The steam powered pipe organ started in on camp town races for at least the dozenth time since I had taken a seat and ordered a bottle of mezcal. It was the only song the machine seemed to know. The organ’s attendant was a young man. Probably white from the way he spoke, but it was hard to say with all the coal dust on his face and hands. As he stoked the fires of the mechanical musician he insisted to all who would listen that the Maestro was a genius.
FitzClarence, alias Hobbes, was not supposed to leave me alone. But after I had led him here to the seedier side of town and introduced him at a ballroom court where New World courtesans sought his favour… well, let’s just say he was distracted.
I had spent the past few weeks measuring the mans character and stamina. So when he escorted two young ladies, one brown and the other black, upstairs I knew that I had less than an hour to make contact.
I drained the last bit of mezcal from my glass. Then I excused myself from the small group of young men and women who were vying for my favour; leaving what was left of the bottle for them to share or argue over. I made my way to the rear of the establishment where the stables were. Not because I needed my horse, but because stable hands were known to take coins and answer questions.
Living in the shadows and the alleys, but serving the gentry gave stablehands a foot in two worlds. More often than not, they were a first point of contact or a go-between for those two worlds. A young man, large and fit enough to dissuade a thief, met me in the stable yard- barring my way to the doors.
“¿Bueños tardes, que necesitas?” I pretended not to understand him. It was clear from his dialect and usage that Spanish wasn’t his native tongue anyway.
“Inglés.” I said with a smile as I held up a quarter of a silver round.
The young man smiled without thought of hiding his greed. “Yesir, I’se know English,” he said reaching for the silver. It wasn’t the vernacular of a schooled gentlemen, but it would suffice.
I pulled the silver away, “I’m looking for a man.”
“I’se don’t do that to men, plenty of them type inside.” He said, clearly offended and clearly missing the point. “Not that I blame you, who’d wanna’ little sissy boy when they could’ve a strong man. But I ain’ts no sodomite. Not even for coin.” He seemed to be trying to convince himself as much as he was me. But likely this was his con. People don’t survive out here without a side hustle.
“I’m not looking for a man for that.” I stopped, letting the words settle between us. “The silver is for information.”
“Do you know the muffin man?” I asked.
“Is that a joke?”
“Look, ya fuckin’ nutter- I ain’t got time to play games. Go back inside if you wanna play games.” He said turning away from me and went back into the stables.
Well, that was a bust– I thought as I looked around me. In front of me was a locked stable with an unamused attendant. To my left, a dark alley no doubt full of cut throats. To my right, a place where a man could find cunny and chlamydia sold together- the establishment made no pretense at being a clean, reputable business. And behind me was the ballroom where FitzClarence could just as easily be, or not be, finished with his rogering and looking for me. With a sigh, I turned to return to the ballroom.
Behind me I heard the distinct click of Augustus Colt’s patent being prepared for use.
“He lives on Drury Lane.”