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Authors: Chris Nickson

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BOOK: The Broken Token
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Nottingham backed out of the room and climbed the stairs quickly, past the fractious squall of hungry babies and silences as deep as death. Where they ended the solid door looked no cleaner or
brighter than the rest of the place. He knocked loudly, hearing shuffling steps on the other side. A moment later the haunted eyes of a very young maid looked at him.

Her dress had been exquisite once, the stitching small, even and fine, but over the years all the colour had been washed from it. Far too big, it hung loosely on her tiny body, trailing
dangerously on the ground and covering thin, childlike wrists. The neckline was high, but not high enough to cover the fading bruises.

“I’d like to see your master,” he said.

She curtseyed briefly, then led him into a small, spare parlour where she lit a candle on the mantelpiece. The floor was polished wood, with two uncomfortable chairs on either side of an empty
grate which was blackleaded to a shine. No pictures hung on the walls, and there were no windows to let in the day. It was a strange, disquieting room, so different from the life below.

He didn’t have long to wait there. Within two minutes a short man bustled in, an ingratiating smile on his face. Like the maid’s dress, his wig had been quality some twenty years
earlier. Now its style, draping down on to his shoulders, looked ridiculous and old-fashioned. The linen shirt had been mended many times, and a bony elbow protruded awkwardly from a fresh rent.
His dark breeches flapped against a pair of skinny thighs, and the white stockings had discoloured to ivory.

“Welcome, sir, welcome.” The man gestured at a chair, but Nottingham didn’t move. He stared impassively down at the man, trying to judge his age. Fifty? Sixty? Older? It was
impossible to be certain. There were lines on his face, but it was as if he defied time. The flesh around his eyes was puffy, as if he’d just been woken.

“Do you know who I am?”

“Of course I do, sir.” The man smiled, showing a mouth almost empty of teeth. Seventy, Nottingham finally decided. “It’d be a poor man who didn’t recognise the
city’s Constable.”

“And you are?” the Constable asked.

“Mr King, sir.” He gestured expansively and gave a hearty, toneless laugh. “Welcome to the king’s palace.”

That explained it, Nottingham thought. An old, poor joke. He was surprised he’d never heard of the man before, although the city had many landlords like this.

“You had a whore living in a cellar room, I believe. A girl named Pamela?”

King nodded tentatively. “There was a girl of that name,” he admitted warily, “but I don’t know what she did. As long as they pay the rent, that’s all I care

“You know she was murdered, of course.” Nottingham said.

“How couldn’t I know?” King tried to shrug, but the gesture looked like a tic. “It’s been the talk of the town.”

“And so you let her room.” He let the words fall out like an accusation.

“I’m a landlord.” King answered earnestly. “Empty rooms don’t bring in money, Mr Nottingham, surely you understand that.”

The Constable moved a pace closer. His voice stayed even.“You own a few places, Mr King?”

“Two in this court, two in another,” the man replied with a smile.

“Queen Charlotte’s Court?” Nottingham asked, suddenly curious.

King shook his head seriously. “I like a place where a man can make a living from his rents. There’s nothing for an honest landlord over there.”

There was very little honesty here, either, Nottingham thought. The place felt like a house of the dead. He shivered slightly.

“What about Pamela’s belongings, Mr King? Might I ask what you did with them?”

“I had the girl bring them up here, of course.” He glanced up slyly and lowered his voice. “Mind you, I had to make sure she hadn’t taken anything for herself, thieving
little bitch. She’d leave me with nothing if she could.”

“I’d like them, if I may.”

“Of course,” King agreed readily, but the disappointment was apparent in his face. Nottingham knew the man had expected to keep everything for himself, just as he probably stole from
most of his tenants. “I’ll have her bring them.” Opening the door, he yelled, “Cissy! Bring that girl’s things from last night.”

They were wrapped in a small parcel, just a few items. He doubted it was everything she’d owned; King would have picked it through and kept anything of the merest value. He tucked it under
his arm and the landlord looked on, eyes anxious now. It would be pointless asking him about Pamela. She’d been nothing more than a few coppers each week to him.

“Thank you, Mr King. I’ll leave you in peace now.” Just before he reached the door, Nottingham turned. “I’m surprised we’ve never met before,” he

“But I’m an honest man, sir,” King replied, trying to sound nonchalant. “Honesty and the law rarely need each other.”

The Constable nodded for a moment.

“Maybe you’re right,” he agreed. “But I’m sure we’ll be seeing each other again. I’ll bid you good day.”

At the jail he unwrapped the ancient, musty cloth that held Pamela’s possessions. There was a wooden comb with several of its teeth missing, a crude, smudged drawing of a
man Nottingham thought might have been her husband, a clay candle holder and a small doll made of rags that he recalled her bringing when she’d arrived as a servant. It was so little to speak
of a life, these things that defined her, that she’d carried around and held dear.

But there was no token, and he was certain now it must have been torn from the ribbon around her neck, although he couldn’t see why. It had no value, and its only significance was to his
family. Pamela had sworn to treasure it and keep it safe forever. And maybe she had; it was impossible to know now. Her forever had ended too soon. Whoever killed her had taken the broken token. It
was one more thing Nottingham would make him pay for.

Next door to the jail, the White Swan offered good ale and a decent stew for his dinner. He was sopping up the gravy with a piece of bread when Sedgwick flopped noisily on to
the bench opposite him and poured a mug of ale.

“Anything?” Nottingham asked.

“Looks like we’ve found where they were killed,” the deputy said, sounding satisfied. “The other side of the workhouse. It’s overgrown there. The weeds have been
trampled down and there’s a dark patch that could well be blood.”

But Nottingham found himself troubled by the questions that raised.

“So why move them?” he asked. “If he’d left them, it could have been a while before they were discovered.”

“I was thinking that myself,” Sedgwick answered, and put forward an idea. “He wanted them found, boss. Why else would he go to the trouble of putting them like that? I walked
it, and it’d take a fair effort to get two bodies there. He had a reason.”

“And why in Queen Charlotte’s Court?”

Sedgwick offer a straightforward explanation.

“Well, coming from the other side, it’s the first place you get to. And no one there’s going to pay much attention to noise in the middle of the night. They’re used to
it. So he wouldn’t be disturbed.”

Nottingham drank, pushed the fringe off his forehead and nodded. It made as much sense as anything in this.

“You’re probably right. Good work, John.”

Sedgwick smiled at the praise.

“What did you find on the preacher?” the Constable asked.

“Bugger all. I tell you, it’s like the man vanished after he left Rawlinson’s house until he ended up dead.” He shook his head. “I’ve asked everywhere, but no
one remembers seeing him.”

“We need to find out where he was. People like him don’t just disappear in the city.” Nottingham felt frustrated, as if every turn led to a dead end. “I found where
Pamela lived. Her room’s already been rented, so there was nothing there to help. Have you heard of a landlord named King?”

“Oh aye, old Ezekiel King. She had one of his places, did she? Poor lass. We had a room from him when I was a lad. Never pays for owt because he has light fingers when it comes to his
tenants. I doubt he’s bought a piece of clothing in thirty years. That bastard’s so tight he can make a farthing scream for mercy. If there’s a bigger miser in the city, I
don’t want to meet him.”

“Just keep an eye on him from time to time, will you? Let him know I haven’t forgotten our little chat this morning.”

Sedgwick grinned.

“My pleasure, boss. You never know, I might even find my dad’s old hose on his legs.”


The bodies had been taken from the jail, and a note from Cookson curtly announced that Pamela’s funeral would take place the following morning at nine. Nottingham sent a
boy up to inform Meg and tell her that he’d call in ample time.

By nightfall they’d learned nothing more. Sedgwick was going around the inns once again, still trying to find someone who might have seen Morton on the night he died. As he walked home,
the streets quieter now the working day was long over, Nottingham reflected on his deputy’s eagerness. He was ready to do anything; all he lacked was the education. Nottingham remembered
having that energy himself, in the days when he’d started working for the Constable, and when he was courting Mary. But thinking back it was as if he was looking at another man, a good man,
maybe a better man than he was now.

Sometimes he could barely remember himself at twenty. At other times he didn’t feel a day older, youthful and vital inside. That only lasted until he saw his reflection in a glass or
looked at the girls. Even sullen Emily could spark with daunting energy at times.

He opened the door, expecting to hear Mary moving around in the kitchen and the girls in the room they shared. Instead the house was silent except for Emily, turning the page in a book, her face
half-illuminated by the light on the table.

“Hello,” Nottingham said gently.

She looked up, startled, obviously absorbed in the words she’d been reading. He glanced at the title on the spine –
Robinson Crusoe
by Daniel Defoe – and understood why
she’d been so captured by the words. “Where’s everyone?”

“Mama and Rose are visiting Mrs Middleton.” She was an elderly widow who lived alone down the street.

“And what about you?”

Emily shrugged. “I just wanted a little time to myself, that’s all.” She closed the book and stood up, her gown rustling softly.

Nottingham was struck by how mature she looked, how poised, more a woman than a girl now. She carried an air about her, he thought, a kind of lingering sadness mixed with ill-formed bitterness,
and he didn’t understand where it came from. Emily began to walk to her room.

“We’ve been at odds a bit, you and me,” he began tentatively, and she turned to face him, a small smile on her lips. “I don’t like it, you know.”

“Neither do I,” she replied sadly.

“Well, I’m pleased to hear that,” he laughed, relieved and surprised at her reaction. “I was beginning to think you hated us all.”

“Sometimes I do,” Emily said with the blunt, weary truthfulness of youth. She came back and sat on the chair, facing him. Her eyes were glistening as if tears were beginning to form.
Nottingham reached across the table and put his hand of top of hers.

“We don’t like to see you unhappy.” It was the truth. He wanted everything for her. He just wondered if she could see that.

“Sometimes I just feel there has to be more to life than this.” She waved her hand around the house. “Do you know what I mean, Papa?”

“I’m not sure I do,” he answered honestly. All this seemed ample to him, everything he could have dreamed of and more.

“Well…” Emily took the time to be exact with her thoughts. “What’s going to happen to me? Maybe I’ll make a respectable marriage, the second son of a
merchant or a farmer, perhaps? Or if not I’ll probably end up as governess to some awful child. That’s the way it works, isn’t it?”

“Something like that,” he agreed. At least she had a candid view of life, he thought.

“And if I marry I’ll have children and grow older and that will be my life.”

“But a life lived in comfort,” he pointed out.

“Comfort, charm and genteel surroundings.” She uttered the words as if they were vile.

“They’re a lot better than starving, believe you me,” Nottingham told her with complete conviction.

“I’m sure they are, Papa.” She caught the look in his eye and added, “Really, I do believe you. But what will I have done with my life in all that? Where will I

“You’ll be at the centre of a family. People will love you and you’ll love them.”

“And I’ll take care of the household accounts, play with my children and supervise menus with the cook.”

“What’s wrong with that?” he asked in bewilderment. To most women he’d known, even to Mary, a life like that would seem to be paradise. But paradise, he knew, could be

with it,” Emily said cautiously. “It’s fine if that’s what you want.” She tapped the book cover. “Do you know how many
times I’ve read this?”

He shook his head, wondering why she’d changed the subject.

“Five. It’s my very favourite book. Do you want to know why?”

“Of course.” He was genuinely curious.

“Because he gets to build his own life. There’s no one to say he should be doing this or that and something needs to be done at such a time. He’s on a desert island but
he’s free.”

“It’s just a book, Emily,” he told her.

“But books have ideas, Papa.” Her fists were clenched so tight that her knuckles were white. “When I’m reading it I’m on that island and I’m free, too. He
gets to feel, he gets to
, and I want that!” A small tear leaked from her eye and she brushed it away with a quick, embarrassed gesture.

“You’re young still,” Nottingham started, but she cut him off.

“I’ll feel differently when I’m older? Maybe I will.” Her face was flushed with pinpoints of colour and she ran a hand through her hair in a gesture that reminded him
eerily of himself. “All I know is that I’m young now and this doesn’t seem enough. I want love, I want some passion in my life.”

“And you’ll have it, I promise you,” he tried to reassure her. They’d never talked like this before. For the first time he started to believe he might understand her, and
he felt closer to her than he had since she was tiny, in apron strings. “Things like that happen in their own time, Emily.”

BOOK: The Broken Token
6.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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