At all costs, p.1
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       At All Costs, p.1

           David Jay
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At All Costs
At All Costs

  A Victorian Romance

  Book One of So Shall Ye Reap,

  a 12-Book Novelette Serial

  Copyright 2017 David Jay

  Edition License Notes

  Table of Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  About the Author

  Chapter One

  What would an Englishman on the lam who had just landed on American soil rather do, get in the middle of a knife fight, or rummage through a putrid garbage can looking for something to eat?

  That was the ugly dilemma confronting Brock “The Bull” Ackerman and his pretty little wife, Emma. Brock pulled his head out of a garbage can when he heard what sounded like a fight, angry men yelling at each other. There, maybe fifty yards away down the squalid New York alley he and his wife were in, Brock saw a man holding another man down. A third man was pressing what looked like a long knife to the neck of the man pinned to the ground. They were screaming obscenities and vile threats.

  Bull Ackerman smiled. He loved nothing more than a fight.

  “Hey!” he boomed with his enormous lung power. He could have been heard halfway across the city.

  “Brock, please stay out of it!” Emma pleaded. She had been busy rubbing the mold off a few buns Brock found.

  “There’s a man needs my help,” Brock said.

  “Brock, no –”

  But it was too late. Her husband was tearing down the alley faster than a frightened fawn, though Brock Ackerman feared nothing and nobody. He stood five inches above six feet, and his frame was packed with 250 pounds of flint-hard muscle.

  The assailants heard Brock yell at them. Then they saw this bearded giant charging down the alley like a raging, well, bull. The two thugs jumped to their feet. The man with the knife waved it in front of himself, poised to strike.

  He didn’t have to wait long. Brock arrived in a few seconds, just in time to grab the knife wielder by his wrist with one hand and his elbow with the other hand.

  Brock then raised his knee and slammed the man’s forearm over it. You could hear the pop! pop! of the ulna and the radius, broken like a couple of sticks.

  The knife fell to the ground.

  The man let out a sub-human scream and staggered away, moaning loudly as he went, his broken arm hanging at an odd angle.

  The second thug tried to flee in the opposite direction, but Brock caught him in three long strides, grabbed him by his hair and the seat of his pants, picked him up, whirled him around once, twice, then flung him 20 feet through the air. He landed in a pile of refuse. Twice he slipped and fell after he tried to stand up and run away. He finally managed to stay on his feet, and he hobbled off, the remains of a rotten squash clinging to his back.

  By that time, the attempted-robbery victim had gotten to his feet. “You saved my life,” he said in a trembling voice.

  “You’re bleeding,” Brock said.

  “It’s nothing. Just a little nick on my hand. I tried to grab the knife. Stupid thing to do.”

  “If anybody was stupid, it was those two hoodlums.”

  “My name is Joseph Hunter. I would shake hands with you, but, you know, the blood ...”

  “You need to get that attended to, Mr. Hunter. My name is Brock Ackerman. And that beautiful young woman coming this way is my wife, Emma.”

  Joseph brushed off his coat, as if he wanted to look presentable when Emma arrived. Brock took a closer look at the man whose life he doubted he had saved. The two men who attempted to rob Joseph were young and ignorant, but not murderers. Brock hoped he had taught them a lesson.

  Joseph, on the other hand, obviously was a young gentleman. He was wearing an expensive dark suit. His collar and cuffs were made of heavy, starched linen, and he wore a forest-green and white striped shirt beneath his single-breasted vest. His wide necktie was tied in a loose knot low on his throat, and his bright, gold-colored watch chain was visible.

  “You’re lucky they didn’t snatch your watch,” Brock said.

  Joseph gave a nervous smile. “They tried.”

  “I mean no offense, sir, but a gentleman like you shouldn’t be walking in alleys like this. I’m new here, but I know that alleys in big cities often are infested with bad men who don’t have your best interests in mind. The alleys in London are –”

  “Is … anyone … hurt?” Emma gasped as she came running up. She was frightened and out of breath.

  “Nothing serious, dear. Mr. Hunter has a cut on his hand is all. Emma, this is Mr. Joseph Hunter. Mr. Hunter, my wife, Emma.”

  “Please, don’t call me mister. I’m just plain Joseph. Nice to meet you, Emma.” Emma curtseyed.

  “It’s in our blood, Mr. ... Joseph. We’re English.”

  “Oh, really?”

  “Just got off the boat a couple of hours ago,” Brock said.

  “Really?”

  “Yes, sir. We’re going to be looking for work. But first, we thought we’d grab a bite to eat. They don’t feed you too well on those boats. Just a bit of water and a little bread now and then.”

  “And you’re looking for food in the garbage cans?”

  “Well, sir, it took every penny we had to make the trip over here.”

  “That’s outrageous. That’s obscene.” Anger rose in Joseph’s voice. “Eating out of a garbage can. No one should have to do that. Unconscionable.”

  Brock shrugged.

  “Everything will work out,” Emma said. “We leave it in God’s hands. With His help, we have survived storms before. We shall survive this one.”

  “How long were you on that ship?” Joseph asked.

  Brock and Emma exchanged glances.

  “Hard to say,” Brock said. “It was dark every minute where we were, down in the hold somewhere. You couldn’t tell days from nights.”

  “Weeks,” Emma said. “Sir. Weeks.”

  “I guess it must have been weeks,” Brock said, “judging from the length of my beard. I was clean shaven before we left.”

  “We spent weeks locked in storage,” Emma said. “People got sick from lack of food and water. And the air, the air was so stale, and so … rancid. The stench from all those unwashed bodies and the … the human … the human waste. When we got off the boat, I got down on my knees and kissed the ground. To be in this wonderful country. They told us the streets here were paved with gold. I knew that wasn’t literally true, but to me and Brock, it is true in many other ways. And my clothes, sir, I’m so embarrassed to be dressed like this in the presence of a gentleman like your –”

  “Stop!” Joseph shouted. “Stop!” He lowered his head.

  “Sorry, Emma. I didn’t mean to shout at you. I’m not angry at you. I’m angry at … the way you have been treated.” He paused.

  “Listen. Brock, is it?”

  “Yes.”

  “Brock, what did you do for a living in England?”

  Brock looked away, stroked his beard and shuffled his feet. “Well, Joseph, I was kind of an outlaw.”

  Joseph’s expression did not change. “How so?” he asked.

  “I was a bare-knuckle boxer. Problem was, bare-knuckle boxing has been banned in England. It’s kind of a joke. The bare-knucklers, like me, just went underground. I had 54 matches. Never lost a one. I was moving up the ranks. I could have been a contender. I could have been a contender.”

  “What happened if you got caught?”

  “I would have been sent to jail.”

  “Is that why you left England?”

  Brock looked at Emma. She averted her eyes.

  “No. There was an English soldier. He ... he tried to … to ravish Emma. I almost knocked his bloody head off. Never hit anyone so hard. So, the p
olice were after me, and what’s worse, they were after Emma, too. You don’t mess with the military in England, so we had to get out of the country fast. And we did.”

  The alley rats in New York seemed almost tame. A couple of them, paying no attention to the humans, were lapping up the drops of blood that came from Joseph and the man with the broken arm. Joseph watched the rodents for a second.

  “Tell me, Emma, did you have a job in England?” he asked.

  “I was a parlor maid in a large manor in Norfolk, not far from London.”

  “What does a parlor maid do?”

  “Various things. I tended to the Duchess of the manor. Helped her with all her needs, with her hair. Helped her get dressed. I made dresses for her. I am a good seamstress. I also can cook. Things like that.”

  Joseph stared at the cut on his right hand, which had stopped bleeding. He seemed to be pondering.

  “Listen, you saved my life,” Joseph said, nodding at Brock. “I owe you something.” He hesitated. “Where are you two going to sleep tonight?”

  Emma blinked back tears. “I don’t … we don’t know.”

  “Listen. Come with me to my home. My wife will make dinner for us. Her name is Alice. Alice Hunter. We have a guest bedroom with its own bathroom. You can spend the night. We’ll see if we can find some decent, clean clothes for you. And maybe we can talk about hiring you. Both of you.”

  “Hiring us? To do what?” Brock asked.

  “Well, I obviously need a, you know, a bodyguard. I’ve seen you in action. I can’t imagine a better bodyguard than you.”

  “I think I’d be pretty good at it.”

  “Yes. And I also need a valet, Brock. You know, someone to tend to my needs. So, bodyguard and valet for me. And for you, Emma. Alice has been after me about getting her a maid. Sounds like you would be the perfect candidate, with all the experience you have. You can talk it over with Alice.”

  “Oh, thank you, sir … Mr. … Joseph. Yes, I would be most happy to meet your wife and talk with her.”

  “Wonderful. And you, Brock?”

  “Yes, sir. Sounds interesting.”

  Joseph clapped his hands. “Bravo!”

  He hunched his shoulders, as if his shout might have been a bit too loud. His eyes darted from side to side. No one was in sight.

  “Listen,” he said in a soft, conspiratorial tone. “Sometimes some of my colleagues come down this alley. It’s a shortcut to our club, and we often go there for a drink after work. I have to be careful what I say.”

  “Why is that, if I may ask?” Brock said.

  “The head of the company we work for,” Joseph said in a near whisper, “is a man named Conrad Brooks. He’s my father-in-law, Alice’s father. I’m his secretary.”

  Brock scrunched up his nose. “Is that a secret, sir?”

  “No, no. The secret,” he paused for effect, “is that Alice is Conrad’s sole heir. Conrad Brooks is a very wealthy man. A multi-millionaire. When he dies, Alice will inherit his millions. Do you know what that means?”

  “That your wife will be very rich?” Brock asked.

  “Well, that my wife and I will be very rich. But I was thinking of something else. What else do you think it means?”

  Brock shook his head. “I don’t know, sir.”

  Joseph leaned forward, close enough to Brock and Emma that their body odor almost drove him back.

  “It means,” he said, “that if you two do your jobs properly, and you stick with us, you will be set for life. For life.”

  Joseph drew back and gave them a big smile. He picked up the knife. “I’ll keep it as a souvenir.”

  “Now,” he said, “let’s get out of this filthy place.”

 
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