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       Checkmate, p.20

         Part #3 of Neighbor from Hell series by R. L. Mathewson
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Page 20


  She turned on her flashlight and opened the thick oak door leading to the large basement. She closed the door behind her as she carefully navigated the old stone stairway. The stairs were in pretty good shape, but like the rest of the house it had been damaged over the years by wear and tear and needed a little TLC. She was reminded of that fact several times as her foot landed in ruts where rocks were supposed to be and she almost went flying on her ass.

  Thankfully, the designers of this basement had the foresight to add plenty of windows so that the area wasn't pitch black, but she still needed her flashlight to get around. Although she knew the measurements of the entire manor by heart as well as the layout, she still needed to look around the large basement rooms to get a better idea of how she was going to work a much larger state of the art wine cellar into the plans.

  A half hour later she still wasn't sure how she was going to do this without causing some serious damage to the foundation. She looked over at the cracked plank door of what she assumed was used as a storage room since it still had a wall lined with old crates. Maybe she could break through that room and keep the original spot she had planned for the wine cellar, but that all depended on what was behind those crates. If it was stone then she'd have to come up with something else, but if it was wood then she'd have the space that she needed and could go up and help the guys with the roof. She'd change the plans later tonight.

  Eager to get this over with and help the guys with the roof, she made her way over to the crooked door and pushed it open with her shoulder. She swung her flashlight around the damp dark room, praying that she wasn't about to have a run in with some furry little friends or some of the eight legged variety. When nothing came running out or dropped from the ceiling she focused her flashlight and attention on the wood crates stacked against what she was hoping was a wall constructed of wood.

  She placed her flashlight on the floor against the opposite wall with the beam of light pointed on the crates. With a resigned sigh, she set to work moving the top crates first. The crates were empty and she was able to move them quickly and stack them on the other side of the room. When she had the crates cleared at chest level she squinted her eyes, trying to see what she was dealing with. She was almost positive that it was-

  "This ends now," Connor suddenly said, scaring the living hell out of her.

  Rory whirled around, hand to chest, heart pounding violently as she fought to calm her breathing. "What in the hell is wrong with you?" she demanded, taking a deep breath to calm herself as she looked at Connor.

  The man stood in the doorway with a flashlight in his hand and even in the dim light she could tell that he was having a hell of a time stopping himself from crossing the small room and throttling her. She had to give him credit, because if she was in his place there would be no stopping the ass whooping that he would have had coming.

  "You went over the line today with that bullshit, Rory," he said, taking a step into the dark room.

  She had to roll her eyes at that. "You're only pissed because you didn't think of it first," she said, turning her back on him and effectively dismissing him. She didn't have time for his whining today. She needed to make sure that the whole wall was made of wood and then help the guys with the roof.

  "That's bullshit," he snapped. "You chained me to a toilet, Rory, and took away any way to call for help. What if there had been a fire?" he demanded.

  "I paid Mr. Henderson fifty bucks to watch the house and keep an ear out for you," she said in a bored tone as she started hefting more crates over to the other side of the room.

  "Mr. Henderson is ninety years old and wears a hearing aid the size of my fist. How the hell was he supposed to hear me screaming for help over the garbage you left blasting?"

  She picked up a crate and moved it to the other side of the room as she said, "He had his binoculars. "

  Connor snorted in disbelief. "Of course he had his binoculars! He can't see without them!"

  "Obviously nothing bad happened," she said with a shrug as she grabbed the second crate from the top, not mentioning that she also paid Katie, her seventeen year old neighbor who specialized in babysitting, fifty bucks to also keep an eye on Connor's house. Then again, she wouldn't be paying Katie the extra fifty dollars to call her and alert her when Connor broke out.

  Oh yes she would, she realized a moment later, sighing as she reached for her cell phone and remembered that she'd put it down on her desk when she changed her shirt and forgot to put it back on her belt. Damn, a warning would have been nice, too.

  "What about kicking my men off the site? What's your excuse for that?" Connor demanded, sounding truly pissed.

  "You mean the men standing around and getting in the way?" she asked, wondering when he was just going to give up this line of questioning and seek his sad little revenge.

  "I don't care what they were doing-"

  "Well, you should," she said, cutting him off as she reached for another crate.

  He simply continued as if she hadn't spoken. "Those men work for me. If there's a problem then I'll handle it," he said tightly.

  "But you weren't here," she pointed out in an innocent tone that she knew would drive him crazy. It was probably wrong of her to enjoy tormenting him, but she didn't care. It was one of the few pleasures in life that she allowed herself.

  "If it hadn't been for you, I would have been here and my men wouldn't have been delayed," he snapped, sounding more irritated.

  With a sigh, she removed the final crate and brought it over to the other wall. "You shouldn't have to babysit your men, Connor. It's a waste of time and resources," she simply said as she walked back to the area she'd just cleared and inspected the wall.

  The wall was made of wood, rotting wood, but that would work. She frowned as she looked down at her feet. Although the area matched the rest of the room's floor, dirt mixed with a heavy layer of dust, it didn't feel like dirt beneath her feet. Was it a wood floor, she wondered idly as she dragged her foot across the surface, shifting the dirt and sand to the side to reveal old rotting wood.

  "Don't tell me how to handle my men, Rory. In fact, I'd appreciate it if you just stayed the hell out of my way completely," Connor snapped.

  "That's going to be kind of hard to do with us working together, don't you think?" she mused.

  "We're not working together, Rory. I'm running this site with the use of your men and equipment. You’re going to stay out of my way. If you can manage to do that and cut the bullshit like this morning then you'll come out of this a very rich woman," he said, ramming his fingers through his hair in frustration.

  She ground her teeth together as she reminded herself that she had to play nice, well, at least while they were at work. Outside of work she didn't have to take his bullshit. "We signed that contract together, Connor, so whether you like it or not I will be working on this project and if you don't like that then you can-"

  She never finished that sentence as the sounds of planks cracking cut her off. Before she could move so much as a muscle, the floor beneath her gave way and she found herself falling into darkness.

  "Rory!" she thought she heard Connor yell, but she wasn't really sure since she couldn't hear much of anything above her own screams of agony.

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