“This doesn’t make any sense,” Cal muttered, tapping a wall as he walked along it.
“What doesn’t?” asked Sully, looking under a pile of scrap metal in the corner.
“This wall. It’s wrong.” Cal wasn’t looking at the wall.
“Looks normal to me.”
“Maybe it’s because he can only reach halfway up it.”
“Shh…” Cal said, waving Joey’s brothers to shut up. He wasn’t sure why they’d decided to tag along today, but they had. Probably just to bother Joey, though they were also bothering him a lot.
“Hey, he can hear us all the way down there.”
“Quiet,” Wes rumbled at them. “Cal’s working. What’s wrong, Cal?”
“This wall is two feet out from where it should be.” Cal was looking down at hand-drawn blueprint, which he’d copied from an official blueprint that he’d found in the basement of the city hall.
“Or you drew the map wrong,” Beatrice suggested.
Cal shook his head, not even taking the time to insult her. He left the room, went into the next one. “The wall’s wrong in here too,” he said, leaving before the rest of them came in, going around a corner.
The thing about urban exploring was that it was impossible to predict totally what was going to show up. And the thing about urban exploring in this city was that it was nearly always half treasure hunt. Cal was still only half-sure what had gone down seventy years ago, but whatever it was had left relics buried all over town and outside it, and was connected to a weird series of murders, and probably the mob. And there was a lot of shit buried in old buildings, and some of it was valuable. Cal liked money, but he was starting to get even more invested in the mystery than the payoff. So much so that he was willing to split the money with so many other people instead of just the original three or five.
Every room on this floor was wrong, Cal concluded after a few more minutes of wandering all the fuck around this floor looking at walls. “What are you thinking?” Mick asked, putting an arm around Cal as he looked at another wrong wall.
Cal shook his head. “Two options. Either I copied the blueprint wrong.”
“I know. Option two is that there’s a room in this building that isn’t on the blueprint. And it doesn’t have a fucking door.”
“Does that mean we have to knock the wall down?” Joey asked, shifting a little in place. “Can we use sledgehammers?”
“I want to see if we can get to the roof first,” Cal said, rolling up the blueprints. “Maybe there’s a set of stairs or a ladder or something going to it.”
“I don’t think the roof is going to be safe,” Wes told him. “You can tell from the outside that it’s sagging. Hell, we’re on shakier ground every floor we go up.”
There were only three floors, but they were on the top one. Cal crossed his arms. “I’m light enough to go up there on my own.”
“No,” Sully said, instead of making short jokes. “I’m with Wes, it’s not safe.”
“They’re right.” Lillian was standing in the doorway. “It’s not worth risking your life over.”
Cal tried not to pout. “I like it better when you guys are bitchy and make jokes about me not weighing anything and, you know, generally act like assholes about my personal safety.”
“There must have been a door at some point, right?” Beatrice said, knocking on the stupid wall. “We just have to find where it was plastered over or boarded up or whatever and break through that. A hell of a lot easier than digging in through the roof.”
“Stop being reasonable,” Cal insisted. “I’m trying to be reckless here.”
“Let’s just go?” Mick asked. “Get pizza and we’ll come back with hammers and saws next weekend.”
“Tomorrow,” Cal muttered. “Stupid school trip goes over next week.”
“Tomorrow, then. Come on.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Cal tried not to be sullen. Sometimes it happened like that. They’d come back. “Okay, thanks, guys. You’re the best. Except for you two,” he said, pointing at Jace and Jet. “You suck.”
Cal smiled at them. “If you’re free tomorrow you can come watch us break into the secret room, though. But you have to help pay for the pizza.”
“They can pay for it all,” Joey declared, tugging Travis to the door. “They owe me four years of birthday presents anyway.”
The stairs were rickety and covered in crap, but they’d pretty much cleared them on their way up, so it was easy going. Not nearly so bad as the time Cal had climbed up an abandoned elevator shaft. That hadn’t been fun.
The building was an old office block, and in the lobby, standing at had once been a desk, was a lady Cal had never seen before, looking like she didn’t belong here at all. She was tall, had golden, curly hair, wore a blue power suit and stilettos, and when she turned to look at them, Cal stopped in his tracks. “Hello,” he said, keeping the others behind him. No way this woman was here by coincidence.
“Hello,” the woman said. She had a file folder in her hand. “You are trespassing.”
“So are you,” Cal told her.
“Not quite.” She withdrew something from the folder, showed it to Cal.
Cal took it, looking, frowning. It was the deed to the building, under the name of one Mathilda Marlowe. He looked back up at her, wishing he was still several steps away, because she was fucking tall and it looked like he was starting at her boobs, which were admittedly awesome. “Nobody owned this place when I researched it last week.”
“It’s a new acquisition,” said the woman, who Cal had to assume was Mathilda Marlowe, rather than Mathilda Marlowe’s secretary, which would make more sense. “I’m a real estate developer. You will not return.”
Oh, no, that wasn’t going to work for Cal. He put his hands on his hips. “Why the sudden interest in this place?”
“I wasn’t aware I had to answer to you, young man.”
“You do if you don’t want me coming back with a sledgehammer in the middle of the night,” Cal told her, not cowed. She wasn’t telling the truth and Cal wasn’t letting her get away with that.
She wasn’t going to be cowed by him, either. “I plan to demolish it and several buildings around it, and build a museum.”
“A museum,” Cal repeated. “What kind of museum?”
“Irrelevant. Remove yourselves from this property at once.”
“You know what’s in this place, don’t you?”
Mathilda looked down at him archly, but Cal met her eye. They stared at each other for a minute, while everyone else mercifully stayed quiet. “You know what we’re looking for,” Cal said to her after a minute. “And I know where it is.”
“You will tell me.”
“Tell me what it is.”
“You don’t know.”
“No, but I’m still going to find it before you do,” Cal said. “So how about you let me do that and then we can work something out afterwards?”
Mathilda stared him down for another minute. “Very well. Tell me where it is.”
“We’ll be back tomorrow, we need some equipment,” Cal told her. “You can come with us.”
“Fine. You will meet me here at noon. I am Mathilda Marlowe.”
“Cal Tanner. See you tomorrow.”
“See you then,” she said, and she left the building.
“Holy fuck,” said one of Joey’s brothers. “I…am legitimately impressed.”
“Me too,” Beatrice added. “She’s hot. I don’t think I’d have stood up to her.”
“Cal’s always been scary when he wants to be,” Wes agreed, ruffling Cal’s hair. “She’s going to want whatever we find, though.”
“And I bet she’ll pay for it,” Cal told him. “Come on, let’s go get pizza. It’s been a long day.”
Cal felt energized now. His competitive streak was woken now, and he was having a good day. Whatever they were going to find in here, it was something big.
And Cal was ready for it.