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Hole Lotta Shakin’
A Tony Mandolin Short Story
By Robert Beers
Someone was shouting, but all I wanted was to keep sleeping. At least that nightmare had passed.
“Tony! Wake up!”
That was Frankie. What was he doing in my bedroom at this time of day?
I opened one eye and growled, “Do you know what time it is?”
He looked down at me. What was he doing in his Private Investigator get up, complete with the fedora—? And then it hit me. The quake—
“Frankie,” I said, sitting up, “The sinkhole…” And then I looked around. I was sitting on cobblestones… and people in costumes were looking at me…
I asked the big guy, “Where are we?”
He turned in a slow circle, saying, “I… don’t… know…”
“Clear off the bloody street!”
I heard hooves clopping and jumped, just as a for real horse drawn cart went trundling by.
Frankie said, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Tony.”
“Not funny big guy.”
“I wasn’t joking. What was that tube he was shooting at us with anyway, a transporter?” He headed over to the sidewalk. I noticed it was wooden.
I joined Frankie on the sidewalk. The storefront next to us looked old-fashioned, but it didn’t look old. I wondered, could we have been taken and dumped into a movie set? One of the few remaining lots where they still had entire town mock-ups?
I said to Frankie, keeping my voice down, “Look around for cameras, or anything else that looks out of place.” An old touring car went chugging by, but again, it didn’t look all that old. I was getting a very strong feeling of being out of place in more ways than one.
He murmured, “You mean, like us?”
I nodded, not feeling like arguing the point, “Yeah, like us.”
“You fellas new in town?”
I looked up and found myself looking at a man right out of history, a policeman, but not of the era I knew. He had a helmet on with a big brass star on it, a high-necked deep blue woolen uniform coat held closed by brass buttons, and a silver multi-pointed star pinned to his left chest pocket. He had an old-fashioned police truncheon in his right hand.
I stood and took off my fedora to show respect, “Why, yes, we are, officer,” I replied. Then I added, “I guess it kind of shows, doesn’t it?”
He relaxed, sliding his truncheon into its holder and then smiled, “Well, let me guess, you’re trying to find one of the hostels for newcomers and got lost, right?” He glanced at Frankie and added, “Try the Post House, they tend to be friendlier to the Negroes, even the giants like your friend there.”
I smiled back. “Thanks,” I said, and then asked, “Uh, which direction is it?”
He pointed west and then tipped his helmet, “Stay out of trouble, now.” And started walking east.
I said to Frankie, “We need to find a paper.”
He replied, “I don’t see any dispensers.”
“If what’s happened what I think has happened, we won’t see anything like that, not for about fifty years. I think we’ve gone back in time.”
He was silent for a bit and then whispered, “I think I need a drink.” When you’ve had experiences like the big guy and I have had, you’ll understand why he reacted that way.
I started walking, noticing the old cable car rail down the middle of the street. “I’m with you on that big guy. Let’s find this Post House. I hear they’re real friendly with the Negroes.”
“Oh shut up.”
We got some stares as we both laughed out loud.
The Post House was a white, three-story building about a block off the wharf, which we could both easily see from the street. The end of the Wharf Market Building, what Market Street was named after, jutted into the picture just on the left side of our view. From that point on we saw masts, rigging and the figures of sailors clinging to some.
“This is weird, Tony,” Frankie muttered, “Really, really weird.”
I replied, “I’m right there with you, big guy, and you know something else?”
“I don’t think they take plastic.”
“Oh, my gawd…”
The foyer of the Post House looked, as with everything else we’d seen like it had come out of a historical record. The furnishings, the wallpaper, everything had that feel of a time long ago.
A man sat in one of the cloth-covered armchairs reading a paper. The masthead on the front page read The Chronicle. His costume said Turn of the Century, as did his haircut and mustache.
“Excuse me, sir,” I said.
He looked up at me, his expression showing both confusion and curiosity. “Yes?” He asked.
I pointed at the paper. “Are there other copies of that available?”
He nodded and pointed at the reception desk, “On the counter,” he replied.
The place was full, which wasn’t surprising. If I remembered my history, one of the few subjects I was actually interested in during school, pre-quake San Francisco had a booming population of over 300,000 souls, making it one of the top ten most heavily populated cities in early twentieth century America. Immigration was way up there, especially among the folks of my background, the Italians.
I made my way across the room and grabbed one of the papers. The clerk didn’t object, but that may have been because Frankie and I were almost twice the size of anyone else. I’d forgotten about that. It was going to be kind of like walking among Hobbits. Most of the population was closer to five foot in height instead of six. I wondered what they were thinking about Frankie. The city was a lot more inclusive when it came to blacks than the rest of the country, but he still had to look like something out of fantasy to them.
I grabbed a chair and sat down. Whoever had planned the hostel had thought ahead, there was plenty of places to sit. I also smelled food, which got me thinking about my rather empty stomach.
Frankie took the chair next to me. We were still getting a lot of looks, which could be for any number of reasons.
Unfolding the paper, I found the date, March 4th, 1906. These people, no, correct that, we had just about six weeks before everything changed.
“Oh, look,” Frankie said, leaning over and pointing at a story on the back of the paper, reading…“ that wild tribe of the Philippines whose ruling passion is the cutting off of human heads…have established a village after the manner of their native habitations at Central Park, on Market Street.” He looked closer and said, “The writer’s E.M. Swift-Hook… hmm, now why does that name sound familiar?”
I looked over the top of the paper at him, “Yeah, the Igorots. That park was around 8th Street if I remember. Right up Market. The civic Plaza’s there now. The old City Hall didn’t survive the quake.”
He looked at me and said, “Tony, I’m getting hungry.”
I nodded, “Like I said, they don’t take plastic and I doubt they’d recognize the bill I do have.”
“We could try,” he said, mournfully.
I pulled out my wallet and removed a twenty dollar bill. Then I said, “Wait here. I’ve got an idea.” There was another bit of obscure San Francisco history I’d remembered.
He shrugged, “Olay.”
The clerk was a young man with flaming red hair and muttonchops. I almost asked him if he knew how to play Whipping Post by the Allman Brothers. He could have been Duane’s size, a bit shorter than me but rail thin. I showed him the twenty and asked, “Can you break this?”
He stared at the bill. And then took it, “What’s this?” He asked back, “Are they changing the money again?”
I just looked at him and shrugged, “Seems to be mostly with tens, but I hear a few of the others are getting it too, like this twenty.”
“Don’t you know it,” He said, “I’ve got about four or five different kinds in the cash box. The bank doesn’t care, they take ‘em all. Never seen a twenty like this, though.”
I thought, “Kid, you have no idea.” Then I said, “Yep. Tell you what, if you can give me ten dollars in coins, I’ll let you keep the extra ten from that when you turn in the money to the bank.”
He shook his head, “I don’t know… that’s an awful lot of money. I’d feel like I cheated you.”
I smiled, “Don’t worry about it. I’m most interested in the convenience and don’t have time to go to the bank myself.” I leaned forward and whispered, “I’m an inventor and I’ve got a lot more where that came from.” Well, the last part wasn’t a blatant lie.
Reaching into my coat, I pulled out the cheap ballpoint pen I carried and held it out to him.
“Is that a pen?” He asked. “How does it work? I don’t see a nib or a plunger.”
“See that button on the end?” I said, pointing, “Press that once and start writing.”
After clicking the pen he started writing and said, “Wow! It’s so smooth…”
“No dipping, no mess, no ink on your clothes or hands,” I said. “So, what about that ten dollars?”
Frankie looked up as I approached him. His eyes widened as I dropped five silver dollars into his hand. “What did you do? You didn’t rob—“
I cut him off, “No, and keep your voice down. I made a trade, a new twenty for these old coins.”
“Tony…” Frankie murmured, “What if we change the future without knowing it? Those new twenties have stuff even the 1960’s didn’t know about. I remember this story about the butterfly effect, and I’ve seen the movies. They didn’t end well…”
“Frankie,” I replied, “Do you want to eat, or not?”
A good portion of the San Francisco waterfront before the ought-six quake was relatively unchanged from its Barbary Coast days. Saloons and restaurant and dance halls dotted the landscape. And, just like the modern day, a good portion of the crowds could be a bit on the rough side. Unlike the modern day, just as on Market Street and on our way to the hostel, Frankie and I out-massed most of the crowds by about a hundred pounds or more. A lot more where the big guy was concerned. Mostly we just got stared at, but at the first place we stepped into, Frankie’s skin tone almost got us mobbed.
“Get that trash outta here!”
“We don’t serve junglebunnies!”
Frankie growled, “Who said that?”
I looked around. The bar was crowded, as all of the ones we’d passed had been. You could hear the slap of the waves, gulls crying and a few sea lions yelping from the bay just out the back door. Most of the patrons had the look of sailors and dockworkers, short, with heavy shoulders, knit caps, and thick woolen coats. A lot of them had knives strapped to their legs, and I saw several hilts sticking up out of boots and stockings. A few of them had blades in their hands and we were not getting friendly stares.
“Not now, big guy,” I whispered, “Changing the future, remember?”
“But they said…”
I grabbed his arm, “We can’t take any chances. Come on. Let’s try a place not so close to the docks.”
We did and didn’t get any more success than the first one. As we were walking past a boozer with raucous piano music coming out of it, a guy in a cowboy hat and wearing a duster plowed right into Frankie.
“Damnit!” He swore and backed up. He was tall for this time, about my height. He stared at Frankie, “What in the hell are you?”
Frankie said, “I’m new in town. Sorry if I got in your way.”
I noticed the gun strapped to the cowboy’s hip. It was a pretty fancy rig, built for fast draw. “Oh God,” I thought, “a gunfighter.”
The fellow’s eyes narrowed and he stepped back a little further, “I hate darkies, especially ones who can’t keep out of a man’s way.”
I was picturing the big guy in the street with a hole in his chest when one of the city’s finest interrupted the coming tragedy. “What’s going on here?”
The gunslinger glared at Frankie, “This ain’t over,” he growled and turned to stalk off.
The cop looked at us and said, “This isn’t a part of town where you want to be wandering around, especially with your friend there. I’d suggest going that way a couple of blocks.” He pointed west.
After saying thanks for the advice, we headed back toward the intersection of Market and the Wharf District.
“That was a real gunfighter,” Frankie murmured.
I nodded, “I know.”
“I wonder if I could take him,” Frankie mused.
“What?” I blurted, “Are you out of your mind? This is not a video game, Frankie!”
He nodded back, saying, “Oh, I know that Tony. But remember when we had that Castro Theater revival of Annie Get Your Gun? I played the quick draw character? Well, I had to practice and I got pretty good. Some said I was almost as fast as Bob Munden.” He paused, “Even if I really don’t like them.” That was true. When we were working, the big guy preferred to use his nightstick or his hands.
I didn’t have an answer for that one. The last thing I needed was for the big guy to get a reputation in pre-quake Frisco as a gunslinger.
We hoofed it back up to Market Street and Frankie pointed, “That’s where I want to go!”
He said it so enthusiastically I had to see what he was pointing at. The image was unmistakable. Towering over its neighbors like a dolled up matron, the old Palace Hotel was the biggest and gaudiest thing around. Over nine stories high in a city where three was the norm, the Palace was something I should have thought of from the beginning. If information was needed, I’d more than likely find it there. And besides that, with its cosmopolitan atmosphere even Frankie and I, dressed like a certain PI who wouldn’t show up for another thirty years or more might just fit in.
Trolley cars, drawn by horses competed on the street with a wide assortment of early cars and trucks along with horn drawn wagons, buggies, and bicycles. It looked like either side of the trolley rails could be where the lanes were, but not based on what I saw. It seemed to be more like, pick an opening and go for it was the name of the game. I was pretty sure there was no such thing as a DMV in existence. I remembered seeing an old silent movie clip of Market in 1900, but seeing it, in reality, was something else altogether.
About a half block from the hotel we were stopped again by a member of the city’s finest. This cop was a bit bigger than the last one, and something about his face looked familiar. He was another redhead, with bright blue eyes. I was betting he was Irish, as they tended to either head into law enforcement or law breaking back then.
“Now where’s a couple-a fine strappin’ lads like you going, eh?”
Bingo! Nailed it. About as Irish as they come. I decided to try the truth, well… as much as I could afford, “From the dock area, officer. We’re new in town and thought we’d try the Palace.”
He looked at us, nodded as if running the story through his BS detector and then said, “Sounds good, but tell me this, what do you do for work? We can’t have flim-flam buggers adding to the crowds, y’know.”
I pulled out my license and flipped it open, “Well, officer, if you must know, we’re on a case for a client, and if I don’t miss my guess, we’ll learn a fair amount just by listening to the talk in the bar.”
He peered at the license, and then muttered, “Well don’t that beat all. They’re licensing you fellows now?” He leaned back and looked at me and then at Frankie. “Pinkertons?”
I caught on and said, “No, private contractors. There’s less of a chance of having to deal with corruption upstairs if you catch my meaning.”
The officer nodded, “Aye that I do. I like that. Good man.” He whacked me on the side of the arm. “Good man. So, this Anthony Mandolin I see on the card. Any relation to old man Mandolin up on the wharf?”
My heart almost stopped. I’d forgotten about that. My great grandfather had started up near the area now called Fisherman’s Wharf. He ran a stall and owned his own small fishing and crabbing business. I’d never met him, but my father had told me hundreds of stories about him and his steadfast and unbending integrity, even in the face of what became Frisco’s own version of the Mafia.
I said, working to keep my voice steady, “Sort of, from what I hear. And you are… officer…”
He held out a hand and replied, “Monahan, Officer Patrick Monahan, at your service.”
I was going to need the paddles if this kept up. I shook his hand and said, “Nice to meet you officer Monahan. I’m Tony and the big guy here is Frankie.”
He looked up at Frankie, who tipped his hat, saying, “Officer,” in his best Michael Clark Duncan bass, and shook his head. “I don’t imagine you get too many who try to fight, do you?”
I chuckled, “Not too often.”
Officer Monahan tapped his helmet with the tip of his truncheon and walked off, whistling.
Frankie grabbed my arm and squealed, “Toneee, do you know who that could be?”
I nodded, “Yes, I know exactly who that was. Pat’s named after his grandfather, an Irish copper who came over from the old country, and it looks like his grandfather knew my great grandfather, whom I’m named after. And before you say anything, no, we are not going visiting.”
I turned and said as carefully as I could, “I’d rather not take the chance of not being born, get it?” I mimicked butterfly wings.
We walked into the Palace Hotel.
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—- Personal Notes —-
Part one of seven! I had so much fun with this piece, I fell in love with Roberts characters months ago and was so excited to hear he would let me read this piece for you guys. I’ll be dropping an episode every Monday until it’s done.
—- legal —-
Artwork for this video was provided by Robert Lee Beers.