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[personal profile] fiery_ring
They tried to arrange a visit to see Little William every week. So far, Fern had resisted, but with the word on the street being that she tended to go out on dates on Monday night, Carlotta and Will saw an opportunity.

"She has to be leaving Little William with someone regularly." Carlotta says. "All we need to do is watch the house and find out who the babysitter is."

The next week, they sneak there early, and camp outside. But the house is quiet, and no lights come on.

"Dash it, we must have missed them, she must have already gone." Carlotta says, sighing. "Come on, let's get closer and just check."

They creep over to the house, and listen carefully, peeping in each window. There's no sign of Fern, but as Carlotta climbs the drainpipe and peeps into the little boy's bedroom, she spots him in the cot.

"Will!" she hisses. "I can see Little William here. Go knock on the door, see if the babysitter will let you in."

Will goes around and knocks on the door. After a few minutes, there's still no answer.

"Maybe they were told not to answer the door." he says, coming back to where Carlotta is dangling.

"Well William's crying his eyes out, maybe they're going to come up here." Carlotta whispers.

But they watch, for quarter of an hour, and nobody appears. Carlotta frowns.

"Will, I don't think anyone is here. I think he's on his own."

"Should we break in?" Will asks.

Carlotta thinks for a moment.

"No, can you run down to the call box and phone the police, tell them he's abandoned? If we can prove Fern is leaving him here on his own, we might have a chance of custody. If we break in, we'll get done for breaking and entering if there turns out to be an adult asleep somewhere."

Will nods in agreement and runs off down the road to the call box. Carlotta watches helplessly through the window as Little William cries, and feels a surge of terrible anger. How dare Fern leave him on his own while she goes out on a date?!

The drainpipe gives a sudden creak, and she quickly climbs down. Drainpipes are not really made for climbing up, she knows. It isn't long before Will comes running back.

"They're sending an officer to help us break in." he says, panting. "We should be able to get to him soon." Beat. "Do you smell smoke?"

Carlotta looks back at the house in alarm.

"We looked in all the rooms, didn't we?" she says, going around and looking through them again.

"I think there's a cellar?" Will says, going around the other way. "Carlotta, there's smoke coming out these back windows!"

"Okay, we can't wait for the police." Carlotta says, coming back to climb up the drainpipe. This time, it comes straight away from the wall. Shit. She runs around to the front door as the policeman pulls up in the driveway, where Will is in the process of looking for something to smash the glass on the front door.

"We can see a lot of smoke!" she yells as the policeman gets out of the car. "So don't do us for breaking an entering."

The policeman runs over, seeing the smoke, and joins Will in kicking the door in. As the door gives way, a ball of flame rushes over their heads.

"Go and call the fire brigade!" Carlotta yells, dashing past them into the building.

"Madam, Sir, leave this to professionals!" the policeman says.

Carlotta ignores this, and runs through the smoke. She's already seen the staircase is in flames, and doubts that the policeman or Will are going to be able to climb what's left.

"Will, boost me." she says, as her husband comes through behind her. Will puts his hands down, she stands on them, and grabs the remaining piece of bannister to swing up on.

"Wait there, I'll need to throw Little William to you." she says, running through into the bedroom.

"Matta!" Little William bawls, as she scoops him up.

"I've got you." Carlotta says, holding him tight as she rushes back out to the landing. The smoke is thick, she can hardly see a few feet in front of her face.

"Will?"

"Over here. Are you okay?"

"Yes." Carlotta makes it to the stairway, and can just make out Will. "Can you see me? I'm dropping William down."

"I can see you, go ahead."

Carlotta gently drops the little boy, where he is deftly caught by Will.

"Can you get down?" Will calls.

"Of course, get William out." Carlotta says, reaching up to climb down... as the floor gives way beneath her. For a moment she dangles, holding onto the floorboards, trying to see what she's falling on... then drops, falling through the next floorboards into the cellar onto something soft.

"CARLOTTA!" Will is shouting.

She rolls off the pile of what appears to be many boxes of stockings, and looks around for the exit. The fire is blazing down here, and she spies a bunch of barrels and glass jars and... what is Fern even doing down here? Looks like she's brewing something.

There's a bang, and a shower of glass, as one of the bottles explodes. Carlotta makes a run for it, trying to find the door in the smoke.

As she reaches the door, it smacks her in the face, and glass explodes behind her.

***

"I am so sorry." Will says meekly, holding the wet towel on her head.

"Don't worry about it, if it was locked I couldn't have got the door open from the inside anyway." Carlotta says. "You rescued me."

"I kicked the door in your face and knocked you down the stairs." Will says.

"Forget it. Is William okay?" Carlotta asks.

"They took him in the first ambulance to get checked out, but they said he looked all right." Will says.

"First ambulance?"

"They called a second one for you."

"I don't need an ambulance." Carlotta says. "My head is fine."

"Can I point out you've had a previous brain injury?"

"All right, all right."

"YOU MONSTERS!" Fern totters up the driveway at top speed, screaming. "YOU BURNED DOWN MY HOUSE!"

"We did nothing of the sort!" Carlotta stands up and faces Fern, enraged. "You left William on his own, when we got here, there was smoke; he'd be dead if it wasn't for us!"

"Break it up, break it up." the police officer says, stepping between them. "The fire started in the cellar, there is no possibility that either of these two could have got in from outside.
"Fern Francis, I am arresting you on suspicion of child neglect, harbouring rationed goods, and dangerous home production of alcohol. You do not have to say anything but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something you rely on in court..."

Carlotta watches Fern being taken away, without any pity for the girl.

"We need to get to the hospital." she says softly.

***

The doctor is not terribly interested in Carlotta, dismissing her as minor bruises and burns, so she is soon free to dash up to the children's ward.

"He's stable. We aren't having visitors." a nurse says briskly, refusing to let them in. "The children need their sleep, and the police aren't letting anyone in to see William at present until his adoption is settled."

"So he's not going back to Fern?" Will asks.

"Certainly not." The nurse says. "I expect he will be adopted by a decent family."

Carlotta realises that the authorities' idea of a 'decent' family probably doesn't include a circus girl and a recovering alcoholic. Her heart sinks as they head away from the ward.

"Will, Carlotta!"

They turn as Libby - Will's sister - runs up to them, and quickly fill her in on what the nurse has said.

"They aren't going to give you custody, are they, realistically?" she asks, as she hugs Carlotta very gently, before letting go. "Nor Fern."

Carlotta feels a lump in her throat as she acknowledges that Libby is correct. The authorities don't trust Will, because of being a recovering alcoholic with a criminal record, and they rarely trust a circus girl.

"I've been talking to John." Libby says. "We want to offer, with your blessing, to adopt William. You and Will can see him as much as you want - and Fern can under supervision - and when he's a bit older we'll let him go out on tour with you as a holiday. We haven't a criminal record and we have a fixed address, and they do like to keep children with their family if they can."

Carlotta listens intently, then nods.

"Thank you. We hoped to have him but... I'm just glad he's not going to be fought over any more. It's not right for a kid." she says.

Will looks at his sister, and his wife, and just hugs them both.
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Carlotta Francis (nee Brown)

February 2014

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