(part 3 of The Rise & Fall of Donald Trumpet Esq.)
Thomas Wellspring II found Bench waiting for him, as arranged, in the back room of a small alehouse, down a laneway near the dockside. It was a deceptive location, he noted, barely noticeable in the alley gloom but inside, so much more spacious than one might imagine, given its narrow doorway and single, sashed window.
Wellspring was greeted by a servant and led to a room off the main chamber, tucked away in a corner. This room was well proportioned and, though without windows, well lit, from above by a high, glass skylight. It was lined with bookshelves from a dark hardwood and a lavish collection of leather bound books.
There was a marble fireplace at one end, large enough for a man to stand in and lit with a fire blazing with logs. Two comfortable carved walnut chairs were set up on either side of the fire with a decanter of port and two glasses on a low table, between them.
The rest of the room was dominated by a sturdy oak dining table, worn but well kept and gleaming. Wellspring wondered at the comfortable lavishness of the room and who it belonged to when Bench walked in.
‘Thomas Wellspring,’ he said, ‘thank you for agreeing to meet me. May I offer you a glass of port?’
Mortimer Bench greeted Wellspring with a handshake before directing him to the high backed walnut armchair with the velvet burgundy cushions.
‘I am very impressed with your choice of meeting place, Bench. I must say it is deceptive and I’m surprised I never knew of its existence. Who does it belong to, pray tell?’
‘It is mine, Mr Wellspring, a home from home and a little enterprise of my own, apart from my daily duties.’
To say Thomas Wellspring was astounded would be to underestimate his discomposure. He flopped into the armchair beside Bench, mouth agape, speechless.
‘Alderman Trumpet is not the only person adept at sleight of hand and creative accounting, Mr Wellspring,’ Bench told him, ‘as the Alderman’s manservant and general factotum, I am party to all his ventures and handle all the details of his transactions. That is why I wanted to meet you. I have information that I believe should be useful to you.’
Bench took the glass stopper from the decanter on the table between them and poured two glasses of port, one of which he offered to Wellspring. When he took it Bench held his aloft in a toast and Wellspring, who was yet to speak, clinked glasses with him.
‘To Failsafe,’ Bench toasted.
The meeting of Failsafe fishermen, clam pickers and shellfish wranglers took place, behind closed doors, in the back room of another alehouse, just four doors from Thomas Wellspring’s meeting with Mortimer Bench.
The meeting was called by Jack Connell and passed by word of mouth from household to household. Connell was surprised at the turnout since he was sure many of the old fishing families of Failsafe were resentful and distrustful of Connell and his fellow migrant workers who had replaced them in the salt marsh fisheries.
But what they held in common was stronger than their mutual resentment; it was their hatred of Donald Trumpet and what he’d done to destroy their livelihoods and the town they all loved.
‘Thank you all for coming here on such short notice,’ Jack began, ‘I know it can’t have been easy but the sum of our interests is greater than any bitter feelings we might have for one and other, I’ll warrant.’
There was a muted grumble of agreement. Men stood guard at the doorways and muted lest they betray their presence to the spies of Trumpet, of whom they had no doubt, there were plenty.
‘Thing is, there’s enough to be had from the fisheries to suit every family here and more if the profits therein were not finding their way into the coffers of Alderman Donald Trumpet.’
The rumble of agreement let him know he was on the right track.
‘What we didn’t know was we can take it back and restore this town and its fisheries to whom it belongs, those that work ‘em.’
There was a further rumble until one voice spoke out, asking, ‘exactly how do you think that can be done?’
It was the cue Connell waited for and proceeded to outline for them, in detail, the plan proposed by Trumpet’s own man, Mr Bench.