When they went to bed that night, it was barely cooler than the previous night, even though there was a light breeze stirring and that helped a little but not enough for a sound night’s sleep. Sometime during the night Cora awakened to the sound of distant thunder. She stepped to the window and listened. It seemed to be coming from the north, up Zacatecas Canyon. From her window, she couldn’t see much of the northern sky but she could see distant flashes of lightning coming from that direction.
She went back to bed again, making an entreaty to the unknown gods to send rain to Bisbee. That prayer, like all prayers, was just a wish, but she fervently wished her prayers would come true.
Something had to break soon or she was going to go crazy.
Little did she know that her prayer or wish was to come true with a vengeance in less than twenty-four hours.
The next morning when she and Ron awakened, the rumble of thunder was still distant, still somewhere back up Zacatecas, but it was significantly cooler this morning than yesterday. While Ron made his morning toilet, Cora began straightening the bed. She stood at the window and looked down at the street. There was a rivulet streaming down the middle of the gulch, carrying the debris and effluvium collected there along with it! She had never seen anything like this before.
She waited for Ron to come back into the room, called him over, and pointed down. He immediately knew what it was she was pointing out to him.
“Ummm… Haven’t seen this in a few years.” he said. “Must really be raining back up Zacatecas. Has water ever run down this side of the street like this since you’ve been in Bisbee?
“If you mean ‘ever run down this way like this’ like it is right now down there, the answer is no. If ‘run down this way like this’ means down Zacatecas Canyon up there, the answer is yes, but only onct. That was just this past summer and that time they was only a little water runnin down past Lil’s. When I was walkin down here to the bar that day, I could step clean over the little stream. It was about the size of that one down there. But that time, when I got down to where the alleyway splits off and runs on down behind them buildings across the street, all the water was goin down thatta way.”
“Yeah.” Ron said, “I think that may be the reason the alleyway splits off where it does. I think it’s designed to carry all but the most extreme floodwaters down the alley and into the subway at the bottom of the street. I’m goin down to make coffee while you get dressed.” And with that, Ron turned and started down the stairs.
Cora spent a few minutes making her own toilet before dressing and heading downstairs. Ron was just pouring himself a cup of coffee but he handed it to Cora as she stepped into the barroom and he poured himself another.
On any other morning they would have sat at the back table … the only table in the barroom … but this morning, without saying a word beyond ‘Good Morning’, they both walked together to the front door. Ron unlocked it and they stepped out onto the plank walk. Turning back to the north now, they had a clear view of the hills above Zacatecas and could see the black, angry skies in that direction. The rumble of thunder was almost constant. At that time of the morning, with the sun shining brightly over Chihuahua Hill, the lightning was barely visible. But they could see, far up the canyon, the gray-black blur that connected the sky with the canyon and obliterated the tops of the hills at the upper end. Rain. Heavy rain.
Occasionaly there would be a visible lightning bolt and an almost instatnaneous clap of thunder. The storm was beginning to move in their direction.
Cora let her eyes drop to the street and as far up the canyon as she could see the street looked like a river. Water cascaded down and all manner of detritus and debris came tumbling down on the current. Fortunately for those on her side of the street, almost everything was diverted into the alleyway.
They stepped back inside. Cora pulled aside the curtain on the side that allowed at least a partial view through the bay window towards the north. Ron brought a couple of chairs from the back and they settled down to watch the approaching storm.
“How bad do you think it’ll get?” Cora asked.
“That’s really hard to say,” Ron replied, “Back in ‘90 it flooded bad. Water rushing down from up above washed houses off their foundations and sent the debris rushing down. Who knows what this is going to develop into today.”
Cora was too keyed up to work. All she wanted to do was sit and watch the weather.
Pretty soon they saw Billy walking towards the bar, wet up past his knees. He leaned against the door, knowing it would still be locked and not realizing the curtains behind him were open, as he removed first one and then the other boot, pouring water out onto the planks before pulling them on again.
Boots back on his feet, he turned and started to knock on the door but before his knuckles made contact with the glass the door opened, startling him, and almost causing him to fall into Cora. Then Billy heard Ron laughing and, looking around, realized Cora and Ron had been watching him all the time.
“Shit!” he said as he came through the door. “Been rainin all mornin up Zacatecas and now it’s about to start down here. Keeps this up, Brewery Gulch will be Brewery River by this afternoon. I may not be able to get back up to Lil’s.”
Billy had announced one day a couple of months back that he would no longer be sleeping in Pops’ room because he was going to begin sleeping in Lil’s basement in exchange for doing chores for her mostly in the mornings before he came to the bar. Cora never learned whether the timing of this arrangment had anything to do with the new girl, Cindy, who had shown up on Lil’s doorstep just about the same time Billy negotiated his arrangement and started staying up at #41. Unlike Cora, who herself had been presented at Lil’s door in much the same way but had no desire to become a whore, Cindy had found her way to Lil’s with the full intention of joining the profession so she never even emptied the first chamberpot.
Cora always suspected the timing of the two events was not entirely coincidental. Billy moving out of the bar and Cindy taking up residence at Cora’s. Perhaps Cindy was stuck on Billy and granted him free favors. It wouldn’t be the first time something like that happened in that house.
Cora looked at him now, wet up to his waist and asked, “How in the hell did you make it across that street up yonder with that river runnin down the street?”
“Up past Lil’s they’s a wide spot where it’s more shallow and somebody’d managed to stretch a rope across so’s I could hold on to the rope with one hand while I fought off whatever was floating down towards me with the other but if this rain keeps up I won’t be able to get back across tonight.”
“Well,” Cora said. “Yore bed’s still up there in Pops’ room and if’n you don’t tell him he won’t even know yore back up there.”
“Has Pops come down yet?” Billy asked, peering back into the shadows of the barroom.
“Naw. Don’t spect him for another two hours. Or more. You should know that.”
“Yeah. I do, but I thought maybe with all of what’s goin on he’d wanna be down here watchin too.”
Before anyone could reply, it began to rain. Big, sproadic drops at first. Splashing down onto the plank walk and out in the street but that lasted only a minute or two. Then the rain increased steadily until, just a few minutes later it was a deluge.
Cora opened all the curtains but it was still dark inside. They could barely make out the torrent of water rushing down the canyon, thankfully still mostly being diverted into the alleyway.
A sudden crash and sounds of splintering wood caused them all to jump. Despite the pouring rain, Billy ran out onto the boardwalk so he had an unobstructed view up the street. Just up the street, a delivery van was laying on it’s side partially damming the alleyway and the small stream coming down the street in front of the bar suddenly became a torrent. Large pieces of debris were already crashing into the van as they came down and were causing even more damming of the alleyway, pushing even more of the water onto their side of the street.
Suddenly, in the midst of all the confusion, Elmo came running down the stairs wearing only his red union suit, flap flapping in the back, only partially buttoned. He came streaking through the bar so fast, nobody even noticed him until he burst through the door and out onto the plank walk.
Cora yelled, “No! Pops! Noooo!!!” but Elmo was oblivious to her shouting.
Billy, who had just turned to come back inside, collided with him at the door. He could hear Cora from the doorway yelling, “Billy, stop him!” but before Billy could react, Pops bowled past him, knocking him to the plank walk in the process, and running headlong into the raging torrent seemingly in an effort to cross the street. No one ever knew why he behaved as he did. When he hit the water he was submerged up past his waist and immediately knocked off kilter, rolling and tumbling, as the water carried him down toward the subway.
Cora kept yelling, “No!!! Somebody! Catch him!!” but then realized, even if somebody were down there, they would have no chance of rescuing Pops. His broken and mangled body was found hours later, after the flood-waters had subsided, amongst the detritus damming the entrance to the subway.
Ron and Cora had been on Pops’ heels when he ran through, just far enough back not to be able to catch him before he ran headlong into the torrent coming down the street. They were still standing looking toward the bottom of the street when they heard from above them a horrible scraping … crunching … sound. As all three turned around they saw the delivery van being pushed around as if on a pivot and begin to slide towards them… making the strange scraping, crunching sound as it moved, slowly at first, picking up momentum moment by moment.
Ron began herding the other two back inside as quickly as possible, locking the door as he himself came in. It was impossible to know what that vehicle was going to do or where it was going to end up. He and Cora hoped it wasn’t inside the barroom! Before he could react further there was a tremendous crash just outside the window where the van had collided with the plank walk, completely ripping it away from the building. He turned back to see a tidal wave crash against the front of the building. Water came spurting in around the doorframe but, fortunately, the glass in neither of the windows nor the door was shattered.
Ron retreated further into the the interior, back to the back where Cora and Billy stood in the shadows.
Just a few hours ago Cora had prayed … wished fervently … for rain to come. Now the rain had come and taken Pops away. And now Cora prayed … wished fervently … that it would stop and the flood would subside without destroying her bar. Inexplicably, in the midst of this chaos, she felt a peculiar closeness to Pops. This bar was all she had left of the old man, the old man who had saved a young innocent girl from Arkansas from Bisbee and made her a businesswoman. She gazed over at his stool at the end of the bar and felt as if this place, this common barroom, was an organic part of Pops himself and knew that his spirit would always be there on that stool.
Almost as if in response to her prayer … fervent wish … the rain moved south towards Naco. Cora, Ron and Billy crossed back to the front where they saw for the first time that when the floodwaters subsided they would be stepping down directly into the mud of the street as the plank walk had been completely washed away.
Cora replaced the ‘Open/Closed’ sign hanging in the door with one that read ‘Closed Until Further Notice’. She pulled all the curtains closed and she and Ron and Billy climbed the stairs, Cora and Ron going into their room and Billy into Pops’.
Cora lay down across the bed and cried herself to sleep. Ron pulled a chair over to the window and sat there, watching the floodwaters slowly recede.