I stood pouring off a gallon of whiskey for a ginger boy I didn't recognize. The East River's bank swarms with rickety foreign creatures trying to shake off their sea legs, and Nick's was on New Street, very close to the water. The lad waited with his head tilted and his little claws on the cedar bar plank. He stood like a sparrow. Too tall to be eight years old, too scared to be ten. Hollow-boned, eyes glassily seeking free scraps.
"This for your parents?" I wiped my fingers on my apron, corking the earthenware jug.
"For Da." He shrugged.
His hand came out of his pocket with a ragtag assortment of currency.
"Two shillings makes two bits, so I'll take that pair and wish you welcome. I'm Timothy Wilde. I don't pour shallow, and I don't water the merchandise."
"Thankee," he said, reaching for the jug.
There were dark treacle stains at the underarms of his tattered shirt due to the last molasses barrel he'd gammed from being too high, I saw next. So my latest customer was a sugar thief. Interesting.
That's a typical saloon keeper's trick: I notice a great many things about people. A fine city barman I'd be if I couldn't spot the difference between a Sligo dock rat with a career in contraband molasses and the local alderman's son asking after the same jug of spirits. Barmen are considerably better paid when they're sharp, and I was saving all the coin I could lay hands on. For something too crucial to even be called important.
"I'd change professions, if I were you."
The bright black sparrow's eyes turned to slits.
"Molasses sales," I explained. "When the product isn't yours, locals take exception." One of his elbows shifted, growing more fluttery by the second. "You've a ladle, I suppose, and sneak from the market casks when their owners are making change? All right, just quit the syrups and talk to the newsboys. They make a good wage too, and don't catch beatings when the molasses sellers have learned their sly little faces."
The boy ran off with a nod like a spasm, clutching the sweating jug under his wing. He left me feeling pretty wise, and neighborly to boot.
"It's useless to counsel these creatures," Hopstill intoned from the end of the bar, sipping his morning cup of gin. "He'd have been better off drowned on the way over."
Hopstill is a London man by birth, and not very republican. His face is equine and drooping, his cheeks vaguely yellow. That's due to the brimstone for the fireworks. He works as a lightning-maker, sealed away in a garret creating pretty explosions for theatricals at Niblo's Gardens. Doesn't care for children, Hopstill. I don't mind them a bit, admiring candor the way I do. Hopstill doesn't care for Irish folk either. That's common enough practice, though. It doesn't seem sporting to me, blaming the Irish for eagerly taking the lowest, filthiest work when the lowest, filthiest work is all they're ever offered, but then fairness isn't high on the list of our city's priorities. And the lowest, filthiest work is getting pretty hard to come by these days, as the main of it's already been snapped up by their kin.
"You read the Herald," I said, fighting not to be annoyed. "Forty thousands of emigrants since last January and you want them all to join the light-fingered gentry? Advising them is only common sense. I'd sooner work than steal, myself, but sooner steal than starve."
"A fool's exercise," Hopstill scoffed, pushing his palm through the sheaves of grey straw that pass for his hair. "You read the Herald. That rank patch of mud is on the brink of civil war. And now I hear tell from London that their potatoes have started rotting. Did you hear about that? Just rotting, blighted as a plague of ancient Egypt. Not that anyone's surprised. You won't catch me associating with a race that's so thoroughly called down the wrath of God."
Excerpted from The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye. Copyright © 2012 by Lyndsay Faye. Excerpted by permission of Amy Einhorn Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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