The Thirteenth Thomas Chaloner Adventure
Chaloner has to contend with the efforts of Dutch spies, murderers of twenty sailors, and a discontented political faction in order to halt a rebellion that threatens the monarchy.
By January 1666, the plague has almost disappeared from London, leaving its surviving population diminished and in poverty. The resentment against those who had fled to the country turns to outrage as the court and its followers return, their licentiousness undiminished.
The death of a well-connected physician, the mysterious sinking of a man-of-war in the Thames and the disappearance of a popular courtier are causing concern to Thomas Chaloner’s employer. When instructed to investigate them all, Chaloner is irritated that he is prevented from gaining intelligence on the military preparations of the Dutch. Then he discovers common threads in all the cases, which seem linked to those planning to set a match to the powder keg of rebellion in the city.
Battling a ferocious winter storm that causes serious damage to London’s fabric, Chaloner is in a race against time to prevent the weakened city from utter destruction.
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Beale could tell him no more, so Chaloner returned to the main body of the building, where he began the tortuous business of trying to persuade a lot of selfish and dissolute individuals to stand still long enough to talk to him. Not even the news of Olivia’s death made a difference – they professed themselves to be sorry, but not enough to stop enjoying themselves, and he could tell they considered him and his questions a nuisance. As evening turned to night, it became more difficult than ever, as cask after cask of wine disappeared down intemperate throats.
Eventually, he took his leave, tired, disgusted and of the growing conviction that Urban’s Men were right to point out all that was wrong with White Hall. Perhaps he should lend his sword to those who aimed to topple the government from power, because he was sure that the country would be a lot better off without such a worthless rabble trying to run it.
He stepped into the street, and was immediately aware of someone watching him. As it was a person wearing a long cloak and a hood that hid his face, Chaloner was instantly suspicious, especially when the figure took to his heels the moment he realised he had been spotted. Chaloner followed him back inside the Banqueting House, and thought he had lost him until a clatter of footsteps told him that his quarry had gone down the stairs to the undercroft.
He took the steps three at a time, and saw the edge of the cloak disappear around a pillar. He hared after it, but when three men materialised in front of him, all armed with rapiers, he realised he had made a very elementary mistake. He whipped around, aiming to make a tactical withdrawal, only to find two more swordsmen blocking his way. He was trapped.
He drew his own weapons – sword in one hand, dagger in the other – although his chances against five opponents were slim, to say the least. As one, they advanced for the kill.
Although Chaloner had never liked firearms, which he considered noisy and unpredictable, he wished he had one that night. The sound of it discharging would have summoned the palace guards and thus saved his life – and he needed help desperately, because he was not going to win the confrontation alone. He yelled at the top of his voice, but the revellers in the hall above were making far too much racket for him to be heard.
He evaded defeat a little longer than he expected, because his attackers were hampered by the fact that they could not see very well with their hats pulled low against recognition. But the inevitable came when one kicked his lame leg, which buckled and sent him sprawling. Even then he refused to give up, flailing wildly with his sword, so his assailants were reluctant to close in for the kill. For a while, there was a stalemate, then one, braver than the others, moved in.