Simon Pennock on his redemptive quest.

In Washington, Simon Pennock checked his watch in the reception-room of his former place of employment, the Federal Department of Revenue. He had a mixture of joy and anger to be in these halls again. The anger had steadily won out as his interview was delayed, but finally, he was seated in the office of Grant's new chief.

“You see, sir,” Pennock explained, “I have information that I believe would be valuable to your department.” Pennock, as the words came out, realized he could not remember the last time he had to be polite and proper.

“Mr. Pennock, it's my understanding that you were dismissed from our department for, among other offenses,” Chief Snipes now shuffled through some papers.

“Sir, I warrant that this is important! Here. Look!” Pennock passed a piece of paper on which was written a list in his hand across the desk.

“What is it?”

“You see before you the names of ships personally known to me that are that have brought shipments of opium, silk and other fine goods into our ports without paying any duties on them.”

The chief adjusted his glasses and studied the list. “How do you know this, Pennock?”

Pennock had not considered how to answer that. Because their agents bribed me when I had a badge to brandish about and bully them with. “Mr. Snipes, I think it suffices to say I still can be a valuable addition to this office.”

The department chief leaned into his chair and seemed to consider it. He spoke in a tone that was kind but unforgiving. “According to the files, you were dismissed, for one thing, because of reckless and obsessive behavior shown during an important visit by Charles Dickens in the midst of the impeachment chaos.”

“The officials here at the time did not understand what I was trying to accomplish,” Pennock replied before the chief had finished his sentence. “How it seems in Washington, is not how it is in the field.”

“Mr. Pennock. I know how it is in the field—was there myself for twelve years in California before coming to this office. Do you know who President Grant's favorite writer is? Charles Dickens. Now, I doubt very much, with your known history, that the president would approve of a new commission for you. I am very sorry.”

“To hell with Grant, to hell with you, Snipes, to hell with Dickens! I'll lick every last bureaucrat here!” Pennock stood and tore up the paper with the names of the smuggling ships on it into small bits and tossed them at the official. “I ain't got a square deal here!”


The chief thought the former collector looked to be almost in tears when he left the office. Snipes was not completely devoid of sympathy for him. The whites of his eyes and his breath were heavy with drink, and no doubt his habits had shattered him like glass. But even if Snipes wanted to hire him back, the Treasury Department had dismissed dozens of employees over the last year and a half due to a shortage of funds arising from the problems that had set in over the value of gold. In fact, in this environment, Snipes himself was not very confident of his own position he held at the department.

Snipes thought about what Pennock had said: about the boats. If there really were significant revenue to collect on those docks, it would be a laurel for Snipes. Before he left the office that evening, Snipes crawled around the floor like a baby collecting the scraps of paper ripped up by Pennock. He could only piece back together two names of ships, but he also remembered one or two others from his first glance at the sheet when Pennock had handed it over. He decided he would send the names over to customs in the appropriate cities—who knows what they might turn up? And what sort of shiny nimbus that would paint over Chief Snipes's waiting head when it came time for promotion.


The customs office in Washington sent Mr. Snipes's intelligence to their departments in Boston, New York, Philadelphia. The customs office in Boston thought the information rather interesting, and noted that the most notorious culprit, according to Mr. Snipes's list, was of British origin. They telegraphed to London requesting counsel. The officials in London cared nothing about American duties (considering the lingering lack of copyright afforded to the English by the American congress), but did desperately wish to punish those who smuggled goods out of Bengal and Calcutta, and would happily hinder the culprits. They referred the information to the parliament and cabled their naval stations—if the ships could be caught red-handed, the officials in England would like very much to stop them. The private opium clippers and schooners were fast, but nobody in the government wanted to believe they could outrun their own captains.


Once he was back in New York, Simon Pennock had already reclaimed his routine in full. Damn that Chief Snipes down to hell! Here Pennock had handed intelligence about illicit opium smugglers on a silver platter, and the bureaucrat threw him out!

And here was Pennock, back to the grog shops again; sawdust, oysters and peanut shells again; unshaven and unkempt again; obsessing over the political news in the papers; agony and nightmares again.

Frauds! That's what Pennock thought of the bureaucrats in Washington. Just like Dickens, a flat fraud of a man, who would have been thrown in the Tombs with his oaf of a manager, Dolby, if Pennock had had his way. They said the novelist had come here to show his affection for America, really he had come for financial gain—and then because of old grudges refused to give any of it up to rightful taxation!

Pennock wished he could find vengeance.

Vengeance on Dickens (even though dead), on Snipes, on President Grant, on the incompetent agents in their seal-skin caps that used to work for him who had spoiled his plans.

Then it occurred to him. The opium. Forget the petty bribes from the little opium dealers he'd receive when he was a tax collector. It was the smugglers running the ships and unloading the chests who had the real money. They were trading without paying duties and taxes—he needn't be an official of the government to threaten their exposure! It would be easy for them to simply pay rather than invite attention.

Why hadn't he thought of this before?

The scheme was simple, easy, at hand. Taking the cars to the steamship companies, Pennock researched the schedules of the ships he had witnessed smuggling opium into the New York or Boston ports in past years. Some were now in dry docks; some had sunk. As for the others, Pennock would find a way to meet them and, Lord above, they would soon know his name and bow to him.

The next morning, Pennock boarded the New York & New Haven line of railroad at Fourth Avenue, clutching his ticket. As he walked through the car, he brushed shoulders with another new arrival onto the train. This man, with a wrinkled face and plaster over one eye, locked eyes with him for a moment. There was an instant dislike as there is between determined men who know nothing of each other except for the fate of their pairing in the same place. Each averting their eyes, they continued on their way to their separate train compartments for the eight hour journey to Boston.