MonkeesSpirit in answer to your first question Dodger is around 15 in this story and to you second question, well here's the next chapter!

Chapter 27

Alice was lying on the sofa, a book spewed out in front of her. Not that she could concentrate on it. The confusion of thoughts clouded her ability to focus. She finally let her mind wander and snapped shut the book. It was no use even trying.

She heard the bang of the door and the distinct sound of her Uncle padding towards the living room. Oliver must have heard him to for he came hurrying into room, beating his uncle by seconds. He quickly found a seat on the sofa as Alice propped herself up with a cushion. They both looked up hopefully at their great uncle as he entered the room.

Mr Brownlow had his hat in his hand, his forlorn expression directed at the floor.

"I'm sorry, Alice. I tried my best but I'm afraid without any evidence there was no way I could persuade the judge that it was not Mr Dawkin's doing. He needs hard evidence to prove his innocence or else the judge and the court cannot be inclined to believe it the truth. If only we had something a name, an object, a witness, something that would give us a better chance at proving it, there might have been a different outcome."

Alice went rigid; she held a wide eyed stare with her uncle. This couldn't be the end. She couldn't give up that easily. Mr Brownlow had tried, he had done as much as he felt he could to give this appending tragedy a happier ending and Alice was eternally grateful for that. But that couldn't be it. So they had tried once, they could try again. She just had to think harder, that was all. She had to put everything she knew into this situation and determine what had happened.

"Max." she muttered, instinctively a clear new thought had entered her focused mind.

"Who?" Oliver queried, surprised and confused that he didn't recognise the name. He had naively thought he knew exactly the same people as his sister did.

"I reckon Max framed Jack, who else would? Uncle, you witnessed it. Remember? That man who threatened me outside the front door? That was him, that was Max. He had already tried to kill me and Jack that day, who's to say he didn't go away and come up with a plan that would cause the downfall of us both, while he got away scot free." Alice spoke quickly, cursing herself for not thinking of it earlier. Of course it had to have been him. It all made sense now.

Mr Brownlow took a few seconds to catch up with what Alice was saying. He did remember that day, it was as clear as glass in his mind. He recalled his unease at the event and his confusion at what presented itself in front of him. The man, Max, had struck Mr Brownlow as being a villain prepared to carry out his foul deed however long it took even if it meant a change of plan. Having witnessed many a trial and court case involving such criminals, Mr Brownlow was convinced at his character deduction, men who had been let down by an accomplice often went to extraordinary lengths to seek revenge on them.

"I do remember, I believe you may be right, but is there any way we could prove our assumptions are in fact correct?" Mr Brownlow concluded ever the logistical one.

"Charlieā€¦Oliver," Alice turned sharply to her brother, who returned her a wide-eyed eager gaze. Finally a name he knew very well.

"Could yer go to the den and bring Charlie back here? Yer'll be much quicker then I would." Alice asked him, suddenly Oliver's expression changed, the thought of going alone to the den and asking such a huge favour from the very boy who had caused him trouble in the past, scared him.

Seeing this change and understanding the nine year old's worries, Alice tried to convince him.

"Please Oliver, you know the way, Charlie might be able to help us save Jack. You do want Jack to be saved don't yer?"

"Of course I want Dodger to be saved!" Oliver retaliated falling for his sister's trap.

"Then yer go for me?" Alice pressed.

Eventually Oliver nodded giving into Alice's pleading deciding that if he wanted to help, he should obediently do as she asked. Pulling him into a big embrace, Alice whispered a thanks in his ear. Enthused by his sister's show of affection, Oliver sucked in his courage and headed out the room.

"Oh, Oliver, don't forget five knocks." Alice reminded him, he gave a short sharp nod in response and carried on out the living room and hastily grabbing his coat and finally out the door.

With Oliver out the room and gone for the foreseeable while, Mr Brownlow chose this moment to learn some more about the situation he had found his niece in.

"Alice, I think now would be an ideal time to explain a few things."

Alice sighed. She knew there would have to be a time when she finally told her great uncle the events that had led up to the current dilemma and she knew it was a good opportunity to do it now. She just was dreading actually saying it. Bringing it all back up for her uncle to judge her wasn't her idea of fun.

"Where do yer want me ter start?" Alice replied knowing that it was pointless trying to get away with it; she owed him an explanation after everything she had put on him.

"How about starting with this Charlie? If he is to help us I think I should know who I am letting into my house." Mr Brownlow stated.

Drawing her breath Alice began to tell her uncle everything about Charlie. In a way she was glad he had asked about Charlie first. He was a straight forward character, quite easy to describe with no complications in his life, which she knew about, to have to try and explain. She could enjoy talking about Charlie, bringing her the extra little confidence she needed to explain and tell the rest of the story afterwards.

Oliver ran as fast as he could into the square. That far he knew was definitely the right way after that he faltered. There were two possible routes from here and he wasn't entirely confident on which one led to the den. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest and his body temperature rising. Panic was setting in.

"Trust your instincts" he told himself, closing his eyes to try and calm himself down. Opening his eyes he let his feet take him left and hoped for the best.

Halfway down the road he began to recognise familiar landmarks, houses, shops that confirmed that his instincts had been right. Relieved he picked up the pace and quickly arrived at the worn out door of the hide-out.

Counting his knocks out loud to make sure he did them all, he waited for it to be answered. It was merely a matter of seconds after the last knock that he heard footsteps descending the stairs to let him in.

"Oliver! You alone are yer?" Was the greeting. Oliver was glad the boy had recognised him, it made it easier.

"I need to see Charlie. Is he in?" Oliver got straight to the point ignoring the boy's query.

"Yeah, sure, he's in." The boy replied letting Oliver enter the narrow stairwell. He had a horrible sense of uneasiness as he walked up in front of the boy. Coming to the den with Alice had been fine, he knew he could trust her to look out for him but now, without her, he suddenly wondered how much he could trust the boys around him. Stuffing his hands in his pockets for reassurance he ploughed on trying to brush aside his worry and concentrate on the task. Once in the room locating Charlie wasn't a problem. He was in the window seat, silently watching the world go by. Oliver boldly strode over to him, bringing Charlie out of the daze he had let himself fall into and not giving him a chance to say a word.

"Charlie, Alice sent me. She needs you to help her; it's to do with Dodger. She thinks there might be a way of saving him." Oliver summarized.

At the mention of Alice's name Charlie was already standing. He quickly grabbed his jacket, donned his hat and declared he was ready to go.

In the street Charlie assumed leader and Oliver ran along behind trying to keep up with him. Despite being months apart in age, Charlie was naturally taller and his stride was much larger then Oliver's making it all the more difficult to keep up. As they reached the square Charlie began to slow down and Oliver managed to catch him up. He let Oliver take over as they neared the 'Posh Street', something about it didn't feel right to Charlie. He was completely out of place, an orphaned lowlife trespassing in the path of the rich and wealthy.

Apart from his self-conscious thoughts, Charlie had never before been this side of the Brownlow residence, with his lack of knowledge on this subject he had been obliged to let Oliver show him the way.

Getting closer to home spurred Oliver on, he sped up down the street, knowing full well Charlie was capable of keeping up and he didn't stop until he had reached the door. Oliver opened the door and stepped through holding it open for Charlie.

Charlie halted. Frozen for a moment as panic set in. He had never been inside an upper class house not without an unlawful reason. He was being invited into this house, the house he had so nearly robbed, the house that contained the very man who had taken Alice away from them all. The house that contained Alice. Such a mix of connections, such a mix of people. It overwhelmingly scared him to enter. What was he supposed to expect?

"Come on, Charlie, Alice'll be waitin'" Oliver encouraged him, realising he wasn't following him in. Charlie felt routed to the spot, he wanted to see Alice, to help if he could but his instincts told him not to enter. Oliver tugged on Charlie's sleeve and he eventually let himself be led in, reminding himself that he was no use to Alice stuck out in the doorway.

Charlie let Oliver lead him into the living room where Alice was waiting for him. He froze again in the doorway. She wasn't alone and the sight of the rich old gentleman that he assumed to be Mr Brownlow brought all the worry he had tried to supress straight back up into the open.

Alice rose at the sight of Charlie, she walked over to him and took both his hands in hers, leading him into the room. Fixing his eyes on her only Charlie began to calm slightly. He knew he would be ok now, despite his fears, Alice's small smile had won him over.

"Thank-you Charlie, I know how much this means." Alice said sincerely doing her best to make sure he knew how grateful she was for his help and how hard it had been for him to set foot in the house.

"Alice, are you ok?" Charlie asked the question slipping out his mouth inconsiderately. He was here to in order to help save his best friend and all he could think about was whether Alice was ok or not. He inwardly cursed himself, being in too politer company to say it out loud.

"I'm fine, Charlie, don't worry about me its Jack we need to worry about, he's the one in danger. Charlie, I think Max might have framed Jack." Alice said passing the comment off and replacing it with the more pressing matter at hand. She led Charlie to the sofa and bade him to sit which he willing did, glad of a means to hide the fact his legs where shaking with nerves.

"Max?" Charlie echoed making sure he had heard right.

"Well, now that the theory is familiar with us all, I think it would be advisable to begin with a little more information on this Max's character, ultimately we need something to connect him to the event therefore wiping clear the name of Mr Dawkins." Mr Brownlow said in a fast pace resulting in Charlie being unable to grasp what was being said. The style and content of Mr Brownlow's speech compared with what Charlie was used to were almost polar opposites. Charlie tried his best to comprehend the words but was failing rapidly. He looked quizzically at Alice, hoping she had a better understanding of it then he had. Luckily for him, Alice was now used to her uncle's posh way of talking and was able to decipher into words Charlie would understand.

"Can you tell us anything about Max which could help us link Max to the murder and not Jack?" Alice simplified.

Giving a nod of comprehension, Charlie casted his mind back to the night in the pub. He was convinced at what he knew but he need to know what they had found out and see if it enlightened the subject.

"When was this man killed?" Charlie asked figuring that if they both had the same date in their information it must be right.

"The 22nd of November." Mr Brownlow answered him, causing Charlie to jump. He had directed his question at Alice, keeping within his comfort zone and preventing him from having to face his fears.

22nd of November now that did match. So that confirmed all what he had learnt.

"What if I told yer, I know the exact happenings of that night and could get yer a witness?" Charlie said with a grin, he just might be able to help.

"Then I would be inclined to believe you would be able to help us." Mr Brownlow answered innocently.

Charlie frowned, turning his expression to Alice; he wondered how Mr Brownlow could have possibly misunderstood him. He felt he had been quite plain with his words. Maybe it was his broad cockney accent that a well-bred gentleman, such as Mr Brownlow was, would seldom hear being used in conversations so intimate, that had caused his confusion. Charlie titled his head at Alice, raising his eyebrows slightly as he sought an explanation.

Alice and Oliver couldn't help but smile at the older gentleman's misconception of Charlie's manner of speaking. To them it was perfectly understandable but having spent time in the lifestyle of the gentry they had both discovered that there were distinct differences in how the gentry spoke to how the poorer classes did. Such like, was being made prevalent by the current situation.

"Go on then, don't leave us all in the lurch!" Alice said giving Charlie the answer he needed.

"Max's new apprentice happens to be another boy from the den, I reckon he was planted on us to be a snitch, I overheard them in the pub about a week ago and Max was praising 'im for gettin' rid of his last apprentice and as that couldn't be me as I'm still here, gathered it was Dodge. Tommy confirmed it all when he asked Max if he knew of any more information on Dodger." Charlie proudly informed them.

"So it is possible to obtain a witness?" Mr Brownlow queried realising that he clearly was misinterpreting Charlie's original comment and trying to fit back into the conversation before it went completely above his head. It felt strange to be the one on the outside of the discussion, not understanding what was being said because of the manner in which it was delivered. He was used to holding the dialogue together and this odd turn of events opened his eyes further into the lives that the poorer classes led, the classes that his great niece and nephew had once belonged to.

"Yes Uncle it is possible to get a witness." Alice replied patronisingly.

Mr Brownlow frowned disapproving with his niece's tone of voice towards him. In a better situation he might have mentioned the fact but as it was he didn't think the situation need another small tiny matter to add to the already stressful and worrying conversation being held at present.

"Will this witness be reliable?" Mr Brownlow enquired unsure how well the criminal society could trusted in such matters, would the witness keep to the truth? Or would he defend his master?

"I think I can persuade him well enough. Tommy's a fickle boy, he'll easily change sides once I've had a word with him." Charlie answered.

Mr Brownlow smiled, he looked gratefully at Charlie and then turned to Alice.

"I think we may have our problem truly solved."

With evidence to present to the judge and a way of bringing the evidence forward they could be very little that could prevent the Judge acquitting Jack or at least prevent anything from happening until the evidence was investigated further. It would buy them more time at the very least. It was enough to keep their hopes alight and as they began to arrange the details, each person started to feel more optimistic of a positive outcome.

When everything was settled and each knew what their part in this operation required, Charlie got up to leave. He didn't really want to spend longer than necessary in the Toffken, as wonderful and grand as it was it just didn't seem altogether right his being there. He still felt guilty about nearly breaking in and robbing the place, even if it was Max's idea, he knew how close they were to committing the offence and it unnerved him to be formally invited into the very house that had been their target.

Alice offered to walk Charlie home, but both Mr Brownlow and Charlie told her to stay indoors. Charlie knew his way once out of the posh street and besides in Alice's condition it was more beneficial she should stay home and rest. Oliver volunteered to see Charlie to the end of the street providing Charlie would see himself the rest of the way. Which he readily agreed to. Shrugging on his now too small jacket and wishing Alice 'goodnight', Charlie let Oliver lead him out of the street.

I Hope to keep the updates more regular from now on and you can hold me to that! Please review!