On Friday morning, Briar rose just before dawn, like always, and lit a candle so she could see.
Her clothes were where she’d left them. She traded yesterday’s shirt for a clean one, but she drew the same pair of pants up over her legs and tucked the narrow cuffs into her boots. The leather support cinch dangled on the bedpost. She picked it up and buckled it on, crushing it more tightly around her waist than was strictly comfortable. Once it warmed to her body it would fit her better.
Once her boots were laced and she’d found a thick wool vest to throw over her shirt, she pulled her overcoat down off the other bedpost and slipped her arms through its sleeves.
Down the hall, she didn’t hear a sound from her son’s room, not even a quick snore or a settling twist in the blankets. He wouldn’t be awake yet, even if he was going to school—and he didn’t often bother.
Briar had already made sure that he could read all right, and he could count and add better than a lot of the kids she’d seen, so she didn’t worry about him too much. School would keep him out of trouble, but school itself was often trouble. Before the Blight, when the city was bustling enough to support it, there had been several schools. But in the aftermath, with so much of the population decimated or scattered, the teachers didn’t always stay, and the students didn’t get much in the way of discipline.
Briar wondered when the war would end back east. The papers talked about it in exciting terms. A Civil War, a War Between the States, a War of Independence or a War of Aggression. It sounded epic, and after eighteen years of ongoing struggle, perhaps it was. But if it would only end, then perhaps it might be worth the trouble to head back toward the other coast. With some scraping and saving, maybe she could pull together the money to start over somewhere else, where no one knew anything about her dead father or husband. Or, if nothing else, Washington could become a proper state, and not merely a distant territory. If Seattle was part of a state, then America would have to send help, wouldn’t it? With help, they could build a better wall, or maybe do something about the Blight gas trapped inside it. They could get doctors to research treatments for the gas poisoning—and God only knew, maybe even cure it.
It should’ve been a thrilling thought, but it wasn’t. Not at six o’clock in the morning, and not when Briar was beginning a two-mile walk down the mudflats.
The sun was rising slowly and the sky was taking on the milky gray daytime hue that it would never shake, not until spring. Rain spit sideways, cast sharply by the wind until it worked its way under Briar’s wide-brimmed leather hat, up her sleeve cuffs, and down through her boots until her feet were frozen and her hands felt like raw chicken skin.
By the time she reached the ’works, her face was numb from the cold but a tiny bit burned from the foul-smelling water.
She wandered around to the back of the enormous compound that hunkered loudly at the edge of Puget Sound. Twenty-four hours of every day it cranked and pumped, sucking rainwater and groundwater into the plant and stripping it, processing it, cleaning it, until it was pure enough to drink and bathe in. It was a slow and laborious procedure, one that was labor intensive but not altogether illogical. The Blight gas had poisoned the natural systems until the creeks and streams flowed almost yellow with contagion. Even the near-constant patter of rain could not be trusted. The clouds that dropped it may have gusted past the walled-up city and absorbed enough toxin to wash skin raw and bleach paint.
But the Blight could be boiled away; it could be filtered and steamed and filtered again. And after seventeen hours of treatment, the water could be safely consumed.
Great wagons drawn by teams of massive Clydesdales took the water out in tanks and delivered it block by block, funneling it into collective reservoirs that could then be pumped by individual families.
But first, it had to be processed. It had to go through the Waterworks facility, where Briar Wilkes and several hundred others spent ten or fifteen hours a day hooking and unhooking brass cylinders and tanks, and moving them from station to station, filter to filter. Most of the tanks were overhead and could be zipped down lines and rails from place to place, but some were built into the floor and had to be shifted from plug to plug like pieces in a sliding puzzle.
Briar climbed up the back steps and lifted the lever arm that secured the workers’ entrance.
She blinked at the usual blast of steam-heated air. Over in the far corner, where workers kept company-assigned belongings in cubbyholes, she reached for her gloves. They weren’t the heavy wool contraptions she wore on her own time, but thick leather that protected her hands from the superheated metal of the tanks.
She’d pulled the left one all the way down to her wrist before she noticed the paint. On the palm, down the fingers, and across the back knuckles someone had brushed bright streaks of blue. The right glove had been similarly vandalized.
Briar was alone in the workers’ area. She was early, and the paint was dry. The prank had been pulled last night, after she’d left for the evening. There was no one present to accuse.
She sighed and shoved her fingers into the other tainted glove. At least this time no one had filled up the interior with paint. The gloves were still wearable, and would not need replacing. Maybe she could even scrub them clean, later.
“It never gets old, does it?” she said to herself. “Sixteen goddamn years and you’d think, someday, the joke might get old.”
She left her own wool gloves up on the shelf that used to have her name on it. She’d written WILKES there, but while she wasn’t looking it had been crossed out and replaced with BLUE. She’d scribbled over the BLUE and rewrote WILKES, and the game had gone round and round until there was no room left on the ledge for anyone to write anything, but everyone knew who it belonged to.
Her goggles hadn’t been bothered; she was thankful for that much. The gloves had been expensive enough, and the company-issued headgear would’ve cost a week’s worth of pay to restore.
All the workers wore goggles with polarized lenses. For reasons no one fully understood, such lenses allowed the wearer to see the dreaded Blight. Even in trace amounts it would appear as a yellowish-greenish haze that oozed and dripped. Although the Blight was technically a gaseous substance, it was a very heavy one that poured or collected like a thick sludge.
Briar strapped the clunky lenses against her face and left her overcoat on a peg. She picked up a wrench that was almost as long as her forearm and stepped out onto the main floor to begin her day of shuffling piping-hot crucibles from slot to slot.
Ten hours later, she stripped off the gloves, peeled away the goggles, and abandoned them on her shelf.
She opened the back metal door to learn that it was still raining, which came as no surprise. She tied her big, round-rimmed hat more closely under her chin. She didn’t need any more orange streaks twirling through her otherwise dark hair, courtesy of the nasty rain. With her overcoat fastened tightly across her chest and her hands jammed into the pockets, she set off for home.
The way back from work was almost straight uphill, but the wind was behind her, billowing off the ocean and crashing up the ridges on the edges of the old city. The walk itself was a long one, but a familiar one, and she did it without giving much thought to the wind or the water. She’d lived with the weather so long that it was barely background music, unpleasant but unnoticed, except when numbness settled in her toes and she had to stomp to bring the feeling back.
It was only barely dark when she arrived home.
This pleased her in an almost giddy way. During the winter she was so rarely home before the sky was fully black that it astounded her to find herself scaling the crooked stone steps while there was still a touch of pink between the rain clouds.
Small victory or no, she felt like celebrating it.
But first, she thought, she should apologize to Ezekiel. She could sit him down and talk to him, if he’d listen. She could tell him a few stories, if it came to that. Not everything, of course.
He couldn’t know the worst of it, even though he probably thought he did. Briar knew the stories that made the rounds. She’d heard them herself, been asked about them dozens of times by dozens of policemen, reporters, and furious survivors.
So Zeke had certainly heard them, too. He’d been taunted by them when he was small enough to cry in school. Once, years ago, when he was barely as tall as her waist, he’d asked if any of it was true. Did his father really make the terrible machine that broke the city until pieces of it fell into the earth? Did he really bring the Blight?
“Yes,” she had to tell him. “Yes, it happened that way, but I don’t know why. He never told me. Please don’t ask me anymore.”
He never did ask for more, even though Briar sometimes wished he would. If he asked, she might be able to tell him something good—something nice. It hadn’t all been fear and strangeness, had it? She’d honestly loved her husband once, and there were reasons for it. Some of them must not have been spun from girlish stupidity, and it wasn’t all about the money.
(Oh, she’d known he was rich—and maybe, in some small respect, the money had made it easier to be stupid. But it never was all about the money.)
She could tell Zeke stories of flowers sent in secret, of notes composed in ink that was almost magical for the way it glittered, burned, and vanished. There were charming gadgets and seductive toys. One time Leviticus had made her a pin that looked like a coat button, but when the filigree rim was twisted, tiny clockwork gears within would chime a precious tune.
If Zeke had ever asked, she could’ve shared an anecdote or two that made the man look like less of a monster.
It was stupid, she realized, the way she’d been waiting for him to ask. It was suddenly as obvious as could be: She ought to just tell him. Let the poor child know that there had been good times too, and that there were good reasons—at least, they’d seemed like good reasons at the time—why she’d run away from home and her strict, distant father and married the scientist when she was hardly any older than her son was now.
Furthermore, the night before she really should’ve told him, “You didn’t do anything either. They’re wrong about you, too, but there’s still time for you to prove it. You haven’t yet made the kind of choices that will cripple you for life.”
These resolutions buoyed her spirits even more than the early homecoming, and the hope that Zeke might be inside. She could begin on the spot, righting her old wrongs—which were only mistakes of uncertainty, after all.
Her key grated in the lock and the door swung inward, revealing darkness.
“Zeke? Zeke, you home?”
The fireplace was cold. The lantern was on the table by the door, so she took it and fumbled for a match. Not a single candle was lit within, and it irked her that she needed any extra illumination. It had been months since she’d come home and simply parted the curtains for light. But the sun was almost wholly down, and the rooms were black except for the places where her lantern pushed back the shadows.
She wasn’t sure why she said his name again. She already knew he wasn’t home. It wasn’t just the darkness, either; it was the way the home felt empty. It felt quiet in a way that couldn’t include a boy closed away in his bedroom.
“Zeke?” The silence was unbearable, and Briar didn’t know why. She’d come home to an empty house many times before, and it’d never made her nervous.
Her good mood evaporated.
The lantern’s light swept the interior. Details crept into the glow. It wasn’t her imagination. Something was wrong. One of the kitchen cabinets was open; it was where she kept extra dry goods, when she had them—tinned crackers and oats. It had been raided, and left empty. In the middle of the floor, in front of the big leather chair, a small piece of metal glinted when it caught the edge of the candlelight.
“Zeke?” She tried once more, but this time it was less a question than a gasp.
She picked up the bullet and examined it; and while she stood there, interrogating the small bit with her eyes, she felt exposed.
Not like she was being watched, but like she was open to attack.
Like there was danger, and it could see a way inside.
The doors. Down the short corridor, four doors—one to a closet and three to the bedrooms.
Zeke’s door was open.
She almost dropped the lantern and the bullet both. Blind fear squeezed at her chest as she stood riveted to the spot.
The only way to shake it loose was to move, so she moved. She shuffled her feet forward, toward the corridor. Maybe she should check for intruders, but some primal instinct told her there weren’t any. The emptiness was too complete, and the echo too absolute. No one was home, not anyone who should or shouldn’t be.
Zeke’s room looked almost exactly like it had when she’d peeked inside the day before. It looked unclean but uncluttered, by virtue of the fact that he owned so little.
Only now there was a drawer sitting hollowly in the middle of the bed.
There was nothing inside it, and Briar didn’t know what it once might’ve held, so she walked past it and on to the other drawers that remained in their place. They were empty, except for a stray sock too riddled with holes to cover a foot.
He owned a bag. She knew he did; he took it to school, when he deigned to attend. She’d made it for him, stitching together stray scraps of leather and canvas until it was strong enough and big enough to hold the books she could scarcely afford. Not so long ago, he’d asked her to repair it, so she knew he still used it.
And she couldn’t find it.
A quick thrashing of the small room failed to turn it up, and failed to reveal any sign of where the boy or the bag might have gone… until she dropped to her knees and lifted the edge of the bedspread. Under the bed, there was nothing. But under the mattress, between the frame and the pressed feather pad, something left an odd and geometric bulge. She jammed her hand through the bedding and seized a packet of something smooth that crackled between her fingers.
Papers. A small stack of them, various shapes and sizes. Including…
She turned it over and checked the front, and back, and the fear was so cold in her lungs that she could hardly breathe.
… a map of downtown Seattle, torn in half.
The missing half would’ve indicated the old financial district—where the Boneshaker machine had caused a catastrophic earthquake on its very first test run… and where, a few days later, the Blight gas had first begun to ooze.
Where had he gotten it?
Down one side, the map had a tidily torn seam that made her think it had once been part of a book. But the city’s small library had never reopened outside the walls, and books were scarce—and expensive. He wouldn’t have bought it, but he might have stolen it, or…
It smelled funny. She’d been holding it for half a minute before she noticed, and anyway, the smell was so familiar it almost went unremarked. She held the scrap of paper up to her face and sniffed it hard. It might only be her imagination. There was one good way to find out.
Down the hall and into her own room she dashed, and she dug around in her tall, creaky wardrobe until she found it—a fragment of lens left over from the early days, the bad old days… the days when the evacuation order was fresh and vague. No one was sure what they were running from, or why; but everyone had figured out that you could see it, if you had mask or a set of goggles with a bit of polarized glass.
At the time, there had been no other test. Hucksters had sold lenses on street corners at ridiculous prices, and not all of them were real. Some were pulled from broken industrial masks and safety eyewear, but the cheaper knockoffs were little more than ordinary monocles and bottle-bottoms.
Back then, money hadn’t been an object. Briar’s palm-sized piece of tinted lens was real, and it worked as well as the goggles she’d left on a shelf back at the plant.
She lit two more candles and carried them into Zeke’s room, and with the light of the lantern added, she held up the scratched bit of transparency and used it to scry the things she’d found in the mattress. And all of them—the map, the leaflets, the shreds of posters-glowed with an ill yellow halo that marked them as clearly as if they’d been stamped with a warning.
“Blight,” she groaned. The papers were filthy with its residue.
In fact, the papers were so thoroughly contaminated that there were precious few places from whence they might have come. She couldn’t imagine that her son had acquired these strange slips from within the sealed city with its seamless, towering wall. Some of the local shops did sell artifacts the townspeople had evacuated with, but they were often costly.
“Goddamn his stupid friends and their stupid lemon sap,” she swore. “Goddamn every last one of them.”
She scrambled to her feet and went back to her bedroom again, this time retrieving a muslin face mask. Around her nose and mouth she wrapped and tied it, and she spread the contents of Zeke’s mattress out on his bed. The assortment was strange, to say the least. In addition to the map, she found old tickets and playbills, pages pulled out of novels, and clippings from newspapers that were older than the boy was.
Briar wished for her leather gloves. In lieu of them, she used the lone holey sock to touch the papers, sorting them and running her eyes across them—catching her own name, or at least her old name.
AUGUST 9, 1864. Authorities searched the home of Leviticus and Briar Blue, but no insight into the Boneshaker incident was found. Evidence of wrongdoing mounts as Blue remains missing. His wife cannot provide an explanation for the testing of the machine that nearly collapsed the city’s foundations and killed at least thirty-seven people, three horses.
AUGUST 11, 1864. Briar Blue held for questioning after collapse of fourth bank on Commercial Avenue, disappearance of her husband. Her role in the events of the Boneshaker calamity remains unclear.
Briar remembered the articles. She recalled trying to muster an appetite for lunch as she skimmed the damning reports, not yet knowing that there was more to her nausea than merely the stress of the investigation. But where had Ezekiel gotten such clippings, and how? All of the stories had been printed sixteen years ago, and distributed in a city that had been dead and closed for nearly that long.
She wrinkled her nose and grabbed Zeke’s pillow, tearing off its case and stuffing the papers inside it. They shouldn’t have been too dangerous, crammed underneath his bedding; but the more she covered them the better she felt. She didn’t want to simply hide them or contain them; she wanted to bury them. But there wasn’t any real point.
Zeke still hadn’t come home. She suspected that he had no intention of returning home that night.
And that was even before she found the note he’d left on the dining room table, where she’d walked right past it. The note was brief, and pointed. It said, “My father was innocent, and I can prove it. I’m sorry about everything. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
Briar crushed the note in her fist, and shook until she screamed out in one frantic, furious blast that no doubt frightened her neighbors, but she cared so little about their opinion that she did it again. It didn’t make her feel any better, but she couldn’t stop herself from shrieking a third time and then picking up the nearest chair and flinging it across the room—into the mantel over the fireplace.
It broke in two against the stone, but before it had time to tumble into pieces on the floor, Briar was already on her front porch and running down the stairs with a lantern.
She tied her hat back on as she went, and pulled her overcoat tighter as she ran. The rain had mostly stopped and the wind was as harsh as ever, but she charged against it, back down the hill and along the mudflats to the only place she’d ever been able to reliably find Ezekiel on the odd days that he’d stayed gone long enough to make her worry.
Down by the water, in a four-story brick building that was once a warehouse and then a whorehouse, a contingent of nuns had established a shelter for children who’d been left parentless by the Blight.
The Sisters of Loving Grace Home for Orphans had raised an entire generation’s worth of boys and girls who had somehow found their way past the gas and into the Outskirts without any supervision. Now the very youngest of the original occupants were getting old enough that they’d soon be compelled to find homes of their own or accept work within the church.
Among the older boys there was one Rector “Wreck’em” Sherman, a lad who was seventeen if he was a day, and who was well known as a distributor of the illegal but much-desired lemon sap. It was a cheap drug—a yellowish, gritty, pastelike substance distilled from the Blight gas—and its effects were pleasant, but devastating. The “sap” was cooked and inhaled for a blissful and apathetic high, until chronic use began to kill… but not quickly.
Sap didn’t just damage the mind; it turned the body necrotic. Gangrene would catch and sprawl, creeping out from the corners of mouths and eating away cheeks and noses. Fingers and toes would fall away, and in time, the body might fully transform into a parody of the undead “rotters” who no doubt still shambled hopelessly through the walled-up quarters.
Despite the obvious drawbacks, the drug was in high demand. And since the demand was good, Rector was ready with a full assortment of pipes, suggestions, and tiny paper-wrapped packets of lemon sap.
Briar had tried to keep Zeke away from Rector, but there was only so much she could do to restrain him—and, at the very least, Rector did not seem interested in letting Zeke sell or abuse the sap. Anyway, Zeke was mostly interested in the community, the camaraderie, and the chance to fit in with a batch of boys who wouldn’t throw blue dye on him or hold him down and write terrible things across his face.
So she understood, but that didn’t mean she liked it, and that didn’t mean she liked the red-haired beanpole of a boy who answered her loud and impatient summons.
She pushed her way past a nun in a heavy gray habit and cornered Rector, whose eyes were too big and too earnest to be innocent of anything.
“You,” she began with a finger aimed high, up under his chin. “You know where my son is, and you’re going to tell me, or I’m going tear your ears off and feed them to you, you dirty little poison-pushing wharf kitten.” All of it came out without rising into the territory of yelling, but every word was as heavy as a hammer.
“Sister Claire?” he whimpered. He’d retreated as far as he could and there was nowhere left for him to go.
Briar shot Sister Claire a look that would’ve rusted metal, and returned her attention to Rector. “If I have to ask twice, you will regret it for the rest of your life—however long that may be.”
“But I don’t know. I don’t. I don’t know,” he stammered.
“But you can guess, I bet, and it would probably be a very good guess, and so help me if I don’t hear some guesses coming out of your mouth I will do you great and terrible bodily harm, and there isn’t a nun or a priest or anyone else in a God-given uniform who will recognize you when I’m finished. The angels will weep when they see what’s left of you. Now, talk.”
His frantic stare went wildly back and forth between Briar, the openmouthed Sister Claire, and a priest who had just entered the room.
Briar caught on just in time to keep from punching the boy in the gut.
“I see, all right.” He didn’t want to talk about business in front of his landlords.
She seized his arm and pulled him forward, saying over her shoulder, “Pardon me, Sister and Father, but this young man and I are going to have a little talk. We won’t be but a moment, and I promise, you’ll have him back before bedtime.” And then, under her breath as she led the kid out into the stairwell, “Kindly keep in mind, Mr. Wreck’em, that I made no promises about your condition when I return you.”
“I heard, I heard,” he said. He bounced off a corner and tripped over a stair as Briar pulled him down.
She didn’t know where she was leading him, but it was dark and quiet, and only a pair of tiny wall lamps and Briar’s lantern kept the stairs from being impossible to navigate.
Down by the basement there was a narrow spot behind the steps.
She jerked Rector to a halt and forced him to face her. “Here we are,” she told him in a growl made to terrorize a bear. “No one else to hear. You talk, and you talk fast. I want to know where Zeke went, and I want to know now.”
Rector shuddered and slapped at her hand, trying to peel her fingers off of his slender bicep. But she didn’t let go. Instead, she squeezed harder, until he made a sharp whine and rallied enough nerve to twist himself out of her grasp.
“All he wants is to prove that Leviticus wasn’t crazy or a crook!”
“What makes him think he can do that? And how could he even begin such a task?”
The boy said, with far more caution than innocence would merit, “He might’ve heard a rumor from someplace.”
“What rumor? From whereplace?”
“There were stories about a ledger, weren’t there? Didn’t Blue say that the Russians paid him to do something funny with the test?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Levi said that. But there was never any proof. And if there was proof, you couldn’t prove it by me—because he never showed it to anyone.”
“Not even you?”
“Especially not me,” she said. “He never told me a thing about what he was doing in that laboratory, with those machines. He sure as hell never shared any of the money details.”
“But you were his wife!”
“That doesn’t mean anything,” she said. She’d never figured out for certain if her husband had kept so quiet because he didn’t trust her, or because he thought she was stupid. It was likely a bit of both.
“Look, ma’am, you must have known Zeke was wondering when he started asking questions about it.”
Briar hit the stair rail with her free hand. “He never asked any questions! Never once, not since he was a little boy, has he asked about Levi.” And she added, more quietly, “But he’d been asking about Maynard.”
Rector was still staring, still cornered, still backed as far away from Briar as he could get. This was the point where he ought to have interjected something helpful, but he stayed quiet until she brought her fist back around and hit the metal rail again.
“Don’t,” he said, holding out his hands. “Ma’am, don’t… don’t do that. He’ll be fine, you know. He’s a smart guy. He knows his way around, and he knows about Maynard, so he’ll be all right.”
“What do you mean by that? He knows about Maynard? Everybody knows about Maynard.”
He nodded, bringing his hands back down and closer to his chest, ready to defend himself if it came to that. “But Zeke’s his grandson, and people will look out for him. Not, well…” He stopped himself, and started again. “Not all the people everywhere, but where he’s going, what he’s doing—the kind of folks he’s likely to meet? All those people, they know about Maynard, and they’ll look after him.”
“All those people where?” she asked, and the last word came out with a gulp of anguish, because she knew—even though it was impossible, and crazy. She knew where, even though it didn’t make any sense at all.
“He’s gone… He went…” Rector lifted his index finger and pointed in the general direction of the old city.
It took every ounce of willpower Briar could summon to keep from cracking the boy across the face; she didn’t have enough left over to keep herself from shouting, too. “How would he do that? And what does he plan to do when he gets over the wall and he can’t breathe, or see—”
Rector’s hands were up again, and he’d found enough nerve to step forward. “Ma’am, you have to stop shouting. You have to stop.”
“—and there’s no one there but the leftover, locked-in, shambling rotters who will grab him and kill him—”
“Ma’am!” he said loud enough to interrupt, and almost loud enough to get himself kicked. But it stopped her tirade, just for a beat, and it was long enough for him to blurt out, “People live in there!”
What felt like a long stretch of silence followed. Briar asked, “What did you say?”
Trembling, retreating again, stopping when his shoulders pressed against the bricks, he said, “People live there. Inside.”
She swallowed hard. “How many people?”
“Not very many. But more than you might expect. Folks who know about them call ’em Doornails, ’cause they’re dead to the rest of the world.”
“But how… ?” She rocked her head back and forth. “That’s not possible; it can’t be. There’s no air in the city. No food, no sun, no—”
“Hell, ma’am. There’s no sun out here, either. And the air, they found a way around that, too. They sealed off some of the buildings and they pump it down from up top—from over the side of the wall, where the air’s clean enough to breathe. If you ever hiked all the way around it, you’d see the tubes sticking up on the far side of the city.”
“But why would anyone do that? Why go to all the trouble?” And then a horrible thought flickered through her mind and tumbled out of her mouth. “Please tell me they aren’t trapped in there!”
Rector laughed nervously. “No, no ma’am. They aren’t trapped. They just…” He lifted his shoulders into a shrug. “They stayed.”
“Why?” she demanded in a short warble of near-hysteria.
He tried again to hush her, patting the air with his hand, begging her for a lower voice and a quieter exchange. “Some of ’em didn’t want to leave their homes. Some of ’em got stuck, and some of them thought it’d all blow over.”
But he was leaving part of it out; she could tell it from his new burst of nervousness. “And the rest of them?” she asked.
The boy dropped his voice to a harsh whisper. “It’s the sap, ma’am. Where do you think it all comes from, anyway?”
“I know it comes from the gas,” she grumbled. “I’m not a fool.”
“Never said you were, ma’am. But how do you think people get the gas in the first place? Do you know how much sicksand the Outskirts produce? A lot, that’s how much. More than anybody could ever make just from boiling it out of the rainwater.”
Briar had to admit, that’s how she’d assumed people made the drug—either that, or from the waste cast off by the Waterworks. No one seemed to know what became of the containers of processed Blight resin after it was barreled up to cool. She’d always suspected that it was swiped to be sold on some market or another, but Rector insisted otherwise. “It doesn’t come from what you folks cook out of the groundwater at the ’works, either. I’ve known a chemist or two who got a hand on that mess, but he said you couldn’t do anything with it. He said it was useless, just poison.”
“And lemon sap is something better?”
“Lemon sap, God,” he blasphemed with a sneer of derision. “That’s what the old folks call it, sure.”
She rolled her eyes. “I don’t care what you kids call it, I know what it is when I see it—and I’ve seen it do worse to people than poison them. If my father were still alive he’d…” She didn’t know how to finish. “He would’ve never stood for it,” she said weakly.
“Maynard’s dead, ma’am. And maybe he wouldn’t have liked to know it, I couldn’t say, but he’s the closest thing to a patron saint that some of us have got.”
“It would have driven him mad,” she speculated curtly.
It was Rector’s turn to ask, “Why?”
“Because he believed in the law,” she said.
“Is that all you got? He was your own dad, and that’s all you know about him?”
She told him, “Shut your mouth, before I smack it.”
“But he was fair. Don’t you get it? The boys and girls on the street who sell the septic sacks and run ’em, and the thieves, the whores, and the broke and the busted—all of ’em down here who know the hard way how life ain’t fair… they all believe in Maynard because he was.”
Briar interrogated Rector on the finer points of Zeke’s escape. By the time a larger priest and a greater number of nuns showed up to bully Briar out of the stairwell, she’d learned plenty—none of it reassuring, and all of it leading to one terrifying fact.
Her son had gone inside the walled-up city.