Monday, February 13, 2017

Preacher (Part 24)

     The "End Times Five," as the press had dubbed them, were now all in the central jail, occupying isolation/suicide watch cells.  More information had dribbled out.  All five were life-long bachelors, and were estranged from their families.  All were tradesmen of some sort, pipe fitters or welders, the sort of work with a decent hourly wage and generally in demand everywhere, but nothing that would lead to better things.  A few of them had made allusions to hating Becky Page in particular, and also porn in general.  They felt the "base desires" inflamed by porn were specifically designed to steer a man away from a straight, heaven-bound path.  "A man will watch a Becky Page movie and believe there is no consequence to pursuing carnal pleasure," one of them said.  "Our carnal desires are God's test, to see if we can be strong, and resist them."  (The man in question had been found to be suffering from advanced gonorrhea when admitted to the hospital.  It took him a few minutes, much straining, and a lot of pain just to urinate.)

     All five were arraigned on multiple charges of attempted murder.  Two of the five refused a public defender, insisting they would represent themselves.  The judge warned them that quoting scripture would not be accepted at legal arguments, and attempts to witness inside a courtroom would not be tolerated.  They claimed a good understanding of the legal system.  The judge asked where they'd studied law.  Both explained that every law in the country was based, in one way or another, on the Bill of Rights, so that's all they needed to know.  The judge shook his head and basically said, fine, whatever dudes.
     The week after the picket, Jerry Fallwood espoused on "the professionally licentious" who ran around in mobs in Southern California, terrorizing church-goers and threatening houses of worship.  "An army of pornographers, an army!" he bellowed.  "All arriving at God's own house, the Crystal Chapel, hoping to disrupt services and spread th---"
     The screen went black.  After five seconds, the opening credits for "Good Girl/Bad Girl" began running, then the movie started to play.  Fallwood's satellite feed was being hijacked.  His techs jumped into action, trying to re-route Fallwood's signal to the satellite.  The porno movie kept playing.  After forty minutes, they succeeded.  Five minutes after that, the satellite went dead. total failure of all systems.  The Crystal Beacon satellite was an orbiting lump.  Fallwood did not have ground station transmission like the networks, every station who aired his show got their feed from the satellite.  Estimated time to re-launch a new one: seven months.  In the meantime, the independent stations which aired Fallwood's show would be sent videotapes by FedEx, and begged to rearrange their scheduling so the show wouldn't be playing on Tuesday afternoons, before Romper Room.  Almost all stations kept the same Sunday schedule they had, showing Fallwood a week late.
     Two weeks after that, the 800 number Fallwood used for "spiritual gifts" (Visa, MasterCard, AmEx, Discover) was rerouted to "1-900-HOT-STUD."  The re-routing became apparent within a few minutes --- the phones had stopped ringing in Fallwood's boiler room --- but what to do about it was another thing.  Tracing the line back led to a loop pointing back at Fallwood's own number.  By the time the techs had hammered everything out and got the 800 number working again, it was mid-afternoon, and no one was calling.
     The next Sunday, the 800 number was being re-routed to "1-900-EVL-BABE," a dominatrix-themed sex line.  This time, the line tracing took until Tuesday.
     That Thursday the Los Angeles Times received an anonymous packet.  It contained records of Gerald N. Fallwood's personal finances, as well as records from his ministry.  Fallwood was not only leading a more extravagant life than anyone would have guessed (the packet also contained credit card statements from the last eighteen months), it seemed that Fallwood had moved quite a bit of money offshore, to the Grand Cayman Islands.
     In the credit card statements, one item kept popping up, every two weeks.  A business named "Beverley Spa" would receive $400 every time.  It took about three minutes on the phone to learn Beverley Spa was an out-call massage service.  Their display ads in the Spectator promised "Everything from the sultry to the savage!"  Want a "masseuse" dressed like Rob Halford and carrying a whip?  How about one who looks like a Catholic schoolgirl?  Beverley Spa has you covered.  Further study revealed that a standard out-call fee was $200, but extra money would get "special services," for those who wanted more than a grope, a wank, and a suck.  The woman with the whip was the most common recipient of "special service" money.
     Within five out-call appointments and about $600 in tips, the San Francisco Examiner learned that Fallwood was being visited by "Mistress Helen" at the beginning of the month, and by "Ginny the Tranny" in the middle of the month.  Ginny also ran her own display ad in the Spectator and the LA Weekly, promising she was "all feminine, Greek and French, eight inches fully functional."  Ginny found herself being able to take a long break from work, as tabloids and magazines were offering her crazy insane money for interviews.  Ginny told the magazines that Fallwood had "the restraint and self-control of a fourteen year old boy," and his hygiene habits appeared to be the same as the ones he had growing up in rural West Virginia.  "There should not be dust on the faucet of your personal shower!" declared Ginny.
     Mrs. Vivienne Fallwood was not amused with any of these revelations.
     "God's Clear Vision," Fallwood's TV show, was suspended for "reorganization" two months after Ginny's first interview (in Penthouse).  Apparently they're still reorganizing, and on a smaller scale.  The Crystal Chapel was sold to....  The Catholic Diocese of Los Angeles, who reportedly got one hell of a deal.  Fine with them, they wanted to do massive refurbishing.  An unnamed source at the diocese stated, "As it is, the place looks like a Bible-themed airport lounge."

     We started read-through work on "Miss Treatment," and it was a hit with the performers.  I delayed until Tuesday to start, so Bekka and I could drive up to Santa Ana and file the TRO.  Our first read-through took nearly three hours, because people were laughing so hard....  Mostly.  It would seem that the Inana folks were generally dismissive of "alternative medicine," but everyone had one sacred cow.... And when it got lampooned, the person would protest.  "Hey! We can't make fun of that!  [Type of new age snake oil] really works!"  I realized at the end of our second read-through that everyone had gotten briefly annoyed at some point, when their own little holistic hocus-pocus had been lampooned.  I sent Mallory another $1000, for delivering an equal-opportunity script.
     Bobby DeNiro came down for another long weekend at our place, arriving on Thursday.  I let him read the "Miss Treatment" script while sitting on the couch in my office.  Ten minutes later, I sent him into the performer's lounge, so I could hear myself think over his laughing.  He came back in, still wiping his eyes, and said, "That's some genius right there, that is perfect!  One thing though, you gotta dump the gag about zinc supplements.  That shit really works, a massive intake of zinc will cut a cold off at the friggin' knees."
     I smiled and said, "Bobby, it stays."
     "No, but ---"
     "Bobby, it stays," I repeated, smiling wider.
     His favorite gag: the woman with six kids buying homeopathic birth control pills.
     Sue was the envy of everyone at the studio for a bit of moonlighting she picked up.  Bobby had never learned to surf, even after all his years in California.  He asked me where he could turn to for lessons, and I immediately thought of Sue, our surfing goth girl.  Bobby felt that he could learn without distraction on our local beach.  I rang Sue, who was delighted to help Mr. DeNiro ("Please, call me Bobby") pick up the basics.  She brought two boards, her "older" six foot twin-fin, and her new one, a 5'10" tri-fin.  This one was gloss black all over, except for an airbrushed Celtic knot about a third of the way up.
     Sue showed up at 9:30 Saturday morning, looking like the goth vamp she was: voluminous black hair, huge amounts of "I'm dead" makeup, flowing semitransparent blouse.  She had her bathing suit on underneath.  Bobby was both taken aback and aroused by her look, and even more surprised when she explained that yes, she was the Sue who would be giving him his basic training.  Bobby still seemed skeptical, so I suggested we go down to the beach and watch Sue ride one in.  She tore up the four foot breaker like tissue, throwing the tail around, bringing the board way up towards the crest, putting in some footwork.  Bobby stood there with his borrowed board under his arm and said, "Yeah, don't judge a book by the cover."  The two of them stayed out until four p.m., Bobby having a blast.  Sue smilingly offered to return Sunday for a bit of "review," and more lessons, gratis.  I knew Sue well enough to know her real motivation: an older, successful, and powerful man who was rather smitten by the goth sex kitten in a bikini.  Sue had said in the past she would date for love, but marry for money.  Her mercenary attitude rattled even Tawny, Inana's resident cynic.

     The following Friday evening Bekka, Jane, and myself are poolside at the mansion.  Bekka and Jane are alternating between jelling out in the spa and swimming in the pool.  We've been going through a Santa Ana, the waves of hot dry air that will strip the moisture out of granite.  The three of us are in a rather goofy mood, as we've been into both the Ecstasy and the mushrooms.  The girls are nude.  I'm completely clothed, I still can't submerge my wounds in water.  I've dragged a chair up to the side of the spa to be social, and watch the imaginary patterns swirling around in the water.
     We're chatting about this and that when I hear a car pull in the driveway.  I shush the girls, and head for the gate.  Bekka gets out of the water and heads for the table, where her Colt Defender and waist holster lie.  She gestures to Jane, go in the house.  Jane does so.  Looking over the top of the gate, I'm stymied: the Inana camera truck (a refitted UPS van) is blocking my view.  I try to open the gate as quietly as possible, and slip through.  Bekka starts to follow me, and I motion her back.  She makes an extremely angry face, so I roll my eyes and shrug, whatever.  We walk around the back of the truck.
     Sitting in the driveway is a white Grand Am.  It's unoccupied.  I hear a tinkling noise come from the courtyard outside the front door.  I creep over to the arched courtyard entrance and see the back view of a man in his fifties kneeling in front of the door, doing something to the knob.  Picking the lock.  I line up my shot with the Beretta and stay like that, then simply say, "Whassup, stupid.  You're covered, keep your hands exactly where they are."
     He does so.  My mind keeps repeating, white Grand Am, white Grand Am....  Then the penny drops and I say, "Mr. Owens?"
     Without turning around, he replies, "Yeah."
     "Put your hands on your head and stand up slowly.  I"m aware you have a .32 Ruger registered in your name.  I have a Beretta 92FS pointed at your head, loaded with hollow-point nine millimeter ammunition.  The stuff that blows big holes in things.  Good, now that you're up, step back a bit and then lean forward on the door with your hands, and keep your hands and feet wide.  Bekka, run around to the slider and yell for Jane to call 911, we've got a fugitive here."
     I walk up behind Mather Owens and begin groping pockets.  A Buck knife in one, and bingo, a .32 revolver.  I drop both in my own pockets, then continue to frisk.  Nothing under his armpits or in his crotch.  When I grab his crotch, he says, "What are you, some kind of faggot?"
     The Ruger gets pulled back out with my free hand.  I grasp it by the barrel and bash him in the head with the butt.  Not hard enough to risk knocking him out, but enough to guarantee a headache.  He grunts and starts to go weak-kneed.  I stick a foot forward and stomp on his toes, saying, "You're not loopy, I didn't hit your hard enough.  Nice try, though.
     "No, I"m not inclined towards other men.  And if I was, I could do way better than your dumb lumpy ass.  See, I'm a guy who's gotten a lot more jumpy and paranoid than I used to be, and a lot of that is your fault.  I'm the guy who took two rounds delivered by your elves from the Christian jihad you've been trying to kick into life.
     "You're here alone, your car is empty, and there's no one on the street.  I'm guessing your movement has run out of martyrs.  Becky and I knocked four out of the picture, our friend
Spike dropped one, and another two blew their own heads off sitting in their car not too far from here.  Why did they do that?"
     He didn't answer.  I said, "Okay, what was your play here going to be?"
     From behind me, Bekka said, "Who is this?"
     I glanced a look.  Bekka was still nude, but had her Colt in one hand and was smoking a cigarette.  I replied, "Hey honey, meet Mr. Mather Owens, the publishing genius of Merced.  Buddha knows, his little periodical has kept our lives from getting too dull, right?"
     Bekka said, "Let's move him out into the driveway, there's more light out there.  Mather darling, turn around."
     Owens turned, and his face went into shock.  He stared at Bekka's face, then his gaze slid down her body, getting an eyeful.  She smiled at this.  "I take it you recognize me, Mather.  Hello, I"m Becky.  We've never met, but you are under the impression you know me quite well....  Or at least you thought it would be fun to make up lies about me, then convince your Bible brigade the lies were true and tell them they had to off me.  Walk out the arch into the driveway and stand five feet away from the driver's door of your car."
     I kept him covered as he walked, Bekka holding her gun at her side.  He did as he was told, stopping next to the Grand Am.  Bekka walked up behind him and ground her cigarette out into his neck.  He growled with pain.  Bekka said, "Turn around and face me."
     Owens turned.  Bekka smiled brightly and said in an airy manner, "I feel you are the biggest cause of my recent tribulations.  Jerry Fallwood might have his minions picket the studio and send hate mail, but you....  You wanted me dead.  And what's worse, when the fucking scumbag shit-heel attack squad you sent to off me went into action, they shot up my husband.  He came very close to dying, he nearly bled out.  For a while, I believed him dead.  You have no idea what sort of pain I felt when I believed that.
     "It's pain I went through because of you.  Some dumbfuck from the Central Valley who's convinced Jesus is gonna show up any day now, and things have to be tidy for him.  It's strange, when we realized your Bible-sucking goons were putting forward momentum into killing me, I didn't hate you.  I couldn't work myself up to it.  But then, when I saw my husband lying on the floor in a pool of blood, not moving, I did hate you.  And I still do.  When I believed my husband was dead, a friend had to physically restrain me from executing your goons, right there on the floor.  They all had holes in them, but they weren't dead, and I needed them dead, badly.  Lenny, did Mather have a gun on him?"
     I frowned.  "Yeah, a small revolver."
     "Give it back to him," Bekka instructed.
     "Give him his gun back."  Bekka brought her gun up into a firing position, aiming it at Owens' head.  "Mather Owens will have pulled his gun on us, and I will have gotten mine into play first.  He'll be dead, just like he should be, with his own gun in his hand.  Purely self defense on my part."  Bekka began to chuckle, then laugh loudly.  Hysterically.  She calmed after a few seconds and repeated her instructions to me.
     I said, "Jesus Christ Bekka, the sheriffs will be here any damn second.  Come on, don't dick around, we've got his ass now.  Hell, I still want answers out of him...."
     Bekka walked up to Owens and pressed the barrel of the Colt into his forehead.  "Fine, Lenny.  We'll put the gun in his hand after he'd dead.  Whatever.  But Mather fucking Owens is going to die.  He's going to die while I watch, and the last thing he'll see in this world will be Becky Page, naked and smiling at him."  She began clicking the safety of the Cold off and on, off and on.  Click, click, click, click, click....
     "Bekka, you can't."
     Click, click, click, click click.
     Owens was still silent, but he was pouring sweat and his eyes were huge.
     "Bekka, no.  You can't, and for a good reason."
     Click, click, click click, click.
     "You'll leave me alone if you do.  I wouldn't be able to bear it."
     "How would I leave you alone?" asked Bekka in a sweet voice.  Click, click, click, click, click.
     "Because you'll get fucking nailed, that's why.  Donner and Miller will hang a murder rap on you, and they'll have the forensics to make it stick.  And then you'll be in fucking Chowchilla for decades, in the goddamn Central Valley, and I"ll be alone."
     Bekka made a puzzled frown.  "But you'd have Jane."  Click, click, click, click, click.
     "I WANT YOU!" I yelled.  "No one else!  I didn't leave you, don't you fucking dare leave me, woman.  I wouldn't be able to take it, just like you couldn't.  I love you."
     And from by the back of the camera truck I heard Jane's voice say, "Bekka, please don't.  Lenny's right.  You'd go away, and.... and ...."  Jane's tears started pouring.  "... I'd never feel good again.  I might feel okay sometimes, but I"d never feel good.  You'd be gone.  If you do it, you'll hurt me and Lenny so bad.  If you do it, they'll have won, They'll have gotten rid of Becky Page.  You can't let them win."
     Click, click.
     Bekka stepped away from Owens, and lowered her gun, still keeping it pointed at him.  She calmly said, "I need to put something on before the law arrives.  Please keep Mather covered for me, Lenny.  Jane, you need to dress, too."
     I raised my gun and kept it leveled at Owens.  Bekka and Jane walked back through the gate in silence.  Looking at Owens, I realized he had a large wet spot on the front of his pants.  I chuckled and said, "You know, real martyrs don't piss themselves when they think their number is up."  Mather closed his eyes and began to shudder.

     We only had Miller this time.  Three cruisers and Miller's unmarked Crown Victoria.  No ambulances, that was nice.  No blood, no bodies, just a fugitive with warrants out on him in Merced County who had shown up at a business in La Costa with the intention of breaking in, only to find himself apprehended by the proprietor of the business.  Mather Owens was wanted for contempt of court and suspicion of arson.  His connection to the End Times Five would come out soon enough.  The final copy of his newsletter had already been entered as evidence, and the overt instructions to murder Becky Page would play big: all five of the attackers were on Owens' mailing list.  Charles Manson never murdered anyone, but he instructed his followers to.  Look how long Manson has been in prison.
     Owens still hadn't spoken since he'd called me a faggot.  One of the cruisers carted him off.  The remaining deputies stood and gossiped while Bekka, Jane and I waited for Miller to collect the lock-picking tools Owens had dropped, then gather his thoughts to speak to us.
     He finally said, "You're a lucky man, Lenny.  A dumb-fuck with warrants out and a grudge against you shows up where you are, totally clueless, and you get the drop on him.  You're running out of enemies that aren't under the thumb of the law.  So what was his plan?"
     "Just guessing, break in, spend the night, then do an ambush," I replied.  "He'd be able to bluff with his gun until he found Bekka....  Only he'd have had a long wait.  Saturday is the only inactive day at the studio, there's no one here at all, unless Steve Stillman decides to dick around with some editing."
     "I'm not even on the board until Tuesday," said Bekka.  She was her normal self, which worried me.  Given the state she'd been in, I worried she was faking it for Miller....  And she would be a mess once we were alone again.  I kept imagining I heard a repeated clicking sound, a rhythmic one.  The adrenaline had burned off a lot of the mushroom high, but they were still making themselves known.  I wanted a belt from my flask.
     As a call-out, the apprehension of Mather Owens was a snooze.  He'd been caught and held at gunpoint.  Deputies arrived, cuffed and stuffed him, collected his revolver from the captor.  A tow truck would take the Grand Am away in the morning.  For lack of anything else to talk about, Miller asked what we were working on.  I explained we had a new feature in the works, we were polishing lines, working out blocking, refining characters, and all the other minutiae needed to make a movie.  Miller seemed a bit surprised by this.  "I thought porn was just sorta thrown together," he said.  "It's just footage of people screwing."
     I stared at him long enough he got a bit uncomfortable, and said, "Have you ever seen any of my features?  Ever?  Have you heard anything about them?"
     "Well....  They're supposed to be something special, but.... Come on, it's porn.  What could be so damn special?  Besides your wife starring in it."
     I turned away and said, "I am so damn sick of answering this question."
     "So am I, darling," Bekka agreed.  "Jane, would you like to try and satisfy this man's curiosity about our features?"
     "Why not," grinned Jane.  "Okay, you're used to seeing suck and fuck.  No big deal, it's all kinda the same after a while.  Lenny writes real scripts, him and Steve create full characters, and Bekka is one of the most talented actresses alive today.  Between it all, Inana's movies are real movies, not just excuses for the sex to happen.  You actually pay attention to them, you're not just waiting around for the sex to start again.  You're genuinely engaged with what's going on."
     "But why does...." Miller started.
     "Oh fucking shit, just go rent one, dude.  Then you'll get it."
     "An excellent summary," I said to Jane.
     Miller took his leave, along with the other two deputies.  The mansion was locked up again, the spa shut down.  I asked Bekka how she felt.
     She paused and chewed her lip, then said, "Strangely cleansed.  Like I cleared out some sort of cathartic obstruction.  I got the aggro out of my system, even if I didn't do what I said I was going to do.  Mather Owens was the missing joker, and now he's back in the deck."  She took another break.  "And I made him feel something.  I terrified him, he wet himself, did you see?  He was sure he was going to die, by my hand, and he didn't really want to die.  Yeah. I fucked with his head, but good, and that's enough."
     Jane said, "Um....  You fucked with our heads too, Bekka."
     Bekka looked at the both of us, then her face collapsed in tears.  "I.... I know.  I am so sorry about that.  I wasn't acting, I wasn't faking, right then I really was going to kill him.  But the two of you got through to me.  Especially you, Jane.  You were right, they would have won, Becky Page would be no more.  Who sends fan mail to a prison?"
     She turned to me and grabbed my arms.  "The scary part?  Bekka and Becky went AWOL again, when I found out who Mather was.  He is the root of so much stress and worry and misery in our lives, his assassins nearly stole you from me...  Bekka and Becky know how much I hate Mather Owens, and when they saw he was right there, and I had a gun in my hand...."  She started crying harder.
     Jane and I held Bekka close.  We squeezed and stroked, and after a while she was quiet.  I said, "Come on, let's got to IHOP and have fancy pancakes."
     "The comfort of carbohydrates?" Bekka smiled.
     "Exactly.  Not as mind-numbing as scotch, but your mouth doesn't taste as nasty in the morning, either."
     We got in the Fleetwood and took off.

1 comment:

  1. 24 chapters?!? I've been binging on this since Sunday.
    Good writing and a nice little wrap up.