Revenge in a Cold River (9 page)

BOOK: Revenge in a Cold River
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“You're sure? He couldn't have been unconscious in the water, from the shot, but still breathing, so he drowned?”

“How the hell long do you think it takes an unconscious man to drown, Monk? Minutes. Three or four at most. He was shot long after that.”

“How do you know?” Monk persisted.

“If he'd been in the water, shot but alive, he'd have struggled and bled like a stuck pig from a wound like that,” Hyde answered impatiently. “It tore major blood vessels. He's lost very little blood. I don't mind you second-guessing me, Monk, but however much you don't like the answer, that's it! He was dead when he was shot. No heartbeat, and already sodden with water. In fact, from the state of the wound, I'd say he was in the water three or four hours, pulled out very obviously dead, and then someone shot him in the back. I wouldn't swear on oath that they never put him back in the water afterward, but I'm sure enough I'd bet everything I have on it.”

Monk did not answer. His mind was pulling at the tangles of why McNab had sent for him rather than keep to himself the fact that Blount had escaped from their custody, drowned, and then been shot. He would not expose his own men's errors, to Monk of all people, unless he had a powerful reason.

In a flash of highly uncomfortable memory, Monk saw the bright, sharp satisfaction in McNab's eyes as he exposed the wound and said, “Murder's your job….It's all yours,” to Monk. He wanted Monk on it. Why?

And now there was the ghastly fact that Pettifer had been McNab's man, and he was dead, very possibly from Monk's attempt to save him. And yet, of course, if Monk had stood on the quayside and let him drown, that would very clearly have been his fault, too.

All accidental? Or somehow designed?

No, that was absurd. It could as easily have been Hooper who had gone in to help Pettifer. But then if Hooper were blamed Monk would still be implicated. Hooper was his man—his best man now, with Orme gone—and one to whom Monk owed a personal loyalty.

Added to which, McNab would hardly have arranged for his own man to be drowned, even if he were able to. Monk was allowing his obsession with McNab to make him lose his balance, and his judgment.

“Thank you,” he said to Hyde. “When they bring Pettifer in, which should be anytime now, I'd appreciate if you take extra care to ascertain whether he died from drowning, or if from the blow I dealt him to keep him from breaking my neck and drowning us both. If there's anything uncertain about it, McNab will be on to it and blaming everyone else, starting with me.”

Hyde nodded, pursing his lips dubiously. “Watch him,” he advised. “He's always digging, poking around, asking questions. I don't know what it's about, but he has a long and deep grudge against you. But I imagine you know that?”

“Yes…” Monk let the word hang, the idea unfinished. He knew the fact, but he had very little idea what the reason was. To begin with he had assumed general interservice rivalry: the River Police versus Customs. But lately he had been obliged to accept that it was deeper than that, and a good deal more personal. Did it go back further than his memory? Before 1856, and the accident? Should the name Rob Nairn mean anything to him?

Then why had McNab waited so long to have his revenge? It made no sense—unless he had been afraid of Monk before he knew Monk's loss of memory? Suddenly he was vulnerable…and a man with no memory of a past that could be anything was not fit to lead the River Police. He could be manipulated, used too easily.

He thanked Hyde and walked out of the morgue, with its overcleanliness and the smells that masked the odor of death but somehow made it so much worse.

The street was bitterly cold. The scents of carbolic and lye were replaced by soot and horse manure, and now and then a whiff of drains.

Then he crossed the road, dodging a brewer's dray and a hansom. With perhaps a little careful inquiry into a few events in past history, around the time of the accident, McNab had slowly pieced enough of it together to realize how much Monk had forgotten. Like a shark scenting blood, knowing his prey was wounded, McNab was circling closer.

Was Monk being ridiculous, allowing his own imagination to betray him? Or was it at last warning him of the truth?

He had no choice but to face McNab over Pettifer's death and to learn more about Owen. The sooner it was done the better. He would like to know from Hyde the exact cause of Pettifer's death, but he might not get that for a day or two, and finding Owen could not wait. Or finding the schooner captain, for that matter. Unless, of course, they were both well out into the Atlantic by now.

—

M
C
N
AB WAS AT HIS
desk in the customs offices when Monk arrived the following day. There were always administrative matters to deal with. Papers multiplied like rats if they were not attended to.

McNab looked up from his desk. He had a very pleasant office, with a view over the Pool of London. Even at this time of the year, the light was bright off the water and the black masts of a hundred ships swayed and jostled against the skyline with a constant movement.

McNab remained seated, something he would not have done six months ago. His square, heavy face was devoid of expression as much as he could make it, but there was still a brightness in his eyes.

He put down his pen, carefully, so as not to mark his high-quality desk set with ink. The leather looked new.

“Come to apologize, have you?” he asked, looking up at Monk. He did not invite him to sit.

Monk pulled out the leather-padded chair opposite the desk and sat anyway, making himself at least outwardly comfortable.

“Not apologize,” he replied with perfect control of his temper. “The man panicked. He'd have drowned us both. Not uncommon, unfortunately. But my condolences. It's hard to lose a man.”

“Am I supposed to be grateful?” McNab asked, raising his sparse eyebrows slightly.

“You're supposed to be civil,” Monk replied. “As am I. Is there any word about Owen yet? I assume you are doing all you can to find him? He must have been of some value to you, or you wouldn't have been questioning him. Had he any connection with Blount?”

“Thanks to you drowning poor Pettifer,” McNab replied, “Owen got clean away. That damn schooner captain took him downriver. We questioned him, but he said he put Owen off at the next wharf. There's no proof whether he did or not.”

“You questioned him?” Monk seized on the one point that mattered, and that betrayed at least part of what McNab implied.

“Of course I did!” McNab snapped. He seemed about to add something more, then bit it back.

Monk smiled. “Then he isn't halfway across the Atlantic. Or in France, either. And you will have searched the schooner?”

“Of course!”

“Then it sounds as if he did put Owen off somewhere,” Monk concluded. “Of course, Owen could still be in France by now. What do you know about him?”

There was the faintest gleam of satisfaction in McNab's eyes, as if he were savoring something in his mind. “Forgotten, have you?”

Monk felt a stab of fear, as if suddenly he had been thrown back into the days just after the accident, when he felt dislike around him, tension in people he could not place, and had no idea why. He dismissed it. McNab was playing games, perhaps in revenge for Pettifer's death, reminding Monk that he knew his weakness. Pettifer might have been a good man, when he wasn't terrified. Perhaps he had had a particular fear of drowning. Some people had.

He looked McNab directly in the eye and saw the gleam fade again.

“I know his record,” he lied, referring back to Owen. “I want to know what you observed of him. Surely you know more than the list of convictions?” He leaned forward a little. “Is he clever, or lucky? An opportunist or a planner? Does he have friends or is he a loner? What are his weaknesses? Carelessness? Disloyalty, so too many enemies? Is he greedy and doesn't know when to stop and take his gains and quit? Has he got something he's afraid of, like Pettifer and the water, for example?”

Fury lit McNab's face, making it momentarily ugly rather than merely plain.

“How like you to ask,” he said very softly. “He's not afraid of heights, or falling, if that's what you mean.” He watched Monk with extraordinary intensity, as if daring Monk to look away from him. There was an emotion inside him that was impossible to read, except that it was filled with pain. That much burned through everything else.

Monk was put off an instant answer.

McNab waited.

What could Monk say that would not show he had been disturbed by the sudden moment of savage reality, whatever it had meant? One thing he was now sure of: Whatever lay between himself and McNab, McNab remembered it very clearly, and he did not. He was losing his balance on the edge of the unknown.

“I want to catch the man,” Monk said calmly. “The more I know of him, the better chance I have. Who is this schooner captain? What do you know of him?”

“Fin Gillander,” McNab responded. His voice still had a rough edge to it, as if it cost him an effort to reply to such an ordinary question. “American, I think, or sounds like it. Good-looking man, arrogant. Thinks that because he's got a fast ship he owns the seas. Damn fool, if you ask me. Owen told him he was the police and Pettifer the criminal. At least so he claims. I think he's a bit of a chancer. I daresay Owen slipped him a few guineas to take him downriver.”

“Really?” Monk could not help being sarcastic. “And where did Owen get a few guineas from, seeing as he'd just been convicted in court and escaped on the way to prison? Or is that not true, either?”

McNab hesitated. He had been caught out, and they both knew it. For an instant it was there in his eyes, and Monk had the sudden cold feeling that he had overplayed his hand. He must fill the silence.

“You don't trust Gillander? Perhaps he did put him ashore, whether by arrangement or not. Did Owen have help in his escape?” he suggested.

McNab smiled slowly and the tension eased out of the moment.

“Thought you'd never get to it. Looks as if he did. Has no friends that we know of, but hires out to the highest payer, so there are allies.” He took a deep breath, hesitated a moment, then spoke again, this time even more carefully. “He did quite a lot of work for Aaron Clive at one time. You know him? Big import and export business. Has warehouses along the stretch of river Owen was making for. And where Gillander was moored. Now that you've got a reason to, you could ask Clive—nicely, of course—what he can tell you about Owen. He might know more about him than just his skills. Very powerful man—indeed, very, very rich. I should think he doesn't know people without finding out what he's dealing with. Him having made his fortune in a single place, like.” The smile was back in his eyes. “But you'll know that…better than I do.”

Monk had no idea what he was talking about. “I've heard of him,” he said slowly. “Met him when Owen escaped…”

McNab's eyes widened. He was smiling. “That the first time? Really?”

It was a trap, and yet Monk had no idea how. He could hardly say that he had met him before. Aaron Clive was not a man one forgot.

“He never crosses the police path,” Monk answered.

“Oh…on the river.” McNab was now smiling even more widely. “No, I imagine not. I was thinking of long ago. Years.”

“I thought he'd only been here a couple of years.” Monk knew he was right about that. He knew of the major businesses and landowners along both banks of the river. It was his job.

“Oh…he has,” McNab agreed. “I was thinking of…the past. California, perhaps? I heard San Francisco was a pretty small town, just a few hundred people, before the gold rush.”

Now Monk was as chilled through as if he had just been pulled out of the river again. McNab was playing some absurd game with him. It was there in his face, the gloating, and yet the same crazy courage as lights a man's eyes when he places a bet on the table that he knows he cannot cover, should he lose. Monk had seen that look before.

How could he reply? What could he say that would not betray his vulnerability? The gold rush in California had begun in 1848, but it was common knowledge that the big rush was 1849. Was he supposed to know more? It was before his accident.

McNab was watching him. He had to respond.

“What on earth does Owen have to do with the gold rush?” he said with as much disbelief as he could manage. “They panned for gold mostly. They certainly didn't use explosives.” He said that as if he were certain of it, but did he know that, or was he guessing?

McNab looked slightly surprised. “Really?”

“Anyway,” Monk went on, “you dig mines, you don't blow them up. You're thinking of quarries.”

McNab was not in the least perturbed. “Ah,” he said, sitting back in his chair, easing his shoulders, “and explosives are also used in salvage. Sometimes. I suppose that's what Clive employed him for. Anyway, you could go and see him. He might be able to tell you something about Owen.”

“Thank you,” Monk said as he stood up. “Perhaps I'll be able to get him back for you.”

“Perhaps,” McNab agreed, his smile not fading at all.

—

M
ONK WENT THAT EVENING
to see Aaron Clive at his home in Mayfair, a magnificent house on a corner site just off Berkeley Square. He presented himself early, before the dinner hour, and asked to speak to Mr. Clive about the unfortunate episode the day before. He would ask for his assistance, as well as, of course, expressing his thanks.

He was obliged to wait half an hour, but did so in a very agreeable morning room. The fire had clearly been alight most of the day and it was thoroughly warm. He was even offered a choice of drink, which he would have liked to have accepted, but he was on duty, and it would be inadvisable, in spite of the informality of the hour. He spent the time studying the books on the shelves beside the polished marble fireplace, and the ornaments on the mantel and in the alcoves. The books were the eclectic variety he would have expected, but several of the ornaments were of native origin: carvings of bears and some kind of dog. These disturbed him not only in their beauty, but in wakening thoughts of brighter sunlight, heat in the air, and great distances he could not place. Imagination or memory?

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