8 April, in the year of our Lord 2021
This day found I myselfe in very Hell: a dismal room lit by nought but a few feeble candles, whose flames seemed to fight for life in the dank air. I had slept not at all and knew not the exact time of day they had taken me here, for no source of natural light was there in the room, which it seemed from noises outside to be below the level of some street. One door there was, with a tiny window in an iron frame, barred and shuttered by a flap locked on its outer side. I found myselfe seated on one side of a great oak table, while at a Special Distance on the other sat two, their faces barely illumined by the flickering flames: opposyte me on my left my adversarie, the man Arnott, and to his left a thin pale scribe in periwig and eyeglasses, poised to scratch in coal black ink with a great black quill, upon a great pile of parchment, the unused to his left, the used to his right. I sat sans wig, all a-sweat in no more than shift and threadbare cloak. As the man Arnott began to speak, so did the scribe begin to scratch his quill on the parchment before him. It was clear to me that all that transpired was to be writ for posteritty.
‘Interview by Constable Arnott of Mr. Samuel Pepys, just after breakfast-time on Thursday, the eighth day of April in the year of our Lord 2021,’ announces he. The scribe scribbles furiosely. ‘For the scribe, I am showing Mr. Pepys an Item — item XIV, reference PP1.’
Constable Arnott places in front of me on the table a botanical specimen in a plant pot.
‘Do you recgonise this item, Mr. Pepys?’
‘I do! It is a plant sold to me as medicinal by an Apothecarie.’
‘And for what reason did you purchase this item from said apothecarie?’
‘Why, to ease the miserie of the plague!’
‘Are you aware of the name of this plant?’
‘It is a Pityriasis rosea!’
‘Pityriasis rosea is the name of an inconsequencial and self-limiting skin condicion, Mr. Pepys. This item is a fine specimen of Cannabis sativa, a potent herb with powers so deadly it hath been made illegal in this land.’
The scratch of his quill pausing not for one second, the scribe scribbles away.
‘Mr. Pepys, I would like you to look at some images, starting with document XV in your folder. Do you recognise anyone in these etchings?’
‘Well,’ say I, ‘the first appears to be a copy of a view of the Grand Canal by Canaletto, the second a ground plan of the new St Pauls, probably in Mr. Wren’s own hand; the third is a pencil preparacion for a still life, with a dying rose in a vase and citrus peel unfurled on a table.’
‘And the last? For the scribe, I am drawing the interviewee’s attencion to document XVIII. Are you acquainted with the person in this stipple engraving?’
‘Why, yes, I am acquainted with this person!’
‘This person, Mr. Pepys, is a Mrs. Judith MacSporran. How well do you know Mrs. MacSporran?’
‘I know her hardly at all! This is an assascinacion upon my character!’
‘You say you know her hardly at all, Mr. Pepys, and yet… ’ continues Constable Arnott inexorably. ‘For the scribe — ’ (the pile of parchment on whose left is diminishing as that on his right accumulates) ‘ — I am showing Mr. Pepys item XIX. Do you recognise this item?’
‘It is my Journall! My Diarie!’
‘I would like to draw your attencion to an entry made by you on the ninth day of April in the year of our Lord 2020. In it you remark upon Mrs. MacSporran, and write that you “could hazer nada que jo voudrais con all that paraphernalia”. What did you mean by that?’
I use my sleeve to mop my brow, and feel myselfe a-babble.
‘Well, I…it was…we would have from time to time…I mean — ’
‘You are accustomed to writing about your actions in this regard, which are infidelities that might cause you some embarrassment were they to become public knowledge, in a curious mix of poor French, ungrammatical Spanish and inaccurate Italian, are you not? And dalliances of this nature are far from unknown to you. According to our records, in October 1668 your wife found you in a compromising situacion with one Deborah Willett, a mayde servant and companion to Mrs. Pepys in your own house Hold: a discovery that led to Miss Willett leaving your employ and to such a rupture in your marital relacions that it took a considerable number of weeks to resolve them. Is that correct? For the scribe, the interviewee is nodding pathetically.’
‘It is an episode,’ say I, ‘in which I take no pride at all, but it hath nothing to do with — ’
He addresses me again. ‘We shall decide that. Do you recognise this item, Mr. Pepys? For the scribe — ’ (continued manic scratching) ‘ — I am showing the interviewee item XX.’ He sets a further specimen before me.
‘It is a Haggies!’ cry I, distraught, but the questions come faster. I can barely think!
‘This is a comestible seized from the premices of Mr. James MacSporran on the night of the fifth of March this year. You purchased such an item in late January for consumpcion at home with — ’ (he consults his notes) ‘ — a Mr. M. Jones. Who is Mr. M. Jones?’
‘A good friend, of fine and upstanding character!’ cry I, but he piles on the agony.
‘And this? For the scribe, item XXI.’
‘It is my Book Club book from a year ago!’
‘Crime and Punishment is its name, is it not? A curiose if not indeed prescient choice, would you not say? No doubt you found in it much good matter, it being the story of a man who commits a crime and seeks to conceal it. And this, which we recovered from your kitchen? For the scribe I am showing the interviewee item XXII. What purpose can this have?’
‘It is my carrot sharpener!’ wail I.
‘Enough of this! Mr. Pepys, we have reason to believe that an OCG is involved in the crimes we are investigating. Do you know what those letters stand for?’
‘Is it like LMAO?’
‘They stand for Organised Crime Group. Why do you have a number of aliases, Mr. Pepys? What is the purpose?’
‘I have no aliases!’
‘Document number XXIII in your folder. Do you recognise any of these names? Mr. Popeyes, Mr. Peppers, Mr. Puppies, Mr. Pepsi, Mr. Popups — ’
‘They are names by which I am known, but in error! This whole procedure is a calumny!’
‘ — Mr. Peaspy, Mr. Peoples, Mr. Peepeyes!’ He leans back in his chair to draw breath. The scribe stops writing, frozen in anticipacion.
Now my adversery leans forward across the table.
‘Mr. Pepys,’ says he menacingly, ‘we believe the criminal enterprise we are investigating hath penetrated the highest ranks of the Constabulary. There is a person at the top known to us only by an Inicial. Samuel Pepys…are you “P”?’