- Published: 19 July 2022
- ISBN: 9781760895044
- Imprint: Penguin
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 336
- RRP: $18.99
When Souls Tear: Time Catchers Book 2
Ava dropped the flowers on Elsie’s grave as if they were newly lit fireworks. She grabbed her skirts and spun on her heel, trotting out of Bow Cemetery as quickly as her feet would take her.
Before the world could slip away again.
The horror she’d seen last time she was here was as fresh in her memory as the newly dug graves. The mossy smells of wet leaves, damp earth and cold stone brought the scene rushing back. An anguished Malaikah standing with the Needlie brandishing a bloodied needle. The pale hunter with his raw back and newly sewed wings. His yellow eyes opening, fixing her like a butterfly.
It was a relief to step out of the cemetery gates and leave the dense greenery behind. The pale grey day seemed to brighten a notch, as though someone had turned up a gas lamp. The pinched terraces were reassuringly familiar around her, as were the sounds of the market nearby.
Her feet made their automatic way towards the clatter and shouts on Mile End Road. She rounded the corner and the sight of the sprawling, everyday scene was a welcome one. She shook off the lingering memory and wove her way through the stalls.
There seemed something different about the market today. Something had changed; perhaps it had gained a few stalls? She gave a mental shrug and continued her way through the throng. Things were always changing in London. It was more than a month since she’d returned from Donlon, after all. More than a month since her mother had died, soft as ash, in Ava’s arms, and given Ava her destiny. To rid two worlds of time snatching – the dark legacy of Ava’s own parents.
And here Ava was, back in London – which now seemed so drab, so stinking, so full of petty concerns – and no closer to even seeing a time snatcher, let alone destroying one. Phoebe was still suffering from the after-effects of snatching and was dull with daily doses of laudanum, making her as useful as that one-legged pigeon pecking in the gutter.
Ava was home with her beloved Father, but she felt more alone than she’d ever been. She missed Violet, Malaikah and Jack badly. She wished she could ask Jack about the horrible scene she’d stumbled across – why she’d seen it, what it meant, why Malaikah had called that hunter his twin – or for more stories about her mother. The last she’d seen of him was the day he’d passed her the first memories of her mother, and the aching absence was still huge in her life.
‘Penny for yer thoughts, Miss Ava.’
Ava jumped and saw Frank the coffee monger leaning forward on his stall, his kind eyes twinkling at her. She shook her head. She hadn’t even realised that her feet had automatically trodden the path to his coffee stall.
‘Ain’t seen you fer a while, Miss Ava. Been to see yer ma’s resting place?’
She nodded. No need to explain that it was not her mother lying in that grave, as she’d been raised to believe. Frank poured coffee and buttered a thick slab of bread in the time it took Ava to perch on the bench in the canvas booth that sheltered the coffee stall. She smiled gratefully and took a chewy, buttery bite, relishing the perfection of it washed down with bitter coffee. ‘Your wife’s bread is heavenly, Frank,’ she mumbled.
‘I’ll tell her yer said so, Miss Ava. That’ll make her day,’ said Frank.
He sounded flat, despite his jovial words. He heaved a sigh as he looked around and Ava followed his gaze. She frowned. There was something different about the market today. What was it? The stallholders were all here – in fact there were more than usual; there was a newcomer she’d never seen, a few stalls up from Frank, selling bits of old clockwork – and it was busy enough, but there was something absent, as if a layer was missing.
And then it hit her. The crowds of street urchins were gone. They normally darted underfoot, vying for pennies in return for limp posies, or to hold a horse or sweep a crossing. Or begging an apple from a stall, their sharp eyes and elbows everywhere, filling the air with their shrill
cries and whistles as they lived their lives one step ahead of hunger and the workhouse.
‘Where are the children, Frank?’
‘Poor little blighters.’ Frank shook his head sadly. ‘All gone, just like that, from one day to the next.’
The word hung unspoken between them. Snatched.
But that wasn’t possible. Snatching was never in groups like that, but individuals picked off, one by one, silently vanishing from dark street corners, or in crowded streets in broad daylight.
‘It can’t be,’ whispered Ava. ‘There’s been no news of anything for weeks.’ Not since Ava had been back in London, in fact, which was both relief and frustration, because it meant there was no trail to follow. No leads, nothing to help her in her task of tracking down the last snatchers. ‘It can’t be.’
Frank gave a grunt. ‘Still goin’ on here in the East End, Miss Ava. Just the toffs believe it’s over, ’cause none of theirs have been taken. The likes of this lot won’t make the Illustrated London News.’ There was resigned bitterness in his voice.
The bustling market suddenly seemed a ghost town, its smallest inhabitants no longer darting like sparrows through the throng. The bitter coffee and dense bread sat queasily in her stomach. She’d seen what snatching did firsthand. She would never forget the hollowness in Jack’s eyes, or Phoebe’s face strangely empty of sneer and spark, as dim as a smoke-filled room. Even Ava’s own beloved Father was still so pale and quiet, as if he was winding down like one of his watches.
So it had been still going on, right under her nose, all this time. Some special destiny, she thought bitterly. Some Time Daughter. She’d achieved exactly nothing since she’d been back in London. A shameful fear that she wasn’t the person she needed to be was growing within her.
The days were darkening, Donati’s Comet was fading, and she’d done no more to stop the snatching than Frank here.
She had to find the snatchers and stop the time snatching – but where to start? The snatchers could be anywhere out there in the curling tendrils of London. And even if she did find one, what then? She needed someone else to reset the snatcher, to release the people it held in the Void. Her mother’s dying instruction had been that Phoebe would help Ava, but – well, that hadn’t worked out so far.
Ava blew out her breath in frustration. Her mother’s last words chimed in her memory. ‘You’re the Daughter – my daughter – and you have great strength within you. You will see.’
The memory was so clear, so intense, it was as if her mother was right beside her. Ava could almost feel the Lady’s breath on her cheek. Smell the gardenia perfume she wore. In the next moment, the day tilted around her, unpeeling with a sudden, piercing clarity.
‘Are you all right, Miss Ava?’ said Frank. ‘You’ve gone quite pink.’
Ava barely heard Frank’s words. It was as though a spotlight had turned on the new stallholder a few stalls away, putting the rest of the market into shadow. She jumped to her feet, pushing Frank’s well-meaning hand aside, and strode over to the stall.
‘What do you sell here?’ she demanded. ‘Or, indeed, buy?’ Her eyes flicked across the table spread with pieces of clockwork, old fobs and clocks.
The coster spread his hands expansively and tilted his head to one side. He reminded Ava of a fat little sparrow, his belly jutting importantly above spindly legs. ‘The finest array of clockwork in these parts, Miss. Some lovely old pieces that just need a polish and a wind to be good as new again.’
‘Is that so? Money in old clockwork, is there?’ Ava looked him up and down. He was a natty little sparrow, with a fancy embroidered waistcoat and good shoes on his feet, and a gleaming new top hat, of all things. She reached across and picked up a fob watch with its back removed, tilting it to examine the clockwork.
‘You’ve got good taste, Miss. A lovely piece, that one. Three shillings.’
‘I am a watchmaker and that, sir, is a piece of old scrap.’ Ava put it back on the table, a keening sound filling her skull. ‘You’re not buying waistcoats like that with this rubbish, I’ll wager. What do you really sell?’
It was as if someone else had hold of her tongue. She’d never spoken so brusquely to a grown man before, and by his rapid blinking the coster wasn’t expecting a chit of a girl to cheek him, either. But this new sensation within her overrode everything.
The coster darted a glance in either direction and leaned forward over the table. ‘You seem like a young lady who knows her mind, Miss. I do ’ave a few other items, as it happens.’ His eyes sharpened and he lowered his voice. ‘Is
there something in particular you’re after? I can supply time in all its forms. All of them, if you understand.’
So he was a time monger. The time trade had reached the streets, no longer the exclusive domain of the likes of Mr Shawcross of Burlington Arcade. Which meant that this time monger was dealing in grey time – the time stolen by the snatchers. There was no gold time to be had in London anymore.
‘I need to know the provenance of any such goods if you understand me,’ said Ava. ‘Do you know where your supplies come from?’
His gaze slipped away from hers, oily as Thames water. ‘Of course, of course. Only quality supplies, voluntarily provided at source.’
‘Gold time, you mean?’ said Ava, deliberately.
He shot her a glance, hesitated, then nodded. ‘I can offer you that, but the price is high.’
‘You have a source for gold time?’ said Ava.
He spread his hands, expansive again. ‘Only the finest merchandise for you, Miss. Let me show you.’
He reached below the table and Ava heard the clinking of glass. He pulled out a tiny green glass bottle filled with something that looked like pieces of jelly. He palmed it so that Ava could see it, then put it out of sight again. ‘This is as good as gold time, Miss. Well worth its price.’
‘We both know that’s a lie,’ said Ava. ‘That is as gold as that puddle on the ground. There’s no gold time anywhere in London now.’ Since the death of Ava’s mother, there was no one else who could collect the gold time from the catchers – except Ava herself. She had her own supplies
that she’d brought from Donlon, and she thanked the superstitious urge that made her carry them with her. She put one hand on her locket and lowered her voice. ‘Except for the leaves I carry with me, of course.’
The time monger snorted. ‘I find your claim very ’ard to believe. Beggin’ your pardon, Miss.’
Ava smiled. ‘Of course. You know as well as I do that it’s impossible to come by in London. This is your lucky day.’
He still looked disbelieving. ‘That’s a very big assertion for a young lady to make, Miss.’
‘Yes, it is. But I will give you a gold time leaf if you tell me who supplies your – product.’
He stuck his thumbs in his braces and swelled his chest. ‘Well, of course, ours is a very selective trade, Miss, and we time mongers are sworn to secrecy. We can only –’
‘Two leaves. For free.’
He pursed his lips and regarded Ava, looking more like a sparrow than ever with his head on one side. ‘You’ll ’ave to show your ’and before I can agree, Miss.’
Ava unclasped her locket and carefully prised out two tightly rolled time leaves. She opened her palm so that the time monger could see the gleam, like translucent golden paper, before closing her hand over it again.
He stared at her, his sales patter forgotten. ‘Is that genuine?’ Ava nodded. ‘Where did you get it?’ he asked, but Ava didn’t reply. ‘I would much prefer to sell the genuine article, Miss. You might not believe it, but ethical provenance is my preference.’
‘Then we can strike a deal,’ said Ava. ‘I need an address and a name. No need to write it down. My memory is excellent.’
He glanced around nervously. ‘I can’t give you a name, Miss.’
‘Very well, just the address. There is future business for you if your information proves to be robust – if there are no fabrications at this stage.’
‘You’re a sharp young lady, Miss. You can trust me, but in return you must keep this knowledge to yourself. Do you guarantee this?’
The time monger glanced around again before beckoning to Ava. She mouthed the address after him until she was sure it was embedded in her mind. She reached out a hand, the two leaves discreetly tucked into her palm. ‘A pleasure to do business with you, sir.’
He took her hand and palmed the leaves. ‘Tobias Dunnock at yer service, Miss. I would be ’appy to give you a good price for other such items.’ They shook heartily.
Ava turned to go. The address he’d given her was at the London Docks, which was, as the crow flies, directly behind the time monger.
In a sudden flash of understanding, like the ones that come in a dream, Ava’s mind cleared. It was like taking off a blindfold she hadn’t known she was wearing. The impulse that had drawn her to the stall now unfurled across London towards the docks, her sense of it as sure as if she was turning towards a shout. She knew precisely where the snatcher was – she could feel it. It looked like Mr Dunnock had told her the truth about his source.
It was time to do what no sane young lady would dream of doing. She had to visit the docks.
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