Hammersmith: Up in the Rafters (chapter thirty-four)
Up in the Rafters
A curious feature of Mossbunker’s factory (or, for all she knew, an ordinary feature of any factory), was this concealed catwalk below the skylights. Zetland’s team crouched here in darkness. Yet Aimee could picture the hands looking up to a dazzling white daylight, unable to know if Mossbunker or any of his foremen looked down.
Aside from their band’s inroads into the Patriots’ strength, Nico’s Workers’ Brigade had picked off Abel, Derfinger, Hugh Braithwaite, Ed Brainerd, and Mossbunker himself.
Lanterns throbbed in the corners of a staging area. Mossbunker, being tallest, and inclined to carry himself as a mighty rock—a fair Gibraltar of disapprobation—was easy to spot, mouthing like a buffalo at his bandanna-gag. He was back to back with Abel, their hands bound together.
“Ah, they have spared themselves rope…”
Zetland’s trailing silence seemed eloquent of regret.
Stationing herself at a lamplit corner, Aimee had been finding it a relief, the view of her own hands this afforded…
A figure too young to be a Patriot, fist closed on a stone or brick, sneaked into view. It pivoted and took a step backwards, beckoning.
A second, armed with its own brick, scudded from the factory wall.
Both figures veed their fingers, and hooked their thumbs.
It occurred to Aimee she and her new acquaintances were dressed alike, in vagabondish castoffs. She chose not to mimic the sign. Her disguise was a thin one; Zetland and Vic might be close by or well out of earshot. Instead, she smacked her forehead, stamped a foot, and flung an arm, like an exasperated sergeant.
This at least confused them.
Then serendipity, advantaged by a glut of midnight raiders crawling Mossbunker’s grounds, gifted her with a scuffle. A voice rose muttering through gritted teeth, a body whumped; after some thrashing, its owner heaved a breath. A number of thuds as of shoes striking surfaces variably metal, earth, and masonry-block, followed. Her soldiers hunched apologetically and jogged to the fray. Aimee ripped loose the firecrackers, knelt and ignited them, keeping low, scuttling backwards.
The dominant bellow that flared from the melée was Mossbunker’s.
How handy it would be, running into one of her accomplices, one who knew the mind of Zetland…most profitably Zetland himself…
So Aimee was thinking, when she ran into Vic.
And with perfect reasonableness, asked, “What has he got you doing?”
Vic, at the formative stage of his response, had managed, “What…!” and “What’s he…!”; at which point she would have needed to leave him, if Chilly hadn’t arrived to reconvene the gang at the foot of a fire ladder.
“Got me doing!”
They were not alone on the factory roof. However, Zetland brandished a loaded pistol, and Nico’s men, having commandeered Mossbunker’s Maxims, had only so far unboxed them.
“How is it Ralph Bard’s widow turns up, running all over heck knows, dressed for some costume ball…”
“Oh, I don’t think so. Why would I wear Ralph’s old coat to a costume ball? When do we even have costume balls in Hammersmith?”
“You know,” Vic whispered darkly, “what I mean.”
“Well, then, how is that? Let me think. It seems to me I’ve lived a peaceful life on my little hilltop, without ever meeting a man named Curach. And it seems to me, Victor Mack, that Curach—I think you said he was a friend of yours?—led to Mossbunker, and Mossbunker led to Mrs. Mossbunker, and Mrs. Mossbunker led to Zetland…and….”
“And you brought Hogben into it.”
“Please. How is there an it?”
“I refer to the criminal conduct of a party, in the assault and unlawful restraint of one Elton Bott; and to the party in question’s playing lookout for a band of renegades…”
Zetland’s gun had changed hands into Biyah’s; the two factory workers, loosely converted by Nico, had fallen under the sway of a simpler philosophy. Chilly waved from a rooftop shed. By this entry they dropped onto the catwalk, across a frightening open stairway that hugged the factory wall, to find yet another pawn taken.
“Why would you do it? Hush yourself when you answer.”
The answer came mumbled through a gag: “Dunno.”
Chilly spoke aside to Zetland. “Mossbunker’s moat man.”
Their captain nodded, the sorrowing nod of a brother-in-law whose sister’s husband’s mental aberration has been exposed. He hooked a finger under the bandana. “Who else?”
The aquarist noticed Vic. “Got ya, huh? They get Hugh?”
“They get Reverend Sandy?”
Zetland said nothing, and did not glance at Chilly, who tiptoed off.
“You got nothing to say for yourself, Mack?”
“How are all the fish, Fred?”
“Dandy…except for the dead ones.”
Song rose, unmelodic…cohering a bit, where the majority grew sure on their feet as to lyrics. A voice shouted for another chorus. Marchers were filing in, carrying lanterns… Carrying weapons, of the handy kind Aimee had noted earlier, rocks and bricks. They circled, and crowded the captives.
Up in the Rafters
(2017, 2018, Stephanie Foster)