Authors: Robert Goddard
The brain-teasing new thriller from the “master of the clever twist.”
A sequence of extraordinary events over the past 300 years provides the links in a chain of intrigue, deceit, greed and murder:
The loss of HMS Association with all hands in 1707.
An admiralty clerk's secret mission thirty years afterwards.
A fatal accident during a dive to the wreck in 1996.
An expatriate's reluctant return home ten years later. The simple task he has come to accomplish, shown to be anything but. A woman he recognizes but cannot identify.
It's a conspiracy of circumstances that is about to unravel his life. And with it, the past.
They will never ignore him again. They will never patronize him as they have too often of late. Nor will they ever forget him. They will not be allowed to. Fame and scholarly acclaim will see to that; fame-and a place in history. They will not be able to refuse him a fellowship now. They will offer him one. They will beg him to accept one. They will come crawling. And for all their slights and condescensions… he will pay them back.
Godfrey Shillingstone smiles to himself and sips his brandy. He gazes contentedly into the dying fire that has warmed the room where he is taking his solitary ease and reflects that he could hardly be more obscurely located or more thoroughly disregarded than he currently is. But soon, very soon, that will change. His certainty on the point has made these past days of waiting bearable. Several more must elapse before he can be on his way. Those he can also bear, savouring as he does the thought of what awaits him in London. When his discovery becomes known, his circumstances will be transformed. His life will at long last become what it should be. His labours will be rewarded. His ambitions will be fulfilled.
He drains his glass and rises from his chair. The clock in the hall strikes the half-hour as he does so. The house is otherwise silent, save for the smouldering sputter of the logs in the grate. He moves the fire-guard into position and takes up his candle. There is no sense in waiting for his host and hostess to return from their engagement. They will have nothing of the slightest interest to report. What passes for society at this intellectually impoverished toe-end of the kingdom holds no appeal for Godfrey Shillingstone, the soon-to-be-widely celebrated antiquarian.
This, though, was no more the reason he declined to accompany the Rev. Dr. and Mrs. Borlase to the Treweekes’ supper party than the one he disingenuously offered up: a migrainous headache. The truth was quite otherwise, as he is happy to acknowledge, albeit only to himself. He recoiled from the notion of being separated by any appreciable distance from the great treasure he has recently laid hands upon. As far as the Borlases are concerned, it is a crate of geological specimens that he has lodged under lock and key in one of their outhouses, pending shipment to London, and he has no intention of disabusing them of the notion. Its true nature will be revealed when the time and place are right. Its true nature will be his to unveil when-and only when-he is ready to do so.
Shillingstone steps out into the hall, closes the drawing-room door behind him and turns towards the stairs. Then he stops. A breath of air before bed, perhaps? A reassuring tug on the chain securing the outhouse door? The idea is suddenly irresistibly appealing. The children and their maid are asleep. There is no one to remark his coming or going. He sets down the candle on the table beside the clock and heads towards the front door.
The night is breezy and mild; a fullish moon flits between fast-moving clouds. An owl hoots in the woods above the house as he pulls the front door softly shut behind him. The whisper of the wind in the trees makes for a soothing sound. The world about him is at peace. All is as it should be. He feels happier than he can ever recall feeling. And he suspects that in the weeks and months that lie ahead he will feel happier yet. He smiles to himself. He walks along to the corner of the house and on round the circular lawn at the head of the drive towards the stable-yard.
He is halted abruptly before he is halfway to his destination by a noise that is neither bird nor breeze. His smile yields to a frown of puzzlement. There is the noise again: the creaking of a hinge somewhere in the yard ahead of him. And another noise follows it: the clink of a horse’s harness. His puzzlement turns to anxiety. He strides hurriedly forwards.
The scene reveals itself as he passes through the gateway into the yard. He is pulled up short by his own incredulity. The door of the outhouse where he has stored his great treasure is open; a lamp burns within. A man he does not recognize-short, thin, meanly dressed-stands by a horse, clutching its bridle, in front of the open doorway. Two other figures can be seen beyond in the lamplight, stooping over an object Shillingstone
recognize, very clearly-all too clearly.
“Stop,” he cries, recovering himself and plunging across the yard. “Stop at once.”
The man by the horse looks round at him, his face in shadow. The horse whinnies. The animal is wearing a pack-saddle. They have come prepared. There can be no doubt of their intentions. It is the fulfilment of a fear Shillingstone has considered irrational-until now. The two men within stand upright. One of them releases his hold on the rope fastening the crate and steps forward, letting the lamplight fall upon his face, deliberately, as it seems to Shillingstone in that moment, boldly, brazenly.
“Tozer.” The stupefaction audible in Shillingstone’s voice is not to be wondered at. Jacob Tozer is the estate steward, who dwells with his wife and children in the cottage adjoining the yard. His assurance several days ago that there was only one key to the padlock he supplied to secure the outhouse was obviously a lie. He possessed a second key all along and must even then have been planning to use it.
“Mr. Shillingstone,” Tozer responds, his gaze open and unabashed, his tone drained of all his customary subservience. “You ought to be abed at this hour.”
“Who are these people? What is the meaning of this?”
“The meaning’s clear, I should’ve reckoned. As for my friends here, they’re folk you took no heed of when you’d have been wise to. They’ve come to take back what you should never have formed the godless purpose to steal in the first place.”
“I stole nothing. I had formal sanction from Lord Godolphin to-”
“There’s a mightier lord than the noble earl whose business we’re about, Mr. Shillingstone. And we mean to carry it through. You shouldn’t have come out here.” Tozer shakes his head in evident regret. “You really shouldn’t.”
“Unhand my property this instant or I’ll see you all hanged as common thieves.”
Tozer and his two mute companions do not move. Shillingstone glares at them each in turn, clinging to the hope that he can browbeat them into submission while stifling as best he can the growing conviction that for them there is no turning back.
“Give this up now, Tozer. Send these men away. Leave the crate where it is. Lock the door and give me the key. Then perhaps I’ll consider saying nothing to Dr. Borlase of your conduct tonight.”
“Yes. I will.”
“No need to trouble yourself so far, Mr. Shillingstone. No need at all.”
There is the faintest nod of Tozer’s head in the direction of the man holding the horse. Then, too swiftly and too darkly in the jumbled shadows for Shillingstone to forestall, the man moves, in a darting lunge. The blade of a knife gleams fleetingly in a shaft of lamplight, then strikes home, the force of the blow and the weight of his assailant’s body behind it flinging Shillingstone against the open door of the outhouse. As it swings back behind him, he falls.
He is on the ground, the cobbles hard and moist beneath him, before the realization that he has been stabbed forms as an organized thought in his brain. And Tozer’s hand, rough and hard-sinewed, has clamped his mouth shut before he can cry out for help. There is no pain yet, but something hot and liquid is flowing between his skin and his shirt, something he knows, though can barely believe, is his own blood.
“This is your doing,” rasps Tozer, staring down at him. “Yours, not ours.”
Shillingstone tries to raise himself on his elbows, but already he is as weak as a kitten and cannot seem to draw breath. He is helpless in Tozer’s grip, helpless to do other than look blearily up into the shadow-wreathed face above him. He does not know where the other two men are now. He scarcely knows where he is himself.
“What did you hope for from this, Mr. Shillingstone? Fame and fortune? A page to yourself in the history books? It’s not to be. No one will ever know what you tried to force the world to hear. Or why you had to die tonight at our hands. No one will care. You’ll be forgotten. And so will we. But we don’t mind. You do, but we don’t. There’s the difference between us. Your secret is safe with us. You have my word on that. My solemn word.”
Blood is filling Shillingstone’s lung. Death is tracing its cold, mocking fingers around him. He cannot breathe. He cannot move. He cannot think. He can sense only loss-and encroaching darkness. The glory he so keenly anticipated is beyond his grasp. The life he aspired to is out of his reach. The world leaves him as he leaves the world-without a word.
Tozer lowers Shillingstone’s head to the ground, closes the dead man’s sightless eyes, crosses himself and stands up. He turns to his companions. “Hurry” he urges them, pointing to the crate. “There’s much to do.” Then he glances down at Shillingstone’s body. “More now than ever.”
Few of Jardiniera’s clients lived in Monaco, for the simple reason that few residents of the principality possessed a garden. The high-rise apartment blocks jostling for a tax-free footing on its expensive square kilometre of the Côte d’Azur left little room for the landscaped riots of greenery to be found in the grounds of villas to east and west.
An exception to this rule was, however, one of Jardiniera’s best clients. Barney Tozer was in fact rather more than a client, having bought himself a slice of the company and with it the implicit right to prompt attention whenever he required it. He had also bought himself, at a price Tim Harding should only have been able to guess at but actually knew to the last eye-watering zero, the penthouse apartment in one of the most prestigious blocks in La Condamine. Thanks to the sheerness of the rock face against which the block had been built, the penthouse came complete with its own garden, perched at the level of the next road above, commanding a fine view of the yacht-crammed Port de Monaco and the sparkling blue vastness of the Mediterranean.
An electronically operated shutter-door set in the high stone rear wall of the garden gave access to a double garage, sparing its owner the need to squeeze his four-wheel-drive giant into the communal garage in the block’s basement and allowing Harding to drive his Jardiniera truck in off the road after entering the four-digit code he had been trusted with on the number-panel attached to the entryphone.
Harding was a well-built, broad-shouldered man in his late forties, brown hair bleached blond enough by the sun to camouflage the streaks of grey, skin so deeply tanned that his blue-grey eyes sparked brightly, frown-and smile-lines more or less equally pronounced on his evenly featured face. Gardening for a living had kept him physically fit, but something in his face, something wounded and wary, suggested that people had always been a greater mystery to him than plants.
He parked the truck on the hardstanding in front of the garage and climbed out into the cool, clear, light-filled air as the shutter-door completed its well-lubricated descent behind him with a reassuringly solid clunk. Harding was dressed for work, in jeans, boots and skiing jacket, although he happened to know that no soil would be turned or shrub pruned this morning. He happened to know, but was obliged to pretend he did not. Which was only one of the reasons for the discomfort he felt.
The morning was fine but chill. Winter and spring were still taking turns this early in the year, even on the Riviera, where the locals seemed to regard anything other than warm, settled weather as a personal affront. It was a quiet time for Jardiniera. Many of their clients were away. Most of the gardens they tended were ticking over gently, with little need of anything beyond routine maintenance. Harding knew he would be unable to plead pressure of work as an objection to doing what was going to be asked of him. He knew, in fact, that he would be unable to raise an objection of any kind. Even though some instinct he suspected he ought to heed told him he should.
Barney Tozer was on the terrace beyond the swimming pool, leaning back against the balustrade that guarded the drop to the roadway far below. He was in the middle of a phone conversation and did no more than raise a hand to acknowledge Harding’s arrival. This was no surprise. He was a man who spent so much time on the phone that his right shoulder was permanently lower than his left, giving his whole body a slightly skewed, misshapen appearance. He was about the same age as Harding, but did not look so well on it, a substantial paunch filling out the loose sweater he wore above baggy trousers and deck shoes, his thinning hair cropped short, a second chin wobbling beneath his jaw as he spoke. But the obese and gleaming watch lolling on his wrist hinted at the other kind of pounds he had acquired an excess of over the years, not to mention the euros, dollars, yen and Swiss francs. He was, Harding needed no reminding, a seriously wealthy man.
There was a vagueness about the source of this wealth. Barney Tozer’s company, Starburst International, dealt in timeshare properties and the luxury end of the holiday market, but Harding had always found it difficult to believe that such business could yield profits on the scale its chairman and managing director’s lifestyle suggested it did. Harding was no expert, of course. He knew that. And he knew there were other factors complicating his relationship with Barney. One of those was that he actually liked the guy. Barney was a generous, affable, garrulous, down-to-earth Cornishman who hardly fitted the tax-exile stereotype. He and Harding had become drinking buddies over the last couple of years-friends, for want of a better word, though there were in truth too many secrets between them to make it quite the right word.
Harding crossed the modest but manicured lawn and made his way slowly round the pool to where Tozer was standing, scanning the lemon trees and hibiscuses as he went to confirm that they were looking well, even though he knew his host would be unlikely to notice their condition unless they shed their leaves and died in front of him. The phone call was ending in murmured farewells. By the time Harding reached the terrace, it was over.
“’Morning, Tim,” said Tozer, slipping the phone into his pocket and smiling broadly. “Hope you haven’t had to make too much of a detour to fit me in.”
“Not at all. There’s a villa on Cap Martin I’m going to visit this afternoon. I might be in line for quite an ambitious landscaping job there.”
“Well, it’s supposed to be.” So it was, although general care and maintenance accounted for more and more of Jardiniera’s business. “Anyway, what can I do for you, Barney?”
“Come inside. We can talk over coffee. Unless you fancy something stronger.” Tozer winked over his shoulder at him as he headed towards the patio doors leading into the apartment.
“Coffee’s fine, thanks.”
“Have it your way.”
But Harding was not going to have it his way. That he already knew. Forewarned was not in this case forearmed.
“Carol’s at the beautician,” Tozer explained as they traversed the huge, modishly furnished lounge en route to the kitchen. “Seems to spend more and more time there. Says that’s a sign of middle age. Could be a sign of covering up for torrid sessions with a gym-freak toy boy of course. How’s a husband to know?”
“I expect she really is at the beautician, Barney.”
“Yeah?” Tozer smiled back at Harding. “You’re probably right.”
right. There was no doubt about it. The real doubt surrounded the question of whether Barney knew why Harding could be so certain on the point. And that doubt seemed to have been growing recently, to a degree guilt alone could not explain.
“Black, no sugar?” They had reached the kitchen, fitted out like the lounge in the very latest style and its most expensive version.
Tozer flicked a couple of switches above the slate worktop. A kettle roared into life. A grinder devoured a hopperful of beans. In less than a minute, the coffee was brewing. Tozer lit a cigarette during the interval, not troubling to offer one to Harding, a confirmed non-smoker.
“Planning something new for the garden, Barney?”
“Hardly. That’s Carol’s province.”
“I just thought-”
“I didn’t ask you round to discuss bloody pot plants.”
“No. I guessed not.”
“I bet you did.” Tozer looked thoughtfully at him through a plume of cigarette smoke. “What’s old Barney up to now, hey? What bee has he got in his bonnet?” He chuckled, pushed down the plunger on the cafetière and poured their coffees, adding sugar to his own. “Let’s sit down.”
They settled round a corner of the large table at the far end of the room. Harding sipped his coffee, which was as excellent as ever-Colombian, he reckoned. Tozer flicked ash into a wooden ashtray the diameter of a dinner plate and glanced at his watch. There was in the movement the first hint of nervousness on his part.
“I’m ever so slightly pushed for time, actually, Tim. Tony’s due in an hour. We’re off on a ’ forty-eight to Abu Dhabi.” Tony Whybrow, who had occasionally and somewhat halfheartedly joined them on their periodic boys’ nights out, was Starburst’s finance director and the only other representative of the company Harding had ever actually met. “Work, work, work, hey?”
“But money, money, money.”
“Yeah. Anyway, like I say…” Tozer took another puff at his cigarette and started on the coffee. “Fact is, I need to ask you a favour.”
“Thing is… Have I ever mentioned my brother?”
Had he? Harding had asked himself exactly that question during the drive from Villefranche. “Well, I know you have a brother, so… either you or Carol…”
“Humphrey. Humphrey and Barnabas, hey? Bloody stupid names. But Barney’s OK. Suits me, so I’ve been told. As for Humphrey, I used to call him Humpty when we were children. He’s five years older than me. I couldn’t get my mouth round the sound, see? And then there was the nursery rhyme. So, I thought Humpty was…” Tozer shrugged. “Funny.”
“Where does Humphrey live?”
“Humph. That’s what I settled for in the end. He’s still stuck in Penzance.” Tozer’s roots in west Cornwall had definitely been mentioned to Harding, more than once. “Have you even been to Penzance, Tim? I can’t remember if I’ve asked you.”
“Neither can I. But, yeah, I have. For what it’s worth. A family holiday in Cornwall when I was ten. We stayed near Land’s End. Sennen Cove. Must have gone through Penzance, but all I can recollect is a view of St. Michael’s Mount. Does that count?”
“Bet it rained a lot.”
“It did, as a matter of fact.”
“No surprise there.”
“So, this favour… has to do with… Humph?”
“Yeah. A narrow-minded misery-guts if ever there was one. But…” Tozer gazed past Harding into some unfocused vision of his childhood. “He is my flesh and blood.” His face creased into a rueful smile. “Worse luck.”
“He’s asked for my help. My… personal help. That’s some kind of world record, so I don’t want to disappoint him. But it would mean I’d have to go to Penzance. Right away.”
“And you have business in Abu Dhabi?”
“Oh, that could be postponed. No, no. That’s not the problem. It’s a… tax thing.” Tozer lowered his voice, as if, despite the fact that there was no one else in the apartment, he was worried about being overheard. “I’ve used up my ninety-one days in the UK this fiscal year. I can’t set foot in Penzance, or anywhere else in the old country, before April sixth. It’s a nono. An absolute no-can-do. But Humph’ll just think I’m making an excuse if I turn him down because of that.”
“You will have to turn him down, though, won’t you?”
“As it stands, yeah. But… there’s such a thing as cushioning the blow. What I really need… is for someone to go in my place.” Tozer smiled cautiously at Harding. “Know anyone who might be available?”
Harding returned the smile. “You mean me?”
“It’ll only take a few days. A week at most. I’ll cover all your expenses. You can even bill me for your time at garden maintenance rates. It’s the quietest time of the year for you anyway. Look on it as a second Cornish holiday. You might get better weather this time round.”
“I can’t just drop everything and-”
“Come on. You’re always singing young Luc’s praises. I’ll bet he could cope without you for a month, let alone a week.”
That much was undeniable. Luc could always be relied upon and would probably relish the extra responsibility. “Well, maybe. But you haven’t told me what Humph wants help
“It’s no big deal, believe me. It just needs… handling properly.”
“Wouldn’t Carol be a better choice?”
“She can’t stick Humph at any price. And vice versa. It’d be better to turn him down flat than send Carol. But it has to be somebody I can trust, obviously. And you’d be surprised how few of my so-called friends I
trust. But there is you, Tim.” Tozer stubbed out his cigarette and looked Harding in the eye. “You should be flattered.”
“Well, I am, of course. But…”
“I still haven’t told you what’s involved.” Tozer grinned. “Have I?”