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Little Redhead

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A letter. That was the thing that kept circling Wilfred Turner’s head. His sister had been missing for little over ten months and all she had done was sent them one measly letter from Cheltenham. If she was ever there he’d found no trace of her; by the time he’d arrived she was gone. No one had even seen her, as far as he could tell. But still he’d searched, still he’d offered out the pictures that his parents had made of her. He’d gone despite his parents’ protests, despite how they’d told him that they couldn’t lose him too, that they’d find someone else to distribute the images. Even when he’d expanded the search to the surrounding area, hoping for whispers of his sister, he had to admit that she was long since gone.

You lost both your kids ages ago, he’d thought bitterly at the time, because he knew he wasn’t the same; knew he wasn’t the person they all wanted him to be. That boy was dead. The man who had returned from the War a mere ghost. The thought haunted him even now, but he did his best to quell it.

Still, he could at least bring back Cinder. He could give them one child not utterly broken; could still protect her like a good big brother even if he could do little else for her.

Six months. It had been six months since Cheltenham, and only now was he back in London, soaking in the ever familiar fumes, the idle chatter that filled the streets. To look at these people it was impossible to know that the War had touched this corner of the world. That the Germans had done their very best to break the British spirit. The buildings were the only indication of the horrors they had seen, even at home. People were too busy hiding wounds with lavish parties and shows of their aliveness to dwell on it all for more than a few fleeting seconds.

For some reason, it made Wilf sick. His stomach twisted. He could never be like them. He could never so easily brush aside what he had seen, what had happened to him. He could still feel the press of his own captivity; the work he was forced to do when they realised he didn’t have any information. When they thought he was better a captive than a corpse.

Wilf felt as though his teeth might shatter with the force of his clenched jaw, but he kept walking. This was his last resort. A deal with the devil if it meant perhaps saving Luce. It was a risk he was willing to take.

Darby Sabini’s place was as lavish as they came. The man rarely ever actually went to his own clubs, but these were dark times. The Jews had taken most of Camden, and the resulting war was easily ignored by people who were used to such violence. Ignored, but never truly forgotten. People still hurried home as soon as the sky showed even the barest hints of darkness, unwilling to be drawn into the horrors that the gangs were willing to bring upon each other. But Sabini’s place showed no sign of it. It stood pride of place in the middle of the street; customers flitting in and out, music floating from the never closed door, mingled with laughter and chatter.

Wilf paused at the corner of the street. Some part of him that hadn’t been twisted by his experiences knew that this was a terrible idea. If Luce had gone willingly, as her letter suggested, if she was happy, then he had no right to drag her back to the city that she’d feld.

That she’d abandoned.

But it wasn’t as simple as that. She’d been selfish to leave their parents, to leave him, to cope with everything alone. She’d run away because she couldn’t cope, he understood that better than she probably assumed, and part of him hated her for having found that strange kind of courage.

So he gritted his teeth, clenched his hands, and marched up to the doorman. Old allegiances were easily exploited. That much he’d learnt on the front lines.

‘I’m here to see Mr. Sabini,’ he said, conjuring as much confidence as he could muster, willing them not to see the way his hands were shaking; the pallor of his skin in the dim nightlight. Part of him was sick with what he was about to do, another part growled almost ferociously at the fact that he was finally able to do something useful. God knew he hadn’t felt useful since he returned.

Not that he thought God was listening any more.

The doorman surveyed him coolly, a malicious smirk slipped onto his face as his colleagues shared in the look. ‘Get lost,’ he drawled, waving a lazy hand.

Wilf let out an irritable breath, forced himself not to smack the guy. ‘It’s about Lucinda Turner.’

Instantly, the guy was alert. Rumours weren’t hard to follow for Wilf, who had spent his time watching in the German prisons, waiting to see if they ever slipped up. They never did, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t learnt a little something.

One of the bouncers murmured Luce’s old nickname, one that send a shiver down his back: Piccola Rossa.

The doorman murmured something before hurrying inside.

Good, thought Wilf, crossing his arms firmly over his chest. At least some of his information was right. They were looking for Luce as much as he was, needing to know what she might know, what information she might be selling on to others as a way of making ends meet. Almost two years had passed since the world got news of Sylvain Alfonsi’s death, and they hadn’t got hold of her. He wasn’t sure if he should be proud or worried.

Five minutes of tense silence. That was all it took for the doorman to return. He looked completely unruffled as he motioned Wilf forwards.

Wilf nodded, an almost smug smile pulling at his lips as he stepped passed the bouncers, as he finally entered the world of gangs that he had never wanted to be sucked into.

He watched the twists and turns that they took, but he wasn’t foolish enough to think they were going anywhere important. Probably some meeting room. Nothing that he could use if he was to try anything. Sabini was clever, and that was exactly what Wilf needed. Still he stored each of the corridor twists, each of the little deviations, away in the back of his mind, just in case.

The doorman knocked before opening the door and motioning Wilf in.

He didn’t even nod his thanks, merely strode into the room. Any caution he might have felt previously had long since burnt out of him.

‘What do you know about Sy’s piccola rossa?’ Sabini asked, not beating around the proverbial bush. The old nickname was like a dagger to the heart, but the fact he had also spoken of Sylvain softly meant that there were still old wounds there. The boy hadn’t even been eighteen.

‘Nothing,’ said Wilf simply, and he saw the twitch of Sabini’s hand, saw the way his guards tensed. One of them had to be Sy’s father. The one on the right; the one with the stoic expression and the cold eyes. A man trying to ignore the hurt, or utilise it into something more deadly. ‘At least, nothing concrete. But if I know my sister’ – a flicker of something almost resembling shock flashed behind Sabini’s eyes; as if he hadn’t recognised Wilf from before – ‘then you won’t find her with brute force.’

Sabini lent forwards on the table, steepled his fingers close to his lips. ‘And why do you think we’re looking for some posh kid anyway?’

‘Because the Jews took your place,’ Wilf said, sensing the rising anger in the room at his words. But they were necessary. ‘And you think you have a mole. You’ve tried all your people and not one of them broke.’

Sabini examined him as if he were something to scrape off his boot. Wilf didn’t wilt though. He’d had far worse thrown his way for far less.

The slightest incline of Sabini’s head was all it took. Almost immediately, two men were holding Wilf’s arms in painful grips. A third man punched him hard in the gut. Wilf bent as far as his captors would allow him to. The next blow, a punch to the kidney, earned a low moan.

‘What if we sent out word that her dearly beloved brother was taken? Would that be enough to draw the rat from the sewers?’

‘No,’ Wilf said, spitting blood. It was a lie, and they all knew it, but he wasn’t going to allow that to happen ever again. He’d fight to the death if it meant not being taken, not being made something to barter with.

‘Then why come here? Why show your face?’

‘Because,’ said Wilf through gritted teeth, refusing to give them the satisfaction of his pain, ‘you help me get my sister back and I’ll get her to tell you whatever she knows without you needing to do anything.’

Sabini surveyed him coolly. Wilf knew that everything balanced on this. Knew that he needed the final blow to make anything stick.

‘Help me find her, and you won’t have to break your promise to Sy in order to assure her honesty.’

The sentence hung in the air. The room was filled with tension, a heavy blanket over all of them. Wilf kept his eyes on Sabini, watching for any sign that he might try sending his people.

After a moment, Francisco Alfonsi nodded almost imperceptibly. His hand dropped from his pocket. Wilf thought that there was still a flicker of pain behind his eyes, a cold look that would never fully leave him after the death of his son, but did his best to ignore it.

‘We have a deal, Mr. Turner,’ Sabini said, waving off the guards.

Wilf caught himself before he could fall and looked unwaveringly at Sabini. If Luce hated him for this he could bare it as long as it meant she was back home. Back in the safety of their parents’ house.

***

Hal watched as Stanley fiddled nervously with his tie. The boy had grown a ridiculous amount over the past couple of years; he was almost as tall as Hal himself now, practically towering over the other Shelbys. Still, Stan was never going to be an imposing figure; even after all his time working with the horses, there was something too kind about him for that air to ever fully settle on him.

But Hal shook his head imperceptibly, gripped Cece’s hand a little tighter. He knew that he should be focused on the funeral, on saying goodbye to Freddie. And yet he couldn’t. There’d been too many funerals over the years. Too much heartbreak. This was another in that ever growing list.

Without looking, Luce gently stilled Stan’s hands. He looked at her quickly, and a little of the tension seemed to dissipate. Hal could understand why some people mistook them for a couple, but the duo had never made that move. Not as far as he knew, at least. Somehow, it was all the sweeter to Hal, knowing that they had a constant in the ever shifting world of Birmingham. An anchor no matter what the world threw at them.

Cecily squeezed his hand, brought him back to the moment.

‘… and give him peace. Amen,’ the vicar said softly.

‘Amen,’ replied the congregation.

It was Tommy that stepped forwards, and really Hal shouldn’t have been surprised. Tommy and Freddie had been friends since childhood. Things had shifted ever so slightly over the years, but there was no denying the link they had.

Tommy cleared his throat. ‘I promised my friend Freddie Thorne that I’d say a few words over his grave if he should pass before me,’ he said, and Hal’s eyes strayed to Ada, to Karl who was in her arms, not quite understanding what was going on but somehow remaining quiet. ‘I made this promise before he became me brother-in-law; when we were in France, fighting for the King.’

‘Amen,’ said Arthur clearly, and Hal mumbled his own agreement.

‘And in the end,’ went on Tommy, ‘it wasn’t war that took Freddie. Pestilence took him.’

‘Come here,’ said John softly, taking the crying babe from Esme. Hal’s chest tightened ever so slightly, but he couldn’t explain why.

‘But Freddie passed on his soul and his spirit to a new generation before he was cruelly taken,’ Tommy said, and Hal knew that he was thinking of Karl. A boy who would never know his father, would never know that despite his stubbornness, Freddie Thorne was a good man. A man who would fight by the side of his friends, so long as the cause was one he believed in.

Oddly, the thought brought a small smile to Hal’s lips.

 

When all was done, Cece pulled Hal towards Ada. ‘Want me to take him?’ she asked softly, gently stroking Karl’s cheek. The little boy clung to her finger, and Ada nodded almost thankfully.

Instinctively, Hal rested a hand on Ada’s shoulder. He didn’t say anything, there was nothing he could say that other people hadn’t already. Nothing that would help with the pain she was feeling. She patted his hand carefully, her own silent thank you as she moved to walk with a waiting Tommy.

‘Do you ever think what it’d be like?’ Cece asked, voice softly musing as she ruffled Karl’s hair.

‘Dying?’ he asked, perplexed by the morbid question.

She hit him gently on the shoulder, and in his shock he stumbled back a couple of paces.

‘No, this.’ She shifted Karl a little, a small smile gracing her lips.

‘Oh,’ he said, blinking slowly. Of all the things to talk about at a funeral. But then, that was Cecily Hawthorne; she never fully followed the expectations laid out for her.

Karl fidgeted and Cece sighed before carefully putting him on the floor. ‘Take care,’ she said, voice stern but oddly soft in the graveyard, as he hurried off to his cousins.

‘Honestly? No,’ Hal admitted, and he saw the flicker of disappointment behind Cece’s eyes. But he carefully took her hand, gave it a squeeze. ‘I will. But maybe not by a graveside.’

She let out a soft scoff and squeezed his hand back, reassuring him that she was still there; that she wasn’t going anywhere. A silent promise for herself as much as for him.

***

‘One,’ said Luce softly, hands over her eyes, back to the scurrying children. Stanley watched on, not wanting to disrupt the game and not wanting to be part of it. It was one thing to keep an eye on the children, it was another entirely to join in with the game of graveyard hide-and-seek. ‘Two.’ The lilt of amusement behind Luce’s voice was barely contained, but he knew it was for the benefit of the children. All throughout the service her eyes had skimmed to Ada, worrying about her friend the same as he was. But Ada was strong, and as far as he’d seen she hadn’t shed a tear. Those were hers, not for the funeral. He wished there was more that he could do for her, but nothing sprang to mind.

Karl giggled as he grabbed Stanley’s trouser leg and pulled himself behind his uncle. ‘Sshh,’ he whispered, putting a finger to his lips.

Despite it all, a small smirk quirked Stan’s lips. He nodded before turning back to Luce. In the monochrome colours of the graveyard her hair seemed even redder. Not as dark as the flag some of Freddie’s friends had held, but enough to seem as though she were almost a part of it.

‘Ten,’ she said, lowering her hands and making a show of glancing around the tombstones. It didn’t matter that Katie and Karl were obviously easy to spot, she glanced over them briefly, all part of the game. She caught his eye, shot him a small wink before turning.

But that’s when Stanley felt Karl’s grip slacken, when he turned to see him and John’s eldest, Joshua, reaching for flowers off someone’s headstone.

‘Boys!’ Aunt Polly’s voice was quick and sharp. The two kids scarpered before they could incur the full force of her wrath, scurrying away to hide while Luce still had her back to them, searching for the other three.

Stan nodded to his aunt. She gave him a fleeting smile before turning to see Tommy and Ada.

‘Found you,’ sang Luce, snapping his attention back to the game at hand. She was ruffling Wendy’s hair. The small girl didn’t even look as though she’d been hiding, but despite having lost there was a wide smile on her face.

‘I know where Karl is,’ she sang, grabbing Luce’s fingers and pulling her away.

Luce caught Stanley’s eye and there was a smile on her face that eased a little of his worries about everything. His own grief at the loss Karl would never truly understand was a dull, constant buzz at the back of his thoughts.

‘Well I can’t just cheat!’ she said dramatically, gently prying her hand away from Wendy’s grip. She put her hands on the little girl’s shoulders. ‘Why don’t you go tell your uncle Stan?’

Wendy turned her attention quickly, whipping her head around to find him. She nodded vigorously before skipping over to him. None of the kids seemed to fully realise the pressing weight of the graveyard. For a moment, Stan was slightly jealous of them.

‘Only Luce Turner would think of a game like hide-and-seek in a graveyard.’ Ada’s voice was soft, and yet still it caught Stan’s attention as Wendy latched onto him.

‘Trust me, it was the only way to stop them climbing the headstones,’ noted Stanley, looking to his sister. Being out of Birmingham had been good for her. Out of all of the Shelbys, she looked least like she was teetering on the edge of despair. Even at her own husband’s funeral!

‘I still wouldn’t put it past them,’ Ada noted, gently catching Karl’s arm as he rushed to hide behind another stone. ‘Come on, we should head home.’

‘So soon?’ asked Luce, walking over to them, a slight frown on her face. Even at a funeral it was obvious she was missing Ada as much as Stanley. She might not have gone to London to see the woman, but they had written to each other, met up in different cities as if that might sate Luce’s adventurous heart even a little. It was one of the things that Stanley had loved seeing over the past couple of years: their blossoming friendship.

Ada nodded slightly as she gave Luce a hug. ‘You should come visit one day. Show me the city.’

Luce chuckled softly, but they all knew it wouldn’t happen. Despite the size of London, Luce wouldn’t risk going back there for money nor love. There were too many ghosts, he’d learnt that during late nights in Charlie’s yard, in between lessons on the stars and the stories Polly had taught him about them.

‘I think you’ve got a handle on it, Ada,’ she said as she pulled away. ‘Look after yourself.’

Ada surveyed the two of them for a moment, a soft if sad smile on her face as she said, ‘You two, too,’ before walking away with Karl in her arms.

For a moment, Stan felt the urge to follow her; to get out of the city that his brothers were slowly making their own by whatever means necessary. But he didn’t, and he felt someone pull on his trouser leg.

‘Come on,’ he said, scooping Katie up; Wendy was already rushing over to John, tugging Luce with her. Some things weren’t so bad after all; at least he still had his family around him, and the legitimate business gaining ground to focus on.

 

Stan drummed his fingers against his leg, his attention caught by every flicker of flame. Everything that looked as though it might be the horror they were about to see; what someone had done to the Garrison while they were all mourning. Part of him hadn’t wanted to go and see this, had wanted to ignore the threat that it presented.

And yet he couldn’t. Luce’s rooms were above the place, and despite the others’ reservations about her coming back with them, she’d insisted. There was a steel behind her eyes that they were slowly growing accustomed to, one that Stanley had seen on more than one occasion. There was no arguing with her, and even Tommy had just nodded to say that she needed to see this, see what had happened for herself.

It was because he couldn’t let her deal with it alone that he’d ended up in the back of Hal’s car with her, his heart thundering, his fears about what they were going to find clawing at him. As they pulled up to the Garrison his stomach sank. Police had cordoned off the place; kids were running around, their yells nothing to do with the shell of a place that sat sadly before them. The fire was long put out, but the windows were shattered.

Luce was out of the car in an instant and Stanley scrambled after her, held her wrist gently in the hopes of preventing her from rushing into the place, from possibly injuring herself.

‘Let them deal with it,’ Stan said as Moss allowed Tommy and Aunt Polly under the rope.

Luce’s attention snapped to him and he could see the tears welling in her eyes. Her bottom lip trembled, but he pulled her closer. ‘You can stay with us,’ he said softly. ‘We’ll find somewhere.’

Not once did she look away from the structure though. It was as if she were trying to soak in the appearance. Memorise the details of everything that had happened.

Gently, she pried herself away from him. Her shaking hands gripped the strap of her satchel, held all the things she loved most in the world close. For once, Stanley was glad that she kept the bag close at all times. That the things she so cherished were safe from the destruction. She’d stayed in Birmingham for two years, but he was still terrified that she might just run away one day. That eventually she’d simply disappear with little more than a note. But today there was an odd kind of comfort in the fact that’d taken to carrying the satchel with her. She still hadn’t told him why, and he wasn’t going to push her; he’d wait until she was ready to share those secrets.

‘Go to the shop,’ Tommy said, marching over to them all. Polly’s attention shifted ever so slightly to Luce, scanning her, checking how she was doing. ‘Wait there… Lucinda?’ He raised an eyebrow, and it was only then that Stan realised she was shaking her head. 

‘There’s a boat that needs fixing,’ she said, as if it were the only thing that mattered in the whole world. Two years and her fear of Tommy Shelby appeared to have dissipated slightly. Stan knew better than that though, knew that she was only saying it because fear at having lost her rooms was worse. He knew that she was mentally running through all the things that might happen if he disagreed with her statement; figuring out her options and escape routes.

Tommy inclined his head ever so slightly; relenting to her stubbornness. 

Stan didn’t bother trying to figure out why his brother was giving in, there was usually a motive for it. Instead, he watched as Luce turned on her heel and started for the boatyard. Then, he looked back to his brother; he’d catch up with her shortly, right now he needed reassurance that they were safe. That this wasn’t a declaration of some kind of war. ‘What happened, Tom?’ Perhaps he should have sat in on family meetings, if only to find out what was going on, what threats they should be avoiding. No matter how legitimate they were, the darkness kept creeping back in around them.

‘Gas and electric don’t mix,’ Tommy said simply, moving to light his cigarette.

Stan nodded once but didn’t buy it. Plenty of places had both and this hadn’t happened there. There was no point arguing though, he nodded briefly to the others as he passed, as he jogged to catch up with Luce, determined to make sure that she wasn’t alone to deal with all this.

***

The quiet of the funeral had been deafening, the lack of action made him jumpy. The shop might not have been filled with the kind of action Hal craved, but it was a damn sight better than the graveyard. The constant motion of people, the noise of it, the imposing figure of the cage that protected their little office, all of it was familiar and a strange sort of comfort. All of it reminded him that life went on, forced his mind to keep active instead of dwelling on every other thing that threatened to crowd his thoughts with the inaction.

‘Finn! Get in here,’ called John, and Hal’s attention shifted to the room where his friend was taking phone bets. A small smirk lifted the corner of his mouth. He’d taken to the position with ease but there was still a part of Hal that missed standing on the mini-stage, watching his friend make all the notes of bets, scrubbing them away and writing up new numbers. It was all like a foreign language to Hal, something he couldn’t quite understand, but it had been routine. It had felt as though they were in their element there. 

Finn moved passed Hal, nodded to him slightly, and then disappeared into the room.

‘Finn! Hold the phone. Come here,’ said John. There was a tension behind his friend’s voice. He knew that he was thinking about the Garrison, knew that his thoughts were on Polly who had recently arrived.

‘Come on,’ said John, patting Hal on the shoulder, jutting his chin towards where his aunt was talking to one of the bookkeepers at the door.

‘Polly,’ he greeted as they entered. ‘Did he say who did it?’

Whatever business Polly had instantly didn’t matter. She spoke as she walked towards them. ‘He’s gone to the Black Lion.’

‘On his own?’ asked Hal, his brow furrowing ever so slightly.

‘Tommy does everything on his own,’ Polly said simply, moving passed, heading out of the cage and towards the family room. There was obviously something more to this, something that the shop wasn’t meant to accidentally overhear.

‘Should I go to the Black Lion?’

‘What?’

‘Should we go there and see him?’ insisted John, shifting tact ever so slightly.

A small smirk tugged at Hal’s lips.

‘No,’ said Polly, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

‘Where the fuck is Arthur?’ asked John. Already Hal could see that he was feeling caged. That he was missing the action as much as Hal himself was. It was all well and good trying to keep the legitimate side of things afloat, but knowing Arthur had the boxing ring made it difficult to focus sometimes. Hal knew that part of the reason he was here was to quell John, to make sure he wasn’t dealing with this all alone, but that didn’t make it any easier to cope with.

‘Protecting the Garrison’s whiskey from the police,’ Polly noted simply.

‘For fuck’s sake!’ cursed John, nodding at Hal to help him shut the doors of the family room. ‘Polly, it feels a little bit to me like things are getting out of hand.’

‘So get ‘em in hand,’ said Polly, moving to grab a cigarette from her bag.

‘Do you know what Ada said to me this morning?’ asked John, not budging from his place close to Polly. But she didn’t answer, just focused on the cigarette. ‘She said,’ went on John, unperturbed by the silence, ‘we all look like we work in a factory under the ground. She said we look like ghosts.’

Polly merely blew the smoke around the room slightly. ‘She’ll be back,’ she said simply.

‘When?’ asked Hal, feeling the tension of his friend. Between looking after the kids and working in the shop, John had more things than most to preoccupy his thoughts. He didn’t need this heaped on top of it. Surely Polly could see that.

‘When she needs us,’ said Polly simply, moving to grab a glass out of the cupboard’s drawer behind John.

‘And anyway, who the fuck would blow up our pub?’

‘Six.’

‘Six?’ asked Hal, casting a curious look to John. But his friend was just as baffled as he was.

‘Between you, seven questions since you walked through the door,’ said Polly, and Hal coughed to cover his disbelieving chuckle. But she trained her eyes on her nephew. ‘Soon you’re going to have to start being the man with the answers.’

‘Why?’

‘Eight,’ Polly said simply, putting her feet up by the fire. ‘Because when London happens, you’ll have to hold up your end or we’ll find somebody else who can.’

John’s expression soured, and Hal felt an uncomfortable knot of concern settle in his stomach. London was more than just the idle plan of Tommy’s now. If Polly thought it was happening for certain then that meant things were finally in place.

Despite John’s irritation as he stormed from the room, as he went back to take the bets because it was easier to deal with them than the look Polly had pinned him with, Hal couldn’t help but feel a little glad things were finally happening. That maybe Tommy had finally decided that he’d pressed Luce enough for information. That perhaps now she might be able to put the ghosts of London behind her once and for all, and that Hal himself might get som eof the action that he’d been so desperately missing. 

 

Arthur clenched and unclenched his hands, as if trying to work out the aches that he’d obviously picked up in the ring. Hal could tell he’d been fighting, or training at the very least, to not think about what had happened to the Garrison. The blow was too much for all of them, especially after Freddie’s funeral. Across the way, Finn was pacing. Hal couldn’t help but wonder who else might be coming to the meeting.

‘Sit down, Finn,’ said Arthur in little more than a growl.

Finn glanced to the door before finally taking up his seat. Esme was on the stairs, a book in her hands that Hal doubted she was reading, trying too hard not to get sucked into the hollow atmosphere of the room to enjoy any of it. For once, Hal almost wished that he was helping Cece look after the kids.

John looked at his watch, shot an irritable look to Hal. ‘Where the bloody hell is Tommy?’

‘He’s on his way,’ Polly said coolly over the end of his question.

‘All right then,’ said Arthur, already sounding bored, ‘while we’re waiting patiently.’ He stood up quickly, hauled a crate onto the table. ‘Whiskey – left over from the explosion.’ He passed it out around the table, making sure that Charlie and Curly got some. ‘It’s good stuff, as well.’

The awkward silence pressed in on them all.

‘Right,’ said John, standing at the head of the table, hands clasped firmly behind his back. He looked very much like the soldier he still was. The War was over but there were some things they were never going to be able to shake. ‘Before Tommy gets here, I think there’s a few things we need to get straight between the rest of us.’

‘S… You think?’ asked Polly, the barest trace of a laugh behind her voice.

Hal found himself bristling on behalf of his friend; the laughter hadn’t been humorous, there was a malicious undercurrent to it.

‘Yeah,’ said John simply. ‘Yeah, I do. I want to know when did we all take a vote on this expansion south?’

Polly stepped fully into the room, no longer waiting on the periphery. ‘If you have anything to say, you wait for Thomas.’

‘Polly’s fucking right,’ agreed Arthur.

‘Yeah, I see all the books,’ noted John. ‘Legal and off track. Sort of stuff you don’t see. And in the past year the Shelby Company Limited has been making a-hundred-and-fifty pounds a day.’ Tension rippled around the room, and Hal felt himself readying for a fight. Civil war wasn’t something he wanted to think about right now, but it was the only thing that sprang to mind. ‘Right? A fucking day. Sometimes more. So what I wanna know is why are we changin’ things? Polly, look what’s happened already. We haven’t even set foot in London yet and they’ve already blown up our fucking pub.’

‘Who said anything about cockneys?’ said Arthur, his voice low.

‘Who else?’ piped up Esme.

‘Do you know who did it, do you?’ asked Polly, sounding somewhat amused.

‘Na, she doesn’t know who did it,’ John was quick to defend as the sound of a door caught Hal’s attention.

Tommy walked around the corner, hands in pockets and a sour expression on his face.

‘I’m told only family are allowed to speak,’ said Esme moodily, her attention skimming back to the book.

‘Everyone’s allowed to speak,’ Tommy said. ‘On your feet, Esme, let’s hear what you have to say.’

Esme glanced to John, who cleared his throat and stood a little straighter. ‘I speak for our household. So –’

‘John,’ said Tommy, his voice even but with a dangerous warning held carefully behind it, ‘this company is a modern enterprise and believes in equal rights for women. On your feet, Esme.’

Esme closed her book carefully, as if she were composing herself, while Polly moved to finally sit. Hal cast a curious glance to John. He could see the tension in his friend, knew that this challenge wasn’t going how he’d expected. Hal had the horrible feeling that they’d been left out of more than they could imagine.

‘I’m not a blood member of this family,’ Esme said, her voice calm, ‘but perhaps, indeed, because I’m not a member I can see things in a different light. So I’ll get to my point.’

‘That would be nice,’ said Polly cuttingly.

‘As my husband said,’ continued Esme, unperturbed by the harshness of the others, ‘Shelby Company Limited is now very successful. But London. I have kin in Shepherd’s Bush and Portobello. It’s more like wars between armies down there. And the coppers fight side-by-side with them. And there are foreigners of every description and the use of bombs is the least of it.

‘I have a child, blessed with the Shelby family good looks. I want John to see him grow up. I want us to someday live somewhere with fresh air and trees and keep chickens or something. But London is just smoke and trouble, Thomas.’

‘“Thomas”?’ queried Polly, and Hal felt the tug of a smirk on his lips.

‘That’s all I have to say,’ noted Esme simply before sitting back on the stairs. John folded his arms tightly across his chest. A show of solidarity or something else, for once Hal couldn’t quite figure out.

‘That was a lot of words, a lot of words,’ noted Arthur. He grabbed a glass and passed it off to Tommy. ‘Wash them down with a nice drink.’

‘Thank you, Esme,’ said Tommy in a mock toast before downing the whiskey. He put the glass on the table with a hard noise. ‘Firstly, the bang in the pub was nothing to do with London. Understood? The bang is something I’m dealing with on my own.’

Despite everything, Hal couldn’t help but roll his eyes. He saw the irritation creeping into John’s shoulders as well.

‘Secondly, we’ve nothing to fear from the proposed business expansion so long as we stick together. From what we already know, that’s where strength lies down there. And after the first few weeks, nine tenths of what we do in London will be legal. The other tenth is in good hands. Isn’t that right, Arthur?’

‘That’s right,’ his brother agreed.

‘Now,’ continued Tommy, ‘some of you in this room have expressed your reservations. Fair enough. Any of you who want no part in the future of this company, walk out the door.’

The invitation hung in the air. John sniffed, turned to face his brother but didn’t move. Hal didn’t move either. From what little he knew about the expansion, from the amount of times Tommy had asked him to make sure Luce was back from the yard to talk to, he had a feeling she was a part of all this in some bizarre way. For some reason, he had to stay because of that. Had to make sure that the redhead didn’t drown in all the Shelby stuff. Partly, it was because of Cece, because of Stan. But it was also because he could see the toll London was taking on her. He was afraid that soon she’d run again, and never look back. 

‘Right now,’ Tommy added after a beat. Still, nobody moved. ‘Go raise your chickens. For those of you with ambition the expansion process begins tomorrow.’

While the rest of the room seemed to take a moment for the words to sink in, Arthur smirked, sipped his whiskey and looked happier than Hal had seen him in a couple of weeks.

***

Luce had hovered on the pavement for an inordinate amount of time. She’d rubbed her hands together, barely stopped herself from lighting a match just for something to do with her hands. Smoking wasn’t a habit she’d taken up, but there was an odd comfort in the motions of the lighting the match. A flame that she could keep with her to fend off the darkness that was beginning to crowd her once more. Thoughts of London had brought it all back to her, despite her best efforts not to let them.

The only reason she had even stepped inside the house was to see how it all worked. Esme had told her that Mrs Price was a charlatan, that there were some people who could actually communicate with the dead. She’d said the woman fed off heartbreak for money, and literally spat at the floor in disdain.

But Luce couldn’t face people who could truly communicate. Not yet, at least. She just needed a distraction. The laborious work at the yard hadn’t been enough for her to get the image of the destroyed Garrison out of her head. It reminded her too much of the empty shells she and Sy had explored back in London, always careful not to disrupt the memories that were there for others. The horrors still too fresh.

The last person arrived, pulling Luce from her thoughts, her excuses for being drawn to the house with the candles dimly lit in the windows. She looked up, tried for a small smile but faltered ever so slightly. She glanced briefly at the others and nodded, not sure how she was meant to act around Polly Gray when there were strangers in the room; others who would instantly recognise her. Despite having come of her own volition, nothing else would bring Polly here, the woman seemed on edge. She didn’t look happy to be there, and Luce wondered if perhaps she should leave.

But, as Polly finally settled beside her, the older woman gently gave her knee a reassuring squeeze. An assurance that they were in this together.

‘Let’s begin,’ Mrs Price said. ‘Hands on the table.’

Luce was the first to follow, Polly the last.

‘Tonight,’ Mrs Price went on, ‘we have three new pilgrims joining us. So, let’s welcome them.’ She nodded to Luce, Polly and another woman to Polly’s left in turn. ‘Starting with you. Who is it that you are seeking to reach?’

‘My husband,’ the other woman said. ‘He was taken six months ago by the influenza.’ She swallowed, her throat bobbed. ‘I tried to reach him through Mrs Breach at Sparkhill but she kept getting his middle name wrong.’

‘Don’t talk about Mrs Breach in this house,’ the psychic bit out. ‘She’s an un-sanctified charlatan.’

Polly smirked, tried to hide a slight snigger behind her hand. Luce felt the corners of her own lips turning upwards.

‘And you?’ the psychic asked, turning her attention to Luce, saving Polly for last. ‘Who do you seek?’

Luce shifted ever so slightly. Her fingers found a stray piece of hair and began working it into a tight wrap.

‘A friend of mine,’ she said, attention resolutely on the table, unable to look the other woman in the eye. ‘He… he died in the War and… And I just…’ She sucked in a deep breath, forcefully wiped away the tears she could already feel sliding down her cheeks. She knew this was just a game to the woman across the table, a way to make money, but the thought that maybe, just maybe, she could contact him.. ‘I need to know he’s as OK as he can be.’

A soft silence settled over the room. Polly’s knee bumped hers gently. Luce let it reassure her slightly. Polly Gray’s comfort was not given often to those outside of the family.

‘Who do you seek?’ Mrs Price asked. If she made any indication that she was now talking to Polly, Luce didn’t see it.

‘Well, the truth… Sorry, the truth is, I’m not even sure she’s dead. So I came here to find out.’ Polly was quiet for a moment, and Luce gently nudged her knee under the table. She’d only seen the woman look this torn up once before and it was to do with her children. If she thought something had happened…

‘Er,’ said Polly uncertainly. ‘You see, my son and my daughter were taken from me when they were very small – taken by the parish authorities. And I never knew what happened to them. But lately I’ve had a feeling. Like, a feeling… I can’t put it into words. And I keep having a dream. I see a pretty girl, about eighteen years old. She’s standing across the street and she tells me she’s passed over. Now, my daughter would have been eighteen this year. On May fifteenth.’

A shiver went down Luce’s spine. Part of her wondered if it wasn’t easier for Polly to admit this to a bunch of strangers. If perhaps she shouldn’t have tried someone else for her distraction.

‘And this girl,’ continued Polly, once again drawing Luce in so that she couldn’t simply abandon the woman in her grief, ‘has dark eyes like mine.’ She rubbed a thumb firmly under her own eye, which Luce realised was welling up. But Polly wouldn’t let the tears fall. Not until she had got to the end of her story. ‘And she shouts… and shouts. And she tells me she wants to talk to me because I’m her mother. Now, I don’t even know what name they gave her after they stole her from me. But if she does want to say goodbye I thought this would be the place.’ She wiped away the tear that had escaped down her cheek before she was ready. She looked almost irritated by it.

‘You’re wearing the Black Madonna,’ said the psychic simply. ‘You Gypsy?’

‘The part of me that dreams is Gypsy,’ said Polly evenly.

The other woman said something in Romani that Luce didn’t have time to translate. Even evenings with Esme hadn’t helped her grasp the language. For some reason she kept  slipping back to the Italian that Sy had taught her; kept getting things mixed up.

‘My maiden name is Shelby,’ said Polly simply, and Luce noticed the twitch in the other new lady’s cheek that set her teeth on edge. Felt the coolness of the room but tried to ignore it. Polly had as much right as any of them to be there; surnames be damned. ‘So,’ said Polly, ignoring the rising tension, ‘perhaps you could do me first.’

 

Polly was up and out of the room in an instant. Luce didn’t wait for her turn, she couldn’t. The more she thought about it, the more she knew that she’d only run away again if she brought these ghosts here. Two years. Two years and she hadn’t ever felt the actual need to vanish again. She was always prepared, a precaution that had settled over her the more Tommy asked about London, but she never truly left.

So she followed Polly into the street, trying to outrun her own grief in some small way; trying to be there for the woman that looked out for them in her own ways.

‘No!’ The anguish behind Polly’s voice was almost too much to bear. She paced the street, yelled.

Luce hovered on the pavement, wanting to hug her, to assure her that it was all right. That her daughter would have known – even without realising it – that her mother had cared. But they were flowery words. Words meant for people who would accept them rather than the pain of knowing what had been taken. People who were worlds away from Polly; worlds away from Luce now, she guessed.

Instead she waited until Polly’s anger turned to sadness once more. Then, tentatively, she stepped down from the curb.

‘Polly?’ she asked softly.

In an instant, the woman was holding her, hugging her close as if Luce was the only thing keeping her from floating away. After her initial panic, Luce wound her arms around the other woman, hugged her close. She didn’t bother making cooing noises, just held onto Polly, letting her cry into her shoulder, knowing that there was nothing she could do to help ease the pain.

***

Tommy had, oddly, come to pick Hal up first from Charlie’s yard. He knew that it was more to check in with Luce, to make sure that everything she’d told them was enough to make this work, but it still felt strange sitting as passenger to Tommy Shelby’s driving. He was surprised that the man hadn’t somehow twisted Luce’s arm into coming, but he was grateful for Luce’s insistence that she wouldn’t join them. Grateful that, for once, Tommy wasn’t making her face her fears.

‘All right, Tommy’s here!’ Arthur called, and Hal had to smother a smirk as Tommy eased up to the curb. Of course John was, technically, the last to be picked up. He smothered whatever jibe bubbled inside of him though, now wasn’t the time for it. 

‘John!’ snapped Tommy once he was finally out of the car.

‘I’m coming! John hollered back.

Arthur groaned, downed a bottle of something that Hal couldn’t quite make out. Tommy’s attention snapped that way too.

‘Seven o’clock, twelve o’clock, ten if I’m still sober,’ Arthur explained as Tommy lit a cigarette. ‘I got it from the doctor – it keeps me nice and calm.’

Tommy examined the bottle, and Hal glanced at the thing over his shoulder.

‘In’t that what they gave us in the trenches?’ he asked as Tommy sniffed the bottle.

‘Yeah, to stop us fucking wanking,’ noted Tommy, almost bitterly.

‘Polly said it’s good for me temper. It slows me down, Tom.’

‘Arthur, there are some things Polly doesn’t understand,’ he said, pouring the medicine away. ‘I need you fast. Not slow, eh? Can’t leave it all up to Hal.’ He chucked the bottle across the street; glass shattered as John exited the house.

‘She wouldn’t let go of my fucking leg,’ he complained.

‘I bet that’s not all she wouldn’t let go of,’ teased Arthur as Hal clapped his friend on the shoulder.

‘Right,’ said Tommy as he climbed into the car.

‘You know she’s against this, Tom. She’s got opinions,’ noted John.

‘Nothing wrong with opinions, John.’

‘Get in the car, John,’ said Hal simply, rolling his eyes as his friend did up his flies.

John went to hit him around the back of the head, but Hal was too fast. He jumped over the back of the car and settled into the seat behind Tommy, a smirk on his face.

‘Show off,’ complained John, hauling himself into the car as Arthur sat on the passenger-side door.

‘Right!’ he shouted as Tommy started to drive. ‘The Peaky Blinders are going on fucking holiday!’

‘Sit down, you mad bastard,’ laughed John, grabbing his brother’s coat and pulling him to sit.

For one moment, Hal was able to wonder if perhaps they might actually get a holiday out of this. But still, he longed for the action that London promised, even if only for a short amount of time.

 

‘Look at this! Look,’ said Arthur, a hint of excitement behind his voice. ‘I love it.’

‘That’s why you’re pissing all over it?’ asked Hal, leaning on the edge of the car, checking his pistol once more.

Arthur shot a look of disdain over his shoulder before looking back out across the countryside. ‘Your Esme was right about one thing, you can’t beat the countryside. You know, I think I want to live in the country one day and keep chickens.’

‘Yeah, we’ll see you in London, Arthur,’ called John as Hal moved to the back of the car once more.

But Tommy shook his head before Hal could jump in; he peeled away the back’s cover to reveal a dead body and some shovels.

‘Oh, for fuck’s sake,’ cursed John.

‘And here I was thinking that stench was you,’ Hal jibed as a shovel was pushed to his chest.

‘Take these,’ said Tommy simply. ‘We need to bury him.’

‘Who the fuck is that?’ asked John.

‘It’s Irish business,’ Tommy told them. ‘I thought it best if I deal with it on me own. Come on, we did a thousand of these in France. John, grab his head.’ Tommy pulled open the door.

‘So, we’re not really going to London?’ asked John as he moved to Hal’s side of the car.

‘Once we bury him,’ said Tommy from the edge of the car, for once the tallest person amongst them, ‘then the holiday begins.’

 

Despite everything Tommy had told them - though, by extension, Luce - London was nothing like what Hal had been expecting. The smoke that hung in the air seemed to cling more insistently to things than back home. More cars trundled about. People milled in the streets, laughing and messing around as if they didn’t have a care in the world. Money, he guessed, made relaxed people. Car horns tooted, angry gestures thrown out of windows; the occasional ruckus laughter quickly followed.

As they neared the club, Hal felt his usual fight calmness flood over him. He watched as Tommy passed over notes. He gently elbowed John in the ribs, a smirk on his face.

‘Per’aps we should’ve come down here sooner,’ he teased, his attention flicking everywhere, checking for the first sign of trouble.

They passed through the doors easily and were practically assaulted by the sound of a live band. Of people giggling. At one wall, two men were kissing. Elsewhere, people were sniffing things off tables. If people thought Birmingham was bad, they’d obviously never seen London.

No wonder Luce still hasn’t run off, Hal thought. She probably didn’t scare half as easily as they all assumed if this was what she’d grown up around.

‘It’s a fucking freak show,’ said Arthur as they passed through gold draped curtains.

‘They’re worse than you!’ teased Hal, knocking the back of John’s head amicably, rolling his eyes at two people having sex on a seat, not a care in the world to who saw.

John elbowed him lightly in the ribs as they kept walking, following Tommy into the belly of the beast. People were flinging their arms around on what must have been considered a dancefloor. It was hectic, madness, nothing like anything Hal had seen before. It was like another world entirely.

‘What the fuck is that racket?’ asked Arthur, having to shout to be heard as they descended the stairs into what must have passed for a bar.

‘This is what they call music these days, brother,’ announced Tommy.

‘Music?’ asked Arthur, as if it were a completely foreign idea to him.

They circled, Hal’s attention never lingering too long on anything in particular. There was so much to assault the senses that he was a little glad Arthur hadn’t had more of his medicine. Slow was certainly not what they needed today.

John, however, looked as though he were a kid in a sweetshop.

‘Oi!’ shouted Tommy, moving over to two kissing people at one table. ‘Oi! Put it away.’

‘Fuck off!’ shouted John, jumping around the other side of the couple.

But Hal’s attention was elsewhere. A man hovered around the edge of the dancefloor, his attention skittering just as much as Hal’s own. At a rough guess, he was about John’s height; blond hair a little shaggier than seemed to be the norm amongst other Londoners. There was something haunted about him; even from here, Hal could see the sweat beading on his forehead and rolling down the side of his face.

Hal placed a hand on the comforting weight of the razors in his cap’s peak.

‘You sitting, mate?’ asked John, drawing Hal back to the present, to the table that seemed to be exactly in the right place to see the whole establishment.

‘Irish whiskey – a bottle,’ Tommy ordered, his voice loud even over the slight lull in music.

‘And hurry up!’ Arthur yelled in the man’s face before dropping into the spare seat at their table.

But Hal’s attention skittered the room once more. The blond man was gone, but he could still feel the ripple of being hunted skimming down his spine.

‘Fucking hell, I recognise a few of these lads,’ said John.

‘That’s Sabini’s cousin, over there,’ said Arthur, tipping his head in the direction of the man.

‘That’s right, Arthur, it’s Sabini’s club,’ noted Tommy.

‘Jesus Christ, everybody in here’s a fucking face,’ said John.

‘Not everyone,’ murmured Hal, his attention on the room, seeking out the unfamiliar. And yet, there had been something odd about the man. Something that niggled irritatingly at the back of his mind.

‘Just the lieutenants, John. No sign of the officers,’ noted Tommy as a waiter sorted out their drink.

‘Right, let’s line them up,’ said John, not batting an eyelid as he turned one glass over. ‘Holiday!’

‘Gentlemen,’ said a man far too brightly, his voice gravelly from too much smoke inhalation; he rested his hand on Arthur’s shoulder, ‘there’s been a mistake. I’m afraid you’re going to have to leave.’

‘We just bought a fucking bottle,’ snapped John, rounding on the man as Arthur glared.

Over his shoulder, Hal spotted the blond man. His eyes kept skimming over the four of them. Taking in the hats and then the faces. It were as if he was trying to consign them to memory.

‘Some of the men here,’ the other man said, snapping Hal’s attention back to the table, ‘recognise you from the racetracks in the north.’

‘Yeah,’ shouted Arthur, ‘we get that a lot.’

Tommy smirked ever so slightly, took a sip of his drink.

‘They say you have no business coming south of the line without prior agreement,’ the man insisted.

‘And what line would that be, my friend?’ asked Tommy smoothly.

‘They say this is provocation.’

Tommy merely moved to grab his drink again. ‘Right, well, you tell them we’re on holiday. This place got suggested to us by a friend. It’d be rude not to come by.’

The man shook a finger at them, like they were merely naughty schoolkids. Hal caught John’s eye, saw the dangerous smirk on his friend’s lips.

‘You’re breaking the rules. They say you are the Peaky Blinders.’

A glass shattered. In an instant, Hal was on his feet as someone yelled ‘Peaky scum!’

That was all it took for the damn to break. Hal spun, punched the person closest to him. He caught up his hat, scanned the dancehall. People were still dancing, as if it were all part of the entertainment.

Hal ducked a punch, aimed a careful counter of his own at someone’s solar plexus. He heard the wind knocked out of them, but already he was scanning, looking for the blond man. There was something dangerous about him that Hal didn’t like the look of, something that he wasn’t going to simply ignore.

And he spotted him, skulking off towards the back of the room. His hands curled and uncurled by his sides. He itched to fight, but something was holding him back.

Hal was not so restrained. He head-butted someone that was trying to run at him. He brought his other hand up, the cap caught them on the side of the face before they crashed into a table. He guessed from the sounds of it. He didn’t actually watch, just kept heading towards the blond, towards the familiar and unfamiliar that seemed to surround him.

Hal was within touching distance, his fingers barely scraped the material of the guy’s jacket, before someone shot a gun. Screams cut through the rest of the noise, which suddenly silenced, and instantly Hal’s attention went to his friends.

Arthur threw a bucket of water over someone. ‘Put some ice on ‘em!’ he said, his voice louder in the newly quiet hall.

The man who had spoken to them earlier levelled the shotgun on Tommy; he was standing in the band area. ‘Get out.’ His accent all but silenced the ‘t’s. Luce’s accent.

‘Yeah?’ Tommy asked simply, walking towards the weapon. ‘Yeah? You gonna use that?’

The man looked slightly awkwardly around him.

‘Didn’t think so,’ said Tommy evenly. He scoffed before casually walking back to the table, swiping up the bottle of whiskey. His attention skimmed the room carefully, found Hal easily. He bobbed his head almost imperceptibly, but Hal was already picking his way towards them, glancing briefly over his shoulder for the blond.

‘We came here,’ said Tommy as they moved, ‘not to make enemies. No! We came here to make new friends.’

Hal nudged John away from a woman that he was kissing, shaking his head ever so slightly. Arthur kicked a man on the floor in the gut for good measure.

‘Those of you who are last will soon be first,’ vowed Tommy. ‘And those of you who are downtrodden will rise up. Yep. You know where to find us.’

And with that they started out of the club. But Hal still glanced back, just in case, and saw nothing that might help ease his own concerns about the place.

 

‘I think I’ve lost a tooth,’ said Arthur as they finally felt the chill of the outside once more. Hal was glad to get the cloying smell of the place out of his system; he could practically taste the alcohol in the air and he hated it. ‘I’ll have none left at this rate! Some fucking holiday this is.’

John doubled over with silent laughter.

Hal smirked, but his heart wasn’t in the gesture.

‘Yeah? You all right without your fucking medicine now, Arthur?’ asked Tommy, and there was such a teasing lilt behind his voice Hal didn’t have it in him to worry them about the blond man. ‘Here, this’ll fix you.’

‘Give me that!’ said Arthur, snatching the bottle from his brother.

‘You, John boy, eh? How are you? Or should I ask your fucking wife?’

‘Oh, give over!’ complained John.

‘No more talk of chickens, you hear me?’

‘Fuck the chickens,’ slurred Arthur.

‘Don’t do that,’ murmured Hal, earning a scoff from John.

‘And you, Henry?’

Hal scoffed but didn’t meet Tommy’s eye. ‘Never better,’ he said simply, putting his cap firmly back on his head.

He felt the weight of Tommy’s gaze on him for a moment longer before his friend said, ‘I’ve fifty quid in me pocket. Let’s paint the town, eh?’

John made a noise like a cockerel, and Hal couldn’t help but laugh as he was dragged to walk faster down the street.

***

The Peaky Blinders had shown their hand, coming to Sabini’s club. They claimed it wasn’t an act of war, that it was merely a holiday, but Wilf could still feel the eyes that had trailed after him. The man, who was obviously not one of the brothers, had watched him, slight confusion knitting his brows. Wilf hadn’t liked it, but there wasn’t much he could do about it. He’d wanted to march over to them at the time, rough them up so that they told him everything. But Sabini had given him strict instructions – no, orders – not to do that. Apparently, Luce was in Birmingham. How Sabini knew, Wilf wasn’t sure, or for how long he’d actually known and done nothing with the information. In fact, for all he knew the man might have been lying. But it was better than anything else Wilf had come up with.

He shook his head ever so slightly. He needed to follow through with helping Sabini give a message to the Peaky Blinders before he tore off into the night, looking for Cinder. All he had to do was contain his anger. Maybe he could ask Tommy Shelby what he knew before Sabini got his message across.

The man didn’t even see them. He looked almost calm as he moved to his car, but the barrel of a gun pushed him back. And that’s when the others descended on him, Wilf at the front, punching him squarely in the jaw, sending him spiralling towards some of the others. He tried to hit him again, but the others had caged Tommy Shelby in. They were hitting every bit of him that they could until he was on the floor. Only then did Wilf manage to kick him in the face.

The others hauled Tommy up, and Wilf slunk back into the shadows. 

‘Tommy Shelby, I missed you at my club,’ said Sabini, his voice soft like a snake’s. ‘I was at the races.’

‘Sabini,’ grunted Tommy.

‘Don’t say my name,’ said Sabini, disgusted by the fact the other man had spoken. ‘Jesus! Franco, take my name out of his mouth.’

Wilf hovered at the edge, his attention skittering the street, wondering if he might be able to find Luce himself. He heard Tommy groaning, gurgling as Franco got to work, the blade in the other man’s mouth. But he didn’t watch. What if she was around the corner? What if she caught sight of this horror?

Then again, from what he’d heard, she’d seen far worse than this when the zeppelins had struck. At least, that’s what some of his old friends had told him at parties he’d never wanted to attend.

‘While you’re in there, do a bit of digging for gold,’ said Sabini evenly. ‘Pay for the petrol.’

Tommy spluttered, and only then did Wilf look back, as a gold tooth was passed off to Sabini.

‘See how much I know about you?’ Sabini said, holding the tooth up for Shelby to see. ‘I even know what’s in your fucking mouth. Look at me.’ He forced Shelby’s attention to him. ‘Look at me! Look at me. You take up with the Jews. Yeah, you think that’s what London’s all about. You can just come down, pick a side. You fucking clown! Now your life is over. My face is the last thing you’ll ever see on earth. Your mistake. You remember that when you get to hell.’ His Italian accent was a little thicker with his annoyance.

He dropped Tommy’s hair, his blood-soaked face lolled to his chest.

‘Finish him off,’ said Sabini, and Wilf had to control the urge not to yell. Not to snap that this man knew where his sister was. That this might be the easiest way to find her. After all, the Shelbys basically ran Birmingham from what he could gather; if anyone knew where she was, it would be a Shelby.

Franco raised a gun, but the shot was never fired. Another shot cut them off, sending the men fleeing in different directions. Whistles and the threat of police drew nearer. Wilf was off like a shot, the opposite direction to all the others, part of him wondering if now was the time to cut his ties with the Italians.Their deal was something that he wouldn’t idly throw away. 

And, Wilf was a man of his word. Soon he would have to reunite with the men that had brought him there, even if only so that they might keep up their end of the bargain. All he could do was hope that Sabini’s men were honourable, in their own twisted way, that they wouldn’t lay a hand on Cinder as long as he was with them.