Meggie wasn’t really listening to him now. She remembered how, after their flight from the sheds where Capricorn had held them captive, she had stumbled towards Elinor’s car, and the man had shot at them. She had hoped she would never again have to see this car park, the church and these hills.
‘Come on, get moving!’ grunted Flatnose, opening the car door. ‘I expect you remember the way.’
Oh yes, Meggie could remember – even though it did all seem rather different today. Fenoglio looked round the gloomy alleys like a tourist, staring at windows and open doors as if he’d paid for entry. ‘I know this village!’ he whispered to Meggie. ‘I mean, I’ve heard of it. There’s more than one sad story about the place. That earthquake in the last century, and then in the last war there was—’
‘Save your tongue for later, scribbler!’ Basta interrupted. ‘I don’t like whispering.’
Fenoglio shot him an angry glance but fell silent, and did not utter another sound until they had reached the church.
‘Well, go on, open the door. What are you waiting for?’ growled Flatnose.
With Fenoglio’s help, Meggie opened the heavy wooden door. The cool air that met them smelled as musty as on the day she had entered the church with Mo and Elinor. Nothing much had changed inside. The red walls looked even more threatening on this overcast day, and the expression on the doll-like face of Capricorn’s statue seemed rather more malevolent than before, if that were possible. The braziers in which the books had been burned still stood in the same place, but there was no sign of Capricorn’s chair at the top of the steps. Two of his men were just carrying a new chair up them. The old woman who looked like a magpie and whom Meggie didn’t really like to remember was standing beside them, impatiently giving directions.
Basta pushed aside two women who were kneeling in the middle of the nave cleaning the floor, and strode towards the altar steps. ‘Where’s Capricorn, Mortola?’ he called to the old woman as he approached. ‘I have news for him. Important news.’
The old woman didn’t even turn towards him. ‘Further to the right, you fools!’ she ordered the two men who were still struggling with the heavy armchair. ‘Yes, there, that’ll do.’ Then she turned towards Basta, her face expressionless.
‘We expected you back before this,’ she said.
‘What do you mean?’ Basta had raised his voice, but Meggie caught the uncertainty it revealed. It sounded almost as if he were afraid of the old woman. ‘Do you know how many villages there are down this damn coast? And we weren’t even sure whether Silvertongue was still in the area. But I can rely on my nose, and as you see,’ he said, nodding in Meggie’s direction, ‘I’ve done the job.’
‘You have?’ The Magpie looked past Basta to where Meggie and Fenoglio were standing with Flatnose. ‘All I see is the girl and an old man. Where’s her father?’
‘He wasn’t there, but he’ll come after her. The girl’s the best bait we could have.’
‘And how will he know she’s here?’
‘I left him a message.’
‘Since when can you write?’
Meggie saw Basta’s shoulders tense with anger. ‘I left him my name. He won’t need more than that to know where to find his precious little daughter. Tell Capricorn I’m shutting her in one of the cages.’ With these words he turned on his heel and stalked back to Meggie and Fenoglio.
‘Capricorn’s not here and I don’t know when he’ll be back!’ Mortola called after him. ‘But I’m in charge until then, and in my view you’ve not been doing your job recently as well as we expect.’
Basta swung round as if he had been bitten in the back of the neck, but Mortola continued unmoved.
‘First, you let Dustfinger steal a set of keys from you, then you lose our dogs and we have to send a search party out into the mountains for you, and now this! Give me your keys.’ The Magpie put out her hand.
‘What?’ Basta went white, like a boy being punished in front of the whole class.
‘You heard. I’m going to look after them: the keys to the cages, the crypt and the fuel store. Bring them here.’
Basta didn’t move. ‘You’ve no right to them!’ he snapped. ‘Capricorn gave them to me, and he’s the only one who can take them away again.’ He turned away once more.
‘And so he will!’ Mortola called after him. ‘And he’ll expect your report as soon as he gets back. Maybe he’ll understand better than I do why you didn’t bring Silvertongue.’
Basta did not reply. Seizing Meggie and Fenoglio by the arm, he hauled them towards the church door. Mortola the Magpie called something after him, but Meggie couldn’t make out what it was. And Basta did not turn back this time.
He locked her and Fenoglio in the shed marked number 5, the one where Farid had been imprisoned. ‘Right, you can wait here till your father arrives!’ he said before pushing Meggie inside.
She felt as if this were a nightmare and she was dreaming it all over again. Only here there wasn’t even musty straw to sit on, and the light bulb hanging from the ceiling didn’t work. However, a little daylight did come in through a narrow hole in the wall.
‘Oh, wonderful!’ said Fenoglio, sitting down on the cold floor with a sigh. ‘A cowshed. How unimaginative. I really would have expected Capricorn at least to have a proper dungeon for his prisoners.’
‘Cowshed?’ Meggie leaned her back against the wall. She heard the rain pattering against the locked door.
‘Well, yes, what did you think it was? They always built houses like this in the old days: room for the livestock on the ground floor and living quarters for the family above them. They still keep their goats and donkeys like that in many mountain villages. Haven’t you noticed when they’ve driven the animals out to pasture in the morning there are steaming heaps of dung left lying in the streets, and you tread in them when you go to buy your breakfast rolls?’ Fenoglio plucked a hair from one nostril, looked at it as if he couldn’t believe anything quite so bristly grew in his nose, and flicked it away. ‘This is really rather uncanny,’ he murmured. ‘That’s exactly how I imagined Capricorn’s mother – that nose, the eyes set close together, even the way she folds her arms and her chin juts forward.’
Meggie looked at him incredulously. ‘Capricorn’s mother! The Magpie?’
‘Magpie! Is that what you call her?’ Fenoglio laughed softly. ‘She has exactly the same nickname in my story. How amazing. Be careful of her. She’s not a very pleasant character.’
‘I thought she was his housekeeper.’
‘That’s probably what you’re supposed to think. So keep our little secret to yourself for now, all right?’
Meggie agreed, although she didn’t really understand. What did it matter who the old woman was? It all came to the same thing. This time there was no Dustfinger to open the door in the night. It had all been for nothing – as if they had never run away at all. She went over to the locked door and pressed her hands against it. ‘He’ll come,’ she whispered. ‘Mo will come, and then they’ll lock us up here for ever and ever.’