Friday, April 13, 1900
John Lansdowne Granville stared at the letter in his hands as rain battered at their office windows and a chill draft smelling of manure and burning coal crept in from the street below. “Beware the Ides,” he muttered under his breath.
The quote felt apt, even if today was the Ides of April rather than March. And he was no laurel-wreathed general. He grimaced at the thought.
“What’s that? Something wrong, Granville?” Scott said, looking up from the ledger he’d been wrestling with. The big man had a half-grin on his face, but his eyes were watchful.
Granville crumpled the heavy white paper in one fist and tossed it across the mahogany partner’s desk they shared, watching it land on an unsteady stack of reports they’d been ignoring. “Not a thing.”
“’Cause I got to tell you, the way you look now, you’d scare off a Mama bear looking for her cubs.”
Granville gave a crack of laughter. Truth was, he’d rather face a grizzly than deal with this letter. “We’ve been offered a job.”
Scott eyed the crumpled page, written in a spiked, forceful hand. A challenging job would be welcome, but Granville’s expression and the postmark signaled trouble. “In England?”
“No, in Vancouver. We need to find the Earl of Thanet’s heir.”
“Huh. How’d he lose him?”
“Quite deliberately, I assure you. Apparently Rupert Weston is a Remittance Man.”
“I thought they only paid off younger sons to disappear over here, not the heirs.”
Behind Granville the windowpanes rattled as the storm increased. “And until a most unfortunate boating accident a few months ago, you’d have been right. It seems Weston’s two older brothers drowned in unexpectedly rough seas off the Isle of Wight. Hence the search for the new heir apparent.”
“Huh. Wonder what young Weston did that got him sent to the colonies.”
“Whatever it was, all will now be forgiven.”
“He’s unlikely to have reformed any, not from what I’ve seen of the remittance boys.”
Scott was right, but the casual dismissal in his voice grated. Granville had refused to admit it at the time, but he hadn’t been far from a remittance man himself, not so long ago. “True enough.”
“But now he’s the heir none of that matters?”
Granville nodded, amused despite his own misgivings by the incredulous note in Scott’s voice.
“I’ll never understand you English.” Scott tossed the crumpled letter back. “Where’s this Earl send the money?”
“Post office here in town—care of General Delivery.”
“I’m guessing their letters have been returned?”
“You’d be right about that.”
“So Weston might still be in Vancouver.”
“Might be. If he is here, he’s laying low.”
“Gives us a place to start, though. Sounds easy enough. So what’s the catch?”
Granville eyed Scott with affection, grinned. “The catch, as you so succinctly put it, is that Thanet isn’t hiring us,”
“Then who is?”
“Thanet’s brother-in-law, the boy’s uncle. And the request comes by way of my brother William.”
“But the job’s legit? No reason we can’t take it, is there?”
Granville shook his head. “Et tu, Brute?” he said mournfully.
“Huh?” Scott said, face blank.
That earned him a half laugh, as it was undoubtedly meant to. “William has never done anything straightforward in his life, and most particularly not when it involves me.”
“You don’t trust him even on something as straightforward as this? Or is there some particular reason Thanet isn’t the one hiring us to find his missing son?”
“I gather he’s too mired in grief to take any action. But based on hard experience, I don’t trust William on anything.”
“So what’s your dear brother up to, then?”
“Currying favor with the Earl of Thanet, I suspect. Or trying to, through the man’s brother-in-law. Probably as close as William could get to the Earl.”
Scott gave a bark of laughter. “Probably. So we find this Weston, it’s easy money and Brother William’s in your debt. Sounds like a no fail plan to me.”
“Which means we’re missing something. I wonder what happens to the estate if we don’t find Weston, or if he’s already dead.”
Scott gave him a sharp look. “Why should we care?”
“Because William will have looked at every angle of this before involving himself. And the most obvious path is seldom the one he follows. He’ll not concern himself if we’re injured or killed in pursuit of whatever goal he has in mind—in fact it might sweeten it for him.”
“Nice brother. But he’s thousands of miles away. How dangerous could it be?”
Granville shrugged. “How dangerous was it up on the creeks when a fellow didn’t know enough to provision for winter?”
Scott grunted. “Killed by what we don’t know? At least it won’t be boring.”
“Getting tired of guarding nervous bankers are you? Fine, we’ll take the job,” Granville said, and flicked a disdainful finger toward the crumpled ball he’d made of the letter. It was probably time he stopped avoiding William and his schemes, anyway.
“That was quick.” Scott eyed his partner. “And I’ve seen that look before, usually right before you get both of us into trouble. What’re you planning?”
He was planning to out-maneuver whatever his unscrupulous older brother might have in mind for him. “There’s nothing to stop us taking on this case and finding young Weston. Once we have all the facts, we can decide how we want to handle it.”
“You planning on bamboozling Brother William?”
There was a reason he and Scott were still friends. “Exactly,” Granville said, striding towards the door. “What do you say?”
The grating of wood chair on hardwood floor told him his partner was behind him. “I’ll probably regret this,” Scott said. “But when do we start?”
By the time they’d made their way to the imposing granite-faced Main Post Office on Pender Street, the wind had lessened. Shaking the rain from his hat, Granville was amused to find himself standing in front of a long marble counter that could have been in any post office in London, being glared at by a dapper young man—nattily attired in black and white—who seemed to have hopes of being this century’s Beau Brummell. Granville wondered if anyone had told him how unlikely that was in Vancouver, of all places. As far as the English were concerned, the clerk’s focus should be on making money, like all good Colonials.
“No Weston here.”
Granville had met friendlier icicles. “But he does collect his mail here?”
“Can’t give out that information.”
“Fair enough. Can you tell me if you have uncollected mail for him?”
Granville watched the man’s eyes dart to a section of wooden pigeonholes. Some were empty, some had a few letters, but one or two were stuffed with mail. Which one was Weston’s?
“Sorry, that’s classified,” came the predictable answer.
“We just need to know when he’s expected next,” Scott put in.
“And how would I know that?”
“Can you perhaps tell us if he collects his mail regularly?” Granville smiled, put an extra hint of Oxford in his tone. “He’s a friend—we lost touch with him in Skagway.”
“Come on, Granville,” Scott said. “We’re wasting our time here.” Gripping his partner’s elbow, he half dragged him outside.
“I wasn’t done there.”
“You were about to try bribing that clerk.” Scott settled his hat more firmly in place, turned up his collar against the wind-driven rain and began walking north.
Granville buttoned his coat as he paced beside his partner. “I was indeed. And?”
“And I know the clerk’s brother,” Scott said. “Very officious family—and all of them hate Brits. No offense.”
“Seems to be a common sentiment in this part of the world,” Granville drawled. It was unsettling, and the fact that he found it so just annoyed him more. Confining as he’d found being a member of the English gentry, he’d always taken the respect that came with it for granted. Now he couldn’t.
Scott chuckled, then sobered. “Yeah, well if you’d tried to bribe him, he’d have you arrested for tamperin’ with the mails or some fool thing.”
“That could have been embarrassing. Especially since the local constabulary are none too fond of us.”
“Getting some of them arrested will cause that.”
Granville recalled his first weeks in town with an inward grin. “True enough. But it saved you hanging for murder. I suppose it was worth it. So where are we headed in this downpour?”
“Newspaper office. I thought we’d advertise for Weston.”
“Hmm. News to his advantage or something of that sort? That makes sense.”
“Yeah, I thought so. The Province is around the corner. It has the biggest readership.”
“By all means.” Granville swiped absently at the rain dripping into his eyes, pulled his hat brim lower. “We’ll want replies to a post office box rather than our office.”
Scott thought about it for a second. “Keep this anonymous? Makes sense.”
“No point giving away our hand quite yet. What time does the afternoon mail get delivered?”
“Around four, but the earliest we can expect replies is tomorrow morning. The ad won’t run until tonight.”
“And meanwhile, we’ll send a letter to Weston. That will get delivered this afternoon, am I right?”
“So we can see which box it gets delivered to.”
“You’re not thinking of robbing the post office?”
He hadn’t been, but as a last resort, it had possibilities. “Why not?” he said, grinning as he watched Scott sputter.
“They’d recognize us.”
“Calm down. I’m not thinking of robbing the post office. I just want to know how much mail is sitting in Weston’s box, uncollected. If the box is full, Weston most likely left town in a hurry. And hasn’t been back.”
“Huh. That could work.”
“I thought so.” He winked at his partner. “You post the ad. I’ll write our letter to Weston. And tonight we’ll visit a few poker spots, do a little listening. Weston was always a bit of a gambler.” Actually, he’d been hopelessly enthralled by it, if even half the rumors were true.
“If we’re not in jail by then. And I thought you gave up gambling—wait a minute. You know him? Weston? And you’re just telling me now?”
Granville shrugged. “I know of him. The young idiot was part of a wild set at college. Got sent down from Oxford twice.”
“Didn’t you tell me you were sent down three times? Or was it four?” Scott said, poker-faced.
Granville ignored him.
With both Scott and their apprentice out of the office, it was quiet except for the steady pattering of rain and the scratching of Granville’s fountain pen as he dashed off a quick note to young Weston. It was unlikely Weston would ever see it, but in case other eyes were checking the lad’s mail, Granville kept the letter short. It simply asked Weston to contact them at his earliest convenience, for information to his advantage. Sealing it, he added the two-cent stamp, then clattered down the stairs and out to the post box on the corner.
That task complete, he sat down to the harder work of composing a letter to his eldest sister Louisa, now Lady Waybourne. He needed to know more about the Earl of Thanet, as well as the society gossip about the family and especially about the drowning of the previous heirs. Only one name had come to mind.
Louisa still thought very fondly of him, and her social connections were faultless. She would know all the latest on dits and family scandals. She was also his favorite sister, and could be counted on not to mention a word to Brother William.
It was well past noon by the time he’d finished the letter. With a little luck, Louisa’s reply would come in time to do some good. In the meantime, he’d find out everything he could about Weston. Someone must know where he’d disappeared to.
Granville eyed the battered pine walls with distaste. Even in the uneven light of the oil lamps, the bar at the Terminus Hotel hadn’t improved since his first visit here. Was it only three months ago? He now had a business, a fiancée, albeit a temporary one—at least until he could convince her otherwise—financial stability and the beginning of roots here.
The Terminus bar was still dirty and crowded, ripe with the smell of sweat, smoke and nerves, but it resonated with the excitement of high stakes, of money won and lost. Something in him leapt at the familiar tension and his hands itched to hold a deck of cards. He had to remind himself forcefully that it wasn’t why he was here.
His letter to Weston had been delivered into a very full box at the post office—the fellow hadn’t collected his mail in quite some time. Either he’d left town, or he’d gone into hiding. Granville hoped someone here could tell him which.
His memory of Rupert Weston was vague: a tall, thin youth with dark hair flopping over one eye and a not very convincing sneer. He hadn’t liked him, but then he hadn’t really known him. That was four years ago and Weston had undoubtedly changed; he certainly had. Remembering his own attitudes four years before had Granville’s lips quirking. He’d been sure he knew so much. Then his friend Edward had killed himself, and all of the glamor had gone out of that life.
The memory still hurt. He found himself taking in the scene around him with revulsion—the smell of compulsion strong in the air, the brittle sense of desperation. He could see it in their faces. The money won and lost was irrelevant to the mesmerizing turn of a card, until the game was done and you realized what you’d wagered.
“I see a fellow I know. Think I’ll see if he knows anything about our friend.”
Scott’s voice at his elbow jolted Granville out of his thoughts. “Right.”
“I’ll look for you in an hour or so?”
Scott gave him an odd look, then clapped him on the back and headed across the crowded room.
Granville focused on the faces around him, looking for anyone he recognized. With a start of surprise, he found someone. What was Benton doing here? Quick steps had him standing beside the man whispers called the most powerful gangster in town. They never needed to add that he was also the most feared.
“Granville? Thought you’d given up gambling.”
“Only on occasion. At the moment I’m looking for a countryman of mine. Fellow by the name of Weston.”
Asking Benton for information carried the risk of being obligated to him, but he’d done the man a favor or two in the past—he’d chance it.
Shrewd brown eyes assessed him. “Weston, is it? And why would you be looking for him?”
“I have news from home that I think he’ll want to hear.”
Benton smiled, and the man standing on his other side stepped back. Granville could understand why—it was like looking into the heart of a glacier. “If he’s come into a fortune, that information could be useful to me.”
“Owes you money, does he?”
“Let’s just say he’s not the most successful gamester.”
The ice was gone, Benton’s normal dry humor back in place. Granville considered the peeling walls and the feeling of desperation in the crowd that seethed within them. “I didn’t realize you had an interest here.”
“I have many interests.”
That information didn’t exactly surprise him, but he mentally filed the tidbit away. It could prove useful. “Did Weston play here often?”
“Too often for his health. And he wasn’t much better at poker than he was weighing odds on the ponies.”
So he owed the house more than he could come up with. Was that why he’d disappeared? “Then it could be in your interest to help me find him.”
Benton nodded. “True enough. Yes, I know of Weston. A reckless man, with not much sense of self-preservation.”
Benton shot him a look. “And English. He lost far more than is good for him, here and elsewhere. His debts came due, and he vanished.”
“When was this?”
“Seven, perhaps eight weeks ago.”
Interesting. Granville wondered if it was possible to hide in Vancouver without Benton knowing. “And you don’t know where he went?”
“I’d no hand in his vanishing, if that’s what you’re asking.”
It was, but it didn’t seem a good idea to admit it. “Has he cronies, friends he might have turned to for help?”
“None my men have found.”
It figured. Likely Benton’s men would have been thorough in their quest for a delinquent gamester. Had they found him, Thanet would have lost another heir. It wasn’t a good sign for the search he and Scott were undertaking. “Thanks.”
“Don’t thank me; just tell me when you find him.”
It wasn’t a request. Granville nodded, acknowledgement rather than agreement. He was thankful he’d never had to accept Benton’s repeated offers of employment. Though he rather liked the man, he’d be a demanding and potentially lethal employer. To say nothing of the fact that he walked on the wrong side of the law. Of course, so did a few of Vancouver’s current crop of police officers, despite the open scandals that swirled around them, but he’d rather not have to choose between Benton and the police.
One thing was clear. Wherever Weston was, he and Scott needed to find the fellow before Benton’s men did. And before the fellow’s trail got any colder.
The gas lanterns on the far end of the pier threw a dim light that barely cut through the fog that had crept in after the storm had passed. Under the mournful bleat of the foghorn on the point, Granville could hear the water lapping against the pilings and the boats moored there. The reek of tar and creosote drowned the murky smell of decaying seaweed. He was glad of Scott’s bulk at his back and the weight of the hunting knife at his hip—the docks at one a.m. were no friendlier than they’d been when they’d tripped over Jackson’s body some four months previous.
It was too dark to read his pocket-watch, but it must be past midnight. If Scott’s informant was really going to meet them here, they should be hearing his footfalls any moment. The fog distorted sound as well as his sense of distance. He wrapped the wool muffler a little tighter around his throat and wished he hadn’t forgotten his gloves. “You’re sure he’ll show?”
“Wish I was.”
“I gather your informant is not exactly an upstanding citizen.”
“Least I found someone who’ll talk. All you got was more trouble. Now we need to find Weston before Benton’s men get to him.”
“I always did like a challenge,” Granville said, jamming his hands deeper into the pockets of his overcoat and squinting into the thickening whiteness surrounding them. Was that movement? He walked slowly back the way they’d come and Scott fell into step with him.
“Your idea of challenge can get damned uncomfortable.”
Granville put a hand on his partner’s arm, lowered his voice. “D’you hear something?”
Scott froze, head cocked, eyes scanning the pier. “Nothing,” he said after a long moment, and resumed walking. “You?”
Around them the fog grew denser and the sound of the waves diminished. Even the moan of the foghorn sounded distant. Clammy whiteness swallowed them until Granville could barely make out Scott’s face.
It wasn’t enough to muffle the sound of the shot, though.
Granville cursed and ducked as he felt something sizzle by his arm. There was no cover anywhere, nothing but the thick fog. The shooter had to be targeting their voices. He pushed at Scott’s shoulder but the big man was already dropping to the dock. Granville did the same.
He drew his knife, held it ready, but there was nothing to see but fog and more fog. Knowing the shooter couldn’t see him either didn’t help.
A sudden flurry of shots, with bullets dancing around where they had been standing. Then a long pause. Lying flat out on the cold dock, alert to any sound, Granville felt like he had a target painted on his back.
A second flurry of shots erupted from the same spot as the first, but came nowhere near them. Then there was nothing but silence and the movement of the fog.
Was the gunman trying to force them to betray their positions? Well, they could out-wait him. Unless the shooter got lucky.
Beside him, he could just make out that Scott had his revolver drawn, but he too was still, listening and waiting.
The minutes ticked by, broken only by the foghorn’s wail.
Finally Scott raised his head a little, looked around. “You hear anything?”
“Not anymore.” Granville pulled out his pocket flask, took a swig, then proffered it to his partner.
“Thanks,” Scott said, accepting the flask and downing a hearty mouthful. “You upset anyone lately?”
Granville stood up slowly and brushed the damp off his clothes, bracing himself for any sound, any movement that meant the gunman was still near. “Not that I can think of. I’m guessing someone really doesn’t want us to talk to your informant.”
Scott stood up, and they began walking back along the pier. “Yeah. Young Weston must have got himself in real trouble. How badly dipped was he?”
He still had his knife out, and Scott’s gun was cocked. “It seems it’s a good thing Benton’s men haven’t found him yet. Though I don’t think they’d be motivated to kill us too.”
The fog was thinning enough he could make out Scott’s grin. “Likely not. It does mean we won’t find our new client in Vancouver, though.”
“You don’t think he could hide from Benton’s men here?”
“Nope. Place is too small, and Benton has too many connections in too many places.”
That’s what he’d been afraid of. “So it’s time to widen our search. And technically, he isn’t our client.”
“So who is? Your brother? The lad’s uncle? His grief-stricken father?”
“Whoever pays our bills,” Granville said with a grin. “But you’re right, it’s finding the lad that matters, digging him out of whatever he’s got into. The rest is just bill payments.”
“Yeah.” Whatever else Scott might have said was lost in a curse as his boot caught on the edge of what had seemed a patch of shadow.
Granville grabbed his partner’s elbow, grunting as he took most of the big man’s weight before Scott caught his balance.
“I don’t believe it.”
“Believe what…?” Granville began, then he too caught the rank odor of blood and feces, faint on the cold air. “Not again. Who is it?”
Scott bent over the body that sprawled on the damp boards. “Not enough light to tell. You carrying lucifers?”
But Granville was already bending forward, opening the small silver case and striking a light. Hunching close, both men considered the pasty features of the dead man.
“This your informant?” It wasn’t a huge stretch to guess who the dead man might be.
“Yup. This is Horace Norton. Or rather it used to be him.”
“Yeah. I reckon we’d best not report this one,” Scott said as he gently closed the staring eyes.
Granville dipped his head in respect, then turned away. “Probably not, much as I hate to say it. This time they’d probably arrest both of us.”
“And Miss Emily would have to rescue you as well as me,” Scott said as he followed him down the pier.
He smiled a little at the thought of his fiancée. “She’d likely succeed, at that, but I’d rather not put it to the test. Shall we go, while we still can?”
“Yeah. And before the gunman, whoever he is, decides to come back.”
The clock was striking two as Scott drained his ale, glanced at the inch remaining in Granville’s mug and signaled for another round. They sat at one of the long, battered wooden tables that lined the narrow interior of the tavern. Tobacco smoke swirled blue around them, nearly as thick as the fog outside. Their damp coats steamed gently in the warmth of the fire at their backs, and the smell of wet wool vied with the sharp richness of tobacco and the acrid odor of spilled beer on muddy sawdust.
“So who d’you think killed him?” Scott said.
“And even more interesting, why were they shooting at us?” Granville said.
“Think someone heard him arrange to meet us?”
“That would be my guess. It seems all very chance-driven, though, don’t you think? Coincidences worry me.”
“Yeah. Probably worry Chief Stewart even more.”
Granville ignored the jest. He’d think about what the newly re-appointed Chief of Police—who was still under investigation for illegal payoffs—would make of their latest quest only when and if he had to.
“Maybe we should think about paying someone off. Could make our job easier,” Scott added in an undertone.
It was an old argument. “I don’t do business that way.”
“Yeah, yeah. Times like this, it’d be handy, though.”
He grinned at Scott’s wry tone, and finished off his ale as a fresh mug was delivered. “Hmmm. But it would make our lives far too simple. So, back to our friend Norton. I have to wonder if he was being followed. And what information he had that was worth killing all three of us for?”
“Had to be about Weston. No other reason to shoot at us too.”
Scott snorted and ignored him. “Norton seemed happy enough to talk to me, as long as I paid him. And I kept it quiet.”
“So he knew whatever he planned to tell you was dangerous.” Granville pictured the dark shape lying sprawled on the damp boards. “Pity he didn’t take better precautions.”
“Might tell us something about his killer, though. You don’t think Weston himself could have done it?”
Granville raised his mug and half-drained it. The ale wasn’t too bad, a fair balance of malt and bitter, and he’d nearly grown accustomed to the local preference for serving it cold. It didn’t bring any clarity to the problem at hand, though. “If he’s trying to hide, shooting at us seems an ineffective way to do so. No, I think you were right earlier. Weston’s either a long way from here or dead. And after tonight, I’m less hopeful that we’ll find him alive.”
“Too bad.” Scott drained his own mug. “So how do we find him and still keep ourselves alive?”
“We find someone else who knows Weston, and hope they don’t get murdered too.”
“Just like that?”
“We might want to watch our own backs while we do so.” Granville lifted his mug in a mock toast. “I believe you’re the one who didn’t want to be bored?”