Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Seventeen
It was becoming a morning ritual for Marlee. She started off with a hot shower and dawdling through her ablutions, followed by the San Francisco Chronicle and coffee at The People’s Cafe. She was now a “regular.”
“Good morning, Marlee. Coffee?”
“Please, Luco and I think a scone this morning.”
Since that first day when Luco Reyes had flirted with her, they had developed a comfort zone. He still flirted a bit, but with more gentility and she let him. They both knew the unmarked boundaries.
If things weren’t busy in the cafe he would come and sit with her. She enjoyed his company and he found her both beautiful and interesting. Most of the women in his world were one or the other, but rarely both.
Marlee felt the same about him. Here was a man of obvious education and facility with people, yet he was spending fourteen hours a day pulling espressos in a neighborhood cafe. A cafe that he could run with his eyes shut, but where he was just another employee. There was more behind those gray eyes, a story worth telling. She was intrigued by this mysteriously secretive man. It had been a long time since she had felt anything for any man and now she found herself daydreaming about the man who made her coffee.
Marlee liked to leaf through the morning paper. She wanted to be informed and the crossword puzzle helped her get her brain in gear for the day.
On page two she saw an article that grabbed her eye.
“Serial Killer Stalks The Haight”
The story was that, over the last three months, six brutal murders had occurred in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. The victims were all young male addicts living, and now dying on the streets.
She read the list of the dead young men, boys really. They were mostly 18 or 19 years old. The youngest was a 14-year-old runaway from Michigan.
“It’s a sad ending to lives unlived.”
“Yes it is.” He had her coffee and scone. “Do you have a minute, Luco?”
He sat down at the table. Let someone else make the coffee for a few minutes.
She looked very serious. This was not a time for flirtation. She waved her hand at the newspaper spread out in front of her.
“Who would do such a thing? It’s horrible. Doesn’t he know what something like this does to the families, the parents?” There were tears in the corners of her eyes.
“I don’t think the killer cares about the families of these kids. As to who would do this…?” His voice faded with a shrug of his shoulders.
Marlee took a sip of her coffee. Its steamy heat flushed her cheeks. “No matter what they do, the drugs, they don’t deserve to die like this – like animals on the street.”
“I have some friends who are cops, at the Park Station, just up the way. They’ve told me that this killer, this beast, did more than just kill these kids. He mutilated them, their faces.”
“Oh good Lord, they didn’t say anything about that in this article.”
“There is a lot that never makes it into the paper and I’m sure that some of the details from the other night won’t be made public either.”
“The other night?” She set down her cup.
“There was another one, number seven, right across the street from my place up on Stanyan, just inside the Park.”
“Can’t they catch this monster?”
“Good question. I hear that they really don’t have much to go on. He’s careful, quick and nobody can give them a description.”
“This is very scary. I guess there really is no such thing as a safe place.” She picked at the scone, but her appetite had been shoved aside.
“By and large, The Haight is pretty safe. The real residents don’t have too much serious trouble. Most of the bad stuff falls on the people wrapped up in the drug scene.
“Like any city, we have our share of hardcore drug users. They and the dealers seem to like this area. They tend to prey on each other and leave the bodies in the gutter. Then there are the ‘Narco-tourists’.”
“That’s just my word for them – the people who come to The Haight looking for the drugs.
“The media keeps running quasi-fictional stories about the 1960’s and the ‘Summer of Love’. Some unhappy kid in Iowa watches his TV and sees a pretty girl dancing with flowers in her hair. He picks up and comes here looking for her and some adventure. It’s the kids from Iowa you see on the sidewalks looking like zombies. They’re also the people who end up surrounded by crime scene tape outside my window.”
Marlee nodded. The morning sun bounced off of her hair.
“My upstairs neighbor was saying pretty much the same thing to me. It’s so sad.”
One of the counter help, a tall girl with henna colored dreadlocks, called for Luco to pull two lattes and a Mocha Jolt. Someone needed extra caffeine this morning. She also wanted her morning whiff of Luco. She had her own needs.
He patted Marlee’s hand with an understanding affection and got up to leave her to think about what he had said and about the face behind the mask on Haight Street.
The carnage among the street kids was bringing back all of the stomach-wrenching memories of Phillip’s murder and how for two years she went through the motions of a normal life before making the move West.
The newspaper and Luco’s words made her feel that the horror had followed her from the elm tree lined streets of Cleveland all the way to the aromatic eucalyptus groves of San Francisco. She didn’t know if she could survive that again. She clutched her coffee cup with both hands and drank. The hot liquid warmed her chilled heart.
“You OK, Marlee?”
She looked up into Luco’s lovely eyes.
“No, Luco, I’m not. This whole thing has me very upset. I’m wondering if I made a mistake coming here to San Francisco.”
He sat down again and leaned forward across the table to hear her soft, sad voice.
“I’m wondering if my coming here was just running away from things you can’t outrun.” She closed her eyes and turned her face away from Luco’s eyes.
“I don’t think so. You don’t strike me as the type to run away from things.
“Marlee, You and I don’t know each other very well. You’re new here and I’m looked upon as a superficial sort of man. I know that you’ve heard the gossip.”
She looked at him, her eyes widening.
“Luco, are you hitting on me? You tell me a grisly story and then move in to comfort me?” There was a hint of anger growing in her voice. She was on the verge of slapping his face, right there in front of everyone in the cafe.
“No. No, Marlee. I’m not ‘hitting on you’, I swear.” He was alarmed at her reaction. “I’m just trying to talk with you, one person to another, but I’d like to do it for more than two minutes at a time.
“Maybe my timing does stink here, but…I’d just like to talk with you, over dinner perhaps, on neutral ground and get to know you better. That’s all.” He wiped his hand over his face. He was sweating he noticed. She noticed it too.
She listened and looked at him. He was serious. He wasn’t playing the “Coffee House Romeo.”
“Luco, I’m sorry I snapped at you. Yes, I’ve heard the gossip and it bothers me a bit.”
“The truth be told, Marlee, I start most of the gossip myself. It gives me a bit of a mystique. I’m local color for the tourists to talk about when they go home.” He paused and took a deep breath.
“Let me do this over again.” He was actually close to stammering like a schoolboy. “Marlee, what about dinner? Have you been to ‘Martin Macks’ up the street? It’s an Irish pub, but they serve good food there. It’s not fancy, but where else can you get ‘Toad In The Hole’ in San Francisco?”
“‘Toad In The Hole?’ I don’t even know what that is. It sounds disgusting.”
“Its just meat in a crusty sort of batter, English, I think. They also have other things. What do you think?”
She was smiling again. This man had that effect on her, she realized, and that couldn’t be a bad thing.
“Alright, I’ll have dinner with you Luco and if you want to have ‘Toad In The Hole’, I won’t object.”
“Wonderful, and thank you. Would Friday night be good for you? I get off at six o’clock. I could come by your place at 7:30.”
I’ll tell you what, Luco. Let’s meet at the restaurant. I’d feel more comfortable and it wouldn’t seem so much like a date. At least until I can sort out which bits of gossip about you might be just your attempts to please the tourists.” She was only half teasing him.
“Of course, whatever you need.”
Feeling proud of himself for following through, Luco went back to the counter and pulled the lever on the espresso machine with a little extra fervor. The redhead who was slicing bagels noticed the slight smile on his face and put two and two together.
Marlee sat and zipped through the crossword puzzle in ten minutes. She got a refill on her coffee from the redhead and wondered why her saucer was now filled with hot coffee as well. The redhead was usually neater.
Sitting and just musing on the day and its possibilities, Marlee looked across the street. A young, heavily tattooed man was pulling back the security gate in front of “Mom’s Body Shop”, a tattoo and piercing parlor.
He had barely gotten the front door unlocked and the “open” sign turned on when the first customer walked in.
The business day was starting on Haight Street.
Marlee finished her coffee and bussed her table. She turned to wave to Luco as she headed toward the door.
“Oh, Marlee, one more thing about Friday night.”
“What’s that, Luco?”
“Martin Macks…its casual dress.”
“I’ll leave the mink at home.”