Authors: M.D. Grayson
This novel is dedicated to Casey and Joseph, with love.
July 17, 1897
George Tanner grew increasingly concerned. He tried to blend in, but it wasn’t working. In fact, the more he concentrated on being inconspicuous, the more conspicuous he felt. He was certain
in the saloon was watching him. He kept his head down and stared into his beer mug, drumming his fingers on the bar to the beat of the piano playing in the corner. He pulled out a silver pocket watch and checked the time, then he glanced up at the stairs where his two friends had disappeared with four of Lou Graham’s prettiest girls for a “one-hour” appointment nearly two hours ago. He shook his head, reached for the beer mug, and started the cycle all over again, his anxiety mounting.
George wasn’t worried about his friends—no doubt they were having a fine time, and besides, they were more than capable of taking care of themselves. Instead, it was the pouch of gold nuggets tucked away in the pocket of his vest jacket that was at the core of his discomfort. Never in his experience had such a small weight felt like such a huge burden. It actually felt as if the gold nuggets were sewn to the
of his jacket and that everyone in Lou Graham’s Sporting House knew it and was looking at him. If ever there were a walking target, it was him.
To be sure, George and the two friends he’d arrived with as well as the sixty-four other miners who’d disembarked the SS
that very morning
something of celebrities, having arrived from the Yukon early that morning with enough gold for each man to easily retire on. Within hours of their arrival, the word had spread like fire throughout Pioneer Square and beyond: gold had been discovered in the Klondike! Now, after a full day of banking and bathing and clothes buying, along with an evening of celebrating, George wanted nothing more than to return to his room at the Great Northern Hotel, get a good night’s sleep in a big, soft bed that wasn’t tossing about on the ocean, and then meet his wife and young son at the train station the next morning. He’d not seen Felicity for almost sixteen months, and he’d never even met George Junior, who’d been born the previous December, midway through George’s time in the north. George couldn’t wait to see them. Tonight, though, he’d agreed to wait for his friends. He gave a nervous glance around the room and felt a shudder run through him.
His commitment to waiting was already waning, but when he noticed two tough-looking characters at the opposite end of the bar openly staring at him, it changed completely. He was right! His suspicions were confirmed. The men were too far away for George to hear what they were saying over the raucous din, but there was no mistaking the fact that they were watching him, even studying him. This did it for George—enough was enough. He decided that rather than continue to wait for God-only-knew-how-long for his friends, he’d pretend that he needed to use the facilities out back, but instead, he’d sneak off and walk back down the hill to the hotel on Front Street. He leaned forward and whispered his plans to the bartender with instructions to pass them on to his friends when they returned. Then, when he noticed another group of men heading to the back, he got up—a little unsteadily—and joined them as they stepped outside.
* * * *
The rain had returned—summer thunderstorm rain with droplets big enough that they seemed to explode when they hit the ground. George stood beneath the shelter of the entrance awning and looked skyward for a moment, then he peered into the darkness, trying to orient himself. He looked down Washington first, then he turned and looked down Third Avenue, getting his bearings. He remembered that they’d climbed a grade to get to Lou’s place, but one of the others had been leading and George hadn’t been paying enough attention. That had been a mistake because now, both Washington as well as Third seemed to lead downhill from Lou’s, and the visibility in either direction was hindered by the rain. Confused and more than a little inebriated after the night’s celebration, George made a decision and set off downhill on Third Avenue. Though it started soaking him immediately, the rain actually didn’t feel bad—it was much warmer than what he’d grown accustomed to in the far north. In any case, he was glad to be out of the crowded brothel with its prying eyes. He had no idea he was going the wrong way.
He’d gone only twenty yards or so when he heard the saloon door behind him open. He glanced backward and his heart skipped a beat when he saw that the two men who’d been staring at him in the bar had also stepped outside. It was dark, and George felt near certain he was far enough away that he couldn’t be seen—he hoped that was the case, anyway. But to his dismay, the men chose to follow in his direction. Taking care to remain quiet, George picked up his pace.
When he reached Main Street, he spent a precious few seconds looking around. He was confused—things weren’t as they should be. He should have been able to see the bright lights of his hotel straight ahead, right down at the bottom of the hill. Instead, there was nothing but darkness, punctuated by occasional lights inside mostly dark buildings. He took a step forward and turned to his right, looking down Main. Far away in the distance, he saw lights on what he figured had to be Front Street. That must be it! He realized then that he’d been heading in the wrong direction. He turned right down Main Street and started walking quickly. The hill fell away as George continued on, and he picked up speed—any faster, and he’d be running. He was halfway to Second Avenue when he heard the men round the corner behind him.
“Hey!” they yelled when they saw how much space George had opened on them. If they’d been trying to be sly or sneaky before, they gave it up now. Hearing them chasing, George panicked and started running. He no longer cared about being stealthy—he just wanted to get away. Below him, no more than three hundred yards down the hill, lay the safety of Front Street.
George was a quick runner and he’d started with a decent lead, but the men behind him were fast, too, and they weren’t burdened with George’s disadvantages. George wasn’t on his home turf, but the thieves were, so he had to be careful. The darkness and the rain didn’t help matters. Even though George knew he was at least heading in the right direction now, he was still unfamiliar with the roads and the terrain, and this slowed him down—he knew that taking a nasty spill would end the chase immediately. Finally, as if things weren’t bad enough, he was slowed by the heaviness of the gold nuggets he carried in his pocket. The extra weight was akin to the modern practice of weighting down prize racehorses in an effort to tire them and thus even out the results. Unfortunately, it had the exact same effect on George.
He crossed to the south side of Main in an effort to shake his pursuers, but this had little effect other than allowing them to draw closer. He was tiring, and they continued to gain. He heard footsteps behind him drawing closer, pounding on the wet, muddy street. He’d no sooner crossed Second Avenue when he felt a strong arm reach out and grab his shoulder from behind. “Whoa up there, little man!”
“Leave me be!” George squirmed to get away, but before he could escape, the man grabbed him by the other shoulder and spun him around.
“Quit yer fussin’!” the man huffed, trying to recapture his breath. “We don’t mean ya’ no harm!”
George looked at the man as he worked to catch his own breath. Despite an evening of drinking, he had sobered up and was thinking quickly. He had not traveled to the Yukon, struggled for fifteen months away from his wife, and then made his way back to Seattle only to fall victim to a couple of common street criminals. And although he wanted to believe the man when he said they intended him no harm, he was wary and this caused him to want to find his wind quickly so that he could make another break for safety as soon as possible. Just as he was starting to regain his strength, the man’s partner ran up a few seconds later, breathing heavily and waving a large hunting knife. George simultaneously feared the worse even as he saw an opening.
Since the newcomer was still panting, George decided that a bold first move would give him the best chance to escape. He pretended to catch his breath while he balled his fist. Then, he swung a hard looping punch with his right hand with all the force he could muster at the first thug, catching him square on the nose. The man clearly had not expected an offensive move from George, and he fell backward to the ground, grabbing at his nose as he went down.
Before the second man with the knife could react, George spun around with the intent of bolting off and continuing his dash for the safety of Front Street. He might have made it; however, George’s direction was off again, and this time he crashed squarely into a flimsy board railing that protected a section of the areaway below where the sidewalk was not completed. In the next instant, the railing gave way and George sailed through, falling.
A vision of Felicity flashed through his mind before—twenty feet and barely more than a second later—he smashed headfirst into the concrete footer supporting the elevated retaining wall. He was immediately knocked unconscious, coming to rest facedown in a puddle of muddy water alongside the footer. With his body weighted down by the gold in his pockets, George drowned.
The two thieves peered down from above, one holding a dirty handkerchief to his bleeding nose. For a moment they debated whether they should take one of the ladders at the corner down into the areaway below and search George’s body, but when a group of people turned the corner and began walking up Main Street from Front Street, they panicked and bolted down Second Avenue, not wanting to be connected in any way with what had just happened.
The thunderstorms continued to roll through the city, and the rain fell off and on the rest of the night.
* * * *
Felicity Tanner and her young son, George Junior, arrived the next morning on the Northern Pacific Railroad as scheduled. She was surprised to find that George was not waiting at the train station to meet her, as they’d planned. Nor was he in his room at the Great Northern Hotel. Nor had his friends heard from him since the night before—they both said that the bartender had told them George had grown tired of waiting for them the previous night and decided to retire early. Distraught, Felicity turned in a report at the police office before resuming the search on her own.
Meanwhile, on Monday, the day after she reported George missing, workers arrived on Main Street to finish up their work on the lower sidewalk in the areaway along Main. The concrete was scheduled to be poured later that afternoon; in order for this to happen, it would need a relatively dry surface. Yet the lower areaway was full of puddles from the previous day’s rains. The simple solution was to dump gravel on top of the puddles until they were full, and this is what the workers decided to do. They didn’t notice George’s body, lying facedown in a deep puddle, covered with mud. The gravel rained down on George until he was completely buried. Later that afternoon, the concrete sidewalk was poured on schedule.