Weaving Spiders Come Not Here
"Radix malorum est cupiditas."
My cell phone wretches melodious—the Beer Barrel Polka.
“Pete Bingo, all the above and more—at your disposal.”
“Gramps, it’s Mikki. You’re on assignment.”
“Oh yeah? Dangerous stuff, huh?”
“You wish. Just tailing a tail.”
“Hmmm… the tale of two tails. Who’s our pigeon?”
“Archer, first name Miles. Voodoo, extortion and rent money for us.”
“Archer, Archer,…name rings a bell.”
“He’s competition, gramps.”
“Ten-four. Where’s the tag?”
“Outside the Golden Gate Bridge gift shop. Ten p.m. And, Gramps, for the sake of the goddess, for once—be PROMPT!”
"Yeah, prompt, prompt—that's my middle name."
I got me three hours to kill, so I stroll into the HA-RA for some liquid companionship. Two minutes later, I finger a victim bellyin' up to the bar. I sell him a gross of business cards and a newly improved Dead Devil car alarm.
Here’s the bridge, not forty minutes past the appointed hour. I bump into Mikki.
“OUCH, what the…”
“Sorry, Mikki darlin’. Damn this fog. But, see—I was keepin’ an eye out for you. The other one… well, I figured I should disguise myself….”
“Right—as Warren Hinkle?… O.K. gramps, here’s the lowdown. See the cops over there?”
A brace of boys-in-blue crane over the railing, peering down, pointing their flashlights at not one, but two bodies floatin’ on the bay.
“What about tailin’ the tail?”
“One floater’s our tail—Miles Archer.”
“Oh well, like I always say, ya win some and ya…”
“No, Gramps—listen. I saw everything. Here I'm shadowing Archer. First, the guy Archer’s tailing jumps. As I draw closer Archer gets real fidgety, staring up to the top of the bridge, mumbling and whimpering. I think he notices me but he acts like I’m invisible. And he's ranting on and on about some guy named George White. When I get maybe ten feet away he breaks out of this sweaty trance and levels his eyes at me like he's gone completely mad. He reaches into his pocket, his eyes still locked on mine, pulls out and demands I take this stone." Mikki shoves the rock in my face. "See? It looks like a flatfish, doesn't it—like a small sanddab. Anyway, Archer grabs my hand, insists I take this stone fish, and tells me he can’t stand being ‘unglued in time’ any longer. Then he dives over the railing into the bay before I can stop him!”
“Oh, well. Easy come, easy...”
“Hold on, Gramps. That's not all. See, the moment Archer slips me the sanddab stone It's like my mind's just been been hardwired to the internet. Suddenly, I realize George Hunter White is both an ex-journalist and a DEA agent on loan to the CIA. He runs an LSD brothel for The Company up on Telegraph Hill. Here’s the address. We need to know what gives. Be discreet, gramps—and be very, very careful. Go up there and get the lowdown on MK-ULTRA, Operation Midnight Climax—and check for any signs of the Illuminati.”
So I huff an’ puff three Kool's on my way up to White’s place, knock, an’ to my delight a beauteous and bumptious redhead hidin’ less than nuthin' opens the door an' beckons me in, all ruby-lipped and jiggly-wiggly. I step through the door and see there's dames every which where.
“So ladies," I politely inquire, "where’s ol' Georgie boy?”
A toilet flushes, a door swings open, an’ I’m face to face with this lardo cue ball luggin’ a triple martini in one hand and a relief pitcher in the other.
“Yeah, what is it?” says he.
“Archer sent me," says me.
“Yeah? OK, have a seat... Honey," White barks out to a piled-high peroxide blonde, "get this guy a beer.”
I gotta question White, but figure, what the hell, the teensiest bit of pleasure before business ain’t gonna hurt no one. The Hispanic lovely hands me a tall cool one. Deep breath, single swill.
By now the gals, they’re swarmin’ all over me, an’ I’m startin’ to feel good and real funny—funny like I ain’t never felt before. Stuff comes into my head—strange stuff. I’ve never seen, heard, felt or tasted stuff like this—patterns in a million sponge colors, electric cackles, hints of liverwurst, lavender and onion—hell, I’m floatin’ off—who cares—bells, whistles and cushy landing on some far, far, far away…
Comin' to and I’m lying—no kidding—in the middle of some damn shrubbery. I pick the leaves and the stems off as best I can and drag my sorry ass down Telegraph Hill. My reckoning says it's tomorrow, but hell, whadda I know. Anyway, I could eat a horse—and fresh-baked focaccia beckons. I wait for Liguria to open, an’ meanwhile I peddle business cards an’ promotional fly swatters to all the victims in line outside. I tell ya, The City could use a few flies for the sake of my sales.
Mikki finds me perusing North South China Herbs’s display window across from Fior de’ Italia. They got this stack of dried crucified lizards collectin’ dust in a basket. I’m thinkin’, “The Viagra works fine, but maybe lizard brew’s cheaper.” I dunno.
“Gramps," she calls out to me as she pulls to the curb, "get in—it’s hit the fan. Let's move.”
I settle into her old caddy ragtop, doohickies ta burn.
“So, what did you squeeze out of White?” she asks.
“Truthfully, I don’t remember.”
“Something’s happening, gramps. Something weird.”
“So I’m stepping inside the Transamerica Pyramid when, just like that—"Mikki takes one hand from the wheel to snap her fingers, "it vanishes! The next instant, I’m outside facing hundreds of masted ships anchored where the Financial District should be. I turn to face a burly sawed-off redhead who tries to put the make on me. I tell you, gramps, this guy reeks. And, get this—he claims he’s Shanghai Kelly!”
Makes perfect sense to my drug-addled mind. Shanghai Kelly, the most ruthless crimp ever to walk the old Barbary Coast—well over a hundred years ago.
“Mikki, let me tell you something…” But my mind wanders off into fields of wheat and clover.
“See Gramps, this cop, you know him—Pennrest…”
“Sure, the psycho creep hadda crush on you—‘til ya kicked him up to soprano.”
“Well, Pennrest claims he saw the entire bridge scene go down. He says I pushed Archer over!”
Sweet—my grandkid, smart as a whip, beautiful, talented, an’ set up to flop for murder one.
“Did Archer say anything else before he jumped?”
“Yes, but none of it makes sense. First there's the George White stuff, then Archer says that The City holds puzzle pieces, and that it—whatever IT is, has been here from the beginning.”
She keeps talkin', but I’m ruminatin' over repairing to some cozy Irish pub—you know, talk up a few Gaelic victims, hoist a few pints an’ ignore the damn soccer on the tube. But Mikki requires my attention.
“Grandpa Pete, what do you know about the Bohemian Club?”
“Oh, yeah—my boys the Bohos! Well, I'll tell ya. What started out as a regular excuse to get ripped by a bunch of broke and thirsty newshawks, poets and artists, got hijacked by the planet’s richest and most powerful men—industrialists, bankers, politicos—guys like that. Their clubhouse sits just off Union Square. Come midsummer, they party out on their 2,700-acre Russian River redwood grove up in Sonoma County, frolicking in drag, staying filthy drunk and, some say, plotting all manner of international devil-doing. Hell, I wish they’d invite me.”
“Yeah, well Archer said we’d find a puzzle piece there, too, gramps. As if we could get in. If we're to believe Archer, there's a Bohemian member who wants everything and everyone.”
“Don't they all?”
“The Bohos? Well, yeah—good point.”
“So, then how do we crack this nut?”
“Take a breather, Gramps. We’ll catch up tomorrow. Eight p.m. Top Of The Mark.”
“Your wish is my intent.” With a tip of my pith helmet and the two-finger salute, I shunt daydreams of leprechaun gold aside and hasten back to my accustomed seat at the HA-RA.