The woman’s corpse clutched a tattered blanket in already skeletal fingers.  Pink ponies cavorted between smudges of mud and blood.  She was somewhere between forty and eighty, but death made her seem childlike.

Sergeant Foley, SFPD, shook his head.  He’d seen a thousand corpses, but had never found an answer to why they all seemed shrunken. 

Somebody tapped him on the shoulder.  He whirled, “It’s not smart to walk up behind a cop like that, Del Mar.”

A tall, thin black man dressed in Raiders’ warm-up sweats raised his hands. “Man, we know each other.”

“I’m not sure your arrest record counts on my social calendar.”

“Real funny.”

“What do you want?”

“I need a favor, man.”

“You want a favor from me?”

“Not what you think – this is different.”

“Different how?”

“I knew that woman.”

 “Did you?”

“Hey, man, don’t look at me like that!  Word gets around. She lived here.”

“What’s her name?”

“Old Alice, Alice Woods.  She was a friend.”

“You got friends?”

“A couple.”

“Why her?”

“She picked flowers, always had flowers on her.”


“She’d give me one every time she saw me.”

“How sweet.”

Del Mar looked down and said nothing.  Foley felt a twinge of guilt and regretted his smart-ass comment. 

Del Mar looked up. “Hell, she was crazy, but she wished me well. Most people don’t.” 

“You got that right.” 

Del Mar frowned.

Foley sighed. “Okay. What’s the favor?”

“Take this.” Del Mar handed him a bill with Grant’s picture on it.

“You’re giving a cop fifty bucks?”

“No.  Just take it by the Mission Church – get a mass said for her. Give it to the priest, Father Zanon.”

“Why don’t you give it to him?”

“Churches creep me out, man.” 

Foley tucked the fifty into his wallet.

Foley stood on the corner of 16th and Dolores, looking up steep steps at the Basilica’s entrance. He shrugged.  “What the hell?”

Fr. Zanon turned out to be a stocky, Italian priest with salt and pepper gray hair and the hands of a plumber. 

“Excuse me, Father.  I’m Sergeant Foley, SFPD.  I need to speak with you about Alice Woods.”

Fr. Zanon turned.  “In your official capacity?”

“Not today, Father.” 

“There will be a funeral mass for her if that’s what you wish to know.”

“That’s not usual for a homeless woman, is it?”

“Well, Sergeant, she had a home; she just didn’t have an address.”

“What do you mean?”

“Alice always reminded me of something Dickens said.”

“The Scrooge guy?”

“Yeah, the Scrooge guy.  He said, ‘No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.’”

Foley thought about that.  “So, whose burdens did she lighten?”

“You remember the fishing boat that went down off Bodega Bay last spring, the Paolina?”

“Yeah, something.”

“There was a memorial mass said for the missing men. Alice came. The fishermen down at the wharf remember that kind of thing. They’re paying her burial expenses. Others are kicking in, too, people from the Mission.” 

Foley said nothing.

“I doubt Alice said even a word to most of the people who are remembering her now, but they knew she cared.”

“How do you know?”

“If Alice knew somebody needed help, she gave them her money.  Quinceañera, scholarship fund, funeral – it didn’t matter.  Those fishermen’s kids – she gave what she had to their trust fund. It must have been all of ten bucks.”

Foley nodded.

“If she didn’t have any money, she offered her hopes for everyone, every day.” Zanon looked at the rearmost pew. “Right back there.” 

Foley suddenly felt that most basic cop feeling of all, his sworn duty to justice.  He confided in Father Zanon, “We don’t know who killed her or why. We might never know.”

Zanon patted his arm. “You’ll do your best, Sergeant. Anything else?”

Foley pulled out his wallet, removed the fifty and held it out.  “This is from Del Mar.  I doubt you know him, but he knew Alice, too.”

“Del Mar?  He’s a dealer, no?’

“He’s a dealer, yes.”

Zanon took the fifty, held it up. “A Mother Theresa miracle.”

“Old Alice was Mother Theresa?”

“As much as she could be. You can’t say that about most people. I know.” 

Foley took out another bill.  “Here’s a twenty. Please add it to Del Mar’s.” 

“Thank-you, Sergeant.”  

“When’s the mass?

“Tuesday at eleven – should be beautiful.” 

“Can’t miss – San Francisco’s October light.   I’ll see you then, Father.”