The Iron Marshal
A brutal kick in the ribs jolted him from a sound sleep and he lunged to his feet. The kicker, obviously a railroad detective, stepped back and drew a gun.
"Don't try it," he advised. "Just get off."
"Now? Are you crazy? At this speed I'd get killed."
"Tough. You either jump off or you get shot off."
Shanaghy looked at the gun. "Ah, what's the use? For two-bits I'd take that away from you and make you eat it, but I'll take the jump."
He turned and swung over the edge of the open gondola, hung for an instant to gauge the speed, then dropped from the ladder. He hit the ground knees bent and rolled head over heels down the embankment, coming to his feet in a cloud of dust to hear a fading shout.
". . . an' take your dirty duds with you!"
A bundle came flying from the train and hit the ground several hundred yards further along. Then the train was past and he watched the caboose disappearing down the singing rails.
Shanaghy spat dust and swore at the disappearing train. "Ah, me lad!" he said bitterly. "There will come a time!"
He dug sand from his eyes and ears, muttering the while, and then he looked slowly around.
He stood on the bank beside the tracks in the midst of a vast and empty plain, nothing by grass, rippling in the wind. It reminded him of the sea when he crossed from Ireland.
He was thirsty, he was hungry, and he was mad all the way through. Moreover, he was bruised from the fall, adding to the bruises from what had gone before. He stared around again. At least, they would never find him here. He started to walk.
Suddenly he thought of the bundle thrown from the train. Dirty duds? He had no clothing but what he wore, and no possessions but the few things in his pocket. All else had been abandoned when he fled.
He had been on the dodge, unable to meet his friends for two days before he grabbed the freight train in the yards. He had not seen his enemies but he heard them coming. He was unarmed and the freight offered his only chance. He took the fast-moving train on the fly and once aboard he had fallen asleep. With daylight he awakened but, dead tired, he dropped off to sleep again while the train rumbled on its way. For most of the two days and nights they had traveled, so now where was he?
He walked on until he came to the bundle. He paused looking down at it as it lay among the weeds and brush near the foot of the slight embankment. A canvas haversack and a blanket-roll. He had never owned anything of the kind.
Shanaghy slid down the embankment and picked it up. Heavier than he expected. For a moment he considered leaving it but the blankets decided him. In a few hours darkness would be upon him and unless he was mistaken the nearest town was far, far away. Despite what the railroad bull had shouted, the blankets looked remarkably new and clean. Kneeling on the track he opened the haversack. The first thing he found was a slab of bacon wrapped in cheesecloth, then a small packet of coffee. "Some bindle-stiff's outfit," he told himself, then changed his mind. There was a packet of letters, a notebook with some loose papers tucked into it and a map.
In the compartment behind the letters was a carefully folded suit of black broadcloth, two clean shirts, a shirt-collar, cuff-links and a collar button. There was a suit of underwear, just off the shelf, a razor, soap, a shaving-brush, comb, pair of scissors and some face lotion.
What was more important, there was a .44 pistol and a box of ammunition. He checked the pistol. It was loaded.
Strapping up the bag he slung the outfit over a shoulder and started on.
Not until the middle of afternoon when he had walked nearly twenty miles did the country begin to change. Twice the railroad crossed ravines on trestles, and finally he came to a shallow wash that seemed to rapidly narrow until it followed the wash around the bluff to where it opened into a tiny basin where there were a few willows, a cottonwood or two.
On a flat place under the trees there was grass, a circle of stones for a fireplace, already blackened by use, and much broken wood. After gathering sticks and bark he got a fire started. Then he cut slices from the slab of bacon and broiled them on a stick over the fire.
He had no idea where he was except that he was west of New York. He had never seen a map of the United States, and since arriving from Ireland when he was eleven he had never been further west then Philadelphia. He knew New York, and he had spent at least two weeks in Boston.
They would never find him here, but they'd be looking. Well, so let them look.
He unrolled the blankets and it was then he found the shotgun. It was in two pieces, needing merely to be put together, and there was a tube container evidently made to contain the two pieces of the shotgun. Now it was filled with shells. He put the shotgun together and loaded it.
Lying on his back, hands clasped behind his head, Tom Shanaghy listened to the rustle of the leaves and watched the fire dying. Tonight, for the first time in a long while, his thoughts kept returning to Ireland.
It had been good there. Hungry, those years after his father went away, but good years in a green and lovely land. At first his father had sent them a little, then came the news that he was missing in action.
Almost twelve years now he had stayed in New York, and that, too, had been hard . . . from the very first. Nearly every day he had a fight, and the boys he met were tough and street-wise, as schooled in fighting as he, but they lacked his natural quickness and the strength developed from the blacksmith's hammer and the hard work on the farm. He whipped them all.
Shanaghy became a runner for John Morrissey, taking the work to gamblers and gambling houses, to the women on the line and to the ward heelers who did his bidding.
Men such as Morrissey, who could swing the Irish vote, were important to Tammany Hall and, shrewdly, Morrissey, had worked hard to make himself even more so. Admired for his fighting abilities, he was also a politician who found newcomers a place to live. He found them jobs, kept them out of trouble. His thugs and "shoulder-strikers," as they were called, frightened opposition voters away from the polls, protected their own voters, and occasionally stuffed ballot-boxes or engaged in all manner of trickery and deceit.
Shanaghy was thirteen years old when he glimpsed an old friend. He was coming up through the Five Points, walking the middle of the street as behooved one who knew the area, when he saw the Maid o' Killarney . . . She was hitched to a butcher's wagon.
He walked to the curb and stopped. Appearing to pay no attention, he looked the horse over carefully. The same scar on the inside of the fetlock, identical markings. It had to be.
The horse, left standing while a delivery was being made, suddenly took a step forward, stretching its nose to him. "Aye, Maid, you remember me, don't you?" He patted her a little, and when the driver came bustling from the house he commented, "Nice horse."
"Feisty," the delivery man said testily, "too feisty."
Tom had glanced at the sign on the side of the wagon, then waved a hand and walked up the street. Once he was out of sight, he ran.
Morrissey, Tom knew, had a meeting at his gambling house at No. 8 Barclay Street, and he should be there now.
Slowly and carefully he had explained to John Morrissey about the Maid. How he had been present when she was born, how he had ridden her as an exercise boy around the stables, and ridden her in her first race.
"The Maid won," he explained. "Then she won again. She won twice more with somebody else up, then the man who owned her got in debt over gambling. He lost her and she was sold to an American."
Morrissey dusted ash from his cigar. "You're sure of the horse?"
"I am. It was my father fitted the first shoes to her. I played with her as a boy. I'd not make a mistake. And she remembered me."
Two days later Morrissey called him in. "Tom, me bye, how would you like to drive a butcher's wagon?"
"Whatever you say."
"You've got a job, then. You'll drive the wagon and you'll check the horse. As I understand it the deliveries are over by noon. You'll take the horse to Fenway's after you've finished. Tomorrow is Saturday. Sunday morning take her out on the track and give her a light workout. Easy does it. See how she moves, if anything is wrong wi' her.
"Lochlin will be there, and he's a fine horseman. He will be watching. No trying for speed now, for she's been living poorly and will have to be taken careful. Above all, don't y' touch her with a curry-comb or anything of the kind.
"And not a word of this to anyone, y' understand? Not a word!"
Sunday morning the air had been cool with a touch of fog in the air. He led the Maid out to the track and Lochlin gave him a leg up.
"Once around. Just see how she moves, lad. Maybe we have something and maybe we don't."
When they turned into the track, the Maid remembered. Her head came up and she tugged at the bit. "Not now, baby. Take it easy . . . easy now!"
She moved into a canter and went once around the track. Lochlin was waiting for them when he pulled up near the gate.
"Moves well. Seems a little stiff, that's all."
Tom took her around again, a little faster. She was eager and wanted to run and he had to restrain her.
"How was she when you rode her?" Lochlin asked when they returned.
"She's a finisher, Mr. Lochlin. She likes to come from behind, and if she's anything like she used to be she can really run."
For a week he drove another horse, much alike in outward appearance, with the butcher's wagon. In the afternoons he worked out the Maid. She had a natural affinity for the track, loved running, and like to win. What Morrissey had in mind he had no idea, except that he expected to make a lot of money.
"Tom," Morissey said one day, "don't come around to Barclay Street." He lit a fresh cigar. "There's a man who comes there to gamble. Quite a sharper he thinks himself, and he has a horse. He's been doing a bit of bragging about that horse, and I've a friend wishes to take him down a bit."
It had been a week later that Tom was driving the Maid with the butcher's wagon. He had a delivery that morning that took him to Barclay Street and he had stopped to get packages of meat from the wagon when he saw Morrissey. Several men were with him and he heard one of the men say, "What? Why, that Wade Hampton horse of mine could beat either of them! Either of them, I say!"
"Bob," another voice said, "you've been doing a lot of talking about that Wade Hampton horse. We hear a lot but we don't see any action. I think you're just talking through your hat!"
"Like hell, I am! He's won his last six races, and he'll win the next six. If you want to put your money where your mouth is, Sweeney, just find yourself a horse!"
"Bah!" Sweeney was contemptuous. "I don't own a horse, and you know it, but I think you're full of hot air! Why, I'd bet that milk-wagon horse could beat yours!"
The Maid in blinders and a fly-net, stood waiting while Tom poured milk into a can, her head dropping as she snuffled at the dust along the curb.
"Don't be a fool, Sweeney!" another of the men protested. "That mare is all stove up. Anyway, an animal like that can't run. All she can do is pull a wagon."
Lochlin emerged from the gambling house. "What's that? What's going on?"
"Sweeney just offered to bet that milk-wagon horse could beat Bob Childers' Wade Hampton. He wasn't serious, of course, but--"
"The hell I wasn't!" Sweeny said angrily. "You damn right I'm serious! Bob carries on about that nag of his like it was the only horse in the world! Well, I think Bob's full of hot air!"
Lochlin shrugged. "You can't be seriously suggesting that that old nag could outrun a racehorse? You've got to be crazy, but if you're serious I'll lay twenty to one that Wade Hampton can beat him."
"Twenty to one? I'll take it!"
Sweeney hesitated. "Well now . . . See here. I don't know if--"
"Going to welsh on it, Sweeney?" Bob Childers asked. "You said I was full of hot air, what about you?"
"I'll be damned if I am! I said I'd bet and I will. Twenty to one . . . And I've got a thousand dollars says the milk-horse wins!"
"A thousand dollars?" Morrissey spoke for the first time. "That's serious money, Sweeney."
"I've got it and I'll bet it," Sweeney said stubbornly. "Bob, you an' Lochlin can put up or shut up."
Think what you're doing Sweeney. Bob has a race horse. That old milk-wagon horse is stiff and old. Hell, if she ever could run, she can't any more. I'd say forget it."
"He made his bet," Lochlin said, "and I've accepted . I will put up my money on one condition. That we run the race tomorrow."
Lochlin turned to Childers. "Bob," he spoke softly, "this will be the easiest money we ever made. This will be a cinch. I'll pick up a cool thousand for an investment of twenty thousand, and all in a matter of minutes." He paused. "How much are you betting, Bob? You can take him for plenty because he's too bullheaded to back out, and you know Sweeney . . . he's got it to bet."
"I don't know," Childers frowned. "I've got to think about it."
"He's good for plenty, Sweeney is, and he's that much of a damn fool. I would guess he's good for twenty or thirty thousand, and I can come up with another twenty. If you can come up with sixty thousand we can win it all. It's a cinch."
"It's a lot of money," Childers muttered.
That was ten years ago or better! Shanaghy remembered the day of the race. He had been up on the Maid and they purposely tossed dust over her, and brought her on the track looking like the milk-wagon horse she'd been. But Shanaghy was nervous, for it was impossible to disguise the clean lines of her.
Wade Hampton had started fast and well and was leading by three lengths when the horses rounded the back turn. Then Tom let the Maid go. Filled with joy at the chance, the horse began to run. When they came under the wire she was running easily and won by half a length.
The Maid won, and Sweeney, Lochlin and Morrissey split sixty thousand dollars among them.
Morrissey had given him five hundred dollars for tipping them off to a good thing and riding the horse. It was more money, Shanaghy reflected, than his poor pa had seen in his lifetime. With it, Shanaghy bought some new clothes and a better place to live. He put three hundred of it into a bank.
Of Bob Childers or his family he saw nothing more until several months later when, emerging from the Five Points, he came upon a man who looked like Bob Childers' son standing on a corner with two other men.
"There's one of them now," one of the men said, pointing at Tom. "You! Come here!"
Shanaghy paused. He knew he should keep going, but something in the young man's tone irritated him. "You want to see me," he said, "come to where I am."
"I'll come, an' be damned to y'!"
Shanaghy was convinced this was Bob Childers' son. He was a powerful young man, yet too heavy. Shanaghy stood waiting, watching the other two men as well. When the young man was almost to him he saw the others start, and he knew it would be not the one but all three he must fight. The first one stepped up on the curb. "You're one o' that pack o' thieves," he said, "and I'm going to teach you!"
"Your pa bought himself a horse race and he lost," Shanaghy said to the young man. "That's all. He asked for it with his loud mouth."
"Loud mouth, is it?" The young man lifted a ponderous fist threateningly. "I'll teach . . ."
Shanaghy went quickly to meet him. He smashed a left to Childer's mouth; then swung a right into his belly. His wind left him with an oof and he staggered and fell back into a sitting position. Shanaghy wheeled and dove into the space between buildings, ran their length and, turning sharply, mounted the stairs to the upper story.
This was an area he knew well. Emerging on the roof-top he ran along the roofs, jumping the walls that divided one from the other. Soon he was blocks away. Coming down from the final rooftop, he went to his room.
The word got around that Childers was recruiting men for an all-out war with Morrissy, and Childers had influence where it mattered. Unexpectedly, Morrissey found doors closed to him that had always been open, but Shanaghy knew little beyond the casual barroom gossip that he picked up.
Then, one night, as he was coming up the Bowery, he was set upon by a gang of thugs who emerged suddenly from a doorway. "Break his legs!" somebody shouted. "Break his legs and his fingers!"