Are You Haunted: part eleven
He put the light out, tucked the flashlight into his belt, patted the wall down to the floor, walking hand over hand along it, hating what he touched—but at all costs he could not get turned in circles. At a brisker pace, he moved back down the ramp, telling himself he couldn’t see the good of it. If Tovey brought down a flash camera, Powell conceded, he might obtain leverage. No newspaper would print such a picture, but the Drybrook trust might pay for the negatives. And any sum might be a lot to a Tovey…even a couple hundred bucks could be regarded as seed money—a toe, at least, in the water of some future scheme.
Slipping a hand in his trouser pocket, Powell fingered what he’d picked up. He was no judge of carat weights, but the diamond seemed to him fair-sized; it had glinted from the tunnel floor, just as his flashlight bulb had flared and dimmed, warning him the batteries were going. They’d missed it. The work had been too gruesome for such minute attention, or the diamond had, in the way of things, worked itself out of cover.
He hesitated, puzzling. He was certain he’d come up two ramps already.
One coming down, two up…or, not that exactly…he’d counted from the opposite way…two down and one up. Only he hadn’t in full consciousness counted at all; that he ought to have occurring to him just now, too late. He’d got distracted with his thoughts. Powell stalled, suddenly, realizing.
It made no sense that he’d missed the vent. He retraced his steps, hands searching near the tunnel ceiling, where the opening must be. He could not have been below ground for as much as an hour. The distance was not that great. The daylight ought to shine like a beacon.
Again reaching the bottom of the second ramp, he risked the weak beam of the flashlight, and saw the water’s perfect mirror quiver in response to a wave of impact, a truck passing overhead. One he hadn’t quite heard. Slowly, heel to toe, he walked back up. Pellet-sized objects crunched under his shoes. He squatted, and rolled a piece between his fingers. Here were bits of dirt and gravel, scattering the floor just at the wall’s edge. He’d fixed the position of the vent wrong in his memory. Not overhead, but pitched a degree or two inward from the side. Something was shutting out the light. He kept contact this time, drawing his fingers along the high part of the wall; then, troubled at finding it restored, touched at last the metal grid of the grate. He pushed his fingers through, and felt a covering layer of cold metal.
He tried anyway. He shoved with both hands, and all his strength, and gave up, finally, with a sort of wonder. They might have bolted the grate back into place. Powell considered the possibility of a well-intended mistake, and could not believe in it. Tovey had said he’d be gone for a minute. Two others had been speaking close by.
(copyright 2015, 2018 Stephanie Foster)