by Gerald Boltz
available on Amazon
Few tourists come to San Francisco in mid-April, at least, not ones familiar with San Francisco weather. The Bay Area is only comfortably warm from about late June to mid-November. The rest of the time, it’s rainy, foggy, cool, and windy. Very nice if you’re half Eskimo. Of course, it does have its sporadic days all year around when it might break into the eighties for a day or so. The natives think they’re having a heat wave and head to the beaches. Today promised to be moderately nice, sunny in the high sixties with a crisp cool breeze that caused John, the “Brick” Waters to turn up the collar of his dark wool Pendleton as he trundled his way from his car to his new office five blocks away. Brick was a nickname he’d earned while playing for the 49er’s one season and it stuck. His team’s affectionate nickname didn’t refer to his linebacker abilities but to his movements being “slow” as a brick. Nonetheless, most friends now called him Brick as if that was his first and only name.
He had a monthly rate in a nearby parking garage where he habitually parked his late model Black Jeep Cherokee and had a quick breakfast before beginning work. His office was in the Flood Building at 5th and Market Street. The home of the fictional Sam Spade. Waters decided to open a private investigations agency, except he didn’t call it an investigations agency. He incorporated himself as a “Security Consultant” thereby avoiding having to get a private investigator’s license. Security and executive protection was one of the fastest growing businesses in the world, a fact of 21st century life. It mattered not to the California State licensing board that some of his actual work was investigation, as long as he put up the necessary bond. Venting new employees for Silicon Valley high tech companies and law firms, Waters was already making more than three times his salary as a San Francisco Police detective.
Waters pushed through the revolving glass door and waved at the security guard behind a modern wood kiosk reading a racing form. “Morning Fred,” The elderly guard looked up. Fred was also retired SFPD, wearing a black and tan uniform that hung loosely on his thin shriveled body. The lobby was fairly quite at this early hour. Later more than fifty tenets would arrive in varying degrees of stress and optimism. Fred looked up from his studies, a smile brightening his seventy-three-year-old face. “Just looking for a good long shot champ; you know me, I can’t resist an underdog that comes through.”
“How often do long shots come in Fred, really?”
“More often than you might think Brick, the trick is to pick the right ones.”
“That’s why they call them long shots old man. Close your eyes and throw a dart. You will have about as much chance as your handicapping skills.”
“Fuck you Waters,” he said, but he was laughing as Waters turned and made his way for the elevators. He trundled his imposing six foot five, two hundred and sixty pounds into the creaky elevator, always feeling a little trepidation that it would hold his weight, but this morning as all other mornings it carried him safely to the fifth floor and his new office. He was still getting used to being self-employed, having been forcibly retired from The San Francisco Police Department because of a gunshot wound to the chest. He had fully recovered, but for insurance reasons, the department decided he was a liability they couldn’t afford. His partner Dick Islay wasn’t at work yet, nor was his niece and secretary, Linda Morrison who habitually arrived about when he did. It was nearly eight now. He was mildly concerned but not worried. He sat at Linda’s desk reading a chronicle when Damien walked in. “Hey champ, morning.” tipping his hat. Islay liked wearing hats and had a seemingly endless collection of fedoras in all colors. This morning it was a charcoal blue model with a small grey feather stuck in a white band. Very dapper. “Anything new for us? He took off his jacket and hat and hung them on the curlicued wooden coat rack. A lean wiry man in his mid-fifties, he stood a little over six two with slightly stooped shoulders. The office suite was divided into three rooms, a lobby area as you entered, with Linda’s desk, computer, and bookcase of reference materials, and two rooms. One large that Waters claimed and one small that Islay complained about. A fake rubber tree plant in one corner, two office chairs and a brown leather sofa for waiting clients made up the only furniture in the outer office. Clean well-worn pale blue carpet covered all three rooms.
The reception room walls were bare because nobody had any pictures they wanted to share, and they couldn’t agree on artwork, politics, or sports.
“No, just keep following up on that land deal Weems is trying to put together for the Indians. That probably means you’re headed to Calistoga for a few days.”
“Great, I could use a good mud bath.”
“Mud baths are not on your expense account pal.”
“I know that Brick. I’ll cover that myself. I was just trying to be funny.” Waters grimaced at the juvenile humor. “Let me know when you go Dick, and how long you’ll be gone.”
“You got it boss,” said Islay, pointing his fingers in a gun gesture and firing. He retreated to his office just as the phone on Linda’s desk rang; Waters answered on the second ring, “Waters and Islay Security.”
“Brick, this is Detective Middleton Burgess. You remember me…we worked together on a few cases some years ago. I was a uniform then.”
“Yeah, I remember.” An icy hand gripped his heart. This could not be good news- and it wasn’t.
WATERS ARRIVED AT THE scene approximately forty-five minutes later, just as the eastern sky was lighting faintly with an orange glow. Took one look at Linda’s nude body and crumpled against the doorway. Slid to the floor. The room went quiet. He had seen lots of dead bodies in his fifteen years on the force, some a lot grislier than this but not a close member of the family, not someone he knew and loved. His chest tightened, and he fought for breath. “Oh… Linda,” in a voice so filled with grief, all eyes looked at him. His eyes teared and he put his big head down on his knees and silently wept. Burgess, Slott, Wu, the lab techs and the photographer looked on, a little embarrassed and sympathetic at the same time. The trim woman photographer with a boyish haircut, put away her camera and came over and sat down beside him. Took his hand and leaned her head on his shoulder. She didn’t know him, had never met but she had lost her only daughter in an auto accident two years ago and knew what he was feeling. Knew that only the touch of another human offered any real measure of consolation.
Minutes passed in pregnant silence while the techs resumed their duties. Finally, the boyish photographer said softly. “Was she your daughter? Waters caught her eyes and fought to keep his voice from choking. “My niece. Last of our immediate family.”
“We’re doing everything we can here Mister Waters. You know the drill.” It was a statement, not a question. He nodded. Middleton Burgess sauntered over. Knelt before him. “Want me to inform her mother Brick?” Waters looked up, knowing what he was asking. “No, I’ll do it Middy. It’d be fitting.” Burgess nodded, pressed on. “Brick listen, I know it’s not a good time man, but I have to ask you some questions, alright? Hope you understand.” Waters gave a slight shrug with his eyes. “Did your niece have any history of drug abuse?” The question seemed to arouse him out of his reverie. His eyes hardened, and he fought to remain calm. “No Middy. None. She didn’t even smoke pot. I’m sure of that.”
“Then how do you explain this?” Slott stood over him holding a hypodermic needle in a plastic bag. Waters rose on shaky legs. His first impulse was to slap the needle across the room, followed shortly by decking Slott. His body posture caused Slott to take an involuntary step back. Waters towered over him by six inches of height and about a hundred pounds of weight. Burgess, sensing the altercation intervened. “Guys, guys. Take it easy. Brick, he’s just showing you what we found, okay? Nothing personal.” Waters sighed angrily and turned away. Without a word, he left the room, pushing roughly through two uniformed policemen and clumped down the stairs. The photographer said to Slott. “You’re a real prick. You know that.”
“Just doing my job Whisper, that’s all.”
Her real name was Ginger, but Whisper was a nickname bestowed on her because she moved around crime scenes taking pictures quietly, with few words. Attached to the forensics unit, she was a fixture on almost every homicide or drug related crime where a victim was found. At five six in her bare feet, and a hundred ten pounds, she wasn’t the combative type, but if looks could do violence, Steve Slott would have been toast. Without a word, she turned and resumed her picture taking duties.
“You handled that well Steve,” said Middleton. “You should join the diplomatic service.”
“Fuck you Middy. Now get to work. We got a scene to process.”
Market Street is the main hub of San Francisco. A wide, dirty gray street embedded with train tracks and overhead power lines for the electric buses and streetcars. Taut metal cables, like giant spider webs cover the whole thoroughfare from the intersection of Monterey and Castro to the downtown financial district and shipping docks, about six miles as a drunken crow flies. Multicolored taxi-cabs slithered to and fro dropping off passengers and picking up others, delivering serfs to their daily prison cells on this blistery cool morning in the rosy dawn. Somewhere around the early 1980’s, city hall decided that old 19th century streetcars from various cities around the world would bring in more tourists, so they bought a variety of “tracker’s” as they’re called in Europe, from different cities and restored them to modern day safety standards and freshly painted, unleashed them on the unsuspecting public.
The response was mixed. Some liked the old-world charm but compared to the modern designs in architecture and public transportation found in most cosmopolitan cities around the world, the effect was disappointing. Nonetheless, native San Franciscans love their city and will not hear a disparaging word about it.
San Francisco has always been the whore of the western hemisphere. Spreading her legs for gold and silver. First in Alaska, then Northern California and Nevada. The city was forged out of rough ore, both rock and human with many impurities. Corse and corrupt, but it was John Waters home and he loved it. He savored the memories of every ounce of pleasure and pain the city had brought him. Love affairs, a broken heart more than once, street fights, shootings, forty-niner games, drinking nights with friends, listening to jazz in the many dives around the city. The titty bars of North Beach. He knew every street, every back alley, every secret the city held. He didn’t like all of it, but he loved the city like a brother. It was his family. Now the city had broken his heart once again. San Francisco in early April is a dismal place. Cool and breezy with a temperature that feels about ten degrees below freezing. The artic current that flows down the Pacific coast and eddies into the bay causes a wind chill factor that cuts to the bone. It’s like your living inside a refrigerator. It chills the heart and clouds your vision. Time has no meaning when our mind cannot experience emotional movement. When the mind is closed, idiocy sets in and you begin making poor decisions. Waters ignored his car and blindly walked the streets around Linda’s Victorian. Too numb to think, not seeing or caring where he was going. Linda was dead. Never again would he hear her joyous laugh or see her beautiful dark eyes. A smile that lit up a room. How on earth was he going to tell his sister, Linda’s mother Annabel? She lived out in Hunters Point; in a little craftsman bungalow she’d inherited from her husband when he died of cancer. That was to be his chore for the day, the hardest he’d ever had to do, and he was steeling himself for the trip. The dawn broke relentlessly, streaking the sky with bands of golden rose, pink and mauve. Early morning traffic was building on the streets. In his blind stupor, he missed the one piece of evidence that could have told him what happened to his beloved niece.