Cherringham--The Secret of Combe Castle (10 page)

BOOK: Cherringham--The Secret of Combe Castle
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Could the lock be so old, so corroded, so dilapidated like everything else in this place, that the lock wasn’t even functional?

Just my luck
, Jack thought.

Then, as if it hadn’t moved in years, the last tumbler finally clicked when he gave it a strong, sharp twist of his wrist.

The door was open. The castle awaited.

“Got it,” he said.

Strange — this door … protected by a padlock and chain that could simply be yanked out of the stone wall, and a lock mechanism that seemed as though it wouldn’t open even with a key.

Very odd …

He took a breath, and walked into the bottom floor of the dark castle.

*

Sarah had listened as Jack worked the lock, his efforts making a scratching, rattling noise punctuated, every now and then with a rare — for Jack — ‘damn.’

It was hard just sitting here.

Maybe I should have gone in with him?

But no — she knew it was better that she kept watch, sitting in the small cold sports car, surrounded by the gloomy rolling hills of the estate.

Getting into a warm bed tonight will be good
, she thought.

She looked away, towards the distant property of the FitzHenrys’ neighbour, Arthur Pelham. Lights were still on over there, though it was getting late.

Apparently — from Jack’s description — Pelham was someone who actually did the hard work that such a place required.

Still, she thought, pretty late for Pelham to be up.

And late for me!

Stifling a yawn, she turned back to Combe Castle, and thought of Jack inside the building with just his penlight to light the way …

And then—

A
light
came on, up in the tower, where the FitzHenrys had their bedroom.

One of them looking for something, a drink of water, or—

The light should go out.

But it didn’t.

Not good,
she thought.

What if Oswald had heard Jack, thought he was the vandal, confronted him in the dark?

Jack
had to get out of there.

“Jack, someone’s up. Lights on. Maybe you should—”

She looked down at the phone.

The call had been terminated.

She quickly hit the green tab to recall his number but almost immediately heard it go to his voicemail service. He’d lost network coverage in the old castle, with its thick stone walls.“Damn,” she said, her eyes still locked on the tower room, on the light, every second that it stayed on meaning there was more chance of Jack being surprised.

She reached to her left side and popped open the passenger door. Freezing, damp air rushed in, making her wonder if snow might be coming.

She got up, stood there for only a moment — one last chance to wish … to
will
… that light to go out.

And when it didn’t, she had no choice but to start running to the ground floor door and the rear entrance to the castle.

*

Jack held his small torch in one hand, the iPad in the other.

He moved a few steps, and then carefully slid the 3D floor plan along, mirroring his moves on the model of the castle layout.

No surprises yet.

But he knew what was ahead.

From the model, he could see a narrow hallway that led from the storage room that he had just passed, to a door that opened to the castle’s most grisly attractions.

The weird witches on Mabb’s Hill.

And then the elongated man dangling by his neck while nearby another dummy awaited bolts of electricity.

And he had to admit … though he had walked into some dark, forbidding warehouses and tenements in New York, this was up there with the worst of them.

The walls were close to him on either side, near enough that he could feel how cold the stone was.

Though he took care that his steps were quiet, what with it being so still down here, even they sounded loud.

And as he walked, he kept thinking about his getting into the place.

Doesn’t add up,
he thought.

He was beginning to think that whoever had attacked Oswald’s exhibit couldn’t have come in that way. That lock clearly hadn’t been opened in years.

And if that was true, he wondered …
what exactly does that mean?

He reached a wooden door, the torch picking up the frayed planks in need of sanding, varnish. Just another sign that Oswald was hopeless at keeping this place up.

Then — why stay?

Jack grabbed the door handle half expecting it to fall off.

Why … stay?

For someone like Oswald, there could only be one reason.

A reason that would make almost anyone stay.

He stuck the penlight into his back pocket, putting himself in the dark as he turned the doorknob.

A small squeak of metal, again sounding so loud.

The door opened.

“Okay,” he said. “About to enter the house of horrors.”

Sarah was listening. He wanted to let her know that all was okay.

But strange — she didn’t respond.

He touched his earpiece — but kept walking through the now open doorway.

15. Madness at Midnight

Sarah tripped on an exposed tree root, but was just able to catch herself and not fall.

She knew that Oswald wouldn’t intentionally hurt Jack, even though they had done this experiment without telling him.

But if he didn’t know it was Jack?

She ran as fast as she could.

Until she could just see the castle walls, and — barely visible — the open door where Jack had gone in.

It occurred to her then that she would now be going in to find him — into the dark castle — without a light, and with little knowledge of the layout of the castle.

But then she remembered that her phone had a light on it.

That, at least, would work without any service.

She slipped the phone out of a back pocket and — trying not to stumble again — slid the screen up so she could see the icon for a torch, and get the damn thing on.

She fumbled with the phone while racing over the pathway, its odd-sized rocks making her steps unsteady.

Until, pushing up with her thumb, and then a quick press — the phone’s light flashed on just as she reached the door.

She looked up.

And outside the pool of light, she saw someone standing there, staying back in the shadows.

Not Jack.

“And what … I wonder … are
you
up to?” The figure said.

Sarah hesitated a moment.

Unsure what to do.

Thinking:
what am I
doing
here?

Then, tentatively, as the person stepped out from behind the open door, she raised her light to see who was taking steps towards her …

*

Penlight out of his pocket, Jack pushed the splintery door open to the main Executioner’s room.

As he surveyed the area, spots on the wall still showed where the warnings had been painted, only cursorily scrubbed away by Oswald.

To the side, by the gallows, he saw one of the signs that had been draped on the dummy about to be killed.

Just tossed to the ground.

Done — Jack thought — with Oswald’s usual diligent attention to the property.

And Jack realised …
Oswald doesn’t care about any of this.

No.

Oswald was here for a different reason. Had to be.

It’s what Oswald had looked for … for so long, that hunt even getting him into trouble with the authorities as he dug and bulldozed his way around the place, looking for the lost treasure, his forebear’s doubloons that had simply vanished …

Jack raised the iPad to eye level.

With his other hand, one finger free to swipe … he made the laser-created layout rotate, first left, then right, as he followed those turns, doing the same movements standing there, turning his head one way, then the other, then—

He stopped.

Looked left, to where the curved back wall of the diorama ran flush to a section of stone wall that jutted out.

Eyes back on the iPad.

“Well … I’ll be—”

“Don’t. Move.”

The voice came from behind him.

And Jack well knew that when someone said those words it was generally good advice.

At least, until, you could think of something else to do.

*

For a moment, Jack didn’t recognise the voice.

Low, flat. Someone scared.

But he knew who it had to be.

“Okay. Um—”

Jack started to turn.

“I said … d-don’t move!”

“Right. Got it … Oswald. Just that I can talk to you a bit better if I turn around …?”

“Okay, slowly.”

Jack slowly turned, his arms up, one holding the iPad, the other, the light.

To see Oswald holding a shotgun pointed right at him.

Now that was a scary idea. A wobbly Oswald holding a shotgun aimed at him.

On his head, held in place by an elastic band, Oswald wore a lamp that now shone directly in Jack’s eyes.

“Hi, Oswald. You mind lowering the gun?”

“What are you doing here?”

“Oswald, the gun?”

Oswald nodded and lowered his shotgun.

“I wanted to check out some things, about all those threats the night the place was vandalised.”

Oswald didn’t seem happy with the direction of the conversation.

“Check out what exactly?”

“Oh, how easy it would be to get in here. From the outside.”

“And is it?”

Oswald seemed generally interested in the answer.

“In some ways yes, in other ways … no. But either way—” Jack smiled. “I don’t think anyone broke in.”

“Huh?”

Jack watched Oswald, the pieces of this weird story almost falling into place for him.

“You see, I—”

But then he heard voices coming from behind the splintery door, and the door opening.

And he saw Odysseus walk into the room steering Sarah in front of him.

*

Jack looked at Sarah, her eyes going immediately to Oswald and the now lowered gun.

For a moment, the four stood in the room quietly, small pools of light doing little to dispel the creepy gloominess of the room.

“She sneaking in too?” Oswald said.

“Jack — I saw a light. Wanted to warn you.”

Jack looked at Oswald’s son. He was standing straight but his eyes showed the watery after-effects of a night of weed.

If there was a time to get at the truth of this thing, now was it.

And Jack didn’t let on, that he had a surprise for all of them … once that was done.

*

“No worries, Sarah. Oswald here just thought I was an intruder.”

Odysseus took a step forward. “Isn’t that what you are? Breaking into Pa’s place?”

Jack turned to the bleary-eyed son. “He did ask for help. So shall I tell you what I think, thanks in good measure to Sarah’s work — and this.”

He raised the iPad up.

“I say, that’s a nice bit of kit,” said Odysseus, blinking.

“Why yes Odysseus, it is.”

That — finally made Sarah grin.

A dismal scene down here, Jack thought, but not without its humorous side.

“See … Sarah here learned about the lost treasure, right?”

Oswald pursed his lips.

Sarah nodded, smoothly picking up the cue. “And I saw that you — Oswald — got into trouble looking for it, digging, bulldozing—”

Odysseus spoke up again. “I told him it wouldn’t be out there, couldn’t be—”

Jack raised a hand cutting off the deep wisdom flowing from the addled son.

“Right. But then — where could it be, hmm? Has to exist, right?”

Finally, the smallest of nods from Oswald.

“And everyone wanting you to sell. Everyone. And yet you knew there was this incredible fortune right here. What to do …”

“Maybe … maybe you’d better go,” Oswald said.

“Oh, I think you may want me to talk for a just a bit more. See, once Sarah knew that, we had to think — what would a person do? When you
know
there is a lost treasure, and well — just the finding it is a little out of your skillset.”

“What’s that mean?” Odysseus asked.

We may lose Odysseus on this thread,
Jack thought.

No matter.

“You see, no one
broke
in down here. That door hasn’t been opened, with a key or any other way, in years. The padlock’s useless, would have fallen to the ground as soon as someone even touched it.”

“Then,” Oswald said quietly, “who did it?”

An almost sheepish tone to his voice.

“I’m guessing you heard about us, Sarah, me … solving mysteries, hmm?”

Odysseus smiled at that. “You were quite brilliant with that Roman thingummy. Didn’t I tell you, Pa, they’d be—”

“Ody!”

The son quieted.

“What if you could get us to solve
your
mystery?”

Jack felt Sarah’s eyes on him, this all making sense to her.

“We’ve been had?” she said, turning and looking right at Oswald.

“Invent imaginary vandals; have us learn everything we can about the castle, its history, the building …” Jack looked down at the iPad. “You did it all, Oswald, isn’t that right?”

Then from Jack’s right, mumbled words.

“No. Not right.”

Jack turned to Odysseus.

“You be quiet, Ody,” said Oswald, “you never know when to—”

“It was my idea first, if you really want to know.”

Jack nodded, knowing the whole story was about to come out.

“Of course. It was you who posted the letters,” said Jack.

“’s right,” said Odysseus. “Publicity stunt. Thought it might bring in a few more punters — you know?”

“So that night you were down from London, you came straight here after meeting Terry at the pub …”

“Exactly. Slipped into the house while Ma and Pa were having supper. Tippy-toed down to the dungeons, then got to work with the old red paint.”

He laughed as if he still thought it was the best joke ever, “Got a jolly good deal on pigs’ blood from a mate of Terry’s who works at Swenson’s Pig Farm!”

“Nearly gave me a heart attack when I saw it,” Oswald said. “Course, it didn’t take me long to work out Ody was the culprit.”

BOOK: Cherringham--The Secret of Combe Castle
4.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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