From the book
Something wasn't right.
Alert and armed, Maggie Mason moved room to room. Outwardly nothing appeared to be wrong. The house was chilly and quiet, silent in the way a house is on a cold December night when you're in it alone. Yet the awareness that something was off prodded her honed instincts. You didn't work in her field, much less enjoy her success, and not hone your instincts or fail to respect them. No one was inside the house with her; she'd have picked up on that immediately. Yet some nebulous alert had triggered her internal alarm. She couldn't explain it. She just felt it.
And she'd learned the hard way to never ignore internal warnings.
Controlling her breathing, deliberately working to slow her racing heart, she circled back to the kitchen, clicked on her flashlight and followed her emergency plan, taking the worn wooden stairs down to the basement. An unadvertised and unmentioned feature in the basement sold her on renting the Decatur, Illinois, home just days ago. It wasn't in the best neighborhood, but she'd lived in far worse, and it had that nondescript look about it--not too nice, not too dumpy--where she could fade into obscurity.
Obscurity was essential.
With it and any luck, she wouldn't have to move again for a couple of months. Oh, how she yearned for a little luck.
In the past three years, her record for staying put, hospital and recovery time aside, was two months, fourteen days, seven hours and twelve minutes. This basement's special feature could help buy her a little more time here and help her break her record. At least, she dared to hope it could.
Please, God. I'm so tired of running.
A knot rose in her throat. She swallowed it down and stepped off the bottom stair onto the cracked concrete floor. The twenty-by-twenty open area billed as a basement storage room was inky dark--no electricity, no windows, and only one door at the top of the stairs she'd just descended...or so it appeared until further inspection.
Sweeping the beam of light corner to corner on the floor, she checked the dull coating of dust for new footprints but spotted none, then lifted the beam up the walls, casting light on the thin cobwebs clinging to the corners at the ceiling and on the floor joists overhead. The webs glistened but remained intact.
A little reassured, she eased her finger on the trigger of her weapon and took a steadying breath to work the hitch from her chest. The basement clearly had been abandoned for a long time, yet it didn't smell musty or dank. Odd, with the occasional water stain in the pink fiberglass insulation stuffed between the wall studs. The stains spoke of past leaks now repaired, but the absence of a musty scent had first alerted her that more than met the eye was in this basement.
Following the flashlight beam, she moved across the empty expanse to the back wall, where a tall and rickety wooden shelving unit stood in the corner. Battered and worn, it, too, wore a layer of dust she'd been careful not to disturb. She checked each shelf. No smears or swipes marring its dull surface. Here, too, the dust remained undisturbed.
Stretching on tiptoes, she reached between the top and second shelves and tapped seeking fingertips along the rough wooden back wall. They snagged metal. A flathead bolt. Inching her nails under its edge, she pulled the bolt out and then slid the entire shelving unit sideways. Gliders bore its weight, but it moved in jerked spurts.
In the wall where the unit had stood, an opening appeared: a low, narrow passageway.
At one time, that passageway likely had been used as an...