In the cramped rooms above the costermongers on the south bank of the Thames, Christopher Marlowe is sitting upside down on his bed, with his legs leaning up against the wall. He is fidgeting with a carved, oval piece of wood and seriously annoying his roommate, Thomas Kyd, who is sitting at the desk, sorting through some of the many stacks of paper with which the place is littered.
"You're always bored," says Kyd without even looking up.
"Let's go down the pub."
"Because you'll get drunk and start telling scrivener jokes again and then I'll have to kill you."
"How was I supposed to know your father was a scrivener?" Marlowe asks, before continuing, mostly to himself, "What sort of a career is that for a man, anyway? Partway between a lawyer and a loan shark. Scrrrrriveneeeer. It sounds like something you'd catch from an Italian prostitute."
He stops mid-babble. Kyd has turned around and is glaring at him.
"Right. Sorry. Shutting up now."
The room is silent for a few moments. Kyd carefully scratches through something on one of the papers and makes an annotation. Then Marlowe begins humming Greensleeves...
"Kit, I'm trying to work here."
Marlowe rolls off the bed and tries to read over Kyd's shoulder.
"What are you writing?"
"What are you editing then?"
Kyd picks up one of the papers, squints at it and frowns.
"D’you know, I'm not sure," he says in a deeply sarcastic voice. "It's on my desk, amongst my things, but I don't remember writing it. How odd." He shakes the paper out and reads aloud from it. "Not marching now in fields of Thrasimene, where Mars did mate the warlike Carthagens."
"I've been looking for that!"
Marlowe makes a grab for it, but Kyd holds it out of reach.
"It appears to be talking about Dido, now who do I know who wrote a play about Dido? Oh wait that was you wasn't it?"
He silently reads a few more lines, before spluttering, "Who on earth starts a play with a prologue explaining what it's not going to be about?"
"It puts the action in context."
"Puts the audience in a coma, more like. So far we've established that it's not 'Dido: Queen of Carthage', 'Edward the Second' or 'Tamburlaine the Great'. Christopher, does it not strike you as the tiniest bit tacky to start a play with a string of advertisements for your previous works?"
"No, just good business sense. You'll do the same thing if you ever get around to writing a second play."
Kyd is more wounded by this than he's prepared to admit. He screws up the prologue and throws it at Marlowe's head.
"Just keep your things on your side of the room."
He turns back to his desk and shuffles papers randomly, unable to concentrate.
"Don't sulk, Tom. Come on, let's go to The Mermaid and get rat-arsed. It'll cheer you up."
"You're just going to keep annoying me until I say yes, aren't you?"
Marlowe beams at him innocently.
"Gosh, am I annoying you?"
Defeated, Kyd stands up and takes his cloak from the back of the chair.
"Fine, but you get the first round in and absolutely no scrivener jokes."
Some time later
"That reminds me, did I ever tell you about this widow I once knew in Kent? Right? She had three children living, but she swore she only had the two: a shun... I mean a son who was imprisoned in Newgate for treason and a daughter who sold herself on street corners. She'd disowned her youngest son after he joined the Scriveners guild."
Marlowe laughs uproariously at his own joke, then falls over the chair. Kyd take the first possible revenge that comes to hand.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Is this your manuscript I'm accidentally throwing on the fire?"
Marlowe gets up again, plucks the sheets from Kyd's hand and smoothes them out.
"This one's special. This is a story I was born to tell."
"All you were born to tell," Kyd informs him, "is bad jokes."
"Wait. That sounds familiar. The one who makes the deal with the devil?"
"Yes, and the thing about this Faustus is, he's..." Marlowe's hands trace vague shapes in the air as he tries to explain. "He's really clever. I mean the bloke is seriously talented, but he's a bit of a smart arse, right? Thinks he knows better than his professors, better than everybody really. And he gets bored ever so easily."
"He's not based on anybody in particular, then?"
"Oh hush. So anyway, when he gets the chance to have this big secret and become powerful --"
"By using black magic."
"--by using black magic, he jumps at it, because he's bored and it looks fun. And the thing is, it's only after he's signed his name, that he realises he can never get out again."
Marlowe sits down heavily on his bed and gives Kyd a thoughtful look.
"I think I'm going to be sick."
Kyd is about to dig out the chamberpot when he notices something has been pushed under the door.
"You've got a letter."
Marlowe's response of "Who from?" is muffled, due to having his head between his knees. Kyd holds the letter closer to the light, examining the seal.
Marlowe's head jerks up. He snatches the letter from Kyd, rips it open and skims the contents.
"Nothing... I just need some fresh air."
Kyd gives him a skeptical look and Marlowe exits at a run, stuffing the letter in his pocket.
On the other side of London
Baines is still waiting in the alley, when he hears a distant clock strike the half hour. He has just decided to give up waiting for Marlowe when a skinny, wheezing fellow skids to a halt in front of him. He pulls a crumpled letter from his pocket and waves it in Baines's face.
"The fiery stars look not with eyes," Baines quotes.
Marlowe hasn't even bothered to memorise the counter-signal. He reads it directly from the letter.
"Nor yet blind fish within the mighty deeps." He makes a face. "Honestly, who makes these up?"
"Right. Yes. Sorry. Only just got the letter."
Baines holds out a hand to shake, Marlowe only just manages to connect.
"...the same Christopher Marlowe who wrote Tamburlaine?" Marlowe asks with a look of studied modesty.
"Oh," says Marlowe. "Yes to both, actually."
"You came here drunk?"
"S'the perfect cover. No Catholic conspirator's going to believe that the cream of Her Majesty's Secret Service would show up to work pissed."
"Forget conspirators, I can't believe it. How the hell did you ever become a spy?"
"Funny thing, actually. I was just talking about that."
In the house of Lord Strange
Baines and Marlowe have eaten supper at Lord Strange's house, and remain seated at the table while Strange smokes a pipe and holds forth regarding the Privy Council’s latest rulings.
"Absolutely absurd that Walter bloody Raleigh can swan off to the outer reaches of the known world, but a man of influence here in London can fall under suspicion for suggesting the smallest trip to the continent. What exactly is it they think I'll do?"
"Visit Bayeaux and observe the tapestries, or so I gather," says Poley, the other guest at the table. He has a smooth voice and a rather off-putting habit of nodding along with whoever happens to be speaking.
"Nobody's looking for another Hastings, Poley." Lord Strange booms. "I have family on the continent who want to protect my interests. When they see those interests thwarted by this ridiculous bureaucracy, they become upset on my behalf, that's all. You can't fault people for watching which way the wind blows."
"Or nudging the weathercock if it isn't blowing quite right?" Baines suggests, nonchalantly.
Strange refuses to be drawn on the subject, merely observing, "Your friend's awfully quiet."
"He is, isn't he?"
Marlowe is, in fact, dozing in his seat. Baines carefully takes a two-pronged fork and "accidentally" stabs Marlowe in the hand.
"Ow! What the... oh. Er... Absolutely, my Lord."
"I was saying, Mr. Marlowe, that it’s unusual for someone involved in the theatre to be so quiet. The groups I sponsor never seem to shut up."
"Hardly a surprising silence," Poley interjects. "From what I hear there's a real chance they're going to close down the theatres as breeding grounds for the plague. Marlowe's probably afraid for his livelihood."
"I hope I've got more strings to my bow than that, Mr. Poley, but in any case I think there's enough time left for me to see my newest work performed."
"What are you working on?" Strange asks.
"It's a new adaptation of the Faustbüch."
"Ah! The tale of the satanic scholar?"
Marlowe looks Strange up and down speculatively.
"Of course, it doesn't have a sponsor yet..."
"You must send me a draft, Mr. Marlowe. I’ve heard great things about your work. And now, gentlemen, I really must say goodnight."
Outside the house
"I knew it was a mistake taking you in there!" Baines is shouting at Marlowe as loudly as he dares.
"He couldn't even tell! I was all right once I'd had something to eat."
"All right? You fell asleep at the table!"
"Well in my defence you were being very boring. He'd have fallen asleep himself if he hadn't been so polite."
"And at the end: what was all that about?"
"Where in the brief did it say you could sell the suspect a play? You were supposed to be finding out whether his brother is raising an army in Holland, not wasting time on chit-chat. What on earth were you hoping to achieve?"
"A sale, of course." Marlowe grins at Baines and walks away. "Hadn't you heard? This is just my day job. I'm actually trying for a career in show-business."
After a moment, a shadow detaches itself from the darkness at the side of the house. Poley stands beside Baines as they both watch the departing Marlowe. This time when Poley speaks his voice and manner are entirely businesslike.
"You can see why we have concerns."
"He's a liability."
"But he's also been a favourite of the Walsinghams for a long time. They won't get rid of Marlowe without serious evidence against him. That’s what I’m here for."
"And Marlowe doesn't know you're onto him?"
"He doesn't even know I'm an agent. As far as Marlowe's concerned I'm just one of Lord Strange's men. Which makes me both a suspected Catholic and a useful contact."
Baines nods, then gestures over his shoulder toward Lord Strange's house.
"And your verdict on his Lordship?"
"Too comfortable to be a threat. He'll only reach for the crown if it's offered to him on a platter."
"No shortage of platter-carriers about."
"That's what you’re here for. Well, you and Marlowe..."
"D'you know, I've been thinking all evening that Marlowe's name sounds familiar, but I can't quite place it."
Poley gives Baines a long look.
"Oh, I believe your paths have already crossed."
"How did you…? You’ve seen my file."
"Of course I’ve seen your file. Qui custodiet ipses custodies?"
"Which caretakers are...?"
"'Who watches the watchmen?' Or in this case, 'Who spies on the spy?'”
"Well, somebody should be keeping an eye on this Marlowe," says Baines with feeling. "You say he was working with me at Rheims?"
"No, not with you. I wouldn’t say with you... Reports came back to England that you were planning to wipe out that entire seminary by poisoning the well water."
"It wasn’t a seminary. It was a training ground for Catholic spies."
"Quite. But Francis Walsingham became persuaded that your plan was too risky. Foolish even. He seemed to have the idea that it was better for us to infiltrate the enemy and track their movements than to wipe them out. Marlowe was sent to Rheims posing as a student priest and had you thrown to the wolves."
"Francis Walsingham would never…"
"Our late founder’s judgement grew... cloudy, towards the end. He was easily led. According to the records Marlowe wasn't involved in the decision to sacrifice you. In fact if the files are to be believed, he never even knew your real name, but it isn't hard for an intelligent man to read between the lines."
Poley pauses, to see if this is having the desired effect.
"Marlowe charms people, Richard. It was useful when he was working for us, but now we suspect he’s playing his own game, it’s a danger we can't afford. That's why I assigned you to watch him and that’s why I’m telling you about Rheims. If you ever find yourself being taken in by him, remind yourself that he's the reason you spent a year in that French prison."
"And you really believe that he was working for the Catholics all along? He talked Walsingham into selling me out?"
"Oh, didn't I tell you? Marlowe's not working for the Catholics. It's much more serious than that."
The rooms above the costermongers
Marlowe is sitting at the desk scribbling fitfully, but stops at the sound of a slamming door.
"Tom? That you?"
Kyd stomps in, brandishing a pamphlet. Marlowe takes one look at his expression and jumps to the obvious conclusion.
"Oh shit! Did they close the theatres after all?"
"No. In fact, the word is, Pembroke's Men have been passing bribes around and the theatres won't close until they've made their investment back on their new play."
"Why not just cut out the middleman and bribe the plague to stop killing people?"
"Knowing that lot, they’ve probably tried. I was thinking of going to go see it this afternoon, if you wanted to come."
"Maybe, but if the theatres are still open, what's put you in a mood?"
Kyd holds up a book dramatically.
"Robert Greene strikes again."
"Go on then, what's been annoying the odious little tit this week?"
Kyd opens the book and proceeds to paraphrase.
"Blah, blah, blah. Why does every play these days have to end in a bloodbath? Why can't people write about nice things? Blah, blah, blah. Blank verse is for hacks. Blah, blah, blah. Everybody who's more famous than me is rubbish. The usual."
"Well of course he doesn't like blank verse. You've got to be able to count to ten to write it."
Kyd continues flipping through the book.
"Thomas... Didn't you used to be friends with a Thomas?"
"Half the people I know are called Thomas. You’re called Thomas. I'm surrounded by more Toms than the landlord's cat."
"Thomas Nashe, then. I'm sure you've mentioned him."
"Oh, Tom Nashe! He's the one who wrote Dido with me. I should find out what he's up to these days. He's a great bloke, really talented. Why?"
"He insults you in the foreword."
"I never liked that greasy, little weasel. What's he said?"
"He calls you an arrogant idiot and says… Oh yes, here we go again. He says I'm just a jumped up scrivener's boy who's got no business writing anything other than contracts."
"You should tell him you haven't written a play in ages. Might cheer him up."
Kyd looks stung.
"I'm working on that Danish thing again, actually."
"Death, revenge, play within a play? Didn’t you already do that one? You can't keep writing the same play over and over, Tom; people will start to notice."
"Thanks so much for the encouragement. I'm going to the theatre. You coming or not?"
"I'm coming. Who's the writer, anyway?"
"That new bloke from Stratford."
"No decent writer ever came out of the Midlands. It's going to be shit."
"Oh, I don't know. Robert Greene just called him a talentless crow."
"I like this play already."
The rooms above the costermongers, a little later
Baines slips quietly into the room, pocketing a set of lockpicks. He looks around in disgust at the mess, before homing in on the chair at the desk. Flipping it upside down, he finds that one of the legs is tipped with cork. He removes the cork and proceeds to pull, from the hollow chair leg, a collection of thinly rolled papers, which he smooths out and rests on the nearest stack while he returns the chair to the way he found it. Gathering up his discovery, he leaves the room. He doesn't notice he has left one of the secret papers lying on top of the stack. Poley is waiting for him outside
"You found them?"
Baines presents Poley with the papers.
"Exactly where I said they'd be."
Poley frowns and scans the papers.
"The trouble with training our agents in how to hide things is that everybody who had the same training knows exactly where to look."
"He'd have been better off just leaving them on the floor. The amount of crap in there, it would have taken me years to find them."
"There it is!"
Poley's finger stabs at the document. Baines peers at the paragraph in question.
"That doesn't prove anything. It's just bad theology. Offensive, but hardly treasonous."
"Any man who picks and chooses which doctrines to follow is a threat. Next he decides he can pick and choose which laws to follow."
"Maybe so, but until he does –"
"Shall I make you a prediction?" Poley asks and doesn't wait for a response. "Because the next great threat to the crown isn't going to be some declared war from a foreign enemy. It'll be the Huguenots or the Puritans. It'll be the endless stream of refugees from Europe, who flee the Catholics but don't accept our own church. Who pick and choose doctrines, who chip away at the fabric of who we are. If something isn't done, there'll be civil war in this country in less than a generation. Make no mistake, the irreverence of men like Marlowe is a bigger danger than Spain's armada ever was."
"But proof! We still have no proof he's done anything. You're just talking about what he's capable of."
"And he's capable of massive destruction. Destruction of everything this country stands for." Poley hands the documents back to Baines.
"You can put these back in his chair. I've got no doubt whatsoever now that Marlowe is a threat."
"But without proof..."
"If we can't find proof, we'll create it."
Poley walks off and Baines watches him go, a deeply troubled look on his face. He goes back into the room and replaces the papers, finishing in a hurry as Marlowe and Kyd are heard offstage, returning from the theatre. He brushes past Marlowe in the street as they arrive, but Marlowe is too busy telling jokes to notice.
"Did Richard the Third know he was going to be king?" He doesn't wait for a reply before continuing, "No, but he had a hunch!"
He laughs at his own joke. Kyd shakes his head.
"If you keep this up, I'm going to be forced to punch you in the face."
Marlowe ignores him.
"D’you know what the best thing about that play was?"
"It was me!"
"Not punch, stab. Stab you in the face."
"I mean, everybody’s going on about how this bloke’s the next big thing and he’s blatantly copied all the best bits from me! I’m inspirational! I’m a star!"
More post has been pushed under the door during the day. Marlowe scoops it up as he enters and drops it onto the nearest stack without reading it.
"Did you say something?"
Kyd flops onto the bed.
"Doesn’t it bother you?"
"What? Being muse to millions?"
"I was going to say aren’t you worried somebody else’s version will be better, but I think you’ve already answered that question, Mr. Egomaniac."
"Well, be honest. The possibility’s fairly remote."
"It's going to happen to me. I'm going to slave away at Hamlet and then somebody else is going to rewrite it and theirs is going to be the version everybody remembers."
"You're incredibly boring when you're being insecure. Have I told you that?"
Kyd picks up the post Marlowe has dropped. He begins to go through the letters.
"The landlord's after us again."
"I'll sort it out tomorrow."
"A Lord Strange is interested in buying Faustus when it's finished."
He reaches the paper Baines left behind.
"The fiery stars look not with eyes"?
"Nor yet blind fish within the mighty deeps," Marlowe rattles off, automatically.
They both look at each other in confusion. There is a long pause before Marlowe collects himself.
"Well, obviously that's part of a new scene I'm writing for Faustus..."
"Funny," says Kyd in a voice that says it's not funny at all. "It's not your handwriting. Is there something you'd like to tell me?"
Poley is loitering in the churchyard as people go by. As soon as thinks he is unobserved, he takes out a large poster and hangs it from the railings of the churchyard. He exits, whistling.
As soon as he is gone, Baines steps forward and removes the poster. He carries a shoulder bag full of them.
"Another one? How many does he have?"
The poster is in verse and the content is inflammatory to say the least.
You strangers that do inhabit this land,
Note this same writing, do it understand.
Conceive it well for safeguard of your lives,
Your homes, your families and your dearest wives.
Our poor artificers do starve and die,
For that they cannot now be set on work.
And for your work more curious to the eye.
In chambers, twenty in one house will lurk.
Raising of rents was never known before,
Living far better than at native home.
And our poor souls are clean thrust out of door
And to the wars are sent abroad to roam.
Since words nor threats nor any other thing
Can make you to avoid this certain ill.
We’ll cut your throats in your temple praying.
Not Paris massacre so much blood did spill.
The poster is signed, ‘Tamburlaine’. Baines stuffs it into his bag with the others.
The rooms above the costermongers
The atmosphere in the room is less chilly now. Marlowe and Kyd sit side by side on the bed, talking.
"So when you said you were out in the country getting background material for The Passionate Shepherd...?"
Marlowe grins at him.
"I was more out of the country."
"I thought that seemed weird: you doing actual research."
"You can't tell any of this."
"I won't. I swear it on the bible."
"On your parents' lives."
"I swear! Look, how long has this been going on for?"
"Since I was at Cambridge. The Secretary of State recruited me. Not the new one. The old one - Francis Walsingham. Just to pass on gossip about the other students. Then they offered some serious money if I'd go out to France posing as a novice priest. I spent so much time away from Cambridge, I nearly didn't graduate. The Privy Council had to write a letter to the university ordering them to give me my masters degree."
"Probably for the best. I wasn't a very good divinity student."
"I can imagine," says Kyd drily.
"Working for Walsingham was only ever supposed to be a bit of fun, but now he's dead and I'm not sure how to get out."
"Can't you just stop?"
"I used to think that, but you can't, not really. I worked it out when I was writing Tamburlaine. You've got to be working your way up the ranks all the time or they'll start to wonder if you've gone over to the other side. It's fight or die. Honestly, Tom, I've been shit-scared a lot of the time."
"Why on earth did you sign up in the first place?"
"I didn't realise at first what I was letting myself in for. And the money was too good to refuse."
"It pays a lot then?" Kyd asks meaningfully.
"And you let me think we were in danger of eviction because we couldn't make the rent?"
"Nobody was supposed to realise I had another job. You can't be angry over that. Nobody was supposed to know."
"Yeah, but now I do know and I am angry."
Kyd stands and pulls his cloak on.
"I'm going for a walk. I did tell you to keep your things on your side of the room."
The street outside
Kyd leaves in a huff. He storms down the street, passing Baines who is still carrying his bag of posters. A moment later, Marlowe appears and tries to follow him. Baines blocks his way.
"Marlowe, we have to talk."
"God, not you again?"
Baines grabs Marlowe by the shoulders and holds him still.
"Look, I have reason to believe the power entrusted to one of her majesty's agents is being abused in an effort to..."
"I don't care."
He flings his hands up, knocking Baines away against the wall.
"Look, I'm off duty, go bother somebody else."
Marlowe chases off after Kyd. Baines rubs the side of his head in amazement and stares after Marlowe for a moment. Then he takes a poster from his bag and sticks it to the wall of the costermonger's, angrily thumping it with a fist to be sure it sticks.
Kyd wanders aimlessly backstage, drifting towards a storage area where a pane of glass is propped up behind a barrel of water. He examines it, splashing his hand through the water. Marlowe appears behind him.
"Tom? Are you-?"
Kyd gestures at the water and mirror.
"What's all this in aid of?"
"Oh, that? Well…" Marlowe seems relieved at the change of topic and goes on eagerly. "It's this idea I had, for the play. A brand new special effect, I invented. See, the play’s like a set of scales. If the audience doesn’t see the powers Faustus has been granted then how are they going to appreciate how much he loses? D’you see?"
"I’m afraid not. Please, continue talking to me as if I were stupid."
Marlowe gives him an appraising look, but can't tell if this is Kyd being his sardonic self or a warning of a coming explosion.
"So I realized I had to show something really magical." Marlowe walks off-stage and reappears reflected onto the glass directly above the barrel. He appears to be walking on water. "See? Two mirrors angled at the edge of the stage and any man can walk on water. Isn't that brilliant? It turns out miracles are pretty easy to manufacture if your audience wants to believe." He reappears. "Do you want to try it?"
"Don't be an idiot, Kit. People won't stand for it."
"Of course they will. It's perfectly safe. All the actor needs to do is -"
"I'm not talking about actors. Who cares about actors? I'm talking about the Master of Revels. I’m talking about the Privy Council!"
"Why should they mind?"
"You just came out and called Saint Matthew a liar."
"Oh. Well, yes, but in context -"
"What context? You think you can reduce the gospels to the level of a conjuring trick for a play and nobody will mind?"
"If it's a serious, religious play..."
"It's not, though. Is it? It’s an autobiography."
And now Marlowe thinks it might be an explosion after all.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that I'm getting sick of John Faustus and Christopher Marlowe for the same reasons. It means that if you're going to sell your soul for a shot at stardom, you'd better be ready to pay up. It means that flicking food at the pope and indulging in pointless practical jokes-"
"You said you liked the funny scenes!"
"- is unforgivable when you've been given the opportunity to do whatever you want."
"Excuse me? When have I been able to do whatever I want?"
"Kit, I'd have given my left bollock for the chances you've had. Do you realise what it's like? How hard it is to accomplish anything, knowing that no matter how good it is, Robert Greene's just going to publish another of his bitchy leaflets saying I'm just a talentless little scrivener's boy who thinks he's worth something just because he can read and write. Knowing that everybody's going to be nodding along with him, saying: 'Thomas Kyd? Yes, he's alright in his way, but he's not really one of us is he?' Watching them block me at every turn over something I have absolutely no control over."
"Greene insults me too. He insults everybody. He's a pillock. It's not the end of the world."
"Oh yes, you've said that before. Over and over, you've said that before. I used to try so hard to be like you. To not let them get to me. I used to think how brave you were just letting their unfair criticism just sail over your head. But it was all a big lie, wasn't it? You didn't care because you knew people in high places. You knew that if it came to the crunch, you were one of them. You never worried that a chance word from the wrong person could leave you penniless, because you had a second job you'd never told me about. You just sat there and let me worry myself to death while you told scrivener jokes and pissed around and played with your stupid lump of wood."
"It's my last," says Marlowe in a voice as chilly as an iceberg.
"Your last what?"
Marlowe pulls the wooden oval from his pocket.
"It's called a last, idiot. It's what cobblers use to shape shoes. I don't know where you got the idea that I was born into a life of luxury, but my dad makes shoes in Canterbury. That's why I carry the bloody last around. It's not about privilege, it's about attitude. The only reason I moved forward and you didn't is that I carry it here..." Marlowe holds the last to his chest, against his heart, "and you carry it here." He wedges the last against his neck, to indicate an abnormally large chip on the shoulder. "Now in case you weren't listening earlier I've had some pretty fucking serious problems of my own going on. So if you could put a sock in all the 'Poor me, I never went to university' whining, I'd appreciate it. This is not my fault!"
"Maybe not," says Kyd in a low voice, "but I can promise you that if I'd been able to go to Cambridge, I'd have got my degree by working for it. Not calling in favours."
Kyd walks out. Marlowe fidgets with the last in frustration and only just stops himself from throwing it at the mirror.
Baines and Poley stand together in front of one of the Tamburlaine posters.
"Dangerous sentiments," says Baines.
"Yes," says Poley. "The Privy Council is taking it quite seriously. So far they've authorised searches of private property without a warrant and the torture of any suspects whom we feel aren't co-operating."
Baines eyes the poster, uncomfortably. Poley smiles.
"I thought," he says, "under the circumstances – you might enjoy a trip abroad. There's an assignment coming up in Holland. You could take Marlowe with you..."
A room in Flushing
There are shouts and the sound of running feet. Marlowe and Baines both burst through the door, shut it behind them and then lean on it, panting heavily. Baines is the first to get his breath back. He reopens the door cautiously and looks out to see if their pursuers are there. The coast is clear and he shuts the door again, turning to face Marlowe. Marlowe - having regained is composure - is once again playing with the wooden last.
"I am finished sticking my neck out for you," says Baines hotly.
"You didn't have to go and get involved."
"Well God knows what would have happened if I'd left you to get on with it. You'd already done everything but call his mother a whore."
"He had to know that we were serious. Those people always try to rip you off."
"Are you trying to mess this up? How are we supposed to even get to the assignment when the only horse courser nearby wants to kill us?"
Marlowe doesn't answer, but continues to play with the last, bouncing it off the walls and catching it again.
"It's like you don't even want to be here."
"Bizarrely, no. I don't want to be here. I had this stupid quarrel with my friend and never got a chance to make it up. So now instead of putting things to rights, I’m stuck in bloody windmill-land with you. I frankly think I’d settle at this point for being back in Canterbury while my Mum and Dad deliver – yet again - the latest variation on the theme 'Why don’t you find a girl and settle down?'”
"You’re doing it again, aren't you?"
"I'm sorry, Baines. I'm doing what again?"
"Talking in blank verse. Stop it."
Busted. Marlowe stops.
"I’ve got to amuse myself somehow. It’s ridiculously boring here. That punch up with the horse courser was the most excitement we've had since we arrived. You’d never know it was a war zone."
"There are men who'd give their eye teeth to be where you are now."
"Can I swap with one of them?"
"We’re doing important work, you should show more respect."
"God, you sound just like..." He tails off, then decides to change tack. "Why respect something useless? Because we’re not doing important work. Be honest. We’re sitting here like idiots waiting for funds and instructions. How complicated do the instructions need to be? ‘Go find Lord Strange’s brother. Tell him you’re Catholic and want to defect. Take the first opportunity that presents itself to have a dekko at his troops.' Simple!"
"And without tribute you’re going to convince him, how exactly?"
"Why can’t we just sway him with words, then keep the cash?"
"Ah yes, your famous skills of persuasion. The ones which worked such miracles down at the stables."
"Well it beats your plan, anyway."
"We’re given orders for a reason. If you spent a little less time playing the petulant child, you’d see that."
The last bounces off the wall again and narrowly misses Baines’s head. As Marlowe turns his back to fetch it, Baines gives in to the urge to bite his thumb at Marlowe. Marlowe pockets the last and turns back to face Baines.
"I’ve had enough of this, I’m going out."
"Just out and don’t you bite your thumb at me."
Marlowe slams the door behind him. Baines counts the syllables in this on his fingers again, scowls and bites his thumb again at Marlowe’s departing back.
The room in Flushing, later that day
Marlowe returns, brandishing a coin.
"Problem solved. Look at this."
Baines takes the coin.
"It looks like a dodgy shilling."
"There’s nothing dodgy looking about it. You compare it to a real one. They’re identical."
"Have you gone completely around the bend? It’s made of pewter!"
"The pattern’s identical. The man who made it’s just unbelievable. He says he could do me a chest full of real looking ones in two days time."
Baines stares at him, gobsmacked.
"And the goldsmith’s called Gilbert Gifford. Isn’t that priceless? Gilbert Gifford the Goldsmith - try saying that six times fast!"
"Counterfeiting’s a hanging offence! What possessed you?"
"I was bored."
"That's not an excuse; that's barely a reason!"
"The sooner we buy off Sir William, the sooner we can get information on his troops and get back to England. If we make a profit off it, so much the better."
"You've no authority to do that."
"I don’t see why not. Surely I've got as much right to coin money as the Queen, if it’s to be used in her interests? If you think about it, I’m saving her money, really. You're just jealous you didn't think of it first."
"Picking and choosing which laws to follow," Baines says to himself, then aloud he says, "I'm going to the Governor."
Marlowe grabs Baines by the shoulders and holds him still. Baines flings his hands up, knocking Marlowe against the wall in a mirror of their earlier encounter in the churchyard. Marlowe straightens up rubbing his head, but Baines hits him, knocking him to the floor. There is a short scuffle as Marlowe fights back, but Baines is a bigger man and manages to knock Marlowe out. He pockets the bogus shilling and begins to systematically tie Marlowe up.
The rooms above the costermongers
Poley surreptitiously lets himself into Marlowe’s room. He removes the chair leg's false tip and shuffles through the papers inside before finding what he is looking for. He grins and settles back on the bed to read. Shortly afterwards Kyd enters his room and begins talking to Poley, thinking he is Marlowe.
"So you finally turned up. Look, I'm sorry about…"
He notices it isn't Marlowe and pauses, wrong-footed.
"Sorry, I thought you were somebody else. Are you here about the rent? Only my roommate's not --"
Poley stands up.
"I’m arresting you in the name of Her Majesty the Queen. You stand accused of subversion, blasphemy and treason."
"Is this a joke?"
Poley holds out one of Marlowe's papers.
"I was empowered by the Privy Council to search your room for evidence relating to death threats publicly posted near here. While searching, I discovered documents in your possession containing vile and heretical conceits denying the divinity of Christ."
Kyd looks at the papers.
"I've never seen these before in my life."
"I'm sure we can jog your memory."
He puts a hand on Kyd's shoulder and begins steering him towards the door. Kyd pulls away.
"Are you serious? Look it's not even my writing! It's not mine!"
Poley’s smooth manner dissolves and he shoves Kyd backwards, hard. Kyd staggers, but doesn't fall. He considers retaliating for a moment, and then sees Poley's hand come to rest on the hilt of his dagger. Kyd is unarmed; he subsides.
"Instead of arguing, maybe you should be coming up with an answer to where those papers came from, eh? Because I work for some very impatient men and if there's one phrase they hate it's 'I don't know.'"
The room in Flushing
Marlowe has come to. He is tied up on the floor, but still trying to talk his way out of trouble.
"Just think about this for a moment, Baines."
Baines does a quick syllable count on his fingers and kicks Marlowe.
"I have thought about it. You committed a crime and you were stupid enough to admit to it. Case closed. You'll be lucky if the Governor just seizes the money and sentences you. He could easily assume that you were coining the money to defect to Spain. You could find yourself up on a charge of treason."
Marlowe bursts out laughing. Baines is astonished.
"Sorry. Sorry. But that's not going to happen, though, is it? I’ve got friends in rather high places, you see. So if either one of us is going to be in trouble..."
"I'll chance my arm and obey the law, anyway. I've got a sort of feeling, Marlowe, that your friends in high places might be rather tired of doing you favours."
The rooms above the costermongers, weeks later
Marlowe sits at the desk in his room. All the nervous energy he has previously expended in fidgeting and bantering is now channelled into writing at a furious speed, with a great many crossings out. He is intent upon his task and muttering to himself.
"You fiery stars that looked upon... no. You stars that reign'd at my nativity. Whose influence hath allotted death and hell."
There is a knock at the door.
Poley enters. His confident manner is entirely absent. He is visiting Marlowe as one of Lord Strange's men.
"You sent for me, sir?"
Poley looks down at the papers on the desk.
"What are you working on?"
"I thought you'd finished that? Lord Strange wanted to have it ready for the moment the theatres re-open."
"I thought I had finished, but the ending is wrong."
"So change it."
"It's not that simple. Normally I'd talk it out with Tom, but he's... unavailable."
"You could tell me, instead?"
Marlowe rubs his face in agitation.
"Well, in the play as it stands, at the end, God intervenes and Faustus ascends to heaven. It's an astonishing statement of divine love. A triumph of faith and hope."
"And it doesn't work!"
"He can't be saved?"
Marlowe looks at him bleakly.
"No. I've been over and over it in my head and there's only one way this can end: in bloodshed."
"But you still want a happy ending?"
"Silly, isn't it?"
Marlowe takes a letter from the desk.
"Poley, I need you to get this to Lord Strange."
Poley favours him with a disingenuous grin.
"Oh, you can tell him about the play yourself, sir. He’ll understand and after all, so long as you report to the council every day, your parole says you can go wherever you--"
Marlowe shakes his head.
"It's not about the play. And being seen with me could put his Lordship in a very dangerous position. I'm putting you in a dangerous position, by asking, but there's nobody else I can trust."
"What's in the letter?"
"You remember Richard Baines? He was at Lord Strange's house some months back."
"Tall fellow? Not very bright?"
"That's him. He wants to destroy me. I thought he testified against me out of stubbornness, but there's more to it than that. The death threats posted all over town, signed by a character from my play? The council rules that suspects can be tortured and the next day my room is raided and Tom Kyd is thrown in jail?"
"Baines framed you?"
"He's not done yet. If Baines planted evidence in this room..."
"Then those papers weren’t yours?"
"Of course not."
There is an awkward pause. Marlowe gives Poley a searching look. Poley does not quite meet Marlowe’s eye.
"As I say, if Baines planted evidence in this room and Tom was arrested on the strength of it, then how long do you think he'll stay on the rack before he points the finger at the only other person who could plausibly have written them?"
"You're only free for as long as your roommate can withstand torture?"
"Well, he's lived with me for years, so he's had practice. Look, can you just get the letter to Lord Strange. I need money. If I go now, there's a chance I can make it to Scotland."
"And do what? Not much demand for theatre up in Edinburgh."
"Be a scrivener or something, I suppose."
"I'll take the letter, but I think I know already how his Lordship will reply.”
"It's been... done before. After you report to the council tomorrow, go to the house of the Widow Bull in Deptford. I'll bring you the money there."
"Poley, thanks. I'm going to see if I can't find that happy ending after all."
Baines is waiting for Poley outside.
Poley takes out Marlowe's letter to Strange and Baines reads it with raised eyebrows.
"This is the proof we needed! All we have to do is give this letter to the council and Marlowe's as good as gone. I mean it's practically a written confession! Escaping to join the Catholic rebels in Scotland!"
"Funded by Catholic Lord Strange. That's a bag of worms you want to open, is it?"
"And if the queen dies leaving no heir? Strange is a Catholic, but he's loyal to the crown and he stands a chance in the succession if he bides his time. Do you want to have spoken out against him if that happens?"
"So we're back to square one with Marlowe?"
Poley shakes his head.
"Burn the letter and meet me in Deptford first thing tomorrow."
"Where are you going now?"
"I’m going to find Ingram Frizer."
"Yes. I’ve got a job for him."
"This is really how we're going to do this? No submission of evidence, no hearing in the Star Chamber, just you, me and a killer-for-hire? God help us if Lord Burghley ever finds out."
"I wouldn't worry too much about Lord Burghley. I don't think he's going to be in his job much longer. He was really only a stopgap after Walsingham's death. The service needs a more dynamic leader."
Baines finally gets it.
"Someone like you."
"And with Walsingham's blue-eyed boy out of the way, I'd say my chances were pretty good. Wouldn't you?"
"And that's what this was all about? Setting yourself up for Walsingham's old job?"
"Fight or die, Richard. You know that's how it works. And you've seen for yourself that Marlowe's hardly made of the right stuff. He doesn't have your strength and uncompromising patriotism or my ability to see the big picture. Quite wrong for the role. No, this was never just about one thing. Nothing is ever that clear-cut."
"Some things are." Baines shakes his head. "I'm out. You can go to Deptford alone."
The rooms above the costermongers
Marlowe is writing a letter.
If you’re reading this, then you and I won’t see each other again. I've been thinking a lot about what you said and decided that you were right. I've used up all my favours and I can't see a way to bring you home without disappearing myself. If my attempt to help you out of the trouble I’ve landed you in doesn't work, please understand that I tried. I’ve left two copies of the manuscript behind. I think you’ll know better than me how the play should end. I’m afraid I’ve been nothing but bad luck to you, but that’s ending now.
Here’s to thy better fortune and good stars,
He blots the letter and leaves it on the desk, pauses for a moment, then removes the wooden last from his pocket, kisses it and carefully places it on top as a paperweight. Marlowe leaves the rooms for the last time.
Marlowe arrives at the house of the Widow Bull. He sees Poley waiting for him outside.
"Nothing. Shall we go in?"
Marlowe and Poley walk in together. Some time later, Poley leaves alone.
The rooms above the costermongers, a week later
Kyd sits at his desk. He looks terrible. Much thinner and paler than usual and he squints as if unused to the light. He is reading the letter.
"'Here's to thy better fortune and good stars. Your Christopher.'"
He turns to the final pages of Dr Faustus - the alternate ending - and begins to read aloud.
“Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight
And burned is Apollo’s laurel bough
That sometime grew within this learned man.
Faustus is gone.
Regard his hellish fall.
Whose fiendful fortune may exhort the wise
Only to wonder at unlawful things.
Whose deepness might entice such forward wits
To practice more than heavenly power permits.”
For a moment, Kyd can almost hear Marlowe's voice reading the lines with him. He looks around, but he is alone in the room. He begins to speak again, slowly. Partly to himself, partly to the wooden last that Marlowe left behind.
"You aren’t supposed to speak ill of the dead, of course, but it’s easier than speaking ill of the living. If they hadn’t told me you were dead, I wouldn’t have given them your name. No matter how long they kept me in that place."
He pauses and looks intently at the wooden last, the talisman which Marlowe was never without.
"And I think you might have known that."
He picks the last up, kisses it, then puts it back down.
"Here's to thy better fortune and good stars."