Time Traveling Thief (Ch. 1.)

I have anger problems.

That’s my great big flaw.

Such a common fallacy of man.

We’re all so angry. What for?

I saw Picasso. Not just the art. I saw the man. I’ve never see a person bare themselves so raw. Or at least I thought I hadn’t.

But I realize now I had. I had seen it every day in the panhandle. Starvation makes us all raw.

But back to Picasso. I met him standing in line at a soup kitchen.

It had been part of my training. I guess the devil wants professionals running his errands. That’s where Penny came in.

She was tutor. She sat me down for hours every day with books, diagrams, maps, charts, instruments, and disapproving tones.

“Children.” She said. “Children blend it better than anyone. No one wants to see a starving child. So, they don’t look at them.”

I had to look at them. I had to study them. I had to become one of them.

That’s why I went to Victorian London. To mingle and mix with the population of parish kids. The working poor, begging, stealing, and bartering for food, for survival.

I think of Callum. Out here. Among the throng. Among the soot.

Some of these boys are hardly older than he was; learning to walk just so that they can walk the streets.

Bright cheery faces, in the morning they call out at me, “Alright gov’ner?” They all call me that. Though I’m not wealthy, nor do I give any airs, but they know I work with Penelope and that makes me a governor. She knows them, tells them in her stern way to instruct me, guide me, show me their ways. It’s hard, tedious work. I just stand idly by watching as they float through crowds like unseen ghosts.

The afternoon fades and now one boy is sitting next to me on the stoop, we’ve snitched at least five copper coins and some other baubles that I am assured are currency.

“Can I have one?” the boy asks me, looking at my cigarette case.

I frown. He’s six, and small for his age too.

“No.”

“Why not? Charlie Briggs give ‘em to me all the time.”

“It’ll ruin your teeth,” I answer, trying to give him a fake grimace.

“I ain’t gonna live long enough for tha’, gov’ner.” He responds, matter-of-fact, devoid of emotion.

“What makes you say that?”

“I reckon I’ll swing one day,” he shrugs. “Newgate is always lookin’ for Christmas decorations, that’s what Charlie calls ‘em. The swingers.”

“What’s your name?”

“Peter, Sir. Peter Wellick.”

“You seem like a good lad, Peter.”

“Thank yah, Gov’ner. I try to be. Me mam wanted me to be, and so I do my best by her, sir.” He fidgeted, his fingers pulling at the oversized sleeves of his woolen coat.

“Where is she?”

“Dead sir.” He rubbed soot off his nose with the dirty sleeve. “Well, I’ve to go. The chimney master’s nearby I hear, and he’s lookin’ for an apprentice, sir. See the workhouse can’t give him none more, not since that last one died after on’ly a week.”

He was gone in a dash. Little leather boots kicking up mud from where it collected near the gutters.

Lady Grim was next to me a moment later, her shadow the only presence I sensed, her footsteps always so silent.

“That’s him.”

“What do I do with him?” I asked, trying to shut out the cool bile rising in my stomach.

“Like I said, we’re starting you off kindly. You’ll save him.” From somewhere in her mink stow she withdrew a silver case, it was inscribed, the side glittering letters at me in the lamplight, but I couldn’t make out the words.

I still haven’t gotten to Picasso. He comes in later.

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