Read parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 to understand what’s going on here.
It isn’t easy getting from the valley freeway entrance where I jumped out of Jason’s car to Venice without being seen. But that was what I somehow had to do. I knew if I hailed even a single cab I would leave myself open to discovery, and I couldn’t afford that.
But I had to get down to the beach. The only thing I could think to do, given my predicament, was get to Leeza.
Why Leeza? Because she and I were similarly placed. Someone just smoked her friend Packy, and anyone who had a problem with Packy was gonna have a problem with Leeza – the two of them were that close. So someone would be hunting for Leeza, just like someone was hunting for me. Plus, Leeza had just lost her bestie, and she’d be crippled by that. She’d need someone’s help – just like I needed her help.
So Leeza was the choice.
I’d known her since she showed up at the theater. She never told me how she’d heard of the place; she never explained why she was there. She showed up one day, introduced herself, said she was there to help. Didn’t need money, just wanted to be part of the scene. Made herself indispensable, and we became as much friends as two people can be without ever becoming lovers, and being almost twenty years apart in age. My antique ways amused her, and I pretended indifference to her teenage body and bewilderment at her enthusiasms, and the two of us worked very well together.
She’d first showed up when she was in high school, and she’d stuck for five years, and was still with us. She’d begun to shape some policy and aesthetics after a time. Everyone trusted her judgment when it came to money or personnel; her performance choices were less universally admired but they were always interesting, frequently arresting, sometimes disturbing.
Leeza could help.
If she was there. It had occurred to me right away that she might be on the bum herself; if so, where would she go? Packy’s mum’s place in the canyons? Maybe… but no – she wouldn’t want to draw the danger that was chasing her into Lady Sunray’s orbit. Packy’s mother and trouble were sometimes magnetically attracted to one another, and Leeza would do everything she could to keep Lady ‘Ray out of her current trouble. Oh, she might stop there, quickly, in order to warn her. But she wouldn’t stay.
So where would she go?
Where the hell else? I said to myself, as the obvious occurred to me. Leeza would go to the theater. It would be a semi-safe shelter for her.
And then with a blinding flash of insight, I understood Leeza’s devotion to our little summer theater: it was her priest’s-hole. I ran the past few years over in my mind: her involvement with the theater was unpaid volunteer work, so no tax records, only the very best of her "real-life" friends knew she hung there, she used a stage name for everything she did there, and none of her "performance-life" friends had ever been welcomed into her non-theater reality. She had kept her involvement private, almost secret, hermetically sealed one life from the other.
Of course she would run to the theater.
So my plans changed, when I figured this out. I didn’t need to get to the beach. I needed to get to the theatre.
The theater was far enough outside of LA to make it feel like an adventure to go there, but close enough that it could still pull a good audience. It was situated on a dozen rolling acres of coast highland and looked like something picked up in the hill country of west Pennsylvania and dropped on our hidden hilltop.
We were starting to acquire a pretty good reputation among a certain class of narrow gauge performer: locally popular musicians liked our venue and our rates and our ambiance, as did the occasional book signing party, the seasonal lecture by a recently published quantum physics popularizer, maybe a self-help seminar or two every year; that was the sort of event we were good with, and that was the bread and butter of our business.
That bread and butter was maybe a little on the boring side, but it gave us the wherewithal (and of course, the performance space) to host other, and often more interesting events.
It was a wonderful place. It was mortgaged to the last aching penny, but was worth all the hassle it brought us. It was the heart-space of our art, for almost all of us.
It took me a couple days to get there. I didn’t end up walking very much of it, but it felt like I did. I cadged rides mostly at construction sites. There were always a few pickup trucks full of laborers at closing time on most construction sites. I could usually buy a ride. It wasn’t too long before I was out of town to the north, but that was where I had to get very, very careful. There was no cover out there. No option for mimicry or camouflage, and it was very possible Zeetz would have a few of his guys prowling the pavement out of LA. I had to move mostly by night, out there. That was when I did most of my walking.
I was pretty sure it was safe for me to go there. People knew I was involved, but not really how involved. Jason thought I hung out there to nail teenagers, and I didn’t try to change this idea of his. It was unlikely he could rat my location to anyone. He would though, I was sure. If he thought of it. So that was a worry, true, but I was pretty sure he’d never think of it.
The place was dark when I got there. Dark as it ever got, anyway. A number of staff people bunked there, so it was never truly empty, but I arrived in the chill pre-dawn dead of night, so it was quiet and dim. Even the boisterous crowd that called it home managed a few hours of sleep in every twenty four; at least most of them did.
I sat on the hill above the barn and watched the dawn arrive, got shivery and dew-bedecked as the sun made its presence known and the wind came piling in from the direction opposite the light, from the invisible Pacific Ocean. You could smell it in the air, but the old farmhouse and barn weren’t in the coastal zone – just outside it, but it made the property values an order of magnitude lower, which was the only reason we were able to acquire it.
Once the sky was light I went back and tiptoed in, not wanting anyone to know I was there. Loose lips, even the friendliest and most trusted lips, can still sink ships. But not if they don’t have anything important to say.
I knew which room Leeza kept for herself – a small garret on the attic floor, slope roofed, moody and atmospheric. Over the years, she’d molded the space to fit her eccentric personality. I liked it there.
I gave a soft knock and then tried the knob. It was locked.
"Who?" She said, not sounding the least bit asleep. I thought maybe I heard the quiet snap of a gun’s safety, too.
"Bee," I said. After a moment, the bolt retracted. I slipped in, and closed and locked the door behind me. "Who knows you’re here?" I asked.
"Costas. Now you."
"Keep it that way," I said. I moved to her small window and peered cautiously out and down. "Anyone funny been here?"
"Not yet. But they’ll probably figure this place sooner or later. My being here got a definite sell-by date stamped on it."
"You know who did Packy?"
"I got some ideas, but nothing I could take to the bank."
"Gotta start somewhere, right?"
"Right. Look – I know why I’m hiding, but why are you doing the James Bond imitation?"
"I got someone after me, too."
"Huh. Is is just coincidence, our two mortal dangers?"
I sure as hell hope so." I looked at her. "I guess whoever did Packy is looking pretty hard for you, yeah?"
"Could be." She shrugged. "Probably."
"Life sucks sometimes, doesn’t it."
"Uh-huh. You been thinking maybe we could help each other out?"
"Something like that, yeah."
"You may be right. Who’s after you?"
"You know Zeetz? Medium-scale bad actor, rattlesnake personality, doting grandfather?"
"By reputation. Saw him in the news a few times. One of those guys who never quite gets convicted."
"I insulted him. He’s kind of old-fashioned about that sort of thing."
"Old-fashioned in an organized-crime-boss sort of way, you mean?"
"More or less, yeah."
"How’d that happen? Not the old-fashioned thing, but you insulting him."
"There was this new friend of mine, from Israel, and I was showing her around town and we ended up in this bar; place had a ‘social director’ -"
"Say no more."
"Somehow, I did a stand-up routine in the bar about -"
"Please say no more."
"I did a comedy routine about my friend, the vengeful Greek mobster."
"I’m praying you were drunk."
"Good. Otherwise I’d have to shoot you for your own safety. Do Israeli girls always have this effect on you?"
"A lot, yeah."
"You might want to give that some thought."
"I have, believe me."
We were quiet for a while.
"When did you last sleep?" She asked me.
"Ten hours ago, maybe? I slept the day in a chaparral covey maybe ten miles down the highway, woke in the evening, walked here."
"Well I haven’t slept in maybe thirty hours. You wanna keep watch for me while I catch some shut-eye?"
"Sure. That’s great – I feel useful already. Go ahead."
"Then we’ll talk."
"About how we’re going to handle our respective problems, yeah?"
"Yeah. You armed?"
"Heater in the vanity drawer on the left. An old nine-shot nine. Weird one-sided safety."
I sat by the window after that, as the light grew stronger and my stomach began to rumble. I hadn’t had much fodder in the past few days and I thought with longing of the kitchen on the first floor, but there was no way I was walking out into that thickly populated house until I had to. I’d already made one risky bathroom run, down to the second floor and back. I sure as hell wasn’t going to the kitchen at breakfast – word of where I was staying would be out in no time.
So I sat, and rumbled, and watched the intense and beautiful and threatened Leeza sleep, and watched out the window, and listened to the noises of the house as the day began in earnest. Most everyone went off to the barn for some rehearsal or other but I wasn’t tempted to try my luck. I knew the place. There would always be someone in the kitchen, as long as there was someone awake – it was the center of all activity in the place. Plus the costume designer had his sewing room on the first floor of the house, and the company restrooms were on the same floor as the kitchen.
Not a chance I could escape detection if I walked out there during the day.
I checked out Leeza’s nine milly, in case I had need of it, and then put it back in the vanity. I watched the world out the window and pondered my stocking’d feet and itched for a shower and caught myself dozing a couple times but I didn’t really have much trouble staying awake.
Leeza came to in late afternoon, stretching and purring and groaning.
"How you doing?" She asked, eying me through her disheveled hair.
"I was thinking about eating one of your shoes."
"I think we can do better than that," she said.
"We shouldn’t let anyone see us if we can avoid it," I said.
"I’m just saying you may want to limit your trips to the kitchen."
"Food is sometimes found outside the kitchen," she said, dipping into the capacious duffel I now noticed alongside the bed. She flipped me a package of trail mix and a pint bottle of water.
"Got an equally felicitous solution to the restroom problem?" I asked, as I tore the little bag of gorp open.
"Why do you sometimes talk like Shakespeare is your close personal friend?" She asked.
"I dunno." I munched.
"Anything alarming happen while I was unconscious?"
"Sure – Patty and Ava doing tai chi in the front driveway."
She laughed. "But nothing unusual?"
"No. Mostly I thought about food and showers and looked out the window."
"Got anything like a plan?" She asked.
"Maybe," I said. "You?"
"I got to figure who killed Packy. Then I kill them. Not sure what to do after that."
"Good plan," I said. "I thought I might try and kill Zeetz, but it’s hard to do, and the upside is not a sure thing even if I could do it. Probably his boys would keep coming."
"More trouble than it’s worth," she agreed.
"I could do all Zeetz’s guys, if I got lucky, but by the time the dust settled I’d be ahead of Dillinger on points. I’d be a frikkin serial killer."
"Yeah – or dead."
"Not very good odds there."
"Nope. Plus Theseus would miss his gramps."
"That’s something to consider." She grabbed her own bag of gorp and began eating.
"You could run," she suggested. "Running is always an attractive option for someone in your situation."
"Kind of, yeah. But it has significant downsides too."
"You could pay him off."
"Not this guy."
"You could lie."
"Nope – I was seen. He’s even heard a recording, I was told."
"You could beg."
"Yeah, I thought of that too. That might work. But man, would that would be risky. I’d be walking into a dragon’s den with no guarantee of ever coming back out."
"So what the hell you gonna do?"
"I was sort of hoping you might have some ideas."
"For fuck’s sake, man."
"I know. Believe me, I know."