New Winslow S6E27
Against her better judgment, Iris was back at Town Hall. No matter what she heard from Vivien or the ghost she’d seen last time, she had to go check the basement. If the papers were underground, then maybe they were in the basement of the most obvious place they could be. And if Iris skipped the opportunity to go get them because of a Do Not Enter sign and a warning from Vivien, she’d never forgive herself. So here she was, reluctantly slipping back into that stairwell. Andrew knew where she was, and he had an hour left of his shift at Forest Charms. He’d probably stay a little longer if she needed him to, but she didn’t want to need that. She just wanted to be done with this mission.
The yellow Do Not Enter sign was still in place on the cellar doors, held up by a fraying bit of rope. Iris took out the tiny copper disk she’d brought with her and set it down just outside the double doors. It was a minor charm, just meant to repel people from the basement for a little while. It wouldn’t hurt anyone, they’d hopefully just not feel any need to be on this landing or go through the doors. She didn’t want to be here either, but she took a deep breath, ducked under the rope, and carefully opened the door.
The darkness that greeted her was more intense than she’d expected it to be. After three steps, the staircase vanished. Remembering Vivien’s warning, Iris clicked on her flashlight and swept the beam over the stairs. Instead of ending abruptly over a deadly trap, they were all there, in one piece and stable under her feet as she slowly moved down them. The door clicked shut behind her, cutting off the light from the hallway and leaving her at the mercy of her flashlight.
Thankfully, the staircase wasn’t long. After about twelve steps, she felt dirt floor under her. As she ran her flashlight around the room again, she spotted a pull string and gave it a tug. Weak light from a single old bulb illuminated the space.
There wasn’t much to see. The ceiling was low, only a couple inches over Iris’s head. A small cabinet sat against the stone wall furthest from the stairs, but beyond that, there were no storage spaces that looked like they’d fit the Harbinger pages. Still, she tried to observe everything as she walked toward the cabinet. An empty wooden box, stacks of metal folding chairs, and what looked like the Christmas decorations that had just come down a month and a half ago from downtown. If someone was going to store delicate, incriminating papers down here, they wouldn’t do it in a hiding place that was constantly moved in and out of storage. Still, Iris shined her flashlight between the chairs and into the boxes of decorations, carefully shuffling Santa hats and tangled lights to make sure that she didn’t miss anything.
The cabinet was the only remaining likely spot down here. It was an old piece of furniture, with two solid wooden doors and a thin drawer at the top. She tugged on the drawer, which stuck, but then creaked open. There was a stack of moldy looking papers and Iris’s breath caught as she carefully retrieved them. But a quick glance at the top one showed that this was the instruction manual for a parade float from the eighties. She flipped through it, then set it back in the drawer and pushed it closed with a creak that made her cringe.
The doors stuck too. Just as she was thinking she might need a key, the first finally gave way, swinging all the way open to reveal its contents. Three small boxes sat side by side on the middle shelf, while the top and bottom shelf were empty. Iris opened the lid of the first one to see it was also empty. The second had crispy printer paper with nothing printed on it. The third was filled with small packets of flower seeds.
So the cabinet was just a crap collector. The entire basement felt oddly empty of anything important. Even if they weren’t keeping top secret papers down here, hidden away from the public, Iris would expect to see more than just holiday decorations, chairs, and forgotten office supplies. This building was at least two hundred years old, at least some clutter must have built up in that time.
She heard footsteps outside the door and froze. There was nowhere for her to hide if someone came in here. The cabinet was too small, as was the empty wooden box. She could maybe hide behind the cabinet for a moment, but they’d find her immediately, and she had no good excuse for being down here. All she could do was watch helplessly as the door began to creak open, casting a strip of light onto the small staircase.
Then, just as quickly as it started, the door slammed shut and the footsteps moved back up the stairwell outside. Iris stayed where she was, not even daring to exhale as she counted the seconds. Nobody else seemed to be coming behind the last person, but that first one could still be out there, just a little ways away.
The minutes stretched as Iris stood beside the cabinet, cursing herself for coming down here. Vivien was a jackass, but she was usually right and she’d told Iris that the papers weren’t in this basement. So she was just wasting time and putting herself at risk being down here to confirm that.
After about ten minutes, Iris carefully made her way back over to the staircase. She needed to go back. Andrew was waiting and getting caught in here was going to make more than just her own life more difficult. Once she was up the stairs and away from the cellar door, she’d be safe. With this thought, Iris turned the overhead light off and hurried up the staircase.
As she reached the second to last step, the wooden board lurched under her foot, caving inward as she grabbed for the railings in the dark. Her foot caught and she fell, landing painfully on her knee. But she managed to catch the railings, keeping her foot from going through the stair completely. The splintering wood was too loud, it was going to draw attention. But even as she waited a beat, knee throbbing and arms trembling with the effort of keeping herself up, nobody came. The copper coin apparently worked.
Iris gingerly opened the door, squinting in the artificial light of the hallway. Her knee was definitely banged up, but nothing was broken. Vivien had been mostly right. As Iris picked up her copper disk and started up the stairs toward the exit, limping slightly, she had to at least be grateful that she could completely cross Town Hall off of her list.