“Working together?” said Emma. “You hunted us! Sent monsters to kill us!”
Damn it, I thought. Keep quiet.
Mr. White made a sad puppy-dog face. “Monsters?” he said.
“That hurts. That’s me you’re talking about, you know! Me and all my men here, before we evolved. I’ll try not to take your slight personally, though. The adolescent phase is rarely attractive, whatever the species.” He clapped his hands sharply, which made me jump.
“Now then, down to business!”
He raked us with a slow, icy stare, as if scanning our ranks for weakness. Which of us would crack first? Which would actually tell him the truth about where Miss Peregrine was?
Mr. White zeroed in on Horace. He’d recovered from his faint but was still on the floor, crouched and shaking. Mr. White took a decisive step toward him. Horace flinched at the click of his boots.
“Stand up, boy.”
Horace didn’t move.
“Someone get him up.”
A soldier yanked Horace up roughly by his arm. Horace cowered before Mr. White, his eyes on the floor.
“What’s your name, boy?”
“Well, Huh-Horace, you seem like someone with abundant common sense. So I’ll let you choose.”
Horace raised his head slightly. “Choose …?”
Mr. White unsheathed the knife from his belt and pointed it at the Gypsies. “Which of these men to kill first. Unless, of course, you’d like to tell me where your ymbryne is. Then no one has to die.”
Horace squeezed his eyes shut, as if he could simply wish himself away from here.
“Or,” Mr. White said, “if you’d rather not choose one of them, I’d be happy to choose one of you. Would you rather do that?”
“Then tell me!” Mr. White thundered, his lips snarling back to reveal gleaming teeth.
“Don’t tell them anything, syndrigasti!” shouted Bekhir—and then one of the soldiers kicked him in the stomach, and he groaned and fell quiet.
Mr. White reached out and grabbed Horace by the chin, trying to force him to look right into his horrible blank eyes. “You’ll tell me, won’t you? You’ll tell me, and I won’t hurt you.”
“Yes,” Horace said, still squeezing his eyes shut—still wishing himself gone, yet still here.
Horace drew a shaking breath. “Yes, I’ll tell you.”
“Don’t!” shouted Emma.
Oh God, I thought. He’s going to give her up. He’s too weak.
We should’ve left him at the menagerie …
“Shh,” Mr. White hissed in his ear. “Don’t listen to them. Now, go ahead, son. Tell me where that bird is.”
“She’s in the drawer,” said Horace.
Mr. White’s unibrow knit together. “The drawer. What drawer?”
“Same one she’s always been in,” said Horace.
He shook Horace by the jaw and shouted, “What drawer?!”
Horace started to say something, then closed his mouth. Swallowed hard. Stiffened his back. Then his eyes came open and he looked hard into Mr. White’s and said, “Your mother’s knickers drawer,” and he spat right in Mr. White’s face.
Mr. White slammed Horace in the side of the head with the handle of his knife. Olive screamed and several of us flinched in vicarious pain as Horace dropped to the floor like a sack of potatoes, loose change and train tickets spilling out of his pockets.
“What’s this?” said Mr. White, bending down to look.
“I caught them trying to catch a train,” said the soldier who’d caught us.
“Why are you just telling me this now?”
The soldier faltered. “I thought—”
“Never mind,” Mr. White said. “Go intercept it. Now.”
Mr. White glanced at the ticket, then at his watch. “The eight-thirty to London makes a long stop at Porthmadog. If you’re quick, it’ll be waiting for you there. Search it from front to back—starting with first class.”
The soldier saluted him and ran outside.
Mr. White turned to the other soldiers. “Search the rest of them,” he said. “Let’s see if they’re carrying anything else of interest. If they resist, shoot them.”
While two soldiers with rifles covered us, a third went from peculiar to peculiar, rooting through our pockets. Most of us had nothing but crumbs and lint, but the soldier found an ivory comb on Bronwyn—“Please, it belonged to my mother!” she begged, but he only laughed and said, “She might’ve taught you how to use it, mannish girl!”
Enoch was carrying a small bag of worm-packed grave dirt, which the soldier opened, sniffed, and dropped in disgust. In my pocket he found my dead cell phone. Emma saw it clatter to the floor and looked at me strangely, wondering why I still had it. Horace lay unmoving on the floor, either knocked out or playing possum. Then it was Emma’s turn, but she wasn’t having it. When the soldier came toward her, she snarled, “Lay a hand on me and I’ll burn it off!”
“Please, hold your fire!” he said, and broke out laughing. “Sorry, couldn’t resist.”
“I’m not joking,” Emma said, and she took her hands out from behind her back. They were glowing red, and even from three feet away I could feel the heat they gave off.
The soldier jumped out of her reach. “Hot touch and a temper to match!” he said. “I like that in a woman. But burn me and Clark there’ll spackle the wall with your brainy bits.”
The soldier he’d indicated pressed the barrel of his rifle to Emma’s head. Emma squeezed her eyes shut, her chest rising and falling fast. Then she lowered her hands and folded them behind her back. She was positively vibrating with anger.
So was I.
“Careful, now,” the soldier warned her. “No sudden moves.”
My fists clenched as I watched him slide his hands up and down her legs, then run his fingers under the neckline of her dress, all with unnecessary slowness and a leering grin. I’d never felt so powerless in all my life, not even when we were trapped in that animal cage.
“She doesn’t have anything!” I shouted. “Leave her alone!”
I was ignored.
“I like this one,” the soldier said to Mr. White. “I think we should keep her awhile. For … science.”