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Meanwhile,
the magician went smoothly on with his act. He borrowed a hat from one of the
men in the crowd, boiled an egg in it, and returned the hat to its owner
unharmed. Then he brought out a pack of playing cards and ran through a series
of increasingly elaborate tricks.

           
Kim was
so enthralled by the show that she almost missed seeing a small door open near
the front of the wagon. The jingling noise of the tambourine caught her
attention at last. Hastily she mashed herself flat against the side of Jamie's
stall, holding one ragged sleeve up to obscure her face. Mairelon's droopy
henchman glanced in her direction as he passed, but his eyes moved on once her
dirty and impecunious appearance sank in.

           
As soon
as the man had been absorbed into the audience, Kim darted for the wagon door,
hoping Mairelon's show and the growing shadows would keep her from being
noticed. Her luck held; no shouts followed her down the narrow aisle, and when
she reached it, the door was unlocked. Kim pushed it open and half jumped, half
fell into the wagon's interior, the first chorus of "Darlin' Jenny"
echoing through her mind.

           
She
paused briefly to get her breath back and look around. Once again, she found
herself staring in surprise. The wagon's interior was paneled in dark wood,
polished to a high gloss. Rows of cupboards ran down one side, topped by a
shelf of smooth grey tile. A long chest was built into the other wall; from the
neat roll of blankets at one end, Kim guessed that it doubled as a bed.
Presumably the droopy man slept on the floor, or perhaps under the wagon, for
she saw no sign of a second bed.

           
A small
lamp, which Kim decided had to be pewter because it could not possibly be
silver, hung near the door. Its light threw back rich highlights from the walls
and cupboard doors. A wool carpet, deep red with strange designs in black and
cream, covered the floor. Kim had never been anywhere half so elegant in her
entire life; even the back room of Gentleman Jerry's was nothing to it.

           
The faded
curtain at the far end of the wagon swayed as Mairelon crossed his little
stage. Kim came out of her daze as she realized that the curtain was all that
separated her from discovery. She could hear the magician's patter quite
clearly. He would be able to hear her just as easily, should she be clumsy or
careless.

           
Kim
glanced around the wagon again, painfully aware of the need for haste. She had
wasted nearly a whole verse in her musing. The cupboards were the most likely
place to start. She stepped forward, like a cat stalking a particularly
suspicious mouse, and opened the first door.

           
The
cupboard was filled with dishes. Three mismatched plates and a shallow ceramic
soup bowl occupied the lowest shelf; a row of china teacups hung from hooks on
the bottom of the shelf above. The upper part of the cupboard contained a neat
stack of copper pans, iron pots, and assorted lids. Kim took long enough to
make sure there was nothing hidden in or behind any of them, then went on. Her
hasty search revealed nothing of any interest in the remaining cupboards, and
she turned to the long chest.

           
The lid
did not respond to her careful tug. Closer inspection revealed a hidden lock.
Kim hesitated. She had nearly three full verses of "Darlin' Jenny"
left, even if she allowed herself
all of the
last one
as a safety margin. And the skinny toff would hardly be pleased if all she had
to tell him was that Mairelon the Magician kept pots in his cupboards and his
chest locked. Her lips tightened, and she reached into her pocket for the stiff
bit of wire she always carried.

           
The lock
was a good one, and the overhanging wood that concealed it made her work more
difficult. Two more verses of "Darlin' Jenny" went by while she
twisted the wire back and forth, coaxing the tumblers into position. She was
about to abandon her efforts when she heard a faint click and the lid of the
chest popped up a quarter of an inch.

           
Kim
straightened in relief and pocketed the wire. She took hold of the chest's lid
and lifted, forcing herself to move slowly in case the hinges squealed. Then
she held it in position with one hand and bent over to peer inside.

           
Piles of
brightly colored silks met her eyes. Beside them were slotted wooden boxes, a
bundle of tiny Chinese lanterns, several mirrors, a glass tube with a painted
paper cover, a top hat, and several decks of playing cards, all arranged neatly
and precisely according to some order Kim could not fathom. A few she recognized
as props from Mairelon's first show; none of them looked at all like the bowl
the
gentry
cove had gone on about. As she started to
close the lid, she saw a swatch of black velvet sticking out from under a stack
of neatly folded silk handkerchiefs. One last try, she thought, and brushed the
silks aside.

           
Her hand
closed on something hard and heavy, wrapped in velvet. Then there was a
violent, soundless explosion and Kim was flung backward against the cupboards
on the other side of the wagon. Through a haze of violet light, she saw the lid
of the trunk slowly close itself. Purple spots danced before her eyes, then
spread out to cover her entire field of vision. Her last coherent thought, as
the purple deepened into black unconsciousness, was an angry curse directed at
the toff waiting for her in the public house. Five pounds wasn't anywhere near
enough pay for snooping on a
real
magician.

2

           
Kim awoke
all at once. She was propped against something hard, in a semi-sitting
position, and she could feel cord around her wrists and ankles. She heard
voices above her and forced herself to be still, feigning unconsciousness. This
was not, apparently, expected; after a moment, she heard a worried voice say,
" 'Adn't 'e oughter be waking?"

           
"He
is
awake," said the voice of Mairelon the Magician. "He's just
pretending. Come on, child, you might as well admit it. You'll have to open
your eyes sooner or later."

           
Kim
sighed and capitulated. She gave a hasty look around as she opened her eyes, in
the faint hope of discovering a way out of her predicament. She was propped
against the row of cupboards; one of the doors was open, presumably jarred free
when she had been thrown against them. The cord that tied her looked
regrettably sturdy, and the knots were unfamiliar tangles. After one glance,
she abandoned any thought of slipping free while her captors' attention was
elsewhere.

           
"Quite
so," said Mairelon.

           
Kim
looked up. Mairelon was standing next to the chest, on the opposite side of the
wagon. He had removed his cloak and hat; without them, he seemed both shorter
and younger than he had appeared on stage. His expression held none of the
anger and annoyance Kim expected; instead, there was a gleam of something very
like interest or amusement. She began to hope she would come around from this,
after all.

           
Beside Mairelon stood the droopy man.
He, too, had removed
his hat, and his grey and black hair was plastered flat against his head. He
alternated sour glares at Kim with nervous looks directed at Mairelon, and he
was chewing continuously on one end of his mustache.

           
Kim
looked back at Mairelon. "Proper knowin'
one,
ain't you?" she said in her best boyish tone.

           
"As
far as you are concerned, not nearly so knowing as I would like to be,"
Mairelon replied affably.

           
"
You going
to call the nabbing culls?"

           
"That
depends on how much you are willing to tell me."

           
"I
got no reason to keep quiet," Kim said frankly. If the toff who'd hired
her had been more open, she might have felt some obligation to keep her mouth
shut, but not even an out-and-outer would expect her to protect an employer
who'd withheld crucial knowledge about a job.
Especially when
she hadn't been too keen on it in the first place.

           
"Then
perhaps you would explain just what you were doing in my wagon," Mairelon
said.

           
"Lookin'
about," Kim said promptly.

           
The
droopy man snorted through the damp ends of his mustache.
"Stealing,
more likely."

           
"Quiet,
Hunch," Mairelon said. He looked from Kim to the open cupboard with a
speculative gleam. "Just looking?"

           
"That's
right," Kim said firmly.
"Just lookin' about."

           
The
magician's eyes
narrowed,
and Kim wondered whether her
reply had been too forceful for the boy she was pretending to be. It was too
late to change it now, though.

           
"That
accounts for the cupboards, I think," Mairelon said after a moment.
"How did you--"

           
"You
don't never
believe 'im, do you?" the droopy man
demanded.

           
"Hunch!
Refrain from interrupting, if you please."

           
"And
let you get yourself in a mort o' trouble from believing things you 'adn't
ought to?" Hunch said indignantly. "I
won't never
!"

           
Mairelon
gave his henchman an exasperated look. "Then you can go outside until I'm
done."

           
Hunch's
face took on a grim expression.
"Nay."

           
"It's
that or be silent."

           
The two
men's eyes locked briefly; Hunch's fell. "Aye, then, I'll 'old my
peace."

           
"Good."
Mairelon turned back to Kim, who had been watching this exchange with great
interest. "As I was saying, I think you've explained the cupboards. The
chest is another matter. How did you open it?"

           
"Picked the lock."

           
"I
find that a little difficult to believe. It's not a simple mechanism."

           
"Didn't
have to be," Kim said, allowing herself to bristle at the implied
reflection on her skill.

           
Mairelon
raised an eyebrow. "Well, we'll leave that for the moment. Just
why
were you, er, looking about in my wagon?"

           
"A
gentry
cove at the Dog and Bull said he'd pay five pounds to
know what you had in here.
Said he had a bet on it."

           
"Did
he
." Mairelon and Hunch exchanged glances.

           
"He
thought he'd gammoned me proper," Kim said. She took a perverse pleasure
in betraying the toff who'd gotten her into this. "But if it was just a
bet, why'd he let me talk him up to five pounds? And why was he so nattered
over that wicher-bubber?"

           
"Wicher-bubber?"
Mairelon said, looking startled,
and not altogether pleased. "You mean a silver bowl?"

           
"That's
what I said. The toff wanted me to look for it."

           
"Did
he ask you to steal it?" Mairelon
demanded,
his
expression tense.

           
"No,
but I ain't saying he wouldn't of been right pleased if I'd a nicked it for
him."

           
"There!"
Hunch said. "What was I telling you
? '
E's a
thief."

           
"Look,
cully, if I was a sharper, would I be telling you straight out?" Kim said,
exasperated. "All I said was, I'd keep an eye out for it, and that's
truth!"

           
"So
all you agreed to do was come in, look around, and let him know whether you saw
this bowl?" Mairelon said.

           
"That's
it," Kim said. Hunch snorted, and she glared at him. "There wouldn't
be no harm done, after all; just lookin' about. But he ought to
of
said somethin' about you being a real magician with fancy
locks and exploding chests."

           
"What
did this toff of yours look like?"

           
"A real swell.
Top hat, and gloves better'n the ones
Jamie sells, and a silk cravat." Kim shook her head in wonder that was
only partly simulated.
"A top hat, at the Dog and
Bull."

           
"What
color was his hair?"

           
"Muddy.
Thin, too."

           
"His hair or himself?"

           
"Both."

           
Mairelon
nodded, as if he had expected that answer. "And did he give you something
to make it easier for you to get in here?
And into my
chest?"

           
"No,
and I wouldn't of took it if he'd offered. I ain't
no
flat."

           
"Then
suppose you show me how you managed it," Mairelon said.

           
Kim
nodded, and the magician reached for the rope that bound her hands. Hunch made
a strangling noise. Mairelon paused and looked at him with an expression of
innocent inquiry.

           
"You're
never letting 'im go?" Hunch said, plainly appalled by the idea. "You
got no idea what 'e's up to!"

           
"I
think the two of us can handle her."

           
Hunch bit
down hard on the right side of his mustache.
" 'Er
?"

           
"Oh,
you didn't realize?" Mairelon said. He turned back to Kim while Hunch was
still gaping mutely, and gave one of the loops of cord a sharp tug. The knot
slid apart as though someone had greased the rope, leaving Kim's hands free. She
blinked, then darted a hand forward and yanked on the cord that held her
ankles.

           
Nothing
happened. "There's a trick to it, of course," Mairelon said blandly.
"I'll show you, if you like, when you've finished your own
demonstration."

           
Kim
looked up in disbelief. Mairelon was smiling in what appeared to be genuine
amusement. "You will?"

           
"Yes.
When you're finished," he added pointedly. Hunch scowled ferociously at
his master's back, but did not dare voice any more criticism.

           
"All
right, all right," Kim said. She reached into her pocket, pulled out the
bit of wire, and set to work. She was fairly sure by this time that the
magician would not turn her over to the constables, but instead of reassuring
her, the knowledge made her even more uneasy. Why did he hesitate?

           
She
watched Mairelon surreptitiously as she wiggled the wire. He didn't look
particularly impressive, but he was no flat, that was certain. He was no
ordinary street magician, either, not with the inside of his wagon done up like
a
gentry
ken. Not to mention that thing in the chest
that had blown Kim halfway across the room.

           
The
memory slowed her fingers. True, she'd actually been poking around in the chest
when the spell or whatever it was had gone off, but Mairelon could easily have
changed it while she was unconscious. She had no desire to repeat the
performance.

           
Hunch
shifted impatiently. "She ain't going to get it, not with just that bit o'
wire."

           
"Give
over," Kim snarled, and twisted her wrist. Again she heard the faint
click, and the lid of the chest rose fractionally. Kim lifted it open and
looked triumphantly at Hunch.

           
"Impressive,"
Mairelon said. He looked at Kim thoughtfully, and the gleam of interest was
back. "I didn't think anyone but old Schapp-Mussener himself could open
that chest without the key."

           
"It's
a knack," Kim said modestly.

           
"It's
a talent, and a very impressive talent, too." The gleam became more
pronounced. "I don't suppose--"

           
"Master
Richard!" Hunch interrupted.

           
"Mmmm?"

           
"You
ain't a-going to do nothing dreadful now, are you?" Hunch said in a severe
tone.

           
"No,
no, of course not," Mairelon said absently, still looking at Kim.

           
"Good,"
Hunch said, much relieved.

           
"I
was just going to ask our guest here--what is your name, by the way?"

           
"Kim."

           
"Kim.
I was just going to ask Kim here if she would like to come with us when we
leave
London
."

           
Hunch bit
both ends of his mustache at once. "You
ain't never
going to bring her along!"

           
"Why not?"
Mairelon said in a reasonable tone.
"It might be useful to have someone along
who's
familiar with . . . things. A lot has happened in the past four years."

           
"You
want me to come with you, after I snuck in here and blew things around?"
Kim said incredulously. "You're bosky!"

           
Hunch
started to nod agreement, then caught himself and glared at Kim. "You
can't do it, Master Richard! She's a thief!"

           
"I
ain't!"

           
"Stop
it, both of you." Mairelon's voice was firm. He looked at Hunch. "I
don't think Kim is a thief, though it's plain that she's had some of the
training. Not that it matters."

           
"It
do
too matter! What are you going to do with 'er?"

           
"She
could help with the act," Mairelon said. "She seems a handy sort of
person."

           
Hunch
snorted. "Ain't that what you said about that Frog 'oo sherried off with
ten guineas and your best coat?"

           
"Yes,
well, he was a little too handy. I think Kim will do much better."

           
"At what?"

           
"She
could make a very useful assistant eventually. Provided, of
course,
that
she would be willing to come along?" Mairelon looked
questioningly at Kim.

           
"You
ain't gammoning me?" Kim said suspiciously.

           
"No."

           
The
single word was more convincing than Mairelon's speeches had been, but Kim
still hesitated. What did he expect to get out of hauling her along with him?
From the luxurious interior of the wagon, it was plain that Mairelon could
afford the company of the best of the fashionable impures, if what he wanted
was a doxy. He had no reason to pick a grubby imitation boy out of the market
instead. And he wasn't the sort who
preferred
boys; Kim had learned long
ago to spot and avoid them. So what
did
he want?

BOOK: Wrede, Patricia C - Mairelon 01
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