Page 81

We. They had to do it together, or not at all.

“Damn you—” he swore, but when she started running, he did too.

It sounded like thunder from a late summer storm—the kind that used to rattle her and her mom’s apartment windows, a boom that cracked over the city and echoed against the glass-and-steel structures. The whistling alone made her eardrums feel as if they were about to split; the high whines fell eerily silent before each tremendous, deafening crash. Her skin prickled, feeling as if it was about to peel away.

Etta would never complain about the sound of the passage now, not ever again. Not after hearing this.

Nicholas craned his neck up to watch the shapes ripping through the night sky. It looked as though a thousand black bugs were being released from each plane, all streaming down to the city around them. The eager curiosity she’d seen earlier on his face had vanished.

Etta turned—the street was empty behind them. “They’re gone!”

She pushed her legs harder until she felt her ankle turn on a piece of rubble. But Etta didn’t stop, and neither did Nicholas. He looped her arm around his neck and carried her forward as they turned onto Catherine Street.

“It’s at the end of the—road—” she gasped out.

“I see others, they’re going the same way—” he said, the words rumbling in his chest, echoing the planes’ thunder. “We’re almost there.”

Families, couples, policemen were all converging in front of a building with a redbrick façade. A white banner ran along the top, over the arch of windows: first, PICCADILLY RLY, then the smaller lettering below: ALDWYCH STATION.

She let out a sharp “Yes!” at the same moment that Nicholas shuddered and said, “Thank God.”

A man in a dark police uniform stood at the entrance, waving everyone in. They dodged the clothes, bedding, toys, and suitcases that had been dropped in the panicked flight down, and joined the flow of bodies. Just before they were swallowed into the horde, Nicholas shifted her arm, wrapping it around his waist instead. His other arm fixed across her shoulders, drawing her closer, squeezing them between the dozens of people around them who were all quietly trying to fight their way down an endless series of stairs.

“How far underground are we?” Nicholas asked, eyeing the pale lights running along the ceiling.

“Very far,” Etta said, hoping the words were more reassuring than they felt. The pounding hadn’t stopped; it was only muffled. The world flickered around them as the electricity was tested by the bombing. Sweat poured down her back, and Etta couldn’t stop shaking, even as they broke off from some of the others and headed for the eastern track, as Alice had instructed.

Some part of Etta had hoped that they would be able to just walk to the very end of the platform, jump down onto the track, and slip away into the tunnel. No hassle, no fuss, no questions. But as they came down the last steps and rounded the corner, she could see they had a problem.

That problem being the hundreds of others who had already beaten them down there. Londoners had spread out across the platform, even nestling down on the track. The press of humanity filled the air with a damp, sticky warmth. Many of the men and women had taken off their coats and jackets and hung them up along the walls. Someone had even engineered a kind of clothesline at the entrance to the actual track tunnel.

They couldn’t spend the night here—they couldn’t lose that bit of time when the old man’s deadline was edging closer by the second.

Nicholas’s arm tightened around her again as they were gently pushed forward by the people behind them.

“Damn,” he swore softly. “Which way did we need to go?”

She pointed to the other end of the track, where rows upon rows of people were curled up on blankets or gathered in circles of friends and families. Many were talking quietly, or trying to entertain the few little kids she saw with toys or books, but most remained close to silent, their faces stoic.

Etta had to hand it to them; they were calm. They seemed almost resigned to this, like it was one great bother, instead of a terrible way to die.

“All right, we’ll wait. We can be patient.” If Nicholas was aware of the eyes that were tracking their progress along the platform, he didn’t show it. They navigated through the crowd until they found an empty space near the end of the platform, under a sign advertising the Paramount Theatre’s showing of something called I Was an Adventuress staring someone named Zorina.

Nicholas took off the bag and his jacket as Etta lowered herself down onto the patch of concrete, leaning back against the curved wall. She drew her legs up to her chest and hugged them there, hard enough for her knees to crack.

Calm down, she thought, calm down.

But the bombing hadn’t stopped, and Etta could almost see how, if one was dropped in just the wrong place overhead, it would mean game over. Not just for her and Nicholas, but for the hundreds of people packed around them like sleeves of wafers.

Nicholas rummaged through the bag, producing their lone apple. Etta wasn’t hungry, though she hadn’t eaten since they’d left New York. Her stomach had turned to stone, throbbing in time with the muscles that still burned from the run.

Nicholas glanced at her, concern dragging down the corners of his mouth. “I should have found us water. I’m sorry, Etta.”

“We’ll be fine,” she whispered. They’d find some once they went through the next passage.

“I have to say,” he muttered, leaning back, “I am harboring some incredible ill will toward this mother of yours.”