All three stations wanted to interview the same three Inana girls: Eslpeth (Ella Belle), Ellen (Skye Tyler), and Feather (ibid). These were puff-piece interviews, so all three reporters nixed the idea of doing another "news conference" interview with them. Fair enough: three girls, three stations. Ellen had a full lead and a shared lead under her belt, having played Madison in "Temporary Pleasures," and was the angel in "Good Girl/Bad Girl." Elspeth's first lead was as Stella in "Good Girl/Bad Girl," the young woman plagued by the angel and the devil (Becky Page). "GG/BG" was yet another blockbuster sales-wise, and also truly put Inana over the top when it came to crossover popularity. It was a truly warm, fun movie, and the character of Stella was portrayed with a lot of depth and nuance, she was a complex person with intelligence, soul, and a very sensual grace. People, Us, and even Newsweek printed fairly glowing reviews of the film. Newsweek invented the phrase "smart porn."
The request for Feather surprised me at first. She was only eighteen, and had two fairly minor roles in Inana features: she was a road pirate (and Lila's shotgun rider) in "Succubus," and had played the neurotic girlfriend of Stella's brother in "GG/BG." While her basic screen presence in "Succubus" was a bit extended --- she spent a lot of time at Lila's side --- her presence in "GG/BG" was limited, she had maybe fifteen lines of dialogue and a fuck scene with Roach.... Although it must be said, she was memorable. Her character, named "Bimbo," was a young punk rock girl who appeared to have OCD, and had also swallowed a thesaurus for breakfast: she would use the most arcane alternatives to common words in conversation. She was fun to watch and listen to.
The only other exposure Feather had was some loops, and some magazine spreads. A Hustler-owned magazine called "Barely Legal" had two centerfold spreads of her, one in June, and one in October. She'd also been in Fox and Club, as the latest and hottest (and youngest) Inana girl. This is not the sort of fame TV news stations in conservative areas like San Diego is going to report on. I asked Donna why she wanted to interview Feather, and she told me it was felt Feather was going to be the Next Big Thing behind Ellen and Elspeth, who in turn were following in Bekka's footsteps. Feather had obvious talent as an actress, and while her roles had been minor so far, people really remembered the characters.
Before she did her interview with Feather, Pauline pulled me aside and said, "Are you absolutely, positively sure she's over eighteen?"
"Positively and absolutely," I replied. "A copy of her birth certificate, her driver's license, and her GED are all on file with Inana's lawyer. Nobody in the industry is going to fuck around with underage performers, not after the Traci Lords fiasco. I'm not going to prison so a teenage girl can have the best-paying part-time job in the world. She was a senior in high school when I first met her, that's provable. I'd tell you more, but you should probably just ask her yourself."
All three stations would air the puff pieces over the next seven or eight weeks, spaced a couple weeks apart. The profiles would show up either in the south end of their five o'clock local news, or whatever fluffy local "PM Magazine"-style show they ran between the national news and the start of prime time. All three referred to the girls as "the protegees of Becky Page!" Overall, I was happy with what was said. The girls were shown to be articulate, intelligent women whose thespian talents were unusual but valid. The concept of "smart porn" had been gaining traction, and the women appearing in the genre were being given credit as actresses, not porn stars.
One thing that was slightly irksome was how all three stations handled Feather. They pointed out that she had started working for Inana literally days after her eighteenth birthday, dropping out of high school to do so. Why had she done this? Feather was honest in her answer: "My living situation at home was such that I needed to leave as quickly as possible. Not only did adult performance have personal appeal, I knew it paid well, so I'd be able to move out very quickly." What was the problem at home, the interviewers prodded. To all three she said, "I won't elaborate, it's a family matter, and I"m not going to air dirty laundry like that. I'll just say that being in my house was stressful, uncomfortable, and somewhat disturbing. Working for Inana gave me the means to get the hell out, and bring my younger sister with me. Getting my sister Glee out of that house was very important to me, she's only fourteen, and the.... conditions there were such that I'd have worried about her constantly, if I didn't take her with me. Okay, now she's living with her eighteen year old porn star sister, no parents. I like to think she's still in a far healthier living situation that she was, or would be for another four years."
(What Feather wasn't telling the reporters was that Mom was an alcoholic, and Dad was a nut-case and pervert. Dad did nothing all day but sit in front of the living room TV jerking off to porn, no matter who else was in the room. Feather couldn't have friends over, because Dad would be in his recliner, dick in hand and a hardcore video playing on the only TV set in the house. For her, critical mass was reached one night when she woke up to find her father standing in the doorway to her room, yanking his meat and staring at her. She yelled at him, which he ignored. She turned on her light, grabbed her knife from a shelf, and headed towards him. He wandered off. Feather watched him walk down the hall and into his room, making sure he didn't detour at Glee's room. She stayed awake for a couple more hours, listening for any movement in the hall.
When she told her mother of this incident the next morning, Mom's reaction was to add more Southern Comfort to her coffee and say Dad must have been sleepwalking. "No Mom, bullshit. Dad has been bad for a while, and he's getting worse. He's looking at his own daughter as a sexual target... Maybe both daughters. I'll be leaving within thirty days of my birthday, and I'm taking Glee, all right?"
"How are you going to do that?" asked Mom.
"I'm going into porn. Short work weeks and excellent pay. I'm going to be an Inana girl, come hell or high water. Then I'm getting Glee. It's hard to get a gig with Inana, but I've already passed my script test, and I have the confidence I can pass the other interviews. No matter what happens, I don't want my sister under the same roof with Dad. Am I clear?"
A fresh cup of coffee, more Southern Comfort. "You're overreacting...."
Feather hissed with annoyance. "When was the last time Dad went to his office? Has he sold a single house in the last year? You can't support this household on what you make as a commissioned floorwalker at Nordstrom's. In the last six months, I've seen my father's genitals more often than I've seen my own, all he does is sit in the living room and crank his hog all goddamn day. Mom, I'd call fucking CPS on my own parents, except that would mean Glee would be a foster child, and I've heard too many horror stories about foster homes."
She paused and tapped a cigarette on the kitchen table. "Look, once I'm working, I'm going to flow you money. I know we're way behind on the mortgage, and barely keeping the power and water on. The checks will be in your name, I don't trust Dad with anything at this point. Please say you'll go through the legal bullshit so I can be Glee's legal guardian, that's all I ask. I'll do my best to keep you from losing the house, or living in the dark."
With a cynical look, Mom said, "Porn, Feather? Really. Can't you aim a little higher?"
Feather glared and smiled at her mother. "Well, let's add things up. I'll be eighteen drop-out whose only job skill is working the fryer at Jack In The Box.... But guess what, Mom? I know how to suck, I know how to fuck, and I'm hoping my time in drama club will be of help. If you've got better ideas, share 'em. Otherwise, Mom, your daughter is gonna be getting laid in front of a camera as soon as possible after I turn eighteen. I've already scheduled my interviews with the studio, and I'm sure I can pass. I could do a lot worse shit to get by."
"Have you talked to Glee about this?" Mom asked. Now, she just took a solid pull straight off the bottle of booze, then popped three Certs in her mouth.
"Of course. She's scared to death of Dad, in case you weren't aware. Ninth grade girls shouldn't be constantly treated to the sight of their father jacking off on a daily basis. She says he stares at her tits when he speaks to her, and a lot of the time he's still jacking off! Neither of us can have friends over because of Dad. Yes, I've talked to Glee, and she wants out too. I'll get us a two bedroom apartment in Encinitas or Carlsbad, I'll pick up a decent used car, we'll be set. She'll have a home where her friends can stop by and not have to watch her father masturbate." She paused and said pointedly, "And where there's something in the refrigerator besides vodka, Budweiser, and Collins mix. And where the phone isn't disconnected every month for nonpayment. And there's goddamn food in the cupboards besides Chex Mix and cream of mushroom soup! And the fucking living room doesn't smell like cum and lube! And no one ever passes out drunk in the fucking hallway!! And ---"
Mom stood up and said, "Throw your tantrum to an empty room. I'm headed to work, goodbye."
After Mom left, Feather got the bananas and Pop-Tarts a friend had given her. She got Glee up to get ready for school, handing her half the food. Then Feather walked into the living room and lit another cigarette. She stared at the blank television. No sense in turning it on, the cable had been shut off two months ago. The VCR fell into her range of view, Dad's porn tapes stacked all around. Feather grabbed the VCR and pulled, yanking the cords out. Then she took the machine into the driveway and threw it in a high arc into the street, where it smashed. A temporary solution to one problem, anyway....
..... Or so she thought. When she got home from school. Dad was in his recliner, dick in hand. Beside him was a stack of hardcore porn mags two feet high, dog-eared from use. One was open on his thigh. He smiled and leered at Feather and said, "How was school, precious?" His hand started moving faster.
Feather dropped her book bag in her room and counted out what money she had. About forty dollars, but that was enough. She rode her skateboard to the Home Depot and bought two sets of locking doorknobs, with keys. One for her room, one for Glee's. Her and Glee installed them before Mom got home. Neither of them would sleep with their door open from now on.)
At about ten after one the Leucadia Deli delivery guy arrived. He stopped at the driveway, flummoxed by the picketers. Spike, standing near the top of the driveway, saw the Leucadia Deli door signs and headed that direction. He'd made a shoulder strap out of parachute cord he'd found in the garage, so he put the shotgun over his shoulder. He stepped between the deputies standing at the foot of the driveway and elbowed his way through the Moral Militia marchers, ignoring their jeers. The delivery guy wasn't happy: not only is the address in question the site of a protest, he'd being greeted by a Hell's Angel carrying a shotgun.
Spike explained what was going on and told the driver to sit tight for a minute, so he could round up people to help carry the food. That way the driver wouldn't have to make multiple trips through the picket line. Spike ran into my office and told me the food had arrived. I collared Roach, Tex, and Dale, telling them to help schlep our lunch and beer into the house.
When we got back outside, the driver had started his engine back up, getting ready to take off. The protesters were cursing and jeering him. Two of the deputies had positioned themselves between the car and the picket line, but couldn't do anything about the verbal abuse being hurled. Apparently the delivery driver was aiding and abetting the violent moral destruction of America by bringing us lunch, and was being told so. He was bringing food to the Slut of Satan, Becky Page, and her evil minions. Did he hate this country? Did he hate God? The driver was being a pander to the moral cancer named Becky Page, and would be judged upon his death. And so on, and so forth.
Me, Roach, Spike, Dale, and Tex ignored the deputies and just jostled our way through the picketers. The hurled invective grew much louder, to the point where it couldn't be understood, all the marchers yelling at once. Tex turned to them with a smile and a raised middle finger, then went to the trunk of the car with the rest of us. I"d bought a shitload of food, plus the four cases of beer. The six of us would just get it all in one trip. Showing a bit of sense and mercy, the deputies briefly blocked the picketers while we walked back up the driveway. As we walked, the delivery driver expressed worry for the safety of his car. "Dude, there's, like, six cops standing right there. None of them old fools are gonna touch the thing," Spike told him.
We set everything down in the kitchen, Spike headed back out front, and Roach grabbed a long folding table from the garage. We set it up next to the island in the kitchen and laid stuff out. Dale went to the living room and the performer's lounge to let everyone know the grub was here. I grabbed a huge stack of paper plates, plus plastic forks, from a cabinet and set them on the island. People began getting in line to load up. I paid off the driver and gave him a $100 dollar tip, thanking him for putting up with the bullshit. Roach and I escorted him back out to his car. He whipped around and took off, certainly eager to share the freshest gossip about that porn studio in La Costa. (The drivers from Leucadia Deli were, by this time, totally inured to seeing naked people at our address.)
Out back, the three stations had chosen their own spots for interviewing the girls, choosing locations where the light was good, the background scenic, and the other crews wouldn't be in shot. All were occupied with their interviews. I went around to all three carefully, making sure I wasn't wandering into anyone's shot, and whispered in the ears of the camera operators that lunch had arrived. Upon hearing this, they would wait for the end of a statement from the girl being interviewed and say, "cut." Everyone would go in to eat.
The three reporters thanked me for lunch, Pauline complimenting me on my good taste in restaurants. "I was expecting Domino's," she said.
I gave her a sneering grin and said, "Oh please. I'd just as soon eat the fucking box the pizza came in, when presented with crap from that place."
"Still, quite the spread, and from one of the better places in North County. If you don't mind me asking, how much did all this set you back?"
"About $650, including the beer. Plus, I tipped the shit out of the driver. Having to navigate an angry mob isn't what most delivery guys have to contend with on a regular basis."
"You take good care of your people," Pauline noted. "Are you paying for this out of your own pocket?"
I shrugged. "At the moment, yes. I'll give Vinny the receipt, he'll reimburse me in my next check. If him or Angel squawk, no biggie, I can cover it. It's a strange feeling. Five years ago, $650 was huge money to me. Now it's pocket change. Let's just say I have been very, very successful in a challenging industry."
Pauline's fork paused over her tortellini. "Angel and Vinny.... The Morelli cousins, that's right. You said Vinny is here today?"
"In my office, fogging the place up with a cigar and reading the Becky Page Fans BBS. Would you like to meet him?"
"I would. Do you think he'd be willing to do an on camera interview? Just a few questions?"
"Can't hurt to ask," I smiled. "Let's go bug him."
We walked into my office. Vinny was seated at my desk, slowly chewing through a slice of pizza, an open beer to one side. I walked up beside Vinny and whacked him on the arm. "Hey, paisano, still reading the freshest gossip about my wife?"
He grinned up and me and said, "Jesus Christ, Lenny Angel told me these nerds were all pazzo d'amore for Bekka, and he was right. Three years ago, who would have guessed that computer geeks would be a solid demographic for Inana, and Becky Page? Are their lives really that empty?"
"Not at all," I replied. "I've met a bunch of them. They're not a bunch of dorky social misfits with thick glasses and pocket protectors, they're from all walks of life, and of both genders. I told you about the block party the BBS sysop put on. That's who was there, the people from the BBS. Hey Vinny, this is Pauline Fawcett, from Channel 10 news down here. Pauline, Vinny Morelli."
The two shook hands. "So Mr. Morelli, did you just happen to pick the wrong day to visit, or...." asked Pauline.
In his Joe Pesci voice, Vinny responded, "No, Lenny's secretary Gina rang me up and told me what was happening. She'd been trying to get a hold of Angel, but he's up in Merced at another fuckin' court hearing for that mook who was trying to get the Bible-thumpers all worked up over Becky Page." He paused. "These assholes today, I wanna know about 'em. I wanna know if they're just random Moral Militia dickheads, or if they've been reading that pezzo de merda newsletter."
"È un mistero," answered Pauline with a smile. Vinny raised an eyebrow and smiled at the response, Bekka's head snapped around to look at Pauline in shock.
"You speak Italian?" Bekka asked.
"Probably better than I do!" laughed Vinny.
Pauline answered, "I wouldn't say I'm fluent, not by a long shot, but I get by. My mother's parents were Italian immigrants, and I studied Italian all four years of college. Parli italiano?"
"Sì, fin dall'infanzia," Bekka responded. "My parents were Sicilian war babies who immigrated in their twenties. For some strange reason, both of them had decided Alabama would be a wonderful place to live in, initially. Both were rather dismayed by their choice. However, since Sicilians are a rare breed in Alabama, the locals in the respective towns they'd settled in would talk to friends a couple towns over about the furrin folk who moved in. Eventually, gossip spread far enough that Mama and Papa learned of each other's existence, even though they lived about 200 miles away. Papa took the bus down to meet Mama, and...." Bekka began turning pink and chuckling into her fist.
"What?" asked Pauline.
"I was informed on my eighteenth birthday that Mama and Papa met in her town square, went to have a sandwich and a Coke, headed back to her place, got in bed, and stayed there until Monday morning. That was, mercifully, not the source of my conception. However, they did have an instant and very strong affinity. During breaks in their attempts to destroy Mama's bed-springs, they talked things over and agreed that California sounded like a much better place to be: an agreeable climate, more Catholic churches, and fewer cross-burnings. And the rest is history."
"Yeah, and your fluency got our asses out of a sling on a couple occasions, girl," said Vinny.
"You're fluent?" asked Pauline.
"Oh yes. My brother and I were pretty much raised bilingual. My parents wanted us to be fully American, in language and in culture. They spoke in English to us, but in Italian to each other." She paused. "Mama and Papa were rather stalwart in my brother and I being fully American. They trained us out of phonetic habits, like accenting the vowels at the end of words when speaking, and not constantly gesturing when you talk. Other than the black hair and extra melanin, by sixth grade I looked, sounded, and acted like any other Southern California native. And that's exactly what my parents wanted."
"So how did you help Mr. Morelli, here?"
Knowing better than to tell the whole truth, Bekka responded, "Vinny and Angel were dealing with an Italian company at one point. The company reps wanted to visit, but spoke no English, and neither Vinny or Angel spoke sufficient Italian. So, they gave me a call, and I went up to act as a translator during a few business meetings. And as a SoCal native, I'm very familiar with Disneyland, so I would be a tour guide the day after the meetings, escorting small groups of Italian businessmen around the park." Bekka giggled again. "Every time, I would try to dissuade them from going on the 'It's A Small World' ride. Every time, I was ignored. I would wait for them at the exit. And every time, they would tell me, 'Avevi ragione, è una visione dell'inferno.'"
"Huh?" Vinny and I asked together.
"'You were right, it's a vision of hell.'"
Pauline burst into laughter. "Okay, it's not just me!" she exclaimed. "I first went on that damn ride when I was fourteen, and I still had nightmares for a week afterwards!"
Bekka giggled, "Yes, it's pretty bad when a grown man is begging for there to be someplace in the park that sells alcohol, so he can get that fucking song out of his head."
Pauline wanted to scoop the other two stations, so Vinny agreed to go out and be interviewed right then, while everyone was eating. Pauline collared her crew and pulled them outside so they could get Mr. Vincent Morelli, minority owner of Inana Productions, on videotape. It went fairly well. Vinny didn't look like the stereotypical owner of a porn studio. He was five foot ten, a bit chunky, balding, and had a warm smile. He was wearing a tailored gray suit and black wingtips, not an open shirt with lots of gold chains, and he left his cigar in the office.
Two things couldn't be helped, though. As I mentioned, he sounded like Joe Pesci when he talked, he really was Pesci's voice double. Also, he was trying to control his use of profanity, which made him sound like he had a stutter, as he'd cut off bad words at the beginning, and search for a word to replace it.
Question: What are your feelings about the Moral Militia protesting against Becky Page, and by extension, your studio?
"Hey, these fu-- f-- friggin' self-appointed moral guardians are in a minority in this country. I can't help that they don't like the video we produce, or the woman who stars in them. When most people are bugged by something, they have the go-- g-- goldarn sense to ignore it, not let it get under their skin. Who are the Moral Militia to dictate what forms of entertainment people should and shouldn't buy? We do not produce obscene materials, the Supreme Court has established that. Inana Productions produces features and videos aimed at an adult audience. I'm sure a lot of your viewers have seen some of our films, and would agree that we do a real fu-- f-- freakin' good job, too. These moral censors can go fu-- f- get bent."
Question: How do you feel about the accusations made against Becky Page?
"I've known Becky for, jeez, ten years now. Becky Page is one of the most intelligent, graceful, and moral people I've ever met. She's a Satanist? She wants to destroy America? She has no morals? What a bunch of bullsh-- crap. Becky is happily married, is helping to raise a teenage girl who was abandoned by her parents, is honest with in her business and personal life, she gives money to good charities.... There's nothing wrong with how Becky lives, and anyone saying that is some sorta fu-- f-- flippin' mook."
Question: Do you have any worries about Becky Page's safety?
"Of course I do. There's some unbalanced people in the world. We already had one mook try to attack the studio with an assault rifle a couple years ago, because he thought God told him to. Now we got this fu-- f- friggin' Moral Militia splinter group, the idiot who put out the threatening newsletter, who'd been trying to raise hell. It's like about 450 random mooks, all over California and Oregon and Idaho, and other places. They're a fringe group, a splinter group, and now we got their names."
Heading back in, we passed Katy, Donna, and their crews headed back out, Feather and Elspeth in tow. Katy stopped Pauline and said, "Who's that guy?"
"Oh, he's from the studio. We just felt like getting another opinion, you know?"
Katy caught up with Vinny (who had pasta salad and another beer on his mind) and said, "Hello, Kathleen Pierson, Channel 8. May I ask who you are?"
The penny dropped for Katy, and she said, "You're a co-owner of the studio, right?"
"Yeah, that's me, minority holder, my cousin Angel holds the bigger share. What's up?"
"Would it be possible for you to answer a few questions for us on camera? Just a quick interview."
Vinny frowned. "I just did that already with Ms. Fawcett. Go talk to her, she can tell you what I had to say."
Katy frowned back and said, "Ms. Fawcett is from Channel 10. We'd like our own footage."
Sighing, Vinny said, "Look, every time I talk to more than one fuckin' reporter in a day, I always end up having to say the same shit over again, and I hate having to do that. I got things I wanna do, sorry." He stomped into the kitchen and began loading a plate with ravioli and antipasto.
Vinny was grabbing a beer out of the fridge when Donna braced him. "Excuse me, you're Vincent Morelli, aren't you?"
He glared and said, "I'm Vinny Morelli. Only one person in this world is allowed to call me Vincent, and that's my mother. You ain't her."
Donna gathered herself and pushed on, "I'm Donna Douglas, NBC. I'd like to do a very quick Q and A on camera with you...."
"No." Vinny started to walk away.
Looking a bit red, Vinny set his beer down, reached in a jacket pocket, and pulled out a business card. He handed it to Katy. "Here. My office number in Encino. Call after ten tomorrow. You wanna know what I had to say today? Go talk to Ms. Fawcett from Channel 10, she can tell you." He grabbed his beer and continued moving away.
Katy trotted behind and said, "But Mr. Morelli...."
Vinny spun and focused a steel-bending look on her. Very slowly, he said, "Miss.... You are taxing my patience."
The clue bus pulled up at Katy's stop, and she got on. Vinny continued on into my office. He cracked his beer open and commented, "I swear, being nice to reporters is like being nice to pigeons. You're nice to one, all of a sudden you're surrounded by the bastards, and you end up getting covered with shit. I'll talk to that woman Pauline again, but only in private. Hey Lenny, are you working on something on the computer?"
I was sitting at my desk, staring at the screen of the Macintosh. I was looking at a message that had been posted five minutes earlier. The header simply read, "the WAGES of SIN is DEATH." No name. The body read, "the day of RECKONING is nigh. your SLUT WHORE goddess becky page shall be moved from earth to be JUDGED by GOD. we will remove her - for all eternity - she will return to HELL - your false idol will die - the WHORE will drown in her OWN BLOOD AND THAT OF HER FILTHMONGER PIMP HUSBAND IN THE PLACE THEY DWELL THEY HAD BEEN WARNED NOW WE SHALL DO WHAT WE HAVE BEEN CALLED TO DO"
I grabbed the phone and called Syko. When he answered, I said, "It's Lenny. Check the phone logs on the server machine, a message just dropped in a few minutes ago and I want the fucking phone number it was placed from. No user name, just a header that says, 'the wages of sin is death.' I'll wait."
Syko got up, I heard keys tapping, then he was back. He said, "(714) 555-7633. Yeah, I'd want that number too, I read the post. A 714 area code would be most of San Bernardino county, Riverside county, and I think part of Inyo county. Call all three sheriff's departments out there and try to get them on the ball. Hopefully it wasn't either a campus computer or someone with a portable computer using a modem at a pay phone."
"Thanks, man. I owe you a solid."
"Keep our girl safe, that's good enough for me. Hasta."
At that exact moment, I wasn't in the mood to look up the phone numbers for cops in other counties. So, I threw caution to the wind and dialed the number. It rang four times, then a man answered.
"So the wages of sin is death, huh, motherfucker?" I said into the receiver.
There was a pause, and the man said, "Who is this."
Another brief wait. Then, "You will always be too late, and too slow. You can't stop us. The lord is on our side, we will not falter or stumble. We have our path to follow, and are guided by the light of righteousness. The path leads to your door, where we shall rid the world of a source of disease and evil. We have ---"
I cut him off. "Look, you ass-clown, I've got your phone number. You are no longer anonymous, and you are easily located. Expect Johnny Law in about two hours. You can't get that far in that amount of time."
The man laughed at that. I didn't like it. He said, "I'll save you time. 15449 Silver Lane, Baker, California. Goodbye, whoremonger." (*click*)
I called the Berdoo Sheriff's Department to report a threatening computer message, sent to the Becky Page Fans BBS in San Diego. Blah blah blah, information, information. They said they'd send a car out to see if anyone was home. They'd call me back within ninety minutes.
It only took fifty minutes. The rep from Berdoo sheriff's said ten minutes after I called, there was a report of an explosion north of central Baker. Responding units found a single-wide mobile home blown all to hell on Silver Lane, with an address of 15449. It would take a while to see if anyone was inside at the time, and to sift through what was there. According to records, the property was owned by a Mr. Mather Owens of Merced, California.
Vinny asked me what the fuck was going on, so I told him.
The picket broke up around 3:30. All three news vans were long gone, and had expressed no interest in continuing to speak with the protesters. As dumb as they were, our collection of moral censors had figured out what a pointless endeavor picketing us was. The location, on a dead-end residential street, was as heavily-traveled as the National Goiter Museum in Lander, Wyoming. During the off-season. Also, the deputies had let them know they'd be leaving around four, which meant the protesters would be alone with the pornographers and Hell's Angels. This sounded like a bit of risk to the protesters. They skulked out to their cars in near-silence, threw the signs in trunks, and left.
I"d given Gina instructions to call Angel's pager every fifteen minutes to see if he was finally back in range. She was able to get a page through around ten past four, and Angel called back two minutes later.
"What's up, Lenny?"
"A whole shitload of stuff. Right now, where are you?"
"At a pay phone in the Merced County courthouse. If you've been trying to page me, it's been turned off, I've been in a courtroom with an electronics-free rule. Why?"
"Was Mather Owens in court with you today? Has he left the courthouse, that you know of?" I asked.
"His lawyer was here, not him," Angel replied. "Owens is probably gonna be found in contempt, he was supposed to be here so the judge could hear, from his own mouth, why he violated the injunction. His lawyer delayed and dawdled and stretched as much as he could, but no Owens. Damn idiot."
"More like a man who thinks he has nothing to lose. Owens is going to bolt, if he hasn't already. Tell the cops to head straight for his house."
"What's up, Lenny? Why do you say that?"
I explained about the BBS message, the phone call, and what I"d heard from the Berdoo cops. "They blew up a mobile home to cover their tracks for sending a single threatening message to a BBS two counties away. Doesn't that sound just a little bit like an overreaction? Some loser with a PC and a modem rendered himself homeless to throw off the scent over a crime he'd probably get probation for. I'm afraid these people are very focused, and very unstable. Get the sheriffs to round up Mather Owens, he has some explaining to do."
"Okay, I"m on it, Lenny," Angel replied. "So how has the day been otherwise?"
I started laughing. I couldn't help myself. I told Angel to call me at home when he got back to Encino, he'd want a comfortable chair and easy access to his wet bar. In fact, just drag the chair to the wet bar, to save time.
Angel did what I asked. The sheriff's department told him an APB was already out for Owens, but they hadn't been to his house yet.
They were called there quick enough. It was engulfed in flames, the whole thing, an obvious arson job: pour fuel, like kerosene or butane, all over each room. Lots of it. Leave a trail to the front door. Light a match, and throw it in. Every room will go up at about the same time. For anyone who has a financial interest in arson, it's a piss-poor job, it's too obvious, the insurance companies will never pay off . But if you just want to get rid of a house, it works peachy.
I felt it was time to get really, really fucking serious.