“Quiet!” Emma hissed. Millard’s footsteps moved to the window, and the blinds parted an inch.
“What’s happening?” asked Emma.
“They’re searching the houses,” he replied. “We can’t stay here much longer.”
“Well, we can’t very well go out there!”
“I think perhaps we can,” he said. “Just to be certain, though, let me consult my book.” The blinds fell closed again and I saw a small leather-bound notebook rise from a table and crack open in midair. Millard hummed as he flipped the pages. A minute later he snapped the book shut.
“As I suspected!” he said. “We have only to wait a minute or so and then we can walk straight out the front door.”
“Are you mad?” Emma said. “We’ll have every one of those knuckle-draggers on us with brick bats!”
“Not if we’re less interesting than what’s about to happen,” he replied. “I assure you, this is the best opportunity we’ll have for hours.”
I was untied from the range and led to the door, where we crouched, waiting. Then came a noise from outside even louder than the men’s shouting: engines. Dozens, by the sound of it.
“Oh! Millard, that’s brilliant!” cried Emma.
He sniffed. “And you said my studies were a waste of time.”
Emma put her hand on the doorknob and then turned to me. “Take my arm. Don’t run. Act like nothing’s the matter.” She put away her knife but assured me that if I tried to escape I’d see it again—just before she killed me with it.
“How do I know you won’t anyway?”
She thought for a moment. “You don’t.” And then she pushed open the door.
* * *
The street outside was thronged with people, not only the men from the pub, whom I spotted immediately just down the block, but grim-faced shopkeepers and women and cart drivers who’d stopped what they were doing to stand in the middle of the road and crane their heads toward the sky. There, not far overhead, a squadron of Nazi fighter planes was roaring by in perfect formation. I’d seen photos of planes like these at Martin’s museum, in a display titled “Cairnholm under Siege.” How strange it must be, I thought, to find yourself, in the midst of an otherwise unremarkable afternoon, suddenly in the shadow of enemy death machines that could rain fire down upon you at a moment’s notice.
We crossed the street as casually as possible, Emma clutching my arm in a death grip. We nearly made it to the alley on the other side before someone finally noticed us. I heard a shout and we turned to see the men start after us.
We ran. The alley was narrow and lined with stables. We’d covered half its length when I heard Millard say, “I’ll hang back and trip them up! Meet me behind the pub in precisely five and a half minutes!”
His footsteps fell away behind us, and when we’d reached the end of the alley Emma stopped me. We looked back to see a length of rope uncoil itself and float across the gravel at ankle height. It pulled taut just as the mob reached it, and they went sprawling over it and into the mud, a tangled heap of flailing limbs. Emma let out a cheer, and I was almost certain I could hear Millard laughing.
We ran on. I didn’t know why Emma had agreed to meet Millard at the Priest Hole, since it was in the direction of the harbor, not the house. But since I also couldn’t explain how Millard had known exactly when those planes were going to fly over, I didn’t bother asking. I was even more baffled when, instead of sneaking around the back, any hope of our passing undetected was dashed by Emma pushing me right through the front door.
There was no one inside but the bartender. I turned and hid my face.
“Barman!” Emma said. “When’s the tap open round here? I’m thirsty as a bloody mermaid!”
He laughed. “I ain’t in the custom of servin’ little girls.”
“Never mind that!” she cried, slapping her hand on the bar. “Pour me a quadruple dram of your finest cask-strength whiskey. And none of that frightful watered-down piss you generally serve!”
I began to get the feeling she was just messing around—taking the piss, I should say—trying to one-up Millard and his rope-across-the-alley trick.
The bartender leaned across the bar. “So it’s the hard stuff yer wantin’, is it?” he said, grinning lecherously. “Just don’t let your mum and dad hear, or I’ll have the priest and constable after me both.” He fetched a bottle of something dark and evil looking and began pouring her a tumbler full. “What about your friend, here? Drunk as a deacon already, I suppose?”
I pretended to study the fireplace.
“Shy one, ain’t he?” said the barman. “Where’s he from?”
“Says he’s from the future,” Emma replied. “I say he’s mad as a box of weasels.”
A strange look came over the bartender’s face. “Says he’s what?” he asked. And then he must’ve recognized me because he gave a shout, slammed down the whiskey bottle, and began to scramble toward me.
I was poised to run, but before the bartender could even get out from behind the bar Emma had upended the drink he’d poured her, spilling brown liquor everywhere. Then she did something amazing. She held her hand palm-side down just above the alcohol-soaked bar, and a moment later a wall of foot-high flames erupted.
The bartender howled and began beating at the wall of fire with his towel.
“This way, prisoner!” Emma announced, and, hooking my arm, she pulled me toward the fireplace. “Now give me a hand! Pry and lift!”
She knelt and wedged her fingers into a crack that ran along the floor. I jammed my fingers in beside hers, and together we lifted a small section, revealing a hole about the width of my shoulders: the priest hole. As smoke filled the room and the bartender struggled to put out the flames, we lowered ourselves down one after another and disappeared.
The priest hole was little more than a shaft that dropped about four feet to a crawl space. It was pure black down there, but the next thing I knew it was filled with soft orange light. Emma had made a torch of her hand, a tiny ball of flame that seemed to hover just above her palm. I gaped at it, all else forgotten.
“Move it!” she barked, giving me a shove. “There’s a door up ahead.”
I shuffled forward until the crawl space came to a dead end. Then Emma pushed past me, sat down on her butt, and kicked the wall with both heels. It fell open into daylight.