(Broken Instrument) CHAPTER 34: POLEY: SNEAKING IN

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There was further cause for alarm concerning the overpopulation within the city itself “where there are such great multitudes of people brought to inhabit in small rooms, whereof a great part are seen very poor, yea, such as must live begging, or by worse means, and they are heaped up together, and in a sort smothered with many families of children and servants in one house or small tenement”.

London: The Biography

Peter Ackroyd


“This is the place.” Ralph pointed across the field to the darkened bulk of the mansion looming down by the river. Poley stood next to him, Moody on his other side, and the three men contemplated the task in front of them. “Do we go straight in?”

“What if I were to go in first, con the lay, report back to you?” Moody barely glanced at Poley as he spoke, busy making sure that his clothes straightened and his weapons ready at hand after the mad dash through London’s winding streets.

Poley didn’t take his eyes off the mansion. He could see, here and there, spots of candle or rush light through gaps in walls or shutters. “There are too few of us to waste our strength with scouting forays. And I’m sure as shit not letting you out of my sight, Michael.” He cared not what Moody’s reaction might be. “And there’s the possibility that I’m wrong. We need to get in there as quickly as we can to make sure whether Nick and Meg are being held there. If not, we’ll need all the time we can get to check other possible boltholes Denby could be using.”

“Is there any that you might want alive, Bob?” Ralph had removed his dagger from his belt and inspected its edge.

“Denby. I know that it goes against your most fervent wish, Ralph, after what he’s done to Meg and Ollie, but I need him alive. Anyone else, food for the pigs.” A thought occurred to Poley. “Michael, do you know anything about those that might be with Denby?”

There was a calculating silence from the spy that brought forth a growl from Ralph. “You little shit, I’m a heartbeat away from starting the bloodletting with you right now. Tell us or fucking die.”

Moody gave no sign of heeding Ralph’s threats. He shrugged and answered Poley.  “There’s an Englishman with him. A Catholic who works for Hugh Owen in Brussels. The Englishman has a French piece of muscle with him. The Frenchie is a deadly piece of work. Wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the one who did for Ollie.”

“Thank you for that, Michael. I won’t press your loyalties and ask you when you were planning on sharing that intelligence had I not asked.” Poley briefly considered, then turned to Ralph. “It would be nice to give a Catholic spy to the Privy Council, but kill this agent of Owen’s if you have to. His body will tell a good enough tale.”

“Suits me. Let’s be about it, then. Straight in.” Ralph was visibly straining at the leash.

Poley nodded and filled his hand with a blade. “Straight in.”

The three of them made their purposeful way across the broken and littered ground before the mansion. Approaching the door, they were almost bowled over by two men, a smaller and larger, running out of the building.

“Oy!” Ralph shoved them back. “Where the fuck are you off to?’

The bigger man started to come forward at the sight of bared weapons, but the smaller began babbling. “No, please! We’ve got to get away before all hell descends on this place!”

Poley nodded to Ralph to keep an eye on the large man who looked to be armed with some sort of club and then advanced on the smaller man, keeping his voice low and calming. “What’s this all about, then? What’s got you in such an uproar, friend?”

The man clutched at Poley’s cloak with dirty fingers. “Any minute now, her people are going to get here and they won’t leave nobody alive! They won’t stop to ask if anyone might be innocent or just an ignorant bastard looking to earn some coin. I can swear on any bible that I didn’t know who those bastards were bringing here, but will they care? Not fucking likely! They’ll drop me in the Thames with a cut throat!”

Poley seized on the most important words in the stream of babble. “Wait. Stop your fucking noise!” He gathered up two handfuls of the man’s stained doublet and pulled him face to face. He fervently hoped that the sore on the side of his neck wasn’t infectious. “Her people? Who’s her? Who the fuck do you have in there?”

“The queen!” The man was practically sobbing. “These men brought in the queen as a prisoner! Oh, fuck, I’m fucking dead, I fucking know I am. She saw me, she knows who I am.”

“Stop. Fucking. Crying.” Each word accompanied by a shake. “We’re the ones come to rescue the queen. Now tell us everything you know and I swear to inform her of your innocent stupidity.”

As soon as the weeper had told all he knew, Ralph went straight in and fast. Once inside the decayed mansion, he never stopped moving. Poley kept back a little to give him room to move as as he took the stairs two at time, taking the man guarding the room at the top like an exploding bombard. The man only had time to get his blade out before Ralph slammed into him. Such was the force of Ralph’s charge that the two of them smashed back into and through the room’s door.

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