Molly wasn't feeling it tonight, sitting in The Freak and Harlot, watching the punters mill in before the sun set and the heavy, reinforced door would have to be barred against the outside world. And then a graceful figure slipped inside, and she sat up straight.
She leant forward over the table, letting her flimsy dress slip from one shoulder. “I knew you couldn't stay away, Beau.”
He twisted his handsome mouth into a smile. “Of course not Molly, you know all the gossip.”
She pursed her lips. “Oh.”
He pulled a chair out from beneath a half-unconscious drunk and slid it over to sit down opposite her. “I hear that someone self-destructed quite spectacularly recently. A learned man, or so they say.”
A look of determination lit her eyes. “Men often meet their ruin in this town. Sometimes even under this very roof.”
“Yes, ruined. He gambled away everything he had. And I've found the chance to help the poor bastard - to return something of his that's come into my possession.”
Her gaze drifted from his striking eyes and across the crowded room. The usual bunch of working men, cheap grafties and cheaper whores. Nothing to compare with the fine young gentleman sat opposite her. “You know I'm one of the girls who gives this place its name? You want to know what's freaky about me? I could leave you speechless.”
“I'd wish you every luck with that,” he said. “Many have tried.”
“I don't speak in jest. I've got bits you've never seen before.”
He sighed. “Molly, do you know about this professor or not?”
“Give up on him,” she answered, through gritted teeth. “He owes a debt to the Franke brothers. They took him to sell for parts.”
He slumped into his chair. “Really? What an age we live in!”
“Anyhow,” she said, touching her fingers to her lips, “I did you a favour, so...”
He slapped the table with his palm, making her jump. “In the absence of the whole, pieces will have to do. Where are the Franke brothers making themselves unwelcome these days?”
She stammered for a few seconds. “A little village, 'Lakechurch' or something like that, but-”
“What would I do without you, Molly?” He kissed her cheek, pressed a handful of gold pieces into her palm and shoved his way through the crowd to the door.
Adjusting her hair and secreting the coins into her bodice, Molly glanced at the people around her, trying to hide her embarrassment. “He's an absolute darling, that one,” she managed to say, through her forced smile.