For the preceding chapters click the Peter's Sweepers tab above.
I can only share with you the first part of Chapter Five because I haven't finished it yet! But I figured I better not keep you waiting too long. :) So here it is:
Dusty leaned against the cold stones of the Chalk family's chimney. He crossed his arms over his chest and braced against the sharp wind. He could see for miles from his vantage point. His eyes skimmed the rooftops for Rat.
It had been days since Dart's disappearance. Rat had not spoken a word since then. Everyday he would leave the tavern after breakfast, be unseen all day, and then return for supper, without any coal. He had begun to not even take his chimney broom along. He had no plans to clean any chimneys.
Every evening Peter boxed Rat on the ear and sent him to bed without supper. In the morning Dusty tried to give Rat a larger share of porridge to make up for the lack of supper. But it did no good. Rat was losing weight. His cheeks grew hollow, and his eyes sunk into his head.
The only time Rat talked was in his sleep. He would call out for Dart. In broken sobs he would tell Dart he was sorry. Then, like a thin little ghost, he would run to Dusty's bedside and beg, "Clean them off! Clean them off!" He would not go back to bed until Dusty used a corner of his blanket to wipe at Rat's hands.
Dusty shivered at the memory. He dreaded nights now. He wished he could be hard and uncaring like Peter. He wished it didn't hurt deep down in his chest to watch Rat's suffering. He wished he didn't miss innocent little Dart. But he did.
With sigh Dusty pushed away from the chimney and climbed down to the ground. He thought of how quickly Rat could navigate the sky road. He wished he was as skilled. But then again, he didn't wish he was Rat.
Dusty knew exactly where the police station was. Every chimney sweep knew where the closest station was. Not because they wanted to go there, but because it was the one place they tried with all their might to avoid. Today Dusty wasn't avoiding it. Today Dusty was going to pay the police station a visit. If anyone knew what had happened to Dart it was the police.
The police station was an old stone building; looking cold and uninviting. Dusty shoved his hands into his pockets as he watched it from across the street. No one left or entered the building. The inactivity stood in contrast to the people doing their shopping at the nearby shops.
Taking a deep breath Dusty pushed his way through traffic to cross the street. Then he opened the front door of the station. A blast of heat from inside set his ears, nose and cheeks to tingling. A pot bellied stove burned briskly in a corner. Near to it was a large bulky desk; piled high with disorganized papers.
Behind the desk sat a big, mustached man dressed in uniform.This, Dusty knew, was the local police chief. Chief Talon.
"Shut the door, you blasted kid!" Chief Talon exclaimed, "You're letting in the air!"
Dusty swung the door shut, wishing he was on the outside of it, instead of the inside. The Chief's intimidating eyebrows were enough to keep anybody from wanting to visit.
When the door was shut Chief Talon went back to writing in a thick ledger, as if Dusty wasn't there. Dusty fiddled with the hem of his coat and looked about the room while he waited.
The hum of voices drifted in from a closed door to Dusty's left. The desk and stove were before him. A metal door with a barred window was to his right. The cell. Dusty eyed it cautiously. It seemed to be unoccupied.
Chief Talon's pen continued to scratch. A log fell and crackled in the stove. Several minutes passed.
Suddenly the door to Dusty's left opened. A skinny, blond policeman came through with a steaming mug, which he placed on the desk for the chief. When he spied Dusty he smirked. "Another chimney sweep caught snitching apples, Chief?"
Chief Talon looked up. "What the devil are you talking about, Cal?"
Cal nodded at Dusty. The Chief's eyebrows dipped down toward his nose. "He just came in on his own. Nobody brought him. You deal with him." Then he went back to writing.
Cal came toward Dusty with a friendly smile. "What can we do for you, lad?"
Dusty pushed his hands into his pockets. "I come to ask if'n ya know what happened to Dart. He's gone missin'. I figured if'n anyone would know, you would."
Cal ran a hand through his hair, "Well now, that all depends." He glanced about the room and his eyes landed on two chairs near the stove. "Come sit down, lad, and we'll talk about it."
The two of them sat down and Dusty held his hands out toward the warmth. Cal's observant eyes noticed Dusty's wind chapped hands. Without a word he took a jar from off the desk. Taking Dusty's hands in his, he began to rub salve into the bleeding cracks.
"Now tell me lad, what's the name of your friend again?"
Dusty watched his hands warily. Being cared for by someone else wasn't something he was used to. "Dart." He answered, "He went missin' 'bout five days ago."
"Hmmm." The salve was warm and soothing. Cal's fingers and voice were gentle. Dusty stiffened in his seat, fighting the urge to relax.
"Where was he when you last saw him?"
"He was goin' out to clean chimneys with Rat."
"I see. And is Rat missing as well?"
"No. He come home by hisself. In an awful state, he is. Won't talk at all. He won't tell us what happened to Dart, neither. But he knows, 'cause he talks to 'im in his sleep now. He's always tellin' 'im he's sorry."
"Oh?" Cal turned Dusty's hand over and worked on the other side.
Chief Talon shut the ledger loudly, leaned back in his chair and sipped his steaming drink. His eyes stared ahead of him at the door, as if daring someone to come through it.
After a moment of silence Cal asked, "What does Dart look like?"
"He's small." said Dusty, "His hair is light, but not as light as your's is. I think his eyes are brown." he shrugged. There wasn't really much to say about Dart's looks. Then he added, "His chest always rattles. And he coughs a lot. We always give 'im a bit o' lard to help."
"Hmmm." Cal said again. He screwed the lid back onto the salve jar, reaching over the back of his chair to put it back on the desk. Then he picked up a notebook and pencil. After turning several pages he began to write in it. He mumbled to himself as he wrote. It seemed to Dusty he said, "A needle in a hay stack. The poor kid."
Chief Talon thumped his mug back down onto the desk, grabbed a fistful of papers and began thumbing through them. He shoved a few of them into a trash can. Dusty noticed a faint scar running down his cheek. Silence reigned. Dusty wished someone would say something.