Bekka pulled the Falcon in the driveway of the Beverley Hills Hilton and aimed for the valet lane. The two valets, bored at this hour of the day, looked baffled at what had just arrived, a metal-blue 1963 Ford Falcon, ass end raised slightly, with a hood scoop. It was a vehicle that would be right at home in Whittier or Pomona or Riverside, its presence in Beverley Hills seemed unusual. One of them started filling out the parking slip while the other trotted to the driver's door and opened it.... And took in an extra breath when he saw who he was letting out. Oh my God, Becky Page. The young valet had opened the doors and parked the cars for plenty of celebrities, but this was the first one he had ever jerked off while thinking about. He recovered and said, "Good morning, Ms. Page. Here for breakfast?"
Bekka smiled and said, "No, I'll be here all day, I have a business meeting, so I doubt I'll be leaving sooner than six this evening. Don't worry if it gets buried on the lot. But do take care of it, I have more affection for this car than I've had for some of my old boyfriends. Thank you, sweetie."
The valet handed her the parking slip. She was handing him a tenner when a loud horn sounded behind them. Turning, Bekka saw a familiar car at the rear bumper of the Falcon: a 1970 Chevelle SS. She could feel the rumble of its huge 454 engine vibrating the asphalt. The second valet was jogging towards it, but the driver was already springing out. Boss.
"Damn, lil' girl, am I glad to see you," he said. "I kinda need yer help, I sure hope you kin help me." In a quieter voice, Boss said, "Uh, first though, to I tip these dudes?"
"Yes, you do," smiled Bekka. "Now, and also when you get the car back. A ten is appropriate." Speaking directly to Boss's valet, she said, "Both this gentleman and I are going to be here on business until dinnertime, so if his car gets buried, don't worry, we'll call ahead when we want our vehicles back. However, you might have guessed we both drive fairly rare vehicles, and would hate to see them getting dinged. You wouldn't want this man angry with you, correct? Please take good care of them. Thank you, honey."
All this conversation had happened at a fairly loud volume. Bekka hadn't turned down her stereo after getting off the freeway, so Skinny Puppy was blaring out of the Falcon. Then Boss had pulled up, his own stereo blasting Molly Hatchet. The two made a racket when played simultaneously, echoing off the front of the hotel and from the giant cement awning above. Before the valet could drive off in Boss's car, he dived in and extracted a necktie from the passenger seat, holding it like a dead rattlesnake. Bekka took Boss in. He looked damn good in his light grey pinstripe Armani, the tailor had done an excellent job. The tie he held was dark grey with gold checks.
"I'm glad we're both early, and at the same time," said Boss. "Uh.... I got kind of a problem, girl. Um, I don't know how to git one of these damn things tied. I remembered yesterday I didn't git no ties when I got my suits, so I ran to Nordstrom's and picked up a few, but.... Shit. Back in Texas, I'd just wear a bolo, and nobody'd give a damn. But I don't want these folks we're dealin' with today thinkin' I'm some kinda hick. Kin you tie a tie?"
Bekka couldn't help but laugh. "Boss, you beautiful lummox, let's go inside, I'll get your tie on for you."
They went into the lobby, where Bekka stood on a bench and tied Boss's tie on for him. She had him turn around and face him, so she could get his collars smooth and the tie straight. Then she gave him a kiss and said, "There, you look damn good. I know you're going to throw these guys we're meeting. Between your size, the beard, and the sunglasses, you may make them a bit nervous, but they'll get over it. Now give me a cuddle."
Boss smiled and scooped up Bekka in his arms like she was a small child, holding her close. "How you doin', lil' girl?"
"Nervous," Bekka replied candidly. "Okay, this is one major business meeting. You know that. These Italian guys, they're gonna be thrown by me. Not only am I a woman, but I am mafioso, which they don't seem to be able to process, a made woman. And I'm goddamn Becky Page. I hope we can settle them down and get down to brass tacks fairly quickly."
"Don't take no shit offa them," growled Boss. "I ain't gonna skunk no deal for Angel and Vinny, but at the same time, if they wanna give you flack, they gotta go through me to do it."
"Are we interrupting?" came a voice. Bekka and Boss looked to see Angel standing there with Vinny, smiles on their faces.
Boss set Bekka down and said, "Been a coon's age since I given my lil' girl a good cuddle. Jist catchin' up. So what's the story?"
Vinny said, "First off, Boss, you look fucking great. Glad to see you're treating this little meeting with the gravity it has. Take off your sunglasses, though, just because of your size they're gonna think you're hired muscle, not the man who is responsible for a product they're interested in."
"They have a suite on the eighth floor, that's where we're conducting business," said Angel. "We want this to be a fairly relaxed endeavor, just some wise guys sitting around hashing out the major points of a new business venture. Because of the language barrier, and the translation needed, we're expecting this to take a while, since everything needs to be said twice. That's why we're taking two days. Bekka, like I told you, just about everything said while we talk is going to be parroted by you, in one language or another, so I hope you're ready to do some talking. Have you two picked up your room keys yet?"
"No sir," Bekka and Boss chorused.
"Let's get them now. Boss, I've got you booked until Thursday morning. Since you'll be escorting these guys around Disneyland on Thursday, Bekka, I got you a room until Friday morning. That way you can stay until the park closes, if they want."
Keys were retrieved. The four of them got on an elevator, aimed at the eighth floor. On the way up, Bekka asked, "So should I have brought Terry up with me?"
Both Angel and Vinny laughed. Vinny said, "Oh Christ no. Boss is gonna put them off enough, and I know how protective he is of you. That girl Terry? She'd send them running for the door, they wouldn't know what the hell to make of her. Don't worry, we'll get shit sorted out, you'll see. They'll be a little thrown at your presence, but we'll explain things, everything will be fine."
They got out at eight. Angel went to the appropriate door and knocked. The door was answered by a Mediterranean gent in his fifties, thinning on top, dressed in a pastel-green suit. Angel said a phrase he'd had his wife teach him, "Buongiorno, signore, siamo arrivati." (Good morning, sir, we have arrived.)
"Benvenuti, inserite," was the reply.
The man in green smiled and nodded pleasantly at Angel and Vinny, looked confused as Bekka walked in, and registered outright shock when Boss entered. Two other gents rose from the chairs they were in to make greetings, and were just as put off at the sight of Bekka and Boss. One of them, in a suit the color of an oil slick, frowned at Angel and said, "Perché questa donna qui?"
Angel turned and said, "Bekka, you're on."
Bekka stepped up and said, "He wants to know why a woman is here. Shall I try to explain myself now? It may take a bit."
"Yes, go ahead."
Turning to the inquisitor, Bekka said in Italian, "My name is Bekka Schneider. I am here to act as a translator for you men, as I am fluent in Italian. You may speak freely about anything you wish in my presence, I am part of Cosa Nostra, I am mafioso, a made woman, as it were. My husband Leonard is an associate. Don Vito Ventimiglia of Los Angeles extended his hand to me, asking me to join, and I accepted. I am very aware of my novelty, being the first woman mafioso, but take my membership with the gravity it deserves. What else would you like to know about me?"
The third gent, in pastel blue, stared and said, "Bec-ky Page?"
"Yes. That is my stage name. I am confident you are all familiar with my career, but that is immaterial for these two days of meetings. While I am here or otherwise in contact with you, I am Bekka Schneider, your translator and fellow member of the family."
The three Italians glanced at each other. One of them said, "Le voci sono vere. Una donna mafioso in America." (The rumors are true. A woman mafioso in America.) To Bekka he said (in Italian) "Why were you viewed to be a suitable candidate for inclusion in Cosa Nostra?"
Bekka smiled slightly and said, "Several things. First, with my husband, I have helped to further the interests of Cosa Nostra in Southern California. On two occasions, I have killed for the family. Don Ventimiglia had been keeping tabs on me for a while, and felt I had intelligence, backbone, and --- if you will pardon the expression --- balls. The Don felt these qualities justified breaking what he felt was outdated tradition, and bringing a woman into the fold, that I would be a dynamic and constructive member of Cosa Nostra. As I am here as your translator, I hope I am starting to justify his faith. Yes, I represent a major change in tradition, but change does not have to equate to disruption." She paused and smiled a little wider. "But we should have introductions now. This gentleman is Angel Morelli, my capo and current second in command in Southern California. This is his cousin Vinny Morelli, a business partner and also the logistics manager of the endeavor we will be discussing. And this is Walter Stetson, commonly known as 'Boss.' He is the man responsible for creating the product under consideration, and also manages its production. And how shall I introduce you gentlemen?"
The one in the oil slick suit said, "I am Giuseppe Bianco."
"I am Antony Forzetta," said the one in green.
"And I am Vincent Milano," said the third.
Hands were shaken all around, Bekka listening for any conversational clashes she might need to rectify. The three Italians were still rattled by Boss. There are outlaw bikers in Europe, but are a much more rare breed, and neither as large nor as bearded as Boss, they didn't have a reference point to base him on. Forzetta finally asked (through Bekka), "I have heard of the man named Paul Bunyan. Are you a descendant?"
Bekka bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing and posed the question to Boss, who smiled and replied, "No sir, I'm jist a Texas cracker who done forgot to stop growing until it was too late."
Relaying this, Bekka dropped the "cracker" part of Boss's reply, as she could think of no word or short phrase that would convey what Boss meant. Forzetta took in Bekka's response, then smiled and said in English, "Oh, Texas! Lone star! Lone star!"
Everyone got coffee and settled in, Bekka dragging a chair to a position where she would both see and hear everyone clearly. Angel elaborated on the Southern California mafia's history with Smiley Ecstasy, how this unique version of an already popular drug was sure to gain in popularity and market value. Milano asked Boss just what he had done to improve the drug. Hearing this relayed, Boss wrinkled his brow and stroked his beard. He finally said to Bekka, "Girl, ask if any of them understand pharmaceutical chemistry. Explainin' what I did will be technical and complex, and I dunno if you'd be able to even translate a lot of it for them."
Bekka translated for the Italians, who whispered briefly among themselves, then said to not worry, that will be a subject for another time. Boss looked relieved, they'd be there until midnight if he had to break down his process into layman's terms, then have it translated.
Lunch was delivered to the room. Bekka barely ate. The men were attempting social conversation, and she was jumping from pair to pair, translating. She was taking her third bite of salad when Bianco stepped up to her and said, "Miss Page --- eh, Schneider --- I am a great fan of your movies, I especially enjoy your action movies, like 'Dangerous Desires' and 'Succubus.' Those I can enjoy without a grasp of English, the action carries the stories. Tell me, will there ever be movies of yours dubbed into Italian? Or French?"
Bekka waved Angel over and explained the question. Through Bekka, Angel explained there was already a project underway to provide dubbed versions of many Inana movies, in Italian, French, and German. Absent would be "Temporary Pleasures." With the American slang, coins of phrase, plays on words, and references, any translation would be stilted and lose all the humor, European audiences would be lost as to why "Temporary Pleasures" was considered such comedic genius. However, starting with "Good Girl/Bad Girl," all Inana features would have dubbed versions, releasing two months after the English versions.
Turning his attention back to Bekka, Bianco asked, "You have a, uh, very unusual career for any mafioso. Does what you do not bother people in Cosa Nostra of Southern California?"
"It depends on who you ask," grinned Bekka. "The men of the local Cosa Nostra are fans, and are not bothered. As I am full-blooded Sicilian, they actually take great cultural pride in my success and celebrity, the sexiest woman in the world is Sicilian! Uh, their wives, not so much. But I have been a performer far longer than I have been associated with the family, it is all anyone has ever known me to do. No, my career is not given much thought. While it is unusual that a made man can see a fellow mafioso nude and in various acts of intercourse, it is just accepted as the way things are."
Boss called to Bekka, Forzetta wanted to ask a question. Quite simply, what are the effects of Smiley Ecstasy? What behavioral differences were there between it and the regular stuff? Boss pondered Bekka's translation and said, "Tell him my only original goal was to cut down on the speedy effect of MDMA --- remember, the 'MA' stands for methamphetamine --- without losing any of the more, uh, psychological aspects of the high. I only cut down on the speediness some, but I ended up really pushing the high over the top, almost a whole different feel compared to regular MDMA. Really, the effects vary from person to person, like with psychedelics or psychiatric medications. Remind him that MDMA was originally created as a psych med, it was used in marathon therapy sessions on people with PTSD. The dope kept the patients from entering a reactive state, they could discuss their issues in a completely objective manner.
"Um.... Hell girl, you take the stuff, you'd be able to give a general description of the high. I'll trust what you say, just tell me what you told him. I'm guessing he's looking for a more complex and detailed answer to his question than, 'It makes you feel really fuckin' awesome.'"
Bekka relayed what Boss had said, then added her own two cents. "Boss, er, Walter has asked me to provide my own personal description of the effects of Smiley, as I use it myself with some regularity. Smiley brings on a strong feeling of euphoria, also confidence, well-being, and a sense of being more in connection with the world around you. You feel as though you can see all possibilities, good and bad, in everything and everyone you interact with. This feeling can be a bit overwhelming for some people. You seem to feel the grace and gestalt of things around you. I personally find myself fascinated with bridges, awestruck at the engineering that goes into the various types. My husband Lenny is intrigued by how the automatic pin spotters in a bowling alley work, how someone conceived of such an intuitive mechanical ballet is amazing to him. And, to be blunt, you will feel pretty damn horny. Your physical and romantic interests in the opposite sex are very close to the surface. Some have said Smiley creates a close approximation to the feeling of being in love, and helps you understand love as a natural force, not a nebulous concept. Take that with a grain of salt."
"Is it addictive?" asked Forzetta.
"If you mean in a physical way, no, it is not like opiates. However, one does not need physical dependence to have an addiction. Generally, the use of Smiley more than once a week is considered excessive, the experience is rather intellectually and emotionally taxing, so one needs a break from it to keep grounded. My former boss was eating six hits a day, and eventually lost his mind. A lot of ideas and concepts flit through your mind while you are high, and he began to believe they were real, since his mind never had a chance to rest and regroup. Since Smiley Ecstasy really is an experience, and not just a high like cocaine or heroin, compulsive chronic use is pretty rare. My ex-boss was an exception, and he paid for it in a big way."
Bianco horned in on the conversation. "So it is a psychedelic."
"No," replied Bekka. "Smiley causes no visual effects or hallucinations like LSD or mescaline do. It is certainly an experience, and a fairly involving one, but it is not a trip. There is no altering or distortion of reality."
They settled down to business again. The Italians gave their view and opinions of the place of Smiley in the European market. Smuggled over a couple thousand hits at a time, Smiley commanded a price of US $65 to $90, a staggering cost for a single dose of a recreational drug.... But was greatly sought after, by the well-to-do if nothing else, when it could be found at all. Angel pointed out that even in California, Smiley cost US $25, or approximately 32K Lira, so it was no bargain domestically, either. Smiley would never reach the ghetto. The Italians elaborated that while they believed Smiley should remain something of a luxury item, its scarcity should end and the price should drop some. The general public would see it as a rare indulgence, but still accessible. The analogy they used was that currently, Smiley in Europe was like Ferraris in the US: rare, and only affordable to those furthest up the economic ladder. They felt Smiley should drop to the level of, say, a BMW. Still pricey, still luxurious, but not out of reach for anyone who wanted to make the purchase.
The logistics of transport were discussed. The product would be shipped via air freight to the East Coast, where it would be transferred to a Europe-bound cargo ship, from a line with an ongoing relationship with the Italian Cosa Nostra. Detection was not considered a major issue. The finished doses of Smiley had no more odor than aspirin, and because of its pharmaceutical complexity, drug-sniffing dogs would not be alerted, like they would be with meth or cocaine. Distribution within Europe would be a matter of course, the family in Rome already had plenty of avenues for moving things around between countries on the continent.
The matter of volume was brought up. The Italians seemed to be purposefully vague at first, but finally said they wished to start with 20,000 hits per week, and adjust upwards from there. Boss interjected that a second manufacturing facility would be needed. At 100,000 hits produced weekly, his facility in Needles was maxed out, there was no possible way to produce more from there. "And to be honest, I don't want to start having to work out of Airstreams again. I'm afraid we're gonna have to git more land and build out another complex, hopefully one identical to the first, so we kin expand in volume as needed until we hit that 100,000 ceiling again. And we may hit it, if we're supplyin' all of Europe."
"When we build out, we do it in Nevada this time around," said Vinny. "We'll have protection if we set up in Clark or Nye County."
"A good idea," said Angel. "I'd also like the new location to be someplace with services. Phone lines, power, natural gas, and water. Shit, I still can't believe we were able to install a well out in Needles. And having daily deliveries of propane out there is gonna look fishy to someone, sooner or later."
Bekka provided abbreviated translations of this conversation to the Italians, so they wouldn't feel out of the loop. She brought up her own concern about the Needles facility with Angel and Vinny.
"Something that's always worried me is how centralized the current facility is. All production happens at one location. If there's a bust, we'll be completely out of business. Maybe instead of one large facility when we expand, four medium-sized facilities instead, and scattered around."
"A bust at Needles isn't much of a concern for us," said Vinny. "We have the right people paid off at the Berdoo sheriff's office. The state couldn't give a fuck. And we've got lines into the DEA, so we'd have warning if the feds were thinking about a raid. We'd be able to clean out the facility before DEA showed up, and just move back in after they'd fucked off. Same set-up in Nye and Clark counties, the family has had the locals paid off and happy for decades now."
Boss said, "Somethin' else to add to a new facility would be some sort of bunkhouse for the lab rats. The week on, week off scheduling we have for the lab rats works well, but everybody's still sleepin' in Airstreams. Them damn things git mighty stuffy sittin' under the desert sun all day."
The meeting got back on topic, with further details of transportation being bandied about. After a while, Vinny asked the Italians if they had any clue who was getting Smiley into Europe. The Italians spoke, and Bekka provided a translation.
"They say Smiley will be brought over in lots of two thousand at the most. The people doing the smuggling are independent operators, no one with connections or organization. They change routing and mode of transport around, partially to not set any patterns, and also to try and chase down the cheapest way of getting things done. The gentlemen suspect whoever is doing the smuggling barely had the money to get things going at all, and will never increase the amount they bring in at once. Would it be possible to track down the wholesaler who is selling product to the smugglers in America?"
Angel rubbed his chin and said, "It's possible, but would take a while. The wholesalers do business with us, but have no actual ties or connections to Cosa Nostra, they just do business with us. We never wanted to manage the supply chain past our own volume distributors, the regional people who sell to the wholesalers. Really, we don't even have a clue how the crap ends up being sold in Denver, or New York City, or Atlanta, much less Europe. It's never mattered to us, we'd been paid for our product, and were no longer concerned with what happened to it."