Saturday, June 11, 2016

Bonnie Anne Rapkin


Eyes for Your Heart
I first noticed Bonnie at the Thursday Meditation Meeting held at the Saint Mary’s Retreat House next to the Mission.
She sat near the entrance to the room on the armchair where her feet dangled like a child's several inches from the rug, it hadn’t occurred to me that she was kind of short.
What attracted me to her was a mystifying… ever so slight quirky smile that had a mischievous nuance forewarning me that I best be on my toes if I wanted to get to know her better.

Several months went by while I admired her from afar… well, a few feet from where I usually sat.
I saw a few of her assemblages at the annual Buddha Abides art show and I liked her sense of humor and jewelers eye in her pieces. Most others in those shows displayed work that was reverent and serious but Bonnie’s had a wry quality that was respectful but down to earth.

At that time, I volunteered at Central Office. I’d been sober about 8 or 9 years. Tim W. was the manager then and what I liked about volunteering there with Tim was that it was quiet time for me. We spoke shortly, getting to know each other, and in those days, Central Office was a serene place in which an alcoholic could come in a chat without it being too public. On one particular occasion Bonnie came in to get a card or something. Tim planted the seed after she left saying, George, Bonnie never comes in here.”
“Really? What are you saying, Tim?”
“I’m just saying she never comes to Central Office, that’s all.”

One of my fellow dispatchers at Yellow Cab, Robin W., had been a friend of Bonnie’s too. They had been pals in Casa Serena. I told her I was interested in Bonnie. Robin paid no attention to my probe and it really got under my skin when she hooked up Bonnie on a date with one of our drivers. He was a nice, normal, and stable, guy but I could tell he wasn’t a good match for Bonnie. One has to appreciate Bonnie's non-linear ways. This part of her can’t be explained… you have to see her art work to catch that or hear one of the wildly revealing open-ended honesty of hers shares in AA. I just knew I would never be bored in a million years if I could just get close to her.

It wasn’t until I got a motorcycle that she began warming up to me. Fellas, there’s nothing like a motorcycle as an aphrodisiac for a woman like Bonnie.
She began asking me to come over to her pace to replace light-bulbs. She was too short to do it on her two-step ladder. Those damned thing burned out on a regular basis. After performing my manly duties her body language said, okay, thanks but see ya. I’d kind of insisted on a hug and she obliged with one of those pat-pat hugs.

Okay, nothing was happening there. This went on for a year.

Finally, one March Sunday, after the service at the Vedanta Temple, our friend Judy J. asked, “Are you and Bonnie an Item?”
“No, I’d like that but she doesn’t give me much feedback. Besides, I’m concerned, she seems to have a lot of health problems and I’m not sure if I want to get involved.”

I had to work that night so, after the Vedanta I went home to be. I was dozing off when I got the call… Bonnie was crying. She’d been told she couldn’t be admitted to 5 East without a Dr.’s okay. Could I please come and get her.

Now, I’m no knight in shining armor… at least not for anyone else. Without thinking about it at all, I was there in a few minutes at the ER. We got to her house… I tucked her in I asked her to tell me where all her drugs were and dumped all the Soma in the toilet. She asked me not to leave… I stayed.

March 18th 2007 was the beginning of an unbelievable and never boring relationship. The bond was so strong that nothing could break it.

I wouldn’t be telling this story if I didn’t feel honored to tell it. For all the lonely hearts in the rooms of AA I can say that at 9 years of sobriety I had resigned at the age of 60 to the idea that I would be alone the rest of my life and that any chance for meaningful love had passed me by. It took 9 years of preparation to be able to love. The remarkable thing was that Bonnie reciprocated and doubled down on it. No matter what we went through it was easy for me because we cared deeply for the best to come for us both. And my feeling now is that I have experienced a love I would not have believed existed except for that "Ever After" BS from fairy tales. I now know that I am one of the few happy ones that can say I found love that was "Ever After" and I need no more proof of it.

Besides, Bonnie sometimes wore a Ramones T-shirt and she loved the Blues and Reggae. My feeling has always been that any woman that could love the Blues, Reggae, and the Ramones was okay with me even though I could never get her into Country it was okay… three out of four was pretty good. I didn’t want a Stepford wife that likes EVERYTHING I do.

Bonnie loved Northern Idaho and my family at Priest Lake in spite of the pain she suffered to get there via the long road trip with me. They loved her too. She fit right in and was so comfortable there. I rarely saw her that happy anywhere else.

I might add that, though Bonnie was loved by so many, she suffered from depression. Depression is a cruel disease that tricks the mind into thinking we are all alone. This happens no matter how thoroughly one works the steps, gathers a gaggle of sponsees, or becomes a paradigm of service to others. Drinking and drugs aren’t the solution and the program of recovery in AA doesn’t claim to be the cure for everything. We yield all we can to the Heart of Compassion no matter whether we call it God or a Higher Power. It is compassion that saves us all and compassion sometimes says, get professional help. Bonnie did that but still felt isolated and fought the disease with her whole heart and soul.

 Her heart was so big that it just gave out. So, Sweet Bonnie, our friends are here to bid you farewell and to express our shared gratitude for the love you gave us all.

Namaste.


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

My Bonnie

The Last Time I saw Bonnie
I stay with Bonnie on Tuesday nights. There was nothing unusual about that night… that’s why it’s hard to remember. It would’ve been our Tuesday meditation meeting… Yes… we went to that and had a nice… very nice talk…Then it was TV… & dinner…& bed.

The last time I saw her… 
The morning routine when I stay at her place, I get up about six & go home. I get up at six... at my desk by seven & work ‘til noon. Mornings… that’s when I write… brain shuts down after the noon hour and I do something else.

We try to arrange ourselves around those hours. She likes to sleep-in till about ten so I never call her before noon. But Wednesday would be different. She had some appointments on Thursday morning and would most certainly be at my place Wednesday night. That was the plan.
Before I leave I always give her a peck on the cheek and tell her, “I love you.”
“Can’t you stay with me a little longer today.”
“Sorry, hon. I’ve gotta proofing to do.” I pecked her on the cheek again, “I love you but I’ve got to get this done.”
“Okay, love you too.”

One AA meeting at the Alano Club that she liked is the Wednesday one where chips and cakes are given  for anniversaries. Though she didn’t like big meetings, it is an upbeat meeting that she sometimes enjoyed. It's normal for her to be at my house on Wednesday nights and I cook.

She called beforehand, “I’m not feeling well… like I have a flu or cold. I have to stay home tonight.”

I’ve been with her nine years and, in that time, we’ve been at Cottage Hospital so many times for one thing or another but never has she ever had a cold or a flu, “What’s wrong hon?”
“I’m just feeling weak and can’t handle the meeting today. George, I’m supposed to meet with Vicki and I have that appointment at nine with Radiation and that one at ten. Can you call them and cancel for me?” and she gave me the numbers and was confused about them. Turned out that a couple of the numbers were wrong

None of this was unusual for her to make a call somewhat like this one when she just wanted some time to herself. We understood each other and didn’t take offense. That’s one reason our relationship was so strong over the years. We trusted our love for each other. Though we wished to live together wherever we lived would have to have room for each of us to have our space… space to retreat to. So, we kept our separate apartments across town from each other a couple miles.

She called me later that evening… around nine. “I need to get some rest… okay?”
“Sure. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“Okay.”
“I love you. Take care of yourself, okay.”
“I love you too.”

There it was, our last conversation. I talked with Vicki… wrong number for the therapist and couldn’t find her in the old school phone directory. Radiation was closed so I had to call in the morning. I didn’t tell Bonnie… I just forgot to.
The next morning, I called Radiation as soon as they opened. The woman was a bit cross, “She’s done this before. The next time she comes tell her to bring her credit card. We have to charge her two hundred and twenty dollars this time and insurance won’t cover it….”
“I’m sorry, but she’s not able to make it.”
“Well, she has to bring her card…” and on and on.

I waited ‘til noon to call her. She didn’t answer but I wasn’t overly concerned. Bonnie suffers from depression and I always let her ride it out when she wants to be alone. We have that agreement. When she doesn’t answer the phone it is because she has it under her pillow but always calls back after she hears her messages. It might be that night or it might be the next day. Again, I wasn’t concerned and left a message telling her about the charge on the appointment thinking she would call back sooner because of that news.

Before going to bed Thursday night a tried one more time and told her I check with her if she didn’t call me before noon. It was just to see if there was anything she needed but I was getting a little worried. Vicki called after that and I told her about my message. She said she tried too and was very worried. I tried to reassure her that it’s okay. Bonnie is probably just isolating a bit. Vicki said she’s check on her in the morning and we left it at that.

It was about eight-thirty when I got the call.
Weeping, crying, “George…. She’s gone…”
I knew but I was pulling straws… “What… to Cottage?”
“She’s gone, George… I found her on the floor…”
“Are the paramedics there?”
“The police… too… I don’t know… a bunch of people.”
”Oh no!... don’t let them take her away before I get there.”
“The coroner has to come… please hurry, George.”

I was in my sweats the same as any other day at my desk. I rushed out the door and got halfway to the car before I realized I didn’t have my keys… I was locked out… take my bike… it’s up there too… tried to open a window. So many times I’d gotten through it but I had it secured good. The air conditioner window… maybe I could take it off from there… It wouldn’t budge… impossible to do the credit card trick…
 I picked up a two-foot-long 1 ½ by 1 ½ stick and pried the handle off but I needed something to stick in there to turn the latch… a screwdriver. I saw my neighbor that’s always working on things…
“Do you have a screwdriver?”
“Sure, I have to find it though….”
He had tool boxes with every tool imaginable but nothing like a screw driver. He finally found one and I got the door open.

I drove like mad to get to my Bonnie…. Bonnie… damn it…. No… No… Bonnie… NO!
Several police and emergency people were standing-by… Vicki rushed to me…
“Have they taken her yet?”
“No.”
“Can I see her.”
“They won’t let us…”
An officer approached us… another was a service chaplain or something. They asked me cop type questions that all were around the notion of whether or not she OD’d. I told them about her heart.
“Let me see her… please… one last time.”
Service Chaplain was trying to do his job, “You don’t want to see her this way. You'll be able to see her later…when they have her for viewing.”
“What do you fuckin mean. Don’t try to protect me… man, I’ve seen ten times worse than anything you can imagine! I'm a fuckin' Vet.” 
My pleas didn’t work.
I want to see her now, while she’s still there!”
I started to go for her stairs. A cop stood in the way, “Not while the investigation is going on. Sorry.”
“Why, I’ll stand back… I just want to see my Bonnie!”
The chaplain came to me and said, “It’s the law.”
Man, that’s the wrong thing to say… “The law? The law has never fuckin’ help me. Fuck the law!” I said to the cop… “The laws are made for Judges, lawyers, and cops… they aren’t made for people!”
I had to drive back and get my phone… I left my phone at home… it had all my numbers in it… people I needed to call. By the time I got back thy had taken her away…

I insisted on an open coffin so that I could see her one last time. Her father, Bernie, would come in the room while the lid was open. When I finally saw what was left of Bonnie, it was terrible. They had her laid out all made up pasty and perfectly with her favorite lipstick but no resemblance of life at all in her. Her face looked fuckin’ stern like churchy prigs do in 19th century sepia prints. I wish they could have at least given her back her sly imp smirk… an upturned cheek… like it’s all a trick but no… her body was cold… she was gone… the cops would have spared me of this sight.
Last night I didn’t sleep at all. I wasn’t thinking of her all night but whenever I began to drift off a line from the song, You’re learning the Blues… Armstrong and Ella…, came to me… or a conversation… a laugh... the last time we walked on the beach… why do I cherish these things thinking I’m glad we got to do this or that before… or she didn’t get to do this or that… the trips we didn’t take… a selfish moment when I rushed home and didn’t hold her a little longer… it’s all so sad and useless. Why would I think it matters now?

But the truth is somewhere else. I should know it’s impossible to love perfectly… a sudden departure does that. I know there’s some of it that goes on when it’s a long lingering ordeal… but nothing like the intensity of her being in my arms one day and gone… cold body left but she’s gone to the ether the next moment and took her warmth with her when I was busy doing something else.


Sunday, February 28, 2016

Prologue of Anadel (continued)

Forensic Pathologist, Doctor Kate Williams, was about sixty and had always looked that age as far back as Ryan knew her. She didn’t look any older, nor any younger, as the years passed.
They stood next to the cadaver while she pointed out the wound in the back of his head, “You’re early Ryan. I haven’t cut him open yet. No exit wound. Probably a hollow point .22 caliber. When I crack open this coconut, I’ll find it likely took out three quarters of his brain. It’s not speculation, I’m thinking this one’s a homicide.”
Ryan scratched his chin, “No evidence of a struggle at the scene. No cash on the driver… could have been robbery or one of the kids dirt-grabbed it. We have the weapon. Twenty-two caliber revolver. Wiped clean. Nine round cylinder. One emptied cartridge… short casings. Ballistics is testing it. You’ll find it matches the empty in the cylinder.”
“I would say so if I were to say so,” she quipped. As always she came to few conclusions until all the evidence was taken into account.
Ryan and Dr. Williams were quiet. Ryan said under breath, “There were two of them in the back seat.”
“Why do you say that?” Rogers asked.
“Two sets of shoes in the gravel, if you bothered to look.”
Out of the blue, Rogers said, “His friend, Craszhinski was thrown in jail last night. We could’ve talk to him there but that Gook Whore of yours bailed him out.”
Ryan thought Rogers was a punk and let the insult slide but the kid’s point was plausible. But Ryan had been around long enough to recognize a bum steer. He played along anyway, “You got something there, Rogers?”
“Maybe Craszhinski’s her pimp and Perry owed… Sides, I read about that Ed Kemper dude. He made friends with a Santa Cruz cop while he dined on co-eds.”
“… quite a stretch there, sleuth,” Dr.Williams interrupted. “I don’t deal in speculation.”
Ryan had seen enough, “Come with me, Rogers, let’s see if his boss can shine any light on this.”

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Prologue of Anadel

Prologue: Ryan's Day

November 13, 1987:
Jewels of light below Camino Cielo were coming alive and sparkling in that hour before dusk slips into the black sheath of night. Sunset's clicking and buzzing nocturnal solace was interrupted by the rattling angry buzz approach of dirt bikes a couple of hairpins from the Painted Cave junction. Three kids on dirt bikes came upon the taxicab waiting at a turnout; its motor running; drivers side rear door open. Its headlights lit up an old pine that stood tall over a turn-out near the junction of Painted Cave Road and Camino Cielo. The driver of the taxi was behind the wheel. He wasn’t waiting for a fare. He wasn’t waiting for anything at all.

“Hey, look… the driver’s sleeping. You think he’ll wake-up if we…”

One of the kids opened the driver’s door. He shut off the ignition noticing a wad of cash bulging out of the driver’s shirt pocket, he shouted, “He’s not sleeping, Jason.”
*****
The hour was magic between the dark of night and before the first light from Ryan’s low-rent studio apartment on the second floor on Foothill Road. The coffee machine began its morning drip, pop, fizzle grumble set for five AM. He’d been at the scene of the taxi cab past midnight. These calls rarely happen at one’s convenience. Still dark outside, he made the single bed, went to his kitchenette, and poured a mug of coffee. Black, and filled to the brim, he took the mug to his desk in the corner under the window that, from the second floor facing Southwest, allowed dawn to decorate his view on one side. It wasn’t so dreary for him. When the divorce papers were signed, he’d reflected philosophically, “We hardly knew each other anyway.” After all, they were no kids. His passion was in his work and his only vice had once been Cuban cigars. It hurt him worse than the divorce when the cardiologist insisted he quit smoking. The desk was the only piece of furniture besides a dresser and the bed. He raised his cup to the picture that was still on his desk, “To you, Imelda, the hair of the dog.”

Narcotic/Vice Detective, Ryan, opened a folder that contained several polaroids he’d snapped the night before and played back the interview of the kids on a micro cassette. The photos were of the taxi cab and close-ups of the driver, head slumped over the wheel. They were of Douglas Perry… his most reliable Confidential Informant. He pinned the pictures to the corkboard above the desk. There were others too. The untrained eye might think some were accidents… camera went off… shots of the ground. But closer scrutiny showed they were of dirt bike tracks, foot impressions in the gravel, and car tire tracks.

The tinny voices of all three kids from the recorder told the same story of riding up on dirt bikes when they found the cab parked in a turnout on Camino Cielo. None said anything about the wad of cash in the driver’s pocket and none was found anywhere else on the body or in the cab. Ryan suspected it was probably robbery and nothing about it looked like suicide. He only had to drive up San Marcos Pass to Camino Cielo from his place again after he finished his second cup of coffee… about ten minutes. The body was still pliable by the time Ryan saw it taken away in the meat wagon before midnight. He’d been around corpses long enough to know it takes two or three hours for rigor mortis to set in.

He ripped the dry-cleaners’ wrapper off one of four dark blue sports jackets, chose from a selection of identical light blue shirts, and a clip-on striped, grey, blue and white tie. He pulled up his chino slacks over stout, muscled, legs that spoke of years of roadwork training for the ring. He stretched his belt to the last notch over a paunch from lack of exercise. His exercise was restricted to light cardio workouts on the treadmill… doctor’s orders to go light. He drove back up to the crime scene at sunrise in his blue 1970 Chevy Caprice. Turning right off San Marcos, a squad car passed him going the other way off Camino Cielo. Two City Police cars were parked behind a flatbed tow truck so he parked on the other side of the road. The driver at the winch was loading the taxi while the rookie, Rogers, clipboard in hand, acted the supervisor of the whole operation while three other uniforms stood back and watched.

“Who ordered it towed?” Ryan barked.

“Take it easy, Ryan. What’s the big deal? It’s been here where you left it last night.”

Ryan’s eyes scoured the dirt within the yellow crime scene tape.  A set of tire tracks were scuffed up in the dirt in front of the cab and two different shoe sizes were in the gravel next to where the rear door had been. He had snaps of the tire tracks but hadn’t noticed footprints the night before or he would have snapped some pics. Frustrated he asked, “What’s the use of this tape if you’re letting a herd of buffalo traipse through it?”

“Come on Ryan you know it was self-inflicted.”

“No prints anywhere on the car?”

“Clean.”

Ryan nodded towards the tire tracks, “Homicide’s been here? I don’t suppose plaster casts were taken of these before you stepped all over them?”

“Yep to one and Nope to two.” Rogers’s made no attempt to cover his annoyance at being questioned by this old fart.

Ryan drew out a tape measure next to the foot prints and snapped a few more shots from the cheap Polaroid One-Step 600 he carried with him to every crime scene. He could see that there was little use in hanging around much longer. The new Coroner’s Office had moved down the hill next to the County Sheriff less than a mile from his place. He needed to run things by someone whose judgment could be trusted. “Let’s see what the coroner has by now. Ride with me Rogers, you might learn a thing or two.”

Almost at the junction of San Marcos Road, they had to pull over to the side to let three lit up, lights flashing County Sheriff cars speed towards the scene. Rogers said, “Right-on. We’re off the case.”

*****

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Concussion

Some events replay in memory exactly as they happened because they happened in slo-mo. He was barreling back to the Library when the chain slipped off the sprocket of the bike… He reached down to jimmy it back… then the front wheel hit a pothole, cranking the handlebars ninety degrees… Max sailed head-long over the handlebars… no helmet. He knew he was in trouble.
Max was drifting in that space between spaces that the Tibetan High Sheriffs of enlightenment call a bardo. It was vivid dreaming to him. He had been flying.  Then, frightened, he plunged back into a bag of skin or something he recognized as Max’s body. His head ached… no, it throbbed with pain. He could feel his pulse with the pain. He wanted to go back to where there was no pain. A doctor and a couple of nurses stood by.
Thud, it was over… in an instant his life changed… it changed and he became Job at the city dump. Seizures… skull cracked ear-to-ear… memory loss… a near-quack huckster for a doctor… old friends slipped away… new friends enabled… disability insurance… not enough for child support and rent… choices… self-medication… cocaine… alcohol… a miasma of suffering… anger… rage. He couldn’t imagine it…. It had to change… maybe a cause of some sort.
One of the nurses shook Max. “Wake up. It’s time to wake up!”
Annoyed, he opened his eyes. He thought he saw a custodian that looked like that old guy, Lucky, pushing a cart in the hallway outside the door off his hospital room. A doctor was talking about an X-ray, Basal Fracture. Hydrocephalus.
“What! Leave me alone.”
A doctor hovered over Max with a little flashlight checking his eyes. He spoke. The nurse scribbled on a clip board “Papilledema.”
Then to Max, “Can you tell me your name?”
“McGee. Uhhh…,” he had to think, “Max. Why?” Max was getting more annoyed. The light was like a needle in his eyes, “Get that god damned light away!”
The Doc held three fingers in front of Max’s face and asked, “How many fingers do you see?”
Max held three fingers in the Doc’s face, “How many do you see, Doc?”
“That’s good.” The Doc checked Max’s ears with the flashlight and then said to the nurse who was taking notes on a clip board, “Not good. Blood in the ears. Concussion. Order a CAT scan. Monitor CSFs.”
“What the fuck are CSFs? Talk human language, Doc.”
“Simply said, they are brain fluids. Once they start it is hard to control them without dramatic measures.”
Confused, Max didn’t remember much of what had happened. Confusion bred annoyance as the Doc continued his probe, “What is the date today.”
“Is this a joke? May…?” shit, he thought. What is the date? “No, June 15th?”
“Year?”
“Eighty…. Uh… eighty-four… no, five?”
“Amnesia,” the Doc droned no surprise. He continued with Max, “Who is the President?”
Max thought for a minute. “What the fuck? I’ll screw around with this guy. Of course I know who the President…” He drew a blank, “was it Carter and, and, shit. Who came in after that? Yeh, it is Reagan. Ronald Reagan. My head hurts, Doc. You got something for pain?””
To the nurse, “An IV, Demerol. CT scan. We’ll monitor CSf.” He said and went out the door.
Max remembered the eight-ball. “I gotta get back to the bar. I owe my tab.”

The nurse taking notes on a chart put a hand on Max’s forehead, “You’ve had a serious concussion, Max. Relax.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Coldwater Hotel: Merritt, BC (1920)

This is how Max's Dad came into the world.
(All the names, places, and events in this blog are entirely fictional). Uh-huh.

We took Mom by the arm into the private domain of the men past the lobby and bar. Doc had been at the bar for his morning medicine. I hollered from the kitchen for him when Mom’s water broke.
“Leah, Sarah...,” he yelled, “help Colleen onto the billiards table.” And to one of the upstairs girls standing at the sliding mahogany door, “Jill, don’t just stand there. Fetch a bucket of hot water and some towels.”
I asked Doc, “What’s the hot water for?”
He looked annoyed at the question, “Just set it on the chair.” He washed his hands in the hot water. I laughed inside because he was about to act as though he knew what he was doing throughout the birthing ordeal. There ain’t much a man like Doc can do but to prepare to do nothing and look the part of a doctor.
Sarah placed the towels next to Doc’s left arm so that he could dry his hands. I was grateful Sarah was there because she seemed to be unshaken by all the commotion and she knew what to do. I let her order us around, “It’s okay, Ma, I’m here... Bring some pillows, Jill, Leah, somebody.”
Jill ran out the door to the linen closet and returned with a pile of pillows stacked in her arms.
Sarah scowled when she’d caught me taking a Cuban from the humidor to whiff it, “Leah.”
This adventure into new territory might as well had been into the Amazon Jungles for me and I wanted a souvenir. But Sarah was the eldest and, at thirteen years of age, she was bossy enough ta’ help Mom hold us all together. I have to admit we would’ve been runnin’ wild if she wasn’t in charge. One of her disapproving nods had the cigar back into the humidor before I could say anything. It was like my hand didn’t give a dang what I thought.
 I loved the smell of cigar smoke that lingered in the billiard room. It was intriguing and, truthfully, I savored the aroma of taboo from a foreign land far more than the cigar. It evoked comfort from the spirits of rich tobacco leaves wrapped tightly in a ten-inch stick as thick as the Doc’s cane. Long as I remember, I always wanted to get away... out into the world. Maybe visit Andy in Odessa. It must be like to city it was named after... palm trees and all.
Sarah’s full attention returned to her mother. Jill pulled a sheet over Colleen’s body for modesty’s sake. Mom didn’t care a whit about modesty but, though Jill was an upstairs girl, she must have. She averted her eyes from Colleen and nervously tried for eye contact from the Doc. I knew she had no idea what to do next. Sarah nodded towards the sheets over Colleen’s feet and, with a knowing smile, ordered, “Take your end, Jill, and. fold it.”
Jill had been holding her breath and let it out. She followed Sarah’s lead throughout the rest of the ordeal... which was to do very little beyond standing there and watching.
Mom wasn’t showing anything but a determined grimace with each wave of contractions that had taken control of her body. She had done this five times before. You’d think she’d be used to it. She gave birth to Sarah first... a month before her sixteenth birthday in1904. A year later she gave birth to my brothers, Dwayne, Clyde, and another brother, Andy, who was put out to Aunt Nellie in Odessa. I was next one born and now there was this accident four years after me.
I snuck into the billiards room once looked up Odessa on the globe. I was scared we’d never see Andy again when I saw that Odessa’s on the other side of the world. Sarah straightened me out on that and explained there was an Odessa in Washington.  
Mom had accepted the fact that, as long as she was with Dad, her belly would be filling up with one accident after another until she died of toxic shock like she almost did twice before. You could tell when Mom and Dad was doin’ good ‘cause their affection for each other could be measured by births. The first three came in rapid succession and, as Archie was doing well at the tables, the others arrived.
Doc moved down to the other end of the table, crouched holding his hands like a quarterback between Mom’s knees. She turned her head away when Sarah pushed him aside and took over. Doc washed his hands again and tried his best to look important.... like there was a reason for him being there at all.
Sarah told Leah, “This one going to be a girl.”
“Rrrrgh....guhhh!” Colleen pushed.
I asked, “How do you know that?” moving closer to the humidor.
“Because Mom said so. She promised,” Sarah said.
“It don’t happen that way.” I was quick to point out.  I’d learned to lift candy from the counter down at the General Store. I had my hands fumbling blind behind my back and found the humidor, “God puts a thing on ‘em no matter what’s promised.”
“No he doesn’t! They have it or they don’t. God’s got nothing to do with it.”
“God like’s boys better than girls. I gots a picture of God in one of Dad’s books up there.” I pointing at the bookshelves with one hand and, while Sarah looked up at the bookshelf, I slipped the cigar out of the fancy jar and tucked it in my apron pocket.
“Rrrrgggghhhhh.... uhhhhhh!”
“Push,” the Doc said, adding, “The head’s a breaching... you’re almost there.”
“RRRRRRGGGGGHHHHH!”
Sarah counted on her fingers, asserting with authority, “It’s mathematic.”
“What do you mean, mathematic?” I challenged.
One, two... two girls and three boys. Gotta even it out.” Sarah busied herself untying a shoelace.
“God likes odd numbers: threes, sevens, twenty-one...” I knew math from Dad’s card games.
“No he doesn’t,” Sarah didn’t care but was a straight A student in math and everything else. She didn’t like to be wrong, “We need to have three girls and three boys, huh Mom.”
“Ain’t threes odd numbers?” I challenged.
“RRRRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHUH!!!!”
“No, I meant three and three make six you dummy.”
“Waaaah.... waaaah..... whaaaaa!” the kid hollered like he didn’t want to be out here.
“I don’t get it,” I craned my neck back and forth trying for a glimpse at the babe’s crotch.
Sarah held the crying baby up and laid it on Mom’s chest.
Doc started to bring a knife to the umbilical cord when Sarah blocked his arm.
“I got this, Doc,” Sarah said, then apologized, “Sorry Doc, but we ought to wait a minute or two.”
“Yes, Sarah, I know... I wasn’t...”
Doc’s must have been used to treating common stuff like gunshot wounds and mining accidents, amputating a smashed limb, or fixing a lumberjack’s broken arm and putting it in splints. If anything would have gone wrong I don’t think he would have had the slightest clue as to what to do. Sarah told me she suspected Doc was a quack and I believed her. No one else suspected him though ‘cause doctors were needed in mining towns. Doctors have offices in big cities like they did in Seattle but his office was just his room in our hotel. He did have a few medical devices; a doctor’s bag with a stethoscope and a bunch of doctor’s stuff he took everywhere. He also kept a machine in his room called a Violet Ray Generator that he used to try curin’ dang near anything. And he had him a 1919 model-T coupe for gettin’ up to the mines and logging camps.
 “I know, but I was ready, “Sarah did know what to do though... she had the shoelace ready... tied off the umbilical cord and snipped it off with pinking shears she’d been using earlier.
 “That’s not, we gots. It’s, we have,” Sarah snapped. Disappointment was all over her face ‘cause she saw the babe’s little package and jerked the sheet up to cover Max, “Don’t talk like a lumberjack.”
“Is it Max or Maxine, Sarah?” I was eager to know for sure. “I can’t see... I think I saw... c’mon, you saw. Did God put one on it?”
Sarah said nothing.
“Yes! Yes! It’s Max, ain’t it!” I jumped up and down and hollered loud enough to be heard on the street, “I told you so.”
Dad burst into the door when he heard me shoutin’. He stopped in his tracks and glared at Doc, “What were you thinking, you friggin’ quack!”
Doc looked up from washing his hands. I don’t think he knew what got Pa’s goat, “Look, I’ve no control over whether it’s a buck or doe.”
“No, you idiot. It’s the felt! You ruined the felt! I just had it put on,” and without thinking of what he was doing, I saw Dad put a hand in the amniotic mess that had spread over his cherished fresh green felt at his end of the table. He pulled his hand back like he’d put it on a hot grill. “Throw me a god-damned towel!”
Doc returned to his usual bluster, “Where did you want her, on the floor?”
Ma’s eyes were shut. She’d shut off her hearing too but she heard Dad and would have laughed at his powerlessness had her body and mind not been busy. I think a mother can do that after two or three kids... shut off the noise but hear what she needs to hear. The sound of crying was muffled as tiny lips wrapped themselves around the nipple in the midst of the soft cushion of her breast. Max quieted down and began suckling.
She smiled at her husband, “Not a damned thing you can do about it now, Mister Man.”
It was true, as far as birthing went; men are, for the most part, entirely unnecessary... especially these two. It was a woman’s operation and men are better off most of the time standing by with a bucket of hot water or pacing outside the room and staying out of the way of a good midwife. Even the adolescent Sarah was of more help to her and that has been the way of it since Adam and Eve when Sarah says that a girl named Lilith was the midwife for Cain and Able.
Dad saw the lid to the humidor opened a crack and looked around the room. He pulled out a cigar, and ordered, “Get her off that table!” He turned to leave, looked at me. He must’ve read my eyes. I stepped behind Sarah, and, on the way out to the big room, he shouted, “Now! Bring her up to a decent bed!”
Jill shrank back. Her eyes darted in terror at Dad’s demands.
“Leah, take Max. C’mon Mom.” Sarah wasn’t intimidated by Pa. She gently lifted Max away from Colleen’s breast despite his objections.
Mom was already coming off the newly laid fresh green felt and motioned to Jill to help with the other, and said, “It’s okay, Jill. The hard part’s over.”
Sarah handed Max to me.
The hotel was a three story one with an elevator. The first floor was the lobby that opened to a larger room with a roulette wheel a half dozen blackjack and poker tables. The second floor had several rooms for patrons of the hotel and for the upstairs girls. The girls came with the deed to the hotel that Dad won at the poker table and he saw no reason to let go of the hotel’s most profitable assets in spite of Mom’s objections.
I whispered to Jill, “He’s too heavy for me. You take him.”
Jill was happy to be trusted to carry the baby and to have something better to do. Holding Max awkwardly, like he was a treasured Chinese vase, she felt his weight, “He must be twelve pounds!”
I laughed, “He ain’t gonna break. Hold him like you know him.” Then she tweaked his little nose and cooed, “Yes, you’re a big boy, big Max.”

The name stuck and Big Max would grow and live up to this moniker magnificently.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Chapter 9. The Investigation

Hemmingway
I've been attending a writers' group and it has helped me make some changes to the rough draft of this story. I have made some changes of the names too. I changed the name of the prostitute from Loretta to Annadel, or Anna and the protagonist from Mike to David Craszhinski, or Crash. Details of the story have some changes too but the essence of it is here. In this post I skipped ahead to a rough draft of the ninth chapter.

   I knew how most civilian investigations work. A crime scene is taped off, if there is one, and all evidence on the spot is gathered. No one works alone like Colombo. It takes teamwork. Witnesses are interviewed and from there it goes door to door asking the neighbors; “Where were you when it happened? Did you see anything unusual? Did you recognize anyone?” A list of possible “persons of interest” is compiled and then it’s taken to the interview room at the station. One by one “persons of interest’ are narrowed to a couple of suspects. There’s not much need to go back into the field. Confessions, or leads, are extracted there with varying results.

   Sometimes it’s another story with persons of interest who contribute to campaign funds like Doc does. If a simple child molestation accusation comes from an obscure source, like a prostitute, the case might not be filed at all. She is more likely to be arrested and booked for her sins and, added to that, filing a false report. I’ve seen it happen. This isn’t because of overt corruption. More often than not it is a combination of case overload, a simple bias, or bureaucratic laziness. If the witness is corrupt, and that the case has no chance in front of a jury, the matter is complicated.

   A murder escalates the concerns of all involved. If the person of interest is a campaign donor and the victim is a cab driver, there is a good chance that the case will go cold. Perry case would have been lost in a glacier of ice… just another suicide… except that Ryan had a dog in the hunt.
I flatter myself to think that this dog was me but I believe that my friend was in love with Anna.

I had to leave the sanctuary of Anna’s studio to pick up my VA check at the Virginia. Spiderman was at the desk holding up the foldout of the newest Pethouse to the light. I had to slam the ringer to get his attention. He damned near fell out of his chair. Recovering his composure, he said, “I see you         Crash, but I’d rather look at this. What do you think, is she a ten?”
   I looked at the fold-out a second but asked, “You got my check yet?”
   “Say, Crash. Have you been takin’ vitamins or something, you don’t look so bad.”
   “I didn’t come here to get married sweetheart, I just want my check.”
   He put the magazine aside and pulled the government envelope out of a drawer and slipped it across the counter, “You ain’t drinkin’ are you.”
   “ It’s only been a week. You think it shows?”
   “Yeah, it does.”
   “I just have to keep my head clear for a while. At least ‘til a few things get straightened out.”
   “I gotta tell you. A PD Detective was here lookin’ for you. What kind of shit did you get yourself into, Crash?”
   “Not sure, what did he say?” I knew it had to be Ryan.
   “He just asked if I knew where you were stayin’ and if I knew that Anna chick. Man-oh-man, I sure do wish I knowed where she kept herself.”
   “Hey, you’re starting to drool.” I stepped back and started to walk away. “But thanks Spiderman. You don’t have to tell him I was here.” The thought came to me that Ryan didn’t know where I was hiding out. Anna hadn’t let him know either. I supposed there was no reason to let him know until I had a better idea what I was up against.

   I went to the corner to cash my check. John had been doing that since I first moved into the Virginia. I always paid up my tab on the first of the month. I had him cut it off at fifty bucks so that I wouldn’t use up my reserves. That was my way of budgeting a monthly hundred twenty-dollar check. It was a thirty percent disability… the pittance the VA threw my way to delay paying off at a higher rate. It seemed as though the VA was betting most of us wouldn’t have the stamina to endure the delays and obstructions before an appeal came through. Most Vets gave up and walked away… went to prison, committed suicide, or died before an appeal was ever awarded.
   John cashed my check… counted it out. I passed fifty back.
  “No Crash. You can get me later… when you’re back on your feet.”
   I looked at my feet, peeled off fifty bucks, “I’m on my feet John. Here, take this. I’m okay, really.”
John took the money, “You know; that cop friend of yours, Detective Ryan, was here first thing this morning… banged on my door before I opened. He says it’s urgent.”
   “I know. I’d appreciate you don’t know anything… right.” I passed three quarters over the counter and he passed back a pack of generic unfiltered smokes.
   “I can’t lie to a cop, Crash.”
   “You don’t have to lie except by omission.”
   I was halfway to Gutierrez Street before I realized I hadn’t bought a pint from John. It felt good.     Two more steps and I wanted to turn around… Maybe go to the Ofice to see Nancy. I didn’t have to struggle much though. It felt like a big hand was on my shoulder guiding me away. It wasn’t long before I was on the breakwater lighting up a smoke and listening to the surf pounding away under me as I sat on the concrete bench taking in the sun. I knew what the big hand was and the feeling was vivid… like the way I felt watching Adrian breech and come out of the Elaine’s vagina fighting. It was a feeling of awe, fear, and beauty. That’s when I saw Ryan coming towards me from the Yacht Club.
   I patted my hand on the wet spot where the spraying surf left a puddle as he approached, “Don’t sit here unless you want to get your butt wet.”
  “Walk with me to Mizz Sherlock, Crash. You in the mood for some fishing?”

   Mizz Sherlock was a clean boat of about forty-five feet… nothing fancy of about her. The old Chrysler marine engine that powered her could be pushed to twelve knots max… cruises at ten. The cabin was big enough to squeeze in a gateleg table for eating that dropped down for a third berth and a chart table for plotting a course. It even had a shower below next to the head.
Under the forward hatch was the usual two berths. The most modern feature on it was a marine radio scanner and 1950’s radar screen. There was no fish-finder sonar, or RDF. A compass, sextant and clock was good enough for him. It was a comfortable cabin and the boat was made to hold up under the conditions of damned near any seas.
   We didn’t need to talk as we boarded and cruised out of the harbor. I knew he was going to fish for something more than Yellowtail and that he would be patient. The sea-air away from the harbor was different… just as fresh and all… but there was something about it. It was fresh in the nose… like the sweet smell of freedom. I’d sailed a skiff around the sloughs of the Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay before I was drafted. The Navy wasn’t taking high school drop-outs and draftees back then. I could have been on Swift-boats. But the Army took anyone then and I found a home there.
I tossed the pack of smokes into the churning wake. It was a compulsion. I don’t know why I did it but it felt right… something like pouring out that beer.
   We set up our poles and took turns at the helm. Ryan opened a cooler and pulled out two cans… a beer for himself and offered me one.
   “You got a soda or something?”
   “You quit drinking too.” He wasn’t asking. It was like he was reading it from a report.
   “No. Just laying off a bit. Who told you that?”
   “A little sparrow… ‘sides, smokin’ and drinkin’ go together.”
   “Shit, you get around. So does fishin’ and drinkin’.” Not knowing how to drink one, I gulped down the soda and tossed the can off the stern. “I didn’t really quit. I’m just putting some time between drinks, if you know what I mean.”
Ryan scowled and pushed five-gallon bucket next to me, “Put ‘em in here next time.”
He cut the motor and we just drifted with the current. He continued to look at me with a scrunched brow.
   A weight pressed my chest and caught in my craw, so I let it out, “Anna’s in trouble.”
   “I know,” he dropped his beer in the bucket as his line went taut and his pole bent nearly to the waterline. He yanked the pole from its rod holder and hollered, “It’s fishin’ ya know. Sometimes the little ones fight harder than the big ones. You don’t know what you’ve got until you pull it in.”
   The reel on the pole zinged the line out…. Ryan’s body leaned back with the pole in both hands…   “It’s not a Yellowtail!”
   “How can you tell?”
   “A Yellowtail won’t take it to the bottom. Gotta be a shark. We’re fishing with too light a line.”
“What do you have, the Loch Ness monster?”
“I might as well… we might be in for a long… long… haul.” Ryan didn’t look as excited as I thought he would be. He was calm, “Damn. I was looking forward to some sushi.”
   “The day isn’t over yet.”
   “I was fishin’ for bait. This bugger is going to take more than we’re rigged for. Fortuitous… let’s talk about that.”
   “About Anna, or this fish?”
   Ryan pulled the line back from the tip of the rod, took out his Buck knife, and cut the line. The pole snapped back upright, “You tell me. Anna’s too smart to get big headed. She’s in a trap she got into as a small fry and now she’s upped the ante.”
   Anna hadn’t told me enough to know how much Ryan knew or how much I should let him know. I wasn’t comfortable between these two loyalties. No wonder I drank. The beers in the cooler started to look damned good. I cracked one open but didn’t take a sip. I just held it in my hand like Linus’ security blanket.
   Ryan’s eyes were on my beer, “Your old boss is into some pretty sick shit. Worse than that, he took that bimbo with him and now it’s starting to cave in on all of them.”
   “I’m not sure what you mean.”
   “Perry.”
   “Anna told me. I was in jail at the time… you know?”
   Ryan busied himself re-rigging his gear, “I think I’ll put some live squid on it. Change it up. You probably don’t know what’s been going on. I don’t think you even cared until a week ago. Am I right?”
   “That I care? Yeah, I suppose I do. Ryan, I think I’m coming alive. I feel it. I’m done with all this bullshit… it isn’t self-pity and all. I just didn’t give a shit.” I watched Ryan finish hooking up the squid and cast out with only a light flick of his wrist. I set the beer in the holder on the gunnel and took the helm. Ryan didn’t have to tell me to take the helm and I began cruising just fast enough to create a wake. I looked back in time to see a Marlin clear the water. It was a good sign the day would be a good one. I shouted over the throbbing motors, “So, Anna’s the live bait? Why are we fishing if you already have a bead on Doc?”
   Ryan reeled the squid towards the boat in front of where we saw the jumper and, as an aside, he shouted, “You know there’s Great Whites out here too. Funny thing about them. They have some sort of instinct… At the Farallons, a friend… a marine biologist, told me. I don’t know what it is but, if you kill one… well, the old ones… the big ones… they skedaddle and don’t come back for a long-assed time. Maybe all you got to do is kill one. Folks don’t know that.”
   “You aren’t going to let me know more?”
   “About fishing? Crash Craszhinski, you’ll know more when I know more. Try to remember, this crap will take time and patience. You stay close to Anna; she can help us out but we don’t want to scare off the big ones. I don’t trust her story. Her heart is good but she’s a compulsive liar.”
   “Then, I take it that you’re not going by the book this time?”
   “I am. But the book we’re going by hasn’t been written. Circumstances always warrant an exception. I have to tell you, something smells bad at the station. Might go up near the top of the chain of command in the DA’s office. Someone’s stepped on my earliest attempts to investigate.”
   “So, Ryan,” I was intrigued now. Ryan was going rogue. That wasn’t his style. I had to probe, “I need to know what we’re getting into.” Still not sure what anything he said was about, I added, “I’ve never liked working with ARVN’s commanders in the Embassy. Too much like catch and release.”
Ryan’s rod dipped a couple of times, “Sometimes they tease the crap out of ya.”
   I cut the engines as soon as I heard the reel’s shrill r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r’s. He yelled, “That ain’t a Great White!” He planted the butt of the rod under his belly and the fight was on. I could see why Hemmingway loved Marlin fishing so much. It could be compared to a fifteen round boxing match. It looks like I had a ringside seat for this bout. The line went straight down, pole bent… keeping the line taught, Ryan reeled and released it… brought it closer and letting it go further. The line changed directions a dozen times before the fish breached in a graceful leap coming back down on the line as sure as a fencer’s parry and lunge. The pole sprung back straight and the line went slack… the fight was over… the Marlin won.
   Ryan laughed, “That was one smart asshole! Took lessons from Douglass Fairbanks for sure.”
   “It was more like Liston and Clay… over in the first round,” I sniped, but one of the things I especially liked about Ryan was his quick acknowledgement of his adversary’s prowess. My stomach started to churn and I realized how hungry I’d gotten.
   Ryan pulled up his line and relieved me at the helm. “Yeah, but don’t it give you a rush? Let’s go over to the oil rigs and get us some lunch.”
   All in all, it wasn’t a bad day. Ryan had snagged one and let it go. Another just plain got away.
He snuggled the Sherlock idling in the shade under Platform B casting distance from the stanchions where we lobbed our lines to the bottom. Within minutes we were both hauling in a couple of nice rockfish and calico bass. I was afraid we were going to have sushi but Ryan pulled out the propane Hibachi from a space under the deck. We filleted our catch and had them on the grill on the spot. I couldn’t remember a time in the past several years when I felt life had been so sweet.
   After eating, Ryan stood at the helm, fired up the old Chrysler and said, “This isn’t catch and release. We’re dealing with great whites and Anna’s our bait.”
   Mizz Sherlock rounded past the sand spit buoys, sea landing jetty, and into its slip on Marina One. I dropped the bumpers, jumped off and set the bow line to the cleat when Ryan stopped me. “Don’t tie up the stern. You’re not staying.”
“What’re you talking about, Ryan?”