“Should I put the chicken and steaks on?” Comma yells through the back door. No answer. He pulls an apron out of the power supply bay of one of the Mac towers and loops it over his head. It is dingy blue denim with leather straps and large flap pockets on either side something a blacksmith might wear. It it’s covered in technology company patches and embroidered over his heart in bold red block letters is the phrase, “Shoes or Steak.”
Phoebe is inside the kitchen refilling wine glasses and clearing the prep areas. The intent is to keep the mess in balance, but sometimes intentions don’t always go as planned. She knows if she stays on top of it as long as possible, tomorrow will be easier. The klaxon from the front door sounds again. She pulls the plug from the sink and sets her santoku in the drying rack. Everyone is in the backyard, so she dries her hands on her apron as she rushes to answer the door.
“Hello,” she hugs Tracy first and kisses Rick’s cheek.
“Are we too late?” Rick tugs on the side hem of her apron.
“No, no, silly.” Phoebe lightly slaps his hand. “You know it’s just easier for me, if I keep things as I go along.”
“You take the stairwell views.” Lieutenant Cochran looks at the monitor to her left. “Simon will take the in and out cameras, and,” she sits down in the middle chair, “I’ll take the platforms.” Cochran pulls a notepad out of her purse.
Seven sits in the left chair, and spins it around and around to adjust the height.
“What are you doing?” Cochran is truculent.
“I’m trying to adjust the height.” He replies and continues to spin it, one way then the other to see if anything changes.
“Idiot, there is a lever underneath to adjust the height.” She points as Seven bends over to look at the piston on his chair.
“Oh. How did you know that?” He looks up her legs to her face, smiles, and asks, “Come here often?”
“No. These aren’t the same chairs as the last time I was here. I’m observant; I’m a cop, remember?” She shakes her head.
Seven depresses the lever and his chair sinks to the ground. Continuing to hold it, he raises up, and the chair lifts to its maximum height. He sits again, depressing the switch, and it falls to the bottom. He repeats the cycle several times, and while each time the chair whistles as it plummets. “Does this remind you of anything?” He giggles and continues the adolescent game.
“Seriously, are you 10-years old, today?”
“Sorry,” he adjusts it to a comfortable height and takes a notepad out of his pocket. He studies the keyboard and hoovers his hand over the start key. “Should we start?”
“Let’s wait for Simon.” She grabs his hand and pushes it to his lap. “Please don’t make me regret your help.” She looks into his eyes.
“Sorry Em, I’m just trying to lighten the mood.”
“DON’T call me that, here.” Lieutenant Inspector Cochran rebukes him. “Call me, Lieutenant Cochran, Lieutenant, or Cochran. I need you to at least pretend to be a professional.”
“Sorry Lieutenant, I understand.”
A white hybrid compact car pulls up in the driveway at 1313 Devonshire, and the passenger side rear door opens. I young teenager gets out and walks up to the door. The brakes light and reverse indicators light up. The teenager tries the door handle, and then reaches around into his pack for a set of keys.
It’s been 30-minutes, this can’t be the delivery recipient. Steve McSwain looks at his watch and sighs. “Damn-it.” This is supposed to be a quick drop and go. He sighs again and looks up. The doorway is empty and the car is gone.
“AHHH,” he screams and jumps as an extremely loud knock on the passenger-side of the truck startles him.
McSwain scoots over in the seat and opens the door. Two large Asian men are starring at him and giggling. One is trying to stop, but his face flushes red and redder.
“Sorry Chief,” the shorter of the two, 6’2″, 280 pounds, all muscle says, “I’m Sefa, and this,” he points to the taller boy, 6’5″ 320 pounds, not all muscle, “is my little brother, Scooter. We’re from Vanilla Shed. We’re here to unload.”
Scooter can’t hold it in any more and lets out a gregarious deep laugh, like some mythic titan. He points, shakes his head an turns away from the cab.
“Sorry man,” Sefa chuckles with this brother, “we,” he takes a deep breath, “e kala mai ia`u, we didn’t mean to scare you.”
Steve holds his stern brow and frown as long as he can, then inverts to a smile and laughs too. His also glow bright red. “It’s okay, dude. They’re not here, yet.” He twists his head back and forth. He continues grinning as color dissipates.
“Cool, I guess we’re early?” Sefa says as his brother moves further off, but can’t stop laughing.
“No. You’re fine, Dude.” Steve answers.
“Will be in out car, man, come and get us when you’re ready.” Sefa says and the two return to an old beat-up, red Ford pickup from the late 70’s. Sefa sits behind the wheel.
“I am going to make some wine coolers.” Phoebe tells the two as they pass from the front room to the kitchen. “The keg is outside,” Phoebe points out the back door. Rick continues to the backyard.
“I’ll take a cooler,” Tracy smiles. “Can I help?”
“No.” Phoebe answers. “Comma, Marilyn, and her two friends are out back. Go find out if they want a cooler.”
“Okay.” Tracy goes outside.
Simon enters the video lab and sits in the empty chair. Sergeant Rice follows him, carrying three pads of paper. Each pad is 100-sheets of triplicate forms to record events in a video search. The form has the Oakland Police Department shield and address at the top each page, and a city motto at the bottom. “Oakland, a Model City and a Great Place to Live.”
“Simon, You take the camera’s that cover then entrance and exits.” She point to his monitor, “it should be queued up on it.”
“Here are pencils and pads to collect notes,” Rice says. “It’s the form we created just for this. The form has a case number/name box, date box, tape number box below the heading. The tape number refers to the camera location and date. Running down the left column is 3 time stamp boxes next to on the right of each is an incident box.”
“We don’t collect this on the terminal?” Seven asks.
“No, not at this time. Eventually, it will be entered into and referenced to a case number in our crime database.” Rice answers.
“The curve is slow in Oaktown.” Seven murmurs out loud.
Cochran turns to Seven and growls. “What?”
“Sorry, Lieutenant. I am tired and stupid.” Seven’s face reddens. “Sorry Sergeant Rice, I’m being a dick.”
“I was thinking more that you head was up somewhere in place of your dick.” Rice answers, and only Seven laughs, nervously.
Lieutenant Inspector Cochran sighs loudly.
“I’ll leave you to it, Lieutenant,” Rice says and leaves the room. He dims the lights before exiting. He can monitor their progress on the monitor on his desk.
“Okay, Lieutenant. What exactly are we looking for?” Simon asks.
“Seven, you can start now.” She touches his arm and turns toward Simon. “Anything out of the normal,” she says. “Make a note of the timestamp at the corner of each view and brief description of what you see.”
“Got it.” Simon’s picks up his pen and puts on his headphones. He fills in his badge number, the case name 187PresdaleSFBART, date, and time at the top of the sheet and a numeral “1” in the left column. He starts playback.
“Should I use your name on the form?” Seven asks Emily.
“And, the case name?” He holds the pen.
“Don’t worry about it. I fill that out later.” She answers, “anything else?”
“No.” He starts playback.
Thirty more minutes pass, and Steve McSwain is growing impatient. He doesn’t want to spend his entire Saturday waiting to deliver this furniture. He picks up his phone and dials the Vanilla Shed’s warehouse dispatch number again.
“Hello this is Steve…” He doesn’t get the chance to finish.
“Just a minute.” the dispatcher interrupts him.
“Hello Mr. McSwain. This is Selene. I am sorry this is taking so long, but I just got off the phone with the client and it’s going to be another hour.”
Steve sighs, holding swallowing his frustration, “an ho..ur, a whole HOUR?”
“I know. I am so sorry. I have to stay too, and we may need to reroute the rest of your load.” Selene is calm.
“REROUTE? It’ll cost more if the mileage is different.” McSwain sighs again, more calmly. “In fact, I may have to tack on the WTF charge for changes in route.”
“I know what you mean Mr. McSwain, it’s a WTF all around.” She smiles to the receiver. “The client claims to be involved in a traffic accident.”
“Okay. I guess.” He says, “what about the reroute? It’ll cost more if…”
“No, no, it should be shorter, but the pay is the same.” She adds. “We want you to deliver the remaining load onto an Amtrak freight car headed for Sacramento at 8:00. Do you think you can make the Amtrak stop in Emeryville by then?”
“Well? If the hour is solid and the client doesn’t fall off the Bay Bridge or something, I should be able to make it. I think they like an hour leeway and if the train is on time…”
“I checked. It should be.” Selene stops him.
“Can I keep the help that’s here?” He asks, tentatively.
“Yes. I’ve already made arrangements.” She answers.
“Okay, I am good.” He chuckles. “I may go get something to eat.”
“Thank you, Mr. McSwain…”
“Call me Steve.” He interrupts her.
“I will touch base with you in one hour, Steve.” She finishes and hangs up.
“Good, good, thanks.” He answers to the dial tone. “DAMNIT,” he yells to himself and bangs his hands on the steering wheel.
Several loud bangs come from his truck door and it startles him, again. His eyes and mouth are wide open, again. Sefa is standing outside his cab, grinning ear to ear.
“I’m so sorry, man.” Sefa says as he giggles. It is infectious.
“No problem,” Steve sighs. He sighs loudly and chuckles with Sefa.
“Man, we’re gonna get some dinner, maybe a burger or something close. Do you wanna go?” Sefa asks.
Blushing and smiling, Steve bobs his chin up and down, “sure.”
“We’ll drive, man.” Sefa says.
The front door klaxon goes off, and Comma looks up from the grill. Phoebe, Rick, and Chili are at the back of the yard arranging the old telephone company underground wire spools like dinner theater tables. They leave room in the middle of the yard as a stage.
“Tracy, do you mind?” She shouts at her to answer the front door.
“Of course not. I’ll be right back.” She answers.
Tracy looks up at the front door monitor. It’s Bridget and two good-looking men. She smiles and opens the door.
“AAAAHHH,” both women scream and embrace each other vigorously. They kiss on the cheeks, then hug again and kiss on the lips.
“It’s been so long.” Tracy says.
“I know. I didn’t know you were back in town? Is Rick with you?” Bridget asks.
“I can’t get rid of him. He’s like a pink velvety fungus.”
“Of LOVE.” Both women sing in unison. It was a theme the last opportunity they spent time together at the Burning Man Festival in Black Rock Dessert, Nevada. Bridget was dating a burner at the time and the two couples painted their home maid teepee bright pink. It fell down on them once in a windstorm, and as the four batted it around to escape and reset, passer-byes were laughing and singing, “if only for a pink fungus, our love is complete.”
“Forgive me, these are my friends,” Bridget wraps her arms around, “Ethan,” and nodes to, “Joel.”
“Nice to meet you,” Joel says. Ethan just smiles.
“Come in, come in. Everyone is out back. I think Phoebe is still organizing, but the party is on.” Tracy says and leads the three through the living room and into the backyard.
Everyone looks up as the group enters; it’s early party etiquette. At the beginning of parties, the host usually introduces everyone as they arrive. The party continues until the third drink or so, and everyone is left to their own introductions. Party rules usually relax more and more as the evening progresses. Phoebe walks over to the group and hugs Bridget, who introduces Ethan and Joel. Phoebe takes the lead, walks over to Comma, and introduces everyone. Comma smiles and flips a burger. She walks over to the first spool off the deck and introduces Bixxter and Marilyn. They are drinking wine coolers made from ginger ale and 2 buck Chuck with orange and lime slices.
“The keg is over there, Trumer, plates and glasses on the table, and I’ll get couple more bottles of wine, if you want wine coolers?” Phoebe looks at her guests.”
“I think I’ll have cooler,” Joel says.
“I’ll take a beer,” Ethan says and looks to Bridget.
She smiles, “I’ll have Trumer too.”
“Ethan, right?” Phoebe looks at the couple and he shakes his head yes. “You get the beers, and I’ll go grab the wine.”
“I’ve got burgers and hot dogs, fresh off the grill,” Comma calls out and lays a platter on the table, facing him. “Veggie is on the left.” Two distinct stacks of burgers run down the center with a gap between them, and hot dogs are piled on the outside. “Veggie burgers and dogs are on the left,” he repeats for emphasis as if the guests had not heard him or couldn’t tell the difference.
Phoebe heads indoors and Comma follows her. “I’ll get their first drink, then go back to bring everything outside. “ Can you bring the full ice chest with you?”
“Sure, babe, after I start the chicken.” Comma answers.
Comma takes the chicken out of the fridge. He sets it on the counter top and reaches up to a high cabinet. He pulls out a near full fifth of tequila, opens it, and swigs deep out of the bottle. His stomach heaves a little and he exhales short and quick, as it kicks back. “I’ve been saving this just for such an occasion,“ he says out loud to himself.
“You better take it slow,” Phoebe says, “it’s early.”
“Don’t worry,” he offers the bottle to her, but she shakes her head no. I’ll be the perfect gentleman.” He stuffs the bottle into a flap pocket on his apron and takes the chicken to the grill.