With every nerve in my body tensed, I hurried down the dark streets of San Francisco’s Mission District. Frightening even in the daytime, the neighborhood took on a sinister life of its own in the early morning hours. Only an emergency would have gotten me into those filthy alleyways at 2 a.m., and that was exactly why I was there that night in 1956. Clutched in my hand was my third-grade report card. It had to be signed for school the next day; “No excuses,” my teacher had warned. So I had to find my mother.
I reached the back door of another loud, smoky bar and pushed it open. Inside I stood for a long moment, giving my eyes a chance to adjust to the dim light before I scanned the bar. Not here. I slipped out and continued down the garbage-strewn streets.
Teacher’s words ran through my head: “No tricks this time, Pamela Parton. Understand?” Every six weeks we got our report cards, and every six weeks those cards had to be signed and returned the day after. It had taken me a month to return the first one, and each day, in front of the whole class, Teacher made sure to remind me of it. The next time around, I had signed the card myself. “Did you think you would get away with this?” she had demanded, brandishing the stiff card with my mother’s name childishly printed on it. The class had snickered at my failure at this simple assignment. How hard could it be to get your mother to sign a piece of paper? None of them knew that drugs and alcohol could make it impossible.
Gripping the card in my hand, I considered my options. There was only one bar left, a biker hangout everyone called the Harley-Har-Har Bar. I peered down the alley and hesitated. The passageway was two blocks long and dark; anything could be lurking in it. But the open street would take twice as long. Better to get it over with. I took a deep breath and started down the alley.
About a third of the way through I heard heavy footfalls behind me. I looked over my shoulder. In the murky night, I could just make out the gigantic figure of a man standing in a boarded-up doorway. He was as tall as the doorframe, almost as broad and dark as night itself.
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