Hardwick House sat on a hill near the middle of downtown. It began, not especially humbly, as an enormous mansion back when Percival Hardwick made his fortune as a lumber baron. His heirs added on to it in a peculiar mixture of styles. The first section used the thin spires and intricate woodwork of the Gothic style. A later addition to the house had added an eight story tower and the extensive stonework of the Medieval Revival style. The final section of the house had been added in the late 1920’s — six, flat roofed stories, each story less wide than the story below. The final story ended in the shape of an Egyptian pyramid.
Impressively hideous, it absorbed almost half a city block when you included the grounds.
I circled it once before landing in the garden next to the tower. Aside from the grass and trees, everything appeared to be dead. Autumn in Grand Lake isn’t kind to flowers, turning the garden into a place of drying leaves and dirt.
Vaughn and Haley (both in costume) stood just on the other side of a walled section of the garden, hidden from the street. Behind them rose a huge wooden door that was large enough that a horse (or possibly two) could walk through.
The dark tower loomed above.
“Geez,” Vaughn said, “What happened to you?”
I looked down. Between a couple punches Tomahawk had gotten in during the chase and hitting the brick wall at the end, I’d picked up a few scratches on my armor.
“Some guy tried to grab me on the way over.”
Haley gave my armor a closer look and said, “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. I hit a wall, but he hit it harder.”
“Was it a cape?” Vaughn asked.
“Ever heard of Tomahawk?” I said.
“I guess we’d better get inside then,” Vaughn said.
He had a point. The mayor’s house was just a block lower on the same hill. Who knew who was patrolling there tonight and how far their senses extended?
He unlocked the door, motioning for us to enter. Once inside Vaughn flicked on a weak light, illuminating a hallway that kept up the medieval theme with the wooden floor and stone walls, but ruined it by filling the place with clutter — old couches, chairs, beds, bookcases, lamps, and debris from more than one hundred years of occupancy.
“Wow,” I said, “it reminds me of HQ.”
“Wait till we get to the lair,” Vaughn said.
Haley stood next to a Victorian bed. The headboard was almost twice her height and covered with detailed carvings that I couldn’t make out.
“I love this bed,” she said.
“We’ve got piles of crap like this all over,” Vaughn said. “The best stuff is out in the visitors section.
“Oh, Haley,” he said. “Would you mind getting the lights? They’re just down the hall, but we’ll run out of light before we ever see the switch.”
“Sure,” Haley threaded her way through the furniture and disappeared.
Once she was gone, Vaughn said, “I don’t mind that she’s here, but you could have told me.”
“Sorry. She asked this afternoon and I didn’t see anything wrong with it.”
“There isn’t, but, she just appeared out of nowhere. Scared the shit out of me.”
The lights went on and we walked down the curving hall, making a path over and through the furniture. Vaughn climbed over a couch and turned to me. “Hey, are you guys going out?”
“Uh… I don’t know. We went out for coffee today, but that was the first time we’ve ever done anything.”
“Did you clear it with Travis?”
“I didn’t know I had to.”
“I’m not saying you do. He just seems like the kind of guy who’d care, you know?”
“Even if he does care, it’s none of his business,” said Haley’s voice. I looked up. She hung on the wall above a series of bookcases and dressers.
“Right,” Vaughn said, “got it.”
He clambered across four chairs, past a Victrola and small, 1950’s era television. Then he stepped around the bookcases. I followed, glad to be standing on the actual floor again. Haley crawled to the section of wall above us and then dropped.
Stopping next to the light switches, Vaughn turned to both of us and said, “This is where things get interesting.” He pushed in two of the stones and a previously hidden door fell open next to the switches, opening to a stairway that appeared to follow the curve of the tower deep into the ground. It was all concrete with no lights. I held on to the railing.
The door shut behind us as we walked down.
“Did I just hear it lock?” Haley asked.
“Yeah,” Vaughn said, “Don’t worry about it. We can get out.”
After another few seconds walking downward in the dark, Haley said, “What’s that hissing sound?”
I didn’t hear anything.
“Hissing sound?” Vaughn said, “That’s the security system. It’s probably trying to blow in poison gas, but no one’s ever refilled the canister, so no biggie.”
We walked further down the stairs. After another minute, Haley said, “I’ve reached the bottom.”
“Great. Don’t go any farther, okay? Nick should probably go first from now on.”
“Why?” I didn’t quite manage to keep the suspicion out of my voice.
“Machine guns, man. The hall’s got a couple. They won’t hurt you, so you can punch through the wall and, you know, trash them.”
“Couldn’t you have just turned them off?” I asked.
“I don’t know how,” he said. “I’ve never come this way.”