When I first got to San Francisco, Flaherty was goin' around with a twit name of Cynthia. And everywhere Flaherty and Cynthia went, there was sure to be tailin' along Cynthia's twin brother Jerome, as much of a twit from the same egg as Cynthia herself. Gettin' hello from either of them was what you'd call a social breakthrough. To this day I'm not sure what Flaherty was thinkin' when he always went around with the pair of them. Not that there wasn't speculation from our crowd about who did what with who camped down in the same bed. Good for makin' cracks is what I mean, and there was plenty of opportunity for your wink-wink drolleries since the times I saw Flaherty and Cynthia without Jerome I could count on me pinkies. And that wasn't the worst of it. The worst of it was that, bein' twin brother and sister and separated from the rest of the world in their special way, Cynthia and Jerome would sit around talkin' as if they were by theirselves. Great ones for rememberin' things they were, and soundin' like they're 100 years old instead of the 30 they were by the calendar. And always they were rememberin' what they'd done growin' up as children, all of it leadin' to gigglin' over this and roarin' over that. Make the mistake of interruptin' to ask them what was so funny and they looked at you like you were tryin' to sell them a magazine subscription.

Well, to make a long story shorter, we're all in a bunch at Flaherty's one day and Cynthia and Jerome begin regalin' us how they've always had bad experiences with dentists. And we hear about root canals and this molar bein' filled and that canine gettin' yanked, you name it. We end up goin' through each and every tooth in their mouths and find out how often they brush and floss and what brand of toothpaste is good and which one is full of poison only they can detect. And not for a second does it occur to either of them that the others in the room aren't as fascinated by all this information as they themselves are. Me, I'm drinkin' Flaherty's beer and watchin' the blessed Giants on the box, so as far as I'm concerned, the two of them can start in with their armpit hairs when they're finished with their teeth. Not Flaherty, though. He's payin' them the heed of the hypnotized because he hasn't been to a dentist since he was 10 and has the rotten yellow teeth to show for it. For him this is all magic stuff the twits are goin' on about. Finally, Cynthia and Jerome run out of teeth. And like he was just waitin' for his cue, right away Flaherty goes into his own number about how he could've been the greatest dentist in the world if he'd ever had any interest in goin' to dental school and maybe he still wouldn't need too much formal trainin' because he always felt he had this profound feel for the trade. This, mind you, from somebody who if he walked into a dentist's office wouldn't know to open his mouth or take off his shoes! But on he goes in perfect bliss, talkin' about drills and X-rays and anythin' else he's ever read about or seen in a filum. And Cynthia and Jerome, they're listenin' to him like they're tryin' to remember if he was the dentist who hurt them as lads.

Me? I'm smilin', then I'm laughin'. The more he goes on, the more I forget about the blessed Giants for the better show Flaherty's givin' us. And it occurs to me then and there somethin' important about meself. For all of Flaherty's ego calisthenics, I'm a helluva lot more comfortable with his bullshite brand of them than with the brand bein' turned out by the twits. I didn't have the slightest doubt everythin' Cynthia and Jerome said about their ordeals was God's truth, just like I didn't have the slightest doubt everythin' out of Flaherty's mouth was bullshite of the first order. But what I realized with Flaherty that day amid all the jabber about bridges and dentures and the rest of it was that some people were a lot better for their lies than others were for tellin' the truth.

It was a few days after that epiphany that we go down to do our part in the national demonstration then under way against General Motors, outside their showroom on Market Street. It was about four-thirty in the mornin' with the usual foggy dampness makin' it hard to like anything about the Pacific Ocean or its harbor puddles. The lad from Dunkin' Donuts wasn't lyin' sayin' there wasn't many volunteers for the early hour march shifts. Exactly speakin', there's only one lad paradin' up and down with his placard and even he's makin' chat with a copper who's been given the job of keepin' an eye on the anarchists. And who should this marcher be but a well-known actor whose name I won't mention because maybe California don't have a statute of limitations on some things and I'm not about to trust you lot hearin' his name. Anyway, as soon as Flaherty lays his eyes on who's the only one out there picketin', no amount of jokin' by the actor is goin' to get them off him. Flaherty knows all about the man's filums, quotin' chapter and verse about this western and that spy picture. And the actor, he keeps sayin' things like, don't remind me, I'd like to forget that one, but Flaherty is dedicated to nothin' but remindin' the poor soul of every bad part he's ever taken. I try to get a word in edgewise about picketin' the showroom, and the actor is all for talkin' about that, but now here comes Flaherty again to ask how he liked workin' with this and that Hollywood bugger. Finally, who should save the situation but the copper? He's been standin' there laughin' at all of Flaherty's adulation but maybe with a little bit of Flaherty in himself as well. You just know he was goin' to run home to the family and tell them he'd been keepin' an eye on this big Hollywood actor all night. But anyway, he jumps in and asks the actor if he wants a ride to the cab stand three blocks down Market Street. The actor sighs like the gods have come down from the skies to rescue him off the street from Flaherty. Yes, he says, a cab's exactly what he had in mind as long as his picketin' tour is over. So the copper says get in his squad car because he wants to get a coffee near the cab stand anyway. The actor thinks this is funny, but also what you'd call human since, after all, the copper has been assigned to the showroom to arrest anybody who makes trouble. The copper understands and says don't worry, he don't think Flaherty and me are goin' to blow up the showroom in the five minutes it takes him to go three blocks. So off the two of them go down Market.

What happened next still gives me one of those toothaches Cynthia and Jerome kept goin' on about. No sooner are the copper and the actor gone than Flaherty decides walkin' up and down a sidewalk's no fittin' answer to employer scum like General Motors. I tell you, I didn't like the glint in his eye. He looks pissed the actor prefers the copper's company to his own after he's the one who's memorized every scene the actor has ever been in. What I'm sayin' is, the premonition was there right away. But then I talk myself out of it. He didn't have the makin's for any explosive, did he? How much trouble could he cause? My mistake! What I didn't pay enough attention to was a pile of iron pipes across the street where they were tearin' down a building! It happened so fast I don't think I could've done anythin' even if I saw it comin'. One second I'm struttin' up and down under me poster and hopin' the lad from Dunkin' Donuts will make good on his oath to relieve me after an hour's time, the next there's this thunderin' crash that had to give a twitch to the dead from the San Francisco earthquake! There's glass flyin' and alarm bells goin' off from inside the showroom! No wonder GM is doin' all their layin' off if they can't even protect their showrooms with decent glass! I can't believe it! And then in the middle of it all, like I got nothin' better to hear, there's this iron pipe Flaherty has grabbed for a follow-up heave, and he just drops it to the sidewalk and it starts rollin'. And I'm standin' petrified listenin' to that damn thing roll over to the curb. RRRRRRR --- like it would never get there!

The sheer idiocy of it! To the one side, you have the lawful protestin' of yours truly and all the men and women who preceded me in California and the other states where GM had a showroom, there's the nobility of our copper off to buy his coffee and find a taxi for the actor, and there's all the strikin' workers in the state of Michigan millin' about outside their factories and bein' thankful for the solidarity they're gettin' across the country. And on the other side? There's just Flaherty, who's found his ammunition to shoot back at the actor for not appreciatin' how much he knows about his filums! At least that was the way I saw it. He don't see it that way, of course. He thinks he's done this great revolutionary act, been more darin' than all the people demonstratin' coast to coast for the GM workers. Then and there I didn't argue with him. The matter at hand was gettin' away as fast as our legs would carry us and warnin' off the lad from Dunkin' Donuts that official unhappiness was waitin' for him if he showed up for his turn on the picket line. Why Flaherty ran up Fulton Street is beyond me to this day, but that's what he did and what yours truly did a few steps behind him. If there was one street in downtown San Francisco liable to notice two runnin' felons at that bewitched hour, it was Fulton because most of the cabs out used it and there was even a bus now and then. And sure enough, we're barely scamperin' off Market when a taxi comes down and sees us dartin' past in the middle of all the alarm bells. You can eliminate most of the city right there for the coppers after us. All the cab driver has to tell them is no, we didn't go this way, that way, or the other that way, but straight up Fulton. The dragnet they call it, and here Flaherty and me are helpin' them weave it!

Odd as it was, though, we got all the way up to Fillmore without any unwanted appearances. We'd slowed down to a good crisp walk and even I was startin' to feel so safe I stopped arguin' for movin' a block east or west and concentrated instead on tryin' to make Flaherty see what a stupid thing he'd done. Water off a duck's back. All of a sudden he's become the number one enemy of General Motors and all the other monopolies makin' the planet miserable and his only regret is he didn't have time to burn the showroom down altogether. Like he'd said, he was the fuckin' greatest dentist in the world. Jesus, if I didn't almost crown him right there. He breaks a window and now he's Fidel Castro! But then I remember more pressin' matters, namely the lad at Dunkin' Donuts who's scheduled to relieve me on the picket line. I'm in luck because, miracle of miracles, there's still one pay phone on the streets of San Francisco that works and it's right there on the corner where we are. Flaherty says go ahead, make me call, he wants to stay in front of this Ukrainian bakery and smell the bread bein' made. I think that's the first smart impulse he's had all night.

I find the Dunkin' Donuts lad, tell him what happened, and leave him to decide what to do. Then, as I hang up, I look over at Flaherty standin' outside the bakery across the street. He's me oldest friend, I think to myself --- first at home, then over in the blessed US of A. He's even had a bed waitin' for me when I fly in to San Francisco. Money? A job? Don't worry about it. He'll tide me over until I'm on my feet in the Promised Land. All I had to do in exchange was put up with Cynthia and Jerome, and as long as they didn't want to talk to outsiders, what could be easier? Flaherty was the soul of generosity, wasn't he? But then why did I seem to spend all my time disapprovin' of him? Mind you, I'm not sayin' what he did down at the showroom was okay because it was done by Flaherty and not John Jones, but in some way even the showroom was of a piece with our friendship. You got to be takin' the bad with the good, like they say. And it's while I'm settlin' on that thought, feelin' all at peace for meself and Flaherty and the rest of humanity, that the hand comes up behind me!

Believe it, there's no shock like havin' one of the Creator's good arms suddenly jerked up your back till you think it's comin' out of its socket! They talk about a threshold of pain, but some pain follows you damn into the house and out to the backyard again! I lets out a holler, soundin' for all the world like some little scholar gettin' cuffed around the ear by a Brother of Christ, and then I see the gun in front of me face. It takes me a second to see the gun is pointed not at me, but at Flaherty across the street. What this fox of a copper has decided, you see, is that I'm already out of action with me nose pinned up against this decal for the phone company so he don't have to worry about me. Indeed, he's right because I'm thinkin' only of me arm and of breakin' me nose bone against the glass where I'm stuck.

Of course, not even your average copper can do three things at once, not well anyways, so that as soon as he yells out to Flaherty, he lessens the pressure on me arm. It's not the cure, mind you, but it's enough for me to get me nose off the glass and to see Flaherty turnin' away from the bakery and gettin' a look at what's happened. It's then that I smell the copper has been chewin' one of those breath mints, sure to mean he's tryin' to cover up a few slugs while on duty and this is why he's attacked us like we're the terrifyin' revolutionaries Flaherty thinks of himself as. I get a quick picture I don't like: the copper sittin' in his car with a flask, gettin' the word about the GM showroom on Market Street, beautifyin' his mouth in case he runs across a sergeant comin' his way after us, then runnin' into us first and decidin' he'll atone for his drinkin' sins with our corpses as his penance.

Then I see what I shouldn't be seein' --- Flaherty in front of the bakery and lookin' up and down the street for all the world like he's thinkin' of runnin'. I think he can't be that crazy with a gun aimed at him, but of course he is. Flaherty was always Flaherty, the bad with the good. The copper sees the same thing I do, and cocks his gun and shouts again. Flaherty? Suddenly he's deaf as a stone. Don't hear the copper, just keeps his eyes goin' this way and that like he's got to decide between the lady and the tiger. I'm sick to me stomach. I know there'll be no more aimin' and no more cockin' and no more hollerin'. There'll be no more stages to anythin', just the deed itself. The Banshees never screamed like I did. Screamed there was to be no drunken coppers, no shootin', no dead Flaherty, just because this one showroom needed a window repairman! What did I care about a fuckin' window or fuckin' General Motors that's been fuckin' millions of people with their layoffs and their exhaust fumes? What did I care about that fuckin' gun that wasn't even pointed at me? I didn't care about any of it. I just came down with my free elbow into that copper's chest, feelin' like I was goin' right through all his bone and gristle, already doin' an autopsy on him before he'd fallen, before I'd even gotten me other numb arm away from him and grabbed his wrist with the gun. And, Jesus, if he didn't turn out to be all squish, lookin' at me like I was ruinin' his best body, like he was disappointed in me. And so far down below me he was, down with all the miserable little men who don't really mean no harm but cause nothin' else, that he dropped his gun on the sidewalk and looked at it like it too had betrayed him. Not even a stray shot from the impact of the fall.

I didn't waste time movin' on up to the corner and then around it so that even if the copper got his wind and his gun back, he'd have to shoot through a laundromat to bring me down. For those few seconds I didn't think of Flaherty at all, I guess I just assumed he was makin' tracks behind me. But then it dawned on me nobody was tryin' to catch up with me at all. I turn back and don't see him even runnin' in the other direction down the street I was runnin' up. For some blessed reason, it hits me, he was still back near the Ukrainian bakery. I'm paralyzed. What do I do? To go back to the corner is seein' the copper again, and there's no promise for me in that reunion.

And then I hear it --- the kind of screech Bruce Lee made in the filums when he was doin' his martial arts malarkey against an army of what they call ninjas. The caterwaulin' freezes me blood because it takes no leap of faith for me to think Flaherty has seen me put down the copper and don't like being the person with the second best martial arts blow on the street. I don't know if it's better to be mad at the lunatic or --- and I admit it --- accept a little pride that yes, I am the best on the street with your Asian fightin' malarkey. Only the most passin' of thoughts, mind you, but I can't deny it passes through me head. And just then the screechin' from around the corner stops for two shots that sound like they've been fired through a hollow tube. Then nothin' but holy silence and the smell of the Ukrainian bread in the air.

That was a while back, and the farther I've gotten away from it, the shorter the distance back down to that corner has seemed. But I'll take cover in that old mathematical law about how you can never absolutely reduce a one down to a perfect zero, that there's always some decimal piece left over no matter how many times you multiply it or divide it or somethin'. Meanin' that no matter how closer that corner has gotten over the years, insinuatin' me guilt for not getting' back to it, I know as well today as I did that mornin' I would've seen nothin' I wanted to see, that Flaherty was already very dead, taken to his rest by that copper's second shot if not the first. The next day, of course, the papers confirmed it as a fact, talkin' about those anarchist vandals and the hero copper. So I know I did right --- at least for what they call the big picture --- not wastin' me time and exposin' meself to arrest by doublin' back to see what I already knew I would see. The bats you see flyin' out of Hell don't move faster than I did up the rest of that street that mornin' before every squad car in the city was on the scene. And that's just the way it was. Nothin' to be proud of, but the way it was.

Regrets? Who don't have them even without ever bein' on Fulton Street like I was? They didn't have much of a description of me, at least to judge by the papers and the television, but it was enough of one to have to miss Flaherty's funeral and to steer clear of most of our mates until I was able to get a drive out of the city.

Or no, let me take that back. I really didn't miss all the blessed lies they say over your corpse at a funeral. For sure even the wholest truth that day would've been a lie. By that I mean one of our pals might have seen into Flaherty's soul and, rememberin' the afternoon with Cynthia and Jerome, praised him as the greatest dentist in the world just so he might be more comfortable over where he'd gone. That would've been well-meanin', of course, and for certain what Flaherty would've wanted to hear. But it also would've been a lie since even Flaherty would have had to admit from his coffin that he wasn't the greatest dentist in the world, I was.