m At that moment, a youth burst in with an armful of newspapers. "Murder in the town!" he shouted to no great effect, for murders were all too common in these violent times. "Extraordinary murder!" he called, perhaps a little disappointed at the response.
"How so?" called a wag by the window. "Have they caught the murderer, then?" The coffee-house clientele erupted into laughter.
"Beskewered by an arrow right through his heart, that's how so!" replied the youth. He had their attention now.
"An arrow?" said Dr. Harker quietly to no one in particular. "Now, that is rather unusual."
"It's the work of the Mohocks, I'll be bound!" said the Reverend Purney, and there was a grumbling of agreement. The newspapers had been full of horror stories about the gang of upper-class thugs.
"I think not," said Dr. Harker.
"Oh?" said Purney. "And why not? They name themselves after savages and behave like savages. Murder with arrows would seem a logical step."
"What difference does it make?" said a young man nearby. "With lords for fathers and uncles in the government, they're never going to be chatting to you in the Condemned Hold, now are they, Reverend?"
Several people nodded and said, "That's right," but Dr. Harker ignored this diversion.
"The Mohocks cannot be ruled out, I agree. But we need more information. Do you have any other facts for us, lad?" he called to the youth.
"I do, sir! There's witnesses that say that this here skewered gent runs past them seconds before the deed, and on into a courtyard with no way out but locked doors--locked, mark you. They follows him and finds him nailed...but not another soul in sight! Not a sparrow, not a tick." A murmur ran round the room.
"But there's more," said the youth, pointing his finger at no one in particular. "It turns out that this here stiff was dead already."
"Dead already?" said Dr. Harker. "What do you mean?"
"Well, sir," replied the newspaper boy, smiling now that he had his audience in his grip, "this here corpse--Leech was his name--he was a soldier-boy, fighting the French in the Americas, God save the King."
"Yes, yes," said Dr. Harker impatiently. "To the point, lad!"
"Well, it's like I was just saying. A military man, he was, and paid the price. Cut down by heathen savages. Murdered by Indians out in the Americas while he was fighting the French some years ago!" Tom's eyes widened.
"What?" said Purney. "Impossible!"
"Killed him dead, they did, and all the men with him."
"Then there must be a mistake," said the owner of the coffee house. "The murdered man must be someone else."
"No, sir. No mistake. His own mother lives not a spit away and verified him with her own teary eyes. His sergeant come down and did the same. There ain't no mistake."
The customers began to mutter to themselves and mumble asides at their neighbors, but the newspaper boy held up his hand. "And ask me how the Indians killed him. Go on, ask me."
"Shot by arrows?" suggested Dr. Harker.
"Arrows it was," said the youth. The customers gasped and turned to the doctor in amazement.
"Come now," he said with a shrug. "It hardly took a genius to divine that if he had been killed by natives, they might use bows." Even so, Tom noticed Dr. Harker turned back to the newsboy with a contented smile. "Is there more?" he asked.
"There is," the newsboy continued. "In his pocket they finds a card--a calling card, if you like. And you ain't never going to guess what was on it!"
There was a long pause--rather too long--and Dr. Harker was forced to break the silence by saying, "I rather fear that we won't. Could you do us the enormous favor of telling us?"
The coffee house filled with laughter again and the newsboy blushed. "In his pocket they finds a card," he repeated, "and on that card there's an embellishment--a figure of Death, no less, pointing one bony finger and looking like to chuck an arrow with the other hand. Now, gents, tell me if that ain't a story or what?"
Even the sour-faced Reverend Purney had to admit that it was quite a story--though one could not always believe what one heard or even what one read in the newspapers. He reminded the customers--again--that he had once heard a report of his own body being found floating in the Fleet. Everyone nodded and smiled, but several customers secretly hoped to see that report proved true.From the Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Death and the Arrow by Chris Priestley. Copyright © 2005 by Chris Priestley. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.