They were alone in the small room where the accused was allowed to take visits with his lawyer.
“They’ll hang me, won’t they?” Roman Blackwell’s soft voice was almost steady, but Daniel could see the fear in his eyes. What should he say? He had been dreading this moment all day. The trial was going badly and Daniel was hardly a year qualified to practice law, let alone to defend a man on trial for his life.
But how could he have refused? Daniel’s father, Sir Thomas Pitt, had asked the head of the law firm if he would allow Daniel to take the case. Blackwell was a private inquiry agent and something of an adventurer. Perhaps some of his cases were dubious, his clients not the most obviously innocent.
Blackwell had been a policeman at the time when Pitt was at Bow Street, long before Pitt had joined Special Branch. He had liked Blackwell, understood not only his sense of humor, but his individual morality. Pitt had saved Blackwell more than once from the consequences of his more quixotic and irregular actions. Blackwell had, on occasion, saved Pitt, too. But the time finally came when Pitt begged Blackwell to leave the police, before he made a mistake from which he could not escape. Reluctantly, Blackwell had taken his advice.
Pitt had never forgotten their friendship, and now that Blackwell had fallen seriously afoul of the law, the best Pitt could do for him was to ask Daniel to represent him in court.
Daniel could not refuse. He, too, liked Blackwell, probably for all the same reasons that his father did: his wry humor, his optimism and his imagination.
Daniel frankly found the law far more tedious than he had expected to. The study of it had been interesting at university, but the actuality involved mountains of detailed paperwork. There was nothing glamorous in it, none of the crusading activity he had hoped for.
He was a novice, feeling his inexperience with some pain. He was up against Douglas Sefton, who was skilled, articulate and determined at this, his fifth attempt to finally convict Roman Blackwell for something—this time for murder.
Blackwell was watching Daniel, waiting for him to answer. He would recognize a lie if he heard one. And what was the use of Daniel lying anyway? Blackwell would only resent it.
“Yes, they will hang you,” Daniel replied very quietly. “Which is why we have to prove you did not kill John Hinton.”
“Reasonable doubt?” Blackwell tried to put hope in his voice, but for once the charm and the music in it did not work.
“We’re beyond reasonable,” Daniel answered as gently as he could. “They’ll need very strong doubt indeed, and someone the jury can believe is guilty, if you aren’t.”
“I’m not!” Blackwell’s voice cracked. The desperation was there for only an instant, but it was unmistakable. “I never even touched the gun!”
“Neither did anyone else, according to the fingerprints—”
“What fingerprints?” Blackwell heatedly demanded. “There were none!”
“Somebody fired it,” Daniel pointed out.
“Gloves on?” Blackwell asked with sudden light in his face. “That means somebody who knew about fingerprints, knew that everyone’s are different!”
“The Chinese have known about them for centuries,” Daniel told him. It was a piece of information he found particularly interesting. It was just five years ago, actually—in 1905—that fingerprints had first been used to identify two murderers and convict them in a British court.
“If you didn’t kill him, someone else did. There’s no question Hinton was shot—deliberately. And unfortunately, there is no doubt that you knew him well, and quarreled over a debt . . .”
“Only a few pounds!” Blackwell said indignantly. “I’m not going to kill a man over a few quid!”
“Park says it was four hundred,” Daniel pointed out. “That’s a lot of money.”
“So it is,” Blackwell agreed. “And I’m going to lend that much to a chancer like Hinton? I’m not a complete fool!”
Daniel smiled bleakly. “You’re generous occasionally, Roman. And—”
“Not that generous!” Blackwell said incredulously.
“—known to drink a little too freely, and then forget what you’ve done?” Daniel finished.
“I never forget money,” Blackwell said fiercely. “Not that much!”
“Not even when you are . . .” he hesitated, then went on, “. . . thoroughly drunk?”
“I couldn’t even if I wished to.” Blackwell shook his head. “I haven’t got that much . . . at least I hadn’t then.”
“Can you prove that?” Daniel knew there was no way he could.
“I didn’t kill him,” Blackwell repeated desperately. His face puckered at the unreasonableness of it. “Why would I lend that kind of money to a lowdown article like Hinton? It makes no sense.”
“They’ll say you were drunk at the time,” Daniel replied reasonably. “Look, Roman, there’s no point in arguing something we can’t prove.” He leaned forward a little over the table between them. “The only way to change the jury’s minds is to make them seriously consider somebody else. If Hinton was not as useless as the prosecution says, he will have had other enemies. Think carefully. Who were they, and why? Think of people he cheated, lied to or lied about. People he got into trouble. People he could have been a witness against.”
Blackwell thought hard. He was a big man, not tall, but broad and strong, with a shock of jet-black hair. Only lately, he seemed to have shrunk into himself, as if he were retreating without actually moving from the hard wooden chair.
Daniel searched for something to encourage Blackwell with, not only for kindness’ sake, but also because Blackwell was the only source of information that could implicate anyone else, or at least provide Daniel with another course to follow.
Blackwell looked up hopelessly.
Oscar Park was the main witness against Blackwell, and Daniel had not made a dent in his testimony yet. He felt he was clutching at straws. “Well then, what can we find out about Park to make the jury doubt him? Hinton owed you money; he’s no use to you dead.”
“He’s no use alive either,” Blackwell said with a wry smile. “Do you think that counts?”
Daniel was too desperate to return the smile. “If Park is lying on the witness stand, why? It’s a big risk he’s taking. There must be a reason, and we’ve got to find it.”
“I don’t know,” Blackwell said wearily. “I never did him any harm.”
Daniel leaned forward a little farther. “It doesn’t have to be as direct as that. Come on! You’ve got enough imagination to see the oblique. What do we know as fact? You didn’t lend Hinton four hundred pounds, whether he paid it back or not. And how would Park know anyway? That’s the price of a small house. Did he owe that money to Park?”
“Maybe. Park was tight,” Blackwell responded. “I once lent him fifty pounds, and he never paid me back.”
“That could be something. I wonder if he owed anyone else? Who else can I call? I’ve got to have something to build on!” He heard the sharpness in his own voice. He must control it.
Blackwell said nothing.
Daniel racked his mind for anything that made sense. “Then revenge? Does Park hate you? Have you done something to him?”
“No, but I’d like to,” Blackwell replied with feeling. “The bastard. After the money I’ve lent him.” His expression was screwed up with the injustice of it.
But Daniel was concentrating on the evidence. He reached across the table and gripped Blackwell’s wrist. “He owes you money and he’s repaying you like this? It’s more than ingratitude, Roman.”
“It wasn’t only the money,” Blackwell said quickly, shaking his head a little.
“But it was something?” Daniel insisted.
“You can’t mention it in court,” Blackwell said with a flash of self-mockery. “It was just a little against the law. Fine line, but the wrong side of it—definitely. If it comes out they’ll can me for that, too, while they’ve got the chance.”
Daniel wondered for a moment if he should press the issue further.
“Don’t,” Blackwell said, reading his mind. “You don’t want to know. Just a little document with a . . . questionable signature.”
“Does Park know of this?” Daniel said quickly. When Blackwell looked chagrined, Daniel realized it was Park for whom he’d forged a document. “So that might give him a reason to damage you,” Daniel said eagerly. At last he might be on to something.
Blackwell’s eyebrows rose high. “I did him a favor.”
“He incurred a debt. He either can’t pay it, or doesn’t want to.”
“How old are you?”
“And so cynical!” Blackwell sighed.
“It comes from being a lawyer. What was the favor?”
Blackwell was silent for several moments.
Daniel tightened his grip on Blackwell’s wrist. “Roman—we haven’t got time to spare. They’ll be coming for us any moment now. What did you do for Park that he can’t afford to repay?”
“I told you—I’ve got no proof!” Blackwell repeated.
“He doesn’t know that. Come on!” Daniel said sharply “Details . . .”
Blackwell remained silent.
“You asked me if they would hang you,” Daniel said between his teeth, hating the sound of his voice. “Yes, they will! And once the verdict is in, it’s hell’s own job to change it!”
“All right! I wrote up some documents for him . . . once. And a letter to recommend him. It was—inventive.” Blackwell wrinkled his nose. “Do I need to spell it out for you?”
“Why was that so bad? What did you say that wasn’t true?” Daniel asked.
“That he was honest, and had a position of trust in a company doing business abroad.”
“And he hadn’t?”
“No such company. I signed a dead man’s name.”
Blackwell looked rueful. “Does he still have the position?”
“Yes. On the strength of that letter.”
“And has he abused that position?” Daniel already knew the answer. It was written on Blackwell’s face, the pride and shame at the same time.
“But the owners don’t know yet, and if I speak now, somebody else will get the blame,” he answered.
“And if I don’t call him into question, somebody else will get the blame for killing Hinton: you will!”
Before Blackwell could reply, the door swung open. A remarkably handsome woman stood on the threshold. She was of less than average height, and time had added nicely to her magnificent bosom and hips. Her black hair was wound thickly at the back of her head, made the more striking by a streak of white at the front. Her olive skin was flushed with exertion, and probably temper, and her black eyes flashed fire.
She ignored Blackwell and looked straight at Daniel.
“You’d better do something, young man! I’m not paying you to be charming. If charm would work, I could do it myself!”
Daniel rose to his feet. “Mrs. Blackwell . . .” he began.
“Call me Mercy.”
“Mercy.” It was not a plea for clemency but an abbreviation of her name, Mercedes. She was Blackwell’s mother, and it was she who had engaged Daniel’s services, to the very mixed feelings of Mr. fford Croft, head of the firm fford Croft and Gibson.
She closed the door behind her and walked over to stand next to the table. Roman rose, but she did not take the chair he offered her. She was not going to accept courtesy or excuses.
Copyright © 2018 by Anne Perry. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.