Title: Traitor (A John Shakespeare Mystery)
Author: Rory Clements
Genre: Adult, Historical Mystery
Publication Date: November 5, 2013
Publisher: Witness Impulse, an imprint of HarperCollins
Event organized by: Literati Author Services, Inc.
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William Ivory tossed his cards across the table and picked up the coins. Three shillings, a sixpence, two farthings. He was aware of the resentful glares of the other players, but did not acknowledge them. He had all their money now; there was no point in staying. Without a word of farewell, he thrust the coins into his jerkin pocket, already bulging from the rest of his winnings, and strode to the doorway. It had
been a long night and the tavern was heavy with the stench of smoke and ale.
At the doorway, he stopped, surprised by the glare of the dawn sun. He took a deep breath of the fresh air. As his eyes adjusted to the light, he looked about him. He resisted the temptation to pat the side of his dun-coloured jerkin where the perspective glass was secreted, tied hard against his ribs with leather straps. The street was busy, but his keen eyes told him no one was watching him.
The alehouse stood in a narrow alley close to Portsmouth docks. It was wedged between a broad-fronted ship-chandler’s shop with sail lofts on one side and, on the other, a noisy whorehouse where mariners paid for stale flesh with the spoils of their long months at sea. Ivory walked to his own house, in the next street. He lived alone, close to the bustle and noise of the dockyard. It gave him the anonymity he needed and the gaming houses he craved. He took out a heavy iron key to open the door, then changed his mind. He would eat before sleeping.
It was a cool morning, braced by a breeze blowing in from the Channel. He should have seen the watcher. At sea, he could spot a Spanish ship on the horizon hours before other men, yet here on land his senses failed him. He did not detect the presence of a predator ten paces away, nor did he see the pistol he held in the capacious folds of his cloak.
Ivory drew on a long, ornately carved pipe, filled with rich tobacco. He had acquired the pipe from natives on the coast of La Florida back in ’86, in a trade for a common English knife. He exhaled a thin ribbon of smoke, which was instantly gone on the wind. With a last look about him, he stepped back out into the street and headed down towards the quayside to buy herring and bread. A man in his mid-thirties, he wore long
whiskers and combed his straggling grey-black hair forward across his brow. He looked what he was: a man of the sea. With his lean chest, his weather-lined hands and salt-engrained cheeks, there was little to pick him out from all the others in this seafaring town. His gait was rolling like all the rest of them: bodies that could never quite forget the pitch and heave of the ocean swell. only the precise sparkle of his luminous, cornflower-blue eyes set him apart.
All around him there was noise – traders calling wares, seamen singing shanties as they hauled at cables, gulls cawing as they swooped for manavilins of fish, whores and gossips screaming oaths at each other, idlers laughing. Who could hear a heartbeat or a footfall above such a din?
The man with the wheel-lock pistol shuffled forward with the crowd, protected by it. He was unremarkable and stocky, totally enveloped in a cloak that billowed about him like a topgallant sail and cowled his face. His weapon was loaded and primed, ready to kill. Not quite yet, though, not here, not now. Not with all these people about. His present name was Janus Trayne, though that was not his real one. He had had
many names in his forty years.
He followed his quarry down to the quay where men from a laden smack were hauling their catch ashore. He watched Ivory bargain for a pair of fish, all the while puffing at his strange pipe, then followed him to the baker where he bought a two-pound loaf and some butter.
Janus Trayne was not from these parts. He was in the pay of Spain, though not a native of that nation. His mission was to prise something from William Ivory, some instrument that he kept about his person at all times. Trayne did not understand what it was, nor did he care. All that mattered to him was that his masters would pay handsomely for it – two hundred ducats of gold.
He held back twenty yards from Ivory. His chance would come soon enough.
From the baker’s, Ivory walked on a little further, to the cookhouse that stood in the front bank of houses, close to the harbour. The low sun was blanked out by the towering forecastle of an armed merchantman, moored for refitting before its next voyage. At the cookhouse window, he handed over his two fish to a large, sweaty goodwife for scaling, gutting and frying. She tried to engage him in conversation, but he ignored
her and walked down to the water’s edge to smoke his pipe and wait.
Less than ten minutes later, the drab called to him and he collected his food on a wide trencher, paying her a penny. He settled down in a quiet spot at the waterside to eat. First he laid his smouldering pipe beside him, then, with a sharp blade, he cut into the tender flesh of the herring and released the succulent juices and savoury smells. He ate slowly, chewing at hunks of bread and butter between bites of fish, taking his time, enjoying the food and the perfect day.
The events of the next minute happened at bewildering speed.
There was the hard touch of a hand on his left shoulder, then the cold muzzle of a pistol at his right temple. Ivory dropped the trencher from his lap and tried to scramble back from the assailant.
‘Give me the instrument.’ The voice was low, growling. ‘you know exactly what I want, Ivory.’
So they had come for him at last. But it was not him they wanted, it was the glass.
‘I do not have it,’ he said, wrapping his arms around his chest as he leant away from the pistol. ‘Not here—’
‘Then I will cut it from you.’
And suddenly there was the shadow of another man, bearing down on them like a clawed demon. The demon’s talon-like right hand pulled the assailant’s pistol down while the left arm came past his neck, across his chest. Trayne might have been strong, but the demon was quicker. Clenching a blade, he thrust upwards into Trayne’s wrist. The man gasped with shock and pain as the sharp steel sliced up through tendons and flesh, into the very bone of his right arm. His gasp turned to a deep howl. The wadding and ball rolled harmlessly from the muzzle of his pistol. His finger pulled the trigger, igniting powder with a flash and a loud report. Fire spat out and smoke billowed, but there was no shot. The gun fell from his weakened grasp.
Ivory watched in fascinated horror. Within the space of a few seconds a man had held a pistol to his head and now that very man was squatting there with a knife protruding through his wrist, a knife thrust into him by a second assailant.
The wounded man leapt to his feet with surprising agility. Gritting his teeth, he wrenched the knife from his wrist. Blood gushed forth, splattering across the harbour wall. He hesitated a moment, instinctively shielding his face, then he ran, followed by a trail of blood drops.
Ivory watched him go, mouth agape in astonishment. Then he looked at the man who had saved him. It was a face he had not seen in many years, not since they had sailed the world together. A face he had had no interest in seeing again.
‘Boltfoot Cooper! What in the name of God are you doing here?’
‘Saving your life, Mr Ivory. Saving your worthless, poxy life.’
After a career in national newspapers, Rory Clements now lives in a seventeenth-century farmhouse in Norfolk and writes full time.
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