Yoharie: Inside (part four)

Image of salt shaker warning post contains salty language

Photo of striated sunriseYoharie

Inside
(part four)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Secret rooms, stay focused. Yoharie’s up there calling for help. Basements don’t have back doors. If they corner you, it’s over.

Hibbler drew his gun. You could slide furniture to hide a hatch… There could be a chamber under the floor. Could there? He remembered the work done on the house before Yoharie moved in. Todwillow just standing there, joking.

Todwillow might be in with the Russians, maybe in with the whole scheme. He was an unhelpful asshole. Hibbler crouched, used his phone for a flashlight. On the flooring were skid marks—black stutters of rubber, fine scratches—everywhere. He studied these and saw no roadmap. What else?

He laid both gun and phone on the futon; on hands and knees knocked, crawling a semicircle. He saw, in the triangle of the stairs, pet things, bowls of kibble and water, a litter box. A carpet-covered climbing…playhouse? Boxes of canned food, tubs of Tidy Cat.

Oppressed by silence, by a growth inside that wanted to be panic, Hibbler for seconds could not process this odd surprise, the never-seen pet.

But that, he realized, was the whole clue, staring him in the face. The Yoharies had no pet. All this was just a friendly veneer. Under the stairs was exactly where you would dig out a prison cell…then cover up the entry with…

Anything. Cat junk. He crawled partway, caught a glimpse of a light overhead, banged his head misjudging, yanked off the glasses and flung them aside. Hibbler’s eyesight improved. His knee went into the water dish. But he kept his jaw tight, not losing track of the danger he placed himself in.

The light was again a clue, proof they used this understairs room enough to want the convenience of it. He felt for a switch, and the light dropped from its moorings. He kept his jaw tight. He would use his phone. Where was his phone?

How-fucking-come his phone was not in his pocket?

Oh, right.

Breathing, he found the light, wedged down the triple-A’s, screwed it back. He pressed the dome, and that was it, the mechanism. He shifted the playhouse. There

Absolutely, a little wooden door, painted white like the drywall. Ha!

Here, Hibbler found it necessary to tap his greatest reserves of patience. Once he had crawled out backwards, strewn the kibble, learned how painful a piece of kibble can be under a kneecap, learned the playhouse needed tilting to one side before it could be worked free of the stairs, taken a quick inventory of every hazard, for which precaution he at last gained victory over the litter box, rid of this before upending it with a foot and stepping on a clump…

And if there were clumps, there had to be a cat…

But who cared? He tried a tap at the little door.

 

 

7

 

 


 

 

Abashed, but feeling called by a duty, he spoke low: “Miss. It’s okay if you answer. I’m here to help. I’ll get you out.”

Because, if they’d taken another prisoner, she would be in there, terrified.

The door at the top of the stairs creaked open.

The implications of this noise, the recollection that his weapon, and both means of filming—of livestreaming this encounter—were out of reach, paralyzed Hibbler. A voice of underlying reason raised a question—

Why is the little door not locked?

Another voice, Yoharie’s, called down: “Listen, man, could you give it up? Whatever you’re doing? Stick around and eat with us if you want to…”

Because. It sets off a silent alarm. They know when she tries to escape. A motor, a loud truck, roared along the street, and Hibbler felt this would be the Russians’ van, where they kept the radar station. He yanked the little door open.

“Hey, is that the vacuum you’re getting into?”

Hibbler could not have said. He was staring at a cylinder and hoses, fat ones with ridges. A central vac system? His mind wanted to deny this…

Another ruse, the real chamber hidden by a mockup. “Miss!”

“Huh?”

“Miss!”

“Did you say miss? Are you on the phone?”

The phone, at that moment, began to play Rick Astley. Hibbler had a good memory of the song from high school. Nobody had ever said there was this thing…he’d figured his kids laughed and snorted when his phone rang because…

They thought their Dad’s music was funny.

“Whyncha get that, Hibbler?”

It was impossible now to hear whether the girl was back there or not. The song stopped; it started at once.

And died, when he got to the futon. He picked up the gun. He moved to the foot of the stairs, raised the barrel.

“Hibbler.” Yoharie sat astride his motorized chair. “It’s me up here.”

“I wanna know what you people did with my daughter. I want you to tell me right now.”

“Okay, look,” Yoharie said, after a long freeze. “You’ve been out of work for a while. That’s not easy, I understand. But, you know, Dawn’s been talking to your wife…”

The phone, now in Hibbler’s pants pocket, had been playing never gonna give you up, neNever gonna give you up, ne

The impatient caller was Kate. He knew it, as the ringtone switched to Foreigner; “Urgent” their code for pick up now.

 

 

8

 

 


Inside

Virtual cover for novel YoharieSee more on Yoharie page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(2021, Stephanie Foster)

 

 

 

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