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TARA WESTON'S GUARDIAN, Part Three

Short story By: Philip Roberts
Mystery and crime



Richie Travers is a world-class burglar who breaks into the Weston mansion expecting to find treasures. Instead he finds slashed bodies everywhere!


Submitted:Sep 18, 2011    Reads: 21    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   


PART THREE:

Standing by the dumbwaiter doors on the second floor, Richie Travers examined the consul controls. "There must be something to push to unjam the damn lift," he muttered to himself, trying to read the buttons in the feeble beam of the penlight.

"Clear!" he reads below one small button. Finding nothing else even vaguely likely, he decided to risk pressing the button.

There was a hellish roaring of gears for a few seconds. But other than a terrified squeal from Tara Weston, there was no result.

He risked pushing the button a second time. But when it did not budge the dumbwaiter, Richie did not dare to risk it a third time.

"Then, what else can I do? For all I know that maniac might be climbing down the elevator shaft to attack her from above? Or leaning down to shoot her through the roof of the dumbwaiter!" thought Richie.

Knowing that there was no time to waste, Richie reached for the doors to the dumbwaiter. "But will they open?" he wondered.

Pulling the handles, he opened the doors wide and pointed the penlight beam into the shaft.

"Holy ...?" he said, peering down into a seemingly bottomless pit. Tara had told him that the dumbwaiter only travelled from the main kitchen on the second floor to the banqueting hall on the fourth floor. But peering down into the abyss, Richie realised that she was wrong. It also went down to a basement or subbasement. Possibly a provisions store.

"God help her if the cable snaps," thought Richie, looking down the shaft again. "Or if that maniac manages to cut the cable somehow!" he suddenly realised; wondering if that was the mysterious thumping that he had heard a while back.

"My God, there's no time to waste," he realised, turning to peer up the shaft this time.

To Richie's relief he could see the bottom of the dumbwaiter only half a metre or so (perhaps two feet) above his head. "But the question is, how do I get her out of there?" he wondered aloud.

He looked around the well provisioned kitchen, looking for something, anything that might help him to lower the food elevator, so that the girl could crawl out. Along one whole wall of the kitchen was a wrack containing seemingly hundreds of carving knives, bread knives, cleavers, and meat tenderising tools of every possible persuasion.

"Maybe I could use one of the meat cleavers to cut the bottom out of the lift?" he considered. But then he wondered if he could catch the twelve-year-old girl in time as the bottom fell out of the dumbwaiter. "In time to stop her from plummeting to her death down that near bottomless pit!"

He shone the penlight beam down the shaft again and still could not make out any bottom. "Still the light of this thing is so feeble," he told himself, trying to convince himself that the silver-blonde girl might be able to survive falling down the shaft without serious trauma.

Yet he knew in his heart that it probably was not true. "Maybe I can lean into the shaft to try to deflect her into the second floor if she falls?" thought Richie. But looking down the abyss again, he was not convinced that he was big enough a hero to take a fall like that himself to save the girl's life. "Even if I am her guardian angel."

Looking up toward where the base of the dumbwaiter was so close, yet so far overhead, Richie heard Tara Weston crying and felt like a bastard for his cowardice.

After a moment, he wondered, "Can I reach up and pull the lift slowly down?" Remembering his abortive attempts to move the elevator with the "Clear" button, he hesitated. But he knew that every second's procrastination could cost young Tara her life. So, doing his best not to think of the bottomless depths below, Richie leant out into the dumbwaiter shaft and reached up until his fingers were touching the rough-hewn wooden base of the food elevator.

* * *

Tara hadn't wanted to cry. But she had been unable to prevent herself when the dumbwaiter had ground to a halt between floors.

Overhead she heard the murderer cursing and felt the cable shake, making the dumbwaiter rock a little within the shaft. For a moment Tara stopped crying as she looked up, puzzled. Then hearing the maniac's voice echoing down the shaft she began to cry again, thinking, "Oh no, he's climbing down the shaft after me!"

Then, with a great mechanical screeching, the dumbwaiter began to shake from side to side and Tara heard the madman cursing overhead again.

After a few seconds the roaring stopped and the dumbwaiter stopped shaking. Then a few seconds later the shrieking started up again and Tara began to sob louder as she thought the elevator was going to be shaken apart. Leaving her to fall down to the meat larder in the subbasement. She remembered telling her guardian angel that the dumbwaiter only travelled between the second and fourth floors. But she now recalled that she had been wrong. It also went express to the subbasement.

After a few seconds the hellish shaking stopped and Tara felt the cable swaying overhead and heard the murderer cursing again.

"Oh no, he's climbing down the cable to get to me!" thought Tara, more afraid of the man above her head, than of any possible injury from crashing down to the subbasement.

Tara tried shifting her weight in her cramped confines in the desperate hope of escaping the maniac, who she was now certain was climbing down the dumbwaiter shaft to attack her from above. "Or shoot me straight through the roof!" she realised, still crying, no longer believing that her guardian angel could keep her from the clutches of the fiend stalking her.

"Eeeeeeeeeiiii!" shrieked Tara as the dumbwaiter shuddered suddenly. "Oh my God, he's just above me!"

Then she shrieked, "Eeeeeeeeeiiii!" again as a man's hand suddenly reached into the bottom of the food elevator and touched her leg.

"Get away! Get away!" shrieked Tara Weston, kicking out wildly at the hand. Though unable to get much leverage, she squealed in delight as her left foot descended with a bone-crunching crack against the probing hand.

* * *

"Jesus!" cried Richie Travers as Tara's foot crashed down onto his right hand. "It's only me, honey," he called up to her, shaking his hand to relieve the stinging. He resisted the temptation to shout at the girl. Recalling his own mounting claustrophobia travelling in the tiny elevator earlier, he knew it must be almost unbearable for the beautiful girl trapped in the dumbwaiter between floors.

"Sorry," called young Tara, sounding both genuinely contrite, and very relieved to hear Richie's voice so close below her.

"Hold on, I'm going to try to pull the lift down to my level," Richie called up to the trapped girl.

"Okay," she called back. And reaching up into the crevice between the base of the elevator and the shaft wall, Richie took hold of the wooden base and tugged as hard as possible without falling down the elevator shaft.

"It's not working," called Tara, sounding as though she was ready to start crying again.

"Hold on, honey, give it a chance," called Richie, trying to tug harder, despite having to leaner further out into the shaft.

Trying his best to forget the danger of falling down the tunnel to the subbasement, Richie tugged on the base of the dumbwaiter until his knuckles glowed white. Straining beyond breaking point, Richie's face flushed red, and sweat began to run like rainwater down across his face. "Why can't I have muscles like Arnie?" wondered Richie Travers in frustration. His muscles began to ache from the exertion of trying to pull the dumbwaiter down the half metre or less necessary to allow the twelve-year-old girl to slide out into the second floor master kitchen. And frankly he began to doubt that even Arnold Schwarzenegger could have pulled the elevator down those last two feet without snapping the cable and possibly sending Tara Weston plummeting to her death.

* * *

No longer bothering to waste time with stealth, Roderick Voss races down the corridor to the staircase, turning on lights as he goes. "Might as well be able to see where I'm going now," he thinks. Besides he hasn't got time to allow his eyes to readjust to the darkness, then back to the light when he returns to the banqueting hall.

At the fifth floor landing, he stops at Laura and Stephen Weston's master bedroom for just a second to smirk at his handiwork. But he hasn't got time to spare, so he hurries on toward Tara's bedroom.

Clicking on the light, he sneers in disgust at the rows of Barbie dolls, posters of Hanson and other teen pop groups signalling that this is a young girl's room.

"Girls!" he says in disgust, deciding that girls are only good for one thing. But unfortunately he doesn't have time with Tara Weston. He knows now that the blonde girl will be his Waterloo. "Unless I kill her quickly and get out of here fast." He had planned to take some souvenirs of the Westons: paintings and a few trinkets to remind him of the fear and chaos that he has perpetrated tonight. But now he realises that there is no time. "I've wasted too much time already with this damn brat. I just have to kill her. Then get the hell out of Glen Iris before the cops get here."

Seeing the filleting knife and revolver on the dressing cabinet beside Tara Weston's bed, he races over to grab them, then turns and races back out into the corridor.

"Just kill her, then get out of here!" he thinks again, as he races down the beige-carpeted stairs toward the fourth floor banqueting hall again.

"Now, let's get it over with," he says aloud as he runs across to the open dumbwaiter shaft.

Holding the revolver in his left hand, Voss is tempted to just lean down into the shaft and fire round after round into the dumbwaiter. Checking he sees there are still three cartridges in the gun. Plus the two spare reloaders, means fifteen bullets in all. "Fifteen .38 cartridges should be enough to kill anyone," he thinks. But leaning down to peer into the elevator shaft, he realises that the dumbwaiter is at least one and possibly two floors below him.

"At this distance I might miss altogether!" he thinks seeing there is spare space all around the small elevator. "Or hit the walls of the shaft. It would only take one or two bullets in the brain to kill her. But what if none of them hit a vital organ. Even with half a dozen or more bullets in her, she might not bleed to death before help arrives. As it soon will once I start firing this thing!" He has brought a silencer with him but has used it too much already. After six or eight shots most silencers make no difference to the volume of a shot and he has already fired his eight shots in killing the Westons's domestics. That was why he had picked up the filleting knife on his search through the house.

"No!" he realises, cutting the cable is the only sure way to kill her. Holding up the filleting knife, he wishes he had something better. Recalling the rows upon rows of knives and cleavers in the second floor kitchen, where he had taken the filleting knife, he now wishes that he had selected a stronger bladed weapon.

"Perhaps I still can?" he thinks. He actually turns to start back toward the staircase to race down to the second floor kitchen.

"No!" he says aloud. "Don't waste time. Just kill the little bitch, then get away before the cops arrive."

Placing the gun in an inner pocket of his vest, he reaches out to grab the elevator cable with his left hand. Then he leans right into the dumbwaiter shaft to start sawing at the metallic cable with the filleting knife.

* * *

Tara Weston was doing her best not to cry or whimper in terror as the overhead mechanisms of the dumbwaiter rattled and screeched from time to time. Below her she could hear her guardian angel straining to near breaking point in a bid to pull the elevator down the half a metre needed to allow her to slide out. Tara's faith in her new guardian angel was fully restored. She was now almost smiling as she realised all would be well. Richie Travers, guardian angel to Tara Weston, would get her out of her temporary prison alive and unharmed.

"Screeech! Screeech! Screeech!" came the sound from above her and Tara looked up in amazement as she realised what it was.

"Oh no! He's cutting the overhead cable!" she said at a whisper. Then crouching down to get her mouth as close to the floor of the elevator as possible, Tara called to Richie, "He's cutting the cable! That man is cutting the overhead cable!"

* * *

Straining until his eyes were almost bugging out of his head, Richie Travers heard the screeching protests of the elevator and hoped it meant that he was succeeding. He had managed to pull the dumbwaiter down a few centimetres. But there was still a long way to go.

Then her heard the other sound. A much louder screeching of metal, followed by Tara's voice calling to him, "He's cutting the cable! That man is cutting the overhead cable!"

"Oh God!" said Richie. He knew that he could never pull the elevator down faster than the maniac could cut the cable to send it plummeting down to the subbasement.

He frantically looked about the wracks of knives and kitchen utensils for something, anything to help him. Realising he had no time for finesse, Richie raced across to grab a large meat cleaver and the largest wooden meat tenderiser he could see.

"Hold on, honey, I'm coming," Richie called up to Tara Weston. Then he placed the metal cleaver against the base of the dumbwaiter. Then, using the meat tenderiser as a hammer, he began to hammer against the cleaver like a manic carpenter, in a bid to cut the base out of the dumbwaiter before the madman on the fourth floor could cut the overhead cable.

* * *

Above the dumbwaiter Roderick Voss stops, looking puzzled. He can hear the hammering from below and wonders, "What the hell can it be? Perhaps the little bitch is trying to kick the bottom out of the elevator?"

He realises that she has stopped crying, as though her courage has found its second wind. And once more he thinks, "Will you be my Waterloo, young Tara Weston?"

After a few seconds he shrugs and starts sawing at the metal cable with the filleting knife again.

* * *

Richie heard the silence from above and realised that the maniac had stopped attacking the cable for a while. Although puzzled, Richie kept hammering at the meat cleaver with the wooden tenderising mallet and was heartened when, with a loud rending of wood, a large chunk fell out of the base of the elevator and plummeted down the elevator shaft below him, narrowly missing his left eye as it span past his head.

"Come on! Come on!" Richie urged the wood, trying to keep his voice down so the girl trapped inside the dumbwaiter would not hear and be affected by any trace of desperation.

* * *

Roderick Voss stops again, puzzled by the sound of hammering from below the food elevator. "Maybe the little bitch has got something in there with her?" he thinks. "A hammer or a knife of some kind?"

Again he wonders if the silver-blonde girl is going to be his downfall? In all the time he has spent chasing her through the house, it never occurred to him that she had stopped to pick up a weapon. Looking at the filleting knife he thinks, "I'm lucky she didn't think to take this or the gun from the dressing cabinet in her room. Luckily the little bitch didn't have time with me showering next door!"

He wonders if it is now worth the effort to kill the twelve-year-old girl. "Or should I just get the hell out of here, while I still can?"

Looking at the thin steel-banded cable holding the dumbwaiter up, he sees that it is shorn more than halfway through. "What the hell?" he thinks with a lopsided grin. "Never leave a job half finished."

Leaning out into the elevator shaft, he begins to saw at the cable with the filleting knife at double time.

* * *

Tara Weston huddled toward the bottom of the dumbwaiter, doing her best to ignore the frantic sawing overhead. She tried to take heart instead from the chopping sounds below.

Her faith had been restored in her guardian angel and she wanted to believe that she was perfectly safe as long as he was just a few centimetres away, on the other side of the elevator base. But the hellish sawing overhead and occasional twangs of rending metal made it increasingly difficult for her to believe that he could free her from the small elevator in time.

"Please hurry," Tara begged at a whisper, trying her best not to break down into tears again.

* * *

Richie cursed as chips of wood kept hitting him in the face. Hearing Tara Weston's pleas, he knew that he had no time to waste. But as he hammered away once too often, the wooden meat tenderiser suddenly shattered.

"Damn!" cursed Richie as the barrel-shaped head of the tenderising mallet split in two and fell down the elevator shaft.

After what seemed like minutes, but cannot have been, Richie heard the faintest of sounds -- barely more than twin pops -- from the subbasement as the two halves of the tenderiser hit bottom. "Jesus, that's deep!" he thought, as he leant out further to attack the base of the dumbwaiter like a madman now with the cleaver.

* * *

On the fourth floor Roderick Voss is leaning so far into the elevator tunnel that there is a danger of him falling down the shaft to crash on top of the stranded dumbwaiter.

"Which wouldn't be a very good idea at the moment!" says Voss, grinning evilly as he sees that the cable is now holding by a single metallic strand.

"Here you go, you meddling little bitch!" he says, tempted to shout the words down to Tara Weston, as he starts sawing at the last strand with the rapidly blunting filleting knife.

* * *

"Watch out, honey!" called Richie Travers. Without the meat tenderiser to hammer against the cleaver, he was forced to hold the cleaver in both hands and wield it like a hatchet, furiously hacking and cutting at the base of the small food elevator.

* * *

Hearing her new guardian angel's warning, Tara Weston tried her best to keep out of the way of the meat cleaver as it began to break through the wooden base of the dumbwaiter. But there was only so much space to move round in inside the small elevator and it was impossible to avoid being nicked by the cleaver from time to time.

* * *

"Yes!" cries Roderick Voss in delight as he finally cuts through the last strand and the dumbwaiter begins plummeting down the narrow tunnel.

* * *

"Look out, honey!" called Richie Travers as the bottom of the dumbwaiter finally fell out.

"Aaaaaaaaaah!" shrieked Tara Weston as she fell into space, expecting to plummet down the elevator shaft.

Instead she crashed into Richie's chest, almost knocking him down the shaft, then fell onto his lap, where he was sitting on the edge of the dumbwaiter opening.

"Okay, honey, climb out into the kitchen," Richie said at barely a whisper, winded by the twelve-year-old girl suddenly crashing down onto him.

"All right," said Tara. She quickly scooted out of the elevator shaft onto the safety of solid ground again.

"Now grab my legs and pull me out ..." said Richie. He stopped in mid sentence, horrified as he saw the dumbwaiter suddenly start plummeting toward him.

* * *

"Okay," agreed Tara. Dropping to her knees, she grabbed her guardian angel by the legs and began to pull.

Richie Travers started to slide out of the elevator shaft feet first. Then suddenly he screamed and there was a hellish crash.

Startled, Tara fell over onto her backside on the kitchen floor. "Oh no!" she said as she stared up in horror at the dumbwaiter chute. Which was now filled with the dumbwaiter. "Oh no! He's fallen down the tunnel!"

* * *

On the fourth floor, Roderick Voss sees the dumbwaiter plummet, then suddenly stop again. He hears a loud scream followed by silence and concludes that the troublesome girl has died in the fall.

Then he hears sobbing and curses and realises that she has only been injured. "Damn, she really is more trouble than she's worth."

Racing across the banqueting hall, Voss half wonders whether Tara Weston has a guardian angel. But then he puts the nonsensical thought out of his head and races out into the corridor, determined to kill her with his bare hands now. "I'll choke the life out of the little bitch!" he thinks in delight. "I'd like to see her survive that!"

* * *

"Oh God! Oh God, no!" cried Tara Weston. Leaping up to her feet, she began trying to pull the busted dumbwaiter off Richie Travers.

"Oh God, please don't let him die!" begged Tara, hoping that saving her life won't cost the life of her new guardian angel. The moaning from under the busted elevator told her that Richie was still alive. But she had no way of knowing how badly hurt he was until she found a way to free him from the wreckage of the dumbwaiter.

"Try to lift it off me," said Richie very feebly.

Relieved to hear his voice, Tara grabbed the sides of the dumbwaiter and attempted to do as he had requested.

* * *

Reaching the wide staircase, Roderick Voss races down toward the third floor. Unable to see in the darkened shaft how many floors down the dumbwaiter has gone, he has no choice but to check them one by one.

"Still, I'm pretty sure it's either this one or the next one down," he thinks as he races out onto the landing on the third floor. But at least he doesn't have to search every room one at a time as he had to do earlier while hunting for the little bitch. Knowing the dumbwaiter can only travel straight down like the elevator which it is, he knows he only has to check the room directly beneath the banqueting hall on each floor.

He races down the corridor toward the left-hand door near the very end of the hallway. Pulling the door open impatiently, he flicks on the light switch and looks inside.

Seeing a full-sized billiard table and heads of a lion, tiger, and Canadian moose on the wall, he realises this is the games room that he has seen earlier.

Staring at the animal heads, Voss shakes his own head in disgust. "How could anyone do something so senseless to such beautiful creatures," he says, almost crying. "It's one thing slaughtering people. People are scum at the best of times. But these beautiful, free spirits ...."

Turning away before he starts blubbering, he races out into the corridor and heads toward the staircase to start down toward the second floor.

* * *

When Tara turned out to be too weak to lift the shattered dumbwaiter off him, Richie Travers decided to try reversing their roles. "Honey, go back to pulling on my legs, while I try lifting it up off me."

* * *

"O ... okay," said Tara, almost crying again, distressed at her inability to lift the food elevator off her guardian angel.

* * *

"All right," said Richie. He tried to ignore the blood streaming down his face and a wrenching pain that made him think his collarbone could be broken. "Just concentrate on moving your arms and lifting the stupid thing off yourself," he thought.

He could feel the girl gently tugging on his knees, obviously afraid of hurting him. So, trying his best not to cry out as shards of agony lanced through his upper body, Richie began pushing at the sides of the busted dumbwaiter with both hands.

With the base of the small elevator already gone -- cut away to free Tara Weston -- it was difficult to find a handhold. But taking one corner near the base in each hand, he began to push with what little strength he had remaining.

* * *

Tara tugged as hard as she dared on the legs of her guardian angel. Although she knew it was imperative to free him as quickly as possible, she was reluctant to pull too hard, for fear of increasing his injuries.

"Oh God!" she heard Richie grunt in despair. But looking up, she saw that he had managed to push the dumbwaiter a few centimetres off himself. "Try to pull me out now!"

Trying her best to ignore his continuing moans of agony, Tara began to tug on Richie's legs with all of her strength. At first to no avail. But just when she was on the brink of tears again, Richie suddenly slid toward her and the two of them went crashing to the floor of the master kitchen. In the shaft the shattered remains of the dumbwaiter finally plummeted down to the subbasement.

Although pleased to have freed her guardian angel, Tara was shocked by the amount of blood that ran in rivulets down across his face from his forehead. One eye was black and swollen shut, his black shirt was sticky from blood from his face and she realised possible injuries to his chest as well.

Tara did her best to try to stand him up. However, bleeding profusely from his forehead and chest, Richie was too weak to help her much, so he stayed in a heap on the kitchen floor.

"Oh no!" cried Tara, staring in shock at the mangled heap that was her new guardian angel. At first she thought that Richie was dead and she started to cry again. But then hearing him groaning, she knew that he was alive, but barely conscious.

If she had had time, she might have let Richie stay where he was while she went to get help; rather than risk moving him. But knowing that the maniac must be racing down the two flights of stairs toward them, Tara realised she had no choice. "I can't leave you here in case he finds you and kills you. Not after what you've already done for me."

Kneeling on the cold, tiled floor, Tara placed Richie's right arm around her shoulders and tried to pull him to his feet. At first Richie offered no assistance, and strain as she might Tara was not strong enough to budge him from the floor.

"Come on, please," begged Tara. "We have to get out before he gets down here."

At first there was nothing to indicate that Richie Travers had even heard her. Then slowly he turned his head to stare at her with distant, rheumy eyes barely able to focus, like a wino after a heavy binge.

For a moment Tara thought he did not understand her. Then, despite obviously still being very groggy, Richie began to try pushing his way up the kitchen wall, using the wall for support. Tara tugged on his arm, holding it with both hands to stop it from slipping from her shoulders. And with a lot of straining, they managed painfully slowly to drag Richie up the wall, until he was sitting in the dumbwaiter opening.

"Please ... we have to get out of here," begged Tara.

"Let ... let me get my strength back first," said Richie at barely more than a whisper.

"We don't have time!" insisted Tara. And, perhaps responding as much to the desperation in her voice as the young girl's words, Richie did his best to help as Tara guided him along the kitchen wall, deeper into the room, knowing that she could never hold him up by herself if Richie's strength gave out again.

Almost like sleepwalkers, Tara and Richie staggered around the edge of the room. From time to time they stopped as Richie's strength flagged, or it seemed as though he was about to slide down the wall again.

"No, please, you have to stay on your feet," begged Tara as Richie almost collapsed again when they were only a metre or so from one of the two doors leading from the master kitchen into the second floor corridor.

* * *

Richie grunted, tried to say, "Okay," but then decided it was better to save his strength for trying to stay on his feet as the brave young girl did her best to guide him through the darkened room toward the nearest door to the corridor.

As they approached the door, they could hear frantic footsteps in the corridor just outside the door at the other end of the kitchen.

"Oh no, he's almost here," said Tara. She almost pushed Richie over again in her anxiety to get him out of the first door before the maniac ran into the kitchen through the other door and saw them. "Come on, we have to get out into the corridor as fast as possible."

Hearing the panic in the young girl's voice, Richie tried desperately not to pass out. He tried to concentrate upon keeping his footing and heading for the imagined safety of the corridor outside the kitchen. But even as Tara Weston reached out for the knob to the first door, the running footsteps stopped at the second door. And the second door began to open inwards as the maniac charged into the kitchen.

* * *

Panting aloud from all the running he has been doing, Roderick Voss races into the master kitchen, allowing the door to crash into the kitchen wall. Not wasting time letting his eyes adjust to the dark, he flips the switch to illuminate the main kitchen, then starts racing down to the opposite end of the room.

"Yes!" he says aloud in satisfaction at the sight of the dumbwaiter chute. But as he approaches it, he is puzzled. He has expected to find Tara Weston trapped inside the wreckage.

Instead the chute is empty. There is no sign of Tara Weston. And no sign of the dumbwaiter.

Racing across to the food elevator, he leans right out into the elevator shaft and tries to peer down into the darkness. But, of course, he cannot make out any wreckage three or four floors below.

"But it must have crashed down there after I cut the cable!" he rationalises. "But was the little bitch still trapped inside it? Or did she manage to crawl out onto this floor before the dumbwaiter plummeted to oblivion?"

* * *

As the second kitchen door swung open with a crash, Tara Weston just managed to half lead, half carry Richie Travers out into the corridor in time. Literally a second or two before Roderick Voss ran into the kitchen and switched on the fluorescent lights.

Looking down the corridor they saw that the maniac had been switching on lights as he looked for them. So half of the upstairs rooms were now lit up.

"Now we're in trouble," thought Richie as Tara led him down the corridor toward the two staircases at the opposite end of the hallway. "If we switch them off again, he's bound to notice immediately. If we don't, he'll see us lit up like a Christmas tree."

* * *

"Come on," whispered Tara. She strained beneath the weight of her guardian angel who was shuffling along like a wino, taking little baby steps. Each step he took he seemed to be leaning more and more on Tara. Until the twelve-year-old girl almost had to carry the adult to keep him on his feet.

"Come on, please, not much further to the stairs," said Tara, as they finally reached the second door to the kitchen. Only two or three metres away were the two staircases. "And freedom," thought Tara. "But first we have to get past this door unseen."

She tried to force Richie past the doorway quickly, almost pushing him over in her haste. But the burglar had other ideas.

"No, hold on," insisted Richie. Holding onto the door frame for support, he leant into the kitchen and peered around the room. At the other end he saw Roderick Voss sitting on the chute opening, peering down into the dumbwaiter.

"What's he doing?" whispered Tara.

"Looking for you," explained Richie.

"Why can't he just fall down there and leave us alone?"

"Maybe we can help him to do that," suggested Richie. Reaching up to the light switches, he placed a finger against both switches to flip them over and plunged the large banqueting hall into darkness.

* * *

"Holy shit!" cries Roderick Voss as the kitchen is plunged into darkness while he is leaning down the dumbwaiter shaft. Instantly blinded he is temporarily disorientated, not sure which way is up, which way is down. Not sure which way to reach to save himself from falling headfirst down to the meat storage unit in the subbasement.

He feels himself falling down the chute, and desperately tries to clutch for the overhead cable. Only to realise that it is no longer there. He has sawn through it on the fourth floor.

* * *

"Come on," said Richie, leaning on Tara Weston's shoulders again as they started back along the corridor toward the stairs.

"Do you think he fell down the elevator chute?" asked Tara hopefully.

"No," said Richie emphatically, deciding against getting the girl's hopes up only to have them dashed again. "We couldn't be that lucky. But hopefully it's thrown the fear of death into him. And depending on how big a fruit loop he is, he might decide to abandon us and get out of this place now, instead of risking staying until almost dawn."

Despite the extent of Richie's injuries, they hobbled past the first set of stairs toward the second staircase. Holding the banner rail in one hand, Tara started to head down to the ground floor, but Richie stopped her.

"No," he protested, "not down. Up."

"What?' asked Tara, wondering if her guardian angel was getting confused from blood loss?

"We can't possibly outrun him with me in this condition," explained Richie. "But he'll be expecting us to go down to the ground floor to escape. So, if we go back up to the third floor, where he's already searched for us, we might be able to hide in one of the rooms.

"Then with any luck he'll search the lower floors till dawn, then give up and leave."

"Well ... okay," said Tara Weston, looking decidedly dubious as she started to lead her rapidly weakening guardian angel up the stairs toward the third floor.

END OF PART THREE:





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