Pick Pocket Dog
Thousands of lamps lit the gardens in a vibrant blaze of radiance. A crash of music from the orchestra filled the air. Women paraded in elegant head-dresses of flowers and feathers and the entire place sparkled as did no other place Jocelyne had ever seen.
She looked at the crowds of people then at her trembling hands. “Oy don’t like this, Mr. Roguers, Oy don’t!” A shadow crossed a full moon and caused a shudder of fear to course down her spine. Chills swept through her.
Jocelyne’s hands were icy and stiff. Her hands were the tools of her trade. And they were useless. She flexed them twice in an effort to loosen them then covered her face with them. She couldn’t do this, not tonight—not when the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end and she jumped at every little sound.
Nerves stripped raw, Jocelyne and her dog Rogue wandered through the crowds at Vauxhall and then strolled down a walkway called the Dark Walk. The gardens were beautiful this time of year, and she wished she had the time or the opportunity to enjoy the sights. This evening she had a job to do. Picking pockets was something increasingly distasteful. But the alternatives her mam presented her with were worse.
She kneeled beside her dog roughing his ears as she spoke to him. “Now, Mr. Roguers, we’ve got to get two more ‘andkerchiefs or the mam will box my ears, she will. And then she’ll do wot she threatened this morn. You know wot to do.”
Jocelyn glanced up for just a moment. A man with the eyes the color of warm honey looked down at her. She swallowed hard, and her blood raced as if someone had lit an inferno inside her. For as long as she lived Jocelyne would never forget the sudden leap her heart gave the instant her eyes fell upon this man’s hard, handsome face. He wasn’t the most beautiful man she’d ever seen. The lines of his face were too defined and too inflexible to be beautiful. But there was something so imposing, so arresting, about his lean planed face, the high cheekbones and unyielding jaw that Jocelyne was conscious of a shiver of excitement slithering down her spine. She’d never felt such a thing and it was far different than the chills of fear that usually coursed through her. Quickly she looked away, hiding her face and biting her lower lip. She didn’t look up until she was sure the man would be miles away. She didn’t need for him to remember her face or her dog.
Jocelyn wiped her icy yet sweaty palms on her britches and inhaled a deep breath. “Go on Rougers. Oy’ll wait for you in the usual place.”
The dog set out, his little tailed curled behind him prancing through the crowds as if he didn’t have a nefarious scheme on his mind. Jocelyn set out in a different direction. Looking over her shoulder, her uneasiness grew. The little hairs on the back of her neck standing on end, she sensed the danger. If she could have turned around and raced home this night, she would have. But the ultimatum she’d been given that morning when she left the shabby little room where she lived rang inside her head. Her brothers, Mick and Jon, warned her. She was out growing her disguise. If she didn’t want to be someone’s flash-girl she was going to have to get out of the business.
But there was no way out for her.
Despite her brothers’ wishes, she would end up in a flash-house prostituting herself. She didn’t like stealing, and she knew she wouldn’t like the direction her life was going. With each passing day, she was more conscious of the distasteful foulness around her. She was increasingly knowledgeable of the dreadful youth of some of the whores and harlots she had formerly ignored. And she was far more cognizant of what an appalling destiny waited for her. She inhaled again, clenching her fists and resigning herself to make the best of the situation at hand. The future certainly looked bleak for Jocelyne. One moment at a time was all she had.
Without conscience thought, she moved through the crowds accessing each man and knowing that if she wasn’t perfect as soon as her nimble fingers reached inside a pocket, the man would give chase. She bumped against a red-faced portly man who wheezed while he tried to saunter down the lane. She closed her eyes, and inhaled a deep, steadying breath.
“Bloody hell, watch yourself,” he called out to her as he pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his brow then stuffed it in a pocket inside his lapel. “It’s incorrigible scamps like you—“
“Oy, always watch myself.” She muttered, interrupting him and moved on eyeing each man and lady. She’d once tried to steal one of those little silk purses that the ladies let dangle from their wrists and was rewarded with a slap on her head with a parasol.
She didn’t look for Rogue. She knew where she’d find him when all was finished tonight. Fireworks lit the sky. All eyes turned upward. She heard the collective sighs and exclamations at the sight.
At that moment Jocelyn found her mark. Her heart leapt with anticipation and fear before she stumbled and fell against a stout older man. It was done with grace and skill. The nimble fingers she slipped inside a pocket was done with precision. With two fingers she deftly pulled out a silk handkerchief, a fat money-clip, and a small pendant which instantly found there way into the pockets of her own coat. Jocelyn was almost on the point of congratulating herself when she heard a harsh voice call out.
“What the devil? The damn dog picked my pocket!” The voice rang out from quite a distance away. She couldn’t help herself, she looked up. Of all men to pick, Rogue had picked the man with the honey brown eyes.
Terror sweeping inside and completely aware of her danger Jocelyn tried to regain her emotional balance. Donning the disguise she’d learned early in life, she grinned saucily in the direction of her pigeon and said “Wot you think the commotion is?”
“I don’t think so,” said a cold voice as another gentleman called for the watch. “Hand over my money clip.”
Danger had always dodged Jocelyn’s steps but this predicament eclipsed anything she’d ever encountered before. Her blood ran cold when a few of the dandies her pidgeon had been standing with formed a circle around them. Reminding herself not to panic and to remain calm no matter how bad it seemed, Jocelyne glanced quickly around to see if Rogue had gotten away. And then she looked for Mick and Jon.
She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the pair lounging against a curricle. Once they saw her, they would come to her rescue. But neither one of them were looking in her direction. Jocelyne’s heart sank.
The shouts down the lane had given away to the sound of thundering feet as the man with the honey brown eyes and his companions chased after her dog. A huge flash of light from the sky sent the men’s attention upward. The fireworks had begun again. She took that moment of confusion to slip away from the circle. She only needed a short distance and within a second she had running room.
Jocelyn darted through the crowds, her feet as agile and as quick as her fingers. She dodged left then right, slipping between the men and women in front of her then blending into the shadows. She found herself in a part of the gardens she had never been before. A man-made cave gave her a place to hide. Slipping into the natural shadows, she held her breath and waited for the fervor to settle down.
The unexpected appearance of her little dog with a handkerchief hanging from his mouth left her with another surge of uneasiness. For a tense, long moment he stood at the mouth of the little cave. Too late, she wrapped her arms around him and pulled him inside.
Suddenly, an iron-fingered hand clamped around her wrist. Before she could utter an exclamation of protest, she found herself hauled from her hiding place. Rouge danced circles around her assailant ramming his pointy little nose at his thighs and barking. The noise brought more spectators.
Her heart pounding madly, Jocelyne made a bold try to brazen her way out of the disastrous situation that had been her nightmare for so long. “Blimey, mister! Oy don’t know wot you’re thinkin’ grabin me like this! Oy ain’t done nothin’ to you.”“Really, I think you know exactly ‘wot’ I’m thinking! Now hand over your dog’s thievery!”