The man who lies bleeding to death in a London brickyard is no ordinary drifter but a secret informant with details of an international plot against the British government. Special Branch officer Thomas Pitt, hastening to rendezvous with him, arrives seconds after the knife-wielding assassin—who, in turn, flees on an erratic course that leads Pitt in wild pursuit to picturesque St. Malo on the French coast. Meanwhile, Pitt’s supervisor, Victor Narraway, stands accused of embezzling government funds. Since the man who ruined Narraway’s career is in Ireland, Pitt’s clever wife, Charlotte, agrees to pose as Narraway’s sister and accompany him to Dublin to investigate. But unknown to Pitt and Narraway, a shadowy plotter is setting a trap that, once sprung, could destroy not just reputations but the British empire itself.
About the Author
Hometown:Portmahomack, Ross-shire, U.K
Date of Birth:October 28, 1938
Place of Birth:Blackheath, London England
Read an Excerpt
C H A P T E R
“Tha t’s him!” Gower yelled above the sound of the traffic. Pitt turned on his heel just in time to see a figure dart between the rear end of a hansom and the oncoming horses of a brewer’s dray. Gower disappeared after him, missing a trampling by no more than inches.
Pitt plunged into the street, swerving to avoid a brougham and stopping abruptly to let another hansom pass. By the time he reached the far pavement Gower was twenty yards ahead and Pitt could make out only his flying hair. The man he was pursuing was out of sight. Weaving between clerks in pinstripes, leisurely strollers, and the occasional early woman shopper with her long skirts getting in the way, Pitt closed the gap until he was less than a dozen yards behind Gower. He caught a glimpse of the man ahead: bright ginger hair and a green jacket. Then he was gone, and Gower turned, his right hand raised for a moment in signal, before disappearing into an alley.
Pitt followed after him into the shadows, his eyes taking a moment or two to adjust. The alley was long and narrow, bending in a dogleg a hundred yards beyond. The gloom was caused by the overhanging eaves and the water-soaked darkness of the brick, long streams of grime running down from the broken guttering. People were huddled in doorways; others made their way slowly, limping, or staggering beneath heavy bolts of cloth, barrels, and bulging sacks.
Gower was still ahead, seeming to find his way with ease. Pitt veered around a fat woman with a tray of matches to sell, and tried to catch up. Gower was at least ten years younger, even if his legs were not quite so long, and he was more used to this kind of thing. But it was Pitt’s experience in the Metropolitan Police before he joined Special Branch that had led them to finding West, the man they were now chasing.
Pitt bumped into an old woman and apologized before regaining his stride. They were around the dogleg now, and he could see West’s ginger head making for the opening into the wide thoroughfare forty yards away. Pitt knew that they must catch him before he was swallowed up in the crowds.
Gower was almost there. He reached out an arm to grab at West, but just then West ducked sideways and Gower tripped, hurtling into the wall and momentarily winding himself. He bent over double, gasping to catch his breath.
Pitt lengthened his stride and reached West just as he dived out into the High Street, barged his way through a knot of people, and disappeared.
Pitt went after him and a moment later saw the light on his bright hair almost at the next crossroads. He increased his pace, bumping and banging people. He had to catch him. West had information that could be vital. After all, the tide of unrest was rising fast all over Europe, and becoming more violent. Many people, in the name of re- form, were actually trying to overthrow government altogether and create an anarchy in which they imagined there would be some kind of equality of justice. Some were content with blood-soaked oratory; others preferred dynamite, or even bullets.
Special Branch knew of a current plot, but not yet the leaders be- hind it, or—more urgently—the target of their violence. West was to provide that, at risk of his own life—if his betrayal were known.
Where the devil was Gower? Pitt swiveled around once to see if he could spot him. He was nowhere visible in the sea of bobbing heads, bowler hats, caps, and bonnets. There was no time to look longer. Surely he wasn’t still in the alley? What was wrong with the man? He was not much more than thirty. Had he been more than just knocked off balance? Was he injured?
West was up ahead, seizing a break in the traffic to cross back to the other side again. Three hansoms came past almost nose-to-tail. A cart and four clattered in the opposite direction. Pitt fumed on the edge of the curb. To go out into the roadway now would only get him killed.
A horse-drawn omnibus passed, then two heavily loaded wagons. More carts and a dray went in the other direction. Pitt had lost sight of West, and Gower had vanished into the air.
There was a brief holdup in traffic and Pitt raced across the road. Weaving in and out of the way of frustrated drivers, he only just missed being caught by a long, curling carriage whip. Someone yelled at him and he took no notice. He reached the opposite side and caught sight of West for an instant as he swung around a corner and made for another alley.
Pitt raced after him, but when he got there West had disappeared. “Did you see a man with ginger hair?” Pitt demanded of a peddler
with a tray of sandwiches. “Where did he go?”
“Want a sandwich?” the man asked with eyes wide. “Very good. Made this morning. Only tuppence.”
Pitt fished frantically in his pocket; found string, sealing wax, a pocketknife, a handkerchief, and several coins. He gave the man a threepenny bit and took a sandwich. It felt soft and fresh, although right now he didn’t care. “Which way?” he said harshly.
“That way.” The man pointed into the deeper shadows of the alley.
Pitt began to run again, weaving a path through the piles of rubbish. A rat skittered from under his feet, and he all but fell over a drunken figure lying half out of a doorway. Somebody swung a punch at him; he lurched to one side, losing his balance for a moment, glimpsing West still ahead of him. Now West disappeared again and Pitt had no idea which way he had gone. He tried one blind courtyard and alley after another. It seemed like endless, wasted moments before Gower joined him from one of the side alleyways.
“Pitt!” Gower clutched at his arm. “This way! Quickly.” His fingers dug deep into Pitt’s flesh, making him gasp with the sudden pain.
Together they ran forward, Pitt along the broken pavement be- side the dark walls, Gower in the gutter, his boots sending up a spray of filthy water. Pace for pace, they went around the corner into the open entrance to a brickyard and saw a man crouching over some- thing on the ground.
Gower let out a cry of fury and darted forward, half crossing in front of Pitt and tripping him up in his eagerness. They both fell heavily. Pitt was on his feet in time to see the crouched figure swing around for an instant, then scramble up and run as if for his life.
“Oh God!” Gower said, aghast, now also on his feet. “After him! I know who it is!”
Pitt stared at the heap on the ground: West’s green jacket and bright hair. Blood streamed from his throat, staining his chest and al- ready pooling dark on the stones underneath him. There was no way he could possibly be alive.
Gower was already pursuing the assassin. Pitt raced after him and this time his long strides caught up before they reached the road. “Who is it?” he demanded, almost choking on his own breath.
“Wrexham!” Gower hissed back. “We’ve been watching him for weeks.”
Pitt knew the man, but only by name. There was a momentary break in the stream of vehicles. They darted across the road to go after Wrexham, who thank heaven was an easy figure to see. He was taller than average, and—despite the good weather—he was wearing a long, pale-colored scarf that swung in the air as he twisted and turned. It flashed through Pitt’s mind that it might be a weapon; it would not be hard to strangle a man with it.
They were on a crowded footpath now, and Wrexham dropped his pace. He almost sauntered, walking easily, swiftly, with loping strides, but perfectly casual. Could he be arrogant enough to imagine he had lost them so quickly? He certainly knew they had seen him, because he had swiveled around at Gower’s cry, and then run as if for his life.
They were now walking at a steady pace, eastward toward Stepney and Limehouse. Soon the crowds would thin as they left the broader streets behind.
“If he goes into an alley, be careful,” Pitt warned, now beside Gower, as if they were two tradesmen bound on a common errand. “He has a knife. He’s too comfortable. He must know we’re behind him.”
Gower glanced at him sideways, his eyes wide for an instant. “You think he’ll try and pick us off?”
“We practically saw him cut West’s throat,” Pitt replied, matching Gower stride for stride. “If we get him he’ll hang. He must know that.”
“I reckon he’ll duck and hide suddenly, when he thinks we’re taking it easy,” Gower answered. “We’d better stay fairly close to him. Lose sight of him for a moment and he’ll be gone for good.”
Pitt agreed with a nod, and they closed the distance to Wrexham, who was still strolling ahead of them. Never once did he turn or look back.
Pitt found it chilling that a man could slit another’s throat and see him bleed to death, then a few moments after walk through a crowd with outward unconcern, as if he were just one more pedestrian about some trivial daily business. What passion or inhumanity drove him? In the way he moved, the fluidity—almost grace—of his stride, Pitt could not detect even fear, let alone the conscience of a brutal murderer.
Wrexham wove in and out of the thinning crowd. Twice they lost sight of him.
“That way!” Gower gasped, waving his right hand. “I’ll go left.” He swerved around a window cleaner with a bucket of water, almost knocking the man over.
Pitt went the other way, into the north end of an alley. The sudden shadows momentarily made him blink, half blind. He saw movement and charged forward, but it was only a beggar shuffling out of a doorway. He swore under his breath and sprinted back to the street just in time to see Gower swiveling around frantically, searching for him.
“That way!” Gower called urgently and set off, leaving Pitt behind.
The second time it was Pitt who saw him first, and Gower who had to catch up. Wrexham had crossed the road just in front of a brewer’s dray and was out of sight by the time Pitt and Gower were able to follow. It took them more than ten minutes to close on him without drawing attention. There were fewer people about, and two men running would have been highly noticeable. With fifty yards’ distance between them, Wrexham could have outrun them too easily.
They were in Commercial Road East, now, in Stepney. If Wrexham did not turn they would be in Limehouse, perhaps the West India Dock Road. If they went that far they could lose him among the tangle of wharves with cranes, bales of goods, warehouses, and dock laborers. If he went down to one of the ferries he could be out of sight between the ships at anchor before they could find another ferry to follow him.
Ahead of them, as if he had seen them, Wrexham increased his pace, his long legs striding out, his jacket scarf flying.
Pitt felt a flicker of nervousness. His muscles were aching, his feet sore despite his excellent boots—his one concession to sartorial taste. Even well-cut jackets never looked right on him because he weighted the pockets with too many pieces of rubbish he thought he might need. His ties never managed to stay straight; perhaps he knotted them too tightly, or too loosely. But his boots were beautiful and immaculately cared for. Even though most of his work was of the mind, out-thinking, out-guessing, remembering, and seeing significance where others didn’t, he still knew the importance of a policeman’s feet. Some habits do not die. Before he had been forced out of the Metropolitan Police and Victor Narraway had taken him into Special Branch, he had walked enough miles to know the price of inattention to physical stamina, and to boots.
Suddenly Wrexham ran across the narrow road and disappeared down Gun Lane.
"He's going for the Limwhouse Station!" Gower shouted, leaping out of the way of a cart full of timber as he dashed after him.
Pitt was on his heels. The Limehouse Station was on the Black- wall Railway, less than a hundred yards away. Wrexham could go in at least three possible directions from there and end up anywhere in the city.
But Wrexham kept moving, rapidly, right, past the way back up to the station. Instead, he turned left onto Three Colts Street, then swerved right onto Ropemaker’s Field, still loping in an easy run.
Pitt was too breathless to shout, and anyway Wrexham was no more than fifteen yards ahead. The few men and one old washer- woman on the path scattered as the three running men passed them. Wrexham was going to the river, as Pitt had feared.
At the end of Ropemaker’s Field they turned right again into Nar- row Street, still running. They were only yards from the river’s edge. The breeze was stiff off the water, smelling of salt and mud where the tide was low. Half a dozen gulls soared lazily in circles above a string of barges.
Wrexham was still ahead of them, moving less easily now, tiring. He passed the entrance to Limehouse Cut. Pitt figured that he must be making for Kidney Stairs, the stone steps down to the river, where, if they were lucky, he would find a ferry waiting. There were two more sets of stairs before the road curved twenty yards inland to Broad Street. At the Shadwell Docks there were more stairs again. He could lose his pursuers on any of them.
Gower gestured toward the river. “Steps!” he shouted, bending a moment and gasping to catch his breath. He gestured with a wild swing of his arm. Then he straightened up and began running again, a couple of strides ahead of Pitt.
Pitt could see a ferry coming toward the shore, the boatman pulling easily at the oars. He would get to the steps a moment or two after Wrexham—in fact Pitt and Gower would corner him nicely. Perhaps they could get the ferry to take them up to the Pool of London. He ached to sit down even for that short while.
Wrexham reached the steps and ran down them, disappearing as if he had slipped into a hole. Pitt felt an upsurge of victory. The ferry was still twenty yards from the spot where the steps would meet the water.
Gower let out a yell of triumph, waving his hand high.
They reached the top of the steps just as the ferry pulled away, Wrexham sitting in the stern. They were close enough to see the smile on his face as he half swiveled on the seat to gaze at them. Then he faced forward, speaking to the ferryman and pointing to the farther shore.
Pitt raced down the steps. His feet slithered on the wet stones. He waved his arms at the other ferry, the one they had seen. “Here! Hurry!” he shouted.
Gower shouted also, his voice high and desperate.
The ferryman increased his speed, throwing his full weight be- hind his oars, and in a matter of seconds had swung around next to the pier.
“Get in, gents,” he said cheerfully. “Where to?”
“After that boat there,” Gower gasped, choking on his own breath and pointing to the other ferry. “An extra half crown in it for you if you catch up with him before he gets up Horseferry Stairs.”
Pitt landed in the boat behind him and immediately sat down so they could get under way. “He’s not going to Horseferry,” he pointed out. “He’s going straight across. Look!”
“Lavender Dock?” Gower scowled, sitting in the seat beside Pitt. “What the hell for?”
“Shortest way across,” Pitt replied. “Get up to Rotherhithe Street and away.”
“Nearest train station, probably. Or he might double back. Best place to get lost is among other people.”
They were pulling well away from the dock now and slowly catching up with the other ferry.
There were fewer ships moored here, and they could make their way almost straight across. A string of barges was still fifty yards down- stream, moving slowly against the tide. The wind off the water was colder. Without thinking about what he was doing, Pitt hunched up and pulled his collar higher around his neck. It seemed like hours since he and Gower had burst into the brickyard and seen Wrexham crouched over West’s blood-soaked body, but it was probably little more than ninety minutes. Their source of information about whatever plot West had known of was gone with his death.
He thought back to his last interview with Narraway, sitting in the office with the hot sunlight streaming through the window onto the piles of books and papers on the desk. Narraway’s face had been intensely serious under its graying mane of hair, his eyes almost black. He had spoken of the gravity of the situation, the rise of the passion to reform Europe’s old imperialism, violently if necessary. It was no longer a matter of a few sticks of dynamite, an assassination here and there. Rather, there were whispers of full governments overthrown by force.
“Some things need changing,” Narraway had said with a wry bitterness. “No one but a fool would deny that there is injustice. But this would result in anarchy. God alone knows how wide this spreads, at least as far as France, Germany, and Italy, and by the sounds of it here in England as well.”
Pitt had stared at him, seeing a sadness in the man he had never before imagined.
“This is a different breed, Pitt, and the tide of victory is with them now. But the violence . . .” Narraway had shaken his head, as if awakening himself. “We don’t change that way in Britain, we evolve slowly. We’ll get there, but not with murder, and not by force.”
The wind was fading, the water smoother.
They were nearly at the south bank of the river. It was time to make a decision. Gower was looking at him, waiting.
Wrexham’s ferry was almost at the Lavender Dock.
“He’s going somewhere,” Gower said urgently. “Do we want to get him now, sir—or see where he leads us? If we take him we won’t know who’s behind this. He won’t talk, he’s no reason to. We practically saw him kill West. He’ll hang for sure.” He waited, frowning.
“Do you think we can keep him in sight?” Pitt asked.
“Yes, sir.” Gower did not hesitate.
“Right.” The decision was clear in Pitt’s mind. “Stay back then. We’ll split up if we have to.”
The ferry hung back until Wrexham had climbed up the narrow steps and all but disappeared. Then, scrambling to keep up, Pitt and Gower went after him.
They were careful to follow from more of a distance, sometimes together but more often with a sufficient space between them.
Yet Wrexham now seemed to be so absorbed in his own concerns that he never looked behind. He must have assumed he had lost them when he crossed the river. Indeed, they were very lucky that he had not. With the amount of waterborne traffic, he must have failed to re- alize that one ferry was dogging his path.
At the railway station there were at least a couple of dozen other people at the ticket counter.
“Better get tickets all the way, sir,” Gower urged. “We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves from not paying the fare.”
Pitt gave him a sharp look, but stopped himself from making the remark on the edge of his tongue.
“Sorry,” Gower murmured with a slight smile.
Once on the platform they remained close to a knot of other peo- ple waiting. Neither of them spoke, as if they were strangers to each other. The precaution seemed unnecessary. Wrexham barely glanced at either of them, nor at anyone else.
The first train was going north. It drew in and stopped. Most of the waiting passengers got on. Pitt wished he had a newspaper to hide his face and appear to take his attention. He should have thought of it before.
“I think I can hear the train . . . ,” Gower said almost under his breath. “It should be to Southampton—eventually. We might have to change . . .” The rest of what he said was cut off by the noise of the engine as the train pulled in, belching steam. The doors flew open and passengers poured out.
Pitt struggled to keep Wrexham in sight. He waited until the last moment in case he should get out again and lose them, and, when he didn’t, he and Gower boarded a carriage behind him.
"He could be anywhere," Gower said grimly. His fair face was set in hard lines, his hair poking up where he had run his fingers through it. “One of us better get out at every station to see that he doesn’t get off at the last moment.”
“Of course,” Pitt agreed.
“Do you think West really had something for us?” Gower went on. “He could have been killed for some other reason. A quarrel? Those revolutionaries are pretty volatile. Could have been a betrayal within the group? Even a rivalry for leadership?” He was watching Pitt intently, as if trying to read his mind.
“I know that,” Pitt said quietly. He was by far the senior, and it was his decision to make. Gower would never question him on that. It was little comfort now, in fact rather a lonely thought. He remembered Narraway’s certainty that there was something planned that would make the recent random bombings seem trivial. In February of last year, 1894, a French anarchist had tried to destroy the Royal Observatory at Greenwich with a bomb. Thank heaven he had failed. In June, President Carnot of France had been assassinated. In August, a man named Caserio had been executed for the crime. Everywhere there was anger and uncertainty in the air.
It was a risk to follow Wrexham, but to seize on an empty certainty was a kind of surrender. “We’ll follow him,” Pitt replied. “Do you have enough money for another fare, if we have to separate?”
Gower fished in his pocket, counted what he had. “As long as it isn’t all the way to Scotland, yes, sir. Please God it isn’t Scotland.” He smiled with a twisted kind of misery. “You know in February they had the coldest temperature ever recorded in Britain? Nearly fifty degrees of frost! If the poor bastard let off a bomb to start a fire you could hardly blame him!”
“That was February, this is April already,” Pitt reminded him. “Here, we’re pulling into a station. I’ll watch for Wrexham this time. You take the next.”
Pitt opened the door and was only just on the ground when he saw Wrexham getting out and hurrying across the platform to change trains for Southampton. Pitt turned to signal Gower and found him already out and at his elbow. Together they followed, trying not to be conspicuous by hurrying. They found seats, but separately for a while, to make sure Wrexham didn’t double back and elude them, disappearing into London again.
But Wrexham seemed to be oblivious, as if he no longer even considered the possibility of being followed. He appeared completely carefree, and Pitt had to remind himself that Wrexham had followed a man in the East End only hours ago, then quite deliberately cut his throat and watched him bleed to death on the stones of a deserted brickyard.
“God, he’s a cold-blooded bastard!” he said with sudden fury.
A man in pin-striped trousers on the seat opposite put down his newspaper and stared at Pitt with distaste, then rattled his paper loudly and resumed reading.
Gower smiled. “Quite,” he said quietly. “We had best be extremely careful.”
One or the other of them got out briefly at every stop, just to make certain Wrexham did not leave this train, but he stayed until they finally pulled in at Southampton.
Gower looked at Pitt, puzzled. “What can he do in Southampton?” he said. They hurried along the platform to keep pace with Wrexham, then past the ticket collector and out into the street.
The answer was not long in coming. Wrexham took an omnibus directly toward the docks, and Pitt and Gower had to race to jump onto the step just as it pulled away. Pitt almost bumped into Wrexham, who was still standing. Deliberately he looked away from Gower. They must be more careful. Neither of them was particularly notice- able alone. Gower was fairly tall, lean, his hair long and fair, but his features were a trifle bony, stronger than average. An observant per- son would remember him. Pitt was taller, perhaps less than graceful, and yet he moved easily, comfortable with himself. His hair was dark and permanently untidy. One front tooth was a little chipped, but visible only when he smiled. It was his steady, very clear gray eyes that people did not forget.
Wrexham would have to be extraordinarily preoccupied not to be aware of seeing them in London, and now again here in Southampton, especially if they were together. Accordingly, Pitt moved on down the inside of the bus to stand well away from Gower, and pretended to be watching the streets as they passed, as if he were taking careful note of his surroundings.
As he had at least half expected, Wrexham went all the way to the dockside. Without speaking to Gower, Pitt followed well behind their quarry. He trusted that Gower was off to the side, as far out of view as possible.
Wrexham bought a ticket on a ferry to St. Malo, across the channel on the coast of France. Pitt bought one as well. He hoped fervently that Gower had sufficient money to get one too, but the only thing worse than ending up alone in France, trying to follow Wrexham without help, would be to lose the man altogether.
He boarded the ferry, a smallish steamship called the Laura, and remained within sight of the gangplank. He needed to see if Gower came aboard, but more important to make sure that Wrexham did not get off again. If Wrexham were aware of Pitt and Gower it would be a simple thing to go ashore and hop the next train back to London.
Pitt was leaning on the railing with the sharp salt wind in his face when he heard footsteps behind him. He swung around, then was annoyed with himself for betraying such obvious alarm.
Gower was a yard away, smiling. “Did you think I was going to push you over?” he said amusedly.
Pitt swallowed back his temper. “Not this close to the shore,” he replied. “I’ll watch you more closely out in mid-channel!”
Gower laughed. “Looks like a good decision, sir. Following him this far could get us a real idea of who his contacts are in Europe. We might even find a clue as to what they’re planning.”
Pitt doubted it, but it was all they had left now. “Perhaps. But we mustn’t be seen together. We’re lucky he hasn’t recognized us so far. He would have if he weren’t so abominably arrogant.”
Gower was suddenly very serious, his fair face grim. “I think what- ever he has planned is so important his mind is completely absorbed in it. He thought he lost us in Ropemaker’s Field. Don’t forget we were in a totally separate carriage on the train.”
“I know. But he must have seen us when we were chasing him. He ran,” Pitt pointed out. “I wish at least one of us had a jacket to change. But in April, at sea, without them we’d be even more conspicuous.” He looked at Gower’s coat. They were not markedly different in size. Even if they did no more than exchange coats, it would alter both their appearances slightly.
As if reading this thought, Gower began to slip off his coat. He passed it over, and took Pitt’s from his outstretched hand.
Pitt put on Gower’s jacket. It was a little tight across the chest. With a rueful smile Gower emptied the pockets of Pitt’s jacket,
which now sat a little loosely on his shoulders. He passed over the notebook, handkerchief, pencil, loose change, half a dozen other bits and pieces, then the wallet with Pitt’s papers of identity and money.
Pitt similarly passed over all Gower’s belongings.
Gower gave a little salute. “See you in St. Malo,” he said, turning on his heel and walking away without looking back, a slight swagger in his step. Then he stopped and turned half toward Pitt, smiling. “I’d keep away from the railing if I were you, sir.”
Pitt raised his hand in a salute, and resumed watching the gang- way.
It w a s just past the equinox, and darkness still came quite early. They set out to sea as the sun was setting over the headland, and the wind off the water was distinctly chill. There was no point in even wondering where Wrexham was, let alone trying to watch him. If he met with anyone they would not know unless they were so close as to be obvious, and it might look like no more than a mere casual civility between strangers anyway. It would be better to find a chair and get a little sleep. It had been a long day, full of exertion, horror, hectic running through the streets, and then sitting perfectly still in a railway carriage.
As he sat drifting toward sleep, Pitt thought with regret that he had not had even a chance to tell Charlotte that he would not be home that night, or perhaps even the next. He had no idea where his decision would take him. He had only a little money with him— sufficient for one or two nights’ lodging now that he had bought a train ticket and a ferry ticket. He had no toothbrush, no razor, certainly no clean clothes. He had imagined he would meet West, learn his information, and then take it straight back to Narraway at his office in Lisson Grove.
Now they would have to send a telegram from St. Malo requesting funds, and saying at least enough for Narraway to understand what had happened. Poor West’s body would no doubt be found, but the police might not know of any reason to inform Special Branch of it. No doubt Narraway would find out in time. He seemed to have sources of information everywhere. Would he think to tell Charlotte?
Pitt wished now that he had made some kind of a provision to see she was informed, or even made a telephone call from Southampton. But to do that, he would have had to leave the ship, and perhaps lose Wrexham. He thought with surprise that he did not even know if Gower was married, or living with his parents. Who would be waiting for him to get home? This thought in his mind, Pitt drifted off to sleep.
He awoke with a jolt, sitting upright, his mind filled with the image of West’s body, head lolling at an angle, blood streaming onto the stones of the brickyard, the air filled with the smell of it.
“Sorry, sir,” the steward said automatically, passing a glass of beer to the man in the seat next to Pitt. “Can I get you something? How about a sandwich?”
Pitt realized with surprise that he had not eaten in twelve hours and was ravenous. No wonder he could not sleep. “Yes,” he said eagerly. “Yes, please. In fact, may I have two, and a glass of cider?”
“Yes, sir. How about roast beef, sir. That do you?” “Please. What time do we get into St. Malo?”
“About five o’clock, sir. But you don’t need to go ashore until seven, unless o’ course you’d like to.”
“Thank you.” Inwardly Pitt groaned. They would have to be up and watching from then on, in case Wrexham chose to leave early. That meant they would have to be half awake all night.
“Better bring me two glasses of cider,” he said with a wry smile.
Pitt slept on and off, and he was awake and on edge when he saw Gower coming toward him on the deck as the ferry nosed its way slowly toward the harbor of St. Malo. It was not yet dawn but there was a clear sky, and he could see the outline of medieval ramparts against the stars. Fifty or sixty feet high at the least, they looked to be interspersed with great towers such as in the past would have been manned by archers. Perhaps on some of them there would have been men in armor, with cauldrons of boiling oil to tip on those brave enough, or foolish enough, to scale the defenses. It was like a journey backward in time.
He was jerked back to reality by Gower’s voice behind him.
“I see you are awake. At least I assume you are?” It was a question. “Not sure,” Pitt replied. “That looks distinctly like a dream to me.” “Did you sleep?” Gower asked.
“A little. You?”
Gower shrugged. “Not much. Too afraid of missing him. Do you suppose he’s going to make for the first train to Paris?”
It was a very reasonable question. Paris was a cosmopolitan city, a hotbed of ideas, philosophies, dreams both practical and absurd. It was the ideal meeting place for those who sought to change the world. The two great revolutions of the last hundred years had been born there.
“Probably,” Pitt answered. “But he could get off anywhere.” He was thinking how hard it would be to follow Wrexham in Paris. Should they arrest him while they still had the chance? In the heat of the chase yesterday it had seemed like a good idea to see where he went and, more important, whom he met. Now, when they were cold, tired, hungry, and stiff, it felt a lot less sensible. In fact it was probably absurd. “We’d better arrest him and take him back,” he said aloud.
“Then we’ll have to do it before we get off,” Gower pointed out. “Once we’re on French soil we’ll have no authority. Even the captain here is going to wonder why we didn’t do it in Southampton.” His voice took on a note of urgency, his face grave. “Look, sir, I speak pretty good French. I’ve still got a reasonable amount of money. We could send a telegram to Narraway to have someone meet us in Paris.
Then we wouldn’t be just the two of us. Maybe the French police would be pleased for the chance to follow him?”
Pitt turned toward him, but he could barely make out his features in the faint light of the sky and the dim reflection of the ship’s lights. “If he goes straight for the town, we’ll have no time to send a telegram,” he pointed out. “It’ll take both of us to follow him. I don’t know why he hasn’t noticed us already.
“We should arrest him,” he continued with regret. He should have done this yesterday. “Faced with the certainty of the rope, he might feel like talking.”
“Faced with the certainty of the rope, he’d have nothing to gain,” Gower pointed out.
Pitt smiled grimly. “Narraway’ll think of something, if what he says is worth enough.”
“He might not go for the train,” Gower said quickly, moving his weight to lean forward a little. “We were assuming he’ll go to Paris. Perhaps he won’t? Maybe whoever he’s going to meet is here. Why come to St. Malo otherwise? He could have gone to Dover, and taken the train from Calais to Paris, if that was where he wanted to be. He still doesn’t know we’re on to him. He thinks he lost us in Rope- maker’s Field. Let’s at least give it a chance!”
The argument was persuasive, and Pitt could see the sense in it. It might be worth waiting a little longer. “Right,” he conceded. “But if he goes to the railway station, we’ll take him.” He made a slight grimace. “If we can. He might shout for help that he’s being kidnapped. We couldn’t prove he wasn’t.”
“Do you want to give up?” Gower asked. His voice was tight with disappointment, and Pitt thought he heard a trace of contempt in it. “No.” There was no uncertainty in the decision. Special Branch was not primarily about justice for crimes; it was about preventing civil violence and the betrayal, subversion, or overthrow of the government. They were too late to save West’s life. “No, I don’t,” he repeated.
When they disembarked in the broadening daylight it was not difficult to pick Wrexham out from the crowd and follow him. He didn’t go, as Pitt had feared, to the train station, but into the magnificently walled old city. They could not risk losing sight of him, or Pitt would have taken time to look with far more interest at the massive ramparts as they went in through an entrance gate vast enough to let several carriages pass abreast. Once inside, narrow streets crisscrossed one another, the doors of the buildings flush with footpaths. Dark walls towered four or five stories high in uniform gray-black stone. The place had a stern beauty Pitt would have liked to explore. Knights on horseback would have ridden these streets, or swaggering corsairs straight from plunder at sea.
But they had to keep close to Wrexham. He was walking quickly as if he knew precisely where he was going, and not once did he look behind him.
It was perhaps fifteen minutes later, when they were farther to the south, that Wrexham stopped. He knocked briefly on a door, and was let into a large house just off a stone-paved square.
Pitt and Gower waited for nearly an hour, moving around, trying not to look conspicuous, but Wrexham did not come out again. Pitt imagined him having a hot breakfast, a wash and shave, clean clothes. He said as much to Gower.
Gower rolled his eyes. “Sometimes it’s easier being the villain,” he said ruefully. “I could do very well by bacon, eggs, sausages, fried potatoes, then fresh toast and marmalade and a good pot of tea.” He grinned. “Sorry. I hate to suffer alone.”
“You’re not!” Pitt responded with feeling. “We’ll do something like that before we go and send a telegram to Narraway, then find out who lives in number seven.” He glanced up at the wall. “Rue St. Martin.”
“It’ll be hot coffee and fresh bread,” Gower told him. “Apricot jam if you’re lucky. Nobody understands marmalade except the British.”
“Don’t they understand bacon and eggs?” Pitt asked incredu- lously.
“It isn’t the same!” Pitt said with disappointment.
“Nothing is,” Gower agreed. “I think they do it on purpose.” After another ten minutes of waiting, during which Wrexham
still did not emerge, they walked back along the way they had come. They found an excellent café from which drifted the tantalizing aroma of fresh coffee and warm bread.
Gower gave him a questioning look. “Definitely,” Pitt agreed.
There was, as Gower had suggested, thick, homemade apricot jam, and unsalted butter. There was also a dish of cold ham and other meats, and hard-boiled eggs. Pitt was more than satisfied by the time they rose to leave. Gower asked the patron for directions to the post office. He also inquired, as casually as possible, where they might find lodgings, and if number 7 rue St. Martin was a house of that description, adding that someone had mentioned it.
Pitt waited. He could see from the satisfaction in Gower’s face as they left and strode along the pavement that the answer had pleased him.
“Belongs to an Englishman called Frobisher,” he said with a smile. “Bit of an odd fellow, according to the patron. Lot of money, but eccentric. Fits the locals’ idea of what an English upper-class gentleman should be. Lived here for several years and swears he’ll never go home. Give him half a chance, and he’ll tell anyone what’s wrong with Europe in general and England in particular.” He gave a slight shrug and his voice was disparaging. “Number seven is definitely not a public lodging house, but he has guests more often than not, and the patron does not like the look of them. Subversives, he says. But then I gathered he was pretty conservative in his opinions. He suggested we would find Madame Germaine’s establishment far more to our liking, and gave me the address.”
In honesty, Pitt could only agree. “We’ll send a telegram to Narraway, then see if Madame Germaine can accommodate us. You’ve done very well.”
“Thank you, sir.” He increased very slightly the spring in his step and even started to whistle a little tune, rather well.
At the post office Pitt sent a telegram to Narraway.
Staying St. Malo. Friends here we would like to know better. Need funds. Please send to local post office, soonest. Will write again.
Until they received a reply, they would be wise to conserve what money they had left. However, they would find Madame Germaine, trusting that she had vacancies and would take them in.
“Could be awhile,” Gower said thoughtfully. “I hope Narraway doesn’t expect us to sleep under a hedge. Wouldn’t mind in August, but April’s a bit sharp.”
Pitt did not bother to reply. It was going to be a long, and probably boring, duty. He was thinking of Charlotte at home, and his children Jemima and Daniel. He missed them, but especially Charlotte, the sound of her voice, her laughter, the way she looked at him. They had been married for fourteen years, but every so often he was still overtaken by surprise that she had apparently never regretted it.
It had cost her her comfortable position in Society and the financial security she had been accustomed to, as well as the dinner parties, the servants, the carriages, the privileges of rank.
She had not said so—it would be heavy-handed—but in return she had gained a life of interest and purpose. Frequently she had been informally involved in his cases, in which she had shown consider- able skill. She had married not for convenience but for love, and in dozens of small ways she had left him in no doubt of that.
Dare he send her a telegram as well? In this strange French street with its different sounds and smells, a language he understood little of, he ached for the familiar. But the telegram to Narraway was to a special address. If Wrexham were to ask the post office for it, it would reveal nothing. If Pitt allowed his loneliness for home to dictate his actions, he would have to give his home address, which could put his family in real danger. He should not let this peaceful street in the April sun, and a good breakfast, erase from his mind the memory of West lying in the brickyard with his throat slashed open and his blood oozing out onto the stones.
“Yes, we’ll do that,” he said aloud to Gower. “Then we will do what we can, discreetly, to learn as much as possible about Mr. Frobisher.”
It was not difficult to observe number 7 rue St. Martin. It was near the towering wall of the city, on the seaward side. Only fifty yards away a flight of steps climbed to the walkway around the top. It was a perfect place from which to stand and gaze at the ever-changing horizon out to sea, or watch the boats tacking across the harbor in the wind, their sails billowing, careful to avoid the rocks, which were picturesque and highly dangerous. In turning to talk to each other, it was natural for them to lean for a few minutes on one elbow and gaze down at the street and the square. One could observe anybody coming or going without seeming to.
In the afternoon of the first day, Pitt checked at the post office. There was a telegram from Narraway, and arrangements for sufficient money to last them at least a couple of weeks. There was no reference to West, or the information he might have given, but Pitt did not expect there to have been. He walked back to the square, passing a girl in a pink dress and two women with shopping baskets. Ascending the steps on the wall again, he found Gower leaning against the buttress at the top. His face was raised to the westering sun, which was gold in the late afternoon. He looked like any young Englishman on holiday.
Pitt stared out over the sea, watching the light on the water. “Narraway replied,” he said quietly, not looking at Gower. “We’ll get the money. The amount he’s sending, he expects us to learn all we can.”
“Thought he would.”
Gower did not turn either, and barely moved his lips. He could have been drifting into sleep, his weight relaxed against the warm stone. “There’s been some movement while you were gone. One man left, dark hair, very French clothes. Two went in.” His voice became a little higher, more tightly pitched. “I recognized one of them—Pieter Linsky. I’m quite sure. He has a very distinctive face, and a limp from having been shot escaping from an incident in Lille. The man with him was Jacob Meister.”
Pitt stiffened. He knew the names. They were both men active in socialist movements in Europe, traveling from one country to another fomenting as much trouble as they could, organizing demonstrations, strikes, even riots in the cause of various reforms. But underneath all the demands was the underlying wish for violent revolution. Linsky in particular was unashamedly a revolutionary. Interesting, though, was that the two men did not hold the same viewpoints, but instead represented opposing sides of the socialist movement.
Pitt let out his breath in a sigh. “I suppose you’re sure about Meister as well?”
Gower was motionless, still smiling in the sun, his chest barely rising and falling as he breathed. “Yes, sir, absolutely. I’ll bet that has something to do with what West was going to tell us. Those two together has to mean something pretty big.”
Pitt did not argue. The more he thought of it the more certain he was that it was indeed the storm Narraway had seen coming, and which was about to break over Europe if they did not prevent it.
“We’ll watch them,” Pitt said quietly, also trying to appear as if he were relaxed in the sun, enjoying a brief holiday. “See who else they contact.”
Gower smiled. “We’ll have to be careful. What do you think they’re planning?”
Pitt considered in silence, his eyes almost closed as he stared down at the painted wooden door of number 7. All kinds of ideas teemed through his head. A single assassination seemed less likely than a general strike, or even a series of bombings; otherwise they would not need so many men. In the past assassinations had been accomplished by a lone gunman, willing to sacrifice his own life. But now . . . who was vulnerable? Whose death would really change any- thing permanently?
“Strikes?” Gower suggested, interrupting his thought. “Europe- wide, it could bring an industry to its knees.”
“Possibly,” Pitt agreed. His mind veered to the big industrial and shipbuilding cities of the north. Or the coal miners of Durham, York- shire, or Wales. There had been strikes before, but they were always broken and the men and their families suffered.
“Demonstrations?” Gower went on. “Thousands of people all out at once, in the right places, could block transport or stop some major event, like the Derby?”
Pitt imagined it, the anger, the frustration of the horse-racing and fashionable crowd at such an impertinence. He found himself smiling, but it was with a sour amusement. He had never been part of the Society that watched the Sport of Kings, but he had met many members during his police career. He knew their passion, their weak- nesses, their blindness to others, and at times their extraordinary courage. Forcible interruption of one of the great events of the year was not the way to persuade them of anything. Surely any serious revolutionary had long ago learned that.
But what was?
“Meister’s style, maybe,” Pitt said aloud. “But not Linsky’s. Some- thing far more violent. And more effective.”
Gower shivered very slightly. “I wish you hadn’t said that. It rather takes the edge off the idea of a week or two in the sun, eating French food and watching the ladies going about their shopping. Have you seen the girl from number sixteen, with the red hair?”
“To tell you the truth, it wasn’t her hair I noticed,” Pitt admitted, grinning broadly.
Gower laughed outright. “Nor I,” he said. “I rather like that apricot jam, don’t you? And the coffee! Thought I’d miss a decent cup of tea, but I haven’t yet.” He was silent again for a few minutes, then turned his head. “What do you really think they have planned in England, sir—beyond a show of power? What do they want in the long run?”
The sir reminded Pitt of his seniority, and therefore responsibility. It gave him a sharp jolt. There were scores of possibilities, a few of them serious. There had been a considerable rise in political power of left-wing movements in Britain recently. They were very tame com- pared with the violence of their European counterparts, but that did not mean they would remain that way.
Gower was still staring at Pitt, waiting, his face puzzled and keen. “I think a concerted effort to bring about change would be more likely,” Pitt said slowly, weighing the words as he spoke.
“Change?” Gower said quizzically. “Is that a euphemism for over- throwing the government?”
“Yes, perhaps it is,” Pitt agreed, realizing how afraid he was as he said it. “An end to hereditary privilege, and the power that goes with it.”
“Dynamiters?” Gower’s voice was a whisper, the amusement com- pletely vanished. “Another blowing up, like the gunpowder plot of the early 1600s?”
“I can’t see that working,” Pitt replied. “It would rally everyone against them. We don’t like to be pushed. They’ll need to be a lot cleverer than that.”
Gower swallowed hard. “What, then?” he said quietly. “Something to destroy that power permanently. A change so fundamental it can’t be undone.” As he said the words they frightened him. Something violent and alien waited ahead of them. Perhaps they were the only ones who could prevent it.
Gower let out his breath in a sigh. He looked pale. Pitt watched his face, obliquely, as if he were still more absorbed in enjoying the sun, thinking of swiveling around to watch the sailing boats in the harbor again. They would have to rely on each other totally. It was going to be a long, tedious job. They dare not miss anything. The slightest clue could matter. They would be cold at night, often hungry or uncomfortable. Always tired. Above all they must not look suspicious. He was glad he liked Gower’s humor, his lightness of touch. There were many men in Special Branch he would have found it much harder to be with.
“That’s Linsky now, coming out of the door!” Gower stiffened, and then deliberately forced his body to relax, as if this sharp-nosed man with the sloping forehead and stringy hair were of no more interest than the baker, the postman, or another tourist.
Pitt straightened up, put his hands in his pockets quite casually, and went down the steps to the square after him.