Thursday, December 15, 2016

Dope (Part 1)

     Bekka got her first assignment as a made woman.  It was risk-free, so far as physical danger went, but was also a bit tricky.  Fluent in Italian, she was being called upon to act as an interpreter, translating Italian to English, and vice versa, for visiting mafioso, serious big wigs, coming over from Italy.  They would be meeting with Angel, Vinny, and....  Boss.  It seemed Smiley, the Ecstasy Boss created and now produced for the family, was a sought-after luxury item in Europe.  Single hits sold for anywhere from US $65 to $90, as compared to the $25 it went for in California.  The wealthy were clamoring for it, along with plenty of people who had the spare money to find out what a high that expensive was like.

     The Southern California mafia's original intention was to corner the Ecstasy market in California, maybe Portland and Seattle, too.  Boss (and his crew) started out working in a small fleet of customized Airstream trailers in the desert near Needles.  The mafia knew what Boss had formulated was the best of its kind, and planned on relying on that to help sales.  They were more than successful.  Boss started out making 10,000 hits a week.  Demand pushed that up to 20,000 per week, then 30,000.  Boss made it clear that the way things were going, he couldn't just keep dropping more Airstreams on his compound, he would need a full facility, like a warehouse.  With distributors crying to the mafia for more, more, more, a large and complex structure went up, with cooking stations, ventilation, fire suppression systems, clean rooms for pressing, counting, and packaging the finished product, the whole nine yards.  Roche or Bayer would have been happy with the place.
     Boss was now knocking out 100,00 hits per week, but the market remained un-cornered.  Too much product was being moved out of the area, as reputation of Smiley spread.  It began moving through Denver, Dallas, Kansas City, Detroit, and on to the East Coast.  Smiley went for $40 retail in New York City, and even then it was only the more chi-chi dealers who had it.  You wouldn't find Smiley on the street on the Lower East Side or the Bowery.  It was bandied about that the mafia increase production again, but Boss explained that his facility was maxed out, things ran 24/7, there was no way to crank out more without sacrificing the quality that made Smiley so popular to begin with.  The mafia decided to coast for a while.  The money was rolling in, there were no complaints.
     Don Vito Ventimiglia, the outgoing godfather of Southern California, learned of Smiley Ecstasy's beluga caviar-like popularity in Europe while on vacation.  He and Jane, his seventeen year old, spiky blue-haired "adoptive" grand-niece, were traveling the Continent.  Jane had run across Smiley in Hamburg, much to her surprise.  She relayed the news to Uncle Vito, along with its exorbitant price, cult status, and luxury item status.  He gave it some thought and called Angel, my capo and the man who would be replacing Don Vito as the main guy in SoCal.  Three days of telephonic exhaustion resulted, with Angel in LA, Don Vito in a hotel in Berlin, and mafioso on the East Coast, in Rome, and Palermo, Sicily being questioned, prodded, shmoozed, hectored, and sounded out so far as how the mafia in Europe would feel about taking on Ecstasy as a serious venture.  Smiley would remain a classy item, retaining its high-end caché, but would be more affordable and much more easily purchased.  Smiley's status would move from Ferrari to BMW, still a luxurious purchase, but within the reach of many more people.
     At nine o'clock on the second day, Don Vito hung up the phone in the suite in the Berlin hotel and rubbed his face.  He was aware of being stared at.  Looking over, he saw Jane sitting in a chair, gently swinging one leg over the other, watching him.  Her face held mild annoyance, but mostly just concern.  Don Vito glanced at his watch and saw the source of annoyance, it was well past dinnertime.  He grinned and said, "I apologize for the delay."
     Jane said, "Dammit Vito, you're supposed to be on vacation.  You've been on the phone with Los Angeles, New York, and Italy for two days.  I've caught the gist of what you're trying to do, you want to get the family involved with Ecstasy distribution in Europe.  Okay, fine, great, I'm sure you'll turn a dime.  But it can wait until after you're home.  People will still want drugs in five weeks, they aren't going anywhere."
     Vito's gut stabbed at him.  "Jane, would you bring me some bismuth?  My stomach is a bit upset."
     Jane crossed to him and stood there, arms folded.  She said, "That's because all you've had to eat today has been three cups of coffee and some toast, consumed around nine this morning.  I will bring you bismuth, to cushion the influx of Hennessey your stomach is about to take down in the bar.  You will have two or three quick drinks, then we go into the hotel restaurant and have a good meal.  Jesus Vito, you're as bad as Lenny is when he's writing scripts.  No rest, no food, not even getting up and moving around.  At least Lenny has his meth addiction as an excuse."
     "Do not worry, Jane.  I shall spend tomorrow morning on the phone, and everything should be resolved, at least until we are home.  Shall we go have drinks and dinner?"
     With her head tilted to one side, Jane looked at Don Vito briefly, then said, "In a few.  I know you still have business on your mind.  I am going to distract you, knock phone calls and the family and Ecstasy and Angel Morelli and everything else right out of your skull.  Stand up and open your fly."
     "Stand up, and open. Your. Fly.  I am going to make you relax, and I am going to get your fucking mind off business.  And I know I can, I take pride in what I do."
     Don Vito stood up.  Jane dropped to her knees.  She reached in his fly, pulled out his dick, and started sucking.  They had to change positions after a couple minutes, so the Don could lean against the desk.  And several minutes later, they were done.
     Letting his pulse slow down, Don Vito smiled at Jane and said, "Most men find sexual ecstasy a draining experience.  To me, it has always been invigorating.  Thank you so much, Jane.  All the angels in heaven can not match the joy you bring."
     "My pleasure, Vito.  Now then, to the bar.  Hennessey for you, Johnnie Walker for me, then something to eat.  I checked, the dining room doesn't close until eleven, so we're safe.  Oh, by the way?  Tomorrow, we'll be getting some breakfast delivered to the room again, then around noon we're hitting a beer garden for lunch.  If by 12:30 you are still on the phone, I'm slicing the cord off with my butterfly knife.  Am I clear, Uncle Vito?"
     "Yes, dear girl.  Let us visit the bar."
     At the door, Jane jerked Don Vito to a stop.  He looked confused.  She pointed down and said, "Uh, you should probably put that away.  No sense in having everyone downstairs knowing you're Catholic."
     Don Vito reeled it in, zipped his fly, and chuckled.  "You promised to distract me, and you did."

     The upshot was that Angel and Don Vito had wrangled contact information out of the made men on the East Coast for the family in Italy.  No one in Southern California had ever done business with the Italians, and needed the introductions, which the guys in New York provided with a chuckle.  Don Vito and Angel had assumed they'd want a taste of the action, but had been waved off.  Just a favor among family, the New York boys had said.  When we go on vacation, show us around, take us to Disneyland, we're fine.  The family in New York considered Ecstasy too esoteric to be a long-term concern.  Let those cazzo pazzos in Los Angeles do what they want, if they think it's worth their time.
     Despite being married to an Italian girl who had come to the US at the age of sixteen, unable to speak a word of English, Angel's skill with the Italian language was at best rudimentary, so it had been left to the Don to explain what they wished to accomplish.  The Southern California arm of the mafia had the understanding that the type of Ecstasy known as Smiley was a luxury import in Europe, showing up in small amounts, and commanding a price unheard of for any recreational drug.  Smiley's import to the Continent was not highly organized, nor was it steady.  Being that the Southern California mafia were then ones who manufactured Smiley, what if larger amounts became available?  And reliably?  Would the family in Europe like to take on a lucrative new venture, providing a steady line on a pricey, sought-after, high-end drug?  Wonderful.  Have some talks, make some estimates, work out supply lines.  When you are ready, have someone (who speaks English) contact Angel Morelli in Los Angeles, arrange a meeting, and go from there.
     About ten days later, Angel called us at home one evening.  He knew us well enough to time his call correctly: after dinner, but before we'd started with the bong for the night.  I was a bit surprised when Angel immediately asked to talk to Bekka, but I handed off the phone without question.
     "Bekka, it's Angel.  You've got your first assignment for the family.  You're fluent in Italian, right?"
     "Yes, I am," answered Bekka.
     "We need you as a translator.  I'm not going to go into any detail right now, but the SoCal mafia is trying to broker a business arrangement with the family in Europe, the Italians.  Three serious big wheels from Cosa Nostra in Italy will be coming over, and they don't speak English.  My Italian sucks, so does Vinny's, and I'm guessing Boss doesn't have any Italian language skills either...."
     "Wait, what, Boss?  These guys want to meet with Boss?"
     Angel replied, "Yeah.  Okay, in a nutshell, Smiley Ecstasy is hot shit in Europe.  Super rare, you wouldn't believe how much people will pay for a single hit.  The family in Europe wouldn't mind expanding their horizons into moving Smiley, it would be like having control over the import of all Mercedes into the US.  Since Boss is the man who oversees production, they want to meet him.  Shit, I just hope the man owns a fucking tie...."
     Bekka tittered into the phone and said, "Don't worry, explain the gravity of the situation to Boss, he'll be happy to go shopping if he needs to."
     "Okay, good.  Anyway, you'll be the translator for two days worth of talks between us and the Italians.  Given what we'll be discussing, they only want fellow mafioso in on the meetings, you know?  We'll be knocking around too much felonious information to risk hiring some dumbfuck of a translator.  You'll be up here in LA for a few days.  We figure we can get all major points of discussion resolved in two days.  And then, uh...."
     Angel sucked in air and said, "They want to visit Disneyland.  Are you okay with that?  I can send Angela down with them, if that's a problem."
     "No, that's fine," laughed Bekka.  "Hey, I'm a Southern California native, I know the Mouse House as well as anybody.  I can make sure they see all the cool stuff, keep them away from the bullshit like that damn Lincoln display."
     Bristling, Angel said, "What's wrong with the Lincoln display?  He was one of the most powerful leaders this country ever had."
     "Um, but Angel, you just said these guys don't speak any English.  They'd be sitting there watching bad animatronics and listening to a language they don't understand for twenty minutes."
     "Oh....  Yeah.  Okay, anyway, be at the Hilton in Beverley Hills by nine on Tuesday morning, I'll meet you in the lobby.  You'll have a room at the Hilton for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights.  Bring lozenges, because you'll be talking nearly fucking nonstop for two days straight.  If they seem a little miffed at your presence at first, don't let it bug you.  These guys are old school, they've heard that a woman was made mafioso in Southern California, but I don't think they take it seriously.  We'll just use a little time and talk and diplomacy to get it through their heads you belong there, that you are mafioso."
     A thought struck Bekka.  "Angel, this is fairly short notice.  What if Inana had been in the middle of producing a feature, and I had to work?"
     After a brief pause, Angel said, "Then Lenny and Small Steve would be rearranging the fucking shoot schedule, and tough shit who that bothered.  This is family business, and you are family."
     "Okay Angel, I'll pack a bag.  Out of curiosity, where in Italy are these guys coming from?"
     "Two from Rome, one from Salerno, Sicily.  I'm not sure about their historical lineage."
     Bekka chuckled down the line.  "Okay.  At least one of them will warm up to me fairly quickly.  The one from Salerno will be sure to pick up on my Sicilian inflection when I talk.   See you Tuesday morning, Angel.  Ciao."

     "Aw, hell no.  Jesus Christ."
     Boss was scowling into a mirror, examining what he was wearing.  It was Saturday morning, and we were in one of those Big & Tall men's outlets, Boss trying to get fitted out for his upcoming two days of business meetings.  He was not happy with what he was seeing in the mirror.  I didn't blame him.
     "C'mon, Lenny, what the hell?  I ain't no big follower of fashion, but even I can tell when it looks like 1977 puked on me.  We gotta try someplace else."
     Housing six foot seven and 270 pounds of outlaw biker in business attire was our goal.  The "Big & Tall" places made the most sense on the surface, until you saw what they had to offer.  The best you could seem to hope for was Not Completely Hideous.  Even then, everything seemed to be out of style by a long shot.  My only guess was the Big & Tall places assumed that when you're that size, people are too afraid to laugh at you to your face.
     Boss said, "I'll pick up shirts here.  Can't fuck up a damn white dress shirt.  But we gotta find someplace else fer a damn suit.  Where do you recommend?"
     I took a breath, paused, and said, "Well....  Neiman Marcus has tailors that can fit anyone into anything, and make it look good.  But uh, that's a real pricey way to go.  It'd be expensive."
     Staring at me, Boss said, "Lenny, do you know how much I'm worth these days?"
     "Not a clue."
     "Me either, I done lost track a while ago.  But it's a whole goddamn lot.  Lemme grab some shirts and let's split."
     While our arrival in the men's department of Neiman Marcus may not have caused outright mayhem, we did set off a lot of mental alarm bells with the staff.  Actually, we'd been doing that since walking through the doors downstairs, a punk rocker and a monstrous outlaw biker strolling in, and actually looking like we we had a purpose there, something more relevant than finding a bathroom.  One of the sales flunkys scurried up to us, his jaws locked into what he hoped was a smile.  "May I help you gentlemen?" he asked.
     "My friend here needs two suits," I replied.
     Boss intoned, "Naw, four.  Fuck it, I'll git use out of 'em somehow.  Ellen won't mind seein' me lookin' purty for once."
     "And uh, what size suit do you take, sir?" simpered the flunky.
     "No damn clue, never owned one before.  I know I take a 3XL t-shirt, if that helps."
     "Yes....  We'll take some measurements."
     Boss slipped out of his denim vest.  The flunky had to stand on a chair to get an accurate measure of Boss's shoulders.  He looked at his notes and said, "Okay, we just may be able to get you taken care of.  Did you have a designer in mind?  Perry Ellis?  Armani?  Boss Hugo?"
     "Something with a good Italian cut would be great," I said.  "You're not too picky, are you Boss?"
     Cackling, Boss said, "Shit, if it fits, and it looks good, then I'll be happy.  I just want whatever I git to look....  Natural, you know?  Like I belong in them clothes."
     The flunky said, "Well then, let's take a look at what cloth you'd like."
     Boss selected a very dark grey pinstripe, a lighter grey pinstripe, a very dark blue, and one in dead black.  Both pinstripes were Armani.  I had to raise an eyebrow at this last selection.  Boss shrugged and said, "I dunno.  I just git the feelin' that somehow, at some point, lookin' like a damn undertaker will come in handy.  Shit Lenny, you and me both are used to playin' hunches, and I'm gonna go with this one."
     There was a brief wait while we waited on a tailor to come out and to the chalk work, with the help of the flunky.  We'd been lucky, Neiman Marcus did have things that would fit Boss, but would require plenty of alterations.  While we waited, the flunky came up and said, "Sir, did you need to apply for a Neiman Marcus line of credit?  You're making quite the purchase today."
     "Naw, I kin pay for it," Boss shrugged.  "Why, how much are we talkin' about?"
     "Well....  I did a quick calculation, and with the tailoring work, you're looking at about $6200, for all four suits.  Is this a problem?"
     I was a bit concerned the amount might bother Boss, but he seemed totally unfazed.  He was no idiot, he knew tailored suits from a high-end place would set you back.  He told the flunky, "Naw, I'll jist pay for them today, ain't no big deal."
     The flunky raised his eyebrows.  "Oh?"
     "Yeah, I got the cash on me.  Won't have to ding one of my credit cards or nothin'."
     "Indeed, sir."  The eyebrows had lowered so a half-mast of suspicion.
     The tailor came out.  He and the flunky swarmed over Boss, marking alterations as Boss switched from suit to suit.  They simply positioned Boss in front of the chair, as they both needed it to do his shoulders and his collar.  Boss looked a little bored and impatient, but kept his cool, following instructions to raise his arms, step forward, twist to his left or right, whatever.  In the middle of it, Boss suddenly barked a laugh at me and said, "Hey Lenny!  You oughta come here and git a new damn denim jacket!"
     "Oh yeah?" I queried.
     "Hell yeah.  Yers is fallin' apart, and they could tailor one so yer damn Beretta doesn't show, you know?"
     I promised to keep it in mind.
     Alteration marks done, Boss was told they had everything they needed, the flunky would take care of payment.  Thank you for your patronage.  Boss said, "So, I kin pick 'em up Monday, right?"
     The tailor gave Boss a look that was both surprised and amused.  "Um, no sir.  Friday."
     Boss looked down at the tailor and stroked his beard, looking thoughtful.  He said, "Huh.  That there is a problem.  See, I got an important meeting on Tuesday, and another one on Wednesday.  I'd like two of the suits back to me Monday.  Like, the pinstripe ones."
     "I don't know what to tell you, sir.  Tailoring correctly takes time, and there are other suits ahead of yours."
     "Uh huh."  Boss continued with his thoughtful, faraway look.  He stuck a hand in a pocket and extracted a roll of bills the size of a ham roll.  Holding it low, he counted off five hundreds.  Then he smiled at the tailor and said, "You'll be the one doin' the work on my suits, right?  I tell ya, you wouldn't believe how much I'd appreciate havin' them two pinstripe suits ready on Monday.  Think ya kin help me?"  He held the bills up in front of the tailor.
     The tailor looked at the bills, then gave a small smile.  "What is your name again, sir?"
     "Stetson.  Walter Donovan Stetson.  Friends call me Boss, dunno why."
     Slipping the bills from Boss's fingers, the tailor said, "Mr. Stetson, I give you my personal guarantee both of your Armanis will be ready and waiting by noon on Monday.  The other two will be waiting for you Friday, if that's all right.  My name is Bryce, if you have any questions.  Return at noon Monday to collect your suits, and good luck with your meetings."
     Boss clapped the tailor gently on the arm and said, "Thank you, Bryce.  Your assistance and extra effort are greatly appreciated.  You have a good day, now."
     We went to the cashier's counter to pay up, $6,244.18.  Boss reached into a different pocket and pulled out a different massive roll of currency.  He counted out sixty-three hundreds onto the counter, under the flunky's bug-eyed stare.  The flunky left the bills sitting where they were, and swiped them all with a counterfeit detection pen.  All good.  He wordlessly handed Boss his change, which was tucked into one of his denim vest pockets.  Boss whacked me on the arm and said, "C'mon Lenny, let's go git some lunch."
     As we made our way towards an exit, I asked Boss, "Uh, how much cash did you leave the house with today?"
     "About eighteen grand, more or less," was the reply.
     "Don't you worry about carrying that much bread on you at once?"
     Boss grinned at me.  "Naw.  Shit hell, Lenny, you know I ain't no tough guy....  But at the same time, kin you think of anyone who'd try to rob me?"

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