Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(69) by Lorraine Heath
What sort of sad commentary was that on his life when this filth was where he felt most comfortable? He snatched the burlap sack out of the carriage and slung it over his shoulder. He knew there’d be nothing left of his carriage if it remained. “Drive off, return here in an hour,” he ordered the driver.
Jack could see the clear relief on the driver’s face right before he set the horses into motion. No one wanted to be here, not even those who lived in the dilapidated buildings. It was late evening, yet children were still scurrying around. When they got too curious, too close, he reached in his pocket and tossed a few coins into the dirt and filth to send them scrambling away from him.
He reached the dwelling he wanted. The door was a challenge to open because it wasn’t secured to all its hinges. Inside was dark and dreary, the stench of decay even thicker. He started up the stairs, knowing which steps were broken, which squeaked, which to avoid. Nothing improved in this area of London. He discovered a new hole had formed in one of the steps when his foot went through it. Cursing, he worked his boot free and continued on up, albeit a bit more carefully. At the top of the stairs, he turned down the blackened hallway, treading carefully over what he couldn’t see but knew was garbage.
Once he left this place, he’d burn the clothes he wore. It was the only way to ensure he brought back with him no disease or infestations. Lice, fleas, crawling things. He’d always hated the feel of tiny bugs.
When he reached the door at the end, he tapped three times, waited a second, tapped two times, waited, tapped thrice. He heard a shuffling movement on the other side of the door. It slowly creaked open. A grimy, wrinkled face appeared. What had once been vibrant hair, as red as Frannie’s, was now pale, almost white. The long, scraggly beard was white as well. Rotting teeth formed a smile framed by cracked and bleeding lips.
“Well, if it’s not me dodger.” With bent and gnarled fingers, he urged Jack inside. “Come on in, boy. Let’s see wot ye got for ol’ Feagan.”
Jack stepped into the squalor and he was transported back to a time when he’d slept on the floor like a dog, spooning around whoever slept beside him, offering and receiving warmth. He’d seldom gone to bed hungry. Feagan had always been good about feeding his crew. A sickly child wasn’t of much use to him.
“Wot ye got? Wot ye got?” Feagan asked, making his way to the rickety chair at the scarred table where a single burning candle standing upright in the mouth of a brown bottle provided the only light in the room.
Jack could see the milky-white film that now hampered Feagan’s vision. He moved the sack off his shoulder, set it on the table, and unveiled four bottles: two each of whiskey and rum.
Feagan cackled again. “Oh, me dodger. Ye was always good to Feagan.”
Jack’s mentor had always been in the habit of referring to himself as though he were another person in the room. It was one of the reasons Jack had never been convinced Feagan was his real name—it was as though he was always having to remind himself, remind others who he was. It wasn’t unusual for people in the rookeries—after they’d been arrested—to move to another section of London and change their names. Only once had Feagan reminisced about his past, and it was a story Jack intended to take to the grave.
Jack opened a bottle of whiskey and poured it into the dented tin cup Feagan extended with a shaking hand, a hand that had taught so many how to slip into tight places without being detected. “You should let me move you into a flat at Dodger’s.”
Feagan took a gulp, then his tongue darted around his lips, determined not to let any drops go to waste. “Wot good would that do Feagan, I ask ye?”
Jack took the chair across from him. “You’d have food, warmth, company. I’d even give you a gambling allowance.”
“Ye was always kinder than anybody give ye credit fer.”
“Kindness has nothing to do with it. I don’t like trudging through the filth to get to you when I need you.”
“Yer the only one wot comes to see me.” He leaned forward. “’ow’s me darlin’ Frannie?”
He shook his head sadly. “I shoulda taken better care of ’er.”
“We all should have.” She’d been forced into the white slave trade at the age of twelve. Luke had taken it upon himself to kill the man responsible. Olivia might consider him a murderer; Jack didn’t. Some dogs needed to be put down.
“But she ain’t the reason yer ’ere.”
“No.” He sighed heavily. “I had my locket picked.”
Feagan guffawed, coughed, sounded like he was choking with merriment. “Ye? Ye was me sharpest.”
“I was distracted.”
Feagan gave him a crafty look. “That’s not like ye. She must be a fancy piece.”
Jack wasn’t going to comment on Olivia. She was too fine a lady for him to even have thoughts of while he was in this cesspool. “I know you’re not running boys anymore, but you know who is, and I suspect you still have your finger on the fence trade. I’ll pay you a hundred pounds if you locate it for me.”
It was an ungodly amount, but the locket was Jack’s most precious possession, perhaps the only thing that mattered more to him than coins.
Feagan rubbed his hand over his mouth. “That’s a lot of gin. I’ll put the word out.” He narrowed his eyes. “Anyone else I’d ask fer half up front.”
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