He wondered at the length of their journey and was saddened, for every turn of the wheels and click of passing ties took him further from home and into the unknown. He could almost feel the grip of his imprisonment tighten with each passing mile.
The woman emerged, dead white, with a terrible look in her green eyes.
She looked around at the bare attic and wrapped her arms about herself to ward off the chill. “You will need a blanket.”
In his gladness, he forgot to speak German and called to the young man in English. Peter saw his mistake, but to his joy, the young man seemed to understand, for he listened, open-mouthed, then ran away.
“Das gör.” he spit, and as he was descending Peter heard him say in German: “I hope we get paid well when we’re finished with him.”
He drew near to Peter and bent very low over him. From the ropes chafing his delicate writs, to the crisp smell of hay, which smelled like Derbyshire in July, to the scent of cologne his guest was wearing, every aspect of that strange scene was etched indelibly into his memory. Peter shut his eyes entirely, and only just in time. A bright light shone directly in his face. The stranger had turned the beam of his electric torch on his face for a better look. Peter heard a faint, queer sigh, and then the darkness closed in with a snap.
“His father’s son.” whispered a voice, touched with irony, like a current of air in the night.
“Franz!” cried a loud voice, rising in accordance with heavy footfalls.
Something metallic gleamed in his clenched hand.
Peter had been possessed with a itch to add another scar to his collection, but the sight of the knife unnerved him.
Peter collapsed to the floor of the house. A shuddering sob caught in the boy’s throat. His chest hurt sharply when he tried to breathe.
Accustomed to Glockner’s cat-like steps creeping up the garret stairs, Peter flinched a little and opened one eye. The other had swollen shut.
“Happy New Year, father.” came the girl’s voice, from the next room. “I forgot to tell you.”
“And to you, me dear.” replied a jolly brogue.
“I must be insane.” Peter thought, sinking back into the pillows.
Either she had already recovered from her first shock, or she was accustomed to finding neglected boys in hotel lobbies.
The flapper’s eyebrows rose and arched curiously.
He had no fear of this fresh unknown, for it seemed secure and peaceful. Gladness flooded Peter’s soul and the measured clicking and clattering of the train wheels on ties rejoiced with him.