Levi Hayes is out for gold and blood in this high-magnitude historical tear through the mean streets of San Francisco
In the days before the great earthquake and fire of 1906, Levi Hayes returns from San Quentin Prison with a plan. After serving five years for the theft of $30,000 in gold coins from the San Francisco Mint, he’s ready to take back what’s his and exact revenge on the now-powerful Healey brothers who set him up and had his barroom, House of Blazes, seized by court order.
To get back his bar Levi recruits his nephew, Mack Lewis, telling him the gold coins wait hidden behind one of its cellar walls. Their wild scheme propels them through saloon halls, gambling dens, back alleys, and brothels before it backfires. In lock-up as the earthquake hits, Levi and Mack must escape the collapsing building and burning city to get to the gold coins, with Quinn Healey determined to get his own revenge on them.
About the Author
Dietrich Kalteis is the author of three crime novels, Ride the Lightning (which won a bronze medal in the 2015 Independent Publisher Awards and was hailed as one of the best Vancouver crime novels), Triggerfish, and The Deadbeat Club. More than 40 of his short stories have been published internationally, and his screenplay, Between Jobs, was a finalist in the Los Angeles Screenplay Festival. He resides with his family in West Vancouver and is currently working on his next novel.
Read an Excerpt
. . . TRIAL BY FIRE
Somewhere a siren wailed. Pressing along Market, Quinn figured to head up Stockton, guessing it would be less crowded. Wait for Levi Hayes, knowing the man would be lured by his own greed.
Fires bloomed at his back, his shirt and jacket wet with sweat. The people in the street packed tight, pressing for the waterfront, the whole godless city burning to the ground. Some looked resigned, some spooked like livestock in a storm.
Florence would be alone in that big house up on Nob Hill, her servants around her. As far as he could tell, there was no smoke over that part of town. He would deal with Hayes and Lewis, get the gold and the cockfight money, then go to her and tell how he set things right. Let the woman be grateful, hoping to pick up where they left off, Quinn remembering the feel of her, the smell of her hair. He hoped Levi Hayes had got killing Marvin right.
Stepping around a corpse skewered on an iron rod, pinned between sections of sidewalk, Quinn didn’t give the man a second look, breaking from the crowd then, climbing a piano school’s fire escape, stopping on the iron landing, seeing what lay ahead, the mass moving steadily, but slow. A billboard topping the hotel advertised Knox Hats.
A couple of men climbed into a storefront, where the front window had been, looked to be looting jewelry. A couple called up to him, pointing, wanting the copper to do something about it. Climbing down, Quinn advised he was on an errand of the highest order, suggesting if they wanted something done, they could go about it themselves, that or mind their own business and just keep moving. Turning from them, he had second thoughts on heading to Stockton, guessing Mission might be a better bet. From the glow and smoke over the rooftops, there were more fires in that direction, meaning fewer people in the street.
. . . OUTFLOWING
Trudging past Church and Fourteenth, then Dolores, the women showed exhaustion, the rubble in the street made the going slow. Hadn’t made much more than a mile in the past hour, twice detoured by fire and wreckage blocking the streets. The air was hot and thick with smoke. Mounds of bricks lay scattered ahead, blocking a Peerless auto from going forward, water pooling around its wheels.
Splashing in the knee-deep water seeping and swirling from a fractured hydrant, turning the street into a river, Levi sloshed his way, grabbing the wheel of an overturned hansom cab. A chunk of brick cut into his bare sole, Verna catching his arm as he stumbled, forgiving him for his cursing.
Agnes slipped in the water, too, garments clinging to her skin. Reaching an arm, Mack helped her along, guiding Mabel with her baby, careful she didn’t take a tumble, offering again to take the child. Mabel insisting she was alright.
They were moving too slow for Levi’s liking. The heat felt stronger at their backs. The roaring and crackling making it sound alive.
A man in a drooping sombrero led his daughter, calling the name of a lost loved one. Wading through the water, not heeding a merchant on horseback. The man coming at a gallop, saddle bags slapping the chestnut’s flanks, the man’s long coat flapping behind him. Slowing through the water, he yelled warning about the curtain of fire coming, wanting the crowd to clear a path. Knocking the man with the sombrero, the rider reined the horse, Mack towing Mabel out of its path. The rider clipped Verna, the woman reeling headlong, her hat knocked into the swirl.
Cursing, the rider slapped and urged his mount over a mound of bricks damming the street, his horse’s hooves slipping, man and rider tumbling against the Peerless, the rider pitched into the stream.
Towing Verna to her feet, Agnes handed her the shapeless hat, Verna coughing, clutching her birdcage. The rider splashed before her, full of fight, the horse unable to rise. Spitting a mouthful of water, the rider yanked a pistol from his belt, aiming it wildly about, yelling for the horse to get up.
Jerking Agnes and Verna by their collars, Levi pulled them clear, the rider turning on the Peerless, shooting out a headlight, then aiming at the driver, the driver and passenger raising their hands. The crowd parted around the pool, the rider turning around and challenging any man.
Climbing past the windscreen and onto the hood, the driver dove at him from behind, knocking away the pistol, then throwing punches. The passenger, being an ample woman, struggled out her door, waded in and laid fists into the rider, punching like she was John L. Sullivan. Flanked, the rider fought back, swinging at one, then the other, before buckling under the blows. Other men waded in and tried to break it up, ended up throwing punches of their own. Most of the crowd kept moving.
Nudging Verna and Agnes through the water, Levi felt around, hoping to bump the rider’s pistol with his foot. The suffering horse jerked to keep its head above the rising water, eyes wide with panic. Nothing anyone could do.
At Dolores and Market, two brothers grappled an upright Bechstein, the name on the piano’s fallboard. Both with rolled shirtsleeves, they lifted it across the broken ground, getting as far the middle of the intersection. Setting it down, they mopped at their foreheads, muscles aching, looking at each other, knowing they’d gone as far as they could, the citizens passing on all sides. The brothers laid hands on the top, said some words, then left it and joined the movement for the waterfront. Leaving it to burn.
“Think Quinn had a hope?” Mack asked Levi.
“With the roof coming down?” Levi shrugged, shoving at a man cutting in front of him. The man turned and sized him up, saw Mack and thought better of starting anything. Keeping on his way.
“Think we used up whatever luck we had getting busted out,” Mack said, looking at Mabel, realizing his mistake.
“Busted out?” She looked at him.
“Just a way of talking, ma’am.”
“You men busted . . . saying you’re convicts?” She stopped and drew back.
“More of a slight mix-up, ma’am,” Levi said, looking at Mack.
“He said they got busted out.” Mabel turned to Agnes and Verna, saying, “We’re walking with convicts.”
Taking her flask from a pocket, Verna uncapped it, saying to Mabel, “You got something they can steal?”
“Think our intent’s plain, ma’am,” Mack said. “At the Mission, not two days back. That drunk tugging on your arm . . .”
Her look said he was no different from the men along that wall.
“You ladies will do just fine on your own,” Levi said, telling them to just keep moving for the ferry building.
“Come on, child,” Agnes said to Mabel, dropping her ironing board, saying to Mack, “We do thank you, gents, and Verna and I will see them the rest of the way.”
“They’ll be fine,” Levi said to Mack. “You forgetting we got business of our own?”
Mack looked at woman and child. Agnes and Verna helping her to the abandoned upright, middle of the street, water washing in from the broken main. The glow showing brighter over the rooftops from the south and east, smoke heaviest over the Mission. Windows that still had panes reflected the coming blaze. Air was getting hotter and harder to breathe. Ahead of them, the dome of the City Hall stuck up through the smoke, looked like it was sitting on a burned-out skeleton.
Half a block back, the motorist couple were back to beating on the rider, the woman holding him, her man punching away, the horse struggling to keep its head above rising water.
Another rumble, the ground shaking this time from a dozen steers stampeding from the south. Faces turned and the crowd split, some jumping clear, one man knocked aside. Eyes wide and white with terror, the steers stampeded through, a young man swept under the hooves.
The motorists clambered for the hood of their auto, leaving the thrashing rider in the water. Agnes and Verna yanked Mabel and child up onto the upright.
A captain led his mismatched squad of Guardsmen in wake of the steers; one of the men stopped to put a bullet in the drowning horse, his corporal kneeling and firing his rifle up the street, into the steers.
Watching the craziness unfold, Mack left Levi standing there and dodged his way to the piano, grabbing Mabel down by the arm, saying, “You want to bury your child, that it?”
“Get your hands from me.” She slapped and fought him.
Guardsmen ran by, ignoring them.
Nothing nice or gentle about it, Mack wrested the baby from her and sloshed through the water, Mabel hurrying in her slippers behind him, yelling for help, Mack telling her, “Be a hard-head all you want, but one way or another this child’s going to safety.”
She slapped and grabbed, but it was doing no good. The two women took hold of her, helped her past a longhorn lying in the street, a bloody hole in its throat. The crowd moved around it.
Levi waited on the steps of the church, its spire knocked out of plumb, the cross at the top gone. Cracks running through the word Adventvs chiseled into the stonework above the entrance. The quake had spared them from the rope, but out in the open, they were fine targets, Mack tempting fate, playing the hero with a child in his hands.
Soon as the Guardsmen had gone pursuing the steers, two men stepped from the wrecked Bank of California across the street, holding rifles and sacks, walking south, the opposite direction of the crowd.
Watching the world go crazy, Levi told the women, “You want to get to safety, then you keep close. That or you get left behind, that simple.”
Between Agnes and Verna, Mabel stood and nodded, looking down at her ruined slippers, her feet hurting.
“Got no time for the stubbornness of women.” If Quinn was alive, he’d get to the money first; it was that simple.
Agnes and Mabel looked at each other and shrugged.
“All right then,” Levi said. He looked ahead of them, hadn’t taken a step when he heard faint pounding from inside the church, a voice calling from behind the heavy door. Levi turning to Mack, his look saying, what the hell next?
Agnes Maier went and banged on the door, a voice calling from inside. Kicking away at the junk in front, she yanked on the handle but couldn’t budge it. Verna joined, sweeping with her foot, trying to free the base of the door.
Cursing, Levi grabbed the end of a board, Mack passing the child to Mabel, catching hold of the other end.
The door was of thick oak; the quake had fractured the framework, jamming the door. Mack bucked his shoulder against it, Levi joining, the two of them doing it in tandem, the cracked frame giving way. A couple more tries and the door caved inward, Levi catching hold of the frame, Mack tumbling into the darkness, Agnes and Verna rushing in after him.
. . . CLOSING THE GAP
Looked like froth seeping from the breached hydrant, wreckage floating in a whirling pool. Dipping his hat, Quinn drank without thinking about how dirty the water was, then tipped the hatful over his head. Shoving a fellow out of his path, he kept vigil, no time for the pain in his arm, holding the arm tight to his chest. Sharp-eyed, searching every face. His convicts were out here.
Out front of a store called the Emporium, four men rummaged like wild dogs through boxes of shoes scattered around the street. The blond one in a jacket of army blue was no more than eighteen. Full of drink, him and another man were holding bottles and shoes, one grabbing an armful of boxes, another trying on women’s shoes, all of them laughing like fools, Enfields at their feet. The blond one stiffened at sight of the copper, tossing away
Table of Contents
In the Traces
Lighting the Fuse
Flush Beats Straight
A Thousand Words
Breaking a Leg
The Meat and Potatoes
Treading the Boards
Doves and Daughters
The Deep Six
Feeding the Leopards
On the Hook
The Gibson Girl
Quibble the Top
Cribs and Cowyards
All Hell’s Loose
Whispers to Screams
Down in the Mission
Up in Smoke
Under a Falling Sky
Trial By Fire
Closing the Gap
Narrowing the Gap
Paris of the Pacific
Drink Deep the Christian Way
This Marble Shit
Saints and Sinners
Eggs and Ham and a Black Hole
Jumping the Breaks
Fire with Fire
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
At first, I had a hard time getting into this, but that was just the first couple of chapters. Then the story just took off. Those Healey brothers really had it out for Levi Hayes and they would do anything, and I mean anything, to get him back. Apparently Levi had stolen some gold coins some years back and the brothers couldn't stand it that they didn't have that gold. Through all of this is the huge San Francisco earthquake and it's where Levi and the younger Healey's true colors come to light. There is a lot of action and I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It took me to an era of gunslingers, brothels, and crooked sheriffs I absolutely loved it! Thanks to ECW Press and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest review. This review was written without any coercion from the publisher.