A thinly veiled portrait of San Francisco’s North Beach is the setting of this novel, and its newest resident is Reno, an angry fledgling just hatched out of prison. Getting out is like a weird dream, and the streets of the city are a muddle of sensations pooling around her. Staggering out onto the late-night streets, Reno ends up at the infamous Istanbul Club: dim lights, Arabic music, and sensual Su’ad dancing. She soon encounters the club’s cast of characters. There’s Huntington, the poisonous charmer who lives above the club and is perverse and powerful in the way only the wealthy can be, and Eddie, the underage bartender who is happy to chemically enhance every waking moment. Slowmotion, the sound and light technician, huge and darkly mysterious, has connections to people and places that Reno didn’t even know existed. Slowmotion’s elegant friend, Poppy, offers mental transport to realms beyond Xanadu; in her little valise there’s everything necessary for any trip. The owner of the club, handsome gambler Sinclair, hires Reno to waitress. Grumbling, drinking, snarling and swearing, Reno bangs her way through everyone else’s complicated plans, entangling herself in a byzantine labyrinth of betrayal, revenge, general mayhem, and even some good times. The first novel to focus on tough female, queer, outlaw culture in the Bay Area, this new edition features an exclusive interview with the author.
About the Author
Sin Soracco is the author of Low Bite. She lives in the Mission District of San Francisco and on the Lower Russian River in Sonoma County, California.
Read an Excerpt
By Sin Soracco
PM PressCopyright © 2012 PM Press
All rights reserved.
In his luxurious flat above the Club Istanbul, Mr. Huntington dropped his gold pen and glared at his gold watch. He rolled his elegant head trying to work the cricks, felt his scattered energies itching through his clogged veins. He didn't approve of tension; he ought to be beyond nervous anticipation.
He stepped across the thick carpet to the sideboard, poured himself a tumbler of single malt scotch, let it slide down his throat, tasted it at the back of his tongue, along the sides of his mouth, his lips pulled forward slurping noisily to suck at the drink again. He did as he pleased when he was alone. He was a practical man, an obsessive angular art deco man.
His electronic pocket organizer plugged into the small blinking computer, he began to arrange his latest column, correcting as he typed. Conflicting information piled up: art gossip. Byzantine finances, labyrinths a less avaricious man would never traverse. The autumn cold seeped into his bones, into his mind. A jungle of things lived there, chilled into a kind of stasis; most of these he managed to keep contained, properly sorted.
Things sometimes shook loose, demanded his attention: the silvery ghost of a slender wicked girl, long dead, rose up through the murk. He examined it, aiming for dispassion, but he was still unable to distance himself — he had been young, foolish, struck mad by events beyond his comprehension.
He drank more unblended; as he waited for that amber warmth to hit, he relived those hours: finding Aisha on his couch, her hands folded casually around a string of worry beads, her long eyelashes trembling with each thin breath but never quite lifting even when he touched her, spoke her name. She was turning blue so he rouged her cheeks, her nipples, he painted her lips a darker red — she'd already done her nails.
Memories are corrected printouts. He never allowed reality to interfere with anything. In his edited memory he left the gold scarab necklace around her neck — a sacred gift symbolizing their love. He never recognized his own platitudes. He'd actually taken it off her neck, slipping it in his pocket with hardly a thought: all Aisha's gold belonged to him.
He remembered taking her long gold earrings, wondered, irritated, what he had done with them — had he sold them or put them in the safety deposit box? An aggravating lapse.
He remembered, distantly, how he arranged her naked, still pliable corpse on his bathroom floor, told the doctor she must have been going to take a shower after rehearsal, then a sudden heart attack.
Gave meaning where there was none.
Nice girls, good wives didn't overdose on heroin back then anyway. Certainly not on his couch.
He shook his head. Coffins. Satin-cushion composting boxes. Coffins, he thought, were the worst. At his request her body was immediately cremated. No public autopsy report, no worms.
Refusing to justify his choices, he pushed keys to send away the dead silvery face leering at him from the computer. These exorcisms took time. Furious, he put his spoiled column aside, intending to get back to it later, send it to the magazine in the small hours.
In his miniscule odorless kitchen — no smell of actual food or cooking in there, all his entertainments were catered — he washed the tumbler, set it upside down in the center of a paper towel, glanced at his reflection in the window, rinsed his mouth, splashed his face, patted it dry with a linen towel. Turning away from the window he flicked invisible specks off his cuff. A tidy gesture.
Frustrated, he sucked what pleasure he could from the way his every lovely possession was arranged in a precise relationship to everything else. Small comfort. It was time for him to put in an appearance downstairs at the club.CHAPTER 2
The pudding-faced woman gave Reno the old fish eye. "Papers?"
Reno chewed on one denim-blue painted fingernail; shifting her weight, she scowled, her wide mouth set in a defiant pout. What the hell, nothing else she could do. Reno handed over her papers, didn't say anything, didn't trust herself to use the right words, just sat on the hard chair facing the metal desk. Waited.
Reno felt like an immigrant, a petitioner from a darker world.
Still caught by the slow limping dream of prison, alone with nothing but spiders as company for too long, Reno listened to the dried souls rattle in her mind, her ritual gourd — like a miser she counted memories for protection — not nearly enough to fill her need: bend them weave them wake them shake them. Over and behind the rattle she heard the judicial voices murmuring, always the same: "She shows no remorse." "Lock her up." "Of course. Of course."
Reno knew that parole was just a shuffle-around to fool the citizens into thinking justice was served; a vicious plan designed to catch her up in hope, then throw her back in jail. "Lock her up, of course. Of course."
The officer scanned the sheet, her narrow eyebrows lifting in practiced disdain. She had no interest in Reno; her job was to spy on serious criminals, rapists, axe-murderers, the important basher -slasher contingent that makes the news. There was no time in her busy schedule to follow a rowdy little burglar. She levered herself up from her padded chair. "Okay, give me a urine sample." She spoke as if her teeth hurt.
Reno was out of prison all of seven hours, most of that spent on a kidney-wrenching bus, yet the crazy bitch wanted to see if Reno had scored. Such confidence. "Hey. I'm a burglar not a dope fiend."
"Says here your closest associated have all been drug addicts." Tapping the folder. Smug.
"What you expect? I been in jail." Reno took the plastic cup, rolled her eyes.
The officer followed her to the bathroom.
"But, hey, now I'm out, I'll only consort with the righteous. I promise." Subtlety was lost on the parole agent. Reno finished, stood up. Pushed the cup at the officer. "You know, bankers. Priests? Members of Congress?"
Ignoring her, the officer fussed with the plastic lid, held the cup up to the light, frowned at the small amount of liquid. Reno wondered if the podgy woman liked her work as much as she seemed to. Maybe she was just compulsive. Back in the office the officer sat behind her desk, spread her hands out over Reno's open file like she was dowsing for evil. "You got a job yet?" She kept moving the cup.
"Sure. Oh yeah. While I was on the bus." Reno stopped. What the hell. She pushed ahead. "Right. The guy across the aisle offered me a job as auctioneer at Butterfields." She didn't hide her disgust.
"Don't get smart with me."
"That's what he said." Bland, one shoulder lifted in a small shrug.
"You have a week to get a job." Mouth pulled tight across her painful teeth, the officer put the cup of piss in her drawer. Snapped Reno's file closed. "Remember to notify this office if you move out of the hotel the Mercy Sisters found for you." Flapped a wet hand. "Don't let me find your name on the hot sheet." Thin smile. "Come back in twenty days for another UA. I expect a job report from your employer then."
A job report. Time to belly up to some responsibilities, arrange interviews for a real job, fade into law-abiding middle-class citizenship. Didn't hold much appeal. Not her fault the world was set up so her talents never seemed to get the kind of appreciation they deserved: Reno could take a complicated lock apart, put it back together so the original key couldn't work it anymore, wipe it clean, be gone in under a minute — seemed to her this gave her as much worth as any soldier field-stripping his gun on the battlefield. Correct action under pressure. Value.
The secret workings of alarms, computer-regulated security shields, trip wires, weight sound heat motion sensitive devices were merely appetizers to the main entrée. Entry. This woman could get in and out of almost anyplace — of course anyone could do that, given the heart, the time, and privacy. Her trick was to do it fast.
She had an uncanny knack of spotting the one or two portable items worth stealing in nearly any room. An eye for real worth. This alone ought to qualify her to work at an auction house. A dealer in fine antiquities. Of course if they took her prints to bond her she'd be up shit creek. Even her fake ID couldn't help her if people insisted on finger scrutiny. Their loss. Here she was, a skilled professional, thorough, competent. Honest up to a point. And unemployable.
Didn't want to make a wrong move, didn't know any right ones. Every day on the streets would be potentially fatal.
The first couple days out of jail it's hard to know what's normal, what's not: the sun comes up, it crosses the sky, falls off the edge of the earth; people pop in and out of their cells, filling up the streets with noise — lots of activity on the bricks, swarms of people, a whirl of color. So many people. Dogs. Buses. Cars. Busy busy busy. What the hell they up to all day, all night? All day. All night.
Reno paced her room, back and forth, peeking out the window, back and forth, went to the corner store for pints of tequila, Camel filters, French bread, back and forth. Watching the street. She didn't fall asleep until morning.
Fog slipped in from the west, a gray bandage, cold winds whipped the trees, blood red gangrene yellow leaves flashed briefly on the branches, faces hovered in that darkness at the edge of vision, distorted. It was late afternoon when Reno woke to the howling beneath the fog.
Didn't know where she was.
Never had a nightmare about being locked up the whole time she was in prison. Never. If her first sleep on the streets was any indication it seemed her dreams would face constant intrusion: gray hands moved over her body with a fleshless contortionist click, bones rattling on damp cement — infinite, chest-tightening, airless — a dreamtime vacuum designed to suck out her heart.
Iron bed, change of sheets once a week, three-drawer dresser with half a mirror on a nail, brown wall-to-wall, one green painted door with a simple lock, one filthy window with a rattling yellow pull blind, sink on the opposite wall, couple clothes pegs, two sacks of stuff. Inside/outside: home.
Washing off the sleep sweat over the little sink Reno tried to arrange her thoughts. Ants in a hurricane. She ran a comb through her tangled hair, squeezed her ass into a pair of tight old Levis, pulled on her cellmate's black turtleneck, a precious thing, a talisman from another world, then a green sweater with only a small hole in the sleeve. Tilted her head at the mirror. Lipstick. Her wide mouth open in a seductive smile for an invisible lover, she gave a wink for the hidden camera. Ho. She tucked a pair of thin kidskin gloves into her hip pocket — might come in handy, never can tell. Ready. She stepped out the door. Bold. Ready.
The hall smelled of cheap tobacco stale underwear ammonia piss old onions early evening nothing ever changes so much for high hopes. She slipped down the stairs close to the inner rail, listening for anyone moving above or below her. Careful.
At the foot of the stairs a dusty rubber tree strangled a glass cubicle containing the Royal Hotel's captive Hindu, a small brown man who never hurried, nothing to hurry for, nowhere to go, all the creatures in it, infinite reflections of the Great I Am. He put his sloppy cigar down on the counter, repeated his sacred mantra. "No visitors, no food in the room, no drinking, no drugs allowed, women's showers on the second floor only." He spit green phlegm into a handkerchief.
"Sure thing, Kazam."
A popular rap tune pounded boom-chukka from a radio.
The man chanted some more at her. "Doors close at nine-thirty tonight, you got to be back by nine-thirty every night. No visitors, no food," cigar fumes, sweat and grease, the incense of night clerk, "in the room. Remember no drugs or visitors allowed." He kept trying to zip his pants.
"Your mother fucked a camel." Reno thought the Mercy Sisters had to be an FBI front group, hiring a creep like that.
He didn't listen to her. He didn't listen to anyone. He didn't have to, he was Streetside Control, Key Keeper, gun in his pants, hand in his pocket, fondle fondle fondle. Another small time bully diddling cold rolled steel. He'd trained in Oakland to be an FBI agent; calling himself Rupert X he posed as a big shot in a secret revolutionary force — but that was before he sold himself to the local Catholic charity, became Kazam from Calcutta.
Reno couldn't explain how she knew these things. She wasn't responsible for his identity crisis; she had trouble enough with just that thing on her own hook.
Behind the glass there were secret phone lines back to the prison, to the bounty hunters, to her fat preoccupied parole officer, to the local charity, to the Chinese mob; Kazam notified them all every time she went out. Every time she turned in her sleep.
She didn't know why this was so, but she could feel the surveillance, she could smell the hot desire to send her back to prison. Tried to convince herself she didn't give a shit. Reno was nearly out the front door when she heard the phony Hindu braying for his key. His key.
He tried to drill her with another mantra. "Must leave key with me. No coming back late tonight. No visitors. Showers on the third floor." He shook his cigar at her. "Remember. Doors close at nine -thirty."
Showers were on the second. The man never left the cubicle, what did he know. She held the key just beyond his reach, staring at the spot between his eyes, ferocious: Hindus were supposed to be sensitive about their third eye or something, but Kazam was unconcerned. There was no question in Reno's mind: he was FBI agent Rupert X from Oakland, assigned special duty to watch her. She let the key drop to the floor. "Narc. FBI agent. Hong Kong spy."
He slithered out of his glass cage all eager angular motion. She turned her back on him, imaginary bullets spinning past her ears. "You're a moron with a face like a dildo, you know that?" She didn't care what time he locked the damn doors, she'd already copied the keys.
It was a sodden autumn evening, the final slide into winter. Below a sky as gray as old newspapers a frigid wind sliced through Reno's sweater. The tired neon signs flickered in frozen puddles of rain and piss; cigarette butts and half-empty bottles of beer testified to the passage of people huddled in on themselves, hurrying toward warmth, home, safety.
Reno sucked in the bracing smell of gas fumes, checked for enemy agents lurking in back alleys; she knew they were out there comparing mug shots, identification lists, waiting for the perfect astrological conjunction to pick her up. Ship her back on a technicality: out after dark looking for a good time. Fuckum.
Stepping on down the road to a personal speculative six-eight boogie beat, Reno examined the limits of her world. The evening sidewalk filled with brisk paunchy men in open sport coats, narrow -lapelled wool suits; they hunched their padded shoulders, exposed wallets bulging out of their pockets. Reebok-footed women scurried past, carrying half-locked leather briefcases, open canvas shoulder bags, replacement shoes, credit cards.
Reno groaned, her fingertips itched. She didn't understand how these people managed to have anything left when they got wherever they were going. Half the posers on the street were working undercover anyway. Had to be.
Gloomy, kicking the slippery street crap out of her way, Reno turned a corner and confronted a place she used to know, a long ago long way away place: Club Istanbul. She didn't think the garish new paint job improved it. Behind the twisting green and red vines peppered with dumb looking stars it was probably the same old dump.
A shaggy young man lounged in front of the Istanbul, a cigarette cupped into the palm of his dot-tattooed hand, his head filled with secrets, duties, brothers, empty infinite possibilities. He turned his collar up against the cold wind rippling the red velvet curtains at his back, he bellowed at the sky: "Hey everybody! It's SHOW TIME!"
The smell of Chinese stir-fry drifted from the apartment building next door; fragments of plaintive music spilled out from the club, filling the street with promises as strangers pushed by, untempted.
Reno waited for the traffic, huge hungry vehicles, to thin out, then rushed across the street. She peered up at Eddie over her shades. Half smile, Camel filter slanted down in her mouth, every prison dream riding on her glance, she looked beyond him into the Club Istanbul's interior: hot red velvet star bangled spinning mirrored bojangled. Good. She stepped closer, inspected a tacky sign advertising DANCING GIRLS EVERY NIGHT! STARRING SU'AD THE FORTUNATE.
Girlsgirlsgirls! Girls! Just the ticket.
Excerpted from Edge City by Sin Soracco. Copyright © 2012 PM Press. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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