I Saw It Coming, Parts 1-10 for anyone that would like to catch up and read my series without searching through my archives. I hope this makes it easy to join me as the story progresses. The Author.
I Saw It Coming
by Richard Rensberry
I hike everyday. It is energizing and allows my spirit to open up to my surroundings. I am able to observe with the spirit’s eye and see universes beyond the physical reality of things. I am delighted to take photographs and collect artifacts like feathers and wood for use in recreating what I have seen in my imagination.
On my many wanderings I have come to find hidden and secluded places where almost no human ever ventures anymore. I am not talking about the wilderness, I am talking about within the city limits of San Francisco. Most of The City is a massive tangle of abutted structures, but not all. There are forsaken copses of trees and open spaces in this bustling cityscape. Some appear forgotten as the now condemned Berlinski’s Hardware that sits forlorn with its boarded-up windows next to a twenty-first century Home Depot. I used to frequent that old Hardware Store and it was way more interesting than Home Depot could ever dream of being.
My name is The Surest Sugar Maple. The Elders christened me with the namesake as a young child because of my propensity to take calculated risks that none of the other kids could wrap their wits around. I was the one that climbed the railroad trestle and tied the rope so we could fly out over the cliff and fall into the river. I hunted and snared the rattlesnakes that were fodder for our moccasins.
If I wasn’t sure about a dare or a challenge, I wouldn’t take it on until I had it figured out to where the odds were in my favor. I couldn’t be swayed but I could be bought. It served me well in Hollywood where I spent many years working with the likes of John Wayne, Fess Parker, and Jimmy Stewart. I was one of the Indians falling off horses, cliffs and bar stools. I have an abundance of physical wounds to show for it, but I am alive and a very rich man because of it.
I am also old, but I am not as decrepit as the cocky little teenagers think. They have begun to follow me at times and are over-confident, foolish and blind. Their bodies are full of fast food and drugs. They lack the power of observation. They only see an old man, they do not see beneath the surface where I am fleet as a gazelle when and if I need and want to be.
The Skinny One and The Vulture had been waiting to ambush me when I came out of the Wells Fargo on Biscayne Street. The Skinny One sidled up to me on my left while The Vulture nervously poked something implying a gun into my ribs.
“Gotcha old man,” The Skinny One hissed. He was their teenage lips, their fear and their bravado all mixed up into one. Of all the little gangsters that I had noticed he seemed like the one that was dangerous. “Just do as I say,” he said, “And maybe you’ll live to tell your chess playing Bros about shitting your pants down at the Wells Fargo.”
What he didn’t have was the gun. It was The Vulture that had the weapon in my ribs and I had since surmised that he had no business as a hoodlum. He was too sensitive, weak minded and a coward. Besides that, I had purposely bumped him with my elbow and there had been no weight behind the supposed weapon. It was either his finger or maybe a plastic water pistol.
They ushered me down Biscayne. An old man and a couple of teenagers out for a stroll. As they did so, I quickly concluded that I was probably in no real danger. That’s the luxury of having made a calculated risk, the odds are in your favor. When I added it up, one way or another they were destined to lose. They were high on adrenalin and probably cocaine. They were having visions of how they had already won.
I thought they were probably going to take me into the alley by Gordo’s Liquor Store. I had been in there and knew there was a recess about half way down that housed the liquor store garbage containers. It was smelly and full of shadows, a perfect spot for them to do their dirty deed. I’m sure they had it figured to where they’d be long gone by the time I was able to pick myself up and scramble for help.
I was pretty certain I wasn’t going to need any help. Of course a little doubt always seems to elbow it’s way in at times like these and this time was no exception. What if Skinny had the rest of the gang sequestered away in the alley for reinforcements. In that case, I would be overwhelmingly out numbered and in big trouble. This wasn’t a Hollywood stunt. This was real life, mine.
My antennae popped up and went on full alert. I had to be ready for anything.
We paused at the alley and both boys looked around. It was eerily quiet. The street was mostly empty of pedestrians and devoid of cars. Mrs. Cooley was putting out oranges in front of her tiny market and there was a lady walking her black poodle near the bank. Other than those two people nothing was going on. A surreptitious glance into the alley fortified my belief that it was also deserted.
“This way old man.”
Of course it was The Skinny One with all of his bravado that hissed and gave me a yank. I had planned to take them by the garbage cans, but the yank disengaged me from The Vulture and I used the momentum to fall and roll. I grabbed Skinny by the shirt, planted my feet in his groin and tossed him into the alley on the backside of my roll. There was a disconcerting crunch.
“You Mo Fo!” he growled in obvious pain.
That was sugar to my ears. I had him wounded but thankful that it wasn’t mortally.
I rolled back onto my feet into a crouch and braced myself to pounce on The Vulture. But The Vulture hadn’t moved, he was standing frozen at the mouth of the alley. His mind and eyes looked as if they were running on Meth overdrive.
“What the Hell you lookin at?” Skinny railed from the alley behind me, “Get the old coot.”
Vulture mustered a hesitant lurch toward me and then stopped as we locked eyes. He didn’t like what he was seeing and that was enough, he turned and boogied back up toward the bank.
I put my attention back on Skinny. He had managed to get himself into a sitting position up against the brick of the liquor store. His left ankle was clearly broken and was going to need a good surgeon to piece it back together. He moaned.
“I am going to go into the liquor store and call an ambulance,” I said, “But before I do I want to give you a little advice to think about. You do have the capacity to think, don’t you?”
He glared at me.
“I mean what I say.” I emphasized.
He continued to glare but was obviously struggling with the pain. I could see the beginnings of a crack forming in his facade.
“It goes like this,” I said, “The Vulture flew the coop. It is not a bad thing to do when flying is called for. He saved himself a world of hurt and a visit to the hospital. I know in your mind that he saved nothing because he didn’t save you. It is your intention to hurt him bad because you failed to hurt me. I’m telling you to drop it. You and your little gang. Just leave him alone. The consequences of dishonoring me and hurting him are not something you can afford.”
My eyes bore into him. “Do we have an understanding?” I asked as I pressed him harder with my will.
The pain was more than he could bear. He dropped his head and looked away. His body wilted and his bravado vanished into the broken lost child he truly was. A sob suddenly escaped his constricted throat.
I knelt beside him and gingerly put my hand on his head. It was a calculated risk I was willing to take. He flinched but didn’t bite. To his everlasting benefit, The Skinny One gave in. He asked for help.
I rose and turned to go.
“Thank you,” he said or he didn’t. I can’t say for sure, I can only hope.
Life itself is a calculated risk. You never fully know the consequences of your actions or inactions until after the fact. Those with honor do their best. Those with the heart of a snake become corporate bullies, psychiatrists or politicians. They do not kill before they eat. They simply poison and swallow you whole.
That is what happened to Berlinski’s Hardware. Ned stood and tried to fight the snake when he should have run. It swallowed him. He could have sold the property for half a fortune when Home Depot wanted it, but Ned hung on because he loved his business and its place in the community in which he had invested his life.
He was also stubborn.
“I don’t need any of your charity, nor do I want it,” he said shaking his head.
“It is not charity I’m offering. We can make good use of the property and I also need your help,” I consoled.
“Bullshit right back at yah. Look, I got accosted by those little punks. You know as well as I do it’ll happen again. If it hadn’t been me things would have turned out badly.”
Ned stared at the floor.
I pressed on.
“We can make something of this, Ned. Let go of the past. It’s time to move on.”
“You built something once, you can do it again. I believe in you and I believe in myself, and that’s not bullshit.”
“Okay! Okay, I’ll listen. I ain’t saying yes and I ain’t saying no. I’m just saying.”
“Good enough for me,” I said. “Let’s walk it off.”
Ned had grown accustomed to my hikes. He was even beginning to enjoy them as much as I did. We were loitering in a grove of eucalyptus looking down at the parking lot of the Home Depot and I was pointing at the array of buildings that had been his empire. It looked beaten and pushed into a corner by the corporate bullies.
“We can put in a new entrance off Biscayne,” I said. “There’s plenty of room for parking and expansion.”
“You know what she looks like to me?” Ned chuckled. “She looks like that hooker with the green wig and Beatle boots that hooks down there by Larry’s. She looks used up.”
“Used yes, but not used up,” I said. “We don’t need the current structures. we can start from the ground up and the wood from the buildings can be reclaimed for a lot of our interiors. Even the graffiti can be used to add some character. The kids will like that.”
“You really think this is a good idea?”
“No. I think it’s a great idea. With my money and your leadership, we can’t lose.”
Ned chewed on his lower lip for a few seconds and then smiled. He looked me straight in the eye and stuck out his right hand. I greedily grabbed it.
Ned let out a laugh. “Alright!” he exclaimed.
I ran into The Vulture as he was coming out of Mrs. Cooley’s market. He was carrying a paper bag with an assortment of healthy looking greens sticking out of the top.
“Good stuff.” I remarked, gesturing toward the bag.
His eyes darted right, then left two or three times before he backpedaled. Then he realized he had nowhere to go but out through me.
“How’s Skinny’s ankle?” I asked, hoping to disarm some of his mistrust.
The Vulture wanted no part of it. He sidled further away.
“He been bothering you any?” I asked.
The Vulture stepped toward me and feigned like he was going to scuttle out past me, but I didn’t budge.
“Those for your mother?” I asked, pointing to the greens.
He mustered a slight nod of his head.
“Good lady. Tell her Sugar says hi and wishes her a happy birthday.”
The Vulture dropped his guard slightly and a wry smile twitched his lips.
I turned to the side and let him scuttle past. He rocketed up the street like a worried crab.
I had already decided that I needed to pay Skinny a visit and my encounter with The Vulture reminded me I had better confront the matter directly. I needed him. He was one of the cornerstones for Ned’s and my endeavor though I hadn’t confessed this point to Ned.
Skinny was fairly smart and in the scheme of things I knew that could be his downfall. I needed to find out if his intelligence could be redirected toward a greater good and that would have a lot to do with how he perceived weakness and strength in himself and in others. I was hopeful after what had transpired in the alley by Gordo’s Liquor Store that I had a running chance.
I found him down at Tin Man’s Doughnuts. It was a popular hangout for many reasons. Mostly it was cheap but the doughnuts were actually pretty good and the coffee was rich and flavorful. The place was also lively. There were always chess games and people playing cards. It was populated by a mixed bag of gamers, gangsters, bookies and cops. It seemed that everyone got along while indulging in gambling and sweets at the Tin Man’s.
I hadn’t been there for a few months, but nothing had changed. it smelled of sugar and stale grease. The Tin Man was parked behind the counter lording over the cash register. He was very large, probably six foot five and 280 pounds. I think that is why everyone seemingly got along.
He cordially nodded at me and I nodded back.
Skinny was at the counter with a pair of crutches leaning against the wall a few feet to his right. His ankle was in a cast. I’d heard rumors that he’d invented a story about how he had been the victim of a nasty skateboard fall.
“I hear you fell off your board,” I said standing directly behind him.
“Yah, took a good one over on Petrero.” He said without turning around to see who I was. “I really busted up my ankle.”
“Tough hill to skate,” I said.
“Not so much,” he replied, “I just don’t give a shit.”
“Me either,” I said, “your version is as good as gold to me.”
Skinny didn’t need to turn around to know who was standing behind him, but he turned anyway and stood up to face me on his broken ankle. We were about the same height. He wasn’t a bad looking kid. He had long eyelashes that any woman would have envied. He also had high cheekbones that gave him an exotic look. His downfall was his perpetual sneer.
“I knew this day was comin,” he said quietly. “I have a rep, old man. You planing to step on me?”
Our noses were almost touching so we were virtually privately engaged in our conversation.
“Not today,” I replied, “I want you to keep your rep, so no, I won’t stand on you.”
“That be cool,” he said and relaxed noticeably.
“I’m interested in making a deal with you,” I said. “Care to hear me out?”
Skinny looked around Tin Man’s. Several of his peers were having coffee and trying to keep their pants from falling all the way to the ground. They were oblivious to our confrontation.
“Shoot.” Skinny said.
“I’m offering you a high paying role in my new venture,” I explained, “It involves being a leader. I need one.”
Skinny looked at me perplexed.
“You’re a natural,” I said. “You have what it takes. You have charisma.”
“Don’t know much about none of that,” he said. “Besides I already got me a job.”
“I ain’t offering you a job. I’m offering you a life.” I said emphasizing life.
His eyelashes twitched. “You want me to be an actor?”
“You’re already one of those, so no, I want you to be yourself.”
Again that puzzled look. I hoped that I hadn’t overstepped myself with my sarcasm.
“You want me to be myself? What kind of BS you talkin here anyway?”
“Not BS, I just need you to be yourself,” I said. ‘You interested?”
Skinny stared at me with his sneer in place. “This high pay, how much you talkin?”
“If you are in, I’d say $1,600.00 a week to begin with.” I said.
“You deal’n drugs or what, old man? I’m not into being served up as jail bait.”
“This has nothing to do with selling drugs or anything else against the law.”
“What is it I got to do for this money?”
“Meet with my partner and I. We’ll fill you in. I know it’ll be a bit cumbersome with your foot in a cast, but we’ll work it out.” I extended my hand.
Skinny stared at me long and hard then tentatively shook it.
“You have a bank account?” I asked him.
“Of course,” he said.
I pulled out my checkbook and wrote him a check for sixteen hundred dollars.
“First week’s pay in advance,” I said. “We’ll meet this Friday. Be here at noon and I’ll come and get you.”
Skinny almost gave up his perpetual sneer and snapped the check. He stuck it under his nose, took a long whiff and kissed it. Then in a flash it disappeared into his pocket.
Two fingers Kim had been sitting at a table near the door to Tin Man’s doughnuts when the old Indian walked passed and out the door. He had watched the Indian and the kid with the cast do their little dance and it didn’t add up. Why would the old guy write a check to a punk kid? The little prick had actually smiled and kissed the check. Something was going down.
Two fingers slipped out of his chair and followed the Indian.
It was a great day in SanFrancisco. It was sunny and warm for a change with only a slight breeze coming off the ocean. I decided to head down to the bay and snoop around to see if I could find some well washed beach glass. I like to make mosaic animals out of the old glass. Old stuff was getting harder to come by, but I had been having some luck when the tide was out.
I was currently working on a giraffe and needed to find some leg and hoof pieces. I had already completed the piece with paper and it was ready for the transition to glass. I thought it might be a nice center piece for our new reception area once Ned and I got rolling on the reconstruction project.
When I got down to the Embarcadero I decided to detour into the Walgreens across the street from the Hyatt. Someone was following me. I had felt his presence shortly after leaving the Tin Man’s. I didn’t know if Skinny had put a tail on me or what. Kid’s can be pretty sharp when it comes down to trust issues.
When I turned around I glanced about for anyone that had stopped moving. People that are tailing you tend to go into motionlessness if their target goes still or looks around. It is some kind of natural reaction under the circumstances and is almost like a poker tell. They don’t know they are giving themselves away because they are trying too hard to hide themselves behind their tell. That’s precisely why it is a tell.
I saw three people that fit the description. I immediately ruled out one of them because he was panhandling and dressed in street clothes that had seen better days. One of the other guys was talking on a cell phone and looking in my direction. He was dressed in a blue sports coat and expensive slacks. The last guy was kind of beefy with several tattoos visible on the backs of his arms and neck. He was pretending to look in the window of the Starbucks next-door . I recognized him, he was Two-Fingers Kim, our local drug trafficker. My tail.
Kim had been in jail enough times to own a time share. Though I had never met him up close and personal, I knew of him and his destructive wake. From what I heard, he was one tough Korean. His last arrest had taken a whole precinct of cops to take him down and haul him in.
I really couldn’t think of any possible reason why he would be following me. I turned and went into Walgreens. I walked to the back of the store and went through the door marked for employees only. The delivery area doors were closed and the docking area empty. I found the exit door out into the back alley and scurried back around toward Market Street.
When I came to the corner by the cable cars, I could see him still standing there by Starbucks. He was shifting from foot to foot getting antsy. I watched as he waited another few minutes and then went inside Walgreens to find me.
I decided to abandon my project and turn the tide on Two Fingers.
He came out of Walgreens about five minutes later. I have no idea what he thought or even if he thought at all. I gave him a half block head start up Market and followed discreetly.
Two fingers was taking his time. He was in dealing mode and I was learning a little more than I really cared to know. Kim had relationships with several of the local shops on and off Market Street. Your everyday business owners or their employees were apparently into whatever it was he was selling. Meth? Cocaine? Heroin? Maybe all or just some weed?
I had to keep my distance in order to not get spotted. He often looked around as if he were expecting the cops to show up at any moment. I was surprised they hadn’t since it was so obvious what he was up to. If I could garner this much information by following him a few short blocks, why didn’t the Narcs have a tail on him? Strange world.
Eventually Two Fingers made his way back to the Tin Man’s and sat down in a window seat by the door. As he did so I slipped into the Taco Bell just down the street so I could watch for a bit to see what might transpire. I ordered a couple of beef tacos and sat in a seat near the window.
I was into my second taco wishing I had ordered chicken when the Vulture lumbered by outside on the sidewalk. He was getting downright fat and I couldn’t help but think about the greens his mom was so fond of. The Vulture could use some of those greens. I felt sorry for the kid.
I watched as he jaywalked across Market and went into the Tin Man’s. He immediately slipped into the chair across from Two Fingers Kim. I felt a tinge of disappointment. This kid was a real loser if he was hanging around the likes of Kim. He was going to end up in a jail cell with some hard-ass nasty characters if he didn’t wise up.
A short while later both the Vulture and Kim walked out and headed my way. This time however, Kim grabbed the kid by the arm and pointed at the crosswalk. Goes to show you, even some criminals have manners. I slipped out of my seat and dissolved into the shadows back away from the window. I had come this far so I was willing to take it all the way. When they passed, I went out the door and followed as they headed up Market Street.
I was led into the Tenderloin District. My boys entered an apartment building about a block from City Hall. Before they entered, Two Fingers gave the Vulture a dressing down. His head dropped and his hands disappeared into his pockets as he stood there like a sponge and soaked it up. That’s how kids get molded into criminals, how terrorists become terrorists, they are weak and easily manipulated by the criminal mind.
I needed to calm down. I was getting mightily pissed-off and that was a sure road to poor judgement. I didn’t need to do anything stupid, Kim most likely was carrying a gun. I took a few breaths, shifted my weight and stayed put.
This area of San Francisco was not a place for a picnic. It always seems to amaze me how the areas associated with the government centers are the most degraded and crime ridden areas of our cities. It was disgraceful. If they were doing what they had been hired to do, you would think it would be the exact opposite. The Tenderloin should be thriving instead of dying.
The bleakness continued to eat at me. It was seeping into my soul like a bad mood. I needed to get a grip and put my attention on something more positive.
I started thinking about some of the possible makeovers for the hardware store when I was jolted back to reality by an addict that had been sleeping in the doorway next to the apartment building where my guys had entered. It was a she and she decided she had to take a crap. At least she had enough sense not to crap in her own front yard, instead she scuttled into a nearby alcove that appeared to be the entrance to some branch of the government, there she dropped her drawers and let loose.
Maybe they’d finally get the message!
Wishful thinking. I knew in my heart that it would simply be despatched to and swept away by someone paid to do their dirty work. Presto! No Shit!
The governmental bureaucracy was like a vampire. I could feel it sucking the life right out of me as depression starting getting a solid foothold.
I shook my head. The Tenderloin must be a psychiatric dream come true. A real cash cow to all the budding pill pushers fresh out of Medical School with their psychiatric Phd’s. Two Fingers was just beating them to the trough. He had conjured the means to alter reality. He had the goods. He was the Candy Man, Mr. Dream and the Ice Cream Maker all rolled into one big fat joint. He had a street Phd and that was all he needed.
I really wanted to leave. What was I trying to prove for God’s sake?
When I looked up, the Vulture came out of the apartment building, alone.
I sucked in a breath and popped out of myself.
The Vulture had an army type knapsack that he hadn’t had when he went in. It was slung over his left shoulder. He looked nervous and tense or maybe he was just jacked up on Cocaine or Meth.
I followed as he moved down Market Street and back toward some semblance of civilization.
I soon discovered that the Vulture had been recruited as a delivery boy. He was dispensing the goods and rather efficiently to Kim’s clients.
I needed to get out ahead of him if I wanted to witness a transaction, so when the Vulture left Market St. to go down fifth, I moved on down Market and went into a t-shirt shop that Two Fingers had solicited when I had been tailing him. I cruised down one of the aisles to the rear of the store near a set of stairs and parked myself behind a rack of Giant’s pullovers. I pretended to browse with interest through the shirts.
The Vulture strolled in a few minutes later and set his backpack on the floor near the counter. The clerk reached in and extracted an oblong package. It was wrapped in brown paper from a grocery bag with a note taped to it. The clerk removed the note and seemed satisfied. The Vulture picked up the pack and exited the store. No money was exchanged, no conversation, simple. Two Fingers was smarter than he looked, he was running a pay in advance for your poison racket. Efficient.
I had learned quite enough to satisfy my curiosity about the kid, so I let the Vulture walk. I moseyed up to the clerk and put a big smile on my face.
“You interested in an extended stay in an government sponsored apartment?”
He looked at me with a frown, “Hah?”
“San Quentin?” I said.
I watched hin slowly connect the dots. His face reddened and he looked away in an attempt to escape.
“That kid,” I told him, “is of personal interest to me. He’s only guilty because you are guilty. Without your guilt he would be innocent.”
Again that frown of puzzlement. “You a cop?” he asked.
“Everybody is,” I said and walked out.
Richard Rensberry, Author at QuickTurtle Books®