EXCERPTS

Chapter Fourteen

My head hurts like someone’s slugged me in the back of my skull. There’s a wary silence in the air. I walk to the edge of the massive hole. A rope ladder dangles twelve feet down to an underground room with a desk, a large, wooden chest, and patches of whitewash that cling to the walls.

Voices reverberate from upstairs. I need to hide. Now. I swing my legs over the edge of the pit and climb down so quickly that the rope burns my hands. The air thickens like paste as I descend. For a moment I’m afraid I might suffocate. At the bottom I fling myself behind the chest.

What am I going to do if the thugs with guns are still in The Rockery? I shouldn’t be in this pit. Maybe I shouldn’t have come to Prague at all. My mother would be horrified if she could see me. She’d blame herself for sending me here.

I huddle behind the chest, miserable, until my legs start to cramp. The voices seem to have gone, and so I stand up to investigate. The chest is sturdy with a thick, metal lock. A toolbox, a hammer, and a chisel are on the floor, but the lock opens at my touch. Inside are a dozen or so carefully folded, yellowed linens that crumble when I pick them up. I rummage through the cloth, reaching deep into the chest. My hand touches the edge of a metal container. I pull out a simple, rectangular box. Inside is a hardcover notebook with loose pages spilling out all over. I want to look inside, but a noise reminds me that a killer is on the loose. I tuck the notebook under one arm and climb back up the ladder.

Suddenly there’s a clatter of rough voices and the thunder of boots. I tumble over the edge of the pit and scramble back behind the cases just seconds before the duo in army fatigues fly down the steps. They can’t see me, but they might hear my ragged breathing. Someone is banging on the garden door. I peek out to see the tall skinhead flinging herself at the door to ram it open. She’s wearing an assortment of chains around her hips, and they clang against each other as she hurls herself at the door. It opens, and she stumbles into the man who was pounding to be let in.

“Sorry, boss!” the skinhead mumbles as a man with a machine gun strung across his back enters the room snarling like a mad dog.

“Where are they?” He speaks in a thick, Russian accent I recognize from the bad guys in movies. “You idiots let them escape!”

“She threw something, boss.…” The stocky man speaks with a slangy-sounding British accent. An international gang of thieves has invaded my house, but what do they think they’re going to find?

“Shut up!” the Russian hollers. Whatever they’re here for, he’s in a hurry to find it. “No time for your talk. Go into the hole!”

He gestures with the tip of the gun, and the other two scramble over each other to be the first down the pit. The boss man bends down on one knee to watch them. Holding my breath I slip out from my hiding place and inch over to the staircase. If the Russian turns around, he’ll see me. Please, please don’t, I think as I move up the stairs as quietly as possible.

“What are you doing?” the Russian’s voice bellows through the basement. My body shakes with fear. He’s seen me. “Get down, you idiot!” He’s shouting at his minions. At the top of the stairs, I push open the door to the foyer. Martin’s body is still sprawled in a pool of blood. I have no idea where Simona and Michal have gone or what’s happened to Franta.