Revenge in a Cold River (10 page)

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The butler came in after a discreet knock on the door and invited Monk to follow him to Clive's study.

Clive was standing in front of a large bookcase filled with more books, many leather-bound, and placed according to subject rather than size. That indicated immediately to Monk that they were there for use, not ornament. Clive loved them, and did not care what others thought. Monk warmed to the man straightaway. Pretense was a cold, unlikable thing; there was a certain honesty in this. Here the ornaments were a nugget of gold, and more small carvings of animals in turquoise, malachite, and rock crystal.

“Sorry to keep you waiting, Commander Monk,” Clive said, stepping forward and offering his hand.

Monk took it briefly. It was a light, strong shake.

“I appreciate you seeing me without notice,” he replied. “The last couple of days have been a bit…unfortunate.”

Clive smiled widely. “A bit,” he agreed, inviting Monk to sit down. “I hope you took no harm from your dip in the river. It must have been appallingly cold.”

“To the bone,” Monk said with feeling. “But I don't think I've come to any harm. Unlike poor Pettifer.”

“Pettifer?” Clive's eyes widened for a moment. “The name of the man who drowned? Very sad. Many people panic in water…or with fire. It is the most dangerous aspect of many disasters. But natural, I suppose. How ironic, to engineer a brilliant escape from prison, only to drown more or less by your own hand.”

“That's what I thought,” Monk admitted wryly. “But contrary to how we read the appearances, Pettifer was the customs man.”

Clive groaned. “How damned awful. I'm so sorry. So the man who swam all the way across to the schooner was the escapee?”

“Yes. His name was Silas Owen. He was an explosives expert that Customs had caught in a serious plot. I don't know the details.”

Clive looked surprised. “Owen? What was he doing here? I haven't used him for…oh…a year or more. It was just one salvage job, down on the Estuary. Explosives were the only way we could burst open the hold of a sunken ship. Needed an expert for it. Very dangerous thing to do, blow up half a ship underwater. He was good…very good indeed. But how can I help you?” He indicated the decanter of sherry on the bookshelf and a row of cut-crystal glasses. “I have brandy, if you prefer?”

“No, thank you.”

“Come on, man! It's a filthy evening out and you've no doubt had a long day. I know I have.”

Monk convinced himself refusal would be ungracious, and accepted.

Clive poured two glasses of sherry and passed one over.

Monk sipped it. It was the smoothest he could ever recall. Taste was an odd thing. It brought back memories few other things could evoke. Combined with the rich aroma of the heavy wine, it was as if he were momentarily back in time, but he had no idea where.

“You might remember something about Owen that would help,” he said in reply to Clive's original question. “For example, do you know who owns the schooner that was moored opposite? How long was it there? Is it possible it was there by arrangement? You've already told me Owen was expert in his field. Did he usually work aboveboard, or was he always available for other things? Did he ever mention connections he might have? May I have your permission to speak to any of your men who worked with him?”

Clive smiled, amusement lighting his face and softening the lines of it.

“Where do you wish me to start? I doubt it was anything but chance as far as the schooner was concerned. It's called the
Summer Wind,
and it belongs to a bit of an adventurer named Fin Gillander. I've known of him for some years. I doubt he arranged to pick up an escaped prisoner, unless he believed him innocent. And knowing what I do of Owen, and of English law, that is highly unlikely.”

“For money?” Monk questioned.

“Doubt it. Did Owen have money? I thought he'd just escaped from the wagon taking him from the court to prison. That's what the papers said, for whatever that's worth?” His expression was slightly quizzical.

“If Gillander helped Owen for money, then someone other than Owen paid him,” Monk agreed. “It's possible, but not likely. Looks as if it's just the devil's own luck. His escape, Pettifer's drowning, Gillander being at exactly the right place at the right time…”

Clive bit his lip. “You don't believe in so much coincidence and neither do I. I don't know what the connection is, but there must be one.”

“McNab at Customs lost another prisoner he was questioning. A convicted man taken out of prison to the customs offices, to identify something, I believe. His name was Blount, and that was just over a week ago,” Monk told him.

Clive looked startled. “Did he get away, too?”

“Yes…and no,” Monk said with dark amusement. “McNab didn't catch up with him until someone pulled him out of the water, and called McNab. Blount had been drowned, and then shot.” He wanted to see the expression on Clive's face.

Clive blinked. “Drowned and then shot? Is that not…excessive? And now Owen has escaped.” The gentleness of his voice robbed it of malice.

“While some might agree with you, I don't believe in this much coincidence, either. Blount was a master forger, Owen an explosives expert. Both were in the custody of Customs, at least at the time of their original escape. Although in neither case were customs officers apparently responsible for their deaths. We have no idea who drowned Blount, or who shot him, either. As far as the business with Owen is concerned, it's Pettifer who's dead, and Owen's…God knows where. But the question arises, was Owen meant to be killed? You've told me about Owen, thank you. What do you know about the schooner, or Gillander? How long has he moored there almost opposite you?”

Clive smiled. “I've known Gillander on and off for years, something like twenty.” He took another sip from his drink and leaned back in his chair. “He's in his thirties, or perhaps forty. Something of an adventurer. Never told anybody exactly where he came from, just turned up in San Francisco, around about the time of the gold rush in '49. He was little more than a deckhand then, picking up an odd job wherever he could find it. Cheeky bastard. All the nerve in the world. Hard player, hard drinker, and easy with women. Mind you, he was extraordinarily handsome, and he knew it, and used it. But he was a good seaman, especially in the smaller boats, two or three masts. Never bothered with the clippers, but then he didn't much like taking orders.” His eyes narrowed a little. “Don't you know all this already?”

Monk felt a chill inside him. There was no answer he could afford to make.

“He worked up and down the coast.” He made the observation as if indeed he did know.

“Or across the oceans,” Clive answered. “Went across the Pacific to the China Seas, at least once that I heard of. Round the Horn to Britain several times, and that's a damn long voyage. You think the Bay of Biscay's rough, try rounding Cape Horn.” He smiled. It was a warm, charming expression, and seemed utterly natural.

“I was just thinking of it,” Monk said quickly, bringing himself back to the present and the warm room. “Trying to,” he amended. His sense of it had been violent, consuming. It made him wonder if he had ever been in a storm at sea, off the coast of Northumberland, in that part of his life that had disappeared. Perhaps such seas were the same anywhere on earth.

He went back to Gillander and the conversation with Clive.

“So he's a man who might walk on either side of the law?”

Clive laughed abruptly, but with genuine humor. “San Francisco in the gold rush didn't have much law, Mr. Monk. A lot of the tall stories you hear are probably just that, but they have roots in truth. At the time gold was discovered, in 1848, California was part of the Mexican territory of Alta California, although it had been occupied by the United States. The area was annexed by us at the beginning of February '48, a matter of days after they found gold. It became a state as part of the Compromise of 1850. For a while we were literally lawless. The town of San Francisco grew from about two hundred people in '46 to thirty-six thousand in '52. Nobody could control that.”

Monk's imagination stirred with efforts to visualize the settlement smaller than an English village, suddenly overwhelmed with people of all sorts: adventurers, traders, prospectors, and builders, fortune seekers, drifters, all the human flotsam of any ocean port. There would be both the making and losing of fortunes. Gold could be picked up off the shallow riverbanks, in panning the sand and shale. There would be gunfights, drunken brawls, gambling, theft, itinerant preachers, suppliers of every kind of food and equipment, quack doctors and real ones. And banks would spring up to deal with all the new money, assay officials to weigh gold, and tell the fool's gold apart.

He could almost see it in his mind's eye, the bright light, the huge bays and inlets with the blue water in all directions. Of course it would be lawless for a while. And that was what Gillander had been as a very young man. Monk might have done the same himself, had he been given the opportunity. Californian gold rush, instead of…what? As far as he knew, fishing off the coast of Northumberland. A beautiful coast, but a different light, different tides and currents, and certainly not a land of violence, adventure, and gold.

“What is Gillander doing here?” Monk asked.

Clive shrugged. “No idea. Probably scraping a living as he can. If that schooner is his, then he'll have a good business with it. I started out with one ship. But I had a fortune in gold behind me by then.”

“You're American?”

“My parents were French and British, but yes, I'm American.” Clive said it with some pride, which Monk found pleasing. A man should be proud of his heritage—not arrogant, as if it made him superior, but happy to own it and live up to the best in its promise.

Monk rose to his feet. “Thank you. I'll find out what else I can. In some ways, the river is a small place. I'll see what other inquiries can turn up. I'll see Gillander himself, but if he took Owen on purpose rather than simply rescuing a man from the water, I doubt he'll tell me.”

“Good luck,” Clive said wryly, standing also and giving Monk his hand again. “Let me know if I can be of any further help.”

—

A
NOTHER TWO DAYS OF
searching and questioning turned up various scraps of information about Gillander, but none of it added much to what Aaron Clive had said.

No trace whatever was found of Owen, nor any connection with Blount, except what the customs men had said regarding their questioning of both men. McNab raised that again when he came to the Wapping Police Station and found Monk working late, about half-past seven in the evening and long after dark. There were still papers on his desk, reports from his men, and various complaints and affidavits regarding cases. He used an empty mug as a paperweight.

McNab walked in casually, nodding to the constable at the door and walking past Hooper with no more than a glance. It was Laker who stopped him outside Monk's office.

“Got some news for us, Mr. McNab?” he said boldly.

Monk put down the papers he was reading and waited.

“No, I haven't,” McNab answered with a touch of irritation in his voice. “You were the ones who lost Owen. If you hadn't interfered we'd have him safely in prison now. I wondered who tipped you off that he was going that way? We should have a bit closer look at them.” He looked intently at Laker. “I don't suppose you'd know that, would you? Been poking around a bit, I hear.”

“We never had him,
sir
.” Laker made the emphasis very slightly harder than necessary. “If your man hadn't attacked him, and so both ended up in the water, I daresay he wouldn't have drowned, letting Owen get away. I can't imagine that's what he meant to do. Just a bad accident. Or perhaps he meant to chuck Owen in, but didn't know the man could swim like a fish.”

Monk rose to his feet, sending a pile of papers onto the floor. He went to the door and opened it sharply.

McNab was standing, pale-faced, staring at Laker, who appeared to be enjoying himself. But that was Laker, gracefully insolent. One day he wouldn't get away with it.

“Haven't got much control of your men, have you?” McNab said angrily, walking round Monk and going into his office. He sat down without being invited.

Monk went in behind him and closed the door. He ignored the question, partly because McNab was right. Monk had earned both fear and respect, but not yet obedience, at least not from Laker. But they were closer since Orme's death. Tragedy had created a bond that duty could not. There was an irony to the situation now, since Monk was still certain it was McNab who had betrayed them to the gunrunners, and possibly to the pirates that terrible day.

“Do you know anything?” Monk asked, remaining standing himself.

McNab tilted his chair a little and folded his hands across his stomach. He looked up at Monk. “A little. Pettifer was my right-hand man, you know. Hardworking. Loyal. The other men had a high respect for him. Hard to lose him, especially that way.” His face was unreadable. His words suggested grief, yet there was a hard light in his eye, as when a hunting animal scents its prey. “But I expect you understand that, don't you? Tell you for nothing, that young man with the fair hair's going to give you trouble. You'll never keep him in control the way your man Orme would have. He'll always be setting himself up against you, trying you, seeing who wins, looking for weakness. If he scents it, he'll be on to it, like a weasel.” Now he was smiling and there was a bright, cold pleasure in it.

There was an element of truth in his words, enough to hurt. The word McNab had left out was
love
. In their own silent way, the men had loved Orme, even seen in him something of a father. They would never see Monk like that.

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