Tunnels 01 tunnels, p.8
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       Tunnels 01 - Tunnels, p.8

           Roderick Gordon
 
"Rebecca Burrows?" the policeman asked, looking past Will into the house as he removed his hat. He took out a small notebook from his breast pocket and flipped it open. Just then, the radio on his lapel issued a burp of unintelligible speech, and he slid the switch on its side to silence it. "Sorry 'bout that," he said.

  The female officer spoke to Rebecca. "You made the call?"

  Rebecca nodded in response, and the woman gave her a comforting smile. "You mentioned your mother was here. Can we talk to her, please?"

  "She's in here," Rebecca said, leading the way to the living room and knocking lightly on the door. "Mum," she called softly, opening the door for the two officers and then standing to one side to let them through. Will started to follow them in, but the policeman turned to him.

  "Tell you what, son, I could murder a cup of coffee."

  As the policeman shut the door behind him Will turned to Rebecca with an expectant look.

  "Oh, all right, I'll make it," she said irritably and headed for the kettle.

  Waiting in the kitchen, they could hear the low drone of adult conversation coming from behind the door, until — several cups of coffee and what felt like an eternity later — the policeman emerged alone. He walked in and placed his cup and saucer on the table next to them.

  "I'm just going to take a quick look around the place," he said. "For clues," he added with a wink, and had left the kitchen and gone upstairs before either of them could react. They sat there, peering up at the ceiling as they listened to his muffled footsteps moving from room to room on the floor above.

  "What does he think he's going to find?" Will said. They heard him come downstairs again and walk around the ground floor, and then he appeared back in the kitchen doorway. He fixed Will with an inquiring look.

  "There's a basement, isn't there, son?"

  Will took the policeman down into the cellar and stood at the bottom of the oak steps while the man cast his eye over the room. He seemed to be particularly interested in Dr. Burrows's exhibits.

  "Unusual things your dad has. I suppose you've got receipts for all these?" he said, picking up one of the dusty clay heads. Noticing Will's startled expression, he continued, "Only joking. I understand he works in the local museum, doesn't he?"

  Will nodded.

  "I went there once… on a school trip, I think." He spotted the dirt in the wheelbarrow. "So what's all that?"

  "I don't know. Could be from a dig that Dad's been doing. We usually do them together."

  "Dig?" he asked, and Will nodded in reply.

  "I think I'd like to take a look outside now," the policeman announced, his eyes narrowing as he studied Will intently and his demeanor taking on a sternness that Will hadn't seen before.

  In the garden, Will watched as he systematically searched the borders. Then he turned his attention to the lawn, crouching down every so often to examine the bald patches where one of their neighbor's cats was accustomed to relieving itself, killing off the grass. He spent al little time peering at the Common over the ramshackle fence at the end of the yard before coming back into the house. Will followed him in, and as soon as they entered, the officer put his hand on his shoulder.

  "Tell me, son, no one's been doing any digging out there recently, have they?" he asked in a low voice, as if there was some dark secret that Will was dying to share with him.

  Will merely shook his head, and they moved into the hall, where the policeman's eyes alighted on his gleaming shovel in the umbrella stand. Noticing this, Will tried to maneuver himself in front of it and block his view.

  "Are you sure you — or any members of your family — haven't been digging in the garden?" the policeman asked again, staring at Will suspiciously.

  "No, not me, not for years," Will replied. "I dug a few pits on the Common when I was younger, but Dad put a stop to that — said someone might fall in."

  "On the Common, eh? Big holes, were they?"

  "Pretty big. Didn't find anything much there, though."

  The policeman looked at Will strangely and wrote something in his notebook. "Much like what?" he asked, frowning with incomprehension.

  "Oh, just some bottles and old junk."

  At that point, the policewoman came out of the living room and joined her colleague by the front door.

  "All right?" the policeman said to her, tucking his notebook back into his breast pocket. He gave a last penetrating look at Will.

  "I got everything down," the policewoman replied, and then turned to Will and his sister. "Look, I'm sure there's nothing to worry about, but per standard procedure we'll make some inquiries about your father. If you hear anything or need to talk to us — about anything at all — you can contact us at this number." She handed Rebecca a printed card. "In many of these cases, the person just comes back — they just needed to get away, have some time to think things over." She gave them a reassuring smile and then added, "Or calm down."

  "Calm down about what?" Rebecca ventured. "Why would our father need to calm down?"

  The officers looked a little surprised, glancing at each other and then back at Rebecca.

  "Well, after the disagreement with your mother," the policewoman said. Will was waiting for her to say more, to explain exactly what the argument had been about, but she turned to the other officer. "Right, we'd better be off."

  "Ridiculous!" Rebecca said in an exasperated tone after she had shut the door behind them. "They obviously haven't got the faintest idea where he's gone or what to do about it. Idiots!"

  12

  "Will? Is that you?" Chester said, shielding his eyes from the sun as his friend emerged from the kitchen door into the cramped back yard behind the Rawlses' house. He had been whiling away the time that Sunday morning by swatting bluebottles and wasps with an old badminton racket, easy targets as they grew lazy in the noonday heat. He cut a comical figure in flip-flops and a beanie hat, his oversized frame accentuated by baggy shorts and his shoulders reddened by the sun.

  Will stood with his hands in the back pockets of his jeans, looking a little preoccupied. "I need a hand with something," he said, checking behind him that Chester's parents weren't in earshot.

  "Sure, what with?" Chester replied, flicking the mutilated remains of a large fly off the frayed strings of his racket.

  "I want to take a quick look around the museum tonight," Will replied. "At my dad's things."

  He had Chester's undivided attention now.

  "To see if there are any clues… in his office," Will went on.

  "What, you mean break in?" Chester said quietly. "I'm not…"

  Will cut him short. "I've got the keys." Taking his hand from his pocket, he held them up for Chester to see. "I just want to have a quick look, and I need somebody to watch my back."

  Will had been completely prepared to go it alone but, when he stopped to think about it, it seemed natural to enlist the help of his friend. Chester was the only person Will could turn to now that his father had gone. He and Chester had worked very effectively together in the Forty Pits tunnel, like a real team — and, besides, Chester seemed genuinely concerned about Will's father's whereabouts.

  Lowering his racket to his side, Chester thought for a moment as he gazed at the house and then back at Will again. "All right," he agreed, "but we'd better not get caught."

  Will grinned. It felt good to have a real friend, someone other than his family he could trust, for the first time in his life.

  * * * * *

  After it had grown dark, the boys stole up the museum steps. Will unlocked the door and they slipped in quickly. The interior was just visible in the zigzag shadows thrown by interlacing bands of weak moonlight and the yellow neon from the street lamps outside.

  "Follow me," Will whispered to Chester and, crouching low, they crossed through the main hall toward the corridor, dodging between the glass cabinets and grimacing as their sneakers squeaked on the parquet flooring.

  "Watch the—"

  "Ouch!" Chester cried as he tripped over
the marsh timber lying on the floor just inside the corridor and went sprawling. "What's that doing there?" he said angrily as he rubbed his shin.

  "Come on," Will whispered urgently.

  Near the end of the corridor, they found Dr. Burrows's office.

  "We can use the flashlights in here, but keep your beam down low."

  "What are we looking for?" Chester whispered.

  "Don't know yet. Let's check his desk first," Will said in a hushed voice.

  As Chester held his flashlight for him, Will sifted through the piles of papers and documents. It wasn't an easy task; Dr. Burrows was clearly as disorganized at work as he was at home, and there was a mass of paperwork spread across the desk in arbitrary piles. The computer screen was all but obscured by a proliferation of curling yellow Post-it notes stuck around it. As they searched, Will focused his efforts on anything that was written on loose-leaf pages in his father's barely legible scrawl.

  Finishing the last of the piles of papers, they found nothing of note, so they each took one side of the desk and started searching the drawers.

  "Wow, look at this." Chester produced what appeared to be a stuffed dog's paw fixed to an ebony stick from among a load of empty tobacco tins. Will simply looked at him and frowned briefly before resuming his search.

  "Here's something!" Chester said excitedly as he was investigating the middle drawer. Will didn't bother to look up from the papers in his hand, thinking it was another obscure object.

  "No, look, it's got a label with writing on it." He handed it to Will. It was a little book with covers of purple and brown marbling and a sticker on the front that read Ex Libris in ornate and swirling copperplate lettering, with a picture of an owl wearing massive round glasses.

  "Journal," Will read. "That's definitely my dad's writing." He opened the cover. "Bingo! It looks like a diary of some sort." He fanned through the pages. "He's written something on quite a few of these." Pushing it into his bag, he asked, "Are there any others?"

  They hurriedly searched the remainder of the drawers and, finding nothing else, decided it was time to leave. Will locked up, and the boys made their way toward the Forty Pits, because it was close by and they knew they wouldn't be interrupted there. As they slunk though the streets, ducking behind cars when anyone appeared, they felt alive with the thrill of the forbidden mission at the museum and couldn't wait to look at the journal they'd unearthed. Reaching the Pits, they descended into the main chamber, where they arranged the cage lights and made themselves comfortable in the armchairs. Will began to pore over the pages.

  "The first entry is not long after we discovered the lost train station," he said, looking up at Chester.

  "What train station?"

  But Will was too engrossed in the journal to explain. He recited slowly, in broken sentences, as he struggled to decipher his father's handwriting.

  I have recently become aware of a small and… in… incongruous grouping of interlopers coming and going among the general populace of Highfield. A group of people who have a physical appearance that sets them apart. Where they come from or what their purpose is I have yet to ascertain but, from my limited observation of them, I believe that all is not what it seems. Given their apparent numbers (5+?)… homogeneity of their (racial?) appearance… I suspect they may cohabit or at the very least…

  He trailed off as he scanned the rest of the page. "I can't quite make out the rest,"he said, looking up at Chester. "Here's something," he said, flicking over the page. "This is clearer."

  Today a rather intriguing and baffling artifact came into my possession by way of a Mr. Embers. It may well be linked to these people, although I have yet to… substantiate this. The object is a small globe held in a cage of some type of metal, which, at the time of this writing, I have not been able to identify. The globe emits light of varying intensity depending on the degree of background illumination. What confounds me is that the relationship is directly inverse — the darker the surroundings, the brighter the light it emits. It defies any laws of physics or chemistry with which I am familiar.

  Will held up the page so Chester could see the rough sketch his father had made.

  "Have you actually seen it?" Chester inquired. "This light thing?"

  "No, he kept all this to himself," Will replied thoughtfully. Turning the page he began to read again.

  Today I had the opportunity to… scrutinize, albeit for a brief moment, one of the pallid men at close quarters.

  "Pallid? As in pale? Chester said.

  "Suppose so," Will answered, and then read out his father's description of the mysterious man. He went on to the episode with Pineapple Joe and the inexplicable duct in the house, and his father's thoughts and observations on Martineau Square

  . There followed a large number of pages debating the likely structure within the terraced houses that lined the square; Will leafed through these until he came to a photocopied extract from a book, stapled into the journal.

  "It says Highfield's History at the top of the page, and it seems to be about someone called Sir Gabriel Martineau," Will read:

  Born in 1673, he was the son and heir of a successful cloth dyer in Highfield. In 1699, he inherited the business. Martineau, Long & Co. from his father and expanded it considerably, adding a further two factories to the original premises on Heath Street

  . He was known to be a keen inventor and was widely recognized for his expertise in the fields of chemistry, physics, and engineering. Indeed, although Hooke (1635 -1703) is generally credited with being the architect behind what is essentially the modern air pump, there are a number of historians who believe that he built his first prototype using Martineau's drawings.

  In 1710, during a period of widespread unemployment, Martineau, a deeply religious man who was renowned for his philanthropic and paternal attitude toward his workforce, began to emply a substantial number of laborers to build dwellings for his factory workers, and personally designed and oversaw the construction of Martineau Square, which still stands today, and Grayston Villas, which was destroyed in the Blitz. Martineau soon became the largest employer in the Highfield district, and it was rumored that Martineau's Men (as they became known) were engaged in digging a substantial underground network of tunnels, although no evidence of these remains today.

  In 1718, Martineau's wife contracted tuberculosis and died, aged thirty-two. Thereafter Martineau sought solace by joining an obscure religious sect and was rarely seen in public for the remaining years of his life. His home, Martineau House, which formerly stood on the edge of what is now Highfield's historic district, was destroyed by a fire in 1733, in which Martineau and his two daughters are believed to have perished.

  Underneath, Dr. Burrows had written:

  Why is there no trace of these tunnels now? What were they for? I haven't been able to find any mention of them in the town hall records or the borough archives or anywhere. Why, why, why?

  Then, scrawled with such gusto the paper was wrinkled and even ripped in places, were large, crude capitals in blue ballpoint:

  FACT OR FICTION?

  Will frowned and turned to Chester. "This is incredible. Have you ever heard of this Martineau?"

  Chester shook his head.

  "Very weird," Will said, slowly rereading the photocopied extract. "Dad never mentioned any of this, not once. Why would he have kept something like this from me?"

  Will chewed his lip, his expression transforming from exasperation to one of deep preoccupation. Then he suddenly jerked his head up, as if he had been elbowed in the ribs.

  "What is it?" Chester said.

  "Dad was on to something that he didn't want anyone to nick from him. Not again. That's it!" Will cried, remembering the time when the professor from London University had pulled rank on his father and taken the Roman villa dig away from him.

  Chester was about to ask what Will was talking about when, in a flurry, Will began flipping forward through the journal.

  "More stuff about thes
e pallid men," Will said, continuing on until he came to a part of the notebook where there were only the tagged stub of missing pages. "These have been torn out!"

  He thumbed through a few more pages to the final entry. Chester saw him hesitate.

  "See the date," Will said.

  "Where?" Chester leaned in.

  "It's from last Wednesday… the day he had the fight with Mum," Will said in a quiet voice, then took a deep breath and read aloud:

  Tonight's the night. I have found a way in. If this is what I think it is, my hypothesis, wild as it may seem, will be proved correct. This could be it! My chance, my last chance to make my mark. My moment! I have to follow my instincts. I have to go down there. I have to go through.

  "I don't understand—" Chester began.

  Will held up his hand to silence his friend and continued:

  It could be dangerous, but it's something I have to do. I have to show them — if my theory is right, they'll see! They'll have to. I am not just a bumbling curator.

  And then Will read the final sentence, which was underscored several times.

  I will be remembered!

  "Wow!" Will exclaimed, sitting back in the damp armchair. "This is incredible."

  "Yes," Chester agreed somewhat halfheartedly. He was beginning to think that Will's father had perhaps not been completely sane. It sounded to him suspiciously like the ramblings of someone who was losing it, big-time.

  "So what was he onto? What was this theory he was talking about?" Will said, flipping back to the ripped-out pages. "I'll bet this is where it was. He didn't want anyone to steal his ideas." Will was buzzing now.

  "Yes, but where do you think he's actually gone?" Chester asked. "What does he mean by go through, Will?"

  This took the wind out of Will's sails. He looked blankly at Chester.

 
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