Angel called me around mid-day Monday with some news. "We got some free advertising yesterday, although how much it will be worth is up in the air. You know who Jerry Fallwood is, right?"
"Of course," I replied. "He of the Crystal Chapel in Orange County. Moral Militia, and all that. He'd be offended by my technique when I brush my teeth, along with every other aspect of my life. Lemme guess, he's bugged by our videos. Big surprise. So what does he have to say?"
"He devoted most of yesterday's show to railing against Becky Page, and also 'Good Girl/Bad Girl.' Becky Page is now 'public enemy number one,' according to him. Becky's breathing style would offend him. She's out to corrupt all that is decent in America, blah blah, the usual crap. Also, 'Good Girl/Bad Girl' has Satanic subliminal messages, which he highlighted. This is psycho stuff here, he's analyzed the film with a microscope and found all sorts of bizarre little things. Stella's fascination with Amelia Earnhardt? It's a sign she worships false idols or some shit. He pulled some numerology hocus-pocus crap on the fact that Stella drives a Datsun 510, the 510 somehow translates to 666, if you work on it hard enough. And on and on, just a bunch of fucking drivel.
"But Bekka's popularity is what was really driving his show yesterday. We've heard the shit before, Becky Page is Satan's own whore, she wants to destroy the moral fabric of the country, her popularity shows how America is being seduced by a woman who encourages degeneracy and decadence, and so on. I've seen some of the juicier hate mail Bekka has gotten, it's the same shit. Only now, it's being spouted by an asshole who's audience is in the millions. Keep your guard up, okay?"
"Absolutely. I wish I'd seen this performance."
Angel chuckled down the line and said, "Ahead of you. I went to the station who broadcasts him this morning and paid to get a couple copies of the broadcast made. You'll be getting a tape via courier this afternoon. He's encouraging his Moral Militia members to engage in direct action: picket local video stores that rent out our tapes, send hate mail to Inana, harass friends and neighbors who watch our movies.... He wants the studio picketed, of course. The Moral Militia can shame everyone into, I dunno, getting jobs as proofreaders for the pricks who put out Chick tracts."
I laughed. "Here's a bit of trivia he'd love. Bettie Page actually tried to hook up with the Billy Graham Crusade back in the early Sixties. They turned her down.... Not because of her career, but because she was a divorcee. They didn't give a shit about all the dirty pictures, their attitude was, 'Well, everyone has a past.' But they couldn't hack she was divorced."
Angel laughed at this odd moral litmus, and we signed off. I sat and thought briefly. Bekka and I knew various Progressive/Leftist activists that some of them would be keeping a close eye on Jerry Fallwood, enough to get a better insight into what might be running through Fallwood's tiny little mind when it came to the subject of Becky Page. I called a Socialist I knew who was a rarity: a Socialist with a sense of humor. He called himself Boris Badanov, like the squat fellow in the black hat from Bullwinkle cartoons who was always looking for Moose and Squirrel. In his rant tracts, he actually would poke jibes at his own philosophies. And he hated the Revolutionary Communist types, so we got along.
"So how does it dangle, Boris?" I asked into the phone. "Any luck in smashing the state?"
"I don't want to smash the state, just drastically reorganize it," Boris pointed out. "And since I'm guessing you and Bekka still own all those cars and motorcycles, and hang around with your reactionary biker friends, pretty slow. So, I saw Bekka on TV yesterday...."
"That was the cartoon playing, yes. Your wife has made some powerful enemies, son."
I said, "That's what I wanted to talk to you about. You've kept tabs on Fallwood for a while, right? Has he ever talked about Becky Page in the past? The same sort of smear job?"
Boris grunted and said, "Sort of, but not really. He's mentioned her, but.... Shit, I just realized, the last time he devoted more than a few words to Becky Page was right before you got shot up at your studio. I'm surprised nobody's made that connection, he spent a bit of time ranting about how porn was becoming intrinsic in American society, with Becky Page at the forefront."
"Huh. I never knew that. That's the sort of intel that should be passed along to a parole board, you know? Sometime in the next eight years, anyway. They might parole him, then clap him straight into the puzzle factory if they think he's still unstable. But anyway, I'm gonna have a tape of yesterday's show in my hands this afternoon, so I can see the circus for myself.."
"You and Bekka be on guard for a while," Boris warned. "Bekka has that biker chick as a bodyguard, right? Tell her to keep close. Those Moral Militia types are fucking freaks, they'd throw down on Bekka in a second if they spotted her."
"Fatefully aware," I told Boris. "Okay, thanks for satisfying my curiosity, I'm gonna get going. Oh, Boris? Your Trotsky goatee still looks like shit."
"So does your ass smell better when you wipe it with $100 bills? Ask the people who do the actual work at your studio, they'd know." We both laughed and hung up.
Around half past three a courier arrived, bearing a video cassette and a short handwritten note. The note wasn't comforting. It simply read, "Lenny: you, B., and Terry start carrying all your clips with you, fully loaded. -- A." I waited until shooting was done on that afternoon's loop, then announced to all (including Bekka) there would be a little viewing party in the media room when everyone was out of the showers, I'd go pick up some beer and chips. I ran that errand while all the sluts and studs tidied themselves. Everyone gathered in the media room, on the sofas and floor, beers at the ready. I started the tape. Fallwood began ranting against the abomination that was porn, and how Becky Page was the devil's own whore, leading this assault against decency. The room filled with boos and catcalls. Every attack Fallwood made was greeted with jeers. After a while, though, people got much quieter. It seemed to be sinking in: this man is not kidding, he really does hate us, and especially Bekka. By the fifth denunciation of Becky Page as "Satan's harlot," there was barely a murmur.
The tape finished. People were working on their third and fourth beers, and looked glum. Bekka seemed particularly despondent. She suggested cocaine for all, as a palliative for what we'd witnessed. This sounded good to all, even Calm Steve (that day's director), who rarely indulged in more than a single hit off a passed joint. I went in the office, grabbed the bag from the desk, and began shoveling coke onto the coffee table of the lounge. Donna drifted up to Bekka and said, "Fuck that guy. He can probably only come with the aid of dog porn and three dwarf hookers."
Bekka said, "It's the idea of being hated, with that level of passion, by someone who's never met me. I've never done anything to him, I don't know him, he doesn't know me. But he hates me, and he's got a lot of people who take him at his word that they should hate me too." She chuckled. "Now I sort of understand how Ivan Boesky felt, being hated for how I make a living."
"Yeah, but Ivan Boesky was ripping people off. You're not hurting anyone."
"According to Jerry Fallwood, I am. By fucking and sucking in front of a camera, I've somehow destroyed lives. I know I've wrecked marriages, you've seen how obsessive my fans can be, maybe I am corrupting people....."
Rich, that day's second camera operator, said, "Bekka, shut up. You're not a siren, wrecking adrift sailors on your shoals. You do the same things every other girl here does, but.... You're just really good at it. You can't help how people react to seeing you on video, it's their hangup. They could have gotten hung up on Christy Canyon, or Seka, or fuckin' Christie Brinkley. Hell, you and Christie are both married, at least your husband isn't a loudmouthed little dwarf."
I had the rails out. Everyone stepped up, but the tooter got passed to Bekka first. She snorted up a rail, stood erect, and announced, "I declare this business meeting over! Please, all members of the board, come forward for a little refreshment." Everyone cheered, Donna took the tooter next, then everyone else dived in. The general mood improved.
We got home on our separate Sportsters, We walked in, Jane took one look at us, and said, "You're both spun as shit, and you haven't shared. Kick down, fake parents! Gimme some!"
I nodded and grabbed the bag of coke out of the stash drawer. (Jane was very obedient about keeping out of that drawer. She felt that any drug was only good when the experience was shared.) I laid out three rails, a big one for Jane, and bumpers for Bekka and me. Taking the tooter, Jane said, "So what went down, that you two are getting geeked on a Monday? Has there been an embargo on raw videotape coming from the mines in Belize, or something? What's up?"
Bekka and I related what was going on. Jane frowned and nodded. "Look at the bright side, we're not in Florida. My home state has plenty of Bible-smacking assholes who take Fallwood's shit seriously." She burst into laughter. "And I'd be even more fun to explain, the permanently naked teenage girl who lives with you. He'd assume I'd been forced to take so many drugs my brain had ceased functioning, and you two keep me as your sex slave. Yeah, like I need any help to take that role on." She leaned over and began licking Bekka's neck, then suddenly sat upright. "Oh shit, I almost forgot! Your friends from Minneapolis called about a half hour ago. They said to call Jill's place, they have big news."
I looked up Jill's number from the address book we kept on the coffee table and dialed, then handed the phone across to Bekka. Bekka took it with her free hand, the other was busy manipulating one of Jane's nipples, to Jane's delight. Bekka said, "Hello, Jill, it's Bekka.... Just molesting a naked teenage girl at the moment.... No, she's rather happy about it.... Of course Jane.... I'm pretty sure she's getting ready to suck the blood out of my neck, that's where her mouth is presently.... Jane, cease and desist a moment."
Jane broke away with a pout and stuck her tongue out at Bekka, who attempted to grab it. Bekka continued, "So, you have big news? What's up? .... Really.... That's wonderful! You both have work waiting? .... Good, good.... In Beverley Hills? Very nice.... And where are you.... Oh. To be frank, that neighborhood can be a bit sketchy, you're probably going to run into troubles you've never had to deal with before.... Oh, okay.... That's cool...."
I was gesticulating, making "what's up?" gestures. Bekka told Jill to hold on a moment, and said to me, "Mallory and Jill are moving out here, they've got things pretty much finalized. Mal is going to work for SoCal Edison, and Jill has a gig lined up as a personal trainer at a fitness center in Beverley Hills. They'll be living in Venice Beach, Jill says they're getting a two bedroom cottage three blocks from the beach, on one of the canals. Jill, where it it?"
Bekka listened briefly and told me, "It's on Court D between Grand Canal and Dell. You familiar with the area?"
"Somewhat," I answered. "Ask if they have off-street parking, they'll need it."
The question was posed, and Bekka said, "Yes, a one-car garage set far back on the lot, and the driveway will hold two cars. Jill is excited, they'll be within walking distance from Muscle Beach. I'm a little concerned, Jill says the rent is only $450 a month...."
"As well you should be. Does the place have running water? And electricity? And a fucking roof? When are they going to be here?"
"October fifteenth. Let me talk to them a few minutes."
Bekka returned to the phone, and had Mallory get on the extension. She explained that while $450 may be reasonable rent in Minneapolis, for Los Angeles --- and especially for the area --- that was very low rent. Suspiciously low. We both smelled a rat. Venice Beach was no garden spot, but it was still a decent place to live, usually described as "funky" in the papers. Fair enough: in warm weather, the canals could give off quite a bit of funk.
I chewed briefly on the filter of a Marlboro, then had Bekka asked if any money had changed hands yet, or any lease signed. She said they'd already mailed a deposit --- non-refundable --- and would sign the lease when they arrived. If Jill and Mallory didn't sign, they'd be out $500, not a small amount of money for them. I chewed some more and said, "They'll be here in four weeks. If they have no place to move into, they'll be screwed. Did they go through a property management company to find this place?" Bekka said yes. "Okay, I want the name and phone number of the company, and the exact address of the cottage. I'm gonna make sure they're moving into a good place, and I have a hunch making sure it's a good place will require a bit of arm-twisting on my part. You're not on the board for Thursday, right? We'll be going up to LA."
Ten a.m. on Thursday saw Bekka and I pulling up in front of a cottage in Venice Beach. From the outside, it looked all right. The roof looked new, and it was painted a cheery pastel green. Bekka pulled the Falcon in the driveway and stopped. We got out and began snooping. The cottage was vacant, so we went up to the front for a closer look. I went up to the front door. The door had a slightly bowed look to it, so I grabbed the knob and gave a shove. The knob was locked, but the door swung open under the pressure. Both the door and frame were shot, too many years of sea air. We shrugged and walked in.
The smell of mildew greeted us. Black spots, like paint flecks, crawled up the walls. I bent down and touched the carpet: a vaguely damp feeling. Prowling around, all the rooms were like this. Turning on the water in the shower/tub combo (which looked recent) gave a gush of orange water, which took a few moments to clear up. I flipped a switch and light came on in the bedroom I was in. Stepping into the hall, I turned on that light. The bedroom light dimmed a bit. Bekka and I went out to the Falcon and grabbed three appliances: a coffee maker, a toaster, and a microwave. We plugged in all three, Bekka got water in the coffee maker, I dropped a frozen burrito in the microwave, and we turned them on, one at a time. When the toaster was fired up, the house went dark and everything went off. I stalked around the house and found the breaker box, and pulled the breaker back on.
"The floor seems solid enough," said Bekka, hopping up and down in the living room. "Cable is in, gas range and water heater, but the water heater and wall furnace both look like original equipment for the house. The wiring isn't quite ancient --- three prong outlets --- but there's something up if we threw a breaker. The back door feels like it's made out of Styrofoam, it'll need new framing too." She sighed. "One of their house-warming presents will be a dehumidifier."
I stuck my head under the house from the outside, the soil was a bit damp but not saturated. Finding the sewer exit, however, was easy, since I sunk into the soil approaching it. I had Bekka go in and flush the toilet. When she did, I could hear water splashing on the ground. I announced we'd seen enough, time to pay a visit to the friendly neighborhood corporate slumlords.
Sunset Property Services was in an office building on Santa Monica Blvd. near Lincoln. We strode in and I told the soppy-looking woman at the front desk we were interested in the cottage at 441 Court D, in Venice. She poked at a computer keyboard and said I'm sorry, that property has a deposit on it, it is tentatively spoken for. I showed some teeth and said I knew that, the cottage has a deposit in the names of Mallory Ollafsen and Jill Gage, two women from Minneapolis who have a move-in date of October fifteenth. My wife and I are friends of theirs. We've just been to the cottage, and would like to speak to someone about a few, ah, small flaws we noticed, things which should be rectified before that move-in date. Would you bring whoever is directly in charge of the property forward, so we can talk? Or, we will simply go back and find them ourselves, it doesn't matter to us.
The soppy object gave me a vague frown and picked up her phone, asking that Mr. Watson come to the front. After a minute, a shark-like sport with horribly white teeth and gradient sunglasses stepped up. He was a late-'80s model of Herb Tarlek from "WKRP in Cincinnati." The plaid sport coat was now a pastel color which, anywhere else in the country, would have announced to the world that the person inside was a screaming faggot. The hair was now held captive with mousse. He looked like he belonged on the lot of Wild Wally's Pre-Owned Autos in Tustin. His gaze initially fell on the soppy object, looking to upbraid her for interrupting his morning game of pocket pool, then snapped onto Bekka. His smile went to his ears, oh my God, Becky Page wants to do some business with me! He'd owe somebody a drink for this reference.
"Ms. Page, am I right? Hello, how can I help you? You're looking for a home to lease?"
Bekka gave her mafioso smile and said, "No. However, you're the one who is looking after the property at 441 Court D in Venice. You have taken a deposit on the property, and the women who wish to rent it are friends of mine from Minneapolis. I have taken a look around the cottage, and I've seen some problems that need to be rectified before they move in.... But perhaps you should speak with my husband, he has mentally cataloged the problems."
Mr. Watson was a bit thrown off balance, but recovered. "Um, of course, where is your husband?"
"Standing at my side, a location customary for a husband," Bekka said with an annoyed twinge. "Who did you think this man is?"
Watson took me in: slightly spiky bleached hair, septum piercing, tattered stud-covered denim, four earrings, black Ben Davis trousers, Doc Martens, and wraparound sunglasses I'd left in place. His look became unsteady. He said, "Oh! I thought he was, uh, a bodyguard of some sort...."
"Oh, he is, and a very capable one. Lenny has kept me safe through situations you couldn't even imagine. Mr. Watson, Leonard Schneider. Lenny is the man who holds the keys to my heart. He and I are good friends of Ms. Ollafsen and Ms. Gage, the women looking to rent the property on Court D. Why don't we head towards the property?"
I stuck out my hand and gave him a good Hell's Angel handshake, compressing his paw like a beer can I'd taken a disliking to. "Howdy, Norbert, we've got a few things to discuss, and we'll discuss them at the cottage, so you can see what I'm talking about. There are some serious issues with the cottage which will be resolved by the fifteenth of next month, with or without your help. But really, your assistance will be needed, and you're going to provide it. Let's dangle."
Bekka was on one side of Watson, I was on the other. I placed a hand on his shoulder and guided him towards the door, making it clear we were leaving, and right then. He looked a bit disturbed. He called to the soppy objects to take messages, he'd be back in a bit. We walked outside. Watson suggested taking his car. Nonsense, ours is right there, said Bekka. It was: she'd parked by positioning the Falcon between two parked cars on the street, then backing up over the curb and onto the sidewalk, at a right angle to the street. Bekka got behind the wheel, Watson and I walked up to the passenger side. I insisted Watson take the front seat. After I was in back, Watson sat down and looked at confusion towards the four-point harness. Bekka helped him --- oh my God, Becky Page has her hand on my thigh, right next to my Main Man --- and we were off. I said to Bekka, "Mind your driving, dear."
"Of course, darling," was her reply. Bekka's right hand slid down on the shifter stalk, near the activation for the supercharger.
Bekka waited for a break in traffic, then shot out onto Santa Monica Blvd., aimed at Lincoln. She juiced the throttle, and threw the ass end of the Falcon sideways into a right turn. Once on Lincoln,
Bekka opened it up to about fifty in a thirty-five zone.... And on the far side of Pico Blvd., she pulled the knob for the blower. Traffic was fairly light, there was room to use it. The Falcon began bolting down Lincoln (PCH) at about eighty, Bekka cutting through traffic like it was a slalom course. I could just catch Watson's face get very tight, his eyes wide. A bit less than a block shy of Rose Ave., the light went yellow. In a strangled voice, Watson said, "We're gonna miss the light."
"Don't be silly," said Bekka. She dropped to third and double-clutched, and we shot through the intersection just as the light turned red. Lighting a cigarette, Bekka said to Watson, "Never second-guess my driving."
Bekka did a four-wheel drift onto Venice Blvd. She cut the blower off, but still bombed down the street at about sixty-five. Watson spun his head to look at me. I was looking out the side window like I was on a city bus, bored with the experience. At Dell Ave., Bekka did another four-wheel drift, this time to make the left turn signal headed towards the canals. She brought the Falcon to a neck-wrenching stop at So. Venice Blvd. to wait for the light. Watson gasped, "You're quite the driver, Ms. Page...."
"Why, thank you. I've always been a big fan of not wasting time in traffic, I prefer getting to my destination with little delay."
"Ah.... Do you get a lot of speeding tickets?"
"Of course not," Bekka chuckled. "The police can't give you a ticket if they can't catch you, so I don't allow myself to be caught."
The rest of the distance between the light and the cottage was covered in a manner similar to how school bus drivers conduct themselves.... Until right in front of the driveway, where Bekka popped the clutch and threw the tail of the Falcon to a ninety degree angle to the street, and jumped into the driveway, coming to a halt inches from the door of the garage. Watson unshackled himself from the belt and got out. He looked a bit sweaty and pasty. He reiterated that Bekka was, uh, quite a driver.
"I am a bit hard on tires," Bekka noted. "I go through a set of Goodyears about every five months. Just the nature of driving Ursula the way she should be driven, I suppose."
"Yes, I named the Falcon Ursula, after my 'Bewitched' character. She does seem to have a bit of magic to her," Bekka giggled. Her and I elaborated on the technical aspects of the Falcon (289 V8 with four-barrel carb and supercharger, gearing, suspension, etc.) while Watson caught his breath. Then we headed towards the front door.
Watson pulled a wad of keys from his briefcase to let us in. I gave him a look and said, "No need for that." I gave the door a shove again, which swung open. Watson looked dismayed. Pointing at the frame and door, I said, "They both need to be replaced. The back door is the same way. They'll both be fixed by the fifteenth." I made it a statement of fact, not a request.
We went in and began pointing out the problems which would be rectified by the middle of next month. Watson's dismay increased. He finally said, "Look, for this location, how much is anyone expecting for $450 a month? Be serious."
I stepped in close to Watson with a smile on my face. "My friends are expecting a clean, healthy, comfortable place to live. They'll be getting one, too, right here. They're both Minnesota natives, so being three blocks from the beach is a dream of theirs. When they told us how much the rent was, I knew something was very fucking fishy, which is why we came to inspect the place. Jesus Norbert, are your other properties campesino flophouses up in Firebaugh?"
"The name is Rod...."
"Whatever. I'm telling you this place will be in tip-top condition in thirty-two days. And it will be, because I'm gonna pay for the fuckin' work myself. You work for a property management service, so you've got a line on good contractors, I'm sure. You hire them, they complete the jobs, the invoices come to me. Your company isn't out a dime. But you are going to take a vested interest in seeing this place is good to go by the next fifteenth. I'll sign a contract showing I'm the one paying for the work, that's fine. But everything I've enumerated will be resolved by the time Mallory and Jill arrive. Oh, new carpet and refrigerator, too. That fridge looks like it's the last surviving piece of equipment from a Korean War POW camp."
There was a tearing sound, Watson and I turned to the source. Bekka had pulled up a corner of the carpet in the living room and was pointing down. "Mildew, and black mold. This isn't a carpet, it's a Petri dish. Our friends shouldn't have to wear respirators inside their home."
"Yes, you'll have a couple industrial dehumidifiers in here, cranking away, by this afternoon. The plumbers can take care of their business while this place dries out. Then the electricians can work their magic. Then the painters, and the new furnace and water heater and appliances, and so on. All the tradesmen will be highly qualified, you're not going through 'Clem's Fix-It Service' for this gig. This little place will be inhabitable when Mallory and Jill get here, you'll see to it personally, won't you?"
"If it's not done, then we'll all have to sit down for a little powwow," said Bekka. "Me, Lenny, and Jill, and of course you. We will probably be a bit upset. Jill especially. She's happy with the proximity of Muscle Beach. Jill is a six foot four lesbian bodybuilder. She's a femme, and not a 'roid rager, but I've watched her put on a work glove and crush a beer bottle with one hand. Yes, six four and 240 pounds of angry, muscle-bound dyke would be paying a visit. We'd try to keep her calm, but still...."
"And since the improvements aren't costing you or the service a dime, their rent will remain at $450, as promised," I continued. "Now then, let's return to your office and get things down on paper. Your legal guy can knock out a contract between us and the company, showing us responsible for the cost of the repairs. We'll list out everything that needs to be done, and you'll get on the phone to start scheduling the contractors. Hey Shaft, you want that burrito from the microwave?"
My offer was declined, so I started eating it. We walked back to the Falcon. When we got there, Watson looked at Bekka as she opened the door, trepidation on his face. Bekka caught the look and said, "If you'd like, Lenny can drive back. I'll warn you now, though, he's a bit of a lead-foot. He takes more risks than I do at the wheel." I grinned at Watson through a bite of burrito.
We whisked our way back to the management office. On Lincoln, the light at Rose Ave. was just turning yellow as we approached it at about seventy mph. The car in front of us was stopping, so Bekka swung from the right lane into the empty left turn lane, blasting through the intersection. I heard Watson squeak as we did this. I finished the burrito and lit a cigarette, telling Watson, "Now, on the freeway, Becky can get a bit heavy-handed with her driving. She tends to panic other drivers a little."
There were a couple empty spots across the street from the office. Bekka did an Elwood Blues 180 into one, the Falcon gently bumping into the curb. Watson was again looking sweaty and pasty as we stepped inside the door, provoking an alarmed look from the soppy object. She started to speak, but Watson cut her off, telling her to have Ralph from legal meet us in his office, ASAP. We went to Watson's office and sat. Ralph arrived, and we started sorting things out. When we finished, Watson said, "Don't worry, rest assured everything will be taken care of, you have my word on it."
"We'll come up and stick our heads in about ten days from now," said Bekka. "We'll swing by here and pick you up, you can show us the progress...."
"No! No! Just call ahead, I'll meet you at the cottage, any time of the day you like."
"You sure you don't want us to ---"
"No, I'll meet you there. Don't worry about it. I'll take my car, I'll be waiting for you."
When we left, I said to Bekka, "We'll take Jane's Cutlass the next time we come up. If we're not happy with progress, we'll take Rod out to lunch at the trattoria, to discuss things. And being the civic-minded people we are, we'll car-pool there. I'll drive."
I called Mallory that night to tell her we'd inspected the cottage. There were a few problems, but the property management company would have them resolved by the time her and Jill arrived. No problem, we just wanted to be helpful.