Authors: Michael Robertson
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Adult
The author and publisher have provided this e-book to you for your personal use only. You may not make this e-book publicly available in any way.
Copyright infringement is against the law. If you believe the copy of this e-book you are reading infringes on the author’s copyright, please notify the publisher at:
For William R. McKinley, USAAF (Ret.)
My thanks to my editor, Marcia Markland, and associate editor Kat Brzozowski; production editor Elizabeth Curione; designer Phil Mazzone; publicist Justin Velella; jacket designers David Baldeosingh Rotstein and James Iacobelli; and copy editor Barbara Wild, at Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press.
My thanks also to my agent, Kirby Kim, at William Morris Endeavor, and Laura Bonner, for international rights.
LONDON, ST. KATHERINE’S DOCK, DECEMBER 1893
In the damp, stinking cargo hold of the
a shirtless and bleeding man stood shackled to the rough wood of the center post.
A larger, barrel-chested man stood just behind and to the side, holding a heavy, brine-encrusted rope cargo net, gripping it with both hands as though it were a sledgehammer, eyes gleaming, eager to swing it again, as he had done half a dozen times already, and with an intent to improve his technique and get his full weight into it on the next try.
A smaller man sat at a narrow rectangular table near the door, perusing a penny publication he had stolen just a few moments earlier on the street, and a fourth man—the one the others knew as Redgil, taller than any of the other three men in the cargo hold and clearly in charge at this moment—stood directly in front of the shackled man and wondered just how much more it would take to break him.
Would he die before he revealed what they wanted to know? In Redgil’s experience, and he had some in this area, the man was close to it now. That wouldn’t be good. It wouldn’t do to kill him right out and be done with it. Not just yet.
If the shackled man was just who he claimed to be—a great crime organizer extraordinaire, a deviser of illicit schemes, a money launderer with international resources at his disposal—then everything was fine. Redgil thought himself a great crime organizer extraordinaire in his own right, and he did not fancy competition. He could simply kill the shackled man and keep his share of their collaborative criminal enterprise, and not worry about it any further.
But Redgil had begun to suspect that there might be something else going on with the shackled man. It was just a rumor, but he needed to be sure. There was much at stake.
Redgil had in his possession a huge sum—nearly fifty thousand pounds—in counterfeit bills. The bills were too large and too many to just pass them off in small shops and street transactions—they required laundering on a larger scale, and Redgil had contacted this man, an American who had surfaced in London just recently, to find a way to get it done.
The current plan was straightforward: The shackled American claimed to have an arrangement for purchasing a cargo of whiskey, which was illegally imported from Ireland and sitting at St. Katherine’s Dock, waiting for departure to the United States. The owner of the cargo, the American said, was anxious to do a deal and avoid import/export fees. He was not likely to look at things too closely. It was a fine scenario for turning Redgil’s fake pounds into legitimate currency.
So the exchange would be tomorrow night. Redgil was to bring the money to the dock where the
was berthed. He would deliver to the American the fifty thousand in counterfeit bills, in exchange for the cargo and a signed bill of lading. Redgil would then sail with the cargo to America, sell it for a handsome profit over the wholesale price he had paid with his counterfeit bills, and then he would return to London to expand his criminal operations in all the ways his imagination could conceive.
But late last night Redgil had been drinking at the bar in the Whistler pub with an acquaintance released just that day from Newgate Prison. The acquaintance complained that he had gotten nicked when the police unaccountably showed up at exactly the wrong time, late at night, when he was about to burglarize an antiquities shop on Bond Street.
The Bond Street burglary was an operation that had been planned by the shackled American. And this was not the first of these plans-gone-unaccountably-wrong Redgil had heard of.
It was true that the American had had a few successes since arriving in town a few months ago—arranging some successful burglaries here and there, with no one at home just as he said no one would be, and with loot that was pretty much as expected. Some lucrative and uneventful transactions in fencing stolen goods.
But recently Redgil had begun to hear of major operations where things would get cocked up. It was nothing conclusive, but it was certainly enough for him to do something that he enjoyed doing anyway—string someone up to a post and torture him until he expired.
So Redgil ordered the bulky man to swing the heavy rope again.
The American shackled to the wooden post raised his head up halfway, looked back at the London Limehouse scum that had bested him, and couldn’t believe he had allowed it to happen.
Then he looked across at the table near the door.
On the table were a kerosene lamp, a bottle of whiskey sampled from the cargo (the second of the evening, and already mostly consumed), and two paper items. One of these paper items was a bill of lading, and the other was the December 1893 issue of
The Strand Magazine.
The bill of lading had been in the American’s coat pocket when he was ambushed by the other three men in the dark alley behind the Whistler pub.
The Strand Magazine
was a monthly periodical that featured mainly detective stories, and this brand-new issue of it had been brought into the pub by the skinny man, who had lifted it earlier from a street vendor, just shortly before all four of these men were scheduled to rendezvous in the pub.
The American stared across at those two paper items. One of them was the cause of his current troubles, and the other, he had begun to hope, might just possibly be his salvation.
was running a serial of stories about a particular detective. It had been all the rage in London for more than a year. The American had recently begun reading them himself—and not idly, but with a purpose. He had read all the ones that preceded this current issue, and he had even managed a glance at the first few pages of this one, earlier in the pub. He hoped this one was like the others. If it was, perhaps he still had a small chance of emerging from the cargo hold alive.
“Tell us! Who are you? What’s your real name? Who are you working for?”
Redgil backhand-slapped the American across the face.
The American did not regard the slap as especially painful. The lashes on his bare back from the heavy cargo net were a different matter. That pain did not diminish; the flesh on his back got more swollen and the nerves more exposed with each fresh flailing of the net. The pain from those and the hyperventilated breathing they induced were beginning to make him dizzy.
The problem with the slaps was that they jarred his head, made his brain rattle inside his skull, and he needed to be able to think. Like any other Pinkerton undercover man, he knew that if you lose your wits even for an instant, you’re done.
He knew he was probably done anyway; he’d been found out. He’d been overconfident. He knew it; he knew now that he should never have taken this risk.
He’d gotten so good at manipulating gangsters in New York, he’d actually allowed himself to believe that going on loan to Scotland Yard would just be a lark. After all, they didn’t even have any “real” gangs here, at least not yet. He had come across on assignment to help them keep it that way.
Within days of his first briefing at the Yard, the American had put the word out to the London underworld that he had connections none of the locals could match. Did you need to launder your hundred thousand pounds of counterfeit bills in a hurry? Did you need better rates for fencing your jewelry heist? Did you need to coordinate operations for any of the above? Then the American was your man. Especially because he was not merely an American. He was a New Yorker. The reputation of the budding gangs in New York was known worldwide. Why settle for a fledgling English gangster when you could work with the real thing?
He had started slowly, helping a few nonviolent, small-time felons to succeed in their enterprises—getting a pickpocket out of jail here, setting up a burglary there (after making sure that there would be no one at home to get hurt and that the loot would be minimal).
And then, after a string of those successes, with his reputation established, he had begun to set up the bigger fish, the real targets of the operation.
This had to be done carefully. The whole point was to nick the top-level felons or, at minimum, keep them off balance. But both the American and his colleague at Scotland Yard Special Branch knew that they could push such an operation just so far.
And that was even before the American knew he had a family to think about.
His young wife had come across the pond with him. He wished to God now that he had persuaded her to remain in New York. He had promised her this would be his last field operation, the crown of his career. There would be no more after this, he had said, he would return home and take a desk job, and then they would start a family. He had wanted her to stay safely behind until then.
But she wouldn’t hear of it. She had come with him.
And then she had become pregnant.
And all at once, everything had become crystal clear for the American agent.
He’d been taking too many risks. He would stop. He had been overconfident. He would not be so in the future.
But that epiphany had come too late. He was stuck now in this cargo hold with three mean men, each of them stupid in the way mean-spirited bottom-feeding criminals are stupid, but one of them—the one the others called Redgil—was just slightly smarter than the others, smarter in the way that people who make it their business to cheat and steal and hurt get smart in doing so. Just the sort of lout that the American had come across the pond to nab.
But instead of the American and the inspector grilling the felon at Scotland Yard, it was Redgil doing the questioning in this hellhole.
“Tell us! How did they know?”
Another backhand slap. Just an insult, nothing more.
The American agent wished that someone would untie his hands just for an instant, so that he could return a proper response—but he knew it wouldn’t happen. Not unless he could get them off their game.
He looked across again at
The Strand Magazine
on the table. He tried to remember everything he had read in it.