The Green Dragon was a large brick building with a sloping pitch roof and a sign over the front door that bore the eponymous dragon. According to Charles, it was the most celebrated coffee-house in the city, where everybody from patriots to redcoats and governors would meet to chat, to plot, to gossip and trade. Anything that happened in Boston, the chances were it originated here, on Union Street.
Not that Union Street itself was at all prepossessing. Little more than a river of mud, it slowed our pace as we approached the tavern, being sure not to splash any of the groups of gentlemen who stood outside, leaning on canes and chattering intently. Avoiding carts and giving curt nods to soldiers on horseback, we reached a low, wooden stables building where we left our horses, then made our way carefully across the streams of muck to the tavern. Inside, we immediately became acquainted with the owners: Catherine Kerr, who was (without wishing to be ungentlemanly), a little on the large side; and Cornelius Douglass, whose first words I heard upon entering were, “Kiss my arse, ya wench!”
Fortunately, he wasn’t talking either to me or to Charles, but to Catherine. When the two of them saw us, their demeanours instantly changed from warlike to servile and they saw to it that my bags were taken up to my room.
Charles was right: William Johnson was already there, and in a room upstairs we were introduced. An older man, similarly attired to Charles but with a certain weariness to him, an experience that was etched into the lines on his face, he stood from studying maps to shake my hand. “A pleasure,” he said, and then, as Charles left to stand guard, leaned forward and said to me, “A good lad, if a bit earnest.”
I kept any feelings I had on Charles to myself, indicating with my eyes that he should continue.
“I’m told you’re putting together an expedition,” he said.
“We believe there is a precursor site in the region,” I said, choosing my words carefully, then adding, “I require your knowledge of the land and its people to find it.”
He pulled a face. “Sadly, a chest containing my research has been stolen. Without it, I’m of no use to you.”
I knew from experience that nothing was ever easy. “Then we’ll find it.” I sighed. “Have you any leads?”
“My associate, Thomas Hickey, has been making the rounds. He’s quite good at loosening tongues.”
“Tell me where I can find him and I’ll see about speeding things along.”
“We’ve heard rumours of bandits operating from a compound south-west of here,” said William. “You’ll likely find him there.”
Outside the city, corn in a field waved in a light night-time breeze. Not far away was the high fencing of a compound that belonged to the bandits, and from inside came the sound of raucous festivities. Why not? I thought. Every day you’ve avoided death by the hangman’s noose or on the end of a redcoat’s bayonet is a cause for celebration when you lived life as a bandit.
At the gates there were various guards and hangers-on milling around, some of them drinking, some attempting to stand guard, and all of them in a constant state of argument. To the left of the compound, the cornfield rose to a small hill peak and on it sat a lookout tending to a small fire. Sitting tending a fire isn’t quite the desired position for a lookout, but, otherwise, he was one of the few on this side of the compound who seemed to be taking his job seriously. Certainly, they’d failed to post any scouting parties. Or if they had, then the scouting parties were lounging under a tree somewhere, blind drunk, because there was nobody to see Charles and me as we crept closer, approaching a man, who was crouching by a crumbling stone wall, keeping watch on the compound.
It was him: Thomas Hickey. A round-faced man, a little shabby, and probably too fond of the grog himself, if my guess was correct. This was the man who, according to William, was good at loosening tongues? He looked like he’d have problems loosening his own drawers.
Perhaps, arrogantly, my distaste of him was fed by the fact that he was the first contact I’d met since arriving in Boston to whom my name meant nothing. But, if that annoyed me, it was nothing compared to the effect it had on Charles, who drew his sword.
“Show some respect, boy,” he snarled.
I laid a restraining hand on him. “Peace, Charles,” I said, then addressed Thomas: “William Johnson sent us in the hopes we might . . . expedite your search.”
“Don’t need no expediting,” drawled Thomas. “Don’t need none of your fancy London-speak, neither. I’ve found the men done the theft.”
Beside me, Charles bristled. “Then why are you just lazing around?”
“Figurin’ out how to deal with those varlets,” said Thomas, indicated the compound then turned to us with expectant eyes and an impudent grin.
I sighed. Time to go to work. “Right, I’ll kill the lookout and take a position behind the guards. You two approach from the front. When I open fire on a group, you charge in. We’ll have the element of surprise on our side. Half will fall before they’ve even realized what’s happening.”
I took my musket, left my two comrades and crept to the edge of the cornfield, where I crouched and took aim at the lookout. He was warming his hands with his rifle between his legs, and probably wouldn’t have seen or heard me if I’d approached riding a camel. It felt almost cowardly to squeeze the trigger, but squeeze it I did.
I cursed as he pitched forward, sending up a shower of sparks. He’d start to burn soon, and if nothing else the smell was going to alert his compatriots. Hurrying now, I returned to Charles and Thomas, who drew closer to the bandit compound while I took up position not far away, pushed my rifle butt into my shoulder and squinted along with sights at one of the bandits, who stood—though “swayed” might have been more accurate—just outside the gates. As I watched he began to move towards the cornfield, perhaps to relieve the sentry I’d already shot, who even now was roasting on his own fire. I waited until he was at the edge of the cornfield, pausing as there was a sudden lull in the merriment from inside the compound, and then, as a roar went up, squeezing the trigger.
He dropped to his knees then keeled over to one side, part of his skull missing, and my gaze went straight to the compound entrance to see if the shot had been heard.
No, was the answer. Instead the rabble at the gate had turned their attention on Charles and Thomas, drawn their swords and pistols and began to shout at them: “Clear off!”