Hammersmith: Tunneling Through (chapter thirty-six)
They edged past the figures of Elton Bott and Ben Lemuel.
“Is that Vic?” came a voice.
“What’s going on out there, Vic? Whose side are you on?”
Vic considered the light. The open door, he deemed, shined sufficient. Denying himself ran the risk of looking odd.
“Brother Patriots. They’ve got the chief.”
“Know that. Anyone they don’t got? How come you don’t untie us?”
“Looks like you two worked your gags off by yourselves…”
Aimee made her voice as low and ominous as practicable. “We have an urgent message for the sheriff’s men.”
“Who’s that you got with you, Vic?”
She put back an arm, found cloth, gripped this ironly, and moved her associate from conversation’s way.
Pitch dark soon enveloped them. Aimee felt Vic crowd her to take the lead.
“Where,” she asked, “are we going to be when we come out?”
“Woods. Someplace along Harmony Run.”
“And you don’t expect they’ll have set a man to watch?”
“This tunnel…at least Elton says…is Mossbunker’s most secret secret. Only him and Bott know about it.”
She let her guide blaze on, detecting low-situated beams and waterlogged patches. Vic, pulled aside by Chilly, believed himself escorting the lady safely home. She pocketed her hand, making sure of Zetland’s token. He had drawn Aimee opposite.
“You will ask for Shaw. But, if Shaw has made a botch of it, and there is no Shaw, tell them you have information for Lieutenant Hickman. This.”
He flashed a sort of medallion.
“Guarantees you will be seen. They know from Shaw about the guns, our friends.”
“The man with the bullhorn…?”
Zetland, deaf to the implication, spoke on. “But bearing in mind that all has been circumvented, and Cranston, becoming unsettled over so many Hogbens and Macks party to his bargain, and bearing in mind he makes his bargain with Le Fontainebleau…eh!”
Zetland gave to his brother-in-law’s fate an unsorry purse of the lips. “Perhaps another time, he has learned better. But if he had wanted bullets, manuals of instruction, each such would be another cost.”
“You mean that Nico’s gang really just have rocks?”
“So far,” Zetland answered, soberly, “as concerns projectiles.”
And as urgent things, in their peskiness, will insist on doing, Aimee’s concerns had escalated. June was in danger. Nico, too. Aimee liked Nico, if none of the others did. The Patriots…
Well, but, you didn’t wish misfortune on a soul (cannon-shot for all one knew!), no more on Mossbunker’s foolish disciples, on Mossbunker himself, than… But no, not on the rebellious factory hands, or even the agitating stranger…
This Hickman needed finding, post haste.
The phrase came echoing back, with a shock.
“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, confused by the lanterns of myriad moving figures, Vic and Aimee staggered a gauntlet of roots and saplings, grimly biting their tongues.
“Might just be deer,” they heard a voice remark.
“Don’t the deer know their way around better than that? I thought wild animals had 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?”
“Curach’s gone off with the kids. To your house, Aimee! What’s your name, dear?”
“Jacob.” The soldier straightened, raised the lantern, and stared. “Er… Private Spanner.”
There was not a moment to be lost. “Private!” Aimee said. “Do you know where Mr. Shaw is? Or Lieutenant Hickman?”
Minnie rose and issued a stage directive. “She means business. You better get cracking.”
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 Mr. Sandy had got her drift. Lodge meetings are one thing; a man of the cloth sharing a log at midnight with a traveling actress…
You keep your secret, and I’ll keep mine.
(2017, 2018, Stephanie Foster)