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A story by Jay Taber
The deck was oiled wood that gave purchase to his bare feet when sailing in summer. She
was a squat old gaff rig he’d sailed out from Cape Cod through the Golden Gate, and the
varnished round mast and spars were good for gripping between the arches of the soles of
his feet when he hauled a new halyard in his teeth to feed through the pulley at the peak
of the mast. His ruddy cheeks and the sparkle in his eyes bore witness to both the thrill
and the terror of the deep sea.
She was not a communist, but she named her dog after the president of the CP, and
managed the Rainbow Collective with such a ferociously protective manner, that when
the capitalist landlords sent their riot police to evict us with batons she stood her ground
like the rest, but in the end she did not spend the night in jail with us, due to the fact the
rest of us were men. Even though we lost our foothold on the piece of turf we’d claimed,
we managed to purchase a hold on their imagination.
When the three of us met out back by the kiln to share a joint, we made plans for
reclaiming our turf as an autonomous zone, but it turned out to be nothing more than an
entheogenic fantasy. In the end, though, it was the ideas that mattered.
Her grandparents once owned slaves that worked their Mississippi plantation, but by the
time she came to live with them -- after her father shot her mother -- the slaves had been
sharecroppers for forty years. When she came of age and left to sing opera in Spokane,
she was of a firm conviction that all God’s children were equal in his eyes, but her
grandson had to figure that out for himself.
If she hadn’t grown up in San Francisco’s Chinatown, she might not have become a
private eye, but it was in Humboldt County where she made her bones tackling the FBI
when they framed the organizers of Redwood Summer. When she and the opera singer’s
grandson met the owner of the Communist dog for lunch, the theatre arts major waiting
their table told them about the play she was in at the Marin Playhouse.
On the Russian River, the Welsh poet fisherman encountered a francophone philosopher
physician who told him stories of stitching up sailors gashed and slashed by anchors,
hooks and daggers while he mended his friend some time later under the mounted collage
of his surgical trophies. Years after, when the Welsh poet fisherman was gallivanting
around the Golden Gate and stopped in to see the opera singer’s grandson, he
rediscovered the Redwoods hideout of his compatriot from Mexico. The bullet hole in the
floor and ceiling had been covered over, but the secret trail over the ridge was still
discernable. What he didn’t know at the time was that the francophone philosopher
physician was already in cahoots with the opera singer’s grandson.
Cochabamba Mama and the two-spirit storyteller were both from Bolivia, but the
connection to the opera singer’s grandson was a matter of judicious orientation.
Struggling to provide a blueprint for living, they perpetuated life as festival as a matter of
principle. While their mutual interests centered on Cochabamba, their common devotion
was to understanding assymetrical warfare.
At age eight, she began her day having breakfast at the Black Panther Party community
center in Oakland. By eighteen, she was involved in the education department, helping
distribute literature to K-12 children in the neighborhood where she grew up. When she
was thirty-eight, and a single mom with two teenage daughters, she enrolled in law
school in San Francisco. Walking from the BART station to the college every morning,
she cut through a side street to avoid the old Black people panhandling on the sidewalk.
She didn’t have the heart to be reminded how drastically worse life had become for her
As a Lebanese watercolor artist of some local renown, he once was honored by KQED
San Francisco for his volunteer work teaching county inmates how to paint. To keep his
balance, he did the same for Mission District school kids. His main interest, though, was
traveling by train every summer back to Lakota country for the annual Sundance. Getting
his painting kit together was a regular topic of discussion between him and the opera
singer’s grandson as they sat outside the college café where the Black Panther law
student stopped in on her way to work.
It was the Communist dog that found the leather satchel buried alongside the trail that led
to the ridge overlooking the Golden Gate. More precisely, it was the Communist dog that
dug up the leather satchel under the redwood tree by the stream that paralleled the trail
because he had smelled the bones underneath the satchel that had been disturbed by
whoever had buried the satchel. While the human bones were of primary interest to the
Communist dog, the leather satchel full of bundled hundred dollar bills became the focus
of discussion between the Welsh poet fisherman, the theatre arts major, and the opera
Had the Welsh poet fisherman not volunteered to dog sit the Communist dog for the
week, it would not have been discovered, but now that it had been, it was the Welsh poet
fisherman who wondered if the satchel had anything to do with the bullet hole in the floor
and ceiling of his old abode nearby. While the Communist dog paused to ponder the pile
of human bones, the hiking threesome considered what would be the wisest course of
action regarding the leather satchel. After some short deliberation, they each pocketed a
third of the bundles, and returned the empty satchel to the hole in the ground, much to the
chagrin of the Communist dog.
While the Welsh poet fisherman made a pot of Ceylon tea, the theatre arts major and the
opera singer’s grandson proposed contacting the Rainbow manager about how to
distribute the proceeds from the satchel her Communist dog had unearthed. Since they
had five days remaining before she returned from yachting with the ruddy-cheeked sailor,
they tried calling the Black Panther law student to see if she could recommend a discreet
and reliable lawyer.
When they finished the pot of Ceylon tea, the Welsh poet fisherman fired up his
Volkswagen van with expired California plates, and the threesome – accompanied by the
Communist dog – by way of Sausalito, traversed the Golden Gate bridge, taking the toll
exit into the Presidio and over the top into the Western Addition, then down into the
Mission where the Lebanese watercolor artist was having coffee at a sidewalk table.
While the Welsh poet fisherman and the theatre arts major discussed the Lebanese
watercolor artist’s plans for financing his annual Sundance adventure, the opera singer’s
grandson went across the street to find the Black Panther law student.
Learning that the Black Panther law student was taking exams at the Civic Center campus
for the day, the recently enriched threesome opted for finding the Chinese private eye just
down the coast in Pacifica. Rolling along Ocean Beach on the Great Highway, they
pulled over to let the Communist dog pee in the sand dunes behind the horse trailer
unloading a juvenile camel. Finished peeing, sniffing and stretching, they continued
down the coastline to Pacifica, which, as usual, was enveloped in fog.
When no one answered his knock on the door, the neighbor lady called out that the
Chinese private eye had just walked past heading for the corner grocery and café. Since
the Welsh poet fisherman and the theatre arts major had yet to meet the Chinese private
eye, the opera singer’s grandson went to find her. She was coming out with a small
grocery sack when he came up the steps, and gave him that look he knew meant she was
already suspicious. When the four of them sat down at the kitchen table eating bacon and
eggs with runny yolks, the Chinese private eye told the threesome about the recent
armored car hijacking up in Ukiah, and went into the living room to find the San
Francisco Chronicle article about the heist.
The article made no mention about the denominations, but it did say the armed bandits
loaded their haul into three leather satchels and sped away in an old red pickup. Since it
was being investigated by the FBI, anyone with information about the robbery was
directed to contact the San Francisco office. Since the threesome could not assume the
satchel unearthed by the Communist dog was from the Ukiah heist, they decided to
pursue other arrangements.
Fueled on bacon and eggs with runny yolks, pockets full of bundles of hundred dollar
bills, the Welsh poet fisherman, theatre arts major and opera singer’s grandson headed
back over the Golden Gate bridge to see if the francophone philosopher physician could
tell them anything about the bone they brought along to give the Communist dog
something to do while they pursued their vague but intriguing plan. Figuring they
wouldn’t want to discuss this in his waiting room, they decided to use the payphone by
the Sausalito ferry parking lot to call ahead.
When the francophone philosopher physician pulled up in his red Audi convertible, the
threesome were eating burgers and fries from Patterson’s Bar at the picnic table
overlooking the ferry landing. The Communist dog was eyeing intently the paper bag on
the table containing the bone they took from him before exiting the VW van.
Confirming that the bone was a human femur, the francophone philosopher physician
said he could not tell them how old it was, but that someone at the science lab at UC
Berkeley might be able to help. The only problem with that is they might want to know
where and by whom it was found.
Discarding their burger wrappers in the bin, the threesome with dog pulled out of the
ferry landing parking lot to find a way to get the bone dated anonymously.
The UC parking garage wasn’t far from the creperie on Shattuck Avenue, so that’s where
the Welsh poet fisherman, the theatre arts major and the opera singer’s grandson met with
Cochabamba Mama to talk about carbon-dating the bone they’d confiscated from the
Communist dog. Since Cochabamba Mama was employed in the UC computer science
lab, the threesome figured she would be the one to ask about anonymous bone analysis.
As it happened, Cochabamba Mama knew a couple of graduate students in anthropology
and archeology who did work/study stints in the museum curating program, so after
consuming raspberry crepes and cappucino, the four of them headed across campus to the
dungeon. While the three recently enriched hikers waited outside, they engaged in a
conversation with a Native American tree-sitter fifty feet up in the redwood tree next to
the building, and signed the student petition to save the tree slated for removal to provide
room for a roller blade trail.
When Cochabamba Mama returned, she informed the threesome, absent Communist dog,
that they should have carbon-dating news within a week.
As it turned out, the bone was a thousand years old, so the recently enriched threesome
figured they ought to ask the two-spirit storyteller if he could say a prayer over a
reinterring ceremony on the trail in Blithedale Canyon. Seeing how he was on Alcatraz
Island for the day celebrating alternative Thanksgiving, they decided to roust out the
ruddy-cheeked sailor at his berth in the Sausalito Yacht Harbor to see if he’d run them out
By the time they arrived at the dock on Alcatraz, the wind was howling through the
Golden Gate, and the two-spirit storyteller and a bunch of Indians were huddled in
blankets around a campfire. Once he’d agreed to the task they sailed back to Sausalito,
where they hopped in the van with the Communist dog, and again crossed the Golden
Gate Bridge to go see if they could find the Chinese private eye who was working a case
at the Mission Women’s Center on 16th between Valencia and Guerrero.
While the threesome and the Chinese private eye ate Korean barbecue around the corner
from the Women’s Center, she convinced the recently enriched that revisiting the grave
where the Communist dog unearthed the leather satchel full of bundles of hundred dollar
bills probably wasn’t such a good idea. Persuaded by her perspicacity, the threesome,
sans Communist dog, decided it was time to contact the francophone philosopher
physician about their other problem—the cumbersome cash.
When they rendezvoused with the francophone philosopher physician in Larkspur for
Italian gelato, he recommended they come in as investors on a lucky real estate deal in
Oakland that his Mill Valley attorney had turned him on to. Seeing how they were tired of
walking around with bundles in their pockets, they phoned the attorney, who arranged to
meet them at the Depot Café next to the bookstore in downtown Mill Valley.
After depositing the bundles of hundred dollar bills in the attorney’s leather satchel, the
Welsh poet fisherman, the theatre arts major and the opera singer’s grandson took off for
the Mission, to see if the Rainbow manager and Lebanese watercolor artist wanted to ride
in the VW van with them over to Oakland.
After grabbing a sack of Vietnamese takeaway, the recently enriched, the Lebanese artist,
the Rainbow manager and her Communist dog got on the Bay Bridge to Oakland to
check out the development property they’d just invested in. When the opera singer’s
grandson lit up a spliff in back, the smoking windows of the van looked like a HaightAshbury Department of Higher Ed.tour bus, but by the time they pulled in at the fourplex where the Black Panther law student lived, the smoke had abated.
Once they’d toured the property, and dropped off the Rainbow manager, Lebanese
watercolor artist and Communist dog in the Mission, the recently enriched threesome
went back to Sausalito to see if the two-spirit storyteller could be persuaded to get rid of
the Indian femur bone for them without arousing suspicion. Having assured him it was an
accidental acquisition by the Communist dog, the two-spirit storyteller planned an
impromptu ceremony for his fellow Indian from a thousand years ago, after which the
two-spirit storyteller hopped in the VW van with the recently enriched, sans Communist
dog, to deposit the bone at a former native encampment in a State Park site near
Inverness on Tomales Bay. On the way, they stopped in Fairfax to grab gyros to go.
At the turnoff to Inverness just before the entrance to Point Reyes National Seashore in
Olema, the foursome pulled into the little campground store to get batteries for their
flashlight, seeing how they would have to sneak into the park after dark when the gates
were closed. Arriving shortly after at Inverness, they fortified themselves with tea and
brownies from the deli, and rolled down the road a hundred yards or so to the widespot
near the trail into the park.
After stumbling around in the moonlight on the footpath to the beach, they saw the
silhouettes of the replica Miwok bark huts across the little stream that flowed out of the
woods. Once they had buried the bone above tide line near the artificial encampment, the
four stopped at Inverness Pizza, before heading back to Sausalito.
When the Russian picked up the empty leather satchel after shoveling aside the recently
excavated hiding hole, he looked around for clues about who stole his money. Seeing
nothing, he threw the bag back on top of the bones, recovered the hole, and hiked down
the mountain into Mill Valley. On his way, he thought about what he was going to say to
the people he was holding it for, or if maybe he should just disappear.
When the Mill Valley lawyer met with the Oakland politician at Fog City Diner on the
corner of Embarcadero and Battery, the FBI agents in the unmarked car across the street
were already listening to the background noise generated by the waitress, dishwasher and
cook. When the lawyer said, “Here’s the money, including your fee,” they got out of the
car and strolled into the diner.
Under questioning at the San Francisco FBI office, the Mill Valley lawyer said his clients
who invested in the Oakland development scheme did not give their names, but that one
was a poet fisherman, one was a theatre arts major, and the third was an opera singer’s
grandson. They’d given him no phone number, but said they’d be in touch.
The Oakland politician, under his previous agreement as an informant, said the Mill
Valley lawyer never mentioned names, and always delivered in cash. The politician, in
turn, spread the money around as needed to make the deals happen.
Running the serial numbers on the bundles of hundred dollar bills, the Bureau came up
with no match. While they thought maybe it could be the money from the armored car
heist in Ukiah, it didn’t turn out that way. Wherever they’d been, they’d left no trail.
When the Russian read the Mill Valley Herald front page story about the Mill Valley
lawyer arrested by the FBI for bribing an Oakland politician, he immediately took notice
of the fact that he was arrested with a leather satchel full of bundles of hundred dollar
bills. While this information would not get him off the hook with the people he was
holding it for, it might buy him some time. What he could do about replacing it was
When the recently enriched, now impoverished, read about the story in the San Francisco
Chronicle, they decided to pay a visit to the philosopher physician. When the receptionist
at his Larkspur medical office said he was out, they hopped in the VW van to go see the
Chinese private eye in Pacifica.
According to the District Court clerk friend of the Chinese private eye, the Mill Valley
lawyer made bail that morning, and the address she had for his unlisted residence was in
Belvedere. As Belvedere was on the Marin side of the Golden Gate, the Welsh poet
fisherman, theatre arts major and opera singer’s grandson again rang the francophone
philosopher physician’s office to see about stopping by to discuss the situation.
When the four of them rendezvoused at the Larkspur Landing Siam Thai Restaurant for
mieng kaam appetizers, the francophone philosopher physician had a plan.
When the three formerly enriched now impoverished rolled into Mollie Stone’s after
hours, they parked under the street light where the VW van would be easy to spot when
the philosopher physician arrived. Hopping in his black Cadillac, they cruised slowly past
the yacht club and up the dark narrow drive that ascended the Belvedere promontory
overlooking the lights of San Francisco Bay. When they were within sight of the $25
million dollar bungalow the Mill Valley lawyer called home, they pulled over next to an
oak tree that blocked his porch light.
After consuming the King of the Roll bento boxes and Asahi beer the philosopher
physician brought along, the four settled in to see what they could observe about the Mill
Valley lawyer from the street. An hour later, a silver Roadster convertible with the top up
crawled slowly up the hill behind them and went past them over the rise and down toward
the waterfront villas. After a couple of minutes, the Roadster came back toward them
with its lights off and parked across and down the street on the other side of the Mill
Valley lawyer’s place. When no one got out of the Roadster, the theatre arts major took
the opera glasses out of the glovebox, straining to see through the two smoke-tinted
windshields in moonlight. All she could spot was the periodic orange glow of what she
assumed was a cigarette.
Half an hour later, when the Russian got out of the Roadster and walked to the front door,
the philosopher physician took a photo with his iphone, and passed it around to the poet
fisherman and opera singer’s grandson in back. Nobody recognized the bodybuilder in
black leather, but they had an idea something was shaking. When the bodybuilder came
out an hour after that with a leather satchel, they decided to follow the Roadster.
The six story condominium apartment building the Roadster pulled into on Russian Hill
had an ornate stone exterior with an arched entry that led to a lobby with a security guard.
Since following the bodybuilder inside to see which condo he went to was out of the
question, the Welsh poet fisherman opted to run to the steps and peer from the side at the
indicator above the elevator to see which floor he stopped at. When it went all the way to
the top, he ran back to the Cadillac to grab the opera glasses and scan the top floor
windows. When the light went on in the left front corner apartment, he saw the
bodybuilder pass in front of the window. An hour later, the Russian came back out
without the satchel and drove off in his Roadster toward downtown. When they lost him
in the tunnel, they drove back over the bridge to pick up the van in Belvedere.
The co-op on Russian Hill – according to the Chinese private eye – was owned by a
corporation that mostly did business with companies in Russia, the Balkans and Eastern
Europe. Slav Limited was incorporated as an import-export company based in Zurich.
What they imported or exported was anybody’s guess, as were the names of the owners.
What was especially interesting was that the $23 million Belvedere mansion with private
dock where the Mill Valley lawyer lived was also owned by Slav Limited. In fact,
according to the property tax rolls, Slav Limited owned both these properties, as well as
the townhouse in Pacific Heights that housed the Russian consulate.
Seeing how the Sausalito Yacht Club is directly across from the Belvedere mansion’s
private dock, the francophone philosopher physician, Welsh poet fisherman, theatre arts
major and opera singer’s grandson decided to tool over to the ruddy-cheeked sailor’s
berth to see what they could spy from his boat. Once onboard with his telescope to scan
the Belvedere shoreline, the physician noticed that behind the boathouse directly below
the rose-colored mansion was a cave maybe eight or ten feet high and six feet wide. This,
of course, prompted the poet fisherman to suggest they go for a boat ride to inspect this
more closely. It was the opera singer’s grandson who recommended they wait until after
dark to go prowling around.
With the ruddy-cheeked sailor’s night-vision binoculars, the theatre arts major could just
make out a dim light in the recesses of the cave, but as she watched the opening, the
bodybuilder appeared along with a smaller, older man who proceeded to the boathouse
and presumably turned on the light inside that now showed around the rim of the vessel
entrance door. When the overhead door rose to reveal the boat inside, the lights had been
turned off, and the only light was from the reflection of the boat’s running lights. As they
backed out of the boathouse and the door closed, she could see that there were no
windows in the building.
As the boat motored off into the fog, it appeared to be heading toward the Port of
Oakland, or maybe Alameda.
With no place to tie up or disembark, the five-some floated next to the boathouse and
shined their flashlights into the cave and around the building to no avail, before motoring
back across Richardson Bay to Sausalito, where they made coffee in the galley and
proceeded to sit on deck to speculate about the Russian connection. After an hour of
fruitless discussion, they watched over the breakwater as the Russian’s yacht came
motoring into the visitor dock, tied up, and deposited the Russian bodybuilder and six
young women in sweatsuits on the float, all of whom promptly walked up the ramp to the
Yacht Club parking lot, where they got in a black limousine and drove away.
When the U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Office got the call from the
Mission Women’s Center attorney about the Russian connection, they were told the
informant’s identity was confidential, but that the informant’s credibility was
unquestioned. When the story of Russian mafia based in Russian Hill and operating a
human trafficking enterprise out of Belvedere landed on page A-1, above-the-fold of the
San Francisco Chronicle, it said the FBI had linked the proceeds from a Russian
prostitution ring to the Oakland corruption scandal in which a prominent politician was
being held as a cooperating witness. A Mill Valley attorney had already entered a plea
bargain in exchange for his detailed knowledge of money-laundering.