The Cinderella Deception

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Dandini struck a match and re-lit the stump of the cigar he’d been nursing all evening. It stank only slightly worse than the damp night air but this simple addiction calmed his nerves, and this night they needed calming. 

“You sure you want to do this?” He asked his master, Charming, son and heir to Lord Grey of this manor. Lord not by title but by right, the right of those who still stand when all others are beaten bloody on the ground.  

Charming made no reply. In the fog and shadow his face could only be seen in silhouette beneath the wide brim of his top hat. The set of his chin, the angle of his head, all boded ill. Dandini knew this man, knew well his penchant for violence. Soon would come a day when he needed no excuse to use it but, tonight at least, he had that.   

“You should go back to the club, “ Dandini said. “Let me and the boys take care of this.” Dandini nodded over at what used to be an empty, weed strewn lot, across the street. Normally, it was home to stray dogs and drunks but now it was lit up and bright with striped tents and stands. A small carnival had pitched up there only that day and their centerpiece, a carousel, revolved to the merry tune playing on its integral pipe organ. Its galloping wooden horses frolicked in a never ending steeplechase as smoke belched from the stack that poked  through the centre of its pitched canvas roof.  

Charming watched the carnival, waiting as the last of its customers drifted away from the bright lanterns. “Not tonight, Dandini. Tonight, I’m going to show my father I have what it takes. Tonight, I will be blooded.”

“It’s just simple shakedown, you don’t have to-” 

Charming turned and jabbed a gloved finger into Dandini’s chest. “You don’t tell me what to do.” He pointed his silver topped cane in the direction of the Carnival. “With me, men,” he said over his shoulder.

Two men got down from the carriage they’d all arrived in, making it rock heavily on its springs. Rough coves they were, not too bright but not so dim as to question their governor's son. They loomed behind Charming as he crossed the street, so large they cut a wake through the fog, like barges across the river.

“Gentlemen, gentlemen!” The old man, the carnival’s Gaffa, accosted them as they entered the lot, “We are humbled by your esteemed patronage but I must tell you that we are closed. Come back tomorrow eh?”  The Gaffer wore a top hat as tired and worn as himself. His suit was rumpled, his white gloves were stained with soot, but his eyes were bright and alert in their nest of wrinkles and he had all his own teeth beneath the grey stubble on his face. 

“Welcome, sir, welcome,” said Charming. “We are always so happy to find new and enterprising people in our fair city. News of your arrival came to my attention and I said to myself, I said, I must go at once and greet these showmen and artists who have taken it upon themselves to set up on our patch without so much as a by your leave.” 

“Your patch?” The old man’s bonhomme dissolved like the smoke into the fog. “An oversight, I assure you, kind sir. Of course, if it’s a matter of rent, I can gladly pay at the end of the week.” 

“How astute of you, sir.” said Charming, a cold smile on his lips, a smile that did not touch his eyes. “However, you’re abrupt arrival has presented a problem. It is a bold move that smacks of disrespect.” 

The two thugs flanked the Gaffer, towering over him until he fell into their shadows. Charming himself stepped up to the hapless man, brushing an imaginary speck from the old man’s lapel. “I’m afraid I must set an example.”

The old man’s cries were harsh but carried little in the fog. They were loud enough to bring his folk but too late to stop the damage.

“Ah, Ladies!” Charming took in the two fillies as they hurried in approach. Trim legs and fine bosoms they had indeed, but also strong chins and large hands. “Or be it gentlemen?” Charming added with a sneer.

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