“Can you answer one thing for me first?” Alice said. “How did you know to come to this house? Did you look up the address? Ask around?”
“I didn’t need to,” Etta said. “You and Mom brought me by a few times. You said it was very special—that it was important for me to see where you’d grown up.”
Alice sighed, sounding almost relieved. “Then both of us wanted you to be able to find me. That’s good. They—we, I mean, we must have known something like this might happen.”
The fact was cemented in her now. None of this was a coincidence. Alice, her Alice in the future, had met Etta in the past. She’d known her as nearly an adult before she’d ever met the small wisp of a girl clutching her child-size violin. This was the reason she and Rose had fought—because Alice knew Etta would come here, because she’d already lived through it.
The thought of their inevitability in each other’s lives burrowed deep into her heart, past the hardened shell she’d put up to keep herself together.
“The museum and government have taken the Marbles underground,” Alice said. “They’re tucked away in the Underground, in the tunnel between the Aldwych and Holborn stations. It’s not exactly near where I report to work, but I can at least point you in the right direction.”
“Will we have access to the tunnel?” Etta asked.
“Both stations are being used as shelters during the air raids,” Alice explained. “You’ll need to find an opportunity when the stations aren’t being watched by police, but you should be able to climb down from the platform and walk through the tunnel. The Marbles will be in crates, but they’re obvious enough by their size.”
Etta nodded, processing this.
“Is there a back entrance out of your home?” Nicholas asked suddenly, drawing the curtain shut in front of him.
“Well, yes,” Alice said, rising slowly. “Why?”
“Two gentlemen in the street are watching this house,” he said. “Unless they’re interested in painting it, I think it’s a fair assumption that we’ve been found.”
THROUGH THE BACK DOOR, THROUGH THE BACK GARDEN, through a gate that opened out onto a street. Etta had one second to celebrate their narrow escape, when the man she’d seen before—the one with the fedora and newspaper—appeared at the other end of the street.
“I know him,” Alice said, grabbing her wrist.
“One of Ironwood’s?” Etta asked.
She shook her head. “No…I don’t think so. Rosie left me photos to identify them. This one’s definitely come round looking for her before, though.”
Not an Ironwood guardian…then who the hell was he?
The girls struggled to keep pace with Nicholas’s longer strides. He kept one hand buried deep in his bag—if Etta had to guess, it was on the revolver inside. Whether or not he’d actually bought ammunition was anyone’s guess, but Etta had a feeling that the answer was—
She slammed into something, and felt herself ripped away from Alice’s grip. One of Etta’s feet caught the other and she landed hard on her bottom, her scraped hands singing in agony. When the spots of black cleared from her eyes, Etta saw a woman, the one in the brown suit, reeling and clutching her nose. Just past her shoulder, Nicholas wheeled around, his face blank with horror.
A pair of hands scooped Etta up by the elbows, hauling her back before she could get her feet beneath her. The smell of cologne and sweat flooded her nose, and she threw her head back, trying to hit some soft, fleshy part of him.
“Rose,” the man gasped out, “Rose, damn you—”
A pale fist flew past her face, landing on the man’s jaw. Alice’s face was glowing red with fury as she shook her hand out, but it was Nicholas who charged past her and tackled the man to the ground. Etta finally had a look at him: horn-rimmed glasses, a mussed tweed suit. It was a different man than the one who’d carried the paper. Younger.
“I’m not—” he gasped as Nicholas hauled him up with a snarl and launched a fist into his face. “Not—”
Not what? Etta looked to Alice for an answer, but the girl only shrugged and shoved aside the woman in brown, who was still moaning in pain.
“Come on, Carter!” Alice called. “Keep moving!”
He didn’t move, except to raise his fist again.
“Nicholas!” Etta called. “Come on!”
He finally shook himself out of his anger’s grip, dropped the battered man back onto the sidewalk, and ran to catch up to them.
“Are you all right?” He tried to reach over, but Etta only ran harder, toward the crowds gathering in front of them and the cars honking to get through.
No time. Just run. Run.
Her breath burned inside her chest as they pushed through the busy city, dodging through street after street of homes and shops until, after nearly twenty minutes, they reached their destination. Over their heads was a rainbow array of glowing advertising signs and lights—LEMON HART, BP, SCHWEPPES—and, at the center of a traffic circle, a statue of Eros watched the slow crawl of double-decker buses and police cars. Even without the modern billboards, Etta recognized the intersection. They’d run the whole way to Piccadilly Circus, and her blisters and cramping legs and feet were proof of it.
Alice looked around, her face pink and gleaming with sweat despite the chill in the air. “I can’t take you all the way there, I’m sorry—I can’t miss my shift. There are people depending on me. I wish I could—”