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 Xartis Pyxis - Chapter 6 "The death"

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Nobiles Barbariæ

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Join date : 2011-12-25

PostXartis Pyxis - Chapter 6 "The death"

Captain Quinn was a man with whom Titus had worked before – an Irishman who, while still a youth, had chosen a career in the king’s army after the death of all belonging to him during Cromwell’s siege and destruction of his hometown Drogheda. He had managed somehow to flee to France where he had joined the army of Charles in exile. On the king’s return he had served with honour and distinction for many years until, by the time Titus first met him during a survey of the Severn Estuary, when Quinn had been appointed to head up the company of engineers assigned to Titus’ aid, he was already a man contemplating a not altogether unwelcome retirement. He had shown himself, for an unacademic man, to be of agile mind – quick to learn the application of the surveyors’ tools and therefore of invaluable help in completing that commission. He and Titus had struck up a bond, if not of friendship at least of empathy. Both understood that the other had memories of times best not discussed, and each had respect for the other’s prowess at their respective trades. Over the course of the few weeks together Quinn had learnt to trust his companion sufficiently to confide in him that he had bought a house in Balbriggan in which he hoped to live out his retirement, and that his wife had already taken up residence there. Titus had been delighted then, when on enquiry he had found that Quinn had fulfilled his ambition. He was even more delighted when Quinn responded to his request for lodging in the affirmative. It was this that had largely helped Titus formulate his ‘plan of campaign’. He would commence his survey in the north east of the island, and with Quinn’s help hopefully, recruit as much local expertise as Quinn recommended and the navy purse allowed.

Titus suspected his secretary relished too much the prospect of riding to Balbriggan. He had accepted his errand without demur rather to Titus’ surprise and wasted no time in selecting a horse from the castle stables and heading north. Also, for a man who maintained that he had rarely left London City prior to meeting Titus, he appeared very knowledgeable about places outside earshot of St Mary-le-Bow’s bells. Maybe the rascal had actually read the maps he had ‘disposed of’ in Bristol! He would ride to Balbriggan and back again that day, stopping there only long enough to inform Captain Quinn to expect his guests’ imminent arrival and allow his horse a time to rest and feed.

Quinn was one of two men resident in Ireland that Titus especially wished to see. The other, an old and much loved family retainer, lived here in Dublin, and Titus had promised his father to make contact with him before he left. But such pleasantries would have to wait, the impending holiday imposed a necessity to speed up his own more immediate affairs. He busied himself during the early afternoon setting about the arranging of those supplies he would require immediately. He was hoping to be abetted in this by the firm of Stanhope & Reilly, newly appointed purveyors of surveying instruments, amongst other things, who’s business was located in Dublin’s latest phenomenon, the commercial district of Capel Street in the city’s new northern sector. The sudden explosion of construction around the city had created very wealthy speculators who were setting about transforming the lands north of the Liffey into a city in its own right – the greatest of these being Sir Humphrey Jervis, who had developed Ormonde Quay and the lands behind it, of which Capel Street was the focus.

These lands, once belonging to the old Abbey of St Mary, had been leased by Jervis, who, together with his fellow developers, had transformed the giant abbey enclosure into a grid of streets full of private houses, offices, shops, stalls, markets and other commercial outlets, a lot of which catered for the constructors of this property boom and who also were growing quite rich in so doing. The more affluent of these new entrepreneurs acquired premises fronting onto Capel Street, often with their shop on the ground floor and substantial residences above. To the east of the street lay the old abbey farmland, yet to be fully developed and on which, between the orchards and outlying meadowland, stood the warehouses of the merchants. Only twenty short years before such a development would have been unimaginable – the northern bank of the Liffey was outside the protection of the city walls, linked to the city by a solitary bridge and too vulnerable to attack. In these more settled times such considerations mattered little and the northern riverbank had been more securely tethered to its affluent southern neighbour by two more sturdy bridges. Some of this was Ormonde’s own land, and he had decreed that any development on the banks must follow his own example whereby he had insisted that Jervis wall the river and build a thoroughfare along its bank, with the premises thereon facing the river, rather than the more traditional style favoured by Jervis, with their backs to the water’s edge Already the developers had taken Ormonde’s cue and the walled embankment was rapidly growing along the river, giving this part of the city a slightly continental flavour, with its wide riverbank promenades.

An hour or so after Flitch’s departure Titus found himself in the company of Bartholomew Stanhope walking along this very embankment down to the latter’s warehouse.
“As I said Mr Perry, I think you’ll agree you won’t find better anywhere in the kingdom and I know you’re a man that knows!”
Titus had heard umpteen remarks of this nature from the man since they had set off from the shop. He had written to Stanhope from London asking if the man could provide equipment at such short notice and had been delighted to receive a prompt reply to the effect that he could. He now required only that Stanhope provide what he had claimed he could, a dozen ‘sight rods’ equipped with rudimentary scopes, and a fair quantity of measured rope. If Quinn could muster enough trustworthy men, it was amazing how much could be achieved with three transits, a length of measuring tape and a dozen rods, or ‘staves’ as they were still called in Shropshire. By use of triangulation, all but the steepest terrains could be mapped at a rate of a hundred square miles a day given the right conditions and workforce – three men who knew how to calculate an angle and fifteen or so men who could stand where they were told to long enough for a sighting to be made and measured. Titus had decided not to buy everything in London in the mistaken belief he could procure it cheaper here, but as it turned out Ormonde’s property boom had inflated the local prices well in excess of those at home. And that was not the only bad news that Stanhope had for Titus when he called to the office. The man claimed that he had personally overseen the filling of Titus’ order himself the previous Friday and that the goods were indeed parcelled up and ready for collection in his delivery yard out the back, but when they had stepped outside it was to find that no such parcel existed. If ever a man could be said to erupt, then to Titus’ eyes that was what Stanhope proceeded to do. Amidst flustering and blustering, and with quite a few hysterical shrieks to his clerks for good measure, he managed to convey to Titus that the goods had either been stolen or sent out in error. Failing that, they were somewhere in hiding, and though the yard was very much devoid of a place to hide so large a package, Stanhope set about shifting everything that could be conceivably moved in an effort to support this postulation, and the speed at which his portly frame darted hither and thither about his courtyard reminded a bemused Titus of a swarm of bees darting to and fro in pursuit of something to sting. Of course, the possibility that his memory might have been suspect never entered the diatribe that accompanied Stanhope’s frenzied search, and it had taken his clerk several attempts to attract his employer’s attention and tell him that Mr Perry’s goods had not mysteriously disappeared, but were in fact still in ‘on the quay’.

As it turned out, the phrase implied something more than it apparently stated. Stanhope and his partner had erected their own warehouse on one of Jervis’ new quays, and it was there that Titus’ order yet resided. The fact seemed to amaze Stanhope, who had sworn that he himself had witnessed their transfer to his shop, but at last he had accepted that the clerk’s order book spoke the truth and then proceeded to turn this little hiccup in his administrative system to something of an advertisement for his firm. It would, he claimed without seeming to recognise the irony, at least give him the opportunity to show a valued customer such as Titus how seriously he and his partner took the safety and storage of their clients’ goods. Their new warehouse, he said, had been designed with the storage of valuable and delicate equipment in mind – the only one like it in Dublin. In fact, when Titus saw for himself how securely his goods had been looked after he might even be glad that they had not had to make the pointless and risky journey from the warehouse to the shop along Dublin’s bustling streets. With the ease of a practised salesman and in no time at all, the man had soon all but reversed his original argument completely and was now taking full credit for the executive decision to store Titus’ order purposefully in their warehouse, and had in fact never intended that they be moved to Capel Street at all.

Titus barely spoke, or indeed had much chance to, since they had set off from the shop. He was mildly annoyed at the delay and that it had meant having to listen to so much claptrap, but was simply relieved that the order had been fulfilled, and whether it was stored in a shop, a warehouse, or even a pigsty mattered little to him as long as it was all there. Even the inflated price hadn’t upset him too much. After all, it was Ormonde’s expansion of the city that had inflated the prices, and it was Ormonde who would be ultimately paying for the equipment in any case, so that was all the one to the mapmaker.

He let Stanhope’s monologue largely flow over him as they walked, and his mind instead wandered over the events of the day so far. Rarely before had he made ‘friends’ or enemies so quickly as he had with Collier and Briar, and rarely before had he met a man so obnoxious as MacCarthy, let alone been roped in to doing such a man a favour. He made a mental note to chastise his secretary for that at an opportune time, though knowing by the same token that Flitch had a habit of anticipating such intentions and ensuring that such opportune times never actually occurred.

Suddenly he noticed that Stanhope had stopped before a large oak door and was fumbling in his pockets for keys. They had reached the much mentioned warehouse and Titus was impressed to see that it was built of brick, its sturdy doors securely padlocked, and with no windows that Titus could spot. Stanhope had been right to describe it as secure, but (if such a thing was possible) he had actually understated its apparent impregnability. Scientific instruments were valuable property, and in this town of inflated prices, even more so.

By now the businessman had so departed from his original apologies for the fact that Titus’ goods had made it no further than the warehouse that he had all but stated an intention to close his Capel Street office for good and move in. “In fact, we have long had plans to build another shop here when the lots are finally sold,” Stanhope said proudly as he waved at the door with his free hand, while the other dived and delved into his many pockets in their search for his keys. “Be vigilant in the present, look out for the future, and let providence provide. That’s what my partner Eoin says, and I concur!” He at last produced a ring of what looked like several dozen keys from somewhere within the labyrinthine folds and pouches of his great frock coat, and began another long and tedious process of testing each one in the gigantic brass padlock that bound the two oak doors together. Eventually a click indicated that the right key had been found, and with a great deal of effort and grunting the overweight Stanhope laboured to pull open both doors. In the comparative darkness of the warehouse’s interior, as it slowly revealed itself from behind the widening doors, Titus could just make out the outlines of what seemed to be hundreds of wooden crates stacked in neat piles, and an even larger number of sacks tidily arranged in clusters against the walls. For all his palaver, Stanhope and his partner were obviously thriving as importers, he reckoned. If the bulk of the warehouse’s contents were indeed expensive mechanical tools and devices, then its value must rival in itself that of all of its neighbours’ combined.

Stanhope stepped through the door into the gloom - and immediately reeled out again backwards, his hands to his mouth and his eyes agog, almost as if he had just been suddenly punched. Titus had never seen such a rapid transformation in a man, in an instant his stout face had gone from a ruddy flush to the colour of chalk and his mouth worked like a fish, opening and closing but emitting no noise. His eyes, wide open in terror, were focused on something just within the warehouse, at which he pointed wordlessly as he stumbled backwards from its sight. Titus grabbed him as he reeled towards the road, steadied his massive frame - that shook now like a leaf on a branch with obvious terror - and then moved forward to see for himself what had caused such a transformation in the businessman. Immediately he wished that he hadn’t. Just a few yards into the darkness, hanging from a rope and swaying slightly in the draught of the open door, was a man, or what is left of a man after his soul has departed. Of the fact that it had departed there was no doubt. The tongue protruded swollen and black from equally black lips, the eyes bulged grotesquely from their sockets, and the skin of the face had that luminous sheen Titus had seen many times at Tyburn and gallows elsewhere. The swollen bloodshot eyes stared at a point in infinity above Titus’ head and he caught himself instinctively turning to see what it was they gazed at, in time to see Stanhope switch from his initial silent horror to a loud wail. “Oh my god, oh my god! Eoin! What? Why?” Then he dropped to his knees.

It had taken several minutes for Stanhope, now sat on a crate and heaving audibly, to be hauled back to some degree of rationality, and Titus deduced from his still disjointed utterances that this was the man’s partner in trade, Mr Reilly. Using a pile of crates as a makeshift ladder, and without much thought or purpose except to extinguish the grotesque tableaux before them, he withdrew his pocket knife and climbed to the rafters to cut Reilly from his gallows. The grip he tried to maintain with one hand on the rope around the man’s neck was inadequate and there was a loud thud as the body hit the sawdust-strewn floor. This drew a gasp from the doorway and Titus realised that they had already acquired an audience. There wasn’t a Dublin street without its indigenous population of vagabonds and ne’er-do-wells and it was mostly these, he surmised from their attire, who had assembled to enjoy the free performance. They jostled for position from which to best view the show, though in doing so they respected an invisible boundary a yard or so from the warehouse threshold. Even as he watched he could see them double in number, and more heads yet appeared all the while. His heart dropped. Such assemblies were always bound to attract a patrol of the king’s men sooner or later and Titus hoped it would be later rather than sooner - this was one eventuality he could have done without. He needed time to think. He didn’t get it.

“Move aside, move aside!” The unmistakeable bark of a soldier, and a Yorkshire born soldier too. “Well, well, Mr …?”
From where he stood on the crates looking out into the grey light of the Dublin afternoon the soldier appeared as a mere silhouette in the doorway but there was no mistaking the owner of the voice. The distaste it had engendered earlier was reignited, enough to lend Titus’s voice a solidity which belied the actual tumult he felt inside.
“Perry. Good afternoon Captain Briar.”
“We meet again.” Briar looked down at the corpse at his feet and then back up to the mapmaker who was balancing precariously on the topmost crate of his improvised scaffold. “So, are you enjoying your day in this delightful city, Mr Perry?”
“Not entirely, Captain, as you can well see. May I get down?”
“Drop the knife and you might.”
Titus realised that he still clutched the knife with which he had cut the rope. He let it fall as instructed, making sure to note where it fell. His anger at Briar’s tone and the presence of an audience to which the captain was so obviously playing combined to steel his resolve that, however he felt inside, this man should not presume he was talking to a fool. “Certainly”, he answered, and then with as much volume as could muster while clambering down the crates, “Though I hope that you don’t think this poor man has been stabbed to death, constable. Of course, if you do then I must accept that I am suspect, though I hope that you also then note that I have done an inordinately thorough job, as you can see from the rope around the unfortunate’s neck. Few murderers go to such lengths to ensure their victims’ dispatch, I warrant!” Titus noted a few suppressed laughs and comments from the crowd at the door as he purposefully recovered his knife from the sawdust and set it back in his pocket, daring the captain to object again.

He didn’t. Instead Briar switched his gaze from Titus back to the corpse. His dour expression indicated either his dislike for the victim or his disgust at the poor man’s state; it was hard to know which. Then he knelt for a moment to peer better at the dead businessman’s disfigured features, and as he did so Titus was sure that he saw a fleeting smile play on the constable’s lips. But there was no mirth about the man as he stood up sharply and brushed some sawdust from his tunic. “I take it Mr Perry you believe in Providence? Fate would seem to have ordained we get acquainted.”

Titus wanted to respond in a way that would at once refute the captain’s claim, inform him that Providence and Fate were not one and the same in meaning, and also impart an assurance that no divine ordination, however miraculous, could ever hope to invent such an acquaintanceship. But before he could form his thoughts, let alone speak, a small mongrel suddenly grabbed the attention of everyone, including Briar, by dashing through the feet of the crowd at the door and over to the corpse. There it set a protective paw on the dead man’s chest, cast a brief accusatory look at everyone assembled, and then set about licking sawdust from the dead man’s cheek, whimpering pathetically. So intent was it in this task that even a cruel snigger from the crowd failed to alert it of the peril it was in. An incensed Briar approached it stealthily from its blind side, raised his booted foot back and then kicked it with a venom that made Titus, and several others, wince at its cruelty. The force of the kick raised the poor dog several feet into the air and it landed in a ball near the doorway, where it scurried yelping back into the throng before the captain, who was in pursuit, could land another blow. Laughter from the crowd indicated approval for this small dramatic subplot, though even amidst the gaiety Titus noticed that a concerned hand in the crowd rapidly reached down and scooped up the poor mongrel. The mob’s appreciation was not however shared by Briar, who was growing more incensed by the minute. “You go about your way now!” he shouted angrily. Titus moved to do as he was bid but the captain, now so red in the face that Titus feared he may have a seizure, halted him in his tracks. “Not you! You lot at the door – move! I said, move!” This last screamed instruction seemed to have the desired effect and the crowd backed off a pace. Their reticence to move further suggested that they did not reckon the entertainment quite done yet, but for the moment it was enough to ameliorate the captain, whose face returned to a more normal hue and whose attention turned again to the mapmaker. “Now, you Mr Perry – why do I get the feeling that our paths are doomed to cross? Eh?”

His attempt at sarcasm might have been meant as a counter to Titus’ previous sardonic remarks, but Titus chose to ignore the captain’s tone. He had had enough of this episode and merely wished to leave, though he still felt it prudent to disabuse Briar of the notion that there might be more than pure bad luck at play in the fact that they had now met twice in one day. “I really wouldn’t know captain. To my mind this is an unfortunate but chance encounter, much like our last one. And anyway, Providence and Fate would appear to have had more serious matters to attend to.” He nodded in the direction of the corpse.

Briar ignored, or did not recognise Titus’ intended sarcasm. “Whatever about the chance involved, it may be more unfortunate than you realise Mr Perry. And answer me without frippery if you know what’s best for you!” The tone was sharp – his patience, as had been revealed, had a short fuse. “Are you an acquaintance of the late Eoin Reilly also?” He pointed to the corpse, a man who he had obviously known in life. “Or was this yet another of your chance encounters?”

“I came here merely to purchase some equipment. It appears however that my transaction will have to wait.”
A derisive snort answered Titus’ remark. “If your transaction is with Reilly you may be waiting quite a while!” The captain may have arrived alone, but that made him no less confident in his authority it seemed, or in his belief that facetiousness was a fair substitute for wit. “I take it then that you gentlemen have only just discovered the wretch?”

Titus, even allowing for the man’s obvious lack of intelligence, was a little surprised at the captain’s lack of respect for the poor man whose corpse lay in a crumpled heap at his feet. But his impudence seemed to galvanise Stanhope, and the merchant regained his senses sufficiently to join the conversation, pointing to the assembled onlookers outside. Despite the captain’s initial direction, they had grown perceptibly in number and their attention had noticeably migrated from the dead man near the door to the valuable merchandise further within. Eyeing the gathering audience nervously, Stanhope’s first coherent comment revealed his true merchant sensibilities. “Can we please get this over with Captain? We should really lock up here.” Despite his distress he was obviously also aware of the growing threat to his stock that was amassing at the door.
“All in good time sir. What’s your business here? Were you here to see Reilly too?”
“No sir, I own these premises. I’m with this gentleman here. He’s a client of ours.”
The captain eyed Stanhope quizzically. “You and Reilly own these premises?”
“Yes, well no actually, I own them, as I said. Eoin’s stock is stored here. Sorry, was stored here, no I mean it is stored here, but… oh my god!” Stanhope began to break down again.
“Stop snivelling man! So you are not partners then?”
The merchant gulped. “Oh we are, but the law is the law. My name is on the premises, Eoin’s merely on the stock. That’s the way it has to be.”
Titus noticed that the captain seemed a bit perplexed at this point. He stared at Stanhope for a few moments before hurriedly turning to the crowd now forming a neat and compact semi-circle in the open doorway. “I told you lot to shift! Or will you rather my constables find a spot to shift you to when they come?” The crowd at last turned on its heels and grudgingly dissolved into its constituent anonymous components in but a few moments, and in that time one could hear their scandalised, but avid, voices speaking in those animatedly hushed tones of mock disgust that merely indicated the prurient enjoyment they had received from this unexpected afternoon sideshow. Titus noticed that one figure remained however, a well-dressed young man, who stepped back from the door but remained outside within earshot of what was said. Briar must have seen him too but seemed purposefully to ignore him as he turned again to the merchant. “Very well, let’s start again. You are?”
“Bartholomew Stanhope, seller of optical instruments and architectural devices.” Spoken with pride, despite the tragic circumstances Titus noted.
“New to the trade though.” Titus could only surmise that Briar had deduced this from the newness of the warehouse.
“Only since last Candlemas, we registered as a partnership in the court. Oh my god, poor Eoin!” Stanhope seemed on the verge of more histrionics but the captain would have none of it.
“I told you already. Stop whimpering man! What’s this about premises and stock under different names? Is that what you call a partnership?”
“It seemed the wisest thing to do. Eoin handles importation and delivery, I deal with storage and clients.”
“So whose name appears on your bills then? Does yours not?”
“Both do sir, I assure you.” Stanhope seemed desperate to convince Briar that he was indeed a full partner in the enterprise.
This only appeared to flummox Briar all the more. He stared at Stanhope with a look not unlike that of a young student staring at an exercise in mathematical division having only just learnt the rudimentaries of subtraction. “Always? On all your bills?”
If Briar seemed puzzled, Stanhope seemed even more so at this strange line of questioning. He racked his brains with obvious effort as he sought an answer that would satisfy the captain’s curiosity. Suddenly his eyes lit up as just such an answer presented itself to him. “Except the ship’s bills of course.”
“What about them?”
“When we import we often complete a cargo by selling spare space on board to others and splitting the insurance fee. It saves costs all round. Eoin looks after that end of things. His name alone would be on those bills.”
“On cargo bills only, his name alone on nothing else?”
“No. All others would be in my name or both.”
Titus swore that he could see Briar’s face darkening, whether with rage or frustration was hard to know, but this odd line of enquiry must have had a purpose, and whatever Briar had learnt from it was not to his liking. His scowl however was quickly replaced by a sardonic sneer, obviously the man’s favourite expression when in doubt or repose. He nodded his head in the direction of Reilly. “Tell me Mr Stanhope, have you any notion why your ‘partner’ would take his life?”
Stanhope merely looked sorrowfully at the corpse of his associate and shook his head.

Titus said nothing but privately wondered why Briar had reached this conclusion, and so quickly too. Then, as if the captain had divined this doubt, he now addressed Titus.
“Right, you Mr Perry. Where does your business take you next? It seems to me that I could make my own life a lot easier by just following you as you go about it.”
Titus saw that the young man by the door had now been joined by three or four gentlemen in merchant’s clothes who peered curiously into the warehouse – obviously owners of neighbouring premises who had been alerted to what was going on by the crowd. “I had not considered it. This unfortunate event has knocked my plans askew.” As he answered the captain he noticed that one of them started to ask what had transpired, only for the young man to abruptly peel away from their company without answering and set off up the quay.
Briar had seen them arrive too, and had assessed their social standing too, it seemed. These were not men to shooed away with threats of incarceration. “Good afternoon gentlemen,” he addressed them. “I am afraid that there has been an unfortunate little occurrence here, nothing to be worked up over. It seems that one of your number had not quite the head for business that he thought and has chosen to end his ‘partnership’ with Mr Stanhope here in a rather abrupt fashion!”

This drew a smile from one of the men and a barely suppressed snigger from another. Stanhope started to protest and rose abruptly from where he was seated but seemed to think better of it and sat down again just as quickly. Titus thought he could understand why. Stanhope, successful and all as his business was, would not have been popular amongst his peers for forging a partnership with a Catholic, and that such an alliance could prosper would have simply added to their unpopularity. The fact that Reilly’s death was anything but a suicide would have registered with Stanhope also, and god knew what theories were running through the man’s mind at the minute. He had the sense to understand that silence on his part was the best policy for the minute.

Briar, pleased that his joke had been appreciated, turned his sneering face back to Titus, and decided to treat his gallery to further evidence of his wit. “Askew as your plans may be I would advise you to consider them, and now, sir! Unless you can give me an address at which you can be contacted for the rest of the day, I may have to arrange one for you. Do you get my drift?”
Titus did not doubt Briar’s seriousness. The man was obviously a bully and would probably in fact derive some enjoyment from making such an arrest before an audience. Men like him enjoy any chance to display their authority, no matter how small it might be or however ridiculous the circumstance. A solution suggested itself however to Titus that he reckoned should nip Briar’s intentions in the bud. “I have some small business to attend to at the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham. I will do it so this afternoon and spend the evening back at the castle. If you require my assistance therefore in the meantime you need only leave a message with the office of the Duke of Ormonde. My employer always likes to know who is detaining his staff, and why. Do you get my drift?”

Briar merely grunted in reply. Mention of the Hospital and Ormonde had done the trick, as Titus had suspected. The Hospital was a new construction and very much James Butler’s pet project. If Titus, a surveyor in the pay of the Duke himself, had business there then it would in all likelihood be business that Ormonde also was privy to. Briar was not going to risk raising any hackles in that quarter. Besides, the captain had noticed also the gentlemen at the door regarding Titus with heightened interest and curiosity after his remark about his association with the Viceroy, as Titus had well known that they would. Briar attempted to regain the authority that he was fast losing in their eyes. “Very well. Who are you are to meet there?”
“Why, do you suspect the Hospital authorities of complicity in this man’s suicide?”

Briar took the rebuff, but not without demur. They may not be quite his own audience any more, but it was important to the man that he impress them nonetheless by finishing things with the upper hand. “Go about your business so. But I warn you to leave your address with the Quartermaster when you move lodgings from the castle. And pray to your god that our paths do not cross again today. You have aroused my interest, and you had better hope that was not a stupid move on your part!” He waited for Titus to move before turning to Stanhope. “And you – lock up here. We’ll return again tonight to collect the deceased, don’t touch anything!”

It was the “we” in the last sentence that raised a suspicion in Titus as he left the warehouse. He nodded to the merchants without stopping to speak to them and then noticed a figure standing just beyond them, his head slightly bowed and inclined to the wall, obviously not wishing to be recognised. So, the young man had not proceeded far after all, and though he did his best to avoid scrutiny Titus was now pretty sure it was the young soldier who had accompanied Briar to the inn that morning. He looked over again to confirm his suspicion, but discovered that the young man had already fled.

There are many reasons why a man may be murdered, Titus reflected, and sometimes no reason at all. He was no stranger to the sight of corpses – no Londoner could be – or to the idle speculation that accompanied the untimely demise of a man of some social status, but this afternoon’s experience had involved him, however tangentially, and it merited review. Despite his earnest belief that it would be better to regard it as none of his business, he found himself thinking about the possible cause of Reilly’s murder. If theft was the motive the murderer had been singularly ineffective in his mission, and very conscientious in locking up after himself as he left. On the contrary, Titus could not help but feel that the presence of the corpse amidst all his valuable stock was a signal or message of some description, but of what and to whom? It had seemingly been lost on Stanhope if he was the intended recipient. Yet, it was Stanhope who would be bound to have found the body. Just as enigmatic had been Briar’s questions relating to the deceased. Even the most incompetent investigator could not have failed to notice that the dead man had been murdered, or if doubt existed, would at least have asked the two who discovered the body what exactly they had found and then done to affect the scene of the crime. Briar’s jump to the conclusion of suicide, as well as his strange questions about bills, cargoes, and who owned what premises, all seemed so odd as to invite suspicion in themselves. But whatever the truth of the matter was, Titus was sure, he was not going to be the one to find it, nor indeed could he even fathom why he cared.

As he made his way back across the bridge he paused at the parapet and gazed idly at the ships berthed in rows before the Custom House dock. His mind pondered ruefully on this latest turn of events. It seemed in one way that the captain had been right. Providence was playing its hand and had decreed that Titus would seemingly not be allowed do what he had originally desired – spend a few quiet but busy days in Dublin amassing the tools required to embark on his project, the execution of which he had genuinely hoped would keep his contacts with his fellow man to a minimum. Now here he stood – a stranger in this strange city, embroiled in its vagaries already to a degree he did not welcome, seemingly unable to avoid its clawing tentacles that were intent on drawing him into its unfathomable designs. Treason in the morning, politics for lunch and murder in the afternoon – what other diversions would this bloody town attempt to delight him with before the day was out? Though not born in London, he was at heart a Londoner, and accustomed to the welcome anonymity she offered her denizens. This damned city however seemed not to know the meaning of the term. Were all her guests subject to the same welcome? What way would she next contrive to complicate his life? Unbeknownst to him, one of the dreaded tentacles was encircling him even as he pondered.

“Mr Perry?”
The man had assumed a stance identical to his own, both his elbows on the parapet, his eyes fixed on the ships below. Titus had been so involved in his own thoughts he had not noticed him arrive by his side. He sighed.
The stranger did not look at him. Instead his gaze followed the flight of a seagull as it alighted on the bowsprit of a ship tethered to the quayside. Seemingly addressing the bird, and not the man beside him, he spoke softly. His tone, though quiet and reasonable, had the unmistakeable edge of authority to it. “For someone not a full day in a strange city you appear to have made something of a mark sir.”
“I would gladly expunge it. Who are you by the way?”
The man let out a low laugh. His eyes however betrayed no humour and stayed fixed on the seagull as it screamed its claim to dominion from its newly acquired perch. His attire suggested a clerk, but his height and bearing something else entirely. “Let’s just say I am someone you obviously need to know more than you realise. You have met our good Captain Briar I hear. That is not an association you would want to prolong.”
Titus tried to keep his own tone as level as possible, though a peculiar mixture of anger and resignation to ill fate was welling up within him. “And what is your interest in my associations? I can assure you that particular one will not be pursued at my instigation!”
“Pleased to hear that Mr Perry. Our castle’s constables are not men you would readily invite to share a drink with, not unless you first nailed your tongue to your palate. Nor I hope will I see you sharing a friendly ale with a certain lawyer of our acquaintance again either. I speak purely with your own interests at heart of course.”
“I am indebted to you for your concern. But perhaps you will tell me why I merit it?”
“Oh we like to see our guests come to no harm. It would seem some need more minding than others. You are here on a crown commission I hear. That is one reason why you are still alive.”
Titus felt an involuntary shudder at this remark. Was this a threat? At the same instant he became aware of two more men standing in close proximity, one to his right and one directly behind.
“Don’t worry Mr Perry, my colleagues also have your interests at heart. Now, I would like to know what transpired between you and the lawyer MacCarthy. And I would advise you to be truthful and thorough in your answer.”
“He knew my secretary from old and arranged a meeting with me on this basis. He has an interest in my business that I neither welcome nor encourage I assure you. I did agree however to deliver a letter for him to a near neighbour of a friend.”
“Very Christian of you sir – may I see the letter?” – a command in the guise of a question. Titus retrieved the letter from his pocket and passed it to the stranger, who opened it and scrutinised its contents for what seemed an inordinately long time.
“Very interesting, now, might I see the letter MacCarthy gave you?”

At first Titus failed to understand what the stranger could mean. Then in an instant the cold realisation swept over him as he looked again at the folded parchment with its broken seal and “fair letters”, as Collier had described them. He had handed over the innkeeper’s letter! He felt as if the temperature of his body had plummeted to freezing point yet an incongruous sweat erupted at the same instant. His hand shook as he reached into his pocket and located the other piece of paper. The stranger smiled as he accepted it from Titus’ trembling grip. This time the perusal was a lot swifter.
“Your death warrant, Mr Perry. Or at least if you had delivered it.” He handed Titus back the lawyer’s note to Wilson of Stamullin. “This cartographic venture of yours carries with it the authority of our Lieutenant General. And I assume you have noticed that the right to billet yourself wherever you so desire is included in this licence?”
Titus fought hard to regain his composure. “Such is my understanding yes.”
“An exceptional command for a mere mapmaker - don’t you think? Or did you think why this was so?”
“Yes, I allow it was more generous than I expected. I accredited it to the desire of the admiralty to complete the project as speedily as possible.”
“Did you now?” The stranger turned for the first time to look at Titus directly. “Perhaps there is another undertaking you can perform. I would suggest you think hard before you answer what I will ask you next. You travel soon outside the city – you have arranged lodgings for yourself and your colleague?” Titus nodded. “Before you go an associate of mine would desire a parley with you. At this meeting you will learn certain things and will be given a duty to perform, if you are willing. Are you a religious man Mr Perry?”
“I follow my own counsel.”
“Well said, though you might find such counsel inadequate in these parts. You learn quickly though, that is good too. We appreciate your ambivalence of faith Mr Perry. You can regard it as a qualification for the role you will be offered. Of course you are free to ignore this request altogether. If you do you will not be troubled by me again I assure you. However you will not avail of my protection either. You understand what that means?”
“I think I do.”
“I wonder at that, Mr Perry, given your progress so far, this day.” He smiled. “Were it not for our protection you would already be behind bars, and bear in mind that the day is not halfway done. Do you appreciate that?”
“I assume by that you mean that you have influence over the constabulary. You are castle men?”
“As are you, and as is Captain Briar, so let that be your first lesson in how never to trust such badges of authority.” He peeled away from the parapet and brushed invisible dust from the sleeves of his black coat as he spoke. “But there is more than that for you to learn, and to learn quickly. I think Mr Collier might desire the return of his letter, don’t you?” He looked up. “Bring it to the gentleman’s premises tonight when your secretary returns, and we will meet with you there. And bring your secretary. We would like to meet that particular gentleman too.”
“What on earth do you need my secretary for?”
“Bring him and perhaps I can even answer that question myself,” the stranger answered enigmatically. “Now, tell me what you plan to do between now and then.”
Titus was about to answer that it was none of his business when a sharp glare from the other man caused him to revise his words and speak the truth. “I’m not really sure.”
“It might be best that you kept to your room, given your performance thus far outside of it. Or better still, somewhere outside of town altogether where Briar might not think to find you.”
Titus smiled grimly. “Well I have, as it happens, business out of town this afternoon, but I am afraid that it is something of which our good captain has already been informed.”
“Oh?” The stranger waited vainly for Titus to elaborate and finally found it necessary to prompt for his information. “Secrecy from Briar I would commend, but not from me, Mr Perry. Where do you intend to go and who do you intend to meet there?”
“The Royal Hospital, and believe me, I have every reason to believe that Captain Briar will let me go about my business in peace, at least today.”
The other man raised an eyebrow but did not enquire as to why Titus was so sure. In fact, he seemed to agree tacitly with Titus’ feeling that Briar reckoned the Royal Hospital as outside of his jurisdiction. “I would imagine you are right, if such is your destination. Who do you know there?”
Titus swallowed. The stranger, he knew, was not going to like his answer. “A resident there by the name of Cormac.” He mentioned no surname for in truth he did not know it, but to his surprise the stranger’s features warmed slightly and a faint smile played on his lips.
“You will be sure not to ask for him by that name at the gate, I trust! Is he an acquaintance of yours?”
“A family friend.”
The stranger’s smile broadened and he adjusted his hat as the light rain that had been falling on them was suddenly augmented by some heavier drops. Wincing at the dark clouds above he muttered something unintelligible but which sounded very much an oath against the heavens, and then nodded to Titus. “A curious man you are indeed, though I can see from a curious family as well, so that might explain some things. Very well, until this evening then. Good day.” He turned his back on Titus abruptly, almost falling over a beggar waif who had insinuated herself at his feet, and then strode purposefully to the quayside, his two companions jumping smartly to join him and keep in step as they disappeared into the milling throng before the Custom House.
Within seconds the drizzle turned to a heavy downpour and many of the quayside’s occupants dived for cover beneath the arches and eaves of the old building but Titus remained for a few moments at the parapet, oblivious to the rain, his head swimming with the implications of this last unexpected encounter. Then he turned and ambled aimlessly back towards his quarters.
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