Read an extract from A Thief's Justice

November 29, 2022

1

London, 17 February 1716

The air was heavy with candle smoke, and though the temperature beyond the foggy windows was plunging, this upstairs room was warm thanks to a fire blazing in the grate and the proximity of gamblers standing at, or wandering between, the gaming tables. There were cries of delight and groans of exasperation as bets were laid, cards dealt and money won and lost. Those women present either perched themselves beside the man of their choice or wafted around the room along with the tallow fumes, flirting here, enticing there, settling on a cull with the bunce to pay for a tupping. Servants weaved around the patrons, delivering drinks and food or stopping to trim wicks of candles when they smoked excessively.

Jonas Flynt had left the piquet table, his winnings safely within the pocket of his long dress coat, and wandered the room, his gaze seldom far from the game of hazard at a long table against the far wall. He had kept an eye on it all evening, for he was not in this room atop the Shakespear’s Head Tavern for sport alone. He stopped just short of the long table to observe a squat fellow in a long powdered wig replete with ringlets, his blue velvet jacket grasping his frame as if it did not wish to let go, his pale brown waistcoat unbuttoned. He swirled the dice cup in his right hand as though he were an apothecary concocting a salve, while his left rested protectively on the pile of coins before him. Men with money riding on his throw waited with bated breath, hope, even dread, etched upon their faces, which flickered in the yellow candlelight.

A man who Flynt vaguely recognised gave him a brief nod. ‘He’s declared six as his main,’ he informed Flynt in a low murmur, though he had not asked. Flynt nodded his thanks nonetheless and watched the dice tumble down the table.

‘A four and two,’ declared a man on the opposite side of the table, already taking money from those around him. Clearly he had wagered on the little man making his mark. Throwing a six or a twelve were winners. If the dice had revealed any total other than those, then the gambler would have been paying out rather than raking in.

‘The beak has been throwing lucky bones for an age,’ the man told Flynt. ‘I ain’t never seen a run like it, Captain Flynt.’

So the man knew his name, but Flynt could not dredge up his in return. He prided himself on a memory for faces but this man’s features were only faintly familiar. His use of ‘captain’ placed him as one of the fancy, or at the very least one who lurked around the fringes. But then, there were many who knew him in this world, if by reputation only. He searched his memory and finally came up with the name Ned Turner, a crimp with whom he’d transacted business back in his high toby days on the heaths around the city. A good fence was necessary to those who made their living on the roads and Turner had been an honest dealer.

The dice were returned to the gentleman, who fondled them like a lover for a moment before popping them in the box while further bets were laid and accepted. A lanky, mournful gent Flynt guessed to be the banker of the game looked on unhappily, no doubt feeling the pain of the thrower’s luck in his purse. Beside him stood another individual, well-built, well-dressed, his wig powdered to perfection but his face pinched as he absently jingled coins in his hand while watching the caster with suspicious eyes. Flynt knew this fellow; he had kept him in view throughout the evening. Lord Augustus Fairgreave and his two friends were completely unaware of his surveillance as Flynt had taken care to hood his interest. Luckily the other gentlemen at the piquet table he had recently vacated had limited skills in turning the flats and so the diversion did not impede Flynt from relieving them of their purses.

‘Seven is my main,’ the rotund man rattling the dice declared in a voice that was clear and commanding. He was a beak, Ned had said, and as a judge he would need to speak decisively and make himself heard. The banker nodded his assent before closing his eyes, no doubt praying that God would have the grace to intercede in his favour.

Flynt asked Turner if he wished to try his luck betting against the judge. ‘I’ll take your wager, Captain, for his good fortune can’t last.’

Flynt was not so certain. He sensed something in the atmosphere that he had not felt in many a year, and that was providence smiling upon a man as it had never smiled upon him before. The gaming tables witnessed such moments all too briefly and they were to be savoured… and profited from. He staked a tidy sum on the little judge’s luck holding and Turner matched him.

‘Throw the damned bones, sir,’ Fairgreave ordered, his tone clipped, suggesting he had been betting the wrong way. The caster seemed not to notice the imperious tone and continued his agitation of the dice. Gamblers have their traditions, their touchstones, and Flynt wondered if it was this man’s habit to caress them with something akin to affection before depositing them in the box and applying a particular number of shakes before letting fly. When he finally did, the gamesters and onlookers alike seemed to hold their breath, every pair of eyes watching the cubes bounce on the table and then roll to a halt against the raised edge. Flynt craned over their heads to see what the telltale dots revealed. The judge had called seven as his main so he needed to throw that or an eleven to win.

The dice revealed a three and a two.

The player had hit crabs, a losing throw. A collective groan rippled around the table but Fairgreave’s mouth tightened into a satisfied grin. Flynt handed his wager to Turner.

‘I told you it couldn’t last,’ Turner said, beaming. ‘Luck is a lady of fickle affections.’

Flynt studied the judge who now had the dice returned to him. ‘But sometimes she likes to toy with us men, as all ladies do,’ he said. ‘She knows she has the upper hand at all times. I believe she is merely teasing the caster to remind him that he is nothing without her guiding his hand.’

A sly look flickered in Turner’s eyes. ‘Would you care to back your belief with your purse?’

A further sum was agreed and all eyes returned to the little man in the velvet coat, once again rattling the bones in the cup. His failure to hit the main or an eleven to win the previous throw had considerably increased the odds against him. He must now throw a five to win. The odds of him hitting that mark were long but Flynt tended to favour such outside chances.

The shaking stopped. The dice flew. Bounced. Tumbled to a rest. The chatter at the other tables died as all attention was drawn to the judge’s table.

There was silence as the numbers were revealed.

Then…

‘A five!’

The cheers outweighed the jeers and Flynt palmed his winnings from the now sour-faced crimp. ‘Damn the man’s luck.’

Flynt grinned as he slipped the coins into his pocket. ‘You will understand if I do not echo your sentiment, Ned.’

A smile puckered Turner’s lips. ‘We win, we lose – ain’t that the way of it?’

‘In life and in gaming, Ned. The living is in the playing of it.’

The man’s gaze eased past him to the other side of the table. ‘I’d hazard that Lord Fairgreave don’t share your philosophy.’

Flynt watched the tall nobleman shoulder his way towards the judge, by now holding the dice once more and rolling them around in his palm as he had before.

Ned Turner leaned closer in to Flynt. ‘I believe Justice Dumont has annoyed that gent, Captain.’

Flynt could tell by the aggressive swagger that Fairgreave was indeed intent on confrontation but, as a judge, the little man would surely not be susceptible to such bullying. Indeed, Dumont was clearly aware of the tall noble’s approach and appeared unconcerned. However, his lordship had two companions who, although red-faced with wine and heat, carried with them the air of men who would do anything to ingratiate themselves with those they saw as their betters, in this case, Lord Fairgreave. If there were to be any trouble, it would be from one of them.

‘I would see those dice, sir,’ his lordship demanded, using his height and steady gaze in an attempt to intimidate.

The little judge stared back at him, apparently far from daunted. ‘And why would you wish to do that, my lord?’

‘You are uncommon lucky with them.’

The discourse around the table hushed. Even the buzz of conversation elsewhere in the cramped room was cut short as faces turned their way. Lord Fairgreave had all but accused a man of cheating and this exchange could end in an unfortunate way if the judge decided that his honour had been besmirched. Flynt had researched Lord Fairgreave and he was reputed to be most proficient with a sword and, if rumour were true, had never been bested in a duel. The judge did not strike Flynt as a man who was adept with weapons, his domain being books and words. Nonetheless, the little man smiled sweetly.

‘You think these bones be cogged?’

Flynt suppressed a smile as Fairgreave’s face displayed confusion at the judge’s use of street slang, ‘cogged’ being the criminal world’s term for the loading of dice. Comprehension dawned only when one of Fairgreave’s companions whispered an explanation in his ear. ‘I know not, sir, hence my desire to inspect them.’

‘Sometimes desire is best kept private, my lord, and unspoken.’ Justice Dumont allowed the articles in question to roll easily around his palm as if daring the man to snatch them. ‘If they be cogged would I have lost that earlier throw?’

Fairgreave looked around him, suddenly aware that he had allowed his anger over his losses to overcome his common sense, but he had embarked on this course of action and could not back down, so adopted the tactic of the privileged by ignoring the facts and pushing his original premise. ‘You may have means of enhancing your luck by the way you palm them before shaking the box. By sleight of hand you may switch honest dice for loaded ones. Or somehow you manipulate them to achieve your main.’

The judge seemed more amused by this than insulted. ‘By God, sir, I am damnable dextrous with my fingers, am I not? Perhaps I should be earning my crust by joining the tumblers and jugglers at the fairs.’

Fairgreave’s face darkened at the mocking laughter around him. ‘Will you allow me to inspect those dice or not?’

The judge made a show of considering this request, then shook his head. ‘I think not. It is enough you have impugned my good name without playing into your phantasmagorical belief that I am somehow possessed of conjuring skills to rival Merlin. If you have lost money, sir, then it is because you backed the wrong play and not because I am in some manner supernaturally gifted.’

‘If I have impugned your good name, sir, then perhaps you should demand some satisfaction.’

The echoes of the laughter stilled as the audience realised that this little drama was reaching its climax. The judge looked around him, then down at the dice in his hand. ‘You mean a duel, I believe, and as an officer of His Majesty’s courts I could not possibly employ myself in such an undertaking. However, as you be particular adamant that you must examine these inoffensive little cubes, then have at it, sir.’

He threw the dice towards Fairgreave, who attempted to catch both missiles but failed miserably. They bounced from his chest and tumbled to the floor. This display of his own lack of dexterity evoked further laughter from all around and Fairgreave’s face turned ever darker. He did not stoop to retrieve them, which would not be seemly for a peer of the realm, but waited until one of his acolytes scrambled below the table to fetch them and placed them in his hand. He rolled them around on his palm with the forefinger of his other hand, then picked each up to shake them against his ear to listen for any liquid within before holding them closer to his eye to inspect them for shaved edgings or hairs attached to one face in order to give it the advantage. His lips thinned when he found nothing.

‘Well, sir?’ Dumont asked. ‘Do you acknowledge that it is not through any illicit means that your luck has been so poor this night?’

Lord Fairgreave was in no mood to acknowledge any error on his part, for in Flynt’s experience such was the way with gentry. The man slammed the dice down on the table and with no further word, though his final glare towards Justice Dumont spoke volumes, spun on his heel and strode towards the door, his shoes clicking on the bare floorboards like a drumbeat. He snatched a coat and hat from the girl guarding such apparel and stormed out, his two friends flapping like coat-tails behind him. The silence following their departure was broken by Judge Dumont coughing then laughing, the sound of the dice as he dropped them into the box unfeasibly loud.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘shall we play, gentlemen? I warn you all, despite his lordship’s display of petulant intervention, I believe my luck holds.’ He began to shake the dice. ‘The mark is nine…’

Flynt would have been happy to remain and perhaps add to his funds, but for him the night’s gaming had another purpose and such conviviality was merely a bonus. He tarried a few moments to allow his quarry sufficient time to descend the stairs, slipped the serving girl a few pennies for her trouble, then followed. The stairs were narrow and dark but he had trod them many times before so knew them well. He reached the tavern below in time to see Fairgreave and his companions exiting onto Russell Street. Flynt eased his way through the mix of swell and fancy, rich and poor, for the pursuit of pleasure in London was most democratic.

They waited on the street, but Flynt knew not for him. Fairgreave would not have taken the shame heaped upon him in the gaming room well and would be intent on resuming his remonstrations of the little judge away from witnesses. He and his friends barely glanced at Flynt as he left the tavern, thrusting his hands deep into his thick gloves, pulling his coat tighter to his throat and adjusting his scarf around his lower jaw to ward off the frightful cold which threatened to freeze the very lungs. It would not do for his face to be recognised as one that had dogged them all night, even though they had paid little attention to their surroundings, aside from accosting a doxy or two or exchanging words with acquaintances. Nevertheless, he kept his face down as he walked beyond them, glancing back only briefly to ensure they had not subsequently taken an interest in him. He stepped nimbly into the mouth of an alley, positioning himself in the dense shadows in order to observe without himself being observed. If any had witnessed his manoeuvre he was confident they would assume he was answering a call of nature, even though he was not liable to expose his tackle to these elements, for his piss would surely solidify as it left his body. Winter had bit hard, and even the Thames had fallen victim to its cold embrace, the waters freezing to such an extent that Londoners had taken to walking upon it. A winter fair had even been erected upon the ice, with stalls selling foods and entertainment. Flynt understood that it was not a phenomenon completely unknown but it had not occurred for over thirty years, and he found it curious to stand upon the bank below London Bridge and stare at what had once been in motion, sluggishly to be sure until it was forced between the parapets of the bridge, but was now still, as though some primeval winter deity had laid its hand upon it.

He flattened against the wall and fixed his attention on the trio of swells who had taken up position on the opposite side of Russell Street. By their manner of lurk, it seemed obvious to him that they were intent on some form of low toby, but their victim would not be random, even though they were not the usual type of footpad in their fine clothes and wigs. His lordship had clearly been irked by his losses at the hazard table and it seemed he intended to have his funds returned by means of robbery. That a peer of the realm would resort to such action did not surprise Flynt: the sense of entitlement of those in high places often led to low behaviour. Fairgreave believed he had been cheated and so felt within his rights to take back his coin by any means necessary. If there was a profit in it, all the better.

When tasking him with this mission, Colonel Nathaniel Charters had not outlined his reasons as to why Fairgreave needed to be watched. Charters sat at the centre of a web of informers and operatives – the Company of Rogues – like a black spider hungry for information, and so it was possible that he had been given intimation that his lordship was prone to such acts as this whenever he felt the need. Flynt had been ordered to observe and report only, so if this were the case then he had no doubt that Charters would store the information away for later use, perhaps to blackmail Fairgreave into some covert work in defence of the realm. Flynt knew a little too well how adept the colonel was at such extortion.

The cold nipped at his fingers even through the leather of his gloves, so he thrust his hands into the deep pockets of his greatcoat, his silver cane tucked in the crook of his elbow, the wide brim of his hat further shading his features though not impeding his view of the street or the door to the tavern. He shifted his feet to keep the blood from icing, being careful not to make any noise.

Russell Street was uncharacteristically quiet, the denizens and visitors preferring to remain indoors as close to a heat source as possible. There were a few hardy souls abroad, however: link boys carrying lanterns guided their customers through the darkened streets; some flash coves on their way to or from debauchery; Covent Garden Nuns and their lower market drabs sauntering by, one or two spotting Flynt as he waited and tarrying long enough to size him up as a possible cull, but moving on when they realised he had no interest in generating heat by dancing the goat’s jig. They exchanged a few words with Fairgreave’s hangers-on, who showed willingness for a tumble, causing Flynt to worry that they might use his alley for a bit of against-the-wall rutting, but a terse word from his lordship put all notion of sexual gratification from their mind. The rebuffed whores moved on in search of men more eager to part with their coin.

Flynt was on the verge of giving up – despite his careful movements his feet were growing numb within his long boots – when he saw the little judge emerge from the tavern, his portly frame well insulated from the cold by a thick coat. He had pulled his hat tightly upon his head and was wrapping a warm muffler around his throat, but stopped when he saw Lord Fairgreave and his friends waiting for him. He glanced up and down the street and, seeing it deserted, as if some cataclysm had occurred to remove all human life but the three men before him, took a half step back towards the tavern. The action seemed involuntary for he made no move to re-enter the establishment. He stood his ground as Fairgreave crossed the street towards him.

‘I would have words, little man,’ Fairgreave said. Flynt was close enough, hidden in the shadows, to hear the words, but distant enough to prevent him from discerning if the judge was shocked by being thus addressed or distressed at being confronted in such a way.

Dumont’s response was calm, however, with any trepidation he felt at being bearded by these men not evident. ‘I would have thought you had said sufficient at the gaming tables, Lord Fairgreave.’

Flynt pushed himself from the wall, his silver cane now gripped comfortably in his right hand, while with his left he unbuttoned his coat. Attending the tables while armed was a shocking display of poor manners but that did not mean he had left his rooms in Charing Cross without his pistols. They were secreted within two special pockets sewn into the lining of his greatcoat, for Flynt never knew when it might be necessary to apply Tact and Diplomacy to a situation. He had little intention of using them this night, but life had taught him that it was always advisable to be prepared.

‘I think not,’ Fairgreave said. ‘I think perhaps too much was said and too little done to my satisfaction.’

The judge looked from Fairgreave to his two friends. Flynt thought he could see a slight smile on his lips, as if he found this entire scene worthy of a comedy in the Drury Lane Theatre. ‘You attempted to inveigle me into a duel earlier, sir, and I did not bite. I take it this is the point in our discourse where you formally challenge me, then? Where there are no witnesses?’

Fairgreave stepped ahead of his colleagues. ‘I have no need to take the field of honour with a man who has so little that he would cheat at games of chance.’

Again the judge did not rise to the insult. ‘You inspected the dice, you know them to be fair.’

‘I know that you had more luck than any man has a right to.’

Dumont shrugged. ‘That is true, I did have a decent run, and you, sir, were on the wrong end of it. But you did not tarry to see the epilogue to our little drama, for after you left I lost… and heavily.’ Now Flynt was certain the judge smiled. ‘Perhaps you were my lucky charm, my lord.’

Those final words angered Fairgreave even further. ‘You are a cheat, sir, and, I believe, a liar. I will have your purse so that I may take back what I lost.’

Dumont held his hands out in apology. ‘I regret my purse is as empty as your conscience would appear to be.’

His lordship bristled at this and drew himself to his full, not inconsiderable height. ‘My conscience is untroubled by punishing a cheat and a thief, sir. Your purse, sir, that I may see for myself whether you are indeed also a liar.’

Dumont tilted his head as he considered what he knew was not a request before he signified acceptance by hitching his shoulder slightly and slipping his hand from his glove to reach into his pocket. ‘I do have something here that may interest you, my lord.’

The hand reappeared with a small Queen Anne pistol. The weapon was useless at any great distance but in this instance it was a matter of inches away from Fairgreave’s face. Alarmed, he took a step back.

‘Before you ask, my lord,’ Dumont said, ‘this is indeed primed.’ With one swift movement he cocked the weapon with his thumb. ‘Now it is also cocked and I will not hesitate to perforate you or any of your friends if you continue in this attempt at highway robbery.’

Fairgreave tried to bluster, his eyes on the barrel of the pistol. ‘Highway robbery? I am no common thief, sir, I am Lord Augustus Fairgreave and I—’

‘A fine name but you remain a bully and a scoundrel. You are also a poor gamester and, what is worse, a poor loser.’

One of Fairgreave’s companions leaned towards him and whispered something. Flynt strained to hear but caught nothing, although the judge evidently heard every word. ‘It is true that you are three and I have but one ball in this pistol. But the question you gentlemen must consider is which of you will be in receipt of that ball?’

‘You would risk the noose for a few coins?’ Fairgreave said, his initial shock overcome by his natural arrogance.

‘You would risk a hole in the head for the same? As for the noose, what I do would be in defence of self. What you do would be in furtherance of larceny.’

‘And how would you prove that?’

The judge’s pistol flicked away from Fairgreave for an instant. ‘What transpires here is witnessed.’

Flynt realised with a sinking heart that the man’s eyes were as sharp as his wits and he had spotted him in the shadows. Fairgreave and his friends twisted round, squinting into the dark.

‘Step forward, stranger,’ the judge shouted. ‘Let us see you.’

Flynt sighed, for he had no option but to do as he was asked.

‘Who are you, sir?’ the judge asked.

‘A pedestrian, like you,’ Flynt replied.

Fairgreave peered at him. ‘Why would a pedestrian hide in the gloom of an alleyway?’

‘I was taken short,’ Flynt explained, ‘and had to relieve myself.’

The judge’s lips twitched a little. ’I would know your name for any investigation into this matter.’

Flynt knew he could not reveal his identity. ‘I think this situation can be resolved without recourse to the authorities.’

‘I am the authorities, my friend.’

‘Even a judge can keep some matters out of the public eye.’

The man who had whispered to Fairgreave strode towards Flynt and pushed him hard on the shoulder. ‘Be off, whoever you be. This is no business of yours.’

Flynt did not like to be pushed by anyone. Ordinarily he would have pushed back but he was very much aware that his work here was intended to be covert. His orders were that he should not have direct contact with Fairgreave, and this inadvertent involvement was too direct for his liking. ‘I am merely making my way home.’

The eyes of the man who had pushed him narrowed. ‘You are Scotch?’

‘Scottish,’ corrected Flynt.

The man thought he had the upper hand and he played it. In fact he used both hands to propel Flynt backwards with a double thrust to the chest. ‘Then take another route to whatever pisshouse you infest and leave us to our business, Scotchman.’

Covert be damned, Flynt thought and rapped the handle of his cane on the man’s forehead. The move was swift and sharp and the man was unaware it had happened until silver made contact with flesh and bone. He blinked frequently, his mouth gaping as he stumbled back, one hand rising to the red welt already forming on his skin. Flynt had intended only to warn, not to incapacitate, but the individual was obviously not one to heed such a message. He roared in fury and lunged with arms outstretched, his hands tightened into claws as if he meant to scratch the skin from Flynt’s bones. He didn’t get far. Flynt sidestepped neatly and delivered a heftier blow to the back of his head. The man grunted once and pitched forward onto the road, his knees hitting the ice-hardened ground with force, his palms squelching in some particularly liquid horse droppings that had not yet frozen. At least, Flynt presumed the ordure to be horse for it was not unknown for some drunken sot to drop breeches if the street was deserted and squat where he stood. The man began to push himself upright again, curses flowing as easily as the manure had done from whatever creature left it, but Flynt had learned that once a man was down it was better he remain that way. He swung the cane a third time, feeling it crack against skull. He knew the hat and wig the man wore would soak up much of the force, protecting him from lasting damage, but the blow was of sufficient strength to lay him flat out, his face now landing in the remains of the putrid dung. Flynt inserted the toe of his boot beneath the man’s chest and flipped him onto his back, for it was ignominious enough to have been bested without drowning in diarrhoea, be it equine or otherwise. He then whirled to face any further assault from Fairgreave or his remaining companion. Neither of them had moved during the encounter but were staring at their erstwhile champion now recumbent amid the filth of the street with a mix of surprise and revulsion. Judge Dumont also watched, the hand holding the pistol now crossed over the other in front of him, his wide smile showing he had been hugely entertained by the display.

Fairgreave’s attention finally shifted from his friend, who was now groaning and moving his leg as if trying to rise but lacking the strength to do so. ‘Who are you, sir, that you would treat your betters in such a foul fashion?’

‘Who I am is of no consequence. As to this fellow being my better, I would take issue.’

Fairgreave sneered and looked about to argue the point when Judge Dumont spoke. ‘I would suggest you take your friend away from here, Lord Fairgreave. There is a sufficiency of detritus in these streets as it is.’

‘Our business is not yet concluded, little man. I would have my funds returned.’

‘Then you must take that up with the gentlemen to whom I subsequently lost it, for I am devoid of coin.’

‘I would have proof of that,’ Fairgreave said, reaching out towards the judge’s pockets with intent to rifle them but stopping when the Queen Anne pistol was once more levelled in his direction.

‘You forget my little friend here. And I would point out that the odds have now evened.’

Fairgreave’s focus swayed between the judge and Flynt. He was a man who was unused to being denied his wishes and struggled to understand why it had occurred this night. As he deliberated, the tavern door swung open and Flynt heard a voice call out. ‘Is all well, Captain?’

Flynt glanced back and saw Ned Turner with his arm around an amply proportioned Covent Garden Nun known as Drury Lane Tess. She was a buxom, good-natured woman who had clearly imbibed a surfeit of liquor, for she swayed like a thick oak in a storm as she did her best to focus upon the scene in the dark street.

‘All is well, Ned, my thanks to you.’

Ned’s gait hitched a little as he took in the scene, eyes moving from Fairgreave and his friend to the weapon in the judge’s hand and finally to the man still sprawled on the ground. He came to a halt, Tess with her hands on his shoulder for support, her tongue already searching for an ear to probe. ‘Be you certain of that?’

‘A slight accident. The gentleman lost his footing and hit his head. His friends here were about to take him to seek a barber-surgeon, were you not, gentlemen?’

Fairgreave had sufficient wit left to realise that his particular game had run its course so he reluctantly gestured to his remaining friend that they should assist their wounded comrade. They hauled him to his feet, supporting him when his legs seemed unable to do so, simultaneously but unsuccessfully endeavouring to avoid the excrement smeared on his face, hands and clothes.

Fairgreave grimaced as he realised his hand had come into contact with something foul and treated the judge to a final glare. ‘This does not end here. You may have the word of a gentleman on that.’

The judge slipped the pistol back into his pocket. ‘Your word it may be. Whether it is that of a gentleman is debatable.’

Fairgreave’s mouth opened and closed like a trout’s as he sought a retort. Finding nothing, he instead helped cart his still groaning burden away. Ned Turner watched them go as he idly fondled the plumper parts of his paramour for the night, and when satisfied they had no intention of returning, gave Flynt a nod. Flynt returned the gesture with an appreciative bow, and watched as the crimp led Tess in the direction of Drury Lane.

‘I thank you for your intervention,’ said Dumont. ‘I have no idea what would have occurred had you not been present.’

Flynt continued to regret that intervention even though it had been unavoidable, for the man’s eyes were sharp as they studied him.

‘That fellow called you Captain – you are a military man?’

‘I was, but the rank is honorary.’

Dumont took a half step back as he considered this. ‘Honorary, you say? May I ask your name? After all, I think it is only fair that I know the identity of my deliverer.’

Flynt was unwilling to part with that even now. ‘I believe you had the matter well in hand without my intervention.’

He was sure the judge had detected the obfuscation but the man did not pursue. ‘I remain unconvinced. I was playing a part, you must realise, for I suspect I would not have hit anything had I discharged my weapon. My marksmanship is far from adequate and my deliberate mien was merely a mask for abject terror.’ He once more took Flynt’s measure. ‘Although I would hazard such incidents are not beyond your ken, friend.’

‘I have encountered such men in the past, your honour.’

‘You know I am a judge?’

Flynt jerked his thumb over his shoulder towards the Shakespear’s Head. ‘I was witness to at least part of your run of luck at the hazard table and heard it whispered among the gamesters you were on the bench.’

‘They did, did they? It is heartening that my fame is so widespread. Was the person who informed you of my name a lawyer? A court officer?’

Flynt smiled as he thought of Ned Turner’s profession. ‘No, but he is acquainted with many guardians of the law.’

Dumont smiled back, understanding immediately. ‘And those with whom they deal, I have no doubt.’ He paused for a moment, then looked back towards the tavern. ‘I feel some warmth is needed and also something to calm my vapours. What say, as a thank you for your service, that I buy us a brandy to fire our blood against this damnable cold?’

Flynt looked to where Fairgreave had vanished into the night, knowing well that he was unlikely to find him again. ‘I would be delighted, your honour. But I thought you had lost heavily at the table?’

Dumont grinned and reached into his pocket, producing a purse fat with coin. ‘Never trust a lawyer, my good captain.’


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