Of course one simply does not break into the Ministry of Public Decency on a whim.
Merri knew it was going to require research, inside information, a clearly formulated plan to get in, get what she’d come for, and get back out again. Fortunately her natural charm and easy manner had served her as well during her time in the Flit as did her reputation as a superior runner. She had many favorable acquaintances at this altitude, most of whom were more open since Randall Ross had inexplicably left. Blaggers, toolings, box men, lurkers, bit fakers and dragsmen willingly parted with what they knew for a smile and a bit of conversation, hardly noting the jade or rosty-gold that crossed their palms.
They did notice it though. Merri considered it insurance, a decent way to expect she’d be welcomed back after all this was over.
She went through the Flit like grass through a goose, concentrating on the areas nearest the Ministry buildings, letting it be known she’d pay highest for information that was freshest. It wasn’t long before she had what she needed to concoct a plan to infiltrate the labyrinthine passages of Hookman House itself.
Theodor might term it `foolishly risky’. Narciso might think it crude — in truth it is, but I haven’t time for finesse just now. I can’t afford to wait, too many people I love are depending on this. I’ve got this one chance. I can’t fail. I simply cannot afford to fail.
“Wotcha.” It was Harry of course, back from his errands. He’d found her studying a map fragment atop the flat roof of a nearby warehouse.
“Trying to make out this script,” Merri murmured, squinting in the awful (lack of) light. “Bring that candle closer, would you?”
“Sure.” He did, leaning over her shoulder in an attempt to help. “Looks like chicken scratch to me.”
“Mmm….” she said. Then what he’d said arrested her and she turned to him, smiling. “How would you know what chicken scratches look like? Have you ever seen a real chicken?”
“Seen one on a sign,” he grinned back at her. “Cock o’ the Dawn. I’s a pub down on Pinchpenny Lane. I’s go’ a chicken on it.”
“I see.” Her mouth flickered in one of those smiles. Harry elbowed her in response.
“So, wotcha gonna do? D’ye make it, yet?”
“I think so,” she murmured.
“How we goin’ in?”
Merri sighed quietly. “Harry. This is dangerous. You know this is dangerous. Do you have any idea how dangerous?”
“Oi.” He rubbed his nose with the back of his hand. “True death, prolly. If they catch us.”
“Eventually, yes,” she replied. “They’ll turn us over to the devils for torture first. It could be a long time before we die. Harry, I can’t–”
“Oi!” He glared at her fiercely. “We go’ us an accord! On the cobbles, yer the boss and I listen and do my best to do what you say. Up ‘ere though — ain’t no bosses. I’s you an’ me and we’re in it all togevver! You promised!”
Lids dropped over grey eyes dark with concern. She took a deep breath. “I did. And I won’t go back on it. But that doesn’t mean I can’t try to talk you out of coming with me, Harry. If anything happened to you–”
“An’ if anyfing ‘appened to you–!” He stopped abruptly, looked down at his dirty, scuffed up boots.
God help me. No. Scratch that — help him, he’s too young for this. “All right,” she breathed. “We go together. But once we’re inside — I’m the boss again. Make it?”
Harry scowled. “Yer the boss as long as ye don’ try t’ tell me t’ leave you.”
“I won’t.” She shook her head, smiled at him sadly. “I promised. I keep my promises Harry. We’ll do this together, or not at all.”
To her utter, jaw-dropping astonishment, the boy threw his arms about her neck and hugged her. Before she could think to respond he’d stepped back again of course, trying to look as if nothing untoward had happened. After a moment she cleared her throat, unwilling to embarrass him by any further displays.
“All right then,” she said, pointing to the scrap of paper. “Here’s how it’s going down…”