Richard heard a high-pitched voice giggling, as he crawled, and he wondered who it could belong to. It was a disturbing giggle, nasty and strange. He wondered what manner of crazy person could giggle like that. He swallowed, and the giggling stopped, and then he knew.
The platform was deserted and dark again. He climbed to his feet and walked, unsteadily, the last few feet, to the edge of the platform. He could see it there, down on the tracks, by the third rail: a small splash of purple, his troll. He looked ahead of him: there were enormous posters stuck to the wall on the other side of the tracks. The posters advertised credit cards and sports shoes and holidays in Cyprus. As he looked the words on the posters twisted and mutated.
END IT ALL was one of them.
PUT YOURSELF OUT OF YOUR MISERY.
BE A MAN–DO YOURSELF IN.
HAVE A FATAL ACCIDENT TODAY.
He nodded. He was talking to himself. The posters did not really say that. Yes, he was talking to himself; and it was time that he listened. He could hear the rattling of a train, not far away, coming toward the station. Richard clenched his teeth, and swayed back and forth, as if he were still being buffeted by commuters, although he was alone on the platform.
The train was coming toward him; its headlights shining out from the tunnel like the eyes of a monstrous dragon in a childhood nightmare. And he understood then just how little effort it would take to make the pain stop–to take all the pain he ever had had, all the pain he ever would have, and make it all go away for ever and ever. He pushed his hands deep into his pockets, and took a deep breath. It would be so easy. A moment of pain, and then it would all be over and done . . .
There was something in his pocket. He felt it with his fingers: something smooth and hard and roughly spherical. He pulled it out of his pocket, and examined it: a quartz bead. He remembered picking it up, then. He had been on the far side of Night’s Bridge. The bead had been part of Anaesthesia’s necklace.
And from somewhere, in his head or out of it, he thought he heard the rat-girl say, “Richard. Hold on.” He did not know if there was anyone helping him at that moment. He suspected that he was, truly, talking to himself. That this was the real him speaking, and he was, finally, listening.
“The man who called himself the marquis de Carabas walked restlessly up and down the alley. Richard could already tell that he was the type of person who was always in motion, like a great cat.
‘Somebody killed Door’s family?’ asked Richard.
‘We’re not going to get very far if you keep repeating everything I say, now, are we?’ said the marquis, who was now standing in front of Richard. ‘Sit down,’ he ordered. Richard looked around the alley for something to sit on. The marquis put a hand on his shoulder and sent him sprawling to the cobblestones. ‘She knows I don’t come cheap. What exactly is she offering me?’
‘What’s the deal? She sent you here to negotiate, young man. I’m not cheap, and I never give freebies.’
Richard shrugged, as well as he could shrug from a supine position. ‘She said to tell you that she wants you to accompany her home–wherever that is–and to fix her up with a bodyguard.’
Even when the marquis was at rest, his eyes never ceased moving. Up, down, around, as if he were looking for something, thinking about something. Adding, subtracting, evaluating. Richard wondered whether the man was quite sane. ‘And she’s offering me?’
The marquis blew on his fingernails and polished them on the lapel of his remarkable coat. Then he turned away. ‘She’s offering…me…nothing.’ He sounded offended.
Richard scrambled back up to his feet. ‘Well, she didn’t say anything about money. She just said she was going to have to owe you a favour.’
The eyes flashed. ‘Exactly what kind of favour?’
‘A really big one,’ said Richard. ‘She said she was going to have to owe you a really big favour.’
De Carabas grinned to himself, a hungry panther sighting a lost peasant child.
“Hunter’s voice was quiet and intense. She did not break her step as she spoke. ‘I fought in the sewers beneath New York with the great blind white alligator-king. He was thirty feet long, fat from sewage and fierce in battle. And I bested him, and I killed him. His eyes were like huge pearls in the darkness.” Her strangely accented voice echoed in the underground, twined in the mist, in the night beneath the Earth.
‘I fought the bear that stalked the city beneath Berlin. He had killed a thousand men, and his claws were stained brown and black from the dried blood of a hundred years, but he fell to me. He whispered words in a human tongue as he died.’ The mist hung low on the lake. Richard fancied that he could see the creatures she spoke of, white shapes writhing in the vapor. ‘There was a black tiger in the undercity of Calcutta. A man-eater, brilliant and bitter, the size of a small elephant. A tiger is a worthy adversary. I took him with my bare hands.’
Richard glanced at Door. She was listening to Hunter intently: this was news to her too, then. ‘And I shall slay the Beast of London. They say his hide bristles with swords and spears and knives stuck in him by those who have tried and failed. His tusks are razors, and his hooves are thunderbolts. I will kill him, or I will die in the attempt.’
Her eyes shone as she spoke of her prey.”