Copyright 2015 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California
By the light offered by the lamp posts Steele moved with stealth into the crowd gathered at the head of the cable car. A knitted watch cap lying on the ground underneath a bench caught his eye. He looked around to see if anyone was looking for it. Everyone faced toward where Stetson’s body laid. Steele picked up the cap, shook the leaves out of it, and put it on. His body tensed with alert as he spotted the man who had been eating dinner at an adjoining table. In quick steps the man headed right for him. But he slowed down as he got closer, and without a pause he glided pass Steele without showing any recognition. Damn if the simplest things don’t make the best disguises.
In the dark Steele felt confident as a stranger. That was one of the charms of being a tourist in San Francisco. Striking up conversations with strangers in public places had a safety rope. When ready to move on, strangers would just say, “Good-bye, have a wonderful day,” and be gone. Tonight, Steele stopped in the midst of a family group or a couple to pipe in a joke, or add a flattering comment.
The bold voice of a young teenager caused an unpleasant reaction from the crowd. “Hey you guys, I just heard that a man’s hurt over behind this cable car and that there’s blood all over the place.” He paused, then added, “The guy must be dead.”
Steele watched heads turn toward the speaker who didn’t look old enough to shave. He heard several women gasp. As the rumors flitted from one group of people to another, he also heard young children starting to cry.
“Get down from there,” said a sailor dressed in his blues and a white cap. He rushed toward the teenager and pulled the kid off the cable car. Holding the scared teen by the collar of his car coat, the sailor held him close face to face. “The people who raised you, raised a fool. You’re scaring people.”
Tingling feelings of pleasure traveled up Steele’s arms as he continued to watch the crowd’s reaction to what he had done. He cupped his hands together as if to blow on them for warmth, but his true purpose was to hide a wicked smile. Killing Stetson has its unexpected pleasures.
More voices from newcomers to the turn table popped around. The sounds of panic beneath what they said, kept the tingling sensations moving up Steele’s arms. “What’s happened? Is that true? Are we safe? Should we get off the cable car?”
Steele right hand slid into his right pants pocket to feel the smooth and cool finish of his switchblade. With an itch to have some more excitement he started down the asphalt path leading down to Fisherman’s Wharf. He joined a group of giggling girls with their cousins and blended in with them, talking about the great sea food at Alioto’s.
Joking around for a few minutes, Steele won an invitation to join the group for dinner. The taller one of the group with thick brown hair and football shoulders said, “Hey man, why don’t you come with us to Alioto’s for dinner. You’ve been there before so you can clue us in on what to order.”
“Sure, I can do that,” said Steele with a big grin. At that moment, one of the girls said, “Here comes trouble, Jannie. It’s your little brother.”
“Jannie, Jannie!” a young boy yelled as he ran down the path and crashed into her. He pulled on her coat sleeve. “Mom says you need to come back, now. Someone’s dead,” he said and paused to catch his breath. “We heard there is blood all over the place.”
“Oh Nicky, don’t exaggerate,” Jannie said as her shoulders slumped. She brushed her long blonde hair back over her shoulders, and Steele saw that her dimpled smile had disappeared.
“I don’t want to go back. I’ve been looking forward to dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf. You, Mom, and Dad are okay, right?”
“Yeah, but Mom’s real scared,” said Nicky.
The two teenage girls eyed Steele, their friends, and then looked back at each other. The one with the longer hair said, “Jannie, let’s go back. I’ve never seen a dead body before.”
“No way, Katie. I’ll go back because my mom’s worried, not because of any dead body. What kind of friend are you?”
“The curious kind,” said Katie.
“I’m curious, too,” interjected Nicky pulling on his sister’s coat again. “Let’s get back quick or I might miss it.”
“Okay. Let’s go back now,” said Katie. “Seafood doesn’t sound so good to me anymore.”
Without a word of apology to Steele or their other friends, the girls grabbed Nicky by the shoulders and ran back toward the cable car. Steele and the others followed. Staying close to the girls, they weaved through a maze of people until Jannie found her parents.
“Here they are, Henry,” announced Jannie’s mother as she wrapped her arms around them. “Oh thank God you girls came back!”
She cuffed Nicky’s ear. “And you, Nicky. You weren’t suppose to run off like that,” scolded his mother.
“Yeah,” said Henry as he put his arm over his son’s shoulder.
“Dad, Dad. Take me over to see the dead body,” urged Nicky.
“Son, listen to me,” he bent over and said in a low voice, “A dead body is terrible to look at.”
“But I’ve never seen a real dead body before, Dad. Just on TV.”
“We’ve got to respect the dead, son. They are not objects for us to get thrills. If the rumors are true, that someone died horrible death. You’ll always wish that you hadn’t seen him because it will be a sight you’ll never forget.”
“Gee, Dad. You take all the fun out of this. It’s gruesome stuff I can tell my friends when I get back to school.” Nicky crossed his arms and pouted.
Henry patted Nicky’s head and pulled him close. Whispering in his son’s ear, he said, “I don’t want to scare mother and the girls, Nicky. But, that serial killer we heard about on the radio this morning might still be around here watching us. Stay here next to me, son. If this cable car doesn’t leave soon, you can help me hail a taxi cab back to the hotel.”
Nicky’s eyes went wide in awe as he stared up into his dad’s face. His father had just trusted him with a big secret, and said he could be of help, too. He nodded to his dad that he understood. They moved closer to where mother and the girls stood.
“Hey guys, I’m going to get something to drink. It’s been a long wait. Are you still going to dinner down at the Wharf?”
“Nah,” we’re going to stick with Jannie and her family. We all know each other from school back in Iowa. Come back and see what we’re going to do next,” said one of the other cousins. “We always have fun hanging out with them.”
“Okay,” said Steele and fist bumped the kid before he turned around and left. He pretended to be heading toward the Buena Vista Cafe but made a quick left turn on Beach Street. Good planning, Steele. Here comes the owner of the cafe.
A yellow cab came up beside him trying to maneuver between tourists on the street. Steele knocked on the driver’s window. “I need a ride,” said Steele when the cabbie rolled down his window.
“Sorry, mister. I’ve got a fare waiting for a pick-up,” said the cab driver tipping back his cap to see Steele better.
“Here, this will make up for it. Right?” Steele handed over a hundred dollar bill.
“Well, no one else is going to beat that tonight. Get in,” replied the cab driver.
Steele scooted over to the right side of the cab and sat back. “Take me over to Bush and Mason Street,” he instructed as his thoughts were of the petite blonde hostess he met at lunch at Lefty O’Doul’s. “I’ve got a sweet girl waiting for me.”
Copyright 2015 Millieanne Lowe, Orange County, California