I’m going to be interviewed on streaming K-Tahoe radio – 96.1 – On Sat. Nov. 23 between 4-6 pm PST. Below is the link to the station. I’ll probably play some blues on Captain Tom’s Blues Cruise show, make an announcement and give away a freebie. Tune in on your computer.
Back at the Ranch
Lance looked up from his nook beneath the willow where he was reading and saw a dust cloud approaching. As the brown powdery curtain got closer, Sam’s truck emerged. Lance got up and walked down to the studio below the embankment to greet him.
Sam rushed in the front door carrying a bag of groceries and a Fresno Bee that he slapped on the table. ‘That little Korean terrorist pissant,” he said. “In my day we’d have sent a small group in there to take him out.”
Lance helped him put the groceries away. “Gotta be pretty tough in a closed country where everyone looks like everyone else.”
“A little tougher,” Sam said. “But not impossible. There are warriors for freedom everywhere.”
Lance put a gallon of milk in the refrigerator. “Is that what you did after Viet Nam?”
“How far are you in the manuscript?” Sam asked.
Lance shook his head. “It’s not fair to answer a question with a question.”
“Touché,” Sam said.
Shotgun ran in the open door smelling like a skunk and Sam chased him back outside. “The problem today is that we’ve got so much diversity in this country we’ve forgotten what our core values are.”
“This country was founded by foreign immigrants,” Lance reminded him. “Have you got something against cultural diversity? I mean, it’s the American way.”
“That’s true,” Sam responded. “I don’t have anything against diversity, but the immigrants who founded this country all spoke the King’s English.”
“That sounds prejudiced,” Lance said. “I mean, according to your manuscript here…” He held up the typewritten pages. “Beth was half Mexican and bilingual.”
Sam put a six-pack of Miller’s in the fridge. “Whoa there, son, I never said I had anything against Mexicans. I just don’t like the fact that every time I call some business or government agency I have to press 1 if I want to hear the instructions in English. In English? Come on. We’re not officially a bilingual country like our neighbors to the north. I sort of resent that, and it’s emblematic of the loss of some of our essence as a country and maybe some freedoms we used to enjoy.”
Lance folded the grocery sack and put it on the kitchen counter. “I don’t see how that represents a loss of freedom. 911 played more of a role in any loss of freedom than the immigrants from the south that seem to pick the food here in the valley and manicure all the lawns in California.”
Sam shook his head. “I’m talking more of an erosion of core values rather than immigrants, illegal or otherwise. I’m talking about blurred lines between right and wrong.”
Lance sat at the table. “That’s a stretch – and may I ask you sir, who determines what’s right and what’s wrong? You? The government? The Church?”
Sam stared at him. “You see, right there is the rub, bub. The line between good and bad is the God-given ability to discern between the right thing and the wrong thing to do.”
“And you have that?”
“I believe I do,” Sam said. “And it’s my duty to carry that tradition forward.”
Lance rubbed his chin. “So, let me get this straight. It’s your duty to enforce your concept of good and evil on other people? Let’s say I am your son, would you force your ideas about freedom on me – like I was some atheist, or, God forbid, some Islamic entity – even to the point of violence to enforce your will?”
“Listen,” Sam said. “It’s like Shotgun and the smell of that skunk he rolled in. Since there’s no way for me to communicate to him that the smell is offensive to me, he doesn’t know any better. To him it smells okay. To me it stinks, but I’m not going to kill him because he doesn’t know any better. However, I am going to run him off.”
“Yeah, but he likes it. It doesn’t work for you, but it works for him,” he said. “The boundaries of freedom keep changing all the time. When you were a kid it was civil rights, now that battle for equality has morphed into the recognition of gay marriage.”
Sam stood. “Don’t get me started. I understand that, but it’s not about this or that group’s rights. It’s always about human rights and not infringing on other people’s space.”
“Isn’t that kind of hypocritical?” Lance asked. “We do that all the time.”
Sam walked over and slapped Lance on the back. “Maybe you are my kid. You’re argumentative enough.”
“Yeah, well we’ll know about the bloodline in a few days,” Lance said.
Sam opened the refrigerator and popped a beer. “You want one?”
Lance shook his head. “Can I ask you about something in the manuscript?”
“Maybe,” Sam said. “Depends on how far you are and what remains to be discovered. I want you to finish the manuscript. If that test turns out positive, you have to know this story.”
“Can you tell more about the Illuminati and this Monarch Slave business, and did you ever recover that disk?”
“You’re jumpin’ way ahead of yourself, kid,” Sam said. “It’s not even Christmas Eve yet and you want to open all the presents. Hold your horses awhile. You got some more reading to do.”
“Crap,” Lance said. “Well tell me this much – did you recover the disk in San Francisco?”
“Did Ellen find the copy in her desk?”
“And you’re not going to tell me any more are you?”
“Not yet, keep reading.” Sam took his beer outside and walked toward his truck. “I’ve got some fences to mend for the boss.”
Lance followed him. “I thought you were the boss. Did you ever resolve your own questions about possibly being a Monarch Slave yourself?”
Sam winked and roared off in a burst of dust.
As Sam neared the toll booth on the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge, the community volunteer caught up with him. From there they rode the two bikes back toward the Marina Green where they found the couple.
“Here they are, like I promised,” Sam said to the man of the family as he rolled the bikes toward him.
“Thank you so much,” the dad replied. “Can I give you anything for your effort?”
Sam waved his hand. “Oh no, you did me a favor.” He looked at the mother. “And how are you doing?”
“I’m okay,” she said. “Just a little shaken. What happened to the man who stole my bike?”
Sam shook his head. “He jumped off the bridge.”
The woman gasped. “Oh no, he committed suicide over stealing a bicycle? Doesn’t make sense.”
“No it doesn’t,” Sam said. “I think there’s a lot more going on there than any of us know about – yet.”
The man reached out his hand. “Well, thanks, again. Hope you figure it out,”
Sam smiled and shook the man’s hand, and then turned to the volunteer. ‘Thanks for your help. You have a ride?”
“A squad car’s coming for me.”
“Cool.” Sam waved at the group and headed toward the parking garage across from Pier 39 to meet Beth, Robert and Ellen.
When he arrived at the car he found a note tacked to the windshield that read: “We’re at the Buena Vista.”
Great, I just walked by there. Someday they’ll make one of those Dick Tracy 2-way wrist radios.
He walked back to the Buena Vista and found them at a table near the front door.
“What happened?” Robert asked.
“Well,” Sam answered. “I found the guy, chased him on a bike out to the bridge where he jumped off.”
Beth put her hand on Sam’s arm. “Oh my gosh,” she said. “Did you recover the disk?”
Sam shook his head. “No – as far as I know the disk went into the bay with him.”
“We don’t know if he even had it on him.” Robert said. “He may have dumped it somewhere along the way.”
The waitress came and Sam ordered an Irish coffee. “That’s true. The only way we’ll know is if they recover the body and find the disk on him,” he said. “The police have my contact information, and if they recover the body soon, they know that they can find me here.”
“What a bummer,” Robert said. “We may never get it back.”
“Did you make another copy?” Sam asked.
Robert shook his head. “Nope, but I should have.”
“I did.” Ellen looked a little sheepish. “I found a three and a half inch floppy on your bedside stand, was curious and then took it to school to make a copy. After I made the copy, I put it in my bottom desk drawer and never looked at it again. I just wrote ‘The Matrix Key’ on it and forgot about it. Then I put the original back on your bedside table.”
“Why did you do that?” Robert asked.
“I was curious what was on it,” she said. “You never talked about it.”
“You never asked,” Robert said. “I have no secrets. I just thought I wouldn’t bother you with this mess.”
“If it concerns you and this family, I’m more than interested,” she said. “And I’m perfectly capable and willing to help in this battle with the Martinez clan.”
Sam put up his hand. “Okay, okay. Do you still have the disk?”
“I don’t know,” Ellen said. “I haven’t looked in that drawer for a long time. I’ll have to check that drawer when I get back to Fresno High.”
“Okay, that’s settled, when shall we leave?” Robert asked.
Sam gazed outside the restaurant and across the street. The afternoon sun cast a golden glow over the street artists. ‘Let me make a couple of calls first to make sure we have some protection at our homes. Then let me have another drink. We’ll wait a little while longer to see if the cops arrive.” He ordered another round for everyone and then stood to go to the restroom.
Robert grabbed his arm. “Did that guy say anything before he jumped?”
Sam sat back down. “He said, ‘Long live the Pindar.’”
“What the hell does that mean?” Robert asked.
“I have no idea,” Sam said.
“I might.” Beth interjected. “When I was doing research at Fresno State to get my Masters of Social Work I had a class the covered individual and mass mind control.” She took a sip of her drink. “In that study I came across a brainwashing technique called Monarch Mind Control where a suitable candidate is subjected to repeated abuse and torture until the candidate dissociates from reality and goes to a fantasy place in his head in order to escape, and from that place the handler can control the victim to do anything – even things that would have previously been morally, ethically or religiously reprehensible to that person.”
“I’m familiar with that,” Sam said. “The Nazi’s used it, and I hate to say it, but the CIA used it too with their MK-Ultra program, but I still don’t understand what that has to do with whatever the Pindar is.”
“You’ve heard of the Illuminati?” she asked.
Sam nodded. “I have,” he said. “It’s supposed to be some kind of shadow government or some mastermind group that supposedly plants agents in governments and corporations to hasten the establishment of a New World Order. I always took it as an invention of the conspiracy theorists and Hollywood writers.”
“Could be,” Beth responded. “I don’t know whether the organization is real or fictitious, but I do know the story which says that the Pindar is the head of the Illuminati and Monarch Slaves do the bidding of him and his followers to keep them in power.”
“Sounds crazy,” Robert said. “I’ve heard those stories and I don’t think any organization is together enough to pull off the wars, revolutions and financial shenanigans they’re accused of manipulating.”
“Maybe, maybe not,” Beth said. “I’m just telling you the story as I’ve read it.”
Sam excused himself to go to the bathroom. He couldn’t stop thinking about the guy who jumped off the bridge, the powerful Martinez family and the story that Beth had just related. The memory of his own past had some gaps. In fact, if he thought about it, he couldn’t remember a specific location or training technique after Viet Nam that would have enabled him to do the things that sometimes even suprised him.
Sam raced out the front door of Lefty O’Doul’s. He waded through the pedestrian traffic and looked up and down the street, but there was no sign of the man in the black leather jacket. His instincts told him to walk toward Powell where he crossed the cable car tracks and looked around. He spotted a cable car up the hill and caught a brief glimpse of what he thought was a black leather jacket.
He knew he couldn’t catch the cable car so he jumped out in the street and waved down a cab.
He gave the driver a $20 bill. “Follow that cable car,” he said.
“How far you wanna go?” the cabbie asked.
“As far as that cable car goes,” Sam answered. “Or until that guy in the black leather jacket jumps off. If you eat up that $20, I’ll give you more, but I may have to get out fast.”
The cable car hung a left at Jackson and kept going. “Why isn’t he stopping anywhere?” Sam asked.
“He’s on the Hyde Street line and probably late for a shift change down by the wharf,” he driver answered.
“They can do that?”
The driver smiled. “Apparently.”
The cable car passed by the west side of Russian Hill and kept going north toward Fisherman’s Wharf. Sam looked off to the east toward Coit Tower, conjuring the images and memories of coming back to the city 15 years earlier in 1975. Even under the pressure of retrieving the disk, he still marveled at the beauty of this Baghdad-by-the-Bay.
As the cable car neared the terminus at Aquatic Park, the man in the black leather jacket jumped off and headed in the direction of Ghirardelli Square.
Sam told the driver to stop. “You have enough money?” he asked.
The driver nodded. Sam grabbed his grip, slung it over his shoulder and followed the man.
The man crossed the street and went into the Buena Vista Café at the corner of Beach and Hyde. Sam remained outside and watched through the large front window as the man bellied up to the bar. He was served some kind of coffee drink in a clear glass.
Sam turned his back to the bar and thought about what he was going to do next. He surveyed the street artists lined up on the other side of Beach Street, hoping he could bring Beth back here at a different time, under more pleasant circumstances.
When he turned back around, the man was gone. He looked around and spotted him running west on Beach toward the Golden Gate Bridge. Sam sprinted after him.
Nearing the Marina Green, Sam was beginning to run out of gas as the man ahead of him seemed to be increasing the distance between them. Sam had now fallen about a half a block behind.
Suddenly, the man ran up on a young couple on a leisurely bike ride with their young child being pulled behind the dad in a little trailer. The man knocked the woman off her bike, jumped on it and pedaled away.
When Sam arrived at the scene he flashed his military ID at the dad. “Unhook the trailer and let me use your bike,” he said to the man. “I’ll make sure you get both bikes back safely. Just call the police and stay right around here.”
The man unhooked the carriage and Sam jumped on his bike and started after the assailant. He was a better bike rider than he was a runner, so he started gaining on the thief.
By the time they neared the Crissy Field Marsh, Sam was closing groundon the man. With the bay and Crissy Field on his right and the sprawling grounds of the Presidio and Highway 101 on his left, he felt that he would catch the guy by the time he dead-ended at Fort Point under the south end of the bridge.
But, when the man arrived at the ancient Civil War-era fort, and just as Sam thought he’d caught him, the assailant headed back up the hill toward 101 and the bridge.
Sam pedaled hard. He was winded, but driven to catch this guy, especially after he knocked the young mother off her bike. What kind of an animal would do that?
As the man neared the entrance to the bridge, he turned on his bike seat and fired a pistol shot at Sam. That son-of-a-bitch. Sam heard the police sirens behind him and he could see cop cars approaching southbound from the Sausalito side. He reached into his pack and withdrew the .38 pistol. He couldn’t fire because he was dodging pedestrians every few feet.
Near the center of the bridge the man dismounted his bike. Sam got off his bike about 50 yards away and cautiously approached the man.
“Get down!” he yelled to the crowd. Some people dropped to the concrete while others screamed and ran away from the developing scene.
The man pointed his weapon at Sam as armed policeman ran toward him from the opposite side.
“Put down the gun and give me the disk,” Sam said. “And there won’t be any more trouble. You don’t stand a chance.”
The man looked around and saw the cops running at him. Traffic was completely stopped on the bridge. Sam debated with himself about pulling the trigger.
“Give me the disk now,” Sam demanded. “It’s of no value to you. So far this is just a petty crime.”
“You have no idea,” the man yelled back.
In an instant, the man scaled the barrier and leapt up on the edge of the bridge. “Long live the Pindar!” he screamed. Then, he jumped into the stiff breeze and sailed toward the dark waters of San Francisco Bay.
Sam stuffed the .38 in his jacket pocket as the first cop arrived. They both stared down at the churning water. “Who was that guy?” the cop asked.
“I have no idea,” Sam said.
“What did he do?”
Sam turned to the cop. “He stole a valuable three and a half inch floppy disk from me, then assaulted a woman and stole her bike.”
The cop shook his head. “And he committed suicide over that?”
“I guess so,” Sam said. “Can you get that disk back for me?”
“Maybe,” the cop responded. “If we can recover the body and it’s still on his person.” He smiled. “That’s not always a slam dunk in these situations.”
“Ouch,” Sam said as he picked up the stolen bike. “How long do you think it might take to recover the body?”
“Could be hours or longer,” the cop responded. “I’ll need a number where we can reach you.”
Sam jotted a number on the cop’s note pad. “That’s my brother’s home number,” he said. “I don’t have a phone, just a pager.”
“Then give me that number and your home address.”
Sam quickly jotted down the additional numbers and then started walking the bikes back toward San Francisco.
“You need a lift, buddy?” the cop asked.
The afternoon wind from the Pacific billowed his jacket. “Not unless you’re willing to ride a bike,” Sam said. “It’ll take a long time to get through this snarled traffic and I have to get these bikes back to the couple that they were stolen from.”
“I do have a community volunteer in my patrol car.” The cop pointed with his thumb.
“Send him up,” Sam said. “Meanwhile I’ll be walking. You can find me at the Buena Vista if something develops soon.”
Sam and Beth jumped back in Robert’s truck and headed northwest toward Highway 101.
“Man, I do not want to drive in the city,” he said.
Beth gazed out the passenger window. “Me either. I’ll tell you what,” she said. “Let’s park at the Hayward BART station and take the train into San Francisco. We’ll be drivng close to the station anyway and if we luck out and find a parking spot, we can get over there in a hurry without the hassle.”
“BART goes across the bay?” He shook his head.
“Uh yeah,” she said. “Since before you came back from Viet Nam. Ever read the papers?”
“All the time,” he said. “I guess I missed that one.”
“It’s a tube under the bay.”
“Hmm,” he murmured. “Of course it is.”
At the Hayward Station parking lot, they lucked out and saw a car leaving a space. Beth jumped out and ran to the vacated spot to hold it for Sam. After a circuitous trip around the asphalt, he finally pulled into the empty slot.
“What took you so long?” she asked. “I had to run off two potential squatters and it wasn’t pretty.”
Sam smiled. “Good job. You need to add traffic cop to your considerable resume.”
She grabbed her briefcase. “More like public defender.”
Sam snatched his leather bag from behind the seat. He quickly unzipped the duffel and shoved the guns, ammo and Robert’s envelope inside.
“You can’t take those guns into the city,” she said.
He grabbed her arm as they dashed toward the station. “Why not?” he asked. “I carry a concealed weapon permit.”
She looked down at the bag. “Two weapons and enough ammunition to stop a small platoon? You’re just asking for trouble.”
They bought their round trip tickets and walked to the platform.
“I think we transfer at MacArthur Station in Oakland to go under the bay,” Beth said.
At MacArthur they got off the orange line and transferred to the red line for their trip across the bay. It was busier than expected, so they had to stand and grab an overhead rail for support. “Shouldn’t all these people already be at work?” he asked.
“Flex hours, darlin’,” she said. “They could ask the same about you.”
He smiled at her. “I’m always working.”
Beth looked up and down the aisle. “Maybe they are too.”
Sam thought about the white van and surveyed the passengers himself. This was not the time to take any chances.
They got off at the Civic Center on Market Street. The breezy weather in San Francisco was decidedly cooler than the warm spring in the valley. Sam took off his leather jacket and put it around Beth’s shoulders. They walked northeast, turned left on Mason and then right onto Geary, and found Lefty O‘Doul’s.
Inside, the place was buzzing with an afternoon lunch crowd. The place smelled like corned beef, cooked cabbage and beer. People were lined up in front of the hofbrau style steam table. Television sets broadcasting various sporting events hung from every available space. On the left side of the room, the wooden barstools were packed with patrons. Below the TVs, pictures of Lefty, the famous Giants’ pitcher-turned-outfielder-turned manager, lined the walls. There were photos with his buddy Joe DiMaggio and his wife Marilyn Monroe, and so many shots of Lefty with his arm around all the famous ball players of the era that it made Sam’s head spin.
As he approached the bar, an image in the back of the room caught his eye – an iconic life-sized sculpture of Marilyn Monroe, taken from the movie The Seven Year Itch, with her white skirt blowing up – was hard to miss. Then he heard Robert’s voice.
“Sam, Beth, over here.”
Robert and Ellen were seated at the far end of the bar, situated so that they could see the whole room.
Sam hugged Ellen and Robert hugged Beth. Then the women hugged each other.
Sam looked at Ellen. “You all right?”
Ellen shrugged her shoulders. “We’ll see,” she said. “We’re going to have to wait to get the test results from Stanford.”
“We’re praying,” Robert said. “Now, what’s this about both our places getting hit?”
“My guess is that they were looking for this.” Sam pulled the disk out of the envelope and held it up, then laid it on the top of the bar.
“Oh lord.” Robert exhaled. “I was hoping they’d never find out about the disks until we had to use them. What about the kids and the house?”
“They kids are fine. Ruth appears to be handling them just fine, but the house is a wreck. I imagine the cops will be getting in touch with you very soon. I told Ruth to lock the place up and we’d take care of the damage when we got back.”
“This is awful,” Ellen said. “How’d they get in?”
“I’m not sure,” Sam said. “I didn’t see any broken windows or damage around any of the entry doors. Who, besides Ruth and me, has a key?”
Robert looked at Ellen and they spoke simultaneously. “The housekeeper.”
“We better get home fast,” Ellen said.
“Just a minute,” Sam said. “We better think this out before we rush back home.” He summoned the bartender. “Give us another round over here and I’ll have a boilermaker – a Bud and a shot of Jack. Beth, how about you?”
“Just a glass of sparkling water with a twist of lemon,” she said. “Somebody has to stay cool here.”
Sam slapped a 20 dollar bill on the bar and squinted at her. “I’m cool.”
The bartender delivered the two beers and a shot for the guys and sparkling waters for the ladies. The women started to talk about the kids and Ellen’s symptoms.
“Where’s your car?” Sam asked Robert.
“Across the street from Pier 39 on the outside facing toward the water,” he replied. “We walked and took the cable car over here. Where are you?”
“We parked in Hayward and took BART in. I didn’t want to drive in town.”
Robert took a swallow of beer. “Can’t say I blame you. On the issue at hand, don’t you think it’s a good idea to get home quick?”
Sam dropped his shot into the beer glass and drank the whole thing. “Yes and no,” he said. “They’re gonna be waiting for us. They know we have the disks. Do you have the other one?”
Robert pulled the other disk out of his sport coat pocket and held it in his open hand. “Right here,” he said.
“Aren’t they identical?” Sam asked.
“Not completely,” Robert replied. “There is a lot of the same information on both of them, but they are not identical. You can’t have one without the other in order to mount an ironclad case.”
Sam stared at the disk lying on top of the bar. “By the way, I have your two hand guns.”
“Why?” Robert asked.
“Because I thought they’d be safer with me rather than hanging around at your place with your security breached and all that.”
Just then, a man with short cropped dark hair, wearing a black leather jacket, hustled around the corner of the bar from the directon of the restrooms. He swept his hand along the bar, grabbed Sam’s disk before he knew what was happening and sprinted for the door.
Sam grabbed his pack and headed after the man. He shouted back over his shoulder. “Meet me at your car.”