Jack pressed his lips to the rim of the rough flagon, took a small mouthful and grimaced. He had never thought that a pint of ale could actually be stale, but that was exactly how the beer tasted. It had the hard, sour taste of bread long since become inedible. Something dark floated on top of the cloudy brew and Jack sincerely hoped that it was a head of wheat.
Around him was the low hubbub of tens of voices talking at once. The tavern was dark and musty, smelling like a damp cellar. This was unsurprising considering that they were one floor underground and only separated from the muddy bank of the Thames by a few feet of stone and brick. Black mold clung to the wooden beams holding up the ground floor.
“Are you drinking that, mate?” Someone asked from over Jack’s shoulder.
“You have it.”
He turned and pressed the vile drink into the grimy hands of an elderly man with hops and pieces of bread sticking out of his tangled grey beard. Jack shuddered as the wretched man’s hand touched his. Some people ought to be thrown in the river and given a good cleaning up, he thought.
Every rational part of his mind was pleading with him to leave the tavern. The men who frequented riverside drinking holes were all either vicious or desperate, sometimes both, and the very air was polluting his body.
“But I have to stay.” Jack said.
“What’s that, love?”
A heavy figure pressed itself between Jack and the crowd. He saw a maroon dress almost bursting at the seams where it had been tightly laced over an expansive bosom. A pair of gaudily painted red cheeks wobbled as the woman pressed her pink lips into a wet pout.
“I wasn’t talking to you, I’m sorry.” Jack replied.
“Well, who were you talking to then?”
“Nobody, you shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t be here with these men.”
“Tell me your name, love. Why shouldn’t I be here?”
Jack leaned closer to the woman and a heady waft of perfume stung his nostrils. He whispered in her ear.
“These men are all evil. I’m going to kill them.
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