.  I had Bekka get out first, keeping her gun leveled at our miscreant.  I had him place his hands on his head, Bekka opened the door to the Cadillac, and he got out.  I followed.
     We marched up the driveway and I hailed a uniform who was facing away from me.  He turned and started to reach for his sidearm.  I said, "Be cool, be cool.  My name is Leonard Schneider, this is my wife Bekka Schneider, and this gentleman here is a Mr. David Schultz, who shot both me and my security man very recently.  I have the gun in my back pocket.  Cuff this man, so Bekka and I can holster our weapons.  Tell me, is Detective Donner here yet?"
     The sheriff, who looked younger than me, processed all this at face value and cuffed David Schultz.  I handed him the pistol Goose and I had been shot with.  Bekka and I both put our guns away.  Then the young sheriff led us into the house.  Donner was there, in the living room, interviewing Elspeth.  There was a crowd in the hallway between the media room and the living room, people waiting to be interviewed by either Donner or two uniforms, one each in the media room and and the kitchen.  Someone had closed the door to my office.  Going past her office, I heard Gina saying, ".... Not much panic at all.  People were mostly worried about Lenny and that Hell's Angel who got shot.  Oh wait, he's here, hold on....  Lenny, it's Angel, he wants to talk to you."
     Gina gestured to me with the phone handset.  I started to move towards it, but was cut off by the uniform with me and Bekka.  He said, "You'll have to call him back.  I'm sure the detective wants to interview you as soon as possible.  How fresh is your injury?  Do you need an ambulance?"
     I said, "The injury is no more than fifteen minutes old.  After I'm done talking with Donner, I'm going to finish handing out paychecks, then I'll drive to Scripps in Encinitas and get stitched up, it's not a big deal.  Or if you prefer, my wife can drive me.  Would it be all right if she put on some clothes?"
     "In a moment.  I'd like to see the permits for your respective guns.  Can either of you legally carry concealed?"
     "Both of us can," said Bekka.  "Allow me to grab my purse, and I'll show you my C.C. permit.  One moment, please."  Bekka went for her locker.
     Donna rested her hand on my shoulder from behind.  "Are you okay?" she asked.  "You're bleeding...."
     "Just a scratch," I said.  "How is Goose?"
     "He'll live.  I don't know how much damage he took.  God, that was scary.  Everybody heard the shots, then you go charging out and we hear more shots, then Bekka goes charging out with her waist holster on and pulling on her robe."
     Handing her pistol and C.C. permit to the deputy, Bekka said, "I got outside just in time to see Lenny backing out of the driveway, so I ran back in and grabbed the Harley keys.  I knew the chase was on."
     I handed over my own permits just as I heard Donner's voice call, "Leonard Schneider, please come this way."  I walked into the living room and found him sitting in one of the cushy winged chairs, which had been moved over to in front of the coffee table.  He gestured me towards the sofa.  It struck me that he wasn't giving me one of the two glares I was used to: one of disgust and contempt, the other of bitter humor.  He was barely looking at me at all.  Donner asked me to tell precisely what had happened.  I held nothing back.  He did not comment on what I told him, another unusual circumstance.  Donner considered me a criminal, and had put great effort into trying to prove it, to no avail.  My experience with him had always been one of threats and insults directed at me.  Now I'm getting this sterile, bureaucratic accommodation.
     We finished, and Donner asked me to please send Bekka along.  No problem.  Walking back towards the hall, it suddenly stuck me:  Donner and Richard Ross, formerly of Encinitas PD, were friends.  Both of them had always been entertained by my not-so-subtle hints that I had mafia connections.  Now former Lieutenant Ross was a patrolman in Escondido, having been fired from his job in Encinitas after the brass received photos of Ross engaged in various activities with two prostitutes, one of who was both male and underage.  I'd wanted Ross neutered (not killed, I liked his family) because he had been causing such grief for my girl Jane, calling her a hooker, accusing me of pimping her out, threatening me.  My boss and capo Angel had made the neutering happen, Ross got the sack rather than expose the department to that sort of scandal.  And Ross knew I was responsible, however indirectly.
     So Donner and his friend had certainly discussed the circumstances of Ross's firing.  At one point, Bekka and I had threatened Ross back: if he fucked with us too much, we could ruin him.  Well, he'd been ruined.  Ross had certainly told Donner of all his suspicions, especially how porn king Lenny Schneider of Encinitas could see to it that a cop could be drugged, kidnapped, set up with incriminating photos, and have plenty of witnesses proving he was miles away when all this went down.
     All this boiled down to two things.  Not only was Donner probably now scared of me, there was nothing better he'd like to do than bust me for something.  Before, Donner had just considered me a scumbag.  Now I was sure I rated as a genuinely dangerous person.
     I finished handing out paychecks and gave Angel a call.  "Christ Lenny, what this time?" he asked.
     After running through the whole story, I said, "For better or worse, the security worked.  Our inner perimeter was not breached, and none of our performers or crew were ever in danger.  We were expecting a psycho fan to show up, and we got one."
     "Gina said you got hit too."
     "Just a scratch.  I'll take care of things here, then go get stitched up.  It's not even bleeding any more, it just hurts."
     "I'll come down tomorrow, see how things are going, visit with this Angel in the hospital.  What are the chances of these Angels getting carry permits?"
     I laughed at this suggestion.  "First off, it would be really hard finding any Hell's Angel with a clean arrest and conviction record.  I was damn lucky I can carry concealed, what with me having an assault with a deadly weapon charge against me, from when I shot Rick.  I'm just glad I was acquitted.  Also, when they do the interviews down here, you're dealing with a serious headwaiter mentality.  Outlaw bikers, especially Hell's Angels, are never gonna get concealed carry permits out of San Diego County.  Terry got hers because she went clothes shopping first and looked really respectable.  She also has a clean record.  It didn't hurt that Bekka went with her and managed to plead her case a bit, explaining what she wanted from Terry.
     "Besides, nobody could have saw what was coming.  This dude looks like a damn college student, and a kinda preppy one at that.  There was no situation to escalate.  He told Goose that he was Ellen's brother.  Goose told him to wait while he got me and Ellen.  The dude just pulled a gun and shot Goose, totally unprovoked, no warning.  In this asshole's mind, bikers and punks are all criminals, thus less than human.  This guy honestly did not care if he killed me and Goose, to him, we're worthless.  But no, Goose never would have had an opportunity to reach for a gun before he had holes in him.  Hell, if the perp had seen a gun, that would have guaranteed Goose died."
     Gina came to the door of my office and said, "News vans are here."
     "Be right there," I told her.  To Angel, I said, "I gotta go do a couple interviews with the local news.  What time do you think you'll be down tomorrow?"
     Angel responded, "Around lunch.  We can go to that diner you like so much.  Ciao, Lenny."
     "Ciao, Angel."
     I went outside and did my interviews with Channel Eight and Channel Thirty-Nine.  Both of them brought up that this was the third shooting incident to happen at Inana.  Is pornography really that violent of an industry?
     "Not at all," I said.  "Yes, we here have had some bad luck.  But none of the incidents are connected.  The first one was a disgruntled former employee, and that could have happened anywhere, an office, a 7-11, a supermarket.  His goal was revenge.  The second one was an attack by a lone zealot who felt he could jump-start a holy war by eliminating us evil pornographers.  His motivation was hatred.  Now we got this clown, who claims he only wanted to meet Becky Page and Skye Tyler.  I'm still not sure what he was thinking.  He shot an unarmed man, totally unprovoked, and then he took a couple shots at me.  Okay, he's a rabid fan.  Still doesn't explain why he brought a gun, much less shot someone with it for no apparent reason.  Any chance the sheriff's department will let you talk to him?  He's in that squad car right there."
     The Channel Eight cameraman and talking head walked straight over to the car.  David Schultz, hopeless romantic, was slouched inside, sweating.  The window was down maybe half an inch, and it was a warm day.  The talking head yelled at the crack, "Why did you come here today?"
     "I wanted to meet Becky Page and Skye Tyler," came the response.
     "Why did you shoot two men?"
     "They wanted to get in my way, keep me from seeing my girls.  One was a Hell's Angel, and one was a punk.  I mean, who'd miss them?  They both lived anyway, hell, you just got finished interviewing one of them.  I hate him, I wish I'd killed him.  Then Becky would be free to do what she wants, she wouldn't have a scumbag like that dictating her every move.  He's just trash."
     "There's the answer," I said.  "He's a sociopath.  To him, me and Goose aren't human at all."
     David Schultz began screaming, "Fuck you!  Fuck you!  Fuck you!" at me, his spittle flecking the glass of the police car.  He rolled onto his back and began kicking the window.  The outside deputy came over, got in the front seat, and told him that if he didn't cut it out, the deputy would soak him down with mace.
     Finished with talking to Detective Donner, Bekka breezed up and asked why the hell I wasn't on my way to the hospital yet.  I pointed out that I wanted her there due to my phobia of needles, and there just hadn't been time.  Perhaps now we could go get my arm taken care of now, let me lock up my office.  "Yes, let's, before it goes septic on you," was Bekka's response.
     Bekka turned to walk down to the Fleetwood and was immediately glommed onto by the news crews.  Hey, a celebrity, attack.  Bekka briefed them on what little she had been witness to.  One of them asked if she feared fans such as this one.
     "Not as much as one would think," replied Bekka.  "I have a concealed carry permit for a Colt Defender, and I never leave the house without it.  I can protect myself, and have in the past.  Unfortunately, this clown is not the only obsessed fan I have.  Hinckley had Jodie Foster, this guy has me.  Ultimately I can't fear my fans, because that would mean being afraid to leave the house, or interact with people.  Almost all my fans are wonderful people, I love them, I love meeting them.  But I don't want to be obsessed over, and I don't want to be worshiped."
     What is it about Becky Page that brings about such rabid fandom?  Becky laughed, "If you can find a definitive answer to that question, please let me know.  To me, I'm just a porn slut with passable acting talent who appeared in a few really popular movies.  Post-feminists view me as an icon of sexual liberation, the woman who leveled the playing field.  Others view me as Wonder Woman, an oversexed Wonder Woman.  Teenage girls look up to me as this pillar of strength, a role model that says girls can do what they want without being chastised.  And men like that it's real easy to look at me naked, just buy or rent a video with my picture on it.  I don't think there is a single answer as to why I'm so damn popular."
     Calm Steve, Roach, and Dawn promised to stay until the cops had taken off.  Bekka and I took off for the hospital, and were given semi-preferred treatment.  While I was no longer actively bleeding, my right arm and the side of my shirt were covered in dried blood.  Cleaning the wound made the blood start flowing again.  They finally got me stitched up and out the doors of the ER.  We walked around front and asked at the front desk for the room number of Mr. Baxter Long, a.k.a. Goose.  He would be a fairly recent arrival, coming in with gunshot wounds via the ER.  2114-B?  Thank you.
     We got up to the room to find it was already occupied by other visitors.  Goose's old lady, Trish, was there.  So were Mutt and Whistle.  Goose was still groggy from surgery; they'd had to stitch together a lot of muscle tissue to make sure it would continue to work.  Bekka gave him a squeeze and a kiss, he and I grasped hands.
     Goose said, "I was just telin' Mutt he needs to find somebody better at this gig than me.  I fucked up."
     I replied, "Bullshit.  Okay, the motherfucker got the drop on you, but he would have got the drop on anybody.  A white bread kid like him?  Who'd ever have guessed he'd be carrying?  Preppy little bastard.  And I learned why he was pulling the trigger, too."
     "Why" asked everyone in the room.
     "He's a sociopath.  He honestly didn't care about the results of his actions."
     "What is a sociopath?" asked Trish.
     I explained, "Sociopaths have no basic human empathy, and they're pretty much emotionally vacant.  Sociopaths see other people as nothing more than objects to be manipulated, or used....  Or disposed of.  This dude today saw the colors and immediately rejected the idea that you were a living, thinking creature.  He saw my spikes and band t-shirt and felt the same way.  We were just objects in between him and his objective, so what was the difference if he shot us?  We were preventing him from going inside and seeing Becky Page and Skye Tyler, and he didn't have the patience for that.  The only reason he fled was self-preservation, when he realized I had my own gun.  But basically, this guy just saw me and Goose as a couple of delays to his goal, and could think of no rational or moral reason to not just shoot us."
     "Damn," said Mutt.  "This piece of work is heading for the clink?"
     "You better believe it.  And if my assessment is right, is utterly mystified why.  After all, he only shot up a biker and a punk rocker, who cares?"
     Whistle said, "Depending on where he ends up, we need to straighten things out with that shitbag.  Any idea what the charges will be?"
     I said, "Off the top of my head....  Two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, plus using a firearm during the commission of a felony.  Who knows, maybe the D.A. will press for attempted murder.  Also, if there's any issues with the gun he used, he could end up getting quite a bit of time tacked on.  If that gun turns up as stolen, he's fucked."
     "Wonder where he'll end up," speculated Goose.
     "My guess?  Chino, or Folsom, or Susanville.  Unless he has an ugly history --- and he looks too damn young to have built one --- he won't be going to Pelican Bay or Corcoran.  But he's a violent felon, so he ain't going to Soledad or some damn honor farm."
     "That's assuming he sees a full stretch in prison," muttered Whistle.  "People might just look at it as, shit, all he did was put a couple holes in some fuckin' Hell's Angel, and big deal."
     "Don't worry, Goose is gonna have counsel with him at least part of the time," I assured them.  "It will be made clear that Baxter Long of San Diego was performing a legitimate duty, functioning as an independent contractor with Inana Productions and providing security.  This wasn't a bar brawl, this wasn't some conflict about road manners, this was someone shooting someone else in cold blood, while the first person was just doing their job.  I'll get a lawyer I know to come down and press that idea into the brains of the people at the District Attorney's office.  Then he'll be back for sentencing, to make it clear to a jury this was a savage act performed against an innocent man, someone who was just doing their job.  Naw, justice may cost money in this country, but both Inana Productions and myself have a shitload of money.  We'll make sure this motherfucker pays for what he did.  Oh!  Speaking of money, before I forget...."  I pulled $600 out of my pocket, and handed it to Goose.  He in turn handed it to Trish.
     Bekka said, "Hey Goose, I know how much the food sucks here.  Can we bring you anything?  There's an awesome diner near here, or there's Italian, or Mexican, or Chilean...."
     Goose said, "Tell you what.  Right now I gotta zonk out, I kin barely keep my  eyes open.  But I know I'll be hungry when I wake up.  How about you all go get some dinner, you too Trish, and just bring me back something from wherever you go."
     "Tell you what, we'll bring you the best damn Reuben sandwich there ever was, and some onion rings.  That okay?"
     We got Goose's blessing and headed for Triplets, Trish double-packing with Mutt rather than riding in the Fleetwood.  Well, her old man was in the hospital, shot full of holes.  She probably needed the unspoken camaraderie she would get from the Angels.  What a drag.  Your man in the hospital, and he's there because....  He's an Angel.  I was keeping that quiet, so that David Schultz would live until trial.  If Goose hadn't been wearing the colors, Mr. Schultz's sociopathic filters wouldn't have kicked in, registering Goose as a non-person, something to be disposed of.
     We ate at a leisurely pace, unwinding from all of our separate adrenaline binges.  When we were mostly through I excused myself and went up to the front counter to place an order for Goose's food.  Bev, a regular waitress of ours, took the order.  She nervously asked, "So, um, are those really Hell's Angels?"
     I smiled and said, "To wear the colors if you are not a member is an act of suicidal idiocy.  Yes, they're Hell's Angels.  Why do you ask?"
     "Why are you hanging around with them?"
     "They are friends of Bekka's and mine.  I also employ two of them, one of whom was unfortunately shot today and is in the hospital.  That's who this order is for, he may as well not starve while they've got him.  Some obsessed fan shot one of my security dudes, no explanation.  He's out of surgery and resting in his room, but wanted to nap to get the anesthesia out of his system.  So, the rest of us went out to get some dinner, and this place sounded good.  Please don't tell my you're paranoid by the affiliations of two men, just because they belong to the same motorcycle club."
     "I've....  Heard bad things about the Hell's Angels," said Bev.  "You're saying they aren't true?"
     "Personally?  Their menace is greatly overstated.  They are not Vikings or Visigoths, both your purse and your chastity are safe around the ones I've met.  Hell, collectively they're in love with Bekka."
     Bev rolled her eyes and said, "Collectively, every male on the planet over the age of twelve is in love with Becky Page.  Why would they be an exception?"
     I went back to our table.  We debated dessert (ice cream bars from the vending machines in the cafeteria sounded good) and also what brand beer to pick up for Goose.  Not a full six pack or anything, just two bottles to enjoy with his meal.  It was decided that shit, everybody loves Miller.  Between the sandwich, the onion rings, and the beer, our next logical step would be to set fire to the dietician's office.
     When we arrived back at Goose's hospital room, we found another Angel waiting.  Roach was sitting in one of the chairs reading a newspaper, waiting for Goose to wake up.  Inana had made it in the evening Tribune, front page, below the fold.  Surprisingly, Baxter "Goose" Long's fraternal allegiances were not mentioned.  The paper did stress that this was the third such incident of bloodshed at the Inana studios, unusual in itself....  But especially unusual for a tony neighborhood like La Costa.  Inana Productions was known for releasing adult features "such as" "Bewitched," "Temporary Pleasures," and "Succubus."  We passed the front page of the paper around while Goose slept, taking in the article with a bit of eye-rolling.
     Reading the article, Mutt said to me, "So you crippled a guy in your own driveway, and didn't see any prison time?  How do you pull that off?"
     I sneered and said, "Yeah, that was a nice omission on the part of the reporter.  He didn't mention that it was self-defense, and that's according to a jury of my peers.  They initially were gonna hit me with assault with a deadly weapon charges, but it was easy to prove that all I was doing was shooting back.  They still nailed me for carrying concealed, though.  First offense, so I got six months of probation.  Same lawyer I had, I'm gonna have down here to help out Goose if he needs it.  Who knows, it may just be the lawyer giving a bit of advice and engaging in some histrionics for the jury during sentencing.  I'd like to make sure that preppy motherfucker is stored tightly for as long as possible."
     Goose awoke, ravenous and thirsty.  He was grateful for the food and beer.  Bekka promised him "real" food at breakfast and dinner for the duration of his stay, he'd have to suffer through lunch with what was provided.  Roach volunteered to bring lunch on his way from the wreckers to the studio, the timing would be just about right.
     Goose was finished eating and halfway through his second beer when the doctor came in.  The doc looked displeased with the circumstances.  Not only was this patient a criminal, all his criminal friends were here to visit, men and women.  Motorcycle terrorists.  And Christ, there was a half-full bottle of beer sitting on the patient's dining tray.
     The doctor picked up the bottle and said, "Who's is this?"
     I lied, "Mine, doc.  I had kind of a stressful day, and a brew sounded good."
     He walked over to the small metal sink and poured it out, like an annoyed teacher.  I wondered if he was going to check us for chewing gum.  "What happened in your life today which caused sufficient stress that you felt it all right to drink in a hospital?"
     "Well, an employee of mine being shot was a biggie.  Picking up a bullet on my own didn't improve things.  And having to chase down a man with a gun so he could be brought to justice really kinda sucked, doc.  Goose is a good guy, he doesn't deserve this sort of thing.  So what's the prognosis, anyway?"
     The doctor started going on about hypoxia and incidental tissue damage and hypovolemic shock.  Mutt finally said in an loud and clear voice, "But if you were going to explain this to lay people, doctor, what would you tell them?  Cut to the chase."
     "Mr. Long lost several pints of blood," said the doctor.  "That's one issue.  Another is that while the femoral artery was not impacted, there was still heavy bleeding, and we may not have stopped it all.  And there's also the chance of infection, that's a third concern.  He's lucky in one way, in that no bone was impacted.  If you want the shortest answer, Mr. Long can go home Saturday morning.  He will need to attend physical therapy courses, to redevelop muscle tissue that was destroyed.  And I know this will bother you, but it will be a while before you can ride a motorcycle again, at least not without great discomfort."
     "Aw motherfucker," said Goose.  "How long will I be off my putt, doc?"
     The doctor gave a supercilious look and said, "Dependent entirely on how well your physical therapy goes.  If I had my druthers, you would never ride again."
     "But it wasn't a motorcycle that got him here, doctor," Roach growled.  "He's here because of some asshole with a gun and an obsession with Becky Page."
     "And Skye Tyler," I added.
     "Yes, I know.  However, I have come to regard motorcycles as extremely efficient machines for destroying the human body.  To be frank, I consider those who insist on riding them self-destructive, people with no interest in their own longevity.  I will never understand the fascination with them."
     "Ever ridden one, doc?" asked Bekka.
     "No," the doctor said sourly.
     "Then you never will understand the fascination.  Riding is more than a high, it is a genuine taste of freedom, of being above and beyond everything else in the world.  You feel as if there are no limits, to anything."
     Whistle said, "Shit doc, you're probably used to seeing crack-ups from those clowns on crotch rockets.  Screw them.  None of them know what they're doing.  Those fools will hit triple digits on stretches of road they've never been on before.  One thing to take chances, another to be stupid.  There's plenty of people who ride motorcycles who are stupid.  You can't call out the whole group, though."
     "So what am I doing tomorrow, doc?" asked Goose.
     "You are being monitored," said the doctor.  "We will be checking your red cell count for anemia, your white cell count for infection, your stitches for separation, and your oxygen levels.  You will recuperate.  I suggest having someone bring you some books, so you have some respite from the TV."
     Trish looked at the doctor and said, "Hey, is he gonna, like, be out of circulation for a while?  He didn't have no permanent damage, right?  He'll still, like, function?  The way a man should?"
     The doctor gave Trish a look and said, "If I understand you correctly, no, he will suffer no loss in potency.  He is currently both anemic and in great pain, so that is a task I cannot imagine him taking part in willingly.  While he recovers, different....  Positions may be tried, for better comfort.  I have noticed our species will go to great lengths to engage in that activity, and through all manner of discomfort."
     "For some of us, it's a living," commented Roach, to laughter.  The doctor ignored this and swept out of the room, certainly looking for someone new to condescend to.

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