I lowered my voice to explain what came to me as a simple plan: we’d just need to sneak in unobserved. I didn’t care how, even if it was necessary to bend light away from our persons. After a minute, I lifted myself out of the slippery leather seating.
“Thank you, driver,” I whispered, handing him a bunch of kronar I had acquired from my mother.
The night was deep and pensive above us; no lights but that of the vehicle beamed out, and those few stars were illusive pinpricks. Richard and I crept amongst the darkness, tiptoeing towards Karkroff Hall. Slipping around the side, catching nobody in our sights, we weaved in and out of the rose bushes, and headed down that block of worn stone steps to the cellar.
I almost greeted it out loud, before holding up a hand to stop Richard progressing further. He lifted a finger to his lips, trying to pace himself, and made a searching motion with his hand. Right. I shot my eyes around the cavernous dark; it was clear that we were the only ones to have entered.
Richard glared in my direction. “We didn’t see them leave.”
“Mmm. So one must be hiding in the grounds. Yes?”
I sought out my phone. “The other is hidden here.” I set the torch function to a middling beam, and frowned at the rounded stone walls once more.
“Wait,” Richard mused. “There’s a secret cellar over here somewhere. Mr. Karkroff and I kept it as his private store for gin.”
I spun on his tiptoes. “And you didn’t think to tell me when we were down here before?”
In the dim light, I saw Richard rub his forehead. “I forgot. I didn’t think it was relevant, really. We were looking for tunnels before. But I’m sure than the gin-store is big enough for two men and two racks of bottles alone. To curve its cave further would be to chip into the Hall’s foundations. Mr. Karkroff told me that he could never take that risk on his property.”
I kept silent, lifting my makeshift torch. Richard began tapping the stones as he went around the cellar. It sounded as if he was muttering to himself, too.
“Care to share?” I called, advancing.
“No, just thinking where I last saw it.” He made his tapping way around to the back of the cellar, dusting off the edges of wine-bottles. It was then that I realised names were his muttering.
“Sauvignon Blanc 2003. Ah….”
He had made it to the back of the circular cellar, to that area where there was the indented alcove. Richard paused meaningfully, eyes souring over the bottle. He popped the cab open and fingered a tiny key hidden there. He skipped over to the alcove, caressing a couple of the higher bricks. With a click, they popped open, as if on springs. He pushed them down to show the keyhole behind, into which he slipped the silver key and turned.
A rumbling echoed from within the wall. Two more bricks appeared to tumble away, revealing a switch panel concealed behind.
“I had almost forgotten….”
Richard gripped the panel and his dexterous fingers flitted over the switch. On. With a second rumble, the wall rotated 180 degrees and sunk into the hollow stone around it.
“That’s a lot of effort for gin,” I said, nearing.
“Secret gin,” muttered Richard, distracted by the opening doorway.
We stepped into the alcove. I held my torch up high.
This time, my gasp was worth something.
There was a young Russian girl, her shoulder-length hair another blonde beacon, strapped to the wooden bench in the middle of the miniscule room (it hardly was worth the title ‘room’) by a wide leather belt. Her blue eyes were large and wide, dilated by time in the dark, her mouth was shut by some wad of rough, smelly black cloth.
“Delaina!” cried Richard, running the short distance to her. He worked, pulling at the strap on the masculine belt, all the time crooning a whispered undertone of light to the eyes that frantically followed him.
Barging past Mr. Thomason, whilst also trying to help them both, I pulled the gag of the frightened woman.
“Who did this to you?” I asked quickly as Mr. Thomason continued fidgeting behind me.
Trembling, she pointed at the revealed door. Her accent was that of thick Russian, spread with uneducated English.
“He in politics. His name Sterinsky. Vladimere Sterinsky.”