Black Dog

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Black Dog Part II

The street corner stank of urine and pig shit in the bright morning sunshine. Kit leaned against the corner post and stared at Willens’ small house on that fronted on Billiter Lane. Dressed in a worn blue smock, a ragged woolen cap, with a leather toolbelt slung over one shoulder, the player resembled a thousand other similarly dressed apprentices meandering about the London streets. He scratched his jaw absently, the soot he had smeared on his face for appearances making it itch.

Money or love. The commonest motivations for the world. Tyburn had decided to start by following the coin rather than tumbling about with the Black Dog. Roose could wait, the player thought, until after he had ginned up a clear idea of the link between Willens’ daughter and the Dog’s schemes.

Jacob had mentioned his daughter’s habit of taking her husband-to-be his daily nuncheon and this seemed the easiest way to gain an unobtrusive look at Thomas Pulton, apprentice smithy.

Willens’ daughter Abigail left the house, basket in arm about an hour before midday. She was shorter than the player had thought, but one look at the radiant smile on her face made Kit realize why her father doted on her and why he was willing to dare the Black Dog’s wrath in order to secure her happiness.

She turned up Billiter Lane, following it until it opened up into Leadenhall. A ten-minute walk through the bustle of Leadenhall, past the stolid bulk of the Bricklayers Hall, led to the cacophony of Bishopsgate. The area was home to a number of copper and pewter smithies, and the neighborhood was awash in the perpetual metallic ringing and clanging of hammers, battling with the usual shouts of street vendors, shrieking children, barking dogs and conversation. The air had an acrid, smoky tinge of heated metal that hung in the nostrils like a blades’ edge.

The girl turned up a narrow sidestreet and ducked in through the open doorway of a smithy. A signboard with a crudely drawn hammer hung above the doorway, just high enough to clear a rider, as the London alderman commanded.

Tyburn waited. It was a good fifteen minutes before Abigail left the shop, giving a quick, almost shy wave behind her as she departed. The man to whom she waved her farewells paused for a moment in the doorway. He was a dark-haired young man with a round face unmarred by any facial hair. He watched her evaporate into the London bustle and then he disappeared back into the smithy.

Tyburn settled in to wait at an ordinary[1] with a view of the smithy’s entrance. The wait was startlingly short. Within five minutes of Abigail’s departure, Pulton appeared again, arguing with an older bearded man. The blue-smocked apprentice gave the man a disdainful gesture and turned down the street, heading for Bishopsgate without a backwards glance. Tyburn rose smoothly from the bench across the street and walked up behind the scowling older man.

“Not a great worker belike?” he asked in casual tones.

“He’s a shit worker. Forever gammoning off after dice and drink.” The man growled.

“Got a pretty girl though. . . “

The man spat into the roadway. “That wretch will have her punking on her back to pay off his debts before the year is out, mark my words. It’s a pity, she’s a fine girl.”

“Hopefully not.” Tyburn observed as he pushed past the man and followed Pulton at a distance. The man turned up Bishopsgate for several blocks before ducking into a dilapidated alehouse. The lintel of the alehouse was surmounted by a large painting of a raucous black and white bird. Tyburn grimaced to himself in recognition. The Magpie was a notorious gambling hell, a gaming house specializing in dice and primero[2], known for separating apprentices from their wages with ruthless efficiency. He pushed his way through the door.

The Magpie was dark, dank and smelled of rancid ale, smoke, and burned bread, all mixed with the particular stench of fear and adulation that gaming establishments seemed to enclose. The long room was lit with lanterns in the back, revealing four tables for dice, of which only one was in use. A small group of men sat in the far corner cursing over pasteboard cards, a pile of copper coins fixing their attentions. The room would fill as the afternoon waned, as more apprentices and journeymen clamored to lose their memories of another day in drink, gaming and whores.

Tyburn waved over the ostler and ordered ale. He hooked a bench out from under the table and sat, sipping the sweet, hoppy drink and watched Pulton fruitlessly tossing dice at the gaming table. The man was elated over a good throw, but his elation soon soured and within ten minutes he had lapsed into an angry scowl.

Tyburn gestured for the ostler again. “Two more ales, and don’t piss in them this time. Give one to my friend over there.” The ostler grinned and fetched the drinks.

Pulton looked startled when the ostler handed him the tankard. He pointed and Tyburn who gave the man a raise of his mug. Pulton threaded his way through the tables to where Tyburn was seated.

“God’s bones, I thank you for the bouse[3].”

“Codso, you looked like you could use one. The bales[4] don’t seem to be rolling for you today, and by Jesu, we’ve all had days like that.”

“Caters and aces[5] bigod! Cozening bastards.”

Tyburn laughed. “You need a rich wife, take the edge off the losses. Myself, I fell for her teats rather than her gelt. More’s the pity.”

Thomas Pulton snorted. “I’ve my own lour[6] coming in a few weeks’ time. She brings a nice dowry but hopefully this one pays twice.”

“Twice? That’s a neat conveyance. How so?”

Pulton drained his tankard and Tyburn gestured for another. He wanted this fulsome conversation to continue.

“The dowry is twenty-five crowns.”

Tyburn gave a soundless whistle. “Nice piece o’ gelt.”

“You heard of the Black Dog?”

“The prison rooker?”

“The very one. I went to him and he drummed up paper on her father. He has to pay the debts or Roose drops him in the hole. He pays it with the dowry monies.”

“So?”

“So now he has no dowry. I get the coin, without needing to wed the bitch.”

“Where does it pay twice?”

“I can take him to suit in the ecclesiastical court for violating the terms of the wedding agreement. If he wants his poor bitch wed, he’ll need to pay the agreed dowry or I stand suit against him for breach of contract. I grant you,” he said, with one hand waving airily, “I probably won’t get another twenty-five crowns, but I’ll wager any money he’s good for ten more at least, maybe more.”

Tyburn nodded an affable agreement. “It’s a mint[7] plan, that for certain.” Pulton took a long swig of his ale. “Right up to the point Roose drops your body in the Thames.”

Pulton choked on his drink. “Jesus!”

“Do you seriously think the Black Dog is going to go full shares with a loose-lipped rat-shit, spavined drunkard who can’t keep his mouth shut about Roose’s business? He takes the coin from Willens and when you show up for your share, he’ll give you nice tap with that maul of his and leave you for the mudlarks[8] to pick over. If you’re not buried under a laystill[9] within a day of Roose collecting his gelt, I’ll be shocked.”

Pulton stood. “You poxed bastard. . .”

Tyburn kicked the narrow bench hard into Pulton’s shin. The man flinched at the impact and Tyburn reached up and yanked him back down.

“Listen fool. What I have to say might save your life.” Pulton tried to pull away but the player wrenched him back down, slamming his head against the dilapidated wood of the table. “Walk away. The Black Dog will leave you dead in the street if you stay. He won’t take the chance that you’ll caulk on him. You’re worth more to him dead than alive, once he has his coin. Go to Birmingham or York or the Cinque Ports. Lots of work for a good smith there. If you stay in London, you’re a dead man.”

“I’ll lose my money. What about Abigail?”

Tyburn shook his head. “That ship sailed the minute you traded her dowry to the Black Dog. You go, and I won’t help her father hunt you down and have you beaten into the dirt.” The player shoved the man backwards into the table. Thomas Pulton face was pale as he turned and stumbled out the door. There goes another dead man, Tyburn thought. There was little chance he would have the sense to run. More likely he would seek out the Black Dog looking for reassurance, which would probably stir the Dog’s suspicion. It wouldn’t take much.

Tyburn steepled his fingers in thought. He knew how Roose had linked back to Willens but he still didn’t have a handle on how to deal with the prison rooker. He could try to trump Roose’s writs with some of his own. The Earl of Worcester might be persuaded to provide his troupe’s man with some degree of protection but it was doubtful.

Time, he thought, to start looking at the Dog. But first he needed to have a difficult conversation with Jacob about his daughter’s fiancé. He drained his drink and left without a backward glance.


Two days spent haunting seedy taverns, gaming hells and rancid bousing kens left Tyburn with a stabbing headache, a roiled stomach and little more on the Black Dog than when he had begun. No one, the player concluded, was foolish or venal enough to cross Roose. Unless they already had an incentive. Tyburn recalled the confrontation in the taproom. Roose had mentioned he had tracked down Cutting Ball through the sister. It was a good a place to start as any.

Finding a single bawd in London would have been an insurmountable task but Em Ball was a known quantity to the playing troupes. She plied her trade out of a handful of innyards and bawdy houses in Southwark, the young new favorite of the university playwrights trying to make a name for themselves. Tyburn had never met her but Alleyn and Oldcastle both pointed him to either The Cardinal’s Cap or The Tabard as favored haunts.

The ale at the Cardinal’s Cap was sour and thick, but cheap and plentiful, which, along with the whores, probably accounted for the dense throng. Tyburn had pushed his way through and laid claim to an alcove where he could sit and survey the patrons. It was the usual rag and tag trade of the London fleshpots; a mélange of apprentices; merchants and tradesmen leaned over tables in close talk, filled with complaints about the Royal Exchange and the vagaries of Antwerp’s wool prices; a collection of students drinking on the cheap; and a selection of foppish bravos sipping wine and pawing the whores that slid around the room in an endless looping dance in search of custom. A handful of apprentices were stumbling their way through The Robber Girl, their voices strident and off-key.

Tyburn spotted a likely candidate. She was dark-haired and slim, the dark ringlets of her hair unsecured by any cap or ribbon, framing an unblemished face but with harder lines than any girl her age should have. Em Ball was barely sixteen but had been plying her trade for a good three years. She moved through the noisome throng with deft skill, fending off unwanted hands with a false smile and an empty laugh. Tyburn caught her eye and waved her over to the empty seat opposite. Ignoring his gesture, she slid into his lap, one hand snaking down towards his groin, the other sliding around his neck.

She nuzzled up to his ear and whispered “Four shillings for a bed, two for the alleyway, and just one if’n I throw you off here.”

Tyburn leaned the girl back against the table. “That depends. You Em Ball?”

“And who might be asking?” she pushed back her curls and surveyed Tyburn with a sharp look. “Yor’ one of Oldcastle’s boys, ain’t you?” she laughed. “He’s a piece, he is indeed.”

“Sorry to hear about your brother Em.”

Her face creased in genuine puzzlement. “Cutting? Why’s he your business?”

“Didn’t he dance at Tyburn the week last?”

She laughed. “God’s Balls! So he did. Poor lad.”

Tyburn drew her hands together in front of him. “Your fingers look good.” he observed.

Irritated, she pulled her hands free. “You’re a strange one. Most o’ mine are diving for these,” she tugged open her loosely tied blouse and slid her hands up cupping her small breasts. “except that preacher from Eastgate, he kept muttering about being in ‘the blockhouse of the Devil’ and laying his hands down below. What in the cursed hell are you about? Or do I call the tallman[10]?”

“It’s coin coming your way, if you have answers for me.” Tyburn tossed a silver groat onto the table.

“Bloody hell.” She huffed to herself. “He’s a talker. And what shite would you have me spin? You want me all aquiver from the size of yer manhood, or pretending to be the Queen?”

Tyburn laughed. “No. I need to know if you gave Cutting off to the Black Dog. He said you threw him your brother after he broke your fingers.”

The girl stiffened at the mention of Roose. “You take your life lightly, if’n yer sniffing about that coxcomb’s business.”

“He doesn’t need to hear.”

“Codso, he won’t. Twern’t nothing to tell, especially not to the likes of you.”

“He had your brother hanged.”

She snorted in derision. “Cutting takes his chance, like any living the rogue’s life. Newgate and dancing on a noose end ain’t a surprise.”

“Did you foist off Cutting off to Roose?” Tyburn’s voice had an edge that brought Em Ball’s prevarication to a halt.

“Ask ‘em yer ownself, if you please. I’ve custom to chase.” She picked the silver coin off the table and eeled out of reach. “Cutting, some doddypol[11] wants a word.”

One of the men turned and stared at Tyburn from underneath a thick set of eyebrows. He had a dark lean face marred by pox scars and eyes like fishhooks. He took a long draught from his mug and tossed it into the detritus of scraps and filthy rushes that covered the floor. Em Ball gave Tyburn a wicked grin and pulled the man’s head down, whispering into his ear. The man’s eyes never left Tyburn. She gave him a kiss on the cheek and slid away into the noisy welcome of a table of drunken apprentices.

The man pushed his way over to Tyburn’s table. “You looking for Cutting Ball?” he gave the player a contemptuous look up and down, his gaze lingering momentarily on the long silvered rapier. “The catchpoles are poor up for men, if’n they’re looking to players to beef their ranks.”

“You look well enough, for a dead man.”

“Aye, well it didn’t take.”

“So who danced at Tyburn?”

Cutting Ball laughed, a deep, vibrant laugh that rose from his stomach and cut through the din of the tavern like the Bow Bell. “Who bloody cares? It twern’t the Cutting Ball,” his voice rose into a shout, “king o’ rogues, lord of misrule and terror to the Queen’s highway. I’m Jack Cade and Robin of the Hood all rolled into one. And now, like our dear Lord, I’m resurrected to haunt the bawds of Bankside.” He laughed again. “Bigod bring me a drink you poxed buggers.” he shouted to the general vicinity. The thin ostler appeared like magic and deposited two tankards. Cutting shoved one across to Tyburn. “Kit Tyburn. Aye, I know who you are. Saw you perform at the Boar last month. Drink, mewling bastard, and tell me why one of Worcester’s should give a tinker’s damn about who was taken off at the Tree.”

“The Black Dog claims Em threw you to him.”

“And why the fuck do you care what the Dog says?”

“He’s got the hook in a friend of mine.”

Cutting Ball froze and one beetled brow rose. “You think you can cut your friend loose by digging into my hanging?”

“Who’d the Dog hang?”

“Fucked if I know. Some bugger he foisted out o’ Bedlam. Told the Newgate boys he was Cutting Ball and they fell over themselves at the Assizes to dangle ‘em. He tossed me some coin and I get to be dead for a time. All’s good. Helps keep the catchpoles off my back and the Dog gets a reward for bringing in a notorious vagabond.”

“Why so free with the news you’re alive? Won’t it get back to the catchpoles?”

The highwayman grunted and his eyes followed a thin blonde whore in a shift and a little else as she pushed past their table. “Catchpoles and the Fates will find me soon enough. I ain’t going to live my life in fear of those worsted-stocking whoresons any more than I’ll fear the Tyburn dance or the French marbles[12]. Fate’s wheel catches us all and in the trade I walk, it’s a doom as likely as the sunset.”

“If I pull on this string, will it cause you problems?”

Cutting laughed. “With who? The catchpoles are up for hanging the wrong ‘un, that’s not on me.”

“With the Dog.”

“Dog can take care of his own problems. He knows better than to come rooking after the likes of me or mine. He’s certainly one of the roaring boys, but he’s by his self. He angles at me and my crew will settle him. Nah, the one that needs to grow eyes in the back of his head is you.” Cutting waved the empty mug at the ostler, who scuttled over with fresh drinks. “Roose is going know you’re digging into things he don’t want hauled into the light of day, by God’s truth. He’ll plant you for certain.”

“I’m not that easy to plant.”

“I ken that, I seen you fight onstage. You know yer way about with the blade, but Roose has more than one way to scupper you. He’s a crafty one. Mind you, sooner or later the true Black Dog will claim him, but until then, he’s not a man to cross.”

Tyburn leaned back, feeling the flat edge of the beam pressing against his back, worn smooth by a century of customers. “The true Black Dog?”

“Roose stole his name. The Black Dog of Newgate, the demon dog. Comes the night before an execution, when them prisoners are crying for mercy and pissing themselves in fear in their fetters, that’s when the Dog appears, a hound of pitch and smoke and flame, to drag the immortal souls of the condemned down into Hell’s fire.” Cutting gave a cold and humorless smile that made the player shiver. “The Black Dog don’t take the innocent, just the blackest of souls, the sinful, the damned and the blood-drenched. Roose fits that description well, but what about you master player, you got sins to atone for? You got blood in your past soldier? Then you need fear the Dog.”

There is nothing like Flanders.

The momentary flash of memory of the cold, wet slaughterhouse that was Flanders shot through his mind. For the barest of instances, the acrid stench of burnt powder and fresh coppery blood seemed to hang in the air, before the reality that was the cacophony of the Cardinal’s Cap slammed back into focus.

“Aye. Thought as much.” Cutting said softly. “Luck to you master Tyburn, and beware the Dog.” The highwayman stood and turned away, catching the blonde whore in the shift in one arm and roaring for the dense throng to make way for the king of rogues. Tyburn sat and stared at the table for a moment, before he shook his head and disappeared into the cool dark of the burgeoning night.


[1] Common drinking or food establishment

[2] Card game, akin to modern-day poker

[3] Alcoholic drink

[4] Dice

[5] Caters & aces = fours and ones

[6] Money

[7] Gold / rich

[8] People who scavenge the tidal flats along the Thames for valuables or salvage

[9] Manure pile

[10] Professional fighting man, bouncer

[11] Fool

[12] Venereal disease


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