The Master Race [A Hidden Darkness]
The bare wooden steps creak and groan beneath their feet, and Hawk scowls. If there is someone here, watching over the Nosferatu, they have to know that there is someone else in the house. You can’t put your foot down anywhere without some creaking board giving away your position. He hurries up the rest of the stairs and out onto the landing. He feels a little less vulnerable on the landing; there is more room to move, if it comes to a fight. The floor is thick with dust and rat droppings, and the bare wooden walls are dull and scarred. Two doors lead off from the landing, to their right. It is just as gloomy as the ground-floor hall, and Hawk thinks fleetingly of his candle before deciding against it. If the sound hasn’t given them away, a light certainly will. He moves over to stand before the first door, and listens carefully. He can’t hear anything. Hawk smiles slightly. If this house does turn out to be empty, he is going to feel bloody ridiculous.
He looks at Fisher, and gestures for her to guard his back. She nods quickly. Hawk tries the door handle, and it turns easily in his grasp. He pushes the door slightly ajar, takes in a deep breath, and kicks the door in.
He darts forward into the room, axe at the ready, and again there is no one there. Without looking around, Hawk knows that Fisher is looking at him knowingly. He knows her so well, he can almost read her mind on this one.
Fisher thinks: I said that this was a wild goose chase, Hawk …
He doesn’t look back. He won’t give her the satisfaction. He glares about him, taking in the darkened room. A sparse light seeps past the closed shutters to show him a wardrobe to his left and a bed to his right. A large wooden chest stands at the foot of the bare bed. Hawk eyes the chest suspiciously. It looks to be a good four feet long and three feet wide; large enough to hold a body. Hawk frowns. Like it or not, he is going to need some light to check the room out properly. He peers about him, and his gaze falls on an old oil lamp lying on the floor by the bed. He bends down, picks up the lamp, and shakes it gently. He can feel oil sloshing back and forth in the base of the lamp. Hawk worries his lower lip between his teeth. The house might appear deserted, but somebody has been here recently … He takes out flint and steel, and lights the lamp. The sudden golden glow makes the room seem smaller and less threatening.
Hawk moves over to the chest and crouches down before it. There doesn’t seem to be any lock or bolts. He glances at Fisher, who takes a firm hold on the wooden stake in her left hand and nods for him to try the lid. He clutches his axe tightly, and then throws the lid open. Hawk lets out his breath in a slow sigh of relief, and he and Fisher relax a little as they take in the pile of old bed linen that fills the chest.
The cloth is flecked with a rather nasty-looking mould, and has obviously been left in the chest for ages, but Hawk rummages gingerly through it anyway, just in case there is something hidden under it. There isn’t. Hawk wipes his hands thoroughly on his trousers.
All this taking it slowly and easy is getting on his nerves. He suddenly wants very badly just to run amok and tear the place apart until he finds the missing girl, but he knows that he can’t do that. Firstly, if there is no one here the house’s owners will sue his ass in the courts, and secondly, if there is a Nosferatu here she is bound to be well hidden, and nothing less than a careful, methodical search is going to find her.
One room at a time, one thing at a time, by the book. Follow the procedures. And he and Fisher might just get out of this alive yet.
He moves over to the bed and gets down on his hands and knees to look underneath it. A big hairy spider darts out of the shadows toward him, and he falls backwards with a startled yelp. The spider quickly disappears back into the shadows. Hawk quickly regains his balance and shoots a look at Fisher, who is trying hard not to laugh and is only just making it. Hawk growls something under his breath, picks up the lamp from the floor, and sweeps it back and forth before him. There is nothing under the bed but dust.
Not in the chest, and not under the bed. That only leaves the wardrobe, though it seems a bit obvious. Hawk clambers to his feet, puts the lamp on the chest, and moves over to stand before the wardrobe. It is a big piece of furniture, almost seven feet tall and four feet wide. Hawk thinks, absently: Wonder how they got it up the stairs? He takes a firm hold on the door handle, gestures for Fisher to stand ready, and jerks open the door.
Inside the wardrobe a teenage girl is hanging naked from a butcher’s hook. Her eyes are wide open and staring, and she’s been dead for some time. Two jagged puncture wounds show clearly on her savaged throat, bright red against the white skin. The steel tip of the butcher’s hook protrudes from her right shoulder, just above the collarbone. No blood has run from the wound, suggesting that she was already dead when the hook went into her. Hawk swallows hard and reaches forward to gently touch the dead girl’s hand. The flesh is icy cold.
“Damn,” he says quietly. “Oh, damn.”
“It’s her, isn’t it?” Fisher asks. “Councilor Trask’s daughter.”
“Yes,” Hawk answers, his voice tinged with shock and rage. “It’s her.”
“The Nosferatu must have been thirsty. Or maybe just greedy. I doubt there’s a drop of blood left in her body.”
“Look at her,” Hawk says harshly. “Sixteen years old and left to hang in darkness like a side of beef. She was so pretty, so alive … She didn’t deserve to die like this. No one deserves to die like this.”
“Easy,” Fisher says softly. “Take it easy, love. We’ll get the bitch that did this. Now let’s get the girl down.”
“What?” Hawk asks, looking confused at Fisher.
“We have to get her down, Hawk,” says Fisher. “She died from a Nosferatu’s bite. If we leave her, she’ll rise again as one of the undead. We can spare her that, at least.”
Hawk nods slowly. “Yes. Of course.”
Somehow, between them, they get the body off the hook and out of the wardrobe. They lay the dead girl out on the bed, and Hawk tries to close her dead, staring eyes. They won’t stay shut, and in the end Fisher puts two coins on the eyes to hold the lids down.
“I don’t know her name,” Hawk says. “I only knew her as Trask’s daughter.”
The scream catches him off guard, and he’s only just started to turn around when a heavy weight slams into him from behind. He and his attacker fall sprawling into the floor, and the axe flies out of Hawk’s hand. He slams his elbow back into his attacker’s ribs and pulls himself free. He scrambles away and goes after his axe.