Jane's enrollment papers arrived yesterday. She will begin her freshman year as a UC Berkeley college student, and a business major, in September.
The packet included her notice of acceptance at Haas Business School. I'd checked around a bit, and normally applicants for admission are reviewed by a committee. The school will contact prospective students and ask them to provide more detail about their lives, their interests, their favorite Warren Buffett album.... Professor Campbell must have had the political pull to tell the others in charge at Haas, "Look, just trust me on this, we want her here. Who's wrangling freshmen this fall? Oh, you're gonna have so much fun!" I puzzled over Campbell's interest in Jane. Did he enjoy human train wrecks, and mistakenly believe Jane would be one? Was he expecting disruptive behavior? Jane's appearance was disruptive enough. Besides, her grades should indicate that when in a classroom, Jane was all business. Who knows, maybe Campbell thought Jane was hot, and just wanted eye candy available.
Last Friday Mrs. Gladys Krebsbach of Saint Paul, Minnesota arrived at LAX to start a two week vacation. She would be the guest of our friends Mallory and Jill, up in Venice Beach. We'd all met Gladys, a woman in her late sixties, in Minneapolis. She was a fan of Becky Page, while her husband was most definitely not. We invited her to sit and talk with us for a while. The Becky Page allure must have kicked in, because Gladys told us things about her life she'd kept secret for decades. The biggie was her lesbianism, enjoyed while in college, then placed in a gimp mask and chained up int the cellar of her brain. She had married Roy Krebsbach, or Krebsbach Processed Meats, raised two children, volunteered at church, and lived in a constant state of low-level self-loathing. She hated herself for not having left Minnesota for Los Angeles or San Francisco while she was still young and single. Her story drove all of us to tears.
Mallory and Jill had followed Gladys' advice and got out of Minnesota, while their souls were still intact. Bekka and I also loved Gladys, so we provided some aid. We'd paid for her round trip air fare (business class, dammit) and sent up $2500 in travelers checks, so she'd have plenty of mad money and cab fare. Gladys was having a lovely time. Mallory and Jill lived a few blocks away from the beach, and a little bit south of Muscle Beach, Jill's favorite hang-out. Gladys was by no means infirm, she could walk all damn day, apparently. And for the first few days, that's exactly what she did. Mallory and Jill had to work, so Gladys was on her own. The girls had gently prodded her towards seeing the sights, like the Getty Museum or LACMA, but Gladys explained, "I have never seen the Pacific Ocean before, except in pictures. Just seeing it stretching out, with the waves in the foreground, is a marvel. Also, the walkway along the beach has proven to be the most gosh-darn fun I've had since seeing the circus as a child! I like to walk, and see the people, and even talk to some of them. To meet people whose minds are unfettered by the self-imposed constraints you see in the Midwest, boy howdy,they are all blessed."
On her third day, she got a little too enthusiastic, and ended up in Pacific Palisades. She wasn't lost, exactly, just a little misplaced. ("I could see the houses on the hillside from a distance, and I wanted a closer look at them, so I just kept hiking along. I started going uphill, and kept going, admiring all those beautiful houses. Then I got to, uh, Upper Mesa Road, and realized I was pooped. Oh, I tell ya. I sat down on the curb to stop my dogs from barking, and a few minutes later a man came out of a house and asked if I was all right. Just tired, I told him. He asked me where I was parked, and I explained that I didn't have a car, not in California anyway, I'd walked from the Venice Canals to here. I think he believed I was touched at first, you know? He invited me in and gave me some fizzy water, and asked if he could help. So I asked him to just call me a taxi, I'd be fine. We sat and talked until the taxi came. I asked him how much his house rented for, and he said he owned it, and it cost seven million dollars! Boy, I tell ya.")
The girls took Gladys to a dyke bar in West Hollywood named, direct and to the point, Girl Bar. The place had a good mix of lipsticks, butch, femme, and daggers. On a Saturday night it was bumping. They managed to snag a table fairly close to the bar, but with a decent view of the dance floor. Gladys was dressed as usual, she looked like an elderly secretary at a Presbyterian church: plain dress, sensible shoes, basic string of pearls around her neck, hair marcelled. She sat and looked around like a country boy on his first visit to New York City. She had a beaming smile on her face, but when Jill looked closer, tears were running down her cheeks. Jill asked if she was okay. Gladys replied, "I am surrounded by women who are living in a way I believed was only a pipe dream, a fantasy no more real than pixies. I keep seeing women holding hands and kissing, and the occasional hinder grab. They are all happy. They are all beautiful. Just to be here, to see there are all these women like me, you know, who have love and joy in their lives. They made it, you know? They are who they are, and nobody will tell them to cut it out."
Jill and Mallory flagged down a couple people they'd met on previous excursions to Girl Bar. They were introduced to Gladys, certainly an anomaly in this place, but hey, if she was one of the Sisters, more power to her. The friends introduced the friend's friends, and soon there was almost a swarm of women all shaking Gladys' hand, kissing her cheek, and congratulating her on her first tentative steps out of the closet. "Oh gosh, at my age?" Gladys would say. The invariable response was, better late than never. Leave your husband, file for divorce, move out here, start a new life. Spend the rest of your days being the real you. And yeah, there's plenty of older dykes around, just not here. Place a personal ad and see what happens.
Lance and Vance were arraigned in the morning, and released back to their parents around six that night. Vance's parents were angry at both him and me: I'd had his fucking car --- actually his Mom's --- towed out of our garage to impound. PD didn't want to bother with it, so I did the job myself. I didn't feel like rewarding arrogance by leaving it there and parking my own car at the beach overnight.
The rumor was that Lance and Vance were both using the "Blame the Bitch" defense: I mean, shit, you know how Jane dresses, she used to try and get Lance to do some crazy shit when they were dating. Uh, yeah, we'd had, you know, a couple drinks.... Well, okay, Lance hasn't really talked to Jane for months, but.... Sure, Vance was along. He'd never really met Jane, and Lance was talking about all the wild shit him and her would do together, you know? Dude, she's a total slut, there's no doubt about how she likes to party. Okay, last year she was with Lance exclusively, and now her and that dude Smiley from auto shop are a thing, and nobody's ever seen or heard of her running around on either guy, but.... C'mon! Dude, she's a total slut!
Lance and Vance's "Jane Is A Slut" campaign had minor traction on the track team, but then again, who cares what a high school pole vaulter thinks? Jane would hear of the sniping, and provide fact-based responses. Her and Lance had barely spoken since before Winter Break, no calls, no meeting, nothing. Him showing up out of the blue was strange. Him being half -smashed and with a friend was stranger. And that he'd just happened to pick a night when Bekka --- and more importantly, Lenny --- weren't around was damn suspicious.
:Why would your ex-boyfriend want to rape you? was a common question. Jane would respond, "In no particular order, drunkenness, horniness, a misplaced need for vengeance, suicidal idiocy, maybe peer pressure from Vance, and closure."
Wait, suicidal idiocy? "If Lance and his buddy had succeeded in raping me, Lance wouldn't have lived another seventy-two hours." Okay, that dude Lenny you live with is a tough guy, bu.... "Oh, Lenny, Bekka, and myself would have been miles away and surrounded by witnesses when Lance was killed. None of us would have had anything to do with it." Um..... "Don't worry about it." (pause) "Of course, that assumes Lance wouldn't just plain disappear."
Richard Ross, former detective for Encinitas PD and now a patrolman in Escondido, may not work for the local force anymore, but he was still a Brother in Blue. EPD kept the story out of the papers, which was fine with us. I was still feeling a bit paranoid after all the action we'd had with the Moral Militia, so when Jane was requested to submit for an in-depth interview with the police investigators, I called our lawyer up in LA, the guy who'd gotten both me and Bekka out of jail on a couple occasions. He agreed he would accompany Jane to the interview, she had the right to have counsel present. I was glad he was there. The interviewer decided to pick at a couple things, mainly how Jane was dressed when she answered the door: "You were wearing nothing but a robe? Why?"
"Because if I"d gone upstairs and gotten dressed, whoever was at the door would have left, as it would have been a few minutes before I was back down," Jane replied.
"What does your robe look like?"
"It's a white terrycloth robe, like they use in spas."
"How short is it?"
"Was it closed? Did you ---"
The lawyer cut in and said, "Excuse me, but you're working on the side of the prosecution. Do not pose questions a defense lawyer would pursue. Ms. Osborne was sufficiently covered to answer her front door without causing scandal."
"When you saw your ex-boyfriend standing there, why didn't you immediately close the door?"
Jane replied, "I had no reason to. I was a bit surprised, but there was no conflict between us. While our break-up wasn't a happy thing, there was no anger or hostility. I had no reason to think Lance wished me ill."
"Are you sure you weren't hoping it was him, and his friend?"
"What? Why would ---"
"Okay, you're off track, officer," said the lawyer. "If you want to play Perry Mason and ask Ms. Osborne the sort of 'gotcha' questions some defense lawyer would ask, we'll be leaving. If you want facts on precisely what happened that evening, ask those questions. But I am fully aware that Lance Grisham's stepfather is a former Encinitas PD detective, and your current line of questioning makes me wonder how close he still is to this department. Please, do keep trying to punch holes in the prosecution's case, also known as your case. Pursue the line of questioning you have, and you'll only be painting yourself with a wider brush."
The lawyer told me later that the interviewer would be a shitty poker player: his face spoke volumes when the lawyer mentioned Lance's stepdad. Encinitas PD was trying to save another cop's family some scandal and problems. The interviewer got back on track and asked for details that would aid the prosecution.
Vicky and Ross were springing for a defense attorney. I got the name through the grapevine, and passed on to my lawyer, so he could check with his San Diego colleagues and find out what the guy was like. Overall, a workman lawyer. Nothing special, win some, lose some. My lawyer was more entertained by learning the defense attorney had never done any juvenile law. "There are some big differences in how things are done between juvenile court and a regular courtroom. Both sides are expected to stick with very narrow, fact-based questioning at the witness stand, no gotchas, no badgering, no circular logic. The sharks don't rule in juvenile court, the trout do. If the defense attorney tries to lay into Jane, the judge won't wait for the prosecutor to object, he'll shut down the defense attorney himself."
We had an 'in,' so far as the Grisham/Ross family went. Lance's older sister, Haley, was a Becky Page groupie. She'd never been more pleased than when Bekka gave her our home number and invited her to stop by the studios if she wanted. Haley had been a personal witness to Lance and Jane's relationship, her and Jane would often have girl talk together when Jane was at Lance's house, and she felt that her brother may or may not be a scumbag --- it could have just been the gin --- but she had no doubt that Jane's account of things was accurate. She told Bekka Mom and Richard would run hot and cold on Lance, sometimes assuring him they'd keep him free, the hussy he used to date wouldn't win, and other times treating him like his target had been Haley, totally cold and suspicious.
"Honestly? Mom and Richard are hoping the 'he said/she said' circumstances of what happened really weaken the prosecution's case. Only thing is, Lance and Vance both blabbed like idiots after they'd been booked, the cops got a whole lot of self-incriminating statements out of them. I mean, Jesus! Lance actually told the cops that yeah, if Jane didn't put out for him and Vance, they'd have taken her anyway. He said Jane was kinky enough that midway through, she'd realize she was really getting off, and totally been into it."
Bekka sighed and lit a cigarette. "Where the hell would Lance pick up that attitude? That's an old woman-hater's posit. 'Fuck her. If she wants you to, great. If she doesn't want you to, do it anyway. The bitch will realize she likes it soon enough.'
Haley continued, "Oh! Vance told the cops Lance had been bragging to his closer friends on the track team about what Jane was like since last year." She scoffed. "My little brother. Mister Manners. Apparently, no detail was spared when he'd debrief his bros on the action him and Jane had gotten into. Real classy, Lance."
"Huh. I'm a bit surprised this information didn't get spread further around the school."
"Um, this is the track team we're talking about. Come on, you went to a public high school in SoCal. The track team has all the social cachet of the debate team, or the chess club. The main difference between the track team and the computer geeks are the track team members are less likely to be carrying asthma inhalers. They're still all dorks."
"Point taken," chuckled Bekka. What has Lance said to Vicky and Richard about what happened? What excuses or rationales is he offering?"
"He was telling them that, okay, him and Vance had done a bit of drinking, and he just got a bug in his bonnet to see Jane, no ulterior motive. He says that he and Vance were probably talking a bit randy and being boisterous, but they didn't get demanding or pushy or threatening. Richard got pissed and said, 'That's not what you said to the police, after you'd been booked and they were interviewing you.' Lance is all, 'Uh, uh, I must have not been doing a good job of explaining myself.'" Haley took a few moments. Then, "This has been really hard for me. I mean, my own little brother, trying to do something as sick and fucked-up as that? What the hell happened to him? How could he treat a girl he shared nearly a year with like that?" Another pause. "And to be frank, he'd better drop his 'Jane's always been a slut' bullshit. Yeah baby bro, that's why you and her were going steady for so long. Because Jane is such a slut. Sure, Jane is horny as shit, but the last time I checked, so are teenage boys. Just because she's highly sexed doesn't mean she's a slut."
"Thank you for understanding the distinction," Bekka said, "I've had the 'slut' label attached to me, because of my career. Of course, 'slut' is probably one of the more restrained labels I've had people try to affix to me."
"What else do people say?" asked Haley. "What labels?"
"Conservative and evangelical Christians, generally speaking. The Moral Militia folks. I won't go through the litany of descriptions applied to me, it's simpler to just say they think I am genuine, Satanic evil. The evidence for this? Not only do I make dirty movies, I make dirty movies that sell like hotcakes and have turned me into a mainstream celebrity. Something nefarious must be going on, if that has happened. So, since dirty movies are evil, and I encourage the public to see the dirty movies I appear in, I am directly inflicting evil on the good citizens of the United States. The dirty movies will brainwash everyone into being sexually compulsive perverts, with the morals of sociopathic alley cats and the discretion of mail boxes. I've never sure what my end goal is. Maybe it's to just fuck shit up for the sheer exercise of it. But Becky Page will destroy America. All the members of the Moral Militia have watched her movies, over and over and over, so they should know."
Haley laughed at this posit. "Yeah, I can see a lot of Bible-thumpers watching your videos all the time, while simultaneously spouting off on how Becky Page is Satan. Their friends ask them why they keep watching your videos, so they say, 'To remind me of how evil Becky Page is! I only watch her movies to understand the nature of evil! Honest!'"
"And the raging hard-on I currently have is just Satan trying to tempt me!'" Bekka laughed.
A couple days later, I was putting up Neptune St. towards home, the end of a fairly long day. There was a minivan double-parked on my side. At about 100 yards, I realized it was directly in front of my house. A second later, it jerked into motion and took off. Curious, I gunned the Sportster and began gaining on him. Confrontation was not on my mind, identification was. I wanted the plate number.
The driver realized I was back there, and hit the gas. I was both amused and concerned. What humored me was the driver being under the misapprehension a Chevy Astro would somehow zoom away, like a Ferrari. The concern was the driver obviously knew who I was, which is why he was trying to bolt. And he had been hunkered down in front of my house.
At Leucadia Blvd there was simply nowhere for the minivan to go. Sitting directly behind him, I kept an eye on the driver, watching to see if he bent or stretched to grab something. I had the plate --- 3HHN644 --- so I didn't care too much about pursuit, unless the driver got incredibly squirrely. The light changed, traffic trudged forward. At the I-5 southbound ramp, the Astro swerved to get on the freeway. I continued forward, then looped back and headed home.
After anchoring the putt, I went upstairs to my office. Jane was at a volleyball tournament, and Bekka was going for drinks with a couple other Inana girls. I dialed Vinny, and told him I wanted to trace a plate.
"No sweat," he told me. "Gimme the number, I'll call you back in about five minutes."
"Whoa," I commented;. "It used to take twenty-four hours to get a result."
"Yeah, and that was fucking ridiculous. We're going through a different source, they're always open and always on line. So what's the number?"
"3HHN644. A red Chevy Astro van. The Astro has won design awards from the pharmaceutical industry, for providing a healthy substitute for Valium. That's how dull Astros are."
"What's the story?" asked Vinny.
":Not much of one," I informed him. "The guy was sitting in front of my house. When he realized I was coming, he left. Then, when he realized I was following him, he tried to bolt. Too damn fishy for my taste. I got the plate and let him be. Knowing who he is means more to me than getting in a confrontation on a freeway shoulder."
We hung up. And sure enough, about five minutes later, Vinny was back on the phone. He didn't sound happy, though.
"The vehicle is registered under two names, and I know you know them both: Victoria Grisham and Richard Ross, both sharing an address in Encinitas. Somebody from Lance's family was dicking around at your place. Keep your eyes peeled for that van anywhere in the area. What other vehicles do they have?"
I pondered, and said, "Um, Lance's older sister Haley drives a VW Rabbit convertible. And officer Ross drives a mid-80s Chevy Caprice station wagon. Lance has no wheels of his own, if he wants to drive somewhere, he invariably needs to borrow.... His mom's.... minivan."
"You think it was him?" queried Vinny. "What the fuck would he want? What do you think he'd try to do?"
"If it was Lance, I'm not sure. He'd be able to tell at a glance Jane isn't home, the Cutlass isn't here. And he knows this place damn well, he's spent enough time here. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I wonder if it was Vicky. She's never been a big fan of me or Bekka, and now the word is she really hates Jane. After all, Jane ruined Lance's life be refusing to be a rape victim with amnesia."
"I'm wondering if maybe this woman Vicky should have an eye kept on her for a while," pondered Vinny. "This is family business. And I'll save you time by telling why right now. Would you say the friendship between Jane and Don Vito is very tight?"
"Oh yeah," I answered. "They practically read each other's minds. They can sit and have intelligent discussions on any subject in the world. Couples who have been married fifty years don't have as good of synchronicity as they do. The only way they could be tighter is if they started sleeping together, and they already did----"
I slapped my free hand over my mouth. Over the phone, Vinny calmly said, "Lenny, is there a secret I don't know about?"
Sighing, I said, "Yes. And you'll be keeping the secret too, Vinny. Okay, last summer when Jane and Don Vito were touring Europe, they spent one night together. In the morning, they both said it had been wonderful, they were very happy it had happened, and it would never happen again. Don Vito had been telling Jane how lonely he felt in Bel Air. Jane swears she really didn't think about it, she just did it, she made a pass at Don Vito. He reacted about halfway, so Jane told him she wasn't interested in seducing the Don of the SoCal mafia, she was just curious about what it would be like to have sex with her friend Vito. And she wanted to do something special for him.
"According to Jane, Don Vito is in far, far better shape than people think. She said they went three times, and all three were wonderful. Don Vito apparently has some serious stamina. Anyway, in the morning they agreed their mutual curiosity was satisfied, the Don said he didn't feel as lonely, and they both felt adding a physical aspect to their friendship would make things even more complex around home. So, they've never gotten together again, and still remain the best of friends; That's the whole story, straight from Jane's mouth."
Vinny was silent, but I could practically hear him slowly nodding over the phone. He finally said, "Okay. That ain't nobody's business but their own. I'll keep it that way. And more power to 'em." He snickered briefly. "Three times, huh? And the Don was a champ each time?"
"That's what Jane says, and she is not given to exaggeration or falsehood. Personally? I think they should do it every now and then, just spur of the moment, for no other reason but fun. When Jane goes up to visit on weekends, instead of cruising their putts on Mulholland Drive, they should occasionally head for a motel and stay there for a few hours, then go on with the rest of the day. Know what I mean?"
"That would be pretty cool, you're right. Don Vito tells everyone being around Jane has added ten years to his life. Well, shit, maybe that bit of diversion would add another fifteen, you know?"
We both laughed. Vinny said, "Okay, so. Ms. Vicky Grisham. She may be an annoyance to a person held in high regard by the family. I'll send a couple guys down to do some snooping and spying on her, see if she does have an interest in Jane. Or if it's someone else at the wheel. We'll get our answers. Is it okay if whoever we send down uses the penthouse for a few nights?"
"The place is vacant right now," I told him. "Who are you sending?"
"Probably Frankie No-Neck and Nicky."
I choked on my own spit briefly. "Wait.... Nicky, Don Vito's former guard? The one who was guarding Bekka briefly? The one who got exiled to Bakersfield?"
"And now he's back in LA, and a member of the strike team. His attitude improved greatly, and he dropped the fucking steroids. Seriously Lenny, he's a different person. He's done tail jobs before, he's no moron, it'll keep him busy."
"And you don't think he'll tee off on me, if we cross paths at the studio some morning."
"Naw," said Vinny. "He came to terms with how things are, and was able to admit to both himself and others his exile was his own damn fault. He ain't gonna get in your face, or wave a gun around. To him, you're just that one dude who runs the video studio down south, the one with the famous wife."
"Okay," I exhaled. "If I see him, I will be perfectly cordial. I'll make sure Bekka is, too. And Jane. And Roach."
"That's the spirit. Bygones be bygones, and all that shit. Talk to you later, Lenny. Ciao."