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Authors: Melanie Jackson

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BOOK: 4 Impression of Bones
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“Any guesses?”
Manoogin asked. “I’m already tired of playing hide-and-seek and no one outside
seems to know anything about anything.”

Juliet
considered. The wall with the fireplace was a facade of new brick—made to look
like old brick, of course. There was obviously no place where it could open. It
was also unlikely that the passage was in an exterior wall. She went over to
the old coal stove and began inspecting the wainscoting.

It was
immediately apparent that someone had been disturbing the herbs. The air around
the old stove was pungent with bleeding sap and oils. There were also a few
flecks of sawdust on the floor.
Red sawdust.
She
pinched up the small sample and sniffed but could smell nothing above the
thyme.

After a moment
of consideration she stepped into the hall and checked the dimensions of the
next room which appeared foreshortened and missing about three feet. She went
back to the stove and began examining the wood paneling which now seemed rather
strange to have installed in a stone castle, and was perhaps a modern method
for disguising an opening in the wall. A delicate current of air brushed her
face as she paused between two ill-fitting panels.

It would be
faster to ask the workmen outside where the latch was since they had supposedly
been down there already to seal up the tunnel. They would talk to her when they
wouldn’t a policeman. Or she could call Julia Mannering, the woodworker who had
a black belt in karate, who was supposed to be doing the racks for the wine
cellar, but Juliet decided that it was probably best for her future involvement
if the police considered her to be a genius at this kind of thing.
Since she was.

A few moments
of pressing and she had it. The wainscoting swung back and a narrow staircase
was revealed.

Manoogin
snorted. Juliet interpreted the sound as half amusement and half frustration
that he hadn’t been able to find it on his own. The latch wasn’t so much hidden
as just made less obvious.

There was a
light switch by the opening which worked, and the air from down below was
fairly fresh since ventilation had been installed. But there was still
something uncomfortable about venturing down that narrow stair which had to
have been an afterthought in the original design since it was not a practical
way to move bodies into the morgue.

Juliet
examined the door and could see no obvious latch or handle that would open the
cellar from below. There had to be one, of course.
Unless it
hadn’t yet been installed.
As an afterthought, Juliet pulled down one of
the blackened pots and used it to prop the door open.

It would not
have been beyond imagining if Julia Mannering had gone ahead and installed some
manacles and maybe a skeleton or two, but the cellar was free of bones and
cobwebs and even dust. The place had been recently power-washed and shop-
vacced
. Still, the expression
I wouldn’t be caught dead here
occurred to Juliet.

As of yet
there was no wine in the cellar but some of the redwood racks had been
installed. Just to be clever they had been laid out in a maze pattern that made
the place feel like a labyrinth. The smell of new wood was still strong enough
to cover the general smell of damp, but there was also a hint of baking earth
floating on the air. It didn’t quite cover the old musty odor, though it helped.
Juliet was of the opinion that they could stock the cellar with all the wine in
California and it wouldn’t completely hide the fact that this room had been
used for something unpleasant.

“I’m glad
there are lights. And no rats,” the stranger added. His words which probably
hadn’t been intended for Juliet’s ears echoed oddly.

“Amen,”
Manoogin answered.

In spite of
its cleanliness and artificial light, Juliet found the whole place to be rather
sinister, perhaps because of knowing its original purpose, but Manoogin and the
stranger seemed to feel that nothing was amiss as they examined the space with only
cursory attention.

“Should a wine
cellar be this damp?”

“No. It’s been
recently power-washed.”
Perhaps to try and rid it of the
unpleasant smell.

Juliet looked
around carefully and couldn’t see any sign of recent brickwork, which there
should have been if Dolph had truly sealed up the old morgue tunnel. It could
be that the new wall was concealed behind some of the racks, but there should
have been an odor of curing mortar, which there was not.

Had Dolph been
delaying the repairs, hoping that everyone would reconsider his idea of some
kind of a gruesome ghost tour of the old morgue? Or were there money problems
with the project that had caused a delay?

The
eddy of baking earth smell
rubbed by her face again.

“Check for
another door,” Juliet said softly.

“What?”
Manoogin turned toward her.

“Check behind the
racks against the wall. It may be that the original entrance wasn’t actually
bricked over after the supposed cave-in. Maybe, if there was a cave-in, it was simply
cleared instead of sealed.” She pointed at a brick barricade which was old, but
that had been laid in a different pattern suggesting a different set of
builders had been at work in a different era. When no one reacted she
explained: “There may still be some other way in and out of the castle.”

“There is
another entrance to the wine cellar?” the stranger asked. He sounded affronted.
“That’s stupid.”

“Yes, it would
be, if you were building a wine cellar from scratch. But this cellar was the
hospital morgue back in the twenties, and I doubt that the bodies were brought up
or down through the kitchen on that narrow stair. At the very least there would
have been another larger staircase coming down, perhaps from the courtyard. They
also probably had an entrance away from the hospital where the hearse could
come and go without upsetting the other patients.”

“You have any
proof of this?” The tone rather than the question itself was confrontational.
It was early days, but Juliet was betting that this was a man with a limited
linguistic database. That usually happened when someone had only predictably
small thoughts. It was another strike against him.

“It may be
that I can eventually find some blueprints to show you where the exterior
entrance was, but for now we’ll have to do this the old-fashioned way. There is
fresh hot air coming in from somewhere. Follow the smell.”

Esteban would
be the one to find blueprints if any existed but there was no need to drag his
name into things, especially since this new cop was so hostile.

“And you know
this how,
Mrs
…?” the stranger asked again. She gave
him credit for being dogged.

“Excuse my
manners,”
Manoogin
said. “Juliet Henry, this is my
partner, Detective Weston. Juliet is one of the artists working on the project.
Her room was the one in the tower with the body in the chimney. She’s done some
research on the building.”

That was a
strange introduction but probably the most relevant of the facts for the new
policeman to know.

“Detective.”
Juliet gave a small smile and got one
in return, but only after Weston had sent his partner an odd look. She gathered
that Manoogin had been truthful when he said that he generally didn’t involve
civilians in his investigations, and that Manoogin apparently had not shared
her work history with his partner. Whether this was to preserve her privacy or
because he didn’t trust his partner remained to be seen.

“Mrs. Henry.”

She didn’t
correct him about her marital status and made herself speak pleasantly.

“As Lieutenant
Manoogin
says, I’ve been studying the castle, looking
for history about the room in the tower and have discovered a few other things
in my research. I don’t know if the original castle had some kind of dungeon
back in Scotland, but when the castle got here, it was discovered that there
were caves in the cliff below the plateau which were deemed appropriate for storage
and later for use as a place to hold bodies before their burials.
Probably because it is naturally cold.
Based on geography,
it’s unlikely that the caves run north-south so the cave openings would be
either east or west.” Juliet pointed again. “Let’s start here. The brick
pattern is different on that wall.”

Neither man
argued though she had the feeling that Weston wanted to on general principal.

Again it was
Juliet who discovered a ponderous door behind one of the wine racks which had
not yet been screwed into the mounts in the wall. The floor below it was
slightly scuffed, suggesting the heavy rack had been moved recently.

The old timber
door was locked and there was no key, but Juliet only shook her head at the
detectives when Weston expressed a belief that no one could have come or gone
that way.

Juliet sniffed
the lock and then went to fetch a pair of flathead screwdrivers and proceeded
to force the lock on the door.

“These old
locks are crude, but oiled up with WD-40 one could lock it from either side
with a coat hanger or a large hook. Assuming one didn’t have a key.”

Which
proved to be the case.
At least a mangled coat hanger was found on the floor of the passage which ultimately
led out onto the hill just outside the hurricane fence where the security guard
had been sent to look for a trespasser.

The curving corridor
was stone with some leaves and other debris piled around the edges where it
jogged right and left. Though Juliet knew that the tunnel wasn’t part of a real
dungeon or an oubliette filled with mantraps, her eyes kept moving from the
floor to the ceiling and back again.

There were no
convenient muddy footprints or handprints displayed on the wall to prove that
anyone had actually been that way in years. At the end of a fifty-foot tunnel
there was a rectangular opening. Rusted hinges suggested that there had been an
outside door but now there was only a screen of some kind of shrub that looked
like thorny privet.

“I bet we are
at the back of the property, probably beyond the old wall that would have had a
gate in it. This might be where the old cemetery was located.”

Manoogin was
looking at Juliet with something like awe as they scrambled up the short rise
and onto the access road by the collapsed wall that had been replaced with wire
fencing. A seasonal creek about two hundred yards away had been refreshed by
the rain, but was still down to a ribbon of water, barely wide enough to
entertain the brown dog who was clearly in violation of the local leash laws. A
person on foot or in a vehicle would have no trouble crossing it and being of
stone, once the tracks had dried there would be no sign of shoeprints or tire
tracks.

Weston was
staring too but with clear suspicion that Juliet should have known that the
tunnel was there. Possibly he was unnerved by her display of esoteric knowledge
and that had him swelling like a challenged turkey. Some men were like that,
unreasonably angered when faced with women who were smarter than they were.

Juliet had
been threatened by the envy of a lot more frightening men though, and just
stared back until Weston looked away.

“Detective,”
Juliet said gently when she had won the stare-down. She brushed the weeds from
her slacks so that her words would seem an afterthought. “I’m alibied for the
killing. I was busy finding a skeleton in the chimney in the company of another
artist when Mr. Kingman was killed. You will have to work harder for your
suspect.”

Manoogin
turned quickly to study the fence, pretending to examine it for stray bits of
clothing.

So, he was not
enamored with his partner. There was probably a sound reason for that. Juliet
would be careful not to share much of anything with Weston. Manoogin could decide
what he wanted this less-bright stranger to know about the case.

“So who else
could have found out about this exit?” Manoogin asked aloud.

“Anyone with
access to the castle blueprints—which should be on file with the county and
probably with the various contractors who are working on the project. Or, as is
often the case, older copies may have been kept in the castle library. There
are lots of ancient cabinets in there and I don’t know if everything has been
inventoried. It could also be anyone who has had time to explore, especially
before the wine racks went in.” Juliet frowned. “Or anyone who was here when
the castle was a hospital or reform school. That would make them quite old
though and most everyone I’ve seen on the project is under fifty.”

“So, basically
anyone at all could know about this.”

“Basically.
But, on the bright side, at least this
suggests that the guard was telling the truth and that Dolph did see someone
suspicious out here. And I am thinking that the only place Dolph could have
been that would have given him a view of the fence is in one of the second-floor
bedrooms. They face the right way and are above the trees.”

They all turned
toward the castle. Juliet didn’t speculate about what Dolph might have been
doing in the bedrooms. She didn’t need to; Manoogin wasn’t an idiot. People
would have been gossiping about Dolph, confirming what she had told him about the
lecher.

BOOK: 4 Impression of Bones
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