David liss. a conspiracy of paper. chapter 5


FIVE

ICOULD MUSTERno considerable surprise to learn that Jonathan Wild had ‘peached Kate, for profiting from the conviction of his own creatures was no small part of the key to his fortune. It was said that he held a book with the name of every felon in his employ, keeping count of numbers as though he were a merchant or a trader as much as a thief. When he believed one of his prigs to be withholding goods, he put a cross next to the name, indicating that it was time to hand the poor sod over to the courts. Once the prig was hanged, Wild put a second cross next to his name, and so the thieves of London now held the expression ofdouble-crossing as one and the same with betrayal.

Long before I’d turned to thief-taking Wild had been plying his trade from the Blue Boar Tavern in Little Old Bailey, making a name for himself by impeaching highwaymen like James Footman, a renowned villain of his day, and by breaking up the robbery gang of the most notorious Obadiah Lemon. He brought these blackguards to justice as he later did his own blackguards, by betraying their trust and leading them to believe he was one of their brotherhood-for indeed he was, and how were the likes of Obadiah Lemon to know that a fellow-thief would suddenly appoint himself magistrate? I believe that even in the early days of Wild’s power, most everyone suspected what this man was, but crime had grown so rampant, with armed gangs of men prowling the streets like hungry dogs, and old ladies and pensioners fearing to step outside lest they be brutally knocked down, that all who lived in the metropolis wished for a hero, and Wild proved flamboyant and ruthless enough to announce himself to be precisely that. His name was in every paper and upon all lips. He had become the Thief-Taker General.

I had only been in my current trade for three months before I met Wild, but in a way it is strange that it took as long as all that. London, after all, is a city in which any man of a particular business or interest is destined to meet all others of a like mind in a surprisingly short period of time. My friends may prove his enemies, but we shall all know each other soon enough.

If it took me some months to meet Wild, I had seen him about the city many times. We all had, for Wild made it his business to be visible, showing up at fairs and the Lord Mayor’s Show and market days, riding horseback with his men in attendance, directing them to seize pick-pockets

as though he were in command of some tiny army. I suppose that if we in London had some sort of body devoted to apprehending criminals, what the French call apolice, a man like Wild could never have come to power, but Englishmen are far too quick to feel the squeeze upon their liberties, and I seriously doubt if we shall ever see apolice on this island. Wild took advantage of this need for regulation, and I fully admit when I would see him astride his horse, handsomely dressed, pointing this way and that with his ornate walking stick, it was all I could do but to admire him.

By the time Wild and I met face-to-face, he had moved over to the tavern called the Cooper’s Arms, where he set up his “Office for the Recovery of Lost and Stolen Property.” It is with some shame that I recount the story of my meeting with Wild, for it is a story of my weakness.



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David liss. a conspiracy of paper. chapter 5