We travelled afoot, I am sorry to say, for I began that voyage being rather fond of my poor old shoes. I do not know how far we walked – firstly, it is easy to get lost in the twisting, narrow streets, and few indeed are the landmarks which rise above the buildings which a man might use as a point for reckoning.
Secondly, Broadbent travelled by the streets as seldom as possible. The man gave every appearance of maintaining in his mind an immaculate map of all the hidden highways and byways of the dread city. Down alleys we went, across elevated bridges which spanned the streets, through crumbling temples and over mounds of dressed stone which might well once have been palaces or keeps.
Broadbent maintained upon his person a spongeoil lamp – by its pale light I saw damp stone and grotesque statuary; archways and pilings; the immaculately graven walls of tunnels. Once, we went down beneath the level of the street, and found ourselves on a stone catwalk girding the periphery of some colossal, subterranean well. I gazed down, over the side, and saw lights far, far below us – I have cause to wonder, now, how much of the city is hidden down there, in the warren-tunnels and hidden places. Much, I suppose. More, perhaps, than may be seen above.
We slipped down alleyways and forgotten streets, skirting, I realized, around the populous, lighted regions of the city. On more than one occasion Broadbent drew up short and stuck out a hand to stop me, while he stood and listened with his head cocked to one side. On one such occasion I waited, politely, until my patience wore out.
“What are you listening to?” I hissed.
“Marching,” Broadbent said, quietly. And then: “The saints march everywhere.”
That sobered me a touch. A handful of search boats a stone’s throw from Jordan was one thing, maybe – this, this pursuit out into the darkness. This was something else altogether.
We continued on, and I was rather startled when we emerged from a tunnel out into the open air – and well above street level. Broadbent’s path had taken us back to what I recognized as the Rue Oraculum, to a stone bride which bisected the Rue at a height of perhaps forty feet. I glanced over the edge, at the swirl of people below, and became very dizzy.
Broadbent’s path took us to a warehouse, situated on one of the bluffs which jut out above the Rue. By the light of Broadbent’s lantern, I could make out the legend PLYMOUTH & NASH, GOODS AND SUNDRY daubed upon the wall of the warehouse.
The warehouse was quite large, and the door was guarded by an enormous man. The entryway was lighted by an arclamp, which threw the man’s sharp-edged shadow out to tower across the face of the temple opposite. (I could not determine the man’s ethnicity, but wherever he hailed from is surely a place where they make men like mountains: he stood at least six inches taller than myself, and he eyed us evilly as we approached. He had a long gun slung over one shoulder, and a pistol on his hip.
“Good morning, Louie,” Broadbent said to the man as we approached. The man did not answer.
“Have a delivery for Mr. Plymouth,” Broadbent went on, totally indifferent to the great man’s glare.
The man, (Louie, Broadbent had called him) shifted where he stood, and moved a hand slightly closer to the grip of his pistol.
“What kind of delivery,” he said, in a way which was more command than question.
Broadbent chortled, walked right up the enormous man, and reached up to clap him on the shoulder.
“The kind which can only be made in confidence, I am so very sorry to say. But come by Landaff’s sometime, I’ll buy you drink and tell you the whole story.”
Louie said neither yeah nor nay to that, and I scuttled past under his watchful gaze. Broadbent, for his part, strode into the warehouse as if he owned the place.
Within were crates – thousands of them. The crates were stacked to the ceiling, and stamped with all manner of esoteric shorthand which I’m sure made sense to someone other than myself. Within, as without, the warehouse was lit by arclamps, which cast bright, white starlight over everything. I followed Broadbent as he turned, took a flight of steps two at a time, and emerged into an office of some description.
THe place was lit with gas lamps, and the walls were lined with cubbyholes stuffed with rolls of paper and folios of same. There were two doors that I could see, excepting the one I had just entered through, and a desk strew with papers took up the bulk of the floorspace. A man was seated at the desk, and he glanced up to regard us sourly.
The man leant back in his seat as Broadbent strode – no – strutted forward, beaming all the while.
“Mr. McKinney!” Broadbent said.
THe man, Mr. McKinney, I suppose, watched Broadbent’s approach with something on his face which was not entirely unlike disgust.
“Some nerve you have, coming here,” he said. His accent was English. “After the last time.”
“The last time, my dear Mr. McKinney, was the last time, and this time is this. Let things fall where they may,” Broadbent said.
“Who are you?”
It was a moment before I realized that this question was addressed to me, and another moment before I could think to formulate a response.
Too late did that response come, however, for Broadbent was speaking on my behalf.
“A man with some very interesting information,” he said.
McKinney looked at Broadbent.
“You’ll have to do better than that,” he said.
“No, I won’t. Just a moment of George’s time will do. And James,” he said, before the man called McKinney could insert a word edgewise, “I promise you, that George will want to hear from my friend here.”
McKinney looked at Broadbent, looked at me, and rose from his seat. Gingerly, as if afraid of damaging it, he stepped to the door on the right side of the room and knocked. I heard a high, gruff voice say something, at which point McKinney eased the door open and stuck his head inside. He exchanged a few words with whoever waited within, stepped back, and pulled the door open. He stood, gesturing for us to enter, and shot us both a venomous glance as we passed.
The room within was a sight to see. It was, I suppose, an office, and a large one to boot. But the office’s owner had hung portraits and daguerreotypes and rugs and sashes over every inch of wall until it seemed the space occupied by his desk was little more than a hollow within a vast mound of antiquities. The studs fairly groaned with the weight of the nick-knacks nailed up to them.
That owner reposed behind an enormous, mahogany desk of the kind he had not seen since New York. The man himself was tiny, skeletal, and ancient, and was almost lost within the folds of many blankets which were wrapped around him.
The room was also stifling hot – I looked around myself and discovered a small, copper-topped boiler in one corner, blazing merrily away and cooking the room slowly.
“Samuel,” the man behind the desk said, in a high, quavering voice. THen, he said something to Samuel Broadbent which, I am sorry to say, is entirely too rude to survive revisions by my editor – I therefore omit it.
“It’s good to see you too, George,” Broadbent said, dropping into one of the seats before the great desk. I took a step forward, but did not follow suit. I am a damned gentleman, after all, and will not sit in a mna’s office until invited to do so.
“George,” Broadbent said, lifting one leg and dangling it over the armrest of his chair, like some pampered boy king. “Allow me to introduce Andrew Barclay. Mr. Barclay, George Plymouth.”
Plymouth turned rheumy, but still-sharp, eyes on me.
“Barclay? Of the Tribune?”
“The very same,” Broadbent said.
I had opened my mouth, but shut it again and just nodded.
Plymouth nodded, looking long and hard at me.
“You have my sympathies, Mr. Barclay, for having found yourself in Samuel’s company. Sit, man, for GOd’s sake.”
I believe that I made a sound in my throat, and sat.
“George,” Broadbent said. “I think you will want to hear this story.”
“Will I, now? Well?” Plymouth said, this second part to me.
“What have you come to tell me, Mr. Barclay?”
I shifted in my seat, looked from Mr. Plymouth to Broadbent and back, and cleared my throat.
“I confess, sir, that I am not entirely sure. Mr. Broadbent brought me here.”
From the corner of my eye, I caught Broadbent rolling his eyes.
“You’re right Samuel,” Plymouth said. “I’m enthralled.”
“Tell him the story, Mr. Barclay,” Broadbent said.
So I did. I told him about my editor, and my editor’s aquaintance, and my journey north to Hudson’s Bay. I told him of coming below, of my attack on the docks, of my rescue by John Allison. I told him of my dinner with the Allison’s, my trip into the city, and how it was that I had found myself in Broadbent’s company.
As I spoke, Plymouth’s eyes seemed fixed on something else. From time to time he opened his mouth a little, as if about to speak, but would close it again as soon as I paused to allow him the time.
When I finished, Plymouth seemed to return to the room. He shot me an appraising look, and nodded slowly.
“You were quite correct, Samuel,” he said, slowly.
“That is a fascinating tale.”
I did not believe it was any such thing, but held my peace for the moment.
“How much?” Plymouth said.
“A hundred dollars,” Broadbent said.
Plymouth snorted and leant forward, pulling open a drawer in the desk. He rifled briefly, and came up with a small stack of bills.
“You’ll get forty and that’s to be the end of it,” he said, tossing the money across the desk in Broadbent’s direction.
“Enough, Samuel. Take what you can get. Especially after the last time.”
That quieted Broadbent, and he took the money without another word.
Plymouth turned his attention to me.
“Mr. barclay,” he said. “Did Samuel happen to mention what it is that I do?”
“He did not, sir,” I said.
“I am a trader, and a very successful one. That’s what separates the good from the great, you see; a good merchant trades in goods. A great merchant trades in goods, yes, but information as well. And information as concerns our friends the Saints is valuable indeed. They have Jordan buttoned up tighter than a fat debutante,” Plymouth said.
I inclined my head, unsure what to make of that.
“Now. THere’s only one reason you’re down here, Mr. Barclay, whether you like it or not. You’re here to write good press.”
“Sir,” I said. “I’m afraid I do not follow your meaning.”
Plymouth smiled wanly.
“Your editor, he had a friend, yes? This acquaintance who knew oh-so much about the Vigil Keep?”
I nodded, slowly.
“One of Allison’s, I suspect. The man’s network is, and I have no shame in saying this, the rival to my own. I believe that it was arranged for you to come down here.”
“Me?” I said.
“Well, not you specifically. But someone. Someone to come down here, and sing the Saints’ praises.”
“If I had to guess, I would say that the Saints have some business they would like to conduct in America. Few enough will trade with them, though, this much I know. The Saints are not well liked in your country.”
I supposed that was so.
“So they have acquired a journalist, and arranged for him to fall into their hands. On their best behaviour for you, I’m sure. They clothed you, fed you, showed you how wonderful and safe their little town is. I’ll bet you never saw a flogging, did you? Never saw the Legion marching?”
“Of course not. So they took you out in the city, so you’d see what a cesspool it is,a dn then they’d send you home, full of tales of Saintly goodness. But of course things didn’t wokr out that way, did they? No, they lost you, and you had the good fortune of falling into Broadbent’s hands. But the question remains – why would they suddenly care so much what America thinks of them, eh? As I recall, when they left your homeland it was not on good terms. Who was it? James Buchanan, was it, who campaigned on ridding America of the Mormon threat?”
I believed that it had been, and told him so.
“Yes. Yes, I believe that there is something bigger going on here. Something the Saints will need a reserve of good will to pull off. Support, maybe?”
He thought aloud, citing names I did not know and places I had never heard of. He mulled the possible motivations of the Saints for a long time, before falling gradually silent.
There was a silence then, for a time, before Plymouth returned his gaze to me.
“Of course, they can’t let you leave now, can they?”
“What?” I said.
Plymouth chuckled and pulled his blankets tighter about himself.
“Well, now, they wanted to convince you that you should write them good press, eh? But that’s certainly not going to happen now, is it? After that little display on the Rue?”
The blind, inconsiderate firing into the crowd. No, I supposed that whatever I wrote of them now, would most likely turn out unkind.
“So…” Plymouth said, rubbing his chin. “We need to find a way to get you out of here.”
THis from Broadbent, who went on: “George, that’s unusually charitable of you.”
“Nothing of the kind, Samuel. The enemy of my enemy, and all that. Mr. Barclay, you may not know the Saints as I do, but surely you have cause to fear them now. Anything that hurts them is alright by me, and here we have some grand plan of theirs, all ready to backfire.”
He leaned across the desk toward me.
“We’ll send you back, and you’ll write your article. You’ll tell the world the truth of the Saints. They control the Avernian Way, so it will be difficult – but now we have to get you back to New York.”
It was while i was taking all this in, and whilst the conversation moved on without me, that a knock came at the door, followed immediately by the opening of same, and the sudden appearance of Mr. McKinney’s head from around the corner. I turned in my seat to look at him, and all at once felt the blood running out of my face.
Mr. McKinney looked terribly afraid.
“Christ, Martin,” Plymouth said, evidently to the poor Mr. McKinnney. “What is it?”
“Sir,” Mr. McKinney said. “The Legion is here.”