Riley thought she was done for, falling into some hidden stairwell. It was dark, making it difficult to tell how long it was. When she broke her neck at the bottom, she’d have to wait for the “nightmare police” to come find her. They’d wonder who the heck this kid was who lay at the bottom of the stairs, her neck twisted at an odd angle.
One would say, “Who’s this?”
And the other would shrug. “I don’t know. Looks like some idiot fell down the stairs.”
And they’d be right…but why hadn’t it happened yet? She’d heard her crutches clatter past her, but she never hit anything. Everything was so dark, she couldn’t see what happened to them. Then she realized she was squeezing her eyes shut.
She opened them, looking down at the floor of a broom closet, her crutches lying there. She saw multiple brooms, as well as cleaning supplies.
Well, shoot. Nothing to see here. No hidden bases. There isn’t even a spot to hide an entrance to a base. Just a lot of brooms. I mean, come on. Why does the place have to have so many brooms? Most of them made of that straw-like stuff that always makes me think of the scarecrow from Batman.
But she wasn’t falling. Then she noticed a pulling sensation on her back, a tightness around her chest. She hadn’t realized it before because she had been holding her breath, waiting. Now, with a large exhale of air, she felt herself being pulled back.
“Could you grab her crutches?”
Riley heard the voice from behind her and turned to see the old guy holding onto her shirt, instructing Suzy to grab her crutches. He must have been crazy strong as he pulled Riley back with one hand, preparing to grab her around the torso with the other. How had he reacted so quickly and grabbed her?
Who is this guy?
Suzy quickly grasped the crutches, looking just a shocked as Riley. Riley couldn’t remember the last time her friend had ever done anything without making some sort of quip first.
Suzy handed them to Riley, who used them to regain her balance. When the old man let her go, Riley worked herself around to face him.
The man had a strange accent that Riley thought could be British, but she wasn’t sure. She had never actually met anyone from England, so her only experience was with fake accents in television shows.
“Now, could you please explain to me why you were about to enter our closet, or would you rather I just call the police and have you explain it to them?”
“I was looking for the bathroom,” Riley said quickly, not wanting to get the police involved. That would be a great end to the day. Aunt Alice would be thrilled. Hospital one day, police station the next. Riley wouldn’t be allowed out of her house until she was eighteen.
“Really?” The man studied them both, then reached past them to close the door. He nodded at the sign. “So, if you can’t read, what are you doing in a bookstore?”
Riley felt her face flush. She looked over at Suzy, hoping she had an answer, but she stood still, eyes wide and the color draining from her face. The guy was definitely intimidating. He was stiff, but didn’t dress like some upscale British dude like Riley would have expected. He wore jeans and a polo shirt that was tucked in, which seemed natural for his extreme thinness. Weren’t British guys supposed to, well, wear suits and those funny looking hats?
Though when Riley thought about it, her experience with British people was limited to Harry Potter and Doctor Who. She also loved reading old stories, like Sherlock Holmes, but that wouldn’t have a modern description of a British person.
“Well?” the man asked, interrupting Riley’s thoughts.
She looked at the closet, then back to the man, guessing he worked there. If he did, he must know Bruce.
“We were looking for someone,” Riley said, frustrated.
He raised a brow. “In the closet?”
“No. We just thought it would be a good place to start looking.” The man continued to glare down at them, his gaze piercing into Riley’s soul, making her squirm. “And, well… Yeah. I don’t know. We thought there would be, like, stairs leading down somewhere.”
“So you were going to break into the basement? What? Expecting to find some rare books down there that you might be able to sell?”
The man grabbed the back of Riley’s shirt again, holding her tightly. Suzy reached out and tried to pull him away, but it was no use. The guy was strong, and because Riley was on crutches, she couldn’t fight as hard as she’d normally be able to.
“We weren’t trying to steal anything,” Suzy said through gritted teeth, struggling to break Riley free.
“We were here to talk to Bruce,” Riley said.
The old man shook his head and looked over his shoulder at somebody Riley and Suzy couldn’t see. “Call the police,” he said.
That was when Riley was able to shift her weight and bring one of her crutches down onto the man’s foot. He immediately let go of her, hopping up and down slightly, and Riley didn’t miss the opportunity. As quickly as she could on crutches, she dashed, into the next aisle.