Authors: Anne Perry
“Oh, yes?” Hooper said sarcastically. “And McNab didn't know of that?”
“I imagine that's what he'll say,” Monk replied. “Got away yesterday, they said.”
Hooper turned toward him, but his expression was near invisible with his back to the gas lamp. “I wouldn't believe McNab if he told me what day it was today, never mind yesterday.”
“I'll go to the prison in the morning, see what I can learn about this Blount,” Monk said.
“Do you want me to talk to the customs men that allowed him to escape?” Hooper offered.
Monk considered for a very brief moment. “No. I'll do that. Easier once I know something about the man. I wonder who shot himâ¦.”
Hooper grunted, and made no reply.
Over a hot cup of tea, laced with a spoonful of whisky, Monk wrote up his notes on the day's work, not only the account of the corpse found by McNab's men, but some small thefts and one case of smuggling. It was the part of the job he liked least, but he had learned that the longer he left it, the harder it was to recall details that might matter later on. Sloppy notes and illegible handwriting had ruined more than one case.
It was two hours later when he said good night to the man on duty and went across the dark, windy dock and down the steps to get the ferry home to Hester, who would cheerfully exchange her news with him. The sweetest part of the day was yet to come.
EFORMATORY, ON THE
outskirts of the city, was almost due north of Albert Dock. The prison was close to the railway line and it took Monk less than an hour to get there. The governor of the prison, Elias Stockwell, was in a foul mood over the escape, but he had already heard that Blount's body had been found and identified, which had alleviated his anger to some small degree.
“Glad the blighter's dead,” he said frankly when Monk faced him in his small, very tidy office. “He was here only a matter of weeks. Damn good forger, but a nasty piece of work. Too clever by half.”
Monk forced himself to relax in the chair offered him, implying that he intended to remain there for as long as it took to get the answers he wanted.
“At forging, or in general?” he asked. The possibilities as to who had shot Blount were many. It could have been personal, very possibly revenge, or it might have been a falling-out over a planned crime, or the spoils of one already committed. It might have to do with Customs, the giving of information, or any other quarrel past or present.
Stockwell sighed. “Both. He was one of the best forgers I've seen, and not just with documents. He could make a five-pound note that would pass most people's close look.”
“Well, most people aren't that familiar with what a genuine five-pound note looks like,” Monk replied. It was more than a month's wages for the average man.
“Good point,” Stockwell granted. “But he was good with bills of lading, customs forms, and cargo manifests, too, which was why Customs were looking at him so hard.”
“Accomplices?” Monk hoped that would lead to someone who was keen to keep him silent.
“Certainly,” Stockwell agreed. “But they were never caught. Knew how to keep his mouth shut.” He raised his eyebrows slightly. “Are you thinking one of them killed him, to make sure it stayed shut permanently? Sounds likely to me.”
“What was he convicted for?” Monk pressed.
Stockwell recounted Blount's crime of fraud with false details of shipments, and therefore false customs duties to be paid.
Monk listened with interest.
“So the ship's captain was almost certainly involved?” he concluded.
“No doubt,” Stockwell agreed. “But he was long gone by the time they caught up with Blount. And he was foreign of some sort, Spanish or Corsican, or something like that.”
“And the importer?” Monk asked.
“Disclaimed all knowledge of alteration of the papers,” Stockwell replied. “Made it seem that Blount himself was making the profit on the difference. Lying bastard. But they couldn't get him on it. He'd covered himself very tidily.”
“But Blount knew that he'd been part of the fraud, and could have given him up?”
“Had to have known, but he stayed silent. I daresay there'd have been a nice reward for his silence in the future. He only had five years to go.”
“When was he convicted?”
“Name of the importer?”
“Haskell and Sons. It was Haskell they were trying to get Blount to inform on,” Stockwell said. “Been after him for years.”
“Yes.” Stockwell looked interested. “But they said they didn't get anything out of Blount.”
“While I'm here, tell me all you can about Blount. Do you know his friends, enemies, anyone who might prefer him dead? Or be afraid of him alive?” Monk asked.
“He was clever,” Stockwell repeated, clearly giving the matter deeper thought. “Word around the prison is that he did quite a few favors for people. Not that he didn't collect on them, mind you. But if someone wanted a letter written, a permission forged, a document made up and passed out through a lawyer, or a warderâfor a considerationâ¦” His expression was bitter. “All Blount needed was the paper, and he could do a good enough job to fool most people. He built up quite a network that way: people who owed him favors, or who might need him again one day. Sly, he was. Never did much without weighing up what he could get out of it.”
Monk thought of the heavy face and the soft hands, and found it unpleasantly easy to believe. “Mostly to do with smuggling?” he asked.
“That I heard about, yes. But there could have been all sorts of other things as wellâbills of sale, affidavits, anything.”
“Who took him to the place where he met with the customs people where he got away? Why didn't they come to question him here? Less risk of his escaping.”
“We didn't think there was a risk!” Stockwell snapped back. “He was manacled all the way and had two guards with him.”
“But why travel at all? Why didn't the customs men come here? No risk at all, then.”
“Because they had papers and other things in a big trunk that they couldn't carry,” Stockwell replied. “Machinery he could identify.”
“I see. Names of the guards accompanying him?”
“Clerk and Chapman. Both got injured in the escape. Clerk not too badly. Mostly bruises, that's all. Chapman'll be off for a while. Man with a broken arm not much use here.”
“Well, they won't be getting much thanks from Blount,” Monk said drily. “Shot and drowned. Any ideas about that?”
Stockwell's expression was one of weary disgust. “Somebody wanted to make sure!”
“How long beforehand was this trip arranged?” Monk asked.
“Just the day before,” Stockwell answered, but he sat up a little straighter. “Interesting. You're thinking someone saw a chance and took it?”
“That, or someone knew it was going to be asked for, and arranged it,” Monk pointed out.
“You're thinking of Customs? Or Haskell himself? You want to see if anyone here had a connection?”
“I do. And I'll certainly go and see the customs officers involved; find out exactly what happened, who sent for Blount, and who knew about it.”
“Right. I'll get you all we have.” Stockwell rose to his feet. “Wretched fellow, Blount, but we can't have prisoners done away with. And I don't like it when they escape, either.”
“It wasn't from here.”
Stockwell stared at him indignantly. “It was from my damned men, sir!”
Monk agreed as tactfully as he could.
T WAS AFTER FOUR
and the sun set low on the horizon, sending shadows across the water, when Monk left Wapping again and decided to walk the relatively short distance to the Customs House on Thames Street. It was little more than a mile and he wanted the air, cold as it was, and the solitude to order in his mind exactly what he would say. How he approached the customs men from whom Blount had escaped would determine what he would learn.
Monk wanted information from them. It was not his place to discipline them, were they at fault, and that was not certain.
The walk took him a little longer than he expected; traffic was heavy and the sidewalks crowded. But by the time he reached the magnificent customs buildings facing the river, completely restored since the fire of 1825, he was ready to deal with the men patiently and win what he could not command.
He was received guardedly and shown to a small private room someone had obligingly made available to him. It was not one of those with a view over the river.
A young man was brought in within moments and introduced as Edward Worth. The other customs officer who had interviewed Blount, Logan, had been badly injured in Blount's escape and was recovering in the hospital.
“Sit down, Worth.” Monk gestured to the chair on the other side of the desk. “Blount's dead, and it's not much loss, except if he was going to testify against Haskell. Was he?” Monk said.
Worth sat down on the edge of the chair. He looked no more than twenty-five, and considerably embarrassed by the fact that he and his colleague had somehow managed to let a prisoner escape, and worse than that, be killed. He still looked shocked.
Monk could not remember being so young. That age was part of his lost years. Had he ever looked so vulnerable to his seniors? The impressions he had gathered had been that he had always seemed a little arrogant, perhaps appearing more sure of himself than he was.
“No, sir, not that I could see,” Worth answered. “The whole thing was a waste of time, actually.” Then he colored uncomfortably. “Sorry, sir.”
“Who told you to question him?” Monk asked.
“I don't doubt that, Worth. From whom?”
“Mr. Gillies, sir. I answer to him but he must have had his orders from higher up.” Worth looked unhappy, like a schoolboy who has been forced to snitch on one of his fellows.
“I see. Expressly to get Blount to tell you about Haskell, or on a general fishing expedition?”
“As to who paid him, sir. And there was a whole box of forging equipment, and special papers as he could identify, if he would.”
“And did he? Identify them, I mean.”
“No, sir, not reallyâ¦Just said it was the right sort for bills of trading, some from foreign parts, like.”
Monk knew that if he embarrassed Worth too deeply, or seemed to be finding fault with the Customs service in general, he would get nothing from the young man. It would be harsh, but above and beyond that, it would also be pointless. If Worth had made errors, or done less than his best, he would be keener than anyone to make amends. Good leadership would allow him to. Monk was learning these lessons slowly. But as he did so, he pitied more and more the officers who had had to deal with him as a young, clever, and smart-mouthed man. Such young men were the bane of a commander's existence, in part because they were the ones most likely to be of use, if taught well, and if their respect were earned. They would also be the most badly broken, and then the most dangerous if they became the victims of their commanding officers' own weaknesses.
“Describe to me exactly what happened, as far as you can recall it,” he directed.
Worth obediently told him about Blount's arrival, and the two prison guards with him.
“Did they come into the interrogation room with Blount?” Monk interrupted.
“No, sir. They waited outside. There was only the one door, sir, and there was just the two of us, as well as them waiting in the next room.”
“Sounds safe enough,” Monk agreed. “Was Blount manacled during this time?”
“Left wrist to the chair, sir. Rather cold day. Got him a hot cup of tea.” Worth looked embarrassed, as if his small act of kindness were a fault in him.
“And then you questioned him?”
“Tell me,” Monk began, choosing his words carefully, “did you form the impression that Blount was expecting these questions? Was he prepared for them?”
Worth considered it for a moment. “No, sir,” he said, looking straight at Monk. “I don't think he knew rightly why he was here. He acted all surprised. I took it as putting it all on when he was here, but now I think maybe he did have no idea.”
“Interesting. Go on.”
“We were going about half an hour, getting nothing we hadn't worked out anyway, when we were interrupted. A man had said he was a lawyer for Mr. Blount, and we weren't to go on without him being there. There was nothing we could do about that, so we had the lawyer inâ¦if he was a lawyerâ¦”
“Why do you doubt it?”
Worth's face reflected his embarrassment. “Because that's when it all started. There was a whole ruckus outside. Two more men came in and attacked the prison guard who was waiting in the next roomâ¦.”
“Only one?” Monk leaned forward. “You said there were two.”
“One of them had gone to relieve himself, sir.” Worth looked unhappy.
“And these other two took advantage of that?” It was easy to imagine. And interesting. It sounded like a mixture of planning and opportunism.
“Yes, sir,” Worth agreed. “They did.”
“Were they armed?”
“Yes, sir, with big, heavy cudgels. Broke the guard's arm.”
“The two of them?”
“Yes, sir. Hit me over the head, and must have hit Logan, too, as when I come to myself again, Logan was lying on the floor and the chair Blount'd been manacled to was smashed, like someone'd been at it with an ax.”
“And Blount was gone?”
“Did anyone else see any part of this? Either the two men coming in, or leaving with Blount?”
“Yes, sir. Blount was seen going off with one of them. But they was about the same height and build as the prison officers, and in the rain, all huddled up, they just thought it was them gone again. The second man obviously just made himself scarce.” He moved uncomfortably in his seat.