The Dead Room


Page 47


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Joe picked up the picture of Matt with a host of children and stared hard at it, as if staring at the man himself.


"Why couldn't you have been an asshole?" he said aloud. A moment later, he put the picture down and headed out the door. As he did, it occurred to him that he had to forget the black sedan and tell Didi and Heidi to get off the streets for a while. Didi's job interview was coming up; he hoped that would change life for her.


But then there was Heidi. He wondered if Genevieve O'Brien would have been able to change the woman's life if she hadn't disappeared.


Leslie was convinced that she was alive.


But how long could she remain so?


Sitting up in bed, Leslie remained still and listened. The sound had disappeared.


She waited, certain it had come from the basement, hoping it would come again. She glanced over at Nikki, who was still sleeping. Leslie hesitated, thinking that she had promised Joe to keep the door to her room locked.


But she wasn't alone in the house. Nikki was here, and so was Adam, who was sleeping just down the hall.


She crawled out of bed carefully, found her robe and slippers, and tiptoed to the door. For a moment she thought about waking Nikki, but she had the strange sense that the house wouldn't "speak" to her unless she was alone.


She must resemble a ghost herself, she thought, wafting down the staircase and heading to the foyer. She looked out to the street, almost expecting to see someone leaning on a lamppost, or to discover that Joe's car was parked across the street, despite the fact that she had friends in the house with her.


But the street was quiet.


In the shadows cast by the dim night-lights, she held very still for several seconds. Then she thought she heard it again and frowned. This time the sound was somehow different.


Muffled, faint, like an echo.


She went down the hallway to the kitchen, then into the servants' pantry, and hesitated again before lifting the hatch. As always at night, the basement entry loomed like an abyss.


She went for one of the lanterns and then carefully walked down the stairs.


The crates remained from their work that day, but Brad had carefully tended to their tools. The cold and empty hearth seemed all the more depressing because of the broken bricks along one side.


She stood still, waiting, until once again she heard the sound.


She moved to the wall to the right of the hearth, facing northeast, toward the dig and the old subway lines.


As she stood there, literally putting her ear against the brick, she became aware of something in the room. A presence. She turned.


Elizabeth was standing there, though not, as Leslie might have expected, hovering over the crate that contained her bones. She stood, watching Leslie, a sad smile on her face.


"Hello," Leslie said very softly.


The woman's smile deepened. "Thank you."


Leslie shook her head. "I couldn't have done it without your help." She hesitated for a moment. "Without Matt's help."


The apparition stood still for a minute, then said, "He loves you very much."


"I…Matt?" Leslie said, her heart skipping a beat.


But Elizabeth didn't reply. The strange sound of distant sobbing came again. Still muffled, like an echo of the past.


"She needs you, too," Elizabeth said.


"Who needs me? Can you help me?"


Elizabeth lifted a hand. She seemed uncertain. Then she pointed toward the wall. Leslie felt as if a shaft of ice had pierced straight through her.


"Is she buried there?"


Elizabeth looked uncertain. "She cries," she said.


"If I can just find her, get to her…can you help me?"


"I can try…it's not my time…I don't know…I can try." Elizabeth started to move, then stopped. She frowned suddenly, with a look of alarm.


"Go!" she cried, and she suddenly faded away.


Then Leslie heard what the ghost had heard.


Something that was not an echo of the past in any way. Something real.


Footsteps. Furtive, stealthy, and somewhere on the floor above.


"Hey!"


Joe saw Didi leaning on a shop window, smoking.


Her face lit into a smile, and she walked over to the car.


"Don't you ever sleep?" she asked him.


He shrugged. "Listen…I know I asked you to keep an eye out for that car, but I was wrong."


"I haven't seen a black sedan all night," Didi told him with a yawn.


"Where's Heidi?" he asked, suddenly anxious.


"Around the corner. She was restless, so she went for a walk."


"Find her. Find her, and go home for the night."


"Hey, Joe, you're a good guy, but you can't fix the whole world."


"Didi, it's occurred to me that this guy may know that we're on to the black sedan."


She frowned. "So?"


"So he could start using another car."


"Ooh." A shadow crossed her face as she realized the advantage that would give him.


"Find Heidi, huh?"


"All right, Joe," she said.


He pulled out a copy of the photograph. "One more favor. Do you recognize this guy?"


"That's Brad," Didi said flatly.


"You know him?" He sounded surprised. "Just how well do you know him?"


"That depends what you mean by 'well.'"


"In every way, Didi."


"Okay, I know him in every way. Do I know him well? No. But he treats us decent. He doesn't act like an asshole. Sometimes he brings us movie tickets. He doesn't come a lot, though, just now and then."


"How long has he been coming by?"


"For years," Didi assured him.


Joe felt the tension growing him. "Didi, right now-just for right now-if he comes by, don't get in a car with him, okay?"


"I've never gotten in a car with him."


"Oh?"


"My place isn't as bad as Heidi's."


"Whatever. For right now, don't be alone with him. Got it?"


"Sure, Joe. Whatever you say." She shook her head, a rueful smile on her face. "Know what? You're the first man in ages who's ever cost me money."


"Didi…"


"Don't worry. I'll be careful. I want to make that job interview, you know. I'll find Heidi, and I'll go to bed for the night. Alone. Okay?"


"Good kid," he told her, and he watched her disappear out of sight around the corner before he drove away. He didn't intend to go far. He meant to park, and walk the area himself.


Matt knew Leslie had gone down to the basement because he'd followed her there. He'd tried so hard to touch her-hell, he wanted to shake her. She was supposed to be locked safely in her room.


And then…


He heard footsteps.


He hurried upstairs. The servants' pantry was empty; the footsteps were coming from elsewhere in the house. Matt moved along the hallway.


The intruder had just gained entry and was standing in the front hall. About six feet tall, and wearing a dark jacket and ski mask. He clearly meant not to be seen and, if seen, not to be recognized.


He was in the house. And there had been no alarm, no cracking of glass, no snapping of wood. He had gained entry despite the alarm.


And now he had paused, listening to the silence and the settling of the old house.


The intruder started down the hall, heading toward the servants' pantry…and the basement below-where Leslie would be trapped.


Matt rushed fiercely down the hallway, ready to tackle his adversary, as he had once tackled opposing players back in his football days. He was sure he would drive right through the intruder, making no impact, but…


The other man stopped. Staggered. Then he raised his arm to reveal that he was carrying a gleaming bowie knife, sharp and deadly.


Amazingly, he had felt Matt's attack.


Matt backed away, gathered all his force and raced forward again.


Again he made impact, and again the man swung the knife through empty air.


The sound of a siren suddenly penetrated from the street. The intruder seemed to feel a sense of deep panic. He turned, stumbling back toward the door, where he paused, as if regaining his senses. Matt got ready to gather all the strength he had left and attack again.


The intruder punched numbers into the alarm in seconds flat, solving one mystery and deepening another. Then he was out the door. Matt tried to follow. He had to go after the offender, rip off his mask, had to find out who had killed him. Who meant to kill Leslie.


He hit the door. Tried to get through it. Couldn't. He let out a groan of fury and despair.


Leslie knew she couldn't let the intruder corner her in the basement. She hurried up the stairs to the servants' pantry and stood there, listening. The house had grown silent. She waited, then silently shut the hatch, but still she hesitated, unsure whether to stay where she was or brave the return journey to the bedroom.


He might be out there. Standing dead still. Hovering in silence, as she was doing. Waiting, knowing he had been heard, biding his time…


Suddenly she heard the soft thudding of feminine footsteps on the stairs, followed by the sound of Nikki's voice. "Leslie?"


"Watch out!" Leslie cried. "Nikki, be careful!"


She rushed through the kitchen and along the hall toward the entryway, determined to keep any harm from coming to Nikki. But when she reached her friend, in sight of the front door, it was closed, the alarm blinking, and there was no sign of anyone having entered.


Stunned, she came to a complete standstill, staring wildly around.


"Leslie?" Nikki asked, flicking on the light.


"What's going on down here?" Adam called out firmly. He was already halfway down the stairs, and he was armed. It was just a small pistol, but Leslie had never seen him with a weapon before. She was sure, however, that he knew how to use it, and that he wasn't afraid to do so.


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