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Stepping into the dark room, he looked around and studied the room, seeing the inside of this place for the first time. He thought some of the drinkers in The Half Moon looked desperate, but men and women here had passed through desperation and out the other side. Here were more thieves, whores and pickpockets than anywhere else in London. Near the door was stairs to the upper floors where the place took the appearance of a bawdy-house; but Wild knew that any man seeking succour from one of the women would soon find himself at the mercy of one of the toughs waiting within the rooms, and leaving rather quickly, less anything of value, often including the shirt off the poor man’s back.
Moving through the room, being careful that no-one dared jostle him, he soon found the reason for his being here in the first place. There, in a darkened corner surrounded by two stern, well muscled minders sat a very portly looking middle-aged man, with greasy, thinning hair and an old suit that had seen better days. Wild caught the eye of one of the serving girls, and asked for a small beer, he wanted a clear head.
“Small beer?” the seated man snorted. “That’s no way to receive an important guest. Lila, get Mr Wild a good French Brandy, nothing but the best for Mr Wild here.” The two toughs laughed menacingly.
“No thank yow Mr Miller,” Wild replied as politely as he could muster. “I’ll pay my way here, thank yow. And Ar will have my beer.” The maid looked at Miller, who nodded before she walked off to fetch the drink.
“Well, what brings you here Mr Wild?” Miller asked after a while. “I never thought to see you visit me.”
“Ar come on business. Believe me, this bain’t be pleasure sir.” Wild said, his confidence growing slightly.
“Yes,” the other man replied, moving forward in his seat, which creaked under his weight. “So I hear. Congratulations on the new job by the way….” A little menace creeping into his voice alongside the swagger.
Wild paused for a brief second, wonder just how to play this out. He knew that he risked everything coming here and trying to persuade Miller to see things his way over the boy.
“Yes, I heard how cultured you were on pleading for my new lad’s life. Well done on getting him off. I will ensure that…” Miller was interrupted by a loud thwack as Wild brought his stick down hard on the table, spilling drinks everywhere,the cane landing a mere inch from the man’s right hand. At that the two minder’s made ready for action, but Miller waved them back to silence with nervous laughter.
“He bain’t be yoewen lad Miller, never were and never will be.” Wild snapped, picking his cane back off the table. “Understand that now, while yow have the choice.” He looked across at the man on the left. “If yow had yoewen bloody left-footer under control, we wouldn’t be haven this conversation.” At this the man to Miller’s left took a fighting stance, but Wild turned his cane around, and put the heavy ball under the man’s chin, threatening him. The rest of the pub fell silent at this, all looking to Miller to react.
Almost oblivious to his minder’s predicament, Miller softly spoke. “Mr Wild, we appear to be at an impasse. You see, the lad owes me, see.” He again leaned on the table, noticing that both men had relaxed their threats.
Wild instead turned the stick so that the vicious spike was facing Miller. “The lad owes yow nowt, understand. Nowt” All caution was thrown off now as Wild directly faced the fat man down. “Blood money, that is what yow gave him. Money to make up for the fact that Delaney here,” the cane pointed the man out, “killed his faither, breaking you out of custody. Your debt is paid, he owes yow nowt.”
Miller turned to Delaney, glowering at him. He knew that sooner or later, someone would come after the man for the constable’s death, and for a moment he considered turning him over to Wild to hang. “So, a deal then, Mr Wild?” he asked.
“Listen,” Wild replied. “Yow stay away from them. Yow do not talk to them, threaten them, or even ask them the time of day, understand?”
“And in return, you leave me and my operation alone?” Miller asked, trying to make this work to his advantage, realising that although he was in his home turf, the man in front of him held all the aces. Wild seemingly had no vices that could be used against him. He did not waste his time gambling, did not visit whores, did not enjoy the company of young men, and drunk modestly. He seemed to be incorruptible, however Miller knew that underneath was a mind as sharp as any Oxford scholar coupled with a dedication to his own advancement.
Wild thought for a moment. The last thing he wanted was to promise that, but he knew that this could be got around. For now, he just wanted young Needham’s family to get by unmolested by demands for repayment. “A deal Mr Miller. Yow leave the family alone, and in return, Ar will not trouble YOW with my enterprise.” He turned and strode out, leaving silence in his wake.
Miller stood up, and eyeballed Delaney. “Now see what you have done, you bloody bog-trotter.” Delany shrunk back under this. “You made me deal with the flaming devil himself.” He picked up a glass, and yelled for the serving girl when he realised it was empty, throwing it across the room.
“D..do you want me to follow him, kill him?” Delaney asked nervously.
“No, I wanted you to damn well kill him months ago, instead, you had to bloody make a mess of things and do the constable in. You damn well brought this on me.” Miller snapped. “Now he is getting himself in with the city bigwigs, just like he did with them at Wood Street. He means to make an end of me, and right now, I can’t do a bloody thing about it.” He took a fresh drink off the serving girl, and sat down again, composing himself. “You see, the thing with Wild is people like him, they trust him. He just needs to smile and nod, and people listen to him. He makes them think that he has their best interests at heart, no-one can see that all he really cares about is Jonathan bloody Wild.“ He finished his drink and looked at the two men. “Right now, I am bound to do what he tells me, he has everything on me, I have nothing on him, Do you know what position that puts me in?” the two men shook their heads, not really understanding what their boss was talking about. “Aye, I thought not. Didn’t expect you two to to understand. Well, you two you are up in his nick of the woods tonight, seems I have won a small victory – them Doxies need a new tough, seems Mr Wild is now to good for them. Just make sure they hand over their thieving, I’ll give you coin enough to pay for it – don’t piss it away in the Crown, understand?” Delaney and Roberts nodded.
This, the first in a series of books roughly following the life of 18th Century London’s notorious self styled “Thief-taker General of England” Jonathan Wild, is a blend of fact and fiction. Appointed by London’s Undermarshal Charles Hitchen as thief-taker – tasked with bringing London’s thieves, housebreakers, cutpurses etc to justice and goods returned to their rightful owners – he sets about this task with relish, bringing his own coterie of trusted members of the city’s underworld under his wing, trying to walk the line between both sides of the law, asisted by his partner Mary Molyneux.
His discovery of the body of a young prostitute close to his Cripplegate home sees him unwittingly dragged into a murder investigation, along with the local Beadle William Reeves. Suspects appear almost immediately, the Billingsgate Crime boss Miller and his henchmen, the former lover of the girl, a Dutch merchant, but uppermost in his sights is a half mad preacher who haunts Cripplegate, violently accosting prostitutes and those going about their business alike. As more bodies are discovered, Wild is under pressure to capture the killer, but is the obvious suspect actually guilty of the crimes?