Chapter 17:

Chapter 17 - Railbird


Morgan crouched down beside the dining room’s largest exit–the one Beretta had used to make her escape. It led into a hallway as dark, and nearly as spacious, as the dining room itself. There were no doors at either end of it; just open thresholds, though there were a couple doors standing across from one another at the corridor’s midpoint. The open one probably led to the kitchens, he reasoned, and the other… A pantry? A closet?

He’d never know for sure. He was tempted to go after Beretta and the crooked cops pursuing her–he owed her, after all–but the sliver of grand hall he spied at the far end of the passage stopped him cold. From the sound of it, the police chief’s entourage was still milling around in there, and evading the lot of them in his underwear was not an enticing prospect. Besides, the racket they were making sounded like casual chatter. That meant Beretta probably hadn’t gone that way anyhow.

He looked to the back hall, the one the thugs who’d carried him here had left by. It was darker and narrower, and wasn’t guaranteed to lead to a set of stairs, but it still seemed like his best bet. As he crept away from his place the mouth of the wider hallway, he heard the clanging of pots and pans and smiled to himself. The little girl was probably leading the lawmen on a merry chase through the kitchens by now. He soothed his guilty conscience with the thought that this was her home turf, and they didn’t know it the way she did… But it was a small comfort. They’d catch her eventually, whether it was with their own hands or by alerting their entire unit to her whereabouts.

“Best of luck, little miss,” Morgan murmured under his breath. He padded into the darkness of the back hallway without a sound and wondered, idly, just how many staff the Moukahla family retained. He had to imagine that most, if not all of them, had gone home by now. Oil lamps lined the walls on either side of him, but they’d been snuffed out for the night–a good sign, though far from conclusive. The only light he had to see by came in through the window of the service entrance; a scrap of moonlight so minor that he couldn’t even make out the color of the wallpaper. It was, however, enough to illuminate something far more important to a home invader like himself:

The bottommost step of a stairwell.

He mounted it gratefully. Until now, the possibility of having to climb the foyer steps had hung over his head like a raincloud; this way, at least, he had a chance of remaining undiscovered until he had his revolver in-hand. The backstairs ended up being quite a bit creakier than he’d hoped–due to frequent usage by villa staff, no doubt–but he made it to the top of them in secrecy nonetheless. As with so many things, Morgan was coming to feel as though he had an unrealized knack for this… But no sooner had his confidence begun to swell than a door opened to his immediate right!

He breathed in sharply and scrambled across the upstairs hallway, barrelling through the first open door he could find. The room was as dark as much of the rest of the house had been thus far, but his eyes were well-adjusted after all that time in the crate; he could tell he was in a bedroom–servant’s quarters, judging by the sparse and simple furnishings–and, near as he could tell, it was unoccupied. His elbow brushed against a man-sized container on his way in. Morgan didn’t think; he whipped up the lid and shoved himself inside headfirst.

A woman holding a brass candlestick entered the room a split-second later, squinting into the darkness. Morgan could see her through the gaps in the wicker material of the… Hamper…? he found himself in. She was dressed in her nightclothes, and looked meaner than a spiny flizzard with a snout full of cactus needles. She was old, too–and wrinkly, like she’d been left out on a windowsill since the day Enfield sunk.

“Beretta, you naughty child!” she croaked, wagging her finger at the silent room, “How many times have I said, now? DO NOT bother us here after dark! Even your poor Nanny needs her sleep!”

Morgan winced. From that sentence alone she struck him as being a real domineering type. Between this woman and Diallo, it was a wonder Beretta hadn’t run away from home ages ago.

“You are just lucky that Mr. Mozhoun has gone home for the summer, or you would catch an earful from him too!” she continued. “Leave his things alone, you hear me? I WILL tell your father! Wizards below, we are not paid enough… Not nearly enough…”

She grumbled and turned, heading back out into the hallway. The light of her candle receded until it was gone. Morgan breathed a sigh of relief, but wrinkled his nose on the inhale–what was that smell? He kicked off the hamper lid and carefully extricated himself from the bed of clothing he’d been lying on to find a pair of muddy overalls at their peak.

Apparently, Mr. Mozhoun was the gardener. Morgan took a moment to brush off his hair, hoping against hope that the man hadn’t been handling much fertilizer in the days before his vacation.

He stepped back out into the hallway with extra care, noting to his great relief that the nanny had returned to her room, closed the door and put a record on. It played an obnoxiously loud, brassy number, but it suited his needs just fine–he was able to creep down the remainder of the hallway without further interruption, eventually coming out on the second floor of the grand hall. He risked a peek at the entryway through the posts of the railing, but saw nothing and no one of any consequence below. He could hear something, though–a dreadful caterwauling that could only be Roulette’s comedy routine.

It seemed the show had begun. Good news for him; that meant the entire household–staff excluded–would probably be downstairs either watching the performance or playing a rousing game of catch-the-heiress. He snuck to the other end of the main hall’s second floor and down another hallway. This one was more attractively-adorned than the one he’d just traversed, leading Morgan to conclude that he’d finally reached his destination: the wing that hosted the private rooms of the Moukahla family. If his weapon were going to be anywhere in the villa, he reckoned it would be here.

He checked each and every room he found off the hallway, which proved to be an enormous waste of time. Most were empty bedrooms that looked as though they’d been uninhabited for years. The only exceptions were Beretta’s room (which, though cute, held nothing for him) and Diallo’s, which looked much like the other empty rooms he’d found with one exception:

Roulette’s SMG, Lady Luck, lay on his settee in plain view.

Morgan gawked for a moment, then sighed and snatched it up. It wasn’t what he’d been looking for, but Roulette would surely appreciate having it returned, and he doubted the girl would leave without it anyhow. He slung the strap over his shoulder and carried on down the hall. Now only one bedroom remained: Marka Moukhala’s. Ricochet–his treasured sidearm–had to be here. If it wasn’t, Morgan didn’t rightly know what he’d do.

Predictably, Marka’s bedroom was much larger than the rest. It had to be, Morgan supposed, to contain such a needlessly oversized bed. Not to mention the fireplace lounge that stood at one end, and the wall of cupboards, wardrobes, and trophies that stood at the other…

Trophies! Morgan scanned the wall as best he could, searching for his treasured firearm among Marka’s collection of artifacts. When he didn’t find it there he started rifling through drawers. He grew more agitated by the minute. It’s not here…! he thought in a panic, Where the hell is it? Where would he keep it? He started tossing clothing on the floor, now convinced that it must be hidden in some secret compartment. He went on like this until, suddenly, he heard a deep voice speaking somewhere behind him:

“...Damn. I have read it wrong again–the show has already started!”

Morgan froze. He turned his head slowly, finally noticing something that he hadn’t caught at first glance: a doorway leading to an ensuite bathroom. The Blunderboss himself stood just inside the door, staring at a wall clock with a look of great concentration on his face. Morgan was so stunned by the man’s presence that he couldn’t move–couldn’t even look away–as Marka completed his examination of the clock and turned to leave the bathroom.

And then, in an awkward and uncomfortable moment that seemed to last a lifetime, their eyes met… And Marka Moukhala’s face contorted into a mask of rage.

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