The Dead Room


Page 37


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"Thanks." She hesitated. "Brad…at the site, when you found me, unconscious…"


"Yeah?" he asked.


"You and Laymon arrived at the exact same time?"


"Yeah, why?"


She shook her head. "No reason."


Brad suddenly frowned deeply. "Are you going to ask where I was today?" he demanded.


She stared back at him, stunned.


"Nowhere near the subway," he said curtly.


"Oh, Brad! I'm sorry, I didn't mean…actually, I was hoping you'd seen someone," she murmured.


"No. There was no other way in, no other way out. No one suspicious, and guards all over the site, Leslie. You know that."


"I'm sorry."


"I'd die before I'd hurt you, Leslie," he said. "And I'm a coward," he added ruefully.


She stepped forward, kissing his cheek. "Thank you."


"Well, I'd better get going. I'm supposed to meet Laymon for dinner."


"Where are you going?"


"Anthony's, just down the street. He doesn't like to leave the area. You know Laymon. He's always convinced someone is after his discovery."


"And he can catch them from a restaurant?" she asked, amused.


Brad shrugged. "I guess he figures he can get back to the site quickly if he has to."


"Think I should go with you?"


"If you want. Or I can tell him you're sore from the subway thing."


"No…I'll run up and take a shower. And call and invite Joe."


"Joe. Yeah. Sure."


"Hey, he's helping."


Brad took a deep breath. "Helping? Or reminding you of Matt every single second?"


"They're two very different people, and I know that, Brad."


"Are you sure of that?" Brad persisted gently.


"Joe is helping."


"Joe's convinced the explosion here was intentional," Brad said wearily.


"Maybe it was."


"Who the hell would gain from it?" Brad said.


She wondered if she should be dead honest when she was alone with him in a small underground room, then told herself not to be ridiculous. Melissa knew where they were, not to mention she had worked with Brad for years.


"Maybe someone was trying to kill Matt."


"And didn't care about hurting a houseful of other people?"


"A lot of people couldn't care less about who gets in the way when they have a goal in mind."


"Why kill Matt?"


"Because his voice mattered."


Brad looked down for a minute, then took a step toward her. To her amazement, he almost lost his balance and nearly fell face forward on top of her. She jumped, and he swore. "Where the hell did that box come from?" he demanded irritably.


She reached out, steadied him, gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and retreated. "Let's go on up." She hurried toward the stairs, suddenly afraid that he was going to drag her back.


He didn't. He followed her up, asking, "So you're coming to dinner?"


"I think so. If I change my mind, I'll call your cell."


"Not from down there, I hope," he told her, pointing back down the stairs. "I doubt you'll get a signal down in your basement."


"I'm not going back to the basement," she said. "Do me a favor? Tell Melissa I'm going up to take a shower and not to worry about me, just to lock up when she leaves, okay?"


"Sure," he said, studying her. "You need a vacation, you know."


"We've just started."


"You still need a vacation."


She smiled. "Do you really want to miss your chance to be famous? Or infamous? One or the other, anyway." She laughed. "Now, get out of here. I'll see you later."


She waited until he was gone, listening as he talked to Melissa at the exit and then, when she was sure he was out the door, headed back down to the basement. She felt a desire so strong it was beyond resisting to go back to the basement.


Where the hell had the box that Brad had tripped over come from?


"Matt?" she whispered, then shook her head. Was there a feel to the room?


She had discovered the remains of a murdered woman, she told herself. It was natural that the basement would feel…haunted. But as she looked around, she could see various items that had been used to renovate the house. A few rolls of wallpaper, some paint cans, stirrers, boxes of nails and tools. She didn't feel as if it were a tomb, even though it had been exactly that for the poor woman in the wall. But there was something here that drew her, kept her from leaving. She needed to call Joe, she realized, and let him know that she'd left the hospital, in case he was planning to go visit her, and invite him to dinner. She reached in her pocket for her cell phone, making a tour of the room as she did so.


It was exactly the size of the servants' pantry above. There was another basement beneath the main house; this area had been used strictly for food and kitchen storage.


From the hearth, she walked around the perimeter of the room, her phone forgotten in her hand. The wall was entirely bricked. She tried to estimate her whereabouts. If she were able to tunnel through the earth and went north, then a bit to the east, she would reach the dig. The crypt she'd found there was quite a bit deeper than this basement, though. If she were to head further east, she realized, she would come to City Hall.


Curious, she laid out the subway construction records she had copied alongside those of the house. By the late 1900s, there had been elevated trains, or els, in Lower Manhattan. At the very beginning of the twentieth century, the first subway lines had gone in. The very first had run from City Hall to 145th Street. By 1910, there had been several lines. On a later map, she could see how many of the original tunnels had been abandoned. There were also work shafts that had once aided the subway workmen, and many of those had been abandoned, as well.


Okay, so there were a lot of holes in the Manhattan earth. What did that mean?


She hesitated, wondering if she was imagining the rush of air and looked around.


"Matt?" she said softly, hopefully. "I know…oh, Matt, there's something of you here, I know it," she whispered.


It seemed, she thought, that she felt a touch. A caress, soft and tender, against her cheek. And then a whisper.


Leave…please, leave.


"I can't."


You must.


"Let me see you, touch you. I know you're here."


She waited.


Nothing.


"Leave the basement?" she wondered aloud.


Go!


There was an urgency in the voice this time.


"Leave the basement? Leave the house? Leave New York?" Again, she spoke aloud. Again, all she felt in return was a movement of the air.


Or was it a cruel trick of her imagination?


"Matt…in the subway, I saw you. I know Joe was there, too, and he pulled me out. But at the beginning…it was your face. Your voice."


Go. Go!


"All right!"


She started to roll up her maps, and that was when she heard the sobbing.


13


T he place really was a rat hole. Joe wondered if there was an agency in the city that looked into situations like this. Probably. It would mean a lot of red tape, he was certain. Still, it was worth checking into, he decided.


Space was at a premium in New York, that was a given. But he knew there were laws to protect tenants against these kinds of situations. But since most of the inhabitants were either in the country illegally or made their living in a doubtful manner, he doubted their complaints drew much response, if they even dared to make them.


Still, Heidi Arundsen was a good hostess. She had a studio with a tiny kitchen, separated by a counter from the main room, and a screen that separated the main room from the little bedroom area she had created. She kept the place spotlessly clean, but that couldn't help the leakage marks on the ceiling and walls, or hide the fact that the plaster was peeling and that some of the wires weren't properly installed.


"I'm sorry," Heidi said as they entered. "I'm really sorry."


"You keep a lovely home," he told her. "Under the worst circumstances."


"Well…thanks. Can I get you anything? I keep everything in the fridge. No bug eggs in my stuff."


"No, honestly, I'm just fine."


Didi had joined them. She strode across the room. "Here are the boxes with Betty's things. The cops looked for a diary and didn't find one," she said.


"There's not much there, but I kept it all anyway. Just in case," Heidi said.


Her words seemed to linger on the air. Just in case. None of them believed Betty was ever coming back.


"Mind if I just dig in?" he asked.


"Go ahead," Heidi said. "I'll go make some coffee."


Joe heard the women turn on a little television in the kitchen and talk softly to each other while he dug into the boxes. He didn't know what he expected to find. The first box was clothing. Washed, smelling pleasantly of fabric softener, neatly folded. Betty must have been tiny. She had skirts that would have served as a handkerchief for him.


He opened the second box and found pictures. Betty, looking young and innocent, hopeful, a brilliant smile on her face as she cradled a baby. People who might have been her parents. There was a picture of several women, Betty among them, playing softball in Central Park. There was a picture of a beautiful greyhound; on it, Betty had written, Someday! There were more pictures of Betty with friends in front of the sagging old tenement, at the zoo.


Then he found a picture that arrested his attention. It was of Betty and Genevieve O'Brien-and there was a man with them. He was turned away from the camera, but his stance spoke of assurance, and he was wearing a suit that looked to have been expensively tailored.


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