Set in San Francisco, early 1960's, Julian Katzman and Val Fredericks tackle the intrigue of stolen paintings, the Art World, the Stock Market and insider trading; a murder mystery co-mingeled with imposters, convicts, lawyers, judges, a Greek shipping tycoon and an Art Dealer who survived the holocaust. These characters of the mid-sixties are brought to vivid life by these two first-time published writers.
January 8, 1880
San Francisco, California
On a foggy morning in early January 1880, a group of teenage girls in Catholic School
uniforms were flirting with three young men in a small park next to their school building,
when they noticed a crowd had gathered in front of McBride’s Hardware store.
A man in a plumbed hat, military coat with epaulets and sword was yelling at the
proprietor. “You will pay tribute or I will seize your property, and have you banished to
Oakland for life.”
The man doing the yelling was as much a part of San Francisco as the cable cars and
bridges are today.
Joshua A. Norton, born in London in 1819, the son of an English merchant, arrived in
San Francisco on a clipper ship in 1849. At 30 years old, with forty thousand dollars and
a dream of untold riches, he bought and sold commodities, trading with the original
Forty-niners, prospering for the first few years. Like so many of the Forty-niners and
their, strike it rich attitude, Norton attempted to corner the rice market in 1854 and lost
everything. He maintained himself for the next few years, but his strong English accent
made him odd, and the locals mocked him. Finally his mind gave way to his fantasies,
and in September of 1859, he proclaimed himself Norton I, Emperor of the United States
and Protector of Mexico. For the next twenty years he became part of the cities long list
The five teenage girls were now in the front row of the commotion. Travis McBride,
the stores owner, was yelling at the Emperor. “If you come into my store I will throw you
out on your royal ass.”
McBride, a 30 year-old man, erect and straight laced, had a large waxed mustache that
curled up at the ends. He stood face to face with the Emperor on the street in front of his
store. He was beet-red. The sight of the Emperor always antagonized him.
McBride had been a rookie police officer in 1867 and had arrested Norton as a public
nuisance. The newspapers were outraged. Emperor Norton was the darling of the press,
and his decrees and proclamations were always printed. He was a great news source and
loved by most San Franciscans. The public outrage caused the Chief of Police, Frank
Scanlon, to release him at once. On behalf of the Mayor, City Council and the Police
Department, Chief Scanlon issued a public apology. Officer McBride quit the police
department when he was ordered to patrol the sand dunes. From that point on all police
officers greeted Norton as ‘Your Majesty’.
The stately Emperor, in his finest Oxford accent said, “This is an insult, I had you
removed from the police force long ago and now you’re refusing to honor the coin of the
“Tell em’ Emp., stay strong now.” Simon Kane, who owned the tailor shop across the
street, yelled from the back of the pack.
Kane, who shortened his name from Kaneberg, was a 35 year-old studious man. His
hair was slicked down with palmade and he wore Benjamin Franklin type glasses that
made him appear to be more conservative than he was. Arriving in San Francisco in 1849
from Germany, he decided to try his luck prospecting for gold. When that didn’t pan out
his family sent him money to open a tailor shop. He loved the Emperor and supported his
proclamations. A sign in his store window announced that he was the official tailor to
Emperor Norton I.
“Remove your idiotic British personage from my place of business.” McBride was
Standing in mid-crowd, a full head and shoulders above the rest was Zeb Kilmer, holding
his left fist in the air and yelling, “If he starts anything Emp, remember to keep your left
up.” With that he re-lit the stub of his cigar and watched the scene unfold through his
Kilmer was a huge curly haired man, with a flat nose and cauliflowered ears, received
from his years as a bare-knuckled prizefighter, twice fighting for the world
championship. Now, the only fighting he does, is throwing drunks out of his tavern,
appropriately named the Knockout.
Little Lorna Fritz, one of the five teenage girls and who was small for her age of 15,
walked up to the Emperor, curtseyed, and in a soft voice asked, “Your Majesty, what are
you trying to buy?”
He tipped his plumbed hat to the little blond girl and said, “Your Imperial Majesty
only needs a tiny brass hammer.”
“Here, I’ll pay for it.” Kane shouted, as he tossed a silver dollar at McBride. It fell to
the ground. The crowd was getting restless, and hissed the proprietor as he refused
Kane’s gesture. Little Lorna walked over, picked up the dollar and ran toward McBride,
“Here, I’ll buy it for him.”
“Ok,” McBride replied, trying to placate the crowd that was turning into an angry mob
on the Emperors behalf.
Lorna presented him his new tiny brass hammer, the Emperor then produced a walnut
from a bulging pocket full, placed it on the ground, hammered it open and gave half to
Lorna along with a crisp new one dollar bill drawn on the Imperial Government of
Norton I. Suddenly, the Emperor’s smile twisted into a look of disgust. He pointed
across the street to a man urinating against the wall of Kane’s tailor shop.
“Seize that man!” The Emperor screamed.
The man, Michael O’Brien, was startled as the entire crowd turned to look at him.
“Ah, for fuck sakes.” He cried in a deep Irish brogue.
The Emperor drew his sword and raised it toward the sky. “That just rumples my
The baldheaded Irishman, who was just ejected from the Knockout tavern, fumbled to
button his pants as he ran down the street. Travis McBride went back into his store, as the
crowd dispersed. His wife, Vera, a tiny woman, was standing in the doorway.
“I’m closing for the day.” McBride growled.
“I thought you might. I could see the mob from the window. I’m glad you let him have
the hammer. If you didn’t, they might have lynched you.”
“Dear Vera, if you only knew how much I hate that lying bastard. Yesterday’s
newspaper mentioned that he issued a proclamation ordering a bridge to be built between
here and Oakland, and everyone in the world knows that’s impossible.”
“Why don’t you just humor him and go along with the charade like everyone else?”
“Because it’s a matter of principal with me, right is right and wrong is wrong. I hope
our son’s will follow those rules.” He walked over to the store window, shut the blinds
and put up the ‘Closed’ sign. “I know he is sick. He was mad when I arrested him years
ago, but that’s no excuse for breaking the law.”
“Ok Travis, but I think he’s harmless. Now, would you go down to the Knockout and
get us a bucket of beer? We’re having corned beef and cabbage.”
“You had better go. I saw old man Kilmer in the crowd. He had a snarl on his face and
I don’t think he’ll serve me.”
“Oh sure he will. We’ve known the Kilmer’s for ages.”
“No Vera. I’ve seen the sign in his window, it reads ‘By Appointment to His Imperial
Majesty, Norton I’.”
“Ok, I’ll go.” She sighed.
The famous Knockout Bar, located on Kearny Street, was a gathering place for the
cities elite. Each afternoon the brass rail at it’s huge bar was filled to capacity. All of the
cocktail tables were taken except one; it was reserved for Emperor Norton. Each
weekday at 3 p.m. the Emperor arrived for High Tea, and his presence was the main
reason for the crowd. On the afternoon of his altercation in front of McBride’s Hardware
store he entered, removed his cap and in a grand gesture bowed and kissed the hand of
the beautiful Lilly Lee. He smiled and his eyes twinkled at the tall Asian woman, as if it
were the first time he had seen her. “Without a doubt the most beautiful lady in San
As always she responded in perfect English, “Oh thank you your Majesty, please
She led him to his large round table at the rear of the room where he would enjoy his tea
and hold court for the rest of the afternoon. His two mongrel dogs, Lazarus and Bummer,
followed at his heels; they were always apart of his entourage. Most of the crowd looked
on in awe as he took his seat and waved to all with a cavalier smile. Standing at the brass
rail near the end of the bar was Police Chief Frank Scanlon with his arm around the
shoulder of Zeb Kilmer, the establishment’s owner. Scanlon slugged down a shot of
whiskey and slammed the shot glass down on the wooden bar. “I remember the day you
fought Corbett, I thought you had him in the twenty-fourth round.”
Kilmer, downing his whiskey, turned to his old friend and uttered through his battered
face, “Yea, I thought so too, but he kept dancing away and I couldn’t catch him”.
Michael O’Brien had slipped into the bar just in time for free sandwiches and large steins
of nickel beer.
“Keep your hands off of me”. A woman’s voice rang out, it was Lilly. She was
serving sandwiches at the tables when O’Brien groped her. Chief Scanlon in full uniform
marched directly over to the table where O’Brien was sitting. O’Brien was startled as he
looked up at the Chief.
“If you ever put your hands on Lilly again, not only will I run you in, but I’ll run you
out of town on a rail”.
“Ah, for fuck sakes Chief, it was an accident”. O’Brien stuttered.
“You know O’Brien, you fit the description of the man that urinated on the wall of
Kane’s Tailor Shop this morning and I have a good mind to take you in.”
O’Brien’s eyes cleared. “No, no Chief, it wasn’t me. I swear on me Mum’s grave.”
He was nervously stroking his bald head.
The Chief turned away shaking his head and walked back to the bar.
He stopped, looked back over his shoulder and snarled, “If I ever hear the name
Michael O’Brien again, I’ll hunt you down like a dog, throw you in the hole and every
night I will personally beat you to sleep with a rubber hose.”
With that O’Brien stood up and with a sheepish grin and staggered out through the
swinging doors, as the piano was banging out the most popular song of the day, “Oh
Those Golden Slippers”.
Simon Kane, who was at the bar, approached the Emperor’s table carrying a mug of
“Excuse me Your Majesty, I had the privilege of reading your proclamation yesterday
and I want to congratulate you on your order to build a bridge between here and Oakland.
I think it is a grand idea.”
The Emperor was in the midst of pouring himself another cup of tea from the beautiful
English silver pot that bore his name. “Ah, my dear Simon, please join me.”
“Thank you Your Majesty, it is a privilege. I wanted you to know that your new coat
is ready. If you would like I’ll walk across the street to my shop and get it for you now.”
“Excellent Simon, that’s why I appointed you my official tailor. I will stop by your
shop tomorrow for final alterations.”
Later that evening, the owner of the Golden Gate Mining Exchange, Louis Kroll,
stood at the brass rail of the Knockout Bar, his favorite place to begin an evening. He
admired a sign, framed and hanging from a mirror on the back of the bar.
“Whoever, after due and proper warning shall be heard to utter the
abominable word, ‘Frisco’, which has no linguistic or other warrant,
shall be deemed guilty of a high misdemeanor and shall pay into the
Imperial Treasury: the sum of twenty-five dollars. Signed Norton I,
1st October, 1875”
He finished his drink and with a smile on his face tipped his hat to the beautiful Lilly.
Opening his umbrella he stepped out onto a rainy Kearny Street. He walked toward
California Street where he would head up the hill to Du Pont Street (later named Grant
Avenue) and his favorite Chinese restaurant. As he started up California Street a broad
grin broke out across his face. Not more than twenty yards ahead of him appeared the
unmistakable figure of Emperor Norton waddling up the street with the two omnipresent
dogs at his heels. When Norton reached the summit on the eastside of Du Pont Street he
suddenly staggered forward, halted for a moment then fell prone on the sidewalk. Kroll
raced to his aide, he placed him in a sitting position against the corner house. Norton’s
head had fallen forward and he wasn’t breathing. Kroll’s eyes filled with tears as he
realized the old Emperor was dead. A crowd quickly gathered and the dogs howled,
wailing as if they had been wounded. The loud blast of a foghorn seemed to announce the
fallen Emperor’s departure from this life.
“LE ROI EST MORT” (The King is dead). Proclaimed a banner in the next days
“On the reeking pavement, in the darkness of a moonless night
under the dripping rain, and surrounded by a hastily gathered crowd
of wondering strangers, Norton I, by the grace of God, Emperor of
the United States and Protector of Mexico, departed this life.
Other sovereigns have died with no more of kindly care, other
sovereigns have died as they have lived with all the pomp of earthly
majesty, but death having touched them, Norton I, raised up the exact
peer of the haughtiest King or Kaiser that ever wore a crown. Perhaps
he will rise more than the peer of most of them; he had a better claim
to kindly consideration than that of his lot. Forbade to wade
through slaughter to a thrown that shut the gates of mercy on
mankind. Through his harmless proclamations can always be
traced innate gentleness of heat, a desire to effect uses and a
courtesy, the possession of which would materially improve the
bitterful living Princes whose names will naturally suggest themselves.”
The young city was devastated by the news of his death. The Mayor quickly ordered
all city flags to be flown at half-mast. The funeral cortege was two miles long. Police
had to be called out to control thirty thousand people that turned out to pay final respects
to their beloved Emperor. Local politicians spoke one after the other until it turned into a
virtual Vesuvius of blatherskite. Most of the Emperor’s friends were long gone by the
time the last words were spoken and Norton was laid to rest in the city’s Masonic
The Knockout Bar was filled to capacity with mourners. Chief Scanlon, with Zeb
Kilmer and Simon Kane stood at the bar downing whiskeys and telling stories about their
friend Norton. The giant Kilmer’s eyes were filled with tears. Suddenly Chief Scanlon’s
glance turned to Norton’s table, his face immediately reflected livid rage as he saw
Michael O’Brien sitting in the Imperial chair holding and admiring Norton’s silver
teapot. He was speechless. This was it. He would now kill O’Brien. The two men made
eye contact. O’Brien was shocked, “Ah, for fuck sakes”, he screamed as he bolted out of
the chair and straight for the exit. Scanlon turned back to his two friends and all three had
a roaring fit of laughter.
Scanlon’s face became serious, “Zeb, have Lilly get us three shots of your finest Irish
whiskey and follow me.” He led the two men to the Imperial table.
“Gentlemen, I have something to tell you and it’s important you keep it a secret.” The
two men’s eyes reflected the sincerity that they would keep the secret. “Norton has a
Kilmer and Kane looked stunned.
“He is four years old and his name is Joseph Stiletto, his mother is now married to
Guido Stiletto, he’s a barber in the Palace Hotel and a good man.”
“My God”, Kane blurted. “Why can’t we let everyone know?”
Scanlon with an unmitigated stare said, “Jesus Simon, we know otherwise, but half the
world thinks he was daft. No little boy should grow up with that stigma, so keep it under
your hats. I’m telling you this because you were his best friends. The little boy has two
loving parents and he will do well in this world. So let us stand and I propose a toast to
Norton II, little Joseph Stiletto, may God guide him through life.”
All three men had tears in their eyes as they downed the fine Irish whiskey.
The passing of Emperor Norton also marked the end of the Forty-niner era. The
sleepy little village of Yerba Buena had grown into the Queen City of the golden west. In
the years to come, the people who had gathered at the Knockout to say farewell to their
Emperor fanned out to different parts of the city, most all prospered, the Stiletto’s and
their young son, the Kilmer’s, Kane’s, Scanlon’s, Lee’s, McBrides’ and even the
And on that rainy night in January, 1880 a universal force must have set in motion an
omen that said; ‘In some far distant future, the paths of these people touched by Emperor
Norton, would once again cross through their descendants yet to be born’.