Following an unknown man—who Cross presumed to be Mary Adell’s new suitor—through the streets in the middle of the day was not, at all, what I expected to be doing with my time. Though, for my part, I could hardly say I was following. With Cross’s strong hand always at my back, I was more guided, or forced, to pursue a man I knew nothing of whatsoever.
We moved through sections of the city that I could honestly say I had never traveled through before. And, the more we traveled through, the less I wanted to see. I noted a steady decline in affluence. So much so, that once we had crossed a single-lane, stone bridge over a narrow portion of the river, I was sure we were no longer in the same world as the regal home of Miss Mary Adell.
Slipping on several loose stones at the base of the bridge, my knee met a hole in the unforgiving pavement—my toll for passing the bridge was to leave behind a shred of my pants and the flesh from my kneecap. My abrupt stop brought hissed curses from Cross, who gruffly hoisted me to my feet.
“Come, Martin, we shall lose him!”
“Then, let’s lose him. I don’t see the sense in following him at all.” But, my protests fell on deaf ears. And, efforts to keep up with Cross’s long stride were thwarted by the infernal limp caused by my torn knee.
Pulling and dragging me through the darkened, narrow alley that he was certain the suitor had run into, Cross only stopped when he met the dead-end of a wall. He only released me from his iron grip when he needed both hands to fling debris and curses at the wall. How he had the energy to fling anything after running through a city, half-carrying an injured man, was beyond me. I barely had breath to stand upright and with the pain of my knee becoming a constant throb, I chose to give up on standing. Leaning against one wall of the alley, I slid down and came to rest on a discarded crate. At least, for the moment, I could take the weight from my throbbing knee and catch my breath.
Cross, still in an agitated state, paced the length of the alley, occasionally hurling bits of debris as the mood struck him. I watched his eagerness to follow the suitor become a fevered obsession. A wild fury built behind his sharp eyes and the more he paced, the more pronounced it became. So much so, that my annoyance and disgust with having been pulled along in his wake slipped into uneasiness and perhaps a bit of fear.
I suddenly realized I knew little more about Cross than I did about the unknown man we were following. And, here I was, in a darkened alley in search of one with the maddening company of the other.
For a good ten minutes, I let Cross pace and destroy whatever he could lay his hands on. It only confirmed my belief that the neighborhood we had chanced upon was less than desirable as Cross’s rant went unnoticed, not even raising the concerns of those whose building he hurled his words and debris at.
As my breath returned to me and the throbbing of my knee lessened, I chanced to break into Cross’s fitful trance. “What do we do now?”
Cross stumbled mid-pace, a startled gasp issuing where there should have been curses. His focus had been of such intensity he had lost all awareness of my being with him.
In what I can only describe as a discouraged tone, Cross answered me. “I suppose we’ll have to start at the beginning once more. There must be another line, a back-path, that will lead us where we need to go.”
He emptied his hands of the last bits of debris and dusted his fingers along his pant legs. “Come, Martin, while we still have daylight.” The fierce focus returned to his face once more, a twinkling glinted from his intense eyes as he marched out of the alley.
Using the wall of the alley as a brace, I hoisted myself upright. The return of weight to my torn kneecap sent shocks of pain through my thigh and suddenly I was struggling to catch my breath again. The sweat of excruciating pain replaced the line of exhausted sweat that poured from my brow. I took only a couple of stumbling steps before the need to stop overwhelmed me.
“Oh my dear, fellow, you are injured.” Cross materialized beside me, the fierceness melting from his face. His hands returned to my shoulders, but instead of gruffly leading me back across the bridge, his strong hands held enough of my weight that my wincing limp was bearable.
“I seem to have put a stopper in your plans to find another line of pursuit,” I managed when I had gathered enough breath. The pain was bearable enough now that I felt my breathing return to normal.
“Tut, tut, not at all. We will find that other line, but first, we must tend to your wounds.” Though the soft concern was still in his voice, the sharp focus and penetrating gaze returned to his eyes. It was then that I realized he was half-carrying me through the gates of Miss Mary Adell’s estate.