It seems every generation a work of fiction debuts that captures the imagination of readers for its originality, pyrotechnic storyline and dark alleys filled with eclectic characters.
Now in pre-release, Cantina Psalms is rapid-paced collection of urban noir. These tightly woven short stories are deep with crime, erotic love and ironic social satire. It is a crowded saloon of intertwined characters—all from San Francisco’s gritty North Beach neighborhood. Each story is a table set with silver spoons, forks in the road, and sharp knives.
Cantina Psalms’ main characters range from penthouse politicos to icy homegrown drug czars to a mysterious redhead who creates havoc for everyone. Caught in the middle is the Mayor's bodyguard, who has to protect himself from good trouble and bad, including broken cops, jealous peers, and even His Honor's daughters.
Cantina Psalms cleverly manipulates a San Francisco set in the near future. Can this world-famous city of power brokers, innovators, dreamers and misfits save itself from chaos?
And in the city of "love the one you're with" there's plenty of sheet music, including a menage a trois for the ages.
About the Author.
Award-winning journalist Thomas Shess is a former editor-in-chief of San Francisco Magazine and an ex-San Francisco Examiner reporter. He has also been a senior editor of national inflight magazines and other major lifestyle publications in California. Through it all, he has developed a keen eye for the powerful, the climbers and the outsiders whose lives intersect in surprising ways.
About the Author
Award-winning journalist Thomas Shess is a former editor-in-chief of San Francisco Magazine and an ex-San Francisco Examiner reporter. He has also been a senior editor of national inflight magazines and other major travel & lifestyle publications. Through it all, he has developed a keen eye for the powerful, the climbers and the outsiders whose lives intersect in surprising ways.
An Excerpt from Book One
Cantina Psalm #1: The carousel that’s also known as San Francisco zips along on most days at 33-1/3 rpm. Until someone or something leans on the lever pushing it to 78 rpm. When that happens, bodies start flying off. Others manage to hang on. Today, someone fucked with the lever, again.
ART OF THE DEAL
Of course, it was raining. It had rained more these past three weeks than it had in two years, but who could tell inside the tube?
The six-car BART train pulled into the Angel Island subway Station 8 pm on time. Tom Gresham, still the head of security for San Francisco Mayor Joe Martin exited the crowded rear car his thoughts looked forward to an evening of jazz and listening to an old friend try to talk him into a piece of freelance dirty work.
Le Jazz Club, music and dinner venue is one of the original tenants of Angel City located on the ground floor of the Hotel Juneau, a year-old 10 floor first class hotel, the tallest building in what was an instant city built on a part of Angel Island atop new landfill in only five years.
He rushed from the depot to a line of waiting electric carts with yellow light on the small roof housed in a plastic box reading “Taxi”.
The uphill cobblestoned distance to the hotel was walkable, except in the rain. En route, Tom read from a “Welcome to Angel City” brochure and map conveniently located in a dispenser behind the driver of the four-seat taxi. Before entering the hotel, he turned to face the timeless views of the city skyline in the distance, now punctuated with 150 to 200 story skyrises.
He breathed in pine scented air breezing in from the Bay and the gargantuan Pacific Ocean to the west.
If Angel Island was a face, the land mass that Angel City occupied was shaped like a beard along the south end of the island. It’s newfound 1000 acres were dredged up by subway expansion as an add on to the once pristine island in the middle of San Francisco Bay.
The new purple Bay Area Rapid Transit line now serves Alcatraz tourism; Angel Island before linking with the Richmond Ferry terminal and existing rails at the Nevin Street BART/AMTRAC terminal in mid-city Richmond. Angel City and the BART line expansion was designed and constructed beginning in 2026 by the federal government’s post pandemic wars of COVID 19 thru COVID 23 via the Works Projects Administration and McGrath International, a multi-national engineering and construction giant.
Angel City to date is about the size of the Principality of Monaco on the Mediterranean coast with options to become larger with more future dredging for a Marina and tourist boat ferry landing.
To many it was a new world. Thanks to a massive nationwide investment by the government (and still never touching the $7 trillion in gold stashed at Ft. Knox, Kentucky) carbon dioxide removing towers pillars like the old cell phone towers sucked the air clean of pollutants. The populace could breathe again now that the coal czars were economically rediverted and became minimized like the Robber Barons of the late 1890s.
Unlike a nightmare that could be shaken off with a quick shower or a shot of Mexican joy juice, the specter would have to be dealt with. His name: Art Garcia. Dressed in gray slacks, Brooks Brothers oxford shirt, and a navy Boggi hooded blazer, Garcia lashed his famous toothy smile as he stood to greet his school chum from a childhood neither remembered.
Both were fit because they were paid to be. Garcia in his fifties and Tom almost 40. They used to be better friends, choirboys at different times in another life. No handshake this night was offered.
Tom, the epitome of millennium casual arrived in denims, a crew neck sweater shirt, a bomber jacket, and black high-top boots, eased himself into the wooden chair.
Happy-go-lucky by nature, Garcia spoke first, “Tommy, Tommy, Tommy—how have you been?” Tom shrugged and ordered a glass of water while Garcia kept to his bottle of mezcal with no ice or water to dilute the spirits. Tom when he was with Art treated brooding like a hobby it gave him pleasure to be dour.
Maybe it was an acquired mien from being a street cop ten years earlier or simply he was a jerk. But that face was only shown to men. With women Tom was different. He loved playing the field being in their company. He smiled at lot, witty at times, and offered loyalty. He was in it for the long run because marriage was not a near option,
Art lifted the bottle off the table. “Mexicans still put a worm in the mezcal.”
It was not a question.
Tom smiled, “I’m not into tequila.”
Art continued with his small talk, “Mezcal only has the worm. To be called tequila it must be made from 51% blue agave plant. No worms in any bottle labeled tequila. Twenty-five years as a special agent for US customs and that’s all I can remember from my Latin American stations.”
‘‘OK,“ Tom‘s face held little expression.
Garcia glanced out of the large plate-glass window into the growing storm. “I don’t remember any of this. Last time I was in the city this island was parkland and Alcatraz was boring.”
“Government needs the money so it creates jobs so it can tax the peons,” Tom said, “ordinances fall to the wayside. Untouchable parks become commercialized. It’s all about real estate development for the zillions…we’re literally fucking our way to Armageddon, and we need places to house them all.”
“That’s one way of looking at it, but I didn’t invite you over to talk gloom and doom. In fact, I’m tired of bad news, pandemics and assholes who go to jail instead of taking a vaccine. No more,” said Garcia, who flicked an invisible gnat off the sleeve of his bespoke blazer. Like so many tall men, especially those like Garcia, at 6-5, who have the taste and or the money had his wardrobe custom.
Gresham fidgeted with his eyes wondering where Garcia was going with this meeting. He didn’t have to wait long.
“We go way back, Tommy. I can trust you and you’re fearless. Good stuff for an industrial spy. Besides you’re not getting any younger. You can’t be making any money working for Joe Martin. Become my partner and I’ll guarantee you one million new dollars per year as a base doing corporate espionage. It’s a career move. With what I’m offering you as a base salary you can float in any blue blood circle and be part of what you want to do with the rest of your life. There will be plenty of time between jobs to back your outside interests with the dough I’m offering you. And remember each job has its scale of payout. We’re talking game change. I’ll bet with a new upward salary range for you there could be a lot on you bucket list that you could make happen.”
“I don’t need an electric Corvette.”
“Stop it, Tom. I’m walking about a woman. I know you’re seeing Carly Martin and that relationship is going nowhere. Why? She doesn’t want to marry someone that makes pennies on the dollar. I had you vetted. Remember that’s what I do. You’re running out of youth. I’m offering you a change to have the things you only dreamed about to come true. Earn what you’re worth. You are a damn fine cop. You always have been.”
“Where did this come from? Why now?” Tom asked.
“I’m getting older fast. I can’t fake it anymore being a one man show. I’m finding myself up against sheer numbers of people who want me dead. I need back up. I need to protect myself on the job and at home. I need you to lead that team.” Art detected zero interest in Tom’s stare. “Any of what I’m saying make sense to you?”
“Joe had you vetted as well. He’s thinking of bringing you in to do a job for him. He knows you’re the right man but he’s a bit concerned.”
“OK, I’ll ask. What has him nervous?”
“People die on almost every assignment.”
“I get results. I don’t break laws. Yes, I put holes in people but that’s self-defense. I don’t set out to murder people for no reason. No amount of money could make me do that. Governments, corporations hire me, Tom. They give me a job and I do it and they protect me. I’m not working for cartels of mega thugs.”
Tom looked around. He caught the eye of a waitress, who brought over menus.
Art was getting a bitter taste in his mouth that he sorely misjudged a man he’s known since high school. He put on a good face, however, backed with a smile that had no heart to it.
“Carol Law, an old-fashioned torch singer and bass sax player. Her sidemen are called “Guilty as Charged.” Classic jazz oldie specialist. Good names, don’t you think?”
“What’s to eat?”
“Steak, of course. Best $200 porterhouse anywhere.”
“There was a day when that much money would have bought the entire steer,” Tom said.
“Let’s forget the past, Tommy, it doesn’t exist.”
Tom finally broke a long silence between them. “Parts of what you say make sense, but I got a problem with Joe. I’m still Joe’s bodyguard until then. He can’t run for a third term…term limits.”
Art added, “Satellite News says Joe may run for Governor.”
“He’s got cancer. Not the kind that used to kill people, but it slowly sucks you dry. Vaccines. Pills knocked cancer out for five years then it come back with vengeance. Joe’s feeling the return symptoms.”
“That’s a shame. Hard to find any politico not on the take,” Garcia said, “damn shame. What are you going to do?”
“Stick with him until he tells me to go away.”
“Good man.” Art had to admit. He thought Tom would jump at the offer by running around the restaurant buying drinks and kissing the ladies. Art didn’t figure there would be complications to such a good offer. Art needed muscle but he needed loyalty, too. Right now, Tom couldn’t walk away from a man that needed him more.
“A year from now I’ll be looking for a job,” Tom said.
“I could be dead by them.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
Art spoke slowly, “what if I bring you in on a job that won’t take more than a long weekend to wrap up. It’s a piece of cake and it pays good.”
Below: December issue, North Park News, San Diego California.
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