A Dame with a Past - Part 6

 "Whn u gt a chnc, cll. I thnk ur bng fllwd. H."

I’ve known Harry longer than the lifespan of cell phones and texting.  A quick glance at the particular form of gibberish he calls a text is all it takes for me to look around the lobby in alarm, illogical as that is. The only people in sight are Bernie and Kimball standing in front of a bank of mailboxes set discreetly into an alcove, the manager pointing out something to Bernie, and Al the doorman behind his desk.

Being followed? What the…?

“Please excuse me for a minute,” I say to Bernie and the building manager. “Go ahead without me. I have to make a call. I’ll be right with you.”

I wave off Al’s help, push though the brass doors, punching the speed dial for Harry as I go. He answers immediately.

“Oh, good. I was hoping you’d call right back. We’ve got a monkey in the chicken pile, my friend.”

“What’s up?”

“Well,” Harry says, “remember the guy I told you about, the one who plays at McGraw’s club?”


“He called me, said there was something I might want to know. Apparently our esteemed golf pro had himself a bit of a meltdown at work this morning. My pal said he was ranting and raving about something, punched a locker, and walked out.”

“Ranting and raving? Did your friend say what it was about?” I ask.

“Not really. But he heard McGraw say something about ‘not being cut out of things,’ and ‘I’m gonna knock her off her high horse.”

“Uh-oh. That doesn’t sound good.”

“Yeah, right? My buddy said that if he weren’t such a good golf instructor, he’d probably lose his job. He might lose it anyway if he put on this little display in front of the customers, you ask me.

“And the worst part? When he left, he said he had to get to San Francisco. ”

Involuntarily, I find myself scanning the stream of people passing me on the sidewalk.

“That it?”

Harry huffs into the phone. “Isn’t that enough? I’m worried about Bernie, Marty. I think that guy’s a loose cannon. She might be in danger.”

“OK, thanks for the heads-up. Don’t worry. I won’t let her out of my sight.”


I catch up with the others as they’re standing in front of the etched steel elevator door. The design shows a woman sitting on the back of a bull. If I remember my Greek mythology, it depicts Zeus’ rape of Europa.

“Oh, good. I’m glad you’re back.” Bernie says, her face lit like a child’s on Christmas morning. “We’re going up to the top. Joe is going to show us a surprise.”

The elevator doors slide open and we get on.

“What I’m going to show you is something you’d more expect in a hotel or a New York apartment building. It’s not typical of your average apartment building in San Francisco,” Joe says as he pushes the button for the eleventh floor. “but it was very typical of your great-grandfather, Bernice.”

“Eleven? I thought I counted twelve floors from outside,” I comment.

“Right you are. There is a twelfth floor, but you can’t get to it on this elevator.” He laughs at the expression on our faces. “You’ll see.”

The doors open, and we step out into a small lobby. Across from us, there are glass doors that appear to lead out to a garden. Joe hold the door open for us. “After you. Welcome to the Elysian Fields.”

We’ve stepped into another time and space. It is surreal, disorienting, and absolutely breathtaking.

Bernie gasped. “Oh, this is…” Her voice drifts to a stop.

I finish the sentence for her. “Awesome. I think ‘awesome’ is the word you’re looking for.”

The garden is magnificent. Directly in front of us, in what I take to be the center of the building, is a tall, round fountain. Its burbling completely obscures the sounds of the city below us. Unbelievably, all I can hear is birdsong. A wide brick path stretches before us to the fountain, and more fan out from the fountain into lush vegetation. Standing serenely here and there are statues of gods and goddesses. Around the perimeter, there are arched glass windows that face the hallway. Above me, I can see the sky.

“Wow. Just… wow,” I say.

Bernie is speechless. She is wandering down the path to the fountain, and she stops and sinks onto a bench set into a fragrant rose arbor as if she can’t stand another minute. Joe and walk up to join her.

“It’s really something, isn’t it? Joe asks.

“That’s the understatement of the year,” I reply. “But how? Who?”

Joe laughs. “Not me, that’s for sure. I have a black thumb. But Al – he’s the doorman; you met him downstairs – is not just a pretty face. He’s a magician when it comes to plants. He maintains the garden. We are so fortunate to have him. He's been here since before I took the job.”

“It’s wonderful,” Bernie exclaims. “Is it open to the public?”

“No, no,” Joe says. “This is solely for the use of our tenants. I must say, though, I don’t think many of them come up here very often.”

“I meant to ask,” Bernie says. “How many tenants are there? What kind of people live here?”

“There are 18 rental units in the building, two per floors two through ten, all of them rented. You can see what’s on the eleventh floor. There are no rental units on the first floor, but there are two apartments where Al and I live, in additions to the office and other spaces used for storage, equipment, and the like. And, of course, there is the owner’s apartment; we’ll see that in a moment. In the basement, there’s a laundry room, and each apartment has a storage room.

“The tenants are great. Many have been here for decades. We have a doctor, a couple of lawyers, and so forth. They range from young professionals to some retired folk. Not many children, but those who are here are well-behaved. And, oh, yes, a few dogs, cats, and other small pets.”

“That sounds perfect.” Bernie says. "Why would anyone want to leave? This is so magical."

He winks at Bernie, and says, “You bet. Now, let’s go check out your digs.”

Kimball leads us back into the hallway. Instead of calling the elevator, he turns right.

“We could have gone left just as easily,” he says. “Both directions lead to the same place.”

After a couple of turns, we come to an ornate floor-to-ceiling fence, a locked gate in its center. He pulls a key ring from his pocket and inserts one of the keys into the lock.

When the gate is open, he turns and hands the key ring to Bernie. “Welcome home, Bernice.  The apartment door is down there on the left.” He indicates a small alcove a short distance down the hall. "Beyond it, you can see another gate just like this one. The key fits both."

“Oh, thank you. This is all just so… so unexpected and overwhelming.”

She walks a short way down the hall to the apartment door.

“The key is on your key ring,” Kimball tells her.

With trembling hands, she unlocks the door and swings it open. A foyer welcomes us. At one side is a staircase.

“And that,” Joe says, “is how you get to the twelfth floor. There are two bedrooms up there, both with en-suite baths.

“You probably noticed that the garden is open to the sky. The twelfth floor is built around its periphery, and the bedrooms overlook the garden. There are city views as well though the eyebrow windows at the top of the building. Marjorie used the remaining space on the other side of the twelfth floor, which is much smaller, for storage.

"The apartment is not large. As you can tell, it's built on only one side of the building, to accommodate the garden, you know. Down here, we have a living room, dining room, and kitchen. Marjorie also had her own laundry room added off the kitchen."

He leads us into a living room. It has sweeping views of the city and the Bay Bridge beyond.

Bernie walks to the window.

“Oh, Marty, isn’t it beautiful? And look,” she says, pointing off to the left, “Alcatraz!”

She turns to us, and says, “Pinch me! I must be dreaming! This is all so surreal.”

Just then, Kimball gives a little rendition of the cell-phone dance, and pulls his buzzing phone from his pocket. “Yes?” He frowns. “Right away.”

He says to us, “Al needs me in the lobby. I’ll leave you to look around.”

As he turns to leave, I say, “I’ll go with you, if you don’t mind. Bernie, you’ll be okay?”

“Yes, of course. Go ahead. I’ll be here when you get back. I can’t wait to explore.”


I follow the building manager back out to the elevator. I want to talk to him about Mark Mitchum and the others. There was clearly something behind those strange phone calls Bernie got, and maybe he knows what it is. But as we ride down, I decide to wait until he deals with whatever has called him away. He looks very distracted.

When the doors open, I am surprised to see a very stormy looking Al standing over a man slouched in one of the chairs.

“Al, what’s the problem?” Kimball asks as he strides over to the two men.

“This moke charged in here, demanding to see Ms. McGraw. He threw a couple of punches – ha! as if! – and was on his way to the elevator when I convinced him that wasn’t such a good idea.”

As I look at Al, I can see a splotch on his left cheek purpling into a bruise as I watch. But no need to question what happened to the other guy. Mike McGraw scowls up at me from his chair, the beginnings of a magnificent shiner attesting to Al’s powers of persuasion.


 Continued in Part 7

Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge No. 5, Muse 6: "In Surreal Time"


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