“With my research returned, perhaps. Let me see what I can do.”
I nodded my thanks. “First, though, I’d like to know a little more about you, William. Tell me about yourself.”
“What’s to tell? I was born in Ireland, to Catholic parents—which, I learnt early in life, severely limited my opportunities. So I converted to Protestantism and journeyed here at the behest of my uncle. But I fear my Uncle Peter was not the sharpest of tools. He sought to open trade with the Mohawk—but chose to build his settlement away from the trade routes instead of on them. I tried to reason with the man . . . But”—he sighed—“as I said, not the sharpest. So I took what little money I’d earned and bought my own plot of land. I built a home, a farm, a store and a mill. Humble beginnings—but well situated, which made all the difference.”
“So this is how you came to know the Mohawk?”
“Indeed. And it has proved a valuable relationship.”
“But you’ve heard nothing of the precursors’ site? No hidden temple or ancient constructs?”
“Yes and no. Which is to say, they have their fair share of sacred sites but none matching what you describe. Earthen mounds, forest clearings, hidden caves . . . All are natural, though. No strange metal. No . . . odd glows.”
“Hmmm. It is well hidden,” I said.
“Even to them, it seems.” He smiled. “But cheer up, my friend. You’ll have your precursor treasure. I swear it.”
I raised my glass. “To our success, then.”
I smiled. We were four now. We were a team.
10 JULY 1754
We now have our room at the Green Dragon Tavern—a base, if you like—and it was this I entered, to find Thomas, Charles and William: Thomas drinking, Charles looking perturbed and William studying his charts and maps. I greeted them, only to be rewarded with a belch from Thomas.
“Charming,” spat Charles.
I grinned. “Cheer up, Charles. He’ll grow on you,” I said, and sat next to Thomas, who gave me a grateful look.
“Any news?” I said.
He shook his head. “Whispers of things. Nothin’ solid at the moment. I know you’re lookin’ for word of anything out the ordinary . . . Dealin’ with temples and spirits and ancient times and whatnot. But . . . so far, can’t say my boys have heard much.”
“No trinkets or artefacts being moved through your . . . shadow market?”
“Nothin’ new. Couple ill-gotten weapons—some jewellery likely lifted from a living thing. But you said to listen for talk of glows and hums and look out for strange sights, right? An’ I ain’t heard nothin’ ’bout that.”
“Keep at it,” I asked.
“Oh, I will. You done me a great service, mister—and I fully intend to repay my debt—thricefold, if it pleases.”
“Thank you, Thomas.”
“Place to sleep and meal to eat is thanks enough. Don’t you worry. I’ll get you sorted soon.”
He raised his tankard, only to find it was empty, and I laughed, clapped him on the back and watched as he stood and lurched off in search of ale from elsewhere. Then I turned my attention to William, moving over to his lectern and pulling up a chair to sit down beside him. “How fares your search?”
He frowned up at me. “Maps and maths aren’t cutting it.”
Nothing is ever simple, I rued.
“What of your local contacts?” I asked him, taking a seat opposite.
Thomas had bustled back in, with a tankard of foaming ale in his fist and a red mark on his face from where he’d been very recently slapped, just in time to hear William say, “We’ll need to earn their trust before they’ll share what they know.”
“I have an idea on how we might be effectin’ that,” slurred Thomas, and we turned to look at him with varying degrees of interest, Charles in the way he usually regarded Thomas, with a look as though he’d just trodden in dog mess, William with bemusement, and me with a genuine interest. Thomas, drunk or sober, was a sharper customer than either Charles or William gave him credit for. He went on now: “There’s a man who was taken to enslavin’ natives. Rescue ’em and they’ll owe us.”
Natives, I thought. The Mohawk. Now there was an idea. “Do you know where they’re being held?”
He shook his head. But Charles was leaning forward. “Benjamin Church will. He’s a finder and a fixer—he’s also on your list.”
I smiled at him. Good work. I thought. “And there I was, wondering who we might solicit next.”
Benjamin Church was a doctor, and we found his house easily enough. When there was no answer at his door, Charles wasted no time kicking it down, and we hurried in, only to find that the place had been ransacked. Not only had furniture been upturned and documents spread all over the floor, disrupted during a messy search, but there were also traces of blood on the floor.
We looked at one another. “It seems we’re not the only ones looking for Dr. Church,” I said, with my sword drawn.
“Damn it!” exploded Charles. “He could be anywhere. What do we do?”
I pointed to a portrait of the good doctor hanging over the mantelpiece. It showed a man in his early twenties, who nonetheless had a distinguished look. “We find him. Come, I’ll show you how.”
And I began telling Charles about the art of surveillance, of blending into your surroundings, disappearing, noticing routines and habits, studying movement around and adapting to it, becoming at one with the environment, becoming part of the scenery.
I realized how much I was enjoying my new role as tutor. As a boy I’d been taught by my father, and then Reginald, and I had always looked forward to my sessions with them—always relished the passing on and imparting of new knowledge—forbidden knowledge, the sort you couldn’t find in books.
Teaching it to Charles, I wondered if my father and Reginald had felt the way I did now: serene, wise and worldly. I showed him how to ask questions, how to eavesdrop, how to move around the city like a ghost, gathering and processing information. And after that we parted, carried out our investigations individually, then an hour or so later came back together, faces grim.
What we had learnt was that Benjamin Church had been seen in the company of other men—three or four of them—who had been bearing him away from his house. Some of the witnesses had assumed Benjamin was drunk; others had noticed how bruised and bloodied he had been. One man who went to his aid had received a knife in his guts as thanks. Wherever they were going, it was clear that Benjamin was in trouble, but where were they going? The answer came from a herald, who stood shouting out the day’s news.