It seemed like a good idea. He’d done it before, hadn’t he?
“Are you serious?” Jeremy demanded.
As if to utterly undermine her claim to authority, Ghost raised his leg against a building. If this had been a story, Miranda thought, Ghost would have sensed their worry. His doggy ears would have perked up. And his paws would have eaten the pavement as he unerringly tracked down Smite.
But it wasn’t a story, and Ghost wasn’t that dog. Instead, the animal led them on a roundabout path from the alley, stopping to sniff here and there—and once to snag some unknown treat, which he crunched noisily between his jaws. He brought them down alleys, behind buildings, and went twice around one great square, before trotting off down a street.
“Are you sure he knows what he’s doing?” Jeremy asked.
She frowned. “He’s done it before.” He seemed to be doing it, however, on his own schedule. “Ghost, do you know what you’re doing?”
The dog’s ears flicked back. It might have been a yes. It might have been a no. She sighed. It was probably the doggy equivalent of “I don’t speak English.”
“Lord.” Jeremy gave a disapproving shake of his head. “Relying on a dog.”
Still, they moved slowly toward the Floating Harbour, and then over the Prince Street Bridge. Ghost snuffled his way around one of the dry docks, happily—obliviously—bounding along while Miranda’s worry ate at her insides. She could sense the minutes slipping past. Every quarter-hour was a risk. Every time she heard clock-bells strike in the distance, the possibility that she might not see Smite alive again grew. How long would it take Parford to raise a militia?
For Ghost, it was nothing but a game. Surely he would sense if his master was hurt. Surely, through some sort of canine magic…
But no. This was Ghost. He didn’t have canine magic. Right now, he was more interested in leaving his mark on a lamppost along the water’s edge.
“Go,” Miranda said, a lot more forcefully this time.
Ghost ignored her. He sniffed once, and then turned in a lazy circle to face the other direction.
The dog was looking straight at the docks, so fixedly that Miranda was certain she would see a squirrel scampering along the stone walls that bordered the harbor. But no. There was only a ship that seemed all too familiar. The Great Britain loomed before them.
It was at that moment that it began to rain. It had been cold before, but the rain brought with it a chill from on high. Every drop felt like ice against her skin.
Ghost whined and lowered himself to the ground, where he gave a lazy yawn.
Miranda exhaled. Angry, frustrated tears threatened to well out. The wind whipped around her, driving cold droplets of rain into her face. She balled her fists. It couldn’t end like this.
Jeremy tapped her shoulder.
“What?” The word snapped out more harshly than she intended.
He set his finger to his lips lightly and then pointed. High on the deck of the Great Britain, a dark figure paced to the edge and looked over.
“A night watchman,” she said.
He shook his head. “Not with that lantern.”
“Precisely. That hood hides it, except when you see it directly on. Watch, and you’ll see the flash when he turns. A night watchman wants to be seen. He doesn’t.”
“But why would there be someone on the…ooh.” The answer was too obvious. If she needed to keep someone in private, where would she go? People in the slums were too close-packed; the Patron could never keep the location secret. Too many people would have known they were about. But where could one hide a prisoner?
Aboard a ship that was abandoned because it was too large to fit out of the locks.
“What do we do now?” Miranda asked.
“What do you think? I march on board and act like I know what I’m doing.” Jeremy strode forward.
Miranda followed. A rope ladder had been cast over the side of the ship. Jeremy caught one end and scampered up. Miranda climbed after him more slowly. When she reached the top, instead of starting down the middle of the deck as Jeremy did, she crouched off to the side.
The deck of the ship was punctuated by six great masts. In the middle, the dark, silent chimney of the funnel rose. And all around them were…were those things called hatches on a ship? Robbie would have known. Miranda shook her head.
There were two men on board, not just the one she’d seen earlier. Their burly forms huddled together; they watched Jeremy’s approach in tense anticipation.
Jeremy had a confident swagger to his step, and a commanding, cheerful ring to his voice.
“You’ve been expecting me, I imagine.”
“Where are they, then?”
A murmured answer, too indistinct for Miranda to make out. Then Jeremy’s response floated back to her. “No. No need for any of that. Leave me the keys and get on with you. I’ll take it from here.”
Miranda held her breath and shrank back into the darkness on the edge of the ship. The men glanced at one another. Surely they had to hear the beating of her heart. But Jeremy betrayed not the slightest uneasiness. He held out his hand.
“The keys,” he said. “And the lantern. You know the Patron’s always intended to let them go. There will be riots if we don’t.”
Slowly the man extended his arm. Miranda heard a jingle of metal.
“Now away with you. You don’t want Lord Justice seeing your faces. He has a memory like a steel trap. He’ll never forget you.”
The watchman shook his head hastily, and the men decamped. Jeremy stood in the center of the ship, waiting, tossing the keys in the air. After the other men had disappeared, Miranda crept out to join him. The rain had turned to freezing slush. She could scarcely feel her hands through her gloves.
“Come on,” Jeremy said. “We haven’t much time.”
THE SECOND LOCK AT the end of the room where Smite had found Patten proved harder to undo. The dim hint of light that filtered under the doorway made it all the more difficult. It made Smite want to rely on his eyes, when all he could see was shadow. Trapped with water nearby—he was glad to have something to do, just to distract himself.
He’d bent, crouching at the door, for the better part of half an hour. But it wasn’t the sound of pins falling into place that made him straighten and swear under his breath. It was the soft rhythmic tread of footfalls.
Beside him Dalrymple reached out and tapped his shoulder.
“We need to take them together,” Dalrymple whis
pered. “They won’t expect us to be here. The instant the door opens, we jump on them.”
“Patten,” Dalrymple whispered.
“Mmm.” The man, it turned out, was in chains. He could scarcely hobble.
“Stay back. If anything goes wrong, you’ll be able to claim you had nothing to do with this.”
“As if I would do anything so cowardly,” came the scornful response.
A key scraped in the lock. Smite’s muscles tensed, waiting. The door opened.
Dalrymple jumped ahead of him, screaming and flailing wildly. Smite couldn’t see anything—just a mess of tangled limbs, illuminated in the faint moonlight that spilled into the room.
He could see two silhouettes, and beyond them, a ladder leading up to salvation.
“Wait!” a familiar voice was saying.
“Smite!” called someone else. Miranda’s voice. It brought on a moment of panicked unreason, where he imagined the worst thing in the world—that he was trapped under rising water, and Miranda was with him. There were voices all about, people surrounding him. The incipient panic that he’d been suppressing broke, and he struck out wildly around him.
He had no notion of anything except that he must be choking on water. He was being restrained. Hands caught at his wrists. He fought back.
“Don’t touch him!” Miranda’s voice again.
He whirled about, but all was still.
“Good God, Turner,” Dalrymple said nearby. “What the hell was that?”
His knuckles hurt. For a moment there… They’d been in close quarters. He’d glanced ahead, and seen steep stairs leading up. So much like that cellar ladder. He took a deep breath.
“Everyone has moments of irrationality,” he said into the silence.