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A HOLE IN THE FOG ANOTHER TALE OF MAGICAL SAN FRANCISCO Michael Matheny

PART ONE Jacob Stoneham, 2000

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he Honorable Jacob A. Stoneham, Municipal Court Judge for the City of San Francisco, wiped his perspiring face with a handkerchief and tried to stifle a yawn. The only thing worse than the staggering dullness of the cases so far, he thought, was the stifling heat of the courtroom. Though it was mid-June, it was chilly and foggy outside with no hint of a break in the clouds. This was typical summer weather for San Francisco, but the custodian had cranked up the heat to a level which would be more than adequate in a Minnesota blizzard. He looked hopefully at the clock on the rear wall and noted with regret that it was only just after ten. Surely court had been in session longer than an hour. His stomach growled plaintively. It had been only two hours since he had had breakfast, if you could call it that. In an effort to rein in his ever-expanding waistline, he had sternly ordered his housekeeper, Mrs. Oglethorpe, to serve him only a spartan breakfast—two shredded wheat biscuits with a ~

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small amount of nonfat milk, a banana, and a pot of black coffee—no matter how loudly he pleaded or complained. Mrs. Oglethorpe, being of a quietly sadistic nature, had done as she was told with obvious relish. He had been on this diet for a whole week now, and each morning his stomach seemed to demand attention earlier and more loudly. The judge patted his stomach reprovingly and begged it to be patient, as he couldn’t recess for lunch for at least another hour and a half. His stomach grumbled again but did what it was told. With a start he realized that the public defender had finished his summation and was looking up at him expectantly. He adjusted his glasses, scratched his chin thoughtfully and tried his best to look judicial while frantically trying to remember what this case was about. Ah yes, he recalled, a homeless man had grabbed a woman by the arm while begging for spare change, and she had retaliated by having him arrested. The charges were simple battery and being a public nuisance. He hadn’t really listened to the arguments for either side, but he had heard enough of these cases in his fifteen years on the bench to know that neither side would be satisfied with the verdict. If he sentenced the fellow to the usual three to six months, the PD’s office and the homeless advocates would attempt to make political capital out of what they would term his “criminalization of the homeless”. If he dismissed the charges, the woman’s attorney would use the verdict to complain bitterly and publicly about the prevailing lawlessness and appalling condition of San Francisco’s streets. He pounded his gavel once for order. “It is the decision of this court,” he said in as dignified a voice as he could manage, “that the defendant is more ~

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guilty of rudeness and improper behavior than he is of assault or battery. You see, Mr.…” he leaned over and the bailiff whispered something in his ear. “Mr. Vukovich, while homelessness is not a crime in this city, there are limits of decent behavior. From now on, if you must beg for money, the court orders you to do it in a decent friendly manner and to learn how to take no for an answer. Is that understood?” “Yes, your honor,” was the subdued reply. “All right then. The court further orders you to apologize to the plaintiff and promise never to bother her again.” He looked down at the defendant menacingly. “And if you ever come before me again, rest assured that I won’t be so lenient. Now apologize and be off with you! Case dismissed!” The rest of the morning went more or less in the same way. There were the usual cases of public drunkenness, substance abuse, incidents of road rage, and the like. When he was finally able to recess for lunch it was almost noon. With a sigh of relief he hurried to his chambers, threw off his robe and quickly put on his suit jacket. He had taken to wearing pants with an elastic waistband under his robe and would have been embarrassed had anyone found out. But at the age of fifty he could no longer deny that he wasn’t just the victim of middle-age spread. He looked in the mirror and combed the few remaining strands of white hair over the otherwise smooth and shiny surface of his head. “Let’s face it,” he told himself severely, “You’re fifty, you’re fat, and you’re nearly bald as well. And on top of that, you’re beginning to feel as old as you look.” His reflection meekly agreed with him. The last time he had had anything remotely resembling a spring in his ~

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step and a song in his heart was when he had been appointed to the bench back in ‘85. At that time he had thought it only temporary; that he would be moving on to Superior Court, maybe even the State Supreme Court where he could render decisions on the truly important issues of the day, or at the very least preside over some juicy or thrilling cases involving armed robbery, rape, or even murder. But somehow these appointments had always eluded him and now, after fifteen years in the same Municipal Court, he felt like a hack. It was no wonder he couldn’t always keep his mind on his work. The stunning predictability of ninety-nine per cent of his cases alone made it tempting to just phone it in, which is what he did these days with increasing frequency. He sighed and put on his hat and overcoat. Mustn’t waste lunch hour, he told himself. Once outside the courthouse, his mood brightened considerably. Lunch hour was unquestionably his favorite time of day. Free of Mrs. Oglethorpe’s disapproving glare, he could eat anything he wanted for lunch. It was the one time of the entire working day he could truly call his own. His stomach rumbled again, as if telling him to waste no further time. As if by instinct he walked up Seventh Street from Mission to Market, a distance of only a block. From there he turned left toward Tenth Street and his favorite lunch place, Richman’s Kosher Deli. As he walked up Market, the fog was just beginning to thin and break up in places. Perhaps the sun would come out this afternoon and he could convince the custodial powers-that-be to turn down the damn heat. He quickened his step a bit, walking carefully to avoid the usual urban obstacles—large, overflowing trash bags littering the curbs; ~

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the usual complement of the homeless who, when they weren’t lying on the sidewalk huddled in blankets and rags, importuning passersby for spare change, were racing up and down with shopping carts filled with the most pitiful collections of junk he had ever seen; the bicyclists who persisted in treating the sidewalks as bicycle paths; the usual death-defying skateboarders and rollerbladers who seemed to delight in seeing just how close they could come to colliding with the pedestrians; and finally, the inevitable groups of huge, black teen-aged boys who clogged the street corners listening to rap and hip-hop on their boom boxes, the volume cranked up to “pain”. That they seemed to be there at all hours of the day and night was astonishing. Had they no homes, no schools, nowhere else to go? As he reached Tenth Street and approached Richman’s Kosher Deli, he licked his lips in anticipation. He was already having a pleasant debate with himself as to whether he should have the corned beef sandwich or the pastrami. Both were mouth-wateringly tender and flavorful, so it was merely a question of which he craved more—the spiciness of the pastrami or the velvety smoothness of the corned beef. This led him to the next important question—Richman’s homemade soup of the day, a different one for each day of the week, but always deliciously thick and satisfying, or Richman’s homemade German potato salad, the dressing always tart and tangy in contrast to the buttery texture of the potatoes? Since today was Monday, the soup would be split pea, as it had been every Monday since he had discovered the place. And that had been during his first few weeks on the bench. Without hesitation he walked through the door and ~

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hung up his hat and coat. He looked around approvingly. Same old wooden tables, wooden chairs, hardwood floor. The place hadn’t changed in fifteen years and, for all he knew, maybe not in the last half-century. As Richman didn’t believe in menus or table service, he went over to the counter to place his order. For first-time customers, the only indication of the choices available was a wooden board hanging on the wall behind the counter. On it was listed the meats available which never changed—brisket, corned beef, pastrami, roast turkey, and a few others. To its left was a small blackboard on which was written in chalk “Sandwiches $4.95 (Inc. Choice of Cup of Soup of the Day or Salad)—Plates $7.95 (Inc. Soup and Salad or Two Salads)”. The right-hand chalkboard listed the soup and salad choices of the day. A small sign below these three reminded customers that “Pickles, Kraut, and Coffee are Always Free with Plate or Sandwich Purchase.” He looked around for the perpetually-smiling face of Abe Richman, the owner, but he was nowhere to be seen at the moment. “That’s odd,” he thought. “Abe’s always out here during the noon rush.” Perplexed, he turned around and surveyed the one large room that comprised the public seating area of the deli. What noon rush? Though it was now getting on 12:30 on a Monday, less than a quarter of the tables were occupied, and there wasn’t even a line at the counter where the slow trickle of customers was being handled easily by Abe’s assistant and sole employee, a young man named Steve. “Yeah, mister, what’ll it be for you?” asked the youth with no sign of recognition in his voice or manner. Steve was only nineteen and had been working for Richman just a couple of years, but since the judge was in the habit of ~

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eating lunch there at least two or three times a week, he thought the boy surely should have recognized him by now. He shook his head sadly. The kid obviously wasn’t a “people person”. He did his job adequately enough, but he gave no personal attention and seemed to have no love for the food or the work, unlike Abe. Abe Richman, he reflected, was perhaps the happiest Jew he had ever met. Though he was a gnomish little man, completely bald and approaching seventy, he always had a cheery smile on his face, a seemingly heartfelt word of greeting, and a quick quip about the food, the weather, or the events of the day for each and every one of his customers. “Come on, buddy, we ain’t got all day!” The judge realized it had been several seconds since the young man had asked him for his order. “Uh, corned beef on rye, cup of split pea, I guess.” “Excellent choice,” Steve replied sarcastically. “That’ll be four ninety-five.” As the judge extracted a five from his wallet and handed it over, he asked on impulse, “Say, where’s Abe today? Not out sick, I hope?” “Nah,” returned Steve with a noncommittal smirk. “He’s in the back, slicin’ salami or somethin’, I guess. Want I should get him?” “If you’d be so kind.” The kid raised his eyebrows dramatically and gave the judge a look of exasperation. Then he turned and walked several steps toward the rear of the deli, calling out loudly, “Hey, Mr. Richman! Some old geezer out here wants a word with you!” In a few moments the little man appeared. He wore a white dress shirt with a black bow tie. Around his waist was ~

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tied a long white apron which reached almost to the ground. He smiled unconvincingly at the judge. “Well, well, if it isn’t Judge Stoneham, my favorite customer,” he began with forced enthusiasm. “And also one of my best customers.” He reached up from behind the counter and patted the judge’s middle respectfully. Then he hugged his own shoulders. “Brrr!” he remarked. “Cold outside, even for June! Bet you want a nice hot bowl of soup. You been taken care of, okay?” He looked back at Steve, who had resumed his former position at the counter. “Yeah,” said Steve. “Corned beef, split pea. I’ll get right on it.” He started back toward the food prep area (one of Abe’s rules was hand-carved meat, sliced on demand only for freshness) but the old man grabbed him by the arm. “Give the judge here a bowl instead of a cup. And an extra pickle. He likes the half sours.” Steve nodded and went back to fill the order. “Put it on a tray and bring it over to a table,” Abe continued, “and bring me a coffee as well.” He led the judge over to one of the many empty tables and sat down heavily on a chair across from him. They were both silent until Steve had brought the food and departed. The judge looked at Abe for a long minute and then remarked quietly, “So what’s going on, Abe?” He swept his hand over the nearly empty dining room. “You in some kind of trouble? Somebody die, maybe?” Abe looked sadly at the judge. “This is the end of the line for me,” he admitted. “I been here over thirty-five years now. Always tried to give good value. It was rough starting out. I had to survive the sixties and seventies with all the vegetarian hippies and organic food fads. But there ~

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were always enough regular working guys who appreciated a good quality hunk of meat for a reasonable price. But now it’s come down to this: My landlord’s gonna triple the rent next month, and there’s no way I can afford it. So I’m closing up at the end of June. I made the mistake of telling Mr. Loudmouth over there,” he pointed to Steve behind the counter, who just shrugged his shoulders innocently, “and instead of showing a little loyalty and trying to help me come up with a way to increase business, he starts asking all the customers if they know about any jobs available. So naturally, most of my regulars start deserting this place like rats leaving a sinking ship. And to tell you the truth, there ain’t all that many rats left anyway.” He finally paused long enough to take a sip of his coffee. Before the judge could say anything he continued in the same vein. “You ever look around this neighborhood lately?” he asked. Without waiting for an answer he pointed accusingly toward the window. “That new sushi bar across the street has ‘em lined up out the door by eleven-thirty. The new Thai place down the street’s had to start taking reservations. For lunch, yet! And don’t get me started on those cute little cybercafes. There must be a half-dozen of them between Seventh and Van Ness. So anyway, like I said, end of the month, that’s it!” He looked defiantly at the judge as if daring him to try to talk him out of it. “I…I don’t know what to say, Abe,” the judge replied after a long moment. “And the worst part of it is, I don’t know who I’m sorrier for, you or myself. I mean, where am I going to get a decent sandwich now?” Abe’s expression softened. As he clapped the judge on the shoulder, there was a hint of the old Abe in his eyes. “Don’t worry, Judge,” he said brightly. “For you, I’ll find a ~

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place. You’ve been too good a customer and friend for too long for me to leave you in the lurch. And don’t worry about me,” he added, smiling genuinely for the first time. “I’m moving to Florida. My son lives down there with his wife and kids, and he’s gonna get me a condo apartment. He’s in the real estate business, and he says he can get me a deal.” He winked and started to get up. “But what’s this city coming to when a tradition like Richman’s Kosher Deli can’t afford to stay in business?” asked the judge, still stunned by this turn of events. “I’m sure I don’t know,” replied Abe, shaking his head bitterly. “But I ain’t waitin’ around to find out.” He stood up and shook the judge’s hand gravely. “I’m a man of my word, Judge, and a man who appreciates his loyal customers. So for you, for the next two weeks, everything is half price. And if that idiot excuse for a counter boy tries to overcharge you, just yell. I’ll be here, but in the back most of the time. It’s just too depressing out here these days.” And with that, he headed back toward the rear of the deli, wiping his hands on his apron as he went and stopping only to give Steve a disapproving look. Mechanically the judge finished his lunch. The quality of the food was as good as ever, but somehow it seemed to have lost its flavor. 2.

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hat afternoon, although the sun had made a brief appearance between two and four o’clock, the courtroom seemed more airless and confining than ever. The judge sweated and chafed under his judicial robes, alternately wiping and scratching as unobtrusively as he could. Grimly he tried his best to keep his mind on the ~

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seemingly endless procession of trivial cases that paraded through his courtroom, each with the same outraged and self-righteous plaintiffs and equally defiant defendants. The last case of the afternoon was typical: A woman had called the police to complain that a neighbor had deliberately allowed her dog to do its business in said woman’s garden. She wanted her neighbor charged with malicious mischief. The judge sighed and reached a compromise by which the neighbor would not be charged, but would be prohibited from allowing her dog to come within one hundred feet of the woman’s property. So it’s come to this, he thought absurdly. I’ve issued a restraining order against a small poodle. At that point, five o’clock made a merciful appearance, and he quickly adjourned for the day. As he walked up toward Market Street looking for a cab, a cold northwesterly wind whipped at his coat and more than once tried to take his hat off. The fog had returned with a vengeance; and though the June sun was still high in the sky, the thick blanket of fog gave the sky a dim dusky quality. Streetlights as well as many shop lights were already lit, and the crowds of people bustling by in their heavy coats and sweaters seemed more suited to the beginning of winter than that of summer. Within a few minutes he had managed to hail a cab. “2460 Union,” he told the driver briskly. “I hope you ain’t in no hurry, mister,” the driver, a stolid black man, warned him. “This rush hour traffic’s gettin’ worse every day. Take at least forty-five minutes to get there from here.” “Don’t worry about that,” replied the judge. “Just do the best you can.” He was used to it by now; he had ~

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accepted the fact that it now took longer to drive to many places in San Francisco than it would to walk there. But he was out of shape and had plenty of time, so he was fully resigned to not getting home before six. In the past few years he had begun using his commute time not only to unwind from the tensions of the day, but to steel himself for the inevitable confrontation with his housekeeper, Mrs. Oglethorpe. That she rather resembled the Wicked Witch in the movie The Wizard of Oz was not her fault; but that she combined with her formidable appearance an unimpeachable moral character and an encyclopedic knowledge of how to right the world’s wrongs often reduced the judge to the role of repentant schoolboy. She had been in his employ for over five years now, but he worried constantly as to whether she approved of his life and often tried to please and appease her as if their roles were reversed. During the long ride home he usually read the afternoon paper or, on rare occasions, a popular genre novel. This afternoon, though, he found he couldn’t concentrate on either. His mind kept going back to the news he had received at lunch. Richman’s Kosher Deli, closing forever? The thought of this was absurd, though obviously all too true. He felt lost somehow, as if a member of the family or a close friend were dying, and he could do nothing about it, offer no words of comfort. Then he realized that he wanted the words of comfort for himself. Richman’s was his last tangible link to the good old days when both he and his waistline were only in their mid-thirties. Now there would be nothing left but memories, some good, some bad, but all slowly fading away like the morning fog. ~

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Not for the first time he asked himself why he had chosen to go to law school in the late seventies, what had he hoped to accomplish? He had never practiced law and couldn’t even remember why he had accepted the position of judge in the first place. He could, however, remember the great times he’d had in the mid-seventies when he was still a kid—with his friends and plenty of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. He had supported himself by taking a clerical job with a small company, meaningless drudgery he supposed he would call it now. But it hadn’t seemed so then. Back then, five o’clock on a Monday afternoon was the time to start living your life, not wondering how to avoid it while waiting for the next day which would inevitably be a carbon copy of the previous day. Without realizing that he had once again failed to answer his question, he resolved that tonight would be different. He would go out and do something out of the ordinary, something fun, instead of sitting alone in his study, half-reading some pointless novel, or half-watching some inane TV show. By now the cab, having slowly inched its way north on Fillmore, finally reached Union Street, turned left and pulled to a stop in front of the judge’s modest six-room flat which occupied the lower rear section of an old two-story Victorian that had been remodeled into condos, two up, two down, in the early eighties. The judge never failed to congratulate himself on the one shrewd business deal he had ever made—purchasing this piece of real estate just before housing costs began going through the roof. He paid the driver and mentally prepared himself for Mrs. Oglethorpe. Stealthily he went around to the flat’s entrance at the rear of the building. He cautiously put his key in the lock, opened the door and entered the living room as quietly as ~

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he could manage it. Luck was with him; Mrs. Oglethorpe was in the kitchen, most likely attending to his dinner which she would serve at seven as usual. As he crept quietly toward his bedroom he could hear the virtuous rattling of pots and pans. Once inside, he closed and locked the door and breathed a sigh of relief. Hurriedly, he took off his overcoat, suit jacket, hat, and tie and traded his stiff collared white shirt for a soft flannel one which he left open at the neck. He removed his hard leather shoes and put on a pair of soft calfskin slippers. Throwing on a dark blue smoking jacket (a misnomer in his case since he hadn’t smoked in years), he went over to a small writing desk in the corner of the room opposite the door. On the desk was a small goosenecked florescent lamp with a rather wide rectangular base. He picked it up, carefully removed the small key he had taped to the underside of the lamp’s base, replaced the lamp, and used the key to open the center drawer of the desk. From this drawer he extracted a small silver flask, which he immediately uncapped, put to his lips and gratefully tilted his head back, swallowing about half of its contents in the process. Immediately feeling more cheerful, he replaced the flask’s cap, replaced the flask in the drawer, and meticulously reversed the process by which he had obtained the key. He glanced at his watch and noticed that it was nearly six-thirty. Just time, he thought with satisfaction, to sneak out into the living room and be discovered innocently reading the paper. “Judge Stoneham!” came a sharp cry from the direction of the kitchen. Startled, the judge removed the newspaper from his face and hastily looked at his watch again. Seven o’clock! I must have dozed off, he thought. “I’m in the living room,” he called out, “just catching ~

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up on the world news before dinner,” he continued in a dignified voice. “So I see,” replied Mrs. Oglethorpe, suddenly appearing at his elbow and giving him one of those sharp looks of hers while wiping her hands on a dishtowel. She was a perfect contrast to the judge, being small and thin while he was decidedly large and doughy. She was well into her sixties, but her physical energy made her seem years younger. Her snow-white hair rolled up into a severe bun at the back of her head gave her a kindly, grandmotherly air, but her piercing blue eyes and the firm set of her jaw told even the casual observer that she could never be anything but ruthlessly efficient. “Uh, what’s for dinner then?” he inquired hopefully. “Skinless, boneless breast of chicken, poached in broth, with a scoop of white rice and a spoonful of peas,” she recited briskly. “And if you’re a good boy you can have an apple for dessert.” As she turned to go back to the kitchen, he gave a little sigh of regret and then folded the paper and placed it on the coffee table. With some difficulty he got to his feet and followed her into the kitchen. “Really, Mrs. Oglethorpe,” he began, “how am I to survive on such a starvation diet? Breakfast is bad enough, but honestly, these dinners you’ve been serving me have neither substance nor flavor.” She hung the dishtowel on the rack and turned to look at him accusingly. “You’re the one who wanted the diet,” she told him with obvious satisfaction, “I’m just doing my job.” “But Mrs. Oglethorpe,” he pleaded, “couldn’t we maybe compromise just a wee bit? You know, like eggs for breakfast once a week? Or a nice juicy steak now and then? ~

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I promise to faithfully stick it out the rest of the time. Come on, have a heart!” She put her hands on her hips. “Do you want to compromise or do you want to lose weight? And as to the flavor of the food, if I made it taste too good, you’d just eat too much of it anyway, and then where would you be? No thinner, that’s for sure! Now, let me serve you your dinner, such as it is. Go sit down at the dining table and I’ll bring it out.” Reluctantly the judge complied. When she had placed it before him, he took a few tentative bites. Not bad, he thought, but not exactly good either. Just sort of…nothing. As she was clearing away his dishes, and he was munching desperately on his apple, he decided to try again. “Mrs. Oglethorpe,” he began firmly, “between your breakfasts and these dinners I don’t think I can continue to make it through the day. I’ve been feeling faint lately, weak from hunger…” She put his plate back down on the table and shook her finger at him. “Don’t try to play on my sympathies,” she warned him, “or we’ll discuss what comes between breakfast and dinner, if you know what I mean.” She had him really backed into a corner now. “Don’t think I don’t know what’s going on. I can smell the meat grease on you every night when you walk in the door. Still,” she continued in a softer tone, “two healthy meals out of three every day ought to at least keep you from splitting your trousers. So here’s your compromise, Judge.” She grinned at him. “Eat your breakfast and dinner with no complaints. And I won’t bring up the subject of lunch again. Do we have a deal?” He sighed heavily. “I guess you leave me no alternative, Mrs. Oglethorpe.” “Look, Judge,” she said softly, almost kindly, “You’re ~

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the boss here, I’m just trying to do my job. If you want to throw in the towel and admit defeat, just say the word. Give me the order and we’ll go back to ham and eggs every morning and steak and french fries every night. I won’t like it, but I’ll do it. You know what the doctor said,” she added. “Right now you’re the leading contender for the triple crown of the heart attack league—overweight, high blood pressure, high cholesterol.” “I know, Mrs. Oglethorpe, and I shouldn’t give you a bad time,” he replied sadly. “I’ll really try to stick it out. Now, why don’t you do the washing up and relax for the rest of the evening.” He got up and stretched. “I think I’ll go out for a change. Maybe take a walk around the neighborhood and get some fresh air and exercise. You’re always saying that would be good for me.” She brightened a bit. “Good idea, Judge. But wear your overcoat. It’s chilly and foggy out there and I think it’s started to drizzle a bit.” “All right then.” He walked through the living room to the closet by the front door, took off his smoking jacket and slippers and replaced them with a topcoat and comfortable running shoes. After putting on his hat he was ready to brave the elements. “I may be late, Mrs. Oglethorpe,” he called to her as he opened the front door. He patted his pants pocket. “I’ve got my keys so don’t wait up.” Then he walked out into the swirling fog and mist. 3.

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s he walked down Union Street toward Fillmore he began to reminisce. This was a nice part of town, he reflected, even fashionable, but the weather was ~

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lousy, especially in the summer. Its close proximity to the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge caused it to be blanketed by a thick layer of fog about ninety percent of the time between the months of May and November. The rest of the year, the clouds of fog were usually replaced by clouds of rain. Still, he hadn’t come here for the weather. The San Francisco of his youth had been the most charming place he had ever seen—cultural and artistic, home to many of the countercultural heroes of the 60s and 70s who had made their reputations in many cases not by following a different drummer, but by being that very drummer instead. Where had they all gone? he wondered sadly. Many had succumbed to premature deaths, their bodies not being able to survive their erratic experimentations with whatever would alter or expand the mind. But most of them had succumbed to the dullness and conventionality brought about by increasing age and wealth. He shivered a little and pulled his collar closer to his throat. He had now crossed Fillmore and was continuing down Union, automatically drawn to the bright lights of the main shopping district in this part of town which lay between Fillmore and Van Ness. He was aware of his aimlessness, his inability to decide what he wanted to do. He had left the house, he now realized, not to get away from Mrs. Oglethorpe or her well-intentioned but bland meals and morals, but to get away from himself, from his life as it was at present. His idea of the perfect evening, he admitted shamefully, was a first-run movie on cable TV, a large glass of milk, and a piece of chocolate cake or plate of chocolate chip cookies. And not necessarily in that order, either. After finishing his evening treat (usually in the middle of the movie), he would drift off into a state of hazy bliss which ~

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consisted partly of warm memories of his youth and partly of fantasies of what he should have done with that youth, would have, if conditions had been different. Then the TV movie’s credits, with their irrelevant rap or hip-hop music, would jar him back to reality, after which he would take himself to bed. That this was a scene that the judge played out on the majority of the evenings of his current life now filled him with a sort of self-loathing. As he passed a clothing store with a mirror in the window, he regarded his reflection with a critical eye. Too fat and too old, he concluded. However, the defense pleaded, he was only fifty. The prosecution countered, in cross-examination, that he was already fifty and that was the end of it. It was up to the judge to, in effect, judge. He might have handed down a fair and noble decision about himself had not his stomach reasserted itself. He patted it and told it sternly to keep quiet, for he had eaten dinner only an hour ago. He was reminded of the old joke about Chinese food: Eat a Chinese dinner and an hour later you’re hungry again. He wondered idly if Mrs. Oglethorpe’s dinner had been Chinese and then decided it was impossible. A Christian Fundamentalist, Mrs. Oglethorpe’s fear and loathing of the “Godless Communist” Chinese caused her to reject all that splendid culture had to offer, from food to fashion, as if ideology could be acquired by absorption. His stomach rumbled again as if to say, “These philosophical musings are all well and good, but what about me?” The judge got the message. After all, he thought, fad and fashion, food and diet, all come and go; but one’s stomach is with one forever. ~

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As he reached the corner of Union and Laguna, he noticed that the weather was becoming increasingly colder and wetter. He could turn back and go home, but then the six-block walk he had taken would become a twelve-block trudge, all for nothing. And with not even a short rest. He looked around for a suitable warm dry place to rest his feet and saw that Danny’s Tavern was just ahead. Now the judge was not a drinking man in the strictest sense of the word. He had been known to drink a beer with his corned beef sandwich at lunch or a glass of red wine with a good steak at dinner, and lately he had taken to using the contents of his secret flask as an anesthetic against Mrs. Oglethorpe’s torturous dinners. If he were entertaining colleagues at one of San Francisco’s many fine restaurants, he might occasionally have a glass of cognac or a single malt scotch, but he was not one to idle away an evening in a common bar, swilling down draft beer or cheap well whiskey. His vice, as you may already have gathered, was of a more solid nature than the liquid pleasures of the common working man. Put more simply, the appeal of Danny’s Tavern to the judge was not its rows of bottles of liquor of every kind and description that crowded the lengthy shelves behind the bar, but the kitchen in the rear that turned out, if his memory served, the most delectable bacon cheeseburger with house-cut fries he had eaten in a long time. Having quickly made up his mind, he entered and hung up his hat, scarf and overcoat on pegs by the door. He looked around; the place hadn’t changed much since his last visit there some months ago. The six big screen TVs were each tuned to a different sporting event, newscast or game show. That there were few customers in the place was not surprising since it was a Monday evening and still on the ~

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early side of 9:00. The owner, Danny O’Shea himself, was behind the bar reading the Irish Times. The judge went down to the end of the scarred unfinished oak bar and sat down on a round chrome and red leather bar stool near the kitchen. He sniffed the air and was rewarded by the heavenly scent of frying meat. As he sat down, Danny, with the well-trained senses of an experienced publican, looked up immediately. “What’ll it be for you then?” he called out, folding the paper and placing it under the bar. He took a few steps in the judge’s direction. “Why, it’s Judge Stoneham, ain’t it? Long time no see.” He was a solidly built man of early middle age, cleanshaven with curly red hair and a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. He wore a white dress shirt with black bow tie and an apron tied round his waist in the traditional manner. He shook the judge’s hand vigorously. “Haven’t seen you in here for, oh…” He scratched his head thoughtfully and looked at the ceiling, then snapped his fingers suddenly. “I’ve got it!” he announced in triumph. “Super Bowl Sunday it was. But that’s near five months ago now. Where you been keepin’ yourself, Judge?” “Well, you know,” the judge began, a little embarrassed by Danny’s attention. “Ah, say no more, Judge, I know you professional men,” he stressed the word as if it were synonymous with royalty, “are always busy, busy, busy. So,” he spread his hands out on the bar, “what’ll it be for you tonight? Beer? We got twelve on tap, you know. All the way from PBR to Guinness. Or maybe somethin’ a little stronger? Just to ward off the night chill, mind you.” He gave the judge a little wink and looked at him expectantly. “Well, the truth is, I was wondering if you still make ~

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those great bacon cheeseburgers. I had one last time I was here and I remember it was fantastic. You see, I was too busy to really eat dinner tonight,” he lied unnecessarily. “Sure thing,” Danny replied cheerfully. “You’re in luck, Judge, kitchen’s open till nine. Uh, you want fries with that?” “Yes, please.” The judge’s mouth was literally watering. He licked his lips furtively. “With everything? Swiss or cheddar?” “Yes! Cheddar, if you please.” “Comin’ right up, Judge!” Danny went through the swinging kitchen door and yelled the order to the cook. When he came back, he had a bowl of pretzels in his hand. He set them down in front of the judge saying, “Compliments of the house! It’s after happy hour, but I thought you might like a little ‘appetizer’ before your burger’s ready.” “Thanks, you’re awfully kind,” mumbled the judge, his mouth already full of pretzels. “Not at all,” replied Danny. “Now, what can I get you to drink? After all, you got to wash down that stuff with somethin’.” “Something light, I guess. And not too strong. I’ve got to be clearheaded on the bench tomorrow.” “How about a Carlsberg?” Danny suggested. “That’s what the Germans drink when they’re on a diet.” He laughed and pounded his palm on the bar. The judge laughed dutifully even though he didn’t get the joke. One bowl of pretzels, one bacon cheeseburger with side of house-cut fries, one slice of chocolate cake, and two ~

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Carlsbergs later, the judge was beginning to relax. The rumblings in his stomach had been replaced by a mellow glow. Indeed, a feeling of warmth and well-being was beginning to suffuse his entire body. He sighed with contentment and gave Danny a look of profound affection. Danny, having few customers to serve, was watching some local news show. The judge glanced casually in the direction of the set Danny was watching. The blonde, carefully coifed newswoman was interviewing an immaculately dressed man of late middle age who, from his artificial smile and cold eyes, he thought must be a politician. He looked more closely. There seemed to be something vaguely familiar about the newswoman. “No one knows what will be the fate of this controversial bill,” she was concluding, “but rest assured, the nation’s eyes will be on the outcome, whatever it may be. This is Carole Anne Porter, live from Sacramento, reporting.” “Danny!” the judge called out suddenly. “Who’s that guy they were showing on the news just now?” “What guy?” Danny stood up and turned around, obscuring the TV screen. By the time the judge could see around him, they had already finished the segment and cut to still another commercial for still another Internet service provider. “You know, that guy that was just being interviewed. Where have I seen him before?” Danny pulled a stool over and sat down directly across the bar from the judge. “He should look familiar,” replied Danny with a puzzled look. “You must not be keepin’ up too good on current events, Judge,” he scolded him. “That was ~

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State Senator Joe DuMars, the conservative Republican from Contra Costa County. He was just on TV tryin’ to drum up support for a new bill he’s tryin’ to get passed.” “Do you know anything about it?” Danny leaned over and addressed the judge in confidential tones. “I don’t know if you know anything about this bastard DuMars, but he’s built his career on this vendetta he has against immigration, legal or illegal. Now that there’s a lot of anti-immigration sentiment what with NAFTA and Proposition 186 and all, he’s trying to get this bill passed that would effectively close the borders of California to immigrants from anywhere until, now get this, this is the good part, the California census shows that US citizens born of US citizens constitute the majority of people in the state. Now, what do you think of that?” Danny sat back on his stool and looked at the judge with amusement. “Why…why, that’s utterly insane…” he began, but Danny put a cautioning finger to his lips. “Shh, not so loud,” he whispered. “See those two guys down at the other end of the bar?” He turned his head slightly in that direction. “Those guys are as conservative as they come. We get a lot of those empty-headed, flag-waving ‘America First’ types in here. Union Street ain’t exactly a hotbed of leftist organizations, you know? I’m an old Irish Catholic Union man myself, and my grandfather, Seamus O’Shea, came over from the old country just after World War One and built this tavern with his bare hands, or at least so the legend goes, and it’s been family owned ever since. It was even a well-known speakeasy during Prohibition.” Suddenly a shout from the middle of the bar attracted Danny’s attention, effectively stopping the flow of his ~

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reminiscences. “For God’s sake, Danny!” cried a distraught young man, “get yourself over her and draw me another Guinness before I perish from the thirst!” “Keep your shirt on, Jackie, I’ll be there in a minute!” yelled Danny, slowly reaching for a pint glass, placing it under the Guinness tap, and adjusting the flow to a fine stream. “Takes a minute to get the proper head, you know!” He turned back to the judge. “Anyway, as I was sayin’, I got to put up with all kinds in here.” He jerked his head toward Jackie, who was drumming his fingers on the bar impatiently. He chuckled a bit. “Everybody’s money’s the same color, I always say.” He placed the pint in front of a relieved Jackie, collected the required $3.75, drew another pint of Carlsberg and a pint of Bass ale, walked back and set them both down on the bar in front of the judge. “On the house, your Honor,” Danny said, pushing the Carlsberg in the judge’s direction. He took a long swallow of the Bass and wiped his lips on his apron with satisfaction. “Don’t mind if I join you? It’s pretty slow in here tonight.” “Well, thanks very much, Danny,” the judge replied uncertainly. “But I don’t know if I should. I’m not really what you’d call a drinking man.” By way of reply Danny raised his glass in a toast, encouraging the judge to do the same. “Oh nonsense, Judge, there’s only two kinds o’ people in this world, drinkers and Royalists. And the former’s what we are, ‘cause the latter’s what they are.” He chuckled to himself appreciatively. The judge shook his head doubtfully, but took a healthy swallow of his Carlsberg nonetheless. “That’s the spirit!” cried Danny. “We’ll turn you into a social animal yet, your Honor!” He scratched his head absently. “Now, what the hell were we talkin’ about anyway?” ~

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“Uh, we were talking about Senator DuMars and his apparently wrongheaded anti-immigration bill,” prompted the judge, hoping to steer Danny away from his family stories. Danny was a good man, he thought, and featured a hell of a good bacon cheeseburger. But like most Irishmen, he had a tendency to blather on about nothing at the drop of a hat. “Do you really think this bill has any chance of getting through the legislature?” he asked seriously. “I don’t know about that,” replied Danny, now more serious as well. “But I’d say the time is right now if it’s ever gonna be. Look around just at the Bay Area. It used to be the most liberal place on earth back in the seventies. Still is in some ways, I guess. But look around you, what do you see? The streets are crowded with ‘Beemers’ and SUVs, driven by dotcommers and yuppies that live in the suburbs where it’s safer and more fashionable. You can hardly walk the streets in this neighborhood without running into some idiot yelling into his cell phone, totally oblivious of his surroundings. And look in any upscale restaurant or coffee house, excuse me, ‘cybercafe’. All you see is twenty-five year old kids with fifty-dollar haircuts and five-hundred dollar suits checkin’ their e-mail on their palm pilots while doin’ day tradin’ on their laptops. When you got that many people that make a religion out of electronics and makin’ all the money they possibly can, who’s left to do what’s right for what common workin’ people are left?” Danny was obviously getting carried away again, so the judge attempted to steer him in another direction. “You know, that fellow DuMars looks familiar to me somehow. And now that I stop to think about it, wasn’t he involved in city government back in the seventies? Your mention of that period sort of reminded me of it.” ~

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Danny scratched his head again. “I ain’t too sure, Judge,” he admitted. “I’m only about forty years old myself, so I was in school most of the seventies. I can’t recall him bein’ in any specific position, though I guess he was probably in local Bay Area politics back then.” He clapped the judge on the back. “Anyway, let’s lighten up a little, as the kids used to say. This whole thing don’t mean nothin’ to us anyway. We’re both citizens, that is unless you got some secret you been hidin’.” The judge grinned weakly at this obvious attempt at humor and then replied sadly, “Yes, you’re right, Danny, I just can’t help feeling that this is just another indication of how fast this country is going downhill. The more I think about it, the more depressed I get.” He had by now finished his third Carlsberg and was beginning to feel the effects. He put his head in his hands and sighed. Danny shrugged his shoulders and went over to serve a couple of guys who had just walked in the door. When he returned, a few minutes later, the judge was face down on the bar, sobbing a little. “Why, Judge!” Danny was shocked. “What’s the matter? I didn’t mean to upset you with all this political talk.” He tried to make light of it. “You must know me, ‘cause you used to come in here all the time about ten years ago. So you know how much I love to talk politics and rail against the cruelties and injustices of the world. But it doesn’t mean anythin’, you know. Just me, lettin’ off steam is all.” The judge raised his head and dabbed at his eyes with a bar napkin. “Oh, Danny,” he whimpered, “it doesn’t have anything to do with you. It’s me. Every day I get to feeling more and more like nothing really matters any more, you know?” In a firmer tone he continued. “I’ll give you an ~

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example. You know how much I like to eat, right?” Danny nodded. “Well, I’ve been feeling a little under the weather lately, so I went for a checkup. They told me I was going to have to lose weight and adopt a more healthy lifestyle, or I wouldn’t even make it to early retirement. So I had my housekeeper put me on a strict diet. Of course, I’ve been fighting with her about it for the last week, which makes me feel twice as bad, ‘cause she’s right.” Danny shook his head in sympathy. “Some guys I have to refuse to serve whiskey to. I guess maybe I got to cut you off cheeseburgers. I feel for you, Judge.” “But that’s not the worst of it. I was only putting up with the diet as well as I was because I knew I could have a nice deli sandwich for lunch. But today I found out that this place I’ve been going to for fifteen years is closing down at the end of the month. Going out of business. I know it seems trivial but it just hit me kind of hard, I guess.” He wiped his eyes again and blew his nose. Danny looked at him appraisingly. “You don’t get out much, do you Judge?” The judge looked back at him with the beginning of panic in his expression. “I just don’t feel like doing anything any more. I’m going through the motions at work. God only knows what the lawyers and court officials think of me but are too polite to say to my face. I’m up for reappointment next year and I’m scared to death they’re gonna kick me off the bench. Meanwhile, all I do after work is eat and watch TV. And I’m getting sick of TV. Eating is the only thing I really enjoy any more and now I can’t even do that!” He paused and looked at Danny in desperation. “I ain’t no professional, Judge, but I’d say you might have a problem. Have you ever thought about, well you ~

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know, getting some help? Everybody needs a little help now and then, you know. Hey, I just remembered! There’s a guy comes in here all the time, says he’s some kind of therapist or counselor or something. Wait a minute, I think I’ve got his card around here someplace.” He went over to the cash register and returned with a small white business card which he handed to the judge. The judge looked at it doubtfully. “Dr. Klaus Stahlmeyer,” it read. “Depression therapy, substance abuse counseling, group or individual. All sessions confidential. Call for appointment.” There was a single phone number in the lower right hand corner of the card. “Um, thanks Danny, maybe I’ll call this guy. I believe the depression part. But substance abuse? I’m not on drugs or anything.” “Food’s a substance, ain’t it, Judge? And you just about admitted you’re addicted to it. That makes you one of them, whatchacallit, foodaholics, don’t it?” “Maybe you’re right.” The judge looked at his watch. “Damn! After eleven already! I’ve got to get home. Got to get up early tomorrow.” He got up slowly. “Uh, how much I owe you, Danny?” Danny thought for a minute. “Well, I tell you what, Judge, I’m just gonna charge you for the food. The beers are on the house. So I guess ten bucks oughta do it.” “Gosh, thanks Danny.” The judge put a ten on the bar, hesitated for a moment and then added a five to it. “But I got two conditions,” Danny continued sternly. “One, don’t be a stranger. I want to see you in here at least a couple times a month. And two,” he softened his voice, “go see somebody, will you? I think you could at least use somebody to talk to, even if it’s nothin’ more than that.” ~

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The judge looked Danny full in the face for a moment, his eyes full of gratitude. Then he went over to the door and put on his hat, scarf, and overcoat. “Want me to call you a cab, Judge?” Danny called out from behind the bar. “No thanks, I’m only going about six blocks up the street. But thanks for all your kindness.” “Don’t mention it, Judge. See you soon, I hope.” Then the judge was out in the street, walking up Union in the fog and drizzle. He shivered a little to himself and at that moment he knew he had made a decision. He was going to have to turn his life around. He felt the card in his pocket, and it somehow reassured him. He walked home, let himself in quietly and went straight to bed. 4.

O

n his way to work the next morning, the judge’s taxi had only been able to proceed a few blocks toward downtown when a sudden traffic jam brought it to an abrupt halt. The judge opened first the right rear window and then the left and alternately stuck his head out of each one, but he could learn nothing about what was tying up the traffic. The fog was so thick that visibility was reduced to about six blocks in any direction, but since this weather was normal for a June morning in this part of the City, there must be some other, more specific cause. The judge looked at his watch impatiently and called out to the driver, “Hey, what’s going on up there? I’m going to be late for court!” The driver, an easygoing young man of indeterminate Middle Eastern origin, merely shrugged his shoulders in ~

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reply. When pressed by the judge he answered simply, “Don’t know. Want me find out?” “Yes, I want you to find out!” yelled the judge in exasperation. “Okay.” He shrugged again and put the car in park but left the motor and meter running. As he started to get out of the cab, he said over his shoulder, “I go talk to people. Try find out what is problem.” He pointed a finger at the judge. “But you no touch meter, okay?” The judge nodded. Five minutes and a dollar and a half later, his driver returned. “Ho, boy!” The driver put his hands to his head in the universal symbol of distress. “Man says there is guy up there,” he pointed up the line of cars. “He say other guy steal his parking space. He waving gun around. Other guy is hiding in car. Man say cops coming. Nobody move for a while. Guy with gun have, how you say…?” “Road rage?” supplied the judge. He had seen way too many of these cases in his courtroom over the past few years. Along with cell phones and SUVs, road rage was a current fashion among the self-indulgent and seemed to manifest itself in both sexes, most races, and a wide variety of ages as well. “Yes, that right,” said the driver, looking pleased. “American custom, no? Kill guy for parking space like big man!” He pointed an imaginary gun at the traffic jam. The judge noticed that the meter was still running. “Can’t we get out of this?” he pleaded. “I’ve got to get downtown as soon as possible!” The driver frowned slightly. “You no want to see cops take care of guy? Maybe there be gun fight, like on TV!” The judge shuddered. The last thing he wanted to see ~

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this morning in his present state of mind was a shoot-out. “Maybe some other time. Now, can you get us out of here, fast?” The driver shrugged his shoulders yet again. “Okay, buddy,” he replied. “Whatever you say. You the boss.” He edged his way out of the line of stalled cars, many of them futilely honking their horns at the hopelessly stalled cars ahead of them. Then he darted across the lane of oncoming traffic, narrowly avoiding being hit by a Grand Cherokee in the process, and whipped around the corner to the left. “We take Jackson down to Gough, Gough to McAllister, and McAllister downtown to Seventh. That okay for you, Judge?” “Anything, driver, just get me there the fastest way.” He held out a bill and waved it under the driver’s nose. “Ten dollar tip if you get me to Seventh and Mission in—” he looked at his watch again, “fifteen minutes!” “You got it, boss!” The driver responded by further accelerating the already speeding cab, and in no time they were hurtling up and down the hills toward the courthouse, each jolt and bump of the cab’s inadequate suspension planting a new bruise on the judge’s tender backside. After such an inauspicious beginning, the rest of the morning was bound to improve. And so it did. The judge’s cases were more or less routine, which is to say he encountered no more than the usual amount of stupidity, greed, arrogance, shame, desire, and personal injury, but certainly no less. Since he had breakfasted that morning on the spartan fare he had become accustomed to lately, his stomach was once again strongly suggesting that he do something about filling it and soon. ~

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So when lunchtime came around with agonizing slowness, as always, the judge was all set to make the fourblock trek to Richman’s Kosher Deli. The sun was just beginning to peek out from behind the clouds, and it looked as if it might be a warm afternoon for a change. He was just starting to put on his overcoat and hat when two memories stopped him. With sadness he recalled the news he had learned upon yesterday’s visit to Richman’s. He shook his head as if to clear it, hoping that this first memory was just some sort of a nightmare, as far removed from reality as ghosts or demons. But he recalled his conversation with Abe Richman too completely to doubt its veracity. I can’t go there today, he thought. It’ll only depress me further. His stomach audibly protested this decision, but this time the judge stood firm, for thoughts of depression inevitably led him back to last night’s rather Joycean ramble through the misty fog to Danny’s Tavern. So unlike me, he thought. He rarely went to bars at all and hardly ever at night. And certainly never alone. He searched his memory but couldn’t remember a single similar occurrence since he had become a lawyer, just a few years before he had been appointed to the bench. He recalled his talk with Danny and remembered that to his embarrassment there had been something uncharacteristically maudlin in his conversation. Of course by that time he had consumed nearly three pints of Carlsberg, and he couldn’t recall the last time he had done that either. He tried to convince himself that it might have been the beer talking, but somehow he knew that was not the case. Ignoring the pleas of his stomach, he searched his jacket pockets and finally found what he was looking for—a ~

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small white business card bearing the name of Dr. Klaus Stahlmeyer. He locked the door to his chambers and, before he could change his mind or lose his nerve, he quickly dialed the number on the card. “Dr. Stahlmeyer’s office,” a female voice answered on the second ring. “How may I help you?” “Um, you don’t know me,” began the judge in confusion because for some reason he hadn’t considered the possibility that someone else besides the doctor would answer the office phone. “Um, I wonder if I could speak to Dr. Stahlmeyer, please? It’s important.” “Dr. Stahlmeyer is with a patient at the moment,” the woman’s voice replied. “But if it’s urgent, I can have him call you back in about, let me see, fifteen minutes, if that would be convenient for you.” “Uh, sure, that would be fine.” “Your name and phone number?” prompted the woman kindly. “Oh, uh, Stoneham. Jacob Stoneham.” He gave her the number of his private phone. About twenty minutes later the judge was pacing the room nervously. He was sweating profusely and his heart was palpitating with anxiety. He was just about ready to give in to his stomach’s steady pleading and go out for a sandwich when the ringing of the telephone broke the silence. He grabbed it up quickly. “Hello, hello?” he cried out impatiently. “Is this Mr. Stoneham? Mr. Jacob Stoneham?” asked a polite voice which was both precise and reserved. “Yes, yes it is. Actually it’s Judge Jacob Stoneham.” “Your Honor,” said the voice in the same manner. “A pleasure. This is Dr. Stahlmeyer returning your call. The ~

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person to whom you spoke on the telephone is my assistant, Betty. She told me you needed to speak to me urgently.” “Yes, yes, that’s correct, Doctor. Uh,” he thought about how to put it. “Uh, well, the fact of the matter is, I’ve been, uh, eating a little too much lately.” He tried to make light of it. “And my stomach doesn’t seem to approve of my diet.” He gave a halfhearted chuckle. “Uh, a friend of mine recommended you. Said you were good with, uh, substance abuse. Not,” he said hastily, “that I have a problem with drink or drugs or anything of that nature. I’m just, well, a little overweight. And maybe,” he finished under his breath, “a little depressed.” “Well, Judge Stoneham,” the voice replied seriously and calmly. “I would be delighted to speak with you about this matter, but at the moment all my time is filled.” “Oh, please, Doctor!” the judge was becoming agitated. “I really need to speak with you as soon as possible!” There was a long moment of silence. Finally Dr. Stahlmeyer replied. “I don’t normally do this. But since we’re both, ah, professional men, why don’t you come to my office today at about five-thirty, if that’s convenient for you. My last session is over at five, and since I work out of my home, I will already be there. We can talk briefly. If I cannot be of any help to you, I may be able to refer you to someone who can.” “Oh, that’s wonderful, Doctor! Thank you so much!” “Not at all, Judge. This is my address.” He gave him an address in Laurel Heights, not too far from the judge’s own residence. “You already have my phone number. Please call if you change your mind or you’re going to be late.” The judge heard a click on the other end and then the dial tone. Relieved and full of hope for the first time in ages, he ~

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replaced the receiver and hurried out to pacify his stomach. At the appointed hour, the judge’s cab arrived at the office/residence of Dr. Klaus Stahlmeyer. It was a two-story frame Victorian painted a conservative ivory color with gray trim, on a quiet street in Laurel Heights just a few blocks from the busy intersection of California and Presidio. As he walked up to the entrance he noticed that there were two doors, each bearing a similar brass plate. The one on the left read “Residence” while the one on the right said “Office”. Without hesitation he pushed the “Office” doorbell. In a very few moments the door was opened by a small but dignified-looking man wearing a rather severely tailored gray suit and black dress shoes that had been polished to an extremely high gloss. He clicked his heels together slightly and made a half bow to the judge. “Good evening,” he began formally in the precise clipped manner of one to whom English is not the native language. “I am Dr. Klaus Stahlmeyer, at your service. And you must be Judge…” “Stoneham, Jacob Stoneham,” the judge supplied. The doctor’s appearance surprised him, for he had unconsciously pictured someone older. This man couldn’t be a day over thirty-five, he decided. Dr. Stahlmeyer extended his hand and gave the judge a brief handshake, one up and one down. “A pleasure to meet you, Judge. Won’t you come in?” He turned around and led the judge into a comfortable- looking sitting room and bade him sit down on a luxurious black leather couch, while he himself chose a matching armchair directly facing the judge and about six feet away. Although it was mid-June, there was a fire blazing merrily in the fireplace. The large windows were curtained off by heavy black drapes that let in ~

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no outside light. The only light besides that from the fire came from several table lamps with tiffany shades that cast a dim glow over the room. These were placed on small, highly-polished wooden tables in each corner, giving the effect of indirect lighting. All of this combined to give the doctor’s parlor the cheery warmth and snug comfort of a mountain ski lodge. The judge half expected to be offered a heavy knit sweater, furry slippers, and a cup of hot cocoa. Instead the doctor merely said, “Before we begin, may I offer you some refreshments? A drink, perhaps?” He indicated a large mirrored mahogany cabinet directly behind him. “I have a well-stocked bar, and I find that sometimes a drink helps one to talk to a stranger such as myself.” “That’s very kind of you, Doctor, but no, I don’t think so. I had rather more than my share last night, I’m afraid. In fact, it was a bartender that gave me your card.” The judge was surprised at how easy it was to talk to this man, as he was usually so nervous around strangers. “Maybe you know him? Danny O’Shea?” “Ah, yes,” replied the doctor, smiling for the first time. “Danny’s Tavern on Union Street, no? I must confess I go there far too often.” He leaned forward toward the judge and lowered his voice to a near whisper. “I have a guilty secret, you know. Since I have been in this country, only three years now, I have fallen in love with your game of baseball.” He got up and went over to a closet. When he returned he was wearing a black baseball cap with “SF” on the front in orange letters. The cap looked ludicrously out of place with his business suit, but the doctor didn’t seem to notice or care. As he sat back down in his chair, he grinned like a lunatic and pumped his fist into the air. “Go Giants!” ~

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he exclaimed. The judge smiled at the little man in spite of himself. How long had it been, he wondered, since he had seen such a spontaneous display of enthusiasm? And from such an unlikely source, too. “But,” said Dr. Stahlmeyer, removing his cap and becoming serious again, “I’m sure you didn’t come here to discuss the Giants’ prospects for success this season.” He looked at his watch. “As it is after office hours, I will allow myself the luxury of a cold beer. May I get you one as well?” Now almost completely at ease, the judge folded his hands over his stomach contentedly. “Why, yes, thank you Doctor, you’ve talked me into it. Whatever you’re having.” Without another word the doctor got up and marched out of the room, returning his baseball cap to the closet on the way. In a few moments he returned carrying a silver tray bearing two large bottles of Spaten Optimator and two even larger ceramic German beer steins with hinged pewter lids and decorated with pictures of blonde frauleins. The doctor opened both bottles and poured their contents into each stein. He then handed one to the judge and placed the other on a small table near his chair. The judge took an exploratory sip and gave a little involuntary shudder. This stuff was much stronger than the Carlsberg he had had last night. The doctor didn’t seem to notice. He took three large swallows of beer and then replaced the stein on the table. “And now, Your Honor, whenever you are ready to proceed, I am entirely at your service. No more interruptions, no more distractions. What has brought you here to my humble abode, eh?” “Well, it’s sort of hard to say,” began the judge ~

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thoughtfully. “I guess it’s an accumulation of things really. But for the last few days I’ve been feeling that nothing seems worthwhile any more. There’s my job, of course, my position on the bench. You know, I’ve just recently realized that this has been my whole life for the past fifteen years. I have no family, no friends really. The only thing I really like to do is eat, as you can probably see for yourself.” He patted his ample stomach self-consciously. “I see,” replied the doctor in that precise way of his. “Tell me, what specific things have caused you to feel this way, or alternatively, to realize that you have been feeling this way for some time?” The judge thought for a moment. “I know one thing. I haven’t really felt like myself since I ordered my housekeeper to put me on a spartan diet. Actually it was my doctor who said it had to be done.” “I see,” the doctor said again. “It’s a good thing I didn’t offer you my homemade sacher torte.” He smiled slightly. “But you mentioned your housekeeper. I assume this person is a woman?” “Certainly!” retorted the judge. “I don’t know of any men housekeepers.” “From what little I know of this city, I would venture to say that there may be more than you think. But that’s neither here nor there. This housekeeper of yours…” “Mrs. Oglethorpe,” supplied the judge. “Ah, so she is married then?” “Widowed. And quite respectable too, well into her sixties, I believe,” the judge replied a bit stiffly. “She lives with you?” persisted the doctor. “Well, yes. I mean she lives in my house. And of course she has her own room. Why all the questions about my ~

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housekeeper, Dr. Stahlmeyer?” “Does anyone else live in your house?” “No.” “Well, Judge Stoneham, I’m only trying to find out about your relationships with others. You yourself just told me you have no family or friends. So this Mrs. Oglethorpe is most likely the only person you see every day, outside of your work of course, is this not true? So tell me, how would you describe your relationship with Mrs. Oglethorpe?” “Completely professional.” The judge unconsciously sat up straighter as if to make himself look more dignified. “After all, I am her employer. She’s been with me for several years now, and we’ve always been on terms I would describe as cool but cordial.” “Very well then. I didn’t mean to imply that there was anything either irregular or significant in your relationship,” the doctor replied. “However, it is true,” the judge mused, “that we’ve had several arguments since I went on my diet. You see, I get so hungry,” he continued apologetically, “that before I know what I’m doing, I’m looking for ways to sort of ‘get around’ the diet, if you know what I mean. And I’m afraid that poor Mrs. Oglethorpe has to bear the brunt of it. It’s not fair to her at all.” “Yes,” remarked the doctor as if to himself, “it’s sometimes quite remarkable, this connection between guilt and blame. But go on,” he said more loudly, speaking directly to the judge. “The diet is one thing that’s making you unhappy. Can you think of another?” “Just yesterday I found out that my favorite kosher deli is going out of business at the end of the month. The owner’s rent has been raised to a level he can’t afford. And ~

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I’ve been going there for lunch most days for fifteen years. That’s a longer relationship than most marriages, you know.” “I’m sorry for your loss,” responded the doctor, not altogether facetiously. “But look here, don’t you see,” he continued seriously, “that both of these incidents you have related involve the same thing? Can you tell me what that is?” “Well, obviously, in both cases I’m being deprived of food. But what does that mean, Doctor?” The judge looked perplexed. “Let me ask you a question, Judge. Can you think of any other, specific incidents or events which might have caused you to feel the way that you now do?” The judge scratched his head and then automatically rearranged the few strands of white hair that kept him from thinking of himself as bald. “No, nothing really specific, I guess. Just a general dissatisfaction with the modern world. But I guess that’s common to men of my age.” “I suppose it is.” The doctor suddenly looked up. “May I ask you another question, Judge? I have lived in your country for only a short time, and there are many things about it that puzzle me, but this is chief among them. How is it,” he leaned forward and regarded the judge intently, “that in a country that is the richest in the world, that enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the world, so many people seem so completely dissatisfied with their lives? And these are not the poor people I’m speaking of, or the unsuccessful, as one would expect, but the well-to-do, the people who have all their desires fulfilled, or at least appear to have.” He paused for a moment to finish the last of his beer and noticed the judge staring at him apprehensively, so ~

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he continued in a more conversational tone. “I only thought that a man of your professional standing, Judge, who by virtue of his position must possess many keen insights as to these types of and reasons for human behavior, might be able to shed some light on this matter. Why is it then that some of the richest places in this country—your San Francisco Bay Area, for example, or Long Island and Westchester County in New York—have the highest numbers of psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, counselors, therapists, et cetera, per capita than anywhere else on the planet?” The judge shook his head. “If your question is serious, I can only answer it in very simple terms: The theory is that money and success not only satisfy our desires, but quite often create a surfeit of leisure time. So, as the theory goes, with increasingly less to strive for, but with increasingly more leisure time, negative feelings like boredom, guilt, dissatisfaction are born, as is the unshakable conviction that life is only an empty shell, that one is just going through the motions until one dies.” The judge stood up and looked at the doctor, who seemed to be hanging on his every word. “Which, ironically,” he continued, “is precisely what I’m feeling now.” The doctor nodded with satisfaction and stood up as well. He stuck out his hand formally. “A very great pleasure to meet you, Judge Stoneham. Very quickly we seem to have arrived at the source of what is bothering you. Believe me when I say that in many cases, even this much is not accomplished for weeks, sometimes months, occasionally never. So that concludes our session for this afternoon. I look forward to seeing you again next Tuesday, same time, same place, as they say on the television.” ~

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“Well thank you, Doctor, I feel somewhat better, I guess, just for having talked about it.” He reached into his coat pocket. “So how much…?” The doctor waved him away. “Don’t worry about that now. As I told you on the telephone, I have rather a full dance card at the moment, so I don’t really need the money. Because of that, and since I truly like you and wish you well, and because in your case I think we can make rapid progress, I will be more than happy to waive my usual fee. But only on two conditions.” He pointed his finger at the judge. “Next week we will be talking a little about your past, what brought you to this state of affairs. So, number one, you must be completely honest with me.” “Of course.” “And, second, you must not hold back anything you remember, no matter how irrelevant you think it is, or how embarrassing to you. Do you agree?” “Certainly. You have my word.” “Until next week, then.” As the judge walked down to California Street to find a cab, he was surprised to discover that his spirits indeed were beginning to lift. 5.

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uring the next week the time seemed to pass even more slowly than usual for the judge. While his daily routine remained the same, each morning and afternoon rush hour brought a different crisis in the streets that caused him to be caught up in a traffic jam of monumental proportions—Wednesday morning a “Free Mumia” demonstration blocked Market Street at Civic Center for half an hour; Thursday morning an auto ~

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accident at Fillmore and McAllister brought traffic to a standstill for nearly as long. By Friday he found himself longing, to his surprise, not for the weekend as usual, but for his Tuesday afternoon session with Dr. Stahlmeyer. Deciding he needed a little cheering up since lunch for the past three days had consisted of diminutive tuna salad sandwiches, he put on his hat and coat and walked the four blocks to Richman’s Kosher Deli for a sandwich of a more substantial nature. Once there, however, he found that his attitude toward his lunch was decidedly ambivalent: On the one hand, great joy and satisfaction over the velvety pastrami on rye and creamy mushroom barley soup, but on the other, great sadness over the fact that Richman’s would be closing forever at the end of next week. That evening, after pacifying Mrs. Oglethorpe with praise for her latest culinary efforts—broiled snapper in an oil-free lemon marinade—he quietly slipped out of the house and walked down Union Street to Danny’s Tavern. He wanted both to thank Danny for the doctor’s card and also to make good on his pledge to get out more often. But when he reached the bar he discovered that even though it was a Friday night and the joint was jumping, Danny was nowhere to be seen. With some difficulty he managed to get the attention of the bartender, a man he had never seen before. “Where’s Danny tonight?” he asked. The bartender, a young guy of about twenty-five clad in a sleeveless black t-shirt that showed off the extensive tattooing of his upper arms, rolled his eyes back in his head and gave the judge a snort of disgust. “You must be about the twentieth guy that’s asked me that tonight, mister,” he replied while cleaning away several empty beer glasses and briskly wiping the bar. “I oughta get a sign ~

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made. Quick, gimme your order an’ I’ll tell ya when I get back.” “Er, uh, I guess a pint of…Carlsberg, I guess.” The judge was somewhat flustered by the young man’s brusque attitude, but before he could say anything else, the bartender abruptly turned his back on the judge and quickly filled a pint glass with beer from one of a long row of taps. Then he spun around and set the pint down roughly on the bar in front of the judge, spilling some of its contents in the process. “That’ll be three seventy-five, mister.” While the judge was extracting the money from his wallet, the bartender leaned over and asked him in a softer voice, “You a partic’lar friend o’ Danny’s?” “I’ve been coming in here every now and then for a number of years, if that’s what you mean. Why? Has anything happened to Danny?” The judge frowned apprehensively. In a low voice the young bartender replied, “Danny’s gone and had himself a heart attack. It ain’t too severe, but he’s gonna be outa action for a coupla weeks.” Before the judge could say anything else, the bartender took his five-dollar bill and turned away to fill more drink orders. About five minutes later he returned with the judge’s change. “That’s terrible,” said the judge quickly before the bartender could disappear again. “What hospital is he in? I’d like to go and visit him.” “I’ll write down the information for ya when I got some time.” The bartender extended his hand. “I’m Billy, by the way, I’ll be coverin’ for Danny for a while, I guess. Then I’ll prob’ly be outa work again.” He grinned at the ~

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judge for the first time. “Sorry if I was a little short with ya, but it’s busy as hell in here tonight and I ain’t worked a big crowd in a while.” The judge shook his hand politely. “Judge Jacob Stoneham. But how awful about Danny! The man’s only about forty. And just the other night he was telling me I should take care of myself.” “Yeah, must be, whatchacallit, stress or somethin’.” Billy looked the judge up and down. “You better watch out, Your Honor, or you’re likely to end up in the same boat as Danny.” Then he hurried off to attend to still more of Danny’s thirsty patrons. The judge finished his beer and left without saying goodbye. He was clearly in a pensive mood. Thinking about Danny’s condition made him even more apprehensive about his own. He told himself he would get the hospital information later, even though he knew then that he likely wouldn’t. Hospitals had a way of depressing the hell out of him; he knew that many of the people who went into them never came out again. He walked back home through the summer evening fog, catching snatches of disconnected cell phone conversations on the way. Ironically, although it was just a day or so past the Summer Solstice, he hadn’t seen the sun all week. No wonder he was depressed. He spent the weekend alternately reading the Sunday New York Times and trying to interest himself in the various baseball games on television. After over an hour of watching trim, athletic young men running effortlessly after fly balls and around the bases, he decided to go out and jog around the Marina Green, which was only a few ~

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blocks up the street toward the Bay. After huffing and puffing for about forty yards or so, he settled for walking the rest of the distance as briskly as he could manage. “Is this what it’s come to?” he asked himself grimly. “Only fifty years old and I can’t even trot half a block? And I suppose it’s all downhill from here if I don’t do something about it. But what?” Still panting a bit, he sat down a bench and tried to compose himself. After a while he resolved to adhere even more strictly to his diet and to exercise more often for as long as he could stand it in a last-ditch attempt to lose his enormous belly and regain something of his wind and stamina. This resolve made him feel a little better, and he went back home to watch TV with a little less guilt. After an uneventful Monday and an even less eventful Tuesday in court, the judge was eager to keep his muchanticipated appointment with Dr. Stahlmeyer. Arriving promptly at five-thirty, he quickly paid the cab driver and rang the bell on the door marked “Office”. Dr. Stahlmeyer opened the door slowly and peered out cautiously. Finally, as if satisfied as to the identity of his caller, he opened the door wide and greeted the judge with slightly less reserve than he had shown at their initial meeting. “Judge Stoneham,” he said in a neutral voice, “very good of you to be so punctual. Do come in. You remember the way, yes?” He led him into the same warm, comfortable parlor as before, sat down in the same chair, and waited patiently while the judge hung up his hat, coat and scarf. When he had settled himself on the couch, the doctor looked at him appraisingly and then got up and left the room without a ~

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word. When he returned, a scant few moments later, he was bearing a silver tray which was laden with beer bottles and steins of the same nature as had been present at the previous session. The judge tried to demur. “You’re very kind, Doctor, but I simply must refuse. Last time I drank only half a bottle and my head was swimming. I can’t even recall precisely what we talked about, although I must confess I felt better afterward.” “Come, come, Your Honor,” chided the doctor. “A little beer never hurt anyone, and if it makes it easier for you to talk, why so much the better.” “Well, I suppose, if you insist,” stammered the judge, looking somewhat longingly at the beer. “That’s the spirit!” The doctor set the tray down on the end table and handed one bottle and stein to the judge. After they had filled and raised their steins in a sort of silent toast to each other, they drank heartily for a few moments. Then, looking satisfied, the doctor put down his stein and took out a small notebook and gold pen from a drawer in the table. Crossing his legs and giving the judge a professional look, he began. “Well then, Your Honor, to the business at hand.” “Um, if you don’t mind,” interrupted the judge, “could you address me by my name? It feels awkward, your using my title. After all, we’re not in court.” “Of course, if you like. Jacob, isn’t it? And so I must reciprocate.” He made a little bow in the judge’s direction. “Please do me the honor of addressing me as Klaus.” The judge nodded his head. “Now then, Jacob,” the doctor continued, stressing ~

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the name ever so slightly. “As I was saying, usually my methods consist of allowing my clients to speak about whatever seems to be on their minds at the moment. But yours is a different case.” He tapped his forehead thoughtfully with his pen. “I am going to tell you a few things about yourself. You shall tell me immediately and honestly whether each of these statements is true or false. Do you agree?” “Certainly. That seems simple enough.” “Very well then. First, you are unhappy. Unhappy not only with your own life, but with modern life in general, at least as you perceive it. Is this not true?” “Yes,” he admitted. “I don’t suppose that’s so very hard to figure out. I suppose most of your clients have this same problem, don’t they, Klaus?” “Of course, dear Jacob, but this leads me to statement number two.” He got to his feet and began pacing back and forth, every so often looking in an accusatory manner at the judge, who had begun to feel quite self-conscious. “I will take a page from the book of your experience,” he continued, now standing over the surprised judge, “and become the prosecuting attorney.” He paused dramatically. “I put it to you, Jacob Stoneham, that before you became a judge, your life was very different. You were young, you had friends, you were even in love. Is that not so?” The judge thought for a moment. “Yes, of course. But isn’t that really true of everyone? Those of us who become unhappy and depressed later in life must not have always felt that way.” “Precisely.” The doctor sat down again and nodded his head in satisfaction. “But there are two types of depressives. In the first case, the person starts out full of ~

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hope and optimism. He’s sure he’s going to climb the highest mountain, swim the deepest ocean…well, you get the picture. And then as his life progresses, he becomes older and older, and he comes to realize that he hasn’t achieved any of his goals. Oh, he’s comfortable enough, he’s getting by, he might even have a better-than-ordinary job. But as each year goes by, the less being only-slightlymore-than-ordinary satisfies him. So you might say he becomes depressed by what he hasn’t done, hasn’t gained. You see?” “Yes, I think I follow you so far. He’s depressed because he expected more from life.” “Correct. Now the second type begins life the same way. But instead of mediocrity, he finds brilliance. He becomes rich, famous, successful. He’s loved. But then something happens, something terrible. He loses the very things that have made him what he is. He loses his money, his position, or his wife and family, some or all of the above. You understand, Jacob?” “Sure. The one guy’s depressed because he never had it. And the second guy because he lost it.” The judge looked pleased with himself. “An admirable condensation of my fevered verbiage,” the doctor beamed. “Well, I’m a judge, Klaus. I’m used to summing up. And in my profession, the quicker the better. But, at the risk of acting judicial, how is this relevant to the case? You know, my case.” “It’s very simple, Jacob. At first glance, you would appear to be the former type. However, I believe you to be the latter.” He checked his notes from the last session. “Let’s see, municipal judge, fifteen years on the bench ~

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without being promoted, unmarried, practically friendless.” He closed his notebook again. “But I don’t believe it’s mediocrity that’s your problem. I believe it’s a sense of loss. Quite probably subconscious, below the surface of your waking mind. Could that be possible?” The judge considered this. “I suppose so. But I don’t see how.” “So, Jacob, humor me. Let’s take your life backward. You’re fifty years old, right?” “That’s correct.” “And you’ve been a judge for fifteen years. That would be since you were thirty five, right?” “That’s right.” “So you must have completed law school, is that not so?” “Of course. It’s required.” The doctor looked at his notes again. “But two things stand out. One, you never mentioned working in the legal profession.” “No, I never did. There was a vacancy on the court within a few years of when I passed my bar exam, which I think,” he paused for a moment, “was late ‘82 or maybe early ‘83.” “And how long did it take you to complete law school?” “Six years, including getting my bachelor’s in prelaw.” “So then, you must have entered school in 1976 or maybe ‘77, right?” “I’m with you so far.” “Now comes the second of the two things I mentioned. Do the math, as the saying goes. You must have been at least twenty-six years old when you entered school, am I ~

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correct?” The judge frowned. “Yes, I suppose so, Klaus. But what are you getting at?” “Isn’t it obvious, Jacob? You must have been a moreor-less independent adult for at least eight years before you entered school. So why the wait? And why the law?” “I…I suppose I just, I don’t know, wanted to do something different with my life.” He looked perplexed and defiant at the same time. “Precisely! And why would that be? Because,” the doctor continued without waiting for an answer, “you had lost something that made your previous life unbearable to continue, to even remember. Now, now, hear me out!” The judge had gotten to his feet to protest, but the doctor gently sat him back down on the couch. “If I am correct,” he continued in a softer and gentler tone, “the root of your problem lies in an event that occurred in your life a very few months or years before you entered law school. So, all we have to do is discover what that event was and why it made you change your life. Finish your beer, I’ll get you another.” Dumbfounded by this abrupt change of subject, the judge did as he was told. The doctor did likewise, stood up, put the empty bottles on the tray, left the room, then returned with full ones, all without saying a word. As he settled himself in his armchair again, he continued speaking as if he had never left off. “So here’s what I want you to do, dear Jacob. Lie back and recall the events of your life from the time you left your parents’ home. By the way, I perceive that, although you’ve obviously lived in San Francisco for many years, you didn’t grow up here. You have neither the look nor the speech ~

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patterns of this, ah, unique environment.” “That’s quite true.” The judge took a large swallow of beer and did as the doctor had suggested. He was feeling much calmer now, and on much less shaky ground. He was familiar with the whole “tell me about your past” approach and approved of it. Suddenly the doctor seemed to him a more soothingly professional figure. “Well, I was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, into an upper-middle-class family. My parents were very kind to me and I had a wonderful, if conventional, childhood. I’d probably still be there today if it hadn’t been for the Vietnam War…” 6.

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he judge’s voice was becoming more animated now and he spoke much less hesitantly. “I really haven’t told anybody this story in years. Okay, here’s how it was. As I said, my family was more than moderately wellto-do, and I lacked for nothing. But growing up in that environment in the fifties and sixties, I was totally isolated from the political and generational battles of the time. My family and all my friends’ families were politically conservative and completely supportive of Johnson’s military actions in Vietnam. So that when I turned eighteen, in 1968, and had to register for the draft, I thought it only natural to volunteer for military service. My family had always been Army, rather than Navy or Marine, so I thought they would be proud of me when I came home a soldier all filled with patriotic pride and fervor. But I was wrong. My parents were horrified by my decision. My mother cried while my father cursed. Apparently no one had thought to inform me that this war, while noble and ~

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justified, was supposed to be fought by other parents’ sons, sons whose births were not so fortunate as mine. Confused and saddened, I nonetheless marched off to do my duty for God and Country. “As I had volunteered instead of being drafted, my term of active duty was to be four years instead of two. Since my entrance test scores showed me to be physically fit and unusually intelligent (at least when compared to the draftees who comprised perhaps ninety-five percent of our training company), I decided to apply to Officers Candidate School. Becoming an officer, I reasoned, would not only give me more prestige among my fellow soldiers, but also give me more control over my military career.” As the judge continued to speak, the doctor could clearly see the change that had come over him. He was speaking forcefully and directly now, with no hint of his usual slight stammer. In addition, something in his eyes, some expression, made him look somehow younger, as if by speaking thus he was literally traveling back in time. The doctor watched, nodding his head from time to time but speaking not a word, as if afraid that any interruption would break the spell. As if aware of the doctor’s appraisal, the judge paused for a moment and looked at him a little self-consciously. “I won’t bore you with the details of my training and schooling,” he said a bit apologetically. “Suffice it to say that all went well, and I was commissioned a second lieutenant upon my graduation. By the time I finally received orders for Vietnam, however, it was late 1971. Now up until that point, I had not allowed myself to believe what to most of the enlisted men under me had been obvious for years: the fact that more than nine out of ten of ~

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our soldiers had been drafted against their wills and ordered to fight in this war which was not only morally questionable, but probably unwinnable as well. But when I got to Vietnam and experienced the horror and utter hopelessness of the war first hand, I began to be a believer. It started with the drugs, of course, for nearly every soldier there took copious quantities of drugs and alcohol as a sort of anesthetic against the physical and moral anguish caused by his everyday duties. Without going into detail, let me just say that after a few months in-country, I had as much of an anti-war attitude as any of my private soldiers.” The judge paused for a moment and swallowed the last of his beer. Then he boldly motioned to the doctor for more, as if both the recitation and the recollection of this period of his life had given him a powerful thirst. The doctor quickly got up and without a word brought out two more bottles of Spaten which he opened immediately. The judge took one and refilled his stein eagerly. So efficient was the doctor that the entire interruption had taken only a minute or two. “So now it’s the summer of ‘72,” the judge resumed, a faraway look in his eyes. “I’ve been promoted to first lieutenant somehow, and by this time I’ve grown a full beard and my hair is long and shaggy. Think of the movie Apocalypse Now,” he grinned. “They’re calling me ‘the hippie looie’ and ‘Lieutenant Stony’, but I don’t mind. So one morning I get orders to lead my platoon into a little village where rumor has it that some high-ranking Viet Cong are hiding out. Well, I take an advance rifle squad of twelve men to the outskirts of the village to look around and see if it’s safe. So we look around. It’s so quiet you can’t hear anything. No voices. No birds singing. Not even ~

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insects buzzing. There is no silence quite so ominous as that of the jungle when it holds its breath. So, it’s quiet. As they say in the movies, too quiet. I’m already beginning to think it’s a trap of some kind, and I’m looking around for a way out, when the machine-gun fire hits us all at once like a wave. There must be more weapons firing simultaneously than I’ve got men. Before I can order them to get down, most of them are hit. Those of us who aren’t, myself included, dive into the bushes at the edge of the village, just hoping we hadn’t been spotted. From my place of concealment I look around frantically. Most of the rest of my platoon who hadn’t been hit are nowhere to be seen, having scattered upon hearing the gunfire. They probably think I’m dead or at least captured, and at this point I don’t particularly care about their desertion. Staying alive is what’s important right now, and things like the war, orders, duties are merely obstacles between me and that goal. When all is quiet once more, I look around to see if there’s anyone still here besides me. After a few moments I notice only two men crouching in the bushes with me, one large sergeant and one small private. Miraculously, none of us are even wounded.” Here the judge paused again to drink some more beer. After a few moments the doctor spoke for the first time. “What a marvelous story! And the whole thing is true? What happened next? You obviously escaped, or you wouldn’t be sitting here talking to me.” Such was his excitement that he seemed to be quite forgetting his professional tone. “We waited silently for dark,” continued the judge. “In some ways that was the hardest part, harder even than being shot at. Just crouching there, absolutely still, ~

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afraid to move even a muscle, hungry and thirsty. And this went on for hours. All we could do was look at one another and silently hope and pray that we would be able to get away safely. And so we did. When darkness finally came, we crawled out of the bushes as silently as we could. And that night the three of us made a pact. But I fear I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me describe them to you, my forced companions in terror and tedium. I can still see them in my mind, as clearly as if it were yesterday, though it’s been nearly thirty years. The big sergeant was named Sam McCullough. Everybody called him ‘Moose’ because of his size. He must have stood about six-five and weighed about two-forty. The little private’s name was Dave Hempel, but everyone called him ‘Hemp’. He was a little weasely guy with shifty eyes and a nervous energy that must have made it much more difficult for him to sit still all those hours than it had been for us. But sit there he did. And the three of us looked at each other in disbelief, each of us with the same thought: that there must be some reason the three of us had been spared, and that even if that was the only thing we shared in common, that was reason enough for us to stick together as a unit. So right then and there we made a pact. We would be like the Three Musketeers, ‘all for one and one for all’—Stony, Moose, and Hemp forever.” As the judge finished this part of his story his shoulders sagged visibly. The vitality seemed to leave his eyes as well as his voice. The doctor saw these signs immediately and smiled at his patient encouragingly. “So all three of you survived? And did your relationship continue from that time? But I see,” he said in a more soothing tone, “that you must be tired. That is certainly ~

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enough for one session. We are making very good progress here.” He stood up and the judge did the same. “This must be very difficult for you,” the doctor continued, “yet you seemed much livelier when you were relating this story than I have ever seen you be. This seems puzzling, does it not?” “I don’t know,” mused the judge. “When I began to relate my story to you, I fully expected to be quite nervous and reticent about it. For that is my nature, you know. As I said before, I don’t think I’ve mentioned these experiences to anyone in at least fifteen or twenty years. But curiously enough, I felt more alive than I had in years. And now I feel very tired, but a pleasant tired, as if I had been carrying a heavy weight and had just been able to put it down.” He looked at the doctor questioningly. “Ah, but next time will be the most difficult of all for you. Thus far the incidents that you have described remain a safe distance from the source of your problems, from the time in which they began. Next time we will pick up where we left off: What happened to the three of you after the war? And how and when did you change from the man you were then to the man you are now?” “I’ll try to give you as complete and honest an account as I can remember,” replied the judge. “Well, no one can ask for more than that. Until next time then.” They shook hands briefly and then the judge was out the door. Such was the closeness of the relationship they had forged that neither man mentioned the day or time of the next session. When the judge arrived home at about seven o’clock, ~

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he found the latest example of Mrs. Oglethorpe’s vile attempts at slimming cuisine waiting for him on the dining room table. As had been his habit for the last week or so, however, he had nothing but kind words for her, and he ate what was put in front of him as quickly and with as much grace as he could muster. After his dinner he took his coffee into the living room as usual, but for some reason he neither picked up a newspaper nor turned on the television. He found that he actually wanted to think, to remember for a change. To that end he got up and began rummaging around in the bottom drawer of his desk until he finally found the object which he sought—an old and well-used briar pipe. Now the judge did not consider himself a smoker, but neither did he have anything against the use of tobacco. He remembered smoking this pipe quite often when he had been in law school, both for effect and to calm his nerves. He also remembered that it had helped him to think. He wondered briefly at this sudden desire for introspection and decided that it must be the combination of the quantity of beer he had drunk (much more than was usual for him) and the old war stories that Dr. Stahlmeyer had so cunningly coaxed out of him. He rummaged further in the drawer but could find no tobacco. Momentarily annoyed, he called out impatiently to his housekeeper, “Mrs. Oglethorpe! I’m going out for something! And when I return, I’ll be in the living room all evening and I don’t wish to be disturbed! I’m, ah, going over some important papers,” he finished in a milder tone. “Of course, Your Honor,” came the faint reply from the kitchen. “I’ll see that you’re not disturbed.” She poked her head into the living room. “Will you be wanting ~

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anything else tonight then?” “No thank you, Mrs. Oglethorpe,” was his dignified response. “And if I do, I’m quite capable of getting it myself.” She rolled her eyes at the ceiling but answered him amiably, like a mother who has chosen to ignore her child’s bad manners, “Then good night to you, Your Honor. Try not to stay up too late tonight. You’ve got court early in the morning, you know.” “I’m quite aware of that, Mrs. Oglethorpe. Good night.” She muttered something under her breath and went back to doing the dinner dishes. The judge immediately dressed in his coat, hat and scarf and went out into the evening. It was just getting dark and it seemed to him that the fog was hovering around his face, misty and forlorn. Shaking his head and lengthening his stride, he soon arrived at a little smoke shop on Fillmore that sold decent blends of pipe tobacco. After purchasing an ounce and a half tin of Dunhill’s Deluxe Cherry Blend at what he considered to be an exorbitant price, he quickly returned home and changed into a cardigan sweater and comfortable soft leather slippers. He put the pipe in his teeth and looked at his image in the mirror over the fireplace. Upon deciding that he looked pleasingly collegiate, he lit a fire and sat down on the couch in front of the dark television and put his feet up on the coffee table. Then he opened his tobacco tin and stuffed a quantity of its contents into his pipe. After lighting it with difficulty and coughing a number of times (for he was unused to the pipe and had accidentally inhaled), he was finally able to get it drawing smoothly and evenly enough ~

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to puff on it now and then without conscious thought. So, he said to himself. He was suddenly aware of a deep and profound silence broken only by the rhythmic and monotonous ticking of the grandfather clock in the corner. It was strange that he had never noticed it before. Mrs. Oglethorpe must have finished her household chores and taken herself off to her room, for he could hear not a sound from the kitchen. Even the usual outside traffic noises were strangely absent. He puffed on his pipe and took a sip of his now-tepid coffee. I am about to enter the strange new world of selfexamination, he thought, but where to begin? His eyes were drawn to the pile of newspapers and magazines on the coffee table, but he resolutely resisted temptation. With the air of a man who has made his decision, he cleared the coffee table of the offending literature with one swipe of his arm and then got up to dim the lights. He picked up the TV remote control which he kept within easy reach on an end table and contemptuously tossed it across the room. Then he sat down again and put his feet up. He relit his pipe and took another sip of his now-cold coffee. Where to begin indeed? He was at a loss. Then he had an inspiration. What had Dr. Stahlmeyer told him would occur at the next session? Well, this time he would not be caught unawares. He would rehearse for the next session by pretending that the doctor was sitting across the room from him. Silently he began an imaginary dialogue. Yes, doctor? What happened after Vietnam, you ask? Well, when all three of us were discharged, in late 1972, we decided to honor the pact we had made with each other. It was to be in reality “all for one and one for all�. But the ~

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main problem turned out to be geographical. You see I, as I mentioned before, was from Massachusetts. Moose was a farm boy from Indiana, I forget just where. And Hemp— well, Hemp had been a hippie living in San Francisco when the draft board had caught up with him. He was always mysterious when it came to the details of his past or how he had gotten drafted. But he was a persuasive guy, and so he managed to convince the two of us to join him in San Francisco not too many months after we were discharged. Moose was agreeable, for after Vietnam he found that the routine of farm life had become for the first time dull and unfulfilling. I had seen enough of the horrors of war to make me want nothing more to do with the military, and I was quite uneasy about staying with my staunchly conservative, flag-waving family and friends in Lowell for any length of time. So, by elimination, we decided to follow Hemp’s lead, as he was the only one of us who seemed eager to resume his prewar life. So, after visits with our families that were brief enough not to be too painful, Moose and I flew across the country to San Francisco, he from Indiana and I from Massachusetts. The three of us pooled our resources and quickly found a nice two-bedroom flat in Noe Valley, a quiet neighborhood just east of Twin Peaks, for two hundred fifty dollars a month plus utilities, which we figured we could just about afford, even with two out of three of us working low-paying jobs. So what happened then, you ask? Well, not much of anything really. We were three single guys in our midtwenties, living together, and I remember life as being rather chaotic and unpredictable when compared to the standards of today, but always exciting. There were always ~

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a lot of women, plenty of beer and dope, and such food as we required, though a nutritionist would have been horrified by our diet. There was always rock and roll playing in the house, either on record albums or one of the excellent progressive rock stations of the time. And so life continued, very pleasantly as I recall, for about two years. And then…well, for some reason, everything just sort of fell apart, I guess. Hemp was doing more and more drugs, Moose and I were having arguments about him as if we were a married couple and he our child. And I had been going with a girl for some months…I think her name was…Carol something. And then we …began to drift apart, I guess… Suddenly the judge became aware of a burning dryness in the back of his throat and the intense heat of the pipe he was still holding in his left hand. The inside of the bowl was cherry red, and he could smell the briar itself beginning to burn. He quickly tapped out the pipe in an ashtray and checked the quantity of tobacco remaining in the Dunhill tin. Almost a quarter gone! He realized that he must have unconsciously refilled his pipe at least twice. He glanced at the grandfather clock in the corner. Nearly eleven forty-five! He had sat here smoking and reminiscing, completely oblivious to the outside world or even his own actions, for over three hours. He shook his head and went to the kitchen to try to find something to soothe his seared throat. He searched the refrigerator but found nothing of interest—only bottled water and a half-full pitcher of orange juice made from frozen concentrate. Inexplicably he thought longingly of the beer that Dr. Stahlmeyer had served him that afternoon. He quietly rummaged around in ~

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the kitchen cupboards, being careful not to awaken Mrs. Oglethorpe who was asleep in the next room. His face brightened as he found what he was looking for—a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon he had been gifted with last Christmas, but which he had never gotten around to opening. Looking through the kitchen drawers, he finally found a corkscrew. He uncorked the bottle easily, took a large wine glass down from the overhead cabinet, and poured himself a glass. Then, taking glass and bottle with him, he returned to the living room. What had he been thinking, he wondered as he allowed a cooling gulp of red wine to slide down his damaged throat, smoking all that tobacco? It occurred to him that he might be losing his mind. Beer, tobacco, wine, that’s not like you, Jacob, he admonished himself sternly. Thinking of losing his mind reminded him of what he had been thinking about earlier. Yes…that’s right…the three of them living in Noe Valley in that little second-floor flat directly over the garage. It was on Twenty-Third Street if he remembered correctly. He put his fingers to his temples as if to prod his memory. Of a certainty he remembered how it had all started. But how had it all ended? He vaguely recalled arguments, drugs, more arguments, more drugs. He had broken off with whatshername…Carol (or she with him?). And then suddenly he was in law school and living in a small apartment downtown in the Tenderloin. As he struggled to recall the details he made a mental calculation. Let’s see now, appointed to the bench in ‘85. Graduated from law school in ‘83. College and law school took six years. Must have started…he counted backwards…’76 or ‘77. Last time I remember being with Hemp and Moose and Carol was ‘75. How to get there from here…How to get here ~

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from there…Why can’t I remember? He smacked himself in the forehead with his left hand and picked up the wine glass with his right. He realized with a start that it was empty and that he could not recall having finished it. He picked up the bottle with his left hand and noticed with some alarm that it was only about a quarter full. He had drunk at least three large glasses of wine without even being aware of it. No wonder you can’t seem to remember, you drunken old fool, he scolded himself bitterly. With drunken logic he poured the remaining contents of the bottle into his glass and drank quickly. Got to dispose of the evidence, he told himself. When he had finished the wine, he looked again at the grandfather clock. It was after one. He lurched unsteadily out to the kitchen and buried the wine bottle as far down in the trash can as he could manage. Then he rinsed out the glass, dried it and replaced it in the overhead cabinet. He looked around for any more incriminating evidence and discovered the cork and corkscrew lying on the counter taunting him. He grabbed up the cork and buried it in the trash with the wine bottle. The corkscrew he replaced in the drawer, shoving it to the back. Then he grinned stupidly. Ol’ Oglethorpe’ll never catch me now, he gloated. Everything’s under control. And with that he staggered off to his bedroom, leaving the pipe and ashtray full of ashes in plain sight in the living room. The next morning the judge awoke to find that he had the worst hangover he could remember. His head throbbed, his stomach churned, and his tongue and throat felt like a pair of wool socks—dirty wool socks at that. Groaning, he ~

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began to remember some of the details of last night’s solitary debauch. He quickly arrayed himself in some semblance of judicial finery and gingerly walked out into the living room. Astonishingly there seemed to be no trace remaining of his presence there the previous night. The ashtray was still on the coffee table as he had left it, but it had been emptied and polished to such a degree that it looked as if it had never been used. He looked around for his pipe only to discover that it had been returned to the bottom drawer of his desk along with the tin of Dunhill tobacco. He would have seriously doubted the reality of the events of last night had it not been for the mute but forceful testimony of his hangover. Shrugging his shoulders, he went into the kitchen to stoically endure the questionable benefits of his breakfast— dry toast, two shredded wheat biscuits barely softened by the application of as little non-fat milk as possible, and a small cup of black, unsweetened coffee. Mrs. Oglethorpe bustled about the place as usual but made no comment about last night or, indeed, about anything at all. The judge observed her closely, but all that he could discern was the occasional disapproving glance and the almost imperceptible shake of her head which, coming from Mrs. Oglethorpe, could mean anything or nothing. He finished his breakfast and called for a Veterans Cab to take him downtown to the courthouse. Since the atmosphere inside was decidedly chilly, he put on his hat and coat and went outside to wait for his cab. There he thought the elements might be more hospitable. In this he was correct. Although it was not yet eightthirty in the morning, the thick blanket of fog that had covered the northwest part of the city for the last several ~

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weeks seemed to be thinning out a bit. Here and there he could see patches of blue sky where the gray curtain had partially parted. It even seemed a bit lighter, as if the sun were desperately trying to prove to a skeptical city that it still existed. The morning was neither particularly warm nor unpleasant, but the judge suddenly began to sweat profusely under his heavy overcoat. Large beads of perspiration broke out on the shiny portion of his forehead just beneath his hat. His head began to throb unmercifully, and the shredded wheat seemed to have formed an undigestible lump in his churning stomach. As the cab finally came into view, honking its horn, the throbbing in his head intensified. His heart began to pound alarmingly fast, and he could feel a crushing pain in the left side of his chest which radiated out into his left arm. He began to gasp for breath. Above him, the gray curtain seemed to part suddenly, and a blinding shaft of sunlight shot through a hole in the fog, transfixing him like an actor in a spotlight. He put his hands to his head and moaned once or twice. This is it, he thought, the big one. In a few moments I’ll be in Heaven or Hell. Or just nothingness. He briefly and inanely considered the paradox of what it would feel like to simply cease to exist. Then the intensity of his pain and the brightness of the sunlight increased and he silently crumpled into a heap, just yards away from the horrified cab driver.

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PART TWO Jake, 1974

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here was a fourth possibility that he hadn’t even considered. Just as quickly as the blackness that he assumed to be eternal night had closed around him, so did it begin to dissipate, giving way to a brilliant sun in a cloudless sky. He seemed to be hovering about ten or twelve feet in the air, about twice as high as the crowd of people hurrying back and forth beneath him. Strangely he no longer felt any pain or even fear, agitation or confusion. He wondered if this might be some strange psychic happening, like those out-of-body experiences he had occasionally heard described in his courtroom. The first thing he noticed other than the dazzling blue sky and the ever-shifting crowd of people was a cable car just getting ready to be turned around to head back up the hill, presumably toward Fisherman’s Wharf. So I’m still in San Francisco, he thought. This knowledge made him feel somewhat stronger and bolder, so he decided to explore the limits of his new and ~

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decidedly different consciousness. Three of his major senses seemed to be intact: He could certainly see; he could also hear the clanging of the cable car bells and the voices of the crowd, though he didn’t seem to be near enough to make out any individual words or phrases; and he could even smell the mixed odors of pizza, fried chicken, popcorn and the like emanating from the open doors of the large Woolworth’s on the corner. But upon trying to touch—a lamp post, the side of a building, even himself—he quickly found that he had nothing with which to touch—that as far as he could tell, he possessed no sort of physical body whatsoever. Oddly enough, this discovery seemed not to dismay or unnerve him, although it seemed to confirm his worst fears. I must have died, he decided, and become some type of earthbound ghost or spirit. He looked at his surroundings more carefully and deduced that he must be in downtown San Francisco at the corner of Powell and Market Streets. The cable car turnaround and the crowds of people on the street, many of them obviously tourists, attested to that fact. But something wasn’t right. He looked again at the huge Woolworth’s on the corner. There was supposed to be a Gap clothing store there. The old Woolworth’s had gone out of business years ago, back in the mid-nineties some time if he remembered correctly. Yet here it was, apparently doing a brisk business as great throngs of people strolled in and out of its open entrance doors, all seemingly oblivious of its demise. He looked in the other direction, back toward Market Street, and immediately became even more confused— Market Street was jammed with long, seemingly endless ~

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lines of streetcars, one line going east toward The Embarcadero, the other west toward Castro. They all looked the same—large metal bodies painted in green and cream, like some of the antique trolleys of the F-Line he knew so well. But instead of the letter F, the destination signs of these streetcars read variously J, K, L, M, N. But these lines had not run overground on Market street since the Muni Metro had opened, about twenty years ago. Frantically he looked around for the Muni Metro entrance to the Powell Street Station, but all he could see was a sign indicating the Powell Street BART Station, the entrance to which looked preposterously clean and new, both escalators working perfectly. I know where I am, he thought wildly, but when am I? Just as he was asking himself this question, he felt himself being pulled in a certain direction, as if someone was tugging at his arm. The fact that he had no arms made the sensation all the more peculiar but nonetheless real, however, and he was powerless to resist. He found himself being pulled down toward the surface of the sidewalk and the entrance to Woolworth’s. At the same time and by the same force, he felt his gaze being forced in a particular direction. The focal point seemed to be a rather nondescript young man, wearing a dark green army fatigue shirt, unbuttoned to reveal a black t-shirt underneath. His tight-fitting blue jeans and brown cowboy boots complemented his small slim figure, but his thick mass of curly, dark brown, shoulder-length hair made his head look slightly too big for his body. His dark shaggy mustache and soft, rather dreamy-looking brown eyes gave him the look of a student or a poet perhaps. The young man was walking nonchalantly toward Woolworth’s entrance, a newspaper ~

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folded under his arm. As the young man entered the store, the disembodied judge felt himself drawn closer and closer to him, until they seemed to merge into one being, upon which the judge felt himself slipping away. Strangely, he was not losing consciousness this time, he was losing his identity. As his perspective shifted wildly from past (future?) to present (past?), he felt first the weight of his years, then the carelessness of youth, then both at once, then neither. The last thing the judge remembered was the young man walking through the door and putting a hand to his head as if having momentarily forgotten why he was there. With the last of his fading will power the judge forced the young man to remove the paper from under his arm and look at the front page. The paper was the San Francisco Chronicle and its headline read: “Nixon to Resign Tomorrow—Ford to Assume the Office of President at Noon.” The date was August 8, 1974. The young man refolded the paper and placed it under his arm. As he walked past the cosmetics counter he paused to admire his reflection in a mirror. The last thing the judge saw clearly was a smiling face, his smiling face, Jake “Stony” Stoneham, twenty-four years young.

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inally I was finished with work for the day. I locked up the floor samples and secured the cash and checks in the safe. When the two shipping guys finally wandered out of the warehouse area, I asked them if everything was all secure back there. “Si, señor,” replied the older guy whose name was Cisco, “Esta bien!” “Bueno, bueno!” I replied, throwing on my army ~

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fatigue shirt, “Okay, vamonos!” We started out the door together, pausing just long enough for me to wave to my boss, Ted Soskin, the branch manager of ClassCo Fabrics where I was employed as bookkeeper, salesman, and de facto assistant manager. “I’m going now, Mr. Soskin,” I called out to him. “It’s after five.” “Huh?” came the distracted reply. He stuck his head out the door of his private office and looked at the big clock on the wall over the counter as if to verify my last statement. “Oh, okay Jake, you can take off then. Loading dock all secure?” “Cisco told me it was okay and he’s a reliable guy.” Soskin scratched his balding head. “I don’t know,” he replied slowly. “Just check it before you leave, would you, Jake? We got hundreds of thousands worth of inventory back there, you know.” I turned my head towards the door so the boss couldn’t see it, and made a face at the two shipping guys. Silently they grinned and waved their arms in the air approvingly. “Sure, Mr. Soskin,” I told him evenly. “Then I’m gonna split if that’s okay with you. Everything’s put away and locked up out here.” “Okay Jake, see you tomorrow.” I waved the shipping guys out the door. Then with a sigh of exasperation I headed back to the warehouse area to look around. When I turned on the work lights I saw that the place was as shipshape and secure as if I’d done everything myself. I had suspected as much. Old “BS” really got on my nerves sometimes. I had come up with that nickname for the boss when I had first come to work there, a little over a year ago. He had been in the habit of explaining the business procedures ~

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to me in the form of little notes, memoranda, and lists of rules which he invariably signed with his initials, TS. One day I was showing my latest memo to Luis, the stock guy. “More BS from TS,” I told him, wrinkling my nose in distaste. For some reason he doubled over with laughter and slapped me on the back. Then he took the memo from me and went around to each of the other five employees, pointing to the memo and repeating what I’d said. I got an instant reputation as the company wit, and old Soskin was branded with the BS nickname from then on. He’s a pretty decent old guy in his way though (he must be pushing fifty), and if he knows anything about what the guys call him behind his back, he’s had the good grace not to bring it up. I switched off the lights and returned to the front office. Then without another word to old “BS” I left the building. Freedom at last! I stood on the sidewalk of Folsom Street and glanced to my left toward Twin Peaks as I always do upon leaving work, checking out the weather by the appearance of Sutro Tower, the giant radio and TV transmission tower that sits atop one of the two highest hills in San Francisco. Even though it was early August, the sun was still high and the sky was blue. There was only a light fringe of fog at the base of the Tower, surprisingly little for this time of day. Once again I congratulated myself for having found this job, the best part being its location south of Market at Tenth and Folsom. Not only was the view magnificent because practically all the buildings in this area are three stories or less, but I don’t have to hassle with the downtown traffic which can be a real bitch during the ever-increasing rush hours. Another big plus was the fact that just up the street a block was my favorite bar, the ~

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Stud, which was one of the few night spots in town where gays, straights, bi’s, and anything in between could all feel comfortable together. I guess you could describe it as a sort of sexual United Nations. Across the street was the newlyopened Hamburger Mary’s with Cissy’s Saloon in the back, and the combination of good food and drink and the alternate lifestyles of its customers was already giving it a notorious reputation. I thought about stopping in for a beer, but as I walked across the street toward Market I decided to head downtown instead, to Woolworth’s. Now I had no idea where that thought had come from, it just sort of popped into my head. But I’m a hang-loose kind of guy, and a single one at that. So, I told myself as I boarded a Market Street bus downtown, I’ll just see what happens when I get there. If I’m a half-hour late getting home, so what. By the time I’d ridden the six blocks down to Powell, I still had no idea what I’d come down here for. Oh well, I thought, as long as I’m here, I may as well walk through the store and see if anything jogs my memory. I hopped off the bus and walked across the street, stopping at a Chronicle box to buy a paper. I wanted to read the latest news about that bastard Nixon. Word on the street was that he couldn’t hold out much longer, that this Watergate coverup of his that had been going on for well over a year now, would finally get that sanctimonious bastard the impeachment charges he so richly deserved. I thought about the irony of the self-proclaimed “law and order” president finally being forced to stand trial for his own crimes. I rubbed my hands together in glee and dropped a nickel and a dime into the box. I pulled out a paper and immediately looked at the ~

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front page. I gasped in astonishment. The slimy sonofabitch had done it again! He was going to resign rather than face the music. This meant that the public, of which I was a member, would probably never know the truth behind the whole Watergate break-in and subsequent coverup conspiracy. And since Nixon’s crony, Vice President Gerald Ford, was succeeding him as president, there was also a good chance that Tricky Dick was going to walk away from the whole sordid mess scot-free. Still seething over this turn of events, I folded up the offending newspaper, put it under my arm, and strolled casually into Woolworth’s. Now I like Woolworth’s; it’s a great place to shop. They’ve got just about everything you can think of for sale there, real cheap, and lots of stuff you couldn’t imagine, like ceramic cable car cookie jars, for instance. And the greasy but cheap and satisfying food available in such a profusion of styles never fails to remind me of summer trips to Coney Island or state fairs when I was a kid growing up in New England. But this time when I walked into Woolworth’s, I immediately felt a sense of unease that I couldn’t put my finger on. It was as if I wasn’t quite all me somehow. No—that’s not quite right. I was still me, but for just a few seconds, I felt like I was also somebody else at the same time. Strange jumbled images entered my head. I saw hazy scenes of people doing weird things—like talking into what looked like little transistor radios or typing on something that looked like a strange typewriter hooked up to a TV screen. Also, for just an instant, I felt older—much older—and kind of bloated like I’d eaten too much pizza or something. Then, without consciously knowing why, I took the paper out from under my arm and looked at the headline, even though I’d seen it ~

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less than two minutes ago. The headline was still the same, but as I looked at it, rather than anger, I felt a weird sort of curiosity. I seemed to be more interested in the date at the top of the page than I was in the news story. And yet the date read just what it should be—August 8, 1974. I put the paper back under my arm again and then felt myself pulled over to a mirror at the cosmetics counter. When I looked at my face, again there was nothing out of the ordinary. Same old face, same mustache, same dark mass of shoulder length hair. Relieved, I smiled and my reflection smiled back. And then, just as quickly as it had come, the weird feeling left me and I was completely myself again. “Wow, Stony man,” I told myself sternly. “You’re freakin’ yourself out. Looks like you been smokin’ too much of Hemp’s dope lately. Cool out, man!” I still had no idea why I had even come here in the first place and, after this strange happening, I certainly had no desire to stay. I walked quickly out of Woolworth’s and in a few moments I was on a J-Church streetcar heading for home. I wondered if I would tell Moose and Hemp about the weird shit that had just gone down. No, I shook my head, they’d never believe it. I’m not sure I do. And besides, I’m supposed to be the sane one. 2.

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t was just a little after six and the fog was beginning to thicken over Twin Peaks as the J streetcar inched its way up Market Street to Church where it would turn and go south towards Noe Valley and home. There was always a jam of streetcars lined up at this time of day and progress would be slow, but that didn’t bother me in the least. The J was one of the prettiest routes in town, ~

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well worth the thirty-five cent fare the SF Muni (that’s “Municipal Railway”) charged for all its buses, streetcars and cable cars. We had been renting the two-bedroom flat on 23rd Street for nearly a year and a half now, I reflected, having moved in just a few weeks after Moose and I had arrived in San Francisco. Hemp had called each of us and told us how great the City was and, as nothing seemed to be happening for us in our hometowns (except the constant threat of a dull, demeaning job), we had decided to join him. He told us we could crash at his apartment until we found a place, but his “apartment” turned out to be a hotel room in a Tenderloin flophouse. We were kicked out of there on the second night when the manager, who had been summoned on a noise complaint, found the three of us lying on the floor sharing a bottle of Jack Daniels and one of Hemp’s joints and giggling insanely about nothing at all. The next morning we decided to find a bigger place in a better neighborhood. An ad in the Chronicle advised us that there was a two-bedroom flat, located in Noe Valley on 23rd between Sanchez and Noe, that was available immediately for only $250 a month. Hemp, who knew San Francisco like the back of his hand, enthusiastically endorsed the neighborhood and its location. “You’ll love the area, guys,” he told us, “just one block away from 24th Street which is Noe Valley’s main street. The four-block stretch between Church and Castro has all the shops, markets, bars, etcetera, that anybody could want. And there’s a streetcar stop on Church only a block and a half away where the J’ll take you all the way downtown on Market. A block and a half the other way, at Castro, the 24-Divisadero takes you ~

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to Castro and Market. And the 11-Hoffman runs up and down 24th Street between Twin Peaks and the Mission District. So what do you guys think?” he finished a bit breathlessly. Hemp was always proud to be able to show off his knowledge of San Francisco to newcomers, particularly his mastery of the public transportation system. “I can get anywhere I want to go in the city,” he once boasted, “in thirty minutes—forty-five tops if I’m goin’ out toward the ocean. And for only thirty-five cents, too. This is one place where you don’t need a car.” We were convinced. We walked down to Market and jumped on the J. When we got to the flat we first checked it out from across the street. It was a gray stucco building, three stories tall, but apparently with only two flats built over a large garage. There was a flight of steps on one side of the garage that led up to a landing on which two doors were set side by side. We walked up and rang the bell for the door on the left, the one with the “For Rent” sign. The immediate response was a savage barking and growling from inside the other door. “Down, Satan! Be quiet!” commanded a loud male voice. The barking subsided into yips and yaps and then the door was opened by a large portly middle-aged black man. “Didn’t mean to scare you boys,” he rumbled in a deep bass voice. “I’m afraid Satan here don’t take too kindly to strangers.” He moved slightly to his left to reveal a large Doberman that he barely restrained from having its way with us by means of a short chain attached to a black leather choke collar. “Um, we’re here about the flat for rent?” I spoke up as brightly as I could. “Well, now, that’s great!” The big man fairly beamed. ~

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Motioning us to back up, he managed to slip out of the door while simultaneously locking it behind him, a rather adroit maneuver for a man of his bulk. While he unlocked the other door to show us the empty flat, Satan could be heard whining and scratching at the locked door. The progress of the streetcar interrupted my reminiscences. We were passing through Dolores Park and, as we began to ascend the twisting tracks that led us behind the houses situated on the east side of Church Street, everyone, myself included, turned to look at the view. There, spread out below us, was as beautiful a panorama of downtown San Francisco as you could ever hope to see. The sun by this time was just beginning to settle into the encroaching fog, and the effect of its soft rosy glow on the downtown buildings was spectacular. In a few minutes we had emerged from the back alleyway at 22nd Street and out onto Church again. One block later, at 23rd, I got off the streetcar and began the block and a half walk to our flat. For some reason I seemed to be experiencing nervous anticipation, an absolute eagerness to see our little flat again and my roommates/best friends, Moose and Hemp. This was absurd because I had left them only this morning, less than twelve hours ago. Yet the feeling persisted. I wondered if it had anything to do with that weird experience at Woolworth’s. I remembered that when the guy (whose name we later found out was Anderson) started to show us the place, he had begun with this disclaimer: “Boys, I’m gonna be honest with you. There’s two reasons why this place is ~

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vacant right now. You already met the first one—my dog Satan. Damn bitch makes all kinds o’ trouble. Eats like a horse and howls a lot when she’s alone. But me and the wife come to be real attached to her anyways. See, we don’t have no kids, an’ we don’t know too many people in the neighborhood ‘cause we just moved here from Texas. Matter o’ fact, this building’s the reason. We got a letter in Waco (that’s where we’s from) informin’ us that my father had just died. Seems he’d done real good for hisself with a barbecue restaurant out by the zoo and he owned this buildin’ free an’ clear, so he left it to me in his will. Well, me and the wife was livin’ in a little clapboard shack on the edge o’ town with nothin’ but the chickens for company so we decided to move out here to live. It’s a nice enough city, all right, but we ain’t seemed to fit in too good yet. Anyways, we found out that the place was really like two houses, one on top the other, so we decided to make a little extry by rentin’ one of ‘em out.” Anderson paused for a moment to draw a heavy breath and wipe the sweat off his face with a large red bandanna. We looked at each other with raised eyebrows. One thing was certain: the old guy was definitely lonely for somebody to talk to. “Uh, sir?” I ventured. “You mentioned a second reason why the flat’s empty?” “Yep, I sure did. An’ this is usually the deal breaker.” He looked a little embarrassed. “Well, the truth of it is,” he admitted shyly, “my wife fancies herself as somethin’ of a opry singer. Joins all the music groups an’ whatever. So between her practicin’ an’ Satan howlin’, well, sometimes a man just can’t get no peace an’ quiet around here.” He grinned at us slyly. “That’s when I usually suddenly ~

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remember some errand I forgot to run an’ go down the hill to the Cork & Bottle. That’s my favorite bar in the neighborhood,” he explained. I motioned to the others. “Quick conference, guys!” We put our heads together. “I don’t know about this,” I told them. “Hey, we come this far, might as well see the place,” Hemp put in. “And the rent is cheap,” added Moose. “Besides,” concluded Hemp, “you know we have a tendency to get blasted and pass out every night anyway.” He grinned that impish grin of his. “So now we’ll have a reason.” We broke up the huddle. “Okay, ” I told the landlord. “Let’s see it.” He rubbed his hands together and grinned in a relieved manner. “You boys are gonna just love this place,” he predicted enthusiastically as he opened the door. Straight ahead was a long hall, to the right a large archway. The walls and ceiling were a gleaming white plaster, the floors, polished hardwood. Through the archway was a large living room with a red brick fireplace and huge bay windows facing the south (“Gets lotsa light in the winter,” Anderson remarked helpfully). Behind the living room and separated from it by folding wooden doors were a dining room, kitchen, and small breakfast nook. The kitchen was large, with gleaming modern appliances, and best of all there was a little laundry room off to the side of it, with a large utility sink and built-in washer and dryer. Needless to say, we were all pretty impressed. He led us back to the archway where we had come in and started down the hall. In order on the left were a huge, walk-in closet, separate rooms for toilet and tub, one bedroom that contained a small bathroom of its own, and finally at the end of the hall, a large bedroom with a door ~

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that opened out onto a large cement-covered patio and grassy, wooden-fenced back yard (“It’s real nice out here in the summer,” Anderson remarked helpfully). We didn’t even have to huddle. “We’ll take it!” I told him. “Uh, you said two-fifty a month, right?” “That seems about fair to me,” he agreed. “Come on, you guys, dig deep.” After going through all our various pockets and billfolds, and much counting and recounting, we put a small stack of crumpled bills in his hand. He counted and recounted. “I ain’t no financial genius,” he said mildly, “But I only come up with a hunnert an’ ninety-five.” He looked from one to the other of us as if waiting for an explanation. “Well, the fact is, sir,” I confessed, “that’s all we got right now. We just got jobs, though, and we can pay you the rest at the end of the week, if that’s okay with you.” I looked at him respectfully and hopefully. He thought for a minute and then seemed to come to a decision. He pocketed our crumpled bills and shook each of us by the hand saying, “Okay, it’s a deal. I think I can trust you boys. Tell y’all what. It’s already almost the middle of February. This here,” he patted his pocket, “can be your February rent plus deposit. So y’all don’t owe me nothin’ till the first of March when you gotta cough up another two-fifty. We’ll go month to month. If’n y’all like the place an’ can stand my dog howlin’ an’ my wife singin’,” he shuddered a little, “an’ if we all get along okay, we’ll talk about your signin’ a lease in June. That suit you fellers?” We said it did. That was a year ago February, I mused, and we’d been living there ever since. ~~~ ~

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3.

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went up the front steps and turned my key in the lock. As I opened the door and walked into the living room a familiar sight greeted me. Hemp was lying sprawled out on the couch, a can of beer in one hand and a joint in the other. Moose was sitting in a recliner near the couch, also drinking a beer. They were both watching the news on the little black-and-white TV that sat on a table in the corner. Hemp gave me a wave but made no move to get up. “Hey, Stony!” he called out. “Where you been, man, it’s after six. Me and Moose were just about ready to send out a patrol to look for your sorry ass.” “Yeah,” agreed Moose. “Besides, you’re missing all the fun on TV. This is the best news program in years.” “I can’t believe we’re finally getting rid of that bastard. Ol’ Tricky Dick can’t talk his way out of this one,” said Hemp, taking a deep drag off the joint. I was just standing there motionless in the doorway, taking in the whole scene. I was strangely moved by it and glad to be home. Moose noticed my silence and came over to me, a worried expression on his face. “Is something going on with you, Stony?” he inquired anxiously, that soft voice so out of place in his six-foot five frame. “Had a bad day at work?” “Yeah, you got that right!” I grabbed at this excuse gratefully. “I didn’t get outa there until after five-thirty. Old ‘BS’ made me do another security check.” I walked into the dining room toward the kitchen. “Got any beer left?” I called over my shoulder. “Yeah, I think there’s still a couple in the fridge,” ~

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Hemp replied, getting up off the couch for the first time and following me into the kitchen. “But you won’t be needing more than one, my man.” He clapped me on the shoulders with both hands. Hemp and I were about the same size, which meant that the two of us just about equaled one Moose. “Why’s that?” I asked him. “Because,” he said slowly and teasingly, a sly smile forming on his lips, “we have got a great night planned for you, bro. Wanta go to a party?” “Sure. I mean, I guess so. What’s the occasion?” I was still trying to get my bearings. “What do you think, man? I’ll give you a little hint: It’s the biggest news in, oh, about five and a half years.” I did a quick mental calculation. “Oh, you mean Nixon’s resignation.” “Yeah, ain’t that wild? That old dude is gonna be, like, outa there. Tomorrow!” He did a little dance, opened the refrigerator door and handed me a Coors. “Better drink it fast, man, we got to hurry. We’re gonna go grab a bite somewhere and then about eight we’re goin’ to the party.” I popped open the beer and tossed the pull tab into the trash. “C’mon Hemp!” I was beginning to get a little impatient. “Spill it! What party are you talking about?” He looked at me like I had just got here from Mars. “What party?” he repeated patiently. “The party everybody’s been waitin’ for, man. The Nixon Resignation Party,” he said slowly, emphasizing every syllable. “You know, down at the Stud. On Folsom. They were gonna call it the Nixon Impeachment Party, but this is even better. The gay and bisexual community’s been planning this ever since the Watergate thing broke and Congress started ~

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talking about impeachment. Well at first, you know, it was just a joke. I mean, nobody believed they’d ever really nail him. So the guys at the Stud said, okay, if it happens, we’ll have this huge party. Decorations, food, and best of all, fifty-cent drinks all night. Man, this is gonna be great!” We went back out into the living room where Moose was still sitting in his chair calmly finishing his beer. In our absence he had switched off the TV. “Well, Hemp,” he asked mildly, “did you clue Stony in?” “You bet I did, man! And he’s all for it! Ain’t that right, Lieutenant?” Hemp never uses our old military ranks unless he’s seriously pissed or seriously wants us to go along with him, and in this case what could it hurt? It’d probably be quite a blast. I looked from one to the other and then grinned. “Ten-hut!” I said in my best military voice. Moose got up out of his chair and stood alongside of Hemp and they both snapped to attention. “Okay, men, your assignment is to reconnoiter the Stud tonight, commencing at twenty hundred hours. You will thoroughly investigate as much food and liquor as possible and extensively interrogate all personnel on the premises. Especially the young female personnel. Any questions, men?” “Just one, sir!” said Moose. He had to be careful where he stood at attention, as his head was on a level with the ceiling chandelier in the living room. “What’s that, soldier?” “Where do we chow down, sir?” Moose was perpetually worried about getting enough to eat. “At ease, men!” I dropped the pose. “Seriously, you guys, where do you want to eat?” ~

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“How about hitting a taqueria on the way?” suggested Hemp. “We can get big burritos real quick and still be at the Stud by eight.” “Sounds good to me. Whatta you say, Moose?” “I could go for a couple of burritos right now,” he muttered longingly. “Pork, sour cream, guacamole and cheese. Lots of cheese.” “I guess that settles it. All right, men, let’s get ourselves ready and rendezvous at La Cumbre at Sixteenth and Valencia by nineteen hundred hours. We can walk to the Stud from there, right Hemp?” He confirmed that the Stud was less than a fifteenminute walk from there. So shortly after six-thirty we were walking down Church Street, following the streetcar tracks until we reached the southwest corner of Dolores Park. The sun had descended into the fog, but there were still patches of sunlight showing here and there on the downtown buildings spread out below us. Laughing and shoving each other like schoolboys, we ran down the steep grassy slopes into the park, past the children’s play area, through the open meadow, and finally past the tennis courts and out onto Dolores Street. From there it was only about four blocks to La Cumbre, and well before seven we found ourselves sitting on the cramped little wooden benches in one of the Mission District’s most popular taquerias. Hemp and I could fit our knees under the low wooden tables without too much difficulty, but Moose’s knees were almost up to his chin. He was chewing blissfully on his second burrito, however, and didn’t seem to mind. We quickly finished eating and Moose counted his change with satisfaction. “Not bad,” he said. “Four super burritos, three Carta Blancas, chips, salsa, the works. And I ~

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still got change from my twenty.” We had flipped a coin back at the house, the results being that Moose would buy the dinner, I would buy the drinks at the Stud, and Hemp, well, Hemp would do what he always does—bring the dope. He had rolled six joints for the evening which he casually stashed in a Marlboro box buttoned securely into the pocket of his old army shirt. Out on the street again, we belched our contentment and walked on down to the Stud which, as I mentioned before, was just about a block up Folsom from where I worked. By the time we got there it was just before 8:00, but the place was already beginning to fill up. I don’t go to night clubs that much except to be with the guys. I mean, why go to some place to meet people that you probably wouldn’t want to know and can’t talk to anyway because the music’s too damn loud? And besides, at normal prices you can probably get a bottle of booze at the liquor store for what a couple of watered-down bar drinks cost you. But the Stud was different; it had a special kind of atmosphere no matter what was going down and tonight was a special night; we had something to celebrate and who the hell is gonna turn down fifty-cent drinks? “Okay you guys,” I told them after we had found a small empty table in the corner, “I’ll buy the drinks like we agreed. Whattaya want?” “Anything they got for fifty cents,” they chorused. I shrugged my shoulders and walked across the huge dance floor toward the bar, on the way noticing the decorations for the first time. On the lofty high-beamed ceiling were strung several large, hand-lettered banners. One read “So Long, Tricky Dick”; another “There’s a Ford in Your Future”; and still another “No More Years”. These ~

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banners were surrounded by a dense field of red, white and blue helium-filled balloons. Every now and again one of them exploded, much to the delight and feigned squeals of fright from the assembled throng of drag queens, bull dykes, and the S&M and B&D crowd in their revealing leather and vinyl costumes. There were also an assortment of what looked to be straight people (although in this town it’s hard to tell)—cowboys in boots with spurs and wearing ten-gallon hats, bikers with heavy beards and leather jackets which proudly displayed their club colors, black radicals and white hippies who had discovered a common cause, and many other bar room types as well. The Stud was really the only bar in town where gay men, lesbians, and straight people could all kick up their heels together and have a hell of a good time. The only requirements were an adventurous spirit, a sense of anything goes, and the price of a drink which tonight was allegedly fifty cents. As I crossed the center of the dance floor, I passed underneath a large mirror ball suspended from a cable to a position about halfway between ceiling and floor. Later in the evening, at the height of the crazed festivities, all the lights in the room would be extinguished and a number of colored spotlights would be focused on this mirror ball; it would then start spinning, faster and faster, the colored spots of light dancing and jumping around the room, seemingly in time to the thundering beat of the music; then it would slow and finally stop, only to begin spinning faster and faster in the opposite direction. It was a truly dizzying effect, much better than strobe lights. Some people said it was almost as good as tripping on acid, but I must confess it gave me nausea. Finally I was able to approach the long unfinished ~

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wooden bar on the opposite side of the room. After waving my hand in the air for what seemed like many minutes I was finally able to attract the bartender’s attention. “Yeah, what’ll it be, bud?” he yelled, quickly picking up several empty glasses from the surface of the bar and disposing of them with one hand while he wiped the bar with a dingy cloth he held in the other. “Uh, what have you got for fifty cents?” I yelled back, trying to make myself heard over the music, which was already much too loud. “Bar liquor—straight, on the rocks or mixed with club or sweet soda. Fruit juice is extra, mixed liquors and call liquors are regular price, one-fifty,” he replied without hesitation. I thought quickly. “Okay, make it three bourbon-andsodas on the rocks.” “You got it, pal.” He set up three small glasses on the bar, filled them with ice, poured some brown liquor into them from a bottle with a label I couldn’t identify, and filled them with soda before I could get my money out of my pocket. I had about fifteen or twenty bucks with me, so I thought we’d be okay for the evening. And for emergencies we still had Hemp’s joints. I gave the bartender two dollar bills. “Keep the change,” I told him. “Thanks, buddy. You have a great time!” I took the drinks back over to the table. I could tell Hemp was getting restless already by the way he was fingering the Marlboro box in his shirt pocket. We raised our glasses in a toast. “As the banner proclaims, so long, Tricky Dick!” I intoned. Moose laughed and said in his best Nixon voice, “You ~

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won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around any more.” We all laughed at that and downed our drinks in a few swallows. “I’ll go get us refills,” I told them, starting to get up. Hemp put a hand on my shoulder. “What is that stuff, paint thinner?” Moose was looking at his glass curiously as well. I really hadn’t noticed anything unusual about it. “It’s supposed to be some kind of bourbon. I’m sorry you guys don’t like it.” I guess I was feeling a little defensive. After all, I’d chosen the stuff. “Let’s try some tequila,” broke in Moose with that soft diplomatic tone he always used when he thought me and Hemp were about to go at it. “Tequila’s supposed to be a party drink, right?” “Sure,” agreed Hemp, somewhat mollified. “Whatever. It’s got to be better than this stuff.” This time they made the trip to the bar with me. It was strange: at home Hemp always seemed to be stretched out on the living room couch or sprawled languidly on the bed in the room that he and Moose shared. But in public places like bars and restaurants, or even at the movies, he was always jumping up to get something or go somewhere. As we walked back across the dance floor we noticed that the place was really starting to fill up now. Many of the newcomers were wearing rubber Nixon joke masks which completely concealed their faces. When we got to the bar, Hemp managed to command the bartender’s attention immediately and casually ordered three tequila sunrises. “That’s extra for fruit juice,” warned the bartender. “That’s okay, ” replied Hemp with a magnanimous ~

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wave of his hand. “We’re on the town tonight. Pay the man, Stony.” I reluctantly gave him three bucks. We hadn’t even been here an hour and I was already five bucks down. I hoped my meager bankroll would hold out till midnight at least. Hemp took a sip. “Ah!” he sighed. “Now there’s a drink.” He winked at us. “Guys, I’m goin’ out to the alley for some fresh air and maybe a smoke. Anybody want to join me?” “Sure, I’ll go with you,” said Moose who was usually up for anything anyone else suggested. “You coming, Stony?” “Maybe later. I think I’ll go sit down and watch the passing parade for a while.” “Your loss.” Hemp patted his Marlboro box meaningfully and led Moose toward the side door. “You know where to find us,” were his parting words. I walked back over to the other side of the room where we had been sitting. Just my luck. Our table was now occupied by two bull dykes and a couple of transvestites. All the other tables were full as well. Sighing, I walked back across the dance floor and found a vacant stool at the bar. I sat there nursing my drink for another fifteen or twenty minutes watching the swarm of colorfully-costumed people of varying races, sexes and sexual orientation, the overwhelming but unselfconscious diversity that is San Francisco at its finest. Upon finishing it, I went around to the alley door. Opening it, I called out, “Hey, you guys! Moose, Hemp, where the hell are you?” But the alley was empty, except for an amorous couple of indeterminate sexes locked in a tight embrace, and a ~

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biker puking in the gutter. I ignored them and walked out onto Folsom Street, looking quickly to the right and the left, but I could see no one in the throngs of passersby that resembled my two friends. I shook my head and went back inside. Fortunately no one had as yet appropriated my bar stool, so I sat back down and ordered another tequila sunrise. I wondered what had caused Moose and Hemp’s sudden disappearance. They could have at least told me goodbye, I thought with more than a trace of irritation. One of them must have scored with a chick, I decided. After all, one of our house rules was that the guy who has the chick rules. Whoever is making the play for the chick can be rude to, ignore, or even split on us poor chick-less guys. Thinking about being a chick-less guy didn’t exactly improve my mood. Here I was, sitting in a bar I hadn’t particularly wanted to go to in the first place, but had anyway at the urgings of a couple of guys who were no longer even here. I looked out again at the crowd of people which was growing steadily more dense as the evening progressed. It was only a little before ten o’clock, but already the lights had been dimmed and the mirror ball set in motion. The dancing was getting louder and wilder. I knew it was no use to go looking for my friends in this crowd. Better to stay at the bar; if they were here, they’d get thirsty sooner or later and come looking for me, as I was buying. I still had nearly fifteen bucks left, enough to get really drunk on if Moose and Hemp didn’t return. I finished that drink and ordered another. I decided in a sort of boozy melancholy that it was time I took stock of myself. I was twenty-four, single, no responsibilities. No responsibilities, that was the key. I’d gotten out of the army less than two years ago, determined to put behind me the ~

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Vietnam nightmare that had so completely turned my head around. I’d been in San Francisco for about a year and a half now, and had found it to be, besides one of the most beautiful places in the world, probably the most nonmilitary one as well. The temperate climate here made it difficult to distinguish between the seasons, made it easy to just drift along, not noticing the fog in the summer or the rain in the winter. I found myself wearing the same clothes all year around—t-shirt when it was warm and sunny, fatigue shirt over that most of the time when it was cooler, field jacket over that when it was really cold (rarely) or rainy. Yes, it was easy to just go with the flow, live for the moment. I still had the same job I had gotten when we first moved in together, at more or less the same pay. Moose did pretty well as a freelance construction worker, probably only working about half the time but making more money than I did in forty-plus hours a week. And Hemp—well Hemp had never really worked, that’s why the army was such a shock to him. But he was loyal and true, an interesting and complex guy. You always got the feeling that he was more intelligent than he let on. And of course he not only knew San Francisco from top to bottom, he could also always be counted on to score the best dope. I had been musing in that easy disjointed feelingmellow-after-a-few-drinks fashion when, during a break in the loud dance music, my attention was attracted by a loud argument that was taking place at the bar several stools down from me. A large country cowboy type, complete with big hat, fringed buckskin jacket and pointy-toed boots was gripping with his huge hand the slender wrist of a beautiful young girl who was dressed in a shimmering silver gown and matching sandals. Her long blonde hair and soft young ~

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face, together with her outfit gave her the appearance of an angel or a princess, perhaps. She was struggling to free herself from the cowboy’s grip. “No, take your hands off me!” she screamed pleadingly and defiantly at the same time. “I’m not going anywhere with you!” “Oh, come on, babe,” the cowboy tried to entice her by shoving a drink at her with his free hand. “I’ll treat ya real good. Have another drink and then we’ll go find our own little heaven on earth.” She gave a grunt of revulsion and struggled more violently. Still unable to free herself from his clutches, she grabbed the drink off the bar with her free hand and hurled its contents at his face. He bellowed with rage and slapped her hard on the cheek and then began to wipe off his face with a bar napkin, still gripping her wrist tightly with his other hand. She turned her head away and began to sob. I’d had about enough of this by now, so I drained the last of my drink and walked down to the end of the bar. “Hey, take your hands off the lady, you big ape!” I demanded. “You’re obviously not gonna get what you want from her, so why don’t you just get lost!” I turned to the girl. The cowboy had finally released her and she sat on a stool, head down with her hands covering her face. I placed a bar napkin into her hands and she began dabbing at her eyes. Before I could turn back around, a large hand grabbed my shoulder. “Fuck off, shorty!” the cowboy snarled. “This ain’t none of your concern. Now beat it before I pound you to a pulp!” He looked like he could do it, too. He stood about sixfive, nearly a foot taller than me, and probably outweighed ~

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me by close to a hundred pounds. Nevertheless I fixed him with what I hoped was a steely glare. I pushed him backward with the palms of my hands. “Better get out of here now if you know what’s good for you! You don’t want to get me angry!” I bluffed. He laughed and pushed me back, almost knocking me over an empty stool. Just then the bartender appeared before us, having finally heard the commotion. “All right, you two, break it up,” he said in a bored manner. “Take it outside or you’re both eighty-sixed.” The cowboy jerked his head toward the alley door. “You heard the man, smart guy. Let’s get it on, just you and me!” He doubled up his hands into fists the size of country hams and gave me an evil look. Forcing myself to stay calm, I turned to the girl. “You want me to get rid of this guy?” I asked her casually, as if I did this stuff every day of the week. Her face was still buried in her hands as if she were too scared or embarrassed to look, but she nodded her head slightly in the affirmative. “Okay asshole!” I told the cowboy. “Just you and me, out there!” I pointed to the alley door. What the fuck are you doing, Stony? I asked myself silently as we walked out of the bar. You’re gonna get your ass kicked over some girl you don’t even know! In a few moments we stood facing each other about six feet apart in the dimly-lit, now deserted alley. The only light came from a street lamp on Folsom positioned behind me so that my opponent was illuminated fairly well. That was one point in my favor, I thought. I can see him better than he can probably see me. The cowboy was taking off his hat and jacket and laying them neatly on the curb. I ~

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followed suit by taking off my fatigue shirt. “Let’s get one thing straight,” I told him. “There’s no sense killing each other over nothing. So let’s do it this way. First guy to hit the pavement promises to get the hell out of here and not come back tonight, leaving the other guy to do anything he wants with anybody he wants. Have we got a deal?” The cowboy laughed again and started flexing his biceps impressively. “Okay by me, squirt, that makes it even easier.” He came toward me in a rush, his huge fist aiming straight for my head. As I ducked out of the way, quickly and surprisingly easily, I began to analyze my situation. This might not be as hopeless as I had thought. I had several things going for me—there was the visibility factor, of course, but there was also the hand-to-hand combat training I’d had in the army and the opportunities I’d had to practice it in the jungles of Vietnam. Even though this guy was far bigger and stronger than I was, I could see by the clumsy way he tried to attack me that he was a barroom brawler, all strength but very little agility and practically no cunning. Plus, he was obviously about half drunk. He swung at me again with his right hand, same as before, with the same result as before. I was beginning to be able to time his swings now, so I deliberately moved tantalizingly close to him and raised my fist as if to try to do to him what he was trying to do to me. That made him swing at me again, but this time instead of moving out of the way, I moved in closer and ducked under his arm as he swung, and at the same time grabbed his forearm with my right hand and his upper arm with my left. Then I twisted his arm towards me while bending slightly as if I were shouldering a sack of flour. His forward ~

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momentum did the rest; with surprisingly little effort on my part he went sailing just over my head and, with a loud grunt, landed ignominiously on his stomach in the middle of the alley. I turned to face him, dusting off my hands in an obvious way. “Okay, ” I said cheerfully. “Now beat it!” He picked himself up gingerly, his only major injury being the one sustained by his manhood. “All right,” he grudgingly agreed. He went over to pick up his buckskin jacket and absurdly large cowboy hat, eyeing me suspiciously all the while. “But you better watch your back from now on! You ain’t seen the last of me!” He finished fastening his jacket and walked away slowly and as casually as he could, his fierce scowl trying to salvage something of his formerly menacing manner. I let it go; a guy in that position has to say something. I put on my fatigue shirt and went back into the bar. The whole episode had taken less than five minutes from start to finish, and I noticed that the girl was still sitting on the same barstool. She seemed to have recovered some of her composure, and when she saw me come in she gave me a smile that made the whole thing seem worthwhile. “Are you all right?” she asked me breathlessly. “What happened out there?” “Oh, nothing much,” I replied as I sat down on the stool next to her, a little pardonable swagger in my voice. “Our cowboy friend agreed to go hustle chicks somewhere else. How about you, are you okay? He didn’t hurt you or anything, did he?” She shook her head and her expression became serious once again. “No, I’m okay, just embarrassed, that’s all.” ~

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While she was talking she was looking toward the dance floor, anxiously craning her neck first one way and then the other. It was nearly eleven and the place was more crowded than ever. People were dancing everywhere, on the dance floor, in corners, on tables, and the music had been turned up louder and louder in order to make it audible above the noise of the celebrants. This was some party, all right! “You looking for anybody in particular?” I asked her as she continued to scan the crowd. “Yes,” she finally admitted. “I’m looking for the boy I came with. His name is James. We were out on the floor dancing when that big cowboy pushed him out of the way. Then he just sort of disappeared into the crowd. I haven’t seen him since. I guess he doesn’t have too much in the courage department.” She smiled briefly and looked at me apologetically. “You want to go look for him, be my guest,” I told her. “I was just looking for the guys I came with before this scene happened.” We walked out onto the dance floor, which quickly proved to be something of a mistake. It was like being in the middle of a football game that didn’t have any rules. Bodies were coming at us from all sides. Several bruises later we found ourselves back at the bar. I was more afraid for my life than I had been in the fight with the cowboy. “Darn!” she exclaimed. “We’ll never find him in this mob! Is it always like this in here?” I shrugged. “Sometimes better and sometimes worse, I guess. I take it you’re not from around here?” Suddenly she seemed to fully notice me for the first time. “Oh! I’m so sorry! I haven’t even thanked you for ~

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getting rid of that sorry excuse for a human being.” She extended her hand formally. “I’m Carole. Carole-with-anE.” I took her hand gently. It was soft and very white. “Hi, Carole-with-an-E. I’m Jake-with-an-E. But my friends call me Stony-with-a-Y.” She laughed at that. “Glad to meet you, Stony-with-aY. To answer your question, no, I’m not from around here. I live down the Peninsula. James drove me up here, he said he knew about this great party.” She looked around. “I suppose this is it, huh?” “I’m afraid so,” I admitted. “This guy, James, he’s your boyfriend?” She smiled at my directness. “No, I don’t think you could call him that.” She frowned. “And certainly not after tonight. But I need to find him; otherwise I have no way to get back home tonight. I know!” Her face brightened again. “I’ll go find his car! It’s parked just around the corner. A white ‘72 Camaro convertible. I’ll just wait there until he shows up. Then I’ll give him a piece of my mind for being such a chicken, he’ll apologize, I’ll make him squirm just long enough before I accept it, he’ll be relieved, and we’ll go home, telling our stories to each other on the way.” She seemed to have it all worked out. “Whoa!” I said. “It’s a little dangerous out there this time of night. In case you haven’t noticed, this ain’t exactly the suburbs.” She was so beautiful and lively that I didn’t want to let her go, at least not yet. I cast around frantically for a reason to keep her with me. “Look, Carole, I tell you what. Let’s wait here at the bar for a few more minutes. I’m still looking for my friends, and if James gets thirsty, he’ll have to show up here sooner or later. So let me buy you a drink. If we still ~

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haven’t seen our friends by the time we finish, I’ll go out with you and we’ll look for James’s car together. What do you say?” I think she was a little amused by my fervor. “Okay, Stony, you can buy me a margarita.” After a few minutes I caught the bartender’s attention and ordered her margarita and a tequila sunrise for myself. “Oh, it’s you,” said the bartender. “What happened to that big ape you was having a ‘discussion’ with?” “I, ah, kind of persuaded him to take his business elsewhere. I hope that doesn’t offend you.” “Offend me?” The bartender grinned. “Not in the least. In fact, you did me one hell of a favor. That guy was comin’ on to just about every straight girl in the place, and some that weren’t. Funny how he struck out every time, ain’t it?” “Yeah,” I grinned back. “I guess some girls just don’t know a good thing when they see it.” I turned my head toward Carole who gave me an amused look. The bartender offered his hand. “Joe,” he told me. “Drinks are on the house. If you’re ever lookin’ for work, we could use a good bouncer.” “Stony.” I shook his hand. “Thanks, but I got a job. It ain’t the greatest, but there’s hardly ever any physical contact.” Carole and I sipped our drinks in silence for a while. She seemed contented for the moment just to be there, but I was frantically searching for something witty to say. “So, you live down the Peninsula?” was my brilliant opening line. “Yes, in Palo Alto. I’m starting my last year at Stanford next month,” she volunteered. “Things are so dull down there in the summer.” She sighed. “Same old pool parties ~

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and country club dances. I guess that’s why I agreed to come up here with James. I wanted a little excitement for a change.” “Yeah, there’s nothing more boring than pool parties and country club dances.” I made a face. “So you’re gonna be a senior at Stanford, huh? What’s your major?” “Journalism. I’m hoping to get a job with one of the major San Francisco newspapers after I graduate and maybe, eventually, I can get into broadcast journalism. TV news is really starting to get big now. Why, people like Huntley and Brinkley, Walter Cronkite, they’re almost as famous as TV stars now.” She looked at me earnestly. “At least, that’s what I’m hoping to do.” I gave her my most winning smile. “Well, I’m sure that anybody as beautiful and intelligent as you are won’t have any trouble doing anything you put your mind to.” “Why, thank you, Stony. What a nice thing to say!” We looked at each other warmly for a long moment and then, as if by some unseen signal, we both finished our drinks and stood up. “Well, no sign of James?” I asked her. “No. Your friends never showed up, huh?” “No. Well, it’s getting on for midnight. We’d better go and look for your car.” We walked out of the Stud and onto Folsom Street. The fog was in but not too thick. It wasn’t too chilly for San Francisco this time of year, but evidently quite a bit cooler than Palo Alto. Carole shivered in her thin dress, and I quickly took off my fatigue shirt and placed it on her shoulders. “That’s very kind of you,” she responded, a bit shyly I thought. ~

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“Not at all. You didn’t come up here without some kind of wrap, did you?” “No, it’s in the car. A fur coat. Rather expensive, and I didn’t want to risk it getting lost or trampled on.” “A wise decision.” We went around the corner onto Tenth Street, where Carole said they had parked. We looked up and down the entire block, but there was no sign of a ‘72 white Camaro convertible. “Darn!” she wailed. “Now what am I supposed to do? That bastard’s run off and left me stranded!” She pounded her fist on a nearby lamppost. “Hey,” I grabbed her gently by the shoulders. “Maybe he just moved the car or something. Maybe he had to go get something. He’ll probably be back for you any minute.” She turned around and looked me full in the face. Even in the dim light I could see the fire in her eyes. “You know what? Screw James! I don’t care if I never see him again!” Her voice was loud and defiant and then she said more softly, “Well, I came here for excitement. I’ve already had the bad kind. Now I want the good kind. Stony, do you have any place I can stay tonight?” “Sure, I guess. I mean you can stay at my place. But I’m not sure exactly what the situation is right now, if you know what I mean. You know those two guys I was waiting for? The ones that never showed up?” “Uh-huh.” “Well, they’re my roommates. See, the three of us live together in this great flat in Noe Valley. But, like I say, I don’t know if the guys are home or not. And there might be somebody with them. Uh, see, we were out sort of cruising for chicks,” I admitted, a little ashamed. I couldn’t seem to ~

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stop talking long enough to get my foot out of my mouth. “Cruising for chicks, huh?” She gave me an amused but matter-of-fact appraisal. Then she hooked her arm around mine. “Well, you’ve found yours, just so long as I get a comfortable place to sleep tonight.” “Hey, that’s no problem.” I felt like I must have been blushing a little. Fortunately it was dark enough that she didn’t notice, or at least pretended not to. “I’ve got my own room. You can sleep there, and I can sleep on the couch in the living room,” I finished gallantly. She released my arm. “Hmm, we’ll see about that. So, what do we do now?” I looked at my watch. “Just after midnight. You want to go back to the Stud and make one last try at finding, what’s his name, James? They won’t be giving last call for at least another hour and a half.” “Not particularly. You want to go look for your roommates?” “I think they can take care of themselves,” I grinned. “So, take me home then, Stony boy.” She flung herself into my arms. She was surprisingly substantial for such a small woman, and I nearly staggered under the unexpected weight. “How far is this place of yours?” I pointed to the southwest. “Only a little over a mile from here, but it’s uphill most of the way. We normally cut through Dolores Park up the big hill and then follow the streetcar tracks.” “Sounds delightful.” She stifled a yawn. “But I’m beginning to feel the effects. And in case you hadn’t noticed, these sandals aren’t exactly built for hiking. If I’d known this was going to happen, I’d have worn my boots.” I checked my pockets. I only had a little over five ~

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dollars left. I’d never taken a cab home from the Stud before, not even when I was really polluted. I hoped it would be enough. “Um, you don’t happen to have any money on you, do you?” I asked hopefully. “I’ve got plenty of money,” she replied quickly. I felt relieved. “In my purse,” she continued. “In the car,” she finished. “Uh, that’s right. The car we were looking for. The car that’s not here.” She gave me a pitying look. “I think I’ve got enough for a cab,” I told her brightly. “Let’s walk up to Mission and hail one. That’s only a couple of blocks from here. When we get home I’ll figure out what to do.” The rest was easy. When we got to Mission, we got a cab right away. For once the driver didn’t try to take us the long way around. In no time at all he was speeding up and down the roller coaster ride that was Dolores Street. He turned right on 23rd and stopped right in front of our house. It had taken only ten minutes and the fare was only $3.45. I was so relieved I told the driver to keep my five. He thanked me profusely and then sped off into the night. We looked at each other meaningfully. “Well, it’s just up those steps,” I pointed. “Home, sweet home. Can you make it, or should I carry you?” She punched me in the shoulder. “Just for that crack I oughta make you carry me.” I explained that we should climb the stairs as quietly as possible so as not to wake Satan who, at this time of night, should be sleeping peacefully in the garage just below our living room. I opened the door with my key and ~

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peered in cautiously. As far as I could see, there were no lights on except for the nightlight we kept in the hall. I walked through the archway into the living room, Carole following close behind, and turned the dimmer switch about a quarter of the way up. In the dim light of the ceiling chandelier I could see that the room was deserted and, for a change, reasonably clutter free. Carole silently handed me my fatigue shirt and I tossed it into a chair, signaling her to keep quiet and motioning her to sit down on the couch. I looked around the room more closely and noticed a folded up piece of paper taped to the mantel over the fireplace. I took it down and, unfolding it, discovered it to be a handwritten note. “Dear Stony,” [it read] “Sorry to disappear on you, but Hemp got lucky. He is over at a girl’s house not too far from here and may stay there for the weekend if he doesn’t fuck it up. You know how he is. Don’t worry, I went with him to check out the place and everything is OK. As for me, I have to get up early tomorrow, as this is the height of the construction season. Thank God It’s Friday (tomorrow). I cleaned up the place a little for you just in case you got lucky, too. If you are reading this between 11PM and 7AM I am in my room alone and asleep. Do whatever you want, party, but keep it in the living room and let me sleep, OK? Oh, by the way, here is a peace offering from Hemp.” [signed] “Moose” I looked at the bottom of the page to which two joints were taped. Good ol’ Moose and good ol’ Hemp. Carole was still sitting silently on the couch, looking at me expectantly and a little impatiently while I read the ~

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note. “It’s okay, ” I told her quietly, the first words either of us had uttered since we entered. “One of my roommates, Moose, is asleep in his room. I’m gonna check the other rooms just to make sure. You want to come with me? I’ll show you the rest of the house.” “Sure.” She got up and looked around. “Hey, this is a really nice place for a bachelor pad.” We went through the sliding doors and into the dining room and then the kitchen, turning on lights as we went. “I can’t believe it,” she said, looking at the clean sink. “Three guys living here by themselves and no dirty dishes? You guys got a maid service or something? Your mother comes in and cleans once a week?” I could tell she was just having fun, but somehow it rubbed me the wrong way. “No,” I told her stiffly, “we were all in the army together. You learn more about neatness and order in the army than you do from your mother.” “Oh, come on,” she said, grabbing my arm. “I was just kidding. Show me the rest of the place.” “Okay, but I don’t know why everybody always thinks guys have to have a woman around to keep the place neat and clean,” I grumbled. Just then an ear-piercing shriek split the quiet of the night followed by slightly softer piano chords. “What the hell was that?” she asked in a hushed voice. She was visibly shaken and I put my arm around her comfortingly. “That?” I replied lightly. “Oh, that’s just Madam Butterfly. Pay no attention to her.” I led her into the living room, pulled a record at random from our collection, stuck it on the turntable and turned the volume up loud. ~

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“Who in the world is this Madam Butterfly?” she persisted. I led her back down the hall again. “We just call her Madam Butterfly,” I told her more seriously. “She’s the landlord’s wife. She thinks she’s got this great talent for singing opera, and she picks the darnedest times to practice. So whenever she starts her wailing, in the middle of the night or whenever, we just turn the music up louder. Works every time. It drowns her out and also lets her know we hear her. Funny thing though, she’s never complained about our music, so we’ve never complained about hers. Peaceful coexistence, you know?” She smiled with relief. “Well whoever she is, she just about scared the wits out of me.” She pulled away from my arm and punched me in the shoulder. “Why didn’t you warn me, you idiot?” I pulled her closer to me and looked her in the eye. “You’re beautiful when you’re scared to death.” Once again she pulled away from me, turned her head and cleared her throat. “I think you were just about to show me the rest of the place.” “Oh, that’s right.” I took her down the hall and showed her the toilet room and then the shower room. “This way,” I explained, “if nature calls, you don’t have to wait for somebody to finish his half-hour shower.” She thought that was a great idea. I put my finger to my lips for quiet as we came to Moose and Hemp’s room. On the door was a sign that read “BEQ—Authorized Personnel Only”. Then I showed her my room and the sign on the door which read “BOQ—Restricted Area”. I opened my door cautiously. My room was dark and unoccupied. I switched on the light. The covers on the bed were undisturbed. I breathed a sigh ~

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of relief. “Just checking,” I told her. “You never know around here. I came home late one night, tired as hell, and ready to hit the sack. But when I opened the door to my room there were two young girls lying in my bed. Well, naturally I thought they were waiting for me, so I undressed and jumped into bed with them. Turned out they were lesbian friends of Hemp, and lovers at that. So needless to say, that was one of my most embarrassing moments.” I turned off the light again and closed the door. Carole looked at me and shook her head. “Apparently you guys live a much more exciting life than I do. But tell me, these signs on the doors—what does it mean, BEQ and BOQ?” “Oh, that’s just a little army joke. BEQ stands for ‘Bachelor Enlisted Quarters’ and BOQ means ‘Bachelor Officers Quarters’. You see, I was a lieutenant in the army, an officer. Moose was a sergeant, Hemp a private—enlisted men. And officers don’t mix with enlisted men. That’s why Hemp and Moose share a room and I have my own. I wish we could afford a three-bedroom, but right now it’s a little out of our range.” She gave me a funny look. “I don’t get it. You say officers and enlisted men don’t mix. But you guys obviously do.” “It’s a long story, something that happened in Vietnam over two years ago. I’ll tell you about it sometime if you want. But the short version is that we made a pact. All for one and one for all.” “Just like the Three Musketeers,” she laughed. Arm in arm we went back out into the living room. She settled herself comfortably on the couch. “You want something to drink?” I asked her. “Or are you ready to go to ~

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bed?” It was only about 12:30, but I cursed the fact that I had to get up at seven. I was going to be a wreck tomorrow. But, as Moose had so eloquently written, Thank God It’s Friday! “I’m not really that tired,” she replied. “I guess the excitement hasn’t really worn off yet. Let’s sit up and talk a while, if it’s okay with you. I never really thanked you for rescuing me from that cowboy.” I laughed. “I’m not as brave as all that. If I hadn’t learned some stuff in the army about fighting, I probably would have looked the other way when I saw you two arguing. Now, how about that drink?” I asked her, deliberately changing the subject. It’s funny, talking about myself never really bothers me, but when somebody else praises me—well, I get sort of embarrassed. “You got any beer? I think I’ve probably had enough liquor for one night.” “Yeah, me too,” I agreed. I went to the kitchen and came back with a couple of cans of Coors and gave her one. Then I went around the room and lit some candles and some sandalwood and pine incense. I dimmed the lights and put a Santana record on the stereo since to me his music is both relaxing and erotic. Then I picked up Moose’s note and untaped the two joints Hemp had so thoughtfully provided and held them up to Carole. “Hey, look what I’ve got! Want to do a number?” “Sure,” she replied casually. “Why not?” I lit the joint and we passed it back and forth, occasionally sipping at our beers. As we began to talk to each other, really talk for the first time, in the beginning haltingly and hesitantly, but soon truthfully and without embarrassment, the rest of the world seemed to recede ~

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until finally she and I and the music were the only things existing in an empty but benign universe. About an hour later we finally noticed the silence. The Santana record had long since come to an end. Reluctantly I got up off the couch where I’d been sitting with an arm around Carole and went across the room to the stereo. “Want to hear anything in particular?” I asked in a soft voice. “No, you choose,” she answered just as softly. Without announcing it, I put on the new Grateful Dead album, Wake of the Flood. I lit the other joint and we passed it back and forth. When “Eyes of the World” started playing, I looked deep into her eyes. Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world, the Dead were singing. Wake up, discover that you are the song that the morning brings… “Your eyes, Carole, I think that’s what they’re singing about. Your eyes…the eyes of the world…” I was pretty stoned. But all at once I had a strange sense of déjà vu. Carole and I had just met, but I had the strangest feeling that we had sat here, on this very couch, many times, just doing what we were doing now, feeling comfortable with each other, sharing each other’s thoughts… Carole laughed and stood up. She took the now-empty can of beer out of my hand, put it on the end table and gently pulled me to my feet. “You sure live up to your name, Stony. If I am the eyes of the world, let’s go see if you’re the song that the morning brings.” Without protest I let her lead me to the BOQ. Opening the door, she pulled me gently inside and pushed me playfully onto the bed. “I hope you don’t mind, Stony, but I prefer to sleep in the nude,” she said softly as she began ~

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removing her few items of clothing. “Uh, so do I,” I replied, not to be outdone, and began clumsily stripping off my clothes. As we got under the covers and I felt her soft nakedness melting into mine, I reflected that even with the chaos and disorder, I was having the time of my life. Then she grabbed me and kissed me violently and I knew that sleep was still a long time away. 4.

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t seemed only minutes later that the clock radio was blurting out “Good Day Sunshine” by the Beatles, but the midsummer morning sun was already streaming in the big picture window at the head of the bed. I yawned heavily and then my eyes came into focus. 7:00 already? Thank God it’s Friday! Carole’s body was still draped over mine. I gently disengaged her arms from my torso and rolled her over onto her side. She was still fast asleep, and the innocent smile on her lips and her tousled hair made her look like a little girl, dreaming perhaps of Santa Claus. I groaned and unwillingly got out of bed. I dressed quickly, knowing that the only way I was going to make it to work was not to think about it, the same method I had successfully used in the army practically every morning of my military career. I went into the shower room and quickly shaved, noticing on the way that the BEQ was unoccupied. This was not surprising as Moose always had to leave early for his various construction jobs, and Hemp had obviously not returned from his new girlfriend’s place. I gulped down a cup of bitter black coffee and went ~

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back to the bedroom to try to rouse Carole, but all I got for my efforts were a few groans and unintelligible mumbles. She’s really passed out, poor kid, I said to myself. Oh well, let her sleep. I sat down at my writing desk and quickly wrote her the following note: Dear Carol-with-an-e, Thanks for a fantastic time last night. It’s 7:30 in the morning now and I’m writing you this note because you’re still asleep and I’ve got to go to work (boo, hiss!!). Please take your time getting up. I left some coffee in a pot on the stove and feel free to help yourself to any breakfast stuff you might find in the kitchen (though I’m afraid there’s not much). There’s no one else in the flat. Moose (one of my roommates) will be back about 4:30 or 5 and I’ll be home about an hour after that. If you have to go back down to Palo Alto, I am enclosing a twenty-dollar bill (my emergency money) in this note. I love you already and think we have some kind of cosmic connection with each other, so please leave your address and phone number so I can call or write you. Got to go now. Your lover, Jake (Stony-with-a-Y) Stoneham 3930 23rd St., SF 94114” I took a small wooden box out of the top drawer of the desk and removed from it a twenty-dollar bill which I folded up into Carole’s note. Then, kissing her on the lips one last time (which elicited only more mumbles), I headed out the door into the early morning sunshine, a smile on ~

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my face and a song in my heart. The next day, Saturday the 10th, dawned warm and still. There had been very little fog the previous night, and when we arose at about mid morning, the temperature was already in the mid-seventies and climbing steadily. Predictably, Hemp had been thrown out by his newest love (after one night, yet) and had returned the previous afternoon in a subdued but not depressed mood. And since neither Moose nor I worked weekends (if we could help it), the three of us were lounging around the living room in tshirts and cutoffs, doing nothing in particular and looking forward to more of the same. We were idly listening to KSAN-FM radio (Jive 95; Less Talk, More Rock!), when Moose cried out, “Hey, did you guys hear that?” “Hear what?” we both asked. “The guy on the radio, the DJ, says it’s gonna be over eighty on the coast this afternoon.” We all three looked at each other. “Beach weather!” shouted Hemp. “There’s no time to lose, men!” I told them, quickly taking command. “Moose, got any money?” “Sure, Stony, about twenty or thirty bucks, I guess.” “Great! I’ll get the cooler. Moose, you buy the sandwiches and chips at the Full Belly Deli on TwentyFourth. I’ll go down to St. Clair’s and pick up the beer. Hemp, you roll the joints. It’s now, let me see, ten-thirty. Synchronize watches, you guys.” They fiddled obediently with their watches and then gave me the okay sign. “Okay, let’s get started. You have your assignments. ~

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We’ll rendezvous at the J stop at 24th by eleven.” And sure enough, we were on the J streetcar shortly after eleven, resplendent in shades, tank tops and cutoffs, flip-flop beach sandals and floppy straw hats. Our cooler was on the seat beside Moose, so loaded down with sandwiches, beer, chips, cookies, etcetera, that even Moose struggled to lift it. Hemp and I were traveling more lightly, carrying only the joints in his pocket and a frisbee and beach blanket in my shoulder bag. At 16th Street we transferred to the 22-Fillmore and continued north past Market and then Haight. At McAllister we got on a 5-Fulton which went west past the north side of Golden Gate Park all the way to Ocean Beach. We got off the bus at the end of the line, where Fulton Street ends at La Playa, crossed the Great Highway, and climbed the sand dunes that separated us from the beach. The air was cooler than it had been in town, but the bright midday sunshine kept it pleasantly warm. We could already smell the salt tang in the air and hear the faint crashing of the waves on Seal Rock. Hemp and I started running toward the beach, drawing loud cries of protest from Moose (“Wait up, you guys, this damn cooler’s heavy as a bitch!”). Finally, when we had spread our beach blanket on the sand beneath the blazing sun about twenty yards from shore, Hemp lit up a joint and we all proceeded to get into the mood to become one with nature. I opened the cooler, displaying the dozen or so deli sandwiches containing various meats and cheeses piled high on the huge sourdough rolls; two large bags of chips (one plain, one BBQ); three or four bags of assorted cookies; and finally the two six-packs of Anchor Steam I’d bought for the occasion. ~

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For the next five or six hours we alternately smoked pot, drank beer, ate, got stoned again which made us hungry again, drank more beer, started on the cookies, smoked another joint, discovered we were somehow out of cookies, laughed a lot, played some frisbee, found some cute chicks, lost them again when their boyfriends showed up, jumped into the surf and had a water fight, and so on until the sun started to sink, the weather started to cool off, and we regretfully decided it must be time to leave. So we toasted the beach and the ocean and the setting sun and the chicks and their boyfriends with the last of the Anchor Steam. “It doesn’t get any better than this,� I remarked. Moose and Hemp gave me a respectful salute and then we gathered up our things, stuffed all our trash in the nowempty cooler, and departed for home, taking the same buses and streetcars in reverse, leaving sand, grit, and deli grease on everything we touched, and grinning like the stoned maniacs we so proudly believed ourselves to be. And so life went on, for the most part uneventfully, during the next few weeks. Moose was busy with his construction work since it was the height of the dry season. Hemp drifted in and out, often pausing just long enough to eat and grab a beer. In the evenings when we all wound up at home together, we played records or listened to the radio, drank beer and got stoned. Oddly, I found myself drinking and smoking less and less during this period. I was feeling sort of weird and restless and, even though I had to get up early for work most days, I took to sitting up nights long after Moose and Hemp had gone off to bed. I began to have dreams, strange ~

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disturbing dreams such as I’d never had before. I became withdrawn and introspective and worried about growing old which had never worried me before. After all, I was not yet twenty-five and the world was my oyster, so to speak. And yet here I was, just spinning my wheels, living from day to day. And that’s what puzzled me; I had always prided myself on my spontaneity; live for today, I always said, and tomorrow will take care of itself. I tried not to let on to Moose and Hemp about my state of mind. Hemp was oblivious to it all, being as self absorbed as always, but I think Moose caught something of my mood, though he never said anything about it to me. And so the weeks passed in this fashion and all of a sudden it was Labor Day. Now most everywhere else in America, Labor Day marks the end of summer, the last big blowout before fall comes and with it bad weather and a return to serious pursuits after the frivolous and languorous indulgences of a stultifyingly hot summer. However in the Bay Area, and most particularly in San Francisco, this was not the case. First, the summers here are never hot—in fact most of the time they’re downright chilly. Second, the weather, far from turning bad in the fall, is actually better. Our warmest, least foggy months are September and October, with the winter rains often not making an appearance until Thanksgiving or sometimes even December. As Hemp, who had had years of experience with the local weather, told us, Labor Day here marks the end of the tourist season and the beginning of summer for us residents. Which brings us to Leeroy’s barbecues. Leeroy Anderson, our landlord for the last year and a half, had moved to San Francisco from Waco, Texas, several years ago, bringing with him the only three things ~

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in life he valued: One, his wife, Laverne, who loved opera and fancied herself a diva in the making. She made us all (including Leeroy) an unwilling audience at her practice sessions, which would sometimes begin after midnight and last for what seemed like hours. We called her “Madam Butterfly”, but not to her face; two, his vicious doberman, Satan, whom he locked in the garage at night and whose plaintive howls could often be heard joining Madam Butterfly’s wavery soprano, so that we were often besieged from above and below. When this happened, which it often did, we would shrug our shoulders, turn up the stereo, light another joint, and tell each other again how really, really lucky we were to have such a great flat for so cheap. But the third thing Leeroy had brought with him was something you could neither see nor hear—at least not directly. Leeroy was a big black man from Texas who loved his food and drink—especially his food. His favorite food was barbecue. Good ol’ rib-stickin’, home-boy Texas barbecue. And he was as devoted to it as he was to his wife and his dog. In short, he cooked the best damn barbecue that anybody in Noe Valley had ever tasted. Now Noe Valley in 1973 was, to put it mildly, not known for its carnivores. The hippie tradition called for a macrobiotic diet—brown rice, lentils, seaweed, that sort of thing. So, when the three of us first rented the empty flat in his house, old Leeroy was overjoyed to find out that we were all meat eaters, especially Moose, who was the only guy I ever knew who could eat two super burritos in one sitting. Leeroy proudly showed us the brick barbecue pit he had built in the backyard with his own hands, and that summer he began inviting us to cookouts on the weekends. Well, I guess we must’ve mentioned it to a few people ~

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from time to time, so that before long word started to get around. Summer Sunday afternoons people would walk up and down our block, sniffing the air for the distinctive scent of a hickory or mesquite wood fire being lit. Upon gaining confirmation, several guys, most of them having recently arrived from the Midwest, would ring our doorbell with the pretext of wanting to talk to us, and then wind up staying for the barbecue. Since Leeroy was pretty much a lonely guy, proud of his barbecue, and not hurting for money, he naturally invited all comers to stay and eat for as long as the food held out, which was usually quite a while. So, by the end of summer ‘73, he was attracting crowds every time he lit up the grill. One evening during the following winter, after the rainy season had started and the grill had been covered with tarp for the season, Leeroy had unexpectedly rung our doorbell. “I can’t thank you boys enough,” he told us, “for givin’ me a reason to go on livin’. Why I had no idea there was so many ‘cue lovers round these parts.” “Yeah,” agreed Hemp. “But you’ve got to do something about these crowds, man. There’s so many guys lined up out here some Sundays, it’s like being at a rock concert.” “Sure,” I put in. “All you’ve got to do is scale it back a little, Leeroy.” “I know,” said Moose. “Just do it on the holidays. Advertise in advance. You know, give out tickets.” “Hey, that’s a good idea. That way we could limit the number of people,” I said. “And I’d know just how much food to buy!” Leeroy was getting enthusiastic now. We finally decided to limit it to twelve guys (plus the ~

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four of us), and to have no more than one barbecue Sunday a month, making six in all during the season. The first one was held on Memorial Day and it was a huge success. And so, when Labor Day rolled around, there we were, Leeroy, Hemp, Moose and I, and the twelve chosen ones, the Apostles of Barbecue with Leeroy as Jesus. It was a fine, sunny afternoon, and we were all sitting around in lawn chairs or lolling on the grass, wearing mostly t-shirts and cutoffs, drinking the beer that had been brought by the Apostles (price of admission, one six-pack each). The scene resembled nothing more than a fraternity party, as the Apostles were all guys, mostly under thirty. By this time we had come to a sort of mutual agreement that these barbecues would be strictly stag, and most of the guys were regulars who lived in the neighborhood or close by. Madam Butterfly usually chose these events as the perfect opportunities to practice her arias in front of the open upstairs window, a disdainful look on her face, and this afternoon was no exception. But we were more than ready for these tactics, having hooked up our stereo to an extension cord which allowed us to bring it out onto the cement patio, where the low roof made the music of the Stones and Led Zeppelin louder and even more awesome. Every now and then we’d take pity on Leeroy and let him throw on a Hank Williams or Tex Ritter record; the poor guy still hadn’t gotten used to real kick-ass rock ‘n’ roll. Anyway, we were all sitting around while Leeroy, in his white apron and chef’s hat, bent over the grill, basting the chicken and ribs with his secret sauce. It was early in the afternoon, the sun was still high and hot, and we were lazily talking to one another, bullshitting about nothing in particular, the way guys do when there aren’t any chicks ~

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around. Just then a song ended at the same time Madam Butterfly decided to take a break. In the relative quiet I distinctly heard a telephone ringing, coming from the direction of my open bedroom window. I turned to Moose who was sitting next to me. “Hey, be a good guy and get that,” I said lazily. “I’m too comfortable to move.” Moose obediently jumped up, ran over to the window and reached a long arm into the bedroom. It emerged with phone in hand, the other hand lifting the receiver. He said a few words into it, then listened for a few seconds. Finally he turned to me. “Stony!” he yelled. “I think you’re gonna want to take this call! It’s a girl!” As he said the word “girl”, there was a chorus of hoots and hollers from the Apostles (the testosterone-laden air at these barbecues always caused us to revert to adolescence). “A girl?” I asked, puzzled. I hadn’t been out with anyone lately. “Okay, okay, I’m coming already!” I got up and walked over to Moose who handed me the phone without further comment. “Hello?” I ventured hesitantly. “Hey, Stony-with-a-Y!” answered a cheerful voice. “This is Carole-with-an-E. Long time, no see!” “Carole!” I cried out. “Just a sec.” I climbed in the bedroom window, put the phone back on the night table, closed the window and sat down on the bed. I think the whole operation took about two seconds. “Hey, wow, I’m so glad to hear from you! When you didn’t leave me an address or phone number, well, I thought, you know…” “Yeah, I know,” she finished for me. “Just another one night stand. The reason I didn’t leave you a note was, well, I just sorta wanted to keep my options open, that’s all. I didn’t want you calling the next day, putting pressure on ~

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me, you know. I would’ve told you all this in person if you’d woken me up before you left.” She sounded a little hurt. “I couldn’t bear to wake you up,” I told her truthfully. “You looked so angelic, just lying there. In my bed.” “Yeah, I’ll just bet I did. My hair must’ve been a mess. But seriously, Stony, I did read your note, over and over again, in fact. And I’ve got to admit I felt a sort of connection with you, too. Like we were two halves of the same whole or something.” “Yeah, yeah!” I said excitedly. “It’s exactly like that!” “Well, anyway, I just had to have some time to, you know, think about it. Oh, and not to mention how busy my parents have kept me.” “Oh, yeah?” “Yeah, just one boring party after another. In fact right now I’m having a party at my parents’ palatial mansion in Palo Alto.” “No kidding!” “No kidding. And it’s such a brilliant success that I took the opportunity to barricade myself in my room and finally call you, Stony. From my bedroom window I can look down on the swimming pool. The fun seems to consist mostly of guys getting drunk and jumping into the pool. Or even better, shoving the girls into the pool. The girls are screaming and acting shocked, but I know better. Honestly, they’re all Stanford students and they’re acting like a bunch of ten-year olds.” “I know what you mean.” I opened the window and waved at the fraternity of barbecue lovers. They blew me kisses and hooted some more. I distinctly heard cries of “Stony’s got a girlfriend!” ~

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“It’s much the same here,” I told her. “A bunch of guys with nothing to date but their hormones.” “Listen, Stony,” she said more seriously. “I’m finished with all my social obligations. Today’s the last one. I don’t have to be back at school to start my senior year for another two weeks. So I was thinking, maybe, well, I could come up to the City, take a bus or something, and we could have some fun. You know, be tourists or whatever. I haven’t really been to San Francisco since I was about twelve. And I was thinking also that maybe you’ve got a place where a damsel in distress could sleep…” I was starting to feel anticipatory stirrings by this time. “Say no more!” I told her. “Just let me know what time you’re arriving. I’ll come and pick you up. I have to work the rest of the week, you know, eight to five, but my job’s only about six blocks from the Greyhound Terminal at Seventh and Mission.” “Far out!” She sounded relieved. “I’m coming tomorrow. I’ll call you back this evening with the bus schedule. Bye for now, Stony!” I heard a kissing sound and then the line went dead. Slowly I replaced the receiver and sat motionless on the bed. Suddenly, inexplicably, I felt grounded again, like a whole new person. I don’t know how long I sat there before I was roused by the sound of someone tapping on the window. Automatically I slid it open. “Hey, Stony, everything okay?” asked Moose, genuine concern on his face. “Better than okay, Moose. Much better than okay!” He grinned and reached in and clapped me on the shoulder. “That’s great! I’ve been worried about you lately, you know. Now, get your ass back out here, the ribs and ~

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chicken’s disappearing faster than the beer!” I looked at the telephone one more time and then reluctantly went back to the barbecue. Carole arrived at about eleven in the morning the next day, the day after Labor Day, on the bus from Palo Alto. I had been nervously pacing the Greyhound Bus Station waiting area for the last half hour. I had arranged to get most of the morning off, pleading personal business and promising to be back by one o’clock. Old BS gave me a suspicious look, but as I was a good employee and rarely missed work, he let it go. When she stepped off the bus she looked even more beautiful than I had remembered. She was dressed in a thin, expensive-looking white blouse and tight faded designer blue jeans that looked like she had been poured into them. On her feet were a pair of hand-tooled cowboy boots that would have looked good on Roy Rogers. It occurred to me that this was the first time I’d seen her dressed in normal clothes. “Stony!” she yelled out as soon as she saw me, then ran over and threw her arms around my neck. “Carole!” I managed to croak after I had been able to loosen her arms a bit. “It’s so great to see you again!” I looked over at the bus where the baggage handlers were just beginning to unload the bags. “Let’s get your stuff. Got much?” “Only two big bags. Oh, there they are!” She pointed to a couple of tan, oversized Samsonite numbers. I went over and hefted each of them with difficulty. “God! What’ve you got in here, your weightlifting equipment?” I grunted and dropped them to the floor. ~

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“No, silly, just clothes, a few cosmetics, things like that. You do want me to look my best, don’t you?” I looked at her approvingly. “I don’t think that’s gonna be a problem. C’mon, let’s go out front and get a cab. I can just see us trying to get on a Muni bus with these bags.” So we took a cab back to my place, where with great difficulty I managed to push and pull the bags up the flight of steps to the front door. “You remember where my room is?” I asked her teasingly as I opened the door. “I think maybe it’ll come back to me,” she replied in the same way. I dragged her bags back to my room. It was a beautiful sunny day and the sun at this time of year was still far enough to the north to shine through the big picture window onto the pillows on my bed, our bed now. There was no one else at home or in the back yard, so we lay down on the bed and hugged each other tightly for a long minute. Finally I sat up. “Here, I’ve got a present for you.” I handed her a small white jewelry box fastened with a red ribbon. “Go ahead, open it.” She pulled off the ribbon and opened the box. “How nice!” she exclaimed, holding up its contents. “The key to your heart, I presume?” I laughed at that. “No, the key to the front door, actually, but hopefully it’ll pull double duty. I have to work most days, and I want you to be able to come and go when you want. You’ll meet my roommates later, probably this afternoon. But don’t worry, they’re both great guys. I told them you were my girlfriend.” I looked at her bashfully. “But that’s just so they don’t get any ideas. You don’t mind, do you?” “That may have been a little presumptuous of you,” ~

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she replied with mock severity. “But I’ll accept it as a working definition, at least for the time being.” I was relieved. “Great, that’s settled then.” I looked at the clock radio on the nightstand. “Damn, almost noon! I’ve got to be back at work by one. Are you hungry?” “Yeah,” she admitted. “I was so excited getting up this morning and getting ready for the trip I forgot to eat breakfast.” “Great! Let’s go down to Herb’s on Twenty-Fourth Street. It’s only a greasy spoon, but you can get a great breakfast there any time of the day for cheap. It’s just a block down the street.” So we left the house arm in arm. At Herb’s we sat on stools at the counter and devoured the $1.99 eggs, bacon, potatoes and toast breakfast and reveled in that wonderful invention known as the bottomless coffee cup. Then I showed her the shopping district on 24th Street between Church and Castro. All too soon it was time for me to hop on the J and go back to work. “You got your key, right? See you about five-thirty,” I told her as I boarded the streetcar. “Don’t worry about me,” she replied. “I’m a big girl now. I’m just going to walk around for a while and get to know the neighborhood. See you later, lover!” she called out archly and blew me a kiss, causing me to cover my face with an old Bay Guardian newspaper to hide my embarrassment. The next two weeks were a blur of images, impressions, recollections, emotions. When I wasn’t working I spent every waking moment with her and, of course, every sleeping one as well. None of us three guys ~

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had ever had a relationship like this, at least not since we’d been living together, so I was a little nervous as to how Moose and Hemp would handle the situation. But my fears proved to be groundless. Moose seemed to be totally in awe of her and treated her so delicately and deferentially you’d have thought she was visiting royalty, or at least somebody’s sister. And Hemp, well, he just gave her the once-over and pronounced sardonically that she “seemed okay for a college broad.” What didn’t we do together in those two weeks? Every evening we went out together immediately after I got home from work and didn’t return until the early hours of the morning. Within the first few days I had spent all my money for the next two weeks buying her dinners in good restaurants, drinks in dance clubs, and anything else that struck her fancy. We were walking down Columbus Avenue in North Beach at around eight o’clock on the Thursday evening following her arrival, just looking at the sights and trying to decide where to have dinner. When she pointed to a place across the street, I surreptitiously checked my pocket and found only four one-dollar bills and some small change. I knew I had to come clean, but when I confessed my situation to her, she just laughed. “I wondered when you’d get around to telling me, Stony,” she said in that matter-of-fact way of hers I’d come to know and love. “I know you’re not a rich guy, and you’ve been sacrificing a lot to try to show me a good time. But the fact that you’re not rich—well, that’s one of the reasons I’m here now, with you.” She looked pensive for a moment. “I guess I’ve had just about enough of rich guys for the time being.” “Wow, Carole, thanks for being so understanding! But ~

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that reminds me, whatever happened to that guy you were with the night I met you? You know, what’s-his-name? At the Stud.” She laughed again but in a very different way. “Oh, you mean James. His full name’s James Gregory VanHouten III. He’s one of those rich guys I was talking about that I’ve had enough of, if that makes any sense. He’s the heir to the VanHouten cosmetics fortune and almost literally the boy next door. We’ve been in school together since I was in second grade and he was in first. In fact, he followed me to Stanford, even though with his family’s connections he could have gone to any of the prestigious Ivy League schools like Harvard or Yale even with his obviously average intelligence and unspectacular academic record. Everybody, especially both our families, always took it for granted that we’d be married after we graduated. He’s a nice enough boy, I guess, dull but handsome.” She turned and looked me square in the eye, suddenly serious. “But when he ran out on me that night, Stony, I realized I could never really trust him again. And trust is one of the things I value most in a relationship, don’t you agree?” “I agree completely. It’s just like in the army. The men in your squad might be a great bunch of guys, friendly and interesting. But if you can’t trust them under fire, then I’ve got no use for them.” “Exactly. You’re right, Stony. And that was sort of like a combat situation, wasn’t it? So, what’s your opinion of ol’ James after what happened that night?” “Well, in the military, in wartime, we can shoot deserters.” She giggled and clapped her hands. “Unfortunately I can’t go that far. But I’ve done the next best thing. The very ~

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next day I sent him a strongly-worded note telling him how disappointed I was and what I thought of him. I closed by saying that no matter what his reasons or excuses were, I never wanted to see him again. I made him disappear, at least for me.” By now we were walking down lower Columbus, below Washington Square. As we passed a row of classy-looking Italian restaurants, she continued. “But enough about him. As for our immediate problem, I’ve got something to show you.” She reached into her purse and withdrew from it a slim black card case. “I think this will put your mind at ease.” She opened it and proudly displayed a Diners Club Card and an American Express Card. “The Diners Club is for restaurants and the American Express is for cash. A gift from my father when I started college. Since most of the boys I’ve been out with compete with each other to see who can spend the most money on me, I’ve rarely used them. My father’s promised to pay the bills every month, no matter how much, no questions asked. So what do you say, Stony, shall we put him to the test?” I was impressed. I’d never known anyone with credit cards before. “You mean we can have a big dinner and we don’t even have to pay for it?” “Right! I just give them this card and sign my name on the check. I can even write in how much of a tip I want to give them.” “That’s fantastic! Let’s try it out!” I couldn’t wait. “OK. All we have to do is look for a place that has the Diners Club symbol on the door. Most of the really high class places do.” “Okay, how about the North Beach Restaurant? It’s one of the fanciest.” ~

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We turned the corner onto Stockton, just east of Washington Square Park. In a few minutes we were wining and dining like there was no tomorrow. So armed with Carole’s charge cards we spent the next ten days enjoying the tourist and not-so-tourist attractions of San Francisco and the Bay Area. I, of course, had to go to work each weekday during this period, and I thought it was to my credit that I showed up on time each morning, although only grudgingly going through the motions and watching the clock like a mother bird watches its newborns. When 5:00 came I would make sure I had done what I had to do and then quickly flee the building before old BS could corner me. Carole would be waiting outside as arranged with a list of places to go and things to see that evening. As I said, we went everywhere that September, the weather not unexpectedly cooperating by providing us a maximum of sun and a minimum of fog. We had takeaway shrimp cocktails and sourdough bread at Fisherman’s Wharf, real cocktails at the Cliff House, dim sum in Chinatown. We ate delicious pasta and drank chianti in North Beach and found our way to smoky atmospheric cellar jazz clubs where the ghosts of the Beat poets still prowled and wailed. We went to the Top of the Mark, the top of Twin Peaks, the top of Coit Tower. On the weekends, when I didn’t have to work, we spent our days strolling through Golden Gate Park, stopping only to feed the ducks and rent a paddle boat to explore Stow Lake. We picnicked and lay in the sun at Ocean Beach, and on our last Saturday we took the ferry across the bay to the quaint little fishing village/artists’ colony of Sausalito where we drank bloody ~

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marys on the sundeck at Zach’s and explored the many little handicraft shops and galleries. We capped the day by having dinner at the Trident where we watched through the giant windows as the waves lapped the shore and a beautiful orange moon rose over the magic spires of nowdistant San Francisco. In these two weeks I grew to know and love Carole in a way that I had never before experienced. I was only twentyfour, but I had had, or so I thought, plenty of experience with women. It was the 70s, after all, and I felt the urge to make up for lost time, having wasted four perfectly good years of my youth in the service of my country. But Carole was something outside of any preconceived notions I had of what a woman was supposed to be. She was only twentytwo herself and not yet out of college, but she possessed a quiet dignity far beyond her years. She was easy to talk to, fun to be with, and astonishingly fun to listen to. She seemed to be able to hold her own in any situation without drawing attention to herself or seeming to compete with anyone. And when she said or did anything seriously it was as if it was the only practical or logical thing and that it was inevitable that she say or do it. We spent most of the early mornings making love, and yet I could not really say that I was mainly attracted to her sexually. It seemed to me to be a much more natural relationship than that. By the end of the first week I felt like we had known each other for years. The only question gnawing at my mind was this: did she feel the same way about me? As easy as she was to talk to about most things, the very ease and naturalness of our relationship together made me unwilling, almost afraid to discuss it with her in direct terms. It was as if I was afraid ~

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I’d break the spell or shatter the illusion somehow. But then came the final Sunday morning when I had to accompany her to the only part of San Francisco I’d been dreading revisiting with her—the Greyhound Bus Station. On her arrival she had told me in that practical way of hers precisely when she would have to leave and why. I had of course accepted it then, looking forward to the riches promised by two weeks together. But now that time had run out, I was like a prisoner on Death Row, casting about wildly for some way, any way, to forestall the inevitable. But none came to mind; at eight-thirty on Sunday morning we were standing in the waiting area and her bus was leaving for Palo Alto in less than half an hour. “Carole,” I began desperately. “I really wish you could stay longer. I mean, look how good we are together. It’s like fate or something. Don’t you feel it too?” She looked at me sadly. “We already had this discussion two weeks ago. I knew this was going to happen, but it was certainly worth it. Look, Stony, you know I only have one more year at Stanford. You know classes start tomorrow. I’m cutting it close as it is. Besides, if I stayed it wouldn’t be the same. You’d feel guilty or I’d blame you, either way we’d start to argue and then fight. It’s been like a magic vacation, Stony, don’t spoil it for me.” “Okay, okay.” I gave up. “But at least give me your address and phone number this time so we can keep in touch.” She laughed at that. “When you get home, Stony, look in the top dresser drawer in your bedroom.” Then she kissed me and at the same time the loudspeaker announced that her bus was available for boarding. She had already checked her luggage and there was nothing else to do. All ~

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too quickly she moved to the head of the line and then disappeared aboard the bus. In a few seconds her head popped out of a window. “Call me!” she yelled. Then she grinned and blew me a kiss. I heard the roar of the engine starting. “But how?” I yelled back. “Your dresser!” was the last thing I heard as the bus began to pull out. Then as suddenly as she had come, she was gone again. I walked out of the bus enclosure and onto the Mission Street sidewalk. What fog there had been was already beginning to thin and the sun was breaking through. It was going to be another beautiful day. I felt hollow inside, suddenly hungry for more than just breakfast. But since breakfast was all I could get, I walked up to Market Street and entered a little coffee shop on the corner of 7th. After a big meal of eggs, bacon, potatoes and toast, things seemed a little brighter. What the hell, I told myself, it’s not like it’s the end of the world or anything. I caught a J streetcar back to the house. When I arrived at a little before ten, no one was stirring. I went directly to the BEQ and pounded on the door. “All right, you men!” I bellowed. “Drop your cocks and grab your socks. It’s a beautiful day and we’re going to the Park!” Inside I heard groans and moans, indicating that they were both there. Good! The last thing I wanted today was to be alone. “Get a move on, you guys! I’ll buy the beer!” A sleepy-eyed Moose, still clad in his underwear, opened the door. “I take it,” he said evenly, “that Carole had to split today?” “You got it, buddy!” I told him as cheerfully as I could ~

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manage. He looked at me and shook his head. “I’ll go try to wake up Hemp. But it’s not going to be easy. He didn’t get in until three last night. And by the way, Stony, welcome back.” “Whattaya mean, ‘welcome back’? I didn’t go anywhere!” He grinned at me. “You know what I mean. Why don’t you go make some coffee while I work on Hemp. It’s prob’ly gonna take about an hour.” He shut the door again and I went out to the kitchen to make coffee. After a great day in Golden Gate Park, profitably spent playing frisbee, drinking beer, and scaring tourists, I was feeling almost back to normal or, as I liked to think of it, pre-Carole. It wasn’t until that evening, while I was lying on my bed exhausted from the day, that I remembered Carole’s enigmatic parting words. Might as well see what she was talking about, I thought. So when I opened my top dresser drawer, I spotted a medium-sized manila clasp envelope that hadn’t been there before. I opened it and withdrew a large folded piece of notebook paper. Inside was a color polaroid snapshot of a smiling Carole taped to the top of the page. Underneath it was written the following: Dear Stony, Thanks for the memories. I think we might just have a future after all. Please get in touch with me here at the college. This is the number for my dorm at Murdaugh Hall. Just ask for Carole Porter, Room 312. You can ~

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also write me at this address, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA. With ‘a whole lotta love’! Carole-with-an-E I stuck my hand into the envelope. Inside were a large number of small, irregularly-sized pieces of paper, cardboard, etc. As I looked at them I realized what she’d done and marveled at it. Here, in this envelope, were ticket stubs and restaurant receipts for everywhere we’d gone, everything we’d done while she’d been in San Francisco. I smiled. She’d been gone for less than twelve hours, but as I looked at these mementos of our time together, my mind was already wending its way down memory lane. FIRST INTERLUDE

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n a foggy afternoon near the end of June, 2000, in Room 578 of Beth Israel Hospital in San Francisco, a portly middle-aged man lies unconscious on his hospital bed. He is dressed only in a green-and-white checked hospital gown and, as he is lying on his back, one can see the plethora of plastic tubes connected to nearly every part of his body. Only the unruly white strands of his remaining hair which have draped themselves across his pillow serve to remind us that he is still an individual human being and not an anonymous subject being used for medical experimentation. The door opens and a nurse walks in. She is a rather average-looking woman, but brisk and efficient in her crisp white uniform as she bustles about, checking first the ~

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patient’s chart and then the displays of the various machines to which he is attached. After she has been so engaged for a few moments, a tall gaunt man with a clipboard enters the room and closes the door behind him. “What’s the patient’s status, nurse?” he asks her in a flat, disinterested voice. “Still no change, doctor,” she answers in the same professional, emotionless way. “There is one other thing, though…” she continues but her voice falters and then trails off, as if she is unsure how or even whether to proceed. “Well, what is it, nurse?” A bit of impatience has crept into the doctor’s professional voice. “Uh, well, it’s just that, well, this patient has suffered a heart attack, right?” “Yes, that’s correct.” His tone of voice says “Get on with it!” “And when he went into a coma, shortly after surgery, he was hooked up to an EEG monitor?” “So, what’s so unusual about that? What are you getting at?” The doctor sounds a bit peeved now, but definitely more interested. “Uh, there was no sign of head trauma, was there, doctor?” “No, no, of course not, only the heart attack. Apparently a taxi driver saw him collapse just outside his home. The man was quite definite that the patient didn’t hit his head. And subsequent examination showed no external or internal injuries of any kind except for the heart attack.” He is growing more impatient by the minute. “Why all these questions, nurse? Is there something unusual I should know about? How long has he been unconscious?” ~

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“Over twenty-four hours, doctor. He was brought in yesterday morning and operated on at about midday. He hasn’t regained consciousness since.” The doctor frowns. “That’s odd. It was a relatively simple procedure, a standard coronary bypass operation. And his heart never stopped beating during the procedure. Since the blood flow to the brain was never impeded, he should have regained consciousness by now.” He is saying all this mostly to himself as if for reassurance, while checking the patient’s charts and the displays of the various machines as he speaks. The nurse directs his attention to the EEG. As soon as the doctor sees the display and reads the printout record his interest, for the first time, is very much engaged. “Just look at these alpha wave patterns!” he exclaims. “How long have you been getting these readings?” “Since early this morning, over twelve hours ago now. That’s why I wanted you to see them and judge for yourself.” The nurse was beginning to relax now, the doctor’s excited response making her feel more sure of herself. “Are they really as unusual as I think they are?” “Let’s not jump to conclusions, nurse. It could be only some strange reaction to the anesthetic. Watch him closely, and if these waves continue in the same pattern and intensity, we’ll have to call in the senior neurologist, find out what he thinks.” The nurse turns to the doctor, all pretense of disinterested professionalism gone now. “But what do you think it is, doctor? What’s going on here?” “What do I think?” The doctor shakes his head. “I think he must be having one hell of a dream!” 5. ~

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F

or the next month or so, after Carole’s departure, I walked around in a funk. I must have gone to work and done my job, for I didn’t get fired. I must have eaten and drunk, for I didn’t feel particularly hungry or thirsty. I must have acted okay with Moose and Hemp, for they neither yelled at me in anger or withdrew from me in disgust. But well into the depths of October I could feel myself just going through the motions, sort of like a jet plane on automatic pilot. It was obvious that I needed to get my head together. So, on a Saturday afternoon just before Halloween, I found myself wandering up Haight Street toward Golden Gate Park. It was a spectacularly beautiful Indian summer day; the sky a brilliant shade of blue, the sun warm and golden, with just enough of a breeze. As I crossed Stanyan Street and entered the park I could smell the sharp odor of eucalyptus leaves, their dry rustle a prayer for winter rain after a long dry summer. I walked toward the Children’s Playground and then instinctively turned right, crossing the small meadow that lay just below Hippie Hill, so named because on its soft grassy incline gathered the remnants of the previous decade’s flower children. They lay upon the ground, on blankets or on grass, some talking and laughing with each other, some reading or engaging in silent meditation, some dancing to music from portable radios, and most of them passing joints and bottles of wine back and forth. Goodnatured naked toddlers ran about unchecked, laughing and shrieking with delight in their temporary freedom from tight clothes and small apartments. I picked my way through the crowd until I found who I ~

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was looking for—the wise woman known only as Kia. She was lying on an Indian blanket, barefoot and clothed only in a loose fitting sleeveless red dress. As I approached she looked up at me and smiled in recognition while shading her eyes with her left hand. “Hey, Kia, what’s happenin’?” I said, sitting down beside her so she wouldn’t have to stare up at the sun. “Hey, Stony, haven’t seen you around here lately. What’s on your mind?” She always did that. Not only did she always know everything that was going on among her large extended family, she always came straight to the point, so there was no use my pretending or beating around the bush. “I been kinda down lately,” I confessed. She looked at me with her brilliant blue-green eyes which seemed to see into my deepest soul and said, “So what’s her name?” “Uh, Carole,” I replied without embarrassment. That’s the way it is with Kia. I could have a whole evening’s worth of conversation with her in just a few sentences. And she was like that with everybody, at least everybody she cared about. With anybody else, like the suits and other power trippers, she just played dumb. After a few minutes they usually believed she was and walked away. “Known her long?” “Two weeks and one night,” I answered truthfully. “An interesting choice of words. You made the right decision, though.” “Huh? What do you mean?” “About letting her go without hassling her. She had a good reason, right?” “Sure, last year of school.” ~

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“Out of town, huh?” “Yep. That’s the worst part.” “She’s been gone, what, a month?” “A little over.” “And you haven’t seen her since?” “Nope. Wanted to, but no.” We had exchanged this information as earnestly and furtively as two guys doing a dope deal in the alley behind a police station. Now we became more socially conversational. “You think you’re in love with her, don’t you, Stony? And this is your first time, huh?” “Hey, don’t rub it in. I wouldn’t be so new at this stuff if I hadn’t blown off four years of my life.” Kia was one of the few people in San Francisco who knew about our military past. To just about everybody else the three of us we were best buddies from school. “Really though, Stony. You did the right thing, for sure,” she was saying. “Carole’s a real independent, strong type. Almost a libber, right?” “Now how the hell would you know that?” Sometimes her insights surprised even me. She reached down and opened a beaded leather coin purse, pulled out a joint and handed it to me. As I lit it, she smiled a dazzling smile and replied, “Simple, Stony, you just don’t have it in you to love anyone who isn’t just as strong, just as stubborn, and just as independent as you are. That’s why it took you so long.” I lay down on the blanket, took a few hits off the joint, and thought about what she’d said. Damned if she wasn’t right on the money as usual. “So what should I do now?” I asked her seriously. “I feel like I’m walking around in a fog. ~

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And there hasn’t been much fog lately.” It was a feeble attempt to lighten up and she knew it. “I can’t taste my food. I can’t enjoy being with my friends. And even this,” I handed the joint back to her, “doesn’t seem to do it any more.” “Well,” she told me after a moment, as if waiting for me to finish a sentence I hadn’t even started. “All I can say is, don’t chase after her. But don’t ignore her either. Don’t take the attitude that you can’t live without her or, even worse, that she shouldn’t be able to live without you.” She looked at me again, gazing into me, almost through me. “But you didn’t mention,” she continued casually, “anything about your real problem.” “What are you talking about now? You’ve really lost me this time,” I complained. She shook her head sadly. “Oh, Stony, Stony, Stony.” You could almost hear the cluck of disapproval in her voice. “Think about it. It started about the same time you met her. It’s bound up with her, but it’s more than either of you. All I can say is, go think about it. And then come back and tell me about it.” Just that quickly I knew I had been dismissed. “Okay, I will, Kia. And even though I don’t have a clue, thanks for your advice. Hell, thanks for your friendship.” But her mind had already drifted off into other areas. That’s the way she was—if she was with you, there was no one else in her world at that moment. But when the moment was over, it was as if she had trouble remembering you at all. She waved a hand in the air. “Go in peace,” she said vaguely to no one in particular. I gave up and wandered back toward the Children’s ~

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Playground. The sun was beginning to dip lower into the trees dotting Twin Peaks, and it was growing noticeably cooler. I shivered, but not entirely because of the change in the weather. Kia was always right, had always been right before. She was the closest thing I had to a spiritual guide. But what the hell was she talking about? The sun was just beginning to set as I walked back down Haight Street. It was just after six on a gorgeous Saturday evening, but the strip hadn’t yet revved up for the night. I had no particular place to be this evening as was the case so many nights lately. My only real mission was to try to figure out why I’d been so out of it lately. So I did what anybody does when they have some real soul searching to do—I walked into the nearest bar. This particular bar happened to be called the Theater Club, but don’t get the wrong idea. The only reason it bore that name was that it was located across the street from the old Straight Theater, abandoned and boarded up now, but the site of many a countercultural theater event back in the old Summer of Love days over five years ago. Nowadays the only theatrical stuff going on in the Theater Club were the creative tales told by the down-and-outers to hustle you for a drink or some change. It was the kind of place where you could still get a shot and a beer for a dollar fifty, and that’s exactly what I ordered. Then I sat down at a booth in the back where the red vinyl upholstery was slightly less ripped and pondered my condition. Within about fifteen minutes I was already starting on my second round, a comfortable alcoholic haze beginning to cloak my anxieties. It’s got to be more than missing ~

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Carole, I thought. I can deal with that. No, it was something more, but something—what had Kia said?— something that started about the same time I met her. When had that been? I vividly remembered her two-week visit in September. Before that? I looked around. Yeah, I’d met her in a bar. Which one, when? I had a sudden vision of confronting the big cowboy in the alley. Of course! That night at the Stud. She had been the damsel in distress, I, the knight in shining armor. Had anything else been unusual about that night? I remembered that Moose and Hemp had wandered off somewhere, leaving me alone at the bar thinking weird thoughts. But something told me that wasn’t the beginning of it. If I could just remember… “Hey, Stony man!” A voice at my elbow brought me back to the present. “I thought that was you, sittin’ back here all alone. What’s the occasion? I thought you didn’t like to drink alone in bars.” A familiar figure slid into the booth across from me. “Oh, hi Hemp. I just wanted to be alone for a while, you know, sort of collect my thoughts.” “Yeah, you been doin’ a lotta that lately. What’re you drinkin’? Don’t tell me, cheapo shots and beers, right? Lemme get you a real drink!” Before I could stop him, he had already gone to the bar. He returned in a few moments with a couple of pint glasses filled with a milky liquid. “Double margaritas!” he explained proudly, setting one in front of each of us. “This’ll get your head on straight!” I took a tentative sip, then a larger one. Hemp was right. This was just what the doctor ordered. “Didn’t I tell you?” he said, gulping down about a ~

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quarter of his and lighting a cigarette. “Want one?” He offered me the pack. “Sure, why not?” He lit it for me and we smoked and drank in a companionable silence for a few minutes. “What the hell are you doing here anyway?” I finally asked him. He grinned, gave me a wink and leaned his face close to mine. “Dope run,” he whispered. “Gonna get a couple ounces of pure Colombian. Guy lives just around the corner from here, on Cole.” He straightened up again and continued in a normal tone. “This is the guy’s favorite hangout, so I thought I’d save a little time and see if he was here before I went over to his place.” He made an exaggerated show of looking around, even though the Theater Club was a small bar and there were maybe ten people in the place besides us. “Nope, he’s not here. Say, Stony, why don’t you come with me? It’d get your mind off your troubles and besides, I want you to meet this guy. I been doin’ business with him a coupla weeks now, ever since Holy Joe got busted. His stuff is great, real clean, heavy, and a good price, too. Whattaya say?” “Well, sure, I guess so. I’ve really got nothing else to do. What’s Moose up to tonight?” “I think he’s got a hot date. He just got paid, and he’s takin’ some lucky little chick out for a burger and a flick. So you don’t have to worry about him. C’mon, drink up, and let’s go score!” Hemp led me out of the bar and around the corner to Cole Street. About a block and a half south of Haight we stopped before a modest two-story Victorian painted a conservative gray with white trim. “This is a dope dealer’s house?” I asked him ~

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skeptically. “Looks more like the kind of place a Wells Fargo VP would live.” Hemp grinned and tapped his head with his finger. “Yeah, cool, ain’t it! This way he don’t attract no attention.” We climbed the stone steps and Hemp rang the doorbell. Within seconds the door opened to reveal a huge black man with a shaved, highly polished head. He wore a black turtleneck sweater and black slacks and a black suit jacket under which a suspicious-looking bulge could be seen. He scowled down at us menacingly. “What you boys want?” “Hey, Thor, take it easy, man,” said Hemp spreading his arms wide, an innocent smile on his face. “We cool, man. You remember me, don’t you? I’m Hemp. I been here before, lotsa times.” Thor scratched his bald head and his scowl turned to a puzzled frown. “Maybe I do and maybe I don’t,” was his brilliant reply. “Who that boy with you?” “Oh, this guy. Why this is Stony, my main man. Now look, ” Hemp drew himself up to his full five foot six. “We got some business with your boss man. You gonna let us in, or do we take our business elsewhere?” Before he could answer, another voice was heard from within the house. “Who’s there, Thor? Any trouble?” Thor turned his head back to the interior of the room. “No, boss, ain’t no trouble. They’s two white boys out here, one say he Hemp, the other I don’t know.” He turned back to us and patted us up and down with his huge hands. It felt sort of like a Swedish massage. “They clean, boss,” rumbled Thor. “Then let them come in, by all means.” Thor opened the front door wide and we stepped ~

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inside into a room that would not have been out of place during the rein of Louis XIV. Scattered throughout were any number of French Provincial chairs and divans, whether genuine antiques or copies I couldn’t tell. Even the wallpaper was of the same period, its gold and silver flocking matching the upholstery and the furniture. The only concession to the modern era seemed to be a large stereo in the corner surrounded by hundreds of record albums. The man who had secured our entry stood in the center of this room. He was a medium-sized black man with slick, straightened hair which had been styled into a pompadour, à la James Brown. He wore a white suit, the jacket with wide lapels, the pants baggy at the hips in much the same style as the old zoot suits. Under his jacket was a gold polyester shirt, unbuttoned to mid-chest revealing a large gold medallion fastened to a chain around his neck. “Hey, Hemp, my main man!” He came forward and grasped Hemp’s hand, executing a large number of what looked like secret grips and handshakes which Hemp somehow followed. These he concluded by slapping Hemp’s upturned left palm with his right hand and then allowing Hemp to reciprocate. “Who’s your bro here, I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure?” Hemp made the introductions. “Acid, this is Stony, my main man. Stony, Acid Jackson, the most righteous dope dealer in town.” “Ah, we prefer ‘herb supplier’,” Acid replied softly and shook my hand with the more conventional black power grip. “Pleased to meet you,” I said somewhat lamely. “Your name’s really Acid Jackson?” ~

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“Sure, why not?” he laughed. “If you dudes got a minute, I’ll tell you the story later. So Hemp, you here on business or is this just a social call?” He made a signal to Thor who had been standing by the door during this exchange. Thor nodded and left the room. “We need a couple ounces of that good Colombian,” Hemp told him. “Still goin’ for twenty?” “No problem, my man.” Acid picked up the receiver of a gold, European style telephone and dialed one number. “Mimi, bring out two bags of Colombian,” he said into the phone. In a few moments the door through which Thor had exited opened and a small woman dressed in white silk lounging pajamas and high-heeled silver sandals entered the room. She had a delicate round face with large dark eyes, and her skin was a creamy olive color. As she handed the two plastic baggies to Acid, she gave Hemp a warm smile, then turned and gracefully left the room. It was like one of those TV game shows where the beautiful young woman comes out and hands the winner’s prize to the host. “That’s Mimi,” grinned Acid. “Ain’t she something?” He tossed the two baggies to Hemp who opened one and sniffed. “Go ahead, roll one and fire it up, if you want.” “Hey, man,” said Hemp, closing the baggie again. “Your stuff is always totally cool.” He dug in his pocket and pulled out two twenties which he gave to Acid. “Always a pleasure,” Acid replied, casually pocketing the bills. “Why don’t you boys sit down for a minute and we’ll smoke one of my special numbers? Unless you got to be somewhere, that is.” Hemp looked at me questioningly. “Sounds cool to me,” I told Acid. ~

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We sat down on a gold-embroidered couch which surprisingly was more comfortable than it looked. Acid went over to one of the small tables across the room and opened a jeweled metal box from which he extracted a thin tightly-rolled joint. He came back over and sat down at one end of the couch. I was at the other end and Hemp was in the middle. Acid lit the joint with a gold Zippo cigarette lighter and passed it to Hemp who took a deep drag and passed it to me. I did the same and passed it back to Hemp who passed it back to Acid. After my second hit I noticed that I was really, really ripped. Not just buzzing a little around the edges, but completely stoned. With difficulty I turned my head and looked at Hemp questioningly. He nodded to me in confirmation, a foolish grin on his face. “What the hell is this stuff?” I asked as soon as I could remember how to speak. Acid took another hit and casually waved the joint in our direction, but we both waved it away emphatically. It was the thinnest joint I had ever seen and only about half gone, but the two of us were as wasted as if we’d thrown a quarter lid into a water pipe and had been smoking all night. Only Acid seemed relatively unaffected. “This stuff?” he said nonchalantly. “Oh, just a little Thai stick.” He looked at us closely and bared his teeth. As fucked up as I was, I couldn’t tell if it was truly an evil grin, or if I was just being paranoid. “But you boys look like you could use some refreshment. Beer okay?” We nodded. “What’s your pleasure?” “Anything,” I gasped. “We’re not particular.” He got up and went over to the gold telephone again. ~

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“Hey, dollface. Bring three Heinies in here, willya babe? Atta girl!” He hung up the phone. In just a moment the same girl appeared with a silver tray upon which were three bottles of Heineken. She put the tray down on a table in front of us, uncapped the three bottles with an ornate silver opener, straightened up and smiled warmly and, it seemed to us, flirtatiously at Hemp. Then she turned to Acid. “Anything else, boss man?” she asked teasingly. “Not for now, babe. We still doin’ business. So take yo’ cute little ass outa here.” She responded as if to a heartfelt compliment, smiling and walking slowly back out of the room, her hips swaying provocatively. Hemp and I were staring after her, mouths slightly open. When she had left the room, Acid handed us each a bottle of beer. We gulped down the cold liquid gratefully. He chuckled appreciatively and waved his hand toward the door. “OKAY, boys, no more interruptions. So what do you think of my special weed?” “Man, that stuff’s killer!” responded Hemp. “Totally far out!” My mind was going in lazy circles. “How come,” I began thoughtfully and seriously, “they call you Acid?” “Hemp here knows my story. You want to tell it, Hemp?” “No, man, it’s your story. You go ahead.” “Well, all right then. Ain’t that much to tell, really, but it’s good for a laugh. Back when I was a young man and stupid, I made the mistake of droppin’ out of college. It wasn’t a mistake because of the schoolin’. But rather it was a mistake because it let those motherfuckers draft my ass. ~

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So I showed up at basic training, Fort Polk, Louisiana, in the summer of ‘67 when I shoulda been right here gettin’ all that good young stuff goin’ round, if you know what I mean. I was only nineteen and dumb as a mule. First thing off the bus, we had to line up and tell the drill sergeant our names. We was supposed to say them all the same way— last name, then first name and middle initial. So when it came to be my turn I yelled out quickly, ‘Jackson, Ellis D!’ ‘Cause that’s my real name—Ellis Duane Jackson. Well, the sergeant gave me this real funny look and said, ‘Whaddaya mean, “LSD”? Are you shittin’ me, boy?’ Took over five minutes to get the whole thing straightened out, but from that time everybody started callin’ me ‘Acid’. I think it’s kinda cool, though I’d never even have thought about it if it wasn’t for that redneck sergeant. And who says white boys ain’t no good?” He laughed and emptied his beer. “So Hemp,” he said more seriously. “You thought over that thing we was talkin’ about last time?” “Uh, yeah, man,” replied Hemp. “I’ll let you know real soon.” Acid stood up. “Well then, I guess I’ll catch you boys later.” Thor had materialized out of nowhere and was scowling at us again. I couldn’t tell whether we had pissed him off in some way or it was just his natural expression. Either way, it was obviously time for us to split. Acid shook hands with Hemp again in that complicated maneuver that Hemp, even though he must have been as stoned as I was, again followed perfectly. As we left he called out over his shoulder, “Stay cool, man,” and grinned defiantly at Thor who only scowled more fiercely. Then all of a sudden we were standing on the sidewalk. It must have been after eight because it was ~

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completely dark outside. I hadn’t realized we’d been in there that long. “Hey, Stony, what you think of ol’ Acid?” Hemp asked as we walked back toward Haight Street. “Well, his dope’s sure as hell impressive.” My head was still buzzing from the two hits I’d had over half an hour ago. “Yeah, that’s his private stock. You want some, it’ll cost you at least fifty. Maybe more.” I held up my hand. “No way, Jose. The regular stuff’s just fine with me. But seriously, Hemp, don’t you think Acid’s just a little, well, creepy? I mean, what’s with that giant bodyguard of his anyway? The dude must weigh three hundred pounds!” “Hey, Acid’s okay, man. He just likes to show off, that’s all. And why not? The man’s loaded. He’s got one of the biggest operations in the whole city. And you saw that room—his whole place is like that! He leases the entire building—upstairs, downstairs and basement. Must be over twelve rooms, I ain’t seen ‘em all yet. Acid says he pays a grand a month for the place. And how’d ya like that little honey of his—the one that brought out the dope and beer?” I’d never heard Hemp sound so envious of anybody. He was usually extremely neutral when he commented on other people. “I guess he’s okay,” is about the closest he came to praise. I winked at him. “I think she likes you, Hemp. Did you see the way she was looking at you?” “Aw, cut it out, man! Acid makes her be nice to the customers, that’s all.” Hemp bashful? Another revelation. Under the street light I couldn’t tell if he was blushing. We had reached the major bus stop at Haight and Masonic, so I changed the ~

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subject. “I’m still pretty ripped, man. I’m gonna wait here for the bus and head on home. You coming?” “Sure, man, why not? I got no place else to be tonight. Let’s go home and see if this new stuff’s any good. We got any beer at the house? Anything to eat? Moose is out for the night, so it’s just you and me, compadre.” I thought for a minute. “I can’t remember. Tell you what. I got a few bucks left. Let’s get a small pizza to go at Haystack and I’ll pick up a six pack at St. Clair’s.” “Sounds good to me, Stony. But let’s get sausage and pepperoni. And maybe some chips or something. And how about some donuts, just in case? I got a feeling I’m gonna have the munchies something fierce.” I laughed. “Sure thing, Hemp.” I checked my pocket. “I got about ten bucks. That oughta cover it.” Just then the 7-Haight pulled up. We boarded it and went the several blocks down Haight to Divisadero where we transferred to the 24 going south to 24th and Castro. By nine o’clock I had purchased the required items and we were safely in the front door. We sat on the couch in the living room listening to Zeppelin on the stereo, smoking a joint of the Colombian (just to try it out), drinking a few beers, and then gorging ourselves on pizza and various snack items. Our appetites satisfied, I turned to Hemp and tried to think how best to say what had been on my mind for the last few hours. “Uh, Hemp?” I began cautiously. “You remember when we were back at Acid’s place?” Hemp was still munching Doritos. “Get real, man, that was only a coupla hours ago. Course I remember. I ain’t that far gone yet.” I ignored his sarcasm and continued. “He asked you ~

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something, right before we left. Something about if you’d thought it over yet. What did he mean by that?” “Nothin’ much. He needs somebody to work the Mission for him, that’s all. And since I ain’t got nothing better to do, and we live real close, I told him I’d think about it.” I was suddenly horrified. “Hemp! You’re talking about pushing drugs! How can you even consider doing such a thing?” He seemed shocked by my outburst. “Hey, take it easy, man. What do you think I’m doin’ now?” He began to talk slowly and patiently to me as if I were a child. “You just saw me buy two lids, right? Well, one of ‘em I sell on the street for twice what it cost me and that way I, we, get the second lid for free. That’s what I been doin’ ever since you guys got here, a year and a half now, and I ain’t seen you guys doin’ any worryin’ or refusing a joint when it’s offered. This is just a more formal deal, that’s all. I’ll get more to sell, up front, and I’ll get to keep a percentage. Maybe I’ll even come out ahead for a change. Besides,” he clapped me on the shoulder, “you’re the one’s always telling me I should get a job, right?” For some reason I couldn’t see any logic or good points to this at all. My mind was racing, desperately trying to think of the right things to say. But it was coming out all wrong. “I meant a job job, Hemp. You could get seriously busted for dealing!” I started pacing the room, still stoned but now not mellow at all. “Remember last year?” I persisted. “When you got busted for holding and I had to bail you out? I told you then that was the last time! And I meant it, goddamn you!” He stood up suddenly, and I saw that look in his eyes ~

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which always indicated that he’d made a decision. And when Hemp decides something, no one can move him. “Fuck you, Stony!” he said suddenly, not so much angrily as dismissively. “You ain’t my father, you know! I been smokin’ and dealin’ since way before the army grabbed my ass! It’s the only thing I’m any good at. Here I been toning it down for you guys’ sake, and what do I get? Shit on, just ‘cause I want to have a little bread in my pocket for a change. You think I like bein’ broke all the time? So just keep your goddamn right-wing values to yourself, Lieutenant sir!” And with that he stalked out of the room. A few seconds later I heard the door to the BEQ slam shut. I was shocked. Not at Hemp’s reaction, I had deserved that, but at my own instinctive attitude. Dope was a way of life around our house, always had been. We took it for granted. Smoking a joint was like drinking a beer. Where did I think it came from, the dope fairy? I guess I had just never really thought about it before. But why had I had such a strong negative reaction? It wasn’t like he was going to sell heroin to school kids, for God’s sake! I sat there for a few moments to sort out my thoughts, trying to figure out how to salvage the wreckage of this once-pleasant evening. It wasn’t just the dope thing, I finally realized. My reaction was entirely because of Hemp’s relationship with this mysterious Acid Jackson. I sighed out loud and decided I’d better go do the right thing. I knocked on the door of the BEQ. No answer. I knocked again, louder this time. “Hemp, you in there, man?” “Fuck off, Lieutenant Stoneham, sir!” came the reply. I knew he was really pissed when he called me that. “Look, man, I want to apologize. I was out of line. The ~

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whole thing just sorta caught me off guard, know what I mean? Forgive me?” “You change your mind?” He sounded distrustful but hopeful. “Yeah, Hemp, sure. I don’t know why I said those things. I was just worried, that’s all. You know how much I care about you.” That brought him to the door. “Then I can go ahead, tell Acid I’m in?” He said cautiously, opening the door a crack. “Sure thing, man. Just be careful, that’s all. But hell, it’ll be great having some extra money, you know, what with winter coming and all. You know how Moose’s business falls off during the rainy season. Remember last winter, we just barely scraped by.” I was babbling with relief now, all the emotion coming out of me. “I’m sorry man, I don’t know what came over me!” He opened the door all the way and grabbed me by the shoulders and looked me in the eye. “Yeah, you’ve been actin’ kinda weird for the last coupla months. What is it, that college broad, what’s her name?” “Carole,” I responded automatically. “Yeah, that must be it.” I was glad to be let off the hook. “So, buddies, right?” “You know it, man. Now get the hell out of here and leave me alone. I got some thinkin’ to do.” “Yeah, me too,” I replied, relieved that we were back to normal now. “See you tomorrow. Say hello to Moose when he gets in.” “The big guy’s on a date. I’ll be crashed out by the time he gets back. Leave him a note.” “Good idea.” I went back to the living room and cleaned up the remnants of the feast and then rolled one ~

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more. By midnight I was still trying to contemplate the undefinable, grasp the unknowable. I wished Kia were here. No, strike that, it was Carole I craved. 6.

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nd so my second summer in San Francisco came to an end. The holiday season which signaled the beginning of the rainy season was upon us again, and I was no closer to understanding what had happened to me in the last several months. Thanksgiving came and went and, though I was grateful for the four days off from work and tried my best to party hard with my two buddies, I couldn’t seem to shake this feeling of melancholy restlessness I’d had since August. The only thing that had really raised my spirits since then was Carole’s visit in September. Although she had given me the phone number of her dorm at Stanford, I had heeded Kia’s advice and restrained myself from bugging her. By mid-December, however, my impatience began to get the better of me. I had been able to get hold of a Stanford academic calendar for the 1974-75 school year and had discovered that their holiday break was about to begin. Friday, December 19, was their last day of classes until after the new year. So the Sunday evening before their last week, I quietly locked myself in my room and telephoned Carole’s dorm. “Murdaugh Hall,” replied a prim middle-aged female voice. “To whom do you wish to speak?” “Room 312, Carole Porter, please,” I said, trying to sound as mature and businesslike as possible. “One moment, I’ll connect you.” ~

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I heard a series of buzzes and clicks and finally a familiar voice that almost broke my heart. “Hello? Carole Porter here. Who’s this?” “Carole, glad I caught you in,” I said in what I hoped was a light, carefree voice. “This is Stony. You remember me?” “Of course I remember you! How could I forget our wonderful time together? You miss me?” “Of course I miss you! I miss you terribly!” I confessed, dropping the pose. “That’s why I’m calling. Uh, any chance we could get together over the Christmas holidays?” “Oh, Stony, I’m so sorry!” She sounded genuinely disappointed. “But I’ve only got two weeks, and Mom and Dad have had my days planned out hour by hour ever since Thanksgiving. You remember what a pain parents can be, don’t you?” There was a pleading note in her voice. “Yeah, I understand. But honestly, Carole, I’m beginning to forget what you look like. It’s been three months, you know.” “That’s why I left you my picture, Stony, so you wouldn’t forget me. You’ve still got it, don’t you?” “Of course I’ve still got it. I moon over it every night before I go to sleep, if you must know.” I could hear her giggling on the other end. “But seriously, Carole, when am I gonna get to see you again? I can’t wait forever, you know. There’s all kinds of cute chicks right here in town and I don’t know how much longer I can hold out.” She made a little clucking sound. “Oh, Stony, that’s so sweet! You mean you’ve been faithful to me ever since I left?” “You got it, babe. But it ain’t gonna last forever. Now ~

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when do I get my reward?” There was a long pause on the other end. “Carole, you still there?” “Yes, I’m still here,” came the subdued reply. “You’re really serious about me, about us, aren’t you?” “You bet I am! I’d just like to have some kind of a hint whether or not you feel the same way.” “You know, it’s a funny thing,” she said, almost as if she were talking to herself. “When I came up to see you in September, I thought it was just going to be fun and games. You know, a couple of weeks of laughs with a guy who’s fun to be with. And then, after that, I came back down here and, honestly, all the guys down here are so dull you wouldn’t believe it. Even James—you remember James, don’t you?” “Sure, how could I forget. The chickenshit who took off and left you stranded. Remind me to thank him some time.” She laughed at that. “Well, even James, who I once found so attractive—I don’t know, it’s like there’s something lacking in all of these boys—something that’s not quite there.” She paused for just a moment as if unsure how to proceed. “Anyway, the point is, well, I’m not seeing anyone either. So I guess we must be,” she made a gagging sound, “made for each other or something.” My heart was beginning to pound. “That’s great, Carole, but it doesn’t do much for me when I’m up here and you’re down there. When am I gonna see you again?” “Well, I don’t know exactly. My schedule’s gonna be pretty full after the new year. I’ve got finals, then registration, then the beginning of my last semester…I don’t know. Maybe we can get together in the spring.” ~

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“The spring!” I yelled. “I’ll be an old man by then, twenty-five years old! And probably senile and impotent, too!” She laughed again. “Cheer up, Stony! Remember, absence makes the heart grow fonder.” “I don’t think mine could get any fonder,” I protested. “I love you, Carole!” “And I love you, Stony, at least for what it’s worth. Now, hang up the phone, my roommate just came in and she’s listening to every word.” “I don’t care!” “Well, I do!” I gave up. “Okay then. Love you, call you in the spring.” “I’ll be eagerly awaiting your call.” Then the line went dead. I still held the receiver close to my ear and didn’t hang up until I heard the buzz of the dial tone. Wait until spring, indeed! It was barely winter. Late one evening, a few days before Christmas, Moose and I were hanging out in the living room, not really doing anything, just listening to the new Rolling Stones album and smoking a few joints. Hemp was out on yet another of his dope deals, which was all he seemed to be doing these days. I had to give him credit, though—it had been nearly two months since he had gone to work as Acid Jackson’s “sales representative” in the Mission and, not only had he managed to avoid getting busted, he was actually making some real money and sharing the wealth as well. Since the rainy season always put a major crimp into Moose’s construction jobs, it was great to have someone to pick up the slack. Why just a few days ago Hemp had come home ~

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with this enormous Christmas tree and bags of cheap decorations and ornaments from Walgreens. The three of us had immediately begun to decorate the tree, and when we were finished, even Moose, who had the most critical eye among us, was impressed. “What, no candy canes?” he had said teasingly to Hemp. “Hell no, candy canes are for kids. I got something much better than that,” Hemp had replied. Then he had taken a large plastic baggie out of his pocket, opened it, and dumped the contents out on the coffee table. Moose and I had been surprised to see a pile of what must have been twenty or thirty perfectly rolled joints. This in itself was not so unusual—Hemp now had access to more good pot than ever before—but they were rolled in variously-colored papers—red, silver, gold, blue, etc.—and each one had a string tied to one end that attached it to a metal ornament hanger. He must have stayed up half the night! “Well, whaddaya think, guys?” he had said, a big grin on his face. “Shall we finish decorating?” That had been just a few days ago, and this evening whenever Moose and I would casually glance at the huge Christmas tree in the corner, we naturally thought of Hemp. “I’ve got to admit,” I told Moose, “that when Hemp told me what he was planning to do, I just about hit the ceiling. But I guess I was wrong.” “Yeah,” agreed Moose. “His temper’s much better too, have you noticed? At least on the rare occasions when he’s home, that is.” “I guess all he needed was something to occupy his time,” I concluded. ~

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Just then we heard a loud commotion from upstairs— loud, angry-sounding voices, the slamming of doors, and finally the crash of what sounded like a glass shattering against the wall. Below in the garage Satan began to howl pitifully. “Sounds like Leeroy and Madam Butterfly are at it again,” remarked Moose conversationally, automatically crossing the room to turn up the stereo. “Yeah,” I agreed. “On a scale of ten I’d give this one about an eight.” “Or maybe an eight and a half,” replied Moose a few moments later as the final crash of the front door being slammed shut shook the building. Almost immediately we heard the sound of high heels clicking down the front steps. We looked at one another, then got up and went to the window and parted the drapes just enough to see what was going on. It was raining outside, and as Moose rubbed the steam off the glass with the elbow of his shirt, we could see Madam Butterfly (aka Laverne Anderson, Leeroy’s wife) standing on the sidewalk wrapped in her winter furs, impatiently tapping her foot and looking up and down the street. In a very few minutes a City Cab pulled up in front of the house and she got in, after which it quickly sped off into the night. We looked at each other again. “Wow!” Moose said in a subdued voice. “I guess ol’ Leeroy’s really done it this time.” “I guess so,” I replied in the same way. We were both a little stoned. Moose went over and flipped the album, lowering the volume at the same time. But we had just barely settled ourselves on the couch again when we heard a soft knock at ~

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our front door. “I’ll get it,” Moose said. I heard a brief exchange of low voices, then Moose walked back into the living room followed closely by a distraught-looking Leeroy wearing a red satin dressing gown and brown leather slippers. I stood up. “Hey, Leeroy.” I gave him a casual wave of the hand. “How’s it goin’?” He shook his head and sighed heavily. “Not so good, not so good. I just came down to apologize to you boys for all the noise.” He looked around the room. “Uh, where’s the other one?” “Oh, you mean Hemp? He’s out tonight. Prob’ly won’t be back till late.” I motioned him to sit down in the middle of the couch while we took our places on either side of him. The couch sagged and groaned a bit under his weight, but otherwise did its job admirably. “Can we get you anything?” I asked him, trying to dispel the gloom which had suddenly settled over the room. The Stones were singing “It’s only rock ‘n’ roll, but I like it.” “We got beer, Coke… What else we got, Moose?” Moose jumped up a little too quickly. “I’ll go take a look, ” he offered. “Don’t y’all go to no trouble, now,” Leeroy rumbled mournfully. “I got ever’thin’ I need right here.” He patted a side pocket of his dressing gown just below the sash, then looked at the stereo with some distaste. “How you boys can listen to that stuff, I’m sure I don’t know. Still an’ all though, I guess it ain’t no worse’n Laverne’s singin’.” He wiped a tear from the corner of his eye with a red silk handkerchief. Moose, who had been hovering uncertainly in the middle of the room, diplomatically went over to the stereo ~

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and removed the offending Stones album from the turntable. Then he rummaged through the cardboard wine boxes that held our record collection and returned to the couch a few minutes later with a small stack of albums. “Take a look at these, Leeroy,” he said noncommitally. Leeroy did, and his face almost immediately brightened. “Hey, lookee here.” He thumbed through the albums. “Marty Robbins, Hank Williams, even Country Charlie Pride! I didn’t have no idea you boys was country music fans!” He looked at us in wonder, the light of a new respect in his eyes. “Well, every now and then we like to get real drunk on cheap whiskey an’ listen to ol’ Hank,” I said, managing to keep a straight face. “Yeah,” said Moose. “Like when we break up with a girlfriend or something…” He immediately put his hand over his mouth. I shook my head. “Pay no attention to him, Leeroy,” I said apologetically. “We’re both a little stoned, I guess.” I got up quickly and put the Marty Robbins album on the turntable. “No, it’s okay, ” said Leeroy sadly. “That’s what they’s good for, all right. When a man knows that he’s done a woman wrong, but don’t know how to make it right, well…” His words trailed off. He patted his pocket again. “Ain’t exactly cheap whiskey but, under the circumstances, an’ it bein’ almost Christmas an’ all, an’ you boys bein’ almost like family to me…” He broke off again, sniffling a little and then blowing his nose with the red silk handkerchief. Without saying another word he took a full quart bottle of Jack Daniels out of his pocket, uncorked it, and handed it to me. “What I mean to say is, I’d be mighty obliged if you ~

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boys would do me the honor of gettin’ drunk with me, that is, if’n y’all ain’t got nothin’ better to do.” So we sat with Leeroy on the couch for several hours, passing the bottle around and getting up only to change records, piss, or get some water from the kitchen. When the bottle was more than half gone, and we were all getting pretty shitfaced, Moose went over and plucked a silver joint from the Christmas tree, unhooked it, lit it, and handed it to Leeroy. “Go ahead, man,” he urged. “It’ll make you feel better.” Moose spoke the truth. Sometimes when you’re really drunk, a couple of hits of really good pot will settle you right down, mellow you out, let you think more clearly. “Okay, if you say so, I got to believe you.” Leeroy took a big hit. When he stopped coughing he was able to gasp out, “Whoowee! What the fuck is this shit? I feel like my head just blew up!” “But don’t you feel better?” I asked him seriously. He put a hand to his head. “Yeah,” he finally agreed. “It’s weird, but I guess I do. I don’t feel so sad now. An’ I don’t feel near as drunk.” So then, finally, he started to tell us about the fight he had had with Laverne. At first his words came haltingly, even grudgingly, and often Moose and I would have to ask him just the right questions to get him to continue. We could tell he wasn’t used to sharing his feelings like this, belonging as he did to the generation of men for whom it was second nature to keep their problems to themselves. But before long the words were tumbling out, one upon another in great profusion, as if he were vomiting out some poison which had been inside him for far too long. ~

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“So you see,” he summed it up finally. “When she told me she was plannin’ on goin’ to New York to study at some fancy music school, with me or without me, I went way over the line. I told her that her singin’ weren’t no good, that they’d only laugh at her in the big city. So that’s how come she stormed outa here tonight.” He shrugged his shoulders and took another pull at the Jack Daniels bottle. “Uh, you boys wouldn’t happen to have no more o’ that wacky weed around, would ya?” he asked bashfully. “Sure thing,” I told him. I handed him a red joint. After he had lit it and stopped coughing, I looked at him seriously. “So where did Laverne go?” “I dunno for sure. I think she was gonna visit some lady friend o’ hers over in Oakland.” “Have you got her friend’s phone number?” “Yeah, I think so. Y’all think I should call her?” “Why don’t you wait for a few days?” Moose suggested. “It’ll be better if she calls you.” “But either way,” I told him, “you better tell her you didn’t mean that about her singing. Tell her you were just jealous and afraid of losing her.” “ ‘Cept for the singin’ part, that’s the gospel truth,” admitted Leeroy. “Look at it this way,” said Moose, turning to look at him earnestly. “She’s not gonna be satisfied until she goes to New York and finds out for herself, right?” “Yeah, that’s right. I just don’t want her to get hurt, that’s all.” “But don’t you see? If you prevent her from going then you’re the villain, you’re the guy who’s standing between her and her opera career,” I told him earnestly. “But you boys hear her singin’! You all know how ~

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godawful it is!” “Sure,” I told him. “And believe me, they’ll feel the same way in New York. But this is your chance to be a hero here. Here’s what you do: As soon as you get the chance to talk to her, first you apologize, tell her she’s got the best voice this side of Leontyne Price or whoever. Then tell her you’re not going to stand in her way. You buy her a roundtrip airplane ticket to New York, first class if you can afford it. Then, when she gets rejected, which we all know is gonna happen real quick, she’ll come running back to you, because you’re the only one who believes in her. You take her in your arms, comfort her, and bang! Second honeymoon time!” His face brightened. “You really think so?” “Sure!” we told him. “How can you miss?” He smiled for the first time and levered himself to his feet, wobbling a little in the process. “I’m gonna do it!” he said enthusiastically. “You fellers are just great!” After he had finished hugging us and had gone out the door and back upstairs, we sat back down on the couch. The Jack Daniels bottle was sitting on the coffee table with only about an inch of whiskey in it. Moose eyed the bottle. “Shall we put it out of its misery?” he asked, handing it to me. “Might as well,” I said, taking a drink and handing it back to him. “There sure ain’t enough to save. Besides, Hemp’ll be pissed we didn’t save him any.” “What he don’t know won’t hurt him,” replied Moose, emptying the bottle and starting toward the kitchen. “I’ll bury the empty down in the trash can where he’ll never find it.” In a moment he returned and sat back down on the ~

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couch again. Then we looked at each other, solemnly nodding our heads. “Maybe we oughta be marriage counselors,” said Moose, unsuccessfully suppressing a giggle. We both broke up at that. The next thing we knew it was after 2:00 in the morning and Hemp was shaking us awake. “Did I miss something?” He looked at us accusingly. “No, nothing at all,” I told him casually. “Just a quiet evening at home,” agreed Moose. “Then you could probably use some of this,” said Hemp, pulling a quart bottle of Jack Daniels out of a paper bag. We both looked at him and groaned. “Hey, what did I say?” Hemp looked puzzled. Still groaning, we watched as Hemp uncorked the bottle. It was going to be a long, drunken night. 7.

H

emp was full of surprises that winter. A little over a week after the infamous Jack Daniels night he came in late again, all smiles. “Hey, guess what I got?” he asked. Moose and I were once again lying around the living room, half stoned and listening to records. It was a few days after Christmas, we’d spent all our money on presents for each other, and the weather was lousy anyway; torrents of rain had been pouring from the leaden skies for the better part of two weeks. So, even though it was still the holiday season, we were plenty bored. “Okay, I’ll bite,” Moose replied distantly. “What have ~

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you got?” Hemp dramatically whipped out an envelope from the pocket of his leather jacket. “I got four tickets to the New Year’s Eve Grateful Dead concert at Winterland, that’s what I got!” He made a theatrical bow and waited for the expected applause. Instead I gave him a puzzled look. “I thought the Dead were thinking about breaking up, that they were taking a year off.” “That’s what they want you to think,” retorted Hemp. “They just wanna find out how popular they are, that’s all. So they started this rumor about breaking up.” He looked at the tickets. “Okay, okay,” he admitted. “The concert’s being billed as ‘A Very Special Evening with Jerry Garcia and Friends’. But you guys know the whole gang is gonna show up—Weir, Lesh, Kreutzman, Hart—prob’ly even Keith and Donna. So whatta you guys say?” Moose replied with dignity. “That’s very thoughtful of you, Hemp. I’m sure it’ll be a fine concert, no matter who shows up. Stony and me would love to go, wouldn’t we, Stony?” He turned his head toward me and gave me a look that clearly said, “Don’t rain on Hemp’s parade!” “Sure, Hemp,” I said quickly. “I mean, thanks a lot. I’m sure it’ll be a really far out concert and I can’t wait till New Year’s Eve. But wait a minute. You said you got four tickets?” “Yeah. They only let you buy two or four. Something to do with limited capacity and trying to keep the scalpers away. And New Year’s Eve is already sold out. I heard it on KSAN this afternoon. So it looks like we got one extra ticket.” “So who gets the extra ticket?” Moose asked ~

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reasonably. “Well, seein’ as how I bought the tickets for you guys in the first place, it oughta be me. But hell, it’s Christmas and I’m in a good mood. So since the Dead are a real spiritual group, let’s let the Cosmic Forces make the choice.” He pulled the four tickets out of the envelope again and fanned them out like a poker hand. “Okay, here’s what’s gonna happen. All four of these tickets have fourdigit numbers on them. The last digits are three, four, five, and six. You guys each draw one and I’ll put one face down on the table and keep one. Then you tell me your numbers. Six wins the extra ticket. If the extra ticket happens to be six, then five wins. That sound okay to you guys?” “Sure, that sounds fair,” agreed Moose, taking a ticket. I did likewise, then Hemp put one of the two remaining tickets face down on the coffee table. “Okay boys, whatta ya got?” Hemp drawled in the manner of Edward G. Robinson. “Four,” I told him. He looked at his and grinned. “I got five,” he said smugly. “Moose?” Moose’s face was expressionless. “Six,” he said evenly. Hemp picked up the ticket from the coffee table. “Yep,” he said. “This one’s a three. Ol’ Moose is the winner, all right.” I clapped Moose on the back. “Way to go, big guy,” I told him sincerely. “Who are you gonna take? This is Friday night, and New Year’s Eve’s next Tuesday. That doesn’t give you much time.” Instead of answering me, Moose went over and sat down in the big recliner he likes to call his own and regarded us thoughtfully. “Well,” he said at last. “That’s not ~

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gonna be a problem. You guys know I’ve been going out a coupla times a week lately.” He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “But what you don’t know is, I’ve been with the same girl for about two months now, ever since just before Halloween. See,” his broad Irish face turned a bright red. “We’re sorta, uh, in love.” “Hey, that’s great, Moose!” I enthused. “Yeah, way to go, Killer!” Hemp put in. Despite our obvious approval, Moose remained ill at ease. “The truth of it is,” he said hesitantly, “I haven’t brought her over here to meet you guys yet because I’m afraid you’ll make fun of me. And her. And us together,” he finished with a stammer. I went over and put my arm around his shoulder reassuringly. “Hey, come on, man, you know we’d never do that.” “Yeah,” agreed Hemp. “We’ve all been in love at some time or another. I got the hots for that girl over at Acid’s. And Stony—well, we know about his long-distance love affair.” It was my turn to blush. “So what’s the big dark secret, then?” Hemp persisted. “Is she ugly as sin, fat, retarded, what?” “None of the above,” replied Moose tightly, but with slightly more confidence now. That was Moose—when he made up his mind, all hesitation was gone—he plunged in all the way. Now he stood up and said defiantly, “I was hoping to have some time to talk to you guys about this. But now I’ve got this chance to take her to a great concert. She loves rock and roll, particularly the Dead. We were gonna do something else anyway, so getting her to come is no problem. But this means I’m gonna have to introduce ~

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her to you guys.” “So what’s the problem?” we asked impatiently. Moose’s voice dropped to a whisper. “One, she’s a Filipino.” “So?” “Two, she’s only about five-foot nothing tall, comes up to about here on me.” He indicated a spot just below his breast. I raised an eyebrow at Hemp who winked back. I tried to suppress a giggle. Hell, that must make her a good six inches shorter than either Hemp or me. And we were a good ten inches shorter than Moose. I tried to picture how they’d look together. Evidently Hemp was too, ‘cause he made a sound that started out like a laugh but somehow turned into a cough. “Anything else?” we asked him as soon as we could assume serious expressions once more. This time Moose started to grin. “And her name is Cookie,” he finished. “Cookie Madeira.” Hemp fell backwards onto the couch, overcome by uncontrollable laughter. “Cookie?” he managed to splutter. “The love of your life is a cookie?” Then he collapsed into giggles again. Moose’s face darkened and he stormed out of the room. “I knew you guys would react this way,” he said coldly over his shoulder. A few moments later we heard a door slam. I went over to Hemp on the couch. In spite of Moose’s mood I was giggling as well. Just the thought of the two of them together—well, maybe I’d been smoking a little too much pot lately. Hemp finally stopped giggling and sat up. “I guess we ~

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really blew it with Moose this time, huh,” he said. “Yeah,” I agreed. “I guess he’s really pissed off at us.” Hemp took a joint out of his shirt pocket and lit it thoughtfully. “Well, you’re the CO. And the diplomat,” he told me soberly. “Go see what you can do with him. I promise I’ll be good. Besides, I don’t want to blow this concert for anyone. It’s gonna be really far out.” Silently I nodded my head and went in to talk to Moose. I tapped gently on the door, quietly but persistently, the way you do when you’re trying to coax a child out of a bad mood. “C’mon, Moose,” I pleaded. “Let me in. I’m sorry. Hemp’s sorry. We’re both a little stoned, that’s all, and the whole thing just struck us as funny. You know how it is.” Finally he relented. “Okay, Stony, come on in. You know I can’t ever stay mad at you. Or Hemp either. But you guys haven’t exactly been sensitive to my feelings.” “Yeah, I know. And really, we’re both sorry. Look, I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you bring Cookie over some time like about the middle of the afternoon on New Year’s Eve, okay? I promise Hemp and I’ll both be sober, straight, and on our best behavior. Hell, we’ll even dress up if you want us to.” That finally coaxed a grin out of Moose. “That won’t be necessary. You guys never look good all dressed up anyway. But that’s a good idea, Stony. I’ll bring her over early, we can have a nice talk, get to know one another, without the pressure of meeting at a wild concert where it’s prob’ly gonna be real frantic and everybody’s gonna be stoned anyway.” So we made it up. I went back to the living room and gave the high sign to Hemp who looked relieved but said ~

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nothing. I still had a few days to prepare us for the Coming of the Cookie. I went to my room and buried by head under the pillows so that neither of my friends could hear me cracking up. New Year’s Eve turned out to be a fine day after all. Fortunately for our plans it had stopped raining early in the day and the afternoon was bright and sunny, if a bit chilly. Hemp and I took advantage of the break in the weather to go down to 24th Street and do some shopping which we had neglected for over a week. Of course everyone in the neighborhood seemed to have had the same idea, so Bell Market was jampacked with people fighting over the last remaining bottles of good champagne and premium liquor as well as the rapidly diminishing supply of chips and dip and other party munchies. So by the time we had finally managed to gather up our purchases and push and shove our way to the checkout counter, pay for our items, push and shove our way out of the store, and trudge up the hill again it was already after dark. Upon arriving home we immediately took our heavy bags of groceries and liquor down the hall to the kitchen and dumped them unceremoniously on the counter to be dealt with later. Then we hung up our jackets in the hall closet. Only then did we enter the living room to find two people waiting impatiently for us. As we entered they stood up to greet us. “Stony, Hemp, it’s about time you guys got home,” exclaimed Moose in a voice that showed both irritation and relief. “I was afraid you guys had forgotten. I want you to meet somebody.” He turned and draped his left arm over the ~

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shoulders of one of the tiniest women either Hemp or I had ever seen. She was a study in contrasts—her round innocent-looking face had lost none of its baby fat, and her demure blouse, knee-length skirt and patent leather shoes made her look like a schoolgirl of about twelve, but her swelling breasts and wide hips announced that she was all woman. Her black hair was cut short, but with long, Beatlestyle bangs that covered her forehead and came down almost to her eyebrows. She had dark, deep-set intelligent looking eyes and an animated expression that seemed to instantly register her every emotion. She looked like a small child standing next to big Moose, but somehow she managed to give the impression that he belonged to her rather than the other way around. She gave him a look of playful irritation and easily disengaged herself from his arm. Then she dug an elbow into his ribs. “Well, you big lug,” she demanded, “are you going to introduce me or do I have to do it myself?” “Er, of course,” he stammered. “I was just going to do that. Cookie, this is Stony and Hemp.” As he pointed to each of us we gave her a wave of greeting. “Guys, this is Cookie, er…” “Coquita Evelina Wilamina Sumagaysay y Madeira,” she finished for him quickly and with some impatience. “But you guys can call me Cookie.” She did a modest little mock curtsy, giggled and then stuck out her hand to each of us. “Quite a girl you’ve got here, Moose,” I said as they settled back down on the couch. Hemp and I both grabbed chairs from the dining room and placed them opposite the couch on the other side of the coffee table. When we were all settled, I remarked casually to Cookie, “So, Cookie, I ~

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understand from Moose that you’re Oriental, huh? Where do you live, Chinatown?” Her face immediately darkened. “I’m not Oriental! I’m Filipina!” she spat at me. “And anyway, Oriental doesn’t mean anything except being from the Far East. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian. These people are all ‘Oriental’ but very different races from very different countries. And besides,” she squared her shoulders and continued proudly, “I’m not from the Philippines anyway, my parents are. But Filipinos are not Oriental. Many of us are more Malay stock than we are Chinese.” She said all this so quickly and with such conviction that I felt like a particularly thickheaded student being scolded by his teacher. “Uh, I’m really sorry,” I managed. “I didn’t mean to offend…” “No problem, Stony,” she said kindly, her little round face suddenly all smiles again. “All you white guys say the same thing. But if we’re gonna be friends, we gotta be honest and respectful of each other.” Hemp was watching this scene, relief evident on his face. He was obviously glad he hadn’t started this conversation. “So,” he ventured finally, “Where are you from, then?” “I’m from Minneapolis. You guys know where that is, right?” We all nodded. “OKAY, ” she said decisively. “I’ll make a long story short. I’ll tell you my life history in twenty-five words or less.” She looked first at Hemp, then at me. “That’s a joke, get it? Twenty-five words or less.” We gave her blank looks, but Moose started to chuckle ~

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dutifully. “See? The big lug here gets it.” She jabbed him in the ribs with her elbow again. “Moose knows most of this stuff, so I don’t want to bore him too much.” Moose picked up his cue right away. “Oh, I don’t mind, Cookie,” he said adoringly. “I could never get bored listening to you.” She patted him on the shoulder. “You’re cute when you’re full of shit, big guy.” Then she turned back to us. “Well, here goes.” She cleared her throat and settled back on the couch. Then she smoothed her skirt and looked up at us as if preparing to give a classroom recitation. “I’m almost twenty,” she began. “Born in Minneapolis, as I said. My father’s a cook and valet for a rich guy up there he met during the Second World War when they were both in Okinawa. My mother’s the family maid. I guess I must be what they call the apple of their eye. I’m an only child, and my parents have no education, so they scrimped and saved all their lives to send me off to a good college. I chose the University of California at Berkeley, both because it’s warm out here and I was tired of freezing my ass off in Minnesota, and because it’s got a great law school. My childhood dream was to be a criminal lawyer. I read all the books I could get my hands on and watched all the lawyer shows on TV, even the bad ones, to try to pick up some pointers. “But a funny thing happened on the way to my bar examination. Even though I was admitted to the pre-law program without any problem, thanks to affirmative action (sometimes being a Filipina can come in handy), once I got there I found out I had to do the work just like anybody ~

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else. But it was my first time away from the conservative Catholic neighborhood I was raised in, and it only took me a week or two to succumb to the worst illness that can attack an incoming freshman: the dreaded Party Virus. I began staying out all night, drinking and dancing and having wild affairs with guys (shut your ears, Moose!). I began to neglect my studies and then I abandoned them altogether. I went to fewer and fewer classes, not wanting to be embarrassed by not being prepared. At the end of the first semester, I was not unexpectedly called into the dean’s office for a conference. He explained to me as kindly as possible under the circumstances that my grades were unacceptable. But since I had already paid for my room and board, tuition and fees for the entire year out of the money my parents had sent me, and since it was such a shame to waste my potential (a double minority, I’m sure he was thinking), I would be put on probation for the next semester. “Of course I agreed right away. By that time I had formed many friendships on campus with students who, like me, were somewhat less than serious, and I didn’t want to leave. But to my regret I found out that I didn’t want to do the work either. My wild social life had become a habit to me, worse than any drug. “By spring, as the end of the second semester began to loom closer and closer, I was in a state of panic. Since my grades were certainly no better (and probably worse), I knew the dean could not afford to be so understanding this time, affirmative action and minority quotas notwithstanding. I couldn’t stay here and I couldn’t go home. I racked my brains for the answer. “By May I had come up with what I thought was a ~

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brilliant plan. First, I went to the Administration Office and told them that my parents had moved. I gave them a fake address in St. Paul. This would prevent my parents from receiving the inevitable notification that I was no longer a student in good standing. Second, I got hold of some official grading forms, wrote in the necessary A’s and B’s (as I didn’t want to outsmart myself by appearing to be too brilliant), forged the necessary signatures, and sent the forms along with a bright, newsy letter to my parents’ real address in Minneapolis. At the end of the letter, I reaffirmed how grateful I was for their support and told them that I was so serious about getting my law degree that I wanted to attend the summer session to reach my goal that much more quickly. I told them that the fees for the summer, as well as all of next year needed to be paid before the current semester ended (all lies, of course, but what did they know?). I sent off the letter early in May and held my breath during the longest two weeks of my life. Finally a thick envelope came in the mail for me, just as I was getting ready to move out of the dorm. Inside was an eight-page letter from my mother, filled with equal parts folksy news from home and praise for my (bogus) accomplishments. But best of all was a check from my father, made out to me, in the amount of three thousand dollars. Folded up inside was a short note from him saying simply to write or call if I needed anything more. “Although my plan had succeeded beyond my wildest dreams, I felt like such a rat that I almost called my parents and confessed everything. I decided against it, however, figuring that I was already in too deep and what was the point of breaking their hearts. “So I took the check and went across the bay to San ~

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Francisco, having no reason to stay in Berkeley now that my ties to the university were no more. It’s the big city life for me, I figured, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since the end of May. I met your wonderful friend, Moose, a couple of months ago and we’ve been dating ever since.” She gave him a tight squeeze and stopped talking as abruptly as she’d started. “That,” I said after a few moments, “is a totally weird story. It must have taken some nerve.” “What are you gonna do about your folks?” inquired Hemp. She sighed and shook her head. “I honestly don’t know. I’ve been thinking about that ever since June. At least I’ve got until next summer to come up with something.” Moose’s stomach chose that moment to start rumbling. “Fascinating stuff, Cookie,” he said, looking at her imploringly, “but I’m starving to death. Can we all go get something to eat before the concert?” “Sure,” she replied tolerantly. “Let’s go to Church Street Station. It’s on the way. I’ll buy!” Hemp and I stood up and took our chairs back into the dining room. He looked at me and grinned. “You know, Stony, I’m beginning to like that girl already!” After filling our bellies at the restaurant we recrossed Market Street and hopped on a 22-Fillmore bus bound for Winterland and beyond. We got off at Geary and Fillmore and hurriedly walked the two blocks to Winterland at Post and Steiner, for it was nearly 7:00 and the doors were going to open in about half an hour. By the time we got to Steiner, however, we could already see the end of a block~

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long line of Deadheads, sitting, squatting, and otherwise lounging about on the cold sidewalks, smoking pot, drinking wine and beer, and laughing as though they were oblivious to the cold and damp regardless of their thin, scanty, but always imaginatively outrageous (even for San Francisco) costumes. Many of them had painted their faces, dyed their hair, and worn their best homemade jewelry and beads for the occasion. The four of us squatted down on the sidewalk with them at the end of the line. “Wow!” observed Moose, taking in the whole scene. “I had no idea there were gonna be so many people here just for Jerry Garcia.” “Yeah,” agreed Cookie. “I just hope we’re gonna get in. How many people does this place hold, anyhow? There must be hundreds of people already in this line.” “Don’t worry,” Hemp reassured her. “We’ve got tickets, remember? And this is Winterland, no reserved seating. In fact, not much seating at all except in the back and upstairs in the balcony. Most of it is one huge dance floor, so you can pack in as many people as you want.” Since it was still only about a quarter after seven and the line probably wouldn’t start moving even at the front for a good twenty minutes yet, Hemp pulled out a joint and we all passed it around. “Tell us a little bit about this scene,” I prompted Hemp. “We’ve got a little time to kill, and besides, you’re the only one of us who’s been here longer than a couple of years.” “Sure,” he grinned. “Why not?” According to Hemp, Bill Graham, the famous San Francisco rock impresario, had purchased Winterland only a few years ago after closing his Avalon and Fillmore ~

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venues, mainly because of hassles with the cops over such petty details as overcrowding, noise, and various building and fire code violations. Winterland had been an old, abandoned ice skating rink (hence the name and the huge unobstructed floor area) when he’d bought it, and within a few years it had become the major mid-size location for serious rock concerts featuring some of the best bands, often as many as three in one night. The Grateful Dead had played there so often since it had opened that they had become sort of the Winterland “house band.” “But the weird thing is,” he continued, “just how popular the Dead have become in just the last few years. I remember back in ‘69, even ‘70, just before I got drafted, they were still playing for free in the park and handing out free grass and acid to keep what little audience there was from splitting. I remember even when they played Kezar in the spring of ‘73, they only charged five bucks for three bands. And even so, there were only a few hundred people there. You could loll around in the bleachers or lie out on the grass and listen to the music all afternoon, just like a free concert in the park.” He turned to Moose and me. “You guys remember that one, don’t you? It was right after you got here.” “Yeah,” said Moose. “What a trip! The Dead must have played for about four hours straight.” “Or four hours stoned,” Hemp corrected. We all laughed dutifully. “Then right after that,” he continued more seriously, “they put out a triple live album of their ‘72 European tour. And now, all of a sudden, they’re more popular than the Stones or Led Zeppelin, at least around here.” “But I don’t understand,” objected Cookie. “I read that ~

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they might be breaking up. Isn’t this concert called ‘A Special Evening With Jerry Garcia and Friends’?” “Sure,” said Hemp with a wink. “‘Jerry Garcia and Friends’! That’s just to keep the crowds down and the tourists away. I’ll bet anybody the price of his ticket, fifteen bucks, that at least four of the six other members of the Dead show up onstage tonight with Jerry. That’s all you really need anyway. Any takers?” We all declined. “You’re the expert, Hemp,” I told him without the least hint of irony. “We believe you.” He took a last puff on the joint, licked his thumb and forefinger and pinched out the lit end, then dropped the roach neatly into his jacket pocket, and stood up. “Line’s beginning to move,” he said. We all stood up as well, stretching and working out the kinks that had formed due to contact with the cold damp cement, and followed the line as it began to shuffle in a surprisingly orderly fashion toward Winterland’s entrance. Once inside, we presented our tickets and got frisked by the friendly private security guards hired by Bill Graham Presents in order to keep the cops away. They were only looking for cans, bottles, and weapons, paying no attention whatsoever to the obvious herbs, pipes, handrolled cigarettes, pills, and other drugs and paraphernalia. After all, they wanted us to have a good time! After patting us down and finding nothing untoward, our guy merely shrugged his shoulders and pointed to a permanent sign fixed to the wall which read “No Pass Outs! If You Leave, You Have Left!” Inside, everything was a riot of color and celebration. Loud rock music poured from an impressive array of wallmounted speakers, as members of the audience tossed ~

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frisbees and batted balloons around. A light show played on a screen mounted on the back wall behind the drum set on the raised stage where the group would soon be playing. There were some seats in the back, but they were located under the overhanging balcony where both sight and sound would be somewhat obscured. So we opted to join the throng of people who were already packing the dance floor, swaying and bobbing energetically to the recorded music. In a few moments the house lights dimmed and a single white spotlight suddenly illuminated a single figure who was standing at the front of the stage and adjusting a floor microphone stand to the proper height. It was none other than Bill Graham himself, we were informed by an awed whisper from Hemp. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he began solemnly and formally. “On behalf of the entire organization I’d like to thank you for your support during the past year and welcome you to a very special New Year’s Eve concert. As most of you probably already know, The Grateful Dead…” There were loud screams and cheers at the mention of the sacred name. “…The Grateful Dead are taking a welldeserved vacation from performing.” Astoundingly, there were no boos at this announcement, only a loud collective sigh of disappointment and regret. “So tonight,” he continued, “we present to you, as advertised, Jerry Garcia and Friends. Since Jerry’s friends may not be well-known to all of you, I’d like to introduce them to you.” There was some polite, but rather unenthusiastic applause at this announcement. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he again intoned, more dramatically this time, “from Marin County, on percussion, Mr. Mickey Hart!” A spotlight hit the drums on one side of ~

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the stage as a cymbal rhythm began, to wild applause. “On drums, Mr. Bill Kreutzman!” Another spotlight hit the other side of the stage as a heavier drumbeat was added and the applause increased. “On bass guitar, Mr. Phil Lesh!” A bass line was added as the roar of the crowd now became thunderous. “On tambourine and vocals, Miss Donna Godchaux, and on piano, Mr. Keith Godchaux!” The light came up on the piano, revealing a tall thin young man with a heavy mop of blonde hair, who was sitting on the piano bench playing a few languid chords. A strikingly beautiful young woman with long, dark, straight hair, wearing a flowing peasant dress was standing by his side enthusiastically beating a tambourine. “On guitar and vocals, Mr. Bob Weir!” This brought the largest demonstration yet from the audience, who stomped and whistled their approval until the building shook. “And finally, on lead guitar and vocals, Mr. Jerry Garcia! Ladies and gentlemen, I give you ‘Jerry Garcia and Friends’!” Jerry ambled over to the microphone stand and said quietly, “Hope you don’t mind if my friends sit in tonight.” “Yeah,” agreed Bob, strumming a few chords on his guitar, “we were just gonna sit around the house, you know, have a quiet evening, maybe get a little stoned…” There was laughter and a loud roar of approval. In a louder voice he continued, “But when Jerry called us up, we knew that this was the place to be tonight. So let’s get this party started!” And astoundingly, without any warning whatsoever, they launched into one of their high-energy numbers, “Bertha”, so fiercely and flawlessly it took our breath away. About three hours later, after playing most of their old favorites and some of their new, the Dead (“Jerry ~

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Garcia and Friends”) closed their first set with a rousing rendition of “Not Fade Away”. Then Bob Weir stepped up to the microphone. “We’re gonna take a little break now. See ya ‘round midnight.” Then they all ambled off the stage as the house lights came up. “Wow, was that ever fantastic!” said Cookie, jumping up and down and clapping her hands. We were all still on the dance floor where we’d been dancing together, with other people, by ourselves, it didn’t seem to matter. We were all, even big athletic Moose, heavily drenched with sweat from exertion and close to exhaustion. “Let’s go to the back and find a place to sit and mellow out for a while,” advised Hemp, the old pro concertgoer. “They’ll be back out in about a half-hour or so.” We found some empty seats near the rear of the place under the balcony and gratefully sat down. Hemp pulled a plastic baggie out of his pocket. “Lookee what I’ve got,” he said, waving the baggie at us. I looked at it closely. It appeared to contain a dozen or so small colored tablets that looked like vitamins or pieces of candy only smaller. “You know what this is, boys and girls?” he teased. “You tell us,” I replied neutrally. “This,” he pointed to the baggie dramatically, “is guaranteed, one-hundred percent pure, Grade A, certified LSD. Two-hundred and fifty mike hits, so it’ll be nice and smooth. A good intense trip, but easy to maintain in public.” “Wow!” exclaimed Cookie again. She seemed easily impressed by everything that was going on, leading me to believe that this might be her first major concert experience. Without hesitation she held out her hand to ~

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Hemp who dropped a tab into it. We all followed suit. “What’s the difference between the orange and the purple?” asked Moose, practical as always. “Orange Sunshine and Purple Haze,” corrected Hemp. “No difference really. The Haze might be a little stronger, though. Come on, drop ‘em now and we’ll all be flying by the time the Dead come back at midnight.” We all obediently did as we were told. I soon found out he wasn’t kidding about that last part. I’d only ever taken acid once before, at somebody’s party last year. It had turned out to be pretty weak stuff, or maybe I had been too uptight about the situation to let myself go, but it had been nothing compared to what I was experiencing now. The Dead had come back onstage and were playing with their usual high energy. I could feel the music washing over me like a soft wool blanket one moment, a rough piece of canvas the next. I couldn’t tell you what songs they were playing; only the nature of the sound itself had any meaning for me. The lights flashed and the cheers of the audience seemed at the same time excruciatingly close and yet somehow far away. I continued to dance, feeling more and more disconnected from my body as the band played on. My legs felt like rubber and I couldn’t speak, I could only grin stupidly at Hemp, point to the band and shake my head. Oddly, he seemed to understand, or perhaps we were beyond the necessity for understanding in any specific sense. I had entered a sort of timeless realm where everything happened very quickly but seemed to last forever. I was just getting used to it, drifting along on the waves of sound when, abruptly, it was over. The band had left the stage and the traditional exit music, “Greensleeves”, was playing. The light show and flashing ~

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colored stage lights had been replaced by the harsh white overhead house lights. The crowd was peacefully making its way to the exits in a surprisingly orderly fashion, a blissful smile on every face. It wasn’t hard to guess that we weren’t the only ones tripping tonight. Somehow we all managed to find each other at the door, but instead of the four of us, there now seemed to be six. Hemp was standing there with a girl on each arm, grinning from ear to ear. “Guys, I want you to meet a couple of groovy chicks. This is Psyche,” he pointed to one, “and Isis,” he indicated the other. I looked at them, fascinated. Maybe it was the effects of the acid, but I couldn’t tell them apart. Both of them had the same long, dark, stringy hair, both were tiny, about Cookie’s height, but much skinnier. Their faces were painted with the same gold and silver stars and moons. They wore identical white shapeless dresses. Everything about them, both natural and artificial, led one to believe that they were the same person, right down to waving at us in the same manner when they were introduced. “Girls, this is Moose, Stony, and Cookie,” Hemp continued. We waved at them, still grinning stupidly from the acid. Hemp seemed oddly unaffected. “The girls are gonna come to our place, Stony,” Hemp explained, “and we’re gonna have ourselves a little after-concert New Year’s party. That sound okay to you?” “Uh, sure, I guess,” I barely managed to croak. I was suddenly terrifically thirsty, and I realized that these were the first intelligible words I had uttered since I’d dropped the acid, nearly four hours ago. So the six of us made our way out the front doors and into the street. It was clear outside and very cold, the stars ~

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so bright and close I felt I could reach out and touch them. I felt suddenly in awe of something but I didn’t know what. We quickly walked the two blocks to the bus stop at Geary and Fillmore. I looked at my watch. It was almost three-thirty in the morning, but I felt anything but tired. I looked around. Moose had his arms around Cookie and they were conversing quietly and tenderly with each other. Hemp had his arms around the twins (for so I thought of them) and was talking loudly and excitedly to them, something about drugs of course. His favorite topic of conversation. I thought about all of this in a new way, which was very hard to explain, even to myself. Hemp’s boastful attitude and constant preoccupation with himself and his drugs had always gotten on my nerves before. Moose’s constant habit of going along with whatever harebrained schemes Hemp concocted had always tried my patience. Yet now as I looked at them I realized that to change these things about them would be to change who they were, and if they changed, I wouldn’t know them any more. To top it off, there was a strange voice in the back of my head that seemed to be telling me to savor the moment—a part of me that seemed to be mentally taking pictures and pasting them in some invisible scrapbook. At least that’s what I felt. I admit that my brains had probably been scrambled by the acid, but I felt good about things, better than I’d felt since last summer. Thinking about last summer started me thinking about Carole again for the hundredth time that week. Yet now the jealous impatience and sense of loss I’d felt seemed to have been replaced by a curious calm—a benign acceptance of our separation and the inevitability of our ~

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eventual reunion. If it was meant to happen, it will, I summed up philosophically. And if it doesn’t happen, then it was never meant to. My thoughts were cut short by the sight of an already jampacked 22-Fillmore slowly crawling towards our bus stop where at least ten or fifteen other patient souls besides the six of us were waiting. “God damn it!” fumed Hemp, pointing at the mad scramble to be first in line. “Ain’t no way we’re all gonna be able to get on that bus.” “Yeah, and it might be as much as thirty or forty-five minutes till the next one,” added Moose. Meanwhile the bus driver, a tired-looking middle-aged black man was pleading with the crowd, eight or ten of which were trying their best to force their way onto the bus via the rear exit doors. “Come on, people!” he said despairingly. “There just ain’t no more space. Wait for the next one!” His words seemed to have little effect on the crowd except to cause them to redouble their efforts to board. Finally I’d had enough of this scene. I gave a significant nod to Moose who immediately began wading into the group of bus crashers and pulling them back gently but firmly by their shoulders. “I’m surprised at you people,” I said loudly. “How many of you guys were at the Dead concert tonight?” Most of them sheepishly raised their hands. “Is this any way to practice peace and love? The new year’s not even four hours old and you guys are acting like a bunch of street thugs!” There were a few sharp cries of protest to this assessment, but they were drowned out by a general ~

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murmur of agreement. I waved to the bus driver. “Sorry about all this. Have a peaceful New Year, man!” “Peace to you, too. Have a happy New Year, buddy!” He waved back, closed the doors and slowly drove off. Hemp and the girls were looking at us peculiarly. “That was very impressive, Stony, but it doesn’t actually help us get home, does it?” he said, looking up and down the street. There were no other buses in sight. “We could get a taxi,” suggested Cookie. “We couldn’t fit the six of us into one cab, we’d have to get two. And even finding one in this neighborhood at this time of night on New Year’s Eve would probably take longer than waiting for the next bus,” Hemp replied. “But that does give me an idea. Everybody keep your eyes peeled for any kind of large vehicle, like a van or truck or station wagon. We’re gonna try to hitch home.” We all thought that was a fine idea, so we split up and started looking. Hemp and the two girls were watching Fillmore toward the Marina, the direction from which the bus had come. Moose took Fillmore the other direction. Cookie was looking down Geary towards downtown, and I had Geary the other way, from the ocean. In about five minutes I spotted a late sixties model Ford van coming slowly down Geary. As I waved the driver honked his horn and pulled over to the curb. “Come on, you guys, I think I got us a ride,” I yelled. The others ran toward me waving their hands. “I just hope the van’s empty,” said Hemp as he came into sight. “It’d be just our luck if there was a party goin’ on in there.” “Let’s find out,” I replied. I walked over and tapped on the driver’s side window. It was immediately rolled down ~

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and a head appeared, covered with a thick mass of curly blonde hair. It belonged to a young guy, about our age, who grinned at us in a friendly manner. “Hey, what’s happenin’, man?” he drawled slowly. He was obviously about half stoned, but then so were we. “Uh, hey man, nothin’ much,” I told him casually. “I wonder if you could do me a little favor?” “Sure, man, if I can. Whatever’s right, you know.” “Well, you see, there’s six of us. We just came from the Dead concert at Winterland.” “Oh, wow, man!” he interrupted, a note of awe in his voice. “That’s really far out! I didn’t even know they were playin’ tonight.” “Yeah, it was supposed to be a secret. Anyway, well, we’re just comin’ down off acid and you know what a bad trip the buses can be…” “Yeah, what a bummer!” he commiserated. “So anyway, I was wonderin’ if maybe you could like give us a lift home. We’re all goin’ to the same place. It’s not far, just over in Noe Valley.” “For sure, man! No problem! You guys just hop in the back. There’s plenty of room back there.” He got out and slid open the doors to the back of the van. The rest of our little group had joined me by now. “How do you like my van, you guys? Ain’t she a beauty? A 1967 Ford Econoline van. She got me all the way to Woodstock and back and there’s still a lot of miles left in this baby.” He walked back around to the driver’s side and opened the door. “Oh, by the way, my name’s Rick.” He gestured toward the passenger’s seat where a woman with long dark curly hair contained by an Indian headband was drumming her fingers on the side window and humming along to ~

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“Somebody To Love” by the Jefferson Airplane which was playing on the radio. “And this is my old lady, Starchild.” We introduced ourselves and she nodded pleasantly but without really noticing us. Rick started to get into the van, but suddenly stopped, as if he had just remembered something. “I’m afraid it ain’t too clean back there,” he apologized, going around to the back once again. He climbed in and began pushing piles of clothing, bedding, and various other odds and ends toward the front seat. “Me and my old lady live outa this van about half the time,” he explained. We assured him that we weren’t particular. He climbed back out and wiped his hands on a greasy rag. “Okay, I guess that’s as good as I can make it. You guys can climb in now. Oh, and the back is sorta sealed off from the front seat, for privacy you know, so it’s gonna be sorta hard to talk to me once you’re back there. So you better tell me how to get to your place. And don’t worry.” He gave us the peace sign. “I’m a real good driver and I know this town like my own backyard. I’ll have you guys home in no time!” By this time “Somebody To Love” had ended, and Starchild apparently became aware of the vehicle’s lack of motion. “Hey, what’s goin’ on back there!” she yelled. “Rick, you shithead, tell me this crummy van hasn’t broken down again!” “Don’t worry, Starchild, everything’s copasetic!” he yelled back. “Well get a move on then! I wanta get there before I come down!” Rick gave us a sheepish grin. “She gets a little impatient sometimes. You guys know how it is.” He went back around to the front, climbed into the driver’s seat ~

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once again and slammed the door shut. “You guys get in, I’ll go give him directions,” offered Hemp. “This is really groovy of you to give us a ride, man,” he told Rick. “I hope this isn’t too far out of your way.” “Hey, no sweat, man. Me and my old lady love bein’ on the road, you know? We just came from the beach, you know, just smoked a coupla doobies and watched the sunset. We’re gonna try to make it up to the top of Twin Peaks and watch the sunrise there. Starchild likes sunrise and sunset. She says the beginning and the end of the day’s a lot groovier than the middle. I guess I can kinda see her point.” “You got enough for gas, man?” Hemp asked him. “Oh, sure! Starchild’s an artist and I, well, I sorta get an ‘allowance’ from home, if you know what I mean.” “Yeah, I can dig it, bro.” Hemp reached into his pocket, pulled out his plastic baggie and handed it to Rick. “Here, man. For the trip. There’s only about four hits left, but it’s good clean stuff. We just did some at the concert.” Rick took the baggie and shoved it into his pocket. “Far out, man!” he said with reverence. “I could tell right away you were a spiritual dude.” “Hey, come on, Hemp!” I yelled from the inside of the van. “The girls are freezing their asses off back here. Let’s go!” “Okay Stony, be right there!” He climbed into the back with us and closed the rear doors. Then he pounded on the partition behind the front seat. “We’re all set, man!” he yelled loudly. Soon we were driving up the hill on Fillmore towards the Lower Haight. As we watched through the van’s rear ~

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window, Haight Street receded into the distance and we crossed Market Street, turning onto Church and heading for Dolores Park. Then we climbed the final five blocks to 23rd Street, turned right and we were home. We all piled out of the van and, thanking Rick and Starchild for their generosity, ran up the stairs and into the house to get warm, for there had been no heat in the van. The house was quiet for once. Madam Butterfly still had not returned from wherever she had escaped to after the fight with Leeroy over a week ago. Leeroy was either asleep or out at some after-hours party drowning his sorrows. Even Satan, the huge doberman, must have given it up and turned in for the night. And no wonder. My watch said it was after 4:00 in the morning. Moose sat down on his big recliner with Cookie on his lap. Hemp sat down on the sofa, a girl on either side of him. “Be a good guy, Stony, and get us some beers,” he said imperiously. “And put on some rock ‘n’ roll. Let’s party!” “I dunno,” said Moose doubtfully, acknowledging a pointed look from Cookie. “We’re both kinda tired, so Cookie and I were thinking about going to bed. You don’t mind, do you, Hemp? I mean, about me and Cookie.” He pointed meaningfully to the BEQ. “Mind? Nah, we’ll just sack out on the couch when we get ready. Don’t worry about a thing, Moose ol’ kid.” He looked relieved. “Great!” he said, getting up out of his chair, one arm easily supporting a half-conscious Cookie. “I guess we’ll turn in then.” He gave her shoulder a little shake and then she threw her arms around his neck, looked back at us and yawned. “Night-night, you guys. I had a terrific time. Thanks for the ticket, Hemp.” “No problem, glad you enjoyed yourself,” he replied ~

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graciously. So now it was just us four. I always tried to humor Hemp when he was in one of his party moods, but I was beginning to fall out myself. Shaking my head to clear it, I went out to the kitchen and came back with four beers. Hemp and the girls were passing a joint around. I put a Doobie Brothers record on the stereo and tried to hold up my end. A couple of hours later, even Hemp was partied out. “I guess it’s about that time,” he told us regretfully, yawning and stretching. “Why don’t you take one of these girls off my hands, Stony?” Isis threw her arms around Hemp demonstratively. Psyche stood up and eyed me with some interest. “Well, I guess that’s settled,” Hemp said. “See you guys in the morning.” Without further comment he waved us away. I looked at Psyche with some embarrassment. “Um, I guess, if you don’t mind sleeping in my bed. I’m sorry Hemp put us in this position…” “No sweat,” she interrupted in a bored manner. “I’m used to it. Isis always makes the decisions for both of us and then I’m stuck with whatever happens. I don’t usually mind, though.” We went into my bedroom. “Nice bed,” she commented, bouncing on it once or twice. “And plenty big enough for both of us.” Unceremoniously she began to take off her dress and then her panties. Then she turned down the covers, climbed into bed and patted the other side expectantly. In the pale light of the room she looked very small and very young, like someone’s kid sister who tags along, always wanting to play with the big kids. ~

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“It’s okay with me if you want to ball,” she said casually. I looked at her body for a moment before answering. “I dunno,” I told her. “I’m still pretty stoned and wasted from the acid. I don’t think I could get it up.” “Whatever you say, that’s okay with me,” she said disinterestedly. “Just thought I’d make the offer. If you change your mind later, wake me up. But at least get in here and hold me, will you? I’m still cold from that damn van!” So I climbed into bed and we soon drifted off to sleep, locked in a tight, but unromantic embrace. I dreamed that Carole was lying there, in my arms, instead of Psyche. The dream comforted me a little, but I wondered if it would ever be a reality. 8.

I

t was a couple of Mondays after the beginning of the new year. The holidays were long over and real life had begun to reassert itself, so it was with great difficulty that I managed to drag myself out of bed and go to work as usual. It was one of those gray, wet, spiritless January days when all you notice is the wreckage of the season—the scraggly-looking Christmas trees, stripped bare of their ornaments and abandoned on a sidewalk already littered with wrapping paper and torn empty gift boxes—and the urge to go back home and sleep the day away is maddeningly strong. Although I had arrived at work right on time or even a few minutes early, I was barely able to hang up my field jacket before old Soskin popped his head out of his office and said, “Jake, could I see you for a moment?” He was ~

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motioning me to join him in his private sanctum where words of praise were given (rarely) or reprimands (more commonly) or the tedious ordeals called “performance evaluations” took place. I was immediately filled with a sense of dread. “Right away, sir,” I said, fumbling through some papers on my desk while my mind raced furiously in an attempt to figure out what my latest transgression might have been. Petty cash miscounted? An error in billing? Or perhaps something more nebulous—arriving a few minutes late, taking slightly more than an hour for lunch, leaving just a bit too quickly in the evening, or—worst of all—that catch-all offense universally known as “improper attitude”. But I could think of nothing special that had happened within the length of old Soskin’s attention span—the last few weeks—that warranted a private dressing down. Upon entering his office I was surprised to see that we would not be alone for our little tete-a-tete—a middle-aged Oriental woman sat in a chair in a corner of the room, away from Soskin’s desk but facing it. She said not a word as I entered, and I could learn nothing from her expressionless face. “Sit down, Jake, if you please.” Soskin indicated a chair immediately opposite his desk and then sat down in his chair behind it. “Um, what’s this all about, sir?” I inquired with understandable trepidation, turning my head to look back at the Oriental woman and then returning my gaze to him. He seemed to divine the source of my discomfiture for he said immediately, “Oh, don’t worry, Jake, this isn’t anything bad. In fact, quite the opposite. How long have you been with us now?” ~

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I did some quick mental arithmetic to ensure the accuracy of my reply. “Uh, nearly two years, sir. Why do you ask?” “Well, it’s just that in a remarkably short time you’ve already proven yourself to be quite the valuable employee, Jake. In fact, my only criticism is that sometimes you don’t seem to take the job seriously enough, to apply yourself as much as you could. But you’re young yet, so I suppose that’s to be expected.” “Uh, thank you sir, I think,” I replied hesitantly. I was always unsure as to how to respond to his pronouncements about me. He was a devious old guy who could make his criticism sound like praise and vice versa. “Anyway,” he continued, “I’ll get straight to the point. We don’t want to waste valuable working time with social chitchat, now do we?” He winked at me and waited expectantly as if he’d just told the world’s funniest joke. “Uh, no, of course not, sir,” was all I could come up with. Realizing that he wasn’t going to get any more than that, he became serious again. “Well then. The reason I called you in here this morning is that I have some wonderful news. I have just, in the past few days, been able to finalize negotiations and sign a quite substantial contract with ABC Garments, Inc. You know who they are?” I thought for a moment. “I believe they’re one of the largest garment manufacturers in the Bay Area,” I replied. “If not the largest,” he agreed. “For years they’ve been doing business exclusively with our chief competitors, Kirsch Brothers. But recently they’ve expressed dissatisfaction with Kirsch’s quality and prices. I won’t bore you with the details, but the long and the short of it is ~

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they’ve agreed to give us all their business for a ninety-day trial period. At the end of this period they will evaluate us in areas like price, quality, service, etcetera, and decide whether or not to buy from us on a permanent basis. Needless to say, if this works out it should be worth at least an extra million dollars in sales annually, and we should be able to afford substantial raises for faithful and valuable employees such as yourself.” He looked at me meaningfully. “Not to mention the personal satisfaction it would give me to finally be able to stick it to those smug bastards over at Kirsch!” He almost made an obscene gesture with his fist, but seemed to remember the presence of the Oriental woman and stopped himself just in time. “Why, that’s fantastic, sir!” I exclaimed with enthusiasm, hoping to appear to be suitably impressed. Thinking that this announcement was the end of our little meeting, I stood up to leave, but he stopped me with a downward motion of his hand. “There’s just one more thing,” he said casually. “I suppose you know that Kirsch Brothers offers ABC free delivery for a minimum order?” “Sure,” I shrugged. “That’s always been just about their only advantage over us. They deliver and we don’t.” “Unfortunately,” Soskin continued carefully, “that’s going to have to change. One of the stipulations of our trial contract with ABC is that we make deliveries to them under the same terms as Kirsch—that is, for free.” “But we don’t even have a truck,” I protested. “And even if we did, we don’t have a driver. The Chicanos in the back are good workers and a great bunch of guys, but most of them don’t have licenses, or don’t speak very much English, or both. Besides, they’re all real busy back there ~

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most of the time. We couldn’t afford to lose the man hours. So that leaves just you and me, sir and, no disrespect intended, I don’t see you as a truck driver.” Soskin smiled briefly at that. “Nor do I,” he agreed. “I must admit that this contract caught me by surprise. I mean, I’ve been trying to get it for years, but I never actually thought it would happen. And now, all of a sudden, here’s our chance. If this works out, we could be the leading ClassCo branch in the country by this time next year, better even than the LA office. So,” he looked me straight in the eye, “I found us a truck. It’s not much to look at but it runs. I went down to that cheap used car lot in Daly City, you know, the one that’s always advertising on the late night TV movies, and bought it out of my own pocket for two hundred cash. In a few minutes I’ll show it to you.” I didn’t know what to say to this; my mind seemed to be slowly moving around in a circle. Let’s see, not the guys in the back, not Soskin, but he’s serious enough about making deliveries that he went out and bought a truck with his own money and he’s a tight son of a bitch. He must really want this contract. Soskin broke into my thoughts. “I presume a young man such as yourself can drive a standard transmission, Jake?” I nodded automatically, stunned by the implication. “And you possess a valid driver’s license?” I nodded again. He stood up and shook me by the hand. “Congratulations, Jake, you’re our new delivery guy!” he proclaimed enthusiastically as if he were presenting me with the Employee of the Year award. “Uh, yes sir,” I replied with some reluctance. ~

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For the first time he acknowledged the presence of the Oriental woman in the corner, who had sat perfectly still and silent during the fifteen minutes we had been talking. Now he extended his hand in her direction and she stood up. “Jake, I want you to meet Mrs. Helen Yamaguchi, a friend and former employee. She used to have your job until she quit a couple of years ago to care for her sick husband. That’s why we hired you.” She smiled and nodded her head at me but said nothing. Soskin continued. “Now that her husband has recently passed away, she has kindly agreed to fill in part-time for you while you’re out making deliveries.” “I’m very sorry about your husband,” I said. “It was for the best. He was in a lot of pain,” she replied in a cultured, only slightly accented voice. Soskin rubbed his hands briskly. “So, let’s get down to business, Jake. Here’s your new schedule. You come to work every morning at eight as usual and do your usual work. You make deliveries every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On those days at eleven you go to the loading dock in the back where the boys will already have loaded that day’s order onto the truck. You’ll be given a bill of lading describing fully the truck’s contents. Then you drive down to ABC at Fourth and Mission and wait while they unload the truck. Now here’s the only hard part: You have to make sure that the physical load, the bill of lading, and their order all match up. Any overages you bring back here; any shortages you deduct from their order form and make sure they’re not charged. This could take a couple of hours, but it’s got to be done right. After you’re through there, park ~

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the truck in the Mission Parking Garage and go have lunch, see the sights, whatever you want. You can pay the parking charges from petty cash. Come back as late as two, even three in the afternoon, I don’t care. Helen will work three days a week. She’ll come in at ten-thirty so you can show her what you’re working on and she’ll cover for you until you get back. Is that okay with you, Jake?” He looked at me a little nervously. “Well, sure, I guess so, but…” “Don’t worry,” Soskin interrupted hastily, “this won’t affect your salary. In fact, as I already mentioned before, if all goes well, you can expect a sizeable raise by summer.” “That’s very good of you, sir, but what I was going to say is, it’s been years since I drove at all, let alone an old truck with a standard transmission.” Soskin stood up abruptly. “Well, only one way to find out. Let’s go take a look at it. It’s parked in the loading dock. I had Luis drive it up here from Daly City.” The three of us walked out of his office together. It was nearly eight-thirty but fortunately there had been neither phone calls nor customers. “Maybe you’d better stay out front, Helen,” Soskin told her. “In case the phone rings or somebody walks in. You still remember where everything is?” She smiled. “After working here for over twenty years, how could I forget?” “Good girl!” He patted her on the shoulder. We walked back to the loading dock where an old GMC panel truck awaited us. Its body was covered more by rust than paint and it looked to be a late fifties model, the kind with two windowed doors in the back. Soskin handed me the keys and I unlocked the door ~

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and slid behind the wheel. It felt weird. I hadn’t driven anything since before ‘Nam. Crossing my fingers, I attempted to start the engine. After about three tries it sputtered into life. “I’m going to take it around the block a few times to get the feel of the steering and brakes, if that’s okay with you, sir!” I yelled to him over the sound of the motor. He yelled something back to me that I didn’t catch, so I cupped my ear with my hand. He gave up trying to speak and gave me the thumbs-up sign. The gear shift lever was on the steering column and it was now in an almost vertical position. This seemed logical to me as I remembered the highest position to be “park”. But why take a chance, I thought. Luis was lurking a few yards away watching the fun. I pointed at him and motioned him to come over to the truck. Within a few moments he was able to instruct me sufficiently as to the gear positions that I felt confident to take it out on the street. I threw it into reverse and cautiously backed out of the loading dock into the alley, pointing the truck toward Folsom Street. Then I shifted into low and moved out slowly into the thick stream of late rush hour traffic. Ten minutes later I pulled the van back into its parking place at the loading dock. I was surprised and gratified to have discovered that the van was in passable shape. Brakes, steering, transmission, all worked better than I had hoped for. For the first time today I relaxed and began to look forward to my eleven o’clock trip downtown with pleasurable anticipation. When the time came I said my farewells to Helen and Mr. Soskin and strolled back to the loading dock. Helen had told me not to worry, assuring me that she could ~

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handle anything that came up, that she in fact had done so for many years. She was a nice old lady with graying hair and a serene grandmotherly look. I liked her immensely already, and it was going to be great having someone in the office to talk to besides old BS and the Chicanos in the back. I drove down to ABC at Fourth and Mission without incident. Of course it was only about eight blocks away, and I probably could have walked it just about as fast if there hadn’t been the load of fabrics to consider. The ABC people were extremely nice to me, offering me coffee and a donut while I was waiting for them to check the delivery. After about an hour and a half we were both satisfied that there were only a few minor discrepancies, which I duly noted on my bill of lading. Then I drove up the street to the Mission Parking Garage, found an empty stall, and locked up the truck. Freedom at last! I looked at my watch. It was still a few minutes before one. Fantastic! According to old BS I still had a good two hours before I had to be back at work. It was the middle of the day on a Monday, and I felt just like a tourist despite the chilly weather and misty gray low-lying clouds. I decided to walk up to Market Street and head for Union Square. I was hungry and although I didn’t know this part of town that well, I’d heard that there were some good cheap places to eat in the vicinity. I walked diagonally through Union Square in a northwest direction, emerging at Powell and Post. On a whim I followed the cable car slot up Powell. By the time I had made it two blocks up the steep hill, I was panting for breath and looking around in earnest for a place to rest. At ~

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the corner of Bush a sign caught my eye. It bore a picture of what seemed to be a cartoonish hot dog dressed like one of the Three Musketeers, complete with feathered hat, cape and fencing sword. The words on the sign read simply “The Noble Frankfurter”. Intrigued, I went in and wound up eating one of the best Polish sausages I had ever tasted. It was grilled plump and juicy and lay nestled in a large soft sesame seed French roll, topped with spicy brown mustard, relish and onions. A large pot of sauerkraut sat on the counter bearing a sign that encouraged me to eat all I wanted. I piled it on my sausage and got myself a beer from the cold case near the cash register. With potato chips the whole meal came to only $3.25, a steal for a meal of that quality. I went over to a table in the corner where I devoured my sausage hungrily and quickly washed it down with the beer. Supremely satisfied, I went back down the hill toward Union Square. When I reached my destination I looked at my watch again. I still had nearly an hour to kill, and since I didn’t want to set a precedent by returning to work too early, I sat down on a bench at the southeast corner of the Square to contemplate my good fortune. If everything worked out this was going to cut my time at the office from the usual forty-five-plus hours a week down to about thirty-two. I relished the thought and wondered how much of a raise I’d get if everything worked out. I figured my new duties ought to be worth at least another dollar an hour which would bring my salary up to about five per. I had just started to mentally spend it when a voice interrupted me. “Excuse me, fella, but you’re sitting on my bench,” it said rather peevishly. I opened my eyes and looked around. Standing over ~

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me was a tall, cadaverously thin man wearing what appeared to be a grecian or roman toga, or maybe a monk’s robe without the cowl. It was thin and sort of grayish in color like his full beard and long stringy hair. His only other attire seemed to be a pair of worn leather sandals, but slung across his shoulders was a bright green knapsack of the type that hikers use to carry provisions on a long trek. I jumped up at once. “I beg your pardon,” I replied formally, feeling instinctively that somehow this strangelooking creature deserved my respect. “I didn’t know anyone else was using it.” “Using it,” he repeated in what I supposed was a laugh but sounded like the forced movement of a rusty hinge. “This is where I work. My office, if you like.” “Your office?” I asked. I was now pretty sure that the poor old guy must be nuts, but I couldn’t shake the strange feeling that there was more here than met the eye. Instead of answering me he threw down his pack on the bench and began rummaging through it. Finally he pulled out a fistful of crumpled pieces of lined notebook paper of the type you can get at any Walgreens. He waved them triumphantly in my face. “Poems!” he exclaimed. “The truth revealed about the history of the world yesterday, the state of the world today, and the future of the world tomorrow! And only a dollar each!” On impulse I stuck my hand into my pocket and pulled out a few crumpled dollar bills. I held them out to him and he grabbed them with his free hand, giving me back the same number of pieces of paper. I looked at them. At a casual glance they seemed to be just your standard raving imitation beat poetry, but on closer inspection I ~

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noticed several unusual things about them. For one thing the hand writing was exceedingly neat, done with black ink from a real fountain pen in a style like I’d seen in samples of nineteenth-century manuscripts. Also, as near as I could tell, being by no means an expert, the spelling and punctuation were perfect, as were the shape of the poems, consistent in their rhyme schemes, length of stanzas, and so on. “Do you write these poems yourself?” I asked him. I thought it was a reasonable question considering their obvious quality. He scowled at me and snatched the poems from my hand. “Are you calling me a plagiarist?” he demanded. “If so, you can keep your filthy money!” He threw the bills down at my feet, closed his pack and started to walk away, still fuming. I caught his arm before he could leave. “No, please, wait a minute,” I stammered. I felt absurdly in need of his good opinion of me. “I didn’t mean that. I only meant, well, they’re so beautiful and well-written that I only wondered…” “That’s right!” he broke in with indignation. “An old bum like me couldn’t possibly be a decent poet, could he?” He was beginning to calm down a little, and now he sat down rather wearily on the bench and patted the space beside him. I joined him as he continued in a softer, kinder tone. “Oh, I don’t really blame you, you know. Appearances are everything today, style over substance, image over reality, wealth over wisdom…” His words trailed off as he picked up the now quite damp dollar bills from the cement path and stuck them absently into a fold in his robe. Then he turned back to me and said in the most normal voice I’d ~

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heard from him yet, “What’s your name, boy?” “Jake,” I told him simply. “They call me The Hermit,” he said proudly. “Most people think I live here, in this park, that is if they think anything about me at all. I have few acquaintances, fewer friends. You see, I’m one of the local tourist attractions, an oddball eccentric like that guy down on Market with the Fundamentalist sandwich board, Brother Joseph. I even get my mail here. So I rant and rave about the state of the City and the world and the tourists eat it up. They take pictures of me, of themselves standing next to me, whatever. It’s all in good fun. So I sell my poems for a dollar apiece. Joyce sold his for a penny, but you have to allow for inflation.” He chuckled again in that raspy way of his. “Well, I think they’re quite good, at least from what I’ve seen, uh, Hermit,” I told him honestly. It was true. They were like the lyrics of a good Dylan song, both ominous and playful. “In that case, Jake,” he replied gravely, “you can share my bench anytime. And your thoughts. Because if you don’t, you know, you’ll just have to listen to mine.” This produced another rusty laugh. I nodded my head. “Well, I really must be going, Hermit. I’ve got to get back to work.” I got up and started to leave. “Oh, another slave to Mammon, eh?” he inquired agreeably. “Do give my best to the working class.” For some reason I was genuinely sorry to have to leave. “Are you here every day?” I called back to him. “Rain or shine,” he replied. I gave him a friendly wave of the hand and walked ~

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quickly out of the park. Strange old guy, I thought, but he sure grows on you. 9.

A

few days after my encounter with The Hermit a long-absent but oddly welcome voice awakened us in the middle of the night. Either Madam Butterfly had returned, or Leeroy, overcome by loneliness, was playing a recording of her voice. To us she sounded softer, sweeter somehow. Even the howls of Satan as he joined in had a less mournful quality. And indeed it was true. The next evening Leeroy stopped in to confirm it. “Boys,” he began after settling his bulk in the middle of our couch and heaving a sigh of contentment. “Thanks to you all, I got my Laverne back. I did just what y’all said to do and it worked like a charm. Why, she wasn’t in New York two weeks ‘fore she called me up to say how much she missed me. So that was when I gave her the stuff about doin’ her own thing, not wantin’ to stand in her way, an’ she ate it up like Moose does barbecue!” He pulled out a bottle of Jack Daniels from his hip pocket, uncorked it, and offered it to me. “Have a drink on me, boys!” The three of us were sitting on chairs arranged around the couch and we passed the bottle around for a while. “You know, boys,” Leeroy said in a musing voice. “It’s real strange, but I’ve had me nothin’ but good luck since y’all showed up. Now, I ain’t a young man no more, I’m pushin’ fifty an’ as y’all can plainly see,” he patted his huge midsection, “I ain’t in the best o’ shape. Me an’ Laverne ain’t got us no kids, so I been givin’ a lotta thought about what to do with this place after I ain’t around no more.” ~

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He paused and took another pull from the bottle. We could tell he was in a really serious mood so we were silent, waiting for him to continue. “I been talkin’ things over with Laverne, an’ she says that if anything happens to me, if I go first, then she don’t want to live here no more. If an’ when that happens, she’s gonna either go back to Texas or try it in New York again. An’ why not, she’ll have plenty of money.” He said this last part in such an offhanded way that it couldn’t help but arouse our curiosity. “Hey, Leeroy,” Hemp began in his blunt way. “I’m kinda curious. Can I ask you a question?” “Sure, go ahead,” was the affable reply. “Anything you boys wanta know, just ask away.” “Well, it’s just that we never see you go to work or anything. And yet you always seem to have plenty of money. You sure as hell ain’t makin’ a living renting this place to us. What happened, you rob a bank or something?” Leeroy must really have been in a good mood since the question didn’t seem to bother him a bit. In fact when he heard it he laughed out loud. “Almost as good,” he finally choked out, wiping the tears of merriment from his eyes. “When my Daddy died and left me this place he also left me a little seed money—about ten thousand dollars. Now that might seem like a lot, especially since I didn’t have to pay no rent on this place—it’s all paid for free and clear. But there’s the property taxes and such. So I knew it wasn’t gonna last me much more’n a year, maybe two at the outside. So I got me a plan.” He tapped the side of his head to emphasize his brilliance. “I took half the money and invested it in the commodities market. Partic’ly futures.” “Commodities?” I asked him. We all had blank looks ~

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on our faces. “Yeah, you know. It’s just like the stock market, except you’re buyin’ real stuff, not just shares in companies. Stuff like soy beans, alfalfa, wheat. You buy a whole buncha the stuff, and you gamble that the price will go up. And when it does, then you sell it for a profit.” He leaned back and crossed his arms, looking very pleased with himself. “So,” persisted Hemp, “how did you do?” “Let’s just say I’ll never have to work another day in my life. I got plenty for me an’ plenty for Laverne. But that brings me back to my ‘riginal subject. The thing I been lackin’ ever since we got here was friends. Since you boys been here, what, almost two years now, I feel like we become friends. Plus, I also got you to thank for the barbecue idea. Now, when I go into the Cork ‘n Bottle, or Bell Market, people smile at me an’ say, ‘Well, if it ain’t Leeroy, the Barbecue King! How the hell are you, Leeroy?’ An’ they come up an’ shake my hand, an’ you don’t have no idea how good that feels!” He paused again and then sat up and looked us each in the eye, one by one. “Anyway, what I’m tryin’ to say is this: Stony, Moose, Hemp, even though we ain’t known each other two years yet, an’ even though we ain’t strickly fam’ly, I feel like you’s my own boys. An’ so, when I go, I want y’all to have this place. I’m gonna get the papers drawed up all legal like just as soon as you give me the word. Well, what do y’all say?” We were all stunned at this unexpected turn of events. “Um, what do we have to do?” I asked finally. “I only got two conditions,” Leeroy replied promptly. “One is that at least one of y’all’s got to keep livin’ here. So’s I know it’ll be in good hands. And the second is, don’t let nothin’ happen to my grill.” He pointed a large finger ~

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toward the back yard. “Other’n that, you can all live here an’ rent out the upstairs, or you can live in both places, I don’t care. Just so long as one of y’all stays.” We talked among ourselves for a while. Finally it was decided that, as I was the leader of the group, making sure that the rent and bills were paid every month, that the responsibility should belong to me. We turned back to Leeroy and told him what we’d decided. A huge grin suffused his face as he shook hands with each of us. “Boys,” he said earnestly. “You ain’t never gonna regret this. You’ve made an old man very happy. I’m in the mood to celebrate now.” He lowered his voice to a whisper even though there was no one here but just us four. “Say, you boys wouldn’t happen to have any of that wacky weed on ya, would ya?” We all three laughed heartily at that. Hemp immediately produced a joint and gave it to Leeroy to light. And so we partied through the night, laughing and joking, our revels occasionally punctuated by the close harmony howls of Madam Butterfly and Satan. It was about this time, too, that it became obvious that Cookie Madeira, Moose’s short but dominating Filipina girlfriend, had moved in. In the three weeks or so since the New Year’s Eve Dead Concert, she had been spending more and more of her time here. Every day, it seemed, Moose would come home from work to find another box of Cookie’s clothes, books, and whatnot, stowed away in the former BEQ, now transformed into Cookie and Moose’s room. Finally, on a rare Friday evening when all four of us were home at the same time and had no plans to go out ~

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(what with the cold January rain streaming down the windows), I felt it was time to bring the Cookie issue out into the open. I had a word with Moose in private. He nodded his head in agreement and immediately took an unprotesting Cookie back to his room where they remained closeted for over half an hour. When they emerged, it was Cookie who took the initiative. “Stony, Hemp,” she began resolutely, “I want to thank you both for putting up with me all this time. Especially you, Hemp, for giving up your room most nights.” Hemp indicated with a wave of his arm that it was no big deal. The truth was that Hemp liked Cookie more than he let on, for reasons known only to himself. And of course we were both happy that Moose had a steady girlfriend at last. “Anyway,” Cookie continued, taking a deep breath. “I’ve got to make a decision soon one way or another. As you know, I’ve got a little studio apartment in the Tenderloin, but my lease is up at the end of the month. My landlord, this Chinese guy that I really can’t stand, has told me that the only way he’ll let me re-sign the lease at anything near what I can afford is if he gets a key to my apartment, if you know what I mean. This is an old guy, too, probably fifty or so. And besides, my school money runs out in the spring anyway. So I guess what I’m asking is, would it be okay with you guys if I stay here with Moose until I get my shit together?” She gave us a pleading look, first to Hemp who coughed and mumbled something that sounded like “Yeah, sure, what the hell,” and then to me. I told her honestly that she and Moose had my ~

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blessing, and that she could stay as long as Moose wanted her to, as long as Hemp didn’t mind bunking in the living room for the duration. Hemp again turned his head and waved his hand in the air to indicate his grudging approval of the situation. Cookie grinned, clapped her hands, jumped up and clasped Moose around the neck with both arms. He caught her easily and spun her around a few times in celebration. When he released her and she was on the floor again, she ran over to the couch where Hemp was sitting and threw her arms around him. He mumbled something about no thanks being necessary, so she jumped up, ran over to me and repeated the process. When I was finally able to disengage myself (she was certainly stronger than she looked), she ran back over to Moose’s side once again. “You won’t regret it!” she told us triumphantly. “I’m no good as a student and I hate to work at a job. So maybe I was put here to be a good woman for some good man.” She looked at Moose meaningfully and he blushed and looked away. “You boys’ troubles are over!” she announced with an air of finality. “I’ll cook and clean for you, I’ll do your laundry, I’ll even shop for you, keep plenty of beer in the refrigerator.” Then she stalked out to the kitchen, the three of us following in her wake. She went through the cupboards methodically,. Inspecting our few dishes and pots and pans, occasionally clucking over this, shaking her head at that, and constantly running her fingers disapprovingly over the inevitably dusty or greasy surfaces of the counter tops and stove. The whole scene bore an uncanny likeness to a military inspection, with Cookie as the inspecting officer. ~

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When she had finished she pointed to some cupboards over her head. “Anything in there?” she asked, as if we might be holding out on her. “No,” I replied, almost adding “sir!” such was her manner. She shook her head again. “No rice cooker,” she said sadly. “But don’t worry, Moose. We’ll go to Chinatown tomorrow and get one.” She turned to us again. “I’m going to cook you boys the food of my people—adobo, lumpia, lechon, pancit—you are gonna be three lucky guys! Sit down, Moose. We’re gonna make a list of everything we need to get.” As they sat down at the kitchen table, I silently handed Moose a pad of paper and a pencil from a drawer. Then Hemp and I quietly tiptoed back to the living room. Once we were out of earshot Hemp looked at me and chuckled. “Well, Stony my boy, it looks like we’ve got a new commanding officer.” He jumped to attention. “Welcome aboard, Captain Cookie, sir!” he said, snapping off a perfect salute. Then he sat down on the couch again. “But don’t worry, Lieutenant,” he reassured me with a grin, “the men will still respect you.” “Thanks loads,” I replied, firing a pillow at his head. Shortly after Cookie officially moved in, Hemp began spending more and more time away from the flat. His dope business had consumed much of his time for the past few months, but now he had begun staying out all night at least three or four times a week. At first I thought it was because he had been excluded from the room that he had shared with Moose, but his attitude told me hat this was just an excuse. I began to watch him carefully; on the evenings ~

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before his all-night excursions he would always make it a point to eat dinner with the three of us (now that Cookie was cooking, a formal evening meal had become a daily ritual). His mood would be affable and he would talk more than usual while shrugging off things that he normally would have argued or disagreed with, almost as if they no longer mattered in the Great Scheme of Things. In the past he had stayed out all night only when he was pissed off at either or both of us, or at things in general, and at those times his state of mind would be obvious because of his silence and surly attitude. He would sulk and pace for a while, then abruptly throw on his coat and stalk out the door, growling only “Don’t wait up!” As I said, I was studying him, wondering about this abrupt change in his personality. Finally, after a few weeks of this, I got my chance to get some answers. It was Valentine’s Day, a Friday evening. Cookie and Moose had gone out to a restaurant for a romantic, candlelight dinner, just the thing you’re supposed to do on Valentine’s Day, and the two of us were forced to get our own dinner for the first time in over a month. I had been obliged to stay late at work, old BS having sent me off on another of his paranoid security checks, so that when I finally got home, it was after six. I could hear water running in the shower room and a voice singing, “Come on, baby, light my fire!” Puzzled, I proceeded down the hall. Hemp was just getting out of the shower, vigorously toweling himself down and brushing his curly black shoulder-length hair. He had already shaved his face to alabaster smoothness and had precisely trimmed his sideburns and mustache as well. Although his face was already fragrant from the Aqua Velva after shave, he now ~

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applied copious amounts of Jade East cologne to both his face and his body. Then he looked up and saw me standing in the doorway with my mouth open. “Oh, hi Stony,” he said casually. “Just get home from work?” “Yeah. You know how it is sometimes with old BS. Sometimes his paranoia makes Nixon look like a naïve farm boy. But what the fuck’s happening with you?” “Whaddaya mean ‘what the fuck’s happening with you’? Can’t a guy get himself cleaned up once in a while without getting the third degree?” Oddly there was no irritation whatsoever in his voice. In fact he was grinning. “Come on, what’s the occasion?” I persisted. He finished drying his body and brushing his hair and walked into the living room to dress. After pulling on his newest and tightest pair of jeans he turned to me and winked, “Got a hot date, bro. Is that so hard to believe?” “No, not really,” I told him honestly. Hemp had a certain wily charm. When he wanted to, he could always make a good first impression with anyone. His problem was following through. “But come on, tell me straight, where’ve you been going all these nights for the last month or so? I know you weren’t pissed; you didn’t act like it. In fact, on the contrary, you’ve been weirdly nice lately. Come on, Hemp, what’s the deal? You can tell me. I promise I won’t say a word—even to Moose, if you don’t want me to.” He dropped the pose and sat down on the couch. I sat down with him. He opened the coffee table drawer and produced a joint. Hemp could make joints appear out of drawers the way magicians could pull rabbits out of hats. He lit it and passed it to me. ~

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“Okay, Stony, okay,” he said finally, little wisps of smoke issuing from his nostrils. “Here’s the straight shit, the lowdown. Seeing Moose and Cookie all lovey-dovey like they are got me to thinking. You remember that time we went over to Acid’s? I think it was last fall. I ran into you at the Theater Club and we went over to his place to score?” I was perplexed. “Yeah, I think so. Wasn’t that the day we smoked that really powerful shit? I was still fucked up the next day. But what’s that got to do with anything?” “You remember that girl who came into the room while we were there? Little Chinese chick, name of Mimi? She brought Acid the dope and then later came back with the beer?” “Yeah. So what about it?” “Well, it turns out that she’s been sorta like Acid’s sex slave or dope slave, whatever you want to call it.” He took another hit off the joint. “Anyway, she wants to split from that scene, get her own place, maybe even a real job. She says she’s tired of being used all the time. I didn’t ask her what she meant by that. I don’t wanna know. But the point is, I’ve been sneakin’ out with her to cheap hotels in the middle of the night for the last month or so. I don’t know if anybody over there’s caught on or not, but nobody’s tried to do anything about it, and Acid’s never mentioned it, either to her or to me, so I don’t give a fuck. Stony, I think I’m in love with her, man. I got some spare bread now, so I’m gonna try to get her set up in a little apartment of her own. But the trick is to get her out of there without Acid or his thugs finding out where she’s gone. He might look the other way if she goes out every now and then, but he sure as hell ain’t gonna take to losin’ her for good.” “Wow, Hemp!” I could hardly believe this. He was ~

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usually the perfect example of love ‘em and leave ‘em. “You better be real careful, man! I remember that big guy, what’s his name.” “Thor,” supplied Hemp. “Yeah, he is one big ugly son of a bitch. I wouldn’t want to tangle with him, no way!” “Me neither,” admitted Hemp. “But I got to find a way, bro.” He stood up. “Now you got the whole story, man. I’m goin’ out to buy candy, flowers, the works, and rent a sleazy hotel room to stash them in. Then I’m gonna climb in the back window of Acid’s place and grab Mimi. Then we’re goin’ to Original Joe’s for dinner. It’s nice and quiet and dark there. We’re gonna hold hands and look into each other’s eyes and romantic stuff like that, just like they do in the movies. Then we’re goin’ back to that sleazy hotel room and I’m gonna fuck her brains out till morning. That sound like a plan?” “Whatever you say, man.” I could tell he was serious about this girl by the way he had tried to make light of it. “But be careful, Hemp. Watch your back. And let me know what I can do to help, huh?” He stood up and clapped me on the shoulder. “Thanks, Stony man, I knew I could count on you to understand. I’ll let you know.” Then he aimed a playful punch at my jaw. “Now get outa here and let me get dressed, OK? I don’t wanna be late!” I shook my head in mock disbelief and wandered out to the kitchen. I opened the refrigerator and began searching through the tupperware. Maybe there was some leftover adobo I could eat. ~~~ And then before I knew it, it was spring again. By the ~

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end of March the cold all day rainstorms and perpetually gloomy misty skies had been replaced by warmer, more showery intervals between which the sun shone warm as summer. The days were getting longer, the nights shorter, and the peaks and valleys of the city were a riot of colorful vegetation, nest-building birds, and butterflies by the hundreds. I was out and about more as well, glorying in my three day a week freedom from the oppressive confines of ClassCo Fabrics and the fretful paranoid surveillance of old BS. I had been taking the truck downtown for over two months now without any untoward occurrences. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday I would drive the old GMC panel truck down to ABC at Fourth and Mission, wait for the fabric to be checked and unloaded, and go and park the truck up the street at the Mission Parking Garage. Then it was all free time until I had to be back at work, usually at least two and a half to three hours. Every now and then I felt a twinge of guilt about the free time, for I hadn’t received money for doing nothing since I’d been in high school. But then I thought about Helen and how happy she seemed to be about the arrangement. She was an absolute jewel; always there when I had to take the truck out; always doing all the necessary work while I was gone; always making sure that our work area was neat and orderly when I returned. Old BS didn’t care; for him it was like having two employees for the price of one. Helen was probably glad to have something to occupy her mind and time after the recent death of her husband. So, since everyone was happy, I decided to let go of my work ethic long enough to truly enjoy the situation. And enjoy it I did. I took long walks around Union ~

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Square and the surrounding downtown area after a quick but always cheap and satisfying lunch at The Noble Frankfurter, just reveling in the increasingly warm sunny days and occasionally ducking into an Irish bar to avoid a sudden midday shower. Maybe I should become a truck driver full-time, I thought to myself more than once. Since my normal route took me through Union Square at more or less the same times each day, going and coming, I would nearly always run into The Hermit. He was a strange guy—I had no idea how old he was; his matted gray hair and long beard effectively masked a face that in my estimation could be anywhere from thirty-five to seventyfive. He moved like a man on the lower end of that scale, though, never exhibiting the stiffness and uncertainty of motion so often present in the elderly. His speech patterns were eclectic—sometimes he barked at people with the impatience and aggressiveness of youth and at other times he spoke softly with the calmness and wisdom usually associated with the experience of age. More often than not when I saw him, I’d hand him a dollar for which he would silently and gravely hand me a crumpled sheet of notebook paper upon which was written in that marvelous calligraphic style of his a perfectly constructed poem. More often than not I’d casually stuff it into my pocket and join him on the park bench, his bench, for a half-hour or so of intellectual but perfectly pleasant conversation. Before I had known him very long I noticed that he seemed to be treating me somewhat differently than he did the usual crowd of tourists and working people on their lunch hours that normally populated Union Square in the middle of a week day. As we talked more often, our conversations began to take an increasingly philosophical ~

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turn, causing me to state many obvious, simplistic views about things, which clearly showed my lack of formal education or experience with such discussions. But contrary to his professed attitude of scorn towards the shortsightedness and folly of the masses, with me he was always patient, often kind, mildly pointing out the inconsistencies and general wrongheadedness of many of my pronouncements about the nature of mankind and the universe itself. So we would while away a pleasant half-hour or hour there on his bench if the weather was nice. I began to feel that this was what the students of Socrates felt like; his method of educating me (for that is what he was doing, consciously or unconsciously) was certainly Socratic enough. There was only one thing that might have created a barrier between us, and that was the fact that no matter how much I spoke about myself, my friends, my family, my time in the army, I could not once get him to speak a single word about himself personally, other than the most obvious observations—he wrote poems, made his living at it, etc. He hinted vaguely that he lived here, in the park, but never really confirmed or denied it. Nonetheless, I quickly began to consider The Hermit to be a good friend, possibly my best friend in the world (besides Moose and Hemp, of course). I vowed that if I were ever in any trouble or faced some potentially life-altering decision, I would discuss it with him first if it were at all possible. When I told him of this vow, he just gave a rare chuckle and said that he welcomed it; that he hoped he would be worthy of my confidence. ~~~ ~

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Very little else of note happened during that spring of 1975. While I enjoyed my new-found freedom and became increasingly good friends with my unlikely mentor, the affairs of my friends were proceeding as expected. Cookie had entrenched herself to such a degree in our household that it was almost impossible to remember a time when she hadn’t been there to cook and clean and shop for us and remind us in a motherly way of our masculine transgressions upon her feminine ideals of cleanliness and order. The meals that she cooked for us at first seemed quite delicious, even exotic, but after a few months revealed themselves to have a quality of sameness about them, being nearly always some form of soy-sauced meat and vegetables over rice, that made the three of us guys long for the days of burgers, burritos and pizza. We began to huddle together in secrecy, finally devising a foolproof plan. Moose, being her boyfriend, was delegated to carry it out. Ever since she had moved in, he seemed alternately to be embarrassed by and smitten with her, occasionally both at once, but this time he managed to steel himself to the task and march into the kitchen like the good soldier he was to confront her. After a good deal of discussion (not all of it quiet or friendly) Moose returned in triumph. A deal had been negotiated which would give Cookie Friday nights free from the burden of preparing our evening meal, leaving her and Moose free to go out to dinner or do anything they chose, but more importantly leaving Hemp and me free to dine happily on fast food one night a week. Upstairs all seemed to be going well; Leeroy had been tearfully reunited with his Laverne back in January, and now things were back to normal—Madam Butterfly happily ~

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murdering the classic arias at odd hours of the day or night, and Leeroy happily planning another season of great barbecues which he assured us was just around the corner. Even Satan’s howls seemed less plaintive than usual as if he sensed his master’s increased satisfaction with life. No more was said about Leeroy’s proposed legacy to us; we assumed it had been just one of those drunken fancies so we put it out of our minds. Whatever happened, we reasoned, would be far in the future anyway. Hemp was still going out nights to secret rendezvous with Mimi, the present love of his life, in cheap hotels and other erotic but potentially dangerous locations. He claimed he was still on cordial terms with Acid, for whom he continued to push dope, his territory being the Inner Mission District. All this could change, however, if Acid found out what was going on between Hemp and Mimi or got wind of her plans for freedom. Hemp was walking a fine line, but at least he appeared to realize it. 10.

O

ne beautiful day in May I was walking back towards Market Street after having satisfied my hunger with another fine Coney Island Dog at The Noble Frankfurter. My thoughts were not on the perfection of the weather (sunny, warm, only a slight breeze and no fog) or my workday freedom (after four months it had lost some of its glamor), but rather on the pathetic state of my love life. Cookie and Moose were chirping away like lovebirds in the spring; could nest building be far behind? Hemp was continuing to pursue his torrid but clandestine affair with the mysterious Mimi. There had been no reprisals from ~

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Acid or his goons which probably meant that the trysts hadn’t yet been discovered. In spite of his good fortune, however, his relationship took up much of his time and more of his thoughts. I was still very nervous about the situation and consciously avoided bringing up the subject with him, for fear he would take it as overprotectiveness (which it was, in a way). But the fact that Hemp was not forthcoming about his nocturnal activities (of any kind) put a sort of strain on our relationship. He had never been the most open person, but with his recent furtiveness and Moose’s understandable obliviousness, I began to feel more and more like the odd man out, the fifth wheel. Needless to say, I missed Carole. A couple of months ago I had screwed up my courage and actually called her at Stanford, just before she was due to go on Spring Break. I had ascertained her schedule from my handy Stanford academic calendar which had occupied a prominent space on my bedroom wall since last September, and I wanted to know if she might be able to take some time out from her busy schedule and come up to the City and see me, goddammit! Alas, she told me regretfully, she had agreed to go down to Palm Springs for the week with a couple of her sorority sisters for some sun, wild parties and mindless sex. I winced at this last part and she must have picked up on it, for she hurriedly assured me that there would be no obligatory situations or romantic relationships formed, and that I was still her number one guy, even though we hadn’t seen each other during the entire school year. A fat lot of good that did me, I barely refrained from saying. Instead I managed to voice my disappointment in a more socially acceptable manner. We chitchatted about trivial nothings for a few more minutes ~

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and then I hung up the phone, wondering where, if anywhere, this phantom relationship was headed. As these thoughts were running through my head, I realized that by force of habit I was approaching Union Square. Needing something to get my mind off my troubles, I glanced around idly, looking for The Hermit. It must have been about a week now since we had last talked and with the absence most of the time of Moose and Hemp to pal around with, I found I was unaccountably missing him. Then I suddenly spied him in the opposite corner of the park, looking as eccentric and disheveled as ever. He was haranguing a middle-aged couple, by their clothes and the cameras slung around their necks obviously tourists and probably from somewhere in the vast Midwest. They were staring at him with open mouths, whether with awe or horror it was impossible to tell from my vantage point. Then the male tourist gave a little laugh which sounded relieved and currency exchanged hands. Then pictures were taken—one by the woman of The Hermit and the man shaking hands, one by the man of The Hermit with his arms around the woman (who looked properly shocked), and then finally a third tourist was importuned to take yet another picture, this time of a scowling Hermit who stood between the man and the woman with an arm around each. I waited for the conclusion of this little piece of street theater and then walked towards The Hermit with an approving grin on my face. As he looked in my direction and finally recognized me, he had the good grace to return my grin with a somewhat sheepish one of his own. “You know how it is, Jake,” he began defensively. “The tourists, especially the older ones, want a show for their money. So naturally I have no choice but to oblige them.” ~

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“Nothing wrong with that,” I told him easily, for we had become quite good friends in the last four months. “Some of my best friends are tourists.” “And some of my best friends are dope-smoking former army officers,” he bantered back. We had by this time thoroughly discussed the question of illegal drugs for recreational purposes. The Hermit’s position, oddly enough, was that he had no position in the normal sense. He maintained that practically every desirable product of our society—even power, fame and money—were drugs in the sense that they altered the mind and created a craving for ever-increasing doses of the same. Therefore he did not think badly of me for my drugs, illegal though they were. He was just thankful that I wasn’t hooked on the hard stuff, like power or heroin. I smiled at his reference to my military career. I was certainly a different person now, and the thought of having been an army lieutenant was strangely foreign to me, as if it had been someone else in another lifetime and not me just a few years ago. “How come I haven’t seen you around lately?” I asked him. Even after knowing him this long I still knew next to nothing about him—his past or even his present, for that matter. Therefore we played this little game: I would attempt to devise ever more innocent-sounding but devious methods of getting him to reveal information about himself, while he would reply in such a way as to answer my questions satisfactorily while withholding as much information as possible. This time, however, his answer shocked me. He turned his head toward me and leveled me with his stare. His eyes could be as hard and sharp as a general’s one ~

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moment; and then as hazy and blank as a senile old man’s the next. Right now they were the former as he said to me, “I’ve been doing some work on the building where I live, if you must know, Jake. That’s right, the time has come for me to be more honest and forthcoming with you. I’ve been watching you all these months, testing you. At first I tried to be as disagreeable to you as possible, but this only seemed to arouse your curiosity about me. Then I tried boring you with my endless opinions of academia and the state of the world in general, but this only seemed to intrigue your imagination. Finally I tried being as vague and evasive as I could about myself, but this only seemed to increase your determination to discover my secrets. And now I find I value your friendship more than I thought I would, and so I owe you an explanation. How much time have you got before you have to return to that soul-sucking job of yours?” I was quite taken aback by this long declamation and totally unprepared for the question that ended it so I stammered, “Uh, I don’t know. Maybe an hour or two.” He rubbed his bony hands together with obvious delight. “Splendid!” He stood up with a creaking sound which came either from the rusted metal of the bench frame or from his knees, I couldn’t tell which. “Come with me, Jake my boy, and I’ll show you my little room, my monk’s cell, if you will.” He led me toward the southwest corner of the park. We emerged at Geary and Powell and silently made our way through the throngs of tourists and street entertainers who jammed the Powell Street sidewalks between Union Square and Market. We had gone only a block, however, ~

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when he led me out of the maddening crowds onto the relative quiet of O’Farrell Street and headed west away from Market. In another two blocks we came to a halt in front of a rather dingy, brown-bricked six-story apartment building. It had no features whatsoever to set it apart from any other building in the area which the residents called “Lower Nob Hill” and everyone else “The Upper Tenderloin”. In fact, its only identifying mark was a tan canvas canopy that hung over the building’s front steps and proclaimed it to be simply “449 O’Farrell”. The Hermit nodded to me with satisfaction and pointed to this building. I followed him up the front steps, noticing on the way a sign on the front door that read “Apts for Rent, Studio, 1-Bdrm. See Mgr in Apt. 2 in Bsmt.” He opened the door with one of a set of two keys which he extracted from his robe, and we entered a short, dark hallway, the floor of which was partially covered by a thin, faded strip of vaguely oriental-looking carpet. On each side of the hall was a door, the one on the right being marked “Basement—Mgr in Apt. 2”, while a sign on the left said “Authorized Persons Only—Keep Out”. At the rear of the hall was a third door, this one indicating simply “Elevator”. I followed The Hermit to this elevator and watched as he pulled open the outer door which caused an inner barred panel to slide open. Once inside, he pressed button number three out of a possible six. With a lurch we slowly began to ascend, passing floor number two and then stopping at number three. The barred inner door automatically slid back, The Hermit pushed open the outer door, and we found ourselves in a hall similar in lighting and décor to the one we had first entered, only slightly larger and with six doors to choose from. He led me to the door marked ~

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“304”, put his other key in its lock, and opened it wide, beckoning me to come inside. As I did so, he quickly shut the door behind me and locked it from the inside. I glanced around the apartment quickly. It seemed to consist only of one small square room, the walls of which were the same—each containing one door, with high plank cinderblock bookcases filled to overflowing with all manner of books lining what remained of the wall space not taken up by the door. On the left was a small rickety-looking wooden writing desk with an equally flimsy-looking wicker chair of the type seen in ancient European cathedrals. On the right was a thin mattress spread on the floor, made up sparsely but neatly with a single brown wool army surplus blanket and a thin pillow. Opposite the entrance, the room seemed to end with a thin but colorful Oriental tapestry which was thrown over a rope stretched wall to wall like a clothesline, and which was sewn up like a curtain, permitting it to be slid to the right or left. “So what do you think of my inner sanctum?” The Hermit asked abruptly from behind me. Startled, I jerked my head around. These were the first words either of us had spoken since we left Union Square. “Nice place,” I told him noncommittally, being unsure of the desired response. “Spartan, yet reasonably comfortable. Almost military,” I continued more honestly, seeing no change of expression on his face. “It’s a little dark, though.” Without a word he went over to the tapestry/curtain and slid it far to the right, revealing a small kitchen area complete with tiny stove, refrigerator and sink. A small scarred wood table with two chairs similar to the one at his writing desk completed its décor. There was, however, a large window over the sink that covered much of the back ~

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wall and let in a surprising amount of light when he pulled back its faded curtain. Its frame was in two sections, opened by raising the lower one which he now did. Vague street noises from below filtered in, along with the soft May breeze. I stepped from the threadbare carpet of the living room onto the cracked linoleum of the kitchen and looked out the window down onto O’Farrell Street. After a short time I pulled my head back in the window and complimented him on the view. “Nice, isn’t it?” he agreed. “I sometimes spend hours here at night, just looking out onto the street scene below. I write some of my best poems here.” I was suitably impressed and told him so. “You always gave me the impression that you slept in the park or on the street or something,” I said accusingly. “And all this time I’ve been giving you money, thinking you were some poverty-stricken bum.” Unexpectedly he grinned at me. “Oh come now, Jake. If you thought I was just another loony, a bum, why would you have paid any attention to me?” “Um, I don’t know. Your poems maybe.” “Precisely. So what difference does it make whether I’m peasant or king, my work remains the same, does it not?” “I suppose so.” “And as for the other thing, surely you’ve gotten your money’s worth, if not from the poems, then at least from the countless hours of interesting and productive conversation we’ve enjoyed.” “Hey, I didn’t mean it that way…” I protested, now beginning to feel ashamed of the way I’d expressed my surprise. ~

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He clapped me on the shoulder. “I know you didn’t, Jake. I was just having some fun with you, that’s all. And besides, you never asked me where I lived, did you? You just assumed.” “Would you have told me the truth if I had?” He pulled at his beard thoughtfully for a moment. “Truthfully? At first, perhaps not. At any rate, I’m not the man of leisure you think I am. This place,” he swept his hand about the room, “is cheaper than you think, only a hundred dollars a month. But in order to be able to afford to live here, I have to cut even that meager sum in half by acting as a sort of live-in janitor for the building. Most mornings I’m up at six o’clock cleaning the halls and stairwells, elevators, walls, etcetera, before going to Union Square at about eight or nine to earn the pitifully few dollars I make each day with my poetry and my eccentric good looks. Even so, I’d say that for a man in my position, I’m pretty well off. Now, what about you?” He closed the kitchen curtain again and led me back into the living room, where he motioned me to sit on the chair by the writing table while he sat down in a surprisingly agile manner cross-legged on the thin little mattress. “That’s right,” he continued, “I didn’t bring you here to brag to you about my fabulous life, Jake. I brought you here because I value you as a friend, and I hope you feel the same way about me. You’re the only person besides me who’s been in my room since I came to this place, many years ago now.” “Gosh!” I was feeling a little choked up at the thought of this eccentric but brilliant old guy being shut up in here alone with his thoughts, night after lonely night, with no one to talk to but his books. “I don’t know what to say.” ~

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He held up a hand to silence me as if he knew what I was thinking. “I also didn’t bring you here to feel sorry for me. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It is I who feel sorry for you.” Although he said this last part in a quiet and even tone of voice, it startled me somehow. “You, sorry for me? Why?” I managed to stammer. He got up and began pacing restlessly around the room, as if wrestling with himself as to how to proceed. “You may well think I’m a true lunatic for what I am about to say,” he said finally. “And if so, I’ll understand if you want to end our association. All I ask is that you listen to me with an open mind and answer my questions honestly.” “I think I can do that,” I told him. His last sentence seemed strangely familiar to me, as if I had been in this situation before, maybe long ago. “All right,” he replied, seeming to come to a decision. He sat down once again on the mattress and settled himself. Then he looked across the room at me, staring deep into my eyes. “For some time now, you’ve had the feeling that things weren’t quite right with you. It probably started late last summer, which confused you, because at about the same time something happened that caused you a great deal of joy. Do you agree so far with this assessment?” I nodded my head. I had of course told him all about Carole and my hopes concerning her as well as my frustrations at not being able to be with her. “Yeah,” I replied. “Sometimes I feel kinda like I’m somebody else besides myself. And at the same time, sorta like I know what’s gonna happen. Kinda like déjà vu or something. But then there’s some times I get the ~

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feeling it’s all different and I don’t have the slightest idea what’s going on.” “Like getting that delivery job, right?” “Yeah, it’s weird. Old BS (I’d told him all about my work situation, so he knew the nickname), he used to watch me like a hawk when I first started working there. It was the same last winter. But now, ever since I’ve been delivering to ABC, it’s like I’m practically a company VIP or something. I don’t come back to work until four or after” (I glanced at my watch), “which looks like it’s gonna happen today, and mumble something about the delivery taking longer than usual and old BS practically pats me on the head. Tuesdays and Thursdays, the days I’m supposed to be in the office all day, I get away with long lunches. If I leave some work unfinished, BS just smiles and tells me not to worry, Helen will finish it tomorrow. And she always does. And you think she’d be sore, but she dotes on me like I was her grand kid or something.” I said all this in a rush, as if I were eager to get it out, a feeling which surprised me. “But at the same time,” I continued, “there’s other things that it seems like I knew they were gonna happen, like, oh I don’t know, like they were the inevitable result of things that happened before.” The Hermit sat silently on his mattress for a few moments, still looking at me intently but placidly, and with an unreadable expression on his face. “Go on,” he prompted me, as if I were a student reciting a lesson in class. “Can you give me an example?” I thought for a moment. “Well, like when Hemp decided to deal drugs for Acid. I told you about how I really flipped out over that. For some reason it really pissed me ~

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off. But then when I calmed down, it was like, yeah, this has to happen. I know it sounds weird.” “Not at all, Jake, you’re doing fine.” I could feel his verbal pat on the head as if it were physical. Encouraged, I continued. “And then there was that time last Christmas when Leeroy, our landlord, and his wife had this big fight and she left him. I told you about that, right?” He nodded. “Well, Leeroy came down to our place all drunk and depressed, and me and Moose talked to him for hours, about what to do and how to get her back. But the weird thing is, it seemed like I knew just the right things to do and say, almost like it was rehearsed or something. I was drunk and stoned, but there I was, talking to this old guy, almost twice as old as I am, like I was his father or something, calmly telling him how to make things better with his wife. And I’ve never even been married! But damned if everything I said didn’t work out! She came back about three weeks later and they’ve been all lovey-dovey ever since.” I stopped talking and just looked over at The Hermit, trying to figure out if he wanted me to go on, but his expression remained impassive. He did, however, stand up and, looking down on me, began to speak in calm measured tones. “Exactly, Jake. And you’ve been experiencing this for the better part of a year. Just as I believe what you have said, I must ask you now to believe what I will say.” He began walking up and down the room again, taking slow measured steps while his hands were clasped behind his back as if to help him arrange his words. “Jake, you are ~

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coming now to the end of your confusion. In a few more months, the song will have been sung, the story will have been told, and you will no longer be as you are, or as you were, but as you will be.” He stopped his pacing and stood over me. I had an absurd feeling that I was back in the army being briefed for an important mission. It was all I could do to keep from blurting out, “Don’t worry, sir, you can depend on me.” He pointed an admonishing finger at me. “Whatever you do, Jake, you must do the right thing. Your future and the future of others depends on it. When the crisis point comes, and it will, reach deep inside yourself and listen to what your true voice tells you. If you are still confused, and your confusion is too much for you to bear, call on me and I’ll be there,” he finished poetically, causing us both to grin despite the gravity of his words. I shook my head to clear it. I felt like I’d just come out of a trance or something. I looked at my watch. After 3:30! Incredibly, it had been over two and a half hours since I had spied The Hermit in Union Square posing for the tourists. It seemed like years ago now. He caught me looking at my watch. “I see it must be time for you to get back to work. I also, though my work is certainly not as clearly defined as yours.” He walked me to the door. “Well then, Jake, what do you think of my humble little monk’s cell?” he asked, as if that had been the sole point of bringing me here and was the only thing on our minds. “Uh, really nice,” I answered, playing along. “Come back any time,” he replied casually, but his eyes were intense. So we parted then, as he went back toward Union ~

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Square and I went down towards Market and the garage. I didn’t get back to work until after four, but BS and Helen couldn’t have been nicer. I began to wonder what was going on. 11.

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ne Friday evening near the end of May, about a week after my enigmatic encounter with The Hermit, the four of us were sitting around the dinner table finishing the pork and vegetables over rice that Cookie had whipped up. My thoughts were a million miles away that evening, so I have no idea what stories, jokes and topics of conversation I responded to so automatically. Thankfully, none of my friends seemed to notice my mental absence, all of them being fully occupied with personal thoughts of their own. Hemp excused himself right after dinner, his euphemistic excuse being that he had some “business” to take care of. Cookie cleared the table and went into the kitchen to wash the dishes. Moose quickly followed her, dish towel in hand to dry, and I was left alone with my thoughts, an increasingly prevalent state of affairs these days. Judging from the few phrases I heard coming from the kitchen, Moose and Cookie would be retiring to their room the minute the last dish had been wiped and put away. It was only eight o’clock, and Hemp almost never came home before bar closing at two. So it looked like I would have a good five or six hours to myself. Whoopee. I thought about going out to a bar, having a few drinks, maybe finding someone I felt like talking to. I had plenty of money in my pockets these days, as I had received my promised raise. Hemp was making good money in the dope trade, and the busy construction season was just starting. ~

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But I decided against going out. I’d tried to solve my problems with booze and pot too many times in the past several months, and while I’d been able to put them out of my mind for a few hours most times, I had not been able to even come close to resolving them. So tonight I figured that at least if I couldn’t be happy, I’d be virtuous. So I went into the now-vacant kitchen, brewed myself a cup of Red Zinger, and went off to my room to find a noble, uplifting book to read. I settled on Don Quixote, that classic tale of adventure and romantic madness by the Spaniard, Miguel de Cervantes. I felt I could sympathize with the eponymous hero, the Don himself. I had a lot in common with the poor bastard, I thought. We were both tilting at windmills and being denied our fair share of loving, feminine companionship. I had just reached the part where he declares his love for the beauteous Dulcinea when the phone on my nightstand began to ring. Now who could that be? I wondered. Probably some customer of Hemp’s. I had become sort of his de facto secretary in the last several months, as I was usually home and alone in the evenings. “Stony, Moose, and Hemp’s place,” I said formally into the receiver. “As you probably want Hemp, he’s out, won’t be back for several hours. So please leave your name and number and he’ll get back to you tomorrow.” I said all this mechanically without giving the voice on the other end a chance to get in a word. “Stony, is that you?” asked a vaguely familiar feminine voice. “Yes, this is Stony,” I cautiously replied. “Do I know you, Miss…?” “Oh, come off it, Stony! It’s me, Carole, and you know ~

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it. It hasn’t been that long!” She paused for a moment and then said wistfully, “Has it?” “Well, it seems that long to me,” I told her, pressing my advantage. “But what do I know? I’m just a guy in love with a memory, that’s all!” I could almost picture her cute little lips pouting. “Come on, Stony, don’t talk like that! Listen, I’ve got some great news that’ll cheer you right up!” “Like what, that you’ll be coming through San Francisco on your way to God knows where, and you can see me on Monday between the hours of two and three-thirty precisely?” I guess I’d been holding it in ever since Spring Break and now it was all coming out. Carole wisely chose to ignore my bitter attempt at ironic humor. “No, silly, it’s not that way at all. I want to tell you a story. Just listen for a minute, will you?” “Sure thing, Carole, I’m all ears,” I said, still not ready to be won over. “Okay, let’s go over some basic facts. One, I’m just about to graduate from Stanford with a BA in Journalism. Only one more week till I’m free.” “Hey, that’s terrific, Carole,” I told her with feeling. “Don’t interrupt. Two, as you may or may not know, most major universities hold what they call job fairs for graduating seniors in the spring of their final year. Ours was last Monday and guess what?” “Oh, I can talk now?” I inquired. “Don’t be a dipshit! Well, to continue, I went to the job fair and met this cool guy from the San Francisco Examiner. We got to talking and it turns out that he’s looking for interns for the summer, so I talked him into a job! I start a week from Monday at a salary of fifty bucks a ~

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week. So you know what that means, don’t you?” “Uh, I’m not really sure,” I said cautiously, not wanting to blow it again. “Think about it. I’ll be working every day at the Examiner. Fifth and Mission, San Francisco!” “Oh, I get it!” I began to see the light. “So, third,” she continued. “This being the beginning of Memorial Day Weekend, I convinced my parents that I should come up to the city and check out places to live. So, fourth, well, you wouldn’t happen to know of a place where an honest, hard-working young newspaper intern could stay for cheap, would you?” “Wow, Carole, this is totally far out!” I mentally hugged her over the phone as every negative feeling I’d had since I met her seemed to melt away into thin air. If I played my cards right, she’d be living with me all summer. ‘Now listen,” she said, all business now. “I’ve already got my bus ticket. I’ll be arriving about eleven tomorrow morning, Saturday. You can pick me up then. But remember, I absolutely, positively have to go back Monday evening latest. I’ve got one more week to go which is mostly ceremonies and wrapping up loose ends, but I don’t want to do anything to blow it.” “I hear you, Carole, you’re the boss,” I told her. I meant it, too. “OK then, Stony. But before we make any decision about being together for the whole summer, we have to sit down and talk about it, not just between ourselves, but with everyone involved.” I knew who she was talking about. “Great!” I said. “I know Moose’ll go for it. Did you know he’s got his own girlfriend now? Her name is Cookie and she’s been living ~

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with us for months now, you’ll love her!” “Well, we’ll see about that. But anybody Moose feels that strongly about must be a good person. He’s such a kind, gentle guy.” Moose had obviously made a big impression on her last fall. “And you’re in luck,” I continued, “‘cause Monday’s not only Memorial Day, but Leeroy’s first big barbecue of the season.” “Leeroy?” She sounded puzzled. “Yeah, Leeroy, our landlord, huge black guy, likes country-western music, Jack Daniels and barbecue. But not necessarily in that order.” “Sounds fascinating. But listen, Stony, I’ve got to run now. I’ve got a million things to do. Just pick me up at eleven tomorrow morning. Love ya, miss ya.” I finished saying I love you to the dial tone. That was Carole all over. But who was I to complain? The next morning Carole arrived at eleven as promised and we had a great three days and (more importantly) two nights together. True to her word, she sat down with the four of us and we had long talks about everything from preferences in food, drink and drugs, to use of the shower room. She took to Cookie right away, finding her amusing and fascinating at the same time. Moose had worshipped her since last September so he was no problem. That left only Hemp. But Hemp had undergone some changes since last fall. Maybe it was being in love himself, or maybe it was the increased self-esteem that came from having money in his pockets and a job to do every day (even if it was only dope dealing). But he seemed to be more honest and involved, less noncommittal and evasive, than he had ~

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formerly been. “It don’t matter to me one way or the other,” he told us frankly. “I’m out most of the time anyway, and I’m already sleeping on the couch thanks to Moose and Cookie over there.” The two culprits looked at us with some embarrassment but said nothing. “Carole,” Hemp continued, “you seem like a nice enough girl for a college broad. But I’m warning you, don’t do anything to screw up Stony’s life. He really goes for you, so don’t mess up his head. Other than that, welcome to the house.” She nodded her agreement at that and then Hemp stuck out his hand which she shook in a businesslike fashion. “Come on, Carole,” cried Cookie. “I’ll show you where all the kitchen stuff is. The men don’t have a clue.” They went out, laughing and talking animatedly to each other. It seemed that Carole not only had her BA, but passed every test with flying colors. On Memorial Day the first barbecue of the season was not only a tremendous success, it was the first coed affair Leeroy had ever thrown. We had cornered him Saturday night to tell him about the woman situation. He already knew vaguely about Cookie, but not precisely that she was living with us. With the addition of Carole, who was likely to be seen going in and out more often than the stay-at-home Cookie, we thought we had better come clean. “Hey, it’s okay with me,” shrugged Leeroy when we had informed him of the increase in our population. “Long as y’all got enough room down there and the girls can stand all ~

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the howlin’ and hollerin’.” Then we tried to convince him to let the girls attend the barbecue on Monday. He was doubtful until Moose whispered something in his ear and his face brightened at once. “That’s a hell of a good idea!” he exclaimed. “You bring your two gals and I’ll bring mine!” So it was that Laverne made her first appearance at one of Leeroy’s barbecues in a (thankfully) non-singing role. She made a huge tasty potato salad for the occasion and flirted shamelessly with the Barbecue Apostles, while Cookie and Leeroy bent over the barbecue grill trading sauce recipes and grilling techniques and he pretended not to notice Laverne’s indiscretions. Carole flitted back and forth in a sexy but demure party dress that made her look like Kim Novak in Picnic. Every time one of the Apostles would try to make time with her, she’d smile at him sweetly and innocently and then come over and give me a big sexy kiss. To be loved so much by Carole and envied so much by all the guys made it a perfect day in a perfect world for me. After the barbecue Carole took the bus back to Stanford, this time with no protests from me, to wind up her undergraduate affairs. She was going to tell her parents that she’d found a great apartment for only $200 a month. She figured that her parents wouldn’t question that amount, knowing that rents in San Francisco were expensive, and that this could be our mad money, since we didn’t need it for groceries or rent. She explained that the way the middleclass mind worked, her parents would be happier to pay for their daughter’s housing (and hence their own peace of mind) than to know that she was in reality living with friends of (to them) questionable character for free. ~

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So she moved into our 23rd Street flat lock, stock and half a dozen trunks full of clothing on Saturday, May 31, 1975, and began her job as intern at the Examiner the following Monday. I was finally living with the woman I loved and could see no clouds in the sunny sky that had become my life. It was going to be a golden summer, I could see that right away. Even at the beginning of June it was apparent that Carole was rapidly fitting in well with the other members of our household. She and Cookie quickly became close friends, sharing the cooking and other domestic duties and conspiring against and dishing us mere males behind our backs. Not that we minded; we were just as glad to be relieved of the bulk of the household chores we had always put off till the last possible minute. As she settled into her job at the Examiner, we began to meet for lunch on the three days a week I made the ABC delivery. Although I was happy to spend as much time with Carole as possible, I felt guilty also; for the lunch and walks with Carole had replaced the talks with The Hermit to which both he and I had become accustomed over the past several months. During the month of June I did spot him once or twice in Union Square, and I am sure that he saw me; the twinkle in his eye and the approving nod of his head in my direction made speech between us unnecessary. By the time the Fourth of July rolled around, the day for which Leeroy had planned his second gala barbecue of the season, Moose and Cookie, as well as Carole and I, were feeling and acting like old married couples. The only cloud on our horizon appeared to be a small one: Hemp was once again spending more and more nights out with Mimi, the ~

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professed love of his life. Both Moose and I were surprised that their relationship had lasted so long, especially under the pressure of having to share their passion in secret. Hemp hinted mysteriously of big changes in the wind; but as he was always self-important and often mysterious, we didn’t pay too much attention. One Friday night in the middle of July, Carole and I, for no reason in particular decided to go out to dinner and see a movie. It had been a warm day with practically no fog, and the wind had dropped off dramatically at sunset, giving the evening a balmy, Southern California feel. Barry Lyndon was playing at the Castro and after a great pasta dinner at The Sausage Factory, we decided to catch the late show. After immersing ourselves for two hours in the lushness of the cinematography and the romantic screenplay, we emerged from the theater at about midnight to find a clear sky with a perfect full moon overhead. It was quiet and still quite warm so we decided to walk home. In order to avoid the major hills we headed down 18th Street toward Dolores Park where we would follow the streetcar tracks toward 23rd as usual. We laughed and joked on the way, talking about the food and the movie in that idle, easy way that couples do when they’ve been together long enough to banish the initial dating nervousness, but not long enough to know each other’s thoughts so completely as to render most conversation unnecessary. When we finally arrived home, all the lights were off in the living room which meant that Hemp was out for the night and Cookie and Moose were in their room with the door shut, apparently doing their thing. It was nearly one o’clock in the morning. We sat on the couch listening to the new Eagles album, and after a glass of ~

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wine or two and a joint we were both feeling the old biological urge. But just as we had run into the bedroom, kissing and fondling each other and shedding clothes in the process, the phone rang. “Damn!” I cried out to Carole. “Maybe if I ignore it, it’ll go away!” Carole adjusted her bra to a more modest position and shook her head. “Uh-uh, Stony,” she told me firmly. “You don’t want to wake up Moose and Cookie. Besides, it might be important.” “Fat chance of that!” I complained. “The only calls we ever get at this time of night are from potheads wanting Hemp’s delivery service. Or guys stoned out of their minds dialing wrong numbers.” Nevertheless I reached unwillingly for the phone. Carole had already established her status as She Who Must Be Obeyed and for some reason I accepted that as a law of nature. “This better be good!” I growled into the phone. “Stony, is that you?” asked a strangely subdued but familiar voice on the other end. Alarm bells immediately started going off in my head. “Yeah, it’s me. That you, Hemp? Where the hell are you, buddy? What’s going on?” “Well, the fact is, I’m, uh, down at the Hall of Justice,” he replied, trying to sound nonchalant but failing miserably. “Oh, man, Hemp!” I buried my face in my free hand. “How much they bust you with? Enough for a felony?” “Uh, that’s not the problem, man,” he said in a shaky voice. I had never heard him sound so scared, not even in the jungles of Vietnam. “You see, something’s happened! Mimi’s dead, Stony! Shot! And they’re holding me for murder!” ~

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PART THREE Jake, 1975

I

was so stunned I couldn’t even speak for a moment. I could feel Carole watching me, her sudden concern like a heavy weight on my shoulders. All at once I felt about a million years older, so that when I was finally able to use my voice again, it didn’t sound like me. “Hold on, Hemp,” I croaked into the phone. “We’ll come down there right now and straighten this whole thing out.” “Thanks, man, I appreciate it. But it looks like I ain’t goin’ nowhere till Monday morning. That’s when I’m supposed to be arraigned. And even then, according to these guys here, my bail’s gonna be so high I won’t have a chance of gettin’ out. And I don’t get no visitors till then either. I’m a dangerous dude, man!” he finished with a hollow chuckle. “Okay, okay man.” The wheels were turning desperately in my head. “We’ll think of something. See you first thing Monday morning. And hang in there!” “Sure thing, Stony, I ain’t got no choice.” ~

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I heard a click at the other end and hung up the phone. I turned to look at Carole who was looking at me with the most serious expression I’d ever seen on her face. She looked almost as old as I felt. Briefly, in a flat voice, I told her what little Hemp had been able to tell me. “Oh, Stony, that’s terrible!” she responded immediately, true concern evident in her voice. “That poor guy!” “Poor guy, nothing!” I shot back. The shock was beginning to wear off and an unfocused rage was taking its place. “I knew it! I knew back when he started dealing that something like this would happen. Well, he got himself into this mess, let’s see him get himself out!” Good God, I thought, I was turning into my father. While I was ranting I had jumped up off the bed and was dressing again in the clothes I’d so joyfully thrown off just a few minutes ago when I was another person. Carole watched me, her concern now melting into surprise and confusion. “Stony, you don’t think Hemp really had anything to do with killing that poor girl, do you? I mean, there must be some mistake.” “There’s been a mistake all right, and he’s the one that made it!” I snarled, practically baring my teeth. She was right, of course, but for some reason I couldn’t seem to cool down once the fuse of my anger had been lit. I paced around the bedroom cussing out Hemp and then his starcrossed affair with both Acid and Mimi while Carole sat on the bed staring at me with an increasingly shocked expression. “I thought you guys had a pact,” she said finally when she could get a word in. Though her voice was subdued, her tone was icy. “All for one and one for all. That’s how it goes, doesn’t it?” ~

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“Yeah, well I’m pretty sure lifelong friendship doesn’t apply to murderers!” I snapped. Part of me knew I was blowing it, so I tried to calm down. I went over to Carole and tried to take her face in my hands but she just shook her head and pulled away. “Look, I guess I’m too worked up right now to make any sense.” I was trying for a conciliatory tone, but only half succeeding. “I’ve got to get out of here, get some fresh air, get my head straight.” I opened the bedroom door. The rest of the house and indeed the night outside was as peaceful and quiet as if nothing had happened. “Don’t wake up Moose or Cookie, at least not till I get back,” I told her as she followed me into the living room. “There’s nothing they can do anyway. No sense ruining their night as well.” She threw her arms around my neck but she didn’t kiss me. In fact it was an utterly unromantic gesture that felt more like a mom trying to set her kid straight. “All right, you go get your head together.” She sounded resigned and indulgent at the same time. “I love you, Stony, but just remember what brought us together in the first place.” She had my attention now. “What do you mean?” I asked her. She released me and continued. “Do you remember the first week we were together? Way back last September?” “How could I not after finding your keepsakes?” “You remember how we talked about James, how he ran out on me. And you joked about shooting him as a deserter?” I tried to brush her off but a light had begun to dawn. “It’s not the same thing,” I said defensively. ~

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“Oh, yes it is! More than you know! And I could never love someone who would desert a friend in need, just because he’s afraid.” “Afraid?” I echoed in astonishment. “That’s ridiculous!” “No, it’s not.” She was serious. “On some level, you are. I don’t know what you’re afraid of, but it’s there.” This time she kissed me, then pushed me out the front door. “Don’t come back until you get this figured out,” she warned me. “I mean it! And you’d better make the right decision!” Then she slammed the door before I could say anything more. My watch said just before two in the morning as I walked out into the silent street. The bright full moon was still overhead, nearly in the same position it had been when Carole and I had walked home, a couple of lifetimes ago. But a chill wind had come up and I noticed patches of fog on the peaks, partially obscuring the base of Sutro Tower. I turned the corner at Church and automatically began following the streetcar tracks toward Dolores Park. I guess I was totally mixed up—first in shock about Hemp, then mad as hell that he was about to fuck up my perfect life, especially my relationship with Carole. I was as surprised as hell by her reaction and made a halfhearted attempt to try to figure out what she was talking about. But mostly I just wandered down the tracks in a daze until I reached the uppermost corner of the park. I was wearing only a black tshirt, jeans, and boots, and I noticed I was shivering and sweating at the same time. The moon cast a pale silvery light over the park as I heedlessly ran down the grassy slopes, now slick with early morning dew. In a few more minutes I had reached the other side of the park at 18th ~

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and Dolores, breathing heavily, but miraculously having kept my footing. The streets in this residential neighborhood were quiet, but I could hear the faint sounds of leftover Friday night music and revelry coming from the Mission District. I decided to follow the music. The next thing I knew, I was at 16th and Mission. Bars were emptying out after last call and hordes of half-drunk Chicanos together with a smaller number of white kids were roaming the streets, cruising for chicks, late night taquerias, or after-hours places where you could still drink and dance until four in the morning, if you weren’t broke or shitfaced enough already. The scene was intense, lively, even joyous, and I usually got into the spirit with no trouble at all. But tonight it all seemed somehow irrelevant, a game I used to like to play long ago in my childhood. The mere idea of mindless fun, the sweet oblivion of alcohol and/or dope, began to depress me even further. I wandered north on Mission, passing under the elevated highway that separates the Mission from Upper Market. At South Van Ness I turned left toward Market and then right toward the Civic Center and finally to the shopping district. I was still in a daze, not realizing where I was going, what I was doing, until I reached Powell and Market. I looked up at the giant Woolworth Building, closed for the night now, dark and quiet. Even the cable cars had been put to bed for the night so that the turnaround was as deserted as it ever gets. Only a few displaced souls, drunks, panhandlers, and other denizens of the night still aimlessly wandered the area looking for cigarette butts, pennies, half-eaten Big Macs and slices of cold pizza which might have been discarded by the swarm of tourists, snug now in their beds at the Holiday Inns, Ramadas and Sheratons, ~

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dreaming about the excitement that tomorrow and the rest of their vacations would bring. I shook my fist at the Woolworth Building as if it were somehow responsible for what had happened to Hemp, what had happened to me, for my state of mind. “Goddamn Hemp and goddamn Carole!” I screamed out loud, defiantly but irrationally. “I’ve got half a mind to just say ‘fuck it!’ and just clear out of here. Why should I have to ruin my life just to save his worthless hide? And if Carole thinks she’s some kind of moral paragon, well, then fuck her too!” Visions of some warm and mindless place, maybe Mexico, suddenly entered my mind. But then, for some strange reason, I began to calm down. And then all at once, with a flash of clarity, I knew what I had to do. I turned up Powell, striding along quickly with purpose now, heading towards Union Square. Although it was two-thirty in the morning and the chill and fog hung heavy in the air, he was waiting for me, had to be, had promised to be, still wearing the same shapeless tunic, still with the same long scraggly gray hair and beard, still with the same piercing eyes, whether madness or genius lit them I could not tell. Before I had advanced to within ten feet of him, he held up his hand and put a finger to his lips. “I’ve been waiting for you, Jake,” said the Hermit, as if we were meeting for a drink. “Please come with me.” The violent mood swings of the past few hours had left me so emotionally numb that I didn’t even feel surprised at The Hermit’s sudden appearance. I’d come to Union Square mainly to sit and think, to try to soak up some of his vibes, to try to figure out what to do, before going to his ~

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apartment to roust him out. But now here he was, in the flesh. I was speechless as he led me out of the Square like an obedient four-year-old who’s just been told that playtime is over and it’s time to go home. I didn’t know whether this pleased or displeased him, but I was glad to be spared any decision making for a while. As we reached Sutter Street and turned downtown, my tongue finally loosened. “It’s my friend, Hemp,” I began to tell him. “He’s in trouble…” He silenced me with a look. “You don’t have to tell me, Jake,” he said softly and gently. “You are now at the crisis point of which I spoke the last time you and I were together. In my apartment, remember?” I nodded my head dumbly. “I want you to meet a friend of mine,” he continued in the same tone. “He will help you obtain the information you need, not necessarily to solve your problem, but to help you decide whether or not to involve yourself in its solution at all.” It was as if he had read my mind. For the past few hours the main struggle in my mind had been trying to decide whether or not to get involved with Hemp’s bust. On the one hand he was my friend. On the other there was an outside chance he was a murderer. The problem of how to help him would have to wait. By this time we had reached the corner of Stockton and the Hermit had stopped before a nondescript gray brick office building about eight or ten stories high. Without comment he reached into his robe and pulled out a large key with which he proceeded to unlock the large glass and steel door at the front entrance to the building. I didn’t even question this latest example of ~

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weirdness, but followed him into the deserted lobby of the building. He went quickly over to an elevator and pushed the button. The door opened immediately and we got in. The Hermit, still without speaking, pressed a button marked 6. We began to ascend slowly, the elevator creaking and groaning louder with every floor we passed. When it finally stopped and the door opened onto the sixth floor, I followed The Hermit out into a long, dimly-lit hall with mixed feelings of foreboding and relief. There were perhaps four to six doors on either side of this long hall, all with translucent glass windows upon which the business names were inscribed in black paint. We stopped in front of number 606 which proclaimed itself to be “The Metaphysical Towne Hall Bookstore”. Without hesitation he pressed a small button just to the right of the door. Though I heard no sound, it could not have been more than fifteen seconds before we could hear a lock being unbolted from within. Then the door opened a few inches, revealing a small man in an old-fashioned red silk dressing gown. “Oh, it’s you, is it,” he said rather than asked in an authoritative but high-pitched voice after looking The Hermit up and down for a few seconds. “And who’s this with you, one of your hippie friends?” The Hermit seemed to be neither amused nor offended by the little man’s attitude, but answered seriously and politely, “This is the young man I told you about, Doctor. May we come in?” Though it was now going on three o’clock in the morning, neither the little man nor, for that matter, The Hermit, looked as if they had slept at any time recently or would sleep at any time in the foreseeable future. I got the impression that business or pleasure, whichever they ~

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considered this visit to be, was for them nothing out of the ordinary. The little man immediately threw open the door. “Ah, yes, splendid, why didn’t you say so at once? Come in, come in!� As we followed him into a large, surprisingly well-lit room, I could clearly see his face for the first time. He was only about five-foot two, but his jet black hair, beard and mustache were heavily waxed and shaped, giving him the commanding presence of the stereotypical stage magician. All he lacked was the top hat and cane. Intrigued, I looked around at the room itself. At first glance it resembled a large room of a public library, being filled with aisles of high metal shelves upon which were piled a great quantity of large, substantial-looking books. But here the resemblance ended. There were no markings upon the shelves to indicate what books could be found where, and as I looked more closely at these books, I realized that the newest editions must be at least twice my age, and the majority well over several centuries old. The doctor (for so The Hermit had called him) led us back through the maze of shelves to a small, relatively clear area in the back which resembled a small lecture hall. Perhaps twenty or thirty straight-backed wooden chairs were placed in rows before a small shallow hardwood proscenium stage raised about a foot off the ground. At its center and near the lip of the stage was a small podium made of the same material, perhaps three feet high, on which a small microphone was attached. Aside from the metal shelves, the microphone was the only thing in the entire room that looked to be of the modern era, including the doctor himself. Behind the proscenium stage and ~

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covering the rear wall was a heavy red velvet theatrical curtain of indeterminate age with thick gold-braided pull ropes. We followed the doctor up onto the stage and watched as he parted the curtain slightly to reveal a small door in the rear wall. He opened it with a key he wore on a gold chain around his neck and motioned us to enter. Once inside I gasped audibly. The room was lit entirely by blood red and ebony black candles in holders that looked like human skulls. The walls were covered by tapestries into which were woven scenes of incredibly graphic sex and violence involving pagan gods and devils and unfortunate but voluptuous peasant women. The Hermit and I were bidden to sit down on a small but comfortable couch upholstered in soft black leather while the doctor perched on a wooden chair behind a small mahogany writing desk. “Permit me to introduce myself,” the small man began formally, obviously for my benefit. “I am Dr. Montague Winter. This person I assume you know only as The Hermit, is that correct?” I nodded my head. “And you are…” Dr. Winter prompted me. “Uh, Jake Stoneham, sir, very glad to make your acquaintance.” I stole a look at The Hermit. He was regarding the scene with a passive disinterest, as if his only function had been to bring me here. “I understand you have a problem, young Mr. Stoneham,” Dr. Winter continued, much as a teacher might gently chide a student for failure to do his homework. “A moral dilemma, I believe?” He looked at The Hermit who merely nodded his head in confirmation. ~

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“Um, yes, sir,” I answered him. I felt like I was back in the army in the presence of my commanding officer, but without knowing why or what he expected or wanted of me. “Jake.” The Hermit spoke for the first time. “You have nothing to fear from Dr. Winter. Look at it this way. In order to solve your problem, you need all the facts. But there are some facts, vital facts in this case, that you don’t have access to. The doctor can help you with that. I asked you before if you trusted me. If you do, I ask you to extend this same trust to Dr. Winter as well. I know that this situation, first with your friend, and now with us, is as difficult to believe as it is to deal with. But believe me when I tell you that the two decisions you make tonight will change your life forever.” “Two decisions?” I inquired. “The first is whether or not to accept our help, to place yourself in our hands, so to speak. Then if you decide in favor of the first, the second, of course, is what you decide to do after we finish here. In both cases the decision is yours. If you want to walk out of here right now and deal with this problem in your own way, then by all means do so now. But I think you must have had some reason to come all the way down here at this time of night.” He paused and looked at me expectantly. I considered all that he had said. “You’re right,” I told him finally, the first decisive words I’d uttered since leaving Carole. “I don’t know why, but I trust you guys.” I leaned back on the couch in a gesture of acceptance. “Okay, what do you want me to do?” By way of answer, The Hermit nodded to Dr. Winter who nodded back to him with a look of approval on his ~

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face. Then Dr. Winter stood up and walked over to where I was sitting. “Jake,” he began in a soft and sympathetic voice. “I’m not going to give you a lot of metaphysical explanation which would probably mean nothing to you and interest you even less. But the gist of it is, every soul has an infinite number of destinations, depending on the choices, conscious and unconscious, that we make every day of our lives. Some of them are quite minor, so minor that they rarely have any impact whatsoever on our lives as a whole. For example, the direction of your life is very seldom changed by what you decide to eat for breakfast, whether you read or watch TV, whether you choose to go to this movie or that. However, at certain times of your life you make decisions that directly affect the course of the rest of your life—decisions about education, career, marriage, children, that sort of thing. This is,” he spoke more intensely now, “one of those times.” He seemed to be waiting for me to say something, but I couldn’t think of anything so I remained silent. He nodded as if I had given him an eloquent answer and walked over to a table in the back, returning in a few seconds with a drinking glass half full of a milky substance that was giving off a faint phosphorescent green glow in the candlelight. I looked at it with a mixture of interest and apprehension which Dr. Winter must have noticed, for his next words were obviously meant to reassure me. “We have here an interesting substance, discovered only recently in the jungles of South America.” He held the glass up so that both I and The Hermit could see it clearly. “It seems to have much the same properties as sodium pentothol, the well-known so-called ‘truth serum’. ~

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However, instead of breaking down one’s resistance to revealing sensitive information, this substance can and does liberate entire repressed personalities, allowing them to address concerns of which the conscious, dominating personality may not even be aware. With your permission, Jake my lad, we would like to try it out on you.” He offered me the glass. I hesitated for a moment but finally took it. I held it gingerly in my right hand, looking at its slightly effervescent phosphorescence rather dubiously. I took a deep breath and asked, “What happens now? Do I just drink it down or what?” Dr. Winter grinned. “Yes, precisely. But wait just a moment. We want to be completely ready, because it should take effect almost instantaneously and then we only have about thirty minutes from the time you first ingest it before the effects wear off.” At a signal from Dr. Winter, The Hermit moved for the first time, going to the rear of the room and then returning with a small microphone which he set down on the table in front of me. It was attached to a long cord which in turn was plugged into a tape recorder which sat on a shelf in a bookcase on the rear wall. The doctor signaled him again and he switched on the tape machine. “This is more for your benefit than for ours,” explained Dr. Winter. “The drug produces a deep trance state almost like hypnosis, so that you are not likely to remember a thing that happens while you are ‘under the influence’ so to speak. Also, because many people do not recognize their own taped voices, I am going to ask you a few simple questions to verify that this is indeed your voice on the tape.” He began to speak directly into the microphone. “The time is now a few minutes after 3:00AM, ~

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Saturday, July 21, 1975. I am speaking directly to the subject of this experiment.” He handed me the microphone. “Please state your full name and address for the record.” Why not? I thought. If this was some kind of bizarre game they were playing with me, I’d find out soon enough. And I felt no threat, for they seemed to have my best interests at heart. And in fact, hadn’t I sought out The Hermit tonight for just this reason? To provide me with some kind of aid and knowledge I needed and couldn’t find on my own? As for the strange-looking potion, if it wasn’t actually poison I’d survive. God knows I’d taken weirder drugs. So I decided to trust them, or at least play along. “My name is Jacob A. Stoneham,” I said distinctly into the microphone. “My friends call me Stony. I live at 3930 23rd Street in Noe Valley, San Francisco, with my two army buddies, Moose and Hemp.” I put down the microphone and looked up at Dr. Winter. “That should be enough to establish my identity, right?” Dr. Winter nodded his head and gave another signal to The Hermit who was standing in the rear of the room by the tape recorder. He switched it off, rewound it, and played back what Dr. Winter and I had just said. It was the first time I had ever heard my recorded voice and Dr. Winter was right. Although he sounded the same to me on the tape as he had in person, I found it hard to recognize my own voice. God, I thought, is my voice really that highpitched and nasal? Dr. Winter now signaled to me to drink the contents of the glass, which I did without further comment. The taste was much more pleasant than I had imagined it would be— sort of like Alka Seltzer, only slightly more chalky and ~

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bitter. I had no trouble swallowing it, but as I did so, I immediately began to feel a sensation of lightheadedness. It was much like an opiate in its ability to separate the mind from the body, I thought, for I began musing dreamily about all sorts of things. I didn’t experience numbness so much as a feeling that my whole body was just disappearing. My mind, too, seemed to be floating off into the clouds. The last thing I remember was The Hermit switching on the tape recorder again. Then, almost immediately as it seemed to me, my mind seemed to reverse direction. I felt it sinking, sinking back towards my body, of which I was now once again aware but could not feel, and finally into my body as I began to regain at first sensation, then feeling, and finally weight again; I opened my eyes and looked around, astonished. Though practically no time had seemed to me to elapse, the small reel of tape on the recorder was now nearly half advanced, when only a moment ago, as it seemed to me, it was at the beginning. I looked down at my watch. 3:45! Forty minutes had somehow passed! “Thank you very much, Jake,” said Dr. Winter solemnly, standing up and shaking my hand formally. “Our experiment was an unqualified success. How do you feel now?” “Fine, I guess.” I stood up and stretched. My mind told me I had just sat down, but my back and legs said I’d been sitting on a rather hard and lumpy couch for nearly an hour. “But what the hell happened? I don’t remember anything after drinking that stuff. Did I say anything?” Before replying, Dr. Winter motioned to The Hermit once again, who responded by shutting off the tape machine and rewinding the tape to the beginning. Then he ~

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turned to me again. “Indeed you did, Jake. Now this is of the utmost importance.” He took me by the shoulders in a fatherly way and looked me directly in the eye. “It’s your choice. You may hear the contents of the tape right now, or not at all. But I warn you, if you choose not to hear it, two things will happen. One, it will immediately be destroyed; thus you will never have a second chance. Two, since, as I expected, the contents of this tape could literally change your life, you will deny yourself that opportunity. The question is, are you prepared for that? Take a moment to reflect before you answer.” He released my shoulders and sat back down again. I carefully considered all that he had said. Of course I wanted to hear the tape. What was the point of this whole screwy melodramatic scene if I didn’t? It would be like not reading the last chapter of a mystery novel. But did I really want my life to change? Actually what I wanted was my life back. But Hemp was in trouble. I couldn’t ignore that fact and just walk away from the whole situation. Or could I? No, instinctively I knew I’d be walking away from Carole, too, and she was the main component of the life I wanted back. No wonder I was confused! I sat down again. “Play the tape,” I told him firmly. “It’s the only way I’ll ever know what the hell’s happening here.” I turned to The Hermit. “But if you guys are putting me on, I’m gonna be really pissed!” “That’s the spirit, Jake!” he replied, looking more delighted than I had ever seen him. He switched on the machine. Once again I heard the preliminary remarks, first from Dr. Winter and then myself. After that there was a silence ~

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of perhaps several seconds which seemed to me to be much longer. I had just about decided that the whole thing was some sort of elaborate hoax when I heard another voice coming from the speakers of the tape machine. At first it sounded confused, hesitating, even petulant. It was weird. I couldn’t say it sounded like me, but I couldn’t say it didn’t either. It sounded sort of like I might sound at another time, or maybe in different circumstances. This is what I heard: Voice: Wh—where am I? Is there anybody there? If so, please help me. It’s dark and I can’t see. Winter: I can hear you, sir, and I’ll try to help you any way I can. But who are you? V: (Sounding relieved and obviously trying to pull itself together) At last! Someone there! Klaus, is that you? You sound like Klaus. What’s happened to me, Doctor? W: Please, sir, try to concentrate. We haven’t much time, and there are things I need to know. V: Of course. But you know who I am, don’t you, Klaus? You are Dr. Klaus Stahlmeyer, aren’t you? And this is some kind of strange hypnotic therapy or something? W: I’m afraid I don’t know this Dr. Stahlmeyer of yours, sir. Once again, please identify yourself. V: (Confused and distraught) Not Dr. Stahlmeyer? How can that be? If this isn’t hypnosis or something, God forbid, it must be really happening! And I must be lost, dead, or in limbo! (making a supreme effort) All right, then, whoever you are, my name is Jacob A. Stoneham, SF Municipal Court Judge. But I have no idea what happened to me. And if you’re not Klaus, then who in God’s name are ~

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you? I’ve been calling and calling for what seems like forever, but you’re the first person to answer me since this terrible thing happened. W: I’m pleased to make your acquaintance, Your Honor. My name is Dr. Montague Winter, and we must now speak directly and to the point. You have information that we need. How old are you, sir? Stoneham: I’m fifty. Fat and fifty. At least I was before this thing happened. Now I’m not so sure. W: You keep mentioning this thing that happened to you. Can you be more specific? What happened and when did it happen? S: I, I remember walking out of my house. It must have been towards the end of June… W: Excuse me, Your Honor, but what year? S: What year? Why, 2000, of course! W: I’m sorry to interrupt. Please proceed. S: Well, there’s nothing much to tell. It felt like a heart attack, stroke, whatever. Not that that was so unexpected. But I don’t seem to be dead. More like disembodied. And imprisoned. Where am I? W: You seem to be back in 1975, sir, locked in the mind of your younger self. Please, don’t tell me how impossible it is, just accept it on faith. Consider this part of your therapy, as your Dr. Stahlmeyer would want you to. Now, as I say, time is of the essence. S: I’ll try to answer your questions, Doctor, though it’s hard for me to believe that such a thing has happened. W: That’s understandable, Your Honor. Now, tell me everything that happened that summer of 1975, far in the past to you, but very much in the present for us. Is there anything you would say to young Jake here (who, by the ~

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way, is asleep, which is the only way I can talk to you), something he should know? S: Now you’ve hit it, Doctor! That was what turned out to be the main part of my therapy with Dr. Stahlmeyer. Or would have been. (A regretful sigh.) I only had two sessions. Klaus seemed to think I was repressing something. It turned out I was. I spent the last night of my life, in fact, trying to remember what it was. But it wasn’t until this, this thing happened to me that I was finally able to remember. W: (Showing excitement for the first time) And what did you remember, Your Honor? This could be of vital importance! S: Well, since you seem to be having some sort of crisis there, in 1975, it must be July, when my friend Hemp was arrested on a murder charge. You must realize that for the past twenty-five years I couldn’t remember anything about that terrible summer. I must have completely blocked it out, repressed it, as Klaus would say. W: Tell me everything. S: When the fatal phone call came, I had a horrible argument with Carole. I wanted nothing to do with Hemp’s situation, which I was pretty sure was all his fault. And Carole chose that moment to start lecturing me about duty and loyalty. Well, the fact was I was confused. I stormed out of the house, walked around all night long trying to think. I finally came to the conclusion that it was my life, that I wasn’t going to let anyone tell me what to do, even (God help me!) the woman I loved. I ran out on her, Doctor, I ran out on all of them, her, Hemp, even good ol’ Moose. (He began to sob, but quickly regained control.) I went back to the house early in the morning, just before ~

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sunrise. Everyone was asleep, so I threw some clothes into a suitcase and grabbed my emergency twenty bucks which was enough for a cheap hotel room for the weekend. Monday morning instead of going to work, I went to the bank and withdrew most of my money. It was enough to enable me to go down to Tijuana, just across the California border, where even a guy like me could afford to stay drunk all the time and have as many women as I wanted. How I managed to avoid being arrested by the Mexican police or contracting some horrible disease I’ll never know. When I finally sobered up one morning, quite by accident, it had been two weeks and I was beginning to run out of money, so I knew I had to go back. I arrived in San Francisco the first Monday in August to find the flat on 23rd Street totally empty. No one was there, or had been there, for at least a week. There was a For Rent sign on the door, and I was too embarrassed even to talk to the owner to ask him where everyone had gone. I never saw any of them again— Carole, Moose, Cookie, any of them. W: (Very gently) And what happened to Hemp, Your Honor? S: That was the worst thing of all. It seems that Hemp, feeling scared and abandoned for almost two weeks, had hanged himself in jail the Friday night previous to my return. W: Thank you, Your Honor, for telling what must be a very painful story indeed. And now our time is nearly up. S: (Becoming anxious again) But, but what’s going to happen to me? W: I suppose you’ll go back to where you were before our conversation. But I really have no way of knowing. S: Please, don’t leave me here. The silence, the ~

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darkness, all beginning to close in again… (His voice becomes fainter and fainter, and finally there is silence.) Seconds later I heard Dr. Winter’s voice on the tape saying, “Thank you very much, Jake, our experiment was an unqualified success. How do you feel?” And then I heard my normal voice saying, “Fine, I guess. But what the hell happened? I don’t remember…” The Hermit switched the tape machine off again. We looked at each other for several moments in silence. “Was all that on the level?” I finally said, speaking to The Hermit. I knew what Dr. Winter would say, but if The Hermit told me the same thing, I told myself I’d have to believe it. The Hermit nodded. “Yes, it’s all real. That’s the bad news. But the good news is, you are free to act in any way you wish. Remember, forewarned is forearmed.” Dr. Winter yawned pointedly. “Hermit,” he said, not unkindly, “perhaps you could take your young friend somewhere else to continue your discussion in private. It’s after four, you know, and I believe I have no further part in this little drama.” “Yes, of course, Dr. Winter,” replied The Hermit deferentially. “Come along, Jake.” “No, wait a minute!” I turned to Dr. Winter and extended my hand. “Thank you, sir, for all your help. I, I’m sorry if I seem skeptical, but it’s a lot to swallow all at once!” Dr. Winter gave me a warm smile. “Understandable, young man, perfectly understandable. Not many men your age have the opportunity to discover how they are holding their destinies in the palms of their hands.” And with that ~

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speech he turned away from me and began industriously blowing out the candles. The Hermit put a gentle pressure on my arm, and without another word we left the Towne Hall Metaphysical Book Store and the building the same way we’d entered it. Out on the street once more, I began to shiver. The fog was thick and wet, and it was colder than a witch’s tit, but The Hermit didn’t seem to notice. He walked along beside me, his face wearing no particular expression, as if we were returning from a not particularly inspiring night out. When we had crossed Union Square again and turned up O’Farrell toward The Hermit’s little apartment, he finally broke his silence. “Well, Jake, the time has come to bid you goodbye. I’ve done my bit and now it’s time for you to do yours. Just be careful, will you? I’ve grown quite fond of you over the past several months.” I shook his hand. “Thank you, Hermit. I know I haven’t been exactly great company since Carole moved in. In fact I never even told her about you, or the guys either. It’s not that I’m ashamed to know you or anything, just the opposite. But I just don’t know how to, er, explain you to people, what you really are compared to, you know…” He broke in with an amused chuckle. “Compared to the fact that I look like a bum or a madman? An eccentric recluse? But this is what I am, Jake. Nonetheless I’m glad none of your friends know about me. It will make it that much easier not to tell them about tonight. When you go back to them, and I know you will, just say you walked around all night thinking. Remember the tape. It’s all true, has to be, it came from you. But don’t tell anyone. Promise?” “Sure, I promise. But look, Hermit, how was all that ~

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possible? Was that really me, my future self? I always thought you couldn’t change the future ‘cause you couldn’t change the past!” We stopped in front of his building and he gave me a serious look. “You either believe it or you don’t, Jake. It’s one of those things you have to take on faith. Like why does pot make you stoned. But I’ll tell you one thing. You’ve already changed your past, or part of it.” “How do you mean?” “Remember on the tape where the Judge says you checked into a cheap hotel and then went to Mexico? You’re not going to do either of those things now, are you?” “No. No, I guess I’m not. But wait a minute. On the tape the old guy never mentioned being with you, either. So that means…” At that The Hermit turned and began to walk toward the building’s entrance. “It means whatever you think it means, Jake,” he called out over his shoulder. “Now farewell, and good luck.” Then he vanished into the building and I was left alone with my thoughts. From the spiritual back to the mundane, I thought. It was 4:30 on a Saturday morning in mid-July, and I was freezing my ass off in the middle of the Tenderloin which was not the safest neighborhood in San Francisco. I wished I’d worn my field jacket, but the weather had been balmy when I left the house. That was San Francisco, I thought idly, turning down Taylor toward Market, one day it’s hot and sunny, then the wind whips the fog in and suddenly it’s twenty degrees colder and all the more unpleasant for being so unexpected. In San Francisco we take our summers the way the fictional detective Travis McGee takes his retirement—in brief installments. ~

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When I reached Market I looked up and down the street. Not a Muni bus or streetcar in sight, which was not surprising at this time of the morning. What the hell, I thought, better to keep moving than to stand here freezing to death for the probably thirty or forty-five minutes it would take for a Muni to arrive. So I started walking up Market, my only companions being the ever-present flocks of scavenging pigeons, a few stray seagulls who had come too far inland, and the early morning trash collectors busily plying their trade. Far off to the west ahead of me, on the other side of Twin Peaks lay the ocean, and I could faintly hear the mournful cries of the foghorns at Land’s End. In about half an hour I had walked up Market past Van Ness and was approaching Dolores. By the time I had turned onto Dolores and reached the edge of Dolores Park, my mind was once again on practical matters. The sky was just beginning to turn from black to gray as I walked up the steep slopes of the park to the J streetcar tracks. I had received a crash course that night on what not to do, first from Carole, then from the odd Hermit and his apparent friend, the even odder Dr. Montague Winter, and finally from a disembodied voice on a tape recording, claiming to be my future self. Except for Carole, none of these sources of advice and information could conceivably be termed reliable. And yet somehow I believed. But the problem for me as I saw it was more complicated than simply not doing the wrong thing. What was the right thing to do? When I emerged from the streetcar tracks onto 22nd and Church, it was almost five-thirty on a gray foggy morning. Less than five hours ago it had been a balmy summer night, Carole and I had been about to make love, ~

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and I had been a different person. Now as I turned onto 23rd Street and walked the block and a half to our flat, my head felt heavy with fatigue and responsibility. As I climbed the front steps I couldn’t help but be relieved that there was no For Rent sign on either door. Sighing and bracing myself for the inevitable, whatever that might be, I turned the key in the lock and then I was home. There was no reason to turn on the lights, for the room was sufficiently illuminated by the grayness coming through the big picture window in the living room. There on the couch lay Carole, sleeping peacefully underneath an old Indian blanket. Her soft golden hair lay in tangles over her eyes and ears, and her lips looked so adorable I wanted to kiss them, so I did. As I did so, she opened her eyes and brushed the hair away. “Stony, is that you?” she asked in a small, not-quiteawake voice. I told her that it was. She roused herself and sat up suddenly, the Indian blanket falling to her lap, revealing her to be clad only in a white lace bra with matching panties. She held out her arms to me and then I grabbed her and held her as tightly as I could for a very long time as though I’d never again let her go. Amazingly she responded to my fierce embrace with an even tighter one of her own, so that there we were in the gray, foggy dawn after all that had happened the night before, trying to asphyxiate each other with love. Finally, encouraged by mutual lack of breath, we let go our embrace and looked into each other’s eyes. “Well?” she asked me. “Well what?” I replied. “Did you?” she asked. ~

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“Did I what?” I responded. We were beginning to sound like me and Kia. “Did you get your head together?” she inquired, a note of impatience creeping into her voice. “Yes,” I admitted. Then more decisively, “Yes. Yes, I did. I’m going to do the right thing and stand by Hemp!” She clasped her hands together and sat back down on the couch. “Good for you, Stony!” she exclaimed. “I knew you wouldn’t let us down. Want me to go wake Moose and Cookie?” I slumped down onto the couch. Now that the tension had finally gone out of me, I was beginning to feel the full effects of the sleepless night. “Let them sleep,” I told her wearily. “We’ll hold a council of war around the middle of the day. Nobody can see Hemp until Monday morning anyway, so we’ve got nothing to go on. And I could use some sleep.” I pulled her up from the couch, watching approvingly as the Indian blanket slid to the floor. I grinned for the first time since the phone call. “Now where were we before we were so rudely interrupted?” I asked her lightly, leading her toward the bedroom. She giggled and put my hand beneath her bra cup. “Ah, yes,” I said, giving her a gentle squeeze, “it’s all coming back to me now.” I closed the bedroom door and pulled the drapes over the window at the head of the bed. Sometimes night games were best played at dawn. 2.

A ~

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t about one o’clock that Saturday afternoon Carole woke me up and we both dressed and

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trooped out to the living room. Moose and Cookie, having had the benefit of a full night’s sleep, had been up since ten. Cookie was in the kitchen cleaning the oven or whatever it is that women manage to occupy themselves with in a perfectly clean kitchen. Moose was in the living room watching the Giants beat the Dodgers on TV, a satisfied smile on his face. I sat down on the couch and watched the game with him for a few minutes. McCovey had hit a three-run homer and Chili Davis had followed with a solo shot. We were up four-zip in the first inning and Sutton hadn’t yet gotten anybody out. At least something was going right today, I thought. Like all true San Franciscans we hated all things LA and especially the sanctimonious Dodgers. By the end of the second inning Carole brought in some coffee and joined me on the couch, giving me a little nudge in the process. I knew what that meant: Get on with it! I’d been avoiding telling Moose about Hemp; he was sitting there in his chair looking happy as a schoolboy on summer vacation and I didn’t want to ruin his day. But I cleared my throat and began anyway. “Moose, can you call Cookie in here? There’s something we need to talk to you guys about.” He looked puzzled but jumped up immediately. “Sure thing, Stony,” he complied, walking toward the kitchen to get Cookie. In a few moments he returned with her in tow and then turned the TV volume all the way down. Then he returned to his chair while Cookie sat down with us on the couch. “What’s going on, man?” he asked innocently. I outlined the situation to them as briefly as possible: The phone call I had received last night from Hemp and my ultimate decision to try to stand by him no matter what. I left out the part about my argument with Carole and ~

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subsequent weird night with The Hermit, whom they didn’t know anyway. They weren’t ready for that. Hell, I wasn’t ready for that. When I had finished and Cookie and Moose had run the expected gamut of emotions—shock, rage, frustration, grief, I addressed Moose sternly. “I hope you’re ready to go back on active duty, Sergeant McCullough. We’ve been getting soft lying around here smoking dope and drinking beer. It’s time we got off our asses and did something for our comrade-in-arms. As far as we’re concerned he’s a POW that’s been captured by the enemy—the SFPD.” Moose immediately jumped to attention. “Yes sir, Lieutenant Stoneham!” He gave me a crisp salute. “At ease!” I told him. He relaxed and sat down again. “Permission to speak freely, sir?” he ventured. “Of course.” “Well, it’s just that…what can we do? I mean we’re not lawyers or cops or private eyes or anything.” “Good point, Moose.” I considered this for a few moments. Meanwhile the girls had gotten into the spirit of the occasion. They both raised their hands and said, “Permission to speak, sir?” I pointed first at Carole. She looked at Cookie who nodded her head in encouragement. Then she said, “Cookie and I would both like to volunteer our services for the duration. Even though neither of us have known Hemp for very long and aren’t as close to him as you guys are, we think he’s a decent guy and couldn’t possibly have done what he’s being accused of.” Cookie again nodded her head in agreement. ~

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“That’s great, girls!” I exclaimed. “We’re gonna need all the help we can get on this one. So you’re both drafted. Private Porter, Private Madeira, welcome to Stony’s Squad!” They both jumped up and saluted me with no trace of sarcasm. “Okay, here’s the situation.” I got up and began to walk back and forth in front of the living room window. “We can’t even see Hemp until Monday morning. As soon as he’s been arraigned and we find out what the formal charges against him are, we’ll figure out where to go from there.” Carole again raised her hand and I recognized her. “What we need to find out right away is what evidence the cops have against him,” she began. “It must be pretty good if they charged him right away without questioning him or investigating other leads.” “But how can we do that?” asked Moose. “Like I said before, There’s no way we can make the cops tell us what they know.” “Maybe we can, indirectly,” replied Carole. “You guys know about my job at the Examiner. It won’t take me long to find out everything the paper knows about this. They’re always plenty interested in a murder case. Then we can take it from there.” I considered this for a while, then came to a decision. “Good idea, Carole. Okay, you’re in charge of intelligence. Cookie, you’re in charge of collecting and storing information as we get it. I’m the head of the operation, so you both report to me and I’ll plan the strategy.” “But what about me?” Moose asked, a plaintive note in his voice. ~

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“I haven’t forgotten about you, Moose,” I told him quickly. “You’ll be what you always are—my second in command and NCO in charge of muscle.” He looked at Cookie and grinned. “See, I outrank you. You have to do what I say.” Cookie stuck out her tongue and gave him the finger which broke the tension and we all laughed. “But seriously, Stony,” Carole said when we’d caught our breath. “Aren’t you forgetting something?” “What’s that?” I asked her. “Your job, you numbskull. You’re supposed to go to work Monday morning, right? And the way you tell it, you’re the only one who can make your fabric delivery.” “Damn!” I smacked myself in the forehead with the palm of my hand. I’d been so preoccupied with the emotional roller coaster I’d been on that I’d clean forgotten about old BS and ClassCo Fabrics. “Oh, man, they’re gonna kill me if I don’t show up! And I might as well kill myself if I let Hemp down without putting up a fight! Damn, damn, damn!” “You could give them the ever-popular death in the family story, if you haven’t used it before,” ventured Cookie. “Especially if you’ve got some time off coming.” She grinned impishly. “Remember my college career, when I majored in Partying? Well, when you major in Partying, you minor in Excuses.” I thought about it for a moment. “Yeah, that might work. What is this, July? Let’s see, I’ve got two weeks vacation coming this summer. I was gonna use it at the end of next month, when Carole’s interning gig ends, but I guess this is more important. You don’t mind, baby?” I gave her a hopeful look. ~

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“Of course not,” she reassured me. “Okay, then it’s decided. I’ll get on the phone later this afternoon with old BS. I’ve got his home number for emergencies. He’ll be pissed, but I’ll be firm. Hell, the worst that can happen is he’ll fire me and then I can always get another job. But I don’t think he will. Moose, you’ve got no problem taking some time off from your construction job, have you?” “No, not really,” he replied. “I don’t work, I don’t get paid, that’s all. But I’ve worked with these guys long enough I’m pretty sure they’ll take me back even if I don’t show up all week. But that reminds me. How are we gonna be fixed for bread if I’m not working?” Since I was always the one in charge of the household finances, I knew the answer. “I think we’ll be OK. I got two weeks paid vacation coming to me even if I get fired. Carole can contribute some of her interning money. And since Hemp’s been dealing, I’ve been able to put away a few bucks for a rainy day. And if it comes to it, I’m pretty sure Leeroy will give us a break on the rent. We’ve gotten pretty tight since Madam Butterfly came back and we started including her in the barbecues. Since he owns the place free and clear, it’s not like he really needs the money right away. So we oughta be good for anything up to a month.” I grinned. “And if all else fails, we can put Cookie on the street. She oughta be able to do OK.” Cookie grinned back and made a bow in my direction. “Always happy to serve the cause, sir!” She struck a provocative pose and unbuttoned the first few buttons of her blouse, showing her ample cleavage and shocking Moose in the process. “That won’t be necessary, Stony,” he said stiffly. “I’ll ~

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get a night job if it comes to that.” “Don’t worry, Moose, I was only teasing. And so was Cookie,” I said in an attempt to reassure him. “Don’t be so sure,” she retorted, giving Moose a sexy leer. And so the council of war broke up and off we went to our individual pursuits. We all tried out hardest to pretend it was a normal weekend and we all failed miserably. Never had we so dreaded the coming of Monday, or more fervently wished for its arrival. SECOND INTERLUDE On a foggy afternoon near the end of June, 2000, in Room 578 of Beth Israel Hospital in San Francisco, a small, trim, middle-aged man lies unconscious on his hospital bed. He is dressed only in a green and white checked hospital gown and, as he is lying on his back, one can see the plethora of plastic tubes connected to nearly every part of his body. Only his unruly tangle of curly gray hair, spilling over his bandaged head and onto his pillow serve to remind us that he is still an individual human being and not an anonymous subject being used for medical experimentation. The door opens and a nurse walks in. She is a rather average-looking woman, but brisk and efficient in her starched white uniform as she bustles about, checking first the patient’s chart and then the displays of the various machines to which he is attached. After she has been so engaged for a few moments, a tall gaunt man with a clipboard enters the room and closes the door behind him. “What’s the patient’s status, nurse?” he asks her in a ~

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flat, disinterested voice. “Still no change, doctor,” she answers in the same professional, emotionless way. “There is one other thing, though…” she continues but her voice falters and then trails off, as if she is unsure how or even whether to proceed. “Well, what is it, nurse?” A bit of impatience has crept into the doctor’s professional voice. “Uh, well, it’s just that, well, this patient suffered a gunshot wound to the head, right?” “Yes, that’s correct.” His tone of voice says, “Get on with it.” “And when he was admitted, unconscious, shortly after surgery he was hooked up to an EEG monitor.” “So what’s so unusual about that? What are you getting at?” The doctor sounds a bit peeved now, but definitely more interested. “Uh, there was no sign of brain trauma, was there, doctor?” “No, no, of course not, only a head wound and a slight skull fracture. Apparently a passing motorist heard a gunshot and then saw him collapse on the sidewalk in front of his home and rushed him here. Examination showed no damage to the brain whatsoever.” He is growing more impatient by the minute. “Why all these questions, nurse? Is there something unusual I should know about? How long has he been unconscious?” “Over twenty-four hours, doctor. He was brought in yesterday morning and operated on at about midday. He hasn’t regained consciousness since.” The doctor frowns. “That’s odd. It was a relatively simple procedure to remove the bullet and repair the break ~

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in the skull. And he never stopped breathing during the procedure, nor did his heart stop beating. Since the blood flow to the brain was never impaired, he should have regained consciousness by now.” He is saying all this mostly to himself as if for reassurance while checking the patient’s chart and the displays of the various machines as he speaks. The nurse directs his attention to the EEG. As soon as the doctor sees the display and reads the printout record his interest, for the first time, is very much engaged. “Just look at these alpha wave patterns!” he exclaims. “How long have you been getting these readings?” “Since early this morning, over twelve hours now. That’s why I wanted you to see them and judge for yourself.” The nurse is beginning to relax now, the doctor’s excited response making her feel more sure of herself. “Are they really as unusual as I think they are?” “Let’s not jump to conclusions, nurse. It could be only some strange reaction to the anesthetic. Watch him closely, and if these waves continue in the same pattern and intensity, we’ll have to call in the senior neurologist, find out what he thinks.” The nurse turns to the doctor, all pretense of disinterested professionalism gone now. “But what do you think it is, doctor? What’s going on here?” “What do I think?” The doctor shakes his head. “I think he must be having one hell of a dream!” 3.

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unusually subdued manner. Carole made sincere and repeated attempts to lighten my mood, eventually leaving me to my own devices when I refused to cheer up. I wandered around in a fog denser than that which was blanketing the city. How could such a thing have happened, I wondered. If Hemp hadn’t done it, what could have led the cops to believe that he had? And if he had done it, well, that was just unthinkable. By his own admission he had loved the girl, the “murder victim” I guess you’d call her. But even more unthinkable was the idea that he’d shot her. The three of us had seen enough of guns and shooting in Vietnam to last us more than a lifetime. None of us had even so much as touched a gun, even at an arcade or shooting gallery, since we’d been living together. Besides, we were all so close to each other that I thought I would have known if Hemp had changed that much. Or at least Moose would, having shared a room with him until Cookie had moved in six months ago. I questioned Moose on the subject, but he was as much at a loss as I was. The only thing I really managed to accomplish all weekend was to get old BS on the phone and tell him the tragic story of my dear father’s untimely death. He had unexpectedly dropped dead of an unexpected heart attack at the tender age of fifty, I told him with just the proper quiver in my voice. Fortunately I hadn’t told him anything about my family previously, except that they lived back East, so that now I could claim to be sole support of my poor old mother whose health wasn’t what it used to be. I told him that I would fly back immediately and try to return in two weeks, the time it would take me to make funeral arrangements and see that my mother was cared for. He was uncharacteristically sympathetic and sounded ~

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almost hesitant to bring up the question of who would make the ABC deliveries. I told him Luis was perfectly capable of driving the truck and that since everything was now smooth and routine, he should have no trouble with the people at ABC. If he did, I pointed out, ABC was a garment factory—surely someone there spoke fluent Spanish. “All right, Jake,” he told me, “but hurry back, will you? You’re the only one I really trust to handle the boys in the back.” He still sounded worried. “Don’t worry, Mr. Soskin,” I told him, allowing a note of military pride to creep into my voice, “you can count on me.” Then I hung up the phone. In other circumstances I would have had a good chuckle over how easy it had been. Stony, I told myself, you should have been an actor. Then finally it was Monday morning. I had decided to go alone down to the Hall of Justice on Bryant Street where they were holding Hemp. Carole would go to work as usual, and I would meet her for lunch as usual, but this time to let her know what kind of information we needed from the Examiner. Moose would also go to work as usual, leaving the phone number of his construction site with Cookie who would stay at home and wait for phone calls. She didn’t mind—she was a real stay-at-home person anyway, and since she’d lived with us, she’d gotten hooked on the afternoon soaps on TV. So I arrived alone at the Hall of Justice that morning shortly after ten. Hemp’s arraignment, I had found out over the telephone, was scheduled for 9:00 and I could see him when he came back from court, but only in the common room and for only fifteen minutes. As I entered the building I asked at the Information Desk where the visitors’ ~

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area was. A uniformed sergeant pointed me to the second floor. I walked up the marble steps and entered a large room that was bare of furniture except for two long benches in the middle with a large heavy screen between them. On my side of the screen a few visitors sat on the bench whispering urgently through the screen to prisoners dressed in blue denim work uniforms who were seated on the other bench. As I entered, one of the uniformed guards at the door asked me who I was here to see. Absurdly, for just a moment I couldn’t remember Hemp’s real name, it had been so long since either of us had used it. “David J. Hempel,” I finally managed to say. But the guard seemed to take no notice of my stammer as he silently motioned me to a place on the bench. I hadn’t waited longer than a few minutes when the door on the opposite side of the room opened and two heavily armed guards entered the room with Hemp between them, handcuffed and already wearing the nondescript blue denim prison uniform. He looked thinner than when I had seen him last, not that many days ago, and he was sporting the worst haircut I had ever seen. Some sadistic prison barber had hacked off his normally shoulder-length curly dark hair to a position just above the nape of his neck without thinning the rest of it, so that he looked as if he was wearing some sort of helmet. Gone too was his bushy mustache, and his eyes were dull and lifeless. Even in the army I had always known him to walk with a kind of cocky swagger, but now he shuffled toward the bench with the gait of an old tired man, his face an expressionless mask. In fact his whole appearance was that of the POW’s we’d seen in cautionary army training films. The guards led him to a place on the bench opposite ~

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me and roughly forced him to sit down, still in handcuffs. “Fifteen minutes!” one of them admonished me, and then they retreated to opposite corners of the room. “Hey, Hemp!” I tried to give him a hearty smile to cover my shocked reaction to his appearance. “How they treatin’ you, man?” “Okay, I guess,” he replied in a subdued tone that sounded like he was sleepwalking. “They’ve charged me with murder, Stony. First degree,” he continued in a wretched voice. “Look, don’t worry, man!” I tried to reassure him. “Just hang in there! We’re all behind you, and we’re gonna do everything we can to get you out of here!” “You better hurry, Stony, my trial’s in two weeks. I’ve got a lawyer, sort of, a little runt of a guy. A public defender appointed by the court. His best advice is to plead guilty. Thinks if I do that he can get it knocked down to voluntary manslaughter. That means I might be able to party with you guys, oh, at least by the beginning of the next century.” His voice was still heavy, but at least it wasn’t despairing. Talking to me seemed to have restored a small shred of his sardonic humor. “That’s ridiculous, Hemp!” I told him. “We both know you didn’t do it! But you got to tell me the whole story, man!” “Okay, here it is. Reader’s Digest condensed version, that is—we don’t got much time. Okay, Friday night, about eight, Mimi calls me up. Says she’s worried, thinks somebody’s following her. Tells me to come over to her place—I didn’t tell you, but I helped her get a little studio apartment on Kearney, edge of Chinatown—anyway, she’s scared. So I’m at home, right? You guys are out on a date, ~

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Moose and Cookie are in the bedroom making out and giggling. And then the phone rings. She’s beggin’ me to come over, to protect her. Well, I run out of the house and down to Church where I’m lucky enough to be able to grab an empty cab heading downtown. Fifteen minutes later I’m outside her apartment building. I look up and down the street, but don’t see anything suspicious. So I walk into the lobby and take the elevator up to the third floor which is where her apartment is. And here’s the first funny thing: just as I’m gettin’ off the elevator, I hear some kind of a muffled sound, like a pop, and then some general scuffling around. At this point I can’t tell where it’s coming from, so I look up and down the hall and again I don’t see anything. So I shrug and go over to her door, apartment 304, and ring the bell. I don’t hear anything from inside, so I ring it again. In a couple of seconds the door slowly swings open. I still can’t see anyone or hear anyone. I call out to her, “Mimi, honey, you there?” No answer, so I walk into the apartment. And here’s the second funny thing: I don’t take more than two steps inside the doorway when I feel something hit the back of my head. I don’t remember anything after that until I come to, maybe ten or fifteen minutes later, when I see two cops standing over me. I’m lying on the floor. Across the room, no more than ten feet away from me, I see Mimi lyin’ face down on the floor in a pool of blood. Not till then do I realize what’s goin’ on. And here’s the third funny thing: there’s a big gun in my right hand and my forefinger’s wrapped around the trigger. So they claim I did it. Tell me, Stony, what the fuck am I gonna do?” I didn’t have any answers for him then, though I tried to reassure him as much as possible. A few moments later ~

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the two guards returned and took great pleasure in informing us that our time was up. As they dragged Hemp back toward the door, he looked over his shoulder. “Get me outa here, Stony,” he pleaded, “before I lose it completely!” I knew what he meant. The army notwithstanding, Hemp had never been good with rules and regulations. I thought back to the improbable voice on the tape. Its prediction of Hemp’s self-inflicted demise suddenly didn’t seem so absurd. In a daze I walked out of the Hall of Justice and onto Bryant Street. That far south of Market the high-rise downtown office buildings are much fewer in number, affording a great view of the Bay and the Bay Bridge not so far to the east and Twin Peaks and Sutro Tower much further to the west. By now it was about eleven o’clock in the morning and the late July sun was just beginning to burn holes in the thick blanket of fog that had covered the City when I’d left the house. On a normal Monday I’d just be getting into the truck right now, ready to make the delivery to ABC. I fervently wished that I was doing just that, not because I enjoyed work so much, but because I wished with all my heart that it was a normal Monday. When I’d left the house this morning, Cookie, being the only one there, had demanded that I call her as soon as possible with information about Hemp, so I stopped at a pay phone on the corner, dropped in the dime and called home. She answered the phone before the first ring had even finished, indicating that she must have been sitting there waiting for my call all morning. “Well?” she asked after she had determined it was me, “what did you find out? What’s ~

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gonna happen to Hemp? What are we gonna do?” After I finally succeeded in slowing her down and getting her to listen, I gave her Hemp’s version of the events of Friday night. “I was too upset to do anything else down there,” I told her truthfully. “That place depresses the hell out of me at the best of times. So I’m gonna walk around a little, try to get my head together. Then tomorrow maybe I can find someone to tell me what they know about his case.” “Okay,” she said. “I guess you’re the boss, Stony. What time you coming home? It’s my turn to cook tonight, so what do you want?” “I dunno,” I said. I was pretty distracted, and only the sharpest pangs of hunger could make me think about food right now. “Whatever you make’s fine with me.” “Great!” She sounded enthusiastic for the first time in a couple of days. Cookie is a food person as you might have guessed. “I’ll make my specialty, pork adobo!” “Okay, I’ll be home by dinner time. If Moose and Carole beat me home, go ahead and fill them in. I don’t wanna repeat Hemp’s story any more than I have to.” We said our goodbyes and I hung up. Eleven in the morning, the sun getting stronger and brighter all the time through the increasing number of holes in the fog, the whole day stretching before me, on a Monday yet, and there was nothing I felt like doing, nowhere I felt like going, nothing I felt like seeing. I felt hollow, like a man who, even though he feels fine, has been told he has only a few months to live. I walked a few blocks down to Third Street and got on a northbound 30-Stockton, the so-called “Orient Express” because it runs through Chinatown. I got off at Union ~

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Square and walked around for a few minutes. I was obviously hoping to find The Hermit so I could unburden myself to him once again, and be told in words that I could believe that everything would turn out all right, both for Hemp and for me. But I could see no sign of the familiar tall, gaunt, outlandishly dressed eccentric that I had so recently come to know and love. I gave it a few more minutes and then, bitterly disappointed, I walked down toward Market Street, a plan hazily beginning to form in my mind. At Market I forced myself onto a packed 7-Haight bus going toward Stanyan and the eastern edge of Golden Gate Park. By the time the bus had crawled up Market, turned onto Haight and worked its way up the hill to Central, I had figured out what to do. I needed advice, I knew, but I also needed sympathy and understanding. So I got off the bus at Stanyan, the end of the line, and walked into the park, heading for Hippie Hill. By this time it was afternoon, and the fog had mostly retreated to the ocean side of Twin Peaks. The sun was hot and getting hotter, so I took off my fatigue shirt and tied it around my waist. When I reached Hippie Hill I was not disappointed. There, stretched out on an Indian blanket on the grass, Kia was lying on her back soaking up the sun. Huge dark sunglasses covered half her face, and the skimpy tie-dyed halter top and tight shorts she was wearing made her look at least ten years younger than she was, or about my age. It was funny—I’d known Kia, sort of, since my first summer in San Francisco, but I’d never seen her anywhere but here. And when I’d gone to the Park with Moose and Hemp, I’d always avoided Hippie Hill, as if I wanted to keep her a ~

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secret somehow. So as far as I knew, neither Moose nor Hemp had ever met her. As I approached, my shadow fell across her face. She raised her glasses and squinted up at me. “Stony, is that you?” she asked as she sat up and looked at me more carefully. “I haven’t seen you all summer. Something’s on your mind, isn’t it? Same girl as last fall?” “Yes and no,” I told her noncommittally as we fell into our old patterns of speech with each other. “Same girl, different problem.” “Want to tell me about it?” She asked this casually, but at that moment I felt a gush of emotion so strong it was like a dam bursting somewhere inside of me. It was all I could do to keep from sobbing out, “Yes, yes, I’ve got to tell someone about it, quickly, or I’m gonna die!” But I didn’t, I just looked at her for a moment. I had never realized how beautiful she was. It wasn’t the fresh, soap-scrubbed, youthful beauty of Carole, but a mature, ripe, fleshy, substantial quality that today, in my weakened condition, made her look good enough to eat. Her long dark brown curly hair seemed just the right shade to complement her deeply tanned face, chest, belly and thighs. Most people would say that she was maybe ten pounds overweight, but she was a big woman in every way, big boned, standing about five-ten, with strong muscular arms and legs. So on her the weight looked good. She was the type of woman I couldn’t imagine ever being skinny. “Yeah,” I told her when I could speak again. “I’d like very much to talk about it. But let’s do this right. I don’t feel like talking in front of all these people.” The Hill was crowded as usual. Even though it was Monday, it was the height of summer, the tourist season, and the weather was ~

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good. The blankets were spread so close together on the grass that you could hardly walk between them, each one inhabited by at least one body, sometimes two or three. Add to that an uncountable number of kids under eight years old, running, stumbling, or crawling around, together with a similar number of unleashed barking dogs, and you can understand why it didn’t seem to me to be the greatest place for a heart to heart. “Whatever you say.” She shrugged her shoulders, stood up and started gathering together her belongings and discardable trash. I folded up the blanket and placed it in a large old-fashioned wicker picnic hamper which was so heavy with food, books, blanket and assorted other items that it took a noticeable effort for me to lift it. She laughed, put on her straw hat, took the hamper from me and effortlessly hooked it over her left arm. I followed her as she walked toward the southeast end of the park, winding her way among the many twisting paths, always seeming to know the right one. “Where are we going?” I asked her in all innocence. She laughed again, a musical, girlish sort of laugh that seemed totally out of place in a woman of her sturdy peasant physique. “We’re going to my place,” she told me, as straightforwardly as if she were discussing the weather. “I suspect you have need of my professional services.” She stopped and looked at me seriously. “But it’ll cost you. This is the way I make my living, you know.” “How much?” “What’ve you got?” I checked my pockets and came up with a ten, a five, and a few crumpled singles. I held out the ten. “This enough?” ~

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She took it, folded it, and I swear to God, put it down her halter top into the valley between her mountainous breasts. “This’ll do just fine,” she assured me. We resumed walking and soon reached the corner of the park. “You’ve never been to my place, have you?” she remarked casually. I shook my head. “I allow very few people to visit me there. Only people I really know well, like you, or business clients I don’t know at all. It’s a small room and there’s not much space.” I told her I felt honored to be one of the chosen ones. Instead of laughing at this, she regarded me seriously again. “That’s exactly who you are, Stony,” she said in a thoughtful manner, almost to herself. By now we were walking east on Frederick, away from the park. After we had gone a couple of blocks she stopped and pointed to a huge, corner lot Victorian painted a striking dark blue with bright red and yellow trim. “See that room on the west side, third floor?” “You mean the one with all the windows?” She nodded. “That’s my room.” It was certainly impressive-looking from the outside. As I mentioned, it had a row of windows almost all the way around its circular wall and its separated, pointed, conical roof made it look like the turret of some medieval castle. “Come on,” she said. She led me up the front stairs and into the huge house. I found myself in a large room in which the few chairs and couches were supplemented by many large colorful pillows strewn seemingly at random on the bare unpolished wood floor. Several people, most of them about my age, were reclining comfortably on these ~

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pillows, drinking wine from the bottle and smoking joints. Kia ignored them as she led me up the stairs toward her room, and they took no notice of her. I supposed it was just another communal living situation, so common in big houses in the Haight, and made no comment on the scene. At the top of the stairs was a long dark hall which branched to the left and right. She turned to the right and walked all the way to the end, stopping before a blackpainted door which she opened with a small key she kept on a silver chain around her neck. As she opened the door we were greeted by a blast of hot air and a dazzling display of sunlight. She quickly went over to the windows and opened three or four of them, letting in a rush of cool afternoon breeze. Then she went over to one side of the wall of windows and pulled on a cord until a set of black drapes had completely covered the windows and closed at their center. The room was much cooler now and almost completely dark. As she went around lighting a series of red candles, I could begin to make out the details of the room, for it had been too bright and then too dark to see clearly. A large brass double bed covered with an oldfashioned patchwork quilt took up the right hand corner and easily a third of the room itself. To the left of the bed, in the other corner, was a black wooden table covered with a black velvet cloth. There were only two chairs around this table even though it was big enough for four or even six. She opened a door in the wall behind the table, a closet I supposed, took off her straw hat and tossed it inside. The picnic hamper followed it in and she closed the door again. “I wasn’t expecting anyone today, so I didn’t air ~

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the place out,” she apologized. “Is it cool enough for you now?” she inquired, sitting down at one end of the table and motioning for me to sit at the other end. She had placed two lit candles in the middle of the table, one on each side, to dispel the darkness. The breeze from the open windows was fluttering the closed drapes slightly and indeed it was becoming deliciously cool. “Yeah, it feels great,” I told her. “Good,” she replied, regarding me seriously with her dark, deep set eyes. “You’re my professional client now. You paid me, so you’re entitled to the type of service you want.” She opened a drawer in the table and pulled out a Chinese silk bag with a drawstring opening. “I’m going to read your cards, naturally, but you also said something about needing to talk.” She opened the silk bag and extracted from it a deck of tarot cards. “I could give you a cold reading right now to show you what a great psychic I am,” she gave me a sardonic grin, “but it’s your dime.” For the first time since I’d met her I felt the force of her personality. We’d always had a good casual relationship, passing sunny afternoons in the park, sharing a joint and a bottle of wine while I told her my petty problems and she dispensed goodhearted, if trivial, advice sprinkled with spiritual teachings and admonitions garnered piecemeal from a hundred different philosophies and religions. But this was different. I had never been alone with this woman before, and now I was here in her apartment, there were just the two of us, I was her “client”, and she was obviously expecting me to expect something from her. And I did. I desperately needed to talk. I told her as much. In response she got up and opened the door behind ~

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the table again, reached inside, closed the door again, and set down in front of me two ice cold bottles of Heineken and a church key. She uncapped one for me and then sat back down. “You may begin,” she intoned. I took a long swallow of the beer. I hadn’t realized how dry my throat had become, and I thought this bottle of ordinary beer to be the most delicious thing I had ever tasted. “All right, here goes,” I said, putting the bottle back down on the black velvet tablecloth. Then in a rush I told her everything that had happened to me in the last year: The strange circumstances under which I had met Carole, my growing love for her as our unorthodox and longdistance romance continued and the sweet satisfaction of the nearly two months of blissful life together. I told her about Hemp, and meeting The Hermit and Dr. Montague Winter in the secret room behind the stage at the Towne Hall Metaphysical Book Store. And finally I told her about the tape—the tape with my voice on it and what might or might not have been my other voice—the older voice that claimed to be me as a lonely, sick old man of fifty. When I had completely finished I felt like a deflated balloon. I sagged in the chair and chugged the rest of the bottle of Heineken, noticing but not caring that by now it was considerably warmer than it had been. Kia said nothing but looked at me for a long time, frowning under furrowed brows. Then she began dealing out the tarot cards in some pattern known only to her, each card face up. Every now and then, at the revelation of a new card, she stopped and muttered something under her breath which I was unable to understand. After she had dealt about twelve or so cards she stopped and looked at me again with that same hard penetrating expression. I ~

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kept my mouth shut and waited for her to speak. “Stony,” she finally said, “it is quite possible that there are things going on here that I don’t understand.” She muttered again at the tarot cards and then turned to me once more. “This person you met, The Hermit. You’ve never mentioned him to anyone else before now, have you?” I admitted that I had not. “And you’ve always been alone when you’ve run into him, right?” I nodded. “Don’t you think it’s odd,” she continued, getting up from the table and standing over me, “that although he was there waiting for you in Union Square after midnight on Friday, he was nowhere to be seen at midday Monday?” She had unconsciously taken on the manner of a lawyer in court, a manner so out of character with her usual personality that under less serious circumstances I would have laughed. “I agree that it’s odd,” I said, opening the other beer and offering it to her. “But then the whole thing’s odd, from beginning to end.” She waved away my offer of beer and continued in the same serious vein. “But the most curious thing is this—I know almost all the ‘spiritual’ people in the Bay Area, all the way from Werner Erhardt and his EST Seminars, to that guy Tony whatshisname who runs the MoreHouses, all the way down to Brother Joseph with his sandwich board of fundamentalist Bible quotations, not to mention most of the megaphone evangelists at 16th and Mission. The point is, not only have I never heard of anyone called ‘The Hermit’, I happen to know quite well the guy who owns the Towne Hall Metaphysical Book Store. His name is Tobias ~

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Somerset, and he’s a big guy with a white beard, sort of reminds you of Walt Whitman.” She paused to think for a moment. “But the strangest thing is that voice on the tape. Ordinarily I’d dismiss it as some kind of fake, the stuff phony spiritualists use to part the suckers from their money. But according to the cards, as well as every psychic bone in my body, it’s all real, a genuine message from beyond.” “But how can that be?” I was feeling totally confused now. “First you say The Hermit and Dr. Winter aren’t real—or at the very least not who they say they are. But then you turn around and practically tell me to believe in them, that everything they said and did is true.” “I don’t know,” she replied. “But look at it this way. We all know what possession is—even if we don’t believe in it.” “Sure,” I said. “A dead spirit takes over a living person for its own purposes.” She grinned a little at that. “Close enough for rock ‘n’ roll, Stony. And then we also know about mediums—people who can receive messages from the spirit world and pass them on to the living.” She came over and put her hand on my shoulder, and her voice was full of sympathy. “No matter how weird and hard to believe this seems, you seem to be acting as your own medium. But only when you’re in a hypnotic state, like there’s only room for one of you at a time. That’s why the tape recorder, to make you believe, so that you wouldn’t just think they were giving you a bunch of bull. And think about it, they didn’t ask for anything in return—not money, not even for you to act in a specific way, if I heard you correctly. It’s like telling you to vote your conscience.” ~

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She looked at the cards again. “But there’s more to it than just your not abandoning your friend.” She gave the cards another close scrutiny. “When I lay out the cards for a basic reading, the identity of the client is reflected in three different cards. This one,” she pointed to the first card she had dealt, now covered by two others, in the center of the layout. “And these two.” She indicated the first and last of a row of four to her left. “In other words, these cards are all supposed to be you—the first one, your basic self before all this started happening, the second as you are right now, and the third as you will be after all this is over. We call this last one the Final Outcome. Now look at those three cards. See anything unusual?” I looked closely at the cards. “I don’t know,” I shrugged my shoulders. “They’re all different?” She gave me a patient smile. “Of course they’re all different, Stony. You can’t deal the same card twice. What else?” I looked again. The picture on each of the three cards was that of a man alone. I read aloud the words on each card: “Page of Cups, Hanged Man, Knight of Swords.” “Right,” she nodded. “All masculine and all Court Cards or Major Arcana. That alone shows that this is a true and powerful reading. The first, Page of Cups, shows your basic nature up until this situation occurred: young, pleasure-seeking, basically a happy person.” I couldn’t argue with that. Pleasure seeker? Yeah, I guessed that pretty much described not only me but Moose, Hemp, hell, practically anybody our age that had ever been drafted or stayed in school to avoid the draft. We weren’t big fans of the serious, responsible, dull lifestyle of our parents’ generation. ~

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“The Hanged Man,” she continued, “shows not only your ambivalence toward helping your friend, but also your psychic split between your present and future selves. And the final card, the Knight of Swords, shows a skilled man of action, someone who seeks out problems rather than avoiding them, and never shies away from a good fight.” I shook my head. “That’s sure not me,” I protested. “Exactly!” She pointed a finger at me. “In order to solve this problem, to win this fight, you have to become someone other than who you are right now.” She went over and lay down on the bed and yawned suddenly. “So my advice—the advice you paid for--is simply this: Believe the tape, Stony! Not only do you have to try to rescue your friend Hemp for his sake, but for your own—so you won’t become that miserable old man. As to whether you succeed, I don’t know. Maybe the attempt is enough.” I nodded my head silently. At least I felt a little less confused now. I looked at her lying there on the bed in the soft candlelight. She was still wearing only the halter top and shorts. The soft breeze fluttering the curtains and casting shifting patterns of late afternoon sunshine on the hardwood floor inexplicably made me think of motel rooms and secret afternoon trysts. She must have caught the look on my face because she smiled a very different smile now, soft and infinitely sweet, as she began to slowly unfasten the halter top, freeing her ample breasts. “Let it all go, Stony,” she whispered to me. Somehow I was standing over her, not remembering having crossed the room, my hands beginning of their own accord to pull my t-shirt over my head. She had removed her top and was now slowly sliding her shorts down toward her ankles, proving undeniably ~

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that those were her only two items of clothing. She was still smiling that sweet smile, the one that made me think that this was the most natural thing in the world. I finished pulling my shirt over my head, sat down on the bed beside her and took off my boots and socks. I stood up again and looked down at her completely naked body. Her expression took on a more urgent look as she got up on her knees and pulled my jeans down to my feet. I stepped out of them as she repeated the process with my Fruit of the Looms. She lay back down, holding out her arms invitingly and making strange catlike purrings in her throat. I suddenly felt like I was going to explode; I jumped onto her and began fucking her hard, wildly, almost savagely. At first she seemed surprised at my hunger, but responded quickly by pumping her muscular thighs in a rhythm that soon matched my own. Within a few minutes it was over. I tumbled off her and sprawled exhausted on the sweatsoaked quilt. The coolness of the breezed wafting into the room soon dried our bodies, and I lay there peacefully beside her for a few minutes more, listening to the birds chirping above the general hum of the street noises at rush hour. I should just be getting off work, I thought absurdly. I leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. “Thank you,” I murmured into her ear. “My pleasure.” She sat up and began to dress again as if nothing had happened. “All part of the service. I think you really needed that, Stony, though I must say I didn’t think you had it in you.” No, I had it in you, I almost giggled, but “Neither did I,” was my modest reply. I got up and pulled on my pants. What had just happened here? Strangely, I felt no guilt, ~

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only the release of a pressure I hadn’t even been aware of feeling. “Now, hurry up and finish dressing,” she scolded me. “I’ve got a client coming in at six.” “Is this gonna be part of his service, too?” I said before I could stop myself. My voice was playful but there was just a tinge of sadness and jealousy in it. “No, of course not!” She hit me with a pillow. “You know I’m not that kind of a girl.” She came over and kissed me on the lips as I finished putting on my boots. “But seriously, Stony, good luck with everything. Hope I helped.” “Oh, you did,” I told her, pulling on my shirt and tucking it in. She walked me over to the door and shut it behind me, leaving me to make my own way down the stairs and out of the house. The same people were in more or less the same places downstairs doing more or less the same things. They took no more notice of me than they had upon my arrival. I walked out of the house into the still-bright late afternoon sunshine. I blinked my eyes a few times to adjust them to the brightness. I felt at once peaceful and filled with purpose as I headed back toward Haight Street and home. On the bus going home I tried to get a perspective on things. Lately my days just seemed to be getting weirder. I ticked the points off on my fingers. In the last two months I had: finally gotten a chance, after half a year and more of lonesome longing, to live with the girl I loved, even if it might only be for the summer; received a midnight phone call from one of my best friends informing me that he was being held for murder; that same night having the highly ~

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improbable meeting with The Hermit and the enigmatic Dr. Winter and hearing the beyond-the-grave-like tape recorded message imploring me to do the right thing (worst of all the message seemed to be from me, or my future self at least); and finally, spent one of the strangest afternoons of my life with Kia, of all people, in which I learned that: 1) The tape recorded message was likely true; 2) the Hermit and Dr. Winter were both very likely figments of my imagination, or at the very least some kind of unearthly presence which only I could see and hear; 3) in order to solve the problem of Hemp’s arrest I was going to have to become something other than myself; and 4) Sometimes animal lust wasn’t such a bad thing after all. By the time I had transferred to the 24-Divisadero and had crossed Market Street, I found myself dwelling on item three; everything else was a done deal, no matter how strange or inexplicable it might seem. I had to deal with present events now and, as Kia (and her trusty tarot cards) had pointed out, in a very different way. But as the bus crossed 18th Street and was starting up the hill for home, I found my thoughts irresistibly straying to item four. Even though I walked in the door before six o’clock, not much later than I would’ve been if I’d gone to work, I found the other three members of our company silently sitting around the dining table. As soon as I walked into the room they all looked at me with expressions mingled with relief, irritation and expectancy. Cookie, not unexpectedly, was the first to speak. With no formalities whatsoever she blurted out, “Well, Stony, what did you find out?” I was taken slightly aback at her bluntness, but I sat down at the table and told them everything I recalled from ~

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my talk with Hemp at the Hall of Justice. “So this is what I’ve decided. There’s gotta be one person in charge of this case, you know, a detective in Homicide or something. Tomorrow I’m gonna find out who he is and get him to tell me what the police know.” Then Moose voiced the question that was on everybody’s mind. “Do you think he did it, Stony?” he inquired in as small a voice as I’d ever heard from him. “No, of course not, Moose. But that’s why we’ve all got to stick together, to try to find out what really happened,” I tried to reassure him but Cookie cut in. “But that’s the problem, Stony. Do you think you’re just gonna be able to casually walk in to see this detective and sit down, maybe have a nice cup of tea or something, and have him tell you all the evidence against Hemp? Maybe ask your opinion about it? No way!” “I hadn’t thought of that,” I admitted. “But somehow we’ve got to find out why they think he did it. I’m certainly open to suggestions.” I desperately wanted to change the subject so I turned to Carole who had been sitting there patiently listening to the three of us. “What about you, Carole? Did you learn anything down at the paper?” “Not a great deal. At the Examiner it’s being treated as a relatively small story for a murder, at least so far, probably because neither the victim nor the suspect is wellknown to the general public and the circumstances aren’t particularly sensational. There was a modest piece on page five today, the usual two paragraph dispassionate reporting job. Who, what, when, where, how—that sort of thing. No speculation as to why—they save that for the celebrity suspects and victims.” She said this in a sort of matter of fact but sardonic voice I’d never heard her use before. “Two ~

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things I can tell you,” she continued. “First, according to the medical examiner, death was caused by a gunshot wound to the heart. There was no evidence at all that it might have been self-inflicted. And second (this is just office gossip, but it makes sense), the cops think they’ve got such an open and shut case against Hemp that they not only arrested and charged him with murder on the spot (which I understand is rare in these cases), but they didn’t even conduct any kind of a search of the premises. So,” she concluded, “if there is any evidence that either Hemp didn’t do it, or somebody else did it, it must be still there, even after three days.” “Then we’ve got to go over there and find out!” exclaimed Moose, jumping up from his chair ready for action. “Whoa, hold on, big guy!” Cookie grabbed him by the shoulder. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.” Moose reluctantly nodded his head and sat back down. Then Cookie stood up and leaned over the table, looking at each of us earnestly. “While Carole was talking, I was doing some thinking. Stony, you’re right when you say we’ve got to find out what the police know. And Moose, you’re right in saying we’ve got to do some investigating because the police aren’t going to do it for us. So I’ve been sitting here asking myself—how? In order to get any information we’d have to be representing Hemp in some way—some professional capacity. Like be his lawyer or something. But they’d find us out in a minute, check our credentials before we even got started. And then it hit me!” She banged her fist down enthusiastically on the table. We all jumped at that, even Moose. “I didn’t watch all those cop shows on TV for nothing, it turns out. Stony, Moose, you ~

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guys are army veterans, right?” “Of course,” I shrugged. “I put in four years, Moose two. Service in ‘Nam, promotions, honorable discharges. Hemp, too, for that matter. You know. We’ve bored you with war stories often enough. So what’s your point?” “My point is,” she replied evenly, a triumphant gleam in her eye, “I did some thinking, like I say. And I seem to recall that in the last few years, with all the guys coming back from ‘Nam it’s hard for them to find work. Except,” she held up two fingers, “in two areas. One is security guards and that’s no help. But the other is…” she waved her hands at us expectantly as if we were playing charades. “Come on, Cookie,” Moose had a puzzled look on his face. “Out with it. We don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.” She punched Moose in the shoulder, her normal way of expressing to him any strong emotion from irritation to delight. “Private investigators, you big ox! If you guys become private eyes then Hemp could hire you and you’d be able to talk to the cops and even check out the murder scene! Well, what do you guys think? Is that a brilliant idea or what?” Moose and I were stunned into silence as we both contemplated the possibilities. “Well I, for one, think Cookie’s got a great idea,” Carole exclaimed, looking at us for support. And then it struck me what Kia had said—what the cards had said. I had to become somebody else—a somebody I wanted to be, so I wouldn’t end up as a somebody I didn’t want to be—like the Judge on the tape. It seemed to me now that this was why I had thought so often during the past year that I was just drifting through life, ~

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vaguely discontented when I should have been having, and probably was having, the time of my life. I thought about my job—did I want to be a glorified clerk and delivery boy all my life? I saw no real chance for advancement there. I had talked my way into two weeks off with pay, but at the end of that time I could either go back to work as if nothing had happened—or by that time I would already be somebody else. “Okay,” I said finally, “I’ll do it! I’ll be the best damn private eye you girls ever saw!” I looked at Moose. “But only if the big guy here is willing to be my partner.” “Haven’t I always been?” Moose asked me softly and sincerely. “You know it, Moose!” I cried out and grabbed his hand tightly. “Then it’s settled,” said Cookie. “And I’ve got just the name for you—Jake Stone, Private Eye!” “I like that!” I told her. “I can see our office door now—Stone & McCullough, Private Investigators!” Carole enthusiastically agreed and threw her arms around my neck. “Wow! Just think, I’m a private dick’s girl!” She gave a little giggle. I put my arm around her shoulder proprietarily. “You better believe it, shweetheart!” I Bogarted out of the corner of my mouth. “Now that we’re such big shot private eyes,” remarked Moose, “how come I’m starving to death? When do we eat, Cookie?” “Pork adobo’s almost ready, I’ll go throw some rice in the cooker. Fifteen minutes.” She hurried into the kitchen and came back out with four Anchor Steam beers, uncapped them and passed one to each of us. “To Stone & ~

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McCullough!” she offered, raising her bottle. We all drank. “To Hemp!” Moose offered, but more seriously. “Let’s not forget why we’re doing this.” We all murmured our agreement and drank again. For the first time in three days we felt good about something. 4.

“Y

ou aren’t having second thoughts, are you?” Carole asked me. It was the next morning about eight-thirty and we were sitting alone at the dining table. Moose had already gone to work and Cookie, who liked to sleep late, was still in their bedroom. We were drinking our coffee and eating the whole grain muffins Carole had picked up at the Natural Foods Store on 24th while I was showering and dressing. She had apparently noticed the absence of my usual sparkling breakfast conversation. “Huh? No, I’m just thinking about what I have to do today. First, go down to City Hall and check on PI licenses. Then go over and try to see Hemp again, maybe there’s some stuff he didn’t have time to tell me yesterday. Finally, and most important, try to get in to see the case detective, or at least the investigating cops.” “That sounds like a good plan, Stony.” She sounded relieved. “I was worried that last night was, well, you know, just some kind of macho fantasy.” “No, I’ve been thinking it over ever since Cookie came up with the idea. It sounds perfect. And to show you how serious I am, Moose and I are changing our lifestyles starting today. No more pot, no more hard liquor till Hemp walks out of jail a free man. And not all that much beer ~

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either. And you can quote me on that. From now on, no more Stony, call me Jake. Jake Stone!” Then I gave her a big kiss and left to catch the streetcar down to City Hall. Applying for a PI license proved to be ridiculously easy once I showed them my honorable discharge from the army as a lieutenant. Apparently in the last few years, vets had been clogging up the unemployment offices, not to mention the welfare rolls, when they couldn’t find work. Many of them were too screwed up on drugs, alcohol, or various war-related psychological problems to even do a decent day’s work if they got a job. So the word had come down from the mayor to give vets a preference in all city jobs—from the bureaucratic clerkships on down to sweeping the streets. Also welcoming vets with open arms were the police and fire departments. But the best thing was that the weapons training and experience vets like me had received in the army automatically qualified them for a PI license or security guard position and a weapons permit besides. So I filled out the one-page application form, paid the fifty-dollar fee and agreed to the three-day waiting period to confirm I had no criminal record. In the meantime they issued me a temporary license. The whole process was quicker and easier than renewing my drivers license at the DMV. About noon I called Moose on the phone at his construction site (Cookie had given me his number last night) and told him how easy it had been. He said he thought he could take off about three and go through the process himself. I wished him good luck and hung up. Then I went down to the Hall of Justice, my temporary license in my pocket within easy reach. Once I ~

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could get Hemp to officially hire me (for the nominal sum of one dollar) there was no way the cops could refuse to talk to me or let me talk to Hemp. After cooling my heels in the holding area for over an hour, I was finally allowed to talk to Hemp. He seemed in reasonably good spirits considering his circumstances, but when I told him my plan and showed him my PI card, he was just about bowled over. “Wow, Stony man!” was all he could say for at least a minute. Then: “You’re just about the most loyal friend a guy ever had!” He put his palm on the wire mesh and I did likewise, the prison version of a high five. “I’ve been doin’ a lot of thinking the past few days, that’s one thing this place is good for,” he confided in a low voice. “And I know I haven’t always been the best of roommates or even a very good friend to you and Moose sometimes, I guess. But I promise you, if you guys can get me outa this somehow, I’m goin’ straight. No more dope dealing. Gonna get a real job. Settle down. What do you think of that, Stony?” He was clearly looking for my approval, so I gave it to him wholeheartedly. “Come on, Hemp, we’ve had some great times together, and it’s been a blast having the dope around all the time. But it’s time we grew up, you and me, and even Moose. Hell, Moose and I have women now, and that means responsibilities. I’m not gonna put any pressure on you, though. It’s your life, man, and you can do what you like. Me and Moose will always care about you, you know?” We would have hugged if the screen hadn’t been in the way. Instead the guard came over to break up the love fest. Hurriedly Hemp promised to think as hard as he could about Friday night, painful as it was, to see if he could ~

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remember anything he hadn’t told me. I promised to visit him again in the next couple of days and then the guards led him out again. So I went back out to the front desk and asked the sergeant if I could speak to the detective in charge of Hemp’s case. I was pissed to discover that he worked out of the Northern Station up on Fillmore, a good half hour’s bus ride from here. Oh well, part of the job, I told myself sternly. It was after three before I finally got to see the detective, a Lieutenant Bradshaw. From the moment I had entered the station I had been shuttled around from office to office by the desk sergeant. The procedure was always the same: the officer would ask me who I was and what I wanted with Lieutenant Bradshaw. Then he would check my ID and my new temporary PI credentials, then make a series of phone calls, ostensibly to try to locate Bradshaw for me, but actually (from what I managed to overhear) to check up on me. Then after a time the officer would apologize and send me to a different office where I was sure to find Bradshaw, but where another officer would repeat the aforementioned procedure. After about four or five repetitions of this particular brand of bureaucratic runaround I was pissed as hell and ready to give up my search for the seemingly mythical Bradshaw. However, after better than an hour of this treatment, they seemed to have run out officers and offices, for I was at last ushered into a tiny third-floor office. The name painted on the glass office door was “Lt. Bill Bradshaw, Homicide Div.” Bradshaw himself turned out to be a stocky middleaged man with practically no neck and even less hair. Every ~

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fiber of his body seemed to exude the kind of straight, nononsense authoritarian uptight vibes that the members of my generation so mistrusted. Looking at him in his cheap but neat business suit, white shirt and carefully knotted narrow tie, I couldn’t help but think: this is the kind of guy who got us into Vietnam; this is the kind of guy who would have ruthlessly suppressed any opposition to the war in the name of patriotism; this, in short, was my father, only younger and in a much more blatant position of authority. When I entered his office, Bradshaw was leaning back in his swivel chair, feet up on his desk, reading the sports section of the afternoon newspaper. When he heard the door close behind me he folded up his paper, placed it in a desk drawer, and regarded me with some interest. “So you’re the kid with the new PI license, huh!” he stated rather than asked, in a voice that could have come from a B-movie heavy. I couldn’t help thinking that the only thing missing from his thug-like demeanor was a short fat cigar between his clenched teeth. I admitted that I was, indeed, the new kid on the block. “Is that so, kid? Siddown, siddown and take a load off.” He pointed to one of the gray metal army surplus chairs facing his desk. When I had done so without comment, he continued. “Now, what can I do for you, kid? Is this somethin’ about the other kid we just pulled in for murder?” I nodded in the affirmative, forcing myself to be calm and polite. There was something menacing in Bradshaw’s genial but casual attitude, as if he knew he was in absolute control of the situation. “My name’s Jake, if you don’t mind, Lieutenant, Jake ~

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Stone,” I told him, trying to keep my voice neutral. He waved this away with the back of his hand. “Yeah, kid, I know that already. Four of my guys already checked you out, everything from City Hall, to FBI, to military. It appears you’re clean and legit. But can I ask you a question, kid?” This last sentence was said more earnestly, as he leaned across his desk and folded his hands in front of him. “What’s that, Lieutenant?” “Well, it’s just that when my boys were checking you out, they ran across your military record. First Lieutenant, served four years, one tour of ‘Nam, enlisted voluntarily. So with all that, how come you gotta look like this?” He pointed his finger reproachfully at my unkempt curly shoulder-length hair, my bushy mustache, fatigue shirt unbuttoned over black t-shirt, worn patched jeans, and scuffed boots. “I mean, I expect this ‘counterculture’ look from the draftees, but hell, kid, you were an officer like me. I can understand your not wantin’ to stick with it, especially the way those idiots in Washington were hamstringing our boys over there. But where the hell’s your pride, man?” I looked him in the eye and answered stiffly, “You wear your uniform, sir, and I’ll wear mine. They both stand for the things we believe in.” He stared at me for a moment, as if unsure how to react to that. Then he laughed and pounded his desk blotter with one huge fist. “One thing I gotta say about you, kid, at least you got a sense of humor.” He pulled himself together and then became more serious. “All right, all right, no more personal stuff. It’s your turn, kid. What did you come to see me about?” I took a deep breath and began. “Friday night you ~

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arrested a friend of mine and charged him with murder. But by the time I got a chance to see him and speak to him, it was already Monday morning and he had already been arraigned. Since he can’t afford to hire an expensive lawyer, he had to settle for a public defender who seems to think his only option is to plead to a lesser charge. So he hired me to try to prove he didn’t do it.” I looked at Bradshaw earnestly and began to speak with more passion. “I know my friend, sir, and he wouldn’t kill anyone, let alone the girl he loved…” Bradshaw interrupted me. “Whoa, back up a minute! Are you tryin’ to tell me that this kid…” “Hemp,” I supplied. “…that this kid was in love with the murder victim?” “Sure. He’d been seeing her secretly for months, whenever he could.” “Hmm,” he muttered to himself. I could see the wheels turning in Bradshaw’s head. They were rusty from disuse, but now they were beginning to turn nonetheless. It struck me that no one had really questioned Hemp very carefully, or even let him speak, except to answer their specific questions. Either that or he must have, for some unfathomable reason, not wanted the cops to know about his relationship with Mimi. “Uh, Lieutenant Bradshaw?” I prompted. He gave me a look of annoyance, but it was unclear as to whether he was more annoyed at me, himself, or the inconvenient evidence that had just surfaced. “Look, kid,” he told me, not unkindly, “we’re gonna have to check this out.” He got up and went over to a little window with a grimy pane that looked out onto Fillmore Street. “When we found him lyin’ there on the floor with the murder weapon ~

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in his hand, I thought we had an open and shut case. No sign of anyone else bein’ in the place that we could determine, no forced entry. Your boy looked like he’d passed out, maybe from a combination of the shock of killin’ her and too much drugs or drink.” “Did you question him at all?” I ventured, since the lieutenant seemed to be in a much more forthcoming mood. At that he turned away from the window and glared at me. “Damn right we questioned him, kid! Whaddaya think we are, amateurs? Sergeant Tomlin questioned him and then I questioned him myself. Neither of us could get much out of him except he kept sayin’ he didn’t do it. I wasn’t expectin’ a confession—mosta these guys say they didn’t do it, whether they’re guilty or not. But I didn’t think we’d need one, not with the evidence against him bein’ so overwhelming.” His voice had softened and become more thoughtful. “Now you tell me he loved this girl. Look, I’m not prepared at this time to give away any secrets, but now that you’ve given me something to think about, let me just say that this murder, this ain’t exactly an isolated thing. We believe that there’s a lot more here than meets the eye. I’m gonna do some checkin’, kid. We got less than two weeks before the trial and I wanna be sure about this case.” Then abruptly he was showing me out the door, saying, “Thanks, kid, I appreciate your coming in. I’ll call you in a week or so, soon’s I find out a few things. Leave your name and number with the desk sergeant downstairs.” And with that he pushed me out into the hall and shut the door in my face. ~ ~~ When I got home that afternoon at around four, ~

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Cookie was the only one there. She explained in a quick and businesslike manner that Moose and Carole were still at work but were expected home in about an hour, that there had been no phone calls of interest to Stone & McCullough, ditto the mail, and dinner was at seven. Then she handed me a beer, telling me to take my can into the living room, as she was busy with dinner. I said ha, ha and did as I was told. I turned on the TV and half watched a Beverly Hillbillies rerun and then an Andy Griffith rerun, but couldn’t really get interested in either. That was Channel 44 for you—quality programming all the time. Instead I thought about how Cookie had just greeted me. She was proving invaluable not only to our household, but to our fledgling in-name-only business as well. Not only did she cook most of the time and do most of the shopping, she did all the cleaning and laundry without complaint. And now in the last few days, she seemed intent on proving her worth as secretary to a private eye who had been on the case for exactly one day. But it had worked; it had somehow made me feel more professional. This led me into a mental recap of what I’d done that day—mainly the search for and eventual meeting with Bradshaw. Something was just beginning to form at the back of my mind when Carole walked in and I lost it. I jumped up and turned off the TV while she took off her coast and hung it up. I asked her if she wanted a beer, but she politely declined. I patted the couch and she sat down beside me and gave me a pro forma kiss, the one that means I love you, but I’m not in a romantic mood right now. I’d become secure enough with her for the past several weeks to shrug it off and simply ask her about her ~

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day which she said was a normal one. Nothing new on the Mimi Murder Case as we called it. She had talked to the Examiner’s police reporter and it was his opinion that it was as routine a case as a murder could ever be—unknown victim, unknown assailant, absence of sexual assault, hence nothing of interest to the public. The cops weren’t talking; they seemed to be sure of their arrest and of having the evidence necessary for a conviction. “All in all,” she concluded, “it doesn’t look good for Hemp. Did you get anything useful out of that detective? Did you even get to see him?” So I told her about my day, my difficulty in locating Lieutenant Bradshaw, and our conversation in general, including his strange reaction when I told him that Mimi and Hemp were lovers. She frowned at that and without a word got up and went out into the kitchen, returning immediately with a surprised Cookie in tow. They both sat down on the couch beside me and then Carole gave me one of those looks. “Tell Cookie what you just told me,” she commanded. So I told Cookie the Bradshaw story, this time cutting out most of the nonessentials. When I was finished Carole turned to Cookie. “Now why do you think Bradshaw would be surprised to find out that Hemp and Mimi were lovers? You’d think he would have expected it. Happens all the time, right? Guy catches girl cheating on him, gets really pissed and blows her away.” “Yeah,” she agreed. “At least on TV and in the movies.” “You’re pretty good with this stuff,” Carole persisted. “What do you think it means?” ~

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I was beginning to get a little irritated at being excluded from this conversation. “Hey, come on, girls, I’m supposed to be the PI here, you know!” They both smiled at me sweetly, as if to a four-year old who was trying to act grown up. “You’ve had your chance to figure it out, Jake,” Carole explained patiently. “Now let Cookie have a crack at it.” I folded my arms and looked at her expectantly. “Well,” she said, frowning with concentration. “Let’s look at the facts. Any murderer has to have three things— method, opportunity and motive. Now in Hemp’s case the first two are obvious—he was found at the scene of the crime. But the third, motive, well, any good cop wants to establish all three in order to avoid the accusation of acting merely on circumstantial evidence. So on the surface, you’d think Jake here had supplied Bradshaw with the perfect motive—jealousy.” “I dunno,” I put in, wanting to say something at least. “There could be lots of other motives.” “Name one,” demanded Carole. It was good to see the girls were on my side. “Well, I dunno,” I said again. “How about burglary?” “Ha!” retorted Cookie. “Most burglars try to make sure the place is empty before they break in. A small apartment like that, it would be hard not to notice that someone was there. And Bradshaw told you there was no forced entry.” “Besides,” Carole informed me more gently. “Burglars don’t often get so loaded they pass out on the floor after they’ve shot and killed someone without finding anything to steal.” “Okay,” I said. “So what do you guys think it means?” “I think I’ve got it!” cried out Cookie. “It’s not much to ~

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go on, but it’s the only thing possible! Follow me on this: One, Bradshaw charges Hemp with murder right away, without really questioning him that much. That means he thinks he knows what went down and why. Obviously, the jealousy angle doesn’t fit into his model. So now he starts rethinking his assumptions.” “I think I see what you mean, Cookie.” I was interested now. “What did Bradshaw think was Hemp’s motive if it wasn’t personal jealousy or impersonal breaking and entering?” “I don’t know,” Cookie confessed. “But that’s what you big shot detectives have got to find out!” “Find out what?” asked Moose who had quietly come in the door. We had been so intent in our conversation we hadn’t heard him enter. Cookie jumped up and ran over to Moose and grabbed him around the waist, remarkably like a young child might grab her father. “This is detective business, big PI lug,” she informed him. “Jake, tell Moose the whole thing.” “Okay, but I’m getting really tired of repeating this story,” I complained. So after Moose had gotten a beer and settled himself in his chair I went through it all again, this time being able to get to the finish, the part about Bradshaw taking my name and number and saying he’d call me later. Carole shook her head disapprovingly at this. “Now that’s where you blew it, Jake,” she informed me, a trace of pity in her voice. “Whaddaya mean blew it?” I was totally bewildered. “What name and number did you give him?” she asked patiently. “Well, my name and this number. They’re all I’ve got!” ~

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“You see,” Cookie put in, “no self-respecting homicide lieutenant is going to have any respect for a private eye who’s so cheap he works out of his home!” “I couldn’t agree more,” said Carole. They both looked at me. “What are you saying? Are you saying it’s not enough I go spend a perfectly good fifty bucks on a PI license, but now I’ve got to get an office, too?” “Yeah,” said Cookie. “With a phone.” “And get business cards printed,” urged Carole. “That’s okay, I’ll take care of that. ‘Stone & McCullough, Confidential Investigations—Reasonable Rates.’ How does that sound?” I threw my hands up in the air, resigned to my fate. “Whatever you think best,” I told her. “Great! I’ll put in a rush order on my lunch hour tomorrow. I know this great little print shop just down the street from the paper. We’ll have them before the end of the week.” I put a hand up. “I just thought of something. What do we use for money?” That brought them back down to earth. “I mean, we’re doing okay for living expenses here right now. But you’re talking about extra expenses here with no extra income.” “That is a problem,” Carole agreed. “I don’t think I can get much out of my folks. They weren’t too thrilled about me living here in Sin City for the summer anyway.” “My folks won’t cough up unless I go back to school,” said Cookie. “I told you how pissed they were when I finally had to tell them I dropped out.” I pricked up my ears at that. “Cookie,” I told her, a big ~

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smile on my face. “You’ve just given me a great idea! I’m going to call my parents. I haven’t been home in almost three years, ever since I got out of the army. So they ought to be glad enough to hear from me to cough up some big bucks.” “What for?” asked Moose. I grinned at him. “I’m going to tell them that their son is about to become a law student!” 5.

T

he next day, Wednesday, at about noon I was already hanging around outside the Western Union office at Grant and Market, waiting for money from home. I had succeeded in convincing my parents of my reformed character and noble ambitions. I had made up some story about needing to pay the university authorities as soon as possible, and my father had been so glad to hear about my academic aspirations that he’d offered to wire the money to me immediately without my even asking. So, as Massachusetts is three hours ahead of San Francisco, the normal 3:00 bank closing there is noon here. Thus, I could expect it to arrive very soon. I wasn’t alone. Although the weather was cool and mostly foggy, it was the middle of summer, and in addition to the usual crowd of perpetually broke hippies waiting hopefully for a few bucks from easily-conned relatives was a group of more affluent backpackers, foreign tourists, etc, who had met with some mishap or had merely miscalculated and had run out of money. These various types of impecunious people combined to form a line that stretched out the door and around the corner and which ~

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bore a strange resemblance to the line we had stood and squatted in to see the Dead the previous New Year’s Eve. The same joints and cheap bottles of wine were being passed around to which the cops who were driving by on Market every few minutes turned a blind eye, demanding only that the gathering continue to be a peaceful one. The Western Union employees were all veterans of scenes like this; in order to prevent each and every member of the lengthy line from fighting their way up to the pay window every ten or fifteen minutes to inquire if their money had arrived, a system had been instituted in which one young employee was stationed at the outer door. When he received word that money had been received, he would loudly call out the name of the lucky individual, and if that person responded, he would check ID and, if satisfied, personally escort the winner to the pay window. Other than that, no one who wasn’t sending a telegram or money would be allowed inside. So I waited there on the sidewalk with the others, occasionally taking a hit or two off a passing joint just to be sociable, listening to the names being announced every few minutes or so. After about half an hour, I was gratified to hear “Stoneham, Jacob!” being bellowed by the young Western Union fellow. “That’s me, man!” I told him and showed him my driver’s license. Satisfied he led me up to the window. The paymaster behind the glass began counting out twenty, fifty and hundred dollar bills. Each time he put another one on the pile, the more astonished I became. You see, my father and I hadn’t really discussed any particular sum over the phone, and I’d assumed he’d send me enough to tide me over—hopefully several hundred. So I was completely bowled over when the man ~

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stopped putting bills on the now thick pile and said finally “…four thousand nine hundred, five thousand dollars. You want to count it?” “No, no,” I stammered. “That’ll be just fine.” Embarrassed, I started grabbing handfuls of bills and shoving them into every pocket my clothes contained—even the two breast pockets of my fatigue shirt. I felt like everyone was staring at me. The paymaster pretended not to notice my discomfort and waved a sheet of paper at me which I signed. He looked at it, nodded his head and said, “Very good, Mr. Stoneham. And here’s a message from the sender.” He waved another piece of paper at me. Silently I took it and self-consciously walked out the door, my pockets bulging with money. I expected to be mugged any minute, but the impoverished crowd on the sidewalk out front either didn’t notice me or were too drunk or stoned to make the effort. Thank God my bank was just around the corner! After I’d deposited most of the cash in the Wells Fargo branch on Grant, I finally looked at the wire from my father. It read: “Hope this will get you started on your law career. Call if you need more. Hope to see you at Xmas. Love, Your Dad.” The first thing I did after leaving the bank was to jump on a 30-Stockton bus going south of Market to where Moose was laboring away at his construction site. I had to look around for several minutes before I spotted him by the curly red fringe of hair sticking out from under his hard hat. He was about five stories up the iron skeleton of a building, legs straddling a girder and busily riveting other ~

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girders together. “Hey, Moose!” I yelled up to him at the top of my lungs. After about three tries he finally heard me and looked down and waved. I motioned for him to come down, and he scrambled down a rope and dropped lightly to the ground. “What’s up, Stony?” he asked. I told him about the five thousand. “Any way you can get out of here this afternoon?” He looked at his watch. “It’s about two o’clock now. We’re supposed to quit by four. That be okay?” “Yeah, I guess so. If that’s the best you can do. I want you and Cookie to go look for an office we can rent.” “Far out!” he exclaimed. “I’ll go call her and have her meet me here at four. We’ll go up to Market and start looking there. I think there’s some cheap places in those old buildings between Montgomery and Civic Center.” “Great!” I told him. “Whatever you can find, now that we’ve got the bread. If you find something, go ahead and rent it.” I took five bills out of my pocket and handed them to him. “If there’s anything left, let Cookie go pick out some office furniture. Oh, and call the phone company and get them to put in two phone lines and two desk phones pronto!” “Whoa, slow down!” protested Moose. “One thing at a time!” “We haven’t got the time,” I told him seriously. “Today’s Wednesday. Hemp’s trial is a week from Monday. We’ve got to find evidence to prove him innocent by the end of next week latest!” “Yeah, I see what you mean. But what are you going to be doing?” “A little detective work. Don’t make any plans for ~

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tonight. I may need you for another job.” “Yes, sir!” Moose saluted. “You’re the boss!” I returned his salute and let him get back to work. The clock was ticking and I hadn’t even gotten started yet. But at least I had some ideas. I walked up Fourth Street toward Market at a rapid pace, whistling, my hands in my pockets. Once again I was heading for Union Square. I hung around for about an hour sitting on a bench (his bench), watching old people feed the pigeons. The fog had recently cleared and the mid-afternoon sunshine was warm and inviting. But once again there was no sign of The Hermit. It was as if he had ceased to exist or, if Kia was to be believed, had never existed at all. Finally I gave up and left. I was supposed to be a PI now, a detective, but I now had two cases I hadn’t a clue about. Uppermost in my mind, of course, was who really killed Hemp’s girlfriend, but there was also the strange case of The Hermit’s disappearance. There was always the chance that he might be taking a trip somewhere or, at the least, maybe a week off. But I’d gotten to know the old guy pretty well in the last six months and he didn’t seem the type who would take off for Hawaii or someplace at a moment’s notice. Besides, he hadn’t mentioned anything the last time I’d seen him, a very early and very traumatic Saturday morning last. What do detectives do to solve their cases, I asked myself. Unless you were a genius like Sherlock Holmes, the answer was you investigated. So that’s what I decided to do, thinking I could certainly use the practice. I stopped at a novelty store on Geary and bought a small spiral notebook and pencil and also one of those cheap novelty badges that look like the real thing but are ~

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made only of gold-colored tin bearing the generic words “Police Detective”. I pinned it onto the inside of my wallet and walked down to O’Farrell Street and the building in which The Hermit’s apartment was located. It had been a couple of months since the first and only time I’d been there, but fortunately I remembered both the address and apartment number. I walked into the entrance hall and since I had no key to the apartment, I went down to the basement and knocked on the door of Apartment 2, the one with the sign that said “Manager”. “Yeah? Whaddaya want?” responded a gruff baritone voice. “Official business, open up!” I snapped in my lowest, most military voice. “Yeah okay, just a minute.” There was a shuffling of feet, the clicking of locks, the sliding of bolts, and finally the door was opened a crack to reveal the unshaven face of a balding, middle-aged man. Judging from the face’s height, he appeared to be shorter than average—about my size. “Detective Jake Stone,” I introduced myself, flashing my fake badge at him just quickly enough, I hoped, for him to see it was a badge, but not to recognize it for what it was. “I need to ask you some questions.” I didn’t say “Police” and hoped he wouldn’t ask. My ploy seemed to have worked, however, for he took the chain off the door and opened it wide. “What can I do for you, Detective?” he asked in a much friendlier tone. “There’s no trouble, I hope? We run a clean building here.” He motioned for me to come inside. “No, no trouble,” I assured him quickly as he closed ~

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and locked the door behind me. “We just need some information on one of your tenants.” “Sure thing,” he replied, now positively affable. “Sit down, sit down. Ask me anything.” We sat down on two straight-backed chairs separated by a small chrome and formica dining table. The cramped basement apartment was dimly lit and stiflingly hot. The manager, I could now see, was short and stocky, dressed in a white sleeveless athletic shirt, khaki shorts and sandals. “Want a drink or somethin’?” he inquired. I told him I’d take a beer if he had one. He got up from the table again and went into a tiny refrigerator in the corner, bent down and extracted from it two cans of Brown Derby beer. He popped the tops on both and handed one to me. “Plain clothes, huh!” he said, noticing my lack of official attire. “You must be vice. This about drugs or somethin’, am I right?” I took a sip of the beer. It was warm, almost tasteless, and only slightly better than tap water. “You got it, first try!” I encouraged him. He grinned and stuck out a hairy hand. “Gus Podolsky, Detective uh…?” “Stone,” I repeated, “Jake Stone.” I shook his large and somewhat clammy hand with as much enthusiasm as I could fake, then I pulled out my notebook and pencil and looked at a blank page intently. “According to my records the guy I’m interested in is either currently renting or has rented in the past few months. Apartment number, um, let me see, 304. Any information you can give me about this guy would help.” Gus scratched his stubble thoughtfully. “304, huh? ~

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Lemme see.” He got up and walked over to an antique wooden rolltop desk. It was not only the largest piece of furniture in the room, it was the only thing that didn’t look as if it had come from the Goodwill store up the street. He opened it and took out a huge leather bound ledger and leafed through it. “Lessee, lessee, 304, ah, yes, here it is. Whattaya want to know again?” “Well, the name of the guy who rented it, for one thing. Rental history for the last,” I thought back, “let’s say six months. The guy I’m looking for almost always uses a lot of aliases, so his real name probably wouldn’t mean anything to you. And I can’t give you a good description,” I continued quickly, “because he’s also a master of disguise.” Gus gave me a peculiar look. “Sounds like the kind of a guy that could do better than this crummy place,” he snorted. “But let’s see what the book says. Hmm, says here that 304 was occupied for years by an old couple, the Silbermans. Yeah, that’s right, I seem to remember them now.” He looked up from his ledger and cast his eyes toward the ceiling as if to see them better. “Sweet old couple. Seemed happy together. At least there wasn’t no bickerin’ and fightin’ like with a lotta old married couples.” “Come on, get to the point,” I urged him, not wanting to drown in his flood of recollections. “Well, old Jules Silberman, he died last summer, natural causes, and the wife, Molly, moved out. Too many memories, she told me. This musta been about a year ago, ‘cause I remember it took us a good three months to remodel the place. Believe me, when somebody lives in a place for all those years, it needs doin’ over, no matter how clean the tenants are. An’ Molly was a real good housekeeper, too, no matter that she was old and had the ~

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arthritis…” “Come on, Mr. Podolsky, we haven’t got all day,” I broke in, some irritation showing in my voice. “Okay, okay,” he said. “Geez, I was just givin’ ya a little background. But if you want the Reader’s Digest version…” “I do,” I told him flatly. “Okay, it’s like this. Jules Silberman dies about the middle o’ June ‘74. Molly Silberman moves out at the end o’ the month. We remodel, but the place don’t get rented again until the beginnin’ of the new year.” “Ah, ha!” I exclaimed. “So who rented it in January?” “Well…” For the first time he seemed a little reluctant. “Here’s where it gets sorta, ah, irregular.” “Irregular? What do you mean by that?” “Well, first thing ya gotta understand is that these little studio apartments in the Tenderloin are a dime a dozen. There’s hundreds of ‘em in the area, and none of ‘em are what you could call really spacious, even for one person. So they tend to attract lotsa poor people, old people on pensions, transients, that sorta people. Every building that’s got more’n eight or ten units always has at least a couple vacancies. So we can’t afford to be real choosy when we get the chance to rent ‘em out.” He took out a grimy handkerchief and wiped the newly formed sweat off his face. “What are you getting at? If you’re trying to cover up something…” I was using my military voice again. “No, no, I swear! Just the opposite. I’m tryin’ ta explain!” “Okay, go ahead then,” I replied a little more softly. Slightly reassured, he put away the handkerchief and continued. “Okay, 304 had been vacant for about six ~

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months, includin’ the remodelin’ time, when I got a phone call, early January, I guess it was. The guy asked me if I had any vacancies, so I knew right away he didn’t live around here or he would’ve known. Hell, every apartment building in the neighborhood’s got For Rent signs out, including this one. So the guy’s obviously not from around here. Talked kinda funny, too.” “Funny how?” “Real educated, like every time he said somethin’ it was like he was givin’ a speech. So anyway, this guy says can he rent one o’ my units. And I tell him sure, why not, when can he come over and see the place? But the weird thing is, he says he don’t need to see the place, just wants to make sure it’s close to Union Square and on the O’Farrell Street side, the north side. So I tells him, yeah, it’s only a few blocks away and right between Market and the Square. So he says, fine, he’ll take it. I thought to myself, sure, we’ll see, and I hang up the phone. But the next day, a kid, couldn’a been more’n about sixteen, comes over and knocks on my door, an’ tells me he’s come to rent the apartment, that he’s representin’ the guy that called me yesterday. Says the guy wants to rent it for six months and hands me an envelope containin’ nine crisp C-notes— nearly half again what I’d usually get for the place. So naturally I give the kid the key, an’ naturally I don’t even mention the cleaning deposit. An’ the weird thing is,” he looked up from his ledger and scratched his chin again, “I never saw nobody go into that apartment an’ never saw nobody come out, not once, the whole six months.” I had been taking careful note of this rambling but fascinating account of San Francisco real estate dealings. “The whole six months, you said. That would be up until ~

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the end of June, right? What about the last three weeks or so?” “To tell you the truth, I made out so good on the deal, I decided to give him an extra thirty days which’ll be up in about a week now. But I ain’t heard nothin’, either from the phone guy or the kid.” “You keep talking about the guy on the phone. This guy have a name?” “Sure, let me see. Yeah, here it is, right here. Funny name, too. Dr. Montague Winter.” Now I was intrigued. “And you say you haven’t been up to the apartment since the rent ran out?” “Hell, I ain’t been up there since the deal was made. One of his conditions was he wanted his privacy.” “You got a key to the place?” I asked him, finishing my warm beer in a single gulp and then getting up and heading for the door. “Sure thing.” He opened one of the desk drawers and took out a huge ring of keys. “Okay, let’s go,” I told him briskly. “Lead the way.” We took the creaky old elevator up to the third floor and I waited in the hall while he opened the door of apartment 304. Inside it looked both exactly the same and completely different from the time two months ago when I had so unexpectedly become The Hermit’s first and only guest. The size and shape of the place were as I remembered them, the thin carpet and curtained-off kitchen, too. Even the view from the kitchen window was the same, for it was about the same time of day now as it had been then. But the place was absolutely bare—no little writing desk, no wicker chairs, no thin mattress on the floor. Not a single ~

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book was left from the collection of hundreds that had taken up every available space in the bookshelves that still lined the walls. I opened all the kitchen cabinets, the little refrigerator—all empty. The closet too was bare. There was no sign that anyone had lived here in months—everything had that clean, neutral look and smell that indicates a long absence of human habitation. I ran my fingers across the top shelf of the closet and felt no dust. But wait! My fingers brushed against something definitely not wood. Standing up on tiptoes, I still couldn’t see over the top shelf and there was nothing to stand on. Gus was no help, being as short as I was, and no more agile. So I groped around, sweeping my hand over the surface of the shelf until something small and white fluttered to the floor. Bending down, I quickly snatched it up. It appeared to be a small piece of cheap notebook paper, folded into quarters. I opened it and there in The Hermit’s peculiarly neat calligraphy these lines were written: I met you in the Winter Time When your life was the same I left you in the Summer Time When pain would change your name If you succeed I promise you That we shall meet again I folded the piece of paper again and shoved it in my pocket. I wished I could once again put a couple of bucks into The Hermit’s grimy hand and then sit down on his bench while he went on yet another delightful rant about the state of the world. ~

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Gus must have noticed my distraction, for he said gently, “That mean anything?” “Could be evidence in the case,” I replied in a husky voice. “I think we’re done here.” He shrugged his shoulders and we walked back out into the hall. “Thanks for your help, Mr. Podolsky. We’ll let you know if anything else comes up.” I knew it was futile but I said it anyway, “Be sure and let us know if you see or hear from Dr. Montague Winter or that mysterious kid again.” “Sure thing, Detective.” “Oh, one more thing.” “Yeah, Detective?” “Who takes care of the maintenance on this building?” “You mean like plumbin’ an’ heatin’, electric, stuff like that?” “No, I mean the day-to-day stuff. Stairwell cleaning, walls, windows, light bulbs, that sort of thing.” He brightened. “Oh, the minor stuff. We got a janitorial service comes around once a week. They’re outa here in a coupla hours. Don’t take more’n that.” “So none of the tenants here get involved in that sort of thing?” “No, of course not.” He was slightly indignant. “Our tenants deserve professional service. Besides, there’s insurance issues. Why you wanta know?” “No reason,” I said quickly. “Well, thank you, Mr. Podolsky, you’ve been a big help.” “Hey, no problem, Detective. Come around any time.” He offered his hand again and I shook it. Then I left 449 O’Farrell for the last time and headed toward Sutter. I had one more stop to make before I went home. I was ~

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pretty sure it would also turn out to be a dead end, but I thought I’d check it out just the same. In a few minutes I arrived at the building on Sutter that housed The Metaphysical Towne Hall Book Store and without hesitation took the elevator up to the sixth floor. Since it was late afternoon on a Wednesday and the bookstore was open to the public, the door to Room 606 was closed but unlocked. I entered to find that, as with The Hermit’s apartment, though I had been here only once, I remembered it perfectly. And like The Hermit’s apartment, it was also exactly the same and yet completely different from what it had been less than a week ago. The large room with the steel frame book racks filled to overflowing with all manner of books, some new and some old, was superficially the same. But the lighting seemed somehow brighter and warmer than it had been on my previous visit, and the dozen or so ordinary-looking people wandering about browsing the book collection quite dispelled the eerie quality of mystery and menace I’d sensed before. I moved through the stacks toward the rear of the bookstore where the stage and podium with microphone had been. But what had been a rather theatrical set up with raised stage and rows of chairs now proved to be just a small space containing a table surrounded by several haphazardly placed chairs. The red curtains on the rear wall that had concealed Dr. Winter’s exotically-decorated secret office had vanished; in their place was merely a blank plaster wall painted an unpleasing light green. Over to one side of this undefined area was a counter which I would swear had not been there before. On its surface were several books, a cash register, and a ~

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slumbering fat black cat. Tacked onto the counter was a sign which read “Cash Only—Returns Allowed Only for Store Credit”. On the wall behind it was a door marked “Office—Employees Only”. And standing behind it was a large elderly man with a fringe of white hair and a full beard to match. Kia had been right—he did look a little like Walt Whitman. I felt completely defeated. But though I was nearly one hundred per cent sure of the answers I’d get, I thought I might as well go through the motions anyway. It might prove to be, as we used to say in the army, “good training”. I decided to junk the “detective” approach, since this was a public business and its owner or manager should have no reason to withhold or falsify such innocuous information as I was seeking. “Um, excuse me, sir,” I called to him as I approached the counter. “Good day, sir, may I be of any assistance?” he replied in a cultured, resonant voice. “Yes, thank you. Are you the owner of this book store?” I inquired. “That I am, sir, and have been for many years,” was the proud response. He made a little bow. “Tobias Somerset, at your service, sir.” “Uh, Mr. Somerset, I’m looking for an employee, or possibly an associate of yours. I, uh, met him here quite recently and I wanted to ask his advice about a, er, literary matter. The name he gave me was Dr. Montague Winter.” Somerset frowned and tugged at his beard thoughtfully. “I am afraid you must be mistaken, sir,” he said after a time. “That name is unknown to me, and as for employees, well sir, this is a private business, always has been. What little help I occasionally need in running it, I ~

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get from the vast pool of eager young college students who are willing to work very cheaply for the privilege of immersing themselves, however briefly, in a literary environment such as this.” “Perhaps you know him under another name,” I persisted, describing Dr. Winter as completely and accurately as I could from the memory of our one meeting. “I’m afraid not. I’m quite sure I would vividly remember any one of that appearance, especially so recent an acquaintance as you say he must be. Perhaps, however, I might be able to assist you in his stead?” “No thank you, sir, I think not,” I replied courteously. His precise yet flowery way of speaking was strangely contagious. “Another time, perhaps.” He gave a resigned shrug of his shoulders and turned his attention to one of the tomes lying open on the counter. Within thirty seconds, I was sure, he would forget me completely. Puzzled but no longer surprised, I left the building and looked around for a bus going toward Market Street. It was after five, and as my stomach rumbled, I realized I had forgotten to eat any lunch. Dinner was at seven, and Cookie’s adobo was going to taste exceptionally good tonight. 6.

“Y

ou’re just gonna love the new office!” Cookie exclaimed again. It was the middle of the morning and the three of us, including Moose, were riding downtown on the J. Cookie had kept up a constant chatter on the way down, while I listened and nodded my head a lot. ~

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Moose’s role seemed to be to say, “That’s right, Cookie,” every time she said “Isn’t that right, Moose?” So by the time we got off the streetcar at Fourth and Market, I felt I knew as much about the office I’d never seen as they did. It was apparently located on the 16th floor of the domed Humboldt Building on Market Street just east of Fourth. There was a Bank of America on the ground floor and the Roos-Atkins men’s wear store was right next to it on the corner. It was just across Market Street from Western Union and therefore close to my bank which could come in handy. We entered the lobby and took the several-minute elevator ride to the 16th floor. Cookie proudly produced the key, but before inserting it in the lock she pointed at the heavy translucent glass window that comprised the upper part of the door. “They’re gonna paint the company name on your door tomorrow, so I want to make sure I got it right. I thought it would be neat to have the name make a circle so the top part of the circle would be ‘Stone & McCullough’ and the bottom part would be ‘Private Investigators.’ And in the middle, just for fun I thought we’d get somebody to draw a little cartoon figure dressed like Sherlock Holmes. You know, the hat and the cape, and he’s peering through this huge magnifying glass.” She paused for breath but only momentarily. “Well, what do you think, Jake? Did I get it right?” “Yeah, sounds great to me. Whatever you think best.” I must confess that my mind wasn’t totally on Cookie’s enthusiastic chatter. I’d heard enough to know that the office stuff was in good hands, so I couldn’t wait to get out there and start doing my job. I also couldn’t stop thinking about the mysterious and apparently simultaneous ~

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disappearances of The Hermit and the so-called Dr. Montague Winter. Cookie stuck the key in the lock and opened the door, then turned to us and made a dramatic gesture. “Ta-daa! Behold the inner sanctum of those famous private eyes, Jake Stone and Sam ‘Moose’ McCullough,” she intoned melodramatically. “Not to mention their cool but incredibly sexy girl Friday, Cookie Madeira, the brains behind the brawn.” She giggled and swept into the office while the two of us, apparently her escorts, followed. It was, in fact, a nice, modest little office, probably just about right for our purposes. The door was across the hall from the elevator and was positioned at the extreme right side of the office. Inside, a few feet to the right of the door and set into the upper part of the wall was a small window which opened outward from the bottom, sort of like a transom. This window provided a nice view of Market Street looking east toward the Bay, a prominent feature being the working clock tower of the Wells Fargo Bank building across the street. Sixteen floors below, the streetcars crawled up and down Market Street like toy trains while the people scurried about like industrious ants. To the left of the door was a large room with thin but newish-looking beige carpeting and blank white plaster walls. It was lit solely by a ceiling fixture containing four long fluorescent tubes controlled by a single switch on the wall by the door. As we walked through the large room I could see another door on the opposite side of the room away from the window. “Is that ours too?” I asked Cookie, who seemed to be very much in charge of the place. “Of course!” She went over and opened the door. “Since you’re the boss, this is your private office.” ~

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This room was square and about a third of the size of the big room. There was another window of the same sort in the wall opposite the door which looked west up Market Street toward Twin Peaks and would catch the sunset very nicely. “See?” she continued. “This door locks from the inside, so you can be alone to think or interview important clients or suspects or whatever it is private eyes do when they’re not out searching for clues or tailing the bad guys.” I looked around at my office and nodded approvingly. Satisfied, Cookie led me back out into the big room where Moose was staring out the window. “Okay, this is what’s happening,” Cookie informed us. “Since I’m gonna be spending a lot of time here, I get to decorate. That okay with you guys?” “Fine with me,” said Moose. “Sure, why not,” I agreed. “That’s good, because Moose and I went down to First Street last night to that place where they sell repo’d furniture for cheap.” “That reminds me,” I broke in. “How much is this place gonna cost me?” “That’s the best part,” grinned Moose, doing something other than agreeing with Cookie for the first time today. “It’s only a hundred a month. I gave them a hundred-fifty. That covers the rent till the end of August, the listing in the directory downstairs, and also painting our name on the door. They have a building janitorial service for another twenty bucks a month, but Cookie said she’d take care of that.” “Sounds great,” I told him. “You guys seem to have thought of everything.” I turned and started to walk out, ~

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expecting them to follow me. Instead Cookie put a hand on my shoulder and said in a slightly disappointed voice, “Jake, don’t you want to hear about the furniture I bought?” “Oh, sure, Cookie. I’m sorry. Tell me all about it.” “Well, okay, but only if you really want me to. I mean, it’s gonna be delivered this afternoon anyway, but I thought you might want to know about it. I can still send it back.” “No, no, I’m sure it’s fine. Please tell me.” She brightened at that. “Okay, first of all, I got three big wooden desks and matching chairs, you know, the ones with those little wheels on them. One desk for each of us. Mine goes against this wall here, right across from the door so I can see anybody who comes in right away. Moose’s desk is gonna be across the room over there, right beside your office door. And of course yours is gonna be in your office. I thought right under the window would be nice. We’ll put a screen in the middle of the room between me and Moose. That’s so we won’t get distracted during working hours.” She batted her eyes at Moose who began to look uncomfortable. I grinned. “That’s a good idea. Anything else?” “Well, I guess that’s about it for now. Oh yeah, three filing cabinets—a big one for me for general records and case files, a little one for each of you for personal stuff. And guess how much the whole thing cost—including delivery?” “No idea,” I replied honestly. She clapped her hands together in delight. “Only two hundred for the whole thing! Isn’t that great?” “That’s fantastic!” I agreed. “Oh, one more thing. The phones are gonna be installed this afternoon. Here I went the cheapest I could. We each get a black desk phone with four buttons—three ~

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outside lines and an intercom that connects all three of us— only thirty bucks a month plus twenty five installation. They’ll take a check, though. Just make it out to Pacific Telephone for fifty-five bucks and leave it with me.” “Okay, ” I told her, doing just that. “So if we don’t need anything else,” Moose remarked, “that means I’ve still got about a hundred-fifty left of your money.” “That’s okay, Moose, just keep it for now. It’s company money and, thanks to my folks, there’s plenty more where that came from.” “Great!” exclaimed Cookie. She stuck her hand out toward Moose and waggled her fingers. “Give me fifty bucks, big guy!” “Why? What for?” Moose looked surprised. He seemed to be much more protective of our money than he would have been of his own. Cookie shot him an exasperated look. “Office supplies, dum-dum! We’ve got (or gonna have real soon) desks and chairs, file cabinets, phones. But it takes lotsa stuff to run an office, like paper, pens, pencils, files, file folders, paper clips, staples, stuff like that. And if we got any left over, I’m gonna order us some classy stationery, heavy cream bond, with our letterhead.” She turned to me. “Isn’t that a good idea, Jake?” she asked pointedly. I took the hint. “Sure, Cookie, great idea. Give her what she needs, Moose, and you guys let me know if you need any more bread.” Moose reluctantly handed her the money which she immediately shoved into her skirt pocket, a satisfied look on her face. Then he looked out the window at the clock tower. It was after eleven-thirty and we had been standing in the ~

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bare office talking for nearly an hour. “I’m starving,” he complained. He looked deferentially at Cookie and softened his tone. “Uh, Cookie, I don’t want to rush you, but I think we’re pretty much done here. If it’s okay with you guys,” he glanced at me. “Let’s take about ten bucks of the company money and go have a big company lunch.” I grinned and slapped him on the back. “Good ol’ Moose! Always got his priorities straight. Stomach first, case second.” Moose frowned at this but Cookie immediately took his side. She looked at me reprovingly and said, “Come on, Jake, you know how cranky the big guy gets when he doesn’t have his three squares. Besides, we can talk about the case at lunch. Furniture and phones aren’t arriving until at least two, so we can take our time and then I’ll come back here and wait. Where do you guys want to eat?” I thought for a moment. “Hey, you guys in the mood for some good sausages?” “Sure, why not, as long as they’re big enough,” was Moose’s opinion. “If they’re not, you can have two,” I promised him. “Ever hear of The Noble Frankfurter?” They had not but they were about to. I described the place briefly, told them the location (only one block of steep hill), and we were on our way. The fog was beginning to clear as we walked through Union Square, where the summertime tourists were out in force. Automatically I glanced around, hoping as always these days for a glimpse of The Hermit. Moose and Cookie noticed my behavior. “Looking for somebody?” she asked. “No, just checking out the tourists,” I lied. “What for? You seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all,” was ~

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Moose’s comment. I let it drop. It was stupid trying to hang on to a relationship that had ceased to exist. We had reached the upper edge of the park at Sutter and I decided to focus on my friends. “Just one block that way,” I pointed up a fortyfive degree hill toward Bush. “They must do a pretty good business up there,” observed Moose. “Climbing that hill would give anybody an appetite.” But climb it we did, and soon we were all munching on exquisitely grilled hot dogs and Polish sausages with everything and washing them down with icy bottles of Anchor Steam. Within twenty minutes Moose had wolfed down two Polish dogs and a Coney Island, all heaped with as much sauerkraut and onions as they could hold. He finished the last few crumbs of his second bag of potato chips, let out a satisfied belch and turned to me. “Well, what’s the plan, man?” he asked. We had been silent while we ate, except for a few food-related grunts. “Yeah,” put in Cookie. “This is supposed to be a business lunch and you’re the boss. I know what I’m gonna be doing, I’m the office girl, and I’ll have my hands full for the next several days just getting the office into shape. But what have you got planned for the big lug here?” Moose made no response, being impervious to her needling when his belly was full. I took another swallow of beer while I though about what to say. It was true. I was supposed to be the head of this operation, but right now I hadn’t a clue as to how to proceed. So I did what countless others before me have always done in situations like this—pass the buck, only in ~

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the army they had called it “delegating authority”. “Okay, here’s the situation,” I began. “As you know, Hemp’s been charged with the murder of his girlfriend. We know he didn’t do it, so we’ve got to get him off somehow.” I looked at Cookie for support, but she just rolled her eyes at me. “Yeah, that’s where we were last weekend,” she told me, her voice heavy with sarcasm. “So what’ve you guys been doing since then, sitting on your butts?” “Jake’s the boss,” Moose told her placidly. “I can’t do anything if he doesn’t give the order.” I wanted to tell her that I’d spent the week so far listening to Lieutenant Bradshaw tell me how good a case the police have got against Hemp, getting encouraged and laid by Kia, and, finally, spending yesterday looking for two guys who were more than likely no longer here (if in fact they ever were), but I didn’t think it would go over very well. “Come on, Cookie, Moose, give me a break!” I pleaded. “I’m new at this stuff. Cookie, you said you’re an expert on old cop and law shows. Make some suggestions.” “Okay,” she agreed more gently “This is really simple. We know the girl was killed. Shot, right? And we know (or desperately want to believe) that Hemp didn’t do it. So that means somebody else did. Now, if the cops think Hemp did it, the time of death has to be consistent with the time he was found in her apartment. So, we try to find somebody who will admit to seeing somebody else enter or leave the girl’s apartment that evening, somebody besides Hemp, or maybe somebody who was just hanging around looking suspicious. Maybe the cops have covered this angle already, but I doubt it, because they already think they’ve got their man, so why go to all that extra trouble?” She spread her ~

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hands out to us as if asking our approval. “That’s a great idea!” I told her immediately. “Moose, this evening you hit every apartment in that building from the third floor down. You’ve got a more imposing appearance than I do, so people are less likely to clam up. Take this (I gave him the fake detective badge) and pin it to your wallet. When you identify yourself to the tenants, just say ‘Detective McCullough’, and flash the badge real quick. Most people will assume you’re from the SFPD and will be more willing to tell you the truth.” I didn’t tell them how I had come by this information, however. “You got that?” I concluded. He grinned and took the badge from me. “Sounds like a plan, boss.” “That sound okay to you, Cookie?” “Yeah, Jake, now you’re thinking. That one was easy,” she furrowed her brows in concentration, “but while you were talking I just thought of something else. Who called the cops? I mean, they must have arrived shortly after the shooting. If any of the neighbors called the cops, we’ve got to find out when and why, ‘cause if they didn’t, that leaves only two possibilities.” “And what are those?” I asked, totally fascinated by her reasoning. Without hesitation she held up two fingers. “One, the dead girl herself managed to call the cops before she was shot, or maybe after but while she was still conscious. We don’t know that death was instantaneous.” “And second?” I prompted. “Well, here’s where it gets a little weird,” she confessed. “Maybe the cops were already outside watching the place. Maybe it was some kind of a setup.” ~

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The three of us looked at each other. It was definitely getting a little weird. “Okay,” I said. “First things first.” I pushed myself away from the table. “Moose, you hit that apartment building. The address is in Hemp’s little black book under Mimi Chang. It’s somewhere on Kearney, just before you get to Chinatown. Cookie, thanks a whole bunch for your help, both with the office and with the case. I’ll try to get my head into this a little more.” “That’s OK.” She patted my shoulder sympathetically. “How does that song go? ‘I get by with a little help from my friends.’” “Beatles. From Sergeant Pepper,” replied Moose. “Even I know that one.” We all laughed and the three of us left the hot dog joint arm in arm. At last I felt I had not only some support, but some direction as well. 7.

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t Union Square we split up; Moose was going to walk Cooskie back to the office and from there go to his construction site South of Market and put in a few hours there. We had all agreed that there was no reason for him to go to Mimi’s building before about seven this evening, when most people were likely to be home. This meant that I had nowhere in particular to go, as Cookie pointed out kindly that I’d just be in the way at the office. “Let me get it all fixed up first,” she had told me. “Then you’ll have a place to sit and put your stuff while I’m busying myself with setting up the files. Oh dammit!” she exclaimed suddenly. “That’s what I forgot! I’m gonna need ~

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a typewriter, too. We can get a decent one used from a pawn shop for about twenty-five bucks.” “You type too?” Moose’s question had been sincere, but Cookie slugged him on the shoulder anyway. “Sure I type, you big lug! Whattaya think? Forty-five words a minute. I took a business course in high school, so I know typing, filing, whatever you guys need. I can even do a little shorthand,” she turned her glare on me, “but don’t make a habit of it. Shorthand’s not my favorite thing, you know!” I held my hands up to stop her. “Don’t worry, Cookie! I’m perfectly capable of writing down anything I want to say. And as for business letters…well, you take care of that stuff.” I turned to Moose. “How much have you got left now?” “Well, let’s see. After eating and giving the fifty to Cookie, about ninety bucks.” “Okay then. Take the rest of the afternoon off and go shopping with Cookie. See that she gets everything she needs for the office. Then grab some dinner somewhere and hit the apartment building. Oh, and write down your personal expenses. After you drop Cookie off back at the office, you’re on company time.” Moose had grinned and given me a sloppy salute. “You got it, boss. See you tonight, then.” And so they had left me there on the sidewalk at Powell and Sutter. The warm late-July afternoon stretched before me. Hemp had been in jail for close to a week now and the only progress I’d made was to call myself a private eye and rent an office. For most of the week I’d been too busy puzzling over Hemp’s plight and the mysterious disappearance of The Hermit to focus on anything else. ~

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As always when I wanted to do some serious thinking, I headed toward the nearest bar. The combination of a few beers in a relatively dark quiet room inhabited only by a bartender and the occasional anonymous customer always helped to clear my head and free my mind. I remembered that the Confucius Lounge was nearby, a mere couple of blocks downtown at Bush and Grant, just inside the Chinatown Gate. It was always dark and quiet there, and on a weekday afternoon usually nearly deserted. I’d discovered the place when I had first gotten into town a couple of years ago. I was still in my tourist phase and figured Chinatown was one of those places I had to see. I’d tramped around for a while, marveling at the narrow streets and tiny crowded sidewalks; the exotic meat, fish, and produce, and the exquisite carvings of ivory and jade. I remember my legs had quickly started to ache with impatience at the forced slowness of my pace through the crowds, and I longed to sit down and rest. I was walking back toward Union Square, heading for some place I knew I could get a good cheap drink (for I had very little money in those days), like Lefty O’Doul’s or the Gold Dust Lounge, when I passed a building with an oddlyshaped entrance. To my untutored eyes it looked like a Buddhist temple or school and I would have passed it by unawares if not for a little man lounging in the doorway. He couldn’t have been more than about five-foot one or two, for even with my modest stature I towered over him much as Moose towers over Hemp and me. “Hey, Joe!” he called out, apparently addressing me. “You look tired. Come in, sit down, have beer on house.” I was astonished at this direct solicitation. I mean, I’d seen the North Beach barkers outside the triple-X-rated sex ~

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shows. But this was just a crummy little bar. Fascinated, I followed him inside. There was no one else in the place at the time (it was a weekday afternoon) which accounted for his lounging about outside. As promised he set me up with a Budweiser longneck on the house, and soon I was having the first actual conversation I’d ever had with a Chinese person. My experience in that department had been limited to waiters in Chinese restaurants, but as I talked to him, me asking naïve questions first about Chinatown and then Chinese culture in general, our conversation began to seem quite natural. His English was rudimentary but economical; he understood it better than he spoke it. But when he spoke his meaning was always clear. During our conversation I discovered that his name was Leland Louie, that his nickname was “Shrimp”, and that he knew (or said he knew) everything that was happening on the streets of Chinatown, from where to get the best illegal drugs, to where to get the best smoked duck. He was nearly fifty, had emigrated here as a very young man just after the war, and had lived in Chinatown ever since. He was owner and day bartender of this bar, which explained why he was able to offer a stranger a free beer. After several hours I had finally been able to drag myself away, thanking him for the beer and his enlightening conversation, and promising to return. And I had, too, making it a point to stop in a least once a week during the first year I was here. But since then my visits had unfortunately become much less frequent, to the point that I realized it had probably been months since I’d last been there, my time of late having been taken up largely by Carole and The Hermit. Now I resolved to pay ~

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Shrimp Louie a long-overdue visit. I walked into the place shortly before two. It was as cool and dimly lit as I had remembered; upon stepping over the threshold, the bright midafternoon sun became only a memory. There were only two customers in the place and they were sitting at a small table in the far corner away from the bar. They looked to be middle-aged Chinese businessmen as they were wearing white Hong Kong suits complete with matching wide-brimmed straw hats which were still on their heads. They were sipping tall tropicallooking drinks, the kind that come loaded with pieces of fruit and little paper umbrellas, and they were muttering softly at each other in a lilting, musical language I took to be Chinese. Louie was behind the bar, his head buried in a Chinese language newspaper. As I approached he looked up, grinned, and stashed the paper beneath the bar. “Jake!” he called out. “Long time, no see! You come to visit or just for free beer?” This had become a running joke between us, even though on subsequent visits I had always paid. “No,” I replied, “I’m pretty well off now. Give me a Heineken, will you, Shrimp?” He pretended amazement. “Ah, the good stuff! You must be rolling in it, Jake!” I glanced around the nearly empty bar and added loudly, “In fact, drinks for the house on me!” At that the two Chinese men in the corner turned in my direction and bowed politely. I bowed back in the same manner. “Careful! You go broke, big spender!” Louie admonished me. He uncapped my Heineken and set it on the bar in front of me, then busied himself making two ~

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more of the tropical concoctions which he hurriedly took over to the two Chinese men. There was a short period of bowing and murmuring and then the two Chinese guys raised their glasses in my direction. “Cheers!” they called in unison. “Cheers!” I called back. They bowed again, I bowed again. By that time Louie was back behind the bar leaning toward me expectantly. “You pay now or run tab, Mr. Bigshot?” he asked. “Run tab,” I told him expansively. I put a twenty on the bar. “Let me know when this is gone,” I said, “and I’ll show you another.” I’d always wanted to do that and it felt good to finally be able not to have to pinch pennies. At least for now. He picked up the twenty, turning it over and over in mock amazement and holding it up to the dim light behind the bar, pretending to be examining it for counterfeit. I let him have his fun. “So,” I said after he had put the bill back on the bar. “What’s the word on the street, Shrimp?” He turned his head and spat contemptuously. “Word on street is, too many tourist, not enough tourist dollar,” he told me pointedly. I nodded my head in polite agreement. Then I decided to let him in on it. I leaned over the bar and whispered, “Guess what, Shrimp? I’m a private eye now.” I showed him my license. He looked genuinely impressed. “Hey! Pretty good for you, Jake. Soon you be good as Charlie Chan, eh? Private eye, it pay good?” “I’m about to find that out, I guess.” I told him about the case I was on, what had made me change professions in ~

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the first place. “Oh, right!” he said. “That poor girl, what she called, Chang. She live not too far away from here. Cops say hippie did it. Some big drug deal.” I told him that the “hippie” was my friend and roommate, Hemp. And I had sworn to clear his name. Louie nodded sagely at that. “I don’t trust cops,” he confided. “More going on than meet eye. Some people say something funny going on. Cops say they catch guy redhanded, say right away he did it. No talk to people, no investigate nothing. Something funny going on. Cops too quick, not like them.” I was, needless to say, intrigued by his point of view. Cookie had been saying much the same thing earlier but she, like Moose and me, was prejudiced in Hemp’s favor. Shrimp, if anything, should be prejudiced in the other direction. “Thanks for the info, Shrimp,” I told him. “Give us another round and buy yourself one.” That was what they always said on TV anyway, and I didn’t want to let the profession down. “I’m gonna go sit at a table,” I said when he had brought me my second Heineken, “and do a little thinking. That twenty still good?” “One more round including me. Then twenty is shot to hell,” he informed me. “Great! That’ll just about do it. Thanks again, Shrimp.” “Don’t mention it, friend Jake. I leave you to your thoughts.” I went over to a table on the other side of the room so I wouldn’t have to go through the bowing process again. Fortunately the two Chinese guys didn’t seem to mind. Soon Shrimp was lost in his newspaper again and I was lost ~

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in my thoughts. After spending several hours at the bar and drinking a couple more beers, it was finally late enough that I could go back home without arousing suspicion. Carole was cooking one of her yummy tex-mex dishes tonight in place of Cookie who had to be at the office all afternoon. My taste buds quivered with anticipation as I boarded the westbound J. When I arrived Carole greeted me at the door with the standard “How was your day, dear?”. We exchanged pleasantries, I gave her a little peck on the cheek which she returned, and then I asked about her day. It was all just too, too domestic, as if we’d been married for years. Cookie arrived at about six, apologetic for being late but quite excited about the office. Everything was in place, she claimed; the phones were in and working, the furniture had arrived about four and she had immediately put Moose to work arranging and rearranging it. Then they had gone out and picked up the office supplies and a cheap Underwood typewriter. She had marveled at Moose’s strength; that he could pick up a full-sized solid wood desk and carry it from one end of the office to the other. “I knew he was big,” she exclaimed, “but with some of those big guys, it’s all for show. You know, no discipline. And the weird thing is how quiet and good-natured he is. I mean he takes all kinds of shit from Hemp, he treats you like you’re still his commanding officer, and Carole here like the First Lady. And me, the absolute worst he’s ever been with me is kinda hurt and disappointed, especially when I get into one of my moods or it’s that time of the month. He can really make a ~

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girl feel guilty sometimes.” She was sitting on the couch with me, Carole having gone into the kitchen to finish dinner. Now she turned to look at me expectantly. “So, as long as the big lug’s not here, being out on a vital mission for the firm, let’s dish him a little. I don’t get the chance too often, he usually sticks to me closer than a moth to a flame.” I decided to give her a serious answer. “There’s no question about Moose’s strength, loyalty and courage. He’s absolutely one of the best guys I’ve ever known. If we’d had even one battalion of Mooses (Meese?) we would have won that goddamn war. But he’s very shy about his strength. He told me this story once when he was really stoned and then begged me not to tell anyone else: When he was in the sixth grade he was already about five-ten and all the kids liked to tease him, calling him names like ‘Caveman’ and ‘Bigfoot’ and ‘Jolly Green Giant’. You know how kids are. One day I guess he’d just had enough and something snapped. He hauled off and hit one of the kids, just one punch, that’s all it was. Moose told me he didn’t think he’d even hit the kid that hard, but that one blow had fractured the kid’s cheek bone in two places and dislocated his jaw. It was six weeks before the kid could eat solid food again. Of course Moose’s parents were shocked. They punished him severely, he wouldn’t say how. And he was suspended from school for two weeks. After he went back the kids didn’t tease him any more, but they wouldn’t play with him either. Moose said the rest of that school year he was really lonely and had a chance to give things a lot of thought. The next fall he went to junior high school where about three-quarters of the kids didn’t know him, so he got a chance to start over. He vowed to take advantage of his chance and never lose his ~

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temper again.” “Wow!” breathed Cookie. “One punch and he did all that damage. And he was only what, ten or eleven?” “Yep. So you can imagine what he’s capable of now. I remember in ‘Nam when he joined my infantry company. He used to volunteer for any assignment that called for possible physical combat with the enemy. I think he almost enjoyed it, a socially acceptable outlet for his strength. That’s why he works construction, I think, and that’s why he’s gonna be so valuable to us as a partner. When Moose says he’s got your back, he means it.” Carole came in just then to announce that dinner was ready, effectively putting an end to our Moosefest. So we trooped into the dining room where an excellent dinner of pork enchiladas with rice, beans and a salad was waiting for us, together with frosty bottles of Dos Equis beer. Carole had somehow been able to convert the remains of Cookie’s teriyaki pork roast into something you’d get at the finest Mexican restaurant in town. After we had eaten more than our fill, and Carole had taken her bows, Cookie sprang up to clear away and wash the dishes while Carole and I went back into the living room to talk idly and listen to records. It was by now about eight o’clock, the gray twilight coming in through the front window, just another lazy summer evening if it hadn’t been for recent events. Moose must be on his mission by now; I could think of nothing else. As we made distracted small talk it was clear that Carole was preoccupied with the same thoughts. And when Cookie had dried her hands and come in to join us, she only stayed for about ten minutes out of politeness, then mumbled something about being sleepy. But no one would mention what was on everyone’s mind, perhaps so as not to ~

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jinx him, like nobody mentions it when a pitcher is throwing a perfect game. Instead Cookie only said, “Come down to the office, your office, tomorrow, Jake, and see if you approve of what I’ve done with the place. The final decision is yours, of course. I’ll be there by nine, you can come any time after that.” “Sure thing, Cookie, I’ll do that. I’m sure everything’s just great. And thanks for all your hard work.” She just grinned. “What work? It’s not every day a girl gets to set up her own office, you know. Sorta makes me want to do the same thing with a house.” She stopped short and frowned a little as if she didn’t want to say too much. “Anyway, you guys, I’m going to bed. See you in the morning.” So Carole and I sat on the couch, listening to records neither of us really heard, while the minutes slowly turned into hours. At one point, I guess out of desperation for something to talk about, she asked me, “What were you and Cookie talking about while I was making dinner?” “If you must know,” I replied, “we were talking about Moose.” “Oh,” she said, like someone who had inadvertantly insulted the hostess at a dinner party. I tried to take her off the hook. “Yeah, he was apparently tossing the furniture around at the office today, his usual strong man act, but it made quite an impression on Cookie.” She brightened a bit at that. “It’s strange. I mean, he’s so big, but somehow you just don’t think of him like that. I don’t, anyway. He seems like the very opposite of macho.” “Yeah. And here’s why.” I told her the story I’d told ~

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Cookie earlier. It seemed to be Moose Appreciation Night and I hoped it wasn’t a bad omen. “And ever since he’s been meek and mild-mannered like this?” “Pretty much always. I do remember one time, though, I guess it was shortly after we all moved in together. Hemp and I were having an argument, I can’t even remember what it was about any more, something really petty, no doubt. But it had gone on for hours, it was the middle of winter, rain pouring down outside, I think it must have been a Saturday or a Sunday, because we were all cooped up in the house, nowhere to go. Hemp and I were standing in the living room, about six or eight feet apart, yelling at each other. Moose was sitting in his chair across the room from us trying to read the newspaper or something. Anyway, I guess he must have finally had enough of our yelling at each other, because he got up, calmly walked over to where we were standing and stood right between us. I remember he said in a calm but real weird voice, ‘I want you guys to stop this right now!’ And when he said ‘now’ he stretched out an arm toward each of us, grabbed us by the shirts, lifted us about two feet off the ground and shook us like we were no heavier than small dogs. Needless to say, we were amazed and terrified at the same time, and both of us shut up at once. Then without another word he put us down, returned to his chair, and picked up his newspaper again like nothing had happened. Ever since then he’s never mentioned it to us, and we’ve never mentioned it to him, at least I haven’t and I’m pretty sure Hemp hasn’t either. But you can bet that from then on we kept the arguments between us to an absolute minimum.” ~

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Carole thought this over for a minute. “Yeah,” she said after a while, “makes sense. It’s almost like he wants everything to happen in the right way, without his having to do anything about it personally. That’s why he relies on you so much, you and now Cookie, to make things right for him.” I agreed and then we sat in silence once more. The minutes ticked by even more slowly than before. The record we hadn’t been listening to had finished playing while I was telling her Moose Story Number Two. It was now about 10:30. A long time later it was nearly eleven. Carole looked at me like she was asking permission to speak, so I nodded. “He’s been gone a long time, hasn’t he?” she inquired tentatively. “Yeah,” I agreed. “Do you think it’ll, do you think it should be much longer?” “I don’t know.” I had no experience with this kind of thing. I found myself not caring about anything but that he was all right. Eleven-fifteen, eleven-thirty, eleven forty-five. Finally we heard heavy footsteps coming up the driveway. We held our breath and didn’t speak. We were both thinking “What if it’s just Leeroy, coming home late from the Cork ‘n’ Bottle?” We heard the footsteps coming up the front steps. So far, so good. Which key would turn in which lock? Then the door burst open and Moose breezed in, no subtlety, all smiles. He looked around. “Hey, Stony, Carole. I’m glad you’re still up.” He pulled a notebook out of his shirt pocket and handed it to me. “You’ll never guess what I ~

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found out, boss,” he told me with barely concealed excitement. “Now we’ve got work to do!” 8.

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t was nearly two in the morning when I finally finished digesting the contents of Moose’s amazing notebook. He had written it all at the murder scene, he had told me, and it was packed with interviews with tenants, layouts of the ground floor, halls, and exterior of the building, front and rear. He had even managed to gain access to the apartment directly below the victim’s for long enough to draw a crude sketch of it, on the theory that it would be laid out the same as the one above it. I shook my head, marveling at the information Moose had been able to gather in a mere four hours or so. He had apparently had no trouble convincing the tenants of the legitimacy of his investigation, for no one who was home had seemed to refuse to answer his questions. Old people, pensioners, people with families, children, young singles, immigrants who could barely speak English, everyone had seemed ready, willing and able to talk to Moose. Moose, of course, had downplayed the whole thing. After his initial, excited greeting he had composed himself, yawned mightily, and fended off my questions by saying “It’s all in the boOkay, Stony. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go wake up Cookie. All this investigating makes me horny.” Carole and I said our goodnights to him, expressed gratitude for his accomplishments and relief that he was OK. At that he had just grinned and said, “Don’t worry, guys. I can take care of myself.” Carole had gone to bed soon after, saying she needed ~

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to go to work in the morning and admonishing me not to stay up too late. I had given her a well-practiced but insincere “Yes, dear,” and settled back to read. Now I finally laid the notebook aside and pulled out one of my own. I was sitting alone at the kitchen table which is where I do most of my paperwork such as paying the bills. I decided to make a list of the important facts and information he had discovered. When I had finished it looked something like this: PHYSICAL LAYOUT • Only 1 outside door to building, not locked. No security guards and manager lives in basement apartment. No super, they use a janitorial service. Therefore, unrestricted access to building day or night. • 2 apartments on each floor have windows overlooking street, and 2 overlook rear where there is a small patio/garden area. • Fire escape on front of building and attached ladder on rear provide entrance/exit without going through front door. • Apartment beneath victim’s has open living/dining/kitchen area with small bedroom off to left behind wooden door. Bedroom contains small window. If layout same as victim’s apartment, and window is left open, access by rear ladder possible. • Slats discovered missing in fence enclosing rear patio/garden area. Therefore entrance/exit from street to rear area possible. ~

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SUSPECTS • Out of 11 apartments on first 3 floors (victim’s excluded), the occupants of 9 were accessible for interviews. • No one had been questioned by police. • No one heard anything like a shot during the time in question. • 3 tenants reported seeing gray early 70’s model Ford parked in front of building from about seven until shortly after eight. 1 tenant (a hippie) was certain that it was an unmarked police car. • 2 tenants reported seeing hippie with leather jacket (Hemp) enter building at a little after 8:15. • 1 tenant (the hippie) reported unmarked car pulled away right after Hemp (?) entered building. Within fifteen minutes a b&w police car pulled up, 2 uniformed officers entered the building. (At which point, hippie flushes stash, Moose couldn’t help adding, but I left it out as irrelevant.) • 4 tenants in rear report strange noises in patio/garden between 7:30-8:30. • 2 of these tenants report seeing large, powerfullybuilt young black man with bald head dressed in black clothes in patio/garden, entering about 7:30 and exiting around 8:15. • None of the tenants interviewed admitted knowing or having seen this black man in the building before. RECOMMENDATIONS • Gain access to and search victim’s apartment. ~

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• Search for suspect. These recommendations were Moose’s, but I decided to add a third: Talk to Acid Jackson. I’d only been to his house once, last fall with Hemp, but I remembered his large doorman/bodyguard, and hoped he would let me in to see Acid. I wasn’t too hopeful that Acid would tell me the truth, but maybe something in his manner or a careless word dropped here or there would help me to better understand his strange menage with Mimi and Hemp. Also his big black servant sounded suspiciously like our suspect. I yawned and put the notebooks away in the drawer, then I went to the bedroom to see if I could wake up Carole. I had found that investigating, even vicariously, made me horny, too. The next morning I was sitting alone at the dining table, drinking my coffee and relishing my privacy. It was about ten o’clock, Moose had gone off to his construction job early, Carole down to the newspaper, and Cookie to our office. She wanted to make sure that the phones were working properly so, per her instructions, I dialed our justestablished business number. Before the first ring had ended, a velvety, professional-sounding voice answered. “Stone & McCullough, Private Investigations. How may we be of service?” it purred. I was impressed. “Cookie, is that you?” I managed. There was a little giggle on the other end of the line. “Sure, who else would it be, Stony?” said a voice I recognized more easily. “That’s some phone voice you’ve go there,” I marveled. ~

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“Just a little something I picked up doing shit temp receptionist jobs,” she replied cheerfully. “But come on down! Everything’s in place, and I want to get your final approval.” So I hung up the phone, grabbed my fatigue shirt, ran down to Church and caught a J downtown. By 10:30 I was taking the long slow elevator ride to the sixteenth floor. Right across the hall from the elevator was a door marked “1600”. On its translucent glass upper half was neatly lettered “Stone & McCullough—Private Investigators” in a circle, the center of which contained the little cartoon Holmes figure just as Cookie had described it. It was locked, so I tapped on the glass and in a few seconds Cookie threw open the door. She was dressed demurely in a white blouse and beige knee-length skirt with matching low-heeled pumps, and she had smoothed her black pageboy back with a headband. She beckoned me into the office and led me through it. I couldn’t believe my eyes: the barren two-room office I had seen only yesterday had somehow been transformed into a three-room (with center divider) office that managed to look both neat and lived in. Each of us had a desk and chair, telephone, blotter, desk calendar, In and Out boxes, coffee mugs with an impressive array of pens and pencils, and drawers full of paper clips, memo pads, staplers, staple removers, scotch tape, glue, in short, everything that made an office look functional. I had the sudden feeling that the owners of these desks were busy, professional people who had just stepped out for coffee, perhaps to clear their heads before returning to the important tasks at hand. Then I realized that one of these busy, professional people was me. I sat down at my massive natural finish oak desk in my private ~

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office and closed the door. I leaned back and looked out the window. I had never felt so comfortable anywhere but home as I did now. There was a sense of, well, solidness, about the whole office, as if it had always been there and always would be. After expressing my admiration to Cookie and thanking her profusely once again, I asked her if there was anything else she needed. “How about a TV, boss?” she replied without hesitation. “We’re not likely to get too many phone calls or visitors for a while since we won’t be listed in the phone book till the new one comes out in September. Besides, I want to keep track of my soaps. It’s really starting to heat up between Philip Brent and Erica Kane on All My Children!” I laughed and pulled out my checkboOkay, signed my name in the proper place and handed her the check. “Go get ‘em, Cookie! There’s a pawn shop just up the street. See what you can get for fifty bucks or less.” “You got it, boss!” she exclaimed, stashing the check in her cleavage. I winked at her and walked out of the office, pulling the door shut behind me. Back out on the sidewalks of Market Street I considered my options. It was still only a little after eleven and I had nothing else I had to do today except try to get in to see Acid Jackson. Since he didn’t strike me as the early riser type I thought I’d better kill a few hours before I went up to the Haight. I shivered a little and buttoned my fatigue shirt. The late July weather was typical: Chill wind blowing down the street from the west, the fog in the process of trying to make up its mind as to whether it was coming in or going out. The result was a ~

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thick white blanket that entirely covered Twin Peaks and hid Sutro Tower from view. The sun was strong and hot overhead, however, but occasionally obscured by the patches of fog that were constantly breaking off from the main mass and flying across the sky. I was hungry, having missed breakfast with Carole on account of sleeping late, and wanted something substantial in my stomach. So, having plenty of time, I decided to walk up Market Street toward Civic Center and have lunch at any place that caught my fancy. As I walked up the south and sunny side of Market, passing 5th and 6th Streets, I marveled again at the cleanness of this city. The wind blew almost constantly here, but there were few eddies and swirls of pieces of newspapers or other trash. Nor were there any bags of garbage piled randomly on the curb as there were in the large eastern cities like New York and Boston which I’d visited as a boy. Also, compared to New York, graffiti was almost totally nonexistent. I passed the great old movie theaters—first the St. Francis, then the Market Street Cinema with its ornate façade, and finally the modest little art theater, the Strand. On the opposite side of the street were the cavernous Warfield and Orpheum theaters. On the corner of 7th, just across from the giant Jack in the Box fast food restaurant, stood Jeffrey’s Men’s Wear, purveyors of outrageous and expensive fashions bought mostly by pimps and rock stars. In their windows could be seen wildly colored and patterned polyester suits and shirts together with cashmere and leather coats with fur collars and high, wide-brimmed felt panamas in pink, purple and burgundy. Acid probably shops here, I thought. ~

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In a few more minutes I had passed Civic Center and was only a couple of blocks from Van Ness. At the corner of 10th I noticed a little place I hadn’t seen before; it had opaque glass front windows and a similar door on which was modestly lettered “Richman’s Kosher Deli— Sandwiches, Soups, Plate Dinners. All Orders Available To Go.” That sounds good, I thought to myself, I haven’t had a good deli sandwich in a while. There was a deli in Noe Valley called the Full Belly Deli, but it was takeout only and I rarely went there. Before Cookie and Carole, the three of us guys had lived mostly on burgers, burritos and pizza. Now with Cookie, and occasionally Carole, cooking what they liked to call real food most nights, I tended to opt for the above menu on junk food nights, probably out of nostalgia. As I entered the place I noticed that it was much bigger than it looked from the outside. A single large room with plain hardwood floors was filled with as many long wooden trestle-style tables as it could accommodate. Around each table were twelve wooden chairs, one at each end and five on a side, where people sat packed together boarding house style wolfing down some of the hugest sandwiches I’d ever seen outside of New York. Each one contained a pile of meat that must have been at least two inches thick and weighed over three quarters of a pound. It was just after noon, the lunch hour on a Friday, and the place was packed. I looked around hesitantly for a place to sit as I was in no hurry. As I looked around I noticed a counter way in the back which also doubled as a cold case where meats, salads, etc., were displayed. Above it was a large blackboard upon which the choices and prices were written in white chalk. ~

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Behind it was a stocky little man of early middle age with a round expressive face crowned with a fringe of black hair reminiscent of a monk’s tonsure. He wore a white dress shirt open at the neck, black slacks, and had a huge apron tied around his waist which almost reached the ground. Apparently noticing my indecision, he rushed out from behind the counter and made a beeline in my direction. “Come in, come in!” he urged. “Don’t be bashful! We’ll find you some place to sit. Your first time?” He looked around the place quickly, his practiced eye immediately spotting an empty chair at a table near the right wall. Without waiting for an answer, he hustled me over to the empty chair and sat me down. “It’s usually counter service only,” he confided to me in a low voice, “but since it’s your first time I’ll take your order and bring it over to you. You can pay me on the way out, I’ll remember. Now, what are you having?” I hadn’t really had time to think about it. I looked at the huge sandwiches the people beside and across from me were eating with such obvious delight, but they were way too big for me in the middle of the day. Looking for some kind of a clue, I glanced up at the board behind the counter which I could easily read from where I was sitting. Under “Daily Specials” one entry caught my eye: “Half sandwich and cup of soup of the day—$1.95.” “I’ll have the half sandwich and soup,” I told him. “What kind of sandwich?” “Uh, turkey?” “Okay. Soup is clam chowder since it’s Friday. The New England kind. That okay with you?” I noticed he wasn’t writing anything down. “Sure,” I replied. ~

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“Everything on the sandwich?” I nodded. “Drink?” he asked. “Uh, you got beer?” “Sure! Whaddaya think?” “Anchor Steam then.” “Want a kosher pickle? Free with every order!” I told him that sounded good. Nodding his head, he trotted quickly back to his place behind the counter and yelled something into a doorway behind him. Then he resumed taking orders from the line of people at the counter who, amazingly, had waited patiently while he was taking my order. As I watched him, fascinated by his energy, I divined the procedure: he took the order, took the money, rang up the sale on the oldfashioned manual cash register on the counter, put the money in the cash drawer, made change as necessary, then turned around and yelled the order to someone in the back. Then the customer moved past the cash register and stood at another place on the counter. In about thirty seconds a kid would materialize out of the back with the customer’s order, place it on a tray on the counter, and disappear into the back again. The weird thing was, it seemed to be a different kid each time. Intrigued, I watched more closely and counted four different kids before I saw the first one again. He must have an army working back there, I thought. My observations were cut short by the little man, who suddenly materialized with my food. As he set it down in front of me, he pointed at the plate. “Taste the pickle,” he ordered. I did. It was crunchy but not dry, sour but not too ~

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sour. “You like?” I nodded. “Then next time be sure to order the half sour. We got three kinds: this, dill and sour.” I turned my head for a second to bite into my sandwich which contained the best roast turkey breast I’d ever eaten, moist and tender. When I turned back to compliment him, he had somehow magically transported himself to his position behind the counter again, where he was busily taking orders and money as if he’d never been away. Shaking my head, I turned my attention to sandwich, soup, pickle, small pile of potato chips, and beer. All were excellent and I spent a pleasant hour there, happily sipping my beer and digesting my food. Gradually the place began to empty out and the line at the counter shortened. Finally draining the last of my beer, I walked over to the counter. Before I could open my mouth, he said “Don’t tell me—half sand and soup with Anchor Steam. That’ll be three-fifteen.” I gave him a five and told him to keep the change. His face, bright and sunny before, now positively beamed. He stuck his hand out over the counter. “Abe Richman,” he said. “A pleasure.” “Jake Stone,” I replied. I wanted to get used to the new name. “Well, Mr. Stone, come again any time. Although if everybody ate like you I’d go out of business.” He gave a pleased chuckle to show he was only kidding. Then without another word he went back to his work. Strange little guy, I thought as I left the deli, but he ~

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sure makes a mean sandwich. And he must be making money hand over fist. I made a mental note to stop in there whenever I was in the neighborhood. I looked at my watch. Not yet 1:30. I could go across the street and jump on a Haight bus. But I didn’t want to get to Acid’s before two, so I thought I might as well walk. Besides, I needed the exercise: even the half sandwich had filled me up more than I liked in the middle of the day. So I walked up Market past Van Ness and turned onto Haight Street where it veered off to the right at the 24-hour Hub Pharmacy. I walked up the steep hill to Buchanan where Haight levels off for several blocks before another steep hill presents itself at Pierce. By the time I had climbed that hill I was at Baker; by the time I had passed Buena Vista Park and Central I was beginning the six-block stretch of Haight that was the main street of the infamous Haight-Ashbury District. Though the psychedelic flower child magic of the neighborhood had long ago packed its bags for more hospitable climes, there were still a number of leftovers and wannabees who were obviously more interested in drugs than peace; and who lusted more after meaningless sexual encounters than spiritual growth and wisdom. Incoherent pleadings for spare change gave the lie to their colorful but sadly soiled hippie garb. I ignored the importunings as I strode purposefully toward Cole Street and Acid’s house. Thank God the whole city wasn’t like this. Even the winos at Sixth and Mission were up front about their various addictions. I turned left on Cole and walked up the steps to Acid’s front door. I hadn’t been there for nearly a year now, and then only once, but everything seemed to be the same. I rang his door bell. In a few seconds the big black guy I ~

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remembered from my previous visit opened the door a crack. “Yeah? Whatchoowant?” He definitely hadn’t mellowed in the intervening months. Eyeing him coolly I said in a pleasant voice, “I’ve got business with Acid. It’s about Hemp.” “Hemp, huh!” He seemed unable to make up his mind for a moment, but then he threw open the door. Before I could take a step inside he was patting me down. “Can’t afford to take no chances,” he informed me. “Now go sit. I’ll tell Acid you’re here. But if he don’t want to see you, I’m kickin’ yo’ honky ass outa here! You got that?” “Yeah, I get it,” I replied, trying to sound as tough as he did and losing the battle. He was looking more and more like the guy described in Moose’s notebook. But to my surprise, within a few minutes Acid himself appeared in one of the many doorways that led off the large room into which I had been marched. The room itself was furnished with the same French Provincial furniture, expensive paintings, and other elaborate appurtenances I had noticed when I had come here with Hemp. He had discovered Mimi and I had discovered Thai stick. I vowed to keep my head clear this time. Acid advanced slowly into the room, wearing a gold brocade dressing gown that Louis XIV wouldn’t have turned up his nose at. “What’s this about Hemp?” he demanded, taking a chair across from mine. I knew that he knew about Hemp; it had been nearly a week, how could he not? My strategy was to try to get him to talk, to reveal his true feelings about his boy Hemp, his girl Mimi, and his attitude toward what had happened to them both. ~

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Instead I somehow found myself relating the whole story to him: the cops’ open and shut case against Hemp, Hemp’s protestations of innocence and love for Mimi, even my strange conversation with Bradshaw. Fortunately, however, I was able to keep from mentioning my suspicions concerning his huge bald-headed manservant. Acid considered all this. “Ain’t that just like the police,” he said derisively. “It ain’t never nothin’ ‘bout justice, just balancin’ the books.” I was a little taken aback by this philosophical reply. “I’m not quite sure what you mean.” “Well, it’s like this. They got a crime, they need to find somebody who done it. They don’t care if it’s the right guy or not, just so long as it ain’t the wrong guy.” Here he winked at me. “You know, somebody rich or famous, or somebody whose daddy is.” “That sure doesn’t describe Hemp,” I mused. “Exactly! So when the po-lice finds him in a, uh, compromisin’ position, they know they got their man. Ain’t no use to look any further. For them it’d be just a waste of time and way too much trouble, ‘cause the cops is basically lazy, ‘less it comes to beatin’ on brothers.” He got up and wandered listlessly over to the front window and gazed out of it, a faraway look in his eyes. In a little while he turned around to face me again. “Hemp’s a good man,” he told me, the hard edge of sincerity in his voice. “You know, he’s been my main man these last six months or so. And not just ‘cause he’s a good distributor for our products. You ask him somethin’, he tell it like it is, no bullshit! I wish all my people was that straight with me.” This rather one-sided conversation was taking a turn I hadn’t expected. I decided to get to the point. “Uh, Acid, ~

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did you know anything about Hemp’s, uh, relationship with Mimi?” Instead of putting him on the defensive, the question seemed to amuse him. He laughed out loud and said, “What you think I am, boy, stupid? ‘Course I knew. A better question would be, did I care.” He held up a hand. “And the answer would be, hell no! I mean I couldn’t exactly encourage them in front of my other people, that would send the wrong message, but I hoped they’d be happy together. Hemp always liked nothin’ better than tryin’ to put one over on me, so I let him have his fun. I didn’t let on I knew that there was anything between ‘em. And Mimi, well, ain’t no delicate way to put this, but she’s a dime a dozen, far’s I’m concerned. And she always was a little paranoid. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sorry as hell she’s gone, but for me life goes on. I mean, she’s already been replaced.” As if to prove his point he went over to the antique gold telephone and dialed a single number. After a few seconds he said in a sugary tone, “Hey, babe, I’m doin’ a little business out here. Bring me a coupla cold ones. Thanks, sugar.” Then he hung up the phone and sat down, a satisfied look on his face. Only a minute or two passed before a slim Oriental girl bearing a silver tray containing two bottles of Heineken and two frosted glasses appeared. She was almost the spitting image of Mimi Chang, could have been her sister for all I knew. As she walked over to Acid to give him his beer, he reached out and squeezed her around the waist in a proprietary manner. “How long you been with me now, baby?” he asked her. ~

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She shyly put the tray on the coffee table and held up one finger like a four-year old. “One week,” she said, giggling a little as Acid playfully swatted her ass. “Good girl,” he said with approval and patted her on the head as one would an obedient dog. “That’ll be all for now.” She nodded her head and put the other beer and glass on the coffee table, picked up the tray and wandered slowly back the way she had come. “So what do you think?” He saw my look of surprise and said in a much more serious, almost menacing voice. “Looka here, boy. Let’s stop bullshittin’ with each other. Why’d you come here, anyways?” He put up a hand again to stop my reply. “You can’t possibly be stupid enough to think I had anything to do with that murder! I already told you how I feel about Hemp.” I just looked at him and remained silent. I didn’t know what to say for the simple reason that I didn’t know what to think. Frantically I decided I’d have to come up with something, so I pulled out one of my brand-new business cards I had just received from Cookie that morning and handed it to him. “You’re talking to Private Investigator Jake Stone,” I told him in my best tough guy voice. “And I’m checking out all the leads in this case!” This speech produced the biggest laugh yet from Acid. It took him several minutes to regain control of himself, after which he muttered, “Well don’t that beat all!” He composed himself a little more, then asked me, “So, Private Eye Jake Stone, huh? Is this on the level?” “You bet it is!” I said emphatically, feeling much better now that I’d revealed my secret and he hadn’t had me taken out and shot. At least not yet. “I’m trying to find ~

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out what really happened that night. Whoever planted that gun on Hemp must be the real killer. You wouldn’t happen to have any information about that, would you?” He laughed again and looked at my card. Instead of answering he said, “Hey, hot shot! You got a client, or what?” I confessed that I didn’t, if you didn’t count Hemp. “But you got a license, business cards, even a downtown office. What’s your nut?” “My what?” “You know, your nut. How much it runs you to do business. Mine’s somewhere around five G’s not countin’ ‘supplies’. What’s yours?” I thought about it. “I don’t know. Maybe five C’s?” He laughed again. I should’ve been a stand-up comedian, everything I said was so funny. He came over and slapped me on the back. “You’re weird, boy, but I like your style. You really gonna stand up to the po-lice for your buddy, Hemp?” “You bet I am!” I told him without hesitation. He turned and went over to the other side of the room, stopping in front of a large framed picture that looked like an original 18th-century painting of the palace at Versailles. He pulled on this painting and it swung away from the wall like a door on its hinges. He turned his back on me and did something with his hands I couldn’t see. In a few minutes he swung the painting back to its original position and returned to where I was sitting. Without comment he handed me five one hundred dollar bills. “Wh-what?” I was confused. “What’s this for?” “Your nut,” he said calmly. He poured the beer into his glass and I followed suit. Then he raised his glass in a ~

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toast. “To the memory of Mimi Chang,” he proposed. “And the liberation of my main man, Hemp! Go get ‘em, Jake Stone, PI!” He chuckled again and we drank to it. 9.

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left Acid’s place at about four o’clock with a profound sense of bewilderment. If he was on our side, who was the enemy? And if the big, black man seen at the victim’s building at the incriminating time wasn’t Acid’s manservant, Thor, who was he? And what could his motive possibly be for killing Mimi? Oh, well. At least our coffers had been filled with gold—five hundred dollars on top of the better than four thousand that remained of the legacy I had swindled from my parents. We had our first client and I wanted to share the only piece of good news so far with someone, so I jumped on a 7-Haight going downtown. I arrived at the office at 4:30 only to find Cookie in a state of high excitement. “Guess what, boss?” she exclaimed breathlessly before I could tell her my news. “We’ve got our first client! And a big check!” “Whoa, slow down!” I said, fearing for her sanity. After all, we weren’t even in the phone book yet. “Tell me the whole story from the beginning.” “Well, okay, about two o’clock I heard a light tapping at the door. I was watching General Hospital on the TV, there being nothing else to do, and I figured it was either you or Moose and you’d forgotten your key. I mean, who else could it be, right? Anyway, I switched off the TV, just in case, and it was a good thing I did, because when I ~

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answered the door, there was this little white-haired old lady, shorter even than me, standing outside. She looked real upper-class. You know, fur coat in the summer, expensive shoes, etcetera. Well, I figured she’d got lost and was looking for someone else in the building, but she said no, are you the detective agency? I admitted that we were, practically dragged her inside, sat her down, and gave her a cup of tea (I bought a hotplate, cheap, but we won’t go into that now). So once I got her settled I asked her what she wanted with a detective agency, and how had she discovered us since we were new in the area? She said she’d been down on the seventh floor having a chat with her investment counselor. She was about ready to leave and had gone down to the lobby, when she noticed our name in the building directory. So she got back on the elevator and rode up.” She paused for a moment and drew a couple of deep breaths. “So what did she want with a detective agency?” I inquired. I was totally hooked now, all thoughts of my news having been pushed aside by Cookie’s torrent of information. “I’m coming to that.” She waved her hands at me impatiently as if I were interrupting. “It turns out that her name is Rose DelVecchio!” “No!” I was impressed. “Not one of the North Beach olive oil DelVecchios, is she?” “You bet! She’s old Fredo DelVecchio’s eccentric daughter. Been in the loony bin five times in the last ten years. If it was anybody else, the court would have declared her incompetent and locked her up and thrown away the key!” “So what’s her problem, then? Aliens after her? Being ~

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stalked by a sex maniac?” “Better than that! It seems she misplaced her cat, Snowball. He’s been missing for two days. She says she called the cops first and that they were polite but said they didn’t have the manpower to look for missing animals when there was so much crime in the city. So she decided to get professional help. I told her that one of our staff of highly trained operatives would get right on it. She was so delighted to be believed and treated with dignity that she hired us on the spot. And here’s her check.” She held it up to me so I could read it. It was a Bank of America check made out to Stone & McCullough in the amount of one thousand dollars! “Is this real?” I asked her in astonishment. “You bet it is, boss!” she assured me. “That’s the first thing I did after she left. Fortunately it was before three and the bank was still open. When I called they assured me that it was as good as gold. They couldn’t tell me how much was in the account, but they hinted at a balance in the high five figures. So, since I had no way of getting in touch with you, I called Moose right away, I’ve got the number at his construction site, and gave him Miss DelVecchio’s number. He’s gonna call her about five. Oh, and I told him the order came from you, I was just giving him the message. Don’t blow it and let on it was my idea, okay?” “Of course not.” I was still a little stunned. “Did I do good?” she persisted. “Good? You did great!” I grabbed her and gave her a big kiss on the forehead. Then I took the check from her, folded it up, and carefully placed it in my wallet. “I’m gonna open a business account first thing Monday morning. If this keeps up, you guys are gonna get paid ~

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regularly!” She clapped her hands. “Oh, goodie! And Macy’s has a White Flower Day sale coming up.” “Ha, ha!” I then proceeded to give her my news. When I had finished we had both become serious again. “So if Acid Jackson had nothing to do with the murder, then who did?” I summed up. She frowned. “I don’t know. But we’re gonna have to do something to find out.” We left the office together and started toward home. My emotions about the day were, to say the least, mixed. That evening the main topic of conversation was Moose’s cat-finding mission. Carole had made us a bunch of great tacos for dinner, together with a huge tossed salad and plenty of beer. So we were all happily sated when we sat down in the living room to wait for Moose’s return. As we half-listened to KSAN, we idly speculated on his success or failure, throwing out the obligatory “Snowball’s chance in hell” jokes for good measure. We were evenly split in our opinions—I was the Doubting Thomas, Carole proclaimed neutrality worthy of Switzerland on the subject, while Cookie stood by her man. At about eleven Moose walked in with a big grin on his face, weaving slightly from side to side. Even Carole could see he was half smashed. Cookie reacted immediately, jumping up and giving him a hard whack on the shoulder before he even had a chance to ooze into his chair. “You big bozo!” she cried. “What’s the idea of going out and getting drunk? You sere supposed to call Miss DelVecchio, remember?” Moose took all this as cheerfully as if she’d greeted ~

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him with a smile and a kiss. “I did call her,” he replied, moving unsteadily across the room and dropping heavily into his chair. “In fact I just got back from her place.” He seemed remarkably lucid for one so stewed. “Well, what happened?” we all asked him eagerly. He turned to me. “If you want the whole report, Stony, I’m afraid I didn’t have time to write it down,” he began apologetically. “But I can give you the highlights.” “Sure, Moose, that’d be great,” I assured him. “Well, I called her up about five like Cookie told me and got the address. She’s got one of those big fancy houses up on Telegraph Hill. The bus service up there is lousy so I didn’t get there till about six. Miss DelVecchio gave me all the information right away, including the fact that Snowball is a house cat, stays indoors. So I spent the next two hours checking every room in the place. I don’t know how many rooms, but after about eighteen or twenty I lost count. No trace of him in the house, so I went out back. They’ve got a big yard with a wooden fence around it and it slopes downhill to the back fence where there’s a gate that opens onto the alley. I noticed that this gate had been left slightly open—maybe only a foot or so. So I asked Miss DelVecchio, who had followed me out into the yard, if the gate was supposed to be left open. “My heavens no!” or something like that was her response. So I went out into the alley to investigate further and I heard this sorta highpitched whining coming from one of the garbage dumpsters. I looked inside and there was Snowball—dirty and scared to death but OK. There were some boxes piled up around the dumpster so, like I told Miss DelVecchio, the cat must have been chasing something—a rat or a mouse maybe—and gone out the gate, climbed up on the boxes ~

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and jumped into the dumpster. But since the dumpster was almost empty, Snowball wasn’t able to get out again—the sides were too smooth to climb and it was too far for him to jump. So I climbed into the dumpster and handed Snowball out to Miss DelVecchio.” As he concluded he somehow managed to look modest and very pleased with himself at the same time. Carole and I were impressed, but Cookie wasn’t buying it. “So how come you’re drunk then, you big lug?” “Oh, that. Well, Miss DelVecchio wanted to celebrate with someone and I was the only one there. We’ve been drinking Napoleon brandy for the last couple hours. When we finished the bottle I told her I had to be getting home. So she had her chauffeur drive me here in the black Caddy limo. First time I’ve ever been chauffeured. I think I like it.” He grinned widely and leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. “Not so fast!” Cookie jumped up and gave him another whack. “What about the money?” He opened his eyes again. “What money?” “The check she gave me. Since you solved the crime so fast, she probably wants some money back.” “Oh, I don’t know anything about that,” he said, settling back again. “You’ll have to call her. Oh, yeah.” He sat up again. “She did say something about ‘go ahead and keep the fee. It’s worth it just to have Snowball back again’ or something like that. I’m not sure, this is when I was leaving, after the bottle of brandy. But I’m pretty sure that’s what she said.” His head dropped back again and in a few seconds he was snoring. Cookie threw up her hands. “I don’t know whether to kiss him or slug him, the big goofball,” she said helplessly. ~

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“Right now he probably wouldn’t notice either,” I suggested. “Want me to help you take him into the bedroom or you want to let him sleep here?” “Bedroom, I guess,” she said. “If you wouldn’t mind.” “It would be my pleasure.” So we pulled him up out of the chair and with great difficulty walked him down the hall to the bedroom. As Cookie opened the door, I propelled him toward the bed onto which he fell face first and began to make louder snoring noises. I managed to turn him over onto his back and then stood up and tried to stretch my back into shape. “Thanks, boss,” Cookie said. “I’ll take it from here.” “Good luck,” I told her and closed the door quietly behind me. When I returned to the living room, Carole was still sitting on the couch, singing along to the “Doo-do-do, Doot-do-da-do-do-do” part in “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” by Crosby Stills & Nash. I sat down beside her and joined in enthusiastically. When the song ended she grabbed me and gave me a big kiss. “What was that for?” I asked her. “There’s never a dull moment around here, is there?” she inquired rhetorically. “And that’s the way I like it. Let’s hit the sack.” “But I’m not sleepy,” I protested. She gave me a wink. “Neither am I.” That Sunday the fog cleared off early and it actually felt like summer for a change. Moose, having recovered from his Friday night ordeal, had gone to the park with Cookie to work some of the toxins out of his system. Carole and I decided to take advantage of the weather by opening ~

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up all the windows and airing the place out. When we opened our bedroom window the breeze drifting in from the back yard was so warm and sweet we decided to have an impromptu patio party, just the two of us. I stripped down to my cutoffs and she to a very fetching white bikini. I mixed up a pitcher of margaritas while she gathered up whatever munchies she could find in the kitchen. Then we went out into the back yard, unfolded a couple of lawn chairs and proceeded to sun ourselves like lizards on a rock. It was a quiet afternoon for a Sunday. Even the upstairs was quiet, though the window above ours was open as well. No tortured operatic wailing reached our ears, so the consequent howls of Satan were absent as well. We’d been out there for about half an hour, I guess, lazily sunning ourselves, idly talking about this and that, having had just about enough time to finish a margarita each and begin to give some thought as to whether we wanted another one right away, when Leeroy came clumping down the back stairs. If you’ve never seen a 280pound black man dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, plaid bermuda shorts, pink plastic flip-flops and a frayed straw hat that looked like its previous owner had been Farmer Brown, you should have been there. We were, and believe me, he was something to behold. “Hi, kids,” he greeted us cheerfully. “How y’all doin’?” He produced a red handkerchief from the hip pocket of his bermudas and wiped his brow. “Too damn hot up there! I just came down for a little air. Mind if I joint y’all for a spell? Or,” he gave us what I guess was supposed to be a shy look, “do you kids wanna be alone?” “No, not at all,” I replied, lazily brushing away a fly ~

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that had landed on my nose. “Pull up a chair. You know where they are.” He pulled one away from the stack in a corner of the back yard. This time of year we always keep a dozen or so out there for the barbecues. He set it up and sat down directly across from us and mopped his face again. “Have a margarita?” I offered. “That is, if you don’t mind a paper cup and no salt. They’re nice and strong, though, and plenty cold.” “Mighty nice of you. Don’t mind if I do.” So I poured him one and gave it to him, then I repeated the process for Carole and me, and we sat for several minutes sipping our drinks in companionable silence. “So,” I said finally. “How’s it going with you guys, Leeroy? How’s Ma—uh, Laverne these days? Kinda quiet up there.” “Yeah, everything’s just fine. Laverne’s been back east the last week or so visitin’ relatives in Oklahoma. But don’t worry, it ain’t like the last time. Everythin’s goin’ great between us.” “That’s great, Leeroy. I’m real glad to hear that.” “But I hear things ain’t been so great with you guys,” he continued more somberly. “I heard about your buddy, Hemp. Hell of a thing. Anything I can do, just let me know. You boys been real good to me.” “I appreciate your offer and I’ll sure let you know. But I can’t think of anything right now.” Carole had been sitting there quietly during this exchange of formalities. She was good at that; she’d wait until all the expected but meaningless things had been said and then somehow kick the conversation into a more ~

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relevant mode. Now she spoke up. “Did you know that Jake and Moose are now private investigators?” “No kiddin’! When did that happen?” “About a week ago. They’ve got licenses and an office and everything. And they vow to clear their friend’s name or die in the attempt.” She had finished her second margarita so she was entitled to sound a little melodramatic. Leeroy, however, seemed quite impressed. “Well, ain’t that somethin’!” he marveled, then held out his cup for a refill. Carole followed suit. I filled up everyone, including myself. Leeroy was continuing. “Well, if Laverne ever gets pissed off and leaves me again I guess I’ll hire you boys to go an’ track her down.” “I hope it doesn’t come to that, Leeroy,” I said. “Me neither, but that reminds me. What I really come down here for was to tell y’all the good news. Well, good for you guys anyway. You ‘member that deal we was talkin’ about last winter? About what happens to the property if anything happens to me?” I had told Carole and Cookie about what he’d said that night, more as an amusing story than anything else, because nothing had come of it. “Sure,” I replied. “But I didn’t take you seriously. I thought you were probably just drunk or something.” “Maybe I was and maybe I wasn’t,” he retorted. “But I wasn’t never more serious in my life. Laverne agrees with me, so I got the papers all drawn up, you can sign ‘em any time you want. Full ownership of the property,” he reiterated. “All you pay is the property taxes which don’t ~

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amount to a hill o’ beans compared to the rent. Oh, and my two conditions. You recollect what those were?” I concentrated for a moment. “Oh, yeah,” I recalled. “Something about living in the property. And taking care of the barbecue pit.” I pointed to the handsome brick structure a few feet from where we were sitting. “Good boy!” he exclaimed, draining the last of his second margarita and, with great effort, levering his bulk out of the folding patio chair. “Then we got a deal! Come up any time and sign those papers. Thanks for the drinks. Good to see y’all again, Miss Carole.” He tipped his hat in her direction, then ambled toward the house and began puffing his way up the stairs. We watched him go. Carole had a rather bemused look on her face. “Well, I’m impressed,” she said. “Boss of your own business and a property owner, too. At the tender age of twenty-five, yet. And I thought James was on the fast track to success.” I stuck out my tongue at her, she threw an ice cube at me, and we ended up sitting out there for several more hours, finishing the pitcher of margaritas, getting too much sun, dreamy and drowsy, half-listening to the shrill cawing of blackbirds and the occasional faraway siren. Finally the sun began to sink behind the trees, the wind began to pick up slightly, and the air became noticeably cooler. Regretfully, we decided to take the party inside. We restacked the lawn chairs, gathered up our litter and reentered the house through the bedroom door. While Carole took our stuff out to the kitchen, I went around closing windows. The fog was definitely on its way back in, but the respite had been nice while it lasted. I lay down on the bed. In a few moments Carole joined ~

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me, a cold beer in each hand. She lay on the bed beside me as I popped the tops from the beers and turned on the bedside AM-FM clock radio which I kept tuned to KSAN. “Who’s cooking dinner tonight?” I asked. “Cookie, if she and Moose get back in time.” “I don’t mind waiting. I had enough chips and stuff. How about you?” “I can wait as long as you can.” I thought for a moment. “Tomorrow’s Monday, right?” She made a face at me. “Unfortunately, yes. A question you wouldn’t have to ask if you were working.” I took no offense. “Yeah, it’s weird, isn’t it? The reason I ask, I’ve gotta go to the bank tomorrow and open an account in the name of Stone & McCullough. I suddenly find myself with too much money.” “What do you mean, too much money?” I ticked off on my fingers the sources of my wealth. “Well, there’s the rest of the money I got from my folks. That’s about four thousand. There’s the check for a thousand from old Miss Whatshername…” “DelVecchio,” Carole supplied. “And Cookie’s still got to verify that she means for us to keep the whole amount.” “Okay, she can call her in the morning and then I’ll go to the bank. But also there’s the five hundred I got from Acid Jackson…” “You got money from that—that dope king Hemp was working for?” She sounded incredulous. “Why on earth would he give you any money?” “I know, I couldn’t believe it either. Apparently he had nothing to do with the murder. At least that’s what he says. I went over to see him on Friday, and it seems he hired me to get Hemp off the hook. I was gonna tell you guys but I ~

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got sidetracked by the Case of the Missing Cat. Anyway, the point is that after a week of doing practically nothing, we’ve got two clients (three if you count Hemp) and plenty of money in the bank. I wasn’t doing this well when I was working. But the bad news is that after talking to Acid I’m no closer to figuring out how to get Hemp off.” She looked at me thoughtfully. “Maybe that’s the problem.” “What do you mean?” “You’ve only been off work for a week. I think in your mind you’re just on vacation.” She rolled over on her side and put her face against mine. “Listen, do me a favor.” “Sure. Anything.” I could smell her hair and feel the lingering sun glow on her skin. “You’re not going back to your old job, right? I mean now that you’ve got the opportunity and a little money. I always thought you were meant for better things.” “I don’t know about that, but yeah, I guess I’m not. I feel kinda guilty, though. I mean, like I’m running out on them or something. You know, I’ve never quit a job before, except summer jobs when I was a kid, and they don’t count.” She rolled over on her back again and said softly and sympathetically, “I don’t think you have to worry about that, Jake. From what you tell me, Helen would be more than happy to get her old job back. It’d give her something to do with all this time on her hands. And that Mexican guy, you know, the one that’s driving the truck…” “Luis,” I prompted. “Well, he’s made three deliveries so far, right? So if there was a problem, I’m sure they would have tried to call you by now.” ~

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“Yeah, I suppose you’re right. So I’m not Mr. Indispensable. But you mentioned a favor?” She pointed to the phone. “Call him up right now, your boss, and tell him you’re quitting. I’ve got a feeling that the sooner you do that, the sooner you can kick the idea that you’re just ‘on vacation’. Stop worrying about your old job and concentrate all your energy on what you’ve got to do now.” I considered this for a moment. “Yeah, you might have a point. But you want me to call now? I don’t know if I’m sober enough.” “Quit your stalling! If you’re sober enough to talk to me, you can talk to him. Besides, what’s he going to do if he suspects you’re drunk on a Sunday afternoon on your own time in the privacy of your own home, fire you?” I grinned at that. “Okay,” I said. “You’re on.” I reached into the nightstand drawer for my address book. Then I picked up the phone and began to dial old BS’s home number. Carole started to get off the bed, but I grabbed her arm with my free hand. “You might as well stay,” I told her, “since it was your idea in the first place.” She sat down again. On the third ring a familiar voice answered. “Uh, is that you, Mr. Soskin?” I asked in what I hoped was a normal, sober voice. “Yes, Ted Soskin here.” “This is Jake. Listen, sir, I really need to talk to you.” “Yes, Jake, I rather imagine you do.” His voice was unaccountably tinged with amusement. “Uh, things going okay at work?” I was beginning to feel guilty now, but he replied cheerfully that things couldn’t be better. ~

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“Helen is perfectly happy to have her old job back, now that her husband’s passed on. And the Mexican kid is handling the deliveries just fine. Of course we had to hire a part-time guy to take his place in the back, but we can afford it; those guys are all willing to work for peanuts anyway. But that wasn’t why you called, was it, Jake?” “Uh, no sir, not really.” “Well then, since you seem uncharacteristically reticent, let me try to make it a little easier for you by relating a little anecdote to you; something that happened to me Friday evening, just before I left work.” “What would that be, sir?” It was weird. Here I was, about to quit my job. I had no reason whatsoever to care about old Soskin’s opinion of me any longer, but I couldn’t help feeling like a kid in the principal’s office waiting for punishment to be decided. He continued. “About five o’clock, Jake, I decided to see if I could find out how things were going with you. I want to emphasize that I did this in all innocence; I was genuinely concerned. So I placed a call to your parents’ house in Massachusetts. Lowell, if I’m not mistaken.” I was sure that my guilt was audible over the phone, not that it mattered now. “But, but, how…” I stammered. “You may not recall it, most people don’t, but when you filled out your application for employment, there was a section on ‘Who to Contact in Case of Emergency’. You listed your parents and gave their address and phone number.” Damn! He was right! I hadn’t even remembered, it had been so long ago. “So imagine my surprise,” a touch of irony was creeping into his voice now, “when your dead father ~

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answered the phone. He was just about to sit down to dinner and apparently his appetite was good, for he sounded impatient to get to it. He asked me who I was and all I told him was that I was a friend of yours and had heard that you might be visiting. He told me you weren’t there, as I had already gathered, but that you had called him just a few days ago, and how proud he was of your decision to go to law school. He also wanted to know if you’d gotten the money he’d sent you as you seemed rather in a hurry for it. I told him I hadn’t seen you since last week (the truth) and that I would convey his good wishes to you when I next saw you. We chatted amiably enough for the next few minutes about this and that, and then we said goodbye, wished each other well, and I hung up the phone. Jake, if you wanted to quit and go to law school, you might have told me. I’m not a monster, you know.” “Yeah, I’m sorry about all that, Mr. Soskin. But I’ve been going through some weird stuff lately. I didn’t mean to cause any trouble.” “It’s okay, Jake, I just wish you’d been more honest with me. But it’s only natural to be going through these things now. You’re still a young man, what, only twentyfive. It’s only natural you would want to prepare for the future. Don’t worry about me or the company. Employees come and go. Why even I, I won’t be here forever. I’ll be retiring myself in ten, maybe fifteen years, tops. That is,” I could almost see him winking at me, “if I don’t die young of an unexpected heart attack. People like us come and go, Jake, but the company survives it and goes on.” I hadn’t expected this sort of rambling philosophizing from the old guy. But then, I never could figure him out. “Uh, thank you, sir, for not being too upset. I appreciate ~

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your having given me the job.” “That’s all right. You were always a good worker, that is, when you could keep your mind on the job.” His voice became businesslike once again. “Now, I owe you two weeks vacation pay and one week’s salary. I’ll mail you a check first thing in the morning. You’re still at the same address, I trust?” “Yes, sir, that’s right. 23rd Street.” “Excellent. Well then, I guess it’s goodbye and good luck.” “Thank you, sir, and the same to you.” I hung up the phone and turned to Carole who had been sitting quietly on the other side of the bed through the whole conversation. “Well, that was sure weird,” I remarked. “But admit it,” she replied, “you feel better now.” I moved my head from side to side, stretching the kinks out of my neck. I felt like someone who has been in a particularly nasty car wreck and walks away without a scratch. He pats himself all over, tests all his muscles and his joints, and when he finds everything in perfect condition he feels both relieved and amazed. “You’re right,” I said. “I do feel better. My head’s clearer. I feel more focused.” The sky was beginning to darken. While I’d been on the phone, I’d half-heard vague muffled sounds coming from the living room which probably meant that Cookie and Moose were home. “So, what’s next?” Carole asked me simply. “Next? Well, we go out and greet the happy couple. If Cookie’s cooking, we eat. If she’s not, we eat anyway. My treat. Then afterwards you and Cookie find something to talk about in the kitchen, will you? It’s time Moose and I ~

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did a little real investigating. And for something more important than a lost cat—our friend’s life is at stake and we’ve got barely a week left to save him!” While I was making this dramatic statement, Carole and I were both changing into warmer clothes. “And when do us mere females find out what’s going on?” Carole teased. I chucked her under the chin. “All in good time, woman.” Then we wandered out into the living room. For some reason I had suddenly developed a tremendous appetite for pork adobo. 10.

S

o on Monday morning at about eight as the four of us sat around the dining room table for Council of War II, I found myself much more confident and in control of the situation than I had the previous Monday. Maybe it was the fact that emotionally, a crisis can last only so long before it becomes the norm; or maybe it was the fact that I had finally quit my job which had been occupying my mind perhaps more than I realized. Whatever the case, it now seemed clear to me as to how to proceed. I began by telling the three of them about my puzzling meeting with Acid Jackson the previous Friday. I had gone there, I told them, with the purpose of establishing some connection between his huge manservant and the murder, and had ended up accepting a substantial amount of money from him to aid me in my attempts to clear Hemp. “Well, if Acid had nothing to do with it,” Cookie sighed, “then we’re right back where we started from.” ~

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“Not quite,” I said. “We have two things to go on: one, whether it’s got anything to do with Acid’s man or not, we’ve still got the eyewitness evidence from the building tenants. Maybe it was just a coincidence he looked like Acid’s man.” “So where does that leave us?” Moose asked. “I’ve talked to Hemp a couple more times in the last week,” I replied, “and he tells me that when he woke up on the floor with the cops standing over him, he couldn’t have been there for more than fifteen minutes. This is supported by the hippie tenant who saw the uniform cops drive up and enter the building. So that’s number two.” “Which proves what?” Cookie inquired. “That the cops probably didn’t have time to do any more than give the murder scene a casual glance. They left with Hemp after being there only a few minutes.” “They could have come back and searched the place later,” Carole pointed out. “I don’t think so. I had a talk with Bradshaw, remember, and he boasted about having an open and shut case against Hemp. Why would they waste the time and manpower searching for clues on a case they already think they’ve got all locked up? Anyway, I think it’s worth a shot. Moose, take off work about noon and meet me at the murder scene, 342 Kearney. We’re gonna search her apartment and see what we come up with.” “How do we get in?” Moose wanted to know. “Easy. You’ve already been in the building. We identify ourselves as detectives to the manager and he’ll let us in, no problem. They don’t want cop trouble, being that close to Chinatown.” “Okay you guys, good luck.” Carole got up and gave ~

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me a kiss. “I’m late for work.” “And I’ve got to get down to the office,” said Cookie, rising and kissing Moose. “Maybe we’ll get lucky and another client will appear on our doorstep.” “Don’t hold your breath, Cookie!” I laughed. “The old lady with the cat was just dumb luck.” “You never know,” she said, going out the door. Moose joined me on the sidewalk in front of the murder scene precisely at two. I looked up at the building; it was exactly as Moose had described it in his notebook. We mounted the front steps and walked in through the main entrance. Moose pointed to a flight of stairs descending to our left. “Manager’s in the basement,” he explained. We walked down the stairs into the dark, dank basement. The cement ceiling looked the same as the cement floor and was so low that Moose had to duck his head. A cardboard sign on one of the windowless wooden doors indicated that it was “Apt. 1B—Manager—Charlie Yin”. We stopped in front of it. “Got your fake badge?” I whispered to Moose. “Yeah,” he whispered back, patting his right rear pocket. “In my wallet.” “You’ve got a better voice, Moose. Say something loud and official.” He shrugged his shoulders in assent. Since there seemed to be no doorbell, he pounded heavily on the door, at the same time calling out in a deep gruff voice that sounded nothing like his usual mild baritone, “Open up, Mr. Yin! We need to speak to you!” “What you want? Go away!” cried a thin reedy voice ~

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from the other side of the door. Moose pounded again. “We’re detectives, Mr. Yin! Official business! Open up!” There was a grumbling and scratching from inside. “Oh, you cops! Why you not say so?” And finally there was the sound of three or four bolts being unlocked and the door opened a crack. “Detectives Stone and McCullough,” I told him with the voice of authority. We each flashed our fake badges at him for less than a second. “Come in, come in,” he offered obsequiously, simultaneously bowing several times and opening wide the door. He was a small middle-aged Chinese man with a round face, thick gold-rimmed glasses and thin strands of black hair pasted over an otherwise bare scalp. He wore a thin, short-sleeved, brightly-flowered shirt, khaki knee shorts and the kind of straw sandals that can be gotten in any Chinatown bazaar for 99 cents. “You sit.” He pointed to a small couch with faded torn upholstery. The room was so dark and shabby it looked like a furnished jail cell. Nevertheless, the little man, Yin, was determined to play the perfect host. “Sit down,” he said again. “You want whiskey? All you cops want whiskey.” When we declined he shrugged his shoulders and sat down opposite us on a small metal folding chair that looked as if it might have come from the basement of an impoverished church. Then he folded his arms and sat looking at us with a strange combination of passivity and curiosity. Since we obviously weren’t going to get anything else from him without trying, I spoke up. “Mr. Yin,” I began. He bowed in recognition but his expression remained ~

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the same. “You know a girl was killed in this building, a week ago Friday night. Apartment…” I referred to my notes, “304.” He nodded as emotionlessly as if I had told him it was raining. “We need to take a look at the apartment. You know, search for clues,” I told him gently. He bristled at this. “What for? Cops say case closed. No more need to come here. They say they got guy who done it!’ I cleared my throat. “Well, Mr. Yin, that’s just it. There have been, um, some new developments in the case and we would really appreciate your cooperation.” “What you mean?” he cried. “Maybe this guy not do it?” “We’re not sure yet, Mr. Yin, but we’ll certainly keep you informed if anything definite turns up. After all, you are the building manager.” He smiled for the first time. “Yes. Is so. I manager.” He said the word with emphasis, like he was saying “king” or “president” or even “rich”. Then he stood up and bowed again. “Please. You call me Charlie. You want see room, I get key.” He went over to the rear wall and switched on a bare overhead light bulb. By its light I could see for the first time a large pegboard with numbered hooks like they have in some cheap motels. On these hooks hung a large number of keys. Mr. Yin selected the proper one and ushered us toward the door. After we were outside he locked his door with a key from his pocket. “Come,” he said. “We take freight elevator up. ~

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Climbing stairs for chumps.” We followed him down to the end of the dark hall to an antique elevator with a latticed iron door. When he opened it we entered rather dubiously, and he punched a button marked three. After a frightening series of shrieks and groans, the ancient conveyance began to rise at the rate of what must have been only about a few feet a minute. When we finally reached the third floor we both sighed with relief. “Remind me to take the stairs back down,” I whispered to Moose. He nodded his head emphatically in agreement. Apartment 304 was at the opposite end of the hall from the elevator. Without comment Mr. Yin led us down the hall and opened the door with his key. “How long had she lived here?” I ventured before we went in. “Not even one month,” was the reply. “Rent due again end of week.” He looked at us expectantly. “You say OKAY, I pack up things.” He pointed to the interior of the apartment. “Put in storage. Nobody claim, I call Goodwill. Then rent out again.” I looked at Moose uncertainly. There was no way we could authorize him to pack up the evidence, if there was any, and throw the place open to the general public. Moose took the hint. “Uh, thank you very much for your cooperation, Mr. Yin,” he said in an official voice. “But this is going to have to be a restricted area for now. Our office will notify you when we’re finished.” That seemed to satisfy, though not please him, and he turned to leave. He bowed again. “I go now. When you through, pull door close. It lock itself.” Then we were left alone in the murdered girl’s ~

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apartment. It was set up more or less the same way The Hermit’s had been: square front living room with a small kitchen in the rear. But unlike his place, there was also a small dark room off to the left which could serve as bedroom or study. Between this room and the kitchen, but off to the right, there was a small bathroom with shower and sink but no tub. The apartment was a furnished one, with two badly upholstered stuffed chairs and a more-orless matching couch; a couple of flimsy wood end tables upon which sat lamps with elaborately painted china bases and stained scorched shades. There was a ceiling chandelier containing three bare low wattage light bulbs which was probably controlled by a wall switch by the door, but we ignored it; there was enough natural light coming in through the kitchen window. The living room was so devoid of personal effects it could have been a motel room. “Looks like nothing in here,” remarked Moose, echoing my thoughts. “Maybe somebody beat us to it.” “Unlikely,” I replied. “Remember, she’d only been here three weeks at the most when it happened. And besides, most people don’t keep their personal stuff in the living room.” He nodded at that. “Okay then. I’ll check the side room over here. You wanna take the kitchen and bathroom?” I agreed and for about the next fifteen minutes we went over the place thoroughly. There wasn’t much to look at—just the usual dishes in the kitchen, toiletries in the bathroom, not even any interesting drugs, prescription or non. My search had just about been reduced to rummaging among the cleaning fluids under the sink when I heard Moose’s excited cry. “Hey, Stony!” he called. “I think I got something!” ~

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Thankfully I slammed the cabinet doors shut and hurried into the other room. It was very small but obviously a bedroom since its major components were a single bed, an old fashioned dresser with mirror, and a nightstand with another table lamp like the ones in the living room. “I was going through her clothes in the dresser,” Moose was saying. “Real ordinary stuff, but at the bottom of her drawer of girly things I found this.” He handed me a black leather bound book maybe an inch to an inch and a half thick. “What do you suppose it is?” “It looks like some sort of diary or journal,” I replied slowly. I opened it to the first page and then the second. They were both blank. Then I remembered that I had read somewhere that the Chinese wrote backwards—from right to left and bottom to top. So I turned to the last page. There at the bottom of it was taped a picture which looked like an ordinary color polaroid. It showed a smiling Hemp with his arm around a delicate-looking young woman with Oriental features. Since the top of her head came up only to Hemp’s chin, she must have been about five-two or shorter. Since Hemp had his arm around her and was smiling, she must be the recently murdered Mimi Chang. The picture had been taken in a saloon, probably in North Beach, because behind them in the background was a traditionally dressed bartender standing behind a long wooden bar and in front of a mirrored wall which held several shelves full of liquor bottles. In the upper right-hand corner of the picture I could just make out part of a plate glass window with the letters “ound” painted on it. It was spattered with rain drops and the few bar patrons in the background were wearing heavy coats, so I figured it must have been taken ~

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early in the year during the rainy season. Above the picture was a series of what were probably Chinese characters written upon the page in the oldfashioned way—with brushstrokes instead of pen scratches. I flipped through the pages. There were no other pictures, only large numbers of the same characters, drawn smaller now, filling each page from the back up to about the halfway point of the book. The rest of the pages were blank. Moose brought me out of my reverie. “And this was inside the book.” He handed me a small white envelope. In it was a receipt from one of Chinatown’s most famous tourist restaurants, the Imperial Palace, located at Grant and Washington. It was expensive, the place to go in Chinatown if you really wanted to show off. The food was good, but it was the décor and service which were really impressive. Or so I’d heard, since I’d never been there. It was way out of my league. I looked at the bill more closely. It was for a party of two. The amount charged was $32.93, paid in cash. The date on the receipt was July 12, 1975. Just six days before she died, I thought to myself. I put the receipt back into the envelope and the envelope back into the boOkay, and we searched for about another fifteen minutes, finding nothing else of interest. Suddenly a ray of light flooded the room. I turned around instinctively, searching for the source. There was a halfopen window in the bedroom, its chintz curtains fluttering in the breeze. While we had been searching the room the sun had slowly moved into position to shine through this window which it had done, suddenly, through a well-placed hole in the fog. I turned back to Moose. “Was that window open when you came in here?” “Yeah, I guess so. I didn’t really notice. But I didn’t ~

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open it, if that’s what you mean.” “In that case it was open when we got here. Which means it’s probably been open since the murder.” I went over to the window and stuck my head out. It opened onto the little back yard that Moose had described in his notebook. There was an outside ledge running the width of the window and extending out about six inches, forming an area where potted plants or a window box could be kept. But what really caught my attention was a wooden ladder attached to the side of the building less than two feet from the window. I motioned for Moose to come over to the window and pointed out the ladder to him. “Yeah,” he said. “That makes sense. That must have been how the real murderer got in.” I clapped him on the back in congratulation. “Good thinking! Now, let’s get out of here.” I thumped the black book with my fist. “First thing we do, we’ve got to find out what’s in this book. And I think I know just where to go to accomplish that. Come on, it’s not far.” It was a short walk, just a few blocks to the Chinatown Gate at Grant and Bush. Just inside the Gate the Confucius Lounge lay in wait, as cool, dark and indifferent as ever. It was only a little after three in the afternoon, but a thick fog had already begun to settle over the area. The clouds were so low that a fine mist was blowing in, making the interior of the gloomy bar seem more inviting than it would have been on a warm sunny day. At this time of the afternoon Shrimp Louie, the day bartender/manager/owner of the place, was usually behind the bar and today was no exception. As we entered he gave ~

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me a cheerful wave. “Hello again, friend Jake! Business go bust already and you need free beer?” he bantered. Then he caught sight of Moose. “Who your big friend? You need bodyguard now, protect you from creditors?” I laughed. “No, no, Shrimp. Everything’s OK.” We stepped up closer to the bar. “Shrimp, I want you to meet my good friend and partner, Moose McCullough. Moose, Shrimp Louie, the smartest bartender in San Francisco.” They shook hands. “Oh!” cried Shrimp. “Such compliment! I know you want something now!” He eyed Moose critically. “You Moose, huh? Good name. Look like you could eat one!” With difficulty I got his attention again. “Look, Shrimp, you’re right about one thing. I do need a favor from you. It involves the case we’re working on. You know, Mimi Chang’s murder. I’ll be glad to pay you for your time.” He looked at me in horror. “No, Jake, no! We friends! Friends no pay friends for favors. I not take money from you, except in usual way.” He grinned. “We make deal. You tell me what is favor. If I can do it for you, you buy drinks for house.” He glanced around at the few scattered individuals present, mostly older Chinese men, sitting at tables, languidly sipping their drinks. “Cost you maybe ten bucks, tops!” I laughed again. “OKAY, you got a deal, Shrimp!” I slapped a twenty on the bar. “Drinks for the house!” I called out loudly. Immediately the old men, who hadn’t seemed to be paying us any attention, rose to their feet in unison and bowed deeply in our direction. I returned their bows and whispered to Moose, “Bow to them, big guy.” Moose complied, bending slightly at the waist and ~

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dipping his head awkwardly. “Why can’t they just say ‘thank you’ like everybody else?” he complained. “Give us two Heinekens, Shrimp, and one for yourself,” I ordered. Then I took the black leather book out of my field jacket. “Do you know what this is?” I whispered to him. He took it from me and looked it over. “Look like book to me. Expensive book.” “Yes and no,” I replied mysteriously. “It’s a boOkay, all right, but it’s also a piece of evidence.” I dropped my voice to an even lower whisper. “What would you say if I told you we found this in the dead girl’s bedroom less than an hour ago?” His jaw dropped. “No kidding!” he exclaimed. “I swear to God,” I replied. I took it back from him and opened it to the first (or last, depending on your point of view) page. I showed him the picture. “This is the dead girl,” I pointed. “And this is my friend, Hemp, the guy the cops say did it. But there’s just one problem.” I flipped through the pages of the book. “I’m pretty sure that this is her diary or something, so it might contain a clue as to who really killed her. But I can’t read this writing. Can you?” He looked at the brushstroked characters. “Oh, sure,” he replied. “Cantonese. Simple dialect of Chinese.” He looked up at me again. “This girl speak English?” he asked. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure. Hemp was in love with her, so they must’ve been able to talk to each other. Why do you ask?” “Oh, I don’t know,” he replied. He seemed to hesitate for a moment. “You could be right about clue,” he continued. “Many Chinese people, when they want keep secret from outsiders, they write secret in Chinese. That ~

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way, nobody but Chinese can read. Maybe girl have secret.” “That’s what I’m counting on you to find out,” I said, giving him back the book. “But remember,” I whispered, “this is completely confidential. Not a word to anybody.” “You don’t worry, Jake. I not be in this business long without keep secrets. Many secrets.” He looked around the bar as if to emphasize his last statement. “Now you and your big Moose drink up. I lock book in safe. Then take home with me tonight. I bring book back here tomorrow one o’clock. Any time after, you come back, I tell you what book say. Deal?” “Deal!” I shook his hand and then led Moose over to an empty table. Moose was shaking his head. “You sure you can trust that guy?” he asked. I tried to reassure him but he still seemed ill at ease. “This is a weird place,” he complained. “Gives me the creeps, somehow. It’s like one of those bars in the old thirties movies. You know, where somebody always gets knifed in the back.” I laughed and clapped him on the back. “You should see it at night!” In the morning I found I had nothing to do. Carole had gone off to work and Moose had done the same after I assured him he wouldn’t be needed until at least late afternoon. So he just shrugged his shoulders and said “OK.” That was the great thing about Moose—he always seemed able to go with the flow. I knew I was basing all of my hopes for freeing Hemp on this one flimsy piece of evidence, but I had nothing else to go on and time was growing short—only four days remained before the moment of doom my future self had ~

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predicted. And even if that eventuality had been eliminated by my interest and efforts in the case, the trial was still next Monday. So, as I said, having nothing else to do, I decided to drop in at the office to see how Cookie was doing. Although we had opened for business several days ago and had already successfully solved one case (thanks to Moose), I’d only been there a couple of times. When I walked in, about eleven, Cookie was sitting at her desk, busily writing on a legal pad. She looked up as I entered. “Oh, hi, boss,” she greeted me in a tone that indicated she was indifferent to my comings and goings. “Just getting ready to type up Moose’s notes on the DelVecchio case.” “Good for you,” I said, sitting down in a chair across from her. “And check out this flyer I made up,” she added. “If you approve, I’m gonna get a thousand of ‘em printed up and stick ‘em up all over town.” She handed me a sheet of typing paper on which she had printed: ARE YOU FEELING DOWN? LOST PROPERTY? LOST PETS? LOST PEOPLE? NEED TO FIND OUT WHAT A FRIEND OR LOVED ONE IS UP TO? THEN HIRE YOUR OWN PERSONAL DETECTIVE! OUR STAFF OF HIGHLY TRAINED PROFESSIONALS IS AT YOUR SERVICE, DAY OR NIGHT, JUST A PHONE CALL AWAY! REMEMBER, WE CARE WHEN THE COPS DON’T! OUR GUARANTEE: ~

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IF WE FAIL TO SOLVE YOUR PROBLEM TO YOUR SATISFACTION, OUR FEE IS EXPENSES ONLY (REASONABLE DAILY RATES AVAILABLE) CALL NOW! STONE & McCULLOUGH 785 MARKET STREET, SUITE 1600 PHONE 649-1119

“Well, what do you think?” I handed it back to her. “Looks terrific!” I told her honestly. “You know, I think you deserve a salary. You’re down here every day. In fact, you’re the only one of us who’s been working on this every day since it happened.” She put her hands up and shook her head. “No, seriously, I mean it,” I said. “Come on, I wouldn’t feel right about it otherwise.” “Okay, ” she replied grudgingly. “But only if and when you can afford it.” “We’re doing pretty well right now. What with the money from Acid and the cat lady. Plus that great flyer of yours is sure to bring in some business.” She grinned modestly at that. “So how about a hundred a week until further notice?” “OK by me, boss.” “Great! And since you’re the office manager, I’m gonna add your name to the bank account. That way when you need something for the office, you won’t have to come to me.” “Whatever you say, you’re the boss.” “Oh, and don’t forget to pay yourself every week.” We talked some more and then it was lunchtime. Cookie had brought her lunch from home, so I decided to ~

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go up to The Noble Frankfurter for a hot dog since it was more or less on the way to Chinatown. As I strolled through Union Square, I kept my furtive glances to a minimum. It had been well over a week now, and I had almost broken myself of the habit of looking around for The Hermit. After a quick lunch I wandered the couple of blocks downhill to the Confucius Lounge, where I hoped Shrimp Louie would be waiting for me with some good news about the contents of the diary. He was standing behind the bar polishing glasses, having apparently just opened for business. I looked around. We seemed to be alone in the place. “Ah, Jake!” he cried out when he saw me walk in. “Cheap beer all around, huh?” He glanced at the empty tables. “Now good time buy drinks for house,” he joked. I grinned back. “Maybe later, Shrimp.” Even though I could see no one else in the bar, I still dropped my voice to a whisper. “You’ve got something for me?” “You bet.” He handed me the black leather bound book and then a cheap steno pad. “Here English version,” he said. “Remember, my English not so good, but you tell me to keep it quiet, so I do. In here,” he pointed to the pad, “is meaning of what she say. If it not clear, bring back, I try to say better.” I took both books and put them in the pockets of my field jacket. Then I slipped him a twenty. He pressed it back in my hand. “No, no!” he told me firmly. “I tell you I not take money from friend.” I closed his fingers over the bill. “Then buy the bar a round of drinks on me at exactly five o’clock,” I insisted. “Okay, Jake, you drive hard bargain.” He put the bill ~

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in the cash register. “And thanks a lot, Shrimp.” I shook his hand. “I owe you one.” “No sweat, Jake,” he called out as I turned to leave. “You want beer, I always here.” Then I went back to the office to do a little reading. 11.

I

closeted myself in my private office after telling Cookie I didn’t want to be disturbed. It was a stupid request—I mean, who was going to disturb me in an office only a handful of people knew existed? But it made me feel more professional, somehow, that Cookie took me seriously; I could see she was glad I was finally getting some use out of the office she had so carefully designed for me. “Okay boss, I’ll hold all your calls,” she replied with no trace of irony. By four o’clock I had spent a couple of hours going over and rephrasing Shrimp’s translation so that it looked and sounded more like the kind of English I had grown up with—you know, the kind that makes sense. Shrimp was right—his English wasn’t that good, but he was the only person I could trust that knew Chinese. So what follows is the highlights of the Journal of Mimi Chang: Jan. 1, 1975—I am beginning this diary for two reasons: one, I have just met a wonderful American guy who calls himself Hemp. He is the first guy I have met since I came to America to treat me like a person. I will say more about coming to America ~

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later. Two, my 20th birthday is next week and Hemp has promised me that before I turn 21 (I guess this must be some sort of magic age to be in America) he will get me my own place to live, which means I won’t have to live in Acid Jackson’s house where I am sometimes his lover and sometimes his servant but never myself. (More about how I came to live here later.) Also a third reason is it is the beginning of the American new year (not Chinese which is beginning of next month). Since I wish to become American in all things I honor the custom of making a new start on the new year. Jan. 7—Hemp takes me out for a wonderful birthday to an Italian place in North Beach where we eat spaghetti and drink red wine. To me it tastes sour at first, but after two or three glasses it is much better! He has a friend take our picture and so to remember I put it here at the beginning. Feb. 14—Another American holiday—Valentine’s Day—and this one is for lovers like Hemp and me. He rents a cheap hotel room and we sleep there all night—when we sleep at all! Hemp is a good lover in my small experience but very pleased with himself so that I must be too when I am with him. Mar. 12—Hemp and I are now sneaking out to cheap hotels at least once every week. And to different ones just in case. Hemp worries that we are being followed. I tell him not to worry—Acid would surely say something if he knew about Hemp and me. Still I wonder—something feels not quite right. Apr. 17—Hemp and I are still much in love. But the big reason for this entry is I hear something on ~

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the telephone yesterday I should not have heard. You see, if the phone rings 5 times, the answering machine comes on. Usually I am not supposed to answer the telephone when anyone is in the house which is almost all the time. But this time the phone keeps ringing—one, two, three, four, nobody answers. I think maybe the phone call might be important, so I answer the phone where I am, in the kitchen. But before I can say anything I hear two voices talking to each other—Acid and someone I don’t know. I start to put the phone down but for some reason I don’t—maybe I am curious. Anyway I hear the voice that is not Acid’s say something like “Okay, we make delivery tonight. You will have the cash?” And Acid says, “No problem, everything’s cool on this end.” Except in the middle he says the name of the man he’s talking to—the man all of us little people and servants know only as “the Boss”—the man who sells Acid his drugs and gives him the means to stay in this business and be such a big man. The realization of finally knowing the Big Boss’s name fills me with both excitement and dread. Can I use this information to somehow free myself from Acid’s control? Or would it be better to try to forget I even know? I will ask Hemp when I see him in a few days. He will know what to do. May 25—I am scared to death. The big black man, Acid’s bodyguard who everyone calls “Thor” has seen me talking to Hemp. It was late at night a few days ago. We were just leaving the house together (as we were going to yet another cheap motel). I was so scared I couldn’t even remember ~

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what Hemp and I were saying to each other—nor could I tell Hemp what had scared me so—Hemp must not have seen him—and I made up some stupid story about a spider at which he laughed in that superior way of his and said “Don’t worry, baby, I won’t let the nasty old spider get you!” Oh, if it were only as simple as that! June 14—I think Hemp and I are being followed all the time now but Hemp seems not to notice. He accuses me of being paranoid—I think he means imagining bad things that are not real. But some good comes of this when he tells me that in a couple of weeks I am to have my own little place—that there I will feel safer and more in control. July 1—I am free! Hemp has rented for me a cozy little place on Kearney, not far from the Chinatown Gate. Finally there will be no more sneaking around! I left for Acid a note telling him how much I appreciated his kindness to me—all bullshit as Hemp would say—and wishing him well. But I did not tell him where I am going—it is far enough from the Haight-Ashbury I hope. July 8—Only one week has passed since the happiest day of my life and now it seems like only a half-remembered dream. I am followed all the time now, but by different people. And just today as I was going into my building a big white man got out of a parked car and came over and talked to me. He told me if I would help him he would make sure that no one would follow or harm me. I hesitated—I don’t know if I should trust him—what if he works for Acid? Then he shows me a badge and makes a date ~

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with me for Friday—dinner at my favorite restaurant, the Imperial Palace. There he will tell me what I must do. July 12—I’m sure the dinner at the Imperial Palace was very good but I could hardly taste a thing I was so worried and nervous. I don’t know how but the policeman seemed to know what my secret was— that I knew the name of Acid’s boss and that he is a big man not only in Chinatown but in all of San Francisco. For that reason I don’t dare speak his name and I wished I’d never picked up the phone and heard what I did. Not only must I tell him the name, the policeman told me, but if he is arrested I will have to go to court and say it in public. I told him I must think about it and he seemed to understand but inside I could feel his impatience and eagerness. I am so confused—what should I do? July 16—Hemp told me tonight how much trouble I was in—I had confessed to him all about being constantly followed and even having dinner with the policeman. He answered me with an American saying—damned if you do and damned if you don’t. The only solution, he said, was for me to get out of town. I told him I had family in Minnesota, that I could maybe go there. I will call my aunt in Duluth tomorrow to ask her permission for me to stay with her for a while. If she says okay, I will leave on Monday, when Hemp will be able to give me enough money for the trip. He said for me to call him the minute I get there safely and of course I will. Then he will join me. I asked him why not come with me on Monday but he said traveling together is too ~

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risky and besides he would have to get some more money before leaving. I hope we are doing the right thing. That was the last entry. I laid aside this amazing document of a young girl’s romance, hopes and fears. It was a fascinating story. But what had I learned? That she had accidentally discovered the name of Acid Jackson’s big boss and probable dope supplier; that the name impressed her and scared her so much she wouldn’t mention it even in her private journal; but most fascinating of all, her dinner with the also unnamed white policeman. That she had died two days after her last entry made her journal as maddeningly unsatisfying as The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Had she been able to contact the aunt in Minnesota? Would Hemp have followed through on his promise not only to finance her trip but to join her as soon as possible? And on a related note, was Thor really out of the running as prime murder suspect just because Acid wished me well enough in my attempt to clear Hemp that he was willing to finance my investigation? I got up and walked over to the window. We were sixteen stories up and the west-facing window provided a spectacular view of Market Street leading up toward Twin Peaks with Sutro Tower clearly visible (on a clear day) in the distance. After considering what I had just read and admiring the view for a few minutes, I walked back over to my desk and sat down again. I decided to give Cookie a thrill by actually using the intercom instead of walking the perhaps thirty feet to her desk. It was ridiculously simple: Cookie’s number was 1, mine 2, and the phone on Moose’s almost never used desk was number 3. I picked up the ~

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receiver and dialed 1. Almost immediately I could hear a faint buzz coming from the outer office. Then a voice said in my ear, “Yes, boss?” “Any calls?” I asked her facetiously. “No, nothing yet,” she replied perfectly seriously. “All right then. I need you to make a few calls. First, get in touch with Moose. If he’s left work already keep trying the house until he gets there. Then tell him to get down here as soon as he can. Then call Carole at the paper and have her meet me here after she gets off work.” “Sure thing, boss, what’s up?” she said, excitement starting to creep into her studied professional tone. “We’re all going out to dinner. A business dinner. At the Imperial Palace. Call them up and make reservations for four at any time you can get between six and eight. I know they’re popular, but since this is Tuesday night it shouldn’t be too hard.” “You got it, boss.” As I strolled out of the office she was indeed on the phone performing her appointed tasks. I went out for some fresh air, idly remembering that at 5:00, Shrimp Louie would be buying drinks for his customers with my money. It was only 4:30 so I decided to join him. After thanking Shrimp again for his help and hoisting a couple of beers, I walked the six or so blocks back to the office. By the time I arrived, at about a quarter to six, the three of them were already waiting for me. “No sweat, boss,” Cookie informed me. “I was able to make reservations for seven o’clock.” “Great!” I replied. Moose, I noticed, was dressed in a turtleneck sweater, slacks and sports jacket. Cookie and ~

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Carole were both wearing what looked to my untrained eye like pastel party dresses with matching low-heeled pumps. Carole, as you might expect, gave me a disapproving look. “I might have known you’d walk in dressed like that when we’re going to one of the fanciest restaurants in town,” she complained. She pointed accusingly at my usual attire—field jacket, black t-shirt and jeans. “Fortunately we’ve got some time,” she said more kindly. “So I took the liberty of raiding your closet for some decent clothes. Since you didn’t have any, these will have to do.” She handed me a sports jacket somewhat similar to Moose’s, a rather limp white dress shirt, slightly wrinkled black slacks and a pair of indifferently polished black dress shoes. Then she pointed to the door of my office. “Go change!” she ordered me. Having little choice in the matter, I thanked her for thinking of me and went to do as I was told. When I returned and was pronounced acceptable by all, Carole gave me a big kiss. “Well,” I grinned, “since we all look like a million bucks, let’s go in style. Cookie, call us a taxi!” The cab came to a stop in front of the Imperial Palace at Grant and Washington, the heart of Chinatown. It turned out to be just across the street from another Chinese restaurant I was much more familiar with—Sam Wo’s. Sam Wo’s couldn’t have been more different from the Imperial Palace—you could eat a full and satisfying meal there for less than four bucks. That is, if you could get in. Sam Wo’s took no reservations and the place was always packed, not only with tourists, but the savvier locals as well. Its star attraction, aside from the cheap and plentiful food, was an ~

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eccentric waiter named Edsel Ford Fong who was famous for insulting his customers. It was not unusual for the regulars to be amused by the sight of Edsel suddenly bellowing at some preposterously overdressed middle-aged woman from the Midwest to “wash you hands! I not serve you till you clean!”. At which point her husband or escort would invariably express his outrage, only to be dispatched to the men’s room by Edsel in a similar manner. After his performance had ended, and the offending tourists had sheepishly returned and showed Edsel their hands, Edsel would bow to the applause of the regulars, seat the tourists, and treat them to free drinks which they probably needed in the worst way. Reluctantly I brought my thoughts back to the business at hand. On the way over I had showed Mimi’s journal to the girls and summarized briefly its relevant contents. I had also explained that our mission was to try to find out, any way we could, the identity of Mimi’s unnamed policeman. The girls shivered as they got out of the cab. Although it still lacked a few minutes of seven on a midsummer evening, the billowing fog that permeated the narrow streets and blind alleys of Chinatown brought with it an unseasonable chill. Unseasonable for anywhere but San Francisco, that is. We entered the Imperial Palace through a set of massive, red-lacquered wooden doors decorated with a number of ancient Chinese carvings. Once inside there was a long foyer lined with padded benches along the walls on either side. At the end of this foyer was a tall wooden stand that looked like a lectern or podium. On its surface was a black telephone and a small microphone on a stand. ~

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Immediately behind the podium was another set of massive carved red wooden doors. At the podium stood an Oriental man, presumably Chinese, of about medium height and slender build. His face was smooth and unlined, and his thin black hair was slicked down and combed straight back from his forehead. He was impressively attired in a black tuxedo with red satin lapels on the jacket and red stripes down the sides of the trousers. He also wore a red bow tie, red cummerbund and white ruffled dress shirt. The smoothness of his unlined face and his impassive expression made it impossible to guess his age with any accuracy. Since it was early on a Tuesday evening, there was only one middle-aged couple ahead of us, and the padded benches were sparsely populated. As they approached the podium, the man murmured something to the Oriental man who then looked quickly down at a large black book in front of him. Just as quickly he looked up again, nodded and said into the microphone “Richardson, party of two, table twelve,” in a smooth baritone voice with no trace of an accent. As he did so, the wooden doors opened and another Oriental man who I guessed was a waiter appeared and led the lucky couple into the inner sanctum. The waiter looked almost identical to the man behind the podium (who I took to be the maitre d’) except that where the latter’s suit was trimmed in red, the former’s trim was all in black. I took this to be some sort of rank distinction. Then it was our turn. I approached the podium and mumbled, “I’m Jake Stone. We have reservations for seven o’clock.” He looked down at his book again. “Oh yes, Mr. Stone. Seven o’clock. Are there still four in your party?” When I nodded he again spoke into the microphone “Stone, party ~

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of four, table seven,” and another waiter, almost identical to the first, appeared and whisked us inside. Once inside, we were smoothly hurried over to our table, one of about two dozen in a vast, cavernous dining room. As the waiter seated us I picked up the heavy menu, covered with padded red leather, and glanced curiously through its pages. I gave a low whistle. I’d never been here before, nor had any of my companions, and it was easy to figure out why. This was the kind of a place where two couples could easily blow a hundred dollars on dinner and not even get drunk. I glanced around the room. The walls were festooned with heavy scalloped red velvet drapes, almost like theater curtains. Around and between them hung delicate pastel watercolors of tranquil, pastoral scenes of farmhouses and country streams, presumably those of China. Though it was still early, perhaps threequarters of the tables were already occupied. Some of these tables seated four and some eight, the larger ones at the center of the room and the smaller ones on its periphery. These tables were all round, covered with white linen tablecloths, and set with plain white but expensive-looking china and sterling silver utensils. Oddly, there seemed to be no chopsticks at the unoccupied tables. On one side of the rear wall were swinging metal doors that presumably opened onto the kitchen; on the other side was a wooden door which, according to its signs, led to restrooms, telephones, cloakroom and cigarette machines. Between these two sets of doors was a small stage on which a string quartet composed of young Oriental men in white tuxedos was desultorily and softly playing an anonymous piece of chamber music. In the dining room’s interior a staff of about a half-dozen identical looking, identically dressed ~

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waiters glided elegantly and effortlessly among the tables. “Good evening,” our waiter greeted us smoothly with barely a hint of an accent. “My name is Charlie. Have you visited us before?” I told him that unfortunately none of us had had the pleasure. In reply he smiled and took the menu from me, opened it, and held it out to us so that we could see its opened pages. I had a weird vision of an airplane stewardess explaining the emergency exits. “Everything we serve is contained within the pages of the menu. We have no nightly specials, nor does our chef improvise dishes on demand or to meet special requests. All our food is Chinese, although quite varied due to the many different regions of China, so if any of you are craving a hamburger I’m afraid you will be disappointed.” He paused in his presentation like a stand-up comic expecting a laugh. When we rewarded him with a polite chuckle he smiled in appreciation and continued. “Our menu is printed in English and all dishes are described in detail. Should you have any further questions about a specific dish, do not hesitate to ask me, but please, only after you have read its description.” He closed the menu again and handed it back to me. “That being said, may I get you something to drink before dinner? We have a full bar, a well-stocked wine cellar, and several types of Chinese as well as American beer. Although,” he looked at Carole and Cookie with practiced flirtatiousness, “the lovely ladies must scarcely be old enough for alcoholic beverages.” This elicited the expected embarrassed giggles from the girls, so I broke in quickly. “I’ll have a Jack Daniels on the rocks. Moose?” ~

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“Uh, same for me, I guess.” “Well, we’re going to have mai-tai’s,” Carole announced boldly. “Aren’t we, Cookie?” “You better believe it,” agreed Cookie, giving Moose a look that dared him to disagree. Moose said nothing, but went back to diligently studying his menu. “Very good, sirs and madams.” Charlie hurried away and returned a scant two minutes later with our drinks. The service was certainly impressive, but I suddenly realized that this was not a Chinese restaurant at all, at least not the kind I was used to. It was merely a Continental restaurant that catered to tourists and happened to serve Chinese food. I looked around the room. Of the sixty or seventy customers now present, I could spot no dark or Oriental faces. Through the buzz of conversation that washed over the room, the random words and phrases that I could occasionally understand were more often than not spoken in a Midwestern twang or a Southern drawl. As the evening wore on, we were nonetheless enjoying ourselves immensely. Our waiter, Charlie, had been efficient, knowledgeable, and forthcoming on a variety of subjects. We had decided we would each order a different dish so we could taste each other’s. Cookie had ordered a big mound of stir-fried rice with a great variety of vegetables and little flecks of fried egg, sausage, ham and pork. Carole had gotten the clay pot catfish, Moose the mushu pork, and I the Peking duck. It was all very wellprepared and uniformly delicious. As Charlie brought more drinks, then a couple of bottles of wine, side dishes, main dishes, coffee and tea, he somehow found the time to laugh and joke with us as if we were old friends. ~

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So I was about halfway drunk, with that warm and cozy feeling I always get after good food, good liquor and good companionship, when I decided it was time to go to work. Flagging Charlie down as he glided past, I pulled out Mimi’s journal and showed him the picture. “Maybe you can help me,” I began. “The girl in this picture was here for dinner, less than two weeks ago. We know she was here with a man and we need to find him. I don’t suppose you remember her being here? Or who she was with?” The smile instantly fled from his face. “I’m sorry, sir,” he informed me coldly, “but it is forbidden to speak of our patrons to other patrons. Many people come here for privacy, to speak of confidential matters, and we are not allowed to violate that privacy. Shall I bring you the check now, sir?” That seemed to be that. “Yes, I suppose you might as well,” I replied. He turned and hurried off. “Well, so much for Charlie the Friendly Waiter,” I addressed the table in general. “Anybody got any other ideas?” “I might have one,” Cookie volunteered. During my short conversation with Charlie she had been looking around and taking in the whole scene. “You see that busboy over there?” She pointed to one of the several young men who were engaged in clearing the tables of used dishes and silverware, replacing them immediately with clean ones. They were easy to spot; in addition to wearing white pants and open collar shirts, they were virtually the only darker faces to be seen in the entire restaurant. “What about him?” Moose asked. “I’m almost positive he’s Pinoy.” “Pinoy?” Moose gave her a blank look. ~

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She waved her arms impatiently. “You know, Pinoy, a Filipino!” “You can tell just by looking?” Moose was intrigued. “In many cases, yes. But the fact that he’s got a lowpaying job that gives him no self-respect makes the odds more likely.” “So how does that help us?” I wanted to know. “If it’s okay with you, boss, I’m gonna go over and have a word with him, show him that picture. He might be a little more talkative than Mr. Loose-Lips-Sink-Ships, especially to one of his own.” Without waiting for an answer she stood up and grabbed the journal which was still lying on the table. “Knock yourself out,” was all I had time to say. She returned a scant few minutes later. “So, how’d you make out?” I inquired. “Well, my Tagalog is a little rusty, but at least it broke the ice. Turns out he speaks English as well as I do, probably better. He didn’t recognize the girl, but he says if we know the night she was here…” “We do—Saturday, twelfth of July,” I supplied promptly. “So if she was here with a guy, it’s extremely likely the reservation would have been made in his name. And he would have had to have made a reservation if it was Saturday night, the busiest night of the week.” I scratched my head. “I may be a little dense, Cookie, or slightly drunk, but I don’t see how this helps us.” “I see what she’s getting at!” Carole spoke up for the first time. “Of course! It’s so obvious! Jake, you remember when we came in, that guy at the front, the maitre d’ or whatever, was looking at this big book. I’ll bet you anything ~

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it’s got all the reservations in it.” “Yeah,” said Cookie. “That’s what I was trying to tell you. Al, he’s the busboy, says the reservation book covers the whole calendar year, a page for each day. So if you could get a look at that book, you probably could at least find out the last name of the guy that brought her here. You’re pretty sure he’s a policeman?” “That’s what her journal said,” I replied. “So he ought to be pretty easy to track down. I’ll just make a list of all the men who made reservations for two that night. That is, if I can get a look at that book. The question is, how do we get the maitre d’ away from his station long enough for me to sneak over there?” “We could always try the old fly-in-the-soup routine,” suggested Cookie. “That’d bring him running.” “Yeah, but we’ve already finished dessert and the check is on the way,” pointed out Moose. “Besides,” Carole sniffed. “That’s way too icky. Wait a minute!” She snapped her fingers. “I think I’ve got it!” She glanced around. “Look, you guys, here comes Charlie with the check. There’s no time to explain. Just trust me and follow my lead, okay?” We all quickly nodded. “Your check, sir,” Charlie purred smoothly, giving no indication that our previous conversation had taken place. I picked it up apprehensively. As I had expected, it ran well into the low three figures. I was glad I had brought plenty of cash. Carole looked up and easily caught Charlie’s attention. I was used to that by now; she could catch any man’s attention when she wanted to, just by looking up or moving her head slightly. “Congratulations!” she informed him ~

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brightly. “I beg your pardon, madam?” He turned and looked at her in confusion. “You passed the test,” she explained patiently. “You did very well.” “I, I’m not sure I quite understand,” he said, frowning slightly. “You didn’t fall for the little trap my friend Jake here set for you.” I hadn’t the slightest idea what she was up to, but at the mention of my name I waved and smiled at him benignly. “I can see that you didn’t even know it was a trick,” continued Carole. “And that makes it all the more impressive.” She seemed to be extolling some undisclosed virtue of Charlie’s. “Let me explain,” she said gently. She pulled her cardcase out of her purse and showed him her press credentials. “I’m Carole Porter, food critic for the San Francisco Examiner. Next month we’re going to do a big feature in the Sunday magazine in which we list our choices for the Top Ten Restaurants in San Francisco.” An almost audible sigh escaped Charlie’s lips. “And after eating such a fine meal here, I have to say that the Imperial Palace is definitely in the running. But what impressed me the most,” she looked at him with such a sincere expression on her face that she could have fooled me, “is the way you guard your customers’ right to privacy. I expect you get a lot of famous people in here who don’t particularly want to be recognized?” Charlie had finally figured it out. He began to preen himself and a proud but modest smile formed upon his lips. “Yes, this is true, Miss…Porter? But what an honor for ~

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our humble restaurant!” He bowed in such obviously fake humility that it was all the other three of us could do to keep from giggling out loud. “Now, I just need some general background information on your establishment—how old it is, the chef’s name, which are your most popular dishes…” Charlie was all cooperation now. “Permit me to introduce you to the maitre d’,” he said politely. “He will gladly supply you with whatever information you need.” Carole started to get up, but Charlie shook his head and motioned her to remain seated. “No, no, madam, please do not trouble yourself. I will bring him to your table.” That was my cue. “Uh, excuse me, Miss Porter, I’m going to use the facilities. All that wine, you know.” She gave me a sweet and totally impersonal smile. “Of course, Mr. Stone.” For a journalist she was proving herself to be a damn fine actress. I got up and went slowly over to one side of the room, my eyes on Charlie. Without even a look in my direction, he strode toward the maitre d’s station like a man on a mission, flinging the dining room doors open as he went and returning in a few moments with a beaming maitre d’ in tow. Quickly I went out through the open dining room doors to the podium where the reservations book was lying open and deserted. Luckily the entries were entirely in English. I leafed back several pages until I found the list of reservations for July 12. As I looked down the page, one entry jumped out at me. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Under 9:00 was a clearly written “Bradshaw, party of 2.” I returned to our table as unobtrusively as possible. I needn’t have bothered; Carole was still holding court, keeping the maitre d’ spellbound and oblivious to the long ~

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and impatient line that had begun forming at the reservations station as soon as I had left. I sat back down and gave her the thumbs-up sign. She nodded imperceptibly and smoothly brought her act to a close. As we left the restaurant, Carole and Cookie were all questions while Moose was his placid self. I tried to satisfy their curiosity as much as possible, but it was even harder to satisfy my own. One thing I knew: Bradshaw owed me some answers—big time! 12.

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he next morning I dropped into the office at about ten, intent on tracking down Bradshaw. By noon I had left messages with the desk sergeant, a police assistant, and a file clerk. I was slowly going crazy, pacing back and forth in my private office which seemed to be getting smaller by the minute. Finally the intercom buzzed. I snatched up the phone eagerly, but it was only Cookie informing me that as long as I was here she was going out for a sandwich and did I want anything. I really hadn’t thought about food, I’d been so busy rehearsing what I was going to say to Bradshaw, but I figured what the hell, it was something to do, so I told her to bring me back a ham sandwich and a bottle of beer. Cookie made me sit at the reception desk to cover for her during her absence. So I sat there, staring at the walls or occasionally out the window and listening to the silent telephone. So this is how Cookie had been spending her days for the last week, I thought. By the time she returned with lunch, about half an hour later, I had gained a new ~

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respect for her. I thanked her and took my sandwich and beer back to my office. About an hour later, the sandwich long since eaten and the beer only a pleasant memory, I heard the phone ring in the outer office. Breathlessly I rushed over to Cookie’s desk where she was calmly speaking into the phone. “Uh-huh,” she was saying. “Yes, yes, I see. Just a moment, sir, I’ll see if he’s available.” She pushed the hold button on the phone and replaced the receiver. “There’s a Lieutenant Bradshaw on line one,” she informed me helpfully. “I’ll take it in my office!” I cried out, turning and dashing in that direction. As I slammed the door behind me I could still hear her calling “line one” after me. Once at my desk I pushed the specified button and picked up the receiver. “Stone speaking,” I said as calmly as I could manage. “Hi, kid,” said a voice I immediately recognized. “You’re a hard man to get in touch with. I been tryin’ that number you gave me all week. Finally I figured out it was your home number and nobody was home. How come you didn’t give me your office number last week?” “Um, we were having a little trouble with the phones, Lieutenant,” I stammered. “But they’re fine now. But where have you been? I’ve been trying to get you since ten.” “Whaddaya think this is, Stone, a desk job? I been out in the field since nine, just got back a few minutes ago.” “Then, uh, you weren’t trying to avoid me, give me the brush-off?” “Hell no, kid, you got your job to do and I got mine. ~

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The reason I been callin’ you is, I wanted to know if you got anything new on that case of yours. You know, the Chang murder? Reason I ask is your pal, Hempel, ain’t been too cooperative. All he’ll say is he didn’t do it and don’t know who did.” “I’m glad you asked me that question, Lieutenant. It so happens I’ve not only got some interesting evidence, I’ve got a shitload of questions for you as well.” There was a long silence on the other end. Then: “These questions of yours, kid. They wouldn’t be of a personal nature?” “Just about as personal as they get,” I replied. It was weird. For some reason our roles appeared to have reversed; it was Bradshaw who was on the defensive now. “I was afraid of that, kid.” There seemed to be genuine regret in his voice. “I guess I misjudged you, Stone, you’re obviously a better dick than I thought. But look here, if we’re gonna talk turkey, up close and personal, how about meeting at a neutral site where nobody’s got the advantage?” “Okay by me, Lieutenant,” I said evenly. “What have you got in mind?” “There’s a little bar called Smitty’s on the corner of Page and Divisadero, not too far from the station house. It opens up about two, but nobody goes in there in the afternoons. It’s dark and quiet and we can have our little heart-to-heart in private. I’ll be there waitin’ for you in a few minutes. Think you can find the place?” “Yeah, I know where it is. I’m downtown now and I’ve got no wheels, so I’ll grab a Haight Street bus. See you in half an hour?” ~

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“Sure, kid, you got till three.” “I’ll be there by two-thirty.” Then I hung up the phone. Whatever the hell was going on, I was going to find out soon, one way or another. Twenty minutes later I was getting off a bus at Haight and Divisadero. After I quickly walked up the one block to Page, I had no trouble finding Smitty’s. It was just as Bradshaw had described it, one of those self-contained, secretive little neighborhood bars where nobody but the regulars knows what goes on inside, the kind that the only way to tell if it’s open is whether or not there’s a padlock on its windowless wooden doors. This particular bar was not padlocked, so I pulled open the door and went in. The contrast between the bright sunlight outside and the dark gloomy interior couldn’t have been greater. It was like walking into a movie theater on a summer afternoon, and it even smelled like one, from the mustiness of the longabused carpets that covered the floor to the smell of popcorn coming from a machine behind the bar in the corner. But there the resemblance to a movie theater ended. The pervasive smell of stale beer and the heavy desolate silence of the place reminded me that this was where men go to hide from themselves. I looked around. A bald middle-aged guy wearing a white shirt with a bow tie and an apron tied around his waist sat on a bar stool smoking a fat black cigar and reading a racing form. As I walked toward him he looked up briefly and regarded me without much interest. “Get ya somethin’, buddy?” he inquired, eyes once more glued to his paper. I looked around again. My eyes were just beginning to ~

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become accustomed to the gloom, but I couldn’t see anyone else in the place besides the guy on the bar stool who I supposed was the bartender. “Uh, I’m supposed to meet somebody here…” I began. Without looking up he jerked his thumb toward a row of about five or six booths behind the pool table. “In the back,” was all he said. I walked toward the pool table and after I’d gone about a dozen steps I began to see the outlines of what could only be Lt. Bradshaw. As I approached closer he looked up and appeared to recognize me. “Hey, kid,” he greeted me. “You made good time. “I’m only on my second drink.” He indicated a half empty glass sitting beside his hat on the scarred wooden surface of the table. Even from my distance I could easily detect the smell of cheap whiskey. I slid into the seat opposite him. “Hello, Lieutenant,” I said neutrally. “What you drinkin’, kid?” “Just a beer, I guess. Olympia is okay.” “Hey, Smitty!” Bradshaw called out. “Bring the kid here an Oly and another of the same for me!” “Comin’ right up.” Smitty slowly and reluctantly slid off the stool and went behind the bar. He placed the cigar in a metal ashtray, made Bradshaw’s drink, popped the cap on my Oly, and ambled back to our booth with the drinks. As he set them down on the table in front of us, I reached into my pocket. “Forget about it, kid,” said Bradshaw, before I could produce any money. “Put it on my tab, Smitty!” Smitty didn’t look too thrilled but nodded his head and walked away. I got the feeling that Bradshaw and ~

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Smitty had a long history with each other, that “put it on my tab” was just another way of saying “on the house”, and that Smitty wasn’t altogether happy about the arrangement but he could live with it. Bradshaw raised his glass. “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid!” He drained its contents, put down the empty glass, and took a tentative sip of the full one. I raised my beer bottle in acknowledgment and took a small sip. “So then, down to business. What did you find out, kid? I’m all ears!” I had been rehearsing this on the way over. What were the relevant facts that I was likely to know and he wasn’t? I decided not to tie myself up into knots and just get it over with. “I’ll tell you everything I know, Lieutenant, if you’ll just tell me one thing: what the hell were you doing having dinner with Mimi Chang a week before she died?” Bradshaw didn’t say anything for a long minute, just picked up his hat and kind of twirled it around with those big sausage fingers of his. “Okay, Stone,” he said finally. “I’m gonna come clean with you.” He put his hat down again and leaned across the table so his face was just inches from mine. “I wanna emphasize before I begin that all this is strictly between the two of us. Ya got that?” It was more a command than a question. Nonetheless I nodded my head yes. “Okay then. The story begins over a year ago. We found a coupla drug dealers murdered, shot. Turns out they had one thing in common. They were both competitors of a certain Ellis D. Jackson, or ‘Acid’ as he is known to the public which I believe includes you.” I nodded my head again. ~

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Satisfied, he continued. “So needless to say, since this guy Jackson was our prime suspect, we began watchin’ his house last summer. This was before your friend Hempel got involved with him. Well, the fact is we couldn’t pin anything on him. Of course we could have got him for dealing, but that’s up to Vice, and they were trying to figure out who his supplier was. So us boys at Homicide watched the house for quite some time but, like I said, there was nothin’ to tie him to the murders. Along the way we took note of the fact that your boy, Hempel, started dealin’ for Jackson last fall. Of course we could care less about that. If we busted every small time drug dealer in the city, it’d take a jail as big as Candlestick Park to hold ‘em all.” He paused and took another swig of his bourbon, then wiped his lips on the back of his hand. “Aah! So, things were kinda at an impasse. But about the beginning of the year, this girl Chang enters the picture. I see her goin’ around a lot with Hempel so I figure one of two things is goin’ on: either Jackson’s using him for her bodyguard to protect her (which don’t make no sense), or to keep her from talkin’ out of school which makes a whole lot more sense. See, since he’s with her every time she leaves the house, I figure she knows somethin’ about Jackson. Somethin’ he don’t want nobody to know. It stands to reason Jackson’s got a boss. I mean everybody in organized crime’s got a boss, just like everybody in the police or the military’s got a commanding officer. So anyway, after she moves out of Jackson’s place and into that little apartment on Kearney, I figure I might be able to get somethin’ out of her, that the fact that she’s split from Jackson means she’s definitely got somethin’ on him, and it might make her feel a little bolder and loosen her tongue. So I take her to ~

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dinner, we have a nice evening, but she still won’t talk. But since she seems to be waverin’ I get the feeling she will talk, eventually, so I let it go for the moment and sorta bide my time. But a week later she turns up dead with your friend Hempel passed out on the floor not six feet from her and the murder weapon in his hand, so what am I supposed to think?” He paused momentarily and looked up at me. “I hope you’re getting all this, Stone, ‘cause you’re my only hope of cracking this case. See, I admit I blew it when I busted Hempel right away and didn’t follow up by searchin’ the place and questioning possible witnesses. But how the hell was I supposed to know they was lovers? I mean, he’s a white boy and she’s just a little Chink whore.” “So why did you? I mean, bust him right away?” I asked him bluntly, ignoring his bigotry. He was looking increasingly more ill at ease. “When Chang moved out of Jackson’s place she wasn’t just bein’ paranoid. She was bein’ followed. I don’t know if anybody else was after her, but my boys were watchin’ her most of the time. See, I was convinced that most likely she knew who the number one guy was, otherwise how could she be so bold as to take a big chance like runnin’ away from Jackson? So if she wouldn’t give me the name voluntarily, I thought we might learn somethin’ from who she talked to, who she hung out with, stuff like that. So on the night she was killed, my boys were watching her building when your buddy Hempel came rushin’ in like a guy with somethin’ on his mind. My guys contacted me, asked me what I wanted to do. I figured right then and there that Hempel had been ordered by Jackson to put the heat on her, you know, rough her up a little, maybe drag her back to his place. But at the ~

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same time I didn’t want to blow the surveillance operation. So I told my guys to get two uniforms over to the scene as quick as possible, but they got there too late. Chang was already dead and Hempel was the only guy in the place and had the goddamned murder weapon in his hand! So I figured because they both had this connection to Jackson that Hempel’s the one what did it. And I make no apologies.” He looked me squarely in the eye. “Any cop would have figured what I figured.” He drained his whiskey glass and banged it down on the table loudly. As if it had been a prearranged signal, Smitty the bartender came out of his gloomy reverie long enough to quickly and quietly bring us another round. Bradshaw looked up, nodded approvingly at Smitty, and took another swallow of bourbon while Smitty beat it back to his bar stool. Bradshaw watched him depart and then continued his confession. “But then you come into my life,” he complained as if it was all my fault. “When you told me they was lovers I began to have serious doubts about my whole line of reasoning. But it was too late, the arrest had already been made, and I’da looked stupid as hell lettin’ Hempel go without havin’ another suspect. On top of that, the night after you came to see me there was another murder, what we call an ‘important’ murder. The seventeen-year-old daughter of a local State Congressman was found in an alley South of Market. She’d not only been strangled to death with her own bra, but raped too. My captain put me on the case immediately. When I protested I wasn’t finished with the Chang case yet, he just laughed and said ‘you got your man, don’t you?’ I told him I had my doubts to which he replied ‘forget about it, case closed!’ So that’s ~

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when I tried callin’ you, kid, to let you know I couldn’t do nothin’ to help you, didn’t have the time, and also to find out if you were gettin’ anywhere. Are you?” He leaned back on the seat and folded his arms. I looked at him carefully. He looked about halfway drunk, but also relieved of some invisible burden. Gradually his air of mocking superiority had metamorphosed into a kind of honest and painful self examination. I began to feel for the first time that he was being straight with me, and that I could be straight with him as well. So I told him slowly and carefully about Thor, my only suspect in the case, that he had been seen outside the building the night of the murder. “Damn!” exclaimed Bradshaw. “My boys were watchin’ the front of the building. They didn’t even know about the back yard. So that’s why we figured it had to be Hempel, ‘cause he was the only one seen entering the building at the right time. I’m with you so far.” But when I told him about Acid’s astonishing offer to help me free Hemp, Bradshaw frowned. We looked at each other in silence for a few moments. Then suddenly he pounded a meaty fist on the table. “Hey kid!” he cried out. “I think maybe I got it!” Oddly, his attitude seemed to have changed. If he called me ‘kid’ now, it was as though I had crossed some invisible line from suspicion to trust, that in some way I had joined the team. “So this guy Thor,” continued Bradshaw. “If he’s involved, if he done it, he obviously ain’t actin’ for Jackson in this matter. So that leaves either he’s actin’ out of self interest, like maybe he’s tryin’ to show the big boss he’s better than Jackson, or maybe, just maybe, he’s actin’ for the big boss himself and Jackson don’t know nothin’ about ~

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it. You get me?” I considered this for a moment. “I never thought of that,” I told him truthfully. “I mean, I’ve always thought of Acid as the big boss.” Bradshaw laughed. “Now you see, kid, that’s where experience comes into play. You remember I told you everybody’s got a boss?” I nodded. Bradshaw seemed to be feeling a hundred per cent better now. “And now I got an idea how to get this guy Thor. I presume you got an office, kid?” I was taken aback by this apparent non sequitur. “Sure, it’s downtown, Fourth and Market.” “Drink up, kid!” he said, jumping to his feet and setting an example by draining his glass in one gulp. “I got a car parked outside. Let’s take a little ride down to your office and I’ll tell you what I got in mind.” It was already nearly four thirty by the time I had wedged myself into the front seat of Bradshaw’s cherry red ‘72 Firebird. He started the engine, shifted into gear and zoomed up Divisadero. Without even pausing he hung a right onto Oak, tires squealing in protest, and muscled his way into the downtown bound one way stream of late afternoon traffic. “Uh, don’t you have a dome light or a siren in this thing?” I asked him hopefully. His driving made most of the foreign cabbies I’d had the misfortune to ride with seem timid by comparison. He turned his head and grinned at me. “Sure, kid. But I only use ‘em when I’m in a hurry.” I didn’t know how to respond to that, so I kept quiet while he did his Indy 500 thing. Since he was a cop it was ~

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at least unlikely that we’d be stopped or ticketed for any of the traffic offenses he was piling up. I just hoped I’d arrive at the office in one piece. “You know,” he remarked as he coaxed the Firebird up to 60, “I’m really not a bad cop. Fifteen years on the force, ten in Homicide, five as lieutenant. I’m not even forty yet, and I can retire on partial pension in five years, full pension in fifteen. But only if I keep my record clean. Look, kid, I don’t wanna hang your friend if he ain’t guilty, but at the same time I can’t kick him loose neither. Not without another guy to take his place. So, kid, what it all comes down to is I’m hopin’ you an’ me can work together on this one.” He took one hand off the wheel and stuck it out in my direction. I shook it solemnly. At least he seemed to be in a better mood after his three or four whiskeys. I’d known guys like him in ‘Nam; grouchy, paranoid, control freaks when sober, they opened up nicely and became almost human after smoking or drinking their minimum daily requirement. Of course, the opposite was often true as well; some of the nicest, gentlest guys became aggressive paranoid motherfuckers after one drink or toke too many. Bradshaw made a left onto Market just above Van Ness and barreled east toward Fourth Street. In a few minutes we had come to a stop at the Ellis-O’Farrell Parking Garage just across Market Street from the office. We were miraculously unscathed, but I felt like I’d just completed my third trip on the Big Dipper at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. I led him across the street, into the building and up to the sixteenth floor. As I entered the office with my key, Cookie was at her desk typing busily. ~

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“Oh hi, boss,” she greeted me. “I was just getting ready to close up for the day. Nothing much happening.” Then she caught sight of Bradshaw for the first time. “Who’s the hulk?” she inquired, standing up to get a better look. “He’s almost as big as Moose!” “Mind your manners, Cookie,” I told her without reproach. “This is Lt. Bradshaw, SFPD Homicide Division. Lt. Bradshaw, Cookie Madeira, my invaluable office manager.” Bradshaw extended a hairy paw. “My pleasure,” he grinned. Then he glanced around the room and inquired, “Nice office, kid. Who’s your decorator?” Cookie put her hands on her hips defiantly. “You’re looking at her, buster!” “Whew!” breathed Bradshaw, backing off in mock alarm. “She looks like she could be dangerous, kid. Hope you got a muzzle handy.” In a louder voice he said, “Hey, no disrespect intended, Miss Madeira.” He pulled a chair up to her desk and seated himself in a humble pose. “Okay,” I broke in. “Here we are, Lieutenant. My office and staff are at your disposal.” I turned to Cookie. “The Lieutenant here has a plan to solve the Chang murder case.” “Yeah,” he agreed, “only for official reasons I can’t do it myself directly. According to my superiors the case is already solved. So here’s the plan.” He spent the next fifteen minutes outlining and then detailing what he expected both of us to do. At the end of that time were both still a little skeptical, but since we hadn’t any better ideas, we agreed to give it a try. We then spent the next half hour rehearsing Cookie, who uncharacteristically went about learning her part with patience and civility. ~

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The only interruption was a phone call at about six from Moose, wanting to know why Cookie wasn’t home yet. I grabbed the phone from her and quickly and concisely told him what was about to go down. “So it’s your choice, Moose,” I concluded. “There may be some danger involved, but if you’re still up for it, get something to eat and then meet me down here at the office,” I looked at Bradshaw who made a sign back to me, “at about seven-thirty. And leave a note for Carole so she won’t worry.” “Okay, boss,” he agreed cheerfully. “You can count on me.” When we were all three satisfied with our plans and sure of our performances it was nearly six thirty. “Okay,” said Bradshaw, yawning and stretching. “I guess that’s the best we’re gonna do. I’m starving to death, so let’s all take a dinner break and meet back here in an hour.” He turned to Cookie. “And then it’ll be showtime for you, babe!” She blushed but bowed gamely. By seven thirty the three of us, after a quick meal of deli sandwiches and beer, were back in the office. Moose had joined us and I introduced him to Bradshaw who outlined our plan in more detail for Moose’s benefit. “It all depends on luck, really,” Bradshaw concluded. “Whether we can get in touch with the guy or not. If we can’t get him tonight, we’ll keep trying.” “Yeah, but we’ve only got two more days,” I reminded him. In answer he nodded at Cookie. “You ready, doll?” She made a face at him, but then took a deep breath and picked up the phone. As she began dialing, Bradshaw picked up the phone on Moose’s desk, while Moose and I hurried away to listen in on the one in my office. ~

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After a few rings we heard a young woman with an Oriental accent say, “Hello? Mr. Jackson house, but he not here now.” “That’s okay, sweetheart,” growled a low rough voice we never would have recognized as Cookie’s. “I wanna talk to his friend. You know, the big black guy.” We held our breath. “Oh, you mean Thor. Wait one minute, I go get him.” “Thanks, doll. And hurry it up, willya?” There was the sound of a receiver being laid down on a hard surface. A few minutes later we heard a deep voice say, “Yeah, this is Thor. Whaddaya want?” “Listen and listen good, big guy! You don’t know me, but I’m the manager of the building where that Oriental girl was killed less than two weeks ago.” “Yeah, so?” “So I just thought you might want to know that a buncha my tenants saw you hangin’ round the back the night she was killed.” “Yeah, so what if they did? The cops already got the guy what done it.” “Yeah. That’s why I’m callin’. Look, it ain’t nothin’ to me but, well, some of our people here have gotten used to Jackson’s product, if you know what I mean, and I’d hate ta see you guys go out of business.” “So how the hell could that happen unless you got some dirty squealers over there. ‘Cause if you do I can make ‘em change their minds real quick.” “No, everybody here’s cool with it. But I thought you should know there’s some wise-ass private eye nosin’ around, says he’s gonna clear his friend, the guy the cops say did it, an’ the only way he can do that is by findin’ out ~

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who really done it.” “Oh, yeah? Who is this guy an’ where can I get a hold of him?” “That’s why I’m callin’ you. He was on the phone to me just a few minutes ago, said he was on his way over here to look for clues. I’m gonna have to let him into that apartment, or else it’s gonna look suspicious, like we got somethin’ to hide. Besides, he’d prob’ly be able to sneak in anyway. So it’s your call, big guy, but if I was you I’d come over here and take out the garbage.” “Yeah, yeah, thanks for the call. I just may take you up on that.” “Just you better be quick about it. And when you get here go straight on up to 304. If the door’s unlocked it means he’s already in there. Okay, I done my duty. I don’t wanta have nothin’ more to do with this shit. You an’ me never had this conversation, you got me?” “Okay by me. Thanks for the tip.” “Just bring over some product once you get this thing settled. You know, sorta like free samples.” “You got it. I’ll be there in twenty minutes.” As Cookie hung up the phone, Moose and I burst out of my office and began applauding wildly. As even Bradshaw joined in, she stood up and solemnly bowed left and right. “Thank you, thank you very much, and now for my next number…” she deadpanned. “We don’t need no next number,” remarked Bradshaw, not unkindly. “That one was plenty good enough, sweetheart.” “Yeah, Cookie,” said Moose. “You really sounded hardboiled.” “I guess all those hours of watching crime shows on TV ~

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really paid off,” I told her admiringly. “Aw shucks, guys,” Cookie said with a grin, soaking up the praise like a sponge. “I hate to break up this little love fest,” Bradshaw said to me. “But shouldn’t you be getting a move on? By my watch you got only fifteen minutes to get over there and spring the trap.” “No problem, Lieutenant,” I replied. “I can make it in ten.” “Okay then, get goin’. You got everything?” I patted the pockets of my jacket. “Yeah, no sweat,” I assured him. “All right, kid, good luck to you. If you strike gold, you know what to do.” I gave everyone a cheery wave, left the office and took the elevator down to the lobby. Once outside, the thick fog and gathering gloom fit my mood perfectly. I hadn’t felt like this since ‘Nam—in the center of the calm before the firestorm, everything depending on me. As I walked down Market to Kearney I imagined being back in the jungles, a sniper behind every tree. As I turned onto Kearney I rejected that image—not urban enough. I was Sam Spade, out to avenge my partner Miles Archer’s death, keeping a sharp lookout for gunmen hiding in every alley. I knew that Thor was on his way down here from the Haight, driving all the way downtown for the sole purpose of getting rid of me because he was afraid I knew too much. And I did, thanks to Thor. He would never have taken Cookie’s bait if he hadn’t been involved. I felt a momentary wrench at my gut and for a fleeting moment regretted my vow to abstain forever from the use of firearms. If anything went wrong with our plan I was one dead dick. ~

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In spite of myself I cursed Hemp for getting me into this mess in the first place. The subsequent surge of anger relaxed me somewhat, and I began to feel better as I approached the murder scene. Action always felt better than uncertainty. I went to the basement and roused Mr. Yin who remembered me and quickly took me up to Apt. 304. He looked at me questioningly and I nodded. Then without a word he unlocked the door. The first thing I did was go into the bedroom and check the window. It was still about halfway open. I pushed it up to about three quarters then went back into the rapidly darkening living room and took a chair facing the door. I didn’t have long to wait. In about five minutes the doorknob began to slowly turn and I could see a widening strip of light as the door opened. As the hulking figure entered the room I stood up to greet him, trying to sound more sure of myself than I felt. “Thor! How nice of you to drop in! You’ll pardon me if I don’t stay and offer you a drink, but I’ve gotten everything I need here and I’m in a hurry. See you around, big fella!” I waved at him in a friendly fashion and took a couple of steps toward the door. Thor slammed the door shut and locked it, then turned to me and snarled, “Nobody’s goin’ nowhere, asshole, ‘specially you!” He pulled a large automatic pistol from his coat pocket and motioned for me to sit back down. Sighing heavily, I complied. “I been thinkin’ on the way over what to do with you,” he confided as if he wanted my help with the problem. “Can’t afford to have no more shots fired in this place. So I guess we’re just gonna have to take a little ride down to the ~

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docks where we can finish our business in private.” He grinned and came over to me, pulling me to my feet with one hand in an easy, casual motion. “Wait a minute,” I protested. “Aren’t you forgetting something?” “Like what?” He frowned. I shook my head in pity. “Come on, Thor, think! Now why did you come down here in the first place?” “To get rid of you!” he snapped. “Yeah,” I persisted, “that’s true. But why do you want to get rid of me?” “ ‘Cause you know too much,” he recited, but began to look confused. “So, don’t you want to find out what I know? You were kind of careless that night, weren’t you, Thor? You dropped something, something very personal, something that’ll prove to anybody beyond any doubt that you were here that night.” I was talking fast now, hoping I sounded sincere. He scratched his head. “No, that ain’t gonna work! You’re a fuckin’ liar!” “Maybe I am and maybe I’m not. But can you afford to take the chance? Suppose I already gave it to the cops.” “If you already gave it to the cops, then whatchoo doin’ back here?” he countered with more logic than I’d given him credit for. I shrugged my shoulders wearily and sat down again. “Okay, Thor, I give up. You’re too fuckin’ smart for me. Go ahead and do what you want with me. But could you do me one favor first? Sort of a last request?” “What’s that?” he asked suspiciously. “Well, since it’s just between you and me, there can’t be any harm in telling me what really happened that night. I ~

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mean, there’s three lives ruined because of that one moment—Mimi’s, Hemp’s, and now mine. So before you blow me away, be a good guy and tell me—why did you do it? Did you really have to kill her?” He lowered the gun for the first time, went over to the couch near the bedroom and sank down heavily onto it. He seemed to be deep in thought, as if my questions had somehow brought it all back to him. “Kill her? Hell no, I never wanted to kill her. I never wanted to kill anyone. But I had to, just like everybody has to do what the boss says.” He gave a deep sigh and let his gun hand fall into his lap. The tough guy persona he had always affected in my presence seemed to be melting away. “Man, I wish there was somethin’ to drink in this place,” he complained, pulling on the collar of his black turtleneck and looking around the room hopefully. I could sense he wanted to tell me, to tell somebody, the whole story. I stood up very slowly, keeping my hands where he could see them, palms out. “I can look around,” I offered. “Maybe there’s something in the kitchen.” I took a step toward him and he raised the gun again. “I’m unarmed,” I reassured him. “Search me if you think I’m lying.” “I believe you,” he replied. “But just the same, we’re goin’ out to the kitchen together.” I shrugged my shoulders and we crossed the living room into the little kitchen. There was nothing in the refrigerator, but in one of the overhead cabinets I managed to locate an unopened pint of Scotch. “Hey, how about this?” I showed him the bottle. He grinned for the first time and grabbed it out of my hand, quickly unscrewing the cap with sausage-like thumb ~

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and forefinger while waving me back into the living room with his gun hand. When we were once again settled, he took a few swallows from the bottle and wiped his mouth on his shirt sleeve. “Aah, that’s better,” he breathed contentedly. “So go on,” I prompted him. “You said something about how you didn’t want to kill her, but you had to do what the boss says. Are you telling me Acid ordered you to kill her?” He looked at me with contempt. “Acid!” He spit out the word like a curse. “I may as well tell you somethin’. Acid Jackson is only a whatchamacallit.” He scratched his head again and looked puzzled. “You know. What’s that word for somebody that just pretends he’s the boss?” I looked at him doubtfully. “Um, I dunno. You mean like a figurehead?” “Yeah, that’s it! A figurehead! See, Acid’s only in his position ‘cause he looks good and don’t give nobody in the organization no trouble. And all the brothers trust him. I live in his house, and to everybody on the outside it looks like I’m his boy, see, his nigger. But I’m really there to watch him for the Big Boss, just so Acid won’t get no ideas about tryin’ to take over an’ get more than his share.” “Fascinating! But what does all that have to do with killing Mimi?” He scowled again. “I’m gettin’ to that. Well, since about last winter, around the holiday season, it wasn’t no secret that Mimi and your boy Hemp was gettin’ a real bad case of the hots for each other. They started sneakin’ out nights an’ weekends, an’ Hemp was fillin’ her head with all kindsa crazy stuff. Well I just didn’t think that was right, her goin’ behind Acid’s back like that no matter what I thoughta him ~

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personally. So I went to Acid right off, told him what was goin’ down with the two of ‘em an’ he just laughed, said they were good kids an’ not to worry about it. But security was at stake, you know how it is. Mimi livin’ in Acid’s house, she coulda heard all kindsa names an’ stuff she ain’t s’posed to know. And every time she went out an’ got polluted with Hemp I’d worry she was gonna start talkin’ an’ say one thing too many.” He paused and drank some more Scotch. “Well, shit, I didn’t know what to do. I guess I kinda let the whole thing ride. But long about the beginning of spring, Mimi started actin’ even weirder than usual. You know, jumpy, paranoid, like she was strugglin’ with herself over somethin’. So when she kept goin’ out nights with Hemp, I took to followin’ ‘em. Mind you, I still didn’t have nothin’ solid to go on, just a feelin’ that things weren’t right. Well, by May or maybe June I knew somethin’ was definitely fucked, ‘cause it was long about that time when I was followin’ them that I started feelin’ like I was bein’ followed. Well, I couldn’t stand it no more so I went to the Big Boss himself an’ told him everything that’d been goin’ on, an’ about how Acid wasn’t no use at all. An’ the Big Boss shook my hand an’ told me, ‘you done good, Thor. Some of my boys are gonna follow you to find out who’s been followin’ you.’ So now we got me followin’ Mimi and Hemp, somebody else followin’ me, an’ the big boys followin’ them. Talk about weird shit!” “So did you ever find out who everybody was?” I was really getting caught up in the story by now. It was almost enough to make me forget that Thor was still a thug with a loaded gun pointed at me. “The next thing that happened, it was the beginning of July, less’n a month ago, and Hemp moved her into this ~

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apartment. Once again I pleaded with Acid to let me do something, that some heavy shit was about to come down, but he was useless as usual. The Big Boss himself was walkin’ around flippin’ coins. On the one hand, he was worried that somebody might know shit they wasn’t s’posed to know and might start talkin’ to people they wasn’t s’posed to talk to. But on the other hand, he knew that to put an end to it he’d have to do somethin’ he didn’t wanta do. Maybe it all would’ve been okay if she hadn’t started seein’ that cop. That was when the Big Boss got really scared. The day after Mimi an’ the cop had dinner together, he pulls me aside an’ says, ‘Thor, ya gotta do it real soon. Ya gotta take care a both of ‘em, but ya gotta make it look like it was just between them. You know, a lovers’ quarrel or somethin’.’” By now it was completely dark in the room. The only light was a slight glow from the neon fog outside. “Mind if I switch on a lamp?” I asked him. He shook his head. There was a floor lamp beside my chair, and as I turned it on I realized we’d been sitting here for nearly an hour. Time to start wrapping it up, I decided. “Hey, give me a hit off that bottle, will you? Whatever happened to the condemned man’s last wishes?” He laughed a little at that. “You prob’ly an all right guy an’ all, but business is business.” Nonetheless he handed the bottle over and I took a healthy slug. “So, don’t tell me, let me guess. I’m supposed to be the detective here and, even if it’s the last thing I do, I want to understand what happened to my friend. Okay, let’s see if I got it straight. You come in the bedroom window. Mimi’s here. She pretty much guesses what you’ve got in mind. But here’s the part I don’t understand. I know she made the phone call to Hemp. Were you here while she was on the ~

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phone and, if so, why did you let her make the call?” “Well, see,” replied Thor, reaching for the bottle and looking pleased with himself. “That’s where I started usin’ my head. I pulled my gun on her and locked the door. Then I went to the kitchen to get a drink. I told her she’d better not try nothin’, but I knew she would. She couldn’t get out the door fast enough, she knew that. Her only hope was callin’ for help on the phone. So who was she gonna call, the cops? By the time they’d finished asking her name, address, phone number, social security number, nature of the complaint, an’ all that shit, she knew she’d be long dead. I knew she’d call Hemp, it was her only real chance.” “So you give him time enough to get here, then you shoot Mimi, unlock the door, listen for him to come down the hall, open the door—then what’d you do?” “It’s like this. I’m standin’ behind the door when he comes in, I hit him over the head with a sap so’s not to leave a mark, wipe the gun and put it in his hand. Then I go out the back window real quick. Ain’t nothin’ more to tell.” He stood up and sighed heavily. “But it’s gettin’ late,” he said, almost apologetically, “an’ we both know what’s got to go down whether we like it or not. So come on, boy, let’s you an’ me go for a ride.” He motioned toward the door with his gun. “So this is it then?” I asked him loudly, standing up and letting a note of hysteria creep into my voice. “That’s all you’ve got to say for yourself?” “Yeah, I guess that’s about it. I prob’ly shouldna told you this much, but you seem like a nice guy and I ain’t partic’ly thrilled about havin’ to kill you. So come on now, get goin’! No more stallin’!” “Wait! Wait just a minute!” I was thinking wildly. “One ~

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thing I never got straight. You say Acid had nothing to do with this. Well then, who did? Who’s this Big Boss you keep mentioning?” His reaction was immediate. He instinctively looked around the room as if to verify that we were still alone. When he spoke again it was in a whisper. “I can’t tell you who he is,” he pleaded. “Guys been killed for less. He’s real big in this town, though, that much I can say. An’ if anybody ever found out, nothin’ would ever be the same again.” He stood up straighter as if attempting to regain his tough guy demeanor. Then he unlocked the door and aimed his gun at my head. “Okay, I’m serious now. Move on out or I’ll have to do it here.” “No, no, don’t kill me!” I protested, raising my voice to a high-pitched scream. “You can trust me! I won’t tell anybody! Honest!” Just as a sneer started to form on Thor’s lips, a deep voice snarled, “Drop it, Thor! We got you covered!” Thor wheeled in the direction of the voice and fired two shots into the darkened bedroom, turning his back to me. In the instant that he fired, I launched myself at his bulk as hard as I could, only to bounce off him and land in an embarrassed heap on the floor. Thor was still upright, but the impact had knocked the gun from his hand. The moment it hit the floor, Moose came flying into the living room, executing a perfect swan dive onto the carpet and coming up with Thor’s weapon grasped securely in his hand. He calmly checked the clip and the chamber for bullets and then, satisfied, pointed the gun at Thor. “You better sit down,” Moose said in his normal mild voice. “I know how to use this thing. Just ask Stony here. So don’t give us any more trouble.” ~

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Thor silently shook his head and lowered himself back down onto the couch. “You okay, Moose?” I asked him in a worried voice. “Sure, no problem, Stony,” he chuckled. “That sure was a rush, though, when those bullets went right past my head. Just like old times, huh?” I laughed too. Now that the pressure was off I was beginning to feel a little weird. I sat down gratefully on the chair once again. “Give me a minute,” I told Moose. “I don’t get my life threatened every day.” “Hey, no sweat, Stony. It must’ve been rougher on you than it was on me. All I had to do was hide in a dark room. Did you get it all down?” I patted my jacket pocket. “It should be okay. I switched it on when our friend here came through the door. How long ago was that?” Moose looked at his watch thoughtfully. “I guess about an hour and fifteen minutes.” “Good. Bradshaw told me maximum tape capacity’s about ninety minutes.” Moose turned and again pointed the gun at Thor who was fuming with silent rage as he began to figure out what had really gone down. “Temper, temper,” he scolded. “Somebody’s gotta solve these cases, you know. And if it ain’t gonna be the cops, it might as well be us.” “That reminds me,” I remarked, getting unsteadily to my feet. “It’s time to call Bradshaw and have him take this guy off our hands. Then you call Cookie and Carole and let them know everything’s okay. They must be climbing the walls by now.” 13. ~

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E

vents moved quickly after that. The next day was Thursday, the last day of July, and it began with a phone call from Bradshaw at about nine o’clock. “Great work last night, Stone!” he enthused. “We took your boy Thor down to the station house and played him the tape you made. It came out real good. By the way, you did a great job of actin’ scared. Just like we thought, it made him stop thinkin’ an’ start braggin’.” “Thanks, Lieutenant, but it wasn’t really that much of an act,” I put in. “Well, whatever. Anyway, when he heard himself squealin’ on the tape an’ found out he had a big murder one rap hangin’ over his head, he rolled over like a month-old puppy. Traded us the name of the Big Boss an’ everybody else he knows who’s involved, some we know about an’ some we don’t, for a charge of manslaughter with possible parole in seven.” “So, Lieutenant, who is this ‘Big Boss’ then? Moose and I have been dying of curiosity.” “Hey, what’s your rush?” returned Bradshaw. “A guy should be able to look forward to some surprises in life, right? If everything goes okay, you’ll find out all about it tomorrow, same as everybody else. I’m in the process right now of gettin’ the necessary search and arrest warrants.” “And Hemp?” I pressed. There was a slight edge in my voice. “Hey, don’t worry, kid! He’ll be out on the street tomorrow, right after we pick up Mr. Big. I can’t drop the charges against him till we file the other charges. So trust me, it’ll be OK.” Since I really had no choice, I decided to trust him. ~

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After all, we’d gotten this far working together. As I hung up the phone a feeling came over me that I couldn’t describe, that I hadn’t felt in a long time. Instead of going back to sleep, I got up and dressed and went out into the back yard. It was a beautiful sunny mid-summer morning, warm with no trace of fog. It was quiet. Everyone in the neighborhood but me seemed to have gone to work or on a summer vacation. The only sounds were the morning birds and the breeze ruffling the tree leaves. I decided to go downtown to the office and see what Cookie was up to. When I got there she was busily typing up the notes from our just completed and highly successful second case. Moose and I had, of course, given the girls the blow-by-blow description when we had arrived home late the night before. “Too bad we can’t get a copy of that tape,” Cookie said wistfully. “I’m afraid right now Bradshaw needs it for evidence. But he hinted that maybe we can get it after the trial.” As I said this I was pacing back and forth across the office, occasionally stopping to look out the window. She noticed my restlessness and said, “Why don’t you just take off and enjoy yourself, Stony? I’ve got plenty to do here, Carole’s working, and the big lug went back to his construction job this morning like nothing ever happened last night. Go to the beach, the park. Ride the cable cars, play at being a tourist. You deserve some space just to be yourself with nothing hanging over your head for once.” She had hit it. That feeling I’d had this morning was the feeling of a kid just starting summer vacation. No school, no worries for a whole three months—which is eternity to a kid. ~

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So I did exactly what she told me to do. I had no responsibilities and plenty of money. First thing I did was buy a tourist costume—no, really, they do exist—Hawaiian shirt, tan Bermuda shorts, brown leather sandals, ridiculous-looking straw hat and dark glasses. The only thing missing was a Nikon slung around my neck. Then I went everywhere—the Cliff House, the Wharf, even the zoo. I rode the cable cars, making sure to look suitably impressed as we wound our way up, down and around the hills. I drank Bud from a can and ate fried seafood. I even wandered through the over-priced shops at the Cannery and Ghirardelli Square, then walked along the street vendor stands on Beach Street where I bought a bunch of cheap trinkets for Carole and Cookie. I arrived home at about five in the afternoon, so exhausted that I sprawled out on the couch and dozed off, only to be awakened a few minutes later by Carole’s laughter. “Give a guy a day off and he turns into a hick from Iowa,” she complained, playfully snatching the straw hat from my face and tossing it across the room. “What would you call this, the opposite of going native?” I grinned up at her and made kissing noises with my lips. In reply she began to divest herself of her business suit. “Tell you what,” she proposed. “You take off that ridiculous costume and I’ll take off mine. Then let’s go play Adam and Eve.” “Yes, ma’am,” I replied and soon garments were flying all around the living room. With painful slowness, the next day finally arrived. It was a Friday, the first day of August; a new month had ~

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begun. And in addition to it being Hemp Liberation Day, it was also clearly the first day of the rest of my life. In a mere two weeks I’d progressed from Stony, a dope smokin’, pleasure lovin’ Vietnam vet who pulled down a decent but ordinary salary as a clerk and part time truck driver for a wholesale fabrics manufacturer, to the world-weary, hardbitten (or so I liked to think) private eye Jake Stone, head of his own agency. Frankly I was amazed. Having nothing else to do on that historic morning, I went down to the Hall of Justice to find out when Hemp would be released and wait for him for as long as necessary. Finally at about two o’clock I spotted him coming down the stairs toward my bench in the lobby. He was dressed in the clothes he must have been wearing the night he was arrested, the typical Hemp urban cowboy look. But there the resemblance to the Hemp I had known ended. His hair was way too short and choppy, though it was beginning to grow out somewhat. Ditto his scraggly mustache which had grown in place of the formerly luxurious one that had been summarily shaved off after his capture. He was even walking differently; his former swagger replaced by a furtive, more tentative gait. But the biggest change was in his face—it seemed thinner, older and more serious. As he recognized me he smiled and called out, “Hey, Stony!”, then came over and gave me a manly hug. But there was no trace of that sardonic banter in his words or his voice, and I suddenly realized that this was probably the first time since he was in basic training, over four years ago, that he had gone two weeks without getting stoned. We walked up to Market Street and got on a J streetcar going toward Noe Valley and home. On the way he thanked me for my loyalty and friendship and all our efforts on his ~

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behalf. Then he fell silent the rest of the way, seeming to have developed a great interest in the passing scenery. I asked a few half-hearted questions about his experience in jail, but as he only mumbled a few non-committal words in reply, it was evident he really didn’t want to talk about it. When we got home he looked around the place, blushing immediately at the “Welcome Home, Hemp!” banner we had tacked above the fireplace. “Thanks for missing me, you guys!” he said with a serious look on his face. Then he went down the hall, mumbling something about needing to take a shower to get the jail smell off. I was just going into the kitchen for a beer when the phone rang. I grabbed up the receiver of the wall phone by the little kitchen table and heard an excited voice begin talking before I could say a word. “Jake, is that you? Where the hell have you been, I’ve been calling since eleven! I’ve got the most incredible news!” “This is Carole, I presume?” I inquired when I could get a word in. “And if you want to know where I’ve been, I’ve been down at the Hall of Justice making sure that Hemp got released from jail okay.” “Oh yeah, that’s right,” she said like it was an after thought. “Anyway,” she persisted, “the most fantastic thing’s happened!” For some reason her tone rubbed me the wrong way. “Look, Carole,” I said dispassionately. “I’m sure a lot of fantastic things are happening down there at the newspaper. But today is about Hemp. The last two weeks have been about Hemp. Me quitting my job and becoming a detective—that’s all about Hemp. Now, aren’t you going to ask me how Hemp is?” I could hear her taking a deep breath ~

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over the phone. “Okay, how is Hemp?” she asked evenly. “Thank you for asking,” I replied in the same way. “Actually not too bad, considering. A little too thin, way too sober, and he’s got a really bad haircut. We just got home.” “That’s nice,” she said between her teeth. “Now, may I give you my news?” “Of course, Carole,” I replied sweetly. “I’ve changed my mind,” she mimicked my voice. “First I want to ask you some questions. Number one, have I ever, in the entire two months I’ve been working here and living with you, called you up in the middle of the day to tell you anything?” I thought about it. “Uh, no, I guess you haven’t.” “Have I ever, at any time, gone on and on about my job, even in the evenings when we weren’t really doing anything else?” “No, I can’t say that you have.” “And as far as not thinking about Hemp, I’ve thought of almost nothing else for the past two weeks, just like Moose and Cookie and you. And as far as that goes, who made it possible for you to find out who that poor girl had dinner with?” “Uh, that was you, of course, Carole.” I was beginning to feel a little ashamed now. “The main reason I haven’t said much about my job,” she continued in a kinder, less accusatory tone, “was that first, it was only temporary and second, most of the time it hasn’t been particularly exciting. But this morning all that changed.” I was beginning to get interested now. “Changed? Changed how?” ~

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“Oh, so now you’re interested?” “Yes, Carole, sweetheart, love of my life, of course I’m interested.” “Okay then, I’ll tell you the whole thing. That is if you’ve got time.” “I’ve got nothing but time and I’m all ears.” “All right. This morning, about ten o’clock, I was doing some filing when one of the reporters yelled out, ‘Hey, anybody know a Carole Porter?’ ‘That’s me!’ I yelled and rushed over to his desk. ‘Guy wants to talk to you,’ he said, handing me his phone. ‘I’m goin’ out for some coffee anyway. Go ahead an’ use my desk, but don’t touch nothin’.’ So I answered the phone and who do you think it was?” I told her truthfully that I had no idea. “It was a Lt. William Bradshaw of the SFPD Homicide Division,” she replied, her voice rising with excitement once again. “He wanted to know if I was the same Carole Porter who, as he put it, ‘this Jake Stone kid’s got a thing for’. I admitted I was and he proceeded to give me a fantastic, exclusive story—the story of the Mimi Chang Murder Case, complete with names, facts and figures! When he finished he asked me if I could make this afternoon’s edition okay because he could only hold off the media for a few more hours. ‘You bet I can!’ I told him. ‘You don’t know what this means to me!’ ‘Just returnin’ the favor,’ he said and hung up the phone. Well, it took me a couple of hours to write the story, then I took it in to the city editor, almost literally with my heart in my mouth. I sat there for the longest fifteen minutes of my entire life while he read it. Finally, he put it down and gave me a funny look. ‘This on the level?’ he asked. I just nodded, I was almost afraid to speak. He asked me who my source was and when I told him he looked real ~

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surprised, but then he picked up the phone and said the words every reporter wants to hear: ‘Murphy, stop the presses! I’ll have a page one rewrite for you in less than half an hour!’ He put down the phone and muttered something about contacts. Then he looked me straight in the eye and asked me if I’d mind being a crime reporter. I said no, that would be fine with me. Then he stood up, shook my hand and said, ‘Welcome aboard, kid, as of September 1 you’re on the crime beat. Now beat it, I got work to do!’ Stony, I got the job!” “That is just so terrific, Carole, but the story, your story, I’m dying to read it.” “It should be on the street by now. But just in case you can’t find it, I’m bringing home plenty of copies. Oh, Stony, I’m just so excited!” “Me too, Carole, me too!” We made kissy sounds at each other and I hung up the phone. Then I picked it up again and dialed the office number. “Stone & McCullough, Private Investigations. How may we help you?” a voice purred. “You can drop the act, Cookie, it’s only me. Listen, I just got home with Hemp and he’s fine, but I want you to do something for me.” “Sure, boss, what is it?” she said in her normal voice. “Lock up the office, run downstairs and buy a bunch of Examiners. Carole’s apparently got an exclusive story on the murder—front page stuff!” “Wow! But you mind if I take the elevator? We’re on the sixteenth floor here, you know,” she wisecracked. “Very funny. Just get those papers and call me back.” By the time I hung up the phone again, Hemp had joined me at the kitchen table. He was dressed in clean clothes and, ~

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astonishingly, was clean-shaven. Even his mustache was gone. “Want a beer?” I asked him casually, pretending not to notice. “Sure, why not? You better watch out, though. After two weeks of nothing but coffee, juice and water, it’ll probably hit me like a shot of whiskey.” “I’ll take my chances.” I grinned and tossed him a can of Coors from the fridge. As I did so the phone rang. “That’ll be Cookie calling me back,” I said as I picked up the phone. But it wasn’t. I immediately recognized the country rumble of our good friend and landlord, Leeroy Anderson. “Hey, Jake!” “Hey yourself, Leeroy!” I replied. “I heard Hemp was gettin’ out today, is that right?” “Sure is, Leeroy. In fact he’s standing right here.” “Oh. Listen, I’m down at Bell Market an’ I just wanna know how much stuff to get for the barbecue on Sunday.” I checked the calendar on the wall. Sunday was August 3, not even close to a holiday. And he sure hadn’t mentioned anything about a barbecue to me. “Barbecue? What barbecue?” I asked. “Oh, man, didn’t I tell you? I must be gettin’ forgetful in my old age. I’m plannin’ a barbecue just for us in the house, you know, to celebrate Hemp gettin’ out. Lemme see now, I figure on me an’ Laverne, Moose an’ Cookie, you an’ Carole…Hemp gonna bring anybody?” “Just a minute, I’ll check.” I put my hand over the mouthpiece. “Hey, Hemp! Leeroy’s gonna barbecue on Sunday in your honor. It’s gonna be just us unless you want to invite anybody.” ~

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And then an amazing thing happened. I swear I saw a tear form at the corner of Hemp’s eye. He wiped at it quickly and said in a husky voice, “Man, that’s Leeroy for you! Always wanting to celebrate something!” Then he forced a grin. “No, tell him it’s just me. But tell him thanks, huh?” “Sure, Hemp.” I spoke back into the phone. “No, Leeroy, it looks like just us magnificent seven. And thanks a lot, you know, from all of us.” “Hey, don’t mention it, buddy! I just wish I coulda been more help when y’all was in trouble.” We exchanged a few more cliched pleasantries and then I hung up the phone again. Before I could even say anything to Hemp it rang again. This time it was a breathless Cookie. “Wow, Stony, you’re just not gonna believe this! This is fuckin’ huge!” “Take it easy, Cookie, and slow down, will you? I assume you’re referring to Carole’s story in the paper.” “Yeah, right on page one! Just listen to this headline: ‘Joe Dumars Indicted on Murder Charge’. Then underneath: ‘Board of Supes Pres Connected to Drugs, Racketeering’. Whaddaya think about that?” I was stunned. “Unbelievable! The Big Boss, the guy that ordered Thor to kill Mimi, the guy behind Acid, turns out to be Joe Dumars, the law and order guy, President and most conservative member of the Board of Supervisors?” “Yeah,” breathed Cookie, “and the guy a lot of people figured would be our next mayor.” “Who would’ve thought it!” I was at a loss for words. “Oh, one more thing, Jake, you’ll want to know this. The byline on the article reads: ‘Carole Ann Porter, Examiner Staff Reporter’!” ~

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“Examiner Staff Reporter,” I repeated, savoring the words. “That is just so cool!” “Anyway, I’ll bring home a bunch of papers tonight. Now I’ve got to get busy putting this story into our case files. See you in a couple hours.” “Okay, Cookie, good work!” I hung up the phone again and related all this to Hemp, who seemed to be as surprised and shocked as I was. “Wow,” he said thoughtfully. “I always knew there was somebody back of Acid, somebody higher up. But I never expected this! Joe Dumars, Mr. Law and Order. Why, you know what he said on TV the other day?” “No idea.” I was glad to see Hemp enthusiastic about something. He’d been acting like a zombie ever since we left the Hall of Justice. “He said, and I quote: ‘The scourge of illegal drugs must be stopped. Drugs are killing our children and tearing our families apart.’” He grinned a little sheepishly. “There wasn’t much to do in jail except read and watch TV. And I’m not much for reading. But this story I want to read, every word.” “Don’t worry, you will! Both Carole and Cookie are bringing home a shitload of papers.” Then the phone rang again, the fourth time in half an hour. I playfully punched Hemp in the shoulder. “You sure are popular, man. Everything’s all about you today!” I picked up the phone again and heard the smooth, semicultured voice of Acid Jackson. “Jake, my man,” he purred. “Just called up to say you done a hell of a job. Hemp out yet?” “Yeah, he’s right here. I’ll put him on in a minute. But first, I hope you’re not too pissed off about your boss. Looks ~

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like he’s gonna be out of circulation for quite a while.” “Yeah, I must admit I got mixed feelings about that. I gotta get another connection real quick. But at the same time I gotta admit I ain’t too broken up about it. Let’s just say he never really gave me too much respect. And this just might open up a few doors for me, you dig?” “Yeah, I dig.” I decided not to say anything about what Thor had told me. If Acid didn’t mention it, why should I? “But listen, Acid,” I continued. “Don’t say anything more about ‘business’, OK. I don’t wanna know. You know I was working with the cops on this.” “It don’t bother me, bro, if it don’t bother you. An’ if there’s gonna be a problem, well, odds are I’ll figure it out before you do, no disrespect intended. Anyway, good work an’ no hard feelings on either side, right? Keep the bread if you got anything left. Now lemme talk to my main man.” I waved the phone in Hemp’s direction. He gulped down the rest of his beer, crushed the can and threw it into the trash. “Acid, right?” I nodded. He reached over and took the phone from me. “Yeah, this is Hemp.” Then he listened for a long time, his face showing no expression whatsoever. Every now and then he grunted something noncommittal in reply. Strangely enough he seemed totally unmoved by anything Acid was saying. I couldn’t help thinking back to the beginning of the year, not so long ago, when Hemp was singing Acid’s praises like he was the Second Coming. Finally he hung up the phone. “I’m gonna wait till Monday to go over there,” he informed me. “That’ll give me some time to do some thinking.” “Thinking? About what? I thought you were in a hurry ~

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to get your old life back.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I dunno, Stony. Like I told you, I’ve had a lot of time to think these past two weeks. About all there was to do was read, watch TV, and think. I ain’t much of a reader, and they threw us out of the TV room at nine every night. So that left thinking.” A fleeting ghost of his old stupid grin crossed his lips. “I told you that beer was gonna get me high, Stony. Might as well have another.” I opened the fridge and tossed him one. “Anyway,” he continued, “I been thinkin’ a lot about what’s happened since I went to work for Acid and met Mimi. It’s only been about nine months, I guess, but it seems like a lot longer. I guess what I’m tryin’ to say,” he took a big gulp of beer and leaned across the kitchen table toward me, “is I’m not real sure what I want, not any more. It really started when you first brought Carole home. It was last September, right? I think at that time I must’ve had some weird premonition that it wouldn’t be just us three forever. Then when Cookie moved in, in January, I really started feeling like the odd man out, sleeping in the living room like this was just a crash pad and not my home. And now it’s you an’ Carole an’ Moose an’ Cookie—oh, yeah, an’ then there’s me—the guy that causes all the trouble!” I let him talk. I could hardly stop him as the words were beginning to tumble out faster and faster. He must have been saving this up for a long time. “So I been thinkin’ an’ thinkin’, tryin’ to figure it out. Was I really in love with Mimi, or just jealous of you guys and wanted somebody, too? An’ now I guess I’ll never really know. It sure as hell felt like love! But since she’s been gone,” he squared his shoulders and corrected himself, “dead, it feels sorta like a relief in a weird way.” He waved a ~

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hand at me and gulped down the rest of his second beer. “Look, Stony, I know I’m prob’ly not makin’ much sense. An’ I know I got to get my shit together. I just don’t know if tryin’ to go back to the way I was is the right way to go.” He covered his face with his hands. “I just don’t know.” I got up and put my arm around his shoulder. “Don’t worry about me, man. I know you’ve been through a really shitty time. And I know you’ve got to work it out for yourself. But just remember that me and Moose, hell, Carole and Cookie, too. We’re all here for you, man.” He grabbed my hand and held it. “Thanks, man, I really appreciate that.” Then he shook his head as if to clear it. “Hey, look, it’s almost five. The girls’ll be home soon, huh?” “Yeah. Listen, Hemp, thanks for talking to me like that. We haven’t been that close and open with each other in a long time.” He grinned a reasonable facsimile of his old grin. “Enjoy it while you can, Stony,” he replied cryptically. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’m gonna sack out on Moose’s bed for a couple hours an’ do some more thinking.” “Sure, man, whatever you want.” 14.

S

unday, the day of the barbecue, arrived with the usual thick blanket of fog. As we went about our preparations, the girls making salads and baked beans, Moose and I going down the hill to get the beer, the damp chill persisted. By noon, when Leeroy brought the chicken and ribs out to the patio and lit the grill, the fog was as thick as ever. “Don’t you have any magic spells to clear away the ~

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fog?” I joked to Carole. To my surprise she gave me a serious look. She went into the bedroom, opened wide the patio window, and made waving motions at the sky like a baseball umpire calling a runner safe. As she did so a small patch of blue opened up directly overhead and swiftly began to grow larger and larger until the sun began to shine through it, dispersing the fog even more. As I watched, openmouthed in astonishment, the last patches of mist dissolved and all that was left was a thin layer wreathing Twin Peaks and the base of Sutro Tower. The whole process had taken less than fifteen minutes. Carole turned away from the window and dusted off her hands. “How’s that?” she inquired with no hint of irony. I shook my head in admiration. “Baby, whatever that was, you oughta bottle it and sell it. We could make millions.” She just laughed. “Go get Moose and Cookie and start taking things outside. And see if you can find Hemp. It’s his party, we shouldn’t start without him.” After locating Moose and Cookie (not hard; when in doubt just check their bedroom), I searched the flat but could find no sign of Hemp. Finally I spotted a small piece of paper taped to the fireplace. “Out getting some stuff for the barbecue,” it read. “See you guys by two.” I informed the others and we continued our preparations. By the appointed time the party was really swinging: Leeroy and Cookie were busily basting sauce on the nearly-done pieces of chicken and racks of ribs; Carole and Madam Butterfly were laying out the buffet table with huge bowls of potato and green salads, baked beans, and ~

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plates of grilled corn on the cob; Moose and I had brought the stereo outside and were playing some lively music (Doobie Brothers, Allman Brothers, Beach Boys, and occasionally a Country & Western Classic for good ol’ Leeroy), while relaxing on lawn chairs with beer and chips. It must have been at least eighty degrees in the back yard, for the heat of the barbecue grill combined with the sheltering effect of the twenty-foot high wood fences that surrounded us prevented any cooling effect to reach us from the prevailing northwesterly winds. Consequently everyone, even Madam Butterfly, was wearing beach clothes. Satan, Leeroy’s huge and formerly threatening Doberman, frisked about the yard, pausing only to nibble the scraps of meat we offered her. “I shore am glad Satan’s finally gettin’ used to you boys,” remarked Leeroy. “Yeah,” replied Moose. “As long as she’s getting fed, she seems real happy.” “Not unlike you, big lug,” Cookie retorted. Suddenly I felt a tap on my shoulder. Looking up I saw Hemp looking down at me, a grin on his face. “Hey, look what I got,” he said, displaying one of the fattest joints I’d ever seen. “Wow, Hemp, that’s real impressive,” I told him. “Now or later?” “Might as well do it now, I’ve got several more for later. Besides, this is guaranteed to give you guys a real good appetite.” “Dope break!” I yelled to the group. Everyone immediately stopped what they were doing and came over to join us, even Madam Butterfly who by now was hip to our evil ways. Leeroy had clued her in about ~

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Hemp’s “wacky weed” so by now she was dying to try it. Well, we all got royally stoned. With the sun shining hotly overhead we ate chicken, ribs, salads, beans and corn, with ice-cold watermelon wedges for dessert; we laughed and joked and talked and drank beer and ate more food till we couldn’t hold any more and the various bands played on. Then Hemp lit up another joint and we all passed it around and as we looked up into the sky we realized that the sun was getting lower and lower and it was still Hemp’s party and none of us had really, formally, acknowledged it yet. We had all been too busy having a good time. So I leaned over to Moose who was sitting beside me and whispered something in his ear. He nodded his head and said loudly, “Hey, Hemp, this is your party, man. How about a speech or something?” “Sure,” agreed Hemp right away. “If that’s what you guys want.” We all clapped and whistled and cheered him on. He received our clamor with a dignified expression and went over to the center of the patio by the grill in which still-glowing coals were rapidly cooling. He held up his hands for silence like a professional speaker and then began. “Okay, guys (and girls),” he nodded to the women. “I know we’re all pretty stoned, drunk and stuffed with food. I know I am. But since you asked for a speech,” he glanced at Moose who whistled at him encouragingly, “I guess it’s time, really past time, I made one. First of all, I’d like to say the usual cliches about thanks for the great party, thanks for believing in me when I was in trouble, hell, thanks for getting me out of trouble. You saved my life and I know I’ll never, ever be able to pay back a debt like that.” Cookie, Moose and I began to make self-deprecating ~

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“Shucks, ‘twaren’t nothing,” noises, but Hemp put up a hand to stop us. “No, I really mean it. But like I told Stony (oh excuse me, you’re Jake now), I did a lot of thinking those two weeks I was behind bars and I’ve been doing some more thinking the last couple days since I’ve been out. And I figure the only way to thank someone for saving your life is to make that life a life you (I mean me), as well as they, can be proud of.” He pointed in my direction. “Moose and Jake know what I mean, they’ve put up with me the longest.” As we started to protest, he stopped us again. “So, considering the fact that I’m not really doing much around here except staying stoned and getting myself into trouble, and considering that I’m really a fifth wheel around here anyway, what with the two happy couples taking over the BEQ and the BOQ,” he grinned, “you know who you are. Anyway, considering all that, I’m gonna give you guys your living room back. I’m moving out next week.” There was a confused buzz of voices, one of which was mine, and a bunch of questions all being asked at once, several of which were mine. Hemp held up his hands again for silence. “And not just out of the house, either. I figure with guys like Acid and all my other connections in this town, it’s too much of a temptation for me to just lie around and smoke my life away (at least until I get in trouble the next time and you guys have to bail me out again). So anyway, I’m thinking about goin’ down to San Jose, maybe get a real job that’s more than just slinging burgers or sacking groceries. I met this guy in jail, he was talking to me about these things they’re working on down there, computers for the home, he calls ‘em, no bigger than TV sets. He says in ten, fifteen ~

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years everybody’s gonna want one, it’ll be as big as TV’s were just after the war. So I’m gonna go down there and at least find out what’s happening. I may not get rich, but at least maybe I can find a job I don’t hate that’ll pay me enough to live comfortably without gettin’ stoned and drunk all the time.” He stopped and bowed his head. We all gave him an enthusiastic round of applause. “Just one more thing,” he continued. “I need a favor from you guys. I hear your private eye stuff is paying pretty good, Stony.” “So far, I guess, we can’t complain. And we’d love for you to come and work for us. Hell, be our partner.” I looked at Moose. “How does ‘Stone, Hemp & McCullough’ sound?” Moose nodded his head in approval, but Hemp just laughed. “No, you guys, but thanks anyway for the offer. I don’t think I could do anything that’s that close to being a cop. But the reason I asked, well, if I show you where all the dope is hidden around the house, will you guys loan me a little money to get me down to San Jose and get started? ‘Cause I’m fuckin’ broke!” He turned out his pockets and we all laughed. I went over and clapped him on the back. “You got it, man, however much you want. We’re sure as hell gonna miss you, though.” “Hey, I’m only gonna be fifty miles away, and they do have telephones now. And as soon as I get my shit together and have the time, I’ll come back and visit you guys. But this is the best thing for me, dig it?” Moose came over and we all three clasped hands. “All for one,” began Moose. “And one for all,” I chanted “The Three Musketeers,” finished Hemp. “Now get me ~

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another beer and let’s smoke this last doobie before it gets dark.” Leeroy and Madam Butterfly had tactfully withdrawn when Hemp had begun his speech. Now Leeroy approached Hemp. “I ain’t exactly a poor man, buddy,” he told Hemp while taking a hit off the joint. “You need anything, y’all give me a call, promise?” “Thanks, Leeroy, that really means something coming from you.” And then he astonished me by grabbing Leeroy around the waist and hugging him tight. Then he caught me looking at him and released Leeroy. “What’s the matter? Can’t a guy even hug his friend any more? I thought we were all supposed to be sensitive guys now?” We all laughed and passed the joint around and the party didn’t break up until darkness and the fog arrived at about the same time. The next morning I got up early with Carole for a change. It was her first day back at the Examiner since she’d been promised the permanent position. She was all tension and anxiety, having somehow gotten it into her head that Friday had all been just a beautiful dream. I took a copy from the stack of Examiners that bore her front page byline and showed it to her. This reassured her somewhat, and she gave me a quick kiss and hurried out the door, saying she’d call me if there were any problems. So when the phone rang at about nine thirty I was understandably apprehensive as I picked it up and answered with a tentative “yeah?” But it was only Cookie, calling from the office in a high state of excitement. “You better get down here right away, boss!” she informed me. ~

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“Why, what’s wrong?” “Nothing’s wrong. Just the opposite. I’ve taken better than a half dozen calls this morning already, all from people who saw Carole’s story in the paper. Some have missing relatives, some have missing pets, and some have unfaithful spouses, but they all want to hire us. I told ‘em to come in between twelve and two so you guys would have time to get yourselves together and act like big-time private eyes. I called Moose and he’ll be in about noon.” “I’ll be there by eleven,” I promised. “Great! Oops, phone’s ringing again, gotta go!” There was a click as she switched to a different line. Man, this is weird, I thought. I guessed I was going to have to start working for a living again. Hemp was still sacked out in the living room, so I left him a note taped to the fireplace. Then I went into the bedroom, closed the door, picked up the phone and punched in a number. “Homicide, Bradshaw,” came a gruff voice. “Lieutenant Bradshaw, you sweet, soft-hearted son of a bitch! Jake Stone here.” “Shh!” he cautioned. “Anybody could be listening in on this line! What can I do for you?” “Hell, it’s what you’ve done for me! How the fuck did you know Carole Porter was my girlfriend and was an intern at the Examiner?” I could almost see his sardonic grin. “First time you came to see me, kid, I told you I had you checked out.” “Yeah, sure you did. Did you know that because of that exclusive story you gave her she’s getting a permanent job there?” “No kiddin’!” He feigned surprise. “I’m glad to hear that.” ~

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“She’s gonna be on the police beat. So you’ll prob’ly be running into each other.” “OK by me.” “Also you did me a favor as well.” “Yeah, what’s that?” “Well, it seems our private eye business has picked up considerably since Friday. Cookie tells me she’s had to beat them off with a stick.” “Yeah? Well, like they say, couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.” “Anyway,” I hesitated for a moment. “I guess what I’m trying to say is thanks a lot for everything. I guess I misjudged you.” There was a short silence. “Maybe that cuts both ways, kid. From now on, mutual respect, okay?” “OK. By the way, how’s the Dumars case coming?” “Oh, great! Fantastic! Otherwise I wouldn’t be here tidying up paperwork. You know, that sonofabitch had everybody in town conned, from the Mayor and the Supes on down. He ain’t talkin’ much on the advice of his highpowered mouthpiece, but we think we got enough on him to make it stick, thanks to your friend, Thor. Say, did you know his real name’s Ernest Jefferson and he’s from East St. Louis?” “No kidding!” “So how’s your boy, Hempel, doin’? Glad to be out?” “You got that right. In fact, to hear him tell it, you guys scared him straight. He’s leaving town this week.” “To tell you the truth, I ain’t too sorry about that. The kid’s trouble, any way you look at it. No hard feelings, though?” “No,” I assured him. “Mutual respect, remember?” ~

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“Okay kid, you got it. Now, anything else? I’m a busy man.” “Just thanks again, Lieutenant!” “No problem, Stone. Our paths’ll cross again, I’m sure of it.” And with that he hung up. I replaced the receiver and went over to the closet. After digging through the back for several minutes I finally found an old snap-brim fedora I bought at a shop on Upper Grant in North Beach when I first moved here. I put it on and stood in front of the mirror, adj