CHAPTER 34

The Brickbats and the Grey Attendants met like two waves crashing into each other. Once they met, they both disintegrated as cohesive armies shattering into a hundred separate melees. They kicked up a huge dust cloud as they grappled, poked, clawed, punched and kicked one another.

Joshua and the others cowered in the ditch as the battle raged around them. A Brickbat, struck with an iron skillet crumpled down in front of them. His scarred face lay just inches away from Joshua and Lucinda, close enough to see the man was still breathing. Joshua thought he looked peaceful.

A bottle shattered against the wall just above his head.

“We should get out of here,” Lucinda said.

He shook his head.

“We get out of this ditch, we’ll be trampled.”

Just then the constables poured into the broken streets. Dozens of them came and shouted, “Robbery! Murder! Arson! Public Indecency!”

To the shock of these servants of the city, the combatants did not immediately freeze in their tracks. They did not put up their hands and come quietly. Instead they turned on the constables and savagely disrespected their authority. Then as quickly as they rushed into the fray, the constables fled from it.

Joshua and Heathcliff laughed at the sight.

“That’s not funny,” Sophie admonished.

“Oh yes it is,” Heathcliff countered.

Sophie stared at them both with mouth agape.

Joshua explained, “You’ve never been dragged into the station by those fools. Trust us, it’s at least a little funny.”

“You don’t know what will happen next,” Sophie warned.

“Oh, really? And what happens next?”

In answer the ground began to rumble.

Three iron wagons drawn by steam belching black engines appeared. The treads on the engines chewed up the already shattered pavement. They stopped just outside the melee. The wagon doors clanged open and out came men in constable uniforms, but they were a much different sort than the ones who had just been driven off. They were hard, solidly built, their muscles bulged beneath their green and gold uniforms. Each man had a white wood staff in his hand.

“The Stick Squad,” Sophie said. “The strongest, toughest constables in the whole city. They’re only called out in the greatest emergencies.”

The Stick Squad didn’t jump into the fray. Instead they formed tightly packed ranks which they stacked into phalanxes five rows deep. Then these massive blocks of massive men rushed out in unison into the street. They crashed through the fighting thugs and attendants like runaway carts.

The Brickbats and the Grays put aside their differences and briefly tried to hold back the phalanxes. But the Stick Squad shoved them back with well practiced violence. Men fell backwards into the ditch.

“Now it’s time for us to leave!” Joshua shouted.

They got up and scrambled into the street. A group of five brawlers spilled right into their path. Joshua jumped forward. He looked back and saw Lucinda with the twins and Heathcliff shielding Dina. The brawling men separated them.

He saw another phalanx of constables bear down on the fighters.

“Keep going! We’ll meet at the Charity Kitchen!”

Lucinda and Heathcliff hustled the little ones away to safety.

Sophie! Where’s Sophie?

Joshua turned about quickly.

Keep your eyes low. Look for someone smaller than the rest.

He spotted her stumbling in a daze, her hand rubbing her bright blonde head. He ran over to her.

“Are you all right?”

Sophie shook her head and blinked.

“One of them caught me just below the ear. I’m fine.”

The constables charged forward.

Joshua and Sophie fled in the opposite direction.

They jumped into an old building and dove beneath the boards that covered the doorway. The constables crashed into the brawlers. Bodies careened in all directions and bounced off the boarded up windows. Joshua and Sophie cautiously peaked out the slats at the battle.

“What will we do?” Sophie asked.

“Just wait for it to pass.”

“What if it doesn’t? What if they fight forever?”

“That’s impossible. It’ll pass.”

He watched. The battle showed no signs of ending any time soon.

“It’ll pass,” he repeated.

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