“John! What the…John! Come look at this! You have a secret passage in your house!”
This is not the way this job was supposed to go. When John and Tim asked me to estimate the cost of replacing the kitchen floor and one wall in their large Victorian home, I almost said no. I told them it would stretch me to my limits. In fact, I would probably have to hire someone to help me do the heavy carpentry. But, they insisted: I had to be the contractor.
Let me introduce myself: my name is James Worthington, to my friends, Jim. I own Worthington Plumbing and Repairs. It says plumbing first, and it does come first. But I do a lot of carpentry too—light carpentry that is. Physically, I’m in good shape, six foot, two-fifteen, curly brown hair, brown eyes, pretty good-looking (if I do say so myself). I’m 34 years old and single (O.K., divorced, but that’s another story). After the divorce, I moved to Freiburg, a small town in northern Indiana, to start over. Overall, I’ve done pretty well for myself.
This house, on the other hand, is not in good shape. The roof and siding are good, as is the foundation. Everything in between could use work. I mean, it’s structurally sound but it needs windows and insulation, the wiring needs replacing, and the bathrooms (there are three) need re-plumbing. And then there’s the kitchen!
Maybe I should clarify: the downstairs kitchen was the project. There are two more kitchens upstairs because at one point the house was divided up into three apartments. The downstairs kitchen has no cupboards, has four doors in and out of the room (traffic patterns, anyone?) and the floor is so worn under the old linoleum that the boards themselves need replacing. It was that floor, and a wall in the adjacent pantry that they had called me about. As I was estimating the job, I got the feeling that there was something weird the way that pantry wall was built. And now, my hunch was proven right.
I was working in the pantry. I had the tin ceiling removed (that stuff is close to irreplaceable) and as carefully as I could, I was removing the shelves from the pantry wall when a chunk of plaster three feet wide fell off the wall. Or rather, it swung open on hinges. For a second I just stood there gaping back at the hole that was now gaping at me. It wasn’t a doorway—it wasn’t tall enough to walk through upright. It was more like a hatch, or a half-high access panel, but on hinges. You’d have to stoop to go through it or to even see it when the shelves are in place. I saw now that the lower shelf was cut to swing with the hatch, to make it easy to get through but still difficult to see when the panel is closed.
John arrived, out of breath and apologizing.
“I had to finish that paragraph, Jim. I finally got the wording right and had to get it on paper –or on screen, I guess, actually–before I forgot it. What’s going on?”
John Green is average height, mid-50’s and walks with a slight limp. Sometimes he even uses a cane. His shirt is tight around his belly but the size of his shoulders and neck warn you he is far from soft or weak. He looks like he was a high school wrestler, maybe college as well. And I know he grew up on a farm. A shock of pure white hair and kind blue eyes completes the picture. His voice seems soft even when he’s angry–not that it often happens—and he can be painfully polite and slow to say what he really wants to say. He and his partner Tim Brown share ownership of the house, ‘partners in the crime of owing it’, as John often said. Neither of them is mechanically inclined: John is a genealogist, speaker and community advocate and Tim is the organist and choir director at the nearby Episcopal Church. They are good people, good friends of mine. They have good money-making skills, but no hammer-and-saw skills. I’m ok with that: it’ a good arrangement for both of us.
“Remember I said there is no telling what we might come across when we begin tearing into this?”
“Yes,” he nodded. His eyes were on me, but his mind was obviously still on that document. “So, what did you find?”
I hate it when people don’t see what’s right in front of them. Maybe it’s just a pet peeve, but there was a gaping hole in the wall.
“Look,” I said, trying to not sound annoyed and point at the hole in the wall or the door or hatch or whatever you call it.
“Yes? You found something in there?”
I forgot: not only is he not a carpenter; he also trusts that I know exactly what I am doing at all times. He was apparently thinking that’s the way things are supposed to look when you remodel.
“John, this hole in the wall is not a hole.”
At that, he adjusted his thick glasses, moved the shock of white hair from one side of his high forehead to the other, and peered into the darkness.
“It’s not? What is it?”
I grit my teeth. I began to think he was playing me.
“John, you have a secret passage here or something. I took the shelves down and all of a sudden this door opened up.”
“I see.” He paused. “Does this mean…I mean, is this one of those things you said would cost more? I mean, what do we do about it?”
“Dammit, John!” I exploded. “You are supposed to get really excited and hop up and down on one foot and say ‘Woohoo! My very own secret passage!’ Or something like that!”
“Oh. Well, excuse me if I skip the hopping. My leg…” He was trying real hard not to smile. Bastard!
“C’mon, dammit! This is important! This is part of the history of this house, and you …This house has been in your family for a hundred years and nobody told you there was a secret passage in the pantry?”
He thought for a minute and then answered, “Not that I can recall, no. What would it be for?”
“Man, c’mon! You’re supposed to be way excited and thinking genealogy and family secrets and all kinds of stuff.”
“Jim, I apologize. I am all wrapped up in that grant proposal and just can’t get excited about this at the moment. Sorry to be such a wet blanket on your excitement. Find out more about this and call me if you need me.”
I was on the verge of getting angry but I realized he’s right. I pulled him out of his workday, out of his office, out of his world and into mine as if mine was the only one that mattered.
“Tell ya what,” I said to him. “You stay here and I’m gonna see where this goes. If I get stuck or if I don’t answer when you call me, for, say 5 minutes, then…”
“Maybe you should wait until Tim…”
“Hell no!! I’m excited! This is the first time I ever saw one of these! I want to see where it goes!” With that, I ducked my head and slid into the hole in the wall.
The passage was narrow, a full-body squeeze for me, but smooth boards ran horizontally on the walls and sliding along it was easy. After a short passage, stairs led down. Probably into the basement, I thought, which almost made me turn back. Any plumber knows that the air in a long-enclosed basement space is likely be poison, or at very least oxygen-poor. If I passed out, there was nothing Tim or John could do for me but call the undertaker.
But then a puff of sweet-smelling air—outdoor air!—moved across my face, coming up from the dim space below. I relaxed and began down the stairs, still cautious because they were narrow and dark and old and there was no railing. They could just collapse and leave me no way back up, too. The light was dim, but I could see the bottom of the stairs and that the stairs ended in a room.
I called out to John what I discovered; he answered back that he heard me and asked if I was all right. I replied yes and kept moving. He was getting scared I could tell, and I wanted to find out what this room was before he panicked. If they just went to another part of the cellar, I could use the regular cellar stairs to explore later.
My eyes adjusted to the dim light and I saw a room about ten feet square, dirt floor or maybe dirt-covered concrete or brick. One small window with a broken-out pane of glass was set high up on the wall to the right of the stairs. The fresh air! Three of the walls were stone, same as the ones in the rest of the basement. The wall under the stairs, however, was different: half was stone; the other half was sloppy brickwork. Compared to the stone, it looked like an amateur job. Near the window but lower on the same wall some boards were leaned against the stone wall. I walked over and examined them. Oh hell! It was another door! The hinges were rusted and wouldn’t move but it was open a crack and I peeked in. It was dark but I could see it was more than just an alcove. It was a tunnel! A tunnel tall enough for a little kid to walk through or a man hunched over.
“Holy Crap! John! I found another secret passage!”
“Jim? Are you there? I think you better come up now. I’m…it’s almost time for Tim to come home for lunch. Do you want some, too?”
I cursed under my breath. No sense of adventure!
“Sure. Alright. I’ll be right up,” I shouted. I glanced once around the perimeter of the room, checking the masonry for damage or anything out of the ordinary. I tried to peek out the window, to see where it looked out in reference to the rest of the house. It didn’t seem to fit any place I could figure, but the window was high and the glass left in it was too dirty to see much. Maybe under the porch or bay window on that side of the house?
“Jim? Are you coming?”
“On my way, John.” This was going to be a lot more exciting job—and a lot harder to complete–than I ever could have estimated.
“So John, what have you got for lunch?”
I knew better than to agree to lunch without asking. Lunch at John’s place could be way more exotic than my regular tuna-on-white-bread.
He stared off into the air, as if reading off a memorized menu.
“Lunch today is greens from the Farmers’ Market and cold chicken breast left from last night, cut up together in a salad with havarti cheese, and sunflower and pomegranate seeds.” He managed that much with a straight face.
“I take it you’d prefer a juicy medium rare beef burger on a toasted sesame bun with double bacon, cheese, and a side of French Fried potatoes?”
I brighten. “Yeah! My kind of lunch!”
“I thought you would,” he replies dryly. “But the menu here is already set.”
“In that case…”
“See you in an hour?” he smiled. We do this a lot.
“Half an hour: I want to do some exploring.”
* * *
It turned out longer than half an hour. The Diner was busy, the waitress chatty, and the other patrons talkative. The Diner is located on Main Street, middle of the block. Parking is always a problem but the exercise is worth it. Officially it’s “Rick’s Diner”. At least, that’s what the faded sign above the front door says. The original Rick died of a heart attack about ten years ago, but his name remains. The wait staff kept it open until the bank agreed to loan the money to the head waitress to buy it from Rick’s relatives in Chicago. They were happy to be rid of it.
It’s a classic diner: red vinyl seats, Formica tabletops and food posters on the walls. The seating is mostly booths. The girls keep it very clean and well-lit and there’s counter service if you’re in a hurry. Today I was in a hurry but the counter wasn’t fast: did I mention the waitress was chatty? It was almost an hour before I walked out. But I had two more jobs lined up for the week.
I pulled up in front of John’s house in time to see Tim crossing the street toward the house. My guess was he was coming home from choosing and arranging the Sunday music with the pastor. Tim is a year younger than John, about the same height maybe a little taller. He’s trim and fit, with angular, dark features, and a nervous intensity that reminds you of a small black bird. He’s all precision and purpose when he moves. In other words, pretty much the complete opposite of John.
“Hey, Tim, how’s your day going?”
“Oh. Hello, James.” No nicknames with Tim. “I’m doing well. How are you?
“Not bad. You getting ready for Sunday?”
“Pastor and I just put together an exceptional music program. Maybe you could stop in and listen this Sunday?”
He didn’t sound very hopeful, but I appreciated his invite.
“Going to church” is another one of those things at their house. Both men know that if I ever go to church it won’t be theirs—too formal. I tried it a couple of times, for their sake. OK, that and it was a pretty well-heeled crowd, so picking up some jobs was also on my mind. But I found out that work boots and jeans–which I always wear– were frowned upon. Actually they were more of a surprise and a mystery, as in ‘why wear those?’ which I was asked several times. No matter how hard the church ladies tried to notice my new shirt instead, it was obvious. I shrugged it off: their loss, not mine. I did get some work out of it and lots of invites back. But that’s another story. Oh, and as far as that goes, John seldom goes there with Tim.
“I’ll think about it” I said—my standard answer. “I have some interesting news about the remodel job, though.”
“Oh… Really?” Tim’s idea of caution makes John look downright reckless. For Tim, ‘interesting’ is just a nice word for ‘a very expensive and unpleasant-surprise’.
“Is everything ok?”
“No, no! I mean, yes. It’s the house: I found something very interesting in the demo…er, removal process.” Never use the word demolition in front of Tim. He gets scared. Very scared. “Come and see.”
He hesitated, as if following me was going to cause another disaster. As we walk slowly up the porch steps slowly. “Is this going to be expensive?” he asked.
I laugh. “Not as far as I know. I guess it depends on what you want to do about it.”
After greetings and lunch menu announcement, I showed Tim the doorway. He reacted pretty much the same way as John. “So…we need …what?”
“Tim! You have a secret passageway in your pantry! This is great! Makes the house worth way more on the market!”
He glanced at John. “Are we selling?”
I gave up. To me, this was exciting. To them, this was just something to worry about—or just another expense.
“Tell you what” I said. “You guys have lunch and talk it over, what you want to do about this hole in the wall. I can do pretty much anything you want, including just board it up and forget it. My recommend is to preserve it, maybe improve it with a full size door though. It’s a great feature and doesn’t harm the house structure as far as I can see. In the mean time,” I said as I stepped through the doorway, “I’m going exploring!”
“Be careful down there,” John worried. Tim looked between John and I. “John? What’s going on? Does that… down there? Does it go somewhere?”
“John, you explain? And keep an ear out, in case I shout.”
“Here, Jim.” John held out a ball of twine, the kind people used to wrap around boxes to mail. “In case the tunnel branches or is too dark to see in.”
“Tunnel?” Tim’s eyes were now big and he licked his lips and wiped his palms down his pant legs.
“Its fine, Tim. I’ll fill you in. Let’s eat.” But he took a long look at me, like he was trying to get a picture of me to remember me by.
They did make a pair. God help the woman who ever tried to get between them.
* * *
I squeezed down the passage and stairs. By the time my foot hit the bottom step, I could barely hear the sound of Tim’s voice and I couldn’t make out any of his words. Whoever built this did some great sound insulating–a nice feature with the ‘secret’ so close to a main room. I’d forgotten to look at the house to see what was on the window side, as I came back from lunch. Must be the driveway side, I told myself. There was a window and a door to the porte-cochere in the dining room on that side: John’s driveway ran along that side of the house. Maybe the window was under the steps? Beyond the driveway was a fairly narrow strip of lawn and a fence between this house and the house next door. Interesting.
I surveyed the room again: it looked the same as before. Three and a half walls of stone, one-half of brick under the stairs. I walked over to the door, cursed myself for forgetting the WD-40. I tried to move the door and the board with the latch on it cracked off. The rest didn’t move. A breeze soft and cool flowed from the tunnel. That was good. I looked as far down the tunnel as I could, which was not very: no light from the other end and I’d left my belt in the back of the truck.
“John! You got a flashlight?” No answer. “John!?” Again, no response. I went to the bottom of the stairs. “Hey John!” I could barely hear the murmur of voices.
In my best bass, I bellowed, “JOHN!” I waited, but no response, and the murmuring continued. Damn! The soundproofing was amazing. I was pretty sure the two men were sitting right above me. They should have felt the vibrations from the last shout!
I made my way up the stairs, slid out of the secret door and into a shouting match.
“We don’t have the money to do this, John!” Tim was almost hysterical.
“That is not the primary concern here, though, is it, Tim?”John was his quiet, stubborn self.
Tim was sitting with his back to the pantry door and John faced me as I stepped through, into the dining room.
I kept my head down.
“Sorry to interrupt. I’ll just get a flashlight from the truck.” When I returned Tim was gone and John was in the kitchen, rattling dishes. Loud.
“Are you two going to be ok with this project now that it…sort of changed?” As I spoke, I set the twine down. Tim came around the corner into the kitchen and stopped short. He gave John a look that would kill a lesser man.
“Uh…we were discussing that,” John said in his most quiet voice, his eyes very pointedly fixed on mine. “At this point, it would be possible to just put things back the way they were, is that right? Did I understand you correctly?”
My stomach sank. Goodbye money.
“Well, sure…if that was what you want,” I said. “There’s a little bit of work down stairs, half a day, maybe less. Just to shut the…” I saw John stiffen and took the hint “uh, the …hole in the foundation wall down there. Not much of a tunnel that I could see,” I hurriedly add. “It’s not dangerous, structural-wise. Just to keep out unwanted…uh…‘friends’?”
Tim relaxed a little, sighed, and excused himself to wash his hands and head out to the Market. He worked part-time there in exchange for a huge discount on the organic produce.
John mouthed “Thank you” and I said loud enough for Tim to hear over the running water, “Yeah at this point we can just button it up, do it another time. But with the economy the way it is, material prices will be a lot more, no doubt.” I grinned at John, who gave me a thumbs up. “And the tin to match the ceiling…I found it yesterday at the reclaim yard. Not sure if it will be available again.” John beamed at me. “But, hey whatever you guys want. You pay the bills around here.”
Tim came back into the kitchen. “Actually I pay the bills around here, Jim, and I am concerned that this new…” he paused, looking for the best word “…this new development. That it…well, maybe we should just kind of stop and revisit this later.”
“I think you’re right, Tim. And the tin ceiling is not all that important anyway,” John chimed in.
“Yes it is! Why are you saying that?” Tim was a perfectionist when it came to the house. According to him, whatever the house had been in its prime, it needed to be that again.
“Well, this so-called secret—I don’t think it was part of the original house anyway. So we can remove it and put things back to original,” I said, playing along.
“Won’t that be expensive? Can’t we just put things back the way they were?” John and I were both playing him now, and he pretty much knew it. But he really was obsessed with the place.
“Well, pretty much. Actually, yeah for sure! I can just button it up, get it all back together and painted by tomorrow afternoon,” I said. “My only concern for you is that hole in the wall, letting in the cold and whatever wildlife.”
Tim shuddered. “Maybe fix that part then, at least. And John and I will discuss the rest tonight.” He looked at John. “Remind me?”
“Of course. And in the mean time, Jim, you can inspect the hole and see what it might take to…do whatever it needs done?”
“On it, boss!” And I slid through the low doorway and down to the secret room this time with my flashlight.
* * *
I decided it should be called a secret room: the acoustics that insulate it from the rooms above make it pretty clear that whatever went on down here was not supposed to be heard up there. And the tunnel—who digs a tunnel from the basement to, well, anywhere? I was almost hoping the tunnel would be no more than a root cellar or even a wine cellar, just some kind of storage alcove. Or maybe this whole room was nothing more than ‘cold storage’ for a Victorian Era chef that wasn’t satisfied with a simple ice box like the rest of the villagers. The house was big enough that a hired cook was well within reason. But if it was storage, why the too-narrow stairway and the concealed door? The shelves that had been hiding the door looked to be the same age as all the other ones in the pantry. And if it was for regular kitchen use, why on earth was the door cut so short? It didn’t add up.
I realized the floor was brick, with something on top. I scoop up a handful of very old sawdust. That was a vote for a storage area. Or, as I thought about it, it made sense if you were going from a dirt floor tunnel to a food prep area, sawdust would trap the dirt. But along that line of thinking, if this had been bulk food or vegetable storage, there should be marks on the walls: places to attach shelves or bins, some way to store food off the floor.
A quick sweep up and down with the flashlight didn’t reveal any horizontal lines where shelves left marks. No vertical lines either, where shelf standards would be to hold them up. I looked at the ceiling: maybe they were hung from there? Nope. Oh, wait. In the corner, between the window and the tunnel entrance, there was something. I walked over with the flashlight, and two thin vertical shadows resolved into a couple of heavy duty chains attached to the ceiling. And at the bottom of each chain, about shoulder height was an iron manacle.
Imagination is a good thing when you do remodeling and need to picture what your results will look like. I can do that. But this…for this, the possible pictures were way too vivid.
“John?!” The hair on the back of my neck began to prickle. No answer from above. “JOHN!” I bellowed. Still no answer. I swore at myself: damn the soundproofing. And that made the hair on my forearms stand up even higher. I decided I wanted to go up stairs. Now! As the possible uses for those manacles started flashing through my head I moved even faster, smashing my head on the top of the low doorway out into the pantry. John looked up from where he stood in the kitchen.
“Oh, Jim.” He saw the look on my face and said, “What is it?”
“Didn’t you hear me yelling for you?”
“No, I just came from the front hall. I was talking to Tim as he left for the Market. What did you find?”
“Can you make it down these stairs? I’d rather show you than just tell you.”
“I seriously doubt it. I’m not as athletic,” here he patted his ample belly, “as you are. And there is my bum leg…”
“Right. Well, John, in your secret room down there, attached to the ceiling, is…a pair of chains with manacles…” my throat went dry and I couldn’t finish.
He smiled and chuckled. “So the stories might be true.”
“What?! You mean, you knew?”
He paused, as if looking something in his mind’s eye for a moment, and then shook his head.
“Not really ‘knew’. I was warned that my uncle was a little eccentric, but no one ever divulged the details.”
By now, my heart rate had returned to normal, but I was a little angry: a warning would have been nice. And my head hurt. And I wanted to sit down. Squashing the anger for now, I said, “Sounds like a story. You got some coffee left?”
“Oh! Of course. Sit down at the table. Cream and sugar, right?”
John and Tim had made some effort at furnishing the house with period furniture. The dining room was typical of the rest of the house. There was an electrified gas chandelier, Victorian style wallpaper full of huge roses with the authentic thin, flat brown and rose-patterned carpet to complement. Lace curtains and fancy shades blocked the view to outside through the window that faced across the driveway to the neighbors. A round oak dining table and chairs matched the huge oak hutch that stood against the wall between this room and the pantry and kitchen.
Lest you think them purists though, let me warn you that they were also bachelors: the oak table was pushed up against one wall to make room for an eight foot folding table set up in front of the window. It was loaded to overflowing with houseplants and mementos from vacations and craft projects.
John called from the kitchen, “Would you care for something to go with the coffee?” He proceeded to rattle off a long list of pastries and sweets he ‘just happened to have available’.
“Naaa, just the coffee.”
He came out to the table with two cups of coffee and a plate heaped with goodies– no doubt organic and of course from the Market–and set them down. “Just in case”, he beamed, and took one for himself.
I smiled and took one too. He knows me pretty well.
“So, what was it you found down there? A manacle?”
“Not just one, but a pair, hanging on chains from the ceiling. And the acoustics…you really can’t hear a THING down there from up here! Which means you probably could never hear what went on down there.”
“That would make sense.” Again he paused. “You know this house has been in the family for some time. An uncle on my father’s side bought it way back when it was fairly new, according to the family stories.” Again he paused. “My uncle was, I believe, the second owner. He was an interesting character. According to family history, he lived very well but without any visible means of support before, during and after the Great Crash of 1929. Very well, for the times. Especially in a small village like this.”
“A yuppie, eh?”
“Something similar although not exactly. Definitely a conspicuous consumer. He was a typical Victorian gentleman with money, only he lived a few decades later. He lived here until after World War Two, always in comfort, but never employed.”
“So for this situation, he could afford whatever he wanted? Including a private dungeon?”
John smiled. “I suspect so. What he was actually doing with one—that is another question. Those kinds of things were not discussed in our family. They still aren’t. There are enough secrets of, shall we say, lesser offences, such that they left the more embarrassing ones alone.”
“Which is the long way of saying…what?”
“My family included a lot of professionals and preachers. What goes on in the cellar, stays in the cellar you might say? For business’ sake! In other words, the family arrangement was ‘don’t you tell my secrets about my recreational habits and I won’t tell yours.’”
“So, your uncle was a freak.” I’m not a professional or a preacher.
“Shall we say he fit in well to the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ mentality of the Victorians?”
“You’re talking to a simpleton, bro. What was this guy?”
“My uncle, so the stories go, was into kinky sex and not necessarily with just women. That’s just the story, and knowing that it comes from a small, Midwestern town in Victorian times, it’s hard to tell what they meant by kinky.”
“Until today,” I muttered. This was getting stranger than this plumber wanted to deal with.
“Until today,” John agreed. “But the idea of a secret room and a tunnel might have something to do with some other things I have dug up in my genealogy searches.”
“Well there a whole series of newspaper articles, very sensational, about an unsolved disappearance in this neighborhood. Rumor was the man was murdered and the body hid. Of course, no one could connect any foul play to my uncle. He just happened to live next door to the missing person.”
“Wait! Let me guess. Next door…” I looked around to get my bearings, “was that away?” I pointed out the window, in the direction the tunnel led. “That’s where the tunnel heads, as far as I can tell.”
John’s characteristic smirk–always appearing when he knew something you didn’t and he was letting the secret out a little at a time–changed to a look of confusion.
“Uh…actually, it would be the opposite direction. Are you sure you aren’t turned around?”
I stood up and went over to the wall that separated the pantry from the dining room, walked along it. “Here are the stairs,” I said. “I come off the stairs and turn”—I turned to the right with an about-face— “there. And I am facing the entrance to the tunnel. Which I still haven’t been in, by the way.”
“That’s interesting. Very interesting!” He didn’t even hear my last. “The house…they give the street address in the article. Let me go look it up to be sure.” He left and came back in a few minutes, walking slowly and flipping through a sheaf of papers. “I printed these out yesterday, just in case we came across something.” He quickly scanned page after page, then re-scanned one page in particular. “The article says…it gives the address of the house of the missing person…my mistake! It IS on this side of the street…next door that way.” He pointed out the window.
* * *
I wasn’t in a big hurry to get back to the manacles downstairs. They didn’t feature in my regular fantasies and in this particular case they creeped me out. But the only way to the tunnel went past them. And this new information made exploring the tunnel even more appealing.
“How about you read over the article, see what else you come up with. And I’ll go take a quick look at the tunnel, see where it actually does go. I can’t believe they would dig a tunnel under the driveway. There’s nothing to connect to there and that’ a LOT of dirt to hide!”
“Jim, be careful.” He was serious. “I can’t hear all that well and if what you say is true, I’ll not be able to hear a call for help in any case.” He thought for a minute. “Cell phone?” He suggested.
“Not that far underground. No signal, almost for sure.”
“Doubly careful then! That tunnel is almost a hundred years old and certainly not maintained on this end. I don’t know what’s on the other side.”
“Gotcha boss. If I’m not back in half an hour, call 911. Let them earn their pay today.”
“Oh. Hadn’t thought of that but that would work. I was trying to figure out how I would get down those steps myself.”
“That’s why they get paid the big bucks. Anyhow, back in a flash.”
“Jim?” He fumbled in his pocket. “This might be silly but here.” He handed me the ball of twine again. “In case…something. I don’t know…”
I smiled and took it from his hand. “Thanks.”
I ducked, slid and climbed down to the secret room again, flashlight in hand. I avoided looking the manacles and I stuck my nose in through the tunnel doorway. The air was still now, no breeze like earlier. Something to remember. I broke the door trying to open it: for once I was glad the noise wouldn’t be heard upstairs. I tied the twine John had given me to a piece of the wooden door and gave a tug. It held. And off I went, hunched over, to find out what was at the end of the tunnel.