Garrick smiled a duplicitous smile that Cryer took for fondness but which was actually self-congratulatory, for soon Garrick would have his empire and Godfrey Cryer, through his own sacrifice, would make it come to pass.
‘Good Master Constable,’ he said, ‘pass the word to the watch and then return directly to me and stay by my side this night until we may rid the world of witches forever.’
And off Cryer trotted, all eagerness and joy. Delighted he was to be chosen as the Witchfinder’s right hand.
I sacrifice my most loyal servant, thought Garrick as he watched him go, and wondered whether there was ever a time when this would have plucked at the strings of his conscience.
Perhaps there had been such a time, he concluded. Once, long ago from his perspective. When he had been a boy.
Ah, but then I was merely a child.
Garrick remembered a lesson from 1 Corinthians that ran: When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
Albert Garrick turned to Chevie and spoke softly to her so that none of the watchmen might overhear.
‘I have put away childish things,’ he said, then glanced upward at the descending rift. ‘And very soon now, Miss Savano, I shall put away all children. Including your good self and the brat Riley.’
If Chevie heard, she made no sign.
Outside the wall, Pointer watched the men leave their posts in a mad rush for the other side of the town.
‘That was too easy,’ he said, grinning. ‘Garrick is a soft touch. He wouldn’t last five minutes in New York.’
There was a slight rustle in the undergrowth beside him and an arm extended, seemingly from the earth, and patted his head. ‘Good job, partner,’ said a small shrub.
But of course the shrub had not spoken. The voice belonged to Fairbrother Isles, who’d been lying there for the entire jibing match, concealed underneath his camo-sheet.
Pointer ducked away from the petting hand. ‘Quit it, Fender. Yeah, but it was a good job. Too good. I was looking forward to a real slanging session like we used to have on the basketball courts. Remember?’
‘Yeah, sure I remember. Isles and Pointer: the best two-on-two team in the Bureau. We retired champs, partner.’
‘Isles and Pointer?’ said the dog. ‘It was Pointer and Isles, the way I remember it.’
Riley poked his head out from under his own sheet. ‘Agents. Please.’
‘Sorry,’ said Pointer. ‘Dog genes. OK, let’s move it out.’
Pointer led the way, sniffing the ground like a minesweeper, guiding Isles and Riley towards the wall, which now had only one guard left to watch over that approach, thanks to Riley’s double bluff.
Garrick will sniff out a distraction, he had told the federal agents earlier. But not a second one, as that don’t work in the theatre, because it sets the eyes looking where you didn’t want them to look in the first place.
And it had worked. The moment Garrick sniffed trickery, he was off to the far wall as though his boots were on fire, but it would not take him long to suspect a ruse and so they must breach the compound while they had the chance.
When they were ten feet from the wall, Pointer ran ahead and set his forepaws scrabbling at the stone, howling and barking at the guard above, and while the man was fumbling with the load for his musket Isles and Riley rolled the last stretch to the base of the wall itself. It would have been relatively easy to scale, but difficult to conceal their silhouettes from anyone in the town casting even a casual glance in their direction, so instead Isles elected to take them through his bolthole.
I had Pointer dig this for me one time when the town was evacuated during a plague scare, he had explained back in the field office. He wasn’t too happy about using what could be classed as canine talents, but I convinced him that in this situation having paws and claws were boons to the mission. Then he got all snippy cos he thought I said ‘bones’. It’s exhausting. You have no idea, kid.
Nevertheless, the secret tunnel had eventually been excavated and here they were, with the blue night deepening all around and a bloody gash in the sky overhead, squatting in a blind spot at the foot of Mandrake’s wall, making ready to enter the town, where a small militia and a powerful magician waited for them.
And their only weapons?
A mysterious chest.
One flash-bang from Riley’s cape, which might or might not work after the swamp ducking.
One standard-issue 1980s Fed revolver, Isles’s beloved whittling knife and a bulletproof vest apiece.
‘Remember, kid,’ Isles whispered now, ‘these are innocent civilians. So no killing.’
‘Except Garrick,’ insisted Riley.
‘Yeah, well, obviously Garrick. And if you wound that guy Cryer I won’t lose any sleep over it.’
‘So Garrick and Cryer.’
‘Anyone else, leg shots only.’
Isles reached his fingers into a crack in the wall and lifted out an entire block of stone as though it were made of paper, which it wasn’t. The false stone was actually moulded from first-aid-kit plaster of Paris, which had been carefully painted to match the wall.
‘I would say that leg shots do count as wounds, Agent,’ Riley said.
‘Theoretically yes, but chances are you won’t hit anything anyway, so don’t worry about it.’
Agent Isles went first into the black hole, nudging the small chest in front of him. He was a big man and it was a small hole, but he wiggled his way through and popped a second plug on the far side. When through, he clicked his fingers once as a signal for Riley to follow. Riley did so with all speed, using the method they had discussed. Feet first he went, taking hold of the false block and manoeuvring it roughly across the hole, shutting out the stars on himself. Groundwater soaked his clothes, and he could hear the click and snick of beetles and insects as he wiggled through. A great fear overtook him at the persistent idea that this wall would collapse in on him, although Isles had assured him this would not happen as he had travelled this way a hundred times without misadventure.
But this ain’t no normal day, thought Riley. Everything that never happened before is happening this night.
Then Isles had him by the ankles and was dragging him through the oppressive darkness.
‘You OK, kid?’ whispered the federal agent.
‘No need to worry on my account,’ replied Riley, though the shake in his voice belied the words. ‘I am ready and able to do my part.’
‘You sure?’ asked Isles. ‘Your face is about as pale as a full moon.’
Riley sat up, brushing the remains of a squashed beetle from the flap of his cloak. ‘There is no alternative, Agent. Chevie hangs upon a stake ready for the cruellest of executions. So let us away and no more talk about it.’
Isles punched his shoulder gently. ‘All right, kid. You got your bearings?’
Riley looked around. They were behind the jail shack, exactly as Agent Isles had shown him on the scale model. To be more precise, they were behind the pigpen’s water trough, which was fed by the occasional bucket when times were dry. If the bumping, snorting pigs noticed their presence, then they paid them no mind, accustomed no doubt to Isles popping in at irregular intervals. The odour was not as rank as one unfamiliar with porkers might assume, which was not to say that it was pleasant. Much worse was the noise: a constant honking and screeching that would drive a person clear out of his gourd should he be forced to endure it for long periods at short range. Smell or no, Riley would be glad to be out of this cacophony and on to the next stage of the mission.
‘And you know what to do?’ Isles continued.
Riley nodded. ‘I got it in my noggin, Agent. Bluff and bluster is all we need.’
‘Yeah, and a smile from Lady Luck.’ Isles sighed. ‘You know, kid, this isn’t how I saw my life going. I thought maybe a pretty girl. A couple of kids. Promotion. All that stuff. But here I am in a pigsty about to take on some ki
nd of quantum magician.’
‘The Forever Man,’ said Riley. ‘Or so he calls himself.’
‘The Forever Man. That’s quite a title.’ Isles shook his head. ‘There ain’t no way we’re coming out of this unscathed. You know that, don’t you?’
‘I do right enough,’ said Riley. ‘But Chevie is waiting. And we two have a history of rescuing one another.’
‘You, kid, would make a good junior agent,’ said Isles.