I stumbled out of Bar Black feeling like I’d not had enough to drink. Gaby’s little performance had been the icing on the cake after the revelations of the things I’d found in Boy Blue’s bedleg and the whole world seemed a little bit surreal to me. I looked up at the sky, half-expecting to see a melted clock hanging there in place of the moon, while a lizard giggled to itself as it played guitar, but to my surprise I saw the first hints of dawn. Medicinal pink cloud hugged the horizon, and the stars had faded away to nothingness. A grey vault hung overhead, waiting to absorb the unwary, and I looked back down at the ground and hunched my shoulders up and tried to hide.
The jingle of cutlery alerted me, and I ducked. Belle Peep’s handbag sailed over my head, just brushing the tips of my hair, and crashed into a wall; the side of Bar Black. It tried to stick for a moment, then slid down with a gritty tearing sound.
“‘er what owns that bag wants to talk to you,” said a voice that made me wonder if people drowned frogs in chocolate. It was glutinous and mucousy, and it croaked and hopped over sounds in the words like it would choke on itself if it didn’t. I looked round, thinking I might recognise it, but all there was behind me was a filthy street urchin. “Yeah, you, guv’nor,” said the urchin. He moved then and I caught sight of a patch on the sleeve of his coat.
“You’re one of the Runners,” I said. The voice made sense now, as William Physick, the criminal mastermind who ran the Runners, spoke that way too and didn’t like to be made fun of. “What are you doing throwing a handbag away?” The Runners got their name from the way that they ran off as fast as tube-mice after they’d picked a pocket or snatched a bag.
“It’s a message,” said the boy. I could see more of his face now; he had a hare-lip and a nasty-looking scar down the right-hand side of cheek. It looked fresh enough to be still weeping. “It’s for you. You’re Mac, ain’t ya?”
“I’ve had lots of names,” I said, and that was the truth. “I don’t speak your language though, what kind of message is a bag thrown at my head.”
“Your problem, guv’nor,” said the boy. “I’m just passing it on.” He turned, and suddenly he was a blur of motion, disappearing at high speed away from me. I thought of chasing him for a minute, but by the time I’d finished that thought he was turning the corner at the top of the street, and I knew that my joints weren’t up to running, let alone catching up with a Runner. I sighed, and went and retrieved the bag.
I have no idea what Belle Peep needs a complete 48-piece cutlery set in her handbag for, but that the entirety of the contents. What disturbed me more was that she, or whoever had sent me her bag, had known that I’d be able to recognise it from the cutlery. That was sufficiently suspicious that I tipped everything out of the bag again, and went through the contents more carefully this time. Other people drifted out of Bar Black and some of them were curious enough to walk a little close by, mostly seeing if there was anything they could lift and run off with, but the cutlery didn’t interest any of them. It interested me though. Every piece of it had a little crest engraved on the handle, and Belle Peep definitely wasn’t nobility. Or even from a noble background. Wherever this had come from then, she was carrying it around because it meant something to her. Sadly, beyond recognising that it was crested it meant nothing to me. I stirred it with my foot one last time, and then something sparkled in the mix.
I bent down, regretting it as my vertebrae kicked up a fuss, and picked up a tiny silver ball that appeared to have been stuck to the handle of a spoon, where it would have gone unnoticed. Two tiny slits in the side of it confirmed to me that it contained electronics and was probably a tracer device. I tossed it down the nearest drain, left the cutlery in the road to foul the early morning traffic, and limped away. I had my suspicions as to what might be happening here, and I wanted to get the bedleg hidden away somewhere safe before any more messages came my way.