At the end of September the second Simon Westow novel will be published in the UK. Quite honestly, I believe it’s one of the best books I’ve written. The main story is a version of the William Oliver affair (you can Google it), shifted to 1822 and more taking place in Leeds than the West Riding.
But other threads in the book involve people who were really here at that time – Joshua Tetley, about to set up as a brewer as he bought a site just south of the river which had been Sykes’s Brewery.
There’s also Matthew Murray, a visionary who ran the Round Foundry, which made (among other things) the locomotive that hauled coal from the Middleton Colliery down to the staithe at the bottom of Salem Place, just by…the brewery. The special cog system in the wheels of the engine and on the rails was the idea of Peter Blenkinsop, the mine manager. He’s here, too.
As to hocussing, well, you’ll have to read the book and find out, won’t you? And isn’t that cover a thing of beauty (scroll down to the end)?
Come on, come and meet them. They’re waiting for you…
Across the bridge and through the people on Boar Lane to Mill Hill. Tetley’s occupied an old shop, bow windows on either side of a varnished door. A small bell tinkled as he entered. Inside, open sacks of malt stood against the wall, the smell so overwhelming that Simon thought it might choke him.
Small casks of brandy and bottles of wine stood on the shelves by the wall. He was catching his breath as a tall man emerged from a back room.
‘How might I help you, sir?’ A warm, pleasant voice.
‘I’m looking for Mr Tetley. Joshua Tetley.’
‘I’m Joshua,’ the man said.
‘Good of you to call, sir.’
He was tall, with wispy brown hair and sideboards that started down his cheeks before fading away to nothing. Friendly, merry blue eyes.
‘My apologies, I know the scent can be a little intoxicating. I’ve spent too long around it to notice any more. Would you care for coffee, perhaps? Or tea? It will clear the taste.’
Simon coughed. ‘I’ll be fine. You said you needed my services?’
Tetley glanced down at the ground for a moment before he spoke. ‘I do. But a question first, if I might.’
‘Of course.’ Everyone had their own strange ways; he’d learned that over the years.
‘I’m considering buying a brewery. Sykes’s, on Salem Place.’
‘Then I wish you good luck.’ Most of the inns and taverns brewed their own beer, the way they always had. He’d seen any number of men try their luck as commercial brewers. Most only lasted a few months before closing their doors. Sykes was one of the very few who’d survived.
‘If I said I wanted you to investigate him and his business to find any weak spots, what would you say?’
‘I’d turn you down,’ Simon replied, and Tetley smiled. The answer seemed to satisfy him.
‘Good, very good. I wouldn’t want someone willing to stoop to that. We have a problem, Mr Westow. One of our clerks has vanished and he’s taken fifty pounds of our money with him.’
Quite a sum, close to a year’s wages for a clerk. ‘He could live for a long time on that.’
‘We want it returned. Quietly, though. No need for everyone to know our business.’
‘Of course.’ If people learned the firm had been gulled like that, their reputation would suffer. ‘And no prosecution, I take it?’
‘Just the money, Mr Westow. As much of it as is left.’
‘You’d better tell me about this clerk of yours…’
‘This is Mr Peter Blenkinsop from the Middleton coal field. He designed the cog system for the locomotive that allows it to pull heavy loads of coal.’
He was a burly man, with strong callused hands and a sharp face. Like Murray, another man who spent most of his time outside the office. Dark, intelligent eyes assessed him.
‘A pleasure to meet you,’ Simon said.
Murray rubbed his cheeks, looking like someone who craved sleep far more than riches.
‘Mr Blenkinsop has been very generous in the past, letting people sketch the details of the engine and telling them the specifications,’ he said. ‘So far, no one else has managed to duplicate our success.’ His mouth curled into a smile. ‘Of course, there might be one or two things we’ve chosen not to reveal.’
Blenkinsop laughed, a raw sound like a bark. ‘We’d like to keep it that way,’ he said. ‘Hold on to our advantage. You told Matthew this man had also been at the staithe.’
‘That’s right,’ Simon told him.
‘You’re sure it was him?’ Blenkinsop’s stare hardened. ‘I know there’s been someone who resembles the description.’
That was what Jane had said. He didn’t doubt her. ‘I’m positive.’
‘As you can tell, we’re taking this very seriously,’ Murray said. ‘I’ve had men here bribed to pass on secrets before. It happened a few years ago and it came close to ruining me.’ Memory turned him silent for a few seconds. ‘I’m not going to let that occur again.’
‘What do you know about this man, Mr Westow?’ Blenkinsop’s turn, his rough voice loud.
‘His name’s Whittaker. He’s the bodyguard for Curzon the magistrate.’
‘Is Curzon involved?’ Murray asked with alarm.
‘No,’ Simon answered. ‘I’m sure he’s not.’
‘We want him gone.’
‘Warned off,’ Murray said.
‘Gone,’ Blenkinsop repeated. He’d made his hands into fists, the knuckles white. ‘And we’ll pay you good money to send him on his way. I don’t care how you do it.’
‘Peter—’ Murray began, but the man waved his hand.
‘I don’t know what you imagine a thief-taker does,’ Simon said coldly. ‘But I find what’s been stolen and return it. I don’t kill for money.’
‘Then don’t. Get rid of him some other way. I just told you: I don’t care. Secrets aren’t worth a damned thing once they’re gone.’
‘We’re prepared to pay you one hundred guineas if you can keep our trade secrets intact from these men and send them on their way. The method is up to you. Is that arrangement agreeable to you, Peter?’
A grunt of assent from Blenkinsop. ‘Come and see me tomorrow.’
‘I’ll do that,’ Simon said. He could imagine Rosie’s eyes lighting up with greed as he told her the amount. ‘My methods. But in the meantime, make sure your men turn Whittaker away from the works – and the staithe, too. That will help.’
‘Of course,’ Murray said. ‘We’ll leave you to start your work.’