Boston Massachusetts, 1873
Damnit. It was out and was cutting my tongue. Thirty bouts, and I finally lost a tooth. I prodded the space where it should be and found the jagged remainder sticking out from the gum. On my hands and knees in the center of the ring, I spat the tooth and a mouthful of blood onto the dirt and sawdust.
I stared at the wall of the bar as the referee reached four, and struggled to read the sailcloth sign hanging from the roof. It took a second, but through my muddled vision, I made out “Lawrence ‘Lethal’ Sullivan vs. ‘Crazed’ William Crasner”. Shite. I wasn’t exactly feeling so lethal.
At the count of eight I clambered to my feet. A few rows back I saw my nephew John, with his friends. Much to his mother’s chagrin, he was my biggest fan. Throughout the fight Johnny would be pantomiming my punches and defense, showing his friends how it should be done.
Two empty seats to the left of John sat my daughter. She was five, and was wearing an immaculate white dress with blue flowers. Her bonnet was perfectly balanced on her blonde curls, and a red ribbon tied her hair together as it flowed over her shoulder. My girl was a complete contrast to the squalid back of the bar that bordered on the water and held the ring.
Saoirse had been dead four years at that point. She usually only visited me when I had been drinking, which lately, had been too often. My angel looked at me with sad confusion in her eyes. Her appearance normally led to melancholy, the curse of the Irish poets. Today it led to rage. It was fuel. My baby was taken from me, and I had someone I could make pay for that injustice.
“Sullivan, you with me? Sullivan?” I looked up from Saoirse to the ref and nodded my head.
As the referee stepped back, Crasner winked at me. It had been a low blow that set up the shot to the jaw that loosened the tooth. Couldn’t blame him, I should have been expecting it. Bare-knuckled fighting wasn’t a sport for gentlemen. Surprised I could still smell the ocean water, stale beer and sweat from the unwashed crowd, I wiped the blood from my mouth and stepped forward, keeping my rage muzzled and under control.
With the constables bribed and absent, the yard was crowded with men who vicariously lived through us for as long as the bout lasted. William and I had been in the game long enough to avoid being caught up in the crowd’s bloodlust. I didn’t need the crowd to light the fire in my blood, I needed an iron will to keep it in check.
We closed, and throwing low and around his torso, I thudded into the area near his liver. We were close enough that when I slammed my head into his eye socket, it wasn’t as obvious as it could have been. I worked on that eye for the next two rounds until he was half blind. We were seventeen rounds in, and my fists were pulp. I used his compromised vision to relentlessly work on his left side.
Three more rounds went by and he could barely breathe through his broken ribs while I kept working that eye and that side of his head. When Crasner couldn’t get up in the twenty-first, my nephew helped me stagger into the bar. He was a strapping lad at fifteen, and he was determined to follow in my footsteps. John was a smart boy and a gifted baseball player, but I saw the violence in his eyes. His path was set. My sister-in-law, his mother, hated me for it, and I didn’t blame her one bit.
I was twenty-eight and two going into the ring and twenty-nine and two coming out. Jamison, the weasel, had his bully-boys with him when he tried to short-change me on my earnings from the fight. Johnny and I had them sorted quickly and I took my own little bonus to repay his treachery. I was flush. I slipped my nephew some money and we made our way to my sweetheart’s.
Kathleen McCallister was a beautiful copper haired lass with a full figure and poor enough taste in men to spend time with me. She filled rags with ice chips for my hands and bruises, and we lay together as I dozed. I woke to her using her amazing mouth to bring back my fightin’ spirit.
“You just lay back, Lawrence, me love. I’ll do all the work.”
I did, and she did.
My arm around her, ignoring the aches, pains and stiffness, I was staring at the wall when she spoke. “Did ya see her again?”
A nod was the only answer she received.
We were resting with her at my side when a banging started at the back door. Kathleen put down her Webley Bull-Dog when she recognized Johnny through the window and had him sitting at the kitchen table as I threw on some pants.
“Johnny, what’s with the clatter?” I was concerned and more than a bit put off.
“The constables. They’re looking for ya. And so’s Jamison’s men. Said they was gonna make an example of ya and end your fighting days.”
Damn these men who thought I should smile and lift my jaw, so they could kick me in my teeth while I thanked them for it. What we did wasn’t exactly legal, but there was no need for the law to be sticking their nose in. Money went into their pockets, right and proper. I didn’t lie down or lick boots when the coppers walked by, and it had earned me some enemies. If I was going in, I wasn’t sure if I’d come out again any further than the paupers-grave next door to the jail. It was time for me to leave Boston.
I left Johnny money to give to Ma, left some with Kathleen and she gave me her Webley. I slipped it in my pocket as I spoke. “Come with me, love. We’ll live in hotels and see all the grand cities. You and me, Kathleen, livin’ the high life.”
“Ya know I’m stayin’ right here. I’m not leaving Boston with ya. I ain’t that sort of woman. You’re a good man, Lawrence, but I ain’t the marrying and motherin’ type.” She stepped close and kissed me. “You wait this out in your grand cities. Come back to me and if I’m seein’ someone, I’ll put the boot to ‘em and move ya in.”
She was right. I knew how she was, and I didn’t hold it against her. Johnny had brought my brother’s horse. I scowled hard enough to rouse the swelling in my cheek. More of my money went into Johnny’s hand when I took the horse and turned to head south.
Pulling the horse in, I called out. “Johnny, wait.” I took the rest of my folding money from my wallet. “Give this to your gram.” I cuffed him lightly on his cheek. “Take care of her, Johnny. I can find a fight or two, anywhere. Keep an eye on my ma and you and I will always be square. And Johnny? Flowers, twice a week for Saoirse. Please, Johnny, for your cousin.”
I didn’t like having to take a horse. They were filthy beasts and if it were possible, I’d kill every nag I came across, but there was a need and I took it.
New York was huge, busy and just a bit frightening. If it wasn’t for their lamentable bigotry, I’d have easily fallen in love with the city. It set a man’s juices to boiling with beautiful women, constant action and a frisson that had kept my heart beating and my fists curling. Sleeping was something you did there out of necessity, before you jumped up ready to meet and conquer new challenges.
Best, and worst of all, the bustling and cacophony left little room for my daughter to appear. She stayed away while I was in the metropolis. The glimpses that I caught of her gave me something to hold onto and yet they also tore me apart. I found myself looking for her whenever I saw children.
No one could have avoided the stories that floated up to Boston, but none of us took it too seriously. How could we? They sounded like the stuff we told kids to scare the bejeebers out of them. Beatings in the street, not allowed in restaurants and bars, being turned out at flophouses; New York hated the Irish.
I got a quick dose of reality when I lined up a fight against a local boy. I was “Irish” Larry Sullivan. I fucking hated the name Larry, but I wasn’t the one printing up the fliers, nor was I the one paying for them. The promotor, his lackeys and my opponent treated me with contempt.
They were astonished when they found me reading the New-York Tribune, as if I should be unlettered and not come from the greatest race of poets the world has ever known. I was a trained monkey to them: someone to rile up the crowd and get the betting going.
Well, this monkey was going to kick their boy’s arse up between his shoulder blades.
I was no man’s idiot, and had Johnny Dolan of the Whyos hold my purse. Even in Boston, we’d heard rumors of him and he proved easy enough to find. No one wanted to be on the wrong side of the eye-gouger, and his gang was feared throughout the city. They considered it an honor and a duty to their heritage to ensure I wasn’t swindled, and I was happy for their support. Blackguards they may have been, but they were my blackguards and that went a long way.
The afternoon of the fight I walked down to where they were constructing the East River Bridge. It was an amazing sight, a feat of human engineering. Leaning back against a rock three times the size of a man, I sat to eat my supper. When I was done with my sausage and potatoes, I pulled out some paper and wrote to my mother. It was short and to the point.
I know ya, Ma, so I know it’s no good to tell ya not to worry. I’m doing fine though. New York is a sight to see! Crowds everywhere and more coming every day. Not too friendly to the Irish though. Stay in Boston, Ma.
Did Johnny come and see ya? I bought ya a dress from the fanciest shop you can imagine. Should be there in two weeks. I’ve got a big fight lined up and I’ll be sending you some money when it’s over.
Tell my brother not to worry neither. I really am doing fine. I’d ask you to tell the same to my sister-in-law, but the harridan is likely hoping for my worst. Speak well of me to Pa and Saoirse when you visit them.
I love ya, Ma.
I stretched after I finished the letter. My body groaned and moaned as I helped some men unload large stones from wagons. It helped me stretch out before the evening. Stopping at the new post office on my way to the fight, I marveled at the site. The building was huge and impressive. As ugly as its people could be, New York was a marvel.
This metropolis was alive and growing in spurts. Buildings were going up everywhere and construction was seen everywhere you looked. You had to crane your neck to see the heights as floor after floor were built on top of each other. I smiled in spite of myself as I made my way towards the waterfront where the fight was being held.
As I sat in the room they’d set aside for me before the bout, I felt one of my dark spells sweep over me. The pall over my emotions pushed down everything human. They treated me and mine like beasts of burden and I was going to get some payback. Staring at the wall three feet in front of me, they had to call my name twice before I heard them. To hell with New York. I’d tear it down brick by brick and man by man.
The home-town boy was a handsome lad with a record of 14 and 0. By the time we reached the 16th round everyone knew he’d have to impress the ladies with something other than his looks. By the 18th we were getting pelted with fruit and vegetables. By the 20th, I walked over his prone body on my way out of the ring, another win to my record and cash in hand.
For a short time, I was the most hated man in New York. It was time to leave another east coast city. This time I headed west.
Our country was huge, and moving from one city to another along the railways often felt like Diogenes’ lonely search for his honest man. I was always looking, searching for something, anything to break up the monotony, some sign of civilization that would prove that my goal wasn’t as elusive as the ancient Greek’s. Mile after mile passed as I sat in mind-numbing boredom. I’d dream of cherubic smiles and golden yellow hair held in place with a red ribbon, and jolt from my sleep.
This wasn’t New York, nor was it Boston. It wasn’t even the smaller towns like Worcester that lay between the two. For a man who thrived on crowds, this was torture. The first time we stopped at a station to load up on coal and pick up sundries, I lurched from my seat and rushed to the doors.
It was nothing. Absolutely nothing. A waystation amidst purgatory. There were four buildings of any note, one that served alcohol and some general goods. I skipped the next stop and the following with a sense of superiority. I was a city man, not one of these dust loving locals to be impressed by whatever we happened across. My mood worsened as the pain in my jaw increased. When we hit the third stop, I was the first off the train, pride be damned.
My daughter stood next to the stairs leading to a ramshackle church that was likely the small town’s pride and joy. I ignored her and went to find a drink.
By the time the train stopped in St. Louis, the tooth I lost in Boston was causing me a bucketful of problems. That whole side of my mouth was swollen and sore and I felt like I had been kicked by a mule. I had to have lost fifteen pounds and decided toughing it out wasn’t working.
I made an appointment with Jameson Fuches, a new dentist in town who seemed to be bright and energetic. He fixed me up, and his partner gave me some laudanum for the pain until the swelling went down. An educated young man, this partner and I spent some evenings gambling with the gentlemen of St. Louis. I lost frequently, he didn’t.
Regardless of how much he drank and the impact of his persistent cough, Doc won hand after hand. As some others at the table grew belligerent, he’d lean back, run his thumb over his thin mustache and tap his pistol with four fingers of his shooting hand. It seemed that he had a reputation of which I wasn’t aware.
Amused by the seeming danger presented by this educated man, I continued our bourgeoning friendship. After hour upon hour of gambling and drinking together, I still didn’t know why he worked for Fuches.
“Doc, what’s your situation with Jameson?”
“He’s a fine man, Lawrence. We graduated together. We are both practitioners of the dental arts, but he has a business acumen I’m lacking. After some time, I’ll take that knowledge back home with me, open a practice there and live fat and happy, profiting off the oral misery of others.”
Somehow, I doubted that this learned man would wind up as a pillar of his community pulling teeth and raising a family, but he was a fine friend to have at your side.
St. Louis was my home for two months as I made some money in two more fights, lost some of it gambling with Doc and made a friend of sorts. He corrected the worst of my gambling habits and I discouraged men who envied his success and didn’t know or care about his proficiency with a six-gun.
We celebrated his final night in St. Louis in grand fashion. Two-inch thick steaks, fine alcohol, and beautiful women dangling on our knees. The two of us played cards and our vices put us in a mellow mood. We laughed and told ribald jokes as the cards fell. I did well, but Doc was on one of his streaks.
Two brothers at our table grew increasingly outraged by Doc’s play and his “I don’t give a damn” attitude. He took their money for as long as they were willing to wager. He was well into his cups, but it didn’t affect his skill a drop.
When they reached their limit, they stood to leave. “Damn eastern cheat. I hope you cough your way to hell!”
Doc never looked up. “Gentlemen, I thank you for your money. Now take your ugliness elsewhere.”
They stomped out and we continued our playing.
Hours later, we stepped out to the street. Doc was slow and measured, befitting the volume of whisky he drank. The brothers stepped up beside us as our backs were to the tavern.
“I want my damn money, dentist.”
“Learn to play better.”
As the speaker reached for his gun, my fist found his temple. He lay sprawled out in the dust, unconscious. His brother fumbled for his pistol as I shifted forward. I didn’t see Doc move. My dentist friend was there, empty handed and then suddenly his gun was aimed at the brother still standing.
“Lawrence,” Doc said, “has no one told you to never stand between a man and his target?” He turned his attention back to the would-be thief. “I am ready, sir. Draw as the compulsion comes upon you.”
The man held up his hands, backed up slowly and then turned to run.
“And he leaves his brother to sleep in the street. What has become of our countrymen, Lawrence?” He pointed to the man on the ground as he holstered. “I am indebted, sir. You may call upon me at any time.” He tipped his hat in my direction and headed off.
The next day Doc made his way back east to Atlanta, and I continued my way west.
It was a warm afternoon when I climbed off Esmi, pulled on some clothes and left her tent. She was the seamstress for the show and we had been together for the past few months. They were still erecting the main tents as I started the long walk into town. I’d place my order at the General Store, pay for it and have it delivered with the goods for the show.
My mother hadn’t left me uneducated. I knew that Esme was the shortened version of Esmeralda, but I also knew that Esme in French meant ‘loved’. I had loved my wife back in Boston before tragedy forced us apart. I guessed that I still did and my hypocrisy had limits, so to me my lover was Esmi.
I heard the voice at the same time as I saw the cane coming down on the boy’s back. “Seventy dollars! Seventy damn dollars, that dress cost me.” Rising and falling again, the man struck the boy as he yelled. The street was packed, and no one stopped, slowed or said a word.
“All” strike “the way” strike “from Paris!” strike. The boy was cowering, bent over near the front of a wagon, way too close to the horse. Anywhere was way too close to a horse if you’re a child. A woman that appeared dowdy before her time stood watching, black eyes peering from a powdered whitish face, while what looked to be treacle stained her dress. There was a dark look in her eyes that spoke of enjoyment in the pain of others. A large, leaking brown bottle lay near her feet.
I felt my fists clench, open and clench again as I strode forward. “Mister, the next time you strike that child will be the last time you raise your hand to anything or anyone.”
He looked at me, askance, first in the face, then to my belt. Seeing I wasn’t going heeled, he looked back up. “Stay out of this, sir. It doesn’t concern you. This boy is in my employ and will be disciplined.”
“I ain’t telling you again. You hit that boy and your ugly wife’ll be picking you and your teeth up off the dirt.
“How DARE you!” He proclaimed loudly to the air, as no one else was paying attention. “You all heard him. He’s threatening me.”
I started to close as he fumbled under his waistcoat, presumably searching for his gun.
A new voice came from across the street. “DO YOU KNOW MY NAME?” he bellowed.
The child-beating dandy looked up at the newcomer.
“If you do, let it pass your lips, so I know you are a man of breeding and intelligence. No? All right. I am Buffalo Bill Cody and better men than you live in fear of iron in my hands. You stand in front of Lawrence Sullivan, friend and confidante. If your hand does not come out empty, I will end your miserable life on this otherwise brilliant afternoon.”
Bill was as good with his guns as he was with his words, and that was saying something. He never met an audience that he didn’t feel the need to play to. He wasn’t no friend, neither, but we worked for the same outfit and he had sand.
The boy was on his knees now, grabbing tight to the wagon. I spoke softly. “Son, pay attention now. I’m looking for someone to hire-on. You in the market for a new job? Pay’s more than what he’s payin’.”
“Just one minute! You can’t just walk up and...”
“Mister, you keep jawin’ and I’m gonna take your pistol from you and beat you to death with it.”
The boy nodded at me enthusiastically.
Bill spoke up. “Lawrence, you take that young man back to the show. Have the doc take a look at him. I’m going to stay here for a bit, and if this jumped up guttersnipe moves towards you or the boy, his lovely wife will soon be a widow.”
That’s what I did. Bill took a strong interest in the boy’s welfare, talking to him often, worrying and hovering. I thought it a might peculiar and wondered for a bit if he was a little too interested. My fears were allayed when I was told that Bill had a son roughly the boy’s age who had died of the fever. That knowledge did things to me that I couldn’t rightly explain. It was as if a shared pain existed between us and bonded us together.
Bill could pretend for a while that he had his son back and the boy had a hero he could look up to. I certainly didn’t fit that role. Bill was larger than life and the star of the Wild West Show we worked for. I was the hired rough that made sure no one got out of hand.
I believed that in me the boy found an older brother. Someone that saw and appreciated the larceny in his soul. We were kindred spirits and I was considered a protector, but not a father figure.
Bill took a shine to me that day and started to treat me as a friend. We’d sit and have coffee in his wagon and play cards until late in the night. In spite of my time with Doc, I was no expert gambler and lost consistently. That may have been part of my charm for Bill.
We’d go hunting while traveling to new cities. Bill’s skill wasn’t just for show; that was for certain. He was the best I’d ever seen. He taught me how to shoot proper, both pistol and rifle. I couldn’t get the hang of tracking an animal in the wild. It must have been my spending my formative years in the streets of Boston. If I was tracking someone down, it was another boy or man who hurt me or mine. In the wild, I was worthless. On the other hand, Bill couldn’t blend in when we were in a town or city.
I taught the boy what to look for. He’d spot pocketmen and other thieves and point them out to me. I looked like what I was: a bone-breaker. He looked like what he was: a scrappy eleven-year-old. No one scanned him twice. He’d keep an eye out for drunk townies looking for a fight or women looking for customers. I’d run them off.
He always made for the exit after tipping me off. I never wanted him to be in the position where he was known as the spotter and become a target. It didn’t always work out that way. There was one bit of trouble that just reeked of violence.
Someone spotted the boy. A large man, he was sharper than he looked. “What the devil you staring at, boy?”
As he stepped forward, I intercepted him, yelling at my protégé. “What the hell did I tell you? You come here again, I’ll break your damn fingers!” He started running and I turned to the thief he had spotted. “You! You with that kid? You think we’re ripe for picking up marks? If you or your son show up again, I’ll take a pipe to your knees, you understand me? Get outa here and don’t let me see you again.”
Holding up his hands in a sign of surrender, he hurried out. The boy was back 20 minutes later, silently surveying the crowds.
Esmeralda looked after the boy in a way that Bill couldn’t. She was motherly, and he took to her like a duck to water. He must have been starving for attention and was at her beck and call. Esmi was good for both of us. She kept me grounded and when I was with her my temper was in check. She started hinting that we should become more permanent, and I thought positively about the prospect.
Bill and Esmi made sure that the boy spent time with Old Javi. He was an educated man from back east and served as our “Professor.” He’d sell books about Bill and elixirs that cured what ailed you. He had a barker’s knack and a Professor’s education. Like many of us, he was running from something or someone and found a home with the show. A middle-aged man, he played older for the crowds and used his stentorian voice to effect. Javi made sure the boy got his lettering and a basic knowledge of the world.
Esmi’s presence and the constancy of a regular job kept me steady. I had never saved money before, never sunk roots and never pursued lasting relationships outside my family. I’d fight, be wealthy for a while, run out of money and fight again. Now I had friends, a good woman and some money saved.
I didn’t like institutions and I certainly didn’t trust them. The army, the government, the police, gangs, tribes and groups could all go hang. If you can’t make a deal, spit in your palm and shake the other man’s hand while looking him in the eye, it ain’t for me. Ned Buntline paid my salary and he was the man I answered to. If I failed at something, Ned came to me. If I had a problem, I went to him. We shook hands on my hiring-on and that was that.
More money could be made in fighting, but I stayed because of Esmeralda.
We were in Columbus, Ohio, when Bill showed me a beautiful lake just off a well-worn path. He had been there years ago, hunting and fishing, and remembered the location. The next day Esmi packed us up a picnic and we took a wagon to the spot. I brought two of the new split-cane fishing rods from New York City and we made a day of it.
We were sitting on a blanket while Esmi went through the wicker basket. Her back to me, she spoke. “Are you hungry, Lawrence, or should we work up an appetite?”
Leaning over on my side I stretched her way and pulled my raven-haired beauty towards me. “Is there ever a need to ask?”
With her delightful lilting accent, she called out. “Help me! Someone! This Yankee brute intends to ravish me.”
She started giggling as I laughed and pulled her closer.
I could taste the remnants of the wine on her lips as she lay back on the blanket. Reaching down, I realized that she wasn’t wearing a bustle and my hand soon found flesh. My fingers roamed the contours of her curves as I grew more heated.
“Yes, Lawrence, yes.” Her encouragements and moaning flamed the fires burning within me and I slowly relieved her of the burden of clothing. My hands moved from her skin to her clothes as they fell to the ground and her hands alternated from the back of my head as we kissed to below the belt as she felt my ardor.
We were soon as naked as if we resided in Eden, and I lay beside her, my tongue playing with hers and my fingers dancing upon her breasts and nipples. Finally slipping one hand south of the border, I found her wet and ready.
Her legs parted, revealing the path to heaven and I slowly mounted her. We joined, disturbing the peace of the local wildlife. She called my name over and over until we were both spent.
“You’re a fisherman born, Lawrence, but I’m glad to be the one spending time with this pole.”
We spent the rest of the day enjoying the food she’d brought and doing some fishing. We returned in the early evening, and Esmi had the boy help her clean the fish that they fried for supper. We smelled of pine and trout as we fell asleep in her bed.
Two weeks later, I was looking for my father’s pocket-watch. It was German made and his sole legacy to me. I had to go to a dinner with Bill, Ned and the town’s mayor. We had just arrived, and Ned always pressed the flesh, making sure the men who mattered were on our side. I was sure that there’d be a minister, a businessman and the local newspaperman present and Ned would pay for the meals.
Not finding the watch, I dug deeper. Considering that Esmi might be keeping it with her jewelry, I pulled out the lacquered box. Below it was a satchel. Inside the satchel was cash, a tremendous amount of cash.
Esmeralda had over $50,000 dollars in that and three other satchels. I had no idea where she got the money and how it was converted to $20’s, $50’s and $100’s, but it was far more than a seamstress should have. I put it back, didn’t say a word and spent three weeks watching.
At the next show I ignored potential hooligans, and instead watched the entrance. I kept my figuring on parchment and kept count of how many people entered. After talking to Ned about the day’s take, I realized that we were way off. Way, way off. My stomach fell and my hands shook worse than they ever had before a fight.
I took Esmi to town for dinner when she was done selling tickets. I enjoyed showing her off and didn’t know how much longer I’d be able to do so.
The next day I waited until she and Old Javi put up the black curtain as the show started. Sales were over, and she wasn’t needed for costumes or nothing. Using Ned’s key, I slowly opened the door. His bald head was between her breasts, one shaking hand on a nipple, the other under her dress.
She kept up a soft retinue of encouragement that didn’t match the look of concentration on her face as he moaned, and she reached behind him to drop money into a new satchel. I closed the door, packed up my gear and watched the end of the show.
When my employer finished wrapping things up, I pulled him to the side. “Ned, gotta talk to ya.”
He looked over the last of the departing customers, scanned the workers to ensure everything was moving as it should and turned back to me. “Sure, Lawrence. What can I do for you?”
“I need to be moving on. Tonight. I want to take care of Esmi, though. She needs to be in good hands. If I tell you how you can make a lot more money off the show with one major move, you need to promise me you’ll keep her on for at least 18 more months and treat her well.”
“Whoa, hold on. Someone offering you more money? You in some sort of trouble?”
“No, I just need to be moving on along. We got a deal on Esmi?”
“Well, I guess. Don’t really need one though. She does her job, everyone likes her, but yes. We have a deal.”
I spat on my palm and held my hand out. He spit in his and took mine.
“We have a deal, Ned. You and me. You’re not going to like what I’m ‘bout to say, but I’m going to hold you to that deal. She’s a good woman aside from this, but keep Esmi away from the money and you’ll be a hell of a lot more profitable.”
I saw the look in his eyes and I didn’t like it. Ned was a man I didn’t want to hurt. He took in three deep breaths trying to calm himself. “Are you telling me that she’s stealing from the show?”
“I’m just telling you that we had a deal, she’s a good woman otherwise, just don’t let her near the money. She gets Javi ... preoccupied after closing the window down and uses the opportunity to take a bit on the side.”
Anger and curiosity mixed in his gaze. “She’s messing around with Javi and she’s stealing from me. Why would you help her?”
He was an honest man who had treated me well. “I think I love her. Got no control over that. Stick to the deal, Ned.”
“You’re a son of a bitch, Sullivan. Eighteen months and not a day longer.” He turned and stalked away.
I saddled up my horse, took my since-found watch and once again headed west. The horse wasn’t happy about it, but my tolerance for horses didn’t extend to their likes and dislikes. They were a necessity, like boots or a wallet, nothing more.
There had been a piece of me that died when she left us those years ago, and that death allowed me to leave friends and people behind. Family was different. It broke my heart thinking about Ma and I longed for news of my brother and Johnny, but others? My daughter was gone, and the fault was mine. What else mattered when compared to that?
Saoirse awaited me at the outskirts to the camp.
I spoke to my girl and headed west. I wasn’t out of my head. She was gone and couldn’t hear me, but it did my soul good to talk to her, so I did.
“Yer Ma, she loved you. Before and after. Ya’ need to know that. She’s with a good fella. We couldn’t stay together, the two of us. She’s still my wife, I guess, and she’ll always be your Ma, but none of us are together no more.
“I shoulda been there. The fight was two days earlier. I coulda been home, with the two of ya. I was too big a man, out celebratin’, and drinkin’. You woulda never been near that animal, and I’d have my two girls with me today.”
“I don’t deserve ya, Saiorse. I don’t deserve you or the love of a good woman.”
My mood was going maudlin and one of my black times was upon me. I rode the horse too long and too hard. As much as I hated all its type, it didn’t deserve me and my anger. After two days, I came across a town large enough to have a stage-coach and bought passage to Ogden, Utah where I found work on the railroad lines with Central Pacific.
It was a job for which I was suited. The railroad had overseers that rode rough over the Chinamen working the section gang and gravel crews. The Transcontinental had employees looking after the safety and security of passengers. They had me looking after the safety and security of employees.
Soon after I started, beatings and fatalities slowed to a standstill. I was a legend to most low-end employees and hated by their bosses. I didn’t care much about neither. I had a job to do, and I did it. After enough bosses received the same beatings that they passed out to others, things started to turn around.
A great deal of my time was spent with the Chinamen and their families. They kept to themselves and didn’t bother no one. They appreciated that I stood for them when needed, and they welcomed me amongst them when other white men were kept at arm’s length. I’d go hunting when my moods came upon me, and Bill’s lessons let me do moderately well. I’d bring the meat back to the workers.
They would share their soups and dishes, and some of their women became friendly. They were like most women in most ways, and I was able to satisfy my needs as they presented themselves. I spent the better part of three years working for the railroad, from Ogden to San Francisco. Much of that time was spent with the Chinese, keeping things moving and learning along the way.
On my final trip to San Francisco, I met Alveca Gardine and her husband, Artem. She was a tall African woman and he was a white man, taller than she was and taller than me. She sold sauces for victuals and was planning on making it big in the city, maybe even opening her own restaurant. Their congenial company made the travel easier, especially during supper. She was never without a flagon filled with one of her vinegar concoctions.
I spent way more money than I should have on Alveca’s sauces, but the stuff was damned good and made most anything edible. I had no idea that there were so many types of vinegar, and each was more delicious than the last. Her husband tried to teach me chess and she took to good-naturedly correcting my English. They were fine people and I hoped to run into them regularly in San Francisco.
The time had come to keep my feet firmly in place for a stretch. I had been offered a job and I was going to take it. I’d be doing much the same thing as I had been doing for the train. As much as I hated the constables in Boston, I took the job in San Francisco of keeping them in line, and that I could tolerate. I’d have my own badge and title. Denting the heads of cops who stepped over the line wouldn’t be a perk; it was part of the job.
The July Days rioting had started to fade from memory, and with it went the ill-will towards the police who were a bit too eager to split skulls. They were forming a Chinatown Squad, and wanted to avoid the same problems. I had a track record, came well recommended and didn’t have any loyalties that would make me beholden to anyone. They had written to me with their offer, and I accepted.
My job as Assistant Captain of the SFPD came after spending a lifetime spitting in the eye of authority, I was gonna be a right bastard with a badge.
I didn’t have many belongings, and I was able to stow what I did have in my room right quick. I’d need to find something permanent, but the hotel was affordable for the moment. I walked out to the front porch of the building and lit up a cigarillo.
A man wearing a long apron and handling a broom looked up. “Yeet?”
“Ya eat?” He hitched a thumb over his shoulder. “Miner’s got good food. Not too far. Got specials, too.”
He gave me directions and continued sweeping.
Deciding to start my employ on a full stomach, I walked down to Market Street and stopped at the recommended Miner’s Restaurant. They had any three items on their ten-cent menu for twenty-five cents, and that sat well with my wallet. I placed my order and leaned back, enjoying my coffee as I watched my fellow diners.
“Mr. Sullivan? May I join you?” I guessed that my answer didn’t matter, because she sat down as she spoke.
I guessed that my answer didn’t matter, as she sat down as she spoke, but I still said, “Uhh, yes, of course.” I looked about, but she seemed to be alone. This was awkward. How did she know who I was? “Uhmm, coffee, ma’am?”
She was a striking woman with long black hair and eyes as dark as the sea at night. “Yes, thank you, and we will be paying for your supper, sir.”
“The Morning Call, San Francisco’s newspaper of record.”
“You seem to have me at a disadvantage, ma’am. How did you know where I was and who I am?”
“We make it our business to know, Mr. Sullivan. My name is Jennifer Cruz. My father is one of the men who owns the Call.”
“I see. Normally I wouldn’t speak with you until I spent some time acclimating to your fine city, but I’m an admirer of Mr. Twain’s. If he saw fit to write for your newspaper, I can certainly allow you to buy me supper.”
“You read Mr. Twain?” She tilted her head to the right in surprise, much like a dog would when he hears an odd sound. I tried not to smile.
“I do, Ms. Cruz. I do. My mother’s strong right hand and my resulting tender ear ensured that I became a habitual reader.”
“You’re not exactly what I expected, Mr. Sullivan. Your ... ah, former career led me to believe you’d be a bit...”