Listen to the Neck
Word Count 622
It was a tavern which had not been here in the years when Kit lived at home. It had been open land then where a boy might run and play. Now he was grown, and he sat.
Kit had the best seat in the house.
Not that the house was much. The the fireplace drew poorly. Each time the wind sang outside, all the smoke backed into the room. After sitting for some time, Kit knocked his pipe out on the side of his shoe. He packed it and lit it, using a straw from the hearth broom. More smoke hardly mattered. And he found it calming. The floor here was sticky with spilled ale and with other things better not thought of. He moved his feet restlessly, tried to stop, forgot, wiggled them again. At the door a man sang, hoping for coin. He deserved none. The drunks came in on the chorus. They were all flat. The musical gifts of the city had declined much in the past ten years. Kit's head ached.
He had not expected contact while he was in Canterbury. The message had come to him at Father's workshop. He had been heaving bales of leather, speaking the limping words that were all he and Father ever had.
The code had been clear, the demand unavoidable. It was Poley too, which meant attention down from on top. He had no idea what Poley was doing here. Poley was supposed to be in France. The whole thing made Kit sweat. And now, Robert Poley was late.
Agents were supposed to have all the virtues that schoolmasters tried to beat into boys: Punctuality, continence, sobriety, respect. Well, that was much to ask. All men had sins, all women too, though women were not paid agents. To render them safe, the sins were itemized, tolerated. Sometimes they were encouraged,used to advantage. He knew his own were on a list somewhere.
Ah, here was Poley now, with a genial joke, with a coin for the singer. He moved easily for his bulk, and his smile was wide and good. But Kit had seen him knife a man in the back, with little more than mild regret, and a grimace at the resultant spray. Poley was a tidy man.
Kit raised his cup in greeting.
“How now, Kit.” The slap to his back was near enough to wind him. Poley was the back slapping sort.
“Here,” Kit slid the wallet across, “Take thy winnings—thou knave” This with a smile,despite the words. It was the phrase that signaled all was well.
“Thankee.” Poley waved for a drink, and one for Kit. He was generous that way, always.
“I did not think to see thee here.” That was safe enough to say.
“No, my plans changed. My man was able to conduct my trading here.”
“Ah. Easier I suppose.”
“No puke stained channel crossing, at least.”
Talk turned to smaller things after that. Kit did not say 'Why did you search my lodgings, and frighten my land-lady.' He did not quite dare. Poley would have no useful answer anyway. There was none. Agents were watched. Something had brought Kit under scrutiny.
Poley fit the description of the man with Skerries. Skerries had knocked Mistress Smith to the ground. No, the prickle in Kit's neck said, don't tell Poley, go around him. He listened to his neck.
He finished his ale, set the cup down.
“I'm for bed.” He said.
“Give you good night.”
Poley nodded-- amiable,over the edge of his own cup.
On the door-step, Kit took a deep breath. The air out here was cleaner.