‘Dirty deeds done good’, by Kevin Murphy
Jack choked on his mead as he heard a commotion in the outer office. He swept the nucklebones off the table and indicated the mead flagon to Harold, and the goblets to Ned. They slipped their playthings out of view as Jack sat back into his ample leather chair.
There was a scream from outside. The door banged open and three roundheads rattled in. The captain stood up to the desk.
The guardsmen blocked a swift exit with stamped feet and crossed lances. Not that anyone had legs to run with.
Jack’s nonchalant grin greeted the glare. He sucked his teeth.
‘Smells like a whorehouse in here,’ snapped the captain.
Jack sniffed. ‘I wouldn’t know.’
Jack looked around.
The captain, slapped a handbill on the table. ‘Is this your handiwork?’ he said.
Jack struggled up from his slouch and peered at the object which appeared to be causing some offence. ‘No sir.’
‘No sir! No sir?’
‘Prin’ers ’andiwork, sir. Nice ain’t it?’
The captain narrowed his eyes and took a noisy breath through flared nostrils.
‘Ow, I gets ye, sir,’ said Jack, ‘ye sort a means is the rats my ’andiwork, but er…you gid me that job … so ye kinda threw me at first.’
‘Stand up when I speak to you!’
Jack wriggled in his boots. His voice changed. ‘I am sir.’
The Captain looked back at his smirking men. He stroked his chin and said, ‘of course, just the man for the job. Ferreting the vermin out.’ He turned and jutted his chin into Jack’s face. ‘But you haven’t, have you?’
‘Well your boys pretty well cleaned up round ’ere. Not left me a lot to go at.’
‘When did you last see your Master?’
‘Now, that’s another question I knows you knows the answer to, sir,’ said Jack drawing his left cheek off his teeth. ‘It were you dragged him and the Missis out, what, free month ago?’
The Captains eyes were now a squinting slit. Through gritted teeth he hissed. His looked to his gloved fists as he clenched them and banged them down on the desk. ‘He was sprung, you insolent slob. You know he was sprung!’
Jack stood back a little, almost falling into the chair, then up onto his tiptoes. His face blanched. He cleared his throat. ‘Do I?’
‘Do I? Do I?’
Jack wasn’t trying to be facetious. Try offended, Jack. ‘Well I don’t know sir. Who…?’
The captain looked at Jack’s two henchmen one at each side of the ‘desk’ … table. They didn’t look like they could hench much. ‘Stand up!’ he bawled, ‘both of you. Get over there with your master.’ He stood back between his two men and three faced three.
The Captain drew his gauntlet across his mouth looking steadily into each man’s eyes in turn, before addressing the sentries.
‘Like looking into the eyes of fish in a barrel – long dead. Smell like them too, I’ll be bound.’
‘Are you trying to tell me that we let you keep your room in the manor house, and the Squire has not been back to…?’
‘Very kind of you, it were. Nice it is too … having it to ourselves…’
‘Our selves? Our?’
Jack shuddered. ‘Well yeah. Not these two, like. Missis an’ me sir. Me and Missis. Dint expect me to live there and her back in the cottage?’
‘But I did expect you to do something for the privilege, Horner! This is a damned Royalist hotspot. Veritable nest of Papist vipers.’ He stabbed the handbill. ‘What’s that say?’ He said pointing to ‘RATS, LICE, VERMIN’.
Jack looked at the captain. ‘Dirty deeds done good, sir.’
The Captain double checked and glanced at a sentry, who smirked out of the window.
‘It – says – rats, lice and vermin…’
‘That too sir, yeah.’
‘Dirty deeds, not done…!’ he growled. ‘Not done, are they?
‘Run off our feet ain’t we boys?’ He elbowed Harold to stop scratching his arse. ‘Printer done a great job and everyone callin’ on us to … look at that,’ he said shoving his rat-bitten hand under the Captain’s nose.
The officer slapped it away. ‘For us who are paying handsomely.’
‘We got some good leads, for you, ain’t we boys?’
They were all nodding like donkeys.
‘Just need to get a … well don’t want to send you in after any wild gooses. That’s our job. But, we will get you some sitting ducks ..’ He looked to his men ‘…this time next week. How’s that?’
The Captain took off his gauntlets.
Jack wondered if that meant either business, him in the rat trap, or the soldiers were going to get comfy. He glanced hopefully at a full flagon on the shelf behind the door.
‘That Manor house you are living in: you do know it could be yours?’
Jack thought it already was. That was the deal. He had given them seven houses – well the deeds he had found in the pie – and Lord Frederick had agreed terms. Keeping one was only fair. Did the Captain know? Did he care? He wheedled, ‘His Lordship … enjoyed the pie I took him?’ He waggled his head. ‘Not got indigestion, now I hope – Lord Frederick, I mean.’
That seemed to hit the spot. The Captain stood back, looked at his gloves and put one back on. He raised an ungloved finger very close to Jack’s nose.
Jack looked disdainfully at it, as it slowly retreated.
‘A week, Horner! Seven days. Same day next week – that’s Thursday, but morning, not late afternoon. You had the wits to look into that pie, and to bring it to his Lordship. You might not be able to read the word ‘deeds’, but you know what a Deed is.’ He stopped to ensure a reasonable tone, before continuing. He tapped the lose gauntlet on the table. ‘His Lordship appreciated you bringing him those other six…’ he looked all round and coughed ‘… but if it had been me, I would have you for spoiling the pie in the first place…’
‘What and take the pie where it was sent, eh? To one his nibs Royalist cronies, Eh? Eh? I ask you? That what Lord Fred…’
‘Calm down man. Of course not. Let’s be reasonable.’ He coughed. ‘Lord Frederick, is a fair a reasonable man and well … we don’t want that good nature being taken advantage of now, do we?’
Jack was beginning to relax.
‘You and me, Jack?’ He let the stress sink in. ‘That Manor is yours. Yes. The deeds from the … pie … are for keeps. His Lordship did indeed … if you’ll excuse the joke … enjoy the pie. He drew himself up to his full height and raised his voice, just a little, ‘but he is busy about the Parliament’s business, and you must be also.’
‘I realise what you are saying Captain, I need to deliver some of my Master’s friends, if I am to … enjoy my slice of the pie … and live in peace. Yessir.’
The Captain leaned in. ‘You pulled out a real plum, there Jack, and don’t we know it? But there is a reason why his Lordship let you keep it. Have some nice juice for me next Thursday, else I’ll leave with you just the stone. He indicated the door to the sentries and they turned out.
Jack’s mouth hung open.
The captain’s round-head helmet flashed sunlight from the street as he turned in the doorway and shouted ‘That’s a good boy.’
Jack clapped his hands, ‘Gives me the pip, that bastard’, but he cackled and pointed to the new flagon.