The police sideshow started in. Ambulances had arrived, gingerly arranged the injured onto back boards, then gurneys, and split, lights flashing. Del Mar doesn't have its own police department, law enforcement is provided by the sheriff's department on contract. Four patrol cars arrived, the occupants getting out and behaving exactly how I expected them to: they immediately began antagonizing witnesses by treating them like criminals. And I knew, at the end of their shift, they'd sit around in the locker room and bitch about how uncooperative the public is.
Naturally, the deputies glommed onto me and Bekka. I had no doubt the name "Leonard Schneider" at the Northern Division of the San Diego Sheriff's Department equated to the name "Emmanuel Goldstein" in Orwell's novel "1984." I was the subject of the daily Two Minutes Hate, deputies and brass all focusing every bit of directionless rage towards Lenny Schneider. Schneider has been too close to far too many events, starting with his own wife being stabbed. Detective Donner, formerly of Encinitas PD, had been assigned the case, and immediately reached the conclusion that Lenny had stabbed his wife, felt a bit bad about it, and dialed 911. Donner had zero proof or evidence, it was just his cop's intuition telling him the young punk with the large bank account was dirty, so killing his wife was completely logical.
And Schneider, that prick asshole, does his own detective work, finds the actual perp, and delivers the perp to Donner. The fucking nerve. Schneider had demonstrated "attitude" every time he and Donner interacted, from day one, and showed no signs of dropping it. So what if he'd proven himself innocent, like he'd claimed. Little bastard should have taken a plea, he'd have been out in ten years. Fucking little punk rock asshole.
Ever since, Lenny Schneider, with his wife Bekka, would routinely become Persons of Interest in North County. Lenny, shot up on two different occasions at the porn studio he runs in La Costa. A dead body appears at the Schneider's unfinished residence. Bekka's car mysteriously blows up in the parking lot of their apartment complex. Another dead body at the porn studio. Religious zealots stalk Lenny and Bekka, who flip the script and begin chasing the zealots. When the zealots crash their car, they both commit suicide instead of talking to police. And on and on, just a long trail of annoying bullshit, and there's always one common denominator: the name Lenny Schneider.
I explained to the deputies at the Paddock that Roswell and I had a "confrontation," which we moved outside for the sake of good manners. After our dispute was settled, Roswell and his attorney went to Roswell's Mercedes and sat inside. Ten minutes later the Mercedes started and accelerated towards those in the parking lot, including the presumed target, L. Schneider. Mr. Roswell had been drinking heavily, according to the bartender. What was the conflict about? "Some childish name-calling on Mr. Roswell's part," I answered.
"Was this conflict physical?"
"Yes, briefly. Mr. Roswell kept attempting to attack me, but was lacking in the discipline or coordination to do so. I would knock him away, he'd try again, I'd knock him away again. There were some spectators to all this, who kept yelling for him to give it up. He finally took their advice, I suppose."
The deputy, named Schiff, tapped his pen on his notebook and said, "You know how I like it better, Schneider? I like it you beat the shit out of this guy. Him aiming his car at you was self-defense, he was afraid for his life."
I gave him my Roger Moore smirk and said, "Well, I can't prevent you from coming up with bizarre fantasies. I will protest if you act as though they're true. You have a bar full of witnesses who will corroborate my story."
This was a hedge on my part. I was assuming the witnesses were telling the deputies that Roswell had his own ass handed to him. This wasn't true, everyone else seemed to also be hedging, making neutral, nebulous statements. Yes, Schneider and Roswell had a verbal dispute. Yes, they went into the parking lot, many following them. There was "confrontation," the nature of which suggested that Roswell knew he was in no shape for physical violence. While there was no accord reached, the two parties simply went in different directions. No one thought about Roswell sitting in his car until it was too late. No, Mr. Schneider did not attack Mr. Roswell, quite the opposite. Schneider was trying to de-escalate the situation, using minimal amounts of physical force. Schneider's alcohol consumption at the Paddock: approximately eighteen ounces of Miller Genuine Draft.
There was nothing to pin on me, the other witnesses said Roswell was drunk and picked a fight with Schneider, who defended himself but was not needlessly violent. Roswell was the instigator, start to finish. My deputy told me this with a sour note in his voice. Then he added, "But I'm not worried. You're gonna fuck up at some point, Schneider, and we'll be there for your fall."
"Have you been talking to Detective Donner, deputy?" I asked. "The detective allows his personal views to color his professional activities. Very, very unwise. The detective makes mistakes because of it. My suggestion to you, deputy, is to disregard what Donner says about me. Think about it rationally: if I'm such a criminal fuck-up, how could I be so smart as to fool the entire sheriff's department for all this time?"
Bekka added, "I also have a suggestion. Perhaps you should visit Mr. Roswell at his home, and get his own statement. I'll guarantee you he'll blather on about Lenny beating him up. No, Lenny defended himself. Also, the Mercedes E-Class he drives will have dents in the front bumper, grille, and hood. Those should be investigated. Good evening, deputy." She began her Royalty stroll towards the door of the bar, me in her wake.
Inside, Sue, Melissa, and Gabrielle waved to me. They were each in conversation with individual men --- a positive sign --- but gestured Bekka and I over anyway. Gabrielle introduced the man she was speaking with --- an intense-looking goof wearing a driving cap and gloves --- as Nigel. His accent betrayed the source of the name. Nigel explained he was connected to the Del Mar racetrack, sorting out any difficulties between California, the U.S., and Europe. He said he spoke eight languages --- "Passably, anyways" --- and all of them were tainted by his East End accent.
"I'm a lucky one," he explained to me. "When I was young, I was a complete mugg. I was a skinhead, although back then that din't mean you was a nationalist. But I figured I'd have the same fooking path through life as every other bloke did in my neighborhood: get in a bit too deep of a scrape and spend some time in Belmarsh, land a fooking menial job, get me girl preggo, and settle into a grind. Me week's high point would be three pints round the boozer with me old mates.
"But when I was sixteen, an uncle I barely knew rang up me pa and said, 'You've got a boy, right? Old enough to work? Brains in place? I'd like to bring him up here to Cheltenham, give him job in me stables.' Me pa told him I didn't know any animals other than cats and rats, how would I be useful? Me uncle said, 'I've got to train 'im, don't I?' So, off to me uncle's stables in Cheltenham. I could barely ride a fooking bicycle when I arrived, and they wanted me putting steeplechase jumpers through their fooking paces! So, well, I fell off a lot, but I learned.
"The best part was me uncle took me in a bit. His sons had pursued other things, wife was dead.... He was lonely, yeah, but he also wanted to share knowledge, share what he'd learned in a lifetime of racing. And not training, either, that's a duff, but the business, the politics, of racing internationally. Every night he'd tell me stories about all sorts of conflicts and dust-ups and intrigue that he'd observed in racing, all over the world. For me to understand the stories, he'd have to explain the differences between racing in different places, like how Australia has different rules the Britain, which has different rules than the Italians, who are different from the Swedes, and on and on. And I learned how things work in racing through these stories. It was the protocol he was passin' on to me, along with where you can run into a sore spot just by not following protocol. You know the hierarchy of racing from country to country, you know who to call first when you're trying to get somethin' done. That's what me uncle taught me."
"International diplomacy as an oral tradition," I noted. "That's pretty damn cool, really."
With a wide grin, Nigel said, "Me first job outside the stables was as an attache for international horse sales. Me job was to arrange the minor shit when transporting horses internationally: lodging for grooms and handlers, exchanging currency, transport, veterinary paperwork for inspections, all the fooking details. I was twenty-two, and the sales firm had hired me sight unseen, just based on me interview over the phone. I turn up at the office, tell 'em who I am, and got called a fooking liar. 'How old are ya, lad?' I told 'em, and why the rattle? You liked me answers over the phone. Turn me loose. If I fuck it up, you gimme the sack, but otherwise it won't matter. I stayed with 'em for five years. Then I went to the Jockey Club. They had me glad-handing all these geezers from all over the world, fighting through a lack of common language to communicate the basic rules of British racing, and import of horses. That's how I picked up me languages."
His eyes wandered briefly to his left, and siezed upon Bekka standing next to me. His jaw dropped. "Cor," he commented. "You're Becky Page! Just standing there, listening to me rabbiting on! Good evening to you, Ms. Page, what brings you by?"
"Besides my usual thirst for Johnnie Walker?" grinned Bekka. "I'm out with Gigi, Sue, and Melissa, being a bit social. My husband and I are their chaperones this evening..... Lenny? Where is Jane?"
I pointed to a side room and said, "She found the pool table, so she's probably raising some funds. Hey, at least here, people aren't going to sweat losing $20 per game to the little shark."
And on cue, Jane drifted up in search of a fresh bottle of Miller. "Finally lost one," she announced. "Still, I'm up $120 on the night."
"Straight billiards or nine ball?" I asked.
"Billiards. I swear, all these Herberts brag about how they had a pool table in their dorm or frat house, how they knocked down all challengers, and they can't even do a decent break."
"You ever shoot snooker, young miss?" asked Nigel with a crafty grin.
"Never," Jane replied. "I've never even seen a snooker table in person. I know the table is larger, and it's a very different game --- lots of red and white balls --- but hey, if there's a cue and balls involved, I'm in."
"So you're a hustler with a cue, eh? Come down to the track some afternoon, ask for Nigel. I'll teach you snooker."
"A problem there. I'm only in town for the weekend, I'm a student at Berkeley."
Nigel puzzled over this information and responded, "Okay, getting into San Francisco isn't a bother for you, eh? Go to a place in the Laurel Heights district called Graham's Gallery. It's near as dammit as you'll find to a real pub in the States, full of expats like me. They've got snooker. You learn snooker, no one can beat ya hustling."
This information brightened Jane considerably. "Ooh. Once I learn the rules, are the locals amenable to friendly wagers? Say, twenty bucks a game?"
"Amenable? They'll expect it," cackled Nigel. "So girl, you know Miss Page here?"
Wrapping her arms around our waists, Jane said, "Bek--- Becky and Lenny raised me through my last two years of high school, and helped get me into Berkeley. They are friends, they are lovers, and they are the most important people in my life." She considered Nigel and asked, "So, you know how to play nine ball?"
"Oh yes. Are you offering a challenge? Maybe put a bit of the folding down to keep us interested?"
"Twenty a game, winner breaks, double-taps count. Fair?"
Sounded fair to Nigel. He, Jane, and Gabrielle got fresh drinks and went to the pool tables. No sooner had they walked off when Sue said, "Excuse me, Lenny? Could I prevail upon you to explain few things to this person?"
Sue was gesturing at the dude she'd been talking with. She looked annoyed. The dude was a fairly hip-looking yuppie, like he'd been a DJ at his college radio station six years earlier. He had the sort of set-mouthed scowl usually associated with the morally righteous. When Bekka and I stepped closer, Sue continued, "Lenny, Becky, meet Brett. He has some illusions about what the adult video industry is like."
"Such as?" I asked.
"Little things like coercion, and enforced drug addiction, and white slavery, and child abuse, and institutionalized rape as a control activity. Since I've never witnessed any of these things myself, obviously I haven't been in the business long enough."
"Would you consider ten years a sufficient amount of time?" Bekka asked Brett in a cool voice. "That's how long I've been fucking and sucking in front of video cameras. So where did you get your highly inaccurate information from?"
Brett replied, "World magazine has run several articles on the pornography underground. So has Christianity Today. Both point to systemic abuse of women and children." He gave Bekka a judging glare and went on, "You're Becky Page. Your life and livelihood are wrapped up in pornography. I'm sure you've been witness to the abuses that happen.... In fact, they mention your studio by name!"
"Is that so?" I queried. "Tell me, what are they saying about Inana Productions? You have me curious."
With self-righteous confidence, Brett answered, "Inana Productions is a front for the pornography business. It...."
He was interrupted by laughter. Sue chortled, "Um, Inana makes porn. We don't hide what we do. How can a business be a front when everyone in the world knows what's going on there?"
"Okay, Inana releases pornography that's legal, for some reason, in this country. But World says that studio also produces a lot of stuff that is really illegal, really disgusting things. They talked about vans full of children being being delivered to the studios, and how everyone there is a drug addict so they're afraid to leave...."
"Vans full of kids, huh?" I growled. Just as I started to step forward, Sue and Bekka grabbed my shoulders, holding me back. I continued, "Okay, you dumb motherfucker, do you know who I am?" He shook his head, so I pulled out a business card, an Inana Productions card reading "Leonard Schneider -- Big Cheese" and handed it to him. "You're talking shit about the studio I fucking run..... or more accurately, some magazine called World is, or Christianity Today is."
Brett went pop-eyed. "You're.... Leonard Schneider? Oh my gosh. You're not in jail?"
"No, I'm not," I said slowly and loudly. "Why would I be?"
"Well, because of the things I just said. World says you've been arrested before, at your studio."
"Technically, they're correct. The cops cuff you and detain you anytime you shoot someone, until the matter is cleared up. The only crime I've ever been convicted of is carrying a concealed weapon. Nine months of probation, and it was over with. So, I'm gonna guess both magazines have a rather evangelical bend to them? Brown-nosing Oral Roberts? They used to brown-nose Jerry Fallwood and Jimmy Swaggart, until they got busted hiring hookers, right? Tell me, Skeezix, you still have copies of the magazines which talk about my studio?"
"Um, I believe so, I save back issues...." Brett gulped.
I made a wolf's grin and said, "Well, now. Some of those back issues are worth quite a lot of money.... to me, anyway. I'll give you fifty bucks for every one of those magazines which have articles on pornography in them, whether Inana is mentioned or not. Do they ever talk about other studios?"
"Yes.... You want to buy old magazines from me?"
"Oh yeah. In fact, I think we should head over to your place right now, so we can start leafing through them. You could have quite a bit of extra cash by the end of the night."
"What are you going to do with them?"
Bekka chuckled darkly and queried, "Tell me, Brett, are you familiar with the legal concept of 'libel'? Depending on how these articles were written, the magazines are going be become intimately familiar with libel laws."
"I'm, uh, not clear...." stammered Brett.
Sue sighed and elaborated, "In a nutshell, it's not permissible to make shit up about someone and pass it off as the truth. Do it in print, it's libel. Say it in public, it's slander. They're civil violations, which means you won't get you thrown in prison, but you can get sued for everything you have, depending on the severity of the libel. So you're saying one of these magazines accused Inana of being child pornographers? Dare I ask how they reached that conclusion?"
Brett was looking a bit shaken. "Um.... I think it was World magazine.... They said they hired private investigators to watch the Inana Productions studios, to see what was going on. They even had photos of a van full of children parked in front of your studio."
I puzzled over this briefly, then grinned. "Did the van have the words 'La Questa Day School' on it?"
"Um, I don't remember."
Bekka and I both started laughing. "Oh, Jesus," I said. "Yeah, we did have a van load of kids at the studio one day, all around seven or eight years old. That van was from a private school, and was dropping off their students. They'd just dropped a neighbor kid, and the van threw a rod right in front of our place. The driver asked to use our phone, hey, no problem. Triple A said a fifty minute wait, and the school had to go rent a new van to get the rest of the kids home. So the kids weren't stuck sitting in a broken van in the sun all that time, we invited them to play in the back yard while they waited."
"I remember that," said Bekka. "It was nice to goof around in the yard with those kids. Yeah, that was before we had any security, so if some gumshoe wanted to stake us out, we wouldn't have noticed very easily, unless he was right in front of the mansion."
I continued, "So, a while later a different van came and picked the kids up, then a tow truck pulled the broken van off. I'd like to think these details would have been noticed by the PI staking us out. Or, the magazine decided to cherry-pick information, trying to make Inana look bad. Yeah Sparky, I definitely want to see these magazines, and buy them from you. We'll leave in a minute. You live locally?"
"Just two blocks away," muttered Brett. "We can walk.... Look, I'm not trying to make any trouble, I'm just telling you what I read, you know?"
"And what you read is libelous, against my studio and possibly against me and others. Yes, there is some really ugly, sick porn out there. The people who produce it aren't using normal porn studios as fronts. Speaking for the American adult film industry, I can assure you there is no coercion, no human trafficking, no exploited children, and no use of violence and drugs to control performers in the legitimate industry. If World magazine wants to track down the human traffickers and extreme porn, they need to do some investigating in places like Eastern Europe, places with universally corrupt governments. Some place like Romania, Latvia, or Bosnia, where legality is determined by one's ability to pay for it. Of course, that sort of investigation is far riskier than sitting in a car in North County San Diego, those assholes play for keeps."
"So you're saying.... the, uh, legitimate pornographers don't produce the sort of material I've read about? They're not exploiting women?"
"Spot on," I told him. "Okay, totally ignoring the moral aspects, look at it pragmatically: why would anyone bother? The legal risks are incredibly high, we're talking decades in prison, and there's not enough money to be made off it, certainly not enough to take the risks. I make damn good money legally. Producing illegal and extreme porn would be stressful, risky, and soul-crushing, all to serve a small audience. No one in the industry, even if they were totally free of a sense of morality, would think child or animal porn, extreme stuff, would be worth the risk." I thought a moment, and said, "So, I'm guessing you decided to chat up Sue, who told you what she does for a living. Wouldn't her willingness to say she's an Inana Girl be a tip-off that everything is above board, at least at Inana?"
"I guess you're right.... I've just heard too many scary stories about that business," said Brett. "It did seem strange she told me point-blank she's, uh, a performer like that. I didn't know what to think."
Sue said, "The simplest way of looking at it is we're fairly normal people with jobs in one of the stranger facets of the entertainment industry. You said yourself you're somewhat familiar with Inana just because of articles in magazines and newspapers. Inana is well-scrutinized by the media. It would be next to impossible to engage in the subterfuge you've suggested, the way the media hangs around at times."
"Well.... They could be complicit too, covering for everyone..."
Bekka growled, "No. Do not start with any fucking conspiracy theories. The last person to do that was Jerry Fallwood, and his wild ideas nearly got my husband killed. If we had something to hide, we wouldn't be trying to defend ourselves. We'd have left a while ago."
I went and told Jane and Gabrielle that Bekka and I were going to be gone about forty-five minutes, hang out until we returned. Nigel was looking both amused and frustrated, as he'd already lost $40 to Jane, and would be losing another $20 within minutes. Bekka, Brett, Sue, and I headed out the door and down the block. Brett's place was a cottage a block away from the beach bluffs. Inside, he turned on a few lights and went to a bookcase against one wall, where he pulled out a couple stacks of magazines. He quickly sorted through them, pulling issues. Then he said, "I'm pretty sure those are the issues with articles on pornography in them. Take a look."
The girls and I began reading. Any article related to porn was listed large on the magazine covers, with headers like "Exploitation and Abuse -- The Truth About Porn" or "How Porn Destroys Lives." I found the article in World magazine with a picture of the day school van in front of the mansion. The children had never gone inside the mansion, they would have had no clue the joint was anything other than our home. And what was said was libelous as hell: the article flat-out stated their investigator had observed children being dropped off at Inana Productions "for the purpose of producing more child pornography."
"Listen to this," said Sue. "'The use of hard drugs is evident to anyone observing women who appear in the smut Inana releases. The strange behavior and odd fashion sense many of these women display speaks volumes, only heavy, long-term abuse of hard drugs would explain Becky Page's bizarre hair and clothing, not to mention her manic behavior in front of the media. Page and other women at this studio are being held in bondage by their own drug habits.... These habits certainly inflicted upon them by the studio.'"
"Check this out," said Bekka. Reading aloud, she said, "'The anonymity and marginalization of the women at Inana Productions is even evidenced by their names. "Becky Page" does not exist, according to the California motor vehicles department and the IRS. Neither do Gayla Goode, Missy Liscio, Donita Dare, or Tawny Smith. These are women whose very identities have been stolen from them, ensuring that once their studio is done with them, they can be disposed of with no repercussions. While Ms. Page's notoriety demands she appear in public on occasion, the others seem to exist only in the shadows, their only proof of existence the filthy movies they are forced to appear in.'"
Looking at an article in Christianity Today titled "The Porn Industry: America's Billion Dollar Shame," I read aloud, "At the major studios, the telltale signs of abuse are obvious in the women. Videos released by Hustler, Vivid, Skin Scene, and Inana all feature women engaging in the most shocking and lewd sexual activities imaginable, acts no self-respecting woman would dream of doing, not even in private. These studios institute organized rape sessions with the women, to break their spirits and accept the perversions they are forced into as 'normal'. No woman would enter into lascivious acts with both a man and another woman at the same time, or engage in anal sex, or other unnatural acts, unless some form of sexual brainwashing has happened. Prolonged and activity-specific rape sessions are how these studios get their women to perform in front of their cameras.'"
"This one has an article specifically about Hustler Video," said Bekka. "We'll have company in the courtroom, they mention Larry Pelton by name, along with a few others."
Sue started laughing. "Here you go, Bekka. 'Becky Page's public pronunciations of bisexuality are proof of how deep the brainwashing goes. Lesbianism is, of course, a symptom of mental illness, but one which can be treated. To claim a sexual interest in both men and women simultaneously goes beyond the pale. Such desires cannot occur organically, even due to mental health problems. Page's espousal of bisexual interests can only be the result of long-term psychological manipulation and abuse. Not even the insane would conceive of holding dual desires like this.'"
I flipped to the front of a copy of Christianity Today, so I could scope out their publication stats. It was a bit disturbing: they had more subscribers than US News and World Report. Both Christianity Today and World were monthly magazines, not weekly like Time or US News, but the demand seemed to be there for the monthly issues. I looked at Brett and said, "Thank you. You've inadvertently provided me with a new way of spending my spare time. Both magazines are getting subpoenaed this coming week. They'd better have both incredibly deep pockets and the most venal lawyers in the world. I doubt they do, especially the lawyers. Any civil lawyer working in the adult entertainment industry is going to be a shark."
Brett looked a bit crushed. "So none of that stuff is true?"
"They did spell the name of the studio correctly. Beyond that, it's all bullshit."
In her nurturing voice, Bekka said, "Think about it. Didn't the claims being made seem a bit outlandish? If they were true, wouldn't everyone involved be in jail already? Or do the writers for these magazines believe they're somehow smarter than an entire police force?"
Sue commented in a sarcastic voice, "No, Bekka, Inana has bought the cooperation of every cop in every jurisdiction in Southern California. I'm not sure how, but we did."
"If I was gonna buy a cop, I'd want more than willful ignorance," I stated. "I'd want some major ass-kissing. Like loaning me his patrol car for a few hours a day, so I can run around and raise hell."
"Do I even want to know what you'd do?" giggled Sue.
"Mostly just harassing motorists. I'd pull over every Hyundai I ran across, just so I could yell at them for buying a car with a ceramic engine. Drivers of jacked-up four-by-four trucks would be quizzed about the size of their penises. And anyone with a Perot bumper sticker gets pulled over, just so I can walk up to them and point and laugh."
I handed Brett $250 cash, scooped up the magazines, and turned to leave. The three of us were almost to the door when he called Sue's name. She went back to him, while Bekka and I stepped out, giving them their privacy. Sue rejoined us after about three or four minutes, rolling her eyes and shaking her head. "Fucking head case," she muttered.
"What's up?" asked Bekka.
"First, he wanted to quiz me again if you two monitor my words and actions. You were outside, but he still whispered this, in case you had me wearing a wire. He still seems mostly sure I'm a victim of white slavery, I've just been 'property' so long I'm well-trained. This didn't stop him from trying to make a pass, though."
"I wish," moaned Sue. "First repeatedly state I have no will of my own, then hit on me. Smooth, Rico Suave. I wonder if he was half-hoping he was right, and I'd be totally malleable, he'd be able to talk me into anything."
Gesturing at the magazines in my arms, Bekka said, "Have you formulated a plan yet?"
"Only for Monday," I responded. "On Monday, I'm calling both magazines and asking to speak to their legal departments, or whatever comes close. I will tell them precisely who I am, where I am, and why I'm calling. They both get one chance at settling. Each one donates $50.000 to the SoCal AIDS Coalition, and run retractions --- front and center --- in the next issues. The retractions will explicitly state they made everything up, the articles are bullshit. If they refuse.... well, I plan on beating their asses like gongs. Bald-faced libel? They're screwed."