Sunday, July 24, 2011

If you want me I'll be in the bar

Excerpt from Jacki’s Diary

February 14, 1975

I’m not usually the romantic type, but if I were going to be, I guess Mark Stokes would be somebody I could feel that way about.  He and I are both on the Planning Commission for the Temple, the PC.  He’s a security guy, a bodyguard, and he has the body to prove it.  But he’s strong inside, too, like me, and he gets where I’m coming from, in a lot of ways.  He actually asked me out for a date tonight – Mark Stokes, a date – which was kind of unbelievable to me.  Because most of the time he’s either being cynical, or a smart ass, or doesn’t say a word, which is strange, because he used to be a reporter.  He really first came to the Temple to do an exposé on Jim, but then he fell in love with us.  Imagine that.

So anyway, we went on a date.  We went to Alioto’s down on the wharf, right next to that little bar The Tide.  We like Alioto’s because Jim has lots of friends there and he takes us out to eat there all the time, so the waiters know us and treat us really well.  The same guy, Oriano, owns half that block, and when Jim comes in, he treats him like royalty.  So we get a little overflow from that at Alioto’s whenever we go in.

Real late, about 11:00, George Moscone came in, the State Senator.  He came through the side door from The Tide with Oriano.  He worked the room first, and then he sat with us, just to ask about Jim and letting me know that he hoped we’d be there for him now that he was going to announce for mayor.  I told him I was pretty sure that’s what Jim had in mind, but that was for Jim to say.

Bonnie, that girl I told you about before that stays close to Moscone and feeds us information on him, has our man Milk locked down, too.  He’s even openly on our team, my good buddy Harvey.  He helps me get stuff on people to assist in bringing them over to our side.  There’s a few of our guys and girls he and his secret government pals have taken a special liking to.   Harvey likes the guys best.

Bonnie says Moscone seems like a solid guy, someone we can depend on because he’s one of those rare people who’s actually good, and probably a little naive.  He tells her how he loves what we’re doing with foster kids and the elderly and the homeless, and how he’ll support our projects with them.  And in public, in daylight, that doesn’t change.  Moscone tells us he likes the way Jim works, negotiating and listening instead of just opening his mouth when he’s working to make a deal.  So I know we’ll be there for him when he runs, full force.  Harvey, too, a good man, for the people.  He loves us because we make no distinctions between gay and straight.  That’s rare in a church.

So Stokes and I had abalone and split a bottle of Bolla Soave, plus a glass of port each.  We were feeling pretty good by the time we were done.   Then we smoked a doob in the pickup.  We have to be careful the membership doesn’t see us do that, because they’re not supposed to do those things, since it’s that kind of stuff that led to them being down and out in the first place.

Anyway, he drove us up to Twin Peaks afterward, and we looked at the view a little while.  That’s when I started thinking that if I was going to have feelings about anybody, it would be Stokes.  So we did it in the cab of the pickup.  Even though Jim matches us up with people all the time that way, in my case usually with himself, it’s hard to be jaded when you’re with somebody like Mark.  He’s memorable.

Next week I’m flying out to the project in Guyana to take a look and visit Burnham’s aide in Georgetown.  I think I’ll take Stokes with me.  He was one of the first guys on the ground when they started clearing jungle out there, and I know he’ll wind up back there when we start moving people in any kind of numbers.  Maybe he and I can clear some jungle together.

February 19, 1975

It looks like it’s going to be just me and Stokes on the Guyana trip Friday.  For a minute, Jim was thinking he wanted to go too, just to take a look at how things are going and do some promotional filming.  He wanted to bring the new guy, Roger, with him, but Roger’s parole officer said it was too soon for him to travel out of the country.  Jim kind of has a crush on Roger and has already made a mascot out of him, so he doesn’t want to leave him behind.  That, and his “kidneys” have been acting up again.  Maybe if he didn’t take so many meds his kidneys would be better off.

Roger was at Berkeley the year before I started there – small world.  He was a zoology major.  But then he got arrested right near the end of school. Dope charge.  Almost blew my mind when I found out he was living with Barb right up until he got busted!  Amazing.  What a small world.

Once we get Moscone in office, getting people out of the country should be easier.  We’re going to have a lot of parolees we need to get out, and George will help us expedite that, because he knows what we’re trying to do.  And it’ll be even easier after Jim gets Tim, our attorney, appointed to the DA’s office.  At least that’s the plan right now, that and a commission appointment for Jim.  Kind of a similar plan to what we did in Ukiah.
Roger’s been with the Temple since the middle of January, not too long, since a few months after they let him out.  Him getting busted for dope was totally bogus if you ask me because he was even a Rastafarian at the time. 

Apparently he was a Moonie for a while, back in ’71 before Moon came to America.  But he dropped out pretty early on – Barb wasn’t willing to take the whole ride with him, and he just wouldn’t let her go.  Things I never knew and wouldn’t have guessed about Barb, huh?  Living with a guy and everything.  Roger has a lot of potential, though –smart and intense, and super good looking.  We’ve just got to make sure he’s got a girl nearby if we want to keep him.  We’ll see how he does with Jim.

So even though Jim is the only “real heterosexual” in the whole congregation (at least that’s what he tells us – ha) and everybody else is supposed to be homosexual when it comes down to the bottom of it (he says all people are homosexual, except him), Jim swings that way himself from time to time.  Like the time he got arrested in the public restroom in ’73 for propositioning a male police officer.  That made a mess in the paper for a little while, but we survived it.  We are good survivors.

March 1, 1975

Moscone spoke to the congregation and met with the PC today, and we talked about strategy.  The election’s in December, with him in office by January if everything goes right. 

We just need to be sure we keep people on track when they’re chit-chatting amongst themselves.  Just watch what happens if one person disagrees with where we’re headed.  If you have the group well-trained, it will manage itself, and they’ll put down the one who’s disagreeing.  But if you start getting two or three more, the whole thing topples like a house of cards.  So we do whatever it takes to keep things stable.  That’s our responsibility.  And if that means we have to get tough, so be it.  That’s why we have catharsis.

The revolutionary suicide thing is picking up speed in Jim’s head.  It can’t be just him that dies, he says.  It has to be everybody, or our message becomes no message at all.  Right now his succession plan for himself is his wife, but we’ll have to see about that.  Sometimes he doesn’t know his own mind and he needs me to give it back to him.  Thank God he listens to me. 

I have to admit, I don’t know if I could do it myself.  I’m just glad I always know what’s in the punch.  People drink that stuff straight down when we have the drills, and they really aren’t a hundred percent sure what’s in it.  Jim even has it made so it tastes bad, so people aren’t sure, and then he knows they’re loyal.

But why everybody?  Why does everybody have to die?  I’ll have to keep working with him on this one.  Some days, I’m the only mind he’s got.  He may be the Father, but I’m the Mother.  Not Marceline.

Staying out in the mainstream seems to help Jim stay saner.  To have people around like the mayor, the Assemblyman, the DA’s office, the Lieutenant Governor (Dymally - he loves Jim) -  I’m hoping that will keep Jim grounded.  

Some days, I even pray for him.  But I wish I could pray like Barb.  I will never forget her as long as I live.  Nobody prays like Barb, so that it makes a difference.  She would tell you, though, it isn’t her, it’s Him.  The Him I can’t find most days, especially where Jim is concerned.  In the Temple, it’s Jim that calls the shots, not Him, and that’s never going to change.

Anyway, there’s going to be a need for lots of busloads to go to rallies for Moscone, and lots of canvassing, phone-banking, and door-to-door, and if things get too close toward the end, Jim and I will sit down with George and come up with something more creative.  But whatever happens, make no mistake, we will win.

*  *  *


7:00 am sharp that Sunday I punched the doorbell next to “Lawson, V.,” at the doorstep I had known until recently as Blondie’s, and only from a distance.   There were three doorbells side by side, each above a brass-plated mailbox with a tiny keyhole, and a microphone covered by a brass plate at the top, just high enough that I had to stand on my tiptoes to get my mouth near it.  The three granite steps leading up to the stoop had two paths worn into them by more than three-quarters of a century of feet, one path up and one down.  The massive oak-framed front door was mostly a leaded clear glass window that filled most of the center of it, backed by a sheer white curtain stretched from top to bottom and gathered on two brass rods.  Vaguely through the glass you could see the ornate Victorian patterned carpet in maroon and gold and dark green, harking back to the pre-earthquake time when the building was first born.  My 1950’s style rehabbed Victorian across the street was clearly outclassed by a mile.

Valerie’s voice came amplified out through the little brass plate.  “Shel, is that you?”

“It’s me,” I replied, and the door buzzed, letting me pass as I pressed on the tab above the handle.  I climbed two flights of bordello-carpeted stairs, hugging the heavy mahogany handrail, up to the third floor flat.  Val was waiting for me at the top with the door open.

“I forgot to tell you how to get here, but then later I remembered that you already knew,” she joked.

“Yeah, it has been a little like ‘Rear Window,’ I must say, except no dead body,” I poked back, grinning.  I felt vaguely hollow inside, wishing I had been able to get through to Jacki.  Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

“No dead body - at least not yet,” she winked, as she led me inside over to a maroon velvet Regency sofa, just one of ten or twelve period pieces that filled out the décor of her main room, including a claw footed coffee table where crockery, flatware, and a plate of toast and fruit were laid out on a bamboo tray. 

The small living area overlooked the garden behind her building and the garden of the building on Larkin which backed up to hers.  The window frames and sills were the original dark wood and highly polished, with half-moon shaped clear leaded glass windows above each panel in the large bay.  A dark wood fireplace almost filled one wall of the room, with a brass grate shaped like a peacock tail covering the opening.  I felt like I had stepped back in time, or onto a page of Architectural Digest.

“This is beautiful, Val.  I don’t mean to be flip, but TV producers must do really well,” I said, admiring the gardens outside the window as Val took the cups into the kitchen and filled them with coffee.  No Cost Plus batik room dividers in here, that was for sure.  I put a piece of toast and a slice of cantaloupe on my plate as Val returned from the kitchen.

“I do OK,” she said, sitting down.  “Actually, my Dad helps me out a lot.  He has a huge inheritance, old money you might say.”  She seemed almost a little embarrassed.

“Well, it’s beautiful.  It’s kind of like a vacation just being in here.  You must love it.”

“Most of the time.  Anyway,” she said, changing the subject, “I have some ideas for my Dad’s party.  But why don’t you tell me what you’re thinking first, and I might change my mind.” She set her coffee cup on the bamboo tray.   The morning Chronicle and the Rolling Stone were on the seat between us, and she picked them up and set them aside on an end table before leaning back into the cushion to listen.

Now that she was ready, I plunged in headfirst. “It came over me later that I had forgotten to ask you how many people were coming. And is it sit-down, or buffet?”  I asked, feeling out my new role as independent businesswoman.

“Hey, you’re good at this already! I forgot to mention any of that, you’re right,” she laughed.  It’s going to be about fifteen people, mostly in their fifties except my teenaged sister, lunch, semi-casual but elegant, and buffet.  I’ll have people start showing up around 11:00.  We could use this table over here.”  She popped up and went through an open archway behind her to a formal dining room, in which there was a spindle legged mahogany table to seat eight, covered with a white cotton tablecloth bordered with petit point lilacs.  There was a china cabinet behind it, and behind its leaded glass doors, a collection of Limoges that I had to stop and look at before I could go any further.

“They were my Grandma’s,” she said, opening one of the doors and taking out a seashell patterned charger.  “Dad would probably love it if we used Grandma’s china.”

“Is this the type of group that won’t drop it?”  I asked.  “I only ask because I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone over to my place that I would trust handling that plate you’re holding, not on a buffet.”

She looked a little far away. “Like my Dad always says, you can’t take it with you.  Let’s use it.”

“Whatever the boss wants,” I grinned.  “OK, so how about we start with their choice of mimosas or Champagne when they come in the door, and I’ll have out an assortment of hors d’oeuvres.  You know, watercress and sweet butter on cocktail white, hardboiled egg rounds on pumpernickel topped with Osetra, pastry puffs stuffed with crab salad.  Stuff like that.   If you want, we could have oysters on the half shell, too.”

“You’re making my mouth water.  I guess that’s a good sign.  Keep going.”

“Then lunch could be a fresh mushroom soup, followed by an herbed chicken ravioli topped with sage butter and hand grated Pecorino Romano, roasted green beans with fresh lemon and garlic, a Bibb lettuce salad with toasted slivered almonds and mandarin orange vinaigrette, and an apple tart for dessert.  Home-made whipped cream, of course, with orange zest.”

“That’ll knock their socks off.  Just come up with a budget and I’ll give you cash to shop, OK?  But don’t shop at Lighthouse,” she said, putting the charger back, and moving back toward the living room.  “Now, there’s just one more thing I want to talk about.”

Oh, crap, I thought.  Last time she said that I had to give her a basketball card.  Now what?  I followed her back to the sofa, and we both sat down.  As she turned to face me, she looked more than a little uncomfortable, but she still held eye contact, and cleared her throat.

“I’ve been doing some investigating for a story on organized crime.  As I was doing research with some of my sources, I came across Lighthouse.”  

Crap.  I knew it.

“How do you know your source knows what he, or she, is talking about?” I asked dully.

“I can’t tell you that, Shel.  But I can tell you this.  One of my sources is me.”  She waited for me to say something. 

“What do you mean, one of your sources is you?”  I looked at her hard, wondering how far she would go for a story.

She paused only for a second.  “I can’t tell you everything I know.  But I’ll tell you how I know.  I’m having an affair with Ray.”

Aw, jeez, don’t tell me that.  That can’t be.  Not Ray.  Ray has Nannette.  Ray and Nannette rule.  They have two kids and Pong and Pac-Man, and parties at their house.  They have matching bowling shirts.  He wouldn’t do that to Nannette, not with a customer, not with Val.

“I don’t believe it,” I said.  “I just don’t.  You’re mistaken.”  I balled my hands into fists so hard the nails bit into the palms.

“I can’t tell you details about what I know, but there is definitely something there, and it will only be a matter of time before we prove it,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Have you gone to the police with this?  If you know something specific and it’s as serious as you make it sound, you need to go to the police instead of wasting time on a news story.”  I was starting to get irritated now, wondering what she really knew, or if she was just fishing for the big one.  Anyway, I had never felt really suspicious of Ray before, not as suspicious as I felt of Valerie right then.  That much I knew.

She went on. “Shel, I know this is a shock, but my information is first hand, and there’s no mistake.  I just want to know if you’ve seen anything that confirms it, that’s all.  I’m already working with the police.  They know everything I know, and they know all of the people who work at Lighthouse, including you.  And it’s not you they’re interested in, not at all, believe me.  You’re just a bystander.”

Even though I knew I ought to be glad to be nothing but a bystander, I still felt belittled and hurt.  “What about Bruno?” I asked, afraid to hear the answer.

“We don’t know anything specific about Bruno, but he might be a bystander, too.  Or he might not.  We just don’t know, so you can assume the best for now, but still be very cautious.  Just please tell me, have you seen anything?”  She took my hand into both of hers now, and held it.

In that moment, feeling trapped like a rat, I decided to talk to her; so I just gritted my teeth, and did it. 

“Well, besides the cards, which are obviously something, instead of the nothing I told myself they were . . .”

 I stopped, tears welling up in my eyes.  Val patted my hand, and I continued.  

“Other than the cards, I’ve only seen one thing that looked funny.  One night I saw Ray with two men, both Chinese I think, about 12:30, that’s after midnight, a couple of months ago on the loading dock.  They were standing over two stacks of long wooden crates.  The crates had Chinese characters on them, and there was excelsior sticking out.  Ray looked really nervous that I was there, and shooed me home.  The other guys didn’t say much.  Ray said he was considering adding lychee fruit and stuff like that to the inventory, and bird’s nest soup.  I was supposed to think that’s what was in the crates.  But I’ve never seen him add anything like that to the inventory since then.”

Her eyes got very bright.  “I know exactly who those guys are.  I have a reporter working on them, too.  Did Ray say anything to you about who they were?”

“Yeah, he said they were from a Chinese market, I think up Vallejo, but I can’t remember the name.  Sun something.”

“Well, that probably wasn’t lychee fruit.  We think Ray is brokering guns right here in the city, but there’s one group he’s close to that we’re really worried about.  We think they’re moving weapons out of the country, someplace in South America.  But we haven’t proved it yet.  I can’t tell you any more than that.  It’s possible you may get called as a witness, but I doubt it.  From what you’re telling me, you really haven’t seen anything that it hasn’t been possible to explain away.  Ray is a very smart man.  But if you do see something that obviously isn’t good, will you tell me?  If you see something like that, you won’t have any doubts, not in this case.”

“I will definitely tell someone, I promise you that,” I replied curtly.  “Either you or the police.  But if I don’t see anything that’s obviously not good, I’m not going to let my imagination run away with me, either.  Understand?” 

“I do,” she answered emphatically.  “That’s as it should be.  You just go on with your life, and don’t worry about anything, unless you see something.  I’ll get you the business card for the detective I’m working with and you can call him directly.”

Suddenly I felt very tired.  And as much as I felt tired, I was scared, for me and for Bruno.  I did not believe for a minute that there was anything wrong with Bruno.  He was just a kid like me.  What could he possibly be into?  He still lived with his mother, for Pete’s sake, although the way he thought about it, his mother lived with him.  I just prayed that Ray wouldn’t get him sucked into anything that would ruin his life.

So here it was, only 8:30 in the morning, and my whole world had already been turned inside out.  And there wasn’t a soul in the world I could tell, not even my sweetheart, whose life might be in my hands.  Who knew? 

I sighed, and said, “I’ll take care of the shopping list tonight.  But I need to ask you one thing before I go.  Are you having an affair with Ray because you want to, or because you’re trying to get a story?”

Val looked down at her hands.  “Probably a little of both,” she said quietly.  Suddenly I wondered what voices she heard in her head when she was alone at night. 

After I got home, I lay down on the velveteen dumpster-dive sectional and slept like a rock till 10:00. 

Thankfully, I didn’t have to work at all that day, and since it was Sunday, I didn’t have class.  As it turned out, I needed the whole day to decompress, so I begged off seeing Bruno that afternoon and just walked down Hyde Street, all the way to the pier, and then sat in the Buena Vista nursing an Irish coffee until the demons had moved out, and a whiskey-hazed faith in human nature had taken its place.

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