Prince - John Shakespeare 03 -

BOOK: Prince - John Shakespeare 03 -
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Also by Rory Clements




First published in Great Britain in 2011 by John Murray (Publishers)
An Hachette UK Company

© Rory Clements 2011

The right of Rory Clements to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Map by Rosie Collins

All rights reserved. Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.

All characters in this publication – other than obvious historical figures – are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library

Epub ISBN 978-1-84854-427-7
 Book ISBN 978-1-84854-425-3

John Murray (Publishers)
338 Euston Road
London NW1 3BH

For Naomi,
my sweetheart and loving wife

Chapter 1

down at the body of Christopher Marlowe. A last trickle of bright gore oozed from the deep wound over his right eye. His face and hair and upper torso were all thick with blood. One of the four men, Ingram Frizer, held the dripping dagger in his hand.

Frizer looked across at Robert Poley and grinned foolishly. ‘He came at me.’

‘Boar’s balls, Mr Frizer, give me the dagger,’ Poley said angrily.

Frizer held out the dagger. All the living eyes in the room followed the tentative movement of the blood-red blade. A sliver of brain hung like a grey-pink rat’s tail from its tip. Poley took the weapon and wiped it on the dead poet’s white hose. Suddenly, he struck out with the hilt and caught Frizer a hard blow on the side of his head. Frizer lurched backwards. Poley pushed him to the floor and jumped on him, knees on chest, hitting his head again, harder, pounding him until Nick Skeres tried to pull him away.

Poley stood back, shook off Skeres’s hands and brushed down his doublet with sharp irritation. He was not a tall man, but he was strongly built and the veins in his muscled forearms and temples bulged out and pulsed. He kicked Frizer in the ribs. ‘You were only supposed to gag him and apply the fingerscrew, you dung-witted dawcock. Not kill him.’

The afternoon sunlight of late May slanted in through the single, west-facing window. The presence of the men and the body made the room feel smaller than it really was. It was cleanly furnished; a well-turned settle made of fine-grained elm, a day bed where the body now lay, a table of polished walnut with benches either side and half-drunk jugs of ale atop it. The dusty floorboards were scuffed by the men’s shoes; there was, too, a lot of blood and a few splashes of ale on the wood between the table and the day bed.

‘And you …’ Poley turned to Skeres. ‘You were supposed to hold him. He was out of his mind with drink and you couldn’t keep a grip.’

Ingram Frizer pulled himself painfully to his feet. He was doubled over, clutching his side where Poley’s boot had connected.

Poley handed him the dagger. ‘Here, take it. And listen well: it was
dagger – Marlowe’s dagger. He came at you, pummelled your head with it. You fought back. In the struggle, the blade pierced his eye. You were defending yourself – it was an accident.’

Frizer took the dagger. He was slender with a lopsided face, the left eye half an inch higher than the right. The skin had been cut from the side of his head by Poley’s beating. There was a livid gash, almost to the bone. His head and ribs throbbed, but he understood Poley’s plan well enough. ‘I liked this dagger,’ he said, turning the weapon over in his hands and examining the ornate hilt and narrow, sharp-pointed blade. ‘Cost me half a mark.’ He tried to laugh.

‘Well, it’ll be Crown property now. Marlowe was always fighting. He was going to kill you. It’s a simple story; remember it.’ Poley turned to the third man, Skeres. ‘And you, Mr Skeres.’

Skeres nodded. His bulbous face was sweating heavily. He mopped a kerchief across his brow. His gaze kept flicking towards the body, and then across to the fourth man, who stood close by the door. So far he had said nothing.

‘No, let’s change that,’ Poley said, shaking his head slowly. ‘Someone might recall that dagger. Say it was yours, Mr Frizer, but Marlowe snatched it off you, then you wrenched it away from him as he battered you. You struck backwards wildly, didn’t know what you had done. Got that? And the knife didn’t cost you half a mark, it cost you a shilling. The rest of the story holds.’ Poley suddenly slammed his fist down on the table. ‘Where’s the screw?’

Ingram Frizer pointed to the floor beneath the window, to where a five-inch by four-inch vice of iron lay. It was designed to crush the fingers of a hand, slowly and painfully.

‘Do I have to think for both of you? Pick it up!’

Frizer scurried across the room and brought the device back to Poley, who thrust it inside his doublet.

At last the fourth man spoke. He was heavy-set with a wispy beard. ‘I’m going now. Wait two hours, drink some ale, then call the constable and the coroner. None of this comes back to me or my master. I was never here.’

‘No,’ Poley agreed. He understood well enough. There must only ever have been four men in this room, not five.

The man took one last look around the room and met the eyes of Poley, Skeres and Frizer. ‘Not one word.’ He lifted the latch and silently left the room.

The other three watched him go. A seagull landed on the sill of the open window, defecated, then flew off. ‘There’s a problem,’ Skeres said, shaking the sweat out of his eyes.

‘The only problem,’ Poley said, ‘is
. You’re a flaccid prick of a man, Skeres.’

‘We’ve got to say what they were fighting about, haven’t we?’

‘It was the bill, of course. The reckoning. Frizer said Marlowe had drunk more so should pay more. Mr Marlowe wanted to quarter the bill evenly.’

‘The coroner will never believe it.’

Poley laughed. ‘Pour the ale, Mr Skeres, then light me a pipe. How has a coney like you ever lived this long? Hear that, Mr Frizer? Mr Skeres says the coroner will never believe it.’ Poley laughed again, louder this time, and Frizer and Skeres laughed nervously with him.

BOOK: Prince - John Shakespeare 03 -
10.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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