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Hole Lotta Shakin’
A Tony Mandolin Short Story
By Robert Beers
In the morning we could find no trace of Sam Clemons, Roosevelt or Bain, which led the big guy and me to think about doing some exploring. As far as we were concerned, this was a whole new city, practically a whole new culture and we had money, which we did not have when we first arrived.
Frankie suggested we check out Fisherman’s Wharf, saying he had a hankering for some real old west sourdough and Dungeness. I quite agreed. Once you experience that combination, washed down with a beer, nothing else can really take its place.
The Embarcadero was there. In fact, it seemed somewhat unchanged from my day except for the modes of transportation. We grabbed a bus, drawn by four matched draft horses, paid our penny and rode along, enjoying the sights.
What I did notice was there were a lot more buildings right up against the water, boarding houses, bawdy houses and dens of even less repute. I’d heard it said that the 1906 earthquake destroyed the last vestiges of the San Francisco Barbary Coast.
Just as we approached the end of the Embarcadero, before the road took its drastic 90-degree turn to the left, I said the Frankie, “There we are, an authentic crab shack.”
He said, “Where?” And then he was off the bus and walking.
As we’d been passengers on the running board, it was easy to simply step off and follow. Those old buggies didn’t get up to speeds much past ten miles per hour, about an athlete’s jogging pace, but the horses had been taking it easy, and so much the better.
Oh heaven in a scent. The smell of the boiling crab had my mouth watering, and because of the time of day, the round loaves of bread were still warm. And released steam when you cracked them open. I had to wonder, what would the crabbers association say if I told them I knew of a shack that sold crab and sourdough, with a beer for five cents?
If Swift-Hook had been there she would have honestly reported that the big guy and I made pigs of ourselves. I was pretty peckish, and even at that, I could only put away two crabs. Those things were huge. Frankie, on the other hand, polished off four and was looking wistfully at a fifth when I paid the guy. He said, a bit wide-eyed, “You know… if you fellers ever want to come back, I’m always here. And let your families know about me, okay?”
I’m sure he saw a future retirement in our custom alone. And then I looked up and saw the sign over the shack, Mandolin’s. I said, the feeling of destiny washing through me, “Oh, I sure will.”
Then Frankie said, “Can we go look at the ships?”
I was more than happy to be dragged away. The butterflies were flapping up a storm.
It is amazing how the most harmless-sounding requests can turn into gut-wrenching episodes in a life that has seen far too many gut-wrenching episodes.
In 1906 the docks were basically a boardwalk that stretched from across from Alcatraz Island all the way south to Hunters Point. Essentially miles and miles of ships, docks, warehouses, and stalls, as well as bars and other assorted less than civil and healthy entertainments. So… looking at the ships was one thing. Dealing with the types who frequented the stalls and boozers across from the ships was something else altogether.
Frankie, totally engrossed in the lines and details of a four-masted clipper slipping through the bay, did not see the laughing knot of men and saloon girls coming out of the bar until it was too late. They all went down in a tangle of legs, shouting and cursing. It was amazing, the girls had a better command of the invective than the men.
One of the men, a moderately tall, thin fellow, wearing a western style duster and a low-slung revolver in a rather fancy holster looked around and demanded, “Who’s the clumsy oaf who did that? Where is the idiot?” I could feel the ice forming in my gut. The gunslinger.
Frankie, not the greatest in understanding the techniques of survival said, holding up his hand, “Umm. I think that was me. Sorry.” Then he noticed who it was and added, “Again.”
“Sorry?” The guy responded, acting even more insulted, “Sorry? Is that all you’ve got to say, darkie? Who’s going to pay for the damage to my coat or these young ladies gowns?” Then he added in about as insulting a tone as possible, “Boy?”
It was obvious to anyone watching; the saloon girls were neither ladies nor young. As for the guy’s coat, it would have been easier to just apply a new layer of dirt to where the fall had scraped some off.
“You tell ‘im Jimmy!” The saloon girl with the worst mouth brushed back a lock of greasy hair, “He’s an uppity darkie. Teach that boy a lesson.”
Frankie stiffened. I didn’t blame him. “I’ll be going now,” he said, coldly.
The one they called Jimmy drew the gun from its holster and cocked it in one smooth motion. “Where you going, boy? You ain’t apologized near enough.”
He looked Frankie up and down, “Boy, you are a big one, ain’t you? What’s with the gentleman’s clothes? Is that how they’re dressing you darkies these days? Well, you gotta do better’n just I’m sorry, boy. That’s no way to act around your betters. Even if they’s dressing you like some jumped up pet.”
If he hadn’t been holding that gun on the big guy, Frankie would have cleaned his clock, and I would have cheered.
Frankie growled, “Tell you what, Put that gun down and we’ll see who’s the better man.”
The crowd murmured. Seems a black man wasn’t supposed to talk back.
Jimmy growled back, his eyes narrowing, “Why don’t you strap on a gun and try me, boy?”
“I don’t like guns,” Frankie said.
“Well,” Jimmy laughed, “Too damn bad, boy, cause I sure do.” He whirled the revolver in his hand, finishing with it pointed at Frankie’s head.
I reached for my own gun. I’d bought a shoulder holster to go along with the suit, just in case. It seemed I was right, but the big guy said, “No, Tony. Let me handle this.”
Jimmy looked at me and sneered, “What, white men aren’t good enough for you? You just wait your turn… Tony, I’ll deal with you next.” Then he laughed, “Someone hand this darkie a gun.”
A gun, in its belt, was passed out of the crowd. We were now surrounded by what looked like over a hundred people, all of them nearly salivating at the unexpected free show.
“Frankie,” I said, “This guy’s an obvious gunfighter. He’s probably killed dozens of people.”
“I know what I’m doing Tony,” Frankie said, strapping on the gun. The belt just managed to fit. There was no slack.
Jimmy called out, “All right… boy, let’s just open up a bit of room, and make it more interesting, okay?”
The crowd behind us gave way as Frankie stepped backward, one, two three times. Jimmy, the gunfighter did the same, making the space between them a good thirty feet thereabouts.
The gunfighter called out, his hand poised over the butt of his gun, “Make your play, boy. That bay behind you’ll make a nice watery grave.”
Frankie flipped his coat out of the way of the gun resting on his hip, nodded and said, “Call me boy, just one more time.” Something in his voice sounded familiar. A natural mimic, the big guy had shifted character.
Jimmy smiled big and then sneered, “Make your play… boy.” His hand darted to the gun.
Instantly there was the sound of a shot and Jimmy’s gun exploded in its holster.
I looked, and Frankie stood there, his borrowed gun in his hand, posed as if he was right out of an old Wild West film. Jimmy was blinking and staring at the ruins of his gun belt, his mouth dropped open in shock. His hand still poised to draw.
“Call me sir.”
I wanted to clap and cheer. Frankie still had the gun aimed, his hand rock steady at about waist level.
“Huh?” Jimmy looked across at the big guy, “What’d you say?”
“I said,” Frankie growled, clicking back the hammer of the gun, it sounded unusually loud in the silence. The crowd had become like statues. “Call—me—sir!”
Jimmy’s eyes widened and he babbled, “Yes sir, sir. I mean… sir!”
“Now,” Frankie said, “Take off your gun belt.”
Jimmy did so, holding it by the buckle.
Frankie waved his gun, “Over to the water.”
Jimmy shuffled over to the edge of the dock.
Frankie raised his aim and growled, in the deadliest voice I’d ever heard come from him, “Drop it or die.”
Jimmy dropped the belt and then I heard the splash.
Frankie said, “You’ll be leaving town now, won’t you… boy?”
I’d never seen a man suddenly become so miserable. Jimmy’s head dropped to his chest and he sobbed, “…yes…”
“Good,” Frankie said, in that same deadly tone. “Now… get!”
As Jimmy and his friends left the dock we were mobbed by a hoard of brand new fans. All of them wanting to know the big guy’s name, did he know Bill Hickok, the Earp boys and so on. A few wondered if he was the famous Bass Reeves. One man asked if he knew he was faster than Killin’ Jim Miller when he drew on him.
Frankie said, “Who?” And the crowd laughed. They didn’t realize he was being honest.
A woman pushed through the crowd and said, “But… you told him you didn’t like guns.”
Frankie said, “I don’t. I never said I didn’t know how to use them.”
I grabbed him before he had any more chances to quote Hollywood. Whoever had passed him the gun and belt never asked for it back.
As we got back onto the Embarcadero, I asked, “All right. I know you’re fast Frankie. I’ve seen you move, but where in the hell did you learn to draw and shoot like that?”
He looked a little embarrassed, “Would you believe me if I said 7-11?”
“No,” I said, spacing the words, “I would not. And you’re not Michael J Fox. Neither are you Tom Selleck.”
Then he said, “It was for that Castro Theater revival of Annie Get Your Gun, like I said. I played Frank.”
I filled in the blanks, “And you and the other cast members got to fooling around with quick draw contests, right? Well… I guess they weren’t kidding about you being fast.”
He nodded, blushing.
I said, “Big guy. That is a story we want to save for the twenty-first century.”
Walking up the sidewalks into the area just below where Coit Tower would be built, I saw a shop that I immediately recognized. I grabbed Frankie by the arm and said, “Come on, we gotta go.”
He resisted, “But why? What’s wrong?”
I pointed at the shop, “Butterflies, big guy, tons and tons of butterflies.”
Frankie noticed the sign, “Mandolin and Sons,” he read. “Is that your great Grandfather’s place? I thought they ran a crab shack.”
I nodded, “Yes, but this is the main office and the bakery and I cannot take the chance of doing or saying anything that might make a change. I would really prefer to exist, thank you.”
“Shop’s closed today. Pops at the park checking out the headhunters.”
Cold washed through me. That had to be my grandfather as a teenager, or my great uncle, his brother. Turning, I said, “Thanks. I heard he does real good work.”
The young man said, “Best in the city, and I’m getting pretty good myself. Authentic old country flavor. Not even the Gabiati can match it.”
I nodded. “I know,” I said. “Well… thanks anyway. Oh, can I make a suggestion?”
He replied, shrugging, “It’s a free country.”
I asked, “Does your family like stargazing?”
He answered, “You kidding? The old man’s crazy for it.”
“Well then. I happen to know there is a great chance of clear skies around April 17th, and if you can be… say on the grass in Golden Gate Park before dawn on the 18th… you just might catch sight of a meteor shower.”
“Wow…” he said, his eyes widening in anticipation. “Thanks, mister.”
I chuckled, “Don’t mention it.”
As we headed back down the hill Frankie punched me lightly on the arm. “Butterflies?”
I grumbled, “So sue me. It could be that was why they survived.”
When we arrived back at the hotel, Miss Swift-Hook was waiting for us in the lobby. She hurried over as we walked through the lobby door, “Mister Mandolin,” she called out.
I stopped and tipped my hat, “Miss Swift-Hook.”
She said, “About that money…”
I smiled, “What money?”
“I want to apologize for my temper yesterday,” she rushed on. “I’m sure you have no idea what it is to have to fight uphill for every scrap of dignity as a woman does in this world. I know my father’s position gives me an edge over most, but—”
I stopped her, “Actually, I do. I have friends and associates who are not men and I am well aware of how it can be, believe me. I would never put you into a place where you felt uncomfortable. That is not me.”
She nodded, “That’s what Mister Bain said,” glancing in the direction of the bar. Then she added, “I’m a little worried about him. Something must have happened…”
Alarm bells started up in my mind. “What do you mean?”
“Tony…” Frankie said.
“I know, big guy. Thanks, Miss Swift-Hook. It seems we’re needed. If I don’t see you again…”
She smiled and just said, “Thank you.”
Bain looked a hell of a lot more familiar when I saw him. Frankie’s, “Uh ohhh,” was right on the money.
Bain’s eyes, their familiar bloodshot red, looked up at us as we approached.
“Jackson…” he slurred, “Sho sorry to have you see me like thish…”
Then he focused on me, “Mandolin…” His head dropped and then came back up, “A man I can trust… don’t like, but can trust…”
There was a clank and then I saw the whiskey bottle roll across the marble. And then I heard the snores start up.
I looked at Frankie and said, “Let’s get him to bed.”
Bain was never a lightweight, but he weighed more a century younger in his drinking than he did back when I first knew him. Fortunately for me, Frankie could have probably used Bain’s weight as his lighter barbells. With the big guy carrying Bain as if he was a sleeping child, I ran point and got us to the room with only a slightly outrageous amount of tipping for silence.
The nice thing about luxury hotels is the couches in the rooms can easily double as a bed, and that’s where we deposited Bain.
It was the screaming that woke me. I bolted upright and was out of the bedroom before my eyes were all the way open. Bain was thrashing on the couch, his mouth open in fear, but his eyes were shut tight.
For a normal person all you do is wake them and tell them it’s all right, it was just a nightmare. The problem here was, Bain, as a wizard, could fry me crispy while he was apologizing.
“Medb!” He screamed again, “No!”
Knowing Bain’s history, I also knew the source of his nightmare. He wasn’t as much as a drunk as he was when I knew him in the future, but that have been because just one of his children was alive. The last one he had to kill as the penance for having them with Medb, his fae lover. It seemed a wizard getting it on with one of the faerie queens produced monsters as the result, and I’m not just talking about their personalities.
I walked over to one of the chairs and sat down. Sleeping, as far as I was concerned, was over. I hoped Bain would be able to rest, rather than dream. I was wearing my usual pajamas, meaning skin, so I grabbed the afghan off the back of the chair and wrapped myself in it.
He eventually did settle down, but the end result was me listening to an incredibly aggravating variety and litany of snores. I was just about ready to consider a glass of water in his face when his eyes opened.
“Mandolin,” he said, sitting up, “What are you doing in my room?”
“It’s my room,” I said, in as flat a tone as possible, which was easy since I was feeling really pissed off.
“Your room?” He asked, looking around, and then he winced, “God! My head!”
“Hangover,” I said.
“Hangover,” I repeated, “Probably due to that bottle you polished off down in the bar.”
He nodded and then winced again.
“Thinking about your kids, right?”
I probably shouldn’t have said that because his eyes whipped around to center on me and those little blue arcs of power I knew all too well danced around his fingers. “What—do—you—know—about—my—children?” He snarled.
In for a penny, and all that. “I know,” I said carefully, “all about them because you told me. I know about Medb, the curse, and your penance and I have to say, I am really, really sorry. You don’t know how sorry.”
“Yes… I do,” he said, “I read your aura.”
His head dropped again and then, still looking down at his feet, he asked, “How do you know all this?”
That penny just kept getting bigger. “Because besides being from the future, as I said, “You and I have been in quite a few fights together, including one against Surtr.”
His head came up and his eyes widened, “And you survived? Mandolin, there must be a hell of a lot more to you than meets the eye.”
I shrugged, “No, you and Odin had a lot to do with that.” I fished out the ankh necklace he’d made for me and waggled it.
“Odin too?” He put his head in his hands, “A bit too much at one time, Mandolin. I need some coffee.”
“Sounds good,” I said standing up.
Bain looked at me and muttered, “You might want to put some pants on. You’re not that attractive.”
I got dressed, collected Frankie and we met Bain down in the Palm Court.
Once coffee was poured and two substantial breakfasts were ordered, Bain said, “I’ve been thinking about that blue goop you told me about, and that may have been what triggered my bout yesterday… and the nightmares.”
“Nightmares?” Frankie asked.
Bain nodded, “One of the mixed blessings that come with being one of my kind is the memory. We never forget anything, including our dreams and our nightmares. They can be played back at will as if we are there all over again.”
“Oh, you poor man,” Frankie said.
Bain smiled sadly at him. “Thank you, Jackson, I mean that.”
Again I thought, “Oh what a century makes.”
“What about the blue goop?” I asked.
“I think it’s tied to one of my… offspring, and it may be what sent you back to this time,” Bain said, sipping some more coffee, “Ohhh that hits the spot. I don’t know how you two can be facing food right now.”
“We didn’t drink?” Frankie suggested.
Bain nodded and sipped again.
Over an incredible breakfast of steak, eggs, hash browns and sourdough toast, Bain told us about the particular offspring from his liaison with Medb, the faerie queen.
“He was born with a certain power, the ability manipulate time. He managed to get Puck, the jester of the faerie court to build him a device to focus that power. It shoots a blob of energy, a sort of blue plasma whose effect is to send the victim back in time by a century or more.”
“Why?” I asked.
He shrugged, “Can’t attack him if you’ve died of old age, can you?”
I nodded, “But that’s not the whole story is it?”
“No,” he sighed, “As with the rest, the thing I sired may look human, but that’s as far as it goes. He revels in terror, in bullying the weak, the defenseless, and that’s when he’s feeling charitable. And he’s also a coward which is why he had the weapon built.”
“Is that why we wound up here?” Frankie asked. “Is there any way back home?”
Bain nodded and sighed, “Afraid not, Jackson, Not unless you can call up an earthquake powerful enough to destroy this city on command.”
He noticed the look the big guy and I gave each other.
“What?” He asked, just a bit of the old Bain growl coming through.
“Umm,” Frankie said, “We know when that is going to happen.”
Bain looked at me, “What does he mean?”
I sighed, almost like he had earlier, and recited, “On April 18th at 5:12 am a magnitude 7.8 earthquake will destroy about 80% of the city and kill over 3000 people. The resulting fires will leave the entire city, except for a few buildings and homes in ruins.”
“That sounds like lecture notes,” he muttered.
I shrugged, “Wikipedia,” I said, “Mostly.”
“Forget it,” I said, “It just means that where Frankie and I are from, the earthquake that’s going to happen is an event in history. We know when, and we know where it is roughly centered.”
“Well then,” Bain said, “I do believe I can help you get back home.”