Here is the latest off of my desk. I got this story in a dream, of all the places. I've worked it out in outline and have started to generate the copy. I'm uncertain as to whether or not this will be a novella or a full blown novel.
But here is the first bit for your perusal. Suggestions, as always, much welcomed.
I was raised in and around the San Francisco Bay Area, and have many short works set there.
Working Title: San Francisco Public Works
By M.A. Santomieri
They say romance is dead.
It’s only as dead as you think it is. When I first rediscovered my romance, it was a function of fiction. I was in process, researching what I needed to in order to write an article about the fancy-free idiots who were supposedly fund raising for the metropolitan museum here in my home town of San Francisco. I couldn’t have cared less about them. I did care about the museum, and my city. But these retarded wealthy were worthy of about two hundred fifty words, if that. My editor wanted more.
Of course, my editor--and best friend, sometimes lover--had other things to say about that. That was her job, I suppose.
There was this big to-do on the Nob on that December night, and I was enjoined to go out and cover it. It was a post Christmas, pre-New Year thing. I had my myriad contacts, my insiders, and so forth; and I also had my press credentials. This was an easy thing for me, to get into the function and rub elbows. Most of the folks in attendance knew me anyway. I was either fortunately or unfortunately well received in most of the galas that were thrown on a regular basis around my city. I was somewhat popular in most circles.
It did seem, however, that I was always like the ubiquitous pet in the room. Pat him on the head and he’ll behave. That evening, I guess, I wasn’t in a very behaving kind of mood. Don’t ask me why. Write it off to serendipity or perhaps the three airplane bottles of Smirnoff mixed with diet coke that I had swilled just before I showed.
As with most of the fancy fundraisers I’d attended in the past, this one was chocked full of the movers and shakers in the San Francisco community, both politically and culturally. The Mayor, bless her heart, was even there. Don’t get me wrong, I like our Mayor. She’s a gem, really, and does the best she can for our rapidly decaying city.
What got me in trouble was another reporter. Janice Stone, the b**** from hell from the S.F. "Comical", was dolled up to the nines and was flirting with one of the most retarded of the retarded city council members, Richard “Dick” Collins. I would have avoided her if I could have, but she caught me off guard and had to come over to me and gush about how nice it was to see me in a suit and tie, for a change.
I wanted to smack her on her Gold’s Gym bottom and stuff my Pulitzer down her throat, but I managed to behave at that particular moment.
“Oh, Jack, it’s so nice to see you all dressed up! Aren’t you the handsome one!”
“Good to see you, too, Jan. You look simply smashing,” I said, my fingers crossed behind my back, mentally. It wasn’t that Janice Stone wasn’t pretty; don‘t get me wrong. She was actually what most guys would call drop-dead gorgeous, but what the outside showed did not belie what evil lay beneath. She was a fricking witch and she had a very cut-throat approach to getting her vapid stories to deadline. Suffice it to say, we were diametric opposites in the literary world. Yeah, I had won the Pulitzer for my work in Afghanistan, and I had two novels under my belt, one almost a New York Times Bestseller. . . but her; well, she was the it girl in the local media. I have little doubt that she had slept her way into many of her oh-so-fab stories. No proof, just a hunch.
Anyway, this is kind of how it went:
After our little meet and greet, Janice went back to working the room and I found the bar. I’m good at that. I was ordering a double vodka tonic when the Mayor herself sidles up next to me and orders a dry gin martini.
“Madame Mayor,” I said.
“Hello, Jack. You look very well kept this evening.”
“Why, thank you,” I said, “And you are as beautiful as always.”
Actually, Mayor Amanda Denmark was that beautiful. Not only did she have a good soul but was also built right in all the right places. It was unfortunate that she had recently lost her husband to lung cancer, and though she had gotten some sympathy points for that on her recent re-election, she was still the most popular Mayor in memory. She was a community activist from the get-go and her pet projects were the people’s projects. She was a force to reckon with at the city council meetings.
“So Jack, I noticed that your favorite femme fatale is also in attendance this evening,” she said, smiling mischievously.
I took the bait. “Yes, Madame Mayor, she is. Isn’t she just absolutely stunning in her too tight designer dress and her four pounds of tres-chic cake makeup?”
I could always get Amanda to laugh. And she did, then.
“Oh, behave, Jack,” she said, still giggling like a little school girl.
“I’m trying, Mandy,” I said. We had been on a first name basis for several years.
“But to tell you the truth, that witch really scares me sometimes.”
Without breaking stride, she said, “She scares all of us, dear Jack!” Her martini then arrived, she sipped from it and raised it to me. I clinked my vodka tonic tumbler with her stem glass and we both smiled.
“To the first b**** of the Comical!” she whispered aside.
It was my turn to laugh. “Here, here! Long may she reign!”
We continued to sip our drinks and chat inanities, as was often the case when we were in public together. There were some civic issues that she had on her mind that she rolled across me and we did get to some brass tacks talk. I was particularly concerned with a bond issue to assist in the renovation of the Waterfront, which had been under a lot of stress after the earthquake of 2012. A lot of businesses had folded up shop and a couple of landmarks were in need of serious repair. Pier 39 was still mostly a wreck.
As always, she was on the same page as I was. She promised to lobby harder for the cause and then excused herself to go mingle, go lobby, with some of the city council members in attendance. And, as usual, we cheek kissed and went our separate ways. I didn’t notice the flash.
I drained my vodka and ordered another one. I had my story in focus then. It would be about the need for the waterfront renovation and how the Mayor would be of assistance in such endeavor. Hell, I was thinking, maybe four or five hundred words! The outline for the story appeared, as they always do, in an instant.
What I wasn’t thinking about was that Janice had seen me and the Mayor cheek kiss. There is this thing called Tabloid Trauma. I and the Mayor were about to get it, in true, gushing, Janice Stone fashion.
When Cary Phelps called me the next morning, I was in the process of nursing a mild hangover and trying to get my cat, Alfred, unhooked from my P.J.’s. The furry little bum was intent on me dragging him around my apartment while my eyes were bleeding and every meow of his sounded like a tiger’s growl.
I picked up the handset. “Okay,” I said. “I have the story and it will be on your desk by two, okay?”
“You got problems, Jack.”
Huh?, I thought.
“What problems? I behaved. And I talked with the Mayor and I have a great story outlined. What problems?”
“Go pick up a Comical while your out walking Alfred. Have a stiff drink first, my advice.”
“What in hell are you talking about, Cary?” She was not only my best friend, but, as I said, she was off and on again my lover and confidant, and also my editor. I was confused.
“Like I said, Jack. Get your s*** together and go get a paper. And again, do have that Bloody Mary. You are NOT going to like the headline in the People section, at all. Your favorite b**** just hooked you up. Bad.”
I was completely off-the-hook confused. “What did she write?”
“My guess, lover, is that you might want to call Amanda right away, too. You guys will have proprietary interests to discuss.
“Now go get that drink and walk your mangy little cat. And I do want that story today, okay?” She sounded pissed.
Mangy, Alfred? Not possible. “Yeah, but. . .” I said.
She had already rang off.
Not one to take advice lightly, I dragged Alfred into the kitchen, opened up the refrigerator and extracted a bottle of V-8 and then tore off a stalk of celery from a partial head I had stashed in the veggie drawer. In the freezer, I had a half-full bottle of Stoly. I mixed the recommended drink, sat down and grabbed Alfred off of my leg, planted him in my lap. I stroked his neck with one hand and drank thoughtfully, using the other.
About a half hour later, me and Alfred were walking down the Haight toward my favorite source of literary pollution, my favorite newsstand. I was hoping my furry little buddy wouldn’t get hit by a car as he danced off toward the park, chasing real and imaginary birds and gray squirrels.
As always, there was Rahim, sitting on his little stool surrounded by various rags and mags.
“الة. صباح الخير, , Rah,” I said, speaking my pretty
good Farsi/Arabic. Translated, means ‘Good morning’.
I’d had many near total immersion courses in the language during my several stints in the Middle East.
“You in lumps of trouble, friend,” he said, speaking plain, although heavily accented, English.
“What do you mean?” Once more, I was confused.
“Seem you got caught kissing Mayor. Bad for you now.”
Without my asking, he handed me a copy of the Comical, the People section on top.
“Bitch write not good about you two,” he finished.
I nearly blew a gasket when I read the headline.
“Pulitzer Prize Writer Throwing The Grieving Widow a Bone?”
“Shit!” I practically yelled.
“She no good, Jack, that one. She want to screw you up in more way than one, my thinking.”
“Fuck me sideways, Rah. This is libel!”
“Best you call Missus Mayor about now, huh?”
“You got that right, Rahim. Thanks, I guess. Here!” I handed him a five spot and whistled for Alfred.
It was the only trick the fur ball knew. He was across the street and then at my feet in a blur and we hustled back to my apartment. Amanda, if she had read this crap already, was probably steaming. Now I knew why Cary was so pissed off. Hell, I wasn’t even sure how pissed off I was at that point. How could that dirty-blond b**** do this and get away with it? I was thinking about calling my lawyer before I even talked to Amanda.
As a matter of fact, I pulled her up on speed dial as soon as I got in.
“What now, Jack?” Sarah Zeinfeldt barked impatiently. She was all together the best lawyer a guy could have, without parallel. Ten years as a PD and then two years as an ADA-- just for balance, she had said--she was law through and through. She was also a devout Jewess.
“Did you read the Chronicle’s People section this morning?”
“No, Jack. It’s only eight thirty and I don’t routinely read that rag until after I’ve had several cups of very strong coffee and a shot of Kalua.”
“I’ve been maligned,” I whined.
“Again? Hmm. Seems to be your M-O, buddy.”
“Oh come on, Sarah! This is serious s***. The evil is back at it again and caught me and Mandy smooching last night.”
There was a histrionic pause. “Smooching?” Her voice was dripping with sarcasm.
“We pecked, for Christ’s sake! We do it all the time. She’s my friend.”
“I know that, you know that, Cary knows that. . .but The City? Well, that’s another tin of fish for Albert to consider.”
“So you want maybe to sue her ass?” she asked, sarcasm gone from her voice, falling back into to her normal Brooklyn accent.
“You can’t un-ring a bell, Sarah.”
“No, kiddo, no you can’t. But it would behoove you to be a tad more discrete in public. Let me look as this so-called slanderous article and I’ll ring you back. Okay?”
“Thanks, Sarah, you’re a gem.” I said.
“Yeah, and when you get my bill will I be so well thought of?”
“As always, dear one. Let me know what you think. This b**** needs to be put down. Bad kitty.”
“I’ve been saying that for years, brother. Let’s see what I can do, okay?”
“Thanks again, Sarah. I guess I’d better get a hold of Mandy. She’s probably not read this s*** yet.”
“Go forth, oh proactive one. I’ll call you later.”
When I rang off, I had an inordinate sense of dread. I mixed myself another Bloody Mary, drank deeply of it and then dialed Amanda.
It was obvious that I had woke her up.
Groggily, she said, “Why are you calling me at this ungodly hour, Jack? Have we had another earthquake?
Did I sleep through it again?”
“Mandy, we’ve got a problem. I’m gonna make this short. Our favorite b**** snapped us giving goodbye kisses last night and turned it into an affair on this mornings’ People page.”
“You have got be kidding me!” She was awake then.
“Unfortunately not, Mandy.”
“Shit!’ I could hear her tugging herself quickly out of bed and going to the toilet.
“This is it. I am going to kill the little witch, with bare hands if necessary.”
I couldn’t help but smile as I heard her tinkle and pictured her furiously pulling at her raven hair at the same time.
“Let me go read,” she said and hung up.
We had become good friends when her husband was still alive, especially during his illness; we often played poker together, her and Cary and Don and me. We always worked well together. For sure, I had no sexual interest in her. She was yet another one of my many sisters, I guess.
But we were sweet on each other in a very positive way. She was like a big sister to me. And Lord knows she had bailed me out of some serious scraps when I was up and coming. To say I was reckless when I was a cub, well, that would be an understatement. She had probably saved my life at least a couple of times during my early misbegotten adventures in journalism.
Albert looked at me sideways, as he always does, with his unblinking and penetrating green eyes. He inspires me sometimes. Don’t ask me why.
The phone rang. It was Sarah. She sounded more pissed off than usual.
“Dude. You absolutely need to sue this b**** straight to hell. I read nothing but libel and slander. You were right!”
I heard her take a deep breath and then go on.
“I’ll take this case. Period. If I end up in jail, you’re on the beam.”
“Slow up sister! No jail for you! Nuh-uh! I mean, go for it and all that, but try to keep that civil rights rebel s*** in you down a bit, okay?”
“Nope. No way. What she wrote was tantamount to high treason, in my files. I’m after her. Like now. Ciao, little bro.”
And then she rang off.
This day was not going as expected at all. I had anticipated a nice quiet day, where I would write my story, post it by deadline and then maybe take Cary out to dinner and a movie. It seemed like a reasonable day when I first opened my eyes, even in spite of the faint tendrils of my hangover that had needed fixing.
I was sitting at my work station, fresh bloody Mary on a coaster to my left, and was two paragraphs into my story when the phone rang again. Alfred Jumped at the ring, which was unusual for him. Oh, hell, I thought.
The caller I.D. said it was Amanda.
“I am going to kill this witch, dammit,” she said, obviously wide awake and pissed off now.
“Easy, Mandy. Sarah is on it.”
“Good,” she said. “Good. I want that thing’s press card removed.”
I smiled. “Well, First Amendment aside, so would I. Sarah is ticked and when she gets ticked, you know what can happen. Hell hath no wrath like a female lawyer scorned.”
“Keep me posted, Jack. I’m going get a hold of my PR folks as soon as I get to City Hall. I’m thinking some evil things, right now.”
“You go, sister. I’ll tell Sarah to keep you in the loop.”
“Fine,” she said. “I’ll talk with you later this afternoon. I made some progress last night with the bond issue that you are concerned with. There may be a ray of sunshine on this foggy Bay Area morning.”
“Thanks, Mandy. I’ll stay close.”
That done, I went back to work and finished my story, 858 words all told, and printed it out. I also burned it to disk and put the whole shebang together in a manila envelope. The third bloody Mary had done the trick, so I went and shaved and showered and dressed in my usual “starving journalist” attire. I left a full bowl of food and a full bowl of water for Alfred and left my flat for Cary’s office.
I was a couple of blocks away when my cell phone chimed.
It was Cary. “You are not going to like this, lover. Not at all.”
“Stone is dead. Found murdered in her apartment an hour ago.”
I was beyond shocked. “This is a joke, right?”
“No, unfortunately. She was way late for an editorial meeting at the Comical offices, so her off again on again, Joel Hardy, swung by her place. He let himself in with his spare key and found her hanging by her ankles from the rafters. Throat cut, blood everywhere.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “And you know this how?” I asked.
“One of my boys at the sixth. He tipped me.”
“Shit,” I said. “Just s***. I mean, I wanted her to go away, but dead, nuh-uh.”
“Yeah, I know. But stand by for heavy rolls. You might find yourself on the short list of suspects after this morning’s article. You and our Mayor. Feel me?”
“I’m on my way in. I’ll see you in about twenty, depending on traffic. Okay?”
“I’ll be here. You know, you’re alibi is solid, right?”
“Yeah. I was nowhere in her vicinity. I can prove it.”
“Good. Come on in. You might want to call Mandy and Sarah, too.”
This day was going to hell in a hand basket faster than I thought possible. I could think of a million people who might have wished bad things toward Janice Stone, but to brutally kill her. . .it made no sense to me.
I would come to find out that there were several people who might have wanted her permanently off the grid.
My next story would take me to places I thought I would never go, in my own city, here in America.