Nobody's Son or, Another Delinquent Boy's Betrayal (Part 2)
[CHAPTER THE THIRD]
THE OLD CODGER AND HIS PUPILS
Despite this ‘dark spot’ in the official version of events, certain pieces of information, unavailable to the public, were in fact made to me for a price. I was informed by a fancy woman, who had come to know him in his teenage years, that the boy had escaped the ordeal by leaping through a dust chute. He had had no money for lodgings and, being presumed dead in the attack, could no longer return to his boarding house, or even Goole for that matter. She relayed to me that “the government would (naturally) do him in”. She went onto say that during this time his sole aim was to get ahead and, returning to an old diet of gruel he enjoyed in the Union workhouse, scoured the bloody streets of the capital.
London or Londinium, as the Roman colonizers had once called her, the rich still continue to do so, was then – to put it simply - not a nice place to inhabit. The boy would have trudged the layout of the city he would be later intent to conquer. The flooded ruins of Fenchurch Street, stretching all the way down to the bridge and then on to the Great Surrey Road. Westminster itself was erected on its rickety stilts. A fine institution that had survived the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 and bloody damn well would survive the collapse of the Thames barrier, occurring exactly a half century later. Many Britons were un-phased by the revert of technologies that had plagued them beforehand. In a trio of national surveys, up to eighty percent of the population expressed that they had enjoyed these technologies for far too long and had paid the price for their convenience. When the workhouse boy was nine, the grand clock face of old Big Ben was being reconstructed, and the Palace window panes washed.
I wonder if he had admired it all. The thin chill in the air, the flakes of snow on the surrounding rooftops, the bustle of politicians and Jew businessmen alike scrabbling across the timber scaffolding to their office windows. Above all this, looming as if the watchful eye of God was the President’s German-made zeppelin. An unsettling shade of alizarin crimson I recall. At this point, taking it all in, the boy would have been told to clear off by one of the constant patrolling policemen that guarded the district and that would have been all.
Still, recorded sightings of him exist, suggesting that he took up residency, for a brief period, in Jacob’s Island. There he co-existed among its residents, the common thuggery, whores, scum and underground networks of illegal immigrants stuck in the country. He soon fell in with a gang of thieves, later writing that:
“There, on the corner of Long Lane, was a boy of similar age to myself, regarding me. He was a snub-nosed dirty little juvenile, like I too had become in the months after my father’s death. He had sharp little eyes and the airs and graces of an accomplished man. He wore tattered shoes, a suit jacket three sizes too large for him, presumably nicked, and a lop-sided top hat.
He asked what I was doing there and produced a life-preserver. I said nothing at first, thinking it better to do so. He accused me of being a spy for the beak and so upon this I informed him that I simply had nowhere to go. This resonated with the chap who was also an orphan and he put the blasted thing away. He offered me lodgings at ‘a flash ken’ where he himself and a few of his cohorts habituated. He promised to introduce me to the old codger who ran it: a fence for stolen goods.”
Although the boy, when a man, published his reflections on this time, he never explicitly said who this “old codger” was. After some years of research and talking to other South London cronies from then, I have come to my conclusion. I strongly believe that the “old codger” was in fact the Jew bank clerk turned crook, Feivel Solomon. Feivel, Yiddish for bright, was deserving of the name and all who knew him can assert this, he was even brighter in the cover of darkness. A skeletal sort of man. He was dark about the eyes, had soot for freckles, tired haggard skin stretched over his brittle frame. A Tottenham boy, prejudicial for none despite the rioting that went on there (something the older generation will recall) but there was only one exception, the toffs. When his boys had worked one over they were, once their sordidly brief business had concluded, to cut their throat – whether man or woman.
Solomon was kind to the workhouse boy. He trained him, though not personally, that was left to his lieutenant, the feisty delinquent the boy wrote about, Dodger. He recently wrote to me from a prison camp in Australia and asserts that they all moulded him into nothing less than “a bare-knuckle fighting machine”.
As I read his account of events detailing the four years the boy spent in Jacob’s Island I found myself getting even more confused. How can this boy, remembered in his early days for his selflessness, grow into what he has become today? Dodger relayed how he just soaked it all up and took off. He bore them no ill but just decided his fate was to begin and end elsewhere. They knew nothing, nobody heard or saw of him since until…
[CHAPTER THE FOURTH]
The Third Fire of the Royal Opera House
The Royal Opera House had seen many a performance in the five hundred and four years since its first ballet, but none quite so spectacular than the night of the fifth of November of 2238.
That evening the wooden doors, five of them in total, had opened at seven o’clock sharp. Members of Parliament, the lords and ladies of the gentry and right-wing newspapermen, like myself, were the only to receive invitations. This sort believe that the working classes are animals and would be best left to chase growlers through the gravelled streets than attend an event of such sophistication.
Armed soldiers guarded the doors with rifles and the sort, more lay in wait behind the six marble pillars above its entrance. Some were snipers and all were stationed equidistant to one another, I, being in attendance that night, remember them being faintly illuminated by separate lamps at the base of the columns. I didn’t let on though. For that night, President Stainton was in attendance.
Bodies of prominent businessmen and members of the House of Lords had been surfacing across London then. Solomon was believed to be its instigator until one Arthur Tumbler, the beadle of a Yorkshire workhouse, had been kidnapped. He was found some week later stuck headfirst in the solid ice of the River Thames. The Royal Guard had been stationed across the Metropole to prevent the potential impending coup. It had been orchestrated by an individual or individuals’ unknown to the government – but clearly the poor. In print, the BFP said they would be found, rounded up and publicly executed. This would indeed quell further reprisals from the peasant populace (as we know in hindsight, it did not). I believe that the President had only attended the concert to reassure the upper classes that he was still the one and only man to govern them. The country had tiptoed on the cusp of annihilation two hundred years beforehand and his party had brought them back from it.
Interestingly, according to city records the Opera House had seen two fires in 1808 and 1856 but that night it collapsed in an inferno of such magnitude that it nearly swept down the remnants of the Old Covent Garden and Bow Street itself. Bow Street had been the centre of law and order in the Metropole and quite presumably the rest of England herself. When the Opera House was lit aflame, law and order had been disbanded, and the revolution of the people was well underway. Us theatre-goers were evacuated, the President had already fled his box, his mistress, a dominatrix known as Miss Lara Johnstone, who had been a very beautiful girl in, though had vastly become middle-aged, was trapped and consumed in the initial inferno.
He feared for his life then; his security detail could have facilitated it. Outside, I saw Stainton start through the alleys and, seizing the opportunity of an interview, went after him. In my younger and more venerable days to the concept of expression, I had protested the man’s emergence into British politics and now, at the age of, well, old enough, I had the opportunity to talk to him. Little did I know, I was not the only one to have thought the same.
I recall rather vividly passing Emmanuel’s pub and delving down a dark alley, the name of which, Fleshmarket Close, was illuminated by a single oil lantern. Its cobbled stones were caked in a layer of horse droppings and up above there was some washing, almost linking the buildings, was nailed between two window frames on either side. The coagulation of beer vomit and urine plagued the walkway. It stretched downwards and, beneath some steep steps, I saw a tall, bearded figure, emerging from the darkness. Stainton backed himself against a wall, stroking his long beard with an air of nervousness uncommon to me and anyone who had studied him. He called out to the stranger, apparently knowing him in the instant, or knowing what he in fact represented, I can’t tell.
“You think you can solve all of the world’s woes by the flick of a blade, boy?”
The figure puffed a cigar from the side of his mouth. Mumbling a simple, “No, just my own.” And took a Kukri to the man’s throat. In the same beat, there was a gunshot and a puff of smoke. The blood foamed and bubbled in the cold. It trickled down his neck and took him along with it. His head thudded against a drain grate. The figure dropped his own hat and stepped back, clutching his side and pushed past me, the boy now known to us all as Bill Sikes.
He had a faint smile drawn on his lips, the wrinkled face of a twice orphaned ruffian turned badden. He hesitated a moment, stopping in his steps, and turned to me, the blade still in his hand.
“Being patient gets you nowhere,” he said. He spun the weapon around and handed me it. Then he returned through the way we had just come. One could argue that he was still that selfless boy who had risked his own life to save a country (unknowingly so at the time). Things get mixed up through the course of history, to say the least, and you will probably hear other versions after the War. Probably the story of an orphan who escaped a workhouse in Yorkshire, stole a knife from someone, then cheated and murdered those who wronged him to kill the President – only to then escape conviction in the dead of night and watch the city burn to ashes from afar. But refuse these insinuations because what you have heard from me is the utmost truest of truths. I wouldn’t have a reason for telling you if it wasn’t so.
 Life-preserver – A stick or bludgeon loaded with lead, intended for self-defence. Often referred to as a frequent weapon of burglars.
 Beak – a Magistrate.
 A flash ken – a house that harbours thieves.
 Growler – n a four-wheeled hansom cab.
 Kukri – a Nepalese knife with an inwardly curved blade.