Hole Lotta Shakin’
A Tony Mandolin Short Story
By Robert Beers
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We had a few hours before Bain was supposed to pick us up, so after getting the keys at the bell desk, we took one of the Palaces elevators up to the 5th floor. The attendant told us it was all hydraulics, that new water power system which would someday power cars across the bay and around the world, just like HG Wells writes about.
I must say, it was one of the quietest and smoothest elevator rides I’d ever taken.
After Frankie got over his gushing about how wonderful and luxurious everything was, we went back down to the ground floor, picked out a couple of outfits more typical for the period, broke one of Enrico’s tens and headed back out onto Market. The weather was cool enough we both decided to stay with coats and hats. As for our obvious other differences, those that clothing could not hide, I figured all I’d have to do was tell a questioning cop where I was staying, show him the key for proof and that would be it.
We grabbed a passing trolley car and took a ride up Market Street. It was even more remarkable being in the middle of the moving chaos that was traffic in 1906. Frankie kept pointing out cars and trucks, models and brands long since extinct in the twenty-first century. What I found most intriguing was the difference from what I was seeing and from what I knew as a bus passenger on this same run. Aside from the wide open feel due to the far smaller and shorter buildings, there was the green space scattered along both sides of the street. It felt, for all the world, like a ride in the country, right in the heart of bustling San Francisco.
I was even more surprised when I saw Central Park coming into view. It looked like someone had grabbed a portion of the Marin Headlands and plopped it into the middle of the city. Fully grown oaks and madrones lined the park and the ground between and behind the trees was filled with long grass and smaller bushes. And then I saw the smoke.
One of the other passengers, an obvious tourist from somewhere in the Midwest said, “I will bet that’s from the headhunter’s camp.”
A woman added, “Oh dear Lord, I hope they aren’t all naked and disgusting.” And then the cross-talk conversation went downhill from there.
I got off the trolley thinking that things hadn’t changed all that much in the past century. Most people were still idiots.
The one thing that had changed was the habit of charging for everything in present day Frisco. We just got off the car and walked into the park. That was it, no gate, no guard, nothing.
It was easy to see where the tribe had been placed as the crowd headed that way was extensive. Frankie and I just went with the flow.
The city had managed to either move, or recreate the village setting the Pilipino tribe had back in the islands, huts roofed with rushes, the tripod-supported cook pot, and so on. I wasn’t sure the pointed log wall was authentic, and I was damned sure the crowd of tourists surrounding them, gawking and pointing wasn’t.
“Interesting, isn’t it?”
I turned and looked down at a woman. She had had reddish brown hair under a brimmed hat and was dressed in what could be called a conservative business style of the day. What was different is that she spoke with a British accent and she was holding a notebook, her pencil poised over the page.
“Excuse me?” I replied. She put the pencil away and held out her hand, “E.M. Swift-Hook, reporter for the Chronicle. I wrote the article for today’s paper and I’m doing a series of follow-ups. What do you think of the display?”
From what I remembered, the notion of a woman reporter was about as rare as hens’ teeth in this time. Of course, she was British…
I said, “I’m wondering more what the display thinks of being put on display,” I said, glancing back at the crowd. I was finding the whole thing a little disturbing.
Swift-Hook was a real reporter all right, she jumped on my admission like a cat on a mouse, “Really?” The pencil scribbled like mad, “What makes you say that?”
Frankie entered the conversation with, “Tony, you should see those villagers. They look like Hobbits from the Shire!”
As my brain went, “Oh God…” Swift-Hook found a whole new goldmine of reporting in the big guy. It didn’t matter if she was a real reporter or not. If what he was bound to tell her got into circulation…
I looked around, desperate to find something to distract. The last thing I needed was Frankie getting into a storytelling jag and revealing where and when we were really from, to a reporter of all things… as I said, oh my God.
And then my eye caught just the sight.
“Hey, Frankie,” I said, interrupting a distressingly familiar story in the works, “Isn’t that Teddy Roosevelt?”
“Who? Where?” Frankie didn’t need to do anything to see over the crowd. He just turned in the direction of my point. “Oh, wow,” he said. “Can we go meet him, Tony? He’s one of my favorites. Right behind Kennedy.”
That did it. The reporter obviously knew the difference between a fable and a disastrous slip of the tongue. Female or not, she had the instincts.
She moved so she was facing both of us, and that pencil looking more and more like a weapon. “Who are you really and where are you really from?”
Frankie looked stricken.
I said, “Ma’am, you would not believe me even if I told you under whatever truth serum exists today.”
Swift-Hook looked confused, “Truth serum? What’s that?”
Frankie murmured, “Oops.”
I took her by the arm. “Tell you what, Miss Swift-Hook, we should talk, but not here.”
“What? What are you doing!? Let me go!”
People looked around and a few men started our way.
I held out my ID. From a distance, it looks more official than it is, and said, “Police, plain clothes. She’s a pickpocket.”
The look the reporter gave me should have fried me on the spot, but the crowd melted away. I even got a few claps of applause.
Frankie murmured, “Smooth, Tony. Real smooth.”
We rode another trolley all the way back down Market with a very sullen Swift-Hook in tow. I had Frankie get off first and I handed the reporter to him and then jumped down.
She glared death at me and muttered, “I suppose if I scream you’ll flash that badge again, right?”
I smiled and said, “Probably, but if you cooperate, you just may have the story of your career. How would you like to interview Mark Twain?”
She didn’t glare, but she didn’t smile either. She looked suspicious. “What’s that mean?” She asked.
I looked around. “This is way too public. Let’s go into the bar.”
I still had hold of her arm, so I heard the muttered, “A bar is less public than this?”
As we walked into the Palm Court I saw the waiter Bain had called Andrew and called him over.
He said, “Yes, Mister Mandolin?” As he came closer.
The reporter was glancing back and forth between us.
I handed him a dollar bill from the ten I broke earlier and said, “We need a quiet table with no eavesdroppers. Can ‘t you arrange that?”
He grinned big. “Yes, sir!”
Swift-Hook said as we were led to the same corner of the lounge Bain used earlier. “Who… are… you?”
“I can’t tell you,” I said. “One, you’d think I’m crazy, and two, it might have a potentially damaging, even fatal effect on my family.”
“Can’t I be the judge of that?” She replied, with a toss of her head, “I mean, it’s not like you’re going to say something like you’re travelers from the future or outer space.”
Frankie mugged a face, “Oh no, we’d never say that. It’s just that… you know…”
I managed not to groan.
“So what is it?” Swift-Hook asked, her pencil poised.
I held up a hand and said, “I need a drink. Would you like a drink?”
She nodded and I signaled for Andrew. After the drinks were served and sampled, I said, “Mister Jackson and I are detectives and we are on a case that could have extreme consequences, especially for those on its edges. The person or persons we are after has shown no qualms about collateral damage. If you start reporting on this, you may very well include yourself and your paper in that category.”
“Oh come on,” She said, almost snorting, “Do you really expect me to swallow a line like that? Even with my father being a board member, I may be relegated to writing fluff pieces just because I have a bosom, but that doesn’t mean I’m stupid. What really is going on, and do you really know Mark Twain?”
She looked at Frankie, “What?”
“His name is Clemons, Sam Clemons. Mark Twain is a nom de plume.”
She put her hand to her forehead, “Oh my dear Lord.”
We were still in the bar when Bain came for us. He said, “I didn’t bother checking the rooms. I figured neither of you would be able to sit and wait quietly. By the way, you look a lot better. Who is this charming young lady?”
She rose and held out her hand, just as she did when we met at the park, “E.M. Swift-Hook.”
“Ah, the Chronicle’s intrepid woman reporter,” Bain said, bowing over her hand. “Landau Bain, at your service. How is your father?”
The effect of Bain’s name on Swift-Hook was not what I expected. Especially not after she shot down my attempt at a half truth, “Landau Bain? The adventurer? Omigoodness! Mister Bain, would it be too much trouble to bother you for an interview? These gentlemen said they were friends with Mark Twain, but you, Landau Bain. Wow…” I guess her father went out the window.
Bain then looked at us, “Shall we invite this lady to the poker game?”
I looked at Swift-Hook. I thought she was going to ask him to marry her right there and then.
♦ ♦ ♦
Getting into the game was easier than I thought it would be. At the sight of Bain, the guards, yes there was more than one, about five more, opened the door and let us stroll right in. E.M., as she insisted on being called ooing and ahing the entire way. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but Frankie was right there with her.
The first door led to a room with an open bar and another door with just two guards, but both of these fellows were close to Frankie-size. I wondered, did Sam Clemons rate this level of protection?
When we went into the game room I got my answer. Teddy Roosevelt, the President of the United States at this time, and for another three years, was at the table.
He didn’t stand. He didn’t need to. According to protocol, when the Chief Executive enters a room, everyone stands, regardless of political association. What he did do was boom out, “Bain! Bully! There you are, man! I’ve been waiting for you. I’ve got a whole new game. Let’s see what your tricks can do for you now, son.”
Bain said, “Mister President, may I introduce two new players, Anthony Mandolin and Franklin Jackson.”
“Named after old Stonewall himself, eh?” Roosevelt boomed. “From the more southern part of the family, eh? Ha!” I wondered if the guy could talk at anything less than full volume. He turned to me, “Mister Mandolin. A musical name. How’s your game, son?”
Before I could answer, Roosevelt then asked, “And who is this vision of loveliness?”
I knew he wasn’t talking about Frankie.
Bain shifted smoothly into, “This is E.M. Swift-Hook, the intrepid female reporter for the Chronicle. You know her father, Mister President. I would go so far as to say she would be a superb addition to the White House Press Corps.”
“And give those idiots at the Post a collective stroke to boot, eh Bain?” Roosevelt laughed. “Imagine that, a woman on the press corps!”
He looked at Swift-Hook, “Do you play, young lady?”
She gulped, and then said, in a very small voice, “Uh…”
I jumped in, “She sure does, Mister President. I’m lucky to have a dollar to my name after the last game.”
“Bully!” Roosevelt boomed. “Bully! Martins, deal her in.” He looked at us and said, “Gentlemen, it’s a dollar ante. I hope you can afford to lose.” Then he barked out a roar of laughter.
As we sat, Bain took over the role of host. “You all know our esteemed Commander in Chief,” Roosevelt bowed his head as he fingered his chips. “Next to him is Ducky Smith, one of the few women in the new Secret Service, and next to her is Mister Eric Craig, the only scientist to beat Russia’s Tesla in chess. Watch out for him, he cheats.”
Craig objected, “I do not!” But his smile said otherwise.
“No,” Bain said evenly, “Just not badly enough to get caught.”
Roosevelt boomed out another laugh.
“Next to Craig is Lord Brent Harris, over here to check on his shipping concerns. No matter how much he loses, he never seems to mind.”
Harris said, in a Hugh Grant accent, “At fifteen of your dollars to the pound, dear boy, it’s cheap at twice the price.”
“Quite,” Bain murmured, and then said, “And then we have the lovely Miss Aaron Michael-Hall. Mister Jackson, you two should get to know each other, but bear in mind, she’s been widowed seven times.”
Frankie muttered, “Toneeee…”
E.M.’s chuckle didn’t help the big guy at all. Miss Michael-Hall was what the papers called an ebon beauty, and the feral glance she gave Frankie was absolutely predatory. I wondered how she made it to this table, even in San Francisco.
“Next,” Bain went on, “We have Professor Alan VanMeter, another scientist, and the only man I know who was capable of making Mister Edison so angry he actually sputtered. I like that in a man.”
Professor VanMeter inclined his head, along with a smile to Bain.
“And then we have one Mister Julien Green, a man with no known pastime, but who somehow manages to always be there after the smoke clears and without a scratch on him.”
Green smirked, “Yeah, don’t you love it? C’mon Bain, deal the damn cards.” Green’s accent said Australia. I thought, opals?
Bain shook his head, “Not quite yet Julien. I have not taken over for Mister Martins, and I have to introduce our guests first.”
“But you already did, to Teddy. We all heard it.”
“And what does Mason say?” Bain murmured.
Green muttered, “Damn protocols. I want to play poker.”
Roosevelt waved a hand, “Go ahead Landau, introduce your guests to the whole gang.”
Bain inclined his head, “Thank you, Mister President. Ladies and gentleman. Standing to my left is none other than Mister Anthony Mandolin. The man who, single-handedly mind you, stopped that thief of Caruso’s diamond necklace this morning.”
Murmurs went around the table.
Roosevelt said, “I heard that fellow had a knife.”
I nodded, “He did.”
“And you took him down anyway, unarmed?”
Bain said, “Yes he did, and in quick fashion, I don’t think he even broke a sweat.”
Roosevelt replied, “Bully, my boy, bully! And that strapping lad?” He pointed at Frankie.
“This,” Bain said, “Is my new friend, Franklin Amadeus Jackson, and even if he is blacker than my burnt toast this morning, he is one of the few real men I’ve ever known,”
I was really trying not to choke at that point.
Green growled, “Right. Now, can we play some goddamned poker?”