Plutt was coughing again. A deep, disgusting, guttural sound. He was close to the fire, huddled in the back of the shop, keeping eye on the little ones. The beggar children who came to sort rags, bones, anything else that “Uncle” could move and make a penny for. In return he allowed them to be within the vicinity of his small parlor and meager source of heat, out of the elements and off of the streets. At the end of the day he might toss them a penny or some scraps of food that the children would all fight over.
Rey had once been one of those small beggars, desperate and starving. But she, more so than the others, had proven her worth. She had been leaner, quicker, smarter than the rest. She had fought to the top of the heap and eventually Old Plutt had noticed. Had gone from ignoring her to calling her “Girl” in that rough voice of his. Had given her side jobs, responsibilities.
She was a survivor. And she had the years to prove it. Seventeen, fed, housed, still strong. All of the others she had known back then were long gone. One killed by a horse cart. Most of the girls gone into the skin houses by the time they were twelve. The boys onto hard labor. Or vice. And death. But there was Rey, warm enough, sitting in her only twice patched, burgundy dress, hands tinkering with a watch and fob, at the front of the shop. Plutt said the men were more apt to underestimate her or be beguiled by her. Either way, it helped his profits.
The pawn shop was bursting with wears. Many of which were cleaned, fixed, and maintained by her slim hands. But that particular day, a Thursday, was quiet. Saturdays and Mondays, those were the truly busy days. Anything else could go anyway it pleased. But those particular days the poor were always coming in to hawk their Sunday best after a day of wearing it and, if they could, relieving the shop of it once more at the end of the week after pay day.
Rey herself had three dresses. Something no one else of her acquaintance could boast. All were from the shop, unsold after so long that Uncle was tired of seeing them and told her to just take them. Rey never had to be told to take something twice. Moth holes, stains, torn bodices and hems, those could all be fixed. And she was very good at fixing things.
“Girl!” He hollered from the back, Rey rolled her eyes.
“What?” She yelled in return.
The two, though she worked for him, had since she was a child, even living under his roof in a small, cold, attic room, shared no love. But their situation was mutually beneficial so each party put up with the other.
“Get yer lazy ass down to Maz’s and fetch me a pie and an ale!”
Her lazy ass, she grumbled. She, as always, was the only one doing any fucking work. That miserable oaf. But going to Maz’s meant an escape from the dreary little shop and it’s cold dirty windows. It also meant seeing the old proprietress and maybe scoring some food for herself if she played her cards right.
Rey however, knew better than to be a smartass outloud so as she stood, called, “Yes, Uncle!” Grabbed her worn shawl, tucked a loose strand of hair into her bun, and sashayed out the side door.
It was only three blocks through Jakkutown to that pub in particular. She had to pass six others and a number of street peddlers along the way but no one had pies like Maz. Fresh and full of flavor, the gravy runny but just stiff enough, the crust was even edible unlike some of those other places.
The place was at a cross streets of sorts, where five roads all came together and there was a water pump and some troughs. They were probably meant for horses but the only ones who used them were the poor, for washing up. Underfed waifs, whores, drunks, street beggars. Err but for the grace of God, she thought, walking past said people. Anyone of them could have been her.
Rey was lucky. Not so lucky as some. But she didn’t ever forget her place. Knew she should be thankful to have it. Even if it did involve Unkar Plutt. Until something better came along, she was fine right where she was.
No husband bossing her around. Or worse, shoving her around. Birthing baby after starving, dying baby. At seventeen, she had had a few tumbles but all by her own choosing. She hadn’t had to sell it. Could give it where and when she wanted it. No one was taking it. She may have been able to count each of her ribs, see every bone in her hands, her wrists, but her stomach wasn’t aching. Rey had enough. And she knew it.
She had done well for a nothing. A nobody. Left at the workhouse by parents too sodden in gin to care for her. And perhaps, even for that, she should have been thankful. They didn’t leave her on some street corner or in a freezing rented room to starve.
At five she had fled that place. Had heard rumors about what the master liked to do with the girls just a bit older than her. Had seen their fresh clean clothes, scrubbed faces, but also their hollow sunken eyes, their blood stained drawers, their piss soaked straw pallets. Rey didn’t fully understand what had been done to them then but she knew enough to know she wanted no part in it herself. She wasn’t a fool. And wasn’t wholly innocent to what men liked to do to women, and just as often, to girls. And she wanted none of that for herself.
It hadn’t been long after that she had heard rumors of Unkar. His fire, his pie crusts, bones that needed picked clean. And that was where she had gone. And never left.
Rey knew in other parts of town, places with business men, there was a rush in the afternoon at public houses. At restaurants. Getting a midday meal. But in Jakkutown you ate whenever you had the coin to do so. Which meant all times of the day were both the busiest and the deadest. Much as in the pawn shop.
That particular day, at that particular time, Maz’s was somewhere between crowded and empty. Tables filled with men playing cards, drinking gin. Dirty laborers coming off of a shift at the bar, guzzling ales, as their wives went blind with needlework or washed clothes with bleeding hands, hungrier than even the babes crying at their feet. Women with painted faces, their dresses unlaced so their shifts and stays showed, hanging about just in case someone was in need of servicing. And there was Rey, grinning at the old woman behind the worn wooden counter.
“Ah, there you are, my darling. Its been a few days, hmm?”
“Maz,” Rey smiled, resting her elbows on the surface.
“What can I get that horrible man today?”
“A pie and an ale.”
“Mmhmm,” she hummed, “and?”
Rey laughed, “You know me too well, don’t you Maz?”
“That I do, child.”
“Well, if it’s going on Unkar’s account, perhaps a glass of smallbeer and a second pie?”
The old woman smiled, nearly toothless in her years. “Well, would you look at that, only one pie left,” she dropped the steaming thing into Rey’s hands. “I guess you’ll just have to sit here and wait for the boy to bring the next batch up before you head back to Plutt’s.” And with that she set a brown glass beside the girl and strode off to see to a couple of men further down the way.
Rey dug in immediately, like she always did. It was better to eat like someone was going to snatch the food right out of your hand than to miss out on the feast. Her beer, if you could even call it that, went the same way. It was weak and barely enough to warm her insides but Uncle might notice too many extra charges to his bill when it came due.
Within moments she was sighing, content, licking each of her dirty fingers clean, when someone, a male someone, cleared his throat behind her.
Rey didn’t budge, assuming the man was trying to get Maz’s attention, not her own.
“Ahem, Miss?” A cultured voice began and Rey blinked. It was in fact a very nice voice.
Turning on her stool, hazel eyes took in a rather well dressed gentleman. Not the kind one usually found in Jakkutown unless he was conducting unsavory business.
His tophat was glossy and black. He coat was black. His trousers were black. And his shirt was starch white, not a speck of dirt. Only his cravat had some color to it; a deep deep emerald green. It looked like satin, or some other fabric that Rey longed to run her fingers over. Shining and soft, beautiful.
“Yes?” She replied, trying to avoid rudeness in her tone and not completely managing it.
“I couldn’t help but notice you over here.” She hadn’t seen him when she entered. Rey would have remembered such a man in Maz’s Pub. So where and when had he noticed her?
As she had no ready answer to the statement she simply nodded, acknowledging it.
“I might have a proposition for you,” the man went on, smirking.
It was there that Rey held up a palm, mouth settling into a grimace. “I’m no whore, so if you’re buying, I ain’t selling.”
His lips only lifted further, as though he were delighted. “Now, you see, that was not my question. But on the topic of buying, perhaps I could get you a pint, Miss?”
Miss? Like she was some lady who needed to be spoken to that way. Rey just snorted.
“It’s Rey. Just Rey.”
The man nodded. His trimmed goatee looked so clean, his skin so pale. His deep brown eyes were bright and dancing.
Rey had to admit, she liked his face. She liked his tall cutting figure and when she glanced at them, she liked his large hands.
“I could also offer a second pie? If you like?” Her eyes looked him up and down. What was his game? “You seemed to rather enjoy that first one.”
He had watched her eat?
But still her reply was another snort. “I certainly ain’t selling it for a pie and a pint, Mister”
She cocked a brow.
“Mr. Ren,” he supplied.
Rey nodded, knowing if he had sweet talked her she would have fucked him for free. But part of her was dismayed that he may have seen her as such cheap goods.
“I’m not buying you the pie or the pint in hopes of getting it in your cunt, Rey.”
She was drinking the last dregs of her smallbeer and nearly choked at his words. The way such crass things rolled off his tongue. Sin from those beautiful plush lips of his.
But Rey was wary. She always was, always had been. It was most certainly one of the reasons she was still alive.
“I,” she started, then “Oh,” and shrugged. Wariness or no, she was in Maz’s, she felt safe there, and Rey never turned down free food. So she called, “Hey, Maz! Another pie down here and a pint of your best ale!” Her eyes traveled the gentleman, Mr. Ren, once more, “And a gin for my friend, if you please.”
The old woman gave her a narrow eyed stare but didn’t argue. Instead pulling a pie from the basket and setting to the drinks, all of which were set in front of them in a matter of moments.
Rey grinned around the warm second meal. Her stomach would most definitely be full that night. “Well, thank you kindly, Mr. Ren.” His returning smile was a mixture of warmth and cunning. Both made the girl nervous even as she vigorously stuffed her gob.
Chapter 2: Fetching Mettle
Written on my phone and un-beta’d. All mistakes are my own.
“So,” Rey sighed, once more sucking her fingertips, stomach distended it was so full, as she slugged her ale, “there must be something you want for this charity, Mr. Ren. And now that I’ve eaten, I’d like to know what you had in mind.”
Rey rubbed her stomach, winked, “Or maybe you’re just one of those blokes that likes to watch a woman eat.” She grinned, “I’ve heard of those sorts. And if that’s your game, you can count me in. I’ve always felt that if I were rich, I would be very very fat.”
The man in questions was still smiling that wayward crooked grin at her and some how it made Rey’s stomach churn in an entirely different way than being just too full. Something about his eyes, how they took her. And his dimple. It was like he found her amusing in the best way possible.
People never found Rey amusing. So her interest was piqued.
Finally the man sighed and Rey knew the truth of it was coming. She was quite literally on the edge of her seat.
They had not agreed upon arrangements prior to and the food was already gone, so he could say what he liked, it mattered little. Rey felt safe. Or as safe as she ever did.
“I must admit, I do have something of an ulterior motive, Miss Rey.”
“Rey,” she reminded him scowling, “it’s just Rey.” The workhouse hadn’t bothered to give her a last name. And she certainly wasn’t asking to take Plutt’s. So she was a girl with only one name. And nothing else. Rey didn’t want to forget that fact and she didn’t want anyone else to either. She would rather he didn’t puff her up so that she lost sight of her station in life.
She was born a nothing, lived as a nothing, and, she was certain, would die as a nothing.
The man only quirked his elegant dark brow.
Mr. Ren did, however, indulge her, “Of course, Rey. You see, I am wondering, do you have any experience with photography? With modeling?”
That took her back a step. It was highly unexpected.
“You mean like posing for artists and the like?”
She knew whores that did such work. A man paid for their cunt but didn’t use it. Just sketched it. Or painted it on canvas with oils. Rey thought the whole situation was quite outlandish but who was she to judge when the money was good and the work was even easier than lying on your back. And it didn’t involve a poxed cock plowing your hole.
Her face was befuddled. Rey could feel it.
“Yes!” Mr. Ren’s smile was beatific, wide, like she had just passed some sort of complicated exam. The man did not appear to expect her to be his equal in understanding and education.
“I’ve never done it. But I know some girls who have,” Rey trailed off. Was he looking for her to model for him? For a man like he was she just might be tempted. He seemed the type to give her a glass of gin or the like while she “worked” for him. And it wasn’t whoring. It was art.
“Well, I would like you to pose for me.”
She could have guessed he would say it but when he did it still felt like a slight breeze could have knocked her flat. “Me?” She blinked, adding, perplexed, “I haven’t any tits.” It was an honest statement. She didn’t want to disappoint upon arrival, his sending her packing with even less dignity than she once had. And it was nary any to start with.
But the roguish man’s responding grin was positively feral. “Who said anything about your tits, Sweetheart?”
“Oh,” she replied, taken aback, “it’s just that men don’t come to Jakkutown for models who aren’t going to show their tits.”
“As much as I adore those little bubbies, maybe it’s your back avenue that I want for my work.”
Rey all but choked on her beer, coughing, then gasping. To hear such words from those lips was both thrilling and horrifying.
“So you’re not interested in my cock lane then?”
He was thoughtful for a moment as Rey aggressively swallowed more ale, in disbelief that she was having such a conversation with such a gentleman. Putting down the tankard, she wiped her sloppy wet chin with the sleeve of her dress, glancing back at Mr. Ren in sudden guilt. He would never hire her if he knew just how filthy of a thing she was. Plutt had always been quick to tell her she was disgusting.
But the upward tilt of his lush mouth hadn’t so much as budged.
“You see, Rey, I’m a photographer. And I take pictures for gentlemen. Certain, specific kinds of pictures to be sold in particular shops around town.” She nodded, not entirely following along, and let him continue. “Society ladies in, what some might call, compromising situations?” he raised his voice as though in question but it didn’t sound like one. “Do you follow?”
“I’m not a society lady,” she returned dumbly.
“No,” his smile was oddly indulgent, like she had just said something sweet. “But you see, you’re fine boned like one. Your hair is pretty. And your face is so fresh and young. Innocent.”
No man had ever said anything about Rey was pretty before and she couldn’t stop the ridiculous blush rising up on her cheeks.
“So,” she swallowed, embarrassed by her own girlishness, “you mean you’d be taking pictures of me all fluffed up, in white stockings and frilled knickers...”
“Perhaps a bonnet? Or a pretty hat?” He interjected, unhelpfully.
“Like some toff for fancy gentlemen to look at,” he nodded eagerly, face serious, “while they fetch the mettle, so to speak?”
“My god,” he smirked, “but you are adorable, Rey.”
“Me? Are you sure you mean me? Only no one thinks I’m adorable. Meddling, maybe. Lazy? Sullen, I’ve been called that quite often, Mr. Ren.”
“I work on Sundays,” he told her, quite ignoring her statements, “unless you have elsewhere to be?”
“No,” she shook her head. “I’m not a church goer. And it’s the only day Plutt’s is closed.”
“Perfect,” he nodded. “You’ll need my card,” he handed her a piece of paper, soft like butter, with embossed type on it. His name, Kylo Ren, and his address, in an upscale part of town, printed on the surface. “Come to that address after the eleventh bell on Sunday, ring the door, and ask for me.” She agreed. “I’ll feed you before we start,” he added. “Plan to stay all day. I want to get a lot of work done. And I’ll give you a second meal before you return to your lodgings.”
That was a sweet deal. Rey couldn’t think of a reason to argue with anything he had offered but perhaps the pint had made her bold. “What will you pay me? For the pictures I mean?”
His lips ticked up, eyes crinkling, looking thoughtful, but Rey thought it a farce, put on for her benefit. “I’ll pay you ten shillings,” she gaped at him, “per photograph we take.”
“You’re fucking with me.”
“That’s three times what a common laborer makes. Are you crazy? Just for some pictures of my fanny?” Her gaze narrowed at him. “You’re not going to expect me to knock it when I get there are you?”
It was his turn to look mildly lost, “I’m afraid I don’t know that term.”
She rolled her eyes heavenward and pointed boldly at his trousers. “Get it off. With you. Only cause ten shilling is a lot of money and you said you weren’t aiming for a piece of my cunt.”
“Are you trying to beggar me down, Rey?” Mr. Ren asked, once more amused.
“What,” she gasped, “no! It’s just...”
“I do appreciate you looking out for my purse,” he smirked. And she wanted to smack it right off of his face. Or kiss it.
“Eleven. On Sunday. Don’t be late,” and with that he tipped his fine hat to her and strode from the establishment leaving Rey staring unbelievingly in his wake.
Maz chose that moment to reappear, “Plutt’s pie my dear and you better be moving along before that codger realizes the time.”
That jolted her into action, grabbing the hot crust from the woman and taking a full tankard in hand she shot off of her stool and darted for the door and back into the street.