The night was better than carnival, better than Mardi Gras, better than Fog City's best-ever street party. Joy and power thrilled Harley, his soul thrumming more vibrantly than harp strings, so that he couldn't merely stroll down the street: he had to dance. Fog City belonged to him, the king absolute, the keeper of all its secrets and the master of all its riches. Having glimpsed the powers of the new world, he had decided to take San Francisco as his city to rule. Before, Harley had wanted to own mere pieces of the city. Now he wanted it all.

He was descending Grant Street, down from Chinatown towards the Financial District. Scarlet and gold neon lights in the forms of dragons and Chinese ideograms blazed madly above his head. Fog swirled through the lights, diffusing swaths of gold and red. Harley had a bellyful of black pepper Kung Pao shrimp and Tsing Tao beer. The peppers had burned like a purging flame through his head; the cold silky beer had quenched the flames and slid soothingly down his throat. Harley belched; fire, spice and malt fumed through his palate and seemingly the lower parts of his brain. So a dragon coughing flames must enjoy his meals.

In the dizzying heights of Harley’s ecstasy, the city dissolved into a matrix of lights, crowded with glowing spheres of else-worldly creatures, then it resolved once again into a place of wet brick and fog, people and concrete.

At two in the morning, the streets were crowded with partiers. On the third-story ledge of a bank building, a group of men and women, nude and painted blue, were throwing handfuls of money down into the street. Some people were scrambling to pick up the cash, but Harley, laughing, danced by them. Rectangles of gray and green were to Harley just the confetti of the old world.

From a darkened doorway, a woman lunged at him, laughing giddily, trying to throw her arms around his shoulders and kiss him. Harley shrugged; the woman slid off him, a weakness passed through her so that she slid to the ground, where she sat, dazed. Harley didn’t know how he did this, but he knew he could do it again. It was one of the powers of the new age.

From across the bay, Harley had sensed that bastard MacPherson. It hadn't surprised him that MacPherson, the same man who had tricked him and blocked him in four buy-outs, was now one of the few growing in power. The town couldn't belong to him until he had confronted MacPherson, squelched the bastard, sent him packing so that he could rule over some lesser town. No, Fog City belonged to Harley Keegan. MacPherson could go to Salinas.

The sidewalk leveled out; he had come to the bottom of the hill. Off to his left rose the pyramidal Transamerica insurance building. Harley glanced upwards at its peak, lost in the fog, and chuckled. Insurance was a safe world hedging its bets against disaster; Armageddon was not covered. When money itself lost its meaning, insurance policies were worth only a dark smile.

Hustling across the plaza toward the banking district, he burst upon shocking impressions of torn blouses, pathetic screams for help, tender skin exposed to the night air, brutish laughter. A gang of men was brutalizing three young women. One man was shouting nonsense as he loosened his leather belt. Like a huge wave, a peculiar, never-felt predatory lust struck Harley and washed over him. This strange perversion of normal sexual longing submerged him in a world where such brutish men were masters, all females prey. Robbed of all senses except feeling, he felt as if his genes were corroding, turning him into a perverted animal, the instincts of aggression and procreation miswiring and short-circuiting, infecting him with the rapacious mutation that had succeeded only because it succeeded, just as lampreys or Ebola had succeeded. For a moment, he felt possessed, as if he belonged in this alternative world of bestial power. He felt himself connected to a huge community of such men all across the world, now slaking their hateful lusts. It was like an army of darkness. His mind boggled as sight returned to him. The vision of the helpless young women struggling against the men found the true Harley, returned him more fully to his native self and ignited righteous rage within him. The mix of neurotransmitters bathing his brain changed into a more volatile formula. He felt a white-hot power rising up within him.

Harley cried out as the world rang like a bell struck with an iron clapper, vibrating horizontally and shifting from mass to energy. The women became whirlpools of desperation; the men changed into flame-licked demons, shimmering creatures of ultraviolet shot with sickeningly glittering bright white light. Somehow Harley's understanding of their wrongness translated itself into a web of connections. Without knowing how, he grounded the one to the other, allowing their own evil energy to feed-back upon itself. An explosion flashed, sparks flew, leaving a stink of hot copper and scorched sulfur.

Harley felt dizzy. The darkness of Fog City returned to him. Sobbing women were crawling and scrambling away. Slowly Harley advanced across the plaza, stepping over the bodies of the brutal men, laid low and sprawled on the wet concrete. Harley didn't care whether they were dead or alive.

"Here is another one," a voice said in his head.

"He is welcome."

"We must form an army of light," the first voice said.

"What?" Harley called aloud, but the voices did not answer him. It was as if they had gone off the air.

A block later, he returned more fully to his senses. He felt surprised that the bank buildings were now towering on all sides. Several minutes of short-term memory had been lost to him. A beggar walked up to him and smiled, showing unkempt, gapped teeth.

"Gave them a-holes hell, didn't you, chief?"

Harley nodded and tried to brush past the beggar.

"Watch out for MacPherson," the beggar called. "He's waiting for you."

Harley turned and stared at the beggar.

"How would you know?" he asked.

The beggar cackled. "End of an age, high is low and low is high. Watched you fellows drive by in your limousines, spending more on hookers than I had for food. I was hungry, and would you throw me a quarter? No, not often, anyway. So now you think you're going to divide the world between you? I don't think so. You’re walking in your sleep, Harley Keegan. The town's got no masters and anyway, it won't be a town once it finishes burning down, you know. So what are you going to do? Make a throne of soot and bricks?"

"How -- "

"Wasn't a drunk, wasn't a drunk," the beggar said. "Just a madman who took a drop, passing the time 'til the world finished its changing. Good luck with MacPherson, Keegan. I'm getting the hell out of town, myself."

The beggar sneered at Harley, turned and disappeared into the darkness.

Underneath Harley's feet, the sidewalk began to turn to gold. Harley ran his forearm across his face, the cotton sleeve of his shirt rasping his skin. Why did he have to confront MacPherson? What was he doing in downtown San Francisco, two thirty in the morning, in the middle of a deranged riot?


Copyright 1999 by Bill Fawcett & Associates, Inc.