High Rhymes and Misdemeanors (20 page)

BOOK: High Rhymes and Misdemeanors
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“Here now, Charlie,” a woman’s voice said. “You’re taking a hell of a risk coming back here. Suppose someone recognizes you?”

“No one’s going to recognize me. Not after all these years.” Grace had opened her mouth to call hello, but she knew that voice, the man’s voice.

“Don’t lose your nerve, Anna.”

For a moment she stood motionless, unbelieving. The man in the dog mask. Sid’s partner.

It was a small world after all. And getting increasingly smaller.

The bells rang again. Grace turned.

“ ’Ello, ’ello,” said Sid. He reached up and turned out the lights.

“You can’t leave her here!”

“It’s just for a few hours. We’ll get the van—”

“And suppose she wakes up and starts yelling her head off?”

“She’s out cold.”

“Well, she’ll wake up, won’t she? He hasn’t killed her, has he? And then what?”

“Just leave it to Sid.”

· · ·

Grace opened her eyes.

Even that little movement hurt. She closed them again.

A while later—time seemed to have lost meaning—she tried again. She seemed to be lying in a dungeon. Cobwebs drifted gently over her head. She was lying on something very hard. Hard as stone. And cold. The floor.

Now why would that be?

Vaguely she recalled a long feverish dream about a fortune-teller who was wearing the most beautiful hat with jade green leaves edged in silver, and then a tower had fallen on her …

Grace groaned.

The sound alarmed her. It also alarmed something in the darkness with her. She heard it scampering away. A mouse perhaps. Or something bigger. A rat.

Best not to think about that.

She had to be quiet. She couldn’t let them know …

Why? And what was it they couldn’t know?

It was all fuzzy.

She remembered then. She had walked into the fortune-teller’s shop. A blue lacquered door … Then Sid Hall had hit her with a lead pipe. Mr. Hall in the shop with the lead pipe. Like
Clue
.

Grace drifted.

Sid was coming back
.

Grace’s eyes flew open. Things were coming back into focus. She had to get out of here. Wherever “here” was. She had to get out before Sid came back with the van.

Slowly, cautiously, she sat up. Her head hurt … indescribably. Her neck and shoulders hurt, too. The room did a wide spin and Grace hung on to the floor to keep her balance.

When it stopped spinning, Grace got up and staggered over to the nearest thing she could lean on. That was the wall. She leaned on it for a while and then, her eyes picking out shape in the gloom, zigzagged to the door.

Leaning against the door, she listened intently. Though she couldn’t hear anything, she could see a thin band of light shining beneath the door. That made sense. They wouldn’t leave her alone in the shop.

Resisting the temptation to lie down on the floor again, she felt around for a light switch. There was one by the door and she turned it on. Wincing at the too-bright light, she looked around. She saw that there was another door, probably a garden entrance. There was some kind of a pet door set in the door.

She wove her way to the second door. It was locked of course. She squatted down and checked out the pet door.

It had been nailed shut.

That seemed to be that. Grace sat the rest of the way down and leaned against the door and closed her eyes. It was better that way. She could think. While she was thinking it occurred to her that a basement probably had tools. That was reasonable, right? She pried her eyes open and looked around the hellishly bright room.

There was a workbench at the other end of the basement. Why did these things always have to be on the other side of the room? She pushed off from the wall and staggered to the workbench. Rummaging through the drawers she found more nails, rivets, measuring tape, glue—and then noticed the hammer was hanging on the wall.

She ran back, sliding into place beside the door like a baseball player sliding onto home plate, aches and pains momentarily forgotten in the panic to escape. Desperately, she pried at the nails with the hammer. It wasn’t easy. She dug and gouged at the wood, tearing her fingernails in the process. But at last she had the nails out.

The pet door swung free.

And Grace wondered what the hell she had been thinking because there was no way on earth she could fit through that opening.

She tried though. She tried long and hard, fitting one leg and then withdrawing and trying to go arm first. Then head first.

At last she conceded defeat. She rested her aching head on her knees and tried to think. Her peek out the pet door had informed her that it was night. Late. The village of Innisdale was sleeping peacefully. She wished she were. She wished it were all a dream.

Grace raised her head and inspected her prison once more. She could try to start a fire but the odds were she would die of smoke inhalation before she could get free.

That’s when she noticed the saw that was hanging right next to where the hammer had been. There really seemed to be something the matter with her head tonight.

Rising, she lurched over to the wall, played tug-of-war with the saw, tottered back to the door and began sawing at the pet door, trying to make it wider.

She sawed and hacked and sliced and trimmed.

She began to laugh hysterically. How could her captors not hear this racket?

Grace bit her lip and sawed some more and at last had splintered and carved the wood enough that she thought she could kick through.

She kicked hard and her legs were out. Wriggling on through, her braid caught in the jagged wood. As Grace reached up to free herself, the basement door flew open.

“Charlie!” shrieked a woman. “She’s getting away!”

Encouraged by this overstatement of the situation, Grace yanked her hair free and shoved the rest of the way out the broken door.

She found herself in a little yard with a high fence. Too high to jump.

Her captors were slamming against the locked back door.

“Go round, Charlie!” yelled the woman.

Grace dragged a chaise lounge over to the fence, climbed onto it, pulled herself up clumsily. She balanced briefly on top of the fence and then jumped down into the alley. As her feet touched ground a now familiar black van pulled up.

Grace froze, caught in the van’s headlights. Then the van accelerated forward. Grace whirled and ran.

The van breathed hotly down her neck as she fled. He was going to mow her down, it seemed. Desperately, she looked for something to dodge behind, a doorway, another alley, something, anything.

She ducked around the first corner, and before her lay an empty field.

Beyond the fields was a stream, shining in the moonlight, and beyond the stream stretched the woods.

Grace made for the woods. Running across the open field left her exposed, but the boulders and ditches would be difficult to drive across. She heard the slam of a van door and knew Sid was coming after her on foot.

Reaching the embankment, Grace half fell, half slid her way down the slope to the water’s edge. Looking up through the reeds and brush she could see Sid prowling along the embankment searching for her.

She lay very still, not daring to move, afraid to breathe. Her head was pounding, she was sweating, she felt like throwing up. With my luck I have a concussion, she reflected dimly. Or maybe she was having a heart attack after all that exertion and her recent diet. If Sid and Charlie found her, it would all be over anyway.

Sid would have run her down. She had no doubt about that. Grace wondered if he would hear her teeth chattering from where he stood. He seemed to be taking a long time.

As she watched, he turned.

“Bring the van around. Tell Anna to watch the field. She may try to cut back to the village.”

“Do you see her?”

“No, but she’s down there.”

Grace considered her options. She was cut off from the safety of the village and she couldn’t get across the streambed without being seen. Her only chance was to scoot along the bank until she reached the bridge several yards down. The bridge would offer enough concealment for her to cross into the woods—that was her theory anyway.

Of course this was the wrong direction from the one she needed to go. She ought to be heading for phones and people. Craddock House lay on the other side of the woods, but it was at least ten miles away. She didn’t think she was in any shape to run ten miles. Or even crawl ten miles.

Although she did seem to be crawling now … slowly and painfully.

Grace looked up and Sid was farther down the stream. He was expecting her to do the rational thing and head for the road, but since she couldn’t get to the road without being spotted, she would continue to make like an inchworm for the bridge.

It took at least an hour. It felt like it took half her life—and at one point she realized she had dozed off. She woke chilled and alarmed and began crawling toward the bridge again.

At last she reached the bridge. This was the tricky part—all things being relative. Cautiously Grace waded out. The water was only up to her shins and the current was not strong. She splashed across to the other side as quietly as was possible.

She hadn’t seen or heard Sid and Company for some time. That didn’t mean they weren’t out there.

Reaching the other side of the stream, she scrambled up the hillside, climbed over a stone wall and crept into the woods. Collapsing in the dead leaves and pine needles, she rested for a bit. After an indeterminate time she rolled over and spat out the moldering bark. Through the lacework of leaves she could see a black night void of stars.

It was torture to have to keep moving, but Grace pushed up and began to creep through the undergrowth.

She thought she was going in the right direction, but she wasn’t sure. Nothing looked familiar from this side of the road. The road itself was empty and silent. She walked on, no longer bothering to be quiet. She’d lost them somehow. Perhaps they were still waiting for her on the other side of the bridge.

At last a car came along, headlights sweeping the deserted road.

Grace stumbled out of the brush and into the road, waving her arms wildly.

The MG swerved widely and braked. The driver’s window rolled down.

She couldn’t see the driver’s face but a familiar voice called out, “Miss Hollister? Is that you?”

Grace stumbled up to the Honorable Al’s car and leaned against it. It was a small car. A toy car. A fashion accessory of a car. Grace grabbed at her straying wits. “Can you help me? Can you give me a ride to Peter’s?”

“Yes, of course.” Al’s face was unreadable in the gloom. “I can do better than that. I’ll take you to Auntie’s.”

“Peter’s will be fine.”

Al reached across and opened the door. Grace came round and half fell into the car.

The hot air jetted out of the heater. It felt wonderful.

“Peter’s gone,” Al informed her. “Didn’t you know?” Her features looked sharp and greenish in the glow of the dash lights.

“Gone?” Grace couldn’t seem to take it in. “Gone where?” She tried to focus on Al’s fuzzy features.

Al shrugged. “I don’t know. I stopped by there this evening but he was gone. The shop is boarded up.” She said sympathetically, “You do look a fright. There are twigs in your hair. What in the world has been happening?”

The shop was boarded up? Foggily, Grace knew there was something about this that she needed to explain to Allegra. It was so hard to think. She dropped her head back on the seat and mumbled, “It’s … complicated.”

“So many things are, aren’t they? Let me take you to Auntie’s and we’ll call the police, shall we?”

Grace considered this from an increasing distance. “I feel … bloody.” She informed Al.

“Oh dear,” Al murmured.

When Grace opened her eyes she found herself in a strange bed in a moonlit room. Tall bed posts loomed over her, casting their shadows across the brocade duvet.

As her eyes adjusted to the darkness she sort of remembered Allegra saying she would drive her to Lady Vee’s. Grace sat up and felt her way across the carpeted floor to a door.

Tentatively, she turned the handle.

The door was locked.

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