I received an anonymous telegram this morning. The cryptic messaging could only have come from him, in a futile attempt to be clever and evade authority.
Carlyle STOP I was truant to our rendezvous STOP Plan has changed STOP Staying at our place STOP Do not think me dead STOP
I had been certain he’d botched the job and gotten himself killed in the process. I’d pulled him out of close calls, away from deals gone bad, and out of the clutches of debt collectors a few too many times to ever assume anything he did had worked out as planned. I’m not sure why I thought this job would be any different. My brother is about as trustworthy as a street urchin when your back is turned, but he is still my brother.
I made my way to the Stonewall Tavern in Oxfordshire, hoping to finally catch up to him and get the full story. The dingy little cottage-turned-inn hadn’t changed much in the years I’d been in America. A bit more moss on the crumbling stone walls, a mess of ivy climbing the rotting wooden window sills, but the same old Stonewall I’d loved in my youth. Even the old sign was still intact, hanging lazily from two ornamented wrought iron hooks above the door.
The building was familiar, but the staff and patrons were not. My cos had told me of a feud gone bad several years after I boarded a ship to the new lands, in which the former owners had been murdered in their sleep over a few missing sheep worth less than a half crown. The new owners hadn’t done much with the decor; the inside of the tavern reeked of moldy ale and burnt lamb stew.
The barkeep eyed me suspiciously, keeping half his gaze on the short dagger I keep on my hip. I’d been a pariah in Mary-land for wearing the blade out in public, but I did not feel safe without it. Someone in my line of work is wise to keep his knife as sharp as his tongue. I often felt I was out of place in this newly emerging world. Long gone were the days of cloaks and blades, replaced by pea coats and gunpowder.
I ordered the tavern’s signature ale, and waited. Mortimer was not in the common area, but I expected as much. He wasn’t the brightest fellow, but he had a knack for hiding. Being craven gave him a certain longevity, all the result of his uncanny ability to disappear in plain sight. I quaffed the heavy golden liquid, letting the alcohol settle my thoughts and send my mind swimming languidly into a mildly drunken stupor.
Several men behind me were arguing about the state of affairs in the Americas, debating how things had changed in the wake of Thomas Jefferson’s death some twenty years prior. I could tell from their threadbare clothes and crude guttural speech these were an uneducated bunch, speaking of things they didn’t know and had never seen. I was certain that these men could not even read the most basic of writing, so their mindless argument was built of the worst kind of backwoods rumor mongering and poisoned truth.
As I finished my second pint, I noticed a commotion outside the tavern. The dim light inside made it impossible to make out many details through the ancient glass windows, but I could see a group of men and horses, some with lanterns, others with rifles. The tallest of them was barking orders.
I knew they were here for Mortimer. The peasants broke their conversation and made for the back door. As they scurried out of harm’s way, I could hear other men shouting as they surrounded the building. I slipped up next to the front door, pressing my back against the wall to hide my frame.
They may have known Mortimer was inside, but there were two things they wouldn’t be prepared for: me and my knife.
I’d made a living out of killing. There would be blood tonight. And it wouldn’t be mine, or Mortimer’s.