“Will you give me two damn minutes here? I’m not saying I can’t take you to it. I just need more time.” Lawrence studied his notebook, flipping through several pages.
Somewhere nearby, water dripped, followed by a faint and distant scratching. From high above, came the chirp of a pika. Lawrence finally closed his notebook, stood up. “Bart’s wing.”
“Lead the way.”
Lawrence guided them out of the foyer, toward the staircase that rose up the center of Emerald House. “Last one of these we went up collapsed,” he said to Isaiah.
“You haven’t been up here?”
“Not since last summer. I’m sure it’s weakened.”
“Then you best tread lightly. I’ll be behind you.”
Abigail was third in line, and to her relief, this staircase felt much sturdier than that flimsy death trap in the hotel. Part of the banister was missing, but none of the steps creaked.
As they reached the next floor, Stu whispered, “Isaiah, hold up. I hear something.”
Their beams of light swept through what remained of the second level—tall door frames and window frames, three wings still intact, the south reduced to a hole so gaping, you could drive a bus through it, snow blowing sideways into the mansion and slowly rotting everything it touched. Another winter or two, the water damage would reach the stairwell.
“Stu, I don’t know what I’m gonna do if this is another false—”
Isaiah suddenly lifted his machine pistol, motioned for his partners to do the same. Abigail heard it, too—the rapid patter of footsteps. Isaiah and Stu moved soundlessly, side by side, away from the stairs, toward the west wing.
Twenty feet in, Isaiah stopped and held up his hand, pointing at a closed door a little ways into the passage. Isaiah looked at Stu, counting down from three with the fingers of his right hand. He kicked the door, which exploded back off its rusted hinges.
The mansion filled with earsplitting shrieks, like those of women being murdered. A host of shadows flew out of the room, toward the stairs. June screamed, and amid blinding muzzle flames, Abigail heard panting and the muffled clatter of machine pistols.
A half dozen coyotes blitzed past Abigail, heading down the stairs and into the foyer, their yaps at once jovial and demonic as they escaped through the oak doors into the night.
Lawrence led them to the east wing of the second floor. Abigail’s head was killing her, and the left side of her face was hot, swollen. Her headlamp revealed a place of absolute decay, the wood-paneled walls warped and blackened with mold. They passed through a small sitting area and arrived at a pair of French doors. Lawrence pushed them open, the hinges grinding rust into rust.
As they entered a short hallway, Lawrence pointed out the first door on the right. “That was Bart’s office,” he said. “Door on the left opens into the guest room.”
Abigail shone her light inside—sparsely furnished, with two single beds, their posts and headboards smashed, mattresses disintegrated into mounds of rotted down, a capsized chest of drawers, fireplace, wardrobe.
They went on, passing large picture frames that had fallen from the walls and lay in pieces on the floor.
“So what you got in that notebook that brought you to this wing?” Isaiah asked.
“In 1889, Packer hired an architect named Bruce Price to design this mansion. I had a breakthrough last winter at the New York Public Library, when I found Price’s notes on the final floor plan. The original blueprints don’t show this wing’s true layout.”
Lawrence opened the door at the end of the hall and entered, followed by Isaiah and the rest of the party.
Packer’s bedroom formed the eastern extremity of Emerald House—twelve-foot ceilings and large windows still holding glass that in decent weather would’ve offered a jaw-dropping view of the basin and lake. The walls tapered to a fireplace at the narrow end of the room, spacious enough to roast six-foot logs.
Isaiah motioned to Abigail and the Tozers. “Ya’ll sit by the bed and stay quiet.” As Abigail sat down beside June, her headlamp brightened the headboard of Packer’s bed. She noticed that a word had been carved into the wood, probably by some ass**le with no respect for the past, just hoping to memorialize his girlfriend’s name: LANA.
It felt good to get off her feet, but her thermal underwear had soaked through with freezing sweat. She unzipped her purple Moonstone parka and her pink fleece jacket.
“I have water in my pack,” she said. “May I take it out?”
“Stu, ya’ll searched their packs back in Abandon?”
Stu and the other masked man had sat down near the hearth, their machine pistols trained on the captives.
“Yeah. Their packs are fine.”
Lawrence stepped through an open doorway beside the entrance to Packer’s room.
“What’s in there?” Isaiah asked.
“This was Bart’s closet.”
“Motherfucker was livin the good life.” They disappeared into the walk-in closet. Abigail couldn’t see her father, but she could hear him knocking on the walls.
Lawrence spoke: “If we were to break through this one, we’d be in Bart’s office.”
“Well, hell, let’s be sure.”
“I’ve measured. There’s nothing strange about the rooms on this side of the hallway. They match up perfectly with the original architectural plans. Now follow me.” Lawrence and Isaiah emerged from the closet and walked back into the hallway. After a moment, Abigail heard Lawrence’s voice again, indistinct and followed by more wall knocking.
She worked her arms out of the day pack’s straps, reached in, and pulled out a Nalgene bottle, the water pumped and purified from the safe part of the stream that Scott had fly-fished the previous evening. The image of him dying in that hotel lobby felt like a stray ember behind her eyes.
The water tasted cold and faintly sweet, so unlike the lead-tainted piss that ran out of her tap in New York. As she drank, she tried to ignore the red dots that traipsed across her chest.
Lawrence and Isaiah returned to Packer’s bedroom.
“This past summer, I made a thorough search of that guest room and found nothing,” Lawrence said. “But I knew there was space between that room and Packer’s room that was unaccounted for. I was getting ready to investigate Packer’s room, when the Forest Service showed up. I didn’t have a permit to be here, and the fine would’ve been huge. I had to sneak out of the lodge.” He approached the enormous wardrobe to the right of the doorway, grabbed the side of it, tried to slide it out from the wall. “It’s bolted down or something.”