Sneak peeks into Galloway's Gamble and
Galloway's Gamble 2: Lucifer & the Great Baltimore Brawl
From Galloway's Gamble 2: Lucifer & the Great Baltimore Brawl . . .
A little skullduggery . . .
Two horses. Head to head. One wins, one loses. Racing doesn’t get much simpler than that.
Or so I thought.
But crooks are known for seizing opportunities to do their deeds unseen, under cover of darkness—or shrouded by San Francisco’s notorious fog, so thick we can’t see the Sea Breeze race track’s towering grandstand a hundred feet away. Even before the
horses reach the starting line, I’m on the lookout for
anything shady—but what if I miss something because
of the fog?
Horse racing is the country’s first true national pastime.
And these two horses are as good as it gets. Handsome colt
Phoenix is an uncommon palomino Thoroughbred, owned
and prized by Eddie Lobo, and trained by Victoria Krieg—
both young, and new to the Sport of Kings.
Eddie is a big baby-faced rancher with shoulders as broad
as a mesa and a thick mop of black hair. Though Victoria’s not
quite nineteen, she’s generally wise beyond her years. With her chestnut hair, dusting of freckles across her nose and a knowing sparkle in her dark eyes, Victoria is a formidable force.
Feared Maryland horseman Cortland Van Brunt III, owner of the big bay stallion Grand Larceny, is a reigning monarch of the Eastern Thoroughbred world. With his wooly white beard, round ruddy face leathered by years of sun and wind, and a long-stemmed Dutch clay pipe clenched in his teeth, he resembles that “jolly old elf” Saint Nick himself. In Van Brunt’s case, looks are deceiving.
Phoenix is smaller and lighter than his opponent, but well-muscled. His flaxen tail swishing with his easy stroll, he seems unperturbed. Glossy dark bay Grand Larceny struts like the world’s biggest, meanest Tennessee Walking Horse.
The race will be a single lap of the one-mile oval. The horses come to rest. At the sharp rap of the starter’s drum, they take off like rockets. Dirt flies from beneath their hooves. The damp ground muffles their galloping rumble and they disappear into the fog.
We peer into the distance, but the horses are invisible, their pace unknown. Seconds sweep by. The horses remain obscured somewhere out there.
Necks craned, eyes peeled, we strain to see the horses emerge from the fog. At last, a horse materializes from the spirit realm—only it’s the big bay Grand Larceny, not our golden palomino. Then there’s Phoenix, laboring to close the gap, his jockey Rafael hunkered on his back, whipping the horse’s haunches. The only trail by a length, but it might as well be a country mile.
When Grand Larceny wins by that measly length, a Bible verse comes to mind: I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.
Not to quibble with Scripture, but I think when a race doesn’t go to the swift, somebody cheated. You don’t have to be a Pinkerton to figure fog invites skullduggery.
Eddie is stunned, but Victoria is furious with him. “I told you to walk away! Did you listen?” She senses me looming and directs her fire my way: “Jamey—don’t butt in!”
I ignore her warning. “I think something fishy happened out there. I think Van Brunt is chiseling you outta your horse.”
Victoria squints at me. “How?”
“I don’t know. And even if I did, I’m not sure how we’d prove it.”
What I also didn’t know on that misty morning was how me and my big mouth were about to launch us on a snakebit cross-country quest to win back a champion racehorse lost to sinister jiggery-pokery. Had a soothsayer forewarned us almost everything that could go wrong would go wrong, we might never have left San Francisco in the first place.
But off we’d go, the very personification of the old saying about fools rushing in where angels fear to tread.
A little romance . . .
Without a word between them, Victoria led Jake up to her room on the fourth floor. She opened her door, gave him a toe-curling kiss, steered him inside, and bumped the door shut with her hip. Then, when he expected a second kiss, she bit his lip instead.
“Oww! What was that for?”
“For ruining my father,” she said in an icy voice.
“I pieced it together—and not that he didn’t deserve it.” Victoria waltzed Jake into a backward retreat around the room, much to her amusement. “So, what is your real name, ‘Dayton Dilmore’?”
“Like Ping told you,” he said, trying to avoid tripping over furniture. “It’s Jake Galloway.”
“Your partner in crime?”
“My brother Jamey.”
She continued her advance. “That was some inventive flimflam you two pulled on my father and brother.”
“We had some help.” Jake found himself backed into a corner. “I’m confused. Are you mad at me? Or not?”
She raised her hand. He flinched, expecting a slap across his face. Instead, she tilted his chin down and kissed him. “Poppa had it coming, from somebody, somewhere, sometime.”
“And somebody else might’ve killed him,” Jake pointed out in our defense.
“There’s that. Y’all made a fool of him over money, and that’s his own fault.”
“Like our friend Mississippi Mike says, it ain’t leadin’ a man into temptation if he’s already memorized the map.”
“And y’all did it to save Serenity Falls, not to line your own pockets . . . which makes you a little bit intriguing.”
Jake brightened. “And you like your fellas smart—?”
“Not too smart.”
“Then I’m your man.”
“I’ll bet you are.”
She pushed Jake back onto the bed, climbed up and straddled him. And that’s how they picked up where they’d left off months earlier—only, on a comfortable hotel bed instead of a saddle blanket in a grassy Texas glade, they wouldn’t end up with thistles in their hair. Victoria leaned in to kiss him.
But Jake raised his hand to stop her. “Hold on. If your poppa had it coming—”
“You’ve got me—here—now . . . and you want to talk about my father?”
“Well, when you put it that way—never mind.”
“Without your brazen railroad scheme,” she said between soft kisses, “I might never’ve left Texas. And then where would we be?”
“Not here. Not now.”
“Wouldn’t that be a shame?”
A little gunplay . . .
Sprottle’s pudgy hands shuffled and dealt the cards. I did my usual, quietly winning two out of three hands. With each fold, the outlaw leader’s face got a little redder. Then I caught him palming a spare ace he’d slipped out of his vest.
“Mmmm . . . I think there’s something stuck to your
hand,” I said to Robin with an earnest smile.
“Heh-heh. You weren’t supposed to see that, friend Jamey,"
Robin said. Must be losin’ me touch.” He didn’t sound angry, but
he put down his cards, slid his chair back and stood. Folks behind
me scattered as he pointed his gun at me.
I stayed seated, my empty hands above the table, out in the
open. With one thumb, I pointed over my shoulder. Robin glanced
up and saw Jake, Vic, and Eddie perched along the balcony and
stairs—with a revolver, rifle, and shotgun pointed down at the
Reivers gang. Positioned on the landing, Jake aimed his Colt square at Robin.
“Yer daft,” Robin said to me, “if y’ think anybody’s close enough to save ya.”
“You shoot me, my brother up there shoots you—and he’s a very good shot.”
Jake waved at him.
Robin assessed his position with a sniff. “How good?”
Jake gauged his geometry, waving a few people out of the way. When he nodded, I flipped the nine of diamonds in the air. Jake eagle-eyed the pinwheeling card and fired. The boom echoed—the smoke cleared—the wounded card fluttered to the floor.
Robin picked it up by a corner between the tips of his thumb and forefinger and showed it around. Instead of the expected hole burned in the middle, the only damage was a singed notch on one edge. He did not look impressed.
I flashed a testy glance up at Jake and got a sheepish shrug in return.
Robin held the card aloft. “Not to be dispertatious, but he barely winged it, mate. Not as good with that iron as y’ think.”
Without warning, Jake fired again—piercing the heart of the card a teensy inch from Robin’s fingertips and tearing it from his grip.
Robin yelped and yanked his hand back. “Y’ daft ratbag! You coulda killed me bloody trigger finger.” He picked up the card—now a mortally maimed eight of diamonds, with a hole dead center where the ninth diamond had been. “Hah! Well, bugger me sideways.”
“It’s easier when the target’s not moving,” Jake said.
“And you’re not moving,” I said to Robin. “Plus, you’re bigger than the card.”
From Galloway's Gamble . . .
The beginning . . .
February, 1852: Late on a cold Texas night, in a well-tended log cabin, Cara Landry sits still in a rocking chair by the glow of a lone lantern. Pale and pretty, she keeps her hands warm under a blanket across her lap. Her two boys, just shy of four and five years of age, sleep under quilts on a straw mattress in the corner. The steady rhythm of their breathing is the only sound in the room.
Then, outside, footsteps scuff through sand and gravel. Sketched
by moonlight, a big man’s shadow crosses the drafty window near the
front door. After fumbling at the latch, he stumbles in. Drunk. He
shoulders the door shut behind him.
The woman’s quiet voice sounds as chilly as the night air. “Reuben.
I’ll be taking the boys and leaving you.”
“You be what?”
“What you made me do at the saloon—that’s the end of this. I’m
your wife. Not a whore.”
In two strides, swarthy Reuben Landry reaches the bed. When his
strong laborer’s hands yank both boys out from under their quilts, they wake with a yelp. With one son
under each arm, he faces his wife. Drunk as he is, his words are clear. “You ain’t takin’ nobody. You ain’t goin’ nowhere. I swear, Cara.”
She stands. Her blanket slips to the plank floor, revealing the Colt Dragoon revolver she raises with both hands. Almost as long as her forearm, the black pistol weighs near four pounds. But she aims it steady, elbows braced against her ribs. Her thumb cocks the hammer.
Reuben pouts, not at all taking her seriously. “Now, that’s a hell of a thing. I gave you that gun, girl.”
“For protection, when you’d be gone. But you’re what we need protecting from.”
“Is it loaded?”
“Like you taught me.”
His smirk softens into a charming, snaggle-toothed smile. “Now, sha, set that gun down so we can talk.”
“Put the boys back in their bed.”
The big Colt doesn’t waver. So he lets down the smaller kid, who scuttles to the far side with wide eyes. But Reuben doesn’t put the older boy down. Instead, he raises his long knife under the chin of the son thrashing in his grip.
“Let him go,” Cara says. “And then get out. Don’t come back ’til you can see straight.”
Reuben lowers the knife, as if surrendering. He tosses his son onto the bed. A heartbeat later, he lunges blade-first at his wife. Cara squeezes the trigger. Time seems to slow. Stinging smoke and fire explode from the gun.
The shot hits Reuben in the chest. His eyelids flutter in surprise at the sudden flow of his own blood.
“Hnnh . . . ain’t that a hell of a thing.” He falls to his knees and pitches forward. Dead, two yards from Cara’s feet.
That dead man was my father. The woman who killed him was my mother. The boy who struggled for his life was my brother, Jake, older by thirteen months. And I was the tot who cowered. That night is my first vivid memory. I still recall it, right down to the whiskey on his breath, the thunder from her gun, his blood spreading in a ruddy pool on the floor.
But then I’ve always been favored with the mixed blessing of an excellent memory, for the good and the bad. And, with a new century turned not long ago, I reckoned if that old gunfighter and gambler Bat Masterson could end up a sportswriter in New York City, well, I should write a book myself, before the details blurred into tall tales.
My brother and me rambled through an odyssey that included honor and treachery, tears and laughter, cruelty and kindness. Our journey took us from fighting in the Civil War to escaping from Indians, from the open range to high-stakes poker on grand Mississippi riverboats. Though we rarely looked for trouble, trouble had a way of finding us.
We had no forewarning that we’d someday be forced into a titanic struggle against a formidable enemy, with the very existence of our hometown Serenity Falls hanging in the balance. We learned that Fate rarely nudges us in the right direction—and life, like cards, is a chancy proposition. If you want to win, you’ve got to be willing to lose.
As William Shakespeare wrote, “Yield not thy neck to fortune's yoke, but let thy dauntless mind still ride in triumph over all mischance.”
Everything you will read here I saw with my own eyes, or heard from trustworthy witnesses. It’s all pretty much as it happened.
Jamey and Jake fight (sort of) as Confederate soldiers in the Civil War . . .
Those Yankee troops had us outnumbered and pinned down. “Fire at them, God damn you!” our Captain Mercier shouted.
Hunkered in our hiding place, behind the toppled tree and dense brush, I turned to see my brother Jake reloading his Remington pistols. He had a look on his face I knew well, and didn’t like. He was about to try something, even if it was something dumb. “Jake, we’re doomed.”
“Probably. Maybe we should charge.”
“What? Why would you even think that?”
Jake frowned. “Jamey, I’m your big brother.”
“You look up to me.”
“You being humble and all.”
“I stay here hidin’, what kind of example would I be settin’ for
I shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“I’ll tell you. I’d be a coward.”
“And if you run out there?”
“Well, that’d be brave.” A dubious pause. “Wouldn’t it?”
Jake snorted. “Well, now you got me conflicted.”
“Better a live coward than a dead hero.”
“Cowards die many times before their deaths,” Jake said, quoting Shakespeare. “The valiant never taste of death but once.”
“I can live with that,” I said . . .
Jamey and Jake hit the road . . .
Brother Jake and me both knew: there was nothing keeping us in Serenity Falls. It was time to go and see if we really could make our way in the world as professional gamblers.
Although Mama wasn’t happy about our decision, she’d seen it
coming, and she didn’t object. She even helped us pack, and as we
waited with her and Cruz in front of the Shamrock for the stage to
pick us up on a chilly January morning, she said a little prayer for us:
“Dear Lord, please watch over my idiot sons. Give Jamey and Jake
courage. And strength. Help ’em be good and peaceful. Forgive the
rebellious sins of youth.” She paused. “Oh, and please help ’em be
smarter than they sometimes tend to be. Amen.”
“Amen,” we mumbled.
“When’ll you be back?” Mama asked.
We both shrugged.
Mama sighed and cast a glance heavenward: “Dear Lord, you have your work cut out for you . . .”
Sometimes you win . . .
Gideon Duvall smiled and laid out his cards. Four queens.
Our host Emile Doucette whistled. “Tough to beat a quartet of ladies.”
“Wanna bet?” my brother Jake said.
I modestly set down my hand: the three, four, five, six . . . and seven of diamonds. Gideon’s queens may have been prettier, but my workmanlike straight flush prevailed.
As I raked in my winnings, Gideon stood, flashed a crocodilian smile and
shook my hand with a bone-crushing grip. “Next time? Different outcome,
son.” He headed for the door.
“Comes to poker,” Doucette said, “Gideon Duvall’s the Big ’Gator. You
bested him your first time.”
Jake came over, holding a handwritten note. “What’s that?” I said.
“Invitation,” Jake said.
“Gideon Duvall, for a rematch. On the Queen of New Orleans. Sailing from
Memphis to St. Louis.”
Doucette whistled again. “That’s a rich game. A word of advice? Don’t press
“Luck’s not why I won,” I said, not meaning to brag.
“That confidence could serve you well,” Doucette said, “or cost you every penny. . . ”
Sometimes you lose . . .
Gideon Duvall’s royal flush beat my straight. I stared, unblinking. How could I have been wrong?
As Gideon accepted accolades, he flashed a pearly smile. “Money talks, mes amis. Mostly, it says . . . au revoir.”
Brother Jake steered me outside into the chilly darkness, and I paced the riverboat’s promenade, replaying the final hand in my brain, over and over. “Fifty. Thousand. Dollars.”
“Lotta money,” Jake said.
“Gone. Like black magic. Duvall could not have had those cards.”
“But he did.”
I stopped. “H-h-how did I not see it?”
“You got greedy. He played you like a fiddle. And you rosined up the bow.”
“I thought for sure you knew.”
“And you didn’t tell me?!”
“Jamey, you’re a great poker player. But you need to pay attention if you’re
gonna beat cardsharps like Duvall.”
“Awww . . .” The boat’s steam whistle moaned in sympathy. “You could’ve
“Look,” Jake said, “I play reckless ’cuz you almost always win. If you’re gonna start being reckless, I gotta rethink this whole system . . . ”
And sometimes you risk it all . . .
“Look,” my brother Jake said, “we got less than three weeks ’til this whole town’s evicted.”
Gideon Duvall’s eyes twinkled. “Then we better get started.”
“Why, selling Mr. Krieg a railroad,” Gideon said.
Jake cocked his head like a confused pup. “But we don’t own a railroad.”
“When we’re done,” I said, “neither will he. But we could end up with
enough of his money to save this town.”
“Or we could end up in jail,” Jake said.
“Your way, we could end up dead,” I said.
Juliet’s eyes narrowed. “Why would somebody like Krieg fall for a swindle?”
“Greed bewitches,” Mississippi Mike Morgan said, tapping a finger to the side of his head. “Turns smart men stupid. Lures ’em to their doom. Always has, always will . . . ”
Find out what happens in GALLOWAY'S GAMBLE and GALLOWAY'S GAMBLE 2: LUCIFER & THE GREAT BALTIMORE BRAWL, now available in paperback and eBook editions.