Born in ice, p.36
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       Born in Ice, p.36

         Part #2 of Born In series by Nora Roberts
 

  "You need a sandwich," Gray decided.

  "I wouldn't say no to one."

  "Okay, we refuel and rethink."

  "I don't want you to be disappointed we haven't learned anything."

  "But we have. We know without a shadow of doubt there is no Triquarter Mining, and never has been. The post office box is a sham and in all likelihood still being rented by whoever's fronting the deal."

  "Why would you think that?"

  "They need it until they settle with you, and any other outstanding investors. I imagine they've cleaned most of that up. Let's try here." He nudged her into a small pub.

  The scents were familiar enough to make her homesick, the voices just foreign enough to be exotic. They settled at a table where Gray immediately commandeered the thin plastic menu. "Mmm. Shepherd's Pie. It won't be as good as yours, but it'll do. Want to try it?"

  "That'll be fine. And some tea."

  Gray gave their order, leaned forward. "I'm thinking, Brie, that your father dying so soon after he bought the stock plays a part in it. You said you found the certificate in the attic."

  "I did, yes. We didn't go through all the boxes after he'd died. My mother-well, Maggie didn't have the heart to, and I let it go because-"

  "Because Maggie was hurting and your mother would have hounded you."

  "I don't like scenes." She pressed her lips together and stared at the tabletop. "It's easier to step back from them, walk away from them." She glanced up, then away again. "Maggie was the light of my father's life. He loved me, I know he did, but what they had was very special. It was only between them. She was grieving so hard, and there was already a blowup about the house being left to me, instead of my mother. Mother was bitter and angry, and I let things go. I wanted to start my business, you see. So it was easy to avoid the boxes, dust around them from time to time, and tell myself I'd get to it by and by." "And then you did."

  "I don't know why I picked that day. I suppose because things were settled quite a bit. Mother in her own house, Maggie with Rogan. And I ..."

  "You weren't hurting so much over him. Enough time had passed for you to do the practical thing."

  "That's true enough. I thought I could go through the things up there that he'd saved without aching so much for him, or wishing so hard things had been different. And it was part ambition." She sighed. "I was thinking I could have the attic room converted for guests."

  "That's my Brie." He took her hand. "So he'd put the certificate up there for safekeeping, and years passed without anyone finding it, or acting on it. I imagine they wrote it off. Why should they take a chance of making contact? If they did any checking, they'd have learned that Tom Con-cannon had died, and his heirs hadn't dealt with the stock. It might have been lost, or destroyed, or tossed out by mistake. Then you wrote a letter."

  "And here we are. It still doesn't explain why they've offered me money."

  "Okay, we're going to suppose. It's one of my best things. Suppose when the deal was made, it was a fairly straightforward scam, the way I explained in New York. Then suppose somebody got ambitious, or lucky. Expanded on it. Triquarter was out of the picture, but the resources, the profit, the organization was still there. Maybe you run another scam, maybe you even get into something legit. Maybe you're just playing with things on the right side of the law, using them as cover. Wouldn't it be a surprise if the legal stuff started to work? Maybe even made more of a profit than the cons. Now you've got to shed that shadowy stuff, or at least cover it up."

  Brianna rubbed her temple as their meal was served. "It's too confusing for roe."

  "Something about those loose stock certificates. Hard to say what." He helped himself to a healthy bite. "Nope, doesn't come close to yours." And swallowed. "But there's something, and they want them back, even pay to get them back. Oh, not much, not enough to make you suspicious, or interested in further investing. Just enough to make it worth your while to cash in."

  "You do know how all this business works, don't you?"

  "Too much. If it hadn't been for writing..." He trailed off, shrugged. It wasn't something to dwell on. "Well, we can consider it luck that I happen to have some experience along these lines. We'll make a few stops after we eat, then run it by the cops."

  She nodded, relieved at the idea of turning the whole mess over to the authorities. The food helped pick up her spirits. By morning they'd be home. Over her tea she began to dream about her garden, greeting Con, working in her own kitchen.

  "Finished?"

  "Hmm?"

  Gray smiled at her. "Taking a trip?"

  "I was thinking of home. My roses might be blooming."

  "You'll be in the garden by this time tomorrow," he promised and, after counting out bills for the tab, rose.

  Outside, he draped his arm over her shoulder. "Want to try local public transportation? If we catch a bus we'll get across town a lot quicker. I could rent a car if you'd rather."

  "Don't be silly. A bus is fine."

  "Then let's just... hold it." He turned her around, nudging her back into the pub doorway. "Isn't that interesting?" he murmured, staring down the street. "Isn't that just fascinating?"

  "What? You're crushing me."

  "Sorry. I want you to keep back as much as you can and take a look down there, just across the street." His eyes began to gleam. "Just on the way to the post office. The man carrying the black umbrella."

  She poked her head out, scanning. "Yes," she said after a moment. "There's a man with a black umbrella."

  "Doesn't look familiar? Think back a couple of months. You served us salmon as I recall, and trifle."

  "I don't know how it is you can remember meals so."

  She leaned out further, strained her eyes. "He looks ordinary enough to me. Like a lawyer, or a banker."

  "Bingo. Or so he told us. Our retired banker from London."

  "Mr. Smythe-White." It came to her in a flash, made her laugh. "Well, that's odd, isn't it? Why are we hiding from him?"

  "Because it's odd, Brie. Because it's very, very odd that your overnight guest, the one who happened to be out sightseeing when your house was searched, is strolling down the street in Wales, just about to go into the post office. What do you want to bet he rents a box there?"

  "Oh." She sagged back against the door. "Sweet Jesus. What are we going to do?"

  "Wait. Then follow him."

  Chapter Eighteen

  They didn't have long to wait. Barely five minutes after Smythe-White walked into the post office, he walked out again. After taking one quick look right, then left, he hurried up the street, his umbrella swinging like a pendulum at his side.

  "Damn it, she blew it."

  "What?"

  "Come on, quick." Gray grabbed Brianna's hand and darted after Smythe-White. "The postmistress, or whatever she is. She told him we were asking questions."

  "How do you know?"

  "Suddenly he's in a hurry." Gray checked traffic, cursed, and pulled Brianna in a zigzagging pattern between a truck and a sedan. Her heart pounded in her throat as both drivers retaliated with rude blasts of their horns. Already primed, Smythe-White glanced back, spotted them, and began to run.

  "Stay here," Gray ordered.

  "I'll not." She sprinted after him, her long legs keeping her no more than three paces behind. Their quarry might have dodged and swerved, elbowing pedestrians aside, but it was hardly a contest with two younger, healthy pursuers on his heels.

  As if he'd come to the same conclusion, he came to a stop just outside a chemist's, panting. He dragged out a snowy white handkerchief to wipe his brow, then turned, letting his eyes widen behind his sparkling lenses.

  "Well, Miss Concannon, Mr. Thane, what an unexpected surprise." He had the wit, and the wherewithal, to smile pleasantly even as he pressed a hand to his speeding heart. "The world is indeed a small place. Are you in Wales on holiday?"

  "No more than you," Gray tossed back. "We've got business to discuss, pal. You want to talk here,
or should we hunt up the local constabulary?"

  All innocence, Smythe-White blinked. In a familiar habit, he took off his glasses, polished the lenses. "Business? I'm afraid I'm at a loss. This isn't about that unfortunate incident at your inn, Miss Concannon? As I told you, I lost nothing and have no complaint at all."

  "It's not surprising you'd have lost nothing, as you did the damage yourself. Did you have to dump all my dry goods on the floor?"

  "Excuse me?"

  "Looks like the cops, then," Gray said and took Smythe-White by the arm.

  "I'm afraid I don't have time to dally just now, though it is lovely to run into you this way." He tried, and failed, to dislodge Gray's grip. "As you could probably tell, I'm in a hurry. An appointment I'd completely forgotten. I'm dreadfully late."

  "Do you want the stock certificate back or not?" Gray had the pleasure of seeing the man pause, reconsider. Behind the lenses of the glasses he carefully readjusted, his eyes were suddenly sly.

  "I'm afraid I don't understand."

  "You understand fine, and so do we. A seam's a scam in any country, any language. Now, I'm not sure what the penalty for fraud, confidence games, and counterfeiting stocks is in the United Kingdom, but they can be pretty rough on pros where I come from. And you used the mail, Smythe-White. Which was probably a mistake. Once you put a stamp on it and hand it over to the local post, fraud becomes mail fraud. A much nastier business."

  He let Smythe-White sweat that before he continued. "And then there's the idea of basing yourself in Wales and doing scams across the Irish Sea. Makes it international. You could be looking at a very long stretch."

  "Now, now, I don't see any reason for threats." Smythe-White smiled again, but sweat had begun to pearl on his brow. "We're reasonable people. And it's a small matter, a very small matter we can resolve easily, and to everyone's satisfaction."

  "Why don't we talk about that?" "Yes, yes, why don't we?" He brightened instantly. "Over a drink. I'd be delighted to buy both of you a drink. There's a pub just around the corner here. A quiet one. Why don't we have a friendly pint or two while we hash all this business out?" "Why don't we? Brie?" "But I think we should-"

  "Talk," Gray said smoothly and, keeping one hand firmly on Smythe-White's arm, took hers. "How long have you been in the game?" Gray asked conversationally.

  "Oh, dear, since before either of you were born, I imagine. I'm out of it now, truly, completely. Just two years ago, my wife and I bought a little antique shop in Surrey."

  "I thought your wife was dead," Brianna put in as Smythe-White led the way to the pub.

  "Oh, no, indeed. Iris is hale and hearty. Minding things for me while I put this little business to rest. We do quite well," he added as they stepped into the pub. "Quite well. In addition to the antique shop, we have interests in several other enterprises. All quite legal, I assure you." Gentleman

  to the last, he held Brianna's chair out for her. "A tour company, First Flight, you might have heard of it."

  Impressed, Gray lifted a brow. "It's become one of the top concerns in Europe."

  Smythe-White preened. "I like to think that my managerial skills had something to do with that. We started it as rather a clandestine smuggling operation initially." He smiled apologetically at Brianna. "My dear, I hope you're not too shocked."

  She simply shook her head. "Nothing else could shock me at this point."

  "Shall we have a Harp?" he asked, playing the gracious host. "It seems appropriate." Taking their assent for granted, Smythe-White ordered for the table. "Now then, as I said, we did do a bit of smuggling. Tobacco and liquor primarily. But we didn't have much of a taste for it, and the touring end actually made more of a profit with no risk, so to speak. And as Iris and I were getting on in years, we decided to retire. In a manner of speaking. Do you know the stock game was one of our last? She's always been keen on antiques, my Iris, so we used the profits from that to buy and stock our little shop." He winced, smiled sheepishly. "I suppose it's poor taste to mention that."

  "Don't let that stop you." Gray kicked back in his chair as their beer was served.

  "Well, imagine our surprise, our dismay, when we received your letter. I've kept that post office box open because we have interests in Wales, but the Triquarter thing was well in the past. All but forgotten really. I'm ashamed to say your father, rest him, slipped through the cracks in our reorganization efforts. I hope you'll take it as it's meant when I say I found him a thoroughly delightful man."

  Brianna merely sighed. "Thank you." "I must say, Iris and I very nearly panicked when we heard from you. If we were connected with that old life, our reputation, the little businesses we've lovingly built in the past few years could be ruined. Not to mention the, ah..." He dabbed at his lip with a napkin. "Legal ramifications."

  "You could have ignored the letter," Gray said.

  "And we considered it. Did ignore the first. But when Brianna wrote again, we felt something had to be done. The certificate." He had the grace to flush. "It's lowering to admit it, but I actually signed my legal name to it. Arrogance, I suppose, and I wasn't using it at the time. Having it float to the surface now,
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