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Currently Writing ~ Miss Beale Writes: a mini series of novellas with a gothic touch. Now Writing: The Captive in Green

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

3rd Look, 3rd Character in The Hazard of Secrets

Writers can tell you that sometimes the story will take hold, and they're just along for the write.

One of the ways that the story takes hold is when a minor character demands more participation in a story. That character enters with a strong voice and full-blown personality and lobbies for scenes that belong solely to him.

In The Hazard of Secrets, that's the character Vic, a boy running the streets at the Liverpool waterfront. Enlisted by Clarey, he becomes a crucial part of the early story and returns for the last third, playing yet another crucial role.

Vic opens the novel. Here's his introduction.

Prologue ~ The Hazard of Secrets

Scared `im, Elise did, when she got all cold and hard and mean, like she did when they spotted the two women walking, one with a bandbox, and a man behind, trundling a small trunk in a pushcart.

“Look, Vic. Good cloaks. And see how the left-side skirt of the young one is dragging. She’s bound to have a purse full of money.”

“Snatch and grab,” Hank put in, standing behind his sister. He wiped his runny nose then wiped his hand on the trousers that had grown too short.

“An’ the world all `round `em,” Vic retorted, “with that man ready to help. Nyah. For a snatch an’ grab, ya need someone what’s lone. Besides, we got a job for later.”

Elise scowled, but Vic didn’t budge on this. He knew more than they did about the streets. What happened when a constable collared ya. Worse, what happened when one of the gang that ran down at Liverpool’s waterfront grabbed ya for poaching.

“Besides,” he added, “that’s Berta. Works out of the Three Fishes.”

Elise stood on tiptoe. “Which one?”

“Red frowsy hair.”

Berta was a name they knew, Vic having warned of trouble when he took the pair under his wing. He worked best lone, but Elise had hair as golden as the rare sun. When he heard her soft voice and fine talk, he knew she and her brother wouldn’t last an hour on the streets. To think of her fineness ruined by the rough men who visited Pope Joan’s revolted him. So Vic took a risk, one of his few.

Elise nudged Hank. “That’s the woman we saw talking to that man in the nice suit. The one who looked like he came from London,” she added importantly, “the Royal Courts of Justice, like Father did before he—.” She stopped.

Hank emitted a sob, half-gulped back.

Vic didn’t turn to look at the boy. Elise drew back a step, as if she feared he would eyeball her. He wouldn’t. He didn’t want them to know they’d given up clues to their background. London and Courts of Justice. He didn’t know how they came to the streets of Liverpool. He never asked.

Hank had plowed into him, running `round the corner, Elise on his heels, both of `em chased by Hicks the grocer. The fresh apples clutched in each hand, the fear on their grubby faces told him all he needed to know. If they’d known the back streets, they could’ve outrun the old man. They were young, swift. But they had turned into one of the blind alleys, unseen for such because of the twisting nature of the narrow backways.

When they skidded to a stop and started back, bound to run into the man breathing lound curses, Vic waved them over and pointed to an empty barrel. The boy hopped in first. The girl climbed in, reluctant but desperate. Vic shoved the lid in place and sat on it, whistling and kicking his heels against the sides. He barely got settled before Hicks came into view.

The grocer stopped. He puffed a moment. “Vic.”

Vic nodded but kept whistling.

“Where’s the two of `em?”

“What two?”

“The boy and the girl.”

“Didn’t see `em,” he lied. He was trusting to his reputation, hard-won, years in the making. He’d run these streets a good four year, far as he counted, and before that, he’d learned pocketpick and lockpick from Liverpool’s best. When Ollie got taken up, Vic kept to what he knew. A good shove into the wall and a quick dip into a pocket usually got him what he needed. Lone that first year, he nearly starved, but he’d never stooped to snatch and grab, and the shop owners knew that. The fences knew him. The cutpurses and robbers knew him. So far, the master of Liverpool didn’t know him, and he wanted to keep it that way.

“They came this way,” Hicks insisted.

“Not this far in.”

“I saw `em, Vic.”

“Must’ve found an open door. Wouldn’t know. All I know’s they didn’t go past me.”

Hicks huffed and muttered, but he re-traced his steps, jiggling a few door latches before he decided he’d been too long away from his shop with the shop boy too long all lone. With one last backwards look, he stomped off.

Vic kept whistling long after Hicks disappeared. He kicked the barrel a few more times, especially when a knocking came on the lid. Then he hopped down, lifted the lid, hissed “sh-h”, and went to ensure the grocer had truly returned to his shop.

The two were still in the barrel when he returned. He helped them out. Even though it was a fool thing, Vic kept helping them out. He learned their names. He watched the streets grime up their clothes until it took a hard look to see Elise’s lace trimming and Hank’s double-pleated shirt cuffs. 

Vic learned the woman they called ‘Ma’ wasn’t their ma, and they learned the back streets and alleys and the best hiding places. Now they could run as fast as Vic did and never get lost.

But sometimes Elise got impatient with his caution.

“We could have had that nice cloak. Be warm for once. Phin--Ma could cut it down to a cape for her and a cloak for me and a vest for Hank.”

“Sell it and fill our bellies,” Hank said woefully. His growth spurt meant wrists and ankles were showing, but his clothes still fit because he’d lost the silken layer that had rounded them.

“You don’t mess with Berta,” Vic warned. “She’s got her side jobs, but she works with the press gang, and the press gang works direct for the master. We don’t cross her, not if we can help it.”

Elise stared at her scuffed boots, the blue now hidden by the scuffs and scum from the cobbles. “What’s today then?”

“Not today. On Tuesday. Lock job.”

They perked up, for they usually scoured around whatever house he opened for the robbers. The men took the money items while they took food and candles and books and paper, ink, and quills. Vic didn’t question why they wanted those things. The robbers didn’t care. Lock jobs brought in coins they kept them fed for the next days, off the streets and away from trouble.

“But I’m hungry.”

“I got a few coins saved back.”

Vic jingled the little purse tucked under his waistband. Knowing that none of them had eaten yesterday and little enough the day before, he’d taken a handful of coins from his little hoard this morning. Just in case, he told himself. After seeing Berta, hearing Elise’s plan, and Hank’s woeful addition, he knew he’d have to spend those coins.

“Come on. We’re to the baker. See what he’s got from yesterday.”

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