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Authors: Mike Crowl,Celia Crowl

Mumbersons and The Blood Secret, The (8 page)

BOOK: Mumbersons and The Blood Secret, The
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‘I know. That’s why I rescued you,’ said Olivia, without the least bit of modesty. ‘Come on, let’s look inside.’

 

Billy was puzzled that there weren’t any security guards around. His Dad told him there were always at least two on duty.

 

By the time he realised this Olivia had taken off again, sidling along the wall until she reached the front corner of the old building. She peered around by the steps, then signalled to Billy to follow. He raced after her. By the time he reached the front, she’d gone up the steps and through the revolving door. He followed her, feeling more and more nervous. He didn’t want to meet Lavitch, or Slaggard, or Ms Nordal. ‘What are we doing?’ he hissed.

 

‘We’re making a reconnaissance,’ said Olivia, without lowering her voice.

 

Billy didn’t think this was the time for long and fancy words, but he didn’t ask her what she meant. He guessed it was something to do with finding the clues she was after. He was more concerned about the loud way she spoke. He whispered, ‘Keep your voice down.’

 

Ignoring him, she peered up at the ceiling. ‘Where are the cameras?’ she asked after a moment.

 

Billy couldn’t see any either. ‘Maybe they’re a different kind. Ones that aren’t so obvious.’ Then he noticed a tiny flashing red light in the wall, and then another. He silently pointed them out to Olivia.

 

She frowned. ‘Are they alarms? That’s tricky.’ To Billy’s surprise, she got down on her hands and knees and headed towards one of the lights, then leaned up to see if she could work out what it was. ‘It’s all right,’ she whispered, after a moment. ‘They’re sensors. I think they set off alarms if anyone
walks
in front of them. We’ll crawl past and they won’t notice us.’

 

Billy breathed again. He’d had no idea what he thought he was going to do when he got to the Factory. He’d wanted to come back and prove...prove what? Prove to his Dad that he wasn’t lying, for one thing.

 

‘Come on! What are you waiting for?’ Olivia had gone on her hands and knees over to the staircase, a wonderful piece of carved and dark-stained woodwork that had been the admiration of visitors to the mansion in the old days. ‘Let’s go up and see what we can find!’ And she was off up the staircase on tiptoe
.

 

Billy felt stupid crawling along on his hands and knees, but he did it all the same. He reached the stairs and, standing up, came face to face with a large wooden carving at the end of the balustrade, a fearsome creature with a beak sitting on what appeared to be two snake-like tails. It looked him straight in the eye as though it was asking what he thought he was doing there.

 

Olivia was already up on the first landing, and was about to go further when they both heard a clatter of high heels coming along the corridor from the
Staff Only
area. Not one person, but several. At the same time, the little red sensors in the foyer flicked off.

 

‘Quick!’ she said. Billy raced up the stairs. There was an alcove to one side of the landing, a place with brightly-coloured stained glass in the upper windows, a place where people in the past would have sat and admired the view over what was now the car park. At both ends of the alcove were hidden corners, just big enough for a person to get out of sight of anyone on the stairs.

 

Which was fortunate, because as they each dashed into a corner, several women, all very similar in appearance, came out of the corridor and marched rhythmically up the stairs.

 

 

Chapter 8 - Spying on a meeting

 

The women’s high heels hit the wooden stairs with the sound of a score of hammers hammering nails into the floorboards. As the clatter reached the landing by the alcove, it seemed for a moment as if there was a break in the women’s stride, but it may have only been because they were turning up the next flight. The women marched on without uttering a word, then headed for the corridor above.

 

Billy and Olivia hadn’t breathed for at least a minute. Finally, Billy peeked out. The women had reached the top of the stairs. They turned left along another corridor.

 

‘We need to follow them!’ said Olivia, stepping out of the alcove.

 

‘We’ll be seen!’

 

‘We won’t know where they’re going if we don’t get a move on.’ Olivia tiptoed up the stairs, with Billy reluctantly following.

 

The women marched ahead of them until they reached a door halfway along the corridor. Billy thought he recognised the dark-haired woman from the previous night, but then he realised all the women looked much the same: all equally dark-haired and all wearing dark suits, some with trousers and some with skirts.

 

They entered the room in single file. As soon as they were inside and had shut the door behind them, Olivia rushed along the corridor, Billy close on her heels. Olivia stood with her ear up against the door that the women had gone through, and listened, but the door was too thick for her to hear anything.

 

Billy, however, had noticed that the door to the next room was wide open. He gritted his teeth and put his head inside. The room was empty. He waved to Olivia to join him.

 

The room had facilities for making tea and coffee. Three or four cracked leather lounge chairs were scattered about, along with two sofas with the stuffing coming out of them, their wooden arms showing round marks where hot cups had been placed. A coffee table with tattered and well out-of-date magazines on it stood near one of the sofas.

 

Billy hoped the women wouldn’t want to come in for a cup of tea.

 

The room turned out to have a connecting door to the one the women were in, and this was also solid. But next to that was a serving hatch, with a shutter that was pulled down to separate the two rooms off from each other. The shutter hadn’t been closed properly. The gap was small enough for Billy and Olivia to listen through. And to see through.

 

Peering through the slit they saw that the women had seated themselves at a large oval table; its polished wood reflected the early afternoon sun. A wide-mouthed white vase stood in the centre of the table holding thirteen blood-red roses on short stems. The thirteen chairs around the table were covered with a red plush material. Both the table and the chairs looked as if they might have once belonged to the original mansion.

 

Each of the thirteen women sat in silence, their hands folded on the table in front of them. Each of their faces had a long, sharp nose, thin lips with a deep red lipstick, and black eyes that somehow seemed capable of glancing in more than one direction at a time.

 

Meeting just one of these women had been scary enough for Billy. Thirteen of them together made him tremble. And how come there were thirteen? His Dad had only ever mentioned three.

 

No one spoke for at least two minutes. Finally one woman broke the long silence. From the enormous diamond ring she wore Billy felt sure it was Ms Nordal, the Triple W Sister he’d met last night. He shivered, and pointed her out to Olivia, who nodded.

 

‘Sisters,’ Ms Nordal said, ‘I am happy to confirm that the Factory is functioning exceptionally well, and continues to provide us with the most handsome profits.
Fabulous
profits
, to quote a former sister of ours.’ There was a ripple of laughter around the table, a sound like wine glasses being crushed.

 

‘However,’ Ms Nordal went on, ‘those fabulous profits are nothing - as you know - compared to what is hidden beneath this very building.’

 

To Billy and Olivia’s surprise, some of the women began to make a low growling noise, the sort of noise you hear when several dogs start to creep up on a stranger they think is threatening their territory.

 

One of the women leapt up from her chair. She seemed to grow taller as she stood. Her long diamond earrings not only caught the sun and blinded you, but jangled and knocked against her cheekbones with a sharp tapping sound. ‘Curse those who cursed it!’ she cried, flinging her arms wildly about her, in a way that didn’t at all suit her formal attire.

 

There was more growling around the table. Then almost all the other women jumped up as well, as though they’d been pulled out of their seats. Their shadows danced grotesquely on the wall opposite the windows. They seemed to be snarling at someone who wasn’t at their meeting.

 

Only Ms Nordal, and another woman who was plumper than any of the others, stayed seated, and silent. After the noise had gone on for some moments, the plump woman, who wore a diamond-studded collar that made her neck seem longer than was natural, lifted her hand high, and spoke. ‘Sisters. Take your seats.’ The women gradually sat, some still muttering.

 

But the one who’d started all the shouting remained standing, as though she refused to be told what to do. She stared wildly at Ms Nordal, who ignored her.

 

‘Ligula, please sit,’ said the plump woman. ‘We must remain calm - as we have for a very long time.’

 

‘For too long, Metabola!’ snapped Ligula, her earrings flying around her head as though they wanted to beat their owner into submission.

 

Metabola, the plump woman, spoke quietly as more muttering went on around the table. ‘Yes, I know it has been an extraordinarily long time. But that time is almost over. And then our continuing patience will be rewarded.’

 


When
we get the Blood!’ interrupted Ligula, waving her arms jaggedly in the air. ‘The Blood!’ she shouted, baring her teeth at Ms Nordal.

 

Billy felt sick: he was sure it was
his
blood they were talking about.

 

Ms Nordal turned her eyes to Ligula, and said, in a voice that cut the air in chunks, ‘I have already reported to you that there was another child here last night. That child interrupted us, and the boy escaped. It was not the fault of my menials.’

 

Ligula sneered. ‘You should not have entrusted the task to those drones!’

 

‘Slaggard is a fool!’ shouted another woman, who had an enormous hairpin holding her hair so tightly across her scalp it seemed to be pulling it out by the roots.

 

Ms Nordal struck the table with her fist. ‘I will not be shouted at in front of my own Sisters!’ The table, which had seemed to be as solid as a rock, shuddered between the women like a pool of disturbed water. 'Slaggard did exactly as he was required at the barber’s. He took enough blood to allow us to do the test.’

 

‘And the test worked,’ said Metabola, seemingly undisturbed by the anger swirling around the table.

 

‘But we didn’t get the rest of the blood, Venska,’ said Ligula to Ms Nordal. ‘Unless you are lying, and have hidden the blood from us.’

 

‘What are you accusing me of?’ said Ms Nordal, her face flushed.

 

Ligula leaned forward on her jagged arms and, without any warning, spat at Ms Nordal. The other women hissed, though whether it was at Ligula or Nordal Billy couldn’t tell. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Olivia shudder.

 

Ms Nordal’s face warped into a look of absolute hatred. ‘You
spit
at me?’ she said. ‘You challenge me? I will
not
forget.’ A buzzing sound went round the table like a faraway chainsaw cutting down trees.

 

Olivia looked afraid. It was the first time Billy had ever seen her afraid.

 

Metabola, who continued to remain calm in spite of Ligula’s bad behaviour, drew her neck up and revealed yet another layer of diamonds on her collar. ‘Sisters. We must not allow friction between us to upset our plans. As long as we keep our heads we will succeed. Remember, it’s only a very little time before the...’ She began to say a word beginning with
tre
, but stopped herself. ‘I needn’t say
what
will be ours,’ she continued after her hesitation. ‘You all know it.’ The women glared at her with fierce eyes, as though she had almost given away a secret.
‘We will have it once more - as soon as the blood is ready - and no one will ever take it away from us again!’

 

‘Then
get
the blood, Venska!’ screeched Ligula.

 

‘We don’t have it yet!’ said Nordal, her look increasing in hatred towards Ligula, to the point where it seemed as though she might leap up and strangle her.

 

Several of the women jumped up and chanted, ‘The Blood,’ over and over. The noise was so harsh the two children blocked their ears.

 

Venska Nordal stood up. It was as if a darkness hovered around her, like a black rain cloud on a sunny day. She reached into her sleeve, and...

 

To Billy and Olivia’s surprise, Metabola raised her hand. Somehow the mere raising of her hand was strong enough not only to quieten the room but to calm all the ugly tempers. Somehow she’d brought a blanket down on all the noise and anger, and muffled it. She smiled. ‘Time for some tea!’

 

The other women turned to each other and said, ‘Tea, let’s have some tea.’ The pack of wolves had turned into sweet, gentle, polite grandmothers. The horrible caterwauling was over.

 

But Billy was horrified. They’d be coming through the connecting door into the room where he and Olivia were hiding, and would see them. ‘Quick, into one of the cupboards!’ he whispered, but the cupboards were locked or full of cups and other crockery. They looked around in panic. Could they get to the door in time, without being noticed? Were they going to have to race out of the building - Billy for the second time - being chased again by people who wanted his blood?

 

They were about to give up in despair they heard an unfamiliar voice from the other room chortle, ‘Tea?
Tea?
What kind of a drink is that for a celebration? We’re on the verge of victory. We’re about to defeat our old foes - at last! - and you want to celebrate with
tea?

BOOK: Mumbersons and The Blood Secret, The
2.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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