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HAVE A FATAL ACCIDENT TODAY.

He nodded. He was talking to himself. The posters did not really say that. Yes, he was talking to himself; and it was time that he listened. He could hear the rattling of a train, not far away, coming toward the station. Richard clenched his teeth, and swayed back and forth, as if he were still being buffeted by commuters, although he was alone on the platform.

The train was coming toward him; its headlights shining out from the tunnel like the eyes of a monstrous dragon in a childhood nightmare. And he understood then just how little effort it would take to make the pain stop-to take all the pain he ever had had, all the pain he ever would have, and make it all go away for ever and ever. He pushed his hands deep into his pockets, and took a deep breath. It would be so easy. A moment of pain, and then it would all be over and done…

There was something in his pocket. He felt it with his fingers: something smooth and hard and roughly spherical. He pulled it out of his pocket, and examined it: a quartz bead. He remembered picking it up, then. He had been on the far side of Night's Bridge. The bead had been part of Anaesthesia's necklace.

And from somewhere, in his head or out of it, he thought he heard the rat-girl say, "Richard. Hold on." He did not know if there was anyone helping him at that moment. He suspected that he was, truly, talking to himself. That this was the real him speaking, and he was, finally, listening.

He nodded and put the bead back into his pocket. And he stood on the platform and waited for the train to come in. It arrived at the platform, slowed, came to a full stop.

The train doors hissed open. The carriage was filled with every manner and kind of people, all of whom were, unmistakably, quite dead. There were fresh corpses, with ragged cuts in their throats or bullet holes in their temples. There were old, desiccated bodies. There were strap-hanging cadavers, covered with cobwebs, and cancerous things lolling in their seats. Each corpse seemed, as much as one could tell, to have died by its own hand. Some were male, and some were female. Richard thought he had seen some of those faces, pinned to a long wall; but he could no longer remember where he had seen them, could not remember when. The carriage smelled like a morgue might at the end of a long, hot summer during the course of which the refrigeration equipment had failed for good.

Richard had no idea who he was, anymore; no idea what was or what was not true; nor whether he was brave or cowardly, mad or sane, but he knew the next thing he had to do. He stepped onto the train, and all the lights went out.

The bolts were drawn back. Two loud bangs echoed through the room. The door to the tiny shrine was pushed open, letting in lamplight from the hall outside.

It was a small room with a high arched ceiling. A silver key hung from a thread, attached to the highest point of the ceiling. The wind caused by the opening of the door made the key swing back and forth, and then spin slowly, first one way, and then the other. The abbot held Brother Fuliginous's arm, and the two men walked into the shrine, side by side. Then the abbot let go of the brother's arm, and said, "Take the body, Brother Fuliginous."



"But. But Father… "

"What is it?"

Brother Fuliginous went down on one knee. The abbot could hear fingers against cloth and skin. "He's not dead."

The abbot sighed. It was an evil thing to think, he knew, but he honestly felt it was so much kinder if they died outright. This was so much worse. "One of those, eh?" he said. "Ah well, we will look after the poor creature until it passes on to its ultimate reward. Lead it to the infirmary."

And a weak voice said, quietly, but firmly, "I am not a poor creature." The abbot heard someone stand up; heard Brother Fuliginous's sharp intake of breath. "I… I think I got through it," said Richard Mayhew's voice, suddenly uncertain. "Unless this is more of the ordeal."

"No, my son," said the abbot. There was something in his voice that might have been awe, and might have been regret.

There was silence. "I… I think I will have that cup of tea now, if you don't mind," said Richard.

"Of course," said the abbot. "This way." Richard stared at the old man. The glaucous eyes gazed out at nothing at all. He seemed pleased that Richard was alive, but…

"Excuse me?" said Brother Fuliginous, respectfully, to Richard, breaking his train of thought. "Don't forget your key."

"Oh. Yes. Thanks." He had forgotten about the key. He reached out and closed his hand upon the cold silver key, rotating slowly on its thread. He tugged, and the thread snapped easily.

Richard opened his hand, and the key stared up at him from his palm. "By my crooked teeth," asked Richard, remembering, "who am I?"

He put it into his pocket, next to the small quartz bead, and together they left that place.

The fog had begun to thin. Hunter was pleased. She was confident now that, should it become necessary, she could get the Lady Door away from the friars entirely unharmed and get herself away with only minor flesh wounds.

There was a flurry of movement on the far side of the bridge. "Something's happening," said Hunter to Door, under her breath. "Get ready to make a run for it."

The friars drew back. Richard Mayhew, the Upworlder, came toward them through the fog, walking beside the abbot. Richard looked different, somehow… Hunter scrutinized him, trying to work out what had changed. His center of balance had moved lower, become more centered. No… it was more than that. He looked less boyish. He looked as if he had begun to grow up.

"Still alive then?" said Hunter. He nodded; put his hand into his pocket, and pulled out a silver key. He tossed it to Door, who caught it, then flung herself at him, wrapping her arms around him, squeezing him as tightly as she could.

Then Door let go of Richard and ran to the abbot. "I can't tell you how much this means to us," she said to him.

He smiled, weakly but graciously. "May the Temple and the Arch be with you all, on your journey through the Underside," he said.

Door curtseyed, and then, clutching the key tightly in her hand, she went back to Richard, and to Hunter. The three travelers walked down the bridge, and away. The friars stood on the bridge until they were out of sight, lost in the old fog of the world beneath the world.

"We have lost the key," said the abbot to himself, as much as to any of them. "God help us all."

 

THIRTEEN

 

The Angel Islington was dreaming A dark and rushing dream.

Huge waves were rising and crashing over the city; the night sky was rent with forks of white lightning from horizon to horizon; the rain fell in sheets, the city trembled; fires started near the great amphitheater and spread, quickly, through the city, defying the storm. Islington was looking down on everything from far above, hovering in the air, as one hovers in dreams, as it had hovered in those long-ago times. There were buildings in that city that were many hundreds of feet high, but they were dwarfed by the gray-green Atlantic waves. And then it heard the people scream. There were four million people in Atlantis, and, in its dream, Islington heard each and every one of their voices, clearly and distinctly, as, one by one, they screamed, and choked, and burned, and drowned, and died. The waves swallowed the city, and, at length, the storm subsided.

When dawn broke, there was nothing to indicate there had ever been a city there at all, let alone an island twice the size of Greece. Nothing of Atlantis remained but the water-bloated bodies of children, of women and of men, floating on the cold morning waves; bodies the seagulls, gray and white, were already beginning to pick with their cruel beaks.

And Islington woke. It was standing in the octagon of iron pillars, beside the great black door, made of flint and tarnished silver. It touched the cold smoothness of the flint, the chill of the metal. It touched the table. It ran its finger lightly along the walls. Then it walked through chambers of its hall, one after another, touching things, as if to reassure itself of their existence, to convince itself it was here, and now. It followed patterns, as it walked, smooth channels its bare feet had worn, over the centuries, in the rock. It stopped when it reached the rock-pool, kneeling down and letting its fingers touch the cold water.

There was a ripple in the water, which began with its fingertips and echoed out to the edges. The reflections in the pool, of the angel itself and the candle flames that framed it, shimmered and transformed. It was looking into a cellar. The angel concentrated for a moment; it could hear a telephone ring, somewhere in the distance.

Mr. Croup walked over to the telephone and picked up the receiver. He looked rather pleased with himself. "Croup and Vandemar," he barked. "Eyes gouged, noses twisted, tongues pierced, chins cleft, throats slit."

"Mister Croup," said the angel. "They now have the key. I want the girl called Door kept safe on her journey back to me."

"Safe," repeated Mr. Croup, unimpressed. "Right. We'll keep her safe. What a marvelous idea-such originality. Positively astounding. Most people would be content with hiring assassins for executions, sly killings, vile murders even. Only you, sir, would hire the two finest cutthroats in the whole of space and time, and then ask them to ensure a little girl remains unharmed."

"See that she is, Mister Croup. Nothing is to hurt her. Permit her to be harmed in any way and you will displease me deeply. Do you understand?"

"Yes." Croup shifted uncomfortably.

"Is there anything else?" asked Islington.

"Yes, sir." Croup coughed into his hand. "Do you remember the marquis de Carabas?"

"Of course."

"I take it that there is no such similar prohibition on extirpating the marquis…?"

"Not any longer," said the angel. "Just protect the girl."

It removed its hand from the water. The reflection was now merely candle flames and an angel of astonishing, perfectly androgynous, beauty. The Angel Islington stood up and returned to its inner chambers to await its eventual visitors.

"What did he say?" asked Mr. Vandemar.

"He said, Mister Vandemar, that we should feel free to do whatsoever we wished to the marquis."

Vandemar nodded. "Did that include killing him painfully?" he asked, a little pedantically.

"Yes, Mister Vandemar, I would say, on reflection, it did."

"That's good, Mister Croup. Wouldn't like another telling-off." He looked up at the bloody thing hanging above them. "Better get rid of the body, then."

One of the front wheels on the supermarket shopping cart squeaked, and it had a pronounced tendency to pull to the left. Mr. Vandemar had found the metal cart on a grassed-in traffic island, near the hospital. It was, he had realized on seeing it, just the right size for moving a body. He could have carried the body, of course; but then it could have bled on him, or dripped other fluids. And he only had the one suit. So he pushed the shopping cart with the body of the marquis de Carabas in it through the storm drain, and the cart went squee, squee and pulled to the left. He wished that Mr. Croup would push the shopping cart, for a change. But Mr. Croup was talking. "You know, Mister Vandemar," he was saying, "I am currently too overjoyed, too delighted, not to mention too utterly and illimitably ecstatic, to grouse, gripe or grumble-having finally been permitted to do what we do best-'"

Mr. Vandemar negotiated a particularly awkward corner. "Kill someone, you mean?" he asked.

Mr. Croup beamed. "Kill someone I mean indeed, Mister Vandemar, brave soul, glittering, noble fellow. However, by now you must have sensed a lurking 'but' skulking beneath my happy, blithe, and chipper exterior. A minuscule vexation, like the teeniest lump of raw liver sticking to the inside of my boot. You must, I have no doubt, be saying to yourself, 'All is not well in Mister Croup's breast. I shall induce him to unburden himself to me.' "

Mr. Vandemar pondered this while he forced open the round iron door between the storm drain and the sewer and clambered through. Then he manhandled the wire cart with the marquis de Carabas's body through the doorway. And then, more or less certain that he had been thinking nothing of the sort, he said, "No."

Mr. Croup ignored this, and continued, "… And, were I then, in response to your pleadings, to divulge to you what vexes me, I would confess that my soul is irked by the necessity to hide our light under a bushel. We should be hanging the former marquis's sad remains from the highest gibbet in London Below. Not tossing it away, like a used… " He paused, searching for the exact simile.

"Rat?" suggested Mr. Vandemar. "Thumbscrew? Spleen?" Squee, squee went the wheels of the shopping cart.

"Ah well," said Mr. Croup. In front of them was a deep channel of brown water. Drifting on the water's surface were off-white suds of foam, used condoms, and occasional fragments of toilet paper. Mr. Vandemar stopped the shopping cart. Mr. Croup leaned down and picked up the marquis's head by the hair, hissing into its dead ear, "The sooner this business is over and done with, the happier I'll be. There's other times and other places that would properly appreciate two pair of dab hands with the garrotting wire and the boning knife."

Then he stood up. "Goodnight, good marquis. Don't forget to write."

Mr. Vandemar tipped over the cart, and the marquis's corpse tumbled out and splashed into the brown water below them. And then, because he had come to dislike it intensely, Mr. Vandemar pushed the shopping cart into the sewer as well, and watched the current carry it away.

Then Mr. Croup held his lamp up high, and he stared out at the place in which they stood. "It is saddening to reflect," said Mr. Croup, "that there are folk walking the streets above who will never know the beauty of these sewers, Mister Vandemar. These red-brick cathedrals beneath their feet."

"Craftsmanship," agreed Mr. Vandemar.

They turned their backs on the brown water and made their way back into the tunnels. "With cities, as with people, Mister Vandemar," said Mr. Croup, fastidiously, "the condition of the bowels is all-important."

Door tied the key around her neck with a piece of string that she found in one of the pockets of her leather jacket. "That's not going to be safe," said Richard. The girl made a face at him. "Well," he said. "It's not."

She shrugged. "Okay," she said. "I'll get a chain for it when we get to the market." They were walking through a maze of caves, deep tunnels hacked from the limestone that seemed almost prehistoric.

Richard chuckled. "What's so funny?" Door asked.

He grinned. "I was just thinking of the expression on the marquis's face when we tell him we got the key from the friars without his help."

"I'm sure he'll have something sardonic to say about it," she said. "And then, back to the angel. By the 'long and dangerous way.' Whatever that is."

Richard admired the paintings on the cave walls. Russets and ochres and siennas outlined charging boars and fleeing gazelles, woolly mastodons and giant sloths: he imagined that the paintings had to be thousands of years old, but then they turned a corner, and he noticed that, in the same style, there were lorries, house cats, cars, and-markedly inferior to the other images, as if only glimpsed infrequently, and from a long way away-airplanes.

None of the paintings were very high off the ground. He wondered if the painters were a race of subterranean Neanderthal pygmies. It was as likely as anything else in this strange world. "So where is the next market?" he asked.

"No idea," said Door. "Hunter?"

Hunter slipped out of the shadows. "I don't know."

A small figure dashed past them, going back the way they had come. A few moments later another couple of tiny figures came toward them in fell pursuit. Hunter whipped out a hand as they passed, snagging a small boy by the ear. "Ow," he said, in the manner of small boys. "Let me go! She stole my paintbrush."

"That's right," said a piping voice from further down the corridor. "She did."

"I didn't," came an even higher and more piping voice, from even further down the corridor.

Hunter pointed to the paintings on the cave wall. "You did these?" she asked.

The boy had the towering arrogance only seen in the greatest of artists and all nine-year-old boys. "Yeah," he said, truculently. "Some of them."

"Not bad," said Hunter. The boy glared at her.

"Where's the next Floating Market?" asked Door.

"Belfast," said the boy. "Tonight."

"Thanks," said Door. "Hope you get your paintbrush back. Let him go, Hunter."

Hunter let go of the boy's ear. He did not move. He looked her up and down, then made a face, to indicate that he was, without any question at all, unimpressed. "You're Hunter?" he asked. She smiled down at him, modestly. He sniffed. "You're the best bodyguard in the Underside?"

"So they tell me."

The boy reached one hand back and forward again, in one smooth movement. He stopped, puzzled, and opened his hand, examined his palm. Then he looked up at Hunter, confused. Hunter opened her hand to reveal a small switchblade with a wicked edge. She held it up, out of the boy's reach. He wrinkled his nose. "How'd you do that?"

"Scram," said Hunter. She closed the knife and tossed it back to the boy, who took off down the corridor without a backward glance, in pursuit of his paintbrush.

The body of the marquis de Carabas drifted east, through the deep sewer, face down.

London's sewers had begun their lives as rivers and streams, flowing north to south (and, south of the Thames, south to north) carrying garbage, animal carcasses, and the contents of chamber pots into the Thames, which would, for the most part, carry the offending substances out to sea. This system had more or less worked for many years, until, in 1858, the enormous volume of effluent produced by the people and industries of London, combined with a rather hot summer, produced a phenomenon known at the time as the Great Stink: the Thames itself had become an open sewer. People who could leave London, left it; the ones who stayed wrapped cloths doused in carbolic around their faces and tried not to breathe through their noses. Parliament was forced to recess early in 1858, and the following year it ordered that a programme of sewer-building begin. The thousands of miles of sewers that were built were constructed with a gentle slope from the west to the east, and, somewhere beyond Greenwich, they were pumped into the Thames Estuary, and the sewage was swept off into the North Sea. It was this journey that the body of the late marquis de Carabas was making, traveling west to east, toward the sunrise and the sewage works.

Rats on a high brick ledge, doing the things that rats do when no people are watching, saw the body go by. The largest of them, a big black male, chittered. A smaller brown female chittered back, then she leapt down from the ledge onto the marquis's back and rode it down the sewer a little way, sniffing at the hair and the coat, tasting the blood, and then, precariously, leaning over, and scrutinizing what could be seen of the face.

She hopped off the head into the filthy water and swam industriously to the side, where she clambered up the slippery brickwork. She hurried back a long a beam, and rejoined her companions.

"Belfast?" asked Richard.

Door smiled, impishly, and would say nothing more than, "You'll see," when he pressed her about it.

He changed his tack. "How do you know that kid was telling you the truth about the market?" he asked.

"It's not something anyone down here ever lies about. I… don't think we can lie about it." She paused. "The market's special."

"How did that kid know where it was?"

"Someone told him," said Hunter.

Richard brooded on this for a moment. "How did they know?"

"Someone told them," explained Door.

"But… " He wondered who chose the locations in the first place, how the knowledge was spread, trying to frame the question in such a way that he did not sound stupid.

A rich female voice asked from the darkness, "Hss. Any idea when the next market is?"

She stepped into the light. She wore silver jewelry, and her dark hair was perfectly coifed. She was very pale, and her long dress was jet black velvet. Richard knew immediately that he had seen her before, but it took him a few moments to place her: the first Floating Market, that was it-in Harrods. She had smiled at him.

"Tonight," said Hunter. "Belfast."

"Thank you," said the woman. She had the most amazing eyes, thought Richard. They were the color of foxgloves.

"I'll see you there," she said, and she looked at Richard as she said it. Then she looked away, a little shyly; she stepped into the shadows, and she was gone.

"Who was that?" asked Richard.

"They call themselves Velvets," said Door. "They sleep down here during the day, and walk the Up-world at night."

"Are they dangerous?" asked Richard.

"Everybody's dangerous," said Hunter.

"Look," said Richard. "Going back to the market. Who decides where it gets held, and when? And how do the first people find out where it's being held?" Hunter shrugged. "Door?" he asked.

"I've never thought about it." They turned a corner. Door held up her lamp. "Not bad at all," said Door.

"And fast, too," said Hunter. She touched the painting on the rock wall with her fingertip. The paint was still wet. It was a painting of Hunter and Door and Richard. It was not flattering.

The black rat entered the lair of the Golden deferentially, his head lowered, ears back. He crawled forward, squeeing and chittering.

The Golden had made their lair in a pile of bones. This pile of bones had once belonged to a woolly mammoth, back in the cold times when the great hairy beasts walked across the snowy tundra of the south of England as if, in the opinion of the Golden, they owned the place. This particular mammoth, at least, had been disabused of that idea rather thoroughly and quite terminally by the Golden.

The black rat made its obeisance at the base of the bone pile. Then he lay on his back with his throat exposed, closed his eyes, and waited. After a while a chittering from above told him that he could roll over.

One of the Golden crawled out of the mammoth skull, on top of the heap of bones. It crawled along the old ivory tusk, a golden-furred rat with copper-colored eyes, the size of a large house cat.

The black rat spoke. The Golden thought, briefly, and chattered an order. The black rat rolled on his back, exposing his throat again, for a moment. Then a twist and a wriggle, and he was on his way.

There had been Sewer Folk before the Great Stink, of course, living in the Elizabethan sewers, or the Restoration sewers, or the Regency sewers, as more and more of London's waterways were forced into pipes and covered passages, as the expanding population produced more filth, more rubbish, more effluent; but after the Great Stink, after the great plan of Victorian sewer-building, that was when the Sewer Folk came into their own. They could be found anywhere in the length and breadth of the sewers, but they made their permanent homes in some of the churchlike red-brick vaults toward the east, at the confluence of many of the churning foamy waters. There they would sit, rods and nets and improvised hooks beside them, and watch the surface of the brown water.

They wore clothes-brown and green clothes, covered in a thick layer of something that might have been mold and might have been a petrochemical ooze, and might, conceivably, have been something much worse. They wore their hair long and matted. They smelled more or less as one would imagine. Old storm lanterns were hung about the tunnel. Nobody knew what the Sewer Folk used for fuel, but their lanterns burned with a rather noxious blue-and-green flame.

It was not known how the Sewer Folk communicated among themselves. In their few dealings with the outside world, they used a kind of sign language. They lived in a world of gurgles and drips, the men, the women, and the silent little sewer children.

Dunnikin spotted something in the water. He was the chief of the Sewer Folk, the wisest and the oldest. He knew the sewers better than their original builders did. Dunnikin reached for a long shrimping net; one practiced hand movement and he was fishing out a rather bedraggled mobile telephone from the water. He walked over to a small heap of rubbish in the corner and put the telephone down with the rest of their haul. The day's catch so far consisted of two odd gloves, a shoe, a cat skull, a sodden packet of cigarettes, an artificial leg, a dead cocker spaniel, a pair of antlers (mounted), and the bottom half of a baby carriage.

It had not been a good day. And tonight was a market night, in the open air. So Dunnikin kept his eyes on the water. You never knew what would turn up.

Old Bailey was hanging his wash out to dry. Blankets and sheets fluttered and blew in the wind on the top of Centre Point, the ugly and distinctive sixties skyscraper that marks the eastern end of Oxford Street, far above Tottenham Court Road Station. Old Bailey did not care very much for Centre Point itself, but, as he'd often tell the birds, the view from the top was without compare, and, furthermore, the top of Centre Point was one of the few places in the West End of London where you did not have to look at Centre Point itself.

The wind ripped feathers from Old Bailey's coat and blew them away, off over London. He did not mind. As he also often told his birds, there were more where those came from.

A large black rat crawled out through a ripped air-vent cover, looked around, then came over to Old Bailey's bird-spattered tent. It ran up the side of the tent, then along the top of Old Bailey's washing line. It squealed at him, urgently.

"Slower, slower," said Old Bailey. The rat repeated itself, at a lower pitch, but just as urgently. "Bless me," said Old Bailey. He ran into his tent and returned with weapons-his toasting fork and a coal shovel. Then he hurried back into the tent again and came out with some bargaining tools. And then he walked back into the tent for the last time, and opened his wooden chest, and pocketed the silver box. "I really don't have time for this tomfoolery," he told the rat, on his final exit from the tent. "I'm a very busy man. Birds don't catch themselves, y'know."

The rat squeaked at him. Old Bailey was unfastening the coil of rope around his middle. "Well," he told the rat, "there's others could get the body. I'm not as young as I was. I don't like the under-places. I'm a roof-man, I am, born and bred."

The rat made a rude noise.

"More haste, less speed," replied Old Bailey. "I'm goin'. Young whippersnapper. I knew your great-great-grandfather, young feller-me-rat, so don't you try putting on airs… Now, where's the market going to be?" The rat told him. Then Old Bailey put the rat in his pocket and climbed over the side of the building.

Sitting on the ledge beside the sewer, in his plastic lawn chair, Dunnikin was overcome by a presentiment of wealth and prosperity. He could feel it drifting from west to east, toward them.

He clapped his hands, loudly. Other men ran to him, and the women, and the children, seizing hooks and nets and lines as they did so. They assembled along the slippery sewer ledge, in the sputtering green light of their lanterns. Dunnikin pointed, and they waited, in silence, which is how the Sewer Folk wait.

The body of the marquis de Carabas came floating facedown along the sewer, the current carrying him as slow and stately as a funeral barge. They pulled it in with their hooks and their nets, in silence, and soon had it up on the ledge. They removed the coat, the boots, the gold pocket-watch, and the contents of the coat pockets, although they left the rest of the clothes on the corpse.

Dunnikin beamed at the loot. He clapped again, and the Sewer Folk began to ready themselves for the market. Now they truly had something of value to sell.

"Are you sure the marquis will be at the market?" Richard asked Door, as the path began, slowly, to climb.

"He won't let us down," she said, as confidently as she could. "I'm sure he'll be there."

 

FOURTEEN

 

HMS Belfast is a gunship of 11,000 tons, commissioned in 1939, which saw active service in the Second World War. Since then it has been moored on the south bank of the Thames, in postcard-land, between Tower Bridge and London Bridge, opposite the Tower of London. From its deck one can see St. Paul's Cathedral and the gilt top of the columnlike Monument to the Great Fire of London erected, as so much of London was erected, by Christopher Wren. The ship serves as a floating museum, as a memorial, as a training ground.

There is a walkway onto the ship from the shore, and they came down the walkway in their twos and threes, and in their dozens. They set up their stalls as early as they could, all the tribes of London Below, united both by the Market Truce and by a mutual desire to pitch their own stalls as far as possible from the Sewer Folk's stall.

It had been agreed well over a century before that the Sewer Folk could only set up a stall at those markets held in the open air. Dunnikin and his folk dumped their booty in a large pile on a rubber sheet, beneath a large gun tower. Nobody ever came to the Sewer Folk's stall immediately: but toward the end of the market they would come, the bargain hunters, the curious, and those few fortunate individuals blessed with no sense of smell.

Richard and Hunter and Door pushed their way through the crowds on the deck. Richard realized that he had somehow lost the need to stop and stare. The people here were no less strange than at the last Floating Market, but, he supposed, he was every bit as strange to them, wasn't he? He looked around, scanning the faces in the crowd as they walked, hunting for the marquis's ironic smile. "I don't see him," he said.

They were approaching a smith's stall, where a man who could easily have passed for a small mountain, if one were to overlook the shaggy brown beard, tossed a lump of red-molten metal from a brazier onto an anvil. Richard had never seen a real anvil before. He could feel the heat from the molten metal and the brazier from a dozen feet away.

"Keep looking. De Carabas'll turn up," said Door, looking behind them. "Like a bad penny." She thought for a moment, and added, "What exactly is a bad penny anyway?" And then, before Richard could answer, she squealed, "Hammersmith!"

The bearded mountain-man looked up, stopped hitting the molten metal, and roared, "By the Temple and the Arch. Lady Door!" Then he picked her up, as if she weighed no more than a mouse.

"Hello, Hammersmith," said Door. "I hoped you'd be here."

"Never miss a market, lady," he thundered, cheerfully. Then he confided, like an explosion with a secret, "This's where the business is, y'see. Now," he said, recollecting the cooling lump of metal on his anvil, "just you wait here a moment." He put Door down at eye level, on the top of his booth,, seven feet above the deck.

He banged the lump of metal with his hammer, twisting it as he did so with implements Richard assumed, correctly, were tongs. Under the hammer blows it changed from a shapeless blob of orange metal into a perfect black rose. It was a work of astonishing delicacy, each petal perfect and distinct. Hammersmith dipped the rose into a bucket of cold water beside the anvil: it hissed and steamed. Then he pulled it out of the bucket, wiped it, and handed it to a fat man in chain mail who was standing, patiently, to one side; the fat man professed himself well satisfied and gave Hammersmith, in return, a green plastic Marks and Spencer shopping bag, filled with various kinds of cheese.

"Hammersmith?" said Door, from her perch. "These are my friends."

Hammersmith enveloped Richard's hand in one several sizes up. His handshake was enthusiastic, but very gentle, as if he had, in the past, had a number of accidents shaking hands and had practiced it until he got it right. "Charmed," he boomed.

"Richard," said Richard.

Hammersmith looked delighted. "Richard! Fine name! I had a horse called Richard." He let go of Richard's hand, turned to Hunter, and said, "And you are… Hunter? Hunter! As I live, breathe, and defecate! It is!" Hammersmith blushed like a schoolboy. He spat on his hand and attempted, awkwardly, to plaster his hair back. Then he stuck his hand out and realized that he had just spat on it, and he wiped it on his leather apron, and shifted his weight from foot to foot.

"Hammersmith," said Hunter, with a perfect caramel smile.

"Hammersmith?" asked Door. "Will you help me down?"

He looked shamefaced. "Beg pardon, lady," he said, and lifted her down. It came to Richard then that Hammersmith had known Door as a small child, and he found himself feeling unaccountably jealous of the huge man. "Now," Hammersmith was saying to Door, "What can I do for you?"

"Couple of things," she said. "But first of all-" She turned to Richard. "Richard? I've got a job for you."

Hunter raised an eyebrow. "For him?"

Door nodded. "For both of you. Will you go and find us some food? Please?" Richard felt oddly proud. He had proved himself in the ordeal. He was One of Them. He would Go, and he would Bring Back Food. He puffed out his chest.

"I am your bodyguard. I stay by your side," said Hunter.

Door grinned. Her eyes flashed. "In the market? It's okay, Hunter. Market Truce holds. No one's going to touch me here. And Richard needs looking after more than I do." Richard deflated, but no one was watching.

"And what if someone violates the Truce?" asked Hunter.

Hammersmith shivered, despite the heat of his brazier. "Violate the Market Truce? Brrrr."

"It's not going to happen. Go on. Both of you. Curry, please. And get me some papadums, please. Spicy ones."

Hunter ran her hand through her hair. Then she turned and walked off into the crowd, and Richard went with her. "So what would happen if someone violated Market Truce?" asked Richard, as they pushed through the crowds.

Hunter thought about this for a moment. "The last time it happened was about three hundred years ago. A couple of friends got into an argument over a woman, in the market. A knife was pulled and one of them died. The other fled."

"What happened to him? Was he killed?"

Hunter shook her head. "Quite the opposite. He still wishes he had been the one to have died."

"He's still alive?"

Hunter pursed her lips. "Ish," she said, after a while. "Alive-ish."

A moment passed, then "Phew," Richard thought he was going to be ill. "What's that-that stink?"

"Sewer Folk."

Richard averted his head and tried not to breathe through his nose until they were well away from the Sewer Folk's stall.

"Any sign of the marquis yet?" he asked. Hunter shook her head. She could have reached out her hand and touched him. They went up a gangplank, toward the food stalls, and more welcoming aromas.

Old Bailey found the Sewer Folk with little difficulty, following his nose.

He knew what he had to do, and he took a certain pleasure in making a bit of a performance of it, ostentatiously examining the dead cocker spaniel, the artificial leg, and the damp and moldy portable telephone, and shaking his head dolorously at each of them. Then he made a point of noticing the marquis's body. He scratched his nose. He put on his spectacles and peered at it. He nodded to himself, glumly, hoping to give the vague impression of being a man in need of a corpse who was disappointed by the selection but was going to have to make do with what they had. Then he beckoned to Dunnikin, and pointed to the corpse.

Dunnikin opened his hands wide, smiled beatifically, and gazed up toward the heavens, conveying the bliss with which the marquis's remains had entered their life. He put a hand to his forehead, lowered it, and looked devastated, in order to convey the tragedy that losing such a remarkable corpse would be.

Old Bailey put a hand in his pocket and produced a half-used stick of deodorant. He handed it to Dunnikin, who squinted at it, licked it, and handed it back, unimpressed. Old Bailey pocketed it. He looked back at the corpse of the marquis de Carabas, half-dressed, barefoot, still damp from its journey through the sewers. The body was ashen, drained of blood from many cuts, small and large, and the skin was wrinkled and prunelike from its time in the water.

Then he pulled out a bottle, three-quarters filled with a yellow liquid, and passed it to Dunnikin. Dunnikin looked at it suspiciously. The Sewer Folk know what a bottle of Chanel No. 5 looks like, and they gathered around Dunnikin, staring. Carefully, self-importantly, he unscrewed the top of the bottle and dabbed the tiniest amount on his wrist. Then, with a gravity the finest Parisian parfumier would have envied, Dunnikin sniffed. Then he nodded his head, enthusiastically, and approached Old Bailey to embrace him and conclude the deal. The old man averted his face and held his breath until the embrace was concluded.

Old Bailey held up one finger and tried his best to mime that he was not so young as once he was and that, dead or not, the marquis de Carabas was a bit on the heavy side. Dunnikin picked his nose thoughtfully, and then, with a hand gesture indicating not only magnanimity but also a foolish and misplaced generosity that would, obviously, send him, Dunnikin, and the rest of the Sewer Folk, to the poorhouse, he had one of the younger Sewer Folk tie the corpse to the bottom half of the old baby carriage.

The old roof-man covered the body with a cloth, and he pulled it away from the Sewer Folk, across the crowded deck.

"One portion of vegetable curry, please," said Richard, to the woman at the curry stall. "And, um, I was wondering. The meat curry. What kind of meat is it, then?" The woman told him. "Oh," said Richard. "Right. Um. Better just make that vegetable curries all round."

"Hello again," said a rich voice beside him. It was the pale woman they had met in the caves, with the black dress and the foxglove eyes.

"Hullo," said Richard, with a smile. "-Oh, and some papadums, please. You, um. Here for curry?"

She fixed him with her violet gaze and said, in mock Bela Lugosi, "I do not eat… curry." And then she laughed, a lavish, delighted laugh, and Richard found himself realizing how long it had been since he had shared a joke with a woman.

"Oh. Um. Richard. Richard Mayhew." He stuck out his hand. She touched it with her own hand, in something a little like a handshake. Her fingers were very cold, but then, late at night, at the end of autumn, on a ship out on the Thames, everything is very cold.

"Lamia," she said. "I'm a Velvet."

"Ah," he said. "Right. Are there a lot of you?"

"A few," she said.

Richard collected the containers with the curry. "What do you do?" he asked.

"When I'm not looking for food," she said, with a smile, "I'm a guide. I know every inch of the Underside."

Hunter, who Richard could have sworn had been over on the other side of the stall, was standing next to Lamia. She said, "He's not yours."

Lamia smiled sweetly. "I'll be the judge of that," she said.

Richard said, "Hunter, this is Lamia. She's a Velcro."

"Vel-vet," corrected Lamia, sweetly.

"She's a guide."

"I'll take you wherever you want to go."

Hunter took the bag with the food in it from Richard. "Time to go back," she said.

"Well," said Richard. "If we're off to see the you-know-what, maybe she could help."

Hunter said nothing; instead, she looked at Richard. Had she looked at him that way the day before, he would have dropped the subject. But that was then. "Let's see what Door thinks," said Richard. "Any sign of the marquis?"

"Not yet," said Hunter.

Old Bailey had dragged the corpse down the gangplank tied to its baby carriage-base, like a ghastly Guy Fawkes, one of the effigies that, not so very long ago, the children of London had wheeled and dragged around in early November, displaying to passersby before tossing them to their flaming demise on the bonfires of the fifth of November, Bonfire Night. He pulled the corpse over Tower Bridge, and, muttering and complaining, he hauled it up the hill past the Tower of London. He made his way west toward Tower Hill Station and stopped a little before the station, beside a large gray jut of wall. It wasn't a roof, thought Old Bailey, but it would do. It was one of the last remnants of the London Wall. The London Wall, according to tradition, was built on the orders of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, in the third century A.D., at the request of his mother Helena. At that point, London was one of the few great cities of the Empire that did not yet have a magnificent wall. When it was finished it enclosed the small city completely; it was thirty feet high, and eight feet wide, and was, unarguably, the London Wall.

It was no longer thirty feet high, the ground level having risen since Constantine's mother's day (most of the original London Wall is fifteen feet below street level today), and it no longer enclosed the city. But it was still an imposing lump of wall. Old Bailey nodded vigorously to himself. He fastened a length of rope to the baby carriage, and he scrambled up the wall; then, grunting and 'bless-me'-ing, he hauled the marquis up to the top of the wall. He untied the body from the carriage wheels and laid it gently out on its back, arms at its side. There were wounds on the body that were still oozing. It was very dead. "You stupid bugger," whispered Old Bailey, sadly. "What did you want to get yourself killed for, anyway?"

The moon was bright and small and high in the cold night, and autumn constellations speckled the blue-black sky like the dust of crushed diamonds. A nightingale fluttered onto the wall, examined the corpse of the marquis de Carabas, and chirruped sweetly. "None of your beak," said Old Bailey, gruffly. "You birds don't smell like flipping roses, neither." The bird chirped a melodious nightingale obscenity at him, and flew off into the night.

Old Bailey reached into his pocket and pulled out the black rat, who had gone to sleep. It stared about it sleepily, then yawned, displaying a vast and ratty expanse of piebald tongue. "Personally," said Old Bailey to the black rat, "I'll be happy if I never smell anything ever again." He put it down by his feet on the stones of London Wall, and it chittered at him, and gestured with its front paws. Old Bailey sighed. Carefully, he took the silver box out of his pocket, and, from an inner pocket, he pulled the toasting fork.

He placed the silver box on de Carabas's chest, then, nervously, he reached out the toasting fork, and flipped open the lid of the box. Inside the silver box, on a nest of red velvet, was a large duck's egg, pale blue green in the moonlight. Old Bailey raised the toasting fork, closed his eyes, and brought it down on the egg.

There was a whup as it imploded. There was a great stillness for several seconds after that; then the wind began. It had no direction, but seemed somehow to be coming from everywhere, a swirling sudden gale. Fallen leaves, newspaper pages, all the city's detritus blew up from the ground and was driven through the air. The wind touched the surface of the Thames and carried the cold water into the sky in a fine and driving spray. It was a dangerous, crazy wind. The stall holders on the deck of the Belfast cursed it and clutched their possessions to keep them from blowing away.

And then, when it seemed that the wind would become so strong that it would blow the world away and blow the stars away and send the people tumbling through the air like so many desiccated autumn leaves-

Just then-

– it was over, and the leaves, and the papers, and the plastic shopping bags, tumbled to the earth, and the road, and the water.

High on the remnant of the London Wall, the silence that followed the wind was, in its way, as loud as the wind had been. It was broken by a cough; a horrid, wet coughing. This was followed by the sound of someone awkwardly rolling over; and then the sound of someone being sick.

The marquis de Carabas vomited sewer water over the side of the London Wall, staining the gray stones with brown foulness. It took a long time to purge the water from his body. And then he said, in a hoarse voice that was little more than a grinding whisper, "I think my throat's been cut. Have you anything to bind it with?"

Old Bailey fumbled in his pockets and pulled out a grubby length of cloth. He passed it to the marquis, who wrapped it around his throat a few times and then tied it tight. Old Bailey found himself reminded, incongruously, of the high-wrapped Beau Brummel collars of the Regency dandies. "Anything to drink?" croaked the marquis.

Old Bailey pulled out his hip-flask and unscrewed the top, and passed it to the marquis, who swigged back a mouthful, then winced with pain, and coughed weakly. The black rat, who had watched all this with interest, now began to climb down the fragment of wall and away. It would tell the Golden: all favors had been repaid, all debts were done.

The marquis gave Old Bailey back his hip-flask. Old Bailey put it away. "How are ye feeling?" he asked.

"I've felt better." The marquis sat up, shivering. His nose was running, and his eyes flickered about: he was staring at the world as if he had never seen it before.

"What did you have to go and get yourself killed for, anyway, that's what I want to know," asked Old Bailey.

"Information," whispered the marquis. "People tell you so much more when they know you're just about to be dead. And then they talk around you, when you are."

"Then you found out what you wanted to know?"

The marquis fingered the wounds in his arms and his legs, "Oh yes. Most of it. I have more than an inkling of what this affair is actually about." Then he closed his eyes once more, and wrapped his arms about himself, and swayed, slowly, back and forth.

"What's it like then?" asked Old Bailey. "Being dead?"

The marquis sighed. And then he twisted his lips up into a smile, and with a glitter of his old self, he replied, "Live long enough, Old Bailey, and you can find out for yourself."

Old Bailey looked disappointed. "Bastard. After all I done to bring you back from that dread bourne from which there is no returning. Well usually no returning."

The marquis de Carabas looked up at him. His eyes were very white in the moonlight. And he whispered, "What's it like being dead? It's very cold, my friend. Very dark, and very cold."

Door held up the chain. The silver key hung from it, red and orange in the light of Hammersmith's brazier. She smiled. "Fine work, Hammersmith."

"Thank you, lady."

She hung the chain around her neck and hid the key away inside her layers of clothes. "What would you like in return?"

The smith looked abashed. "I hardly want to presume upon your good nature… " he mumbled.

Door made her "get on with it" face. He bent down and produced a black box from beneath a pile of metalworking tools. It was made of dark wood, inlaid with ivory and mother-of-pearl, and was the size of a large dictionary. He turned it over and over in his hands. "It's a puzzle-box," he explained. "I took it in return for some smithing a handful of years back. I can't get it to open, though I've tried so hard."

Door took the box and ran her fingers over the smooth surface. "I'm not surprised you haven't been able to open it. The mechanism's all jammed. It's completely fused shut."

Hammersmith looked glum. "So I'll never find out what's in it."

Door made an amused face. Her fingers explored the surface of the box. A rod slid-out of the side of the box. She half-pushed the rod back into the box, then twisted. There was a clunk from deep inside it, and a door opened in the side. "Here," said Door.

"My lady," said Hammersmith. He took the box from her and pulled the door open all the way. There was a drawer inside the box, which he pulled open. The small toad, in the drawer, croaked and looked about itself with copper eyes, incuriously. Hammersmith's face fell. "I was hoping it would be diamonds and pearls," he said.

Door reached out a hand and stroked the toad's head. "He's got pretty eyes," she said. "Keep him, Hammersmith. He'll bring you luck. And thank you again. I know I can rely on your discretion."

"You can rely on me, lady," said Hammersmith, earnestly.

They sat together on the top of the London Wall, not speaking. Old Bailey slowly lowered the baby carriage wheels to the ground below them. "Where's the market?" asked the marquis.

Old Bailey pointed to the gunship. "Over there."

"Door and the others. They'll be expecting me."

"You aren't in any condition to go anywhere." The marquis coughed, painfully. It sounded, to Old Bailey, like there was still plenty of sewer in his lungs. "I've made a long enough journey today," de Carabas whispered. "A little farther won't hurt." He examined his hands, flexed the fingers slowly, as if to see whether or not they would do as he wished. And then he twisted his body around, and began, awkwardly, to climb down the side of the wall. But before he did so, he said, hoarsely and perhaps a little sadly, "It would seem, Old Bailey, that I owe you a favor."

When Richard returned with the curries, Door ran to him and threw her arms around him. She hugged him tightly, and even patted his bottom, before seizing the paper bag from him and pulling it open with enthusiasm. She took a container of vegetable curry and began, happily, to eat.

"Thanks," said Door, with her mouth full. "Any sign of the marquis yet?"

"None," said Hunter.

"Croup and Vandemar?"

"No."

"Yummy curry. This is really good."

"Got the chain all right?" asked Richard. Door pulled the chain up from around her neck, enough to show it was there, and she let it fall again, the weight of the key pulling it back down.

"Door," said Richard, "this is Lamia. She's a guide. She says she can take us anywhere in the Underside."

"Anywhere?" Door munched a papadum.

"Anywhere," said Lamia.

Door put her head on one side. "Do you know where the Angel Islington is?"

Lamia blinked, slowly, long lashes covering and revealing her foxglove-colored eyes. "Islington?" she said. "You can't go there… "

"Do you know?"

"Down Street," said Lamia. "The end of Down Street. But it's not safe."

Hunter had been watching this conversation, arms folded and unimpressed. Now she said, "We don't need a guide."

"Well," said Richard, "I think we do. The marquis isn't around anywhere. We know it's going to be a dangerous journey. We have to get the… the thing I got… to the Angel. And then he'll tell Door about her family, and he'll tell me how to get home."

Lamia looked up at Hunter with delight. "And he can give you brains," she said, cheerfully, "and me a heart."

Door wiped the last of the curry from her bowl with her fingers, and licked them. "We'll be fine, just the three of us, Richard. We cannot afford a guide."

Lamia bridled. "I'll take my payment from him, not you."

"And what payment would your kind demand?" asked Hunter.

"That," said Lamia with a sweet smile, "is for me to know and him to wonder."

Door shook her head. "I really don't think so."

Richard snorted. "You just don't like it that I'm figuring everything out for once, instead of following blindly behind you, going where I'm told."

"That's not it at all."

Richard turned to Hunter. "Well, Hunter. Do you know the way to Islington?" Hunter shook her head.

Door sighed. "We should get a move on. Down Street, you say?"

Lamia smiled with plum-colored lips. "Yes, lady."

By the time the marquis reached the market they were gone.

 

FIFTEEN

 

They walked off the ship, down the long gangplank, and onto the shore, where they went down some steps, through a long, unlit underpass, and up again. Lamia strode confidently ahead of them. She brought them out in a small, cobbled alley. Gaslights burned and sputtered on the walls.

"Third door along," she said.

They stopped in front of the door. There was a brass plate on it, which said:

 

 

THE ROYAL SOCIETY

 


Date: 2015-12-11; view: 410


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