Chapter 3b

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After a few more connecting passages, I came to an underground river channel. Trying not to breathe hard, I hung back to watch Delphine climb a set of limestone steps leading up to the surface. I followed quietly. 

I emerged onto a cobblestone street next to a shabby park. It was a part of Aldwych I’d never seen before. I shivered slightly—the night breeze was chillier than underground, and a fine mist hung in the air. When my eyes adjusted to the greater light of the street lamps, I saw Delphine about a half-block away. I rushed after her, doing my best to stay in the shadows. 

A few more blocks and she slowed her pace. I followed her into a narrow alley and ducked behind a large metal rubbish bin. She started up some wobbly wooden stairs on the backside of the building next to my hiding spot. A door at the top flung open.

An older woman, heavyset, wearing a faded work dress, motioned to her. “Come on, come on. You’re late, and the presul will have both our heads!”

Presul? A zing of suspicion shot through me. What had Delphine gotten herself into?

She ran up the remaining steps, panting. “I’m sorry. Our wardrobe manager and a cog-headed apprentice detained me. Going on about thrunge plates. I hurried as quickly as I could.”

“Yes, yes. I’m sure. But it won’t matter none if you ain’t ready by curtain time.” She hustled Delphine inside and slammed the door.

I chuckled silently. I’d have to thank Thea later.

But what had that woman just said? Curtain time. Presul. The pieces were starting to fall into place. My head thunked lightly against the rubbish bin. Stupid, stupid Delphine. If my hunch was right, she wasn’t just breaking curfew.

She was breaking the law.

Walking back to the side street, I counted the buildings I passed. Once on the main street, I counted again. The fourth building was the one Delphine had entered. 

It was a run-down, drab place with a sign over the entrance that read “The Coggled Noggin” and was illustrated with gears and a pint of ale. The front doors at one point had been painted red, but the paint was faded and peeling. A huge, brutish-looking man stood in front of the doors, arms folded, glaring out at the darkened street. 

The faint sounds of laughter and a tinny piano filtered out through the doors and small bank of windows on either side. I crept closer as three men and two women approached the big, surly doorman. He asked their business, and their reply must have satisfied him because he allowed them to go inside. 

I nibbled on a fingernail, thinking. 

I’d heard of places like this but had never been to one. I watched for a few more minutes. The doorman was looking for well-dressed people, but not too wealthy. Older men and serious-looking ones were turned away. Women in groups or with male companions were usually allowed—if they flirted enough. The poor or drunk were chased off right away. 

Chances of getting in by myself were slim. Too young, too poor, and too alone. I didn’t fit the profile.

More people arrived. A line formed outside the pub. Definitely something big going on. 

I had an idea. I crossed the street to a small alley, and dragged a wooden crate next to a boarded-up window. 

From my black handbag, I took out a small mirror and balanced it upright on the window ledge, along with my torch, which I powered on full. A stray cat slunk by me, as if offended by my presence in his alley. I made a face at him. Cats, even the homeless type, were arrogant creatures.

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