"Ver, don't." Shax put a hand on his companion's arm just in time to prevent the snowball's launch at the carolers. It probably had a piece of cobblestone at the center, knowing Verin. "We're being inconspicuous today."
Verin snorted steam and shook him off. "But it's fucking obnoxious. What the hell are we doing here, anyway? I hate Christmas. I hate humans at Christmas. And London's too damn cold. Let's go to India."
"I like London this time of year." Shax tipped his hat to a passing pair of matronly women, localized concealment charm firmly in place so his horns didn't show. They were dressed as gentlemen that evening, walking sticks, top hats and all. "The humans are less guarded. In a more generous mood. They tend to drink too much, go out to parties and luncheons more. Makes them easier marks."
"Whatever," Verin grumbled, then laughed when Shax showed him the three pocket watches he'd already acquired. "Yeah, fine. But I want a pint someplace warm in the next few damn minutes or important parts are gonna start freezing off."
"Soon, soon, we're headed in that direction."
"We've passed three pubs."
"Ver." Shax put a hand to his heart and gave Verin a look of feigned shock. "A gentleman can't simply walk into just any pub."
Verin grumbled several ungentlemanly things and followed up with some anatomically questionable suggestions until a pack of street urchins surrounded them, clamoring for whatever the good gentlemen could spare. Shax handed out pennies with an indulgent smile, which slipped not a hair when the pack ran off and he seized the hindmost.
"Give it back, my dear," he demanded softly with a firm hold on the boy's arm.
All wide-eyed innocence, the boy dared to answer with, "What's that, sir?"
"The watch." Shax snapped his fingers and held up his hand until the boy pulled the watch out of his too-thin jacket.
He placed it in Shax's palm with ill-conceived grace and sullen fear. "Didn't mean nuffin', honest, guv."
"I'm not offended by the theft. I'm offended by your technique." Shax tsked. "A much lighter touch. A more subtle approach than simply smacking into your target, er, patron." He turned the boy so they were walking side-by-side and slipped the watch into the boy's outer pocket. "Here, mark how it's done. Nothing at all to see. My man is on your right, mind. Don't trod on his feet. And there we are."
The boy gave him a sidelong glance. "You didn't do nuffin', sir."
With a bright grin, Shax held the watch out by its chain, altogether too pleased when the boy's eyes widened. "Like that, my dear. Here, you keep that one. I'll have several before the night's done."
The street urchin gave him a shy grin, snatched the watch as if Shax would change his mind, and pelted off after his peers.
"Should've beat his ass," Verin growled. "Cheeky little bastard."
"I am, after all, the patron demon prince of thieves." Shax allowed himself a little swagger, swinging his walking stick. "Can't let a teaching moment like that pass by."
They hadn't even reached the next cross street before they encountered the urchin mob a second time, this time begging for pennies from what appeared to be a harmless, if grouchy, old man. He had appeared ancient, at least, until he straightened from his hunch and began laying about with his cane, striking the beggars indiscriminately and shouting about taking hard-earned money they didn't deserve.
One of the boys dared to call out, "But it's Christmas, sir!"
"Christmas! Bah! Just an excuse for the indigent and shiftless to pick their betters' pockets. Be off with you, the lot of you!" the man bellowed at them, huffing and muttering as they scattered.
He was old. Shax could see that, but his wizened soul had aged him far beyond his actual years. Normally, Shax would have been amused at the horrid old miser. Normally. If he hadn't begun to think of those street urchins as his.
"Don't like that look, Shaxy." Now Verin was giving him side-glances.
"Change of plans." Shax nodded toward the old codger, who had now returned to shuffling down the street. "We're following him home."
Verin cracked his knuckles. "So I can pummel him and ransack his house? Good plan."
"Not precisely, no. We'll follow him, see where he lives, then go back to our house."
"Wha—? How's that help anything?"
Shax patted Verin's arm. "A little faith, please. I need to go back to the town house to summon some spirits and give them instructions. Then we'll go back to the old miser's place to watch the fun and do some incidental ransacking while we're there."
"Fine." Verin nodded and strode off after the soon-to-be-unfortunate human. "That does sound fun. Sometimes you even have good ideas, Shaxy."
"Oh, this is a good one." Shax bared his teeth in an evil smile. "This is the stuff humans write stories about and tell each other for years and years."
Snow began to drift down, fleeting ghosts in the streetlamps echoing the ghosts yet to come.