Thomas Chaloner’s Sixth Exploit in Restoration London
London swelters in a heatwave in the summer of 1664, and in the corridors of power, the temperature is equally high as war with the Dutch looks set to become a reality.
In the dilapidated surroundings of the Savoy Hospital, a delegation from the United Provinces of the Netherlands has gathered for a final attempt to secure peace between the two nations. Thomas Chaloner, whose duties as an intelligencer had taken him to Holland during Cromwell’s time, knows many of the delegates, including the sister of his late wife. Her husband, Willem Hanse, is more determined than most that the two countries should not go to war.
Then Hanse’s body is found in the Thames, and Chaloner discovers that his former brother-in-law has left enigmatic clues pointing to a motive for his murder. Was Hanse involved in a plot to steal the crown jewels, or had he fallen foul of one of the many people in London who are determined that the peace talks will fail?
The Body in the Thames is also available as a Soundings Audio Book, read by Gordon Griffin. It can be ordered as either CD or cassette or downloaded from iTunes.
Willem Hanse carried a terrible secret, and had no idea what to do with it. He was a stranger in a foreign land, and did not know whom he could trust – not among his fellow Dutchmen, who had travelled to London with him in a final, desperate attempt to avert a war with Britain, and not among his English hosts. He was also unwell, suffering from an unsettling, gnawing ache in his innards. He pulled off his gloves – stupid things to wear when the city was in the grip of a heatwave, but they had been a gift from a friend and it comforted him to don them – and wiped sweat from his eyes.
He glanced behind him as he walked, pretending to gaze across the river at the twinkling lights of Southwark, but really looking for the malignant Oetje. His heart sank when he saw she was still there: he had not managed to lose her, despite his best efforts. She had followed him out of his lodgings at the Savoy Hospital – the rambling Tudor palace that had been lent to the Dutch Ambassador and his staff for the duration of their stay – and then she had lurked outside the Sun tavern while he had spent the evening with his friend, Tom Chaloner.
Poor Chaloner had been exhausted. He had spent the ten days since his wedding desperately trying to solve a murder, while simultaneously struggling to pay court to a new wife and serve a demanding master. He had wanted to go home to sleep, but Hanse had detained him with idle chatter, hoping Oetje would tire of her vigil and leave. Unfortunately, her patience appeared to be infinite, because she had stood in a doorway all evening, silent and watchful.
Eventually, Chaloner had fallen asleep at the table, which had relieved Hanse of the burden of pretending all was well when it was not. Hanse had let him doze for a while, then had reluctantly shaken him awake when he knew he could dally no longer, and would have to leave the safety of the tavern – Oetje or no Oetje.
Chaloner had wanted to accompany him back to the Savoy – London was unsafe for Dutchmen, and one out alone at such an hour would be an attractive target for English ‘patriots’ – but Hanse, unwilling to embroil him in such a deadly matter, had refused. In the end, they had compromised: Hanse had taken a hackney carriage instead of walking as he had planned. Chaloner had not been happy with the arrangement, but had been too tired to argue. He had seen Hanse into the coach, and then turned for home.
Once he had gone, Hanse had made a spirited effort to lose Oetje, directing his driver on a tortuous journey through a maze of narrow alleys. In a particularly dark spot, he had scrambled out and paid the man to keep going without him. Then he had visited several crowded taverns, entering through front doors and slipping out through the back ones, but all to no avail – Oetje had stuck to him like glue. Now he was all alone in a particularly dangerous, squalid part of the city.
Hanse believed, with all his heart, that the business he had undertaken was worth his life, and he was prepared to do anything to see it through. Of course, he thought grimly, as he broke into a trot, he could not complete what he had started if he was killed. Pushing such macabre thoughts from his mind, he blundered on.
A figure materialised ahead, so Hanse jigged down the alley to his left, but there were footsteps everywhere, echoing in his aching head. Clutching his stomach, he began to run, unease blossoming into full-blown fear as his pursuer gained on him. Then he tripped over a pile of rubbish in the darkness. He knew he was near the Thames, because he could hear its gentle lap on the muddy shore. He tried to climb to his feet, but his limbs were like lead. Someone came to stand over him.
‘Please!’ he whispered. ‘Do not—’
His adversary issued a low, mirthless chuckle that turned Hanse’s blood to ice, despite the heat of the summer evening. ‘You should not have interfered.’