My fingers grazed the stone walls. I’d seen them in the light. They were made of big rocks, cut into cross sections of multifaceted dark-grey ovals and mortared together with beige cement. To the hand they were rough and sharp, not cut but cracked.
Prepared to be in the tunnel under the grate, I snapped my keys from my bag and juggled to find the little LED light. I clicked it.
The service tunnel was five feet wide with a concrete floor cracked to dust and rock. The ceiling joists were thick, bare wood under slats and below them, Antonio stood, pointing a gun at me. His head had stopped bleeding, and in his other hand, he held a silver suitcase.
“Theresa,” he said, lowering the gun.
“Antonio? Where are you going?”
“On my way back.” He must have seen me look at the suitcase, because he held it up for me to see. “This is the C4.”
He looked up as if that would help him hear through the dirt and wood above. The thumping of booted feet and shouts of serious men came through the layers of ceiling and floor.
“I was going to die in the house and escape through the tunnel, the long way, to Ludwig, while you were safe under the truck.”
I stepped toward him, my LED moving the shadows across his face. “We have to do your plan, but with two.”
He pressed his lips together and looked down. He took my hand. “Si,” he said. “We will.”
A shout echoed over the walls, and he and I jerked our heads up. It was close, but not so close. In the closet maybe. Maybe they’d opened the door.
I felt his breath on me, short and shallow, and his eyes were a little wider under his bloody forehead. I put my hand over my mouth.
“Adesso!” he snipped, “And put the light out.”
I did. He tugged me with him into the darkness. I tripped and he yanked me up. “A little ways, and I’ll put the suitcase at the halfway point between the end and the closet stairs. Then we run.” We came to a point where glass insets in the sidewalk let a little illumination through. It was night, and the spots of blue lamplight made more shadow than brightness.
“If people are coming, by the time we get there… we have to give up.”
He jerked me forward, until the only barrier to me falling was his body. “I. Don’t. Give. Up. Any. More.” He said it through his teeth.
“I don’t want to kill anyone else today.”
In the dimmest of light, his brow shading his expression, he whispered, “I can plant it here, before they come down. There will be a bomb between us and them, but we need to be protected.”
“There’s a well,” I said. “Fiona used to throw her empty vials down there.”
I didn’t give him a chance to answer. It was my turn to yank him to where we had to go, clicking my little light on when it got too dark to see. I pulled him through a room with a ditch that smelled of dried meat and over to a rotted-wood platform with a water pump. It keened to the side.
I found the rusted iron ring in the center and pulled up a wooden circular lid. Antonio shone his light down it. It was dry as a bone, and smaller than I remembered, with no vials, as if someone, some kid or some adult hiding something, had filled it in.
“Plant the bomb behind the wall and—”
“Get in,” Antonio growled, dropping the suitcase.
“But you won’t fit.”
He knocked my feet from under me and caught me, carrying me in both arms, and as effortlessly as he did everything, he put me into the hole.
It was a tight fit. I couldn’t fit a kitten in there with me, much less Antonio.
“Two explosions,” he said. “Wait for them both. Then come through the house across Ludwig Street.
“Where will you be?”
Shouting, close by. Voices on stone. They’d found the partition and moved it. I thought we’d have more time. No way he could get close enough to the closet to block the way, and back to safety in time.
“You have to detonate now,” I said. “Before they come down. You’ll never make it.”
“Two explosions. Wait. Then get out and run to the house. The car is in the back. Don’t stop until you’re in the car.”
“I have to put this thing by the stairs, back there, to keep them from coming down. No more delays.”
Before I could answer, he slammed the lid back on.
I knew the distances all too well. The halfway point between the well and the house, under the street, was too far for him to get to, and that suitcase would blow in some cop or security guard’s face. If he left it close to where we were, the time it would take for him to get to safety would cause the same result.
He would die. And in the middle of the realization, the explosion hit. The earth seemed to move against me on the left and expand away on the right.
He couldn’t have gotten away. No one could run that fast.
I wanted to get out. I needed to see where he was, but I had to wait, and the second explosion came on the heels of the first. I cringed because it came so fast.
I didn’t wait a second longer than I had to. I shook the ringing out of my ears and put my hands against the trapdoor. It was red hot, and I snapped my palms back with a curse.
Closing my eyes and steeling myself, breathing, counting three, two, one…
I punched the wood. The burning sensation was nothing compared to the hardness of the surface against my inexperienced hands. But it moved, just a little, shifting to the ledge and over. I saw the room above in the crescent of space between the well edge and the lid, bathed in flickering red light and letting in a blast of heat.
I shifted and wedged my foot above me, pushing at the lid with the soles of my feet, and kicked upward. The lid creaked and shifted, the circle breaking at the diameter. Beyond it, the ceiling smoked. I scrambled out of the hole, careful not to touch anything that could have been hot.
The air was scorching and the smoke thick enough to burn my eyes and throat. I crouched and got out of the room and into the service hall.
There, I saw the origin of the fire, where the hundred-year-old roof beams burned and the smoke was thicker than sour cream. It was closer to the carriage house, as if Antonio had actually walked back the way we’d come to set the bomb off, which would have made his way back to the house even longer.
Could he have made it to the house, between closing me up and the explosion? I tried to remember how long the interval had been. Ten seconds?
I couldn’t think about it, but as I scuttled to the house across Ludwig Street, digging into the recesses of my memory to recall the way, the seconds ticked, and I knew there was no way in hell he’d made it. No. He’d planted the bomb near the carriage house to block whomever was on the way down.