The Flying Shoe used to be a lively place.
The Thames being a flowing mound of human waste, drinking water was practically suicide. The last thing people needed - among poverty, child labour, little education, regular public hangings, and what have you - was a disease as humiliating as cholera. So, naturally, people turned to something sterile. Something that was used to disinfect wounds.
They turned to drink.
Those who could waste and those who could barely afford threw what coins they could at alehouses and taverns. And amongst the people who could definitely afford a decent pint, were people who stole just so they could.
But thieves like these? They stayed well-hidden.
They stayed out of sight of the dying populace of impoverished, honest men. There was a room on the bottom floor of the Flying Shoe that had a secret passage to another room - and this was where Ben and some of his partners in crime liked to gather and revel.
But Ben seemed depressed, one night.
It was a few days after he and Jim had performed that area dive. The loot was substantially meagre, even more so when it had to be split up, but Ben let it go. He just reminded himself never to pair up with Jim ever again.
But that night was a Wednesday. Worst and best day of the week, Ben liked to call it.
There was the faint smell of vomit in the air, and stale beer that had dripped onto the floor and had never been cleaned up. The room was quite bare, with plain wooden floors and no plaster on the brick walls.
Ben sighed and picked up his mug from the low, stained table and drank from it.
It wouldn't do. It wasn't enough to drown his memory of the day in drink. He needed something more.
“Oi, Bobbyson,” said a thief sitting across from him, “I'm talking to you, mate. You alright?”
Ben looked up at him, blinking his eyes heavily to give off the impression that he was tired. He wasn't, of course. Getting any sleep tonight would take a miracle, no less.
“Hmm?” he said, “Sorry, what were you on about, Ed?”
Another thief sitting in an undignified fashion in the corner of the room snorted loudly, “Dreamin' about his dollymop, I reckon,” she said, her cheeks and nose splashed with red.
Her name was Anne Miller. She and Ben had had something of a relationship before Ben had decided he was bored shitless and fed up with her. Anne was all about planning gambits and cutting throats. And never in for a dab. They really weren't suited for each other, and they both knew it, but Anne remained sore from the relationship's deterioration.
“Wouldn't surprise me none,” laughed Ed.
“What were you saying, Ed?” Ben repeated, ignoring their jibes.
“Well, word has it that the don's asking for you and some o' the others,” Ed explained, “Are you game?”
“I wouldn't trust that fancy gob-shite with a toenail clipping if it meant my life,” Anne blurted out, “The don's trouble, Ben. You'd do well to know it. Steals for the fun of it and that.”
“How much is he paying?” Ben asked simply.
Anne rolled her eyes and turned away, but Ed replied, “A fine lot, from what I've heard. I'd say you ought to see what the fuss is about.”
“What time and where?”
“At midnight, the don's house. Know where it is?”
“Well enough,” Ben said, standing up, “Do me a favour, will you?”
“What kinda favour?” Ed asked.
“Send little Eric to Des's window before midnight tonight, eh?” Ben said, “Might be a bit late, but I should make it to the don's meeting in time.”
“What? You're going to Des's place? Now?”
Anne laughed in her corner, “Take a quick dab before work? Gonna put the out old Nebuchadnezzar on Miss Laycock?”
Ed raised his brows, “She kanurd, or what?” he said with a light scoff.
“Anne? Well-kanurd,” Ben replied, cracking a small, amused smile, “Ain't happy with me neither, because of Des... Don't tup her, eh?”
“Why? She ain't hitched to you. She's fair game.”
Ben wanted to say that she was his 'back-up plan' but that sounded far to crude to state out loud, so he just mumbled, “You might catch something,” and walked up to the small tunnel knocked into the wall, just below the ceiling.
He climbed up into it and out the other end - walking passed a thief romancing a woman he'd found himself.
It might have bothered him, seeing something like that, once upon a time. But not anymore. If things like that bothered Ben, he'd never get anything done.
He pulled his scarf up over his nose and exited the guest-room, pushing passed the hustle and bustle of the Flying Shoe and departing.