Chapter 82

“Searching for an out
finds disaster at your door,
real world bites even more.”


“Handle it? Sounds right up my…alley…”

“He’ll likely be pretty demanding.”

“I know the territory, believe me…”

“All right then, check back in by week’s end, and we’ll see. Nobody else here has the time to take this on.”

“First thing, and I won’t futz it up, trust me…”

“So far, so good…and remember our core motto, ‘Find a need and fill it’.” CLICK.

Hell of a way to be ending the week; hell of a week to end. It had taken several days just to get over the haze and horrors of Halloween and its heinous aftermath. And here I was suffering hackneyed adages, monetarily powerless to wend off any client-side wrinkles in supply and demand. The late fog was a fluke, dissolved and history by mid-morning next, skies having cleared, the onshores no longer ripping like a linear accelerator, temperatures climbing ever since. That gray blanket having lifted, Marina Triangle grass was greener, the bay deeper blue, Fort Mason piers creamier, Spanish tile roofs fiery red—even as the shorter autumn day wound down.

Parking lot regulars were out once more, flags flying—General Ripcord marching to his own tune, likely something Sousa, while the Monsignor continued blessing the East Harbor fleet. I nodded to the mechanic on my way out the phone booth door, steering well shy of his tool chest; mentioned to the retired Renoir that I knew a serious young painter on the rise, let alone that grinning Giant hand job, that little Johnny LeMaster come lately, he with a good word for everybody around the lot—although his congeniality didn’t seem to extend our way. But by this late getaway afternoon, enough time had passed to where the entire long Halloweek could be placed in proper perspective, and that was precisely what the crew happened to be doing when I returned, all gathered around their wheels.

“Call this fall? It’s November, for godsakes,” said Sherry, peeling a banana. “Me, I miss the clouds, real big fluffy clouds, pile ’em on. The sky is such a non-factor here. I don’t know, it’s almost like we’re cheating winter.”

“Think about it, everything’s ass backwards. It’s warm and green here when everyplace else is winter brown,” Clifford closed the book on ‘La Henraide’. “Then the hills and everything go scorched brown when everyplace else is green. Totally disorienting, throws off your biorhythms…makes it hard to feel like you fit in the groove here.”

“That’s the whole damn point, noodnik,” Eric replied, as he twisted the u-jie on his ratchet wrench, then attached an extension and spark plug socket. “Think we’d be out here this late in the year back east? Hell, we’d be freezing our asses off already.”

Earthquake weather, red flag days: the mild, windless Indian summer made for a lazy, cabin fever mindset, though we were this far along in the year. Chevrons of Pelican squadrons glided effortlessly toward the Golden Gate, touch-and-go swooping for clear surface fish. Wispy entrails from inbound freighters and tankers hung like a stage curtain headers over a gently rippling bay, fewer than summer- blown sailboats tacking by. All that was missing was a rainbow over Angel and Alcatraz. Marina Green’s sound track mix-mashed scratchy music from a worldly array of dweller vehicles with the accelerating roar of Marin traffic along the angling boulevard—Mahler, Waylon and Motley Crue meet Mercedes, Jag and Maserati. I went light-headed with the tight-cheeked reflection, thinking god forbid this place should ever become normal.

“Back east, back east,” Eric growled, picking up a handbill softly floating by like it was a five-dollar bill. “Then why don’t you and Einstein get your asses back there to the snow and ice? I’ve got better things to do. And it’s rough enough goin’ here without hearin’ your homesick shit.”

“On that, we can agree,” Clifford said, pointing toward Marina Boulevard mansions. “It’s not the place that makes it rough, but the people making the place here more important than the people here…like, the property over there. Have a lot, have not—the place comes first, so everybody’s doing what they can to hang on and survive. Coarse, chiseling, backbiting, careening off each other, everybody squeezing everybody dry. Ugly behavior in such a beautiful environment. Easy on the eyes, murder on the mind.”

“Hey, I happen to dig this neighborhood, okay? But nobody’s gettin’ into my wallet,” Eric scoffed and packed away his wrenches into a dented toolbox. “I’m stayin’ out here where me and Bruno got our breathin’ room.”

“Well you can keep the damn sunshine and palm trees,” Gary shouted from his bread truck. “California’s cold as ice but people keep comin’, dirt cheap as the pigeons there. That’s why I’ll be headin’ back up top to Reno before long.”

“Speak for yourself, weirdo,” Crabber Don shuffled up from the harbor basin. “You gets what you give out, and you give out nuthin’ but bum vibes…”

“Keep it up, dickhead,” Gary snapped, chain lighting a Chesterfield. “You’ll get yourself a boatload…”

A duet of East Harbor berth squeaking and sail rigging seemed to tantara the twilight, one nowhere as ruby brilliant as Halloween’s, yet unnerving nonetheless, lighting up Marina masts like so many white crosses in the Presidio Cemetery. A container ship broke through corraline reflections between Angel Island and Marin, riding high out the Gate, loaded to the locator lights atop its red belching stacks. The cargo carrier seemed to sweep up the Marina’s calm in its wake, dragging that almost eerie afternoon calm with it under the bridge. Marin aeries came aglow in the sinking sun; Alcatraz cellblock windows altogether fired up like stadium lights. A chill restlessness wended through the spinning and ringing rigging in the wind, seagulls squealed their discontent so stridently as to silence the starlings and crows. Everybody, everything getting a bit edgier as nightfall muscled in.

“Speaking of weird, what about that little skin show the other night,” Sherry asked, bagging her peel.

“How do you mean?” I wedged between my left front fender and Eric’s white 912, for easy retreat into the Volvo should loggerheads shake loose.

“Oh, missed it, huh? Had better things to do late Halloween night, did you?” She gestured toward a long, guard railed catwalk atop the East Harbor seawall, lined primarily by parka wrapped fishermen during daytime hours. “When we got back here, Crabber was prancing around on the catwalk over there. Don’t know how he got around that security gate, but he was totally bagged, dancing all along the thing. Next second, he stripped off his leisure suit, and was down to Kojak bikini briefs—you know, with his lolly pop, mesh yet.”

“Ain’t it the truth,” affirmed Gary. “I seen the whole regusting thing with my own eyes, seen all kinds of strange movin’ around the lot that night…”

“Then he started in with running a goofy maroon sash up and over his scrawny shoulders, wrapping it around like a stripper’s halter top routine,” Clifford said, with a grain of disdain. “He has this ugly lizard tattoo on his back, looks partially grafted out…”

“Just about spit his choppers out lip singing, and bouncing around like Pinky Lee,” she said. “I got to thinking he was about to go over the deep side, so I yelled and talked him down before the fog could eat him up. Shush, here he comes…”

Crabber Don’s shelter had recently been Berth 36A, where he had finagled a boat-sitting gig from some sail trimmer crewed out on a schooner to Kaanapali. The 31-foot Beneteau sloop actually belonged to a broker who regularly jogged along the Green when he wasn’t structuring deals in Hong Kong. Hard to believe they would entrust the boat to the likes of Crabber for a fortnight, but apparently he was the wrong person in the right place at the right time—a slap-happy third hand short of a full deck and too hungry to abandon ship. Guess they figured him loyal and obedient as an old mutt; little did they know. Still, here he was, fully re-suited in his leisurely lime, having worked up a powerful thirst sunning like a sea lion on the broker’s mahogany runnered bow, looking like he’d already dropped something beyond an anchor.

“Yo, save me summa that hooch, only drunks drink alone,” Crabber said, as he drifted over near Gary’s truck, preparing to lean against it, a field mouse siding up to a calico cat. “Watchatalkin’…”

“Just doing some Halloween show and tell,” she chimed, passing him what remained of a half -86ed crock of Lancers, with a glance toward the catwalk. “About what we did to celebrate…you know, like on the big stage.”

“What stage,” he slugged from the ceramic brown bottle with red, swollen hands. “That Polk Street crap? ”

“Far from it,” Clifford sniffed. “We took the high road to a civilized masque soiree.”

“What’s the difference,” Eric slammed the trunk lid on his red 912. “Same old dopin’ and gropin’, ain’t it? Everybody pawin’ at everybody else either way.”

“Depends on what they’re pawing at,” Sherry smacked on a jar of papaya juice. “We just happened to prefer the straight and true.”

“Right on, trick is to get ’em young,” Crabber rambled, with a cigarette rasp. “Yep, young enough so you can still tweak ’em on the ass, and they’ll think it’s real cute. Before they’re prick-teasin’, man-hatin’ bitches.”

“With perverts like you, who can blame us? Walking around getting gaped and aped, if not actually raped,” she shook her head.

“Want us to stop saying those things? Stop swaying those things,” he hoisted the bottle her way, smelling more and more of nicotine and cheap sampler aftershave, unshaven as he was—no one having schooled him on the difference between growing a beard and just being too damn hopeless to lift a razor. “Sheeit, it’s just penis envy, plain and simple…”

“If I had yours, I’d have gotten an orchiectomy a long time ago…”

Out the corner of my eye, a vision of stately escape: This Princess liner had emerged from behind Fort Mason piers, sliding slowly past Marina Green, eight decks lighted dazzlingly bright as pier windows set ablaze by the sinking sun. The entire cruise ship was a gleaming white whale of sea-bound pleasure, soon steaming past Sausalito’s hillside cottages and chateaus, then under the amber-lit strands of the Golden Gate Bridge to ports unknown. The Polynesian Princess left San Francisco Bay in deepening darkness, but little tranquility in its wake. More solitary silhouettes prowled Marina shadows for indeterminable cause. I counted them off like so many mountain ticks on Seamus’s belly as I replayed how Moon would take over to ease my frustration. Where that came from had me scratching my head in dismay.

“Get your sorry ass off from my truck, dickhead,” Gary poked his head out from his driver’s door, glaring back at Crabber.“You got a death wish, or what?!”

“Yeah? Why the hell don’t you go back up top right now,” Crabber pulled away, loping the edges off his words more and more. “Ain’t us locals causin’ the hassles here, it’s Oakie carpetbaggers like you bringin’ all your hang-ups and loser ‘tudes!”

“On second thought, this calls for vasectomies all around,” Sherry intervened, handing Clifford a tablet and cup of cold camomile. “Still, you swine will all end up blaming your lousy karma on some poor, defenseless woman.”

“Hey, we can’t help it in this catty whoretown,” Gary shot back, over the renewed shrieking of that nearby woman in the battered Coupe de Ville. A nasty, furious mouth had she, rumors around the lot being that she’d been booted out and abandoned by her Sea Cliff husband. So she wrapped her head in scarves, taped newspaper to her car windows, then drove around Pacific Heights in her Cadillac tank, ready to aim and blow men away in zebra crosswalks. “Not my fault that Frisco makes it on its back and thinks with its crotch…”

“You’re just bitter because you’re not likely to get in on any of it,” she replied, rearranging whatever she had contrived underneath her frou-frou.

“Not with that mangled handle he’s got goin’, the fuckin’ freak,” Crabber guffawed like a sea lion on the skids. “But with his luck, he’d probably feel up a fistful of padding, anyhow.”

“Keep it up, you’ll see what a vet can do with a war wound,” Gary flipped his half-toked Chesterfield past Crabber’s nose into the adjacent twisted cypress. “Just wait, jag-off.”

“Thanks for the ciggie, mudderfugger.” Crabber fumbled for a rejoinder, but retreated to police the cigarette butt out of the tiny parking island’s brush. “Gotsta have me another hit on that chickenfrickafrickachickenchickafrickinchicassee…” 

“Shit, smoke ’em if you scrounge ’em,” Gary looked down on him. “Dogs piss down there, you disease.”

His contempt was palpable, if not fully plumbed, especially so against the receding Marina calm, the ringing of skippers’ bells, clinking and clanging of masts, squeaking of harbor pilings, the low buzzing of metal-halide walkway lamps. From further out came the horns of a Crowley tug-pushing a heaped garbage scow, the electromagnetic zapping of the degaussing station, more than half the Marina Green away.

A last Red and White ferry slipped silently back to Pier 45 from Larkspur, it and returning salmon trawlers barely stirring that slurping sash of black along the seawall, what with the bay tiding higher than ol’ man river come spring. Still, East Harbor berths seemed to sway more widely in quickening bayfront breezes, as if the onshores were drawn in by the butter yellow gibbous moon unit rising over Fort Mason and Russian Hill. It clearly brought out the worst and worse in parking lot dwellers, evidenced by hoots and undomesticated squabbling. No estimating how deeply it was affecting Bruno, however, Eric’s Chessie now growling all the more at the shopping cart Family Dogs now trudging by us on the harbor walk in stony, self-contained silence.

“Come now, people, let us mellow out here, shall we,” Clifford said, pointing to the stars. “Redirect that negative energy…consider the beautiful mystery of that night sky, the constellations and transcendent translucence. What if Man in his anger and violence has already inhabited and ruined all the other planets in our solar system? And this one is all that’s left, and we’ve nowhere else to go? What then? So let’s just relish this mystical confluence of water, hills and sky, all the ships, planes and wheels—and be eternally joyful. I mean we all derive from the lungfish and coelacanth and tetrapads. I say let the happiness flow in and out of you like those ships there on the bay, else things get backed up, turn sour to toxins and poison.”

“Sure strap on a happy face like all the airheads around here, leave your persona at the door,” Eric said snidely, bringing matters back down to earth. “Long as little ol’ Cliffy’s on his meds. Or else he wigs out like a cornered wolverine.”

“Well, I can see what you’re saying, the whole metaphorical concept. Incidentally, how was your hooker soiree,” I asked Clifford, making small conversation with a head full of mixed signals. Nowhere else to go? What the hell was he talking about?! The whole exchange made me feel vaguely uncomfortable, trying to piece this philosopher prince altogether. All I knew was, it was getting to the point where I’d likely be hesitant to say anything to any strange chick for fear she’d be in drag, a beef-up guy or a bad-bod gal screaming rape if she didn’t like my look…

“Actually, they couldn’t get past our costumes, so we couldn’t quite get in,” he replied, returning to his Voltaire text. “They thought we were celebrating violence, can you believe it? But we voyeured a lot of the action just hanging out front. The whole scene was pretty bizarre, in a decadent sort of way. What did you think of Polk Street?”

“Let’s just say it was decadent in a nauseating sort of way,” I was quickly distracted by Bruno’s barking growls from atop the white Porsche. “There is something fundamentally wrong with behavior like that. It’s like putting water in a crankcase, or at least a rusted dipstick…”

“Tell me about it…on second thought, you needn’t bother,” Clifford dithered, catching himself mid thought. “But I do find it curious that a body would go there in the first place. What about Eric?”

“What about him, who can figure it? When I left Polk, we were in the middle of these deviants, and he couldn’t get enough of the whole scene, just kept saying there was a big difference between homophobes and homofoes, whatever he meant by that…”

“He’s either loving his hound or beating the hell out of him, that’s what,” Sherry finished Clifford’s sentence. “If you ask me, Eric treats that dog like a mail-order wife, you can tell it by its low-slung tail and ears. He’s probably still a bed wetter, too. Whatever, at least women don’t raise nasty dogs, only guys have crazy, mean ones. There are no bad dogs, only…”

“So true, and how welcoming they are of each other,” Clifford beamed contrapuntally, anticipating Eric’s approach. “None of the snooty judgmental stuff, just happy to go about their business…”

“Ain’t it that ugly types gets them pretty mutts,” Crabber Don slurred, draining the Lancers. “And the real lookers gets themselves the butt uggos. See, you can tell how women handle their men by how they treat their dogs…”

sr dingbats

Before anyone could counter that, Bruno rose on his haunches, barking loudly, then growling fiercer yet, pouncing from atop the white Porsche to a lane divider bed of mauguete, medea, beach ruse and red fescue. Alcatraz Island’s beacon sliced right over the sightseeing ferry as it churned before the Rock, which appeared almost cell blocked through the barren harbor masts. The revolving beacon then lit up a ravenous couple in that distant phone booth, catching them probing one another for coinage and whatever on its way around the bay. Behind it, darkness once again filled the cypress and metrocedros, which made keeping track of Bruno worse than pointless as he darted through them, over cabbage palms, around the Bay Trail sidewalk’s bend, riling the crows and ravens branched out at lot’s end, even if Eric had returned soon enough to settle him down. In any event, his Chesapeake Retriever bolted along harbor’s edge, baring teeth in sharp, rattled panting, apparently toward the bay and Family Dogs.

“What’s with him,” I asked, as Eric came running up, Cutty in hand.

“Can’t say for sure,” Eric swallowed hard, moving between the cars for a closer view through the island trees. “Bruno, Bruno, get your sorry ass back here!”

“Don’t like the looks of this,” Clifford said, half standing on his Corvair’s rear bumper. “Don’t like the looks of this, at all.”

Around the reverse S-shaped walk, nearest the seawall, a slim shadow in waist-length hair pushed a shopping cart loaded full as a lit-up passing container ship, and almost as high. The cart seemingly resisted, its right front caster binding on its roll, as if off kilter from banging up too many curbs. Heavier yet was his family, still tethered like tugboats about the QEII, dragging behind the cart, if not guarding it as though the palace jewels were aboard, not with a hair trigger or Shepherd’s vigilance so much as a stout, steadfast calm that translated into ‘cross us if you dare’.

“Damn pits,” Eric snapped, as he worked his way across the lane onto the harbor walk.

“Say what,” I asked, following him out of curiosity more than concern, recalling how Seamus always tore after Chautauqua dogs for a friendly sniff see. Clifford left Sherry in the Econoline, she saying she wanted nowhere near a pissing match like that. “He just being neighborly or…”

“Pit bulls,” he muttered, “Bruno, get over here, I said!”

All five of them, brown to slate gray to marble in color under the sidewalk light, the Family were broad headed and barrel chested, nicked up from fighting on compact, muscular bow legs. The stud covered the cart’s right side, his bitch flanked it on the left, with their litter tailing behind the ringmaster—quietly yapping, nipping playfully at his jungle-booted heels. The longhair pushed ahead, unfazed by the pups, despite their flitting in and under his feet every third step. That caster must have caused him worse headaches, to where he paused under the walkway light to pull back on the shopping cart to yank free the jam. Then he brushed his pony tail over his shoulder again, shouting indecipherable orders to the elder dogs, plowing ahead as though he had somewhere to go. At this distance, his entire bearing appeared surplus paramilitary. He cinched his survivalist khakis at the waist with a leopard-spotted field belt, from which swung a leather-sheathed machete. Capping that streaked stallion mane was a guerilla beret. From the look in his eyes, it was the only bearing he had left.

“I seen him ’round too, wearin’ that Che beret,” Crabber Don hustled up to us, a little more than halfway to the bay. “Joes over there say he stays behind the Funston grandstand. He’s been raising them dogs over there, breeds ’em in the park bushes.”

“He can fricassee, open spit them for all I care,” Eric shouted, as we tread slowly nearer the seawall, Bruno strutting up to the cart. “Bruno, heel, I’m warning you!!”

Once the shopping cart scraped more fully under the cone of light, its entire cell came into better focus. Che Purina looked to be a mixed breed himself: part Central American, with some Polynesian thrown in, as if a mongrel from an occupation. In any case, he was Hap Ki Do taut and steely tense, muscling his cart full of Dog Chow and the barest of personal necessities. Through all the bumping, hoisting and crashing, the parent bulls marched stoically in step. Their unflinching discipline, their in-bred self confidence and solid, low-center development under oily leather hides: odds on only the barbed wire choke collars effectively kept them at the ends of their ropes.

For several throbbing moments, Bruno sniffed back and forth between the terriers, scooting around the Family like a roulette wheel off its hub. It apparently boiled down to heredity versus environment, and the Chessie went with his territorial instincts. Eric screamed, threw beer cans, threatened his hound’s Milk-Bone supply—anything to herd the retriever off. Still, Bruno did what dogs do, nosing about the shopping cart’s perimeter, then up to the bull pups quicker than a Peterbilt 16-wheeler up the ass end of a Volkswagen squareback, intent on the pick of the litter. The entourage didn’t seem to pick up on him until he sniffed his way under the light cone. Che Purina had tied his pups to the cart with separate clothes lines, controlling them with a loop harnessed draw line that haltered them together with one sharp pull.

“Hey mon, whachu doin’?” Which was precisely what the herder did the moment Bruno nuzzled up to the toddler bitch. He yanked the litter together all right; unfortunately Bruno got himself caught up in the noose. All three pups began yapping and snapping, Eric’s curly haired cur stumbled over them, falling onto the female runt. She squealed, her brothers yipped, a startled Bruno began growling, big mistake, then everybody freaked. “No, detente ahi! Agarra a tu perro! No quiero problemas…”

“Bruno, off, get over here,” Eric bellowed, to little avail.

“Easy,” I whispered, standing transfixed beside him, one street light away from the commotion. “He just has to disentangle himself, that’s all…”

“Hmmm, raises the question whether English bull terrier types can actually take commands in Spanglish,” Clifford pondered, remaining three yards and a cloud of dust behind us.

Momentarily, far more entered into it than that. Papa bull held fast on the starboard side of the shopping cart, presumably with some gentle, but persuasive barbs from Che Purina. Yet it proved to be the mama that turned hostile ugly, and was she a bitch and a half. Initially, she stared rigidly ahead, as if her burred collar were a plaster cast: no blinking, no twitching, no signal whatsoever as to any visible maternal alarm, even when a stumbling Bruno threatened to crush her smallest number, her one and only baby bitch to be. She exhibited no barking, snarling, none of the standard jumping and sparring, pawing and humping fur raised mongrels normally engaged in to avoid a rabid, raucous fight.

Instead, she went for the Chessie’s jugular in one startling, terrifying tactical turn, a lioness protecting her cubs. Soon as Bruno growled back, her four squat paws left the streetlit asphalt, and she was brown marble, muscle-bound blur of swollen udders and inflamed eyes. The pit bull tore into Bruno’s thick neck as a swamp gator grips a wayward beaver—seized it, bonded to it with her vise-like mouth, spun on it with her full sixty pounds, swung from it with the life defying intensity of a net-less trapeze artist doing the lockjaw hang. 

“Bruno! Oh, shit,” Eric shrieked, amid the gasps and screams of us bushy-tailed, thrill-seeking weekend adventurers frightfully out of our league. “Gotta get him…”

“No, wait,” I grabbed his forearm. “That guy will stop it…”

“Wait, nuthin’,” Eric pulled away, pressing up to a brown wooden storage box for harbor supplies, pausing against its flat top to catch his breath. “Does it look like he’ll stop it?!”

No such luck. Che Purina stood rigid as his papa bull while the bitch tore into Bruno even deeper. She revolved, then clamped furiously onto his neck—revolve and clamp, revolve and clamp again, ever tighter, like one of Eric’s torque wrenches. The bull terrier snarled low and controlled with each re-grip of pressure. Her red nose ignited, her small vicious eyes fired up like the jeweled lights of Marin across the bay, as Bruno howled out loud.

“C’mon, we’ll go get Jezebel,” Gary snorted, as he limped up behind us, with a discernible air of disdain.

“Who’s she,” I asked, without taking my eyes off the tangle.

“Jezebel, my Tokarev 51,” he postured toward his step truck, pulling out a leather belt. “Got her in the ‘Nam.”

“A gun? What, are you crazy,” I yelled. It was all academic at this point anyway, for Eric had lifted a wine bottle from one of the walkway benches, and was heading forward with a mouthful of its dregs. Still, Gary rushed over to his truck as best he could, possibly in search of Jezebel.

The shock had dissipated to where Bruno was struggling to right himself, to gain any measure of leverage against this sixty-pound wildflower of motherhood bear clamped to his neck. Grimly, the harder he clawed and wriggled, the harder she clamped. So thoroughly game was the bull terrier, she seemed oblivious to her litter’s squeals, even to the barbed wire collar digging deeper into her own neck, and egged on by Bruno’s pained, choking moans.

“Get that fucker off him, man,” Eric cried, smashing his wine bottle against the box top, waving it jagged edges desperately at Che Purina. “I’ll kill the mutt, goddamn it!”

“Retrocede, retrocede!!” The ringmaster stared Eric down over the rocking, teetering supermarket cart, struggling to hold an even more menacing papa bull in sway, eyes menacing as his brood. “Sin armas! No disparar!”

“What is that shit,” Eric screamed over his shoulder, there trembling at the edge of the light cone, confounded by the momentum of this attack.

“Methinks he’s warning you to keep your distance,” Clifford stepped up beside me under our walkway light once removed, clearly shaken as well.

Distance, my ass,he lunged forward, waving like a sideline referee.

“Really, Eric,” I gasped, having never seen canines like this on Chautauqua. “Those dogs will tear your arm off…”

“Goddamn gook, that’s what,” Gary limped back with his handgun, big as a .45, eight rounds per clip, that he’d drawn from a tanned leather holster—a black beauty from the the 1950’s with red and yellow Chinese stars on either grip.“I’ll handle it…”

“C’mon, this isn’t Viet Nam,” I spouted, over Bruno’s heavier moans, Ocean Beach’s lifesaver fisherman popping to mind like a stun grenade. “And he’s not even Asian…”

“Watchu know about ‘Nam? I been there, troop…gook’s a gook, them Charlie bastards all the same to me, wherever they’re from.. They all got 1001 ways to wok a dog.”

“Hey, brother, be cool, why don’tcha,” Crabber drifted over, wobbly as a Fleet Week sailor.

“Outta my way, dickhead,” Gary pushed forward, cocked and loaded, Crabber standing off, ‘as you were’.

Straining for breath, Bruno wailed in short, sickening bursts. The sustained, horrific racket sent many Marina irregulars scattering to their motor dwellings, or behind dumpsters and shrubbery out of morbid curiosity. Van lights flickered, the de Ville went silent, retirees in a Travco Traveler closed their side curtains, then slid open a screened rear window in mortified haste. Steel security gates rattled all along the harbor, between rubbery scrapes of the berth pilings. Crows chattered to one another in two bushy Metrocedros trees above the fracas, sea gulls flapped and gawled around as if they were trailing a fishing trawler.

“Mantente alejado,” Che shouted, as Eric moved once again toward the dogs. The master then instinctively reached down his patch-pocketed pants leg for his blade. “Tengo mi espada!

“Tango your ass,” Eric cried, seized up in fearful frustration, bottle aloft. “Stop this shit, or I’ll…”

“Paso atras,” the guerilla replied, holding his shopping cart and straining to keep papa bull, likely even heavier duty, in check with martial resolve. “Lo digo en serio!!”

“At ease,” Gary ordered, pistol at his side, moving ahead with battle worn abandon. “This is my territory, I owe them one. Sit here pickin’ your asses, and you’ll be hauling that mutt of yours away in a doggie bag.”

Bruno’s struggling moans degenerated into groans of crippling despair, the grotesque howls of an animal stricken to raw survival. I likened it lamely to the screeching of truck tires, crushing thump of bone against bumper, Seamus rag heaped onto that sooty, yellow snow drift, turning blood red in a widening circle before I could get him to a life-saving vet on the Longmont Diagonal—mere days after we’d arrived in Boulder. But this was something else, Bruno losing his battle of wills, mama bull dragooning her weakened prey, jerking his limp neck and head violently, like a sock full of rawhide teething toys, growling manically, blood streaming from her jowls, spraying off in rivulets, melding with her own blood, now pouring through her barb-wired collar.

The retriever wailed all the louder in choking agony as the bull terrier planted her stump legs like a backhoe. With one violent snap of her bloody neck, she flipped a dog nearly twice her size over easier than a minute steak, tightening a grip that tore deeper around his neck, pipe-cutter clean. I might have been terrified, Clifford to the point of backing toward his Corvair, however Eric looked to be shock frozen in place, fixed on his trusted Chessie, as if bearing hostile witness to his demise. But not Gary, he shuffled slowly, deliberately toward the Bay Trail turn, inching his prize pistol up to his beltline—just another battle ground in need of a fragging or firefight. His movement was not lost on Sulu, who tracked him from behind chrome reflector shades, not missing a millisecond of his bitch’s protective squeeze play, nor the handle of his blade.

“Hey, c’mon,” I pleaded, though two benches away from the bloodbath, Eric barely three steps ahead. East Harbor boat rigging rattled louder than a Financial District car alarm. “That’s not going to…”

“Goddamn gook, I’ll take ’em all out,” Gary angled his Tokarev up the length of Sulu’s thorax, wagging his aim between the young cart pusher and his dogs, the bitch still clamped down on Bruno like a shark-toothed tourniquet.

“Te lo adverti!Che shouted. He scattered his litter with a lightning pivot, then hop kicked Gary’s pistol away, Hwa Rang Kwan-style, in one fluid, terrifying move, shocking everybody but his dogs.

The handgun discharged as it hit Bay Trail pavement, banishing seagulls and strangers alike. The slug ricocheted off an adjacent steel dumpster into the ice plant mound beneath those two juniper trees, Gary’s handgun itself bouncing over the seawall, into San Francisco Bay. Che regrouped and stared back sternly at us all through his reflective chrome lenses—papa bull beginning to growl, his bitch still crazed yet unfazed, holding and tearing tight.

“Please,” Clifford beseeched from a distance.“Por favor.”

“Loco chico rudo,” Che taunted Gary, who was now quietly on his back foot. “Vamos a verte ser un heroe ahora.”

“Up yours, gook,” he spit, turning to force march to his truck empty handed. “And you’ll get yours, hang your bullshit beret on that…”

“Pare ahora, es suficiente,” Che yelled to his bitch with a triumphant, wicked-ass grin, resheathing his bayonet. “La paz sea contigo…”

Wherewith, mama bull growled, snarled defiantly, but eased her death grip and scooted obediently to the shopping cart, licking her pups on the way. Bruno dropped like the sinking Tokarev 51, a bloodied, whimpering heap of canine debris, while Sulu fed Family Dogs super Milk Bonz from his black plastic trash bag. Tail wagging, the bitch calmly resumed her cart position guarding the starboard blank, barking lightly at papa bull, as if to signal him that she could more than handle the small stuff, and nobody messes with the family. Sulu then kicked his balky caster into position and pushed his shopping cart forward into the shoreline darkness of the Bay Trail walk, that overhead light cone kissing star-like off his chrome reflective shades.

sr dingbats

“Bruno!!” Eric rushed in to kneel beside his wailing Chessie, screaming over the grind and squeaking of East Harbor docks, the vulture squealing of seagulls that smelled a feast.

“Don’t move him,” I shouted, closing in with Clifford, seeing Seamus in the retriever’s semi-comatose eyes. “You’d better get him to a vet…”

“No vet, no way,” Eric cried. He ripped his corduroy shirt off, the raised Bruno’s head slightly to jam it underneath it.

“You’ve got to, real fast,” Clifford watched the tan shirt saturate blood crimson, looking rattled as a rookie corpsman EVAC’d in. “Or he’ll, you know…”

“No damn vets, needlin’ him all up like a Thanksgiving turkey, wantin’ to keep him in some kennel at fifty bucks a day.”

“But he will bleed like a pig here,” I said, sickened with the sight of it.

“No, I said. He’s my dog, I can take care of him, I know first aid. Just give me a hand lifting him back to my cars.”

We joined in to raise Bruno’s hind quarters, as Eric gripped his front legs. The dog growled and snarled wildly in delirium, which got me to reflecting on Halloween Week’s rasher of perverts, pit bulls and pistols, on my weak stomach when it came to actual bloodshed, or any bodily fluids, for that matter—on what in blazes I was doing out here. This, while Eric decided to mend his best friend where he lay, motioning to us accordingly, then raced over to his Porsches for Motel 8 face towels and shop rags yet ungreased or Gunked as we stood guard and warded off the gulls, here on the starlit northern edge of San Francisco. Within minutes, he was back, wrapping Bruno’s mangled neck, as if that would stanch the bleeding.

Che Purina had already muscled his family out toward Marina Green’s degaussing station, his bull pups still yapping and snipping at one another in the distance, just as ornery as barnacles on so many demagnatized hulls. A restless calm was returning harborside, gulls clearing immediate airspace, boat rigging muffling down, shadowy figures slipping out from behind shrubbery like shrinking violets between showers. The monsignor himself paused to give his blessing, if not last rites. Even Bruno had lapsed from pierced howling to low, spent moans, Eric having cradled the retriever’s soaked, trembling carcass in his lap, mopping, stroking him, sobbing over matted, blood-crusted fur.

“Some house pets, huh? You knew what that maniac was saying, did you?” I asked Clifford, otherwise speechless at this twist and turn of events, unable to bear witness to the carnage any longer.

“Picked it up here and there,” Clifford replied as we detached stunned and helpless toward the parking lot. “I mean, really—doesn’t everybody know the difference between Spanish and Vietnamese?”

“Who cares,” Gary asked, “they’s all the same gooks to me…”

I couldn’t but wonder what a certain Vietnamese fisherman out at Ocean Beach would have to say about that…

Care for more?

Chapter 83. Stirrings of more
Marina mania order up a ghostly
holding of the fort…