The Copper Horse: Fear – Chapter 3

The day was long and tiresome, just like pretty much every day. One thing Reuben could look forward to at the end of it was a glass of cheap gin. He shared a room with his father above the bakery. Big, but with a slanted ceiling that forced him to slouch. He created a glimmer of privacy by hanging a curtain made out of old sheets between his and his father’s side, which was much more spacious. Apart from the dirt, he couldn’t complain about the living conditions though, as he knew most people in this part of London were much worse off. It was warm, too, thanks to the heat from the ovens downstairs. If it weren’t for his father, Reuben would enjoy this place, but the man was becoming less stable with each passing year. Extremely stingy, unpleasant and authoritarian, he sometimes woke Reuben up just because he didn’t like someone resting when he wasn’t. He’d make up a task that supposedly needed completing immediately, even if it really didn’t.

There was one thing the old man was better at than Reuben—drinking gin. Every time Father stole his alcohol, Reuben wanted to push him down the stairs. He rarely had the guts to hit his father, though. There was something imposing and scary about him. If there were anything else Reuben could do with his life that wasn’t worse than his current job, he would disappear without a word or even a sting of guilt.

He sat down on his worn out mattress and slouched, closing his eyes, to allow at least a short moment of rest.

“Did ya waste water again?” He jumped at the shout from downstairs.

“Waste,” he huffed to himself. “Just washed a bit! It’s not a crime every two weeks, now is it?” He hit the back of his head against the low ceiling.

“Ya wanna go whorin’ again! Don’t remember what ‘appened last time?”

Reuben scowled at the memory. Why couldn’t he be like other men? Not fucked up in the head. He had told his father he’d got mugged. “Well, it won’t happen again!”

Even if he wanted to, which he didn’t, he doubted anyone would be attracted to him with the two bruises still lingering on his chin. They weren’t much in comparison to his multi-colored stomach.

“Yer good for nothin’! And this time I’m not gonna give ya money to waste!” His father’s screams from downstairs made Reuben bang his head against the wall in frustration yet again. In a way, he learned to accept it, because what was he good at? He was a baker, but not a good one. All he’d mastered was the skill of making breads and pies that pretended to be edible, though if given the ingredients to make a proper one, he would probably fail miserably.

He’d been taught basic reading by one of the neighbors when he was a boy, but it was hardly an achievement. Reading longer or complicated texts posed a challenge, so he didn’t see his future in connection to this skill. He was strong and good at taking directions. That was about it.

Not wanting to waste any more of his time, Reuben pushed a cap on his head and went down the narrow staircase, hoping he wouldn’t walk into his father. Luckily, the old man must have been in the backyard—at least that was Reuben’s conclusion as he saw the back door wide open. He tiptoed out to the street, sick of the constant confrontations. There was one place he wanted to see on a warm afternoon like this one, and it was not in the slum he lived in.

He put on his old leather gas mask. It only covered the lower part of his face, his eyes left unprotected, as he couldn’t afford goggles.

Numerous factories, lamps and engines in the city produced an amount of smoke that could give a man lung disease or even kill. Everything looked as if it was covered by a widow’s veil, and almost no one wore white shirts anymore, because of the rate at which they changed color. The hair and skin weren’t safe either, and even Reuben’s father washed his face and hands on a daily basis. They used gas masks distributed by a charity organization dedicated to help London’s poor. This air quality issue was considered a priority, since it caused such numerous health problems.

On a warm Saturday afternoon like this one though, no warnings would keep people out of the streets. The one good thing about being a baker was finishing work early. He had to get up in the middle of the night to help prepare the dough, but at least he got to see a bit of sunlight if he went all the way to Hyde Park once he’d called it a day.

The park might have been surrounded by a filthy city, but with the amount of trees and flowers, the air here was a lot cleaner than anywhere else. Reuben lowered his gas mask with a sense of relief and took in a long breath, watching the greenery through the tall fence. The smell was so different from the dusty aroma of the slum. It reminded him of the rare times of happiness, and he let his eyes wander over the thick grass. Between the trees, he could see children running around with a hoop and rod, their fine clothes probably more expensive than his house.

Reuben remembered playing there as well when he was a young boy and it was still available to the public. Now that it was closed off to the poor, all he could do was look through the steel bars. There were countless guards inside, so trying to sneak in wasn’t much of an option.

It was hot and maybe even a bit muggy, but Reuben was sure it was lovely to walk between the trees. He couldn’t see them from where he stood, but there were fountains deeper in the park. Walking along the fence, toward the gate, he opened his shirt to cool off.

A loud whinny to his side made him jump.

“Whoa there!” He laughed it off, looking up to the massive horse. “Sorry, sir!” he said to the rider, though he didn’t know what for. Better safe than sorry.

The man looked at him from behind a pair of black-lensed goggles that seemed too big for his slim face, which, too, was hidden by a simple, but elegant mask. As if owning a horse wasn’t enough of an expression of great wealth, the man wore a splendid riding costume. The jacket was pale brown velvet, the same color as the man’s top hat, and as Reuben’s gaze traveled south, he saw how cleverly the tailor had complemented his customer’s well-formed thighs, encased in a pair of breeches made of the softest leather. Only then did Reuben realize that the man was riding bareback, which was in stark contrast to other wealthy gentlemen Reuben saw in the streets of London.

The horse was a magnificent animal, too. Massive, with a thick mane, hair around the hooves and a gas mask on its head. Reuben never liked those. They made horses look like monsters with dead, hollow glass where their eyes should have been. He noticed a large, broad shouldered man in a modest suit standing in the background. He must have been guarding his master’s safety, yet for some reason, he didn’t make a move to chase Reuben away. Afraid to be staring too long at someone so rich, Reuben quickly made his way along the park fence.

“I’m no tramp!” He looked over his shoulder, trying to walk away faster. The loud clopping of hooves followed him. As far as he knew, catching the attention of an unknown rich man was never a good thing. He didn’t believe in the stories of randomly getting a job in the street. Being beaten for no reason or getting into all sorts of trouble was more of a common experience.

He sped up, looking back at the grim figures walking behind him when he bumped into a firm body. “Oh, God! Sorry sir! So deeply sorry,” he muttered to the park guard by the gate. This was getting worse with every minute. The bulky man looked at him from below a heavy, copper helmet that looked like a big bowl pressed low on his head. His emerald green uniform made Reuben jumpy—like any uniform, for that matter.

“What are you even looking here for?” The guard pushed at his chest. “You’ll scare away the park members. Nobody wants to catch any lice!”

Reuben felt himself go red. “I’m just looking. And who says? Maybe I have enough money, huh?” He cowered a few paces away, only to stand closer to that damned toff on horseback.

“You don’t.” The guard frowned and reached for his baton. “Get away or I’ll have to chase you out.”

“I haven’t done nothin’. I’m just lookin’!” Reuben raised his hand, reflexively trying to protect himself from the baton, but the guard stopped, focused on something behind his back. His head instinctively turned the same way.

The rider held his arm up, three gloved fingers outstretched, and his servant hurried toward the guard with a rattling bundle of coins.

“Absolutely, sir!” the park guard said as soon as he received the money and started opening the gate. Reuben shivered as the giant horse stopped only a few feet away from him. Too shaken to look up, he just stood there paralyzed, pretending to be invisible.

The moment he heard a snap of fingers above his head, he looked up as if he was trained to do so. He couldn’t see the rider’s eyes, but he was certain the man was looking straight at him. Not knowing what to do, he managed a weak smile. The mute rider nodded, then stretched out his hand toward Reuben, encouraging him inside the park as if he had found a small bird in the street and urged it back to its nest.

The guards watched, dumbstruck, but there was something about the eccentric patron that kept their mouths shut.

“You sure, kind sir?” Reuben looked at him once more, his smile widening. It seemed too good to be true.

The man nodded, riding through the gate with the servant trailing behind, equally silent as his master.

When Reuben gathered the courage to move, his stride quickly changed into a run, and with no regard to the sneering guards, he took off his shirt, waving it in the air with a wide grin. The silent gentleman urged his horse forward and followed Reuben into the park. It seemed strange, but Reuben did not mind. After all, the rich stranger paid his way in.

Passersby avoided him, no doubt commenting on his lack of morals or clothes, but Reuben couldn’t care less. The moment he stepped onto the finely kept lawn, he took off his shoes and wrapped them in his shirt so they would be easier to carry. The air smelled of freshly cut grass, and Reuben took a lungful before setting off for a run. The freedom it brought made him want to scream in delight.

It was as if he were a little boy again, escaping his father’s watchful eye to bathe in the Serpentine and pretend that this whole park was a magical forest where he was safe, the only forest in all of Britain without any undead. A group of ladies would be there every Saturday to comb children’s hair, wash their gray faces and sometimes even give them new clothes or food. He remembered that one time he’d got a piece of chocolate. It was the sweetest, creamiest thing he had ever had, and though the piece melted all too soon and he hadn’t had any since, he could still remember the taste as if it were yesterday. He would give a lot to try it again.

He could still hear the clopping of hooves behind him and stopped in embarrassment, turning around to face the man whom he owed for all this. How could he have been so ungrateful?

The rider halted in front of him, his servant a few feet behind. Reuben hugged the shirt to his chest, suddenly feeling the need to cover up, and looked at the gentleman.

“Thank you, sir! This means a lot to me!”

The stranger crooked his head before leaning down to lie on the neck of his stallion and reach his hand out. Reuben swallowed, his heart pounding. There was something eerie about this clean, rich man. Why had he helped him get into the park? Sure, the fee must have been nothing to someone like him, but kindness toward a dirty pauper was the last thing Reuben expected from a richer.

“Uhm, I don’t understand, sir.” Reuben took a step closer. “My hands are dirty, I better not…”

The man moved his fingers in clear invitation. They were long and graceful, like those of piano players. Reuben hesitated but smiled once more, too exhilarated to decline. He shook the gloved hand. It was smaller and thinner than his own, but with a surprisingly strong grip. The servant moved closer and bent down, offering Reuben his intertwined hands as his master moved back to give him space.

An eccentric, mute aristocrat had a fancy to take him for a horse ride. What was the worst that could happen? He wouldn’t have believed such a story if he’d heard it from someone in a pub, but it was happening to him! To him!

Reuben quickly took advantage of the help and got onto the massive stallion, once again embarrassed by how dirty he was, but he couldn’t stop the ever-widening grin on his face. He had never mounted a horse before, and this one was so muscular and tall, but the presence behind him gave him a sense of security. Even with the size of the stallion, he still had to sit close to the other man, whose knees dug into the backs of his thighs. All of a sudden, anxiety started creeping up Reuben’s back, even though it was too late to back out now. What if the man was a mad murderer like the London Strangler? One heard about things like that.

Reuben drew in a sharp breath when the other man’s body pressed into his back as the stranger reached for the reins. Reuben let out a nervous laugh, glad that the rider was wearing a mask. At least he didn’t have to worry that he smelled. He felt out of place, on the back of this magnificent animal, with the stranger’s arms around him in a half-embrace. He pressed his back into the smaller man behind him as soon as the horse moved. Without any comment, the gentleman urged the stallion with his heels and the animal started to trot. Reuben’s first instinct was to lean forward and grab the animal’s neck, clutching his belongings with the other hand. The gentleman reacted immediately, wrapping an arm around Reuben and pulling him against his chest in reassuring gesture. They moved between thick trees, and when the air blew stray hair out of Reuben’s face, he felt a rising sense of otherworldliness. His muscles trembled in tune to the stranger’s even breath hitching through the filter behind him.

He was ashamed to be so poor, ashamed to be so dirty in such fine company. And yet, the freedom he felt on horseback helped him forget his own inadequacy, if only for a while.

It felt as if they rode for hours before the stranger stopped his horse and gestured for Reuben to get off. The servant, who didn’t seem out of breath at all, appeared by their side to offer assistance. Reuben knew not to overstay an invitation and hopped off, onto the grass. They were in a remote part of the park, with thick bushes around them and large trees blocking out the sunlight.

“Sir, it was amazing. Such a pleasure m’lord!” He tried to choose the politest words he knew. “And you have a beautiful horse, sir, and I had a bloody good time, and if there’s anything I can do to repay for your kindness, you just need to ask, sir,” he blurted out, feeling his cheeks heating as his eyes dropped to watch the man’s well-formed thighs.

The stranger moved his leg over the stallion’s croup and jumped onto the ground with an elegance that suggested he did it often. Reuben held his own possessions closer to his chest and smiled. The man came close to him and let his hand glide down Reuben’s arm.

Well, that’s different, he thought and looked into the black goggles. If the man was a mute, he had no way of saying what he wanted. Unless it was with his hands, of course. And those hands slowly ran up Reuben’s torso, touching the sides of his neck and face, gliding over the thin mask. Reuben swallowed hard, shooting the servant a nervous glance. He wasn’t sure where this was going anymore. What if he was the London Strangler?

The spell was broken when the stranger suddenly spoke, his voice distorted beyond recognition. “You have the most beautiful eyes.”

“M-me, sir?” Maybe he wasn’t the London Strangler. Maybe he was something new. Like the ‘London Eye-gouger’?

“It makes me curious as to what the rest of you looks like.” Even with the mask, it seemed to Reuben that the other man’s voice became raspy.

His mouth opened as it finally hit him. The stranger wasn’t a murderer. He had to be one of those rich perverts who thought they could buy whatever filthy pleasures they were after. Reuben took not one, but two steps back as the surroundings now seemed unpleasantly secluded. And out of all people, why would someone like that want him? He was no effeminate little boy! “I… I don’t think I’m what you’re looking for, sir.” He picked every word with care, desperate to get out of the situation in one piece.

“I know what I want.” The stranger stepped closer. “Don’t you want to get your cock sucked?” he whispered into Reuben’s ear, the metallic overtone making Reuben break out in goose bumps.

“I… I…” He blinked a few times, stuck in disbelief. The situation made no sense whatsoever. He looked back at the servant, wary of what could happen. “I’m not—” He cleared his throat. “I’m no sodomite… uhm… sir.”

“Doesn’t matter. Still want your cock.” The wealthy man slid his hands south, tracing the front of Reuben’s trousers with gloved fingers.

“No! I’m not like that.” Reuben took yet another step back, realizing that this might have been the price for being let into the park. His breath hitched with the strain of keeping calm. “You can’t buy that from me.”

“I don’t want to buy it. It occurs to me that men like to spill. And you are a man.”

Reuben felt his face burn. “I don’t spill into men’s lips!” he hissed with anger, but didn’t dare push the stranger away. The concept that someone so fine and dandy would be interested in him made Reuben light-headed, even if it also scared the hell out of him.

“A ‘no’ is a ‘no’.” Reuben took a few more steps back. “Piss off, you sick fuck,” he said louder, but his back bumped into a firm body, and before he knew what was going on, the servant had restrained him with bare hands. “Let go of me, bastard!” Reuben’s mind went back to the time he’d been beaten up not so long ago and he writhed, trying to break free. Fucker had to spoil a perfectly good day!

He thrashed, looking down at the perverted richer who calmly curled a strand of Reuben’s long hair around his finger, examining its texture as if it were the most fascinating thing in the world. A small, eagle brooch glistened on the man’s cravat every time he moved.

“What’s wrong with you, you bastard?” Reuben didn’t even notice when he started shaking. Then, just as soon as it began, the hand was gone and the stranger made his way back to his stallion. The servant only let go of Reuben when his master was safe on horseback.

Reuben dashed out of his arms with a strangled whimper of fright. He peeked over his shoulder once more to confirm they were not following him and ran to the gates as if there were no tomorrow. For once, he’d thought something good had happened to him and it’d turned out to be some sick–he didn’t even understand what had happened! His body wasn’t a piece of slum meat to be fondled by some filthy-minded toff! Hell! After that last time, he didn’t want any man close to him anyway, no matter how handsome and well-kept he might have been.

Running for all he was worth, Reuben hoped to reach somewhere less secluded as soon as possible. He didn’t even want to think about the shame of someone finding out what had happened to him back there, between the bushes. Best to erase it from his mind altogether.




It was late evening when he reached his neighborhood, still trying to forget what had happened in the afternoon. He was to meet his mates at a pub down the road, though ‘people he knew’ was a better description. The area was dirty and poor, but at least he knew where he stood here, and no one would try to take advantage of him just because of their status.

He delved into the thick, rotting core of the slum, walking along the alleys and trying to ignore easy women who offered themselves to him without any shame. One even went as far as to advertise her qualities by crudely lifting her tattered skirt to reveal a thick bush of dark hair. He was not impressed. Narrow streets were swarming with people, lots of them already drunk, some of the men howling obscenities at the prostitutes, who were laughing it off and telling them to come back once their pockets were full.

Money was a constant, never fading issue in this part of town. An issue so big, it didn’t leave much room for silliness like friendship, compassion, or love. It was one of the reasons why Reuben didn’t have anyone he could consider a friend or even rely on. Trusting someone would be foolish, to say the least. Still, people had all sorts of relations, and Reuben believed that as long as one used their common sense and instinct, they’d be fine. His instinct had clearly failed him both today and two weeks ago.

Going back home and listening to his father’s nagging would bring Reuben no peace, but there was a place he could go to for the only solace he knew—gin. The local pub was already full and bustling with chatter, drunken couples dancing to the sound of a fiddle. The merry atmosphere brought a slight smile to his face as he looked around the room, in search of a friendly face. The freehouse was homely and warm, with a high ceiling and used but solid furniture. From what he had heard, there used to be small mirrors on the walls above each of the tables standing along the walls, but all that remained were empty spaces, often used by literary visitors as a place to express their current thoughts. Mostly drunk ones.

“Carrot!” A few girls mocked his hair, but he shrugged it off and went straight up to the barmaid to get himself a pint. Only after taking a few sips right there at the counter did he turn to find his mates.

“Ruby! Long time no see!” yelled out Tobias, a young man with the most unhealthy- looking teeth Reuben had ever seen. There was also Silent Thomas, mute since someone cut off his tongue, and Jacob, a handsome youngster with quite a reputation for whoring and gambling. He was rumored to earn his keep at the cost of London’s betters, but as no one ever caught him red-handed, it was not an established fact.

“Hiya, Ruby!”

“Long day’s work. I need a beer. How are you?” Reuben sat at the table, next to Tobias.

Silent Thomas remained mute, of course, but the ever-outspoken Jacob cackled. “Had Naughty Molly today!” He combed his fingers through his unruly, pitch black hair. He clearly was the best dressed one of them, and that only supported the gossip about his connections to the Bylondon mob.

“Some people are lucky, I see!” Reuben gave him a cocky grin, although he never understood the point of boasting about things like that. “You, Toby?”

“Ah, same old shit.” He drank his beer slowly. “My wife’s makin’ a fuss, so ‘ere I am. Don’t wanna look at ‘er mug.”

“Try lookin’ at ‘er muff instead!” Jacob and the rest of the table roared at the joke, even Silent Thomas gave a smile. “Or dance with one of them fresh girls,” Jacob continued, wiggling his eyebrows and gazing sideways at the dance floor.

“I’d rather get more beer,” said Reuben. He never got the idea of paying a girl for a dance. Sex? That was different, that was a clear exchange. But a dance? Cockteasing.

“Or maybe Percy Preston?” Tobias winked at him. “I heard you went to his show.”

“He’s funny. Good actor. Doesn’t mean I think about his ass at night.” Though he absolutely did. Percy Preston was the most beautiful man he had ever seen. With skin more tender than a baby’s bottom. He’d do a lot to spend a night under him.

“Well, some say he’ll be kicked out of London for his plays soon enough–” Tobias wanted to say more, but Jacob butted into the conversation.

“Take an old, merry widow, she’ll get ya beer!” He nudged Reuben’s ribs with an elbow. “Yer ‘andsome enough for that lot.”

Reuben only shook his head. “Not with this bruised up face.”

“Ah, come on!” Jacob patted Reuben’s arm. “I’ll show ya one. Come on, the lads can manage on their own for a few minutes!”

Silent Thomas shot him a doubtful look.

“One that’ll buy me gin for a dance?” That sounded very dodgy, but Reuben stood up and followed Jacob. The other man put an arm over his neck, leading him through the crowded room.

“I ‘ave a job for ya,” he said straight from the shoulder as they passed the wooden bar and walked into a narrow corridor, where they had to brush past a fat man in order to get through. Reuben had no idea what someone who could clearly afford a lot of food was looking for in a place like this.

“Do ya?” Reuben cleared his throat, his eyes back on Jacob.

“Eh, ya don’t trust me, mate?” Jacob made a hurt face, drawing back until he hit the wall.

“Oh, I dunno, I just don’t wanna get into trouble…” Reuben trailed off, blinking when someone pushed a piece of paper into his hand and rushed past them as if the devil himself were after him.

“What, ya workin’ with ‘im?!” asked Jacob, pushing Reuben into the wall.

“With who?” Reuben gave him a confused look and glanced down at the piece of paper that turned out to be a low-quality print of a rather brawny couple with grayish, anonymous faces. The man was dashing fire from a huge gun, while his female counterpart held out a wicker basket of bread toward anonymous hands. The drawing was topped with a large font that read: We’re coming!

“God, no!” Reuben threw the leaflet to the ground, pushing Jacob further into the corridor. He didn’t want to have anything to do with anarchists! Those people had blown up a mansion just a few weeks ago, not to mention attempting to assassinate the Great Inquisitor of London and pushing for changes Reuben didn’t understand or want to understand, for that matter. He knew one thing though: it was illegal to support them.

“Good.” Jacob didn’t seem affected by the leaflet. He grabbed Reuben’s arm and took a sip from the glass of beer he was holding. “My offer has nothin’ to do with ‘em! Those same things pay for most of my good time!”

“Oh, what is it then?” Reuben asked in a whisper, as he suspected there had to be a catch in the offer. Jacob wasn’t known for doing favors. They walked into a quieter room, where men played cards at two tables.

“Here’s the thing,” Jacob began, taking a seat at an unoccupied bench in the far corner where they could have some privacy. The wood gave an unpleasant crack, but Jacob didn’t pay it any mind. “Ya know Bylondon, right?”

Reuben sat next to him and downed most of his beer in one go. “I never go there!” he said without hesitation. “It’s dangerous. A lawless land.” He furrowed his eyebrows, remembering all the horrendous stories he had heard about the parasite districts that grew on the outer side of London city walls. The government didn’t meddle in their affairs, and apparently the only things preventing their inhabitants from doing exactly what they pleased were powerful gangs. Their leaders ruled Bylondon with iron fists, living like dukes in their own domain.

“I do.” Jacob shrugged as if it was nothing. “It’s much better than everyone thinks! There are even schools and a hospital, just like in London!”

“Really?” Reuben’s eyes went wide. He’d always thought of Bylondon to be a place of constant chaos.

“Yes, but they have this problem with food…” Jacob trailed off, looking him straight in the eye.

“Why? They’re closer to the forest than us.” Reuben folded his arms over his chest. He knew for a fact that most people weren’t willing to cross the wall and enter Bylondon, let alone get on the outer side of its stockade. He suspected that the zombies he sometimes encountered in the sewers had entered them through open manholes in the forests around the city.

“But most food is grown on farms, and farms sell to London first,” Jacob explained with a grin. He leaned over so that none of the other patrons overheard his words. “In Bylondon, food’s pricey, and I know someone that buys everythin’.”

“You do? They pay a lot?” Reuben fixed his gaze on the other man. Maybe if he took part in an outing like this… just once, he could pay off the debt he had with his father.

“Oh!” Jacob shook his head with a wide smile. “Ya will be able to quit the bakery.”

“Really?” Reuben’s heart started pounding faster than he liked. “So what’d ya need me for?”

“Bread.” Jacob’s answer cut into Reuben’s sentence. “We need bread. Two sacks.”

That had Reuben coming down from the initial enthusiasm. “And I’d get so much money for two sacks of bread?”

“Last time I got twenty pounds!” Jacob smiled and squeezed his hand reassuringly. “I wanna ‘elp ya. And I need someone to ‘elp me. The more food, the more money.”

“So where’s the catch?” Reuben whispered, even though he knew at this point that he would give this business a shot.

“Catch?” Jacob rolled his eyes and got up to his feet, looking offended. “If ya don’t want it, I can offer it to someone else instead!”

“Oh, come on!” Reuben tugged at his sleeve. “I need to know more. But I could even get pies.”

That caught his friend’s attention. “All right,” Jacob said, lowering his backside to the bench again. “I need someone to ‘elp me in the sewer, ya know it well. and I ‘ave blueprints, so there’ll be no problem.”

“In the sewers…” Reuben’s body tensed. The prospect of leaving the safety of the tunnels he knew froze him to the seat. “Is that the only way in?”

“No, but the tax is a pain.” Jacob licked his lips, slouched his body, and discretely lifted one side of his jacked. For a moment, Reuben didn’t know what he was supposed to see, but then he recognized the shape of a small gun.

“That could help.” He gave a faint smile. In the darkness of the sewer, a bullet could just as well end up in his guts. Still, it didn’t make Jacob’s offer any less appealing. Having his own money meant freedom.

“Ya bet it could, mate!” Jacob laughed and patted his arm as if they were brothers in arms. “Let’s do it!”

Reuben licked his lips nervously. “Next week? ‘Cause I don’t want to do it when there is so much police in the city center.”

“Yeah, our district is under surveillance. Fuckin’ Gregorovich. I tell ya he won’t be any different than what we ‘ave now,” breathed Jacob, taking another sip of his beer. He fished something out of his trouser pocket and gave it to Reuben. “Look through it when yer alone.”

Reuben nodded and slipped it inside his shirt, close to his erratically beating heart. His eyes met Jacob’s as the other man held out his hand. “We ‘ave a deal, right?”

Reuben took a deep breath and shook his hand. “Deal.”

No way back.



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