Copyright 2014 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, CA
It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be for the three of us to act normal, walk out of the building, weave through a group of firefighters, and get into Eric’s van. The engine started smooth. Using the rear view mirror, I eased my way out from the sidewalk where we were partially wedged in by a big red hook ‘n ladder. Another fire truck and the Ambulance with whining sirens pulled up to our building and shut down abruptly. Now we were able to hear the familiar, Ding Ding Dah Ding Ding Ding, of the cable car bells signaling its pass over Bush Street. As we waited for the light to change from red to green, we watched the cable car passengers sitting outside on the bench seats, and those hanging on to the poles in front of them, laughing and smiling as they braced themselves for the steep downhill descent. The grip man released the brake and said, “Hold On!”
“Those sounds make me feel homesick,” said Jeanne. “I know. I was just there, but I’m feeling all mixed up. Do you two realize that at this moment, we are homeless?”
“That’s an awful thought. What I can’t get over is that we’ve lost absolutely everything we kept in our apartments. Well, almost everything. You know what I mean. What’s yours is just as valuable to me as if it were mine, you know?” said Krista.
Jeanne and I had no quick response. I concentrated on the traffic and realized I had been blocking off the shock of my losses. I took a quick look at Jeanne. Her face was downturned and the sadness of losing all her favorite things was probably sinking in fast. “Krista, thank you. I know you care,” I said.
“Haley, where does Eric’s aunt live? Are we close?” asked Krista.
“We’re headed for Russian Hill,” I said. “Listen, I need you both to discreetly watch all around us and make sure we’re not being followed.
I wasn’t used to driving someone else’s car, and a van, at that. We bumped over the cable car tracks as I headed straight down Bush to Kearney. At Kearney, I made a right, then another right at Sutter Street going back toward our neighborhood only we were one street below. Then, to confuse anyone, if anyone were following us, I turned left on Mason down to Geary like I was heading for the Curran Theatre then one more right on Taylor. Driving as fast as I could without getting a ticket, I drove up to California Street and turned left for Hyde. We were getting closer to Russian Hill. I had memories of sitting on a bench, enjoying the view and daydreaming of what I wanted to be when I grew up. The scenic spot with the grand view was also the place where I had my first kiss with a boy in the 9th grade. He was a real sweetheart with a turned up nose, curly blond hair, and blue eyes. My dreams had come true. I don’t think I was ever happier in high school.
“I am so glad you turned before we got into the Tenderloin District,” said Jeanne.
“I agree with Jeanne,” piped in Krista. “I just read last week that a couple went down a dead end street where some gangs were fighting and that was their end, too.”
“That’s horrible,” I agreed. “But let’s just concentrate on getting ourselves safe now. Okay? I don’t see anyone following us. Do you?”
“Nope,” said Jeanne. “In this traffic, how can we tell the difference between someone following us and someone stuck in traffic just like us?”
“Ditto,” said Krista. “What’s the number of the place we’re looking for?”
“3628 Hyde. The cable car route goes by the front entry. Eric said it was red brown brick with ivy all over it.”
We were getting near Lombard Street when Jeanne tossed everything from insider her purse onto her lap, but her keys and wallet fell through her lap. When she bent over, that’s when I saw the creep smiling at me from the back of the yellow taxi cab.
“Oh God! He’s right next to us!”
“Go, go, go! Step on it,” yelled Jeanne.
“Oh he’s following us!” Krista screamed.
I made a quick right heading down Lombard Street, the most crooked street in the world. I had passed this spot many times before as I sat on the outside of the Powell and Hyde cable car, but I had never thought that I would be trying to escape from the police in a borrowed car, speeding down the winding curves.
I drove too fast. I almost hit a boy on a bike. When he saw me coming, he tried to get out of my way. He ran into the curb and flew off his bike into the bushes. In my rear view mirror, I saw him get up. He was brushing leaves off his sleeve and laughing.
“Golly Molly,” said Jeanne. “You have all the luck in the world. You didn’t kill him.”
I counted my blessings. “We need more than luck. Say some prayers. There are only two cars between us and the creep.”
“What are we going to do? Is he out to kill us or arrest us? Can you out drive this guy, Haley?” said Krista.
I nervously looked away from the curve ahead and looked in the rear view mirror again. “I have an idea. I just need to drive. Hang in there with me, okay?”
Without a word, they gave me their trust and held onto their armrests. Our bodies swayed one more time with the last turn. As soon as I reached the bottom of the street, I hung a left on Leavenworth, then a right on Chestnut. I slowed down, pulled into an empty driveway, and turned off the engine. “Duck down, quick,” I said.
From the well of her seat, Jeanne said, “What if he spots us here? We’re sitting ducks.”
I craned my neck and peeked over the back of my seat. I saw the blur of a yellow cab speed down Leavenworth. “The taxi just went by. Now we’re going.”
I backed-up and made a left turn at the first corner. Now we were on Jones. “Quick, take out all your cash. We need some gas.” I pulled into a Chevron station. “How much have we got?”
“I’ve got a twenty, and your wallet only had a five,” said Jeanne.
“But I have a ten,” said Krista.
“That’s great.” I hopped out and starting pumping gas. A gas station attendant in a white uniform and a matching boat cap came up beside me.
“I’d be happy to help you do that,” he offered.
I practically jumped backwards. I pressed down on the pump handle again. “Thanks, but no thanks. I’m almost done.”
As it turned out, all I needed was a twenty to fill the tank. The attendant took my cash and the pump handle from me. His smile was like sunshine and I couldn’t help but feel better. “Thanks.”
When I got back behind the wheel, I said, “He scared me so bad. I felt my bones go cold.”
“We knew you felt something. You looked like you turned white,” said Jeanne.
Then both Jeanne and Krista pleaded, “Oh, please, can we stop at the Tick Toc’s for burgers and fries?”
“No way. We’re not out of danger yet!” I pulled out onto Jones. “We’re blocks down from Bay Street. That will take us to the freeway. I think the creep will most likely have gone back to Lombard Street to find us,” I said. “My plan is to take the 101 South, toward San Jose.”
“Ha! I knew you had a plan,” said Jeanne. Then she broke out in Dionne Warwick’s tune, “Do you know the way to San Jose.”
That crazy girl. Scared one minute, then singing songs and snapping her fingers next.
If we had taken surface streets, it would have been more difficult traffic and more dangerous. “I’m betting on the fact that the creep won’t think we would get on the freeway – or have anywhere to go to,” I said.
“We’ll need the luck to back up your bet, dear. Don’t you listen to the radio or watch television?” The cops are always ordering an APB out for someone they want to find,” said Jeanne.
“That sounds scary,” added Krista. “Why is he in a taxi cab following us? Why not in a police car?”
“Beats me. Maybe his car was blocked by the fire engines when he got to the scene. I don’t care about anything except keeping away from him.”
I honked the horn at the cars in front of us. They weren’t moving for any good reason I could see. “On the wings of prayers and with a bit of luck, we’ll make it out of town in about twenty minutes.”
“Once again,” said Krista. “Where are we going? Especially, now.”
“Eric’s going to have a cow when he finds out we didn’t land at his aunt’s house,” said Jeanne. She was serious again.
“We’ll just have to take one step at a time. First we get to shelter, get cleaned up and then find some good food. By then, we’ll have a new plan,” I said.
“That sounds good to me,” said Krista. “I’m hungry, tired, dirty, and scared.”
I turned onto Bay Street. Only one long block to go and we would be on the Embarcadero expressway headed to the 101 South – our highway to safety.
“Haley, you look like the scarecrow from the movie, Wizard of OZ. Your short hair, half-curly and half-like hay, is sticking out. Your bandaged knees are quite the touch,” Jeanne said. “Your total look tells me you’ve been hit by a car and run over twice.”
“Well, lucky me. I still have some charisma. That young guy at the gas station gave me a big smile, and was eager to help me.”
“That’s because his boss was watching and you left him two bucks for a tip,” said Krista.
We cracked up almost to tears. I had been in such a state of panic I didn’t realize what I had done.
“Oh my God! Jeanne you have a big spider in your hair!” screamed Krista.
“Get it off! Get it off!” Jeanne brushed her blonde hair up and down while Krista slapped the top of Jeanne’s head.
I screeched to a halt by the sidewalk. The three of us looked for the dead spider.
“Is it gone yet?” Jeanne asked us.
“It’s gotta be dead by now,” I said. “Or it is hiding and wanting to relocate with us.”
Just then, a yellow cab sped pass in front of us. We all froze. Time seemed to freeze as well. I mentally forced myself to get in action. I gunned the engine, pulled out into the street, and drove straight toward the onramp that said, Highway 101 South. I took a deep breath and sighed. Now, my only concern was if I could recall where my aunt’s home was in the back woods of Saratoga.
Copyright 2014 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, CA