WARNING: Contains violence.
1840 begins and we discover what Charlotte has been doing on her night time adventures. To catch up on the story so far see the Weekly Serial page.
I smacked into the wall and ducked. A knife blade rang a tune across the damp bricks and I punched its owner in the balls. He went down. I slid across his shoulders to avoid his friend who clobbered him with a cudgel. Great teamwork.
I didn’t recognise them. Head knockers were ten a penny but had a tendency to get their own heads knocked, there was always a vacant positon. I knew who they worked for and I knew what they did. That was enough.
Thug One went down, half propped against the mossy wall. Thug Two took another swing at me and missed. He was bigger, and heavier that I so I could move faster than he could swing. If he got me it would be another matter but I’d think about that when it happened. Or not, as the case may be.
I couldn’t be sure about that though, Josef’s idea of going easy on me wasn’t that easy and he was stronger that Thug McThuggerton, so maybe I’d be fine.
Another swing hit the wall on one side of the alley. Another hit the opposite. I backed up towards the dead-end. He smiled.
‘Aw, poor little –‘
I bounced off the wall and brought my elbow down on his head. He stumbled. The cudgel clattered against the floor. My knee hit his face and down he went.
I picked up the cudgel and the knife and tucked them into my belt, they might be useful. Then I stretched out my sore back until my new leather jerkin creaked and my spine cracked.
After getting beaten by Jack I decided I needed to improve. Thus I got myself a hooded leather jerkin; the leather was flexible but strong enough to give me more protection than a basic jacket. Bran was paying me plenty and my business interests were paying off, I could afford to buy something more protective than cotton and wool. Maybe the hood was melodramatic but I liked it. It was mysterious, like the drawings of druids in Bran’s books.
On second thoughts I bent and patted them down until I found a purse of coins in Thug One’s pocket. Then I left them there. Like I said, head knockers got their heads knocked, if anything happened to them it was the consequence of their trade. I’d been many things in my time but stealing from people with so little to steal was plain wrong. Of course, I forgot, what their boss did wasn’t stealing it was ‘business’. Extortionate rents until families couldn’t pay anymore. Into the workhouse they went; he could get their labour cheap, only having to pay the workhouse, buy their children to scrape factory floors, and work them until they couldn’t work anymore.
Thompson didn’t kill people, not directly, but he might as well have.
I bounced up onto the wall, jumped off and grabbed the house’s drainpipe. I pulled myself up and swung across to a window ledge. The windows were sash fastenings, easy enough to release with my knife blade, push up and climb through.
On the other side I lowered my legs down and sat on the windowsill. The room was bigger than the one I shared with Bran, but that could’ve been the lack of bookcases. It was strange to be in a bedroom that only had bedroom furniture in, a wardrobe, a dressing table and a little table with a bowl and water jug on it. The bed was impressive, a dark wood four-poster with heavy red drapes oozing from the posts. It made our bed look all the plainer, but I preferred it plain, the bed wasn’t there to look at. If I had it would’ve shown the marks of our relationship, scratches, chipped varnish and splinters from Bran’s grip.
Thompson was lying in the middle of his massive bed asleep and snoring softly. I could’ve walked over and stabbed him while he slept but I didn’t. Despite what he’d done to people it seemed somehow wrong. I wouldn’t feel guilty about it, I could stab a man in the back if needs be, but that was it. I didn’t need to do it.
It took a few minutes but eventually the draught stirred him from sleep and he sat up and peered through the gloom cast by the dying fire.
‘Is that The Reaper at my window?’ he said with a note of amusement. ‘Here to avenge someone and kill me?’
‘What makes you think I won’t?’
He laughed. ‘A girl? Oh, girlie, you’d have done it already if you were.’
‘You’re not the first person to try and kill me and I’m still here. The most melodramatic though, at least I can get a laugh from that hood.’ He sat back against the bed. ‘But you might as well tell me what I’ve done to offend you rather than waste a trip.’
I exchanged the windowsill for the edge of the bed. I raised my hands so he could see the scars where lines should be. ‘Do you know what they use hemp rope for after it’s been unravelled?’
I pulled my knife from my sleeve and stabbed him in the heart. He choked and blood ran from his mouth and down his chin staining his white nightshirt.
‘Nothing.’ I pulled the blade out.
He seemed to fold in on himself, shrinking down and collapsing as whatever he had that passed for a soul escaped him.
The uselessness of shredded rope had never stopped anyone getting, infections. I could still remember the smell of gangrenous limbs, living rot, and the stink of deathbeds. Dying children crying for mothers they’d never see, if they’d ever seen them at all. The recollection was so vivid it was as if I was back in that place.
I shook my head and put the bag of coins on his lap then wiped my knife on the sheets but didn’t bother to cross myself. It didn’t matter what Father Brennan said, some people were despicable and the only consideration they deserved was to stop them.
I climbed out of the window and shut it behind me.