Authors: Cora Harrison
Cora Harrison is the author of many successful books for children and adults, including the
series set in Ireland. She lives on a small
farm in the west of Ireland with her husband George, her German Shepherd dog called Oscar and a very small white cat called Polly.
First published in Great Britain in 2010
by Piccadilly Press Ltd,
5 Castle Road, London NW1 8PR
Text copyright © Cora Harrison, 2010
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by
any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording
or otherwise,without the prior permission of the copyright owner.
The right of Cora Harrison to be identified as Author of this work
has been asserted by her in accordance with the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
ISBN: 978 1 84812 064 8 (paperback)
eISBN: 978 1 84812 177 5
3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
Printed in the UK by CPI Bookmarque, Croydon, CR0 4TD
Cover design by Patrick Knowles
Cover illustration by Chris King
Cultural adviser: Jaspal S Grewal
For Noah, Peter, Abe, Alexander, Joel
and Reuben, grandsons of my very dear friends,
Patricia and Doug Hawkes.
Special thanks go to Peter who read and
commented on an early draft.
It was a foggy evening in late November. The gas lamps shone like misty balls of light and the horses slipped on the wet streets. Well-dressed Londoners wrapped mufflers over
noses and mouths as they rushed home to supper in their warm houses. And four ragged boys, followed by a large dog, emerged from a filthy cellar below the pavement.
The plan had been made . . .
* * *
Alfie grinned and the tight knot of fear in his stomach relaxed – Mutsy always made him laugh. His brother Sammy had just hit the high note of the song and the big, hairy dog joined in
immediately, sitting on his back legs with his two front paws in the begging position, his nose lifted towards the sky and howling like a high-pitched fiddle. A crowd was beginning to gather
– it always did when Sammy and Mutsy sang.
On this dark and murky evening, Alfie was relying on dog and boy being the focus of all attention. He had set everything up very carefully. Sammy, with Mutsy beside him, was standing on the
corner just outside the Covent Garden Theatre, while Alfie himself was about a hundred yards away. Jack and Tom, their two cousins, were also in place.
‘He’s blind, poor little boy,’ said a woman’s voice, and Alfie heard the chink of pennies into the tin plate at Sammy’s feet. Now was the moment to put his plan
into action. The shoppers were gathered around Sammy and Mutsy; nobody would be looking at Alfie.
And then he had a piece of good luck – there was a loud pop and a hissing sound, and a smell of gas floated down on the fog. One of the gas lamps had gone out. Great! Slowly and quietly,
Alfie moved until he was underneath that lamp-post. This would be a good place to lurk unseen. The lamplighter had already shouldered his ladder and gone home, so the corner between Bow Street and
Russell Street would now stay dark till morning.
Alfie’s stomach was already empty, but it tightened even more with tension. This was his plan and he was the gang leader. It had to succeed. He licked his lips as he glanced around. Jack,
his twelve-year-old cousin, was in his place, across the road, just ready to grab the horse’s head. Eleven-year-old Tom, Jack’s brother, was almost invisible, lurking in the shadowed
doorway of a watchmaker. He would have his peashooter ready. Alfie could rely on him. Tom and Jack both had steady nerves and Tom never missed a shot.
Now! The moment they were waiting for! The horse-drawn van turned from Russell Street into Bow Street and a mouth-watering smell of newly baked bread floated above the sour, coal-smoke stench of
the fog. Alfie braced himself. He saw the horse rear and kick – Tom had done his task with the peashooter. Alfie didn’t even look towards Jack – his cousin could always handle
horses. Instantly he dashed to the back of the van.
It was all working. He could hear Jack’s voice shouting, ‘It’s all right, Mister, I’ve a hold of him.’ Now Alfie had his hand in the back of the van. The loaf was
so soft and warm he could almost taste it. Tom was coming towards him. Between them, with luck, they would be able to snatch enough bread to last them for the next few days. No alarm was shouted;
the crowd continued to listen as Sammy broke into his comic song, ‘The Catsmeat Man’.
Suddenly Alfie felt an arm around his neck, throttling him. He dropped the loaf and wheeled around to see a navy-blue uniform with the number twenty-two on the collar.
A gruff voice said, ‘You come along with me, lad.’
The cops had nabbed him.