Tobin and Gagarin

Tobin tossed aside his half-eaten pastrami on a Kaiser roll. He had sliced onion in his sandwich and had plopped a swath of mustard on his food as well. The paper plate the sandwich and some potato chips were on slid across the small table and fell to the floor. He shot to his feet in the small eating area of the Pear Tree sandwich shop on Kearney, and picked up the soft metal napkin dispenser in a knotted hand. He used this to club about the shoulders of Gagarin who’d covered the distance from the doorway to him in several long strides—silent as he did so, his eyes hard and bright.

The two men grappled and grunted, punched and jabbed. Gagarin backhanded the napkin dispenser out of Tobin’s hand. The dented item clattered onto the counter fronting the grill. Tobin was slammed against the soda dispensing machine in the narrow passageway leading to the unisex bathroom and rear exit. The two other patrons in the establishment, a construction worker and a pretty blonde listening to the pre-game banter at Candlestick Park on her Walkman, gaped at the two fighting.

The owner of the eatery, Li Chin Wa, also known as Suzy Li, swore at the two from behind the counter. “You two motherfuckahs need to take this shit outside. Get the fuck out of my place.”

Tobin kneed Gagarin in the gut and smashed him in the side of the head with an elbow. But the other man wasn’t dazed. Lowering his shoulder, he rammed Tobin into the nearby opposite wall. At that moment re-entering the place was Jorge Vallensuela, Li’s boyfriend and the cook. He’d been on a smoke break as Li didn’t like to stink up her tidy restaurant with cigarette odor.

Jorge, no,” Li yelled as her man, seven years younger than her and still fit from a regime begun during his stint in San Quentin, charged at the two combatants.

But he wasn’t looking to get into the fray and snaking past the two, used his foot on the crash bar to kick open the rear door. He then spun around and, grabbing Tobin by the shoulders of his charcoal gray suit, backed out with him. Gagarin got separated but followed them out as Vallensuala hoped. They were now in a brick-lined alley that slanted behind the shop.

Have at it,” Vallensuala said and went back inside, pulling the door shut behind him.

Tobin and Gagarin, the latter spitting out a clot of blood, stared at one another for a few beats, each sucking in air. Gagarin started forward just as a motorcycle came down the far end toward them. Tobin suddenly stuck out an arm, clotheslining the helmeted rider who was upended from his bike. The 750 cc Yamaha skidded along the asphalt and stopped against the side of a Dumpster, motor running.

The rider, a thin individual, tried to sit up. “The fuck is wrong with you, man?” he said, his helmet askew on his head.

Tobin took hold of him and rolled him into Gagarin’s legs, entangling the two for the time it took him to reach the Yamaha.

What the hell is wrong with you guys?” the rider exclaimed as Gagarin, down on his palms, worked to get himself back on his feet..

But Tobin had got the bike upright and straddling it, revved the handle’s accelerator while simultaneously clicking it in gear with his foot. He roared off, the rider and Gagarin chasing him.

That’s my brother’s bike, you bastard,” the rider said as he ran. He took off his helmet and threw it at the thief. The helmet hit Tobin in the back but didn’t upset his balance. He got to the opposite end of the alley and made a left onto Market, heading east. Seconds behind him came the other two.

You know that dude, don’t you?” The rider clamped a hand on the arm of Gagarin’s light windbreaker. He also had on jeans, a cotton patterned shirt and steel-toed work shoes that showed a lot of scuffing.

Gagarin smiled thinly at the rider and at four inches taller and at least forty pounds of muscle larger, shook off his hand casually. Gagarin stalked about and saw a delivery van across the street, the kind with a sliding side door. It pulled up and double-parked in front of an office building. The rider was also looking around, for a cop. A trolley car heading west clanged along its tracks in the middle of Market Street.

Gagarin got in the delivery van while its driver wheeled his packages on a dolly toward the office building, the entrance facing Market. He looked back wide-eyed and open-mouthed as Gagarin sped off in his van, which had been pointed west. The radio was on and Johnny Bench was making a quip to his co-broadcaster Jack Buck as the players warmed up on the field at Candlestick. It was the third game in the “Battle of the Bay” World Series, the Oakland A’s versus the San Francisco Giants.

Gagarin goosed the pedal and, tires screeching, crashed through the wooden barrier-arm seconds ahead of the clanging streetcar. He could hear passengers gasp and shout as he sped past. The front of the trolley clipped the rear edge of the van, knocking Gagarin sideways, causing him to fishtail into a Toyota. The driver of that car stomped on the brakes, trying to avoid a collision with another vehicle. Tires smoked as brakes squealed and the delivery van zoomed off, the Toyota finally skidding to a stop.

Up ahead, Gagarin spotted Tobin on the motorcycle. As he’d hoped, the man hadn’t heard the commotion behind him or if he had, was concentrating on getting away and had ignored the disturbance. He was also obeying the traffic laws so as not to be noticed for excessive speed. Conversely, Gagarin ran a red light, causing a produce truck driver barreling through the intersection to bleat its horn—he barely avoided a collision. Suddenly the wheel jerked in Gagarin’s hands and at first he assumed he had a flat. But a glance to his side saw a lowrider Monte Carlo, Big Daddy Kane blasting from the interior, swerve into the side of the van and both vehicles swayed and shook. He swore.

An earthquake was roiling the landscape. Buildings shook and several pedestrians fell to the cracking sidewalks. Drivers pulled their cars to the curb or slowed considerably. Gagarin, his mouth clamped tight in determination, kept driving, even though he was sliding back and forth on the roadway. He fought the steering wheel for control of his stolen vehicle, nearly clipping another car. But he was past the tangle of congealed cars and trucks behind him at the intersection of Market and Van Ness. Bench and Buck weren’t on the radio now; only static filled the airwaves.

Almost to Gough, the quake continued rumbling and somewhere nearby Gagarin heard concrete and steel rending and tearing. Inwardly he counted less than twenty seconds and then the upheaval seemed to subside. An older driver trying to motor his preserved 1966 Mustang seemingly had experienced a heart attack and lost control of his car. The Ford skipped onto the sidewalk, frozen pedestrians re-animated and diving for safety. The Mustang sheared a water hydrant from its base and his car plowed into the front of a trendy dress shop, destroying the plate glass window and the posed mannequins therein. Car alarms went off and dogs barked. A geyser of water cascaded from the hole left by the absent hydrant, splashing good Samaritans attending to the injured driver. A mannequin in a sequenced dress was splayed across the now convex shaped hood of the Mustang, steam from the ruined radiator rising over the tableau as if this were a part of a post apocalyptic photo shoot.

Tobin had managed to remain upright on the motorcycle but a refrigerated produce truck jackknifed in the roadway, avoiding an accident with cars that had stopped due to the dead traffic lights. Tobin glanced behind him to see vehicles oncoming, but slowly. Noticeably, there was a van moving faster and it didn’t matter he couldn’t yet make out the driver. He knew who it was.

Tobin revved the motorcycle and took off, intending to get around the end of the truck, through the gap between its rear and the curb. But before he could reach the opening, a cracked lamppost fell over onto the top of the truck. A severed power line crackled and sparked. There was still a large enough area to get through though he’d have to walk his bike as now some people were out of their cars and walking around in the street, relieved and disoriented.

Hey, stop that thing,” a motorcycle cop ordered Tobin. He’d roared up on his service-issued Kawasaki as if from nowhere. “Can’t you see we have an emergency situation here?” he said indignantly. He maneuvered close to Tobin, glaring at him, and pointing at the ground.

Tobin nodded, straddling the idling motorcycle. So did the officer, blocking his path.

Let me see your license,” he demanded.

Tobin smiled, clicking the clutch into first gear. Simultaneously, he twisted the accelerator while also holding down the brake lever.

The officer glared at him and reached for his holstered .357 Magnum.

He released the brakes and the Yamaha whooshed out from under him, rearing back yet gunning forward nearly vertically upright. The machine struck the motorcycle cop. The bike bowled him off his own motorcycle before the Yamaha’s engine quit. The bike fell over too. The officer began to sit up, intending to level his gun at Tobin. But the other man was moving fast and kicked the downed cop full in the face. Tobin went back over again, and another kick to the side of his helmeted head had him moaning and reeling.

The officer’s revolver in his hand, Tobin turned and fired two rounds into the windshield of the van that was honing in on him less than 200 feet away. The windshield blowing out from the gunfire, Gagarin ducked and veered off. The delivery van’s rear ties smoked as he braked, then he stalled the engine as he hadn’t taken the clutch out of gear. Somehow Gagarin had not hit any other vehicle or object, though the van was now cocked sideways on Market Street, the front end less than three inches from the passenger door of a Camaro.

Tobin ran north and Gagarin abandoned the van to pursue him. A knot of pedestrians clotted before him as someone fainted and civic-minded pedestrians fluttered about seeking to help. Gagarin moved quickly around them, nearly knocking a heavyset woman to the ground.

Asshole,” she yelled, flashing the finger at him.

He barely noticed his nicked collarbone where one of the bullets had grazed him. His blood stained his shirt collar. But there were other pedestrians dazed or comforting one another, some with injuries, so hedidn’t stick out as he went on. Several people had witnessed Gagarin assaulting the cop, but given there were more immediate needs in the aftermath of the earthquake, Gagarin calculated it might take an hour before an APB was issued for Tobin. Time enough for him to find the man and finally settle this after all these years.

He walked on, knowing he had to conserve his energy. It wouldn’t do to run. There was also the fact that his quarry was armed, and should he jog past some recessed doorway he could get his head blown clean off.

Several blocks ahead Tobin rushed down a side street looking first into a hair salon. The mostly female clientele and staff were standing about talking about the quake while one staffer swept up the broken bottles that had fallen from their shelves. A few of the women had on plastic aprons, and some in curlers having been under the hair dryers. The Magnum tucked uncomfortably in his side waistband under his buttoned coat, Tobin attempted to hide the bulge with his hand over the area as if he’d hurt his hip. He moved past the women and two doors down saw the man he’d been after.

He was a forty-plus individual in a brown suit carrying a slim attaché case. Tobin had spotted him half a block back, and watched when he’d turned off on the street they were on now. The man apparently had been looking for a pay phone as he now stood before a shell-type model attached to a pole set in a space between two buildings. His attaché case rested against his lower leg as he spoke into the handset.

Hello, hello,” he repeated. “Is there an operator there? Hello?” He turned at the presence of Tobin, the handset a few inches from his ear. “I got a dial tone but now all I hear are other voices on the line.” He held the instrument toward Tobin for him to hear. Tobin brought the pistol up and clubbed the man into unconsciousness. He put the gun into the attaché case and using a fireman’s carry, took the man to an overgrown grassy area behind the salon.

Tobin got the brown suit off the man and having stripped out of his gray one, got in the pilfered clothes. He’d picked this individual as they had, he’d estimated, roughly the same build. The sleeves were a bit short on the coat but he wasn’t looking to make the cover of GQ. A woman in a tight skirt and dark stockings came out of the back door of the shop, talking into a mobile phone the size of a walkie-talkie.

Brad, have you reached the daycare?” She was intent in her conversation and it was several moments before she glanced around. She gasped at seeing the man with the bloodied head lying on his back in his briefs and T‑shirt, his shoes beside him. The woman frowned, wondering if he’d had a stroke or nervous breakdown due to the quake as she could also see the charcoal gray suit near him on the ground as well. She continued talking to her husband over the phone as she bent down to assist the man in his underwear.

Tobin made his way down to the end of the side street and began walking diagonally across an empty lot of weeds, dirt and trash that on its far end would put him on Filmore. He looked around and didn’t see Gagarin among the people behind him, but he knew better than to become complacent. Residents and business owners were out of their apartments and shops as they discussed the quake and inspected exteriors for damages. Fire truck and ambulance sirens filled the air as Tobin stepped onto Filmore and continued in a northern direction.

He walked past a small market and could hear the restored broadcast over the radio coming from within.

Chuck, we’re getting reports that part of the Bay Bridge has collapsed. And there may be a fatality as a result.”

That’s terrible news, Angela,” Chuck said.

Tobin continued past and was coming to a storefront that was partially caved in, yet on either side of it the structures were undisturbed. Two men of differing ethnicities in orange and saffron-colored robes and wrappings were trying to leverage a good-sized statue of the Buddha through the opening of what had been the picture glass in the store front. One was bareheaded and bald and the other wore a Giants baseball cap. In the doorframe of the entranceway, a load-bearing beam had fallen and was lodged there, blocking access and egress.

Brother, could you help us, please?” the man with the baseball cap asked Tobin.

He was going to ignore the request and walk on but a patrol car was rolling slowly from the opposite direction down the street. He didn’t think the man he’d robbed for his suit had gotten to the police yet, but he best look like a concerned citizen to blend in, he reasoned. He told the monk or adept or whatever the hell he was he’d give them a hand.

Tobin put the attaché case against the building and helped the men get the plaster statue out of the wrecked shop. It wasn’t so much heavy as awkward. This was a custom-made Buddha. Part of the sculpture included an open book in the cross of the spiritual teacher’s legs. The Buddha’s right arm was raised at a right angle to its body, flashing a two-fingered peace sign. There was a drift of rubble and glass cluttering the front of the shop.

That’s it, my good brother,” the baseball fan said.

Sweating, the three managed to wrangle the statue through the opening and rested it on the pile of debris. Inside the shop, various spiritual and self-help books were scattered about the checkered linoleum from where they’d exploded off the shelves during the quake. The reading Buddha had sat facing out in the window on a pedestal with a marble top. Putting a hand on the Buddha’s head for support, Tobin climbed back out of the shop to stand for a moment next to the statue, which was about five feet tall. He glanced down the street and could see a man approach on a bicycle. The form looked familiar. Sure enough the rider was Gagarin.

The SFPD officers had halted their car and were idling the vehicle in the middle of the street. A man was talking to the cop on the driver’s side. Gagarin came to a stop several yards south of the shop. There were people out in the street so he didn’t seem out of place.

I think we can take it from here, brother,” the robed man in the baseball cap said, sticking out his hand.

Tobin exchanged shallow pleasantries with the two, shaking their hands. He started off, carrying the attaché case with the stolen police gun in it. He didn’t need to look around to know that Gagarin was plodding, slowly no doubt, after him as the street ascended gradually. He heard the crackle of the radio in the patrolmen’s car and wondered if that was about the attack on the motorcycle officer. He maintained a steady pace even as the street got steeper. One foot in front of the other, he told himself, taking in air through his mouth.

End of the first block, then another, then a bend in the street and now he wasn’t in the line of sight of the cops. But gunshots carried. Maybe he’d get lucky and there would be another siren to mask the sound should he get a chance to turn around and blast Gagarin. More distance was covered. Maybe by now they’d moved on, called away to help where the cornice of some building fell away, crushing some hapless senior citizen splat on the sidewalk. A quick over his shoulder glance told him Gagarin was peddling not more than four yards behind him—like Tobin waiting for his opportunity to pounce, but needing to be far enough away from the law.

At a small intersection with stop signs for the east and west directions, a car came along with its turn signal blinking. Tobin was close and he ran toward the vehicle, removing the Magnum from the attaché case, papers and file folders spewing from it as he let the case drop away. He rushed to the side of the car, startling the driver, a woman with wild, bushy hair. He leveled the gun on her.

Oh shit,” she screamed, the driver’s side window partially down.

Seeing the gun, Gagarin had already veered off, peddling furiously for the far sidewalk and a few trashcans in case Tobin was reckless enough to shoot at him—authorities in earshot or not.

Tobin gestured with the gun and told the woman to get out of the car. She did. Only she was so frightened she hadn’t set the brake and the car, a stick, began to drift backward in neutral.

He swore and began running after it. But he was suddenly struck from behind by an object and he tumbled onto the street, barely getting his arm up in time to prevent landing on his face. He skinned his forearm raw beneath his now torn coat and shirtsleeve.

Tobin still held the gun but as he got himself turned around on the ground, Gagarin was already airborne. He came down like a pro wrestler, planting an elbow in his gut as hard as he could.

Ughh,” Tobin exhaled as the wind was knocked out of him. Momentarily he went weak in his limbs and Gagarin wrestled him for the Magnum. The trash can he’d thrown at Tobin rolled away, its contents spilling all about. The rolling car same to a stop, the rear-end softly smacking into a parked Hyundai Excel.

Gagarin tried to gouge out Tobin’s eye and the other man struck him on the side of his head with the barrel of the gun.

Police, police, hey, I need assistance,” the woman was yelling as she ran back the way they’d come.

Neither man could afford to be arrested. They stopped pummeling each other and got off the ground. Tobin was still holding the Magnum. He rushed forward and jamming the barrel in Gagarin’s side to muffle the retort, pulled the trigger. Only Gagarin had put his hand on the gun to deflect it and as the hammer fell, it clamped on the fatty part of the side of his hand. He screamed and punched Tobin in the face, wrenching the gun loose at the same time, the thing hanging from his hand.

Gagarin got his other thumb on the hammer, pulling it back and releasing his hand. But Tobin grabbed at the gun while wrapping his other arm around Gagarin’s shoulders. That’s when the dog attacked. It was a Doberman pinscher and the animal bit down on Gagarin’s hand holding the .357.

Gagarin grimaced, involuntarily letting the gun go as the dog chewed on his meat and muscle. The weapon clattered as it hit the asphalt.

Tobin laughed, running away as fast as he could though he limped now.

Come, Brucie, come,” a woman commanded.

Brucie the dog did as ordered, returning to the side of a voluptuous woman in a school girl’s short pleated plaid dress, thigh high fishnet stockings, and heavy boots. Her starched white shirt was immodestly unbuttoned revealing the top of a lacy black bra. Her dog collar matched Brucie’s.

A siren cut through to Gagarirn despite the pain of his bleeding, pulsing hand.

That’ll teach you, you gun-loving fascist extra Y chromosome swine,” the woman shouted, pointing an accusatory black nailed finger at him.

He stared at her open-mouthed and briefly considered picking up the gun and shooting her dog. He was a good shot with either hand but the image of being cut down in a fusillade of gunfire by the police overrode his desire for retribution—at least so far as Brucie was concerned. Fatal injury to Tobin was another matter altogether. He also ran away.

The two took parallel paths partly along residential streets heading further north, toward the water. Soon back on a commercial street, Tobin went into a record shop when he spotted another patrol car on the thoroughfare. He busied himself looking through used rock LPs in a bin as the car drove past. He paused once, staring at an album of a cartoonish fox face in a top hat looking out at the viewer. The fox was winking at him. Over the shop’s speakers the news played about the aftermath of the earthquake. The shop itself seemed to have suffered little damage save for hundreds of spilled cassette tapes and a large crack in one wall.

All right, Chuck,” a woman announcer was saying, her voice grave. “Not only do we have the tragedy of the collapse of the Cypress section of the Nimitz Freeway in Oakland, we can also confirm several buildings in the San Francisco Marina District have been badly affected.”

The newscaster continued. Tobin exited the shop, the patrol car having gone past.

Gagarin got his hand cleaned and bandaged by a paramedic who motioned him over as she was helping carry an elderly woman on a stretcher out of a Victorian-style fourplex. He told her a dog was loose and had attacked him. He thanked her when she was finished and went on. On part of a block he could see diners at tables through intact restaurant picture windows and two or three doors away, glass and wood and concrete could be scattered about from damaged structures.

Walking on Tobin saw trendy shops and eateries that seemed to evidence no sign of the quake, though he could hear snatches of conversation about the event spilling into the street. Coming out of a narrow street onto the Marina District, damage to buildings and the sidewalk was apparent. He faced an old-fashioned diner set back on at an angle on a gravel lot. The neon sign on metal stilts atop the establishment declared the name Marty in large lit red neon Gothic letters. Seen beyond the sign in the middle distance was the Golden Gate Bridge. Behind the diner was a wharf.

There were several police, fire, and paramedic personnel and their vehicles around as the injured or shaken were tended to by the professionals. There were also rescue personnel searching and for anyone trapped beneath rubble, dealing with distraught people over their lost pets, and the like. In the near distance firefighters were putting out a blaze from what was left of a two-story warehouse. Tobin scanned the area, smiling, figuring out his next moves.


A wind kicked up but Gagarin ignored the chill as he walked closer to Marty’s, his thin windbreaker flapping about his sturdy frame. He stopped, his head jerking around, inhaling and tasting the air. He knew the other one was close. Suddenly Tobin sprung from a thatch of shrubbery and tackled him.

Tobin wrapped his forearm around Gagarin’s neck, and snagged Gagarin’s wrist and twisted it behind his back with his other hand, and started dragging him backward. But Gagarin swiveled his hips and bent forward, trying to throw Tobin over his shoulder. This didn’t work but with him on his back the two fell to the earth, continuing their scrapping.

Hey, hey you two,” an officer called out. He ran forward, unholstering his .357. Another cop was not far behind him. He was with the K‑9 squad and had a muscular German shepherd galloping easily on a leash ahead of him as he’d been using the dog to sniff for survivors.

The combatants broke apart. Gagarin couldn’t believe the bad luck he was having with dogs.

Go get ‘em, Bear,” the officer told the animal as he released the restraint.

Bear the dog leapt forward and into the brush in a shot, the two members of the SFPD running behind the canine.

Ahead of them was the dock and Tobin and Gagarin, running side-by-side, made for it. A shot from one of the cop’s pistols tore into planking at their heels.

Be careful,” the K‑9 officer yelled. “You’ll hit Bear.”

Bear’s sharp teeth almost took a chunk out of Gagarin’s lower leg. The dog did tear his pants, exposing a tattoo on Gagarin’s calf, the head of a red-eyed crow. Arms pumping like Olympic runners, as one the two dove off the dock and into the cold, dark water. Bear was well-trained and stopped at the edge of the dock. The two cops arrived, guns pointing as both shined their Department-issued flashlights onto the Bay.

See them?” one said

No. And why don’t we hear any splashing around?”

Hell if I know.”

Bear too looked out on the water, panting.

The patrolmen moved their lights back and forth on the surface of the calm water. The officers were convinced that somehow the two men must have swam under the dock without making noise. A while later a patrol boat prowled about without spotting any sign of them either. Hours later there was a report of two wet, bruised men, one in workingman’s clothes running about a half block ahead of the one in a torn suit. The man in the suit was chasing the other man across the Golden Gate Bridge, through the nighttime traffic on the span. The bridge had apparently not suffered structural damage and hadn’t been closed post-quake. They were heading toward the Marin County side of the world-renowned bridge. Eyewitnesses reported the man in the torn suit was carrying a hatchet.

About the Author

Gary Phillips

Gary Phillips lives and writes in Los Angeles.  His latest includes Big Water, a graphic novel about water rights and corruption, and the ebook crime novella, The Extractors, about a one percenter, McBleak, who steals from the one percent.



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