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DODGE & TWIST

DODGE & TWIST (A SEQUEL TO ‘OLIVER TWIST’)

BY TONY LEE

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Author’s Preface When writing a book that is set in a historical period, even one involving fictional characters and situations, there is a large amount of research that is required, and I wouldn’t have been able to write this book without the assistance of the following people and reference materials: First off, I would never have managed to accurately plot the various journeys through Victorian London’s streets without the assistance of the Edward Stanford 1862-1871 Library Map of London and its suburbs, as well as the A Street Map of London, 1843 by B.R Davies which allowed me to cross reference any changes made during the middle of the Nineteenth Century, in particular the Fleet Ditch. In addition, I must thank the excellent staff of the Paul Hamlyn Library in the British Museum for their assistance in finding reference material about the Museum itself including its prior history as Montagu House, as well as Museum guide, novelist and historian Marjorie Caygill for providing the 1851 plans of the Museum from its own archives and her own reference books. The Koh-I-Noor Diamond would have been nothing without Travels in India by Jean Baptiste Tavernier and The Great Diamonds of the World by Edwin Streeter to assist me and Charles Harvard Gibbs-Smith’s The Great Exhibition of 1851 was invaluable in the history and politics of the exhibition itself. Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor; 1851 provided me with information on Farringdon Market among other things and was found through Lee Jackson’s invaluable victorianlondon.org; and David Perdue’s charlesdickenspage.com provided an online link to Charles Dickens’ report on Newgate Prison in 1836 that was published as part of Sketches With Boz. The Blue-Badge guides of London Walks provided me with a first-hand experience of the Inns of Court as well as the life of Charles Dickens, the proof readers and editors who line by line made this a far better book than I wrote deserve far more praise than I can give and the people who spurred me on when all seemed lost must all take a bow - and of course this book would have been nothing without the novel Oliver Twist itself, to which I owe so much.

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Chapter One In which an older, wiser and much sadder Oliver Twist returns to London Town to regain a stolen fortune.

It almost felt like coming home, and the very thought of that terrified Oliver. Pushing the thought to the back of his mind, he straightened his shoulders, adjusted the drawstrings of the torn and battered canvas sack that hung over his shoulder and started to walk once more southwards, along the crowded streets of North London. For a while he walked alongside the weary drovers that herded their cattle towards the market at Smithfield’s, whistling to the cows to keep them moving, their dogs twisting through the legs of the cows, barking, causing them to bellow as they continued along the mudsplattered roadways. He was tired, having been walking since dawn; the day’s progression had seen him walking from the fields and outer villages of North London into the city itself, across Hampstead Heath and then onto Highgate Hill, avoiding the smallpox hospital and the cemetery to his right and instead making for the Holloway Road, through Camden, ever southwards, following the drovers and their wares as they turned into the Caledonian Road. Here the road was slick with mud and filth and, as he followed them down it Oliver found himself making a quiet prayer of thanks for the shoes he was wearing. Twelve, thirteen years earlier he’d made a similar journey, but that one had been barefooted. Even now he shuddered at the memory of the state of his feet when he first entered the city. Back then he had been shocked by the noise of London, the ringing of the bells, the shouts and yells that came from the public houses as he walked past, the simple sounds of a densely-populated city, a far cry from the sleepy village that he had grown up in. Now, as he walked towards them he found that they were a familiar, welcoming sound – and that familiarity scared him.

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Shaking off the memory, he took a deep breath through his mouth rather than his nose and left the drovers as they reached Kings Cross, choosing not to follow them down Bagnigge Wells Road as they wound southwards beside the Fleet ditch on their way to slaughter, not wanting to see the results of their march, the rows of dangling oxen and sheep that lined the road to Smithfield live-cattle market waiting for butchers, tavern keepers and suchlike to come and purchase their carcasses and take them away. Instead, he strode off to the left, eastwards down the Pentonville Road towards the city, knowing that although this would add time to his journey, it would at least be a fresher walk – if such a thing could exist in London. He’d been walking for just under three days now, sleeping in barns and ditches as he made his way from a life that he once held tightly and with enthusiasm towards another, older life that he had gratefully cast away without a care. I never wanted to come back here, he thought to himself as he turned southwards once more along St John’s Street, passing street sweepers that tried in vain to remove the large quantities of filth and dung left behind from the countless carriages that passed, a thankless job that, as soon as it was finished, would simply start up again. London was thriving and traffic was busy even so late in the afternoon. Oliver smiled as he saw a couple of sweepers simply give up and, sure that nobody was watching, sneakily slip into the saloon door of a tavern. Some things never changed. As he walked, he stepped nimbly past the vagabonds and beggars that sat beside the walls of the buildings, some drinking cheap gin from the bottle, others asking for money for food – although Oliver knew that most of the time ‘food’ meant more gin – and even a couple who played on penny whistles, tuneless staccatos that punctuated every step past them that Oliver took. Glancing down at one beggar who was trying his best to play ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’ on a battered old whistle, a boy almost the same age as him and no more than fourteen at best, Oliver found himself pausing, staring down at the beggar. Is this what would have happened to me, if Brownlow hadn’t saved me? He found himself asking himself silently before moving on. He knew that he’d never have been able to fulfil the life of crime that Fagin or Sikes had so wanted him to embrace, but poverty4


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stricken in London, with no formal education or means to gain one, Oliver would have been forced into begging, or at best manual labour. I would have died, he shuddered, continuing along the street, cutting right into Meredith Street, now deep into Clerkenwell, an area that struck a chord from his childhood as he looked around, watching with renewed interest the shops that lined the sides of the road, busy with the late afternoon trade, a variety of gaily-coloured stall fronts that looked so familiar, stalls and shops that he remembered only too well from his childhood. Pausing once more, he found himself chuckling at that last thought. Like I had a childhood. Once upon a time, in a small town that needed no name there had been a young orphan, a blot on a workhouse list, a child by the name of Oliver Twist. The name had been given to him by the town Beadle, a blustering, superfluous man by the name of Bumble, a towering, overweight fool who, so self-absorbed by his own importance had never observed the plight of the boys who passed through his care into the depths of hell. And hell it had been, a living, waking nightmare of a place that’s only saving grace was the few short hours a night you were allowed to escape from it by means of sleep. His own mother, Agnes Fleming, had found herself in the workhouse, young, scared and pregnant and during childbirth had died, leaving Oliver alone in the world. The only thing he had ever owned to remember her by was a small gold locket with a ring and a scrap of hair in, and even this had been stolen from him at the very moment of his birth. The thief, ‘Old Sally’, close to death and fearful for her very soul, had come clean to the blundering Bumble and the workhouse matron Mrs Corney, giving them the locket that the two devious ne’er-do-wells had immediately sold for a profit to a man named Monks, a man who had turned out to be Oliver’s half brother and who had cast the locket into the water below them, rather than have someone discover the truth about an orphan’s heritage. Only after the whole sorry affair had been resolved was Oliver informed of the locket, now lost to the sea. But well before the locket had been discovered by Bumble and Corney, Oliver had left, cast from the orphanage for daring to ask for more food, more sustenance; an act of 5


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defiance in Mister Bumble’s eyes that caused the orphaned child to be removed from the poorhouse and sold to an undertaker, Mister Sowerberry. But once more Oliver was forced to leave, this time by the constant bullying of the apprentice Noah Claypole, a stringy, lanky bully of a boy who, with Sowerberry’s other servant Charlotte had made Oliver’s short stay at the undertakers an unbearable one, a stay that ended in an attack on Noah himself, a chase, a beating and then finally an escape into the early morning and a new life in London. Oliver laughed at that thought, for a new life in London was exactly what he received. It took him seven days to walk here, seven long, painful days, eating apples he scrumped from trees along the road, or the occasional scrap of food given to him by well-wishing strangers. He had never deliberately begged; not because of any vestige of pride or fear of what would happen in some of the villages that he passed, but because that at nine years old the very concept of begging was almost an alien concept to him. He’d simply placed one step ahead of the other, walking around ten miles a day until he arrived in Barnet, on the outskirts of the city. A lone, tired, hungry child, terrified of the new noises, smells and faces that he saw around him, a child that huddled beside a closed doorway, scared to move, looking for someone, anyone that he could call a friend. Brought back to the present for a moment, Oliver paused as he stepped to the side of a puddle, tipping his hat to the driver of a carriage as it went past into Corporation Row. The driver ignored him and the man inside the carriage, a furious-looking white-haired gentleman with fluffy white mutton chops glared out at the young man with the sack on his shoulder with a look of utter disdain. Oliver forced a smile and tipped his cap again, but by that point the carriage had continued on. Oliver sighed, looked around and saw two urchins standing by the window of a chandlers shop, laughing at him. ‘Cor, look at ‘im!’ one exclaimed. ‘He’s got the lah-de-dah’s!’ He mimed a little dance, his hands up to his chest as if holding onto the sides of an imaginary waistcoat. They laughed and ran off up the street, pointing back as Oliver watched them quietly. They ran across the street, bumping into an old man as they did so, apologising before running on, still laughing. They looked so happy and Oliver knew that they were happy, for they had most likely just removed the purse or handkerchief of the elderly gentleman as they jostled him. And now they were off to fence their ill gotten gains with their friends. 6


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Oliver had had a friend once, a boy, no older than twelve with adult clothes, the sleeves rolled up and a stupid looking, oversized top hat on his head. For a while the Artful Dodger, or Jack Dawkins to use his given name, had been the closest thing to a friend that Oliver Twist had ever had. It had all been lies, however, and the Artful Dodger had played him for a fool. He’d taken the small, shy nine-year-old child under his wing, feeding him and taking him south into Saffron Hill where he had met Fagin, a kindly Jewish man who turned out to be the worst of the bunch. The life that both the Artful Dodger and Fagin had planned out for their new arrival was worse than the very life that Oliver had run from. It was a life of thievery, of pickpocketing and crime. Making handkerchiefs, they called it – as if by giving it such an innocuous name, they could remove the truth behind the actions. It wasn’t all bad, however. Charlie Bates, Dodger, Fagin, even the gin-swilling Nancy, had all tried to make Oliver feel at home, trying without success to bring him down to their level, whether they were aware that they were doing this or not, and those early evenings before Sikes had appeared in his life were still some of the happiest in his life. Though if the evenings were pleasant memories, it was the days that still gave him the night terrors. They’d tried to teach him the art of thievery, of pick pocketing and if he were honest with himself he’d have admitted that he was eager to learn these skills, for anything was better than the life that he had left behind. He wasn’t cut out to be a criminal of any type however and, on his first time out he finally realised exactly what it was that Dodger and Charlie did when they went out on their jaunts when he watched in horror as they stole a handkerchief from an elderly man. Scared, he turned and ran – but in doing so called attention to himself. He was chased, struck, captured and arrested before stealing a thing. Luckily for him the man who had been stolen from, Mister Brownlow had stepped forwards. He had dropped all charges, taking the now-sickly child into his own care and eventually, through coincidental happenings had discovered that Oliver was the son of one of his most dear and departed friends, Edwin Leeford. However, before this was discovered, before Bumble and Corney arrived with the locket and a demand for money, Oliver had been taken back by Fagin, forced to help the vicious criminal Bill Sikes and

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then left for dead in South West London with the Maylie family, in a house that Bill Sikes had needed Oliver to assist in the breaking and entering of. But Nancy had finally turned on her bullying lover and spoke out against Sikes, sneaking away from him in the night and going to both Mister Brownlow and Rose Maylie, the adopted daughter of the family whom Oliver had been forced to burgle (and whom, by pure happenstance, had also turned out to be the sister of Agnes Fleming, Oliver’s mother - and therefore his aunt), and he told them what had happened between Fagin and Monks, now known to be Edward Leeford, the legitimate son of Mister Brownlow’s old friend. Noah Claypole, now having left Sowerberry’s with Charlotte (and the till’s takings) and who was now working for Fagin had followed her, saw the conversation and informed on her to Fagin. Fagin told Sikes, and Sikes killed Nancy. This one barbaric act shattered the stability of Saffron Hill and Sikes fled, chased into the rookeries of Jacob’s Island, but in the end he was judged by a higher calling and, while fleeing the police, caught his throat in a noose of rope and slipped, hanging himself surer than any hangman at Newgate could. The repercussions of this act echoed throughout Saffron Hill. The Artful Dodger had already been caught stealing a snuffbox and was being deported to Australia. Charlie Bates, horrified at what Bill Sikes did to Nancy, left London and the life he’d created, electing instead to work honestly on a farm in the North. Fagin was captured and sentenced to hang after testimony from Noah Claypole, testimony that allowed Noah to escape Newgate and laid open all of Fagin’s nefarious plans, sealed the knot around his neck. Monks left England for the Americas, and Oliver was adopted as Mister Brownlow’s legal son. They then left London for a new life, a village in the countryside that had the added bonus of being less than a mile from the parsonage of Rose and Harry Maylie, now the legally recognised aunt and uncle of Oliver Brownlow, once Oliver Twist. So many names, and nothing to show for it, Oliver thought to himself as he kicked a stone across the street, watching it scuttle up to the roadside kerb before coming to a rest. Twelve, thirteen years away and it’s as if nothing’s changed. 8


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As he walked along the street, passing the street sellers and prostitutes, the pickpockets and the middle-class city folk, a melting pot of all classes and attitudes he remembered back to his last meeting with Fagin. The sentence had been passed and the old Jew was destined to be hanged the following day, yet he still believed that Oliver, simple, sweet, naive Oliver could somehow convince the guards to open the door and set him free. ‘Outside, outside - say I've gone to sleep – they'll believe you. You can get me out, if you take me so. Now then, now then!’ Oliver shuddered at the memory of Fagin’s pitiful, mournful voice, at the Jew’s broken spirit as he begged for his life to a small, ten year old boy, clutching at him with his manacled hands, tears running down his cracked and dirty face as Oliver backed away in terror. He hadn’t stayed to see Fagin swing, leaving the prison in the early hours of the morning, just before the dawn’s rise - but he’d heard about it. Fagin had played the part of the coward right until the end, literally falling to his knees and begging the executioner to spare his life as he stepped onto the gallows. However in the end nobody listened to the pleas, nobody relented; and Fagin paid the ultimate price for his many crimes. He didn’t deserve it, though. A voice, a long forgotten one echoed through Oliver’s mind, the voice of an innocent boy. Fagin might have been a crook, he might have been dishonest, but he still took you in when you had nowhere else to go. And in return you betrayed him, rammed the knife into the base of his spine and left him to bleed. ‘I did no such thing,’ Oliver spoke aloud to his imaginary conscience. ‘He deserved everything he got. If it wasn’t for him, Nancy would still be alive. If it wasn’t for him –‘ You’d be dead on the street. ‘Shut up,’ Oliver snapped. A well-dressed gentleman, dressed in morning suit and cravat, paused as he passed by, looking back at Oliver, looking at this young man, flat cap, unruly blonde hair sticking out from under it, rumpled jacket and a loosely-tied handkerchief around his collar. Oliver knew that to the man, Oliver looked just like the street urchins that walked the streets, looking for marks – although he was now too old to be a street urchin. Oliver was nothing.

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‘Were you addressing me, boy?’ the man asked, wrinkling his nose as he spoke down to this stranger. Oliver, realising that he had spoken aloud quickly touched his own cap in deference. ‘No sir, sorry sir,’ he meekly replied. ‘I was simply thinking aloud,’ he looked about the street before continuing. ‘You see, it’s been twelve years since I walked these streets.’ ‘Well keep your thoughts to yourself,’ the man sniffed. ‘Nobody cares about the opinions of a lower-class bastard.’ Anger rose to Oliver’s chest, he could feel his heartbeat quicken at this insult, but he swallowed his pride and nodded. ‘Yes, sir,’ he replied. ‘I will, sir.’ Satisfied that he had suitably reprimanded this young ruffian, the well-dressed man nodded, huffing in the process and, turning from Oliver, walked away down the street. Oliver watched him leave, his anger now turned to resignation and sadness. I used to have money once. When he had left London, he had been rich. He had received half of the inheritance that Monks had tried to deny him, several thousand pounds in fact due to him on his coming of age, and in addition to that he had been adopted by Mister Brownlow, a man who in his own right was well to do in the world. And for his teenage years Oliver enjoyed the luxuries of the higher middle- class. Mister Brownlow had educated him in the classics, had taught him maths and even basic philosophy, he had taken Oliver around Europe and had even promised to one day sail to the Americas, although that never happened. Oliver had grown to manhood under the tutelage of Brownlow and his friend Mister Grimwig and had decided that once he was of a responsible age, he would use his family’s inheritance to purchase a small-holding somewhere nearby and set up a modest booksellers. Ever since that first day, that fateful first day where Oliver had been captured by the police, he had held a fascination for books and over the years had read every one of Brownlow’s extensive library on more than one occasion. But two years earlier his adopted father had become ill. The doctors were unsure as to what it was, and in the space of a couple of months he aged almost ten years. He lost weight, his hair started to thin out and worst of all he became lethargic, bedridden, always 10


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in pain and Oliver found himself spending his days and nights nursing his adoptive father. For what Brownlow had done for him, it was the least that he could do. But then the problems started. Brownlow’s solicitors, Babcock & Willis had found irregularities in the Brownlow accounts and, apologising profusely, had frozen them until the problems could be resolved. They promised that this was only a short-term problem however and Oliver simply started to use his own money, now legally provided to him to continue caring for his benefactor, but the days had turned to weeks, the weeks to months and still the erroneous financial irregularities hadn’t been resolved. Oliver’s money had dwindled and finally run out, as did Mister Brownlow’s health. On the day that Mister Brownlow died, Oliver couldn’t even afford a proper funeral for him. In the end the servants of the late Brownlow had pooled together and assisted, while Oliver promised them double their return, just as soon as he spoke to Misters Babcock and Willis about Mister Brownlow’s will and testament. And so he had gathered a travelling pack, put on his sturdiest walking clothes and trekked the two days into London, sleeping in hedges at night, walking the carriage-ways by day. It was as if the last decade hadn’t even happened – but this time there was a difference; for this time he knew where he was going. Lost in thought, he had been staring at the well-dressed man as he walked away, and now he saw three boys, no more than children, run from an alleyway, surrounding the man, dancing about him as he cursed and waved his cane at them before running off, laughing. The man adjusted himself and carried on, but Oliver saw the truth of the encounter, for the boys left with the well-dressed man’s pocket watch and what also looked to be his money purse. It had been a swift, flash pull and now they ran back towards Oliver. For a second their faces changed and he saw a younger version of himself running with Charlie Bates and the Artful Dodger, the latter yelling as ever to run – but then the past was back where it belonged and the three boys ran up to him. Oliver instinctively started to reach for his chest, to the locket that he wore under his shirt, but he paused. Fagin had taught him some things, after all. That when you were to shout ‘Thief!’ in the middle of a street, you were to watch the gentlemen to see where they patted, checking their own valuables. After that it was child’s play, literally – you didn’t even have to guess where the goodies were. And so he lowered his hands again, 11


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lest he give the boys any excuse to try a snatch; but he needn’t have worried. Flashing a grin, they ran past Oliver and into the alleyways, still laughing as they did so. The street urchins won’t pick my pockets, Oliver thought sourly to himself, because they see their own amongst them. They can tell that I’m penniless, they can tell that I belong here. He turned and continued up the street, pausing to shift the sack on his shoulder. The offices of Babcock & Willis were at the southern end of Grays Lane and, even at the northern end of Clerkenwell Green, he knew that he had to pick up his pace if he wanted to see them before their offices closed. The last thing that he wanted to do was spend a night on the London streets, waiting for them to open the following day. He didn’t even have the money for a flop, where you could hang off a washing line for the night; the cord hooked under your arms as you slumped, sleeping beside the other sailors and drunks as they slept off yet another night of excess. No, to miss the business hours today was simply suicide by any other name. He cursed his stupidity, blaming a lack of sleep for his expedition far from the most direct route that he could have taken. He knew that it was a short walk to the Ray Street Bridge here, past the place once known as Hockley-InThe-Hole and across the Fleet Ditch. From there he could walk a straight line across Saffron Hill towards Portpool Lane, coming out on Gray’s Inn Lane not far from the offices he travelled towards. With a renewed sense of urgency he started across Clerkenwell Green, finding himself walking with a feeling of growing dread. For Field Lane, just south of Saffron Hill was where Fagin had kept his lair. Clerkenwell and Holborn had been the haunts of his child thieves and even though the street sellers and many of the shops had changed, there was still a familiarity about the place, a knowledge about the back alleys and the rooftops that no well-born man should have. Who am I fooling here? Oliver thought. I was never well-born. I was birthed in a workhouse, the bastard son of a bastard. He had paused now; his rush momentarily forgotten and was staring across the street at a bookstall south of Clerkenwell Green. The sign was green, flaking a little, but Oliver remembered it a different colour, a deep red – for he had realised with a jolt of nostalgic surprise that it was the booksellers that he had once been given five pounds to deliver to, along with a small bundle of books – a package and payment that he had never been able 12


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to fulfil as Nancy, acting on orders from both Fagin and Bill Sikes had intercepted him, claiming him as her errant, runaway brother and had dragged him, kicking and screaming back to Fagin’s lair. Bar one moment when he passed in a carriage he had never returned here, he had never even apologised for the inconvenience of over a decade back. Oliver had a wild impulse to actually walk through the door, to apologise for that long forgotten transaction and then walk out but he was stopped, not by his own common sense but by the street whore who stood beside the shop. The street whore who thought, incorrectly that Oliver had been staring at her. ‘Ere!’ she screeched, her voice coarse and grating. ‘What the bloody ‘ell do you think that you’re gawpin’ at?’ She was old, in her forties, and the years hadn’t been kind. She was overweight, her face blotchy and gin-ravaged and her hair greasy and unkempt. Her clothing was dirty and crumpled and she had made an attempt at makeup that was intended to make her look beautiful, yet instead gave her the appearance of a rather unruly circus clown. Oliver had been so caught up in his memories that he hadn’t even noticed her until she spoke, and he stepped back in surprise at her voice. ‘I’m – I’m so sorry,’ he stammered. ‘I wasn’t staring at you, I promise. I was observing the booksellers behind you. I was simply thinking about the past.’ The old whore coughed up a phlegm of spittle and spat it out across the muddy pavement, looking back up to Oliver as she adjusted her tattered dress, glaring at him as she did so. ‘Well why don’t you get lost and ‘think’ somewhere else,’ she snapped, looking Oliver up and down appraisingly as she did so. ‘Go on! Get lost! I don’t do freebies for gutter scum like you!’ ‘I truly am sorry,’ Oliver started to walk backwards, arms up in a defensive, placating gesture, as if the gin-sodden dollymop would suddenly charge at him like an irate rhino. ‘I didn’t meant to –‘ ‘Ah, Aggie – she’s no Nancy, to be sure,’ the voice was a new one, spoken from behind Oliver and he paused as the words were spoken. The voice was familiar, too familiar yet at the same time different, older – it was a voice that Oliver recognised far too well, a voice that Oliver had hoped never to hear again. Slowly he turned around to face the new 13


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speaker, currently smiling broadly as he leaned casually against a lamp post, watching Oliver with amusement. Gone was the child, in his place stood a man. Slightly shorter than Oliver and a couple of years older, the man against the lamp post was now in his mid twenties. He still wore the clothes of a gentleman, a burgundy waistcoat under an olive-green coat, cream trousers and a burnished gold cravat under a white shirt completing the colourful ensemble, but now he had grown enough to wear them as an adult. His face was clean shaven, his dark brown hair groomed and just above his collar. The voice was harder and the eyes were colder, the eyes of someone who had seen horrors throughout his life – but the top hat upon his head was still a dead giveaway to his identity. Jack Dawkins. The Artful Dodger. He shifted position slightly, folding his arms as he leaned against the lamp post, watching Oliver carefully, a slight edge of caution in his eyes, the smile now flickering as if for all of his planning, he didn’t quite know the outcome of this encounter. It was an expression that Oliver recognised, for it had been the same expression that Fagin had given him when first they met, an entire lifetime ago. The Artful Dodger came to some kind of internal decision however and his smile returned, a genuine one now, the humour reaching the Artful Dodger’s eyes. ‘But she could still teach you a trick or two if you wanted,’ he continued. ‘Hullo, Oliver. Long time no see.’

-o-

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Chapter Two In which Oliver Twist meets a face from his past and discovers a shocking transformation in character.

Oliver stared at the Artful Dodger in a mixture of surprise, confusion and anger. He was surprised at this face from his past; he was confused as to how he had been found, but more that that he was angry that Dodger had even bothered to find him, to search him out. How had he known? Not only the location and time of Oliver’s arrival, but the fact that he was even in London? And more importantly, how was Dodger even in London? Twelve years earlier he’d been placed on a boat and sent to the other side of the world. ‘Aren’t you supposed to be in Australia?’ Oliver asked. Dodger stood up, no longer leaning nonchalantly against the lamppost, a pose that Oliver believed was purely for his own benefit and sighed. ‘A question about my incarceration? Is that any way to greet an old friend?’ he smiled, but once more there was no warmth to it. His eyes were cold and dead as he continued. ‘But you never were a friend, were you, Oliver? You were a plague upon us. A hindrance.’ He paused. ‘A murderer.’ ‘That’s not fair, Dodger!’ Oliver exclaimed. ‘You used me! You took me off the street and you taught me to steal for you!’ ‘I took you off the street and gave you food in your belly and a safe place to lay your head,’ Dodger snapped in reply. ‘Do you know what would have happened to you if I hadn’t come by? If I hadn’t seen you lying in that doorway, your face covered in dirt and tears, your feet bloody and blistered? Do you know what would have been your fate, the fate of a ten year old, pretty, blonde innocent boy on the streets of London?’ He looked away, staring off down the street. ‘I gave you life, Oliver,’ he whispered. ‘Without me, you’d have never found your true heritage. You’d have died out here.’

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Oliver looked down to the floor. No matter what Dodger was, he was honest in this matter. He had offered Oliver a room and food; he’d never forced Oliver to go with him. In Dodger’s mind, he had been truly offering a lost little boy the chance at a better life. ‘I’m sorry,’ Oliver replied. ‘You’re right. That wasn’t a way to greet an old acquaintance. No matter what happened between us, I always felt that you looked out for me. Hello, Dodger.’ Dodger smiled, and once more it was the genuine one. ‘The Artful Dodger died in Australia,’ he said. ‘I’m going by my given one now, Jack Dawkins.’ He held his hand out, offering it to Oliver who, after a moment’s hesitation took it and shook it. Dodger continued. ‘Although those who knew me as a lad, they can call me Dodger still.’ ‘You still haven’t explained how you’re here,’ Oliver replied. ‘As I said, last I heard, you’d been sent by the judge to Australia.’ ‘Yeah, the beak did that all right - but the thing about Australia you see, is that it’s not necessarily a life sentence,’ Dodger explained. ‘They call it a ‘lifer’ but technically, once we arrived at Sydney we were free to do what we wanted, once our minimum term of servitude was fulfilled.’ He took off the top hat, ruffling his hair, scratching his head as he spoke. ‘Six years I spent in Australia, Oliver. Six long and hard years, but they made a man of me, my covey. They taught me my limits, my fears and showed me my dreams. It then took me another five years to make my way back to England – I met a man in Sydney docks who offered me work, you see - well paying work. Through his benevolence, contacts and employment, I returned to England a year or so back. Back to the old haunts, back to the old life. It was like nothing had changed. Well, apart from Nancy, Fagin and Bill all being dead and that.’ His expression darkened as he named the figures from their shared past, but as soon as he had spoken them, he smiled again, patting Oliver on the shoulder. ‘But you must feel like that too, eh? I mean, why else would you be standing in the middle of the street, staring at a bookseller?’ Oliver felt a chill travel down his spine. Dodger had found him standing outside the very bookseller where he’d been arrested. Of all the shops, of all the streets of London where he could have been standing, after a route that Oliver himself chose, a journey that took

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him in the most roundabout route, towards a road that ran in a straight line from a crossroads at Kings Cross where he had already stood... ‘And I’m supposed to believe that it’s an accident that you just happen to be walking down the same street in Clerkenwell that I am, am I?’ he asked. Dodger stared at him, all traces of a smile gone now. ‘Oh no, Oliver,’ he replied. ‘This was deliberate. Walk with me.’ And with that he turned and started to walk off towards Ray Bridge. Oliver paused for a moment and then sighed. Dodger was walking the same way as he was, after all. He might as well walk with company to Babcock & Willis, even if it was company he neither expected nor wanted.

‘I thought you would be darker,’ Oliver said as they walked along Ray Street, passing the Clerkenwell Workhouse to their right. ‘I mean, I‘ve heard that Australia is always sunny, always hot – to spend even six years there, I thought you’d come back with more than a slightly healthy glow about you.’ ‘I was,’ Dodger replied, walking off the pavement and into the street to allow a lady with a parasol to walk past. She smiled at him, nodding in reply, but as her eyes passed over Oliver, they hardened. Oliver knew that compared to Dodger in his stylish clothes, Oliver must look every inch the pauper that he was. Dodger, stepping back onto the pavement continued. ‘The thing with Australia is that people don’t know it until they’re there,’ he said. ‘Sure, the summers are wickedly hot and your skin burns terribly, but the winters? They’re as rainy as any that London has. More so, sometimes. You’re right, though. I caught the sun. My skin darkened – but a year back here? Pales it clean away again.’ He smiled as he looked up to the cloudy sky. ‘We don’t like the sun down here,’ he said, before going silent once more. They walked together in silence for a few moments, past a Pie and Mash stall to the left when Oliver finally spoke. ‘Look, Dodger, what’s all this about?’ he asked. ‘I mean, you’re being all secretive, and I know we left on bad terms – if this is about Fagin...’ 17


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‘Fagin was a mad old Jew with a thing for handkerchiefs,’ Dodger snapped, looking back to Oliver, his eyes flashing. ‘He’s best off dead.’ Oliver watched Dodger quietly as the young man turned back to the street, wondering what had happened to him abroad to make him become so. Fagin had been a father to Dodger, but he had been pinched by the crushers before Fagin’s capture and eventual execution. He might not even have heard of Fagin’s hanging until he too returned to London, a full decade later. However, if he wasn’t here because of Fagin, the only other possible reason had to be the money that Oliver had inherited when he came of age. He almost laughed at this; if Dodger thought that he’d pulled a flash mark, he was surely mistaken. The clothes alone should have given that away. ‘Look, Dodger – if it’s about my money...’ he started, once more being cut off by Dodger, but this time it was laughter that interrupted him. The Artful Dodger stood in the middle of Liquorpond Street, carriages passing either side of him as he held his sides, belly laughing at Oliver. Eventually he paused, wiping his eyes as he walked back to the side of the road where Oliver stood. ‘Oh, Twist,’ he said. ‘Ever the optimist. Thinking I’m after you for your money, when I know that you don’t have any.’ He nodded at Oliver’s shocked expression. ‘I know everything, Oliver. I know how your benefactor Brownlow died, how you spent the money that you inherited on his various treatments and subsequent debts...’ Oliver looked down to the floor, trying hard not to let the tears of anger well up at Dodger’s statement as he continued. ‘Debts incurred when his solicitors wouldn’t relinquish any of that hard-earned money to you,’ Dodger smiled. ‘How am I doing so far?’ Oliver simply nodded, still too angry to speak. Not at Dodger, but at the gluttonous fools of Babcock & Willis, who in their many letters to Oliver in the last few months explained in a multiple of different ways how they’d like to assist the Brownlows in this matter, but were unfortunately delayed by administrative matters. Dodger, not noticing Oliver’s expression, continued. ‘And so, destitute and alone once more, you come to London to demand what’s rightfully yours now. Your adopted father’s inheritance.’ 18


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He leaned in closer now, a hand on Oliver’s shoulder as he whispered into his ear. ‘They’re not going to give it to you, you know,’ he said. ‘They’ll dispute your legal claim, and you know damned well that they’ll drag it out through the courts until you can’t afford to contest anymore.’ He leaned back, staring up and down at Oliver in the same way that Aggie the whore had, assessing his wealth in a good, hard stare. Eventually he nodded. ‘And looking at you, Twist, I don’t think you’ve got two pennies to rub together, let alone enough capital to contest anything in a court of law. Do you seriously think that any judge will take one look at you and take your word over that of a respected solicitor?’ ‘But they have to...’ Oliver started, but his words died in his throat when he saw Dodger shaking his head. ‘Who gets the money if they don’t give it to you?’ he asked. ‘Well, Mister Brownlow didn’t have any other dependants –‘ ‘I said, who gets the money if they don’t give it to you?’ Oliver thought for a moment. ‘They keep it, I suppose,’ he finally said. Dodger nodded. ‘Damn right they do,’ he replied. ‘And you thought that Fagin and Bill were the biggest crooks you’d met. You ain’t seen the half of it, my old chum.’ He started to walk again, passing a hat shop on the left where he turned and doffed his own hat to the excited titters of the three women standing outside the window. All dressed in their finery, the ladies who couldn’t have been older than sixteen or seventeen - giggled and curtseyed as Dodger spoke in his gravest and politest of voices. ‘Ladies.’ Oliver ran to catch up with him, passing the ladies who gave him no more than a passing glance as they continued their window shopping, and fell into step beside him. They walked like this, in silence for a few moments before Dodger spoke once more. ‘What would you have done with the money, anyway?’ he asked. ‘I mean, let’s talk hypothetically, as if the will had gone through flash, if the money had arrived. What would you have done, where would you have gone?’ ‘I’d have paid off my debts and gone on with my life,’ Oliver said. ‘Most likely I’d have become a schoolteacher, or maybe even a bookseller. I’d probably move somewhere that 19


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didn’t hold so many memories, maybe Oxford, Cambridge, or even Brighton.’ He looked away, remembering one of the first conversations that he’d ever had with Mister Brownlow, a conversation that occurred a lifetime ago, in a library full of books, books that over the years Oliver had worked his way through, one by one. ‘A book writer, sir? I think it would be a much better thing to be a book seller.’ Later the same day, Oliver had been abducted by Nancy after taking a wrong turn down a Clerkenwell street. They’d kept him locked away for weeks in a darkened room in Whitechapel after that. ‘A book seller?’ Dodger scoffed. ‘You might have a problem now then, mate – as I hear a good bookstore can be expensive to purchase. And as for being a schoolteacher, you’d need funding while you learn your subjects, wouldn’t you?’ He tugged at Oliver’s dirty jacket, wiping his fingers against his own one in disgust as he did so. ‘And look at you,’ he scolded. ‘You’re a state, Twist. You’re worse than you were when I found you in that doorway. And your lifestyle isn’t going to be improving soon, is it my duck? Your money is stolen and squandered away, your solicitors are getting richer while you get poorer. You shouldn’t be living in dreams anymore – you need to be thinking of the future. The real future. What will you do if you don’t get the money? I can’t see people buying books from a pauper. Where would you get your stock from? Stolen goods, that’s where.’ Oliver paused for a moment, standing in the street as he stared at Dodger. He knew that he was right, that if Babcock & Willis didn’t relent, if they didn’t agree to provide his rightful inheritance, he would be penniless and homeless. Brownlow’s house was in Brownlow’s name and therefore part of the inheritance. If the solicitors kept the will for themselves Oliver would be evicted by the end of the day, his clothes and personal effects confiscated until someone could verify that he had bought them from his own money, or had them purchased by his adopted father as a gift. If it was decided as the latter, he would have nothing, not even the clothes on his back. ‘I don’t know,’ he admitted. ‘I hadn’t really thought that far. To even consider losing this fight is unthinkable.’ 20


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Dodger looked at Oliver for a few moments, as if weighing up some internal decision, but then turned and continued south into the northern part of Gray’s Inn Lane. Oliver caught up with him as they passed some fruit stalls on the left; Dodger turned and smiled. ‘You hungry, Twist?’ he asked, casually taking a couple of apples off a stall and throwing one to Oliver. The stall keeper looked up in anger, but immediately softened when he saw that it was Dodger beside his stall. Oliver even thought that he saw a hint of fear in the eyes. ‘Mister Dawkins,’ the shopkeeper said. ‘I didn’t see you there. You doing well?’ ‘As can be.’ Dodger replied, tipping his hat to the seller. Then, biting into the apple, he continued to walk on, Oliver still walking behind him, hungrily biting into his own apple as he watched the top-hatted figure in front of him. When he had first met the Artful Dodger, he had been fed – but that time Dodger had paid for it, a loaf and some ham that was pushed into a small hollow made from the middle to keep it free from dust. This time Dodger hadn’t paid for the fruit – he hadn’t even acted like he even intended to, as if he didn’t even consider the possibility that payment would be asked for, and remembering the stall keeper’s expression, Oliver now wondered what man Dodger had become; whether he was another Fagin, or whether he was actually the new Sikes. As if sensing Oliver’s doubt about his new benefactor, Dodger turned at this point, throwing the core of the apple across the road as he spoke, watching it tumble between the hooves of the carriage horses as they continued on past. ‘I’ll tell you what, my dove,’ he spoke softly, as if finally reaching a momentous decision. ‘I’ll make you a promise. For old times’ sake.’ ‘And why would you do that?’ Oliver replied. ‘You’ve already stated that I’m a murderer.’ ‘Look, things have changed since those days – Charlie’s off straight, I went off to clink and then to the sun – but that wasn’t your fault, it was mine. I chose to bring you into London, I chose to walk you through the door on Fields Lane – so I’m the one to blame.’ Dodger’s voice took on a more regretful tone as he continued. ‘You were the only one of Fagin’s crew – no matter how short a time you were there for, Oliver – to get anywhere after what happened. Sure, I might look a flash toff, but I 21


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spent a lifetime getting back here to do that. Charlie found honest labour. You found a father. The rest of us? Toby Crackit had his neck stretched five years ago at Newgate. Billy Two Fingers became a snakesman, and then fell from the third floor of the Royal Exchange one night. Little Petey joined the army, was killed six months later. Tommy Chitling hanged himself after Bet died in childbirth.’ Dodger looked across the road, where two boys ran around the adults, a game of chase that was more likely a ruse to pick pockets, or ‘make handkerchiefs’ as Fagin would say. Dodger looked back, his eyes now haunted. ‘I could go on,’ he said. ‘I could list the end of each and every one of Fagin’s crew. For every ten of us, two, maybe three still live. Of those three, maybe one can afford to eat. So, I’ll make you that promise whether you believe me or not, Twist. Because for a brief, happy time you lived with us. You were one of Fagin’s family whether you like it or not. And because of that, if they do stiff you out of your money today, come and find me. I swear to you, Twist – I swear that I will regain your money for you, somehow.’ For all of Dodger’s sincerity and words, Oliver still didn’t trust him more than he could throw him. ‘You’ll do that for me, will you?’ he asked. ‘Just like that? What’s the pull, Dodger? What do you want from me?’ Dodger raised his hands in the air, smiling. ‘Well,’ he said. ‘It’s funny that you should say that because – hey!’ The final word wasn’t directed at Oliver but instead was directed at one of the two boys who, still playing tag had now charged past Dodger, the second of the two bumping him as they ran. Dodger yelled out in surprise and before they could gain any distance, Dodger reached out with quick reflexes and grabbed the second boy by his collar, yanking him back to a standstill, almost pulling him off his feet in the process. ‘Get back here!’ he yelled, pulling the small boy close, turning him to face him and as he did so Oliver realised with a sickening horror that Dodger had pulled a small knife, the blade no longer than a couple of inches out of his pocket. It was similar to the ones used to gut fish, and Dodger now held it up to the terrified boy’s face. Oliver noted that in the boy’s hand hung a simple pocket watch, obviously taken from Dodger in the bump. ‘Do you know who I am?’ Dodger snapped. ‘You dare to steal from me?’ ‘I’m sorry, Mister Dawkins!’ the small boy wailed. ‘I’m dead sorry!’ 22


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‘Dead sorry? Aye, you’re right about that!’ Dodger yelled, his face now reddening with anger. ‘I’ve half a mind to cut your bloody eye out for the insult!’ ‘Please, Mister Dawkins! Please! I’m sorry! I didn’t see it was you! I’ll give it back; of course I’ll give it back! Here, take it!’ The boy raised up the hand that held the watch and releasing his collar, Dodger snatched it out of his grasp. The boy was now free, but the knife was still raised and he stood there, terrified, staring at Dodger. ‘I suggest you leave London, lad. Tonight.’ Dodger hissed, pocketing the knife in a clean, well practised movement. ‘Because if I see you again, I’ll kill you.’ The boy ran at this, sprinting away from the top-hatted terror as quickly as his young legs could carry him. Jack Dawkins was not a man to be messed with, it seemed. Oliver wondered. Had Dodger become Fagin, Bill Sikes – or some bastardised combination of them both? ‘How does it feel to be king, then?’ Oliver found himself asking. ‘I assume that’s pretty much what you are, with everyone giving you respect and tributes.’ ‘I’m no king,’ Dodger replied. ‘And a throne? That’s simply a bench covered in velvet. Anyone can have one.’ Oliver snorted. ‘Let me guess, more wisdom that Fagin taught you?’ ‘Actually no,’ Dodger smiled, the anger now lifting and once more Oliver found himself facing the Dodger he knew years earlier. ‘It was Napoleon Bonaparte who said it. I’ve read a lot about him, you know. He was quite the master tactician. And he was smaller than me.’ He looked away from Oliver, staring up the road ahead. ‘The offices of Babcock & Willis are up there on the left, opposite the Inns of Court,’ he said simply. ‘Go see them, find out your destiny. I’ll find you later.’ And with that he sauntered off, whistling a jaunty tune. Oliver watched him walk away before shouting. ‘And if you don’t find me?’ ‘I’m where I’ve always been,’ Dodger replied without turning. ‘Back where it all began.’ Oliver found himself smiling. It figured that a man so fixated on the past would move back into Fagin’s old lair. Turning back to Grays Inn Lane, he straightened his neckerchief, ran a hand through his hair, trying to flatten it with little success and adjusted his jacket before walking to the offices of Babcock & Willis. 23


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‘He was a great man, Mister Brownlow was. A great man indeed.’ Babcock sat behind his desk, a squat, white-haired man, his snowy hair thinning in the middle, giving his head the impression of two fluffy white pointed ears as he spoke sadly, looking over to Willis, in turn sitting behind his own ornate desk. ‘His loss will be felt across the courts of the country.’ ‘I agree,’ Willis, a tall, skeletally thin man with hollow eyes, jet-black hair smoothed down in a side parting and pinched cheeks replied. ‘We shall mourn his passing, indeed.’ Oliver stood in the middle of the office, hands behind his back, listening in silence as the two solicitors spoke, a position in which he had spent the last ten minutes, since the moment he had walked through the door to Babcock & Willis, Solicitors at Law. He knew from the instant that he had arrived that his appearance had been an irritation, as both Babcock, Willis and their two clerks had been closing for the evening as he entered through the main door, asking softly ‘Is this the offices of Misters Babcock and Willis?’ ‘What’s the sign say on the door?’ the shorter of the two old men spoke. Oliver checked once more to be certain and then replied. ‘It says that this is the offices.’ ‘Then why ask a damned fool question like that?’ the solicitor exploded. ‘Do you think we’re a bakery? Accountants perhaps? What kind of idiot boy enters our offices as we’re about to finish for the day and asks us if these are our offices?’ Oliver straightened. ‘My name is Oliver Brownlow, sir.’ he said. The shorter of the two old men frowned as he observed him. ‘Ah,’ he said. ‘In that case, I’m Mister Babcock, and this tall refined gentleman to my left is Mister Willis.’ He waved Oliver into the office. ‘Come, enter the room, don’t stand there lollygagging with the door open. You’re letting the warmth out – and allowing London in.’ Oliver entered the offices fully now, closing the main door behind him, stepping into the middle of the chamber as he did so. The office was narrow yet wide, two large windows looking out onto the street on either side of the door, but they were old and dirty with age.

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Facing him was a wall with yet another door exiting into a back room, with two large tables either side, where both Babcock and Willis sat accordingly. There were four wooden, square pillars in the room holding up the ceiling and upper floor and the walls were lined with shelves of books. The two clerks had smaller desks piled high with papers, papers that while Oliver stood, listening to Babcock they passed from clerk to clerk, their work continuing even though an irritation had entered their domain. One clerk left the room and, while Babcock spoke returned with a folder that he placed in front of the elderly solicitor. After discovering Oliver’s identity, Babcock had then become quite animated, speaking at length about his onetime client, extolling his many virtues throughout the many years of their business relationship, finally ending on how he would be missed, encouraging Mister Willis to step forwards and give his own statement to the agreement of the fact. Oliver simply stood, still, waiting for a chance to state his own case, to ask his own questions. These were men at law after all and they would not be rushed, no matter how late in the day it was. Babcock looked up to Oliver, currently standing with his cap in hand and unmoving, almost as if he was a statue, scared to move in case moving was exactly the wrong thing to do in this situation. ‘And you’re the boy, yes?’ he asked, looking down at the papers in front of him, papers from the folder provided to him by the clerk ‘The one he moved out of London for? The one who claims he was adopted?’ ‘Claims?’ Anger flared up inside Oliver now, and all attempts at humility were forgotten as he replied to the solicitor. ‘I was there when you signed the documents! I was his legal heir, as decided by you! I remember this office now, I stood in the corner right there and watched you authorise it!’ He pointed across the room to a point by the door. Mister Willis cleared his throat to speak, but Oliver wasn’t finished. ‘Call yourselves his solicitors? Not once did you help out with his illness after my own money ran out –‘ ‘Yes, yes,’ Babcock interrupted, waving his hand to stop Oliver, ‘and we’re all very sorry about the administrative error that caused such a terrible mishap... But that was then

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and this is now. And the fact of the matter is that as of this moment, Mister Brownlow is still dead.’ Oliver stared in stunned silence at the solicitor as he finished speaking, turning to Mister Willis who now made his way over to join his partner. ‘As Mister Brownlow’s solicitors, it is our grave duty to inform you, Mister Twist, that our client, Mister Brownlow never acknowledged you in his last will and testament.’ ‘That can’t be!’ Oliver replied, his hand reaching out to a pillar as he steadied himself, the room now starting to spin around him as he spoke. ‘He told me that he had. That Mister Grimwig was the witness! I – I stood in the corner right there! I told you that!’ ‘No matter what you thought you saw as you stood in our office as a small child, what the late Mister Brownlow told you and what the late Mister Brownlow actually did are two totally different matters,’ Mister Willis spoke now. ‘He never made a revised will. In fact, he never made a will, full stop. There isn’t one in our records, and if he had made one, we would have had at least two copies. You were never recognised. You were never formally adopted. And this means –‘ ‘That you don’t get a single bloody penny,’ Babcock finished, a slight sneer appearing on his face. ‘You’re not anything to do with Mister Brownlow, Mister Twist. You’re a chancer, a con artist trying for a bumper payout. Any clothes you wear provided by him are stolen. And any property you visit of his is trespassing. Do I make myself crystal clear?’ ‘Totally.’ Oliver bit back tears of disgust and anger. Dodger had been right, he thought to himself. He had these men pegged from the very start. ‘So what do I do now, sir? You cast me penniless into the street.’ ‘You want more? Babcock exclaimed. ‘A lying, cheating gutter scum like you demands something from us? I’ve a good mind to call the crushers!’ Willis, looking down at the folder in front of Babcock prodded a line of text. ‘Didn’t you have an aunt?’’ he asked, turning his attention back towards Oliver. ‘Ran off with a Vicar named Maylie or something like that, lives in a parsonage somewhere? Go scrounge a bed from her.’ ‘I don’t know where they live anymore,’ Oliver replied. ‘They moved parsonages a couple of years back, before the illness started – Mister Brownlow knew the address, but 26


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I – I forgot it.’ He hung his head. He’d always intended to ask for the address, but there were always other things to talk about instead, and after all, Mister Brownlow knew the address, it wasn’t as if he was going to forget it, and when Brownlow had gotten worse, simple things like addresses had become irrelevant. Rose Maylie may have been the sister of his mother and therefore his aunt, but they had never met before his tenth year. They had been close – as close as brother and sister in some ways, but there was always a distance that came from the lack of being a real family in Oliver’s early years. Rose and Harry Maylie had wanted their own life, not one connected to a ten-year-old orphan. They had always been polite and welcoming, but when the chance came to move away to a newer parish, they took it without hesitation. Even if Oliver had known where they were now, he’d never want to impose himself on their charity. ‘Feel free to fight our decision in the courts, if you want, boy,’ Willis continued. ‘Just be aware that it’ll take a long time, and cost you a lot of money to do so.’ ‘Speaking of money,’ Babcock reached into his trouser pocket and, pulling something out, threw it across the office to Oliver. ‘Here,’ he said. ‘Take it. It’s not much, but it’ll at least get you a bed and some food, maybe even a ticket to find your family.’ Oliver looked down at the guinea in his hand and bit back a reply. He had walked three days to demand his rightful fortune, to pay the debts still owed by his adoptive father and to start a new life, and all he had to show for it was this solitary coin. ‘Thank you,’ he said, trying not to choke on the words. ‘I’m very grateful.’ He pocketed the guinea and looked back up at the two solicitors. ‘I’ll pay it back when I’m able.’ ‘There’s no need for that, boy.’ Babcock smiled, waving his hand magnanimously. Oliver raised his own. ‘Yes there is, sir,’ he replied, trying to keep his tone calm yet failing. ‘You have stolen my rightful inheritance. You have stolen my family home. You have stolen my name, returning me to Twist, a name that a good, fine man removed twelve years ago when he called me son.’ Oliver’s hands balled into fists, and he forced the anger back down, forced his disgust at these two men back into the pit of his stomach as he continued.

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‘I don’t want a single hell-spawned penny from you, but you have left me no option but to be in your debt. And when you’re in debt to the Devil, you always pay your dues.’ ‘Now I say!’ Babcock exclaimed indignantly, but Oliver ignored him, storming over to the door, pulling it open in one swift motion. ‘No sir, I say,’ he snapped. ‘I say that what goes around comes around, and for your crimes today you will be judged – in a court far higher than the ones that you practice in.’ He turned once more to face the two solicitors, standing at their desks now, shocked at his outburst. ‘They call it ‘practicing law’ for a reason,’ he finished. ‘And no amount of practicing in the world will save you when you bear false witness against God himself.’ And with that, slamming the door behind him, Oliver stormed out of the offices of Babcock & Willis. There was silence for a long moment, Babcock looking to his partner and then staring back to the folder. ‘Did you see that boy’s face? He genuinely believed his case.’ Willis looked to the door, where seconds earlier Oliver had stood. ‘I think we need to check our records,’ he said. ‘I’m beginning to wonder if we’ve been played by a fool here – and not by young Mister Twist.’ Babcock nodded and called for a clerk. ‘Get me the Brownlow files,’ he stated, pausing for a moment. ‘Make it the last twenty years worth. And while you’re at it, look for anything that we hold on the Edwin Leeford inheritance.’ He stared at the door, mirroring Willis. ‘It might be nothing.’ he stated. Willis nodded. ‘True,’ he replied. ‘But I’d rather face God about it with a clear conscience, wouldn’t you?’

Oliver slammed the door behind him and stood alone on the darkening street, tears now freely running down his face. Everything had been for nothing. Looking around the street, he eventually walked off to the left, southwards towards Holborn and then Chancery Lane, his destination unknown. He didn’t look around him, didn’t look at the 28


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road and in particular did not look across it into an alleyway that faced the offices of Babcock & Willis, an alleyway where Jack Dawkins, the Artful Dodger now stood, watching out across the road at the retreating Oliver in surprise. ‘You were right,’ he said. ‘I didn’t think they would keep the money, but you did, didn’t you? You knew exactly how they would play it.’ He turned to the back of the alley where he could see a ghostly figure standing, smiling patiently as Dodger spoke. He was skeletally thin, with wispy red hair, thinning on top, a white smock hanging limply over his shoulder and a remnant of a hangman’s noose wrapped around his neck. He stood, barefooted, watching Dodger as he spoke. ‘You were right, Fagin,’ Dodger repeated. ‘Blow me if you weren’t right. Now he’ll have to help us.’ ‘Ah, Dodger my dear, you always was my favourite,’ the ghost of Fagin wheezed. ‘You was like a son to me, you were.’ ‘Thanks, Fagin,’ Dodger replied, turning back from the vision in the alleyway and back out into the street, watching Oliver as he walked away. ‘I’ll do what I promised you, I’ll keep my word. I’ll avenge you right and proper, I will.’ His eyes narrowed as he continued his gaze, speaking as he did so. ‘That Twist, he’s well spoken. Talks like nobility. Educated. He’ll scrub up just as well in a pinch – it’s in his blood, isn’t it? He’ll do alright.’ Dodger kept on talking to the ghost of Fagin, but to the people walking past, all they saw was a man talking to himself. They couldn’t see Fagin’s ghost – for only the Artful Dodger could. And see Fagin’s ghost he did. ‘And more importantly, he’s never been pinched, arrested – which makes him unknown to the crushers. He’s not a face like me or you, Fagin. He’s not a person of interest.’ ‘And what of the diamond, Dodger my boy?’ the shade of Fagin asked ‘Do you know where it is?’ ‘I’ve always known, Fagin,’ Dodger replied. ‘I’ve known since Bombay.’ By now Oliver had walked from Dodger’s view, yet still he stared out of the alleyway, his mind far away now, lost in his thoughts and his plans. ‘We’ll let him stew until tonight, and then we’ll set the bait. We’ll bring him in and then keep him with us right up until the moment we take the diamond.’ 29


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‘And then what, my boy?’ ‘Then, Fagin?’ Dodger’s eyes narrowed. ‘Why then we leave the body for the authorities to find.’ -o-

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Bleeding Cool: Dodge And Twist by Tony Lee