A torch snapped on above me, light rebounding off the grimy, mould-coated walls. There was a scuffle of footsteps, and suddenly, Inspector Simnova was behind me, coming up from his crouched landing position. Another plain-clothed policeman followed, he with the light, and we three looked around the concealed room.
It was a room of about the same size as my bedroom, empty, except for what looked like, in the poor light, a wooden cot bed. The walls were not mud, as I expected, but rough chunks of stone, the bricks declared this place to have once been a cellar- that, just as I suspected beforehand.
The room smelt. That was putting the stench of urine nicely, but it was obvious that this cave-room might have been used as a living space for a while. Now, however, it was as empty as the outside, it had been left solely for the flies and the insects.
The Inspector wandered across to the bed.
“Whoever was here cleared off pretty quickly, when they needed to,” he remarked.
I also wandered around the place, in my fashion, wrinkling my nose at the smell as I stepped over to the walls. Something wasn’t right. For one thing, this wall didn’t look quite right, as though something was out of place…yet, I could not pinpoint it thus far.
Inspector Simnova turned and spouted his Russian to the officer, who then vaulted out with incredible skill.
I was still at a wall. Tentatively, I touched the one furthest from the beam of clear air that highlighted our entrance and exit. The Inspector turned to me, and I could see that he was about to rejoin the outside world.
“Miss King, your idea was phenomenal, but I’m afraid we won’t find our culprit here.”
I didn’t respond. Still, something about the wall in front of me did not seem right. Picking up a loose block of stone that had fallen at my feet, I tapped one of the bricks forming the wall. Clunk, clunk. Moving along about a metre, I tapped again. Clonk, clonk.
Moving another metre, to where the length of one brick ended and the start of the new column started, I began my rhythmic tapping again, content to hear the ‘clunk, clunk’ once more.
Now, I dropped the spare brick, and, bracing the fear of getting my hands coated in slime (I’d left my gloves on the way above), I began to run them over the surface of this wall, from as high as I was able to reach of my head, to the filthy ground. Dirt tumbled off the bricks like rain would tumble to the sea, and three bricks in the line slid down under my heavy strokes. It was on those three that I suddenly focused my attention.
“Miss King?” the Inspector called.
One brick was easily wobbled out by me; another took a good tug, by reaching my sharp nails into the wall, filth collecting quickly; the third, close to the ground, I was able to nudge out with my foot. At this last movement, the wall gave a groan, and an archway of stones tumbled inwards one by one. It wasn’t a waterfall slipping in, but the wall split halfway, and the appearance of the bricks swinging inwards made the gloom look as though it was pouring in, swallowing the archway. It was a secret door!
“Of course!” the Inspector exclaimed. I turned to see him with one foot on an outward-jutting stone of the opposite wall, his surprised face rotated towards my discovery. “This must have been adapted from a bomb-shelter that we had under the houses of Moscow during the war.”
He translated that fact, or something close to it and our present situation, up to the officer.
“What are we waiting for?” I grinned. “Let’s see where it leads!”
The Inspector was passed his torch back down, and, in three strides, he had crossed to me and the newly-formed door.
The passage was dark, the torch cast our quick-paced shadows menacingly onto the wall. What was more, I had to put my hands up to the grime-coated walls once again, as the tunnel was narrow and low-ceilinged too.
Ever so often, every ten metres or so, we encountered another out-of-place part of the wall (from this side it was easy to tell what was brick and what was the compacted earth of the tunnel-walls), all of which I supposed were doors too. I tried them in passing, but, as well, as having no handles, the ‘doors’ were locked and jammed. On a closer inspection, I could see that they were, each one, blocked up with large, uncouth shards of brick, and even if they had been able open, I supposed that they opened from the other side.