80. In on a Visitor’s Pass

“We can’t hide out here forever,” Doris said.

A bare bulb lit the basement’s limestone walls. “We won’t.”

I slid the cover off the hole in the floor.

“What?” Doris said.

“Follow me.”

“Where does it go?”

She peered down. There wasn’t much to see. The first few ladder rungs. The rough edge of dirt around the opening. Then, darkness.

“Charles?”

“The underworld.”

“You couldn’t drag me. Not again.”

“It won’t be like last time.”

“How will it be different?”

“The dead haven’t kidnapped you. They’re not holding you for ransom. We’re deciding.”

“It’s a decision. But it’s crazy.”

“We’ll make a deal before we go in. A visitor’s pass. We’re in, we’re out.”

“A deal with the dead? They’ll double cross us for laughs.”

“We’ll work it out with Duke.”

“Duke.”

“We got to trust somebody. It’s him or those reporters. You expect the milk of human kindness from them?”

“You go first,” she said after a long pause. “I hate heights.”

“It’s more of a depth, baby,” I said.

I got on my hands and knees and eased my weight onto the ladder. It creaked, flexed. Clumps of dirt broke off and landed eventually with a plop. I descended.

Finally my foot hit dirt. The dim green light from Duke’s security lock pad glowed against the wall.

I held the ladder for Doris, listened to her slow progress. She stepped off the ladder and grabbed my arm.

“You know the code?” she said.

“I don’t think it matters.”

“If we’ve got an underworld portal standing wide open…”

“That’s not it,” I said.

The security pad beeped and blinked before I touched it. The door opened.

Brimsnod said, “Don’t worry. Duke’s waiting.”

“Don’t worry,” Doris repeated.

It didn’t matter how dark it was. I could imagine the look on her face.

Tomorrow: The usual underworld slog

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