Chapter 12.4

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Carmen had told Ward to wait in the vacant lot next door to her house while she went inside to find Slops. That had seemed like ages ago. From the undergrowth he could see the top floor of Carmen's house but little else. The sun was going down. What's keeping her? he thought.

He heard a horse clopping down the street; he peered over the grass as a cab rolled to a stop outside Carmen's house. Mr. Blanket emerged. He stood for a moment, looking up the street, as if there was something there that caught his eye, then opened the gate and went up to the house. There was a knock, the sound of the door opening, some low voices. The door shut again.

Ward crawled through the grass to the street. Apart from Mr. Blanket's cab it was empty, but for a black coach-and-four up at the end of the street. He didn't remember passing it on the way to the house. An unaccountable dread settled in his chest.

He crept back through the vacant lot and clambered over the stone wall that separated the two blocks. He ducked beneath the sill of a first floor window. He could hear the murmur of voices.

The Carmichaels' backyard trailed off into another vacant lot, beyond which, in the distance, the Wall of Nod rose purplish and immense. The Old City's towers stood blackly to the west, silhouetted by the setting sun. A deep and expectant silence hung over the city.

Ward tried the back door. It was open. He found himself in a sun room, where pot plants in various states of lifelessness lolled about on shelves. He crept through a kitchen and into a lounge.

A woman's voice came from the front of the house. "Let me get your coat." Carmen's mother, he guessed.

"No, it's perfectly fine." This was Mr. Blanket. "It's rather chilly in here after all. What with the price of coal one can hardly expect you to heat your house, even for guests."

"If we'd known you were coming -" Mrs. Carmichael said, but Ward didn't hear the rest, for at that moment Carmen came into the lounge.

Her eyes widened. "Hide!" she mouthed, and hurried back out into the hallway.

Ward only just managed to squeeze behind a sofa before Mr. Blanket sailed into the room. Mr. Blanket sighed ponderously as he lowered himself, uninvited, onto the same sofa. Ward fought the infuriating urge to cough. It was dusty back there. 

"To what do we owe this pleasure?" A man's voice. Carmen's father, Ward guessed.

"I was just passing by."

"You're never just passing by, Franklin," Carmen's mother said.

Mr. Blanket laughed like a man impersonating laughter. "Why, I wanted to see my favourite niece, that's all."

"You only have one niece," Mrs. Carmichael said.

"Eh? Would I like a cup of blackleaf?"

"No, I said -"

"Oh please don't trouble yourself, especially if you have none in the house."

Mrs. Carmichael harrumphed and left the room.

The sofa creaked as Mr. Blanket leaned towards Carmen's father. "Such a warm nature she has," he confided. "Not unlike an icebox. Oh, and I might as well pick up that bust of Dervish while I'm here. It's for the High -"

"I was going to drop it off tomorrow."

"It's no trouble at all. I'm going there tomorrow morning, and I know how terribly busy you are. Pop up to your workshop now and get it for me, won't you?"

Mr. Carmichael seemed to hesitate, but then Ward heard his footsteps recede into the hallway and up the stairs.

Mr. Blanket was now alone with Carmen.

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Your mother is not unlike an icebox.

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