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The Crystal Palace-Part 3

The constable charged at Little Albert like a raging bull. Behind him the fat man waddled, his meaty legs laboring.

Although his assailants were grown men, Little Albert knew he could outrun the oafs. Especially the fat man who probably considered shoveling food into his face an exercise.

The young boy whirled around, but he clashed into someone. Little Albert was knocked to the floor by the impact of the collision. He looked up, ready to spew out a string of profanity enriched by his cockney accent. Surprise stopped him from doing so, for the face he peered up at was one he never expected to see again.

“Mr. Layton?” asked Little Albert.

“Albert? Little Albert!” shouted the man he collided into.

Bloody ‘ell! What is ‘e doin’ ‘ere? thought Little Albert.

The constable was on top of the young boy in no time. He dug his fingernails into the boy and heaved him upwards. Little Albert, too shocked to put up a fight, only yelped in pain.

“It’s about time I caught you,” growled the constable, clearly frustrated that a boy had outrun him.

The fat man came over. “Thief! Where is my money?” he shouted, whacking Little Albert’s cheek with a resounding slap.

Mr. Layton stepped between him and the fat man. “Do not slap the poor boy!”

The fat man narrowed his eyes. “And who are you?”

Throwing a glance over his shoulder at Little Albert, warning him to keep his mouth shut, Mr. Layton said, “I am his father.”

Little Albert harrumphed. He chanted in his head, Liar! Liar! Liar!

“His father?” repeated the constable, his hold on the boy slackening.

The constable studied Mr. Layton, disbelief glazing his eyes. Little Albert knew what he was thinking. That this neatly dressed bourgeois could not be the sire of this boy, who was clad in rags.

“Yes. His father. What has my boy done to deserve such treatment?”

“He stole my coin! I want it returned immediately, and I want this marauder thrown into a cell!” exclaimed the fat man, his spittle spewing all over the place.

Mr. Layton pursed his lips. “Is that necessary? Let the boy return your belongings, and I shall execute his punishment.”

The fat man chortled. “With the way this young boy acts, I doubt your punishment would be more than a stern lecture that ends in a hug.”

“I will give the boy a good thrashing,” promised Mr. Layton.

“Your pledge is as useful as a blind laborer.”

Mr. Layton ignored the fat man’s objections. Turning to Little Albert, he ordered, “Return the man’s money.”

Little Albert glowered at Mr. Layton as he crammed his hand into his pocket. His fingers wrapped around the satchel, but he did not immediately pull it out. Feeling the weight of the coin, he let out a groan. That money would have been able to take care of him for at least a few months! Hell, he could have lived indulged in a bit of decadence. He might have bought new clothes to replace his soiled rags, rented a room in Cheapside so he could lay in a bed again, and buy a few pasties for his irrepressible sweet tooth.

Mr. Layton whacked him in the back of the head, partially to make Little Albert return the satchel and partially to prove to the fat man that the boy would be beaten.

Bloody, bloody, bloody bastard!

Little Albert pulled out the satchel. The fat man extended a demanding hand. The young boy grudgingly returned the stolen goods.

Looking at Mr. Layton, the fat man asked, “You do promise to beat the imp?”

“Yes.”

The fat man glared over at Little Albert. With a quick sniff, he said, “Well, I leave him in your hands.”

The fat man waddled off to the Indian exhibit, not bothering to look back. The constable lingered, still not believing that Little Albert was Mr. Layton’s son. In the end, he said nothing after he decided the matter was not worth his time.

When the men were gone, Little Albert turned on his savior. “Ye are no’ me father!”

With a chuckle, Mr. Layton grabbed the young boy by the scruff of the collar. He ushered Little Albert towards the printing press, which had dozens of admirers ogling over it with fascination.

“Thank God you are not my son! It was bad enough when you worked for me.”

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