VI. Mr Truelove

The Recollections of Rutter Skitch Truelove, Witch Finger

Only known image of Jennifer Bellows, drawn upon her arrest for prostitution 1882

Only known image of Jennifer Bellows, drawn upon her arrest for prostitution 1882

T’was a guttin’ hook what she gave me that night, down Duckett’s Passage under the gas lamp. Proper sharp it were too, like what you’d use for slicin’ under the gristle-belly of a pig to rake out the gizzards and fill the bags o’ mystery sausages what’s sold on Eastcheap.

Ah, Jenny Bellows was a proper strumpet, all pale skin and wild hair like an Irish minx. She was a bit o’ jam, an’ I was sweet on her an’ no mistake. The poppet knew it, too, for she flashed her ankles from under the crimson petticoat, and looked at me saucy as she passed the tool over.

“And what’s you askin’ for?” I said, taking the parcel from her grasp. It’d come wrapped in a stained cloth, but she’d shown me the blade before passin’ it over. It was curved right cruel, like the Sikh kirpans old Company men sold in pawn shops. The markings were wrong though. Symbols were etched on the blade in crude cuts, not the flowing lingo of the Punjab. The colour, too, was all wrong, for the blade held dark blue stain, almost midnight. I smelt slinkamalink on it, of the ritual kind.

“A bull an’ its yours.” She smiled at me. Still had most of her teeth, bless ‘er, which helped me loins stir a bit toward her price – not that’d I’d pay the best totty in London five shillings for a blade.

“Oh, shut your sauce-box, luv. Half a crown? What do you think you’ve got, the bleedin’ crown jewels?”

Her eyes lit up right fierce at that. “I gots something I know’s precious, Rutter, and I wants what’s fair.”

“Fair? Where’d you get it, hey?”

“That’s information, what is confidential and privileged.” She said each word with an affectation of grandeur, which felt right rum out of her over-painted lips.

I scratched a merciless itch botherin’ me scalp. “Big words for a ‘ditch girl born in a cunnywarren. Smells like you chanced on somethin’ out’a blind luck and fancy makin’ a bob for it.”

“Can smell of what you want, as far as I cares. I’ll call the price at a half-crown, if that’s more agreeable. Two and six.”

“Two shillings and you name the spot you filched it.”

“I never filched it! I ain’t never filched nothing.” She bristled, tryin’ to peacock her way to seem offended. “Two and a thrup’ny an’ it’s yours.”

I relented at that, and slipped the coins into her mitts. She counted em in her palms, testin’ each one to make sure it were proper. I wrapped the guttin’ knife tighter in its rag an’ slipped it under me overcoat. She flashed me a smile and a half-courtesy, and turned heel toward the Dog’s Head. It was easy enough to see where the thrup’ny would go.

“Not so sharp,” I said, grabbing her shoulder. She looked offended, but I held my grip firm. “You ain’t told me the spot, Jenny Bellows. Where’d you get it?”

The annoyance slipped off that painted face of hers, and she gave a smile.

“Saw it stuck fast in the mud, right under the new bridge at Blackfriars. Scooped it up from Father Thames ‘imself.”

I let her arm go, and watched her thighs shimmy as she made off down the passage. Blackfriars Bridge would be a bad bit o’ business an’ no mistake. For the only thing under the bridge was the entrance to the Fleet Sewer.

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