Part #3 of Mickey Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
The door gave way.
"So we're breaking and entering," Ema said.
She shrugged and headed in first. I aimed the flashlight at the ground and said, "Stop."
I gestured toward the floor. There were fresh footprints in the dirt.
I put my foot next to one of the prints. I wear a size thirteen. This shoe was only slightly smaller, which meant that the prints probably belonged to an adult male.
Using my flashlight, I followed the footprints right up to the . . .
The trapdoor that led to the tunnel. They stopped there.
Never one to miss the obvious, I said, "Someone's been here recently."
"Or is still here now," Ema added.
Then I said, "Let me--"
"If you say 'go down alone,' I will punch you."
I looked up at her. "Then neither of us goes down."
"Spoon is paralyzed. He got shot. I'm not taking any more chances."
Ema shook her head. "We have to do this, Mickey. You know that."
"We don't have to do anything. Suppose Luther is down there."
"Then we have him cornered."
"You're kidding, right?"
Ema moved closer to me. "What else can we do, Mickey? Go home?"
I wanted her to go home. But I knew that she wouldn't.
"We'll be careful," she said. "Okay?"
What choice did I have? "Okay."
The trapdoor had a latch. I bent down and pulled the handle. We both looked down into the tunnel.
Darkness. Nothing but a black hole.
"Terrific," I said.
Ema had already turned on her flashlight app. There was a ladder leading down. She said, "Me first," and put her foot on the first rung.
"Let me go."
"I don't trust you. You'll look up my skirt."
"Uh, you're wearing jeans."
"Oops." She smothered a nervous laugh and started down the ladder. I followed. When we reached the bottom, Ema aimed the beam in front of her. The flashlight wasn't all that strong, but it just confirmed what I already knew: We were in a tunnel. At the end of it, if we made the proper turns, would be that steel-reinforced door.
The question was, what else would we find?
She was about to start forward when I put my hand on her arm. She turned toward me. I put a finger to my lips to signal for her to stay silent. She did so. I listened hard.
That was a good sign. Everything echoed down here. If Luther or someone else was moving, we would have heard them. Of course, that didn't mean that they weren't down here. The echo worked both ways. They would have heard us descending the ladder. Luther or whoever could be waiting somewhere, ducking low, ready to pounce.
"We move slowly," I whispered.
We started down the tunnel. I wondered how something like this had been built. No way it passed Kasselton code. Did Lizzy Sobek hire construction workers? I doubted it. Did volunteers work on it? Did those "chosen" by the Abeona Shelter build this tunnel?
Maybe. Maybe my father helped build it.
But I somehow doubted it. It seemed older than that. How long did it take to construct? And really, who cared anyway?
We reached a door.
I remembered passing this door the last time I was here. Dylan Shaykes, who had brought me, told me to keep going. I tried to flash back and remember now. Did he seem afraid? No. He had just wanted me to keep going because I had been brought here to see Bat Lady.
I reached for the knob.
But there wasn't one.
Huh? I looked again. I could see what looked to be a keyhole. Nothing else. The door was smooth. It was also reinforced steel. I pushed against it. No yield at all.
What was Abeona trying to hide?
We were about to continue along the corridor when Ema said, "Mickey, look."
I turned to Ema. At first I didn't see it, but then I followed the flashlight beam down toward the ground. There was a small lever, like something you'd pull for a fire alarm.
"What do you think?" I asked her.
"I think we pull it."
Ema reached for it before I could. Her hand took hold and pulled. At first, it didn't give at all. Then she pulled harder. The lever gave way with a sucking pop sound.
The wall next to us started to slide.
We stepped back and watched it move. It was bizarre. The front part of the wall came forward and moved to the right. It slid in front of the steel-reinforced door, covering it.
Ema said, "What the . . . ?"
The door was gone now. Completely camouflaged.
We stood there for a moment and stared, half expecting something else to happen. It didn't. The door was gone. I wondered whether there were more doors in this tunnel.
Or more levers.
"Pull it again," I said.
She did. The wall grunted before moving back to where it had been before. The door was once again visible. I pushed on the door one more time, hoping that maybe the lever unlocked it or something, but it didn't give.
"I don't get it," I said.
"Neither do I. Should we keep moving?"
I nodded. There wasn't much more for us to do here.
There was a fork up ahead in the tunnel. We stopped at it. I tried to remember when I was here last which way I went. I didn't remember the fork but I was pretty distracted. Dylan Shaykes--at that time I only thought of him as Shaved Head--was leading me toward the house.
What way had we gone--left or right?
Right, I thought. I don't have a great sense of direction, but right also seemed the way to the house. Plus, the bigger prong in the fork--the one you would more naturally take--was the one on the right.
I had already gone in that direction, though, hadn't I?
I was about to shine the flashlight to the left when I heard a noise. I froze.
Ema whispered, "What?"
"Did you hear that?"
"I don't think so."
We stayed still. I heard it again. I couldn't tell what it was, though. My imagination? Maybe. But whatever it was, it seemed very far away. Have you ever had that? Have you ever heard a sound so soft, so far away, so muffled that you aren't even sure that you are hearing anything at all? Like maybe your ears are ringing and you're just imagining the whole thing.
That was what this was like.
"Do you hear it?" I asked her.
And again, because we are so much in tune, Ema replied, "Maybe. Something really faint . . ."
We didn't know what to do.
"It could just be an old pipe," Ema said. "Or house noises. You know. You can barely hear it at all."
"So what should we do?"
"Probably not stay much longer."
I shone the flashlight to my left. When we both saw what was there, Ema said, "Bingo."
Maybe, I thought.
The first thing we saw was an old television set. I don't know how old exactly. I mean, it wasn't ancient--not like that noisy refrigerator that broke on the Bat Lady--but it was a thick console set with a screen that couldn't be more than eight inches. A machine that looked like a giant old-fashioned tape recorder was attached to it.
"It's for VCR tapes, I think," Ema said. "We still have something like it in the theater room."
I stepped into the room. On the shelf above, there were dozens of tapes, lined up like books. I started to pull them down from the shelf.
"I don't think they're for a VCR," I said.
Uncle Myron had old VCR tapes of his high school games in the house. These tapes looked slightly different. They were a little smaller, less rectangular. I hoped to find something on the labels, but the only thing written on them were numbers.
It was Ema. Her tone made my blood go cold. I turned slowly toward her. Ema's eyes were wide. Her hand was resting on to
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"The television," she said.
"What about it?"
I saw her swallow. "It's warm," she said. "Someone was just using it."
We both froze again, in this dark, dank space, and listened.
Another noise. This one was real. No mistaking it.
Ema looked down at the attached tape machine. She pressed a button and a tape ejected from the machine. She jammed it into her purse and said, "Let's get out of here."
I didn't argue. We hurried back into the tunnel, this time heading toward the garage. We had gone about ten yards when I heard the noise behind me. I stopped and turned to look back.
Luther was there.
He stood at the far end of the tunnel, glaring at us. For a moment, none of us moved. Even down here, even in this faint light, I could still see the sandy hair and green eyes. I flashed back to the first time I had seen them--the day of the car accident. I was lying injured, woozy, not sure what had happened. I looked to the side and saw my father lying very still. A paramedic looked back at me and shook his head.
That paramedic was down at the end of the tunnel.
Luther's hands formed two fists. He looked enraged. When he took a step toward us, Ema grabbed my arm and yelled, "Run!"
I didn't move.
He took another step.
Ema said, "Mickey?"
"Go," I said to her.
"Go!" I shouted.
I wasn't leaving. I wasn't letting him escape again. This Luther, this man I didn't know, was my father's sworn enemy. That made him mine.
My father's grave might not have held any answers. But I bet this guy did.
I wasn't going to let him out of my sight again.
Luther and I faced each other like two gunslingers in an old Western movie. I wasn't sure what move to make. I had spent most of my life overseas, in a variety of countries, and my father had insisted that I learn the various martial arts. I was big. I was strong. I knew how to fight.
But most martial arts work by using your opponent's aggression. I had never learned, for example, how to sprint toward an opponent in a tunnel and take him down. I knew better how to counter an attack like that, how to roll with my adversary and incapacitate him.
So I waited another second for him to come toward me.
He waited too.
I wondered whether he knew how to fight. It didn't matter. He was not getting out of here. He was not getting near Ema. It was just the two of us.
No reason to wait any longer.
I started to calculate the distance and figure an angle of attack--go low, take out the legs--when I heard a voice behind us.
Someone was coming down via the trapdoor in the garage. I thought maybe I recognized the voice.
"Kasselton police! Everybody freeze!"
It was Chief Taylor, Troy's father. He hurried down the ladder. I glanced for a second, no more. I kept my eyes on Luther's. He kept his eyes on me. But I turned away just for a second.
"For the love of . . ." Chief Taylor's mouth dropped open as he looked around in disbelief at the tunnel. "What is this place?"
Another officer was coming down the ladder behind him. I quickly turned back to Luther.
Luther started to run the other way.
"No!" I shouted.
"Freeze!" It was Chief Taylor again. The beam of his flashlight was on me. "Mickey Bolitar! Freeze right now!"
I didn't listen. I sprinted toward the end of the tunnel. When I veered right, I saw the door--the steel-reinforced one in the basement, maybe?--slam closed.
Luther had run through it.
I ran toward it. I put my hand on the knob.
"Okay, Mickey," Chief Taylor said, standing side by side with another officer, "that's far enough."
They were there. I had my hand on the knob and tried to calculate how long it would take to open the door and run through it. Too long. Taylor and the other officer would be on me.
That was when we all heard the scream.
The two police officers turned toward it.
"Help! Oh, help!"
Suddenly I got it. The scream and call for help had come from Ema, but I could tell, from the exaggerated tone, she wasn't in real danger.
Genius that she was, Ema was intentionally diverting their attention from me!
I didn't wait. I pulled open the door and ran through it. I was back in the basement. It was darker now. I heard a crunching noise above me. I used my flashlight app and shone it upward.
I saw Luther's leg on the top step.
I ran and leapt toward it. I grabbed the ankle and hung on for all I was worth. I was actually suspended in the air, my grip on his ankle loosening, when I felt his other foot stomp on my arm. I didn't care. I hung on.
"Let go of me!" Luther shouted.
"Where's my father?"
I didn't believe him. And I had a plan.
If I could just swing my legs to the stairs, I would have enough leverage to pull Luther down to the concrete basement floor.
"Let go of me!"
I pulled and arched my back, aiming my legs for the stairs. Behind me I heard the door open.
It was Chief Taylor again.
"He's getting away!" I shouted.
But Chief Taylor and the other officer wouldn't listen. They tackled me instead. I tried to hold on, tried with everything I had to keep my grip, but I could feel my fingers slip away under their combined weight.
"He killed my father!"
I crashed to the ground. Above me, I saw Luther smile and slip away.
"Stay put," Taylor yelled.
"He killed my father! Stop him!"
"What are you talking about?"
But it was pointless. We were belowground. Luther was already off and running. Chief Taylor stood. The other officer flipped me onto my stomach and snapped the cuffs on me.
Ema came through the door. "Leave him alone! He didn't do anything!"
"You're both under arrest," Taylor said.
"A neighbor saw you break into the garage. That's a crime. You've wiggled out of plenty of trouble, Mickey, but not this time."
"Listen to me," I said, "you have to find that man."
"I don't have to find anyone," Chief Taylor said. "I told you to stop. You didn't. You ran away from a police officer. You resisted arrest. I'm sorry, Mickey. You've gotten too many breaks."
Ema tried. "But if you'd just listen to us--"
Chief Taylor spun toward her. "Do you want me to cuff you too, missy?"
Ema did so. I watched in disbelief as Chief Taylor cuffed her too.
"I don't want to hear another word out of either of you."
They led us back down the corridor through the tunnel. Again I saw Taylor looking around as though he couldn't believe his eyes. "What is this place?" he asked me.
I said nothing.
"I asked you a question, Mickey."
"I don't know."
"So why did you break into the garage?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
I saw his face redden. "That's it. I've had enough of you. I'm taking you down to the city prison in Newark. You're going to spend some time in that system. Adult population. I told you once about the guy with the really long fingernails, remember? You're about to be his cellmate. Jackson?"
He turned to the other officer.
"Let's lock them in the squad car and check out this tunnel."
It was hard to get us up the ladder because our hands were cuffed behind our backs. Jackson suggested taking them off us. Taylor refused. When we reached the front yard, he said, "You wait with them here. I'm going back into--"
"What's going on here
We all stopped at the sound of the scratchy old voice. There, standing on the sidewalk as though she had just materialized, was Bat Lady. Jackson choked back a scream. Bat Lady was back in her full crazy-person persona--the long white-to-yellow gown, ratty slippers, her white hair flowing down to her waist.
"Ma'am," Taylor said, risking a step in her direction, "these two broke into your own garage."
"No, they didn't."
"Uh, yes, ma'am, we spotted--"
"Don't 'yes, ma'am' me," she snapped. "They have permission to be here. I asked them to check my tunnel for me."
"Well, about that tunnel--"
"Why are they handcuffed?"
"Well, see, we got a report that they broke in--"
"And I just told you that they did no such thing, didn't I?"
She waited for an answer.
"Uh, yes, ma'am."
"So uncuff those children immediately."
Taylor gestured at Jackson. Jackson took out a key.
"Ma'am, could you tell what those tunnels are for?"
"Do you have a warrant?"
"A warrant? No. Like I said, we got a report--"
"Has this become a police state? I've lived in police states before. They are horrible places."
"No, ma'am, this isn't a police state."
"Then you have no right to be on my property, do you?"
"We were responding to a call."
"Which was made in error obviously. So now you know that. Do you know what I want you to do now?"
"Um . . ." I was enjoying watching Chief Taylor squirm. "Leave?"
"Exactly. Don't make me ask again. Shoo."
After Chief Taylor's squad car drove off, Bat Lady started toward the garage. We followed her. I asked her questions. She didn't respond. Ema asked her questions. She didn't respond. She just kept walking in silence.
The woods seemed to be thicker now. The darkness settled over us like a blanket.
"Miss Sobek?" I tried again.
Finally she spoke. "Why did you come?"
"To find clues."
I couldn't see her in the dark. "I guess you found more than that."
"Who is he?"
"I told you."
"He said my father's dead."
The old woman didn't reply.
"Was he lying?"
"I told you before."
"You heard his voice."
"And the dead never talk to you."
She didn't bother replying.
Ema asked, "Are we going back to the tunnel?"
"No, Ema," Bat Lady said. "We will never go back there again."
Found by Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Young Adult / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes