Up and down the state streets they ride. East of Potrero Hill. Illinois, Michigan, Tennessee. There's battered old mobile homes, delivery vans, decomissioned U-Hauls, '70's Detroit land yachts, windows hung with towels and pillow cases.
This time Amanda recognizes the neighborhood. A tear rolls out her eye.
"Hey, boo hoo, what's eatin' you baby hooker?"
"You always cry for nothin?"
"Cause....causa my mom. She wound up down here. Got on crack when I was ten. Kept it together cccouple years, but you know, ended up at Walden House. I went to live with dad's mom. Mom got clean, stayed clean for a couple years. I went back with her. Then she gets into shit, crystal. Lived with some tweakers in one of thees mobiles. For all I know she still around her somewhere. Last time I saw her she looked 70, didn't even know what day it was."
"Heart warming. Wanna hear how I came up?" says Tyke.
"Tyke, just lay off." says Fluffy.
"Sure. Aside the point anyway. Of course, the point is, where's our mark? Huh? Been driving around for half an hour."
"It's a van. Driven by somebody who has every reason to keep it moving," says Fluffy.
"I bet baby hooker never even saw it. She guessing."
Amanda blushes. Hopes Tyke doesn't notice.
"It's got a mural painted on the side."
"Yep. One of those artcar deals. His daughter goes to art school so he let her do a mural on his van."
"Awww," says Tyke. "Hey...that it?"
And there it is, with a soaring hawk and a snarling wolverine, on a many shades of yellow background, on Minnesota Street among the discarded debris of a defunct furniture factory.
They do a slow drive by.
"He not home. His bike not on the rack." says Amanda.
"So we park and wait," says Tyke.
Amanda Carolina breaks out her cigs.
"You got one for me?" says Fluffy.
"You two have to smoke?" says Tyke.
"You want one?" says Amanda.
The three women sit, smoking and watching the artvan down the block.
After about 20 minutes they see a figure walking up the desolate street. He's not riding a bike.
"That's him." says Amanda.
The three women leave the '65 Chevy and swarm the stranger as he's unlocking the van.
He makes no resistance, confronted with 3 armed, stone face females.
Until Fluffy talks.
"What the Fuck!?" says Tyke. " you born name is Phyllis?"
Amanda is baffled.
"Jesus, how ya been?" says Courier Bandit.
"Fuck you, all casual like that after the way you ran out on the family."
"You know this guy?" says Tyke.
"He's my half brother," says Fluffy.
"We had the same dad."
"That's what our moms said," says Courier Bandit.
"Fuck you. You broke dadas heart when you left. Turn your back on the family business like that. He had high hopes for you."
"Is that why he beat the crap outta me every night and called me 'shitweasel' and 'dumbass' every chance he got?"
"Yeah, but did you have to go and be a bicycle messenger? Fuck, you broke his heart. At least you coulda gone to law school."
"I did what I did."
Tyke and Amanda's eyeballs bounce back and forth.
Now Tyke takes charge, as usual.
"Everybody into the van."
Once in the van, guns drawn, things come to a point.
"We here for the money," says Tyke.
"You come to the wrong place," says Courier Bandit.
"Bullshit. You just pulled a job in the Sunset."
"True. But some old lady, look like a retired FBI, robbed me."
Tyke and Fluffy exchange looks.
"Maybe so, but you've got a stash."
"No I don't."
"Look here, you don't cough up your stash Ima shoot your Baby Hooker right in the head."
"Wait....I bet he keeps it with Harvey." says Fluffy, who really doesn't want to see Amanda Carolina shot in the head.
"Of course. OG bike messenger like him, where else would it be." says Tyke. "You drive, Fluffy."
The Courier Bandit van takes Fluffy a minute to get operational. But finally it is warmed and ready to roll.
Fluffy pilots the unwieldy machine to Harvey's Liquor Store at 5th and Shipley.
"Here's what we gonna do," says Tyek. "I wait here in the van with Baby Hooker and Fluffy. You don't come back in 10 minutes with at least 10 grand? I shoot your baby sister."
"Get real Tyke, you ain't gonna shoot me, even if you do, he don't give a shit."
Tyke looks around. "No, I gues he don't. OK, I'll shoot Baby Hooker then."
"Cut the crap Tyke. He don't give a shit about me either. I offered to do him, no charge, and he turned me down."
"He turn you down down? Whatta faggot."
"Anyway, I keep telling you not to call me Baby Hooker."
"Right, Amanda Vagina, so what the fuck does he care about?"
"Homeless people." says Fluffy.
"I saw him giving away money to homeless people, street people." says Fluffy.
"No shit? Dude fancies himself Robin Hood?"
"Cool. You hear that wannabe Robin Hood? You don't come back out that liquor store with a buncha dead prezzes for me? Ima go ona rampage, killin bums."
"Gotcha," says Courier Bandit. He gets out the van.
Click here for Part VII
The front door of the house is about 12 feet by eight. Heavy wooden double doors. Not unlike something in the wall of a castle. There's no bell or chord or knocker.
I pound on the door with my fist.
"Yes, who is it?" comes a voice. I look around and see a speaking tube to the right of the door. I speak into the tube.
"Oh yes, I heard you were on your way. Come in and wait by the door, I'll be down shortly."
The door swings open. It might need a fresh coat of varnish but the hinges are well-oiled.
I step in and set my case down. I'm standing at the end of a huge central hallway. I can't see the other end. There's a large staircase, and a balcony around the second story. The balcony must be 20 feet above my head. I can't see the ceiling above that.
There are 20 foot wide pocket doors on either side of where I stand. At first I can't tell if the doors are open. There's only a single lamp burning on a table. By the looks of it the lamp has, at most, a 20 watt bulb, and a lampshade.
As my eyes get used to the gloom I can see that the rooms on either side of the hall are big enough to park a small dirigible.
The house is not cluttered. There's a few sidetables and chairs in the hall, some art on the walls. No curio cabinets. The tabletops are not crammed with knick knacks. It's spare and elegant.
Presently there's some grinding and clanking.
Then I notice rails to the side of the grand staircase. And a chair descending the rails. A miniature Angels Flight.
Great Aunt Elizabeth is coming down the stairs, emerging from the dark above, riding her personal funicular.
She has a little pistol in her hand, pointed at me. The pistol is polished chrome and glints even in the weak light. I have no doubt that it will fire if the trigger is squeezed, and that Great Aunt is a good shot.
I raise my hands.
"So you are Hollister McElroy?" Great Aunt Elizabeth remains in her chair. Gun pointed at me. "You have some ID."
"Yes...uh, a California Drivers License."
"Where is it?"
"It's in my wallet, in my back pocket, on the right."
"OK, get it out with your right hand. Keep your left hand raised. Take the ID out of the wallet and place the wallet and the ID on the table by the lamp. Then go back and stand by the door."
I do as I'm told. Elizabeth gets out of her stair chair and stands up slowly. She has an ivory cane with a silver ferrule and T handle.
I suddenly feel like I'm in the presence of one of those Struldbrugs, like in the unabridged version of "Gulliver's Travels" granny read me when I was a kid.
Elizabeth moves purposefully to the table and picks up the ID. She pulls a magnifying glass out of a pocket and examines the ID.
She sets the ID down. She turns to me. She puts the gun away in another pocket.
"I'm sorry about all this. But an old woman living alone... I can't be too careful."
"Of course," I say. It's an awkward moment. Elizabeth doesn't seem to be the kind to hug. We stare at each other.
"Lord but you are the spitting image of Father," says Great Aunt Elizabeth, finally.
"That's what the cab driver said."
I don't know how to respond to that. I never even knew this place existed until a few weeks ago. I grew up at Grannies house in the Sunset in San Francisco. Now people are acting like I've returned to the ancestral holdings after years of wandering, like Odyssyus.
"Can you cook?" says Elizabeth.
"A little," I say.
"Can you make me soft boiled eggs and toast and some French Press coffee? I never learned to cook. I've been so lost since Betsy passed away."
"Sure," I say.
Elizabeth leads the way down the hall. The kitchen is across the back of the house. Elizabeth presses a button on the wall and a two bulb fixture on the ceiling lights up the room.
The kitchen is crammed with appliances that were state of the art in 1923.
There's a fridge with a compressor and coils on top. There's an enormous copper range. There's a toaster that looks like a playground whirlygig. There're iron frying pans and copper pots.
Elizabeth sits at a table that could seat 8.
I root around looking for the coffee maker and whatever else I'll need to make Elizabeth her soft boiled eggs and toast.
Click here for Part VII