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Friday, August 12, 2022


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.

The author on assignment, Istanbul station



 This excerpt is from Cantina Psalms, a novel published in 2022 by Thomas Shess that appears in print as “Schtuper’s Revenge.” 

Overnight another storm rolled in off the Marin Headlands. The storm was accompanied by a low wind and cold irritating rain that blows spits sand into faces and windshields. 

This morning the face belonged to District Attorney Harre Ling, the fifty-something Anglo with the Asian name, who was serious about dying. He just wasn’t very good at the details. 

Harre had jammed the last of his vial of cocaine into his nose. “Stop here,” he shouted. His hand moved to the snub-nosed revolver in the right pocket of his white suit jacket. 

The cabbie that drove him onto the north bound side of the recently expanded Golden Gate Bridge refused to pull over at mid-span. 

Harre shot his 9mm SIG through the roof of the taxi. 

 The cabbie braked hard, swerved onto the sidewalk, and came to a grinding fender-mashing halt along the railing. The Nigerian refugee bolted from the car screaming in agony, slapping at himself trying to find where he’d been shot. 


Meanwhile at 1,500 feet above San Francisco Bay: “Copy that! I got a name on that bozo, who’s dangling his ass off the Golden Gate,” screamed C.J. Barrett, the KNUZ-TV helicopter pilot to on-air reporter Jennifer McGrath, who sat in the co-pilot’s seat with a pair of binoculars pressed against her eyes. 

 “There are five jumpers a month. What’s so special about this one?” Barrett glanced over the top of his yellow orange tinted aviator style sunglasses.

 “Because it’s Harre Fucking Ling, that’s why!” “That’ll do!” he said. She dropped her binoculars to her lap, “Tell me we’ll be the first chopper there.” 

 “Have I ever let you down?” Barrett asked and coaxed the ex-Coast Guard chopper turned news bird for all it was worth. He was now in the process of dropping nose down to skim lower across the choppy bay. 

 “There. Dead ahead,” the thirty-nine-forever blonde reporter focused on a whirling burlesque of blue, white and red emergency lights flashing mid-span. “That’s him in the white suit.” 

 “Marin Tower to KNUZ chopper one … you are proceeding into a FAA no-fly emergency area—please reroute away from the Golden Gate Bridge area … acknowledge—” 

 The TV reporter grinned. “Can you turn that down, C.J., I can’t hear myself think?” 

 The pilot turned off the radio. He could only shake his head and smile. 


Since the Feds Works Projects completed a six-lane adjacent bridge to the Golden Gate, the California Highway Patrol can divert traffic as needed to the other span in case of a traffic accident or suicide threat. 

 Thanks to advances in bridge construction, the westside bridge did not need the huge towers to support the new one-way southbound six-lane road. Built adjacent and almost invisible to the original span, the new side nearest to the ocean was painted black so as to appear in the shadows of the old Golden Gate. The side facing the city was painted in the usual rusty colors that was all too familiar to generations of saps willing to pay the $20 toll. Saps because there are no tolls for the state’s other large bridges, the Vincent Thomas in Long Beach, and the Coronado Bay Bridge in San Diego. But the taxpayers were sold that a 100 percent increase in toll fees were needed to pay for its construction. The two bridges went by the Golden Gate Bridge moniker. 

 Harre Ling paced from one end of the wrecked cab to the other. When San Francisco Police Chief Andrew Roehr approached, Harre climbed on the railing to shout: “Stop right there, Andy. Don’t be the one to screw up the rescue!” 

 A nameless Marin County Deputy Sheriff, who was assisting to block northbound traffic shouted from his position behind a squad car: “Jump you sonofabitch, so we can all go home.” 

 Harre heard the insult. His temper flashed, “Thanks to you, pal—I’m going to string this out for another couple of hours.” 

Harre fired the remaining bullets from his pistol into the low clouds and fog above. 

 Everyone on the bridge flinched. 

 “NOBODY SHOOT!” Chief Roehr shouted and waved his hands over his head in a classic football time-out motion. "What's he shooting?"

A policewoman in full SFPD sniper gear shouted, “.357 SIG P229 and not standard issue for DAs. It carries 12 bullets.”

 “How many shots does he have left?” Chief asked. “Someone find out how many shots did he fire at the cabbie." 

 “One,” said the policewoman. 

Chief Roehr frowned. “Hell, he can still shoot himself silly with that many rounds.” 


Carly Martin sat in the administrative lobby of the CalTrans building next to the tollbooths on the San Francisco side of the bridge. She had been ordered to the bridge by Chief Roehr. 

 The top cop, a freckled-faced, African American with reddish hair, burst into the lobby. “Carly, Harre’s not listening to me.” 

 “If he won’t listen to you, then there’s nothing I can do,” she said. 

 “Go out there. Talk to him,” Roehr said. 

 “Where’s his wife?” The young DA asked. 

 “Not an option. She refused to come out here—even with a police escort.” 

Carly pursed her lips, “Her reason being?” 

 “She said he was all yours. You can have him.” 


 “She said you were having an affair with him.” 

 “No, I’m not! Why would she say something like that?” 

 Chief closed his eyes in exasperation. “Look, I’m telling you what she told me. Let’s work on getting him off the railing.” 

 “Let’s get this clear. I’m not fucking Harre Ling.” 

 “Fine. Fine. I give a shit who City Hall fucks...just help me out here. He’s asking for you.” 

 “Aw, shit, Andy. I don’t want to do this. The media will screw this up. Trust me.” 

 “No one will hear you two. The wind’s howling so bad.” 

 “No way.” 

 “Please, Carly. Do what you can to make this end. My budget can't handle the overtime for this."

 Young Martin cinched her trench coat and walked to the door of the office. She stopped and turned to Roehr. “How close can I get to him?” 

 “Close enough so you can use the bullhorn,” he said. “If anyone gets closer, he puts the SIG to his head.” 

 The pair walked out of the CalTrans lobby. A glint of light caught her attention from above the bridge. A yellow and blue-painted helicopter was trying to hold its hovering position. 

 “Moron,” Roehr shouted. “Somebody radio that fool to get out of here. Jesus, I  wouldn't blame Harre if he shoots that bastard yellow canary out of the sky.” 

 Within seconds, the KNUZ news chopper pulled out of sight and ducked under the roadway. A blast of salt air slapped their faces with bits of sand. 

Chief pulled Carly closer to shield her. “Say what you can—” 

 “I’ll do my best, Andy.” 


 “Oh, my God, Harre,” she whispered before clearing her throat. 

 Disheveled, unshaven with his hair wild in the wind, she barely recognized the only boss she had since he hired her five years earlier. He was still wearing the white suit he wore yesterday to her parent’s anniversary party. Clearly, a wire snapped in the DA’s brain. 

 Carly figured he stayed up all night. He was wearing the same suit he had on at her parent's party.  She tried to remember anything that could have triggered Harre’s outburst of non-compos mentis. 

 Carly pressed the bullhorn button. It squawked. She flinched but held it firm. “Harre, this is Carly Martin.” She gave her full name because the world was listening, and she wanted to come off as a professional. Plus, given the gossip that Chief Roehr had hit her with, she did not want to sound familiar with him in any way. 

 Harre’s eyes lifted. He stared at her with a faded smile. “Come to save me, Car?” 
 “Please listen to me.” She continued, “Please come off the rail. Think of your family, Harre. Think of your daughters. Think how scared you have them. You can always start a new life—so can they, but you can’t ever shake the terror from them if you die this way.” 

 “I’m gonna die someday,” he shouted back. Carly shook her head. She was not listening to the words coming out of her mouth. “Harre, I don’t want to lose a friend.” 

 Ling raised his hand to shield his eyes from the biting wind. The same hand he had wiped his nose with. “That’s why I’m here, Carly. You demoted me to friend status. I really can’t handle that. You know and I know we’re more than that. But I know I fucked up big time with your sister.  I'm so sorry.  I was drunk.  She shouldn't have let me..."

"Harre, you're not making sense," Carly was shivering from the cold breeze, "You're family. I’ve known you all my life.” 

 “Nice try, sweetheart. The only thing that will pull me off this rail is for you to live up to your promise to marry me and leave this fucking city."

 Carly’s face flushed. “No, Harre, that's not true. I never promised I’d marry you. I never said such a thing.” 

 “Now, you’re lying to me.” 

 Her mouth opened. No words came out. 

 “I changed my life for you,” his voice cracked. 

 “Harre, what are you talking about? Why are you acting this way?” 

 “You and me—what the hell do you think I’m talking about?” 

 “There was never you and me. Why are you doing this?” she asked the man, who was thirty years her senior. “Are you drunk?” 

Instantly, he jammed the barrel of the gun to his head. 

“No, Harre—don’t! I’m sorry, please come off the ledge. We all need you at the office. You need some time off. No one wants to lose you.” 

She saw the gun. “Harre, drop it so they can come to get you. We all need to get warm. It’ll be fine. We can talk. I promise I will listen.” 

 He looked up. “All I ever wanted was for you to listen to me. Let me explain how it can work between us.” 

 Carly lowered the bullhorn. Harre Ling’s face contorted into tears then he shouted. His words disappeared in the roar of the storm. He waved her away. 

 She gasped as the wind pushed Harre backward. 

 Fumbling between his legs, he grabbed for a railing. As he did, his SIG slipped from his hand. It clunked on the sidewalk and bounced under the railing and over the side. 

 A yelp went through the assembled crowd of rescue workers and law enforcement. 

 Chief Roehr rushed to Carly. “Good work, good work. Now ask him to step off the railing and lay down on the roadway.” 

 “Harre, please come off the railing. Harre, please. We can work this out. It’ll be OK.” 

“I’ll come off the rail, if you promise you’ll talk to me before they haul me away.” 

 “Yes. I will.” Carly’s heart raced. She saw him mouth: OK, I’m coming down. 

 At that moment, a grinding, swishing roar from beneath the bridge grew inexplicitly louder. The piston-throbbing roar came behind and below Harre. WUP-WUP, WUP-WUP, WUP-WUP THUD, THUD, THUD, THUD, THUD, THUD, THUD! No one on the bridge within earshot of Harre had a clue where the huge sound was coming from. 

 A heartbeat later, everyone had the answer. 

 Carly’s eyes widened in amazement. 

 The bright yellow KNUZ News chopper rose from beneath the bridge: SSSSSSSwwooooOOOOP! THUD, THUD, THUD, THUD, THUD! It faced the bridge broadside no more than twenty yards behind and directly at level with Harre. 


Back at the station, KNUZ Hourly News broke off its commercials. It was now top of the hour. Showtime. 


A megawatt spotlight from the chopper flipped on and flooded Harre. 

 Startled, he twisted to see what was going on. 

 The prop wash flapped against Harre’s rain-soaked jogging suit.

 Still perched on the railing, Harre struggled to sit up. 

 A moment later, he turned to look at the chopper. As he did a blast of wind whipped across the roadway struck Harre square in the chest. 

 The dominos began to crumble one upon the other. 

 The same heavy air current shot the helicopter high over the bridge roadway. Now positioned above Harre, the downdraft from the massive chopper blades slammed against him like a burst of water from an invisible fire cannon. 

 At no time did the megawatt spotlight from the chopper move off Harre, causing an eerie glow to bathe the scene in a surreal yellow. 

 His clothes flapped in the turbulence! 

 Carly looked on in horror at his distress. “HARRE, HOLD ON!” 

 Desperate, Harre flailed for the railing. His wet hands slipped off the wet metal barrier. Harre tumbled backward. 

 The last thing Carly saw was the soles of his running shoes.” 

 She screamed. 

 A dozen voices behind echoed her scream. 

 Chief Roehr shouted, “No way is this happening!” 

 The KNUZ team caught the entire scenario live for all local stations and a patched-in worldwide feed via CNN. 

 Harre plunged, with his arms flailing. The wind in his face made him gasp for air. The two hundred thirty-two feet from the railing to the strait below was the equal of a nineteen-story building. 


 He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth and prayed—he didn’t want to die. 

 Other people have survived the fall. 

Water, he reasoned, was not like falling on cement. 

 He had a chance. As he cut through the nothingness between the bridge and the salt water, he stiffened his body, pointing his heels downward. His last thoughts were not noble. 

 Falling faster. 

 “Oh, fuck get it over with—” Harre hit the water at 60 mph. For an infinitesimal moment, District Attorney Harre Ling recognized gurgling water rush passed his ears. 

 Then, there was nothing. 

 His prayer was answered. 

 He entered the forever void. 


“No, this can’t be real!” Jennifer yelled from the cockpit. Then, it hit her. She bit hard on her lower lip, now realizing this would be her first national story. And, for KNUZ’s fourth place standing in a four TV station ratings marketplace, the tragedy couldn’t have come at a better time: two weeks before ratings sweep.


Below: December 2022 issue, North Park News, San Diego California.

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