Another Clandestine Meeting
Matthew Penfield approached the table where the one man he recognized in the entire room was sitting. “I got your message. Better news, I hope, than last time.”
Matthew had looked over the room through the window before ever he entered and looked carefully around after that before he approached the only man known to him there. He had not dared stay away.
Despite what might be said, there was no honor among thieves, and they would sell him out, just as he would sell them out if he had to, to protect himself. He trusted none of them to do such a simple thing as to shoot a man without there being too many other complications, but he had to know what had happened.
He looked his table companion over, after that first question, as he slid into the seat. “Well? What can you tell me? Though your face tells its own story and suggests that it was not easily brought about. What happened to you?” The man sitting in front of him, had a yellow bruise on his forehead, along with a broken nose, and his eyes were darker than they had been. “And where is your friend? I do not see him.”
Josh breathed a sigh of relief, surprised to see him. He was not sure he would come, but he was not out of the woods yet. Not until he had completed the task that had been given to him by Lord Penfield as the price for keeping his life. Josh’s other physical difficulties from that meeting were not obvious, but he felt them, reminding him what had happened over the few minutes after he’d been intercepted at the gate, and by the very man he had tried to kill. He had not expected to survive that meeting.
He had been shocked to be challenged out of the dark, while he had been outlined against the faint sky on the back of his horse and had presented a target that the man he had twice come up against now, could not miss. That had been a painful experience, as the first one had been, seeing his companions shot down around him, but he had survived the second meeting only because he still had a use. It had not helped when he later discovered that the man challenging him had not even been armed. He had been a fool to have been so easily duped, but it was too late for regrets now.
Josh wrenched his mind back to where he was. “He’s back in London. He had no stomach for what I did, and he was wounded already. Did you bring the money?”
The older man smiled at him. “Do you take me for a fool? I have dealt with people like you before and know better than to carry that much gelt with me. When it was completed, and he was dead beyond any doubt. I told you that, and then after that, no more money. I shall not be bled further by any attempted blackmail.” Josh had a stubborn look on his face, seeing that the old man still might try to cheat him. Matthew realized that more needed to be said.
“No, of course it is not with me, but I can easily get it. I need proof first. An announcement in the Gazette. A funeral to which, as his surviving heir, I need to be invited. His funeral. I need to know he is truly dead, and that you did not bungle this last attempt on him as you did the first.”
Josh was stung by his criticism but tried to convince him as he looked around the room. He expected another man to join them. “It is over. It was not easily achieved. However, I did what was needed. And I am still alive.” He had not expected to be, after he had been accosted at the gate leading out of the estate. He had not understood how any man could have been there before him, and not on horseback, but he had.
“You shot him?”
“I saw him fall. He was outlined against a window when I took my shot from no more than a hundred feet.”
“The older man did not hear what he most needed to hear. “But did you kill him? I need to know that.”
That was when Josh saw that someone he was told to watch for; a man who looked as though he had spent his life in the ring. No mistaking that look. Josh sat back and turned his empty glass on its side as a signal and continued to speak with his companion.
“If you think I would be mad enough to hang around to find that out after I had fired that shot and brought the house awake, you are fair and far off. That is something that you will need to find out for yourself, and you can do that better and safer than I can. Time will do that for you, as you say, but I do not have time to delay here. If he survived that shot, I doubt your nephew”—he mentioned his name—“Captain Robert Penfield, would choose to kill you, his Uncle Matthew, as easily as he would kill me after that, or see me hang. Shoot me more like, after what I saw him do with those pistols of his the first time we met, or use that saber of his on me. I lost two friends that day, one almost decapitated, and saw two others sore wounded.”
The older man had been taken by surprise to hear those names, but he shouldn’t have been. Josh would know the estate he was sent to, and who lived there, and would even guess his reason for wanting his nephew dead.
“He may not be dead then” He sounded frustrated. “So why did you bring me here? And how did you know my name? I never told you it.”
Josh looked him in the eye. “No, you didn’t, did you. Your nephew told me it himself, just before he gave my life back to me after a painful lesson, and a heart-to-heart talk about my own future, and what yours would be. But it’s not for me to tell you that, but somebody else that you might be more likely to believe.
Matthew’s eyes looked around the room, still seeing no one he knew. He began to realize that he had been led into a trap and should leave. He tried to stand up but felt a heavy hand fall onto his shoulder holding him in his seat. Strong fingers dug into him there, and he could not move.
“’Ello there, Squire. Fancy meeting you in this ’ere den of thieves.” The man standing over him, chuckled.
Matthew did not know him, had never seen him before, but knew that he had been caught. His fear was obvious.
“No, I’m not one of them Bow Street Runners you should rightly be a’feared of. I’m someone much worse than any of them. Much worse. I’m not bound by any law when it comes to the man I served under.”
William Trevithick’s hands moved across the older man’s clothing. He brought a pistol out, which he thrust into his own pocket, then a knife, which he stuck into the table, and then a small pouch. He patted him down again and then slid into a seat beside him.
He saw the state of Josh’s face and smiled at him. “Yes, I see you met my Captain. He told me a little about that. You’ll look almost as handsome as me with a few more encounters like that. If it’s any help—but I doubt it would be—you look a lot better than most men he meets like that after you tried to kill him. You were lucky I was not there, and you got off light.” Josh thought so too, but wondered if it would continue that way.
“Here.” William laid the pouch in front of Josh. “You earned it this time, except this one would have killed you once he learned that you had killed his nephew. Take it and go back to London. Better if you never come into this part of the country again.”
Josh needed no second invitation. He picked up the pouch and left, feeling lucky to be alive. He would go back to London, post haste, and never leave it again.
Matthew would have risen and gone too, but for the hand on his leg beneath the table and holding him in his seat. “So you are Uncle Matthew.” He smiled grimly at him.
“Sit tight Guvnor. You and me ‘as some talkin’ to do about your future, and then I shall report back to my Captain about what you decided to do to preserve your own skin. Me? I would not waste my time on you, but Captain Penfield does not share my feelings on that. He also does not want your blood on his hands. Very forgiving he is for some reason. Not like him at all. He thought the Indies might be much more healthful for you, and I agree with him.” He looked Matthew over, seeing how uncomfortable he was at having been found out.
“However, if the Indies does not appeal to you I have an alternative for you.” He took the knife from the table and felt its keen edge. “Very quick.”
Matthew spoke up, realizing that he had also been given a reprieve, but that it would not be offered for long. “The Indies will suit me just fine.” He was perspiring heavily.
William smiled at him. “Good. I thought it might. You will join your ship tomorrow in London. Now let us drink to that bon voyage, as the Frenchies say.” William waved his hand at the serving girl. “Two tankards of beer for my uncomfortable friend here and me.”