"Carey and Dodd are back...the best detective pairing since Holmes and Watson."—SHARON KAY PENMAN, New York Times bestselling author
It's September 1592, and Sergeant Dodd is still in London with dashing courtier Sir Robert Carey. Carey urgently needs to get back to Carlisle where he is the Deputy Warden; the raiding season is about to begin. However, his powerful father, Henry, Lord Hunsdon, wants him to solve the mystery of a badly decomposed corpse that has washed up from the Thames on Her Majesty's privy steps.
Meanwhile, although he hates London, Sergeant Dodd has decided not to go north until he has taken revenge for his mistreatment by the Queen's Vice Chamberlain, Thomas Heneage. Carey's father wants him to sue, but none of the lawyers in London will take the brief against such a dangerous courtier. Soon a mysterious young lawyer with a pock-marked face eagerly offers to help Dodd. And then, just as Carey is resigning himself to the delay, the one person he really does not want to see again arrives in London to stir up everything.
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A Murder of Crows
By Patricia Finney Chisholm
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2010 Patricia Finney (P. F. Chisholm)
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA Murder of Crows
Monday 11th September 1592, morning
"Nothing like an execution, eh Sergeant?" Sir Robert Carey was lounging elegantly against the fence that kept the groundlings in their places, one kid-gloved hand tipped on the pommel of his sword, the other playing with the beginnings of a new Court goatee.
Dodd looked at him gravely for a moment and then turned his attention back to the bloody mess on the Tyburn scaffold. On the other side of the scaffold he noticed a man with a badly pock-marked face who was staring transfixed at the priest. Suddenly, the man turned aside and vomited on the ground. The goings-on didn't upset Dodd's stomach as much—for all the smell of roast meat—since there had been no screaming. They had actually burnt the priest's balls in front of him, a detail Dodd had not expected, though at least they'd done it after cutting them off and before they slit the priest's belly to pull out his guts.
The priest hadn't been screaming because the hangman had given him a good drop off the ladder and had let him hang until his face was purple, eyes set and popping and his tongue cramming his gag in the ludicrous mask of a judicial death. Evidently a kind or well-paid hangman. In fact, the man had been unconscious on the hurdle as he was dragged along the Oxford Road, grey-faced and hollow-eyed. He had seemed only half aware of what was happening when the hangman had put the noose over his neck, though there had been something like a smile around the corners of his exhausted eyes. Impossible to tell with the gag forcing his lips into a grimace, but he had looked confidently up at the sky before stepping off the ladder. The hangman hadn't needed to push him.
Now they were quartering him efficiently with cleavers, working like the butchers at the Shambles. Quartering a man was not so very different from butchering a pig and Dodd had killed and colloped his own pig every November since he'd been a married man and knew something about it.
No sausage-making here, though. Nobody had caught the blood in buckets to make black pudding nor pulled out and washed the bladder to be a bouncy toy for children. That thought did make his stomach turn so he was glad that Carey was speaking again.
"Eh?" said Dodd.
"I said, he'd been one of Heneage's guests at Chelsea," Carey nodded at the man's wrist which was flopping from the nearly severed arm not far from them. It had a thick swollen bracelet of flesh around it and the fingers were tight-skinned and swollen as well.
Dodd saw that Carey was rubbing his gloved left hand where two of his fingers were still slightly bent. The rings for those fingers were still at the jeweller's to be resized since they no longer fit, and Carey was wearing kid gloves all the time not only because it was fashionable and they were extremely fine embroidered ones, but also to hide his very ugly bare nailbeds while he waited for the fingernails to regrow. All in all he had recovered well from the mysterious damage that had been done to him at the Scottish court. As to body, at least. As to mind and spirit ... Only time would tell. He was being irritatingly breezy now.
"Priest was he not?" Dodd squinted slightly as one of the men working on the scaffold held up the peaceful head.
"So perish all traitors to Her Majesty!" shouted the hangman.
"Allegedly," murmured Carey. "Hoorah!" he added at a bellow, and clapped. The crowd cheered and clapped as well, with some wit about the priest's equipment.
"Ay," Dodd had tired of fencing games. "So why did ye bring me here, sir? Ah've seen men hang afore now. Hanged a couple mesen under Lowther's orders while he was Deputy Warden ..."
Carey's eyebrows went up and he made a little courtier-like shrug with his shoulders. "Thought you might be interested to see a real hanging, drawing, and quartering, they don't happen so often."
"Ay. Nae ither reason?"
Dodd knew his face was dark with suspicion and ill-humour and didn't care. Why shouldn't he be miserable? He was still stuck in this hellhole of London, still wearing uncomfortable hot tight clothes loaned him by Carey so he could look the part of his natural station in life. He knew what and who he was and he didn't care whether the bloody southerners knew or not so long as they left him alone, so he didn't see the point of the play.
Today, for the first time in his life, he had been to a London barber and had had his hair trimmed, washed, oiled, combed, and his beard trimmed back to a neat pawky thing on the end of his chin. One of the things that was making him bad-tempered was the fact that he had caught himself enjoying it. If he wasn't careful he'd go back to Janet and his tower in Gilsland as soft and wet as any southerner and Janet's geese would eat him alive, never mind Janet herself.
Dodd glanced again at the scaffold where they were sweeping sawdust into clumps and bringing up mops and buckets. The bits of human meat were slung into a cart to be taken to the gates of London for display and the head to London Bridge to join the priest's colleagues.
Carey was already heading off through the crowd and Dodd followed him until he found a little house with red lattices and reasonably clean tables on the Oxford Road near to Tyburn. By some magic known only to him, Carey immediately snared a potboy to take his order and quickly settled down to a quart of double beer and a small cup of brandy. Dodd took mild ale, mindful of what the Portuguese physician had advised about his bruised kidneys.
"Obviously I want you to know what manner of man you're dealing with," Carey said in a random way, blinking into his cup of brandy before swallowing all of it.
"Thank ye, sir," said Dodd in a careful tone of voice. "But Ah ken verra fine what manner o'man he is, seeing he laid about mah tripes wi' a cosh and me wi' ma hands chained and ye had at him yersen, sir, an hour later and he never drew blade nor struck ye back nor sent his man to arrange a time and a place."
Dodd would never forget what had happened on that Sunday, particularly Carey finding him still curled up and half-conscious on the floor of Heneage's thrice-bedamned foreign coach after a thorough beating from Heneage and his henchmen. Those lumps had been intended only as a preliminary to further interrogation and one of the henchmen had just come back with thumbscrews to help. Dodd had not personally seen but had heard from several witnesses that Carey had then gone straight for Heneage with his bare fists, being without his sword at the time, until unfortunately restrained by his father. It hadn't been very gentlemanly of Sir Robert, but it had given Dodd some pleasure to see Heneage with a swollen nose, two black eyes, and a doublet and gown ruined by blood a little later.
And Heneage hadn't even called Carey out over it, which just showed what a strilpit wee nyaff he was. Well, lawsuits to be sure would be multiplying like rats, but that was a different matter. Dodd had never heard of a gentleman hitting another gentlemen right in the nose with his fist and not having to at least talk about a duel afterwards. For form's sake. Dodd himself didn't plan to take Heneage's demeaning beating of him as if he was some poor peasant with no surname to back him. He planned revenge.
As well as lawsuits.
Carey coughed. "I want you to remember how powerful and ruthless he is. If you take him on, there's no going back nor crying quarter."
Dodd squinted in puzzlement at Carey. "Ah dinnae understand ye, sir," he said. "Are ye suggesting Ah should beg his honour's pardon for damaging his cosh wi' ma kidneys?"
Carey grinned. "No, Sergeant, it's just he's not some Border reiver like Wee Colin Elliot or Richie Graham of Brackenhill. He's the Queen's Vice Chamberlain, he came this close ..." Carey held up his gloved forefinger and thumb an inch apart, "... to outplotting and removing my father, he's wealthy, he's clever and he likes hurting people. He has many of Walsingham's old pursuivants working for him, though none of them like him, and he has taken over Walsingham's old network of spies and informers, although unfortunately not his shrewdness. He's highly dangerous and ... well ... my father says he'll back you but ..."
Dodd breathed hard through his nose: a few months ago he might have been offended enough to call Carey out on it, but now he was prepared to give the Courtier benefit of doubt although it came hard to him. After all, Heneage's nosebleed had been very messy.
"Ay sir," he said. "Ay, Ah ken what he is." For a moment, Dodd considered explaining to Carey some of the things he'd done in the course of his family's bloodfeud with the Elliots, then thought better of it. Wouldn't do to shock the Courtier, now would it? The corners of Dodd's mouth twitched briefly at the thought.
"But?" asked Carey, waving for more beer.
"Ah dinna think Heneage kens what I am."
There was a pause.
"You won't take his offer?"
It had been paltry, offered the previous Wednesday by a defensively written letter carried by a servant. A mere apology and ten pounds. Where was the satisfaction in that? Dodd hadn't bothered to answer it.
"Nay sir. I've talked tae yer dad about it and he says he'll gie me whatever lawyers I want, all the paper in London for ma powder and shot ..."
"Yes, father's very irritated at what happened to Edmund," said Carey with his usual breezy understatement.
"Ay sir," said Dodd, "And I'm verra irritated at what happened tae me." Dodd was trying to match Carey with understatement. "Irritated" didn't really describe the dull thunderous rage settled permanently in Dodd's bowels.
Carey nodded, looked away, opened his mouth, shut it, rubbed his fingers again, coughed, took a gulp of his new cup of brandy, coughed again.
"I feel I owe you an apology over that, Sergeant," said the Courtier, finally getting to the point of what had been making him so annoying for the last couple of days. He wasn't looking at Dodd now, he was staring at the sawdust scattered floorboards of the boozing ken.
"Ah dinna recall ye ever striking me," Dodd said slowly.
"You know what I mean. I used you as a decoy which is why you ended up in the Fleet instead of me and why Heneage got his paws on you in the first place."
Dodd nodded. "Ay, Ah ken that. So?"
"So it's my fault you got involved ..."
While a penitent Carey was both an amusing and a rare sight, Dodd thought he was talking nonsense. Besides which it was done now and Dodd had a feud with one of the most powerful men in the kingdom. It wasn't a bloodfeud yet but it probably would be by the end. Which reminded him, he needed some information about the size of Heneage's surname. But first he had to clear away Carey's daft scruples.
"So it would ha' bin better if thon teuchter had taken ye instead? Got what he wanted right off, eh?"
Carey frowned. "Well, no ..."
"Listen, Sir Robert," said Dodd, leaning forward and setting his tankard down very firmly, "I've done ma time as surety in Jedburgh jail for nae better reason than I wis Janet's husband and the Armstrong headman could spare me for it." And Janet had been very angry with him at the time, of course, a detail he left out. "It wisnae exactly fun but it was fair enough. Same here. Ye used what ye had and what ye had wis me—there's nae offence in that, ye follow? Ah might take offence if ye go on greetin' about what a fearful fellow Heneage is and all, but at the moment Ah'm lettin ye off since ye dinna really ken me either or ma kin."
Carey frowned. "You're not accepting my apology?"
Dodd reached for patience. "Nay sir, I'll accept it. It's just I dinna see a reason for it in the first place."
Carey smiled sunnily at him and stripped off the glove on his right hand. Dodd had to squash his automatic wince at the thought of touching the nasty-looking nailbeds so he could shake hands with good grace.
"Now, sir," he added, "since ye've not had the advantage of partakin' in a feud before, will ye be guided by me?"
Dodd was trying hard to talk like a Courtier, his best ever impersonation of Carey's drawl, and Carey sniggered at the mangled vowels.
"Good God, Ah niver sound like that, do I?" he asked in his Berwick voice, which almost had Dodd smiling back since it sounded so utterly out of place coming from the creature in the elaborately slashed cramoisie velvet doublet and black damask trunk hose.
"Ay, ye do, sir. But nae matter. It's nae yer fault, is it?"
Carey made the harumph noise he had got from his father, thumped his tankard down and stood up.
* * *
Lawyers being the scum they were, most of them tended to clog together in the shambolic clusters of houses and crumbling monastery buildings around the old Templar Church. Nearby were the Inns of Court, new a-building out of the ruins of the Whitefriars abbey. In the long time the Dominicans had been gone, bribed, evicted, or burned at the stake in the Forties, the reign of the much-married Henry VIII, something like what happens to a treetrunk had happened to the old abbey. Small creatures taking up residence, large ones raising broods there, huts and houses like fungus erupting in elaborate ramparts that ate the old walls to build themselves. There was a long area of weedy waste ground stretching down to the river and inevitably filling with the huts, vegetable gardens, chickens, pigs, goats and dirty children of the endless thousands of peasants flooding into London to make their fortune. They were not impressed by the lawyers' writs of eviction. However the writing they didn't know how to read was very clearly on the wall for them in the shape of scaffolding, sawdust, wagons full of blocks of stone, and builders finishing the two magnificent halls for the rich lawyers to take their Commons.
Dodd had almost enjoyed the short walk of a couple of miles along the Oxford Road from Tyburn to the Whitefriars liberties where Carey was more comfortable even though his father had (yet again) paid his creditors. Most of them. The ones he could remember or who had served him with writs at any rate.
He had to admit, it was interesting to see the different styles of working in London and the numberless throngs in the streets and the settled solidity of the overhanging houses. He also had to admit that despite the pathetic lack of decent walls or fortifications, London was impressive. Dodd was still tinkering with his plans for the greatest raid of all time, even though he knew it was hopeless. Where would you sell that much gold and insight? How would you even carry it all back to the Debateable Land?
Very near the round Temple church with its wonderful coloured glass, Carey swung off down an alleyway and up some stairs into a luxurious set of chambers, lined with leatherbound books and with painted cloths of Nimrod the Hunter on the walls. Two haughty-looking clerks surrounded by piles of paper and books looked up briefly as they came in, announced by a spotty page boy with a headcold.
There was a pause. The clerks continued to write away. Carey looked mildly surprised and then leaned on the mantel over the luxury of a small fireplace and hummed a tune. Dodd put his hands behind his back and waited stolidly.
Nothing happened. Surprisingly, Carey cracked first. "Is Mr. Fleetwood available?" he asked coldly, and the haughtiest clerk ignored the magnificence of his embroidered trunk-hose and raised a withering eyebrow.
"Do you have an appointment, Mr ... er ..." intoned the clerk down his nose. The pageboy had announced them correctly and clearly.
Carey's eyebrow headed for his hairline as well. Dodd leaned back slightly and prepared to watch the fun: would the two pairs of eyebrows fight a little duel, perhaps?
"Robert Carey," he drawled, "Sir Robert Carey."
The clerk held his ground. "Do you have an appointment, Sir Robert?"
"I believe my worshipful father, m'lord Baron Hunsdon, mentioned that we might be coming here this afternoon." Carey paused. "To see Fleetwood. Your master." He added as to a child, "About a legal matter."
"Ah yes," sneered the clerk, "The assault at Fleet Prison."
The other clerk glanced up nervously from his copying, then down again. The page boy was hiding on the landing, listening busily.
"And unlawful imprisonment of my man, Sergeant Dodd," said Carey, "and sundry other matters of a legal nature."
The clerk sprang his trap. "Mr. Fleetwood is not available."
One Carey eyebrow climbed, the other dropped. Did he know he was doing it, wondered Dodd who was not in the slightest bit surprised at what was happening. It seemed from his face that Carey was surprised. Now the left eyebrow was mounting Carey's forehead again to join his brother in chilly wonder. Did he practise? In front of a mirror?
"How unfortunate," said Carey. "Perhaps tomorrow ..."
Excerpted from A Murder of Crows by Patricia Finney Chisholm Copyright © 2010 by Patricia Finney (P. F. Chisholm). Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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