In which we meet a tall man; Samuel receives the truth; a large hole is revealed and we find out what a wall is when it isn’t a wall.
There was a moment of silence, then a door, yet unseen by Samuel, clanged open on the other side of the room. He broke the stare of the black tom and looked instead at the now open doorway. Beyond he could see faint sunlight coming from an overcast sky, and the bricks of another building. And the rungs of a fire escape. A very familiar looking sight. The alley they’d cornered him in! So he’d barely moved then.
His chain of thought was broken when the doorway was darkened by the figure of a man entering the room. The stranger paused for a second on the doorstep, his gaze lingering on Samuel. His frame was tall, but slim and athletic. Dark hair flopped forwards on to an equally wiry face, tilted to one side and smiling quizzically at Samuel. Stepping into the room he broke into a full beaming grin, extending his hand down to him and pulling him off the floor.
“Samuel! So good to meet you at last! I’m so sorry about your father, he was a great man, and your mother is still the charming lady today that she was thirty years ago. Now if you’ll come with me we’ll get you settled. Oh, I’m sorry, I never introduced myself, how rude of me!” The man stopped abruptly and extended his hand again, this time for a handshake, which was as firm as his voice was calm and commanding, “My name is Bartholomew Haber-Butterfield, but you can call me Uncle Barty if you like. I’m distantly related on your father’s side. Very distantly come to think of it. Now, how are you?”
Samuel blinked a few times at the barrage of speech from his newest acquaintance before answering, “I’m fine, thank you. Where are we going, er, Mr Barty if you don’t mind me asking? And is my mother ok?” They were now back in the alley outside the strange little room and walking not towards the road as he had suspected, but straight towards the opposite wall, where Bartholomew stopped and looked upwards. This was a puzzling turn of events as far as Samuel was concerned, though not more puzzling than what happened next. The tall man turned to him and smiled again.
“Why don’t you ask her yourself? And as to where we’re going…” Barty nodded at the wall, “Watch and learn.”
There was a quiet hiss of releasing hydraulics, and the entire brick wall in front of them slid back away from them and then glided silently sideways into a hidden groove, revealing an enormous downwards sloping tunnel descending deep into the ground and off around a corner. Samuel just gaped. Barty stepped forwards into the newly opened entrance, but paused and turned back when he noticed his companion was not following.
“Coming? We like to close the door as quickly as possible to save on heating costs.”
A few minutes later, inside.
Samuel sat in a comfy armchair in what was essentially someone’s living room. The fact that it was ten stories underground seemed to be but a sidenote to its other occupants. He and Bartholomew had walked around the turn of the smooth concrete tunnel, the wall closing behind them, to find a checkpoint. Once through (Barty was simply saluted through by the guards, but they had a good glare at Samuel) they had got into a lift that had taken them down to the level they were on now, and he had stepped out into a beautifully furnished open plan apartment. Then, out from the kitchen area a figure had stepped out. His mother.
Beaming, she had run to him, apologising for never telling him anything about this secret world their family was part of, that it had been for his own safety and she would tell him everything now. Struggling away from her embrace and rushed explanations and apologies he had pretended to be offended, so as not to waste his mother’s performance, but inside he was trying not to laugh at how ridiculous the situation was. His own mother, confessing to a secret life to him in an underground base straight out of a superhero film. It was unreal.
And now, here he was, sitting with his mother and this Barty, whom his mother appeared to know, and being told again how important he was. It really was baffling. He shook his head clear and looked up at Barty, realising he had been asked a question.
“Did you hear what I said Samuel? You looked miles away,” Barty smiled again as he spoke. He smiled a lot. Samuel shook his head, and Barty laughed before reiterating, “Well, I said I’d like to get you trained up, and asked if you would rather stay out of it all. Would you? These are the people who killed your father.”
Samuel took a deep breath, then let it out. Apparently his father had began to investigate these dangerous people even when in hiding with his family. Five years ago his investigations had taken him too far, and he had been compromised on a mission and killed. His mother had told him it was a robbery gone wrong. It was also the first the other families had heard of his father’s kin in over a decade, and how they had eventually found them again and brought Samuel and his mother here. He felt he only had one option.
“Of course. Anything I can do. When do you want me to start?”
“That’s the spirit lad! Now, you and your mother had best get some sleep. All this cloak and dagger malarky can really take it out of a person,” Barty stood up and shook Samuel’s hand again, “It was lovely to meet you, but I shall be getting back to my own quarters now. Someone will be around in the morning to get you up to speed on the facility and where you’ll be starting. Goodnight,” And with that, he left them sitting alone together.
His mother looked at him and smiled weakly, but her eyes told the real story. The weight of knowing what had truly happened to his father was rising to the surface and she was barely containing her tears.
“I’m sorry, Samuel. I wish I could have told you…” She could not finish, and no longer able to hold herself back, she wept.