Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Sisters (Part 10)

     We sipped our drinks and considered each other across the table.  I know Terry and I always subconsciously asked the same question when meeting new people: can I drop this person?  I had absolutely no worries about Ian Hollis.  There was no doubt in my mind that he would sneeringly insist that physical violence was the tool of the simpleminded and vulgar, someone who was unable to defend an intellectual position.  Ambrosia also had the look of a Los Angeles native: I didn't need to see her eyes to know they were communicating to the world how bored she was at the moment, especially with the present company.  Ohmigawd, a punk rocker and a biker chick.  Eww.  The sort of people they have in hellholes like Upland and Fontana and Lake Elsinore, complete white trash.

     I broke the ice first.  "So, Ian darling.  Have you written a new contract proposal?  Actually use your brain when you wrote it this time?  Something that won't insult my intelligence?"
     Hollis smirked, "I'm a bit surprised you didn't come up with a lawyer, someone to help you with the big words.  Instead, you brought Biker Barbie here."
     "You didn't answer my question.  Did you bring a real proposal today?  Yes or no."
     He seethed and said, "Yes."
     I gave a wide smile.  "Well, let's take a look. I'm assuming this will have a lot of the minutiae addressed, details hammered out."  I added, "I'm surprised you brought Valerie Valley with you, instead of both a lawyer and a bodyguard.  I'd have paid for the bodyguard's meal.  We'd have fed the lawyer by throwing scraps on the floor."
     "Let me guess, you have no use for lawyers," asserted Hollis.
     "Depends on the situation.  Lawyers under my employ are always the most wonderful human beings in the world, a cross between Mr. Rogers and the Dalai Lama. Everyone else's lawyers spend most of their days at the bottoms of ponds, sucking mud for nutrients.  Anyway, lay it on me."
     Hollis lifted the attache and pulled a sheath of papers out.  At least the size was improving.  Reading through it was a slog, Hollis had doubled down on the Legalese, no sense using four words to express yourself when you could use twenty-two of them Latin. I chuckled and kept reading.  Okay, he'd corrected the problem with the duration of Cinemax's period of use.  He'd created different categories like "Merchandising," "Video Sales,"  "Live appearances,' and "Spin-offs."  Wait, what?
     Oh dear.  Hollis felt that having leased the rights to some video, he was entitled to have an equal voice in the creative process.... including the creation of spin-offs.  I had the feeling Hollis was pretty much clueless about all four series, he'd read the back of the video boxes and that's it.  While I was going through the twenty of so pages, Hollis said, "Is there a problem, Lenny?  Too many big words?  I want to order lunch, not wait while you struggle with written English."
     I flicked an eye up at him, lazily gave him the finger, then returned to the contract.  "Go ahead and order.  Terry and me have the menu memorized at this point.  It's all fantastic, too.  Don't bother with the distractions, sweetie.  Lemme guess, you were on the debate team in college and picked up the tricks of manipulating an adversary, right?  Hold your water, mind your manners, and wait until I'm done."
     Terry removed her shades....  Then shot a hand across the table and grabbed Hollis' sunglasses, yanking them off.  She set them on the table.  Now she could get a better look at the man across from her.  Two or so years of being the bodyguard for a celebrity, a sex symbol, had taught her how to eye-lock people.  Remember having staring contests when you were a kid?  This was the same sort of thing, but the goal was to break the other person's spirit.
     Terry's eye-lock on Hollis was as flexible as the Transamerica Tower, and weighed more.  With a placid face and voice, she stated, "You're beginning to work my nerves.  Drop the insults against Lenny, motherfucker.  They kind of annoy me."
     Hollis gave Terry a judging look for a moment, then said, "So, you're Becky Page's bodyguard?  Is this ego on her part?  Why does she think people are trying to hurt her?"
     "And just over a year ago, four tried to murder her in the studio," replied Terry.  "Don't tell me you never heard of that.  I was in on the action.  Four motherfuckers with rifles and shotguns had Bekka and Lenny pinned.  Lenny took a couple rounds, Bekka thought he'd bought the fuckin' farm.  I was at the top of the stairs, and I was providing cover fire....  And here comes Bekka, her own gun in one hand, Lenny's Beretta in the other, and she ventilates all four of the motherfuckers.  I had to hold her back, she was gonna fuckin' execute them right on the floor.  She thought Lenny was dead, and was out of her fuckin' skull."
     "Really?" asked Hollis.  "Why did she care?"
     I looked up at this.  Terry was briefly stunned into silence, then said, "What the fuck sort of question is that?  She thought her fuckin' husband was dead!  Man, why are you so dumb?"
     Hollis made himself sound amused by this comment.  While he was laughing, I re-stacked the contract proposal and slid the pile away from me.  I stated to Hollis, "I'm assuming I can keep this copy."
     "No, that's the original," Hollis answered.
     I started snorting with laughter.  "Wait, hold on.  So....  This is the only copy of a document which is needed to enact a business deal?  There's some sharp planning, Skeezix.  Oh well, it's a piece of shit, it's as useless as the joke I saw yesterday.  You're not learning, and you're wasting my time.  Start one and stop the other."
     I whacked the papers.  "Yesterday, you tried to ponce off a pathetic joke of a proposal on me.  Not only was it vague, it was purposely so.  It would have given Cinemax total control of four Inana productions' series.  This thing here uses a shitload more words, but says the same things....  In Latin, on a few occasions.
     "You did make a bit of headway into one aspect of a contract which is needed: enumerating the various possible merchandising possibilities.  Also setting solid dates for production deadlines."  I sighed.  "But beyond that, it's the same bullshit, only it's the extended dance mix version.  Cinemax would have the rights to everything, Inana gets nothing, except two years of work with no payoff, at any point.  You packed the whole thing full of triple-negatives, weasel words, and pompous bullshit.  I asked yesterday, and I'll ask again:  Do you think I'm dense?  You must, if you thought I'd see this new piece of shit totally differently from the old one.
     "Really, at this point I'm getting fed up.  I'm dealing with some mook from Cinemax who insists the company wants to do some business with Inana,   But twice now, the mook has insulted me and my intelligence.  We hadn't spoken for twenty seconds when you lobbed your first insult at me today, for no real reason.  You insulted me just to be insulting, you wanted to get me annoyed.  It's an old sports mind-fuck game, get the opponent rattled, watch the performance suffer.
     "Mr. Hollis?  You are out of chances.  You're going to engage in discussion with the main guy at Inana Productions --- me --- to work out a contract.  The contract will discuss Inana's creation and production of a total of half hour mini-features.   The contract also covers various points involved with production and delivery schedule, marketing, merchandising, and possibly involve live appearances by the stars.
      "So I have two yes or no questions for you.  Do you think I'm a fucking idiot, and are you capable of thinking about, and talking about, business?  Can you talk business with me, or just talk shit?"
     Hollis' confident smirk was in place.  In a magnanimous tone, he smiled at me and said, "Lenny, my friend, I have no doubt that you're an idiot.  You are capable of spotting patterns, and analyzing them.... But most mammals are.  You've displayed a higher level of intelligence than I expected, that's all.  And I'm always happy to talk business.  I'll try to keep things simple, for your sake, when I do.  I've been willing to sign a contract for two days now, you're the one who's been obstructing things."  He shook his head sadly.  "I've been more than generous with you, with my time and knowledge.  You may end up blowing this deal, due to your own limitations."
     I nodded my head slowly.  "Uh huh.  My limitations.  Right.  My refusal to sign anything has nothing to do with you coming up with these lame, one-sided bullshit proposals that would give Cinemax everything and Inana nothing except debt.  And for the last two days I've had to deal with a smug, patronizing bag of shit with a wildly inflated sense of self.  One of those lames who always thinks he's the smartest guy in the room.  I'm going to ask you for the last time: are you willing to engage in some rather dry but constructive talk?  Or will your massive ego keep getting in the way?"
     I received a pitying look from Hollis.  "Lenny, my friend....  I'm quite sure I'm the smartest person at this table.  There's no question about it.  I've given you an opportunity to save face and accept your fate easily, but you keep being obstinate and difficult.  No matter what we end up signing, the upshot will be that Cinemax gets everything, Inana gets nothing.  You'll sign, because you like to pretend you are smart, and capable of running a business like a big boy.  But Cinemax will always have the upper hand, when it comes to contending with tiny outfits like yours.  Really Lenny, you're like a prisoner struggling against his guards as he's walked to the firing squad.  Relax, and accept your fate with a bit of dignity, show that much self-respect.  But you can't win against me.  You're a small-time criminal from San Diego, and you need to yield to your superiors."  Hollis slid the contract over, thumbed through it to the right page, and pointed.  "Sign right there, Lenny.  Stop embarrassing yourself by pretending you're intelligent, or understand how to operate a business.  You're only making your own life difficult."
     I smiled benevolently at Hollis while grabbing my salad fork.  The fork was violently stabbed down onto the contract proposal, millimeters from Hollis' pointing finger.  He jerked his hand away.  Benny was drifting past, and I waved at him.  I asked, "Excuse me, Benny, is Mr. Morelli in his office?"
    "He is, Mr. Schneider," Benny assured me.  "Would you like me to get him?"
     I said, "Actually....  I'd like to meet him in his office, me and a friend.  Do me a favor, run ahead to tell him Lenny would like to show off the garden to a friend, and I'd like it if he'll join us.  We have a business deal to discuss."
     Benny grinned widely.  "Absolutely, sir!  I'll let him know you're on your way."  Benny trotted off.
     I turned to Terry and said, "Me and his nibs here will be gone a few minutes.  Talk to you in a few."  I kissed her.
    I gestured to Hollis to follow me.  As we  walked, he said, "You're only going to embarrass yourself in front of your own boss.  He'll never trust you again."
     "What you just said makes no sense," I responded.  "I'm introducing someone Inana may do business with to the owner....  Although us doing business looks less and less likely."
     "You'll be demonstrating your own incompetence and weakness," came she smug reply.  "You can't make a decision without having someone holding your hand.  You're supposed to handle things on your own, and you have to waste your boss's time instead.  He doesn't want to see you, why else would he keep you well out of sight, down in San Diego?"
     I changed subjects.  "You know, we've got a lovely garden here at the trattoria.   You really should see it, the experience can be life-changing.  Angel and I will walk you through."
     Angel's door was open when we walked up.  Seeing me approach, he grinned and stood, giving me an Italian man-hug.  "How are you, Lenny?"  He took in Hollis.  His lips still curved, but the smile in his eyes turned to ash.  "You've got something going on with this man?"
     "Oh, I do, Angel.  This is Ian Hollis from Cinemax.  He approached me with an offer of putting all four series on late night at Cinemax.  They'd blur the hardcore, but otherwise broadcast the episodes unedited.  We're looking at fifteen episodes a year from each series, for two years.  Then go from there.  I can think of some great opportunities that could grow out of this arrangement."
     "Do you two have a contract framework yet?" Angel asked.
     I gave Angel a Mr. Rogers smile.  "Well....  We've run into a few problems.  See, Ian Hollis here is a motherfucking sociopath.  In a few ways, he's actually an even bigger asshole than Ron Haley was.  Mr. Hollis first gave me a so-called contract that was a whopping two pages long.  The gist of it was Cinemax gets everything, Inana gets nothing.  I told him he was an idiot for showing me this first contract, and told him to meet me here today if he was serious about working with Inana."
     "I've only been trying to help Lenny," came Hollis' smug smirk.  "I'm concerned he thinks balancing the checkbook at a porn studio makes him a businessman.  I'm sure you've had to put out plenty of Lenny's fires."
     Angel glared at Hollis for a long moment.  "No, none at all.  He's the fucking reason Inana is an international phenomenon.  Lenny, you were saying...?"
     "Mr. Hollis has spent much of our time together aiming little personal jabs at me, constantly questioning my brains, telling me how I'm not bright enough to do what I've been doing for the last several years.  It's a psychological trick, a mind-fuck, constantly wearing on a person all day by making allusions to their obvious lack of worth.  And he will also state he's my friend, so I can trust him, right?  Really, this is the sort of brainwashing bullshit religious cults use on the new arrivals.  Just like Ron Haley, Mr. Hollis always believes he's the smartest guy in the room.  Angel, I think I should continue my talk with him in the garden, a nice pastoral setting.  Would you like to join us?"
     I was sure Hollis didn't catch the predatory glint in Angel's smile.  "I'll be glad to, Lenny.  Let's go."
     We went through the kitchen and out the back door.  Then we went into the "garden."  This was a misnomer.  The "garden" was actually a large dumpster bay made of concrete block, with seven foot high walls.  The service alley had nearly zero traffic, and no buildings looked out on the garden.  It was private, it was quiet, and you could make a lot of noise without anyone hearing you.  To sum up, if somebody needed a good beat-down, but nothing too severe, nothing that would need the attention of the family's enforcers, the dumpster bay was the perfect spot.  Spend fifteen or twenty minutes explaining the facts of life to some dick-head who needed a lesson, kick him loose, wash up, then hit the trattoria's bar.
     Hollis followed Angel to the gate to the "garden."  Angel opened the gate and stepped in.  Hollis, confused, hesitated, so I shoved him forward hard.  He stumbled into the bay, I closed the gate.  Angel moved to block any efforts towards going back out again.  Hollis looked around, searching for egress.  I stepped towards him, and he began to back.
     I said, "Ian honey, you worked my last nerve.  You used all your chances.  You said you wanted to talk business, but all you do is talk shit, straight to me."  I looked over at Angel and said, "Angel, we've talked about the sort of mind-set LA natives can have.  Mr. Hollis is a prime example.  Bloated ego, overconfident, completely lacking in empathy, only out for himself.  The type who jerks off while looking at his own high school yearbook picture."  Angel chuckled at this.
     Turning back to Hollis, I said, "The worst part about LA natives is they think they can say anything they want to other people, with no blow-back.  Anywhere else in the country, the first thing I'd have done today would have been to punch you in the face, God knows you'd earned it.  But I was going to be diplomatic, see if your attitude and words improved when face to face with someone.  Nope, you got worse.  What a fuck-up, Ian.  What a fuck-up on your part.
     "I have bad news.  I'm not from Los Angeles, I'm from San Diego.  And Angel is a native of Queens, New York.  I'm comfortable in saying both of us believe you need a better grasp of American culture, outside the vacuum of Los Angeles.  And remember: what's about to happen is all your fault."
     I pulled a pair of police gloves out of an inside jacket pocket.  An enforcer named Paul had scored them for me, they had a strip of sandbag across the knuckles.  It was like having a sap sewn to your fist.  Even as I was pulling them on Hollis was saying, "Lenny, really.  You're going to beat me up?  Are all your problems solved in such a childish manner?  No wonder you're lonely.  I hate to think what your poor wife's life must be like."
     I started laughing when I heard this.  "Oh, now my marriage is real?  You said earlier that my marriage to Bekka was a sham, a fake.  Now it's real.  Shit, you're not even good at being a sociopath.  They can keep their stories straight.  Angel, check your watch, I want five minutes.  Terry and the blow-up doll this asshole brought with him are still at our table, I don't want to be too long, my tortellini will be waiting."
    Stepping towards Hollis, the gravity of the situation seemed to suddenly dawn on him.  He tried trotting backwards, but ended up backing into a dumpster.  I put my left fist into his ear.  He howled and cowered.  My right went into his chin, bringing him erect again.  He held his arms up in front of his face, so I gave him a couple shots in the ribs on his left side.  He threw himself to one side, then tried to dive for the gate.  Angel blocked him, grabbed him by the arms, and spun him towards me, his arms pinned behind his back by Angel.
     I grabbed Hollis by his collar and went to work on his jaw and skull, my blows punctuating what I was saying to him.  "Look Hollis (POW), you are the reason (POW) this is happening to you.  (POW)  This is entirely your fault.  (POW)  You thought you could manipulate me (POW) and play on my insecurities (POW) to gain an advantage.  (POW)  That's bad enough.  (POW)  But you also wasted my time (POW) by not even pretending to (POW) try and get business done.  (POW)  You made the assumption (POW)...."  I switched hands, and started in on the other side of his jaw.  "... that I'm some sort of half-wit (POW) who only got where I am through luck.  (POW)  Even after what brains I have (POW) were demonstrated to you (POW) you didn't get a clue (POW) and take me seriously.  (POW)  Tell me something (POW), is Cinemax interested in working with Inana (POW) or not?  (POW)  Yes or no."
     Angel let go of him, Hollis got grabbed by both collars and swung around, pushed against the wall of the dumpster bay.  Panting and blubbering, he said, "Yes."
     I grabbed his chin and pushed his head up.  "Look at me.  Look at me.  So presumably the higher-ups at Cinemax felt that Cinemax and Inana could work together on producing original material, or use the different series we're making now.  Then they gave you the assignment of brokering a deal.  Am I on the ball so far?"
     "Yes...."
     "Do your bosses know how you treat people you're going to be in negotiations with?  Is your bullshit actually part of the fucking corporate culture at Cinemax?"
     "...  No...."
     "Uh huh.  So you decided to treat me like shit because....  Why?  Did you think your strategy would work?"
     He didn't reply, so I drove a fist into his forehead, knocking the back of his skull into the cement blocks behind him.  "Answer me!" I yelled.
     There was a tiny flame of defiance in one eye as he said, "Yeah.  I've read about you.  You're an idiot savant.  You're a good writer and producer....  But it's obvious you're just some white trash thug from down south, a nobody.  If you were smart you'd improve your image....  Stop driving those stupid hot rods and riding motorcycles....  You're a savant, no matter how good you are at making dirty movies you don't have the smarts to run a business.  That's obvious."
     I heard Angel's dark chuckle from behind me.  "But even after your mistake was pointed out, you held on to your low and inaccurate view of Lenny."
     I queried, "What did I tell you yesterday?  What did I tell you today?  I told you to drop the bullshit, sit down, and get down to business.  Instead you doubled down.  So once you form an opinion of someone, no matter how wrong it is, you keep it frozen in your brain, no matter what.  Ian honey, you need to learn how to be more open-minded and flexible, to not pass judgement on people so easily.  Especially on people you don't know.  You tried, in your passive-aggressive manipulative way, to fuck with me.  Something I learned a long time ago is, never fuck with people you don't know.  You think you have an adversary?  Get to know him before you launch an attack.  Well, let's start back in on your lesson...."
     I flung Hollis into the middle of the dumpster bay, then went after him again.  He'd use both arms to block where I was hitting, so I'd hit somewhere else.  He'd block his face, I'd go after his stomach and ribs.  Then we'd switch places.  After about ninety seconds of this, he fell down, curling into a fetal position and sniveling, arms over his head.
      Poking with the toe of a boot, I said, "Get up.  Fight back,"  He kept sniveling, and I connected with my boot harder.  I yelled, "Get up!  Fight back!  What is wrong with you?  You haven't even tried to defend yourself.  What sort of man are you?"
     Angel walked over and lifted Hollis upright.  I put a couple more shots into each side of his head, and he just kept sniveling and whining like a puppy.  Then I stopped.  I grabbed his chin again and said, "You're pathetic.  What the fuck is your problem, why won't you defend yourself?"  No answer.  "I mean, Jesus Christ, you must have gotten in a fight when you were in grade school at some point.  You won't even try as hard as a fifth grader to defend yourself?"
     At least Hollis stopped the sniveling.  He just stood there, shooting hate at me with his eyes.
     "So what do we do with this guy?" asked Angel.
     I considered, then said, "We deliver him to his bosses at Cinemax.  Truss him with duct tape, dump him in his trunk.  You drive his car.... or better yet, his girlfriend drives his car, you ride shotgun.  Me and Terry will follow.  We'll get his boss, or bosses, down to his car and hand him over, we'll explain the situation to them.  If they see the light, Cinemax and Inana can go ahead and parlay.  If they squawk, we'll explain a few things to them, so they don't drop a dime on us.  He's not hurt, I made sure of that.  Just bruised.  I kept away from his face on purpose."
     I told Hollis to hand over his valet stub.  Angel had a pair of cuffs on him, so I attached Hollis to a dumpster while Angel went in to talk to Terry and Ambrosia, then pick up the BMW.  A few minutes later, the 5-Series rolled down the alley, followed by the Cutlass.  Angel tossed me a roll of duct tape, so I gagged Hollis with it, then bound his ankles.  Terry and I carried him to the BMW and put him in the trunk.
     Ambrosia was in shock.  Yes, she did know where the Cinemax offices were.  Their LA offices were actually a satellite, the main offices were in New York.  Ambrosia's eyes were wide and her jaw was set as the unknown lanky Italian escorted her from the passenger seat to the driver's side.  He got in and handed her the keys, and we rolled out.
     Cinemax was housed inside a standard glass box office building in Sherman Oaks, near the intersection of the 101 and 405.  Terry stayed with Ambrosia while Angel and I went in.  At the front desk, Angel told the receptionist who we were, and that we'd like to have Ian Hollis' boss --- or better yet, bosses --- come downstairs, we had things to discuss.  Mr. Hollis is with us, out in the parking lot.  He is the reason we'd like them to come down.
     After five minutes an elevator dispersed two generic white guys.  They spotted us, and appeared to recognize me.  They approached, looking a bit baffled.  After introductions and hand-shaking, one of them said to me, "You had a lunch appointment with Ian, right?  And you said he's here, but in the parking lot?"
     "Yes," I replied.  "Please come with us, we'll explain as we walk."
     Strolling through the lot, I said, "Mr. Hollis has been extremely adversarial with me, both yesterday on the phone, and again today at lunch.  He says Cinemax wishes to work with Inana Productions, but given his behavior, I'm wondering if that is true.  Is it true?"
     "Yes, absolutely," said White Guy One.  "Inana is known for quality adult video, and is releasing what can best be described as TV show-duration videos on tape.  We'd like to license the broadcast rights from Inana, they'd be shown in our late night slot.  While showing these videos as-is wouldn't work, we would blur or pixelate genitalia and sexual activity, leaving the shows otherwise untouched.  Surely Ian told you all this?"
     "He did.  He also told me I'm a mental lightweight who has no place running a business, that Cinemax will screw me and Inana in any deal we make, and I'm too stupid to do anything about it.  Your Mr. Hollis has a serious attitude problem, and if he represents how Cinemax deals with potential partners, I have no compunction about telling you both to suck my dick.  Mr. Morelli and I have tried to do a bit of coaching with Mr. Hollis, in the hopes he tones his behavior down.  That's why we're out here."
     We got to the BMW.  Angel pulled the keys out of his pocket and opened the trunk.  There lay Hollis, his eyes bulging.  When he saw his bosses standing over him, he began making muffled noises.  The two White Guys stared into the trunk in horror.  White Guy Two trembled, "What....  what the hell is going on here?"
     I smiled widely and explained, "Well, when a person behaves badly enough, for long enough, bad things can happen to them.  Mr. Hollis didn't want to work on hammering out a deal with Inana, he wanted to insult me, play mind games, and try to rip me off.  I got tired of all three by the time we'd ordered lunch.
     "Your little cum-boy here first faxed me a....  Well, he said it was a contract.  It was actually two pages of bullshit, the upshot of which was Cinemax would own a whole hell of a lot of Inana's work, everything we produced for Cinemax, and Inana wouldn't even get paid enough to cover production.  He faxed it to me and tried to cajole me into signing.  I believe he thought I'd be all ga-ga over doing business with a big important company like Cinemax, I'd sign anything put in front of me in my excitement, no matter what it said.  'Gosh and golly darn!  Jeepers, Cinemax wants to work with little ole me!  What an honor!  I'm gonna come in my fucking pants, I'm so flattered!'  That's what he expected, anyway.
     "I told him to shove both pages up his ass, and to meet me for lunch today if he wanted to get serious.  He claimed to be serious, but he wasn't   Cum-boy here still thinks I'm stupid.  Today he handed me a twenty-something page proposal contract, which at least had more detail to it.  Only thing is, it would still have screwed Inana.  Hollis believed that I'd get flustered by all the reading.  God knows, he made it a bit difficult to translate into English.  He threw a lot of weasel words, triple negatives, and random Latin into a blender and pushed 'Whip.'  It's like a Nolo Press publication as read by a dyslexic.  I read through it --- cum-boy hectoring me for taking so long --- and, again, told him to shove the contract up his ass and get serious.
     "Nope.  Cum-boy began heaping sugar-coated abuse on me, the same type of shit religious cults pile on inductees to break their wills.  Always lovely to have someone with a smile and a warm voice take sixty words to imply I'm an incompetent stupid asshole.  So, I got my boss, Mr. Morelli here, and we took him out behind the restaurant we were at, where I spent a few minutes punching him around and explaining why I was so upset.  I made it clear that me beating him up was his own fault, he'd brought it on himself.  Cum-boy didn't want to do business, he wanted to try and jerk me around and treat me like some goofball.  He repeatedly insulted me and my company, and didn't expect any blow-back.  So, uh, I had to correct him.  Not sure yet if cum-boy has taken the lesson to heart."
     The two White Guys moved to reach in the trunk, Angel and I blocked them off.  Now Angel said, "We're gonna make something real fucking clear.  If Cinemax does want to work with Inana, it will approach us in a professional manner, it will treat Inana with respect.  You send someone else to make a deal.  If we have to deal with this mook again, I'm gonna pull his eyes out and skull-fuck him.  You keep Ian Hollis well and far away from us, send a businessman, a professional, to do the job.  And have your HR department do some heavy-duty counseling with this prick, he needs it.  Lenny, let's get him out."
     We lifted Hollis out of the trunk.  I pulled the tape off his mouth while Terry used her Buck knife to cut his legs loose from each other.  He stood there, red-faced and panting.  I gave his cheek a gentle slap and said, "See, if I'd been malicious, I'd have wrapped the tape over your nose, too.  You'll be fine."
     Hollis began bleating at his bosses, "There's no way in hell we can do business with these people, they're psycho!  They beat me up and shoved me in my own trunk!  That's how they treat people they do business with!  No way can Cinemax work with Inana, they're dangerous and crazy!  Let's go inside, we need to call the police!"
     Angel, Terry, and I all chuckled.  I said, "Dropping a dime on us would be a horrible mistake on your part.  We'd be out in three hours, no matter what the charges.  You took your beating, you took your humiliation, now you're clear.  So man up and let it drop.
     "We're psycho?  You're a sociopath. I have no problem making a deal with Cinemax, so long as Ian 'cum'boy' Hollis isn't involved.  I was putting up with your bullshit, hoping you'd get it out of your system.  And I kept putting up with your bullshit until I was sick of it.  Maybe now you understand that running your dumb fucking mouth can have a negative impact."
     Turning to Hollis, White Guy Two asked, "Ian.... I have to ask.  Just what was it you were saying, and why?  This....  whole situation....  was somehow provoked, I can't imagine the heads of a multi-million dollar company attacking someone for no reason.  What happened, that things went downhill so badly?"
     Now that he was on his home turf, Hollis was feeling a bit more secure.  He said in a soothing voice, "Look, Lou.  You read the trades, you read Variety, you know who Lenny Schneider is.  I mean, really.  Look at him.  From what I've read about Mr. Schneider, it was easy to ascertain he's a savant.  He may make porn that is unprecedented in its popularity, but...."  Hollis paused to chuckle.  "Again, look at him.  Tell me that.... person..... right there is going to be a savvy businessman.  Tell me that person, but for the grace of God, is someone who should have any more responsibility than pushing a broom in a warehouse.  Think about what's been said about him in Variety, by the Hollywood studio heads.
     "Lou, Marcus, this may sound a little cruel, but it's obvious to me Mr. Schneider is a person who is....  He's of limited intelligence.  Somehow he ended up in a position of power.  You both know me, I always have the best interests of Cinemax in mind.  I saw an opportunity to get us far ahead of the other premium film channels, at a low cost.  All right, it could be argued I'd be taking advantage of the mentally handicapped to do so, but.... Hey, maybe whoever put Mr. Schneider where he is would learn a lesson about hiring the unqualified.  I'd have landed us two years --- two years! --- of original programming, full and clear.  Easy street.  Two years of original Inana Productions material, which we'd totally control!  We'd be in great shape!"
     From behind me, I heard Terry snort and say, "And if it weren't for those meddling kids....  Right cum-boy?"
     "Stop calling me that," Hollis grumbled.  "What does that even mean?"
     "I dunno, it just sounds good as an insult, you know?" answered Terry.  "Yeah....  I may not know what the fuck a cum-boy is, but I know you are one.  Somehow, it fuckin' suits you."
     I said to the White Guys, "Well.  Now you know how cum-boy --- excuse me, Ian --- feels about me.  He doesn't hide his feelings, either.  I've dealt with him for two days now, lunch was the final straw.  And the thing is, cum-boy here still thinks I'm stupid, even though I keep proving him wrong.  I did yesterday with that lame-ass two page contract, and....  Hold on, his attache is in the car, I'll pull out the one he brought today.  Maybe the old one is in there, too."
     I grabbed the attache out of the back seat, then used the trunk as a desk.  The White Guys drifted closer, as did Hollis.  "Hey, stay out of there!  You can't...."
     Hollis was coming towards me, but got body-checked by a grinning Terry.  He stopped and stared at her.  She puffed her Camel in his face and said, "Your input is not needed at this time.  Now go stand over there, motherfucker," she said, pointing at a spot six feet away.
     I began pulling papers out of the attache, knowing what I was looking for and not giving a fuck about the rest.  First I found the long contract, then the two page one.  I handed it over to White Guy One, and told him, "Go ahead, look it over.  Then tell me how it's not an insult to my intelligence."
     The two of them read it, Angel looking over their shoulders.  They were done in under two minutes, then they turned to stare at Hollis.  Neither of them spoke for a moment or two.  Finally White Guy One said, "Ian....  Did you really fax this to a company we want to set up a relationship with?"  He handed over the "contract."
     Hollis glanced at it and replied, "Well, yes."
     It suddenly struck me the White Guys weren't just a bit annoyed, they were really fucking pissed off.  White Guy Two stated, "We tasked you with the assignment of setting up a deal with a video production studio --- a successful one ---and cultivating what we want to be a long-term relationship with them.  And you sent the studio that, and told them you were serious?"  He rubbed his face.  "And you were surprised it was rejected?"
     "Mr. Schneider said you were trying to pressure him to sign it immediately and fax it back," mused White Guy one.  "You've gotta be kidding, Ian.  That would be reckless stupidity on their part.  This is a bad joke.  What sort of reaction were you expecting?"
     "He told you already," I reminded them.  "He thinks I'm an asshole, he thought I'd be all enthralled by being approached by Cinemax and sign anything I was told.  And here, flip through this one.  It's the same bullshit, only he took twenty pages to say it.  It'a a well-enumerated blueprint of how I was gonna get fucked over."
     The White Guys (and Angel) began skimming through the contract.  While they did, I casually intoned, "See, this was the trigger for why cum-boy ended up shoved in his own trunk.  Anyone else would have thought, "Gosh, maybe what I've read about Lenny Schneider in Variety, all the shit Frank Mancuso and Barry Diller talked about this guy is wrong, he does have a few brain cells.'  Anyone else would have stopped fucking around and got to work for real.  No, cum-boy still thought I was an imbecile, and gave me that to look through at lunch.  And when I asked him what the fuck his problem was, he starts insulting me and talking shit. Just sitting there smiling, calmly telling me to my face how I'm stupid, I'm incompetent, I should just sign this thing because no matter what happens, Cinemax is gonna fuck me over, and I won't be able to do anything about it since I'm so stupid.
     "Where I'm from, you say shit like that to someone, you're picking a fight.  Straight up, no doubt.  Cum-boy insulted me yesterday.  Then, when we met face to face, he kept doing it, over and over.  And...."  I started laughing.  "Aw shit.  I gotta say, the look on his face was priceless when me and Angel took him out behind the restaurant, and he realized what was happening.  He honestly looked confused!  No idea how this was happening to him!  Gosh, cum-boy, you only talked bullshit to someone over and over, right to his face.  Why would that person possibly be angry with you?"
     Continuing to address the White Guys, I went on.  "Okay.  Maybe in LA people don't resolve conflicts the way I did, at least not in the rarefied air of the entertainment industry.  Shit, maybe people should start, everyone in fuckin' Hollywood might learn to exercise some manners.  And you know what was sad?  What I thought was really pathetic?  Cum-boy didn't even defend himself.  Nothing was stopping him from throwing a fist back.  But no, he let me beat him up without a struggle.  Unless he's a Buddhist, I have no idea why not."
     The White Guys took a look at Hollis.  "He doesn't look hurt," observed White Guy One.
     "Good manners on my part," I explained.  "I never hit him in the face.  Although I know he has a headache.  Also.... Hey cum-boy, open up your shirt."
    He slowly did as he was told, glaring at me like an angry toddler.  The White Guys gawked, his torso was a vast pallet of bruises.  "So long as he keeps his shirt on, nobody needs to know that some dummy from San Diego put him on the ground," I finished.
     Everyone stood in silence briefly.  Then White Guy Two said to me, "You alluded to the movie studio executives holding a low opinion of you.  I don't follow the studio gossip in Variety, what's all that about?"
     Terry answered in my stead.  "Aw, Jesus!" she said with a grin.  "Short answer?  The big dicks at the major studios were feeling butt-hurt about losing ticket sales to Inana.  Seriously, Inana Productions and Becky Page were hurting their bottom line, consumers were buying fuckin' porn videos instead of movie tickets.  So the fuckin' big dicks began bitching about some young dude from Dago, some scumbag, jamming them up by making fuck films everyone wanted to see.
     "The fuckin' press asked Lenny for a response.  He told the executives to suck his dick, Hollywood was all bullshit and they knew it.  Haw!  He said they should all kill themselves!  That just made them even more fuckin' butt-hurt.  So they always go off about, 'Ooh, look at Leonard Schneider, he's a scumbag because he makes porn, he's just some dumb-ass brawler, Lenny Schneider is a stupid criminal, look at him.'  And so the press asked Lenny for a response to their response.  Aw shit, Lenny laughed at the executives and said he doesn't give a fuck what they think of him, and by the way, they should all go kill themselves.
    "Yeah, all the dumb motherfuckers at the major studios keep trying to convince everybody that Lenny is just some dummy, a total fuckin' stooge.  If cum-boy got that impression of Lenny without meeting him, that's where he got it from."
     The White Guys  again turned to Hollis, and now they stepped closer.  White Guy One said, "So, what I'm hearing is you let Hollywood gossip dictate how you dealt with a possible new partner of Cinemax.  And you acted in an incredibly unscrupulous manner, based on that gossip.  Even when you learned the rumors about Lenny Schneider weren't true, you doubled down, and continued to act --- while representing Cinemax --- in an unethical manner."
     He picked the second contract back up, and waved it in Hollis' face.  "Right now, I am praying that Mr. Morelli and Mr. Schneider are feeling very benevolent with Cinemax, God knows they have no reason to be.  Cinemax is interested in pursuing a long-term relationship with Inana Productions.  Ten years from now, I want our viewers changing the channel to us at two a.m., so they can see the latest episode of whatever series Inana is producing for us.  With us.  We want long-term viability, not to violate our own ethics and screw people over for two years."  He finally gave in to the urge and shouted, "Dammit Ian, what the hell is wrong with you?"
     "I saw an opportunity to make an easy score...."  Hollis sniveled.
     White Guy Two shot back, "Cinemax is a premium cable channel.  We want long-term viability, not 'easy scores.'  Ian, how long have you been with us?  Twelve years?  After that long at Cinemax, you should understand how we operate.  I wouldn't give a damn if Leonard Schneider wanted to have lunch at Chuck E. Cheese and sing camp songs, he's the person to talk to at Inana Productions.  That talk would be respectful, and mannerly, and honest, and ethical."  He shook his head and stared at the asphalt.  "When we go back in, our first stop will be at HR.  You know the culture here, and you know we have some ethical standards.  I want to find out why you seem to have attempted to sabotage a prospective partnership, one with a successful studio."
     White Guy One addressed me and Angel and Terry.  "I'll let you in on a secret.  A partnership between Cinemax and Inana has been bandied about in the board room ever since you released 'Dangerous Desires.'  It was one of those 'Wouldn't it be great if?' ideas.  Then you released your current series of videos, and the grand poo-bahs in New York said, 'We've got to get together with them, what they're doing is perfect for our late night programming.'
     "Don't worry, you'll never see or hear from Ian again.  On Monday, I will have a rep contact you both, just to make introductions and throw around ideas, totally informal.  Cinemax and Inana can both get an idea of what we'd like from the other one.  We'll draft a solid outline of an equitable contract, have some meetings, hammer out the details, and hopefully Inana Productions will be producing, or co-producing, original material for the Cinemax late night lineup."
     Angel gave his deep chuckle.  "Perhaps a year from now, we'll have every adult in America willing themselves into insomnia....  or learning how to program their VCRs."
     We all shook hands.  White Guy Two said, "This has been.... a very unusual afternoon.  I've never been in the position of having a company rep returned to me in the trunk of his own car, gagged and cuffed.  Then again, I've never had a company rep apparently try to sabotage us like this, antagonizing a prospective partner until that person feels a mafia-like response is needed.  If you wanted to send Cinemax a message, it was received loud and clear.  Don't worry, no one at Cinemax will be playing any more games with you."  He looked over at Hollis, then said, "I'm not sure if he'll be staying or not.  We'd impressed upon him our interest in starting a relationship with Inana, one we want to last for years, decades.  Why he chose to try to sabotage us instead...."  He trailed off.
     I stuck a Marlboro in my mouth and said, "Mr. Hollis strikes me as someone with a wildly inflated sense of self, a ten ton ego.  He acts like he's always the smartest guy in the room, you know?  I don't think he was trying to sabotage Cinemax.  My guess is he read about brainwashing and mind control techniques somewhere, the head games they play in religious cults, and thought he could use those techniques against me."
     "I'm not sure I understand."
     "In cults they use psychological manipulation to wreck the sense of self, and self worth, of new recruits.  Make the recruit believe he's nothing, he's worthless, and the cult is the only group who can help him become a whole person.  The idea is to keep the recruit psychologically off-balance, to have them in a state of constant self doubt.
     "The general public assumes that anyone who joins a cult must be a little soft in the head, or have no backbone.  That's crap, anyone can become a cult member.  A common theme among humanity is an internal dialogue, a question every human being has hard-wired into their brain: 'Why am I here?  What is the meaning of my existence?'  Don't kid me and say you've never had that running through your head."
     "Fair enough," he murmured.
     "Finding a satisfactory answer to that question has eluded mankind since we started walking upright.  The lack of any good answer weighs heavy on us, it can be really soul-crushing.  You can lose your sense of self-worth.  Cults take advantage of people who are feeling that way by claiming they really do have the answer, all you need to do is devote your life, and money, to the cult.  Only thing is, cults play mind games with people, and destroy their self-worth further.  They get their adherents to live in a state of constant self-doubt, always second-guessing every thought they have.  And the cult exploits this destruction of will to convince the person the cult has all the answers, they're the only ones the person can trust.  They tell the new cultist what they need to hear, in little dribs and drabs.  What esteem the cultist has comes from the cult."
     I lit another cigarette and said, "Anyway!  The whole point was that cum-boy over there picked up on how to administer those head games, somehow.  Only thing is, he tried to dive right in with them.  The bullshit he was saying to me is stuff cult members are conditioned into hearing, and that takes some time.  You can't just lay that crap on people out of the blue and expect it to work.  If he'd decided to try and manipulate you guys, you'd have told him to clean out his desk and get the fuck out of the building in ten minutes."
     He looked over at Hollis and said, "Yeah...."  He sighed and continued, "His future at Cinemax is iffy right now.  While I'm not saying I condone how you handled him, at the same time he's very much acting at odds with how we run our business.  We like to think Cinemax has respectable values as a company.  We like taking a long view.  And we like cultivating solid relationships with other companies we want to do business with.  Maybe it's old fashioned, but I think I sleep better at night.
     "I'm going to ask Ian if he was playing head games, as you described.  Thanks for the insight on how that kind of manipulation works.  Ian will be talking with HR.  He can explain to them why he did what he did when dealing with Inana and Lenny Schneider.  His future with Cinemax will be determined by his answers.  If he thinks that engaging in psychological warfare is a good way to conduct business, well...."
     "Maybe Cal Worthington will hire him," I suggested.  "He can try to mind-fuck people into buying a used car."
     White Guy Two burst into laughter at this idea.

     Driving back to the trattoria, Terry said, "That chick Ambrosia talked with me a little, while we were waiting in the fuckin' parking lot."
     "Oh?" a queried.
     "Yeah.  She didn't say anything straight out, but the gist of what she said was that motherfucker has always been an egomaniac, big time.  They're not dating seriously, she gave the hint that he makes a decent fuckin' bed-warmer, but that's as deep as they go, really.  He was telling her she'd love having lunch with him today.  Not only were they going to a really high-class place, she'd get to watch him totally destroy someone just by talking to him.  She asked what he meant, and he said some fuckin' shit about learning how to psychologically manipulate people, by saying things in a certain way.
     "Cum-boy told her he was gonna score a fuckin' coup at work.  He knew Lenny was dumb as a fuckin' post, so he'd just talk rings around him and get him all confused, then get him to sign the fuckin' contract.  And he'd do it by making Lenny hate himself, Lenny would think cum-boy was his only friend by the time lunch was done.  I started laughing when she told me that.  I told her, 'This motherfucker doesn't know jack shit about Lenny, if that's what he thinks.'
     "Ambrosia was the one who wrote that long contract, I guess.  She  works as a paralegal.  He told her the information that had to be in the contract, and told her to write the most confusing fuckin' legal contract in the world, something you've gotta digest one line at a time because of all the double-talk and happy horseshit, taking thirty words to say something when you could say it in five.  She's kinda pissed at him.  He promised her he'd pay her $500 for her work --- she stayed up way late last night writing the fuckin' thing --- as soon as it had Lenny's signature on it.  Not only did it not get signed, we pretty much scared the shit out of her.  Angel comes up and tells us we're leaving, and he has cum-boy's valet ticket.   Then we pull around and put cum-boy in the trunk, Angel, she said she was trying to start conversation with you, but you wouldn't talk....Yeah, she was freaked."
     I asked Angel, "So, what are your current feelings about conducting business with Cinemax?"
     He thought a moment and replied, "We're gonna take what they said seriously, for now.  They say Hollis was way out of line, they don't do business like that.  Okay, fine.  You know they'll expect us to be on guard with them for a while.  If they play straight, wonderful, I know we could have a good arrangement with Cinemax.  And even if playing games was part of their standard procedure, they won't play games with us.  They just saw what happens when we're not in the mood for games."

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