Winter's Tale

Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin Read Free Book Online

Book: Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin Read Free Book Online
Authors: Mark Helprin
lookout atop the Manhattan pier of the Brooklyn Bridge would keep an eye on Sandy Hook. The Short Tails would cut their work rate by two-thirds, for the specific purpose of keeping a force of fifty men always at the ready, poised to break out into the harbor fully armed in their swift fleet of winabouts—the fastest small sailing craft in the city, of which they had ten. When the Sandy Hook lookout saw the ship, he would launch a flare. Upon seeing the flare, the man on the bridge tower would, via a special line, telephone the alert Short Tails waiting in their boats under the docks at Korlaer’s Hook. The Short Tails would immediately sally forth into the harbor. There, they would set up two buoys, and sail to and fro between them on a line perpendicular to the channel through which the carrier made its way to the fortified pier. The Short Tails would be dressed, one and all, as ladies, and, one and all, they would make sure that the winabouts in the fake regatta would be rammed and sunk by the very ship they planned to rob. It would take some precise boat handling, and the patience to sit in a dress under the docks for a month or two, but it would be worth it, for no captain would abandon fifty yachtswomen to drown in New York Harbor, and they would undoubtedly be taken up on deck, where they would remove from under their dresses the bristling arsenal for which they were famous, and proceed to take over the ship.
    “So what,” someone said. “The escorts would capture us soon after that. The Navy.”
    “No escort,” answered Pearly, “is as fast or as well armed as a gold carrier.”
    “But it doesn’t matter even so, Pearly. You can’t get the gold out of those ships unless you have special machinery, and it all has to be done in a large dry dock.”
    “We’ll build our own dry dock.”
    “That’s preposterous,” yelled a woola boy. “How are we going to build a dry dock? Even if we could, everyone in the world would notice. And when we took the ship there, they would just follow and catch us.”
    “That shows what a woola boy is good for,” said Pearly. “Stick to Woola Woola until I promote you, my fancy young rabbit. We won’t build the dry dock until we’ve taken the ship. We’ll have all the time we want to do that, and all the time necessary to extract the gold by drilling a hole in the vault (one hole—we should be able to do that!) and building a big fire under the ship to melt the gold so it can run like lava right into our waiting pigs.
    “The reason we’ll have all the time in the world, and I mean time in profusion, is that when we take over the ship we’ll head her west to the Bayonne Marsh and ram her through the barrier of white clouds.”
    An even colder chill spread throughout the chamber. “When you go beyond those clouds,” said a sheepish pickpocket, “that’s it. You don’t come back. That’s dying, Pearly.”
    “How do we know?” asked Pearly. “I’ve never known anyone to tell what’s on the other side. Maybe they come back and keep their traps shut. Maybe it’s great over there—lots of naked women, fruit on the trees, hula dancers with bare breasts, food for the taking, silk, motorcars, racetracks where you always win... and we might be able to make our way back. If and when we did, we’d be the richest men on earth. It sure beats holding up tobacco stores for cigar bands, doesn’t it? Think of E. E. Henry. Think of Rascal T. Otis. They died for peanuts. I myself prefer to risk my all for something on a larger scale.”
    This latter appeal swung the company of thieves. They were willing to charge the cloud barrier. But a man with vast experience of the harbor (his specialty was looting pleasure yachts) pointed out that the reedy channels running mazelike to the white wall were not deep enough for an oceangoing vessel. Furthermore, he said, he had seen the cloud wall from less than a mile away while standing upon a harbor bar that had appeared suddenly after

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