1635: A Parcel of Rogues – Snippet 13

Tully busied himself with a tricky bit of apple peel for a moment. “Sure, and I think I would, at that. I’m none of the best of fathers, but there’d be a reckoning if someone hurt my little ones. And God love them, they think the world of me and they’d be sad to see me put away in some castle somewhere, I’d want to let them know Daddy’d got out. I’m after thinking you’re right, so. Do we know where his children are?”

“Ely, but that was year before last, when he got caught. They weren’t taken, but what happened after that the king’s men didn’t bother their arses over. We’ll have to find out, I think. If it’s Cromwell.” Finnegan picked up the tankard — the innkeeper had given him the good pewter, as fit the chief man of his day’s customers “And I don’t know why he’d have headed out on the road to Chelmsford, nor do I. Wrong direction altogether.”

“A conundrum and a mystery, so it is,” Tully said. “Unless it’s as simple as this was where the wagon they wanted was left and it was the Chelmsford road or back to London and capture.”

“Well, when we know more, we’ll know how simple it is or isn’t. For now, I’ve the sun on me, the wind in my toes, and beer to drink. I’ll take the simple pleasures when I can, Tully, and so should you.”

“I’ll keep to taking them from upwind of the feet of you, Finnegan, whatever else may befall.”

“As you please, Tully. Now unless Mulligan comes riding in with great news enough to not mind his sore arse, see O’Hare gets his drink and leave me be.” Finnegan reclined against the wall and let his hat tilt forward to shade his eyes.

He’d spent the days before mostly sat in a public house in Southwark while his boyos went up and down in the world of London’s docks. They’d found plenty, just by being cheerfully ignorant paddies and micks, chatting to people, buying drinks and keeping their ears open. Most Londoners assumed that because they’d been born in the big city, and it certainly was that and smelt like it, they were three times the men and ten times the scholars that anyone from the rest of England could be, and double that for Irishmen, who were well known to all be illiterate thieving vagabond papists. To be fair, that was about two-thirds of Finnegan’s men to the life, but that didn’t mean stupid, it didn’t mean deaf, and didn’t mean not reporting to someone who was smart and well educated and thinking ferociously about how he’d do what had been done that morning. The facts that came to light were simple enough. There’d been shots, explosions within the tower and on the wall, and an explosion on London bridge. Two boats had been seen heading downriver and around the bend past Rotherhithe. After that, picking out the right boats from the general river traffic was impossible, and only a few had watched the boats all the way out of sight. Nobody around the bend in Rotherhithe had paid enough attention to pick one or two boats out of dozens.

A look at the site of the explosion on London Bridge showed that a lot of smoke and noise had happened, but no real damage. On the one hand, it was a bomb to discourage pursuit south of the river. On the other hand, did it make sense that people clever enough to put everything else together would make a bollocks of such a vital part of the escape? Lots of possibilities. Two escaping parties, one in the boats and one not, the land party’s diversion having failed. Or, two escape routes prepared, and they all went in the boats so the bomb on the bridge had its fuse burn down to cover nothing. Or, the bomb on the bridge was the purest of misdirections, a wild gesture at an escape to the south to get the hounds running that way. The earl had sent men away on all the roads to the south, he had enough to cover everything. Finnegan’s job was to get ahead of the quarry and wait — it was a poor hunter who just chased, after all. All of those king’s men, riding the roads into dusty exhaustion, were as far as Finnegan cared just beaters.

What decided the matter was collecting enough accounts from enough people. Nobody had really paid full attention to all of it — quite a lot of London Bridge was busy enough that people really hadn’t noticed a bomb going off four hundred yards away, or at least not enough to realise that it was important at the time. But, adding half-story to half-story, Finnegan had pieced together that whoever had placed the charge on the bridge had done it to go off barely a few minutes after the one on the outside of the tower. If it had been intended to stop pursuit after they went past, it had gone off too early and too weak. And nobody had seen any large movement of people between the Tower and the bridge at the right time. It was nearly a quarter mile; someone should have seen something if there’d been a flight that way.

And, indeed, nobody had seen anyone leave the tower other than by boat by any other route, either. If they had, they’d done it without leaving a trace that could be followed, and Finnegan had reported as much to the earl as soon as he was sure in his own mind, sending a runner with a brief in hand. He had got men far enough down the south bank to have it clear that at some point two boats had indeed become one, and that one had gone all the way down to Chatham and taken ship there. Said ship being one of the USE’s steam-ships that Finnegan didn’t remotely understand, despite the best efforts of a sailor with a beer in him to explain. Big ship, very powerful. Enough understanding for Finnegan’s purposes. So, the escapers had got some or all of themselves away over the water. The “some” was the important bit, and Finnegan felt His Earlship would want an answer on the point. So, nothing landed on the south bank as far as he could find by sending eyes and ears as much as ten miles down, perhaps four as the crow flew, what with the river being so bendy.

And this was why he’d spent the day at an inn table, enjoying the fine air and good ale while he read the documents the earl had given him. Wentworth would be one candidate to stay, looking to get to his political base in Yorkshire. The Mackays — and some of the shooting said Baroness Mackay had come down from Scotland — would be another, since the king’s agents knew that she’d been in Edinburgh visiting the in-laws. If she’d left, word hadn’t come down yet and reached the Earl of Cork’s spymaster, but it wouldn’t be the first time spies delivered the necessary news late or not at all.