WORK IN PROGRESS: All characters are fictional, blah, blah, blah
Three Reason Why You Should Never Change Trains at York
The soon-to-be-dead spy paused in the alleyway, listening carefully for footsteps. There were none. At least, none that he could hear. Don’t get too attached to him, as you have probably gathered, he’ll be lying on the floor by the end of the next paragraph. And not for a little nap. It really is quite filthy underfoot.
Slowly, cautiously, just for piece of mind, the spy nudged the butt of his revolver. A slight smile creased his face. He waited. One, two, three and . . . there now. Down and dead with a dirty great Bowie knife rammed to the hilt between his shoulder blades. An inelegant way to die perhaps; violent certainly, but effective nonetheless.
The assassin – not actually a very good one but cheap and willing to keep his mouth shut for a small amount of money – retrieved his knife and wiped the blade clean. He’ll boast later of a desperate life-and-death struggle but no-one will really believe him. Oh, they’ll laugh and pretend, and help him drink his reward money, but they know him far too well. He’ll be dead himself in three months time, cut down in a turf war between rival pimps.
Oh, don’t bother shedding too many tears for the dead spy either. He was a complete bastard while he was alive but his corpse will teach a medical student how to detect the early symptoms of tuberculosis. No one will miss him terribly. He had been a second rate spy at best and an even worse double agent. It had been a seriously bad idea to double-cross the Crown-Prince Bishop of Exeter. I’ve annoyed a fair few important people in my time but it’s generally best to avoid pissing off a Bishop. Bishops and pimps, in my experience, are dangerous buggers; and His Christian Grace, Bartholomew St James, Crown-Prince Bishop of Exeter, Grand Duke of Powys and Citadel-Keeper of Plymouth was the most dangerous of the lot.
We’ll return, unwillingly, to this subject later. It will turn out to be very important but, for the moment, let us turn our attention elsewhere. To a train several hundred miles north and a disheveled looking traveler lounging in the dining car, your humble servant, myself: Mr Septimus Obsidian Crabtree, esquire – Part-time Hangman and Arranger of Orgies.
We sat up late into the early hours of the morning, drinking and smoking as the train steamed slowly down through the night. There were six of us in all, sprawling across the none-too-comfortable seats. Two travelling arms salesmen, a lock picker, a bounty hunter, a forger and me. A word of advice in passing: Never play cards with a lock picker, chances are he’s also a card sharp. This one definitely was. I’ve no idea how he was cheating, and I’m no slouch at palming cards, but he took thirty guineas off me. Usually I would have given up after ten guineas down but he kept pouring me drinks and I had already downed a quart at the station.
After a while I got bored of being fleeced mercilessly and let the bounty hunter try and win my money. He failed, but he was on a highly lucrative contract so you needn’t feel too sorry for him. Oh, and don’t get too attached to the lock picker either. He’ll do me a favour in chapter three but I have to kill him by the end of the book.
The forger and I shared a bottle of something heady as we rolled towards York. The city had recently changed hands once again – for the fourth time since The 12th Great Northern War – but fortunately it was now owned by the Grand Duke of Humberside and not the Prince of Lancaster. If his supreme highness had managed to get his hands on me then you would not be reading this. It’s not my fault. How was I to know that dancing girl with the red hair was his favourite concubine? Racy little strumpet.
Anyway, I had other problems to deal with right then, most importantly the small matter of where my next meal might be coming from. As of earlier that afternoon I was a displaced person. His Sovereign Grace, the Prince-Bishop of Durham had launched yet another of his drives for purity and righteousness and for some reason had decided that having an Arranger of Orgies on his books was perhaps not within the spirit of truth and salvation. The upshot of all this posturing and energetic inertia was that I was invited politely, at knife-point, to leave the Parish-State and not return for some considerable time. Knowing the Bishop of Durham for the randy old sod he was, the chances were that I would be quietly invited back in six months or so.
In the meantime, however – not wishing to test the sharpness of those knives on my internal organs – I thought it best to beat a hasty retreat to the station. Thus I was working my way south in search of another rich nymphomaniac with a ready supply of cash, good food and decent port. There are more of those than you might think. I had heard that the King of Lincolnshire’s daughter was due to celebrate her birthday soon, either that or the University of Cambridge might be able to offer something. I had heard that the Fellows had just re-introduced the death penalty for plagiarism and might need my services. They take cheating very seriously at Cambridge.
It may seem a strange combination to you, Executioner and Entertainer, and it is a trifle odd at times, but I can’t be bothered to tell you how it all came about. Suffice it to say that, in uncertain times such as these, having two diverse occupations means you are seldom out of work. You do make some rather odd friends though. Come to think of it, I probably know thieves, professional killers and assorted ne’er-do-wells
than I do decent moral citizens. A curious existence, but far from boring.
I had met the forger once before when I needed a birth certificate adjusted and he had needed a quick passage out of the Republic of Cornwall. I had not known that he was in Durham until I met him at the station, ruffled looking and with a knife shaped bruise at his throat. He had no idea where he was going either so had decided to get drunk and fall off the train somewhere more congenial.
In one of his more lucid moments the forger – he’s called Lemuel Franks by the way – opened his eyes and looked at me thoughtfully.
“Do you ever wonder what it’s all about Septimus?” He asked.
I took a slug from the bottle and considered this for a moment.
“No.” I replied.
“You really should.” The forger nodded to himself and snuggled sleepily into his coat.
I sat for a moment, wondering if I was still part of that conversation. It seemed to be over, however, and the forger had left half the bottle within easy snaffling reach. Life does have it’s comforts sometimes.
MORE TO FOLLOW