Home > The Grendel Affair (SPI Files #1)(17)

The Grendel Affair (SPI Files #1)(17)
Author: Lisa Shearin

“You sure about that?” Ian’s eyes twinkled wickedly as he turned the key in the lock of the brownstone mausoleum. A lock that shared the door with a massive horned lion’s head clenching a knocker in its fanged mouth. “Maybe we should knock first.”

“So that’s your idea of humor?”

Ian grinned and gave the bronze door a solid hit with his shoulder to get it open. “Just keeping it real for you, newbie.”

We went inside.

There were five stained glass skylights in the shape of a pentangle that weren’t visible from the outside. The evergreen’s branches overhead had kept them relatively free of snow, giving us at least some light to see by. From what I could tell, the mausoleum looked a lot bigger on the inside than it appeared on the outside. It occurred to me that I didn’t have a flashlight.

“Crap. Do you have a flashl—”

“Of course.” Ian started pushing the door closed.

“Wait! Don’t—”

He closed the door before I could stop him.

“We have the key,” he assured me, “and it can’t be locked from the outside without it. It’s a dead bolt.”

“And the laughs just keep coming.”

Ian locked the door and shined his light around. “I think so.” He kept his voice low. There was no one in here to hear us, but the location seemed to demand whispers. “And if security or the police start searching the entire cemetery—and eventually they will—Yasha and Calvin will leave until I call them back.”

“Leave? As in leave us here? I didn’t hear you tell them that.”

“Didn’t need to. It’s standard operating procedure. With them gone and the door closed, unless anyone looks closely for footprints, no one will know we’re here.”

“Why doesn’t that make me feel warm and fuzzy?”

“Because you have no sense of adventure.”

“Do so.”


“At the moment it’s MIA, but I have one.”


I followed the track of Ian’s flashlight. “I expected cobwebs.”

“Ever been in a mausoleum before?”

“Nope. The past day has been full of firsts.”

Ian’s light revealed a pair of oil lamps set in niches on either side of the iron door.

“Got a lighter?” I asked.

He smiled and took one out of his pocket.

“You don’t smoke,” I said.

“I don’t, but you never know when you’ll need to set fire to something.”

I ignored anything that might mean, and removed the glass globe. Ian flicked his Bic, lighting one lamp, then the other. Both were only half full of oil, but hopefully we weren’t going to be here that long.

Beside one of the lamps was a key identical to the one we’d used to get in. The name Tarbert was on this one, too.

“Why is there another key in here?”

“In case one of the Tarberts wasn’t dead when they were put in here,” Ian said. “Paranoia was popular with the Victorians. Doctors back then occasionally jumped the gun declaring someone dead.”

I quickly put the key right back where I found it, and tried not to think that a Tarbert had actually needed to use it.

The lamps illuminated the front part of the mausoleum, but the back was still in shadow.

There were six urn niches on each side of the mausoleum door, stacked three high and two across, some with names and dates engraved in their stone fronts, others empty and waiting for another Tarbert to die and be reduced to ashes.

“An extra key wouldn’t do them much good,” I muttered.

The most recent internment was dated a month ago. Dr. Jonathan Tarbert. I looked at the birth date and did the math. He’d been only thirty-eight.

“Did you note James Tarbert’s birthday on his license by any chance?” I asked Ian.

“I took a picture so I wouldn’t have to.” Seconds later, his face was illuminated by the glow of his phone. “Thirty-eight.”

“And date of birth?”

“September seventh.”

I indicated the urn niche. “The month, date, and year are exactly the same as the mausoleum’s newest tenant. Whatcha wanna bet Dr. Jonathan here was his twin brother.”

Ian shone the flashlight on the marble panel. “Damn. Died last month.”

“Or was killed. It could be worth looking into.”

“People generally don’t drop dead in their thirties without help.”

Ian resumed surveying the mausoleum. Farther back from the urns were the coffin-sized niches. All had names with birth and death dates, the oldest dating back to 1851. I hoped James Tarbert had wanted to be cremated like his brother; the coffin section was strictly “no vacancy.”

I swallowed. “Any of those look big enough for the head of a ten-foot-tall monster?”

“Not to me.” Ian shone his light around. “In fact, nothing in here says ‘monster head container’ to me.”

The interior of the mausoleum was symmetrical down to the decorative vases holding matching dead flowers.

The drawers—or whatever they were called—for the coffins were also stacked three high. Three on one wall, three on the other. The back wall had a total of six, stacked three high and two across, like the urn niches.

The only thing that didn’t come in matched sets was the single square column in the exact center of the room. Each of the stone column’s four panels had to be at least two foot across.

I slowly walked around it, scanning it from top to bottom. “Is it just me, or is this column needlessly big?”

Ian looked up at the ceiling. “And it doesn’t appear to be structurally necessary.”

On each panel, at points exactly between the floor and the ceiling, were stone replicas of the bronze horned lion’s head that was on the door. Their mouths were open like they were roaring. The lions were more or less at eye level, on a person of normal height. Ian had to duck his head to see inside the mouths. He aimed the flashlight’s beam inside.

“Nothing there,” he said. He repeated the exam on the next two, leaning to look closer at the last lion. “You might be on to something,” he murmured. “There’s a place in here for a key.” He took the mausoleum key out of his pocket and stuck it and half his hand into the lion’s mouth. “I’m thinking that . . .”

There was a click and the entire panel opened on silent hinges.

Ian shone the light inside and then down. The column was hollow, with a hole in the floor just wide enough for one person, with what looked like a modern aluminum ladder descending into darkness.

“Being in a mausoleum’s not bad enough,” I said, “now we get to find out what’s in a dark pit underneath one.”

“A chamber under a mausoleum is called a crypt,” Ian told me.


“I’ll go first.”

“I’ll let you.”

Ian began his descent.

“Why would anyone have a second way out in a mausoleum?” I asked.

“Could be the same reason the Tarberts left oil lamps and an extra key.”

He reached the bottom of the ladder, shining the flashlight around. There weren’t any shouts or gunshots, so it must not have been too bad. My skin started prickling when I realized that my only source of light was two sputtering oil lamps, and my company was seventeen dead Tarberts.

Ian’s voice echoed eerily from below. “I think we need a bigger truck.”

I quickly knelt on the floor next to the hole. “What is it?”

“They say you can’t take it with you, but one or more of the Tarberts sure tried.”

Curiosity may or may not kill cats, but it motivated me. “I’m coming down.”

“I thought you would. Put out those lamps before you do.”

I did, and on my way down the ladder, I heard a click like a switch being flipped, and honest-to-God lights came on down below. Ian gave an impressed whistle.

I reached the bottom and looked around. I was impressed, too. Impressed and intrigued. The room was twice the size of the mausoleum above it, and the floor, walls, and ceiling were concrete, like a bomb shelter or a bunker. There were sturdy metal shelves containing wooden crates and locked metal cases. Some of the crates smelled like new wood. There was a door at one end. It was steel. Serious industrial steel.

Ian saw me looking. “Yeah, this is new. Probably within the last few years. From the looks of that door, they didn’t want anyone getting in.”

“Or anything getting out.”

“I’m betting one of the other keys on the ring unlocks that door.”

I looked up at the way we’d come down. “It must. All this couldn’t have been brought here through that hole.”

Ian continued his examination. “There’s no dust. This place almost qualifies as sterile.”

Every crate had what looked like brown duct tape over words that had been paint stenciled onto the wood. The same tape was on the same place on every crate—possibly covering the same words. Ian peeled back the tape on one of the crates.

“Property of U.S. Government.”

A second and third crate said the same thing.

“At least none of these crates are big enough to hold the Ark of the Covenant,” I said.

“Good, because I didn’t bring my fedora and bullwhip,” Ian said, smoothing the tape back into place.

I spotted a crate that wasn’t big enough to hold the Ark, but it was plenty large enough for a monster head. “How about this one?”

“Looks like the most likely candidate.” He pulled out what looked like a Swiss Army knife on steroids. One of the blades wasn’t a blade at all, but a thick, flat piece of steel. He stuck it under the corner of the crate.

I gave it a dubious look. “You’re sure that thing can—”

Ian responded by popping the wooden corner straight up. “Easy as a bottle cap.”

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