Tuesday, January 22nd, 1889
Youngblood awoke in the diffuse light of mid-morning. His sleep had been dogged by fitful dreams, none bad enough to wake him, but leaving him oddly fatigued. His eyes told him he wasn’t about to be fully rested, but his mind would have none of it, demanding more answers to the ever-mounting questions about his unknown cousin’s bequest. He sat up on the edge of the bed and looked around at the room.
In his initial sleep-fogged state, he didn’t recognize it, but he soon saw it for the small bedroom above his office in the Oyster. It could be nothing else, as he hadn’t found time to engage quarters in one the town’s hotels, and as he took in the cozy surroundings, it occurred to him that perhaps he wouldn’t. He rather liked the closeness, the difficult access for any intruder to negotiate, the close-to-hand appointment of bed, dresser, and chest of drawers that he could almost reach all of without taking a step. It was a wood-and-plaster womb to which he could retreat to lie in the fetal position, out of reach of the lunacy going on downstairs. Or so he felt.
He stood, stretched, used the chamber pot, and dressed in a comfortable travelling suit. Setting his favorite bowler atop his head, he looked out the window at the sidewalk across the street, bedroom to a handful of less fortunates, and made his way down the slender wrought iron stairs to the office below. Opening the door, he found Isabella sitting in his office chair counting a fistful of currency.
“Don’t you ever sleep?”
“Sleep? I have heard of it. I think I might like to try it sometime.”
“Insolent wench. What time is it?”
“Time for you to go to work. There is a man waiting to see you in the bar.”
“Good Lord, again?” He glanced up at the wall clock. Nine-thirty. “Who is this now, the king of California?”
“No one so important. This man’s name is William Jackson. He is Quincy’s superior.”
“Christ, he’s here about the bribe. I didn’t think they’d be so punctual.”
“When there is a question of money, jefe, all men are punctual.”
“I suppose. What do I need to know about this fellow?”
“That he almost never comes down here. They must think you very important for their boss to come see you. Jefe a jefe, so to speak.” She smiled at her own witticism.
“How do I rate such treatment?”
“I told you.”
“Tell me again.”
“We are a big operation down here. Most places have drinking, or girls, or gambling. We have it all. The smaller places look to the bigger ones for leadership, and if they see us decide not to pay, they start getting ideas, yes? The men collecting the money cannot allow that to happen, so they have to remind us of our obligation.”
“And Newton paid this?”
“Si. Oh, he didn’t like it any more than you do, but it is how business runs when your business is sin, yes? You pay a little, things go smooth. You don’t, then every time there is a problem with a customer, another business, the snooty people northside, then the law is against you. The price is not so great, really.”
He noted with some irony that she was punctuating her words by waving that fistful of five- and ten-dollar bills around.
“Just pay it, then?”
“It’s your business. I would pay it. I’ve seen a few who didn’t. It didn’t go so well for them.”
With a sigh and a nod, he stepped out to face Mr. William Jackson. He wasn’t hard to find, being the only man in the bar at this hour. Mr. Jackson was a man of medium height and slender build who nicely filled his off-the-rack blue suit. His coffee complexion and tightly-curled hair marked him as a mulatto. Youngblood walked right up to him.
“Mr. Jackson, I presume?”
“That’s right. Youngblood?”
“Mister Youngblood, yes. What can I do for you, suh?”
“Look, Mr. Youngblood, if you want to go through this song and dance, it’s all right by me, but I’ve known Miss Lopez for a long time, and I’m reasonably sure that she’s just been educating you on what to expect from me, so let’s work from that premise, shall we?”
“All right, then, Mr. Jackson, you seem to hold all the cards. May I assume that you’re going to deal some at some point?”
“I am, indeed. Is there someplace we can talk?” He jerked his head pointedly toward the bartender, busily cleaning glassware at the far end of the bar.
“This is fine. Apparently, everyone knows about this bribery business but me.”
“This ain’t about that,” Jackson whispered, leaning close. “This is for your ears only.”
Youngblood’s mind raced. Not about the bribe? What else could he want?
He led Jackson to a faro table in the far corner, secluded beneath the stairs to the girls’ rooms. He took the corner seat facing the door, and laid his bowler on the table.
“Say your piece, Mr. Jackson.”
“Call me William,” the policeman said, pronouncing it “Wee-yum.”
“Maybe. What’s on your mind?”
“Well, Mr. Youngblood, everything I’ve heard about you suggests that you’re an honest man who’d like to stay that way.”
“That’s essentially correct.”
“Well, as you’ve no doubt seen, there’s nothing down here that can be remotely described as honest. As a general rule, we charge the businesses to let them run. The businesses run whores, serve watered-down liquor, and cheat at cards. Everybody in general has a good time, there’s some fleecing and pickpocketing and the like, and if the businesses don’t let that get out of hand, we don’t bother them too much. But there’s bigger things that go on down here.”
“Murder, Mr. Youngblood, first and foremost. People disappear, male and female. Most of the men, we suspect, wind up on ships headed for the Orient. The women too, only in their case, they’re mostly going as slaves. Crime doesn’t stay small, Mr. Youngblood. You let somebody profit by a small crime, and he’s going to try a bigger one. If that works, a bigger one yet, and so on. You see where this is going?”
“I see where you’re taking it.”
“I don’t think you do.” He lowered his voice further. “Mr. Youngblood, you want to stay honest. I want a pair of eyes down here. I think we can find a middle ground.”
“What are you saying, Mr. Jackson?”
“I’m dealing my cards, sir. You work for me, and I mark your business fee paid.”
“Work for you in what way?”
“You have one of the key establishments down here. Keep your eyes open, listen to conversations. Take in the rumors. If you hear anything that sounds like it could be useful to me, pass it along.”
“What would you consider useful?”
“That’s hard to say, Mr. Youngblood. I doubt anyone is going to speak about a slavery ring in the middle of this bar, but it could happen. But other things less, should we say, dramatic than that could be useful as well. Sometimes a few little items can be combined into one big one.”
“And that’s all you want, just information?”
“That’s more than you might think, Mr. Youngblood. Nobody down here will talk to a deputy. One pair of well-tuned ears in the right place could be well-worth five hundred a month.”
“What if it doesn’t work out?”
“We can always revert to the other arrangement. Would you care to try it for a month, see whether it’s productive at all?”
“I believe I would. That might be a redeeming activity.”
“Could be. Of course, anybody down here tumbles to the fact that there’s a spy in their midst, your life won’t be worth a wooden nickel. What I suggest, Mr. Youngblood, is that you go to your office and get me an envelope stuffed with paper so it looks like a big wad of cash. That’s what people expect to see, so that’s what they’ll see. And not a word about this to anybody.”
“Be especially careful around Isabella. She smart, and she knows how things work here. If she figures out what you’re up to, you’ll be at her mercy, and that’s not a place I’d care to be.”
“Of course. Wait right here.”
Youngblood walked back to the office where Isabella had put the money away and was adding a column of figures.
“Isabella, I need five hundred cash.”
“Decided to pay, did you? It’s for the best.”
She reached under the desk and pulled a hidden lever, and a panel underneath released. Opening the hidden compartment thus exposed, she took out a flat box, unlocked it, and counted out ten fifty-dollar bills before handing them to him.
“Thank you,” he said as she returned the box to its hiding place. “Envelope?”
She pulled one from the pigeonhole and passed it over.
“Go see if Robert needs anything for the bar, would you?” he asked, stuffing the bills into the envelope. “If he needs a store run for anything, I have a few items I’d like to add.”
“You don’t want me to finish here first?”
“No, this will wait. I need a few toiletries, and we might as well get everything in one trip.”
She stood and walked out into the bar. Youngblood pocketed the five hundred, pulled some sheets of foolscap from the desk drawer, folded them into thirds, and stuffed them into the envelope in place of the money. He licked and sealed it, making a horrible face at the foul-tasting glue, and followed her out. Lifting the envelope to her as he passed the bar, he walked to where Jackson waited by the table and offered it to him.
“A pleasure doing business with you, Mr. Youngblood,” Jackson said, shaking hands with him as he pocketed the package of worthless paper.
“Same to you, suh,” Youngblood said, and added, “Call me Harold.”
* * *
And a few steps up the staircase, just behind the wall that blocked the view of anyone on the floor, a pair of smoky eyes widened in surprise at what their owner had just heard.
* * *
“How did it go?” Isabella asked, opening the office door after her one quiet knock.
“What?” Youngblood, lost in thought, had no idea what she was talking about.
“With Señor Jackson.”
“Oh. Sticks in my craw, that’s all. This isn’t how you do legitimate business.”
“I keep telling you, this is not a legitimate business. The policia can cause us no end of trouble unless we pay them not to.”
“I’m not sure I want to conduct this sort of business.”
“Well, this is the sort of business it is. What are you thinking, to turn this into a real hotel?”
“It’s an idea.”
“Well, don’t get too matrimonial with it. You know where we are, and no respectable traveler is going to come southside looking for a place to sleep.”
“Yes, and that’s the problem, isn’t it?”
“Si, and it will always be the problem. It is good you paid. Señor Jackson never comes down here himself. They would not have waited much longer without making an example of us.”
“He warned me not to trust you,” Youngblood said, “but I have to trust someone, and I think he’s wrong about you.”
He reached into his inside pocket and produced the $500.00, laying it on the desk.
“You’d better put this back in the strongbox.”
“You did not pay? Madre de dio!” She made the sign of the cross. “I can only pray that no one gets hurt.”
“Is it really that bad?”
“Look around here, baboso! Where do you think you are, in an English drawing room? This is the furthest edge of the great frontier. Civilization as you know it is years away from here. Men kill each other over a handful of pesos. Do you think the policia are going to walk away from hundreds of dollars with a shrug of their shoulders? If you are going to cling to your drawing room sensibilities, maybe you should make a deal with Señor Duncan while you can still hold a pen!”
“Maybe I will! Only if his claim is honorable, though. I don’t intend to pay anyone a vast sum of money because they walk in here and say I owe them. This is still the United States of America, even this far away from the capitol. There are laws.”
“And we are breaking a hundred of them every time we open our doors! Señor Youngblood, there is a saying I have heard you Americanos use. ‘When in Rome…’”
“‘Do as the Romans do.’ I’ve heard it. If I walk into a room where a man is being beaten to death, am I obligated to join in because everyone else is doing it?”
“This is not the same, and you know it. This is not violence, this is the prevention of violence. Harold, listen to me. This is not about your principles. You are putting us all at risk with your stubbornness. Me, Chato, the dealers, the girls upstairs, any of us could be used to show you the wages of stubbornness. Is that what you want?”
“Of course not.”
“Then pay him! Give Señor Jackson his money, and all of this will go away.”
“All right, Isabella, I’ll consider it. Now, would you be an angel and fetch me a bromide?”
“Of course.” She laid a folded piece of paper on the desk before him. “Roberto’s list.”
“List of what?” he asked with a blank look.
“The list for your market run,” she told him. “You’re going after sundries, yes?”
“Oh, right, of course,” he stammered, “sundries. Right away. First, though, the bromide?”
With an eye roll and a head shake, she turned to the door.
* * *
Roberto retrieved the crushed white powder from the cabinet beneath the bar, mixed it with water from the service pipe, waited for it to foam, and handed it to Isabella. When she returned to the office, giving her customary single knock then coming straight through, she was greeted by the sight of Youngblood sitting at the desk loading the ancient pistol.
“Oh, good, you’re back,” he said without looking up.
“What are you doing?” she asked as she placed the grainy liquid on the desk.
“What does it look like?”
“I looks like you are going to invite someone to kill you.”
“Actually, I’m uninviting them. Apparently the only way to get any respect in this town is to be ready and able to kill people. So be it. This old blunderbuss will do the job nicely.”
“Harold, listen to me. If someone walks in here and kills you, an unarmed man, they will go immediately to the gallows, and everyone knows it. You are protected by this fact that is bigger than you or anyone else. But if you put on a gun, there are questions. Who started it? Were you looking for a fight? Were you shot in self-defense? As soon as you put that gun on, people will assume you intend to use it.”
“Maybe I do. Isabella, this is my second day here, and I’ve already had my life and well-being threatened multiple times, twice by policemen, and once by a man who claims that part of my business belongs to him. I’m thinking that a gun worn openly will make them think twice about dismissing me as prey for their greed. You said yourself it would look good on me.”
“A joke! Something to say! I do not need another dead boss. I implore you not to do this thing.”
He rammed a ball with the lever beneath the barrel, completing the loading of a chamber, then laid the pistol on the desk.
“Tell me, Isabella, how did you keep Duncan from taking over when Newton died?”
“Oh, the Commerce Committee took care of that.”
“The Commerce Committee?”
“Si. A board composed of the owners of businesses in Stingaree. They held back Señor Duncan’s ambition in the hope that the new owner would be someone they could manipulate. One does not manipulate the Angel of Death.”
“They will find me of sterner mettle. What is this Commerce Committee, and at what point in the relationship were you going to tell me about them?”
“Never, of course. I am not of that world, and it is not my place to speculate on their affairs. I would not have mentioned it now, save for the fact that you are about to do something very foolish.”
“Of course, the gun.”
“But I am now a Stingaree business owner. How am I expected to find out about them if my right hand woman doesn’t tell me?”
“They are watching you, Harold, to see how you are going to act. They watch every new owner for a few days or a week or two, and only when they see how he is as an owner do they openly approach.”
“And you knew about this all the time?”
“Who does your loyalty belong to, Isabella? You obviously don’t see yourself as working for me. Who do you work for?”
The question took her aback, and she wondered if she was about to be dismissed. She would have to be very careful.
“I work for the Oyster. This bar is where my loyalty lies, this and the rooms upstairs. Keeping this operation moving smoothly pays me a wage that enables me to live in a private room, and buy the occasional pretty, and act like a human being. Do you have any idea what it is like for a girl from central Mexico to come here from a shack and try to find work? You don’t speak the language, you don’t look right, you aren’t white enough. It was only by the grace of your cousin Newton that I didn’t wind up as one of the girls upstairs. With the skills I have learned on this job, I will someday manage one of the great hotels.”
He didn’t rise to the bait. He understood more than she thought, having come from Charleston and seen former slaves that no one would hire turn to lives of crime, or shuffle off north, all their worldly goods tied in a handkerchief on a stick. Yes, he understood her better than she thought.
“I’m sorry,” he said to her surprise. “I was out of line. I just don’t know what to do, what the rules are here. It’s like the convicts have been left on their own to run the prison, and everything I do is wrong. You are really my only contact with all this, and if I can’t rely on you, I’m in more trouble than I thought.”
“You can rely on me, Harold. In a very real sense, you are the Oyster. Your success is in my best interest, and I will help you any way that I can.”
“Does that help run to not keeping secrets from me?”
“Unless keeping a secret would help you.”
He sat back and stared at her for a moment, then gave a full-throated laugh.
“What a typically female answer!”
“Well, Harold, you know, I am a typical female.”
He laughed again and leaned forward extending his hand.
“Somehow, I’m inclined to doubt that! Pax?”
“Pax. It’s the Latin for peace.”
“Ah, pax!” She stepped forward and shook his hand.
“Harold, there is one favor I would like to ask of you.”
“I have a friend in town who knows something of guns, and what it means to wear one. I would ask that you do not put that gun on until you talk to him.”
“And he would be willing to do that?”
“For me, he would. I will bring him to the bar tonight. If he cannot convince you, then you wear your gun and get yourself killed, and I will learn to get along with yet another boss.”
* * *
“This meeting of the Northside Businessmen’s Association will now come to order,” the immaculately groomed older gentleman intoned. “As is customary, Chairman George Belmont will be presiding. Is the secretary ready to proceed?”
“Ready, Filmore,” a young man, barely out of his teens, announced from a side table as some three dozen men in formal attire found their places in the rows of chairs aligned facing a raised dais.
“Very well. Mr. Belmont, sir, you may begin.”
“Thank you, Filmore.”
George Howard Belmont, an expansive man, the product of sumptuous meals, looked out across the assembled gallery, then raised his gaze suggestively to take in the spectacular view through the open double doors and the windows on each side. He looked out from a height across the long curve of San Diego bay, the rising sticks of Babcock’s Folly on the island, and the modern city of San Diego on the shore beyond.
“Gentlemen,” he began. “Colleagues. I stand before you at this fortnight’s meeting to raise a question of propriety, a question of right, a question, gentlemen, of simple business, and what is right and proper for business in this fair city.”
Often it was the case that conversations interrupted by the call to order would continue in the audience as the first speaker began his topic. Not so today. Belmont understood well the dramatic pause, as was to be expected of the New York politician he once was, and he used it well to draw his listeners in.
“San Diego is drying up,” he continued. “That’s right, friends, the city is bleeding, nay, hemorrhaging residents, as manufacturers, shippers, and speculators move north to Los Angeles and San Francisco. We here are being left with the dregs, the leftovers, plain and simple, of this exodus to the north. The great Alonzo Horton’s vision is dying, snatched from us by not only an accident of geography, but the dilution of the race!”
The swelling crescendo of his speech brought men to their feet with shouts of outrage.
God, this was so easy, he thought, waiting for his audience to get control of themselves once more.
“What of the great resort?” someone had the temerity to ask.
“The Hotel del Coronado,” Belmont sneered. “Babcock’s Folly, as I name it. Elisha Babcock believes that he can raise a luxury hotel and spa on a godforsaken sand bar on the farthest edge of the continent, and people will flock to it to frolic on the beach for a handful of days. Lunacy! You are all wealthy men. Do any of you travel the world to play? Of course not! None of us here became wealthy by squandering money in such frivolous pursuits. No, Mr. Babcock thinks that recreational tourism will become an industry. Well, my reply to Mr. Babcock is that people may well travel to see the monuments of Washington or the skyscrapers of New York, but what do we have here, gentlemen? Do we have any great battlefields or classical ruins? Theater? Art? No. What we have is a great harbor, and no means to make it commercially viable.”
“We provide a great service to ships coming around the Horn.”
“You refer to coal and ballast, brother?”
“Services only made necessary because they stop to offload goods for those too stubborn to leave, a few ranchers, farmers, and loggers, mostly. But we digress.”
He cleverly included his audience in the “blame” for taking the conversation astray.
“Growing our city is work for the politicians. They are ones whose responsibility it is to solve that problem. We are businessmen, and we have formed this organization to address and correct the problems of business that interfere with the success of our efforts to provide a livelihood for our families. Now the good Lord knows that there are problems enough to go around, most of them of a geographical nature, but there is one insidious cancer that affects us all, eroding our profits and conspiring to make our businesses ultimately unprofitable and unsustainable. I think you all know that that problem is race.”
Murmurings broke out in the gallery. Belmont let it go on for a few moments, then brought the group back to focus.
“Gentlemen, it is no surprise that the whole region is overrun with Mexicans. In fairness, they were here first, laying about, taking their siestas, squandering the promise of this rich land until the white race came and took possession of it. Then there are the coolies down south of Stingaree, breeding like cockroaches, looking for handouts, getting in the way of everything, and maybe the most egregious of all, there is at this moment, as we speak, gentlemen, a free Negro who owns one of those filthy establishments in Stingaree, and by all accounts, is raking in money hand over fist.”
“Successful, then?” someone asked from the floor.
“Very successful, brother, and think of the message that sends! Look, I have nothing against our former slaves. I employ two in my own establishment, and pay them a decent wage, but every dollar that’s spent in that man’s saloon is a dollar that a white merchant, that you don’t get, and make no mistake, people are watching. The Mexicans, the coolies, the other blacks are all taking note. They see a black man, the lowest of the low, making a go of it, and if that’s allowed to continue, why, the next thing you know, they’ll all be setting up shops. A God-fearing white man, you, brothers, won’t be able to put food on your families’ tables anymore. Those people aren’t like us. They’re from different cultures, they have different ways. They don’t have ethics. They’re dishonest. They lie, they cheat, they steal. How are we going to compete with that sort of people?”
“I thought you said they were lazy,” a very young man spoke up, drawing a fierce glare from Belmont that froze him in his tracks.
“They are, young brother. Who are you?”
“Richard Merriweather, sir.”
“Son of James Merriweather?”
“That’s right, sir.”
“Well, you ask your father, young Mr. Merriweather, what effect all these blacks, browns, and yellows have on business. He’ll tell you some tales about Mississippi and the New Mexico Territory that’ll set you straight. They cheat because they’re lazy. They can’t compete with a hard-working white man, so they have to take short cuts to harm your business, to negate the effect of your work. Now, is there anyone else who doesn’t understand the situation?”
He cast his glare around the room like the focused beam of a lighthouse beacon. Everyone else understood.
“Good. Now I say it’s time to put a stop to this nonsense, and I’m calling for a vote to have the action committee pay this nigger a visit. All in favor?”
A chorus of ayes! rang out in the room.
“I’m opposed,” said an older gentleman with white hair and beard, a still-trim figure rising to his feet in his three-piece suit. “The action committee hasn’t been employed in six months. I thought we had moved past such tactics.”
“Well, you heard the vote, Doctor. People are tired of sitting still and watching these vermin destroy their businesses.”
“I heard the vote,” the old man said. “I notice that you called it without a rebuttal speaker.”
“Do you wish to speak? I yield the floor.”
“Oh, I’m no speaker, George. I just think you’ve whipped these men up to do the wrong thing.”
“What do you think we should do, Doc, buy him a train ticket and politely ask him to leave? The action committee can be a bit more direct.”
“If by direct, you mean illegal, yes, they most certainly can. You’re going to bring the marshal’s office down on our heads if you aren’t careful.”
“The marshal’s office? Phillip, the marshal’s office has more to worry about than one nigger in Stingaree. Hell, if a day goes by that somebody doesn’t get killed down there, it’s newsworthy.”
“So he’s to be killed, is he?”
“The action committee will determine what’s best.”
“The action committee takes its marching orders from you.”
“Only in the most general terms. Now you heard the vote, Doctor. You were offered a chance to speak, and you declined. If you want to stand in opposition, that’s your prerogative, but you’ll be held to your oath. Not a word of this to anyone, understand?”
“I know the oath, George.”
“Good. Now we’ll take a couple of days to gather information, and then we’ll send our message. Is there any further opposition?” He looked around the room. “Doctor Greene?”
“Wouldn’t be much point, would there?”
“No, there wouldn’t. All right, moving on with the agenda, our next speaker needs no introduction…”
* * *
The fact was that Youngblood’s favorite hat had been ruined, smashed in shipment. Though he liked the simplicity of the bowler, the message it sent to the world was “here is a common laborer,” and as he was now a business owner, it simply wouldn’t do. As he had committed himself to making the liquor supply run for the bar in order to get Isabella out of his office, he’d might as well explore the town a bit. So clad in his best white Charleston suit, he centered the offending bowler on his head and set off west toward Front Street.
Front Street was the location of the Calhoun Brothers shipping agents, and he left Roberto’s liquor order there for delivery in a day or two. Then he turned his steps north toward the imaginary line of demarcation that was Market Street. He saw no particular difference this second time he crossed it, but as he reached the north sidewalk, he felt eyes on him, the feeling of the outsider who knew he didn’t belong.
Following Isabella’s directions, he continued on for five blocks, marveling at the electric street lights and streetcars running the length of D Street, headed back east, and found George Marston’s “department store.” This cosmopolitan product of a big eastern city had never seen the like. Shops in his experience were either specialty or general, but here on this large open floor were racks of women’s ready to wear dresses, gentlemen’s suits and work clothes adjacent, labor saving appliances for the home, tack for the horse, all presented in orderly displays ready for viewing. Admiring the genius of it all the while, he located the haberdashery “department” just behind the men’s wear, and with the help of a knowledgeable clerk, selected his replacement, a wide-brimmed cream-colored plantation hat that fairly shouted opulence, not least by its price. Bowler now carried in a complementary box, he made his way to the city’s administration complex to look in on his new partner.
Escorted to the correct location, he knocked twice on the frame of Deputy Jackson’s office, thinking that closet would be a more apt description, and when Jackson looked up to see him, his look of horror made Youngblood look behind himself to see what monster might be approaching.
“Have you taken leave of your senses?” Jackson asked in astonishment. “Get in here, quickly!”
As he stepped in, Jackson got up and closed his door.
“How many people know you’re in here?”
“Just the man at the front desk.”
“That’s bad enough. What’s happened that’s so almighty important that you had to come up here in person?”
“Nothing in particular.”
“Nothing in particular? You’re quite mad, you know. What did I tell you about anyone finding out that you’re working with me in any way?”
“That it wouldn’t be a good idea?”
“Quite. And now you walk into my office in broad daylight? I can only assume that you’ve heard something so almighty important that it can’t possibly wait for me to come around.”
“Oh, you’ll be coming around?”
“What do you think?”
“Well, you weren’t exactly clear about it.”
“Jesus, man, do I have to draw you a picture? What were you in Charleston, the village idiot?”
“There’s no reason to take that attitude.”
“There is every reason, you dolt! You’ve been in Stingaree for a couple of days now. Have you looked around down there? Have you met anyone? That place is full of people who will kill you over a dirty look, and you take it on yourself to walk into the marshal’s headquarters? Jesus!”
“Well, if you want news for a visit, I did have my life threatened by a gentleman last night who said he had a claim on part of the Oyster.”
“That could be interesting. Who was this gentleman?”
“The Angel of Death?”
“What did you do to attract the attention of that particular worthy?”
“He claims he had a deal with my cousin, the former owner. He’d loaned him fifty thousand dollars. Newton had repaid eighteen, but still owed him thirty-two when he died. He’s of the opinion that I owe him the balance.”
Jackson gave a long, low whistle at this revelation.
“Isn’t there anything you can do? Lock him up, maybe? There has to be law against issuing death threats.”
“Mr. Youngblood, if we locked up everyone in this town who made threats against each other, there wouldn’t be anyone walking around free. Were there any witnesses?”
“I fear not.”
“Well, there you are. What did he say he was going to do?”
“He said his agreement with Newton was that if he couldn’t repay the debt, then he would give him a quarter-interest in the business. He said it was his intention that I was to honor it, and that he wouldn’t wait long for my response.”
“What do you intend to do?”
“I’m not sure. I don’t like it, though.”
“I shouldn’t imagine you would. I don’t think you’re in any immediate danger, though your employees might be.”
“He might use one of them to hasten your reply.”
“Oh, I see. That would be unfortunate.”
“Yes, it would. And if he does that, there won’t be anything traceable back to him.”
“Meaning that you can’t do anything?”
“I’ll keep an eye on the situation, of course, but there’s damned little I can do if he doesn’t step out of line. If I were you, Mr. Youngblood, I’d be sleeping with one eye open.”
“Thank you, Mr. Jackson, that’s very comforting.”
“All just part of the job. Here,” he said, reaching into his desk drawer, “here’s a map of the city. Shows the important businesses and all. If anybody asks what you were doing in here, tell them you came to get that.”
He got up and opened the door.
“Go down there, turn left, and take that long hall out to the front of building. If you come out the door of city hall, it won’t look quite so suspicious. And try to relax. I’ll be around.”