Al called me into his office one morning in May. We had not talked since John’s meeting and I wondered if it had anything to do with what transpired then. The worst thing that might happen was he’d ball me out for suggesting improvements to how he managed Bunga West and fire me. My father would call my move “usurping the chain of command,” which he once explained to me was a way to ruin your career, get transferred to some hellhole, and lose all your friends. As it happened, I differed from my old man in certain ways, most importantly, probably, by disrespecting figures of authority. That’s why I quit college and ran away with a rock band a few years ago to find myself and fucked up royally. He had warned me beforehand, and when I came home, said, “That’s the way it goes, Joe,” slapping me in the back and laughing. He’s a tough guy, but has a tender spot for those who distinguish themselves with colossal flops.
As I entered Al’s smoky den, he looked up and pointed to one of the ancient ladder-back chairs scattered around the plywood floor. “What do you know about guns?”
“Why?” I said. “Do you want me to perform a hit job?”
“No, Joey. We got professionals for that. Answer the fucking question.”
“Dad trained me like one of his recruits,” I said. “Pistols, rifles, you name it.”
“I own a Beretta 9mm. I’m an expert marksman.”
“How about a Glock?”
“Sure, I’ve fired them on pistol ranges.”
“Heckler and Koch MP5?”
“I fired one once on a military range. Why?”
“Mario’s arranging a security detail for a party at John’s house. He asked me to find out if you have the knowhow to participate. From what you just said, the answer is yes. Do you like shooting guns?”
“Sure, it’s fun.”
“Are you interested?”
“Aren’t you going to ask what it pays?”
“No, Al. I’m sure you’ll treat me fair. If it’s pro bono, it better be for good cause, like the Retired Goomba’s Home. When?”
“First Sunday in June, 10 a.m. to midnight, at John’s house in Brentwood. You ever been there?”
“Real nice place. He calls it Nostro Circo.”
“So that’s what it means.” Al laughed. “Sounds like La Cosa Nostra. You and Ruben will be there as guests. Mario’s men will provide perimeter security. Ruben’s done this many times. Pretty simple. You play guest, stay alert, go light on the booze, have a good time, keep the guests from fighting, everyone has fun. Mario will show you the ropes.”
I wondered why Mario wanted to recruit me for the Brentwood job. I hardly knew him. The only time I’d ever talked to him was at that meeting in John’s office about detective Hiller trying to recruit me as an informant. One upshot of that meeting was that I’d got some serious face time with John Carbone’s major players. I must’ve made an impression. The upside was that all those players realized I could think for myself and do slightly more than evict drunks and disorderlies and hurt people.
* * *
Mario called me the next day and told me to drop by his office to talk about the Brentwood job. His office was in the Carbone Enterprises building, second floor, Suite 2A. His wife Lisa ran the escort service out of Suite 2B. I wondered how much spillover there was between the two businesses. As I got off the elevator, I entered a reception space with a metrosexual dude in a suit sitting behind a desk. He looked up at me as if I were a long-lost friend. “May I help you?”
“Hi, I’m Joe Costa, here to see Mario.”
He made a quick phone call, and then pointed down the beige hallway lined with generic lithographs of landscapes like those in John Carbone’s office. I wondered if all the offices looked the same. One could get lost in the blandness of it all.
Mario was standing inside his office, forcefully addressing two large men who looked like ex-militaries, security men, or bouncers. Could a Bunga West bouncer transfer here for a professional security career? I waited for Mario to finish his epithet laden spiel. As the two men left, he motioned me inside, went behind his desk, and I sat in a chair. On the surrounding walls were more generic lithographs and framed photographs of Carbone family members, small groups of fit young men posed as if for graduation or athletic teams, and men in private security officer uniforms.
“Al says you know firearms,” Mario said.
“Yes, sir,” I said.
He waved his hand. “None of that ‘sir’ shit, Joey. It’s Mario.”
“You got any felonies?”
“That’s good—excellent. You got a concealed-weapons-carry permit?”
“No. Never needed one. I’ve done most of my shooting on ranges.”
“You’ll need a permit to work for me. First you have to complete a sixteen-hour training course.” He handed me a brochure with a business card stapled to it. “Call up Speedo to set it up. Carbone Security will pay the fees. Take his course, he’ll get you a permit.”
“Will do. What comes next?”
“Pistol range, meet my crew, Hechler & Koch training, rehearsal, and we do the job. Any more questions?”
“What’s the connection between Carbone Security and the Carbone Escort Service?”
“They’re separate businesses, Joey, but sometimes security helps out escort, like, if a girl gets in trouble, needs help, shit like that. Lisa runs the escorts. Have you met my wife?”
“I’ve seen her at the club,” I said. “Never met her.”
Mario laughed. “You will. She’s a firecracker. Anything else?”
* * *
I read the brochure, called Speedo, and arranged to take the course on mornings during the following week. The classes were held in a small room in a mobile home and students were a motley group of six men and two women who felt the need to protect themselves from various threats by carrying concealed weapons. Threats Speedo and students mentioned in class were criminals, former spouses, The Federal Government, LAPD, minority groups, and terrorists.
It was pretty simple stuff, and I almost slept through the classes. At the conclusion of formal training, Speedo walked us through completing the required concealed-carry application, shook our hands, patted us all on the back, and handed out graduation certificates suitable for framing. So much for that.
I called Mario and left a message that I’d completed the course and received a concealed-weapons-carry permit. An hour later, he called back, gave me the address of a pistol range, and told me to be there on Saturday morning at 8 a.m. for pistol practice. “It’s all day,” he said. “I talked to Al. He’ll get someone to cover your shift. Carbone Security will pay the freight.”
“I’ll be there,” I said.
How cool was that? I’d get paid for working a twelve-hour Bunga West shift by spending eight hours playing with guns on a pistol range. Working at Bunga West was stressful and firing weapons was fun. If something was wrong with me, blame it on my old man.
On Saturday morning I went to the pistol range and met Ruben and four of Mario’s security men. A potbellied Army veteran in his fifties gave us a Glock lesson. We practiced disassembly, assembly, loading, weapons handling, safety, and topped it off with target practice. I hadn’t been on pistol range in a year and my weapon of choice was a Beretta 9mm. After warming up with a dozen or so shots, and getting the feeling of the Glock I was using, my shooting improved greatly.
We cleaned the weapons and after the class traveled as a group to a local beer joint, raised a few, and that was fun. I was not yet quite one of the crew, but they had not given me the cold shoulder or, worse, told me to go fuck myself.
A week later, another Saturday morning, same group of people, a training session on the Heckler and Koch MP5, this one on a private firing range in the boondocks, the instructor a retired Secret Service officer. This was a serious session. We went through disassembly, assembly, loading, and so forth, and then firing practice. We made a hell of a lot of noise, shot up an enormous amount of ammo, had great fun, and destroyed the targets. Such a weapon, intended for use in protecting VIPs, was difficult to control and incredibly dangerous to use near innocent bystanders. Boys love guns, and the bigger the gun, the louder, and the more destruction it can wreak, the better. Afterward, another beer joint, the boys bragged, lied, told jokes; great fun, too.