On Monday and Wednesday, I shared with you the first two in a series of entries from a day journal belonging to Ethan Kaille, thieftaker and conjurer, whose life and work in Colonial Boston are the subject of the upcoming Thieftaker books (beginning with Thieftaker, book I of the Thieftaker Chronicles). In the first entry, dated 30 January 1765 Ethan was hired by a local baker to look into a minor mystery in his neighborhood in the South End. In the second entry, from 1 February 1765, Ethan confronted a young thief, Mary Parkes, in the moonlit cellar of the bakery and offered to help her win her freedom from her domineering uncle. Here follows the third and final entry dealing with this small adventure.
Sunday, 3 February 1765
I had not fixed a time for my next encounter with the young thief and her uncle, but had assumed that they would arrive at around the same hour Mary had come to the bakery two nights before. I waited at the mouth of the alley I had described for her, watching the street, marking the people who came and went from the Dowsing Rod. After some time, I began to wonder if she would keep our appointment, and I started to worry for her safety and that of her younger sister. Perhaps her uncle had been angered at receiving a shilling rather than the expected bread and pies. Perhaps he had been wary of meeting this mysterious benefactor Mary described for him. Or maybe Mary had lost her nerve, or had never had any intention of bringing her uncle here, but rather had been humoring me until she could get away.
These thoughts and more plagued me as I waited, hearing the tolling of the bells at eight o’clock, and then at nine.
As the ten o’clock hour approached, I was cold and thoroughly convinced that she would not be coming. But upon making up my mind to retreat into the tavern for some hot rum and chowder, I heard the scrape of footsteps on cobble and a moment later, the high, clear voice of a young girl.
“There it is,” she said. “The Dowsing Rod. I told you it was this way.”
“I don’t need you remindin’ me of when you was right,” came a low, gruff voice. “And I’ll thank ye t’ leave th’ talkin’ t’ me when we find this fella.”
“Yes, Uncle,” the girl said, her tone meek.
A moment later they turned onto the alley, the girl leading the way. It was too dark for me to make out her uncle’s features, but he was a tall man, broad in the shoulders, with a barrel chest and an ample gut. Apparently Mary had been stealing a good deal of food for him.
I stepped out the shadows so that the moonlight fell upon me. Mary halted; her uncle pushed her aside and walked past her.
“Hello, Mary,” I said, ignoring the man for the moment. “You all right?”
“Yes, sir. I brought him like you told me.”
“Tha’s enough,” the uncle said, growling the words at her. Facing me again, he said, “I don’ work with men who bargain with childr’n. From now on, ye talk t’ me.”
“And you are?”
“You’ll have my name when I have yers.”
I glanced toward Mary. There was a chance she had given him my name already, in which case lying might scare the man off. On the other hand, there was also the chance that he would have heard of me, either because of my work as a thieftaker, or because of my involvement years ago in the Ruby Blade mutiny. In that instant I decided the risk of lying about my name was greater than the risk of giving it.
“The name’s Kaille,” I said. “Now, who are you?”
I walked forward, halting just a couple of strides short of the man. From this distance I could make out some details in his face. He had small eyes that glittered in the moonlight. His cheeks and brow were deeply scarred and pitted; at some point he had survived a bout of smallpox.
“Do you often send girls out to steal for you?” I asked.
Parkes scowled. “What?” He cast a filthy look Mary’s way. “Wha’s that got t’ do with anything? She said ye had work for me, a job that might make me some coin.”
“That’s right,” I said. “That’s what I told her.”
“So wha’s th’ job?”
“What skills do you have, Parkes?”
The man shrugged, avoiding my gaze. “I’m pretty good in a fight. I can use a blade if’n I have t’.”
“What do you do for coin?”
Parkes frowned again. “Wha’ does that matter? What is this, anyway?”
“I’m trying to figure out what kind of man sends his niece out in the night to steal bread for him, and somehow manages to keep himself looking well-fed — fat even — while she’s all bones and skin.”
“Who th’ hell are you?” Parkes asked, glowering at me.
“I told you, my name is Kaille. I’m a thieftaker, and you’re lucky I don’t take you to the sheriff right now.”
“I’ve done nothin’ wrong, an’ you know it. If th’ girl’s been out stealin’, well, there’s not much I can do ‘bout that. Her father was no good, an’ she’s just like th’ old man. I’ll be dealin’ with her when I’m done with you.”
“I don’t believe you will,” I said. “From now on, if you want bread, you’ll have to get it yourself.”
Parkes shook his head and chuckled. Turning away, he grabbed for Mary’s arm. She darted out of his reach, and before he could pursue her, I strode forward and planted myself between them.
“Out o’ my way, Kaille!”
“I don’t think so.”
Parkes balled his fists and threw a wild punch at my head. Mary screamed. I ducked under the blow and came up with a punch of my own, catching the man flush on the chin. Parkes staggered back, then lumbered forward once more. I hit him again, this time in the belly. The man dropped to his knees, gasping for breath.
“Stay down, or you’ll get worse,” I told him. “Mary, did you do what I told you?”
She was staring at her uncle, her eyes wide. But she nodded and pulled a piece of parchment from within her threadbare coat.
“Wha’s that?” Parkes demanded, still breathing hard.
I opened the parchment and scanned it quickly. “It looks like a document declaring Mary and Kate your wards.” I tore the paper in half.
“You have no right!” the man said.
“You’re not a fit guardian. And you’re lucky I don’t do worse. Come near these girls again, and you’ll answer to me. Understand?”
Parkes didn’t answer. And when I led Mary out of the alley, he made no attempt to stop me.
“What are we going to do now?” Mary asked as we hurried away.
“We’re going to get your sister and take you out to your aunt in Roxbury. How does that sound?”
She led me back to the small room on Milk Street where her younger sister was waiting. Kate gaped at me, clearly frightened. Mary, though, told her to bundle up her belongings and before long the three of us were tramping through the street once more on our way back to the Dowser. We saw no sign of the girls’ uncle.
Kannice gave the girls a room for the night and I kept watch for Lewis Parkes. He didn’t show his face in the tavern. In the morning, I went back to Roger Bell’s bakery and informed him that I had captured the thief, and could guarantee that this person at least wouldn’t be troubling him anymore. Bell thanked me effusively and paid me the balance of what he owed.
Upon returning to the Dowser, I hired a carriage to drive the girls and me out to Roxbury. Once there we inquired after their aunt and soon found the woman’s home. It was a modest house, but it looked comfortable and safe. Mary and Kate seemed nervous as we walked up the path to the front door, but at a happy cry and warm embrace from their aunt, they became more animated.
I didn’t linger, but before I left, I took Mary aside and gave her what remained, after the carriage driver’s fee, of the money Bell had paid me.
“What is this for?” she asked.
“Just in case,” I said quietly. “Keep it safe.”
She nodded, then proffered her hand. I shook it.
“Goodbye, Ethan Kaille,” she said. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Mary Parkes. No more thieving. Promise?”
She smiled. “Promise.”
I left her there, and began the journey back to Boston.