SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA | 1969
The black ’65 Lincoln Continental idled at the curb of the decrepit Victorian on Webster St. in the Lower Haight. Dry weeds reached out from a parched patch of dirt as if straining to see their sorry reflection in the perfectly polished chrome hubcaps. The driver, a stocky Irishman named Bearach Shane—just Bear to friends and enemies alike—had been in this position many times driving for Zev Avidan’s record company. Bear was a man who knew where in the City to get just about anything one could want, and what Devon Bentley wanted was trouble.
The house was a well-established stop on the downhill slide, and many customers who Bear escorted there over the years soon dropped clear out of sight. Once in a while he would see some former young and hungry musician down in the Tenderloin walking the streets in the zombie shuffle that all junkies eventually seemed to affect; the ones that didn’t just flat out drop dead, that is.
Still, Bear understood the drive to match their everyday lives with the thrill and adrenaline rush of the stage. Most professional musicians lived for that hour or two or three of total connection both with their art and their admirers. Everything else, whether it was sitting on a bus, sitting on a plane, or sitting backstage, was unbearable drudgery. And once they were pulled into that higher state, well, you just couldn’t yank the plug out in the same way that the roadies disassembled the back line.
Bear also understood addiction; he came from a long line of alcohol enthusiasts. That wasn’t to say that he had some horrible back story—no worse than anyone else’s back in the day—no priest or drunk uncle ever laid a hand on him. Regardless, it fell to the old neighborhood palookas to raise him up as much as anybody could, or would, take credit for.
Bear had grown up in the fog-shrouded streets of the Sunset District, just down the street from Celestial Records, although the building wasn’t a record company back in his youth. The square, two-story cinderblock office had once been a neighborhood gym, and he had spent a lot of time back in the day, working the heavy bag and sparring in the regulation-sized ring.
A lot of people in the neighborhood said that he could have been a Golden Gloves champion if he had stuck with it, but Bear had other, less lofty, aspirations. By the time he was in his twenties, Bear knew the intricacies of navigating the City’s streets and alleyways as well as its myriad political and racial factions. He probably could have run for a seat as a City Supervisor, but as he liked to tell people who asked, he wasn’t that corrupt.
Bear rolled down the driver side window, lit a Camel unfiltered, and checked his thinning red hair in the rear view. The one conceit he was unwilling to make to Father Time was losing the fiery tint that marked him as a mac na hÉireann, or son of Ireland. Every six weeks Bear snuck into a beauty salon run by a Vietnamese woman named Rosy and chased the gray away for another month and a half.
His one vulnerability surveyed and assuaged, Bear clicked the radio on low so he could still hear if there was trouble afoot. The late night DJ was talking up Bentley’s upcoming run of shows and Bear’s eyes automatically shifted to the house. Anybody’s money whether tha’ English fuck was going to make the gig, he mused, at the same time wondering about the feasibility of getting some action going regarding that bet.
He knew some old school hard-asses from back home that would love to see Bentley go down if only because he was the Queen’s subject. Bear was more pragmatic than that—coupled with the fact that “back home” for him was about three miles away from where he was parked—he couldn’t fault the man for where he was born.
Plus, he was under the ol’ broad’s thumb as much as anyone, maybe more. Bear knew enough professionals to understand that once a Brit started making a decent piece of change, her taxmen sniffed it out like the rotten bulldogs they were, and they’d be lucky to have a pot left to piss in.