Z is for Zanker - Chapter Six

 

 

A frantic pounding at the door of Mayor Larkin’s house roused Elizabeth from a restive sleep.  She was supposed to be upstairs with Goodwife Hamilton, but had crept downstairs in the middle of the night to sit in one of the chairs before the fire.

 

It made her feel closer to Jeremy.

 

Several of the men were bedded down in the adjoining room.  Jason Crim, the cobbler, had awakened at her step.  He had acknowledged her presence with an understanding smile, and then gone back to sleep.  Now he and the other former hostages were on their feet, staring at the door as though expecting the Devil himself to walk in.  Master Adams had the fireplace poker in his hand.

 

Jeremy’s father must have been awake already, for he came flying down the stairs at the sound with Robert’s pistol in his hand and was the first one to reach the door.  “Who goes there?” he charged as his hand reached for the latch.  “Answer me!”

 

The pounding only increased, as though the one who knocked was making so much noise he could not hear the question.

 

“I say again, who goes there?” Mayor Larkin called out sharply.

 

This time there was an answer.  A familiar voice cried, “Samuel, it’s me – John Coates!  Let me in!”

 

Elizabeth rose to her feet and pulled her shawl close about her shoulders.  “Uncle John?”

 

Samuel Larkin glanced at her and then began to unlatch the door.

 

“How can we be certain it is him?” Jason Crim asked.  The cobbler was visibly shaken.

 

“By all that’s holy, Samuel Larkin open this door!” the man in the street called out.  “What do you mean leaving a God-fearing respectable man like me shivering on your door-step?  I’ve something of import to tell you and if this door is not opened in one minute, I will remove to another house and you can fish in the dark for the information for all I care.”

 

Elizabeth smiled sadly at the sleight red-haired Crim.  “That’s my Uncle John.  No doubt about it.”

 

Mayor Larkin unlatched the door and it swung open to reveal a dusty, dirty and disheveled John Coates.

 

“Uncle!” Elizabeth cried, running to his side.  “Thank Providence!”

 

“Providence had nothing to do with it, girl,” he snarled as he barged past her.  “Just old fashioned know-how and fast thinking on this old man’s part!”


”What happened, John?” Jeremy’s father asked him as he latched the door.

 

“First things first,” her uncle said.  “I’m parched, and have run ten miles at the least.  Give me a drink, I tell you, and a place to sit.”

 

Elizabeth noticed as they ushered her uncle in that his eyes grew wide when he saw the other hostages all gathered in one place.  Some of the faces that greeted him were none to friendly.  From his outburst in the square just before General Lafayette’s appearance that day four months before, when Major Zanker had ordered him and her taken to the gallows to be hung, the others knew John Coates had made some kind of a deal with the Hessian soldier and they did not trust him.

 

Then.  Or now.

 

“Sit, John,” Mayor Larkin said, pulling a chair out at the table.  “Elizabeth, fetch your uncle a glass of cider and some bread.  I am afraid we have little to offer as the house is brimful and overflowing, and we have not been to market since all of this came to pass.”

 

“Why are all these people here?” her uncle asked gruffly as he took his seat.

 

“Safety is to be found in numbers,” the mayor answered.  As Elizabeth handed her uncle a plate and cup, Samuel Larkin sat in the chair opposite him.  “Where have you been, John?”

 

He took a bite of bread and washed it down with a gulp of cider.  Before his mouth was clear of them, he declared, “With that madman, Zanker!”

 

A general murmur went up from the others assembled in the room.  Elizabeth noticed Goodwife Hamilton had joined them and lingered on the stair.  At Zanker’s name the older woman paled and the room grew very, very quiet.

 

“Zanker,” Mayor Larkin repeated.  “You are certain it was him?

 

His mouth full again, her Uncle John nodded.  “Sure as the Resurrection to come!” he proclaimed.  “He’s in town to revenge himself on us, thanks to that damned Rebel nuisance, Lafayette!”

 

“What has General Lafayette to do with this, Uncle?” Elizabeth asked, surprised.

 

“You speak when you are spoken to, girl!” her uncle growled.

 

“Then answer me,” Jason Crim spoke up.  “If that was indeed Major-general Lafayette of the Continental Army as is the rumor – then it was he who saved us!”

 

John Coates put his bread down and struck the table with his fist.  “That young foreign upstart humiliated Zanker.  Now he’s back.  The Major wants Lafayette, and he thinks by keeping his promise and killing me!  And you!” he pointed to Crim.  “And you!” he added, pointing at William Biggs, “that he will draw the Frenchman out.”  He set to chewing another mouthful of bread and added wearily, “He wants that damn Yankee Doodle too.  And he won’t stop until both of them are captured – or dead.”  Her uncle washed the bread down with the last gulp of ale and then wiped his mouth on his sleeve.  “Now, all of you, listen to me!  Zanker said if I bring him information on the whereabouts of either of these two – Lafayette or Yankee Doodle –  he will spare all of us.”

 

“And just how would we get such information, even if we wanted to?” Richard Adams asked.  “None of us know anything about Lafayette, and even if we did, he’s protected by hundreds of soldiers.  And no one knows who Yankee Doodle is.”

 

“They have both been friends to this town,” Mayor Larkin insisted, speaking for the first time.

 

“Come to think of it, my cousin John out of Darby supplies the American soldiers,” William Biggs said quietly.  “I bet he knows something….”

 

Elizabeth noticed that her uncle was sweating.  She didn’t want to think it, but her heart wondered if the words he spoke were true.  “Uncle, it is not right – in any case –  to exchange one life for another.”

 

“Are you saying that the life of a loyal Tory is not worth more than some foreign rebel who has decided to interfere in our business in order to create a name for himself and seek glory?  Not worth more than a man who hides behind a false name and leads destructive raids against the King’s property?”  Her uncle jumped to his feet and shouted.  “It is our lives or theirs!  Us, or them!”

 

“Lafayette was the one who saved us,” Goodwife Hamilton said quietly from the stair.  “My sister has seen him in George Washington’s company.  She was in the crowd and said it was indeed him.”

 

“Even so,” John Coates countered.  “How do we know it had to do with us?  Perhaps it was just a personal vendetta.  Did the Frenchman challenge Zanker to a duel to free us, or for his own purposes, not caring if a stray bullet struck an innocent?”  He looked from man to man.  “And you saw that boy run.  It was Major Morgan who set us free.  Lord Howe’s man!”

 

There was a general grumble of agreement from some of those gathered in the room that startled and frightened Elizabeth.

 

“But what can we do?” William Biggs asked.

 

“Ask around. See what we can find.”  Her uncle crossed to the hearth and took up a position before it.  “All we have to do is point Zanker in the right direction.  It won’t really be we who do anything.  And remember, it is their necks – or ours.”

 

Into the silence that followed, Mayor Samuel Larkin spoke with a voice of reason.  “Friends, let us not fly off the handle.  There is another course to pursue.”  He crossed the room and stood before her uncle, towering over the shorter man.  “John, you know where this Zanker is?”

 

John Coates suddenly looked frightened.  “You suggest I take you to him?  No!  It is too dangerous.  He’d know and ….”

 

“And what, Coates?  What deal have you made with him this time?” Jason Crim demanded.

 

“I made no deal,” he uncle squeaked.

 

“Gentlemen….  And we are gentlemen,” Mayor Larkin interrupted.  “We will not settle this issue with shouts or accusations.  Let each man – and woman – take themselves off for some time to think and pray before they sleep.  We will meet in this room again at six in the morning, and allow the will of the majority to plot our course.  I pray God you will search your hearts for the path you know is just and right.”  He paused and then continued with his head held high.  “I, for one, could never betray the man my Robert believed in, nor turn in so brave a soul as this Captain Yankee Doodle – whether I agree with his ideals or not.”

 

Those in the room bowed their heads in shame and sincere thought.  As they broke into small groups to talk or went to sit alone, Elizabeth crossed to her uncle’s side.  He was sitting now before the fire, furiously drumming his fingers on the arm of the chair.

 

“Uncle, how can you even think to trust Major Zanker after he said he would spare us, and then called for you to be the first hanged?”

 

“He would not have hung either of us,” he said, looking at the flames.

 

“Is that what he told you just now?  It is a lie and you know it, as much now as it was before.”  She crossed her arms and shivered.  “Zanker is using you for his own ends, and then he will discard you when you have done the dirty work he asks of you.”

 

Her uncle jumped to his feet.  “Hush, girl!  You are not too old to be whipped.  Don’t be insolent!”

 

“I am not insolent,” Elizabeth said sadly.  “I am ashamed.”

 

“Shame?” he asked, gripping her arm.  “I will tell you what you have to be ashamed of – this town that allows such things to go on!  Men like Mayor Larkin who have traitors for sons.”

 

Elizabeth held her tongue as best she could.  “Robert died a noble death.”

 

“No death is noble.”  He dropped his voice.  “And if Larkin thinks I will lead these men to that big cave by the river where Major Zanker is, they have another ‘think’ coming.”

 

“Cave?” she asked.

 

“By the bend of the river on the way to Marcus Hook.  But, hush girl!  No one must hear.”

 

Elizabeth nodded.  She kissed her uncle on the cheek, hoping he had not noticed how she was trembling.  As she climbed the stairs, following Goodwife Hamilton back to the room they shared, Elizabeth considered her choices.  Henry and Isak needed to be made aware of what had transpired in the mayor’s house and of this new information about Zanker’s whereabouts.

 

She had to find a way to leave without being seen.

 


~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

“This is it?” Henry Abington asked as he dismounted and tethered his horse to the post on the opposite side of the road from what appeared to be a somewhat derelict tavern.

 

Sergeant Boggs nodded.  Daniel wore a high-collared coat in the English style and a bi-corn hat pulled low to hide his face and the bandage that covered his wound.  They were concerned he might be identified and the inhabitants of the questionable establishment thereby alerted to their presence.

 

“Aye, this is it,” Boggs said.  “You can see why I tried to warn the general off.”

 

“Yes, indeed.”

 

Isak clapped his hand on Boggs’ shoulder.  “We have all had experience with General Lafayette and his inability to hear the word ‘no’.”  He grinned.  “But then that determination is what overcame the Hessians at Gloucester, and earned him a command before the age of twenty.”

 

“Isak is right, Daniel,” Henry remarked.

 

Boggs looked unconvinced.  “And what does Ambassador Franklin, whom you are so fond of quoting, have to say about youth, Henry?”

 

Henry shifted his glasses back on his nose.  “At twenty years of age the will reigns; at thirty the wit; at forty the judgment,” he answered quietly.

 

“Precisely.  And now the general’s missing.”  Boggs was clearly disturbed.  “There are liars, thieves, and murderers in this place.   I just pray God he is alive, and that he has not been pressed onto some English ship.  Once they realize he is French….”

 

“You are borrowing trouble.  For all we know, the general could have walked into camp shortly after we left.  But let us put aside this idle speculation and seek some hard facts.”  Henry adjusted his cloak and hat.  “Are you ready, Isak?”

 

As Isak nodded, Boggs said, “Ask for Queen Mags.  She’s the one that set us up.”

 

“What does she look like?” Henry asked.

 

“She looks like what she does,” Boggs answered plainly.  Henry knew Daniel to be a faithful man; not one to take advantage of the pleasures of the flesh most soldiers had an appetite for when away from home.  “Reddish hair, powdered.  About forty.  Not fat, but not thin either.  Has a beauty mark on her…well, you know…here.”  He pointed to his chest.  “To draw your attention.  This is a dangerous game you play, Henry.  Would that I could go in with you.”

 

“It is your job to keep watch,” Isak said.

 

“And an important one too,” Henry agreed.  “From what you say, if we are taken we will end below the inn.  We need you to be there to help us escape if it comes to it.”

 

Boggs nodded and drew his pistol.  “I will be waiting.  Just let me at them.”

 

“Your concern for the general does you service, Daniel, but pray be patient.”  Henry laid his hand on the other man’s arm.  “We may yet end this without violence.”

 

Boggs nodded and then backed into the shadows as they turned toward the inn.

 

“So, Henry, how does it feel to be staring into the mouth of the lion’s den?” Isak asked with a smile.

 

Henry shifted his cloak and looked at the pistol lodged in his waistband beneath.  He placed his hand on it and let the cloak fall back into place.  “I’ll let you know once I have entered it.”

 

A few minutes later they found themselves wading through a sea of humanity in search of a table.  They located one at the back near the rear stair Boggs had spoken of.  It was early in the evening still and most of the tavern’s patrons were fairly respectable, a few were even men they knew.

 

Isak brushed Henry’s elbow, drawing his attention to a man in the corner playing cards.  “Do you suppose Goodwife Carter knows her husband is here?”

 

“I doubt anyone who is here, has anyone at home that knows of it.  Though the clientele is not the riff-raff I expected,” Henry leaned in close and spoke softly, pointing at the bar, “though the staff leaves much to be desired.”

 

The tavernkeeper was a thick-set man with a weather-beaten face, grizzled black hair, and tattoos on his arms and chest indicating he had probably been a sailor at some time.  He was a big man as well, six feet tall at least.  Definitely not the type that Henry would have chosen to run into in a back alley – or in a tavern known for its nefarious trade in human flesh.  He would bare watching.

 

Leaning to one side of the tavernkeeper was a woman fitting Sergeant Boggs description.  Maggie or ‘Queen Mags’ had been a handsome woman once, but too much ale and hard-living had transformed her, leaving only a pale reflection of what had once been beauty.  Her royal blue skirts were hitched above her knees, and she wore her stays on the outside of her chemise as an open invitation.  As Henry watched, she left the counter and headed across the crowded room, carrying a tray on which the tavernkeeper had parked half a dozen mugs.  As Maggie moved past them toward a table at the rear of the tavern, she tossed off a quick, ‘I’ll be with you gents in one shake of a dog’s tail’.  True to her word the painted woman reappeared several minutes later, massaging the left cheek of her buttocks and growling about how some people just ‘had no class’.

 

Henry cleared his throat and greeted her.  “Madame.”

 

Maggie’s painted brows winged toward her powdered hair.  “Ain’t you the sweet one.  ‘Madame’.  No one’s ever called me that this side of the puddle.”

 

She sounded as if she came from England, but he couldn’t place the accent.  “Do I have the delight of addressing ‘Queen Mags’?”

 

Maggie immediately looked suspicious.  Her eyes went from him to Isak and back again.  “Who’d be wantin’ to know?”

 

Henry opened his purse and placed several shillings on the table.  “We are looking for information, dear lady.  Someone told us you might have what we need.”

 

She cast a glance over her shoulder at the tavernkeeper who was busy pouring drinks, and then pocketed the coins.  “Someone?”

 

Henry launched into his lie.  “First off let me introduce Joseph.  He is my servant and can be trusted to be…discreet.  I represent a very wealthy client, Madame.  My client is in search of ‘something’ that has gone missing and would be willing to pay almost any price to find it again.”

 

“What’d the toppin’ man lose?” she asked, still wary.

 

“Something very dear.”  Henry lowered his voice.  “Or should I say, someone?

 

Maggie blanched.  “I ain’t got no idea what you’re talkin’ about.  How would I know about someone what’s gone missin’?” she asked, raising her voice.

 

He reached out and caught her hand as she started to move away.   “This man would have been French.  Handsome.  About twenty years of age,” he said quickly.  “And wealthy. Very wealthy.”

 

“Then what was he doin’ here?” she laughed nervously, pulling free.  “I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout no Frenchie what’s gone missin’.”

 

He started to let her walk away and then said softly, “Maggie….”

 

She turned back and saw it.  A gold broach, encrusted with jewels, laying in his open palm.  Henry felt a small pang of guilt.  It belonged to a patient and was being held in trust until they could raise the money to pay for his services – services which, so far, he had given them for free.  If he lost it….

 

“What do you say, Maggie?”

 

Her eyes were round as the pewter plates balanced precariously on the chair-rail bordering the room.  “God’s little bodkin,” she whispered.  “It’s beautiful.”

 

“And costly.  And it’s yours, Maggie, if you will only tell us what happened to my client’s…friend.”

 

She glanced at the tavernkeeper again.  The heavy-set man was arguing with a delivery man and heading out the door.  Maggie chewed her lip and then snatched at the precious object.  Henry closed his hand over it and wagged his finger.

 

“Information first.”

 

“He was here,” she said quickly, “with another man.”

 

“What did this other man look like?”

 

“Sandy hair.  Mid-weight.  Good lookin’ but not handsome.  Now that other one…” her voice trailed off.  “He looked like a prince.”

 

“You’re not far off,” Isak muttered.

 

Henry looked at him and so did Maggie.  “It’s trouble then, if somethin’ happened to him?” she asked.

 

Henry felt a pit open in his stomach.  “You could say that.”  Not only would Sergeant Boggs rip the place apart, but there would be General Washington, a good many officers, and several hundred soldiers to contend with.

 

“I wondered when old Joe gave the nod to nab him.”  She indicated the door through which the tavernkeeper had left.  “He thought he was some foreigner no one would miss.”

 

“Oh,” Henry said, shooting a glance at Isak, “he would be missed.  Trust me.  He would be missed.  Now where is he?”  He paused to still his pounding heart.  “Is he alive?”

 

Maggie’s eyes returned to the gold brooch.

 

“It’s yours, no matter what the news,” he said.

 

“He’s alive.  Well, leastways he ain’t dead that we know.  He escaped.  Left the other man what was taken high and dry.”

 

“Do you know where he is?”

 

She shook her head.  “Left the trail near the fork in the river, part way to Marcus Hook, cut across country from what they could tell.  The boys shot at him, but said they missed him.  Or at least there weren’t no blood.”  Maggie hesitated and then added, “They think he was limpin’ though, from the tracks.”

 

“Is that all you can tell us?”

 

A wicked smile curled her upper lip.  “That and that the boys ain’t too happy with him – or his friend.  Since both escaped Joe ain’t payin’ until the merchandise reaches the harbor from now on.”  Maggie laughed.  “Serves him right.”

 

As Maggie pronounced judgment on her employer, the door to the tavern burst open and Joe, the tavernkeeper, came in with two men who were dragging a third between them.  Isak grabbed Henry’s arm as he recognized him.  “Henry, it’s – ”

 

Henry nodded.  “Sergeant Boggs.”

 

“Sergeant?” Maggie repeated, glancing at the chaos erupting at the door.  “Say. what are you two really up to?”

 

“Madame, I would be delighted to fill you in, but I am afraid at this point, we have no time.”  Henry slipped the brooch back into his pocket and looking at Isak, nodded toward the stair beside their table.  “After you….”

 

Isak nodded in return and just as Maggie reacted, overturned the table blocking access to the stair.  Then the two of them plunged down the dark steps, into the long ill-lit corridor, and headed for the last door and the drop to freedom beyond.

 

“What about Boggs?” Isak called out.

 

Henry was puffing.  “We will have to hope Daniel can free himself.  If not, we will have to return.  The general has to be our focal point at this moment.  Him and Jeremy.”

 

“Here it is!”

 

Henry tried to doorknob and found it locked.  Several wooden bars had been nailed back in place, indicating recent injury.  Oh, well, they would just have to ‘injure’ it again.

 

“Isak?  On Three?”

 

They could hear the sound of fighting floating down to them from the other floor.  And hear heavy footsteps quickly descending the stair.

 

Isak nodded.

 

“One.  Two.  Three!

 

On ‘three’ they each applied a foot to the door.  The aging wood split apart and through the break they gained access, but once within, there was nothing to see but an empty room.

 

“There has to be a device!  Look, Isak!  See if you can find a cord or some other trigger.”

 

Isak moved around the room quickly, feeling and touching everything.  “Nothing!  Henry, there is nothing.”

 

The footsteps in the hall were growing closer.

 

“There has to be.”  Henry declared, placing two fingers to his forehead.  “Think, Henry Abington, think!”  He glanced around and noticed the only object in the room was a single small barrel shoved in the corner.  “Isak, the barrel!  Lift it up!  Spin it counter-clockwise!  Try anything!”

 

Isak frowned at him but did as he was told, reaching the barrel just as the heavy footfall sounded in the hall outside the door.  “Henry, I don’t think it’s going to do any good – ”

 

On that word, the floor dropped out from under them and they plummeted perhaps ten feet to the rocky ground below.  Just as they found their feet, a familiar figure came crashing down behind them.  The sandy-haired man rolled over and then favored them with a grim smile.

 

“Boggs!  That was you?” Henry asked.

 

Sergeant Boggs nodded as he began to move.  “Forget the pleasantries, Henry.  Run!

 

For once, Henry did as he was told without debate.

 

 

Continued in Chapter Seven