Even home feels a bit crowded. Along with Bekka, Jane, and myself, Terry is here, as well as Drummer and Vinny. At least Vinny is sleeping at the studio, up in the penthouse. Considering what is going on, Terry positively bullied her way in, as angry and locked down as I've ever seen her. "No, woman. No goddamn motherfuckin' way am I leaving you alone.... No offense, Lenny." ("None Taken.")
Bekka stared at Terry, her jaw set. She said, "Terry, as my friend, I don't want you hurt trying to protect me. I'm no Calvinist, but if my number is up, my number is up, and I don't want you taking bullets when I'm just gonna die anyway. And as my employee, you're not getting paid enough to risk your life. That's a horrible way of treating someone, monetizing their mortality. We sleep on the third floor, we both---"
Terry cut her off. "Okay, you're on the third fuckin' floor. Who's on the second? Gator Bait is. If the motherfuckers hit this place, they're gonna be covering all their bases, they're gonna croak anyone alive in this house. With me not here, fuckin' Jane gets killed first. Fine, fuck you, I ain't staying here for you. Jane's my fuckin' friend too, and I'm keeping her ass covered, even if means I get lead poisoning. Jane'll hear the ruckus and be able to grab that tiny pistol of hers, have a fuckin' fighting chance. Okay. Woman, I'm staying."
Then there was a Haley's comet-like event. Terry shed tears. Real ones. She burbled, "God dammit, I'm so fuckin' worried about you. I've gotta do.... something, I've gotta feel like I can be useful. Please, let me try...."
Bekka and I both went over to Terry and wrapped our arms around her. She spent maybe fifteen seconds sniffling and shuddering, then sat straight up and pushed us away. "I ain't breaking down, I just.... You know.... I needed a little catharsis." She gingerly wiped at her eyes, then got a stricken look. "Oh, fuckin' shit! Drummer! Look, it it okay if he, uh...."
"Hey, I like the guy. Fine with me if he stays here. Are you going to pick him up?" I asked.
"Um.... Aw shit, the spare keys to the Nova are hanging in the fuckin' kitchen. I'll just have him drive up."
"Is he licensed?" asked Bekka. "Hell, when was the last time he drove a car?"
Terry chuckled. "Almost certainly not, and who fuckin' knows. But I'm sure he can get from fuckin' OB to here in a car with a slush-box tranny, power steering, and decent power. He's sharp as shit when it comes to locations. He's been here once, so he can find it again, no fuckin' sweat. Lemme ring him."
She called her apartment. "Whassup, Boomer, it's Terry. Listen, some major shit has dropped with Becky, and I ain't leaving her side, and I don't know how long I'm gonna be there. What you need to do is pack for a few nights and come up here to Encinitas, where we stayed before..... Yeah, that place.... 816 Neptune.... No, just drive, there's key's to the Nova hanging by the fuckin' kitchen door. I know you probably ain't licensed, but.... Naw, it's cool dude, just don't fuck with the switch for the blower....
"Aw c'mon, look, have you driven a fuckin' car since 1972? ... Okay, then you got no worries, the fuckin' Nova is a no-brainer. No.... No, it's good.... So don't speed, don't run lights, just be casual! ... Okay....Okay.... You got the number here, right? Talk to you in a few."
Terry hung up and said, "Fuckin' Drummer thinks the goddamn Nova is some sorta fuckin' priceless hot rod or some shit, and he's nervous about driving it. He's gonna just sorta cruise it around the neighborhood for a few, to see if he feels comfortable. I'm sure he'll relax. If not, uh, I"m gonna have to go get him. And he hates double packing on Eddie." (Eddie was the name of her Ninja-beater putt, a modified Harley Air-Glide so fast it scares the shit out of the toughest of putt-monkeys. It was her daily rider. It would outrun Ninjas, Ducati 900s, and any other crotch-rocket on the market.)
"If it's an issue, I"ll run down and pick him up," I offered. "You, Jane, Bekka, and Vinny can just wait here."
I didn't need to worry. Drummer called back about ten minutes later. Short answer: he'd drive himself up. Long answer: he couldn't remember the last time he'd had that much goddamn fun without committing multiple felonies. He gave an ETA of thirty-five minutes, so I ran to Safeway and got him drinks: a twelve-pack of Coca-Cola and a jar of jalapeno peppers. He was in front of me when I was pulling onto Leucadia Ave., so I flashed my lights and honked the horn. He stopped at the beach lot to see who had a problem with him. I said, "Perfect, park here, I'll give you a ride up the hill."
"Damn and shit, Becky ever gonna have a sound night's sleep again?" Drummer asked me as I backed into the garage. "The U.S. of A. was founded by people tryin' to get away from religion dictating government. Look at Benny Franklin, or John Adams, They knew better than to have God throwin' his weight around in government. Hah, I like Benny Franklin! A damn womanizing anarchist agnostic, and he's on the hunn'red dollar bill. Them holy rollers can suck on that, you know?"
Vinny had been engaging in some serious telephone work in my office (which had a second phone line) for a while. He emerged at the same time we were getting into the living room. Vinny gave Drummer a look of bare confusion when he saw him. Drummer's hair was trimmed, he was clean and shaved, his clothes were clean, and the only odor he put off was the slightest hint of Right Guard, and he was stone sober (as he had been for a couple months).... But anyone who'd lived in an urban area would still see him and think, "There goes a man how drinks at an Olympic level."
I introduced them. Vinny asked Drummer what his full name was. "Drummer's good enough," he was assured.
"So you're legally known as Drummer?" asked Vinny. "Is that the name the IRS knows you as?"
Drummer grinned and said, "Legally, I'm mostly known as a pain in the ass. And according to the IRS, my name is Hoozis Fukkhoo."
"Damn straight. Anyone calls lookin' for Hoozis Fukkhoo, I know it's the IRS, so I tell em', 'It's me, and fuck you.' and hang up."
We all chuckled at this, even Vinny, who said, "I'm guessing you're a man who plays by his own rules."
"Oh, hell no," said Drummer. "I always end up trying to cheat and bribe the referee. I got me some basic guidelines, that's all. Any advice that don't fit on Burma-Shave signs is worthless, that there's someone tryin' to give you rules. If you can't fit your advice into a goddamn haiku, then don't bother me with it."
"Drummer is my roommate down in OB," said Terry. "He likes company. I didn't want him to just be sitting the fuck around the apartment with nobody there all fuckin' day, so he'll be here with me."
As an explanation to Vinny, Drummer said, "I been a bum for thirty years, and been drunk for thirty-three of those years. Missy here tole me to get sober, if I did, I'd have a home and I"d have a friend. Hell of a two-for-one offer. Nine weeks without a drop, and missin' it less and less. Damn and shit, the girl knows if I was alone at her place, I'd get lonely, and I'd get tempted. It's too kind of Lenny and Miss Becky to put up with an old juicer like me hanging around with them all goddamn day and night. Ain't got much use, except for proving that gravity still works."
"I got you drinks and mixers," I told Drummer. Coca Cola and jalapenos. Five per glass, right?"
"And a tiny tip of the juice from the jar," Drummer informed me. "Keeps me sober. The Coke and peppers, damn and shit, they make yer stomach burn. I feel that burn, I think, 'Well hell, I musta had something good to drink!; and pay it no more mind."
I went into the kitchen to get drinks for everyone. Bekka said to Vinny, "So what's the scoop?"
Vinny frowned and said, "We're lucky we're the fuckin' mafia, we've been tapping a lot of people for a lot of information. Okay, Mather Owens wasn't found dead in his house, once they got the fire out. Merced FD said you could still smell the kerosene from the torch job. The forensic people are gonna be sifting through ashes for anything worthwhile. Owens is in a 1988 Grand Am, white, plate number 2HHR778. Statewide APB. FD hadda hold back in putting out the fire, they could hear ammunition going off, and plenty of it. He's got a .32 Ruger registered in his name, but that don't mean shit for the area. He could have fifty hunting rifles and nobody would know it, they don't get registered.
"The mobile home in Baker was owned by Owens, but was filed as a rental property. Most recent tenant, one Donald Ingram. That checks out, that's who's been paying the phone bill there for over two years. Get this, Ingram is on the FBI's Watch List, he's been around both apocalyptic- survivalist groups and white supremacists for a fuckin' long time. He ain't no spring chicken, going by how far back his file dates. He sat in Folsom for five years, '73 to '78, for gun-running. He's in a 1980 Dodge van, blue, but no plate that can be confirmed. That's kind of a guess, DMV shows no vehicle registered in his name, and he's got four county-level busts for driving cars with stolen plates on 'em.
"In other news, Lenny? That kid out in El Centro who helped you? His nonno is also associated with the Christian apocalyptics. Name, Edgar Sanderson. No watch list, but he likes to donate money to those Bible-whackin' survivalists. The survivalist compound gets registered as a real church, they go rattling the tin cup, the Feds subpoena their bank records, lo and behold, Edgar Sanderson of Heber, California sent them at least $500 at some point. The biggest was $5,000, to some mooks in Idaho called the Revelations Brotherhood. The Feds knocked them out in '83, their compound was like something out of Cambodia, from the reports. Fuckin' land mines, bunkers, a tunnel network, stockpiled food and munitions, the whole nine yards. And they seemed to be the type that felt if the apocalypse wasn't coming fast enough, they'd start it themselves."
"Any idea where Sanderson was getting the money from?" I asked. "He wasn't living rough, exactly, but you'd think if he had a bit of dough, he'd live someplace a little better than Heber."
Vinny answered, "Sanderson is a retired utility worker. A lot of people are now asking where that moolah came from, he's given away nearly $400,000 since about 1977, and all to Bible-and-bullets groups." He looked around at everyone, then said, "Lenny, I need to talk to you in your office a minute."
We went into my glorified refrigerator box, spare space which hung over the garage. I plunked myself down in my desk chair, Vinny leaned against a file cabinet. He said, "Look, we're in a bind. Okay, we got the address and name list for the newsletter subscribers, but it's gonna take a while to sort through all of them. Our only possible source of greater information is Edgar Sanderson.... and that's assuming he's not heard news over their grapevine and also disappeared in the smoke of his own house burning down. Can you call your friend and have him do a drive-by of his grandpa's place? If he's still around, we want words with him."
"Who's we?" I asked.
Vinny gave me a look and said, "Who the fuck do you think? The family, you mook. This is very much family business, we got people threatening full-fledged mafioso, and that shit won't do, okay? You seem to be forgetting, your fuckin' wife is mafioso, she's full-fledged Cosa Nostra, and one held in very high regard. It wouldn't matter if Bekka was a goddamn nursery school teacher for a living, someone is threatening her, and she is mafioso, so the family is going to eliminate the threat. Anyway, can you call your friend?"
"Yeah, no problem." I pulled out my wallet and dug through for the scrap of paper with Mike's number on it. Ring, ring, ring, an adult male voice answers and says yes, Mike's home, one moment.
Click. "Mike, it's Lenny. Whassup."
A hollow voice yells, "Dad, hang up the extension!" Another click. Then, "Hey, what's going on?"
"Have you seen or heard from your grandpa over the last several days?"
"Um.... Sorta. You know how I've been taking care of his cats? Today I got home from school and all three are sitting in carriers outside the front door. Right in the sun, no water, no food, no padding.... I got them in the garage where it's way cooler, put down some water, then jammed to the Save-Mart and picked up a litter box and food and shit. Finally, the old bastard is admitting he doesn't actually like them."
I pondered this and said, "Or, he is just human enough that he won't just let them die in the house. I gotta ask, is your grandpa sort of a survivalist type?"
"You mean, like with stored food and lots of guns, stuff like that?" Mike asked. "No, I don't think so. He's got the usual earthquake preparedness stash, like everybody else in California, but he hasn't dug a fallout shelter in the back yard or filled his house with guns. Why?"
"I learned a little about him today. Edgar Sanderson of Heber has donated a shitload of money to all these apocalyptic Christian survivalist groups over the years, like four hundred grand since the late '70s. I know he's a retired utility worker, so it's not like he's rolling in dough. I gotta wonder where the money came from, and why he'd give money to those groups."
Mike sounded genuinely perplexed. "Whoa.... I dunno. Okay, grandpa has never met a conservative Christian organization he didn't like, but.... Huh. Why, what's up?"
I encapsulated the events of the day. "The newsletter subscribers would seem to be a lot more tight-knit that we thought, they might not be just random idiots. When you torch your own house, that's a sign you think you have nothing to lose. We don't know how well their grapevine communicates, so it's impossible to say if your grandpa would know about Mather Owens burning down his own house, or this dickhead out in Baker blowing up his trailer..... Look, I"m gonna ask you to do a bit more cloak and dagger, but it's real simple. Just drive by grandpa's house and make sure the fucking place is still standing, and it looks as though it's inhabited. Just drive by tonight and see if the lights are on and if his car is there. Can you do that?"
"Um.... I dunno. My parents will want to know where I'm going on a school night, and I can't tell them, 'Spying on grandpa.' They're already kind of annoyed about the cats. They were bugging me about what I was gonna do with them, I and I was all, 'Well, keep 'em. I'm the only human they trust.' They want me to adopt them out, or turn them over to a shelter. Fuck that, I love these cats. Know what I mean?"
I stared up at the ceiling, where I'd pinned one of Bekka's Penthouse centerfolds. Finally I said "Okay, I've spelled out the connections in the events of the day. Go ask your dad if you can go out. If he wants to know why, tell him. Tell him exactly why, and who's asking you to do it, and if he'd like to talk to me, I'll be right here, waiting on the phone. We're playing what few cards we have, but we have to play them all, no matter how arcane they seem. Just knowing if your grandpa pulled a powder will give us another solved clue." I pondered briefly. "Your dad is a Becky Page fan, right?"
"Oh, hell yeah," Mike answered. "Heh, it kinda bugs my mom a little."
"Explain that the root source of all this weird bullshit you're talking about is Becky Page. I'm sure this little paranoid Christian splinter group has more targets than her, but she is the one I care about, and the only one I can try to help. Hell, he can ride along with you to Heber. You're driving there, doing a slow cruise past Grandpa Sanderson's place, and coming straight home again. Then you're calling me and relating what you observed. And when we clear this shit up, I'll make sure Bekka comes out and gives your dad an autograph, a kiss, and a nice long hug. That's what I can offer off the top of my head. Go talk to him."
Mike set the phone down. I lit a cigarette and drained off the last of my Johnnie Walker. Seven or eight minutes passed. Vinny said, "So what's going on?"
"I'm gonna try to save time by having someone local check on Edgar Sanderson's place. His absence will explain a few things. If he's still around, he can answer some questions, and we'll have a lot more clues.... Yes, hello?"
An adult male voice said, "This is Mike's father, Alex Gardner. Who am I speaking with?"
I replied, "Sir, my name is Leonard Schneider. I am the COO of Inana Productions, the adult video company that produces all of Becky Page's movies. Becky Page, real name Bekka Schneider, is my wife. Right now she would appear to be under considerable threat, as Mike probably explained to you."
"I'd like to hear your explanation."
So, I gave it to him. When I finished, I could hear him breathing down the phone. Then he said, "You're trying to drag a teenage boy into this situation. How old are you? What do you expect from my son?"
I replied, "Like I said, sir, I don't want him involved, really. Just to drive by the residence of Edgar Sanderson and see if anyone is home or not. Ride with him, that's fine, four eyes are better than two. Also, I"m twenty-three. I'm just getting to the age where the energy and chutzpah of youth surprises me."
After a few ticks, Gardner said, "All right. This shouldn't take half an hour, and we're not stopping the car. Anything we should look for?"
I considered this, and said, "Let me know if there's any extra cars parked out front. Like if there are visitors. Thank you so much, I'll hear from you soon."
"So Becky Page is going to come out here and visit me, huh?" He sounded skeptical.
"Yes, she will. Her legal name is Bekka Schneider, she's my wife. I'll be with her, along with a couple other people. But we'll come to visit, maybe have dinner at Tomaso's."
"Okay. We'll be calling back soon." (*click*)
"What's the word?" asked Vinny.
"About a half hour," I answered. "So.... Do you have plans, of some sort?"
"Me personally? No. But I know Angel has been ---"
There was a knock on the office door. I called, and Terry stuck her head in. "Bekka says Bobby is on the phone, and wants to talk to you."
I'd heard the phone in the living room ring a couple minutes earlier, but had paid it no mind. Now I was racking my brain.... Bobby? Do I know anyone named.... Oh yeah! I jumped up and motioned for Vinny to follow. With a smile, Bekka held up the phone to me. I grabbed it and said, "Hello Bobby, it's Lenny, how are you?"
Robert DeNiro, "Bobby" to his friends, replied, "I'm doing okay. I caught the news earlier, just as I was headed out the door. Sounds like you've had an eventful day."
"Oh Jesus. You don't know the half of it." I gave DeNiro a Cliff Note summary of how the day had gone, and also what had been learned about the Moral Militia splinter group. "Shit is going down, big time. It's like a damn movie, only it's happening in real life."
"You're under serious pressure, huh? Would you mind if I came down to visit? I can help keep an eye on things with you, you know? I'd like to think I can lend a hand to my friends when they're having trouble."
I thought about that briefly and replied, "I'd like to see you again. If you don't mind walking into a rather chaotic environment, come on down. However, I'm leaving the decision up to Bekka, she may not be up for company, nothing personal against you. Here, talk to her some more."
I handed the phone back to Bekka. Her and Bobby began talking. While they were, Jane came downstairs. As always, she was nude, and her mohawk was a much more vivid blue than it had been earlier, she'd just finished a dye job. Vinny went bug-eyed. Drummer gave her a brief look, shrugged, and went back to reading the science fiction paperback he'd brought with him. Jane settled in my lap, lighting a Newport.
Bekka looked pointedly at her and said into the phone, "Bobby, what are your feelings about naked punk rock girls wandering around? ... Jane. She declared herself a nudist over the summer, and now insists on being without clothing when she's home. Lenny and I have adjusted, so have our friends.... Oh, that's definitely one aspect.... Wonderful. I'll have a room ready for you, see you in a couple hours. Remember, you'll have to park at the beach lot, at least temporarily.... Okay, a couple hours.... Spero di vederti presto, Bobby."
Vinny tore his eyes away from Jane and said, "You've got somebody coming to visit? Who? Who the hell is Bobby?"
I burst into laughter. Bekka smothered her own snickers and said to me, "Lenny, shall we let it be a surprise?"
"Oh, definitely. Vinny, I think you'll like Bobby. he's a good man. Now, who besides me wants another drink?"
A half hour later Mike called. Grandpa Edgar's car was in the driveway, and there was a blue Dodge van parked at the curb he'd never seen before. The lights were on. Mike said, "Dad had a good idea. He's gonna call grandpa and ask if he wants the pet carriers back, he'll call in the morning. If grandpa says yes, Dad will take them over after work,sorta see what's going on, if he can." He paused. "Um, him and Mom aren't real keen on me adopting three cats, especially these three. They love me, they come right up to me when they see me. But they either run and hide or get their hackles up and hiss and howl if Mom or Dad try to approach them. I told them they're pretty much un-adoptable as they are, a shelter is gonna put them to sleep."
I advised him to try and soften up his parents to the idea of having the cats. If they were steadfast about them leaving, Bekka and I would have them moved to a no-kill shelter we'd donated money to locally, who would work at socializing them and getting them "forever" homes, as the pamphlets called adoption homes.
Around 10:45 the doorbell rang. I went downstairs to answer it. There stood Robert De Niro, a case in his left hand, the right one extended for a shake. "Hey Lenny, how ya doing?" he exclaimed. "Or is that a stupid question tonight?"
I invited him in, telling him we had kind of a full house, people who wanted to stick by Bekka, no matter what, and would he like a drink? "Would love one. Any chance you got Hennessey? If not, a Johnnie Walker, I know you got that in the house.."
"In fact, we do have Hennessey," I replied. "Let me introduce you around.... Jane, Terry, Drummer, Vinny, this is our friend Bobby. He's gonna be staying here a couple nights. He's good people."
Reactions were varied. Drummer looked up, smiled and shook hands, then returned to his space opera novel. Terry looked surprised, but kept her cool, also shaking hands and saying, "Good evening." Jane rose from the love seat to extend a hand, saying, "Wow, of all people to meet in my living room." And Vinny had gone both rigid and catatonic, his eyes bugging out of his skull.
De Niro approached Vinny to shake hands. Vinny returned to animation and blurted, "Mr. De Niro, this is an honor! How do you know these two?"
De Niro said, "Please, call me Bobby. My friends call me Bobby, and if you're a friend of Bekka and Lenny, you're a friend of mine. To answer your question, I met Bekka at Disneyland over the summer. She was escorting a group of Italian businessmen around the park. They were being denied admittance to a, uh, certain area, and I smoothed the way. I'd wanted to meet Bekka for a while, I've been amazed at her acting talent for a while. We got to have a good meal together and talk, and we've met up a few more times since. How do you know Bekka and Lenny?"
"Ah, I'm part owner of Inana productions. My cousin Angel owns 65%, I own 35%. Really, the studio is his baby. We own a total of six adult studios, and Inana is the big dog, the power player. Yeah, I've known Bekka since she was twenty, when she first started. We didn't see a lot of each other, but I'd drop down here every now and then."
"And I had no clue who you were until the fall of 1988," said Bekka. "You, Angel, and Frankie would show up, Rick would whisk you into his office, You could have been the law, you could have been lawyers, you could have been the best-dressed Orkin men in the world. Lenny and I didn't get to know you until Rick started losing his mind."
I started laughing and said, "I never told you just how damn nervous I was when I picked you guys up that first morning, did I? Remember? I was driving Bekka's old Falcon, because Rick had flaked on renting a car and it was the only thing that would hold four adults we had access to. Then we got followed by that idiot Todd, and I sorta had to show off my driving skills. I figured you guys would either give me a raise or take me behind the mansion and blow my head off. I wasn't used to people who carried guns."
"Okay, you're one of the Morelli cousins," said De Niro. "Where are you from originally? Which borough?"
"Brooklyn, in the Heights," replied Vinny. I grew up down the street from the NYU engineering school. You?"
"In the Village. On Sullivan, near Washington Square Park. You spend any time up there?"
"Yeah, I'd have to do, uh, some business in the area when I was young. You ever eat at Solomon's Deli?"
"Of course! Best goddamn roast beef in the city! I'm guessing you ate at Little Mike's Pizza, if you were in the Heights."
"Oh yeah. That's where I fell in love for the first time. I was fourteen, and Mike had a nineteen year old daughter who was a knockout that bused tables. I'd go in and order a Coke, then bug her for a napkin, just so I could look down the front of her blouse. Oh yeah, I was a fuckin' smooth operator." Both men cracked up.
"So who were you working for back there?" asked De Niro.
Vinny pursed his lips and pondered how to answer. Bekka rescued him by saying, "Bobby, remember the gentlemen I was with at Club 33? They work for the same company."
The light dawned on De Niro, who simply said, "I'm half Irish, I couldn't work for that company if I wanted to. Whatever, I figured out I liked acting more anyway."
I brought De Niro his Hennessey and invited both men to have a seat. Vinny landed on the sofa with Drummer and Terry, while Jane eagerly gestured to De Niro, inviting him onto the love seat next to her. He sat and said, "Bekka mentioned living with a nudist. I'm assuming you are her. Either that, or you're even more absent-minded than most teenage girls."
"Yes, I'm Jane," she responded. "If you're uncomfortable, I can put my robe on."
"No, that's fine. Backstage at a theater, people will be changing costumes right out in the open so they can hear what's going on out on the boards. I got used to seeing naked women I didn't know by the time I was twenty-three. I have to ask, what prompted you to make this lifestyle choice?"
"I visited a nudist resort over the summer while traveling in Europe, and I was hooked. It was the most liberating feeling I'd ever had, to do nothing in the morning except shower and put on my Doc Martens. I was a little frustrated though. I was at a place called Lake Como in Italy, it's a family nudist resort. I'd see these hot young Italian guys and try to get a little friendly with them, and I was just scaring them. Finally someone tipped me off that between my American accent and my appearance, these guys had me pegged as a sexual predator, basically a rapist. And yeah, I was hot for them, but I wasn't about to tie them to my bed at our cabin, you know?"
"Be careful of Jane," giggled Bekka. "She has a very active libido for her age. If a small object with a blue mohawk tries to climb in bed with you tonight, whack her with a rolled-up newspaper." Jane stuck her tongue out at Bekka.
De Niro said, "I've gotta say, you've got an eclectic selection of people you hang around with. Terry, I"m guessing you ride a Harley-Davidson?"
"That's me, solid gold scooter tramp since I was thirteen," smiled Terry. "If they haven't told you, I"m Bekka's bodyguard. With all the shit going on, damn fuckin' straight I'm staying by her side. She ain't so much my employer, she's my fuckin' friend, and you always get your friends' backs when they need it, you know? Her and Lenny have helped me out too much for me to say, 'Sorry, I'm off the clock.' Any motherfucker that tries to get to Bekka has gotta go through me, and Lenny too."
"And who is the gentleman next to you?" asked De Niro.
Drummer looked up from his book and said in his screechy voice, "I"m Drummer. I'm a bum."
"Uh.... In what way?"
"Like I tole Vinny earlier, I been on the streets for thirty years, and of those thirty, I been drunk for thirty-three of them. Ain't had a drop for two months now. Terry tole me if I got sober, she'd let me live with her, and keep me in food and cigarettes. I took her up on it. I'm still a bum, though. Ain't too good for much. I'm too contrary for work, too slow for crime, and too ugly for marriage."
I told De Niro, "Drummer's powers of observation are uncanny. He's from a neighborhood down here called Ocean Beach. Anything that happens in OB, he knows about."
"He freaked me the fuck out the first time we met," said Terry. "He's all, 'Oh, I know you,' and proceeds to rattle off everything about my life for the last four years. Who I hung out with, where I lived, what I drove, what I did.... I"d never even noticed him around, you know?"
"People only noticed me if they was downwind," Drummer explained.
Vinny excused himself, saying he had to use the phone in my office. After he went in and closed the door, De Niro quietly asked, "So, Vinny is part of Cosa Nostra?"
Bekka sighed and put her hands on her knees. "Bobby, you'd agree friends shouldn't keep secrets from each other. I'm afraid Lenny and I have been keeping one from you. Yes, Vinny is part of the family. So am I. I'm the first full-fledged woman mafioso in the world. I am a made woman. Lenny has been an associate for over three years now, the family, through Angel, extended their hand to him, and after a while --- and receiving my approval --- he accepted. Then this last spring Don Vito extended his hand to me. He felt that I had a lot to offer for the family, and he wanted to break that barrier, he wanted the Southern California mafia to have the first female member. I was approved, went through the ceremony, and, well, here I am. My fluency in Italian is why I was escorting those gentlemen around Disneyland, yes, but the two previous days I'd been acting as translator for some family business talks. What was being discussed could not be handled by anyone outside the family, for a myriad of reasons. So yes, I am mafioso, and Lenny is an associate. I hope this doesn't bother you."
De Niro rubbed his chin and worked his eyebrows up and down. "Bekka, I consider you someone with a solid moral streak. You have your scruples. I won't ask about what it is the family has you doing for them. Just assure me that your own personal scruples are not being frayed by your connection, and that's all I need to know."
"They are not," Bekka assured. "I've never been asked to do anything I would consider out of bounds, or immoral, or even in bad taste. Just don't ask about legality."
"Good enough for me. From what I understand, you should be proud you broke all those generations of tradition, being the first woman wise guy. Wise girl? Is that what you are?" We all chuckled.
Bekka said, "On another subject, shall we go out Saturday to visit Mike in El Centro again? I got the impression that his father seems to doubt your veracity, so far as us being married. Twice now you've had Mike operating as a spy for you, in order to help protect me. I think it's only fair I put in an appearance sooner rather than later." She paused. "Bobby, how would you like to visit one of the least scenic places in California Saturday? We're going to El Centro to do a bit of important fan service. Have you ever been there?"
"I'm not even sure where it is," answered De Niro.
"It's in Imperial County, about two hours from here to the east. Flat, hot, dry.... But if you've ever eaten iceberg lettuce, you're familiar with the area's primary economic resource. A young friend of ours has been an aid in trying to keep tabs on the activities of the Moral Militia splinter group. His grandfather is part of that group. There's no love lost between grandpa and Mike's family, so Mike has helped us out, and at this point, so has Mike's father. His father is a fan, and would like to meet me."
De Niro said, "Sure, what the hell. We'll give 'em a celebrity two-for-one. Who all is going?"
I pondered this. "Damn. Okay, me, Bekka obviously, you.... Terry will insist upon it.... Maybe Jane and Drummer can keep themselves occupied all day here?"
"I'm cool with that," said Jane. "Mike is a nice enough guy, but he has to constantly remind himself to not stare at my tits. His eyes bounce back and forth between my chest and my face. I'd rather he just stared at my tits, and was honest about it."
"I been to El Centro," said Drummer. "I was chasin' work, figgered even a juicer like me could pick lettuce. Damn and shit, two weeks out there, I was done. Ain't fit fer human habitation, don't know why anybody would wanna plant roots in that hellhole. 'Sides, I like to hit a AA meeting on Saturdays anyway. I'll figger out how to take the bus downtown from here."
Jane offered, "Tell you what. On Saturday, you can give me a tour of Ocean Beach, I've never spent any time there. I'll find something to do while you hit your meeting, then we'll get some dinner. You like spaghetti?"
"Just so long as you remember yer clothes Saturday, missy," answered Drummer. Damn cops in OB keep a hard enough of an eye on me already, no sense in attracting attention."