Read The Crooked Sixpence Online

Authors: Jennifer Bell

The Crooked Sixpence (4 page)

BOOK: The Crooked Sixpence
Chapter Six

Daylight disappeared, along with the fresh smells of grass and wet mud. Ivy gave a dusty cough and reached forward blindly into the shadows. Soft carpet cushioned her hands, sending waves of heat through her body. Her skin felt ticklish. It was the same sensation as before.

‘Seb?' she cried. ‘Seb! Are you there?'

There was no response. She took a couple of deep breaths but her heart was pounding, her whole body shaking. She smelled old leather and boot polish. She had no idea what that meant. She tried crawling forward. Wherever she was, there had to be a way out.

After a few paces Ivy heard a click, and a sliver of light materialized far in the distance. Her eyes watered with relief as she scuttled towards it. It quickly grew to the size of a letter box, shedding just enough light for her surroundings to become clear. She gasped as she saw the brown suede lining of the suitcase.

Wait – was she

Was she
inside a suitcase

She hurried towards the rectangle of light, and when it was big enough, clambered out onto a cold stone surface. Looking back, she saw an identical suitcase to the one she'd picked up in that field – the same fastenings, battered leather and brown paper tag – standing on the floor.

She glanced down at her legs and started. They were
– the size of rolling pins – but getting bigger. Her bones creaked and her trousers bubbled as if blisters were forming under her skin. In seconds, everything had returned to its normal size.

Trying hard not to panic, she got shakily to her feet and looked around. She was in a huge sandy cave about the same size as her school sports hall. The high ceiling was fitted with two glass discs that oozed butter-yellow light out over the floor, which was packed with the widest assortment of luggage Ivy had ever seen: stacks of suitcases, toppling pillars of hatboxes, piles of handbags and turrets of metal trunks. It was like some sort of cloakroom fortress. She spotted a single opening in the cave wall which appeared to lead off into a dark tunnel.

‘Seb . . .' she whispered. She needed to find out where he was. She turned back to the suitcase. The lining seemed to disappear into darkness like some sort of optical illusion. She checked the tag on the handle:
was written on it in black ink.

. . . Officer Smokehart had said something about that. The dark-haired boy had called him an
. She wondered what it all meant.

Just then, the suitcase began to shake. Ivy retreated from it as it rattled across the stone. The dark lining exploded with blond hair and grey sweatshirt.

‘Gonna throw up,' Seb spluttered as he fell out of the case and onto the floor. His arms, legs and torso rippled back to normal size as if made of plasticine.

‘Seb! Are you all right?' Ivy was filled with relief as she stooped to help him up. His hands felt clammy and cold.

‘I really need to—' Before he'd finished his sentence, he was vomiting.

Ivy dodged out of its path just in time. An expensive-looking leopard-skin briefcase was the unfortunate victim. She covered her nose and ushered Seb into a corner of the cave.

‘Looks like bag travel doesn't exactly agree with your friend,' a voice remarked, close by.

Ivy spun round. The dark-haired boy was standing behind her, dusting down his knees.

‘He's not my
,' she corrected in a tight voice. ‘He's my brother. And of course he doesn't enjoy
bag travel.
' She said the phrase like it was a medical term.

The boy smirked as he closed his suitcase. His dark hair fell across his angular face. ‘You two use rugs or vacuums, I suppose? You sound posh enough.'

' Ivy shook her head. ‘Rugs or –

Behind her, Seb's retching noises stopped. She heard his heavy footsteps staggering over.

‘Air are ree?!' He swallowed hard, teeth clamped together, and pointed a shaky finger at the suitcase.

‘Good question,' Ivy said, resting her hands on her hips. ‘Where

The boy scratched his head. ‘What do you mean
where are we
? Arrivals chamber. Lundinor.'

Lundinor. There it was again . . .

Seb took a large gulp. ‘Lun-di-huh?' He cleared his throat. ‘Does anyone want to explain how we just crawled through a suitcase to get here?'

The boy narrowed his eyes and assessed Ivy and Seb very carefully, as if taking notes. Then he reached into his leather jacket and pulled out a comb. It was dark brown, made of plastic. ‘What's this?' he asked, studying their reactions closely. ‘And what's it used for?'

Seb and Ivy exchanged an uncertain glance before Ivy fumbled for an answer, more out of politeness than anything else. ‘It's a . . . comb?' she said slowly. ‘You untangle your hair with it?'

The boy went very still for a moment, then sucked in a huge breath and dragged a hand along his jaw. ‘No.' He shook his head. ‘You can't be. You shouldn't even be—'

All of a sudden the tinny voice of a shopping-centre tannoy filled the cave.

Traffic build-up in tunnel thirty-four D. Underguards are on site.

Ivy searched for where it was coming from and spotted a conch shell hanging from the ceiling, just like the one Officer Smokehart had used. Somewhere outside the cave she heard the crunch of footsteps.

The boy looked around. ‘Don't just stand there,' he hissed. ‘Hide!'

Seb threw himself behind a large sun-bleached portmanteau. Ivy looked around desperately, but before she'd had time to pick anything, the boy seized her arm and pulled her behind a set of matching tweed trunks.

And not a moment too soon.

Lumbering through the cave opening came a hulking man in the same black uniform as Officer Smokehart –
an underguard
. He had a thick grey moustache and huge wiry eyebrows, beneath which his small black eyes hid like flies.

Ivy's heart pounded as she watched him plod into the centre of the cave and sniff. She shot a glance over at the pool of vomit. Seb was hiding a metre away from it, directly opposite her. She could see his scuffed trainers poking out from behind the portmanteau.

Wait . . . I can

Ivy jerked forward, but the dark-haired boy hooked his arm around her chest to keep her still. He twisted round, making sure she could see his face, and gestured for her to be quiet. His eyes looked hollow with fear.

Ivy peered back out. She couldn't whisper over to Seb – the underguard would certainly hear her. She just had to hope that the man didn't spot him.

‘Ha-hum.' The underguard tapped his polished boots on the floor. ‘OK, go ahead,' he instructed, as if speaking into a walkie-talkie.

On his command, a short brown feather popped into the air. It floated in front of him and then tipped upright, zipping to and fro as it wrote a message. The man focused on the words intently, nodding as he read.

Ivy thought back to the feather in Granma Sylvie's house and shivered. She squinted.






The underguard's eyes widened as he read the last line. The feather twirled, gave a puff and vanished.

Ivy's body went rigid. Suspects one and two were unmistakably her and Seb. The underguards were hunting for them, but she didn't understand why. She thought back to what Smokehart had said on Granma Sylvie's doorstep.
Sylvie Wrench . . . Twelfth Night . . . disappeared . . .

She wished she could discuss it with Seb. His trainers had now disappeared behind the portmanteau –
thank goodness
– but now she saw his face reflected in a pair of shiny briefcase locks. His cheeks were bulging, his lips pinched together.


Seb threw up onto the floor with a sound like a plughole being unblocked.

The underguard jumped as the sound reverberated around the cave. He immediately turned in Seb's direction.

‘Who's there?' He growled.

Ivy tried to dart forward, but the boy's arm prevented her. She felt his other hand clamp over her mouth.

‘Well, well, well . . .' The underguard stepped forward, grabbing Seb by the top of his hoodie. ‘What do we have here?'

Seb tried to break free as he was dragged out from behind the portmanteau. ‘Get off me!' His face was greenish and sweaty. ‘What's your problem?'

The man shoved him out into the middle of the cave and took a good look at him. Ivy could almost see him checking off the description of Suspect Two. His eyes narrowed. ‘My problem, son, is
.' He slid a tiny object out from under his long cloak. Ivy saw a flash of silver between his fingers.

?' Seb exclaimed. ‘What are you gonna do with that?'

The underguard smiled wickedly and shook the paperclip twice. It unfolded till it was straight, and then lengthened. In a streak of silver it leaped out of the underguard's hand and onto one of Seb's wrists.

‘Hey!' Seb's hands snapped together, and then the paperclip wrapped itself around them. ‘What the—?' He strained to pry them apart again. ‘You can't do this!'

The underguard took him by the shoulder, pushing him towards the cave exit. ‘You're under arrest. I wouldn't struggle if I were you; uncommon paperclips don't like to be pulled apart.'

Ivy got one last glimpse of her brother's features before he disappeared into the passageway. His brown eyes darted around wildly.

He was looking for

Chapter Seven

By the time the boy finally relaxed his grip around Ivy's shoulders, Seb's footsteps had disappeared. ‘Get off me!' she spluttered, ripping his hand off her mouth. She inhaled deeply and scrambled away, sending a few loose suitcases flying. ‘What is
with you?' she screamed. ‘That's my brother!' She stumbled into the centre of the cave and made a beeline for the exit.

Her head was spinning.

Seb . . .

She had to get him back. She tried to think what her mum and dad would do if they were there, but the situation was so unbelievable she had trouble imagining them there at all.

‘Where have they taken him?' she growled.

The dark-haired boy got to his feet, rubbing his shoulder where a large suitcase had just struck him. ‘To the underguard station,' he said matter-of-factly, ‘in the main cavern.'

Ivy came to a stop.
The underguard station . . .
She didn't even want to consider what might happen to Seb if Officer Smokehart got hold of him. ‘Where's that?'

He considered her for a moment, cocking his head to one side. ‘Tell me, why are the Ugs even after a commoner like you? It doesn't make sense.'

‘I don't know what you're talking about,' Ivy said. ‘And I don't care. Just tell me how to get my brother back.'

The boy rubbed his chin. ‘
I tell you,' he said carefully, ‘you've gotta promise to do me a favour.'

' Ivy balled her hands into fists. ‘I'm not doing anything to help
.' She marched towards the exit, her face burning. It was that idiot's fault that Seb had been arrested in the first place – and he had the audacity to ask for her help!

When she got to the opening, she came to a halt. The passageway outside was shadowy and quiet. She wondered which way the underguard station was, or if it was even down there at all. She remembered Seb's wide eyes, searching for her as he was taken away. She clenched her teeth and turned back. ‘What's the favour?'

The boy grinned. ‘I need you to fetch me something from another cave down here. It shouldn't be difficult.'

‘If it's not difficult,' Ivy said, ‘why don't you do it yourself?'

He put his hands behind his back and rocked on his heels. ‘I wish I could, but you see . . . my name's Valian Kaye.'

Ivy snorted. It made sense now.
Valian Kaye
– the third suspect on the underguard's list.
And a thief
, she recalled. That's why he'd been in the back of the underguard's coach. He must have been arrested.

‘They're looking for you too,' Valian reminded her. ‘But your face isn't as well-known as mine and you have one other advantage: you're a mucker, and that means they can't track you.' He peeled off his gloves and stuffed them in his jeans pocket, flexing his fingers. ‘That should slow them down a bit.'

Ivy's head felt woozy. ‘A mucker? Wait. Slow down . . .' She could feel a sharp pain behind her eyes – the kind you get when you've been staring at something for too long. She wondered if the effects of the bike crash were catching up with her, or if her brain was just suffering from information overload. She reached for a nearby stack of leather trunks to steady herself. The hairs on the back of her hand stood on end as heat shot through her fingers.

Not that again . . .

She shivered and stepped away. Of course she needed to save Seb, but she also had to find out what was going on. ‘If I go and fetch whatever it is you want,' she said sharply, ‘then you have to tell me how to get my brother back,
explain about everything else – about the underguard, about ‘muckers', about where this cave is, about why that suitcase was able to bring us down here. Do we have a deal?'

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