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The King of Shreds and Patches Session One Part 1 - Suicide and Strangeness

Max_Writer

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Sunday, May 22, 2016

 

(After playing the Call of Cthulhu scenario “The King of Shreds and Patches†by Justin Hynes from Strange Aeons today from 1:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Kyle Matheson, Katie Gallant, James Brown, Ashton LeBlanc, and Collin Townsend.)

 

It all began with Vincent Hawksworth. He was the one who brought them all together.

 

Hawksworth had been an actor at the Globe Theater when it was first moved to Southwark in 1599, a young lad with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men who often played the women’s roles. He was 15 years old when The Pirates of Candle Cove had been produced at the Globe in the summer of 1600 and the experience affected him profoundly. He had taken it upon himself to write a play about the terrible occurrence. Entitled Lost in a Sea of Words, it had been produced in the Summer of 1601 but failed miserably.

 

Hawksworth was still not completely in his right mind after what happened in 1600 and had gone into a great amount of detail in his play, describing everything. He left out any comedy or combat, which the common folk preferred in their plays, and focused on the terrible things that had happened the year prior. The common folk didn’t get it or understand it and it went over many peoples’ heads.

 

In shame, Hawksworth quit the theater altogether but, determined to protect London and the world from threats such as The Pirates of Candle Cove, he soon after found work as one of the Queen’s Men. This group of censors examined plays either after they were produced or, ideally, before, in search of seditious writing against the Queen, country, or the Anglican church. He threw himself into his new work with a gusto and made no small number of enemies, especially among playwrights.

 

Some actors still respected Hawksworth as the prodigy that he was, especially those members of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and his friends from when he worked at the Globe. Alfred Kent, especially, continued to encourage Hawksworth to return to the stage.

 

Hawksworth was 17 years old and clean-shaven. He was of average height and looked younger than his 17 years. He wore fine clothing as his work with the Queen’s Men paid well. He generally wore a typical man’s suit of doublet, jerkin, and hose. His ruff was very simple as he did not care for the large ruffs worn by many. He also wore a French-style cloak, which was long with a short mantel over it. He lived in a small townhouse in the city.

 

It all started with him.

 

* * *

 

It was the winter of 1603, by the European dating system. England’s new year technically began in March as the crown did not strictly follow the Gregorian Calendar in that respect. For the sake of the reader and our story, we shall use the European dating system.

 

London was in the grip of a cold winter, the air crisp with a heavy frost that was slow to thaw. Rumors abounded that the plague was once more aboard in the city and the wealthier residents were already making preparations to leave. Numerous houses in the city had already been boarded up, sealing plague victims in. The populace was again taking the usual precautions such as the slaughtering of stray dogs, the wearing of even stronger perfumes than usual, the application of arsenic under the armpits, and even going so far as to keep clean houses, a task irregularly performed at the best of times. The Pest House built in London after the last major outbreak in 1593, the memory of which was still fresh in many people’s minds, was beginning to fill up and deaths were on the increase.

 

Rumors also persisted that Queen Elizabeth was unwell and quite possibly would die before the spring thaw. It was a depressing time to be about in the city. Residents were wary even of fellow Londoners and foreigners in particular were suspected of being plague carriers.

 

It was on Tuesday, January 4, that Hawksworth received a message from John Croft, an actor and playwright. The two had met when Hawksworth had acted in Croft’s only performed play, Neoptolemus. Hawksworth had heard Croft had returned from Heidelberg but had not seen him since.

 

The letter read as thus:

 


January 4th,

 

Dear Friend. My sojourn in parts foreign is at an ende. I am at lodgings in Southwark
not far from the bridge at Stoney Street, come sup with me two days hence to ring in this
newe year. Bring guests of your own choosing as I have not enjoyed amiable English
companie for some long time and it would be refreshing to hear my mother tongue used
in its proper manner once again.

 

Your friend,
John Croft

 


In the year and a half since he had left the theater, Hawksworth had made a small group of friends, all men of the world who enjoyed each other’s company. He contacted those other four men to accompany him to Croft’s house around noon on Thursday, January 6, 1603.

 

Of those present was Octavian Skern, a printer who worked for the print shop of Robert Fletcher. Skern was 24 years old and good-looking with dark hair and a well-trimmed mustache and goatee. He dressed well and was somewhat wealthy, being good at his job. He wore glasses and a French-style cloak over fine clothing. He carried a sword as a matter of course. He rented a small set of rooms above the print shop from Fletcher as he always wanted to be near his place of business. He had courted a beautiful young woman named Lucy Henry about a year before and still loved her very much though Lucy had moved on from the relationship. He still carried a picture of her in a locket.

 

Reginald Selwyn had black hair and a well-groomed beard and mustache, though he was very plain-looking. Only 21 years old, he wore dark-colored purple and green clothing and a long, French-style black cloak. Selwyn usually carried a small axe hidden on his person. He was a locksmith with a tiny shop in London, and lived in a garret above it. In reality, he was a thief who burgled houses and picked pockets but used his job as a locksmith as a cover.

 

Dr. Everett Whitewood was 27 years old and married. Abigail Whitewood was a plump and loving wife. Dr. Whitewood had dark hair graying at the temples and a full beard. He carried a sword but it was mostly for show as was not well-trained in its use. He wore fashionable clothing and was quite wealthy. He also wore spectacles when reading. His long, French-style cloak was fur-lined around the collar. His ruff was quite impressive. Originally from Newcastle, he had relocated to London to be educated and start his practice. He had a fine house in town.

 

Finally, Peter Godfrey was a 23-year-old wealthy, fat banker. Heavyset and round with a beard though no mustache, he perpetually dabbed his brow with his kerchief as he continually sweat. He was unmarried, being more interested in money and his work than women. He wore very fine clothing, usually deep red, and the widest ruff of anyone he knew. He also wore a French-style cloak. He had a fine house in London.

 

The streets were narrow and crowded, hawkers at the south side of London Bridge selling everything from roasted chestnuts to woolen mittens to ward off the icy cold. At London Bridge the familiar spears atop the Bridge Gate at the Southwark end were adorned with the rotting heads of executed criminals, although nobody paid much attention to the all-too-regular sight. After the recent treacheries against the Queen herself, the presence of the remains of mere criminals was almost refreshing.

 

A number of passers-by talked excitedly of the day’s entertainment as they made their way from the Bridge to Bankside, remarking that that afternoon’s performance of The Merchant of Venice at the Globe was likely to be a true spectacle as Richard Burbage was taking the stage as Shylock. The Globe was still the most fashionable place to see and be seen in London.

 

On their way to the house of Croft, they saw several houses near Marshalsea Prison already adorned with the familiar signs sealing victims in hanging upon their doors. The knowledge that the coming spring was likely to worsen the outbreak weighed heavily on the populace. They arrived at the Stoney Street address of John Croft in a district as of yet unravaged by the burgeoning plague. The street was busy, human traffic making the passage to the house difficult.

 

Croft’s house was small but well-appointed and appeared to have only been built in the last few years amid a crowd of other similar dwellings, all stacked one upon the other in a jumble of cramped bricks, wood, and plaster. Only Godfrey noticed no smoke issued from the chimney, a surprising state of affairs given the terrible chill in the air.

 

Hawksworth knocked on the door but there was no answer.

 

“All right, gents, I don’t know what this is,†he said. “Perhaps we should … knock again?â€

 

He knocked again but no one came to the door.

 

“Is it the wrong address?†Selwyn asked.

 

“Perhaps the party’s out back,†Selwyn said.

 

“Why don’t we go around back and see where he is?†Hawksworth said.

 

They went around behind the houses and found an extremely narrow and dark alley. They got into the alley gate and to the back door.

 

“Should we try knocking on this door?†Skern said.

 

“We could,†Hawksworth replied. “I just want to say I apologize. This is unlike John. I don’t know what’s going on.â€

 

He knocked but received no answer from within.

 

“Jesus wept,†he cursed.

 

Abigail doesn’t like me using those words, Dr. Whitewood thought.

 

“Selwyn, you’re a locksmith,†Hawksworth said. “Something you could help us with … yeah?â€

 

The locksmith had also noticed there was no smoke coming from the house’s chimney.

 

“I could give it a try,†he said. “Maybe he isn’t home.â€

 

“I mean, we were invited here so if you could just open the door, I’ll talk with John and have a stern word with him,†Hawksworth said.

 

“Did we try the handle?â€

 

Selwyn reached forward and tried the latch but it wouldn’t budge.

 

“It is locked,†he stated.

 

“Well, that’s why I brought you,†Hawksworth said. “You’re the locksmith. Can you get it open?â€

 

Selwyn took out his tools and got to work on the door.

 

“Well hold on,†Hawksworth said. “Hold on. Is this illegal? If we’re invited here, is this illegal?â€

 

“You work for the Queen,†Dr. Whitewood said. “Don’t you know?â€

 

“I know I work for the Queen, but is it illegal to break into a house you’ve been invited to?â€

 

“Or is it illegal to leave your guests out on the road?†Selwyn asked.

 

Godfrey noted it was a fine line. Technically, those who witnessed a felony were legally obligated to apprehend those responsible for a crime as there were no police in England. Something was probably wrong in the house so it would not necessarily be illegal for them to break in and investigate.

 

“Perhaps we should see if anyone is injured inside,†Skern said, drawing his sword.

 

“That is a valiant effort, but we do still need the door open before we can check,†Hawksworth said. “So, Selwyn, how’s it coming?â€

 

Selwyn was having great difficulty with the stubborn lock on the door. He could not make the tumblers fall as they should.

 

“I … my finger slipped,†he said.

 

He continued working on the door without luck and finally gave up.

 

“Let’s try the front door,†he said. “This one seems a bit tricky. Where would robbers go? Probably the back door.â€

 

They walked back around the front of the house and he got to work on the lock. No one paid much attention to them and Godfrey used his wide girth to try, as best he could, to block Selwyn from the street. The locksmith finally got the lock to open after what felt like a long time.

 

“Jesus weeps!†Selwyn cursed. “These keyholes!â€

 

“All right, let me do the talking,†Hawksworth said. “Since John only knows me. If five people start coming in saying ‘Why is the door locked? Why is the door locked?’ that’s going to be bad, all right?â€

 

“That was my plan,†Selwyn quipped. “I apologize.â€

 

“So I should put my sword away, right?†Skern said.

 

“You should put your sword away, yes,†Hawksworth said to Skern.

 

“All right,†the man answered.

 

It was cold in the house, no warmer than it was outside. The place looked like it had hardly been lived in, all of the rooms downstairs clean and unsullied with hardly a stick of furniture present. The hearth in the living room had not, it seemed, been lit … ever. A steep, narrow staircase led upstairs.

 

“Jesus wept!†Hawksworth cursed. “What’s this all about?â€

 

“It’s a tad frigid,†Selwyn said. “Are you sure he’s back? Should we come in and look for him? He could be injured.â€

 

“This is John’s handwriting,†Hawksworth said, taking out the letter. “I know how he crosses his t’s. He invited us here.†He raised his voice. “Croft!†he called. “Croft!â€

 

“Maybe we should check around,†Selwyn said.

 

“Should we look upstairs?†Skern asked.

 

Selwyn headed up the stairs followed closely by Hawksworth. Godfrey took one look at the steep, narrow stairs and decided to wait on the ground floor. He had never liked nor trusted steps of any kind. He wiped the sweat from his brow.

 

“It seems very improper to walk up somebody’s steps,†Dr. Whitewood said.

 

“I do not carry a blade and I fear for John’s life now,†Hawksworth said as they crept up the stairs. “Does anyone have any sort of weapon?â€

 

“I’ll come!†Skern said, running up the stairs and drawing his sword.

 

“I really need a sword,†Hawksworth muttered.

 

A landing with a dirty window stood at the top of the stairs, a single closed door on the interior wall. Hawksworth tried the latch and found it unlocked.

 

“Well, we won’t need you for this one, eh?†he said to Selwyn as he opened the door.

 

Dangling from one of the overhead beams in the room was the bloated corpse of John Croft. His blackened swollen tongue protruded obscenely from his blue lips, his eyes had rolled back in their sockets, and his legs hung limply no more than six inches above the floor near a small, tumbled stool. It was obvious his hanging was botched and he strangled rather than having fastened the rope properly for a clean break.

 

The room was in shambles. Because of the cold, putrefaction had not begun, although it was obvious the playwright had been dead for a day or so. The smell of tallow was heavy in the air, mixed with the pungent reek of alcohol. Empty bottles lay scattered around the room, many of them with dead candles stuffed in their necks, dried wax forming intricate stalactitic formations over the glass. Several of the bottles, each with a guttered candle fixed in the neck, stood in a rough circle around the hanging corpse. Filthy clothes lay strewn about on the floor. A half-eaten leg of lamb had drawn flies, even in the cold, and a few bloated bluebottles busied themselves laying eggs in the undercooked flesh. A stale loaf of bread lay beside the meat and beside that rested a small knife with dried blood on the blade. Scattered throughout the room were hundreds of pages bearing a variety of cramped scripts and two small volumes.

 

On the far wall, above the hearth was a crudely painted sigil, a swirling unintelligible splash of thick yellow paint smudged and dried in drips running thickly down the plaster wall.

 

“Apparently he needed the party sooner!†Selwyn poorly quipped somewhat hysterically.

 

The poisonous symbol seemed to twist and swirl and squirm, reaching hungrily towards Hawksworth. He looked on it in horror and then started babbling incoherently, pointing at the sigil and the corpse and calling John’s name. He began tearing up the letter from John as he babbled.

 

“We can’t understand you,†Selwyn said.

 

Dr. Whitewood appeared at the door.

 

“Oi, what’s going on up there!?!†Godfrey called up.

 

Skern went to Hawksworth but when the man touched him, he cried out and fell away.

 

“Don’t touch him!†Dr. Whitewood said. “It’s an imbalance of the humors.â€

 

Hawksworth finally stopped his babbling.

 

“Everything all right up there?†Godfrey called up the stairs again.

 

Hawksworth dropped the scattered piece of the letter onto the floor and blinked confusedly. He sat down heavily.

 

“Was John unstable?†Selwyn asked.

 

“I-I’m not sure I know what stable is right now,†Hawksworth said slowly. “Just give me a moment. I was just … I was expecting a party …â€

 

Dr. Whitewood took out a wineskin he always carried and offered Hawksworth some. The youth took a long swig.

 

“Thank you,†he said. “Would it be better to cut him down … or should we just leave him?â€

 

“Is this gentleman not a friend of yours?†Skern asked. “Should we not give him a proper burial?â€

 

“He was a friend, but I don’t know why he would have done this,†Hawksworth said. “Please, please, give me a moment to gather my thoughts. Would you all please look around and see if he left a note? Or something?â€

 

“Maybe he left something downstairs, by chance,†Selwyn said.

 

“I believe anything of importance is probably here,†Hawksworth said.

 

Selwyn stepped back out of the room and headed down the stairs regardless.

 

* * *

 

Godfrey stood at the foot of the stairs wiping his sweaty brow when Selwyn came down.

 

“You’ve got to see what happened up here,†the locksmith said to him.

 

“No you don’t!†Hawksworth called down.

 

Godfrey just looked at the narrows steps.

 

“John is the worst host to a party I’ve ever been too,†Selwyn quipped.

 

* * *

 

Skern picked up the two leather-bound books and glanced within. Each of them turned out to be diaries. One was obviously the diary of John Croft and entries within started on October 19, 1602. The other proved to be the diary of Christopher Marlowe, the famous playwright and author of Dr. Faustus and The Jew of Malta who died some 10 years before.

 

While Hawksworth looked out the window in thought, Dr. Whitewood looked up at the corpse hanging from the ceiling.

 

* * *

 

Selwyn, meanwhile, crept into the kitchen, hoping there was silver in the house. The cupboards had a few crude plates and bowls but little else. The fireplace didn’t even appear to have been lit in the room. Nothing looked valuable in the place at all. He returned to Godfrey.

 

“But again, you should come up,†he said to the corpulent man as he went back upstairs.

 

* * *

 

Dr. Whitewood examined the body as best he could as Hawksworth looked down at the torn letter on the floor.

 

“Why did I do this?†he muttered, picking up the pieces and trying to fit them back together.

 

Dr. Whitewood guessed the death was the result of a botched suicide. The stool near the man’s feet indicated he only dropped a few inches and then obviously choked to death. It was a horrible way to die.

 

Selwyn entered the room and wondered to himself why the man hadn’t jumped off the stool instead of just kicking it out from under him. Skern walked over to Hawksworth as Selwyn started gathering all of the scattered papers on the floor.

 

“Do these books mean anything to you?†Skern asked Hawksworth.

 

“What do you have?†the man replied.

 

Skern handed them over and Hawksworth looked in each of them. He was surprised to see the diary of Christopher Marlowe. He didn’t know Croft had known the playwright.

 

“This is a … this is a journal of Marlowe’s and … I didn’t know Croft was a friend of his,†Hawksworth said. “This is … this is Croft’s journal. Let’s see what the last entry is.â€

 

He turned to the back of the book. The last entry had handwriting that was shaky and weak. It was dated “1 January, Yeare of Our Lord 1603.†Hawksworth read it out loud:

 


He came again tonight, almost unbidden. I have tried to stop it, but oh! the rapturous knowledge
each visit brings. But I know payment is due. Like the piper, the king demands his viscous due. I
am drained. Will called earlier, once again asking me to give up my work. His jealousy is
understandable and amuses me greatly. I am weak and feel unwell but the joys each night bringes!
My king make me great … khadath ryah y’greck chaj’d ogn!

 


The four men looked at each other.

 

“What?†Skern said. “What are those words you’re saying?â€

 

“I swear I wasn’t babbling again,†Hawksworth said. “That’s what it says.â€

 

* * *

 

At the bottom of the stairs, Godfrey could hear what Hawksworth read. He found it quite strange.

 

* * *

 

“Let me see it,†Skern said.

 

“Read it for yourself!†Hawksworth said, handing over the diary.

 

Skern looked over the strange words and read them out loud as well.

 

“Does anybody recognize it?†Hawksworth said.

 

None of the men did.

 

“Who is this Will fellow?†Skern said. “Do you know of a Will?â€

 

Hawksworth did know a Will.

 

“Surely he’s not talking about Shakespeare,†he said.

 

“I did hear he’s a jealous fellow,†Skern said.

 

Dr. Whitewood started to help Selwyn gather the scattered papers.

 

“What would Shakespeare have to be jealous about?†Hawksworth said.

 

“Well …†Skern said.

 

“He’s already got it all.â€

 

“Well …â€

 

“Does John make plays?†Selwyn said.

 

The pages he was picking up looked like playwriting to him.

 

“Hey, this could be a play that you came up with,†he said to Hawksworth.

 

He had noticed there were different handwriting on the pages.

 

“I don’t deal with that kind of stuff anymore,†Hawksworth said.

 

Skern picked up a few pages and asked Hawksworth to see if they were in John’s handwriting. The actor looked them over and found some were in Croft’s handwriting and some were in another hand. He was very surprised to find he recognized the lines on some of the pages. Selwyn had already recognized what they were. Some of the pages were at least a part of a printed copy of the as-yet unpublished but oft performed Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe.

 

“Oh my God!†Selwyn said. “Vincent! I just found the play I wrote! I’ve been looking for this everywhere.â€

 

“Selwyn, you didn’t write this,†Hawksworth said. “I know Marlowe wrote this.â€

 

“Well, he got the idea from me!â€

 

“We have Marlowe’s journal,†Skern said.

 

“Give me that, you bell-end,†Hawksworth said.

 

“You’re the end of the bell!†Selwyn said.

 

They gathered up the papers but realized it would take several hours to piece together all of them into some kind of coherent order.

 

“Might I suggest we start a fire if we’re going to be here a while,†Skern said.

 

“Thawing the corpse would be a terrible idea, I feel,†Hawksworth said. “Why don’t … Godfrey! Why don’t you go find a constable.â€

 

“What?†Godfrey called.

 

“Godfrey!†Hawksworth called again. “Will you please go alert the constable to what has happened here?â€

 

“All right,†Godfrey said.

 

* * *

 

Godfrey was back with a constable in less than a half hour. The portly, balding man was well-dressed and carried a watchman’s staff. He climbed ponderously up the steps and poked the body with his stick.

 

“Well, he’s obvious killed himself,†the man said. “Poor blood. He’s in Hell now, I s’pose. Well, someone cut him down. Let’s get him out of here. You have a sword. Cut him down.â€

 

He pointed at Skern, who cut the body down. It crashed to the ground, scattering bottles hither and yon.

 

“All right, some of you men pick him up,†the constable said. “Let’s take him with us.â€

 

They carried the body to a place where it could be disposed of.

 

“There will be no songs sung of this,†Hawksworth said.

 

“Why would there be?†Selwyn said.

 

After they left the constable, Skern suggested they had come for a party so they should get some food and drink.

 

“Let’s go to the Mermaid,†Hawksworth suggested. “I think John might have told other people he was coming back to London so let’s see if anyone knows what happened in these past couple days.â€

 

“Fine idea,†Skern said.

 

They walked back to the city of London proper and made their way to the Mermaid Inne, which was just off Cheapside, one of the busiest thoroughfares in London, on Broad Street. There, they were well met by the innkeeper, Bartram Derington, a heavyset man with lazy eyes and thick jowls. He wore a large, flopping hat on his head and had a thick voice. He was happy to give them a large table where they could start sorting through the pile of papers they’d recovered from Croft’s house. He brought them food and drink. The room was toasty warm and smelled of good food and tobacco smoke.

 

“Please, I’m going to go around and talk to all of the other actors who are drinking here,†Hawksworth said. “Since they’re drinking, they might be more apt to tell what happened to John … if anyone knows. Here’s the journals - Marlowe’s and John’s. I would look in John’s more. I’ll be back once I’m done talking and then; tell me what you find, please. I want to get down to the bottom of this, please.â€

 

Skern took Marlowe’s journal and started to read through it. It was filled with tight script and covered several years. Selwyn, meanwhile, took Croft’s journal and began to read it. Dr. Whitewood and Godfrey set to work sorting out all of the loose papers.

 

* * *

 

Several actors snubbed Hawksworth while others were fine talking to him. The playwrights who happened to be in the inn were the worst though a few there were willing to hear him out. Everyone that Hawksworth talked to was surprised at the news.

 

“John Croft is dead?†one playwright said.

 

“Haven’t you heard?†Hawksworth said.

 

“When did this happen?â€

 

“Just now.â€

 

“How the Hell would I have heard!?!â€

 

“I came from his house. I don’t know how rumors spread!â€

 

Then he recognized Alfred Kent sitting in one corner eating chicken and drinking beer.

 

“Ah, Kent!†he said.

 

He grabbed the man in an embrace.

 

“Jesus wept Hawksworth!†Kent said. “Good God man! What’s wrong?â€

 

“Oh, I miss the good old days,†Hawksworth said.

 

“So, Croft is dead?â€

 

“Have you heard?â€

 

“I heard he was writing some play.â€

 

“What was the name of it?â€

 

“I don’t know. All I’ve heard is rumors. That’s all I heard.â€

 

“Well, rumors spread like wildfire. What were they saying? Was it good?â€

 

“Uh … I don’t think so. Well, he was working … it was a secret. A secret play.â€

 

“They’re all secret until they’re done.â€

 

“Well, you know. Croft’s kind of a … he wasn’t a great writer. He wrote that thing a few years ago. It didn’t do well and then there’s … uh … ask Bartram. He might know.â€

 

“Bartram?â€

 

“The innkeeper. He knows everybody.â€

 

“All right. How’s the Globe?â€

 

“Doing well. When you coming back?â€

 

Hawksworth sighed.

 

“This job of censoring is not for you, lad,†Kent said. “You had a gift!â€

 

“I know,†Hawksworth said.

 

Kent talked to him for several minutes, trying to convince him to come back to the theater. He called Bartram over, purchased and ale for Hawksworth, and tried to convince the man to come back to the Globe. He told Hawksworth his gift lay in his acting. Hawksworth agreed and finally told him he’d think about it.

 

“You let me know when you got the perfect role for me,†he said.

 

“I will,†Kent said.

 

“All right,†Hawksworth said.

 

He found Bartram.

 

“Yes!†Bartram grunted at him.

 

“Haven’t you heard?†Hawksworth asked.

 

“Oh yes! About Croft?â€

 

“Yes!â€

 

“Yes, word around this tavern is that he died this very day!â€

 

“I’ve been saying that. That’s where you’re hearing it from! It was from me! I was just from there. And Kent told me you know something about his secret play.â€

 

“Oh, not too much.â€

 

“It’s not so secret then, is it?â€

 

“That’s why I don’t know too much.â€

 

“Well, what do you know?â€

 

“Well, he was a regular. Croft was a regular here.â€

 

“Of course.â€

 

“Until recently. He came here one night, talking like a lunatic, and he upset the customers so much that a couple of people actually left. In fact, you know what? There was a lyricist, David Moore. He used to come around here quite often. He used to hang out with the same gentleman. That’s strange, I just remembered that. Anyway, I didn’t see Croft after that but his death doesn’t come as a shock. He’s a well-known drunkard and trouble-maker and … uh … he had other habits as well.â€

 

Bartram gave him a conspiratorial wink.

 

“Twas divine retribution, is all,†he said.

 

“Oh John,†Hawksworth said. “Jesus wept. What about a man named Will? Was he ever here with a man named Will?â€

 

“Shakespeare?â€

 

“Maybe. I don’t know.â€

 

“Yeah yeah. Croft knew Shakespeare. They worked together on something, I don’t know what though.â€

 

“Did they talk a lot?â€

 

“Yeah, back in the day. I haven’t seen Shakespeare in a week or so, but he’s been busy with his play. That … uh …â€

 

The fat, sweaty innkeeper snapped his fingers.

 

“That … uh … oh damn, I can never remember the name of this one,†he said. “It’s brand new. It’s … uh … uh … oh bugger me. Bugger bugger bugger bugger bugger.â€

 

“Take your time,†Hawksworth said. “It’s fine.â€

 

“It’s about a prince.â€

 

“Well, it’s always got a prince.â€

 

“Right! Right! This is a prince of Denmark! Not a British prince, not one of the histories. Uh …â€

 

“Who would write about a prince of Denmark?â€

 

“Hamnet? Hamlet? Hamlet! Hamlet! That’s what it’s called. It’s brand new.â€

 

“Oh, that’ll never sell.â€

 

“He’s been working on it for years. Said it was influenced by Marlowe. You know: Christopher Marlowe. He used to come around here, too, back in the day.â€

 

“Yeah.â€

 

“I remember him before he got killed up on, wherever that was. Southwark? No. Derpwood. No. Dep … Deptwerk! No. Where the Hell did that man die? Deptford? Deptford! Deptford!â€

 

He pounded Hawksworth on the back, so happy he was to remember the fact.

 

“All right Bartram , one last question for you,†Hawksworth asked. “When was the last time John was in here?â€

 

“Oh, it was a few days ago,†Bartram replied. “It was that night that he went crazy. He was acting like a lunatic and walked out. Few days ago. I don’t remember exactly.â€

 

“What about David Moore?â€

 

“Oh, he was a regular drinker until about a year ago. He was a young composer of hymns and madrigals, a student of the great Irish composer John Dowland, whose star seems to be in the ascendant, if you ask me. Oh oh oh! One of Moore’s popular hymns, “The King Comes Forth, Wreath’d in Gold.â€

 

He sang, not too badly:

 


The King comes forth, wreathed in gold,
His blessings sing within my soul,
The King comes forth, i’ heaven’s glow,
To carry me up until his fold.

 


The innkeeper leaned towards Hawksworth and lowered his voice conspiratorially.

 

“The last time I did see him was some six months ago,†he said. “He came late one evenin’, screamin’ for drink. God’s teeth, he were in a state. His face were all mucky and cut. Look’d like he had been a rare fight.†He pointed to a table in the corner not far from where Hawksworth’s friends said. “He went across to that table over there. Just sat on his own. So, I brought him ale on the house, y’know I always liked him, see. Fond of spreading a bit of money around he were, makes business better for all of us. Anyway, I brought his drink over to him and he were just sittin’ there, talkin’ to himself. I was not quite able to catch what he was sayin’ ‘cept for he’s talkin’ about someone called Joseph and someone called ‘Dutchie.†I asked him if he were all right and he looked up at me and he just laughed. I confess, I thought he were mad, the way he just kept laughin’.

 

“So, come shuttin’ up time, I did ask him to move alone but he just sat there. And I asked him again but he did tell me he were waitin’ for someone. Then, just when everybody else was gone home and I was needin’ to move him myself, this gentleman comes in. Tall, well-dressed, quite the courtier. He stands at the door for a minute and then he goes over to Master Moore and he sits by him. They talked for a moment and then this gentleman helps Master Moore up and almost carries him out. Now, from the way Master Moore were carryin’ on, I warranted he did not want to go with that gentleman. He was sayin’ ‘Leave me be, Joseph, leave me be. I cannot go on.’ And this Joseph just drags him out into the street. I do believe Master Moore was cryin’ by the time he were outside.

 

“That were the last time I did see him. I did see that Joseph once more about three weeks ago. He came here and sat in that same corner, talking to some other gentleman with a foreign accent. That one I told you about, that left when John Croft was babblin’ on that night. And they were talkin’ for about five minutes before they left separately. I was servin’ them ale and I heard them talkin’ about Master Moore and poor old Christopher Marlowe. Now, there was a name I had not heard for a time. The one called Joseph says somethin’ about Moore being as weak as Master Marlowe and the foreigner laughs and says that St. Mary’s is the best place for him.

 

“But that’s all I know about that.â€

 

“You have quite the memory, Bartram,†Hawksworth said.

 

“Oh, I remember everything! I do indeed!†the innkeeper said. “I might not remember when and where and why and how, but I do remember everything.â€

 

Hawksworth realized the St. Mary’s Bartram had mentioned was probably St. Mary of Bethlehem, the insane asylum near Bishopsgate. He put a coin down on the table.

 

“Thank you Bartram,†he said.

 

“Well, thank you sir!†Bartram replied, picking up the coin and biting it.

 

Hawksworth went back to the table and helped the others sort out the loose papers.

 

* * *

 

Selwyn spent an hour reading John Croft’s diary. Though most of it was dull stuff, there were a few cryptic entries that were of interest:

 


Nineteenth October, Yeare of Our Lord 1602

 

Having returned from Heidelberg I have been presented with a most curious item, indeed.
A small box, the delivery of which has brought with it some unhappy and melancholic memories
of the past. It would appear to be my deare Christopher’s bequest to me. A small wooden affair,
simply bound with string and sealed with wax. I’truth I cannot bring myself to open it for fear
of the memories it will stir in me.

 

Twentieth October, Yeare of Our Lord 1602

 

This morning I pluck’d up the courage to open the box and to my amazement it contained
some of Christopher’s unfinished work, alone with his diarie. It did indeed bring back many
sad thoughts but more besides, a feeling of tremendous excitement and pleasure. These are
Christopher’s last works, unseen, unspoken of for nigh on ten years. I have read them and have
resolved to attempt the completion of one work in particular, a playe Christopher began shortly
before his untimely demise. It is my fondest wish that I will complete it, yet I know in my heart
and soul that I am not of sufficient stature artistically to undertake so massive a task. As such I
have resolved to approach the one man who perhaps matches deare Christopher’s genius.
William Shakespeare.

 

Fifthe November, Year of Our Lord 1602

 

I have agreed with Will to begin work on my deare Christopher’s unfinished last worke. I
have not been this excited since the first staging of “Neoptolemus†in Cambridge. Will has lent
me some money and I am celebrating with a bottle of strong ale and a haunch of beef. The ale is
cheap and badly distilled but the taste is as nectar to Odysseus, the beef like ambrosia. I shall write
tomorrow.

 

Twelfth November, Yeare of Our Lord 1602

 

Our childe grows in stature with each passing day! Will is an inspiration, as is dear dead
Christopher, much though it may paine me to remember. I believe I have learn’d as much
from Will in one short weeke as I learn’d in all my previous years.

 

We have completed the first scenes, although I must confess that Christopher had the
structure complete for the most parte. We are now proceeding with the most difficult task,
creating from nothingness. It must be worthy of the standards Christopher has set for us.
Will is due to meet me at the Mermaid tomorrow evening. I am much looking forward to
our meeting. Until then I shall busy myself with collecting the divers pieces of scenes IV
and V of the first Acte that are extant.

 

Thirteenth November, Yeare of Our Lord 1602

 

after noon;

 

I have slept long, not having finally found my reste until deep into the night. I have made
an astounding discoverie — Christopher’s work is not a fantasy. It is truth. As plain as the
nose on my face, his King in Yellow is based on his owne mysterious experiences! He must
have infused Faustus with his learnings and then desired to set out the truth of his own findings
in “The Kinge in Yellowe.†I cannot wait to well Will of this.

 

night;

 

My meeting with Will did not go well. I told him of my findings about Christopher’s playe
and, profoundly shocked by his friend Marlowe’s diabolic researches, Will has foresworn any
further involvement in the completion of the play! I tried to explaine that it was nonsense, but
he was adamant that such dabblings imperilled the participants very soul. I shall have to try
and bring him ‘round. I will call on him tomorrow, when he has had a chance to calm himself.

 

Fourteenth November, Yeare of Our Lord 1602

 

Success. Will has agreed to return to work. We shall start this evening.

 

Seventeenth November, Yeare of Our Lord 1602

 

We have run aground. Having completed scenes one and two of the first acte, we have come
unstuck. We have sat for hours and I confess we are both near to pulling hair out by the roots
in blind frustration. Will has gone, saying that reste may do us both good. Perhaps he is right.
I shall relax by reading Christopher’s diaries.

 

Twenty first November, Year of Our Lord 1602

 

I have persuaded Will to re-enact some of Christopher’s research detailed in his diary. We
have been stranded by the muse for a week now and I am getting desperate. All is in readiness.

 

Twenty third November, Yeare of Our Lord 1602

 

I can scarce believe it. I have slept for almost a day and a half after performing the rite. It
was incredible. Will and I contacted a … an entity is all I can describe it as. Such wonders it
showed me, such unbridled power of speech and thought. I can scarce contain my pen.
Inspiration spills from me like water from a fount. I know not where Will is. I can hardly
remember the rite itself. I have to begin work now.

 

Twenty sixth November, Yeare of Our Lord 1602

 

I have seen Will this evening. He was at the Mermaid, drinking far more than is usual for him.
He has refused any further involvement in my work. He complains of nightmares when he sleeps,
visions when awake. He will not continue. I have tried to persuade him otherwise, saying that
Christopher’s course was correct but badly managed. Will has warned me off. I am imperiling
my immortal soul, he says. Ha! I have no further need of him. My vision surpasses his. I have
a new muse now. I shall summon it again tonight.

 

1 January, Yeare of Our Lord 1603

 

He came again tonight, almost unbidden. I have tried to stop it, but oh! the rapturous knowledge
each visit brings. But I know payment is due. Like the piper, the king demands his viscous due. I
am drained. Will called earlier, once again asking me to give up my work. His jealousy is
understandable and amuses me greatly. I am weak and feel unwell but the joys each night bringes!
My king make me great … khadath ryah y’greck chaj’d ogn!

 


The handwriting of the last entry was shaky and weak, the speech confused. Selwyn recognized it as the one Hawksworth had read in the dead man’s house.

 

* * *

 

After only a little more than an hour, Dr. Whitewood, Selwyn, and Hawksworth had put together the loose pieces of paper. They found they had two distinct pieces.

 

The first was the full manuscript of the as-yet unpublished but oft performed Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe. It was accompanied by original discarded fragments. The second contained pages written in the same hand as the Faustus fragments and then two other hands. The first was Croft’s - Hawksworth recognized it and it matched the handwriting on the letter he still had the pieces of. The second was unknown.

 

“It’s William,†Selwyn guessed. “The Shakespeare fellow. In the journal, he says William helped him.â€

 

The cover sheet proved him right when it revealed the manuscript to be a play entitled The King in Yellowe — A Playe in Three Actes begun by Christopher Marlowe and completed by John Croft and William Shakespeare.

 

The King in Yellowe was obviously unfinished. Only the first two scenes of the first act were extant, two short scenes which served to introduce the characters. There were also several apparently unrelated quotes presumably from later in the play. Each was numbered in reference to the part of the play into which it was to be inserted.

 

“So, you seem to believe that Croft and Shakespeare were working together?†Hawksworth asked Selwyn.

 

“Yes,†the man replied.

 

“Maybe we should ask Shakespeare,†Dr. Whitewood suggested.

 

“Well, he’s not here,†Hawksworth said. “I don’t know where Shakespeare would be right now. I hardly know the man, to be honest.â€

 

“Maybe Bartram would know,†Selwyn suggested.

 

* * *

 

It took Skern two hours to read through the diary of Christopher Marlowe. It was somewhat disturbing and contained some things of interest along with some alleged magic, this being spells that could contact someone called Hastur, another that allowed contact with someone called the King, another summoning spell called Crystal Call, and a final one that would allow the enchantment of a knife to aid in summoning rituals. It would have seemed Christopher Marlowe was quite rife with witchcraft.

 

There were also two strange entries of interest from 1593 of some interest:

 


May 21st

 

Three nights ago J. took me to the maelstrom. Several others were there, though I recognized none
save for one who conspired to keep his face hidden although I caught sight of his face and ‘twas none
other than young David Moore the composer, a regular of the Mermaid Inn! I was nervous with excited
anticipation. More fool I. My sanity has deserted me, my mind has been scored by talons of fear so
profound I find myself sleepless, despairing, without hope. My hands shake uncontrollably. I have not
left the house since that night. I do not know what to do … I am insane.

 

May 29th

 

J. has called. He wants me to go with him again. He says the king demands it. I refused. I told him
I would have no more to do with it. He countered with blackmail. He threatens me with my own lifestyle!
I have been arrested once this month for heresy, of which I am only now guilty. I cannot refuse him. He
has told me to meet him in Deptford tomorrow. I will try to reason with him then. I’truth I think I would
chose Marshalsea over the fear. ‘Tis one prison or another. I shall tell him so on the morrow.

 


Skern realized Marlowe must have kept the meeting with the mysterious J on May 30, 1593, for on that day Marlowe was fatally stabbed in an argument at the Widow’s Bull Tavern in Deptford.

 

* * *


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