“Is it safe?”
“Don’t know.” Lawrence took the stairs two at a time. They descended through the second floor, finally emerging onto the ground level, their head-lamps blazing through a kitchen replete with giant washbasins, two fire-places, a brick oven, a clay oven, and numerous cabinets, all surrounding a long butcher-block island. The windows had held their glass, so there was no snow or wind, only silence.
“Kill your headlamp,” Lawrence whispered. They both went dark. Without the aid of light, Abigail couldn’t even see her father standing a foot in front of her.
“This is good,” he said, leading Abigail forward. “We’d see their light if they were coming down the main staircase.” She heard a doorknob turn, hinges grinding.
“It’s pitch-black. How can you see anything at all?”
“I know this mansion very—” Lawrence stopped.
“What is it?”
“I heard something up ahead.”
“Wood cracking under a footstep.”
A long moment of silence elapsed, and then Abigail saw the sole point of light in all that smothering darkness. She said, “Oh God,” and Lawrence looked down at his chest, touched the red dot moving in tiny circles around the North Face logo on his parka.
They lunged back into the kitchen as glass fell out of the French doors and rear window. Abigail never heard the shot. Lawrence’s headlamp lighted up. He pulled Abigail toward the washbasins between the ovens, helped her climb onto the counter, footsteps pounding toward them.
“What do I do?” she asked. He pushed her through. Abigail fell outside into the snow. As Lawrence climbed through the windowsill, the French doors burst open, headlamp beams sweeping in a frenzy of movement over the walls of the kitchen.
“Come on!” she screamed, but they dragged her father back into Emerald House.
Abigail felt hands seize her, pull her back into the kitchen, jags of glass on the windowsill slicing through Gore-Tex, fleece, thermal underwear, skin, blood running down her left leg as she slammed into the rotting floor. Her headlamp passed over Jerrod and Isaiah, each man holding night-vision goggles, the barrels of their machine pistols steaming in the cold. Isaiah’s foot swung through the dark and she heard the breath rush out of Lawrence as he doubled over on the floor. Isaiah knelt before Abigail, slid the knife out of his ankle sheath.
“No,” Lawrence hissed, still struggling to breathe.
Abigail tried to get up. Then she lay on her back, the left side of her jaw throbbing and burning, Isaiah sitting on top of her, pinning her shoulders down with the heels of his boots. He unzipped her fleece jacket and pulled her thermal underwear out of her waistband, exposing her bare stomach—ridged like a washboard and heaving in the dark.
“Hold his head, Jerrod. You watching, Lar? I’m gonna cut a hole right here,” he tapped Abigail’s belly button with the knife point, “and reach in, start yanking stuff out.”
When the blade touched her stomach, she went to another place, without sound or feeling. She imagined a Long Island beach, middle of summer. Isaiah’s headlamp became the gentle sun.
Her father’s voice brought her back. “I lied,” Lawrence gasped. “I lied to you, Isaiah.” Isaiah still pushed the knife, Abigail sucking in her gut, pressure and pain beginning to build.
“Hear what he’s saying?”
“I got ears, Jerrod.”
“The gold isn’t here,” Lawrence rasped. “I’ll help you find it. I swear. Just leave her—”
Isaiah suddenly sheathed the knife, stood up, left Abigail shaking on the floor. He lifted Lawrence and slammed him into the oven, the professor’s feet off the floor.
“What would you have done?” Lawrence said. “You spend years trying to find something, then someone sweeps in last second to steal it all from you. I couldn’t—”
Isaiah rammed him into the brick again, dust showering down from the ceiling.
“Your ass better start making sense in a f**king hurry.”
“That secret room in Bart’s wing is where the gold was kept, until Christmas 1893. For a long time, I was sure the bars were in Emerald House. I searched every room, even scoured the south-wing rubble. I’d given up, when I found Gloria Curtice’s diary. Something big was going down on Christmas in Abandon. She wrote that two men—Oatha Wallace and Billy McCabe—had murdered Bart Packer and his servants and made off with a load of gold. Apparently, her husband and some other men rode up toward the mine in pursuit.”
“So f**king what?”
“So . . . when you’re in a tiny town, dead of winter, and you’ve just stolen two thousand pounds of gold, you have to hide it.”
“Look in my eyes, Larry, and you better have an answer to this. Where’s the gold now?”
“I haven’t found it yet.” Isaiah simply dropped him, slipped a clip out of his belt, popped it into the Glock, and racked the slide. “No, listen. Oatha and Billy had already been prospecting together. They had this claim up at Saw-blade Pass. Gloria mentions it in her diary, because Billy’s wife had blabbed to her about it. It would make perfect sense. They stash the gold up there, and first chance they get, it’s a straight shot down the mountain into Silverton. They’re home free and set for life.”
“Then it’s gone, right? They would’ve taken it.”
“Would have, yes. Except, remember, every resident of Abandon disappeared on Christmas Day, so they probably never got the chance.”
“You telling me the gold’s up at the pass?”
“I’m telling you I think that’s where it is, but I haven’t had a chance to explore up there since finding Gloria’s diary. Scott and I had planned to do that during this trip.”
Isaiah paced around the butcher-block island.
“Thinking, Jerrod.” Three more trips around the island, then Isaiah stopped and looked at his partner. “Go help Stu and that woman down from the library, and get them set up in the foyer.” As Jerrod disappeared into the west-wing stairwell, Isaiah walked over to Abigail and her father, now huddled together at the base of the brick oven. “You know where this old claim hole is or not, Larry?”
“Motherfucker, let me hear the word think come out of your mouth one more—”
“I can find it. I know where to look, and I’ll take you up there at first light, when—”