Monday, June 11, 1900
John Lansdowne Granville glanced up from the telegram he’d been frowning over and glared at the ceiling fan overhead. It wobbled slightly as it revolved, making a thumping sound and casting odd shadows across the room in the early morning sunlight.
His office was already warming up, the erratic fan barely creating a breeze. Which didn’t stop the smell of fresh manure and the rattling sound of delivery carts rising from the street below. Unfortunately .
Cursing their landlord and whatever idiot had put in the fan, Granville turned back to the problem posed by the telegram. Then glanced at his desk calendar.
They’d only been back in town for a week. Being back in town felt confining, somehow, after three weeks in the wilderness north of the Skeena River. And spending time in the office felt restrictive, like a too tight coat. It had affected the others, too.
All of them were a little tense, though they weren’t admitting it.
Already there were several investigations booked. Mostly new clients who had requested their services last month, while he, his partner Sam Scott, and their assistant Trent Davies had been up north, searching for a missing heir. That case had been an unusual one, taking them away longer and much further afield than they’d anticipated, but it had been lucrative. And oddly satisfying.
So far, their new cases were bread and butter—background checks on employees and the like—which didn’t help. None of them would take long, none was likely to hold their interest. They all needed more big cases, gripping ones. Like the one they’d just finished.
The kind that would earn them a big reputation.
He picked up the yellow flimsy and re-read the blurred type for the sixth time. Was this the answer?
The slamming of a door and raised voices in the outer office put an end to his attempt to concentrate.
Granville frowned as he listened to the escalating argument. This was supposed to be a professional office, dammit. “Trent!” he called out.
There was no answer from the outer office, just louder voices.
Tucking the unanswered telegram under the blotter on his side of the large oak partner’s desk he shared with Scott, Granville strode to the door. Clearly he needed to sort things out here first. He hadn’t seen Scott that morning, but Trent was supposed to be in the front office, welcoming visitors. Their growing reputation as investigation agents meant that potential clients expected there to be someone in the office when they came to call. The sounds he was hearing didn’t sound very welcoming.
“You can’t just barge in…”
It was Trent’s voice, far too loud, right on the other side of the door. Who was he talking to? Granville wrenched the door open.
And had to stop himself from laughing out loud.
Trent was standing—freckled face set and arms akimbo—in front of Mac McAndrews, barring him from Granville’s office. A sturdy five foot eight, the lad looked like a bantam cock facing off a stork. McAndrews had to be six foot two, an inch over Granville’s own height, but he was thin almost to the point of gauntness. Add in McAndrews’ flaming red hair and it was an image from a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. All that was missing was the singing.
But what was McAndrews doing here? He’d met the hot-headed accountant two months before, in pursuit of that missing heir. Their first encounter had been anything but friendly, though once sure that Granville meant his friend Rupert Weston no harm, McAndrews had been both helpful and knowledgeable. He’d also proven incredibly loyal to Weston, and Granville had ended up liking the fellow.
None of which explained McAndrews’ current presence, or the stand-off he was engaged in with Trent.
“McAndrews?” he said. Both heads spun towards him. Apparently they hadn’t heard the door open. Trent looked annoyed. Their visitor looked worried.
“Granville,” McAndrews said. “I’m glad you’re here. I need your help.”
“Then you’d best come in,” Granville said, opening the door wider. “Thank you, Trent.” Trent scowled, glaring at McAndrews, then stomped back to his desk.
Granville waved McAndrews to one of four straight-backed wooden chairs lining the wall beside the door. “What seems to be the problem?” he asked as he sank back into the over-sized leather chair behind his desk.
McAndrews collapsed onto one chair, dumping his hat and briefcase on the chair next to him. “I have a client who’s about to be arrested for fraud. And I don’t know how to keep him out of jail.”
Granville put up a hand. “Whoa. Start at the beginning, please.”
McAndrews shot him a wry grin. “That’s why I’m here. I’m not cut out for the investigative stuff.” He leaned forward. “You know I hoped to set up my own accounting practice?”
“Well, I’ve done so, though it’s only part time. My most recent client…” McAndrews paused, shook his head. “Actually, he’s more of a potential client at the moment. Because the thing is, I think he should be hiring you, not me.”
“And why is that?”
“Because he’s being framed.”
If McAndrews’ client was indeed being framed, Granville could understand why the fellow had burst into the office so urgently. But he was over-reacting.
“Or at least your client says he’s being framed,” Granville said. “It’s best not to assume your clients are telling the whole truth. At least at first.”
McAndrews smiled at that, but the lines of worry in his forehead deepened. “Which is why he’d be better as your client than mine.”
“We’ll see,” Granville said, opening his notebook. “But first, I need details. Who is this client of yours, and what’s his background?”
“Potential client. He’s English, born and raised somewhere in the country, but studied at Cambridge and worked in London for a time.”
“Not a Remittance Man, then?”
McAndrews laughed at that. “Hardly. I doubt his family has ever had that kind of money. But he’s educated, has an accent not far off your own, and he seems to know people.”
He glanced away. “And he was a friend of Weston’s.”
Which explained McAndrews’ concern for the case. He wasn’t just passing off a client, he really wanted Granville’s help. “And he’s been accused of fraud? What kind of fraud, and what proof do they have?
“He’s says it’s mortgage fraud. Because he works for a mortgage company, I suppose.
Anyway, he’s being accused of writing up deals that pad the company’s mortgage rates, and pocketing the difference.”
“Who is accusing him?”
“He’s not sure, but the police have brought him in for questioning. Twice.”
“He thinks he’ll be arrested? Soon?”
“Yes. He’s sure he’s nearly out of time. He’s frantic. That’s why he came to me—he seems to have nowhere else to turn.”
“And who does he think is framing him?”
“Someone higher up in the company he works for—Vancouver Permanent Investment & Loan. He’s not sure who,” McAndrews said with a sour look. “They’re the firm Weston was going to work for, and I told him not to. Didn’t you talk to them, when you were searching for Weston?”
“I did.” Granville frowned as he recalled the details. “And I didn’t much like what I learned about the firm. They didn’t strike me as the most ethical company around, so it wouldn’t surprise me if someone there had engaged in a bit of fraud. But that’s mostly because I didn’t like the fellow I met. Which is hardly proof.”
“No. It isn’t. And it doesn’t give an accountant much to go on.”
Granville glanced at his notes. Mortgage fraud? That was a new one. “So what, exactly, is mortgage fraud?”
Then as McAndrews started to speak, Granville held up a hand. “In layman’s terms, please.”
McAndrews paused, grinned. “Okay. It’s quite simple, really. You know that banks can’t lend money for mortgages, right?”
No, he hadn’t known. “Why not?” “The government won’t allow them to.”
“So where does the money for mortgages come from?”
“Mortgage and loan companies like Vancouver Permanent Investment & Loan. Usually they’re funded by an investment syndicate, who provide the money up front in return for a higher rate of return than the banks will give them.”
Granville’s mind went to his unscrupulous elder brother, William, and his fondness for investments that paid a very high rate of return. Which he often couldn’t find in England. “Let me guess. The money comes from Britain.”
“In this case, yes. Apparently this province is a very popular place for British investors these days. The Vancouver Permanent then lends that money to Mr. Joe Homebuyer, in return for a downpayment and an agreed to monthly interest.”
“So there are three parties involved—the original investor, the mortgage company, and the buyer.
“Exactly. Fraud can occur at any one of those three points. The buyer can be overcharged or misled about the deal, an employee can defraud the mortgage company—as my client is accused of doing—or the investors can be defrauded. Or some combination of the three.”
“So you think that someone at Vancouver Permanent is taking more profits than they are entitled to at one or more of those three points? And framing your client to cover it up.”
“That’s exactly right. You sure you never studied accounting?”
“I’m sure.” Granville contemplated the ceiling fan—still shaking away—while he thought. “You know Vancouver’s real estate market better than I do. Which do you think is more likely?”
McAndrews shrugged. “All I do is keep the books. Mortgages are complex because property values and a hot or cold market can affect mortgage rates and terms. I don’t know much about land values.”
Granville straightened in his chair. He knew someone with an insider’s take on land values. And his prospective father-in-law would give him the straight truth. “On second thought, don’t tell me anything more. Let me do a little investigating first, then we can discuss it.”
“But you’ll take the case?”
“Did I mention that I didn’t much care for the fellow I met at Vancouver Permanent?” Or greedy investors like his older brother. He grinned. “And we could use a new challenge. Yes, we’ll take the case.”
* * *
Once McAndrews had left, Granville telephoned to set an appointment with Emily’s father that afternoon, and completed his notes from the meeting with McAndrews. Then he turned back to his telegram.
He hadn’t expected to hear back from the Pinkerton National Detective Agency so quickly. And they were interested in affiliating with his small firm, and wanted to send a man out to meet with him in early August.
He hadn’t expected so much interest on their part.
Nor their desire to move forward so quickly. Granville hadn’t even made up his own mind about an alliance with the famous agency, much less discussed details with Scott.
Financially, it seemed to make sense, especially if they wanted to play in the “championship leagues”—for which the Pinkerton Agency definitely qualified. And he did want that. But he wasn’t sure his small company was ready—nor how his partner really felt about it.
He scribbled a few quick calculations, then stopped and loosened his tie, ran a finger inside the stiff boiled collar of his shirt. The sun was shining directly into the office now. And all the windows were painted shut. Running a hand through his hair, he let out an exasperated sound when the fan thumped again. Stupid thing would be completely useless in another month or two, when the real heat hit.
Someone needed to fix that, and soon.
As if on cue, the door between inner and outer offices squeaked open. Granville looked up just in time to see a stack of files slamming down on the desk in front of him.
“I can’t work like this,” Trent said. He planted himself in one of the chairs along the wall and crossed tanned arms.
From the look of him, he didn’t intend to budge for anything less than a train wreck. Or maybe another murder case. He doubted a case on mortgage fraud would do it.
Granville hid a smile. At least this time it wasn’t Scott complaining about the amount of paperwork an investigative business demanded. He tapped the stack of file folders. “You aren’t still complaining about the work our office intern did last month while we were away, are you?”
He leaned back, watching Trent’s face. “How much of a mess can Miss Kent have made of the files, anyway?”
Especially given that all of them, himself and Scott included, would rather be out working on a case than in the office documenting those cases and writing up the reports that got them paid. Their files hadn’t been in very good shape to start with.
“Just take a look.”
This had been building for the last week, but Granville had hoped that Trent would settle down, get over it. He flipped open the top file and glanced at the neat column of entries on the first page. Pulling the file closer, he read it more carefully, then opened the next file. “Are they all like this?”
“Yes,” Trent said on a deep sigh. “They are. Every single file has a neatly typed list of the correspondence it contains, in date order, every file is labeled, important documents are flagged—who even has time to do all that?”
Granville suspected that any professional office did exactly that.
“She took my system apart and now we have—this.” The boy looked as if he’d been given unsweetened lemon juice. Which he hated.
“I can’t work that way. And…” Trent glared down at his feet. “Well, she must have spent days doing this. How can I just tear it apart?”
Granville remembered that Emily had said something about their files needing attention when she’d hired her friend and fellow business student to mind the office for them last month. He should have paid more attention. He knew his fiancée well enough by now that he should have anticipated something like this.
“So what would you like me to do about it?” he asked his irritated assistant.
“I don’t know,” Trent said, “I suppose it’s done, now.”
He ruined that surprisingly mature statement by rocking backwards on the chair’s two rear legs, balancing against the wall, and chewing on his lower lip. He brushed in an irritated manner at the poorly cut strands of brown hair that had fallen over his forehead again.
Granville laughed, as much at the situation as at their assistant. Trent glared at him, but his eyes looked hurt.
“I suppose it is time we had proper professional staff in the outer office,” Granville said, tapping a finger on the telegram he’d been thinking about half the morning. “I’ve begun discussions with the Pinkerton Agency about working with them as an affiliate on certain cases. They’re interested, but if we want this to go anywhere, we’ll have to prove we can be as professional as they are.”
“Really? Pinkerton’s?” Trent said, slamming the chair back to the floor and leaping to his feet.
Then his face fell. “But what about me?”
“You? What about you?”
“If you’re getting someone ‘professional’,” Trent said bitterly, “you won’t be needing me, will you? What am I supposed to do?”
“You’ll work as our assistant, of course. Just without the paperwork.”
“I will? And no paperwork? But that’s, that’s…”
“If we can find someone that will suit. Someone we can afford.” Which might not be easy.
They were doing well, but the firm was still very new. They hadn’t yet made a name for themselves on the scale he hoped to reach one day.
“And I still have to talk to Scott,” he told the boy. “So don’t say anything.”
That stopped him. “Not a word. But he won’t like it. He hates spending money.”
“No, he’s just no more fond of being broke than I am.”
And I don’t want to hear about gold mines.” Not being able to freely spend the money they’d earned earlier that year in finding a lost gold mine—which had to remain a secret—was a lingering sore spot for Trent. “This business has to pay for itself, remember? We don’t spend money we can’t explain by way of our profits.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Trent gathered up the files, turned to go. “I’ll just take care of these. Make sure we have everything in order for our new clerk.”
Granville held back his grin until Trent had left his office and closed the door behind him, but he was whistling softly as he went back to figuring out how to help McAndrews with a fraud case, of all things.