Steve McSwain pulls up to a portable loading dock at the Oakland Port, next to the container ship, Hu Mag. A dock supervisor checks his paper work, and instructs McSwain to back his 20-ft. International Harvester, two-axle, into a loading dock slot. The specialty dock is on wheels and its frame can hold one container. The cranes can set one on it directly off the cargo ship, and then a dock crew can quickly unload it for special delivery. Steve leaves the engine running and exists the cab. A line of trucks longer than the ship is queued next to him.
“Which one is it?” He asks the supervisor.
“Number 107, it’s going to be a few minutes before we can get to it.” He replies. “There’s coffee at my shack over there,” he points at a tin shack set off the primary loading area. “Turn off your truck, and I’ll come get you when I’m close.”
“Right.” McSwain returns to his Harvester and shuts it down. He walks over to the shack and looks in the door. The shack is large enough for a desk and a sideboard. A computer terminal sits on the desk, and a commercial percolator sits on the sideboard next to paper cups, sweetener, and powder creamer.
“This is first time I’ve travelled across the new Bay Bridge.” Seven says as he looks forward through the cruiser’s front windshield. It passes through the Treasure Island tunnel, and unlike the old bridge, emerges into full sunlight. Seven squints as the sun reflects off of fresh light grey concrete. The new span is side-by-side, unlike the over and under of the old. The eastern span of the old pear and beam bridge was replaced with a suspension bridge capable of withstanding an 8.3 earthquake, which is greater than any recorded in the area, and greater than any seismologists predict in the next 1500 years. A section of the old span collapsed in the 1989, Loma Prieta Quake, and the remaining span suffered serious damage.
“It’s quite beautiful.” Officer Simon adds, and glances in the rear view. “I biked the span two weeks ago with my girlfriend.”
Lieutenant Inspector Cochran reads email and text messages off of her phone. She never looks up.
“Biked?” Seven inquires.
“Yes. Look to your right.” Simon glances quickly. “That is a bike path. It joins the Bay Trail in Oak-town and Emeryville.”
“Wow. Sounds like fun. Does it go all the way across?”
“No not yet. You can almost get to Treasure Island, but the old bridge is still in the way. I don’t know if they plan to hang it on the western span?”
“No plans yet.” The Lieutenant says, but does not look up. “They are studying the possibility, however.” She taps on her phone.
“It’s time to put some hot dogs on the grill.” Phoebe sings out, and gets no response. “COM, where are you?” She shouts and looks outside. A fire on the grill still kisses the charred grate. “COM,” she turns and yells again into the loft. Damn it, where’d he go? She thinks to herself, wipes her hand on her apron, and moves over to the rear door. She opens it and bellows, “COMMA.” She turns her head right and again, “DAMNIT, COM.” She turns her head left and jumps back.
“Yeeeesss,” he startles her as he appears next to her from the left.
“DOOoon’t, do that, now. People will be begin arriving in a moment, so put some wieners on the grill.”
“Ha, ha, ha, heh, heh, heh, you said wiener.” He does his best ’90’s MTV, Butthead impression “The keg is tapped; do you want a beer?”
He pulls a draft, but it’s all foam. Comma pours it on the ground. He pumps the keg and tries again. Less foam, so he pours two drafts and carries one into the kitchen. “Here you go.”
Phoebe smiles, sighs, and takes a drink. “Thanks.” She’s ready. She carries a stack of buns to the grill, and then lines up condiments on the picnic table. It’s built from the recovered wood of a dismantled crabbing boat, the Dora Mia. The name in faded green letters on chipped white and weathered grey runs down the center of the table. Comma picked it up from an abandoned boat yard in Vallejo.
“I wonder who will show first?” She asks.
Comma does not answer, and squirts water on to the coals to dowse the flame. They are 3/4’s ash. He picks up a package of Ridley’s, neighborhood source beef/pork 3/4 pound, all-meats, but tears off, bungles, the easy tab. He pulls a multi-tool out of his pocket and opens the blade.
“Is that sterile?” Phoebe squeaks.
Com smirks, “Of course. I cleaned snails with it a couple of days ago. It should be fine.” He grins like a salesman working a prank. He flips a wiener and it lands perfect on the grill. He flips a second and it lands on the ground next to the grill. “Oops.” He carefully places the remaining links on the grill, and opens a package of soy dogs. Yuck, he thinks to himself. The color doesn’t seem natural to him, but California is what it is. “Soy to the left, flesh to the right.” Comma twist his hips and shoulders is song as he organizes the grill. “Soy to the left, flesh to the right. California cries for the vegan’s plight.”
Phoebe shakes her head and returns inside. She heads to the back of their loft, to the bathroom to freshen up, and inspect it one last time for cleanliness.
A royal blue ’68 Buick Skylark Grand Sport, convertible, pulls up to the curb at Seven’s apartment building. Joel runs his fingers through his brunette collar-length hair and turns to his passenger, Bridget. “I’ll go get him. Want to come?”
Bridget smiles. She is wearing a blue tint lipstick and matching fingernail polish. “No.” She looks down the sidewalk and sees several people on the corner surrounding a young man with droopy jeans. He is palming something to each of the others as they walk by. She looks at the meter; it’s flashing green, but has a yellow top; it’s a loading zone with time left from the previous occupant. “I’ll wait here in the car.” She opens the passenger door and moves to the back.
Joel steps up five risers to the front door and pushes the button on the left wall under Ethan’s apartment number. The previous tenant is scratched out, and his is scrawled in the remaining space, but is barely legible. He waits at the speaker, tapping his finger on the intercom screen. No response. He pushes harder and longer on the button, not sure if it is working. He waits. “He better damn well be here,” he mutters to himself and pushes the button again, and holds it. There’s still no response.
Joel takes out his smart phone and speaks, “Call Ethan.”
“Hello, Joel. You want me to call Ethan?” Pat says. It is the pattern-matching simile of voice recognition software, programmed to a female neutral-Midwestern accent.
“Okay, calling Ethan.” Pat replies.
“Good, just do what I say Pat.” Joel says in low voice.
“What? Stop. Don’t call Ethan?” Pat asks. “I don’t understand.”
“NO.” He screams into the phone. A passerby on the sidewalk, an older man, 60 or so, with a scraggly gray beard, and wearing an army green field coat with ranger patches, stops and looks up at Joel. “Sorry, stupid phone.”
The man frowns, shakes his head, and grumbles something under his breath. He puts his hand in his pockets and walks on.
“CAaaall, Ethan.” Joel repeats, controlling his volume, and then sighs.
“Calling, Ethan.” Pat says.
Ethan’s phone is in his pants pockets. He is laying on top of it on his couch in a deep sleep. Ethan dreams he is standing on the top of a BART train and his arms are outstretched like wings against violent uplift. The bouncing, rocking, and rolling of the train vibrates his vision as the friction of the air chafes his cheeks. He looks up to the ceiling, threads of cables and tubes. He looks to the front and he can see a light ahead. The ceiling disappears and he soars into blue sky and sunshine. Something is pulling him back to the train. Something is holding him, a tether or kite string. It vibrates against the pull of the lift. Something in his pocket, he thinks to himself, how strange that I am attached at the pocket.
Ethan awakes to the sun, lower in the sky, beaming through his only window. He squints and feels his phone vibrate. “Oh shit,’ what time is it?” He says out loud. He reads the name of the incoming call. It’s Joel. “Shit,” he says again and sees the time, 4:15. He answers, “Hello Joel.”
“Dude, what are you doing? We’ve been downstairs for 15 minutes.” Joel is agitated and sharp. “I was about to give up. We’re in the loading zone, man.”
“I am so sorry. I feel asleep.” Ethan says. “Go park and I’ll let you in.”
“Park? Let’s go. Bridget is waiting in the car.”
“Joel, I’ve got to take a shower first.”
“Man, Ethan what the fuck is the matter with you. Are you still sick?”
“No, no, I am just tired.”
“C’mon, man, let’s go. VAMANOS.” Joel always uses a 2nd language for emphasis.
Ethan shakes his head; does he still think that is cool? “I’ve got to get in the shower, man.”
“Whore’s bath?” Joel asks like he’s flat on the scene. He looks back to the Buick and Brigit has moved to the driver’s seat. He looks down the street and sees a three-wheel, blue and white vehicle with flashers. It’s making it’s way down the street chalking tires, and prescribing $75 invitations to the Emerald City’s coffers.
“NO. Twenty minutes. I’ll be down in twenty, or, you can come up and wait?
“Gotta go, meter cop. “I’ll be back in 20 minutes.” Joel disconnects.
Ethan gets up off the couch and lays his phone one the table next to a half-eaten samosa. He stuffs it in his mouth and heads to the shower.
Joel jumps over the passenger door into the passenger seat of the car, grazing the beige vinyl seats with his shoes. “Parking enforcer, let’s go.”
Bridget forces a smile and starts the Buick GS with a single turn of the key. She can’t resist revving the 455cc big block. Just as the DPT Interceptor pulls in over her left shoulder behind them, and the officer exits with eyes forward, ticket printer-in-hand, Brigit engages the transmission and squeals the tires out of the spot like a rocket on asphalt. She is tempted, but not stupid enough to spin the tires and fishtail. The throaty rasp and puff of gray smoke almost knock the officer’s jaw off her face.