Prologue from "Fixation"
Portland was changing and Samuel didn't like it. It had become far too crowded, much too busy. Vancouver , Washington , the one-time fur trading center across the Columbia River, and Oregon City, once the booming town at the end of the Oregon Trail, were dominated by the big bully boy Portland.
A strapping twenty-six year old who seldom wore a hat over his bushy red hair, Samuel was a faller, a master tree-cutter. He was dandy enough to bathe at least twice a month. Most of his days were spent in a logging camp with other men who sweated and cussed and labored at chopping down Douglas firs, Sitka spruces, and western hemlocks. He was known for his cheery hello to the ten-year old whistle punks who warned of steam train movements. The sawyers, skid greasers, and choker setters all admired the man who had risen to actually decide when the big trees would topple and give the final cry of “timber!”
Samuel was in town for his quarterly visit. Purchase supplies, visit a few bars, maybe get in a fight or two. Corseted women, as shapely as Lillian Russell but with faces that looked like they'd been battered by John L. Sullivan, leaned against storefronts and warbled hellos. Portland had a Sodom-like surplus of prostitutes. The more months away, and the more drinks Samuel had, the better they began to look. He missed his wife and four children, who he had left in Missouri . His youngest, the only boy, would be almost three now. Samuel had saved nearly enough money for them to join him.
He chose Connolly's, known as a tough bar with stiff drinks. The alcohol made a lot of things easier. The aches and pains from logging injuries, the distance from his family, the friends he had seen die when chains snapped or trees fell the wrong way.
Inside Connolly's were a few sailors, well into their liquor, barely holding heads aloft. The few whores were ugly even in the dark bar. Loud music spewed from an off- key player piano. A comely woman in a feather boa and not too much else lounged in a gilt cage ten feet above the floor. She had shapely legs and a generous bust. Samuel's attention was focused above him as the mutton-chopped bartender poured a generous Henry's Own in a chipped glass that was more clean than dirty.
“Haven't seen you here,” the bartender said.
“I been away a few months.”
“Been with your family?”
“Logging in the Tillamook Forest . I have not seen the family in years.” Samuel tried to say it as if he didn't care.
The bartender had the knack of easy conversation, like a barber or a preacher. Samuel finished another glass and told his life story:
Born in Dickensian poverty in Ireland, and his father, mother and family of six emigrating to Hell's Kitchen in New York . Streets paved with dirty cobblestones, not gold. As a teen, he heard of cowboys and Indians, forty acres and a mule giveaways, fortunes to be made out west.
He had found the back-breaking, dangerous work of logging a rewarding trade. His hopes were beginning to shift, that his son someday might learn to read and write and get a fancy job in a store. And that his daughters would grow up to be as beautiful as their mom, and marry bankers or ranchers.
The bartender nodded along with Samuel's dreams. As the beer flowed, Samuel ogled the woman in the cage. She had long, auburn hair and the languid bedroom eyes of an opium addict. She drooped, looked like she would fall out of the cage but somehow never did. Samuel was not the only man who was disappointed and distracted.
The bartender had learned that he was alone in town, no one knew exactly where he was, and no one was expecting him anywhere that night.
Two beers later, Samuel started to feel woozy. Surprising, since he was proud of how he could hold his liquor. Like the hundreds of victims before him, Samuel didn't notice the difference in the floor beneath him, the hollow sound, the slightly larger gap around the planks in the four by four square.
None of the regulars cared as the smirking bartender pulled a thick lever and Samuel plunged into hell.
From 1850 to the start of World War I, Portland was notorious for its Shanghai Tunnels. Originally developed for transporting goods to the waterfront during inclement weather, the miles of catacombs quickly became Portland 's literal underworld. Semi-conscious, unconscious, and in a few cases, dead men passed off as sedated, would be dragged down the tunnels and loaded on ships heading to the Willamette River, to the Columbia River, then out to the Pacific.
The conspiracy ranged from politicians, to street cops, to the “crimps” who made the deals and sold the unwary into slavery, sometimes for as a little as fifty dollars head. The unofficial boast was that, “no ship ever left Portland needing a crew.” The victims would wake up past Cape Disappointment and the Columbia River Bar, at sea, with no choice but to cooperate, or be beaten and starved, or thrown overboard. During peak years around the turn of the 20 th century, several thousand were kidnapped and sold annually.
Two men grabbed Samuel as he hit the filthy mattress in the basement. He struggled as adrenaline overcame the Mickey Finn that clouded his head. The crimps called for help and two more goons joined in.
“A tough galoot he is,” one of the bruised crimps said as his buddies held Samuel and he punched the logger in the gut.
It was dark in the cavernous basement room, dimly lit by a couple of flickering candles. Samuel could barely make out the faces of his attackers. A man with a waxed, handlebar moustache seemed to be the leader.
“We've got an order for two going out tomorrow,” the mustachioed one said. “This one will be perfect. Plus that Swede.”
They dragged Samuel down a long hall, broken glass crunching underfoot. Hundreds of bottles had been smashed on the floor, the shards catching glimmers of light from the candles every two dozen feet or so. Groans and moans echoed down the corridors from side rooms. Samuel was not a Bible-reading man, but it did sound like the hell he had heard about when his mother had brought him to church. He was terrified.
The man holding his right arm saw his expression. “Just some of our other guests, laddie,” the man said with a Scottish burr.
The drug, the beating, and the fear enabled the crimps to transport him. When they reached a fifteen by twenty foot room, and ordered him to hand over his boots, he understood the broken glass in the corridor.
He began to fight again but was quickly subdued.
“If we have to break anything, he isn't going to be as valuable,” said the Scotsman.
“Put him in the brig,” mustachioed man said.
They hauled him into another large room, where a couple of unconscious men were manacled to a gray stone wall. In the flicker of the candlelight, it looked like drawings he had seen of castle dungeons. Off to one side was a closet-sized cell made of heavy wooden timbers. Samuel was thrown inside. He stood quickly, to no avail, since they had already slammed home a bolt on the other side. The small space smelled of pee and crap and sweat. On the front were triangular shaped metal bars, with barely a half-inch between them, allowing a weak air flow.
“We will be back in a day or so,” the mustachioed man said. “If you make a ruckus, no one will hear except us, and you'll catch a beating. It is not bad onboard if you follow the rules.”
The crimps moved off. Once he was assured they were away, Samuel hissed, “Hey, hey,” trying to get the attention of the unconscious, manacled men. Neither one stirred. It was too dark for him to tell if either of them was breathing.
His thick fingers couldn't fit between the triangular shaped bars. He dug at them where they met the wood. They were solidly embedded, but with no other hope, he kept digging until his fingers were bloody. The framing was a dense hard wood, probably from a ship's timbers.
When the men returned, he had splinters and broken nails but only the bar on the far right side loosened. The bar needed a few more seconds wiggling to be free, like a wobbly tooth hanging from the gums after a knockdown fight. If only he had a little more time he could use it as a pry bar, or a weapon.
His head ached from the choral hydrate and alcohol hangover, coupled with nothing to eat or drink for twenty-four hours. Still he struggled. They dragged him out, tied him up, and lugged him through passageways to the river. It was night-time and the dock by the Willamette was relatively quiet. Bound heavily in rope and with a gag in his mouth, he was hustled onboard the hundred-foot long schooner Cascadia . The ship began its journey to Australia that night.
It took Samuel five years to make it back to the States. By the time he returned to Missouri , his wife and children had disappeared. Riding the railroad, too sickly to work, he drifted across the country, deciding he had no place better to go than Portland .
Connolly's had long since changed ownership, and no one knew the bartender he described. Samuel soon gained a reputation as just another aging drunk who told tall tales of being kidnapped and spending years at sea. He died when he was forty-five, in a downtown hotel, from complications of alcoholism.
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