Lost and Gone Forever (Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad, #5)
He woke in the dark and saw that his cell door was open.
Just a crack, but lamplight shone through and into the room. He lay on his cot and watched that chink of yellow through his shivering eyelashes. But the door didn’t open any farther, and the man—the man Jack—didn’t enter the room. Had Jack forgotten to latch the door after his last visit? Or was he waiting to pounce, somewhere just out of sight in the passage beyond the cell?
He kept his eyes half-shut and watched the door for an hour. The sun came up and the quality of light in the room changed. The crack between the door and the jamb remained the same, but the lamplight behind it faded, washed out by the brighter gleam of the rising sun. At last, he threw his thin grey blanket aside and sat up, swung his legs over the side of the cot, and padded across the room to the bucket in the corner. When he had finished the morning’s business, he scooped sand into the bucket and went to the table under the window. He splashed water on his face from the bowl, his back to the open door, ignoring it. He drank from a ladle and looked out through the bars at the narrow stony yard, all he could see of the outside world. Then he went back to the cot and sat down and waited.
His breakfast didn’t come, but sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes Jack forgot or was busy. A missed meal here or there was hardly the end of the world. So he sat and he waited. He began to worry when midday passed without any sign of food. His stomach grumbled. He checked the positions of the shadows in the yard, but they told him nothing he didn’t already know. He had an excellent internal clock. He knew full well when it was time to eat.
When teatime passed with no tea or bread, he stood again and went to the door. He put his hand on the knob and closed his eyes. He concentrated on his breathing, calmed himself. He pulled the door half an inch wider and took his hand off the knob. He stood behind the door and braced himself.
But nothing happened.
Braver now, he touched the doorknob again, wrapped his fist around it, and opened the door wide enough that he could see out into the hallway. He put his head out of the room and pulled it back immediately. But despite his expectations, nothing had hit him or cut him. Nobody had laughed at him or screamed at him. All was quiet.
And so he stepped out of the room for the first time in as long as he could remember. He wasn’t at all comfortable being outside his cell. His memory of the things beyond that room was vague and untrustworthy. He swallowed hard and looked back at his cot. It represented all he knew, relative security bound up with stark terror, the twin pillars that supported his existence.
He left it behind and crept down the passage on his bare feet, leaving the lantern where it hung on a peg outside the chamber. When he reached the end of the hallway there was another door, and he seized the knob without flinching. He stifled a gasp when it turned under his hand and the second door swung open, revealing a long wedge of wan afternoon sunlight. He had expected the door to be locked, had expected to have to turn around and retreat to his cell and his cot and his bucket. Had, in fact, almost wished for it.
He stepped out into fresh air. He felt the warmth of the sunbaked stones on the soles of his feet. When his eyes had accustomed themselves to the bright light, he looked around him at the empty street and turned and looked up at the nondescript house that had been his home for so long. He didn’t remember ever seeing the front of the house before, and it occurred to him that he might have been born there, might never have been outside it. Perhaps his half-remembered notions of the world beyond his cell were only dreams.
A breeze stirred the hair on his bare arms, and he felt suddenly self-conscious. After hesitating a moment, he turned and went back inside, back down the passage, back into his room, to the cot. He picked up his grey blanket and draped it over his shoulders and left again.
Back outside, he looked up and down the street and smiled. He had a choice to make and he felt proud to have been given the opportunity. Jack was testing him, he was sure of it. He could go left to the end of the road where he saw another street running perpendicular to this one. Or he could go right. Far away to his right he could see the green tops of trees waving to him from somewhere over a steep hill. Perhaps a park or a garden. Trees. He could imagine how their bark would feel under the palm of his hand. He was certain he had touched trees before. He really had been outside his room. He nodded. The trees meant something.
Walter Day turned to his right and limped naked down the street toward the beckoning green.