April, 1959, San Francisco
It was going to be a beautiful spring day in San Francisco, although it would be an hour or so before the sun burned off the chill and the thin morning fog. Alexandra Silverstone, who preferred the name Alex, had arisen
hours earlier than normal in order to finish the mural she was painting on the outside of the Far Eastern Treasures curio shop in Chinatown. This early in the morning there was no traffic as she sped silently through the streets on her World War II-era electric
The mural had been commissioned by Liling Kam, the proprietor of Far Eastern Treasures, who was quickly becoming a good friend, although Alex was still confused by the parable her friend had selected as the basis for the mural. I’ve
heard that silly story a half-dozen times, and I still haven’t figured out the moral! she thought, laughing to herself. Still, several images from the parable make striking visuals — the Jade Emperor in his disguise as an ancient
wise man, freeing the trapped Chinese Desert Cat kitten from a tangle of thorns in the desert, Monkey confronting the majestic Dragon Kings assembled outside their cavern stronghold, the mortal lovers hard at work on the ransom gift, and the Jade Emperor in
his glorious palace being reunited with his favorite pet. Moral be darned, I am very proud of this work.
As she parked her bike in front of Far Eastern Treasures, a big man wearing a brown trench coat and flat cap came out of the Herbal Garden
Shop three doors down, glanced quickly at Alex, then hurried off down the street in the other direction, vanishing into the fog less than two blocks away. Alex found this to be alarming and felt compelled to investigate. In the week she had been working here,
she had never seen anyone enter or leave the Herbal Garden before noon. Only a few minutes later, she was telling her story to the police.
“I checked the front door, and it was unlocked, so I opened it and looked inside,” Alex said, repeating
her story for at least the third time to San Francisco Homicide Squad Detective Graham Hunter, a tall, heavyset man with thick dark hair, bushy eyebrows, and an intense look on his face. “The place was a shambles, as you can see.”
of the front room of the Herbal Garden were lined with shelves that were normally filled with bottles, jars, tins, small cloth bags tied shut with colorful threads, flasks, beakers, and whatever other kinds of small containers you could think of. Now these
shelves were virtually empty, and the containers were dashed to the floor, where they had been shattered, crushed, torn, smashed, or otherwise destroyed. The mingled herbs, spices, potions, liquors, powders, dried leaves, and whatever else gave the room a
pungent, indescribably awful odor. It had irritated Alex’s eyes and almost made her sick when she had first entered, though it had thinned considerably as soon as the door was opened.
“And then,” She faltered, her voice catching at
the memory of what she’d discovered. “then I looked behind the counter and saw Mr. Zheng just lying there with his face all purple and that terrible wire wrapped around his neck.” No longer able to speak, she buried her head in her hands
“Thank you, Miss Silverstone. I’m truly sorry you had such an awful experience,” said Hunter, trying to comfort her. “Do you remember anything else about the man you saw that might help us identify him?”
Alex shook her head. She really didn’t remember anything more, as she hadn’t been paying attention, and the man had only glanced her way for an instant.
“Whoever trashed this place must have made plenty of noise,” the detective
continued after a pause. “Did you hear anything?”
“No, sir. I was just getting off my bike when that man came out the door,” she replied around her sobs.
“Well, thanks for the information,” Detective Hunter
said. “Why don’t you go home and try to rest and calm down — and if you think of anything else you can tell us, come on down to the station later and ask for me. Are you sure you don’t want a ride home?” When she shook her head
emphatically, he gave her his card. “Don’t worry, we’ll get whoever did this!”
Liling Kam, the curio shop proprietor, assured Alex she could finish the mural when she felt better. Putting on her helmet and a heavy leather riding
jacket, she hopped on her bike and considered where to go. Her apartment was in the Bayview area not too far from the newly named Candlestick Park, but she decided not to head back there. She wanted to hang out and enjoy the sun, and that neighborhood wasn’t
really a good place to just hang out. She thought instead she’d cruise the Golden Gate area and see if there were any new For Sale signs. Her folks had left her a nice inheritance, and she wanted to buy a house in that area.
Alex was cruising
slowly westward on Geary Boulevard when she heard the roar of an engine and the squealing of tires to her right — and a car came shooting out of a cross street directly at her. She twisted the throttle hard, and the bike almost leaped ahead with incredible
acceleration, tearing her out of the path of the out-of-control car. The instant acceleration of her electric bike had saved the day.
Or was the car really out of control? The tires screamed again as the speeding vehicle swerved slightly to the right,
barely clipped the last inch of Alex’s rear tire, and fishtailed into a rubber-burning left turn before roaring off eastward down Geary Boulevard. The rear of the bike wrenched up and around, and Alex was thrown off violently. She tumbled helplessly
through the air and smashed lengthwise into and halfway through the tall hedge on the center median strip.
A few minutes later she was speaking with Detective Hunter again while sitting on the back bumper of an ambulance. Although she’d been protected
from major injuries by the hedge and her jacket and helmet, she had numerous abrasions and puncture wounds that an emergency medical technician was still patching up.
“You’re the only witness to the murder of Yi Zheng, and whoever did it
is out to get you,” Hunter insisted. “Are you sure you didn’t see who was driving? Or can you tell me anything about the car?”
“I’m pretty sure it was a late model Ford Falcon, robin’s egg blue, but that’s
all I had time to see,” she replied thoughtfully.
“Stolen,” the detective said. “We just got a radio report. Somebody stole that car not twenty minutes ago and abandoned it a few blocks down Geary.” Looking at her sharply,
he added, “You need police protection until we catch the murderer.” He was a little frustrated, as she’d declined the offer twice before. And she did it once again.
“I’ll take your offer of a ride home, especially if you
bring my bike,” she said, “but I’ll be OK on my own when I get there.”
He’d already pointed out that her current condition and that of her bike argued that she wouldn’t continue to be OK on her own, but she’d
insisted that now that she knew she was in danger, it would be different. He couldn’t force her to accept police protection, so he changed the subject. “The bike doesn’t look too bad, considering,” he said, commiserating with her.
“Needs a new tire and tube on the rear wheel,” Alex said. “Handlebars are going to have to be replaced. The seat was ripped right off. Started right up, though. No gas to spill, no transmission to wreck.” She agreed with his sentiment
with a wan smile. “I can get parts at Cully’s and have the worst of it fixed before dinner, long as there’s nothing wrong that we can’t see. At least it’ll keep me in the garage most of the day, which ought to make you happy.”
A small panel van with San Francisco Police Department markings showed up. The driver, Officer Donna Sparks, and Detective Hunter helped Alex load her bike in the back. Officer Sparks was pleasant and helpful, even stopping at Cully’s while Alex bought
the parts she was going to need.
After a couple of hours of work, Alex Silverstone took the bike around the block. It wasn’t smooth — the wheels needed to be rebalanced — but she could ride it. She plugged in the charger
and retired to the living room of her apartment, where she sat on her sofa and simply stared at the wall for an hour, totally exhausted. Finally, she recovered enough to begin replaying in her mind the scene this morning when the murderer hurried from the
Closing her eyes, she mentally relived the morning from the time she had awakened. She was astounded at the clarity of the image that was forming on the back of her eyelids. It was almost like watching a Technicolor movie, only more real.
Once again, she watched the brown-dressed man step out onto the street. She concentrated on him intently as he began turning toward her.
A clattering sound in the kitchen startled her, causing her eyes to snap open, and she was astounded to see the
same scene much larger on the wall in front of her, as clear as if she were looking through a wall of glass. She could hardly believe her eyes — and in that instant of disbelief, the illusion on the wall vanished.
The noise in the kitchen was
temporarily more important. It could be that guy coming after me again, she thought with worry. Carefully opening a drawer in the end table, she pulled out a small pistol and crept into the kitchen, only to discover that her cat Bandit had caused
the clatter by knocking a spoon off the counter.
Damn, I’m jumpy! she thought emphatically. Maybe I should’a listened when Hunter said I needed protection. I wonder if I could ask for Officer Sparks — that wouldn’t
be so bad. Leaving the pistol out on the end table, she sat back down to ponder the mystery of the vision on the wall.
Maybe it was a hallucination caused by that awful vapor this morning, Alex wondered to herself. Can I do it again? Taking
several long, slow breaths to calm herself, she closed her eyes and once again mentally relived her morning. And once again, the scene grew clear in her mind, more quickly this time. Cautiously, she opened her eyes, and there it was — the vision in her
mind somehow projected on the wall, a “movie” of everything she’d seen this morning. Once again, Alex concentrated intensely as the suspected murderer turned toward her, wishing she could stop the action at the critical instant so she could
study the man’s face — and indeed, at the critical instant, the vision stopped changing.
Alex peered intently at the face of the man who might have tried to kill her, wishing she could get a close-up of his face, and was stunned when his
face expanded, as if her mental camera were zooming in. The face became larger than life, perfect in every detail, and she studied it until she was sure she could draw it from memory. Then she wished it away. Whew! I’m glad I can turn this thing
off, whatever it is, she thought with relief.
Then she went to her desk and got out her drawing materials. As she started concentrating on remembering that face, the illusion appeared again, this time on the page of her sketch pad. This certainly
made it easy to draw a realistic sketch, and she’d learned more about her newly discovered power.
How come I’m not blowing a gasket? This is really weird stuff! Her thoughts raced. It’s like I’ve somehow always known
about this, like it’s been hiding inside me all my life. Just an extension of what I’ve always been able to do.
Continuing to experiment with this new ability, she discovered that what she could do was project illusions on surfaces
— illusions of anything she’d ever seen in the past, as well as illusions of things she could imagine. It didn’t have to be a flat surface, and the illusions didn’t have to be pictures — she found she could project the illusion
of a different color on her hands and arms. The illusions also lasted as long as she wanted them to. At first she had to concentrate intently, but with practice she found that she could maintain an image with only part of her mind. And she thought her illusions
must be real, not just in her mind, because she could also see their reflections in a mirror. So other people should be able to see them, too.
Finally, she decided to take a break. She had a lot to think about, and besides, she needed to take her sketch
to the police.
At the police station, Alex Silverstone was quickly shown to Detective Graham Hunter’s office. His desk was piled high with folders. She traced the delicious scent of hot pizza to a large flat box sitting on one of the chairs.
“I’m surprised to see you here, Detective — isn’t your shift over?” she wanted to know.
“Homicide doesn’t work in shifts, Miss Silverstone,” he replied. She could hear exhaustion in his voice. It must
have been a long day for him too. “What can I do for you?”
“This is the guy who came out of the Herbal Garden this morning,” she said, passing him the sketch.
“Woof!” he exclaimed. “I talked to this guy
today. Hold on, I’ll show you.” He started pawing through folders. “Say, did you do that yourself?” he said, gesturing at the sketch as he continued digging, and she nodded her head. “If you’re looking for work, the Department
can always use a good sketch artist.” Finding the folder he was looking for, he pulled it out and motioned her over to look at the photo in the folder. “Here it is: Mickey ‘the Muscle’ Blake. What do you think?”
him, all right. Why’d you talk to him? What did he say?” she wanted to know.
“We think Mickey’s part of a protection racket in Chinatown,” he replied. “He loves his flat caps — got a million of ’em and
wouldn’t be seen without them — so that’s why your description sent me to him. But he’s got an alibi. Shacked up with his girlfriend, he says, and she backs him up.” He looked puzzled. “So how’d you make this drawing
of somebody whose face you said you hadn’t seen that well before?”
This question made Alex uneasy. She didn’t want to reveal her newfound power, so she changed the subject. “What kind of floozy would spend the night with this
kind of bum?”
“The kind he paid for,” Hunter sighed. “So we don’t put a lot of weight on her statement; he could’a bought that as well. Right now, though, it’s your word against the two of them. But you can’t
dodge my question like that. How’d you come up with that sketch?”
“I went home and concentrated on remembering him, and realized I’d seen him more clearly than I first thought,” she said in earnest. “This really is
the man I saw.”
“Likely it is,” he agreed. “But coming in with a sketch hours later, after you already said you couldn’t I.D. the guy — you might’ve made it of the first guy you saw on the street, or somebody
you don’t like.” Seeing a growing anger in her eyes, he changed tracks and said, “That’s not what I think, but it’s what his slick lawyer will say. It’s just not enough to bring him in. We’ll keep a closer eye on him,
but that’s all I can do right now.”
At that instant, someone knocked on the office door and asked Hunter for a word. As the detective stepped out into the hall for a private chat with his colleague, Alex picked up Blake’s dossier and
paged through it. The police knew a lot about him — where he lived, where he hung out, the people he associated with, how he usually dressed, and even his favorite drink. But they didn’t have enough evidence to convict him of anything; until they
did, he was just one of the usual suspects. Since the police couldn’t really do anything about him right now, she decided that for her own safety she was going to have to take matters into her own hands.
“Have you changed your mind about
police protection?” Detective Hunter asked when he came back into his office. She shook her head, no. It might be fun palling around with Officer Sparks for a while, but a cop following me around right now would only get in my way. A nasty
smile ghosted across her face as a plan formed in her mind. That smile must have alarmed Hunter, for as he shook her hand, he emphasized, “You should try to stay inside until we crack this case. Don’t do anything stupid.” She nodded, acknowledging
his words without agreeing to them, and took her leave.
When she got home, Alex Silverstone raided her closet and found an old wig and a costume she’d worn for Halloween last year when she’d dressed as a construction worker. Fashioning a
false beard and mustache from the wig, she donned her disguise and sat down in front of a mirror.
“OK, Yi Zheng, it’s time for a comeback,” she thought and projected an illusion of his face superimposed over her face and studied it
in the mirror. The hardest part was the bald head; she thought she might have to shave her head to help the illusion. But the immediate visual feedback helped. “OK, got it,” she finally said to herself with smug satisfaction. “Now for the
She altered the illusion of Yi Zheng’s face into another that was similar but not Asian and clearly not the same person as the murdered shopkeeper. “I think I’ll call you Ray,” she spoke to the new image, as
Ray smiled in return. “Nice to meet you!”
Alex practiced until she could switch faces from Yi Zheng to Ray instantly and maintain either face without concentration. Then she practiced projecting Yi Zheng onto her wall as she had seen him
this morning, and she mixed in some special effects she’d seen in a recent teleplay called Ghostbusters, starring Fred McMurray. “Funny how much Fred looks like that Sturdiman guy from the comic books,” she noted to herself, smugly satisfied
that her new powers were easily up to the demands of her scheme.
Then she dressed in her blue-collar working man’s outfit, appropriately padded to disguise her female figure, and went back to the streets. It was almost midnight by now. The police
dossier had disclosed that Mickey “the Muscle” Blake usually closed down a sleazy North Waterfront bar with several of his friends.
Only fifteen minutes at this time of night, she thought. If he follows his regular routine, I’ve
got plenty of time. Starting the bike, she instantly swore out loud. “Damn! The headlight isn’t working! No time to fix it — no other way to get there in time. I’ll have to hope the streetlights give enough light.”
This proved much easier than she’d thought, and she gradually realized that she was using another aspect of her new powers — she could see very well in much lower levels of light than she had been able to before. This discovery excited her,
and before she reached the North Waterfront, she discovered even more.
When she concentrated on something, just as her memory could zoom in on illusions, her eyes could zoom in like a telephoto zoom lens on a camera. She barely retained control of her
bike when she was trying to zoom in on a street sign a couple of blocks away and failed to notice a pothole. After that, she turned her full attention back to riding and soon pulled up to Blake’s favorite watering hole.
Wearing the face of her
creation, Ray, she entered the bar. It was a dingy place, poorly lit, which stank of spilled beer and stale smoke. A tired-looking woman wearing too much makeup sat at the bar. Half a dozen men stood around the pool table, and about the same number were playing
darts. Two of the larger tables were crowded, and there were ten or so more patrons sprinkled throughout the rest if the room. Somehow the whole atmosphere screamed dejection; even Elvis playing on the jukebox seemed subdued.
Sure enough, Blake was
seated at one of the crowded tables. Judging from the number of empty glasses on the table in front of him, he was drinking heavily tonight, much more so than his friends. The police dossier hadn’t mentioned drinking to such an excess.
Blake drinking heavily tonight to celebrate or to forget this morning’s murder? She wondered. Then, Doesn’t really matter why, she concluded in relief. Now, at least, I won’t have to buy him a drink. Her plan
would work best if Blake was drunk, but she hadn’t been sure how to guarantee that.
Alex turned Ray’s face to the bartender. “Boilermaker,” she ordered in the deepest, gruffest voice she had, and managed not to wince at the slightly
grimy shot glass and beer mug. She wasn’t planning to drink the beer, and the rotgut whiskey would surely kill anything lurking in the shot glass that might be dangerous. Ray selected a table in Blake’s direct line of sight, but it was Yi Zheng
who pulled out the chair and sat down.
With her zoom-in vision, it was fairly easy for Alex to keep a discreet eye on the thug and gauge where he was looking. When she saw him stiffen in shock at the sight of the man he had just killed, calmly drinking
in his own favorite bar, Yi Zhing looked directly at Baker, raised the whiskey in a salute, and threw down the shot. Alex did this partly for theatrical effect and partly for courage — she was just starting to realize she was bearding a drunken killer
in his den. The whiskey shot hit her stomach like a firebomb and exploded outward; she could feel the heat spreading through her body.
The theatrical effect was all she could have hoped for. Mickey “the Muscle” Blake started in astonishment,
his chair falling over backward when he leaped to his feet, then shoved away from the table, spilling the drinks of several of his drinking companions. By the time he got to his feet, Ray had again replaced Yi Zheng.
“You can’t be here!
You’re dead!” Blake yelled. Some of his friends stood there in anger, and a man at the table behind him was climbing to his feet as well, upset about Blake’s chair smashing into his back. Alex sat back to enjoy the fun.
Blake was flabbergasted
when he saw Ray sitting where he’d just seen Yi Zheng a moment before. “You’re not–” he stopped himself. The man next to him was trying to force Blake back into his chair, while several of his other friends were trying to calm
the patron from the other table. The air in the bar was filling with loud laughter and louder voices as patrons anticipated a fight breaking out, and the bartender was picking up the phone with one hand and reaching for a hidden drawer beneath the bar with
“But I just saw Zheng — right there!” Blake was still blustering loudly.
“Dat ain’t him!” the man restraining him shouted in his ear. “Zheng’s dead, you maroon. Ya said so yerself! Siddown
and shut up ‘fore Willie calls the coppers.” Another man hurriedly restored Blake’s chair, then helped the shouting man roughly force Blake to sit down.
“Willie! Next round’s on Musclehead Blake!” shouted the friend
restraining the patron whom Blake had angered. “Less youse don’ siddown, and den you’ll be mighty sorry,” he muttered in the other man’s ear as he flashed a gun. “Yer choice, bud.” The other man silently sat down.
“&@^% it! I ain’t buying no drinks for no #@&6ing buddy!” Blake complained.
“Shut the @#&^ up, you @#&^ing jackass!” the standing man snarled. The rest of the table muttered agreement. Blake sullenly
shut up, and everyone else cautiously sat down. The bar’s other patrons quieted, disappointed that they had been cheated out of that night’s free entertainment.
Ray slapped a half dollar on the table and stood up. “This place ain’t
fer me,” he muttered audibly and walked toward the exit. After Ray opened the door, Yi Zheng turned back to sneer at Blake, then disappeared into the night.
Alex was glad she’d had that shot; she’d never done anything that scary before.
Hopping on her bike, she watched the door closely. She didn’t have to wait very long. In only a couple of minutes, Blake came storming out of the bar, swearing at the top of his lungs.
“Who da @%&^ does dat $*&&^%ed Willie tink
he @%&^ ing is, cuttin’ me off?” the murderer cursed. “$*&@^%ed mother@%&^ er! He’ll @%&6 ing pay!”
Alex wasn’t impressed with his swearing; it showed no imagination. She didn’t use profanity
herself, but she could appreciate art in any form, and the repeated use of the same two curse words over and over again wasn’t art — it was boring drivel.
Blake stumbled to a car, swearing and muttering threats under his breath. He saw something
white and glowing reflected in the outside mirror and spun around, screamed in terror, then fell to the ground blubbering when there was nothing there.
The bar’s bouncer stuck his head out and screamed, “Damn it, Blake! Go home and sleep
The drive home wasn’t easy or pleasant for Mickey “the Muscle” Blake. Something white and glowing was following him, but he could only catch glances of it in his outside mirror. Whenever he craned his head around to
look for it or slammed on the brakes and leaped out of the car, it was gone. Other times he would see it on a side street somewhere in front of him, and the image was clearer — a floating human figure, glowing a pale white. He couldn’t make out
the face, but he didn’t need to.
“$*&@^%@%&^ing ghost. I know yer dead, I killed ya myself. Never gonna drink $*&@%&^ing&^% tequila agin. Gotta be seein’ tings,” he ranted as he drove. Finally reaching his
destination, he banged into another car as he parked, then stumbled into an apartment building, apparently ignoring the glowing apparition that appeared on the wall of his building.
Alex drove around the building until she saw a light come on in one
of the windows. She climbed up the fire escape and peeked through the window to that apartment. It seemed to be a two-room efficiency apartment.
Suddenly, the tiny round screen of the TV was glowing, showing the tortured purple face of Yi Zheng. Blake
screamed and viciously kicked the screen, which imploded loudly, spraying the room with shards of glass. The ghostly image floated up the wall, and the now-bleeding Blake pulled out a pistol and fired twice into the wall. This was more than Alex had expected,
and the apparition vanished. Blake sank to the floor, sobbing. Alex could hear police sirens wailing, and the lights in the nearby rooms were going on. She hastily climbed down the ladder, and silently vanished into the night.
The next day,
Alex Silverstone went back to the police station. She was quickly shown to Detective Hunter’s office, and he was all smiles as he shook her hand.
“We picked up Mickey Blake last night after he caused a disturbance in his apartment building,”
the detective said. “He actually surrendered to the police and claimed he was being haunted by the ghost of Li Zheng. Couldn’t wait to confess to the murder — and your accident, too, by the way. He’s going to go away for a long time.”
“That’s great news,” Alex cheered.
“Still more to come, too. Now that news of his death has spread through Chinatown, the store owners there are going to the police with stories about the protection ring. With their information
and the information Blake gave us last night, we’re gonna bust everyone in that racket.” He grinned at her. “We could still use another artist on staff…”
She grinned back. “I have some talented friends – I’ll
let them know the SFPD is looking. Thanks for the job offer and the good news – have a fantastic day!”
Alex left the station with a big smile on her face. The sun was shining brightly in a cloudless sky, there was a gentle breeze, and the
temperature was perfect. She thought she’d head over to the Golden Gate area. It looked like a great day to buy a house.