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Cable Car Ride to Carnage – Thomas Calabrese

By   /  November 24, 2018  /  13 Comments

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The Gemini Killer

Thomas Calabrese  —  Lieutenant Commander Charles (Charlie) Ryerson had been in the Navy for nine years and had just finished his third combat tour as a Swift boat commander in the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam. He was physically and emotionally exhausted when he returned to the United States in 1970 and wasn’t sure if he would put in for a fourth deployment. Of course he felt the same way after his first and second tour, but after a few weeks of rest, he was ready to return to the war because that is where he was needed most. He was currently stationed at North Island in San Diego and because of his rank and seniority; his commanding officer gave him a considerable amount of flexibility in his billet as a training officer.

Since most of the other Naval officers wanted the weekends off, Charlie had no trouble working out a schedule where he assumed the duty Thursday through Sunday so that he could have the  the beginning of the week off. His girlfriend Josie Cross was a stewardess with PSA (Pacific Southwest Airlines) and was currently stationed in San Francisco. She also worked out a trade with her fellow workers so that her days off would coincide with Charlie’s. The last part of her schedule was the last final flight from Los Angeles to San Diego on Sunday night. Josie would stay overnight at an airport hotel then meet Charlie on Monday morning when he got off duty at the base. The couple would either fly back to San Francisco, stay in San Diego or drive to Mexico. Things were going well for the couple, in fact the main reason that Charlie had not put in his request to go back to Nam’ was Josie.  Their lives were about to take a drastic detour down a dark and dangerous road from their current idyllic relationship.

The Gemini Killer had been on a rampage and fourteen people had been killed in the Bay Area in the last year. Residents were on edge and law enforcement personnel had made it a top priority to catch the brutal predator. There were no leads, logical pattern or apparent motive for the Gemini’s choice of victims and even the most experienced profilers were baffled.

Homicide Inspector Harry Francis Callahan was called to San Francisco Mayor John Di Giorgio’s office, “Have a seat Francis.”

Inspector Callahan hated to be called Francis, his mother used to call him that when he got into trouble as a boy. He grumbled and parked his lanky frame in the chair and squirmed around in it for few seconds before finding a comfortable spot.

Mayor DiGiorgio would never tell anybody that he liked Harry or his heavy handed methods of doing police work, for that would be the end of his political career. He only called Harry by his middle name because that seemed to pierce his rock hard shell and make him more vulnerable and easy to deal with.

“I’m putting you on the Gemini case,” Mayor DiGiorgio stated.

“You took me off that three months ago,” Harry retorted, “Why the change of heart?”

“Because we’re not making any progress and the body count is rising fast. It’s time for drastic measures,” Mayor DiGiorgio replied, “For the record I only took you off the case because you sent citizens to the emergency room. At that general time frame, the city council was putting the pressure on me to crack down on police brutality and when you look up police excessive force in the dictionary, your photo is next to the definition, Francis. ”

“I read them their rights then asked if they felt lucky,” Harry defended his actions, “And what politically correct pinheads call brutality, I designate as pro-active police-work.  I was following a strong lead that took me to a Hell’s Angels hangout in East Oakland. The only way I could get them to do their civic duty and answer my questions was to challenge them to a fight. If they beat me, I’d hit the road, but if I won, they’d cooperate fully,” Harry explained.

“How did that work out for you?”

“It worked out great, I got what I needed and they got a personal relationship with the paramedics,” Harry said, “If you hadn’t pulled me off the case, we’d be a lot closer to Gemini by now.”

“That’s all in the past, and from now on you are on special assignment to this office,” Mayor DiGiorgio offered, “You answer only to me and I’ll give you whatever you need to get the job done, no questions asked, but if anything leads back to my administration, I’ll disavow any knowledge of your activities. I won’t even give you the option of a long walk off a short pier; you’ll get the infamous two- step off the Golden Gate Bridge for being a vigilante rogue cop. It’s a raw deal, but take it or leave it.”

“I’ve been waiting my whole career for someone for something that goods, damn right I’ll take it!” Harry beamed.

Cheryl Brown was Josie’s roommate and also a stewardess and had returned from a flight to Portland. She got into her car that was located in employee parking then stopped for gas on the way home. While filling up her tank, a gray van pulled up to the pump next to her. Cheryl was so tired that she didn’t see the driver exit the vehicle, walk up behind her and put a rag that had been soaked in a powerful anesthesia over her face. She struggled for ten seconds then passed out. The man placed her in the back of the van, then walked back and stuck a small placard on the windshield of her car. The placard had one word on it; Gemini.

Charlie and Josie were having breakfast at her three bedroom apartment in North Beach when there was a knock at the door. Josie got up to answer it, “Uncle Harry! This is a surprise.”

Harry hesitated for a few seconds, “I’m afraid I’ve got bad news.”

“What is it?”

“It’s about Cheryl,” Harry responded.

Josie rushed to Cheryl’s bedroom door, opened it and saw that the room was empty, “Did she have an accident?”

“Worse than that, Gemini has her,”

Josie’s heart sank to the floor as she struggled to ask, “Is she dead?”

“Don’t know that yet…we found her car at a gas station in Burlingame with the Gemini’s calling card…but no sign of Cheryl.”

Charlie walked over, “Good morning Mr. Callahan.”

“I told you to call me Harry.”

“Yes sir,” Charlie responded.

Fred Lechter had a welding shop in the Hunters Point area of San Francisco. He was in his mid- forties, polite and cordial to his fellow business owners, but also a very private person. Lechter used to be a covert assassin for the United States government until he developed more of a taste for the blood and the carnage than for the success of the mission. After failing several psychological evaluations, Fred or The Fredo (his call sign) was terminated from federal service. It was not an amiable parting and Freddy vowed revenge on the society that he had spent years protecting and had now cast him aside like discarded garbage. He was on a personal vendetta and his violent behavior was escalating with each attack. With his keen intellect and years of experience as an assassin, Lechter took great pleasure in having law enforcement agencies run around in circles by planting clues that led them on wild goose trails. He felt exhilarated and invulnerable as he moved forward with his ultimate quest of becoming the most prolific mass murderer in history.

Metal plates and acoustical material were installed inside the walls of a room located in the back of the building to make it sound and escape proof. It also contained a refrigerator, bathroom and a bed to make it possible for a person to stay in there indefinitely.  Fred Lechter was so arrogant that he would often carry on his business as a welder while his customers stood less than five feet from the hostages.

After struggling in vain to break free from her confinement, Cheryl finally accepted the reality of the situation, but as long as she was breathing, she still held out hope that she would be rescued. For some unexplained reason, Fred did not want to kill Cheryl as quickly as his other victims; there was something about her that reminded him of a girl that he used to know.

Captain Harry Callahan was a military advisor who was sent to South Vietnam in June, 1958 with the 1st Special Forces Group (1st SF/A-123 Team) to work with the Army of the Republic South Vietnam soldiers in the Quang Nam Province. He was there for six years and since many of his assignments were black ops and top secret, Harry never spoke of his experiences in Southeast Asia. In fact, he never told anyone that he was in Vietnam. He applied for the San Francisco Police Department after his discharge in 1966.

Harry had been contacting all of his informants, but none of them had anything for him substantial. Next on his list was Joseph Wales, the bartender at the Gold Dust Lounge on Fisherman’s Wharf. Joe was amiable fellow, excellent listener and knew just what to say to put people at ease, so that they would often confide in him on a variety of subjects.

The bar was about half full when Harry entered after the lunch hour rush. Sitting in the corner   with several of his henchmen was Big Paulie Guardino, a lieutenant for the Molinari crime family. When he saw Inspector Callahan, he called out, “Hey Dirty Harry!”

“Hey Linguini Breath,” Harry responded.

Paulie walked over to the bar where Harry had pulled up a bar stool, “I’m going to kill you one day.”

“One day, someday, any day…why not today,” Harry grumbled.

When Paulie reached for his pistol, Harry pulled out his .44 Magnum a split second faster and stuck in the hoodlum’s mouth, “If you’re hungry, I can give you something to chew on.”

Paulie shook his head no and Harry pulled out his revolver, “I’ve got business to take care of right now, but when I get done with it, I’ll pull you out of whatever gutter you’re in and we’ll finish this.”

Paulie meekly walked back to his table when mumbling threats under his breath. Harry turned his attention to Joe the bartender, “My niece’s roommate was taken by the Gemini killer. Have you heard anything?”

“Sorry to hear that,” Joe responded, “I don’t know how true this is, but there’s a guy who comes in here once in a while who says there’s someone where he works that claimed to know who Gemini is.”

“Who is this guy and where does he work?” Harry asked impatiently.

Joe handed Harry a piece of paper who read it, “You’re kidding”

“I said the same thing,”

Frank Morris escaped Alcatraz Prison on June 11, 1962 with brothers John and Clarence Anglin. Harry caught them hiding out in a small house in Alameda, California, but rather than return the trio to the prison, Harry offered them a deal, “You did a hell of a job getting off the rock and I’m impressed. If you agree to two conditions, I won’t bring you back.”

“What are they?” John Anglin asked.

“You go straight and second when I need a favor, don’t tell me no.”

The trio quickly agreed and the Anglin brothers went to Los Angeles and changed their names to Jed and Walt Coogan. Frank Morris stayed in San Francisco and became Joseph Wales.

Paulie and his two henchmen confronted the San Francisco detective when he exited the Gold Dust Lounge, “What part of I’ll be in touch didn’t you understand?” Harry asked.

“I don’t feel like waiting,” Paulie smiled.

“You know that it’s a felony to assault a police officer.”

“Your ego is too big to ever admit that someone got the best of the infamous ‘Dirty Harry’.”

“You’re probably right, let’s get this over with,” Harry hit the two men standing next to Paulie and they went down to the ground. Paulie took a wild swing and Harry ducked under it and smashed a vicious punch to the solar plexus of Paulie, who doubled over in pain. Harry grabbed the hoodlum by the collar and dragged him off.

Crime kingpin Al Molinari had a palatial home on Knob Hill and was sitting at the patio drinking wine when he heard a banging at the front door. One of his men quickly opened it and Harry pushed his way in, dragging Paulie behind him. When he got to the patio, Harry let go of Paulie and commented, “The only reason he ain’t taking a dirt nap is because he’s your nephew and I need a favor.”

When Harry got back to his niece’s apartment, Charlie was there, “Don’t you have to go back to San Diego?”

“I requested emergency leave so I could stay with Josie,” Charlie answered.

“You’re a good man,”

“Have you heard anything about Cheryl?” Josie asked.

“With all of Gemini’s previous victims, he made sure that we found them very quickly. Since we haven’t found Cheryl that tells me she is still alive.”

“Any leads, sir?” Charlie asked.

“I’m working on one right now,” Harry said.

“I’d like to help if you need me,” Charlie volunteered.

“I’ll keep that in my mind.”

On March 21, 1963, Alcatraz was officially closed, but that didn’t mean that it was technically shut down. After the last prisoners were transferred off the rock, intelligence agencies took control of the facilities to house high value detainees. One such individual was Philo Beddoe, a former CIA spy who became a liability when he found out about an international plan to overthrow the Turkish government. He had been incarcerated at Alcatraz for three years and had worked with Fred Lechter in the past, including the time when he was dismissed from federal service and vowed to get revenge.

Bruce Thorson had been a guard at Alcatraz for two years and even though he was sworn to secrecy about the activities on the ‘Rock’, he had the tendency to get a little loose lipped when he had too much to drink. Bruce was walking down Market Street when a car pulled alongside him; a man jumped out and put a gun in the prison guard’s rib, “Let’s go.”

Bruce complied and the car drove off. Twenty minutes later the car pulled into a commercial garage and the door closed behind it. A hood was over the head of Bruce Thorson as he was pulled from the car and set in a chair.

Standing thirty feet away Al Molinari turned to Harry, “Here he is?”

“Yup, I’ve got it from here,” then walked over and placed his hand on the nervous guard’s shoulder, “I have a few questions for you, just tell me the truth and there won’t be any problems.”

“Okay,” Bruce answered weakly.

“First question, did someone tell you that they know who the Gemini killer is?”

Bruce swallowed hard, “Yes,”

“Who is this person?”

Bruce hesitated and Harry squeezed hard on his neck to motivate him, “Philo Beddoe.”

“Is Beddoe being held at Alcatraz?” Harry inquired.

“Yes,”

“Where is he located inside the prison?”  Harry asked

“Cell block D.”

Harry asked a few more questions then walked over to Al Molinari, “We need to keep him here   for a few days.”

“I’ll have my men watch him until you tell me otherwise.”

Over the next two days, Fred Lechter abducted two more people, one man and one woman, killed both of them and left their bodies in Golden Gate Park.

Harry still had some contacts in the military and what he found out did not please him, but it did not surprise him either. Rogue elements in the government were operating without authority of Congress or the President and anyone who stood in their way were either killed or locked away.

The meeting took place at Josie’s apartment with Harry, Charlie and Joe among those in attendance.

“Are you sure this Philo Beddoe guy was telling the truth to the guard? Charlie asked.

“I can’t be sure of anything right now, but I did some checking on Beddoe and my contacts tell me that he was a stand-up guy who got railroaded by the system.”

“You going to talk with him?” Joe asked.

“I’m not even supposed to know where he is,” Harry said, “If I asked to see him, they would just deny that he was there, then move him somewhere else.”

“What are you going to do then?” Joe inquired.

“That’s where you come in.”

“If you’re thinking what I think you’re thinking, then don’t even think about it,” Joe protested.

“There’s no other way,” Harry replied, “It’s time to call in my marker.”

“What’s going on?”  Josie was confused.

“Your uncle wants to break into Alcatraz,” Joe sighed.

The plan was simple; the execution of it was would be much more difficult and luck would be an essential component.  The three men waited until the sun had set before they left the dock. Charlie was driving the speed boat while towing an old broken down vessel that was filled with gasoline and explosives. When he got within one hundred yards of Alcatraz Island, Harry disconnected the tow rope on the bay side and let the vessel float toward shore. After they turned the corner to the ocean side of the prison, Harry used a remote detonator to blow up the boat.

 

It lit up the sky and showered debris all over the island.  The initial explosion was followed by several secondary ones as individuals on the island rushed down to the shore to see what was going on. Using this as their detraction, Harry and Joe jumped into the water and swam to shore. Reversing the escape route that he had used years earlier, Joe led Harry into the prison without detection and both men made their way through the steel and stone skeleton of the prison.

“I still can’t believe that I’m doing this,” Joe grumbled as he ducked under a water pipe and crawled through a hole in a crumbling wall.

“You’re doing the right thing, keep your mind focused on that. What the hell, if we get caught at least you’ll have me for your cellmate,” Harry whispered.

“Stop trying to cheer me up,” Joe said.

When they reached Cell Block D, they looked down from the ceiling and saw a guard sitting at a desk. It took a few minutes for the two men to navigate from the upper part of the cell block to the ground floor. When they did, Harry came up behind the guard and placed a gun to his head, “Which cell is Philo Beddoe?”

“Twenty-nine.”

“Keys please,” Harry said.

The guard reached into the desk and pulled out a ring with several large keys dangling from it. Harry took it and tossed it to Joe, “Get our man.”

Joe rushed to the cell while Harry injected a tranquilizer into the neck of the guard who passed out in less than 30 seconds.

“Who are you guys?” Philo Beddoe asked.

“Either your best friends or your worst enemies,” Harry said, “Let’s move.”

Charlie was waiting two hundred yards offshore when he saw the light flashing. He returned the signal with his flashlight and went to the extraction point. He helped pull the three men aboard and they raced off into the darkness.

After they docked the boat, they drove to Josie’s apartment. Harry was impatient and got right to the point, ‘Tell me what you know about Gemini?”

Philo responded without hesitation, “I worked with an operative whose call sign was ‘The Fredo’. His name was Fred Krueger. He told me that he always wanted to be a serial killer and the only thing stopping him was that the government was already paying him to execute people.”

“What makes you think that he’s Gemini?” Charlie asked.

“I heard the guards talking about the murders and when they mentioned Gemini, I knew it was Krueger.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Because he was born on May 25th and was obsessed with astrology and horoscopes.”

Joe was obviously irritated, “Gimme’ a break! We get him out of Alcatraz for this, this guy Fredo fantasizes about killing people and was born in May…big deal. This was a colossal waste of time and effort. I’m outa’ here.”

Joe took a step toward the door, but Harry called to him, “You’re out of here when I say you’re out of here so sit down and shut the hell up,” Harry turned to Charlie, “What do you think?”

Charlie thought for a second, “We got nothing else, so I say let’s find Fred Krueger first and then make our decision if we need to look elsewhere.”

“I like your way of thinking,” Harry beamed, “That’s what we’re going to do?”

Fred Krueger was growing bored of his current method of picking victims randomly and since the police presented zero challenge to him, he wanted to do something that would really shock the world. While looking through the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper he saw a story about the Powell Hyde cable car coming back into service after being down for one year of extensive maintenance on the entire line of operation. There would be a celebration open to the public at Fisherman’s Wharf. Fred circled the photo of the cable car with his ballpoint pen then opened the door to the locked room, “As Mrs. Baxter, my second grade teacher used to say; be on your best behavior, we’re going on a field trip.”

Harry and the others began searching feverishly through documentation at the Hall of Records in downtown San Francisco for anything connected to the name Fred Krueger. Three hours later, Josie found a business license with the name on it.

“He would sometimes go down to Motor Transport when he wasn’t on assignment. Welding would definitely be a cover that he could pull off,” Philo said.

When the group arrived at F&K Welding, a large padlock was on the door. Joe looked at it and commented, “I could probably pick it if I had a thin piece of wire.”

Without hesitation, Harry shot the lock off with his.44 Magnum, “That works too,” Joe shrugged.

The group entered the welding shop and began searching through it. Charlie found a wall with newspaper clippings of the killings tacked to the wall, “This guy is a real publicity hound.”

Josie pulled open the metal door to the back room and sniffed the air, “She was here.”

“How can you be sure?” Charlie asked.

“I have a very sensitive sense of smell, not always the best thing to have when you’re in an airplane with recirculated air, but in this case I can detect the slightest trace of Cheryl’s perfume.”

Harry noticed the newspaper with the photo of the cable car and Krueger’s markings, “This is his target.”

As they were driving from Hunters Point to Market Street, Charlie commented, “I don’t know if I’m the only one to think about this, but we don’t know what Krueger looks like. How are we going to find him?”

“He does make a good point,” Joe added.

“It’s been years since I’ve seen Krueger, but I think I could still recognize him,” Philo volunteered.

“If we get separated, just look for anyone suspicious,” Harry suggested.

“This is San Francisco, everybody looks suspicious,” Joe shrugged.

“Why don’t we look for Cheryl then,” Josie suggested.

“I don’t know what she looks like either,” Joe replied.

Josie pulls out a photo of her roommate from her pocket and passed it around.

Krueger put an explosive vest on Cheryl and showed her the remote control in his hand, “If you decide to yell, I’ll blow the vest, killing you and everybody within a 25 yard radius, understand?

“I understand?” Cheryl replied.

Krueger saw the grip operator and conductor talking to each other and walked over to them, “I have a personal message from the mayor. Can I talk to you both in private before you start the run?”

The two men followed Krueger and Cheryl to an area that was out of sight from the crowd, “We’re on a tight schedule, what is it?” The conductor said.

“Just this,” Krueger had a long thin bladed knife hidden up his sleeve. In an instant, he stabbed both men in the heart killing them instantly. He took the jacket off the grip operator and put it on then took the other jacket and handed it to Cheryl, “Put it on,” They returned to the cable car and got on, “All aboard,” Krueger rang the bell several times and the passengers complied and the cable car started on its way, “This is a trip that you won’t forget.”

Harry saw the cable car and pulled alongside it. Josie recognized Cheryl and said, “Cheryl is on the cable car!”

Krueger placed a large leather bag filled with explosives under the seat and expertly handled the cable car as it made its usual stops. He smiled at Cheryl, “I  like this, maybe I should apply for a job.”

Harry sped up and got ahead of the cable car and parked along the street. Harry, Joe, Philo, Charlie and Josie got out and when the cable car made a stop, they got on board. Cheryl recognized Josie and opened her jacket just enough for the explosive vest to be seen.

Philo nudged Harry and whispered, “The gripman is Krueger.”

Just down the hill was Fisherman’s Wharf and a large crowd was waiting at the turnaround point. Harry knew that they would have to act fast to prevent a catastrophe so pulled everyone close, “We’re going now.”

“Cheryl has an explosive vest on her,” Josie warned.

Time was running out so Harry made a plan in a matter of seconds, “I’ll take Krueger, Joe get that vest off Cheryl and find to place to dump it. Charlie you take control of the cable car. Josie get the passengers off as fast you can. Philo, you’re the back-up if one of us gets taken out. On my signal we go, good luck.”

Harry saw his opportunity when they picked up speed down the hill; he leaped forward and knocked Krueger off the cable car and both men landed on a passing vehicle. Charlie took control of the cable car and slammed on the brakes.

“Everybody off!” Josie screamed and the passengers jumped off in panic. Joe rushed toward Cheryl and took the explosive vest off her, but could not find a place to throw it without killing innocent pedestrians.

Philo jumped off the cable car and pulled a driver out of his vehicle and got in the driver’s seat and began honking his horn as he pulled in front of the cable car. Josie and Cheryl jumped off as Charlie followed Philo down the hill, smashing cars out of the way.

Harry and Krueger were fighting on the street when Krueger reached under his coat and pulled out his knife and stabbed Harry in the side.

“You’re too late,” Krueger smiled.

Charlie sped up and smashed through the barrier by the bay and jumped off with Joe right behind him; they both landed in the grass park and rolled into the children’s playground. The cable car catapulted into the water just as Krueger pressed the detonators.  The bombs exploded harmlessly as the cable car sank beneath the surface.

Krueger saw that his grandiose plan at mayhem had failed so he angrily came at Harry with the knife in his hand. Harry pulled out his .44 Magnum and fired three shots into the Gemini Killer’s chest and grimaced, “First rule, never bring a knife to a gunfight, punk.”

Harry always preferred to work alone, but that changed after Charlie Ryerson graduated the police academy and became his partner. Although neither man liked to dwell on the past; they sometimes wondered whatever happened to Philo Beddoe.  The Cable Car to Carnage and the Gemini Killer would go down in San Francisco history.

The End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  • Published: 3 weeks ago on November 24, 2018
  • By:
  • Last Modified: November 23, 2018 @ 8:45 pm
  • Filed Under: The Back Page

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13 Comments

  1. john michels says:

    Great Story one of your best Tom. Filled with excitement at every turn

  2. Pat says:

    Tom, tell me if you read this – Pat

  3. Guy says:

    Exciting story..many of the characters’ names sound familiar

  4. Cary says:

    I’ve always been a Dirty Harry fan, even more now..good story

  5. Kyle says:

    Well developed…fun story

  6. Clyde says:

    A lot of references to Clint Eastwood movies in this story..liked it

  7. Mike says:

    Brought back a lot of memories since I lived in the bay area during this time frame.

  8. Josh says:

    A nice change of pace from the military action stories that I normally read. This one had some military background,but the action was definitely civilian

  9. Josh says:

    I enjoyed the story…another movie in words…very visual and entertaining

  10. Steve says:

    Thanks Tom, another good one

  11. Dan says:

    One of my favorites

  12. Mona says:

    I loved this story and all the real as life characters! Good change from the military stories which I also like!

  13. Stephanie Boren says:

    Very exciting!

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