“As I recollect, as Peter mentioned earlier, he was also on Hitler’s,” said Efram.
“Dad,” Peter said. “Will you start being more positive?“ He sighed. “How many more times?”
“I was just saying.” He jerked a thumb at me. “He started down the Bob Dylan route, not me.”
“Was I really this bad?” I asked the two of them.
“Yes,” they said in unison.
“Well, enough – from all of us. Let’s just do what we have to do. No more negativity. Agreed?”
“I’m with the programme,” said Peter.
“What about you, Porthos – are you with the programme?” I asked Efram.
“Stop being so stupid and shine that torch back down this tunnel, will you?”
I smiled and did as I was told. For a while we trudged on in silence. I started to think about Jan and Hannah and when Drake would decide to make his move. The thought terrified me. Unfortunately, more thoughts raced into my mind and I had to usher them out and close the door. This was not the time to be thinking about what would happen if we didn’t stop the bastard. We had to stop him.
The torch had become dimmer over the past five minutes or so and I prayed it would get us to our destination, without failing completely. If not, we were in the dark; there would be nothing we could do about it.
“I don’t suppose you’ve got any spare batteries, have you?” Efram whispered in my ear. I hadn’t noticed him sidling up beside me and he made me jump.
“They’re rechargeable,” I said with a wink. “We’ll be able to recharge them when we get to the rectory. I’m sure Simon won’t mind.”
I could hear Peter sniggering, but Efram wasn’t amused.
“It was a simple question. We’ll be floundering about in the dark soon.”
“If my calculations are correct,” I said. “We should reach base with twenty seconds to spare.”
Efram made a ‘harrumph’ sound. “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit,” he said.
“We can’t be that far away now – really,” I said.
“No, we’re nearly there,” said Peter excitedly.
The scene revealed by the diminishing beam gave nothing away.
“You can feel something?” I asked.
“It’s definitely up ahead,” he said slowly. Although I couldn’t see his face, by his tone, I imagined his brow to be furrowed.
“I think it’s very well protected,” he said. “Sorry.”
I reached out and patted him on the back. “All that matters is that we’re on the right track, and you, have nothing to be sorry for. You’re a role model to both of us.” I nudged Efram.
“I’m enormously proud of you, son. Enormously proud, indeed.”
The drips from the roof of the tunnel had ceased and the temperature had taken an upward turn. I took this to mean we were walking beneath the earth instead of the sea. The air seemed thicker and I knew we weren’t far away from Drake’s lair.
“I think this definitely leads to the rectory,” I said, more to myself than either of the others.
“We’re almost there,” Peter confirmed.
“I don’t suppose either of you has a plan?” Efram asked.
“We just play it by ear,” I said with a shrug. “We don’t know where we’re going to enter Chanter House, or what we’re going to find when we do. We can’t plan for the unknown.”
“We need to get in there, find the last piece of our jigsaw and get out,” said Peter.
I shone the torch towards Efram. I could see he was about to say something that would be neither helpful, nor positive. I drew my finger and thumb across my lips and gave him a meaningful stare. He closed his mouth and nodded slowly.
When I shone the torch back to the tunnel, it appeared to be better maintained than the leaky stretch we’d already travelled. I wondered if Drake used it much. I had decided, there was no doubt, he must know about it.
The cavern had been, more or less, straight from the island. Now it took a sharp turn and inclined upward.
“I think we’re on the home stretch,” I said quietly. I looked at Peter. He nodded.
I could see the fear in his eyes and thought, it was probably reflected in my own. I patted him on the shoulder and tried to smile. I couldn’t recall a time in my entire life when I had felt less like smiling. Nevertheless, I managed a fair impression.
“Is that a door?” Efram asked suddenly.
I peered up ahead and, sure enough, a large, oak door stretched across the tunnel.
We all started to walk slowly, listening hard. Caution was the name of the game, from now on. We reached the door and I put my ear to the wood. At that moment, I’m sure we were all holding our breath. I could hear nothing.
“It probably leads into the cellar,” I whispered.
“That would make sense,” Efram agreed.
There was a round, rusted, iron handle with a keyhole below it. My heart sank. What if it was locked? As if reading my mind Peter said softly.
“It won’t be locked, will it? I mean, why would he lock it? That would be ridiculous.”
“There’s only one way to find out,” I said.
I turned the handle and the door swung inwards easily and noiselessly.
Instinctively, we all took a step back, our communal sharp intake of breath, held. Peter’s warning about ‘it’ being well protected was foremost in my mind.
There was no light. I stood for a few minutes - or it seemed that long – listening. My thumb hovered over the nub that activated the torch. My fight or flight response was veering towards flight again, I’m afraid. I closed my eyes for a moment or two, steadied my breathing and pressed the button.
“That’s a lot of wine,” Efram whispered.
He wasn’t wrong. The cellar – or should I say, wine cellar – was well stocked indeed. Many of the bottles were covered in cobwebs, and I felt Efram cringe, as a spider, resembling a normal house variety, dropped from one of the racks and scuttled across the floor.
“I can’t help it,” he said apologetically. “My mother was terrified of the little buggers. I guess she passed it on.” He shook his head. “I mean, why does anything need that many legs?”
I swung the fading beam across the cellar, having to move forward to follow the dwindling light. It seemed, apart from a few manageable arachnids and numerous bottles of Chanter’s Hide’s best wine, we were alone.
“I don’t suppose it’s in here?” I asked Peter.
“Afraid not,” he said.
“I think there’s a flight of stairs over there,” said Efram.
I shone the torch over again. “Try to curb your enthusiasm,” I said, feeling as much trepidation as he did. “On......”
“Do not say it,” Efram said.
“I think you should go first, Ben,” Peter said.
His confidence in me was heart-warming. How I wished I had similar faith.
“Well, if nobody’s fighting me for it – here goes.”
Luckily, due to the age of the building, the steps were stone. I began the ascent gingerly, my heart thumping like it was going out of date.
At the top of the stairs, another door barred the way. I stopped and breathed a sigh of relief.
Peter was already at my back. “Is it locked?”
I had to muster every ounce of courage I possessed to put my hand on the handle. Before turning it, I put my ear to the wood – nothing.
“Do you think they’re waiting for us?” I asked.
“If they are, we aren’t inundated with options,” Peter pointed out.
“Can you hear anything?” Efram asked.
I told him I couldn’t.
“I think you’d better open the door then,” he said, “standing here in the dark isn’t going to get us very far, is it?”
“At least we’re still alive,” I said.
“Are you telling me – you want to run away?”
I turned the handle.
I’ve heard the phrase – time seemed to stand still – so many times, and thought, you know – cut the drama. Time never stands still; its passage is unerring. It appears to pass more quickly when enjoyment is involved and drags when boredom throws over its tedious blanket. That, however, is down to the amount of times the clock is perused. If I’m having a rare, old time, I seldom check my watch; if I’m bored out of my skull, I’m there every three or four minutes. Maybe I’m beginning to disprove my original theory. If time can appear to go quicker or slower, why can it not seem to stop. I was mentally rambling, not wanting to push that door.
“Is it locked?” Efram asked. I think I detected hope in his tone.
I pushed gently and it opened, again without a sound. I slowly put my head around the edge. On my left was the front door. Memories came flooding back. Although I was putting on a brave face on my second visit to Chanter House, inside, I was more terrified than the first time. I looked down the hall and listened carefully. I could hear muffled voices, but they came from the rear of the house – probably the kitchen. Even so, my heart sank. I suppose I’d always hoped that the place would be empty. I turned back to Efram.
“They’re here,” I whispered, “In the kitchen, I think.”
Efram ushered me on. I don’t know if he was eager to get to it, or just keen to get away from the spiders in the cellar.
“Be careful, Ben,” Peter said, behind him. I held up a thumb/index finger circle and stepped into the hall. Within seconds the three of us were standing in Drake’s hallway. I pushed the cellar door shut, and we stood, for a few moments, listening. I could make out Drake’s and Shona’s voices and assumed they were alone. Then my heart turned to ice. I heard Jan’s voice. It sounded all dreamy – like she’d been drugged.
“He’s got Jan,” I said, and lurched forward. Efram grabbed my arm.
“Don’t,” he whispered in my ear. “You’ll be playing into his hands.”
“They’re safe, until he takes them to the island,” Peter said quietly. “We have to do what we came to do, otherwise we’ll be no help to Jan anyway. Please Ben: I know it’s hard, but we have no choice.”
I was shaking as I looked them both in the eye, knowing they were right but still wanting to charge in and rip the bastard limb from limb. Only I knew, it wouldn’t go that way. If that were possible, I’d have done it days ago.
“Who’s that?” Efram asked.
Another voice, weak with either fear or narcotics said, ’We’re ready, Simon.”
“That’s Hannah,” I said flatly. “She’s due about the same time as Jan.” I felt as if my whole world had come crashing down. “He’s one step ahead, all the time.”
“Maybe he thinks he is,” Peter said. “We can’t give up now. Come on Ben, you’ve got to fight for your wife and child. We just have to focus. Okay?”