The Return to Alcatraz
By: Steve Carr

Fulton Street in San Francisco intersects with dozens of numbered streets that are referred to as The Avenues. Fulton Street borders Golden Gate Park all the way from the Haight-Ashbury District to the Pacific Ocean with several entrances into the park along the way. It was in the bushes at the entrance to the park at 36th Avenue where Joey DiGiorgio's bullet-riddled body was found three weeks after he had returned to San Francisco after serving a five-year prison sentence in Lompoc Penitentiary.

# # #

Joey stepped off of the bus and was greeted by a blast of cool, damp air that made the hairs on his bare arms stand up. He had forgotten just how chilly it could be early in the morning in San Francisco during August. He placed his small suitcase on the ground and rolled his short sleeves down over his bulging biceps, thinking it would stave off a bit of the chill. It didn't. He took the pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket and was about to take a cigarette out and then remembered he had decided he would quit smoking as soon as he got out of the joint. He wadded up the package and tossed it into a trash can, spilling tobacco on his new shoes in the process. He raised each foot, one at a time, and wiped his shoes on the back of his pants; a trick he had seen his old man do a million times while growing up. He picked up his suitcase and leaving the noise and smell of diesel exhaust in the bus station unloading area behind, he walked out to Mission Street and hailed a cab. The ride through the city to The Avenues was quick, with Joey paying little attention to the route taken or the landmarks passed that he hadn't seen since being arrested for grand theft nearly six years before.

In front of a two-story yellow brick apartment building on 39th Avenue, Joey paid the driver, got out of the cab, and stared up at the building for several moments as the taxi sped off. Carrying his suitcase gripped tightly in his left hand he walked up the flight of concrete stairs to the two doors and pressed the doorbell to the second floor. While he waited, he glanced up and down the street, noting how little had changed since the last time he had seen it. Both sides of the street were lined with buildings similar to the one where he stood. There were few cars parked along the curbs. Most of them had already been driven away by their owners to work, or were safely tucked away inside garages build between the buildings. Only a few trees stood planted in small squares of dirt along the curbs of the sidewalks. When the door opened, a young woman with unruly curly brown hair, and no taller than five feet in her fluffy blue slippers, and wearing a bright red silk kimono, eyed him from head to toe before saying anything.

"You've been working out," she said.

"Not much else to do in prison," he replied. "You look the same, babe." He leaned in to kiss her.

She pulled back. "Don't call me babe and no kissing. That ended when you got sent up. You shoulda known that from all the letters you never got from me."

He shrugged. "Fine by me, Steph," he said. "I see you ain't changed much, still a bitch. You going to invite me in or are we going to stand here all day?"

"Ain't that the same suitcase you had when you went to prison?" she said pointing at it.

"I carried it in and carried it out. During the rest of the time they had it in storage. It's the only thing that waited on me, apparently."

"Don't be so sure of that," she replied. "Chan Luc has been waiting on you too." She stepped aside and waved him in. She wrinkled her nose as he passed by her and started up the stairs. "You smell like prison." She closed the door and followed behind him.

At the top of the stairs, Joey inhaled the scent of cigar smoke and turned to the living room to see Eric Mazro sitting on the sofa, one leg crossed over the other, his arms stretched out along the back, a large cigar dangling from his mouth. Curled wisps of smoke rose up from the tip of the cigar.

"What are you doing here?" Joey asked with a sneer.

"I'm the official welcoming party," Eric replied, drawing out his words in a sing-song manner.

Joey walked into the living room and tossed his suitcase in an armchair. "Okay, consider me welcomed. Now get out."

Eric took a long drag on the cigar and then slowly expelled the smoke. "Prison life has made you grouchy, my friend. How was life behind bars?"

"The first day went by fast, but the other 1824 days were kinda slow." He walked to the sofa and stood in front of Eric. "Am I going to have to throw you outta here or are you going to leave on your own?"

Eric slowly uncrossed his legs, took the cigar from his mouth, and stood up. Staring menacingly into Joey's eyes he puffed out his bulky chest. "Getting caught with those jewels in your possession was your first big mistake. Talking too much about Mr. Luc's enterprises while in stir was your second mistake. Putting your hands on me will be your third mistake."

Joey hesitated for just a moment before he grabbed Eric by the shirt collar and dragged him across the room and tossed him down the stairs.

Eric lay there for a few moments and then slowly got up and opened the door. "You better change your shirt. The one you're wearing has a target painted on the back." He picked his cigar up from the floor, put it in his mouth, and went out the door, slamming it behind him.

Joey turned to Steph who had been standing out of the way.

"You forgettin' you're just a guest here that I've taken in only because your parole officer asked me to?" she asked, snidely.

He walked over and punched her in the jaw, knocking her to the floor. "The next time you throw a party for me, I choose who gets invited." He grabbed his suitcase and headed down the hallway. "I assume I'm sleeping in the spare bedroom," he said over his shoulder.

"No man hits me and lives to talk about," she screamed at the top of her voice.

He went into the bedroom at the end of the hallway, closed the door, dropped the suitcase on the floor and flopped down on the bed.

#

Joey walked the six long blocks across 39th Avenue to Clement Street and turned right. Two blocks later he stopped at a large white and jade greenhouse wedged in between a dim sum carry out restaurant and a small decorative candle and dried flowers shop. The tiered roof of the house resembled that of a pagoda with a tall pointed steeple sticking up from the middle. There was an ornately designed black iron fence in front of the house that stretched from the wall of the restaurant to the wall of the candle shop. The three combined structures had the look of something found in an amusement park; suggestive of a Chinese exhibit. He opened the gate and walked up a short walkway to the front door and tapped on the door using a brass knocker in the shape of a dragon.

Jane Luc opened the door, looking as if she had just stepped out of a 1960s fashion magazine. Her blonde hair was piled high on her head and lacquered with hairspray, which the scent of wafted from her. She held a long black cigarette holder that had no cigarette and peered at Joey through rhinestone encrusted cat-like eyeglasses. Large shiny silvery orbs the size of ping pong balls dangled from her ear lobes. Her shapely body was clothed in a skin-tight leopard print jumpsuit. There was a fresh bruise on her right cheek. She leaned against the door frame. "We heard you got back last week," she said. "Where you been keeping yourself?"

"Getting used to being free," he replied. "It's as hard as getting used to being locked up."

She tapped his chest with the cigarette holder. "Muscles look good on you. Maybe I should get Chan sent to prison for a while."

"He should have gone instead of me," he said.

She chuckled. "Maybe so. Still, it would be good to get him out of the house for a while. I don't get a moment's peace, if you catch my drift."

"Got it," he replied. Chan Luc was rumored to have a habit of knocking Jane around.

Using the blood-red sharply pointed fingernail of her middle finger she pushed her glasses to the bridge of her nose. "He keeps a swtichblade in his pants pocket all the time in anticipation of you showing up, so be careful."

"Thanks for the tip."

She stepped back. "Come in. He's in his study."

The way she had been waving the cigarette holder about made him want a smoke. He took a piece of gum from his shirt pocket and stuck it in his mouth and walked past her. The walls of the hall leading to Chan's den was covered in burgundy colored felt-like wallpaper on which hung pictures of Buddha in gold frames. Blue and white Chinese vases on black lacquered teak tables lined the hall. Joey knew the door leading to Chan's den and he pushed it open without knocking.

Sitting at a large mahogany table with a tray of baked pork buns in front of him, Chan looked up, saw Joey, and jumped up. His mouth was stuffed with a pork bun. "Who let you in here?" he barked, spitting out bits of the bun.

"Jane tried to stop me," Joey replied, "but I convinced her that standing in my way wasn't good for her health."

Chan knocked the tray of buns from his desk, sending the buns flying across the room. "Get the hell out of here before I…"

"Before you what?" Joey interrupted. "Have your goon Eric pay me another visit so I can toss him down the stairs again?"

Chan's face turned beet red. He came around the desk and pulled the switchblade from his pocket. "Word got back to me from Lompoc that you said I set you up, that I'm in cahoots with the cops."

"Funny that they knew to come to my place to find the jewels that only you and I knew I had taken since you were in on the robbery. You squealed on me and now everybody knows it."

Chan flipped open the blade and rushed at Joey.

In two swift moves, Joey knocked the knife from Chan's hand and then punched him in the face.

Chan fell back against the desk.

"Be glad I didn't just dislocate your fat head from your neck," Joey said. "I'm warning you, Chan. Keep Eric away from me and if I hear that you've ever laid a hand on Jane again, I'm coming back and I'll be bringing you some of your own flowers to put on your grave."

"You're a dead man walking," Chan hissed.

Joey spat the gum from his mouth, turned and left the room, marched down the hallway knocking vases from the tables sending them crashing into bits on the floor, and then walked out of the house.

#

On the ferry crossing to Alcatraz Island, Joey stood at the railing watching as the prison loomed large in his sight. He hadn't visited it since he was a young boy, taken there by his old man who had done a stint in Alcatraz when he was a young man. He took a piece of gum from his shirt pocket, unwrapped the tinfoil around it and stuffed it in his mouth. He spotted Skinny McGrath from the description of him he had been given standing on the pier when the ferry pulled up to it. Nearing eighty, Skinny was a volunteer Alcatraz tourist guide and one of the last prisoners released from the prison when it was shut down in 1963. Joey was the last one among the small group of tourists to step off of the ferry. He walked up to Skinny and reached out his hand.

"Hey, old timer, I'm Joey DiGiorgio. I heard you know a few things," he said.

"A few," Skinny answered. He shook Joey's hand. "I got the call from Jane Luc you'd be coming to see me. You shacking up with Chan's wife?"

"Nah, we're just friends. She's been helping me get settled in since I got out of Lompoc three weeks ago. Chan would kill her if he knew about it."

"That would be the least of the awful things he'd do to her," Skinny replied with a chuckle.

"Can I trust you?" Joey asked.

"As you said, I'm an old timer. If you can't trust me who can you trust?"

"No one."

Walking a few yards behind the group led by another tour guide, the two men were silent for a few moments before Joey said in a hushed voice, "How do I unload some very expensive hot rocks that's been laying around for the past five years?"

"You had them hidden while you were doing time?" Skinny replied in a whisper.

"The rocks went to prison with me," Joey replied.

Skinny glanced at him appraisingly and grinned. "I won't ask how you managed that but I'm impressed. I did some checking up on you after I got Jane's call. I thought all of the jewels had been recovered when you were first nabbed."

"Not all of them," Joey answered.

As they started up the stairs leading to the prison entrance, Skinny put his hand on Joey's shoulder. "I know a guy but he's very secretive. He has a thing for doing business at night in Golden Gate Park."

"Perfect," Joey replied. "See if he can meet me tonight. I wanna get out of San Francisco as soon as possible."

"I'll contact him and then call you," Skinny said just as they stepped up to the doors of the prison. He waved his hand and in a very loud voice, said, "Known as The Rock since it was rebuilt into the prison you will tour today. Alcatraz has been the home to some of the most infamous prisoners in American history, including Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, and…."

#

Joey put the panel under the lid of the suitcase back into place and resealed the silk lining over it. He snapped the suitcase closed, picked it up and carried it dangling from his left hand as he walked out his room. When he walked past the living room doorway, Steph jumped up from the sofa and rushed out to meet him, blocking his way to the stairs. She looked at the suitcase, crossed her arms and glared at him.

"You owe me three weeks rent before you leave to begin playing house with that slut, Jane Luc," she stated.

"You been talking to that walking Hallmark greeting card, Eric, haven't you?" he replied. "There's nothing going on between Jane Luc and I."

"Isn't there?" she replied. "Then where are you going in the middle of the night with your suitcase?"

"It's none of your business," he answered. "I'll be back in a couple of hours, hopefully with your rent." He pushed her aside and started down the stairs.

"Whatever you're up to you won't get away with it," she screeched.

"Who's going to stop me?" he replied as he opened the door and went out. He stopped in front of the building and inhaled the fragrance of eucalyptus carried from the park and across the avenues by the late-night balmy ocean breeze. He put a stick of gum in his mouth and swinging the suitcase from his left hand he turned on Fulton Street and walked to the park entrance at 36th Avenue. He had gone only a few yards in when there was a rustling in the bushes where he had just walked past. He turned. "You? What are you doing…?"

# # #

Clarence Buck, the detective, stood at the edge of the bushes and watched as police photographers took pictures of Joey's body and the crime scene. Police and newspaper reporters swarmed the street and sidewalk leading into and out of the park.

Talking to the detective, Harold Pinerest, Clarence said, "This reminds me of one of those party crime mystery games where the guests are given the personalities possibly involved a person's murder and they discuss who they think did it."

"Yes, it's exactly like that," Harold replied as the he pensively rubbed his chin.

The End

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