Lone Star 02, страница 1
Table of Contents
"PLEASE GIVE ME MY CLOTHES AND LET ME GO.”
Fitzroy laughed and tossed Jessie a garment that had been lying across the foot of the bed.
“This is all I get to wear?” Jessie stared at the gauzy chemise.
Fitzroy smirked. “Yep. But don’t worry. We’ve got too many scantily clad females running around this place to ever let it get cold.”
“What kind of place is this, anyway?” Jessie pleaded.
“You really haven’t figured it out yet?” Fitzroy asked, grinning ...
The Exciting New Western Series from the Creators of Longarm!
Also in the LONE STAR series from Jove
LONGARM AND THE LONE STAR LEGEND
LONE STAR ON THE TREACHERY TRAIL
LONE STAR AND THE BORDER BANDITS
LONE STAR AND THE OPIUM RUSTLERS
A Jove Book / published by arrangement with
Jove edition / September 1982
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 1982 by Jove Publications, Inc.
This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part,
by mimeograph or any other means, without permission.
For information address: Jove Publications, Inc.,
200 Madison Avenue, New York, N. Y. 10016.
eISBN : 978-1-101-16886-8
Jove books are published by Jove Publications, Inc.,
200 Madison Avenue, New York, N. Y. 10016. The words
“A JOVE BOOK” and the “J” with sunburst are trademarks
belonging to Jove Publications, Inc.
The sunlight dancing across the choppy blue waves of the bay made Jessie Starbuck squint. She was standing on the open deck of the Oakland ferry as it plowed its way across the water toward the wharves of San Francisco.
The ferry was crowded. There were cattlemen in dusty denims, Stetson hats, and worn leather gunbelts, all of them were rough old boys, coming into the city to sell their beef. There were Kansas and Nebraska homesteaders in overalls and straw hats, their complexions the sunbleached color of wheat, here in San Francisco to sell their crop and enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime fling away from the farm, the wife, and the kids. There were a great many derbied businessmen who had come from no farther than Oakland, and who were making their daily commute to their offices in the city.
It made no difference where the man was from, or where he was going. Regardless of whether a fellow wore High Plains spurs on his high-heeled boots, worn, muddy workshoes, or shiny patent-leather, city-slicker office slippers. To a man, they all paused to stare at the leggy silhouette of the young woman in her twenties. Jessie Starbuck could turn any male’s head!
Jessie leaned forward, planting her elbows against the varnished wooden railing, to watch the big gulls wheel and soar in a clear, bright turquoise sky studded with puffy white clouds. Her green tweed skirt and matching hacking jacket—both so comfortable during her long hours spent in the saddle—also kept her warm against the stiff, salty breeze that was just now making her long blond hair dance and whip. Her tresses had more than a hint of copper-red glint, brought out by the sunshine. The copper highlights sparkled when Jessie turned her head to watch the horses on board as they nervously stamped their hooves against the gently swaying deck of the ferry. Jessie had high, full breasts, and a slender waist accented by the snug contours of her buttoned jacket. The curve and swell of her firm, plushly rounded bottom was deliciously sheathed in green wool, the way the round curve of a six-shooter’s cylinder is hugged by the soft leather of a custom-molded holster.
Jessie was never offended by the glances of men. Far from it! She accepted the looks, smiles, and even whistles as the compliments they were intended to be. After all, if the Lord hadn’t meant for a woman to be the most fascinating work of art a man could contemplate, he wouldn’t have made people the way they are. Truth to tell, Jessie herself enjoyed indulging in an occasional fleeting and decorous glance at a well-built male who happened to be sauntering by in a pair of snug trousers—not that she would ever admit that to a soul... After all, there were some things a lady just did not talk about, not even in the cosmopolitan, international port that was San Francisco in 1880.
Besides, if any fellow forced unwanted physical attentions on her, Jessie knew how to handle the situation. She had her double-barreled, .38-caliber derringer. Its ivory grips were just now pressed against the ivory flesh of her thigh; she carried the deadly little gun in a tiny stitch of a leather holster held in place by an elastic garter, which hugged her thigh just above the top of one of her silk stockings. But the odds of her having to draw her derringer were slim, for she had Ki.
Jessie turned her gaze away from the fast-approaching San Francisco hills, to search the deck of the ferry for her companion and bodyguard. A sudden tap on her shoulder made her spin about in surprise. Then she smiled at the wiry, dark-com plexioned fellow standing before her.
“Ki,” Jessie laughed. “You startled me—”
“I’m sorry, but did you not wish for me?” Ki asked, his almond eyes wide, perplexed, as if appearing in response to a silent wish were the most natural thing in the world.
But, as Jessie had to remind herself, Ki was able to do so many incredible things...
He had been born in the Japans, the only child produced in an ill-fated marriage between an American businessman and adventurer, and a noble-born Japanese woman. Ki had the height, build, and handsome features of his father and the thick, shiny, blue-black hair and almond eyes of his mother. He had journeyed to American while still in his adolescence, but not before the completion of ten years’ worth of study of the martial arts of his mother’s culture. Ki was a samurai, a master warrior.
“Since you know so much, answer me this,” Jessie quietly began, while her fingers absently tugged straight the lapels of his blue-gray tweed suit jacket, and then rose to straighten the bow of his black shoestring tie. “Tell me, Ki ... is his kami watching over us on this trip?”
Ki frowned as he patiently endured Jessie’s fussing at him. A gust of wind suddenly snatched his Stetson off his head. The hat sailed out over the railing of the cruising ferry, but before it could fly out of reach, Ki’s right arm shot out even faster than the wind, to snatch his hat back—the movement was so fast that the cloth of his sleeve made a sound as sharp as the crack of a whip, and yet the rest of Ki’s body had remained so motionless that Jessie’s fingers never slipped from the smooth silk of his tie.
Their eyes met. Ki winked.
Jessie giggled and gave him a quick hug from which he gently disengaged himself. How aware Jessie was of the fact that presuming to adjust Ki’s tie was very much akin to reaching through the bars of a tiger’s cage in order to smooth the big cat’s fur. But Ki, who with just his bare hands could kill a man, or even that tiger, in the blink of an eye, was always patient and gentle with her. As far as her touching him, well, she considered their relationship like that of brother and sister. Ki had grown up with her; she had been just a colt of a girl when her daddy had hired the then-adolescent samurai to be her protector.
“Well? Answer me,” Jessie demanded, a half-smile darting at the comers of
“You speak of Alex Starbuck’s kami,” Ki replied. “The spirit of your father.”
“San Francisco is where my father’s business empire really began,” Jessie said. “Of all the places we’ve been, and all that we might eventually get to, San Francisco was the business site most dear to my father.”
“With the exception of the ranch in Texas—”
Jessie’s voice was far away. “I wonder... The Starbuck spread—our home—was the culmination of everything he’d worked for, but San Francisco was the bright beginning.”
“Then San Francisco will be the most important battle-ground to your father’s enemies—and yours,” Ki reminded her, but Jessie was no longer listening.
The ferry’s paddlewheels had slowed, to allow the boat to coast into its slip. The ride was almost over.
Jessie and Ki had disembarked from their Central Pacific train in Oakland, had been shepherded, along with their luggage, to the ferry slip, and had boarded the sidewheeler dubbed Alameda I. The big ferry had given a mighty shudder, belched one thick, black plume out of its tall smokestack, and backed away from the Oakland pier, to carry its multitude of passengers across the bay. Now the ever present bay breeze was flattening the ferry’s furl of smoke, so that it trailed behind the squat-bottomed boat the way a black satin hat ribbon will trail behind a matron hurrying off to do shopping for her family.
There came a loud thwak!, and then there was silence as the Alameda’s steam plant shut down. Looming above the ferry’s smokestack was the squat, wooden clock tower of the city’s Ferry Building, a long, barnlike structure owned and operated by the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads.
As the gangplank was set into position, Jessie hurried to be among the first in line to leave the ferry. “Come on!” she scolded Ki. “I want to see everything! My memories of this city are so vague, they’re more like dreams. I was so young when we moved to Texas—”
“Wait,” Ki shouted. “I must see to the luggage.” But Jessie was already racing down the gangplank, much to Ki’s amusement. He trudged after her, leaving their baggage for later. Jessie was like a little girl rushing toward a wide-open candy store. Ki wanted to be there to witness her reaction to the interior of the Ferry Building. He watched as Jessie rushed in, only to stop, literally awestruck.
“The cable cars!” she exclaimed. “This is where they keep them!”
But she would have had to scream to be heard. The Ferry Building was a madhouse.
The walls of the place, which seemed as high and wide as a Colorado canyon, were rainbow-colored, with gaudy posters advertising North Beach breweries and honkytonk bars, downtown restaurants and hotels, and the rail-roads’ faraway destinations of Chicago, St. Louis, and New York. There were throngs of people hurrying along in that urgent way Jessie had always considered unique to citizens of large cities. Swarms of porters were shouting for the attention of those ferry passengers with luggage, and, not to be outdone, a half-dozen ragamuffin newsboys were hawking as many different newspapers.
Off to one side of the cavernous building stood dozens of cable cars. Many of them were shaking and rumbling, reminding Jessie of a herd of cattle about to stampede. “Market Street! Clay Street! California Street!” shouted the conductors, the clanging bells of their brightly painted, candy-colored cars adding to the din. There was the shrill, steam-whistle blast of a departing ferry, and the pungent aroma of snorting horses, who shook their bridles in impatience to collect a fare and draw their cabs out of this foul-smelling place so filled with the machines that many people were saying would soon render horsedrawn vehicles obsolete.
There was so much to take in, so much to listen to and see, that Jessie—spinning around like a top—suddenly grew dizzy. Ki came up behind her placing his firm hand on her elbow to steady her.
“I see that as usual, you’re totally in control,” Jessie remarked wryly. “But your Stetson is out of place here. We’ll have to get you a derby.”
“Do not forget that it was this city where I arrived as a young man, when I stepped off one of your father’s clippers. It was in that first office of your father that I presented myself to him for hire.”
“Just because he’d owned the clipper that transported you,” Jessie marveled, shaking her head.
“It was an omen,” Ki said, quite earnestly. “A sign. Such things are not to be ignored. Surely your father’s housekeeper, Myobu, taught you that when she taught you the arts of the geisha?”
“Yes, she did,” Jessie smiled. “Among other things...”
“I remember your father’s office quite well,” Ki continued, smiling now himself, as the memories came back to him. “He had only one floor in a frame building on Pacific Street, overlooking the wharf.”
“Now the Starbuck home office takes up an entire block-long building,” Jessie remarked proudly. “We took over one of the banks that went bust after the Comstock Lode began to fizzle.”
“California Street!” shouted a conductor.
“That’s where our office is located!” Jessie cried out. “Oh, let’s ride the cable car there!”
“I am afraid your ride will have to wait,” Ki laughed. “I must see to the luggage before the ferry carries it all back to Oakland.”
“Well, I’ll ride it on my own,” Jessie countered. “I can certainly take care of myself as far as—”
“Look there,” Ki interrupted.
Standing with the rest of the cabbies was an elderly fellow dressed in a frayed, blue serge suit, and a lopsided, black leather visored cap. Above his head he held a square of cardboard on which was written, in uneven block letters, MISS JESSICA STARBUCK.
“How do you do, Miss,” the old fellow said as Jessie and Ki approached. “And you, sir, how do you do? Mr. Lewis, of the Starbuck Import and Export Company, has engaged me to drive you to your hotel, wait for you while you refresh yourself, and then take you to Mr. Lewis’s office for a meeting at three o‘clock.”
“You certainly know a lot about Mr. Lewis’s affairs,” Jessie observed. Arthur Lewis was an old family friend. He had been with Alex Starbuck from the beginning, and he was vice-president in charge of Pacific trade. In reality, Lewis just about totally ran all of the various enterprises comprising the Starbuck dealings with the Japans and China.
“Begging your pardon, Miss Starbuck,” the cabbie said, doffing his worn cap. “My card—” He held out a small white rectangle. “Thaddeus Simpson is the name. And like it says there—” He tapped the card Jessie held. “Driver for hire.”
Jessie eyed Ki, as if to say, “A cabbie with a business card?”
“This is San Francisco,” Ki reminded her.
“Mr. Lewis keeps me on retainer,” Simpson explained. “I don’t carry no other fares but the folks he wants me to carry. He gets an awful lot of business folks come to see him, you know,” he added sagely. “He’s made you both a reservation at the Palace Hotel, Miss. And we ought to be on our way, if you’re to have the time to rest a bit before going—”
“—to the meeting. Yes, thank you, Mr. Simpson,” Jessie laughed. “Oh, well, I guess my cable car ride will have to wait.”
“You go along,” Ki said. “I’ll get a porter to fetch our luggage, and then take another cab to the hotel. That way you will have more time to rest.”
Ki watched until Jessie was safely inside Simpson’s hack. The cabbie clucked his horse into a brisk walk toward the daylight-flooded, high-arched portals of the huge building.
Ki turned to summon a porter. Through experience, both he and Jessie knew how to travel lightly. Ki had one bag for this trip, and Jessie one trunk of clothing.
A somewhat surely-looking porter appeared, and Ki gestured toward the bags and said, “To a cab, please.”
Then he turned and began to walk before the porter, whose luggage cart had wheels that squeaked like mice as he followed. Suddenly the porter stopped, grabbed Ki’s arm, and spun him around, to peer angrily at his face.
“I am Japanese,” Ki corrected him gently.
“Jap or Chinaman, it don’t make no difference to me,” the porter growled. “But I’ll take my money in advance, seeing that I’m not dealing with no white gentleman.”
Ki felt his temper rising, but he got control of his anger, reminding himself that this fellow was not worth crushing. “Here is your money, then, in advance,” he said, being careful to keep his voice level as he handed the porter his coins.
Mollified, the porter began pushing his noisy cart once again. “That’s the way I like it,” he nodded. “Money in advance from Chinamen. I’m a member of Mr. Kearney’s Working-man’s Party of California,” he boasted.
“And what is that?” Ki asked, now genuinely curious. He had already waved away the man’s previous insult, the way he might a bothersome fly.
“What, you don’t know?” the porter snorted. “You’d better find out, else you might get hurt, Chinaman—”
Ki reached out to gather up some of the porter’s jacket front. He then lifted the man into the air, using just one hand. “I am not Chinese. Understand?”
“Put me down, dammit!” the porter squealed, his shoes dancing on thin air.
Ki gave him a little shaking, the way a terrier might shake a rat. “Do you understand?” he softly repeated.
“Yes,” the porter pouted. “Yes... sir.”
Ki put him down. “I have already paid you,” he said softly. “I wish to hear no more insults. Fair enough?”
The porter said nothing, but glumly went back to pushing his cart. Ki chose to interpret his silence as acquiescence.
“No! Please, no! Somebody help me!”
The woman’s wail came as shrill and shockingly sudden as a steam-whistle blast from one of the ferryboats. Ki whirled around in the direction of the cry. He saw two men closing in on a solitary woman traveler. The bigger of the two hoodlums had locked his burly forearm across the woman’s throat, while his smaller friend waved a length of iron pipe in her face.