Vampire Wake (Page 8)
As soon as I stepped into the passageway outside my room, there was that smel again - the sweet-musty odour that I had noticed last night. Even though it was nearly nine a.m., the corridor was very dark as al the doors leading from it were shut, and there wasn't any windows. I could see a grey patch of light ahead of me where the daylight shone up the staircase from below. I could see the silhouette of a figure sitting further down the passageway. To guide myself in the gloom, I trailed my fingertips along the wal. It was then I noticed that they felt sticky, as if someone had covered them in some kind of varnish which hadn't yet dried. I brought the tips of my fingers up to my nose and it was the strange varnish that was making the manor smel so odd. Perhaps it had something to do with the renovation of the manor. Maybe the builders had been tasked to varnish the entire place. But who had ever heard of varnishing walpaper?
Wiping my hands against my jeans, I walked towards the light and the figure sitting at the end of the passageway. As I drew closer, I could see that Kayla was sitting on the top stair waiting for me.
Looking down at her, I said, "Thanks."
"For what?" she asked, taking out the earphones and offering me back my iPod.
"For waiting for me," I smiled, then added. "You can keep hold of my iPod for the time being, I'm in no rush to have it back."
"Thanks," Kayla mumbled, as if saying those very words caused her pain.
"So what's for breakfast?" I asked.
"Dunno," she replied, and headed down the stairs.
I folowed her to the next landing. Just before we headed down to the halway, I pointed to the staircase that led into the 'forbidden' right wing, as Mrs. Payne had liked to cal it. Although the light wasn't great, it was better than the candlelight from the night before.
Despite Mrs. Payne's warning that the right wing was a no-go area, I could see that someone had been up there this morning. I looked at Kayla and could see that it hadn't been her. Whoever it had been was male, was right-handed, and had carried something heavy in their left hand, probably a breakfast tray, which they'd had difficulty balancing. But why would they have been taking a tray load of breakfast into an area that was forbidden and who had it been for?
"What's up there?" I asked Kayla.
Hearing my question, Kayla almost seemed to falter on the stairs and she gripped the banister as if to steady herself. "Oh, we don't go up there. No one does," she said without looking back at me.
Really? I thought to myself. "Why not?" I pressed, as I folowed her down to the large circular halway.
"Mother says it's too dangerous," she said. "It's structuraly unsafe or something like that."
"Have you ever been up there?" I asked her, not wanting to let the subject drop.
"Not since I was a kid," she said. "It's been like that for a long time now."
"Never been tempted to take another look?" I asked, but before Kayla had had a chance to reply, Mrs. Payne had appeared in the halway.
"Kayla," she said, her voice sounding frustrated rather than cross. "You know you should be at your chores by now and you stil haven't had any breakfast.
What would your mother say?"
"I don't know and I don't care," Kayla shrugged as she passed Mrs. Payne without even looking at her.
"Kayla!" the old woman snapped. "That's no way to speak -"
"It's not Kayla's fault she's running late," I cut in.
"Whose is it then?" Mrs. Payne asked, eyeing me up and down. As she did, I noticed white flecks of something in her hair.
"It's mine I'm afraid," I smiled. "I've been talking to her in my room - just getting to know her."
Kayla turned back and looked at me with suspicion.
"Wel, Kiera, Kayla has rules that she must -" the old woman started.
"I'm sure Lady Hunt wouldn't have minded just this once. I was keen to get to know Kayla," I said.
"After al, I think it's what her mother would have wanted."
Offering me a smile that looked like a crack in a plate, Mrs. Payne said, "Yes, you're probably right.
Lady Hunt did ask you here to keep an eye on Kayla."
"I am right here, you know!" Kayla snapped. "You don't have to talk about me as if I wasn't. And besides, I'm sixteen for Christ's sake, I don't need anyone looking out for me!" Then, staring in my direction, she added, "Especialy not some stressed-out cop!"
I took her spiteful comment on the chin. After al, I'd been caled worse, so I smiled at her.
"Kayla, that's no way to speak to Ms. Hudson.
She's a guest in this house, so you show her some respect!" Mrs. Payne scolded her.
"She's getting paid, isn't she?" Kayla came back.
"Don't you dare be so il-mannered!" Mrs. Payne said, her voice sounding cross. "You apologise right this minute young lady!"
Cheeky-little-cow, I smiled inwardly.
"I'm so sorry about this, Kiera," Mrs. Payne said, and she looked genuinely embarrassed.
"No worries," I said. "I'm sure Kayla and I wil become the bests of friends."
"We'l see," Mrs. Payne said, and tutted in the direction of Kayla.
Changing the subject, I said, "I was wondering if I could get some breakfast? I'm starving."
"Of course, my dear," she smiled. "Come with me."
The kitchen was, like the rest of the manor, huge.
Down the centre of it ran a giant wooden table that would have been big enough to seat an entire footbal team, coaches and al. Around the far wal stood grey metal sinks and stoves, the kind you would see in the kitchen of a large hotel. There were too many cupboards to count and the three of us looked lost in the vastness of such a great room. How many people could be fed here? Hundreds I guessed, except there was only Mrs. Payne and as far as I could gather she did the cooking, cleaning and if I hadn't of been around, keeping an eye on Kayla as wel.
Puling back a chair, I sat down at the table and Kayla sat opposite me. The table was so wide that even if we had stretched our arms out as far as possible, our hands stil wouldn't have touched. Mrs. Payne placed a large bowl of fruit on the table, some bread, butter, and several different types of cereal.
"Would you like me to cook you something?" she asked us. "Some kippers, perhaps?"
Taking a bowl and filing it with some corn flakes, I waved my hand at her and said, "No this wil be just fine."
Without even acknowledging the housekeeper, Kayla took an apple from the fruit bowl and took a bite. She stil wore the earphones, and she rocked in her seat as she listened to the music.
"So how do you manage looking after such a big place?" I asked Mrs. Payne as I splashed ice cold milk onto the cereal.
"Oh, it's not so bad," she said, pouring me a mug of coffee and setting it before me. "There is only Lady Hunt, Kayla, Mr. Marshal, and James to worry about."
"James?" I asked her.
"The chauffeur," she said, placing a glass of orange juice down in front of Kayla. Again she was ignored, there was no 'thank- you.' "Oh, is that his name?" I said. "He wasn't very talkative last night. I did ask him, but he wouldn't tel me."
"James is a little deaf, perhaps he didn't hear you,"
she tried to explain.
He heard me alright, I thought. Mrs. Payne must have sensed that I wasn't convinced, because she added, "We don't realy know him that wel."
"How come?" I asked around a mouthful of cornflakes.
"After the disappearance of Lord Hunt, Lady Hunt let the last chauffeur go and hired James," she explained. Then looking at me, she added, "In fact, she let al of the staff go except me."
"Why did she keep you on?" I half-smiled.
"No one knows this house or The Hunts like I do,"
she said with some pride.
"So why the new driver?" I asked her.
Mrs. Payne stared at me and said, "Why so many questions? Are you on duty?"
"Nope," I said, matching her stare.
"I thought police officers were always on duty,"
she said with a wry smile.
"Not this one," I said back.
"Lady Hunt wanted a change I guess. The last driver could be very cantankerous at times and Lady Hunt never got on very wel with him. Besides, Lady Hunt is very much into her charity work."
"Charity work? What's that got to do with hiring herself a new chauffeur?" I asked feeling bemused.
"James can't walk," she said, as if I should have already known this. "Lady Hunt has done a lot of great work for the disabled and believes that everyone should have an equal chance of employment."
"Apparently he had an accident or something years ago and hasn't walked since," Kayla cut in.
I looked across the table at her to see that she had removed the earphones and turned off the iPod.
"Realy?" I said, somewhat bewildered. "But he drove me al the way here," and I pushed my empty bowl to one side and took a banana from the pile of fruit.
"Lady Hunt had the Rols Royce converted so it could be driven by a disabled driver," Mrs. Payne cut in.
It was hearing this that I understood why the chauffeur hadn't got out of the car last night for Lady Hunt and me. He'd stayed in the vehicle when she'd gotten out at the railway station and again on our arrival at the manor. Al off a sudden, I felt incredibly guilty and wondered perhaps if I had judged him unfairly. I regretted caling him a jerk.
"So what about Marshal?" I asked them.
"What about him?" Mrs. Payne said.
"Is he new here too?"
"Yes, he was hired by Lady Hunt after Lord Hunt disappeared," she explained.
Then raising my hand to my face, I said, "So what about...you know...the bandages?"
"The bandages?" Mrs. Payne said, and I couldn't help but notice her glance at Kayla. There was a pause - it lasted only a fraction of a second - but long enough to be noticeable. "Oh, them," she eventualy said.
"Marshal was born with a facial deformity and a twisted spine."
"Yeah, his face scares the shit outta me," Kayla cut in.
"That's quite enough of that, thank you very much," Mrs. Payne glared at the girl.
"Another one of Lady Hunt's charitable works?" I asked.
"Lady Hunt came across him by chance on a visit to a homeless shelter. Marshal had been living on the streets since he was not much older than Kayla is now.
He had falen foul of the law and because of his deformities, he had never been given the same opportunities in life like the rest of us. Lady Hunt therefore took it upon herself to give him sanctuary here, and in return, Marshal tends to the grounds and he has become quite an accomplished handyman. Lady Hunt has even provided the funds for him to have reconstructive surgery. The bandages are covering the scars while they heal," she said.
Looking at Kayla, I said, "Gee, your mother sounds like a real saint."
"She can be okay, I guess," Kayla said thoughtfuly.
"Only okay?" Mrs. Payne cut in. "After everything that your mother has done for you?"
Pushing her chair back from the table, Kayla jumped up. "What would you know about anything!"
Kayla shouted at Mrs. Payne. "You're just the housekeeper, so keep your nose out of my business!"
"Don't you dare speak to me like that!" Mrs.
Payne snapped back, her face flushing scarlet.
"Or what?" Kayla spat back.
"You wait until your mother gets home," the housekeeper warned her.
"And then what?" Kayla snapped. "What's she gonna do, pack me off to another boarding school?
Wel if you didn't already know, there isn't a school in the country that wil take me. So it looks as if you and mother are stuck with me."
"Right, young lady," Mrs. Payne said, "get to your room and don't come out until you've learnt to keep a civil tongue in your head!"
"You can't tel me what to do, so why don't you just do us al a favour and piss off!" Kayla yeled, snatching up the iPod. She stormed out of the back kitchen door and onto the grounds of the manor.
"Wel, that couldn't of gone any better," I sighed.
"You don't know what she's like," Mrs. Payne complained.
"So what is she like?" I asked, raising an eyebrow and getting up from my seat.
"There's something wrong with her," she said, her voice sounding angry.
"She's not the only one," I whispered to myself as I went after Kayla.
It was cold outside, so I was glad I'd put on a jumper. A strong wind blew about the eves of the old manor as I passed down the side of it and towards the front of the building. I went around the front and down the gravel path. Ahead of me, there was a wide open grassy area and in the distance, I could see Kayla propped against a tree, her knees drawn up under her chin. I walked towards her and as I did, I looked back at the house and up towards the 'forbidden' right wing.
I hadn't noticed it the night before, but the right side of the building was hidden by scaffolding and thick sheets of tarpaulin, which kept most of it hidden from view. On the ground, just beneath the scaffolding, were four large yelow skips and each of these had been filed with rubble and masonry. Perhaps that part of the manor was being renovated after al, but I couldn't see any workmen or builders.
"Want to show me around?" I asked her.
She just shrugged her shoulders.
"You might as wel," I said. "You've got my company for a whole week, so we should try and be friends."
Taking the iPod and placing it in her pocket, (I guess it was hers now, at least until I left) Kayla said, "Why did you cover for me back there?"
"I don't know what you mean?" I said, helping her to her feet.
"You told that old bag that it was your fault I'd been late for breakfast."
"Oh, that. Aren't friends alowed to cover for each other from time to time?" I smiled and looped my arm through hers.
"You're not what I expected," she said, leading me through the trees and away from the manor.
"What were you expecting then?" I asked her.
"I dunno," she said. "Somebody a bit older to start with. And not so...easy going, I guess. I thought coppers were meant to be serious al the time."
"Why don't you just forget I'm a cop for a while - I'm a person too, you know," I smiled.
"Okay," she smiled back.
"I know you're pissed off that your mother asked me -" I started.
"To come down here and spy on me," she said.
"Is there a reason to spy on you?" I asked her, ducking down to avoid a low-hanging branch.
"You tel me," she said. "My mother's told me you have a bit of a reputation for being a smart-arse - like you have this knack of working out things real quick."
"Did she?" I said. "What else did she tel you about me?" I asked.
"That you had been suspended from the police, but she didn't tel me why," Kayla said. Then looking at me with a twinkle in her eyes, she added, "Are you like one of those rebel cops who's always breaking the rules and getting into trouble with their superiors?"
"No," I told her. "I don't think I am."
"So why were you suspended then?"
"I haven't been suspended...I've been..."
"Given some extended leave," I told her.
"What you're teling me is that your boss thinks you're a pain in the arse, but he doesn't know what to do with you," she said, leading me out into a wide open area with the most wonderful flowerbeds I'd ever seen.
Mrs. Lovelace would love it here, I thought to myself.
"How did you figure that out?" I asked Kayla.
"It's exactly what happened to me at school," she explained. "If you're different or you speak out, people think you're a pain and it's easier for them to either pretend you're not there or better stil, just get rid of you altogether. People like me and you, Kiera, don't fit in."
"Why didn't you fit in at school?" I asked her, the smel of the flowers a break from the musty stench that permeated the manor. "Your mother told me that you can be disruptive."
"She would say that," Kayla said, sounding angry again. "I was just sticking up for myself, that's al."
"Why would you feel the need to stick up for yourself?" I asked.
"Mother didn't tel you did, she?" Kayla said her eyes wide.
"Tel me what?" I asked her.
Letting go of my arm, she quickly looked back over her shoulder in the direction from which we had come, as if to make sure that we hadn't been folowed.
Then quickly, she puled her top from over her head and let it flutter to the floor. She stood before me, the pale morning sun reflecting off her round shoulders and glinting off her auburn hair. Then slowly, she turned around. Raising a hand to my mouth, I gasped, as poking around the white straps of her bra were two smal, black wings.