Alcatraz Island, famously called "The Rock" by mariners and Sean Connery imitators, rises along with seventeen other pieces of land breaking the surface of San Francisco Bay. Arguably the most famous of the islands in the waters around Oakland and San Francisco it has existed since the last ice age when the river valley that would become San Francisco Bay was twenty miles from the Pacifica Ocean thanks to the water in glaciers. When the ice was finally released the bay took shape and "The Rock" became a refuge for birds. Safe from predators they hatched their eggs and stood facing west in safety until the island was finally invaded by people. First it was people gathering eggs for food. Later, after the first North Americans were moved on by Missions and Guns came an invasion by the fort-builders. The first military establishments were small and blended into the landscape. Then, the civil war fort was born and Alcatraz was transformed. Invaded by men with explosives, they literally blew the gentle slopes off the island to be replaced by the steep, scarred Earth beneath as an added obstacle to potential invaders. The battle for which they had so long prepared never occurred and the island is no longer a sentry waiting for Spanish or French ships to sail in with cannons booming. Instead, the island is slowly being given back to birds and is, daily, invaded by tourists listening to tales of imprisonment and cold. This week it's also been taken over by Hollywood.
Kyla is on the stern of the trans-bay ferry not facing her destination as you might expect. Instead, her gaze is back towards San Francisco, and her climbing gym, which she left in the hands of employees while she joins friends on the Sausalito shore. Dark hair plays around her head as if trying to get her attention but it's no use. Kyla's thoughts are drifting with the current. It's as if there is something to do or something important she forgot. Like wondering if the iron was left on and being bothered about it the rest of the day until you arrive home to find your house hasn't been burnt to the ground. What was it?
A shrill whistle calls her back to the October afternoon as the ferry passes the "Raccoon Straits" towards the small building standing in contract to San Francisco's feminine and golden architecture. Looking to her left she notices an unusually bright light on Alcatraz Island. Is it the reflection of the sun? It doesn't seem to fade or change with her boats movement but maintains its steady, golden glow. She thinks about it for a moment before the ferry slows and begins to glide into place along side the Sausalito Pier.
Waiting at the edge of the railing are her friends Mira, Natalie, Heather, and Lisa along with a gentleman who seems to be with them but is keeping a bit of distance.
Arms are raised high during Kyla's walk down the ramp. "Hey girls … I'm here! Let's get this party going!"
"Right on time." Says Lisa as she grabs Kyla's hand and guides her along the waterfront. "We have SUCH a surprise for you …"
"Wait. That's great but how about some introductions?" Kyla says while holding back just enough to break her grip with Lisa's hand. "I thought it was a woman's weekend? You are?" Stopping short and giving Mike Briar the same look she would give a difficult rock face just before attacking it.
"Sorry." Mike starts, moving a bit away from Natalie as he extends a hand towards Kyla.
"Michael. Mike. Mike Briar. I'm a friend of Nat's …. Uhm, Natalie's … I was just …"
The expected hand from Kyla isn't offered and Kyla turns to the ladies, now in a semi-circle, as if making a stage, around her.
"C'mon Kyla." Begins Lisa. "Listen. Mike is a kayak guide and guess where we're going tonight. Guess!"
"You know, I don't have to guess. What's up girls? This was supposed to be a night for drinks and US? Not guys and boats."
"Look. It'll be fun." Begins Heather. "Just listen."
Lisa takes a breath and slows down. When it comes to the water it's difficult but she begins more slowly, as if she's selling something to a very skeptical buyer. "Tonight they're filming 'Return to The Rock' out there …" Lisa points towards the bay and Alcatraz beyond. "You know? 'The Rock,' with Sean Connery and Nick Cage?"
Lisa waits for some sign of acknowledgement from Kyla and when it doesn't arrive in a few seconds she continues anyway.
"Mike taking us on a moonlight paddle out there."
"I know some people at the island." Mike tries to interject but is interrupted.
"You're getting Natalie on the bay in a plastic kayak?" Kyla says without even looking in Natalie's direction.
Mira had been a spectator until now but figures this is her line. "You know what it took to get Natalie to the city on Friday? I'm staying back with her. We have a few things to talk about and you ladies will have a blast."
Natalie backs away slightly form the others and Mike moves away in her direction almost like a shadow. Matching Natalie's cadence and motions.
From beneath her red hair a voice comes towards Kyla. "Kye, you know how hard it was for me to get across the bay last night. That was the farthest I'd gone since … well, you know."
They all knew, especially Mike. Mike had been through it with Natalie before. Helping her when she was losing it at the Sausalito Art and Wine festival. Being there for her again when she was stuck in traffic on the bridge. Mike still doesn't really understand the reasons behind an anxiety attack but he knows, as well as Natalie's friends, the effort it took for her to overcome her fears and be at Mira's show on Friday evening. Mike had been there for her and now he was next to her again, which didn't go unnoticed by the Cal alumni friends gathered at the dock.
"It's Saturday night…" began Mira "…and almost a full moon. A perfect night for paddling the bay. I'll be at Natalie's house when you get back. We still have three whole days together as a group."
"You guys go." Says Natalie. "Lisa, I know how much you'd love it and Mike has offered. I'll be fine hanging out at home. Besides, Mira and I need to talk. GO …"
Lisa, Heather and Kyla stand for a moment until Kyla finally says; "O.K. Fine. But what are you talking about with 'Return to Rocks?"
"Return to THE Rock" corrects Lisa. "You remember when they filmed 'The Rock' around here? Well, they're finally getting around to doing the sequel.
Kyla searches her memory for just a moment. "The lights …"
"You saw the light from the film crew … " begins Mike.
"They're filming for another week…" continues Lisa "…and Mike knows the docent out there. We're can check it out in person. I hear Nicholas Cage is going to be ON SIGHT tonight!"
"Nicholas Cage? At 'The Rock' tonight?" says Kyla.
"Yes. Kayaks AND Hollywood. What could be cooler?" say Lisa.
Kyla pretends to think about it for a bit, but inside she knows how much she's love the opportunity to cruise the bay under a nearly full moon.
"Are you sure you wouldn't mind, Nat?" says Kyla as she turn in Natalie's direction.
"Are you kidding? I'd mind if you didn't go." Says Natalie.
Following hugs and a walk along the edge of Sausalito the ladies and Mike are planted at a table perched on the end of a pier that seen better days. The Sausalito Brewing Co sign above competes with the red color of the sky as Mike downs the last of his ales and the ladies do the same to another round of laughs and hugs. Fueled up with crab cakes and IPA's it's time.
"OK. We'll see you back at Nat's at around midnight." said Mira as her and Natalie head back towards the pier. "Have fun!"
Mira takes Kyla's duffel bag and tries to sling it over her shoulder. "WHAT did you pack for three days? Rocks?"
Kyla, Lisa, and Heather head down towards the next pier with Mike a few steps ahead. Mike's extra attentions to Natalie didn't go unnoticed by the friends.
"She's great, isn't she?" says Kyla suddenly and without precedent in Mikes direction.
"What? Who …"
"You know who, 'Mike … Briar.' Natalie.'"
Mike stops just long enough to let his pro-bono clients catch up. He searches the horizon for just and instant and says; "You know …. She is."
"Have you told her?" Lisa jumps in, with a smile.
"Told her what?"
Nobody speaks for a bit.
"That obvious, huh?" says Mike.
"That obvious." says Kyla.
As they again begin walking Mike directs them to a blue shipping container. The door swings wide after a series of clicks and locks are undone and inside a rainbow of kayaks sit atop wooden racks.
"It's just that … I've seen how Nat's struggled with these anxiety attacks and it's good to see her out and on the town again. I offered to get her out on the bay a hundred times but it's tough. You know, baby-steps. She's getting there but there's no way she's do this. You know that. "
Mike is busy pulling boxes out of racks and lifting paddles and life vests.
"There's another locker next door where you can change."
Kyla, Lisa, ad Heather find kayak gear that are about their sizes and emerge in black, form-fitting wetsuits. Mike has, in the mean time, set out four boats with bows at the edge of the water like some long animal that has crept up just close enough to take a taste of the bay.
Some instructions on how to paddle and how to right a tipping boat follow and the ladies finally slip into their kayaks, getting a feel for the tightness and the weight of the paddles.
"Just follow me across the straight. That big, bright light they have out there tonight for filming is our guide. Remember, we're more maneuverable than just about everything out there so don't worry about the big boats." Says Mike.
As the sun heads for a perfect landing between the towers of the Golden Gate a mini flotilla embarks from Sausalito like ducklings following their mother. Four small kayaks cut a path through fifty-five degree water towards "The Rock."
Electricity and Alcatraz - When someone plugs in a television in San Francisco, 120 volts of alternating current send electrons scrambling back and forth giving the device all the energy it needs. Alcatraz' building were constructed when the electric grid was still being developed and DC (Direct Current) looked like the best way to deliver those electrons. It turns out that DC circuits are too limited in range to be of much use beyond a tiny, self-contained island. While the rest of the world runs on AC current Alcatraz remained one of the only islands in the world with working Direct Current generators.
Arriving at the waterfront street below Natalie's home Mira pauses to look across the bay towards the city. "That HAS to be them." She says, pointing towards four lines in the water with paddles inching them across towards The Rock.
"Oh my goodness. You're right." Says Natalie. "They'll have so much fun. Thanks, Mira, for understanding about everything."
"Nothing to understand, sweetie. I remember when you were struggling with this. "
Natalie, by now, had undone two locks and swung a heavy gate inward to reveal a small elevator built into the hillside. Natalie's place is less a home and more a gilded fortress.
"Besides …" continues Mira … "… I told you I have to talk to you about some things. We'll trade. I'll tell you this secret and you can tell me all about you and Mike."
Natalie stops mid button-push and turns to Mira.
"C'mon, girlfriend. We all saw how he looks at you."
"It's not like that. We're friends and he helps watch this place."
"Friends with benefits you mean! It's OK Nat … "
"Look …." Says Natalie as the gate automatically closes and the elevator carries them slowly up the hillside to her Sausalito bird's nest "…I would love to … I mean I like him. But, who would want to hang out with a girls who's afraid of her own shadow?"
The friends ascend to Natalie's home and sanctuary. Only feet from San Francisco Bay but a world unto itself.
"Keep your nose pointed just left of the Island …" Mike shouts to the ladies kayaking around him.
"It's a 'bow' buddy and I've SWUM this before!" Shouts back Lisa who's cutting ahead with the easy grace of someone used to a life in the water. "Twice!" she shouts at her group as she pulls away.
Mike can only laugh as the ebb tide has eased and the moon will be preparing to pull the water back through the gate and light their way home after their journey to Alcatraz.
Gliding up to a dock on the north side of the Island the group can see the glow from the rest of the former prison and standing in silhouette a figure that looks like a guard right out of the 1930's.
"Hey. You can't park that here!" screams the silhouette as four kayaks bob in the surf and Mike ties off each before beginning his assent of stairS that looK as if they haven't been tended since the 30's.
"You listening boy?" says the silhouette sounding a bit more annoyed.
Kyla, Heather and Lisa exchange looks like kids that have been caught passing notes in English class.
"Not listening to you, old fart!" Comes the reply from Mike.
A moment later Mike and the silhouette are standing next to each other on the pier.
"Old? In ten years you should look so good."
The ladies by the boat slowly figure it out.
"How ya' been you old Texan?" says Mike. "Thanks for this. These are some of Natalie's friends …" says Mike, gesturing to the moored kayaks as the ladies ascend the stairs.
"Any friend of Nat's is a friend of mine. Sal's the name. Most people here just call me 'Salt.'"
"And the get-up?" say's Mike, trying to stifle a laugh.
"Straight out of the 30's. I get to play a tour guide on the movie. Now, ya'all gotta be quiet and stay close. They're filming over in the old cafeteria and up in the 'bug' room."
"'Bug' room?" Kyla chimes in. "Hi, I'm Kyla. This is Heather and Lisa. Thanks. Mike told us they're filming out here tonight. This is pretty great. I've never even been here before."
"Pleased to meet you." says Salt. "The cafeteria is through there. That old tunnel." Salt points. "Only tunnel on the whole island. That whole thing you saw in "The Rock" was in a sound stage. One little tunnel through the island so soldiers could carry ammo to the west side if there was ever a fight."
"Leave your stuff," says Mike. No ones going to touch a thing out here.
Kyla, Lisa, and Heather pull off their dry suits and are down to their 'Body Glove" wet suits that were kept dry on the trip. October is true to form in the bay area; it's warm and these will be fine for an hour on the island.
"We can watch some of the filming from above on the old catwalks."
Mike and his kayaking troupe follow Salt through the short tunnel.
"Smells like oil in here." Says Heather.
"The old fuels stores." Says Mike.
Salt explains the fuel bunkers below as they walk towards the light. Next to the fuel is a generating room that looks like it could have doubled as a set of a sunken boiler room on a steam ship. Oxidized and dark but with two new generators humming in the center.
"Those 'Tinsel-Townies' brought their own power to my station." Explaines Salt as they walked. Shooting a movie is long periods of waiting under bright lights interspersed with periods of intense boredom.
Twenty feet from the western side of the tunnel every light goes out. The darkness comes so suddenly and totally Heather lets out a small gasp. Lisa just says; "Cooool!"
"Damn thing putted out again … " began Salt. "Y'all stay here, I'll be right back."
Reaching the west opening the tunnel opened to a view of the gate and the lights of the Marin headlands glowing orange, marking the shoreline and houses. Light's flicker back to life while Heather, Kyla, and Lisa take in the scene. A large building that once housed the eating area for inmates is filled with jean-clad grips and cameras while a dozen men and a few women in black stand around with studio-issued guns. In the middle of all the extras, production crew, and bustle is Nicholas Cage himself carrying on a conversation while holding what looks like a script and flipping pages.
"So, Nick there is supposed to be some kinds e-lite fighter type guy and these are all his boys …" Salt begins, explaining the scene being filmed tonight for Mike and the ladies.
"I'm done with my extra stuff and am just hangin' here cause I'm the go-to guy fer fixin' those lights. New generators hardly work with our old system here. You all can watch from up there." Salt says … pointing to a high catwalk where only a few light bulbs shed dim yellow light.
Salt walks towards a steel door that, though old, had been painted and looks new. "These old steps and where we're going are, tech-ni-cally strictly off limits 'cause there not seismic-safe and all. Being a docent out here I can get ya up there to watch them film this scene."
An overfull key ring appears and Salt picks the target key with hardly a look. The door beyond leads to a spiral staircase and Mike and Kyla follow Salt through with Lisa and Heather behind. The staircase is narrow enough so single-file is required and they have three levels to pass before reaching to top. Salt steps off to the side letting Mike and Kyla pass but, just before Lisa and Heather reach him the lights flicker. They come on with one last bright flare and then go out completely.
"No worries" yells Salt to his guests. "Hey Mike? You're just about there. You and Kyla just stay up on that level. We'll catch ya' up."
Salt passes Lisa and Heather as he heads down the narrow hall and hands the ladies, clad only in their wet suits, his flashlight. "I have another. Just hang here till' I get that damn thing on again, then continue up to Mike."
Lisa and Heather use the single light to survey their level. Heather isn't quite seeing this as the same exciting adventure as Lisa who's almost as giddy as a teenager at a Halloween party.
"This is SO cool!." Says Heather. "We are at Alcatraz with a film crew in total darkness. This is like the ultimate San Francisco ghost tour thing."
"Yeah. Great." Was the best Heather could manage.
Salt went through the door, his light bounding down the stairs in unison with his steps. The door locks behind him and a few minutes later the island is lit up. Mike and Kyla are looking down on the film crew from a railing about thirty feet above the action. Hidden by the shadows and walkways it's a perfect perch from which to watch the scene.
When the lights return to Lisa and Heather, still only on the first landing, they are startled by a woman standing on the walkway.
"THERE you are!" she says to the stunned friends. 'C'mon! We want to wrap this scene before the lights go out for good. Let's get a move on."
"Wha … No you don't under …" begins Heather before Lisa gets a beat on the situation "….what she means is, we were just … going to find a bathroom. We're ready …"
"Fine." says the woman who is carrying a clipboard and looks to be one of the more nicely-dressed members of the crew, wearing a black skirt instead of the blue jeans everyone else seems to have been issued. "Let's go."
"Nick!" She calls ahead … there up here. Be right down."
Five minutes pass before Salt makes it back to the staircase and winds up to join Mike and Kyla.
"Where's Lisa and Heather?" Mike asks as Salt arrives.
"They're not up here?"
"We figured they were with you."
"Ah, damn …" Salt begins, but he's interrupted by a bullhorn from below.
"O.K. crew, we're going to try to get this done while those generators are still going. I want one take … let's get everyone into position."
Mike, Kyla, and Salt look down from their perch and are momentarily speechless. Thirty feet below Heather and Lisa are in the center of the room filled with crew and extras.
"What the …" begins Kyla.
"They think them there two's part of the scene!" Salt chimes in. "I'll be damned … look at those two. Good fer them."
"Who's that?" Mike says, pointing to two guys standing near Lisa and Heather holding several coils of rope.
"Those fellers came over on the last ferry. 'Jay-Dee' and 'Dan' I think. They're supposed to be some kind of rope experts. This here scene has a couple of ladies from the 'Escape From Alcatraz' swim being held hostage or something and they hired these here fellas to make the ropes look good."
"The Two Knotty Boys!" said Kyla. "Oh my God. I've heard of them. They wrote this whole book on how to tie someone up."
Mike and Salt just looked at Kyla for a moment in silence.
"I heard them interviewed on public radio you guys."
Thirty feet below Heather and Lisa were being carefully roped and harnessed.
Heather was standing with her back to JD who holds 40 feet of half-inch, solid-braided rope at the center as if he was about to conduct an orchestra. Instead of a wand, he'll be using flexible strands of white chord. JD fashions two loops at center rope and cinches them so a double loop, each one large enough to accommodate Heather's arms, is held behind her. JD says something to Heather and she nervously stands a bit straighter and puts her arms slightly behind her as JD bring the loops up the encircle her toned shoulders. A series of beautifully formed knots begin to multiply and make their way down the center of Heather's back as more rope leaves the floor around her ankles and joins the strands that are forming what is called a "Dragonfly Sleeve" encircling and cradling Heather's arms. The tying process is steady and gentle and Heather feels less like she's being restrained and more like someone is dressing her in an elegant gown. She can't help herself for remembering a line from one of the many books she's read; "It is always sexier to dress someone than to undress them."
The binding and loops work their way down, under expert hands, to her wrists where they are wrapped and the two free ends drop to be lifted through Heathers legs and travers the lines along her wet suit up to meet the shoulder harness that began the process. With a final flair of rope- dressing the free ends of are married to the harness and Heather finds she's comfortably and securely wrapped in 40 feet of nylon bindings.
Lisa is being treated to a conversation with Dan as he has apparently asked that she assist in her willing restraint. While she holds two loops in a 50-foot length of the same type of rope that now embraces Heather, Dan works a harness with a rose-shaped knot just below Lisa's breasts. Working his way like a dancer circling his partner, Dan relieves Lisa of the need to hold up the loops as he attaches the free ends of Lisa's white nylon ropes to the loops and cinches them with what feels to Lisa like the precision of an artist using her wet-suit clad body as a canvass for his medium. A medium not of pencil or paint but a medium of nylon and rope.
Lisa feels the rope pass between her legs to meet her wrists, which are overlapped and welded to the small of her back to complete a harness tie.
The ladies are then led to the center of the room where the actors gather for a scene while Mike, and Kyla watch in absolutely stunned silence above.
"When them ladies that are really playin' that part return …" begins Salt in a whisper to Mike and Kyla, "…they ain't going to be none too happy."
Lisa and Heather are encircled once more, this time to columns in the center of the former dining hall. Nick Cage comes over and is talking with Lisa while jean-clad grip places a cleave gag through Heather's lips and fastens it behind her neck. After some conversation, that only Lisa and Nick will hear, the clipboard-wielding lady from the first landing steps in to complete Lisa's part as a hostage on Alcatraz with a wide strip of tape covering her lips.
"We're ready here!" clipboard-lady shouts and without any specific direction Mike, Kyla, and Salt can hear everyone rush to some tape-marked spot around the room.
The speed and precision of the movie scene begins with blanks fired from prop guns and actors in black running all directions, yet, choreographed like a stage play. Lisa and Heather are shocked and flinch at he noise and commotion and make a real effort to escape their nylon rope bonds but JD and Dan are experts in their craft and there will be no escape until "cut" has been called and "That's a wrap!" is yelled across the makeshift sound stage.
When the sound and fury have ceased two wetsuit clad women emerge from a side door looking more stunned than relieved that a night of filming has finally ended.
"Who the heck are THEY?" One of them points at the bound and, now, struggling Lisa and Heather.
Clipboard-lady is standing midway between the two sets of women. Seemingly speechless as her head tries to decide which way to turn.
"Doesn't matter!" comes an amplified voice over a bullhorn. "They looked great, the pyrotechnics worked, and WE ARE DONE FOR THE NIGHT!"
A collective round of applause goes up from the crew, save two women who had their bound and gagged scene in the movie stolen out from under their bare feet.
"Anchor Steams on me when we get back to the city." Comes bullhorn voice. "We are done for today."
Crews clean up, bindings are undone, and explanations are made. When all is being dismantled and Mike and Kyla are reunited with their friends below all that can be said is; "Mira and Natalie are NEVER going to believe this."To Be Continued...
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