- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
* * *
The Elephant's Graveyard is like an epitaph without a tombstone. — Officer Kevin Martin, SFPD
Robert Powlauski stepped out the front door of the Red Rooster Lounge to set the world right. There wasn't much out of the ordinary in San Francisco's Tenderloin that midnight. Half a block away, in the fog-diffused light of the street lamps, three middle-aged black guys laughed and passed around a brown paper bag. A junkie rattled the fire escape of a flea bag hotel and settled in to take his ease. And the working girls were out in force. All of which was fine. But right by the big front window of the Red Rooster Lounge, bathed in the glow of its red neon sign and harmonizing with the country blues bleeding through its walls, two crack whores were haggling over the price of pussy with a couple of drunks who'd wandered over from the Sunset, the city's Irish district.
"Hey, Jackie," said Powlauski. "You know the rules."
Whoring was so common in the Tenderloin, it was practically legal. But the one spot where it was definitely not allowed was on the sidewalk in front of the Red Rooster.
Jackie put her hands on her ample hips. "It ain't us, Bob. These Irish boys always wanna start some shit. Latisha and me just trying to get paid."
"Get paid in the alley, Jackie."
Paul O'Leary staggered as he turned to face Powlauski. "Tell you what, Bob, you mind your business, and we'll mind ours."
"Stupid Mick." Jackie grabbed Latisha by the arm and led her away.
"Yeah, go ahead, Paul. Get your ass kicked," Latisha called over her shoulder. "You do what you gotta do, and when you're done, if ya can still get it up, meet us down in Jessie Alley."
O'Leary stared at Powlauski. "Man, who do you think ya are, the pride of the Tenderloin or something?"
"Be careful, Paul," warned the other drunk. "I heard he's real bad."
At 6'6" and 225 pounds, Powlauski wasn't a man most people would consider messing with. "See, that's the problem with you Irish boys. Ya turn into mental midgets when ya drink."
O'Leary stepped back and began to dance like a fighter—a drunk-ass fighter—giving the air in front of him a few quick shadow punches. Powlauski watched the exhibition and smirked. "You look a little out of shape, Paul. Why don't ya just go play with your girlfriend."
"Come on, ya big dumb Polack; let's see how bad you really are."
O'Leary's partner moved in closer.
Powlauski watched and waited for the men to reach him. Then his jabs and right crosses exploded like thunder, leaving both Irishmen face down in wino piss.
Powlauski shook his head and chuckled. "You guys must be the pride of the Sunset."
The Elephant's Graveyard, as the area was also known, was the venue of choice for junkies and winos to give up the ghost, and these two seemed intent on it. The down and out picked the place because they could die in secret, hidden in a jungle thicket of human debauchery, the way dying elephants find private places where they can lie down—places where no one will ever find their bones.
Powlauski jerked open the door to the Red Rooster and stepped into the full blare of the band playing "She Kissed Me and Mill Valley Goodbye." But it was just the music—a drummer, a couple of pickers, and Ruby Smith on the piano. There was nobody at the center microphone, next to which a Martin-28 guitar rested mute on a stand, the name Rooster inlaid in ivory down its rosewood neck.
Bob moved behind the bar and sized up the place. Nothing much had changed since he'd gone on break. A few tables were occupied, and several stools at the bar were taken by the usual Tenderloin lowlifes.
Ruby Smith began to work her way through a solo at the piano. She caught Bob's eye, shook her head of jet black hair, and tilted it toward the guy at the end of the bar.
Bob threw up his hands as if to say, what do you want me to do about it?
Ruby rolled her green eyes. "C'mon, Rooster. Help us out."
Sean Murphy half turned but still seemed more interested in the Jack Daniels in front of him than the guitar on the stage.
"You're not gonna sing?" said Bob.
"I own this damn bar, don't I?" Murphy scowled. "Maybe I don't feel like diggin' up bones."
Bob smirked and wandered down the bar to wait on a customer.
With his blue jeans and black T-shirt, his long brown hair and scruffy mustache, his tired face and bleary eyes, Murphy looked like a burned-out hippie. But then there was the gold chain around his neck, and hanging from it the two talismans of his life—the silver SFPD star and a six-inch carved ivory elephant's tusk with the initials R. J. etched into its side. And under his left armpit was the ever present cowboy pistol—a Smith & Wesson .44 magnum like the one carried by San Francisco's own Dirty Harry, except that Murphy's had ivory grips.
Ruby tried again. "C'mon, Rooster, help us out. It's your song."
This time Murphy turned all the way around. He held up his left hand, and with the right, he threw back the rest of the Jack. "Okay, Ruby, okay."
He slid off the stool and lumbered across the floor like a man carrying a burden much heavier than a twenty-six-year-old should have to. Mounting the stage, he picked up the guitar and slung the strap over his shoulder. He played a few chords, falling into sync with the rest of the band, and then started to sing.
Murphy stopped and ducked out of the guitar strap. A few people applauded. One drunk pounded his empty glass on a table in the corner.
Murphy set his guitar back on the stand and stepped off the stage. "That was nice, Ruby, thanks."
She watched him aim for the bar. "Rooster, let it go. It's yesterday's business. You're safe now. I don't wanna see ya in a pine box."
"Pine box," whispered Murphy. "Hey, there's nothing wrong with six white horses and a pine box."
"Rooster," yelled Ruby.
Murphy turned and smiled. "Anybody ever tell you to mind your own business, Ruby?" He thought about the pine box for a moment then sang a couple lines of impromptu lyrics:
He turned and continued to the bar, strutting and dancing around, repeating some of the lyrics.
"I'm not kidding around here," said Ruby. "I'm dead serious."
Murphy reclaimed his barstool. "Jack and Coke, Bob."
Ruby Smith shook her head and continued playing the piano.
The San Francisco Chronicle lay on the bar. The headline caught Murphy's attention:
One year later, police seek suspect in Marin County homicide
He didn't want to read the article, but he couldn't help it.
One year ago, the body of Peggy Sue Barnes, twenty-two, was found on the jetty rocks beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. Barnes, a Nebraska native, had moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to pursue an acting and singing career, but those who knew her say she got mixed up with the wrong people. At the time of her death, she had been under subpoena to testify in a RICO trial linking the Sweetwater Bar in Mill Valley to the Colombian Drug Cartel. Lance Larkin, owner of the Sweetwater, is wanted by the FBI for the murder of Miss Barnes. His whereabouts are unknown, but it is suspected that he is hiding out in Colombia.
Murphy finished his drink and slammed the glass down so hard the ice jumped the lip and skittered away.
Ruby's piano playing stopped. "I'm tellin' you, you gotta let it go, Rooster. You're safe now. They won't find your bones, baby. Not down here in the Elephant's Graveyard."
"Don't worry, Ruby," said Murphy. "It ain't my bones they'll be looking for. And besides, it ain't over till Larkin's dead. Or I am." He picked up his empty glass then put it back down. "No, it ain't over till the Rooster crows. Now hit them ivories. I wanna hear some Johnny Cash."
He half fell off the barstool then planted his feet and stood tall. He slapped the bar and looked at Powlauski. "It's Miller time, Bob."
While Murphy retrieved his guitar from the stand on stage, Powlauski grabbed a six-pack of Coors longnecks out of the cooler and set it on the bar.
With the guitar in his right hand, Murphy took the six-pack with his left and tucked it under his right arm. Then he walked out of the bar without another word.
"Sounds more like Frank Miller time to me," said Ruby, and she started to play the theme from High Noon.
"Ruby," said Bob. "He said Johnny Cash, not Tex Ritter."
Ruby changed her tune to Cash's Ring of Fire, Sean Patrick Murphy's favorite song.
Murphy staggered to his undercover cop car and opened the door. He tossed the six-pack onto the middle of the front seat. Then, tenderly, he placed the guitar in the backseat. He was closing the back door when a black and white SFPD car skidded to a stop right behind him.
"Hey, Rooster." A patrolman leaned out the window. "Dispatch has been calling you. What should I tell them?"
Murphy reached in and pulled out a Coors. He twisted off the cap and chugged the whole thing while the cop waited for an answer. Then he belched. Under the circumstances, that seemed an articulate enough way to tell his fellow officer that he didn't give a rat's ass about who was calling him. Then the music spilling out of the Red Rooster Lounge caught his attention. Ruby was playing his request, Ring of Fire, and he started singing along.
The cop in the black-and-white slapped the outside of his car door. "C'mon, Rooster. Man, it's time to get over it, brother. I'm tired of covering for you."
Murphy stopped singing. "You're what?"
"You heard me, Rooster."
Murphy tossed the empty bottle into the air and drew his cowboy pistol. The cop in the black-and-white flinched. Murphy took careless aim at the flying bottle and laughed when it shattered in the street. "Come on, Joe," he said. "I'm just fucking with you. I mean, I'm not that crazy." Then he took a shooting stance and fired at the street light on the power pole in front of the bar. The light exploded, and sparks and glass rained down onto the street. Murphy turned to the cop. "Now go fuck yourself, Joe."
Murphy threw himself in behind the steering wheel and fired up the engine. The smoke from burning rubber drifted up behind him like a ghost. He peeled away from the curb and headed toward the Golden Gate Bridge, pulled onto Deadly Doyle Drive northbound with a longneck Coors between his legs. The toll booth at the entrance to the bridge was unattended. He punched the gas and threaded the car between the booths at seventy miles per hour. At mid-span, he slammed on the brakes and skidded to a stop. Activating the rear amber flashing lights, he popped the door and staggered out of the car and over to the railing with his beer. He leaned against the cold iron and looked down at the water. Then he tilted his head back, chugged the beer down, and tossed the empty out into thin air. He watched it fall, heard it whistle as it tumbled end over end over end. Little by little, the whistling grew faint then fell silent altogether.
He squeezed his eyes shut and tried not to imagine the sound Peggy Sue had made when she hit the water.
He stumbled and winced. Peggy Sue was gone. She was really gone. But it was not over. Not by a long shot. And he, Sean Patrick Murphy, would not rest until Lance Larkin was dead.
A CHP unit pulled up behind Murphy's unmarked car and the PA speaker shattered his reverie. "Rooster, you code four?"
Murphy leaned on the rail, staring out toward Alcatraz Island.
"Hey, Rooster." The patrolman asked again. "Are you okay?"
Murphy managed to raise his head and nod. Then he held up four fingers. Everything was code four—under control.
The patrolman pulled around Murphy's car, returned the four-finger high sign as he passed, then accelerated down the north half of the bridge into Marin County.
Back in his own car, Murphy twisted the cap off another Coors, took a healthy pull, then punched his way down the incline toward the town of Mill Valley and the Fireside Bar, owned by his grandfather, Mickey Quinn.
He was doing sixty-five, maybe seventy, through the Waldo Tunnel. He couldn't be sure. The speedometer was blurry. He chugged the beer fast and tossed the empty out the window, reveling in the chime of shattering glass in the tunnel.
Murphy turned up the AM radio. The DJ broke in over the last few guitar notes of a Waylon Jennings tune. "Thank you, Waylon. And now, just like I promised, and I know all my listeners love this one, because not only is it Johnny Cash's latest single, but it was written by one of San Francisco's finest. Here's 'She Kissed Me and Mill Valley Goodbye.' Hang in there, Rooster; we're all feeling your pain."
The Man in Black began to sing, but it was too much for Murphy to handle. He had written that song for Peggy Sue, and she hadn't even lived long enough to hear it. He had only himself to blame. And now, hearing Cash sing the words that he had written for her, well, it just didn't matter anymore. At the north end of the tunnel, the blurry speedometer read 80 MPH. Murphy dropped into a daydream. He found himself back on the Sleeping Princess Mountain with Peggy Sue. "Follow your dreams, Sean, because I'm gonna follow mine—all the way to Hollywood." Cash sang:
The horn on a purple, 1962 VW bus snapped Murphy out of his daydream. He had drifted into the hippie's lane. He hit the brakes hard and just missed hitting the guy. "Goddamn hippie!" Murphy pulled down the visor and turned on the red lights and siren.
The startled hippie jerked the minibus right then left then regained some semblance of composure and pulled the vehicle over to the right.
Murphy punched it. "That's right, you dumb ass, get the fuck out of the way." He looked to the right and toasted the guy with his beer bottle and a sneering laugh.
It was almost 2:00 a.m. when he pulled into the parking lot of the Fireside. He polished off his last beer, retrieved his guitar from the backseat, and entered through the rear door.
Mickey Quinn watched from behind the bar. Murphy stumbled in, nearly tripping over a chair. In one hand he carried his guitar. In the other he clutched the elephant tusk that hung from his neck.
Leaning on the blackthorn shillelagh he used as a cane, the white-bearded Quinn turned to O'Malley, a two-foot wooden leprechaun on the back bar counter. "O'Malley," Quinn said in his thick Irish brogue. "Now, would ya look at who comes dancing his way so graceful into me establishment."
"Hey, Rooster," said Carl Jones, resting the heavy end of his pool cue on the floor as Murphy passed the back pool table. "Man, you don't look too good."
"I don't look too good?" Murphy sneered. "Just imagine how good you're gonna look behind bars. I remember your last booking photo, Carl; you looked like dog shit."
Jones shook his head and bent over the table to line up his next shot. "Sorry, Rooster, I was only kidding."
Mickey leaned in even closer to O'Malley and whispered in his ear. "And it looks like he's got a couple of whiskeys onboard too. But you know what they say. An Irishman is not really drunk as long as he can hold onto at least one blade of grass and not fall from the face of the earth."
Murphy reached the bar and handed the guitar over to Mickey. The old man took it and placed it in the stand Murphy had put back there for his visits.
"Right you are, Sean," said Mickey. "Let's protect the guitar from harm. No sense in both of you being trashed."
Murphy ignored the comment and straddled a barstool. He looked past Mickey at a pair of framed photographs of uniformed police officers. One was a tough Italian American with olive-pit eyes and a big black mustache, the other a Hispanic cop with a warm, friendly smile. Both photographs bore traditional mourning bands.
"Sean," said Mickey. "Are you not going to greet your old granddad, then?"
Murphy continued to stare at the photos.
When Murphy still didn't respond, Mickey moved in closer and peered into his grandson's face. "Oh, Jesus, I've seen that look before. It's been a year, lad. Let it go."
Still no response. It was time for the blackthorn. Mickey lifted the shillelagh and slammed it down on the bar right next to Murphy's hand. "I'm talkin' to ya now, lad!"
"Right, Mickey. I hear you. But if you're a bartender, and not a priest, I'll take a Jack and Coke."
Mickey poured the cocktail and set it down solidly on the bar.
Excerpted from ROOSTER by D.C. Murphy Copyright © 2013 by D.C. Murphy. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted February 22, 2013
What an incredible read. It will hold you from the beginning to the end. I can't wait to see it on the big screen.
"Way to Go! DC Murphy!"