Atlanta Hyde moved swiftly down the crowded streets of London, weaving in and out of the shadows with expertise and finesse. She adjusted her hood and arrived to her destination, a black mask hiding her face from the world.
Winter had graced London with its presence, and the thick blankets of snow had clung onto every surface. Flakes of snow had already found its way to her cloak. White specks littered on the black fabric.
“Mr. Pierce, I trust that you have what I asked for?”
A man walked hesitantly behind her, wringing his hands. His raspy, but usually haughty and snobbish voice shook with nearly every syllable, fearful and anxious.
Lord Casper Abbot was a short man, his unruly brown hair was streaked with thin wisps of white and fell to his shoulders in a tangled mess. His suit was in a similar state, wrinkled and torn at the edges. Atlanta had always thought it was a wonder that he ever had ladies looking his way, it was men like him that demonstrated how women craved men for money and nothing else.
He had requested a favor a few days ago, Atlanta remembered his small note sitting on her desk. She and Lord Abbot had corresponded a few times, and he was naive enough to not question the amount that he was to pay her.
Atlanta smirked but didn’t bother turning around. She nodded, “Abbot, I never thought you would come.” She said teasingly. She disguised it with a rough huskiness that used to be quite uncomfortable, but now was just another part of her range.
Her clothing had consisted of a white polo shirt, and a black tailcoat. Her long wavy black hair was tucked away, her green eyes were looking straight ahead. Her expression blank. In her gloved hand was a firmly gripped cane. She smoothed her hand over the wood at the handle and tossed Lord Abbot a small, worn out notebook. It had clearly been with it’s owner for quite some time. Through thick and thin.
They were silent for a few moments. The only sound was the quiet flipping of paper as Lord Casper read page by page in awe. Soon, the book was snapped shut.
The closed book was tucked neatly away in the Lord’s chest pocket. He straightened his battered tie and cleared his throat. “How did you do it?” He asked, his voice wavering.
Atlanta adjusted her gloves lazily. “You can trust that I left no trail, Abbot.” She fought the urge to laugh at the dumbfounded man in front of her. “No one will know that you had me take your whore’s journal.”
“She is a Lady! The wife of Marquess Gibson!” Lord Abbot gasped, appalled and shocked; clearly not used to being spoken to that way. “Have some respect!”
Atlanta scoffed lightly, her lips twisted into a cold smile that didn’t reach her menacing green eyes. “Then all the more you should hope that no one finds out about your affair with her.”
Lord Abbot paled. “You would do good in not speaking about this to anyone!” He hissed, “I can be a very dangerous enemy to make.”
His body suggested otherwise; Atlanta took one look at his shaking legs and the sweat beading on his forehead and raised an eyebrow.
Atlanta took two slow, deliberate steps towards the poor excuse of a man. With one subtle movement, she made sure the hard material of her cane bumped against his terrified body threateningly. He wiped his brow hastily, doing his best to keep his image and gulped.
“Really? I can’t tell. I wonder why.”
What came out of his mouth was strained and was a collection of syllables and the beginnings of words that he never finished.
She dismissed the matter with a wave of her hand. “Don’t worry Lord Abbot, you’ll be fine as long as you’ve completed your end of the deal.”
He nodded furiously and handed her a few bags of gold coins, he looked at them as if they were his salvation. His chance at escaping the hellhole he had dug himself.
“I thank you for your service. These were collected from my vault in secret, If I may-”
“No you may not.” Atlanta shot him a cold glare to make him shut up. “But you may leave, before I decide to gut you.”
Atlanta stepped into the carriage, the roads wet and the snow browned with dirt. It clung onto her boots stubbornly wetting the leather as it melted slowly.
“Where to sir?” The driver asked politely as Atlanta handed him a few coins, they jingled in his pocket as he dropped them in one by one smiling to himself.
“The Hyde estate.”
“You going off to woo one of them rich girls are you? This late?” The scent of the driver’s cigar reached her nose, the smoky scent laced with desperation and boredom. She even sensed a little envy.
Atlanta shook her head wordlessly as she looked anywhere but the driver.
London was bustling with crowds of people of all sorts. The small hands of thieves weaving in and out of the crisp ironed pockets of their unsuspecting victims, who in turn had their noses facing the grey sky, sneering as if looking down at the ground they trampled on was below them and their faux and meaningless titles.
Ladies wearing artificial smiles fanned themselves profusely as they ground their dainty heels in each others feet, scrambling for the attention of a young man immersed in flexing his accomplishments and money to anyone and everyone who would listen. The so called ladies’ perfume reeked of desperation and false hope. Rouge tainted their cheeks and lips, bustles and corsets tightened and fitted until they were like a second skin. Each aspect of their appearance was catered to society’s narrow-minded mold of perfection.
“I hear they’re the richest there is in good ol’ England. You be having some competition.” The driver stopped to take another puff of his cigar, the smoke danced and twirled in the air. “Pity the brother isn’t a girl too. Then you’d be having more of a chance eh?”
“Yes well, I’m sure they’re lovely,” she didn’t bother trying to tell the driver he was wrong .
“You’re a pretty lad,” the driver continued, his breath stained with smoke. “I’m sure they’ll take a liking to you boy, so long as you got money that is.”
Atlanta nodded, her grip on her cane tightening. She sat on the plush seat, not allowing her back to touch it in any way as she looked out at the city before her.
The carriage came to a halt, the driver cursed as a frenzy of horses and carriages filled with men and women blocked his way.
“Father,” Atlanta spotted a family walking a few meters away. A little girl of about 8 years tugged on her father’s cuff, her dress frilly and embroidered with lace and childhood innocence. Her hair tied with delicate pieces of pink ribbon.
Her mother sighed as she took her hand in hers. Gently, the mother said, “Dearest, you father hasn’t the time. How about you tell me instead.”
“Perhaps if she were a son,” The father said quietly but harshly, looking at his wife with disgust and hate. “Maybe i’d have the time for the both of you.”
“Phillip please,” His wife looked back at him with sad, pleading eyes, “Don’t be like this, not in front of Eva.”
He narrowed his eyes at her and said stonily before looking away, “You disappointed me Lottie.”
Her eyes filled with tears that she blinked away, her child looked up confused at her.
“How inadequate of me.” She said quietly, before turning back to her 8 year old child.
“Mother,” The little girl looked up hopefully, “Does father have the time now?”
“Hush my dearest,” She smoothed over the wrinkles of her dress with her head down, “Let’s not talk further of this.”
Atlanta watched as the broken family unit of three entered the dress shop, as the father looked intently at the seamstress, his eyes roaming to where they shouldn’t be. All the while his wife turned away, refusing to acknowledge her husband’s infidelity and cruelness, ruthlessly choking back feelings of disappointment and anger along with her tears.
“What do you got in those bags?”
Her head snapped up suddenly, her gaze torn from her surroundings.
“You talk too much,” She narrowed her eyes, annoyed and irritated by the driver and the scene that had unfolded right before her eyes. “What do you want?”
The driver nervously laughed, “I’m just trying to make conversation.”
“Don’t, I pay you to drive, not to babble about things you shouldn’t.”
He shook his head, “I am sorry if I offended you in any way lad, I just-”
“-will not pry, if you know what’s good for you. I know.” She interrupted the now silent driver and smirked, “I know.”
Atlanta entered her house tired and annoyed. Still in men’s clothes, not bothering to change since there were barely any servants in the house and those who were employed by the Hyde’s were trusted and knew better than to question their masters.
“Atlanta!” Her mother rushed up to her and crushed her with a dramatic embrace. “You’re alive!”
She sighed and took her mother’s worried hands into hers, “Of course I am.”
Vanessa Hyde narrowed her eyes colored like the sky, “Don’t talk to me like that young lady. I’ve already allowed you to go off making money turning London society upside down.” She brushed stray blonde curls out of her face, annoyed.
“I was taught by the best.”
A moment of silence passed between the two.
“Well.” Her mother chuckled, “Your father always knew how to shake society up.”
Atlanta smiled and slipped out of her tailcoat.
Vanessa Hyde smiled, “There’s a ball at the Averell’s estate, their son has recently come home from expanding his business and visiting all its branches in Europe.”
“Alright, anything else?”
Her mother sighed, “Use this opportunity however you want, but you’re coming with us.”
Esmeralda Hyde appeared at the top of the stairs, her posture stiff and regal. “Mother, we need to go pick up the dresses for tonight.”
Her younger sister didn’t seem to look like her older sister. Atlanta took after her father’s black hair, green eyes and fairly muscular frame; Esmeralda was like her mother, thinner but voluptuous with blue eyes and dirty blonde hair.
She glanced at Atlanta for a split second in disgust, she had never liked the idea of Atlanta cross-dressing, and was sure to voice her opinions. She adjusted the skirts on her silk gown before returning to her previous state of pretending that she was the eldest sister.
Vanessa Hyde sighed, turning back to Atlanta once more”I assume you’re not going to be in a dress tonight?”
Atlanta smirked and nodded, “Have fun ladies.”