"And this fellow is a decent queer cole maker?"
"Aye, the best, Lordship, the best," boasted Gus as he led me through the crowded streets of Mayfair. Thronging around us were the assorted bakers, liverymen, and scullery maids whose daily toil made the lives of the upper crust possible. We slipped between two parked carts, their beds packed high with squashes in one and barrels in the other, and walked around to a fashionably decorated garden abutting a particularly elegant townhouse.
The heat from the kitchen door was intense as we ambled easily up to it; the morning baking was being done, and the delicious scent of fresh bread met our noses as I waited and Gus ventured inside. The morning was quite clement, and I enjoyed the intermingling smells of roses and baking as I waited.
After a time, Gus returned, trailing behind him a grin. The grin was attached to a young man dressed in the livery of a cook, but it was obvious to even the casual observer that the grin was the master here, and the young man merely a bit player in his own life. The young man extended a hand. "Tiberius Jones, at your service."
"Care to talk for a moment?" I asked.
"With pleasure," he grinned. "Young Gussie says you have a job in mind."
"I do indeed. I hear you make bent cole," I stated.
He glanced back and forth, apparently checking the garden for listeners. "Are you a constable?" He glared suspiciously at me, managing to do so while still grinning.
"I give you my word as a gentleman I am not."
"His Lordship’s alright," put in Gus.
"Right then," grinned Jones. "What’s it to be then?"
"Can you make a large sum of counterfeit notes, of varying denominations, relatively quickly?"
"Quick as you like," he shrugged. "An’ so sharp even Mr. Pitt couldna tell the difference."
"Actually," I said casually, "I would prefer it if he could tell the difference. They should not appear too authentic."
Jones’ brow furrowed. "Are you planning on turning me in? Running a scrap against me?"
"No," I said, smiling. "I’m running a roarer."
Jones frowned while still grinning, an impressive feat. "I dunna follow, but iffen your money’s good..."
"It is," I said. "Gus said you were a sharper, in addition to being a cole maker. This one is a long game, not a pass-the-king kiddie draw in a merchant’s hove." I put as much derision as I could into my voice.
"Here now, easy, Lordship," said Jones soothingly. "No offence meant, no offence meant. I’m game for most anything, iffen you need me. My gel Antonia wants a house, so whatever your scheme is, I’m your man."
I clapped my hands together. "Excellent! But I must ask, can you play the gentleman? I need a sharp young fellow to accompany me in places where the lower classes are less than welcome."
He looked affronted. "'Course I can. ‘Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.’ Is that posh enough for you?"
I spread my palms in a conciliatory way. "More than enough. But I must warn you, it could be physically dangerous. These are not kind people we shall be dealing with."
Jones grinned. "I’ll grab me sharps. Use ‘em all the time for me cooking. I’ve got skill, I have."
"Knives? I think that would probably be a bad idea. Would you not prefer a pistol, perhaps?"
"Knives are an excellent idea. Massive dock-off glittery ones. Ones that look like they could skin a cockatrice. Knives are nug, ‘cause they’re quiet, and the quieter they are, the more likely we are to make use of them. Stitch ‘em right up. Gives us the look of bein’ hard. Pistols for a jock, knives for a lock."
I stared at him. "Remind me to keep an eye on him," I said to Gus.
"Knives it is, guv," said Jones.
"So long as you do not put one in me, carry whatever you like," I said.
"Sharp," Jones said, and pulling off his chef’s cap, ran his hands through his greasy, curly hair. "When’s it to be then, and how much?"
"I need ten thousand."
"Ten thousand is dear."
"In differing notes."
"Differing notes is double dear."
"Too much for you?" I asked, raising an eyebrow.
Jones looked disgruntled. "I can handle it. When d’you need them by?"
"Probably in a fortnight. I shall send young Gus around to let you know the precise details."
"Right, I’m back to the fires, else I’ll find myself in a bad loaf." He spat in his hand, and we shook.
Walking back, I glanced down at Gus. "Are you sure we can trust him? I do not like the way he grins so."
“Mister Jones, he’s a right prince among men, he is. When he was a lad he was one o’ the minor clergy, then he went ‘mongst the resurrection men. Guessen he got tired of diggin’, ‘cause he started coining cole a year or two back. But he never forgot where he came from. Them flue-boys as work the East End get a pound a year from him. A whole pound! Can you hazard it?"
"A pound apiece?"
He goggled at me. "A whole quid apiece? Nobody’s that rich, Lordship."
We kept walking. A thought occurred to me. "Gus, if you were rich, what would you do with your money?"
Gus thought for a moment. "I’d buy me a dog. A right proper one, wif one ear turned inside out and a cold nose. He’d chase rats and be brilliantly clever."
"You’d buy a dog," I said flatly.
"Dogs’re right expensive, Lordship. I’d like to have a dog. Keep me warm anights."
I got down on one knee in front of him, and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Gus, if this works, I shall buy you a dog. A proper mongrel. With a turned-inside-out ear."
"Really?" he yelped.
As I walked back to the inn, Gus having departed in a happy daze, I noticed a strange feeling in my chest. Was I having some sort of fit? No, it was almost as though I felt…generous. Generous, and kind-spirited towards the rest of the world.
This would not do. This would not do at all. Marching back towards the inn, I resolved to harden my heart, and skin every penny away from some poor bastard immediately, lest I get a reputation for charity. A dog! Of all the things in the world!
The Life, Times, and Misadventures of Dennis St. Michel, Viscount of Stokington, Soldier, Gambler, Diplomat, Scoundrel, Notorious Rakehell, and Lord of Menacing House, in his Own Words.