Lawrence Pelton survived. Larry Bennett did not.
The shootings in Los Angeles were major news, of course. The local news in San Diego opened with the story, and so did the national news. Mr. Ronald Haley, a former executive at adult film studio Leisure Time Video, first entered the production area of Vivid Video in North Hollywood. He shot four people (two Vivid executives and two performers), stole a car from an uninjured employee, and left. Then he went to the offices of Hustler Publications on Wilshire Blvd. and La Cienega, entered the business offices of Hustler Video, and shot another three people (two executives and a security guard). Despite knowing Haley's work history, talking heads kept wanting to connect Haley's outburst with the gun battle at Inana Productions a year ago. Police sketch artists rendered, from descriptions, a man who looked like an unshaven Hunter Thompson. The jacked Audi was being searched for, but finding a fairly generic-looking car in Southern California was like spotting a single goldfish in a pet shop's feeder tank.
After hanging up with Bekka, I did what seemed like the only sensible thing: I got high as shit. I pulled my dope vial out of my pocket and, instead of loading a bowl, about a thirty weight was poured directly onto Rico's desk. This was crushed with the round end of my Zippo, scraped into a ragged line with my pack of Marlboros, and snorted using a rolled-up Post-It note. It had been a while since I'd snorted any dope, and the burn caught me off-guard. My eye watered and I grunted in pain. While I was doing this, someone began pounding on the door to the office. I got up and opened the door to Rico, who was giving me a funny look.
"You okay?" he asked. "My secretary came downstairs and told me you're in here screaming obscenities."
The burn was fading, the rush was hitting strong. "No, I'm not okay," I said. "I just listened to a friend of mine being shot. Rico, I am fucked up right now. Do me a favor, go downstairs and tell the girls we're leaving, like, now. Major shit has happened. Someone the family exiled has popped up again, and he's running around LA with a shotgun blowing fucking holes in people. Friends of mine. I've gotta get back on the phone."
First I dialed Stefano in La Costa. I told him, "This is important. Don't ask questions, just do as I say. Go up to whatever sound stages are active, walk in, and tell everyone they have to leave immediately. Inana is under threat of an attack, everyone needs to leave now. They can shower at home. Get everyone out of the fucking mansion, including yourself and our security. The building will be empty and locked within ten minutes. Am I clear?"
Stefano would have made a good soldier. He responded, "Got it, Lenny. I'll get everyone out. Call me later and let me know what's going on."
"You'll be able to see if you watch the news tonight," I told him.
In Oceanside, the phone at the main desk rang five times, and was finally answered by Goose, one of our Hell's Angels security workers. He was stationed in a bulletproof glass box extending from the front door to the building. Nobody got past him unless their name was on a list of Inana workers, vendors, appointment-holders, or gods. I was actually glad it was him answering, Gina would have wanted to play Twenty Questions.
"Goose, Lenny. This is no bullshit. Clear the fucking building, everyone is going home right now, and I don't give a shit what they're in the middle of. We've got a nut in LA with a shotgun that's already blown holes in people at two different adult studios up here, and Inana is one of his targets. Clear the building, lock up, chain the gate, and go home. Nothing with a pulse should be on the property ten minutes from now. Understand?"
My H.A. security took two seconds to process what I'd said, then replied, "Yeah. A nut with a shotgun in LA is going to target the studios, get everyone out on the double. I lock up tight, chain the gate, and go home myself. I'm on it. What's this bastard driving?"
"It's a '91 Audi, brown, but he was in Beverley Hills as of less than ten minutes ago. I don't want anyone saying, 'Oh, let me finish up what I'm working on, then I'll leave, we've got ninety minutes.' No. Everyone out, now, because Lenny fucking said so. If you need me, hit my pager, I'm in Anaheim right now, but I'm headed back south in just a couple minutes."
Goose said, "Yo Lenny, you okay? You sound a little off."
With another deep breath, I replied, "No, I'm not okay. I just listened to a friend of mine get shot over the phone, I don't know if he's alive or dead. Also, I just snorted up a thirty sack of shit, because if I hadn't, I'd be too busy sniveling and bawling over my friend to take care of things. I've got Trish and Feather with me, they're being driven straight home. I want zero chance of anyone at Inana running across this guy. Shit, Spike knows who he is, his name is Ron Haley. Spike watched me stomp him at one point. Ask him about the mental stability of Ron Haley, he'll tell you that random fucking shotgun murders are probably par for the course."
"Currently sitting in her Falcon at UTC mall, using the phone. When she gets a hold of Terror, she's going to meet Terror at her apartment in Ocean Beach. I'll be headed there myself. And my pager is going off..... Shit, it's Angel. I gotta go, later."
I dialed Angel's number from memory, he picked up on the first ring. "What the fuck is going on?" he asked. "Bekka was saying some crazy shit about Ron Haley running around with a shotgun shooting people? Gimme the full story."
As best I could, I tried to give him a near-verbatim accounting of my phone conversation with Lawrence Pelton, up to when Lawrence was shot. Somehow I held myself together while I spoke. I finished with, "La Costa and Oceanside are being emptied right now, there will be no one at either studio facility. Bekka will be at her bodyguard's apartment, I'm headed there too.... Although I am highly tempted to stake out one of the places and watch for Haley to show up. He shot my friend Lawrence. I'll happily plug the piece of shit in the back, just to have the world be rid of him. Throw his body in my trunk and dump him out in the Superstition Mountains in Imperial County. Coyotes will strip him clean in three days."
"The studios are already going to be watched," said Angel. "We're assigning some guys from the strike force to stake out Oceanside and La Costa, two each, both in their own vehicles.... No, I'm changing that. Oceanside gets three of the guys to watch it. There's too many wide empty streets around there. If Haley spots the strike force guys, he'll bolt."
"Personally, you should use your law enforcement contacts in both LA and San Diego to see if they're making any progress," I suggested.
"I got pigeons in both sheriff's departments who have instructions to let me or Vinny know if Haley pops up anywhere. Oh, by the way, you and Bekka will both have company, close company, until Haley is out of circulation. You're both getting armed bodyguards. These are Secret Service-quality guards, too. They'll take a bullet for you, if need be." I started to speak, and Angel cut me off. "And don't worry, you're not getting guys like Nicky. They barely even speak, much less moralize on their wards. You and Bekka could set fire to a loaded school bus, these guys wouldn't judge you."
"Anyone I know?"
"Maybe. One guy is Joey Falcone, or 'Joey the Fisherman.' the other is Frankie No-Neck. You know him, right?"
"We've met," I observed. "Safe to assume you want Bekka and I back at home, and not in Ocean Beach."
"Spend the night with Terry or in a hotel, and be back home by ten in the morning. That's when your two guards will arrive."
We signed off. Rico was leaning in the frame of his private bathroom, exhaust fan on so he could puff a cigar. He said, "I think I get the gist of what's going on. That mook Ron Haley, the asshole from Leisure Time Video, has popped back up again, even after he was exiled. And he's using a shotgun to mow people down. And worst of all, he harbors a major grudge against you, your wife, and Inana. How am I doing?"
"That's the size of things," I replied. "Right now, Haley has every cop west of the Rockies looking for him, along with the mafia. I know he's headed towards the Inana studios, there's too much hate there for him not to." Tired of dwelling on the subject, I said, "So how goes the car hunt?"
"Both girls are downstairs filling out their loan applications. They each decided the other girl was looking at the better car. Now Trish wants the Eldorado and Feather wants the Seville. Both are getting customized options, so their cars will be coming from Dearborn in about two weeks. And like everybody else at Inana, they're gonna put in real stereos after they have their cars. Hah, I always tell my salesmen to not try and get anyone under fifty to take a Delco stereo installed. Delcos are friggin' garbage for anyone who truly likes music. The geezers --- the vast majority of my customers --- are only gonna be listening to either smooth jazz on FM or Rush Limbaugh on AM, they're fine with a Delco. But I make sure young customers are told, 'Hey, GM won't ship a Cadillac with no radio at all, which sucks, so just get the basic AM/FM and put a good stereo in when you have the car.' I've heard how you and Sue and Missy Liscio...." Jolene. "... blast your tunes. You'd hate having a Delco."
"What other options are they getting?" I queried.
"Both want leather seats, in a fawn-skin shade of brown. Trish wants the navigation package, with the digital compass and all that. Feather is going full-bore, she's getting a black Seville STS with the Northstar engine, fully loaded. The Eldorado comes with the Northstar standard. Those new engines crank out 295 horsepower, these cars are pretty damn quick. Um, the main office would stomp on my dick for saying this, but I told them both to not bother having the cellular phone installed. The way cellular technology keeps advancing, a cell phone that's permanently wired to the dashboard is gonna be a relic in another year."
Feather and Trish were both still working, so I went outside for a much-needed cigarette. When I went back in, they'd finished and were watching Rico nervously as he read over the applications. He smiled at them and said, "Okay, great. I've gotta get on the horn to GMAC now and get you both approved, it'll just be a few minutes." Rico disappeared into a small back room.
Both girls eyed me curiously. "Lenny, are you okay?" Trish asked.
"No, I'm not," I answered. "I'm not going to go into great detail, but there's a man with a shotgun running around loose in Southern California right now. He's already shot seven people that I know of, two of whom are friends of mine. I also know he really, truly despises me and Inana Productions, so he'll be headed towards the studios. I've already sent everyone home, and to not go near either facility until they get the go-ahead. The guy is a former big-wig at Leisure Time.... Shit, Trish, it's Ron Haley."
"What?" Trish squeaked.
"Remember all the bullshit I had to contend with, dealing with Haley? Because of some specific threats he made at the time, Angel's, ahem, 'family' dealt with him. He was given $1000 and driven to Vegas, then kicked loose with nothing but the bread and the clothes on his back, along with very serious instructions to never enter California again, for the rest of his life.
"Haley has returned. He shot four people at Vivid's studios in North Hollywood, then went to Hustler and shot three more." I left out my hearing Lawrence Pelton take a load, while I sat on the phone. "Haley has decided the entire industry has done him wrong, and particularly me. I honestly believe he's on sort of a suicide run. He's not going to stop until he's killed."
"That shouldn't take very long," observed Trish. "Remember, Ron always assumes he's smarter than everyone else."
"Yeah, well.... He's not engaging in dialogue. He's literally blasting away at people with no words or explanation. He's hit Hustler, he's hit Vivid.... Any clue if he has any more grudges up here in LA?"
Shaking her head sadly, Trish replied, "When you're the smartest man in the world, you know everyone you talk to should immediately do as you say, there should be no questioning or arguing. All the moronic recalcitrant peons who question your wisdom are now on your shit list, right? God, Ron would be talking to someone at another studio on any subject at all, and try to lay down edicts to them. They'd laugh at him, the two would argue, then yell, and ta-dah, Ron Haley has a new enemy. And it's not just the person he argued with, it's the entire studio. Obviously, they keep that moron around, so they must all be morons, and will be treated as such." She took a gasp of air. "You probably didn't notice, but Ron wasn't at the 1991 Eroticon, or at the AVN Awards Expo. The other muckety-mucks at Leisure Time told him to stay home. He'd spend the weekends getting in fights with every other vendor and studio present, he'd make Leisure Time look like assholes. Ron is smart enough to know he doesn't get to sign his own paychecks, so he sulked at home. But there isn't a studio, big or small, that Ron hasn't antagonized at some point."
"And he's sure they're all plotting against him," I pondered. "Collectively."
"Lenny.... What did you do to him? Where did he disappear to? I figured Angel had given him cement shoes, you know?"
"In retrospect, we should have. Okay, here's the deal. Ron had already irritated me and Angel when I met him for lunch. The he called me a few days later, telling me to drive you back to Leisure Time.... Like you have no say in the matter. I laughed at him. He said I had five days to bring you back, or else.
"So he calls back five days later, drunk, and begins yelling how he's just going to come to Inana and kidnap you and Becky Page, then kill me. I told him to come on down, I'd be looking forward to his visit. He showed up the next morning with a shotgun. My security had already been alerted to watch for his BMW, so we knew when he arrived. I ambushed him and got the shotgun, then took him inside. He starts in on how I'm a total pussy, he could take me in a fight, blah blah blah. I say, 'Fine, let's do this.' We go back out front and I stomp him in nothing flat. I broke his cheek, I broke his teeth, I kicked him in the head.... Me and Spike drag him back inside and tie him up to wait for whoever Angel sends to collect him.
"And the stupid motherfucker is still talking shit! Totally having an attitude. He started his bullshit about how his mafia connections would kill me for this indignity, so I laughed and told him that soon, he would be meeting real mafioso, up close and personal, and they didn't like him. I pointed out that wasn't it a bit odd I hadn't called the cops? He'd walked into a business with a loaded shotgun, and we just beat him up, then tie him to a chair? And finally, the Clue Fairy visited Ron Haley. A couple of the family's enforcer types came and got him, he went through about three days straight of 'attitude adjustment.'
"Angel must have figured Haley had gotten the message, otherwise he'd have just killed him. No, Haley lucked out, he got a Vegas exile. He...."
Feather cut in, "Why do they drop off people in Vegas? And what's the money for?"
In response, I said, "Vegas is a town where anyone can get a job, doing something, for a living wage. You may be making beds in a hotel or washing dishes, but you're working. Remember, it's nearly a four hour drive from LA to Vegas, and that time will be spent reinforcing the idea that your current life is over, completely. You have your wallet, the clothes you're wearing, and that $1000 cash, that's all. The idiocy of trying to come back to California will be explained over and over, in loving detail. I suppose a lot of people headed straight for the Las Vegas Greyhound station when they were dropped off, to head for someplace with family or friends. But in Vegas, you can have a quiet, simple life. You have enough money to pay for a cheap motel room for a couple weeks, buy some clothes, buy food, get a toothbrush and razor.... Then you can get a job, of some sort. You may have twenty million dollars in gold coins buried in your old backyard. That doesn't matter, you can't get to it. You are starting your life from scratch.... But that's better than being dead, right?"
Trish asked, "So it's a kinder, gentler Cosa Nostra? They do this exile, instead of killing you?"
"Depends. Some people do get killed. It depends on how hot of water you got into with the family. In the old days, they really did just kill enemies all the time. But the problem with that is two-fold. First, now you have a body to get rid of, and that's a lot harder than you think. Also, there will be more than a few people with direct knowledge of the murder. These people are all potentially witnesses. Some low-ranking mafioso might tie one on in a bar some night and brag that he knows what really happened to so-and-so, and he can even show you where the body is buried. One of his fellow drunks might be an off-duty LAPD captain. No, exile is simpler, and has the same effect: you're rid of the motherfucker, unless he thinks he can outwit and out-dodge the entire SoCal mafia. This almost never happens successfully.
"Anyway, Haley survived his attitude adjustment, and seems to have done as he was told.... Until today. I'm not sure what sent him off the deep end, and why he's trying to commit mass murder. My friend Larry suggested Haley learned of Inana's big expansion and just flipped out. To Haley, Inana's continued success has got to be the ultimate injustice. Like your wife leaving you for your best friend, and the next day they buy a winning Powerball ticket. Haley hates everything about Inana. According to Haley, in a right-thinking world Inana would go belly-up, I'd become a petty criminal, and all the Inana Girls would become streetwalkers. This hasn't happened, so he's going to correct that injustice. Trish, let me rephrase my earlier question. Are there any other studios Haley would see as truly deserving the shotgun treatment?"
Looking glum, Trish, slowly shook her head. "I honestly don't know. It's hard to say how he'll feel about other people. I mean, he met you once face to face, and developed the vitriolic hatred he did......"
I chuckled and said, "Ah, but not only does Lenny Schneider represent a lot of things wrong with how the world works, Lenny also stole one of his bitches. You. Lenny Schneider, according to Haley, is a scumbag who somehow lucked into this massive success, and did it by operating a porn studio in a manner diametrically opposed to how Ron thinks a studio should be run. Then, the movies Lenny Schneider produces become mega-hits, completely altering the landscape of adult entertainment. To have the success of Inana will mean having to emulate Lenny Schneider, in many ways. To Haley, that is too big and too bitter of a pill to swallow. The public success of Inana, and Lenny Schneider, would be like letters your ex-wife sends you from Bermuda and Tahiti, telling you what a wonderful time her and your former best friend are having. Very quickly, you'd hate the bitch. Well, Ron Haley hates me." I turned, walked to the wall of the office, and banged my forehead into the drywall, loudly. "I'm sick of the subject, for the time being. So you're both getting cars you like?"
Stopping next to a pretty slick-looking Cadillac, Feather said, "This thing has every fucking bell and whistle Cadillac puts in a car! I turned down the cellular phone on Rico's suggestion, though, and I'm going to get an aftermarket stereo, a Pioneer or Alpine. The salesman said the stereos GM puts in their cars are pretty crappy. I took it for a test drive, and it's way quicker than you expect a Cadillac to be, it's so awesome. Hey Trish, let's show him yours."
We walked over to a white Eldorado, another pretty slick-looking piece of machinery. Trish commented, "This one is also pretty quick, and has all the toys. We're both getting leather seats,
"Do you have any bankruptcies or repossessions?" I asked. She said no. "Then you're golden. Rico can get any Inana Girl financed, barring those two events. Sue bought a Sedan de Ville after five weeks at Inana, and she had absolutely no credit whatsoever. She had a checking account and a couple utilities in her name, that was it. Rico got her in a car anyway."
We had just stepped back inside when Rico came bouncing out of the credit office, all smiles. "Girls, you're golden. I pointed out to GMAC that you're contractors with Inana Productions, and that helped a lot. None of the other Inana people I've set up have even been late on a payment, and these days, everybody knows who Inana Productions is. So, this is Friday the sixteenth. Be back here, with your trade-ins, on Thursday the twenty-ninth. You'll be driving home in your new cars. I'll even have them filled before you arrive. Sound good?"
Both the girls did their best to hug Rico. There was a lot of mass to try and get one's arms around. They thanked him profusely, and promised to never ever miss a payment. "That's all I need to hear, girls! I know Lenny is anxious to get back down to San Diego, so I'm gonna say goodbye now. See you in two weeks."
The three of us got in my Fleetwood and took off. Feather averred, "Rico is great. He's such a teddy bear. I like him."
I looked over at her. She had a rather crafty, calculating look in her eyes, with a light smile. I said, "So, did Rico mention Mrs. Carelli at any point?"
"I saw the wedding band. Guys never notice that detail. Girls always do. Remember in sixth grade, when they had the half-assed sex ed classes, with the boys in one room and the girls in another? That's one of the things the girls were being instructed about. That, and how to adjust one's sexual enthusiasm based on the quality of the restaurant the boy took you to that night."
"How to manufacture explosives out of tampons and crushed Midol," giggled Trish.
I told the girls they'd be getting dropped off at home, their cars would sit at the mansion for a day or two. "Until I have a lock on the location of Ron Haley --- either a jail or a graveyard --- Inana is closed, period. Anyone at either La Costa or Oceanside will have a target on their back. Tell you what, use cabs to get around for the next couple days. Get receipts, and give them to me. I'll reimburse you, okay?"
Around San Clemente my pager started blowing up. I took twelve different pages in fifteen minutes. Looking at the display, some of the call-back numbers were familiar, the home numbers of Inana performers and crew. Small Steve paged me three times. Dropping off Feather first, I asked if I could use her phone, to at least get Small Steve off my back. She acquiesced. When Steve answered the phone, I hissed, "Hey Steve, it's Lenny. Please tell me what is so urgent that you paged me three times in five minutes."
"Dude!" Steve exclaimed. "Dude, dude, dude! Guess where we're going in January!"
This felt like a non-sequitur compared to the rest of the day. I wasn't up for guessing games. "Steve, I'm having an incredibly shitty day. Everything sucks. Tell me where, and why, and in a short amount of time."
"Lenny, you and me got invitations to the Sundance Film Festival! They want both of us to serve on a couple different panels each, and --- check this! --- they're going to be having a symposium and review of Inana's features! Some of our features will be screened, they're going to have an interview with the two of us, and an audience Q&A session after the screenings each night. You, me, and Inana, we're gonna be fucking legit! People will stop saying we 'only' make porn, you know? We're gonna be recognized as genuine filmmakers."
"Which films are they screening?" I asked.
"Um.... 'Bewitched,' 'Bewitched II,' 'Dangerous Desires,' 'Temporary Pleasures,' 'Succubus,' ''Blood-Stained Kisses,' and 'Miss Treatment.' They're gonna screen them over three days. On the day there's only two films, they'll do our interview in front of a live audience."
I drummed my fingers on the counter. "Is there a contact name and number?" I asked. "I've got a few questions."
Steve's voice got tight and angry. "What questions, Lenny?" he hissed.
"First, why the fuck is the Sundance Film Festival held in the mountains of Utah, during the winter? Why is it in Utah at all? Given Bekka's creative input, why isn't Becky Page invited? Given my history with Hollywood, do they really want me, of all people, being forced to interact with film industry lifers? And most importantly, am I going to have to drive to Wyoming to get a fucking scotch?" I caught my breath and continued, "Maybe I'm feeling a little paranoid and on edge today --- who would blame me --- but it feels like they've got an ulterior motive to get us out there. What do those honky assholes really want out of us?"
"Lenny.... Don't you fucking dare sabotage this. I'm not sure what's going on today, but you sound stressed as hell. I give you good news, and you see a trap. If I give you this number, do you promise to be as diplomatic as possible on the phone?"
"I give everyone a chance, Steve, you know me," I answered. "It's second chances I'm not as generous with."
"Okay," Steve sighed. "Her name is Lillian Haste, her number is (310) 555-8274. For God's sake, Lenny, please don't unload on her, I'm sure she's a perfectly nice person. She's helping organize a film festival, not scoring crack for Frank Mancuso." He waited a couple ticks. "So.... the studios are under threat again. Who this time? Another Bible zombie?"
"Nope. A former employee of Leisure Time Video, a miserable prick named Ron Haley. He seems to have snapped. He used a shotgun on four people at Vivid, then went to Hustler's building on Wilshire and dropped three. I have two friends who, if they're not dead already, probably won't make it through the night. Shotguns tend to really put messy holes in people. My friend Lawrence Pelton got dropped while I listened on the phone, Steve. I heard a shotgun over the phone. Larry went to investigate, I guess with a gun of his own. This motherfucker Ron Haley just blew a hole in Larry, no talk, he just called Larry a motherfucker and fired. And I had to sit and listen to it happen, and there was nothing I could do, I couldn't help defend Hustler, I couldn't even give comfort to Larry. Fuck me, Steve, I've dealt with this asshole motherfucker Ron Haley before and I'll do it again. Larry said Haley has a major grudge with me, he hates my guts, and there's no question he's after me as well.."
"Jesus, Lenny.... Man, I'm really sorry. You and Pelton hung out together sometimes, huh?"
I sighed, "Yeah. Lawrence was an altruist. He never begrudged Inana for its success, he was happy someone in the industry had broke the ground we did, and had it pay off. Remember last year, when we picketed Jerry Fallwood? He was the guy who organized it. Lawrence has always felt the industry should be more cohesive. Yeah, there's gonna be competition, but everybody should get along, and form a united front. He believes if ideas were exchanged openly, everyone would get ahead."
I chuckled softly and continued, "Never tell Angel or Vinny this, but Lawrence and I have swapped ideas and given advice to each other when we're working on projects. Our last couple features, both of us have read the other's scripts before they were even in production. We've gotten good ideas from each other. I know that's not supposed to be done --- Hustler is our competition, right? --- but what's good for one studio is good for all of them. Now the major adult studios are putting out intelligent, well-performed features, which will keep people interested, which will boost the entire industry. That's how Lawrence sees things, and I agree with him, one hundred percent."
Steve was quiet, then said, "Once you've landed for the night, try and track down Mr. Pelton. Right now, you don't know if he survived. This may sound callous, but I think you'll sleep better ,knowing one way or the other. Try and track him down."
"I'll do it. I'm gonna get going, Steve. I'll keep you posted. We're gonna be using the phone tree to put out information, so stick close to the phone this weekend. Later, man."
"Take care, Lenny."