Chapter 3.5

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"That's him," Snapper whispered.

Ward peered through the gloom to the bar. A man in a black, hooded cloak was talking to the barman. The barman tilted his head towards Snapper and Ward.

Ward had been too disturbed by the hanging to explore the city further, so had returned to the Slough and Bellows, and spent an uneventful few hours lying on his back on the floor, counting the plaster curlicues on the ceiling while Snapper snored. There were thirty-seven.

Late in the afternoon the smell of cooking food had drifted up the staircase, and Snapper had woken suddenly and with purpose. They had gone back downstairs to the bar, eaten two greasy meals consisting of several unidentifiable cuts of meat, and waited.

Now the hooded man came over and slid into a chair opposite Ward. He pushed the hood back, revealing the face of a man in his thirties, his black hair already streaked with grey. He looked somehow familiar.

"Hello," he said.

Snapper puffed up. "Nick, Ward. Ward, this is Saint Nick – Nicolas Faust. Well I'd best be off."

"What?" Ward said.

"I have an appointment." Snapper glanced about, rubbing his fingers as if to make sure they were still attached to his hands, his ruff quivering like a spring.

"But aren't you...?" Ward said.

"It is not safe for Handel to be seen with me," Nick said.

Snapper gave Ward a weak smile then trundled away, vanishing out the door with a guilty backwards glance.

"Don't think badly of him," Nick said.

Ward gazed at the door through which Snapper had disappeared. As peculiar as Snapper was, Ward had become attached to him. Now he felt abandoned.

Nick, as if sensing the need for silence, began to roll a cigarette. A tobacco pouch appeared from nowhere. Now a pinch of tobacco was resting in the centre of a piece of paper that Ward could have sworn had not been there a second ago. Nick rolled the cigarette one-handed, using the tips of his fingers. A matchbox appeared in his other hand, once again as if out of thin air. Ward didn't see Nick put the cigarette in his mouth, yet somehow it was there. One of the matches lit itself. The matchbox vanished again. Nick held the match to the end of the cigarette and breathed in so that it caught and glowed. Then he shook the match out. It vanished too.

"Are you a magician?"

Nick smiled. "I've been accused of it. But I know nothing of magic, except that it doesn't exist."

"Can I have a cigarette?" Ward said, eager to impress this strange clever man.

Nick removed the cigarette from his mouth. Smoke wafted past his eyes as he considered the request. "Sure," he said. He rolled another with the same fluid ease. "You are young to smoke," he said as he handed it over.

"Yeh," Ward said, putting it in his mouth.

Nick lit it for him and he breathed in. He had enough time to think this isn't too bad, before his lungs caught fire. His face grew as hot as a furnace. He took the cigarette from his mouth and squeezed a couple of hacking coughs into his hand. He grimaced at the cigarette. "How do you do this?"

And suddenly they were both laughing. Ward couldn't remember the last time he had laughed out loud, and it felt strange to do it. Their laughter died off into a comfortable silence. Saint Nick leaned back in his chair and blew puffs of smoke up into the cobwebby rafters.

Ward couldn't shake the feeling that he had seen him before. Those dark eyes, and the sense that he carried some great and inexpressible sadness about with him. And suddenly it clicked.    

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