An eerie green glow transformed the small park at midnight. Caught by the dim security lights around the park’s parameter, it made the trees shimmer with luminescent color as the park’s splashing fountain shot reflections of vivid green water.
Two men leaving the No Name Bar across the street laughed as they saw the glow, knowing it was caused by the town’s anonymous pranksters again coloring the fountain’s water.
No one, except a foraging squirrel, saw the man sitting inside the fountain, leaning against its rim, soaked in glowing green water and quite dead.
One Month Earlier
Why didn’t I pack warmer clothes? I’m so very cold. The night’s fog blurred Kay’s vision of the steep stairs, now slippery with moisture, which led her down into the small town. She gripped the wet, narrow iron railing with one hand, and hoped that she was almost at the end of the poorly lit stairs. On her left was a tiny, old wood church surrounded by trees whose branches drooped over the stairs, causing her to duck under them on her descent, and on her right was a large Mediterranean–styled villa, secure behind an elaborate wrought iron fence. Too cold and anxious to mull over the contrast, Kay continued her perilous downward journey.
She stopped at a small landing to button her thin, red silk jacket up to her chin, regretting her choice of black silk slacks and flimsy ballet shoes, chosen for a romantic dinner. As she cautiously stepped down from the landing onto the next stair, she looked beyond it and saw a sidewalk, lit by a street light, at the end of the next flight of steps. Kay tried not to hurry, knowing she’d slip if she did so, but she took the last stairs with less caution, eager to end her strange, cold descent. Glad to reach level ground, she stood on a sidewalk devoid of people and wondered which way to turn.
Drifts of fog occasionally obscured the deserted street and the dimly lit park across from it. Beyond the park was a blackness which Kay assumed was San Francisco Bay. The town’s stores, now all dark, ran along her side of the street. Suddenly, a swift-moving car appeared from her right and drove past, leaving the street silent again. The disconcerting silence was broken by the clicking sound of a woman’s high heels approaching from Kay’s left, but a finger of the drifting fog hid the figure. When it cleared, Kay saw a tall, blond woman warmly dressed in black slacks and a grey fur vest over a black turtleneck. What looked like a medium-sized dog on a leash walked in front of the woman.
As the two came closer, Kay suppressed her surprise: the clicking sound was being made by the tiny hoofs of a small goat, not by the woman’s shoes. Accustomed to seeing unusual people doing odd things on her hometown’s Sunset Boulevard and not reacting to them, Kay simply smiled and said, “Hi, I’m lost. Is there a bar nearby?” Both she and the woman laughed at the question’s implication before Kay added, “Actually, I’m supposed to meet my husband at a bar, but I wasn’t given its name.”
The goat and the woman looked closely at Kay as the woman, chuckling, said, “Welcome to Sausalito! You’re looking for the No Name Bar. I just passed it. It’s about a half-block away.”
Kay responded with a warm, “Thank you!” before the woman and the goat continued their hoof-clicking journey and Kay began to walk in the opposite direction. The bar wasn’t hard to find: there was a hanging sign, by double wood doors, which stated, ‘Bar’. Muffled jazz music could be heard through the large lit window of its dark façade. Sitting inside, along a counter that ran the length of the window, were men and women talking and drinking, but not looking out onto the sidewalk. They were haloed by cigarette smoke.
Kay pushed open one of the heavy doors and entered a narrow, long room filled with people at small, round tables listening to a jazz trio on a ‘postage-sized’ stage. There was a bar to her left, obscured by people crowded along it. She stayed by the closed door, savoring the sudden warmth, before standing on tip-toes to see over the crowd. The Bohemian ambiance of the place reminded her of the funky folk music bars in Venice Beach which she, against her parents’ wishes, had frequented during her college days at U.C.L.A.
As Kay began to politely make her way farther into the bar, searching for Craig, she was oblivious to the looks she received. Her strawberry blond hair, curling into fog-induced ringlets, and her face, pretty even with a very pink nose chilled by the cold, were worthy of the glances. Her scanning of the bar was rewarded when she saw her six-foot, four-inch husband standing at the back of the room, smiling and waving over everyone’s head. Seeing him and his tousled blond hair, now mostly grey, caused Kay to have familiar thoughts that added radiance to her responsive smile: God! How he lights up a room! No wonder the studio loves ‘their’ Craig Harris and his box office draw. His handsome, welcoming face, known world-wide, quicken her heartbeat.
When she walked into Craig’s arms, Stanley Wiseman, the director of the film, ‘Dangerous Cargo’, that brought them to the Northern California location, stood to greet her and indicated the empty chair at their table. His boyish face, close-cropped brown hair, and jean-clad lithe body belied his forty-seven years: he still fit the film industry’s description of him as ‘The Boy Wonder Director’.
As the three of them sat down at the table, which contained two half-filled coffee mugs, but no wine glasses, Kay knew that this was a business meeting and wondered at the odd choice of venue. She was amused to see that Craig, although he probably won’t admit it, had reacted to the chilly weather by donning jeans and three top layers consisting of a white shirt, a red wool crew neck sweater, and a navy blue pea jacket, now unbuttoned. Kay sensed tension at the table and noted the crumbled napkins by the mugs. Stanley was the first to speak, “I’m sorry about keeping Craig away from dinner at the hotel, and having him call you there to ask you to meet us here. We have a few location changes, and I needed to go over the revised shooting schedule with him. We had sandwiches earlier. May I get you something?”
“For now, a bowl of peanuts would be fine.” In a light tone she added, “And don’t worry: I’m used to schedule changes. What I’m not used to is this cold weather in July, for god’s sake! Or those slippery stairs that go down hills into a deserted town. Well, deserted except for a woman walking a goat.” She paused, disappointed to get no reaction to her goat encounter, and continued, “And whoever suggested those stairs as a way for me to get here from the hotel will have to answer to me. Also, what’s with this unnamed bar, fellows?”
Craig laughed as he rubbed Kay’s cold hands. “The weather’s typical for July here, honey. And this bar has been a writers’ hang-out for many years. Writers such as Jack Kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti drank here. Maybe the owner asked all the writers to name the bar when it opened, and, being writers, no one could agree. Hey, I’ll get you a warm drink, okay?” Kay noticed he didn’t comment about the stairs as he signaled one of the two busy waiters, who looked awe-struck as he took Craig’s order for an Irish coffee and some peanuts. Kay was pleased to see that the waiter seemed to be the only one in the bar with that reaction. Then it became obvious to her that Craig and Stanley were halting their business discussion while waiting for the order to arrive, talking about the weather and her reaction to it.
Once it arrived, Kay took a gloriously hot sip through the heavy cream topping, put the glass mug down, picked up some peanuts, and, with her hand half-way to her mouth, said, “Wait a minute. Something’s not right.” The men looked at her, concerned. “No, guys, it’s not the drink. Where’s Joe?”
Craig gave a quick laugh and said, “Ha! I was wondering when you’d ask. Stanley’s embarrassed by Joe’s presence.”
Stanley wouldn’t meet Kay’s eyes and looked down at his now empty coffee mug before he looked up and said, “I’ve never gotten used to being around mega stars and their bodyguards, although maybe Craig’s an exception: he’s more like a normal person.” Both Kay and Craig laughed briefly before Stanley continued: “Even though Joe’s discreet, just knowing he’s around and armed bothers me. Besides, he’s not needed here. I picked this place to meet on purpose. Look around: everyone here is either a writer or pretending to be, and they all like to think they’re above ‘Hollywood nonsense’. See, over there is the movie actor Sterling Hayden, just a regular guy with a sailboat in the harbor.”
Kay exchanged an amused look with Craig at Stanley’s awkward explanation of Joe’s absence before she again asked, “So where’s our pal Joey?”
“Just being very discreet. See if you can spot him,” Craig answered.
Kay looked around the room. There were no familiar faces, except for Sterling Hayden’s. She was amused to note the inordinate number of women going past their table to the restroom, trying to hide their interest, but wanting to be close to Craig. Sorry, ladies, he’s not available. And he doesn’t really notice you.
The jazz trio, on a break, mingled with the patrons while the two waiters delivered drinks. One of the waiters, whose back was toward her, was laughing with a bearded man as he handed him a beer mug. That was her ‘aha’ moment, hearing that laugh. Turning to Craig, Kay asked, “Since when did Joe take up being a waiter?”
“Since Stanley got permission from the owner to let him fill in for the regular waiter, now relaxing in the back room. It was either that or having Joe sit outside in the back patio.”
“For heaven’s sake, Stanley!” Kay responded. “Be a mensch and tell Joe he can take off that dingy apron and join us!” Craig smiled at her scolding ‘The Boy Wonder Director’.
With a nod from Stanley, Craig caught Joe’s eye and beckoned him over. After tossing the apron behind the bar, the young, good-looking blond man with the muscular build walked over to them, smiled at Kay, and asked, “Want another Irish coffee, pretty lady?” She grinned in response and remembered that she had once felt as Stanley did now toward the bodyguard. When she and Craig had begun dating she had been uneasy with Joe’s constant, armed presence. Then she had realized his necessity because of the seemingly endless alerts about potential danger from over-zealous or deranged fans. There had even been death threats. Kay came to appreciate Joe’s professionalism, his sense of humor, and the warm friendship and regard the two men shared. Joe was her friend now, too.
Joe found an empty chair and pulled it over to the threesome to join them. Soon Craig and Stanley were talking about the revised shooting schedule while Joe listened silently, knowing that Craig’s schedule would be his also. Kay wasn’t following the conversation, preoccupied by intrusive thoughts of the tumultuous events that had brought her to this chilly town. She signaled to a waiter, who was now wearing Joe’s discarded apron, for another warm drink.
(End of Excerpt from Chapter One)