XIX.2

In all fairness, the fifteen minutes we spent in the heated cab would have more than doubled had we continued the cold walk through the destination.

All arrogance gone, Richard was a pestering mouth. “So, where are we?”

I gazed up at the grubby building that lay beyond us. I’d always thought that there something special about this building. Where would be the most ironic place to hide someone in full view? Where was somewhere no police inspector would dare to think of looking? I was determined that Delaina and her brother’s misadventures were fully related. This place had as many hiding holes as the underground. Or more.

“Treyakov Galley. Russia’s biggest art galley.”

“Yeah, I see those filthy walls now. Why hide her here?”

I indicated the dark windows. “I listen, you see. Delaina’s birth mother said that she loved art. The murderer would love to hide Delaina so close to artwork, yet not let her touch it.

“So,” Richard paused, “you think he orchestrated the kidnapping, too? You think he has a sense of humour?”

“Most definitely,” I replied with much gusto. “I’m surprised I didn’t spot it beforehand. Look at me, I’m falling prey to that disease which grips most detectives at some point. I’m becoming thick.”

Richard braced his belt buckle. “Enough of that. Let’s go and free my love from her torment.”

Then, without waiting for my instructions, Richard sped towards the galley-front. He tried the door, which snapped open under the pressure. That American, always wanting a piece of the action, just like his brother.

“Hey! Wait for me!” I called as I dashed inside, metres behind him.

***

The gallery at night was a madness of darkened objects. What shapes had appeared obvious to me before were no more than vicious shadow creatures now, waiting to pounce on my unsuspecting self.

Richard lumbered on ahead; neither could he see where he was going, and he kept knocking into the darkness ahead.

“Careful,” I hissed. I jumped upon the set of light-switches I had spotted on my previous visit. Thank goodness for memory! The main exhibits illuminated in a burst of tangerine light; Richard was caught in a spotlight of one. He froze for a second before smiling.

“You haven’t a clue where you need to go,” I told him, making my way over to where he stood. 

“Does it matter? I’ll search every room if I need to.”

“Not efficient.”

“You do it, then!” he snapped, before giving me a sheepish look. “Sorry. You do have an idea for everything, Miss King. What’s your theory?”

I gave him one look, but we both knew that words were irrelevant. I grabbed Mr. Thomason by his soft hand and pulled him through the chain of rooms and various other exhibits, stopping merely to deal with the light switches. On the way, I explained what I had seen and the idea that had suddenly formed in my brain.

“The coffin is big enough to hold one short person, and, as you’ve probably seen, it’s nailed shut, so no one would accidentally knock it open. I presume that the artist meant to put some in for decoration, but that our…villain took that to their advantage and added a few, proper nails of their own.”

“That’s macabre!”

“I’m sorry.”

The mourner’s coffin sat regally on its pedestal exactly where my mother and I had left it. Its sinister side cackled at me, brought out by the evening light from a nearby window. Curiously, that window was open.

As I ducked under the rope-barrier, I felt Richard beside me. Shooting him a look, his face was almost grey-green in the light. We both shook from adrenalin…and everything else.

Richard’s hand fell onto my arm. “Be careful. It might have an alarm.”

I shook my head. “Something tells me we’re going to be okay. We’ve got this far, after all.”

Stepping forward, I took a deep breath and placed my hands onto the piece nervously; the weight change and no problem so far told me that we were probably safe. I frowned at how slippery the lid was, as if the nails had been forced before I did so. I couldn’t put my finger on what didn’t make sense here.

Richard gave me a look. Once I had made sure that the nails were loose (they were, all too easily), he put one hand on one of the coffin’s thick, steel swing-locks, and I did the same to the other.

We pulled together after a count. They flipped easily and opened off the lid. Pushing my lock aside and hearing Richard do the same, we gripped the lid and slid it away from its box.

I gazed inside. And gasped.

Nothing. For all our searching, Delaina was not hidden in a crevice of Tretyakov. I smacked a hand against my forehead, almost uttering my dismay out loud, too.

“Did you notice that those locks and nails had already been forced,” Richard said.

“I did,” I whispered. “That must be it that someone’s got here before us.”

Richard scratched his head. “Someone freed Del before us?”

“No, someone stole Del before we could free her. Recently. Tonight, I bet.”

It was then that a siren wailed through the gallery.

“Mr. Thomason,” I yelled over it. “Run!”

***

The End

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