The air was still, dry and warm, bizarre weather for San Francisco, especially in January. Looking up at the painfully bright afternoon sky, I picked up my camera and slid out of the driver’s seat. I smelled the familiar pong of the city − that urban combination of grime, urine and garbage − as I crossed the narrow street in the Tenderloin District.
Looking for the section of graffitied wall I wanted to photograph, I scanned the cryptic symbols, but stopped short when a tense man came into my viewfinder. I watched as he removed his black leather jacket and tossed it over the seat of a motorcycle parked in the doorway of the big rollup door. The inside of the shop was in shadow and looked creepy. The guy kept looking down at something on the other side of the motorcycle and finally took out a cell phone. But the weirdest part was, after he finished his call, he wiped off the phone and holding it carefully with the cloth he used to clean it, threw it into a nearby trash can.
Nervous guy looked out at the street with his back to the motorcycle, as though he was waiting for something. Every muscle rigid, he was spring loaded. His jaw was clenched so tight it made odd movements, like he was grinding his teeth. You could feel the apprehension in his strong face. He was humming like a power tower.
I heard the scream of sirens. Turning my head in their direction, I looked back in time to see the guy just casually walking away, leather jacket over his shoulder. I ran down the sidewalk, to catch up to him. That was when I saw the arm of the dead woman next to the motorcycle tire.
“Hey! Wait a minute. Who are you?”
Feeling safe at the sound of approaching police sirens, I tried to confront the man, but he ignored me.
“Did you kill her?”
Following him, yelling at his back, I dimly hoped this would make him stop or at least slow down until the police had time to get here. To my complete amazement, he turned around.
“Why is everyone so stupid? Would I have called the police if I had killed her?”
“Then why are you running away?”
“Do I look like I’m running?”
“Well you can’t leave now because I’ve seen you. I’m a witness.”
The minute I said this, standing next to a dead body, I realized how it could potentially work against me. Again, he ignored me as he lit a cigarette and looked down the street, so I tried another tactic.
“Why did you call the police then?”
Letting out the smoke of his first deep inhale seemed to calm him. Melancholy consumed his face, but much of the jittery anxiety was gone. I knew he only had seconds to spare before the police arrived, but he was trying to look cool. Walking back to the doorway of the motorcycle repair shop, he calmly slipped on his jacket.
“I didn’t want her to lie on the ground all day in her own blood. She didn’t deserve that.”
“Who was she?”
Throwing his leg over the saddle, he turned the key and put the bike in gear.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said over his shoulder as he stomped the motorcycle’s kickstarter.
The engine roared to life. In one smooth circular motion, he backed out of the garage and onto the narrow street.
I watched him disappear into the afternoon traffic at the end of the block.
I walked away in the opposite direction.
Soon, all the police would find was the arm of the dead woman next to the motorcycle tire.