The year is 1957 in San Francisco. Sam Slater is a lifetime minor league baseball player for the San Francisco Seals. The Seals have just one more season left as San Francisco is about to become a major league city. The Giants are coming to town in 1958 and the Seals will be displaced. Sam has come to the end of his baseball career and is going to join the private detective agency of his best friend. When his friend is brutally murdered, Sam must go it alone and try to find out why. Along the way he is swept off of his feet by a beautiful Elvis-obsessed TWA stewardess named Amelia Ryan. Sam and Amelia try to unravel the mystery together. Sam’s best friend, Jimmy inadvertently saw something he shouldn’t have. Sam and Amelia have pictures in their possession that have crime families in San Francisco and Chicago very worried. Then a young woman Sam has been searching for is found dead on the beach. Suddenly, Sam and Amelia find themselves in danger. On dark and foggy San Francisco nights, trouble is lurking just around the next corner.
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September 4, 1957
Those who loved Jimmy Jankow would say he had a “big personality.” The people who didn’t like Jimmy would say he was brash and arrogant. His “personality” was an endearing quality to his friends and an obnoxious trait to those who didn’t count themselves as his friend. Jimmy always seemed very confident in his actions.
His best friends, Sam Slater and Vince Marino, tended to follow Jimmy’s lead. Sam was a baseball player for the Seals and Vince was a veteran San Francisco cop.
Jimmy had always attracted a lot of attention from the ladies. With his wavy blonde hair, blue eyes and muscular build, he could prove to be irresistible. It was just after the war that Sam declared that Jimmy had become “domesticated.”
That’s when Jimmy fell under the spell of Rita Angelos, the eye-popping daughter of Greek immigrants. She had thick long black hair, large brown eyes, and just as “big” of a personality as Jimmy.
The Embarcadero is the main roadway which skirts along the edge of San Francisco Bay. It is lined with piers and is a major area for shipping. Embarcadero means “the place to embark.” It has certainly filled that function in San Francisco.
After the completion of the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge around 1936, there was a rapid decline in ferry traffic. The famed Ferry Building and the neighborhood began to deteriorate.
However, during World War II, San Francisco’s waterfront became a military logistics center as troops, equipment and supplies left the Port in support of the Pacific theater. San Francisco began growing in leaps and bounds. Almost every pier and wharf was involved in military activities, with troop ships and naval vessels tied up all along the Embarcadero.
Jimmy left in 1943 for England to fight in Europe in the middle of World War II. While in England, he had met two San Francisco natives, Sam and Vince, who became his best friends.
Now in 1957, Jimmy was a successful private investigator. As Sam’s baseball career was winding down, Jimmy was planning to take him on as a full partner. Jimmy had been busy preparing an office space for Sam. A carpenter had just finished the remodeling job and Jimmy couldn’t wait to show it to Sam. The frosted door pane on the new office even had been painted with the name “Sam Slater.”
Jimmy pulled his 1955 Mercury coupe to the curb near Pier 23 on the Embarcadero.
It was a flashy car and it perfectly fit Jimmy’s personality. The two-toned Merc was turquoise and white and had chrome everywhere.
A beautiful late summer day was ending in San Francisco as Jimmy scooped a folder of pictures off of the front seat of the Merc. He had to deliver the end product to his client, who was very paranoid about secrecy.
Fred Langenfeld had grown very suspicious of his wife’s activities throughout the summer. The more Jimmy got to know Langenfeld, the more he suspected that he was suspicious of everyone’s activities.
Earlier in the decade, Langenfeld had been a law clerk in Washington D.C., where he was involved in the McCarthy hearings and the anti-communist scare. Jimmy had met Langenfeld through a law firm that had, on occasion, used his private investigation skills.
Langenfeld hired Jimmy to follow his wife and find out where she spent her afternoons. Jimmy had been doing this for most of August. She was not hard to catch. Langenfeld had good reason to be paranoid.
Now Jimmy was going to deliver a series of photos to confirm all of Langenfeld’s worst fears. Jimmy had snapped the photos at lunch spots throughout the city, a motel, and at Golden Gate Park, where he found Mrs. Langenfeld crawling all over a young guy who had been her constant companion. Jimmy had been tailing them and it was easy pickings.
Particularly damning was a series of pictures of Mrs. Langenfeld publicly displaying her intense passion for her new lover while they sat on a park bench near a pond in the park.
Jimmy felt this was like shooting fish in a barrel. It didn’t tax his investigative skills. Mrs. Langenfeld turned out to be the most indiscreet woman in San Francisco. All you needed was a camera.
Sneaking around spying on someone’s spouse wasn’t the most pleasant part of his job, however, it paid well.
The difficult part of following someone’s unfaithful husband or wife was delivering the bad news to the suspicious spouse. Jimmy always thought that you shouldn’t ask a question if you’re not prepared to hear the answer.
Langenfeld wanted Jimmy to meet him on his boat, which was docked at Pier 23 to ensure privacy. Jimmy wanted to get this over with, collect his pay, and then get home to his wife, son, and new baby. As Jimmy walked down the pier, he looked carefully in the dusky light for the docking location of the “Frisco Fred.”
What a jerk!
Who names their boat “Frisco Fred?” Not a native San Franciscan, that’s for sure. One way to really piss off a San Franciscan, is to call their beloved city “Frisco.”
As Jimmy walked slowly down the marina dock looking for the boat, he sensed someone coming up quickly behind him. He spun around to see a large, beefy man with his hat pulled down just above his eyebrows, concealing his face.
Jimmy immediately sensed the threat and his defenses went on full alert. He thought the man was charging at him for a physical assault, but the thug stopped short and then got in Jimmy’s face.
“I’m gonna need those pictures,” he snarled.
“Who the hell are you?”
“Someone you don’t want to tell no!” he growled and then repeated his warning. “Hand them over.”
“Look, I don’t want any trouble pal but there’s no way…” Jimmy never finished the sentence. In a split second, the burly man stuck a knife into Jimmy’s chest.
Jimmy staggered backwards, completely shocked at the sudden assault. He dropped the pictures and fell onto the dock gasping for air and instinctively trying to remove the knife.
The assailant took his foot and rolled the mortally wounded Jimmy off the edge of the pier and into the water. The man looked around to see if the splash had attracted any attention. It had not.
He then reached down and grabbed Jimmy’s pictures with his gloved hand and quickly disappeared into a dark blue Buick that was waiting at the curb.
Title: Last of the Seals
Author: Greg Messel
Paperback: 392 pages
Publisher: Sunbreaks Publishing (April 23, 2012)
ISBN – 0985485906
ISBN – 978-0985485900
To learn more about Greg, go to his website: www.gregmessel.com
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Post first appeared at The Book Connection