I sat cross legged on the floor, my coat in my lap, needle and thread in my hand. Letting my mind wander as I sewed beads onto the coat. Yellow bead, yellow bead, yellow bead, white bead.
“That bitch is worth fifty thousand dollars.”
At the time I had dismissed the words as foolish piffle, but now I felt it time to reevaluate that premise. The siege had been going on for so long now and the addition of the cameras and listening devices, this was no small matter. There was defiantly money involved here and organization. Fifty thousand.
I thought briefly that I was trapped in one of those sadistic reality shows. I can see the little marketing geek jumping all over an idea like this.
“You see chief we just pick some schmuck at random out of the phone book and pay a bunch of wanna be Soprano’s bit actors to try and kill the target. I tell ya chief the ratings will go through the roof.
I rejected the idea only because admitted whores only get to show up in reality TV in Cops.
Yellow bead, yellow bead, I let my fingers do their work and let my mind wander.
I rummage through my mental file cabinet pulling out the files marked odd. Looking for a pattern in the puzzle. When exactly did everything go so horribly, horribly wrong? What impossibly improbable sequence of events has resulted in this bizarre moment in my life?
Odd file; A few months before all heck broke lose the San Francisco Bay Guardian a free weekly newspaper in town had a long article about gang involvement with massage parlors in the city. Accompanying the article was a picture of my apartment window right next to the Empire Massage sign.
Odd file; Not long after one of my neighbors had a nasty death. I came home late one rainy night to find the fire department, cops and emts all around my building. Never a good thing. One of my neighbors had apparently jumped to his death. He was found on top of the buildings Garbage container inside the inner court of the building. A broken doll lying atop discarded pizza boxes and shattered glass. It was ruled a suicide.
There were a couple of things about his death that struck me as off at the time. Mind you I didn’t go all Mrs. Marple over it, but still. He didn’t leave a suicide note, well nothing odd about that, most suicides don’t bother with such nice detail. Why that is so I can’t imagine, if one is going to stalk off and leave the party in such a dramatic way you would think you would put some thought into your exit lines. What struck me as off was the manner and location of his death.
Jumping to your death. Why jump off a five story tall building when we have a perfectly good bridge for that sort of thing? Most suicides are solitary affairs, in our culture any way. Like a wounded animal they crawl off into the solitary shadows to die. Jumpers, however are the exception. Jumpers are suicides with a flare for the dramatic and they want an audience for their big scene. He didn’t ‘jump’ off the street side of the building where he would have been seen. He ‘jumped’ to his death to the inner court of the building, a place always in the shadows, a place no one but the garbage man ever goes into.
The part that really struck me as off was the fact that he landed on top of the buildings garbage container. The top of the garbage container was a good 12 or 15 foot off the ground.
All jumpers look down first. Bungee jumpers, parachutists, suicides, they all look before they leap. Why would a suicide leap from the building from the one spot least likely to be immediately fatal? Jumpers think, SPLAT, lights out, they don’t think, ‘ writhing in agony atop a pile of rotting garbage yeh that’s the ticket. ‘
Odd file; The empty building next door. Emptiness, it’s not a quality you notice at first. It is a growing sense of, wrongness, a sense of something, missing. The two buildings were close together cheek to jowl, you can step from one roof top to the next with no disturbing daylight between your shoes.
I passed this building everyday and didn’t give it any thought, but over time this sense of something missing begins nagging at me.
The building was empty, not abandoned, not ill kept, just empty. It was empty when I moved into my apartment. It was still empty. San Francisco has some of the highest rents and lowest vacancy rates of any city in the world and here sits an empty apartment building in the center of the city. Who leaves a cash cow unmilked? For four years?
Halloween night a couple of months before my neighbor had his unfortunate encounter with gravity, he and some of his friends from the CIA (cook school not spy school) were having a party up on the roof. A gathering of aspiring chiefs want to share their beer and brownies, sure I’m in.
Young men + beer= mischief.
They wanted to go exploring.
The two buildings were cheek by jowl.
And wouldn’t you know the empty buildings roof top door was unlocked?
Abandoned is the element of things left behind. Empty is a thing waiting to be filled.
The building was empty. Every room was perfect, new carpet, shinny new sinks, no dust. Four years at least four years empty, shinny sinks, no dust. I left after a few minutes. A haunted house I can handle but this was just creepy.
About a week after my neighbors death some workmen arrived to the empty building and took out all the brand new carpeting I had seen in those empty rooms, in big ragged rolls.
Odd file; The cars now involved in my siege had arrived in the neighborhood right about the same time as the work men removed the carpeting next door. Parking in the alley with their get smart codes of honking horns.
Bead by bead the pattern on my coat grew under my hands. I moved the puzzle pieces around in my mind.
Odd file; The succession of decidedly unusual short term tenants in the apartment above me.
Odd file; The fact that so many of the apartments in my building were now vacant. This in a time when any vacancy is filled before the ink on the paper advertising the fact dries.
Bead by bead the pattern on my coat grew under my hands. I moved the puzzle pieces around in my mind.
Then snap the pieces fell into place and my stomach clenched around a fist of ice. Like the moment when you see the mac truck barreling down at you going a hundred miles an hour and the only thought going through your head is:
(“Shit, this is really going to suck.”)
And then I laughed.
Clutching my coat rocking with laughter.
It was drugs, of course, in a big way, and Boccie was in it, in it, right up to his sharks toothed grin. The kicker, it wasn’t about me. It was my apartment they were after. Just like they say in real estate, Location, Location, Location.
The apartment above me the one below me and mine shared one thing, all three apartments were the ones that had windows facing out onto O’Farrell street and were the ones that inside the building faced the only stairwell and elevator in the building. With those apartments, one would know everyone who entered or left the building.
I thought about the building next door, could that be where they are either storing and or manufacturing their drugs? Distribute through the Massage Pallor but keep the main supplies off sight. If the cops searched the Massage pallor all they would find would be small quantities they could blame on the whores working the place.
The fifty thousand wasn’t for my death so much as simply to scare me enough to move out of my apartment. An old folk tale came to my mind.
The tale of the sun and the west wind.
Once upon a time in the misty days when the world was young the sun and the west wind got into a pissing match over which of them had more influence over the actions of men.
Just then quite coincidentally a young man appears walking on the road below the arguing sun and west wind. He is walking with the loose limber carefree stride of a youth not quite totally misspent. His long duster coat open and flapping free about his knees.
The sun proposes a contest. Which ever of us can get the man below to remove his coat is the winner. The wind accepted the challenge and took the first go.
The wind blew upon the young man, the man buttoned up his coat. The wind blew harder, the man belted his coat. The wind blew upon the man til the wind was quite purple with the effort. The man gripped his coat tight in both hands and leaned into the stubborn wind.
Then the sun took his turn and he shone bright and warm down upon the man.
I guess we all know who went to the celestial bar with bragging rights that night.
I don’t think Boccie read many fairy tales growing up.
I set aside the coat and went to the kitchen for some tea. I sat myself comfortably into my gold leafed wicker chair and looked up at the ceiling. Time to have a little talk.
“All righty then.” I began “First off, Mr. Boccie, you’ve been a very bad landlord and I am decidedly not happy.” I lift my teacup to the ceiling with a wry smile and continued.
“You are involved in the drug business. The building next door the massage pallor, you, I don’t need to know all the details to see the picture. All this noise and foolishness,” I gesture to the window. “You all want my apartment.”
“First point, I do not care about your business. Hell I like drugs. If I had known a drug warehouse was right next door all I would have done was become a customer. Would have been soo convenient.
“Second point: you want my apartment. Well for heaven’s sake why didn’t you just ask?. I mean really now I am not an unreasonable woman and I would think that my , , profession would tell you that I really have no qualms over being bought off. If you had come to me and simply offered me a different apartment at the same rent in another or your buildings and a bit of money for moving costs. I would have gone, simple as that No muss no fuss no questions.”
But nooo.. You all decided to get all up in my grill.”
“While I have no trouble with you ‘little’ drug business. I don’t like bullies. Mr. Boccie you have been a bad landlord and that is going to cost you. You hired the nit wit gang to harass me, to frighten me into running away from My apartment. That is just down right rude.”
“So here’s the deal. You offered them fifty grand to get me out of my apartment. As investments go I think you will have to admit that you really are not getting your monies worth. In fact things have gone from bad to worse. Your victim hasn’t run away and has now figured out a lot of things I am sure you would rather she had not. So cut your losses. Pay me the money you offered the nit wit gang and I will go. No muss, no fuss, no questions. I will turn my back on you, this apartment and even California. All your problems here solved.”
“Now honestly I don’t expect you to do this. I have found that once a person starts a foolish course of action their ego insists they keep going no matter how foolish. Some part of you convinced that you can prove folly wise by dedication.”
“But I do like to give people a chance to make a better choice. Consider carefully, continue down a path that hasn’t worked and has in fact resulted in the exact opposite of your desires, or be reasonable and make a deal”
“Of course you think to your self that you have the men, the money, the guns, terrible to give into a mere woman, and a whore at that. I’m sure you find that a bit galling.”
“Still, you think I’ve been an annoying pain in the ass so far?”
I smile around the lip of my tea cup.
“Well I’m going to bed. You all think it over.”
I rinsed the cup out in the sink and went to bed. Drifting off to sleep to a lullaby of death threats.