18: The Search

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"Busy?" Puckerz said in that clear and sharp voice of his, looking around as if for someone else.

"Did the M call for us?" Scotch asked darkly, rubbing the side of his head. Powder tried to remember how to speak while pretending to measure thread off the spool with no more reason than to create useless piles of it.

"She called for you," said Puckerz, "but she wants you on the stage, not the sewing room. You, Bourbon, Mint, Toffee, and Julep." He snipped a decorative tassel off the end of a crooked lampshade and watched it fall to the floor.

    Scotch got to his feet. "Remember what I told you before?" he said to Powder when he was at the door, pushing the needle that was still attached to his arm into his fabric until it vanished.

    "Being alone, dark halls, strange dolls, dressing in front of everyone—got it," said Powder. She stood up and winced. Something about being startled had stretched out the wound on her stomach.

    "And don't run around too much or you'll come undone," Scotch added, noticing her hand move to where the bandage was.

    Powder nodded. Her heart was looking for its natural rhythm and her mind was still pulling itself together. Scotch had gone but Puckerz was still there, yanking out the individual strands from a second tassel he had cut.

    "'Strange dolls'?" he repeated.

    "Scotch is trying to keep me from getting kidnapped again," Powder said. Puckerz bobbed his head in thought. That's when it dawned on Powder that Puckerz could be exactly whom she needed—someone who could think quickly and for themselves.

    "Hey," she said, now able to completely straighten her back. "Did you say that the M is on the Stage with some other dolls right now?"

    "She's building a set down there." Tassel strings were all over the floor.

    "And the sewing, fitting and dressing rooms are empty?"

    "Probably. Why?"

    "Could you help me? There's something I've got to look for. I would tell the Sixes but I think it might endanger them."

    Puckerz became alert at this. "What are you looking for?" he asked, flicking the remaining tassel to the side without watching it land.

    "Ah, yeah, well, that's the challenge. I don't know. Sorry, I can't tell you who told me either."

    "Maraschino?" Puckerz didn't miss a beat. Powder's eyes widened and her mouth fell open. He continued. "If it's not Sixes, it certainly isn't any of the others. That really only leaves one option. Besides, we all kinda figured he was locked away in the Gold Room."

    "I never saw him, but I wondered if that's who it was."

    "You didn't see him?"

    "He spoke to me inside my head while I was there."

    "Phhshh. I didn't know he could do that," Puckerz said, sounding envious. "I wonder if the madwoman even knows.

    "I think she does. She looked at me strangely after that." Powder was thinking also about how brief the Voice had been, and all the lapses in communication. Also the way the M had clenched and unclenched her hands. Her glare. Maraschino probably knew it was a risk, but when else would another human be present in the Gold Room? Fizz had said "no one" was ever allowed in there. Maraschino had definitely taken his chances on her.

    "Where do you need to search?" Puckerz opened the door to the hall.

    "The Voice—I mean Maraschino—said that he thought it would be down in the Core," Powder said. They left the room and started the route to the stairwell.

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