Copyright 2014 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California
Stetson moved quickly through the crowd at Union Square and hopped onto the Hyde Street cable car. He grabbed onto the first white pole at the front of the cable car as it headed up the hill. A bench seat in front of him was available but he preferred to stand on the outside ledge. As the cable car moved forward short bursts of wind blew against his face and the coolness eased the strains from what he would say was a “crappy day.” Everything he was involved with had become a disaster for him. Even up to an hour ago, Steele had told him about his murderous rampage through the Bush Street apartment building. He had been there on a personal request from Stetson which would be a direct link . If Steele was caught, Stetson knew he would be going down with him, and maybe for all the serial killings. He couldn’t let that happen. Stetson’s heart beat faster. Steele had boasted of slicing the throats of two women and two young girls earlier today and casually threw in how he had so easily taken care of a small dog as well.
A dreadful feeling spread through Stetson’s mind and he knew he couldn’t continue to live this way. He had to follow-through with his plan.
The cable car stopped on Sutter Street to pick up more passengers before attempting the steep slope up to Bush, the street where Haley and her two friends lived. His own apartment was barely two blocks further up Bush. After a slow struggle with a full load of passengers, the cable car stopped on the corner by the abandoned flower stand. Stetson tried to see what was happening in front of Haley’s apartment. Police officers in their blue uniforms and caps kept the curious moving up the street while photographers were taking pictures of bystanders. Then he was distracted by a petite blonde who bumped into his hand as she grabbed the same white pole he was holding onto. She swung around and plopped into the bench seat in front of him. How quickly things can change, Stetson thought. The young girl, out of breath, was the Hostess from Lefty’s.
“Well, hello again,” he said.
She didn’t recognize him at first, she squinted at him for a moment. “Oh! Hello. You’re Stetson, the cop?”
“Shh! Don’t tell everyone here. It’s my day off,” he lied. He bent closer, and said in a low voice, “This is when I get to be a stranger, like everyone else.” He looked around to see if anyone heard her.
“Don’t worry,” she said and laughed. ”There’s too much noise. No one can hear what I said.”
Stetson smiled and looked at her with more interest. In a black wool coat with a small collar, she wore a light blue dress that brought out the blueness of her eyes. A small gold cross on a delicate chain hung on her neck along with a heart that had the name Mark, engraved on it. Her wavy blonde hair, no longer in a ponytail, lay on her shoulders.
“Where are you headed? Going home?” he asked.
“Oh no, I’ve just been home for a quick change. I’m headed for the Buena Vista Café. You know that little restaurant at the end of the line. Oh, how I wish I lived in that area. I love those homes with ivy growing around the windows. That’s where I want to live.”
“Oh, yeah,” said Stetson nodding in agreement. He paused. She was a little chatterbox and he wanted to let her talk some more.
At the same time, the Chinatown Branch of the San Francisco Public Library came in sight. The building shone in the sunlight like a golden brick stronghold with a double-sided staircase leading up to beveled glass doors. The library was Stetson’s landmark that a hard left turn was coming up. It was at this point that Stetson often announced to everyone, “Hold on tight for the curve!” Then as the cable car leaned outward on the curve, first time riders squealed and screamed in excitement. Many regulars that Stetson recognized on this route joined in the fun as well. Hoards of smiles and laughter came his way with, “Thanks for the warning!” However, this time Stetson said nothing. He wanted to give the Hostess all of his attention.
They were both silent but smiling as they rode through the turn like old-timers. Then she spoke, “I’m meeting my boyfriend, Mark. He’s bringing his friends from work to the Buena Vista Café for drinks and dinner. We’re going to celebrate his promotion,” she said with a big smile. “Tonight, it’ll be my turn to be waited on with good food and drinks,” she added.
“That happens to be where I’m going to meet a friend as well,” said Stetson.
“Really?” she said and then was pensive.
Stetson watched her smiling face turned to worry.
“I hope you’re not meeting with that guy you were with at Lefty’s,” she said with a hopeful look in her eyes.
“Unfortunately, yes. He’ll be there in about thirty minutes.”
She let out a deep breath. “That guy gives me the creeps. Oh, I’m sorry. That just slipped out. He’s a friend of yours’, but I can’t help how I feel.”
Stetson heard the distress in her voice. He nodded his head to indicate it didn’t bother him. “He’s quite a flirt,” he said trying to show her sympathy.
“Ugh! When I’m leading him to a table, I can feel his eyes crawl all over the back of me. And when I see him face to face, his whole being seems to pierce me. He really scares me,” she said.
Stetson saw her shudder.
All the time they were talking, the Hyde Street cable car moved smoothly over the shiny silver rails toward the bay. When the grip man stopped at Lombard Street for everyone to catch the magnificent view of the Bay Bridge beyond the sprawl of the city below, Stetson said, “Here’s the beautiful area where you said you’d liked to live. And look, see the sailboats out by the Bay Bridge? Someday soon, I’ll have my own sailboat and be out there.”
“I’ve been sailing with my father before. On a windy day I find it exciting to be cutting through that huge body of water,” she said.
“You’re right there. I love the feel of the wind in my face,” then he changed the subject. “Hey, I’m sorry. My friend is just a casual business acquaintance. I don’t know him well, but I did notice how he has a pointed need for flirting with cute girls.”
Her face reddened a bit. “Thanks for the compliment,” she said. “Hopefully I’ll get there before he does and can convince my friends to go somewhere else for dinner tonight.”
“There’s always Alioto’s nearby,” suggested Stetson. “By the way, what’s your name?”
“They call me Stephanie at work, but my name is really Marilyn Mid…”
“Last stop!” said the grip man, as his gloved hands pulled the big brake backwards. The loud click clacking noise from the brake action, along with the murmurs of excitement from the crowd upon seeing Alcatraz had overpowered her words.
Marilyn smiled at Stetson and said, “By the way, thanks for the big tip.” She slid from the wooden bench seat before he could offer her assistance. He watched as she walked with sure and light steps in front of the cable car. Her petite figure in low tan heels skipped over the second pair of rails to the sidewalk. She pushed through the café door of the crowded restaurant and disappeared.
Stetson stepped off the cable car and weaved through the other passengers who were walking away in different directions. Heading toward the Buena Vista, he looked forward to an Irish coffee. Trying several times, he still couldn’t figure out what Marilyn had said her last name was, and gave up. The next time he was at Lefty’s he would ask the manager. For some reason though, he could not get her off his mind. She had a nice first name, and she looked like a Marilyn, too. Was he smitten with her? Stetson laughed at himself. She’s too young. He visualized her light wavy blonde hair bouncing up and down as she walked, and remembered her beautiful blue eyes. He had also noticed her full lips. She had all the qualities … that Steele would enjoy.
“Oh my God, no!” Stetson said inaudibly. His chest felt hollow as he realized that Marilyn was Steele’s next victim.
Copyright 2014 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California