*Trying something new with this story. I’m telling it in parts, in pieces. This took a while to get going, and then again to finish. Part II will hopefully come sooner than later. It’s sort of a stretch on another story I’m developing, and I kind of like this character even though his role has greatly diminished in my other tale. Hope you like the mood.
Royley landed a third powerful kick to the Thief’s torso. He watched the blond man curl tighter, into a pathetic ball, wheezing tiny breaths. The dry grass under the Thief’s cheek was caked with red-pink blood, the result of a smattering of punches thrown seconds earlier. Royley was older, the weight of age catching up with him, and his experience was worn on his sleeves, his knuckles, and in the redness of his cheeks. But that age had not hindered his speed the slightest. He smiled at the artistic dribble of blood spilling from the Thief’s mouth, and sipped from his steel flask. Warm American rye coated Royley’s throat in alcoholic comfort and stimulation.
Stooping low, Royley hefted the Thief to his feet and shoved him to the edge of the Cherry Grove. “On with ya, lad.” The Thief stumbled past the house of the Van Rensselaers, to the dirt driveway and the waiting carriage. He collapsed onto the seat, passed out immediately.
Royley took his time, savoring the dusk air and the view before him. On the back porch of the Cherry Hill House stood the three women of Cherry Hill, Albany’s women of stature: widow Maria Van Rensselaer, the matriarch, Henrietta Hoffman, family friend, and Elsie Whipple, cousin and family flirt. Each woman stood with backs straight, expressionless faces and hands at their sides, calmly watching the display at the edge of the cherry orchard. Elsie, the youngest of the three, had a light in her eyes, an excitement completely foreign to the other two.
Elsie stepped off the porch and approached Royley with curiosity. Just before her foot touched the grass, Royley thought he saw Maria reach out and flinch, but he decided it was a trick of the day’s dying light.
Elsie was a sprightly young woman, barely more than a girl out of her teenage years. The gossip and rumors of her history rippled through Albany upon her arrival — young woman of great wealth, married too young. Her husband, an inexperienced and immature landowner with high aspirations, had raided her inheritance for a hefty lump of cash. Being her husband and legally in the right, he now controlled all of her assets. Despite their unloving marriage and general disdain for each others’ company — as often is the case with marriages begun too early in life — they remained married, he domineering and leaving her to her own devices, she lonely and playful in public.
“Well done, Constable! I trust my Aunt has paid you handsomely for your protection these last weeks.” She walked forward and brushed against Royley, so close that he couldn’t help but blush.
“Aye, Ms. Whipple. I find I am always available for the necessary service and protection of your family, and yourself. For what you provide Albany in wealth and land, Albany should return to you in the highest manner of security and proper care.” She surprised him then and stuck her hand into his coat pocket, removing his steel flask. As she took a drink, her eyes never left his face. She caught him glance to her breasts, and smiled despite herself.
“That’s a good drink,. And you, a good man. But you would be a better man for the completion of the task at hand. Will you listen for a short spell?” Royley glanced at the Thief, feet still dangling out of the cab of his carriage. On the porch, the other women had already disappeared, no doubt having re-entered the House, perhaps embarrassed by Elsie’s antics and flirtations. Royley nodded, and she led him to the recently constructed shed attached to the back of the house. There was already a rather intricate cobweb under the eaves of the shed, two tiny spiders hard at work completing their masterpiece. Royley thought of his own home, at the opposite end, the North end, of Pearl Street, on the outskirts of Albany. His single bed and two rooms were buried in years of dust and insects, the task of cleaning having been abandoned when his wife passed three years prior. Royley had taken to drinks and unpleasant visits to the bordellos hidden in the dark alleys behind Bates’ Tavern.
“I have a husband, of which you are aware. He is a man of great passion for wealth and good standing in the community, but has little respect for what is means to be a good husband. I’d like to teach him a lesson. A lesson in fear, and you’re just the man for the job.” Elsie was sitting on a small stool within the shed. She looked small, a small shaft of sunset splayed across her face and chest. Royley could’ve taken her, then, but he had a long history with the Van Rensselaers, and it would do him only harm if he were to take advantage of their cousin — no matter how much the temptation.
“What would you ask of me, Mrs. Whipple?”
“I intend to make him look a fool. Despite your loyalty to my cousins, Constable, I trust that you would have the decency to rid them of their one and only family member who constantly chooses to disgrace his good name. John is an adulterer in the most plain manner of speaking.” Elsie reached out for the shovel in the corner of the shed. She touched the blade, peeling crusted dirt and grass from the metal. Royley saw that the shovel was oddly sharp, pointy. He’d never been one for gardening, but in his many years as Albany’s High Constable he was rarely surprised at the weapons people chose to use in various criminal activity.
“I’d hoped that on one of his journeys John would take sick while in the refuge of another woman’s arms. Thus I’d be saved local embarrassment and his indiscretions could be swept under the rug. But alas, his latest conquest has taken place not far from here.” She gestured for Royley to enter the shed. He hesitated, the space being quite small, but stepped inside and leaned close. The blade of the shovel rested between them, level with his stomach. But Elsie’s eyes were non-threatening. In fact, they were very serious.
“Henrietta herself, Constable. John has taken to sleeping with her almost daily. At times, directly in our barn. Right under my nose, if you can believe it!”
“Pardon my expression of surprise, Mrs. Whipple,” for Royley had stood straight as a whip upon hearing Henrietta’s name. “I believed you and she to be the best of friends, in fact.”
“For a time, yes. She’s the only other woman my age willing to venture with me into town on summer nights. But she’s been traveling much on her own of late, and only last week had I come to the realization that her journeys often coincides with those of my husband. I followed her, once, on foot; her driver will rarely take her carriage at a quickened pace.
“Once outside of Troy, Henrietta climbed down from her carriage at the Norman Inn, the place just next to the train station. Beside her carriage was a familiar horse, Artemis — my husband’s horse. You’d have thought I were petrified by Medusa herself, I stood staring so long at them — his horse, her carriage, side by side as though they’d been parked for hours. As it were, I finally regained my senses just at the sun set beyond the hills. Having no desire to venture home in the darkness, I entered the Inn.
“There was no one at the desk, and the saloon was empty of patrons. The barkeep was humming a simple tune, I think writing his own words. Either way, he was lost in thought as I climbed the steps past him. I listened at each doorway until I could hear her, shrill laughter, piercingly bright voice, always full of youth and life. John is not funny, in the slightest, as you know, and sure enough he was yelling for her to quiet herself, to ‘climb on top’…” Elsie stopped, pulled her hand from the shovel’s blade. She’d been picking at it as she spoke, and now there was blood dripping down to her wrist.
Royley was unsure how to proceed. He watched Elsie look at her hand, turning it over slowly like a cat unsure which side of its’ paw to strike with. He reached out a dirty rag from his pocket — the only kerchief he was carrying — but Elsie chose to lick her wound instead. Again she reminded him of a cat, cleaning its’ wound, unwelcome of help or attention — as cats are known to be.
Royley took a moment to look at his carriage, where the Thief’s feet still hung in the air just out the side door. He was out cold, it seemed, which pleased Royley. It warmed him, he found, to know that he’d knocked someone so far from consciousness. It would be a pleasure to bring him back and kick him a few more times, all in the name of security, of course.
Elsie continued speaking suddenly, continuing to stare at the small cut on her finger. “I’ll leave your imagination to fill in the rest of their evening together. I had not slept, and when I descended the stairs past the front desk the following morning the clerk nodded to me as though I’d been a regular resident for weeks. The morning walk was damp, full of muggy air just like our Summers are in the habit of making. I was able to bathe and eat oatmeal before John arrived home. He was chipper and spoke of his trip, his traveling all night and such. I listened, nodded, and even smiled up at him when he kissed my forehead. I was steady in my resolve, and by the time he went to nap I knew, something had to be done.”
Royley felt a cold iciness fall over the shed when she looked at him, right into his soul. Her eyes pierced his and he knew that whatever she asked, he would agree to the task — not out of love, or a particular fondness for her though. Royley despised the Van Rensselaers and their ilk. They paid well, and that was enough to make him keep his mouth shut. Their generous payments for his protection, as well as their political allies, allowed him free reign to use whatever power and violence necessary in any situation, all in the name of their status and standing.
Royley felt he must obey Elsie, because her eyes would never turn away until he did. And when she told him to use his incredible strength against Henrietta, not John, Royley nodded his promise to her.
As Royley approached his carriage moments later, he felt his heart racing. Elsie’s request excited him, but he was also experiencing an emotion he’d not felt since he was a boy. Part of what she said was reassuring. Her request allowed him freedom to take control of Henrietta and dispose her her, very publicly anonymous, but in private circles it would be in the name of the Van Rensselaers. This pleased him, as people would continue to both loathe and fear the family, which made his work much easier.
But this dread, this lost feeling of fear, infected Royley’s thoughts. When he blinked, he could see nothing but her face, Elsie’s pale face, coldly asking him to help her remove Henrietta from their lives. He knew John would find out what she’d done, that John would fight against Royley’s employment and might even seek a sort of revenge — and that was if the man even had a shred of love towards the girl. But what feared Royley more was the expression on Elsie’s face, and when he turned to look back at her, he found she was still sitting in the shed, picking at her wound and causing more blood to flow. But her eyes were still on Royley, watching his back. Her pupils almost black, blacker than the night around the moon. Royley forced himself to look away, sip from his flask.
He kicked at the Thief’s feet, and the man collapsed to the floor of the carriage. Leaning to lift the man into a seat, Royley swore softly and for this moment his mind focused on the task at hand, forgetting the young woman’s eyes — those dark eyes — and losing himself in the task —
The Thief fell lifeless to the floor again, slipping through Royley’s fingers. Royley held up his hands, covered in a deep dark blood. He examined the cabin closer, and noted that the seat and floor were slathered in blood. He traced the streak back along the grass, to the spot he’d beaten the Thief. Blood pooled at the origin. He was thrilled again, and felt himself smile.
His new task for the night would be the disposal of the Thief, most likely outside of Bates’ Tavern downtown, another nameless vagabond without a home, crime again taking its’ toll. Perhaps the Mayor would insist on a bonus for Royley.
And as he drove the carriage down the driveway of the Cherry Hill Home, Royley looked at the dirt path ahead with a new outlook, a hope that business as usual would return. He felt this way, warm with his rye and the thrill of the night’s new work, until he looked at the moon again — full and bright. When he looked away and blinked, there was nothing but Elsie’s eyes, the dark pupils, and the cold stare of a dark soul behind them.
Tomorrow night’s task would be like nothing Royley had faced before.
END PART I.