Feastday of Saint Leonard of Reresby, the eleventh year in the reign of King Richard
Tucker sits in the window, watching the raindrops fall from the eaves above. I’ve only told him for the hundredth time to close the damn shutters, but he feels trapped by the cold and by our inactivity. And so I let him lean with his arms on the sill and sigh, like some paramour mooning over his lost love.
I, too, feel our inactivity with a gritting sense of anticipation. Might some client knock upon our door now? At any moment? An hour hence? I find myself staring at the door sometimes and when I’ve done it for the third time in the span of an hour, I rouse myself and stand.
“Tucker,” I say to the boy. “Let us leave this hermit’s cave and venture out into London’s streets.”
His face, dappled with drops of rain, turns to me and his eyes, a dull amber, suddenly light up. He scrambles from his place and comes to attention before me. “Aye, sir. It’s about sarding time!”
I muffle my admonishment of his oath in my cloak as I secure it about my neck, and stand at the door, waiting for him. He opens it for me and together, we trudge down the stairs.
November can be many things in London. Aloof, cold, mild, stinging. Today, it is grey. Grey with grey clouds gathered tight and dark like muddy sheep, and grey with a mist meandering down London’s alleys and lanes. Jack has informed me that it is in such weather that the cutpurse likes to do his work, for the mist hides him when he runs. Indeed, we have come to call this “thieves’ weather” for just that reason.
And it doesn’t take us long to encounter the shriek of a woman whose purse was cut and for Jack to chase the shadows in the street–to all the places with which he was familiar–and apprehend the culprit. A boy, little older than Jack was when I first encountered him, dangles by his hood that Jack has caught up in his fists. “Is this your purse, good mistress?” he asked, proffering the small leather bag.
She takes it from Jack with pure gratitude etched on her face. “My good lad, why yes it is! What a clever boy!”
The thief tries to wriggle free but Jack shakes him. “Here now! It’s over. What shall be done with him, Master Crispin?”
I leaned down and looked at the recalcitrant lad. He was by no means apologetic and in truth, his only seeming regret was in getting caught.
“He should be turned over to the sheriff, that’s what!” complains the woman.
I turn to her. “Madam, now that your property has been returned to you, perhaps you can leave this lad’s fate to me.”
The woman seems satisfied with that and with a parting litany of what becomes of thieves in Hell, she exits. When I turn to the boy, he has a worried look to his eye.
“What you mean to do with me, sir?”
I eye Jack. No doubt he, too, remembers a certain boy about this age asking the same. I take a penny coin from my own purse and hand it to the boy. “If you are hungry, take this and find food. If you are stealing for the sake of your master, take this to him with this warning; I am watching you.”
“And…wh-who would you be, sir?”
I straighten. “I am Crispin Guest. And this is Jack Tucker. And if you have heard those names before you should be afraid.”
The boy clearly is. Jack lets him go with a bit of a shove.
“No more thieving,” says Tucker, poking his shoulder. “Find yourself a master and vow to work hard for him. You don’t want to end your days dangling from a rope, do you?”
The boy looks from him to me and then back at him. Tucker has come to be quite intimidating these days. I say nothing and try to keep my face expressionless, though all I want to do is grin.
“Aye, sir,” says the lad to Tucker, bowing to him. Jack’s brows rise.
The boy takes a last look at me and tears off down the lane, disappearing around the curve. Tucker jabs his head in a self-satisfied nod and dusts his hands. “That’s a job well done,” he praises himself.
“Indeed. Might I venture to say that capturing thieves is thirsty work.”
He spies my expression and smiles back. “Aye. I am most happy to agree with that, master.”
“Then let us go to the Tusk and alleviate our thirst.”
He follows in step beside me as we trudge our way back toward the Shambles and make the turn at Gutter Lane.