Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Teaser for "Aberrant Robber" by James Gervois

Sitting in the darkened corner of the large, ornate room, Cornelius Clarkson could smell the nervousness of the man standing in front of John Bannister’s magnificent, mahogany desk. The man wiped his sleeve across his brow, rocking back and forth, his hands gripping the edge of his hat. The man never took his eyes of Bannister. Clarkson grinned, enjoying the moment, appreciating the power Bannister had over others.

He had met Bannister more than ten years ago when he was in his late teens, bored with his life on the estate and anxious to find adventure. He had quickly realized that Bannister had the capability to provide him with the excitement he craved. Bannister had been visiting his uncle, Sir Godfrey Copley, the High Sheriff of Yorkshire and Clarkson had listened to the conversation, amazed that his uncle had agreed to pay Bannister twenty pounds for every highwayman and horse thief Bannister named who was successfully prosecuted. Clarkson had determined he would find out as much as he could about this short, wiry man with distinctively large ears, dressed in simple clothes. He 4 established that Bannister was the son of a craftsman who used to work on Wentworth’s estate, that he had died in an accident and left Bannister’s mother to bring up a family of eight children in near poverty. Bannister had left home at fifteen and gone to London where, rumour had it, he had joined a band of footpads, robbing wealthy merchants and making his fortune. When he had returned to Yorkshire, he had quickly wooed and married a squire’s daughter and moved into this grand house at Conisbrough, his wife producing three healthy children.

 With an income that was totally inadequate to fund Clarkson’s lifestyle of gambling and whoring, he had started working for Bannister, gaining his trust, introducing him and his family to local dignitaries, Bannister quickly developing a liking for his role as a country squire. Clarkson made sure Bannister was always seen to be a stout upholder of the law, knowing full well that Bannister was now the largest handler of stolen property in the north of the country. Between them they had developed a network of merchants and contacts whom they could approach to sell on any and all of the goods they received.

The man in front of the desk jumped as, disdainfully, Bannister threw the jewelry across the table, the man snatching at it and placing it back into the sack he was holding. Clarkson could see Bannister staring at the man, seeing the fear in the man’s eyes, the sweat gathering on his brow. He knew Bannister always enjoyed these moments when he had a man cowering in front of him, fearful of his reputation, knowing he could decide if they lived or died.

‘Worthless. Why do you bring me such junk?’ Bannister said in his normal, quiet, measured voice, a voice that made even strong men tremble.

The man gulped. ‘Please Sir. This is all I’ve got…it must be worth something.’

Bannister stood up and walked to the window. Clarkson admired his dress, the deep red colour of the top coat, the lace cravat and cuffs, the silk stockings and fashionably pointed, heeled shoes. He saw Bannister turn round, looking at the man. ‘I’ll offer you a pound.’

‘But Sir, this stuff must be worth a lot more than that,’ the man whined.

‘Take my offer or leave,’ Bannister replied, waving his arm towards the door.

Clarkson saw Bannister’s two minders walk slowly towards the man. ‘I’ll take the pound.’

Bannister held out his hand, taking the sack from the man. He dug into his waistcoat pocket, pulled out a pound coin and passed it to the man. He smiled. ‘If you want to improve your lot I hear the Bishop of Lincoln is travelling to Durham during the next few days. Apparently, he only has a few men with him. Travelling along the Great North Road.’

The man touched his forelock. ‘Thank you Sir…thank you for the information.’ He turned and left the room, followed by the minders.

‘Do you think he will fall for it?’ Clarkson asked, getting up from the chair and walking towards Bannister.

Bannister sat down and poured two glasses of wine, passing one across the desk to Clarkson. ‘I’m sure a rogue like that will not be able to resist, especially as we know he runs with that band of ruffians in the forest near Pontefract.’

‘It would be most enjoyable to see the pompous Bishop brought down a peg or two.’ Clarkson took a sip of wine, appreciating the quality. ‘And if he does rob the Bishop, we know where to look.’

Bannister held up his glass. ‘Act quickly Cornelius and we can…acquire the booty and ensure the Sheriff’s men capture the miscreants.’

‘And you can collect the twenty pounds a head when they are sentenced.’

Bannister chuckled. ‘It also rids us of a troublemaker…I don’t trust the man.’

‘Shall we go to town?’ Clarkson knew Bannister liked visiting the hostelries and inns that were increasing in numbers as more and more travelers used Doncaster for overnight stops between Edinburgh and London. He also knew Bannister was always willing to get away from his frigid wife and spend the night with an appreciative young woman.

‘Why not!’ Bannister stood up, issuing instructions, demanding his carriage be brought to the front of the house, his overnight valise prepared. ‘We should celebrate…this stuff can wait until our return.’ Bannister looked down at the stolen jewelry on the desk.