While everyone else was at the hanging, I was at the soon-to-be-dead man’s house.
Of course, I couldn’t be the only one, and sure enough Jonesy and his mates had gotten there before me. They were idiots, making a ruckus like that. Not very bright either, but they were damned fast as the coppers soon found out.
One. Two. Three. There, the forth one’s gone. Captain Brightside used to station only two officers at a ‘recently abandoned’ house, but with the pillaging gangs he’s had to put more men at the doors. Otherwise, when the grieving family (or, more likely, the taxman) came to collect the belongings, there’d be hell to pay.
With the coppers and robbers off playing their games, I figured it was time to see what was left over. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as fast as Jonesy’s boys, but I could be quiet and careful.
Broad daylight always brought its challenges though.
Nothing a little fire couldn’t handle. A spilt oil lamp in a side alley, where plenty of old rubbish was put out of sight and out of mind, was enough to do the trick and frighten what few neighbours were left into action. It created a lot of foul-smelling smoke, but it did the trick.
“FIRE!!! GET YE BUCKETS!”
Waiting up the road for the shout, I bolted towards the fire like the rest of them. Some had morbid curiosity, others genuinely wanted to help, but all were distracted enough for me to slip unnoticed down the yard of simple house.
The backdoor was already broken, courtesy of Jonesy, and I did a quick once-over of the kitchen. Some iron implements were left, but I would only grab those if I had nothing else to carry. I decided to ignore the living room for now and try the bedrooms upstairs.
Only one was locked, so that was the one I focused my energies on. Not wanting to make any noise, I brought out my picks and got to work. Being a bedroom lock, it wasn’t difficult by any stretch of the imagination, so I forced a little more than I usually would have in an effort to break the lock. Nothing obvious, mind, just quicker.
That’s when I found the dead woman inside.
Her mouth frothed with the residue of poison, her eyes bulged and staring. Dead. Easily.
I still gave her a prod, just in case. Whoa, she had gone all stiff, alright.
If I weren’t a desperate thief, I might have wondered who she was. Wife? Mother? Sister? Daughter? Did she kill herself or was she poisoned?
If I weren’t a desperate thief, I might have wondered what she was doing in a condemned man’s house, whose family was meant to be living a very long way away.
If I cared about the man who was about to be hanged, I might have thought this could be some sort of evidence pertaining to his case. I could have stopped a man from dying.
Instead, I was far more concerned with my own life. So I pulled the two rings off the woman’s fingers, unlaced the pearls from her neck, and stole what little money she had on her. Then I went through the desk, bookcase, and bed.
It was only then I smelt the smoke, much too close for comfort. I glanced backwards to see the faint trail of new flames coming up from the stairwell.
I had been quiet. I knew I had. No one knew I was in here.
So the fire must be for her.
Working quickly, I cased the upper floor. I had started plenty of fires in my time, and knew how much time I had left based on the smell and sight of it. Right up until the coal in the downstairs boiler exploded.
Looks like I’d be going out the window.
I found myself back in the room with the woman. She’d be incinerated by the blaze, no question, and I found myself wondering…
I threw her out the window to the street below, and didn’t look back as I heard the screams begin.
I went out a side window, just barely catching the sill on the neighbour’s. Their window was shut, but I was now close enough to the ground to drop without hurting myself. The blaze at my back worried me, but I couldn’t very well go back out to the street and be seen running away from house fire.
Or a murder.
I took my chances with the neighbour’s back fence, and casually strolled out to the next alley. It had been a good haul, all in all.
I wasn’t stupid enough to go back around and into the hands of the coppers. Even if I was curious…
I was a desperate thief, and desperate thieves made sure they got paid first.