Down the Hall on Your Left

This site is a blog about what has been coasting through my consciousness lately. The things I post will be reflections that I see of the world around me. You may not agree with me or like what I say. In either case – you’ll get over it and I can live with it if it makes you unhappy. Please feel free to leave comments if you wish . All postings are: copyright 2014 – 2018

Archive for the category “California”

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Six

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Six

Being an unwelcome visitor I was given the Five Cent Tour of everything I’d seen before. When I inquired about some areas I had never seen I was given a cock and bull story about it either being closed off for remodeling or just a storage area. I knew different.

I ended up in my office having seen nothing, learned nothing, and made to feel as welcome as an angry skunk at a wedding. I shuffled papers around for about thirty minutes just to cool down and to let the goon parked outside my door to fall asleep. I was determined to look behind some of those closed doors.

When I could see that my baby sitter had nodded off I crept past him and headed into the plant proper. I went straight for that “Storage Area” that made my guides nervous when I tried to go there before. I could see that there was light coming from under the door. I could hear voices from inside. “Storage Area” my Aunt Nellie.

I turned the knob as quietly as I could and stepped inside. There were about ten men huddled around a work bench. I’d never seen any of them before. They had some piece of equipment in broken down into parts on the bench. One man was taking pictures of the parts. Another man was talking, like he was explaining it all to them. I couldn’t understand him. He wasn’t talking in English.

It didn’t take more than thirty seconds before one of them noticed me standing there by the door. They all froze. The guy who seemed to be in charge looked at me and smiled. I don’t think it meant that he was glad to see me.

“Can I help you?” he asked me.

“That’s my question,” I said. “Who are you and what are you doing here?” Two of the men started moving toward me, flanking me. I was by the door, but I felt like I was being cornered. I wished that I had my sidearm instead of just a fountain pen and a badge.

The head man stopped smiling. “This is a High Security Area, young man. You have no business here. Who are you?”

Now it was my turn to smile even though my situation was deteriorating.

“High Security Area, huh? Lucky me, because I’m the Head of Security for this entire company. Now – who are you – and all your playmates here too?”

I don’t think I got an answer because the two men moving on me rushed and… the next thing I remember was waking up, tied to a chair, with Van Swearingin looking me in the face.

“Timmy, Timmy, Timmy, What’s going on here?” He looked beck over his shoulder. “Will somebody untie him for God’s sake? Tim, I’m sorry for this. Blame me. I didn’t have you meet everyone, our consultants and scientists. I should have. You were right to question them.”

My head was clearing. It ached, but I was only seeing one of everything.

“Scientists? Those two thugs that ‘jacked me didn’t look like scientists to me. More like Steel Workers.” Another strange character untied me.

“Why don’t you go back to San Francisco and take a couple of days off, Tim, and relax?”

I wasn’t going to be given the Bum’s Rush on this. I’d been rolled, tied to a chair, and now being told to pretend it didn’t happen and go ride the cable cars. I was hot.

“I don’t need a couple of days off to relax. What I do need is to know who those guys were, what they were doing there, and why were they kept secret from me. I’ve gotten nothing but the runaround here and at the other facilities.”

Van Swearingin was looking tense. “I’ve already told you; they are scientists, consultants on some new projects. They weren’t being kept ‘secret’ from you. Again, that’s my fault. I apologize for how you were treated. You didn’t know them, they didn’t know you. Things got out of hand. And you are not being given the ‘runaround’ at all. You’re new on this job and it’s bound to take some time until you are fully in tune and see everything. Trust me. This won’t happen again.” He looked around the room. There were five other people there – the three man welcoming committee and the two guards from the front gate. “Do you all understand me? This won’t happen again.”

xxx

Was I in over my head and just needed time to get a handle on things? Or was I being set up to be the Patsy? I needed to talk with “Pops” Mulroy. I knew what his answer would be. He thought that Van Swearingin is selling us, the Big Us, the Country us, out to the Russians. I thought I believed him after our previous talk, but then that all seemed too unbelievable. But now, after my run in with those “scientists” – I just didn’t know.

I took a long walk to think. I ended up down at the Ferry Building, sitting in the same phone booth as before.

A little kid answered the phone.

“Can I talk with your Grandpa?”

“Who?

“Your Grandpa, Gramps, Paw-Paw, whatever you call him. ‘Pops’.”

“Oh, ‘Pops’ – Why didn’t you say so?

“Hey, ‘Pops’! Telephone!”

I could hear some mumbled speech in the background and the kid dropping the phone on the floor. The mumbling turned to shouting as the phone was picked up and “Pops” started to talk, loud and fast.

“If you’re selling something, I ain’t buying. I won’t take your poll, and I gave at the office. Now – your turn and make it short and sweet. Go!”

“’Pops’ – Is that you? This is Tim in San Francisco.”

There was a pause on the other end of the line.

“Jesus H. Christ. Tim? I haven’t heard from you. I was afraid that you’d either gone over to the other side or got yourself some concrete boots. How are you?”

“I’m OK I guess. No, that’s not completely true, but this is all getting crazier by the day.”

“Talk to me. What’s happened?”

For the next ten minutes I told him everything I could remember; the strange hiring behind my back, the remote locations with “consultants” speaking other languages, and… “A few days ago I got the stuffing beat out of me by a couple of them when I interrupted one of their little secret meetings at the plant down the coast. I can take care of myself hand to hand, but those boys took me out like I was a cripple. I woke up tied to a chair.”

“Sweet Jesus, are you OK I ask you again? Does Van Swearingin know about this?

“Know about it? He was right in front of me when I woke up. He sent me home for a few days to ‘relax.’

“Tim, you’re lucky to be alive.”

That didn’t make me feel any more secure.

“Young man, you’re in over your head and what’s going on there is bigger than a couple of Rumble Seat Cowboys like you and me can handle. It’s time to hand this over to the Professionals.”

“You mean the FBI?”

“Yes, before you end up dead. Van Swearingin brought you in because he didn’t think you would actually try to do anything but look into your pay envelope, but now that you’ve seen and heard what you just told me about… you have become dangerous and…Tim, there is a lot of empty desert out there.”

Collecting a pay envelope was all I really did want in a job when all of this started and now I’ve got Russian thugs working me over and “Pops’ is telling me that I have a good chance of nothing but bad ahead of me.

“‘Pops,’ I want out. I’m no G-Man. All I want is to grow old and fat. I’ll walk over to the FBI office, tell them everything, and then I’m getting the first train out of town. That’s it. All Aboard. Over and out.”

My head was spinning as I hung up the phone. I didn’t want to hear any more about my life expectancy from “Pops” or anyone else. I looked in the phone book and found where the FBI was. I didn’t bother to write it down.

The Federal Building on Larkin Street wasn’t too far. I wanted to run, but I forced myself to walk. The FBI was on the fifth floor.

– To Be Continued –

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Five

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Five

“Everything you see and hear that seems funny. Write it all down,”

The first thing that I wrote down that seemed funny was: Why in the world did he hire me? I have no real experience. I’ve never been in charge of a unit as large as the one I have now. The Boss, Van Swearingin, has men with thirty years of experience and he is dumping them like yesterdays coffee grounds and bringing in a collection of new people who look like they either worked for Al Capone or Herr Shicklegruber. And I’m supposed to be their “Captain.”

I figured that I had better keep this journal to myself. Me and “Pops” Mulroy were the only two I felt I could trust. I had to hide it somewhere in my office. Something I remembered from a radio detective show was that the best place to hide something is in the open, the last place anyone would expect, so I slipped the journal onto a bookshelf between two other books the same color.

For the first three weeks on the job I went around to meet all of the men who were my new “troops.” I broke them down into eight hour shifts. Midnight to 8 AM – The Red Shift, 8AM to 4 PM – White Shift, and the 4 PM to Midnight the Blue Shift. I expected there to be some grousing about the assignments, but there was none. Not a word complaining about being put on the Red Shift. Whatever unit I’ve been in there has always been some complaining and whining about working Graveyard, but not from these guys.

At Van Swearingin’s request, which is as good as a direct order, each man working security was to carry a sidearm and a billy club. A shipment of brand new Smith and Wesson .45 caliber 1911 Model semi-automatic pistols was delivered to my office a week later.

I picked out a few men who had some MP or Shore Patrol experience and made them my Sergeants. I needed a level in between me and the men. I couldn’t be everyplace all of the time. These NCOs set up and ran training schedules for each Shift Unit. They kept them busy until everything was up and ready to go. As a Unit came online, able to function, the old Security men were “retired.” To be honest – most of them were going to have trouble finding any jobs other than Night Watchmen or School Crossing Guards. They were either too old, too fat, or 4-F rejects who were turned down even by a world at war. A bunch of girl scouts would have been an improvement.

As I traveled between San Francisco and the facilities in Utah, South Texas, and about California, taking that DC-3 too often, I felt like I was living in a different world. What was going on in the factories, what they were making, was a mystery to me. The Plant Managers tried to explain it, but it was all too Buck Rogers for me. It sure wasn’t washing machines.

Each plant was out in the “Sticks,” away from main roads and big cities. There was a perimeter around each facility that had to be patrolled. I nixed the suggestion that we buy dogs to help guard the site. That would have made every plant look like a POW Camp.

I made some notations in my journal every so often. There were some unusual things that didn’t look or smell right. In each plant I overheard some of my “new” men huddled in a corner and talking in some foreign language. As soon as they saw me they’d switch to English. And again, no complaints – about anything.

They are suspicious of me and I can’t blame them because as more time passed I became more suspicious of them. That’s the kind of situation that makes my sleep somewhat restless.

When I was away from my San Francisco office my hours were from about 9 AM until the middle of the Blue Shift at 8 PM. That gave me a look at only part of the picture. I needed to see what things were like overnight.

I checked the Main Gate activity reports and I could see that there was more traffic in and out after midnight than at any other time. I didn’t know if that was unusual or not. I asked my Boss, Mr. Van Swearingin, during one of our weekly meetings.

“Oh, that’s not at all unusual, Tim. We have raw materials and parts coming in almost every night and finished product going out the same way. There is less road traffic that time of night and fewer curious eyes. Don’t worry about it.”

But I did worry about it. It’s in my nature. Nothing good happens at three in the morning. I was going to have to see for myself.

Surprise visits by the Brass were not at all unusual in the Army, even in the middle of a combat action. I figured it might be good for me to do the same.

It was a little after 2 AM when I drove up to the Main Gate at the plant outside of Fresno in the Central Valley of California – an area almost exclusively agricultural. Surrounded by Walnut groves and fields of Asparagus the Van Swearingin Ball Bearing Production Plant sat there looking like an abandoned Elementary School with all of the windows blacked out.

A large unmarked truck was pulling out as I pulled up to the barrier by the Guard Shack. I had my I.D. badge ready.

“This is private property, Bub. Turn it around and scram.” Not exactly a professional way to deal with visitors.

“Here is my I.D. Maybe you don’t recognize me, but I’m your Boss. And where is your name tag? You’re supposed to be wearing that at all times while on duty. Now – lift the barrier.”

The anonymous guard squinted at my badge like he’d never seen one before. Then he backed away from my car and consulted with the other guard in the shack before lifting the barrier so I could drive up to the building. As I drove off I saw in the mirror the guard picking up a telephone. He was letting someone know that I was coming.

I pulled up by the building. My headlights showed me that there were three security guards waiting for me. A reception committee in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. I got out and walked up to the Ritz Brothers by the door.

“Good evening, Gentlemen. I figured I’d just pay you all a little visit.”

“Well, I wish you’d let us know you were coming.” None of them looked very pleased to see me.

“If I had this wouldn’t be much of a surprise visit, now, would it?”

– To Be Continued –

I Would Never Lead You Astray

DESPITE MY CURMUDGEONLY REPUTATION I really do try to be a helpful sort of person. Like yesterday afternoon when a stranger asked me for directions. He was passing through town and wanted to have lunch at his favorite restaurant – “Chili’s” and he needed help finding it.

I was proud that I could give him simple and accurate directions. Follow my directions and an imbecile could find that restaurant.

“Just go down this road. When you get to the big courthouse-looking building, turn left. Keep going for a few minutes, then go under the Interstate. Keep going until you see their sign. It’ll be on your right.”

Simple, not too complicated, and absolutely accurate.

Read more…

There Will Be A Tomorrow

I HAVE BEEN MOST FORTUNATE. I lived in California for 25 years and never had to directly deal with the tragedy of wildfires. The closest I ever came was the horrible Oakland hills Fire in the early 1990s. That fire was across the Bay from me, but I did have coworkers who lost everything – escaping with their lives and the clothes on their backs.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” – Conclusion

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” – Conclusion

Pushing his aching body as fast as he could Luco arrived at the Arboretum Gardener’s Shed in fifteen minutes. He called out.

“I’m here, Thayer. Marlee, are you in there? Are you OK?”

Dennis was waiting.

“I’m sorry, Reyes. I’m afraid she’s a bit tied up right now.”

“Dennis, let her go. She’s not invol –“

“Don’t tell me what to do,” Dennis screamed. This is my turf and I make the rules here.”

Luco paced back and forth knowing that every second that Dennis still held Marlee anything could happen.

“Dennis, let’s talk. Come on out here, face to face.”

Dennis looked at Luco through the window shutter, standing there. “Did you come alone, Coffee Boy?”

“Yes, Dennis, I’m alone.”

Inside the shed Dennis, grinning, turned to Marlee. “He came alone. He really is such a Boy Scout.

“Reyes, you come in here if you want to see your little ‘Nursey-Wursey.’ Now!

Read more…

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” – Part Thirty-One

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” – Part Thirty-One

The Game isn’t over until one side wins. The final score has to show the world who the winner is – and more importantly – who is the loser.

The Game is almost over.

1298 Haight Street had turned into something no one wanted and no one could do anything about: a crime scene.

The Hit and Run of Luco Reyes was tied to the smashed window at the café, the constant break-ins at Apartment 6, and the brutal killing of the cat. They were all connected to Apartment 8 and Dennis Thayer, but he was nowhere to be found.

The DMV showed that Thayer owned a van, or had. He had failed to keep it registered for the last two years. There was no record of it being sold or scrapped, so it had to be somewhere – just like Dennis Thayer. He had to be somewhere.

Shopkeepers on Haight Street kept reporting that they had seen him lurking about, standing in the shadows watching something or someone. One minute he was there – the next minute he was gone. At night he was heard but not seen.

The people at 1298 Haight Street swore that they heard him in the building. He was going from floor to floor meowing like a cat, but by the time anyone would open their door he’d be gone – into a vacant apartment, into the Park, into the darkness. He was seen sitting on the Buena Vista Park steps across the street. Sometimes he would shout something that someone said sounded like, “I don’t share.” Another time he yelled out a slurred, “Marlee, you’re mine. I own you.”

Marlee had all but quit living in her apartment and moved in with Luco Reyes’ flat on Stanyan Street. Little by little she was transferring her sparse possessions from where she had hoped that she would find the start of a new life, but what had turned into a twisted continuation of the old.

Stanyan Street was a refuge. Every day Luco was getting stronger and she felt safe being with and near him.

The savagery of the killings in the neighborhood had escalated. While there was no proof – no hard evidence, no pictures to make it real, the people on the street knew in their gut that it was Dennis Thayer who had been butchering the Street Kids. The Kids warned each other, but had no place to go, to hide from him. They knew the killer was a man who offered them drugs, shelter from the cold and food. He also led them away to a van, they said, and then to their graves. They were leery of the Police and of any authority that might try to send them back home. They feared that more than they feared “The Man in the Night.”

“Meow, Meow. Here. Kitty, Kitty. Are you in there, Marlee? Can I come in? You know I can – anytime I want.”

Had she heard something or was it just her imagination. Anytime she was in her apartment, even for a few minutes, she felt like she was being watched. She opened her door, a butcher knife in her hand, but he wasn’t there. Was he ever there or had her fear put him inside her head? Did it matter?

She had gone back to 1298 Haight to get her cello, the last important thing not yet moved up the street to the flat above the bicycle shop.

Not wanting to spend any more time in Apartment 6 than needed Marlee picked up the case holding her cello and left the building behind. She’d slipped a small knife into the belt under her jacket. The fog was coming in as the sun was dropping toward the Pacific horizon.

The crowd on Haight Street was beginning to build. Walking all the way to Stanyan Street would be awkward carrying her case. A quick cut down one short block to her usual route, Page Street – a quiet residential street with leafy trees and flowers running parallel to Haight Street.

As she crossed Masonic Street she had to jump out of the way as a gray van ignored the stop sign. It missed her by inches. The van had a bright red circus tent painted on the side and the name, “Big Top Day Care.” The driver was in a hurry to drop off the last of the kids to their parents already home from their jobs downtown.

“Oh, that was close, Missy Marlee. I would have been so disappointed. You know by now that I won’t share you with anyone. I want you all to myself. Don’t be in such a rush to get to your Coffee Boy. No need. I can wait. Just a minute or two more, that’s all.”

Marlee crossed Ashbury Street and passed by an old Victorian style home that was vacant and up for sale. The streetlight above the sidewalk was out casting a shadow over the house. She was struggling with the bulky cello case. It was beginning to feel heavy. She wasn’t used to carrying it this far. She passed the short driveway, not seeing the gray, freshly painted, van sitting inside the open garage.

Marlee paused to catch her breath and get a better grip on the case. She heard a sound behind her.

“Meow.”

She started to turn around, but she stopped when she saw a grinning familiar face. An arm reached around and held her tight against his body.

“Hello, Missy.”

She struggled to free herself, but he had her firmly immobilized.

“Now, now, don’t fight me, Missy. Relax. You’re going to feel something in your neck now, it’s a needle, and in about fifteen seconds your legs will go to sleep.” Marlee sensed what felt like an icicle pricking her neck. “So, let’s stroll over to my van while you still can. In thirty seconds you will start a nice long nap.”

Dennis Thayer half dragged Marlee Owen from the sidewalk and, as she collapsed, lifted her limp body into the back of the van.

As he drove away the van scuffed the cello and case into the street.

When Marlee opened her eyes and tried to move she discovered that she was tied – her hands in her lap with silver duct tape around her wrists. Her ankles were bound with the same tape. There was one more swath of tape across her mouth. She was sitting on a dirty wooden floor with her back up against a pile of sacks filled with mulch.

“Well, hello there, Princess. Good morning. I hope you slept well. I’m sorry I had to knock you out like that. I was a little pressed for time there on the street. In case you’re wondering, it is about 7:30 AM. I gave you a nice…let’s call it a mild sedative of my own design. I wanted you quiet until we got here. You’ll be a bit groggy for a while, but you’re not going anywhere, are you? And we are expecting company.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me,” Dennis said with a smile, “I’ve got to go get ready for our guest.” He pulled two knives from sheaths on his belt. He took out the small knife that Marlee had carried when she left her apartment. He shook his head as he spoke.

“Didn’t your Momma ever tell you to not play with knives? Tsk, Tsk. Such an upbringing.” He laughed as he walked away leaving Marlee bound, gagged, and trying to sort out what was happening through a drug induced veil.

The light was dim coming through the hard plastic sheets that made up the ceiling of what appeared to her to be a gardener’s shed. She was surrounded by plants and tools. There were mowers and rakes, clippers of varying sizes, a number of ladders and a pair of chainsaws. On a long table were potted plants, orchids, day lilies, and cacti. She was no more mobile than any of the plants.

Dennis moved about the shed placing items in positions that seemed to have meaning to him; boxes, tool racks rolls of plastic. He noticed Marlee checking out her surroundings.

“Wondering where you are and what’s going to happen? I can’t blame you. No, that’s not true. I do blame you, Missy.” Holding his butterfly knife he loomed over her sitting on the floor. He could see the fear in her eyes. He smiled and lowered himself to the floor and sat next to her. Shoulder to shoulder.

“Let me answer your questions. Where are we? We are in the Arboretum in the Head Gardener’s Workshed. No one but the Gardener and his crew come in here and this is a weekend so we have it all to ourselves. The Gardener did come in earlier while you were sleeping. Why he did that I’ll never know. Oh, well, that’s him in the big bag over there.”

Marlee’s eyes widened in terror.

“Oh, Miss Marlee, save the mock horror. You’ve seen cut up men before and you will again. I guess you’re just bad luck. Men come around you and they end up dead. And guess what? It’s going to happen again. Oh, yes. Your precious barista is going to be your next victim. Marlee’s third dead man.

“I dropped a note to him on our way here telling him where he could find us. I told him to come alone or I’d do to you what I did to your smelly little kitten.

“Just listen to me, will you?” He struggled to his feet “Sometimes I just monopolize the conversation. Here, let me get this tape off of you.” He gently peeled the duct tape from Marlee’s face. She screamed.

“Oh, go ahead and scream, you little two-timer. There’s no one within a quarter mile from here.” She spat in his face.

“You animal,” she said through clenched teeth.

“Yeah, right. Would you like some tea? I have a pot steeping.”

“Let me go, Dennis. You can’t get away with this. There will be every police officer in San Francisco coming in here after you and they’ll –“

“No, they won’t. Your little Boy Toy will come here alone. I know his type. He wants to be the hero to rescue his Fair Maiden. So save your breath. And how did you phrase it, ‘You can’t get away with this’? But I already have. I have you here, Coffee Boy will come as ordered, and then I will show you what I can do with all of these delicious tools here in the shed. Get away with it? When I’m done I’ll just walk out of here and disappear into the fog. How ‘Movie of the Week’ is that, Girl? Let me get your tea.”

***

“I’m sorry, Luco, I haven’t seen her. Hold on, let me ask.” With her hand over the mouthpiece, Scar called out, “Has anybody seen Marlee this morning?” Luco could hear the buzz as everyone answered her.

“Sorry, Luco. No such luck. She’s not been in. Have you called her at her place? Oh, OK. Well, I’m sure she’s out and about. Later, Honeybuns.”

This was not like Marlee. In fact it was the opposite of her normal behavior. Every day when she left Stanyan Street to walk back to Haight Street she would call him when she arrived. She called last night, but nothing since then.

Luco began to pace, still painfully, feeling sure that something was wrong. Ever since she found the cat he had been urging her to not go back there at all. When she left him to go to 1298 she said that was going to get her cello and head back to Stanyan Street. That was 14 hours ago.

“Something is wrong.”

Luco’s body was considerably better than a week ago, but he was far from feeling strong and healthy. That would take months, but he could not sit at home alone and wait to hear from Marlee.

Slowly he struggled into his boots, not allowing himself to grunt in pain as he bent to tie the laces. His fear was turning into dread.

At the bottom of the stairs he saw that his mailbox was full. There was also one sheet of paper without an envelope sticking out of the box. His name was scrawled on it in a mixture of large cursive lettering and block printing..

At the top of the handwritten page he read, “Hey, Reyes – Guess who?

“If you’re looking for your skinny bitch, save your time. I’ve got her.”

Every sore and wounded muscle in Luco’s body tightened.

“I’ve got her and I’m going to keep her. I saw her first, and remember – I don’t share.

“Now that I have your attention, you undereducated, minimum wage, pretty boy waiter, I want you to read this slowly.

“I’m a nice guy, really I am, but I can play rough. I imagine you’re missing your blonde widow. Would you like to see her? Talk with her – before I cut her to pieces and feed her to the sea lions at Pier 39? Better hurry then, you gimpy fool. I’ll let you come to see her – us, but if you don’t come alone or try to tip off the stupid SFPD I will make her suffer beyond belief. And then I will disappear forever. Get it, Coffee Boy?

“We are enjoying a cup of tea at the Arboretum. Come to the far western end, to the Gardener’s Shed. We’ll be waiting.

“Ta, Ta.”

A combination of rage and painful memories washed over Luco. He had finally met someone who could fill the hollow space in his heart, but again, some sick and insane man was trying to take her away from him.

“Not again!”

Next Week – THE CONCLUSION

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Thirty

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Thirty

The new lock was child’s play.

Marlee had been home, caught a few winks, fed the cat and gone back to the Stanyan Street apartment above the bicycle shop to be with and care for Luco. She wouldn’t be back for hours, maybe all night. He wouldn’t need that much time. Not even close.

Dennis Thayer picked the lock in less than ten seconds, entered the apartment, and locked the door again behind him. He set his small box on the butcher block dining room table.

“Here, Kitty. Kitty, Kitty. Come to your Uncle Dennis.”

The cat had moved behind the sofa as soon as it realized that it was Dennis and not Marlee opening the door.

Dennis took a piece of netting out of the box on the table and started to silently stalk the little yellow tabby. He knew where the cat liked to hide. He pushed one end of the sofa against the wall cutting off one avenue of escape. He wrapped the netting over the other end, trapping in the cat – or so he thought. Taking out a small flashlight from his pocket he knelt on the couch and shined the light down on the terrified kitten.

“Hello, little Kitty. Time to come out and play.”

The light reflected golden off the kitten’s eyes.

Not waiting for his pursuer to grab him the kitten launched itself up the back of the couch with claws extended. When he reached the top of the couch he kept climbing, clawing his way across Dennis’ face leaving a trail of deep bloody scratches from his chin, across his eyes and into his hairline. Before Dennis could react the cat was under the bed and huddled against the far wall.

“Want to play rough do we, Kitty? Then I’ll show you rough, you mangy little fleabag.”

Moving slowly and warily Dennis walked into Marlee’s bedroom and closed both doors trapping them both in the room.

Shining his flashlight under the bed he could see the frightened cat up against the wall. It hissed when the light beam hit it.

“There you are. Come here, Kitty, Kitty.”

J.P. hissed again.

“No? You don’t want to come out and play? That’s not very friendly. I’ll tell you what – you stay there for a minute. I’ll be back in two shakes of a cat’s tail.” He got to his feet and went to the dining room, making sure to close the bedroom door behind him. He searched through the box on the table singing softly.

“What’s new, Pussycat? Whoa, whoa, whoa. Ah, there we are. Playtime is over you little furball.”

J.P. Cat was still in the corner, under the bed, shivering in fear.

“I’m back, Kitty. Still don’t want to come out? You’re shivering. Are you cold? Well, here, let me warm you up.’

Dennis Thayer: Psychotic killer, drug addict who hated drugs and other addicts, Sadist, and Unforgiving, killed a small terrified kitten with the barbs of a 50,000 volt taser. He laughed as the young cat convulsed even after it was already dead.

“Now we can both play and cook up a little surprise for Missy Marlee.”

When Marlee returned home seven hours later she unlocked her door and with two steps inside she knew that something was wrong.

“What is that smell? Did I leave something…?”

She went into the kitchen and felt the heat from the oven.

The people standing at the bus stop in front of 1298 Haight Street looked up at the windows of Apartment 6. They heard a woman screaming in horror. She couldn’t stop.

***

When the police entered Apartment # 8 it was obvious that the renter had abandoned it. His clothes were gone. Food in the kitchen, what there was of it, was old and stale. The one plant in the apartment, a Hibiscus, was shriveled and dead.

In his bedroom the wall that had been covered was bare except for remnants of tape and the corners of torn photographs that were now…where?

After his butchery of Marlee’s cat Dennis knew that he couldn’t stay in the building. He took what he could carry and he was now living out of his mobile sanctuary – his gray van. In the van he was hidden. The Motor Vehicle registration listed the van as being red, but a cheap paint job down in the Mission District fixed that. The police would waste time and energy looking for a red van that no longer existed.

He needed his invisible hideaway so he could carry out the next part of his courtship. Luco was still alive, injured but alive. That had to be corrected.

Dennis didn’t want to go after Luco again. He had to lure the Coffee House Cry Baby out of his apartment – out to where he was helpless and vulnerable. Out to where he would die.

The van gave Dennis mobility. The entire city could become his trap. He would lure Luco into the trap with the most delicious bait.

He had injured Luco; Marlee was traumatized and unable to focus.

Easy pickings.

The “What’ and the “How” were already decided. All that remained were the “When” and the “Where.”

“Let the cops look for me. I am invisible and in control because I saw her first and I never share.”

Marlee was staying at Luco’s place almost around the clock; partly to continue helping him in his recovery, and partly because she couldn’t bear the thought of returning to her apartment on Haight Street – not after what Dennis Thayer had done there. Any trips to 1298 Haight were just to pack and move her possessions to Stanyan Street.

As Luco grew stronger he tended to help her closet the horror so she could resume her new life in San Francisco. That was something they both needed to do. While they had both been given a second chance there was no guarantee that they would ever be blessed with a third. They couldn’t let Dennis Thayer decide their Tomorrow. They couldn’t let him win.

As each day passed and the police couldn’t find Dennis Thayer Haight Street became more nervous and afraid. Another young Street Kid was killed and dumped in the middle of the night in the doorway of the Bicycle Shop on Stanyan Street.

At night the gray van hid in the fog. Dennis slept and dreamed of his next moves – to draw Luco Reyes to his death and to have Marlee Owen wrap her arms around him. After all, he saw her first

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Nine

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Nine

The TV didn’t offer any diversion. After more than three weeks of taking care of Luco at his apartment with only short trips to her own place to change clothes and see to the cat Marlee just collapsed onto her couch. Too exhausted to think she just stared at the screen, not even sure what she was watching. The cat cuddled up next to her. They both needed the closeness.

When Luco checked himself out of the hospital, over the Doctor’s objections, it was Marlee who took charge, making sure that he was cared for. Pete had hired a Home Healthcare Agency, but Marlee was there almost 24 hours a day feeding Luco, washing him, making sure that he got his meds correctly and on time. Now, after a week, the initial shock had worn off. He would survive and recover.

It was when Luco had recovered enough to become a bad patient, becoming impatient and wanting to do everything for himself, that Marlee knew that she could go home and rest. Home – that 420 Square foot apartment, a 12 minute walk from Stanyan Street, where she lived alone with J.P. Cat her lonely yellow tabby cat.

Marlee sat there knowing that J.P. needed fed. So did she she, but while there were plenty of cans of “Friskies” for the cat there was nothing, or next to it, for herself.

“It’s good to see you home, Missy.”

Startled by the voice from behind her Marlee jerked around. Dennis Thayer was standing by her kitchen door. Her front door was wide open. The cat jumped down and hid behind the couch.

“You still need to be more careful about your door, Miss Marlee.”

Marlee sat up. “It was closed. I locked it. How did you get in?”

He just smiled and shrugged his shoulders. He ignored her questions.

“Have you eaten? I’ve made some lasagna. Want some?”

She looked at him standing in her apartment. Too exhausted to maintain her anger, defeated, she turned back to the TV.

“I’m too tired to eat. Leave me alone.”

“Marlee, you need someone to take care of you – some able-bodied man who makes a mean lasagna.”

Her limit had been reached.

“Screw you, Dennis. Get out of my apartment. Get out! I’m going to have that lock changed tomorrow. Now, get out, and stay out!”

The cat peeked from around the corner of the sofa.

Dennis Thayer’s smile melted away. His expression turned to one of highly controlled rage. Without making a sound he let his eyes linger on her before turning and heading for the front door. When he got to the hallway he turned and spoke loud enough for Marlee to hear him.

“I have been very good to you up to now. I’ll go, but remember this, Missy – I don’t share. Not with anyone. Never.”

And he was gone.

Marlee went and closed the front door, locking it again, then returned to the couch. The cat came out from his hiding place and jumped back up next to her.

“How’s your tummy, JP? Feeling better? “

They were both asleep in seconds.

Inside Apartment #8 Dennis Thayer was tearing down more than a dozen photos from his wall, tearing them to pieces.

“Never.”

XXX

Most of the larger pieces of glass had already been swept up from the sidewalk on Haight Street. Inside the “Universe Café the cleanup was slower. Each table and chair had to be washed and dried to remove every sliver of glass.

The brick that had crashed through the window had to have been thrown sometime between 2 AM and about 5 AM when Spider showed up to start the day’s prep work and to open the doors at 6 AM. When she arrived she found the window destroyed and three Street Kids stretched out asleep on the church pew seating along the walls. The security alarm had not been triggered.

Spider called Pete. He was there in minutes.

“Sweet Jesus, who could have done this? Why? We have a good vibe with the neighborhood. Who would do this?”

Spider pointed to the still sleeping figures stretched out by the wall. Pete stormed over to the nearest one.

“Did you do this? Did you break my window?”

Pete had the kid by his filthy shirt front. He was screaming, spitting in his face. “You dirty little pig. Talk to me!”

The Street Addict pushed Pete back from his face.

“Get away from me Old Man. I didn’t bust your window. I just came in here to get out of the cold.”

“Then who did this – one of them,” he said pointing to the other Kids who were stirring.

“No, Old Man, I told you I came in to get warm, them too.”

Pete looked around at the mess holding his head. “Oh, Lord, why did I let the insurance go? I thought we were safe.”

“And the Alarm Company too, Pete?” added Spider. She was holding a broom, already sweeping the floor.

Pete wandered around the café mumbling to himself. He bent over and picked up the brick that someone had, for some reason, thrown through his window. A simple yellow brick just like millions of others that made up half the buildings along Haight Street. The only difference with this brick was the heavy-duty red rubber band around the middle of the brick. Pete turned over the brick and saw a small folded piece of paper under the rubber band. Pete unfolded the paper. Handwritten in block letters was the answer to Pete’s desperate question – almost.

“Reyes – Get well soon so I can give you another ride. Your time is coming. Remember – I DON’T SHARE!”

Spider stood next to Pete, reading over his shoulder.

“I don’t share? What the hell is that supposed to mean, Pete?”

“”I don’t know. I don’t know what any of this means, except that Luco has one sick SOB enemy.” He refolded the note and put it into his shirt pocket. “I’m going to call some friends to come in and help us get this mess cleaned up. Will you be OK until they get here, Spider?”

“Sure, I’ll get going here and we’ll be open again in no time, Pete.”

“OK, good. I’ll call the police, but you’ll have to talk with them. I need to go see Luco.”

Spider nodded. “Yeah, go make sure he’s OK. He is still pretty gimpy. I know that Marlee’s been spending a lot of time there, but still…”

He looked at the brick, turned his back, and headed toward the door, “Thanks, Spider. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

“No problem, Pete. We’re Family. Strange and mildly freaky maybe, but Family. Go check on Luco.”

The sun was beginning to peek above the East Bay Hills illuminating the ships in the bay and the already congested lanes on the bridge coming into The City.

Pete pressed the button next to Luco’s name by the door on Stanyan Street. He waited, but got no answer, either on the intercom or the buzzer that unlocked the front door. There was only silence. It had only been ten seconds, but to Pete it felt like an hour.

He pushed on the button again, holding it down, determined to get an answer. Silence. He stepped back onto the sidewalk and looked up at Luco’s front window. The curtain in the window stirred and moved aside. A shadowy face looked down. The curtain fell back in place.

Pete stepped back to the door, ready to lay on that buzzer until he woke up everybody in the building. Just as his finger depressed the button the buzzer unlocked the front door.

Pete rushed into the vestibule and headed for the stairs ready for anything and whoever he’d seen in the window. He struggled to take the stairs as fast as his aging legs would take him. Looking up at the landing he caught his breath when he saw Luco, leaning on his cane, look around the corner.

“Pete, what the hell are you doing?” Luco stage-whispered down the stairs at Pete who had stopped to catch his breath on seeing Luco’s face.

“Luco, are you alright? You OK?”

“What’s the matter, Pete? Get up here before somebody calls the police.”

As he slowly climbed the rest of the stairs up to Luco’s apartment over the bicycle shop Pete gave Luco the basics of what had gone down at the café on Haight Street.

“Oh, Jesus, Pete, is anybody hurt?”

“No, it’s just property damage, but it was all just a way to deliver a message.”

“A message?” asked Luco. What kind of a message? For who?”

Pete reached in his pocket for the note that had been attached to the brick. He handed Luco the folded up note.

“Read this, Luco. It was help to the brick with a rubber band.”

Luco silently read the note. “I don’t share. What does that mean? Share what?”

“You tell me, Luco, but this isn’t any love letter. Somebody doesn’t like you. Any ideas who?”

“Over the years, Pete? I could name half a dozen, but this is insane. ‘Give me another ride.’ What does that mean?”

“I read that,” said Pete, “And I had to come and make sure you were OK.”

“I’m fine, Pete. I’m just half awake, but other than that…”

“I called the police on my way here so I’d better get back to the café,” said Pete. “I left Spider in charge, to talk with them and to start the cleanup.”

“She can handle the police, Pete. Let me shower and I’ll come in. Give me twenty minutes.”

“OK, Luco, but be careful.”

“I’ll be fine.

Standing under the hot water trying to wake up Luco had one phrase from the note going around in his mind.

“I DON’T SHARE.”

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Eight

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Eight

At least the sun was shining and the winds were warm, out of the East, down from the Sierras. The fog was pushed out to sea hiding the offshore Farralon Islands from view. It made San Francisco seem like it was a part of the popular image of a Sunny California.

Luco wasn’t scheduled for release from the hospital for another three days, but he was raising such Holy Hell and threatening to crawl out of the place on his hands and knees that the medical staff voted to give him an early trip home.

“Mr. Reyes, as your doctor I must advise you to give us a couple more days to make sure that your internal injuries are on a healing track. But… as a member of the human race and someone who has to be around you all day I’d just as soon kick you down the stairs. Of course, I’d have to take a number and wait in line for the privilege.”

“Doc, I don’t mean to be trouble, but I hate it here. I’m feeling OK and I want to go home.”

The young doctor, who looked like he was there earning a merit badge, drummed his fingers on the side rail of Luco’s bed.

“Mr. Reyes, you may feel alright, but you’re not. Frankly, you’re lucky to be alive. If I sent you home alone you might end up dead on your bathroom floor before sundown. Of course, if I don’t let you leave, you might succumb to the night nursing staff.”

“I’ve been that much of a pain?” said Luco. He winced as he shifted his weight trying to get comfortable. Looking in the doctor’s eyes, Luco saw a mixture of professional concern and a weighing of the odds with a jury of his peers.

“Pain?”said the young man in the white lab coat. “Mr. Reyes, there was talk of starting a pool to predict which shift would report your sudden and unfortunate death. I’ve been here six years and I’ve never seen a grown man behave in such an immature and irritating manner.”

Luco blushed. He had never been a “good patient.” Even as a child being home sick from school could drive his mother to tears.

“Doc, I’m really sorry if I’ve been difficult. Do you think I should go and apologize to everyone?”

“No, Mr. Reyes, I couldn’t guarantee your safety. I think it best if I just sign your release and get you out of here. Who can tend to you when you get home?”

“I’ll take care of him, Doctor.”

Both men turned their gaze toward the doorway. There stood Marlee, dressed in tan shorts and a striped tank top. A large straw hat and matching bag completed the look.

***

“Oh, Jesus God, why didn’t you just leave me there to die?”

“I told you those steps would be rough, Luco.”

Marlee helped Luco ease himself down onto the sofa.

“Rough I could handle, but those last few steps…. I thought I was going to split open like a ripe watermelon.”

That’s why the doctors wanted to keep you a few more days.” Marlee spread a light throw over his legs. He had his head back, with his arm crossed over his eyes. “Inside, you’re still hamburger according to one of the Interns.”

“I feel like hamburger.” His eyes were closed.

The short ride home and the climb up the 18 steps from Stanyan Street had exhausted Luco’s body and drained his reserve of mental toughness. He fell asleep within seconds.

Luco had maintained that the vehicle that cracked and crushed his body had been steered with malicious intent. There had been no eyewitnesses. The people in the coffeehouse had nothing helpful to add.

The official police report concluded that it could come to no conclusion. There were no unusual skidmarks on the pavement. The intersection of Cole and Waller was busy during the day with diesel buses and tourist’s rental cars. Collisions and skidmarks were not uncommon. When the investigators looked at the scene they just shook their heads. The intersection looked like every other intersection in the city, except for the broken glass and the blood.

Marlee sat down at Luco’s desk and stared out the window. The grassy slopes of Golden Gate Park were still damp from the morning fog as it retreated offshore. The sunlight sparkled off the grass and made the world look clean and inviting.

She turned away from the window and looked at Luco’s sleeping form on the old hotel sofa. With his short hair and relaxed features he looked like a small boy napping. One part of her wanted to take him in her arms and rock him, nurturing, caring, protecting. Another part was coming to accept that she wanted to be held in his arms.

***

Marlee walked down Haight Street after getting Luco settled in and safe. The bright morning sun was shadowed by conflicting emotions. She and Pete from the cafe had arranged for a home healthcare staff to tend to Luco until he was farther along in his recovery.

She was comforted just knowing that he was alive and going to survive his injuries, but she was still scared for him. Luco was so sure that the driver of the van had hit him intentionally. The blend of relief and fear was exhausting. She hadn’t been able to sleep the night before. It was catching up with her now. A good solid week’s worth of deep, comforting, sleep would be good, but she needed to be back at Luco’s apartment. Five hours would have to do.

She made a short detour into the Haight-Central Market to get a couple of onions, some canned tomatoes and a green pepper. Tonight Luco was going to eat her Swiss Steak, whether he was hungry or not. He needed some red meat.

Standing at the counter, Mike, the young Lebanese owner rang up her purchases. He liked Marlee. She never gave him any grief and she never asked for credit.

“Hi, Marlee. How you doing? Don’t take this wrong, but you look terrible. Can’t sleep? Haight Street can get noisy at night.”

“It’s not the noise, Mike. I just haven’t had the chance to get any rest. Hopefully I can grab some this morning.”

As he listened, Mike let his eyes dart up to the large parabolic mirror in the corner. Shoplifting was an ongoing problem on the street and the mirror let him see clearly down both aisles of his small market.

Anyone who tried shoplifting from Mike had to be incredibly stupid. There was only one way out of the store and that was right past Mike and the 9mm pistol he kept tucked in his waistband. It was usually covered by his shirt, but not always. His eyes quickly scanned the store.

“I heard about Luco. Too bad.”

“It was horrible, Mike. He is a very lucky man, just to be alive.”

“A real shame. My brother got killed crossing Stanyan Street a few years ago. They never caught the guy who hit him. My Mother still cries about that.”

“My sympathies, Mike. At least Luco will survive.” She saw Mike’s eyes move up to the mirror. “He was released from the hospital yesterday afternoon. He’s not getting around too well yet. He needs time to recuperate.”

“Good thing he has a friend like you to help him out.” His gaze was fixed on the mirror. “Son of a bitch.”

“What?” Marlee turned and looked up at the mirror.

Crouched down in front of the beer cooler was Dennis Thayer. Marlee and Mike watched him slipping cans of beer into the pockets of his coat.

“Look at that. I finally let him back in here and the first thing he does is try to rip me off again. Marlee, here, take your groceries and get home. Me and this clown are going to have a talk and I don’t want you to be in the middle.”

“Oh, good Lord, Mike, be careful. Do you want me to call the police?”

“No. You go home and get some rest.” He smiled at Marlee, but his eyes stayed glued on the image of Dennis in the mirror. “It’ll be fine. Don’t worry.”

He unfastened the bottom two buttons of his shirt. Marlee could see the textured black grip on the pistol and the polished chrome of the barrel as Mike shifted it and flipped the safety to “off.”

“Marlee, please leave. Now.”

She picked up her plastic carrier bag and, taking one last peek at the mirror, left the store.

“Please be careful, Mike.”

Mike could see that Dennis was heading toward the front of the store.

Marlee hurried across the intersection, her keys out. Opening the front gate to the building, she glanced back and saw the front door at the market swinging shut.

There was little doubt that Mike could take care of himself, but it still made her uneasy. She knew, all too well, how quickly things could go sour and become deadly. Heartbeats are fragile.

“Sleep, girl. Get some rest,” she said out loud as she opened her front door.

Within three minutes the groceries were on the kitchen counter, the blinds were closed, alarm set and Marlee was underneath the soft blankets. Her breathing was slowing and sleep was only seconds in coming. Fives hours would come soon.

“Just a loaf of bread today, Mike.”

“Sure, Dennis. That’ll be $8.87.”

“$8.87? For a loaf of bread?”

“For the bread and for the three beers you have in your pockets.”

“What beer?”

Dennis smiled. He knew that Mike had seen him hide the cans. This was the fun part, the sport of it all. He saw that the front door was closed. It was just the two of them, alone in the store.

“Mike, I’m not trying to rip you off.”

“Thayer, I’ve had it with you. I take pity on you and let you back in my store and you thank me by trying to steal from me again.” He let his hand rest on the butt of the pistol so Dennis would get the message. “Either put the beers on the counter or pay for them. Either way, I don’t want you in here anymore.”

Dennis grinned and fondled the butterfly knife in his left pants pocket. He was enjoying this. The sight of Mike’s 9mm was an added treat.

“Are you threatening me, Mike?”

“Yes, I am you stupid junkie. You think this is a game show we’re playing here?”

Dennis’ smile vanished. Name-calling was out of line. This was just a game. There was no need to get personally nasty.

He pulled the cans of beer from his pockets and, one by one, slammed them down on the counter. They would be undrinkable for hours.

“Don’t call me names, Mike…ever. I don’t like being insulted. You understand me, you stinking camel jockey? There’s your beer. Why don’t you pop one open, Osama?”

“Get out of my store. Don’t come back. No more games with you. Go!”

Dennis pushed open the door. A bright orange Municipal Railway bus was stopped at the corner. He looked back at Mike.

“You’re right about one thing, Mike. No more games.”

Dennis quickly crossed Haight Street and headed down Central toward the Panhandle. He looked up at the 1298 Haight building. He saw the blinds snap shut in the windows of apartment number six.

“So, Miss Marlee, your macho stud is still alive. Don’t get too into playing nursemaid for him. It’s going to be a temporary job.”

It was a dry cleaner, working off $750 in traffic fines by picking up trash in the Park, who found the body of the sixteen-year-old runaway, stuffed into the trash bin behind the playground in the Panhandle.

Rolling Away

 

OH, GOD, IS THIS ANOTHER MONDAY?

I’m retired and I don’t have to get up and go to work anywhere, but my body and soul are reacting like I do. It’s not fair.

I should relate to Mondays like I do to Wednesdays or Saturdays – I think I’ll just roll over and catch a few more winks.

What’s the point of being retired if I respond to Monday mornings by having my stomach clench up like a fist and my brain trying to come up with some good excuses to stay home? Something needs to be done about this – something short of going out, getting a job, and then quitting the job all over again.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Seven

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Seven

The fifth floor of St. Mary’s hospital was indistinguishable from the fourth or the sixth. All of them had the same aqua and “seafoam green” colored walls, recessed lighting and the smell of disinfectant.

Using the hint offered by the helpful nurse in the Emergency Room, Marlee learned that Luco had been moved from “post-op” to room 534. With her heart in her throat Marlee took the large and spotless elevator up to the fifth floor.

Forcing herself not to run madly down the corridor Marlee walked along the painted line on the floor, gazing into each room as she passed the open doors. It was a slide show of semi-private tragedy. She was ashamed of herself for peeking into other people’s lives. Looking ahead she saw several empty gurneys parked along the walls and a large laundry cart filling up half of the hallway.

A man came out of the room just beyond the cart, and as he walked past her, Marlee could see that he was a priest. Doing some quick counting, she guessed that he had come from room 534. She picked up her pace. To Hell with decorum.

“Oh, dear God. Oh, dear God. Please, not Luco, not Luco.”

Another flicker of shame burned her cheeks as she realized that she was wishing the Last Rites onto someone else.

The door to 534 was partially closed. From inside Marlee could hear the sound of someone crying. Slowly, she opened the door, fighting back tears, and entered into the room. All of the lights were off, putting the room into shadowy darkness. The curtain was drawn around bed. Behind the thin green fabric there was sobbing and praying in Spanish. Marlee felt her knees buckle and she had to grab the back of a chair to keep from falling to the floor. A nurse, wearing a stethoscope, pushed the curtain back and saw the reeling Marlee. Over the nurse’s shoulder Marlee saw a gray-haired man on the bed, his eyes and mouth open in death. Gently stroking his papery cheek was the sobbing woman, a look of despair and unbelieving sorrow on her face.

The nurse pulled the curtain closed behind her and looked at Marlee.

“Can I help you? Are you all right?”

“Luco Reyes? I was told he was in this room. I’m his wife.” Marlee moved her left hand behind her back.

“Let’s go out in the hall for a moment,” she said and, taking Marlee by the elbow, led her into the corridor. Once there, she told Marlee the details of what had happened and about the treatment he had received so far. Marlee blanched, hearing how they had cut Luco open to repair his torn lung. His condition was still listed as “Serious”, but barring unforeseen complications, he would survive. Marlee shed tears of joy at this news and asked if she could see him.

“Of course, Mrs. Reyes.”

Silently the nurse took Marlee by the arm again and led her to a second bed sitting by the far window.

There was Luco. Marlee stood and looked at him. He was unconscious with a sheet pulled up high on his chest. He had an intravenous drip line going into his right arm. “He looks so small,” was her first thought.

Marlee took a side chair and sat down next to the bed. The rails were up and he looked like he was sleeping in an aluminum crib.

For the next ten minutes she just sat and looked at Luco. His face was scraped and there were small bandages on his chin and forehead. He was still under the lingering effects of the anesthesia. Lowering the rail, Marlee reached out and smoothed his hair.

“Oh, Luco. My poor, sweet Luco.”

Thoughts of their talk at Martin Macks the previous evening went through her head. “Was that only last night?” She remembered how they had both cried as they told each other the stories of their lives. She recalled the feel of his hand in hers as they walked down Haight Street and how very much she wanted to hold him, but didn’t.

Marlee looked at him and wondered about “unforeseen complications.” Was she going to lose this man from her life? Unconsciously she took his hand. His skin was warm and soft, just like last night.

“Marlee?”

She looked at his battered face. His eyes were slits. “Luco.” Her voice leapt from her throat. She lifted his hand and kissed it.

“Where am I? What happened?” His voice was hoarse. He struggled to focus his eyes, with only marginal success.

Even though his vision was blurred, he could feel her hand on his and turned his palm up, closing his fingers around hers. “Where am I?” She squeezed his hand gently and he squeezed back with a strength that surprised her.

“You’re in the hospital, Luco. You were hit by a car.”

“It must have been a tank.”

“You had surgery last night to fix some damage to your lungs, but you’re going to be fine.” Luco just nodded as he began to lose consciousness again. As the anesthesia wore off the pain medication mixed into his glucose drip would smooth the rough edges, but he would sleep for most of the day.

Marlee got up to lower the blind to keep the glare off of Luco’s serene and regal face. He looked like a king in Marlee’s eyes. Somewhere lost in his lineage, generations ago, there must have been royalty in his family. Even now the bearing and grace shone through.

It wasn’t long before hospital protocol geared up and a tall man in a crisp white linen coat escorted the new widow from her station at her husband’s bedside. As soon as she left the room two muscular men tenderly, respectfully, moved the lifeless body onto a gurney. They covered him with a fresh white sheet and took him away. Marlee could hear the squeaking wheels on the gurney as it rolled slowly down the hallway.

While Luco slept Marlee stayed by his side, watching him, willing him protection from “unseen complications.” Occasionally Luco would stir or moan softly and she would sit up straight and take his hand until he quieted again.

Seeing Luco so helpless and seemingly small in that large metal bed, with tubes running into and out of his limp and injured body, sent her back in time. Back to the night when she cradled the body of her husband in her arms, feeling his life escape, a modern Pieta.

Marlee wanted to crawl into the hospital bed next to Luco and hold him, to come between him and any harm. In her heart she had failed to save Phillip, but she would not fail again. Not this time, not today. Not with this beautiful, scarred soul.

The night before they had laid bare their deepest wounds to each other. It was then that she learned about the real Luco Reyes. It didn’t matter if no one else ever saw past the facade of the flirting, glib barista who traded unanswered invitations with the women who drank in his special brews. Marlee Owens would know the real Luco.

She saw that that cavalier behavior was Luco’s way of staying alive. Get close enough to smell the perfume, but not so close as to inhale the explosive aroma of the woman herself. That he would not, could not, allow himself to do.

Luco was stopped by the idea that to caress too gently, to hold too closely, to care too deeply, would be a betrayal to a Love who was gone and beyond return. All that he had left was the memory and if he let that go he would be lost. That memory was his anchor and he was afraid to search for another.

Marlee knew that she was battling a similar enemy. Despite her dreams of Phillip releasing her, she still held a tangible guilt about her feelings for Luco. In the years since Phillip there had been no one else in her mind or her heart. Now, however, this frail looking man the hospital bed had gently invaded both.

Luco moved his head and Marlee leaned forward. “Luco?” His eyes fluttered and opened. He looked into Marlee’s eyes.

“Te amo,” he whispered. Marlee understood the phrase and searched for the right words with which to answer. She found them deep in her heart. “I love you too, Luco.” She laid her cheek on his hand. He reached over and stroked her hair.

“Te amo, Alicia. Te amo.”

Marlee couldn’t move. Luco continued to run his fingers across her pale blond hair as he spoke in slurred Spanish to his deceased wife. Marlee’s knowledge of Spanish did not allow her to follow all of his words, but he said Alicia’s name several times. As he spoke silent tears spilled from her eyes. Each touch of his hand tore at her heart. How could she ever hope to find love with a man so married to a memory?

When Luco fell silent, Marlee moved his hand and sat back in the chair, looking at him as he slept once again.

Marlee wondered about what was going to happen now. In her mind it was clear that Luco was not ready to love her, or anyone. But she had spoken out loud the words “I love you” to him, even though he had not heard them, she had.

Deep within the hemispheres and ridges of his brain, Luco Reyes was moving from dreamless unconsciousness into a dream-hungry sleep. A mad projector in his brain was flashing images, sounds and people before his mind’s eye. Events raced by at an incoherent rate. Nothing made sense, but he understood that he was subconsciously reviewing and evaluating his life, judging himself in preparation for…for what he did not know.

He was seeing every moment of his marriage and as, in his haunting memory, he sat again at the horrible funerals in the chapel at Mission Dolores. He heard someone call his name.

“Luco?”

He knew the voice.

“Te amo.”

“I love you too, Luco.”

“Te amo, Alicia. Te amo.”

Not knowing how long he would have, he poured out his thoughts to his wife.

“Alicia, I need to tell you that I realize you told me the truth. I have been wrong to cling to you the way I have. It’s been unhealthy and unfair to your memory.

“Alicia, I have met a woman, a beautiful and good woman. She makes me feel like I did when I first saw you. We have talked and she has suffered a great loss in her life too. She understands even though I can’t explain it all to her.

“Alicia, I love this woman. I need this woman. I hunger for this woman.

“Know that I will always love you and Regalito, but this woman makes me want to live again.”

An unheard voice spoke to Luco from the depths of his life.

“Go to her, Luco. Love her.”

In the silence and dim light of the hospital room Marlee sat with her head in her hands, feeling lost in her California exile and thinking that she had lost again to Death. First it was Phillip’s life and now it was her own, to the memory of a dead woman.

She had come almost 3000 miles to get away from a lost love only to have it happen again, but this time it was far more cruel. The man with whom she loved and could not have, was in love with a ghost.

Her thoughts drifted to her cello and she wondered if it was to be her only source of loving sounds in her ear, responsive and giving in her arms and solid and sinuous against her skin.

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Six

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Six

 

 

Dennis heard Marlee close her front door and a quick peek out of his window confirmed it. He pushed aside the stalks of his large red and white hibiscus to follow her with his eyes as she crossed the street and headed up Haight Street. He needed a few minutes. As he watched her pass the corner market he idly plucked a leaf from the hibiscus and stuffed it into his pants pocket.

Grabbing his keys, Dennis went down the steps two at a time. He stopped outside of number six. Using the key that he had stolen from the previous tenant he silently let himself into Marlee’s apartment.

J.P. Cat was sound asleep inside his cardboard box bed. He never stirred when Dennis walked past him and into the bedroom.

Knowing that he was wasting time and risking discovery, Dennis opted to push his luck. “This is what makes it fun,” he said out loud.

He opened the closet and looked at the clothes. He took the sleeve of a white cotton blouse and put it next to his face, inhaling deeply. He closed his eyes, imagining Marlee in the blouse and then bit off the button from the cuff, swallowing it.

Dennis took a step back from the closet and appraised what he saw. “Cheap, frumpy, knockoff, knockoff, Gap, for God’s sake. My mother had one of these. Oh, Miss Marlee, you need a fashion consultant.”

He took a quick trip through her dresser drawers, running his fingers across the fabric and noting her preference for red.

A glance at her clock radio warned him to curtail his pleasure trip and get down to business.

Dennis walked into the kitchen and pulled a four-inch butterfly knife from his back pocket and the hibiscus leaf from the front. He grabbed Marlee’s cutting board from the shelf over the sink as he flipped open the scalpel sharp knife.

He worked rapidly, cutting the leaf into pieces, chopping and dicing the bits smaller and smaller. Using the flat blade he scraped the wooden board clean of every atom of green. He dropped the green slivers on top of the mound of cat food in the blue plastic bowl. He mixed them into the chicken and tuna until they disappeared.

“Let’s see whose door she knocks on when little ‘Just Plain Cat’ starts to vomit his cute yellow head off tonight. ‘Help me, Dennis. Oh, help me’.”

While Marlee was hearing about Luco being hit by a mysterious “hit and run” driver, Dennis was cleaning up after himself. He replaced the cutting board, walked past the still sleeping cat and plucked a CD of Yo Yo Ma playing the cello from the top of the stack. “Now, where did I set that CD?”

Still laughing, he quickly relocked Marlee’s front door and walked slowly back up the steps to the third floor. The morning sun was streaming through the large window on the landing. Dennis could see the Buena Vista Park steps. There was a drug deal going down. He turned around and ran down the stairs and out of the front door.

Dodging a bus and a motor scooter, Dennis ran across Haight Street.

“Hey, you two animals! What do you think you’re doing?”

“Get out of here mister, unless you want hurt. Do you?” The dealer lifted his shirttail to show Dennis the hilt of a large knife.

“Is that supposed to scare me, you subhuman filth?” The teenaged buyer started to back away, wanting no part of what looked about to erupt. Dennis glared at the boy. “Get out of my neighborhood and don’t come back or your ass is mine.” The kid took off running up the hill, scared and anxious to get back to his suburban home.

Just the two angry men were left, facing each other. The dealer pushed his floppy hat back on his head. He stroked his straggly beard as he took the measure of the blonde haired do-gooder.

“You just cost me a hundred bucks, partner. I think you should reimburse me.” He smiled a gap toothed smile at Dennis and casually reached for his knife.

Dennis whipped his butterfly knife from his pocket and had the blade pointed at the dealer before the buck knife had cleared its leather sheath. Dennis stepped closer, backing the longhaired drug pusher up the steps.

“You know what, you damned piece of garbage?”

“What’s that, Batman?”

“I could kill you right here and probably get a medal from the Mayor.”

“Yeah? If you think you’re such a John Wayne, try me. Right here, right now.” He lifted the silvery knife and waved it at Dennis. Before the street dealer could react, Dennis’ hand flew out and sliced his left nostril.

The dealer let out a soft scream and lashed out with his own knife. Dennis sidestepped it and punched the dealer on the side of his head, knocking him to the ground. A small audience of pedestrians, other would-be drug customers and the passengers on a bus parked in the stop zone twenty-five feet away, watched the lopsided fight. The bus driver picked up his radio and summoned the police.

Dennis stood over the prone, bleeding and frightened dealer. The butterfly knife was digging into the eyelid of the man on the ground. Dennis tossed the buck knife into the bank of zinnias and pansies that lined the sidewalk.

“Pay attention to me. I’m only going to say this once. I could kill you right now, but I won’t. It wouldn’t be any fun and if it’s not fun, why do it. Right? Right, Idiot?”

“Right. Fun.”

“So…I’m letting you go…for now.”

He lifted the bloody faced criminal to his feet and, careful to not get any blood on himself, ran the razor sharp edge of his knife in a swift race down the bridge of the dealer’s nose, peeling the flesh away, down to the cartilage. Another scream and more blood were released onto the stone steps. “Now, run for your life.”

The wounded and humiliated drug merchant ran up the grassy hill, into the Park, disappearing and leaving a red trail on the lawn.

Dennis turned around and saw the small assembly that had witnessed it all. His face was red from the anger and the stress of the encounter. He had a headache and an erection.

“What? What are you looking at? Get out of here and don’t come back.” He waved the knife in the air and started down the steps. The people moved out of his way. Nobody wanted anything to do with him.

The police squad car arrived ten minutes later and found nothing but a smear of red on the steps and a trail of more red on the grass leading up “Hippie Hill” deeper into Buena Vista Park.

Dennis stared at his door. He looked around the hallway and rechecked the brass numbers. “This is number eight? She lives in number six.”

He looked at his wristwatch. Twenty minutes had passed, but he had no memory of going into Marlee’s apartment, no memory of going through her clothes, no memory of poisoning the cat food. Dennis sniffed at his fingers. He could smell the hibiscus leaf. “Why am I sweating?”

There was only one beer left in the refrigerator. Dennis took it and plopped down on his sofa. It was hard to tell if the garish ruby lips were spitting him out or about to swallow him whole. He knew the beer was a mistake in light of the Percodan he had just taken dry. He pulled the tab and heard the welcoming rush of air into the can. He wanted it. He needed it and there was a third reason, but it was too faded to make out.

As he drank and the painkiller roared through his bloodstream, the present was disappearing behind a resurgent past. Morning was being painted over by Midnight and San Francisco was becoming the Boston of seven years previous.

 His desire had always been to be a man of Science, but, as a 21 year-old, middle of his class graduate in chemistry, his superiors at the University Hospital kept demanding that he stick to his duties as a lab technician. He hated doing the same tests, over and over again, day after day.

“Let somebody else do this. I’m a researcher. I’m out on that cutting edge of discovery. Or I would be if you’d stop demanding that I waste my time doing tox screens on rent-a-cops. Give me the tools and I can cure the world.”

Dennis moved from job to job, sliding from the prestigious and endowed to the threadbare and under-funded, downward to the fraud-ridden Medicare mills. He always had the same complaints and always ended up on the sidewalk ranting at a closed and locked door.

It’s a small world and it didn’t take long for him to gain a reputation as a troublemaker and an all-around pain in the ass. Even the pet hospitals turned him away.

Dennis was a good-sized young man and he was never late for work. That was a ringing endorsement for the Manager at Novicky Moving and Storage.

It wasn’t science, but it paid enough to cover his expenses and there were the unofficial perks: almost unlimited opportunities for petty theft from the customers and very limited dealings with bosses.

Dennis refurnished his apartment with items “lost in transit” from the moving van. The customers had little recourse. They rarely bought the overpriced and worthless insurance coverage.

His prize piece of booty was the sofa stolen from another recent Harvard grad. Somehow, the sofa, shaped like a pair of bright red lips was “lost” during the short drive from Cambridge, across the Charles River, into Boston and to a new condo near the Massachusetts General Hospital complex.

Even though it wasn’t his dream job and there were no likely cures to be discovered in the back of a truck, Dennis did the work and was surprised to find that he enjoyed the companionship of the men in the crew.

Some were ex-cons and drifters who stayed only long enough to get rearrested or scrape up a stake to get to the West Coast. There were others who came from failed academic backgrounds, either alcoholic professors on the skids or men like Dennis – perpetual square pegs.

It was during a job on Gainesborough Street, near Symphony Hall, that Dennis’ life was changed. They were moving a stereo cabinet from a fourth-floor walkup. Coming down off a narrow landing, Dennis slipped. He felt and heard something tear in his back.

Rest didn’t help much. When he tried to lift anything over 25 pounds it felt like someone was driving white hot nails into his lower back.

The other men in the crew liked Dennis. He pulled his weight and bought a round now and then. They decided to help him.

One of the guys, a wiry man known as “Zigzag”, fresh out of Walpole State Prison, gave Dennis a handful of pills. “It’s called ‘O.C’ and it’ll fix you up good, Dude.”

Dennis had been in enough labs to know that “O.C.” was an opium derivative called “Oxycontin”, and addictive as hell, but the pain was keeping him from working. No work, no money…no money, and he’d end up working for guys like Zigzag. He took the pills and kept working.

Dennis thought he could deal with the danger of addiction, but he couldn’t get around the side effects. His growing paranoia made him hard to work with. He thought that the other men were dumping the heavy loads on him, slacking off while he did their work.

Things got worse when Zigzag was arrested for setting up a drug lab in the basement of his apartment building. Dennis had to get his pills off the street and his brain told him that Zigzag was going to implicate him in the lab fiasco. Dennis ran. He left Boston and headed west

It took two years of day labor and five doomed attempts at kicking his addiction before Dennis rode a bus across the Golden Gate Bridge. It was as far as he could run without getting wet.

Still paranoid about Zigzag, he avoided going back to work as a mover. He was living in the sordid “Fogtown Hotel” in the Tenderloin when he saw the ad for “Manly Maids.”

After a year of working 60 hour weeks, saving every spare penny and being mugged six times on the street, Dennis found an apartment in The Haight. Far from being an improvement as he had hoped, the move to 1298 Haight punched his ticket on the express train to Insanity.

The first time…Dennis laid his head down on the sofa as he tried to recall the first time, the first murder. He remembered doing it, but not in any reproducible imagery. It was the feel of his fists hitting soft flesh. It was the sound of his own heavy breathing and the final gasps and silence from the other person. It was the sweaty stench of the man’s crusty jacket and the sweet piquancy of the blood. It was the roaring headache beforehand and the soft tones of restful sleep afterward.

The man Dennis beat to death that first night in the Panhandle was a street dealer who had sold him placebos instead of actual Vicodin. When the pain didn’t go away his rage was triggered and ignited a headache that threatened to “split me open and let the universe see my degradation.” 

Dennis went hunting.

After the first, it became easier, and more importantly to Dennis, it became a mission. He was a drug user, yet he saw the path to his salvation lined with dead drug dealers. Save the soul of the user by eliminating the occasion of sin.

When the pain was not relieved and the rage was too much to bear, Dennis would cruise through the streets looking for the young, vulnerable and dealing. He was known to the people on the street as a regular customer, so going into the shadows with him was not considered a risk.

Dennis would lull his targets into the Panhandle, a driveway or a hidden spot in the bushes. When the drugs were presented his knife would appear and, with the surety of the saved, he would plunge the blade into the throat of his prey. Swift, sure and fatal, but not enough to make his message understood. There had to be something more, a warning to the other dealers.

That is why Dennis started his mutilations. To make his point, his final cut was a paring down the bridge of the nose. Destroy the face, he reasoned, and make the world see them as all alike, creating the agony that would drive a decent man like himself to such necessary extremes.

Dennis was sure that, if it were not for the drugs, his life would be pain free and filled with joy and the love of a faithful woman. But the drugs did exist and his life wasn’t pain free and filled with joy and the women weren’t faithful, even Marlee. Didn’t he see her first? Didn’t he bring her gifts? Didn’t he show her that he found her desirable? She, however, had shown her favor for that lowlife coffee puller who thought of her as just another notch on his bedpost. Well, as of last night, Luco Reyes was out of the picture and now he could get back on track to woo and take Marlee for his own.

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Five

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Five

She spent the next hour following the kitten around the apartment. When he climbed into the litter tray he let out a high-pitched meow to let her know that a little privacy was in order. She was learning about cats.

In the kitchen she set up his food and water. She loved his matching blue plastic bowls. With the supplies that Dennis had given her, J.P. was taken care of for at least a week.

Marlee was happy to have something to take care of, to help her exercise her nurturing side.

“Luco,” she said out loud. “I’ve got to tell him about this and that Dennis and I have worked things out.”

Better than nothing at all, she took a “bird bath”: a quick washing of strategic, sweaty pits. Another shower would have been best after her cello workout and the frenzy with Dennis and the new cat, but she was anxious to see Luco.

From the moment she walked through the door of the People’s Cafe, Marlee could see that something was wrong. Luco was not behind the counter. Instead, the strawberry blonde, looking angry and exhausted was there pulling Lattes. She had worked until closing last night and here she was early the next morning.

The owner, Pete, was busy spreading cream cheese, too much of it, on a sesame bagel. He rarely came into the cafe before noon.

“Good morning, Pete. I didn’t expect to see you here this early in the day. Where’s Luco?”

Pete looked up from his chore. There were tears in his eyes. Marlee’s heart stopped.

“Pete? Where’s Luco?”

“Miss,” he said in his lightly accented English that hinted at his Middle Eastern roots. “Luco is in the hospital.”

“Oh, dear God, what happened? Is he sick? Has he been hurt?”

“He was run over by a car last night, a hit and run.”

Marlee grabbed the edge of the counter to steady herself. She felt her legs turning to rubber. Her hands were ice cold. “No, not again” raced through her brain.

Pete had stopped working on the bagel. “He is like my own boy. According to the newspaper, it was very bad.”

“Where is he? I’ve got to go to him.”

In the moments following his discovery by the Paramedics, Luco was deemed the most seriously injured survivor. He was in shock and broken ribs had collapsed a lung. That much they could diagnose there on the sidewalk, in the dark, amid the crying and moaning of the other victims.

A second and then a third Emergency unit arrived. St Mary’s Hospital was notified that multiple casualties were 5 minutes out.

Luco was the first person transported to the nearby hospital on Stanyan Street, on the far side of the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park. He had numerous cuts and abrasions, but the life-threatening injuries were internal. The broken ribvoices had done more than just puncture his lung. It had nicked the pulmonary artery and he was in danger of drowning in his own blood.

While the medical team worked to save Luco’s life, a clerical aide went through Luco’s wallet searching for identification and contact information. If things went badly, decisions would have to be made.

The bored aide looked at everything and sorted it all into small piles. There was a driver’s license, a plastic library card, an ATM card from Wells Fargo Bank and a Blue Cross card. In another neat stack he put fourteen dollars in cash. Tucked away in the center section of the wallet, he dug out two more items: a dog-eared business card for a band called “Besame” and a color photograph of a pretty young woman in a nurse’s uniform.

Behind the glass doors down the hall seven people in green scrubs hovered over the unmoving form of a man with jet-black hair and the muscular body of a fighter.

The noise level in the room went down noticeably when the medical team stabilized Luco’s vital signs. They then passed him onto the OR people who would deal with the internal bleeding and broken bones.

From the moment Luco was wheeled through the ER’s automatic doors until he rolled into surgery was only seven minutes. The paper traces of his life were left behind and overlooked in the mayhem.

At the Nurse’s station, amid the usual furor of a Friday night, a man’s life sat in untidy piles. People hurried by, intent on one task or another. An intern set her coffee cup down on top of a picture of the pretty young nurse. No one noticed.

On the fourth floor the surgical team, led by a doctor from Malaysia who looked fourteen, but who had more time in an operating theater than anyone on staff, smiled and told someone to turn up the music. Tonight he wanted John Coltrane to assist.

The damage from the broken ribs was not as bad as it first looked in the initial X-rays. There was bleeding and there were tears in the lung tissue, but it would heal after some needlework from the surgeon. The dislocated hip was an orthopedic matter. The “bone people” fixed that in short order and two hours after entering St. Mary’s, Luco was in Post-Op, alive and sleeping the dark, dreamless sleep of anesthesia.

Marlee ran, not sped, not flew, not raced, but ran toward St. Mary’s Hospital. She ran, filled with fear of what she might find when she got there.

Her heart pounded as she crossed the Panhandle. It would have been pounding just as hard even if she had hailed a taxi. The few blocks to the hospital were a congested area, always filled with traffic. Tourists, local residents, hospital visitors and students from the nearby University of San Francisco combined to create a nonstop gridlock in the area. Marlee would get to the hospital quicker on foot and it let her burn off some of the undertow of emotion that was threatening to pull her down.

The morning fog was still hanging in the trees. It looked like it might be one of those San Francisco days when it never completely burned off. The red lettering on the hospital signs were blurred at the edges. The letters were almost illegible in the mixture of fog, tears and sweat that burned in Marlee’s eyes.

The automatic doors opened and Marlee, out of breath and in a near panic, paused a bare moment to collect her thoughts, then walked into the whirlwind of the Emergency Room. There were people moving in every direction. Injured men and women walked around, in too much pain to just sit and wait quietly. The staff, dressed in various colored coats and uniforms moved around in an educated frenzy.

Looking around for someone, anyone who could tell her what had happened, who could take her to Luco, Marlee walked up to the receiving desk.

She tried to ask a tired looking doctor, but he turned and walked away, not even hearing her. A rumpled young resident did the same. He had been on duty for eighteen hours. She moved down the counter to a man who was sorting through some papers. Frustrated, she reached over the counter top and put her hand on his papers.

“Sir, sir, please help me.” He looked up at her. His eyes said that it had been a difficult shift.

“What can I do for you, Miss?”

“I’m trying to locate Luco Reyes. He was brought in here last night. He was hit by a car.”

“Reyes? Are you family?”

“No. I’m a friend. Please where is he? How is he? Can I see him?”

“I’m very sorry.” Her heart froze. “I’m sorry, but unless you’re family, I can’t give out any information on patients.” He looked down again at his papers, hoping that she would just go away and bother someone else.

“Please don’t do this,” she begged. The clerk refused to look up. In her frustration and rage Marlee reached out and swept his papers off the painted veneer and onto the floor. He looked up.

“Don’t ignore me. Please, where is Luco Reyes?” He glared up at her, silently cursing her for complicating the last few minutes of his workday.

Marlee felt as if she was going to explode. Her head was throbbing. Not knowing what else to do, she stepped back from the receiving desk, looked around, closed her eyes and let loose a blood-curdling scream. Even the people who were along the far wall sleeping off last night’s drugs opened their eyes and looked at her. Security guards came running. Two doctors poked their heads out from behind drawn curtains, expecting another trauma. They got one.

“Luco Reyes,” Marlee yelled to the whole room. “Please, all I need to know is…is he alive. Someone, anyone, tell me that much or I’m going to die right here.” She believed that it was true.

A middle-aged nurse walked up to the counter and picked up a black binder that was sitting next to the clerk who had been sorting papers. She turned several pages, paused to read a moment, and then looked up into Marlee’s fearful face.

“He was admitted. Go to the Lobby desk and they can help you see him and, Honey, tell them that you’re his wife.”

“Oh, God. Thank you. Thank you for telling me. The Lobby desk? How do I get there?”

Pointing over Marlee’s quivering shoulders, the nurse said, “Take that elevator to the Main floor and follow the green stripe on the floor.” Marlee turned and rushed across the crowded room to the elevator.

The nurse bent over to pick up the papers that Marlee had knocked to the floor.

“You know,” said the clerk, “That was a violation of hospital policy. I should report this.”

The exhausted nurse looked at the small picture of the pretty young woman in a nurse’s uniform. She dropped it on the desktop.

“Marty?” she said with the night’s weariness in her voice.

“Yes?”

“Screw you.”

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Four

 

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Four

 

It was already 65 degrees at 7 A.M. With a high-pressure system out in the Pacific and a warm wind coming down from the High Sierras, it promised that things would be heating up in San Francisco. This Sunday would be a day for shorts and a tank top.

Marlee was up and feeling invigorated by a restful night’s sleep and a hot shower. She had already started her wash in the basement laundry room and had a few minutes to kill until it was ready for the dryers. The vague memory of last night’s dreams led her into the bedroom. She got down on her knees, reached under the bed and slid out the black, hard plastic cello case protecting, at one time, the most important thing in her life.

Marlee carried it onto the sunny living room. It never seemed heavy to her. She had been toting around her cello since high school and she liked its heft. It had a substantial quality that carried over into her playing.

Over the years audiences and critics alike, upon seeing this slim young woman take the stage, had dismissed her off hand as an ornament. It was when she played, coaxed and cajoled the music from the strings and wood that they fell under her powerful spell. Many reviews commented that she handled the cello with the tenderness of a lover and the brute strength of a longshoreman.

When Marlee was onstage people believed that the music came from her and that the cello was merely an instrument of transmission. She was in total control and never wavered or hesitated.

She got one of her dining room chairs and set by the bay window so that the sun would wash over her as she played. Seated in the chair she stared at the case, sizing it up like a boxer waiting for the bell to ring.

The sun played off the varnished wood and it flared into her eyes. She slid the bow from its place and the small tuning fork as well.

She lifted the cello out of the case and adjusted the tail spike. The neck felt hard and strange in her hand. She had not played in months and both she and the cello were out of tune.

Marlee opened her thighs and welcomed home her first love. The varnished curves of the fire-blasted Maplewood felt warm and clinging against the skin on her legs and she wondered why more women didn’t take up the cello.

She tapped the tuning fork on the windowsill and checked to see how much tuning would be necessary.

“Not bad,” she said with a smile and made some adjustments to the tuning pegs and left the fine tuners alone.

She picked up the bow again, tightened the hair and began to do some simple scales and arpeggios. It felt good and sounded comfortable and “at home.”

Tonic, Dominant, Sub-dominant. Triads. Yampulsky’s Exercises: scales in four octaves, chords and harmonics. Faster. Louder. She heard the overtones as her fingers danced up and down the carved wooden neck of the 80 year-old French instrument.

She also heard a scraping sound and then a loud thump from the apartment above. Her fingers froze in mid-arpeggio. Dennis was home.

In her hunger to play again, she had forgotten that it was still only a little past 8:00 A.M. on Sunday morning. She would have to find a practice space.

Marlee waited, and hearing nothing more from up above, resumed her exercises, but softly. She fought the urge to tear into some Baroque Period piece by J.S. Bach, just to feel it in her hands. She resisted because it would have gotten raucous and also because she was out of practice and would not have done it justice. Another time. Today was a day for getting reacquainted with the instrument and for it to do the same with her.

As they age, fine musical instruments take on a patina. The highly buffed varnish on hers had an almost 3-dimensional quality and glowed as if there was a fire inside the F-holes, shining through and heating every note.

Such quality does not come cheaply. Marlee’s cello cost her over $32,000, the bow was over $3,000 and a decent set of four strings was at least $100. Someday she hoped to step up to a first-class kit. At the top there were those made by Stradivarius. The genius from Cremona made more than just violins, but those were very rare and far beyond Marlee’s credit line.

It felt so natural and right to be playing again, even if it was so muted that she could barely hear it, but the vibrations were there.

Leaning in close to the strings, embracing the cello, Marlee poured out her emotions, hopes and fears through the silver tipped bow. Bach, Vivaldi and Mozart responded to her touch across the centuries.

She had worked up a sweat, but it was the sweat of sweet accomplishment. A quick wipe with a towel and a glass of juice would get her ready for another round of exercises. She could already feel the burn in the muscles of her arms.

With the refrigerator door wide open, she stood there drinking straight from the carton. Nobody else was there to scold her. The cold air felt good on her skin. She shivered.

As she put the half empty carton back on the shelf next to some white grapes that were getting too ripe, the doorbell rang, quickly followed by several short raps on her apartment door.

“Oh, get real. It was so low I couldn’t even hear it myself.”

At the door she looked through the security peephole, but couldn’t see anyone.

“Who is it?”

“Marlee, it’s me, Dennis Thayer.”

“Go away.”

“Please, I need to talk with you. I have to apologize.”

“Apology accepted. Now, go away.”

“Marlee, please. I have behaved badly.”

“Behaved badly? You attacked me.”

“You’re right.” He had his face up against the door. “I was way out of line, but I have to explain.” Marlee stood silently, glaring at her side of the door. “I have a medical condition and I’d rather not discuss standing out here in the hallway, if you know what I mean.”

“I don’t know, Dennis. I’m still very angry.”

“I know and that’s why I need to talk with you face to face. Please, let me in and I can explain everything.” He lowered his voice, forcing her to move closer to the door.

“I’m really a nice guy, a pussycat even. Meow.” Unseen by Marlee, he rubbed up against the door and licked the wood. “Meow.”

Marlee smiled at his cat impression and leaned against the door, thinking. Dennis had gotten out of line, but she had been able to handle him easily. He was a strange one, but also charming and witty.

“Marlee? Are you still there?” His voice was soft and pleading. “Meow.”

“OK, Dennis, but know this: any funny business and I’ll toss you out the window in front of a bus.”

“No funny business, I swear.”

Despite the hard bits of foreboding in her stomach, she turned the deadbolt and opened the door to a smiling Dennis Thayer.

He stood there in her doorway, dressed in chinos and a bright green Polo shirt. With his blonde curls just touching his eyebrows, he looked like a Preppie leprechaun.

The man had a twinkle in his eyes that made people want to invite him into their lives. In one hand he was holding a pot of steaming coffee and in the other, a rose colored plate piled high with croissants.

He gave Marlee a nod. “I hope you have some cream and some jam.”

He walked past her, into the dining room. “I hope you like croissants. They are so melt in your mouth delicious. And these are still warm. Honey, they are to die for.”

She followed him into the room. “Dennis, I don’t want breakfast. You said you wanted to explain why you attacked me when I was trying to help you. Get on with it. What should I know about the man living above me?”

He set down the coffee and reached for the cups and saucers on the built-in buffet next to the table.

“What should you know? Well, let’s see. Oh…you should know that I usually like to sleep late on Saturday mornings.”

Marlee took a deep breath as he reprimanded her.

“I’m sorry about that, Dennis. I forgot about the thin walls and floors in this old building. I’m sorry I woke you.”

“That’s OK, but it makes a lousy alarm clock. Some of the people in this building might complain, but not me. I’m in a good mood this morning.”

She caught his non-complaining complaint about her music, but since she felt that it was deserved, she let it go. His cheerful mood relaxed her. Her agitation and anger ebbed as she went into the kitchen for some utensils, plates, butter and the half pint carton of half ‘n half she had picked up across the street the night before.

“I don’t have any jam. Do you like sugar for you coffee?”

“Yes, please.”

“It’s in the kitchen. I couldn’t carry it all. On the shelf next to the microwave.”

“I’ll get it.” He went into the kitchen as Marlee arranged the place settings. He picked up the sugar bowl and a few paper napkins from the top of the refrigerator. Marlee moved a small vase filled with Sweet Williams in from the living room.

“A centerpiece. How elegant, Miss Marlee.”

Marlee tensed a bit when she realized that he was standing behind her. He had a habit of silently entering the room. It unnerved her.

He pulled out her chair and, even though a bit uneasy, she allowed him to play the gentleman.

“Shall I pour,” he asked.

Over the clink of knives, plates, cups and saucers, Dennis carried on a nonstop monologue about how happy he was, the weather, anything, but the reason he said that he needed to be there.

“Dennis, stop it!”

“Stop what?” he said as he paused to take a big bite of his buttered croissant.

“You said you needed to talk with me. You begged to be let in. I don’t think it was to give me a weather report.”

“I’m just making sociable chitchat.”

“Dennis, you said you came here to apologize for pawing me in your apartment. Let’s hear it.”

He looked at her, unblinking. He wasn’t used to being spoken to with such directness, especially by women. From women he expected reverential doting, like from his mother, polite helpfulness, like the girls who bagged his groceries at the Safeway, or eventual, fearful surrender to his will. Marlee’s controlled quiet was unfamiliar. One side of him found her strength arousing, while another part of him thought it was too masculine and unattractive.

When he didn’t speak, she went on.

“Let me show you how it’s done. ‘I apologize for playing my cello this early and waking you up.’ There, now it’s your turn.”

“Oh, Miss Marlee, there’s no need to apologize again about the music. It was really quite lovely.”

“Get out.”

“What? Why?”

“Get out of my apartment.” She stood up and looked down at him.

“I’m sorry. You’re right. How stupid of me. Please sit down. You’re making me feel so small, like a boy being scolded by his mother. That hurts and you’re not a hurtful person. Are you, Marlee?”

She sat down.

“You have five seconds to start this apology business or I’ll throw you out of here.” She looked him in the eyes, hoping her nervousness didn’t show. It did.

“Five…four…”

“Marlee, you’re right, as always. Please allow me to sincerely and deeply apologize for my behavior. You offered me nothing but kindness and hospitality and I acted like a boorish jerk.

“I have a chemical imbalance in my brain and it can throw me for a real loop. On top of that and the pain killers, about which you already know, the night before your beautiful and delicious brunch, at which, incidentally, you served some of the best hollandaise I’ve ever had. I’d love to get the recipe from you. Do you use fresh lemon juice? I think that’s the key, don’t you.”

“Three…two…”

“Oh, sorry. The night before your brunch I couldn’t sleep from the pain and I took a couple of Vicodin. One used to do the trick, but not any more. And, when I drank that champagne, well it just hit me like a moving van.

“I needed your help getting home, obviously, and I guess that my barbaric and uncivilized nature came out and I…Oh, Marlee. I am so sorry. I am not that kind of man at all.

“From what I recall, you put me on my ass. I don’t remember the details, but I’ll always have the pictures. What did you do to me? I could barely walk for two days.

“I know that what I did was wrong and it was stupid and I swear that I will never, ever, do anything like that again. Please forgive me.  I feel like I should be doing an act of contrition. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.” He tapped his heart three times as he chanted.

He looked at her, not knowing what else to say to convince her of his regret.

“Am I forgiven?”

Marlee didn’t say a word. She took a sip of coffee and stared at him over the lip of the cup.

“Marlee? I apologize. Please forgive me.”

“I forgive you, Dennis, but you have a problem with those pills that needs addressing.”

“I know. I’m going to the Free Clinic about that. They’ve assigned me a counselor.”

“There’s one more thing I need to bring up before I can feel comfortable with you again.”

“What’s that?”

“The pictures. All those photographs on the walls of your bedroom.”

“Its ‘The Haight.’ I take pictures of the neighborhood. It’s my Art.”

“You told me you were a sculptor.”

“I am. I take the photographs and mold them onto forms. ‘Photographic Sculpture’ I call it.”

“You had a picture of me on your wall. A shot of me and Luco Reyes.”

“Well, aren’t you part of The Haight now?”

He waved his hands in the air as if to say, “I thought that was self-evident.”

“I’m sorry. I never meant to offend you.”

“I took it down, Dennis, and ripped it up. I’m sorry too. I was just so shook up by what had just happened. I saw that picture and I felt…”

“Violated?”

“Yes, violated by that picture.”

He nodded. “It will never happen again. I promise you.”

Marlee refilled both their cups.

“You know, Luco warned me about you. He said that you were trouble. He called you a ‘bad egg.’”

“He and I have had our problems. It was all my fault, but I bumped into him last night and I think that my problems with him are a thing of the past.”

“Oh, I’m glad to hear that. I know only two men in San Francisco and I don’t want them hating each other.”

Dennis wiped his hands with his napkin and extended his hand across the wooden table. “Friends again?”

Marlee looked at him, her head tilted and her eyes, slits. Just as his smile began to fade a big grin appeared on her face. “Friends again, and I hope forever.” She took his offered hand and they made an exaggerated shake.

“Oh, this is silly,” bubbled Dennis as he got up and came around the table. “Give us a hug.” They gave each other a big bear hug and exchanged “Hollywood Kisses.”

“Miss Marlee, I am so glad we are friends again because I already got you a little gift to celebrate.”

“Dennis, no. I don’t want you spending your money on gifts for me.”

“Don’t worry. It’s nothing. Let me go get it. I’ll be right back.” He hurried out of the door and took the stairs two at a time. Marlee moved over to the door and listened as he quickly came back down from the third floor. He was carrying a large cardboard box. She had to move so he could get it through the door. He set it down on the living room floor.

“Dennis, you crazy nut, what in the world is it?”

He grinned like a circus clown and with a flourish, lifted off the lid.

“Ta DA!”

“Oh, my God, Dennis. What have you done?”

Dennis squatted down, reached into the box a held up a small, yellow kitten.

Marlee put her hand over her mouth to stifle a scream of delight.

“Good Lord. It’s a kitty cat.”

“I know that, girl. I brought him here, remember?”

They were both laughing. The past was seemingly forgotten.

“Miss Marlee Owens, I’d like you to meet Mr. J.P. Cat. Marlee, J.P., J.P., Marlee.” She reached out and shook the kitten’s tiny paw.

“J.P.? What does that stand for?”

“I think it stands for ‘Just Plain’. He is ‘Just Plain Cat’,” said Dennis as he put the cat down.

Marlee got down on the floor and petted the animal as he hopped around inside the box.

“He is just the cutest little thing, but I can’t accept him. I love him already, but I’ve never had a cat before. I don’t know anything about cats.”

“There’s nothing to it.”

“Is he housebroken?”

“Already done. Momma cat teaches them the proper etiquette. Wait here, I’ll be right back.” Again he bounded up the stairs. She could hear him running around his apartment.

Marlee lifted J.P. Cat high overhead as he mewed and pawed at the air. She was definitely smitten with the tiny, yellow ball of fuzz.

Inside the box was a red foam rubber ball the size of a small peach. She set J.P. on the floor and then rolled the ball toward him. He watched it roll by and scampered after the bright red toy, losing traction and sliding into the side of the steamer trunk coffee table. Marlee was fascinated by this furry little bounce of life.

“Isn’t he sweet?” Dennis was back and holding another cardboard box. “I’ve got a few of the necessities here.” He set it down and J.P. scurried over to investigate.

“All right, here are a few things that you and J.P. will need. It’s not much.”

“Dennis, I have to tell you, I am so in love with this little guy. J.P. is so precious.”

“Ain’t he though? I got him from a friend who just got transferred to Terre Haute, Indiana of all places.

“Anyway, here we have the most important item – the litter tray. I’ll set it up for you.”

For the next ten minutes Dennis and Marlee sat on the floor like two kids on Christmas morning going through their toys. They held each item out for the little kitten to sniff. He was learning about his new home.

“Dennis, I am just flabbergasted. I’ve never thought about getting a cat, but now, after just a few minutes, I can’t imagine life without him, Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I thought you two would make a ‘Love Connection’.”

“More coffee? I think it’s still hot.”

“No, thanks. I have to go. You know, places to go, people to see. Maybe later.”

Marlee walked him to the door.

“Dennis, I am so glad that we have things worked out between us.”

“Me too.”

“And J.P. will be here whenever you want to come down and play.”

She gave him a hug and kissed him on the cheek. Dennis smiled from ear to ear. His smile didn’t disappear until he closed the door to his apartment, leaving Marlee behind.

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Three

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Three

“You OK, Sport?”

The voice came from beyond the light. Luco opened his eyes and put his hands up to block the painful beam.

“I said, are you OK? Oh, Hi, Luco.”

“What? Who is it?” As the light was lowered Luco dropped his hands.

“Luco, it’s Dave Mulroy, from over at the Park Station. They got a call about a crazy man on the Buena Vista steps. I was nearby, so…are you OK? The reports said you were yelling.”

“I’m sorry. I’m fine, Dave. Just not ready to sleep yet, I guess.”

“Do you want me to give you a lift?”

“No, thanks. The walk will do me good.”

“OK, Luco, but be careful.”

The police officer pressed the key on his radio and spoke into the microphone on his lapel.

“4210 here. Everything is fine on the 5150 at BV Park. Just a husband afraid to go home.” He shook Luco’s hand, walked down the steps and drove off into the night. Luco stood up and headed in the opposite direction, up Haight Street, toward home.

While he was quiet the rest of Haight Street was active and alive with the sounds of a weekend in the city. The traffic on both the sidewalks and the roadway was bumper to bumper. It was too much for Luco. He turned left at the corner of Ashbury and walked past the Gap store, up the hill to Waller Street. On Waller he left the crowds behind. His way home on Waller, a residential street, would be quiet, with flowering trees hanging low over the sidewalk. His change of route made Dennis Thayer smile, if you could call the tilted stretch of his mouth a smile.

Dennis had watched Luco sitting on the Park steps in the rear view mirror of his van. He had shadowed Marlee and Luco from the moment they left Martin Macks, watching them, and getting angrier with each touch and shared word. He couldn’t hear them, so he supplied his own obscene dubbed in dialogue. In his mind he was sure that they were exchanging the details of what they were planning to do with each other’s body.

When Marlee went inside alone and Luco moved over to the stone steps by the Park, he was certain that it was to make a drug buy to spark their greasy rutting.

“God bless the Police for ruining their plans for tonight,” he said to no one. “And now I’m going to ruin their plans for good.”

He watched Luco move wearily up Haight Street and pulled out into traffic to follow him home. When Luco turned off and went up the hill, Dennis had to make a quick change of plans. He stayed on Haight, sped up and made his left turn at Cole Street, several block further on. He backed his dark gray Dodge van into the driveway of a brightly painted Victorian house. Its vibrant colors were muted by the darkness. The van was all but invisible in the shadows, and it offered an unobstructed view down Waller Street.

The comparative silence of Waller Street was welcome as Luco walked slowly, pausing to take in the aromas of the blooming lilac bushes. This had been an amazing night and he knew that his life was never going to be the same. Dennis Thayer was forming a similar thought as he saw Luco step into the pool of light under the streetlamp at the corner of Waller and Cole.

Luco stopped and looked at the small cafe on the opposite corner. They were still open. He thought that maybe a cup of chamomile tea might help him get a restful sleep rather than spend a fitful night, exhausted but restless. It was only two minutes from home and here he wouldn’t have to wait for the water to boil. In the van, Dennis was drumming his fingers on the steering wheel and talking out loud to Luco.

“Come on, come on, come on, come on, you son of a bitch. I saw her first.”

Luco stepped off the curb, set to jaywalk across the intersection. His tired eyes focused on the warmly lit interior of the small cafe. Dennis turned the key in the ignition and slipped the van into gear, headlights off.

Luco looked around and saw that there was no traffic for at least a block in any direction. His path was safe.

When Luco was halfway across the intersection, Dennis pulled out of his driveway hiding spot and pushed the accelerator toward the gray carpeted floor. He was giggling.

The next two seconds seemed to move through glue. Luco heard the roar of the van’s engine as it revved up. He turned to look and saw the van coming straight at him. He was trapped; not knowing which way would be his salvation. Dennis flipped on the headlights. He wanted to watch this.

Luco desperately moved to his right, hoping to get out of the way. Dennis matched his move. The headlights were blinding Luco. The survival instinct took over and Luco made a wild dive for the space between two parked cars. Dennis anticipated him and got there first.

The right front bumper of the speeding van hit Luco while he was in midair. His right hip took the force of the blow and lifted his body higher above the pavement. The off-center impact made his body propeller through the air. Head first; Luco hit the hood of a Ford Tempo. His shoulders peeled off the wiper blades as he bounced across the windshield.

Still airborne and spinning, he flew over the sidewalk and slammed, spine first, into the large window of the cafe. The plate glass shattered, sending jagged shards knifing into the crowded room. It was a glittering rain of shrapnel.

The van veered back into the center of the street as Dennis felt the satisfying dull thud of Luco’s body against sheet metal and chrome.

It was chaos on the corner of Waller and Cole. Inside the cafe, the flying glass had instantly killed a young man seated by the window. Several other customers were injured, cut and bleeding on the black and white checkerboard floor.

It was five minutes before the first ambulance arrived. It was ten before anyone noticed the man in black lying outside in the planter box, hidden in the flowers.

Dennis didn’t stop until he reached the parking lot at Ocean Beach at the western edge of the city. He needed to check if the impact had done any damage to his van. He carefully inspected the chrome work and painted areas for any scratches.

“Perfect. That was positively surgical.”

Driving along the ocean, up the hill past the Cliff House, perched high above the crashing waves, and then down crowded Geary Boulevard, Dennis turned on his radio and heard a deep voiced announcer reading a news story about a hit and run accident in the Haight/Ashbury District. Dennis whooped loudly and hit the horn when the radio said that one man had been killed.

Speeding through the heavy traffic, he headed back toward The Haight.

At home, as he drifted off to sleep, he smiled.

“Today has been a good day.”

Dennis Thayer slept well and dreamed of flowers and gardens.

In the apartment below, Marlee was dreaming and working out her conflict between loyalty and desire. She dreamed of Luco and Phillip. She was making peace with one and love with the other. Her brain was showing her the way to clear the path to tomorrow.

In her dreams, for the first time since Phillip’s death, she felt enthusiastic about the future, not just accepting. She had hopes that there could be, would be, should be, days, weeks and years of happiness ahead for her. She also decided that upon waking she would pull her cello out from under the bed and see what music came out. It was time.

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Two

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – One

With that, Luco closed his eyes and thought about how long his life had been since that day when he kissed the closed coffin and said farewell to everything that mattered.

Marlee just looked at Luco and felt her heart ache for him and for her own lost love. She thought she might start crying again.

“Luco, I have to go to go fix my makeup. Please, be here when I get back.”

He looked back at her and in a soft and weary voice said, “Of course. I can’t think of any place I could go right now. Go on. I’ll be fine.”

A few minutes alone would give them both the chance to clear their heads and ask, “What just happened here?”

Standing in front of the restroom mirror, she looked at her tear-stained face and saw a new, more mature woman than the one who had walked into Martin Macks and ordered the lamb. She no longer felt alone with her past. And it was a past that was now more manageable.

She turned the tap, took off her jacket and rolled up her sleeves. When the water was hot, Marlee washed her face and, thankful for the fluffy cloth towels, wiped off every trace of makeup from her face.

The hot water and rubbing made her cheeks pink. Her eyes still showed the effects of her tears, but it didn’t matter any more.

Luco turned and watched Marlee walk away from the booth. It was not the usual look that a man takes as a woman walks past, although he did notice and appreciate the graceful sway of her hips and the extension of her long, slender legs as she moved. Almost like a dancer, he thought, elegant, purposeful and strong.

He watched her walk away because he wanted to make sure that she was real. Was this an actual person who had come into his life and unlocked the padlock and chains around his emotions? Or was this some angel or demon that was here to torture him for his blasphemies and weaknesses?

Seeing an opportunity, the waitress came with the check and Luco paid the bill. He tipped too much, thankful for her consideration and discretion.

She had overheard a bit and seen a lot during the evening. Knowing that it was impossible, but still, she wished that she could take this man home with her and make love to him and hold him until his tears were dry and forgotten.

When Marlee returned and sat down, she unconsciously reached out and took Luco’s hand in hers. He closed his fingers around hers without a thought. It seemed natural and right.

“Luco, I want to thank you.”

“For what?”

“For trusting me. I know that this has been terribly difficult and I hope you feel better for having let it all out.”

“I sure did that, didn’t I?” He noticed something different about her. “You’ve washed off your makeup.”

“It was a mess, beyond repair. Am I still passable?”

“You’re beautiful. That’s all I can say…beautiful.”

She blushed. “It’s been a long time since a man has said that to me.”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve said it.”

“Luco, let’s go for a walk. I need to move.”

This time as they walked through the bar there were no wisecracks from the regulars. One look at Marlee and Luco as they came by and they were aware that something had changed. It was respected. While two people had passed by on the way in, one couple was leaving.

Marlee and Luco held hands as they walked down Haight Street. It was still early and the sidewalks were crowded. Some of the people moved with a nervous intensity, as if they were late. Late for a very important date.

It was a Friday night and the small clubs with live music would soon be overflowing into the street.

Standing in front of the People’s Cafe was the strawberry blonde with the knockout figure. She was taking a cigarette break and the busboy was taking a chance. He was using all of his charm to get a smile from her and maybe a date for later. Maybe it was the faint aroma of eucalyptus and cinnamon sweetening the air, but his smile and boyish looks were having an effect. She tossed her cigarette into the street, turned to go back inside and paused long enough to slide a fingertip slowly across his young lips, giving him a flame of hope and more.

Marlee and Luco walked in an isolation and noticed none of it. They heard and saw only each other. She told him how glad she was that she had moved to Haight Street. He said that it was sometimes called “The Street Of Second Chances.”

“Is that why you moved here Luco, a second chance?”

“I came here to get away from the Mission District. Everything and everyone I saw triggered a memory. I still don’t go back there even though its fifteen minutes away. It’s just too much.

There was a bit of a festive mood on the street. It was unseasonably warm and the fog was holding offshore, letting the stars shine though. The Locals have long memories and warm, clear weather stirs up memories of the earthquakes that regularly pound The City and drive away the faint of heart. They call this “Earthquake Weather”.

Marlee’s apartment was just a few blocks down the street. “Kitty-corner” from her building was “The Haight-Central Market”, a grandiose title for a tiny store stocked to the roof with a few basic foods and sufficient impulse items to satisfy most appetites. Marlee and Luco went in so she could get some cream and a lottery ticket. “I’m feeling lucky.”

They stood under the streetlight outside her door and she scratched at the ticket with a quarter.

“Well?”

“Hmmm…not tonight.”

They stared at each other and felt as awkward as two thirteen year-olds on a first date.

“Thanks for having dinner with me, Marlee.”

“Thanks for asking me, Luco.”

“Marlee, how do you do it?”

“Do what?”

“How do you go on, survive?”

“I don’t understand, Luco. How do I survive the loss of my husband?”

“Yes.”

She looked into his pain-filled eyes.

“Luco, How could I not survive? Would me dying as well or withdrawing into myself accomplish anything? Would my husband’s memory best be served by me losing my life too? No, my survival, as you call it, is the only honest thing I can do.”

“Can you teach me how to do that? I see you, going on, living. You actually seem happy. How did you accomplish that?

“Marlee, you have such strength, such power, such courage, that I am amazed. I feel so out of control by comparison. How do you sleep with those dreams and memories? I can’t.”

“Luco, I don’t have any special secret strength. Any power I have, any control I seem to have over my life has come to me at a horrible price.

“I still have the dreams about it all, the nightmares, but not as often, not as bad. The memories…are just that, memories. I’ll never forget and I don’t want to. It is a part of me. I can’t cut out a part of my life. It would be useless to even try.

“Can I teach you how to get through this? No, I can’t. I would if I could, but I can’t. The terrible losses that you and I have had are different for each of us as individuals. The pain is so very personal that what I’ve done wouldn’t work for you. Nor will yours work for me.”

“Marlee, I don’t want to go on living like this. It’s killing me, but I don’t know where to begin. What can I do? Help me, Marlee.”

“I think you began tonight, Luco. You trusted someone. You trusted me and I thank you for that. Now you have to start trusting yourself again. To trust yourself with Alicia’s memory and how to keep that memory and still move forward.”

“I’m not sure I understand all of that, but intellectually, it makes sense. I don’t know, Marlee. I thought I’d ask and I do thank you for offering me a sympathetic ear if I need it.”

“You will need it.” She took a piece of paper and a pen from her bag and wrote quickly. “Here is my number. You call me, day or night, if you need to talk. I’m serious, Luco.”

“I know you are. Thank you.”

He put the paper in his pocket, wondering if he’d ever have the courage to call her.

I’ll see you at the cafe.” He started to turn and head home.

“Luco, wait! This is too important. Tonight was amazing and I think that you and I have connected on a level that I haven’t felt in years. Thank you. Thank you so much for tonight.”

She reached out and put the palm of her hand over his heart. She could feel it beating. He pressed his hand on top of hers. Marlee moved close to him and gave him a soft, slow kiss on the lips. They inhaled the scent of each other’s skin, seeking the pheromones of the opposite sex.

“Marlee….”

“I know, Luco. I know. Me too.”

There were still too many ghosts.

Marlee Owens walked up the stairs to #6, alone. She was exhausted. It had been an emotional evening and, while old and painful memories had been brought to the surface and faced, something new and fresh was now in play.

She took a hot shower and slipped in between fresh sheets that had a bright rainbow motif.

Even though she wanted it, her brain would not let her sleep. Old thoughts of Phillip and new ones of Luco Reyes were colliding. What she had thought and felt before were running head on into what had happened tonight. And what was it that had happened tonight?

Her thoughts of Luco and tonight were, she knew, a mixture of things. There was an undeniable sympathy, what she would feel for any human being who had gone through what he had. Deeper than any sympathy though, was a concern. He was being swallowed whole by an undiminished grief. Six years, she thought. How has he managed to survive at this level of pain? His weeping was down to the bone. A stranger would have thought that they had died just the day before. During the day he hid it well, but what did he do at night?

Luco watched her go through the gate. He didn’t want to go home yet. The emptiness and silence that he knew would be waiting there for him would be too much right now.

Across the street is Buena Vista Park and Luco went and sat on the stone steps facing Marlee’s building. He looked at her window and thought about the evening that was turning into night.

“Alicia, my love, I think that something has happened to me tonight. But you know that I love you?”

“Yes, I know, Luco.”

He stood up and looked around. There was no one else nearby. He was sure that he’d heard a voice. Alicia’s voice.

“Alicia?”

“Sit down, Luco.” He craned his neck to find out who was having some fun with him. He sat down, a bit shaken.

Silently he asked for help to calm the turmoil in his head and heart, and just as silently, he heard the voice again.

“Luco, be still. You are asking for help and I’m here to offer it.”

“Are you really here Alicia?”

“I’m always here. Both of us are here with you, inside of you. You carry us with you.”

“I miss you both so much. It’s killing me.”

“I know, Luco. I’m here to stop you before it does. Before you let it kill you. Luco, it’s time, past time, for you to get back to living.”

“You want me to forget you? I can’t do that. I won’t. Never.”

“Of course not, Mijita. You’ve always been a pit bull of a man. You grab on and never let go. But, now, you have to let go. Let us go, my dear.”

“How can I go on without you?”

“We’ll always be in your memory, but you need to let us out of your heart. You need to let in someone else and there just isn’t room. You need to write poems for someone new.”

Luco, filled with confusion, pain and longing, stood up, lifted his arms to heaven and cried out loud.

“I know that. God help me, I know that, but I can’t.”

A couple walking past, jumped as the man on the steps yelled. The woman moved to put her partner between herself and the crazy man.

“Luco, be quiet and listen to me.”

He sat down and pressed his hands over his ears.

“Luco, you and I were in love, but I died and our baby died. That happened a long time ago, but you act as if it was yesterday. You’ve allowed your pain to cripple you. A man like you shouldn’t be living like you are. You are a man who needs family and you have cut yourself off from yours. Your mother lives fifteen minutes away and you haven’t seen her in years. And why? Because seeing her reminds you of me and our time together. So, to save yourself some pain you inflict that pain on everyone else who loves you.

“I always knew you to be a man of courage, strong and unafraid to do the right thing. But for the last six years you have been running and hiding from everything that is important in this world.”

“But its all for you, for the both of you. I can’t let you go. If I do, I’m afraid that I’ll forget you.”

“Luco Reyes, I am ashamed of you. If I could, I would slap your face. You are using our memory as an excuse to avoid life. The easiest thing in the world to do is nothing and that’s what you have chosen.

“If you want to die a lonely and bitter old man, go ahead, but don’t you dare say that you are doing it for me and Regalito. Shame on you.”

Luco moaned as the memory of his wife scolded him. More passers-by were noticing and avoiding him. He sat there, replaying her words over in his mind, trying to come to grips with this personal chastisement from the deepest part of his soul. His exhaustion was complete.

“What do you want me to do Alicia? I’m too tired to go on with this.”

This time the voice was a whisper, comforting and healing, but still forceful.

“Luco, I want you to go home and get some sleep. And then I want you to take the books of poems you wrote for me and get rid of them.”

“No!”

“Yes. Burn them, bury them, throw them off the Golden Gate Bridge. I don’t care. When you do that I’ll know that you’ll be all right.

“I want you to be happy, not eaten up inside like you are now. And then, after you get rid of the poems I want you to find someone, fall in love and get married. Luco, you are a man who needs to be married.”

Behind his closed eyelids he could feel the burn of a bright light washing over him.

“Little Krafty Sunshine”

 

EVERY SUMMER I ENJOY SITTING OUTSIDE in the sunshine even if it is hot and humid. Call me crazy. OK! OK! No need to do so with such enthusiasm. It was a rhetorical thingy anyway. A simple nod of agreement would have been sufficient.

No matter your opinion, it is a fact – I like the hot and humid days of summer. Do I sweat? Sure I do, like a nun in a whorehouse, but all I can tell you is that it all feels good on my skin. It physically feels good.

I have mentioned this to my Doctors and they just look at me and shrug,

Read more…

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – One

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – One

Marlee nodded and squeezed his hand, but said nothing.

“And all I could do was watch.”

She was still silent. She was not going to be satisfied with a synopsis, he realized. It was all or nothing and it was too late for ‘nothing.’

“How long were you together?” She was taking him back to Square One.

“Alicia and I met when we were 14. She walked into the classroom and I was in love. That was it, for me anyway. It took her a couple of years to come around.” He smiled at the memory.

“I wanted us to get married as soon as we were out of school. Of course, both families were dead set against it. Alicia was too. She was determined to get an education.

“She wanted to be a nurse. It was all she ever really wanted. Alicia was going to go after her dream and I was not it. If I wanted to be with her I was going to have to wait. So, I waited. While she went to San Francisco State, I went and took some classes at City College and played in a band on weekends. “

“What do you play?”

“Did play. Guitar. We were pretty good. We had two names. When we played a gig in the Mission or someplace Latino we were ‘Besame’ and when we got booked in some rock and roll club we used the English translation of ‘Besame’: ‘Kiss Me.’

“Anyway, Alicia did it. She got her degree in Nursing, with honors and I got an AA degree in waiting, but it was the right thing to do and worth it all.”

“Tell me about your wedding.”

Luco smiled and Marlee let go of his hands. She could see that he needed them free to talk, words alone weren’t enough.

“Our wedding was…spectacular. All of our friends and families were there. About twenty of her classmates from “State” came, as did a bunch of my buddies from City College.

“We were married at Mission Dolores. We had to reserve the church a year and a half ahead of time. The priest who had baptized us both, Father Castillo, married us.

It was just so beautiful. On the invitations we asked everyone to bring some flowers from their gardens or backyards. The altar was overflowing with Lavender, Hibiscus, Shasta Daisies, low carpets of pansies and spears of Giant Sunflowers that, I swear, seemed to be straining to reach the gilded vault of the church. As Alicia came down the aisle our friends handed her flowers. When she reached the front of the aisle her Mother had a ribbon and tied the flowers together to make her bouquet. It was beautiful. The scent of Jasmine and Honeysuckle was everywhere.

“By the time Alicia and I kissed, everyone was crying. I’ve never heard of a wedding getting a standing ovation, but ours did.”

Marlee had to wipe her eyes.

“The band I was in worked a lot and I put aside every penny for the wedding and reception. We rented one of the big dance clubs in the Mission and we all partied until we dropped. There was enough food for an army and the music was almost non-stop. To save time and trouble we invited everyone who lived within complaining distance and I, personally, delivered invitations to the Police Station.

“The reception went on until the next morning. It was a total joy, no problems at all. Of course I thought to hire a few of my Samoan pals to work the door. Nobody messes with Samoans.” He could see a quizzical look on Marlee’s face.

“Each of the guys was big enough to have his own ZIP Code.

“Alicia and I danced. We were so in love it was silly. We went to Disneyland for our honeymoon. You have to visit there someday.”

Now that he had started it was pouring out of him.

“Alicia was able to get work at SF General Hospital. It was only a few blocks from our apartment. I got a job with PG&E, reading gas meters.”

His smile faded and the animation left his voice as he continued.

“It was all we had dreamed of for four years and now we had it all spread out in front of us. I was still playing with ‘Besame’ a lot and Alicia took up painting. She found she had a talent for it. It relaxed her. Our life together was good. Marriage felt so ‘right.’ I don’t think I can express it to you.”

“You’re doing it beautifully. Go on.”

“Alicia worked in the Emergency Room, a very busy place.

“One Friday night she was on the graveyard shift. The Police and Paramedics were bringing someone through the doors every few minutes – gangbangers, junkies and other O.D.s, a few plain old sick people and all kinds of head cases.

“She was part of a team working on some speed freak who felt that he had cockroaches swimming in his bloodstream. He had tried to cut them out with a butcher knife. He was bleeding from everywhere when they brought him in. He was screaming to be left alone.

“Alicia was trying to get a blood sample for typing. She stuck him and, somehow he got a hand free and punched her in the face. She just got up off the floor and went back to the table. The guy pulled the syringe out of his arm and stabbed Alicia in the neck with the needle. An orderly slugged the guy and knocked him out. All of this happened in just a couple of seconds.

“Alicia pulled the syringe out of her neck and started to go get another syringe, to do her job. One of the doctors and another nurse pulled her aside to examine her.

“The needle had punctured an artery and their immediate concern was that air may have been injected into the artery and was now racing through her bloodstream.

“She was aware of her peril, but she kept her cool as an EEG was set up to monitor her brain activity. Blood thinning drugs were pumped into her to, hopefully, reduce the risk of a stroke. Alicia was able to alert the doctor to anything that she was feeling, any potential symptom of trouble. She gave them a calm and professional account of her possible imminent death.

“On the other table the main team worked to save the bastard who stabbed my wife. He died and I’m glad.

“They saved Alicia. There was no air bubble in her blood. She came home and told me what happened. It was the first time I had ever seen her scared like that. Then she told me that the danger wasn’t over.

“Oh, God, those next few weeks were the worst Hell I could have imagined.

“The dead pig that attacked her was HIV Positive. The next day Alicia went in and her blood was drawn for testing. They told us that even if the results came back Negative that she should be tested again regularly for the next six months. It can take time for the virus to show up in testing.

“They started Alicia on a medication regimen. She was taking all kinds of pills. Those HIV drugs are powerful and have some terrible side effects. Her hair began to fall out; she either couldn’t sleep at all or slept around the clock. On top of all that, the animal that caused this also had Hepatitis and she had to take drugs for that.

“A month or so later, after the third HIV test, they told us that she was testing Positive for the virus. There was no doubt.”

“Oh, Luco, I am so sorry.”

“That worthless piece of garbage killed my wife. We were married a little over a year and she was dying.

“That last set of blood screenings also told us that Alicia was pregnant. We wanted to start a family. We prayed for a family. Was this how God answered our prayers?

“The doctors wanted her to abort, but neither of us could do that – Not now, not our baby. Our baby, in the middle of all this madness.”

He wiped away the fresh tears that ran down his cheeks. Marlee handed him a paper napkin. Silently, her heart was breaking for this anguished man.

“To protect our baby, Alicia chose to cut back on some of the AIDS medications. The health and safety of our child became the primary focus. I had to help her choose.

“The pregnancy was very hard on her. The physical part was hard enough, but the psychological side was just as bad. There was anger, hatred even, fear like you can’t imagine, and a sorrow that made our life into a dark room, literally.

“Alicia was at home, but I still had to work. When I would come home she would be sitting in the rocking chair with all the lights off and the shades drawn. It was like a tomb.

“Before all of this we used to joke about her being pregnant and having funny food cravings. You know, the pickles and ice cream thing. She only craved one thing. She asked me to write poems and read them to her. I didn’t know what to do. The only things I ever wrote were a few songs for the band. It would have been a stretch to call them poems. But Alicia begged me and so, I wrote poems for her.

“I would write them in a notebook over coffee or at lunch and read them to her when I got home. I still do it. My poems are a way of keeping a connection with her alive.

“As the pregnancy continued, Alicia began to lose weight rapidly. The doctors were afraid she and our baby might not make it to full term.

“At twenty-eight weeks they did a C-Section. It was awful. Alicia almost died and our baby was a little over two pounds. They wouldn’t let me in the room for the delivery. When I saw him in the incubator he was so small. He didn’t look real. He was ‘Positive’ too.

“Alicia was tough and she insisted on seeing her son. As soon as they let me I put her in a wheelchair and pushed her to meet her baby boy. She cried and laughed at the same time as she put her hand into the incubator to touch him.

“The name tag on his incubator just said ‘Infant Reyes.’ We had picked out a name months before. Father Castillo, who had married us, came to the hospital and we had a baptism there in the ICU. We named our son ‘Regalito.’”

“That’s very pretty,” said Marlee.

“It means ‘Little Gift,’ and that he was.

“After Regalito was born and baptized I think that Alicia was just worn out. The doctors said it was an ‘opportunistic infection’, but I think she just couldn’t take any more.

“I begged her not to leave us. She died when Regalito was a month old. She died in my arms – my helpless, weak and useless arms.

“When she died, Regalito knew. Babies always want to be with their Mothers. Two days later his kidneys failed and he died inside that glass box.”

Luco paused and took a slow sip of water. He was exhausted.

“We had the funerals at Mission Dolores. Everybody brought flowers again.”

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty

STARTING FROM OPPOSITE ENDS OF HAIGHT STREET, Marlee and Luco began to move toward their first meeting on neutral territory. Marlee stopped to look at the lizards in the shop window. She didn’t want to get there first. Let him stand there for a few minutes and wonder if he’d been stood up. She smiled at the thought of the ever-confident Luco standing on the sidewalk, pacing back and forth, impatient and frustrated. Sure, it was a bit cruel, but if he was like every other man, she thought, it would do him some good to cool his heels.

Luco closed his front door and turned left, away from Haight Street. He was so anxious that he was leaving much too early. As he walked around the block to kill some time he talked out loud to himself.

“I’m leaving too early. What’s with me? I don’t want to get there early and have to cool my heels. I hate that. Women never show up early. They always run late. If I was paranoid I’d think they did it on purpose, just to play with our minds.”

Marlee walked past the People’s Cafe. She saw that there was someone new behind the counter – a short strawberry blonde with a figure that proved there is a God. Even through the window Marlee could see that young Paolo, the busboy, was already in love.

Across the street, Mom’s Body Shop was lit up like a Christmas tree. A newly satisfied customer was standing out in front showing off his new tattoos to some other young men. He seemed very happy, but his knees were wobbly and his eyes were shiny. Perhaps getting the “USMC” on his arm would have been enough, Marlee surmised. The screaming eagle was just too many needle pricks for one sitting, even for a new Marine.

Marlee’s smile melted as she looked past the young man who was in need of a few beers to numb the pain. Just coming out of the shop was a familiar face. Looking very serious and buttoning his shirt cuffs, was Dennis Thayer. He looked to his right and left, but never saw Marlee on the far side of the street. He started down Haight in the same direction as Marlee. She lagged a bit to let him get ahead of her. She was still unnerved a bit about his behavior during her brunch. She didn’t want to have to deal with him. Not tonight and not on the street. Tonight was for positive thoughts and warm feelings. He could wait for another day.

Luco stalled as long as he could. Two times around the block and a stop for a quick espresso at a new place over on Waller Street and he was still there early. Marlee was not in sight. The jolt of caffeine from the espresso was adding to his nervousness. He patted his handkerchief at his upper lip.

He poked his head inside the door of Martin Macks.

“Hey, Mary Margaret, has anyone come in here looking for me?” A quartet of slender feminine hands went up into the air, just hoping.

“Hi, Luco,” answered the bartender. “Nobody tonight, unless you want to count the four furies here.”

One of the women at the bar leaned back on her stool, blew him a kiss and licked her lips.

“Evening, Susie. Say hello to Michael and the kids for me.”

He went back to the sidewalk and looked once again for his tardy dinner companion. Instead of Marlee he saw a man walking up the street toward him with a purposeful stride. As he approached the bar the man saw Luco and glared at him.

“Good Evening, Dennis.” Luco put on a cordial smile that wasn’t fooling anybody. He didn’t care.

“Kiss my ass, Reyes.”

“No thanks, Dennis. I’m cutting back on candy.”

Dennis Thayer never stopped walking, but turned his face to Luco. “Some day, Reyes…some day.”

“Yeah, right. Some day your prince will come.”

Dennis kept walking and at the next corner, turned and slowly headed down the hill toward the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park.

“You know him, Luco?” It was Marlee. She had crossed the street when she saw Dennis turn the corner.

“Marlee. Hi, there. I was beginning to think you weren’t going to show up.”

“I wouldn’t stand you up. Do you know that man with the curly blonde hair?”

“Oh, yeah. We’ve met.”

“He’s my neighbor. His name is Dennis Thayer.”

“Your neighbor? I know its none of my business, but he’s a bad egg. Nuts, if you ask me. Be careful.”

“I can handle him. How do you know him?”

“He came into the cafe once, stinking drunk and got physical with a tourist. I had to throw him out. He’s 86’d from the place and he holds me responsible.

“Look, enough about him. Miss, would you allow me to escort you inside this fine establishment for some dinner, a beverage or two and some scintillating conversation?”

“Oh, Lord, the man is charming. Sweaty, but charming,” she thought.

“Why, thank you kind stranger. I’d love to join you for dinner.”

“Oh, my she is enchanting,” he thought. “A bit overdressed for the occasion, but enchanting.”

He pulled open the large wooden door and ushered her through, into a place filled with twinkling lights, twinkling people and an irreverent attitude toward all things non-Irish.

At the corner, Dennis Thayer peeked around the edge of the dress shop. He watched Luco hold open the door for Marlee as they went inside.

To get to the dining room they had to run the gauntlet past the bar. The bar was filled, as usual, with people who knew Luco.

“Hi, Luco. Michael says ‘Hi’ and the kids want to know when their Daddy is coming home.”

“Hey, Luco. I see the restraining orders have been lifted.”

“Luco, my love. Rest easy. The test came back negative.”

Throughout this thousand mile walk, Luco kept his eyes focused forward and used his handkerchief to keep the sweat under control. Marlee had a slight smile on her face the entire time.

At long last they reached the end of the bar and Marlee turned to look at Luco. “I’d hate to think what they’d say if they didn’t like you.”

“Me too.”

The hostess picked up two menus and turned to escort them to one of the old wooden banquettes along the wall. As they entered the Dining room Luco turned and looked back over his shoulder. Everyone at the bar had their glasses raised in salute. He smiled and turned back to catch up to the two women. They went to the back booth, the most private.

A waitress took their drink order to the bar and quickly returned with a white wine for Marlee and a Guinness for Luco. The Guinness was as black as night with a thick, sand colored head of foam. Her wine was a California White Zinfandel, grown and pressed not an hours drive away from the lips where now it rested. They exchanged pleasantries about their days activities while they perused the Dinner menu.

“Where’s your infamous ‘Toad In The Hole’, Luco? I don’t see it on the menu.”

A second waitress walked by just as Marlee asked her question and tossed out an answer.

“The pond dried up. Try the lamb.”

“They have a friendly staff.” Luco smiled, things were going… so far, so adequate.

Marlee took the advice of the waitress and ordered the Roast Lamb with Vegetables. Luco settled on the Fish and Chips.

Taking a sip of her wine, Marlee looked at him over the rim of the glass.

“Luco, Why did you ask me out? You don’t know me and I don’t know you.”

“That’s true, but I could tell right away that you were an interesting, intelligent person. As for you not knowing me? Why did you say ‘yes’?”

“Honestly? I said yes because, when you asked me, you did it so badly that I thought you were terribly inept.”

“What? Well, I…”

“And, you were so cute. That’s it, honest.”

“So, this is a ‘Mercy Date’? You’re here because you feel sorry for me?”

“No! No, I didn’t mean that at all. I’m sorry if I gave you that impression. Oh, Dear Lord. Luco I said ‘yes’ because you are a charming man, obviously well liked by both men and women, and…you’re the first man who has asked me out on a date in about 6 years.”

“Six years? You haven’t been in prison, have you?”

“No, of course not. Prison?” She saw that he was smiling and it made her smile in return.

“Why don’t you tell me about it?”

The waitress came to the booth holding two steaming plates. The lamb was tender and well done, not pink and covered with a cloying mint jelly. It was anointed with a light vinaigrette sauce where bruised mint leaves provided just a suggestion of welcome sweetness. The vegetables, new red potatoes and carrots were seasoned with thyme and rosemary. They also benefited from the tangy sauce. The Fish and Chips overflowed the plate with three large pieces of cod in a beer batter that puffed up and offered a crunchy bite on the way down to the white and flaky fillets. The chips were fresh cut and fried slices of Yukon Gold potatoes. It doesn’t get any better.

For the next five minutes the only sounds were words of praise to the chef for his work and prayers to God asking His grace upon the man in the kitchen.

After the initial stunned reaction to the food had subsided, Luco set down his fork and took a long drink from the pint glass.

“So, Marlee, why am I the first man to ask you out in six years? We can eliminate prison, right?”

She nodded as she dabbed her napkin at the corner of her mouth.

“Yes, we can eliminate prison. I’m a widow. I haven’t said that out loud very often.”

“Oh, Marlee, I’m so sorry. I should not have asked.”

“Well, I came here to San Francisco to start a new life and today, not two hours ago, it finally dawned on me that the time was truly right for me to get on with it. Luco, you are witness to my rebirth, as it were.”

“How long ago…?”

“Just about two years.”

The waitress came over to check on her station and got them refills on the wine and Guinness.

For the next forty-five minutes Luco listened as Marlee recounted the story of life and death that brought her to this booth in an Irish pub on Haight Street. She told him details she thought that she had forgotten. Little things, both loving and horrifying.

Several times in the telling she broke down and cried. Luco reached out and held her hand, not knowing what else to do. When she told him of her dream of walking on the beach Luco lowered his eyes as a tear ran down his cheek. His face reddened as he fought for control.

Marlee could see that his tears were not for her, but came from inside his own deep, personal wounds. She reached out and cradled his hands in hers.

The waitresses could see all of this and left them alone. This was a private mourning. The other booths were long empty, the diners having moved on to other, gayer pursuits. There was no rush.

“Luco, what are you carrying inside you? What is it?”

She gently massaged his large, masculine hands. Her touch helped him to lower the flame under the boiling pot of his emotions.

“Marlee, I’m sorry. Please forgive me. That’s never happened before. I’m not the kind of man who gets emotional in public. Your story was so… horrible is the only word I can think of.”

“No need to apologize for being human, Luco. But your tears had nothing to do with me or my story. They came from inside of you. You’re being eaten up from inside.”

“You must think I’m crazy.”

“No, but you’re headed that way.”

He lowered his head and rubbed his eyelids with his fingertips and sighed. He was trying to regain control of his emotions. She recognized what he was doing. She had done it many times herself and wasn’t going to let him shut her out.

“Luco, you sat there for 45 minutes and held my hand while I cried and told you about the worst part of my life. That was the act of a good man and a good friend. Please, let me be a friend to you. Luco, tell me what it is that has you in this prison.

She looked at him, his face still composing itself into a mask of passivity and control. His eyes betrayed him. They were locked on the tabletop. He was reluctant to make eye contact, afraid that…afraid of what? She had opened her life to him She had the courage to let him see her blood soaked memories.

She held his hands firmly, yet with a gentleness that let him know that she cared, could handle whatever he revealed to her and that she could and would understand.

He slowly lifted his eyes and looked at her. Marlee’s eyes were red and still shiny from her own tears. Pale blonde hair spilled forward and framed her face, shutting out everything except what was directly in front of her. Luco could see that he was the total focus of her world at that moment. Nothing else was important. Nothing else mattered. He looked into her eyes and took a deep breath.

“I lost my wife and child a little over six years ago, just before Christmas.”

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Nineteen

 

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Nineteen

 

In The Haight it is only the early morning hours that belong to the Locals. After 10 AM it is the Tourists who fuel life on the street.

Throughout the day, tour buses pull up and disgorge the packaged groups that move like vacuum cleaners up and down from Central Street to Stanyan, sucking up T-shirts, jewelry and pizza slices, seeing all of the people as a tableau. The tourists stay until the clock dictates a mass migration to Chinatown, North Beach, or Fisherman’s Wharf, where it all begins again.

After the sun goes down the whole vibration of the street changes. The young music-seeking crowd hikes, bikes or drives up the hill and gathers at the clubs and bars. They come also to see and be seen, all the while actively pretending not to care about either.

The Locals and the ambulatory drug slaves also appear after dark. The Locals come out for a nice dinner and to toss back a few drinks. The druggies come out because they think it’s safer. They’re wrong.

It is also in the chilly evening that the costume party begins. After sundown, the hair gel and steel-studded wardrobes make an entrance. On a Saturday night on Haight there will be legions of “Blade Runner” fashion extras on the move. You might also meet several reincarnations of “Marilyn” and even a “Travis Bickel” or two.

In San Francisco the under 30 population is divided, roughly, into two groups. There are those who sashay through the city screaming, “Look at me! Look at me!” while the other half struts around snarling, “What are you looking at?”

The folks over 30 tend to just go on with their lives, occasionally snickering to themselves. They already understood that, “If you dress up like a monkey, please don’t pretend to be surprised when people throw peanuts at you.”

Clothes are very important on Haight Street. Going all the way back to the blood and guts days of the late 1960s how you dressed determined who you were, your philosophy and how you were expected to behave. The Haight has always followed along with an “Us vs. Them” school of fashion.

Still today the younger visitors to the area feel obligated to dress up in a way designed, they think, to piss off the Old Man and reduce Momma to tears. Of course, at the end of their evening of being “Us” they will safely return to the fashionable bosom of an Old Navy focused “Them.”

There is, and always has been, a sliver of the Society that is actively outside the widespread embrace of both “Us” and “Them.”

Weaving in and out between the bulk of the population are the true Outlaws. In The Haight these people are the drug suppliers and their customers. It is a very short and brutish food chain. One feeds upon the other without mercy, on a strict cash and carry basis.

The dealers tend to costume themselves like the club crowd. The users rapidly get to the point where their wardrobe selection gives way to the more basic choices of life or death. With rare exceptions, they choose death, by their own hand or by the actions of someone else.

Set in the middle of the hectic bustle of Haight Street, leafy shadows played upon the dark green exterior of Martin Macks Irish Bar and Restaurant. It seemed out of place. It was not there to attract the young hipster crowd or the tourist throngs. It welcomed whoever grabbed the sturdy brass door pulls and ventured into the dimly lit space beyond. One’s social group was never a matter of concern at Martin Macks.

The long bar was always crowded. Some were there for a taste of their favorite brew. Others, intent upon the several European soccer matches being played out on the large televisions placed high on the walls around the pub.

There is a special bar menu that allows a hungry patron to sit on a barstool and select a variety of fried and crunchy items, barbequed spare ribs or a traditional Irish breakfast of Irish bacon, two types of sausage, eggs, tomatoes and Irish soda Bread.

 The breakfast is served until 3:30 in the afternoon in deference to late risers and the survivors of last night.

Luco, along with a fair number of people who work on the street, often dropped into Martin Macks for a quick lunch or a midafternoon pick-me-up.

At the far end of the bar, through a small latticework arch is the dining area. It holds a half dozen semicircular wooden booths and a handful of intimate tables.

The clever chef working in the open kitchen always offers an eclectic menu of Irish, English and American favorites. At night, when the bar is crowded to overflowing, diners in the back can escape the noise and enjoy quiet conversation and some of the best food in San Francisco.

Martin Macks was a popular place for dinner dates. They had good food, generous drinks and waitresses who let couples linger over coffee.

Luco was not used to shaving twice in one day. The skin on his neck was complaining loudly. In the six years he had worked at the People’s Cafe he had gone out with very few women. Some were co-workers, most were customers. All of them felt that he was “the stuff that dreams are made of.” They were right, at least for a night or two. Most of them were looking for “Mr. Right,” but he was only interested in being their “Mr. Right Now.” Their fantasies dried faster than the sheets.

While they were wanting more, Luco was unable to give it to them. Fleeting pleasure was all he could offer or accept. The depth of his ability to commit could be measured in their throaty prayers to a temporary heaven.

Most of the women could live with that. Some could not and so there were mornings when the corner tables at the cafe were taken by women whose eyes followed Luco from across the room and in whose hearts they nursed a barren hope.

This night, however, it was Luco who was feeling the gnawing of lost love. There was, as well, a fresh anticipation. He was nervous about a simple dinner date.

He wondered out loud why tonight felt different. What was it that was making him feel on edge? Was it the word “date” that set off the warning flares?

“I haven’t felt like this in years. For crying out loud, why am I sweating like this?” He took a towel and wiped his forehead and hands again.

What was it about this woman? Attractive? That she was, pretty even, very pretty in her own way. But there had been prettier.

Sexy? She was that, in a relaxed way. It was like she knew that she had the goods, but didn’t feel the need to hang it out like an ad. She had the indefinable “It” that sent out the message. The man in her bed would be in no hurry to roll over and go to sleep.

Smart? No doubt. Spend five minutes with her and you knew that she was educated and as sharp as they come.

Marlee had all of these things, he recognized, but there was also something else that set her apart. A something that was making him sweat.

When he was with her he felt a resonance, a faint emotional echo. There was something about her that played a responsive string in him. Time with her had an almost musical quality.

A quick glance at his wristwatch told him that it was time to stop daydreaming and get moving.

He used the straight razor to deftly finish shaving the hilly contours of his face and cut the few whiskers that always hid out in the cleft on his chin. A few quick strokes and he wiped the last few bits of foam from his face. With a sour look he bit the bullet and splashed on a few drops of Lagerfeld lemon scented aftershave lotion. “Something this expensive shouldn’t hurt so much,” he thought, as every nerve on his face swore revenge.

He riffed through his small closet and decided that basic black was always good. He chose a black ribbed mock turtleneck sweater and black slacks. It would be comfortable and, while complimenting his complexion and eyes, it would not compete with whatever Marlee would be wearing. He knew that the man is really just background for the woman. He trimmed a wayward eyebrow hair.

Less than a mile away Marlee was standing in front of her closet weighing the pros and cons of each item. The silk from Nordstrom was too dressy, the black suit was too “widow.” She decided that the double-breasted blazer made her look like a prison guard at Disneyland. It was hopeless she concluded.

“What does he really mean by “casual” anyway?” “Casual” in Cleveland was apparently different from “casual” in California. If she was to judge by what she had seen walking down Haight Street, “casual” might mean a tie-dye halter top and chrome plated tool belt.

She sat down on her bed and stared at the closet. “I have nothing to wear.”

After 10 minutes of mental mixing and matching she selected a turquoise knit top, a matching linen jacket and white slacks. “This is my idea of ‘casual’ for a dinner date. Let’s hope for the best.”

There was that word again: date. It was a date, no matter what else she called it. She was looking forward to it, but underneath there was a faint shadow of guilt.

It had been almost exactly two years since she became a widow and more than six since she had been on any kind of date. She still saw herself, emotionally, as a married woman and there was a nagging voice saying that she was cheating on her husband. It was her own voice she knew, and that she was wrong. It was time, coldly put, to get over it.

Intellectually as well, she knew that it was time. Her family had told her so. Her friends had also told her the same thing. Hadn’t she uprooted herself and moved across the continent to begin again? She also believed that her dream of the mirror on the beach was Phillip’s way of telling her to throw off her widow’s weeds and get on with her life.

“This is stupid. I’m young, talented, not hard on the eyes, and a very nice and very handsome man has asked me out to dinner. Screw the guilt.”

She opened the closet door again, took the black suit off the hanger, brushed a bit of lint from the lapel, walked into the kitchen and stuffed it into the trash container under the sink. There would be no more funerals.

”Now, let’s just see what ‘casual’ means to this man.”

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