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At 2:15 on a Wednesday afternoon in late September, Dismas Hardy sat on the customer side of the bar at the Little Shamrock and worked the corners of his dart flights with a very fine emery board. A pint of Guinness, pulled a quarter of an hour ago, had lost its head and rested untouched in the bar's gutter. Hardy whistled tonelessly, as happy as he'd been in ten years.
He'd opened the bar at 1:00 p.m. sharp and had served a bottle of Miller Draft to Tommy, a regular who'd retired from schoolteaching some years back and who now spent most afternoons by the large picture window, talking to whoever would listen. But today Tommy told Hardy he had an appointment and left after one beer. Tommy was all right, but being left alone didn't break Hardy's heart.
Hardy finished one flight and raised his head. He took the Guinness and sipped at it. Through the window over Tommy's table, light traffic passed on Lincoln Blvd. Across the street, the evergreens and eucalyptus that bordered Golden Gate Park shimmered in a light breeze. There had been no fog that morning, and Hardy guessed the breeze would still be warm. If you want summer in San Francisco, plan your vacation for the fall.
A bus pulled up across the street and stopped. When it pulled away, it left a man standing, lost looking, at the corner.
A minute later, the double doors swung open; Hardy scooped up his flights and swung himself around the end of the bar. He stood behind the porcelain beer taps and nodded at the customer.
If it was a customer. At first glance, the man didn't bring to mind visions of bankrolls and limousines. Whether he had sufficient money for a beer seemedquestionable. His shirt was open at the collar and frayed badly. His baggy pants needed pressing. Under a forehead that went all the way back, eyes squinted adjusting to the relative darkness of the bar, although the Shamrock was no cave. He needed a shave.
"Help you?" Hardy asked, then as he looked more closely, the pieces began to fall into place. "Rusty?"
The man let loose a low-watt smile that seemed to require an effort. He stepped closer to the bar. "Ten points." He stuck his hand over the bar and Hardy took it. "How you doin', Diz?" The voice was quiet and assured, cultured.
Hardy asked what he was drinking and said it was on him.
"Same as always."
Hardy closed his eyes, trying to remember, then turned and reached up to the top shelf, grabbed a bottle of Wild Turkey, and snuck a glance at the man who'd shared his office back in the days when they'd both worked for the district attorney.
Rusty Ingraham had aged. There was, of course, the hair, or lack of it. At twenty-five, Rusty had sported a shock of orange-red hair and a handlebar mustache. Now, with no facial hair except the stubble, bald on top and gray on the sides, he looked old--handsome still, but old.
Hardy poured him a double.
"Prodigious," Rusty Ingraham said, nodding at his glass.
Hardy shrugged. "You know somebody at all, you know what they drink."
"Well, you found your calling." He lifted the glass, Hardy raised his pint, and they both said "Skol."
"So"--Hardy put down his glass--"you still a lawyer?"
Ingraham's lips turned up, yet there was a gentleness Hardy hadn't seen before. Before he'd left the D.A.'s, Ingraham might have had some sensitivity but it didn't ever come out gentle. Now his half-smile was that of a man looking back only. The good times, whatever they'd been, would never--could never--return. He sipped slowly at his whiskey. "You must have been out of the field a while yourself if you still call them lawyers."
Hardy grinned. It was an old joke. "Attorney then--you still an attorney?"
Like a flame trying to catch on a wick, the smile flickered back. Hardy was getting the feeling Ingraham hadn't spoken to a soul in a long while. "I still have that distinction." He paused. "Though I rarely stand upon the "Esquire' in correspondence, and as you can see"--he gestured at his clothing--"my practice is in a hiatus." He drank again, like a drinking man but not hungrily, not like an alcoholic. There was a difference, and Hardy was keyed to it.
"You do this full-time?"
Hardy's eyes swept the room, proprietary. "Nine years now. I own a quarter of the place."
"That's great. And you're still with Jane?"
"Well, we got divorced once, but we're going at it again." He shrugged. "I'm confident but cautious."
"Yep. You always were."
"So what about you? I noticed you came by on the bus."
Their eyes met a moment, then the flame of Rusty's smile went out. "I got my car stolen a month ago. It's still gone. A major hassle. So I spend a lot of time waiting for the N-Godot."
Hardy liked that. The N-Judah, which ran behind the Shamrock, was a notoriously slow line.
"Otherwise, you pretty much see it, Diz. I hang out. I live in a barge down at China Basin. Chase an ambulance every month or two, hit a good nag now and then. I've still got one good suit. I get my shoes shined and for a day or two I can get by."
He tipped up his glass and asked Hardy if he could buy him one. He put a ten-dollar bill in the gutter. Hardy refilled them both but didn't grab the bill.
"Actually, Diz, I came by here today for a reason. You remember Louis Baker?"
Hardy frowned. He remembered Louis Baker. "Eight aggravated to thirteen?"
"Nine and a half, it turns out."
"Nine and a half," Hardy repeated. "Hardly worth the effort."
"Not even hardly."
Hardy took a belt of his stout, set the glass down, and swore. "I must've sent down a hundred guys. You too," he said.
Ingraham nodded. "All told, I put away two hundred and fourteen assholes."
Hardy whistled. "You were red hot, weren't you?"
"Yeah, but there was only one Louis Baker." Baker had been a cancer in Hunter's Point for the first twenty years of his life. He had a huge head, a well-trimmed Afro, and the body of a defensive safety. In spite of having a sheet ranging from the petty--vandalism and car theft, burglary and muggings--when he was in his teens to the heinous as he matured, he was convinced he would never do hard time, and not without reason.
The D.A. had been forced to drop charges on him twice for murder and four times for rape. He was good at not leaving evidence, or at making witnesses reluctant to testify.
The one time Baker went to trial for attempted murder and mayhem on a man who had talked too long to his girlfriend in a 7-Eleven, the man had finally refused to identify him when the crunch came. He got all the way to the stand, then looked at Baker at the defendant's table and evidently decided that if he pointed the finger at him, he would not live to see his grandchildren. So he suddenly couldn't say for sure that Baker had been the man who'd cut off his ears before stabbing him in the stomach in the middle of the afternoon.
Hardy had been the prosecutor in that case.
The D.A.'s office--Rusty Ingraham this time--had finally gotten him for armed robbery of four victims, one of whom he'd wounded, but as it was only Baker's first conviction, meaning that in the court's eyes he wasn't yet a hardened criminal and hence a candidate for rehabilitation, the judge had been inclined to be lenient and had given him eight years.
When the verdict came down, Baker had quietly hung his head for a short time, then looked over at the prosecution table. Hardy had wanted to come down for the verdict, see this guy finally get put away, and he was sitting next to Ingraham. Baker looked in their direction, directly at Ingraham, seemingly memorizing him.
"You, motherfucker," he said, "are a dead man."
The judge slammed his gavel. Ingraham made a motion to aggravate Baker's sentence in view of the threat, and the judge slapped on another five right then and there.
The bailiff got the huge man to his feet, got some help from two deputies, and started pulling him across the courtroom while he glared at Ingraham.
Then Hardy did a stupid thing.
Baker's glaring, his posing, his tough-guy bullshit struck Hardy funny for a second--for just a second. But it was enough.
Here was this twenty-one-year-old punk, going down for a long time, who thought his ghetto glare was going to put the fear of God or something into the man who'd sent him there. So when Baker, struggling in his chains, fixed Hardy with the Eye, Hardy pursed his lips and blew him a good-bye kiss.
At which point Baker had really gone birdshit, pulling loose from the bailiff and two deputies and nearly getting to the prosecution table before he was quieted down with nightsticks.
The scene replayed itself in Hardy's dreams for months; it wasn't helped by the letter Hardy received during Baker's first week in prison. He'd found out who Hardy was from his own lawyer, and when he got out, the letter said, he was going to kill Hardy too.
Hardy sent copies of the letter to the warden and the judge who'd sentenced Baker, but the parole board ruled on these matters, and since the judge had already bumped his time for threats, they didn't feel compelled to do it again. The letter Hardy received back from the warden explained that although many inmates were bitter just after sentencing, most came around to serving good time and concentrating on getting an early parole.
Baker? Hardy wasn't so sure. "So he's out?"
Ingraham pulled his cuff back and checked his watch. Hardy wasn't positive, but it looked to be a hell of a Rolex. "If they're on time, in about two hours."
"How'd you hear about it?"
"I got a friend in Paroles. He called me. And I checked with the warden at the House. Nobody's meeting him at the gate. Who would? Supposedly taking the bus back to town."
Hardy whistled. "You have checked."
"The guy got my attention."
"So what are you going to do?"
His old office mate sipped at his drink. "What can you do? Something's gonna get us all. Maybe lock up more carefully."
"Did you ever pack?"
Ingraham shook his head. "That's for you cops. We gentlemen who believe in the rule of law are supposed to have no need for that hardware."
Hardy had come up to the D.A.'s office after a tour in Vietnam and several years on the police force. Ingraham had come up through Stanford, then Hastings Law School.
"You planning to debate with Louis Baker?"
"I'm not planning on seeing the man."
"What if he comes to see you?"
"I called the warden after I got the word. He says Louis has been a model inmate, has found the Lord, gets max time off for good behavior. I've got nothing to worry about. Neither of us do. Evidently."
Hardy leaned across the bar. "Then why are you here?"
Ingraham's smile finally caught. "Because it sounds like a heap of bullshit to me." He leaned back on the barstool. "I thought it might not be a bad idea to stay in touch for a couple of weeks, you and me."
Hardy waited, not getting it.
"I mean, call each other every day at the same time, something like that."
"What would that do?"
"Well, hell, Diz, we're not going to get police protection. Nobody's gonna put a tail on Louis to see if he heads for our neighborhoods. This way, if one of us doesn't call, at least we have some clue. One of us bites it, maybe, but the other one is warned."
Hardy picked up his Guinness and downed the last two inches. "You think he really might do it, don't you."
"Yep. I'm afraid I do."
"One other thing..."
"I thought you might recommend what kind of gun."