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Briar left to wash up, and when she returned, Lucy was sitting in a chair with her arm laid out on a table. The arm was surrounded by bolts, gears, and screws. A Chinese boy who couldn’t have been a week older than Ezekiel was rooting around in Lucy’s wrist joint with an oilcan and a long pair of tweezers.

He looked up at Briar through an elaborate pair of spectacles with adjustable, interlocking lenses attached at the corners.

“Briar!” Lucy said happily, though she was careful not to jostle the arm. “This here is Huojin, but I call him Huey and he doesn’t seem to mind it.”

He said, “No, ma’am.”

“Hello… Huey,” Briar said to him. “How’s her arm coming along?”

He aimed his forehead back down at the splayed machinery so that the lenses would show the work space better. “Not bad. Not great. The arm is a fine machine, but I didn’t invent it or build it. I have to feel my way around it,” he said. His English came glazed with an accent, but it was not very thick and he was quite understandable. “If f had the copper tubes I need, I think I could make it work just right again. But I had to improvise.”

“ ‘Improvise,’ did you hear that?” Lucy laughed. “He reads English out of books. And when he was a little thing, he used to practice it on all of us folks down here. Now he talks a damn sight better than most of the men I know.”

Briar wondered what Huey had been doing down in the underground as a small child. She nearly asked, but then she thought it might not be any business of hers, so she didn’t. She said, “Well, I’m glad he’s here working on you. Can you tell me more about that mark outside of Maynard’s? What does it mean?”

Lucy shook her head. “It means that Minnericht likes to mark his territory like a dog, pissing all over it. I wonder what his gripe was with Maynard’s? He’s left us alone for a while; maybe he just figured it was time to stir things up to keep us paying attention. Or maybe Squiddy still owes him.”

Briar said, “Mr. Swakhammer thought maybe one of Minnericht’s men saw me. Maybe the doctor’s mad that I went down to Maynard’s without visiting him first.”

Lucy didn’t respond. She pretended to watch Huey as he closed up the panel on her arm and sealed it back into place. Finally she said, “That’s possible. He’s got eyes just about everyplace, damn him. And he couldn’t just knock on the door or leave a note, God no. Instead he’s got to send down the dead, soften us up, and maybe pick off a man or two in order to make a statement. I wonder how he’d like it if we went down to the station and popped his locks. Let him deal with the dead in his own home space. It’d be an act of war. And maybe we could use an act of war.”

Huey wrapped up his work and tightened the last screw. He leaned back and pulled the heavy glass contraption off of his forehead. The straps stuck around his ears and then came loose with a snap. “All done, Mrs. O’Gunning. I wish I could fix it up better for you, but that’s the best I can do.”

“Sweetheart, it’s just amazing, and I can’t thank you enough. Anything you want, anything you need—you let me know. Next time the airmen come through town, I can put in a request.”

“More books?” he asked.

“More books. As many books as they’ll carry for you,” she swore. The boy thought for a moment and then said, “When will the Naamah Darling come back again? Do you know?”

“I’m sorry sweetheart, but I couldn’t say. Why? You want to leave a message for Fang?”

“Yes ma’am,” he said. “I would like some books in Chinese, and he would know where to get them. He’d know which books are good, I think.”

“Consider it done. I’ll stop by the tower on Tuesday, and ask around for you.” She carefully ruffled her fingers in his hair, and although they were stiff, the gesture came across as friendly as she meant it. “You’re a good one, Huey. A fine boy, and a smart one.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” he said, and with a bow, he excused himself back into the halls of the Vaults.

Briar said, “He sure does talk good.”

“I wish I could take credit for it, but I can’t. I just gave him what I had and let him learn it all himself.” She twisted the arm left and right, and up and down. “You know,” she said, “I think this’ll be fine for a while. It’s not perfect, but it works well enough.”

“Does that mean you don’t want to go to Minnericht after all?” Briar asked.

Lucy said, “Maybe, maybe not. Let me give this a few hours and see how it goes. What about you? Are you still interested in going all the way out to King Street to meet him?”

She said, “I think so, yes. Besides, if Mr. Swakhammer’s right, you can’t hide me forever. He knows I’m down here someplace, and he’ll keep trying to flush me out if I don’t go introduce myself. I don’t want to make any trouble for you, Lucy.”

“Trouble’s fine, darling. We get trouble all the time, and if he wasn’t giving us grief about you, it’d be something else. So how about this? Let me holler for Squiddy. We’ll see if he’ll take you down to the old bank blocks. He knows his way around that place better than anybody else, I’ll tell you what. If there’s any sign of your boy down there, he’ll be the man to find it.”

Briar’s eyebrows pinched up into her forehead. “Really?” She tried to remember which patron of Maynard’s they were discussing. “The thin man with the muttonchops and the goatee?”

“That’s him. He’s a mad old boy, but we all are, down here. Now, listen: Squiddy used to be a small-time crook, when he was Huey’s age and younger. Back before the walls, he was making a big plan to break into the banks himself. He drew up all sorts of plans, and he learned all the nooks and crannies real good… and I think it made him madder than hell that the Boneshaker took the block first.” She moved her arm again and winced. “But don’t get me wrong; he’s all right. He’s sharp, in his own way, and he likes to look helpful. He won’t screw you up or leave you stuck.”

“How reassuring,” Briar said.

“Oh, don’t I know it. Here now—you’d better hurry up. It’ll be getting dark before long. It hardly stays light at all up there, this time of the year, so go get Squiddy and take your look around while there’s still time for you to do it. He knows to expect you. I already told him he was going to show you the sights, and he said he was all right with it.”

Briar found Squiddy playing cards with Willard and Ed.

Squiddy folded his hand and tipped his hat at Briar, who wasn’t sure if she should tip hers back or not. So she nodded and told him, “Hello. Lucy said you’d be kind enough to show me around the bank blocks for an hour or two real quick, before sundown.”

“That’s right, ma’am. I’ve got no trouble working on the Lord’s day. Let me just get my gear.”

Squiddy Farmer was a narrow man from chin to toes, dressed in skinny pants and a buttoned jersey that fit so close you could count his ribs. He threw a wool sweater over the whole ensemble; and although the sweater was large enough to hit his hips, its neck hole was small enough to squeeze his head. The salt-and-pepper puff of his balding scalp and fluffy sideburns popped through the opening.

He smiled, showing a mostly full set of teeth that didn’t often see a brush. From a side table behind the spot where cards were being shuffled, he picked up a bubblelike helmet with a portal on the front.

When he saw her looking at it with frank confusion, he said, “It’s one of Dr. Minnericht’s models. He said I could have it, because no one liked it very well and it was just collecting dust.”

“Why?” she asked. “Does it work?”

“It works. It works real good, but it’s real heavy—and I have to cut my own filters for it. I don’t mind it, though. I like being able to see almost all the way around, you know?” He showed her the way the curved glass wrapped from ear to ear, and she had to admit that it looked convenient.

“Maybe someday he’ll make a lighter version.”

Squiddy said, “I heard he was working on it, but if he ever made a new one, he didn’t let me near it. Are you ready?”

She held up her mask and said, “Sure am.”

He donned his globe-shaped mask and it gave him the look of a lollipop. “Let’s go then.”

Briar strapped her own mask onto her head as she followed him. It seemed like she’d only just pulled it off, but she understood the necessity and—against all expectations—she was almost growing accustomed to it.

Through a dark warren of corridors she hiked, down another stretch of poorly repaired staircases and deep into a grated level where the hum of machinery filled her ears.

Squiddy wasn’t a man who was often asked to play tour guide, so he didn’t give much in the way of highlights. But he did think to mention, “We’re putting more filters down here.” He gestured at the metal latticework under his feet. “It’s an experiment.”

“What kind of experiment?”

“Well, see, right now if we want to keep clean air in the safe spots, we have to pump it down from all the way up over the walls. But that China-boy said maybe we didn’t need to do that. He says maybe we can clean the dirty air as easy as we can pull in clean air. I don’t know if he’s right or not, but some of our people think it’s worth a try.”

“Pumping down all that air must be a real chore.”

“So it is, so it is,” he agreed.

The grates beneath their feet clanged under their steps, and before long they gave way to a landing with three equally barricaded doors. Squiddy adjusted his massive headpiece and reached for one of three levers that were fixed in the floor.

He told her, “This is as close as we can get from inside, so here’s the end of the line. We leave and come back through that one in the middle.” He pointed at the door. “You can’t see any of these doors from the outside. We were real careful with it. It all had to be sealed real tight, because the gas is worst over here.”

“Of course,” she said. “It would be worse, here at the center.”

“Are your filters new?”

“I changed them out just before we left the Vaults.”

He gripped the lever and leaned against it. “Good. Because that eight- or ten-hour rule? It’s not so helpful over here. Those filters won’t work longer than a couple of hours, maybe two or three. We’re going down close to the crack.”

“We are?”

“Sure we are.” The lever bent all the way back, almost to the floor. With it, a chain was drawn somewhere out of sight, and a crack appeared around the center door. “It’s right underneath the old First Bank. That’s as deep as the Boneshaker ever got, and that’s where the worst of the Blight seems to be. That’s the bad news.”

“You say that like there’s good news,” Briar observed as the door grinded back, out into the crushed old blocks where the banks used to be.

“There is good news!” he insisted. “The good news is that there aren’t half so many rotters down here as there are farther out. The gas eats them right up, so they stay away—or the ones that don’t, don’t last too long. That reminds me. You might want to fasten up that coat. You’ve got gloves, don’t you?”

“Yes,” she said, wiggling her fingers to show them.

“Good. Pull your hat down tight, too. Over your ears if it’ll fit. You don’t want any skin showing if you can help it. It’ll burn you,” he said solemnly. “Just like knocking your hand on a stove. It’ll turn your hair, too, and you’ve already got a bit of gold in it.”

“It’s orange,” she said dully. “It used to be black, but it’s getting those orange stripes from all the rain with Blight in it.”

“Tuck it down into your collar if you haven’t got a scarf. It’ll protect your neck.”

“Good plan,” she said, and she did as he suggested.

“Are you ready?”

“I’m ready.”

His sharply carved face wobbled behind the imperfect curve of his mask’s glass front. He said, “Let’s go then. Keep as quiet as you can, but don’t worry yourself too bad. Like I said, we’ll mostly be alone.” He gave her Spencer a pointed stare. “Jeremiah says you’re a real good shot.”

“I am a real good shot.”

He said, “Good. But just so you know, odds are good that if you’ve got to shoot out here, you won’t be shooting at rotters. Minnericht’s got friends; or he’s got employees, anyway. Sometimes they patrol down here. This is the edge of the turf between the Chinamen’s quarters and the old transportation depot. You know how they were building a new train station, when the walls went up?”

“Yes,” she said, and then she headed him off. “I heard that Minnericht lives out there, under the half-built station.”

“Right. That’s how I heard it too.” He leaned against the door to open it another foot or two, and it opened up almost as much as it opened out. It wasn’t until it fell to the side that Briar realized she’d be climbing up from underground.

“Have you ever seen him?” she asked. “Dr. Minnericht, I mean?”

“No, ma’am,” Squiddy told her, but he didn’t look at her.

“Really? Is that so?”

He held the door for her, and she emerged up into a spot that was still underground, but with a perilous canopy of broken street looming over their heads. The afternoon drizzle of sun cut around its edges to illuminate the pit.

He said, “Yeah, that’s so. Why wouldn’t it be?”

“It’s just that you said he gave you the helmet. And I heard you might owe him money sometimes, that’s all. I thought maybe you’d seen him. I’m just curious. I wondered what he looked like.” She figured he’d heard the rumors—it seemed everybody had—and since Squiddy didn’t know of her chats with Swakhammer and Lucy, he wouldn’t know that she’d already made up her mind about the mysterious doctor.

Her guide scrambled up behind her and let the door drop down. Once it had closed, it was all but impossible to spot; its exterior had been fixed with detritus, and when it swung out on those croaking hinges, it must’ve looked like the earth itself was opening to let them out.

Squiddy finally said, “I’ve owed him money once or twice, that’s a fact. But really I just owe his men. I used to run with them, a little. Not much,” he added fast. “I never worked for him proper-like. But I’d run an errand or two for some extra food or whiskey.”

He stood beside the door and looked as if he’d like to scratch his head, if he could reach it. “When the walls first cut us off in here, we didn’t have it all figured out right away. Times was hard for a few years. Aw, times is hard now, too. I know. But it used to be you could die for breathing. It used to be, you were fighting the rotters for spoiled fruit peels and rat meat.”

“You did what you had to do. I understand.”

“Good, good. I’m glad you’re the understanding kind.” He flashed that yellow-toothed smile. “I thought you might be. You come from a fair sort of stock.”

At first she didn’t catch his meaning, but then she remembered why they’d taken her in so quickly. “Well,” she said, because she wasn’t sure what else to say. She’d spent twenty years trying to prove she wasn’t a thing like her father, and now she had his reputation to thank for her own safety in a very strange place. She wondered what he would’ve thought of it if he’d known. Privately, she suspected that he would’ve been appalled, but then, she’d been wrong about him once or twice before.

So she said, “I appreciate you saying so.” And she didn’t ask him any more questions. She’d rather listen to his silence than listen to his lies.

“Now tell me, Miss Wilkes. What are we looking for, precisely?”

“Some sign,” she said. “Of my boy, I mean. Anything at all that shows he might’ve been here.”

“Like what?”

She thought about it as she poked her way through the debris. Chunks of decaying wooden walkways hung over the edges of the shattered streets, and splinters rained down to settle on her hat. There was no wind and there was no sound. It was like standing underwater in a stagnant pond. All around them the dirty yellow air hung in place. At any moment, Briar thought, the world might freeze and she would stay there, stuck in amber.

She said, “Like anything different from last time you were here. Like footprints, or… or things like that. I don’t know. Tell me about what I’m seeing, could you please? I don’t understand. Where are we, exactly?”

“This is where the Boneshaker cut through under the street. The street fell in. We’re standing on it now, but up there”—he pointed at the jagged ceiling above—“that’s the rest of the street. And the walkways. And whatever else was up there sixteen years ago.”

“Fantastic,” she said. “It’s dark down here. I can hardly see a thing.”

“I’m real sorry. I didn’t bring a lantern.”

“Don’t apologize,” she told him. She picked her way around to a spot that seemed to be the back, or the edge, or some far corner of the pit. Directly in front of her, a black chasm opened up in the shape of a crushed circle, and disappeared deeper into the earth. Beyond a few feet, she could see nothing of where it might go or what it might hold.

She called into it. “Hello?” But she didn’t use her loudest voice, and she would’ve been shocked to receive an answer.

None came.

“We can go up to street level, if you want. Over here,” Squiddy said. He led her to a steeply cut ledge and pointed at the boards and bricks that had been jammed and stacked together. “It’s a climb, but it’s not bad. You can see better up there.”

“All right. I’ll follow you.”

He scaled the slope with ease, scampering like a man half his age, until he crested the edge and stood, backlit against the lip of the gaping hole. Briar came up behind him and took his hand when he offered it. He pulled her over the edge and beamed inside his helmet mask. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”


If she’d been asked to pick ten words to describe the scene before her, “beautiful” wouldn’t have made the cut.

If she hadn’t known better, she might’ve guessed that it had hosted a war in some other time; she might have assumed that some terrible scourge or blast had destroyed the whole landscape. Where once there had been stately structures that held money and the bustle of patrons, now there was only a long, open wound in the ground. The wound had gone rough around its massive edges, and it was beginning to fill with rubble.

In one place there seemed to be a stack of rounded river boulders. A closer look revealed them to be skulls, crusty and gray. They’d collected in a low gully, having rolled away from their forgotten bodies.

Briar fought to catch her breath. It was difficult, as she should’ve expected, given Squiddy’s warning about the air. But it was a real and hard-fought struggle to bring a lungful at a time through her filters, which strained against the incoming impurities. It was like breathing through a feather mattress.

And how could she ever tell if her son had come by this place?

Gazing down into the pit she could see no sign of a trail—not even the one she’d so recently used. The terrain was unfit for keeping footprints. An elephant could’ve trod through the rubble and it wouldn’t have left a mark.

A wave of hopelessness splashed against her and she cringed, tightening and hugging herself against the possibilities. She was out of ideas. She couldn’t have discerned it if an army of Zekes had come this way. It was all she could do to swear to herself that no, he must not be back inside that tunnel with the edges as big as a house’s roof. No, he couldn’t be lying suffocated or squirming at the bottom of a hole Zeke’s father had dug before he was born. No, it didn’t matter that he couldn’t have known about the air in this place. No, no, and no again.

“He’s not here,” she said, and the words bounded around inside her mask.

“That’s good, isn’t it?” Squiddy asked. His fluffy eyebrows twitched beneath his glass faceplate. “You wouldn’t want to find him here, not really.”

“I suppose not,” she said.

“We could come back with a light, early tomorrow. We could look inside the tunnel. You wouldn’t have to do a whole lot of crawling or anything. If he got up inside there, he didn’t go far.”

She squeaked, “Maybe. Yes. I don’t know. Maybe. It’s getting dark.” She added the observation because she couldn’t convince herself to choose an answer. “What time is it?”

“It’s always getting dark down here,” he agreed. “I don’t know what time it is. Coming up on lunch, that’s all I know. What do you want to do now? ”

She didn’t have an answer for that, either. So she tried, “Do you have any ideas? Any thoughts on where we might look? Are there any other safe places, or cleared-out breathing places nearby?”

Squiddy’s oversized head swiveled back and forth as he surveyed the area for suggestions. “I’m forced to tell you no, Miss Wilkes. There’s no place where the breathing’s good until you get out to where the Chinamen keep themselves at night. They live near their old blocks, that way,” he pointed.

“And Dr. Minnericht?”

“That way.” He pointed ninety degrees away from his first gesture. “About the same distance. Where we just came from, that’s the closest spot for getting away and getting some air, and I don’t think anybody could find it if he didn’t know it was there.”

Back down in the pit Briar could barely see the place where they’d come out. “I’m sure you’re right,” she said. And she was glad that he couldn’t see her face as well as she could see his.

As the white-gray sky above them lowered its lids and sank to a darker hue, Briar and Squiddy trudged back down the slope and reentered the tunnel beneath the ledge. The door sealed behind them with a grinding suck, securing them once more in the fire-dim brightness of machinery and filters.

“I’m real sorry,” he said to her, still through the helmet because they hadn’t yet passed enough seals to breathe freely. “I wish we’d found some sign of him. It’s a shame we didn’t.”

“Thank you for taking me out here,” she told him. “You didn’t have to do it, and I appreciate it. I suppose now I’ll go find Lucy and see how she’s doing. Maybe, if she still wants to, we can go and catch this doctor of yours.”

Squiddy didn’t answer right away, as if he were chewing on a sentence before spitting it out. Then he said, “That might be a good idea. There’s always a chance that Dr. Minnericht found your boy and brought him in. Or maybe one of his folks did. He’s got folks just about everywhere.”

Briar’s throat seized as if it were being held in a fist. The thought had already occurred to her, and even though she was firmly, totally, thoroughly certain that the doctor was not her former husband… it still churned her stomach. If she’d ever had one thing to be thankful for, it was that Zeke had never met his father; and she had no intention of letting a pretender insert himself into that role.

But instead of screaming all this through the mask, as she desperately wanted to do, she cleared her throat and said, “He has people who work for him, does he? This doctor? I’ve heard them mentioned, but I haven’t seen any sign of them yet.”

“Well, they don’t wear uniforms or nothing,” Squiddy said. “But you can pretty much pick them out of a crowd. They’re usually downed airmen, or dealers who come and go. Some of them are chemists who work with the doctor. He’s always looking for new ways to make the sap, or make it easier to make. Sometimes they’re big old thugs from outside the walls, and sometimes they’re just sap-heads who hang around close and run errands, or do favors. He’s got a little bit of an army down here, if you want the truth. But it’s never the same army twice.”

“Sounds like people come and go a lot. Sounds like he’s not an easy man to work with.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” he mumbled. Then he said, “Or that’s how I’ve heard it. But you’re new to the Inside, and you aren’t making any trouble. You’re just looking for your boy, that’s all, and I don’t think he’ll make any problems for you. He’s a businessman, you know? It’d be bad for business, I think, if he did you any harm. The kind of folks who work with him, they’re real fond of your daddy’s memory.”

She stepped out in front of him and led the way along the path. Without turning around to meet his eyes, she said, “As I heard it, that’s not always the case. I hear the doctor doesn’t care much for the peace, and maybe he might not like me much.”

“Maybe,” he conceded. “But from what I’ve seen, you’re a lady who can take care of herself. I wouldn’t worry about it too bad.”

“You wouldn’t?” The Spencer beat a patient rhythm against her back.

“Naw. If he doesn’t want anything from you, like as not, he’ll leave you alone.”

And that was the problem, wasn’t it? He might very well want something from her. Heaven only knew what, but if he’d heard she was in town and if he had a reputation to protect, she might have a favorite new enemy. She glowered inside her mask until she passed the next seal and heard the whooshing, gushing, pounding thrust of the bellows driving air down through the tunnels. “I’m taking this off now,” she said.

“Now that you mention it, I think I’ll do away with my own.” Briar pried her hat away and popped the mask up off her hair. “Not so fast, honey.” Lucy parted the sealed flaps at the far end of the corridor and said, “I wouldn’t get too comfortable yet, if I were you. Not if you want to meet the good doctor.”

“Ma’am,” Squiddy greeted her with a tip of his helmet. He pulled his own mask off and said, “I hope you’re not talking to me. I think I’m done with the topside for now. It’s harder to breathe every time I poke my head up there.”

“No, Squiddy, I’m not talking to you. I’m glad I caught you two, though. I figured you might be headed back about now. If you don’t mind my saying so, Miss Wilkes, you’re looking grim but not grieving. You didn’t find anything, did you?”

Briar shook her head, then stretched her neck so it could pop. “No, we didn’t. We didn’t look very long, but there wasn’t much to see.

“Your lips to God’s ears,” she said. “It looks like an explosion out there, and it never does get any prettier, because, really—who would take the time to fix it? We’ve got better things to do down here, and we surely don’t have the filters or the manpower for it. So all that debris, and all those toppled and sunken old buildings, they just sit there and crumble.”

“Nothing to be done about it,” Briar said. “But I’m a little surprised to see you out this way.”

“My arm’s acting up again. The temporary tubes Huey used to fix it are more temporary than I hoped. I’ve got a sling here for tying it up and holding it.” It took her a moment of discomfort to bring herself around to saying the rest. “Fact is, I can’t live real well without at least one good arm. And I don’t mean to make you take me out there. I wouldn’t do that, and if you don’t want to go, I’d be the last one alive to insist on it. But since we’d talked this morning, I thought maybe—”

“Yes, that’s fine. I don’t mind, and now that you’ve all got me so curious about the man, I may as well catch him for myself.” She punched the interior of her mask to fluff it out again. “If I seem surprised, it’s only that it’s getting dark up there, and I thought everyone tried to stay underground when the sun goes out.”

Squiddy answered before Lucy could. He said, “Oh, getting over to King Street is easy as pie from here, and you wouldn’t be heading out into the streets. Lucy, is that a pair of lanterns in your pack?”

He indicated the lumpy canvas sack she wore slung around her neck and arm.

“I brought two of them, yes, and extra oil for good measure.”

Briar asked, “But aren’t lights a bad idea? We’ll draw rotters, won’t we?”

Lucy said, “So what if we do? We’ll be out of their reach. And anyway, you don’t want to sneak up on the doctor. Best thing to do is walk up loud and bright, and don’t let him think you’re trying to hide. That’s why I came up after you, hoping to catch you. The shortest, loudest, brightest way to Minnericht’s is another tunnel south from here, and there was no sense in making you backtrack.”

Even though Briar was technically willing, her motivation waned. “Isn’t it getting late, though?”

“Late? No, it only looks late. It’s just the time of year, and the shadow from the walls, and the thickness of the Blight. It makes you feel like the sun never comes up good, so it’s hard to tell when it’s actually going down.” She shifted her shoulder, and the pack nestled against the curve of her waist. “Listen, honey, if you don’t want to do this, it’s all right. I’ll go back and grab Jeremiah, and he can escort me in the morning. There’s a rush, but not such a rush that I can’t survive another night with a half-working hand. It’ll be fine if you’d rather not expose yourself just yet.”

Guilt won out over nervousness, and when Briar considered that perhaps Minnericht could point her toward Zeke, she had no choice but to say, “No, no. We’ll go tonight, right now. Let me just change out these filters. They weren’t quite new, but it didn’t take them long to fill right up out there.”

“Oh my, yes. I hope Squids gave you a warning about that.”

While she unscrewed the filters and replaced them with clean ones from her satchel, Briar said, “He did indeed. He’s been a most excellent guide, and I’ve appreciated his company.”

“I’m sorry we didn’t find anything about your boy,” he said again.

“But that’s not your fault, and it was worth trying, wasn’t it? And now I’ve got no more leads to follow except this Minnericht.” She popped the cap back over the filter, and it snapped into place. “Lucy, do you need any help carrying your supplies?”

“No, dear, I don’t. Ask again in an hour, and see if you don’t get a different answer, though.” She was visibly relieved to be heading out, and Briar didn’t wonder why. It must have been a hideously vulnerable feeling to be so crippled in such a dangerous place.

Squiddy said, “If you two ladies are all set up, I suppose I’ll be on my way. There’s a game running next door to the west-wall furnace room, and some of those Chinamen bring gold every once in a while. I may not win any, but I sure do want to set eyes on it,” he beamed.

“Well then, you get a move on, and head back to the Vaults. We’ll head out for the doctor’s place, and if all goes without any trouble, we’ll be back by bedtime,” Lucy vowed.

Squiddy retreated back down the way Lucy had come, disappearing between the brown sealing flaps and darting back to the Vaults. Together, the women listened to the fading slap of his footsteps on the tunnel walkway.

Nineteen | Boneshaker | Twenty-one