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      Mississippi Roll

      Edited by George R. R. Martin



      An imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd

      1 London Bridge Street

      London SE1 9GF


      First published by HarperCollinsPublishers 2017

      Copyright © George R.R. Martin and the Wild Cards Trust 2017

      Cover design by Mike Topping © HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 2018

      Cover images © Shutterstock.com

      George R.R. Martin and the Wild Cards Trust 2017 assert the moral right to be identified as the authors of this work.

      A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library.

      This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.

      All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins.

      Source ISBN: 9780008283551

      Ebook Edition © August 2018 ISBN: 9780008286521

      Version: 2018-07-03


      For Edward Bryant brother-in-arms father to gators our ace on roller skates

      Copyright Acknowledgments

      ‘In the Shadow of Tall Stacks’ copyright © 2017 by Stephen Leigh.

      ‘Wingless Angel’ copyright © 2017 by John Jos. Miller.

      ‘A Big Break in the Small Time’ copyright © 2017 by Carrie Vaughn.

      ‘Death on the Water’ copyright © 2017 by Cherie Priest.

      ‘Find the Lady’ copyright © 2017 by Kevin Andrew Murphy.

      ‘Under the Arch’ copyright © 2017 by David D. Levine.

      Mississippi Roll Rules

♣ ♦ ♠ ♥

      Mississippi Roll is a seven-card stud poker game.

      The rules are as follows:

      1. Seven cards are dealt to each player, facedown.

      2. Each player passes one card to the player on his left.

      3. Each player passes two cards to the player on his left.

      4. Each player passes three cards to the player on his left.

      5. Each player discards two cards from his hand, arranges the five remaining cards in the order he wishes to reveal them, and places his hand facedown in a pack before him on the table.

      6. The players roll their top card. A round of betting follows, starting with the player with the high card showing.

      7. The remaining cards are revealed one by one, with each roll followed by a round of betting.

      8. The high hand and low hand split the pot.

      In the Shadow of Tall Stacks

      by Stephen Leigh

      Part 1

February 27, 1951

      Mardi Gras was long past – a full three weeks ago, which unfortunately meant that the bulk of the tourists had vanished back to wherever they’d come from, which in turn meant that it had been a few weeks since the steamboat Natchez had last seen anything resembling a full house for its daily local cruises. At nine in the morning, it was sixty-seven degrees and ninety-seven percent humidity; not raining, though a thick, wet fog still cloaked the Mississippi and the wharf where the Natchez was docked near Jackson Square and the French Quarter. There was barely any breeze, and the fog seemed to squat on New Orleans like some gigantic and foul specter, muffling what little noise the not-quite-awake city mustered.

      Wilbur Leathers, captain and owner of the Natchez, wasn’t entirely awake himself, admittedly. The steamboat’s engineer, Patrick O’Flaherty, had roused him an hour ago; he’d wanted to fire up the boilers and check questionable pressure readings in several of the lines before they left the dock to head upriver. The engineer’s knock had also awakened Eleanor, Wilbur’s wife. Wilbur had told O’Flaherty to go ahead, then dressed, kissed the sleepy Eleanor, and gone down intending to supervise the work. He’d also – at Eleanor’s request – started a pot of coffee in the tiny crew mess on the main deck. He held two steaming mugs in his hands as he emerged onto the foredeck. Wilbur heard the boilers to the rear of the main deck already producing a good head of steam and hissing through the ’scape pipes up on the hurricane deck. He sniffed the curling steam from the coffee mugs: his own simply black, Eleanor’s au lait and flavored with chicory.

      Eleanor had told him only two days ago that she was certain she was pregnant, having missed her second time of the month a few weeks ago, and now experiencing nausea in the mornings. He’d hugged her tight, both of them ecstatic about the news. He was going to be a father. They were going to start their family. He already loved Eleanor more than ever, four years into their marriage, and he was certain that his son or daughter would only increase the bliss.

      The only storm clouds on the horizon of their future were financial ones, though those were tall and plentiful.

      Wilbur glanced eastward to where a dim glow heralded the sun that would eventually dissipate the fog. Wilbur judged that it would be an hour or more before the fog cleared enough for easy navigation: a shame. For several reasons, he wanted to be out on the river and heading north to Baton Rouge as soon as possible. Only four of the staterooms were currently booked, but it wasn’t likely that any more were going to fill on a Tuesday morning three weeks after Mardi Gras. They wouldn’t be entirely deadheading; there were crates of good china stacked on the deck due in Memphis by Tuesday next, as well as boxes of felt hats, shoes, and boots destined for the St Louis markets, but those were barely enough to pay the bills.

      Wilbur heaved a sigh, shaking his head.

      ‘Is that my coffee, darling?’ He heard Eleanor’s voice from above, and looked up to see her leaning over the railing of the hurricane deck, smiling at him and already dressed for the day. He raised one of the mugs toward her.

      ‘Right here, love.’

      ‘Then bring it up.’ She scowled theatrically at him, with a grin lurking on her lips. ‘Unless you want to deal with a very grumpy wife all morning.’

      He laughed. ‘Coming right up. But I still have to check on O’Flaherty.’ Wilbur turned toward the stairs, then stopped. A figure was stalking through the fog and up the gangway of the boat. ‘Oh no,’ Wilbur muttered. ‘Just what I need this morning …’ Then, loudly enough that the man stepping onto the Natchez’s main deck could hear him: ‘Mr Carpenter, what brings you out so early in the morning?’

      Marcus Carpenter was a burly, solid, and florid man in a suit that already looked rumpled and slept-in despite the early-morning hour – or maybe the man had been up all night. He looked sour and angry to Wilbur, but then Wilbur had rarely seen the man show any other emotions. ‘You know

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