Revenge in a Cold River (3 page)

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“And the man who said he was a lawyer?” Monk asked.

“He said he'd been struck, too, sir.”

“Said? You doubted him?”

“Thinking about it, yes, sir. I knew how I felt, an' he didn't look anything like it.”

Monk nodded. “I would like you to think hard. I'm only asking for your impressions. Do you think Blount was expecting to be rescued? Did he play for time with you? Seem nervous, as if he were expecting to be interrupted? Was he in the least afraid?”

Worth blinked, struggling to give Monk the answer he wanted.

“He was in prison already,” Monk pointed out. “Did you threaten him with anything? I need the exact truth, Mr. Worth. Was he agitated at all?”

“No, he wasn't. In fact he was rather insolent,” Worth answered carefully. “As if he knew there weren't nothing we could do to him. Actually, sir, I thought it was a waste of time, myself. He was a real fly one, Blount. I never thought we'd get anything out of him.”

“Not fly enough to avoid getting both drowned and shot!” Monk said bleakly. “Thank you, Mr. Worth. You have been of considerable help. I don't suppose you have any idea which of your superiors thought Blount would give Mr. Haskell away? Or whoever it was that paid him?”

“No, sir. I'm sorry, sir.”

“I didn't think you would.” Monk rose to his feet. “That's all. Thank you.”

“Yes, sir.” Worth was on his feet, standing to attention. “Thank you, sir.”

A good officer, Monk thought. Maybe one day he would take him away from McNab. He would make a good river policeman. They needed recruits.

All the way home through the darkening streets he weighed what Worth had told him. By the time he reached the Greenwich ferry steps and climbed out to walk up the lamplit hill to Paradise Place, he had come to several tentative conclusions. Blount was dangerous to someone: presumably to whoever had employed him, probably Haskell. Blount was a man who always put his own well-being first, and he had known too much.

His murder had been arranged with some skill, and good use made of the customs officers and the lawyer. Someone there was helping—possibly had been paid by Haskell for one favor or another for some time, even years.

It was McNab who had brought Monk on to the case. Was he responsible for Blount's escape, maybe even his death, and was covering himself? That was the one thing Monk wanted to know. McNab was dangerous. Monk had seen the look in his eyes in the odd, unguarded moment. It was more than professional rivalry, more than personal dislike. It was hate, deep and poisonous hate.

The only thing was to face McNab, which he would do the following day. He did not want to, partly because he knew McNab would be aggressive. It was a pattern they had fallen into. But mostly Monk was reluctant because he was always at the disadvantage of not knowing what the origin was of what lay between them. He was perfectly certain that McNab did know, which placed him always a step ahead. McNab acted, and Monk reacted. He hated that.

And yet if he did not go to him with what he had learned from Worth, he would tacitly still have given McNab the advantage, and shown that he dared not face him. That would be intolerable.

As it was, when he returned to the Customs House the next day, he had to wait for McNab to finish a matter of business at one of the docks, but it was half an hour Monk used to advantage. He read several notes about Haskell & Sons, and added to his own knowledge the size of their business, and some of its history.

He was in a small, bare waiting room when McNab strode in. He was clearly annoyed to see Monk there, and the tide of emotion rushed up his face. He stood there for a moment, mastering his feelings before managing to speak with almost indifference.

“What is it now, Monk?” he asked, eyebrows raised. “You can't give us the case back, simply because it's messy! Or have you come as a courtesy, to tell us that you know what happened? Who killed Blount, then?”

Monk concealed his surprise at McNab's forthrightness, if that was what it was. He did not rise to his feet, and McNab sat down in the chair opposite him, hitching his trousers at the knees to be more comfortable. His eyes did not move from Monk's face.

Monk completely changed his mind as to what he would say.

“Probably not Haskell himself,” he replied. “But very likely someone in his employ.” He was grateful to see a momentary look of surprise on McNab's face, albeit masked almost immediately.

“You could be right,” McNab conceded. “We've never caught him in anything provable, and he has friends.” He allowed his meaning to hang heavy in the air.

“Patrons, perhaps,” Monk corrected him. “Allies certainly, and employees. Different from friends.”

“Oh, loyalty bought and paid for is the most reliable of all,” McNab agreed. He held out his hand, closed into a fist. “You know who has the reins.”

“Haskell?” Monk asked.

McNab raised his eyebrows. “Your case, Monk. Blount was shot, murdered. No way was that suicide, and you'd have to prove it was an accident. Who shoots a man in the back by accident, eh?” He kept his expression serious, but there was a gleam of satisfaction in his eyes.

“Someone who wants him silenced,” Monk replied. “Possibly needs it, for his own safety.”

“Possibly,” McNab nodded.

“So how close were you to getting Haskell?” Monk asked.

“For killing Blount?” McNab's voice rose in amazement. “Not at all. Like I said, it's your case, Commander!”

“I'm sure you wouldn't trespass into my case, Mr. McNab,” Monk said sarcastically. “I meant for smuggling, or forged documents. That is what you're after him for, isn't it?”

McNab weighed his reply for a few moments in silence.

Monk realized that McNab did not know what Worth had told him yesterday evening. But the irony went both ways; Monk would not get Worth into trouble by repeating it. He looked at McNab and waited patiently.

“A bit further off now that Blount's dead,” McNab answered at last. “Unless, of course, you can pin this on to one of Haskell's men, and they'll talk…which isn't likely.” He smiled very slightly, leaving it in the air as to whether he meant Monk's success in catching whoever killed Blount, or the man being willing to testify. He drew in his breath and met Monk's eyes. “I think such a man would give you a good chase, Monk. He'd be caught between Haskell killing him, or you torturing him slowly, poor devil.”

Monk stood up, straightening his back. “Pity you let Blount escape, then. Might have been a lot easier to let your man get it out of him. Still, too late for that now.” He smiled back, very slightly. Then, satisfied with the anger in McNab's face, he went out of the door, closing it behind him, even though McNab had also risen to his feet.

B
EATA
Y
ORK THANKED HER
maid, and then regarded herself gravely in the glass. She saw a woman in her fifties who had been beautiful in her youth, and had grown more complex and full of character as time had dealt unkindly with her. She had had to search for and find an inner peace to combat the outer turmoil.

Of course no one else knew that of her, and it must always be so. They perceived her as serene, always in control of her emotions. Her porcelain-fair skin was without blemish. The silver in her hair was invisible in its pale shining gold, the heavy waves swept up smoothly.

She wore a somber shade of green, untrimmed by fur or ornament. She was making a visit that duty compelled, and she dreaded it. It was foolish of her. There had never been any possibility of avoiding it, and putting it off always made it worse. However, this time she had actually been sent for.

She turned away from the looking glass, thanked her maid again, and went out of the dressing room and across the landing to the elegant mahogany stairs. The footman was waiting in the hall, standing very straight, respectfully. She could see the shine on his polished boots. The carriage would be at the door, ready. She would not have to give any directions.

She had informed the butler that she would be going to see her husband. Ingram York was residing in a hospital for the insane. He might know her when she went into his room, but, on the other hand, he might not. Apparently his doctors felt that he was becoming weaker, and she should visit him before he lapsed into more frequent coma, where he would not know her at all.

Last time, two weeks ago, he had not known her to begin with, and then had suddenly remembered. It had been dreadful, and acutely embarrassing. As she crossed the hall her cheeks flamed with the memory of it.

Ingram had lain on the bed, propped up on the pillows, when the vacant look on his fleshy face had suddenly vanished, to be filled with hatred.

“Whore!” he had said viciously. “Come here to gloat, have you? Well, I'm not dead yet…for all your trying!” He had looked ashen pale, his skin hanging from his jowls, his eyes sunken into the hollows of the sockets, his white hair still ridiculously luxuriant above the terrible face.

Then, just as suddenly, the moment of recognition had gone again. The doctor who had shown Beata in, and stayed with her to offer her what information he could, had been embarrassed for her.

“He doesn't mean it!” he had said hastily. “He's…delusional. I assure you, Lady York…”

But she had not been listening. Ingram meant it. She had been married to him for more than twenty years. This attack was not the wild break from his usual behavior that the doctor imagined.

Remembering, she shivered as the footman opened the front door for her and she stepped outside, but it was not from the bitter day with its promise of ice before nightfall; it was dread of what lay ahead.

Even now she thought of some way of evading her duty, but it was only an idea, something to play with in her mind. A walk in the park? A visit to a friend, to sit by the fire with tea and crumpets, and a little laughter in exchange for thoughts? Of course she wouldn't! She had stayed with Ingram all these years; she would not fail on these final days. It was a duty she would not fall short in.

The footman opened the carriage door. She accepted his hand to assist her up and help make her comfortable.

She wondered how many of the servants were quite aware of Mr. Justice York's temper tantrums, the vile names he called her at times. Perhaps they had even seen blood on the sheets, and sometimes on the towels as well. There were things that, if she thought of them, overwhelmed her. How could she calmly sit at the dining room table while the butler served her soup if she were to imagine for an instant that he knew how York had used her sexually, when the bedroom doors were locked?

It had begun within weeks of their wedding, at first only a matter of insistence, a certain roughness that had caused her pain. Gradually it had become grosser, more humiliating, and the verbal abuse coarser, the violence more unpredictable.

It had gone on, to one degree or another, for years. There had been times when for months there had been nothing, and she had dared hope her ordeal was over, even if it meant that he never touched her at all.

That was foolish, but in those times of respite he would be witty, so intelligent, and, in public at least, treat her with respect, as if the cruelty were an aberration. Then the darkness was all the greater when it returned.

Oliver Rathbone had been a guest the day it had finally ended. Ingram had completely lost all control and lashed out at Oliver with his cane. If he had struck him with it, it would have been a fearful blow. He could have even killed him, had it caught him on the temple. Thank heaven at that instant of rage Ingram had taken a fit of some kind and fallen insensible to the floor, quite literally foaming at the mouth.

He had still been deeply unconscious when the ambulance had come for him and taken him to the hospital for diseases of the nervous system. It would have been merciful if he had sunk deeper into the coma and died. Unfortunately that had not happened. He had hovered on the edge of consciousness, with brief moments of lucidity, in the long months since then. It was over a year ago now.

Beata had been a widow in all senses but that of being free to marry again. She still bore his name, lived in his house, and dutifully forced herself to visit him when conscience drove her to it, or the doctor sent for her.

She stared out the window at the other carriages, ladies with fur collars and capes inside.

It was not a long journey but the route passed close to Regent's Park, and the bare trees were like tangled black lace. It would have been a good day for walking.

She looked away in time to see a carriage passing on the other side of the street. She met the woman passenger's eyes for an instant, and saw the warmth, and the familiar gesture with her hand. She just had time to smile back and nod agreement. Yes, she accepted the invitation. It would be something simple, and fun.

The journey passed all too quickly. She was already at the hospital. The footman climbed down with easy grace and held the door open for her. The cold air made her wish momentarily that she had brought furs, too. Then she remembered Ingram giving them to her one Christmas, and she thought she would rather be cold as she walked across the pavement and up the wide steps into the hospital entrance.

She was expected, and the doctor in charge was standing waiting for her. She had developed a reputation for promptness, and he stepped forward, smiling gravely, inclining his head in a slight bow. She was accustomed to it. She was the wife of one of the High Court's most respected judges. It was the convention that none of them acknowledged his altered state as irreversible.

“Good afternoon, Lady York,” he said soberly. “I'm afraid the weather has turned much colder.”

“Indeed,” she replied, as if it mattered in the slightest to either of them. It was just easier to stick to the ritual than to have to think of something different to say.

“How is my husband?” She always said that also.

“I am afraid there has been a slight change,” the doctor answered, turning to lead the way to the now-familiar room that, as far as she knew, Ingram had not left since he had first been carried there. “I'm very sorry…perhaps he will be in less distress.” He forced a lift into his voice, as if it were of some cheer.

He could have no idea at all how deeply she wished Ingram dead. Not only for her sake, but for his own. She had never loved him, although once, years ago, she had imagined she did. But he had had a certain dignity, and such high intelligence then. She would not have wished on anybody what he suffered now, plunging from sanity to confusion, and climbing desperately back again. It was awful to watch. No hunger for revenge could make him deserve this.

They had reached his room, mercifully without any more meaningless conversation. The doctor opened the door for her and held it.

She took a deep breath, steadying herself, and went in.

As always, the smell was the first thing she noticed. It was a mixture of human body odors and the sharp, artificial cleanliness of lye and antiseptic. Everything was too white, too utilitarian.

Ingram was propped up on the pillows. At first glance nothing seemed any different, as if she had been here only yesterday, when in fact it was weeks ago.

Then as she came closer to the bed, she saw his eyes. They were hollower around the sockets than before, and cloudy, as if he could not see through them.

“Hello, Ingram,” she said gently. “How are you?”

He did not reply. Had he not heard her? Looking at him, she was almost certain he was conscious. Could he see her?

She touched the thick-fingered white hand on the covers. She half expected it to be cold, but it was warmer than her own.

“How are you?” she repeated a little more loudly.

Suddenly his hand closed on hers, gripping her. She gasped, and for an instant thought of pulling away. Then with immense effort she relaxed her arm and let it be.

“You look a little better,” she lied. He looked terrible, as if something inside him had perished.

He was still staring at her with cloudy eyes. It was as if there were a window between them, of frosted glass that neither of them could see through.

“Come again, have you, Beata?” His voice was no more than a whisper, but the anger was there in it, almost a gloating. “Got to, haven't you, as long as I'm still alive? And I am! You're not free yet….”

“I know that, Ingram,” she answered, staring at him. “And neither are you.” The moment the words were across her lips she regretted them. It was her fault as well as his. How could she have been blind enough to have married him all those years ago? No one had forced her. She had been married before, for several years, and her first husband had died. It had been time she chose again. She had seen what she wished to see, as perhaps he had also. They were neither of them very young anymore. Except that she had cared for him. He had never cared for her, or perhaps for anyone. It was advisable for his career that he be married. And she brought with her a dowry, gathered for her by her friends, after her father's disgrace. San Francisco was far enough away for word of that not to have traveled here.

Ingram's face twisted very slightly. Was it an attempt at a smile, a moment of warmth, even regret? Or was it a sneer because she was as imprisoned as he was, at least for the moment? Perhaps that was why he hung on to life, even like this—to keep her trapped as well.

She had something to make up for. She would give him the benefit of the doubt, however small it was. She smiled back at him, and very slightly increased the pressure of her fingers around his.

His hand closed tight, hurting her.

“Bitch!” he said distinctly, then seemed to choke on his own breath. He gasped and the air rattled and caught in his throat. Then the grip slackened a little on her hand, but not enough to let her go.

She turned to pull away, but she was not strong enough, and she was very aware of the doctor watching her, no doubt imagining some kind of devotion and grief. She must behave with decorum. She let her hand rest easily.

Ingram's nails bit into her hand. He was still strong enough to hurt her.

He opened his eyes again and stared at her, suddenly lucid.

“You liked it, didn't you?” he hissed. “I know you did, for all your sniveling. Whore! Cheap, dirty whore!”

She wanted to reply, to curse him back, but she would not do it with the doctor present. His pity was terrible, but his disgust would be worse. She kept her back to him as much as possible and forced herself to smile at Ingram.

She measured each word. “It seems it was all you could manage,” she said deliberately. She could say it now, at last. He was helpless to beat her.

He understood—perfectly. His face suffused with rage and he tried to reach for her. His eyes bulged and he choked, gasped, and choked again, more deeply. His arms tried to thrash; his body went rigid and shook even more violently. He bit his tongue and his mouth drooled foam and blood.

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