Maddie didn’t stop to wonder at how quickly it had all happened. She shouldered the black leather satchel, the one Edgar had given her so many years before, now weathered by years spent on trains and ships and once, only once, with a caravan of European circus performers, and pushed the heavy wrought iron gate open.
She gave a low whistle and the dog fell in beside her, a dog she’d never bothered to properly name but who had traveled with her since she was fourteen. He didn’t seem to have aged a day in nearly two decades.
Gravel and dried leaves crunched under her heavy boots. No need to make a quiet approach, she thought. They already knew she was coming. She’d been in this business too long to bother trying to sneak up on anyone or anything. It just wasn’t worth the time wasted.
She glanced down at the map she’d hastily sketched on her forearm. Her brother always kept his maps in a little black sketchbook, but she knew she was less likely to lose her arm once things got started. At least, that was her hope.
The darkness faded as they approached the mausoleum and the gas lamps that stood guard on either side of the iron-banded double doors. Maddie smiled to herself as first one, then the other lamp flickered and went out. Of course they did. Because that’s exactly what would be expected of them at this point in the action. Always good to lend tension to an already tense scene.
Maddie dug a torch out of her satchel and switched it on. It was a test of sorts and, whatever was there in the mausoleum would win when, a few seconds later, the bulb burnt out. “Gahh,” Maddie muttered. “The drama.”
The dog let out a deep growl and a branch snapped somewhere among the stones.
“You wanna go check it out?” Maddie asked the dog. “Or are you coming in with me?”
She didn’t wait for an answer.
The ancient padlock on the mausoleum doors fell to dust when she touched it. She paused there on the threshold for a moment to dig a Zippo out of her pocket. The lighter sparked and flickered before the flame caught. It would either be enough or she’d have to learn to see in the dark rather quickly. It was a skill she’d never managed to master.
The door opened easily, though not without a ridiculous squeal. If the others in the graveyard hadn’t known she was there, they certainly did now.
She looked down at the dog. He was on full-alert, the hair standing on end all along his spine. For the first time on this assignment, she hesitated and the hand not holding the Zippo went to the dagger at her waist.
The dog growled again as she stepped over the threshold. The flame of the Zippo flickered and went out.
And that is when the children began to laugh.