The man that built the black markets of the Crown City.
Many years ago a merchant devised a plan to create a system of tunnels beneath the crown city. The plan was proposed as not only being a solution to the management of the city waste, but a solution to the overcrowding of the streets. A man known as Theodore Ketchner, although many suspect that was not his real name, approached several merchants in the Crown City with what seemed like a solid plan to build an under-street rail system.
Ketchner had created a series of maps of the city that showed how, by the construction of tunnels under select streets, a rail system could be put into use that would allow for the movement of cargo, even night soil bins, through the city without any of it being seen by the people going about their daily lives on the streets. The city, he promised, would become a pristine parkland where every street, even the dankest of back alleyways, could be as lovely as the palace gardens.
It was a wonderful dream of beauty that was expertly presented by a man that had an undeniable charisma and skill at convincing others, thus the entire city was quickly caught up in the possibility of what Ketchner promised.
A Difficult and Costly Endeavor
The proposed construction of a rail system that operated under the streets would not be easy or cheap, but Ketchner was a very convincing person and soon had the support of not just merchants, but lords and even the crown. Lavish parties were held in the Market District, then the Merchant District, and finally the Noble District, raising the funds that Ketchner claimed he needed to start work on the project.
Merchants and nobility alike promised additional funds to see the project built and within a few months Ketchner had amassed a small fortune, with the promise of more funding as the project progressed.
A False Workforce
Taking what funds he had, Ketchner went to the poor district and hired desperate men that he claimed to be skilled workers, others desperate for a new start in life were brought in from all across the kingdom under the promise of being trained in various skills. With few of the workers knowing one another, and so many that had never been seen in the city before, Ketchner was able to construct an eleborate false framework where no one knew who was in charge of any given project. This resulted in a workforce that constantly appeared to be keeping busy at what they thought they were supposed to be doing, and afraid to admit they had no idea what they were doing least they be fired.
Ketchner paid the workers by providing them with a room in converted warehouses, meals provided by a soup kitchen in the warehouse, and a daily ration of one and a half gallons (10 pints) of beer per man for every day they worked.
Ketchner then hired women from the poor district to begin a project of weaving fabric and making uniforms for the workers, with payment being a room in a women's workhouse for them and any children they had, plus meals and basic health care.
Within a few months Ketchner had created the illusion of two productive work forces, which on paper we being paid fair wages, and had been put to work creating not only tunnel systems in several parts of the city, but also the creation of specialized uniforms for the workers that would eventually be tending to the transportation system.
The first task of the women was to create work clothing for the construction crews, which allowed Ketchner to report a deduction of the cost of the uniforms from the men's salary. The women were allowed to use any spare materials to make clothing for themselves and their children when not at work, which allowed Ketchner to show on paper where he supposidly charged fees to their wages for the cloth used.
By creating a careful rotating schedule, Ketchner was able to show a huge workforce that worked around the clock to finish the project as quickly as possible, but the reality was workers who mostly sat around the worksites waiting for orders so that Ketchner could hide the fact that the workers slept in carefully devised shifts in beds that were unknowingly used by three, even four different people in a day.
The Long Con
The project lasted for three years, during which time Ketchner secreted away an unknown sum of money that had been reportedly paid to the workers in the multiple workhouses that Ketchner maintained throughout the city.
During that time Ketchner maintained the illusion of men working on several construction projects that excavated large caverns under the city and built impressive looking station areas. Ketchner reported that he needed funds because of the high grade materials required in the construction of the rail stations, but the men building the stations were given cheap materials to be used in the projects while Ketchner hid the funds that he claimed to have spent on higher grade materials.
The End of the Project Marks the Beginning of the Black Markets
The entire project collapsed when Ketchner set sail to the Island Kingdom for what he claimed were negotiations on a specific kind of material that would be needed to complete the Royal Transit Station. On his arrival in the Kingdom of the Isles, Ketchner immediately boarded a new ship, traveling under a different name to the Southern Kingdom. All that is known after that is that a carriage was waiting for him at the docks and Ketchner vanished.
In the weeks that followed Ketchner's dissapearance, the other merchants attempted to step in and continue the project only to discover that the entire thing had been little more than a mass theatrical performance.
Yes, transit stations had been built, and a considerable distance of tunnels had been dug beneath the streets, however, those tunnels and stations had been disasters that over the course of the next few years resulted in the collapse of several buildings and significant damage to the city streets.
The crown ordered the tunnels sealed off and filled in, but in many cases the work was overseen by men that secretly transformed the areas into hidden sanctuaries for the homeless. Many of those that took shelter in the tunnels had been the workers that were evicted from the workhouses that Ketchner had set up.
Because of the overcrowded workhouses, and the lack of other options for where the people could go, a number of the rail stations became underground refuges for the displaced workers. Market places began to appear in the rail stations, where the homeless traded what they could scavenge from alleyways and the trash pits outside the city, with more than a few eventually becoming havens for thieves and killers beneath the streets fo the city. Soon the underground markets sold more items that were stolen than salvaged, and thieves guilds were established to provide a consistent flow of black market merchandise.
Conman, Spy, or Honest Businessman in Over His Head?
The stories of what happened vary. Some claim that Ketchner was innocent of any wrongdoing and was killed in a robbery while traveling, others claim he started out with good intentions but ran off when he realized the project was a failure and he would have to repay the funds. Several rumors have surfaced that claim he was a spy from the Southern Kingdom, sent to the Crown City to destabilize it and cause chaos.
The general agreement is that Ketchner was a con artist and had run the entire project as a long-term con from the very beginning. Some insist that he had carefully planned his exit for years, but others suspect his intention had been to take the funds from one fundraiser party, but that he had got greedy and been forced to fake the construction to keep the cash flow going.
It is a matter of much dispute on if the man was a master con artist that knew what he was doing from the start, or a hapless city planner that ran away when he failed to deliver on the dreams he had promised.
A Lost Treasure?
There are more than a few rumors that Ketchner did not take the fortune that he had stolen with him, but had in fact hidden it somewhere in the system of tunnels, or in a hidden vault in one of the rail stations. This rumor of a hidden fortune led to the claim of certain abandoned rail stations by gangs that would defend their areas with lethal force, and eventually led to a boundry between the streets of the city and the under-city; a line that the city guard would not cross.
Whatever became of Ketchner, whatever his intention when he began his project, his legacy has become the underground marketplaces and thieves guilds that are spread throughout the city and connected by hidden tunnels that no city guardsman dares to enter.