(Horror, psychological – 16+)
“I expect you’ll be wanting a basement?” The architect asked.
“Not ‘a’ basement – a double basement – and make it another four floors on top.” Mr Dier said.
“Six levels? Why that would be very expensive. And a good deal of work.”
Mr Dier slapped the chewing gum loudly in his open mouth. This was a habit that was seemingly worse than the cigarette smoking from before – or so his ex-wife number three had said. “Expensive? No, Mr Stein, not for me. Money is no object.”
“I’ll have some plans drawn up for you by next week then.”
“Don’t you mean tomorrow, Mr Stein?”
“I’m afraid that tomorrow wouldn’t give me enough time. I’ve appointments and work already booked…”
“Well, I’m afraid that I’ll have to go elsewhere, then.” Mr Dier slapped the gum loudly and turned for the door, his hand already reaching into his deep jacket pocket for his phone.
The architect couldn’t really afford to lose Mr Dier’s account. His business partner would not be happy – and he really did owe him. Also, it was pertinent to take it.
The billionaire had his hand resting on the door handle. One quick turn and he’d be gone.
Again: “Mr Dier!”
The businessman who owned half the city pushed down the door handle and the glass door opened a crack. “Mmmm.” He murmured, without turning.
“Mr Dier, please. Don’t change your mind about doing business with us. I will have your plans ready by tomorrow, at five.”
“Five, Mr Stein?” He didn’t turn. The phone snaked out of the pocket. He began dialling some numbers.
“Four, then?” Mr Stein was embarrassed to grovel this way, but he didn’t dare lose this important account.
“Midday, Mr Stein.”
The architect, standing perhaps six feet away, could hear the other phone ringing.
“Midday? I don’t…”
The ringing ceased. A voice, faint, was now speaking undecipherable words.
“No, it will have to be ten in the a.m.; I just remembered I have an appointment at twelve.”
The architect paled.
The billionaire finally turned to face him with his icy blue stare. “Do we have a deal, Mr Stein?”
“Jason, I don’t understand why you’re killing yourself for this client. Everyone needs their sleep, you can’t not sleep the entire night!” The architect’s wife, Ann, said.
Jason Stein shuffled the papers on his desk then leant back in his office chair for a moment. His eyes stung from staring at the computer for the past five hours. He was on his sixth mug of black coffee.
“Why?” Ann asked softly.
“Simon says that having this account won’t only break us even, it will see us out for the rest of the year. Having Dier’s account means a lot more business coming our way after this job. Yes, we might scrape by with the other jobs, especially the car showroom, but Dier is a very powerful man…”
Ann abruptly sat down in the chair the other side of the desk. “Jason, what are you telling me…’a very powerful man’?”
“Look, I’ve said too much. I don’t mean to alarm you. Only…”
The architect silently shook his head. He felt half his hair going prematurely grey on the spot.
“Jason, tell me what you were going to say. We never keep things from one another, do we?” She stretched out her hand across the desk and laid it on his.
Mr Stein rubbed his stinging eyes. Finally, he said:”If Dier doesn’t get what he wants, bad things happen.”
Jason Stein did work through the night and being the excellent architect he was, had completed the prints for the ‘tall house’, as he liked to call it. There wasn’t enough time for even a five-minute shower so he just splashed his face and stinging eyes with cold water from the sink at his office. Then brushed his teeth. Bad breath was never good business.
At 10.20 he buzzed through to his secretary for the third time. “Isn’t he here yet?”
“No. Sorry Jason.”
At 10.55 Mr Dier’s phone call was put through. “Mr Stein! My apologies! It was unavoidable, I got caught up in something else. You can expect me in the next few minutes.”
The architect replaced the telephone receiver then swallowed another couple of paracetamol tablets with his cold coffee. He wished his head would stop its thumping pain. He needed to look bright for when the billionaire arrived.
“I can’t stay long.” Mr Dier announced, walking into the office. He looked well rested unlike the architect and wore a wide grin reminiscent of a crocodile. The icy blue eyes flashed. “Hurry up Mr Stein, we don’t have all day! What do you have for me?”
“So, he did approve the plans for the ‘tall house’?” Ann asked later that day when Jason had half an hour to spare between appointments.
“Apparently, they were a hit. I don’t know why he wants two basements though.”
“I’ve been reading about him online, all morning. From the stories circulating about him, I wouldn’t want to delve too deeply into that man’s activities. He makes me shudder.”
The architect bit into the apple Ann had brought him. “Be careful love.” He warned. “Let’s just keep this between us.”
Six months later, the tall house was completely built. It stood between the luxury hotel and the offices of the best doctors in the city. Both buildings belonged to Mr Dier, of course.
The walls were built with stone and marble shipped from Italy, the windows were engineered in Germany then brought to the English city to be fitted by the same specialists. The roof had solar panels and a swimming pool. Danish craftspeople fitted the bespoke interior cupboards, shelving, doors, walls and kitchen. Everything was fitted to top spec. The house was perfect.
The champagne was cracked open. Mr Dier flashed his wide crocodile grin and icy blue eyes – the ruthless billionaire couldn’t be happier.
When the party was over and the press people had left, the architect handed him a key.
Mr Dier was astonished – as he should be. “Why a key?” He thought it a joke at first. He stared at the ornate swirls and gargoyle face set in the metal. “Mr Stein, everything operates automatically: the doors open and shut when I tell them to, the front and back doors operate with a chip, why would I need a key?”
“Exactly, Mr Dier. I thought the key would appeal to you, as it signifies just how far you’ve come. The key is the past. A reminder of what you’ve achieved.”
Mr Dier’s eyes sparkled. He clearly appreciated the strange yet positive gesture, which encompassed his greatness. Perhaps, after all, he would keep giving his business to this firm of architects.
“Come with me, Mr Dier, if you will. The key actually unlocks the very bottom basement.”
The man who owned half the city – and had the most influential people in his deep pockets – followed the architect, his curiosity overflowing. They stopped in the kitchen, beside a locked door.
“As you are aware, from the plans, this door leads downstairs to the first basement, thereafter, the steps lead down to the lower, second basement. The door to the first basement opens as all the other doors do, with your voice; but, the door to the other basement only opens with this key.”
Mr Dier nodded eagerly. The architect could tell that the man was trying to contain his excitement – and the need to be alone.
“You better be off then, Mr Stein.” Mr Dier said. The ornate key moist in his sweaty hand.
Mr Stein hovered. He fiddled with his car keys in his jacket pocket. For the first time he felt empowered concerning this man; having the knowledge that he knew something Mr Dier didn’t.
“Mr Stein.” Mr Dier snapped the words. His crocodile smile no more. “Goodnight Mr Stein.”
“Oh, is that the time already? I better get going! Goodnight Mr Dier.” The architect walked to the entrance of the beautiful Danish kitchen. Without turning, he said: “The lower basement is the best bit of the tall house. It will certainly surprise you!”
What arrogance! thought the billionaire when the architect had finally left. The little minion was beginning to get too big for his boots. Perhaps, after all, he wouldn’t use that firm of architects again. He shoved a stick of gum in his mouth and slapped loudly.
The ornate key dropped from his slippery sweaty hand to the tiled floor with a loud clatter. The clatter seemed to urge him: The lower basement! He had to have a look now!
He told the door to open to the stairwell. Down the curling steps, he went – much more than he thought were on the plans – eventually reaching the door to the first basement. He told the door to open. He told the lights to go on. Just inside the entrance, he eyed the extensive empty space before him. He hadn’t installed any furniture or anything yet because he wasn’t quite sure how to decorate this particular room. He switched off the lights, closed the door, then proceeded into the bowels of the tall house. Down the winding steps, on and on, as if forever – again sure that these many steps were not indicated on the plans.
Finally, he reached the locked door of the lower basement. The only door in the tall house that opened with an old fashioned key.
The swirls. The grinning gargoyle face. Perfect!
He decided then he would call this room the Gargoyle Room. Unlike the lack of ideas for the other basement, his rich, sadistic imagination had so many plans for this space. This was to be his place, where the housekeeper had no access, and where the select few who visited would never leave. He would keep his toys in here. The toys that would wait for him to play with them when the right times came.
He unlocked the door with the key that rotated smoothly in the lock. The door sprang open and he called the light on. But it failed to come on. He reached inside the door for an old fashioned light switch – and located nothing. He stepped into the room, to slide his hand along the walls either side of the door.
At last he could feel a switch with the outstretched tips of his fingers. He pushed it.
And, the door shut.
He wasn’t easily frightened, he went back to the door, feeling his way, feeling the wood for its internal handle. Finding none.
Confused, he shouted for the lights to switch on. (They didn’t).
He shouted for the door to open. (It didn’t).
He scrabbled for the lock of the door. Though there wasn’t a handle, there wasn’t a lock. The door might very well have been the lid of a coffin.
Mr Dier laughed.
His killing room hadn’t been meant for him!
~ Please let me know if you enjoyed this story. ~
Words: 1,843 (almost double the length of my usual short stories!)
Writing prompt: N/A
Writing inspiration: A conversation about an unusual house with a very deep basement!
What’s a Chi Tale?: N/A
Copyright Faith McCord 2016
Story and artwork belongs to Faith McCord who is the author and artist holding the copyright. This is not a public domain work. Worldwide rights.