I – The Catalyst
The Palace Saloon was crowded every Saturday night. Guthrie Sullivan stood behind the bar wiping beer glasses.
Rules and self-righteousness didn’t sit well with Guthrie, but these days he didn’t fight it much. At sixty-two, he was stocky and strong, but his lined face told the story of the harsh adult life he had chosen to live. He grew up in Yorktown, Virginia in the shadow of old world traditions, strict paternal rules, and Methodist dogma. He joined the army in 1830, much to his proper English mother’s dismay.
Guthrie left the army in 1848 and settled in San Diego, where he met a Mexican woman named Liliana. She became his companion and traveled with him when he tried his hand at gold mining. He was successful and managed to keep his fortune out of the hands of thieves.
Liliana became pregnant and died giving birth to Guthrie’s only child on January 1, 1850, in Sacramento, California. The child was a girl, and he named her Abigail. He wrote his mother to tell her he had a new daughter, and to ask for advice on the matter of babies. His mother wrote back, instructing him to have the infant baptized within the Methodist community and find either a nanny or a wife.
When she was three months old, Guthrie moved to Ferndale, California with his baby daughter. He hoped the young community would be more forgiving of a half-Mexican child than those in Sacramento. He built a modest house and found a nanny for Abigail. Guthrie was one of the first businessmen in Ferndale. Twenty-two years later, he was an old man whose life had stalled.
Abigail Sullivan walked behind the bar and poured two glasses of beer. She worked at the Palace on the weekends, and when Guthrie needed extra help. “Daddy, will you take these beers to those men at the end of the bar?”
Guthrie dropped the bar towel and delivered the beers.
In a back room, Evan and Lucas sat at a poker table with Matt O’Neill and Josef Paullo, two men with whom they had grown up and attended school. Like Evan, Matt was from an Irish Catholic family. Josef’s family was a blend of maternal Danish and paternal Portuguese Catholic. They were tall strapping men; each worked their respective family dairy farm alongside their parents and many siblings.
The men were struggling to keep a straight face. This was obviously Janek’s first poker game. If Evan didn’t do something, Janek was going to lose his shirt.
“Janek, let’s go get a couple of tequila shots.”
“If you leave the table, you’re out of the game,” Matt said. “We aren’t sitting around here waiting for you to come back. I know you Evan. You’ll get drunk and forget about poker.”
Evan was drunk. If he didn’t get Janek away from the table, he would be too drunk to do it later. He motioned for Janek to follow him. They shouldered their way through the crowd to the bar. Abigail knew Evan well. She brought two beers and set them on the bar in front of him without looking at Janek.
“Abby, have you met Janek Walesa?”
Abigail regarded all strangers in the saloon with suspicion, but she would be cordial for Evan’s sake. The person standing beside Evan made her forget about suspicion. He was beautiful.
Evan said, “Janek, this is Abigail Sullivan.”
“You’re Guthrie Sullivan’s daughter. Evan has mentioned you. I’m pleased to meet you.”
“I’m pleased to meet you too,” Abigail said, hoping she wasn’t staring or worse, blushing.
“Abby, can you bring us a couple of shots?”
She forced her eyes to shift from Janek’s face to Evan’s face. “Do you want whiskey?”
“Janek prefers tequila,” Evan interjected.
When Abigail was out of ear shot Evan said, “She’s pretty and petite with all that long dark hair. Her mom was Mexican. Most of the women in town shun her because of that, including my mother. If I married somebody it would be her. I love a woman with mystique.”
“She’s very attractive. However, I believe you would marry any woman your mother disapproved of.”
Guthrie brought the shots. He ignored Janek and said to Evan, “Me and Abby are taking the schooner to Eureka on Monday. Are you sure you can bring us back on Wednesday?”
“Aye, we’re scheduled to bring the mail back that day.”
Guthrie eyed Janek then walked away.
“Are you going to Eureka?” Evan said. “I still think you should go to the interview.”
Janek thought about his metaphoric carcinoma. He wondered if he could find a metaphoric elixir in Eureka. He said, “I’ll go.”
Abigail returned with a bottle of tequila and set it on the bar.
“This should hold you boys for a while. That boatload of prospectors who came into town today will keep me busy all night. We need a hotel in town. A lot of these men had to pay for beds on porches and in barns. It’s going to get worse when they build the new port on the Salt River.”
Evan filled the shot glasses.
“That explains why Lise is offering beds on her boarding house porches for ten cents a night,” Janek said. “Did you know about the new port?”
“Aye, they’re going to start construction in a week or so. It’s for sea-going vessels. The schooners will continue to use the docks on the Eel River.”
Janek considered what Abigail said in regard to needing a hotel in town. It sounded as if Ferndale was on the brink of becoming an important port of call.
“Janek, what are you doing? Get to drinking man!”
“I’m sorry, I was thinking.”
“Well, if you’re thinking about those two women hanging on the bar over there, forget it. You don’t want to wake up with something crawling on you that you can’t get rid of. Now, that little thing sitting at the table in the back, she’s new in town. Maybe you should introduce yourself.”
“No. You go if you want.”
“Nope not me, I tend to my personal business out of town. I don’t want some local woman thinking I’m beholden to her just because I spent time with her. I made that mistake once and I won’t do it again.”
Janek supposed if he had stayed in Salem, Sarah Williams would have expected a marriage proposal after they had sex the night of his graduation party. He was grateful for his absolution from the responsibility of marriage.
It was past midnight when Evan said, “I’m gonna go take a piss. If I don’t return in a few minutes, you may want to look for me.”
Evan made it to the back door but was unable to walk to the outhouse, so he did his business where he stood. As he buttoned the last button on his trousers, the leaves at his feet fluttered like baby birds preparing to fly. A cold vortex formed among the leaves, rising upward and spiraling around Evan’s body pulling him closer and closer to the center of its life force. With each rapid rotation it whispered, “Janek is vulnerable and weak. You must take care of him and keep him near.”