They approached Jane’s Bridge and saw the constable on guard. He kept his eyes peeled towards their side of the river ready to turn away those who would bother the rich and powerful who lived on the opposite side.
“How do we get across?”
He ruled out swimming. He’d heard dozens of stories about people drowning in the river, but never one about somebody crossing it safely.
“I know how,” Heathcliff said. “Come on.”
They stepped out of the protective shadows. Heathcliff walked straight towards the bridge. The constable had his gazed turned to the side but any moment he’d whip his head back around and catch them.
“Just do exactly as I do.”
Just as he reached the bridge, Heathcliff turned around and walked backwards. Joshua joined him. His brain didn’t have time to think of how insane this was.
The constable spotted them.
“Where are you going?” he growled.
“We were just leaving,” Heathcliff said.
The constable yawned and went back to his post.
As soon as he did, Heathcliff and Joshua turned around and walked normally.
“Does that always work?” Joshua asked.
“I wouldn’t know. That was the first time I tried that.”
It was several moments later that Joshua realized he should slap Heathcliff on the back of the head for that stunt.
They reached the Old City just a block away from the bridge. They peered into the maze of streets. But somehow Joshua knew exactly where to go. He led them through the twists and turns until they came to a busy inn with a wooden sign with the emblem of a nesting red chicken. From inside came the clatter of plates and silverware and the smells of fine food.
“My, but some of that smells familiar,” Heathcliff said.
Joshua inhaled. He recognized the smells, all of them, not just a few. He could pick out the foods he’d made in the alley with Lucinda and Dina. But more than that, he could name every dish on the menu and know what went into it. And it felt to Joshua like home; all of it, the sounds, the smells, the scarlet sign that swayed gently in the wind.
“What now? Do we just go inside?” Heathcliff asked.
“Here. Around back.”
They came around the alley. In the back of the restaurant was a large open door. A vegetable cart sat in the alley. The grocer talked in low tones to a man with dark wrinkled skin. Joshua instantly recognized him and knew his name.
“Anton. The Garde Manager,” he said.
“Who?” Heathcliff asked.
Joshua and Heathcliff slipped past the Garde Manager as he negotiated the price of artichokes. They scrambled through the door and into the kitchen.
Inside was all tile and loud noise. It was the hottest room Joshua had ever been in. People in chef’s whites dashed around. Joshua and Heathcliff hid behind a sack of dry white beans and watched.
He saw the tall young man who led the kitchen and recognized him.
“Andre. The Sous.”
“What are you talking about?” Heathcliff asked in a hushed whisper.
He couldn’t answer.
He looked from face to face in the kitchen. Most he recognized, though this was the first time he’d seen them. He knew the layout of the kitchen. Though he’d never set foot in it before now, he could walk it with his eyes closed. The heat was stifling but it felt welcoming to him; comforting.
And the smells.
Olive oil, garlic, onions, dry cured ham, basil, rosemary, tomatoes, cardoons, roasted chicken, grilled steaks, braised lamb shanks, sautéed prawns. Joshua inhaled them all. He could break down every scent. He could tell which dishes were undercooked, which ones were overcooked. He had to fight the urge to jump up and save a steak on the broiler as it went from just rare to well done.
“What are we doing here?” Heathcliff whispered.
Joshua shook himself out of his trance of recognition. He felt for the lead ring inside his pocket. He looked across the busy kitchen and saw the door to the office.
They waited behind the bean sack until they saw an opening. They scrambled across the floor and through the office door. Somehow none of the busy chefs and cooks spotted them.
Inside they found a modest office with just a desk, a chair and a bookshelf.
He looked around the cluttered little office and recognized every inch of it down to the last pencil shaving.
My office, said a strange voice inside him.
He sat down on the squeaky swivel chair. It was set perfectly to his height. He remembered the old man from the river had been small, not much taller than he was. There was nothing extraordinary in this. But the chair felt so comfortably familiar to his rump, as if he’d spent a thousand nights after a busy service sitting in this very chair. He imagined himself in this chair after a tough day as the weariness of fourteen straight hours of hard work slowly drained from his soar legs. He’d hunch over the day’s receipts and the ledger book and try to plan for the next day’s service. He’d waste time just scooting himself around the office. He’d kick off with a toe and let his chair roll whichever way it pleased.
Except that Joshua had never done any of that before.
He tapped the floor with his toe and sent the chair rolling backwards.
Heathcliff kept a nervous vigil at the office door.
“Did you come all this way to play with somebody’s chair?” he asked.
No I didn’t.
“I came for information,” Joshua replied.
Just like that his eyes ignored the desk and its volumes of scrap paper. Instead they focused on the bookcase against the wall. He got out of the chair and walked over to it. It was filled with cookbooks with ratty spines and faded titles. He grabbed corner of the case and pushed. Then he pulled. When he did so the bookcase swung forward. Behind was a sheet of dull metal, a hidden door.
“How did you know that was there?” Heathcliff asked.
He didn’t answer. He touched the metal door. It was cold and solid. He pressed all his weight against it without effect. Then he saw the small imprint just on the right edge of the door. It looked a little bit like a cat’s face with whiskers on one side.
Then Joshua recognized it. They weren’t whiskers. It was a whisk. A whisk and mixing bowl just like on the ring in his pocket. Joshua took the ring out of his pocket and pressed it into the imprint. It clicked into place perfectly. He gave the ring a clockwise twist. It rotated without effort. Clicking noises came from behind the metal door. There was a loud pop. He laid his hand on the door again. It slid to the side with his barest touch.
Just beyond was a stairwell. The steps were carved out of the gray granite. They led down into the dark.
Heathcliff left his post by the door and peered down into blackness.
“Oooo,” he said.
“Get back to the door and make sure no one comes inside,” Joshua said.
“Right. Anyone comes I’ll make a snipe call!”
Heathcliff puckered his lips and tried to whistle. It came out as a serious of spits.
“Just stick your head down here and yell ‘Hey Joshua!’ Please.”
Heathcliff nodded and went back to the door.
Joshua peered down the stone staircase. Like the rest of the office, the staircase felt familiar to Joshua. But that didn’t make it any less ominous.
He started down the stairs. He stepped though some gossamer cobwebs. Though dark, Joshua’s feet found the steps easily, as if he’d been gone down this way many times before. The stairs ended and Joshua stepped onto a hard stone floor. The instant he did a light shone from above and illuminated his new surroundings.