No doubt they made a curious pair to any onlooker: the somber physician and the gregarious bootblack. Davy Butler had spied him the moment he left the clinic and now tagged along at his side, whistling a tune. As usual, the boy’s face begged for soap and water.
“How’s your leg this evening?” Alastair asked, noting Davy wasn’t limping as much as usual.
“Right as rain,” the lad chirped.
Alastair delivered a skeptical look. Davy would say anything to mollify him; it was the child’s nature. His mind skipped back to their first meeting––the twist of fate that had cost Alastair his future in Mayfair––Davy lying in the rain-soaked street, his right leg bent at an impossible angle while a carriage driver bellowed a torrent of abuse. Fighting back tears, the boy had insisted he couldn’t be hurt, that he had to work to feed his mum.
Monday, 24 September, 1888
Pressing the coins into the hansom driver’s rough hand, Alastair shook his head at the question. “No, you do not need to wait.”
“As you wish, sir,” the jarvey replied, touching his battered cap in respect. He jiggled the reins, and the cab clattered down the street. Alastair watched it turn the corner as he dropped the remaining coins into his pocket. He regretted spending the money, but he’d run late at the hospital, forcing him to secure a ride to Marylebone. Flipping open his pocket watch revealed it was three minutes until five. He would be on time.
August, 79 A.D.
The sky was falling.
Pumice stones rained in a dissonant curtain, shattering roof tiles and clattering in the courtyards. An amphora near Jacynda Lassiter’s feet exploded. Crimson wine splashed her pure-white stola, cascading onto the ornate tiles. She braced herself in the doorway as an earth tremor rocked the walls of the villa, her eyes flooding from the scorching stench of sulfur.
Cynda wiped away tears with the back of her hand. “Alfred Bartlesby?”
The academic didn’t acknowledge her, his pale, bald head bent over a table illuminated by the anemic light of a half-dozen oil lamps. He huddled over a mound of papyrus scrolls, seemingly oblivious to Vesuvius’ rage.
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