After that things degraded fairly quickly. The time for cogent thought, reason, or even rationalizations, was gone. By last call we had run up a not inconsiderable bar tab, which Marty picked up with nary a protest from me. The wad of hundreds bulging, at least in my mind, like a conspicuous tumor, malignant if I were to break them out, benign as long as they remained concealed.
“Let’s go to the Palace,” he said as we walked out of the Bus Stop.
“Why not,” I said, “the walk will do us good.” We meandered down to the Marina Green, the brisk breeze off the Bay bracing us somewhat, sobering to a small degree.
Back in the day, after a night like this, the survivors often went down to the Palace of Fine Arts, the remnants of the 191? World’s Fair. San Francisco had gone all out to show the world that they could bounce back after the disastrous 1906 earthquake and fire that decimated the city and burned nearly every wooden structure in the embryonic city. Flush with Gold Rush cash and the bold pioneering spirit of the West, the citizens set about rebuilding and the idea of hosting such a high profile exposition as a goal to strive for was adopted by the entire population. The Palace of Fine Arts was one edifice built to impress, albeit built cheaply on unstable ground. Cracks were showing in the sandstone façade with large chunks missing from the underbelly of its dome. It was an elevated dome sitting on vaulting columns, walking underneath it was a poor man’s visit to Il Duomo in Florence. It was now backed by a kid’s museum and as it had been during the days of the exposition, fronted by a small lake or a large pond depending on your perspective.
We doubled back across (street? Marina?) and stumbled across the dewy grass before finding a bench to collapse upon.
“Well,” said Marty. “It’s not like the old days.”
“There’s no going back,” I quipped, tacitly admitting my position on my position.
Marty looked at me and disagreed. “Nonsense. If you think you’re going to be arrested or even charged with anything based on this fricking crazy fricking escapade because, simply because you go back to your wife, if that’s what you’re talking about, because it sounds and looks you know, like that’s what you’re talking about, then your nuts, man. You’re off your rocker nuts.”
In response to Marty’s ramble, I sat quietly and then asked, “Well, what about Murray?”
“What about Murray?”
“How do you explain a guy who on the turn of a dime can gin up fake documents, ID, credit cards, passport and then pass off a wad of cash, like he did today.”
“Wad of cash?” was all Marty said.
“A thousand bucks.”
“You had a G in your pocket and I picked up the bill. You cheap mother-fucker.”
“Hey, I’m not sure how long this is all going to last. I don’t know where to go or what to do.”
We sat silently again, staring at the rippling water, struggling to make sense of the situation. It had been good to talk to Marty about all this. I know he had hoped to make me realize the error of my ways, as the saying goes, but what he’d done was reconfirm my fears. His logical mind, candor and willingness to speak the painful truth had battered my story, yet it remained standing. Chipped in parts, a few holes showing, but there were still undeniable foundational elements like the columns supporting the palace’s dome.
After more time spent either in thought or drunken mind-wandering, Marty said, “Let’s get some food, I’m hungry.” You’d think a Boar’s Head steak and a belly full of booze would have been enough for one night, but the walk had built up a new appetite and I’d been hungry on the street for days, conserving cash, prior to meeting Murray. It had been a long day in a series of long days, and a longer night in a series of long nights. We’d passed the forehead of the eve and were well on our way to the buttock of the dawn, breakfast for the stomach of another day was a welcome thought.
“Clown Alley?” I suggested.
“Clown Alley’s gone,” Marty said perfunctorily. “IHOP.”
“IHOP it is then.”
Clown Alley was a frequent late night stomach settling spot, greasy sausage patties, has browns the fried crispy hash browns and eggs and cheese and pancakes and ham steaks all served by a Vietnamese man and his wife who seemed to be there all the time. They must have slept in the back. I hoped they had sold the place for a bundle and sent their kids to Brown.
IHOP was IHOP. The International House of Pancakes was universal, and when I say universal I mean its blue roof can be found all over the states. I’ve never heard of one being international, and the closest thing to “international” cuisine, ahem, they served was french toast, or maybe a belgian waffle. At that hour, though, any piece of pork product would do.
“I’ve got an idea,” said Marty as we got to Lombard Street.
“Do you still have your ID in your wallet?”
“Um, a, yeah, I think so,” and upon reflection that wasn’t such a good idea. I had a California driver’s license, credit cards, a passport and various other extraneous forms of identification, all in the name of someone other than Billy Shakes. I probably shouldn’t be carrying ID for two different people, it would look rather suspicious to a cop. I was surprised Murray hadn’t thought of this, hadn’t confiscated and destroyed my old stuff.
“Do you have your bank card, too?”
I stopped on the corner, the occasional car cruising along Lombard at his hour, and poked through the recesses of my wallet.
“If you really are on someone’s list, they’ve probably shut down your accounts.”
(Have to go to IHOP first, wouldn’t be able to scoot and then go eat down the street. Check Murray section, why would he still have ID? Maybe he wanted to keep it, Murray told him to throw it away and he didn’t, trying to hold onto his old life.)
“And, your point?” I was willing to follow Marty’s lead on this. He was in the world of finance afterall.
“Well, let’s see if you can get money out of your ATM.”
“I’ve got money, why would I want to tell them where I am?” Plus, I was thinking, it wouldn’t be cool to Soo to keep tapping our bank account when she was going to have enough financial trouble as it was, whether I was on the lam or had just left her, either way the house would eventually have to be sold if she couldn’t make the payments and unless a miracle job popped up in the next few months that was a very likely scenario.
It was disconcerting that I had already resigned myself to being gone months rather than weeks. My acceptance of this feeling bothered me, it made me wonder if I wasn’t in fact just running away, running away from something else, responsibility, the burden of a family, the fear of failing as a father.
So, it was in this state of mind, not to mention a bit of lingering intoxication and the brain numbing effects of a short stack and a side of links that I pondered Marty’s suggestion.
“If you try the ATM and can get cash then you are still a free man, your ludicrous tale of being a fugitive from justice is nothing more than a product of your overactive paranoid imagination.”
“and if I don’t get the cash?”
“Well…then you know for sure.”
We stood for a moment in front of the ATM. “Isn’t it worth trying, just for the peace of mind of knowing one way or the other?”
“What the hell.”
(We had to have passed an ATM and Marty stopped. Need to check ed. Note at the beginning of this section. This is all too well-written to be by a guy on the run. And, I don’t know if the Soo note was written before she got the call Billy makes from Marty’s apt.)
I stepped forward, inserted my card and then keyed in my PIN number. I waited. A message popped up saying something about contacting my local branch, but I didn’t stick around to study it. The machine had swallowed my card. “Shit.” I turned to look at Marty. “It ate my card.”
“Bullshit.” He stepped forward and read the message. “Let’s get the hell out of here,” Marty said in a panic.
He lived up Lombard on the other side of Van Ness and we speed-walked our way up there, looking over our shoulders and at oncoming traffic, what there was of it, scanning for a cab or a cop. At this hour we were just as likely to find the latter as the former. I had visions of sirens and flashing lights and kept a sharp eye out. Marty was more intent on speed. We saw nothing. Mostly cars that looked like they were headed back to Marin after a long night, a Chronicle truck stopped in front of us to put papers in a newspaper stand.
“Grab one,” Marty commanded.
We practically ran up the hill to his apartment building, sweating profusely as we stood in front of the entrance where Marty fumbled with his keys. We entered the foyer, a beautiful arabesque vault paved with terra cotta tiles, which echoed as Marty’s keychain clattered upon them, dropped a second time. Bending down, picking them up, looking over his shoulder, expecting who knows what. I remember thinking in the rush that he must be doing pretty well for himself. I tried to hurry him without flustering him more than he already was, but I was much the same as he, close to panic. I pushed the elevator button and we waited.
Marty grabbed his New York Times from the cluttered table holding the periodicals that wouldn’t fit in the mailboxes behind. We got tired of waiting for the clunky elevator and dashed up the stairs, anxious to get out of the lobby that was open like a fishbowl to the street. We felt like guppies during those 45 seconds of uncomfortable loitering, and, at one point, a car drove by slowly, turning off Lombard onto Polk, the occupants looking forward and not at us, but for those few moments they were FBI agents in our minds.
At the door to his apartment, he had calmed down, although we were both breathing heavily. We managed to get inside without further tumult. He bolted the door behind us and we lumbered into his living room, collapsing on his couch and chair with prodigous exhalations (?)
After a few minutes of heavy breathing, we started to gather our wits. Marty smiled and then burst into laughter. I followed enthusiastically and then reluctantly, my guffaws tapering to meek gasps. We needed to think logically again.
“As exciting as that was,” I said, “we are forgetting one very reasonable explanation for what just happened.”
“You’re not going to be the voice of reason, now, are you?” Marty protested.
“As much fun as that bit of excitement was, we may have forgotten in the midst of our drunken bumbling that Soo may have just locked me out of our account.”
“Oh,” let out Marty in a feeble whisper that seemed to acknowledge the rational-ness of this. “Yes. That is another way of looking at that.” Then we had another nervous laugh.
“I don’t know about you, but I could use another drink.”
“Uh, actually, I think I better not,” I said. The sky outside was going light gray, the street light slowly giving way to the natural. I felt spent. Damn near broken. My nerves were frayed, my body shattered, I was facing two unsettling possibilities again. We had thought there was some APB out on me, foolishly or not, that still existed as a possibility. The other possibility was no less settling, my wife had locked me out of our account. She was either trying to starve me home or had written me off. None of this was good. Marty went into his kitchen and pulled a bottle of beer out of the refrigerator. It was either too late to have not stopped drinking or too early to have started, but he didn’t seem to care. I was developing an alternative plan and needed to gather my thoughts. Marty had had a good point about finding out definitely one way or another. It didn’t matter that it didn’t work out that way, there now existed another way to find out one way or another. I would have to call Soo.
“Regardless…” I started.
“Regardless?...Whatever. I still think that was weird,” said Marty.
“Weird or not, it has an explanation.”
“No shit. Everything has an explanation. It just seemed to me…it felt. It felt to me like we might have proven the thing you were looking to prove.”
“You’ve come to my side now. Was I looking to prove that or disprove it?” I asked.
“Fuck if I know, man. But that was a charge. That put a charge in me whatever the hell it was.”
“What it was was what it was most likely to be.”
Deep thinking ensued. Marty sipped his beer. “But, what if…” he began.
“What if what?”
“What if you are right, what if all this is real and you’ve gotten mixed in all this bullshit as you think you have?”
“Well, then, shit, Billy, we’re fucked, I’m fucked,” he placed a bit too much emphasis on his “I”.
“What do you mean?”
“The cameras. All those ATMs have cameras. My mug is all over that, I was dumb enough to step forward and put my happy black face into view to read the screen.”
He had a point. However, we were discounting Occam’s Razor reasoning again. Soo must be pissed. She must have seen the $300 I took out in Seattle. She must think I was just leaving her, breaking away, fucking off, and if that were the case then she had every right to cut me off. I put voice to my thinking and said, “There’s one way to find out.”
“I could call Soo.”
Again a bit more silent thought.
“Yeah, that may not be a bad idea. I mean, that’s one way to know for sure, which is what you wanted in the first place, I mean besides going to the bank…”
“Or the cops,” I finished for him. Pregnant pause. “Where’s your phone?”
He stood up, pulled himself up by the arms of the big leather chair he had been slouching in. The chair matched the couch I was on, leaning forward on the edge of it closest to Marty. Everything about his apartment spoke disposable income. Marty was doing well for himself. No kids, no mortgage, good job, he had all the toys, all he had wanted. He came back with a mobile handset.
I looked at it, nervously switching it from hand to hand, “OK. Here goes,” I said and took a deep breath before dialing our/Soo’s number. It rang for a long time before Soo picked up with a groggy “hello?”
“Hi,” was all I said and she snapped awake.
“Yeah, it’s me.”
“Jesus Christ, I thought you were dead. Where are you?”
“I can’t really say, I mean, I probably shouldn’t tell you.”
“What? What does that mean? Where are you, just what’s going on, why?...why?...”
“Soo, I can’t explain right now, just know I love you and Nate very much and I’m going to try and come home as soon as I can.” I had stood up and was walking around Marty’s apartment, going into the kitchen, I stood in front of the sink looking out the window on the space between Marty’s building and the one next door.
“Billy, my god, I thought you were dead, the car, the ferry. What happened?”
“I know, I know, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, Soo, I…I just can’t talk about it right now,” I trailed off, distracted. There were two men crawling around the fire escape on the building next door. In the half-light I thought I could make out ear pieces, it could have been my imagination. They didn’t look like firemen, I’ll tell you that.
“This is crazy,” Soo shouted. “Have you been kidnapped or something? Just tell me where you are.”
“Listen, I have to go,” I hurriedly said, one of the men was waving to someone down the alley. I leaned over to take a look and the waving man looked right back at me. I ducked below the sink, squatting in Marty’s kitchen.
“No, no, don’t go. Where are you, when are you coming back?” Soo asked desperately.
“I love you, I love you very much,” and I looked down at the phone keypad and pressed “END”. Maybe a portable phone wasn’t a good idea. Or maybe they had tracked us some other way. Maybe we shouldn’t have gone to the ATM. I kicked myself as I noted that I had forgotten to ask Soo about the bank account, whether she’d locked me out. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone out to dinner with Murray or I shouldn’t have hung out with an old friend in my old stomping grounds, OR, really, not going fucking batshit crazy and getting mixed up in this stupid scam of Max’s, the lunacy. “Shit, shit, shit,” I said to myself. Marty walked in.
“What the fuck…” he said looking at me curiously as I squatted on the floor of his kitchen.
“Get down,” I whispered harshly. “Look out the window.”
He stared blankly at me, “which is it? He was now squatting next to me, “do you want me to get down or look out the window because I can’t do both.”
“Don’t…just, peak over there, across the way,” I said gesturing.
He slowly rose onto one knee and pulled himself up from the rim of the sink.
“Do you see them?” I asked, uncertainly, half expecting him to laugh at me, admonish me, to be witness to my half-baked schemes and hallucinations. He dropped and whispered, “Yeah. I see them.”
I was momentarily relieved. Then terrified. “Do you think?...”
“Yeah, I think so,” he said. “Maybe we shouldn’t have tried the ATM.”
“They couldn’t have gotten here that fast.”
“Me. It’s me,” said Marty. “They must have been watching your friends. My place.”
“Impossible. Do you know how many places in the Bay Area they would have had to have covered.”
“Don’t flatter yourself,” Marty quipped. “What else?”
“What about Soo? That question floated flat and unanswered as we clearly heard the crackle of a walkie-talkie somewhere close outside the window.
“Shit,” Marty whispered. “You’ve got to get out of here.”
“Maybe I should just turn myself in.”
“Not in my apartment. I want to be able to deny everything, you can do whatever you want but do it outside in the hallway.”
“Nice,” I said sarcastically, but he was right, there was no reason to drag him into this any further.
“Go down the stairs to the garage.”
“Don’t you think they’ll have that covered?”
“Maybe, but there’s a door in the back away from the car entrance. It’s behind the trash dumpster and leads directly onto Lombard (no back alley? But they’re in the back alley, Lombard entrance polk entrance check map) It opens further up the hill.”
“What are you going to tell them?”
“Nothing,” he said flatly. “I know nothing. Old friend, ran into him, what’s going on officer can I help?”
“Are you sure?”
“Billy, just get the fuck out of my apartment. They see me conspiring with you, this shit, this whispering and that’s all they need, aiding and abetting and all that shit.”
“How would you explain me running out?”
“I was asleep, no idea, officer.”
I looked at him closely. We were still kneeling in front of the sink. His concern, his worry for himself made me worry more about myself than any previous worry had.
“Don’t overthink this. Get the fuck out of here,” he said slowly.
I crawled to the front door, reached up to turn the knob, stood and yanked the door only to have it snap closed again as the chain held it tight. Cursing myself, I slid the chain off and tried again. The hallway was quiet. The stairwell was quiet. I descended the stairs as quickly and quietly as possible. In the garage, I could hear the soft echo of voices outside. I moved away from the garage door and saw the dumpster, a wooden door was behind it as Marty had said. I ran to it and put my ear to it. Then with a short prayer in the form of an exhalation of air, I twisted the knob and slammed my shoulder against it. It didn’t budge. I had forgotten to turn the bolt, an old rusty fixture just above the knob. I was a knob. Quickly then, again, and I was outside, a look to the left, a look to the right and I ran up the hill away from Van Ness. If they were really going to track me down, if this was going to be some Streets of San Francisco jumping over trash cans in back alleys sort of chase, I wanted to stay away from the big streets of San Francisco.
I knew (that park above there with the tennis courts, find name) was just up Lombard, with any luck I could reach the stairs before I was noticed. X Park was built on a hill, it was a hill. It was the back of the famous part of Lombard. Tennis courts on top and stairs that led off to little gardens, benches, sitting areas and bocce ball courts, long since gone to seed.
I used to run the stairs. The bushes, and there was considerable shrubbery, were now havens for the homeless. Animal burrows couldn’t be more complex than the avenues woven amidst those branches. I figured if I could make the stairs, a dive into the bushes would put me beyond their reach, for awhile. Plus, they probably would be expecting me to go downhill to Van Ness. I sprinted up Lombard, expecting I don’t know what, gunshots over my shoulder, bullets whizzing past my ears, a Nazi voice shouting “Halt!” There was nothing and that, oddly, was even more troubling. Had I done it again? Had Marty been fooled by my paranoia? Was I still rambling around in a lunatics labyrinth. No, I figured a madman couldn’t come up with a clever alliteration like “lunatics labyrinth”. With no shots or shouts issued behind me I made it to and up those stairs my thighs and lungs burning. Roughly, at the three-quarter mark, I left the stairs and pushed my way into the bushes. It was an invisible opening. I crawled, desperately, scratching and clawing my way deeper, as deeply as I could get into the shaded interior. An auxiliary channel housed a be-blanketed sleeper, twigs and trash adorned him. My rustlings did not rouse him. On I went to another alcove. I pulled in and covered myself as best I could. What did I have? Some branches? My pathetic coat? (coat from lost and found)
I hunkered down. There was nothing to do now but wait. Fortunately, I was somewhere between drunk and hungover, and I was exhausted. I drifted into and out of an uncomfortable sleep, if you could call it sleep, reassured, somewhat, at the fact that I resembled everyone other reprobate/street person/homeless helpless sod hiding out in this patch of vegetation. I slept until dark, or more accurately, I closed my eyes for unknown amounts of time, and listened in a state of nervous excitement for any suspicious activity until daylight hours had passed.
There were moments, moments when people rustled, when the bushes exploded in expletives and hubbub, but that was just the nonsense of the neglected. I was now part of them again.
Part of them, but not. There was no organization, they don’t have a union. Everyone has their own problems and the Lenny and Charlie pairings are non-existent to ephemeral, fleeting alliances were formed and broken according to whim and greed. Troubled souls abound, deeply disturbed men lurk in our streets. I had about 24 hours back in the land of the living and, with time to reflect, it was more disjointed and confusing that my first days on the street were. Miserableness enveloped me, like my miserable coat. Doubt, recrimination, worry – about myself, Soo, and even Marty, although I thought he was more than capable of protecting himself.
Darkness fell, the city came to life, and I just waited for it to go back to sleep. I could hide in plain sight and walk amongst real people, but I didn’t want to take that chance, and I didn’t feel I could stomach it. In an odd way, I was beginning to feel comfortable, well, at least capable of surviving in this underworld, as if it was where I was supposed to be, uncomfortable or not, I had to reside in the undergrowth for awhile.
(Marty could file suit against the feds…challenging the latest violation of the constitution 4th ammendment search and seizure, the west could oppose quartering of soldiers. Stop paying taxes, kick out troops, take back land and use it for new energy, innovation, farming, study [maybe a Utah guy or Boise guy rant]. Marty’s defense can be taken up by a prominent SF attorney, links up with the executor of Murray’s estate. Lawyers in high places are required [they are riled up anyway, nothing pisses off a lawyer like violating the constitution]. Politicians must be convinced, a mass popular revolt would be crushed unless someone harnessed it at the helm of power. A new state needs leaders.)
Sometime between it being really late and really early, I made my way out of the bushes, down the stairs and out onto the street. Still cagy and worried, I hurried through (Telegraph) Hill and wandered down to North Beach. I was very hungry, having had nothing to eat all day. There was a pizza place open and I shuffled in for a slice, very aware of the roll of bills I had in my pocket which seemed to glow like a hot coal in snow, unmistakeable evidence of my not being who I pretended to be and making me a prime target to be rolled. I hoped I could maintain my anonymity, although, I knew the longer I stayed in San Francisco the greater the likelihood that I would be spotted, either by another one of my friends or by some less friendly.
On the other hand, I felt were I to make a dash, either by bus or BART or ferry, I’d be pegged, like the escapees in The Great Escape, I envisioned SS guards searching the faces of folks getting on trains (I have clearly seen too many movies). One more night, I told myself. I was going to fill up on pizza, grab a few bottles of water, and then hole up for one more night. The question remained where. The streets of North Beach at that hour are littered with drunks and sprinkled with urine, the combination of seedy bars on Broadway, trendy bars down Columbus and fine restaurants scattered throughout made for a combination of demographics not often seen commingling. Specs and City Lights, its edges buttting up against the financial district and Chinatown, the Hungry I, the church (check, peter and paul?) Coit Tower looming like a protective erect phallus keeping watch. I loved North Beach when I was a proper SF denizen. Now, as an underdweller, I found the mix good cover, albeit spare at that hour.
I ate in a corner and then departed for who knew where. Some pointless ambling led me to water. I was backtracking a bit and ended up at Aquatic Park, the end of Hyde Street. Climbing over the sea wall, I pulled my raggedy coat up around my ears and settled down into the sand. I slept in the sand next to the Dolphin Club. Not exacly the Ritz, but it did in a pinch, and, let’s face it, I’m a California boy, and after years of laying about beaches growing up in Southern California, a squishy mattress of sand might as well have been like sleeping on a dream.
A few snatches of good sleep did wonders, but the sounds of a city coming to life, delivery trucks, the plop plop plopping of joggers and the early morning Bay swimmers from the Dolphin Club left me tossing and turning and anxious to move along.
No matter, despite the days that I’d spent like that, despite the dimunition of pride, I still cowered in shame from the daylit gazes of the every day dwellers. So, again, there I was on the streets, under the sun, amidst more and more real people wondering what the hell I was going to do. A vague plan took shape. Get across the Bay was on the top of the list. Berkeley or Oakland would offer more space, more room to roam and a larger derelict population to mix into. It would be more dangerous, I thought, but I had to get out of Frisco (ha). The next question was how.
I walked from my beach back to the bus station south of Market. It’s not a short walk, yet surprisingly pleasant. I’ve always been a morning person and moving my way through the city as folks went to work, the sun rising, a new day beginning, actually contributed to a state, an improved state of consciousness. I felt free. Outside of myself. Outside of the world.
South of Market, in this slightly elated state, I walked straight into the Grayhound station and made an executive decision. Forget the East Bay, I’ll pass right through and go to Sacramento. Why not, I thought, if I could make it to the capitol it would be a hell of a lot more safe than Oaktown and I could try to contact Scoop (Scoop in Bay area reference in earlier conversation with Marty must be altered, new name how to intro Scoop?)
Scoop wrote for the daily student paper in college and always wanted to work in journalism. He gravitated to the seat of state power after graduation, although I always thought he was destined for more than California politics. His world view, at least the bullshit he spouted was universal, grandiose, of course, whose bullshit isn’t in college, it’s the time for such things, but Scoop seemed to have it planned out, he saw the whole picture and you could see him working backwards to where he was now and how he could put himself into a position to effect change, to really do something with the bullshit.
It was amidst this reverie and more relaxed outlook, a momentary satisfaction with myself, that I saw what, to my mind, looked exactly like what a modern-day Nazi would look like. Lurking by the ticket counter and conspicuously trying to look inconspicuous, was either another paranoid delusion of mine or my ticket to the end of this ride. He was wearing a too new leather jacket (go back and switch coat get new hat, talk about disguise) and a too empty backpack slung over his shoulder. The crowd at bus stations use shopping bags for luggage, they don’t speak English, if they’re white their trash; I stood out in this crowd like a sore thumb, this guy was a gangrenous hand.
I decided to take no chances. I went for the drinking fountain and then walked back out the door, taking the stairs to the street two at a time. I looked back when I’d reached the bottom and saw him at the top of the stairs, he reached into his pocket, and I didn’t stick around. I heard the crackle of a walkie-talkie behind me…no gunfire. At mission I ran through traffic. There was another guy to my left doing the same, I sprinted down first, cut through traffic again at Market and did my best to saunter into the Grand Hyatt Embarcadero. I took the escalator up to their grand lobby, with its sweeping, expansive aerie of a courtyard, and hushed voices, tinkling plates echoing from the restaurant into the vaulted chamber above. It was an odd place for a chase, if you could call it such. More of a low-speed paseo (dance that starts with p pasadoble?) I tried to not look as out of place as I felt. I scurried towards the exit, crossing what seemed like a mile of open lobby feeling naked. Through the door and into the shopping area. I doubled back through (Daly plaza, what’s the name of the place with the fountain) and to Market. I ducked into the BART station. There was a train leaving for Daly City and I got on it, discretely checking to see if I had been followed. I was thinking about the countless scenes in movies where that very thing had been done. I wondered again as I saw no one following as the train pulled away, whether it was just a matter of seeing too many movies. Who had I really seen, had I really seen who I thought I’d seen? Even in the midst of the running, I wondered if I was running from my imagination, a mental mist.
I closed my eyes and tried to relax. When we’d made it through downtown (the tunnel?) and out into the sunshine I breathed a small sigh of relief. The train pulled into Daly City and I got off at the top of the hill. At this hour the station was nearly deserted, late morning commuters were rare and the few stragglers didn’t seem to notice or care about another dirty greasy bum in a ratty coat loitering about.
I saw a pay phone and decided to call Jake. Nothing but ringing. Scoop and Sacramento were long since forgotten. I was stupid to think in that direction, but east was the only choice, I was running out of west. The feeling of an animal trapped in a cage, an open cage behind me and a net or crowd of murky figures pushing me slowly into it. I was pushed further into a corner with nothing but a cage of cold deep water at my back.
I kept calling Jake.
Just before dark I got him.
“Jesus, Billy, where are you?”
“Go ahead, this is a secure line, you’re on a land line right?”
“Yeah, I’m on a pay phone in Daly City.”
“OK, OK. You got all your papers from Murray?”
“Yes,” I said, reflexively touching the bulges in my front pockets.
“What the hell have you been doing?” he barked.
“I ran into a friend.”
“You what?!” A pause. “Listen, Billy, this isn’t a vacation. These guys aren’t fooling around, have you heard of Gitmo? We’ve lost people. I don’t know how many because there are clowns like you who aren’t calling in. When they get enough of us, you’re going to see the biggest media buzz yet. We’ll make poor Padilla seem like last week’s box scores.”
“OK, right, I get it,” I stammered.
“I don’t think you do,” said Jake. “This may have been bullshit, we have been fucked from the start, but we’ve recruited a lot of smart, committed people. The question is, are you committed?”
I should be committed, I thought to myself.
“To tell the truth, Jake, I don’t know what the hell I am. I spent this morning running away from…I don’t know who. They could be ghosts for all I know…”
“Spooks,” he interrupted. “CIA?”
“No, no, at least I don’t think so. Hallucinations. I’m all screwed up right now. I’ve been sleeping on the street, in bushes, on the beach, and I’ve run away from my wife and kid. This is not NORMAL.”
“So, what? You have to get a grip. You don’t have a lot of choices at this point. So, you better figure out where you stand. There’s winning and losing at this point. Winning is going to be a long hard slog. And, then there’s losing, which is quick, but FOLLOWED by a long hard slog. And, let me tell you if you’re interested in freedom, if you’re interested in doing something other than throwing your life away…Fuck, Billy…this is serious shit. You will be thrown in jail. And not just any ordinary jail, a jail you’ve never seen before, habeas corpus…well, shit, you, you…”
“OK, alright, I get it,” I said.
“Just get a hold of yourself, OK. We need you. This seems like a mess right now, but it’s taking shape, there are other people involved, influential people. This isn’t just you.”
“I’m not sure how I feel about that, but…fine. Thanks,” I added in a tone tainted with sarcasm.
“Fuck, ‘thanks’, tell me about these spooks.”
I relayed to him everything that had happened to me over the last few days and he gave me shit about the stupid things I’d done, but congratulated me on some of my escape tactics. It was small consolation. He heard the pain in my voice, he heard, I think, that I was conflicted, to say the least, and I think he was thinking about my best interests when he suggested I rent a car.
“You shoould take advantage of your ID and the credit card while you’ve got the chance. You haven’t used it yet, have you?”
“No.” I decided not to tell him about the money Murray gave me.
“Good.” I heard him typing on a computer keyboard. “There’s an Avis rental car, about a mile from where you are. Go rent a car in your new name. It will be a good test.”
“Yeah, you don’t want to walk into a Bank of America and take out a loan. A po-dunk branch of Avis in Daly City won’t have the same level of security.”
This wasn’t particularly reassuring.
“Right. I see. And if the test fails…?”
“Don’t worry about that right now,” he said quickly and then he gave me the address and directions. “Just go. Rent a car and drive to Phoenix.”
Again with Phoenix. After some hesitation, I told him about the ATM experience.
“What!?! Why the hell didn’t Murray take all your old shit away. What were you guys thinking?!”
“I don’t know, I think Murray was distracted. I got him to take me out to dinner.”
“OUT?! You got Murray OUT?!”
“Jesus Christ. Billy, if you could talk Murray into getting out of that apartment of his then you could talk a pig out of shit.”
I took his crude colloquialism as a compliment.
(The black america thing has to wait. Marty plays into it and a Willie Brown character, defending him, part WB, part Johnny Cochrane. So, more on the drive, thoughts about LA, more thoughts on the road, check map. I10, where does that run. Lost now, too man…I’m in a bit of a jam with the story. I have part of the AZ and now am bumbling up to that part in CA (sacto?) I should just jump ahead leave AZ without tracking down the radio guy or go back to the radio guy. On the phone with jake at Grand Canyon I think that’s where I left off…other notebook, “Did you find anything in Phoenix”*****)