Broadbent was on his feet, his enormous gun already in his hands.
“Lord in heaven, Samuel,” Plymouth said, standing to a full height of perhaps four and a half feet, and clutching tighter at the blankets he was wrapped in. “You haven’t the good sense not to be followed?”
Plymouth looked, in my judgement, less like a man afraid than one very irritated.
“We took every back way I know to get here,” Broadbent said.
“Well, you’ll just have to do better next time,” Plymouth said, conjuring an ivory-headed cane from somewhere under the desk.
“Where are you going?” Broadbent said, a note of something not unlike panic in his voice.
“I,”Plymouth said, casting a withering gaze Broadbent’s direction. “Am going to go shoo these benighted effing interlopers off my front stoop, Samuel. Where are you going?”
Broadbent opened his mouth, and then shut it again. Evidently he hadn’t got that far yet.
“Shouldn’t…” Broadbent said, gesturing to me with his free hand. “Shouldn’t we hide him somewhere?”
Plymouth stopped halfway to the door, planted his cane on the ground, and craned his neck to look at Broadbent.
“I shouldn’t think so, Samuel. You see, your friend is in here, and they are out there, and so it shall remain for as long as I draw breath.”
“Are you coming?”
Broadbent swallowed, looked at me, and then back at Plymouth.
“Fifty dollars,” he said.
Plymouth held Broadbent’s gaze for a moment.
“You’ll need all the guns you can get if they mean to retrieve Mr. Barclay,” Broadbent said, the quavering of fear only just audible in his voice. “Fifty dollars.”
Plymouth sighed. “Twenty five. Come along, Samuel. You in front.”
As it transpired, Plymouth owned a window – though it was mostly hidden behind a painting of somewhere lush and green. perhaps the man abhorred the Deep as much as I, and preferred to shut it out in favor of some more scenic and welcoming vista.
I could just make out the corner of the window-frame behind the picture, but refrained from moving the painting. Seemed to me to be terribly rude, to come into a man’s office and begin rearranging the furniture without his leave. Instead I inspected the collection of china bowls which sat atop the credenza beneath the hidden window
I puttered. I made a circuit of Plymouth’s desk. I tapped my foot and crossed my arms. I wiped sweat from my brow. I circled the desk again. I waited.
At last I could stand it no more. I strode to the picture frame, gripped the edge with one hand, and only just stopped myself from removing the painting from where it hung.
Surely, I thought to myself in the nick of time, Surely with all these damned lamps they’ll be able to look up here and see me just fine. So I went to Plymouth’s desk and doused the great lamp he had there, and found myself abruptly in complete darkness.
I fumbled in the dark, blinking. Gradually, I adapted to the sudden darkness – rather better, I think, than I would have had I been newly arrived in the Deep, now that I was used to the eternal gloom. A faint, ruddy light filtered in from behind that painting, brought up on the wind from the Rue Oraculum which surged below. Still more trickled in around the crack in the door which led to Mr. McKinney’s office. Gingerly, taking care not to stumble over the chairs, I made my way back to the hidden window.
Carefully, carefully, I found the painting. I gripped the frame in both hands, and, slowly, lifted it away from the wall. THen, I peeked over the top of it.
The window, fortunately, looked out across the entryway to the warehouse. The arclamp over the warehouse door cast hard, white light over the proceedings, and in part illuminated some ancient temple which stood opposite – fluted columns, worn down by time, rose out of the rubble, and I observed hunched shapes gathering behind them. Spectators, maybe. Specimens of the indigent masses with whom I had, fortunately, little cause to interact during this whole unseemly expedition.
The entryway to the ware house abutted the bluff’s edge, and over the prodigious cliff there I could see the surging masses on the Rue Oraculum. Their shouts and screams and songs came up to us, as did the din of the smelteries and the stink of the canneries near at hand.
But my attention was drawn to what stood, in perfect ranks, before the entry to George Plymouth’s warehouse.
It was a small army.
I judged their number to be in excess of three dozen men. All of them were young, and as stony-faced as the any of the youths I had seen in Jordan. They wore no military uniform, but all were alike in starched shirts and trousers.
And every one of them carried a rifle.
They stood in neat ranks, as neat and orderly as those made by any army in the world (and moreso than many, I should think). Their master, and, briefly, my comrade, John Allison stood before them.
Allison had his hands clasped behind his back. His shoulders were stooped as they had been when first I’d met him, and even from my vantage point I could see the sad, world-weary look he seemed to bear with him everywhere.
Opposite the assembled ranks of the Legion stood Plymouth, some five feet from Allison. Behind him and to the side stood Samuel Broadbent, his kinked hair bound behind his head. Behind him stood what I took to be the crew of the warehouse – Louie stood among them. All were armed, and they formed a ragged line before the warehouse door.
I set the picture down on the ground, and moving as quietly as I could, I slide the window glass up, praying as I did that Allison would not see me through the glare of the arclamp. If he saw the motion, he gave no sign of it.
Sound flooded in through the window, the sounds of the Rue louder now than they had been before. Barely, just barely, I could make out Plymouth’s voice, though I could not hear what was said.
Allison’s voice, though was loud, and pitched I think to carry back to the ranks of his men. He spoke:
“I’m no fool, George,” he said. His tone was level, and measured, but there was a note in it of something like exhaustion. He sounded like a man attending to an unpleasant task.
“Bring Mr. Barclay out, and we’ll be on our way. I assure you that I mean him no harm.”
Plymouth spoke, and Allison answered.
“George, I am giving you one more warning. Bring him out.”
Plymouth turned then, and Broadbent stepped forward. THe two men exchanged whispers before Plymouth returned his gaze to Allison. He said something then which I could not hear, and as one, he and Broadbent turned on their heels and began to walk back into the warehouse.
A terrible anxiety settled over me then. Surely, I could not be betrayed. Could I? How well, after all, did I know these men in whose company I had lately fallen into? The one, Broadbent, gave every appearance of being some common cutthroat. And God only knew what Plymouth’s story might be.
I began to panic.
By the time the door came open, I had very nearly worked myself into such a lather as to throw myself at whosoever should come through it – but I did not, on account, i suppose, of cowardice.
It was Plymouth, with Broadbent a step behind. They stood silhouetted in the doorway, the light from beyond filtering in.
“Uh-huh,” Plymouth said. “Found the window, did you? Good man. Samuel, light the lamp.”
Broadbent did, feeling his way forward to the desk.
“Now, then, Mr. Barclay,” Plymouth said to me. “We have a problem.”
“The Legion has grown rather fond of you, and they want you back. Unfortunately, they are disinclined to pay for your return to them, being apparently under the impression that they own you already.”
Plymouth broke off and stood my expression.
“Don’t look like. I am a tradesman, as I believe you said before. And as such, I am disinclined to part with things of value. You are one such thing, and this will end one of two ways: you’ll return to New York to write your article, and in so doing you’ll be putting my thumb in their collective eye. Or they’ll pay me a considerable sum to return you to them. They’ve refused that offer, as I believe I said. So we’ll just have to shoot them all.”
I believe that my mouth dropped open. Broadbent managed to get the lamp working, and light suddenly filled the room. I dove back, out of sight of the window, and wheeled on Plymouth.
“You were going to sell me-”
Plymouth waved a hand dismissively.
“Oh, of course I was. Stand back. McKinney!”
McKinney materialized in the doorway.
“Get my gun.”
I looked at the frail little man, who I judged to be somewhere in the neighborhood of seventy years old. He grinned, and showed me yellow teeth in doing so.
“Once upon a time I was a man of the East India Company,” he said, conversationally, and by way of explanation.
Broadbent had crossed to my side without my noticing. He peered over my shoulder, toward the window. Quietly, he spoke into my ear: “Plymouth has a ship at anchor. We only need to sleep away, and we’ll get you to New York.”
“And teach those smug bastards a lesson while we do it,” Plymouth said, grinning fiendishly. “How will this look in your newspaper, eh?”
Plymouth went to the desk and fished for papers. He took a pen and ink, scrawled something on a sheet, and turned to press the paper into my hands. I looked at it. It was printed on what I took to be Mr. Plymouth’s own letterhead – a crest illustrating an elephant and a bear. The text of this message,a s nearly as I could make out the cramped, crabbed handwriting, was this:
Bear the holder of this letter, if he be a one Andrew Barclay, safely to port in New York. There you may offload your cargo, taking what losses may be necessary. All other responsibilities are hereby rescinded.
P.S. – Avoid the Saints
“Captain Folsom is sitting at anchor, waiting on a shipment of spongeoil to fill his cargo complement,” Plymouth said. “He was supposed to sail for Boston tomorrow, but he’ll just have to make do with New York today.”
McKinney reappeared in the doorway, lugging with him an enormous long rifle and its attendant equipment. These he set beside the window.
Plymouth clapped me on the arm and leered up at me.
“Just remember you owe me a debt, Mr. Barclay. On of these days I’m sure I will come to collect. Martin!”
McKiney looked round.
Then he went to the window, set down his cane, and took up the gun. He ran a hand down its length and smiled, as he might have done had he looked down on an infant grandchild asleep.
Then he lifted the gun to his shoulder, rested the barrel on the sill of the window, took a deep breath, and fired.