IF THERE’S ONE THING I CAN SAY ABOUT THE IRISH PEOPLE it’s that they are friendly and very helpful. They all seem to be working as unofficial Ambassadors of Goodwill for their country. If they spot us as being from overseas (The U.S.) they will do two things.
First they will tell you that they have been to “The States” and where. Almost always they have been to New York City, Las Vegas, and Florida. Florida can be translated as Disney World.
Secondly, they will ask if they can help you in any way. And they mean it.
Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters”
“I’ve been meaning to get that squeaky door fixed,” said Rocky. I hushed him, not wanting to give our visitor any clue as to our location. His ignorance was our only advantage.
I could hear footsteps, but they weren’t coming our way. It sounded like someone was opening desk drawers in the reception area. I had to sneak a peek. This wasn’t making any sense. I opened the office door just enough to get a look.
“Oh, for God’s sake. Hailey, I thought I told you to go home or anyplace away from here.”
“Oh, hello again, Mister. I heard you, but I forgot my lunch bag. I fixed a tuna sandwich and I didn’t want to leave it here over night. It would be stinking by tomorrow morning. I’ll just get it and be on my merry way.”
I poked my head back into the office to tell Rocky what was going on. With my head through the door focusing on Rocky I heard the door squeak again. I turned around not wanting to be standing there with my back to the door I saw that Hailey and I had company.
“Well, fancy meeting you here Mr. Barry Livingston, Private Detective.” It was the little jockey who shared the headroom with Nate Williams in the attic flat on Wilson Street. This place was getting crowded.
What brings you here,” I asked him. There were too many people and too many surprises happening all at once. I had counted on it just being Rocky, me, and Nate Williams. Now, all of a sudden, it was turning into a crowd with too many guns. I wasn’t sure if the jockey had his pistol on him, but I wouldn’t bet against it.
With all of the voices coming from the waiting area Rocky couldn’t resist coming out to join the party. The look on his face told me that he already knew the jockey.
“Good afternoon, Rendell. Nate asked me to come down here and talk to you. He seems to think you’re setting up an ambush or something.”
The jockey was laying it out correctly. That’s what it was – an ambush. He went on.
“And aside from the cutie pie here,” he said waving his stubby fingers and winking at Hailey. “I know the rest of you and wouldn’t trust you as far as I could drag your dead bodies. So, what’s going on here? I’m supposed to find out and call Nate and let me tell you – he ain’t happy.”
He looked at Rocky, who looked at me, and I looked back at the jockey who by now was looking at Hailey and making gross little kissing noises. Hailey was looking back at him and grinning. I think I know why Rocky hired her.
I walked up to the jockey to get his eyes focusing on me.
“Where is Nate now?”
“I don’t know for sure,” said the little weasel,” But my best guess is that he’s out there somewhere but close enough to see what we’re doing in here. He might have a rifle.” That got everyone’s attention and, as if on cue, a bullet crashed through the glass front window. It wasn’t close to anyone, but close enough.
“Rocky had dived behind a chair and yelled out at the jockey as everyone scattered, “Are you wearing a wire? Did he fire when you mentioned the rifle? I told him to stop with all the shooting.”
I headed for the door into the inner office. Everyone, go into the office. He can’t see us there,” I yelled out to everyone. Again, as if he could hear us a second shot slammed into the wooden door to Rocky’s office. The slug shattered the cheap wooden veneer. He wanted us out where he could see us.
I crawled over to the jockey who was behind a potted plant of some kind.
“I’m asking you the same question. Are you wearing a wire? Can Nate hear us?” He said nothing. He didn’t look scared either. That changed when I put the ugly end of my heavy .45 under his flabby little chin. “Tell me now or I’ll blow your head off and search your dead body.”
It didn’t take him long to weigh the situation and without saying a word he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out the small plastic microphone and transmitter. He then pulled an earpiece from under his greasy hair. Not only was Nate able to hear us he had been telling the jockey what to say. That game was over.
I took the earpiece, wiped it on my pant leg and stuck it in my ear. I moved away from the jockey who understood my unspoken warning – that if said one more word it would be his last.
I shifted over beside Hailey’s desk where I could get a clear view outside and into the parking lot. I slipped the microphone into my shirt pocket.
“Hello, Nate. Guess who? This game is over.”
The second he heard my voice and knew that it was now a real two way conversation he unleashed a three shot fusillade into the lawyer’s storefront.
“Is that you, Ellis?” I heard him scream into my ear. “Is that you?”
“It sure is. I thought you were coming down here to see me. Instead you send your little pudgy Munchkin. What are you afraid of? Are you afraid of me? I’m older than your father. Do you remember him, Williams? The world’s worst bank robber.”
That earned two more shots through the shattered front window. I dissed him deliberately so he would shoot again. This time I spotted his muzzle flash coming from the back of a Ford van parked on the far side of the lot about sixty yards from the front door. That would be a turkey shoot from that distance. He didn’t hit anybody by choice so far.
“Shut up, Ellis! Shut up! You listen to me. I’m calling the shots here, not you. You killed two of my friends…”
“I killed just one. The other one, the girl, ate her gun rather than go back to you. So, if anything, you killed her, not me.” Another twinkle of light and another round dug into the plasterboard on the far wall. Most of his shots probably went through the thin walls and ended up in Rocky’s office. It was bound to be a mess in there. At least I hoped so.
“Listen, Nate, we’re all getting bored with this little penny arcade game of yours here. I talk you shoot another round into the wall. And so on, and so on. You said you were coming to see me, to kill me. Well here I am. Come and get me – or are you too scared to face me, man to man? Either get your ass down here or go home and play some video games until the cops kick down your door. Make a move, dammit!”
Silence. No gunshots. No speaking. Nothing?
He had to be thinking it over. I’d laid out his only options. It was either me or go home and end up in the hands of a dozen SWAT Team cops dressed in Kevlar who will not be gentle with either him or his bullet riddled corpse.
“Let’s go Nate.” I started to whistle the theme song from that TV game show that’s been on for fifty years.
“Nate, you bore me.”
Silence, and then I heard his voice crackle in my ear.
“I’m coming down, Ellis. Get ready to die.”
Next Week – The Conclusion of “Family Matters”
“Timmy? He was such a sweet boy.”
“That ‘Sweet Boy’ killed eight people.”
I couldn’t let that pass.
“He would have killed me, Leslie Ann, if I hadn’t shot first. ‘Sweet Boy?’ What was his motive – He didn’t like his snack at the Food Court?”
She looked at me and I could see her underlying rage bubbling up to the surface. Her eyes flicked down to the Walther pistol on the table between us.
“Why did he really do what he did?” she said, her eyes back locked onto mine. “Because I asked him to. He did it because he loved me.”
How much horror has been set loose upon the world in the name of Love? Almost as much as devils have used Religion as their excuse to commit every atrocity imaginable.
“So how in the world is that a motive for mass murder? The idea was yours instead of his? So that makes him ‘Sweet?’”
“Shut up, Ellis! I came here to talk about me, not Timmy or Nate or certainly not you. Forget Timmy. Didn’t your mother ever tell you to not speak ill of the dead?”
“Which dead? The ones at the Mall or at the gas station or the pile of corpses at the ER?”
I was pushing my luck, but I needed to see how she would react to having her nose rubbed in it. She spat in my face and picked up the gun. I guess I found out.
“Ellis…if you say one more word about that boy and I will …”
“I apologize.” I decided to shut up.
“I came here for a reason, Ellis. Let me get to it and I’ll leave you to sit here in your pathetic little life.”
Rather than risk saying anything that might set her off I…picked up my sandwich and took a bite. No sense wasting what might end up as my last meal.
Leslie Ann Wolas, dangerous, and probably as crazy as they come, got up and began to pace back and forth trying to find her words.
“I came here to tell you that this whole thing is a scam. Nate has been running this whole show. I went along for my own reason. I told you…and Timmy, well…. Go ahead and eat your sandwich like a good boy.
“Nate is basically a thief and this whole thing is just a major distraction. While every cop in the city is all hot and bothered by the gunplay Nate will be knocking off everything in sight. Everything but banks thanks to you. Me and Timmy were going to cut out and go to Mexico. You took care of that too.”
She stopped pacing and stood looming over me.
“There’s no reason for me to go now – not since you murdered him” She stood there looking down at me. Me with a sandwich in my hand and a six round pistol in hers and I could see that she was weighing on whether or not to waste a couple of them on my head.
“No reason at all, so here I am. Nate wants me to go along with his crazy scheme, do some more shooting just to stir the pot. I don’t buy it. I told him that if he wants to then go ahead, but I’m done.”
I raised my hand like a third grader with a question.
“What?” she said. “What?” She didn’t like interruptions.
“Where is Nate going to hole up? He won’t go back to that attic on Wilson.”
“Why do you care? You going to go after him? He’ll cut you to pieces, old man.”
I put down my sandwich. I’d had enough. Now it was my turn to talk.
“I don’t recall the last time I heard more absolute bull at one time. All of you actually feel justified with what you’ve done, don’t you? You slaughtered I don’t know how many people there at the hospital. The people you shot weren’t The Hospital. They were not the people who committed the sin of saving your life all those years ago. They were people already in pain like you. If you want to get back at The Hospital go in and clog up all their toilets. You don’t murder people who had nothing to do with your own personal troubles.
“And Sweet little Timmy? You two were going to run off to Mexico as if everything was peachy keen after the two of you decided to help Nate Williams, perhaps the biggest lying piece of trash going, with his plan to rob a bunch of Mini-Marts and Mom and Pop Bodegas. Jesus H. Christ! You’re all nuts. None of you should ever have been allowed to be on the streets alone.”
I was on a roll.
“And somehow you tried to tie me into your twisted reasoning making me the reason you’re doing all of this idiocy. You should just put down that gun and go turn yourself into the police. Go talk to them. Tell them your cock and bull story and you just might avoid a ride on the Lethal Injection Gurney to Hell. If you don’t and the cops out there see you first they’ll show you what it’s like to take a round to the head.
“Now, tell me where I can find Nate Williams, because I want that piece of trash for myself. I brought down his father and I’ll do the same for him.”
I looked at her. She was looking right through me as if I wasn’t there.
“Hello. Leslie Ann? Did any of what I just said get through to you? Did you even hear me? Turn yourself in. Forget Nate Williams and save yourself. He’s dead meat and forget about Timmy too. ‘He was Sweet.’ That’s just nuts. I’m done with you. You’re crazy. Either get help or get out.”
She was still staring off into space. As long as she wasn’t pointing her gun at me I figured I was, not safe exactly, but with a better chance of making it through the day.
All I wanted now was for her to flip on Nate Williams and then to leave, go somewhere, anywhere that wasn’t in my house. I was sure that she wouldn’t turn herself in. she’d spent most of her life avoiding them. I wanted her out, but there was nowhere else she could go where she might get some head help. She was going full speed down a dead end street. Her faraway look snapped back and she was in my kitchen again.
“You’re right, Ellis. I am guilty. I accept that. I was too weak. I let Nate talk me and Timmy into doing these things. Guilty and weak – a bad combination.
“I don’t want to do it again – I don’t, but if I go back to Nate I know he’ll talk me into it again.”
“Where is Nate’s place? Where is he?”
“Oh, you don’t want to go there. Nate is evil. He’ll talk you into doing evil things. Where can I go though? There’s no place for me.”
“I don’t know, girl. I wish I could tell you, but…’
She sat down on the kitchen floor and looked up at me. For the first time I could see tears in her eyes.
“I have no place to go where I can be safe and happy. No place. I was happy with Timmy…but you took him away. Now there is no one. Because of you. You ended it all. Nowhere and no one.”
She closed her eyes, but firmed up her grip on the pistol.
“All I can do now is try to find my Timmy.”
She opened her eyes and looked me square in mine. She took that ugly black gun, put it in her mouth and pulled the trigger.
In my small kitchen the noise her gunshot made startled me. The top of her scalp splattered onto my ceiling in the split second before she fell over backwards with her own startled look.
The tears that had been in her eyes ran down her cheeks and fell onto the bloody floor.
I hoped she’d find her Timmy. He was so sweet.
TODAY IS A DAY THAT HAS BECOME WRAPPED IN SADNESS.
I can understand how that can be, but I choose to not give in to that. There is enough sadness in the other 364 days, more than enough to make anything on this date – excuse the expression – overkill.
Instead of spending today in what has become a sort of morose celebration I have made a personal decision to take the memory of the events and aftermath of 2001 and put them all into a long term perspective. A very long term perspective.
Things happen in Time. Time has been going on for quite awhile now – long before you or I showed up on the scene. God willing and the Creek don’t rise, it will continue on for a few years longer. We may not be around until the bitter end of Time, but Time doesn’t care.
“How do you think you will die?”
Unless you make your living as the ever so attractive target in a Las Vegas knife throwing act the answer to that question is strictly speculative.
I don’t know.
There are seven billion people on Earth and there are likely to be seven billion different answers.
432 Wilson Ave. #6. I’m not saying it was a dump. That would be an insult to dumps. 432 Wilson Ave. was a cliché. It was a three story building that had been converted from an ugly single family home into six “Studio Apartments” that should more properly be called “Cells.” Apartment #6 was in half of what used to be the attic. From the looks of it on the outside it wouldn’t be very comfortable for anyone over 5’8”. My data sheet said that Nate Williams Jr. was 6’1”. So, maybe I should be looking for a hunchback.
The entire street had the look that nobody cared anymore about how it looked. Abandoned cars, a couple of waterlogged and moldy sofas, and a soft drink vending machine were huddled against the curb. Up the block from 432 a neglected looking dog was curled up right in the middle of the street. It wasn’t dead. I took a closer look as I swerved my car around it. The dog lifted its ugly head to look at me as I drove past, but made no effort to move. You could probably say the same thing about the humans who lived here.
A couple of old ladies, rocking on their front porches, watched as I came down the block, but if anybody asked them – they never saw me. Nobody ever sees anything on Wilson Avenue.
If there is one thing that I don’t like more than just about anything else its stairs. Too many years of walking the beat and then having some idiot I was trying to cuff kicks me in the knee and did damage. An X-Ray of my kneecaps looks like a picture of a handful of cracker crumbs. Every morning when I get out of bed and stand my body sounds like a bag filled with castanets. So what do I have to do at 432 Wilson Ave.? Walk up three flights of rickety, homemade stairs that were bolted to the outside of the building.
I was not in a good mood to begin with and now I was going to have two swollen knees before I even got to knock on the door at #6. “Nate Williams better be there” I thought, “Watching TV, in his underwear, eating a bag of Cheetos.”
A doorbell. Somebody put in a doorbell. One of those new ones with a built-in camera so they can see who’s coming even before you push the button. Well, there went the element of surprise. Whoever was on the other side of the door could tell I wasn’t there selling Girl Scout cookies.
Just out of spite I ignored the doorbell and knocked on the door. It rattled and wobbled. One good shoulder hit and it would have fallen apart like it was made out of cardboard.
When I knocked I could hear some scuffling from inside, some mumbling and what sounded like a chair being kicked over. Nothing that sounded like a shotgun shell being racked up or a pistol round being chambered.
I knocked again, but I moved off to the side as far as I could go without falling three floors to the driveway. No sense being an easy target. There was more mumbling, but closer to the door. I looked up at the camera. Somebody had spray painted the lens. Nobody was seeing anything with that piece of useless junk.
“The Lady or the Tiger” was never one of my favorite stories as a kid and right now I feel like that Lady standing in front of a shoddy door. I put my hand on the grip of my weapon tucked in the small of my back. If there was a tiger behind that door I wanted to show it that I wasn’t no Lady.
I gave it one more sharp knock.
“Hold on a minute, will ya? I don’t move all that fast anymore.”
A lame tiger?
I sucked in my gut. I wanted to make myself as small a target as possible. I moved the pistol to alongside my leg with my finger ready to hit the trigger.
There is nothing like the sound of a deadbolt slide being pulled. Whoever was in there was opening more than one lock. I counted three of them before things got quiet again. I was about to see if I was going to face a tiger with bad feet or the wrong end of a .357.
I braced myself for…for whatever as best I could standing on a small wooden platform three storoes above the ground with nowhere to go but either down or through the door.
“Hold your horses, I’m coming. This better be good or I’m gonna be mad. Making me get and all.”
The Voice pulled open the door. I’d expected it to open out but it swung inward. I think that’s illegal, but I’m glad it did. There was barely enough room for me out there.
“Whatcha want, Cowboy?”
I had to look down to see his face. This was definitely not Nate Williams, Jr., Senior, or any other member of the Williams family. I moved on with my pre-planned first question.
“Where the hell is Nate Williams?”
“Well, who the hell wants to know?”
Whoever he was he certainly wasn’t intimidated by my presence.
This guy who wasn’t Nate Williams was no more than 5’4″ tall and skinny as a rail except for the beer belly that jutted out from his open bathrobe. He needed a shave. He’d needed it for at least a week or two and he was wearing fuzzy pink slippers. He was also carrying a five shot black revolver pointed at my crotch.
The little guy had the advantage. I was so surprised that my weapon was still hanging limp by my side. I figured that I’d better answer his question.
“My name is Barry Livingston and I’m looking for Nate Williams. You’re not him.”
“Nate Williams? Yeah, you got that right.I ain’t him, Sherlock. and you’re not Barry Livingston. He was a kid actor on television. so, shall we start over?”
He waved his pistol disturbingly close to my posterity.
“I’m not Nate Williams and who are you? Don’t tell me Ricky Nelson or I’ll clear cut your Family Tree roght here and now.”
I decided that I’d better be square with him since he held all the cards and that five-shot.
“My name is Mack Ellis and I’m looking for Nate Williams because he wants to kill me.” That was it, short and sweet.
The little guy laughed at me.He laughed, but he lowered the gun, turned and walked back into the apartment. I put my pistol back in its holster. If he was really going to shoot me he would have done it by now.
I followed him into the very low ceilinged attic apartment. I had the urge to bend over rather than hit my head on one of the exposed beams. If Nate Williams ever actually lived here he must have been desperate.
There was only one old overstuffed chair that sat in front of a big screen TV. Off to the side was a single bed. The “kitchen” The walls were bare except for one lone poster thumbtacked to the wall in the kitchen area. It was a large photograph of a horse and jockey taken in the Winner’s Circle at some track. The jockey looked familiar.
The guy who was not Nate Williams saw me staring at the poster. He had plopped himself down in the big chair.
“Yeah, that’s me a few years and a lot of beers ago. That was after The Breeder’s Cup race at Santa Anita. I won by six lengths on a horse that was so juiced I was surprised that he didn’t leak. Drag the kitchen chair over here and we can talk.
“So…Nate Williams wants to kill you? That sounds like Nate alright. He always has somebody he wants to kill.”
A memory can be buried deeper than Jimmy Hoffa and as obscure as a 1960s One-Hit Wonder – and one tiny thing can make it come roaring back to the front of your conscious mind as fresh as if it all happened this morning. And this morning was not very good. Only one egg in the fridge, bread with a blue tint along the edges, and just enough coffee to get my pulse steady.
I saved O’Shea’s printout on Timothy Collins for last because when Martindale gave me the five cent recap on him the whole story came back to me like midnight after a bad Mexican meal. The details that I thought had faded away re-etched themselves on my brain. It made me feel screwed all over again.
The first time I heard about the Collins family was when somebody broke into a nursing home. Who breaks into a nursing home? Well, this guy did. He figured it was a good place to score a sizeable haul of drugs of all kinds; pain killers, sedatives, and the like. He was right figuring that, but the staff must have been sampling some of their own stash because they decided to fight back. Brave but stupid. Wheelchairs don’t fare well up against a strung out B&E guy with two .45s. Seven of the staffers bought it that night. The one man with the habit and the guns got a boatload of junk the residents hated as much as they hated the Staff. None of them could or would give a decent description of the man.
Collins got picked up in a sweep of the neighborhood. He was two blocks away, stoned out of his mind, and strapped with a .45. He was handed over to me to interrogate. Trying to question a junkie who was starting to come down? I’d have had better luck trying to get a dog to confess to the Kennedy Assassination. Six hours of me doing all of the talking, then screaming while Collins drooled and sang old Irish songs – after vomiting on the table.
I’d always prided myself on keeping my cool with suspects no matter how disgusting they were, but Collins got to me. He was clueless and I was useless. He belched in my face, smelling like puke, and I lost it. I beat the ever loving daylights out of him. By the time the crew watching from the other side of the glass pulled me off of him the damage was done.
There was an investigation and the only thing that kept me from ending up on the wrong side of a courtroom was that Collins didn’t press charges. He was so ripped that he couldn’t remember me kicking the crap out of him. As far as he could testify he thought that maybe he fell down a flight of stairs or maybe he got hit by a bus.
Internally it was a different story. I was “disciplined” for “Improper Action.” That cost me a pay grade and a two month suspension which was waived because they were already short staffed.
The guy who actually shot up the nursing home was caught the day after I’d creamed Collins. He had been thrown out of a hockey bar for being too obnoxious. He shot out their front window before the barkeep pulled his dog-leg from behind a keg and blew away the guy’s knees. There was enough forensic evidence that he’d killed those seven people that even the Pope would have voted to put him on Death Row. I’d kicked Collins and my career for nothing. Everybody lost.
The newspapers reported that I had beaten Collins in front of his kid, cute little Timothy, traumatizing him for life. Not unless the kid was on the Force already at the age of eleven and watching it all through the one-way mirror.
What a joke.
When it came to the kid, Timothy Collins, he went around telling that bullcrap story as if it was Gospel Truth. It made him think he was somebody. He told it so often that I think he began to believe it himself.
Why he hooked up with the other pair of shooters is something nobody will ever know unless he left a diary or something behind. He’s not telling that story anymore. My two hits took care of that. Do I regret that? Hell, No. I may be the thread that connects all three of them to me, but I don’t think the younger Collins recognized me that day in the Mall. He would have cut me to pieces just like he’d done with those other poor whoevers were there in his line of sight.
So there it is. Three people ready and willing to murder. One of them dead by my hand and two on the loose and somehow I am tied to all of them and they call the TV stations to let them know that I am their real target.
Nine pages of data gathered with the help of an old friend who became an enemy, who now is…somewhere in between. I’m not sure if he will move that data upstairs to his superiors. He might. He should, but he might also look upon those nine pages as something just between the two of us and hit the delete button.
I’ll pass on those nine pages to Detective Martindale, but no right away. They have at least fifteen people looking for those two surviving media-loving killers. If I give the guys upstairs this pile of information they’ll be bumping into each other and queering any real sources who might help end this without hailstorm of lead. I’m going to keep this printout to myself for awhile. Close to the vest and very quiet. I’ll plumb my own sources – the ones who are still alive and talking to me. There aren’t that many left, but they can be invaluable. They can dig up information that even O’Shea’s computers can’t. His electric solid-state snitches can tell him how much money they might have, but my people can tell me which pocket it’s in.
Nate Williams Jr.
Leslie Ann Wolas
Which one first – Williams or Wolas?
Those were the two who were still alive and dangerous. Collins could wait. He wasn’t going anywhere. I’d made sure of that.
My first freelancing source of information was courtesy of the phone company. One of the first things people do when they grow up and move out into the world is to get their own place and the first thing they do after they sign the lease papers is to get a phone…a landline even if they already have a cell phone. It’s the grown-up thing to do. They may never use it, but it’s there, sitting on the table in the corner, reassuring them that they are no longer Mommy’s little baby.
Page 477, halfway down the page: “Nathan Williams, 432 Wilson Ave. #6, 675-1298.” He’d dropped the “Junior.”
For all his genius O’Shea had ignored that bit of information. People move so often that it was almost a 100% sure thing bet that Williams wasn’t living there anymore. A useless bit of history it would seem? True, but what O’Shea couldn’t know was that maybe, just maybe, he had sublet his apartment to a friend who knows where to send his check every month.
It couldn’t hurt to ask, but to make sure that it couldn’t I packed three inconspicuous and easily concealed pistols – one on my hip under my jacket, another tucked in the small of my back, and a third in an ankle holster. Being sure that something is safe and harmless is the quickest way into a casket. If everything at 432 Wilson Ave #6 is harmless as a puppy dog then fine and dandy, but if they are friends of Nate Williams Jr. they might be as nasty as a rattlesnake with a fangache.
OK…I had my information. I had my three steel friends, and I had my first question ready for whoever answered the door.
“Where the hell is Nate Junior?”
Now it was my turn to go hunting.
Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters”
Technically and legally I have no direct access to police records. When I left The Force, or rather it left me, I lost my key to the door that opened on a world of information, but I hadn’t lost Tim O’Shea. At least I hoped not.
Tim O’Shea had been on the force longer than me and because of a couple of injuries in the line of duty he had been moved to desk duty. He had shown a knack for the technical side of the badge and after some retraining he was put in the IT Department as a clerk. He was a quick learner and within a year he became “Tim The Computer Guy” who everyone turned to when they needed to track a suspect’s path via the world of Bits, Bytes, and Mega-Whatevers. If a Person Of Interest had ever so much as played an online video game Tim O’Shea could track him down and tell you what he had for lunch. I was counting on that level of investigation.
Rather than go back downtown and through the front door again and face running into anyone who might not appreciate me doing their job for them – and doing it better, I parked a block away from the HQ building and came through the City Offices entrance. A visit to the Building Code Enforcement offices on the lower level provided a quiet backdoor access to the Police IT section of the basement.
O’Shea had his own office filled with more electronic gear than that Gates guy in Seattle. He was down in the building’s basement where it was always cooler than the rest of the joint thanks to the ancient A/C system. No matter what the setting the top floors were too hot and as you went down everything got cooler. Down in the basement it was like a picnic cooler in Winter. Lettuce could sit on a desk down there and stay fresh until Spring.
O’Shea’s domain was different. He had set up his own environmental sphere – temperature and humidity controlled 24 hours a day with multiple backups for every system. Nothing was being left to chance or political interference.
Yeah, Tim O’Shea was the right man to see…that is if he’ll let me through the door.
The O’Shea Problem
The hard feelings between us go back a number of years and like all too many long standing problems – there was a woman involved.
I left the police ten years ago, partly at the urging of the powers that be, partly by the sadness in my troubled heart, and partly because of a woman named Josinda – Josie for short.
Josie was a civilian clerk in the City offices that shared some floor space in our building and I didn’t know, I swear, that she and Tim were a number. Apparently it was a bigger number in his mind than in hers because she said “Yes” when I asked her out for a drink. Tim did not take that very well. In his eye I was, I think his phrase was “Claim jumping” to let me know how he felt. I didn’t know how he felt about her. She didn’t either. She broke it all off with Tim and me both. It was no big deal to me, but to O’Shea I had ruined his life. I tried to explain it to him, but he didn’t, wouldn’t, or couldn’t believe me and a good working relationship crashed and burned. That hurt more than not getting closer to Josie. I was over her in about an hour and a half, but having Tim O’Shea shooting daggers at me everyday hurt.
All of this was a long time ago in the past as far as I’m concerned, but friends still in Blue tell me that Tim still gets somewhat icy when my name comes up.
I feel like I really don’t have a viable second choice. If I want to dig into these three killers it’s got to be Tim O’Shea or nobody and Nobody stopped talking to me a long time ago.
What a lopsided triangle that was: Me, Tim, and Josie. I innocently asker her out – for a drink and nothing more, I swear. She said “Yes” and before I knew what was happening Tim got PO’d at me. Then Tim got PO’d with Josie. She got PO’d at both of us, saying, loudly, that she was not going to be the prize at a Police Turkey Shoot. She called us both “Cop Bastards” and walked away. When she told off Tim in the office in front of everyone it all really hit the fan.
He blamed me for everything. I tried to tell him that I wasn’t cutting in on his turf – claim jumping – and that I was the only innocent leg of the triangle. He didn’t buy that at all. Nobody bought it and all of a sudden I am being cast as an evil and sneaky SOB.
I may have been innocent in that mess, but I got laid more in the six months after I got tagged as “The Bad Guy” than I had in the previous years. Some women just like the Bad Guy who’d steal another man’s woman. I didn’t put up much of a protest. Nothing I could say would overturn the rumor machine and, anyway, I was having a real good time of it. I considered it a payback for my reputation being sullied.
After that six months of fun and games things calmed down. My Groupies figured out that I wasn’t such a scumbag after all, and once Josie was out of the picture and stopped feeding the rumor mill, everybody took a breath – except for Tim O’Shea. To him I was still the Devil incarnate – a combination of a Casanova in a blue uniform and the actor Richard Burton. Well, let me tell you, Josie was no Elizabeth Taylor.
The sign on the door should have been enough to stop me from going any farther.
“Knock, Phone, Email, or send a Postcard, but DO NOT just walk in.”
I figured that since I was already on his “Least favorite persons” list I had nowhere to go but up. I twisted the doorknob and pushed open the door. Without even turning around in his chair to see who was violating his space, O’Shea yelled, “Can’t you read?”
“Not very well, Tim.”
Us. You, me and all the others out there every day who are doing the darndest things that defy logic, common sense, and threaten our status as the tippy-top of the food chain. I’ve got to stop looking at the online news in the morning before I’ve had my coffee and my meds.
Just this morning I was mentally assaulted by stories that dragged my brain lobes around like they were Fisher-Price pull toys.
WE HAD COMPANY DROP BY THIS MORNING. They were most welcome because they brought fresh kolaches (look it up). Anyone who brings pastries when they come through the door will be embraced. I think if the Magi had brought kolaches to Bethlehem instead of gold, frankincense, and myrrh they would have been invited to stay for the weekend.
Throwback Thursday from March 2017 – “Three Little Words”
I KNOW A YOUNG BLOGGER, whose work I really enjoy. Recently she mentioned that she had decided to sign a “DNR” form. For the uninitiated “DNR” stands for “Do Not Resuscitate.” It is an alert to medical personnel that the person who signed the form does not want any measures, like CPR, to be taken to keep them alive if their heart stops beating or they stop breathing. Serious business.
I’ve known a number of people who have signed “DNR” forms. They all had their reasons, but most of them were terminally ill and a “DNR” is a legal document. I do not have a “DNR” form. I also have my reasons.
There are any number of reasons to not sign such a form. One of them is specific to Indiana. Here in the Hoosier State the Abbreviation “DNR” also stands for the “Department of Natural Resources.” Such a redundancy could cause some really confusing situations.
For example – You might wish to sign a “DNR” so that, when the time comes, you could go quietly into that good night. – And accidentally find yourself being sworn in as an Indiana Park Ranger. Or it could go the other direction which could be even more upsetting, depending on your long range plans.
My own personal reason for not signing a “DNR” – the hospital one – is that I’m not knowingly ready to shuffle off my mortal coil. There are things I still want to do, places to visit, and books to read and write. It’s not so much a “Bucket List” like in the movie as it is a shopping list of things I want to pick up and carry with me. And I have no desire to become a Park Ranger. So me signing anything with the initials DNR on it is not likely for any time in the foreseeable future.
I’m not concerned about any sudden reversal of fortune when it comes to my health. Every morning when my eyelids open up like a pair of electric garage doors I say a short prayer. I’m not asking God for anything. It’s just a simple, “Thank You.” That’s all I need to say. He can fill in the unspoken blanks. Just “Thank you.” So I don’t feel the need for anything as final as a “DNR.”
That morning when the young blogger talked about her “DNR” decision we chatted a bit about it all. I told her why I didn’t have one as well. If I had been thinking quicker I would have come up with something witty and ever so clever as a retort. Well, following true to form, I did come up with something. I tried it out on one of The Usual Suspects over coffee.
“A What?” he asked
“A ‘PFGSRMNYOB’ form.”
“What in the world does that mean?”
“Oh, that’s a special form that I designed myself.
“‘PFGSRMNYOB’ – ‘Please, For God’s Sake, Resuscitate Me Now You Overpaid Bastard’.”
Good morning and Thank You again.
LIFE CAN BE NASTY, BRUTISH AND SHORT – depending on your neighborhood and what you eat. Even if you eat right, work and play well with others, and don’t take up burglary for a hobby, you are going to die. There is no escaping that fate – unless you know the same secret that George Hamilton knows. I think that he is about 300 years old and still looks pretty good – better than me that’s for sure. But at some point in the future even George is going to buy the farm.
A few years ago my wife, the lovely and much more photogenic, Dawn, and I toured the National Parks of the Southwest. We took pictures of the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, and the rest. We did not take pictures of ourselves. I saw her there and she saw me – that was proof enough.
His name was “Chopper.”
“Chopper” wasn’t his real name of course. It was a name that he earned in the Military. I knew him after his Army days, but I heard the stories – a few from him directly, but most from his brother. “Chopper” himself was somewhat reticent to talk about his time in Southeast Asia.
“Chopper” was a young Irish boy from Cleveland. He came from a family of Firefighters who lived life like it was a nonstop wedding reception. If something was worth doing – it was worth doing at full speed.
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 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.
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?”
“How do you go on, survive?”
“I don’t understand, Luco. How do I survive the loss of my husband?”
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.
“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.
“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.”
“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.
“RING AROUND THE ROSEY, A POCKETFUL OF POSEY
ASHES, ASHES, ALL FALL DOWN.”
According to some sources this old nursery rhyme has come down to us from the time when The Plague – The Black Death – swept through Europe killing millions.
“OK, kiddies, let’s all sing about contagious diseases and mass cremations. Ashes, Ashes – All fall down!”
What brought this to mind was a story in the local newspaper.
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.”
A large photo that looked vaguely familiar took up a lot of the front page above the fold. It was an aerial photograph of downtown San Francisco – my old stomping grounds.
I lived in San Francisco from 1978 until 2002 and I saw a great deal of transformation in The City during that time. Looking at that photo in The Times I could scarcely recognize it as the city where I had lived. Their transformation continues.