Stormy Persuasion Page 8

It was all he could do to sound reasonable when he said to the black-haired man, “Let go so I can help him.” Stop him was more like it.

“Bite your tongue, youngun. That’s not a snarl my brother is wearing, it’s a grin.” Then the man sighed because all five sailors were now sprawled on the ground. To his brother he complained, “Really, old boy, you could have dragged it out just a little.”

The blond bruiser merely gave the black-haired man a bored look before he turned his piercing green eyes on Nathan. “Need a job? I could use a sparring partner.”

Nathan choked back an impotent snarl. He’d just lost his chance to get answers. He should have stopped the bruiser from knocking them all out, but the demolishing had happened so fast. And they actually thought they were being helpful.

He got out, “No thanks, I have a job.”

The black-haired one who’d held him back let go of him now, saying, “No pearls of gratitude? Do we need to teach you some manners, youngun?” But then he added, “Behind you, James.”

What happened next left no room for thought. It did flash though Nathan’s mind that he had been left for last and was about to get the beating of his life. But he saw one of the sailors staggering to his feet. Nathan yelled, “Wait!”—but the man named James turned to the sailor, while the black-haired taller one put his steely arm around Nathan’s shoulder again.

It was too much. Nathan swung, catching the black-haired man completely off guard and connecting with his chin, taking him down. He doubted he could do the same with the bruiser who was now staring at Nathan with a raised brow.

Nathan stiffened. He could probably bolt as the sailor was now doing, but he didn’t want this one following him.

He broadened the distance between himself and the bruiser and, pointing to the fleeing sailor, quickly said, “I need answers that you and your friend are keeping me from getting.”

“Then run along and get them. My brother’s going to be in the mood for a fight now, but not to worry—”

Nathan didn’t wait to hear the rest. With a nod, he ducked around the strange twosome’s carriage, which had stopped in front of the tavern, and took off down the dock, chasing down the sailor. He thought he heard someone laughing behind him, but it was probably just someone in the tavern, and he didn’t look back.

The sailor had ducked around a corner onto a wide street. It was dark, but not deserted. A good number of sailors were making their way back to their ships, some drunkenly. Nathan ran down the street, glancing at each man he passed. It took him a few minutes to spot Hammett’s sailor just as the man turned another corner.

Swearing, Nathan reached the spot only to find a narrow alley filled with broken crates and other garbage. A dog barked to the left. He headed that way. He found the dog but the sailor was nowhere in sight. He could have entered any number of buildings through their rear doors. A light suddenly appeared in an upstairs window of one of them. He tried the door to that building and found it locked. He moved on to the next building. The door was unlocked and he slipped inside. The corridor he found himself in was dark—but not so dark he couldn’t see the shadow crouched in it.

Nathan leapt forward and dragged the sailor outside before whoever had lit the lantern could come down to investigate why the dog was barking. He didn’t stop until they rounded another corner and he shoved the sailor up against the side of a building.

“I distracted that bruiser so you could get away, but I’ll be finishing you off m’self if you don’t—”

“Wait!” the man pleaded. “I’ll tell you what I know, just no more punches.”

“Where is Grigg?”

“He ain’t in town yet, but he’ll be here tomorrow for the delivery.”

“To who?”

“Man on the west side, runs a fancy tavern. The cap’n’s been supplying him with brandy off and on for a year now.”

“Who’s the man? What’s the name of the tavern?” Nathan tightened his grip on the man’s shirt.

“Don’t know. All I know is this is a big delivery, so the captain is coming to town himself for it. He’s got quite a few establishments here eager for the finer stuff that he supplies now, those that cater to the gentry. Cuts them a deal they can’t refuse.”

“I need names.”

“I don’t know, I swear! Mr. Olivey does. You should be asking him—”

“He’s not going to be answering anything tonight, but you aren’t telling me anything useful either. That better change, and quickly.”

“It was the captain who set you up. He had a man watching your crew in Southampton. You shouldn’t be so predictable, boyo, always coming back to the same port.”

Nathan ignored the gloating tone for the moment. “Is that how Grigg has managed to avoid me?”

“Aye, he never docks in the same place twice. But since you do, it was easy to set a spy on your crew when they were in Southampton. He was there when you sent your men that message that you needed to reload your cargo to move it to a safer spot. He even overheard where they were to meet you with your ship and when.”

“How was that ambush arranged so quickly?”

“Because Captain Grigg was in town that night. He was told about your change in plans. He sent his spy to a revenue ship in the harbor, and the rest you know.”

“What I need to know is where I can find him, boyo. So if he doesn’t have a base, why don’t you tell me where he stores his cargo.”

“I can’t because he doesn’t. D’you really not know how many men work for him? Half of them just drive the wagons and simply wait for him to beach, unload, and they cart the goods straight to the buyers. No hiding it like we used to. No giving the revenuers that patrol the waters a chance to find us. He arranges everything in advance and has been operating that way for years. There’s nothing more I can tell you.”

“Yes, there is,” Nathan said in a quieter tone. “You can tell me why he killed my father.”

“Well, your sis—you don’t know?”

Nathan lifted the man a little off his feet to get his point across. “Tell me.”

“I know nothing. Nothing!” The sailor’s jaw was clenched, but he was shaking like a leaf. “I wasn’t working for him back then.”

Nathan pulled the man away from the wall and raised his fist warningly. “The tavern?” he growled. “Last chance to say something useful.”

The sailor’s eyes widened. “There’s an alley behind it, that’s all I ever see of it. The cap’n’s of a mind that the less we know the better. Only Mr. Olivey gets told when, where, and who. But I heard him call the bloke we deliver to Bobby.”

“The owner?”

“Don’t know, never asked.”

Nathan smashed his fist into the man’s face. “Too little, too late,” he muttered, but the man couldn’t hear him.

Nathan hurried back to the tavern to rouse Mr. Olivey for more information, but he slowed as he approached. The watch had found Grigg’s defeated crewmen. All four of them were still unconscious, didn’t even stir as they were lifted and placed in a wagon to be taken to jail. Nathan wasn’t even surprised. The man who had laid waste to them really was a bruiser.

Nathan was disappointed, but if the sailor he’d questioned could be believed, and he probably could be, Nathan knew much more now than he had before. And if his new turn of luck held, Grigg wouldn’t be caught by Burdis before Nathan returned to England.

Corky was in the small crowd gathered in front of the tavern, but he was nervously looking around for Nathan rather than watching what was going on. Nathan waved to draw his attention.

Corky ran over to him immediately. “We better get back to our post and quickly. The owners of the ship came by to see how the loading was going and got caught in a fistfight. Someone actually knocked out one of them and he’s furious.”

“That’s—unfortunate,” Nathan said with a sinking feeling. “Did they board?”

“No, not tonight. Where did you take off to?”

He gave Corky the short of it, saying, “Grigg’s men are in town. I had words with one of them.”

“He’s operating out of London? I know he’s cagey, but I didn’t take him for a loony.”

“He only delivers here to a number of buyers, but I got a lead on one of them. It’s the first clue I’ve had about Grigg’s whereabouts since he killed Jory. And now I know where to look for him when we get back to England.”

“Or you could send word about him to your commander friend.”

“Hell no, and he’s not my friend. He’s just a revenuer using me to get himself a promotion. Our goals merely line up—temporarily.”

Corky tsked. “Connections have their uses, particularly if they come with titles. It doesn’t serve your best interests to hate all nabobs just because of your sister’s in-laws.”

“I don’t hate them all. Only the ones I meet. Now it’s late and we sail in the morning. We need some sleep. They can wake us if any more wagons show up.”

“I’d agree, ’cept this one might be for us.”

Corky was talking about an approaching coach, not a wagon. Yet it did stop and the driver called down, “Are you with The Maiden George? If so, I have passengers who want to board now.”

Chapter Ten

Last night, Nathan had thought the couple were an odd pair, as he and Corky rowed them and an inordinate amount of heavy luggage out to The Maiden George. The man had introduced himself as Count Andrássy Benedek, a relative of the ship’s captain. The woman’s name hadn’t been mentioned. They spoke English but the man had a foreign accent. And they didn’t seem to like each other. Although the pair had been whispering to each other, Nathan had gotten the impression that they were bickering and didn’t want to be overheard. The woman’s pretty face had looked angry.

Nathan had felt sorry for the bloke, though. A henpecked man if he’d ever seen one, and he looked no older than twenty-five, his own age. Far too young to be stuck with a shrew for a wife, pretty or not, if that’s who she was to him.

But this morning as the dawn sky brightened, Nathan was surprised to see Benedek joining him at the rail. Escaping the shrew? Nathan might have remarked on it, one man commiserating with another, if he didn’t want to avoid drawing attention to himself on this trip. Besides, the man was titled.

Class distinctions didn’t used to mean anything to Nathan. Having an earl for an ancestor probably accounted for his attitude, not that he’d ever mentioned that to anyone or ever would. It was galling that Burdis had found out. In fact, if someone called him gentry these days, he’d probably punch him in the face. He preferred to simply treat all men as equals whether they wanted to be or not, but most nabobs felt differently.

His reticence turned out to be a good decision because the count wasn’t alone for long. His companion from the night before arrived a few moments later, saying, “You can’t ignore me, Andrássy!”

“Can’t I?” Benedek shot back. “Not another word about it, Catherine. I am not going to ask them for any more favors when I only just met them.”

“But one of them could have the insight, could tell me if my father really is alive, or even where he is. You could at least ask.”

“And have them think I’m crazy? The supposed magical abilities of Gypsies is just superstitious nonsense and trickery. That’s what Gypsies do. They prey on the hopes and dreams of the gullible. They tell you what you want to hear and get paid for it. None of it is true and I’m not going to insult this branch of my family by mentioning these notions of yours. My God, do you listen to yourself, spouting such nonsense?”

“Of course I believe it, when I’ve seen you display the Gypsy gift occasionally. Deny it all you want, but you know it’s true.”

“All I have is the instinct of a tracker and luck. There’s nothing mystical about that, Catherine. And I’ll use those instincts to find your father, if just to be rid of you for good!”

“How dare you! You wouldn’t even know about these relatives of yours if not for me! I found that journal that mentioned them. You owe me!”

“I owe you nothing, although I will honor the obligation my father saddled me with when he married your mother!”

“Perfect, luv. You really are a master of improvis—”

Nathan couldn’t hear any more as the pair moved farther down the deck, but the woman’s voice had changed to a purring tone there at the end, as if she really was offering praise.

But glad to be alone again at the rail, Nathan raised the spyglass he’d borrowed from Artie, the crusty, old first mate, for a closer view of the wharf. A longboat had been dispatched for the passengers because there were so many of them. Quite a crowd of well-dressed people were on the dock, waiting for it. But he wasn’t interested in them.

He trained the eyepiece up and down the wharf as far as he could see. He was meticulous, stopping to peruse faces, making sure he didn’t recognize any. He didn’t expect to see any of Grigg’s men this soon, but Grigg might show up himself looking for them. And if he spotted the man, he couldn’t say if he would risk losing The Pearl to get his hands on him now.

Jory had decided to send Nathan away five years ago to protect him. Despite how angry Nathan had been because of it, he’d still loved the man. He felt angry to this day, but for a different reason: because he and his father had never made amends and it was too late to now. But that had been Jory’s decision, too. No communication at all was to pass between them that could lead Grigg to Nathan, who could then be used against Jory. But settling that score for his father was his decision. And even with the ship soon to sail, he still had that on his mind.

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