THE WOMAN IN the purple hat picked up the Gladstone bag and scurried from the room. Eveline gave her time to leave, picked up her own Gladstone – the one that actually had the money in it – and walked, not too fast, not too slowly, towards the door. Too fast a walk attracted attention, made people wonder why you were so eager to leave. Too slow left you without enough time to make the door before someone raised the alarm.
Instead of exiting, she slapped the door with her hand, spun around and dropped the bag between her feet. “All right, ladies, who can tell me what that was?”
The handful of girls in the room, perched on hard wooden chairs, looked at the floor, the walls, and their neighbours. Finally one of them, a skinny creature with dark eyes and a forceful nose, put up her hand. “A pigeon drop, Miss Sparrow?”
EVELINE DUCHEN SIPPED her tea, ladylike as all get-out, and smiled at the cook.
Ma Pether would’ve killed her if she knew Evvie was actually in the house.“Scope the place out,” she said.“Look over the grounds if you can see ’em, see who’s about, how many servants.Check where the back doors and windows are, and whether there’s cover.You know what to look for.” What she hadn’t said was, “Wait till a maid comes to shake the rugs out and go up to her bold as brass pretending to be looking for work, get invited in for a cup of tea and sit gossiping for an hour.”
WHEN I HEARD the shriek, I bolted up the stairs. That’s one thing about being my height, I can take stairs three at a time.
The sound had come from Laney’s room. I slammed the door open, and there was Laney, curled like a kitten at one end of the bed, and her client, flat on his back with is eyes shut. “What happened?” I said.
Laney just giggled.
I looked at the client lying in the crumpled pile of rose-pink sheets and spring-green satin comforter. He had a glazed look, and although he had a sheet over him I was fairly certain that I could see either steam or smoke rising from the general area of his groin.
I WALKED INTO the humid, faintly citrus-tinged air of The Swamp, an Ikinchli hangout run by my friend Kittack, looking for a chat and maybe a sip of one of the few things he serves that don’t dissolve the top off my tongue.
The minute I was through the door my shoulder-blades started to itch. There were a lot of hunched shoulders, a lot of people looking at me out of the corners of their eyes, and that sharp silence of conversations that have finished in mid-air. Several of the males’ cranial crests were up; not a good sign in a normally laid-back bunch of lizards.