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Poley and Moody are men of the same stamp: players in the secret theatre, provokers of sedition, pledgers of false vows.

The Reckoning

Charles Nicholl


Poley leaned back casually. He realized that there was a part of him that had been expecting this or something like this. He reached out, picked up his mug, took a leisurely sip, then put it back down. His mind completely bent towards the smiling man sitting across from him, as if everyone else in the tap room had ceased to exist for the moment. He’d felt the same in similar situations, events balancing on the knife edge, the utmost effort required for success. He kept his voice mild. “Why would you do something like that? You know well enough that I can have you up on a treason charge, Michael.”

Moody’s smile never even flickered. “I am a man of many talents, Bob. Many talents indeed, and I deserve to be compensated for each and every one of them. Them as compensate me the best are them that get the benefit of my talents.”

Poley’s sigh was unfeigned. “Blood of Christ, Michael. Coin and praise? That’s why you’re going to see your cods on a plate before they let you die screaming? During your time in the Tower you’ve seen it done; you know how bad a way to die that is.”

“And it’s not going to be my death.” Moody shrugged. “I know that my talents will keep me from the axe and block.”

“And I’ll wager that most of them that died there thought the same fucking thing.” Poley changed his tone. “You’re right about your talents, though. When you and I worked together on the Babington Plot, I thought that you were the best intelligencer I’d ever worked with. And by the end, with all those traitors snared and gathered up, I knew that you were. You were a perfect instrument of intelligence. And now you’re here, bragging that you’ve betrayed me. Now you’re a broken instrument that I’ll never use again. What a waste you are, Michael.”

Moody’s smile never wavered. He rolled his hand, essaying a partial bow while remaining seated. “You’ll turn my head with all these compliments, Bob, if I’m not careful. And please don’t hold yourself waiting for similar words from me. In point of fact, I’ve never been too impressed by you. Case in point, right now, since you seem too dull to grasp it. I’m not bragging. I’m offering.”

And that was the sound of a key clicking in the lock that Poley had been waiting for. “You see that big bastard over there?” Poley nodded in the direction of Ralph, who was standing at the bar talking with Kate while keeping an eye on Poley and Moody. “What if I call him over and have him take what you’re offering? He can rip you apart like a capon fresh off the spit and you’ll beg to tell all you know. We’ve both seen that happen and we both know that you’d tell in the end.”

Moody shrugged dismissively. “Of a certainty. I’m no martyr like that fucker Campion to go to death racked and silent. I’d talk in the end, you’re right. But I know that I could hold out long enough for Owen’s agents to take Nick and all the secrets he’s holding. And you’d be left with fuck all.”

“Not bad. You seem to have it all thought it out. And, truth be told, I do have enough coin to pay you. Look around you, would I be running an operation like this if I didn’t have coin and backing?”

“True enough. I see men coming and going. I see that you’ve got that northern git Barnstable in your pocket. And, in the end, I’d like to be able to call England home. I see those poor bastards that Owen has working for him. They’re going to die and be buried in foreign lands and never really come home.”

“I never took you for such a romantic, Michael. So what do you want in return for delivering Nick to me?”

Moody leaned forward intently, all playfulness gone. “You give me -”

And then things happened fast.

The door slammed back and Ollie Streight came through, dripping blood from a couple of places. He made right for Poley. Before Ollie had even cleared the door, Ralph had broken off talking to Kate and was standing in front of Poley’s table. A blade dropped into Ollie’s hand. “You’re getting the fuck out of my way.”

Poley got out of his chair so quick, it fell over, the clatter loud in the suddenly silent room. He moved up beside Ralph. “What’s happened?”

“We got jumped. They took Meg and your man.”

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