Chapter Six—Reconnoitering

Wednesday, October 23…
          Allie’s mind was racing as she labored furiously over the nail in the floor. All her plans rested on freeing that nail. She’d do reconnoitering that night. And then, tomorrow night…that was the night she had to get away, there was simply no other recourse. Except to join Curt and his men at the campout Friday night. That was an event Allie didn’t want to attend. And she had no intention of doing so.
          Come on, you stupid nail, get out of there…
          The nail was obstinate, but it had run into something with a harder head than itself—Allie Summer. The thumb and first two fingers of both of her hands were becoming extremely sore and she had to stop for awhile on occasion just to let them rest. Lunch and supper intervened as well, and that gave her a break. A break she didn’t really want, but she needed the food and was glad to get it.
          She went over the plan for that night in her head—there was no doubt in her mind that she’d have the nail free. I don’t need any clothes now, though if I see a coat or a small blanket lying around, I might take that…a gun would be nice, but the kitchen is the most important…find the kitchen, the pantry, see what’s there…a knife, at least a knife…some matches, I need some matches for sure…let’s see, what else?...why won’t this nail come out?...Allie pulled and pushed and tugged and twisted…and slowly the nail moved upward. Finally, she was able to get a good enough grip on it that she could pull the stubborn little spike up…up…up….wow, how long is this thing?...It was a ten-penny nail, but finally, about 9 PM, it yielded to Allie’s urgings and slipped free from the hard wood that had held it. The Lady Ranger breathed a sigh of relief—and exhaustion—and examined her trophy. It was…a ten-penny nail, bent a little from Allie’s exertions, but she was confident she could use it.
         Now, to wait. She didn’t know exactly what time it was and she couldn’t see out the window to get any fixture on the stars, but she knew it was too early. The major concern she had was whether Blue Moon, or somebody else, was down at the base of the stairs with the shotgun. She wouldn’t know that until she got the door open.
          And it might be the last thing she ever knew…

Thursday, October 24, early, early morning…
          Allie didn’t know exactly how early it was, but she figured about 2 AM. She had catnapped for a while, but was up and awake, and ready to make her move. It was chilly in the room, but her hands were sweaty, her heart was thumping, and her stomach was in knots. But she ignored all of that. She would be worried about herself if those things weren’t happening.
          She wondered, fleetingly, if she should go ahead and make her escape that night; pushing her luck for two nights in a row might not be the height of wisdom. But she was going to stick with her plan. Make a plan and work it, was something she had always told herself, and it had worked for her so far as a Ranger. She’d have plenty to do tomorrow night when she made her escape attempt. Better, she thought, to have everything located where she could go right to it. Because the most important thing she had to do—besides getting out of the house—was to steal those documents from Backstrom’s study. That would take a little time, and she didn’t want to add to it by trying to find the other items she wanted.
          So—whatever time it currently was—Allie went to the door with her nail and knelt down. There was very little light in the room, so it was extremely dark, but she wasn’t going to light the lamp and risk someone seeing it through the window and wondering why she was up so late. There was a very small of chance of that, but one she wasn’t about to take. It wasn’t necessary anyway; as long as she could feel the keyhole, she didn’t have to see it. She couldn’t see inside the lock anyway.
          Allie found the keyhole with no problem and went to work. The nail made noise, of course, and she couldn’t prevent that. But as long as there was no one at the bottom of the stairs…and the door was closed…and everybody was asleep and no one was wandering about the house…the sound shouldn’t be heard. That was simply one of those things she had no control over; she could only do what she could do and trust that her luck held. She smiled wryly at the thought. Not that I’ve had much luck at all lately…
          It took her about five minutes to trip the mechanism and get the door unlocked. That was a little longer than she liked—noise for too long—but she knew how to do it now, so tomorrow night should be easy. She removed the nail from the keyhole and very gently opened the door. It squeaked slightly, but not too loudly. She peeked her head out, not knowing if it was about to be blown off by a double-barreled shotgun….
         …and she heaved a sigh of relief when she saw no one at the bottom of the stairs. That didn’t really surprise her. She figured if someone had been down there and heard what she was doing, he would have reported it to Backstrom and she would have been caught by now.
          There were a couple of windows in the walls of the passageway down the stairs so she could see the stairway fairly clearly. She stripped down to her underwear; they were tight on her body, and she didn’t want any loose clothing hanging that might catch on something, knock it over, and make noise. She’d do the same thing tomorrow night, and then dress when she got outside. Tonight, she just left her clothes on the floor by the bed. Her unclothing was white, which she didn’t like, but she felt that was safer than the shirt and pants hanging loosely from her.
          Quietly, without a sound or creak of the stairs, Allie made her way down. The door to the hallway was closed; she had the momentary fear that it might be locked, but it wasn’t. She slowly pulled it open and looked down the hallway. Nothing. Again, there was enough light, in this case coming in from the front windows, that she had pretty good vision.
          The hallway she was about to enter had three doors on each side. Bedrooms, Allie figured. The stairs down to the first floor were at the end of the hall, with a landing that overlooked the living room. There were four huge windows at the front of the house, which let in the light that Allie could see by. It wasn’t a perfectly clear night, and occasionally the moon hid behind one of the clouds, obscuring her vision somewhat. But while she could see, she memorized where everything was so that she could avoid it. There were a couple of tables and small plants down the hallway, with paintings adorning both walls, so she’d stick to the middle and not touch anything.
          She could hear some deep breathing—Backstrom asleep. It came from the second door on the left, which was the only one open. She wasn’t sure if he was the only one who slept in the house, but she thought it probable. She wasn’t really worried about waking him, unless he was a light sleeper and she knocked something over. She’d be extra careful about that.
          Allie closed the door to the stairwell to the loft—in case Backstrom did wake up, and leave his room, she certainly didn’t want him to see an open door. That would give her away for sure. She then tiptoed, and fairly rapidly, down the hall. And making no noise at all. She crouched at the landing, and peered into the living room. Nothing. Not wasting any time, she dashed down the winding stairway, staying close to the railing where there was the less chance of a creak. Again, she crouched for a few seconds at the bottom of the stairs, looking around, getting adjusted to where everything in the living room was. She looked around the room--sofa, love-seat, end tables, chairs, fireplace, a suit of armor in one corner and a statue of Minerva in another, a stack of firewood next to the fireplace, a grandfather clock ticking away against the nearest wall, and she almost jumped out of her skin when it chimed the quarter hour. When she felt comfortable with the situation of the items in the room, she made her way around the living room to see if there was anything she could use. There was a nice throw hanging over the back of the couch; it wasn’t big or thick, but she’d take it. She could wrap some of her supplies in it. She carefully opened a couple of drawers on end tables, hoping to find a gun. No luck, but she did discover some matches. She’d take those tomorrow, too.
          All of that took less than two minutes. The hallway that led to the study and back door were to her right as she faced the stairs, and she could see a small passageway just behind the stairway that led off to something unseen. The kitchen was her only other target for the night, so, since she hadn’t seen it anywhere near the study, she’d try to find it down that passageway.
          That’s where it was. A room straight ahead proved to be the kitchen with another room adjacent to it on the right that was the dining room. Allie went into the kitchen. It was big. Several custom made counters and cabinets, and stove with a small table with chairs next to it, and a door against the wall to her left which she figured was the pantry. She wanted to find food and a knife. Those were the two imperatives.
          But then Allie froze. She heard the back door opening. “Rino, you reckon there’s any of that bread left that Mona made this afternoon? She shore makes good homemade bread, don’t she?”
          “Yeah, she does. Prolly be some in the pantry. That’s where she hides it so we can’t get it at in the middle o’ the night.” And he laughed.
          They were coming down the hall. To the kitchen. Allie looked around frantically, to see if there was someplace to hide. There was no place, not a single, solitary location where she could conceal herself. Nowhere.
          Except the pantry…