by Bill Hafoc Rogers
©2010 Bill Hafoc Rogers
The floor looks good, Swabbo. You can buy yourself a drink after youve cleaned out the spittoons.
The silver coin spun glittering through the air. Before I could think, I reached out and snatched it. I turned from the bar and handed it to the mangy sea otter who had been pushing a mop across the floor. Here, I said, pressing it into his palm.
His eyes met mine. I cant read anything in the eyes of the nativeswell, not those of the Coast People, anyway, and back in those days youd never see any of the Hill Peoples in San Francisco. For an instant, though, I thought I saw some warmth in the depths of the otters dark eyes.
His webbed hand closed around the dime. He nodded ever so slightly, dropped the dime into the pocket of his scuffed-up black canvas trousers, and bent down to pick up the nearest spittoon. Carrying that and the mop, he walked away toward the rear of the establishment.
I turned back toward the bar, making sure not to speak until I wasnt facing the dapper wolf who had tossed the coin. You should be careful. That dime almost went into the spittoon.
From the corner of my eye I could see that the smile on the wolfs lips never wavered, although it no longer touched his eyes or the posture of his ears. Perhaps his hackles were stirring. I know mine were. Dog and wolf may be the same beneath the skin, as some say, but both are marked, skin, fur, and heart, by ten thousand generations of their ancestors hatred.
Finally, I turned to lock my gaze with his for a moment. Dog against wolf, we all know how thats supposed to turn out. But somehow, Gods alone know how, I ended up being what you might call robust. Usually I consider my size an inconvenience, but its also kept me out of a few fights. If its enough to make even a wolf think twice about taking me on, I wont complain about it too much.
The wolf kept his false smile, eventually breaking eye contact in a slow manner that said he was only doing it out of courtesy. Of course, not even the nose-numbing cologne he wore (we all did, back then, perfume being easier to come by than bathwater) could prevent my scenting the anger in him.
He was angry Id caught the coin, so he had wanted the dime to land in the spittoon. Hed wanted the otter to have to reach into spit and tobacco juice, wrist deep, to get it.
Ill remember that, the wolf said, in a tone that could be taken as a threat or not, whichever I preferred. He flicked an imaginary speck from his vest with a manicured finger claw. What brings you to the Versailles Palace Saloon, Mr..?
London. John London. Im only here for the usual, Im afraid.
Oh? And whats the usual?
I smiled, sipped my beer, and set it down again. The liquor they served here was atrocious, but San Francisco never lacked for good beer. Ive been working a claim up along the American River. I decided to put on the only halfway decent clothing I have and come down to the city to blow off a little steam.
Ah. Well, let me introduce myself, Mr. London. I am Alexander Larsen. Captain Larsen to many, although some just call me Wolf. He waved a hand dismissively. The Versailles Palace is a bit of a sideline for me. I deal in input and export, mainly. These days my cargoes travel in other peoples ships, but I still have a little schooner of my own, the Ghost. I run cargo up and down the coast in her when the mood or need strikes me. I lived on the sea almost from a cub, and old habits die hard.
I cursed, inwardly, although I flatter myself I didnt scent of my dismay. I knew of Captain Wolf Larsen, of course. Everyone did. He was the one person I had most wanted to avoid angering when I came here today.
A very dangerous wolf was Captain Larsen. Rumor had it he had been a pirate and smuggler in the old days. Rumor had it he still was, among other and worse things.
He sipped his whiskey, which from the scent was pure, unadulterated Kentucky Bourbon. Well, of course Captain Larsen would know not to drink what his men mixed up in the basement. You seem to be blowing off steam with an unusual level of decorum, he observed.
If I wanted to raise hell, its a short walk to the Barbary Coast. I could find some dive there where I could drink cheap and raise all the hell I wanted. But Ive seen enough hell raised up in the hills. I want to be civilized for a while. Thats why I came to the most genteel saloon in San Francisco.
That wasnt true, of course. The Versailles Palace Saloon was in a good neighborhood, almost on the Bay. It wasnt in the infamous Barbary Coast district of bars, dance halls, gambling hells, and brothels (which, in spite of being called a coast, was inland). But for all that, it wasnt far from the Barbary Coast; neither far away down Pacific Street, nor far away in what it provided.
I thought complimenting his place might put Larsen off his guard, though. It seemed to work. He smiled at me, and this time it seemed genuine.
We appreciate your business. If you need anything else while youre here, feel free to ask the staff. Im sure we can provide whatever youd like.
Well, a game of chance, for example.
Im sure that in a place like this the games are completely honest.
He laughed, showing a set of very formidable teeth. But of course. Im sure a man of your education and intelligence knows that a properly-run gaming establishment has no need to cheat its customers. In the long run, Mr. London, nobody beats the house.
He touched the brim of his tall silk hat, and with a little nod, turned to go watch the wheel of fortune and the faro tables. I stayed at the bar and sipped my beer, making it last a long time, watching the crowd.
Things seemed busy enough now that the crowd might offer me some cover. I finished my beer and walked through a wide archway into the dancing parlor. They had a piano in there, and the pianist wasnt half bad. Dancing girls, almost the only females you could find in San Francisco in those days, danced with miners and townspeople. The girls wore gowns with low necklines and hems at the ankles, sometimes even as high as the knees. You could see layers of brightly-colored petticoats beneath the skirts. This was considered scandalous.
There was a smaller bar here, for the convenience of patrons who wanted to buy adulterated whiskey for themselves and colored sugar-water, also supposedly whiskey, for the girls. A more respectably dressed female stood behind it, selling drinks and dance tickets. Good evening, Stranger, she said. Her accent sounded as if she might even have been French.
Id like to dance.
The ticket is a dollar and a quarter. That was high, but then the Versailles was supposed to be a high-class establishment, so I wasnt surprised.
All right. Could I dance with that lady there, the one in the green gown?
Ah, Antoinette. She is our most popular dancer, but I think youre in luck this evening. She is lovely, is it not so?
Shes beautiful. And indeed she was. From her amber eyes, her fur colors, and the shape of her ears she had much of the Scots Border in her, but she was slimmer and more elegant than the typical collie of the glens.
The real trick of her beauty was how she presented herself. Her gown was as stylish, as fine, and as respectable as you could have found in the real Versailles Palace. That was what the lonely miners here really wanted; a reminder of the proper females, the mothers, sisters, wives, and girlfriends theyd left behind when they came looking for gold. By showing reserve, she made herself irresistible. No wonder she was so popular!
The song ended. The lady known as Antoinette came to the bar, saying farewell to the starry-eyed miner who had been dancing with her.
Your gentleman the next, Antoinette, the ticket-seller said. Antoinette turned to me, smiled, and held out her hand. She seemed a bit stiff and unnatural when she saw me, but she handled her surprise well.
Good evening, Stranger.
Charmed to meet you. I brought her hand to my lips. Shall we dance?
This was a slow piece, a waltz. Id get my moneys worth out of the dance, if that were what I worried about. Smiles on our faces, we spun across the room toward the back corner. Nobody was near enough to watch or hear us except that otter, and he was busy working at the floor again, sweeping this time.
Antoinette? I suppose Virginia wouldnt work for a dancer at a place called the Versailles Palace.
Does it matter? Why did you do this, Jack? You could have just come to visit me in my room when I wasnt working.
Could I? You might want to remember what happened to the last lady called Antoinette who lived in a Versailles Palace. I think youre in danger here, Virginia. Thats why I came. Not to try to convince you to find respectable work, if you could; I dont care about what so-called polite society thinks even as much as you do.
Im safe here. Captain Larsen keeps watch on us all, and most of the gentlemen dancers are true gentlemen, as best they know howexcept for the occasional big lug of a brother who might stumble in stinking of beer. Howd you find out I was working here, anyway?
Mother sent me a letter and told me youd found work cooking at a place called Versailles. I got her letter inside one from Doctor Bunker. He says shes doing well. She still spends her time talking and listening to her spirits, but she hasnt tried to kill herself lately.
Thats good to know.
Virginia, please consider what Im saying. This place is dangerous. Theres something wrong with it. If you didnt know that, youd have written me yourself that you had work here. Open your ears, open your nose. Even here I can smell fear, the embalming fluid they mix into the whiskey, blood, opium, sex, and death. Youre dancing on the edge of a cliff. Its so bad I didnt dare meet you as your brother for fear of what Larsen might do. Dance with lonely drunken miners if you must; I dont object, and Mother would thank you for the money you send, if she could understand it. But do it some place other than here. Please.
The songs ending. Its time for you to go.
I sighed. Yes. Please think about it.
She nodded ever so slightly. Then she walked me back to the side of the room, wearing her best professional smile. Again I bowed slightly and lifted her hand to my lips.
I went back to the main bar. It was full dark outside now, but the action in the saloon was just rising to the full heights of each evenings gaiety. Larsen was talking to the bartender as I came over. He glanced at me, nodded slightly, and wandered away.
For a moment I had the feeling Larsen and the bartender might have been talking about me. That being the case, ordering and drinking my second beer of the evening was probably the most foolish thing Id done in my life. Whatever drug theyd put in that beer, I didnt even smell it.
I began to wake up with gritty floorboards pressed to the side of my face. I opened my eyes the tiniest bit. The light was dim, but I could see that I was in a cage. It smelled like fear, rust, and the foul waters of the bay. There were other scents too; lamp oil, opium, formaldehyde, raw alcohol.
If hes that dangerous, just put him in the bay.
The voice that replied was Captain Larsens. That is why youre still working for me. You dont understand that going too far is as foolish as not going far enough. A financial killing is better than a red-handed one. A big fellow like him will bring me plenty of money from the captain of a ship sailing to China.
And then he comes back, howling for revenge.
How? If he doesnt die on the voyage, hell be gone for at least a year or two. You might be right. He might seek revenge then, if hes not broken. Even then, how could he be strong enough to threaten me, me, when I own this town and everyone in it? And finally, above all, he cant have revenge on us here if were not here any more. San Francisco is just another boom town, Sykes. Wait another year and there will be another strike somewhere hundreds of miles away. The miners will run off, this town will die, and another boom town will rise in its place. In that town there will be another warehouse, another brothel, and another owner and operator who will be named anything but Wolf Larsen, if that name happens to be too hot for me to keep. Its a wonderful place, the West; a land of endless golden opportunities, just like they say.
In the meantime, he wont be troubling Antoinette. Fifty dollars a night she brings me, besides the drinks she sells, and thats just until someone offers me enough money to tempt me to sell her. In another year shell be gone too, and of course we wont have any idea where she went.
How do you know she might go away with him?
You couldnt see it? You disappoint me. He came here tonight just to speak with her, Im sure of it. He only had two beers and one dance, and the dance had to be with her. They spoke, and whatever he said it moved her. I could tell that much from clear across the Versailles, scent un-nosed. Hes something important to her; an old lover, perhaps. And she still cares about him. But he must have wandered away before. She wont ask too many questions when he does it again.
I still think hed be better off at the bottom of the bay.
Well, perhaps. Ill consider it; its easy enough for somebody to fall out of the rowboat on the way out to the Ghost, and the waters of the Bay have hidden many sins. Meanwhile, I have business to attend to. Stay on your guard.
I heard footpads walking across hollow floorboards. From somewhere not far away I heard shouting. Let me out! Please, Mister Damn you, you cant There was the sound of iron rattling against iron; an animal snarl from Larsen, the sound of something heavy striking flesh, and again, and again, then silence broken by a whimper.
I heard water, too. It sounded like sluggish waves touching the shore, and it seemed to be coming from beneath me.
I was half-conscious at best, and what I felt in my head was worse than the worst hangover Ive ever had. But I still had enough presence of mind to lie still, keeping my eyes open only a slit. Moving silently, I tested the irons that held my wrists behind my back. They seemed a bit loose. I might be able to wiggle out of them. I had to try. I had to escape, I had to rescue Virginia from the danger that faced her. Desperation and fear made my pulse race.
I heard a thump, another, and a rattle of iron. Please Just that one word, then silence. Feet shuffled. To the side I could see them; the curly black fur of some working dog covered them. They moved forward nervously, then back.
Mick, damn you, whered you go? The feet walked away to my left. Then another thump, a clatter of iron, the start of a scream that died down to a strangled gurgle.
No! Dont kill him! Dont kill either of them! Take them with you, give him to the Vigilantes, theyll tell the Vigilantes everything!
Let us out. Let us out! The voice was female.
I will, I just need the right key. There. No, havent forgotten you either. There. Go. Get out of here, go for the Vigilance Committees headquarters. Rouse the guards, turn out the militia, tell your story and make them hunt down Larsen, dont let him escape again! Hurry before anybody else comes. Take the stairway to the warehouse, that ways shorter with fewer people to see you. Head along the shorethat way, over there, souththere should be moonlight in the windows to show you the way. South is the nearest way out of the building. Go. Do it now!
I sat up in the cage. Then I tried to stand, but my wrists held me down. I heard footsteps coming, and then the otter, the one Larsen had called Swabbo, hurried in. He was carrying a toolbox and a carpetbag. A bundle of keys on a string dangled from the rope that held up his trousers in place of a belt.
There you are, he said. I let them all go, but I wanted to find you. He shackled you to the floor? I was afraid of that.
He unlocked the cage and opened it. Moving quickly, he knelt beside me, opened the toolbox, and got out a tool like a huge, sharp-jawed set of pliers. Hold still. The rivets are soft, I should be able to cut them.
Why did you come? I was surprised that one of the Shore People could speak European as well as I could. On the stage they only say ugh or How!, but then on the stage theyre only dogs with clipped fur, bound-down ears, and paint. And what we see on stage is all we think we know about them
You reminded me that even among dog-kind there are good people. I needed to remember that. And you are trying to help your sister.
How did you know?
You think dogs are the only ones with good noses? My people are hunters too. Yet Larsen he made the name a cursetreats me like prey. Prey, me! Let us meet on the water, just once, and then let us see who comes up for air! Antoinette, or whatever her name, is your sister. I can smell it on you. I can see it in the color of your eyes.
He grunted, something jerked the manacle that held my right wrist. Your sister, he said, almost to himself rather than me. I had sisters once. There were many of us in the village, many, and for generations we had come to San Francisco to trade with the dogs from over the sea. And then the dogs found gold in the riverbeds and the city grew.
The Hill People, the deer and sheep people, retreated into the mountains as the city grew. The Shore People sailed away and landed up and down the coast. But some of us stayed.
He heaved. Something popped and my right wrist was free. He moved to my other side.
We stayed because they trusted the words of someone who should have known better. Any fool could have seen how the city would grow. They would see how our people would be killed so their soft fur could be sold on the black market. They would see how the city would foul the water, how the fish and shellfish would die and how what remained would be tainted. So that hunger would come, and disease, and death. And murder, where killing us wasnt even counted a crime!
Stay, the fool said. Stay and there will be a house on shore where its dry, and fires to keep us warm in the cold months. We can trade with the dog people, we can have boats and tools to build more of them, we can have ropes and nets and bright fishhooks. Any fool should have known there was nothing here but death. The fool should have known. I
The other rivet snapped and I was free. I turned to look at him. There were tears in his eyes. It is too late for my sister. Go save yours. Get her out of this city. It is a cancer on the face of Mother Earth. It will never be anything but a place of disease and death.
We left the cage. He left the toolbox behind, but carried the heavy carpetbag. We found ourselves in a large room. Heavy square wooden posts held up roughsawn beams above us. Two or three oil lamps provided weak light across a myriad of crates and barrels. Almost at our feet, an open trap door showed a ladder going down to a dock in the water.
The way out is simple, the otter said. Around those crates over there youll find a doorway. A few feet along is the stairway to the warehouse; the tunnel itself goes on to the Versailles. There were only two guards, one near the stairway, one here at the trapdoor. Go now.
Youre not coming with me?
He spat and hefted that carpetbag. The trap door is my way out. I will ruin Larsen for what he has done to myself and my people. I found their skins, tanned and ready to be shipped off, to be collar trim on rich dogs overcoats! My people! And we are not dogs, so it is not even a crime here. I would kill him if I could but I will ruin him instead, if that is all I can do. This gold should have stayed under water. I will see it ends up under water, and never does its evil again.
I hesitated. The bag of dust I had carried stitched to my own belt was gone. I could have used some of Larsens gold; without any gold, I didnt know what might happen to Virginia or myself. But nothe pain and anger in the otters eyes made me think his way was best. If he wanted to sink Larsens gold into the bay, he had surely earned the right.
Something exploded. The otter choked back a scream. He fell through the trap door. I heard a curse, a thump from below, another pistol shot, the ball striking a beam above my head this time. I had the impression that somebody was clinging to the ladder that came up from the dock below. Hed nearly been knocked off it by the falling otter, but even as he struggled for his grip he was trying to point a long-barreled pistol at me.
I stepped back out of sight. Captain Larsen came up the ladder and into the warehouse. He aimed his pistol, but the carpetbag caught his eye. I saw his eyes leave me and flick to that bag that held so much of his wealth.
The world lost its color. I heard a snarl, a sound more like a roar. Something hit meor had I hit it? There was a crash, the smell of whale oil, a growing light and heat as flame began to spread. The roar of a pistol shot, the pain of a gunpowder flash burning my side. There was something jerking on my teeth, jerking them hard. There was a hot, salty, coppery taste in my mouth, and something hot and wet soaking the fur on my face.
I blinked. Captain Larsen lay on the rough floorboards beneath me. Blood spread from his torn throat. He looked dead. Blood soaked my face and fur. It wasnt mine.
Dazed, sickened, I turned away from the scene. The fire was spreading. Was there anything I could do to put it out before it took the whole warehouse with it, and maybe the whole city? No, and with those barrels Id better just run. Whatever was in themgunpowder, opium, raw alcoholodds were I wouldnt want to be here when it caught fire.
I turned to run and something hit me in the back. There was a biting pain. It woke me up.
I stood to my full height and turned. Larsen wasnt dead. Clutching his throat with one hand, he was reaching toward a pistol resting on the floor a few feet away from him. It was one of the new Naval Caliber Colts Patent Revolving Pistols, which explained how he had managed to fire one pistol three times without reloading.
I growled. It was a horrible sound; even I found it terrifying. Reaching behind me, I grabbed the handle of the knife hed thrown and wrenched it out. It had mostly spent its energy on my canvas jacket and the thick fur beneath, but pulling it free like that must have looked impressive. I held it in my hand, then, testing its balance, holding it pointed toward Larsen, taking up a fighting stance. Im certain I looked as if I knew how to kill with a knifebecause I do.
He could probably grab the Colts from the floor and shoot me down before I could reach him.
But he thought better of it. He smiled, then, and flipped me a little salute. He grabbed the carpetbag of gold instead, and returned to the trap door. He climbed down the ladder. I could hear thumpings and scrapings from below, and see enough to catch a glimpse of his shoulder, a bloody hand pulling an oar, and the side of a rowboat gliding away, heading out to sea.
I leaped forward and grabbed the Colts. Larsen was out of sight, so I couldnt shoot at him. I turned and ran then, but I kept the gun. This, friends, this is the truth of the good old days of the West, romanticized by so many who never experienced it: Blood in your fur, pain and fear, and a gun in your hand as the only law you could trust.
At the base of the stairway I hesitated for a moment. The staircase to the warehouse was my quickest escape, but I turned and ran through the tunnel instead.
It emerged through another trap door into a storeroom in the back of the Versailles Palace. The door was locked but I had no patience for trifles like that; I just ran straight through it.
The place fell silent, as you can well imagine might happen when a tattered, burned, smoky, bloodstained, hatless and wild-eyed stranger comes crashing in waving a gun. Get out of the building, I said in a normal voice, but it was so quiet anybody in the saloons main bar room could have heard it. Theres a fire in the building behind this one. Theres time to get out, so dont panic, but do it. Get out and send someone for the fire department while youre at it. Do it now.
I must have been convincing.
In the dancing parlor they hadnt quite heard what was going on. Virginia was dancing with someone who looked quite a bit like the Mayor. There was more than one gasp and cry of alarm when I walked in. Excuse me, I said. The dance is over. Please get everyone out of here now. Theres a fire coming.
Jack! What are you
Virginia, this is no trick. We have to get out.
I knew youd try something to end my job here.
I grabbed her by the elbow then. Theres no time for this now! A fire is coming. Really! In fact, I could smell the smoke. I must have left the trap door open in the storeroom.
Her eyes widened. Blood! What have you done? What happened?
Never, ever ask me that. But the way I said it, it sounded more like begging than a command. I remembered the horrible roar Id heard, the beast who tore out Larsens throat, the taste of Larsens blood. I didnt kill, and I didnt set the fire, but never ask me anything more about this night. Never.
She took my elbow then, and I think she might have been trying to hold me up. My memories of that, and the rest of the evening, have a soft and dreamlike quality, edged in fever and pain. Im not completely sure about any of them.
I do seem to remember walking down the street toward the more respectable parts of town, with Virginia at my side, and a growing uproar and glare of fire behind us. We were leaving the Versailles Palace and the world of Captain Alexander Larsen behind, and we were still alive. Nothing else mattered.
Thirty years have passed. They have been good to San Francisco. She is neither the ghost town Larsen expected, nor the place of unrelieved death and misery the otter thought she was. She has become a fine and beautiful little city. I cant imagine wanting to live anywhere else. I like to flatter myself that perhaps, in some small way, I have done something to make her better.
She has become a sprightly yet respectable lady. Yet even respectable ladies can be happy at the thought that one of their grandfathers might have been a pirate. And so, in a strange way, the years have been good to Captain Alexander Larsen, too.
Todays San Franciscans remember him as a sort of whiskey-pouring Robin Hood, a fellow who might have played a little rough and who might have broken a few of societys rules; but all in all, they think of him as a bold adventurer, a brave fighter, a witty, sophisticated, and charming rogue.
All of that he was. He was also a cold-hearted, cold-blooded, red-handed, murderous bastard, guilty of crimes that even today turn my stomach. He was the sort of person who could kill and skin a person just to make a fur coat. If I tried to tell todays citizens of that side of him, they would refuse to listen. Such is the way of legends.
What happened to him? Nobody knows. Somebody must have sailed Ghost out onto the wide Pacific. If shed merely gone adrift, they would have found her within the Bay somewhere. And sailors aboard two different vessels claimed to have seen her sailing away to the north, vanishing into a fog bank beneath the light of the full moonas superstitious sailors have continued to report seeing her sailing beneath the full moon since, even down to today. But if Captain Alexander Larsen was aboard her, nobody can prove it.
The way of legends. The public must have its charming rogues and its ghost ships sailing away under the full moon.
Yet how can I complain about that? The years, and legends, have been good to me too. The public must have its legends, and I made my gold by providing them. My writings paid well enough that I could raise my children and keep my beloved Andrea in luxury, up to the time of her untimely death.
I dont deserve the publics favor. It comes from the idea that I, unlike most writers of tales of the West, actually experienced the days of which I write. The truth is that I never sailed to China aboard a clipper; I never loped across the plains hunting buffalo with the Sioux; I never witnessed a duel on a dusty Texas street, or rode with cavalry during the Civil War, or took part in a cattle drive. I sat here in my house on Nob Hill, watching the street outside while I just made it all up. And yet my readers say, He was there! and marvel at the authenticity of it all. That, too, is the way of legends, I suppose.
My children are on their own, and prosperous. I have my house on Nob Hill. I have San Francisco, and healthy investments, and a bit more celebrity than I wish. Virginia keeps trying to introduce me to suitable ladiesimagine that, Virginia of all people, trying to encourage me to do the conventional things society expects! But I have become comfortable living here as a widower. Gods help me, I have become respectable.
Perhaps, just perhaps, I am not too old for one last adventure. To the north lies Alaska, and it calls to me. There lies our last frontier; there lie vast forests beneath the midnight sun in summer, beneath the Aurora in winter. Somewhere there, perhaps, one might find the glitter of golden flakes in the gravel bed of a clear mountain brook.
It calls to me. I could board my yacht and sail north, through the Inland Passage and on to Alaska. There I could find adventure and lose myself in that vast, cold wilderness.
If I wished, I could also investigate other legends along the way.
Because I sail, and because I have written of the sea, I speak with many sailors and captains. Some years ago, a fellow who had sailed in Alaska told me an interesting story.
It seems that many years agohe wasnt sure how manya fine little schooner with a crew of Shore People began trading among the many islands south of Juneau. Their Captain was a kindly fellow who made a name for himself guiding larger ships through some of the channels, even participating in some courageous rescues. After some years he sold his ship and disappeared, probably into one of the Shore People villages in the islands.
My correspondent didnt know where the otter came from, but he did say the schooner was American-built. The lines of the hull are so distinctive even a lubber could see it in a moment, he said.
I would like to think the otter I knew escaped. I would like to think he got his chance to meet Wolf Larsen out on the waters of the Bay, just once. It would be fitting if the otter also got his chance to sink Larsens gold to the bottom of the Baytied around Larsens neck.
I would like to think that it was the otter who sailed the Ghost north under the moon. I would like to think he found a new home in Alaska, and perhaps even happiness. Surely he deserved them.
I would like to track him down and know that he is alive and happy. But if I did, I would only bring him memories of despair, loss, and horror. If he deserves happiness, he deserves to forget what happened here.
So this one legend, at least, I will never investigate. It makes me sad to know that, whatever else happens, I will never again meet the otter who saved me. But there is one thing even more sad.
For if, as they say, the truest test of devotion is what you are willing to risk for another, the otter who saved me may have been the greatest friend of my life. And even now it brings a tear to my eye that I never knew his name.