Garrick pointed at Chevie and Riley with a finger that was accustomed to people looking where it pointed.
‘Take them!’ he said.
And taken they were with rough hands and no delay.
Riley knew all about the ‘Zen Ten’ because he had personally experienced those delightful moments when the brain decides a time traveller’s phase shift from a quantum-foam state back to bog-standard flesh and blood might be a bit too much for the teeny-weeny human brain to handle, and so provides a gentle pillow of fuzzy happiness to ease the traveller back into the real world. The ‘Zen Ten’ (a phrase coined by Professor Charles Smart – who else?) was basically the only thing that kept the traveller’s brain from short-circuiting on touchdown.
However, when a person has been up and down the wormhole a few times, the brain gets almost blasé about the entire process and decides to divert any emergency power to life support; that is, it puts any available electricity into making certain that the body a person went in with is the one it emerges with, which worked out more or less OK for Riley but not particularly well for Chevron Savano.
As Riley was dragged across Mandrake’s main square, he saw the townsfolk descend on Chevie like rats on a sack of offal, their fingers greedy for a limb to tug. Though he was instantly alert and quaked with terror, it was not for himself.
Chevron, Chevie, dear friend, he thought frantically. What has been done to you?
For his companion’s eyes were indeed those of a cat. Golden and slitted. But there was something more distressing about this new Chevron Savano. She wore not the dreamy smile of the emergent but rather a terrified and vacant expression that displayed not a hint of higher intelligence.
She is more cat than human, Riley realized, and he knew he must help her. It was a compulsion that did not require any thought or concern for his own person, for he had never had a friend like Chevie Savano. And, in that split second of mortal fear for her dear life, Riley felt a spark flicker in his heart and he drooped into action.
For drooping is the proper course of action when beset by multiple assailants; Garrick had schooled him in this.
The curs will be expecting a thrashing resistance, he’d informed Riley during one of their Holborn tutorials. So we takes our lesson from the drunkards of old London town. Did you ever try to roust a cove in his cups? He is the very devil to catch a grip of, so we must fight our instincts and loosen where we might be fairly expected to tighten. Do you comprehend, my son?
To which Riley would nod and think: I am not your son.
And so Riley employed his ex-master’s methods, but added a twist or two of his own. One bewarted fellow he pinched hard in the webbing between forefinger and thumb, which loosened the chap’s grip sharpish. And another bowl-cut gent he cracked on the stockinged shin with the heel of his shoe, which Riley was happy to see had made the time trip with him. The others were unprepared for the almost liquid droop of their captive and in a trice Riley was rolling free, towards Chevie, who was hissing at the men encircling her.
She may not even recognize me! he realized, and this thought dismayed him more than he could bear.
‘Fight, Chevron!’ he called. ‘Fight!’
But Chevie would do nothing but paw and hiss and wriggle till her dress was torn from her in rags, leaving her clothed in the FBI jumpsuit. This from the girl who had faced down the Battering Rams gang in their own digs. From the girl who had given Albert Garrick a run for his money.
Riley scrambled towards her until his progress was blocked by two high black boots that seemed to absorb the light. It took no more than the acid foreboding in his innards to inform Riley who was at the other end of those boots.
‘I love it,’ Albert Garrick said, laughing. ‘Fun all the livelong day.’
Before Riley could shift another inch, a boot descended on his crown, crunching his forehead into the ground and rendering him unconsciousness.
Riley woke some time later that same day; the light seemed lower and of a more russet hue as it shafted the arched windows of the stone chapel where he was trussed.
Or possibly it is tomorrow evening, he thought. For that was quite the bonk on my poor noggin.
A noggin that still felt thoroughly bonked and swollen.
Then he thought of Chevie and believed he might weep.
What have they done to her?
She was dead, he was certain of it.
Dead, and we never spoke of things. Of feelings. Never nothing but gallivanting and adventures.
Spoke of what precisely? Riley could not say nor even think the word. And so he decided that Chevie would be not dead in his mind until she was dead in his arms.
But for now … For now his magician’s cape was gone and he knew that he had been thoroughly searched for any picks or tricks hidden on his person. He was restrained in the intractable grip of a most unusual contraption. Some class of double crossbow, with arrows pointed directly at his own neck, and a mess of springs, strings and pins that made the whole apparatus seem a feather away from loosing its deadly bolts. The device extended to milkmaid handles, which held Riley’s hands wide in wooden struts that curled upward at each end, and his feet were
chained to a half-sunken hoop in the stone altar.
This was Garrick’s business, Riley knew, for he recognized elements of the design from his ex-master’s stage illusions. He built it himself or had it done from his drawings.
Garrick was undeniably alive but changed terribly. He seemed barely human with his alabaster skin and skeletal appearance.
Riley wondered whether or not he was terrified, and was surprised to find that he was almost relieved.
I always knew this day would come and now it has.
But how did Albert Garrick yet live? How?
The how nagged at his brain, but not as much as it once had or once would, because he had seen so much in the past year. There were so many hows that their intensity faded like echoes. Even when did not seem to matter so much.
This was all he had room to care about in his noggin, and all his actions would be driven by that.
To that end, he must attempt to escape this diabolical contraption. Riley sent his senses scurrying outward, across the floor and up the rough walls, trying to glean some information that might help him to break free, though it seemed hopeless with the arrowheads scraping his neck.
A chapel it was, sure enough, but not one of your fancy London cathedrals. It was something altogether more modest, with limed walls and hard benches for squirming on. And there, lounging on the rear bench with those infernal black boots poking from the shadows, which was becoming something of a trademark look, lounged the man himself: Albert Garrick, a cloying odour of tallow and rancid meat drifting from his flesh.
‘Welcome to the town of Mandrake, Riley boy. Welcome to the era of witch-hunting. Sixteen forty-something, if memory serves.’