It's a Wednesday, and Terry and I are aimed for Century City on our putts. I'm on my black outlaw Sportster, while Terry has borrowed Bekka's purple beast for the day. Terry's Dyna Glide is in the shop, having the frame cut and the front forks extended twenty inches, a pretty serious chop. Next, the engine gets bored and new gearing is installed. Then the chrome work. Then fresh paint. She wants to have "Eddie," the Iron Maiden mascot, airbrushed on each side of the tank. This was her second choice of design. Her first was to have a giant hard dick, lovingly detailed, on each side, cum dripping from the tip. Bekka and I gently steered her away from this idea, pointing out that every little kid in the world is drawn to outlaw bikes, and there was no sense in offending so many parents every time she left home.
We are aimed at 5110 Century Park West, the Italian trattoria my capo Angel owns. A highly exclusive place. Dinner reservations take two months. I can walk in unannounced at any time of the day or night and be seated, out on the patio with the hoi polloi, within three minutes. It's a little benefit of my mafia association, which I take advantage of. Every maitre'd knows who I am, and will immediately accommodate me and whatever strange-looking people I've brought with me. The valets won't park our motorcycles, but will happily sprint down the street to the parking garage the trattoria uses, opening the gates and gesturing us into spaces. They get tipped, no matter.
This is a business lunch, sort of. A Mr. Ron Haley from Leisure Time Video had called me up on Monday, and said he wanted to "talk business." I told him to start talking. He said, "I'd like you to come up here and meet with me, we should discuss things."
"Like what?" I asked.
He briefly hemmed and hawed and was thoroughly evasive. I finally said, "Tell you what, Mr. Haley. On Wednesday, we can have lunch, on my dime. At 12:30 be at 5110 Century Park West in Century City. I'll be bringing a friend, you can bring one too if you want. We'll drink a little wine, eat some good food, and you can say what you want to me. Given how cagey you're acting, I'd just as soon meet you someplace public. Will you be there?"
A sigh came down the line. "Yeah, I'll be there.... Wait, 5110 Century Park West? That's that Eye-talian place, right? You think we can get a table for lunch there in two days from now?"
"I know we can. We'll have a nice lunch out on the patio."
"You're full of shit. Okay Schneider, I'll be there. And if we end up eating at McDonald's I'm gonna cut you in half."
I chuckled at him. "Bring it, asshole. And when we're sitting on the patio, I expect an apology."
"See you Wednesday." Haley slammed down the phone in my ear.
I disconnected, then dialed Terry's number. "Hey girl, it's Lenny. Look, I think I'm gonna need your professional services on Wednesday. We'll be riding up to LA, and having damn good Italian food for lunch. It's a strange situation, and I'd just as soon have you with me, you know?"
Terry and I were a few minutes early. Harleys anchored, we stood near the entrance and smoked. A couple minutes later, a brown 7-Series BMW floated up to the valet. A tall specimen with a gut, reflective aviators, and a bald pate got out. He ushered out a small blonde girl in a halter top and Ray-Bans, who seemed to need his physical support to walk. They strolled slowly towards the entrance. Stretch was muttering to the girl, "This has got to be a put-on. No way can that little brat pull this off...."
He locked on me and said, "Lenny Schneider?"
"That's me," I smiled. "I'll assume you are Ron Haley."
We shook hands in a way that, in LA, translated to screaming "fuck you" in each others faces. The small blonde object was introduced to me as Trish. She didn't shake hands, simply raising one paw in the air and wiggling her fingers, a glazed smile on her face. I didn't need to see her eyes to know she was smacked. Terry wanted the confirmation, though. She reached forward, lifted Trish's sunglasses, then declared, "Fuckin' a, girl, you're this high at lunch?"
Haley took in the outlaw biker chick in his presence and hissed, "And you are...?"
Terry shook hands with Haley in the standard biker manner: she tried to crush the bones in his hand into a single mass. She said, "Hi, I'm Terry Patton. Friend of Lenny's, part time fluffer, part time bodyguard. You must be Ron Haley of Leisure Time. So what the fuck is the story with Tinkerbell, here?"
Haley looked to one side and said, "She's a little high...."
"Pfft. No shit, dude. What on?"
Haley started towards the entrance, guiding Trish with him. Terry took one long stride and blocked him, forcing him to a stop. Haley had ten inches on Terry, but she smiled up at him and said with a voice full of daggers, "Hey. I asked you what on."
Considering the woman in front of him, Haley paused and said, "China White. She's not a junkie, if she was, she wouldn't be this high. She just snorted up more than she should have." He looked at me and said, "So, are we eating here, or am I getting my car back from the valet and heading to the Denny's on Wilshire? I'm cutting you in half if we are."
I chuckled and said, "Let's go in. You like Italian food, right? Um, will she even be able to eat?"
We went in. I recognized the maitre'd as a gent known to the world as Mr. Smith. He spotted me and cut off in mid-sentence with the tourists he was dealing with, to step out from behind his booth, greeting me with, "Hello, Mr. Schneider! How are you today?"
"Just great, Mr. Smith. Table for four, patio, please." We shook hands, him feeling the twenty I had palmed. He took it, winked, and said, "Give me one minute, and you shall be seated."
The tourists at the desk were forgotten, Mr. Smith trotting out onto the patio to find us a table. The tourists gawked at me and Terry, a punk rocker and a biker bitch. Haley and Trish didn't register as heavily, they both looked as Hollywood as they were. One of the males got indignant. He grabbed my arm and said, "Hey, we just got told there's a ninety minute wait! How come you get to waltz right in?"
Terry stepped forward and grabbed the tourist's hand, prying it back in a painful manner. She said, "Motherfucker, hands off. Now you go stand over there," and gestured at a spot six feet away. She kept her smile on her face the entire time.
"Who the hell are you?" bleated the tourist, backing to where he'd been instructed.
I looked at him and said, "I'm a fucking criminal. I'm friends with the criminal who owns this restaurant, and I get certain benefits of that association. What else did you want to know? How did you find this place at all?"
Mr. Smith came skipping back towards us. Like every other maitre'd at the trattoria, Mr. Smith was a queen, and all 120 pounds of him had a vicious icy grin only queens are capable of, one that would have Mike Tyson looking at the floor and backing away. He'd observed the entire scene. With a tone that asked the recipient to please go die, he said to the tourists, "I'm sorry, I just checked, and it will be at least two and a half hours before you can be seated. Perhaps you should try Okie Dog. You eat quickly, and you may meet some famous skateboarders there. Mr. Schneider, please come this way."
Haley took all this in with his mouth open. He began following Mr. Smith and me out onto the patio, forgetting Trish, who just stood there weaving slightly. Terry got her arm around her shoulders and guided her forward, saying, "C'mon, Tinkerbell, time to have lunch."
As we were seated, I said to Mr. Smith, "Hey, where's Bruno? I was expecting to see him during the day."
Mr. Smith rolled his eyes and said, "Oh, that little bitch! He's decided he wants to be a famous writer, he's off to college courses during the day, so him and me switched day and night shifts. Screw that, sugar, the money here is better and your free time is your own. House red, baby?"
"Yeah, perfect. This young lady wants a Budweiser, I want a double Johnnie Walker over ice, and I don't know what these two want."
Haley caught Mr. Smith's questioning look and said, "Um, a Tanquerey over ice, and a Coke for this lady." (Trish was engrossed by the candle flickering in the middle of the table.)
Mr. Smith headed off, intercepting the sommelier and and waiter, relaying our requests. I could feel Haley's stare through his aviators. Fair enough, me and Terry had kept our black swap meet wraparound shades on, too. (Motorcycling safety tip: don't buy expensive sunglasses. You get hit with a rock, they're ruined anyway. And plastic lenses fracture, but don't shatter, like glass does. You won't be lying there in the ER, fully conscious, while they pick $200 worth of Ray-Bans out of your eye.) Haley finally said, "How did you pull this off? How the hell did you get us in here? What did it cost you?"
"Not a dime," I smiled. "Okay, I tipped our maitre'd, but that's expected. The owner is a friend of mine, and he wants to me to be treated well when I show up. Shit, you're from LA, you know how it goes, connections are everything, right?"
Our drinks arrived. Terry frowned at the iced glass set in front of her and began drinking her beer from the bottle. I sipped at my scotch and said, "So. Mr. Haley, of Leisure Time Video. You wanted to discuss things with me. I don't know what they are, so it's time for you to spill. What's up?"
Haley stared briefly at the table and said, "So, how attached are you to Becky Page?"
"Me personally? She's my fucking wife, surely you knew that, it's no secret."
"No, I mean does Becky Page have a contract with Inana Productions?"
I grinned over the rim of my glass. "Nope. None of our performers are on contracts lasting longer than the time it takes to complete a production. Safe to assume you'd like Becky to work for you."
Smirking, Haley said, "Damn right I would. With her beauty and talent, she should hook up with a major studio like Leisure Time, not be stuck at a tiny two-bit place like Inana. We could do right by her."
I paused, considering my words. Then I said, "Okay. So Inana is two-bit, huh? Tell me, when was the last time Leisure Time moved twenty-two million copies of a feature? When was the last time one of your features got reviewed in People, or Newsweek? Shit, has any Leisure Time video ever gotten five stars out of AVN? 'Two-bit,' huh? You know, when I take someone out for a meal, they usually wait until after they've had their fucking salad before insulting me and the company I run. You set a new record."
He actually looked a bit contrite. He said, "Look, okay, I didn't mean Inana is a shoestring operation. It's just, it's a boutique. You release, what, four features a year, plus your loops? And you've got your stars appearing in those loops? No, you keep your stars busy in features, and keep the bitches who fuck good on camera knocking out your jack fodder."
"All our girls are satisfied with how we do things. They work as much or as little as they want, they're paid well, and they're happy with the work environment. It's a relaxed scene we have, everybody is comfortable and making good money."
"And we don't call them bitches, which also helps," added Terry.
Haley stared at Terry briefly, then pointedly turned his attention to his menu. "Anything your recommend?" he asked.
"Oh, it's all fantastic," I replied. "They make their own pasta from scratch here, and they buy their meat and produce fresh every day. Just don't order the spaghetti and meatballs, they have kind of an attitude about that particular request. You ask for spaghetti and meatballs, you're getting two cans of Chef Boyardee chucked on a plate and microwaved. It's pretty funny, tourists will see that all their other entrees start at twenty-five bucks, but oh, spaghetti and meatballs is only eight. It has a bit of oregano and Parmesan cheese sprinkled on it, it's the best damn Italian food they've ever had. Idiots."
"Their grilled eggplant is fuckin' awesome," commented Terry. "Comes with a side of tortellini, too. So what shall we try to feed Tinkerbell, here?"
We all looked over at Trish, who was intently studying the menu.... Holding it upside-down. Haley reached over and flipped it for her. A flash of realization came across her face. "Oh. I thought it was in Italian. Okay."
"Just get her a small antipasto," I instructed Haley. He nodded. On cue, the waiter Benny approached and took our order. He asked about drinks. I got another double Johnnie Walker, Haley asked for another Tanquerey, Trish had barely touched her Coke, and Terry asked for three Budweisers.
"Ma'am?" asked Benny with a questioning look.
"It'll save time," Terry responded. "Don't worry about bringing me a fuckin' glass, either."
I winked at Benny and said, "It's cool, just roll with it." He smiled, nodded, and went to get us our fresh drinks.
Addressing Terry, Haley said, "I don't understand your connection here. Trish here is one of my girls, she's a good little slut and I thought I'd take her out for a nice lunch. We did up a bit of stuff before leaving the offices, I didn't know it would hit her this hard. So you said you're a fluff girl?"
Terry said, "A couple days a week. I'm also Becky's bodyguard, part time. When she goes out and Lenny isn't around, I go with her, grocery shopping, to the mall or browsing in La Jolla, whatever. It's a pretty fuckin' kickback gig, I can't believe what Lenny and Becky insist on paying me. I get paid to hang around with Becky Page all fuckin' day."
"And you're earning your money," I reminded her. "You and Becky have told me there are a few incidents, like at the Hi-Lo, or those dudes at that restaurant in La Jolla. You may think it's no big thing, but it's worth a fortune to us, knowing you have Becky's back like that. My hope is that you never have your Colt in play while with Becky, you know? But you're sharp, you're attentive, you're smart, and from what I've seen, you fear absolutely no one. That's why we hired you."
"It's pretty fuckin' crazy," Terry said to Haley. "Okay, I was just a biker bitch down in Ocean Beach, living on SSI and slinging quarter bags of shit. My friend Dawn hooked me up with the gig fluffing. Bam, all of a sudden I'm making $1000 a week. Then they start making the movie 'Succubus' and Lenny here brings me on as his personal assistant, running errands and generally helping keep track of shit. He gives me $2500 a week for that gig, while we were out in Imperial County. Then he decides I'd make a good fuckin' bodyguard for his wife! $500 a day to just fuckin' hang out and party with Becky Page, four days a week!
"And the thing of it is, Lenny is an awesome dude to everyone. He gave my friend Dawn a gig fluffing after he found out she was living in her car. She want from spare changing to making two grand a week. Now she lives in Encinitas with a boyfriend and...."
Haley interrupted her. "How much are you getting paid to fluff?"
"$500 a day. Again, I think Lenny overpays me and Little Bit, er, Dawn. But her or me are on the sound stages eight hours a day, plus an hour or so for lunch, prepping dudes at the start of shooting and keeping them going if there's a long fuckin' cut. I've pointed out to Lenny that really, I'm working a maximum of twenty minutes a day. The rest of the time I sit there and read, or watch the performers suck and fuck."
"How many men a day are you servicing?"
"Two to six," replied Terry. "Inana ain't doing fuckin' gang bang scenes, our video is classier than that, so it's extremely rare for more than three guys to be prepped and on camera at once."
"And you pay your fluffers $500 a day for that little work," Haley said to me.
"Damn right," I said. "Hey, firemen get paid even when there aren't any fires to fight. Terry and Dawn show up on time, sober, clean, healthy, and ready to work. They also have every intention of sticking around for quite a while. Okay, fluffing is dull and tedious, and garners no real respect. But my fluffers have always stuck around and done their jobs admirably, sometimes under stressful conditions, they've never let me down. That's what they're paid for. Shit, my last fluff girl did the job for three years, and now she's a performer. How often does Leisure Time circulate through fluffers?"
Even behind his sunglasses, I could tell Haley was rolling his eyes. "We go through them, yeah. Come on, fluffers are just dumb whores who only work for one minute at a time, usually. Jesus, $500 a day? We pay $150, and those bitches are happy to get it. They're just whores."
"Except they're not just whores. A fluff girl is an integral part of making adult video, just like the gaffer or sound man. So what if they don't have much to do over the course of the day? They're still providing a needed service. Besides, my fluffers have always doubled as script girls when we're making features. Oh, and another thing. Everyone treats them well, they are respected. I make it very clear to my studs that finding a guy to fuck on camera is easy, but good dependable fluff girls are hard to find. My males know the quickest way to piss of Lenny is to have the word 'bitch' come out of their mouth. So between good pay and a friendly work atmosphere, I never have to worry about replacing the people with the crappiest job in the studio. I was lucky to find Dawn and Terry, I chanced across them. How do your replace fluffers? It's not like you can run an ad in the Times saying, 'Help wanted, cocksucker.'"
Haley said, "We manage to get enough applicants, usually. There's plenty of bitches out there who know studios always need fluffers, it's easy money for easy work, and they'll get left alone. If there's a vacancy and no one to fill it, I'll draft some hooker or cheap call girl. They get $150 and lunch, and keep their clothes on."
"What about their blood tests?" I asked.
Haley looked confused. "What?"
"Their blood tests. STD panel, hepatitis A through C, and HIV/AIDS. Do you use a private lab?"
"Performers get a check for HIV monthly," frowned Haley. "We don't worry about the fluffers, because spit is a shitty pathogen, and that's what you need to transmit HIV/AIDS. No real fluid exchange."
I stared across the table. "Okay, fair enough. However, chlamydia and gonorrhea transmit through saliva just fine. So does herpes. You don't run full panels on anyone?"
"Do you know how much that would cost?"
"Actually, I do. Anyone at Inana who engages in any sexual activity gets a weekly blood draw. Test on Friday, pick up results Monday. The results come back to me. So long as they're clear, the performers get scheduled, and the fluffers come to work. No results, or a positive result for anything, you're off the board. We'll also pull anyone you worked with the previous week off the schedule, so they can get a second test, just in case. We've headed off a couple outbreaks of the clap this way, we actually detected it before the primary person was even symptomatic. Him and two girls got treated, and were back on the board the next week. We're a clean lot around there, and we intend to stay that way. And the peace of mind is worth every fucking penny to me."
Continuing his frown, Haley said, Jesus, you overpay your fluffers, you blow all that money on weekly blood tests.... Do I even want to know what your performers are paid?"
I told him, "Females get about average for the industry, a range from $750 to $1300, depending on what they're doing. Our males are paid on the high end, they get $300 for a scene. We pay the guys well for a couple reasons. First, if they work three or four times a week, they're getting a living wage, so they stick around. I don't like having a revolving door for performers. Also, we ask more of our male performers. We insist on good manners and good attitudes. I know having an ego comes with the territory for studs, but they can rein it in while they're at the studio. And we demand a modicum of acting talent from them.... Actually, that's true of both the guys and the girls. And last, I pay the guys well because they earn it. Even our stunt cocks take pride in what they do, they have a sense of belonging. Here's a porn studio that actually pays enough for a male performer to live on, what a novelty. Did you see 'Succubus'?"
"Yeah," muttered Haley.
"Okay, the male lead, the Lone Scavenger, that's a kid named Roach. I found him by happenstance, a girl I know slept with him and was bragging about what he had in his pants. I offered him a chance to take the interviews, he passed with flying colors, ba ding, I've got a nineteen year old stunt cock who loves his job, loves the girls, and loves the money. Since being able to act is a prerogative for anyone in front of the cameras, he was a natural to co-star in 'Bewitched.' He got nine grand for three and a half weeks of production work, and has received several bonuses since, atta-boy money based on sales of the video. Roach is probably up a good $60,000 on the year so far. I've got a nineteen year old with an eight inch dick, which does everything but sing the aria from 'Carmen, and he absolutely loves his job. It will be years before I have to worry about replacing him.
"What it comes down to is that hiring demands are unusual enough in this industry. Because of what we want to accomplish at Inana, we are highly demanding of all our performers and crew. When we find people who fit well, we want to keep them, because finding them wasn't easy. So we make sure everyone is happy, both with money and environment. At this point, Inana really is kind of a team. I know we do things different than the rest of the industry, but that's kind of on purpose, because my goals are different from the rest of the industry's. If I went by the industry playbook, nobody would give a shit about Inana or its features, nobody would know who Becky Page or Skye Tyler or Ella Belle are, and I wouldn't be a fucking millionaire at the age of twenty-three. If everybody else in the industry thinks I overpay my people, well, it's a strategy that seems to be working, so tough. I like having people with loyalty working for me."
Haley didn't respond, I could feel his eyes boring into me through his reflective aviators. He finally said, "Yeah, Inana has the reputation of being a total iconoclast, and I guess it's true. You're all the way down in San Diego, away from the action. All your stars are home grown, even Becky. You and your director have no pedigree in the business, excluding what you've made for yourselves. And you keep releasing these fucking features that sell countless millions of copies. People magazine has reviewed your last two movies? What the fuck is that, how did you pull that off? Why is the entire world kissing your ass?"
Terry cocked an eyebrow and said, "Dude.... Have you watched any of our shit? The stuff Lenny writes and produces is so different than any other porn out there it isn't funny. Then he gets people with fuckin' talent to appear in his movies. Inana's features work as intellectually satisfying entertainment, not just something to jack off to. When you've watched Inana's movies, didn't you notice that you were paying attention to the whole movie, not just the fuckin'? Lenny started making hardcore you didn't need to turn your brain off to enjoy, and the fuckin' world noticed, you know? And his wife and main star, Becky Page, is probably one of the most fascinating women since the Mona Lisa, she enchants. Inana releases features which shatter the fuck out of the paradigm for what porn is supposed to be. Of course People has reviewed Inana's stuff, they're good fuckin' movies. You never noticed?"
"Of course I've noticed," said Haley in an aggravated tone. "And you have no idea how annoying it is. It's bad enough that thanks to Inana and Lenny Schneider, people are demanding the same level of entertainment out of all the other studios, and getting frustrated when we don't come through. Shit, writing a script used to take twelve hours, four lines of coke, and a pint of Old Crow, and you'd get paid a hundred bucks for your efforts, if you were paid at all. Performers were given their scripts the night before we'd shoot, and told to not fuck it up too badly. So what if it it wasn't 'Citizen Kane'? Now everybody wants our sluts to evince like Catherine Hepburn, and our dialogue to be as sharp as the Algonquin round table.
"And what I really consider to be bullshit is that the person responsible for this massive sea change is a goddamn twenty-three year old punk rock scumbag, some asshole who looks like he should be robbing liquor stores in Long Beach. I've been in this industry since 1974, and here comes some punk who changes how the industry is viewed, before he's been eligible to even vote for President more than once. Leisure Time, Vivid, Hustler, we're all scrambling because of Inana Productions. We're trying to find people who will write decent scripts, we've trying to get performers who can actually act, our directors and crew are studying Steve Stillman's shot techniques. The industry was running just fine, then you had to come along and fuck up the program, make viewers expect to see some big brilliant cinematic triumph whenever they want to jack off to porn. And you're a goddamn kid, a fucking punk who should be pushing a broom in a gas station."
I rested my chin in my hands and grinned at Haley. "You finished?" I asked.
"You're not far off the mark. When I first hooked up with Inana as their photographer, I was moving huge amounts of meth through San Diego. I figured I'd be in prison by now. Then circumstances let me to end up running the business end of the studio. This amused me, since I hated porn. Loops were just suck and fuck, which I'd seen ad nauseum, and features were a pathetic joke, they were garbage. You know what started that sea change you mentioned? I was feeling bored, and I realized there was no reason to not make porn that didn't suck, after all, I ran a damn porn studio. My first three features were all right, learning experiences, since I'd never written or produced a movie in my life. My fourth feature was 'Bewitched,' and, well, you know how things went from there. All I ever wanted to do was make hardcore I would actually enjoy watching all the way through. That's all."
"Okay," Haley said slowly. "How'd you like to do that for Leisure Time, instead? We'd make it worth your while...."
I chuckled. "No, that wouldn't work. I am deeply committed to Inana. There, I have autonomy, freedom, creative flexibility, and an incredible income. Too many people are trusting in me to continue to helm Inana to jump ship. And to be frank, I think I would be a real pain in the ass to work with. If you haven't guessed, I have issues with authority figures, so having to answer to a boss would be like flossing with a razor blade to me."
"We'd set you up in a decent condo, you'd have weekends to yourself, and whatever your salary is at Inana, we'll match it, plus another ten percent. Becky could come along too, we'd keep her busy with features, the bitch would be rolling in dough."
After a pause, I said, "Okay, first off.... Never, ever use the word 'bitch' in conjunction with my wife again. It pisses me off, and I might react in an unpredictable manner."
"Me too," intoned Terry.
"Secondly, no. You can offer nothing that would improve my life. I live in a custom-built home on the beach right now, and have a commute of eight minutes to the studios. I have an excellent salary, true, but I also receive massive bonuses on a regular basis. I've received $400,000 in bonus money just for 'Succubus.' I got similar amounts for 'Bewitched II' and 'Temporary Pleasures.' Shit, that's 1.2 million extra, and I had a blast making all three movies. No, my life is too good to want to change it."
Haley smirked. He said, "This being Southern California, everything is for sale. Leisure Time would be happy to buy Inana Productions, and you'd end up working for us anyway."
Terry and I glanced at each other, then we both burst out laughing, long and loud. It took us thirty seconds to compose ourselves. Haley sat there with an annoyed look.
I said, "Oh man! Where to start? No, Inana is not for sale. I say that with confidence. It's not like it's mine to sell anyway, so I don't know why you'd bring the subject up with me."
"Wait, who owns Inana?" asked Haley.
"A wise guy named Angel Morelli. In fact, he also owns this restaurant. Angel isn't about to sell his golden goose. His pride in Inana wouldn't let him anyway, no matter what you offered. Trust me, if you told Angel you wanted to buy his prize studio, you'd just have a rather burly Italian dude telling you to fuck off and it's time for you to go the hell home. Inana has made Angel incredibly rich, and he is very proud of what we have accomplished. Angel would assume you're either delusional or a chiseler."
Our food arrived. I asked for a glass of milk, Terry requesting a Pellegrino water. Haley got Cokes for him and Trish, who began eating her antipasto with her fingers. Haley quietly commented that the manicotti was excellent.
We were halfway through when Haley said, "I want to meet this Mr. Morelli. He's a businessman, him and I could talk business, I wouldn't be dealing with some punk kid. I'll bet I could make him see some reason in what I'm offering."
I chuckled again. "Angel will laugh in your face. He's...."
A shadow fell over the table, and a deep New Yawk Italian voice said, "Whose face am I laughing in, Lenny?"
I looked up and said, "Oh, hey Angel, glad to see you. This here is Ron Haley from Leisure Time Video. So far he's offered to to hire Bekka, to hire me, and is now saying Leisure Time is going to just outright buy Inana Productions from you. What are your feelings on that?"
Terry added, "He also doesn't like how Lenny runs things, either, but can't add fuckin' one and one together and see Inana is where it is precisely because of how Lenny runs things."
Haley looked up and said, "Mr. Morelli?"
"That's me. You are Ron Haley from Leisure Time?"
"Yes I am." Haley stuck a hand up to shake. "This.... young man has been speaking for you, saying you would have no interest in selling Inana Productions, no matter what price was offered...."
Angel replied, "This young man knows me very well, and would not second guess me unless he was very sure of my position on a matter. He is on the mark, Inana is not up for sale at any price. I own a goose that lays golden eggs, I am not about to get rid of it."
With a newfound sly tone, Haley said, "Are you sure the goose will keep laying? Let's be honest with each other, what Inana has done is a fluke. It's a fad. The world suddenly freaked out over a few fuck flicks that has decent dialogue and location shots, and everybody is saying that hardcore is going mainstream, with Inana leading the way. Bullshit. In six months, nobody will remember who Becky Page is, and everyone will have taped episodes of 'The Simpsons' over their copies of 'Bewitched.' You'd be doing yourself a favor by letting go of Inana, in the long run."
Angel rubbed his nose. Then he said, "Inana Productions has released eleven full features in its history, all within the past two and a half years. The first three got good reviews and had decent sales, we made money. The next seven sold more copies than most Hollywood releases ever will, literally tens of millions of videotapes. Our most recent has only been our a couple weeks, so there's no saying how it's selling yet, but the reviews are very good and our distributors keep ordering more.
"There is one commonality in all our features, and that is the name Lenny Schneider. He has written, co-written, and produced all of them. Lenny is probably the smartest bastard I know, because he did what everyone said was impossible, which was to make hardcore porn that was both artistically valid and intellectually satisfying. He didn't invent the hula hoop or the fucking pet rock, he added a whole new facet to contemporary entertainment. Lenny made it socially acceptable to say you watch porn.... Or at least certain porn.
"I don't expect our sales to stay at the level they are, but that will be from dilution. All the big adult studios are going to start releasing full features that actually have a measure of talent and intelligence behind them. How successful they will be, I don't know. But I do know Inana will always be the fucking standard bearer for intelligent hardcore. Inana has a stable full of talented performers, skilled crew and director, and a writer and producer who is a fucking genius. The big studios, like Leisure Time, may release twelve features a year, compared to four from Inana. Oh well. People say Inana is a boutique. Actually, it's a small vintner. Studios like Leisure Time or Vivid are fucking Gallo. People know which has the better flavor, you know? My goose's golden eggs may get a tiny bit smaller, but they aren't going away, not at all.
"Anyway, if you think Inana Productions is a fad that is doomed to failure, what the fuck do you want to buy the damn place for, anyway? Nostalgia?"
"There are.... certain aspects of how Inana does things which could be adapted to use in a major studio," Haley hedged. "A lot of your spending would have to be reined in, of course. Your genius here was explaining about some of his expenses. Totally out of line, like what his fluffers are paid. This business isn't a charity for failed whores. Or how much his studs get. $300 for a loop? Ridiculous. Any asshole can get a hard-on in front of a camera, studs get a hundred and lunch."
Angel smirked down at Mr. Haley. Then he said, "Treat people well, and they bust their ass for you. Treat them like disposable razors and nothing will ever go smoothly, or well. You will see what I mean when Leisure Time starts attempting to produce high quality features. I'll take a guess and say you've got plenty of people around your studio who balk at any kind of challenge or deviation. They're all going to hate working on a full production. You release features now, how long is your active production time?"
"About six days," Haley shrugged.
Angel, Terry, and I burst into laughter again. Angel caught his breath and said, "Yeah, you're going to run into trouble when your production time is three to four weeks. How much time do you spend on pre-production, on read-throughs and blocking and dialogue coaching?"
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about the fucking motions you've gotta go through to release a decent feature. You can't wing that shit on a live sound stage, you've got to have your performers comfortable and practiced in their roles. Their timing and movement has to be set, so you're not getting shots of the backs of people's heads, or action interfered with. Why the fuck am I explaining this to you, you work at a goddamn video studio, you should know all this shit!"
"So how long does Inana take to make a feature, start to finish?" asked Haley boisterously.
Angel considered briefly, then said, "I'm not gonna include time for writing the script, since Lenny always seems to be cranking away on something. We spend three weeks on pre-production, fleshing out characters and nailing scenes down. Production is about three to four weeks, six to seven days a week for some of us. Then four to six weeks of post-production: rough cut, editing, music composition, effects if any, all that happy horseshit. Once we have a completed product, we run our promo copies and send them out to the critics and reviewers, usually schedule a release date based on the next publication of AVN, and cross our fingers. You're already aware, this is blazing fast compared to how slow Hollywood moves.... But c'mon, six days of live production work? How the hell long do you think we took to shoot 'Succubus'?"
Haley got boisterous. "Aw shit, don't even talk to me about that one. What a fucking exercise in profligacy. All those goddamn cars, locations.... Shit, you had helicopter shots! What other crap did you people blow money on, making that one?"
"We didn't blow any money at all," I said. "It was all spent wisely, in order to fulfill a vision and accomplish a goal. I can tell you're bursting with curiosity, so I'll cut to the chase: $4.5 million. That paid for nearly a month worth of motel rooms for cast and crew out in Imperial County, feeding everyone, buying and customizing vehicles, hiring professional stunt people, RV rentals, private security, county permit fees and overtime for traffic control while we did the chase scenes, plus about a zillion other things...."
"My nightly tall boys of Budweiser," giggled Terry.
"Yeah, we made the world's most expensive fuck flick. And to us it was worth it, I'm damn proud of what we created. Angel, how many copies of 'Succubus' have we moved so far?"
"About thirteen million in five months," Angel answered.
"So it was a good investment," I continued. "And you know what would really make my damn week? If someone in the industry saw 'Succubus' and said, hey, we should get some backing and do something even better. A space opera or something. Hardcore can be a fulfilling viewing experience, not just jack fodder. And to tell the truth, I would love for someone else to start producing full movies like Inana's, and do a better job than us. Me, especially. My name shows up under writer and producer, but those are supposed to be jobs you train for, go to school and shit. I just took on the responsibilities, not a thought in my head, and have faked it ever since."
"Lenny, don't start your self-deprecation bullshit. You learned. I remember you reading those books from the library on screenwriting, and you had the sense to come to me and Vinny for advice so far as producing went. Cazzo testardo, if you sucked at any of your tasks, would Inana be where it is?"
"$4.5 million," muttered Haley. "I could make fifteen features for that money."
Angel gave a wolfish grin. "And nobody would give a fuck about all fifteen. Are you paying attention at all? The impression I've gotten from the major studios is that they all want to start releasing the same quality of features, and have the resultant sales, as Inana does. Guess what, that means you can't do things the same way you always have. Rumor has it Leisure Time, and a couple other studios, have been headhunting on college campuses for English majors who want to earn some extra bread by writing good scripts. More power to you, personally. Lenny here has probably been lofting hints and advice at you since you sat down. But no matter how you look at it, if you want to do something with impact, you're going to have to take some risks, and really evaluate how you currently do business. The attitudes at Inana are entirely different from the rest of the industry, especially in how people are treated. I'm guessing Lenny has mentioned his policy regarding the use of the word 'bitch' at work?"
"A couple times," I said. "Mr. Haley here doesn't hold his women performers in high regard, given the descriptives he uses for them. I also had to explain what a really disastrous idea it is to even obliquely refer to Bekka as a bitch, if I'm in earshot."
Angel briefly froze, then put a hand on Haley's shoulder and bent down. With a purr in his voice that had the warning of a snake's rattle, he said, "Sir, did you call this man's wife a bitch?"
I quickly jumped in. "Angel, be cool, he didn't call Bekka a bitch directly. He was using the word as a general identifier, not a descriptive. The same way I use the word 'dude.'"
Giving off a sigh, Angel straightened back up. Haley, however, wasn't catching the clue bus. He said, "Aw Jesus Christ, so what if I did call Becky Page a bitch? What the hell is going to happen, the real estate market tanks?"
And less than a moment later, Haley had three guns pointed directly at his face: a Beretta 92FS, a Beretta 92SB Compact, and a Colt Defender. Terry held her Colt one-handed, as she was drinking from her final bottle of Budweiser. Haley froze. Trish was oblivious, dropping chunks of artichoke heart into her mouth.
"Are you people insane?" Haley finally croaked. "You have guns out on the patio of one of the most exclusive restaurants in LA?"
"Given I am the owner, we are afforded certain liberties," Angel replied.
"You didn't call Becky a bitch, right?" said Terry.
"No," answered Haley. "Absolutely not. I've never met the woman, I'm sure she's a wonderful person." A cynical thought ran through his head, and he aired it. "Are those really real?"
"We could go to the parking structure and prove it," said Angel with a vicious smile. "You're all done with your meals."
I said, "Terry, perhaps we could demonstrate one of your skills which makes you so useful as a bodyguard, a bit of target work. Is that all right?"
Terry replied, "Sure, lemme borrow your fuckin' 92 from you, though."
We all traipsed out of the trattoria and across the street to the garage, me carrying an empty Budweiser bottle. We rode up a few flights, then got out. Angel pointed and said, "There."
Against a wall at the end of an aisle was parked a blue Volvo wagon. I placed the bottle on the roof, and we began walking down the aisle away from it. When we stopped, I was guessing it was a good forty yards off from the bottle. I looked at Terry and said, "From here? You sure?"
"Fairly confident," she replied, and removed her sunglasses. I handed her my Beretta. Her target was little more than a visual speck, but she cocked, flipped the safety off, got in a stance, sighted, and fired. A loud bang, followed a quarter second later by the sound of shattering glass.
Haley stared at Bekka, then at where the bottle had been. Terry smiled at him and said, "For target work, I like the Beretta 92, they're dead fuckin' accurate and easy to sight. In a combat situation, I prefer my Colt Defender ---" She pulled it out of her holster. "--- because it's light and has a soft trigger pull. Yeah, I gotta swap out clips more often if it comes down to it, but oh well. Having something concealable was key."
"That's right, you bastards always have guns on you," said Haley. "I remember that from the last Eroticon. Yeah, you buddy, you shot a guy in the convention center, then managed to track down Lois Ayres after she'd been kidnapped. Did you really jack a guy for his motorcycle?"
"I borrowed it," I smiled. "He got it back not more than forty minutes later."
"So what's with the guns to begin with?"
I said, "I have been in three shooting incidents at the studios. In all three, without a gun, I would be dead. As we've said, Terry is a bodyguard, so she needs the tools of the trade. Angel often carries large amounts of cash. We are all registered and have concealed carry permits. And no, we wouldn't have shot you inside the trattoria, we'd have simply escorted you out to someplace quiet to administer your beating. We simply wanted to get a point across."
Shifting gears, Haley said to Angel, "So, shall we continue our discussion later?"
"What discussion?" asked Angel.
"About Leisure Time buying Inana Productions from you."
Angel paused, then said coldly, "There is no discussion. I told you no. The subject is closed. Inana is the source of incredible wealth for me and others, not to mention a source of personal pride. Losing Inana would be bad enough, but seeing it get run into the ground by a dunce like you would be unbearable. Do not broach the subject again, I won't play that game. My decision is final. Am I clear?"
Haley responded, "Aw, don't start up with any honor crap, you dago jackoff. Maybe someone around Inana should try making a business decision with their head for once, not their heart. In six months Inana won't be worth shit, and you'll have missed out on cashing in. This little scumbag will be stealing car stereos to survive. And Annie Oakley here will be throwing ten dollar blowjobs."
I didn't even see Terry move. One second she was just standing there smoking one of my Marlboros, the next Haley has his face pushed into a side window of a minivan, his right arm twisted up behind his back, Terry holding it in place. The cigarette was still in her mouth. Haley keened with pain and frustration.
Angel and I stepped up to him. I said, "I've noticed you're in the habit of lapsing into abuse very easily. Maybe the people you're used to dealing with will put up with it, but we will not. I don't care how far up the food chain you are at Leisure Time, to me you're just a loudmouth who can't control his temper, you're a chump. Ethnic slurs, really? Come on. Angel, you have anything you want to say to this gentleman?"
Angels said, "I can only assume Leisure Time has much smarter people than you around, for them to have grown as big as they have. You should adjust your attitude, you will get farther. You are going to apologize to Terry for insinuating she is a whore. And I'm a fucking wop, not a dago."
"Let.... Go.... Of....Me!" Haley squawked.
Terry let him go. She told him, "I don't need no fuckin' apology. Shit, everything out of your mouth is like the yapping of a wire-haired terrier. You can apologize to Lenny for suggesting he's a thief, though. Lenny is one of the most fuckin' righteous people on this planet. Fuckin' loser."
Haley stood there looking at us, working his right shoulder. Then he spun and began trotting for the elevators. He decided that would take too long, and opted for running down the stairs. We went to the side of the garage, where we saw him dash across the street to the valet stand. A valet jogged to the garage, and then a brown BMW came out and pulled into the circular driveway of the trattoria. Haley got in and screeched off.
The three of us turned, and saw Haley had forgotten something. Trish stood there, eyeing us with confusion. "Where's Ronnie?" she asked.
We all looked at each other, then began to chuckle bitterly.