Chapter 10: You Know What You Are
The fire brigade suffered heavy casualties that night, as did the Bunkhouse Boys, although that was partly Tuco's doing. The army arrived the following morning, ready to provide additional support. In what seemed like no time at all, the fires were out, the angry mobs had been quelled, and all seemed right with the world.
Mr. Carson received a commendation for mobilizing so many "volunteer firemen" at such short notice. The authorities quietly forgot any signs of the two murders at The Ivory Sickle. Buildings had crumbled and the turned to dust, but San Francisco stood unbroken.
I had never been, nor was I ever again, so very tired. Mr. Carson and I had been out all night and all day. As a leader of the community, it was expected for Mr. Carson to be involved in the reconstruction, but no one had expected his contributions to be more than monetary.
For my part, I had never seen Mr. Carson so alive. He walked without the aid of a cane, and jumped and shouted and generally carried on like a much younger man. For that day, I felt almost as if he were my contemporary.
It wasn't until after we'd helped to set up the emergency aid tents, and after the interim fire marshal and the General in charge of clean-up operations had personally thanked him that he began to show the first signs of fatigue.
He climbed into the back of the Silver Ghost, and suddenly he seemed four decades older. It was easy to forget that Mr. Carson was nearly a centenarian. His breathing was heavy and stilted, and he slumped over in his seat and remained quiet for what seemed like an eternity.
"Shall we go home, Tuco?" I asked when I could bear the silence no longer.
"No, Blondie, not right now…" He said. "I want to go back to that place we used to go, back to that sad, sad hill…I want to see Pablo."
Mr. Carson didn't have to say another word. I took him to the same place I had taken him every week for over a year: the cemetery. We didn't have the wheelchair with us, so I had to support Mr. Carson on his way up the hill. In no time at all we were in front of the grave of Pablo Ramirez.
It wasn't until now that I noted the shared surname between this Pablo and Mr. Carson's true identity. Suddenly I saw all those past visits to Pablo's grave in a new light. Mr. Carson struggled to stand in front of the gravestone under his own power, and I attempted to give him some privacy. He spoke to the tombstone in Spanish. He must have thought I didn't know the language. If it weren't for my father's insistence on international schooling in my formative years, I would never have known what he said.
"Well Pablo," he said in a hushed tone. "One time you asked me what I'd done with my life, aside from evil. I just kept the city from eating itself…I put out the fires…that's something, isn't it? That's something…."
Mr. Carson trailed off for a moment. I pretended not to notice there were tears in his eyes.
We pulled up to the house a half hour later, and it was immediately clear that something was wrong. There was an unfamiliar horse tied up outside, and the grounds were eerily quiet. Suddenly the words of Bill Black's note took on a whole new meaning, "see you soon" indeed.
The two of both arrived at the same conclusion wordlessly. We each grabbed our respective firearms and readied ourselves. There are a very few occasions where having a large house is a disadvantage. This was definitely one of them. Miss Eliza could have been anywhere in the house, and so could the rider of that horse.
"You realize that that's probably Bill Black's horse?" I asked. Mr. Carson nodded in ascent. "And if he is in there, Eliza is in there with him." Mr. Carson nodded again, and brandished his pistol.
"Tuco..." I said with some trepidation. "I've never shot anybody before."
"You picked a hell of a time to start." Mr. Carson said, smiling. "Come on, let's go." And with that, we rushed into the house, guns at the ready.
Our search didn't go on for too long. Almost immediately we heard a piercing feminine shriek from the top of the stairway. We turned to see Miss Eliza, still clad in her gown from the night before, gripped roughly by a gargantuan man who held a pistol to her temple. He wore a pinstriped suit and a bowler hat, and had a scare running down the right side of his face.
"Senor Ramirez!" he shouted down into the main hall. "So good to see you! And your little dog too."
No personal insult could make me as angry as Bill Black mistreating Miss Eliza, but referring to me as a dog came fairly close.
"Come on up." Black said, affecting an affable tone. "Step into my office."
His so-called "office" was a broken down section of the upstairs hallway where the rafters were exposed. Black was ready for us. He'd draped two hangman's nooses over rafters and set one of Mr. Carson's expensive mahogany chairs under each of them.
"One for you, one for him." Black said to Mr. Carson, somewhat superfluously. "You killed five of my people, made me look like a fool."
"You didn't need any help to look like a fool." I interrupted, somewhat unwisely.
"Shut up!' Black snarled, pressing his gun against Miss Eliza's breast. "Who the hell are you anyway?"
I had no answer for that. At that moment, I could not even remember how I'd become entangled in this disastrous chain of events.
"Get up there." Black commanded, gesturing towards the chairs with his head. "I don't need to tell you what happens if you don't."
He didn't. Dutifully, Mr. Carson and I climbed onto the chairs and put the ropes around our necks.
"Good." He said with an evil smile. He pulled his gun away from Miss Eliza, but my relief at seeing her out of danger was short lived. A split second later he turned the gun towards us and fired four shots.
Suddenly the chairs were no longer beneath us. I could feel the noose tightening around my neck, and I swear I could feel the devil bite me on the ass. My breathing became labored, and in a few more seconds, my vision faded, and all I could see was a deadly, silent blackness.
There was a sound of thunder, then another, and another. The next thing I felt was a sharp pain in my shoulder. I opened my eyes to see that I was lying on the ground. Mr. Carson was lying next to me. He smiled, a firm, knowing smile.
"I told you." He said. He gestured to the end of the rope and, to my amazement, the end of both ropes had been burned through, as if by a bullet. The window in front of us, one of the only windows in the house left intact by the earthquake, had been shattered, and Bill Black lay dead on the floor in front of us.
Eliza was still in a state of shock. She had been under that maniac's power for an entire night, who knows what horrors she had seen? She embraced Mr. Carson warmly, and then turned her attention to me.
"What just happened?" I asked, astonished.
"Even a filthy beggar like me has got a protecting angel." Mr. Carson said, turning to the shattered window. "There's a golden haired angel watching over us."
The next few weeks were some of the happiest of my life. Mr. Carson, Miss Eliza and I all lived together, just like a family. The city was rebuilt, bit by bit, until it was stronger and more magnificent that it was before. For one brief, shining moment, all the joy in the world seemed to be within my grasp. But nothing lasts forever.
The exertion of that night was too much for a man his age to bear. It wasn't long before his heart gave out. He went out silently in his sleep, and we found him with a smile on his face.
He left nearly all his worldly possessions to Eliza, as expected. I say nearly all because he bequeathed one very special object to me: his automobile, the 1906 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost.
It was a message, plain as day. It was Mr. Carson's last instructions to me from beyond the grave. Miss Eliza wanted us to be married. She said that we could share the money as equals, and live together in her grandfather's magnificent house.
I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I'd stayed, how different my life could have been. But Mr. Carson gave me the Silver Ghost for a reason. He knew what I was, and so did I.
I climbed in that very evening and drove away, and to this day, I have never looked back. No matter how happy I was with Eliza, I'm sure the itch would have hit me eventually. I didn't want to be like Mr. Carson, leaving a chain of broken families in my wake. Instead, I wandered, doing odd jobs, seeking my fortune.
When people ask me my name, I don't say Whitey Alabaster anymore. I tell them to call me Blondie.