The Reckoning / Page 27

Page 27


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While Simon helped Derek gather food and blankets, I went outside and called Liz.


“I need to know if you can get in the attic,” I said.


“I’m one step ahead of you. I can get on the roof, in the attic, and kind of in the basement, but not so well.”


I told her about our plans for Derek.


“You want me to keep him company?” She grinned. “We can play tic-tac-toe in the dust.” She saw my expression and stopped smiling. “That’s not what you need, is it?”


“I’m worried about him. He’s not very good at looking after himself.”


“And he could use a poltergeist bodyguard?”


I nodded. “Take care of him for me. Please.”


“I will.”


Next we released Andrew. We told him that Derek had decided it was safer for everyone if he left. We’d tried to stop him, but he’d snuck off into the woods, where he was presumably going to hide until he found a way to get off the property.


We didn’t tell Andrew that we planned to find a way off the property, too. As far as he knew, we were going along with his plans.


Margaret showed up while we were having breakfast, and we discovered another advantage to Derek’s disappearance-it gave us an excuse for being anxious and quiet.


As we were finishing, the doorbell rang. All three of us jumped, Simon dropping his spoon into the bowl with a clatter.


“I guess Derek wouldn’t be ringing the bell, huh?” I said.


“He might.” Simon pushed back his chair. “I’ll answer.”


I knew what he was thinking-hoping. That it was his dad. The chances of Mr. Bae ringing a bell at a house where his sons might be captives seemed pretty remote, but I followed, if only as an excuse to get away from Andrew and Margaret.


I got to the door as Simon was swinging it open. There stood Gwen.


“Hey, guys,” she said with a strained smile. She held up a box. “No donuts this time-I learned my lesson-but I brought some amazing muffins. You can eat those, right?”


“Uh, sure,” Simon said.


Simon backed up to let her in. He shot a glance at me, a clear What’s she doing here?


“Andrew’s b-been trying to get in touch with you,” I said.


“I know. Work. You know how it is.” A forced laugh. “No, I guess you don’t, lucky kids. Enjoy it while you can because the truth is”-she leaned over and whispered-“grown-up life sucks. But I’m here now and ready for action. Andrew’s message said we’re leaving for Buffalo today.”


I nodded.


“Great. I’m just in time, then. Come on in and let’s chow down on these muffins. They are amazing.”


When we showed Gwen into the kitchen, I tried to gauge Andrew’s and Margaret’s reaction. Both seemed surprised. For Andrew, it was pleasant surprise. For Margaret, not so much. She didn’t seem angry, just annoyed at the flighty girl zipping in and out at whim.


They adjourned to the living room. The three of us made excuses and took off.


“She’s lying,” Tori said. “I don’t care how ditzy she is, no one ignores a half dozen urgent calls, then sails in with blueberry muffins.”


“Russell sent her to spy,” Simon said. “He’s up to something.”


“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “Whatever their scheme, we’ll be gone soon enough. Just keep an eye on her until then. I’m going to send Liz out looking for escape routes.”


Thirty-eight


I WAS NEARING THE stairs when Simon hailed me.


“Can you give something to Derek?” he whispered.


“It’s in my room.”


We went up. He pulled his bag from its hiding place, took out his sketch pad, folded a page in quarters, and handed it to me.


“Give him that. And tell him it’s okay.”


“Okay?”


Simon’s gaze dropped and he shrugged. “He’ll understand.” After a moment’s pause, he looked up again and forced a smile. “Now let’s do this and get out of here.”


Simon walked me to the stairs leading to the attic and roof.


“Chloe? Simon?” It was Margaret, downstairs.


Simon swore. He glanced at me.


“Can you go?” I said. “I really need to send Liz out or we’ll never get away.”


He nodded. I slid into the nearest room and shut the door as he called, “Right here!”


“I need to speak to you two.”


Margaret’s pumps clicked up the stairs underscored by the thump of Simon’s feet, running toward her. I leaned against the door to listen.


“Have you seen Chloe?” she asked.


“Mmm, no,” Simon said. “She was trying to find a quiet place to do some writing. Did you check the sunroom, around back? She likes-”


“I’ll look. I need you to go to the basement and help Tori bring up extra chairs for lunch.”


“Lunch? We just had breakfast. And we have plenty of chairs-”


“No, we don’t. The rest of the group is arriving to make final preparations. Andrew’s gone to the airport to pick them up, so I need you kids to help with the chairs.”


“Tori can handle-”


“I asked you, Simon.”


“All right,” Simon said, raising his voice to be sure I heard. “I’ll get the chairs from the basement. I wouldn’t bother Chloe with it, though. Those chairs are bigger than she is.”


Margaret sent him on his way, saying she’d be right down to supervise. Simon’s sneakers pounded down the steps. Then Margaret called Gwen, who answered from downstairs.


“I need to speak to Chloe,” Margaret said when Gwen got there. “I brought a necromancy book for her. Simon said she’s up here. You look at the front of the house, and I’ll take the back.”


Simon had said I was probably in the sunroom…on the main level.


I looked down at the door handle. There was a lock, with an old-fashioned key on the inside. I turned it as slowly as I could.


I glanced around. I was in one of the unused bedrooms. There weren’t any closets, but the wardrobe across the room looked big enough to hold me. As I stepped toward it, my sneakers squeaked. I considered pulling them off, but the floor was filthy, and it’d be just my luck to step on a rusty thumbtack and yelp loud enough to bring everyone running.


I picked my way across the room. I was halfway to the wardrobe when a thump stopped me midstride. I looked up. Derek?


I listened. Silence. I took another slow step. Then another.


“Chloe?”


It was Gwen’s voice, a stage whisper from just outside the door. I froze.


“Chloe? Are you up here?” Then lower, under her breath. “Please, be up here. Please.”


I looked at the wardrobe. It was too far for a silent dash.


“Chloe? I know you’re here.”


I looked around. There was a huge dresser beside me, draped in a sheet. I backed up alongside it and crouched.


The door is locked, silly. She can’t get in.


I didn’t care. If I was found hiding in a locked room, they’d be suspicious, and we couldn’t afford that. I should have just gone with Simon.


“Please, Chloe.” Her voice sounded like she was inside the room.


You’re imagining things.


“Why did I come back?” Gwen whispered. “What was I thinking?” Then, louder, “There you are. Thank God.”


My heart slammed into my ribs. I looked at the dresser, but I was completely concealed, the sheet right down to the floor, hiding even my feet.


She’s bluffing. She can’t see you. She can’t possibly-


Gwen stepped in front of me, her short hair wild around her pale face, makeup streaked, eyes huge.


“Come on, Chloe. Quickly!”


I rose. “I-I was l-looking for-”


“It doesn’t matter. You need to find Simon and Tori. Do you know where they are?”


“In the basement, but-”


“Hurry!” She reached for me, then stopped short, and pulled back. “You have to warn them.”


“About what?”


She shook her head. “Just come on!”


She waved me to the door. I grabbed the knob and turned. It stopped.


Locked. The door was still locked.


“Open it, Chloe. Please.”


I reached for Gwen. She backpedaled, but not fast enough. My fingers touched her arm…and passed through. I clamped my hand over my mouth.


“Don’t scream, Chloe. Okay? Please, please, don’t scream.”


I nodded.


Oh God! She’s a ghost. She’s dead.


She couldn’t be. I just heard her a minute ago, heard her footsteps when she headed down the hall to search. And that was the last time I’d heard them.


I remembered Margaret’s words: Simon said she’s up here. You look down there, and I’ll take this end.


Then a thump. The sound of a body falling.


Margaret killed Gwen? That was crazy. Impossible.


Sure, she just happened to fall and break her neck while searching for you.


I swallowed. “Margaret,” I whispered.


“Seems that old bag is a whole lot nastier than I ever gave her credit for,” Gwen muttered. “I didn’t like the way things were going. I…I’d heard things. Margaret and Russell. That’s why I took off when Andrew called. I didn’t want to get involved. But I couldn’t do it. I had to come back, thought I should warn Andrew, help him watch out for you kids. Bad idea, obviously. Never even got to the warning part.”


I wheeled toward the door. “Derek.”


Gwen stepped in front of me. “Is he someplace safe?”


I walked through her.


“Chloe, is he someplace safe? Because if he is, then you have to leave him there. You need to warn Simon and Tori. You said Margaret sent them-”


“To the basement for chairs. For the others coming this afternoon.”


“No others are coming, Chloe.”


I raced to the door. As I unlocked it, Gwen slipped through the wall.


“Careful,” I whispered. “Margaret-”


“Can see me. I know.”


Gwen came back and waved me out, motioning for me to dash into the next room and wait again. That’s how we did it-me darting from room to room, heading for the rear stairs as Gwen scouted the way.


I did as she said, but inside I was a panicked mess. All I could think was: Gwen’s dead, and now Simon and Tori are in the basement, and Derek’s in the attic, and am I making the right choice, and will I get to them in time, and oh my God, what is going on?


I was nearly at the back stairs, when Gwen motioned for me to hide. I scooted under a bed, covering my mouth to keep from breathing in dust.


Margaret’s heels clicked in the hall. They seemed to be receding. Please. Please, please-Yes! She marched down the main stairs as she called a name-Russell. Russell was here?


Oh God, I had to warn Derek. I had to get up to the attic-


And if he finds out Simon’s in danger, he’ll barrel down there and get himself killed. He’s better off where he is, thinking everything is okay.


I closed my eyes and breathed in and out until my heart slowed to a gallop. Gwen checked to make sure the coast was clear, then I hurried to the servants’ stairs.


With Gwen watching, I made it to the bottom of the stairs. From there I could see the basement door, ajar. I listened for Simon and Tori-for once I’d have loved to hear the sound of their bickering-but instead I heard Margaret and Russell’s muffled voices coming from behind a closed door…a door between me and the basement.


Gwen led me forward, step by careful step. I listened for a break in the conversation or the sound of footsteps, but they kept talking.


I was three steps from the basement when Margaret’s pumps clicked against the hardwood.


I looked toward the basement, but it was too far. I wheeled and pushed open the nearest door.


“No!” Gwen whispered.


I turned. She madly waved me out. Then, in mid-gesture, she disappeared. I froze for a second-just long enough to hear Margaret turning the doorknob-then spun to find a hiding place. I stopped short. Andrew stood on the other side of a coffee table.


He was looking at me, frowning.


“Chloe?” he said, my name coming slowly, carefully, like he wasn’t quite sure.


“Hold on,” Margaret said as the door creaked open. “I thought I heard someone.”


Andrew’s eyes widened. He motioned me over, gesturing for me to hide behind the table-it was long and solid, so I wouldn’t be seen. I hesitated only a second, then ran for it. My sneaker slid in something and I tried to keep my balance, but my other foot slid, too, the floor slick, and I crashed onto the coffee table, hands smacking the top of it, knees cracking against the edge.


“We’ve found Chloe,” Margaret said from behind the doorway, her voice completely calm.


I looked up to see Russell coming at me, a syringe in his hand. I backed away, scrambling over the other side of the table.


“Andrew?” I said, looking up. “Help-”


Andrew was gone.


A needle jabbed into the back of my leg. I kicked Russell, hearing him grunt as my foot made contact. The room swayed. I blinked hard, fighting to stay conscious. I tried to get up, get off the table, but my arms gave way and I toppled over the other side.


I hit something soft and rolled off it, landing in a warm puddle. I struggled to focus and lifted my hands. Blood. I was lying in a pool of blood.


I tried getting up, but my muscles refused, and I slumped to the floor. The last thing I saw was Andrew’s face, inches away, dead eyes staring into mine.


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