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Authors: Jennifer Bell

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BOOK: The Crooked Sixpence
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Ivy checked on the underguards as she snuck past them. It was still difficult to believe they didn't know she was there.
I'm invisible
, she repeated to herself.
I'm invisible.

As she approached the door, she glanced back once more. Satisfied that the guards were all distracted, she reached for the handle.

Just in time, she heard it creak and leaped back—

The door burst open. Ivy ducked aside and pinned herself against the wall.

A willowy lady with sloping shoulders and a long neck came striding into the room. Her dark hair lay neatly plaited over her shoulder and she wore a floor-length grey silk dress with a purple sash across her chest, like some Roman emperor. ‘There must be a mistake,' she said calmly. ‘It can't be her.'

‘I can assure you,' said a second voice, ‘there is no mistake.'

Ivy identified the second voice instantly; her skin turned to ice as Officer Smokehart stopped right in front of her. He gestured to a framed picture behind the stone desk. ‘The map doesn't make mistakes.'

Ivy scrutinized the picture curiously. Except . . . wait, it
wasn't
a picture; it
was
a map – she could see the image on its surface shimmering like a seashell. First it depicted a rugged coastline of white cliffs, then a patchwork of fields and rolling hills, and finally crisscrossing roads and concrete buildings. The map was
moving
.

Smokehart turned back to the tall woman. With her slanting blue eyes, thick lashes and high cheekbones, she looked a bit like a movie star. Around her wrist was a thin leather leash; a small, sandy-haired dog sniffed around the bottom of her dress.

‘I've checked the records,' Smokehart insisted. ‘Sylvie Wrench took the glove when she was eleven. She was visible on all uncommon maps after that date until Twelfth Night 1969, when she disappeared off the face of the planet. Our map hasn't been able to find her for over forty years, but it
can
see her now. She appeared this morning.'

The tall woman lowered her head, thinking.

‘With your authority,' Smokehart continued, ‘I will reopen the enquiry into Twelfth Night. Everyone knows what happened to Sylvie Wrench's father, Octavius, but the movements of the rest of the family have always eluded us. If we can piece together what really happened that night, we might be able to discover the whereabouts of the three brothers and the mother, and bring them to justice. This is the first opportunity we've had to—'

The tall woman raised her hand, her blue eyes widening as she interrupted him. ‘This is the first opportunity we've had to stir up the past. Many uncommoners lost friends and family on Twelfth Night, fighting the Fallen Guild. Reopening the case is like baring old wounds. It is not a good idea.'

‘Selena, listen to me. We could make history—'

‘
Officer
,' the woman said sharply. ‘You and I are colleagues, but please do not feel you have earned the right to address me as anything other than Lady Grimes. I am a
quartermaster
.'

Just for a second Smokehart's pale face flushed scarlet and little red dots appeared on his neck. Ivy remembered that it had happened before, when he had been pursuing her in that rain-drenched field. He bowed his head. ‘Forgive me, Lady Grimes, but if you could just—'

Selena Grimes raised her hand again. ‘You said that Ms Wrench is confined to a common hospital, yes?'

Smokehart gritted his teeth. ‘Yes. She appeared on the map while travelling in an ambulance. I ascertained her address, and then, after my constable and I had searched her house, we went to the hospital to question her. Unfortunately the woman simply doesn't know anything. Purposefully or not, her mind has been wiped.'

Ivy's nostrils flared. How confused and scared Granma Sylvie must have been!

‘Then she is hardly going anywhere,' Selena Grimes summarized. ‘Place her under twenty-four-hour guard and question her again in a few days' time. Maybe whatever was used to wipe her memory was only temporary. There is no need to alarm the whole of Lundinor unless you have solid information
and
evidence.'

Smokehart grimaced. ‘This woman has concealed herself for years – that's more than enough evidence to make her a suspect. I already have her grandson in custody. He may have valuable knowledge. I plan to start the interrogation immediately.'

Ivy's chest tightened.
Seb . . .

Selena's mouth twitched. ‘
Officer
. While I admire your pursuit of justice, GUT law does not allow you to reprimand someone if they themselves are not under suspicion. If this boy is Ms Wrench's grandson, then he is an uncommoner; he is one of us. You must release him and allow him to roam Lundinor freely.'

She turned, her long dress billowing at her side. ‘That is my final word. Oh, and I don't want the press getting involved – there'll be uproar.' She looked fondly down at her dog. ‘Come along, little one.'

Smokehart followed as Selena Grimes swept towards the exit. His shoulders stiffened as the front door closed behind her with a thud.

Ivy gave a sigh of relief. She didn't quite know what to make of that conversation but she did know one thing: Smokehart's back was turned. This was her opportunity to sneak through to the cells, and she was going to take it.

The door opened into a gloomy slate-tiled corridor. Glass doors were set into the left-hand wall, each inscribed with a different underguard rank and name. Officer Smokehart had what appeared to be the largest room; a Sergeant Crabshorte was next, followed by a Sergeant Pike and a Constable Stormfront. On the opposite wall was a series of doors with only a small glass window at the top; a brown feather hovered outside at eye level.

Ivy approached the first cautiously.

‘Be not uncarefully,' whispered Scratch. She felt him vibrating in her pocket and gave him an appreciative squeeze. When she was in front of the first feather, it began writing:

Prisoner 4

Name: ‘2 grade' Lil

Crime: Fraud

Status: Awaiting sentence

Ivy peered through the glass and found a neon-lit square room beyond. A woman with scruffy red hair, in a tartan beret and football kit, was lying on a plastic bench, picking at her nails.

The next two cells were empty, and the one after that was filled with a strange green light that made Ivy feel dizzy.

‘Ghoul hole,' Scratch explained in a tinkling whisper. ‘Cell for special uses with muckers. Losing of memory inside, so Lundinor being ever forgotten.'

Ivy shivered. So if a mucker went inside a ghoul hole, they lost their memory. Wow – uncommoners really did go the extra mile to keep Lundinor a secret. As she approached the next door, the feather began writing:

Prisoner 2

Name: Valian Kaye

Crime: Theft of a bell from Ethel Dread

Status: Investigation pending

Ivy gasped.
Valian
. She could see him sitting on the edge of the bench, rubbing his bare arms as if trying to warm himself. His mouth was a tight line. Ivy bit her lip. If he was in there, he must have been arrested earlier and not run away. She wondered if he'd really stolen a bell from Ethel. She wasn't sure how she felt about him being locked up. Maybe he deserved it.

She shook her head. She didn't have time to work it out. She was here for her brother. She moved on to the next cell. When she saw who was in there, her heart pounded.

Seb.

He was scrunched up in the corner, his knees tucked under his arms, the lead from his headphones creeping down his chest. His grey hood was hanging low over his eyebrows but Ivy could still see his face. There were dark circles under his eyes and a bloody scratch across his cheek.

He looks terrible.
She ran her hand across the glass. She needed to get inside.

The feather swished around by her head.

Prisoner 3

Name: Unknown. Grandson of Sylvie Wrench

Crime:

Status: Awaiting interrogation

Ivy examined the cell door. There was no handle, but she saw a small opening that looked like a keyhole. With the invisibility candle in her left hand, Ivy got onto her knees to take a closer look.

There must be some way to get it open.

She did a quick inventory of her tools. Granma Sylvie's handbag contained some bits of paper, a small packet of tissues, a silk scarf and a purse full of coins. The pockets in Valian's jacket were all empty. The only thing left was the grubby piece of canvas she'd taken from the House of Bells.

Inside was the small paintbrush, hammer and the uncommon piece of string that had secured the canvas. She ran her fingers across them thoughtfully, wondering if they might be useful. She had no idea how to pick a lock; in movies people used hairpins or wire.

She grabbed the uncommon string, wondering what to do with it. The heat coming from it was especially ticklish, like warm pins and needles under her skin.

She swung it around experimentally in front of her, but nothing happened. Something about it tugged at the corners of her memory . . . She'd seen someone using it before . . .

Of course
, she realized.
The puppeteer.

She tied the string onto her middle finger, just as he'd done. Immediately the string started to move of its own accord, snaking through the air like a white cotton worm. Ivy directed it towards the lock, where it slipped inside.

She wiggled her finger slightly. She could feel the string turning inside, as if it was made of steel.

Click!

There was a deep groan and the door edged open. Ivy tugged the string out of the lock and leaped to her feet.

It worked!
She couldn't believe it. She cast her eyes along the corridor to check that she was still alone, stuffed the string inside the canvas and hauled back the heavy cell door.

Seb was on his feet as she burst in. He ripped his headphones out of his ears.

‘Seb!'

‘
Ivy?
Where are you?' He swept back his hood, frowning as his eyes strained. ‘Is this some kind of trick?'

Ivy thrust the invisibility candle into Granma Sylvie's handbag, hearing the flame crackle back to life. She watched the air around her shift for a second, and then Seb blinked.

‘Ivy!' He rushed forward and grabbed her, pulling her close. His top smelled of damp sweat. ‘I can't believe you're—! How did you—?'

She pushed him away. ‘There's no time to explain now; we have to get out of here.'

Seb's face darkened. ‘Yeah, I know.' He looked into the hallway. ‘Are you on your own?'

Ivy winced. ‘Not exactly.' She held the door open. ‘Come on – we have to be quick.'

Just then, she heard the clack of footsteps in the corridor. ‘Wait,' she whispered, shoving Seb back inside. She caught a flash of black cloak as she heaved on the cell door, leaving it ajar. Her heart was in her mouth as she waited for the footsteps to fade.

After a minute they both crept outside. Ivy checked for patrolling underguards. The place was empty.

‘We've got to find a way back to the street,' she said. ‘There must be a fire exit somewhere.' She dashed along the corridor, away from the reception. There was a sign on the wall pointing to the armoury, with the symbol of a toilet brush next to it. Ivy turned the other way, Seb hard on her heels.

‘Mmmm hhmm mmm,' came a muffled voice.

‘Ivy . . .' Seb whispered. ‘Did you know that your pocket's moving?'

Ivy frowned and pulled Scratch out. ‘Scratch, what's up?'

‘Stables horses! Outing way through stables,' he said enthusiastically. ‘Scratch outside from seen.'

Seb's jaw dropped. ‘Ivy, did that thing just—?'

Ivy grabbed his sweatshirt. ‘It doesn't matter. Look for the stables –
now
!'

Seb began checking every door. Ivy hurried after him, trying to guess where the stables might be. Ahead, the passage split in two. There was no time to check both – Ivy thought she heard approaching footsteps. She took a sniff and tugged Seb's arm, pulling him down the left-hand passage; the air smelled fresher in that direction. Soon she could hear thuds behind the wall and then, just once, the thrilling noise of a horse neighing.

‘We must be close,' she said. ‘There!'

Her spirits soared as she spotted a set of double doors with smoked-glass windows. Through them, she could make out a dark hall with a high ceiling and a row of shadowy stables on either side. On the wall was a set of flashing silver horseshoes. Above them, a sign read: lightning lucky horseshoes. An archway at the opposite end of the hall led out onto a road lit by streetlamps.

Ivy hissed. ‘The exit's there – I can see it!'

Seb was at her shoulder. ‘Ivy, wait. What if the door's alarmed?'

Ivy glanced at the large conch shell mounted on the wall above it. ‘We'll just have to make a run for it anyway. I know where we're going when we get outside.' She could only think of one place where they might be safe. ‘Ethel's. I'll show you . . .' She pushed the steel bar on the door. It creaked but wouldn't budge.

Seb came to help, but it was no good. His face flushed. ‘It must be jammed.'

‘What?' Ivy puffed. ‘Someone will come along at any moment, I just know it.' She thought of using the uncommon string again, but this door had no keyhole. ‘We don't have time.'

She felt Scratch trembling. ‘Gloves uncommon what you needed.'

Seb drew back. ‘Seriously, you're OK with that thing talking? It's creepy.'

Ivy ignored him.
Uncommon gloves.
She remembered what Gilbert Grandiose had said in his shop:
Uncommon gloves are the keys to all Lundinor.
Maybe they were literally like keys; maybe they opened doors . . .

BOOK: The Crooked Sixpence
10.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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