“Free Earrings: Twenty Bucks”
The 7 Haight pulled to a stop along side the curb, just passed Fillmore. Commander Blevins stepped up on the rubber matted steps, showed his pass to the driver and walked back, out of habit, to the seats that faced in toward the aisle around the rear door. There was a clear center space at this point in the bus where people could stand two or three abreast. It was also an easy escape out the back door. His guard was down and he could feel the curiosity and the “hope- this-guy-doesn’t-sit-near-me” vibes from some of the passengers. The driver had remained neutral as Commander Blevins had boarded. San Francisco Bus drivers were used to a wide array of riders.
Mrs. Frumpwooler found the front door of Commander Blevins’ apartment building locked. It had been wide open the last, and only time she had been here. Mildly disconcerted, she discovered the mail boxes. She buzzed the buzzer under number 307 five times. “C. Blevins” was printed neatly over the button. Finally, in disgust and with agitation rising, she decided to walk down to Haight and get a cup of coffee. She was not going to leave the area without getting her purple hat back.
Commander Blevins jostled with the bus as it rode up the gentle slope to Divisadero. It stopped, then steamed up and over the more abrupt hill on Haight Street and approached the north side of Buena Vista Park. In San Francisco, “hill” ends and “steep” begins when an incline is too sharp to walk up–or down–without steps cut into the sidewalk. Another definition for steep was if anything could be seen in front of you as you drove over the crest. If something could be seen, then it wasn’t steep. Commander Blevins had not experienced this particular thrill since he sold his last car, a 1974 Saab that had an affinity for blowing head gaskets.
The First One and Second One followed the bus easily, their light cords whipping around in the unseen breeze that affects them. Greeny’s plight was an entirely different affair. Its second light cord was playing havoc with Its own internal guidance system. MEs move around in reference to their cords. If one wants to move left, It will whip out a section of Its light cord out to the right, thus giving It momentum in the other direction. This all happens with very subtle movement and is barely discernible to anyone watching…anyone who can see unseen things, that is.
Movement, therefore, now presented Greeny with a whole new set of issues. Mrs. Frumpwooler was remaining in the immediate vicinity, unlike Commander Blevins. She was providing Greeny with an overflow of juice. It stayed near her. After It finally found Its way back to the wire above Filmore, It duck-walked sideways as Mrs. Filmore made her way down toward Haight Street.
“Boy, Greeny is a card. Did you see that triple barrel roll and the dive into the street? I wondered if we were going to be one fewer for a moment, there,” the First One said, bouncing along behind Commander Blevins and the bus.
“Yeah, well, there is still time for that,” the Second One said. It was better at riding unseen air currents and bounced little.
The bus didn’t have to stop at Masonic, so Commander Blevins pulled the cord that ran along the top of the windows. At the next corner, the driver crossed Ashbury and rolled to a stop next to the curb, covering the yellow rectangle painted on the street. Commander Blevins got off, tightened his cape against the wind and looked for a moment at the storefront across the street that gave life to the three story Edwardian building.
The building was painted in several differing tones of yellow with raspberry pinstriping. The yellows were softer and gentler than the traffic department selected for its street markings. This tasteful use of muted colors was, at one time, a rarity in the Haight during the wild and wooly days of the late sixties. The used clothing store on the first floor had a green and purple window display, which saved the building from being ordinary. “Ordinary” is defined as only San Francisco can define it.
A woman on roller skates shot by Commander Blevins and juked around two cars waiting to turn left onto Haight Street. Turning, he reached into the large coat pocket underneath his cape and pulled out a wad of adding machine earrings in tiny ziplock plastic bags. It had been a hobby of his for months now to hand out his earrings to the kids in different parts of San Francisco. Since the Haight was the closest–and probably the best–spot for Commander Blevins’ mission, he came here the least often, not wanting to ruin a good thing so close to home.
He walked up Haight toward Golden Gate Park. In front of a record store-coffee shop, he found a group of three girls and a guy: WAURTZ, he had heard a store owner call the more affluent street kids…White Adolescent Urban RaTZ.
“Uh, excuse me,” Commander Blevins said, “anyone interested in earrings…heavy metal earrings?”
“Heavy metal earrings?…what are they?”
“Metal went out years ago.”
“Like not music, Frankie, earrrrrings.” The girl whom set Frankie straight had jet black hair on one side and shaved scalp on the other. Her finger nails and one nostril were pierced and sported a variety of studs and rings. “Let me see.” Her voice had a cutting whine. Commander Blevins winced and handed her three plastic envelopes.
“Let me see.”
“Like Punchy’d love these.” The girl held up one that looked like a small meat tenderizer and said, “Like how much?” Commander Blevins had already given away a few hundred of his unique brand of earrings, so he was as startled as the four young people around him when he said, “Twenty dollars.”
“Like no way, old man.”
“Off the plant.”
The girl handed the earrings back to him in a handful and said, “Like no sale.” The four moved on down the block.
Commander Blevins overheard their conversation for a few steps. The WAURTZ boy say, “…wonder why he wears so many clothes?”
“Like he’s just a Four Roses Junkie They’re always like freezing.”
“Yeah, but he was clean. Too weird.”
“I heard some old Hippie gave out earrings after the Platonic Sluts concert.”
Commander Blevins stood immobile. His mind pulled apart and snapped shut.
“The earrings are too good to just give away,” he said to himself. “Yes, but I like to give them to the kids. You have to pay your rent. McDervish said no Journeys for awhile. Of, course if you could find Mrs. Frumpwooler, she owes you money. That’s right, she does. Well, don’t just stand there…find her. Right.”
He stood in the middle of the sidewalk, waving a handful of earrings through the air during his self contain debate. Suddenly, he decided he must find Mrs. Frumpwooler and bolted straight head, without looking. The woman ahead of him didn’t have a chance. She had just detouring around the caped, gesticulating figure, and stopped, herself, in the middle of the sidewalk. Her car door was unlocked, she remembered.
“Or did I…” she said out loud.
Commander Blevins heard her words, but didn’t know where they came from or what they meant. He heard her words because he was almost on top of her. Then he was on top of her…or at least smack against her.
“Ohh…ugh,” he stammered. He caught himself with his right hand on a newspaper machine, preventing the full weight of his body from crushing into her.
“Watch it…Hey!” she yelled as she stumbled against the street light pole behind her. She looked around at him and was about to yell at him, or for the police. His face stopped her. His eyes, really. They were kind and, at that moment, looking both sad and driven. He reminded her of a puppy who just knocked over something on its way to the door to go out. A large, overdressed puppy, needing to pee.
He regained his voice first, “I am so sorry. Please let me help you.” He reached for her arm to steady her, but stopped. Her eyes were black and deep. Her face was a lovely chocolate and she was dressed for downtown. She smiled. Her smile opened his heart and he said, “I was giving my earrings to these kids who could not afford them and then realized Mrs. Frumpwooler still owed me money if I knew where she was.”
The woman’s smile sagged at the corners. “That’s… all…right. I’m ok. Why are you so warmly dressed…if you don’t mind my asking.”
Commander Blevins opened his mouth to answer. At that moment, however, he had just gotten another strong pulse from Greeny–which he experienced, but did not understand–and said, “Toxic chemicals and lust. Here, you take these.” He took the woman’s gloved hand and pushed the wad of earring bags into it. “Have a nice day,” he said as he sprinted away from the woman, away from Golden Gate Park toward the Lower Lower Haight and his pursuit of the illusive Mrs. Frumpwooler.
He didn’t stop running until he hit Divisadero. Breathing very hard, he was so sweaty he wished he had waited for the bus.
The woman kept the earrings and later showed them to her friends, two of whom thought they were too outrageous to pass up.
“Like Does Attract Itself”
Greeny was in Hog Heaven, juicing both Commander Blevins and Mrs. Frumpwooler. Mrs. Frumpwooler was sitting in the window of a small shop on Haight Street called, “Beans To You,” sipping her third cappuccino. The store sold only coffee, coffee beans, and coffee paraphernalia. Three tables sat near the window. Two had two chrome chairs around them and the third had three. This third table was the first immediately inside the door and it was at this table that Mrs. Frumpwooler was ensconced. She faced the street. The area below the window was built-out, providing storage and an advertising ledge, which was underutilized. It held only two medium sized cardboard promo signs, flanking the window. They each were a full figured image of a wired looking character in an Uncle Sam, finger-pointing pose, announcing to all who passed in either direction, “Beans To You.”
It was between these two guardians of the store that Mrs. Frumpwooler had propped her feet. Her right foot was tapping. She had a direct view of the intersection of Haight and Filmore and was sure Commander Blevins would pass through her line of vision on his way home. Her diligence and keen eyesight increased with each cup of cappuccino, as did the tempo of her right foot.
Commander Blevins, unable to easily cross Divisadero at Haight, had walked slowly north almost to Page before the traffic had thinned. The breeze had increased and, although he had caught his breath, he was sweating profusely, both from exertion and from panic at being caught outside when wet and cold.
The First One and Second One followed. They were in a state of suspense, waiting for calamity to befall Greeny. Greeny, meanwhile, was on the tip toes of Its stumpy little feet on the wire over the corner at Haight and Filmore. It was slowly turning one way then the next. It had a light cord in each little hand and was handling them like reins. Ripples of movement came back to him along each light cord. The pull from the light cord leading to Commander Blevins were much more pronounced, for it was longer.
As Commander Blevins moved about, and the unseen wind blew his light cords in alternating directions, Greeny did a lopsided, swaying waltz, high up on the overhead wire at Haight and Filmore…for anyone to see who could.
Commander Blevins made it home, thoughts of Mrs. Frumpwooler pushed aside by the need for survival. He rushed in the building, passing Mr. Fedulity as he sanded the front door. Mr. Fedulity looked up–he could not ignore the swirl that followed Commander Blevins–and wondered why he had not said anything. The man who lived in apartment 307 was strange, indeed, but always spoke in passing. Shaking his head at the general state of mankind, Mr. Fedulity went back to work. His wife would be calling him for lunch soon and he wanted to finish sanding the door before then. He disliked cleaning up a mess twice and disliked more the prospected of leaving the front door to 600 Pages Street open for any vagrant or junkie to wander in and set up camp. The owners had entrusted the care of the building to him and he was had shown their trust was well placed for these past thirteen years.
Commander Blevins crossed the wide carpeted foyer and hit the stairs two at time. Three light cords followed him, cutting through the apartments overhead. By the time he had made it to the third floor landing, his chest was heaving again and he was dripping sweat. Ahead of him, standing at the top of the last flight of steps to the third floor hall was Mrs. Fedulity. She was just starting on her way down. She stopped.
“Oh, hello Mr. Blevins, how are you feeling today?” she said.
“Murmph,” he said. He was too tired to articulate.
They stood in a silent standoff for a moment, then longer. Mrs. Fedulity was waiting for Commander Blevins to step back, Commander Blevins was concentrating on standing up. Finally Mrs. Fedulity saw that he was in a bad way and backed out of the way. He lumbered up the last few steps.
“Thank you.” His voice was horse.
“Why you poor dear,” she said as she watched him make his way down the hall to his apartment. As he put the key into the first lock, she said, “Oh, Mr. Blevins, have you seen Abdul?”
Commander Blevins stopped with the key in the lock, took a deep breath, looked up at the ceiling, then turned toward her and said with a large exhalation of breath, “Yes, he is sanding the front door in the lobby.”
“Thank you so much, ” she said with a warble in her voice. Both Mrs. Fedulity and Commander Blevins vanished from the third floor hallway.
Mrs. Frumpwooler was getting antsy as the caffeine charged through her veins. She downed the last half of her cup and broke through the front door at full gallop.
Greeny was juicing harder. The flow to It was reduced as Commander Blevins weakened himself. Consequently, Mrs. Frumpwooler received more attention and Greeny received a good jolt of the caffeine, much more than It had received three days earlier from Commander Blevins.
“Lookeyloo, Lookeyloo,” said the First One. The two other MEs had settled in their usual spot when Commander Blevins entered his apartment building. They were only a half a block up the hill toward Page Street from Greeny, but Greeny didn’t notice them.
Mrs. Frumpwooler crossed Haight, dodged a speeding bicyclist, and rounded the corner directly underneath Greeny. It was dancing frantically above her. She had her head down and churned away at top speed up Fillmore.
“That’s quite a deal,” the First One said as she passed underneath them.
“This is a deal’s deal, coming up next,’ the Second One said, looking in the direction Mrs. Frumpwooler had come.
The First One followed its gaze, and then said, “Yep, sure is.” They both watched Greeny. It was completely tangled in both light cords and was hanging from the triple set of wires that intersected at the corner.
“Think we ought to help?” the Second One said.
“And ruin the show…nah,” the First One said.
Commander Blevins closed the door behind him. He dropped his cape on the laundry and cardboard spray booth inside the door. He took off his wool coat, added it to the pile, then walked into the bathroom and turned on the hot water in the tub. He flipped the toilet lid down and sat on it as the steam began to rise from the water. He was hungry, wet, tired and confused.
Mrs. Frumpwooler crossed Filmore before getting to Page. A car honked at her, but she ignored it. She spotted the open front door to 600 Page and increased her pace.
“Oh, there you are, sweetheart,” Mrs. Fedulity said as she came down the half flight on stairs into the foyer. Dark red carpet covered the lobby and an old chandelier hung from the middle of the ceiling. The two side walls were covered in panels of mirrors, with gold trim. The room gave the feeling of once having been dressed up, and, having nowhere to go, was fading into oblivion, forgotten. “Time for lunch.”
“Any time now, this will be done, will be done,” Mr. Fedulity said. Mrs. Fedulity came over to where her husband was sanding the top corner of the door. He stood on a small ladder.
She walked around to the front side of the door, ran her hands over the smooth surface and said, “This will look so nice when you are done, dear. Your work is always so well done.” She looked up through the beveled glass near the top of the door and smiled at the distorted image up her husband, his face set in concentration.
Mrs. Fedulity turned her head toward the street in time to see a figure marching straight for her. A long coat, unbuttoned, furled out behind the figure. Looking from the dimly lit foyer out into the sunny street, Mrs. Fedulity could only see a very wide person about to bowl her over.
“Ooohhh,” she said and moved quickly out of the way.
“Now see here, see here…” Mr. Fedulity said.
“Commander Blevins,” said the person and hit the stairway two steps at a time.
“Ah, yes now. That would explain that, explain that,” Mr. Fedulity said, “like does attract itself,” and went back to his sanding.
“Now, now dear,” Mrs. Fedulity said, smoothing her blouse which had not been wrinkled.
Greeny hung upside down over the intersection of Haight and Filmore, drinking in the energy that flowed to It, unwilling to slacken Its juicing to untangle Itself.
Commander Blevins remembered the Bath Therapy as he watched the tub filling. He picked up the jar of bath salts that sat on the little wicker cabinet next to the door and poured about half of it into the tub. When the tub was three-quarters full of water, he turned the water off and walked down the hallway, past the front door and hall closet and began shedding clothing.
He pulled off his short leather jacket and neatly hung it up. Oblivious to walking on his cape and wool coat piled on the floor, he then sat down on the stool in the foyer and pulled off his boots and socks. Wiggling his toes in mid air, and looking at them with a dull ache in the back of his head, he spotted his yellow and black Goofy slippers sitting just inside the walk-in closet, beyond his bare feet. He stood up slowly and walked over to the slippers. As he was chasing the second one around the wood floor of the foyer– his foot wouldn’t quite slip into it–a loud knock at the door startled him. The knock was so authoritative that he did not think of looking through the peephole. He went to the door, opened it and his mouth dropped open.
“You have my purple hat!” Mrs. Frumpwooler said.
“Mrs. Frumpwooler!” Commander Blevins said.
“Well, of course. Who else’s purple hat have you absconded with?”
His mind cleared and a bolt of energy hit him. “You owe me money!”
“You have my purple hat.” They glared at each other for a long minute, then Mrs. Frumpwooler could stand in one spot no longer. “Perhaps you could invite me in,” she said.
“Of course,” Commander Blevins said. “Would you like to come in Mrs. Frumpwooler.” He backed away from the door and bent low in a mock welcoming bow.”
“Why thank you, sir. I will…if you will be nice.” He straightened up as she passed. She looked him in the eye and added, “And if you will give me back my purple hat.”
“Happy too,” he said. “Follow me.” He led her into the main room and was thankful that he had put the futon away that morning. “Please be seated. Would you care for some tea?”
Mrs. Frumpwooler sat down on the love seat, saw the purple hat on his desk and remembered his tea. “Just the hat please.”
“Of course,” he said handing it to her and sitting down in his overstuffed chair. “That’s one matter taken care of. Now you owe me some money.”
Mrs. Frumpwooler was occupied refitting the purple hat over her white scarf. When she finished she looked at him and said, “You said that was not necessary.”
“You said you would pay.”
“You said you were happy to help me free of charge.”
“You said you would pay handsomely.”
“I thought you were a gentleman.”
Commander Blevins took a deep breath and said, “I expect to be paid for my services. I have returned your property to you in good faith, which was only here because you forgot it, and now I expect you to likewise follow through in good faith with your promise of payment. WHICH, if I may add, was the opening line which got you into this room in the first place, many days ago. ‘I will gladly pay for your help, Commander Blevins.’ Surely you are not such a person that goes back on her word, Mrs. Frumpwooler.”
Mrs. Frumpwooler saw that she had pushed the issue as far as she could and that he was not going to budge. “Since I did say that first, I see that I must abide by it. In the future I will understand that you are no gentleman, Commander Blevins.”
Mrs. Frumpwooler opened her purse, then stopped and paused. “Just how much do I owe you?”
“Whatever you feel is appropriate, Mrs. Frumpwooler. Lets not forget that we are civilized people.”
Mrs. Frumpwooler rolled the angles through her mind. She extracted a wad of bills and counted out seven and handed them to him. “Here, I think this should be sufficient for civilized people, Commander Blevins.”
Commander Blevins looked at the pile of one hundred dollar bills in his hand and agreed, silently. To her, he nodded his head.
“Now, there is another matter to discuss,’ Mrs. Frumpwooler said.
“Yes indeed, another matter.” Mrs. Frumpwooler sat on the love seat staring at her lap while Commander Blevins shuffled his hundred dollars bills. Finally she looked at him with a glint in her eyes and said, “Diamonds.”
He looked at her, nodded his head blankly and said, “Diamonds.”
“Yes, Diamonds.” There was another pregnant silence which was broken by Mrs. Frumpwooler. “THE Diamonds.”
“Ooohh. THE Diamonds.” Commander Blevins sat looking at her. “What Diamonds?”
“The Diamonds I–Gwenny–hid in the carriage house wall, of course. Don’t you remember, Ito-san, you romantic little devil, you.”
“Oh, of course, THOSE Diamonds.” Commander Blevins remembered. “That was seventy, no eighty-plus years ago. You don’t think those diamonds are still there do you?”
“Well, we surely won’t know without checking it out, now will we.”
“I see. I see.” Commander Blevins nodded his head repeatedly.
“I want you to get them,” Mrs. Frumpwooler said.
“How do you know I’ll give them to you when I get them.”
“Because, I’ll be with you of course,” she said.
“Perhaps I’ll only give you part of them,” he said. “After all, we both had a hand in the affair.”
“YOUR hand, Commander Blevins Ito-san, was concerned with OTHER affairs. I took the diamonds and I hid them.”
“Do you know where they are?” he said. “Exactly.”
“Yes, of course, they’re…I’ll tell you what. I’ll pay you three times what I just gave you. Whether or not we find the diamonds. What you have to do is to help me find the exact house with that carriage house behind it, and then you will excavate the portion of the wall where I hid the Diamonds. If you find any Diamonds, you will give them all to me. If you don’t find any, you will still have the money.” Mrs. Frumpwooler was quiet for a moment, then said, “Deal?”.
Greeny was still juicing harder on Mrs. Frumpwooler and Commander Blevins did not think the Diamonds would still be there. He needed the cash. “In advance,” he said.
“Half now, half when either I have the Diamonds or you have excavated the wall and there are no Diamonds,” she said.
“Deal.” Commander Blevins held out his empty hand for the money. Mrs. Frumpwooler shook it.
“Now, when do we begin,” she said.
“We begin after you pay me the first half,” he said and held his hand out again a second time.
“All right,” Mrs. Frumpwooler said. She opened her purse once again, produced the same roll of bills, counted out ten of them and handed them to Commander Blevins.
He remained motionless, with his hand still extended and the ten one hundred dollar bills laying softly upon it. “You said half,” he said.
“Well, isn’t that close enough? I don’t have any change with me.” He did not say a word, but continued holding his hand out and staring at her.
“What do you expect me to do, walk down to the corner store and ask them to change a hundred?”
“The deal is half now. How you accomplish that is your business.” Commander Blevins withdrew his hand, which closed instinctively around the bills, and rested it in his lap. He now had hundred dollar bills in both hands and was delighted with the feeling.
Mrs. Frumpwooler scrunched up her face and glared at Commander Blevins. “Well, if you insist,” she said and took one more hundred dollar from the roll, and let the rest fall into her open purse. Holding the bill by the fingers of both hands, she held it up and out in front of her. Commander Blevins piled the bills from one hand into the other and offered the empty one to receive the full payment. There was a twinkle in his eye at calling her bluff. Faced with the choice of a silly errand or giving him more than half now, she was bending to his will.
In a flash, Mrs. Frumpwooler neatly tore the hundred dollar bill in half and placed Commander Blevins’ share in his out-stretched hand. His twinkle faded. Seeing that his bluff had been called, he quickly changed tactics to save face, “Well, now that’s that. When shall we begin?”
“Now,” Mrs. Frumpwooler said.
“No, not this moment. We must plan carefully,” Commander Blevins said. The stimulation of negotiating with Mrs. Frumpwooler was gone. His exhausted body made its condition know to him again. “I need to rest this afternoon. and think this through. Come back at eleven o’clock tomorrow morning with walking shoes on and we will proceed.”
“But….” Mrs. Frumpwooler squirmed.
“I’m sorry, that is the best I can do, Mrs. Frumpwooler,” Commander Blevins said.
“Oh, all right,” she said. ” I suppose another day won’t matter after this long.” She stood up and waited for him to stand. He did, and she marched out of the room. He stuffed the money in a stone jar that sat on his desk and followed her out of the room. She had opened the front door when he reached the hallway. She looked back at him shuffling up behind her, and said, “Tomorrow, eleven o’clock.”
“Right,” he said and caught the door as she was closing it. He leaned out into the hall and called after her, “Oh, Mrs. Frumpwooler…”
“Yes?” She pause, almost to the stairs, and turned back toward him.
“Between now and then, please try to remember as much as possible about the neighborhood that we watched you running through in 1906.”
A woman materialized between them. To Mrs. Frumpwooler it seemed that a formless print dress had walked out of the middle of the wall and stood between them. After rapid blinking, Mrs. Frumpwooler saw that there was a woman in the dress. She held an empty wastebasket, wore a very curious expression on her face and looked back and forth from Commander Blevins to Mrs. Frumpwooler.
“Oh, hello Mrs. Todeyappee,” Commander Blevins said. “Dumping trash down the shoot again I see. Did you remember to use a plastic bag?” Mrs. Todeyappee hunched her shoulders and looked guilty. She continued to swivel her head.
Commander Blevins ran an uphill campaign to limit the gossip about himself in the building. He saw that at the moment a good offense was the best defense. “You know that Mr. Fedulity gets very upset when he has to clean out the shoot.”
Mrs. Todeyappee put a fingers to her lips and mimed, “Shhhhh.” Feeling a bit under fire, she tiptoed past Mrs. Frumpwooler toward the other end of the hall. “Say hello to Mrs. Frumpwooler, Mrs. Todeyappee.”
“Hello, Mrs. Frummpph…” Mrs. Todeyappee squeaked in a high pitch voice. Once excited, she did not regain her composure well these days.
“Hello,” Mrs. Frumpwooler said.
Mrs. Todeyappee stopped at the next to last door down the hall. Commander Blevins was about to breath a sigh of relief. Then, the door beyond Mrs. Todeyappee’s opened and Mrs. Fedulity appeared. “Why hello, Mrs. Todeyappee,” she said and then noticed the empty wastebasket with a slice of tomato stuck to it. She quietly closed the door behind herself. “Ooohhh, have we been emptying our garbage down the trash shoot without putting it in a plastic bag again, Mrs. Todeyappee,” she said in a loud whisper. “You know that Abdul gets very upset when he has to clean out the shoot. Please try to do better, Mrs. Todeyappee.”
Hot with some new gossip and desperate to divert attention away from her abuse of the trash shoot, Mrs. Todeyappee hunched over still farther, pointed behind her so only Mrs. Fedulity could see her gesture, and said, “HIM again,” in a hoarse squeak. “Inside.” And she disappeared from the view of Mrs. Frumpwooler and Commander Blevins who still stood in their respective positions in the hall watching the scene unfold.
“Why hello, Commander Blevins. And…?” Mrs. Fedulity let her question hang in mid air, determined to learn the identity of Commander Blevins’ guest.
“Oh, yes. Please pardon me, Mrs. Fedulity. This is Mrs. Frumpwooler. And Mrs. Frumpwooler, this is Mrs. Fedulity. She and her husband manage the building. And do a fine job of keeping this place respectable.” There was an uncomfortable silence and Commander Blevins sensed that he needed to add more. “Uh…Mrs. Frumpwooler is a Client of mine…who was just leaving, weren’t you Mrs. Frumpwooler?”
“Why yes, I was,” Mrs. Frumpwooler said. She waved politely to Mrs. Fedulity and started down the stairs.
Commander Blevins then ran to the top of the stairs, leaned over and said, “Do think about what we were talking about, Mrs. Frumpwooler.”
Mrs. Fedulity heard a fading, “Of course, Commander Blevins, see you to….” That was all Mrs. Fedulity caught, because Mrs. Todeyappee was pulling at her arm.
When Commander Blevins looked up from calling over the stair railing, the door to Mrs. Fedulity’s apartment was closing. He sighed, relived to have the hall to himself once again. Shuffling stiffly, he made his way back to his door, closed it behind him and walked into the bathroom. The water in the tub was cold.
“Too Sick To Know”
Greeny was sick and did not know it. It still hung upside down over the intersection of Haight and Filmore. There were red and black bumps on Its little face and the area around his yahooney was fluttering with spasms. It had over juiced.
Mrs. Frumpwooler opened the front door of 600 Page, walked out to the middle of the sidewalk and stopped. She looked to her right toward Golden Gate Park and the Pacific Ocean. Instead, though, she saw Page Street laid out straight west, edged on either side with apartment buildings built right up to the sidewalk. There were lines running everywhere: from pole to pole, from pole to building and from building to building. Most of the buildings were three story, like Commander Blevins’. Most were either white or brown, some both.
Across the street a dark haired fellow worked on the generator of a white 1969 Rover 2000. He had bought the car for one hundred dollars from his ex-girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend who had moved to Hawaii four months earlier. The car had been driven almost everyday by the ex of his ex, but had not run for him since the day after the previous owner had left the City.
Mrs. Frumpwooler did not know any of this. All she saw was a scruffy looking man in dirty jeans bent over a strange little white car in front of an open, narrow garage. The garage was dark inside and Mrs. Frumpwooler could not see any details of its interior. None of this tableau interested her, so she turned toward Filmore to go home.
The Diamonds tugged at her consciousness, as did the amount of money she had given Commander Blevins. The pull was not as strong as it had been earlier. She pushed it aside to think clearly about how she would like to spent the rest of the afternoon.
It was too early to go home and there was too much energy running through her. She felt like walking and she wanted to get out of the Lower Lower Haight. She made a sensible compromise with herself.
She saw a bus waiting for the light to change a block down at Haight Street. It was on Filmore and headed her way. She quickly crossed the street and began pumping up the hill toward the bus stop at Oak Street, one block north. She reached the corner ahead of the bus and turned around. It was still at Haight Street, having only crossed the intersection while Mrs. Frumpwooler was dashing madly. A car was double parked in front of the bus and there was a lot of honking and yelling going on. She was quite winded, took large gulps of air while waiting for the bus to break free and thought how grateful she was that the air was clean here in the City, not like the awful stuff she had to breath when visiting her sister in Orange County.
The 22 Filmore did arrive in a couple minutes. Mrs. Frumpwooler boarded it, fished in her purse for her Fast Pass, berated herself for not having dug it out while she was waiting, found it, showed it to the driver and plopped down even more gratefully in the unoccupied front seat. She had a clear view up ahead, which thrilled her. Mrs. Frumpwooler always liked to know where she was going.
If Greeny had any sense, It would have taken a deep juice, popped off Its two light cords, fallen down on top of the 22 Filmore as it passed underneath him and ridden up to where Mrs. Frumpwooler stood patiently. It then could have rested and reattached to her whenever she disembarked.
Greeny did not have any sense, though, and It was nearly comatose. Mrs. Frumpwooler, and the bus, crossed Oak and headed into the Western Addition. Pacific Heights, the Marina–home to Mrs. Frumpwooler–and the Marina Green lay beyond. Greeny was still hanging over the uphill, Bayside corner of Fillmore and Haight. As Mrs. Frumpwooler–in her municipal carriage–reached Fulton, Greeny became dimly aware that he was being stretched in some way. When Mrs. Frumpwooler was carried across Geary Street, frantic warning lights went off in some instinctive region of Greeny’s brain.
MEs do have brains. Everything that is going to have a brain–and that currently exists in or below the Mental Worlds–has one. ME brains can not be dissected by knives or saws. Lasers can have an effect, but that is not widely known. Aiming is also difficult, even for those who can see the unseen. MEs have a disconcerting ability to fuzz-up and mush through space when under attack. This lets them occupy the space they occupy only partially. Zapping something with a laser requires pinpoint coincidence of mutual occupation in the time-space continuum. There was only one ME hunter that had showed any real promise to date. He had not yet visited San Francisco.
Greeny panicked. It felt one light cord being draw out far past the normal limits. In the state Greeny was in–which had a dramatic effect on Its ability to control extension, contraction, and movement of Its light cords–Greeny felt the light cord ripping from Its yahooney. This is not an experience to covet. In a blind grab for survival, Greeny contracted hard on the light cord running out to Mrs. Frumpwooler.
The result was swift and immediate. MEs use both the subtle manipulation of lights cords and the unseen winds to navigate. Greeny was not aware of the winds just now and Its efforts to pull the light cord–and the respective attachee–back to Itself misfired. Greeny flew to the anchored end of the cord, to Mrs. Frumpwooler as she made her way toward the Marina . Flew hard and fast straining about everything, including the other light cord’s attachment to Commander Blevins, now blocks behind and receding rapidly. Panic begat more panic. Greeny lunged back toward Commander Blevins. Zigging and zagging the two light cords tangled with each other, ripping one out of Greeny’s yahooney. The freed cord would have ripped from the back of Commander Blevins, but Greeny was being a negligent asset manager, so it instead was torn from Greeny.
Greeny landed with an unheard thud, yowling at the top of Its unheard voice. It was in real pain. As real as any ME can get. Just as quickly It disappeared in the direction of the Marina.
“Lookeyloo, Lookeyloo,” the First One said.
“A reeeal shew,’ the Second One said. Greeny had just passed underneath them at breathtaking speed, still tangled in a convulsing mass of light cords. “Never quite seen anything to match.”
They both heard the pop as Greeny parted company from the light cord that ran to Commander Blevins. “I think we is now two,” the Second One said.
“Now, now don’t get impolite.” They both winced when they heard Greeny’s yowl pierce the air. “Heard about that happening once,” the Second One said.
“A two timer?”
“No, loosing a connection. Heard it hurt real bad.”
“Ow-owie.” The First One scrunched up into a little ball.
“Well, as long as he doesn’t venture back here, I’m sure it will turn out for the better. Hey, lookey there,” the Second One said, pointing up the hill with Its stubby little arm. A smoldering green stripe ran down the street, then turned and wound its way into the side of 600 Page. “Look at that cord burn.”
“Happy Spiritual New Year”
“Ow!” Commander Blevins had just lowered himself into the new tub of very hot water. He had stirred in a double dose of Bath Therapy, a full container, shed his sweaty clothes, and congratulated himself on getting the water just the right temperature. When he slid down into the tub a place in the middle of his back stung sharply. Sitting up straight so that the sore spot was out of the water, he found it still stung.
Puzzled, he got out of the water, rummaged through the wicker cabinet and found a hand held mirror. He then climbed on top of the toilet seat, open the mirrored door above the lavatory and bent down so the middle of his back was in the mirror. The first shot he got was a clear view of his sagging buttocks. He had not seen them so clearly in quite awhile and was shocked. Adjusting the mirror, he scanned as much of his back as possible, seeing nothing unusual.
Back in the tub, he lowered himself the last few inches into the water, gingerly. His back still stung, but not quite as badly. He wanted to mull over his new assignment: finding the house from 1906 and then, if the carriage house was still standing, finding access to it in a manner that allowed him to extract a few bricks from the back wall.
He was too tired, however, to think clearly.
Two light cords ran out of Blevins’ back, into the back of the tub, reappeared coming out of the wall behind the tub and then disappeared through the ceiling of the bathroom. The ceiling was spotted with quarter-sized brown spots and needed cleaning. Commander Blevins sighed deeply and let the water soak away his aches and chills. A small unseen greenish spot remained just to the right of where the two light cords entered his back.
Twenty minutes later the phone rang. Commander Blevins groaned. He was nearly asleep and the water had cooled. Slowly he hauled himself out of the tub, slipped on his heavy robe and slippers and shuffled out into the hall and toward the phone. It was ringing for the sixth time. Most people who called him hung up before five rings, he had learned, so he wondered who was calling.
“Hello, Blevins here.”
There was pause and a small click, then a recorded voice said, “Happy Spiritual New Year! In celebration of the beginning of the New Spiritual Year on October 22nd, the Society will be holding its quarterly meeting Saturday evening, the 22nd at 6:30 pm. The event will be held at the California Historical Society’s Whittier Mansion Museum located at 2090 Jackson Street, at Laguna. The evening will begin with a reception in the lower level. At 7:30 a full course banquet will be served in the upper chambers. Following dinner there will be the Society Yearly Summation, the presentation of the annual Viewer of the Year award, and a featured talk by Mr. Trudgewater Bryce III, a noted Viewer and Inner World Explorer par excellence! RSVP to 362-1777, if you haven’t already. Please remember that this is the only function of the year in which the Society allows–and encourages!–members to bring spouses and Significant Others. This is the final reminder of this event. Dinner reservations need to be finalized by Thursday the 20th at 5:00 pm. The Inner Leads, The Outer Follows.”
Commander Blevins hung up the phone. He had received his invitation late in September and had RSVPed the next day. He now hoped he would be allowed to attend. A smile crossed his lips. Perhaps he should take Mrs. Frumpwooler. She certainly qualified as a “Significant Other” in the overall scheme of his status with the Society. “She might be a hit!, or at the very least, a sensation,” he thought.
Blevins went back to the bathroom, smiling and feeling surprisingly good. After letting the water out of the tub and sorting through the pile of clean clothes in the hall, he dressed: heavy sweat pants over light weight long johns, a single pair of thick socks, his Goofy slippers, long sleeve thermal shirt with a wool peasant shirt over that. He shuffled into the kitchen, warmed up the remaining cup of Mugi Cha, put on another pot of the Japanese roasted barley tea, and then retired to the main room and his favorite chair to watch the afternoon slip away.
Commander Blevins liked color. Perhaps it was an acquired taste from his many trips to the Inner Worlds with their beyond-the-physical rainbow of colors. More probably it was a trait he brought with him into this life that had laid partially dormant for many years. Whatever the reason, the clothes he chose to wear around the house were a variety of purples, deep reds, blue-greens and an occasional white, fuchsia, or yellow. He did own one pair of charcoal grey sweat pants that were now old and tearing at the crotch. He had tried to replace them, but the clothing buyer at Rainbow General Store said the color was discontinued. When he found he could no longer buy the dark pants he liked, he wondered if it was a waking dream, and if so, was the meaning only tied to which colors now were harmonious for him to wear, or was there another, more illusive meaning.
Sitting in the chair, with the fog just beginning to roll over the Peaks, he let himself drift. Relaxation did not usually come easily for Commander Blevins. Today, however, he was able to fully let go. A gentle energy and lightness swept over him. He heard a distant flute playing a wonderful melody. He began to smile and softly sing a single tone that he had heard in the Inner Worlds. This song felt like a spring shower of light floating down upon him. He heard a familiar voice speaking. Before he could hear any of the words, the voice faded.
Thoughts formed, passed through his consciousnesses, then melted away. His problem of the moment came into view, then moved on. A few minutes later the puzzle surfaced again and Commander Blevins found himself watching the scene of Gwenny fleeing the house that early morning long ago after the earthquake. There was an eerie pre-dawn light over the city. Some street lights were still on, some were not. He watched as Gwenny ran past a street sign. The sign about as tall as she, looked like it was made of cast iron with ornate scroll work on the top. Inset into this ironwork, was a clear, flat space that read “CLAY STREET” in raised letters.
“Clay Street!” Commander Blevins sat straight up. He was wide awake. The flute was gone. “Clay Street!” he said again. “That’s great! Now, how many streets did she cross before she got to Clay?” He thought about that for a while, but could not clearly reconstruct it. And the cross street: he was not sure of that, either. The houses looked like Pacific Heights, just west of Van Ness, around Lafayette Park, which made sense. Clay was interrupted by the park, as it ran west.
Evening approached and Commander Blevins became hungry. He got up and shuffled off to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. Lentil soup, sprouted bread, and cashew butter stared back at him. He decided to indulge and pulled the large cast iron pot of soup out of the refrigerator and lugged it over to the stove. The flame would not light, so he had to use a match. He picked up a wooden spoon from the dish drainer, opened the lid of the pot and stirred the lentils, carrots and green beans. A large piece of Kombu floated to the surface, stringy and gelatinous. “That should finish dissolving soon,” he said to himself and made a mental note to put a small spoon of miso in his bowl before dishing up the soup. “Oh, jungle rot!” He remembered he had not gone to Rainbow the day before. He was out of miso and still needed Kombu, Hijiki and a few other things.
He went back to the refrigerator and got out the sprouted bread and almond butter. The bread had raisins and cinnamon in it and the naturally sweet taste of the cashew butter made it almost like desert. He took the bread to the sink, cut three slices on the cutting board while holding it over the sink, and then sat down at the table. “Apple juice.” He stood up, got the juice out of the refrigerator, the glass out of the cupboard, sat down to spread a slice. “Knife. Rats.” He stood up, got the knife and thought to turn on the radio. There was a sports show on KNBR, talking about the Series.
He was interested, but did not really listen. As he ate the bread and cashew butter he began looking at possible approaches to removing the bricks in the carriage house, once they found it. A midnight skulk was risky. He could pose as a tuck-pointer in need of work, but the homeowners probably would have their own workers whom they already knew. Besides, he would have a hard time looking the part of a laborer, even in San Francisco, a City noted for its tolerance of the unique and original.
He mulled over images of various professions that might have reason to inspect the carriage house, especially at enough length to bore whomever might be accompanying him so that he would be left alone.
“Eureka! I got it!” He pounded the table and his apple juice sloshed over the edge of the glass. He caught the glass before the all of the juice spilled. Forgetting dinner, he went over to the china cabinet where he kept all his earring parts and equipment and rummaged around in the back corner of the bottom shelf. “Ahah!” he said, pulling out a small custom printer. He took the printer over to the table, pushed his bread aside, and opened the top and pulled back the inker. Set in neat little rows were all the letters that had been required to print his business card. Congratulating himself on his foresight, he pulled out all but the top row and spread them out on the table. He soon realized that he would need more letters and went back to the cabinet to find them. When he had everything laid out to his satisfaction, he inserted the new letters into the groves in the top of the printer.
“Zounds!” he said, “I bet I’m out of card stock.” Back to the cabinet, but this time he could not find what he needed. Next he tried his desk. The closest to what he needed were blank 3×5 cards in yellow and blue. He picked the blue and grabbed a ruler and his good Xacto knife. Cutting several 3×5 cards into business card size, he inserted one into the printer, closed the inker, fastened the top, grasped the crank on one side and gave it a steady turn. He loosened the top, opened it and there laying in the bottom section of the custom printer was a new business card. It read:
COMMANDER Z. P. BLEVINS
Surveyor of Histeric Carniage Houses
San Francisco 415-626-1950
“Rats!” He made the spelling corrections and added a new line. The next edition read:
COMMANDER Z. P. BLEVINS
Surveyor of Historic Carriage Houses
San Francisco 415-626-1950
“Do You Know The Heritage Of Your Carriage House?”
Very satisfied, he cut and ran off about twenty more cards before he remembered this was a one shot job. He also realized he was smelling burnt lentils. “Ricksaw droppings!” he cursed as he rushed to the stove to turn off the flame. The lentils on the bottom were charring nicely. He scooped some off the top and tasted them. “Yowie!” The lentils were hot, but did not taste burnt. Careful not to stir up the bottom, he ladled a large bowl full and took it back to the table.
“If I only had a paper,” he said. Scooting the printer and extra letters to one side of the table, he put the bowl down and went into the main room. In a moment he returned with a map of the City and opened it to the Pacific Heights area.
As Commander Blevins finished his dinner and settled in for the evening, Pins and Ember relished their solitude. “That was a world class Lookeyloo, what Greeny did,” Ember said.
“Yeah, a real beaut. Wonder what the long-term effects are of pulling a stunt like that?” Pins then sat quietly lost in thought. It was slowly loosing Its luster and pin stripes and was returning to Its now-normal dull grey. It did not care. Life was very entertaining at the moment.
Ember was equally content, and gently juicing as Commander Blevins went through his nightly routine, staying as toasty as possible.
“Riding The 22 Fillmore”
The 22 Fillmore bus lumbered up Fillmore, passing Pine and Bush. The street narrowed and jogged slightly, crossing Sacramento Street. Mrs. Frumpwooler had little business in the Lower, Lower Haight, so she rarely returned home this way. She was not returning directly home now, but the Marina Green was just beyond where she lived and that was where the 22 Fillmore line ended. The old, grand houses that lined the street were thrilling. A large bay window looked back at her, outlined in black and green trim. A yellow brick three story caught her eye. The house had two Greek statues framing the elegant steps which curved down from a small porch and and entrance way set at a forty-five degree angle to the house. Part of the delicate iron grill-work on the front door was visible. Mrs. Frumpwooler’s heart leaped.
She watched more grand houses and stately apartment buildings pass by, then the bus came over the crest of the hill and for a moment all she could see was sky through a narrow vista before her. The grey-green water of the Bay then replaced blue sky at the far end of Filmore as the bus started downhill. Stopping once to let a passenger off– “Probably hired help,” Mrs. Frumpwooler thought–the bus continued down Fillmore to Broadway. Someone was kind enough to have torn down whatever had occupied the northwest corner of Fillmore and Broadway. Mrs. Frumpwooler hoped the demolished building had not been one of the really nice homes, She stopped trying to remember though, as she was treated to a true panorama. The red-orange Golden Gate Bridge, in profile, glowed in the afternoon sun to her left. Marin County’s green and brown hills were directly across the Bay from her. A multitude of white sails dotted the Bay and surrounded a large cutter coming through the Golden Gate. Alcatraz and Angel Island stood alone farther into the Bay and the varied greens and purpled shadows of the East Bay framed her view on the right. Down below, tidal marshes curved in an uneven arc. Stunted trees and patches of tall growth peppered the area as Bay water rippled among them. Mrs. Frumpwooler blinked hard, then saw, in place of the marshes, the Marina stretched out flat and white, with mostly pastel colors punctuating it. The dome of the Palace of Fine Arts capped the western end of the neighborhood. Beyond the dome, the green forests of the Army Presidio rolled toward the ocean. Mrs. Frumpwooler wondered about her momentary vision. She did not fret long, though, as the scene below filled her with ecstasy…
…much unlike her unseen companion one floor up. Greeny had rolled and lurched around the roof of the 22 Fillmore as the bus made its way up Fillmore Street. When the bus turned sharply at Broadway, Greeny had been thrown off the roof and bumped along through the construction site until It had bounced up and managed to keep Itself aloft for awhile. Its yahooney was dripping unseen greenish-grey goo. Greeny was not a well.
The bus detoured for three blocks on Steiner to avoid an especially steep grade on Fillmore, then returned to Fillmore, eased its way down the hill and glided into the busy area below. Mrs. Frumpwooler felt as if she were coming down from the mountain and joining the urban circus. The vision of the marshes lingered, just beyond her comprehension. Van Ness Street was choked with traffic, but once past it and Chestnut, the Marina District’s quiet was welcoming. Five blocks later the bus pulled into its turn-around point on the near side of Marina Blvd. and she stepped down off of it onto the sidewalk. Across the street happy bedlam reigned.
Hundreds of people crammed onto the Marina Green, flying kites, laying in the sun, playing with their dogs, roller skating, break dancing, playing Frisbee, talking quietly, kissing, hugging, laughing: enjoying a sunny Sunday in San Francisco.
Mrs. Frumpwooler joined the crowd. Greeny joined the crowd. Mrs. Frumpwooler took many deep breaths and exuded happiness. Greeny worked hard to remain conscious. Mrs. Frumpwooler moved easily between the many people, stopping occasionally to pet a dog or toss back a frisbee. Greeny had not enough energy to look for other MEs, nor did he even notice when he was sniffed by a large, raspberry and blue fellow parasite.
“In Search Of Diamonds”
Eleven O’clock on Monday came quickly for Commander Blevins. The buzzer buzzed and he walked over to the front door and pushed the button in the bottom corner of a brass plate on the wall. It had been painted over several times and was peeling in places. A 1920s style telephone receiver hung from the middle of the plate on a hook above the remains of switches and labels across the bottom. At one time the intercom had allowed an apartment dweller a reasonable degree of security and selection in who entered and who did not. Today it offered a basic set of options: buzz someone in blindly, ignore it, or go downstairs to see who was there. Commander Blevins usually trotted downstairs when he was not expecting anyone. Mrs. Frumpwooler was on time today, though, so he pushed the button firmly for several seconds and opened the front door a fraction.
On schedule, bright eyed and bushy tailed, Mrs. Frumpwooler knocked sharply on the door three minutes later. Commander Blevins opened the door and said, “Good Morning, Mrs. Frumpwooler. How nice you look today.” Rested, back in control and with a project at hand, Commander Blevins was the embodiment of charm and good humor toward his Client. “Won’t you please come in.”
Mrs. Frumpwooler smiled, nodded, and walked in past him.
“Can I get you some tea,” he said.
“I think we should get straight to work, Commander Blevins.”
“That’s exactly what I had in mind,” he said. There was a pause as their two wills met. “Please, bear with me.” Commander Blevins showed Mrs. Frumpwooler into the room and she took her customary spot on the love seat. “Tea?” He shook his head in response to her shaking hers. “No. Alright then, lets begin. First of all, have you given any thought to what approach we should take?”
“That’s what I’m paying you for.”
“Quite right. I find, however, that my Clients are often just as capable of finding inspiration as am I. Two heads, you know. So please don’t hesitate to chime in whenever something strikes you. Deal?”
“I’ve searched my memory of watching Gwenny flee the area and I’ve studied a map of the City. I feel sure that the house is–or perhaps was–no more than three blocks west of Van Ness and a block or two from Clay…north I think, but I’m not positive. Do you happen to remember seeing any other street signs as Gwenny fled?
“Franklin. Franklin Street. I–Gwenny was running down Franklin Street when she passed Clay, and several more streets beyond that.” Mrs. Frumpwooler was not in a completely benevolent mood. She meant business. Diamond Business.
“Franklin…Splendid! Good work Mrs. Frumpwooler. Well, then our next move should be to reconnoiter the area in person. Is that agreeable to you?”
“I was ready to do that when I knocked at your door a few minutes ago. But now I have a question for you, Commander Blevins,” Mrs. Frumpwooler said. “By what method do you propose that we gain access to the carriage house wall, once we find it?”
“I have given that extensive thought, Mrs. Frumpwooler. And I am prepared. I assure you that I have spend the majority of my waking hours since we last parted company on precisely that problem. My solution will require some acting on my part. You do not need to concern yourself. I will explain your presense in such a way that you will be free to be exactly who you are–without mentioning the Diamonds, of course.”
“I’m intrigued. Please tell me more.”
“I must beg off, Mrs. Frumpwooler. When I am forced to present myself as someone other than myself, I loose the freshness, the natural qualities, if I rehearse–or even discuss–it with someone. Please trust me on this one.”
“It would appear that I don’t have much of a choice. OK, Commander Blevins, show me your stuff. Lets get on the road and find my Diamonds.” A slight chill went through Commander Blevins when he heard Mrs. Frumpwooler use the phrase, “My Diamonds.”
Commander Blevins held the front door for Mrs. Frumpwooler and they walked out of the building into sunshine and a chill wind. Mrs. Frumpwooler breathed deeply and said, “What a nice day we have for our scavenger hunt, Commander.”
Commander Blevins was busy buttoning his cape, pulling on his hat and trying to not drop his scarf. He didn’t notice Mrs. Frumpwooler’s familiar address and certainly did not agree that it was a nice day.
“If you have such a hard time keeping warm here, why don’t you move?” Mrs. Frumpwooler was eyeing Commander Blevins cape. It appeared to have been designed for a much large person and was made of burgundy material similar to what was used for back-packs. A heavy and rough white wool liner made it formidable protection from elements far harsher than San Francisco. Commander Blevins wore the hood back. He was adjusting an oversize green and turquoise stocking cap as she inspected him.
“You know, I get asked that often and I don’t really have a good answer. Yes the weather here does present a problem for me, but there are deeper pulls to stay. So I stay.”
“Maybe you are a masochist,” she said. They had crossed Fillmore and were walking up to Oak, toward the bus stop. Commander Blevins thought about what Mrs. Frumpwooler had said. He thought it about for so long that they both were wondering, silently, if he was going to answered her. Finally he said, “No, I don’t think so.”
“Another Safari!” the First One said. The two MEs were sitting on their usually perch watching Commander Blevins and Mrs. Frumpwooler cross the street. “And Lookeyloo what the cat drug in.”
Greeny had been laying low all morning. Mostly recovered from Its misadventures of the day before, It had been in control of Its actions and had perched on a wire around the corner on Oak Street when Mrs. Frumpwooler had gotten off the bus. Carefully, It had let Its light cord pass through the houses in the middle of the block as she had walked toward 600 Page. The First and Second Ones had, therefore, not noticed Greeny’s arrival on the scene.
“Do you think he’ll try to horn in on our Man in Red again?” the First One ask.
“If that should happen, we will blast him this time,” the Second One said. Greeny hovered cautiously on the far side of Oak Street, Mrs. Frumpwooler, and Commander Blevins.
The 22 Filmore did not make Commander Blevins wait long. It rolled up the hill in a few minutes. He and Mrs. Frumpwooler got on and found an empty double seat four rows back. The bus lurched forward just as Commander Blevins was sitting down. The sudden movement threw him into the seat and he bounced against Mrs. Frumpwooler.
“Don’t get fresh, now Commander,” she said. Her mood was lightening. He missed the joke and mumble an apology.
The First and Second Ones floated smoothly up Fillmore as the bus moved north. The ‘family’ outing was underway.
“You know that you have my curiosity piqued, don’t you Commander?’ Mrs. Frumpwooler was almost batting her eyelashes at him. “What exactly is it that you are going to do? Can’t you give me a hint?”
“No. Just be patient. First we need to find the house and then the carriage house still has to BE there. Did you review any more the scene we watched as Gwenny ran from the house?”
“Yes, I did. I remembered her looking back and seeing the house for a moment as she was running. And I also remembered the house across the street and the chimney that had fallen in the street from it.”
“Good show! Mrs. Frumpwooler. I had remembered the house, but had not recalled the chimney and the house across the street.”
“So all we have to do is look for a new chimney. That should be simple.”
“Well, I don’t know it will be that evident. The houses in that area are about a hundred years old. If the chimney fell during the quake, then it would be about eighty three years old. Not a big enough difference, I’m afraid, to be noticeable from this point in time.”
“Oh. I guess you are right.” Mrs. Frumpwooler was disappointed and became quiet.
“Hey Two Timer, how’s it hanging?” the First One said and raspberried Greeny.
“Hey, Jerk. That little Green dude could be all over your case in a flash. Want that?” the Second One said.
“Uh…no, I guess not.”
“That’s a smart guess. He may have almost offed his little greedy self yesterday, but he had a whale load of juice and will be on the mend double quick. And I might add that even as dumb as he appears to be, he’s a strong new pup, not a faded old relic like an unnamed fellow wire-sitter I know of. Dig?”
“Yes, I dig,” the First One said,
“Wonderful. Makes my day. Now, stay smart.” The Second One was in no mood to have to tangle with Greeny because of stupidity, if it could be helped. “Now, mellow out and enjoy the trip. Who knows what old Step ‘N Fetch It is gonna fall into today. We need our wits up.”
The 22 Fillmore pulled to a stop at Sacramento and Mrs. Frumpwooler and Commander Blevins got off. Greeny hovered on one side of them, looking out toward the Bay. His two fellow MEs kept their distance. The 1 California jogged one block along Fillmore from California Street, turned the corner to Sacramento, and pulled to a stop at the curb. Commander Blevins and Mrs. Frumpwooler climbed aboard the bus and sat down. A minute later, it lurched forward.
“Keep your eye peeled, just in case we are way off base or a house has been moved to a different lot,” Commander Blevins said.
“Move a house? I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
“Well, it does happen from time to time. The Spreckles Mansion–are you familiar with it?”
“Uh, no, I don’t think so.”
“It sits just above Lafayette Park.” Commander Blevins paused for a moment and turned toward Mrs. Frumpwooler. “You DO know where Lafayette Park is…”
“Yes, of course I do! Its right there!” Mrs. Frumpwooler pointed across the bus to the rolling green knoll just coming up on their left. The bus topped the rise at the bottom of the park and stopped. Lafayette Park ran uphill from where they sat and covered four square blocks. At the top of the park, two blocks north from where Commander Blevins and Mrs. Frumpwooler sat, stood the Speckles Mansion. “What do you think I am anyway, a tourist from Iowa?”
“Now, now. Just having a little fun, Mrs. Frumpwooler. The Spreckles House sits right over the hill, beyond the park. It covers nearly half a block and–and this is the point of all this–when it was built about ten years after the quake, they moved six houses to make room for the mansion.”
“If someone did move a house, surely they wouldn’t move a carriage house, too. Would they?” Mrs. Frumpwooler’s voice rose a full octave.
“Not likely. Which means we could–possibly–find our carriage house behind an entirely different home than it stood ninety years ago.”
“Not worth your fretting about. If someone was determined enough to move that house from the property, I doubt the carriage house would have survived the new construction.”
“Oh, Oh….” Mrs. Frumpwooler saw the bag of Diamonds disappear in front of her eyes. The bus jerked forward after two women climbed aboard. They walked passed Mrs. Frumpwooler and Commander Blevins and sat down somewhere in the back. It turned left, around the corner of the park at Gough Street, then back to the right one block later at Clay and rolled down the hill.
“Here we are, Mrs. Frumpwooler,” Commander Blevins said and pulled the cord above the window. The driver eased over to the curb on the far side of Clay Street and they got off. Both of them stood quietly facing north. As the 1 California moved on toward downtown, it unveiled Franklin Street in front of them, rising gently toward its last crest before heading down and running to its end at Bay Street and Fort Mason. They looked at each other, took deep breaths in unison and crossed the street.
Greeny took the west side of the street. The First One bobbed along over the cars parked by the curb on the east side, keeping an eye on Greeny. The Second One floated a few meters behind the First One, keeping an eye on It.
“Can you imagine what this street looked like right after the quake,” Commander Blevins said.
“Yes, I can,” Mrs. Frumpwooler said. “We saw it, remember?”
“Yes…well…I…er…mean we only got a glimpse of it.” Commander Blevins hated to be made a fool.
“We could always go back to that place and look at those little cards again, Commander. Maybe we could get a better view.”
Commander Blevins didn’t notice that Mrs. Frumpwooler was teasing. “I, well, yes we could, but I don’t think that’s a very good idea.” He snorted.
“Now, now. I was just having a little fun…to quote a certain someone who shall remain nameless.” Mrs. Frumpwooler grinned at Commander Blevins.
He pretended to ignore the whole thing, but was acutely aware that he had lost a round of repartee. He made a mental note to give Mrs. Frumpwooler a wider berth from now on. “This project is getting to me,” he thought. “Craziness on the Journey, almost being censured by the Review Committee–or have I been by now and I don’t know it–McDervish being Chairman Whirling and Chairman Whirling being at a Review and the scene that ended the review between Tickle, Dweed and Chairman Whirling..! It’s enough to cause serious reconsideration.”
They walked on in silence and crossed Washington. Suddenly he snapped out of his reverie. “We should be looking for the house. What’s wrong with me!”
“I can’t say about your last question, but as to your first comment: We don’t need to.” Mrs. Frumpwooler was glowing in the midday sun.
“We don’t?. What do you mean?”
“There it is.” She point across the street and up the block. Three houses ahead of them the Pacific Heights Victorian sat above the sidewalk, perched on ground held in place by an old concrete retainer wall, and reached tall into the sky. Its four gables made it appear to have a pitched roof. A small front porch and convoluted front steps were a little incongruous to the rest of the house. The large corner turret on the top of the house dominated the facade, with its overly tall windows set high in the tower.
“Son of a….” Commander Blevins caught himself. “Good work, Mrs. Frumpwooler!” He somehow thought he would never be faced with what now faced him: approaching the owners of the home and working his way into their confidence, putting himself in a position to extract a few bricks from the carriage house. From the angle they viewed the home, they could not see behind it. Commander Blevins did notice that a narrow drive ran up to the yard on the near side of the house.
“Well, let’s get going.” Mrs. Frumpwooler said.
“Yes, lets do. No, now wait a moment.” Commander Blevins stopped after he had taken a step. Holding his temple with one hand, and looking down at the sidewalk, he said, as though he were reading it from the back of his eyelids, “Please, follow my lead, and keep quiet. Its important that I have the freedom to improvise, if you get my drift.”
“Oh, right. I forgot. This should be exciting. Lead on, Commander.”