His (Hugh Owen’s) reports from England included not merely verbatim reports from courtrooms but even letters from privy councilors. Spanish and English espionage was mainly directed to gathering information on movements of troops and shipping. Owen’s services were chiefly valued for his work in this field.
The First Earl of Salisbury’s Pursuit of Hugh Owen
“Fuck!” The hard-flung potato left Helmsley’s ear stinging. “Damnation!” Before he could dodge, fish guts smeared his doublet. It wasn’t his favorite doublet, he wasn’t a complete fool, wearing something precious to possible violence, but the red velvet with the black side buttons had sentimental value. And now it was ruined. Almost as ruined as his plans. Desperate, he slid around a midget doing something perverted to someone supine on the market’s besmirched cobbles. He strove to catch a glimpse of the far side of the market. There! Not a bad trick, exchanging his hat for a hood, but the whoreson’s bulky shape was unmistakable. “Jean!” He pointed across the brawl that just moments before had been a weekly market. “There!”
At the yell of his name, Jean looked around. He saw where Helmsley was pointing and dropped the man he had just headbutted. Bulling his way through the rioting crowd, he made much better progress than his master, and reached the far side of the market several moments before Helmsley.
Helmsley dodged around three market provosts who were liberally applying peace and quiet with their staves and headed towards Jean who was standing just inside an alley. As he was about to reach Jean, a man burst out of the alley, stumbling, tying up his codpiece. Helmsley noted with a sinking heart the blood splashed on the man’s shoes. He realized his sinking heart was well justified when he came up beside Jean and beheld the scene in the alley.
Helmsley felt the last bit of hope in him flutter and die as he beheld the scene in the alley. There was Malverny, one of his men that he had sent after Nick, known to him for several years now, a fellow English Catholic, Malverny lying unconscious and bleeding in the muddy alley, his blood mixing into the dank puddles. A whore got to her feet, the fresh stains at the knees of her dress mingling with the older stains, and tucked a loose breast back into her dress. And most important of all, there was an absence. A distinct lack of that fat heretic false-face, Nick Applethorpe.
“Well, this is a dog’s breakfast. He’s a wounded fat man. Why is it that we fail at such an easy task?” Helmsley turned to the whore. “The man who did this, which way did he go from the alley? Left or right.”
She spat milky white on the bloody mud. “No fucking clue. I was minding my own business.” She looked at the two men. “Speaking of business, either of you fancy a turn?”
Helmsley moved in close and let his frustration show. “I have no intention of going anywhere near the poxed hole that you call your quim. Now pay attention to my question and think well upon it. Which way did he go, the fat man? Left? Right?”
“Who the fuck are you to threaten me? My man gets here, he’ll chop you into pig food, you stuck up asshole!”
And suiting wishes to words, her pimp entered the alley. “What the fuck, Gretel? How many fucking times have I told you, don’t kill the trick!”
Helmsley nodded towards the pimp. “Jean.”
The pimp tried to go for a blade but Jean was much faster. He slammed the pimp against the alley wall with his shoulder and kept him pinned there while his cleaver appeared in his free hand. The pimp stopped struggling and cursing the minute that Jean rested the edge of his cleaver on the bridge of his nose.
“Now. I asked you a question.” Helmsley leaned closed to the whore and dug his fingers into her shoulder. With an effort, he kept his tone low and even. “The fat man who killed this man. Which way did he go out of the alley?”
She kept her eyes low and any trace of pain off her face. “I swear by the Mother Mary that I don’t know. I saw the fight start out of the corner of my eye. The fat man came into my alley and was grappled with by a man following. That’s all I saw. I paid close attention to my business and naught else. I wasn’t done until after the fight finished and the fat man left.” Her voice remained low and quick throughout her account. Helmsley could tell that she didn’t expect to be believed. “I swear that’s all I saw. I swear on the Mother.”
Even though she was probably telling the truth, Helmsley had to struggle with the urge to take his frustrations out on her face. He conquered his feelings and released her. “Go. Get on out of here” He turned to Jean. “Let him go. Stay here and take care of Malverny.”
The minute that Jean removed his knife from his face, the pimp scuttled away. He roughly grabbed the whore’s arm and dragged her out of the alley,
A sour ball of dissatisfaction began rise in Helmsley’s stomach as he left the alley. He cursed himself for his failure. He should have had his men grab Nick the minute that they saw him leave the widow’s. Waiting to get him a secluded place was an idiot’s decision. He should have snatched him right there in public, the authorities be damned. A commotion caught his eye across the marketplace. Hugh Owen was hurrying towards him and his two bodyguards were not letting anyone get in his way. Morgan and Griffin were Owen’s closest and most trusted fellows. Welsh as Owen, their families had served his for several generations back in Caernarfon. As he took in Owen’s gait and the set of shoulders, Helmsley’s heart dropped even further.
Owen’s voice was ice. “Did you get him?”
Helmsley removed his cap. “I’m afraid not. He knocked Malverny unconscious and”
“I’ve always judged that your memory is good, Helmsley.” The lack of his first name was a very bad sign. “So surely you cannot have forgotten the conversation that we had such a short time before. The Spanish have their eyes on us and their trust is wavering because we had nurtured this viper unseen for so long. So it is of utmost importance that Nick be captured. Is your memory refreshed?”
“I had not forgotten. He had compatriots who”
“And now I am here with news that makes his capture even the more to be desired. Broussard is dead. At Nick’s hand. The packet is missing. Even you should be able to understand what that means.”
“So I come here with the wild hope that you have not failed and that this treacherous heretic whoreson is in our hands. False hope. The worst kind.”
“From this area, his closest choices of escape are the Old Gate to the east or the canal.” The best way to regain favor would be to show that he was not overcome by his defeat and was soldiering on. He kept his voice steady and businesslike, hiding the fact that his frustration had been replaced by fear. “I judge that the canal is the most likely because it empties into the Rupel, which puts him just a short distance upriver from Antwerp. If he is planning on crossing into the United Provinces or across the Channel to England, he will do so at Antwerp. However, he may not wish to be so obvious and thus make for the gate and head east for a time. I will immediately have men see if they can pick up his trail in either direction.”
“At least your mind is beginning to work again. Those are adequate ideas but unnecessary. There is one person who undoubtedly knows where that bastard is fleeing to.”
“Indeed. She is a woman and therefore weak and her business is unlawful as well. She will be amenable to telling us all that she knows.”
“And her protectors?”
The glance that Owen threw at Helmsley was swift and vicious. “Damn them to the lowest sulphur pits of Hell. I give not one good Goddamn what any of those pieces of shit say. This is too important.”
Helmsley kept his gaze in the middle distance and his tone even. “Do you wish me to attend upon you during your visit to the Widow Cornieliuszoon?”
“No. I will see her alone. You have disappointed me quite enough this day. You will wait outside her house with a few men whose wits you trust. Watch and see if any depart while I am there with warnings to Nick or anyone else. Do you think that you can manage to do that, at least?”
Though shame clotted his throat, Helmsley managed to keep his voice from shaking. “I swear that I will not disappoint you a second time.”
Owen gave him no forgiveness. “See that you don’t.”