Alex de Sable was unhappy. He’d been rejected by that mutton merchant’s daughter–good thing, too. Did he want to be married to a family that slaughtered sheep? He shuddered. And he knew Mrs. Beryll was a lost cause. He’d wanted to spread rumors about that chit, Maria, but unfortunately, he been visited by her two brutes of brothers and threatened rather graphically. Really! He was so relieved not to be a member of that family. All grunting savages, the lot of them.
But he needed money. He’d need a few new rags to wear to the Dunphys at Christmas. Would Esther be there? Very likely, but Ailesworth would be too. Curses. He’d already requested Maria’s presence. Maybe he could seduce her. If it was done in a certain way, no one would be able to stop the gossip.
George was the one to see. Surely George had some nefarious business he could take part in to earn some pounds. He’d only do it if it was done at night and he could wear a mask. So if he ran away, no one could identify him.
Yes, he’d see George.
Several days later Charles went back to The Monkey’s Paw where he’d met Mac and his buddies. He hadn’t seen Mac since that night. He needed to find out why the gun powder was full of soot. And he’d hoped Mac would tell him where he could find George.
He could afford only a couple of pints of ale, so he’d best not be early. When he arrived, there was no sign of Mac or his friends. “Has Mac been around?” Charles inquired in what he hoped was a genial tone of voice.
“Naw. They’ve gone awf to The Mermaid’s Tickle. They won’t find a decent ale there. Like piss, it is.”
“No doubt. Where is the Mermaids Tickle?”
The bartender glared. “I suppose you like drinkin’ piss.”
“No, no. I’ve got to see Mac, that’s all.”
He jerked his thumb over his head. “That a ways,” and turned his back on Charles.
Charles drank his ale. It was good ale. Why didn’t more people come here?
He made his way three misshapen blocks to The Mermaid’s Tickle. It had very dirty windows. Charles went in.
A cry went up from a table in the corner. “It’s Chas! Chas, come join us!”
Charles’ heart was soothed for the first time in a long time. Someone wanted him. He ambled over to the corner table. “What ho, gentlemen.”
“Sit, sit,” and he sat.
“Why are you here instead of at The Monkey’s Paw?” he asked.
Mac grinned. “Ah, well. Our merry pub keeper drinks a bit,” chuckles around the table, “and that’s all right. So do we. But sometimes he gets a wee bit violent. He threw my friend, Bill, here–”
“Fred, you oaf,” said Fred with a buffet on the shoulder that looked to knock Mac over.
“My friend Fred–he threw him against the wall. Luckily, Fred has a head of granite, so no harm was done.”
The table erupted in laughter.
“But we thought it wisest to move elsewhere.”
Charles nodded and grinned at everyone. He decided to sit down. He didn’t think he could afford to buy a round.
“Fred, you chuckle head, get Chas a drink.”
Fred good-naturedly went to the bar.
Charles happily drank the inferior ale. It would take awhile to get Mac alone. He’d better just ask him while the whole crowd was there. The usual joking and laughing went on. One man, a newcomer, broke into song. He had a fine, light voice. He sang a few dirty songs which made Charles laugh.
Damn! That laugh felt good but he must get to business. He leaned over to Mac. “Do you know where I can find George?”
“George? Who– oh, that one. His name is George Aurdley. I think he works for a solicitor’s firm, somewhere in that rat’s nest of offices in the City. He’s not a good man, Charles. Always puts himself first.”
“I know. He’s the coldest bastard I’ve ever met. But I need to see him.”
“Not another adventure, Chas? I’d hoped you might be done with adventure.”
Charles looked at him. “You put that soot in the gun powder, didn’t you?”
Mac regarded him sadly. “I did. I had to put it in. Charles, I didn’t want you dead, you or your brother.”
For a minute, Charles glared at him. Then he rubbed his forehead. “It was such a mess. All that soot. That’s how Ailesworth found out it was me–soot all over my clothes.”
Mac regarded him steadily. What a clunch he was! Mac was sure Ailesworth knew the afternoon they’d come to look at the ship. Of course, he had spies on the docks.
“And now you want George for another caper-witted scheme.”
“I need money!”
“Oh, I hear he’s a man for money-making schemes, all right.”
“Will you give me his direction?”
“Smythe and Carruthers.”
“Thank you.” Charles sat back in his chair, relieved. He fingered the money in his pocket and decided to splurge on a round.
Mac shook his head and then turned and helped finish one of the bawdy songs: “Hey, boys! That’s where my money goes!”
Charles found George who was not pleased to remake his acquaintance with Mr. Miggs. However, several of George’s money-making schemes had fallen through recently, so he didn’t give him the cold shoulder. The two body-snatchers he’d used had been arrested and transported to the Antipodes. They’d tried to include him in their arrest, but he’d kept his last name from them. Still, it was too close. Dr. Brodie and his colleagues were calling for more bodies. George had to find two new grave robbers. At least he’d been able to put his price up. The good doctor would pay twenty-five pounds now.
But he needed two men and a new cemetery. Charles arrived in the nick of time. He could join the first man he’d lined up, “Mister Zero” and become “Mister Two.”
“That cemetery, Charles, is watched more closely now. Instead you’ll have to go to Detweil Street. There’s a smaller cemetery there. Fewer burials, but safer.”
“A longer journey through the streets.”
“Yes. Unfortunately you and Mister Zero will be required to do the digging.”
George shrugged and looked around the dirty tavern. “Everyone knows of the trial and transportation of those two men. Everyone wants to wait until it dies down. But money is to be made now.”
“Of course. Ten pounds,” Charles said. He thought he’d take more than that. “Who is Mister Zero?”
“No need to know, Charles. Better this way.”
Charles though it was foolishness. First names would be sufficient. George must be scared. He sighed. “When do I meet this figure of mystery?”
George looked at him sharply. Was he making fun of him? “Tomorrow night. Dress in old clothes and bring a shovel.”
“A shovel! I’m not a gardener! No, I think not, George,” and he made to leave the table.
“Sit! I’ll supply shovels.” at that point George vowed to charge more next trip. He had already gotten a cart and a horse. Now shovels. Damn!
* * *
Two nights later, Charles got a message to “meet a friend” at Chamber Street tavern at midnight. Of course, no map was provided. He had found an old street map of London in the library and consulted it. He knew enough about London now so that he knew it was in a decent neighborhood. He’d already looked up Detweil Street and this Chambers Street tavern was a distance.
Why so far apart? It must be due to “Mister Zero.” What a farce! The other man must be a joker, to demand such a name. Gad–he hoped it wasn’t Mac! No, he’d never do anything so stupid.
Charles had the clothes for digging, anyway. The cleaning the maid had given his clothes he’d worn the night of the ship explosion, the ship non-explosion, had ruined them. He’d written his father and said he needed money for new clothes; due to an accident, they had been damaged.
That night as Charles made his way to Chambers Street, to The Maiden’s Prayer, his mask in his pocket, he decided that, if at any point, this job appeared dangerous, he’d abandon it: the job, the horse and cart, the body and Mister Zero. The night was cold enough to freeze his nose and fingers. He’d put on a heavy coat he found in the servant’s back hall, by the door they habitually used.
He walked in and found himself in a pleasant tavern. The usual fug of smoke and unwashed bodies filled his nostrils. He strolled to the bar and ordered a pint. Then he turned and surveyed the tables. In the corner, with his back to the room, was a solitary drinker. That must be Mister Zero.
Charles strolled over to him. “Can I join you, friend?”
The man was hunched over his half-pint of ale. He cautiously looked up at Charles. Charles was surprised to see a handsome, aristocratic face look up at him. He slid into a chair opposite Mr. Zero.
“Well, friend, are you ready for our jaunt this evening?”
“Quiet!” The man leaned over the table. “Who are you?”
“I’m sometimes known as Mister Two.” Charles felt the perfect fool and frowned.
“Yes, all right, I’m Mister Zero.” The “Mister Zero” was hissed out in as low a voice as it is possible to make.
“Why are we meeting here? Haven’t we a long way to go to make it to–”
“Don’t say it!”
Charles regarded his new friend. The man was terrified. His heart sank. Would he be any good at all?
“Why are we meeting here?”
“Because it’s a low tavern, of course.”
Charles looked around himself again. It remained a respectable working man’s tavern.
“You think this is low?” Charles shook his head. “Where did George find you?”
“What do you mean? He didn’t ‘find’ me. I’m his….”
“Oh, that’s it. A cousin or such. Well, I hope you’re ready to work tonight.” Charles had lowered his voice. “It’s dirty work.”
“I know that. I brought gloves.”
“We must be cautious and quiet at all times. We’ll take turns looking out for people. There’s Runners on the streets since that last arrest.”
“George said that some of them are at Lady Henwhistle’s ball tonight. Watching for jewel thieves.”
“Very good. Anything else I should know?”
Alex de Sable shook his head. “No, nothing.”
The men finished their ale and sauntered out of the tavern. At least Charles did.
* * *
As his hackney arrived at Furth Street, he decided to show the doll to Esther tomorrow. It was too sad for her to see tonight. He’d wrapped it so he wouldn’t have to look at it again.
Climbing the stairs to the first floor, he took off his jacket and waist coat. He opened Esther’s door and came in silently. He bent over the bed and listened for her soft breathing.
There it was, her sweet scent. He bent lower, smelling it, some violet but mostly Esther. She smelled like woman. He liked women’s natural body scents, even if the scent betrayed their efforts during the day. He’d never mentioned it to anyone, but he liked to smell women’s sweat, at least the ones he’d known. He knew that sometimes a woman’s anxiety made a ranker scent, but then he would sooth them and make love to them and they’d smell better.
But Esther’s smell, oh, how it spoke to him. He knew it was her and he wanted her and no other. He’d found that the evening he and Constant had gone to the Satterthwait’s ball, he’d been surrounded by young misses and their mamas, with a few interested widows on the periphery. He hadn’t liked any of them. The chit he’d danced with had been fresh smelling, but it was not Esther’s scent. The snatches of the older, more experienced women’s scents that he’d noticed were all too strong. They repelled him now, whereas in the past he hadn’t even noticed. He’d probably appreciated a great quantity of perfume as it masked the rank body odor of some of them.
Now there was only Esther.
Her hair spread out over the pillow, just as he liked it. She complained of how much work it was to brush it in the morning. He’d almost said, I’ll get you a ladies maid, but had caught himself.
He had his waistcoat and shirt off and sat to work on his boots. He smiled as he remembered that first night and how he’d made love with his socks on. The boots, pantaloons and smalls came off and he stood, rubbing his hand over his chest. He smiled again. Esther loved his chest. She denied it, with blushes, but she loved to run her hands over his chest. It drove him crazy. He’d never had a lover who’d caressed him the way Esther did, with such delicacy and care. She continued to treat him as something amazing and wonderful. He’d been pleased right down to his toes to discover this wonderful love.
No. Not love. Lust. Affection. Yes, affection.
He raised the bed covers and climbed into bed on her side of the bed, so he could get close to her immediately. He pressed his body to hers, from shoulder to toes.
Ah! She was glorious. Her delicious rump pressed again his swollen rod. His hands went around her, his fingers fanning over her belly, the other arm sliding under her neck so he could palm her breast.
“Ailesworth?” a sleepy voice asked.
He growled into her hair. She giggled a sleepy little giggle. His hand slipped down into her sweet curls and found her spot.
“Oh!” and she turned to face him. She buried her face into his chest and rubbed her cheek against his hair. Ailesworth smiled. Soon she’d begin kissing him there. Could he wait?
Ah no! She was licking him. He heard another throaty giggle and then she looked up at him through her hair.
He took her mouth in a hot, deep kiss. She sighed and then he heard tiny moans. He moved over her and found her to be ready. She’d told him that her wetness had first embarrassed her. She moved restlessly, her hands now on his back. He found her entrance and plunged in. She gave a tiny shriek.
“Let it out, dearling. No one can hear you in this house. Scream if you want.”
She kissed his jaw and used both hands to run through his hair. Gad, how she loved to do that. His hair was silky and thick, and he said he loved her caresses. He was growling now.
She stroked his big brutish body, all muscle and strength. Having his heavy form over her, excited her beyond reason. The first time he’d covered her, she’d been a bit frightened by the helplessness of her position. But then she’d realized that his body was there to pleasure hers, to make love to her body. And so it was. Now she found his pressing on her so satisfying, so thrilling.. They usually made love that way. Ailesworth had shown her another way, with her above him, but they’d only done it once. She hadn’t felt comfortable.
“Esther, look at me.” He was moving in her, slow, strong strokes.
She looked up at him, dragging her hair out of her eyes.
“Esther, my love. We’re right on the edge of the bed. I fear we are going to tumble off.” His arm went around her shoulders and another around her bottom and he lifted her. “That’s better.”
“You’re so strong.” she sighed. “That’s nice.”
“Um. Being lifted or being strong?”
“Strong. I love your strength, Garick.” Her hands were on his buttocks, trying to squeeze them. “Why is your bottom so hard?”
He almost collapsed on her. “Because I ride.” Only Esther could ask such a question in the middle of sex, of love-making.
She began licking his neck and he thought he’d died and gone to heaven. With Esther.
He began moving into her harder and harder and she gasped and scored her nails down his arms. “Esther,” he groaned, “come with me,” and he climaxed. She followed in an explosion of glory and pleasure.
He collapsed on top of her. He feared he was too heavy for her, but she’d admitted that she liked it. How his great brute of a body could give her pleasure by smashing her down into the mattress, he didn’t know. But he always loved her full breasts against his chest. If he wasn’t so depleted, they would have roused him.
As for his part, he like to keep his rod in her. Some nights it swelled again, but not this night. He’d felt that she’d drained him of every drop of seed he’d possessed.
He kissed her and rolled off, taking her with him. “Sleep, Esther.”
She was already asleep.