Hammersmith: Boxed Goods (chapter thirty-two)
Vic fell too, the second time of an evening in collision with Elton. He liked to count himself almost as spring-loaded as in the days of Rubillard’s Volunteers, intervening decades not…or not too much…withstanding.
From thin grass strewn with palm-scoring nuts and bolts, he heaved to his feet, and at once progressed inches in aid of his rescuer…a young fellow whose weight seemed slight for pinning Mossbunker’s deputy.
The mouth, dimly seen under a cap pulled low, seemed to express something… Something Vic would have read, had the stranger been Aimee Bard, as an exasperated determination to make do with him. The stranger put a finger to its lips and reached, undoing the shoddy knot at Vic’s throat.
He hoped he wasn’t missing the trend. He handed across his tie, and in a trice, Bott lay effectively gagged. That was to say, that while at first noising with deep inarticulate feeling, Bott shut up straightaway when Vic flinched, and whispered: “Don’t shoot!”
This inspired scene was played for his own protection.
The canny figure caught up the laces of Bott’s shoes, and tied them together. He reached again, cruelly snapping Vic’s braces against his gut, and gesturing gimme. Vic, after a mental tape-measuring, decided he might trust his anatomy to hold up his trousers. The braces soon secured Bott’s wrists. None of these arrangements could serve for long.
The figure beckoned, moving in stealth past Vic, to the top of the ramp.
Here, a form more familiar loomed out of darkness. It kissed its fingers and flung them to the air, then bowed low before Vic’s new comrade.
“My esteem is boundless. Now!” Zetland said, in a thrumming near-whisper. “We will make fast the two prisoners together, and have them back in the tunnel. I have not omitted to bring rope.”
The second prisoner was Mossbunker’s nightman (and Patriot poet laureate) Ben Lemuel, woozy and pliable at present, his head having been struck by something more resounding than a flying mammal. Enlisted thus in Zetland’s latest round of malefactoring, Vic accepted the neckerchief, its intended use telegraphed with a nod… And replying to the undertaker’s eye of mournful reproach with a feckless shrug, Vic blindfolded him. He hoped to God Bott had not managed being introduced to Zetland, and would believe a passing madman imposed duress, merely, on a true but helpless Patriot.
“Count!” The voice was Biyah Kendrick’s. “I don’t know where Curach’s gone off to. We got two of the boxes pulled aside, but we need another hand to bring em back to the gate.”
“You have lost the Irish fellow.”
“He was there with us, then he wasn’t.”
“I think we will call ourselves compromised, to be cautious. How heavy?”
“Dang heavy. Surprised me. I mean, I know what’s in em…”
“Mrs. Bard, take up your post and be prepared to give the signal. Mack…”
Enlightened, Vic swallowed a gasp, and seized his slipping trouser-band. She, kitted out for criminal enterprise, dared shoot him a cheeky so there, conveyed by chin, and vanished along the dark passage.
Zetland snapped his fingers. It was more sauce than Vic liked standing in his present mood, but for Aimee’s sake, he pulled the tunnel door shut.
Yes, your Honor, it was my hand that imprisoned two upright fellow citizens of Hammersmith…
Zetland tugged Vic’s lapel. “Now, with all speed!”
Chilly and Biyah each snagged an end, scuttled backwards, sideways; finally—the contents appearing tricky to shift—they and their crate receded.
Its mate, discovered after a hasty crouched run past the doors of a barn-sized shed, belonged to an inventory of six, four still on their flat car. The car was on the elevator platform that could be lowered into Mossbunker’s underground complex.
“Two will suffice. But we shall see what time permits.”
Vic’s end carried like a fat sack of grain. Zetland’s seemed lighter. Both seemed not to keep still, almost as though the crate had a life of its own.
“What’s in here?” he asked.
“A Maxim gun, disassembled.”
Shots rang out.
Zetland, not taking alarm, not even at what sounded like a grunt and a curse from the crate, which Vic had dropped, came over with the same face of gallant admiration he had shown not long past, to Aimee, for assaulting Elton.
He abandoned Vic, and drew a pistol.
(2017, 2018, Stephanie Foster)