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The Background Extra

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Sam Page is going San Francisco as a modern-day, swashbuckling Robin Hood to steal millions from some old friends that wronged him. Sam Page,has come back to the San Francisco Bay Area on a swashbuckling adventure to reap revenge on a group of old friends who stole millions from him and had him exiled.. to Oregon. Through meticulous planning, Sam is ready for all the crazy obstacles that comes his way as he navigates around Silicon Valley for justice, and he is determined to have as much fun as he can along the way.

Adventure / Humor
5.0 2 reviews
Age Rating:


I squinted through the window at the glistening lights of San Francisco with as much disdain as a man can have for a city. It looked so small from up here, with a dozen or so skyscrapers and Coit Tower sitting out on its own. Still so small, but of course I was in a 737 airplane descending from an altitude of 35,000 feet.

I realized that I had probably had about three too many whiskeys and should slow down. I glanced around the plane for other people’s reactions to the turbulence. No one else seemed to care that the aircraft was being battered about like a punching bag. The plane ride had been bumpy since we took off from Portland, and my fingernails gripped the armchair like a cat hanging from a curtain.

I had to admit I was nervous. I was about to land in Oakland, California, to start an adventure whose intricate planning took the last five years of my life. I was going back to where it all started, where all my hopes and dreams were molded before being banished to the forested wasteland called Oregon.

However, none of that mattered at this moment. Nothing would have made me happier than when I stepped off the plane and saw Damian again. It had been three years since he visited me in Portland, but I remember him like we’d been drinking together yesterday.

I wonder if he’d gotten fat. Probably.

The aircraft sliced through the clouds and suddenly the ground was visible. It suddenly occurred to me how different California appeared to Oregon. Back home it was trees everywhere you looked. The buildings looked like they’ve been constructed around the foliage. Back in the Bay Area, it was simply brown. Brown ground, brown hills, brown air. Brown everywhere. Sure didn’t look like the commercials.

I could see the airport and runways through the window to my left. The little bastard sitting next to me, the one who’d been playing his stupid little video game on his extra-big iPhone 6 since the plane hit the air, leaned casually over my lap like we were related. He may have just wanted to see the landscape, but this was a war of attrition and he needed some manners. I slid my elbow into his shoulder and nudged him back to his seat.

Thankfully we landed smoothly and my breathing slowed down to normal. I never used to have problems flying. I never used to have problems doing anything. That all changed almost fifteen years ago, the last time I was in San Francisco. I never thought I’d come to this Godforsaken place again.

This trip had me thinking about how life was all about contradictions. One day you swear you’ll never smoke another cigarette, and the next day you’re lighting up. One day you’ll never cheat on your wife, and there you are in Vegas with a stripper at your buddy’s bachelor party. Not that I ever cheated on my wife. I would never have done that to Sara. Of course, I never did actually marry her.

As I exited the plane the pilots and stewardesses were there to nod me off, like actors in a play looking for recognition or applause at the end of a performance. The Captain and I locked eyes as I squirmed down the aisle. Why exactly do pilots stand there, I wondered as I gave a customary nod back. For criticism? For thanks? For what? When I made a big sale at work, I didn’t stand up in my cube and bow to my fellow employees, looking for praise. I thought about what would happen if I slipped ten bucks in the Captain’s pocket and said, “Here’s a little something extra for the effort.”

It took about twenty minutes for me to get my bag and make it out in front of the baggage claim. I found a bench and dropped my ass next to a guy smoking a cigarette under a sign that said “No Smoking.”

“You care?” he asked, referring to his Marlboro.

“Knock yourself out,” I replied as I checked my phone for messages. Nothing from Sara, damn it, and that was all I cared about. She was really gone this time, and I knew it before I left Portland. I had that little hope, that flicker of light in the distance, that she would have sent me a note as I requested.

She hadn’t. The only thing in my inbox was an Amazon email about running shoes and a LinkedIn request from some random woman I met at a conference last month.

I had a nice buzz and that cigarette smelled so good. I look up at the guy smoking the butt and reach out two fingers. “Got a spare, buddy?”

Five minutes later, Gary the Cigarette Man and I had bonded over tobacco and I had even shared a few swigs from my flask. Finally, I saw Damian approach in his Ford Ranger. He got out of the truck and made his way around the hood to greet me properly. He was a big guy, but not huge, with maybe three inches on me and a good twenty or thirty pounds. His hair was black and cropped short, just as it was in college. He hadn’t changed a bit, except he now, for some reason, had grown a bushy beard.

There are awkward moments between people who haven’t seen each other in years. Do you hug, shake hands, or act like you saw each other yesterday? As is the case, I took point and bear-hugged the goon.

The drive to his house was standard for the Bay Area. We were fifteen miles from Berkeley and it took forty-five minutes to get there. We rolled up to a four-story Victorian on a quiet street in a picturesque neighborhood right out of “Party of Five.”

“You live here?” I wondered out loud.

“Like it?” Damian replied as he grabbed my bag out of the bed of his Ranger.

“It’s like out of a Hitchcock movie from the 1950s,” I said as I followed him inside and up the stairs. He lived on the third floor in a spacious one-bedroom with a view of downtown from the bottom corner of his window. I’d been reading about how housing in the Bay Area had become out of control, and shithole apartments were going for $2000. Damian had flat-out defied those articles. Either that or his beat reporter job was paying much better than I had assumed.

“How’d you get this place? You porking the landlord or something?”

“Sam, compared to that dungeon you live in any place is a step up.”

Damian looked for a reaction but all I could muster was a shrug. He was right; my apartment was a dungeon. He pulled a couple of beers out of the refrigerator and we sat down to catch up.

“How’s life?” I asked, the most obvious attempt to start a dialogue. My mother taught me the art of conversation, all right. I should have been a diplomat.

Damian played along. “Not bad. Trying to finally get out of this half-ass town. Got a couple of my articles picked up by the Chronicle. We’ll see.”

“Why would you want to leave Berkeley?” I asked. I was serious. He had a really nice place, and Berkeley was one of the only places in the Bay Area left relatively unscathed from the Silicon Valley gentrification.

Damian laughed. “Some of us want to move up in the world, Sam. I can’t spend my whole life writing for a small paper like the Berkeley News, not when I can get a big city circulation across the Bay Bridge. I’d like to upgrade my car. I’d like to be able to snowboard in Tahoe with my friends. You know a day pass at Squaw Valley is over a hundred dollars now?”

“Damian, let me explain something to you. Living in San Francisco is like living somewhere where you’re always looking up a ladder at who’s above you. You’d hate it there. You drink Folgers. That’s not even allowed in the city limits. I’m serious.”

Damian ignored my jokes and cleared his throat. “Doesn’t matter anyway. We all know journalism is on death’s door. I’m just trying to be one of the lucky few that somehow evolves with it. I got an interview with Yelp next week for a content marketing manager position.”

“What the hell is a content marketing manager?”

“I have no fucking clue, but the starting pay is $90,000.”

We shared a laugh and a clink of beer bottles on that one. He was right. The idea of quality journalism had become almost a myth in America, especially in print form. Finding respectable work in that industry was like trying to find a Maytag Repairman. They might still exist, but nobody knew about it.

Damian stared at the label of his beer like he didn’t recognize the brand he’d been drinking. He was obviously building up to something, so I waited him out. It took about thirty seconds.

“I know it’s been a few years, so I’ll be polite and ask your permission. Can we be honest with each other?”

I sipped my drink and attempt a belch. “Permission granted.”

He hesitated, like he was dancing around the words. Then he just blurted it out. “Why are you here? You told me a hundred times you would never come back to these parts, yet today you’re sitting in my living room. What’s your angle?”

“I’m here for Abby’s engagement party. Didn’t you get an invitation?”

“I got one,” he says, a smile forming on his face. “But I highly doubt you were mailed one.”

“How is ’ol Abby, anyway?” I asked.

“Sam, do you still hold a torch for that chick? It’s been fifteen years.”

“No, I don’t. And you should mind your own business. The only time you get a piece of ass is when your finger tears through the toilet paper.”

I had decided to keep Damian away from the truth and keep him in the dark. After all, he was still friends with Abby and the rest of that crew. While he wasn’t a tattle tale I didn’t want to show my cards to anyone until it was on my terms. The truth was I was betrayed by Abigail Spencer, a betrayal that left a bitter taste in my mouth which would take more than a bottle of Miller Lite to wash away.

Damian could see I wasn’t going to budge. “Don’t get me wrong, Sam, I’m glad to see you. You look healthy. You know, green.”

“Green? What, like, recyclable?”

“You look like you’re from Portland, all right?”

Ironically, I got the gist of what my friend was referring to, and I was well aware I was wearing a Patagonia jacket. I nodded it off and let Damian prattle on.

“Just seeing you reminds me of that night at The Boardwalk in Santa Cruz. I don’t think I’d ever been higher on acid. Remember we tried to hop out of the Log Ride?”

Damian’s cell phone blared from the kitchen, jarring us both from reminiscing about our misspent youths. Damian walked to the bedroom to take the call, and I could hear his murmuring through the wall. He was talking to his girl, his woman, his piece of ass. Finally, he walked back in and handed me a fresh beer from the kitchen.

“Listen, I got to go out for a couple of hours. That was my boss. Sounds like a guy broke into an antique store downtown and is being chased by the Berkeley P.D.”

Liar. He was ditching me to get laid. “Sounds like big news. Maybe you’ll get in the Chronicle again.”

Damian shrugged. “My vacation doesn’t officially start for two days, and my editor has needlessly reminded me of that fact, so I’m off to chase the story down.”

“The beat calls,” I muttered as I went to the window. “Go get ’em, Jimmy Olsen.”

Damian grabbed his leather bag and ran out the door. “Bedroom’s behind you if you want to crash. Downtown is two streets over if you want to take a walk. And Jimmy Olsen was a photographer, you dumb shit.”

“I’ll miss you,” I joked as he shut the door behind him. I watched him peel the truck out of the driveway, then looked up at that Silicon Valley sky above me.

I was glad I didn’t explain to Damian why I came back, and I hoped he wouldn’t have the chance to ask again. I wasn’t the type of guy to dump my feelings on another person. Abby always said I had this “wall” that I use to block anyone from getting close to me.

Now wasn’t the time to crash that wall. Hell, I took unusual pride in it. But I’d give some hints to keep it interesting.

I was back in the San Francisco Bay Area because I was utterly lost five years ago. I was thirty-five years old, stuck in a dead-end job, completely adrift in a life I would never have imagined for myself. I was wallowing in self-destruction with no direction. I started stewing on how I came to be that way and realized I had bitter resentment to five people who pushed me down this well to self-loathing. I felt entitled to more. No, deserving of more. These people owed me more. I desired retribution.

It became one hell of a motivator. I formulated a plan and left no detail untouched. I researched and trained and invested every cent I had, and over the next few days everything would come to fruition. The scheme was almost foolproof, and afterward I’d be rich and fulfilled. However, I wasn’t going to talk more about it.

I’d save that for later.

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