Mercury Falling

For 11 years, Markus Cook was synonymous with Bay Area bike messengers. But he didn't live to see his dream come true -- the Cycle Messenger World Championships held here in San Francisco.

Camille takes a breath and continues: "Mark's last day."
By this point, Mark's program typically ended at 6:30 in the evening. During his first week at Walden, the program had closed early one day, and when Camille learned this she asked to be contacted if it closed early again. Mark didn't have a key to her house, and he had nowhere else to go. On Jan. 3, 1996, Walden House closed early again, at 5 p.m. Nobody notified her.

Mark had received his latest GA check, and told a counselor he would like to run to the bank and cash it. According to Camille, the counselor thought he probably wouldn't make it back by 5 p.m., so he was signed out at a few minutes after 2 p.m. He was due at Glide Memorial for a choir rehearsal at 7:30 and Camille expected him home around 9:30.

"I made it clear that I was concerned about him, but that I did not believe a word he said." Her voice is full of controlled contempt. "They told me repeatedly, 'Addicts lie.' And I just don't understand why, if you know that addicts lie, why would you believe an addict who says he's gonna go to the bank at 2 o'clock in the afternoon? He had money and seven hours of time. As far as he was concerned, it was a piece of cake. He knew he wouldn't be tested for two or three weeks."

Mark never arrived at Glide, and never came home.
At approximately 8 a.m. the following morning, a Mr. G. Martinez was walking in the Franklin Square Park area, at 17th and Hampshire streets. A passer-by called to him that somebody was lying in the shrubbery at the southeast corner of the park. Martinez checked the body, then called 911. Paramedics arrived and discovered the man had been dead for several hours. Nearby lay an uncapped syringe containing brown fluid, a balloon, and a small can. According to the medical examiner's report, "a recent puncture site was noted in the right antecubital fossa." His blood would later be found to contain 0.330 ug/ml of morphine, and 0.036 ug/ml of codeine, with no presence of cocaine. The cause of death would be noted as morphine-type alkaloid toxicity; a lethal dose of heroin. The body had been stripped of all possessions except for an outdated ID card in a pocket.

An investigator from the Coroner's Office, driving a coroner's van, soon pulled up at ex-wife Jennie Hammett's apartment in the Lower Haight, last known address of the deceased. She saw the vehicle and thought it might have something to do with the neighborhood crack house, but then realized it wasn't the crack house at all. It was Mark.

When Camille got the news, she called Walden House. Told that he had signed out early, she blurted the fact of his death to Mark's counselor.

"You're lying," the counselor said.
"She said it about three times," says Camille. "She didn't mean it to be offensive, she was just shocked. But it wasn't the best thing to say. I'm not lying. Why would I lie?"

Carla ran through Markus' address book, calling every number she recognized to break the news. Friends were dumbfounded. Wasn't he in recovery? Wasn't he doing OK?

"People can say, 'Well, if it wasn't that day it would have been another day,' but I don't buy that," continues Camille. "It was one day at a time. Isn't that another one of those little dogmas? I just feel like they weren't even following their own rules."

The family's frustration with Walden House has prompted Lynne to put her Utah business on the market and make plans to move to the Bay Area. She plans to start an organization and work with other parents of addicts, to help curb the heroin epidemic that claimed her son.

"This is going to be my focus," she says determinedly.

It's a San Francisco tradition that whenever a messenger dies, friends and comrades meet at South Park for a wake. The deceased's bicycle is then wheeled to Mission Rock and tossed over the rail into the bay.

By the time Markus' body was found, his bike and possessions had been stolen, so Mishka improvised by bringing a big picnic basket to the park for his wake on Friday, Jan. 5. People filled it with mementos that reminded them of Markus -- photos, a beer, a tampon. Carla Laser pulled out some of her hair for her beloved and placed it on the pile. Over a hundred people jammed the park, wandering back and forth from the Covered Wagon. Candles were lit, circles formed to hold hands. Many stood silently in shock, sipping beers; others were furious.

Mishka strapped the basket onto her bike, and a procession of 20 bikes encircled her as she rode off to Mission Rock. The entourage passed over the bumpy metal grating of the Third Street bridge, and everybody started screaming at once -- yells of sadness, frustration, and rage. Reaching the bay, she threw the basket into the water.

Former messenger Jason Beaubien was an old friend of Markus and Jennie, and attended the gathering at South Park. He wandered over to the Covered Wagon and noticed many familiar faces he used to work with. Although it had only been a few years, nobody recognized him.

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