Tunneling Through: Hammersmith (thirty-six)
Aimee and Vic found themselves dispatched by a new ally of Zetland…not the professor, though rather like him in feature…via Indian club, as to mutely point the way, and underground passage—being the way itself.
They edged round the dim figures of Elton Bott and Ben Lemuel.
“Is that Vic?”
“Keep it down!”
A damped wheeze, then…from Ben, and a second testament to hasty gag-work: “What’s going on out there, Vic? Whose side are you on?”
“They’ve got the chief.”
“Know that. Anyone they don’t got?”
The door clicked shut. This pitching them into utter dark expressed something of opinion on the part of the club-wielder.
“Brother Patriots,” Vic said. “I have…”
“Helluva lot to answer for?”
“A message for the sheriff’s men.” Aimee made her voice as low and ominous as practicable.
“Who’s that you got with you there?”
She put back an arm, found cloth, gripped this ironly, and moved her protector from conversation’s way.
Dogged, but with a tempering delicacy towards the sweating brickwork, they fingertipped down a mild drop in elevation. Aimee felt Vic crowd to take the lead.
“Where are we going to be when we come out?”
“Er. Woods. Along Harmony Run.”
“And you don’t expect they’ll have someone set to watch?”
“This one, this tunnel…at least Elton says…is Mossbunker’s most secret secret. Only him and his deputy know about it.”
She let him nudge onwards, pocketing her hand, making certain of Zetland’s token. Her words had been true. Vic, pulled aside by Chilly, knew himself tasked with escorting the lady safely home.
Zetland had drawn Aimee opposite.
“You will ask for Shaw. But if not, say you have information for Lieutenant Hickman. This.” He flashed her a sort of medallion.
“Guarantees you will be seen. Now, they know from Shaw about the guns. But bearing in mind all has been circumvented, Mossbunker looking over this bargain for himself…and bearing in mind he makes his bargain with le Fontainebleau… So, perhaps another time, learning better…” Zetland gave to his brother-in-law’s pigeonhood an unsorry purse of the lips. “But, if he had wanted bullets, manuals of instruction, each such would be another cost.”
“Then Nico’s gang really only have their rocks?”
Silent, her captain projected, on a visage picked out faintly by the factory lights, a wise look.
Remembering this, telling herself the assignment was urgent…
For the matter—as urgent things, in their peskiness, will insist upon doing—had escalated. June was in danger. Nico, too. Aimee liked Nico, if none of the others did. Abel…
Well, but, you didn’t wish misfortune on a soul (cannon-fire for all one knew!), no more so on the foolish Patriots, all those rebellious factory hands, or the agitating stranger. Or Mossbunker.
This Hickman needed finding, post haste.
The phrase came echoing back, with the force of a shock.
“Well, now, what all…do you have to be on my heels like that?”
“Do you have to stop right in front of me? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong. It’s the door.”
“Then get it open!”
Under starlight, boosted by the lanterns of myriad moving figures, none too close to the tunnel mouth, Vic and Aimee staggered a gauntlet, while grimly biting their tongues, of roots and saplings.
“Might just be deer,” they heard a voice mumble.
“Don’t the deer know their way around better than that? I always thought wild animals were supposed to have a sort of instinct.”
“Miss, you oughta hush your voice. Carries.”
“But Mr. Sandy, they’ve got them bottled up, don’t they? Poor Nico! But…it would only be Commander Washburn’s men, if it’s anybody at all, I mean. Yoo hoo!”
This conviviality brought a uniformed man jogging their way, lantern swinging.
“Sir, you need to clear out of the area… Miss Leybourne? Ma’am, you are too close in… Is that Mr. Curach?”
“Oh, Curach’s gone off with the kids. To your house, Aimee! What’s your name, dear?”
“Jacob.” He straightened, raised the lantern and stared…at her so addressed. “Er…Private Spanner.”
Well…there was not a moment to be lost, the bulging eye of Sandy notwithstanding. “Private. Do you know where Mr. Shaw is? Or Lieutenant Hickman?”
“She means business,” Minnie said. “You better get cracking.”
And it was a lot to project into an over-the-shoulder glance, but Aimee, dressed in Chilly’s pants and Ralph’s coat, let herself be led into the militiamen’s camp, confident the minister had got her drift. Lodge meetings are one thing; sitting on a log at midnight with a traveling songstress…
You keep your secret, and I’ll keep mine.
(2019, Stephanie Foster)