Chapter 1: Tombstone for a Man with No Name
It was in the winter of nineteen aught six, at the age of twenty-one, that I found myself in the employ of Mr. William Carson.
It was generally known in San Francisco at the time that Mr. Carson had acquired his fortune through questionable means. That was all that was generally known about Mr. Carson. He rarely spoke about his past, and when he did he offered vague and contradictory accounts. He had been on the losing side of the War Between the States, that much I knew. Although he didn't seem particularly devoted to the confederacy.
It was not my job to pry into his personal affairs. Rather, my job concerned itself with his public affairs. I was to be his assistant and apprentice, to aid him in the managing of his investments. In this fashion I hoped to gain enough financial acumen to find employment at a bank or accounting house or some other such respectable business. Working for Mr. Carson paid well, but it was by no means a respectable occupation.
I had inherited no money from my father, but I had inherited his peculiar hair color. At the age of 21, I had the white hair of a much older man, nearly a match for the nonagenarian Mr. Carson. This hair coloring was a singular trait of the Alabaster family and, I am told, the reason why the man at Ellis Island chose that particular surname for us.
From a young age, my friends and schoolmates had called me Whitey. I have been called Whitey for so long that, if pressed, I'm not sure if I could remember my proper Christian name. Mr. Carson, however, was the one person I knew who did not call me Whitey. He called me 'Blondie.'
He said I reminded him of a man he once knew. I was wise enough not to pursue the matter any further. No doubt Mr. Carson had his reasons for being shy about his past, and as his employee, I was obligated to respect them.
For a man of such advanced age, William Carson was remarkably healthy. He could walk under his own power when the mood took him. More often then not, though, I found myself pushing him in his wheelchair. He owned, in whole or in part, a good many businesses around San Francisco, and he liked to check up on them periodically.
He paid particular interest to the bars and taverns that he had purchased, often sampling their product to be sure that everything was 'up-to-snuff.' His favorite, by far, was one on the corner of Laguna and Walnut that he had renamed The Mission St. Antoine.
"There are two kinds of people in this world." He often told me as he sipped expensive whiskey out of a cheap glass. "Those who got money, like me; and those who want money, like you." The last half of that little saying was always different, but often it was vaguely insulting.
Usually I'd just sit next to him and watch as he relieved the establishment of two or three of their finest bottles. Since I was "on the clock" I did not, myself, partake. I would watch as Mr. Carson sunk lower and lower into another fit of drunken revelry. These fits were the only times Mr. Carson spoke candidly to me, and it is only through piecing them together that I am able to form some coherent vision of his history.
On this particular night, February the 18th, he spoke of a place called Sad Hill. It was a cemetery, from what I could gather, where they used to bury soldiers during the war. No wonder the subject seemed to drum up such emotion within him. No doubt some of his closest friends had been buried on that hill.
He had spoken of this cemetery before, bit tonight he made mention of something new. He spoke of a headstone that only read 'unknown,' a grave for a man with no name. I was not aware, at the time, of the significance of this grave. I was chiefly concerned with getting Mr. Carson back to his place of residence before he succumbed to alcohol poisoning.
Still, in the furthest recesses of my mind I filed away these new details about my employers past: the grave of an unknown soldier, and a man who had no name. In my imagination, these two distinct concepts existed as one for a time.
It would be roughly two months before the great quake hit San Francisco. During that time I was to become much better acquainted with Mr. Carson, as well as his friend with no name.