Synopsis: After delivering herd of cattle to San Fransisco, the Cartwrights plan to enjoy a little of what the city has to offer, not realizing what all that includes.
Genre: Western, Drama
Word Count: 28,560
“That’s the last of them, Pa,” said Hoss Cartwright as he swung the gate closed behind three head of cattle. The three steers made their way to the center of the large pen, bawling in protest at being so rudely herded into the enclosure which held a large number of other steers.
“Did you get the count?” asked Joe Cartwright as he rode up to the corral on his pinto.
Ben Cartwright held up his hand to quiet his youngest son as he continued to count the marks on his tally sheet. Joe steered his pinto to the pen and dismounted, looping the reins of his horse around one of the fence slats. He glanced at his brother Hoss, standing by the gate, then looked past Hoss to his brother Adam, who was leaning against the side of the enclosure. Both men were watching Ben anxiously. Joe turned to watch also.
Ben continued to count silently, then turned to look expectantly at the man in the gray suit next to him. The man also was counting from a tally sheet. “I make it 212 head,” said the man in the gray suit.
“That’s what I counted,” agreed Ben with a nod. “That’s 12 more head than you contracted for, Mr. Mason.”
“I’m happy to have them,” said Mason. He looked off, calculating in his head. “That’s 212 cattle at $30 a head. Looks like I owe you $6,360.” Mason turned back to look at Ben. “If you’ll wait here a moment, Mr. Cartwright, I’ll go prepare the bank draft and the receipt.” Without waiting for a reply, Mason turned and walked away from the pen, heading toward a small building about 30 feet away. Ben watched Mason for a moment, then turned to smile at his sons.
Joe whistled. “$30 a head,” he said in amazement. “They really must be desperate for beef up here in San Francisco.”
“Well, it’s a growing town,” replied Ben. “I hear there’s more restaurants in San Francisco than in any city west of St. Louis. And they all need meat.”
“But $30 a head!” repeated Joe, shaking his head.
“Don’t worry. Mason will make a tidy profit,” Ben assured his son. “You should see the prices they’re charging for a beefsteak at those restaurants!”
“I don’t care what they’re charging,” said Hoss rubbing his hands together. “Once we get into town, I’m going to find me the biggest steak they have. Steak, potatoes and all the trimmings.” Hoss licked his lips. “I can’t wait.”
Ben frowned. “I thought we would turn in early tonight,” he commented in a serious tone. “I want to get an early start back to the Ponderosa in the morning.”
Adam abruptly pulled himself from the fence as he heard his father’s statement. He looked at his brothers. They had the same stricken look on their faces as Adam.
“Uh, Pa,” said Adam slowly, “we figured on at least a few days here. You know, sort of a vacation.”
“We have a lot of work to do at the ranch,” Ben stated, his tone still serious. “I don’t like leaving everything to Charlie any longer than I have to.”
“But Pa,” complained Joe, “we’ve been on the trail for two weeks. Two weeks of pushing those stubborn steers and eating dust all the way.”
“And two weeks of sleeping on the hard ground,” added Adam.
“Two weeks of chuck wagon food,” chimed in Hoss. He shook his head. “I’d have given anything for one of Hop Sing’s meals. That cook he found didn’t know how to make anything but bacon and beans.”
“You know Hop Sing likes trail drives even less than we do,” chided Ben. “Besides, he likes to keep an eye on things at the ranch when we’re all away.”
“Well, if Hop Sing is keeping an eye on the ranch, and Charlie is handling the chores, it seems to me that we won’t be missed if we take a few extra days,” countered Adam in a reasonable voice.
“And we just have to deliver those letters for Hop Sing,” added Hoss. “We’ll never get another meal from him if we don’t.”
“Pa, we deserve a vacation,” said Joe, not bothering with trying to find a reasonable excuse.
Ben looked at the pleading faces of his sons and burst into laughter. He couldn’t keep up the pretense any longer. “All right, boys,” he said. “I’ve already reserved some rooms for us at a hotel in town. Mason is going to keep our horses out here for us, and there’s a wagon coming by to pick us up in about an hour. We’re going to spend the next four days in San Francisco.”
Adam, Hoss and Joe let out a sigh of relief in unison. “You did a good job on the drive,” added Ben. “I brought those 12 extra head figuring we’d lose some along the way. We didn’t lose a single head, so I figure you boys deserve a little bonus.”
“A bonus?” asked Adam, raising his eyebrows.
“The $6,000 goes into the bank,” said Ben. “I figure after we pay for the hotel room and meals, we’ll still have plenty left over. So each of you gets $100.”
“Hot diggety!” exclaimed Hoss with a wide grin.
“Now don’t get your hopes up,” warned Ben. “San Francisco is an expensive town. A hundred dollars won’t go near as far as it would in Virginia City.”
“It’ll be enough to buy me that steak dinner,” said Hoss.
Joe looked thoughtful. “I wonder how many beers a man can buy down on the Barbary Coast for a hundred dollars,” he speculated.
“You’re not going to find out,” replied Ben in a stern voice. “The last time we were here, we almost got shanghaied down on the Barbary Coast. I’m not about to let you go down there again.”
“But, Pa…” protested Joe.
“But nothing,” said Ben firmly. “You can find plenty to do for the next few days without going into that den of thieves.” Ben saw Mason emerge from the building. “You boys wait here,” he ordered, turning and walking to meet the man.
Adam looked at Joe and Hoss, his face as glum as his brothers’. “Well, I suppose we could spend the next few days going to museums and plays,” suggested Adam, shaking his head.
Joe looked thoughtful, then grinned impishly. “Don’t worry, Adam,” he said. “I’ll find a way to get us down to the Barbary Coast.”
The rooms Ben reserved turned out to be a suite with two bedrooms and a large sitting room. Joe and Hoss quickly claimed the bedroom to the right of the sitting room, each throwing their saddlebags on one of the two beds in the room.
“You boys get cleaned up,” said Ben loudly from the sitting room. “I made reservations for us for dinner at the Cattleman’s Club tonight.”
Joe and Hoss looked at each other in surprise then hurried to the sitting room. “Uh, Pa, Hoss and me thought we’d go out and see a little of the town tonight,” said Joe.
“You can see the town tomorrow,” stated Ben firmly. “Tonight I’m having dinner with my sons.”
“Pa, in case you didn’t notice, we’ve had dinner together every night for the past two weeks,” said Hoss.
“A plate of beans around the campfire while one of us watched the herd is not what I consider a proper dinner,” answered Ben, shaking his head.
“But Pa,” said Adam. “The Cattleman’s Club. Isn’t that a bit…stuffy?”
“It’s a nice quiet restaurant with good food,” replied Ben in a determined voice. “It’s about time you boys learned how to have a pleasant evening with having to go to a noisy bar. There’s more to life than drinking beer and chasing girls.”
“There is?” said Joe in surprise. He grinned as Ben frowned in his direction.
“But Pa,” protested Hoss, “I didn’t bring no fancy duds to wear.”
“The Cattleman Club isn’t fancy,” said Ben in a firm voice. “I know you all have clean shirts and ties with you. That’s all you need.”
Adam looked at his brothers then shrugged his shoulders. “Guess we’re having dinner at the Cattleman’s Club,” he said in a resigned voice.
Joe looked thoughtful. “Pa, what time is dinner?” he asked.
“I made reservations for six o’clock,” replied Ben. “Why?”
“Oh, I just need to run out and do an errand,” said Joe vaguely. “I just wanted to make sure I had enough time.”
Ben’s eyes narrowed. “What errand?”
“I..um…I need to pick up a tie,” said Joe quickly. “I didn’t bring one with me.”
Ben frowned. “I thought Hop Sing told me he made sure each of you packed a clean shirt and tie.”
“I must have forgot and took it out or something,” said Joe, reaching for is hat on the table. “I’ll be back soon. I promise.” Without waiting for a reply, Joe walked quickly to the door of the suite, pulled it open, and disappeared into the hall.
“I’m going to give him one hour,” warned Ben in an ominous tone to Adam and
Hoss. “If he’s not back by then, I’m going to find him and drag him back.”
Much to Ben’s surprise, Joe returned in less than an hour, carrying a small package in his hand and with a satisfied look on his face. Ben watched Joe suspiciously, sure that his youngest son was plotting a way to avoid spending the evening with his family. But Joe calmly washed and dressed for dinner, whistling tunelessly as he tied a brand new tie around his neck. Ben continued to keep his eye on Joe as he left the hotel with his sons. He couldn’t shake the feeling that Joe was up to something, although Ben had to admit he couldn’t figure out what it might be. But he didn’t trust the look of wide-eyed innocence he saw on his youngest son’s face. Ben had learned over the years that this was a look that usually meant Joe was hiding something.
Ben relaxed a bit when the four arrived at the Cattleman’s Club and were shown to their table without incident. There was an air of quiet dignity about the restaurant. The dark wood which paneled the walls was a sharp contrast to the starched white cloths on the table. China plates and silver utensils were set neatly on the table in front of crystal glasses. Most of the people in the restaurant were men, some in suits and some in shirts and ties like the Cartwrights. The restaurant seemed to hum as diners conversed in muted tones.
By the time he ordered and the meals were delivered, Ben had forgotten his suspicions of Joe’s plans for the evening. He enjoyed his meal, and just being with his sons. “Now isn’t this a pleasant way to spend an evening?” asked Ben as he finished his dinner.
“Food sure is good, Pa,” said Hoss, forking another large piece of steak into his mouth.
“How could you tell?” asked Joe wryly. “You did bother to chew. You just inhaled your dinner.”
“I’m just appreciating the good cooking,” answered Hoss as he reached for another roll from the basket on the table.
Ben sat back in his chair and relaxed, feeling pleasantly full and mellow.
“Mr. Cartwright?” said a voice to Ben’s right.
Ben looked up and an expression of surprise crossed his face. “Mr. Santee?”
Santee smiled. “How fortunate to run into you here,” he said. “I wonder if you have a little time to spare. I want to discuss the investment opportunity I proposed in my letter to you.”
Ben frowned. “Now?” he replied doubtfully. Ben glanced around the table. “Oh, by the way, these are my sons – Adam, Hoss and Joe.”
“Gentlemen,” acknowledged Santee with a nod. He looked at each of them in turn. His look seemed to linger a few seconds as he met Joe’s eyes, but Santee turned quickly back to Ben.
“I know it’s an unusual time to discuss business,” admitted Santee. “But I really do want to go over the figures I sent you in more detail, and show you the plans for the warehouse and freight line I’m proposing.”
Ben’s frown deepened. “As I told you in my letter, Mr. Santee,” he said in a voice full of doubt, “I’m not sure this is the type of venture in which I want to invest.”
“Perhaps if you see the particulars and give me a chance to explain them, you might change your mind,” suggested Santee. “I happen to have them with me. We could use one of the offices here at the Club. They have several available for use.”
“Why don’t you go ahead and take a look, Pa,” urged Joe. “It might be a good investment.”
“But I had planned to spend the evening with you boys,” protested Ben.
“We’re finished with dinner,” said Adam quickly, a gleam suddenly appearing in his eye. “We’ll just have some coffee and then head back to the hotel. I think Joe’s right. You ought to look at those figures.”
“All right,” agreed Ben in resignation. He reached into his pocket and pulled out some money. Ben counted some bills and put them on the table. “That should cover dinner.” Ben pushed back his chair and stood up. “I’ll see you boys back at the hotel.”
“Take your time, Pa,” said Joe with a wave of his hand. “Don’t worry about us.”
Ben nodded doubtfully, then turned to the other man. “Mr. Santee,” he said politely. “Shall we find one of those offices?”
Adam, Hoss and Joe sat silently at the table for a few minutes after Ben left. Then Adam raised his eyebrows and said to Joe, “How did you manage to pull that off?” his tone a mixture of admiration and curiosity.
“Pull what off?” answered Joe in an innocent voice.
Adam ignored Joe’s protest. “I didn’t think you were paying attention when we talked about Santee’s proposal back at the ranch.”
“Big brother, I always listen,” said Joe with a grin. “It may not look like it sometimes, but I’m always listening.”
“But Joe, how did you know where to find this Santee fellow?” asked Hoss.
Joe shrugged. “It wasn’t too tough.” He smiled. “I happen to hear Pa telling Hop Sing about his planning to keep a close rein on us in San Francisco. So I thought it might not be a bad idea to bring Santee’s address along. The clerk at the hotel gave me directions to Santee’s office. It didn’t take much for me to convince him that Pa might not be willing to come to the office, and maybe he might do better to find Pa.”
“Little brother, you sure do take the cake,” said Hoss shaking his head.
“The hardest part was remembering to buy the tie on the way back,” remarked Joe with a grin. He pushed back his chair and stood up.
“Where are you going?” asked Adam.
“Back to the hotel,” said Joe. He saw the surprised look on his brothers’ faces. “Of course, I’m planning to go back by way of the Barbary Coast,” added Joe. He began to walk away from the table.
Adam and Hoss looked at each other for a minute, then both abruptly stood up. “Hey, Joe,” called Hoss. “Wait for us!”
The elegant granite and stone buildings gave way to shabbier looking structures as the three Cartwrights walked down the street toward the bay. The closer Adam, Hoss, and Joe got to the waterfront, the more the buildings around them looked plain and slightly weather beaten. Only the gaudy signs and the glow from the gaslights brightened the scene.
The street became more crowded as Joe and his brothers entered the area known as the Barbary Coast. Men in suits were jostled by sailors in faded blue pants. Working men, as evidenced by their sturdy cloth shirts and stained pants, eased past cowboys wearing boots and stetsons. The noise increased also. The faint tinkle of piano music was barely audible over the loud laughter and shouts from the buildings. The Barbary Coast was loud, lively and had an air of decadence. Joe couldn’t wait to sample its wares.
“This is some place,” said Hoss as he looked around the street.
“Yeah, well, watch yourself,” warned Adam. “A man can get into trouble down here without much effort.”
“I think a little effort is in order,” said Joe with a grin, rubbing his hands together.
A woman walked out of a doorway just as the three Cartwrights passed a tall, thin building. Her face was caked with a heavy layer of make-up, and a string of cheap beads hung around her neck. Her dress was cut low at the top, and high at the bottom, revealing much of her milky white skin.
The woman held out her hand to stop Joe. “You’re cute,” she purred. “Want to party?”
Joe smiled and tipped his hat. “Why, ma’am, we barely know each other,” he said meaningfully.
“I can arrange for us to get to know each other better,” the woman replied in a sultry voice.
Before Joe could answer, Hoss grabbed his little brother’s arm and pulled him down the street.
“Hey!” Joe protested as Hoss determinedly dragged Joe away from the doorway. “Why did you do that?”
“I don’t mind getting into a LITTLE trouble,” replied Hoss in a firm voice. “But what you had in mind was big trouble.”
“Now how do you know what I had in mind?” asked Joe with a grin.
“All he had to do was take a look at your face,” commented Adam. He glanced down the street. A building on the corner had a large sign proclaiming it “The Golden Slipper”. A smaller sign announced the “Prettiest Girls and Best Entertainment on the Barbary Coast”. The building looked slightly less shabby and a bit larger than the other structures around it. “Let’s try this place,” suggested Adam, pointing to the sign.
A man in a checked suit and bowler had stood near the door of the Golden Slipper. He shouted to the men walking by, touting the attractions offered within the saloon. Most ignored the barker, although a few turned to listen as they passed by. The barker saw the Cartwrights approaching, and a wide smile crossed his face.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” said the barker. He reached behind him and pulled open the door. “Welcome to the Golden Slipper. Finest place on the Barbary Coast. Enjoy an evening of fun and frolic, and all for just a $5 cover charge.”
Adam stopped by the door, taken aback. “$5!” he said. “That’s awfully steep isn’t it?”
“Not for what we offer,” replied the barker smoothly. “Fine entertainment. Pretty girls. And the whiskey’s not watered down either. Worth every penny, I assure you.”
Adam looked over his shoulder toward Hoss and Joe. “What do you think?” he asked.
“I think I want to see the place,” said Joe pushing past Hoss and heading toward the door.
“Now there’s a smart young man,” said the barker, pulling the door open even wider as Joe strolled in. Adam and Hoss exchanged looks and Hoss shrugged. They walked through the door after Joe.
The Cartwrights entered a small foyer decorated with red velvet wall paper and gold trimmings. A man sat at a table on the other side of the foyer, near the entrance to a larger room. A metal cash box sat on the table, and a velvet rope was strung across the entrance to the larger room. Standing near the entrance was a giant of a man, even taller and broader than Hoss. He had the look of an old fighter, with a crooked nose and puffy skin under his eyes. Music and singing could be heard coming from the larger room, as well as the sound of voices. A few tables with chairs were visible on the other
side of the door.
“Good evening, gentleman,” said the man at the table. “That will be $5, please.”
“Each,” added the big man in a growl.
Adam reached into pocket of his pants and pulled out some currency, folded in half. He unfolded the bills and slipped the top one off, folding the others and stuffing them back into his pocket. Adam walked up to the table and handed the bill to the man. Hoss and Joe came up behind Adam and did the same. The man at the table nodded to the big
man. He reached down and unhooked the rope, letting the Cartwrights into the large room.
Adam, Hoss and Joe stopped just inside the room and looked around. This room
also had red velvet wallpaper and gold trimmings, although they were difficult to see in the dim light. Tables and chairs were crowded into the room, with only a small space separating them. At the back of the room was a brightly lit stage, outlined by red velvet curtains with gold trim. A piano sat at just to the left of the stage. A man was playing the piano, and two men were sitting next to him, playing a trumpet and a drum respectively. On the stage, five girls in very brief costumes were singing a lively song and prancing about. About half the tables were occupied. Adam saw an empty table with three chairs in the middle of the room. “Come on,” he said with a cock of his head. He started toward the table and Joe and Hoss followed him.
The three Cartwrights sat down and almost at once, a girl in a short dress and carrying a tray walked up to them. “What can I get you fellows?” she asked with a bright smile.
“What’s a beer cost in this place?” asked Adam.
“Beer’s fifty cents, whiskey is a dollar a glass and champagne is twenty dollars a bottle,” replied the girl as if she had repeated the answer hundreds of times.
“We’ll have three beers,” said Adam.
Hoss shook his head as the girl walked away. “Pa wasn’t kidding about the prices in this town, was he?”
“You only live once, brother,” said Joe. “Might as well enjoy it.”
“I don’t mind enjoying it,” replied Hoss with a grin. “I just want to make sure I can afford it.”
The girl returned with three mugs of beers. “If you boys are looking for some real excitement,” said the girl as she put the beer glasses on the table, “there’s a couple of poker games going on in the back room.” The girl jerked her head to the right, indicating a door behind her.
Joe reached out and gently took the girl’s hand. “Nothing in that room could be as exciting as you,” he said gallantly. The girl giggled as she pulled her hand away. She turned to leave but stopped and threw a smile over her shoulder at Joe. Joe returned the smile.
“Joe, you’re missing the show,” remarked Hoss as Joe’s eyes followed the girl.
“No, I’m not,” replied Joe. He watched the girl for another minute then turned back to face the stage.
The girls on the stage finished their routine and bowed to a smattering of applause. As they left, a man walked onto the stage and announced a brief intermission. Most of the patrons seemed to ignore the announcement, but two men sitting at a table next to the stage booed loudly. “Come on, Danny,” said one of the men loudly, pushing his chair back with a scraping sound. “Let’s get out of here and find some real fun.” Both men were wearing rough spun shirts and dark wool pants. The first man was short, with wide shoulders and thick arms. The second man was taller and thinner. Both men had a flushed look of someone who had been drinking for quite awhile.
The first man stood and began to weave drunkenly through the tables. His friend followed, also walking with a gait showing he was less than sober. As the first man passed by the Cartwrights’ table, he suddenly lurched to his right, bumping heavily into the man sitting at the next table. “Hey, watch it,” said the drunk.
The man at the table was middle aged, dressed in a dark suit and wearing a tan vest. His dark hair with thinning at the top, and he had the pallor of someone who spent most of his time indoors. He looked up at the inebriated man. “I believe you bumped into me,” he said politely.
“You calling me a liar?” demanded the first man.
“No,” said the man at the table calmly. “I was just pointing out that you bumped into me.”
The first man turned to his friend. “This fellow says I bumped into him, Danny.”
Danny looked at the man sitting a the table through half opened eyes. “Nobody insults my friend Patrick,” said Danny in a slurred voice.
“I wasn’t insulting anyone,” replied the man at the table, sounding a bit frightened. “Why don’t you simply go on your way.”
Patrick scowled at the man at the table. “No one tells Patrick Callahan what to do,” he said angrily. He reached down and grabbed the man, pulling him up by the lapels.
Adam, Hoss and Joe had been watching the exchange. Hoss frowned when he saw
Patrick grab the man and he jumped to his feet. “Why don’t you leave him alone,” suggested Hoss as he stood behind Patrick.
Patrick turned toward the voice and his face bumped into a broad chest. He released the man at the table and looked up into Hoss’ scowling face. Patrick swallowed hard as he realized the size of the man behind him.
“What’s it to you?” said Patrick, his voice full of bravado.
“Yeah,” slurred Danny. “What’s it to you?”
Joe and Adam jumped to their feet and stood next to Hoss. “I think you’d better leave,” said Adam in a quiet voice.
Patrick looked at the grim faces on the three well-muscled cowboys. He wasn’t too drunk to realize he had more trouble than he had bargained for. He looked over his shoulder at Danny, who seemed to be waiting to be told what to do. Patrick took a step back from Hoss. He turned and pushed Danny back a few steps. “Come on,” he muttered as he began to ease himself around the table.
The Cartwrights watched until Patrick and Danny had left. Hoss turned to the man sitting at the table. “You all right?” he asked with concern.
“I’m fine, thanks to you,” replied the man straightening his coat and patting his forehead delicately with the back of his hand.
Hoss nodded and turned to sit down again. Adam and Joe also returned to the table.
“May I join you?” asked the man at the next table, standing and pulling his chair over. “I’d like to buy you all a drink as thanks.”
“No need,” answered Adam, with a wave of his hand. “But you’re welcome to join us.”
“I insist,” said the man with a smile. He waved at a girl walking by. “Another round of beers here,” he called when she stopped. “And put it on my tab.” The girl nodded and walked off.
“I’m Walter Higgins,” said the man, turning back to the Cartwrights. He reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a business card, then handed it to Hoss.
“Higgins Brothers Construction,” read Hoss. He looked up in surprise. The man sitting across from him was small and rather meek looking, not at all the picture of a construction foreman. “Construction?”
“My brother runs the actual construction crew,” explained Higgins with a smile, understanding Hoss’ surprise. “I’m the architect in the family, and I run the front office as well. We have an office and lumber yard in the city, just a block from City Hall.” Higgins looked at the other men. “You’re not from San Francisco, are you?”
“No,” replied Adam with a smile. “I’m Adam Cartwright, and these are my brothers. The big one is Hoss, and the one with his eyes glued on the girls is Joe”.
Joe turned back to the table at the sound of his name and nodded to Higgins. He quickly turned back to admire the women moving among the tables.
“Cartwright?” said Higgins thoughtfully. “I believe I know that name.”
“We have a ranch near Virginia City,” said Adam. “We ship lumber up to San Francisco from time to time.”
“Cartwright! Of course,” exclaimed Higgins. “I’ve bought some of your lumber. Fine wood it is. And you have reputation for fair dealing.”
“Thank you,” said Hoss. “Our Pa would be proud to hear that.”
The waitress returned and put four beers on the table. She lingered a minute, smiling at Joe who was looking at her with admiring eyes, then turned and left.
“If you don’t mind me asking,” said Adam, sipping his beer, “what are you doing in a place like this. This doesn’t seem to be your kind of place.”
“It isn’t,” admitted Higgins. “I’ve lived in San Francisco almost all my life, and this is first time I’ve been to the Barbary Coast. ” He sighed. “I was with a client, a man from Fresno who is interested in our building a rather large factory for him. This is his first trip to San Francisco and he insisted that we come down here. Once we arrived, he found…um… someone else to entertain him and left. I decided to stay and experience the Barbary
“You almost experienced it right into a fight,” said Hoss with a grin.
“You’re right,” admitted Higgins. “Although I’m afraid it wouldn’t have been much of a fight.” Higgins shook his head. “If you hadn’t intervened, I’m afraid I would have been badly beaten.”
“The bouncer would have probably stopped in,” said Adam, downplaying the incident.
“Perhaps,” Higgins replied, “but not before I had some very nasty bruises. I’m very grateful to you all. If there’s anything I can ever do to repay you, you must let me know.”
“Hey, Hoss,” said Joe suddenly turning back to the table. “Speaking of bouncers, think you could take that fellow by the door?”
“I don’t aim to find out, little brother,” answered Hoss, sipping his beer.
“Too badly,” said Joe, shaking his head sadly. “I would have paid to see that fight.”
“You’ll have to excuse my brothers,” apologized Adam with a shake of his head. “They seem to think drinking and brawling constitute a good time.”
Joe turned to scowl at Adam. “That’s not true,” he said. He looked at Higgins. “My idea of a good time is a pretty girl and lots of dancing,” said Joe with a grin. “Is this a good place for that?”
“I couldn’t say,” admitted Higgins. “As I said, this is my first visit to this area. I just wanted to see what it was like.”
The band struck up a tune, and two girls danced onto the stage. The music was slower this time, and the girls on the stage began to bump and grind in time to the music. Joe’s attention instantly turned back to the stage. “Mr. Higgins,” said Joe over his shoulder, “I think you’re going to have a chance to see what it’s really like on the Barbary Coast.”
A hand shook Joe’s shoulder roughly, rousing him out of a deep sleep. “Come on, little brother,” Joe heard Hoss say. “You’re going to sleep the day away.”
“Go away,” Joe mumbled without opening his eyes. He nestled deeper into the bed. “I’m on vacation.”
“Well, your idea of a vacation may to spend the whole day in bed,” said Hoss, “but I’m not sure Pa would agree with you.”
Joe opened one eye and looked up. “Is Pa up yet?” he asked.
“Hours ago,” answered Hoss. “He and Adam went out and I figure they’re due back soon. If you’re still in bed when he gets back, Pa isn’t going to be happy. He’s already mad at us for last night.”
“Last night?” said Joe in a puzzled voice. “Oh, yeah,” he added as images of the Barbary Coast flashed through his head.
“I’m going down and get you some coffee and toast,” said Hoss. “Now don’t you go back to sleep.”
Joe sighed. “I won’t.”
As Hoss left the room, Joe pushed back the covers. He sat up slowly, and immediately put his head in his hands. He could feel the throb of a headache. His mouth had a horrible taste in it, and his tongue felt as if it would covered with fur. Joe was mildly surprised to realize that he was still fully dressed. Only his boots and string tie were missing.
Joe tried to remember the previous night. Things were pretty clear to him until the show had had another intermission and Higgins had left. After that, Joe’s memory grew a bit fuzzy. He remembered the pretty blonde waitress suggesting he join her at another table, and he remembered buying the bottle of champagne. Images of dancing with the girl, holding her close as she kissed and nuzzled his neck, flashed through Joe’s mind. They had danced several times, Joe recalled, stopping only to refresh themselves with champagne.
Joe didn’t remember the girl’s name – Sally? Susie? — or when she had left him. He vaguely recalled Hoss helping him into a cab, and Adam telling him to be quiet as he lurched through the suite to his bed.
Must have been the champagne, though Joe as he slowly swung his legs from the bed. He got up carefully, and stood for a moment as the room seemed to spin around him. Joe slowly undressed, throwing his rumpled clothes into a pile in the corner of the room. He walked toward the wash stand, and poured water from the pitcher on the stand into the basin.
Ten minutes later, Joe felt reasonably human again. The cold water he had splashed on his face helped clear his head. He had run a razor lightly over his face and gargled some cold water to clean mouth. His brown shirt and tan pants felt comfortable and familiar, and his feet slipped easily into his well-worn boots.
By the time Joe emerged from the bedroom, Hoss had already returned with the coffee and toast. The pot and cups, along with a covered plate, sat on a table in the middle of the sitting room. Joe nodded his thanks as he sat down at the table and poured a cup of
coffee. He sipped the coffee, then reached for a piece of toast. His stomach lurched a bit at the thought of food, but Joe knew from experience that he would feel better once he got something solid into his stomach. “Thanks for helping me get home last night,” said Joe as he nibbled on the toast.
Hoss’ eyes widened. “I’m surprised you remember,” he said.
“I remember,” protested Joe. He sipped some coffee. “Well, I remember most of it,” he admitted. “Things got a little fuzzy there toward the end.”
“Now that don’t surprise me,” replied Hoss with a smile. “The way you was guzzling that champagne, I’m didn’t think you’d remember anything.”
“I remember the girl,” said Joe with a wistful look. “Wonder where she went?”
“She went home,” answered Hoss firmly. “She almost went home with your wallet, but Adam stopped her.”
“She did?” said Joe in surprise.
“You weren’t exactly aware of what was going on,” explained Hoss with a wry smile. “Luckily, Adam saw her slip your wallet out of your jacket while you were busy whispering into her ear or whatever.”
Another image flashed through Joe’s mind, and he smiled. Whispering wasn’t exactly what he was doing.
“Anyway, Adam sent her on her way. You were so glassy-eyed drunk, you didn’t even know she left. That’s when we figured we’d better get you back here to bed,” concluded Hoss.
“They must have spiked that champagne with something,” Joe said shaking his head. He instantly regretted that movement. “I’m sorry if I cut your night short,” apologized Joe.
“Naw,” said Hoss with a shrug. “Me and Adam was ready to go anyway. He won about $50 playing poker, and he didn’t want to press his luck. And the show was getting kind of boring. Besides, we didn’t want to get back too late. Pa was worried enough without us staying out all night.”
“Was he mad this morning?” asked Joe, feeling a bit guilty.
“He wasn’t too happy with us,” agreed Hoss. “He didn’t say much this morning, but I’ve got a feeling he’s going to have a lot to say when he and Adam get back.”
“Where did they go?” Joe asked curiously.
“Down to look at some warehouse near the bay,” said Hoss with a shrug. “They said they wouldn’t be gone long. That’s why I got you up when I did.”
The door to the suite suddenly opened, and in walked Ben and Adam. Ben gave
his youngest son a stern look as he strode into the room. “Well, I see you’ re finally up,” he said.
“Morning, Pa,” said Joe, giving his father his brightest smile.
“Morning?” answered Ben skeptically. “It’s almost ten. Half the day is gone.”
“Well, technically, it’s still morning because it’s before noon,” said Joe with a grin. His smile faded as he saw his father wasn’t amused.
Ben looked at his sons. “I’m very disappointed in you, boys,” he said sternly. Ben almost smiled as he saw the look of guilt cross each of his son’s face. He was disappointed, but that emotion had come at the end of a roller coaster of emotions.
When he first returned and found the suite empty, he had been furious. As the evening wore on, his emotion had changed to worry. Worry had been replaced by relief when the three wayward Cartwrights had returned, no worse for the wear except for Joe being a bit drunk. And relief had given way to resignation as Ben realized once more that his sons were grown men. They weren’t little boys who could be told to go to bed at eight. Ben told himself for the thousandth time that they were capable adults, able to look after themselves. He worried about them, but he also knew he couldn’t stop them from living their lives the way they wanted. Disappointment had been the final emotion. He was disappointed in himself because his sons had felt the need to deceive him. He would have thought his relationship with his boys was better than that. He also was disappointed that his sons, after hearing his expressed wishes that they avoid the Barbary Coast, had headed there at the first opportunity.
“I’m disappointed in all of you,” repeated Ben. “I thought you told me last night that you were going back to the hotel.”
“We did head back to the hotel, Pa,” said Joe. “We just made a little…detour…along the way.”
“I would hardly call going to the Barbary Coast a little detour,” stated Ben in a cold voice. “I thought I told you to stay away from there.”
“We was just looking around, Pa,” explained Hoss. “Just wanted to see what was going on.”
“Don’t worry,” Adam assured his father. “We kept an eye on each other.” Adam cocked his head told Joe. “Especially on Joe.”
Joe scowled at his brother, but didn’t reply. He knew they were on shaky ground already with Ben, and arguing with Adam would only add fuel to the fire.
“Well, now you’ve seen what was going on,” said Ben sternly. “There’s no need to see it again.”
“Yes sir,” agreed Hoss. Joe and Adam nodded.
“Hey, Pa, where did you and Adam go this morning?” asked Joe, sensing that the lecture was winding down. Changing the subject seemed like a good idea.
Ben looked at his sons, and his face softened. They were back and safe. He had a feeling that excursions to the Barbary Coast were over….for at least this trip. He had made his point. It was time to let it go. “We went down to look at the warehouse that Santee claims he owns,” replied Ben in a more reasonable voice.
“Claims?” asked Joe in surprise.
“I looked at the proposal closely last night,” explained Ben. “It looked good. Almost too good. I wanted to see the warehouse for myself.”
“What do you mean?” asked Hoss.
“Well, Santee claims he has a warehouse near the bay,” said Ben. “It is an ideal spot to take goods off the ships and then in turn load those goods on to freight wagons. Santee says all he needs is some funding to get the freight wagons going and he can ship goods all over the West.”
“Sounds look a good deal,” commented Joe.
“Like I said, it sounds almost too good,” said Ben. He shook his head. “That property down by the waterfront is expensive. If Santee can afford a warehouse there, it seems odd that he couldn’t afford the freight wagons.”
“We went down to take a look at where he claimed the warehouse is,” said Adam.
“Was it there?” asked Hoss.
“It was there, all right” said Ben. “Standing empty and with no one around. We checked with some of the people who had offices near there, but no one seemed to know who owns the warehouse.”
“Maybe Santee spent all his money on getting the warehouse and that’s why he needs money for the freight wagons,” suggested Joe.
“That could be,” agreed Ben. “But it also could be that he’s using that warehouse as a front. He knows it’s empty so he shows it to investors, hoping to impress them. He may own a warehouse elsewhere, or he may not have one at all.” Ben shook his head. “There’s just something about Mr. Santee that doesn’t seem right.”
“You could just pass on the deal,” said Adam.
“I could,” said Ben. “But if it turns out he does own that warehouse and can set up a freight line from it, I’ll be kicking myself all the way back to the Ponderosa for missing out on this venture.”
“Is there any way to find out for sure?” asked Joe.
“The only way would be to check the property ownership records at City Hall,” said Ben. He sighed. “I don’t know when I’ll have time to do that. I’ ve got several other business matters I want to take care of while we’re here.”
“Couldn’t one of us do it?” suggested Hoss.
“I thought you were on vacation?” said Ben, with a wry grin. He shook his head. “Maybe we’ll have time later. For now, we’ve got to head down to Chinatown. We must deliver those letters to Hop Sing’s uncle.”
Joe groaned inwardly. He had been with Ben before when they visited Hop Sing ’s family. It wasn’t really a visit. Hop Sing’s family turned it into an event. Formal tea ceremonies and polite bowing that seemed to last for hours would take up most of the day. Gifts would be exchanged and they would sit making polite conversation on topics which held no interest for Joe. He wouldn’t have minded it so much if any of Hop Sing’s younger relatives participated. But only the family elders seemed to be involved. Adam and Hoss never seemed to mind the visits. Adam was interested in the ceremonies and culture while Hoss was satisfied with the constant stream of food put before him. But to Joe, the visits seem a version of Chinese torture. “Pa,” said Joe suddenly, “why don’t I go down to City Hall and check out who owns the warehouse while you’re down in Chinatown.”
Ben frowned. “Hop Sing’s family expects all the Cartwrights to visit them.”
“Three Cartwrights should be enough,” said Joe. “I mean, after all, we wouldn’t want to miss out on this deal if it turns out to be the real thing,” he added hastily.
Ben looked thoughtful. “It would help to know if Santee owns that warehouse,” he agreed. “If he does, I could finalize our investment before we left San Francisco.”
“It sure would,” agreed Joe, trying not to seem too eager. “Look, just write down the address of the warehouse for me, and I’ll check out the property records at City Hall. When you get back, I’ll have the information and you can decide what to do.”
“All right,” Ben agreed a bit reluctantly. He walked over to a desk sitting under the window of the suite, and pulled open a drawer. Taking out a piece of paper, Ben wrote down the address.
“Little brother, you seem awfully eager to run down to City Hall,” said Hoss. “You got some other mischief in mind?”
Joe shook his head. “No, I just want to help out,” he said.
Adam looked at Joe. “This helpfulness is a side of you we rarely see,” he commented. “Are you sure you don’t have some other little detour in mind?”
“I’m just going down to City Hall,” said Joe in a firm voice. “I swear. There’s no way I can get into trouble doing that.”
The clock in the tower atop the building was hitting the double chimes of half past the hour as Joe walked into City Hall. He knew that meant the time was 12:30.
Joe had taken his time about heading for City Hall and the records after the rest of the Cartwrights had left for Chinatown. He knew there was no rush; Hop Sing’s uncle would keep the rest of the family occupied for hours. Joe still was feeling slightly hung over, so he took advantage of the opportunity to finish the pot of coffee and even nap a bit. He left for City Hall feeling refreshed and alert.
The man sitting at a desk just inside the City Hall doors told Joe that the records he wanted were kept in the Property Clerk’s office and pointed down a corridor to the clerk’s left. City Hall was built like a T, with two long corridor’s on either side of the entrance and another large area behind the clerk. The area behind the clerk was an atrium flanked by two levels of offices, while the wings on either side were only one story of narrow halls with offices on either side.
Joe nodded his thanks and headed to the Property Clerk’s office. He saw the words proclaiming the office he wanted on a door to his right, about half way down the hallway. He walked into an office that was long rather than deep, with most of the office to his right. He could see three desks covered with papers, empty chairs sitting behind them. Bookcases filled with flat ledgers and file cabinets lined most of the walls. The walls of the office were tall, maybe 10 or 12 fee high, giving impression of a larger space than it actually was. A counter stood a few feet away, and a tall, thin young man got up from a desk behind it. He was wearing a white shirt and string tie, with a gray vest that matched his pants.
“Can I help you?” asked the young man in a high, almost squeaky voice.
“Are you in charge here?” Joe asked in surprise as he walked up to the counter.
“No, I’m just a clerk,” replied the young man with a shake of his head.
“Where’s everyone else?” asked Joe curiously, looking around the empty office.
“At lunch,” replied the clerk. “I’m the newest one in the office so I have to cover things while they’re all at lunch.” The clerk shook his head. “I don’t get to eat until they get back, which on a pretty October day like today could be quite awhile,” he added glumly.
“Well, I guess that puts you in charge, at least for now,” said Joe with a grin.
The clerk brightened. “Hey, I guess it does,” he agreed with a smile. “Now, what can I do for you?”
“I need to verify who owns some property,” said Joe reaching into the inside pocket of his green jacket. He pulled out a piece of paper and handed it to the clerk. “Can you tell me who owns this property?”
“Sure,” replied the clerk as he studied the paper. He walked from behind the counter and went over to one of the bookcases. He studied the spines of the ledgers for a minute, then pulled a ledger out. Returning to the counter, the clerk opened the ledger and flipped through some pages. He ran his finger down the page until he found the entry he wanted. “Says here the property is owned by the Bombay Company,” read the clerk. He looked up at Joe. “That help you?”
“Not really,” said Joe. “Anyway of telling who owns the Bombay Company?”
The clerk looked thoughtful. “Well, there should be some record over in the tax office,” he said thoughtfully. “I mean, assuming they paid their taxes, they’d have to list the directors and principle owners.”
“How do I find the tax office?” asked Joe, his face falling. He had a feeling that he was going end up chasing through a maze of officials, trying to find the information he wanted.
The clerk saw the look on Joe’s face. “Why don’t you wait here and let me see what I can find out for you?” he suggested. “I’ve got a friend who works over in the tax office. He’ll look up the records for me a whole lot faster than he will for you.”
“I don’t want to take you away from your duties,” Joe protested mildly.
“I don’t mind,” replied the clerk with a grin. “I’ve been stuck behind this desk all morning. It’ll give me an excuse to take a walk and stretch my legs a bit.” The clerk walked around the desk and toward the door. “If anyone comes in while I’m gone, tell them I’ll be right back,” said the clerk over his shoulder as he headed out the office door.
Joe stood by the counter, idly looking around the office as he waited for the clerk.
Suddenly, he heard a rumble and ground beneath his feet seemed to vibrate. The glass in the windows rattled, and some of the ledgers slid off the bookcases, crashing to the floor with a loud thud. Joe grabbed the counter to keep his balance. A few seconds later, the vibrating stopped. “Earthquake!” shouted someone in the hallway as they ran by the office.
Having never been through an earthquake before, Joe wasn’t sure what to do. He heard more running in the hall and figured maybe he ought to follow the others outside the office. Joe took a few steps from the counter toward the door. Suddenly, the rumbling began again. This time, the vibrating was more intense. The whole building seemed to be shaking violently. The floor buckled in waves of motion, knocking Joe from his feet. The bookcases and file cabinets fell forward, and the desks spun drunkenly around the room, smashing into each other. Lamps and pictures began falling from the walls, followed by chunks of plaster. Papers flew everywhere. Joe tried to scramble to his feet but a piece of debris hit him in the chest, knocking him on his back. He could see the ceiling cracking above him and he pushed himself up again, desperate to get out of the building. A piece of falling plaster hit him in the side of the head and Joe fell back again, stunned by the blow. Then the roof literally fell in on him.
Hop Sing’s uncle starting herding the Cartwrights out of his house as soon as he heard the first rumble. Ben made it as far as the doorway before the second quake hit. He grabbed the door jamb as the floor beneath him began to buckle, and looked out onto the street. If Ben hadn’t seen it with his own eyes, he would never have believed it. To him, it looked like a scene out of hell.
The street began to move up and down, as if the ground were water and a wave was rolling in. Buildings began to sway drunkenly. Some toppled forward while others collapsed on top of themselves. The street cracked open and huge fissures appeared. An all around, people, horses, and dogs ran screaming in terror.
It seemed to Ben that the earthquake lasted forever, rather than the few seconds of its actual length. When the rumbling stopped and the earth finally stood still, for a moment, there was an eerie quiet. Then chaos erupted.
People poured out of buildings, shrieking and babbling as they sought safety. Ben and his sons were in the midst of Chinatown, so the words had no meaning to them. But one didn’t need to understand the words to understand the pure panic gripping most of the people on the street. Ben turned quickly to check on his sons, and was relieved to see Adam and Hoss crouched behind him. Hoss had his massive arms around Hop Sing’s uncle, doing his best to protect the older man from harm. Ben heard an ominous sound – the creaking of walls. “Let’s get out of here!” he shouted and ran to join the panic in the street.
Ben stood in the middle of the street, a few feet from the door to Hop Sing’s uncle’s home, and watched as Adam and Hoss followed after him. Hoss helped the old Chinese gentleman to the street. The four men stood in the street as a river of shouting people passed around them. Some seemed to be seeking family, and other seemed to be looking for help. Still more were simply running and screaming with no purpose.
Hop Sing’s uncle looked around and began shouting in Chinese. Ben doubted if anyone could have heard him over the din of the other voices. But within a few minutes, a small crowd – some old, some young, some male and some female – gathered around the old man. They began hugging and touching each other.
Ben watched the scene for a minute with a sense of both pleasure and impatience. He was pleased that Hop Sing’s uncle had seemed to find his family. He was impatient to find the missing member of his own family. “Honorable father,” said Ben to the old Chinese, “we must return to the hotel. My youngest son…we must find him.”
The old man looked at Ben with knowing eyes and nodded. “Of course,” he said. “You must go.” His eyes turned to Hoss. “You must tell Hop Sing how grateful his uncle is that he has strong protectors at his side.” Hoss nodded and blushed a bit.
Ben didn’t wait any longer. He gave a brief nod and started up the street. Adam and Hoss quickly joined him.
The walk from the hotel to Chinatown had been short – no more than an easy 20 minute stroll. But the return to the hotel was a difficult and arduous journey. Ben and his sons walked as rapidly as possible up the steep hill, but their progress seemed to be impeded with every step. People were milling around, shouting names and calling for help. Some were simply standing and staring, seemingly in shock. Ben could hear the clang of emergency wagons in the distance, and shouts of instructions to clear the streets. No one seemed to pay any attention to the shouts.
As the Cartwrights made their slow progress up the street, they were awed by the destruction the earthquake had caused. There didn’t seem to be a single building that wasn’t damaged. Many of the poorly built structures had simply collapsed. The sturdier buildings still stood, but large jagged cracks were visible in the walls. Chunks of rocks, plaster and other debris filled the street, making them almost impassable. It took the Cartwrights almost an hour to make it to the hotel. The panic caused by the earthquake seemed to ebb as they came closer to the hotel. People no longer seemed to be running aimlessly, and they passed a few people trying to organize the crowd.
As they neared the hotel, Hoss voiced the worry that was in the mind of each of the Cartwrights. “Pa, what if Joe ain’t at the hotel?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” replied Ben grimly.
“We’ll never find him if he’s not there,” said Adam.
“We’ll find him,” said Ben firmly. “If we have to search every inch of this city, we’ll find him.”
Ben walked toward the hotel, his eyes searching the skyline. He let out a sigh of relief when he saw the building was still standing. As he neared the hotel, the crowd seemed to thicken again. About twenty people were standing outside the entrance to the hotel, shouting at two obviously beleaguered men standing by the front doors. Ben searched the crowd for Joe, but he could see no sign of his youngest son. His heart in his throat, Ben pushed his way into the crowd.
“Everyone is out of the hotel,” Ben heard the man shout to the crowd. “As near as we can tell, no one in the hotel was injured. Please. Just wait here until we can finish checking the building.”
“What about our belongings?” shouted someone from the crowd.
“Your belongings are safe, I assure you,” said one of the men.
“Where are we going to sleep tonight?” someone else in the crowd shouted.
“Here, we hope,” shouted one of the men near the door. “The building has some damage but we believe it is safe. We’re checking to be sure.”
Ben pushed his way to the front of the crowd. “I have to get into the hotel,” he said.
The man by the door shook his head. “No one is going in until we make sure it is safe.”
“But my son may be still in there,” said Ben anxiously.
“I can assure you that he isn’t,” answered the man. “We checked all the rooms. There is no one in the hotel.”
“But he must be there!” said Ben, his voice becoming a bit frantic.
The man by the door looked at Ben for the first time. “Mr. Cartwright?”, he said tentatively. When Ben nodded, the man continued, “Are you looking for the young man with the dark hair? The one wearing the green jacket?”
“Yes, yes,” replied Ben eagerly. “Do you know where he is?”
“He left the hotel a little after noon,” replied the man. “I was on the desk, and he asked me for directions to City Hall. I saw him leave.” The man turned away from Ben as someone else in the crowd shouted a question. Ben pushed his way out of the crowd and headed toward Adam and Hoss who were standing a few feet away.
“The clerk says Joe left for City Hall a little after noon,” said Ben to Adam and Hoss who watched him anxiously. “He must have been there when the earthquake hit.”
“Do you know where it is?” ask Hoss. Ben nodded. “Then what are we waiting for?” asked Hoss. “Let’s get to City Hall.”
Joe struggled out of the dark fog in his head, gasping for air as he woke. He could hardly breathe. He felt a weight pushing down on his chest, making each attempt to suck in air a labored effort. As his consciousness grew, Joe was aware of other weights on his body, not as heavy as the one on his chest, but still the weights pinned him to the ground. His lungs felt full of dust and he coughed, then grunted with pain as the cough seem to cause a sharp stab into his right side. He gasped for air again, feeling the weight on his chest restricting his lungs from working properly. His head was resting on something hard, and sharp objects seemed to be digging into his back. Joe tried to open his eyes as he wondered where he was. His eyes felt gritty, and his right eye seemed almost pasted close. Joe blinked hard, trying to clear his vision. His eyes teared a bit then seemed to clear.
The first thing Joe saw was the edge of a thick piece of heavy plaster just inches from his face. He stared at the jagged piece for a moment, wondering where it had come from. Then the memory of the earthquake and collapsing building came back to him. Panic flooded through him as Joe realized he was buried under debris from the building.
“Help!” shouted Joe as loudly as he could. His throat was thick with dust and the weight on his chest pushed on his lungs, so the shout was little more than a croak. Joe cleared his throat and tried to fill his lungs. “Help!” he shouted again, this time a little louder. “Can you hear me! I’m trapped. Help me!”
Joe listened, desperate for a response. There was no answer.
“Help me!” screamed Joe again as loudly as he could. He turned his head a bit to the right and saw a wall of concrete and plaster in front of him. “I’ m here!” shouted Joe, fearful that no one could see him. Again, only silence answered his cries.
The sound of stone grinding and wood straining attracted Joe’s attention. He turned his head to his left. He could see bits of debris but not as much as on his right. He looked up and saw blue sky through the gaping hole where the ceiling had been. The ceiling appeared to have broken in half as it fell. The end of three thick beams, still joined together with tar, rest on top of the clerk’s now tilted counter. The other end of the beams pushed up against the outside wall. The wall was leaning inward, with only the beams keeping it from collapsing onto the helpless victim on the floor.
Eyes wide with fear, Joe shouted for help again. When there was no answer, he began to struggle, trying to free himself from the debris that pinned him to the floor. His left arm pushed aside some bricks and wood that held it down, and Joe pulled it free. He tried to move his right arm, but his hand was firmly held to the floor by several pieces of debris.
Joe pushed his left hand against the thick plaster on his chest. He managed to move it a bit to his right, giving the left side of his chest some blessed relief from the weight. Joe pushed again, but the far end of the plaster bumped into the wall of concrete next to him. He shoved hard at the plaster but to no avail. The thick piece on his chest would move no further.
Twisting, Joe tried to pull his body from under the plaster. A sharp pain stabbed him in the side and his hand seemed to be stretched from his wrist. He tried to ignore the pain, desperate to free himself. As he squirmed under the plaster, Joe suddenly realized the lower half of his body wasn’t moving. He stopped his gyrations, and carefully lifted his head. Joe could see a huge beam laying across his thighs, just above his knees. He stared at the beam and swallowed hard. He couldn’t seem to feel the weight of the beam. And he couldn’t feel his legs.
Tears of frustration and fear filled Joe’s eyes as his body sagged back against the floor. His body shook a bit as he sobbed out his emotions. Joe looked over his shoulder toward the wall which seemed to be looming above him. He shouted for help once more, hoping for an answer but knowing there wouldn’t be one. The only sound was his ragged breaths and sobs. Joe knew he couldn’t free himself. He would have to wait for someone to find him and dig him out. Closing his eyes, Joe wondered if anyone was looking for him, if anyone even knew he was here. The office had been empty except for the clerk who had left just before the earthquake hit. The clerk might have been injured, might well be dead. There was a chance that no one knew where he was. The panic that filled him earlier was gone. Now despair flooded through him.
Ben turned the corner on to the street which led to City Hall with a feeling of relief. What under normal circumstances was a short walk had turned into an arduous trek. The three Cartwrights had found themselves negotiating through piles of rubble and having to find a route around streets where portions of the roadway had sunk into the ground, leaving gaping holes. On one street, they had run through a shower of water from a broken pipe that was shooting a geyser almost fifty feet into the air.
The closer they got to City Hall, Ben and his two sons realized, the worse was the damage caused by the earthquake. He had held on to the faint hope that the solidly built City Hall building has managed to survive the earthquake with minimal damage but as Ben neared the structure, his hope turned into dismay. The clock tower was gone; only the base was left pointing into the sky. Ben could see several deep indentations in the roof, areas where the top of the building had collapsed. Jagged cracks ran through most of the structure. The outside facade had fallen away in some area, exposing bricks and supporting beams.
Fifty or more people were spread out on the ground in front of City Hall, some sitting and some lying down. Another eight or ten people were moving through the crowd, obviously offering help or comfort. Ben saw a man wearing the long white coat of a doctor bending over someone stretched out on the grass.
Ben’s eyes frantically searched the crowd, looking for a familiar green jacket or a shock of instantly recognizable brown curly hair. He saw people who were bleeding, and people who had limbs wrapped in cloth. His eyes passed over individuals simply sitting and staring in shock. Ben’s stomach churned with both hope and fear as he looked for his son. “Do you see him?” asked Ben anxiously as Hoss and Adam came up beside him. Both shook their heads, their faces grim as they looked at people around them.
Ben saw a man in a blue tunic standing near the entrance to City Hall. Three white stripes decorated his sleeve, and the sun glistened off a badge on his chest. The man was gesturing and shouting orders. “I’m going to check with the officer up there,” said Ben pointing to the man. “You two ask around, see if anyone knows where Joe is.”
The police sergeant was a big man, his broad shoulders and the hint of fat outlined by his blue tunic. He was bare headed, and his thinning brown hair was slicked down on his head. His beefy face was red with exertion as he shouted orders. “Sammy, get around the corner to the store and get some blankets,” he shouted to a smaller man in a blue uniform. “Find some pots, anything we can use to carry water.” The man nodded and started off. “Break into the place if you have to,” yelled the sergeant to the departing officer. The sergeant saw Ben approaching. “Be off with you,” he said with a hint of a brogue. “There’s no need for anyone to be looking around.”
“Officer,” said Ben, “I’m looking for my son. I think he was in City Hall when the earthquake hit.”
The sergeant’s face soften a bit. “If your son was in City Hall, he’d be out there someplace,” said the policeman, gesturing toward the people on the ground.
“I couldn’t see him,” said Ben anxiously. “Has anyone been taken to a hospital?”
“No,” replied the sergeant with a shake of his head. “We can’t get wagons through the streets. We found a doctor and he’s doing what he can until the wagons can get here.”
“Is there anyone left inside?” asked Ben, his anxiety growing.
The sergeant shook his head. “I sent some men through the building. As far s they could tell, there’s no one left inside.”
“His name is Joe Cartwright,” pressed Ben. “He 22, wearing a green jacket, ark wavy hair, a few inches shorter than me.”
“Haven’t seem him,” said the sergeant. He hesitated. “You might look over here.” The policeman pointed to his left. Ben’s sank as he looked to where he office had pointed. Seven bodies, covered with white sheets, laid on the ground.
Ben walked slowly toward the bodies. A young policeman stood by, his face almost as white as the sheets. Ben stared at the sheets then looked at the young man. “Can I take a look?” he asked fearfully. The policeman nodded. His heart in his throat, Ben carefully lifted the sheet from the first body. He swallowed hard as he lifted each sheet in turn. He saw several young men, two women, and a old man. He lowered the last sheet with a feeling of relief. None of the bodies were his son.
Nodding his thanks, Ben returned to the sergeant standing near the entrance to the building. The sergeant had been watching Ben.
“Officer…” started Ben.
“Sergeant Riley,” said the policeman by way of introduction.
“Sergeant Riley,” acknowledged Ben. “My son isn’t here. Do you have any idea where he might be.”
Riley shook his head. “No, sorry, I don’t,” he said. He looked at Ben, his face full of sympathy. “Mr. Cartwright, was it?” When Ben nodded, Riley continued. “Maybe he got left before the quake, or maybe he got out all right and headed off someplace.”
Ben stood by the officer, not sure what to do next. He turned as he heard Adam call.
“Pa!” shouted Adam. He and Hoss were helping a young man toward the building. The young man wore a white shirt and a string tie hung open around his next. His gray vest and pants were covered with dust. The young man held a large white cloth to his head, and trickles of blood were visible down the side of his face.
“Pa, this fellow says Joe was in his office when the earthquake hit,” said Hoss.
“Are you sure?” asked Ben anxiously.
The young man nodded. “Young fellow, green jacket, tan cowboy hat,” he said. “I had just left him in the office. I was going to check…” the man shook his head briefly, “check on something for him. Can’t remember what. He must have been in the office when the earthquake hit.”
“What office?” asked Riley quickly.
“Property,” replied the young man. He turned and pointed to one of the wings in the building. “About half way down that hall.”
Riley looked around and spotted a man a few feet away, talking to a small knot of people sitting on the ground. “Browning,” he shouted. “Come over here.”
The man, another police officer, ran up to Riley. “What is it, Sarge?” he asked.
“Did you check all those offices in that right wing?” Riley demanded.
“Yeah,” replied Browning. But his eyes shifted downward.
“All of them?” demanded Riley. “Careful like?”
“Well, I looked in them,” he said defensively. “There was one, it was filled with rubble and the outside wall looked like it was getting ready to collapse. I didn’t go in, but I looked in it. I didn’t see anyone.”
Which office?” asked Ben anxiously.
“It was empty,” protested Browning. “I couldn’t see anybody. And that wall, it looked like could come down any second. I didn’t figure it made much sense for me to be poking around in there. I could have been killed if that wall fell.”
“Which office?” demanded Riley in a loud voice.
“About halfway down, on the left,” said Browning. He cocked his head as he thought. “Said Property or something on the door.”
“That’s the office,” exclaimed the young man holding the cloth to his head. “That’s where he was when the earthquake hit.”
“He must still be trapped in there!” said Ben. “I’ve got to get in there.” He pushed past Riley toward the door of City Hall, with Adam and Hoss at his heels.
Riley looked at the other officer who was staring guilty at the ground. “Browning, you’re a disgrace,” he said disgustedly. Then he turned to follow the Cartwrights into the building.
Joe wasn’t sure how long he had been trapped in the rubble. It seemed like days, although he knew it had only been a few hours. He could see the shadows changing position as the sun moved through the sky. He could see the patch of blue sky through the hole in the ceiling. It seemed to taunt him with a sense of freedom as he laid trapped below it. Turning his head, Joe looked at the wall looming above him. The wall seemed to have settled, although, occasionally, Joe could hear the soft groan of wood straining. It still worried him that the wall could fall, but he was no longer terrified. Perhaps he had just gotten used to it, thought Joe, or maybe just resigned to his fate. Joe’s head ached, and he thought he might have drifted off to sleep for a minute or two. He wasn’t sure. Lying trapped beneath the debris, with no one answering his cries for help, was beginning to seem like some kind of bad dream. Joe wondered if he was beginning to lose his grasp on reality.
Joe called out again for help, something he did periodically. He didn’t really expect an answer but crying for help gave him a sense of doing something. He didn’t realize his calls were barely audible, that they were merely a soft croak from his dry throat. His side and hand ached with a dull throb of pain. Breathing was easier now that he had moved the chunk of plaster from all but a bit of the right side of his chest, but his chest was still sore. Joe worried about the lack of feeling in his legs. He wondered if they were broken, smashed beyond repair. He began to think that perhaps being rescued offered him only a different kind of confinement, a life of being trapped forever with useless legs.
Stop it, he told himself sharply. You’ll get out of this, you’ll be fine. You just have to wait. Joe tried to convince himself but he found it difficult not to give in to the growing sense of abandonment and despair. The sound of voices and footsteps drew Joe’s attention. The sounds seemed to be coming closer. For the first time in hours, Joe felt a flicker of hope.
Maybe someone was coming for him after all. Maybe he hadn’t been forgotten.
As bad as City Hall looked from outside, the damage inside the building was much worse. Ben’s eyes grew wide in fear and amazement as he looked inside the building. Chunks of plaster, concrete, bricks and other debris littered the floor. Ben could see a staircase that had collapsed. What had once been a desk was now a pile of kindling, smashed by falling concrete. Looking around him, Ben wondered how anyone could have survived amid such devastation.
Pushing that thought aside, Ben began to call Joe’s name as he picked his way through the rubble and debris. Hoss and Adam joined in as the followed their father. The three stopped only briefly every minute or so to listen for a reply. Riley followed the Cartwrights down the hall, saying nothing, but privately thinking that their venture would produce nothing but an eighth body.
Ben approached the office that was about halfway down the hall to his right. A door hung open, supported only but a single hinge which stubbornly held on to the wood. Ben pushed past the door and went inside the office. The floor of the office was covered with large bits of plaster, wood, paper and other debris. The rubble had piled itself into a barrier over a foot high in the middle of the office. The far outside wall of the office leaned dangerously inward, supported only by the beams and other material from the collapsed roof. Other beams were scattered about the office, some on the floor and some leaning against each other. Ben looked around the office, frantically calling Joe’s name.
Joe heard his father calling him. He was so filled with a sense of relief and elation at that sound that he could barely speak. He tried to answer but all that came out was a strangled croak. Joe raised his only free arm and began waving it.
Ben saw the arm of the green jacket and the hand seeming to pop up out of the debris and wave. “There he is!” shouted Ben, pointing. He began climbing through the rubble toward the hand.
“Joe!” cried Ben as he reached the pile of debris and looked over it. His cry was one of both relief and dismay.
Joe laid on the floor, looking up at his father, his eyes pleading for help. He appeared to be pinned to the floor by a large piece of material which was laying on his chest. Only his right shoulder was visible; the rest of his arm disappeared underneath the wall of debris. The left side of Joe’s face and neck were covered by dried blood, and the rest of his face was darkened by dirt. A fine white powder of dust was sprinkled through his dark hair.
“Pa!” said Joe in a barely audible voice. “Get me out!”
“Hold on, son,” replied Ben as he began to dig into the rubble. “We’ll dig you out.” Ben began to pick up pieces of plaster and throwing them to the side.
“Here, Pa, let me in there,” said Hoss, coming up beside his father. His massive hands wrapped themselves around a large piece of concrete. With a mighty heave, he lifted the concrete and move it away. Joe closed his eyes with relief as he felt the weight being lifted off his body. In a surprisingly short period of time, Ben and Hoss had removed
almost all the debris that covered him. “Let’s get that beam off of him,” said Hoss, inching his way down a foot or two.
Adam was standing a few feet behind his father and brother, watching anxiously. There was room for only two men to work, so he and Riley waited and watched. As Hoss moved down toward the beam, Adam studied the tangle of beams and frowned as he traced their path to the wall. “Hoss, don’t!” shouted Adam suddenly. Hoss paused for a minute, looking over his shoulder at Adam with a puzzled expression. With a shrug, he turned back toward the beam across Joe’s legs.
“Hoss, wait!” Adam yelled. He threw himself forward, pushing Hoss to the side with his shoulder.
“What did you do that for?” demanded Hoss angrily as he fell away from the beam. Ben, Joe, and Riley stared at Adam in amazement.
“You move that beam and that whole wall will collapse on Joe,” said Adam in a rush. Four faces turned to look at the wall which was leaning toward them. “Look,” said Adam, pointing. “Those beams are supporting each other like some kind of puzzle. The one across Joe is holding up that beam coming down from the side wall at an angle. That one is pushing a smaller beam against the counter to keep it from falling forward. The beams holding the wall up are resting against the counter. If you move one beam, the whole thing will fall apart and the wall will collapse.”
Four pairs of eyes traced the path of the beams as Adam spoke.
“He’s right,” said Ben softly.
Hoss’ eyes widen and he swallowed hard. Another minute, and he might have killed his brother as well as everyone in the room.
“What’ll we do?” asked Riley moving forward. “Can we pull him out from under the beam?”
Adam knelt down and examined the large wooden girder. It was pushing down on Joe’s legs, holding them tightly against the floor. “No,” said Adam softly.
“How about we saw it?” suggested Hoss.
“That won’t work either,” said Adam with a shake of his head. “That will still loosen the support against the others.” Adam looked up and studied the tangle of timbers. He frowned slightly as he gazed at the wall. “We’re going to have to brace that wall somehow. Once we do that, we can move the beam and get Joe out.”
“How are we going to do that?” demanded Hoss.
“We’ll need some timber,” replied Adam. “We can build a framework against the wall to hold it in place.”
“Lad, you’re never going to find enough timber around here,” said Riley with a shake of his head. “There’s hardly a stick of wood that’s not buried or crushed.”
Ben saw Joe sag back against the floor, his face a picture of despair. Joe’s hope for rescue had soared when his family found him, but now those hopes ere being cruelly dashed.
Pushing aside some more debris, Ben cleared a small area so he could kneel next to Joe. “We’ll get you out, son,” he promised Joe, gently stroking Joe’ s head. “Don’t worry. We’ll get you out.”
Joe looked up at Ben, his eyes glistening with tears. He nodded but the despair was still evident on his face.
Adam blinked his eyes as his mind raced through possibilities. “Higgins!” he shouted suddenly. The other men looked at him, clearly puzzled. “Walter Higgins,” continued Adam. “The man we met last night. He said he had a construction company somewhere near City Hall.”
“He sure does,” said Riley, his face brightening. “It’s about two blocks from here. He’s got a yard full of lumber. ”
“Let’s get over there,” said Hoss, starting to climb back over the debris. Adam followed his brother toward the door of the office.
“I’ll show you where it is,” Riley said eagerly, turning toward the door. Suddenly, he stopped and looked back to where Ben knelt next to Joe. “I’ll show these two the way,” he said. “Then I’ll come back with whatever I can to make the boy comfortable.” Ben nodded his thanks as Riley turned again and left.
Ben pushed aside a bit more of the debris, clearing an area so he could sit next to Joe. He saw his son wince and move his shoulders. “Let’s see what we can do about getting you comfortable,” said Ben softly. He put his arm under Joe’s shoulders and lifted his son forward. Joe cried out in pain, grabbing at his right side as Ben pulled him up. Ben froze.
“I…I think I busted some ribs,” gasped Joe.
Ben realized how foolish it had been to move Joe without checking his injuries. He silently cursed himself, hoping he hadn’t harmed his son more. Ben looked down and saw the rubble on which Joe had been lying. Holding Joe steady with his right arm, he used his left hand to brush the rubble away. Then he slowly lowered Joe back to the floor. “I’m sorry, Joe,” said Ben apologetically. “I shouldn’t have…let me check you over.”
Running his hands lightly over Joe’s chest and ribs, Ben could indeed feel some broken ribs. He also saw the large bruises on Joe’s chest. He ran his hands down Joe’s arms, and was relieved to feel the bones intact. Gently, he pulled Joe’s right hand from the floor. The hand was covered with blood, and Ben could see some torn skin. He probed the hand as softly as he could and felt the broken bones on the back of it. Ben laid Joe’s hand on his son’s chest. Turning Joe’s head slightly, Ben examined the gash in the side of Joe’s head. The cut had bled freely, but it didn’t look very deep.
Ben moved a few inches and began feeling Joe’s abdomen and hips. Nothing seemed swollen or out of place, although Ben couldn’t be sure. His probing stopped when his hands came up against the beam across Joe’s legs. “Can you feel if your legs are broken?” asked Ben softly.
Joe shook his head, barely moving it. “I can’t feel anything, Pa,” he answered in a choked voice. “I can’t feel my legs at all.”
A grim look came over Ben’s face. He stared for a moment at the beam laying across his son, wanting nothing more than to push that cursed piece of wood away and free his trapped son. Then he took a deep breath and tried to compose himself.
“Don’t worry, Joe,” said Ben in a soothing voice. “Once we’re able to move that beam, you’ll get some feeling back.”
“Sure, Pa,” replied Joe in a voice that clearly showed he didn’t believe his father’s words.
Ben moved back up to sit near Joe’s head. He stroked his son’s head. “You’ve got to be strong, son,” he said softly. “Hang on for a while longer. We’ll get you out and then everything will be fine.”
Joe closed his eyes briefly, and took a breath, wincing as he did. “I didn’t think anyone was going to come for me,” said Joe in a barely audible voice. “I waited and waited but nobody came.”
“It took us awhile to find you, Joe,” admitted Ben as he continued to stroke Joe’s head lightly. “I’m sorry.”
“I waited so long,” said Joe, as if he hadn’t heard Ben. He turned to look at his father, his eyes full of misery. “How much longer do I have to wait?”
The look in Joe’s eyes seemed to pierce Ben’s heart. He wanted to do something, anything to help his son. Except there was nothing he could do but wait with him. “We’ll have you out of here soon,” promised Ben, hoping he was right.
Adam and Hoss wove their way through knots of people as they hurried in the direction in which Riley has pointed them. Most of the people were simply standing or sitting in the open air. They were not willing to return inside the buildings around them, buildings which leaned at unnatural angles or which showed huge cracks in the foundations or walls.
As they neared Higgins’ lumber yard, the crowd grew thicker. But now, the crowd was moving. Men passed Adam and Hoss carrying armloads of boards. Occasionally, a pair of men, carrying a thick timber between them, would pass by.
When they reached the lumber yard, the Cartwrights saw Higgins standing near the gate to the yard. He was in shirtsleeves, with a tie hung loosely around his neck, and he was shouting. “Take what you need, but only what you need,” shouted Higgins in a loud voice.
“Mr. Higgins?” said Hoss as he came up to the man by the gate.
Higgins looked at Hoss for a moment as if he wasn’t sure who the big man was. Then his face cleared. “Hoss!” he said with a smile. He looked past Hoss. “Hello, Adam.”
“Mr. Higgins, we need your help,” said Hoss in a rapid voice. “Joe’s trapped in some rubble at City Hall, and we need some lumber to shore up a wall so we can get him out.”
Frowning with concern, Higgins said, “Tell me more.”
Quickly, Adam explained about Joe’s predicament. Higgins listened carefully, the frown on his face deepening as Adam talked. “What do you plan to do?” asked Higgins as Adam finished.
“I don’t know exactly,” admitted Adam. “I thought if we could get some lumber from you, we could use it to brace the wall. Then we could move the beam and free Joe.”
“It would take some pretty large beams,” said Higgins thoughtfully. He gestured to the yard behind him. “We’d have to find exactly the right size. And in this mess, that could take a while.”
Hoss and Adam looked into the yard behind Higgins. The yard was covered with wood, boards and larger beams scattered about like match sticks dropped by some giant hand. Some of the wood was broken or cracked. But most simply laid in a tangled heap. About ten men were inside the yard, picking up armloads of wood.
“Who are those fellows?” asked Hoss. “Your men?”
“I don’t know who they are,” said Higgins with a shrug. “People who need shoring for their homes, I suppose. They started showing up a little while ago. I just opened the gate and let them in.”
“How do you know what they’re taking?” asked Adam. “And what to charge them?”
Higgins looked shocked at Adam’s suggestion. “I’m not charging them,” he said. “They need help. I’m just doing what I can to assist them. It would be pretty miserly to charge them, under the circumstances.”
“That’s a lot of wood to be giving away,” said Adam. “It’s going to cost you a fortune.”
“I have a fortune, or well, if not a fortune, enough money that I can afford to help these poor people,” replied Higgins. His face grew sad. “I love this city. It breaks my heart to see what the earthquake did to it. If I can do just a little to help rebuild it, I’m willing.” A small smile crossed Higgins’ face. “I think we’ll get enough paying business later to make up for what we’re losing now,” he added.
“Mr. Higgins, we have to get that lumber so we can get Joe out,” stated Hoss in an urgent voice.
Higgins looked thoughtful. “What you need is a lattice of wood,” he said slowly. “Something that is sure to hold that whole wall up. Just using a couple of beams might not work. You’d have to be terribly sure you put them just right or the whole thing could collapse when you move the original beams.” Higgins reached into his pants pocked and pulled out a slip of paper and the stub of a pencil. He started sketching on the paper. “Something that looks like this.”
Adam looked over Higgins’ shoulder at the sketch and nodded. “That would work,” he agreed.
“We’ll have to build it here,” added Higgins. “We don’t want to do any pounding near that wall. The vibrations might knock it down.”
“It will have to be in pieces,” said Adam, frowning. “Small enough to get through the door of the office. Something we can put together easily once we get the pieces inside.”
Higgins nodded. “I know exactly what you need,” he said. “I designed something like that a year or so ago to use when we were rebuilding the inside of an old house. The house had a sagging wall also, although I’m sure not nearly as bad as what you described.” Higgins looked wistful for a moment. “It was a beautiful house. I wonder if it’s still standing.” Higgins cleared his throat abruptly, and gestured to the inside of the yard.
“Let’s go find some tools and wood, and get to work.”
Ben sat near Joe, talking to his son with a steady stream of encouragement and comfort. Joe’s eyes were closed, but Ben could tell he was awake and could hear him. Ben had a feeling that what he was saying was not as important to Joe as the fact that his voice was a continual reminder that Joe wasn’t alone.
Looking over toward the door, Ben wondered when Riley would return. The policeman hadn’t been gone long – maybe twenty minutes or so – but it seemed quite awhile to Ben. Other than his own voice, Ben couldn’t hear anything. There was almost an eerie silence in the room. From time to time, Ben glanced up at the tilted wall that loomed over him and Joe.
The wood gave a soft groan, as if straining to hold up its burden. Ben’s eyes widen in fear and he swallowed hard. The sound stopped, and the quiet descended again. Ben searched the wall with his eyes, looking for signs that it was about to collapse. He couldn’t see any movement; the structure seemed to be holding, at least for now.
Joe had been trapped in that room for hours, thought Ben, alone amid the silence and the threatening wall. Ben shook his head. He could understand the sense of abandonment and hopelessness that Joe had felt. “Adam and Hoss will be back any time now,” said Ben to Joe, continuing his encouragement. “It won’t be long now.”
The sound of someone approaching drew Ben’s attention to the door with a sense of relief. Riley appeared in the doorway, and began picking his way through the debris toward him. The policeman had several folded blankets under his left arm, and he carried a coffee pot and a battered tin cup in his right hand. Water sloshed out of the spout of the pot as he maneuvered his way toward Ben and Joe.
“I brought some blankets,” said Riley, handing the folded woolen material to Ben. “I also brought some water. I thought the lad might be getting thirsty.”
At the mention of water, Joe opened his eyes and looked up. He licked his lips. “Water!” he croaked.
Riley quickly filled the cup with water from the pot and handed the cup to Ben. Ben lifted Joe’s head a bit and put the cup to his son’s lips. Joe drank eagerly, grateful for the liquid that wetted his dry and dusty throat. He quickly drained the cup. “More,” he gasped. Ben turned and held out the cup toward Riley, who filled it again with water. Once more, Ben put the cup to Joe’s lips and once more, Joe drained it.
When Joe laid back, apparently satisfied for now, Ben put the cup down on the floor beside him. Riley put the pot next to it.
“What can I do?” asked Riley.
Ben thought for a moment. “I’m going to lift Joe a bit,” he said. “When I do, see if you can slide one of those folded blankets under his back. We’ll put another one under his head. That should make him more comfortable.” It took several minutes, but Ben and Riley got the blankets under Joe. Ben was careful as he lifted his son’s body from the floor, but Joe still moaned as his ribs painfully protested the movement.
Once the blankets were under Joe, Riley took the last blanket and shook it out. He carefully covered Joe with it from shoulders down to where the beam laid across Joe’s legs. Joe hadn’t realized he was cold until he felt the warmth of the blanket. The blankets underneath him offered relief from the hard floor and bits of debris that seemed to have been digging into his back. Joe closed his eyes, feeling almost comfortable for the first time in hours.
“Have you been able to tell if he’s hurt bad?” Riley asked Ben in a soft voice.
Ben glanced at Joe before answering. “His hand is broken, and so are some of his ribs,” answered Ben in an equally quiet voice. “He’s got some nasty cuts and bruises, too. I don’t think he’s got any internal injuries, but I can’t be sure.” Ben’s face grew grim. “I can’t tell about his legs.”
Riley nodded. “There’s a doctor outside,” he said. “Let me go see if I can shanghai him. Maybe he can do something for the boy until we can get him free.”
“Riley,” said Ben suddenly. “Thank you. Thank you for everything.”
The policeman shrugged. “Comes with the job,” he said.
“I think this is a bit beyond the call of duty,” said Ben.
Riley looked down at Joe. “Your son reminds me of my younger brother,” he added, his face softening. “Jimmy was killed in an accident down on the wharf a year go, crushed when some crates fell on him. I’d like to think someone did what they could to help him before…well,” Riley cleared his throat suddenly. “I’ll go get the doctor.” Riley turned and made his way back to the doorway.
Ben stroked Joe’s head softly. “Riley’s gone to get a doctor, Joe,” he said. “He’ll help you as best he can. Then Adam and Hoss will be back and we’ll get you out of here.”
Laying still with his eyes closed, Joe didn’t answer. He kept his eyes closed, trying to shut out the reality around him. If he couldn’t see the threatening wall or the confining beam, he could almost convince himself that they weren’t there. He could almost believe that this was some sort of a bad dream, a nightmare from which he would awake whole and safe. He could almost believe he was back at the Ponderosa. Almost.
In a remarkably short time, Ben heard voices coming from the hallway outside the office. He couldn’t make out the words, but he could tell one voice was unhappy and the other determined. Riley appeared in the doorway, his hand firmly grasping the arm of an older man wearing a long white coat and clutching a black bag. The man was heavy-set, with thinning brown hair, and he was clearly in the room under protest.
“There he is, doc,” said Riley giving the man a slight push forward.
The doctor looked at Ben and Joe, then stared at the tilted wall. He blanched and swallowed hard. “Sergeant,” he said in a frightened voice, “that wall…”
“Is not going to fall,” finished Riley for the man, his voice firm.
“I’ve got a wife, children,” protested the doctor.
“And Mr. Cartwright has a son,” said Riley in an angry voice. “His son is trapped and hurt. It’s your duty to see what you can do to help him.”
“You can’t make me go in there,” said the doctor.
Riley considered the man. “No, I suppose I can’t,” he said. “But I can arrest you.”
“Arrest me!” exclaimed the doctor. “What for?”
“For impersonating a doctor,” answered Riley with disgust. “I can probably think of some more charges like dereliction of duty, or public nuisance or maybe even reckless activity.”
“You couldn’t make any of those charges stick!” said the doctor.
“You’re right,” Riley admitted. “You’d be released from jail just as soon as some smart lawyer showed up.” Riley stroked his chin. “Of course, with all the confusion outside, it could be awhile before a lawyer got to the jailhouse. Might be as much as a couple of days.” Riley shook his head. “That jail is mighty uncomfortable. Cold, drafty, and the food is terrible.”
The doctor stared at the policeman then looked back at where Ben and Joe were watching him. “All right,” said the doctor with a sigh. He began to move tentatively across the room. Riley walked close behind the man, preventing any sudden flight.
Ben wasn’t sure he wanted the man who knelt next to him treating his son. He
had an impulse to send the man away. But, as he glanced at Joe and saw his son’s face – pale and eyes reflecting pain – Ben decided any help was better than none at all.
The doctor put his fingers on Joe’s neck and counted silently. Then he laid his hand on Joe’s forehead. “Pulse is strong,” said the doctor in a clipped voice. “Some fever but that’s to be expected.” He turned Joe’s head a bit and looked at the cut. “Not too deep. It should be fine if it’s cleaned out.”
Pulling off the blanket, the doctor lifted Joe’s bloodied hand and gently probed it. “Broken,” he declared, setting the hand back on Joe’s chest. He felt Joe’s chest, pressing on it a bit. Joe winced. “Bruises but nothing broken,” declared the doctor in the same abrupt tone. He ran his hand over Joe’s collarbone, then felt Joe’s ribs. “Two, maybe three broken ribs. Nothing displaced. It won’t hurt to leave them unwrapped.”
Turning a bit, the doctor began pressing not too gently on Joe’s stomach and abdomen. “Any pain?” he asked.
“No,” answered Joe.
The doctor nodded. “Don’t think there’s any internal injuries, although I can’t be sure under these circumstances,” he said. He looked up at Ben. “Has he had anything to drink lately?”
“Some water a little while ago,” replied Ben.
“I’d restrict his intake of water,” suggested the doctor. He glanced up at the wall. “Probably won’t make any difference,” he muttered. The doctor hurriedly moved down a bit to look at Joe’s legs when he saw the angry scowl on both Ben’s and Riley’s face.
The doctor felt Joe’s legs both above and below the beam. “Nothing broken,” he declared. “Of course, I can’t tell what might be broken under that beam.”
“He says he can’t feel his legs,” said Ben.
The doctor sat back on his heels and studied Joe’s legs. “That beam is probably pressing on the nerves,” he said thoughtfully. “Might even be cutting off the circulation.”
“Is that…harmful?” asked Ben carefully.
“Depends on how long the pressure has been on his legs,” replied the doctor. He looked up at Riley. “How long has he been under that beam?”
“Since the earthquake!” replied Riley in exasperation. “Did you think he just slid under that wood an hour ago!”
The doctor shrugged. “Three hours or so,” he muttered. He looked up at Ben. “I’d get him out from under this as soon as possible.”
Ben looked up at Riley and rolled his eyes. “That’s what we are trying to do,” said Ben, attempting to keep his anger in check. He took a deep breath. “How long before…before his legs could be permanently damaged?” he asked tentatively.
The doctor shook his head. “No way of telling,” he answered. He looked up at Riley with a puzzled expression. “Can’t you move this beam?”
Riley shook his head. “Not until we shore up the wall,” he answered. “The beam is holding up the other pieces that are keeping the wall from falling. Believe me, we’d have the lad out of here if we could.”
The doctor looked thoughtful. “If we amputated his legs, he could be freed.”
“NO!” shouted Ben and Joe in unison.
Joe looked up and grabbed Ben’s arm with his good hand. “Pa, don’t let him do it!” he begged. “Please. I’d rather die. Don’t let him cut off my legs!”
“I won’t, Joe, I promise,” said Ben in a soothing voice. “He won’t touch you.” He turned back to the doctor, his face reflecting his fury. “Doctor, if you have some medicine to clean out the cuts and some bandages you can give me, you can leave now,” he said in an angry voice.
The doctor shrugged and turned to his black bag. He pulled out a small vial of clear liquid, and a roll of white cloth. “Clean out the cuts with this,” he said handing Ben the vial. “Wrap his hand. I wouldn’t worry about wrapping the cut on his head.” The doctor hesitated, then reached into his bag again. He pulled out a small blue vial this time. “Here’s some laudanum. Give him a small bit. It will help the pain.” The doctor looked up at the wall. “It also might keep him from knowing what’s happening if that wall falls,” he added softly. He looked to Ben and Riley. “Give him enough and won’t care what happens or even if you’re still here when it does. That might be best.”
Ben snatched the blue vial from the doctor. “Get out of here!” he said in a furious voice.
The doctor snapped his bag closed, and hastily stood. “I’m only being a realist,” said the doctor briskly. “If that wall falls, everyone in this room could be killed. You won’t be helping the boy by being killed with him.”
“Get out!” shouted Ben. Riley looked as if he could strangle the doctor. The doctor merely shrugged. Without a backward glance, he left the room.
Riley turned to Ben with a miserable look on his face. “I’m sorry, Mr. Cartwright,” he said. “I thought he would help. I didn’t know he was such a miserable excuse of a man.”
“It’s not your fault,” said Ben. He shook his head. “Remind me not to visit the doctors in this town.”
“Don’t be judging them all by that one,” said Riley. “He’s got some fancy office a block from here. Sees mostly society folks, I hear. I sent one of my officers to get him when the earthquake hit. I thought he’d be of some help. Guess I was wrong.”
Ben turned back to Joe who was looking up at Ben anxiously. “Joe, don’t pay any attention to what that doctor said,” Ben said firmly. “Everything is going to be all right. We’re going to get you out and you’ll be fine.”
Joe swallowed hard. “Pa, he was right about that wall,” said Joe. “If it falls…” Joe closed his eyes briefly, then looked up at Ben. “Maybe you shouldn’t stay in here.”
“Joe, I’m not going anywhere,” said Ben firmly. “You get that into your head. I’m staying right here with you until we get you free.”
“But Pa…” said Joe.
“I’m not leaving you,” interrupted Ben. He stroked Joe’s head. “I’m not leaving you,” he repeated softly. “End of discussion.”
Joe smiled briefly at the familiar phrase. He looked at Ben, his eyes full of gratitude. “Thank you,” he said softly.
Riley swallowed hard as he watched the scene between father and son. He could see the strong bond between the two, and it moved him. He felt even worse about bringing in that wretched doctor. “Can I do anything?” asked Riley, wanting to atone for his mistake.
Ben continued to gently stroke his son’s head. “Joe and I will be fine,” replied Ben without looking at the policeman. “You don’t need to stay.”
“I’ll stay,” said Riley in a determined voice.
Ben looked over his shoulder to the policeman. “Adam and Hoss might need some help. You can probably do more with them than you can here.” Ben saw the hesitation in the sergeant’s eyes. “I know you’re willing to stay, but getting that shoring up is the important thing now.” Ben glanced up at the wall. “We may be running out of time,” he added softly.
Riley nodded. “I’ll go see if I can find Adam and Hoss,” he said. “Maybe there’s something I can do to hurry them along.” Riley turned and left. Ben looked at the two vials and the bandages in his hand. Putting the clear bottle and cloth on the floor, he opened the blue one and turned to Joe. “Take a sip of this laudanum, Joe,” he said holding the vial to Joe’s mouth.
Joe turned his head away. “I don’t want it,” he said.
“It’ll make you feel better,” said Ben. “I know you’re hurting. This will help.”
“I don’t want to be asleep if…if anything happens,” said Joe.
“Nothing is going to happen,” said Ben, hoping he was right. “You don’t have to take much. Just enough to take an edge off the pain.” Ben saw the stubborn look on Joe’s face. “Please,” he added. “Please, as a favor to me.”
Joe didn’t say anything for a minute. Then he nodded.
Ben put the small bottle to Joe’s lips, and eased a small bit of the liquid into his son’s mouth. Joe swallowed the small amount, then firmly clenched his teeth shut to prevent more from being poured in. “All right,” said Ben with a small smile at his son’s stubbornness. “That little bit will be enough.” He capped the bottle and put it on the floor,
then turned to the bandages and other vial sitting next to it.
Joe could almost feel the laudanum seeping through his body as Ben began to clean the cut on his hand. Joe felt himself relaxing as the pain and anxiety he had been feeling for hours began to ebb. He watched as almost a detached spectator as Ben wrapped his hand. He began to feel strangely content. “Pa, I’m sorry,” Joe said suddenly.
“Sorry?” said Ben in surprise as he finished tying the bandage around Joe’s hand. “What for?”
“A lot things,” said Joe. “I didn’t find out who owned that warehouse.”
“Well, I think it’s a moot point,” replied Ben. He tore off a small piece of bandage and wet it with some of the liquid from the clear bottle. “I doubt if the building is still standing.”
“I’m sorry we didn’t tell you about going down to the Barbary Coast last night,” said Joe in a thick voice. “We shouldn’t have…shouldn’t have tricked you like that.”
Ben could see the unfocused look in Joe’s eyes and hear the slurred words. He knew the medicine was working. “It’s all right,” he replied softly, as he gently dabbed at the cut on Joe’ head.
“I had a good time, though,” added Joe with a grin.
“You did?” said Ben smiling as he finished cleaning the cut. He wiped some of the blood from Joe’s face and neck.
“I met a girl,” continued Joe. “She was real pretty. Lots of fun.”
“I’ll bet she was,” answered Ben wryly.
“I’m glad I went,” said Joe. “Especially since it might be the last time I …well, I’m really glad I went.”
Ben looked away for a minute. He didn’t want Joe to see the look on his face, the wetness in his eyes that he was blinking away. Then he turned back to Joe. “I’m glad you went, too,” he said softly.
Joe’s eyelids began to droop. “Tired,” he said in a barely audible voice.
“Go to sleep, Joe,” said Ben, softly.
“Should stay awake,” murmured Joe. “Should keep watch.”
“Go to sleep, Joe,” said Ben, gently stoking Joe’s arm. “I’ll keep watch.”
Joe nodded briefly, then his eyes closed. In a minute, he was asleep.
Ben covered Joe with the blanket again, then sat watching his son sleeping. He looked up quickly as he heard the groan from the wall again. The noise seemed louder this time, more intense. Ben found he was holding his breath as he once more searched for some visible sign that the wall was giving way. Ben couldn’t see any new cracks or movement from the beams holding up the wall, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there. Ben looked toward the door, hoping to see some sign of his other two sons. Hurry, Adam, thought Ben. Please, please hurry.
People in San Francisco were used to seeing odd sights in the street. Something about the town seemed to attract the eccentrics to it. And since the earthquake hit, it wasn’t unusual to see furniture or other belongings being salvaged. Still, the trio moving through the street attracted a few curious stares. A big man was pulling a small wagon, his muscles straining as he firmly grasped the traces. Two other men were pushing the vehicle. An odd framework of wood was stacked precisely in the wagon, its slats and unconnected ends pointing toward the sky. The men seemed strangely determined as they pulled and pushed the wagon through the debris scattered over the street.
Hoss stopped his pulling as he saw Riley rushing toward the wagon. He swallowed hard as he saw the anxious look on the sergeant’s face. Adam and Higgins came around from the back of the wagon to see why Hoss had stopped. Their faces grew dark with concern when they saw the policeman also.
“There you boys are!” cried Riley with relief when he neared the wagon.
“Is everything all right?” asked Hoss anxiously. “Is Joe…is the wall still standing?”
“It’s still standing, but I don’t know for how much longer,” replied Riley. He saw the look of relief on the men’s faces, followed quickly by a renewed determination. “I came to see if I could help.”
“Grab one of those traces and start pulling,” said Hoss as he picked up one of the wood slats jutting out from the front of the cart. Adam and Higgins returned to the back of the cart.
“I don’t mind acting like a mule,” said Riley as he began to pull the cart with Hoss. “But wouldn’t it be easier to have a horse or two doing this?”
“Couldn’t find any horses,” answer Hoss. He answered in short, clipped tones as he dragged the wagon. “Run away or stolen. Didn’t have time to look.” Riley nodded his understanding then turned to concentrate on pulling the wagon.
As the men moved the wagon through the streets, Higgins described in a gasping voice the plan to shore up the wall. Riley listened in both admiration and amazement at the plan. It seemed simple enough to work.
It took longer than any of the four men would have liked, but the wagon finally made it to the grass in front of City Hall. Few people were left on the lawn. Most drifted away to see what was left of their homes, or taken to a hospital for care. Two policeman stood on the lawn. One was the young officer, still standing guard over the covered bodies.
As wagon finally near the door to the building, Riley looked toward the officer standing idly on the grass. “Browning!” he shouted. “Come over here and help us unload the wagon.”
The officer hesitated, then walked forward. “What’s all this?” asked Browning curiously.
“We’re going to shore up the wall inside,” replied Higgins coming around to the side of the wagon.
Browning frowned as he looked into the wagon. “Looks like some kind of fence or something.”
“Or something,” replied Higgins vaguely. He turned to Adam and Hoss. “You two take the long poles in. The sergeant and I will follow with the framework.”
As the men began to unload the wagon, Browning looked at Riley. “Do you think this will actually work?” he asked.
Riley looked at the officer, his face grim. “It better,” he said.
“What if it doesn’t?” asked Browning.
Riley took a deep breath. “If it doesn’t, well then, I guess you’ll get that promotion to sergeant you’ve been wanting.”
Ben gently wiped a few beads of sweat from Joe’s forehead. Joe was asleep, drugged by the laudanum as well exhausted by the pain and the strain of the past few hours. As he slept, Joe’s face seemed to soften, erasing the pinched look and lines that the pain and the strain had caused. He’s so young, thought Ben as he watched his sleeping son. So young and normally so full of life. So much of his life is yet to be lived. It seemed so unfair to think his son might not get a chance to reach his full potential. Ben knew all too well that life was never fair, that you couldn’t count on being given the next day, even the next hour with surety. But this twist of fate seemed particularly cruel to him. The thought flickered through his mind that his son could survive only to be forced to live out his life in a wheelchair.
There was no telling how badly damaged Joe’s legs might be under the beam Ben could accept Joe in a wheelchair if he had to. He could accept anything as long as his son were still with him. But he wondered if Joe would be able to accept such a fate. Ben wondered what Joe would do if he found himself no longer able to walk. Ben closed his eyes and began to pray, silently begging God for his son’s deliverance.
The clamor of voices and feet from the hall drew Ben’s attention to the doorway. His heart soared with hope as he saw Adam come through the door, carrying the front end of two long poles. Hoss filled the doorway almost immediately behind Adam, holding the other end of the poles.
“Sorry we took so long,” said Adam. “How’s Joe doing?”
“As well as can be expected,” answered Ben vaguely. He truly had no idea what condition his son was in. “He’s sleeping.”
“No, I’m not,” said Joe in a thick voice from behind Ben. Joe craned his head to look to the doorway. “You two sure took your time,” Joe tried to joke with his brothers, but his voice was filled with relief.
Adam smiled as he maneuvered through the room with the poles. “Well, we knew you weren’t going any place,” said Adam. He turned to Hoss. “I’ll take the pole to the right. You take the one to the left.”
Hoss nodded as he laid the poles on the floor and separated the two. He picked up one and started to the left side of the room. “You be careful, you hear,” he said to Adam. “Digging out one brother a day is my limit.”
Adam carefully stepped through the debris, then ducked under the beam that was leaning against the wall. Carrying the pole, he picked his way slowly until he was almost next to the tilted wall.
Hoss’ path was clearer, but he moved just as carefully. The big man glanced up at the wall as he positioned his pole on the floor near it. Ben watched his sons with anxious eyes, praying that the wall would not choose this moment to fall. He turned to look back to the door again when he heard more noise from the hall. Ben saw Riley and another man come into the room, their arms filled with slats of thick wood that were nailed together.
“Mr. Cartwright, this is Walter Higgins,” said Riley, jerking his head backwards toward the man behind him. “He’s got a way to shore up that wall.”
“Hello, Mr. Cartwright,” said Higgins as he and Riley passed Ben and Joe, working their way toward Hoss. “Don’t worry, Joe,” said Higgins. “We’ll have you out of here in a minute.”
Ben and Joe watched in amazement as Higgins and Riley began to slot the ends
of the wooden slats into the long pole. Their astonishment grew as they watched Riley and Hoss raise the pole, the frame jutting from it like a flag. The two carefully eased the pole to the side until the frame was resting against the top of the wall.
Higgins seemed to be assembling another frame of slats. Without a glance at the wall, he ducked under the three beams from the fallen roof. Everyone in the room watched anxiously as Higgins worked under the beams. They could see his hands wrapping some wires around the pole which now stood next to the beams.
A minute or two later, Higgins emerged empty-handed. “All right,” he said in the brisk voice. “The bottom frame is secured. Now be sure you have the pole firmly anchored.”
Hoss and Riley nodded. The two began moving thick chunks of plaster and heavy pieces of cement around the bottom of the pole. Hoss tested the pole, pushing against it lightly, then turned to Higgins. “It’ll hold,” he declared.
“Good,” said Higgins. He turned to where Adam stood waiting on the other side of the room. “Adam, are you sure you can get your side connected?”
“I’ll do it,” replied Adam in a firm voice. He raised his pole and began to slowly move it against the wall. He guided the pole inch by inch to the left, his eyes never leaving the top of the pole. Soon it was next to the frame. Taking a deep breath, Adam pushed the top of the pole hard to the left. The end of the frame slid into the slots of the pole with a solid clunk.
“Excellent, excellent,” said Higgins. “Now connect the bottom frame.”
As Higgins had done a few minutes earlier, Adam ducked under the beams from the roof. He too began tightly wrapping some wires around his pole. In less than a minute, Adam emerged from under the beams and began to pick his way back from the wall.
“Don’t forget to anchor the pole!” shouted Higgins.
Adam stopped, a stricken look on his face. Quickly, he turned back and began to pile cement and plaster around the bottom of the pole. He too tested the pole, making sure it was secure. Then he once more moved away from the wall. Higgins, Riley, and Hoss moved away from their side of the wall also. The four men came together and stood over Joe and Ben who looked at them in amazement. After the hours of solitude, the flurry of activity had given Ben and Joe both the impression that there were more than four other people in the room.
“Mr. Cartwright,” said Higgins with a confident smile. “We are now ready to free your son.”
Ben looked at the four men, his eyes searching each face. They seemed so sure, so confident. Ben turned to gaze at the wall, now propped up with two new poles and covered at the top with a frame of thick slats. “Are you sure it will hold?” he asked the men who stood over him, his voice reflecting his doubt.
“It should,” replied Higgins. “Of course, I can’t be one hundred percent sure, but the theory behind it is sound.”
Ben bit his lip, then looked down at Joe. “Are you willing to take the chance, son?”
Joe nodded. “Pa, I just want to get out of here,” he said, in a tight voice.
He looked up at Adam and Hoss, a ghost of a smile on his face. “Besides, these two wouldn’t let anything happen to me. They’d get stuck with all my chores.”
Ben looked around, and then took a deep breath. “All right,” he said, his voice reflecting his continuing doubt. “You all leave. I’ll move the beam.”
“Pa, Adam and me already decided that I’ll move the beam while you and he pull out Joe,” said Hoss in a firm voice.
“No,” said Ben shaking his head. “If that frame doesn’t hold….no.”
“Pa, you’re not doing this alone,” said Adam in a voice as determined as Hoss. He looked to Higgins, then back to his father. “The frame will hold,” he added.
Ben look at Adam’s determined face, and Hoss’ firm gaze. His emotions seesawed between fear that he could lose all his sons and pride in the bravery they were demonstrating. Ben thought no man could have a finer trio of sons.
“All right,” Ben said in a reluctant voice. “Hoss will move the beam while Adam and I pull Joe out of there.” He turned to the other two men. “You might be safer in the hall,” he advised them.
Higgins shook his head. “I wouldn’t be much of a builder if I wasn’t willing to stand by my work. I’ll stay.”
“I’d kind of like to see how this all turns out,” added Riley. “Can’t see much from the hall.”
Ben looked each man in the eye. “Thank you,” he said in a sincere voice.
“Thank you all.” He turned to Joe, who was watching with eyes that were both confident and fearless. Ben could see Joe was tired, exhausted even, and his face seemed flushed with fever. He could see the gash on his son’s head and the faint traces of blood on his face and neck. Despite this, Ben could sense a renewed hope in his son. Joe seemed to be getting stronger as his rescue seemed imminent. Ben had a feeling that this new found strength would be short lived, but for now, Joe seemed almost to shrug off his pain and injuries.
Taking a deep breath, Ben committed himself to the plan. “Hoss, you get ready to move that beam,” ordered Ben. “Adam, come up here and grab Joe’s right arm. I’ll take the left.” Ben pulled the blanket off Joe’s chest and turned to hand it to Riley. “Put the blanket near the door. As soon as Joe’s free, we’ll move him over to it. We can use it to carry him out of here.”
As the other men moved into their positions, Ben turned to stroke Joe’s head once more. “This is going to hurt a bit, son,” he said softly. “We’re going to have to pull hard, and I’m afraid your ribs will feel it.”
“I can stand it,” said Joe in a firm voice.
“Do you want another dose of laudanum?” asked Ben, already knowing the answer.
“No,” said Joe. He looked at the men around him. “Let’s get it done.”
Ben took a last look at the wall, then moved to take a firm grasp on Joe’s left arm. He looked at Adam, then Hoss. Ben briefly closed his eyes, praying for all his sons’ safety. When he opened his eyes, he saw Adam and Hoss watching him, waiting. Ben took a deep breath. With an abrupt nod of his head, Ben shouted, “Now!”
Hoss lifted the beam from Joe’s legs, raising the wood about a foot. At almost the same instant, Ben and Adam pulled back on Joe’s arms. Joe gasped and gave out a sharp yelp of pain. Ben and Adam pulled him closer to him, and Joe’s legs were free.
As Adam had predicted, as soon as Hoss moved the beam, the other beams in the room began falling like dominoes. The two beams which had held the counter at an angle slipped to the side. The counter fell forward with a loud crash, and the three roof beams supporting the wall fell to the floor. As the beams started to fall and the dust shot into the air, Ben threw himself protectively in front of Joe. He heard the counter hit the floor,
and he felt the vibration of the roof falling. He also heard the grinding and groaning of the wall.
Ben held his breath and waited for a sea of bricks to descend on him. He held Joe’s head to his chest, doing his best to put his body between his son and what he was sure was going to a crushing weight of falling debris. The wall creaked, and the dust spewed in to the air. And then, suddenly, there was silence. Ben turned his head slowly and looked over his shoulder. The wall was still standing. The frame had held.
Giving out a whoop, Hoss dropped the beam to the floor, and rushed up to help Ben and Adam. The three of them lifted Joe and carried him to the blanket near the door. Ben couldn’t help seeing the wide grins on Riley’s and Higgins’ faces as he carried his son toward them. As Ben helped Adam and Hoss lay Joe on the blanket, he looked to his
youngest son. Joe’s eyes were tightly closed and his teeth were clenched. A new layer of dust covered his hair. “Joe?” asked Ben in an anxious voice.
Joe’s eye opened. “I’m all right, Pa,” he gasped. Joe winced and clenched his teeth again.
He knew his son wasn’t all right, but there was little Ben could do for Joe at this moment. His immediate concern was Joe’s legs. Ben began feeling Joe’ s thighs, trying to feel through the thick muscles. He couldn’t feel any broken bones, but that didn’t mean there weren’t any. “Can you feel anything?” Ben asked anxiously as squeezed hard.
Joe lifted his head, seeming surprised to find his father examining his legs. A look of fear and concern flickered crossed Joe’s face. “I can’t feel anything,” said Joe. As he laid his head back down, he closed his eyes and swallowed hard.
The other four men in the room looked at each other, unsure what to do. “We best be getting the lad to a doctor,” suggested Riley. “A GOOD doctor,” he added almost to himself.
Ben stood and turned to the other men. “If each of you will grab the blanket…” he started.
Suddenly the ground began to vibrate, not as violently as earlier in the day, but still a noticeable movement. For a moment, the men in the room froze, watching as the walls shook and hearing the rattle of the shifting debris.
“Let’s get out of here!” shouted Adam.
Ben turned to Joe, but Hoss pushed him aside. In one swift movement, he reached down, put his massive arms under Joe’s shoulders and knees, then stood, lifting his younger brother from the floor. Joe wrapped his arm around Hoss’ neck.
“Let’s go!” shouted Hoss, turning toward the door. Walking as fast as he was able, given his burden and the debris spread across the floor, Hoss hurried out of the office and into the hallway. The other four men in the room quickly followed Hoss.
Joe clung tightly to his brother as Hoss hurried down the hall and out the front door of City Hall. Hoss paused a minute just outside the door, trying to decide what to do next, then he stepped forward on to the grass. He walked about thirty feet from the building, then stopped and lowered Joe gently to the ground.
“Thanks,” said Joe in a soft voice. Joe looked up to the sky. He could see the fading sun, and the white clouds dotting the blue sky. Joe smelled the fresh air, and felt the breeze. He was finally free of his prison, finally out of that building. For the first time, he admitted to himself that he had believed he would never leave City Hall alive. Joe closed his eyes, so happy and grateful to be in the fresh air that he could barely speak. He looked up at Hoss and said again in a voice filled with emotion, “Thank you.”
Seeing the emotion on his brother’s face, Hoss didn’t know how to answer. He just nodded.
Ben, Adam, Higgins and Riley came rushing up to where Joe laid on the grass.
“Are you all right, Joe?” asked Ben anxiously.
Joe was battered and bruised, and he seemed to hurt in a hundred places. His legs still felt numb, and his head ached. But, after being trapped for hours and now being in the open, Joe decided he never felt better. “I’m all right,” replied Joe.
Riley handed Ben the blanket that he had had the presence of mind to snatch from the floor before running from the office. “Here, cover the lad with this,” he said.
Nodding his thanks, Ben carefully covered Joe. Then he looked around, trying to decide what to do next. He realized with surprise that, except for one other policeman who was walking toward the group, they were the only ones on the lawn. Everyone else was gone.
“How is the young fellow?” asked Browning, the policeman who walked up to the group.
Ben looked down at Joe. “He’ll be all right,” Ben said, hoping he was right. He looked back to Browning. “Where is everyone?”
Browning shrugged. “They’ve finally got some of the main streets cleared. Wagons started rolling in here a little while ago, to take people home or to the hospital.” Browning hesitated then added, “Or to the morgue.”
“We’d better get Joe to the hospital,” suggested Adam. “He needs to have someone look at him as soon as possible.”
“Well, we can get him to the hospital,” said Browning in a doubtful voice. “But there’s no telling how long it will be before someone looks at him.”
“What do you mean?” asked Ben with a frown.
“I was talking to one of the drivers,” replied Browning. “He had just come back from making a run to one of the hospitals. Said there were people filling the halls and even in the street. He thought it would probably be morning before the doctors got a look at everyone, and maybe days before they found a bed for anyone who needed it.” Browning shook his head. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the other hospitals aren’t in the same shape. Lots of hurt people. And some of the hospitals were damaged.”
Ben looked at Browning, then turned to look at the other men standing around. Their faces showed the anxiety and concern that Ben felt. “What should we do?” he asked.
Higgins looked thoughtful. “Let’s get Joe in the wagon and get him over to my house,” he suggested. “It’s not very far. At least we can make sure we give Joe a comfortable bed.”
“If your house is still standing,” said Browning, doubtfully.
“It’s still standing,” Higgins assured the policeman confidently. “I’m an architect and I’ve lived in San Francisco all my life. When I built my house, I built it to withstand the worst earthquake. It’s still there, I’m sure.”
A thought suddenly struck Ben. “I haven’t even given a thought to your families,” said Ben to Higgins and Riley in an apologetic voice. “You must be worried about them.”
“My family is out of town at present,” replied Higgins. “My wife and daughter are visiting friends in Denver, and my oldest son is studying in Europe. My youngest son is down in Sacramento, working on a construction job with my brother.” Higgins smiled. “That’s one of the reasons I was down at the Barbary Coast last night. No one to come home to.”
“Mr. Higgins, I sure am glad you were there and we met you,” said Hoss in a voice full of gratitude.
Higgins shrugged off Hoss’ thanks. “I have a big house and I’m the only one living there right now. I’d be honored to have you as my guests.”
“I’ll help you get the lad into the wagon,” said Riley. “Then I’d better stay here and rope off this area.” An ironic smile crossed Riley’s face. “This building isn’t safe.”
“Don’t you have a family?” asked Adam in surprise. Riley seemed like the kind of man who would have a family.
“A wife and two little ones,” confirmed Riley.
Adam looked curiously at Riley. “Don’t you want to check on them?”
“Better for me to be here than face my Brigid’s wrath,” replied Riley with a grin. He saw the curious looks from the other men.
“Brigid is my wife,” explained Riley. “She would be madder than a wet hen if I went rushing home to check on her. She’d not only be mad at me for not doing my job but furious for me thinking she couldn’t take care of herself and the children all by herself. ” Riley smiled. “Brigid prides herself in being able to manage in any situation. If I know her, she probably has a soup line already organized in the neighborhood.”
Ben looked at Higgins and Riley, his gratitude evident on his face. “I don’t know how to thank you,” he said sincerely. “You’ve done so much for us. We’re strangers and you risked your lives to help us. I can’t thank you enough.”
“A stranger is only someone you haven’t met yet,” said Riley with a shrug.
“I owe your boys for doing me a good turn last night,” added Higgins. “I’m happy to do something to replay them.”
Nodding, Ben repeated his thanks. “I’m grateful,” he said. “Very grateful.”
Both Higgins and Riley flushed a bit in embarrassment.
Hoss was looking off in the distance, as if he were trying to remember something. “Pa, isn’t one of Hop Sing’s cousins at doctor?” suggested Hoss thoughtfully. “Maybe we could get him to look at Joe?”
“A Chinese doctor?” said Riley in surprise.
“The Chinese have been practicing medicine long before anyone else,” replied Adam almost indignant. “They probably know more about medicine than any other people in the world.”
“They’re real good at it, too,” added Hoss.
“I’m sure they are,” replied Riley, holding up his hand to stave off further explanation. “I’m just surprised. Most folks in this town, well, they wouldn’t let a Chinese doctor near them.”
“Then most folks in this town are ignorant,” declared Hoss.
“Well, I can’t argue with you there,” said Riley with a grin.
Hearing a small moan behind him, Ben turned to Joe. He could see his son was looking pale and exhausted once more.
Now that the euphoria of being rescued was fading, Joe could feel the pain from his injuries returning. Despite the blanket over him, Joe shivered, suffering the effects of both the cooling air and a rising fever. He felt like he wanted to sleep for a month. Joe also was trying desperately to hide the fact that he was scared. He had thought that once the beam was removed, his legs would get some feeling. It frightened him that they were still numb.
Sick, tired, and scared, Joe shivered again. He was trying to keep up a brave front, but it was getting harder every minute. He could feel the tears welling up in his eyes, and he turned his head so his family wouldn’t see them. His father and brother had risked everything to save Joe, and he was grateful. Showing them his dismay over his numb legs was poor payment for what they had done. But deep inside, Joe was terrified of what might lay ahead for him. The thought of not being able to use his legs again caused Joe to shiver once more.
Seeing Joe’s shivering, Ben made a decision. His son needed a bed and a doctor, and Ben was going to get both for him. “Let’s get Joe into the wagon and over to Mr. Higgins’ place,” Ben said suddenly. “Once we get him settled, Adam, you go back to Hop Sing’s uncle. See if you can find a doctor to come look at Joe.”
As the men around started to move, Ben turned back to Joe. “We’re going to get you taken care of, son,” he said in a soothing voice. “It’s almost over. Just hang on for a while longer.” Ben rubbed Joe’s shoulder gently. He glanced at his son’s legs and his worry grew. He prayed that his son’s nightmare really was just about over, and that a worse nightmare wasn’t about to begin.
His face creased with concern, Hoss turned from the window through which he had been staring at the street outside. “How long has it been, Adam?”
Adam looked up from the newspaper he had been attempting to read. “About an hour,” he answered patiently.
Hoss looked around the room, not really seeing the ivory print wallpaper or the comfortable-looking overstuffed chairs spread around the room. As Walter Higgins had promised, his large house had survived the earthquake with virtually no damage. Putting a few moved pieces of furniture back in place and righting a few pictures that had tilted on the wall were all that had been need to put the house back in order.
Hoss’ eyes swept past the fireplace on the far wall and the large seascape painting hanging over it. His gaze finally rested on the area just outside the doorway to the room, where the first two steps of a stairway could be seen. “Do you think they need anything?” asked Hoss.
“If they need anything, Doctor Liu will let us know,” answered Adam.
“How long do you think it will be before we know something?” Hoss asked, knowing full well that Adam had no way of knowing.
“It shouldn’t be much longer,” replied Adam in a soothing voice. He picked up the newspaper and began reading the article that he had already read twice without fully comprehending it. Despite his apparent calm, Adam’s mind refused to focus on the newspaper. His thoughts were on a bedroom in the upper floor of the house where the doctor and Ben were tending to Joe.
Hoss turned to look out the window. He saw some people hurrying through the street, dark figures in the fading light. The day was past twilight, and yet not quite night. Hoss wondered briefly where the people were going, but didn’t give them much thought. He turned back to Adam again. “Maybe we shouldn’t have moved him,” he said in an anxious voice. “That ride was kind of rough on him.”
Adam put down the newspaper once more. “We couldn’t have just left him there
on the grass,” said Adam in a reasonable voice. He knew Hoss was talking more to relieve his worry than expecting answers.
“I wish we could have made him more comfortable on the trip over here. I sure did hate the way he groaned every time that wagon hit a bump or something,” added Hoss.
“I know,” agreed Adam. “But putting Joe in that wagon and hauling him over here was best. This is a lot closer than any of the hospitals would have been. And he’s probably a lot more comfortable than he would be been crammed into some crowded ward.”
Hoss turned back to the window. “Do you think that doctor knows what he’s doing?” he asked, not looking at Adam. “He looks kind of young.”
“Dr. David Liu is a talented young doctor,” Adam assured his brother. “Hop Sing’s uncle told me he finished at the top of his class in medical school in England. And he has the benefit of centuries of Chinese medical practices to draw on. Combining Eastern and Western medical knowledge gives him a lot more tools to help Joe than any other doctor would have.”
“I feel kind of bad pulling him away from people in Chinatown who might need him,” admitted Hoss.
“Hop Sing’s uncle assured me that they could manage without him for awhile,” said Adam. He looked his brother, remembering the way Hoss had wrapped his big body around Hop Sing’s uncle during the earthquake. “He said that he felt like he owed us a debt for protecting him, and that sending Dr. Liu was a way for him to repay the debt.”
The sound of footsteps in the hall instantly drew Hoss and Adam’s attention. Both men tried to hide their disappointment when Higgins walked into the room, carrying a tray with coffee cups and a pot. “Sorry I took so long,” said Higgins as he placed the tray on a table. “Kitchen was a real mess.” He shook his head ruefully. “Guess this place isn’t quite as earthquake proof as I thought.”
Higgins noticed the distracted looks on Adam and Hoss’ faces. “No word yet?” he asked softly. Adam shook his head. Higgins bit his lip, then said, “Joe’s been lucky so far. He could have easily been killed in that earthquake. May his luck will hold.”
“I hope so,” said Hoss fervently.
Footsteps again were heard, this time descending the stairs. There was no question who was making this noise. Hoss rushed to the doorway, and Adam jumped to his feet to follow. Higgins trailed slowly behind.
Ben walked slowly down the stairs with a young Asian man carrying a large black bag. The man was slightly built, and had a studious look, an impression that was fortified by the glasses with wire rims on his face. He wore a high, starched white collar over his shirt and tie, and his dark black suit gave the young man an air of dignity.
“How is he?” asked Hoss anxiously as his father and Dr. Liu stepped off the last step.
“None of his injuries are life-threatening,” replied the doctor. He spoke in perfect English that had a hint of a British accent. “He has some very bad bruises and some cuts, and, of course, his hand is broken as are some ribs. But in light of what happened, he was extremely lucky.”
“What about his legs?” demanded Adam. “Will he be able to use them?”
Dr. Liu hesitated, then shook his head. “I can’t answer that for sure,” he said regretfully. “There are no broken bones and the circulation is good. The nerves appear to have been crushed, however.”
“But nerves grow back, right?” said Adam, his voice full of hope.
“If the trunk nerves haven’t been severed or too badly damaged, yes, they can regenerate,” agreed Dr. Liu. “Unfortunately, we have no way to tell what damage there might have been done to the trunk nerves.”
“How long does it take the nerves to regen..re…grow back?” asked Hoss, struggling with the unfamiliar word.
“Sometimes only a few days,” replied the doctor. “Other times, it can take quite awhile. Perhaps months.”
“Is there anything we can do to help them along?” Adam asked.
Dr. Liu nodded. “Yes. As I’ve already explained to Mr. Cartwright, heat helps. You must keep him warm, and hot water bottles or hot bricks around his legs will help also. There also are some exercises to keep the muscles from growing lax and can help the nerves.” The doctor seemed to hesitate, then continued. “I’ve also left some herbs to be brewed into a tea. He should drink that three times a day. They are an old Chinese remedy, and I can’t give you a scientific explanation of why they work, but I have seen them work.”
“We should have gotten him out of there sooner,” said Hoss in a voice filled with remorse. “I knew we took too long.”
“I doubt that rescuing him sooner would have made a great deal of difference,” said Dr. Liu in a consoling voice. “The nerves were injured when the beam feel across him. Being trapped under that beam for hours didn’t help, but almost certainly the nerves were crushed in the first few minutes.” The doctor gave Hoss an encouraging smile. “Be grateful that the beam fell across his thighs, where the muscles and bones are the thickest. If it had fallen across his knees or ankles…” Dr. Liu shook his head. “Well, let’s just say the prognosis might not be as hopeful.”
Adam and Hoss looked at each other and Hoss swallowed hard. Despite his fear for Joe, he suddenly realized this little brother had escaped a much worse fate by only a few inches.
Dr. Liu turned to Ben. “I will return tomorrow to check on him,” he promised. “Until then, see that he is kept warm, that he gets a lot of rest, and that he drinks that tea. Also, make sure he eats food that will build up his strength – meat, vegetables and so on.
Also, if his fever should go up, send for me immediately.”
“Fever?” said Adam with concern.
“A low grade one,” the doctor assured him. “I didn’t see any signs of infection. The fever is more a reaction to the pain and the other…circumstances, shall we say, he’s had to endure for past several hours.” Dr. Liu shook his head. “I can’t even begin to imagine what it felt to be trapped like he was for hours, with that wall threatening to fall and crush him. He certainly handled it a lot better than I think I would have.”
“He’s a gutsy kid,” agreed Hoss.
“I’ll be back in the morning,” said Dr. Liu. He gave a brief nod to the other men in the room, then headed toward the front door.
“I’ll see you out, doctor,” said Higgins, rushing after the man.
The three Cartwrights stood silently, none of them knowing what words of encouragement to offer to the others.
Higgins returned to the men. “Mr. Cartwright…” he began.
“Ben,” said Ben interrupting him. “Please call me Ben.”
“All right,” said Higgins with a smile. He look at the men around him. “But only if you will call me Walter.” As the men nodded, Higgins continued. “Ben, I’ll go into the kitchen and start heating some water. I have several hot water bottles which we can place on Joe’s legs.”
“I’ll go find some bricks to heat,” added Adam. He smiled wryly, thinking of the debris in the street. “I think I can find a few.”
“If you give those herbs, Pa, I’ll go make the tea,” said Hoss in an eager voice. “I ain’t much of a cook, but I sure can make tea.”
“I’m not too bad a cook,” said Higgins with a smile. “As soon as the water is on, I’ll start whipping up some dinner. I think we could all use some food. I’ll make up a stew that’s not only nourishing but quite delicious, if I do say so myself.
Ben looked at the men around him. He knew how they felt, how they wanted to being doing something. Just standing around made them feel helpless. He knew how much they wanted to take some action that might help Joe because he felt the same way himself.
“All right,” said Ben with a small smile. “Get to work.” His face suddenly grew serious. “I want to do everything possible to help Joe get back on his feet again.”
Adam and Hoss glanced at each other. “He’ll walk out of here, Pa,” said Hoss. “You wait and see. He’s a stubborn little cuss.”
Ben closed his eyes briefly and took a deep breath. “I hope you’re right.”
Lights dotted the dark night like fireflies as Ben looked out the bedroom window. He found it almost impossible to believe that he was looking at the same city that only last night had been a blaze with street lamps and bright lights shining from almost every window. Now the streets were dark and only a few lights were bright enough to be seen. Ben shook his head. So much damage, so much destruction from an earthquake had lasted only seconds. Ben looked over to the bed in which Joe was sleeping. Even in the dim light of the room, he could see the large ugly bruise on Joe’s chest, peaking out from under the bandages that wound around his ribs. Joe’s heavily bandaged hand was resting on a thick pillow. A dark crusty scab was already forming over the cut on his head. Ben shook his head again. It seemed like eons ago that he had been railing at his son for visiting the Barbary Coast, instead of only this morning. How quickly things change, he thought. What had seemed so important to him this morning now seemed so trivial. He could barely remember why he had been so upset with Joe.
Letting out a sigh, Ben turned back to the window. At least now, Joe is able to sleep, he thought. Joe had endured a steady stream of visitors, all eager to help him but preventing him from resting. First Walter had brought up the water bottles and positioned them carefully on Joe’s thighs, right on top of the bruised area. Then Adam had come in with four bricks, heated until they were almost glowing, and wrapped in thick towels. Adam had carefully positioned the bricks on either side of Joe’s thighs. Joe had dozed a bit after that, but then Hoss had arrived with a tray of food. The stew that Walter had made smelled delicious, and the sourdough bread on a plate beside it looked appealing. But Joe had been too tired to eat more than a few bites. He did finish the tea Hoss had brought but only because his big brother had stood over him until the cup was empty.
At that point, Ben had quietly but firmly ordered everyone out of the room. He told them to eat dinner or read the paper or do anything but visit Joe. A quick look at Joe’s pale face and the dark circles under his eyes had sent the visitors scurrying from the room.
Now, hours later, Ben waited and watched as Joe got some much needed rest. He wondered what he was going to do about tomorrow, when Joe’s eager nurses were up and about again. Ben shrugged to himself. He’d worry about that tomorrow. A light tap on the door drew Ben’s attention. He turned to see the door open and Higgins walk in. He glanced at the sleeping young man in the bed, then walked quietly over to Ben.
“I just came up to see if you needed anything before I retired,” said Higgins in a low voice.
Ben smiled and shook his head. “No, I think we have everything we need.”
“I fear we were a trifle overwhelming earlier,” said Higgins with a rueful smile.
“A trifle,” agreed Ben.
“Don’t worry,” said Higgins. “We have worked out a plan so that Joe will only have to put up with us one at a time.” He looked at Ben. “Would you like me to spell you for a bit so you can rest?”
Ben shook his head and looked back out into the night.
“Hoss picked up your belongings and checked out of the hotel for you,” added Higgins. “With so many people looking for a place to sleep…well, your things are in the room two doors down. Adam and Hoss are sharing the big room at the end of the hall. I’m just next door if you need anything”
“Thank you,” said Ben, looking at Higgins. “Thank you for everything.”
A soft moan from the bed propelled Ben away from the window. Joe was moving restlessly, his uninjured hand swatting at something. Ben could see he was still asleep, but Joe obviously was having a disturbing dream. “No, No,” muttered Joe in his sleep. He shifted his shoulders on the bed as if trying to escape. “No!” said Joe in a louder voice.
Stroking Joe’s head softly, Ben crooned to his son. “It’s all right, Joe. Everything’s fine. Just relax. Everything is all right.”
Joe wasn’t sure what woke him – the nightmare or the voice. But Joe’s eyes opened and he looked around the room anxiously for a minute. He was confused, not sure exactly where he was. Then he felt the softness of the bed and recognized the voice as his father’s. Joe relaxed and sank back into the bed.
“Have a bad dream?” asked Ben in a soothing voice.
Joe looked up at his father and nodded. He took a deep breath, wincing a bit at the stab of pain from his ribs. “This time the wall fell,” he replied softly.
Nodding understandingly, Ben said, “The memory will fade, Joe. Just give it time.”
“Will it?” asked Joe. He glanced down at his legs. “I don’t know if I’ll ever forget what happened.”
“The doctor said there’s a good chance your legs will get better,” said Ben in a firm voice. Then his voice softened. “You’ve shown a lot of courage, son. You just have to be brave awhile longer.”
Joe turned his head. “I’m not brave, Pa,” he answered in a choked voice. “I’m not brave at all. I’m scared.”
“Being brave and being scared aren’t mutually exclusive,” said Ben. “In fact, I’d say there were intertwined. Most people who are honored for their bravery will tell you they were scared the whole time.”
“You don’t understand,” replied Joe with a sob. “I can stand up to bullets or arrows. But this…” He turned to Ben with tears in his eyes. “What’ll I do if my legs won’t work again?”
“Well, as I see it, you have two choices,” answered Ben. “You can moan and complain and make everyone around you miserable. You can make your brothers who risked their lives saving you regret what they did. Or you can accept your fate and deal with it as best you can.”
“It’s not that easy,” asserted Joe.
“Of course it’s not easy,” said Ben. “In fact, it is very difficult, perhaps the most difficult thing in the world. But it can be done. You just have to make up your mind.”
Joe looked away again. “I don’t know if I could do it.”
Ben stroked Joe’s head. “Joe, you’re tired and you’re hurting. Now’s not the time to think about this. The doctor said it would take awhile for the nerves in your legs to heal. We don’t even know for sure what you’ll be facing. Give it time. We’ll deal with whatever happens when it happens.”
Joe wasn’t sure his father’s words made a lot of sense to him, but Ben was right about one thing. Joe was tired, more tired than he could ever remember. His eyes started to close, and his breathing grew more regular. In only a few minutes, he was once again asleep.
Ben turned from the bed and was startled to see Higgins standing the room. He had forgotten all about the man being there.
“You’re quite a remarkable family,” commented Higgins softly.
“No, we’re not,” said Ben with a shake of his head. “We’re pretty ordinary.”
“I disagree,” said Higgins. He shook his head. “I heard what you said to Joe. Not many families are as honest with each other as yours.”
“I only said what had to be said,” replied Ben with a shrug.
“Perhaps, but it sometimes takes courage to say what has to be said,” commented Higgins. “Well, I’m off to bed. Please, come get me if you need anything.”
“I will,” promised Ben.
Higgins walked to the door, then stopped and looked back. “A remarkable family,” he said again softly. Then he left.
For the next three days, Joe endured hot water bottle, hot bricks, and his brothers strenuously exercising his legs. He endured all of it without feeling any of it. Dr. Liu, who visited daily, assured Joe that it was too soon to make any judgment about the whether the nerves were permanently damaged. He told Joe that the rest of his injuries were healing quickly, and there was no reason to believe the nerves wouldn’t heal as well. Joe tried to believe the doctor, but with each passing day, he became more and more discouraged.
As Joe became more discouraged so did his brothers. Ben found himself giving words of encouragement to all his sons. He only wished there was someone to give him the same encouragement.
The Cartwrights were sitting at the dinner table with Higgins on the fourth evening, each of them more concerned about the youngest Cartwright than the food in front of them. Even Hoss was picking at his dinner.
“Maybe we should get another doctor to look at Joe?” suggested Adam.
“I’m not sure that would do any good,” said Higgins. “I’ve asked around. Dr. Liu has an excellent reputation. He’s considered one of the best doctors in the city.”
“Maybe if we did some more of those exercises,” suggested Hoss. “You know, did them four times a day instead of just three.”
“Joe’s exhausted now at the end of the day,” said Ben with a shake of his head. “I don’t think he could take more.”
The four men sat around the table, looking at each other, hoping someone might have an idea to help Joe. Finally, Ben changed the subject. “Walter, how is the rebuilding coming?” he asked.
Higgins had been out every day, checking on the damage to the city and leading the efforts to rebuild. He had received and sent a number of telegrams once the wires were working again. His family was reassured of his safety and his suppliers were asked to send materials.
“It’s going to be an extensive project,” said Higgins in reply to Ben’s question. “I’m afraid City Hall can’t be saved. We’ll have to tear it down and start over. The biggest problem is getting all the materials we need.”
“You can have all the timber that the Ponderosa can supply,” promised Ben.
“I know that, thank you,” said Higgins. “But unfortunately, the Ponderosa doesn’t have a supply of cement, plaster and paint.” He shook his head. “I’m afraid it will take quite awhile to make our city look like it once did.”
“Why do you stay here?” asked Hoss curiously. “I mean, you said you’ve had earthquakes before. You’ll probably have them again. Why stay?”
Higgins smiled. “Because between earthquakes, this is the most wonderful city in the world.”
“What happens when the next one hits?” asked Adam. “What if the whole city is destroyed next time?”
“If San Francisco is destroyed, we’ll simply build it back up again,” replied Higgins. “And again and again, if we have to.” He smiled at Adam. “Each time we rebuild, we get a little bit better at withstanding the earthquakes. Once of these days, we’ll be able to simply ignore them.”
“I find that hard to believe,” said Adam.
“Well, perhaps not in my lifetime,” admitted Higgins. “But one of these days.”
Hoss pushed himself back from the table. “Pa, I’m going up and refill the hot water bottles for Joe.” He left the room, heading toward the kitchen. A knock on the front door drew Higgins away from the table. Ben played idly with his food, his mind on the room upstairs. He was surprised when Higgins called his name. He looked up to see Higgins and Sergeant Riley standing in the room.
“Riley!” said Ben in genuine pleasure. ” How good to see you. Come join us.”
Riley smiled and held up his hand. “I only stopped by for a minute, Mr. Cartwright. I’m due down at the station in a little while.”
“How is your family?” asked Ben a bit anxiously. “Did they come out of the earthquake all right?”
“A few cracked walls and some broken dishes was the worst damage,” Riley assured Ben. His face broke into a broad grin. “We lost the vase Brigid’s aunt sent us as a wedding present. Ugliest thing you ever saw. So some good came out of this.”
“And Brigid and the children?” asked Ben.
“Right as rain,” replied Riley. “By the time I got home that night, Brigid not only had a soup line going but she was arranging for sleeping quarters for those who needed it.” Riley shook his head. “My Brigid is a wonder.”
“I’m glad,” said Ben.
“I just stopped by to thank you, Mr. Cartwright,” said Riley, looking a bit embarrassed. “My captain showed me the letter you sent to the police commissioner. It was high praise, and really not necessary.”
“It was necessary,” said Ben in a sober voice. “Without your help, my son might not have survived. You risked your life in there to help us, and I wanted your superiors to know what a fine officer you are.”
Riley turned bright red at the praise. “Thank you,” he mumbled. He looked around the room. “How is the lad?”
“He’s healing,” replied Adam in a careful voice.
“And his legs?” asked Riley. The look on the faces of the men in the room gave him the answer.
“It’s too soon to tell,” Ben said in a firm voice. “But we think there’s a good chance they’ll heal. I’m sure he’ll be walking in no time.”
“I’m sure he will,” said Riley with a nod. He looked around the room and repeated the words that no one at the table truly believed. “I’m sure he’ll be walking in no time at all.”
Hoss climbed the stairs to the bedroom, carrying two hot water bottles. Keeping heat around Joe’s thighs and doing the exercises with his brother’s legs was about all he could do to help Joe. It seem to Hoss that he was doing so little. He desperately wished there was something else he could do, some magic potion that he could give Joe that would have him up and walking. Instead, his brother was laying in a bed, growing more despondent as each day passed and his legs still refused to work.
Pushing open the door to the bedroom, Hoss pasted a cheerful smile on his face. “Hey, Joe,” he said heartily. “I refilled the water bottles and brought them up. They’re nice and hot.”
Joe looked at Hoss with dull eyes. “What difference does it make?” he said in a discouraged voice.
“Why, they’re just what the doctor ordered,” replied Hoss moving across the room. “They’re going to help heal those legs of yours.”
“Yeah, sure,” said Joe, looking away.
Hoss pursed his lips and walked over to the bed. He threw back the covers from Joe’s legs and pulled up the end of Joe’s nightshirt until he could see the injured part of Joe’s legs. The bruises on his brother’s thighs had turned purple and blue, a dark band across the pale skin. A slight tinge of yellow and green were visible around the edges of the bruising. “Those bruises are getting might colorful,” joked Hoss.
Joe ignored him and continued to stare at nothing.
Hoss took a deep breath and started to position the hot water bottles on Joe’s legs.
Joe turned to Hoss suddenly. “Be careful!” he barked at his brother. “Those things are hot.”
Hoss stared at Joe. “What did you say?”
“I said those things are…” Joe’s eyes opened wide. “hot,” he finished in a whisper.
Pulling the hot water bottles off Joe’s legs, Hoss took a step back. “Try to move them,” he said.
Joe swallowed hard. His face frowned in concentration and he took a deep breath. Joe’s legs laid unmoving on the bed. Hoss looked at Joe. His brother’s face was beaded with sweat. Joe’s teeth were clenched and his eyes were crinkled with effort. Hoss turned back to stare at Joe’s legs. The limbs still laid motionless on the bed.
“Come on, Joe,” encouraged Hoss. “You can do it. Move them!”
Joe took a deep breath and tried once more. Slowly, very slowly, his left leg moved about an inch toward the edge of the bed. Then the right leg slid across the sheet, moving a few inches toward the center of the bed.
“Yahoo!” shouted Hoss at the top of his lungs. He rushed up and clapped Joe hard on the back. Joe grinned at Hoss and the two began shouting in happiness.
Hoss ran to the door of the bedroom. “Pa! Adam!” he shouted. “Get up here quick!”
Hoss rushed back to the bed, and rumpled Joe’s hair with his hand. “You little squirt,” said Hoss with a wide grin. “What do you think you’re doing, scaring us all like that?”
Ben ran into the bedroom with Adam at his heels. Higgins and Riley followed, stopping at the doorway.
“What’s wrong?” asked Ben anxiously.
“Nothing’s wrong,” answered Hoss gleefully. “Joe moved his legs! He moved his legs!”
“Are you sure?” asked Adam doubtfully. He knew how much Hoss wanted Joe to walk again, and wondered if his brother might have imagined Joe’s legs moving.
“Nothing to it,” said Joe, feigning indifference. He frowned in concentration. This time the movement came more easily. Again, he could only move his legs a bit, but move them he did.
“Will you look at that?” said Adam with a grin. He could almost feel the smiles on Riley’s and Higgins’ faces behind them. Joe grinned back at them smugly.
Ben said nothing, but the look on his face and the tears in his eyes said everything as he came forward and hugged Joe’s head to his chest. He held Joe tightly for a long minute.
When he finally released his son, Ben gave Joe a meaningful look. “I told you to deal with things as they came. The bad and the good. The bad has passed. Now we can deal with the good.”
Joe nodded in reply, his eyes also wet with tears of joy.
Ben cleared his throat. “All right,” he said briskly. “The show’s over. Hoss, you get those water bottles on Joe’s legs. Adam, go get Dr. Liu. We need to find out what to do next. There’s a lot more to be done, I’m sure, before Joe’s back on his feet.”
Looking around the room, Joe smiled. “You think I’m trouble now,” he said, “just wait until I’m walking again.” A wistful look crossed Joe’s face. “Walking,” he said softly. “I never thought walking would seem so wonderful.”
The buckboard pulled up in front of the ranchhouse at the Ponderosa. Ben pulled the reins to stop the horses, then looked at the house with both relief and satisfaction. He turned to Joe, who was sitting next to him. “Home, son,” said Ben cocking his head.
“We’re finally home.” Joe looked at the house and his face split into a smile. “It sure does look good.” He looked around the yard. “Wonder where Adam and Hoss are?”
“Probably working,” said Ben in a reasonable voice. “That’s why they left San Francisco three weeks before us. Somebody had to take care of running the ranch.”
Joe craned his neck, trying to look into the barn. “Think they got Cochise home all right?” he asked.
“I’m sure they did,” said Ben with a smile.
Joe climbed stiffly out of the buckboard, holding on tightly on to the seat as he stepped down. His right hand was still bandaged and his ribs a bit sore. Ben watched anxiously, ready to help his son if needed. But Joe made it out of the wagon safely. He started walking toward the house in a stiff legged gait.
Suddenly the front door opened. Adam and Hoss burst out of the house. “I told you I heard a wagon,” shouted Hoss. He grinned at Joe. “Welcome home, little brother.”
“Thank you, thank you,” said Joe graciously. “I was hoping for a brass band, but I guess you two will have to do.”
“How are you feeling?” asked Adam.
“Still a bit stiff and sore,” admitted Joe with a smile. “It’ll be a while before I start dancing a jig, but it’s getting better. I figure I’ll be back in the saddle in…”
“A month or six weeks,” finished Ben from the wagon, his voice firm.
“About a month,” said Joe, but his eyes twinkled as he said it. He was already planning on ways to shave off some of that time.
“How’s the rebuilding coming along in San Francisco?” asked Adam curiously.
“A lot to do,” said Ben as he climbed out of the wagon. “But they’ve made a good start.”
Joe grinned mischievously, then motioned his brothers closer. “Know what I heard?” he asked. “There was only one area of San Francisco that wasn’t damaged in the earthquake. Next time we go to the city, that’s where we’ll have to stay.”
“Where was that?” asked Hoss.
Joe threw a look over his shoulder toward Ben then turned back to his brothers. “The Barbary Coast,” said Joe with a grin.
“Joseph!” said Ben in mock despair.
Joe laughed and started toward the house in a stiff-legged gait. “You have to admit, Pa,” he said as he headed toward the door. “It was a lot more dangerous at City Hall than it was on the Barbary Coast.”
Author’s Note: I want to thank my friend Barbara for sending me an article about the 1865 earthquake in San Francisco, and giving me the idea for this story. I hope the story met her expectations.