“Man up, man down
when ride gets rocky, take
a hands-off approach.”
“It’s just that I thought the idea was to get you fixed up.”
“Not to worry, I’m good.”
“So then what’s with the scenic route? Especially since we can’t see much of anything here.”
“This way’s quicker. I know what I’m doin’, man. It’s just those damn surfers, man, bet they hired them wetbacks to do their hatchet work. Probably still back there somewhere. I swear, I’ll nail their asses but good.”
What Eric’s wipers couldn’t sweep away, the upper peninsula’s mucous tendencies handled with blanket authority. On the back side of Daly City, where tract housing sprawl had thickened worse than the overcast, his already smeared windshield began sweating. Beading, rather—a steady ocean spray pasted the crystallizing surface, his worn wiper blades proceeding to make a total peach sorbet of everything in their tracks. Oncoming headlights north of Daly Boulevard only added a caramel aspic to the whole unappetizing shmeer, and it was all I could do to keep tabs on the itinerary. This, while further exploring territory already trodden up the coast.
“Whoa, that’s too bizarre even to joke about,” I cased Eric’s face in the passing road lights: trickles of clotted blood laced with splatter of orange-red latex, streaking and setting in place like the strip cheese on a half-baked Domino’s combo. “Just like with the Marina Green thing…”
“What Marina Green thing? I’m gettin’ to think you think I know something you don’t know—like about how that Gary stiff ended up face down in the harbor with those little puncture holes all over his body.”
“Puncture holes,” I huffed, my stale breath fogging the door window, as I realized I might be closing in on something better kept at strong arm’s length. “What puncture holes?”
“Shit, even if it is any of your goddamn business who offed Gary, why should I be…”
“W-w-wait a second,” I interrupted,, underlining my concern with a two-finger swash across the Porsche’s now steaming the windshield. “How do you know holes were all over Gary’s body? I’ve not seen anything in the news about that.”
If it wasn‘t the turnoffs and traffic, it was Daly City itself, terraced hillsides of uniform pastel stucco boxes with their parched pillbox yards. DC’s housing tracts heaped upon one another with unneighborly suspicion and scorn. Window dressings flapped behind doorway burglar bars, pent-up Dobermans pissed and paced all over sickly, stubby palm trees. What guard dogs and crime watch conspiracies couldn’t mitigate, sidearms and shotgun nests behind blocked-up car bunkers more decidedly, territorially could. Even with Maganos y Marias painting those pink driveways and pastel shutters, there wasn’t enough Sherwin-Williams covering the earth to spruce up that stucco madness.
Cramped, rolling sinewaves of shuttered isolation had ganged up on scenic Route 35 so as to render it a chronically congestive artery about the intersection bearing pioneer John Daly’s name. Eric’s accelerating notions only compressed things further. Highway signage became virtually indistinguishable, a tracer blur of reflective white and green. Reason enough why Skyline Boulevard’s passage into Olympic Country appeared to afford us a measure of urban relief. If only the wooded open space hadn’t been that troweled with grout gray overcast and a hardening, wind-driven frizzle.
“Somebody who?” I pressed, my olfactory senses filling with paint can airs as I burrowed deeper into the shotgun door panel, glancing back at 280-bound exits not taken.
“Take your pick,” Eric pounced, turning his radio up to some retrograde Todd Rundgren, to where I could hardly hear that bumper guard banging against the undercarriage and pavement. “That Clifford wimp, we talked about it later. I remember tellin’ him he musta did it—you know, with those goofy cowboy spurs he had for Halloween.”
“Little existential Clifford? Clifford the Zen guru? Come on, Eric,” I replied, although the little bugger being detained up there was a convenient diversion. “He’d probably just gone north to pick wild porcini and chanterelles—get away from it all.”
“Hah, get away, all right, to more like peyote and death caps, considerin’ how that freak bastard could get without his meds,” Eric scoffed, drawing feverishly on his Marlboro. “L.T. made him with his probation minders. Ask me, it’s because Clifford hit on Kathy and ripped some of her needlework one night. Then the geeky little fucker tried to lay it on Crabber Don.”
“I dunno, Eric, that’s a little too out there,” I hastened a little touchy-feely around the console, a narrow crevice between it and the seat frame bracket, if nothing else fishing for spare change. My chewed fingernails ran freely along a buried nylon seat belt before catching up on something lodged underneath it, then pricking my finger on an item spiky sharp. “Next you’ll be telling me Gary was done in with a pizza cutter…ouch…”
“Naw man, maybe it was more like a star.”
“A what?” I sucked a bit of blood from my left index finger, trying to figure out how he would know this, much less what had burrowed into that seat channel—carpet tacks, maybe a leftover sheet metal screw. My knees then reflexed up to the dashboard as Eric eased off the gas and fully inside city limits again, downshifting fourth to third.
“Throwing star,” Eric exhaled, setting aside his bloody rag, reaching deep into the crevice. “Martial arts, it’s like a sheriff’s badge without the round tips. I know for a fact that pit bull nut had one on him. Here, this what pricked ya…lotsa people got ’em.”
“They wear them, or,” I asked, as I lightly gripped the star Eric handed me, six needle sharp points and v-angle valleys with a 1.5 inch, center-holed core, all of it polished and super smooth.
“Throw’em,” Eric sucked his Marlboro. “Fling ’em like frisbees, only these babies stick… THHWWAPP.”
The Porsche’s Solex carbs inhaled just as deeply, Eric compulsively hammering his gas pedal, powering into fourth gear once again. Fir trees whizzed by, snarled median strip succulents flapped loose as tobacco leaves in our wake, ground fog low balling, snuffing out the greenery, not least the myrtle and Ramonas Rose, blurring any semblance of tonal variation. I could barely make out dwelling lights to either side as we curved gently coastward along wide open Route 35. Here, Skyline had little to offer but intensifying drizzle and cold, broadside winds, shearing between the Lakeside and Ocean Courses of Olympic Country Club, which purportedly could be seen on clearer nights and days.
Dense shrubbery and cypress trees mounded in, turning our right side even darker as we approached the merge lane of Olympic Country Club’s private road. Emerging to our driver’s side was the faintly glowing cluster of environmental classrooms and a native plant nursery amid scruffy coastal dunes. Then came the beginnings of Fort Funston, a low line horse stables compound, an access road stretching deeper into a what was said to be hang glide territory and an overgrown Nike missile site, not that I could see anywhere near it from my sliding shotgun seat, particularly with much smaller weaponry at hand. Otherwise, the fort afforded neither relief nor reinforcements; it only brought more sand. Blowing, drifting from the endless dunes and deserted gun batteries that buttressed the coast and provided a fertile dumping ground for beached scuppers and whales. Heavier onshore winds were turning frizzle into a granular basting of jet stream proportions as the coastal dunes of Fort Funston leveled to desolate beaches and horse trails.
“THHWWAPP… yah these shurikens can be really heinous, man—pure Ninja stuff,” Eric rattled on, tightly grabbing his gearshift lever after handing me the star for a looksee. “Then what about L.T.? He’s a con, ain’t he, and moles for the cops? Plus he beats up on his white girlfriend, too. Cat like that, nothing would surprise me…like maybe he just fingered Clifford for the reward. Really, the more I think about it, the more I figure it had to be L.T. done all that Gashouse crap.”
“Oh, I dunno,” I shook my head, seat rocking back and forth like the top center carriage of a crank Ferris wheel. Why would he carry one of these stars, probation and all. And Gary was laying into everybody—me, even you…”
“Me? Get with the program,” Eric continued to tap dance the throttle to the slosh of his gas tank and flickering of loosely wired instrument cluster lights. “What the hell’s the difference with a waste like that anyway? L.T.’s already got a rap sheet a mile long, and who knows what kind of shit he packin’ or was up to in the joint?”
“Can’t see it, Eric—we both know better than that.”
“Okay then I will cop that Gary was jumpin’ on my case, too. I told him lay off, that I was torn up as it was about Bruno. But there he was, still ridin’ me up and down about fag shit, callin’ me a pussy, wavin’ that stump hand in my face. He knew I was hurtin’, yet he’s suckin’ his brewskis, shootin’ off his yap, tellin’ me I should cruise over to the Marina john with all the other pervert fatherfuggers. Then he threatened to tell everybody I hit on him. Well, no way I was puttin’ up with that, had to be a man about it, right? Gimp bastard had a way of gettin’ under your fingernails, know what I’m sayin’?”
“Well, sure anybody could see that. Who’d believe a loose cannon like him anyway,” I said, falling all over myself to help him fill in the blanks. More of a slump, actually, toward the door panel, needing a little body english, to get a better handle on things, including the contoured valleys between each prickly…point.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Eric snorted, goosing his gas pedal, clenching his filter tip tightly between his teeth, smoke cycling mouth to nostrils, nostrils to mouth. “Ain’t like I ain’t got what it takes to take it…shit. Yah, I got my other toys too, man—you best believe.”
“Toys,” I replied tersely, feeling a hexagonal common core, sort of a hub, much like derailleur gear sprockets, only razor sharper, deeper, more attenuated. “As in fun and games?”
“As in a piece of the action—get the picture?”
“I suppose, but where’d you get this throwing star thing?”
“Scarfed it at the wreckage yard in Oakland where I get my Porsche parts,” Eric said, reaching beneath his bucket seat, lifting the cover of a cigar tin. “Picked up another toy around the same time—some coincidence, huh?”
“Same time as…” Just when I was swearing off any more stargazing.
“As this little baby,” he pulled out a chipped handle Beretta. “Turns out Gary…like, bequeathed it to me, ain’t that somethin’?”
Embankments rose, as did Route 35 itself. Given the hairline soup and drizzle, the windshield was fundamentally unsafe at any speed, much less with Eric summarily slamming his accelerator. Whether due to the densified atmosphere or sinking coastal elevation, the 912 caught and took off like a tomcat after a canary cage up Skyline, the medianed boulevard narrowing to merely a low retaining barrier as we angled up through a windswept cypress and pine lined curve. Quickened condensation shrouded the greenery to either side, enveloping the entire landscape, even where the ice plant-lined median strip resumed.
Throbbing windshields were one thing, a relatively wraparound job pulsating like subwoofers during a Phil Collins drum solo something frightfully else altogether. Over 40 m.p.h. onshore gusts pushed the splattered, weakened safety glass inward to its plastic membrane limits, Eric’s 70 m.p.h. clip pushing right back. He almost seemed entranced by this handgun, setting it up against the glass shield’s aerodynamic resistance and possibilities, as if graphically plotting breaking points, Russian roulette wagering on collapse times along intersecting stress cracks—like dipping into a Keith Richards deathwatch pool, with a Beretta kicker.
“Really…something, all right,” I leaned further right, looking fretfully about, dodging the incipient drip from the Porsche’s ragged weatherstripped sunroof. “When was it he did the…bequeathing?”
“Funny enough, that very same night, kind of a parting gift,” he took to fondling the small pistol, leaning forward into his steering wheel. “But damned if I really know what became of him afterwards, one way or the other. Hmph, go figure…generosity like that from an asshole like that.
“No, of course not, thought never entered my mind,” I heaved, as Eric briskly returned the gun to its cigar tin, placing it back under his bucket.
“Not that I would use it, or anything, just a best-defense-an-offense thing,” he said, nose to the glass, as if still sniffing out the stormy isobar cracks across his latex smeared windshield. “Or that I’ve ever used either one…in anger, or anything. But even if I did, for argument sake, and you happened to find out about it, way I figure, a guy like you couldn’t do shit, right?”
“Uh, how do you mean?”
“I mean, what would you do, go to the cops? You think San Francisco pigs would believe you, that they give a good goddamn about scum like us? It’s just street losers, nobody cares. Probably figure I’d be doin’ ’em a favor.” He hit the windshield wipers for a fresh smear or two, with a sly wink of the eye. “Then again, maybe the fuzz have it right up in Crescent City there. Maybe weird little Clifford did the whole freakin’ enchilada, right?”
“R-r-right,” I muttered, enough already with his null hypotheses. “Whole enchilada…”
That sand injection further refracted the glimpse of a claret haloed skyscape of city lights in the far distance as we approached a moderate crest. But more immediately, trees and high bushes darkened an intersection where John Muir Drive fed past a pricey apartment complex into Route 35—even though occasionally strafed by the gellish headlights of oncoming traffic. Once those opposing beams passed, we could barely spot a wood-paneled park sign on the right shoulder, since his rigged-in driving lights were dim and fluttering like mattress store beacons. The board pointed toward a rod and gun club and police pistol range located on the banks of Lake Merced, which was converging toward Skyline Boulevard, just beyond a roof-high concrete retaining wall to the right.
On the gentle downgrade, I could roughly make out that immense body of water, San Francisco’s longest lake by far, prized as The City’s principal non-saline solution locked in by briny sea. Yet this was no night for either paddleboats or shorecasting—indeed, seeing anything past the lake’s marshy banks proved hopelessly beyond me. Under clearer skies, Merced could be divided into two distinct bodies, upper and lower, the west side approach to another, Harding Park Municipal Golf Course, splitting them like a long nightmare dogleg to our right. Just beyond the Great Highway seaside turnoff, Harding Road delivered itself unto Skyline near Lake Merced Park’s boathouse and rowing club. The entire sweep of this all was rendered more harrowing by the crippling lack of vision, made plain when a fleeing carload of student drunks and dopers roared in just ahead of us from the blind side.
Lake Merced’s upper body seemed socked-in more severely, darkened by croppings of cypress and eucalyptus trees that also overran coastal cliffs and campgrounds on our ocean side, to where the T-intersection was darker and damper yet. Startled, Eric swerved to avoid the rowdy Ford station wagon when it barged through a stop sign into our path. He hit the brakes full leg, his 912 broadsliding to a halt on the intersection’s far Harding Road side shoulder.
“Whew, that was close,” I coughed, as Eric killed his ignition. “Anyway, truth is that whole Marina Triangle still gives me the willies. Kind of like this does right here.”
“No biggie, still got my race car reflexes,” Eric snarled, lighting a smoke. “But yah, that scene was cold blooded, man, I ain’t shittin’… gone shredded like dogmeat.”
“Dogmeat? Are we talking about the same thing—you know, Bruno…”
“No, Gary and Crabber…” Eric sniped, pushing open his driver’s door. “But that, too. Aww, fuck it, might as well go check out that bumper guard.”
Log rolls of fog spun down over Skyline Boulevard, through the dense cypress and Monterey pine perimeter between it and Lake Merced. Eric had planted the car under two spindlier specimens, overhead boughs of which only diverted and refunneled the steady drizzle like rice field irrigation flipped over directly above us, while dune-fed winds kept the Porsche rocking side to side. Under the circumstances, I was content to press my knees more firmly up against the glove box, no longer so tuned into Eric’s wavelength, for that signal seemed increasingly scrambled.
“Tell you what, though, seems like a lotta bad shit’s been happenin’ ever since Bruno…” He climbed back into driver’s seat, tossing the detached bumper guard back into the general vicinity of his rear jump seats.
“Sure, Bruno,” I blurted, trying to refloat a fast and furiously sinking scow. “How exactly did…”
“Mutt never rallied from the attack, that pit just tore his ass up,” Eric lamented, leaning back into his bucket, firing up his last Marlboro. “It’s a fuckin’ sin, man—me and Bruno had our hassles, but truth is, nuthin’s been the same since…”
“Aww, come on,” I said, rattled by this reasonably normal looking galoot mourning his pet like it was losing his mother. “The world’s full of great dogs…”
“Hey, I don’t wanna hear about no other hounds, alright,” Eric shouted, slamming his bow tie- spoked steering wheel. “There ain’t no other hounds! Not like Bruno…”
“I see what you’re saying, it’s rough enough as…”
“Yah? Well try cuttin’ it without your best friend.”
“Been through it myself, believe me. But you’ve got other friends, don’t you?”
“Oh sure, like those maggots livin’ off the Marina Green garbage. Don’t go lumpin’ me in with ’em,” Eric blustered, wiping pointlessly at his windshield. “Hell, I don’t mean you, man…aww, it’s just you ain’t got clue one how lonely it can get without that dog! Fuckin’ mutt always listened, stuck by me every time, no matter what I did…”
Spill through from the overhanging boughs began penetrating the 912’s sunroof, wet blowing sand the door molding and window cracks; pine needles and full cones pelted down on the car all around. The intensifying mist rained down on the Porsche, hood to fastback, in random staccato passages. Still, it was the better of strained silence, hence I finally reached to click on the FM, only to catch up with KPOO Radio’s Jonestown Watch, replete with updated body counts and running dog commentary on poison punch test runs and sleep deprivation suicide drills. How Father’s goons seized everybody’s passports and stripped them of any cash and valuables. That the community FM station had set up a hotline and bulletin board to connect possible surviving compound captives with their blood and loved ones here in the Bay Area, any way they could…
At least until Eric said enough of that with a twist of the dial. More bloodletting, globule by globule, even though his carpet was already saturated and stained by the puss drain and light rain. Onshore gales pitched the car like a raided cradle, seeping through to stoke his smoke all the more, not to mention his demeanor. And Jive 95’s bootleg taste of Pink Floyd’s upcoming double album, tracks titled ‘Goodbye Blue Sky’ and ‘Comfortably Numb’, did little to stem the tempestuous tide.
“No, hey, I wasn’t lumping you—I-I-I, here.” Placation city: I pressed the cigarette lighter without pause. “Have another smoke, then we’ll get rolling again, huh?”
“Plumb out,” he coughed up some sputum out his narrowly opened door. “Like I said, dames, I can do without, it’s Bruno!”
“S-s-so get you a new Chessie,” I pulled away reflexively, poising to counter, unsure where to start, except that apparently Sherry was a shrewd judge of character—must have gotten it from her father.
“Wouldn’t be the same,” Eric pressed, the Porsche’s glass now further steaming over on the inside. “Not even the same.”
“Let’s not do anything crazy here,” I urged, “this will all work itself out, you’ll see.”
“Until then, you’ll do,” Eric grunted, David Gilmour sliding into his guitar coda to ‘Comfortably Numb’.
“What? Ouch, lay off, dammit,” I cried, beside myself, momentarily frozen between fear and flight. “That way, no harm, no foul—like you said, the cops don’t care anyhow…”
“Sure, sure,” Eric groaned, kicking back, reaching over my way. “Just lighten up…”
“Really, I swear, nobody’ll know from anything here. I mean, because you’ve been real helpful to me and everything…”What the hell was going down here? Was he putting on or hitting on? Was this theory or execution? Was that piece loaded and was it cocked? What should be the play call, roll over, or roll hard right?! “So no rat-outs, I promise!”
“I got your promise, fifty bucks worth,” Eric panted, apparently sensing resistance, clamping, squeezing my inner thigh with bruising force, Roger Waters spieling a ‘Hey You’ preview into ‘Comfortably Numb’ on the FM radio. “C’mon, man, let me for grins—you just make like Brunnooo…”
“No, stop, will you!!! Look, I happen to like dames, Eric, even got two of them, as a matter of fact—two real-life dames, I tell you…”
“Ohhwww,” he moaned, clenching harder, commencing a pincer grip into my slack, tender skin. “C’mon, ain’t you man enough?!”
“Ouch! Ease off, goddammit,” I cried, his grimy fingernails digging deeper, creeping higher into flaccid fleshstuck for the moment in neutral, engine gunning like the blazes. Searing pain shot up and down my leg, and only worsened as Eric leaned over further with heavy nicotine breathing, and I squirmed to pull away. I reached back for the door handle, yanking on it just as tightly, the shotgun door springing open even as that handle came free in my hand.
“Happy birthday, bitch!!” He shook his free hand violently as I pushed him off like Sweetness would The Assassin, wedging my aching right leg against the console hump, poised to eject from this death spiral, with no clue where I’d go. “Want my pound of the flesh—take it like Bruno, take it like a…”
“Back off, Eric, this is insane—I’m outta here!” But before I could fly the coupe, he fisted down savagely, scoring a ringer on my vitals, hadn’t taken it that hard since catching a suicide squeeze foul bunt squarely on ball two, taking one for the team in Pony League. So much for Lovelock, as well… “Oh-oh-h-h-h!!!” I doubled over in swelling pelvic agony, shouldering out the passenger door.
As Eric reached menacingly under his bucket seat, I stumbled over the door hump, rolling out, gaging and groaning, into the wind driven spray. Man enough?! No telling exactly what he was grabbing for now, but it didn’t figure to be a first aid kit or road flare. I peeled my face up from the slimy concrete apron coat of pine needles and eucalyptus leaves, crab crawling in mere centimeters until my knees gave out on a slick patch of sliding mud. My groin burned and drum throbbed to attention, dwarfing my chin and kneecap pain, as if the last, worst feeling of my erogenous zone: Eric might just as well set off an M-80 in my BVDs.
Still, there was no future in grovelling here, so I rose and struggled to catch my breath against a green wooden retaining wall, under more seeping cypress branches and a knocked out amber street light, pulling brown needles out of my breathless, gap-toothed grill. I straightened up as best I could with a bowling bag scrotum and dragged my swelling Brunswicks to a narrowing, pine and shrub spongy shoulder. Skyline Boulevard’s home stretch curved northward around Lake Merced’s upper cavity, and this narrow roadside lane was the only avenue of escape spotty traffic would bear. Yet there was Eric, cranking and cranking a 912 four-banger, which seemed in no mood to catch and rapid fire.
Oncoming headlights to the front, haloing high beams horning up from behind: intermittent lamps alternately blinded me and silhouetted a plunging lake bank thick with gnarled, ferned alvesia and marshy cattails in the wind. Through some creaking, swaying eucalyptus, I spotted a green freeway junction sign for Lake Merced Boulevard up ahead; but less encouraging were the shaky, fluttering headlights shedding the necessary illumination. BEEP, BEEEPP. Had to be Eric’s Porsche high beams come to life after all, slashing, cross-eyed dueling over me, through the tall, leaning eucalyptus, across Lake Merced’s murky waters like a Coast Guard cutter run aground. Only Eric could chicken-wire rig headlights like that.
Really, two dames, flesh and bloody two of them, goddammit, gotta be a man about it! Straighten this bullshit out… My feet slipped and side-planed fitfully over a coat of twigs and leavings, hard conish seeds shifting like acorns under foot, as I glanced up to get a faceful of drizzle from these oatmeal gray and ghostly skies, and the darkly banked, tree-lined distant side.
“Hey, man, where you goin’,” Eric shouted through his half-opened shotgun side window.
Breathless, I just kept silently slipping and sliding up the lakeside path, which had now widened slightly where the retaining wall ended, to something of a bike lane. I tuned instead into the creaking and crackling of wind-twisted branches, howling tree squirrels, the confounded rattling of the Porsche’s body parts.
“C’mon, man, was just jerkin’ you around,” Eric persisted, cruising slowly alongside, a little soulful ‘I Wanna Get Next To You’ blaring from his in-dash radio. “Get your ass back in here before…”
Again, nothing said, my right leg giving out from under me as I tripped over a muddy, meandering acacia tree root. Heavier rain soaked me like a sprinkler system; still, I struggled to right myself, hell bent on gaining yardage—trying to fathom how deep went his killer instincts, feeling violated as hell…
“Aw right, aw right,” Eric screamed, “fuck you then!” He downshifted and gunned the 912, popping the clutch, fishtailing toward Route 35’s inner lane, then back wildly over the slender shoulder and median into my path, braking broadside into the loose, slickened leaves.
I vaulted lamely over the coupe’s left rear fender, righting myself against its hot, vented hood, fearfully contorting to regain my stride along the arching bike path. No promises, no guarantee whatsoever that it would get me anywhere; but there was no sense spinning wheels until these arrangements turned into arraignments. That didn’t stop Eric from laying wet rubber, however. I could hear the Porsche’s bald Pirellis slip-sliding through the goopy ground cover, eventually hitting pavement. Engine racing, wheels whining, headlamps winking and bobbing worse than hurricane lamps on the Redneck Riviera. Fatal visions of star-struck scenarios and Saturday night specials creased my adrenalized, cortisoled cortex, piercing images of martial star grazing, Beretta slugs tattooing my temples, drilling permanent little holes into the backroads of my mind.
I shuddered at the revelation that even my most tortured imagination had seldom rivaled the wilder realities San Francisco had in store, and I had barely tapped the door. Such replayed outcomes would at the very least take my attention away from groinal agony. Still, I walked briskly toward what appeared to be a traffic turnout, albeit barely within view, what with the thickening fog and sea-whipped spackle pouring over the western embankment by way of an Armory Road bunker. But between here and there came those wavering headlights once more, shining off toward Twin Peaks somewhere east of here.
“You ain’t nuthin’, nowhere, understand,” Eric shouted, as he gunned back up alongside me on the shoulder in fits and starts. I could hear him coughing uncontrollably between engine revs, AC/DC and death metal on the FM, the mad slapping of his windshield wipers. “Hear me, man? I ain’t even forgettin’ about my fifty big ones—and I know where you’re crashin’ these days!”
Thereupon, his rusty, latex splotched Porsche tailed me along Skyline, while he tuned into more headbanger radio, Alice and Motorhead, menace waving his weapon my way up through his sunroof, that throwing star now chain hanging from his center rearview mirror. But I guessed he really couldn’t see me that clearly through the fog and bushes, so I dashed toward a turnout aside Lake Merced’s northernmost tip, hyperventilating through the sopping headwinds like an asthma case, then inhaling several cubic buckets of rainwater and salt spray. Playing two dames, flesh and blood, two dames, man, make a damn decision at Clark and Division, two… over and over in my migrained head. To little avail, as it happened, because Eric bird dogged me, ride for stride. All else having failed, I began to flail my arms like newbie crossing guard on the first day of grammar school.
A clog of inbound cars gained on the amber hazy turnout, Eric’s shaky headlights perhaps catching their eye. In any event, his honking and revving seemed to scare them off enough to keep on keeping on toward Lake Merced Boulevard—all, as it turned out, save one. This midnight blue Buick Skylark pull over into the turnout, several car lengths ahead of the Porsche. In-city traffic building back around the bend must have spooked Eric some, for he sank back into his driver’s seat with a baleful shake of the fist, honked twice firmly and sped away, cutting off a Subaru or two.
Once the Buick driver opened his passenger door, I apologized for being so drenched and disheveled, explaining that I’d suffered a breakdown of sorts. As stylishly lean and clean-cut as he looked, I was surprised when he pointed out his vinyl seat covers, gesturing me inside. I told him my ultimate destination was UC on Parnassus, and that anywhere near MUNI was plenty good enough. He said he was headed for Diamond Heights himself, hoped West Portal would do, and introduced himself as Walter.
“So, if I might ask, what was the nature of your breakdown,” he downed the volume on his Bartok cassette. “Your vehicle is at the Merced boathouse or…”
“Don’t I wish,” I spouted. His Skylark heater and calm J. Crew demeanor proved to be haven enough for a little letting fly. “No, truth is I just got ambushed by this pervert sonofabitch who I thought was my friend. Plays it straight up all along and turns out to be a mutt fuckin’ predator who’ll take it any way, anywhere he can get it.”
“Really…” Walter didn’t bat an eye, staring straight ahead to Skyline Boulevard’s gentle final curve.
No problem with his wipers, I peered through the clearly swept windshield to the overhang of dripping eucalyptus trees to either side of Route 35 as we curved right of the San Francisco Zoo, well within earshot of its braying and barking: a chainlinked barnyard of caterwauling and quaking under foul atmospheric conditions such as these. Beyond a thicket of cypress trees to our right, we came upon an exit lane for Lake Merced Boulevard, the entire co-convergent Herbst Road intersection haloed by fuzzy amber overhead streetlights. Then we approached a eucalyptus-clumped triangular traffic island, behind which loomed a semblance of civilization once again. Behind it, Lake Shore Drive ringed a self-contained pocket of tidy, over-garage bungalows with a few winding streets like Country Club Drive.
Namely, here was Sunset as could be: a barren clutch of stucco and pastels, with sparsely scattered stunted palms. Heavy, half-drawn, champagne colored window dressings with humongously ornate table lamps were centered in the burglar barred parlor windows, glowing between the bulletproof drapes. Traffic merged with the Skylark on the scalene side of the triangle, Walter dutifully allowing two muskrat subcompacts in ahead with a click of his hi-beams and gracious wave of his hand, then a dubious glance my way.
“Yah, a real woman-hating head case, that bastard,” I groused, wiping my face, pasting down my soggy hair, still plenty pissed that I’d been hornswaggled by a sleazy shakedown like that. “Struts around like some badass he-man, when he’s just been a goddamned butt farmer all along, trying to hit on regular guys like me. You know the type, right? You’ve heard how those sex-crazed fruitloop faggots are…”
“As it happens, I suppose I’m one of those fruitloopers,” said Walter, suddenly braking to pull over and show me the door at Sloat Boulevard’s Y turnoff. “And from what I gather, I wouldn’t touch either one of you with a 12-inch…pole.”
“Uh, oops, jeesh—sorry, no offense, really,” I muttered, gnashing, pounding my knee, chagrin instantly setting in. “Well anyway, Happy Thanksgiving! And thanks for the favor…”
“No thank you for the fear.”
Not quite sure how to take that, I zipped my lip, sat on my fisted hands until piling out of the Skylark at Sloat’s pedestrian island, Walter accelerating indignantly away. Christ, not Sloat again, so many bummer trips here already, like a boomerang of bad karma on auto-reverse, spinning wheels here, scared straight, wet cat nasty, chilled and dampened to the bone. I scoped out serrated cordons of those wall-to-wall up either side of the eastbound boulevard through the updraft and sidedraft drizzle, just more bungalows and concrete front yards, but then spotted the ridiculous wiener brown Dachshund head out front Doggie Diner, with that little surfer cafe just shoreward from there.
I waited out a walk light with a head full of developments to digest, decisions to make with a lot at stake, having to get it right as rain this time. I was already rationalizing that if it weren’t for Eric’s star and sidearm, he would never have gotten the drop on me like that—I could have just as easily grabbed and wrung his skeevy neck. How karmic that would have been all right—how justifiable, how copycat consistent, how appropriately saturnine…
Yeah, blindside hindsight, whatever: at least now I could catch an L Taraval torpedo down there by the Irish Cultural Center, maybe even run into the Asian fisherman on Ocean Beach. A modest measure of relief and redemption, to be sure. In a squall like this, with no sign of that blessed cross over above Mount Davidson, I’d have to take it any way, anywhere I could get it. Hell of a day overall; hell of a birthday, or Thanksgiving weekend for that matter.
As for sweet redemption, that would come in due time. Until then, it would have to take a number—so long as the digits weren’t 9-1-2. Right now, I needed backup, I needed an out…
Care for more?
(The dramatically concluding
chapters are right around the bend. ED)