Another thousand words or so down. But now it’s time to stop and think.
The way I work, usually, is to blast straight through a first draft of any story as a way of getting to know my main character and uncovering her true story. My second draft is typically a restructuring of the first to reflect what I’ve learned and set out the bones of the plot, before I add layer after layer of detail in my subsequent drafts, building up the onion (or ogre) until I’m done. This time I’m trying a different way.
I already have a feel for Prudence and her mother, and I have a good idea where their story takes them, so now I’m going to pause while I plot the whole thing out. Something of a first for me.
Feel free to let me know what you think of Guttersnipe so far. And to point out all my embarrassing typos and guffs.
What in the world has my mother done now?
There’s no telling, and there’s no longer any question about me shadowing these two old grey men. Even if I need to risk the streets and the fog.
It’s only an assumption, I try to reassure myself as I crawl. They might not be Secret Service after all, and if they are, perhaps my mother isn’t the one they’re looking for.
In my heart and the pit of my stomach, I know better than that. Who else could they be—merchant bankers? And why else would they be in this neighborhood? Who else could the Secret Service possibly care about here?
My mother, Patience Hayaa, international criminal and part-time intelligence agent, retired, has a lot to answer for.
My right hand slips out from underneath me as I move from one building to another. My heart leaps into my mouth and I let myself fall forwards to prevent myself sliding off the roof, and to smother any noise. Pressed flat against the tiles, I hold my breath and listen to the night. No reaction from below, as far as I can tell, but I won’t move again until I’m sure.
While I wait, I review my options. These roofs are pitched too steep for either comfort or safety, and the tiles are slick and treacherous, slimy with the fog and the amassed accumulation of the years. I should be at the apex where it’s easier, but I would be too visible there. The buildings on the far side of the alley have flat roofs, and I could leap across with no difficulty, but should I? Probably not. Chances are the men are making for the Old Bull’s Eye, and often they have armed guards on the roof.
Staying flat, I snake along on my belly. I have no other choice. I can’t stop now. I need to know everything. Like why these men are venturing down Cutthroat Alley, and who they’re meeting here. No one law-abiding, that’s for sure.
More than anything, I need to understand what the Secret Service wants from my mother now. And what they know about her latest plans. Do they know where she is, or when she’s coming home? I hope so because I don’t.
They’re not talking now. They’re listening.
I follow their example. Low voices in the distance. Men murmuring. Nothing more. Sound seems to carry in the fog, but these voices must be coming from the Eye. It used to be a pub, one of the oldest in London. Now it’s Switzerland—neutral territory—a private member’s bar where gangsters of all colours and affiliations can meet without fear of attack. And that’s not all. According to my mother, half the stolen goods in London pass through the Eye, and she should know. It’s where she found my daisho—the matched swords from Japan, one short, the other long, she gave me for my seventh birthday. I had asked for a pony, but that’s my mother for you.
As the alley widens, the two men separate, as if preparing to repel an enemy attack. Fraser, nearest to me, has his left hand thrust deep inside his jacket pocket. What sort of weapon does he have in there? A gun, probably. He’s not the harmless Oxbridge lackey he pretends to be.
The alley is broadest by the Old Bull’s Eye, maybe twenty-five feet across.
A welcoming committee is waiting there—half a dozen figures entwined with the fog. If they have placed lookouts on the roof, they’ll struggle to see me but I mustn’t get too close. I scour the building opposite, straining to make out any movement or a shape that doesn’t belong.
I haven’t seen the Eye in at least a year. I can barely see it now through the thick green haze, but I’m sure it hasn’t changed. The neighborhood kids used to call my house a fortress, with bars on all the windows and a solid steel front door, but the Old Bull’s Eye puts my home to shame. Its windows were all bricked up long before I was born and the only way in is through the cellar. Or from the roof, I suppose. I think there must be tunnels as well, but I don’t know.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” the man who isn’t Fraser bellows into the night.
“Mister Tarrant.” A man steps forward. I recognize his voice before I see him clearly. It’s Ty Gates himself. He speaks with a permanent cocky sneer. The old grey men are meeting with my sworn enemy.
Ty is only nineteen, two years older than me, but he’s led the Nightshades since he was fifteen. Rumor insists he murdered his way to the top, but all anyone knows for sure is his predecessor disappeared, never to be found. Whatever happened, it’s Ty’s gang now and ever since my mother went away, the ‘Shades have been growing stronger and more confident. Only yesterday, I saw three of their younger members camped out on the corner of our street, dealing I assume. It wouldn’t have happened when my mother was around. With the help of her closest friend, my honorary Uncle Mac, she always kept the gangs in line and drugs out of the neighborhood. Of course, that was long before the fog. I haven’t seen my mother or Mac since New Year’s Eve.
“Mister Gates,” the man called Tarrant calls, “a pleasure to meet you, finally.”
Fraser hangs back, hand in his pocket, while Tarrant joins Ty and the other Nightshades. For the first time tonight, the big man lowers his voice as he sinks into conversation with Ty. Fortunately, I have what my mother calls preternatural hearing.
“Is our deal still good?” Ty asks Tarrant.
“Her Majesty’s Government’s word is always good.”
I think Tarrant may be joking, so does Ty. He laughs. “But seriously?”
“My word is always good.”
“Well, all right,” Ty says. “What can I tell you?”
“Any sightings to report?” Tarrant asks.
“A couple of possibles, Irish and Israeli, but no attempts on the house itself. I’ve put the details and photos on this drive.”
Attempts on the house? My house? Ty must have slipped Tarrant a thumb drive, I guess. I wonder how I can get my hands on that.
“And the girl?”
“She’s safe. We can’t keep tabs on her like we do the house, but … well, you know … her mother raised her.”
Tarrant’s turn to laugh. “Yes, I know. Patience Hayaa is a formidable woman.”
“Formidable? That’s one word for it.”
I could have laughed myself. If I wasn’t face down on a treacherous roof, spying on the nation’s spies and my worst enemy. Although. It sounds as if Ty and the ‘Shades have been watching over me. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
“I think,” Tarrant says, “you and your boys have done as well as we could have expected. So thank you, Mister Gates, and yes, our deal is still good. But now I think it’s time to stop watching the girl, and bring her into custody.”
“We can take her for you, if you like,” Ty Gates offers.
“Thank you, but that won’t be necessary.”
“She’s a tricky little monster. Dangerous too, when she wants to be.” He’s thinking of the time I broke his nose.
“I think we can cope.”
“Is that where you’re going now,” Ty asks, “the house?”
“Well,” Tarrant tells him, “it was. But my men on the roofs say there is no need. Prudence Hayaa is here with us now.”