Sunday, August 4, 2019
SUNDAY REVIEW / ORIGINAL SHORT FICTION DEBUT.
Short Fiction By Alexander Kutov
Pier Pressure. Original commercial piers along Fisherman’s Wharf are Redwood roadways surrounding aging warehouses also made from first growth timber that faded gray.
While most San Francisco docks have gone to maritime museums or tourist traps, a few wharves still cling to fishing operations.
This night, the white delivery van backed onto Pier 47, fishing industry dock one mile south of Alcatraz Island. It slowed its pace across the old wood to honor a pounding rain, which continued to sweep in off the bay from the Marin Headlands to the northwest.
In reverse gear, the new Packard van pulled to a stop astride the gangway leading to an equally non-descript trawler berthed across from Giacalone’s Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant.
Late-night comings and goings were not uncommon as the fishing fleet worked around the clock. Odd was the fact the tall driver, who wore a pea coat with a ribbed Navy blue watch cap pulled over his ears, would choose to appear during such a heavy downpour.
Sleeping in an alcove behind wooden crates that hadn’t been moved in years, Jerry Longstreet, the same career wino, who had been booted out of John Wald’s Powell’s Saloon, a couple of hours earlier awoke to see the warehouse walls turn red from approaching taillights. He listened to the van rumble by him and stop next to a moored fishing trawler.
Old Jerry--now moments from his death--was filthy, hungry but for him somewhat clearheaded. He has been sober two days because his body's stench had put a crimp in his public panhandling earnings. As a result, he’s been too broke to buy the sugar wine that’s made his puffy skin purple and his livermush.
Jerry saw a man he’d recognized. He had something to do with the fishing boat now being approached by the van.
Jerry walked sideways facing away from the eye irritating spits of gritty rain. Coatless, he braved the chilling cold to make the driver his last panhandle of the night.
The approach of unexpected company startled the driver, who immediately slipped his hand around a small handgun inside the pocket of his rain duty hoodie.
The denizen spoke first. He stared toward the tall man, who had one round scar on each cheek: “Can you help a fella out? I could use some spare change for food, a cup of coffee?”
A long silence followed.
Old Jerry continued offering his best Humphrey Bogart grin, “I know you, don’t I?” He didn't have a clue to what he was saying. He was pulling out all stops to be sociable. “I seen you doing some funny shit on this pier. I know what you’re up to. That duffle bag ain’t trash,” Jerry bluffed.
“You know nothing,” the driver shouted to be heard. His stare was evil, calculating how to deal with what had become was more than a beggar’s plea.
Jerry kept smiling, now more of a plea than a gesture of friendliness.
Finally, the driver responded: “I got more stuff in the van. Help me unload it and I’ll give you a couple of bucks.”
“That’s a deal, buddy.” Jerry noticed round scars on his face—one on each cheek. He had seen that face before but right now couldn’t remember where.
“Take the canvas bag out of the van and bring it on board,” the driver ordered.
In turn, he struggled with the lumpy oversized bag. He had to drag it and in doing so had to catch his breath several times.
The driver offered no help.
Jerry took forever to drag the bag against the bait tank. The smell outrageous, gagging and made bearable by the blowing wind. “Well, I got it here. How about my pay? “
He was about to ask if the boat needed another crew member when the driver grabbed him in a headlock.
Too late, Jerry struggled.
Death was swift as the driver snapped the old man’s neck. There was no scream, no moan or torrent of blood to splash on the deck. The only sound the driver heard was the monotonous slapping of waves against the trawler’s hull.
The driver dumped him and the body stuffed inside the canvas bag into the bait tank that was filthy with rotting chum and maggots. He knew later in the morning that the bodies would be flushed out to sea when the seiner opened its bait tanks.
In the distance, he heard a muffled laugh. The crew of the Angelina was approaching otherwise no one saw nothin’, except for a pair of ancient eyes positioned between the crates where Jerry had been sleeping.
Editor’s note: The late author, a Sausalito resident, saw his writing career starve to death waiting for this short story to be published. In his honor, we present this Russian Emigre longshoreman/writer’s debut decades after it was written.