Watch Your Step
Lois finger-combed her bangs and swiped them away from her eyes, amazed at how steady her hand appeared. She was grateful it wasn’t betraying the carnival of emotions that were stampeding inside her chest. Although her lungs were breathing in gaping amounts of air, her blood felt starved for oxygen.
Up until she had driven into the gates of the monstrous estate, Lois’ thoughts were buzzing about the English woman’s story. Something about it hadn’t felt right. That woman reeked of wealth, so it made sense that her grandmother’s disappearance was some ransom ploy for money, but why include Clark in the bargain? What kind of criminal would be interested in taking a reporter? What was more, Clark would have found a way to involve Superman to stop such a scheme.
Now, though, Lois’ thoughts were taking a ninety-degree turn and spinning another direction.
She had parked behind the black Mercedes-Benz at the far side of the mansion, her gaze sweeping the vast landscape around her.
“Thank you for coming all this way,” the English woman said in greeting as she stepped out of the car, escorted by Mister Keplin. “My name is Elizabeth Wingham.”
Lois started. “Wingam? As in. . .?”
“Wingham Rifles, yes,” Elizabeth confirmed, starting to walk forward. “I was named after my grandmother, who is also Elizabeth Wingham.”
Lois, walking alongside Elizabeth, raised a skeptical brow. “Did your mother divorce?”
A knowing smirk pulled at the corners of Elizabeth’s mouth. “You ask because of my maiden name, I assume?”
Lois nodded, not caring if the question had been too forward.
“No, my mother never married,” she explained patiently. “I was an illegitimate child. My mother died when I was two years old, and I have since been raised by my grandmother.” Elizabeth pointed to a beautiful mahogany door with a frosted glass window. “Now, if you please, through the carriage entrance.”
Mister Keplin—who had been waiting silently by the door—pulled it open. Elizabeth walked in while Lois cast one more sweeping gaze at the mansion before allowing herself to follow.
“My grandmother’s estate is quite a sight to behold, is it not?” Elizabeth commented, incorrectly gauging Lois’ awestruck expression.
Lois reigned in the desire to explain to Miss Wingham that her reason for gaping at the estate wasn’t that she was awed by its mammoth size and eloquent Victorian beauty, but because she had seen this place before.
This was the mansion Clark had drawn. This was the one from his dream.
She was now almost positive that Clark was here, because surely, Rose was. The timing of her husband’s dreams involving a spirit and this very mansion was much too coincidental. This was related somehow; it had to be. Rose had been asking him to find her, asking him for help. If Elizabeth was right and her husband was in danger, Lois doubted she needed to look much further to find the culprit. Was Miss Wingham somehow controlling this ghost girl? Was the spirit reaching out to Clark in hopes he would set her free? Most importantly, though, if Clark was here, where was he, and why was he gone this long?
Lois felt like she was entering a poker’s lounge. This was a game of professional lies and deceit, and Elizabeth and Mister Keplin were each playing their hand of cards. Why she felt immediately distrustful of Miss Wingham, Lois couldn’t put a firm thumb on it. Yet, when a missing Clark was involved and an English woman Lois had never met claimed to have some kind of connection to the mystery, did she need any more reason than that? As for her mistrust of Mister Keplin, well. . . when was a man dressed in a black suit with black shades ever trustworthy?
Lois took a couple of deep breaths, smoothing her features into a professional poker’s mask. Through the carriage entrance was a small outdoor courtyard. At one time, it must have been full of horses and carriages, for empty stables that lined the courtyard wall suggested as much. But now, it was a small garden. Three tall fruit trees spread their bare branches, having shed their leaves for the approaching winter. A watering trough looked like it had been turned into a bird’s watering hole as Lois watched two pigeons preen themselves in the white marbled basin. There were two circular emerald tables with intricately carved bases situated under the shadow of the fruit trees, but it was through another mahogany door leading into the estate where Lois followed Miss Wingham and Mister Keplin.
“I’m afraid a more proper introduction will have to wait, Miss Lane,” Elizabeth began, walking down a highly polished wooden hallway. “Due to the circumstances, you understand.” Without waiting for a reply, she continued on, walking into a small parlor where there was a man dressed in a black suit with black shades identical to Mister Keplin’s. Idly, Lois wondered if Elizabeth required her service men to wear sunglasses at all times, because the dim lighting in the parlor hardly necessitated them.
“Mister Hayes, have you any recent developments?” Miss Wingham asked, although her tone indicated it was more of a demand.
Mister Hayes was a surprisingly short man, his forehead meeting Miss Wingham’s chin, who was around Lois’ height at five foot eight. He had a wide, stocky build with short sandy-blond hair that slicked back with an overuse of gel. He nodded toward Elizabeth. In his hands, he held a polished wooden box.
“We have obtained more evidence,” Mister Hayes replied and opened the lid.
Without warning, there was a flash of green light and Lois automatically flinched. She ought to have shielded her eyes, but she found that she could not look away. Staring into the box, she could feel an invisible hand reach through her skull and wrap its fingers around her brain, demanding every ounce of her attention. The small parlor faded from sight, and Miss Wingham’s voice suddenly echoed loudly through her mind, saying words that lulled her into a soothing nightmare in which a new reality would paint the future of life, as she would now know it.