There were two entrances to Longreave’s underground. The first was tucked in a nook across from the lobby elevator. For decades it had been the favored access point, but then rot had retired the wooden steps on the other side of the door and the door had been padlocked. The other entrance was on the annex’s bottom floor, which was reachable only from the floor above, by a staircase so skinny it seemed to have been squeezed into the addled architecture as an afterthought.
Level One of the annex was concrete and little else. It had restrooms, a laundry room, a meager fitness room that no one but The Lovers ever used, and beyond all that, at the very end of the twisting corridor, a tiny door with a sign that read: DO NOT ENTER.
David twisted the knob. The door groaned open on one final staircase, its steps dipping into darkness. Three long creeeaaaaks down, and Mark’s feet were gone. Four, and his legs stopped at the knees. His heartbeat jittered, and he choked on the black smell of earth. A lightbulb flicked on overhead. He let out his breath. It’s the annex. He always felt like a rat caught in a maze when he wandered this deep into the annex.
Which was the reason he never did.
“Be careful,” he said. “The steps have a little bend to them.”
“I know. That’s why I’m glad you’re there to pad my fall.”
Past the staircase everything was murky. Mark scanned under the low-hanging pipes until he spotted a dangling string. He ventured out and gave it a tug. The space around him brightened. Lit up, alive, the walls were red. Cobwebs twitched against the bricks—proof, if any proof was needed, that they’d come to the most inhabited floor of Longreave. He could feel constant spidery movement everywhere he wasn’t looking.
A heavy slosh echoed from the dark.
His insides clenched.
“I have something to show you,” said David, headed toward the next string, the next light.
They walked on silently, revealing the way as they went, something scurrying always just out of sight ahead. In the hotel above there were walls and railings, corridors and doors, but here in the cellar, Longreave had no annexes. It was one unified enclosure, one grand hall reaching below the woodwork. Halfway through hunkered the boiler, a fat steel tank lying like a larva in a cocoon of pipes, grated stairs twisting up to its hatch. It moaned as they passed, its deep belly gurgling. One lightbulb later, a shadowy bulk to their left became the caved staircase that once connected the cellar to the lobby. Furry bodies whispered underneath the crumbled steps.
Finally Mark pulled the last string. A row of tiny, teeth-like stalactites appeared above his hand.
“There,” said David.
And Mark saw.