"What?" gasped Lucy, staring at the rusting iron ladder festooned in slime and seaweed, at the top of which Jakey Fry was anxiously hovering.
"You 'eard. Gettup that ladder. Now! "
"Go on, Lucy," said Wolf Boy, who was desperate to set foot on land once more, even if it was only a slimy rock in the middle of the sea. Showered by spray from the crashing waves below, Lucy scrambled up the ladder, closely followed by Wolf Boy and Skipper Fry. Thin Crowe was left to battle with four huge coils of rope, which he eventually succeeded in hauling up the ladder with the help of Jakey and Wolf Boy.
Led by Skipper Fry, they stumbled up a narrow path worn deep into the rock that wound toward the lighthouse. Wolf Boy's relief at being on solid ground was evaporating fast. At the end of the path he could see a rusty iron door set into the foot of the lighthouse and, as he stepped into the cold shadow cast by the lighthouse, his arms hurting from the weight of the rope he was being forced to carry, he felt as though he and Lucy were being marched into prison.
Skipper Fry reached the door first and beckoned to Thin Crowe impatiently. Thin Crowe dumped the rope and seized the small iron wheel set into the center of the door. He gave the wheel a vicious twist. For a few seconds nothing shifted except Thin Crowe's eyes, which bulged so much that Wolf Boy thought they might, with any luck, spring out of their sockets. And then, with a deep grinding sound from within the door, the wheel began to turn. Thin Crowe put his bony shoulder to the door and shoved. Inch by inch the rusty door screamed open slowly, and a breath of musty air flowed out to meet them.
"Get in," growled Skipper Fry. "Make it snappy." He gave Wolf Boy a shove but wisely left Lucy to go in under her own steam.
The inside of the lighthouse felt like an underground cavern. Rivulets ran down the slimy walls, and from somewhere came a hollow plink-plink of dripping water. High above them reared an immense void in which a fragile helix of metal steps clung nervously to the curved brick walls. The only light came from the half-open door, and even that was fast disappearing as Thin Crowe shoved it closed. With a hollow clang the door banged back into its metal frame, and they were plunged into darkness. Skipper Fry cursed and dropped his coil of rope with a thud. "How many times do I have to tell yer not to close the door until I lit the lamp, dung brain?" he demanded, noisily getting out his tinderbox and scraping at his flint, with little success.
"I'll do it, Pa," Jakey Fry offered anxiously.
"No yer won't. D'yer think I can't light a poxy little lamp? Get out of me way, idiot boy." The thump of Jakey being thrown against the wall made Lucy and Wolf Boy wince. Under the cover of the dark, Lucy edged toward the sound. She found Jakey and put her arm around him. Jakey tried not to snuffle.
Suddenly, from somewhere about halfway up the tower, Wolf Boy and Lucy heard the sound of a door slamming and then the ring of steel toecaps on iron stairs. Heavy footsteps began to clank their way down the steps, which reverberated and shook, carrying the sound all the way to the ground. Wolf Boy and Lucy craned their necks upward and watched a dim light circle high above them, growing slightly closer with every circuit.
Five long minutes later, Thin Crowe's twin stepped off the last step, and Skipper Fry at last managed to light the lamp. The flame flared up and illuminated the features of Fat Crowe, who was, despite the rolls of fat, uncannily like his brother. He shone his own lamp at Lucy and Wolf Boy.
"What they fer?" he growled in a voice indistinguishable from that of Thin Crowe.
"Nuffin useful," grunted his twin. "Yer ready, pig face?"
"Yeah, rat brain, more 'n ready. Drivin' me crazy, he is," Fat Crowe replied.
"Not fer much longer, hey hey." Thin Crowe chuckled. The glow from the lamp shone in the skipper's face, turning it a nasty yellow.
"Well, get a blinkin' move on then," he said. "And mind yer do it right. Don't want no evidence."
Lucy and Wolf Boy flashed each other worried glances - evidence of what?
"Is he comin'?" asked Fat Crowe, pointing to Wolf Boy, who was longing to put his coil of rope down.
"Don't be stupid," said the skipper. "Wouldn't trust these two with me last moldy mackerel. Take 'is rope and get going."
"So what's they 'ere fer, then?" asked Fat Crowe.
"Nothing. Yer two can sort 'em out later," said Skipper Fry. Fat Crowe grinned. "Be our pleasure, boss," he said.
Lucy flashed Wolf Boy a glance of panic. Wolf Boy felt sick. He'd been right. The lighthouse was a prison.
The Crowe twins and Jakey Fry set off up the steps.
"Wait!" Skipper Fry yelled. Jakey and the Crowes stopped. "Yer'll forget yer heads next," growled the skipper. "Take these." From his pocket he took a tangle of black ribbon and dark blue glass ovals. "Crowes - one each," he grunted. "Put 'em on yer know when. Don't want yer going blind on me just when we've got a job to do."
Thin Crowe stuck out a bony arm and took what in fact were two pairs of eye shields.
Jakey Fry looked worried. "Don't I have one, Pa?" he asked.
"No, that's man's work. Yer to carry the rope and do as yer told, got that?"
"Yes, Pa. But what are they for?"
"Ask me no questions and I'll tell yer no lies. Get up them steps, boy. Now!"
Jakey staggered off under his pile of rope, leaving Skipper Fry in the well of the lighthouse guarding Wolf Boy and Lucy.
After a few minutes of strained silence, listening to the dripping water and the echoing clang s of the receding footsteps, an unpleasant thought occurred to Skipper Fry - he was outnumbered. Normally Theodophilus Fortitude Fry would not have even considered a girl when counting the opposition, but this time he felt it was wise to count Lucy Gringe. And there was something odd about the boy too, something feral. A line of goose bumps ran up the back of the skipper's neck and made his tattooed parrot twitch. Suddenly he didn't want to spend another second alone with Wolf Boy and Lucy Gringe.
"Right, yer two, yer can get up them steps an' all," he growled, and gave Wolf Boy a shove in the back.
Wolf Boy made sure that Lucy went first and then followed. Theodophilus Fortitude Fry came close behind, the sound of his labored breath soon cutting out the clang ing steps circling far above. It was a long, long way up, and the climb took its toll on the wheezing Fry. Lucy and Wolf Boy kept on going and drew steadily ahead. The seemingly endless steps were punctuated by landings every seven spirals. Each landing had a door leading off. Lucy and Wolf Boy had stopped briefly on the fourth landing to catch their breath when a shaft of blinding light shot down from the very top of the lighthouse, followed a few seconds later by a terrifying - or was it terrified? - yowl. In the brilliant blue-white light, Lucy and Wolf Boy exchange horrified glances.
"What was that?" mouthed Wolf Boy.
"Cat scream," mouthed Lucy.
"Human scream," whispered Wolf Boy.
"Or both?" whispered Lucy.
Chapter 28 Pincer-Splat
I t was both. Miarr, human but CatConnected many generations from the past, was fighting for his life.
Miarr was a small, slight man who weighed little - five Miarrs equaled the weight of Fat Crowe, and two Miarrs equaled the weight of Thin Crowe. Which meant that against the Crowe twins, Miarr was effectively outnumbered seven to one.
Miarr had been on the Watching platform when the Crowes and Jakey Fry had staggered in with their ropes and thrown them to the floor. Miarr had asked what the ropes were for and was told, "Nothin' fer yer to bother about - not where yer going."
One look at Jakey Fry's terrified face told Miarr all he needed to know. He had scuttled up the foot-pole (a pole with footrests placed on either side), thrown open a trapdoor and taken refuge in a place that normally no one would have dared to follow - the Arena of the Light.
The Arena of the Light was the circular space at the very top of the lighthouse. In the center of the circle burned the Sphere of Light - a large, round sphere of brilliant white light. The Light was encircled by a narrow white marble walkway. Behind the Light, on the island side of the lighthouse, was a huge, curved plate of gleaming silver, which Miarr polished every day. On the seaward side were two enormous glass lenses, which Miarr also polished every day. The lenses were set a few feet back from the two almond-shaped openings - the eyes - through which the Light was focused. The eyes were four times the height of Miarr and six times as long. They were open to the sky and, as Miarr slammed the trapdoor shut and fastened it down, a fresh summer breeze scented with sea blew in and made the cat-man feel sad. He wondered if this would be the very last morning he would ever smell the sea air.