* * *
Miss Holland heard someone coming up the stairs. She looked down the corridor and saw Bertelliâ€™s doorway darken and guessed that McKeefe had just opened the door. She walked down the corridor quickly and saw the door close. She continued down the corridor until she reached the last door. She took the doorknob of the last room and shook it, hoping to look like she was having trouble with the lock until the person entered their room.
She looked down the corridor out of the corner of her eye and realized that the man who came up the corridor reminded her of the figure sheâ€™d seen in the basement of her apartment building when the two men broke into McKeefeâ€™s apartment. He had a large, solid build. He stopped in front of one of the doors near Bertelliâ€™s door, fiddled with his keys, and then let himself into his room.
She walked back down the hallway, stopping at Bertelliâ€™s door, and pressed her ear to it. The door actually opened at her touch. She walked away and left the hotel.
* * *
When McKeefe heard footsteps rapidly approach the door, he closed it. He moved to the window and found it already open. He pushed it up the rest of the way, looked down, and saw that there were some bushes on the ground below. He heard another set of footsteps coming down the hallway from the steps.
He climbed through the window and then hung down from the bottom of the window sill, letting himself drop into the bushes below. He wiped off his suit, stood up, and walked away.
He found Miss Holland a very short time later.
* * *
Silversmith and Babydoll headed back to the park and continued digging. By the end of the day, they had found several small bones. Most were two to three inches long and about a half-inch around. They painstakingly reconstructed the bones and realized they had found the bones of an arm and a hand, all of it buried under two years of growth.
* * *
Miss Luckey found Miss Holland and McKeefe and they went to the diner for dinner.
McKeefe remembered that theyâ€™d been told by Vera Valentine that Professor Carlson had written a paper and that it might be in the library of Charing Cross College. He told the other two.
Miss Luckey told them about the letter that sheâ€™d translated for Mr. Black that afternoon.
Miss Holland discussed the book that had been stolen from her and her suspicion that it was Bertelli that had stolen it.
â€œThe lawyer said he didnâ€™t find that book,â€ Miss Luckey told them.
â€œI see,â€ McKeefe said.
â€œHe said it might be in the house but he did not know,â€ she went on. â€œSo, Iâ€™m thinking itâ€™s in the warehouse, which is why Iâ€™m going to try to go find them before they break into it.â€
* * *
The others met at the hotel for dinner that night. They shared the information that theyâ€™d learned: Bertelli talking to the Dunnes and their claims, the location of the warehouse, that Silversmith and Babydoll found the remains of an arm where Jackie disappeared, and the case number of the investigation of Hardy Carlson and how he died.
â€œWould you like to make $5 each to help tear up a basement?â€ Bertelli asked Silversmith and Donald.
â€œTonight?â€ Donald asked.
â€œIt could be tomorrow night if youâ€™re busy tonight,â€ Bertelli said. â€œWe could do it tomorrow.â€
â€œIâ€™m busy tonight,â€ Donald said.
â€œIâ€™m game but I think the others want my help with the warehouse,â€ Silversmith said.
Donald shushed him.
â€œI would love to be your hired hand though,â€ Silversmith told Bertelli.
They discussed robbing the warehouse and, with the case file number, figured that it might be easier to find things related to the Carlson case. They also talked about Silversmith going to retrieve his items from the warehouse to better case out the place. That made Silversmith unsure if he wanted to risk jail again with a break-in.
Miss Luckey arrived as they finished dinner and Donald, Hutz, and her went off to see if there was any way to get into the warehouse.
* * *
Bertelli telephoned for the village taxi and he, Bryan, and Silversmith took it downtown to the hardware store to get tools for the work in the house. Bryan brought both of his long guns in their respective cases: the 30.06 rifle and the Thompson sub-machinegun. They were loading up sledgehammers, picks, and shovels into the taxi when McKeefe and Miss Holland came down the street.
Bryan waved at them.
â€œCome over here, guys,â€ he called.
They approached the three men.
â€œI havenâ€™t see you all day,â€ Bertelli said. â€œHave you found anything new?â€
â€œI donâ€™t think so,â€ Miss Holland said. â€œWeâ€™ve just been checking out the town.â€
â€œWeâ€™re going to go to the house and check out that quick drying cement,â€ Bryan said.
â€œWhat are you going to do at the house?â€ Miss Holland asked.
â€œUh â€¦ Iâ€™m going to rip up the basement,â€ Bertelli said. â€œSee whatâ€™s under it.â€
â€œThat doesnâ€™t sound like much fun.â€
She looked at her companion.
â€œWhat do you say, McKeefe?â€ she asked him.
â€œMeh,â€ he said.
â€œI guess weâ€™ll tag along with you,â€ she said.
â€œSure, why not,â€ he replied.
They loaded into the taxi and rode out to the house. Bertelli had the keys and opened up the front door for them.
â€œSnazzy place,â€ Silversmith said.
Bertelli led them down to the basement. Bryan took the bar into the room with them. The bulb barely lit the place and it felt rather close.
â€œIf youâ€™re going to break up all this concrete, you might want to have the outer door open just for good ventilation,â€ McKeefe suggested. â€œSo that no one accidently gets stuck down there.â€
â€œOr breathing trouble,â€ Miss Holland added.
Bryan opened the outer doors to the cellar as well.
They all examined the cellar floor and Silversmith, Bryan, and Miss Holland found what sounded like a hollow place near the middle of the room.
â€œShould we start here, boss?â€ Silversmith asked.
â€œYeah, I think we should start at the hollow spot,â€ Bryan said.
â€œNice,â€ Bertelli said. â€œStart there.â€
Bryan and Silversmith set to work on the floor with the sledgehammers and picks. It took them about two hours of work with the tools to break through the concrete. They stopped when one of their picks struck something that broke with an ominous snap. Sifting through the wreckage revealed half of a star-shaped symbol engraved on grayish-green stone. Other half remained affixed to a stone surface that resembled the cellar walls, including the smoke damage and purple tinge.
â€œStrange,â€ Silversmith said.
Bertelli had left the cellar to use the facilities in the house above just moments before.
A few minutes after that, they uncovered a man-sized trapdoor set into the floor. It had a ring affixed atop it.
Bryan opened up the trapdoor. The smell of rotten flesh was almost overpowering. Miss Holland stumbled away and got sick. Silversmith also backed away and vomited on the floor nearby. Bryan went to the gun bag that heâ€™d brought in from the taxi and took out his Thompson, assembling it.
Once the air had cleared, they saw that the open trapdoor revealed a narrow, stone-walled shaft going down into the Stygian blackness. A sturdy-looking iron ladder, fastened to the wall, led downward, beckoning them to see where it led.
McKeefe, Miss Holland, and Silversmith all had flashlights on their persons.
â€œWhoâ€™s going to go first?â€ McKeefe said.
â€œSomebody with a flashlight,â€ Bryan said.
â€œYou have your guns out,â€ Miss Holland said to Bryan.
Silversmith, meanwhile, took a piece of debris from the broken floor and dropped it down the shaft. It struck ground a second or so later. He guessed it was between 30 and 50 feet deep. Bryan slung his sub-machinegun over his shoulder on the strap.
â€œWere you going to go first?â€ McKeefe asked him.
â€œI donâ€™t have a flashlight,â€ he replied indignantly.
â€œWell, one of us can hand you our flashlight,â€ McKeefe replied. â€œSo you can go first since you have a big, fancy gun.â€
â€œYou do have a big, fancy gun,â€ Miss Holland echoed him.
McKeefe went upstairs to let Bertelli know they had found a trapdoor and were going down into the sub-cellar.
â€œWait for me!â€ he said. â€œI canâ€™t come right now!â€
McKeefe ignored him and went back to the basement.
Bryan took one of the flashlights and climbed into the hole and down the ladder. As he went down, he noticed there was no smoke damage in the shaft. There was a lot of the purplish discoloration, however.
* * *
Miss Holland and Silversmith, as they looked down the dark shaft, noticed that the underside of the trapdoor had several brown stains over the purple ones. They seemed to consist of perpendicular lines of four, each about a quarter of an inch apart. Silversmith shuddered.
â€œIt looks like someone was trying to claw out of this place,â€ he muttered.
McKeefe, who hadnâ€™t noticed it, looked at him. When he looked more closely, he noticed the terrible marks. He was very disturbed by what he saw. Someone had been clawing at the trapdoor.
* * *
The stench in the shaft got worse and worse. The Thompson kept scraping at the bricks behind him for what felt like a long time before the walls opened up all around him and, in his peripheral vision, he could see the floor on either side of him. He stepped down on the floor but something squished under his foot and there was a crunch. He suddenly had a terrible flashback to the trenches and the bodies there. He realized he had just stepped into a dead body.
A terrible fear of the dark filled him in that dark and terrible space. He found himself rooted to the spot, unable to even speak. He could only gasp at the terror that filled him.
* * *
The other three heard the sound of Bryanâ€™s shoes on the metal rungs. Then they stopped.
â€œHey Bri, you okay down there?â€ McKeefe called quietly.
There was no reply.
The light from their flashlights did not illuminate far enough to see the man.
â€œYou all right?â€ Silversmith called.
It was very quiet down there except for echoes that seemed to come back to them strangely.
â€œMan!â€ Silversmith called.
â€œShould someone else go down there?â€ Miss Holland said.
â€œPaper, rock, scissors to see who goes?â€ Silversmith suggested.
They quickly played the game, Silversmith losing when he put his hand flat, for paper, while both McKeefe and Miss Holland put out two fingers, for scissors. Silversmith hesitantly took a flashlight and slowly climbed down the ladder.
â€œMan?â€ he called. â€œMan?â€
His light finally revealed the top of Bryanâ€™s hat. He appeared to be at the bottom, his hands on the rungs, just standing there.
â€œMan!â€ Silversmith called to him. â€œMan, you all right?â€
He didnâ€™t appear to be. Silversmith continued to shine the light down at him and then climbed down. He had almost reached the other man when he heard him gasp. Bryan went into a bit of a frenzy, whipping his sub-machinegun off his back and swinging it around in front of him, almost hitting Silversmith with its butt.
â€œWhatâ€™s going on, man?â€ Silversmith asked.
Bryan looked around carefully.
â€œRelax, man, relax!â€ Silversmith said.
Bryan shined the flashlight around.
â€œHey, everything okay down there?â€ Miss Hollandâ€™s voice called from above.
â€œNo!â€ Bryan said. â€œNo, everythingâ€™s not okay! We should have brought dynamite so we could have blown this place sky high!â€
â€œDynamite?â€ she called. â€œWhatâ€™s with the dynamite?â€
â€œYou donâ€™t wanna know!â€ he called back up.
Bryan stepped to one side, pulling his foot from the corpse he knew heâ€™d stepped into with a sucking sound.
â€œDonâ€™t!â€ Bryan said. â€œStop!â€
Silversmith, who had started to climb down, stopped moving.
â€œDonâ€™t step on the floor,â€ Bryan said.
â€œWhy?â€ Silversmith replied. â€œWhatâ€™s on the floor?â€
â€œYou donâ€™t wanna know!â€
Silversmith shined his light straight down. Lying face up was the corpse of a thin, emaciated man with long, white hair. His head had been split open and his eyes gouged out. The fingers were worn to the bone, probably from scratching at the trapdoor above. The limbs were at a strange angle, almost as if the man had fallen down the shaft. They realized that it looked like it had been dead for only a few months, not the five years since the concrete had been poured.
Both of them looked at the body in shock.
â€œHey guys,â€ McKeefe called down, his voice echoing strangely. â€œWhatâ€™s going on down there? Is everything okay?â€
â€œUh â€¦ no,â€ Silversmith said. â€œThereâ€™s a body down here that only seems to be about a couple months dead.â€
â€œThe bodyâ€™s only been here for a few months,â€ Bryan said.
â€œJust a couple months dead,â€ Silversmith said again. â€œItâ€™s split open in the head and the eyes are gone and the fingertips look like theyâ€™ve been scratching.â€
Bryan shined his light around them and realized that the room was very, very large.
They heard someone coming down the ladder as Miss Holland climbed down. She looked at the terrible dead body and stepped aside. McKeefe followed her and blanched when he saw the corpse. Bryan handed Miss Holland her flashlight and she shined it around. Silversmith also shined the flashlight around.
â€œDonâ€™t shoot anyone, jeeze,â€ Miss Holland said.
â€œIâ€™m not shooting anyone,â€ Bryan replied.
They could not see any walls though the floor seemed very, very flat. They noticed that the echoes rolled around the room whenever anyone spoke, even lightly.
â€œAre there any holes in the ground?â€ Miss Holland asked nervously.
They didnâ€™t see any.
Silversmith examined the corpse, checking his pockets and looking for some form of identification. It had ragged clothing but nothing of interest in the pockets.
â€œThis is Nils Carlsen,â€ Bryan said, remembering what Dunne had told them.
â€œMaybe we might be able to go as a team to scope out the room and see if thereâ€™s a wall anywhere,â€ McKeefe said to Miss Holland.
â€œOkay,â€ she said. â€œWe can do that. I agree.â€
â€œLast time we found a trapdoor,â€ McKeefe said.
Miss Holland shushed him.
â€œMaybe thereâ€™s a way that this guy got lost in here and couldnâ€™t find his way back out,â€ McKeefe said.
â€œThereâ€™s got to be a reason for him to be down here,â€ Silversmith said.
Their voices echoed strangely, almost melodically.
â€œLetâ€™s look around,â€ Bryan said.
â€œI feel one of us should wait at the ladder for the other guy to come back,â€ Silversmith said. â€œTell Bertelli whatâ€™s going on.â€
* * *
Bertelli was a little surprised to return to the cellar to find the hole and the trapdoor. He noticed the purple discoloration and the brown lines under the trapdoor. He heard a number of strange voices coming from below. He saw the iron rungs of a ladder going down.
â€œYou people down there?â€ he called.
â€œYes, câ€™mon down,â€ Bryan called back up.
Both of their voices echoed strangely.
Worried that someone might come to the basement and seal up the trapdoor once again, he stood at the top. He noticed the broken grayish-green stone with the star shape upon it as well.
â€œIâ€™m going to make sure nothing happens up here to keep you down there,â€ he called.
He thought about it for a moment and then called down again.
â€œYes,â€ Silversmith said.
â€œWould you mind watching the basement region?â€
â€œYou want me to come up?â€
â€œPlus â€¦ thereâ€™s a lot of concrete still left. I paid you for the concrete removal.â€
Silversmith climbed back up and then Bertelli climbed carefully down. Silversmith got back to work breaking up the concrete. The echoes below were odd and eerie. They reminded Miss Holland of someone hacking meat with a cleaver.
When Bertelli got to the bottom of the ladder, the smell got worse. He put his foot down on something that squished under it. He cringed at the feel of it and then looked down at the disturbingly fresh corpse that lay at the bottom of the ladder. When he looked closer at the disfigured body, he noticed the fingers that were worn down to the bones.
He thought heâ€™d figured out the whole thing and guessed that some kind of portal was drawing people down into that terrible place, sometimes in pieces.
They looked around, the rhythmic thumping coming from above followed by the terrible echoes that rang through the room all around them. It was terribly dark though the room felt like it was relatively large. McKeefe tied one end of the rope to one of the rungs of the ladder. They headed away from the spot, McKeefe and Bryan both holding onto the rope.
They walked about 50 feet when they came to some kind of an altar made of shiny black stone. It was fitted with chains to secure a personâ€™s arms and legs. There were carvings and markings on the alter but they didnâ€™t seem more than decorative. The thudding continued above.
â€œLetâ€™s walk to the left and see if we can find a wall,â€ Bryan whispered.
They started making their way to the left but the rope went taut before they reached a wall. McKeefe, holding the end of the rope, stopped. Bryan bumped into him. He suggested they shuffle sideways to their left until they reached a wall. It took a few minutes as the unnerving thudding continued from above. Miss Holland was beginning to feel very uncomfortable. Though the fleshy sound came after the thud of the sledgehammer above, it almost sounded like someone was in that room with them, striking flesh with some kind of blunt instrument.
It all seemed too familiar to her.
* * *
Silversmith heard a thud that seemed to follow on the heels of his own smashing of the concrete on the floor of the basement. He stopped and listened but it had stopped. When he started to smash concrete again, the thudding resumed. He stopped again and the thudding below stopped once again. It sounded like someone was striking that corpse with a baseball bat to him.
He tapped the wall but the same noise came from below. It was a little unnerving.
* * *
They finally came to a wall. It was curved and made of the same shiny black stone that the altar was made from. The floor continued to be completely flat and appeared to be carved out of the solid stone. The curve of the wall was fairly light and if the room was circular, it was very, very large. Bertelli guessed that, if they had the light, he would be able to clearly see the altar from where they stood.
On the wall was a series of large, intricately carved words. They were in Latin letters, the common alphabet, for the most part. They all recognized it.
â€œThis is Middle English,â€ McKeefe said.
It was that antiquated language used between the late 12th and the late15th century. The words were legible, though they might take some translation. The letters were very large and, as Bertelli shined his flashlight to one side, he saw that there were large spaces of blank wall between the words. Under each word was a small rectangular shape carved at a varying height. Only Bryan recognized that the boxes marked musical intonation for a chant. It was almost as if it were meant to be sung.
â€œThis is â€¦ music,â€ he said.
Bertelli took out a little notebook and a stub of pencil. He began to follow the wall, copying down the words and the markings beneath them. The constant thudding continued.
Hurry up and finish! Bertelli thought of Silversmithâ€™s work above.
Miss Holland and McKeefe, meanwhile, walked across the room perpendicular to the path they had taken from the ladder. She could see the othersâ€™ flashlights and they all soon realized that the room was probably about 200 feet across. It seemed to be perfectly circular.