Beyond the dusty room was a ramp down, and the odd wide hall went on, around and around, down again and then, ahead, down yet again. They had no idea how deep they were or which direction they were facing.
At the bottom of a second ramp, the five paused for a rest. They caught their breath, and then, all about the same time, they held their breath. The silence was total. Only it wasn’t, because as they listened they began to hear little noises ranging from whispering through fluttering and rustling to rumbling and beyond. Their puny lights barely even lit the floor at their feet, but they didn’t dare ask Tom or Arnulf to turn them up at all.
“Let’s keep going,” said Angelica.
“Just out of curiosity,” Cloudius asked, “how will we know when we get there?”
“The bad guys will be especially big,” said Arnulf. “Let’s go.”
So they wandered around what must have been the third level down from the trapdoor. They came to another ninety degree turn in the wide hall, but this time, ahead, a sudden chorus of howling and barking broke out. At this point not one of them had any interest in seeing what made that sort of racket. Eva took one look around the corner and scrambled out of the way—into a wall.
“Cowardly cat,” said Arnulf, his wand up, “how do we follow her into the rock?”
“It’s got to be a secret door,” said Tom. “Xu!”
The outline of a door appeared on the wall, a panel camouflaged as stone. They got it open and hurried inside.
It was a narrow room with shelves and a cabinet along the walls, and at the far end there was a door on and another door, closet-like, on the side wall next to it. They stood there fidgeting. The howling died away.
“Shall we go back out?” asked Angelica.
“Whatever they are,” Arnulf replied, “they’re just around the corner waiting. You do know that, don’t you?”
“Eva says there’s a way out the far door,” said Tom.
“What is through here?” asked Cloudius, his hand on the side door. He tried the knob, and suddenly the door came off the wall in his hands. A screaming horde of phantoms burst on him and he staggered back as if to hide behind Angelica. Then they faded to empty wisps.
“I wonder how long, um, whatever that was, was trapped in there,” asked Tom.
“It—they?” said Cloudius.
“Just some powerless spirit thing.” Tom peered into the little side room. It looked just like an office: a roll-top desk, a hanging shelf of cubby holes, some enigmatic furniture, an old wood and leather swivel chair.
Arnulf stepped in. He peeked into the cubby holes. He sat down in the chair. He tried the roll-top, but it was locked. He opened the right desk drawer. Under a few papers—a 1944 Chicago Tribune, a folder full of oil receipts, a brochure about swivel chairs—was a thick book. He pulled it out. He looked up. Everyone else was watching him. Eva hopped up into his lap and soundlessly meowed.
He opened the book: Roget’s Thesaurus. “How interesting,” he said. “Intriguing. Curious. Singular. Odd. Peculiar. Quirky.”
“Not the book I’m putting in my office down fifty feet under the Field Museum,” said Daphne.
“It is if you want it for a hiding place,” he replied. They looked down. He was holding the book open halfway through. About two hundred pages had their middles cut out, and in the space sat a blue gem almost too large to actually be a real sapphire.
“Is it a segment?” asked Tom.
“No,” said Arnulf, “no, I don’t know what it is, but it’s not a segment, I’m sure of that.”
“It’s wicked magical,” said Angelica. They looked up at her: she was bending close to look at the sapphire through the cylinder. “But I agree,” she said, standing back up. “I don’t know, it just doesn’t have that kind of vibe.”
“Vibe?” Cloudius repeated.
“I think it’s a key or something,” said Angelica. “Well, is this enough? Shall we go?”
Arnulf sat a moment longer, then grunted and got up. Something jingled to the ground. He bent and picked up a very small key. Grinning at them, he checked the lock on the roll-top: it fit. “The key must have been in the book and I didn’t see it,” he said. “It fell out when I put the book back. The sapphire kinda distracted me.”
With a wooden clatter, the roll-top went up. Inside was a mess from forty years previous. “Anything interesting in here?” asked Daphne. “Or do we wait while you straighten it up just in case there’s, like, a giant ruby under a pile of receipts?”
“I’m grabbing the change,” said Cloudius, reaching for a pile of coins scattered across the desk, on and under the rest of the mess. “Hey, 1933 dime. Cool! Indian nickels! A half dollar! That’s worth more than a half dollar now.”
He and Tom began rooting among the papers and filled their pockets with a small weight of change. The others ahemmed and grunted and fidgeted. “Okay,” said Tom, “I guess that’s enough.” They stepped back and the papers all collapsed on the floor. “Oh mannn. Do we have to clean up?”
“I guess not,” said Angelica, already opening the other door. Tom and Cloud followed her, Tom’s wand showing a way back out into the wide hall—and beyond that, in the corner above a ramp down, Eva sat staring at the wall. “Is she just being a cat?” asked Ange.
“No, no,” said Tom. “Secret door. Shall we?”
“We need to wait for Arnulf, but sure. What’s through it? Does she know?”
“Stairway down,” said Tom. “Secret is probably safer than public, right?”
“Arn,” whispered Daphne, back in the office. He paused in the door, then came back. “Put your wand down here,” she said, “and careful not to ignite the papers.”
“What?” he asked, but he did as he was told. His wand light glowed moon silver among the stationery and small junk. There was a metal desk name plate there, revealed by the fall of a pile of papers. It said, DET. JOSEPHUS J. SHMOKE.
“What the—?” she whispered.
Arnulf put it back, stacked the papers back on the desk, pulled the roll top down and locked it. “Let’s go, they’re waiting,” was all he said.