It was twilight as Pete strode towards The Yankee. He hurried past a decades-old mural that featured “Potrero Hill” in once vibrant colors, its bubble-shaped letters set at a slant, a style reminiscent of Mr. Natural’s Keep on Truckin’…The fresco’s jauntiness seemed to mock Pete’s scrawny forward tilt, though both were equally faded.
A mass of fog that wet-blanketed San Francisco’s western neighborhoods dissipated after it heaved itself over Twin Peaks, well before it reached the Hill. Instead, high clouds fan-danced with a full moon, covering and uncovering the white celestial eye, like a slow blink.
As he crossed the street to The Yankee Pete spotted a tall, muscular, figure with a shaved head leaning against the wall next to the entrance.
“Hey, Inky,” said Justin, sucking on an electronic cigarette.
Pete squinted. “Um, you waiting for me…?”
“Yeah, Inky, I’m waiting for the last printed newspaper in the galaxy to die in my arms,” Justin shaped his arms into a wide open hug, then held out the e-cig to Pete. “You wanna hit?”
Pete shook his head, and started to bob, waiting for Justin to out himself as the caller. Justin responded by moving his head to the beat of Pete’s bobble, transitioning into a full body dance, his eyes locked on Pete’s. “Did you call me?” Pete finally asked.
“Only in the most metaphorical of ways,” said Justin, who stopped dancing, and put his hands on his hips. “Ready? Okay!” he yelped, shaping his arms into a T. “T, it’s totally, totally, H, heavenly, heavenly, C, like a cloud, like a cloud!” He held out the e-cig to Pete again. “Inky, you really look like you need a hit.”
“You didn’t call me,” Pete asked, as he reflexively reached to take the metallic tube.
“Inky, my people don’t call. We text, twitter, or twirl,” said Justin, handing the tube to Pete as he spun around.
Pete sucked in the smoke. It tasty like pureed raspberry filtered through Styrofoam, with a weedy tang. He bobbed at Justin, and walked into The Yankee.
The interior seemed hazy, as if Pete had entered a 1980s bar, when smoking was ubiquitous. It was dense with people, chatter, music, and the clatter of pool balls. Pete scanned the crowd. He saw Justin’s partner, Nash, sitting at a four top with the woman and man he’d bumped into as they exited The Yankee a few weeks ago, their three heads huddled closely together.
Chester was sitting on his regular barstool. John was two spots over, next to Joanne, all three staring at the television screen above them.
“The trinity,” Pete muttered to himself, glancing from the three at the table to the three at bar. “Father, son, Holy Ghost?” he giggled. He stared at the back of John’s head. “More like rock, paper, scissors.” Pete recognized a few other regulars, scattered around the establishment. He gazed at each, waiting for them to out themselves as his secret source. When none did, he walked towards Chester, thought better of it, and stopped next to Nash’s table.
“Hey,” he shouted at Stephanie, louder than the bar’s background noise merited. “I think we’ve met…”
Stephanie looked at Pete.
“Yes, we’ve met!” said Jordan, matching Pete’s volume. “You’re Inky Pete!”
“Yes, yes I am,” Pete said, his closed mouth smile competing with his desire to frown.
Jordan whispered something to Nash, who barked-laughed. The trio turned back to their conversation, ignoring Pete, who stared at Jordan for a few beats before re-scanning the room. His feet felt glued to where he was standing; the air seemed to have gotten even smokier. He reached up and swatted a wisp of white drifting down towards him, like a spider web. Before he could catch it someone bumped into him, hard, causing him to stumble.
“Scuse me,” said a man with a shaved head, over his shoulder, as he continued through the crowd, towards the men’s room.
Someone grabbed his arm, arresting Pet’s fall. “A little puff will do you,” said Justin. “Let me help you find your way.” He spun Pete around, away from the table, and pushed him towards the bar.
“What,” said Pete, glancing at Justin’s shaved head, and then at the back of the shaved head that’d pushed him as it disappeared into the short corridor leading to the restrooms. “Are you coming, or going,” Pete said, to the air. He grabbed onto the stool next to Chester, and started to sit down.
“Don’t sit there,” said Chester, without taking his eyes off the television. Pete shifted to the seat next to John.
“Whew!” he said as he sat down. “Hey, John?”
John glanced at him, grimaced, held up his hand dismissively, and turned away.
Pete shoved a fist in his pocket, pulled out a crumple of bills, and threw them on the bar. “I’ll have a beer,” he yelled towards the bartender. “The cheapest you have.”
He looked at the side of Chester’s head, glanced to the back of John’s, and took a chug of his beer. An elderly man sat down at the stool next to him. Pete recognized him as a long-time Hill resident and anti-development activist, who owned several homes in the neighborhood, all of them derelict, most uninhabited.
“Hey,” Pete said.
“Hey,” replied the man, who turned towards Chester and began a rant about “that idiot” mayor.
Pete swiveled, his back to the bar, searching the crowd. He circled his arm to grasp his beer, gulped the rest of it down, and glanced at the change the bartender had left; a dollar and a few coins. Pete sighed, heaved himself up, and made his way outside.
Each month the View publishes a chapter from Gold, a serialized tale of politics, capitalism, and corruption in San Francisco. Previous chapters can be found on the paper’s website, www.potreroview.net. Advertisers or supporters interested in sponsoring future installations, or publishing the final manuscript, should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.