Read Golden Heart (The Lazarus Longman Chronicles) Online
Authors: P. J. Thorndyke
Published by P. J. Thorndyke
Copyright 2015 P. J. Thorndyke
Chapter 1 - In which our hero takes a cold dip in the Colorado River
Chapter 2 - In which an appointment is kept in Yuma
Chapter 3 - The 3:10 from Yuma
Chapter 4 - In which our hero is afforded a bird’s eye view of Arizona Territory
Chapter 5 - In which a mountain journey ends in betrayal
Chapter 6 - In which the Rebel Underground is revealed
Chapter 7 - In which a change of heart is had at five thousand feet
Chapter 8 - In which a battle takes place in the clouds
Chapter 9 - In which Cibola is seen for the first time by an Englishman
Chapter 10 - In which the first war for Cibola begins
Chapter 11 - An unexpected homecoming
Chapter 12 - In which an alliance is struck
Chapter 13 - In which our heroes descend into the Kingdom of the Gods
Chapter 14 - In which a member of the party escapes
Chapter 15 - In which blood is spilt between comrades
Chapter 18 - In which our heroes flee to a new future
In which our hero takes a cold dip in the Colorado River
Perhaps the most disreputable den of thieves, murderers, hustlers and gamblers in either the Confederate or United States of America is not in some seedy boom-town or frontier outpost, but on water. If the above description had to be applied to any establishment, then just about every individual in the Southwest, be they gold digger, hat salesman or dirigible engineer, would undoubtedly name the
The golden age of the paddle steamer enjoyed its heyday during the early years of the American war. With the construction of the Southern Pacific Railroad that bridged the Colorado River, the luxurious steamers fell into the hands of private entrepreneurs. Like many of her sister vessels, the crisp white paint of the
had curled and faded to a filthy grey, her sleek black funnels rusted to a rough brown and the massive paddles on either side turned green with scum and algae.
The owner of the
was a villain named Steve McCluskey, or ‘Steamboat Steve’ as he was fondly known by his patrons. He had won the
in a poker game and turned it into a floating pleasure palace of the very worst kind. Its ballrooms and restaurants became casinos and sawdust-saloons, and its lower decks dimly-lit bordellos. It became notorious for its rough clientele who wished to enjoy themselves far from the eyes of the authorities, and the Colorado River was a winding, treacherous vein between the Unionist north and the Confederate south that no man could lay claim to.
Lazarus Longman looked around at what had once been a fabulous ballroom. Beneath the grimy film of nicotine that coated the ceiling, he could make out the cherubs tootling on their little trumpets as they gazed down on the crowd through the dully twinkling glass of the chandelier, no doubt with distaste at the drastic change in clientele the last few years had seen. Several other original features remained, like the marble bar top and brass rail, now cracked and unpolished.
The great paddles thrummed to the blaze of the furnace from the engine room, but the noise was barely noticeable in the casino as it was drowned out by the racket from the tables and the bar. Lazarus watched the bartender take his empty glass and toss the dregs and lemon slice into a copper bin before refilling it with gin and tonic water, topping it off with a fresh lemon slice and sliding it back to him across the bar.
He turned and scanned the room, taking in characteristics and mentally ticking them off his checklist. He wasn’t too sure what his quarry looked like, having nothing to go on but a rather fudgy wanted poster, prints of which could be seen in every railway station, dirigible dock, town and trading post in the Southwest. So far he had narrowed the possibilities down to three. One was a surly fellow who laid down chips like they were going out of fashion. Another was a heavy drinker who kept the bar wet with the whiskey that missed his mouth. The third seemed to mix the two pursuits, spilling whiskey on the green felt of the poker table. All had something resembling the unshaven, scarred visage of the infamous bandit.
One of Steamboat Steve’s security measures was that all passengers had to turn in their artillery upon boarding. The high stakes at the gaming tables, and the explosive nature of the clientele made this a must, even for somebody with such a liberal philosophy as Steve McCluskey. But looking around at the scarred faces, missing ears and what could only be described as a ‘colorful’ palette around him, Lazarus sorely felt the emptiness of the holster that usually held his British Enfield Mk II under his left armpit. But, he took some comfort in the reassuring lump in his right boot signifying a hidden Colt London Pocket. Fortunately, they hadn’t checked him too thoroughly, although he had to wonder how thoroughly they had checked his fellow passengers.
There were a few other characters he was watching too, but these were merely out of curiosity. One was the gorilla-sized ruffian at the entrance whom he took to be one of Steamboat Steve’s hired guns. The bulge under his jacket was the giveaway. The other was a woman. The presence of a woman was certainly not uncommon on the
, however the presence of a woman who was not a whore was unique. In fact, she was the only female in the casino; the stable of mechanized whores McCluskey owned were strictly confined below decks. This was the norm for all such establishments. Mechanicals were a slave class and since the passing of the Emancipation Act they had replaced Negroes on the lowest rung of society’s ladder, barred from public accommodation and most private establishments.
She wore a nicely-fitting red and black corset with a low, square neckline and sleeves trimmed with black lace. A small black hat was perched on the front of her head. Her hair was dark and her skin pale, with severe yet petite features. She stood on one of the raised sections of the room with a glass of what looked like gin in one gloved hand. The other hand lightly held the brass railing. Lazarus could see that she was scanning the room, as he was, looking for somebody—a lover? He stopped to wonder why he was letting this distract him from his task.
One of the three candidates—the surly gambler—had left the poker table in sullen silence at having run out of chips and made his way over to the bar, looking like he was on the verge of tears. Lazarus immediately scratched him off the list.
Two to go
The drinker had finally reached his limit and lay slumped over the bar, inert. Far too drunk for a wanted bandit to allow himself to become in a public place. He looked over at the third candidate, who suddenly let out a yell of triumph at winning a game and stood up, raising his glass. “Here’s to the
, the finest goddamn whore I ever rode!”
Gerard Vasquez was of French-Mexican descent. He had been a captain in the Confederate Dirigible Corps but for unknown reasons had absconded with one of their smaller vessels, along with a gigantic Navajo called Hok’ee who had enough mechanical implants to be considered less than human by many. The pair were like blood brothers for some reason, and had been living the lives of pirates; committing bank robberies, raids and kidnappings throughout the Southwest, striking from their airship which Vasquez had renamed the
. The Confederate government had tried to shoot them down on numerous occasions without success.
The roar of appreciation at Vasquez’s joke died down, and play resumed at the tables. Confident that his quarry was going nowhere for the foreseeable future, Lazarus decided to take the air on deck. The matter that had brought him on board the
was far too delicate to attempt in the casino. He would have to invite the bandit for a private drink later on.
The cool breeze of the Colorado River was refreshing. Lazarus lit a cigarette and tossed the match overboard. He watched the black shapes of the mountains and desert plateaus slide past. It had taken him days to track Vasquez to the
. His government wanted the bandit turned over to the Confederates alive, and tonight was the night he would finally accomplish his mission and begin the long voyage home.
Home to London
It had been over a year since he had trod the cobbled streets of that city. It was no lie that he missed the sounds and smells of those crowded warrens with their stalls and shops, hawkers and whores who sold their wares in the shadow of St. Paul’s dome.
His months in the Americas had been long and life changing. He should have returned home sooner but he hadn’t had the heart. After what had happened in South America he had just wanted to disappear. He didn’t feel like himself anymore. He didn’t know his place in the grand scheme of things, if ever there was some divine plan with which all humanity must comply. So, he had journeyed north, hoping to find some place to die quietly with a bottle of something strong in his hand. But as Whitehall’s only man in the Confederate States, he had been the prime candidate for this new mission and somehow they had tracked him down.
Handing Vasquez over was his only objective. Lazarus had made sure that that had been clear. He was not a hired gun or a bounty hunter. In truth, he was an historian and an archeologist, much more at home in the library than pursuing the political ambitions of Her Majesty’s government. Vasquez knew something. And it was Lazarus’s job to ensure the Confederate government had the chance to pry it out of him.
Once he had done that, he could return home to try and find his place again. He had an unfinished manuscript on the ruins of Great Zimbabwe on his desk and notes for his second series of lectures on the Valley of the Kings. The time for digging around in dusty tombs and fighting through steaming jungles was over. It was time to return to an academic existence. But, it was an ironic fact of his life that the subjects of his books and lectures frequently got in the way of the writing of them.
His train of thought was interrupted when his glance fell upon the footprint on the deck. It was large, boot-shaped and wet. It was one of a series, growing fainter and drier the further they got from the rail, eventually disappearing. It hadn’t been raining.
Lazarus wandered back to the casino and did a quick head count. There were several newcomers—heavy, thick-set characters wearing dusters. They had spread out and had all the exits covered, some on the gaming floor and some on the raised sections. McCluskey’s hired goon was none the wiser. Lazarus edged closer to the foot of a raised section and peered through the railings at the boots of the nearest thug. They were wet, as was the hem of his duster.
Lazarus looked about for the woman in red and black, but could not see her. Strange that she should have disappeared at this exact moment. He cursed his distracted mind, for one of the thugs had drawn a sawn-off shotgun and raised it into the air. He just had time to drop to one knee and thrust his hand into his right boot as the shot went off, a deafening roar tearing apart the fun in the casino and peppering the cherubs in the ceiling.
McCluskey’s goon went for his gun and was sent hurtling over the railing by a blast from behind, his ruptured innards spattering the nearest poker table and its players. The barman ducked behind the counter and emerged with his own shotgun, but didn’t get a chance to fire a round as one from another gun took him apart, sending him crashing into the mirror behind the bar, shattering glass and bottles. It happened so fast that those in the crowd who had concealed firearms barely had a chance to draw them.
“Nobody else move, goddammit!” cried the thug in the centre of the room. “We ain’t here to rob you! We just want to relieve you of a very nasty and disreputable man by the name of Gerard Vasquez!”
thought Lazarus, feeling around in his boot for the butt of his Colt London.
“Step right up Mr. Vasquez, and come with us!” the gunman continued. “No need to be shy!”
Lazarus looked to Vasquez who sat calmly toying with his hand of cards, his other hand hidden beneath the table. Lazarus was not concerned that his quarry might end up in the hands of these goons. Vasquez was too good for that. But a stray bullet might put an end to him before Lazarus could spirit him away. He had to do something, and fast.
Time was up and Vasquez was on his feet in an instant, hurling the card table over, his LeMat revolver spitting fire in the direction of the lead bounty hunter. And that was when, as they say, all hell broke loose. Those whose twitching fingers had been hovering over the straps and bulges that hid their weapons now broke them free and picked their targets.
Several of the passengers were dead almost instantaneously, their final hand played out and their blood running in rivulets along the wooden planks. Lazarus rose and drew his pistol, dropping one of the bounty hunters in a heartbeat. He dived behind a faux-Georgian pillar as the deadly volley of vengeance headed his way. The exits were still blocked—Vasquez kept his head low as shotgun blasts slowly ate away at his cover in showers of splinters and clouds of green felt.
“To your left, Vasquez!” Lazarus cried, poking his head around the pillar. “Make for the door. I’ll cover you!”
The bandit did not hesitate to find out who his sudden ally was and they moved together in synchronism; Vasquez running for the door in a hunched over position, and Lazarus blasting at each of the intruders in turn, keeping their attention fixed solely on him.
He saw Vasquez vanish. Now it was time for him to make his move. Two of the gunmen had followed the bandit out and the others were occupying themselves with hurling their anger at Lazarus, blast after blast crunching through the pillar and biting deep into the wood.
He heard the sound of a shotgun being broken so that a greasy thumb could slide in more cartridges. Rolling from behind the pillar, he fired once, shattering the face of one of the gunmen. In a maelstrom of pellets and wooden splinters, he made for the door.
Out on deck he came across the bodies of two bounty hunters lying in pools of blood. One, pierced by a medium caliber, had undoubtedly been struck by Vasquez’s return fire but the other had a hole in its chest the size of a cannonball, which greatly unnerved Lazarus.
His feet pounded wooden planking as he chased after his quarry, swinging around a banister and leaping down the stairs that led below decks. The corridors were dim, lit only by the red of the fringed fabric wall lamps. There was the occasional green gas light above a door, signifying that it was unoccupied. Lazarus could see the silhouette of Vasquez ahead of him, making for the exit on the other side of the steamer.