Paul Doherty: Satan in St Mary

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Paul Doherty Satan in St Mary
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    Satan in St Mary
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    Исторический детектив / на английском языке
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The next morning Corbett was awakened by one of the tavern slatterns. He felt drowsy and thick-headed after the previous evening. He warmed himself at one of the cooking fires whilst he consumed a breakfast of ale and coarse rye bread. He then picked up his belongings and made his way down Cheapside, calling into the open-fronted stall of a barber who shaved his upper lip and chin with consummate skill and, at Corbett's gentle questioning, supplied details about the local coroner who carried out the inquest on Lawrence Duket. He was a physician, Roger Padgett, who plied his trade in one of the side alleyways off Cheapside. After he left the barber's stall, Corbett found the house, a modest two-timbered affair with the huge gilt sign of a bowl and pestle hanging over the door.

Padgett was a garrulous little man inflated with his own self-importance as a doctor and a coroner. A small pretentious figure in his scarlet cloak slashed with blue and lined with taffeta, who carefully inspected Corbett's warrant before inviting him into the lower room of his house which served as his surgery. Corbett did not trust doctors and saw their secret arts as trickery. He looked around the room and supposed Padgett was no different. There was a Zodiac map on the floor, and along the walls shelves full of clay jars and clearly marked 'senna', 'henbane', 'foxglove' or 'eel skin'. A huge wooden bowl stood on the table, full of a fine white dust which made him sneeze and cough until the physician covered it with a damp cloth.

Padgett sat himself on the room's one and only chair and, ignoring Corbett's comfort, abruptly asked. "How can I be of assistance, Master Clerk?"

"By telling me about Lawrence Duket, how and where did you find the body?"

The physician slouched in his chair, his fingers clutching the arms while he looked above Corbett's head and talked as if he was reciting a poem. "Lawrence Duket was found hanged in the church of Saint Mary Le Bow shortly after daybreak on fourteenth January. I believe the Rector, the priest Bellet, found the body. " He looked direct at Corbett. "You have met him?" Corbett nodded and Padgett gave him an odd look before continuing:

"Anyway, Bellet cut the body down, and left it lying in the sanctuary. I and a group of witnesses came to inspect the corpse. There were no marks of violence upon it, no rupture of the skin or any other sign of attack. The only wound was a purple red gash round the neck and a large bruise under the right ear, both of these were caused by the noose and knot of the rope mat Duket tied round his throat when he hanged himself. I then investigated the place of death. A large metal bar which juts out from the side of one of the windows in the sanctuary and the Blessed Chair had been pushed under it. Duket apparently used this to stand on, tied the halter around the bar, fastened the noose about his neck and then simply stepped off the chair. The only extraordinary thing were these black silk threads found around the noose. " He handed them over to Corbett, who studied them for a while before slipping them into his own wallet.

The physician then looked at Corbett and grimaced with his small prim mouth. "That is all. There were the usual signs of a hanged person. The bowels and stomach had emptied, the face had turned a blueish-purple, the tongue was swollen and bitten and the eyes protuberant. "

"Nothing else? No sign whatsoever of any violence?" Corbett impatiently interrupted him.

"It was, " Padgett said slowly, "as I have described for you. I think that Duket killed Crepyn, fled to the church and, through fear or remorse, hanged himself. "

"There were no other signs, no marks on the body?" Corbett persisted and raised a hand to placate the physician's evident annoyance, before continuing: "Of course, your report was very complete. The Lord Chancellor himself commented on that but, was there anything that your professional eye noted but dismissed as having nothing to do with the death?"

"Only one thing, " came the quick smug reply. "Duket had bruises on the upper arms but they were probably only bruises, nothing else. "

Corbett smiled. "Thank you, Master Padgett, and if you remember anything please send it to the chancery. " Before the bemused physician could answer, Corbett was through the door striding up the street back towards Cheapside.

A pale sun had broken through a cloudy sky drawing the usual crowds into Cheapside. Scriveners with their portable trays were ready for business. The stalls were up, the shop fronts down and business was very brisk. There were merchants in Flemish beaver hats and leather boots, lawyers with scrolls under their arms, apprentices in surcoats and hose, women of all kinds and every profession. Haughty ladies in their heavy folded dresses, girdled by low-slung, jewelled belts, their heads adorned with linen wimples and their soft bodies protected by their fur-lined cloaks.

The noise and clamour of the street were all the more strident to Corbett, so used to the quiet serenity of the chancery. Merchants and drapers tried to interest him in velvet, silks or lawn. Food stall-owners and bakers offered hot spiced ribs of beef, eel and meat pies garnished with leeks and onions. Two stall-holders fought over a pile of pewter pots. Corbett saw two pockets picked and held his own purse tightly under his cloak, ever vigilant against the legion of thieves in the capital. A string of hapless, convicted felons were led through the crowd by a group of constables taking them from the Tun to Newgate, and these unfortunates were subject to every abuse possible by those who considered themselves lucky not to be one of them. There were two bawds, naked except for their petticoats, doing penance though their bold eyes, saucy looks, as well as the lewd sniggers of some of the spectators, made it obvious they would soon be back at their trade.

At one time the press of people was so great that Corbett panicked for a while, remembering that fatal press of bodies before the royal pavilion in Wales so many years before. The moment, however, passed and he was through, standing once more before the gate leading to Saint Mary Le Bow. Once again he sensed that feeling of desolation and dread that he had experienced before and tried to remember what he knew about the church but the memory escaped him. The place was deserted except for a few gawking onlookers who promptly disappeared as the black-gowned figure of Bellet strode across to meet Corbett. "Ah, Master Clerk, " the priest proffered a bony hand which Corbett clasped, aware that the priest's white gaunt features and sombre dress only enhanced the sinister fear he had experienced on the previous night.

"I have come to view the church, " Corbett announced more abruptly than he had intended. "Now, in the light of day. "

"All will be revealed!" the priest quietly retorted and

Corbett thought Bellet was more confident than he had sounded the night before but he only nodded his assent and allowed Bellet to escort him up to the main door in the church.

Inside, the entrance was dark and smelt of must and damp. Corbett stopped and looked around, his attention was caught by a narrow iron-studded door on his left. He ignored all else and moved across to open it. "It's locked, " Bellet smugly commented. "It has been for months. It leads up to the belfry and the tower roof but, if you want… " His voice trailed off as if he was bored.

"Yes, " Corbett replied testily, "I want. Open it!"

The priest, his lips pursed in a half-smile, fumbled with a heavy bunch of keys which swung from his belt and eventually he unlocked the door. It creaked open, protesting loudly on its rusty hinges. Corbett brushed past the priest and began to climb the wet, mildewed spiral staircase. The belfry was at the top, its great bronze bells now hanging silent. Corbett gave them a cursory glance and, pulling back the heavy iron bolts, began to push and heave at the thick wooden trapdoor above him until it began to creak and lift upwards.

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