“I oughta sell you,” Emma said, livid, trembling. “Not that anyone would pay half a farthing.”
I stuffed my fists into my pockets to stop them from flying at Lorraine. There was more to be gotten from her. “What about the peculiars they kidnap from other loops?” I asked.
“They bring them through in trucks. Used to be a rare thing. Lately it’s been all the time.”
“Did one come through earlier today?” I said.
“A couple of hours ago,” she said. “They had guards with guns all over the place, blocking the street. Made a big production of it.”
“They don’t usually?”
“Not usually. Guess they feel safe here. This delivery must’ve been important.”
It was them, I thought. A trill of excitement shot through me—but was immediately stifled by Addison lunging at Lorraine. “I’m sure they feel quite safe here,” he snarled, “among such perfect traitors!”
I snatched his collar and held him back. “Calm down!”
Addison struggled against me, and I thought for a moment he might snap at my hand, but then he relaxed.
“We do what we have to to survive,” Lorraine hissed.
“So do we,” said Emma. “Now tell us where those trucks go, and if you lie, or it turns out to be a trap, I’ll come back and melt your nostrils shut.” She held one burning finger just beyond the tip of Lorraine’s nose. “Agreed?”
I could almost imagine Emma doing it. She was tapping into a deep well of hatred I’d never seen fully revealed before, and as useful as it was in situations like this, it was a little scary, too. I didn’t like to think what she might be capable of, given the proper motivation.
“They go to their part of the Acre,” Lorraine said, turning her head away from Emma’s hot finger. “Over the bridge.”
“What bridge?” said Emma, holding it closer.
“At the top end of Smoking Street. Don’t bother trying to cross, though, unless you want your head to end up on a pike.”
I reckoned that was all we were going to get out of Lorraine. Now we had to figure out what to do with her. Addison wanted to bite her. Emma wanted to trace an S on her forehead with her white-hot finger, branding her for life as a slaver. I talked them out of doing either, and instead we gagged her with a sash cord from the curtains and tied her to a leg of the desk. We were about to leave her like that when I thought of one last thing I wanted to know.
“The peculiars they kidnap. What happens to them?”
I pulled down her gag.
“None have escaped to tell,” she said. “But there are rumors.”
“Something worse than death.” She gave us a smile dripping with slime. “I guess you’ll just have to find out, won’t you?”
* * *
The moment we opened the office door, the man in the overcoat charged at us from across the parlor, something heavy raised in his hand. Before he could reach us, a muffled shout of alarm sounded from the office and he stopped, changing course to see about Lorraine. When he’d crossed the office threshold, Emma slammed the door behind him and melted the handle into useless slag.
That bought us a minute or two.
Addison and I bolted for the exit. Halfway there, I realized Emma hadn’t followed. She was banging on the window of the enslaved peculiars’ quarters.
“We can help you escape! Show me where the door is!”
They turned sluggishly to stare, splayed on their chaises and daybeds.
“Throw something to break the glass!” Emma said. “Be quick!”
None moved. They seemed confused. Perhaps they didn’t believe rescue was really possible—or perhaps they didn’t want to be rescued.
“Emma, we can’t wait,” I said, tugging at her arm.
She wouldn’t give up. “Please!” she cried into the tube. “At least send out the children!”
Full-throated shouts from inside the office. The door shook on its hinges. Frustrated, Emma slammed the glass with her fist.
“What’s the matter with them?”
Rattled stares. The little boy and girl began to cry.
Addison tugged the hem of Emma’s dress with his teeth. “We must go!”
Emma let the speaking tube fall and turned away bitterly.
We hit the door running and burst out onto the sidewalk. A thick yellow murk had blown in, bundling everything in gauze and hiding one side of the street from the other. By the time we’d sprinted to the end of the block we could hear Lorraine bellowing behind us but couldn’t see her; we turned one corner and then another until it seemed we’d lost her. On a deserted street by a boarded-up storefront, we stopped to catch our breaths.
“It’s called Stockholm syndrome,” I said. “When people start to sympathize with their captors.”
“I think they were just scared,” said Addison. “Where would they have run to? This whole place is a prison.”
“You’re both wrong,” Emma said. “They were drugged.”
“You sound pretty sure,” I said.
She pushed back hair that had fallen over her eyes. “When I was working in the circus, after I’d run away from home, a woman approached me after one of my fire-eating shows. She said she knew what I was—knew others like me—and that I could make a lot more money if I went and worked for her.” Emma gazed out at the street, her cheeks flushed from the sprint. “I told her I didn’t want to go. She kept insisting. When she finally left she was angry. That night I woke up in the back of a wagon with my mouth gagged and hands cuffed. I couldn’t move, couldn’t think straight. It was Miss Peregrine who rescued me. If she hadn’t found me when they stopped to reshoe their horse the next day”—Emma nodded behind us, to where we’d come from—“I might have ended up like them.”