“Against His Will” by Howard Gimple
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
Marlowe felt his life crumbling around him. He had recently been called before the Privy Counsel, a combination grand jury, federal prosecutor, and Supreme Court. His friend and roommate, the playwright Thomas Kyd, had been arrested for treason. The secret police found blasphemous and heretical papers in his room. Documents so damning that anyone is possession of them would be considered an enemy of the state and subject to arrest, prosecution, and in all likelihood, execution. After several hours on the rack, Kyd admitted to authorities that the documents were Marlowe’s.
Until then, he could always depend on his reputation as England’s premier playwright to extricate him from dicey situations like this. But the theaters were all closed because of the plague and when they reopened, Marlowe couldn’t be sure that the uneducated bumpkin who had penned a few passable poems and plays, and was now reputed to be the new darling of the upper classes and a particular favorite of the queen, hadn’t taken his place at the top of London’s theatrical heap.
He was afraid that, for the first time, Walsingham, the diabolical head of England’s secret police and the man he performed many secret missions for, might not be favorably disposed to save his neck yet again.
On a dank day in late May, Marlowe snapped. He spent most of the day drinking with some of his sleazier pals at a tavern in Deptford in southeast London. He sent a couple of them, shady characters who were part of Walsingham’s underground spy network, to find his rival and bring him back for a serious ass-kicking, with the idea of scaring him back to the country for good.
A few hours later, the men returned with their quarry, who had a thick, black cloth tied over his head. Marlowe, in a drunken rage, pummeled his captor, howling curses and insults with every strike. Held fast by Marlowe’s hooligan cronies, he struggled mightily and finally managing to break free, loosen the rope around his neck and rip the putrid horse blanket off his head. Grabbing a knife off one of the tables, he swung wildly. Either by sheer luck, uncanny skill, or divine providence, the blade hit home, plunging deep into Marlowe’s eye.
All hell broke loose. Two of the men wrestled him to the ground, the other one ran to help a bellowing Marlowe, who was thrashing spasmodically, spewing blood from his eye socket and shrieking in agony. He quickly lapsed into unconsciousness and the three thugs, after a few minutes of frenzied consultation, decided to throw both men in the back of a hay wagon, take them to their boss, Walsingham, and let him deal with the situation.
By the time they made it to his estate, Marlowe was dead, their captive was delirious and the others were sure they’d be sent to the Tower. To make matters worse, Robert Cecil, one of the Queen’s Chief Ministers, and his father, Lord Burghley, the Secretary of State, were there.
Walsingham flew into a rage as soon as he heard what happened, threatening to execute all four men immediately. Young Cecil’s face blanched at the sight of Marlowe’s blood-strewn, eyeless head. He staggered to a chair and sat silently, his face buried in his hands.
Burghley, however, remained calm. He took the spymaster and his son aside and told them that Marlowe’s death was God’s way of saying that they needed to change their tactics. Marlowe was erratic and uncontrollable—he had become a major liability as a covert agent and propagandist. This other playwright, on the other hand, could be easily manipulated. He was quite a fair poet in his own right and there were several others at Court whom they could secretly call upon to contribute ideas, information, or even entire plays if he proved not up to the task. He reminded them that Oxford, Bacon, some of Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting, even the Queen herself had tried their hands at poetry and playwriting.
A few days later, a Queen’s inquest was held and Marlowe’s death was judged to be an accident. The official report stated that he was stabbed by one of his companions during an argument over the bar bill. The name of the other playwright, William Shakespeare, was never associated with any account of the incident. Over the next decade, however, that name did become associated with some of the greatest works of literature ever written.
HOWARD GIMPLE recently left his position as senior writer for the Stony Brook University alumni magazine and website to pursue writing fiction full-time. While at Stony Brook, he taught two freshman seminars, ‘Rock & Relevance,’ about the political influence of 60’s rock & roll, and ‘Filthy Shakespeare,’ exploring the dramatic use of sexual puns and innuendos in the plays of William Shakespeare. Prior to that, he was a writer at Newsday and an advertising copywriter.
Born in Flatbush, the heart of Brooklyn, Howard now lives on the north shore of Long Island with his wife, Chris and his two goldendoodles, Brinkley and Mia.
Posted: Oct 20, 2015
Featured: Music/Popular Culture/Art
- Two Times Intro: On the Road with Patti Smith
- Animals and Objects In and Out of Water
- What Is Punk?
- The Half That’s Never Been Told: The Real-Life Reggae Adventures of Doctor Dread
- The Accidental Hunter
- Hunters in High Heels
- Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist
- The Jesus Lizard Book
- Of Grunge and Government: Let’s Fix this Broken Democracy!
- Spoke: Images and Stories from the 1980s Washington, DC Punk Scene
- The Failure