Monday, April 3, 2017

Groove (Part 14)

I returned home around midday the next afternoon.  Bekka and her entourage were just about to leave, heading to downtown San Diego for some antique-hunting.  They'd already worked out a plan.  So Bekka wouldn't feel like she was constantly crowded, Frankie No-Neck would walk a few yards ahead of her, scanning for trouble.  Joey would be several yards behind,  Terry would be at her side.  They'd agree where they were headed to, and start walking.  At a shop, all four would go in, the two wise guys poking around briefly, casing the shop, then exit and wait outside while Bekka did her browsing.

     "We'll be back no later than 5:30," Bekka told me.  Some of the other guys will get here about then,  and we have to shuttle vehicles around.  If we just leave them in front of the mansion, it'll be obvious it's a set-up."
     "Where are the other guys?" I asked.
     "At fuckin' Sea World," Terry snickered.  "Hey, what the fuck, it's a good way of killing a day.  Tomorrow the fuckin' zoo is on their itinerary."
     "Any news?"
     Bekka replied.  "Haley has switched vehicles again, it would seem.  And he lowered his risk of immediate bust when he did.  It was another car-jacking, but he did it in Linda Vista.  The victim was a Vietnamese immigrant, and older guy with really shaky English skills.  And the car is a 1982 Toyota Corolla, silver, a car that even its owners forget is there.  So Haley picked a neighborhood with slow police response time, and a victim who would need a translator to report what happened.   And he chose a car that gets lost in a crowd very easily."
     "I wonder how much of that was planning, or luck," I pondered.
     After they left, I puttered around in my office and made some calls.  I needed to get back into my office in Oceanside, there were two different script projects I wanted to work on.  I also wanted my Rolodex.  Erica and Mallory were also champing at the bit to work on one of the scripts, the sequel to "Succubus."
     Over the phone, Erica said, "I can't lie.  I'm glad I work from home, not at one of the studios.  Not with some jerk with a shotgun running around.  Oh, hey!  You may not know this, but Fang is getting a band together."
     "Really?" I asked.
     "Well....  Sort of.  Okay, that little girl Feather learned some guitar for her role in '180 Strokes Per Minute,' right?  And Fang has improved enough, and is feeling confident enough, that she asked Fang if she'd like to jam together, them and the Roland.  Fang found a place to practice, she's renting one of those big metal sea containers.  It's sitting on the lot of a tow yard in Santa Monica.  They let her run power out to it, and it's a hundred bucks a month.  Her and Feather hung out all weekend in this metal box, getting high, drinking beer, and making noise.  I went and watched them for a while on Sunday, and they're sounding really cool.  One of them will program in a beat on the drum machine and start jamming whatever she has in her head, and the other will join in.  Right now, it's like if Frank Zappa had started the band Big Black, the same pounding, distorted sound, but with an arty and meandering song structure.  And the fact they're playing inside a giant metal box makes the sound even more intense."
     "Too cool, I'll have to check them out.  Remind Fang that Pennywise used a sea container as their practice space in the early days."
     When I talked to Mallory, she let me know she was working far ahead on her episode scripts for "Co-Ed Housing," and yeah, going to a full hour would be best.  "There's so much opportunity for nuance in the characters, and you know all the performers will love that.  So can we knock our heads together on the sequel right now?"
     "Nope, probably not until tomorrow.  I've gotta get my most recent work out of my office in Oceanside, and I'm doing that this evening.  Our assassin Haley wouldn't bother with keeping an eye on either studio after six in the evening."
     "Are both studios still under surveillance?"
     "No," I replied.  "The mansion has people inside, and you can tell from five blocks off that Oceanside is unoccupied, so Haley doesn't need to get any closer than that.  We just had four wise guys sitting in their cars, bored to death, so we dropped that idea."
     Mallory said, "Call me tonight after you get your current sequel script, I'll fill you in on what I've been hammering out.  I know we're trying to keep this to 115 minutes, so we've gotta streamline in places.  And, to be frank?  We need more suck and fuck.  It's a great story we've got, but for porn, it's lacking in hardcore action.  We have to fill that aspect out more."
     "Gotcha.  Talk to you this evening."
     Bekka and her entourage got home minutes before the wise guys responsible for wrangling decoy vehicles arrived.  These guys were in a chipper mood.  For all intents and purposes, this was a paid vacation for them.  They'd gone to a couple of those discount "Rent-A-Wreck" places and purposely picked up the oldest and most disparate cars on the lots.  These cars were put in place by eight in the morning in front of the mansion, and would be moved away at six, a wise guy behind the wheel of each one, headed to their respective motels.  They had no other responsibilities.  Some of them had offered to spell for Frankie of Joey, so they could go out and play one day, but Angel put the kibosh on that idea.  He wanted the same two soldiers always with Bekka, they'd notice any anomalies much easier, being more familiar with the turf.
     I rode with the soldiers and Bekka to the mansion.  My plan was to pick up the Fleetwood, then head to Oceanside to grab what I wanted from my office.  At the mansion, I double-checked to make sure I had the correct keys (front gate lock, front door, office door) and the code for the alarm system.  Step inside the building while the alarm was activated, and you had thirty seconds to enter the disable code into a keypad on the wall.  Don't do it, or get it wrong, and loud bells and klaxons would begin going off, I'd get an alert on my pager, and Oceanside PD would be summoned.
     For the sheer hell of it, I did a loop around the long block the Oceanside studio sat on.  No silver Toyotas.  Take the chain off the gate, roll in, and close the gate again (but not chained).  I went up to my office and shoved a fresh floppy into the drive of the 486 I'd started using, at Stefano's insistence, dropping the most recent version of the script onto the disk, along with some notes I'd made.  This done, I killed the machine again, grabbed my Rolodex, and headed back out.  Re-arming the alarm was just a matter of entering the code again.  Then back out through the gate.
     I'd put the chain back on and was just starting to drive away when the Fleetwood was suddenly cashed sideways at the rear, like I'd been hit.  I had been.  A silver Corolla had rammed itself backwards into my right rear fender.  Haley was no dummy: he wanted to disable the Fleetwood, but knew the Toyota was far flimsier, and going at me nose-first would probably render the Toyota undriveable.  He wouldn't damage anything major by using the rear of the import.
     I was highly distressed to realize the engine in the Cadillac had stalled, and I knew why.  There was a bit of a safety precaution installed, called a fuel relay switch.  Any car with an electric fuel pump would have one these days.  The switch senses when the car had taken a good hit, like in an accident, and kills the power to the fuel pump.  That way, you don't have a wrecked vehicle sitting there squirting gasoline all over everything.  Well, the Cadillac had been hit, and the fuel pump was disabled, at least temporarily.  Rico Carelli had told me the switch would reset itself in about a minute, the pump working again when the key was turned.
     One minute seemed like a long damn time.  I hit the button to lock all the doors just as Ron Haley was exiting the Toyota.  He reached in and grabbed his trusty shotgun, he seemed aware that the Fleetwood was crippled, and was taking his time.  Fine with me, he could eat up the seconds before the Cadillac would start again.  I sat and watched him stroll to the front of the Cadillac, him watching me  He stood about fifteen feet from the front of the Fleetwood, looking at me through the windshield.  If he was curious about why I wasn't ducking or trying to hide, he didn't show it.  He brought the shotgun up, and I gave him the finger.  He smiled and waved bye-bye with one hand, then pulled the trigger.
     I instinctively winced as the blast hit the bulletproof glass of the windshield.  The glass held, there wasn't even a single star or crack.  The objective part of my brain calculated that Haley was firing fairly light bird shot, and also he'd been cheap while buying shells, there was a low grain count per shell.  Af fifteen feet and aimed at a human, it wouldn't make much difference.  Against a Cadillac with bulletproof glass and body armor, it was a defeat.
     Haley frowned as he realized both the windshield and my head were intact.  He stepped closer and racket the slide.  I used both hands to give him the finger.  He fired, and the shot skipped off the glass like hail.  Trying a different tack, he moved to point the shotgun at the driver's window.  I thumbed his nose at him and keyed the ignition.  No love.  He fired again.  This time a few stars appeared in the glass.  He gave it another shot, but the glass held.
     Now Haley was getting frustrated.  He want to the back of the Fleetwood and tried the rear window, pumping three shots into in, one right after the other.  He was stymied.  My hope was he'd use up all the shells in the shotgun, and I'd be able to jump out and blow a hole in him with the Beretta.  Just the same, I kept one hand on the ignition key.  He moved to the passenger window and gave a couple more blasts, while I stuck my tongue out at him.  He yelled, "You pussy, Schneider!"
     "Not cowardice, just precaution," I yelled back, and tried to start the engine again.  This time the big V8 caught.  Haley jumped back and dove into his Toyota, as I started jamming up the block.
     I didn't want to lose him, actually.  There had to be some way of crippling him.  Still, I felt a twinge of annoyance when I turned a corner and saw, two blocks ahead, a tractor-trailer was sitting crossways to the street, totally blocking it.  At that hour, the driver and business knew there was no one around to obstruct, and anyone who did come along could turn around and use a different street.
     I got all the way up to the stopped semi.  Checking the rear view, I just saw Haley turning up the street towards me.  Nothing else for it.  Wrenching the wheel, I spun the Fleetwood around and stomped on the gas, pointing right at Haley.  We were going to play a game of Chicken.  If neither of us was chicken, my beloved Fleetwood would be totaled, true.... But I wouldn't be terribly injured.  Haley, however, would probably be crushed from the waist down, as the Corolla's engine was driven through the firewall and into the passenger compartment.  I kept the pedal to the metal, screaming an incoherent obscenity as I aimed at Haley's hood.
     Haley was chicken.  He held for a while, but dodged just in the nick of time.  I stomped on the brakes and spun the Cadillac to try for another challenge.  I also rolled down the window and got my Beretta in my left hand.  As we got closer, I began pulling the trigger, aiming for the windshield of the Toyota.  I saw holes appear in the glass, but not on Haley's side.  He wasn't in the mood to play Chicken anymore, and dodged again.  He kept going forward, and I spun around to chase him.
     The Corolla was flogged along, Haley now trying to outrun me.  No chance of that.  Double the engine and a Police Interceptor package gave m e a massive edge when it came to speed.
     We were rapidly approaching Oceanside Blvd.  I banged into Haley's rear, hoping to spin him.  That didn't work, so I tried a spin-and-pin maneuver, getting my right front fender alongside the Toyota's left rear fender, then yanking the wheel to the right.  This usually caused the rear wheels to lose traction, spinning the car.  Haley fishtailed, but kept going forward.  Then we were on top of Oceanside Blvd, approaching at about sixty MPH.  We both hit our brakes at the same time, me getting back behind Haley.  He spun his wheel and threw the Toyota sideways onto the main drag, banging into a car already occupying the space.  I was lucky enough to not tangle with anyone.
     Traffic was light enough that we both slalomed through other cars, pointed east.  I wasn't sure if Haley wanted to get on the freeway or not, and it didn't matter either way.  Unfortunately, there was also enough traffic that I couldn't catch all the way up to Haley and try another offensive maneuver.  We blasted up Oceanside Blvd. and under the I-5.
     Approaching Crouch Blvd, Haley yanked the wheel to the left, hopping the median island and aiming for the driveway of a strip mall.  I followed.  We made our merry way along the front of the strip mall, and were aimed at a nearly-empty secondary parking lot.  Haley aimed at some empty spaces, hoping to get turned around and back onto the street.  We'd both dropped speed, obviously, me still pursuing, watching for enough room to try another spin-and-pin.
     Haley took himself out.  The spaces of the empty lot were headed up with cement parking berms.  they were big ones.  Haley hit them at a relatively low speed.  His front wheels hopped the first set, then went over the second set.... But the berms were too high, and the frame of the Corolla was too low.  He got hung up, unable to more.  He tried to back out, but the frame held to the berm, and I had him blocked with the Fleetwood anyway.
     I dropped the half-empty clip out of the Beretta and shoved a full one in.  Haley was realizing he was stuck, and I was out of my car.  He reached way over to his right, presumably to grab the shotgun.  I got up to the Toyota, pistol already held in stance, and yelled, "Ron, you dumb motherfucker, you never learn."  Haley was just bringing up the shotgun when I began firing.  I put four rounds into him through the driver's window, ventilating his head.  He slumped, probably already dead.  Just the same, I went to the front of the Toyota and began firing at him through the windshield. slowly changing my position so I'd hit him at changing angles.  Then I went to the passenger side and emptied the clip into him from there.  No doubt he was dead, there were too many chunks of him missing, particularly from his head.  I holstered the Beretta and walked back to the Fleetwood.  It was then I realized I had an audience, sort of.  There was a Taco Bell sitting near the entrance we'd come in, and the patrons inside were all looking out the windows at me.  I was a bit too far for anyone to get a clear look at me or read my license place, but they'd seen what had happened, no doubt.
      The Fleetwood was put in gear and I took off, going out a side driveway that fed onto Crouch Blvd.  I rolled down Crouch at a legal speed, just another car on the road.  I hoped so, at least.  I thought about all the body damage inflicted on the Fleetwood.  As I went down Crouch, two Oceanside PD cars came past in the opposite direction, gumballs on, sirens wailing.  No doubt as to their destination.
     Crouch bends around and merges with Grandview St.  I cruised along, turning left onto Hunsaker St., then right on California St.  There is a single ramp onto the I-5, heading north.  I took it, going up to the Mission Ave. ramps and using the cloverleaf to get pointed in the right direction.  Just another guy in a big American car, pointed towards home like everybody else.  Down at the La Costa Ave. exit, I got off the freeway and pointed towards the mansion.  The Fleetwood was put in the garage, then I went in and grabbed the phone in the kitchen, dialing home.
     When Bekka answered, I said, "Hey babe, it's me.  Can you come pick me up?"
     "Um....  Of course.  Where are you?  Is there something wrong with the Fleetwood?"
     "I'm at the mansion, and the Fleetwood has some body damage.  Oh, by the way, I just killed Ron Haley."
     Bekka paused, then said, "What?"
     In a merry tone, I said, "Ron Haley is expired, and gone to meet his maker.  He's a stiff.  Bereft of life he rests.  He's fucking snuffed it."
     "You're serious."
     "Indeed I am, darling.  He was lying in wait for me at the Oceanside studio.  There were a few tense moments there, but the upshot was I chased him through Oceanside and into a strip mall, where he got tangled up and couldn't move.  So, I got out of the Cadillac and started shooting at him, from a distance of maybe twelve feet.  I put fifteen rounds of hollow-point into his head and chest, and from all different angles.  There's too many pieces of him missing for him to be alive.  Ding dong, the prick is dead.  So, can you come and get me?  You won't need your guards."
     "I'll be right there."  She hung up.
      I went back into the garage to get my Rolodex out of the car and take a closer look at the damage.  The right front fender was pretty banged up, and I was missing a hubcap.  The driver's window had some starring from the bird shot, but the other glass all looked fine.  I walked out and waited in the driveway.
     Bekka must have lead-footed it over, she was there in six minutes.  She jumped out as I approached the car.  "Why are you leaving the Fleetwood here?" she asked.
     "Well, there were witnesses to what I did.  The customers of a Taco Bell got a show with their dinner tonight.  They were too far away to be able to get a good look at me or the license plate, but they could see I was driving a big black Cadillac with a crunched-up front right fender.  So, keeping the Fleetwood under wraps for a while is probably a good idea.  Still, no big deal.  It's always nice to get so much accomplished in such a short amount of time."
     "And Ron Haley is dead," Bekka said evenly.
     I grinned and said, "Baby doll, for him to be any more dead I'd have needed a chipper-shredder, the ones they use to shred tree branches.  Like I said, there's too much of him missing for him to be alive.  That's why I went through a full clip, to be absolutely sure.  So, what are we doing for dinner tonight?"
     "Oh.... Just ordering from Leucadia Deli.  Is that all right?"
     "Sounds fine with me, I could go for their tortellini and antipasto.  I'll call Angel with the news from my office at home.  Frankie and Joey can spend one more night with us, even though they're redundant.  And the studios can get reopened on Thursday morning."
     We got in and started towards home. At the wheel of the Falcon, Bekka said, "You seem to be taking all this lightly."
     I thought about it, and said, "Yes and no.  I'm fully aware of the gravity of what I just did --- another notch in the handle of my gun --- but at the same time, I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself.  I just killed a motherfucker who killed a friend of mine, and had been threatening a lot of things I love, especially you.  Not only is this chapter completely and totally over with, I was the one who ended it.  Revenge isn't a dish best served cold, it's a dish best served in the parking lot behind a Jeffy Lube, and followed by a big container of antipasto."  I silently rubbed my nose, then continued, "Yes, I ended another human life.  But.... for Christ's sake, it was Ronald Haley's life, and Ronald Haley was such a failure of a human that it barely counts.  Ron Haley had no redeeming features about him, he was a grade A bastard all the way through.  Hitler may have been responsible for murdering six million Jews, but you know what?  Under the Third Reich, Germany got an organization of Humane Society-like animal shelters that are still in place to this day.  Hitler loved dogs and cats.  I can't imagine Ron Haley being nurturing to a pet rock."
     "And you don't think you're going to have.... I don't know, an adverse mental reaction to what you just did?" asked Bekka.
     I sighed.  "You know, I'm probably going to get a bit jumpy and morose in the next couple days.  When I do, call me out on it.  But right now, the only feeling I have is one of, 'There!  Job done!'  I solved a problem, in the way it needed to be solved.  If it hadn't been me, it would have been another mafia soldier, or the cops.  Go me."
     Bekka backed the Falcon into its spot and we got out.  She stopped me at the front door, then gave me a hug and a smile.  "Good job, babe," she said.  "Congratulations."
     "Shucks' weren't nothin'" I replied.  We went upstairs to start spreading the news.

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