The Vanishing Stair (Truly Devious, #2)(2)

And now, she sounded afraid.

“But the police . . . yes. I understand.”


“I’ll meet you there when the girls are in bed. I’ll get them off now. I’ll come soon.”

The phone went down with a bang, and Francis slipped from her perch and returned to the common room as Miss Nelson came down. She was trying to look casual, but she couldn’t help the bright, urgent look in her eye, the flush in her face. She walked to the door and slid the big iron bolt. There was the smallest hint of a shake in her hand.

“Time for bed, girls,” she said.

“Where is Dottie?” Gertie said.

“You were right. She’s spending the night in the infirmary with the nurse. Now, to bed, to bed.”

“It’s only five to ten,” Agnes Renfelt said. “There’s a program I want to listen to.”

“In your room,” Miss Nelson said. “You can listen to your radio there.”

Francis went to her room, number two, at the end of the hall. Once inside, she pulled off her dress and changed into a pair of black wool pants and a gray ski sweater. From the top drawer of her bureau she removed a candle and a pack of matches, which she put in her pocket. Then she sat on the floor by her door, ear pressed against it, and waited.

About two hours later, Francis heard Miss Nelson moving past her door. Francis cracked her door slightly and saw Miss Nelson heading toward the stairs at the end of the hall. She looked at the glowing hands of her bedside clock. She would give Miss Nelson a ten-minute start. That would be safe.

When the ten minutes were up, Francis exited her room and went to the spiral stairs at the end of the hall. She worked her way around to the back of the circular stairs. These stairs were enclosed in the back, and this enclosure looked solid, but Francis had discovered the secret of the stairs one night after spying Miss Nelson in the hall. It had taken her weeks to work out the trick of the stairs, but she eventually found that if you pressed on the right spot, a tiny latch would pop out of the bottom. You could use this to pull open a small doorway. Inside the staircase was what appeared to be an empty, tiny bit of storage space. But if you looked carefully, there was a hatch in the floor. Tonight, this hatch was open. Miss Nelson was usually careful enough to close it behind her.

The hatch exposed a raw, dark hole in the ground with a ladder that seemed to descend into nowhere. The first time Francis had climbed down, it had taken all her nerve. She had the feel for the ladder now, knowing how to ease her way down into the dark, taking each rung with care, ball of the foot first, never fully rolling onto the heel until she reached the floor below.

At the base of the ladder, Francis found herself in a tight passage made of rough stone. It was only a few inches higher than her head and just about wide enough for one person, and reminded Francis, not unpleasantly, of a tomb. She managed to pull up her arm and light the candle, and the sulfuric stink of the match filled the space and gave her a small halo of light.

She began her walk.




There has been a major development in the investigation of the death of YouTube star Hayes Major. Most readers will be aware that Major, famous for his hit show The End of It All, died during the shooting of a video about the Ellingham kidnapping and murders of 1936. While working in a tunnel, he was exposed to a fatal concentration of carbon dioxide.

Though the police have declared Hayes Major’s death an accident—the result of using a large quantity of dry ice in order to achieve a fog effect for a scene—is the matter settled? An intrepid Ellingham student detective named Stephanie (aka Stevie) Bell launched her own investigation. Bell was admitted to Ellingham as an expert on the 1936 kidnapping case. She became convinced that Major had not placed the dry ice in the tunnel and was in fact killed either by accident or intentionally by another person. Furthermore, she concluded that Major did not write his hit series, as he claimed to have done.

Bell approached this reporter and asked to review images taken during the day of Major’s death. Using information from these photographs, Bell accused fellow student Element Walker of writing the series The End of It All and having a role in the death. Following a confrontation at Minerva House, where Major, Walker, and Bell were all residents, school officials became involved. All remaining students from Minerva House were taken to the Ellingham Great House.

What happened next was unexpected and baffling.

Sources present at the Great House that night confirm that school officials questioned Element Walker, and that the school opted to stop their questioning to consult with an attorney and to contact law enforcement. Walker was left alone in Albert Ellingham’s former office, with the door closed and people right outside. When the door was reopened, Walker was gone and has not been seen since. There are reports that she used a hidden passage in the wall to make her escape.

This reporter has to ask: Where could Element Walker have gone at night, with no supplies, no phone, no car, and no preparation? Ellingham Academy is on a remote mountainside. How did she get away? Did someone on the campus help her? How did she know about the passageway? Was she even involved in Major’s death, or did she leave out of alarm?

Her disappearance has raised even more questions in this ever-evolving case.

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