Chapter 8: Being an Account of the Singular Adventures of Nicolas Faust

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Randall propped his boots on a greasy ottoman and rubbed his chin with his fingertips. "Who wants the job?" he said to the men.

"What about you, Randall?" came a silky voice.

The owner of the voice was going to fat around his neck and face, but somehow still looked malnourished. He rarely spoke. He had only joined the gang three months ago, but had quickly proven himself valuable. Gang members were known to each other only by nicknames. This man's was Lane.

"That's generous of you, Lane," Randall said. He looked unblinkingly at the other man. "You're the one who found the job – why shouldn't you choose who carries it out?"

Lane stared back.

"I have a bad feeling about it though," Randall continued, removing his boots from the Ottoman and sitting up. "So I vote we let it go."

The other men shifted and muttered when they heard this. Pickings had been lean lately, and Lane's information had always been good. They were an eccentric bunch: sailors, ex-prisoners, and merchants taxed out of business by the State; orphans of society who had turned to the underworld more out of necessity than because they were born criminals or enjoyed committing crimes. The oldest was in his sixties, an ex-locksmith, fittingly named Smith. The youngest was thirteen years old. He was a dark-eyed, serious creature whose parents had been executed two years before. His name was Nick.

"I'll do it," the boy said softly.

The men turned to look at him. Nobody laughed. They had learned not to underestimate the boy. He was, apart from anything else, the most gifted thief they'd ever seen.

Randall gave him an uneasy look. "You sure lad?"

The boy nodded.

Randall frowned. He was a strong, fair leader, but had fallen into the role, and had no love of it. It was rumoured that he was both educated and connected, but he never talked about his history. He was an opportunist rather than a born leader. Gang members came and went. Nothing was said when they vanished. He had no plan except to be constantly on the move, squatting in derelict houses for no more than a few days at a time to elude the authorities.

Randall beckoned to the boy with a finger and Nick came over. "Why are you doing this?" he whispered.

The boy said nothing.

"I should go with you."


Randall nodded. To press on further would have been to show weakness in front of the men. He put his protective instincts about the boy to the side, like clearing a fallen branch from a path – though he wondered where they had come from. He wondered if he was getting soft.

Later that night Nick set off into the city alone. Only one person saw him leave.

Lane stood in the dark by an upstairs window, watching the street below. When the boy was gone he went downstairs and glided off into the city, in a different direction to that which the boy had gone.

Lane never gave his full name to the gang. For although he was still relatively unknown, his star was rising, and it was possible one of them had already heard of the exploits of Brother Tamerlane.

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Every once in a while a book comes along that is so amazing, moving, and life-affirming, that you wonder how you ever lived without it.

This is not that book.

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