Revenge in a Cold River (24 page)

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Gillander smiled. “But I like secrets,” he said with some amusement. “I didn't think so at the time, but they draw me in. Like war, for some men, or exploring Africa, looking for the source of the White Nile. But Africa holds no love for me. Nor would I want to go looking for the North Pole. I like the contest with people…and I suppose the sea.” He seemed about to add something, then changed his mind.

They looked at each other for several seconds. Monk knew that if he were not to lose the chance, this was the moment he must be honest. Ignored now, it would be compromised forever.

“So do I,” he agreed. “London is its own jungle.” He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He could feel his heart pounding. “Did you know me there…in San Francisco?”

Gillander's gaze was completely steady. There was not a flicker in his hazel eyes. “A little. Enough to know your mettle, sail with you now and then, more often in competition for a cargo. You haven't changed all that much. Not until you look carefully.”

So that was it, beyond question now. He had been there.

“And then?” He left it hanging in the air. It was as if he had been struck by a wave, lifted right up out of the water, and then slammed back again, bruised and shocked, the breath knocked out of his lungs, but still alive.

“Then?” Gillander smiled. “Then I can see that you are still dangerous, but in quite a different way. You aren't hunting anymore, not the way you used to.”

It was time to come to the point. “I'm hunting whoever is planning to rob Aaron Clive. I don't want it to happen on my piece of river.”

Gillander laughed outright, a sound of pure pleasure. “Perhaps you haven't changed all that much! Don't give a damn if it happens somewhere else, eh?”

Monk evaded that question. “
Do
you know anything about it? Do you work for Clive, or against him?”

Gillander hesitated. Several expressions flickered across his face: deep emotion, unreadable, and then self-mockery. “Both,” he said finally. “I work mostly for Mrs. Clive.”

Monk grasped at an idea, part of a memory: Gillander staring at Miriam, a youth seeing the most beautiful woman in his life. “Does he know that?”

Gillander winced and color burned up his face in spite of himself. “You were always quick.”

Monk was seeing flashes, or inventing them, grasping for signs and clues as he went. “Was I?” he said thoughtfully. “I rather thought I had improved.”

“Oh, yes.” Gillander smiled again, it was an expression of peculiar charm. “I wouldn't have trusted you half as far as I could have thrown you. But then I wouldn't have trusted myself, either.”

Monk looked at Gillander carefully, at his handsome face, his easy manner. Had Monk really been like that, twenty years ago, from when he could remember nothing? He doubted he had ever had Gillander's charm. It seemed far more than skin deep. There was wit in it, self-mockery, and perhaps a genuine emotion.

Did Monk have to know the man he used to be? He did not want to. And yet it would always be there in the shadows behind him.

“Did Clive dislike me?” he asked impulsively. He offered no explanation as to why he did not know for himself.

Gillander looked puzzled. “I'm not sure he liked or disliked anyone, after Zachary died. He changed then. It wasn't obvious at first, but some light inside him went out.” He seemed to be searching for words. “He trusted Astley, but he was never close to him in the same way. Honestly, I didn't see any reason to think he cared about you, one way or the other. What does it matter now?”

“Maybe it doesn't.” Monk wished to change the subject. He was not yet desperate enough to ask any more. He liked Gillander, but he would be a fool to trust him with any more than he had to. “Tell me again exactly what Owen said to you when you pulled him out of the water. Anything he let slip could help us piece together who is behind all this.”

“First off, he said his name was Pettifer, and that he was a customs officer,” Gillander said with a rueful smile.

Monk nodded, but allowed the skepticism to show in his face. “And what reason did he give for swimming across the river to you, rather than helping us capture the fugitive and take him in? I assume you did ask him?”

“Of course I asked him!” Gillander said a trifle tartly. “He never looked back even to see what was happening to you.”

“And what did he say? It must have been good, if you believed it.”

“It was good.” Gillander's voice had an edge of irritation. “He said Owen was a lot bigger than he was, and stronger, and during questioning he, Pettifer, had realized that Owen had killed Blount, murdered him in cold blood, drowning him in the river, because he had betrayed the master plan they had, but he didn't say what the plan was. Owen turned on him, and at the point you intercepted them, Owen was about to kill Pettifer as well. Considering the relative size of them, that was very believable.”

Monk pictured it, and realized that it made sense, if you believed that Owen was actually Pettifer. He was clearly a strong swimmer, but in any physical struggle between them, he would have lost to the bigger man, who was not only half his weight again, but also could have had at least six inches' advantage of reach.

“Did he say where ‘Owen' was supposed to have killed Blount?” he asked. “Or anything about this master plan he had?”

“He said he killed Blount down Deptford way, opposite the Isle of Dogs.”

“Drowned him?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Did he say who shot him?”

Gillander looked surprised. “Shot him? He was drowned…wasn't he?”

“Yes. And then after he was dead, someone shot him in the back.”

“What the hell for?”

“I'm beginning to think it was to make it look like a crime, rather than possibly an accident, in order to bring me into the case,” Monk replied. “But very interesting that Owen should not know that.”

“Do you think the real Pettifer did?” Gillander said curiously.

Monk thought for a moment. “Well, if Owen risked his neck swimming across the river to get away from Pettifer, then perhaps it was because he knew Pettifer was going to kill him, too. Maybe he came on this far up the river to find a good place to drown him, and claim that was an accident, too?”

“Makes sense of what happened, but why?”

“That means the real Pettifer killed Blount, and would have killed Owen,” Monk said, thinking aloud. “Obviously Owen didn't go back to McNab, or any other part of Customs. He may be in France by now. On the other hand, if there really is a master plan, he could still be here somewhere down the river.”

“Question I would ask is who else knows about this plan,” Gillander replied.

“The question I'd like to answer is who put Pettifer up to killing Blount, and then Owen,” Monk argued. “Is it McNab, or somebody else? And does Aaron Clive have anything to do with it at all?”

“I know where Blount was killed,” Gillander said. “At least, I know where Owen said it was. Might find someone down there who saw something. Would make a defense to blaming you for Pettifer's death.”

It was a risk. Should he trust Gillander? He might be led into a trap. But he was in a trap already, and he could feel the teeth of it closing on him. He thought of the steel gin traps poachers used. They tore flesh, even the bones.

“Good idea,” he agreed.

Gillander stood up. “Right! This is my ship. You obey orders. Understood?”

Monk did not hesitate. It was the rule of the sea. Any man who argued with the skipper was a fool.

They weighed anchor and Monk lashed the ropes without even thinking about it. Only when he turned to do the next task of hoisting the foresail did he realize that his fingers had tied the complicated knots without hesitation. If he stopped now to weigh his decisions, the instinct faltered. He must not struggle for it, searching his mind, but simply allow the instinctive movements of the body to take over.

They reached Deptford more than two hours later. It was not so very far, but there was plenty of traffic on the water, and they had to maneuver in and out of it under sail, and then find a place to moor for the three or four hours that they might be there.

Monk enjoyed the time. He began by worrying how he would manage the seamanship part of it. He trusted Gillander to be clear with his orders. He was surprised to find how easily it came to him. He must have sailed a two-master like this before and, like the police skills, some part of him never forgot. His balance was easy, his knowledge complete of handling ropes and not standing in the wrong place, especially on rope ends—desperately dangerous in case it pulled suddenly and took you with it. His care never to risk being struck by a swinging boom, or sailing too close to the wind and having a sail luff, all came instinctively. He was tense, and yet exhilarated at the same time.

Ashore, Gillander led the way across the dockside and down a winding alley, around a corner into another alley barely five feet wide. Monk could have put his arms out and easily touched both sides at once. It was cold. The stone sides of the buildings were wet, and funneled the wind until it found every way in through his pea coat in spite of its thickness, and made him wish he had thought to wear a heavier sweater and thicker scarf.

Gillander took Monk to a very small public house called the Triple Plea, one of the few tavern names he did not understand. Inside it was warm and the air so filled with fumes Monk took a moment or two to catch his breath.

Gillander seemed to be known, and the one-eyed bartender motioned him over to a small table against the far wall.

“Don't call him Patch,” Gillander warned Monk. “He answers to Pye, and will appreciate a little respect.”

“Understood,” Monk acknowledged, sitting down on a polished wooden stool and finding it less uncomfortable than he had expected.

“I'll do the talking,” Gillander added. “Just drink your ale and listen.”

Monk bit back the rejoinder on his tongue, and obeyed.

They sat and drank ale for more than half an hour. Monk barely tasted it, which might have been just as well, although the crusty bread and slab of cheese were good.

Finally a very ordinary-looking man came over and joined them, taking his place on the third stool. He had thin hair and a wispy beard. Only his eyes marked him as unusual. They were very light silvery gray, half-hidden by the heavy lids.

Gillander did not introduce Monk more than to say, “He's all right,” and then, moving on, “Seen Owen?”

The man, who remained nameless, pulled his face into an expression of disgust and denial. “Long gone,” he said hoarsely. “In France by now.”

“Pettifer's dead,” Gillander told him.

“You think I don't know that?” the man asked sarcastically. “He'll be replaced.”

Monk was aching to ask not who would replace him, but who needed him replaced. The man who masterminded whatever the plot was? Or someone who meant to foil it, perhaps Clive? Or McNab? But a sharp kick under the table reminded him to keep silent.

“And Owen?” Gillander asked. “Replace him, too?”

“For what?” The man's expression filled with disgust. “He scarpered to France to get out of Pettifer's way. He's a sly little sod, Owen, but he was scared witless.”

“Of Pettifer?” Gillander managed to look amused.

“O' McNab, you great fool!” the man snarled, almost under his breath. “Pettifer was his man. He'll find someone else. God knows who'll be alive or dead by the end of this one.”

“Was he behind the plan?” Gillander now looked dubious.

“Why do you care?”

“If Clive is going to be taken down, I want to know about it,” Gillander replied. “Might be something in it for me.”

“Best thing in it for you is to get the hell out of here, and keep yer mouth shut,” the man said almost under his breath. He looked at Monk, then back at Gillander. “And take this one with yer. Smells like River Police to me. And not many o' them's crooked, but watch yer back!” He emptied his ale tankard and left, lurching from side to side as he made his way to the door.

The thoughts raced around Monk's head. So Pettifer had killed Blount, and tried to kill Owen. For McNab? Or for some reason Monk had not even thought of yet? Was the great plot a mirage?

Gillander was looking at him, waiting for a response.

“Thank you,” Monk said quietly. “I think we should get out of here.”

“You believe him?” Gillander asked as they moved through the crowd to the door, and into the cramped street. The rain was coming down hard and the gutters were now overflowing.

“It all fits,” Monk answered. “McNab's plans, whatever they were, have been stalled because Pettifer was killed instead of Owen. Maybe it doesn't really have anything to do with Clive, except incidentally. And maybe Piers Astley doesn't have anything to do with it, either…at least not if he really is dead.”

They came out of the alley onto the riverbank. The
Summer Wind
was riding easily. It was almost slack tide.

“He is,” Gillander said softly. “I told you. Poor devil…”

“Did Clive keep the details from Mrs. Clive to save her feelings?”

“Astley was murdered,” Gillander said with a sudden savagery. “I suppose Clive might have kept the details from her….” His face was quite suddenly filled with pain, and an intense pity. “Piers was a good man. One of the best. In some ways he was out of his element there…straightest man I ever knew, and loyal to a fault.”

“They never found who killed him?” Monk asked, feeling as if he were intruding on a private grief.

Gillander stared out over the water, the light catching his eyes and an expression on them that was unreadable.

“Not yet…but she will.”

M
ONK SAT CLOSE TO
the fire and saw the steam rise from his wet trouser legs. He did not bother to change because he was tired out. He had told Hester what he had drawn from the revelations about his past in San Francisco, what he knew and what he guessed. Now all he wanted was to eat his supper and go to bed. He had swallowed the last of his baked apples and cream, and was trying not to fall asleep.

“They say Owen is almost certainly in France,” he said, moving to a different subject.

“And Blount is dead,” Hester replied. “So I suppose Owen did rather better. Do you think Pettifer meant to kill him, as Gillander said?”

“I think there's a lot about Pettifer that I don't know, and I need to find out,” he replied.

“What about the other experts McNab told you about? Are you sure they're real?”

“Yes, of course I am! Did you think I wouldn't check? I don't trust McNab to tell the truth on anything, if a lie would serve him better.” He had not told her the whole story of Nairn, but enough of it for her to have some idea. He was ashamed of it, but more than that, if she understood the depth of McNab's hatred, with the reason for it, she would be more afraid for him.

“And where are they now?” she asked very quietly.

He had not checked on that. He had inquired, but not followed up. “I don't know,” he said. “There's no word of them.”

She did not answer, but the anxiety deepened in her face. She was silent for several minutes, then she changed the subject completely.

“Beata York has come to help at the clinic in the last few days. I like her very much. There's far more depth to her than I realized. I suppose I never thought about her. I just hated her husband for what he did to Oliver. She hasn't said anything specific, but I have a feeling that she probably had far more reason to loathe him than I do.”

Monk was startled. “What?” he said abruptly.

“She has said nothing, but I saw the look in her eyes if she had occasion to mention him. When he took his fit, he was attacking Oliver with his cane, you know? He was going to strike his face, his head.”

“She told you that?”

“No, of course not. Oliver did.”

“What made you think of it now?”

“Hatred,” Hester replied. “York hated Oliver because he was all the things York was not. Inner things, I mean, the things that matter.”

He looked at her, still not understanding.

“McNab hates you for some reason,” she explained swiftly. “You can never win because you will always be better than he is.”

The warmth spread inside him, as if he had drunk a sweet flame. “Do you think so?”

“Yes, I do.” She smiled. “But don't let it go to your head! I'm saying it because I don't think McNab will let it go. I don't think he can. It has him by the neck. He has to keep trying to destroy you, and probably not only you, but the River Police as well.” She was watching him to see if he had grasped the enormity of what she was saying. “You've got to fight him, William. Find out if this plot is real, or if it is his invention in order to trip you up.”

“It won't damage the River Police,” he told her.

“It might, if you make the wrong judgment. If the plot is real and you know about it and did nothing, then Aaron Clive won't forgive you. Just as he won't if it is all invented, and he takes massive precautions, and nothing happens, or was ever going to. He won't accept being made a fool of.”

“How do you know so much about him? Don't tell me your street people know him. He's been in England only a couple of years, and his reputation is perfect.”

“Of course it is,” Hester agreed impatiently. “And it probably always will be. Even should rumors exist, he has the power to squash them, and those who spread them.”

“How do you know this?” He smiled slightly, sinking a little deeper into the enveloping comfort of the chair. “You've never even met him.”

“Beata lived in San Francisco for years,” she replied. “She is very far from a stupid woman, William. She saw his rise to power, and she knows Miriam Clive very well, too. Please…tread softly. Be sure of everything….”

—

N
EXT MORNING
M
ONK AND
Hooper stood together on the dockside watching the light rise over the water, gray and wind-dappled, dark silhouettes of the ships riding easily at anchor. Ferries pulled across from the south side, oars rising and dropping rhythmically. They were back again trying to separate the truth and lies about the escaped prisoners, and whether there was any link between them, or not.

“Already looked into Applewood,” Hooper said, squinting a little into the rising sun. “He's back in prison, up north. Can't find any trace of Seager. Looks as if he's gone to ground. But he's a Liverpool man, so he could be up there.”

“Interesting,” Monk said thoughtfully. “Does that mean there's no plot, or just that McNab gave us the wrong names, intentionally or not?”

“Bluff or double bluff?” Hooper smiled with wry humor. “Maybe we can make him bite his own tail, d'you think?” He sounded hopeful.

“He'll use our strengths against us, if we let him.” Monk believed that. His loathing of McNab had deepened, but so had his respect. He had been guilty of underestimating him before and he did not intend to do it again. “I wish I knew exactly how clever he is.”

“Better to set them against each other, and then step well back.” Hooper was smiling now.

“Them?” Monk asked.

“Him and Clive,” Hooper said.

“You don't like Clive, do you?” Monk was surprised how much he regarded Hooper's opinion of people. He was not used to accepting anyone else's judgment, even Orme's. Was that a strength or a weakness? Or both?

“He got rich by luck.” Hooper was still looking out at the water. “He stayed rich by cleverness. Right friends, right enemies. And don't forget, he probably knows more about you than you do yourself. He'll be as sweet as honey until you cross him, but he'll be like biting on a wasp if you become a threat. Or if he thinks you will.”

“I'll remember,” Monk promised. It was a warning he took seriously. Nevertheless Hooper's suggestion of turning Clive and McNab against each other was a good one.

—

M
ONK WENT STRAIGHT UPRIVER
by hansom and then ferry, and was at Clive's office a little after nine. He asked to see Clive, and had to wait no more than twenty minutes, during which time he was offered tea and given a comfortable place to wait.

Clive came in cheerfully and closed the door behind him.

Monk rose to his feet. “Good morning, Mr. Clive. I apologize for taking more of your time.”

Clive took his hand in a firm grip and then let go quickly. He sat opposite Monk, crossing his legs easily. “Not this robbery plot again? I assure you, I am always aware of such possibilities, and I made a few inquiries of my own. McNab, from Customs, has been here on several occasions, you know.”

“Yes, I did know,” Monk answered. “I gather you were very civil to him.”

“A necessary evil,” Clive said drily. “Better to have them on your side. They can be a damn nuisance against you. But I imagine you know the river as well as they do, if not better.”

Monk was aware of Clive watching him more closely than he pretended to. Was he remembering him from twenty years ago, as Hooper had warned?

“The
Summer Wind
seems to be moored opposite you a great deal of the time.” Monk threw this observation into the conversation to see where Clive would take it. His answer was surprising.

Clive smiled widely, showing beautiful teeth. “When you have a wife as beautiful as mine, you get used to living with other men in love with her, perhaps all their lives. I first met Gillander when he was a raw youth of about nineteen, and Miriam was thirty. He saw her and fell in love with her then, and I don't think he'll ever entirely grow out of it. Some men are prisoners of their dreams. She is quite aware of it, and is kind to him, but no more.”

Monk did not argue. As far as he knew, Clive could be right. Certainly he was as far as Gillander was concerned. What Miriam felt he had no idea. It was a responsibility she might grow tired of. On the other hand, perhaps she was tempted to use him in the search for who killed Piers Astley. Gillander did say he was performing some service for her.

Was Beata right about Clive having a core of steel? Or was that only her perception, also dictated by her own past?

“Lady York speaks very well of her,” he said, to see what Clive's response would be. He must know that, even if Monk had no memory of the past, Beata certainly had, and had known all of them far better than Monk had.

Clive smiled, but this time there was a slightly sharper edge to it. “Ah, yes, Beata. Poor woman. Her first husband was more a convenience than a love match, I think. York I have little idea about. He was certainly professionally respected, but not a nice man, from what I hear. She has been unfortunate. Not that her father was her fault, of course. We none of us choose our parents.”

Did Clive mean him to ask? Yes, of course he did. He was dangling the suggestion in the hope of his taking the bait like a fish.

“I didn't know her father,” Monk responded.

“Possibly not…” Clive pursed his lips. “He was well known enough in San Francisco. But you were always up and down the coast, and I daresay you had little enough money to bank.”

He was dribbling out the information bit by bit. His smile was still there, but the warmth was gone from the room. This was like parrying before the real battle. The lunge would come without warning.

It would be childish for Monk to say he was not there for the money, like an excuse for not having made much.

“Didn't need a banker,” he said casually.

“But you must remember his death.” Clive watched him intently now. Even a change in his breathing, the light in his eye would be noticed.

A lie would be a greater sign of weakness than an admission. There was nothing in his mind to search. He could not even remember the man's name.

“No. Perhaps I was up the coast.”

“He played cards a lot toward the end. He was accused of cheating, and shot in the resulting brawl. Created quite a scandal. Poor Beata…Of course she never mentions it. I doubt even York knew.” He let the suggestion of deceit hang in the air.

Monk felt a wave of resentment rise inside him. It was the first thing Clive had said that showed an uglier side of him. It was a warning, whether he intended it to be or not. Monk would be wise not to show his distaste.

“Unfortunate,” he said with a slight show of regret. “I can see why she chose to return to England.”

“People came for many reasons,” Clive said mildly. “I often wondered why you returned. You seemed to be doing rather well for yourself.” It was not a question, yet unanswered it would become one, a sign of weakness.

Monk felt himself like a butterfly pinned to a board, struggling. It was all very civilized, nothing but polite conversation around whether there were any danger to Clive's wealth or his security from some indeterminate theft that was looking increasingly like a mirage.

But if it were real, and Monk had not acted, he would look a complete incompetent. Who was playing him? McNab? Or Clive? Or both of them, each for his own reason? Clive's most visibly prized possession was his wife, and Monk was quite sure he had never trespassed there. Whatever his memory loss, it would have been in Miriam's face when she came to visit him.

“Got an interesting offer,” he lied. “The California coast is marvelous, but this one has its charms, too.”

“The river?” Clive's eyes widened. He sat back a little in his chair. “The Thames, as opposed to the Barbary Coast? For a man like you?”

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