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City at Night

“City at Night” is a modern detective story with a number of inspired twists.

Set in San Francisco, its protagonists include a lesbian priestess, a cop with an attitude about his profession, coherent and incoherent street people and a long, long fall into the abyss.

an excerpt from this historical novel …

PROLOGUE: Ten Years Ago

One eye worked. It stared at an industrious ant.

Groggy and sensitive to an uncomfortable pain in her side, Susan lay unmoving as awareness of her surroundings filtered into her drug-dulled brain. From this vantage point she thought, if I haven’t already entered Hell I have at least a foot in the door.

Worst of all, she had only herself to blame for the trauma and circumstances in which she found herself.

She wiped the back of a hand across her mouth. It came away covered with dried crusty flakes of red which confused her at first, then caused her to become frightened.

Was I in a fight? Did someone hit me on the head or did I fall?

Memory flooded back. Must have been that last toot which did it, she thought. Vaguely, she recalled dreaming of blood which gushed like a fountain. This was partially true. Her nose had streamed a torrent, but it was no dream.

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And the last snort of cocaine had, indeed, contributed to the problem. But it was something like the last straw syndrome. Her tormented nasal passages had endured more than an entire year of snow pack before a blood vessel finally burst in the back of her throat.

Clinically speaking, she had at last managed to drill a hole clear through her septum which would later require a Teflon implant in order for her to breathe without wheezing. However, for the time being, she failed to realize that air passing through her nostrils had changed direction because both were plugged with caked blood.

Her fingers pried open the eye that couldn’t see. The lid was stuck to her cheek by a combination of dried secretions. She shook her head to clear her mind and a dozen pebbles fell out of her hair. She ran her fingers through the long brown strands and found them matted with dirt and congealed fluids including vomit.

Susan cautioned herself to remain calm, attempted to sit up as she brushed the red on her hand off onto her pants. She surveyed her surroundings, saw she was lying in a crevice, a brick corner where two buildings almost joined but left the merest sliver of a space between them. Into this lumpy crack she had crawled, feet pointed toward the sidewalk, before passing out.

Stomach juices rumbled. A sour taste rose in her throat.

Nodding out like that was probably caused by malnutrition, she thought, but there was a long black list of other items that could just as easily have contributed to the swell of unconsciousness. Staying awake for almost a week, now that would do the trick. Right now sleep threatened to draw her back into its arms.

This was no place for a former Prom Queen!

She glanced at her wrist expecting to read the time and date on her Rolex to perhaps determine how long she had been out. There was only a white band of skin demarcated by two tan lines indicating where her watch had once been. Right, she thought. Ran out of cash. Traded it for a few tokes of freebase.

Anguish overwhelmed her as she sat in the narrow passage and searched her pockets. No wallet, no I. D., no money. She patted her shirt pocket, found a bent and finger-smudged business card. It was her own name on the card which identified her as an escrow officer with Northern Counties Title Insurance, 369 Bush Street, San Francisco, California.

Thank goodness, she thought. At least I’m still me. The card reminded her why she had gone on her binge five, maybe six days ago. Susan no longer worked for Northern Counties. She had lost her job, was dumped by her boyfriend, her car had just been repossessed and she had been evicted from her apartment all within the same week.

Rendered a vagabond, why not celebrate?

Her head throbbed as the cold light of morning crawled up her Tony Lama boots. Apparently they were the last luxury items she owned; leftovers from a once lavish lifestyle.

Susan’s fingers felt like bloated sausages. She clenched and unclenched her hands, worked the synovial fluid between the joints to lubricate her knuckles. Touching fingertips to face, she felt a painful tenderness and recalled a bruise that had erupted on her right cheek several days ago. Had more appeared? Her skin was puffy, the texture oily and corrugated like that of a grapefruit.

Sunlight warmed her feet. She wriggled and wormed her way back out the opening between the walls and immediately found herself blocking pedestrians. Some stopped to gawk. Vagrants were by no means rare, but a young female in such a state of personal failure was downright unique.

Susan supported herself against a wall and rose unsteadily to her feet. She realized that in addition to her damaged nose, she had wet herself during the night. Her blue jeans stuck to her thighs as she hobbled bowlegged down the street.

It was unfamiliar territory, a section of town the prudent and well-heeled avoided. Winos dotted the landscape. She crawled along the facade of one building, then another, at last came to rest on the stoop of a closed store. Listlessly, she dropped down onto her bony rump with a sharp bump on the cement pad. The effort of walking had finally overwhelmed her and once again she passed out.

Her dream was broken by a rude shaking of her ribcage. Her head lolled like a rag doll.

“Girl, talk to me. You all right?” a man’s voice asked repeatedly. “C’mon, sit up there girl. Look at me.”

She focused on the face. White teeth gleamed through a thick mat of coal black facial hair covering black satin skin.

Omigod, now I’m going to be raped, was the irrational thought that jumped into her mind. She attempted to break his grasp, but all her strength had been sapped by so much unrepentant substance abuse. The result was nothing more than a weak shudder.

The man lifted Susan in his arms and shouldered the door of the store open. He carried her into a large room. She was mildly surprised to see rows of cheap folding chairs positioned with their backs to the entrance. Not exactly the interior of a retail shop she had expected.

“Where am I?” was all she could say. Fear subsided after the man deposited her gently on a threadbare couch against one wall and replied: “This is the Victory Temple, child. And my name is Rev. Ben, uh, the Reverend Benjamin Day. Now you be quiet. Rest a while ‘til I can get Miz Alma to help make you comfortable.”

He was away for but a few moments before reappearing accompanied by a short round woman who wore a concerned expression. Alma gasped when she saw what shape Susan was in. She leaned down and looked closely at the woman’s battered face before she shooed the minister away. “You get outta here, Benny,” she said tautly. “This is woman’s work.” Alma bent over the comatose figure, cooed soothingly: “Get you into a hot bath and something to eat there, little girl, you feel better when you get out of these clothes.”

Truer words have never been spoken, was all Susan could think as she lay there minimally conscious. In seconds, she drifted once more into the sanctity of sleep.

This novel is 234 pages long, available in PDF format.
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