It is late 1879 when James Murdoch finally returns to Scotland after a year-long adventure in South Africa. His wife, Barbara, is thrilled to see her husband again - and shocked when he reveals to her on the train ride home that he has been offered a partnership in the Kimberley diamond mine. But only moments after she agrees to follow him back to South Africa, their train plunges off the famous Tay Rail Bridge. The bodies of James and Barbara Murdoch are never recovered. Their young son, Henry, is now an orphan.
Twenty years later, the South African War is just underway. In the course of his military duties, Captain Henry Murdoch interrogates Boer spies suspected of espionage - a task that eventually leads him and his partner to uncover a Boer assassination plot against the British Army commander-in-chief in South Africa. Now, Murdoch must find a spy and trained assassin amongst the British ranks before he strikes.
Fast forward to today's world, in which American Gordon Mackenzie is now leading the British Commonwealth War Graves Commission office in France. His role places him unknowing into the middle of a covert espionage ring involving misdirected funds and a kinky subculture. Mackenzie has no idea that his trusted colleagues are not who they claim to be.
In this follow up to Severed Branch, a tale of espionage, greed, and shadowy syndicates emerges. Two men, in different times, are about to uncover hidden family secrets that link them and their futures together forever.
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CAST THE FIRST STONEA Novel
By ANDREW R. H. MOWATT
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Andrew R. H. Mowatt
All right reserved.
Chapter OneKimberley, South Africa January 1, 1880
The burlap sack over the captive's head reeked of horse manure; a strangling cord around his neck forced him to take shallow breaths. The coolness of the African night and his lack of proper attire added to the discomfort. His arms and legs were bound. As the hurried wagon rushed out toward somewhere on the empty veldt, he bounced and bumped in the back of it.
Jimmy McGee was certain that his Tsonga digger, Christian, who lay next to him, was in much worse shape. Whoever they were, they had beaten the African to a pulp. Christian mumbled and cried in agony as, with broken ribs, he pitched against the wagon's splintered bed.
None of the captives spoke directly to the hostages. They rode their mounts in silence, with guarded glances at their battered cargo.
Jimmy racked his brain. His foggy mind examined the likely possibilities. Orange Free State Boers trying to abduct us, for ransom to Central Victoria? Those fookin' diggers from Dutoitspan mine looking to even a score? He'd mixed it up with a few of the Dutoitspan diggers back in the canteen that evening. Petty, jealous bastards. Always looking for a scrap with the Colesberg Kopje gang. With a drink in 'em they talk a brave game. Too close with the bloody natives ... or is this a personal dispute? Only the Italians would take things this far. No matter, I'll deal with 'em once I catch me wind.
Jimmy McGee had faced worst hooligans back in Manchester than this mounted, motley lot. His head felt woozy but the knocking about back in the camp wasn't the worst hiding he'd ever received. Old man O'Doherty had beaten him much worse a few years back for trying to steal a whiskey shipment from Belfast off the morning steamer. An Irish street urchin from Manchester can absorb a lifetime of punishment.
There seemed to be at least three others following on horseback. In front, on the wagon's bench, two drivers mumbled something too low for him to hear. "Was it English or Afrikaaner?" he wondered aloud.
They had jumped him by surprise as he settled into his dusty, mildewed tent an hour or so earlier. He had barely returned from the canteen. Did the bastards follow me the entire way back?
One moment he was lying down on his prized cot to celebrate another prosperous New Year on the Diamond Fields and then suddenly, his tent collapsed over him.
It all seemed like malarkey at first. There'd been some shooting in the Air mixed with fireworks as his fellow Kimberley laborers in the surrounding camps loosened up for a wild evening of drunkenness and celebrating. Everybody in the tent city was expected to be a bit rambunctious as the hours counted down to midnight.
He half expected the usual lot of diggers to pass off the joke as tomfoolery and offer him a stiff drink to ring in a hopefully profitable 1880. The vicious blows to his head and body left him stunned, and he realized too late that this was no celebratory spillover. Then his world went temporarily dark.
The bastards ambushed him so fast that he didn't have a chance to draw his gun, never mind properly put on his soiled, corduroy trousers or sun-weathered boots.
He recovered consciousness as the horses picked up their pace. The far-off sounds of Kimberley's revelry faded in the distance as his attackers went north, out into the dusty veldt.
Are those bloody Italian miners at Dutoitspan and Bultfontein lookin' to stir up trouble again? No, couldn't be. Did I square me debts with Dodd's canteen?
He had paid them, and anyway, their style of handling matters was usually gentlemen-like. Bloody Boer raiders.
The wagon stopped with a jerk. The driver eased up on the reins and the horses exhaled heavily.
It was only a matter of seconds before the beatings began again.
He felt feet slam into his ribs from above and it kicked him off the back of the wagon.
The African, Christian, fell to the ground on top of McGee and let go with a native shout that had to be some form of curse in bush speak.
Gloved hands dug deep under the Irishman's armpits and he felt his face smash into the side of the wagon wheel.
The strength of the blow knocked the wind clear out of him.
McGee gasped helplessly in the filthy sack.
While still in a daze, his hands were unbound and his bare arms were tied forward around the wooden spokes of the wagon's rear wheel.
He collapsed onto the jutting axle.
His bare knees had been filled with splinters from the wagon's bed, and now, tiny stones dug smartly into his oozing leg wounds.
He heard Christian being thrown against the front wagon wheel. The African let out a grunt as his head struck something. McGee suspected that things could only get worse.
The unexpected crack of a whip cut the air. Christian screamed.
Soon thereafter, the whip found McGee's back, and if the sounds Christian was making hadn't been enough to tell him, now he knew the searing pain of multiple lashes.
"Jesus Christ, what the fook do you be wantin' with me! Goddamit! Ya tangled with the wrong bloke, ya filthy farmers! I said face me like men!"
From behind, one of his captors rushed forward and drilled his boot squarely into McGee's shoulder blade. A hand yanked the bag from his head.
McGee's eyes adjusted to the half light on the veldt. He gritted his teeth against the pain. He gasped a lungful of the cool night air and turned his head uncomfortably over his left shoulder to catch a view of his attackers.
McGee fought against his restraints to bring his fists around to defend himself. The jute ropes held fast, but he managed to swing around his cocked elbows in self-defense.
His attempt to strike one of his assailants missed wildly.
"Why are ya fookin' doin' this? If you want the kaffir, go and take him now! Ya bloody Boers never have enough slaves for the farms, do ya?"
McGee sent his left elbow flying again, hoping to catch one of his nearby attackers off guard.
The five assailants easily dodged his feeble attempt.
"Enough of these games. Take hold of 'im now and drag 'im over to the ditch with the boy," came a familiar voice from the gloom.
Two men jerked McGee off the ground. Another pulled a knife, cut the rope, and shoved him roughly away from the roadside.
McGee recognized his employer's voice. "What's this now? Watts? It's you? What's goin' on? What's this fookin' business all about?!" the man demanded. "You sellin' me off to the damn Boers?"
Watts paused to collect his thoughts.
"No, I'm afraid it's much more complicated than that."
Watts shook his head in the darkness.
"We were like family, Jimmy," the Scotsman lectured.
The two oversized handlers threw the Irishman into a ditch, painfully and squarely on his raw, torn knees. However, those wounds had become the least of his physical concerns by then.
"Watts, what's this fookin' about?" McGee pleaded through a swollen, bleeding lip. "You must have me confused with some of the kaffir's business. There must be a serious misunderstandin' here."
"No Jimmy, I'm afraid it's all quite right. Your little side deals have caught up with you now. Of all people, I should have known better than to put you in a situation of trust. Once a criminal, always a criminal. There's just no changing the nature of things. But did you really think I wouldn't eventually hear of your double-crossing and stealing from the claims that we all worked so hard for?"
Watts pulled out his revolver and drove it against the side of the digger's head.
"What the fook ya talkin' about, Watts?"
"You deeply disappointed me this time, Jimmy. I gave my word to your brother back in Liverpool that we were all square. The lengths I went to bring you out here. I had you shipped here so you could have a clean start. Earn a square living for the family and start anew. I pulled strings and paid off the judge, you selfish bastard! I welcomed you into our business like family! Your Fenian friends sold you out at the drop of a hat to get the reward for killin' that Manchester policeman. Where was the brotherhood then, you fool? You were facin' a life sentence of doing hard labor in the Cumberland mines. You know how many blokes don't come out alive from that wretched system? I should have thrown you down the shaft of my own family coal mine in Fife but your damn stupid brother convinced me you'd serve loyally here in New Rush. He gave me his bloody word you'd be devoted to me until the end!" Watt shouted. "Now look at ya, ya thieving, dirty bastard!"
He hit the slumped man again with the butt of his pistol.
McGee tumbled forward face first into the powdery dust and coughed up a mixture of bile and spit.
Watts yanked him back by his greasy hair and stared intensely into the man's blood-shot eyes.
"I was paying you seven pounds a week, for Christsake! You had enough, as is! You could have been my main overseer in this coming year. And then I find out that you and your native here have been stealin' from me all these years!"
Watts let another blow fly.
McGee toppled forward into the ditch and coughed out a broken tooth.
The two others grabbed the back of his shirt and pulled him upright again.
McGee took a deep breath and sighed.
"Watts, what do you be meanin'? The only ones stealin' from ya tis be these damn, filthy natives you keep me baby sittin' on the claims. They steal the diamonds straight out of the ground and trade 'em for Cape Smoke brandy in those fookin' eating-houses. No matter whichever of 'em sold me out, I swear, I never scammed ya, boss."
"Jimmy, it's too late, I know the whole scheme. You paid that boy Christian there one pound for every diamond he stuck in his ass and smuggled out of the claims or the depositing floors. We found the last load hidden in the barrel of your shotgun in the tent, just where the note said it would be. God knows how many hundred pounds you fookin' robbed, you ungrateful bastard! Turning the damn Africans against me! But now, you're going to pay. Both of you are going to pay!"
Watts cocked the hammer of his revolver.
"No Watts, listen to me, please," McGee pleaded. "Ya got the wrong mastermind of the whole operation. I was only bein' the messenger. Tis true, I had some gamblin' debts to pay off in camp and I be recruited by force. Your engineer, Murdoch, he threatened to turn me into the constable and expose the gambling club. It was me and a few of the boys over at DeBeers mine. I couldn't risk another trip to the gaol. Murdoch was the real buyer all the time."
"You lying son of a bitch! You stole from me!"
"Ya, I pocketed a few of 'em but just for safekeepin' to get out of hock. Your Murdoch bought all the best ones. Once he turned the first deal, he got the fever. He worked all the natives in the claims and started a side trade. Be it when he was fixin' the haulin' machines every Sunday afternoon or when he inspected the steam engine runnin' at the deposit floors, he pawned all them stones off the half-drunk kaffirs. He be the one with the account with those kopje-walloper Jews at the hotel, not me. He don't even need me no more. He worked straight with the kaffirs, and cut me out of the operation! I swear it on me mother's grave, Watts."
"Nonsense. You no good lying bastard. I warned you, I warned you all, every single one of you when we hired ya on! You can't swindle me, you stupid idiot!"
Watts took another swing at the beaten thief.
"Do you even know who I am? Do you have any idea what I went through to establish this enterprise, Jimmy? Do you know what I carried on my back for two weeks across the veldt to get to this hole all the way from Port Elizabeth? I was up on the Vaal River digging claims with my own bare hands back in '72 when you were still jerkin' off with your pals in Manchester. Everything you saw back at the mine started with these two bare hands. And like the good Lord says, Watts giveth, and then he taketh away!"
Watts balled his fist in front of McGee's swollen face and punched him squarely in the forehead.
The beaten man grunted.
"I know everything that goes on out here. You think I'm as stupid as you are? How dare you even try to save your worthless hide by accusing Mr. Murdoch of some involvement!"
"Tis true, Watts!"
"He would never sully his reputation by even being seen with the likes of you. When your brother shipped you here back in '74, you were already livin' on borrowed time. I always suspected that you'd let me down someday. But I warned every last one of you, steal and you pay for it. With your worthless life! I brought you here to work and prosper, not to rob me fuckin' blind! You broke the contract, and now you're gonna pay, Jimmy!"
Watts turned toward Christian and coldly discharged a bullet into the back of his head.
The body fell forward into the ditch.
"Jimmy, I'm afraid this is where we'll be parting ways."
"Watts, please," the man begged, "we can work out a new deal. I'll do anything you ask. Please, hear me now. I'll work for kaffir rates. I'll give you my only claim. I'll pay you back with what I have. Be reasonable, Watts. We can come to something. Don't kill me like a dog out here. I've come too far. I deserve a second chance to prove me self to ya! I never be wantin' to let ya down."
"Jimmy, my word is my bond. I've already taken all your worldly possessions. They don't even come close to the bill you owe me. When I say I'll kill anyone who steals from me, I wouldn't be a man if I didn't follow through."
"Watts, please, I have a wife and wee ones back in Liverpool."
"Ya, I know all that. When the authorities find your body with the self-inflicted gunshot wound, they will conclude that you were just another dead, drunken Irishman lost out here on the Diamond Fields, fuckin' native boys up the ass for illegal diamonds."
The Irishman began to sob.
"Take it like a man, Jimmy. Show some courage. However, I am a decent man. I shall mail your widow this week's wages. Your backstabbing Irish nationalist friends wouldn't even give you that courtesy."
"Watts, be reasonable," the man cried. "Please, I can help you. We can get back at these fookin' Jews around here that have us at each other's throats. We're like brothers! Don't do it Watts, I can change just like I promised you. Give me one last chance. I'll do anything for you," he implored.
"Mr. Quinn, you know what to do," Watts coldly instructed his other overseer, handing him his loaded weapon.
The accused took a deep breath. "Enda, don't be doin' this now," McGee pleaded. "Enda, after all these years we've been workin' together, ya can't be doin' this to me, not like this."
"Take it like a man, Jimmy. Ya stole food out of me babe's mouth," Quinn replied.
"Enough," Watts insisted, "be done with it, Enda."
McGee screamed as his former compatriot seized a handful of the beaten man's hair and jerked back his head.
Somehow McGee found enough strength to push off his executioner.
The assistant digger, Tom Parker, cracked McGee across the forehead with his fist, stunning him.
Quinn quickly shoved the barrel of the revolver down the thief's throat and squeezed the trigger. The explosion was muffled, but a gout of gore flew from McGee's upper back as the bullet exited.
The body toppled sideways next to the remains of the dead African.
Quinn twisted the revolver forward on his finger and handed it obediently back to Watts.
Watts patted the man on the shoulder and told the other miner to bring him two hand-painted placards from the wagon. Quinn arranged them around the necks of the executed.
Each sign read IBD. To everyone on the Diamond Fields who would hear of their fate, these murdered men represented the greatest form of disgrace a digger could face in Kimberley: Illicit Diamond Buyers.
Excerpted from CAST THE FIRST STONE by ANDREW R. H. MOWATT Copyright © 2012 by Andrew R. H. Mowatt. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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