The Empty Grave (Lockwood & Co. #5)(3)

‘I think we need a fresh perspective,’ she said. ‘Lucy, can’t the skull help at all?’

I shrugged. ‘I’ll try, Hol. But you know what mood it’s in.’

Over in the jar, the translucent face was still talking animatedly. I could just see the old brown skull clamped to the base of the glass beneath it.

I let myself tune back in to what it was saying.

‘… and eat them. Then I’ll freeze his toenails off. That’ll fix him.’

‘Oh, you’re not still going on about Kipps!’ I said. ‘I thought you’d finished ages ago.’

The face in the jar blinked at me. ‘Weren’t you even listening?’


‘Typical. I went into all kinds of grim, inventive detail just for you.’

‘Save it. We can’t find the entrance. Can you help us out?’

‘Why should I? You won’t believe anything I say.’

‘That’s not true. It’s because we do sort of believe you that we’re standing here right now.’

The skull snorted rudely. ‘If you took my word in any conventional sense, you’d be sitting at home with your feet up, rotting your innards with tea and chocolate biscuits. But no. You have to “double-check” my story.’

‘Are you surprised? You say that Marissa Fittes isn’t dead, but is actually alive and well and pretending to be her supposed grand-daughter, Penelope Fittes. The same Penelope Fittes who is head of the Fittes Agency and probably the most powerful person in London. That’s quite a claim to make. You’ll forgive us if we need to check it out for ourselves.’

The face rolled its eyes. ‘Piffle. Know what this is an example of? Skullism.’

‘What nonsense are you spouting now?’

‘You’ve heard of racism. You’ve heard of sexism. Well, this is skullism, pure and simple. You’re judging me by my outward appearance. You doubt my word solely because I’m a skull lurking in a jar of slime-green plasm. Admit it!’

I took a deep breath. This was a skull known far and wide for its outrageous whoppers and virtuoso fibbing. To say it sometimes stretched the truth would be like saying George sometimes stretched the seat of his trousers when tying his shoelaces. On the flipside, the ghost had saved my life more than once and – on certain important matters – hadn’t always lied. ‘That’s an interesting point,’ I said, ‘and I look forward to discussing it with you later. In the meantime, help me out. We’re looking for the entrance to a crypt. Do you see a ring or handle?’


‘Do you see a lever?’


‘Do you see a pulley, winch or any other mechanism for opening a hidden trapdoor?’

‘No. Of course not. You’re getting desperate now.’

I sighed. ‘OK. I get the message. So there’s no door here.’

‘Oh, of course there’s a door,’ the ghost said. ‘Why didn’t you ask me? It’s obvious enough from up here.’

I relayed this to the others. Holly and Lockwood acted as one. They vaulted up onto the block beside Kipps. Lockwood grabbed one of the lanterns and held it out in front of him. He and Holly both rotated, scanning the floor, faces locked in concentration. The light washed slowly over the flagstones like water, spilling up against the base of the walls.

‘This is pitiful,’ the skull said. ‘I saw it straight off, and I don’t have an eyeball to call my own. Well, I’m sorry, but you’re not getting any more clues from—’

‘There!’ Holly grasped Lockwood’s arm. He held the lantern steady. ‘There!’ she said. ‘See that little flagstone set inside the bigger one? The big one is the trapdoor. Pull up the small stone and we’ll find the ring or handle hidden underneath!’

George and I ran over, bent close to where she pointed. As soon as she said it, I knew that she was right.

‘Brilliant, Holly,’ Lockwood said. ‘That must be it. Tools ready, everyone.’

It was at times like this that Lockwood & Co. was at its fluent best. Knives were brought out, and the cement around the smaller stone cut free. We levered it up with crowbars; Lockwood pulled it aside. Sure enough, a hinged bronze ring lay beneath, set into the larger stone. While George, Holly and I loosened the edges of this stone, Lockwood and Kipps tied ropes around the ring, testing and double-testing the knots, making sure they could take the strain. Lockwood was everywhere at once, softly giving orders, helping with every task. Energy crackled off him, spurring us all on.

‘Isn’t anyone going to thank me?’ The skull watched disgustedly from its jar. ‘Thought not. Good job I’m not in the business of holding my breath.’

Within minutes we were in position. Lockwood and Kipps stood by the first rope; they would lift the stone. On the opposite side, the second rope hung slack. George and I held this – it was our job to support the flagstone once it was lifted, and help lower it quietly back onto the floor. In the centre, by the ring, Holly knelt, ready with the crowbars.

The room was still. Up on the wall our lantern light quivered on the iron head of Marissa Fittes. It was as if she was watching us, her eyes glittering with malevolent life.

At moments of maximum tension Lockwood always made it his business to be the calmest of all. He smiled at us. ‘Everyone ready?’ he asked. ‘Right – let’s go.’

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