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Authors: Jennifer Bell

The Crooked Sixpence (23 page)

BOOK: The Crooked Sixpence
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‘Seb . . .' Ivy began. ‘I think that lady—'

Thud!
The dummy hit the window and then . . .

Squelch!
A horrible yellow mucus sprayed out. The dummy wobbled like jelly as the sound of a loud, rippling
burp!
reverberated through the carriage.

Seb growled and thumped his paperclipped hands hard against the glass. Several other uncommoners grabbed dummies from the woman's basket and started lobbing them at the coach. A wet chorus of belches sounded in Ivy's ears. She realized she'd seen that disgusting gloop before – those boys had been throwing uncommon dummies at the featherlight mailhouse yesterday.

Smokehart didn't seem annoyed or surprised by the crowd's reaction; in fact, he looked like he was enjoying it.

‘What did
we
ever do to any of them?' Seb asked, grimacing as another dummy hit the glass. ‘It was a mistake to think anyone down here would help us. None of them even tried to prevent our arrest.'

Ivy flinched as she heard another burp. She didn't think what Seb said was entirely fair – Ethel had made an attempt.

He bent his head. ‘It sucks being related to a member of the Dirge. It's not like we can do anything to change it.'

Ivy nodded. ‘I know.' She felt like they had to go around proving that they were nothing like Octavius Wrench, just so people wouldn't hate them. She'd never had to deal with anything like that before. Up to this point in her life, everyone had judged her on who she was, not who she was related to.

She rocked sideways as the coach set off. They were moving at a brisk trot, the hoofbeats as steady as a sewing machine. The crowd chased them for a while but Ivy was too involved in her own thoughts to notice them. In ten minutes or so she and Seb would be in the underguard station. Her spirits plunged as she saw herself locked up in one of those cells. There would be no chance to save her mum and dad then.

As they drove through the streets, Ivy's mind kept wandering back to the series of events that had led to this moment. There had been three dead attacks in succession now – first the grim-wolf, then the selkie, then the wraithmoth. She remembered the newspaper article's reference to the
dead uprising
. The Dirge must be getting impatient. She wondered what they were planning to do with the Great Uncommon Good object once they got hold of it.

‘Mum and Dad have only got till midnight tonight,' she said, her voice cracking.

‘As if I need reminding!' Seb glanced over at the man in the corner and whispered, ‘Do you think we can talk in front of him?'

Ivy shrugged. She saw that the man was staring blankly out of the window. ‘We need to escape,' she said in a hushed voice. ‘Leave Lundinor and go back to Bletchy Scrubb. We have to find this Great Uncommon Good object before the Dirge do. Maybe if we tell Granma, she'll have remembered something . . .'

Seb clenched his paperclipped hands. ‘Good plan – but how do we get out of these? I've still got my drumsticks up my sleeve – but if I use them, I think Smokehart will hear.'

Scratch might have some ideas
, Ivy thought, but before she could speak, the quiet man opposite started gesturing to his mouth with his paperclipped hands and then shaking his head.

‘Uh . . .' Seb frowned in puzzlement.

Ivy tried to work out what the man was telling them. ‘You . . . can't speak?' she guessed.

The stranger nodded. Ivy shuffled closer as he turned round to show her the back pocket of his jeans. Sticking out of it she saw a grey eraser – the kind she had in her pencil case at school. He tried to stretch for it with his paperclipped hands but he couldn't reach.

Ivy could. As soon as she pulled the eraser out of his pocket, she could feel that it was uncommon. ‘What does it do?' she asked.

The man held up his wrists. Ivy glanced at the silver paperclip thread binding them.

She turned to Seb. ‘Hold your hands up; I'm gonna try something.'

She rubbed the eraser over the thread of silver metal wrapped around his hands. The metal flaked away in seconds, leaving behind a little pile of silver filings. He pulled his hands apart. ‘Give it here – I'll do yours.'

Once Ivy's paperclip was off, she rubbed out the stranger's restraints. He beamed at her before checking through the glass at the top of the coach. Smokehart and the driver were facing forward, unaware of what was going on.

The man signalled to a point in the middle of the floor. Ivy and Seb wriggled away as he rubbed his eraser across it, turning first the carpet, then the glue and wood, into dust. When he had finished, a circular piece of the floor dropped down onto the cobbles below.

Seb raised his eyebrows. ‘Er – thanks.'

The man offered them both a farewell salute before dropping through the hole and rolling to the side of the road. Ivy stared nervously down at the cobbles as the coach moved away from him. ‘You go first,' she told Seb.

He slid his legs through and fell onto the road with a thud. Ivy saw him getting to his feet and waving back at her.

She took one last look at Smokehart, considering how fortunate she and Seb had been to find a stranger who could help them escape. Maybe it was a bit
too
convenient . . . or maybe their luck was finally beginning to change.

Dropping through the hole, she stayed low as the coach passed overhead. When it was clear, she got to her feet, ignoring a twinge in her ankle, and dashed over to join Seb. He was standing on the corner of a road packed with little haberdashery stalls.

‘Seb – you all right?'

He nodded. ‘You're limping. Everything OK?'

Ivy rubbed her ankle. ‘It's nothing. Let's get out of here.' She looked around, trying to get her bearings. ‘Do you know where we are?'

Seb gazed along the street. All the shops appeared to sell one thing: fabric. It was displayed draped over mannequins in the windows and huge rolls were stacked on the pavements outside. Sheets of satin and bolts of silk were being inspected by curious passers-by, while hand-stitched bunting waved enthusiastically from the gables above. Ivy couldn't tell what their uncommon ability was – until she spotted a tapestry displayed in one of the windows. It depicted a storm at sea, with ships riding the waves and the sky full of clouds. As she watched, the tapestry appeared to ripple, the sky swirled and one of the great galleons crashed through the water, as if the picture had come alive.

She shook her head, trying to refocus. ‘We need to move,' she said, forcing her eyes away. ‘Smokehart will realize we're missing soon.'

Seb took a step forward but then rocked back on his heels. ‘Wait a sec. Ivy, can you see . . . ?' His eyes widened as he stared down the street.

Ivy followed his gaze . . . Through the rippling lengths of cloth she caught glimpses of a man with neatly combed salt-and-pepper hair standing on the pavement. He was wearing a button-down shirt and brown flannel trousers.

Ivy frowned. ‘Dad?'

Chapter Twenty-eight

‘What is Dad
doing
here?' Ivy rubbed her eyes, making sure she wasn't seeing things. He was meant to be the Dirge's hostage but he didn't look like he'd been kidnapped at all – his shirt was pressed and his face was clean.

Seb reached for her arm. His hand was shaking. ‘Is that really him?'

Their dad disappeared behind a hanging bedsheet. Ivy tensed. ‘He's moving away,' she cried. ‘We mustn't lose him.'

They ran past roll after roll of fabric. The air was thick with loose threads and dusty particles that caught at the back of Ivy's throat, making her cough.

‘He's turning left!' Seb called.

Ivy nodded. She tried to work out if there was anything different about her dad, but she was too far away to tell. Judging by his moderate pace, he wasn't in any trouble.

She didn't understand . . .

They turned down a deserted street, where their dad came to a halt between two large stone buildings. As Ivy and Seb approached, they heard a rumble. The cobbles beneath Ivy's feet shook, as if the underguard's horses were about to come pounding down the road.

But it wasn't the underguard making the noise.

‘Ivy,' Seb whispered, pointing. ‘The fountain!'

They hid in a shop doorway on the opposite side of the street. A chill crept over Ivy as she watched.

Sure enough, the pale-green fountain that she and Seb had found yesterday had appeared in front of their dad. He got a hip flask out of his trouser pocket and poured something into the leaf-filled basin. Next he placed his hand deep inside it, waited a moment and then stepped back. The bricks surrounding the fountain trembled as two iron posts and a gate formed between them.

‘Maybe we should go after him,' Ivy said, ‘before he disappears.'

Seb frowned. ‘I don't understand why he's here, let alone why he's going in—' He gave a start. ‘What if the grim-wolf's still at the mansion?'

Ivy gasped. ‘We need to warn him!'

They dashed straight across the street—

And into the path of someone else.

‘
Valian?
' Ivy stepped back, aghast. Her face flushed with anger, remembering his most recent disappearance. ‘We were arrested!' she hissed. ‘You left us!'

Valian was holding his arms out wide, trying to stop them. ‘Don't go after it,' he told them, ignoring Ivy's remarks. ‘Don't go into the mansion after that thing – it's dangerous.'

‘After that
thing
?' Seb stretched up on tiptoe, trying to get a view of the fountain. ‘That isn't a
thing
! That's our
dad
!'

Valian looked frantic. ‘No it's not. It's one of the races of the dead.'

Ivy gritted her teeth as she tried to push him aside – she could see her dad disappearing through the gate!

‘Please,' Valian said gently. ‘You've got to trust me.'

‘Trust
you
?' Ivy hesitated. The man they had followed looked
exactly
like her dad. She checked Seb. He looked just as torn as she was. ‘If you want us to trust you, then you have to tell us the truth. About everything.'

‘The truth.' Valian's voice was soft. He ran a hand through his long hair. ‘OK, fine. If it's the only way you're gonna trust me, then I guess I have to.'

A sinking feeling swept through Ivy. Whatever the truth was, she had a hunch she wasn't going to like it.

‘Go on then,' Seb said, folding his arms. ‘We're waiting.'

Valian's face was grave. ‘Not here. It's too dangerous.'

He led the way to a small shop with cracked green window frames and dirty glass. The sign above the door read:
HOFF & WINKLE'S HOBSMATCH EMPORIUM, EST.
1847. Behind the shop was a rickety timber staircase.

As they started to ascend, Seb mumbled into Ivy's ear, ‘What's he up to? Was that Dad back there or not?'

Ivy didn't know what to think. She was still confused by the shock of seeing her dad apparently alive and well. ‘Valian,' she said harshly. ‘If that wasn't our dad, who was it?'

‘I told you,' he replied. ‘A race of the dead. They're called grimps. They have the ability to shapeshift; that's why it looked like your dad.'

Ivy thought back to
Farrow's Guide
. . . She didn't remember Scratch reading about grimps in there. ‘How do you know it was a grimp?'

Valian stopped in front of a plain black door at the top of the stairs. ‘Because that's not the first time I've seen it. I met it when I was in the Wrench Mansion with you.'

Ivy's mouth dropped open. So
that's
what he'd been up to. ‘Why didn't you tell us?'

‘There's a lot I haven't told you. There's a lot I haven't told anyone.' He pointed a thumb over his shoulder. ‘We'll talk inside.'

Behind the black door was a small room with threadbare curtains. A metal-framed bed sat in the corner beside a chest of drawers and a wash basin with a rusted mirror. Ivy noticed scum around the taps and crumbs on the bare floorboards. The walls were covered with posters of various rock bands, none of which she had heard of.

‘You'd better sit down,' Valian told them.

‘Make yourself at home,' Seb whispered into Ivy's ear as he perched on the end of the bed.

Ivy sat down slowly. Was this Valian's room? She felt uncomfortable being in there. Valian stood by the wash basin, looking at them.

‘So . . . the grimp?' Seb brushed a dead fly off the bedspread.

‘It was at the Wrench Mansion,' Valian repeated. ‘It took a little investigation back at your gran's house before I realized that it looked exactly like your dad. After that, I started following it.'

‘Wait – you went to Granma's house behind our back?' Ivy exclaimed.

Valian sighed. ‘You'd understand why if you knew the whole story.' He turned and looked into the rusty mirror. ‘When I found that crooked sixpence in your pocket, Ivy, I assumed you were working for the Dirge. Ethel's deal for me to be your bodyguard was the perfect excuse to stay close and find out what you were really up to. All those times I disappeared, I was off investigating on my own. Just now, in the Cabbage Moon, I went to check out your room for evidence of the wraithmoth; I managed to retrieve those for you . . .' He pointed to the windowsill behind the bed.

Ivy started. Granma Sylvie's handbag was there, along with the uncommon alarm clock. She reached across and gathered them up, thankful they were safe. ‘If you thought we were working for the Dirge, then why help now?' she asked.

‘I know you're not working for the Dirge. After the alarm clock and the selkie attack I realized you'd been telling the truth the whole time.' He looked down and mumbled, ‘I'm . . . sorry.'

Ivy shared an incredulous glance with Seb.

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