May 18, 2011

More selections from Tara Kane

Without knowing the history beyond what they read in an old biography, authors, George Markstein and Jacqui Lyons guess correctly that the powers behind the White Pass and Yukon Railway probably had a hand in Soapy’s undoing. My family had always believed this to be self-evident. The research behind my book, Alias Soapy Smith strongly shows the connections the railroad had with the vigilantes and the men who killed Soapy Smith.

In the following section of Tara Kane, Sir Thomas Tancrede and Michael J. “Big Mike” Henney of the White Pass and Yukon railway meet with Soapy and Tara Kane in his plush office.

Sir Thomas blinked and then cleared his throat. “Why don’t we get down to business? People say you’re interested in our railroad.” He rolled the brandy around the glass. “Is that right?”

“Damn right,” said Smith. “I know a good investment when I see one.”

Henney cut the niceties short. He waited until the waiters had left; then he said curtly, “What exactly is you proposition, Smith?”

For a moment, Smith looked pained. That kind of direct talk seemed more suited to the sawdust-and-spit world of the cheap bars than to this elegant supper table. Carefully he knocked the ash off his cheroot.

“We all have a dream, you and I,” he said after a while. Anybody less like dreamers than this trio would be hard to find, thought Tara, but she waited, amused. She wanted to hear his pitch.

“The dream is to make this territory a great land, a land which can make more money for all of us than anyone has imagined,” he went on. “The key to that land is the railroad. Open up the territory, and you shrink it to a manageable size. Cut the distances, and you’ve conquered it.”

“I say, Mr. Smith, you wax quite poetical.” Sir Thomas winked at Tara. “He can dress up thing, can’t he?”

“Well?” cut in Big Mike, unimpressed.

“The point is, Mr. Henney, I’d like us all to be partners.”

Smith leaned back, beaming at them. His watch chain and diamond cufflinks danced in the candlelight.

“Sorry,” said Henney gruffly. “No deal.”

Smith remained unruffled. “But you haven’t heard me out.”

Sir Thomas sighed. “Mr. Smith, we’re an Anglo-Canadian consortium. I raised my half of the money in the city of London and Mr. Henney got the rest in Ottawa. I don’t think we really want American involvement. No offense, of course.”

Smith nodded. “Aren’t you forgetting that the starting point of your railroad is on American soil?” he asked mildly.

“And aren’t you forgetting, sir, that under the ’71 Convention, Canada has the transit rights she needs?” retorted Henney. “This is a Canadian project, to serve Canadians on Canadian soil.”

“A little more brandy, gentlemen?” suggested Tara.

“I propose we leave that all to the politicians,” Smith said, clearly aggravated at her interruption. “We’re businessmen, all of us. I know you have the capital, but since when hasn’t some extra money been useful? You got big costs coming.”

“Maybe,” grunted Henney. “But we don’t want you in, Smith. We don’t want any part of you.”

Smith sat stone-faced. Sir Thomas looked a little worried.

“What Mike means …” he began.

“I know what he means,” snapped Smith.

“Then you know why we don’t want your kind of money,” went on Henney.

“So you don’t think my dough’s good enough,” said Smith very quietly, his lips drawn into a thin line. “You don’t want to soil your hands. You only like nice clean capital. Virgin dollars.” He laughed mirthlessly. “Tell me, Sir Thomas, how did your folks make their dough? Never shipped any slaves? Never conquered any colonies? Or you, Mr. Henney? Earned it all by the sweat of your brow?”

I don’t need lectures from a brothel owner,” spat Henney.

Smith’s eyes blazed. Tara knew that at any other time there would have been violence. But with an effort he remained seated.

“Mike didn’t mean that exactly,” conciliated Sir Thomas. He looked embarrassed.

“Sir Thomas, one thing we’ve got to get clear if we’re going to be partners,” said Smith. “You have to stop telling me what Mr. Henney does or does not mean. I can figure it out for myself.”

Sir Thomas pulled out a beautiful silver hunter.

“It’s been such a marvelous dinner, I hate to break it up, but perhaps we ought to retire now.”

He smiled at Tara, seeking an ally.

“Gentlemen, maybe you forgot a couple of things,” Smith said, ignoring Sir Thomas. “You need a lot of supplies, a lot of men, a lot of horses to build that one hundred and eleven miles of railroad. You haven’t got any of it.”

“Right now, Smith, “ Henney said triumphantly, “ships are on their way to Skagway with every damn thing we need, laborers, supplies, timber, horses. We got it all organized.”

Smith nodded. “Of course. They’re due in a couple of weeks, and within twenty-four hours of their arrival you’ll start laying the track. Eight weeks later you hope to have the first four miles of the line open.”

Henney’s eyes narrowed. “What are you getting at?”

Smith grinned smugly.

“Your point, sir,” said Sir Thomas crisply.

“I have a certain, let’s say, influence on the waterfront. The men listen to me. I dare say, gentlemen, that if I didn’t get a look into your railroad, they might not unload any of your ships.”

Henney pushed back his chair unceremoniously and stood up. “Now you listen, Smith,” he snarled. “I thought you’d start blackmailing us. Well sir, our railroad has the blessing of the authorities. They want it built. You try and hold us up, you try to stop us unloading, you start your bully-boy tricks, and we’ll have a battalion of United States infantry in Skagway so quick you won’t know what hit you. And I’ll tell you something else, your hired guns aren’t going to be much use against Army bayonets.”

He glanced at Sir Thomas. “I think it is time we went.”

The Englishman stood up and bowed to Tara. “I do apologize, dear lady,” he said. “Business can get so tedious.”

“Business, Sir Thomas,” she replied, smiling politely, “is never tedious. It interests me enormously.”

Sir Thomas looked slightly nonplussed. “We’ll see ourselves out,” he said, nodding at Smith. “Thank you for a highly entertaining evening. Good night.”

Smith did not stand up as they left the room.

May 3, 2011
April 29, 2011 
April 28, 2011 

Jeff Smith


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