Mike, our high school friend in El Centro, called on Sunday. "Oh boy. You probably don't want to be hearing from me, but I figured you guys should know. I guess you guys took the dude who puts out that Moral Militia newsletter to court and had him shut down, or whatever."
I replied, "Yeah, there's an injunction against him. The judge read the newsletter and ripped the guy a new asshole, from what I hear. He told the bastard that just because he didn't write that article doesn't mean he's not responsible, he's the one who put it in print. The guy, his name is Mather Owens and he's from Merced, is forbidden from publishing until the injunction is lifted. And to top it off, he's being sued by Bekka, the studio, and even the church he worked part-time for. He was paying for the postage by using the church's bulk mail permit without their permission, and I guess had been for a long time. He's gonna be living under an overpass in two years."
"Wow. Well, he's sent out his swan song. Grandpa got a form letter from him --- not a newsletter, just a two page letter --- letting all his subscribers know that Becky Page and her studio had used the 'liberal court system' to shut him down. I guess it went on to say that unless drastic and immediate action is taken, Becky Page will have won the war, something like that. And get this, he actually straight up says it's time to 'permanently eliminate' Becky Page. Damn. He may as well have sent out instructions for making bombs. If the other idiots who subscribed to the newsletter are as even half as big of paranoid, right-wing hotheads as my grandpa, there's gonna be a whole lot of people who are plotting Becky's murder."
"Peachy fucking keen," I grunted. "Thank you for letting me know. How long ago was this letter sent out?"
"Um.... I'm pretty sure the letter was dated the fourteenth. Figure it went in the next day's mail, and it was mailed with regular postage, it must have been mailed on Tuesday.
"Any chance you can get a hold of this letter, like you did the newsletter?"
"Not at this point," Mike said with a sigh. "The shit kinda hit the fan around here yesterday. The only reason I know the letter exists is because on Friday I'd gone to my grandpa's house to take care of his cats. He'll get pissed off at them and refuse to feed them, he'll never clean their litter boxes.... Anyway, grandpa has the letter taped to the refrigerator, front and center. He may or may not know someone took his newsletter, but he'd definitely know if someone took the letter off the fridge. Besides, he had a freakout at our house yesterday. He showed up ranting about how the liberal atheist perverts were going to take over the country, and he had conclusive proof, and Becky Page was Satan incarnate, and blah blah blah. I have a poster of Becky up in my room. It's the one of her in lingerie, holding a gun. Grandpa decided I'm in league with Satan because of it, and tried to get in my room so he could tear down my poster. Uh.... I just plain shoved him the hell back out of my room, I had to get physical with my own grandfather. My mom and dad threw him out of the house, telling him, in so many words, that they're sick of his shit and he's not allowed back at our place until he's capable of having a polite conversation.
"Dude, I'm sorry I can't be of more help, but there's no way I can get the letter. Grandpa isn't about to let me borrow it, if I go in and take it grandpa will know it was stolen.... I dunno. I guess it's kind of like evidence or something, right?"
"You better believe it," I said. A thought crossed my mind. "Actually.... You may be able to help. Are you up for a bit of cloak and dagger?"
"Uh.... I guess it depends on what you want me to do."
"Okay, first off, can you get your hands on a good camera, like a Nikon or Canon or Leica?"
"My dad has a nice Canon," Mike replied.
I paused, then said, "Okay. Here's what I'd like to happen, if you're feeling up for it. Get the camera. Load it with a fresh roll of ASA100 film, Kodak brand. Does your grandpa have a schedule? Like, do you know when he'd be gone from the house for a while?"
"Tomorrow night. League bowling on Sunday nights."
"You would go over there when you're sure you'd have at least twenty minutes undisturbed. You're going to take photos of the letter. Don't use the flash, a flash on white paper will be too reflective. You'll need to move a couple lights into the kitchen, you want it bright as possible in there, because ASA100 film is high-resolution, but crap in low-light conditions. I'd say use an ASA800 film, but the resolution would be shit. Anyway, drag a couple of floor lamps into the kitchen and set them up near the fridge. Take five or six shots of the entire letter. Then, sort of mentally divide the letter into four quadrants, and take a picture of each quadrant, nice and close. Keep the camera at the same distance for all four shots, as best as you can. Do this twice. This way, if enlarging the photos of the whole letter doesn't make the letter readable, the quadrant photos can be put together sort of like a jigsaw puzzle. Understand what I mean?"
"Yeah, okay," Mike said brightly. "I totally get it. Hey, would one of those small flood lights, like they use on work sites, would one of those work?"
"That would be fucking spiffy. You got one?"
"Sitting in the garage. It's, like, 5000 watts or something."
"Perfect. After you have the pictures taken, I'll drive out there to pick up the film myself. Inana's photo labs will take it from there. Monday afternoon good?"
"Yeah, that's fine." Mike paused. "Ummm....."
"I'll bring Bekka with me. Is that fair?" I asked.
"Oh dude, that would be so incredibly awesome.... Hey, I just figured out why my grandpa was home early the night we all went to his house. It must have been an elimination round, and his team got the chop early. Don't worry, I'll head to his place sooner rather than later. And you know what? To hell with my grandpa, he's a total dick. If for some reason he catches me, oh well."
"Man, I can't thank you enough. You ever need a favor, you call me and you name it. Gimme a ring tomorrow evening at home, after you get back from Heber."
"You got it. Later, Lenny."
I sat back and lit a cigarette. This was not news to keep to myself, so I got back on the phone. First Bekka, then Angel, then Terry, then Syko, then Mutt. These last two I told to not let this intel become public knowledge, not yet anyway. I wanted the photos first. Once the photos were in the process of being admitted as evidence in the lawsuits, they can shout it to the world.
On Monday afternoon Bekka and I drove out to El Centro. Mike had invited Biff, Roxanne, Cheryl, and a couple other kids over so they could all meet Becky Page. The girls, even Cheryl, were just as ga-ga over meeting "Ms. Page" as they boys were. Autographs were signed, hugs were given out, confidences shared, and new fans were created. I sent the roll of film to the labs via courier on Tuesday morning, with the instructions to move this shit to the front of the line, and contact Angel Morelli when the work was completed. He'd want the prints and negatives as soon as humanly possible.
On Wednesday, the picketers showed up at the studio.
Spike burst into my office around 9:30 that morning to let me know a shitload of cars had all pulled up outside across the street, and people were getting out of them, and where the hell is that fuckin' shotgun we took away from that one jackass? I pointed him towards the laundry room, where it was tucked in a closet. He grabbed the shotgun while I went outside to see what was going on. As I stood in the driveway, a few straggling cars pulled up and also dispersed people. The California Air Resource Board would be pleased at the level of carpooling being demonstrated. I counted about fifty people, only two of which were women. They were engaged in a bit of industry, assembling their picket signs. Spike came up beside me, the shotgun across his chest. I told him, "Don't get too happy with that thing. There's about fifty of them, and only eleven shells in your belly. If things get that ugly, hit the panic button. I've got forty-five rounds, and Bekka has twenty-four."
Spike cracked a small smile and said, "Shit. They're a crowd. Sure, there's more of them, but who goes first? Damn few people like to be remembered as martyrs." He tucked one of his Tijuana Smalls cigars in his mouth and lit it, then assembled a face of passive alertness. I told him I had to go get on the phone.
"First, the sheriff's office. Then, to Goose and Mutt. Any Angel who's free today gets $200 for hanging around in the driveway."
The protesters had finished their signs and were now on the sidewalk in front of the mansion. They were just standing there, blocking the driveway. I walked down closer. The signs were of an uglier tone than the ones Grace Chapel had used. These said things like "Destroy the Slut," "Becky Page is the Devil's Whore," "Die Becky Die." I called down to them.
"Hey! So I guess you're picketing, right?"
"You're correct, scumbag."
"Actually, see, right now you're not picketing. You're loitering, and you're blocking my egress. Picketing means you keep walking, back and forth, whether you want to or not. Go ahead, you can ask the sheriff's deputies about what constitutes a legal picket, they'll be here in a few minutes. I"m also gonna have some of my friends show up, too. They'll be very glad to meet you. Start moving, you jackoffs. And be careful, my wife has the bad habit of hitting the driveway at a high speed. She'd hate to get crushed dipshit in the undercarriage of her Falcon."
"Who the hell is your wife, scumbag?" came another voice.
I laughed and said, "Well, my name is Lenny Schneider. If you dumb Bible-suckers have done your homework, you know who my wife is. And if you're wise, you know a bit about me, too. I'll be back.... Oh, one thing. When you doofuses have to piss, go across the street. I see any dickhead pissing in my shrubs, I'm hitting them with a paint bomb."
I started back up the driveway. A voice behind me said, "Fucking trash."
Turning with a smile, I said, "You're goddamn right. In fact, you should keep it in mind. It means I don't have a thing to lose. Get me?"
The next forty minutes saw more arrivals. First, four sheriff's cars, two deputies each. Next, all three network news affiliates in their vans. Then a UPI stringer, an LA Times reporter, and one of the autistic sheep the Union/Tribune calls journalists. Terry roared in and anchored her putt next to the camera truck. Then, Bekka showed up. On her motorcycle. Being trailed by seven Hell's Angels. The Angels had escorted her, door to door, as a symbolic gesture of support and unity. God bless the Angels. Seeing the Angels arrive was causing a gawker's block at the foot of the driveway, which was broken up by the deputies: keep moving, no standing. Dago HA put their bikes in a military-quality line in front of the garage doors, and after a few words with me and Spike, went to stand in various spots around the front of the mansion. Anyone trying to get on the property would be spotted and bulldogged.
Bekka stood halfway up the driveway at my side, sunglasses still on, watching the picketers. I had my jacket off, displaying the Beretta, my permits already checked by the deputies. We briefly watched in silence.
The picketers were an obvious demographic. They were all over fifty, lily white, a bit chunky, shopped for their clothes at Montgomery Ward's, and had facial expressions like they were all chewing cat-fart-flavored bubble gum. They were relatively quiet: shit, at least the Grace Chapel protesters sang hymns as they marched.
Suddenly one of the picketers realized who was standing about forty feet away, and locked up. "Hey! It's her!" he yelled. The picketers all stopped moving and stared, making hostile grumbling sounds at each other. Bekka had shed her leather, and now began unbuttoning her see-through blouse. When it was open, she parted it, giving a clear view of her Colt Defender at her waist. The deputies quickly arranged themselves in a line at the foot of the driveway.
And then, God love 'em, here come the Inana girls. All of them that weren't actually on the board that morning. And Jesus Christ, they're carrying baseball bats. Also with them are Roach, Chip, Dale, Vince, Andy, Tex, Eddie, and Stallion. They don't have baseball bats, though. Two of the deputies approached the phalanx of porno queens, one of them saying, "Who are all of you? You're aware you're carrying offensive weapons, we could arrest you all right now."
With a dazzling grin, Rita stepped forward, tossing a baseball in the air. "Por qué, officers? We just here to use the yard to practice our hitting. We only have the one ball, though, we keep forgetting to buy more."
Tawny chimed in with, "Lord knows, we deal with plenty of balls when we're working." Everyone cracked up except the deputies.
I walked over and said, "All these people are contractors with Inana Productions. They are allowed on the property, they're employees. Ladies? Studs? You coming in?"
Rita said, "Momento, Lenny. We want to look at the people with the signs, los tontos. They can look at us.... And we can look at them.... And then we know each other, very well." Rita's voice had a purr to it I'd heard before, in Logan Heights. A vato was speaking in the same tone to another vato, moments before pulling a knife and slashing at the other vato's throat. Fucking mess.
After a few moments of silent grinning at the picketers, the Inana sluts and studs made their way towards the front door. As they did, a single voice from the picket line yelled out, "Whores!"
In her friendly light Texas twang, Elspeth turned and replied, "God thinks you're an asshole, sir!" a big smile on her face. There was no reply, so everyone continued into the mansion. Yet again, I cursed myself for not keeping Pepto-Bismol in my desk.
I heard my voice being called from the far side of the picketers. I looked and saw Pauline Fawcett of Channel 10 News (ABC) waving a hand at me. I approached her, cutting through the now glacier-slow line of protesters. We stepped over to her van to talk.
"Well, they finally showed up," commented Ms. Fawcett. "Any real action, besides the arrival of all those young ladies?"
"Not much," I replied. "A few ugly words tossed around, that's it. How do you---"
A hand fell on my shoulder. I turned, and a woman said, "Hello, Mr. Schneider. Kathleen Pierson, Channel 8. We'd like to interview you and Ms.---"
Another woman's voice said, "Excuse me, Mr. Schneider? I'm Donna Douglas, NBC. If we could have a few minutes with Becky Page and yourself---"
With a steely voice, Ms. Fawcett said, "Donna, Kathy, I was trying to have a private word with Mr. Schneider, you can speak to him in a moment. None of us are making our noon broadcast with this, cool your jets---"
Also sounding steely, Ms. Pierson said, "Paulie, we're doing a live remote, we've got our fucking mast up. If you can't move fast enough...."
"It's called getting all the information, not just random pictures on the goddamn screen...."
All three of them began yapping at each other at once. I said, "Ladies.... Ladies.... Ladies...!"
An ear-splitting whistle shrieked next to me. I looked over to see Terry removing her fingers from her mouth and reinstalling her Camel. The three Lois Lanes all shut up. With a smile and a calm voice, Terry said, "Excuse me. I believe it's Lenny's turn to speak."
There was brief silence, then Ms. Fawcett said, "Hello again, Ms. Patton. How are you doing?"
Terry chuckled and said, "Shit, no complaints. Just keepin' an eye on some dumb motherfuckers with picket signs, making sure none of them are as stupid as they look. How's your shit, Pauline?"
I said, "All right, look. I really, really hate repeating myself, and I have a hunch that all three stations are going to be asking me the same things, more or less. Let's see, it's about five of eleven right now.... Ms. Pierson, do you have a time slot set for your remote?"
She replied, "It's a slow day locally, so you're the lead. Top of the hour."
"Okay. What I suggest is that all three of you have an hour to get some establishing shots, interview a few of the dipshits with the signs, maybe talk with the deputies or my own security staff...."
Ms. Douglas said, "Um.... Your studio security is provided by the Hell's Angels?"
"By members of the Hell's Angels, yes. Their service has been stellar. Anyway, all three of your crews can set up to interview me and my wife on the patio by the pool, where it will be quiet, no distractions, and good light. The three of you put your heads together and agree on what questions you wish to ask me and Bekka --- Becky --- and get the identical answers, like any press conference. That way you're not shouting over each other, and the questions don't carry different nuances depending on which channel you're watching. Anyway, are the three of you amenable to my idea?"
The three women all looked back and forth at each other. Finally, Ms. Pierson said, "Screw it, I'm in. Our sound man can juggle a damn boom mike for ten minutes without herniating himself."
"It's equitable," said Ms. Fawcett. "Nobody feels like they're getting scooped, or lied to."
Ms. Douglas said, "I'm all right with this. All three crews can use the booms, keep the cameras off us. We can switch back and forth asking questions, as long as our viewers hear some broad's voice they'll assume it's us anyway."
"Okay, let's take twenty-five minutes to get base footage and talk to the Bible-beaters a little," said Ms. Fawcett. "The three of us can pile in a van and hash out our questions. Let's go kick our crews into action. Jesus, I hope none of these yokels is a wingnut...."
I laughed and said, "Don't expect a lot of warm fuzziness out of these mooks. Remember, you're all part of the 'liberal media,' remember?"
With a surprisingly evil grin for a TV news reporter, Ms. Fawcett said, "Oh, drat. I knew I should have worn my pentagram necklace today." The other two women cracked up.
"Hey, I just realized," I said. "If there is an Inana performer you've been interested in speaking with but have never had the chance, today's your chance. Every single performer, male and female, is here. Give me names, and I'll see if they're okay with being interviewed."
Ms. Pierson asked, "Is that one actor here, uh.... Roach? Is he here?"
"He is. Did you want to speak with him on camera?"
She looked a bit pink. "No-oo, I was just curious about something. Ah.... Is he really as, uh, big as he appears to be in the movie 'Succubus?' Or is that a camera trick?"
I giggled and said, "What you see is what you get. Yes, he is rather well-endowed. One could almost say a prodigy for this industry. You want the frightening part? His girlfriend is only five feet tall, and maybe ninety pounds, she's a tiny thing. And yes, they do, and yes, she loves it."
"Oh my God!" said Ms. Douglas. "I'm not sure about an interview, but I would like to speak with the young man. He's rather, uh, intriguing. How old is he?"
Ms Fawcett elbowed Ms. Douglas and said, "God, those eyes and that smile...."
"Oh, I know. And that chest...."
"And.... Oh wow...."
I was desperately holding back the urge to burst into laughter. I said, "Tell you what, ladies. How about I bring Roach down at the same time I bring Becky down. All three of you can chat with him after you interview my wife and I. Would you like that?"
"YES!" came the response from all three women. To paraphrase a headbanger chick Bekka and I met in Clairemont one night: Bitches, I can hear you getting wet.