Danielle Bourdain was sitting at my desk going over the report I had put together on her niece. She’d contacted me a few days earlier, recommended by Jayne Smith, a client whose missing husband I’d located in Baja California the previous April. My office was in a little California bungalow that was also my home on Center Street in Downtown Santa Cruz. The place was tiny, about 600 square feet. It had three small rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. The smallest room, which was my office, was only big enough to hold a small desk, a two-drawer file cabinet and two armless chairs, one for me and one for the client. She had put the report back on the desk. As we stood up, I tucked it into a manila envelope and handed it to her.
“Well, Jack,” she said. “Right now, I’m going home, and I’m gonna watch the ball game with Jason. Not even gonna think about this tonight.”
As we headed to the front door, all hell broke loose. The house started rocking violently back and forth. This was really a big earthquake. Danielle and I had just passed through the door separating my office from the living room. I grasped her around the shoulder and backed up so that she was standing in the doorway, then only one step for me over to the doorway of the room at the front of the house, my bedroom. My bookcase with the C.D. player and receiver on top was next to that door, so I held it steady with my left arm while hugging the doorjamb with my right. Out the front window, the power lines were swinging like jump ropes. Aside from the noise of everything falling out of the refrigerator and a cabinet crashing against the hot water tank in the service porch, the sound that pervaded was a low roar coming from who knows where? Danielle and I were both speechless. She held tight to the envelope with the report in it. The movement continued for what seemed like minutes, but in real time was only seventeen seconds. When it ended, we stepped out of the two doorways into the middle of the living room.
“Wow! What a ride that was!” I said.
The electricity was off and there was a slight smell of gas in the air. Some books had tumbled out of the bookcase and were scattered on the floor. I stepped over them to the kitchen counter and saw the open refrigerator. The mayonnaise and mustard jars were broken on the floor in front of it. Mixed in with that mess was the almost full half-gallon carton of chocolate milk, which broke wide open on impact.
“I’ve gotta go.” This was Danielle. I’d almost forgotten her in all the chaos.
Saying no more, she turned and went out the front door. Her car was parked in front, so she went right to it, got in and drove away. Not five minutes after she left, the street was impacted with traffic. It was a slow moving parking lot.
As soon as she was gone, I went to the service porch, got my crescent wrench, went out to the gas meter by the front porch, and shut the gas off. Then I went next door to see how Lil was and to shut her gas off, too. Lil ran a barber shop out of her house. We had a kind of little home business row on our block. There were only two of us, so I guess that counts as a row. Maybe it was more like we were twins. Her house, like mine, was still on its foundation. It was a Spanish stucco, red tile roof, hacienda style house about the same size as mine. She was pacing on her front porch. Her gas meter was in front of the house just like mine.
“I’ll shut your gas off here, Lil,” I said as I did the job. “You okay?”
“…think so…little shook up is all…just finished my last haircut for the day…worried about his own place…shot out of here without paying… everything’s okay here, I think….”
She was shook up. Babbling and fretting. Probably in shock for the second time in three days. Her house was broken into early Sunday morning and she got knocked around. She still had traces of a black eye, and the cut on her forehead hadn’t healed yet.
“Go back inside. Lie down.”
I set the crescent wrench down by her front door and followed her in. She went straight to her bedroom.
“Right behind you, babe.”
“Oh, good.” Her voice was barely audible.
Her shop was in the front room. There was still hair on the floor around her chair. I walked through it and into her bedroom. She was lying on top of the covers shivering. Lil was in her fifties, still a very beautiful woman for her age at about five-four and a hundred forty pounds. She wore a medium length tinted blond hairstyle that set off her blue eyes. Her skin was velvety smooth and she always dressed to the nines. She was still wearing the orthopedic shoes and the smock she wore behind the barber chair. She liked to wear skirts to show off her shapely legs and low-cut blouses that highlighted her equally shapely bosoms.
“Okay, Lil, you’re gonna have to sit up here for a minute. Take your shoes and smock off and get under the covers.”
After she was tucked in, I went to the kitchen and got her a glass of water. I held the glass and helped her drink, and then she lay back down and said she wanted to rest. She had a mess in front of her refrigerator too, so I cleaned it up as best I could, and went back in and checked on her. She seemed to be resting peacefully. It was time for me to go back to my place.
I surveyed my property for the next fifteen minutes, putting things back in place and generally restoring order. Nothing happened to the garage, which was just a shed with a dirt floor and no foundation. Go figure. The rest of the property seemed to be in fairly good shape for the age of the structure. No major damage. I was thankful that the redwood tree on the rear property line didn’t fall into the house. Redwood trees are no doubt used to earthquakes. After all, they do live along the fault line in the northern part of the state. The mess on my kitchen floor was going to have to wait because I wanted to go over and check out the Mall before they closed it off, which would be soon.
After making sure my house was okay, I locked the place up, and took a walk over to the Pacific Garden Mall, the main drag in downtown Santa Cruz, two blocks behind my property. This was a bustling six block stretch of hundred-year-old commercial buildings along a one-way street with wide sidewalks and bench-high planter boxes and shade trees. It had been converted from a two-way street with narrow sidewalks and traffic signals into a mall twenty years ago. It was like walking in a well-manicured garden when you strolled from one end to the other, and what a shock it was to see it now. Trees had fallen into storefronts and the street. It was so obliterated, you had to climb over trees and rubble to get through. There was red dust in the air everywhere, all from the many unreinforced brick buildings that had been built after the fire in the late 1800s.
Four guys inside the Ford’s store were moving bricks and other debris away from the adjoining wall with an old building called Hotel Metropole, which housed Plaza Books/Paper Vision. The front plate glass window was blown out, so I stepped over more debris to see what they were doing. One of the guys saw me coming.
“Give us a hand here! There’re people underneath all of this!”
So, I went in through the window and started to help.