There was no way to answer that.
“In return, I was just…me. I could never figure out why you chose me as your friend, other than the fact that we shared a birthday. You were brilliant and perfect, and I was me.”
“I wasn’t perfect,” Smite said slowly. “I was…harsh.” He blew his breath out. “I still am.”
He heard Dalrymple struggle to his feet, and take a few steps away. “You were indifferent. To you, it was just the kind of friendship that boys have at Eton. It was a passing thing. For me, it was everything.”
Smite looked up into the darkness. His head throbbed. His side twinged. If he thought of where he was for too long—enclosed in darkness, with that quiet sloshing of water all around him—he might lose his mind.
“I need something to do,” he commented. “Soon would be good. Now would be better.”
“It makes it worse, you know,” Dalrymple was saying. “Carrying a grudge when the other man doesn’t even give a damn. When he scarcely even knows you exist.”
“I knew you existed,” Smite said simply. He set his hand gingerly to his head and probed the sore area.
“You scarcely noticed when I stopped talking to you.”
“Mmm. When I fall to pieces, I tend to do so by myself. After you walked away, nobody needed me for anything. It was a bad few years.”
“Really?” Dalrymple snorted. “How bad?”
Smite paused. “There was laudanum,” he finally answered. He didn’t like to think of those years much. “The details aren’t relevant. It took me years to find my feet properly.”
There was a longer pause. “Does it make me a bad person that I rejoice in your suffering?” Dalrymple asked.
Smite laughed. It hurt, but he laughed. “No,” he finally managed, “but it leaves us both still in captivity. I need something to do.”
“About that,” Dalrymple said, a touch too casually. “If we do what they say, they won’t kill us. Right?”
The Patron had already committed hanging offenses. At this point, Smite would call in the dragoons rather than allow the man to walk free. The man might sometimes take action that was close kin to justice, but he was too cavalier with assault and imprisonment for Smite to overlook his crimes.
“They haven’t killed us yet,” he said carefully. “Maybe the Patron hasn’t the stomach for outright murder.”
“Oh,” Dalrymple said. “Good.” There was a bit of silence. “Are you just saying that to make me feel better?”
“Yes,” Smite admitted. “I suspect the only reason we’re alive is that the Patron may be wanted elsewhere. The instant we have his personal attention, he’ll have us murdered, and the bodies hidden. He hasn’t any choice.”
A grim silence fell after that.
No. It was never silent down here. The faint lapping of water came to him once more. “Say something,” Smite said. His voice sounded harsh. “Say anything.”
“I was thinking that it’s a shame that neither of us knows how to pick locks.”
Smite looked up into the darkness. “You need a thin, flexible piece of metal. A hairpin will suffice. This, you slip into the keyhole. You use it to turn the pins to one side, whatever that means.”
There was a long silence. “How did you know that?” Dalrymple asked. “Oh—never mind. I had forgotten how disconcerting your memory could be.”
“I owe the knowledge to Robbie Barnstable.” Smite scrubbed his hand over his face. “I owe him a debt of thanks, it appears.”
“Why?” A glum sigh came from the other side of the room. “We don’t have a hairpin.”
Smite’s hand slid to his waistcoat pocket. He cleared his throat. “Actually,” he said. “I do.”
“You use hairpins?” The disbelief was apparent in Dalrymple’s voice.
Smite pulled the piece of metal out. “Of course not. This one belongs to Miss Darling.”
He stood and shuffled forward, finding the wall with his hands.
“You have Miss Darling’s hairpin in your pocket? What an astonishingly fortuitous coincidence.”
Smite continued his search for the door in the dark. “As it turns out, I’ve been carrying it for two days.”
“Two days? How does that happen?”
Smite sighed and looked up at the dark ceiling. “Little fairies hide it on my person when I’m not looking,” he snapped.
“Of course not.” He found the edge of the door. Felt for the handle, the keyhole. It seemed a staggeringly small thing upon which to rest his hopes. But he straightened the pin. “I have it on me because I put it in my pocket this morning,” he said.
He slid the metal into the lock and felt around gently. There were supposed to be…pins. Or tumblers. Something like that. He prodded about.
“But why do you put it in your pocket?” Dalrymple persisted.
“Pure sentimentality, I’m afraid.” He felt a resistance against the metal in his hand. He pushed gently, and then a tiny click sounded. A shot of jubilation ran through him. So that was what Robbie had meant by pins.
“Sentimentality? You?” Dalrymple sounded surprised.
Smite maneuvered the pin in the lock, and heard a depressing clunk as the pin he’d moved fell back into place. “Damn.”
“Truly,” Dalrymple persisted behind him. “That’s…downright romantic. I’m astonished.”
“Why?” Smite prodded the lock and found the ridge of the pins once more—one, two, three, four of them. This was going to be harder than he’d thought. “I’m human, same as you.”
The first pin slipped before he could get the second one down. Smite scowled at the door and ignored Dalrymple’s latest sally in favor of the lock. There was nothing but the metal, the hunch of his back as he leaned against the door. He moved one pin, and then another. He was working on the third when—
“You admit that you’re human?”
Clunk-clunk. The pins slipped once more. Smite rested his head against the wall, gritting his teeth in frustration. “Winnie,” he said, “really. Shut up.”
“Oh. Am I distracting you?”
“No, but it’s convenient to lay the blame at your door.” Smite bent down to the lock once more. He had no sense of the passage of time in that dark room. It took long enough that his hands cramped. His back ached from stooping. The pins slipped again and again. Finally, he managed to trigger them all together. The lock clicked, and Smite let out a breath and opened the door.
A faint, pearly gray light filtered ahead of him. He turned to Dalrymple. The man was looking at him, his head cocked to one side.
“What the devil are you looking at?”
Dalrymple gestured at the hairpin in Smite’s hand. Smite followed his gaze. In the faint light, Smite could make out the two metal prongs, one bent now, both held together by a bit of wrought metal.
“You’re carrying a flowered hair pin,” Dalrymple whispered. “It’s like you’re positively replete with sentiment. I can’t make you out.”
“Can’t you?” Smite slipped the bent object back into his pocket. “I wouldn’t need a sentimentality quota if I had no sentiment to begin with.”
“You just like appearing omniscient.” Dalrymple stumbled forward.
Smite followed him. They found themselves in another, larger room. The faint light they had detected trickled out in a thin line in front of them. Smite fumbled forward. “There’s another door,” he reported. “It’s locked, too.”
“Damn it.” Then, louder: “Damn me. Turner, there’s someone else in here.”
Smite could hear the sound of breathing now that Dalrymple mentioned it. He’d been trying not to think of sounds; when he did, he noticed that added to the murmured noise of water rising was the soft patter of falling raindrops. He felt faintly uneasy.
“You there. Are you awake?” Dalrymple spoke loudly.
There was a long pause. The breathing hitched.
“Turner, who is he? Why isn’t he answering us?”
/> Smite tamped down his uneasiness. “We come across a strange person on a ship I’ve never set foot upon. It’s too dark to see a hand’s breadth beyond my face. You must really believe in my omniscience to direct such a question to me.”
Dalrymple let out an exasperated sigh. “Did you ever consider saying ‘I don’t know’ in response, or would that have been too polite?”
“It would have been untruthful,” Smite said. “I do know who this is. This is George Patten.”
A gasp escaped the man, and Smite knew that he’d guessed aright.
IT TOOK MIRANDA FAR too long to travel across town to Smite’s home, and more valuable minutes trying to pick the lock to his house. After a few haphazard tries, Jeremy pushed Miranda aside and managed it with a little too much finesse.
Ghost greeted them at the door. If he had been a proper sort of watchdog, he would have barked his head off and bitten them. Instead, he was delighted to see Miranda, whom he knew quite well—and equally happy to see Jeremy, whom he had never met. Miranda found his lead and took him outside. Together, they walked quickly to the alley where she had last seen Smite waiting with Dalrymple. Ghost snuffled around happily. Getting the scent, Miranda supposed, although the behavior seemed indistinguishable from anything else she had ever seen him do before.
“Find him,” Miranda commanded Ghost. “Find your master.”