that? I hissed, pointing to the lighted window above the shop.
‘A flat with a young couple in it.’
‘Why didn’t you tell me?’
‘What difference would it’ve made? Do shut up, Herry.’
The first time she’d used my Christian name and it was to tell me to shut up. The fact that it was whispered made it worse somehow…
She moved silently across a small, concreted yard to the door. I followed. There was hardly any light and yet the iron stairway up to the flat stood out stark against the sky. A tatty looking Escort was parked beside it.
Something flickered in her hand, a pencil torch. She shone it onto the lock and fished out a bunch of keys. They tinkled like wind chimes. She selected one, inserted and turned it, then repeated the process for the Yale. She turned the handle and tried to ease the door open …it moved a little way, then jammed on something… she tried manoeuvring it, and when that didn’t work, pushed harder… it opened with a loud creak …
She slipped inside, the beam flicked up to a keypad, but before she could reach it, a bleeping cut into the night…
She punched in a number and there was silence. She beckoned me in.
‘Someone might have heard that,’ I whispered.
‘Unlikely, but we’ll hang around a minute or two to see if there’s any reaction.’
We waited in silence…
‘How did you know the number?’ I breathed.
‘Worked it out when I came in.’
After another minute, she said in a low voice, ‘That’s long enough. This way…’ The pencil beam lit the bare wooden floor and a kettle gleamed faintly on a worktop. ‘Watch the step…’
Despite her warning, I stumbled slightly over it, then we were in the shop proper. She led the way past overflowing boxes to what seemed to be a small alcove, but was in fact a tiny hall with two doorways leading from it. One was bricked up.
She shone the beam onto the other door. Selected another key, which didn’t work, then another one, which did. I tapped her shoulder.
‘Gowns,’ I whispered.
I took off the backpack and opened it. Handed her a gown and showed her how to put it on. Then overshoes, mask, bonnet and gloves.
When we were both gowned, she turned the handle and opened the door. Looked for a light switch, but there wasn’t one. Started down the wooden steps. I gingerly followed. The steps knocked hollowly.
At the bottom was another door, not locked. She pushed it open and this time did find a switch. The light from the bare bulb made me blink. We looked …
There was a bench, an old sink, some bottles and an orgy of cobwebs. There was nothing remotely resembling a lab.
‘All dressed up and nowhere to go…’ I murmured.
She shot me a look of contempt… then she spotted a door in the opposite wall… she strode over and pulled it open, but it was just a cupboard. She went round he walls, carefully examining them, but there was nothing else.
‘It seemed so right,’ she said, her voice muffled by the mask. For a moment she sounded almost pathetic, then she pulled it off and said, ‘Might as well get back, I suppose.’
We climbed back up to the top of the narrow stairway. She pushed the door, then stopped –
‘Oh shit,’ she breathed –
A pulsing blue light lit the shop and a loud voice came from the back. ‘Police, stay where you are…’
She motioned me back and gently pulled the door to… Found the key, slowly inserted and turned it… the noise it made sounded monstrous in my ears…
She turned off the torch and sank onto the stairs. I sank beside her, one step lower. My hand was on her foot, I could feel the roughness of the overshoe…
The voice, muffled now, said, ‘Police, come out and show yourselves…’
I left my hand where it was…
Footsteps, fading away. We stayed absolutely still.
The footsteps returned, closer… a faint light shone at the bottom of the door, illuminating Rebecca’s face for a moment... the rattle of the door as it was tried made me