McSwain returns to the supervisor shack to refill his coffee cup. The supervisor sits at his desk and logs something on the computer terminal. Steve turns his back as he stirs the disposable foam cup with three sugars and two dried creamers; it’s a stiff, steely brew. The wooden swizzle bends under its potency.
“How long do you think until 107?” He asks the supervisor.
The foreman swivels in his chair and faces Steve, “it’ll probably be another hour. The boys are working pretty fast this afternoon, and if nothing goes wrong, we should get to it before dinner brake.” He looks to Steve for positive affirmation.
“An hour more,” McSwain sighs, “okay, I think I’ll go sit in my truck.”
“I’ll come get you just before.” All the containers are tagged with GPS locaters and he can track the progress of their movement from his computer.
“I should’ve brought some snacks.” Steve says as he leaves
“If you walk up to the gate, there’s a break room with vending machines and a microwave.” The foreman points in the direction to the front gate. “Just be careful; traffic can be dangerous.”
“Okay, thanks.” McSwain sips his coffee and walks toward the break room. He walks on a marked path whose paint is faded. He stops and sips his coffee, trying not to spill it on his hands.
“IDIOT,” someone yells out after a blaring truck horn.
Steve drops his coffee and turns around, white as ghost. He looks up to the cab of a truck sans container. The driver’s face is beet red, glaring at him, and he lays on the horn again. The cab grill is inches from his back. Steve gasps and frowns back at the driver. He points down to the path, and the driver revs his engine. Steve throws up his hands and moves out of the way. The truck spins it tires as it creeps past him. The driver honks the horn again with two short blasts. Steve just shakes his head, and thinks, an apology or a thank you?
Simon pulls up to the yellow zone parking, under the cantilever portico of the Kaiser building, the location of Bay Area Rapid Transit’s (BART) headquarters. The 28-story building is adjacent to Lake Merritt and its architectural fascia resembles 1950’s modern in the curve of a current context. One of the lower roofs contains a garden, so then builder/owner Henry J. Kaiser, didn’t have to look down form his 28th floor residence onto grey concrete.
Simon turns to Lieutenant Inspector Cochran, “I think we will be fine here.”
Seven unhooks his seatbelt and reaches for the door handle.
Cochran looks up from her smart-phone, “We may be here for a while. Why don’t you go find visitor parking.” She puts her phone away and opens the back door of the SF black and white next to the curb.”Seven you come with me. Simon, call me when you get through security.”
“Yes. Lieutenant.” Simon answers, turns forward, and looks around for an open lot.
Phoebe stacks some compostable-but-strong paper plates at the end of the picnic table. She jumps when a loud klaxon siren comes over the outdoor PA. “Com, I’ll never get use to that doorbell.” She heads inside the building to welcome her first guests.
She checks a small flat-screen monitor on the left of and above the front door. It’s for a security camera that activates with motion sensors at the front of their dwelling. She opens the front door. “Right on time,” she says and hugs her friend, Marilyn, from art school. “Just like in college, no wonder you finished.” The two exchange cheek kisses.
“And you were always late, what did the professor call you? Pasty-perfect, because you were always late.” Marilyn blushes a little, highlighting the light blue tattoo tears on her cheek. Marilyn is an amateur aerialist who works with a small traveling fair, Tambourine Street.
Phoebe laughs with her, “yes, I was always on time, but exactly five minutes in the past. He said he could set his watch by me.”
“This is my friend, Chili.” Chili smiles and holds out his hand. “He’s can be a little formal for a fire juggler.”
“I have to be. Fire does not laugh or cry. It does not hate or love, or judge you by your craft, skill, or intelligence. The flame only knows to burn.” He shakes and drops her hand. “I’m working on a new trick with two torches and a Roman candle, and as you can see,” he turns his head to the right, “my timing is lax. I’m still on the learning wire.” There is a sizable burnt spot in his hair. Chili is 5’7″, 37-years old, proportionate, but stout. Not fat, but he is built like a fireplug, low to the ground and all iron. He wears jean shorts cut off at the knees, 8-eye, doc martin work boots, heavily scuffed, but freshly polished. His white armless, cowboy-cut, work shirt reveals several “Sailor Jerry” style tattoos on tree trunk biceps; on one is a female trapeze artist, topless, a lion tamer and full mane lion in mid roar, and on the other is a calliope wagon. The cart is incomplete as several leads terminate mid-arm.
He notices Phoebe inspecting his tattoos. “I am going to add some horses, rhinos or sharks to the wagon, but I’ve not decided.” He flexes his arm with the trapeze, “see if I flex this one, she swings; and,” he turns so she can see the other arm, “if flex this one, the pipes look like they are playing.”
“Those are so, cool.” Phoebe smiles and says.
“And this is Bixxter, the Amazing Bixxter.” Marilyn introduces her second friend.
“He..,hell…oo.” Phoebe looks up as she holds out her hand. She didn’t even see all 6.5 feet of him standing behind the two. He seems to step out of nowhere and everywhere, towering over the three with a “Cheshire Cat” grin and gleam in his green eyes.
“Hellooooo,” Bixxter takes her hand and turns it backside up. He removes his straw top hat with his other hand and bows to kiss it.
“He’s, he is a prestidigitator extraordinaire and seer of the future past tense,” Marilyn adds. She looks toward Bixxter for affirmation, and as he raises himself up, slowly, he turns his head and winks at her.
“My friends call me Bixx.” He says as he rights himself and replaces his hat.
It’s hard to imagine anyone would not see him; the Amazing Bixxter wears a “steam punk summer” outfit. His full size, straw top hat has a pink fleur-de-lis pattern tie as a band with a pocket watch broach holding a miniature yellow rose. His dense black hair falls in front of his pale nose as he bends over. The hair is cut into a deep Middle Ages’ bowl style. The Amazing Bixxter wears a white linen poet shirt, under a pink vest with the same pattern as the tie. It is unusual to see someone in a long sleeve shirt, vest, and beige short pants. Freshly cut with a jagged edge, linen strings hand down around his pale calves. His feet are covered in canvas ankle-high dessert boots, like they might wear in the Foreign Legion.
Phoebe blushes and Chili lets out a capacious laugh.
“Bixxter is new to the area. His family tours on the east coast and throughout Midwest with Snooker Jim’s Circus of Wonder.” Marilyn continues.
“You’re a walking advert.” Phoebe says and giggles.
“I just wanted to get it right. Bixx coached me on it.”
“If you’re ever the MC at the three ring, you’ll do magnificently, Meryl, love.” Bixx says.
“I’ve got beer, wine, lemonade, and soft drinks.” Phoebe leads them through the front room, the kitchen, and out the backdoor.
Comma stacks the wieners on a platter and throws on several burger patties, cow and soy. He looks up and smiles as the troupe makes it way out the door. He looks back to the grill to focus on the flame and patty placement. Marilyn tugs on his sleeve. “Hi Marilyn,” he leans down and closes his eyes as she hugs his neck. When he rises up, his eyes widen as saucers and his jaw drops open as he continues to lean back and back onto his heels.
Bixx lifts his hat as he towers over Comma and reaches out his hand.
“This is the Amazing Bixxter, seer of the future past tense and prestid…” Marilyn falters.
Chili and Bixxter laugh, “that’s not necessary at every introduction Ms. Marilyn.” Bixxter says. “It’s best reserved for initial introductions to the tent.”
“Oh, kay,” Marilyn blushes. Chili snickers and grabs her in a bear hug.
“Uh,” Comma says and reaches out his free hand in a lateral fist. Bixx bumps him and Comma repeats the gesture to Chili. He smiles and returns the greeting.
“Nice to meet you,” Bixxter says. “Whose the guest of honor tonight, Mr. Comma?”
“Uh,” Comma looks over the trickster from head to foot, but can’t decide if he’s a hipster’s, hipster or just the most eccentric he’s seen in a while. The Mr./Ms. titles are strange, an in time perhaps, annoying. “I think, Uh, I think it may be, uh, your, I mean Phoebe’s friend Marilyn?”
“Indeed,” Bixx turns to Marilyn and says, “Madame,” he reaches for her hand, and after she offers it, he turns it over and kisses the backside. “I am indeed honored to be here and to accompany our most beautiful, guest of honor.”
“I have plates and cups over here.” Phoebe says as she stands at the opposite end of the table. “The tap is Trumer Pilsner, and I have some two-buck Chuck in the kitchen.”
Ethan is waiting on his apartment stoop, when the Buick stops in front. His backpack is sitting next to him. He is wearing the same clothes as the previous night, except for the t-shirt. He’s changed into a sea-foam linen/cotton/polyester blend Guayabera shirt with short sleeves, four patch pockets, and hourglass, scrolled ribbon pattern embroidery.
The throaty engine revs and Joel rises up in his seat; the top is down. “Hey come on, man, jump in.”
Ethan stands up, picks up his backpack, and walks over to the passenger side of the car. He smiles at Bridget who opens the door for him. Ethan sees a lever on the side of the seat and flicks it.
“NO, no, Ethan. Sit up here with us. There’s plenty of room.” Joel barks happily like an excited terrier.
Bridget slides over to the middle of the bench seat and Ethan pauses, looks hard at Joel’s enthusiasm, “okay.” He throws his backpack into the back seat, and slips onto the front seat. “I thought you were going to come in and wait?”
“We decided to put the top down and have a quick shot to start the afternoon off with a smile.” Joel hands Ethan a travel bottle of tequila.
“Is that smart?” Ethan cups the bottle in his hand puts it in his front pocket, “it’s not even your car Joel.”
“It’s okay. I’ll keep him in line.” Bridget forcefully pinches Joel’s waist muffin top.
“OUGH!” He turns and squints at her. “That hurts,” he rubs his fat.
Bridget turns to Ethan, “he’s so cute when he gets what he deserves.” She laughs.
Ethan laughs too and says, “you should have seen him when he jammed his finger at basketball. He screamed like it was broken. I thought we were going to have to go to the emergency room.”
“For a jammed finger?” They continue giggling.
“Hey, stop laughing at me behind my face, while I am here.” The puppy squeals, again.
“Whaaaat,” Ethan answers. “What does that even mean?”
“You know.” Joel steps on the gas and the Buick lurches forward, knocking their heads back.
Ethan puts his arm around Bridget’s shoulder along the top of the seat back. She moves in closer to him. She gathers her brunette hair in her hand to keep it from whipping her in the face in the wind.
“I have ball cap under the seat; can you reach it.” She asks Ethan.
He leans down his right arm between the seat and the door and gropes around on the floor. “Almost,” he leans forward and to the side. “Got, it.” Ethan pulls out a light blue Oakland A’s ball cap and hands it to Bridget.
She leans her head forward, pushes her hair through the opening in the back and places the cap low onto her head. “Thanks.” She leans back into Ethan’s side.
“Oh before I forget. I brought you something.” She reaches into the back pocket of her jean shorts, and pulls out a Tarot card. “I have several old decks mixed together, and this is the one that I drew when I thought of this evening.
Ethan takes the card and turns it over and over in his hands. “I can keep it?”
“What does it mean?” He turns to Bridget.
“I drew it right side up, so the card means it could be the beginning of something new.” She answers.