The Peculiar Pets of Miss Pleasance (Page 21)

“Fancy fella told me if I brought you this, you’d gimme his jacket,” the lad said, rubbing his smudged nose with a fist. He held out a normal-sized box wrapped with brown paper and tied with twine. Thom shrugged at Frannie, and she hurried upstairs, returning with the gaudy, glittering jacket Casper had worn the first day she found him, speckled with yark and mostly dead in the alley. It was clean now and the only thing left in Bertram’s old room. The lad grabbed it with a grin and took off, and they shut the door to stare at the box.

“Ye don’t think it’s another incendiary device, do ye?” Thom asked.

Frannie just smiled and shook her head. “He meant well. Even Reve said he meant well.”

They took it to the counter where Frannie had once unwrapped a viper. She snipped the twine with scissors and let the paper fall away. The box was plain and unmarked, and Thom poked it hard with a finger. When nothing strange happened, Frannie set trembling fingers to the latch and opened it.

A thick scroll was on top, the papers rolled up and tied with a red ribbon. Underneath that was a heavy package wrapped in thick velvet. When Frannie pulled it out, a posh jacket unfolded, and the heavy weight it had held dropped to the counter with a clank. Frannie held the bodice at arm’s length, noticing that between the fabric, the cut, and the gold thread around the edge, it was possibly worth more than a parrot.

“It’s too much,” she murmured.

Thom chuckled. “If ye think that’s too much, look at what else the bugger sent.”

Frannie rolled the tubes of silvers back and forth under her glove. There were five of them.

Unrolling the scroll, she found a writ and a letter:

Dear Frannie,

First of all, I apologize for nearly getting you killed. You showed me nothing but kindness, and I exploited your generosity in the worst way. You were right not to trust me. In return, I give you a jacket to replace the one ripped by the arrow and five rolls of silvers, one for each time the daimon aimed for you instead of me. I’m very glad she missed. That should cover my rent and hopefully ensure that you won’t take any other risky lodgers.

The writ is a bit trickier. I’ve a confession: I found your garden. I was turned around and looking for my bottles and found the door in your closet one morning while you were in the shop. I couldn’t help going upstairs, and once there, I couldn’t help falling in love with the place. I haven’t felt the sun like that since I came to Sangland, nor have I smelled healthy grass and growing fruit and, heaven help me, manure. I know now why you’re so guarded about your home. This writ from the Magistrate himself gives you complete ownership of your building and, more important, the space above it. Such things are possible, if you know the right people. It’s yours now, for keeps, and you needn’t fear the Coppers.

You were a good friend to me, and you taught me something very important about opening your heart to creatures that need comfort. And Thom, damn him, taught me something about being a man, although I don’t know if I’ll ever have the chance to apply it. The one time I could have helped you, I was drunk with self-pity, and that’s my biggest regret so far, which is saying a lot.

I’ve sent a letter to Reve as well, thanking her for her part in keeping you alive. I suspect she appreciates my latest costuming commission even more. I’ll be in London, playing piano, and my box is yours any time you wish it.

Best regards,

Casper Sterling

Frannie looked up, one hand resting on the coins as if they might get up and walk away. “Is it wrong to take money from a debauched gadabout?” she asked.

Thom lifted a tube and stared at the silvers winking from either side. “You’ve more than earned it, puttin’ up with him.”

She looked up as if she could see through the ceiling and the upper story, all the way to the rooftop garden. “We should celebrate. All my worries, fixed in one fell swoop.”

“All your worries?”

“The garden’s safe. The shop’s safe. I’m safe.” She stepped close, one hand on his arm as she went up on tippytoes to kiss his cheek. “And I have you.”

“Aye, well, that does seem like you’re in rather a good patch,” he admitted, his arms curling around her waist and pulling her close for another kiss. “And tell me, Miss Pleasance, how would ye like to celebrate?”

Frannie checked that the door was locked and dropped Filbert into his cage. Grabbing Thom’s hand, she pulled him toward the stairs.

“Let’s celebrate in the garden, where it all began,” she said.

“What about the shop? It’s five past ten.”

“Let the pets take care of themselves.” She grinned. “It’s my turn.”