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WAX CYLINDER SIX

Making After a Would-Be Assassin

   “He’s getting away!” I exclaimed, and before Woolfitt could stop me, I tossed me humbugs into a corner and threw meself toward the curtains at the back o’ the box, almost falling over on the ice. “Come on!”

   I jumbled out into the glaring lights and garish carpet o’ the theatre gallery, empty save for a couple o’ startled ushers waiting by the doors to the circle. Woolfitt were at me heels, although as he hastened onto the carpet behind me his shoes being so slippery meant he sailed off right past and toward the balcony with a cry. I tried to snatch out an arm to save him, except luckily he lost most o’ his momentum as he slapped his hands on the marble balustrade, nearly teetering over the brink just like the other night while trying to fend off the ghost-chicken.

   “That was close,” he breathed.

   “Crikey blimey, Woolfitt, you alright?” I said.

   But Woolfitt gave no answer. Instead he rocked back on his heels and pointed down onto the stairs. “I see him!” he shouted. “There, Nimble! The blighter is ahead of us!”

   Below us, racing down the steps, were the assassin with a black cloak fluttering out behing him, his features disguised by the black mask and an old-fashioned tricorn. He were spritely fella too, flinging hisself over the edge o’ the balustrade before he reached the bottom to cut off the corner, his rifle still propped on his shoulder.

   “Lummy, he’s quick!” I gasped, but this didn’t stop me giving chase, heading at once toward the top o’ stairs and then down, taking them two or three at a time with Woolfitt trying to follow.

   “Wait for me, Nimble!” Woolfitt puffed. He were like a giraffe on ice skates as he came clattering down the stairs after me, clinging to the balustrade desperate-like.

   “But he’ll get away!”

   I couldn’t afford to hang on for Woolfitt to catch up, so I continued on me way without waiting, watching as the would-be assassin streaked into the entrance lobby and shouldered his way past a couple o’ audience members who had exited the stalls early and were loitering by the doors.

   “I say! Steady on there, old boy!” and old fella exclaimed, his top hat knocked off his head, but the assassin had no intention o’ stopping and were soon out into the streets.

   I launched meself down the last few steps and crossed the lobby at a sprint, flinging meself past the same old couple and buffetting the poor old fella’s Mrs as I went. She gave a shriek, and the fella tried to make a grab for me with another oath, but I offered a, “Sorry, Captain!” as I wriggled past, and were soon crashing into the doors and staggering into the freezing London streets.

   The city were still busy even at the late hour. Carriages was choking the road, and for a moment I stood helpless and confused, looking this way and that. Amongst all the chaos I couldn’t make out where the assassin had got to and felt sure I had already lost him. But then, down a narrow alleyway I saw the retreating flurry o’ a black cloak and I knew at once I had him again, enough to start off at a fast run again, losing me sailor’s hat as I weaved into the traffic.

   A horse reared and a driver gave a cry and a curse, trying to thrash at me with his whip as I were almost run over by a passing growler. No time to stop, though. Or apologise for that matter, as I dodged another passing carriage and managed somehow to get to the opposite pavement with a quick glance back to the theatre.

   By this time Woolfitt had managed to find his way onto the street and having a rough time o’ it n’ all, as the woman I had jostled past was slapping at him with her handbag while he tried to remain upright. Not that I could go back and help or explain. Instead I turned about and back to the alleyway, spying the would-be assassin disappear around a corner. So I gave chase once more, ignoring me burning lungs as I met the rain-slicked cobbles and dashed after that retreating shadow what was even now sliding out o’ sight. O’ course, I hadn’t any firm idea what I might do with the bounder should I catch hold o’ him. I were armed only with me trusty catapult, and he with a rifle, so there were no guessing who had the upper hand. Even so, I carried on, perhaps in the hope that Woolfitt were close behind me and together we might corner De Launcey’s attacker and somehow bring him to justice.

   The corner loomed. Gasping for breath, I slowed as I approached it, sneaking a peek around and into the passageway lit only by bars of sallow yellow light from windows above. I could hear the echoing slap o’ retreating footsteps, and briefly saw a giant o’ a shadow swell against one o’ the brick walls, but once again it were gone and out o’ sight and I were forced to keep up me pace, rounding the corner and on until a bright flash blazed out the darkness, a puff o’ brick dust exploded near me head. I were forced to throw meself onto the ground. The blighter had shot at me! And there followed another! This time whining past to me left ear, close enough for me to throw me head down before the echoing tattoo of diminishing footsteps continued and faded from hearing altogether.

   I struggled to me feet. I were sweating like a hot onion, and I knew in that moment that the hunt were over. The assassin had escaped and disappeared into the night, and prolly just as well. It wouldn’t do no-one any good if I ended up dead. So I decided to leave off the pursuit and just as Woolfitt came slipping and sliding around the corner, swooping to a halt behind me.

   “Gods bones, Nimble! Are you alright?” His arms were outstretched as if he were about to take off like a bird. “Where in blazes has the dastard gone? Has he made off?”

   I pulled off me yellow wig, what were making me sweat even more, and nodded, managing to find me voice eventual-like. “He were too quick, Woolfitt,” I gasped. “I couldn’t keep up with him. And he had that rifle too which put things firmly in his favour.”

   “You were a fool to chase after him,” Woolfitt said, managing to steady himself at last. “A brave fool, but a fool none-the-less. You could have been killed.”

   “Aye, I suppose you’re right. But instinct overtook me, Woolfitt. That coward would’ve blowed poor De Launcey’s head clean off given half a chance. Good job I spotted him.”

   “Indeed. It would have been an ignominious end to a great man.”

   “But why were someone trying to snuff him d’ye suppose?” I asked. “Whatever could’ve prompted such an act?

   “Well, that I cannot say, Nimble,” Woolfitt admitted. “But we should head back to The Playhouse forthwith. Doubtless the manager would have called on the police and we are material witnesses to unfolding events. I daresay our testimony will be invaluable.”

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