They always left notes on the refrigerator door at the Venice house, but he was surprised to see one taped to the Sub-Zero in the huge country kitchen on North Chalon Road. It read:
Had to go back to the office. Chooch at Public Library till it closes, working on history paper. Chicken in the fridge.
Ha, ha, ha… Love ya, Babe.
He opened the fridge. Cold and empty as a drug dealer’s heart.
The only guy eating right in the house was Franco, who was crouched over his dish of cat food, purring loudly.
Shane went back into the living room and Franco dogged him like, well, a dog. Franco was turning out to be very uncatlike-not standoffish, like most felines; he actually liked being near you. Fido with cat whiskers.
It had been a long, hard day at Cine-Roma Productions. It turned out that Nicky had only rented the one big suite. He didn’t even control the space across the hall. He’d stolen a key to get into that office. In order to keep the sting going, they would have to rent more space from Hollywood General Studios, but Shane was already out of money. He and Nicky had opened negotiations with both Paul Lubick’s and Mike Fallon’s agents. They were also represented by CAA, so it became something called an “Agency Package,” where because they controlled three major elements, CAA also got five percent of the budget in back-end points. Once that happened, the three CAA agents started making more ugly demands than the West Hollywood House of Bondage. Shane had called Alexa at two that afternoon, pleading with her to put another fifty grand into the blind account for front-end deal money. She had reluctantly put in ten and said she would check with Filosiani on the rest. Nicky had been bustling around the office like Louis B. Mayer on speed, filing old scripts, redecorating, neatening up, polishing and moving his rented awards, getting ready for the arrival of Michael Fallon and Rajindi Singh.
Shane tried to get a copy of The Neural Surfer from CAA but had been informed that Rajindi had instructed his agent that no copies be released because he wanted to do some potchkehing on the script. Shane wondered if a potchkeh was the same as a rewrite, and if they were going to be charged for it. Several girls in booty shorts and stilettos showed up to audition for Boots and Bikinis but had to be turned away.
That was his day.
By the time Shane was back on North Chalon Road, he was exhausted and wished he had stopped at the market to pick up a six-pack of beer.
Then the doorbell rang.
It surprised him, because except for Shane’s immediate family and Chief Filosiani, nobody else knew he was living there.
He had picked up a backup Beretta Mini Cougar from his locker downtown, and as he walked to the front door, he pulled it out of his ankle holster and relocated it in a handier spot at the small of his back, then he unlocked and opened up.
Valentine’s goon was standing there, his overdeveloped traps still hopelessly bulging a size-fifty suit.
“Evening,” the man said.
“Hi ya,” Shane replied.
“I’m Parelli. Youse may remember me from this morning.” In truth, Parelli was impossible to forget.
“Whatta you doing here, Gino?”
“Nice house.” He was looking around, craning his neck to see more of it from the porch.
“Same question,” Shane persisted.
“Mr. Valentine wanted me to give youse this.” He reached into his inside pocket. Shane was poised to hit the deck and come up shooting, but instead of a gun, the gorilla removed a fat envelope and handed it over.
“What is it?”
Shane ripped the envelope. It was full of C-notes, at least a hundred of them.
“The price is right,” Shane said, “but I should warn you, I never kiss on the first date.”
Parelli didn’t think Shane was funny. He just stared at him. “Mr. Valentine wants that youse keep that as his gift, and would very much like the pleasure of youse’s company-no strings. The money buys a meeting. He’s waiting at a restaurant not far from here, on Fairfax. Just follow my car.
“He don’t tell me things like that.” Gino gestured to the envelope. “It’s ten large for an hour of youse’s time.” “Which car is yours?” Shane asked.
Parelli pointed to a blue Chevy with black-walls that was parked at the curb with a Hertz tag hanging off the mirror.
“Okay, gimme a minute,” Shane said, and went back inside. He put the money in the top desk drawer in the entry hall, reholstered the gun on his ankle, grabbed his blazer, then rejoined Parelli and locked up.
Then a strange thing happened. Parelli walked him over to the blue Hertz rental and took out a small battery-operated 2300 Frequency Finder exactly like the one Shane ff had gotten from the Electronic Surveillance Division yesterday. Parelli ran the wand over Shane, checking the meter as he did.
“Sorry ’bout that. Mr. Valentine insists we scan everybody for bugs.” Then he let Shane walk to the garage for his car.
It was a ten-minute drive across town before they finally parked at a valet stand in front of a newly built brick-andstucco structure on the corner of Melrose and Fairfax. Across the front, in blue neon script, it said: Ciro’s Pompadoro Ristorante.
“Best veggie lasagna in this whole fag town,” Parelli said as he led Shane into the restaurant.