CHAPTER 46

After Hodmedod left the warehouse he headed back towards Dreamer’s Garden to reacquire Joshua’s trail.

He found the site of the battle. The gangs had long since been hauled away to prison. There were still a handful of the combatants wandering the streets, Brickbats, Attendants, and Constables with scrambled brains and battered senses. He found the spot where he fell off the wall. The street was hard cobblestones but there were still plenty of tracks and signs for him to decipher.

Here’s where those apes picked me and the boy up. Here’s where they loaded us both into that cart. Here’s where Joshua got off, with what looks to be help from his gangly friend. The two of them went this way. The blonde girl went back towards Dreamer’s Garden.

Hodmedod followed Joshua and Heathcliff’s trail. It lead him through Rustington and across Jane’s Bridge. He was at the Red Hen when Hodmedod thought to check for the ring. He discovered it was gone and cursed loudly. Gorgette would have been furious with him. Fortunately the chef was unaware that Hodmedod had the ring in the first place.

He picked up the trail again and followed it back across Jane’s Bridge and into a side alley. The blonde girl’s tracks reappeared here and the three of them headed back towards Rustington.

Hodmedod followed. By this time night faded fast. Dawn began to break. The trail snaked back towards the warehouse district. That’s when he ran into another delay.

When he saw the large groups of men in the early morning hours he knew right away they weren’t workers off to the factory.

Not taking any chances this time Hodmedod scurried up the side of the wall. He found a safe perch and watched the battle unfold.

The men were thugs and soldiers of rival gangs. They carried clubs, chains, knives and a few pistols.

Hodmedod hunkered down for safety. He’d have to wait until the issue was decided.

The gangs clashed as gangs do; without any order or plan. One gang charged and screamed. The other turned tail and ran until their courage rose up in their bodies. They turned and charged themselves. The attackers would suddenly lose their nerve and flee in the opposite direction. Then they’d rediscover their own nerves and turn back to attack. And so the two gangs took turns chasing each other from one end to the other with hardly a blow being stuck or a shot fired. After a while Hodmedod longed to see them smash and bash each other.

“Makes you appreciate the Brickbats and those guys in the grey coats,” he said to no one in particular.

Thinking about the Brickbats, Hodmedod reflected that this latest delay was partly his fault. If he’d simply slipped out of the warehouse, this wouldn’t have happened. These pathetic cowards wouldn’t be pathetically jousting for the now empty criminal throne. But Wormsworth was dead.

Thanks to yours truly.

Hodmedod had always admired Wormsworth from a distance. He’d never dreamed that he’d be the one to kill him. But in person the man was just too insufferable.

After the battle finally ended, Hodmedod followed the trail back to the abandoned Charity Kitchen. He checked the building top to bottom but didn’t find them. He searched the grounds until he found the concrete drain and dark pipe. A scrape of cloth was stuck to its edge. Hodmedod saw it was the same material as Joshua’s cotton jacket.

Could they have headed underground to avoid him? Were they that desperate? If that had been their intention it was a futile effort.

He started into the tunnel. Hodmedod could see in the blackest night without waiting for his eyes to adjust. He’d gone only a short distance when he smelled the kerosene lamp ahead of him. He froze and listened. Just a few feet away he heard the grunt. The air was just a tad warmer than it should be.

There’s a man standing a few yards away with a hooded lantern. A guard? Here? What could he be guarding?

He took out his stiletto and moved silently forward. The other man never knew he was coming.

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