Rare-book dealer Peter Fallon returns in a thrilling historical novel about the California Gold Rush, by New York Times bestselling author William Martin
Bound for Gold continues New York Times bestselling author William Martin’s epic of American history with the further adventures of Boston rare-book dealer Peter Fallon and his girlfriend, Evangeline Carrington. They are headed to California, where their search for a lost journal takes them into the history of Gold Rush. The journal follows young James Spencer, of the Sagamore Mining Company, on a spectacular journey from staid Boston, up the Sacramento River to the Mother Lode. During his search for a “lost river of gold,” Spencer confronts vengeance, greed, and racism in himself and others, and builds one of California’s first mercantile empires.
In the present, Peter Fallon’s son asks his father for help appraising the rare books in the Spencer estate and reconstructing Spencer’s seven-part journal, which has been stolen from the California Historical Society. Peter and Evangeline head for modern San Francisco and quickly discover that there’s something much bigger and more dangerous going on, and Peter’s son is in the middle of it. Turns out, that lost river of gold may be more than a myth.
Past and present intertwine as two stories of the eternal struggle for power and wealth become one.
About the Author
WILLIAM MARTIN is a New York Times bestselling author who tells the American story, from the Pilgrims to 9/11, in novels such as Back Bay, City of Dreams, The Lost Constitution, and The Lincoln Letter. He has also written an award-winning PBS documentary on the life of George Washington, and a cult-classic horror film, and was the 2005 recipient of the New England Book Award and the 2015 recipient of the Samuel Eliot Morison Lifetime Achievement Award. Martin has three grown children and lives near Boston with his wife.
Read an Excerpt
The text came in overnight.
Peter Fallon read it when he got up around six thirty: "SFO to BOS. Redeye, boarding now. Early biz in town. Breakfast, Arbella Club, 7:30? JetBlue Flt 2034. LJ"
LJ was his son.
They had named the boy after his grandfather, who had been known in the Boston building trades as Big Jim Fallon. So it was only natural that they would call the first son of a new generation Little Jim. And when Little Jim topped six foot one, along about the time that Big Jim passed, they started calling the kid "LJ."
LJ Fallon was now an associate in the San Francisco law firm of Van Valen and Prescott. And he did not do things spontaneously. Every step he had ever taken — from the colonial in West Roxbury, where he grew up with Peter's ex and a stepfather, through Harvard, then law school, all the way to an office in the Transamerica Pyramid — had all appeared as part of a plan.
A surprise night flight across the country and an early breakfast with Dad? That defined "spur of the moment." Not like LJ at all.
Something was up.
So Peter showered and dressed, threw on a tweed sport coat, and grabbed his scally cap. Donegal herringbone, perfect for an autumn-crisp morning and the kind of cap that a smart-ass Boston guy might put on to proclaim his Irish heritage at Boston's oldest, most Yankee-fied social club, named for the ship that brought the Puritans to Massachusetts and renowned for its unrelenting prejudice against the children of the Irish potato famine, at least until the presidency of John F. Kennedy.
It puzzled Peter that LJ had joined the Arbella instead of some other Boston bastion, like the Harvard Club or the Somerset or even the Club of Odd Volumes. Something to do with a girl, or with impressing the girl's family, but the girl had left the picture when LJ left for Boalt Hall, the Berkeley law school. This disappointed Peter on two fronts. He liked the girl, and he did not like the distance between Boston and Berkeley. At least the kid had a real job. He'd also kept his club membership, so maybe he might move home someday to use it.
Peter hurried along Marlborough, across the Public Garden, up Beacon Hill to Louisburg Square, a living monument to the three "b's" of nineteenth-century Boston architecture — bricks, bowfronts, and black shutters — encircling a fenced park where locals with gate keys could clean up after their dogs while inhaling all the high-toned history, too. Charles Bulfinch, famous Federalist architect, had lived on the square. So had the Alcotts, William Dean Howells, Robert Frost, even former Secretary of State John Kerry. The last house to sell here went for twelve million.
Peter sometimes thought he should have gone after the big bucks in Boston real estate. But he never regretted the path he chose. He had a long list of adventures, a longer list of clients, and one of the great brokerages for rare books and documents in America.
When someone needed a volume appraised, they turned to Peter. When someone needed some cash and decided to sell a presentation copy of a Mark Twain or a signed Lincoln letter, they turned to Peter. When someone learned of a lost first draft of the U. S. Constitution or some other treasure that needed finding for the good of the country and the wider world, they turned to Peter, because Peter ... got it.
History mattered. The documents that let us touch it mattered. The buildings where it unfolded mattered. The whole parade of human beings in general and Americans in particular mattered. To study the past was to light the way to the future. That's what Peter liked to believe, anyway. That's why he did what he did. And he was good at it.
He was also good at going anywhere in Boston and looking like he belonged. He could stop for a quick shooter in some Southie bar, where they talked about sports, politics, and money and knocked back buck-a-bottle Buds at three in the afternoon, or he could visit the Arbella Club, where they talked about money, sports, and politics and sipped Far Niente Chardonnay at lunch, and he always fit in.
So he didn't bother to make a big flourish with the scally cap.
He climbed the Arbella Club stoop, rang the buzzer, and admired the polish on the brass door knocker. He also noticed a little hand-lettered sign in one of the sidelights: No soliciting. All deliveries in the rear. He imagined the No Irish Need Apply sign pasted discreetly into that spot a century before.
When the door opened, he removed the cap. But before he stepped in, three men pushed out. He made way. Exit before entry. Simple good manners.
He nodded, but they barely acknowledged him. This would not have surprised him with some members of the Arbella, except that these were not the usual Arbella types. One was black, one white, one Asian. All wore dark suits. Dark expressions, too. And the first two seemed, by their bulk and manner, to be working for the Asian. Security? At the Arbella Club?
Times, Peter concluded, were changing.
* * *
He stopped in the foyer to let his eyes adjust. The tall case clock chimed once for 7:30. In the library, two men and a woman were talking about something that sounded important. On the staircase, a waiter in a crimson jacket was carrying a coffee service. At the coat check under the stairs, a man was collecting his briefcase.
Peter approached the reception desk and said, "I'm a guest of Mr. Fallon." He liked referring to his son as "mister."
The maître d', in blue blazer and tie the same color as the waiters' jackets, gave a polite, "This way, sir," and led Peter into the dining room.
The sun poured through the east-facing bowfront, burnishing the mahogany furniture, illuminating the mural of old Boston on one wall and the portraits of old Bostonians on the other. Coffee cups and silverware chimed and chirped, but wall-to-wall carpet, patterned after the green and gold original, muffled the sound. So conversation merely murmured — business talk at some tables (but no work papers, please), leaf-peeping chitchat at others, where out- of-town reciprocals planned their foliage tours. It was morning in Boston. And there was no better place to enjoy it than the Arbella Club, or so this room would suggest.
LJ Fallon was sitting with his back to the door, reading The Globe sports page.
The waiter was clearing one round of plates and setting out another.
Peter said, "The Patriots need cornerbacks."
LJ looked up and brightened.
Peter remembered the expression. It said, Dad's here. It would always say that. And it would always give Peter a little twinge of pleasure and pain, because it was the face that greeted him whenever he came to collect the boy for a weekend visit. The divorce had been hard on LJ, and even now, after all these years, Peter still saw the same mixture of hurt and hope when he looked into his son's eyes.
He also saw the resemblance. From the day LJ was born, people said that he was a Fallon. He had the black hair, the strong brow, the wiry build. He was taller than his father, but that was as it should be. He was also smarter, as Peter would tell anyone. LJ could handle math and physics, subjects that Peter had ducked. So ... smarter, yes, but short on experience and maybe a bit light on common sense, as every father who'd ever taken pride in a son's brains had reminded the boy at least once.
LJ glanced at the scally cap. "Nice touch."
"Subtle." Peter was pleased that his son got the joke. It meant that six years in San Francisco had not entirely drained the kid of his Boston attitude. Peter sat and slipped the cap onto the empty chair between them. "So ... how was your flight?"
"Got some sleep, landed at five thirty, came straight here. Used the weight room, then showered." LJ's hair shone in the light, still a bit wet.
"You could have showered at my place."
"I didn't want to bother you so early, especially if Evangeline is there."
Peter shook his head. "She's in New York. She and I are —"
"On the outs?"
"Taking a break."
"There's a reason we're not married. A reason we live in different cities. We have lots of fun together. Then we don't. So —" Peter shrugged.
"I think you're pretty well suited."
But Peter didn't want to talk about Evangeline. Talking with your son about your girlfriend was just ... wrong. Like kids imagining their parents having sex, or vice versa. He gestured to the coffee stains on the tablecloth. "You already had a meeting?"
"Yeah." LJ laughed. "No rest for the weary."
The old waiter returned with a coffeepot and a fresh cup. LJ thanked him by name. The waiter smiled as if not everyone remembered his name. Then he filled the cups and asked if they would like to order from the menu.
No. Father and son would take the buffet, thanks. But first, some chitchat.
Peter asked, "How's this new girlfriend?"
"She's one of the things I wanted to talk with you about."
"Oh?" Peter took a sip of coffee.
"No spit takes, Dad. But ... I think she's the one."
Peter swallowed and set down the cup. He always proceeded with caution in conversations like this. He liked everyone who came into his son's life, until he was told not to. "You think?"
"Oh, hell, I know." LJ broke into a grin. "I gave her a ring last week. We've been living together for three months."
So that was why LJ had crossed the country, to tell his father about his engagement. He wasn't in trouble. He hadn't lost his job. No one was suing him for malfeasance or misfeasance or any other kind of feasance.
Peter relaxed for the first time since he'd seen that text. "Congratulations. If she's the one, I'm happy for you."
"You'll like her. She's smart. Pretty. Funny. And ... she's also half Chinese."
Peter noticed his son's eyes shift. The little boy again, telling his father something that he was not certain would meet with approval.
Peter said, "Just half?"
"Her late mother came from an old Chinatown family. Her father's white."
Peter said, "I can't wait to meet her." He almost asked what the kid was so worried about. Chinese, Japanese, Indian ... it didn't matter to Peter. He had dated plenty of women from outside the Irish-American gene pool. A gorgeous black history professor who wrote a book about Lincoln. An Algerian beauty he met at the Paris Book Fair. And of course, a daughter of old Boston privilege named Evangeline Carrington.
But Jimmy was popping up, as if relieved to have that business out of the way. "Let's get some food. I'm starving."
The buffet stretched along the wall, beneath portraits of the club presidents. At one end, above stacked plates and bowls, loomed the face of the eighteenth- century founder, far less famous than his portraitist, John Singleton Copley. At every stop, cold New England faces looked down on warming dishes of bacon and French toast, a bubbling pot of "porridge," bowls of fruit salad, and Danish pastries in raspberry, apple, and, of course, prune.
Thaddeus Spencer, wearing a brown cutaway and red silk cravat, hung over the scrambled eggs. His jaw was set hard against whatever wind was blowing in his face. He looked like a man of business, and not only a man who was good at his own business but one who could, if called upon, make it his business to mind yours.
Peter whispered to LJ, "Do you think he'll complain if I take an extra sausage?"
"He may be the smartest guy on this wall. He persuaded the board to buy a double bowfront on Louisburg Square in 1836. This building's worth twenty million."
LJ dropped a few more sausages onto his father's plate and said, "I'm here to talk to one of his Boston descendants. And I want to talk to you about his San Francisco son."
So there it was, thought Peter. Something was up.
* * *
The story spilled out over breakfast: At the behest of senior partner Johnson "Jack" Barber, LJ was overseeing the liquidation of the Spencer estate.
"I thought your specialty was corporate stuff, mergers and acquisitions —"
"When a senior partner asks you to do something, Dad, you do it. It's how you climb the ladder."
Peter popped a piece of sausage into his mouth and said, "How can I help?"
"Appraise the Spencer rare book collection. James Spencer was the son of the guy on the wall behind me. He went to the Gold Rush, had adventures, did well. His company lasted until the 1990s, when corporate raiders dismantled what was left of it. Now the family is liquidating the estate, house and all, including the Spencer library."
"How many books?"
"Maybe two thousand. All good stuff. A complete H. H. Bancroft, signed Mark Twains, old Spanish manuscripts."
"A few days of work, but a few days in San Francisco? Hell, yeah. I can get the Hangtown fry at Tadich's and the Shanghai soup dumplings at Great Eastern, go for a hike in the Muir Woods, and meet my future daughter-in-law."
LJ took a sip of coffee and said, "It's a little more complicated than that."
Peter was not surprised. "It always is."
"Spencer kept a journal."
"He was part of a literate generation. They saw the Gold Rush as the great adventure of their lives. So a lot of them wrote about it."
"He transcribed his and gave it to the California Historical Society. But about a year ago, it disappeared."
"And you want me to find it?"
"I want you to help me reconstruct it. The last great-granddaughter, named Maryanne Rogers, died without issue. She put a codicil into her will that before the liquidation of the estate, all seven original sections ofthe journal, scattered among the heirs, should be gathered and digitized, so that — I quote —'the world may read a document essential to California's history, even if it starts another gold rush.'"
"Another gold rush?"
"She was a little batty."
"But another gold rush? That sounds like a big deal." Peter took a sip of coffee and looked into his son's eyes.
The little boy flickered for just a moment, only to be replaced by the level gaze of the young man on the rise.
The father said, "There's more here, isn't there?" "Well, the heirs have their own agendas."
"Heirs always do." Peter leaned across the table. "If memory serves correctly there is a certain Spencer heir named Sturgis. Is he in on this?"
"He's in on everything." LJ looked down again, a bit guilty. "But Dad, you're the man for the job, no matter who else is involved. So, what about it?"
"Another gold rush ... difficult heirs ... strange codicils in a batty old woman's will. How did she die?"
"Hit in a crosswalk."
"Wait, wait, don't tell me. Hit-and-run, right?"
"Don't be sarcastic." LJ sipped a little coffee. "But, yeah. She lived in the old family mansion on California Street. It's called Arbella House, believe it or not."
"So this James Spencer remembered his Boston roots."
LJ cut into a sausage. "Every Thursday, Mrs. Rogers doddered down California to Van Ness, then three blocks to the House of Prime Rib. She always ordered two martinis and a big plate of beef —" "House Cut or City Cut?" said Peter.
"You've eaten there?" LJ laughed. "When it comes to food, Dad always knows."
"And when it comes to hit-and-runs, Dad's always suspicious."
"She was hit in the crosswalk at Sacramento. White panel truck. They never found the driver."
"Anybody else with her?"
"Mr. Yung, the butler. He survived."
"Witnesses? Other than the butler or Colonel Mustard?"
"Come on, Dad, don't be sarcastic. My boss, Johnson Barber, was waiting for her in front of the restaurant. She liked it when an important San Franciscan of the masculine variety escorted her around town."
"A full-service law firm." Peter looked again into his son's eyes, then up at the eyes of the portraits on the wall. The eyes in the portraits did not shift, unlike his son's.
"So," said Peter, "it was either an accident, or somebody wants to get this journal reconstituted quickly, and offing the batty old heiress was the only way to do it?"
LJ sipped his coffee, as if to say, Point made.
Peter buttered his croissant. "Has anybody told you what this new gold rush would look like?"
"All I know is that we are trying to find seven notebooks that created the finished version of James Spencer's journal."
"Put them together and you get ... what? A treasure map? The location of a buried gold stash? Or is it a gold vein?"
"Maybe all three. Maybe something international. But yeah, there's more to this than meets the eye."
"There always is," said Peter again.
"If I find the notebooks, my treasure is the goodwill of Mr. Johnson 'Jack' Barber, senior partner at Van Valen and Prescott."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Bound for Gold"
Copyright © 2018 William Martin.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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