CHAPTER THREE

"This is the address? You're sure?"

Hannibal looked at Fred Tovey, who'd gone pale as a ghost. "Yeah, Fred, this is the address. The trace on that last call is to an apartment on the fifth floor. Why?"

Tovey licked his lips nervously. "Because that's the apartment building where my ex-wife lives. Her place is on the fifth floor..."


*****

"Nice looking bunch of kids, Amy." Face leaned over her shoulder and sniffed a couple times. "Vodka?"

"Oh, Face, don't be ridiculous! The girls are just very...shy. They must have gone upstairs through the kitchen. That's where they were hiding when I got here."

"Hiding?"

"Just playing a joke on me. C'mon, we'll go up and get them."

"You go up and find them. I'm going to find the telephone. We need to get the girls out of here; there's just no way of defending this place if those goons show up."

Amy stopped, paled. "Do you really think they'll come after children? I thought it was more...extortion."

"Nobody knows what this guy might try, Amy. And now he says he's brought in help...that's why I'm here. And why we're getting out of this place. So you go get the girls, and I'll call Hannibal, let him know we're hitting the road."

Amy nodded and hurried up the main staircase. She didn't feel quite so nervous going into the dark second story, now that Face was close by. She still didn't understand why the girls seemed to prefer being up here, and in the dark.

Reaching the top landing, she tried the wall switch and was greatly relieved when, after a second's hesitation, the ceiling light decided to work. Not that it gave off a great deal of illumination, but at least she could see where she was going. From the landing, a short set of steps went each direction, with a hallway leading to either end of the house. There were several closed doors along each hall, and at the north end, Amy thought she could see a narrow spiral staircase. Probably up to that turret she'd seen from the street.

Now, where would the girls have gone?

"Mary! Mary, where are you? Please come out. Please?"

Once again, Amy heard a soft giggle. She thought it came from the north hall, but she wasn't sure. Sighing with a little more than a slight exasperation, she headed down the hall, and away from the reassuring light.


*****

Face had checked out the front room, the dining room, and the back study, and still hadn't found a phone. Now he stood in the kitchen, wondering if Tovey had hidden the phone somehow, to keep the period look. He was about to head back to the front of the house when he heard a small shuffling. He looked across the kitchen, and there stood a small girl, near what must have been the back stairs. He cocked his head and smiled.

"Hello there."

The little girl smiled back. Not a big smile, but almost...coy. This was obviously the ringleader of the tricksters, and Face knew how to deal with that.

"That was a pretty good disappearing act you pulled, kiddo. Kinda fun, pulling tricks on big people, huh?"

The little girl giggled, and nodded her head. Before Face could say anything more, she turned and ran up the stairs.

Face sighed. Great. Now we're playing hide and seek. He moved quickly to the stairs and looked up. Dark as pitch. Those kids must know this house like the back of their hands, to be able to run all over in the dark. He pulled out his penlight and started up the stairs. Halfway up, the penlight went out. He shook it a couple of times and the light returned. He took two more steps and out it went again.

Damn.

He could either go up the rest of the way, or he could go down and look some more for the phone. A heavy rumble of thunder decided the issue. He could call Hannibal from the motel. The important thing now was to gather up these little hooligans and get out of here, before either the storm or those goons hit this place.

He felt his way up the stairs and took a quick look around. Ironically, it was thanks to the lightning flashing through the windows that he could see anything. He seemed to be in a large room, basically empty. At one end was a large doorway, opening to a hallway. Face could hear giggling from somewhere in the dark. Trying to keep his temper in check, he moved in the direction of the noise.

He'd gone only a short distance down the hall when suddenly the little girl from downstairs stepped around a corner. Face stopped short; he'd been quite sure the hall went straight to the end of the house. Then again, from his search for the phone, he knew there were all kinds of little nooks and crannies; the girl must have been hiding in one of them.

"Hello again. Look, much as I'd like to keep playing with you, we need to get your sisters and go back downstairs, okay? We're going on a little trip, and we need to leave before the storm gets bad."

"But you're supposed to take care of us." The voice was soft, and Face felt himself softening at the gentle plea in it.

"I am going to take care of you, honey. All of you. But we need to go some place safer. Safer from the storm," he amended. No point in scaring the poor kid.

"No."

"What?"

"No. We have to stay here. We have to."

"Look, I know your daddy told you..."

"We have to stay here. You have to take care of us here."

"Listen, I..."

"Face? Are you up here?"

Face turned towards Amy's voice, coming from behind him..

"Yeah, Amy. I found one of them. But she's not being very cooperative." He turned back to the girl, to try and reason with her.

He stared at the empty hallway. Damn! Shaking his head, he moved back to through the large room, trying to see Amy in the gloom.

"Amy? Amy, where are you?"

"Face? I'm down in the kitchen. Did you find them?"

Face came disgustedly down the stairs. "If you'd stayed upstairs long enough to listen, you'd know I did. But then she took off again."

Amy stared blankly at him.

"Face, I just came into the kitchen. I haven't been up the back stairs."