Read Gangway! Online

Authors: Brian Garfield Donald E. Westlake

Gangway!

Donald E. Westlake + Brian Garfield
Gangway!
    
***
    
    
The world's first comedy romance suspense pirate western adventure novel

    
    "GANGWAY! is a historical caper novel, the sort of thing you'd expect if Dortmunder somehow wound up in 1874 San Francisco and decided to rob the United States Mint located there."
    
-James Reasoner
    
***
    
DEDICATION
    
    
This is for the boys at the table
    
CHAPTER ONE
    
    Gabe had a window seat on the train, but there hadn't been anything to see for three thousand miles.
    There had been green days: grass flats, fourteen Indians riding around the train in warbonnets chasing five spavined buffalo. There had been brown days: the occasional yokel on a horse and at intervals an excuse for a town-a few tottering shacks, buckboard wagons, tall idiots festooned with huge revolvers and silly hats.
    He remembered the curl of Twill's lip. "West of the Hudson River it's all horse manure."
    A wise observation, that. It even smelled that way-even Chicago. Especially Chicago, stinking to high heaven of beef carcasses. It was only a thousand miles after Chicago that you started to remember the place with a certain wistful fondness: It wasn't a city, but at least by God it was trying.
    Twill, he thought. He remembered the great big grin on Twill's fat face. Twill had painted a big white X across Gabe's back and then sunk the knife and twisted it. "Would you be showin' the lad out of town, bies?"
    This misbegotten wilderness.
    Twill would get his. Gabe brooded at the plush seatback in front of him and plotted his triumphal return to Hell's Kitchen. Someday soon. Someday…
    A thousand miles of no shade but your own shadow. Five hundred miles crawling upgrade and down, trestles shuddering under the weight of the train, not even a decent paving stone to look at anywhere.
    Was the train slowing?
    He couldn't see any excuse for it. A lot of muddy hills. Muddy hills: the train passed a prospector who either had very short legs or was standing in mud up to his knees.
    A few shacks now. Magnificent architectural style they had out here in the West: everything was brand new, but it all looked a hundred years old, fifty years abandoned, and ready to fall over with the next breeze.
    But the train was definitely slowing.
    Through the filthy pane he saw trees go by, then more shacks, then something with a false front and big weathered lettering: SALOON in a crescent across the boards. Horses standing hipshot in front of it, swishing their tails and stomping the mud.
    The train was behaving exactly as though it was going to stop. And the other passengers were getting to their feet. Collecting carpetbags and valises, crowding toward the vestibules.
    Gabe pulled out his golden snap-lid pocket timepiece. Half past nine in the morning. A week ago at this time he'd have been making the collection rounds on Tenth Avenue. Towing a couple of guys along with him to beat up on the reluctant ones. He wondered who was doing the collections now.
    He clicked the watch shut. Engraved on the case was the legend
For G.B. from P.T. 1873
. He wondered if Twill knew he still had the watch. Probably Twill had forgotten it-otherwise he'd have told the "bies" to relieve Gabe of it before they hustled him onto the train with the one-way ticket to oblivion and the mild parting words: "Mister Twill says it might not be too brilliant if you ever decided to come back here. You just keep going west until your hat floats, Mister Twill says."
    Mister Twill's turn would come.
    A lot of beat-up buildings now. Brisk traffic of horses and hicks, a lot of them stopping to watch the train, gawking as if it was the most exciting thing they'd ever seen. Gabe rolled his eyes upward in disbelieving disgust.
    Could this be the Coast? The train was lurching past buildings and through the alleys he glimpsed trees and the glint of water.
    Water. He shuddered.
    "Mind if I sit here?"
    He glanced up and around. It was a stout citizen laden with bundles and a big round smile. Everybody else was standing up, this guy wanted to sit down.
    Gabe shrugged; the stout man fell into the seat like a bed falling out a window. A duffelbag bounced off Gabe's elbow and he shoved it back into the stout citizen's lap.
    He didn't seem to mind. "I always walk to the front of the train," he said cheerfully. "I just don't know why I do that."
    "I don't either," Gabe said. He looked out the window. A platform, a lot of rail sidings. They were arriving somewhere, all right.
    The conductor came through, bawling, "End a the line. End a the line."
    End of the line. In more ways than one. Gabe stared mournfully through the pane, his eyes full of memories of Manhattan. "So this is San Francisco," he said.
    "No."
    "No?"
    "This is Sacramento," the stout man said.
    Gabe turned around to look at him. "Who?"
    "Sacramento. The railroad stops here. It's a hundred miles from here to San Francisco. They haven't finished that part yet."
    "The train's supposed to be coast to coast. They said coast to coast." Gabe heard his voice rising, but he didn't care. "A hundred miles more through that mud? On foot?"
    "Not at all, not at all. You see that wharf over there?"
    It was sliding gently past. A short pier attached to a long paddlewheel boat. He'd seen boats like that on the Hudson all the time-they plied up and down to Albany. The boat was all gingerbread and brightwork. People were streaming up the gangplanks onto several decks.
    The stout man said, "You take that riverboat if you want to get to San Francisco."
    "It's not fair," Gabe muttered.
    "Why? What's the matter?"
    He remembered Twill, acidly polite:
Now you got your choice, Gabe me bie
.
You can have the train or you can have a lovely sea voyage round the Horn
.
Just so long as you don't get off till you've reached San Francisco
.
Now am I not bein' fair, bie
?
You can't be sayin old Patrick Twill was after bein' ungenerous to you
.
    Why San Francisco? Because Twill had an associate in San Francisco who would be advised to keep an eye on Gabe.
You see, bie, if you don't show up, why we'll just be obliged to issue a sort of warrant for you
.
    Well, Twill had issued warrants before, and Gabe himself had carried some of them out-generally in brass but sometimes in lead.
    Knowing Twill's mind, Gabe had pleaded and begged to be allowed to go on the boat. He just loved ocean voyages, he said. He hated trains. If God meant us to ride on sooty contraptions like that He'd never have invented the stagecoach.
    Gabe had been very convincing. He'd had to be; it was a matter of life and death. He had to persuade Twill that he hated trains, because it was the only way to insure that Twill would put him on a train. Good Christ, just the thought of a boat…
    "Pardon me," the stout man murmured. He looked genuinely concerned. "Aren't you well?"
    Gabe didn't answer. The train was lurching to a halt with a shriek of scraping brake shoes, and he still had his neck craned around to stare at the gaudy riverboat. He didn't quite feel up to opening his mouth.
    "You really don't look fit at all," the stout man said.
    Gabe essayed a shrug. He still didn't look around.
    Then he felt the touch of the pudgy hand on his arm. "I think I understand," the stout man said, soothingly. "A touch of
mal de mer
, is it?"
    "Ung?"
    "Yes, that's definitely it. You're susceptible to the malaise of the sea, I judge."
    "Ung?"
    "You get seasick, don't you?"
    Gabe lifted his shoulders as though to dismiss this thrust.
    "Well I shouldn't worry if I were you," the stout man said, briskly. "It's only a river, you know. No waves, no pitching or rolling. It's quite a smooth journey, I assure you. No rougher than this train."
    "Urp."
    "No really, I promise you. Surely you don't get seasick on rivers!"
    Gabe finally looked at him. He didn't have to say anything.
    The stout man scrutinized Gabe's face and turned both fat palms up. "On rivers?"
    "On rainy days!"
    "My," the stout man murmured. "That is a shame." He shook his head in sympathy.
    He turned his back again and stared at the motionless panorama of Sacramento until he heard the stout man begin to stir and rustle. A lot of stirring and rustling-gathering up all the bundles probably. Finally his voice, from slightly up above, rolled against the back of Gabe's head:
    "Well I do hope you don't have too bad a time of it."
    Gabe nodded without turning. He saw people leaving the train and accosting porters. Most of them headed across the platform toward the riverboat wharf.
    At last he turned and looked through the coach. The stout man was gone and so was everybody else.
    Reluctantly Gabe got to his feet and dragged them down the aisle to the vestibule.
    A porter waited at the foot of the steps but Gabe shook his head, dropped to the platform, and caught a tail-of-the-eye glimpse of the porter's disapproving look. Gabe had no luggage. He had nothing at all, in fact, but the clothes on his back: a cheap pinstripe suit and a cloth cap with a stubby visor. His pockets were stuffed with oddments that made them bulge here and there; he could have brought a knapsack but he had never owned one. Never had reason to. He had been born in Hell's Kitchen twenty-eight years ago and until he'd boarded this train he'd never been west of Twelfth Avenue. Which had been far enough for him. Because if you wanted to get off Manhattan Island, you had to cross water. Obviously that was impossible. Fortunately they'd built the railroad bridge last year, so he hadn't had to start this journey on the ferryboat.
    It wasn't just his aversion to water. He'd liked it in Hell's Kitchen. He practically owned Hell's Kitchen. Well, Twill practically owned it, but Gabe had been Twill's right-hand man because Twill was shanty-Irish and Hell's Kitchen was a tough French slum. If you wanted things smooth you had to have a French right hand. Gabe-Gabriel Beauchamps-came from an impeccable lineage, a dynasty of Marseille thugs. Even the Corsicans in Hell's Kitchen respected the name Beauchamps as long as you pronounced it right. None of this silly Beechum business. It was Bo-champs, and Gabe had skinned a few knuckles teaching that to a few ignorant toughs.
    It had been a good life. But into every life a little brick must fall. Now in the summer of 1874 Gabe found himself at the wrong end of five days on the transcontinental railroad. Five days and three thousand miles and he still hadn't seen anything he'd call a city. A lot of these burgs didn't even have gaslights.
    He'd be back. He'd be back to take the Big Apple away from Twill and send Twill on a nice sea journey. But to do that he needed cash, plenty of cash. Enough to buy off Twill's protectors.
    Cash. If San Francisco turned out to be another of those clapboard-and-mud Chump Junctions like the ones the train had been rolling through these last five days, Gabe just didn't know what he was going to do…
    A little blackboard hung beside the ticket window on the wharf.
Steamer New World-Next Sailing 11:00 a.m
. Gabe pulled out the engraved gold watch. Ten forty-five.
    He sidled up to the window. "Look, uh…"
    "What you want?" The clerk was bored, hung over, or both.
    "Look, there's got to be some other way to get to San Francisco."
    The bloodshot eyes flicked at him. "Maybe is. But you don't look like Jesus Christ to me."
    "Huh?"
    "You'd have to walk across San Francisco Bay. Of course you could go around. There's freight wagons go around the Bay. Sometimes they take passengers."
    "How long does that take?"
    "Eight days, maybe ten. Depends on the weather. You might find one over the other side of the railroad yards. How much money you got?"
    "Why?"
    "Those muleskinners charge high for passengers. They don't like being crowded on the high seat. You got to pay if you want a ride."
    "How much?"
    "I ain't sure what it's at this week. Last week they were getting two hundred bucks. In gold, not paper."

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