Faye leaned her head onto Skander’s work bench, feeling the uneven and chipped wood against her cheek. Skander was hunched over the haystack of papers in front of him, but he wasn’t writing anything. Just staring blankly at them. George was playing the piano still, upbeat cheerful dances played slowly so they sounded oddly mournful as the notes echoed in the large room.
Now that she’d finally sat down, Faye realized how exhausted she was. She hadn’t eaten anything all day and now she felt sick. They should go back to the boarding house before dinner. She didn’t want to move, though.
The piano paused and she could tell George was looking at her, waiting to see if she wanted to leave. She didn’t move and after a second, he began playing another song. The room was warm now from the fire in the stove. It felt like any other time after one of George’s parties, when the four of them lingered there talking after everyone had gone, the room still warm from the bodies dancing and George’s cooking, and Silas was there, too, and not missing.
She felt another tear on her skin but didn’t have the energy to brush it away. She was so tired. She couldn’t carry on like this. It felt like she’d been living in this nightmare for years. If she didn’t find Silas soon…
If she didn’t find a way to stop thinking about it, she was going to throw up. She pushed herself up from the table and watched George play the last verse of the song. He finished and glanced at her.
“You want to head back now?”
“I suppose we should let Skander get back to his work,” she said.
Skander paused and looked up from the papers he hadn’t touched in an hour. “You stay here as long as you want. I know what it’s like to not want to go back where… well, you know. It’s hard when they’re not there and they should be.”
Faye sighed. “I’ve got to go back sometime.”
She stood and put her coat on, tucking the book under her arm. “Thank you, Skander. And if you hear anything…”
“You’ll be the first to know.” He stood and pressed her hand with both of his.
“Skander,” George said, thumping him on the back and making him cough. “Eat something besides crackers and get some rest.”
“That’s ma’am to you,” George clucked, thumping him on the back again.
Skander’s face flushed with irritation and he sidestepped away. “I’ll walk you down.”
They stepped out into the cold hallways of the abandoned factory. Faye shivered. As they walked toward the stairs, she could see dust floating through the air.
“Will you be able to get a cab?” Skander asked.
“I asked the fella we came with to wait,” said George.
They reached the top of the stairs and looked down.
“George, what have I told you about inviting people here without asking me?” Skander sighed.
“I didn’t invite anyone,” George said defensively. He peered down the stairs. “Well, how about that? Hello, down there!” he called.
There were four men at the bottom of the stairs in black coats and stovepipe hats.
“Hullo up there!” one of them called with a smile. “Say, would the young lady happen to be Mrs. Faye Lawrence?”
“That’s me,” Faye said, brows furrowed.
“My name’s Officer Waters with the Boston Police,” he said as the men started up the stairs, “and –”
“You’ve news of Silas?” Faye interrupted. “I mean, Mr. Lawrence?”
“We need you to come down to the station with us.”
“Why? What’s the matter?” Faye asked, paling and feeling her heart freeze.
“Nothing to worry about. Nothing at all. We can talk on the way.”
“Three officers to bring a message to one lady seems awfully inefficient to me,” George said, leaning against the rail and pushing back a fingernail cuticle. “You fellas are one of the reasons I don’t pay taxes.”
Waters hid a smile. “You’re probably right about that.”
“Silas is alright, then?”
“Why is he at the station, then?” Faye asked.
Waters paused. “It’s really quite complicated. Why don’t I fill you in on the whole story while we drive over?”
George nodded thoughtfully. “Well, okay. Come on, Skander, let’s go with the nice policemen.”
Waters paused. “I’m afraid I really only need Mrs. Lawrence.”
“Yeah?” George smiled slyly. “Why’s that?”
“Those were my orders,” Waters said, coming up the stairs more quickly now.
“Don’t suppose it would have anything to do with this?” George asked, snatching the book from under Faye’s arm and holding it up.
A brief flash of recognition passed over Waters’ face and he almost tripped on a step, but he recovered quickly. “What would I be wanting with an old book?”
“I have an idea. You three go on back to your duties. We’ll head to the station ourselves. Sound fair?”
Waters smiled tightly.
“What are you doing?” Faye whispered to George.
“They’re not police,” George explained in a low voice. “Hey, Waters, stop right there!”
Waters paused on the stairs.
“You just turn around now and go back to wherever you came from.”
Waters started again.
“Don’t come a step further!”
“You’re a little unarmed to be making such demands,” Waters said without stopping, flicking his coat to the side and putting a hand on the butt of a revolver.
George cursed. “You know, he’s got a point there. We should run.”
“What?” Skander blinked.
“Run!” George said as all four officers started racing up the stairs after them.
“What is going on?” Faye screamed as the sound of pounding footsteps echoed behind them.
“I don’t know,” George said. “Skander, how do we get out of here?”
“That’s the only exit from here!” Skander said, looking over his shoulder.
The men had just reached the top floor.
“Think, Skander! A window, ladder, roof to jump to – anything?”
“How would I know?” Skander snapped. “I don’t very often have to escape from my own building!”
“Back to the room!”
They raced down the hall and into Skander’s room, slamming the door shut behind them.
“Faye, get that chair over there, quick,” George barked. “Skander, get that table.”
Faye raced to the chair by the desk and pulled it over to George, who wedged it under the doorknob. Skander dragged the heavy table to the door and he and George pushed it against it. They backed away, keeping Faye behind them. The men’s footsteps reached the door and stopped. The doorknob rattled and the door bumped against the chair, but the chair held it shut.
“Now, look here,” said Waters. “I think there’s been a big misunderstanding.”
“Not likely,” said George.
“Mrs. Lawrence, I wasn’t lying when I said Silas is completely fine.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Well, he was fine when I saw him this morning.”
Faye paused. He was certainly lying. “Then what was he wearing?”
“A kinda brownish suit, white shirt with ink stains all over the sleeves.”
Faye’s breath caught and she glanced at George.
“Look,” Waters went on. “I like your husband, ma’am. Nice fellow. He’s quite alright. There was just a bit of a misunderstanding about that book you have there and if you come with us, I’m sure everything will get cleared up in no time.”
“Who are you people?” George asked. “And what is this freakish book, anyway?”
“I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to say.”
“Not at liberty to say, huh? Here’s another idea. Let Silas go and we’ll give you the book.”
“Oh, Mrs. Lawrence, won’t you just come with us easy?” Waters complained. “You have no idea how much trouble the last couple days have been for me.”
“Not a chance, pal,” said George. “Run along home, now.”
“George, don’t make them angry,” Faye whispered.
“If that’s the way you want it,” Waters said after a minute.
There was a short pause then the sound of a gunshot rang out five times. They ducked for cover, but it seemed the target had been the doorknob which the chair was wedged under. It was blown apart and a second later, the door slammed open against the table. It only took one more shove to overturn the table and the men poured into the room with weapons aimed at them.
Skander and George stepped in front of Faye.
“I don’t like doing things this way,” Waters apologized. “Especially when everything is going to turn out just fine for everyone in the end. I really do believe so. You’ve nothing to worry about from me or anyone, see? But the fact of the matter is I do need you to come with me, Mrs. Lawrence.”
“Where is Silas?” Faye asked hoarsely.
“I’ll take you straight to him, my word as a gentleman.”
He took a step toward them and George and Skander moved closer to block him. Waters sighed and cocked his revolver and pointed it at George’s chest. Everyone in the room froze.
“I’m trying to be nice here,” Waters said.
“We’ll think about the offer and get back to you tomorrow,” George said with a tight smile.
“If I come, you’ll leave George and Skander alone?” Faye asked.
“Faye, don’t be ridiculous,” George hissed over his shoulder.
“George and Skander will never see a one of us again,” Waters gave a short bow.
Faye took a step forward.
“Faye, don’t,” Skander said.
“What choice do I have,” she asked. “I can’t watch you get hurt because of me.”
“You must be daft or something if you think I’m going to let you do that,” George said.
“George, I’m being serious!”
“I am, too.”
“You got something to say, pal?” George turned on him.
“No,” said Skander. He paused, then added in a low voice. “Just never seen this side of you, George. I didn’t know you could take anything seriously.”
“I take plenty of things seriously,” George said, hurt.
“Like you took that court summons seriously? Or like you took my thousand times asking you to stay out of my place seriously?”
“Is this really the time to –” Faye started.
“So you think if I make a conscious choice to disregard something, it means I never take anything seriously?”
“Isn’t that the definition?”
“And you sit up here all day, eating crackers and ignoring every inch of society and you think that’s being serious-minded?”
“Now, hold on a minute –”
A gunshot rang out and they all three raised their hands and turned back to Waters, who’d shot a hole in the ceiling and was looking at them with a bewildered expression.
“That’s enough,” he said. “Mrs. Lawrence is coming with us and I’d really prefer not to have to shoot you two. Sound alright?”
“I’m going,” Faye told George and Skander, gripping the book tight to her chest and steeling herself.
“Faye,” George said. “You don’t know what they want. They could – you could be…”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “And if…” she bit her lip and fought the lump forming in her throat. She was scared, but she couldn’t show it, or they’d fight to the death for her, and she couldn’t live with that. “I’ll be fine,” she whispered and gave a smile. “Don’t try to come after me.”
She shoved past them before George could catch her in his grasp and walked toward Waters. But she’d only gone a few steps when four more men crashed through the door. She missed a step, and everyone whirled toward the door.
The men were dressed head to toe in grey and they had revolvers, too, but they were pointed at the phony officers. The room erupted in gun fire, and someone screamed. Suddenly, there was an arm around her chest and Faye gave a cry.
“Let’s get the hell out of here!” George yelled in her ear.
She turned and dashed around the edges of the room, head low, toward the door. In the chaos, she almost tripped over one of the officers lying on the floor. Waters and the other two were fighting hand to hand with the grey men now, except for one grey man hanging back from the fight and reloading a gun. That one had a bandage around an arm that was stained red. They didn’t even seem to notice Skander, George, and Faye as they ran behind the lines and out the door.
“Quick,” said George. “Out the back doors.”
They dashed through the factory and down the stairs, making a creaking ruckus on the old steps. It didn’t matter now. All that mattered was speed, and the hope that the officers didn’t have reinforcements downstairs.
“The automobile!” Skander said.
“Oh, yeah,” said George. “That way they can follow us just by hearing the monstrosity from five miles away! No! We need to get to Cambridge Street. Once we’re there, they’ll never find us in the crowd.”
They reached the bottom of the stairs and snuck out the back. No one was waiting, but they still ran all six blocks to Cambridge Street. As soon as they slowed to a walk and wove into the throng of people, George grabbed Faye’s wrist.
“Don’t ever do that again, you hear?” he shouted.
She wrenched her wrist away. “Forgive me for trying to save your lives.”
“Faye, you don’t understand –”
“I do understand, George. Stop treating me like a damned child!”
“I’m not treating you like a child! But what the hell were you thinking?”
“What would you rather me have done? Tell them to go ahead and shoot you two full of holes?”
“I can take care of myself.”
“We take care of each other! That’s how this works.”
“And who takes care of Silas? They might have let him go if…” she trailed off.
George looked away and folded his arms tightly against himself. “Don’t do it again.”
Faye snorted and they both went coldly silent.
“I hope they leave my research alone,” Skander frowned.
George put a hand on his shoulder. He looked behind them. “We can’t go back there – or to any of our places. If they found us in a dilapidated junk heap like that, they can find us anywhere.”
“Maybe they didn’t. Maybe we were followed,” Faye said softly.
“Maybe,” George glanced over his shoulder again.
“I didn’t mention it earlier, because I thought I was only going insane, but I could have sworn I saw people following us yesterday.”
“I think it’s time to tell Mr. Lawrence about all this.”
“I think you’re right,” Faye shuddered. “But do you really think Silas is with them? Was the man telling the truth when he said he’s alright?”
George shook his head.
“And who were the men in grey? Why were they helping us?”
“It’s the story,” Skander said, freezing in his steps.
“What do you mean?” George asked, turning back.
“The story I read, about Mohomet the Bald and the bandits. It happened just like that.”
George cocked his head.
“Think about it,” Skander went on. “Men looking for a treasure, four of them precisely. They try to take the treasure, but Mohomet is protected by four angel spirits who appear out of nowhere.”
They all paused, the idea sinking in.
“Well, if it was trying to warn us, it was doing it in a bloody cryptic manner,” said George. “And that makes us Mohomet the Bald, which I really don’t appreciate. Right now, though, we should be getting out of here.”
Faye gripped the book tighter in her arm, feeling like if she lost it, she would lose Silas, too. Something about the book was important. Not just involving Silas’ disappearance, but important in an even bigger way than her or Silas or anyone. She didn’t know what it was, or why, but she wasn’t going to let it out of her sight.