The Empty Grave (Lockwood & Co. #5)(9)

George adjusted his spectacles. ‘A few details never hurt anyone.’

‘All the same,’ Lockwood said, ‘I’ve never heard of a mummy looking quite like this …’ As he spoke, he stepped across the iron chains again.

‘Lockwood,’ I said, ‘what are you doing?’

‘It’s like she died yesterday.’ He reached in, put his fingers to the side of the face.

‘Well, don’t touch her!’

‘Ak! Lockwood!’

‘Ah, yes …’ There was a softly noxious peeling sound, as of skin coming away.

Holly put her hand over her mouth; George made a noise like a throttled cat. Kipps clutched my arm.

Lockwood stood back. He had the old woman’s face dangling between his fingers.

‘Look,’ he said. ‘It’s just a mask.’ He smiled at us. ‘A plastic mask … And check this out …’ His other hand came up. The grey-white wig hung heavy, matted and shapeless, like something that had been teased out of a plughole. ‘A mask and wig,’ he said, laughing. ‘It’s fake. Everything’s just fake … Everyone OK?’

To be honest, that might have been stretching it. For a moment none of us moved. Then our shock and relief spilled over. Kipps began laughing. Holly just stood there, shaking her head, hand still on her mouth. I realized I’d been holding my flare ready all this time. My fingers hurt. I put it back in my belt.

‘Lockwood,’ I said, ‘that is so icky. That is the ickiest thing I’ve ever seen you do. Which is saying something.’

‘It’s not really icky.’ Lockwood considered the thing lying in the coffin. ‘It’s just a dummy. Come and see.’

We all stepped over to the coffin. Sure enough, shorn of its coverings, the head resting on the ivory silk pillow wasn’t human at all. It was made of wax. It had the correct dimensions, with a rough nose shape, and shallow indents where the eyes would be, but there were no real features, just the bubbles and pits of yellowish wax, smooth in places, rough in others.

‘What a con!’ George bent over the coffin, holding his spectacles as he stared quizzically at the dummy. He pulled the shroud further away, uncovering a wax torso, and rough, spindly wax arms crossed over the breast. ‘Life size, and probably the correct weight, so no one guessed when they were carrying it. The mask was there just in case anyone looked in.’

‘She’s not there,’ Lockwood said. ‘This whole mausoleum is built on a lie.’

‘Unbelievable.’ Kipps was still laughing softly to himself. He reached into the coffin and struck the waxen chest with his knuckles, making a hollow tapping sound. ‘A dummy! And we were all so frightened …’

I wanted to laugh too. It was the sheer release of the tension that had been building up all night. Everyone felt it. Holly got out some chocolate, began offering it around. Thermos flasks of coffee were located. We leaned back against the coffin.

‘We’ve got to go public with this,’ George said.

Lockwood frowned. ‘Maybe. It’s only half the story, don’t forget. Marissa’s not here. So where is she?’

‘The skull’s been telling us where,’ I said.

Tap, tap … Behind us, Kipps rapped out a jaunty little rhythm on the wax. ‘A dummy!’ he said. ‘We can’t keep this quiet. We show the mask, tell DEPRAC, get the press down here.’ He reached out for the chocolate. ‘Thanks, Holly. Don’t mind if I do.’

Holly handed out the last piece. ‘The difficult thing is knowing who to trust,’ she said. ‘Half of DEPRAC’s in Penelope’s pockets.’

‘Barnes is OK.’

‘Yeah. He is. But how much influence does Barnes have now?’

Tap, tap …

‘Decisions for tomorrow,’ Lockwood said. ‘Thing to do now is get back topside before the guards change again.’

Tap, tap, tappety-tap …

‘OK, Quill,’ I said. ‘Maybe you can stop that now. It’s getting a little irritating.’

‘I have stopped,’ Kipps said. ‘I’m eating my chocolate, same as you.’

Everyone looked at Kipps, leaning against the plinth beside us. He held up both hands in confirmation. The tapping noise continued. We stared at one other. We swallowed our chocolate in unison. Then we looked behind us.

Something protruding from under the rumpled shroud was striking the side of the coffin, making the tapping sound. It was a cupped wax hand, twitching and jerking in spasms. As we watched, the trembling extended up the arm, and all at once the whole wax dummy was shaking, as if in protest at the coils of ghost-fog now rising from the grave.


Ten minutes earlier, it would all have been fine. Even five minutes earlier would have been OK. We were so keyed up when we came into the vault, the first apparition to show its face would have been impaled by five rapiers simultaneously. As for the coffin, anything jumping out when we opened the lid would have been diced and dismembered before it knew what was happening. But the extreme shock – and subsequent anticlimax – of finding the wax mannequin had fatally distracted us. We had allowed ourselves to switch off. This in turn had lured us into committing the three cardinal sins of psychic investigation: we’d stopped using our Talents, we’d stepped inside the chains, and we’d turned our backs on an open coffin. Even the rawest seven-year-old trainee knows to avoid those mistakes. Rookie errors, every one.

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