Tenderloin San Francisco

Hard-boiled stories from San Francisco's 1960s and 1970s Tenderloin

Tenderloin San Francisco

Hard-boiled stories from San Francisco's 1960s and 1970s Tenderloin

A Guy in a Long Black Coat

1969

I

     At Kenny’s Upstairs, corner of Turk and Leavenworth, second floor, it was just another night, nothing out of the ordinary.  It was the usual dozen or so regulars, queens, hustlers, a gunman or two, a few sailors.  Phil was working the door while Tiger was tonight’s wandering bouncer.  Tiger was a good floorman.  He once boxed pro and in his heyday was good enough to have landed a fight with Sugar Ray Robinson and was the first fighter to knock Sugar Ray down.  Tiger's heroin habit put an end to his career.  

     Kenny’s Upstairs - where coffee with a shot of something cost a buck and everyone followed some simple rules; no one hurts anyone too badly, no one robs anyone, no shooting.  Most of the regulars respected most of the rules, most of the time.  Open 2 A.M. to 6 A.M – almost anything could be found in Kenny’s Upstairs and if it wasn’t there, someone would find it for you . . .

     It was a warm night when Red came in looking crazed like he’d just shot up a lot of crystal meth.  Red at thirty, was recently out of Quentin, a hardcore meth freak, and dangerous.  Phil gave Red a nod as he came in, but Red didn’t acknowledge.  He just went inside and stood near the bar looking around.  A minute later, Tiger came over to Phil, quietly telling him, “Red’s carryin’ n’ looking for Tripper Bob.  Sez' he’s going to ghost him on sight.  Whaddya think?  You wanna try to walk him out or just drop him on the spot?”

     “Red’s carrying?  And looking for Tripper bob?  Fuck.  We don’t need heat in here.  And he’s loaded on meth.  Shit.”  Then added quickly, "Naw, don't take him out, I'll try to talk him out.  He might get himself busted on the street and that way we're done with him without doing anything.  But stay close." 

     Tiger while keeping an eye on Red, “Bob was in here a while ago, I didn’t see him leave.  He still here?"

     Phil nodded to Tiger in agreement – no words were spoken.  Phil and Tripper Bob were friends, as much as anyone could be friends in their circle.  Tiger took the door while Phil floated around the floor looking for either Tripper bob or Chantelle.

     Chantelle usually knew where Tripper Bob was.  She wasn’t inside Kenny’s, but another queen, Spooky, said she was out on the fire escape pouring coffee and Seconal down her throat and coffee and black beauties down Tripper Bob’s throat.  Phil told Spooky the story and watched her drift towards the open back window and the fire escape.  Meanwhile Red was getting ugly with people trying to find where Tripper Bob was.  As soon as he started pushing people Phil and Tiger would have to get rid of him.  Just then Red grabbed a sailor - they had words.  Red slammed him back into his chair and that meant tonight’s entertainment was on with Red – big, dangerous, loaded on meth, and packing heat.  At that moment Spooky hustled up to Phil grabbed him, and in his ear, “Get Red near the door and play along.  Just get him there now.  Play along, keep him there.  Quick.  We got it.”

     Phil with a headshake told Tiger to back off a little, enough to let him try move Red.  No easy task moving Red - Phil was stepped on, elbowed, and shoved – he showed great restraint while edging Red nearer the door.  The two danced liked this for a minute or two getting closer and closer to the door.  Finally near the door, Red stopped, “I know you know where that sonofabitch is.  I ain’t leavin’ here till he shows up.”  Then a big crash came from the back – the building shook a little.

     Chantelle came running to the front shouting, “Bobby just jumped down the fire escape heading down to Turk.”  Red ran to the back window, shoving his way through a group of queens, and looked out the window that had slammed shut so hard the glass broke.  Sure enough the gravity fire escape was moving - someone had jumped down.  Red barreled to the front door and down the stairs knowing he’d find Tripper Bob outside on Turk.  Behind him came a crowd of Kenny’s regulars.  There was no Tripper Bob - just Red standing outside looking up Turk street. 

     From behind a parked car, 20 feet in back of Red, Tripper Bob stood up and at the same time Red turned, Bob fired once.  It seemed everything was in slow-motion and the sound was turned off.  Red stuck a hand straight out while his body began to spin.  He did a complete 360 turn, then held up that bloody red hand with his good hand and screamed.  Red had been shot in the hand and it was a bloody mess. Holding his shot hand with his good hand he was jumping up and down screaming.

     The sirens drowned out his screaming as a black and white pulled up.  Cops didn’t even bother to question any of the crowd - they knew no one had seen anything.  They also knew Red.  The cops called for backup and an ambulance while they held Red at gunpoint on the sidewalk.  They didn't have to do anything, this was a nice easy arrest for them of a very bad man.  They were going to look good in the station tonight.  The crowd melted away.  Meanwhile down the block a figure in a long black leather coat quietly walked down Turk street seemingly in no particular hurry.  Red was taken away and never heard from again.

II

     Next night in Kenny’s Upstairs Phil, Tripper Bob, and Chantelle, sitting together near the door were talking, Phil going on, “Yeah, he’s in the slammer.  They wanted him for some bad shit.“  Looking at Bob, “How the hell did you get out to the car outside and behind Red from the fire escape?  No one saw you after you jumped the fire escape.  Next thing we know, you’re behind him.”  

     Tripper Bob: “I didn’t jump down the fire escape.  The cinder blocks outside we sit on - I just tossed them down the fire escape and it started moving. Then I jumped back inside, slammed the window so hard it broke, and sat in the dark in back with my heater ready.  I knew I was going to have to shoot Red, but I didn’t want to shoot him here.  When the crowd ran out behind Red, I ran out behind the crowd.  While everyone was looking at Red and he was looking up Turk I just ran behind the parked cars.  I wanted some cover in case he started blasting.”

     Chantelle took up where Tripper bob left off, “Right after he broke the window I told the girls to stand around in front of Bobby, while I ran up and told Red I’d seen him jump.  I tried to look terrified.”  Adjusting her skirt and wiggling a little with a smile because she already knew the answer,  “And how’d I do?”

     Phil still had questions.  “Bob, why did you shoot him in his hand?  That was one helluva shot – and why was he looking for you anyway?  I don’t know what he did but he’s going to be out sometime.  Then you’ll have to kill him.”

     “I wasn't aiming for his hand I was aiming for his body, but he moved and I missed.  That was Lucky for Red.  Here’s what you don’t know; I knew he wouldn’t be out long - days, maybe a week.  He ripped off a lot of shit from a meth lab across the bay.  I heard he killed one guy, hurt a few others, shot at a cop, bad shit.  I’m in Ringside getting some smokes when I hear this.  No big deal to me.  I step outside and, bingo, Red and I bump into each other.  He’s carrying a small army knapsack and wants to stay at my place because he’s hot and has no place to go.  I tell him no.

     Red doesn’t like to take no for an answer so we had words.  I walk away as he’s standing there on Eddy Street badmouthing me.  I know he’s carrying a lot of meth, he just killed someone, and he’s not going to last long.  I don’t need any of his heat; I have enough of my own.  I forget about it and head down to Compton’s.”

     Reaching in his pocket for a roll of bennies Tripper Bob continued, “Then a couple guys a few blocks away robbed him - it was a snatch and run - they got the bag with most of his stash.  I guess Red figured I had something to do with it.  I didn't, but that doesn't matter to him.  He’s got nowhere to go, I turned him down, people robbed him, he figures it’s me, he’s all cranked up, so I’m his target.”

     Chantelle, still adjusting that skirt, “Uh-huh, so then you came here, we were outside on the fire escape talking and that’s when the shit started.  This was all a mistake.  So now what happens to Red?”

     Bob: “If they don’t gas his ass, he’ll do life.  He’s never seeing daylight.”  Now looking around and with a lowered voice, “There’s just one more thing.  About ten minutes after I left here, I ran into two guys going through a familiar-looking army knapsack I’d seen a while earlier.  They were newcomers looking for an easy score.  They didn't know what they had, but I did.  Just took me a few seconds to convince them they didn’t need the knapsack.  Bag had a lot of meth.  I swapped some for enough smack to hold me - rest is at home.  I need a ride to South City to swap a good piece of it for a shitload of smack.  I already arranged it.”  Looking at Phil, “Didn’t think you’d mind, maybe you could . . .” he trailed off.

     “Yeah, sure Bob.  It’s a slow night, Tiger and Reggie can cover it.  I’ll play taxi for you tonight – see you out front in ten minutes.” 

     Bob: “And yeah Chantelle, c’mon with me.  When I cop the smack I’ll pick up a jar of reds - I’ll fix you up.  And my place could use some help,  I was thinking maybe you could . . .” trailing off like that was Tripper Bob’s way of asking.

     “Bobby sweetie, anything for you.”  With a wink and making that final skirt adjustment, “I’ll have your place spotless.”

     With faked annoyance, almost embarrassment, Bob quickly retorted, “And knock off the ‘Bobby sweetie’ shit,” he said while brushing his hair back, “Let’s go.” 

     Phil played taxi for a few hours ending the night by dropping them off at Tripper Bob’s place on Oak Street, then went home to smoke a joint and go to bed.

     Next morning’s paper ran a story about the drug-crazed killer apprehended in the Tenderloin.  The story went on how the alert and heroic SF police managed to take him alive after a fierce gunbattle.  The paper also had a few brief lines about two guys who had been assaulted.  No, they insisted they weren’t robbed of anything, swore they didn't have anything anyone would want - they certainly didn't have any drugs.  They were just assaulted for no reason they could think of.  One had been shot in the foot - neither of them could describe the shooter other than it was a guy in a long black coat . . .