Ruin (Page 41)

Ruin (Songs of Corruption #2)(41)
Author: C.D. Reiss

The tunnels under the carriage house were part of a ten-acre system under downtown, built inside basements for deliveries, initially, then for drunken escapes out of the underground speakeasies in the 1920s. Each block had their own network of basements and tunnels, and, in the case of the Gate Club, there were only two ways to get off the city block. The first was down the grate and across Gate Avenue to an unused trapdoor in a driveway; the second was the speakeasy way, through the carriage house, across Ludwig Street and into a residential basement.

The grate was in a small parking lot. We couldn’t use it without being seen going down it. That was out. The carriage house had no cameras to protect the privacy of important people, and the walls were thick for the same reason. It was perfect.

“You drew this?” Antonio said when I handed him the map. He was freshly showered. His lashes looked darker and thicker, like black widow legs.

“I wanted to get it right.”

“You really do need a life.”

I swatted him. “Basta.”

He cocked an eyebrow at me, and I pointed to the map. “Okay, this is the layout. As I remember it, the tunnels went from the carriage house, across Ludwig, into the gingerbread house. It’s really long, but if we run…”

“And you want to blow up the house?” He said it as if it was a possibility, but it sounded absurd to my ears.

“Yes,” I said, embracing the absurdity. I picked up a red marker and drew on the map.

“Here to here. Done. The service tunnel is straight because they used it for deliveries.”

“But there’s another way?” he asked.

“Yes, but it’s not connected to the house. There’s a grate here. I don’t know how we’d get to it without being seen.”

He took the map from me, and the pen, and drew his own lines, plucking his own pen from his pocket. I loved watching him work, the concentration.. I wanted to work with him, to see this part of him all the time.

“This is how it’s going to go,” he said. “According to you and your brother, there’s a tunnel across Gate, not connected, and a grate we can’t get to. But we can.”

“How?” I asked. “The grate’s right there. You can even see if from the ballroom if you just look through the trees.”

He winked at me. “You check out the way across Ludwig, and I’ll see what I can do about the short way.”

thirty-four.

theresa

I could go look at the carriage house, under the pretense of planning a stay there at some point after the Bortolusi wedding. I could even put a deposit on the place, as if I were going to be alive to throw an actual party on the grounds, which, technically, I wasn’t. But that would be a paper trail. It would be known that I went to look at the carriage house weeks before the wedding that was the scene of my death. And Daniel was blindly ambitious and emotionally void, but he was not stupid.

So, I had to look at the other side, and that was where I got lucky. The gingerbread house across Ludwig Street was for sale. It sat in a tiny residential enclave in the middle of downtown, protected by a Historic Overlay Zone.

A two-foot-high plastic A-frame sign sat by the streetlight, with the address written in chalk under the words "Open House!" Three white balloons had been tied to the corner with blue grosgrain ribbon. The breeze had twisted the ribbons into a stiff braid by the time I got there. I parked on the corner and walked as if I wanted to check out the block.

The houses sat close together. None were the same; none held to a stylistic similarity. The gingerbread house was the only one of its kind for miles around, with swooping peaks and dormers, shingles that curved over the edge of the roof, and a red door. Grey stone covered everything from the porch floor to the path leading to it. The windows were small, plentiful, and painted blue at the crosspieces.

The house had been staged in period-appropriate furnishings, except the kitchen, which has been redone in glass tile and stainless, probably to raise the sale price. Couples milled about, looking in closets and trying to find reasons to buy or not. They made notes and whispered, talking to each other about the real-estate market and its pattern of booms and busts. I smiled noncommittally at everyone and drifted between rooms. I opened the cabinet under the sink. It was filled with cardboard boxes. Whoever lived there hadn’t moved out all the way yet.

“Hi there!” I turned, taking my hands off the knob as if I’d been caught peeking in a friend’s medicine cabinet. In the doorway stood a woman with cornrows and a white smile, clutching a clipboard to her chest. “I’m Wendy! Did you sign in?”

“No.” I smiled back. I intended to neither sign in nor explain why.

“Were you interested in the neighborhood, or gingerbread in general? Because we have another one in West Adams.”

“Is it in the overlay?”

“It is.”

“And the renovations here,” I indicated the kitchen. “Approved by the historic district?”

“All the modernization by the previous owners was approved.” Her smile hid something.

“And before that?”

“If you were planning to do any remodeling to the basement, there are some adjustments you’d need to make. We have a very rare basement in this house. It was modernized without approval ten years ago.”

“Can you show me?”

“Us too,” said a man who had been taking down the model number of the microwave.

Wendy perked up. She led us down a narrow stairway that twisted in the middle, down to media room with industrial carpeting, leather couches, and a screen that took up the entire space. One window set high in the wall looked out onto Ludwig Street. I touched the wall under it.

“This is a fully functioning media center, but as you know…” She nattered on about Historic Preservation Overlay Zones and districts, the rules that had to be abided, how her agency would help buyers navigate the process, and why the media room was still a great addition.

But I was thinking about tumbling into that same basement through the trapdoor, stinking of old dirt and Fiona’s cigarettes, falling face to face with an oil-heater tank. The basement back then had been dark as hell, with the only light coming from the moon through the street-level windows. I’d navigated piles of fabrics teeming from boxes, an old gas grill, and a plastic Christmas tree with light strings still on it.

I lost myself in the memory of that near-illegal thing, running my hand over the wall where the oil tank had been set. It could have been defined as breaking and entering, maybe. I hadn’t been elated or paralyzed, but had entered a zone where my senses tingled, and I focused on one thing only: getting out. I calculated the time, the distance back across the street, the likelihood everyone upstairs was asleep. I checked out the window to see if the car was in the drive and wondered if I could climb through it without looking like a burglar.