Feeling more secure and more self-confident, the woman newly reborn as Laura Smith planned another late-night foray out to the supermarket. Her tiny refrigerator was empty and her cravings for some fresh foods were strong.
She avoided Chestnut after leaving her apartment, staying on the dark and quiet residential side streets as she made her way to the Marina Safeway.
The brightly-lit market was busy, like before, and she was getting used to the come-ons made by perfect strangers, both male and female. It was no longer terrifying, just annoying.
Her new look worked well to help her blend into California’s cultural mindset. She was now just one more blonde adrift in a state of thirty million blondes. Her looks no longer screamed “New York Italian.”
She took her time, dawdling in the deli section and tasting the tiny samples of cheese and salami that were set out on the counter.
At a little before 3 a.m., she headed back to her apartment with two plastic shopping bags filled with some necessities and a few small luxuries. Among these was a pint carton of Ben & Jerry’s “Cherry Garcia” ice cream. She decided to take Chestnut Street back. It was a shorter, quicker route and the plastic bags were already cutting into her fingers.
The street was still busy with the remnants of the late night partiers reluctantly working their way back home. The hum of activity never really stopped on Chestnut Street.
She walked slowly. The bags were heavy and the lack of exercise in the last few weeks had stolen her muscle tone.
She missed going to the gym. She was used to a three times a week regimen of Tae-Bo, Pilates and Zumba. Being in your early thirties meant that regular workouts were needed to keep fit. Of course, the near addiction to Cherry Garcia didn’t help.
As she crossed Fillmore Street, her mind on the melting ice cream, two men stepped through two different doorways on the other side of Chestnut. She didn’t see either of them.
Carl “Tucky” Santi was seventy-one years old. He had grown up in New York City and had earned his bones as a soldier for the Roncalli Family. After his wife died, he retired to California to be near his daughter and the grandkids. He spent too much time in restaurants and bars for a man his age. So said both his daughter and his cardiologist.
Tonight was typical. He was closing the bar at Pasquale’s, half drunk, sleepy and missing the “Back in the day” of his youth.
Santi stood on the corner waiting for the light to change. His car was parked illegally up on the sidewalk of a nearby side street. He adjusted his belt to give his belly a little more breathing space and looked around at the other people still out at this hour. Across the street, he noticed a good-looking blonde who seemed vaguely familiar. Tucky Santi may have been retired, but he still kept up to date with the news from back home in New York. He had to check out this blonde.
He hitched up his trousers and crossed the street against the light. A taxi had to swerve to miss him. Not even noticing the cab, he fell in behind the blonde and slowly closed the gap between the two of them. He wanted to be sure. It looked like her, but the hair was much shorter and the color was wrong.
The second man stepping onto Chestnut Street was Davis Lovejoy, an accountant. He was unmarried, a transplant from Cleveland. He lived in the Marina District and his life was as dull as dirt.
Lovejoy was leaving the donut shop just down the block from Pasquale’s. He was working late at home and had taken a break to stretch his legs and to get a little something sweet. His pale blue eyes, streaked with red from too many hours staring at a computer screen, needed the break as well.
He was a self-employed accountant. He did the books for several of the small businesses in the neighborhood, including the donut shop.
Holding his coffee in one hand and the small paper bag with an apple fritter in the other, he yawned and headed home. Quarterly tax filings were due soon. It was crunch time for all accountants.
Laura realized that she was still more than a half-pound paranoid. She felt that everybody on the street was looking at her. It may have been a lot of paranoia, but that was better than a lot of dead.
She stopped at the corner of Mallorca Street to let a minivan turn the corner in front of her. She looked at the driver–always checking.
Tucky Santi was right behind her.
In one fluid motion she stepped to the side, dropped one of the plastic bags, and threw an elbow at the voice behind her. Too old a cat to be fooled by the kittens, Santi had already stepped back out of range.
“Now, Beverly, stop that,” he said, gently scolding her. His speech was slurred from too much wine.
She turned to look at whoever this was.
“Who are you? Leave me alone.” She didn’t recognize him. It had been too many years.
“Beverly, it’s me, Carl Santi, Tucky. I was at your wedding, remember? My Rosa and me, we gave you the pasta machine. Remember?”
This wasn’t paranoia anymore. She slowly set the other bag on the sidewalk, not taking her eyes off of the fat old man.
“So, Beverly, how are you? How’s your father?”
“Leave me alone,” she pleaded. “You have me mixed up with somebody else.”
She ran through her short list of options: He was old. He was obviously drunk. She thought that, maybe, she could just “BS” her way out of this.
“Maybe he doesn’t know I left Dominic,” she prayed.
“Dominic wants you and his money back in New York,” Tucky slurred.
He knew. She looked at him. He was weaving slowly, but he had his eyes locked on hers. The blood ran from her face. She never thought that it would be a drunken old man who would catch her.
“C’mon, Beverly. You can stay with me and my daughter tonight.” He reached out and grabbed her tightly by the arm.
It was time for her to save herself, again.
“Help! Rape! Rape! Help!”
Her cries caught the attention of everyone on the street. They all looked toward the corner and saw a woman struggling with a larger, older man. He was grabbing at her as she screamed and fought to get away.
On the opposite corner, the overworked accountant saw the scuffle. His parents had raised him to be a responsible citizen and to help people in need, especially women.
He dropped his coffee and pastry and ran into the intersection, dodging traffic. No second thoughts were necessary.
Santi moved in close and took her by both wrists and was trying to drag her down the street toward his car. She managed to get one arm free and was about to deliver a punch to his solar plexus when Davis Lovejoy, accountant and would-be hero, arrived on the scene.
“Let her go, Mister,” he yelled.
“Stay out of this kid,” Santi bellowed. Lovejoy could smell the wine on his breath.
Santi was losing his grip on the much younger and sober woman as she twisted and began to go on the offensive. She glanced at the man who had come to her aid. The situation was getting more complicated by the moment.
Lovejoy moved to flank the attacker. He reached out. He wanted to get the old man down on the ground. The retired mob soldier lashed out and delivered a beefy backhand across the younger man’s face. The accountant reeled and fell to the sidewalk, stunned by the power of the blow.
Tucky Santi’s alcohol-fueled adrenaline was kicking in. He threw a wild punch. It missed her by a foot. They all stopped and stared at each other. This was not working for anybody.
Santi realized, through his wine induced haze, that he wasn’t capable of dragging the younger woman away. He had to get help. He reached into his coat pocket for the cell phone that his daughter had insisted he carry “just for emergencies, Papa.” If he could call someone to come help him he would score some big points with the people in New York. He could be involved again, a Player.
Laura realized that if this old New York soldier called for reinforcements that she would have, maybe, ten minutes before the streets would be permanently unavailable to her.
Davis Lovejoy, still down on the sidewalk, could see that the old man was fumbling with his phone and walking away. The woman seemed to be in no immediate danger. But he wanted to hold the drunk for the police.
Trying to push the tiny buttons on his phone, Santi moved toward the street for better lighting. He pointed a shaking finger at Laura and hissed, “You don’t belong here.”
Stumbling on the uneven curb, he lurched out into the street and into traffic, just in time to get up close and personal with a large orange San Francisco Municipal Railway trolley bus, its power poles sparking on the overhead wires as it crossed the intersection.
The bus driver never saw the man until he reeled out in front of the accelerating coach. From the way that the old man hit the pavement, the twenty-three-year veteran driver knew that the poor guy was dead. So did everyone else who witnessed the accident. Carl Santi’s body had crumbled like a stale Saltine when it slammed onto the concrete pavement.
He looked much smaller dead.
People from both sides of the street ran over to get a closer look. Traffic came to a complete halt. It was just shy of 3:30 a.m.
Davis Lovejoy stared at the old man’s dead body. He wondered out loud about what had just happened here. Who was this guy…and the woman? The woman…?
He turned back to the sidewalk. She was gone. In all the hubbub, she had just walked away into the late night fog. Her groceries were scattered all over the sidewalk.
The Police and paramedics arrived on the scene in minutes. Witnesses gave fifteen versions of what had gone down. The majority said that the old man was drunk, violent, and that he had stumbled out in front of the bus on his own. It was nobody’s fault but his. The accountant was questioned and released to go back to his tax forms. He wouldn’t need any coffee or sugary treats to stay awake now.
Laura hurried back to her apartment and cried for the first time since she had arrived in San Francisco. It was partly from relief and partly from the fear of realizing her vulnerability. She was safe for the moment, but until she felt up to another shopping trip, it was back to cheese crackers and Diet Pepsi.