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Chapter 10

“Maleït sigui!” cursed Chimo the Catalan. “I left my loaf in the privy!” He moved hastily toward the door.

Gasquet’s lieutenant, Donat Faur, wasn’t sure he had heard correctly. “You took your breakfast to the shitter?” Chimo shrugged. “Really?” Donat was not squeamish, but imagining that made him feel queasy for a second.

“I was hungry.” Chimo sounded both defiant and abashed. “I still am.”

“Get it. Quickly. You’re supposed to be guarding the door.”

“Okay, okay,” Chimo called as he started down the stairs. “It’s just out back. Not like anyone can come in the building and get up the stairs without me seeing.”

“Just hurry up!” Donat shook his head. “Manel?”

The quieter of the two Catalans looked up. “You want me to watch the door until he comes back?”


“I was cleaning a gun in the workspace.” He glanced toward the small, draped-off area to which they had moved all their weapons and the work table that shielded them from the roof’s many leaks. Manel waited for a reply, wearing his typical hangdog look.

Christ in a whorehouse, are they all dullards? “Well, then go get it and bring it out here. Just be ready to hide it if someone comes.”

Manel nodded, rose, and disappeared behind the drapes. “No one ever comes,” he added softly.

Donat rolled his eyes, went into the small, curtained area that was Gasquet’s room and office, the only place in the attic with a window that provided enough daylight to read comfortably. Only he and Gasquet had learned their letters, and Donat tried to improve his by reading over the messages their handler left in a window box languishing in the perpetual gloom behind L’Anguille Vernie.

Beyond the workspace drapery, Donat heard a thump and a sound like a small cascade of marbles. Now what? “Manel, what the devil did you—?”

“The balls for the pistols. I knocked them over.”

“Well, leave them be. Watch the door.” Donat muttered, after which he devoted himself fully to deciphering the tightly packed script with which their handler had covered a small sheet of paper.

* * *

Baudet Lamy retreated backward toward the door of the largest ground floor apartment. Although a landlord of some means, he was careful not to antagonize his better tenants, and the widow Coton was one such. Her lawyer husband dead (probably slain by the barbed darts launched by her tongue) and her only child carried off by fever some years later, she was alone in the world and as miserly a soul as had ever wanted redemption. And if her current indignant temper was any measure, her soul wanted redemption more than most.

“I do not know what they are doing up there!” she hissed so loudly that Baudet wondered why she did not just shout it. “But they are moving heavy objects and up at all hours! And constantly coming and going, keeping no schedule appropriate to tradesmen.”

Baudet raised his hands in an attempt at humble placation. “They may not be fully settled in their livelihood, Madame Coton. Indeed, they may not be tradesmen at all, but common laborers, attracted by the new businesses that the pope’s visit has spawned. They may be stockmen, working at all hours, according to the needs or whims of their employers.”

The widow Coton drew up to her full, desiccated height and tried to stare down her nose at him, although being half a foot shorter. “That is not my concern. Their hours are irregular, their habits repulsive, and their use of the latrine vile. I am not even sure they avail themselves of chamber pots, so often can they be found inconveniencing the rest of us by occupying the privy for extended periods. It is probably a result of their irregular hours and constant shuffling and banging: it would put any normal person off their digestion, of that I am quite certain.”

I can think of another tenant’s behavior far more likely to curdle the contents of my stomach, you old prune. “Madame, I shall go upstairs and inquire as to their habits and if they might show more consideration to their fellow tenants.”

Widow Coton’s expression became sly. “You do that, Monsieur Lamy, and while you’re at it, you might count just how many tenants there are in that apartment.”

Lamy forgot about Madame Coton’s vinegary personality and expression. “You mean—their number has increased since they occupied their rooms?”

Madame Coton shrugged histrionically. “I am an old woman, with failing eyes. But I have seen new faces coming and going. Just yesterday, in fact. I would not be surprised if their numbers have increased in the past two weeks.”

Baudet Lamy straightened. Now, this was serious. “I thank you, Madame Lamy. I shall attend to the matter at once.”

Her smile was a horrible thing to see. “I am sure you will.” Her voice was a reedy, cynical coo.

Lamy opened the door to the hall, hearing the rear door to the privy close as he stepped out.

“There goes one of them now,” Madame Coton hissed archly. “Did you not hear him come down the stairs?”

Ears like a bat and a face like a rat; no wonder Monsieur Coton had died an early death. “I did not. I was entirely focused on your concerns. Which I shall now address.” He closed the door with a bow and walked briskly toward the stairs. If her observations were accurate, it was time to set things right, both in terms of the behavior and the rent he had a right to expect from the occupants of the attic.

However, he reflected as he began to climb the stairs, they were all ready and rugged men. It would not do to antagonize them. But after all, there was no need of that. Rooms were at a premium in le Boucle. If they refused to comply with his terms, he could simply shrug and point out that the town council had empowered select men of the watch and militia to intervene in the case of squatters. And then he would leave and let them stew in their own juices.

Winded at the top of the stairs, Lamy raised his hand to knock…but discovered the door ajar. While not in any way illegal—it was a tenant’s right to tempt burglars, if he was willing to pay for the losses—an open door was undignified and created an appearance of carelessness, of disregard for safety and propriety. Well, perhaps a little surprise was in order to startle the occupants back into something like an awareness of civilized decorum—

Lamy pushed open the door enough so that it banged back against the wall.

“Monsieur Gasquet? You are present?”

The attic was so dark that Lamy could not be sure if the cheap bedframes were occupied or not. But it was not Gasquet’s voice that answered him from behind a screened off area which allowed little of the main dormer’s light to enter the room. “No, Monsieur Lamy. It is Donat Faur.” The man sounded surprised. “I am coming.”

On the other side of the room, a silhouette slowly rose from one of the beds.

“Please do and quickly,” Lamy replied, noting another draped area, smaller, off to the right. “I am told that you have had many visitors recently. Perhaps some family who has come to stay with you? If that is the case, they are more than welcome, but we must also increase your rent. There is also the matter of noise and late activity that has disturbed some of your—”

Sudden movement rustled the drapes of the screened area on the right. The cloth panel closest to Lamy opened, revealing a small dark man he had seen only once before, cradling a wheel-lock pistol. There were several more on the table behind him. As well as swords, daggers, even what looked like some kind of small petard. What on Earth—?

Donat Faur emerged from the larger screened area at the back of the room, his gaze shooting quickly from the man with the gun to Lamy. He raised his hands slowly. “Monsieur Lamy, I see we will have to take you into our confidence. We are undisclosed agents of the pope’s, here to watch for threats to his life which might arise among the criminal elements—”

Feet pounded on the stairs behind Lamy, who finally recovered enough from his surprise to be terrified, cold sweat starting out all over his body. As he turned to face the stairs, he was trying to keep from stammering. “Y-yes, of c-course, Monsieur Faur. I am sorry to have incon-convenienced you and your—your men.”

The smallest of the tenants—a little Catalan who, from prior encounters, seemed closer in wit to an idiot than an intelligencer—bounded to the top of the stairs. He frowned, reached behind his back as he glanced over Lamy’s shoulder, in the direction of the man with the gun. His eyes widened slightly. His hand reappeared, clutching a slightly curved dagger.

“No, no!” Faur was almost shouting from behind. From which direction, stealthy footfalls were approaching.

“No?” said the dagger-wielding fellow in surprise. “You mean, he’s going to help us kill the pope, too?”

Shock—at the audacity of that statement—vaporized Lamy’s fear, but only for a moment. Because, he realized, the little Catalan had just uttered his death sentence.

Even before the next wave of cold sweat could start from Baudet Lamy’s pores, he was dead on his feet.

* * *

Donat Faur watched the inevitable transpire with a time-slowed exactitude that, until this moment, he had only experienced during combat.

The moment Chimo uttered the words, “kill the pope,” Brenguier, who had risen from the bed to close in softly behind Lamy, leaped forward, a thin dagger thrust out like a comically short rapier. The couteaux-breche, usually used for slipping between links of mail or through joints in armor, disappeared into the thick folds of flesh where the landlord’s head sat upon his neck: Lamy went limp.

Brenguier had to leave the blade in place in order to get his arms around the stout man’s body, to keep it from crashing to the floor. But while he was still swinging wide his arms to make that catch, Chimo rushed in, slashing a quick figure eight with his knife, his face contorted in what looked like an orgasm of savage ferocity.

The last “no” died in Faur’s suddenly dust-dry throat. He put his hand to his head as Brenguier caught the almost eviscerated man, staring contempt at Chimo. “Idiot,” Brenquier snarled at the little Catalan.

“Idiot? Why?”

Brenguier huffed out a laugh that was anything but amused. “The idiot wants to know why he’s an idiot. Mon Dieu, where do I start?”

Chimo’s face began contorting back into a mask of animal fury. “Hey—” he began.

“Enough,” Faur snapped. Prior experience took over and had him uttering orders almost as he conceived of them. “Manel, go get Peyre from his watch point at the head of the street. Close the door behind you and lock it. No, fool; put that damned gun away first! Brenguier, hold Lamy up, but at an angle—yes, leaned back like that. Chimo, pull down those drapes, get them under the body. And yes, Chimo, you are an idiot.”

They worked quietly, getting Lamy’s corpse on the ground, and then getting a small chest under his back; the dead man looked like he was being broken on the wheel by the time they were done.

Chimo, blood spattered on the front of his shirt and coating his arms all the way up to his elbows, sat back and stared. “Why do you have him bent that way?” Peyre came in with Manel, stared at the aftermath, shook his head, and headed toward the bucket they used to fetch water.

Donat sighed. “To keep as much of the blood from collecting near the damn trenches you cut into his chest. We don’t want him to bleed out here.”

Chimo shrugged. “Yeah, well…it’s already a mess.”

Donat leaned forward, hand on his own dagger. “And we don’t need it any messier, you fool. Besides, we’re going to have to plant his body somewhere else, and when we do, it would help for him to have a little blood left in him.” Faur saw the puzzled scowl growing on Chimo’s face and cut off the question before he had a chance to form it. “Wherever we put him, it’s got to look like he was attacked—and died—there. That means blood—lots of blood, considering how you carved him up.”

“Yeah, well—how was I to know that Brenguier had already snuffed him?”

“By taking half a second to look and think before slashing, you idiot,” Brenquier muttered. “The man was already folding over when you started.”

“Yeah, well—that’s my job, you know?”

No one said anything. What, after all, could they say? Other than the obvious: that Chimo truly was an idiot. And that several of them were seriously considering the possibility of dumping two corpses, rather than one. Not out of anger—although that would have been sufficient—but out of self-preservation: given time, Chimo might do something equally stupid. And they might not be able to control the consequences that next time. Assuming they all survived the aftermath of this event.

Peyre, watching the street, said, “Gasquet and Huc are back. I’ll open the door, let them in, head down to get some water.”

“While you’re at it, steal some bedsheets, if any are out drying along the way.”

Peyre nodded, unlocked the door and began descending the stairs just as Donat heard Gasquet starting up. Sounds of downward progress met upward progress: both stopped. Silence, then a few fierce whispers, one muffled curse, and the downward progress resumed. Two seconds later, so did the ascending footfalls.

Gasquet slipped into the room, looked around, and looked away as his expression darkened.

Chimo carefully studied the dirt under his fingernails.

Gasquet gave a quiet order to Huc, who locked the door, stood ready beside it and drew his knife.

Gasquet walked over, looked at the body, at the blood on the drapes and floorboards.

Donat looked at him squarely. “Did Peyre tell you what happened?”

“He told me he wasn’t here, but it’s not hard to figure out. What I want to know is why.”

Donat shook his head. “People weren’t doing their jobs. The person who should have been guarding the door left it open when he went to the privy, and the person who was assigned as his relief didn’t stand his post right away. He was too was busy picking up pistol balls, it seems.”

Chimo and Manel looked like they might fold into themselves and disappear. At least, it looked like that was their intent.

“And you?” Gasquet asked, staring at Faur.

“Reading the most recent messages. Memorizing them.” Which was partially a lie; Donat read them simply to practice his reading. But in doing so, he usually wound up memorizing them, too.

Gasquet looked away. “You’re my lieutenant. You’ve got to keep an eye on things. Personally. Until everyone is where they belong and doing what they’re supposed to be doing. That’s your job.”

Brenguier shifted uncomfortably.

Gasquet’s eyes snapped over to stare at him. “You have something to say?”

“Yes, I do. Donat just about had the situation in hand when the little idiot got knife-happy. Again.”

Chimo darkened. “Listen, you Occitan dog, I should—”

“Shut up,” Gasquet whispered. “All of you. If Donat had done his job more carefully, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Faur felt his brow and ears grow hot; if Gasquet was going to blame him—

But Gasquet was already moving on. “Neither I nor Donat have the time to make sure you follow every little order. And if you can’t follow simple orders, then I need you to tell me: why should I keep you? What good are you? Because it’s plain to see how much trouble you are.” He stared at Manel then shifted his eyes over to Chimo. His eyes became even harder. After two seconds of silence, he muttered, “I’m waiting. I asked a simple question and I want a simple answer: Why should I keep you?”

Manel cleared his throat. “Because I won’t make that mistake again. I got distracted. By guns. And then I dropped all the bullets. Next time, I’ll put the guns aside. Right away.”

Gasquet leaned down toward the small, dark man. “You put aside anything and everything when you’re ordered to. And you never, ever, get distracted. That could get all of us killed. What you did today might still do that. But I promise you this, Manel: you do it again, and it will get you killed, for sure. By my hand. Do you understand?”

He didn’t wait for a reply; he turned toward Chimo. “So what about you, Chimo? No answer? Because if I don’t get one in the next five seconds, you’re going to the same place we’re taking him later tonight.” Gasquet gestured toward Lamy’s corpse.

Chimo’s answer came out as an angry, confused whine. “But I—I didn’t do anything wrong! Yeah, I left the door open: I won’t do that again. I promise—”

—which elicited eye-rolling from several of the group; even among thieves and cutthroats, Chimo’s inability to remember, let alone keep, a promise was marked—

“—but Gasquet, you hired me to kill. And I did. Is it my fault Lamy was already dead?”

There was an uncomfortable silence in the room of hardened criminals. If Chimo couldn’t see, or wouldn’t admit to, his actual failures, then the next minute might be his last.

Gasquet looked away, closed his eyes. Donat knew he was deciding. Without opening his eyes, he asked, “Were you ordered to draw your knife?”

“N-no. I’m sorry about that. But I thought—”

“Don’t think, Chimo. That’s your problem, because you don’t do it well. As a matter of fact, you do it so poorly that, if you’re going to continue to work with us—”

Translation: “if we decide to let you live”

“—then you have to stop thinking. You just wait for orders. And you obey them. That’s it. Understand?”

“Yes, but I—”

“Chimo.” Gasquet opened eyes that were devoid of all emotion or expression. “Do you understand?”

He swallowed. “Yes, Gasquet. I understand.”

“Good. Now, get the water and a brush. And the last of our soap. Scrub this floor clean.”

Chimo looked around. “Just me?”

Gasquet turned back to stare at him. “Yes. Just you. You made the mess; you clean it up. Besides, it’s the kind of job you can be trusted with.”

Chimo’s eyes widened, as did his nostrils, but he got up and fetched the bucket and brush.

Gasquet glanced around at the others. “The rest of you: start packing everything up. We’re going to have to find new rooms.”

“New rooms?” Peyre repeated. “How? There aren’t any left in the Buckle, or even—”

Gasquet shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. We can’t stay here. We’ve got to find a place and move. So we need to be packed and ready.” He motioned for Donat to step behind the dropcloth that marked his private sleeping space.

Once there, he asked a string of practical questions: how much noise had been made? Exactly how long between the time Lamy entered and he was killed? Did he say why he had dropped by on them? Had he said anything suspicious? Acted oddly? Tried to stall for time? Seemed like he wasn’t surprised when he was threatened?

When Gasquet had heard all Donat’s answers, he nodded, rubbed his chin. “Sounds like it was just dumb luck. And all because Chimo left the door open. The idiot.”

Donat looked sideways at him. “You really mean to keep him, or are you just reassuring him until we can dispose of him more—quietly.”

Gasquet shrugged. “The thought did cross my mind, but no, we can’t afford the possible exposure or the loss in manpower. As it is, there aren’t a lot of us to carry out this plan. And any body that turns up in this city this week is going to be investigated. By up-timers, possibly, or at least with their help. So, for now, we keep Chimo on a leash until we can let him off it to kill the pope.”

“And after that?”

Gasquet let a lopsided grin creep on to his face. “Then it will be time to get rid of our rabid dog. We might have to run pretty quickly and silently once we’re done, and Chimo isn’t clever enough to do either without being led by the hand.”

Donat nodded. “We heard the noise up by the cathedral. Did everything go as planned?”

“Yes. Better. Von Meggen had a leading role in defeating the ‘assassins.’ Took one down with a pretty fair crossbow shot.”

“So Eischoll wasn’t lying about his marksmanship.”

“Apparently not.”

“Any evidence that the pope’s officers find it suspicious that all five of the assassins were killed?”

Gasquet grimaced. “Not as though Sanchez sends me his intelligence reports. But I don’t see why they would be suspicious. The four in the square were torn apart by the Swiss and the crowds. And the one on the Ponte Noire fell to the street when von Meggen shot him, and Eischoll was first on the scene. With his knife. Understandable enthusiasm in protecting the person of the pope. And the crowd followed his example.”

“So no suspicion that it was staged? Not even any investigation into how the crossbowman got atop the Pont Noire?”

“Why would there be? The ladder was still there, on the ground. I just had Huc tip it over.” Gasquet smiled. “You should have seen that crossbowman when he saw that the ladder had fallen: stopped like he’d run into a wall. But as far as Sanchez and his minions are concerned, it was just a lucky mishap that prevented him from making good his escape.”

“And now?”

Gasquet sighed. “And now we clean up the real mess that Chimo made.”

“You mean, planting the body?”


“Are you sure we wouldn’t be better off hiding it?”

“Sure we’d be better off, but where? We’d have to be certain it wouldn’t be discovered for a week, maybe more. Because if Urban’s people find a carefully hidden body, they will treat it as a probably significant murder, something that was meant to be kept from their attention. At that point, it’s only a matter of time before they check all three of Lamy’s properties and interview all the tenants and examine all the rooms.”

Donat nodded. “At which point, even if we left, they’ll discover that this attic was abandoned about the time the murder might have occurred. Then they’ll get descriptions of us and our accents. It might take them a few days but they’d find us.”

Gasquet nodded back. “Right. Whereas if we plant the body in an alley, make it look like Lamy was drunk, got killed for his purse, they’ve got a much less suspicious crime. Murders aren’t that frequent, but right now the Buckle is packed with strangers. And where the streets are full of strangers, there’s easy picking for thieves. If Lamy got unlucky or fought back,”—he shrugged—“well, there’s your crime. Anonymous and routine.”

Donat frowned. “How long do we have, do you think?”

“Before he’s missed? Well, his family will be worried tonight, unless they’re a hateful bunch. But they won’t be able to get an official search started until sometime tomorrow. So if we plant the body tonight, we should be fine. The real uncertainty is how quickly we’ll be able to relocate.”

Donat cocked an eyebrow higher. “If you’re sure that they’ll accept his murder as a common crime, then why relocate at all? What do we have to fear?”

Gasquet shrugged. “What if they decide that maybe Lamy’s murderer wasn’t just any ordinary thief, but someone he had dealings with? If they put that kind of effort into investigating his death, they could wind up coming here, to interview us.”

Donat rolled his eyes. “Yes. That wouldn’t go well.”

“Right. So, come on; we have to figure out where to plant the body.”

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