Monday, February 13, 2017

Preacher (Part 17)

     Things seemed to get sedate again.  Terry went back to Ocean Beach.  Drummer had done his seventy-two hours, and the interviewing shrinks determined that he was no more insane than anyone else.  He was just a stubborn old man who had lived very rough for much of his adult life, and wanted to be left alone.  Anonymity is a good way of accomplishing that.

     The script Mallory sent me was a dream.  It was slightly odd: there was little actual coitus in the sex scenes.  Just due to the nature of the "touch therapy" espoused by the "holistic chiropractor," actual fucking wouldn't have made sense.  Lot's of jacking, lots of sucking, damn little intercourse.  The characters Mallory had created were far more nuanced than the ones I wrote.  I left the finer points of character definition up to Small Steve, myself, and the performers to hash out during pre-production.  Mallory spelled them out on paper, both through the script itself and several pages of character notes, the roles being described in detail.  The satire was wonderful.  Nothing in the paean of non-traditional medicine went un-scorched.  Homeopathy was a central target.  So was crystal therapy, vegan diet, and the power of metals like copper to have healing powers.  The "patients" who subscribed to these treatments weren't actually sick, they were new age hypochondriacs.
     The private investigators in El Centro were collecting a list of cars and license plates of people visiting Edgar Sorenson.  They took photos, too, using long lenses to capture images of those coming and going at the house.  They were all men, none were under forty-five, and all of them looked as though their lunch hadn't agreed with them.  What was determined was that whatever else Sorenson was doing with the splinter group, he wasn't warehousing firearms.  Nobody coming or going carried anything bigger than a backpack.
     In other news from El Centro, Cheryl and Roxanne called.  They had talked things through, and reached an understanding: each one thought the other was hot as Georgia asphalt, and they chose to act on this information....  But a bit slowly.  Both felt they'd be more comfortable if they worked their way up to full-on girl/girl action, not dive straight in (so to speak).  They'd talked about involving Biff at some point, but that would be a while.  They wanted to be comfortable with each other first, and enjoy the pleasure of Sapphic contact with no testosterone involved.  Besides, both believed Biff would be way, way too eager when the idea of a three-way was proposed initially.  By the time Biff would be involved, the two girls would be relaxed and practiced with each other.  They wanted Biff to be cool about the situation, not jumping in like he thought a porn video had come to life.  "We want him to understand we're all going to be sharing each other, it's not him just getting to screw us both," said Roxanne.

     On the following Thursday, things got very, horribly, extremely terrible.

     It was about 1:30 in the afternoon.  The second loop of the day was being shot in Center sound stage.  Bekka had performed in the morning, she was now dressed, fed, and lounging around in my office on the sofa, reading the LA Times.  Terry and Dawn had switched days around in their schedules, so Terry was working for Inana that day, not for Bekka.  The morning performers, Donna, Jackie, and Chip, were hanging around in the kitchen, gossiping.  Spike was out front, probably bored out of his skull.  And I was at my desk, considering a block of dialogue in Mallory's script, which we'd named "Miss Treatment."  The exchange, about twelve lines, felt.... sloppy, somehow.  But I was hard-pressed to think up any alternatives to what was already on paper.
     The panic button lit up on the wall: Spike had hit it, alerting me to trouble.  He yelled at the one-way speaker, "Lenny!  Two cars!  Five people, with rifles, across the street!"  There was a brief pause, then a boom, the sound of the shotgun Spike kept leaning against the interior wall of the courtyard.  Spike yelled faintly, "One down!  I got--- " Then a deep bang, and a strangled yell.  I could barely make out footprints over the speaker.
     Bekka and I were out the door of the office, guns in hand already, and running for the front door.  I yelled over my shoulder, "Anybody down here, go in the lounge, we got shooters!"  I heard the three performers squawk, and start to move.  I threw the front door open, to find four men coming through the courtyard arch.  Two had shotguns, the other two had what appeared to be hunting rifles with large clips in them.  They looked as startled as I felt when they saw me, then charged the door.  I didn't get it closed quite in time, I was trying to hold back four men at once.  Then a round from one of the rifles blasted straight through the door at hip level, missing me by an inch.  I yelled at Bekka, "Back!  Gina's office!"  We retreated, stopping in the doorway of the first office along, watching the four men come to a halt in the entryway, pointing their weapons all over, scanning for any sign of people.  I aimed and fired, but my target shifted at just the wrong moment, and all I did was put a 9mm slug into the wall on the far side of the living room.
     I processed the men in the second we took to size them up.  All were white, about forty-five, and dressed in office casual clothes.  I saw no signs of extra ammunition, or anything to carry it in.  When I fired, they dove for cover, one dodging behind an ornate pillar which supported the second and third floors, the other three going behind the wall which ran under the stairs.  At the bottom of the stairs was a marble bench, like something from an ancient Greek bus stop.  A voice yelled, "Max!   Cover fire!"  The man behind the pillar stepped out and began firing a shotgun into the hallway which ran between the living room and the rear of the mansion, the hall the offices were located on.  We were pinned.
     While the shotgun was employed, the other three pushed over the bench, effectively creating a bulletproof barrier which faced directly into the hallway.  They'd have to keep very low, however.
     I measured time between shotgun blasts, and between the third and fourth one, I stepped out and began firing into the living room.  The shotgun man dodged back behind his pillar.  The sound of voices in tense discussion was audible, but unrecognizable.  I made out one word, "upstairs."
     It struck me the bathroom was closer to the men, and also had a better view of the living room.  I gestured at Bekka that I was going to move, and for her to hold her position.  Taking a peek, I saw no one visible.  Being closer, I could make out more words.  I heard, "That was her...."  "... downstairs...."  "... both of them...."  "... who else...."
     One of the three dove for the safety zone behind the bench.  The shotgun man darted across to the shelter of the wall.  I fired three shots at him as he moved, no luck.  Then a rifle barrel appeared above the now-vertical seat of the bench.  I just saw the top of a head, and eyes, so I shot at them.  One bullet was a bit too high, the other too low, pinging on the edge of the marble.  The rifle went into action, high-powered ammo shooting down the hall, plugging into the walls next to the doorway of the bathroom and Gina's office.
     A voice said, "I got 'em pinned from here."  I risked a peek around the edge of the doorway and saw all three men beginning to emerge from behind the wall, quickly.  As they danced around the end of the bench, I decided it was time to throw caution to the wind.   I leaned out and fired at them.  One dropped, another got an arm creased.  The hunting rifle behind the bench began firing again....  A round punched into my left shoulder.  I was forced back by the impact, losing my balance and falling on my back from the crouched position I'd been in.  I rolled back towards the bathroom doorway, but not quick enough.  A second round pierced my ribs on the left side.  The pain was unbelievable.  I could tell the shot had been on the outside of my rib cage, but still wasn't happy about it.  I finished rolling and tried to get back into a position where I could accurately use my Beretta one-handed.
     A different voice yelled, "He's down!  Take her!"  My field of vision showed the two standing men re-emerging from behind the wall, and much faster that time.  Also, the bench man was rising to a standing position.  I wiped at the sweat rolling into my eyes and got ready to shoot at anything moving towards me that I could see.  They had me hit, and were going to rush Bekka.  She couldn't shoot in two directions at once, so one of them would get a clear shot or three at her.
     As they passed the foot of the stairway, more shots rang out, but not from them, or Bekka and I.  Another invader dropped, blood gushing from his hip.  The remaining two standing jumped backwards towards safety.
     I heard Terry's voice yell, "Lenny!  Bekka!  You okay?"
    Bekka yelled, "I'm okay!  Lenny?"
     I grunted out, "Hit...."  My vision was going cloudy, and trying to speak felt like it took the same effort as lifting a Buick by the front end.
     Bekka's voice cried, "Lenny?  Lenny...!"  I tried to respond, but just made a croaking noise.
     Then Bekka was in the bathroom with me, kneeling beside me.  I flopped my head in her direction, amazed at the large pool of blood I was in.  I tried to smile at her and say something reassuring, but speech was not going to happen.  I felt as though I was being smothered by three tons of throw rugs.  I began to actively wonder if I was dying.
     Bekka's face.... changed.  Her lips peeled back, showing her clenched teeth.  Her eyes got so huge I couldn't believe it, and they were absolutely insane eyes.  She began to make long, repeated growling sounds in her throat.  Then she scooped up the Beretta from my limp hand and shot out of the bathroom, emitting one long bellow.
     I didn't see what happened next, but it was described to me.  Bekka ran straight towards the living room, aiming at the wall where the two men standing were at.  I began to hear both Bekka's Colt and my Beretta begin firing.  The bellow continued, as though Bekka had an unlimited supply of breath.  There was a single shotgun blast, but the two pistols were not silenced.  Terry and been stealthily descending the stairs, but when she saw Bekka fly past, she quit with the stealth and simply jumped all the way down to the floor.
     Then there was silence, briefly.  I could just hear Terry's voice say, "Bekka, don't."  Then Bekka was screaming, "They killed Lenny!  They killed Lenny!  I gotta do it, I gotta kill them all!  I'll kill them all!  Now!  Now!  I'm gonna kill them!"  Then everything went black.
     Terry told me later what had happened.  Bekka had simply charged the hiding place, both guns blazing.  One of the men got off a blast with a shotgun, but a round from one of Bekka's guns was hitting him at the same time, and the blast went into the ceiling.  Both men were down, hit at least three times each.  Terry reached the scene, to see Bekka standing over one of them, staring down and carefully aiming at his head.  The man was conscious, and was watching Becky Page aiming to blow his head off.  Terry grabbed Bekka, pulling her away and spinning her, so she could see Terry's face.  Bekka began her screaming about killing them all, and spun to fire one of the guns at the nearest downed man....  So Terry spun her back and punched her in the head, knocking Bekka loopy.  She dropped to her knees.  Terry grabbed the two pistols Bekka had and shoved them in pockets.  Then she kicked rifles and shotguns well out of reach of any invader who might try to reach for one.
     Terry ran down the hall towards the bathroom where I lay, half-dragging Bekka with her.  Terry said she stood and stared at me for a moment, then dropped to her knees and pushed her fingers against my carotid artery.  There was movement.  Terry yelled at Bekka, "Lenny's alive!   He's lost a lot of blood, but he's alive!  Listen, you can hear the fuckin' ambulance coming right now!"  Bekka was leaning against the wall opposite the bathroom door, her face looking like it had been torn apart and reassembled in a hurry.
     Bekka left the wall and threw herself on me, holding me.  While she was occupied with this, Terry ran out the front door to see what was up.  Spike was trying to drag himself back into the courtyard, with no assistance from his right leg.  The invader he'd shot had managed to roll himself about ten feet down the driveway, trying to reach the cars.  Terry said to Spike, "Dude, your leg is hit?  Anywhere else?"
     Spike bared his teeth at Terry and said, "Just the leg.  Hurts like hell, though.  More fuckin' blood than I expected.  Whassup inside?"
     "All four perps down, Lenny's hurt bad, Bekka is freaking out. I gotta get back in there."
     "Bekka is okay?" asked Spike.
     "Then we did our job," Spike smiled, and passed out on the driveway.

     A circus of emergency vehicles assembled at the mansion.  Seven ambulances were needed.  On-the-spot triage determined two of the invaders were not under immediate threat of death, and they were taken to the hospital in Vista.  The other three invaders were taken to Oceanside.  Spike and I were taken directly to Scripps Encinitas, the closest ER.
     Bekka was completely out of her tree.  Terry held her on a living room sofa while Bekka shrieked and wailed and sobbed and gasped, sure I was going to die from my wounds.  Bekka tried to punch Terry and get up, yelling nonsensically.  Terry pinned her arms and held her down, talking in calm tones in her ear, trying to reassure her.  The only thing out of Bekka's mouth that was intelligible was a screamed, "He's gone!  No!  NO!  NO!  NO!"  An eighth ambulance was called.  The EMTs took one look at Bekka and set up a syringe.  With Terry's help holding her, the syringe went into Bekka's arm.  She grew much quieter almost immediately, but just lay on the floor, pouring tears and burbling.  The EMTs got her on a gurney and strapped her down, taking her to Scripps Encinitas for psychiatric observation.
     Terry told the responding deputies that the motherfuckers who had attacked the fuckin' studio should be put on suicide watch, they were fuckin' friends of those other motherfuckers who'd blown their own fuckin' heads off in the canyon below the La Costa Glen condo complex.  If the motherfuckers wanted to die, fine, but fuckin' Becky Page would be the one to fuckin' off them, she got the right, you know?
     The sheriff's department would have to wait to get the full story on what had transpired inside the mansion, as I was in surgery for six hours, and Bekka was loaded up on Thorazine and God knows what else.  Spike was in surgery for four hours, a 30.06 round really tears up human flesh.  Donner and Miller were the plainclothesmen who responded, and took Terry seriously when she told them a suicide watch was in order for the five attackers.  The crew and performers on Center sound stage that afternoon had barricaded themselves in, refusing to open the door until they heard Terry's voice yelling at them all was clear.  Chip, Donna, and Jackie emerged from the lounge when they heard the deputies and EMTs enter the mansion.  Chip had hidden the girls well: he'd lifted up the front of a couple sofas high enough for the girls to slide under, one under each sofa.  The underside of the sofas were hollow, so the sofas were set back down, giving no hint of the women hiding underneath.  Chip had simply lay down behind one of the sofas, and prayed.
     When I came out of the ether, I looked around for Bekka.  She wasn't there, Roach was, along with Small Steve.  I asked where Bekka was.
     With an embarrassed expression, Roach said, "Um, she's here at the hospital too.  She's not wounded, but she thought you'd been killed, and went off the deep end.  Terry says she was absolutely gone, she couldn't stop screaming and thrashing around.  They had to dope her, now she's in the psychiatric wing here, under observation.  As soon as you got out of surgery, word was sent down to her wing so they could tell her you were alive and more or less well, but....  They got her really loaded up on dope, she may not have processed what they told her.  Once the dope wears off, they'll tell her again and allow her to come up here to see you, but she'll be in the company of one of the psych orderlies."
     I stared at the ceiling for a minute, then asked, "So what all was wrong with me?"
     Small Steve filled in that answer.  "You'd taken two rounds from a big hunting rifle, one in your left shoulder, the other in your left lung.  The lung wound was what needed the most attention, but your shoulder wound was also bad, the bullet nicked a big artery, and it was pouring blood.  You went through eight units during surgery.  But they're saying no permanent nerve damage, so long as you go through physical therapy, and they got your lung patched back up okay.  Oh, and you're under guard, there's a deputy right outside the door."
     "What about Spike?"
     "He had a leg wound.  He was as lucky as Goose was, no bone impacted, the femoral artery was untouched.  But just like Goose, a whole lotta flesh and muscle got torn up, and they had to put it all back together again so he'd regain full use of the leg;  He'll be okay."
     "Any word on the bastards that attacked us?" I asked.
      "Two are in Vista, the other three are in Oceanside," answered Roach.  "They're all on suicide watch, anything remotely harmful removed from their rooms, and a deputy to keep them company.  They've probably been ID'ed by now, but we don't know that information.  I suppose you'll learn in court, if not before."
     "Any statements from them?"
     "No idea.  No word."
     Just then the Sunshine Boys, detectives Miller and Donner, entered the room.  Both Steve and Roach gave them dead-eyed looks.  Roach's expression was borne of being an outlaw, but I didn't know the source of Steve's displeasure.
     I learned quickly enough.  Steve said, "Lenny has been awake for just a couple minutes, he's probably still groggy.  I'm going to remain here if you want to question him, I don't want you trying to grill him while he's out of it.  You can show him a little better manners than you showed me when we talked at the studio."  The end of the statement, "You fuckin' assholes," was left unsaid.
     I looked at the deputies and prodded, "Are you gentlemen giving a hard time to my director?  If so, why?  He was up on a sound stage during the action, he wouldn't have seen anything."
      Donner said, "Well, given the attitudes we've encountered from your employees while we interviewed people today, we've come to expect the lack of cooperation from them as we expect from you.  It must be a trait in the dirty movie business."
     I chuckled weakly and replied, "Maybe you cultivate those attitudes, Donner.  At your best, you're a condescending prick.  Then you lapse into threats and abuse.  Like the old computer programming phrase says, garbage in, garbage out.  Your people skills are lacking."
     "We spend too much time having to deal with people who like to fudge their facts, or just plain stonewall us," said Miller.  "We don't have time for games.  We ask direct questions, and we expect direct answers."
    "Uh huh.  Direct questions are fine.  Maybe if you phrased them in a more engaging manner, and didn't treat the people you're questioning with automatic contempt.  Who wants to cooperate with an asshole?  I've always wondered, Donner, what it it about me that got under your skin the first time we met, when Bekka was stabbed?  I can't find anything about the situation which garnered your instant dislike of me."
     "You're a punk, Lenny," glared Donner.  "Just another punk rocker, a beer-guzzling smartass who listens to garbage, hates all authority, and will never contribute anything worthwhile to the world."
     "This sounds like a contempt rooted in personal feelings, sir," smiled Roach.  "What, did a punk date your daughter and break her heart?"
    I a rather loud voice, Donner replied, "My own son got into that punk rock bullshit.  First the shit music, then the stupid haircut and ripped clothes, then he starts a band and spends all his time and energy on that instead of something worthwhile..."
    "What was the name of your son's band?" I asked.
     "The Guardians.  My son is the so-called lead singer."
     Roach and I both got amazed looks.  Roach said, "Oh my God, your son is Bam-Bam from the Guardians?  Too wild!"
     "They're still doing pretty well," I pointed out.  "Between record sales and touring, the band is making a living off what they do.  For any band, of any genre, that's saying something.  So what's wrong with Bam-Bam?  Was he an asshole when he was a teenager, a delinquent?"
     "No," Donner answered, looking away.  "He never got into any real trouble.  Hell, he was a good student, too, grades in high school good enough to get into any college he could have wanted....  And he throws away his opportunities so he can yell into a microphone and live out of a van, driving all over the damn country, him and his buddies making noise!
     "And Christ, the girls he'd bring home!  So much makeup they looked like raccoons, the most hideous haircuts you could ever imagine, foul mouths, dressed like sluts, sex on their mind...."
      Roach and I burst out laughing.  "Hey, he's describing Jane!" said Roach.
     I said, "The Guardians have been around since '83, and are still going strong.  Even stronger.  They aren't playing keg parties and tiny clubs, hell, the last time they were in San Diego, they sold out the Open Air Theater at SDSU.  I doubt they're rock star rich, but they're not living on ramen anymore.  Your son has done okay for himself."
     "My son fucked up his life," growled Donner.  "Him and his band run around making the most godawful noise, somehow making enough money to survive, and he could have been something, not just a big-mouthed smartass with a microphone."
     I said pointedly, "Your son is something.  He's the lead singer and lyricist for a really good band.  People love your son, he's clever and funny, and he's got brains.  The Guardians put on one hell of a show, people get a rush just watching them.  What is so contemptuous about being a popular entertainer?  Shit, at least he didn't become a street mime, or a new age musician.  Those would be fucked-up life choices."
     Donner didn't answer immediately, so Roach said, "Maybe the detective is angry because the dreams he had for his son weren't his son's dreams.  The detective is pissed that his son chose a different path in life than the one the detective wanted him to."
     "So your son chose to become an entertainer instead of going to college and becoming a white collar worker of some flavor," I observed.  "Okay.  Your son is talented enough that he supports himself with his art, and like I said, that's hard to do. Is he happy?  If he is, be happy with him.  He had a dream, and is actually living it.  People will remember the Guardians, and your son, for a long time."
     "My son could have been something...." Donner grumbled.
     I snapped, "Donner, what the hell did I just say?  Your son is something.  He has had an impact on the world, much more so than if he'd been some desk jockey with a liberal arts degree, like half the fuckin' country.  Jesus Christ, he's your son.  Apparently you had dreams of what his life, and goals, should be.  Well, tough shit.  Bam-Bam had different ideas, and unlike most people, he put the rubber to the road and made his music fairly popular.  The Guardians get air play on 91X, they sell out some pretty damn big venues, they've god good record sales....  Guess what?  To reach that level of success as a punk rock band takes a lot of damn hard work.  Your son put in the work, and is reaping the benefits.  Stop being all butt-hurt because he wanted a different life than what you wanted for him, and be proud he can make a living by making people happy."
     Donner spent a good twenty seconds alternating between staring at me or Roach.  Then he said, "Come on, Barney, we'll speak with Mr. Schneider in the morning.  He's still feeling the effects of anesthesia."  The two men walked out.
     Small Steve had remained silent through all this.  After a couple moments, he said, "Um, I'm gonna go down and see if Bekka can come up and visit.  I'll be back."
     He returned about ten minutes later.  Bekka was with him, along with an orderly.  Bekka walked into the room, stopped and stared at me, then launched herself at me.  I exclaimed, "Ouch!   Shoulder!  Shoulder!"
     Bekka got off of me, then held my face in her hands.  Tears were pouring down her face.  She still looked somewhat stoned on whatever the shrinks had given her.  She opened her mouth to speak, but just moved her lips without making a sound.  Then she got out, "Oh, Lenny....  I thought I lost you."  She began crying on full.
     I pulled her to me and hugged her, ignoring the pain in my shoulder and ribs.  I told her, "I wasn't lost, just briefly misplaced.  Now I"m back, and I'm not going anywhere without you."
     Her breathing was choppy and staccato, but Bekka wasn't actively crying. I held her as tight as I could manage, then had her stand back briefly while I wiggled myself to the left side of the bed.  Once there, I told her to join me.  She walked to the far side of the bed and lay down beside me.  I got my functioning arm around her, she cuddled up against me and said, "I'm staying right here.  I am not leaving you."
     "Sounds wonderful to me, hon," I replied.
     The orderly said, "Ms. Schneider, we should return to our wing.  As you can see, your husband is alive, and will recover from his injuries.  We need to return to the ward."
    Bekka stared briefly at the orderly, then gave him the finger.  The orderly looked affronted.  Me, Roach, and Steve all snickered.  The orderly walked to the side of the bed Bekka was on said, "Ms. Schneider, if you don't get up, I will have to assist you."
     I looked at the orderly, freed my working arm, and also gave him the finger.  Then I said, "Like hell if you're taking my wife away.  I'll stop you....  Okay, shit, I guess I'm not in the best position to run you off, but.... Roach, can I ask a favor?"
     "Say no more, Lenny," Roach purred, and went over to the orderly, standing two inches from him with his patented Hell's Angel glare in his eyes.  The orderly had certainly seen the colors when he came in the room, and was not happy with this turn of events. Roach made a sort of parody of a smile and told him, "These two have been through quite a lot today.  They are a couple in love.  I recommend you let them be."
     The orderly quickly left the room, without a word.  "Thank you, Roach," I said.
     I said to Steve, "So has anyone passed word along to Angel and Vinny?  I can think of about a hundred things that will need to be taken care of, and damn quick, but not even I am dumb enough to try and leave A.M.A."  (Against Medical Advice.)  "When do I see a doctor?  They're usually Johnny on the spot when a patient regains consciousness."
     As if I'd uttered the magic phrase, the doctor came in the room.  It was the same doctor Goose had when he'd been shot, a pompous, condescending prick.  I didn't remember his name.  He looked down at me, realizing he recognized me, but was probably drawing a blank why.  Then it must have clicked, and he said, "Good evening, Mr. Schneider.  I trust you haven't brought any beer with you to the hospital this time."
     "Naw, but I do have my flask in my jacket, wherever the jacket is," I shot back.  "Want a shot of Johnnie Walker?"
     "No thank you, I don't drink.  So, you were wounded with two rounds from a high-powered hunting rifle this afternoon.  What were the circumstances for this?"
     All of us except Bekka stared in amazement.  Surely the shooting at the studio had made the news, and even just be a topic of gossip and conversation around the hospital.  My presence there shouldn't be a mystery.  So I said what felt natural:  "You gotta be fucking kidding me."
     The doctor jerked his head back at the profanity.  He gathered himself and said, "No, I am not.  How did you come to be shot?"
     I sighed lightly and said, "Five armed men came to my video studio, and their goal was to kill Becky Page, my wife, this woman here.  We had a somewhat protracted firefight with the men.  I leaned out a little too far from behind cover and caught the load in my shoulder.  That knocked me over.  While I was still trying to get back under cover, I caught the round to my ribs.  To expand a little bit, there's three guys in Oceanside and two in Vista who also bought some lead today.  They're the ones who attacked us, and the reason I have a deputy outside my door.  So what's my prognosis, doc?  And remember, you're explaining it to people who haven't been to medical school.  Use word with four or fewer syllables."
     The doctor narrowed his eyes and said, "The shoulder is patched, with an impacted artery repaired.  There should be no permanent nerve or muscle damage, but you will need physical therapy for that shoulder to return to standard operation.  Your left lung was also hit.  While I was not present for the surgery, I've been led to understand the impacted lung was repaired, no complications.  Four ribs will need to mend, and the tissue in the area must heal.  I will assume your ultimate concern is when you will be released.  Barring infection or internal bleeding, another four days.  Monday."
     There were raised voices outside the door.  Two of the voices had a New Yawk sound to them.  Small Steve went out to try and smooth things with the deputy guarding the door.  He was successful, as a few moments later Angel and Vinny came in.  As always, they were in their tailored suits, looking like the made men they were. Angel said in his deep booming voice, "Lenny, how are you?  That sounds like a stupid question, but I want to hear your own opinion."
     "It's deja vu all over again, Angel," I smiled.  "You may be right, I'm immune to lead poisoning.  Bastards caught me in the shoulder, and ventilated a lung.  Funny, I was down for the count this time.  Last time the studio was attacked, I took five rounds and didn't go black until I was in the ambulance.  This time I started fading real damn quick, I guess from blood loss.  The blast to the shoulder nicked an artery.  It pisses me off, I scared the shit out of Bekka, I guess she thought I'd bought the farm."
     Bekka tilted her head towards Angel with a trembling smile.  She said in a soft voice, "I saw Lenny lying in a giant pool of blood, and he wasn't responding, and....  I thought that was it."  She sniffled and continued, "Angel, it felt like my heart and soul had been ripped away from me.  The only truly important thing in my life was gone, I thought, and.... Oh God.  You know how I've explained about Bekka and Becky, my egos, and how they are at the controls in my head?  I was so destroyed both of them hid.  I was a shell.  And all I could think about was killing, I had to kill those who had killed Lenny.  I shot them, but Terry had to stop me from executing them on the floor.  I still want them to die.  I was in a real bad space, I couldn't control myself, the belief that Lenny was gone forever turned me into a screaming monster.  The EMTs drugged me so I'd stop screaming and flailing.  Terry was holding me down a lot of the time, so I wouldn't hurt myself.  And now I can't bear the idea of being separated from Lenny, I'm afraid to let him out of my sight. I'm going to sleep right here, where I am tonight.  Hopefully I'll have calmed down when I wake up."
     Just then the orderly came back into the room, accompanied by two others.  These two were pretty damn large men.  The implication was that if Bekka didn't cooperate, they'd use force to get her back down to the psych ward.  They stood there briefly, without saying anything.  Vinny looked at them and said, "So who the fuck are you mooks?"
     The original orderly said, "Ms. Schneider, you need to return to the ward now.  Please, do not make this difficult for yourself."
     "What the hell is this?" demanded Angel.
     "Ms. Schneider has been admitted to the psychiatric evaluation unit here in the hospital.  She had a psychotic break earlier in the day, she was a danger to herself and others.  The trigger for the break was the belief that her husband had been killed.  He hadn't, and once he was out of anesthesia, it seemed only right to allow her to have a brief visit.  However, she has lay down where she is and refuses to get up.  She needs to return to the ward."
     "What's she hurting, being where she is?" asked Angel.  "If you thought the love of your life had been killed, you'd be pretty goddamn worked up, I'm sure.  And when you found they were alive, you'd probably also feel pretty clingy.  Let her stay, she's not hurting anything."
     The doctor said, "I'm afraid she cannot remain on the bed with Mr. Schneider.  She will obstruct the nurses when they wish to have him change position."
     "So, she'll get up and get out of the way while the nurses work then get back in bed with me," I insisted. "She doesn't want to leave, and I don't want her to leave."
     "This is not up for debate...." started the orderly.
      "That's right, it's not," said Vinny.  "Bekka don't want to be away from Lenny --- who can blame her? --- so she won't be."  He stepped across, to the curtains separating the halves of the double room, and pulled the curtains open.  The bed was vacant.  Vinny gestured and said, "You know what?  I'm gonna pay for that bed for the night.  Bekka can sleep there, where she can see and talk to Lenny.  Go call your billing department, get me a price, I'll pay it."
     One of the large orderlies said, with a God-help-us look, "Sir, this isn't a motel."
     "Yeah, I know that.  If it was, parking would be more convenient.  Nonetheless, what I'm trying to do is reach a mutually agreeable situation.  So what's so special about the ward you got Bekka on?  What's it got this floor ain't got?"
     "It's the psychiatric observation unit.  As has been mentioned, Ms. Schneider suffered a psychotic break earlier today, and was a danger to herself and others...."
     Angel cut in.  "Is she here on a 5150?"
     The first orderly said, "Well, her behavior was described to unit staffers and---"
     "It's a yes or no question.  Is Bekka Schneider under a 5150, an involuntary mental health hold, and if so, under whose authority?"
     After a pause, the orderly looked at a corner of the room and said, "No, she's not."  He paused again.  "She's lucky, she's a celebrity.  She was, technically, brought in by private ambulance, and law enforcement was not involved in her admittance.  A woman named Terry Patton was the one who explained the situation to us, she rode in with Ms. Schneider.  Also, the hospital is sensitive to the public interpretations that may be made if Ms. Schneider, or Becky Page if you wish, were admitted under a 5150.  We don't want her to be a target of the tabloids.  So, after she arrived, the unit still didn't call law enforcement, simply relying on information from Ms. Patton and the EMTs to admit her."
     "So legally, you can't hold her," Vinny said.
     "We can, but for a shorter period of time.  Only twelve hours.  And even then, the party who presented the patient to the unit can also sign the patient out, although we will always discourage it, telling them a psychiatric patient leaving a facility against medical advice rarely has a positive effect."
     Small Steve said, "Okay, if Bekka stays with Lenny up here, she may not be in your unit, but she'll still be inside the facility, technically speaking.  Why not just say Patient B. Schneider will be spending the night in this room, where the ICU nurses can certainly keep an eye on her.  What's the difference?"
     The first orderly said, "The difference is the psychiatric unit is a far safer place.  A patient who wishes to harm herself, or others, can easily find the means to do so on a regular hospital unit...."
     Roach cut in, "Hey Bekka, do you feel like hurting yourself?"
     "No, I don't," she replied.
     "How about other people?"
     "Oh, absolutely.  But it's four specific people I wish to harm, the ones who entered the studio and shot Lenny.  I wish to wreak bloody slaughter on them.  However, I've been led to understand they are in either Oceanside or Vista, and are being watched by sheriff's deputies.  While slaughtering them is a pleasant fantasy for me, the fantasy is just that.  I'm not about to act on these thoughts.  I'm not crazy."
     The third large orderly threw in his two cents.  "But you've been having violent fantasies about harming men who have never harmed you...."
     Bekka sat up, fixing a you-fucking-imbecile glare on the orderly that would have bent a Boeing in half.  She calmly said, "Yes, I have.  It doesn't matter they didn't injure me personally.  They nearly killed my husband, though.  For a while I believed he was dead.  And that belief temporarily destroyed my heart, my soul, and my psyche.  If Lenny had died, the destruction would be permanent.
     "Some wounds never heal.  The psychiatric profession would be all the king's horses and all the king's men, and I'd be Humpty Dumpty.  They'd never get me back together again, because there would be pieces missing.  Those pieces died with Lenny."  She stopped briefly and looked at the ceiling.  "However, Lenny is alive, and at my side, the way a husband should be with his wife.  Right now that simple thing is incredibly important to me, just to be in his physical presence is a psychological salve, soothing the wounds I suffered this afternoon when I saw my husband lying in a pool of blood, and not moving.
     "If you gentlemen wish me to return to the psychiatric unit, you will have to bodily carry me there.  I will not fight you, but I will not be cooperative, either.  And I will tell you now: I will truly, genuinely hate all three of you men.  I will be so uncooperative during my stay I'll probably be held for longer, which will only increase my obstinacy.  Gentlemen?  Are you truly interested in my mental health?  Then let me stay with my husband, I need the reassurance of his physical presence to heal my wounds.  Make your choice."
     There was silence in the room.  After a bit, I said, "You know what?  I'll tell you dudes from the psych unit right now, I've only got one working arm, I can't even sit up, but you're gonna have to deal with me if you try to take my wife away from me."
     Roach said, "These two need each other right now.  They need to be together.  Bekka is a friend of mine, and I don't like seeing my friends bullied.  Go ahead, insist on bodily moving her back to the psych unit.  But you're gonna have an obstacle in getting to her: me."
     "Me too," said Angel.
     "You mooks better believe it," added Vinny.
     "Leave well enough alone," murmured Small Steve.
     The three orderlies looked at each other.  After a few ticks, the first one said to the other two, "Let's talk in the hall for a minute."  They were outside briefly, then returned.  The orderly stepped over to the phone by my bedside.  He rested his hand on it and announced, "I'm going to get a staffer from the unit up here.  He and the charge nurse on duty for the ICU will have a talk with us, and see if a variance can be agreed upon.  Ms. Schneider, you will not be allowed to occupy the same bed as you husband.  However, the other bed in this room is vacant, so we'll see if it's possible to have you, as a registered patient at Scripps, be assigned to that bed.  You are no longer combative or agitated, and by my watch you are out of the umbrella of efficacy for the medications you were administered.  So long as you remain calm and rational, I will suggest this.... rather unusual arrangement be allowed to happen.  If at any time in the night you become agitated or expressive, you will be moved back to the psych unit.  Am I clear?  Let me make a call."
     The orderly spoke on the phone, then went out and found the ICU charge nurse and talked to her.  Several minutes later a guy who looked like Bill Nye the Science Guy arrived.  He, the charge nurse, and all three orderlies conferred outside the room.  After several minutes, the Bill Nye wannabe came in and said, "Ms. Schneider, we have discussed your situation.  Your psychotic break this afternoon was certainly caused by the belief your husband had been killed.  I can understand your desire to remain near him.
     "Normally, I would consider allowing you to stay in the room with him to be enabling behavior, reinforcing your dependence on your husband.  However, I feel allowing this little aberration in policy to happen will be healthier in both the short and long run.  In the morning, you are to return to the psychiatric unit to meet with the unit psychiatrist, and be evaluated.  This will determine how long we will press for your visit here.  If the decision is made that you should be remanded for more time, you may sleep in this room, and not be sequestered in the unit.  We are being very, very accommodating with you.  Please keep this in mind.  Sleep in the other bed, not with your husband, and if you begin to feel.... fractured, or upset, please let the nursing staff now immediately.  So long as your agitation remains at bay, without the use of medication, you will be allowed to remain in this room.  I must take care of some paperwork, excuse me.  Do you have any personal belongings downstairs?"
     "Only what is being held by the staff, things like my holster and purse and pocket knife, the stuff they don't want on a mental ward," Bekka answered.  "I have no clothes or toiletries, if that's what you're asking....  Angel, could I beg a favor from you?  Could you run to Thrifty's and pick me up a toothbrush and paste, and deodorant and...."
     "The hospital will provide you with toiletries," Bill Nye said.  He finally looked around the room, taking us all in.  We were an odd mix, guys in $2000 Italian suits don't usually hang around with mohawked Hell's Angels.  He asked, "You are all friends of this couple?"
     "You better believe it," answered Vinny.
     "Good.  I'm glad the both of them, especially Ms. Schneider, has a support network.  Please, be willing to be there for her.  Good evening."
     "Well, all right," said Small Steve.  "I'm glad they worked things out."
     Bekka kissed my cheek and said, "So am I....  Although I think I will be happier sleeping in a separate bed from Lenny.  My ass has been pressed against the side bar of this bed long enough and hard enough to give me a bruise, I fear."
     A nurse came in and said that due to the circumstances, the hospital had been very accommodating, but visiting hours had been over since nine, and it was now 11:30.  They must insist everyone leave, visiting hours start at eight in the morning.  There was a bit of protest, but I pointed out Scripps was bending a lot of rules for us.  See you all in the morning.  Vinny and Angel said they were spending the night at the Marriott in La Jolla Village, they'd be back tomorrow, but not too early.  They wanted to collect intel, hitting various contacts to learn what they could about the attackers, and what other news there was in the war we'd been fighting.  Obviously the studio was shut down for a few days, until it stopped being a crime scene.  Angel said he'd get the ball rolling to clean and repair the downstairs.  Small Steve would call performers to tell them there would be no work until at least Tuesday.  Performers and crew who were on the board for Friday or Sunday would be paid for the missed days.
    Everyone headed out.  Bekka finally shifted, she'd been in the same position for a long time.  About ten minutes later, I heard Angel's voice outside again.  He was speaking in his most honeyed, deferential tones, trying to charm the nurse at the desk into letting him have just another moment with Leonard and Bekka Schneider.  He came in and said, "There's gonna be a fucking media circus here tomorrow.  Right now, there's four print reporters and two TV crews downstairs, collaring people and asking if they have any connection to Becky Page or Inana Productions.  I told them to go the hell home, I"d be available for an interview around eleven tomorrow morning.  All I told them was Lenny is healing from his wounds, and Becky Page was suffering from a bit of emotional exhaustion, and had admitted herself for observation.  I know the hospital won't allow the TV crews up here....  Bekka, are you up for an appearance in the morning?  No pressure, say no if you want to."
     "Let's double-team them," Bekka said.  "Of course, I have a hunch I"m going to need to clear this with the psych ward staff.  Mental health facilities really don't like having patients wandering around willy-nilly."  She chuckled.  "I guess celebrity does have its perks.  I don't think they'd be this accommodating with your average patient.  Hey Angel, what if they want to talk to Lenny?"
     "Tough shit, for the time being.  I'll ask when he'll be ambulatory, I'll stop by your place and grab him some clothes.  We'll do it the same way we did the last time."
     I grabbed the phone and called home.  Jane knew what had happened, and was a basket case.  She didn't feel safe driving, and couldn't find anyone who would give her a ride to the hospital.  She picked up on the second ring.  When she heard my voice, she started to go weepy.  I calmed her and said I needed a change of clothes, something to read, and my phone book.  "You'll have them in the morning," she said.
     "Tomorrow's Friday, isn't it?" I asked.  "Won't you be in school?"
     "A man I love nearly got killed yesterday, and is laid up in the hospital right now!" Jane declared.  "There's no way I'd be able to handle school tomorrow.  If I did go, it's not like I'd be productive, my mind would be on you.  You'll see me in the morning, Lenny.  How's Bekka doing?"
     "She's right here." I handed off the phone.
     Bekka and Jane talked for a while, Bekka explaining that yes, she was registered with the psychiatric department, yes, she'd had a psychotic break.  No, no 5150, she was registered as a voluntary admit.  They'd bent the rules, a lot, and her and I were sharing a room.  I felt myself drifting off as they spoke.  Suddenly Bekka is shaking me awake.  "Lenny!  Lenny!"
     "Whassup?" I mumbled, groggy and confused.
     She blew out air and said, "Oh, thank God!  I looked over and your eyes were closed, and you weren't moving...."
     I gave her an askance look and said, "Uh, yeah.  I fell asleep.  I've still got some anesthesia in my system, and it's been kind of a long day.  Why, what's the matter?"
    "I....  I was afraid you'd died."
     After staring at her briefly, I told her, "Okay, look.  You're feeling jumpy and paranoid.  Yeah, when I fall asleep my eyes are closed and I don't move around much.  I'm gonna ring for the nurse and try to talk them out of some Valium for you.  I don't want you lying there all night, panicking every time I'm not animate."
     Bekka shook her head and chuckled bitterly.  "I've always been grateful you don't snore.  Now I wish you did."
     While I was on the phone to the nurse's station, a young dude in scrubs came in and gave Bekka a plastic drawstring bag, which held the basic necessities for hygiene, like a toothbrush and deodorant and a washcloth, plus other random crap.  I told the dude to give me a hand up, I needed to piss, and my IV stand was on wheels, so I was headed for the bathroom.
     "You sure you wouldn't just like to use one of the hand urinals?" he offered.  "You'll be more comfortable."
     "Actually, I won't," I replied.  "You piss lying down when you're an infant.  I've been horizontal for far too long, I need to move around, just a little.  I know it's not going to feel good to get out of bed, and I know I might be wobbly.  That's why I'm asking for your help.  Here, lemme sit up and pivot...."
     Raising the bed into a semi-sitting position, I sat upright slowly, my ribs and lung protesting the movement.   Then I sort of slid off the edge of the bed onto my feet.  I got vertical using the IV stand to balance, putting a hand on the dude's shoulder for support.  Then I was up.  After I took a leak, I slipped my gown off and looked in the mirror.  Bandages, a bit of dried blood on my chest.  My eyes looked like I hadn't slept for a month.  I smiled at myself and muttered, "You dumb motherfucker, why does shit always happen to you?"

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