I know, I know; I've been terrible with my updates; while I was writing this, we performed Commedia dell'Arte, (Italian comedy – Google search it; you'll find that Fagin is Pantalone, while Joey from "Friends" is Harlequin.) Anyway, I was the female Pierrot, Pierrette, and I was dressed as a nun! We actually wrote the script ourselves.

Perfect Crime?

Chapter 9

Charley and Ace were still wandering about, searching for their friend. They hadn't found any of the others boys yet, so they'd had no-one to break the news to.

"I can't believe this is 'appenin'," muttered Charley, as he strode down an alleyway, bending down to peer behind the rubbish.

"What?" said Ace, doing the same as Charley.

"This! Can ya actually believe we're lookin' through rubbish to find our mate? It don't seem real."

"I know what ya mean," replied the other boy. "I never thought summat like this would 'appen to any of us."

"Imagine 'ow poor Dodge is feelin'," muttered Charley gloomily as they exited the alley.

"I know. I reckon 'e'll still be tryna get away."

"It's the only thing ya can do though, ain't it?" Charley spotted a tall man stride past him, wearing a long overcoat and he suddenly remembered what Fagin had told them seemingly weeks ago:

'So, what I want ya to do, is if ya see a tall man with a long black coat and black 'at, trail him. Follow 'im where-ever 'e goes, maybe one of ya will get lucky.' He nudged Ace, "I'm gonna follow 'im," he whispered, nodding his head in the direction of the man. "Remember what Fagin said about following people in case they 'ave Dodger?" he added upon seeing Ace's confusing look.

"Oh, right, I remember now. But do ya really think that bloke would just be walkin' about on the streets?" he questioned, running slightly to catch up with Charley.

"Well, if 'e locked Dodger up 'e could go out," the boy replied. "I mean, they gotta 'ave food, right?"

Ace did not reply. Instead, they both silently trailed the man, scenarios of what could be racing through their heads.

Charley envisioned himself peering through a grubby window and seeing his friend inside. Then, super-strength would overtake take him and he would burst inside, his sudden appearance startling the kidnapper. Dodger would realise his friends had come to save and the three of them would take off, outrunning the older man. Charley sincerely hoped this would be the case, but a darker picture entered his mind.

He pictured Dodger lying on the floor, conscious but unmoving. The door had been locked and the only way in would be through forced entry. He pictured Ace holding off the kidnapper while he pulled his friend up and along, only Dodger couldn't move and the kidnapper took him and Ace hostage as well…

Charley shuddered involuntarily.

A similar dark picture was in Ace's mind as well. Only he was imagining the worst. He truly believed that Dodger was not okay in the least, but how could he voice his thoughts to Charley, to whom Dodger was like a brother?

Both were silent as they followed the man to a fairly nice-looking house and they glanced at each other? Surely a kidnapper wouldn't live here? But, then again, appearances can be deceiving.

Ace looked into the window at the front of the house, while Charley ran through to the back and looked in the windows there. He didn't see anything, so he searched the garden, his hopes rising as he imagined Dodger escaping and hiding. He looked in the bins, he poked through the tall grass and looked in the bushes. Nothing.

While Charley was doing this, Ace had knocked on the door and the man they had been following answered it. He looked rather foreboding, Ace thought, like he was not one to be crossed. He had removed his overcoat and was dressed in somewhat ordinary clothes, according to the boy. But now that he thought of it, he didn't really know what he expected the kidnapper to dress like.

"Yes, what is it?" the man asked.

"'Ave you seen a boy with brown 'air, wearin' a blue tailcoat?" he asked at last.

"No, can't say that I have. Why?"

"'E's been kidnapped. Three days ago." Charley had now joined him. Two children, a boy and a girl, had crept out into the hallway and were listening in on the conversation.

"Oh, I see. Well, I'll be sure to keep my eye out for 'im."

"Thanks," Charley muttered, walking away with Ace.

"What did those boys' want, Papa?" asked the man's little daughter, as he closed the door.

"They wanted to know if we'd seen their friend; they can't find him," he told her.


~ X ~

Nancy, Bill and Bet had taken a cart past the outskirts of their town, to cover more ground.

"Right, I think we should split up," decided Nancy. "We'll cover as much as we can and we'll meet back 'ere at sunset."

"Okay," Bet agreed while Bill merely raised his eyes skyward.

"Oh, an' remember what Fagin said; to trail suspicious lookin' people," Nancy reminded them before turning on her heel and striding away from them.

"Yer not really gonna do this, are ya?" Bill asked Bet, who was about to walk off. She stopped and looked at him.

"Ya mean, look fer Dodge? I most certainly am," she looked at him, curiosity written all over her face. "Don't you want to?"

"No, 'cause I think 'e's dead, to be honest," he said frankly. Bet's eyes widened and her jaw dropped.

"What makes you say that?" she gasped. "There's every chance 'e's still alive!"

"I 'ighly doubt that. Look, Bet," he said, coming closer. "Why do ya think 'e was taken? 'Cause it sure as 'ell weren't for laughs."

"But Bill," Bet cut in. She didn't want to believe that Dodger was hurt in any way, shape or form, even though she had been told that he was, for she was fond of the cheeky boy. "There's no reason to believe the worst."

"There's every reason," Bill insisted flatly. "People like this bloke 'ave sick minds and, for whatever reason, 'e's gonna wanna make Dodger suffer. If 'e 'asn't killed 'im by now, ya can be sure 'e will soon."

"Stop!" cried Bet. "Don't be so negative!"

"I'm bein' realistic," he said bluntly. "Look, Nancy's got it into 'er 'ead that 'e's gonna be found alive and well, and I know 'e won't be. 'E won't be found alive; when was the last time a kidnapped kid was found alive, eh? 'E might not even be found at all. And I know that when that 'appens, Nancy'll fall apart; she'll be crushed, for some reason. I want ya to tell 'er what I've said."

"...Why can't you tell her?" the woman asked, finally finding her voice; she had never seen Bill like this.

"Because she'll listen to you." Bet merely nodded and the conversation was over, though she herself didn't believe what he had said, Nancy certainly wouldn't believe a word of it.

Bet walked off, deciding to tell Nancy when they all met up again at sunset. She wondered where to look, apart from from the obvious alleys, bushes, deserted places, etc. She didn't see anybody who looked suspicious enough to follow, and she wondered what a kidnapper would look like. Her previous conversation with Bill drifted back into her mind, "'e's gonna wanna make Dodger suffer," and her eyes lowered. She didn't want to think of Dodger suffering.

Bill watched her walk away for a while, before turning and walking in the opposite direction. He didn't think he should bother to search; what would be the point in looking for a dead body? Although, if the boy was found sooner, dead or alive (although Bill severely doubted that he would be) the sooner everything would just get back to normal; everybody would stop moping around, they would actually go out and get some work done and he would have something to do with his life again.

Bill wondered if he ought to find Nancy, as he wondered what would happen if she uncovered Dodger's dead body casually dumped somewhere. He knew she would fall to pieces and, honestly, he couldn't see why; Dodger was just another irritating child who was too smart and sneaky for his own good and never knew when to shut his mouth. Although he was a skilled pickpocket.

He decided not to go and find Nancy after all, certain that they wouldn't find anything. Bill thought it would be more likely that they would never see Dodger again, dead or alive, rather than finding him in any condition.

~ X ~

Fagin was trying a different method of searching for the pickpocket; he was walking up to every single door and knocking on it, asking whoever answered for information. He repeated this at every door he came upon, determined not to miss any out. As he walked to the next door, he imagined if Dodger was in one of these houses. Just the thought of it made his pulse quicken with anticipation and he walked faster to the door and rapped upon it.

"Yes, can I help you?" inquired the young woman who answered. She had the door open just wide enough to see her face, and Fagin couldn't help thinking that it was to hide Dodger, although he told himself that it was merely because she felt a little bit intimidated. Besides, he knew if Dodger was in there, he'd be making a racket. He hoped.

"Yes. 'Ave ya seen an eleven-year-old boy wearin' a blue tailcoat, with brown 'air and eyes?" The woman tilted her head to the side as she thought.

"No, can't say that I have. Sorry. Why, have you lost him?"

"No, 'e was kidnapped three days ago," he told her.

"Oh, I'm terribly sorry to hear that. I'll be sure to keep an eye out for him," she promised.

"Okay. Well, thank you," he muttered before walking away and making his way to the next house. The woman walked into the living-room, where the rest of her family, her sister and her parents were sat.

"Who was that at the door, Emma?" asked her older sister Grace, barely looking up from her sewing. Her mother was helping by threading needles and her father was reading a book and smoking a pipe.

"It was a gentleman asking me if I had seen a boy with brown hair, brown eyes and wearing a blue tailcoat," she replied, taking a seat opposite her sister. "He told me that he had been kidnapped." This caused her sister and mother to look up.

"Oh, how dreadful!" Grace exclaimed and her mother nodded in agreement. "I can't imagine who would want to do that."

"Did you say blue tailcoat?" asked Frank, her father, leaning forward.

"That's what the man said, yes. Why?"

"It's just – I'm almost certain that I saw a boy wearing a blue tailcoat at the market only yesterday."

"...Do you think the man was lying, then?" Emma asked after a pause.

"I don't think anybody would be that low as to lie about something as serious as kidnap," Frank told her solemnly. "I only saw the boy for a fleeting second; I didn't pay him no mind, but he didn't appear to be in any danger."

"Maybe you saw the wrong boy. After all, there must be dozens of boys out there with brown hair and eyes and blue coats," reasoned Grace.

"Do you think we should go and tell the man?" asked Emma.

"Yes, all right. It might not be the boy, but then again it might be, and I would feel terribly guilty if he missed an opportunity to be rescued. Yes, go and find him, Emma." Emma nodded and ran out of the door. She saw Fagin two doors down from her walking away and she chased after him.

"Sir! Wait, sir!" she called, and caught up with him. Face-to-face once again, she took in his haggard appearance this time; Fagin's half-open eyes had dark circles around them and they were red slightly. His bushy red hair was all over the place and his shoulders were slumped. "My father thinks he might have seen the child you told me about." He immediately perked up.

"Where? When?"

"I'm sorry I can't give you much information, sir," she apologised. "He simply said that he saw a boy wearing a blue tailcoat yesterday, but he only saw him for a second." In that instant, Fagin's face fell and his hopes dropped.

"Okay. Well, thank you for tellin' me again," he mumbled, turning to walk away again, his shoulders drooping, and Emma, feeling so sorry for this poor old man and feeling she had to do something, ran after him again and tapped him on the shoulder.

"If it's any help to you, myself and my family will now be on the lookout for this boy," she told him. "And I promise you that if we find him, we will keep him safe here with us until you can take him back home with you again." Fagin looked at her and could tell she genuinely meant what she said.

"Thank you," he said, more sincere this time. "Will it be alright if some of me friends knock everyday 'ere for information?"

"No, not at all," she replied and then pulled the confused man into a hug. "I hope you find him soon," she said, releasing him. He nodded and then walked to the next door, while Emma went in and told her family about helping to look for the boy and that they would be expecting visitors most likely every day from now on. They weren't bothered and praised her for performing a good deed.

Fagin knocked upon the door, wondering but not expecting for the occupant or occupants inside to say "yes, I know where he is." He wished that would happen, but he knew that it was unlikely. But still, they might have seen him.

"Yes?" said the man who opened the door.

"You wouldn't 'ave 'appened to 'ave seen an eleven-year-old boy with brown 'air, brown eyes and is wearin' a blue tailcoat?" he asked politely. He was getting a bit annoyed with continuously asking all these individuals. He felt like screaming it to the world; "AS ANYONE SEEN A BOY WEARIN' A BLUE TAILCOAT, WITH BROWN 'AIR AND BROWN EYES?!" Just like the woman before him, the man paused and pondered.

"No, I'm afraid not."

"Oh, okay. It's just that 'e's been kidnapped."

"Really? How long ago?"

"Three days ago." The man looked at him for a while, obviously thinking.

"Have youtried contacting the newspapers?" he asked eventually and Fagin was admittedly stumped for a moment.

"Newspapers?" he asked blankly. "Uh-" but he was cut off.

"Yes. You can tell them, and then they will print the story so that more people will know about it. They can print a picture or a sketch of the boy, and that would help, as more people would be aware." Fagin was silent. It made sense; if more people knew about Dodger, the quicker and easier he would be recognised. Why didn't he think of this before?

"Thank you. I'll see what I can do," he said to the man.

"Good luck!" he said as Fagin turned his back. Fagin turned and nodded his head in acknowledgement before continuing down the path. Another thought had entered his head now; that it would be bad for Dodger to have any kind of publicity, because he was a pickpocket. If he did tell the newspapers and Dodger was recognised from that, then he would get recognised when he went back out on the game. 'What am I thinkin'?' Fagin thought furiously to himself. 'What does it matter if Dodger becomes too well-known to go back out on the job again? I don't care if the 'ole world watches 'is every move for the rest of 'is life; I just want 'im back.'

Then Fagin found himself genuinely wondering if it would really help splashing Dodger's face all over the papers. What good would it do having the entirety of London knowing his face if he was locked up, as Fagin supposed he would be? And what if Dodger's kidnapper saw the paper and decided it would be too risky to keep the boy alive? Fagin couldn't decide if publicity would do more harm than good. His top priority was Dodger and if publicising the kidnapping meant putting Dodger's life at risk, then he simply wouldn't do it. Just to be sure, he made a mental note to talk it over with Bill, Nancy, Bet and the boys before he made any decisions.

~ X ~

Nancy walked down the unfamiliar street, deciding to first search any places Dodger would be likely to hide in if he managed to escape again. She felt odd in this town; maybe Dodger was closer to home than they thought? But then again, maybe he wasn't.

When was the last time she had seen Dodger? It was about four days before he was kidnapped, so she hadn't seen him for a whole week now. She wished she had spent more time with him and she wondered what he would be like the next time she saw him. Would he be strutting about the warehouse? Would he be lying in a hospital bed the next time she saw him? 'If I ever see 'im again,' she thought but quickly stopped herself; she had to remain positive. What would she do if she found him? What would she do if she found him badly hurt? She hoped that of such a situation did arise and she found the poor boy injured that she would be able to keep it together and stay calm for Dodger's sake. She knew that if she got upset and hysterical, he might as well. She hoped that she would be able to help the boy and had a sudden vision of herself holding his hand and smoothing back his hair. Dodger looked okay in her vision, she randomly noted, making a sharp left turn into an alleyway. As she searched through the bushes and bins, she thought about what kind of injuries Dodger might have. She didn't want to think about it, but she couldn't stop the thoughts from entering her brain. As she had been previously searching with Bet, the two women would chat about Dodger and that was usually enough to keep from thinking about things like this. Nancy wondered if he was hurt badly. She didn't want to think so.

Exiting the alley, she continued to search as she thought about the pickpocket. The way he would always win at poker; every time he won he was just as giddy as the first time. The way he acted older beyond his years. The way he had once snuck into a theatre and had fooled theatre-goers into thinking he was an usher of some sort and they had turned their money over to him. Fagin had been furious when Dodger returned late – until he emptied his pockets. Nancy smiled as she remembered Fagin recounting that story to her.

Nancy thought about the way he would smile when he was praised; he tried to act as if it was no big deal, but she could tell it really pleased him. He had been so... happy, yes that was the right word, the last time she had seen him. He'd had a good day concerning pickpocket victims, and he just seemed to her to be really vibrant and smiley. Would he ever be that way again? Nancy couldn't imagine Dodger being anything but outgoing, confident and well, artful.

~ X ~

It seemed sunset came very quickly that day, for Nancy couldn't believe she had been searching for the better part of the day.

"Anything?" she asked hopefully, as she met up with Bill and Bet.

"No, nothing," replied Bet and Bill only shook his head.

"Maybe Fagin or one of the boys found 'im," she muttered, hailing a passing carriage. They would have walked but it was too far and they were too tired. One by one, they clambered in, barely remembering to give the address and the carriage set off. Bill glanced meaningfully at Bet; silently asking her if she had told Nancy about their earlier conversation and she shook her head.

"Nance," Bill cleared his throat and she looked over at him. "Bet and I were talkin' earlier and I'm startin' to think we should call off the search." The look she gave him... he knew this would happen.

"Bill, 'ow can ya say summat like that?" she asked. "'Ow can we stop lookin' for 'im when there's the biggest chance that 'e's still alive?"

"'E won't be alive for long," the man insisted. "I don't want ya to 'ave to deal with seein' 'is body."

"Bill, I appreciate what yer tryna do, but... I love Dodge like 'e's me own and I will never stop searchin' for 'im until 'e's back with Fagin. What if Dodge was our son, eh? What would ya do?"

"First off, I wouldn't be careless enough to get ya pregnant. Second, I would make sure the 'ouse was secure! I mean, what was Fagin thinkin'? Anyone could get through that door!"

"Don't blame this on Fagin," pleaded Bet. "No-one regrets this more than 'e."

"Well, it's 'is fault; that place 'as been standin' for decades; the least 'e coulda done was get a decent lock."

"'E knows that, Bill, an' 'e's been regrettin' it ever since Dodge was taken." Then there was silence for the rest of the journey. When they arrived at Fagin's, both women jumped out of the carriage and ran the few one hundred or so feet to the warehouse whilst Bill muttered a few choice words to the carriage driver, who promptly jerked at the reigns and disappeared.

When they had knocked on the door and had uttered the password, it swung open to reveal Charley.

"I'm guessin' ya don't 'ave 'im," said Nancy, noticing his face.

"I could say the same to you," he answered, stepping aside to let them in. As they entered the main room, they could only stare; it was silent. Everybody was sat down either at the table, squashed up on the two ratty, leather sofas or on the floor, all wearing the same downtrodden expression. Fagin was sat at the head of the table with his head in his hands, Dodger's top hat in front of him. He didn't notice the three entering the room. It sounded silly, but the first thing he wanted to do when he found Dodger was put his hat back on his head.

Bill cleared his throat and Fagin looked up.

"Oh, I'm glad you're 'ere," he said. "I've 'ad an idea, but I wanted to wait until we were all 'ere," he gestured for them to sit and they did so. "First things first, did you find anythin'?" he asked quickly.

"No," Nancy muttered, wondering if she ought to tell him about what Bill had said. She decided not to.

"Okay. Well, I was talkin' to a bloke today and 'e said that I should tell the newspapers so that more people will know. I've thought and thought but I just can't decide whether it would be good or bad. What do ya think?"

"Bad? 'Ow could it be bad?" said Charley, who had made his way over to Fagin. "The more people who know, the sooner 'e'll be found. I say, let's do it!"

"That's what I thought at first, my dear," said Fagin. "But then I thought; what if Dodger is kept locked up? Is it really worth 'avin' 'is picture all over London if 'e never gets out?"

"'E might do, though," insisted Charley, almost overjoyed at the prospect of speeding up this rescue. "'E did before."

"I also thought: what if Dodger's kidnapper sees it and decides that 'e can't keep Dodger alive no more?" The room fell even more silent, if that was possible.

"I don't think we should tell the papers," muttered Charley, and everyone else mumbled their agreements.

"Imagine 'ow poor Dodge is feelin'," said Ace and the atmosphere changed.

"Do ya think 'e knows we're lookin' for 'im?"

"'Course. What else would 'e be thinkin'?" Charley scoffed. Again, the room was silent, the occupants thinking about Dodger and what he might be going through.

"Do ya think 'e's 'urt?" asked one of the younger boys and Fagin looked at him, and then at Charley and Ace.

"Well," Ace began slowly. "Me and Charley was askin' about Dodge yesterday and some bloke said 'e'd seen 'im, so we went in the direction 'e said and came to an 'ouse that we'd looked in the day before." He was cut off by the chatter of the other boys.

"'E'd escaped?"

"'E was at the market? We could've 'ad 'im!"

"So we went back to the 'ouse," Ace raised his voice and the hubbub died down. "But it was empty and there was blood spatters on the floor and the people next door said they 'eard 'im screamin'." The chatter immediately started up again, this time enraged.

"Didn't they do anythin' about it?"

"No," said Charley. "Apparently, there was 'nothin' they could do,'" he again mocked the woman, anger blazing in his eyes. If it weren't for the incompetence of that couple, Dodger could be here with them right now!

"What?" With the exception of Bill, every person in the room was outraged, including Fagin, Nancy and Bet, who had heard it all before. Once again, the chatter descended into silence.

"I can't believe I've never thought of it before!" gasped Bet, sitting up straight, suddenly. Everyone stared at her.


"What is it?"

"Tell us!"

"Well, I remember readin', a long time ago mind you, about children who are kidnapped and are sold into slavery and rich families," she said.

"You don't think -?" Fagin didn't finish his sentence. "It's impossible," he suddenly declared. "Otherwise..." again, he didn't finish.

"You think that's why Dodge was taken?" Nancy asked her friend.

"Just as a possibility," she answered. "Sometimes – I read this as well – there are couples who just want a child and they pay people to kidnap children for them."

"Well, that didn't 'appen," said Ace loudly. "Well, think about it," he continued when everyone stared at him. "If they just wanted a child, why would they beat 'im?"

"Ace is right," said Fagin. "But that's really interestin' information you've given us, Bet. I think that, starting tomorrow, we should start knockin' on doors and ask if they've taken on any child labourers."

It's finished! I hope you enjoyed this one. I'm hoping to get the next chapter up quicker, but as you're reading this, I've been cast as Dolly in our college production of "Anna Karenina."

Changing subject, I still like my reviews, lol!