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Wyn slid the bolt home quietly, and stood with her back to the door, taking a moment to listen to the old pub. The journey home had been slow, the train crawling through sections of flooded track, each time threatening to stop and strand her miles from home, but Wyn had made it back to her part of town in time to beat the curfew. The warning had caught them all unaware and Wyn had joined the exodus from the Takoma, leaving only a hardcore behind, those brave souls ready to leave it till the last minute and risk running into a militia patrol.

All the way back, Wyn had thought about Tay’s life, piecing together what she knew with what Tony had told her. Wyn had taken to the jovial barman and understood why Tay would’ve gone to him. A father figure to replace the one she’d lost.

The light was off in the main bar, she could hear glasses tinkling and the low hum of the dishwasher, but it was the smell more than anything that made Wyn feel safe. She’d been worried that the layers of fresh paint she’d slapped on the walls had smothered it, banished a sense memory she’d been eager to erase but now clung to. It was food cooked in pans, not heated in a microwave, it was beer and coffee and most of all people. Locals with their unique smells, not always pleasant but in the mix, it softened to form a melange that connected Wyn to Auntie.

Wyn brushed past the orange sleeve of a child’s coat and a glove fell on the carpet. She stooped to pick it up and thought of the tiny hand that it belonged to.

“Is that you?” Misha asked, poking her head into the hallway. Her hair was up, revealing a smooth neck that Wyn imagined would smell of violets. “I’m just tidying up. There’s food in the kitchen.”

“I would have kept going but for the curfew,” Wyn blurted and then sat down heavily on a step. She rubbed at her face and then got to work unlacing her boots, but the knots were evil complicated things and her fingers too stiff and cold. She managed to remove one, but the sock came with it.

“It’s okay, I don’t want you getting arrested as well, then where would we be?” Misha said loudly while she finished her task. “We got everyone out as soon as we heard about the curfew. Mo’s a lifesaver. They might try their luck with me, but they’re scared of her. She was telling me about Auntie back in the day. Is it true she shot someone?”

“It was a car,” Wyn said putting her wet sock back on.

“Mo said she shot a man she was involved with,” Misha said, appearing at the bannister, a cloth in her hand. Wyn looked up at her, noticing the curve of her jaw and the wisps of hair that escaped over her ear. She scolded herself and turned her attention back to her final boot. “Mo said he was cheating on her and she found out, so she got her brother’s gun and shot him outside the pub.”

“She had good reason to want him dead, but it wasn’t jealousy.” Wyn got the boot off and sat back with her elbows on a step. Misha rested an arm on the newel post and stared down at her. “Auntie never talked about it, but Jena did, she told me all of it.”

“What happened then?”

“This was before she brought the pub when she was a lot younger. She was seeing this guy and he used to rough her up.” Wyn regretted the look on Misha’s face. She didn’t want to do anything to make her sad or upset.

“Oh, Wyn.”

“She’d had enough one day and got hold of a gun, never said who gave it to her. She came here looking for him, waited in the market for him to come out and when he did, she pulled the gun on him.”

“What then, did she shoot him?”

“Tried to. She fired at him as he came out but missed.” Wyn mimed the movement, closing one eye and cocking a finger. “Hit the front door instead. He didn’t hang around, just jumped in his car and drove off. Auntie fired two more shots but put them in the back of the car.” Wyn let out a dry chuckle. “The police turned up but since they couldn’t find him, they just took the gun and left.”

“But she fired a gun in the street?” Misha said aghast at the idea. “Even if she had a good reason why wouldn’t they arrest her?”

“Because policing in the districts is different from the Gardens. Down here you have to work with the people and the people that saw what happened didn’t want her taken away. They knew it was justified.”

“How did she end up owning the pub, I’d have thought she’d want to get far away from here?”

“Auntie never ran away from anything. I don’t know how she got the money, but she did it, brought it outright. People used to come from all over the sector to see Auntie and the hole in the door. Everyone loved her.”

“And she took you in?”

“Mo been gossiping about me as well, has she?” Wyn snapped.

“I wasn’t prying, Wyn.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean it. It’s been a long day.” Wyn pulled herself up and shrugged out of her coat. Her head was spinning, and she just wanted to lie down. “I spoke to an agent with Lancaster.”

Misha stood quietly at the bannister, watching Wyn’s every movement as if she could discern what she was going to say without having to ask.

“We only talked for a short while,” Wyn said, “but they offered a deal.”

“You said but I’m not clear on what Lancaster have to do with Tom and Jena?”

“In return for working for them, they’ll see that Tom and Jena are looked after. I’m pushing for release but just getting their sentence lessened would be a big enough victory.”

“But there hasn’t been a trial. Give me the number of who you spoke to, I want to talk to them.” Misha held her hand out as if expecting a business card.

“There was one.”

“When? How can there have been without informing me? I have a right to see my husband,” Misha said and slapped the bannister. She glanced up the stairs and lowered her voice. “Tell me you got to talk to them at least? How are they, are they both well?”

“No, they still aren’t letting visitors through.” Wyn brought herself a moment by hanging up her coat. “Misha, they were both found guilty of sedition.”

“What, that’s crazy.” Misha waved her arms around suddenly animated. “Did they show you any evidence? Tom’s mother was a senior official in the party. She raised him to believe in everything they stood for. He supported the party, he just wanted it to be better.”

“But it’s not his party anymore, is it?” Wyn said trying not to lean on the wall. “Governor Kaplan purged the government of people like Tom. He shut the police force down and arrested the leaders that wouldn’t swear loyalty to him.”

“Like Jena.”

“Like Jena,” Wyn echoed softly.

“What do we have to do?” Misha asked, her anger under control. She was like that Wyn had realised; able to flick a switch and get on with what needed to be done. “Tell me what I have to do, and I’ll do it. We could speak to the lawyer again?”

“No, she couldn’t do anything,” Wyn said shaking her head. They had spent a sizeable chunk of their money on a lawyer only for them to bump into the same wall they had. Even if they wanted to there was barely enough money to keep the lights on, let alone pay her fees. “I have to find someone for Lancaster. If I do then they’ll do what they can for Tom and Jena.”

“What about Jens’ sister?” Misha asked. Jens had stayed with them for a few weeks and Misha had taken the shy young man under her wing. “We can’t forget about her.”

“He promised to get her released as soon as possible. I should get a call in a day or so.”

“That’s something at least. We can look after her until we get word to Jens.” Misha chewed at the inside of her cheek. “Who do Lancaster want you to find?”

“Have you ever heard of the Temple of the Peripheral?”

“Should I have?”

“Tay’s a member.”

“Of course she is,” Misha said and scowled at the back door as if Tay had just turned up again covered in blood and looking clueless. “How is it that damned girl keeps popping up?”

“I wish she would this time. I need to find the temple, but they’ve gone into hiding and the only member I know is Tay. If I can find her then she might be able to lead me to them.”

“Why are they interested in her? They should be more concerned with the thugs roaming the streets. I made sure two of the lads walked Mo home. She told me not to make a fuss but there are bad people out there tonight.”

“They think they’re involved in an attack. I’m not saying Tay is,” Wyn said quickly, “but she might be able to take me to them.”

“Is that where you’ve been, searching for her?”

“Following one lead to the next. I’ve got an address in Kenning to check but then the curfew.” Wyn yawned and covered her mouth. “I should get back out there.”

“Don’t, you look exhausted. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Keep this place running. Without the income, we’d go hungry. Simple as that.”

“I left a plate upstairs for you. Go and eat while I finish up.”

Wyn put her hand over Misha’s. “We’ll get them out, I promise.”

“I trust you.” Misha’s brow crinkled as she sniffed the air. “Have you been drinking?”

Wyn felt her cheeks flush. “Not drinking, drinking. I had to go to a pub to find Tay and the landlord knows her really well, so I was getting him to talk. It was thirty minutes tops.”

Misha smiled but the corners of her eyes didn’t lift. “Go eat and then get some sleep.”

Wyn started up the stairs, her feet heavy on the steps. “It will be alright, Misha.”

“Go to bed,” Misha said turning her back and going into the kitchen.

Wyn listened as the fridge door opened and a bottle rattled. She had almost said something more, the drink-addled part of her brain worried that she’d crossed a line somehow. That she’d blurted a truth that had no interest in being in the open. She went straight to bed, barely managing to strip out of her wet clothes before collapsing onto her mattress.


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