Fiction Saturday “Haight Street” Continued – Part Thirteen
The icy wind coming through the streets whistled, shaking the Eucalyptus trees to their shallow roots. The parrots found snug sanctuaries under the eaves of the Painted Ladies. The lonely young and homeless drug tourists huddled in doorways along Haight Street shivering and regretting leaving their warm homes back in Iowa or wherever. The night held no adventure for them.
There weren’t many people walking on the street. Whenever someone did pass by a shaking voice would call out from the doorway, “Spare Change?” Most people ignored the plea. It would be better for one young man if everyone had. But not tonight.
A little after midnight and the fog filled the streets. Visibility was measured in yards not miles and sounds were muffled by the thickness of the air. A lone figure walked down Haight Street toward the Park. He wore a warm coat and gloves. A woolen scarf obscured his face. He walked slowly. He was in no hurry. There was no need.
The sound of footsteps thudded through the fog and as they approached the doorway the words, “Spare change?” reached out to the man with the scarf.
“Spare change? I think I might have something for you.” He reached into his pocket. “Yes, can you come a little closer? I can’t quite reach you”
The teen from the Midwest moved out of his sheltering doorway, reaching out.
“I don’t have much change, but I do have this,” He pressed a five dollar bill into the outstretched hand. “I hope it helps.”
“Thank you, Mister. Thanks a lot. I really mean it.”
The man put his hand back in his pocket.
“You must be cold out here tonight. Where are you staying?
“Yeah it’s cold, but I don’t have a place for tonight. I couldn’t connect with anybody to let me crash. I’ll be OK.” His teeth were chattering.
The man moved closer. “Nonsense. Let me help you. I live in the neighborhood and I can let you crash there tonight.”
“No, Mister. I’m OK, and I’m not into that. I don’t swing that way.”
The man took another step closer. “No, no, you don’t have to worry. I’m serious. I’m just trying to help. No funny business. I promise. A place to sleep and a hot meal.”
The freezing young addict had heard the stories about men who offered “help” to Street Kids. He’d also heard about the other Street Kids who ended up dead, butchered in Golden Gate Park. He was so cold and hungry. “No funny business, Mister?”
“No funny business. I promise you.”
Five minutes later, as the two figures walked through the swirling fog down the side street toward the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park, the younger man said just two words, “Hey, what’s….” That was all he could say as a black ceramic knife plunged into his throat. He was pushed into the space between two houses, a space where the trash cans were stored. The man with the scarf worked rapidly as a dog in one of the houses began to bark. Cuts, slashes, and incisions left the face of the soon to be dead young addict unrecognizable. It was quick, savage, and merciless. His eyes were wide with terror, while he still had them. One final rip across the throat ended his fright. The dog continued to bark as the camera emitted a single flash of light
“Just like I promised – no funny business.”
Marlee woke up with a rip-roaring headache and her throat felt like she had been eating broken glass. Even through the lingering fog she could tell that the sun was high in the sky. A bleary-eyed peek at the clock told her it was 11:18.
She crawled out of bed and shuffled to the bathroom. One look in the mirror told her that last night’s party at Spider’s must have been fun.
“Why do I feel so hung over? I had a couple of beers, but…Christ on a crutch.”
Two Tylenol would help the headache, but nothing else would get better until she ate something. It had been almost 24 hours since her last real meal. She couldn’t count the bagel she’d split with Scar while they watched Dawn and John slow dance to Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels. Marlee had opted for a nap before the party, assuming that there would be food at the party. If there was she’d never found it, at least nothing beyond peach pie and bagels on a wire.
She moved slowly to the kitchen and checked to see what she could fix quickly and easily. Cold cereal…puffed rice would be good. No milk. Oatmeal…no oatmeal. Marlee made a mental note to get to the supermarket before she starved to death.
Eggs. She had eggs, but the thought of breaking the shells and watching them ooze yellow and runny made her stomach gurgle in protest. Food was out for the moment.
A long hot shower and the Tylenol helped Marlee pull herself into human form. It also made the idea of the eggs more palatable, but she had no bread for toast.
“Welcome to Marlee Hubbard’s empty cupboard.”
Slipping into her sneakers and wearing a sweatshirt, jeans and sunglasses, Marlee trudged up the block toward The People’s Cafe.
“Let somebody else do the cooking this morning.”
Marlee could see that getting a table was going to be difficult. It was lunchtime and tourist season was here. She considered going across the street to the “Squat and Gobble” or up the block to “The Pork Store.” They made a decent plate of eggs and she could see that there were some empty tables.
A rap on the window pulled her attention back to the cafe. Grinning through the glass was a familiar face. John, the bearded novelist and peach pie philosopher was waving at Marlee, inviting her in.
She pulled open the heavy green door and saw at once that John was not alone. Across the table sat Dawn. Marlee noticed that Dawn was wearing the same clothes she’d had on at the party the night before.
“Marlee, we saw you out there, your nose pressed up against the glass like a lost puppy. Please join us, Darlin’.”
John scooped up an empty chair from a neighboring party of three.
Marlee looked around the cafe.
“I don’t see Luco here this morning.”
“Nobody expected to,” John said. “He’s good at starting parties, but he’s lousy at finishing them. He was being poured into a cab when we left about an hour ago.”
Marlee shook her head sadly.
“He has a drinking problem, doesn’t he? I had to hold his head last night. He was just plastered.”
Dawn set down her fork.
“He has a problem, but it isn’t his drinking. He uses the booze to try to solve his problem. The poor sweetie doesn’t realize that the alcohol won’t do it.”
“He does seem to be so unhappy beneath the surface. His eyes were so sad.”
“His eyes? I know, Honey. I’ve looked at those gorgeous grays and it’s like staring at a closed door.”
John put down his own fork and laid his hand over Dawn’s.
“I’ve known him for a few years and we’ve gotten drunk together a few times. He never talks about himself or his past and after a few too many he starts muttering in Spanish. At that point he becomes no fun to be with.”
“You aren’t a lot of laughs either when you’re drunk, Darlin’.” Dawn leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.
Marlee was trying to decide if she should get up and order something to eat. Her head was starting to pound again.
“Darlin’,” said Dawn. “You look like you been rode hard and put away wet.”
“I feel like it, Dawn. I don’t get it. You two look fresh as a daisy.”
“You went home and slept, didn’t you, Marlee? Big mistake,” John said as he got up to go fetch Marlee a cup of coffee. “Don’t go to bed until you are prepared to stay there until Spring. Those short sleeps will kill you.”
Dawn and John were finishing up their own plates of eggs and potatoes and the sight of the greasy plates made Marlee cancel her lunch plans. The coffee was enough for now.
Letting the heat of the inky brew warm her, Marlee started to feel more alert and the warmth was helping her headache a bit. She looked out of the window at the busy people rushing by along Haight Street, all intent on their own personal missions. Her eyes were drawn to the red neon shining from “Mom’s Body Shop” across the street.
A young woman with a tattoo of a green and blue snake coiling around her neck was standing in front of the open door, a cigarette dangling from her lips. She looked relaxed, almost bored…until she looked down the block.
Her body tensed, she swore out loud and threw her cigarette into the gutter. Still muttering, she stormed back into the shop. Ten seconds later a customer scurried through the front door of the tattoo parlor. It was Dennis Thayer.
John saw him as well, and saw Marlee watching Dennis.
“You know him,” John asked?
“He lives in my building, in the apartment right above me. He’s a real strange duck for sure, but I just didn’t take him for the tattoo type.”
John’s eyed widened.
“He’s your neighbor? Move.”