Title: Smoke Rings and Surprises
Word Count 1480
Smoke Rings and Surprises
We smoked as we worked, drawing on our
pipes, so that the words came down through the clouds, to the page.
The day was dimming when Kit looked up.
He grinned at me and sent a smoke ring spinning to the ceiling,
wobbling, enlarging as it rose. Two could play. I sent a smaller one
“That was well done!” Kit said. “Do
And I tried, but I was laughing now, in
foolish joy, happy with my writing, my puppy, my friend. And the
smoke leaked out my nose and mouth all anyhow.
“I bless Raleigh daily for tobacco.”
Kit said. “Don't know how I lived without it.”
“Do you know him well?”
I had seen Walter Raleigh in the
street, in his shining silver and velvet. He had a face like a fox,
but he walked wide, like a sailor. He seemed worlds away from my
“Not well, no.” Kit said. “But I
have met him at Scadbury. Everyone comes there”
Not me, I thought. But I did not say
“Tobacco does not suit everyone,” I
said “Greene says it gives him a cough.”
Greene did not like tobacco, nor did he
like me. I had spoken to him once of my plans for the Danish play. He
smiled to my face, but I heard him scoff when I turned away.
'Novarint' he called me-- meaning
scrivener. Which I am. As was my father. No shame there, none. We do
what we must. I do not have family money. I do not have a wealthy
patron like Kit. I do not have university, to boast of, to call
myself a gentleman.
And now my smile had faded. I wish I
had not bethought myself of Robert Greene. He is enough to spoil
Kit was sitting back, leaning against
the wall. His legs extended forward, his body tilted like a
forgotten ladder. His arms were folded. He was spilling smoke slowly
from the sides of his mouth. But those green eyes were watching me
even so. He was charting my darkening mood. He missed very little.
“Greene is a fool,” He said. “He
who does not like tobacco is a fool.”
I laughed, a little.
“And boys” Kit added. “Tobacco
and boys.” His voice was airy but his eyes were steady behind the
“At least you like tobacco, Kyd.”
Kit could not afterward remember what
excuse he gave. He had, after all, years of mild words to absent
himself from here or there. There were years of things he had ducked,
escaped, avoided. . He left Kyd writing, twisting his pale hair in
Even in the beginning, before he went
to Rheims, Kit had had trouble sleeping. Francis Walsingham spoke of
'The state' and Kit had imagined it to be the crown itself, pushing
into him. In his dreams he felt it crushing him, as the Queen
watched, her black eyes deep in her white face.
In Rheims he had met Robin Poley. It
had helped, for a while. Poley did not look like an intelligence
agent. He did not look like anything. He was the sort of man to buy
you an ale, or two, or three. He made stupid jokes. His features were
plump, his hair receding, he was forgettable.
In Rheims Kit he had done all that they
asked. And in the last seven years he had lived like a fish, hiding
in the shallows, or fighting the hook. He still slept poorly; better
with another man in his bed, for that reason as well as the other.
It would be Poley he spoke with
tonight. There would be a new demand. He pictured Poley's bland
face. Maybe tonight he could say 'enough no more.'
So Kit walked the little distance to
the tavern. The heat of it was good against his shivering sides.
Underneath he was soft flesh and skin, no match for a knife. He felt
his own breath move against his shirt. He took his ale, and some
meat, greasy and hot. He climbed the stairs, without asking. No one
A small room here, with a sagging
shabby bed. Kit took the joint stool facing the door. He ate as he
waited. He was hungry. There was a low fire on the hearth-- more
heat than light. It was enough for his needs. Lamps would be brought
if he needed to read.
The steps on the stairs came. A tread
he did not know, lighter by far than Poley, but not trying to be
silent. A trickle of fear in Kit's belly spread, cold and horrid.
His knife out now, to slip in his sweating hand. And him to the
shadow-most corner of the room. There was no back stairs-- the window
then, and a fall to the icy ground, if need be.
The door opened. Not Poley, but a face
The man smiled. Kit had never seen his
smile before-- it was unpleasant. It did nothing to dilute his miasma
of hostile glee.
“Where is Robin Poley? What are you
“Walsingham sent me.”
“Tom sent you? What, what's wrong?”
Kit's mouth was dry.
“No, blockhead. Not Tom, Francis. “
“But you are young Tom's man of
business-- is that what you were going to say?” Frizer shook his
“I work for the old man,” He said.
Kit sat down slowly. This was a
“Didn't know that-- did you?”
Kit shook his head, mute.
“Eyes everywhere.” Frizer pointed
at his own. His smile was a retraction of the lips, corpse-like. He
drew forth papers, a pen, and ink horn.
“Now. You were in Newgate. We have
the dates. What use did you make of that?”
“Come now,” Frizer said. “Surely
you can do better than that. What did you see? Who did you hear?”
Kit shook his head.
“I was not kept with others. I was
“You were moved after four days had
elapsed. You were held with Thomas Watson. What of him? Did you hear
him at prayer? What did he speak of with you.?”
“Nothing. We spoke little. He has
“He is a murderer.”
“He has not yet had his trial.”
“Well, no matter. What about the man
who collected you-- you have moved into his rooms we see. A Mr Kyd?”
“Kyd has done nothing wrong.” Kit
felt his voice rising. He forced it down.
“Your bail was posted by Ned Allyn.”
Frizer's voice was a disinterested drone. “He was eager to have
you back, Marlowe, to increase his wealth by your immoral writings.
Still, despite his wealth, he did not have the gold to hand. He
borrowed money from a man well known to us-- a Mr Skerries. And Mr
Skerries came to us directly. This was only right.”
“Allyn is good for it. He has plenty
“Aye no doubt. Brothels and bear
“I want out. I want no more of this.
Tell your master, I am done.”
“Hmm. Not so simple, really. Francis
Walsingham, my master, as you say, saved your ungrateful arse when
you were like to loose your place at Cambridge. A word in the right
ear, a letter from the Queen herself. You were permitted to finish
after all. And look at you-- a gentleman now.”
The flick of Frizer's eye was
“That was long ago. I have repaid--”
“I am sure you have. But there is
much work yet to be done. We must be vigilant, all of us. Anyone
might be an agent of Spain. We must watch London as closely as we
“You have younger sisters Mr Marlowe?
How merry you must all have been in that house together, with your
cobbling father. Your parents still live. You are a fortunate man .
And such good people. No one has ever accused them of anything-- Not
It was enough.
Kit bit down on the words that lined
his mouth. He held out his hand for his instructions.
Frizer handed them over and said little
more, he departed.
It was left only for Kit to read,
learn, burn. This as always.
And then home in the dark, with his
Tom Kyd was abed, a dim shape in the
dark, snoring faintly. He muttered something as Kit climbed in, and
rolled away to deeper sleep. It took Kit a long time to do the same.