Stormchild by Bernard Cornwell

Book: Stormchild by Bernard Cornwell Read Free Book Online
Authors: Bernard Cornwell
at a boat’s sails and drumming on her coach roof and sluicing down her scuppers, and I wondered just how many months it had been since I had last sailed a boat properly.
    It had been too long, I thought, much too long. Apart from the odd delivery job up-channel and shunting boats about the boatyard’s pontoons, I had not sailed properly since Joanna’s murder. I had not had the energy to provision a boat nor to face the problems of navigation, yet suddenly, in the humid night air of Sun Kiss Key, I missed the ocean. I wanted to feel the chill wind’s bite again. I wanted to go far from land into the blank emptiness of the charts where the only guide to life was a belief in God and the high, cold light of His stars. I thought of Tort-au-Citron, Stormchild as was, and I resented that she was rotting on a mooring when she and I could have been sailing the long winds of nowhere, and that sudden yearning made me feel that I was at last waking from a nightmare, and I vowed that when I got home I would rig a boat, any boat, and, late though the season was, I would cross the channel and sail round Ushant to where the Biscay rollers would shatter themselves white on my boat’s stem.
    I smiled at that thought, then looked at my watch. I still had two hours to wait. It had been stupid of me, I thought, to arrive so early, and even more stupid to bring the gun that was a hard lump in my pocket.
    “Good evening, Mr. Blackburn.”
    “Christ!” I jumped like a fearful thing, twisting round to face the sudden voice. I had recognized the voice immediately, for von Rellsteb’s German accented English had not changed since my last confrontation with him on the deck of Erebus. How the hell had he gotten so close without my hearing him? I could see him now; a dark shape just fifteen yards away. Had he come by boat? Was he alone?
    “I’m quite alone.” He chuckled as though taking pleasure in anticipating my question. He stepped closer, and I saw by the moonlight that his appearance, like his beguiling voice, had not changed. His face was as narrow and goatlike as I remembered it, and he still had a waist-length ponytail of white hair and a thin straggly beard. He also demonstrated a calm confidence as he reached out to shake my hand. “I rather hoped you would be early,” he said. “Midnight seems such a witching hour for a meeting, does it not? But alas, at the time I made the arrangement I did not think I could reach this place any sooner. Luckily things freed up for me. How are you?”
    I had warily shaken his hand, but did not respond to his friendly question, preferring to ask one of my own. “Where’s Nicole?”
    “Ah, she’s well! And she’s safe!”
    “You got my letter for her?”
    “It was rather ruined by seawater. The telephone number was written in ballpoint, and decipherable, but the rest? I suspect it was washed away. I am sorry.” He shrugged apologetically.
    “I have another one for her.” I took the letter from my shirt pocket and held it out to von Rellsteb. I was feeling extraordinarily clumsy. Von Rellsteb, not I, had taken charge of this encounter.
    Von Rellsteb took the letter and pushed it into a pocket. “You told George that you had important news for Nicole? I assume that news is in the letter?”
    “I wanted to tell her that her mother is dead.”
    “Her mother is.” Von Rellsteb began to echo my words, then a look of awful pain shuddered across his face, and I thought of the police suspicion that the Genesis community had planted the bomb that killed Joanna, and I knew that if those suspicions were true, then this man was one of the greatest actors who had ever lived. Von Rellsteb momentarily closed his eyes. “My dear Mr. Blackburn,” he said at last, “I am so very sorry. Was it an illness?”
    “No.” I did not elaborate.
    “Poor Nicole!” Von Rellsteb said. “Poor Nicole! And you, too. How very sad. No wonder you are so eager to see her!” He had handled the news of my

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