Tanner's Tiger Page 15

I hit myself, hard, in the forehead. Arlette looked curiously at me. I tightened my fist and hit myself again in the same spot.

“Oh,” she said, light dawning. “It is one of those, then.”

“It would have to be.”

“But which one?”

We walked to the bank of switches alongside the desk where robot tourists had their Expo Passports stamped. There were seven switches in all. There were also two sets of lights upstairs, three sets downstairs, an air-conditioner – and, if I was right, an electrically operated passageway to the basement below.

But which one?

I switched off our own flashlight. It didn’t help to stare at the seven switches. They were unlabeled, and one looked rather like the next. And I did not care for the idea of throwing all seven to see what happened, or even of flicking them on one at a time. I did not want to illuminate the pavilion. It was about the last thing I wanted to do.

“She could be down there right now,” Arlette whispered. “And we-”

“And we can’t get there.”

“Oh, it is not fair.”

I thought fleetingly of trying to find a way to un-screw all of the bulbs from all of the fixtures. But even that, impossible though it was, would not turn the trick. For all I knew, one of the switches might activate the little recorder that boomed out Castro’s speeches, or the Mickey Mouse display unit that told about all of the revolutions throughout the world in the past five million years.

“What do we do?”

“Well,” I said, “I guess.”

“You guess what?”

“I just guess. I throw a switch and we see what happens.”


“Unless you’d like to pray first.”

She nodded seriously. “An excellent idea.” She knelt and whispered an urgent Paternoster and got to her feet. “Thank you for reminding me, Evan.”

St. Joan and the Hidden Basement. I took a breath, and I reached for the board, and I threw a switch. There was just the briefest flicker of lights upstairs before I managed to throw the switch down again.

Arlette drew in breath sharply. Her nails dug into my arm. “Do you think-”

“Someone may have noticed, yes. But they won’t know where the light came from, or why, and they won’t pay any attention to it.”

“But if you do it again-”

“I’ll wait awhile. Give anyone who saw it time to forget it.”

And I did, and tried the second switch, and it was the fixture on the first floor, and that gave us another five minutes to wait. My third try was a loudspeaker – I’m sure the sound from that did not carry any distance, nor did the brief whirring of the air-conditioner, which was try number four. The fifth thing was some more first floor lighting.

“We are getting close,” Arlette said.

That was the bright way of looking at it. My own feeling, with five out of seven of the switches exhausted, was that we had leaped to another wrong conclusion – either there was no basement, or none of the damned switches would give us access to it. Well, two more tries would show one way or the other. I pulled the sixth switch and another damned light went on, and I switched it off, and Arlette and I stared at each other in the darkness.

“I don’t think your prayers were answered.”

“One cannot expect miracles, Evan.”

She stood close to me, her head nestled against my shoulder, clutching the paper bag in one hand and the flashlight in the other. I put an arm possessively around her, and I rested the index finger of my free hand upon the sole remaining switch.

“Maybe you ought to pray again,” I suggested.

“Oh, Evan-”

“Away we go,” I said, and pressed the switch.

And the floor opened up under us.

It was not at all like Alice going down the rabbit hole. Alice, you may remember, seemed to be eternally falling, thinking like mad all the way down. This was nothing like that. One moment I was standing there, joking in the face of adversity like an English soldier in a war movie, and an instant later I was flat on my ass in the darkness. None of that down down down went Alice. Just an instantaneous transference from frying pan to fire.

The truly amazing thing, now that I think about it, is how utterly noiseless the whole business was. They must have oiled the mechanism that opened the floor at least a dozen times a day. It opened silently, and we fell silently. And the floor was cushioned, perhaps to prevent harm to whoever got bounced down there during the day, as there were no stairs for anyone to descend. So we landed on the cushioned floor after falling through the easy-opening aperture, and we fell in silence and landed in silence and sat there in silence. I didn’t make any noise because I didn’t really think of it. Arlette might have screamed, or cried, or moaned or gasped or shrieked, but she didn’t. She had fainted, a reaction every bit as dramatic as the others but infinitely safer.

Of course at first I didn’t realize she had fainted. At first I thought she had died, and I fumbled around for the flashlight and tried to examine her with it, but it was a casualty of the fall. She wasn’t, however, as I found out by taking hold of her wrist, where a pulse gently pounded.

I sat there for a moment, trying to think. Then I located the paper bag and pawed through it. Arlette’s cigarettes were there, in a clear plastic case, and tucked alongside the blue and white pack was a folder of matches. I scratched one and examined our dungeon.

Which is precisely what it was.

It was deserted, of course. Otherwise we would have been in rather desperate trouble. But, populated or not, the purpose of the subterranean room was instantly obvious. There were no lights about, just unlit candle stubs. There was only one chair, placed there undoubtedly for the convenience of the guard. There were walls and a floor and a ceiling, and everything was dark and bare, and the walls were dotted with chains.

Yes, chains. Chains that hung from the walls, with heavy iron manacles at their end. Manacles to hold the hands and the feet of prisoners.

It was a setting for a sadomasochist film on the evils of the Spanish Inquisition. It was a stage that cried for whips and rods and fiery tongs, for naked maidens writhing and shrieking, for masked villains flogging them joyously to death. I had done nothing but throw a simple switch, and here I was in the apartment of the Marquis de Sade.

The match warmed my fingertips. I shook it out and lit another one. Beside me Arlette stirred and opened her eyes.

A hideous gurgle found its way forth from her throat. “We have died,” she said.


“This is hell.”


“We died without a priest, and we are here, and this is hell.”

“You’re right on the last point,” I said. “But we aren’t dead. Not yet, at least. This is the basement of the Cuban Pavilion.”

“You are lying to me.”

“No, I am not. I-”

“We are dead.”

“Damn it, we’re not!”

“This is hell.”

“Not literally.”

She was on her feet now, moving inanely around the horrible room. The match went out and she cried out at the sudden darkness. I lit another match and walked alongside her, and she took hold of a pair of manacles and gasped.

“To restrain prisoners,” I explained. “They use them to-”

“The tortures of hell,” she said, stepping back.


“Whips and chains,” she said, removing her blouse.


“Horrible struggles. Pain,” she said, wriggling out of her slacks.

“Good grief-”

“Agony,” she moaned, kicking off shoes, squirming out of pants. “Agony, agony, cherished one, darling, agony, agony, take me!”

Some Jeanne d’Arc.

“It was not hell after all,” I heard her say.

“I tried to tell you.”

“Just now it was rather like heaven.” She stretched and sighed. “I must say that I am sorry, Evan. I do not know what came over me.”

“I think I did.”

“But yes.”

I used one of her matches to light her cigarette, then cupped my hand around it and carried it over to light a candle. The glow illuminated most of the dungeon without carrying to the opening in the ceiling.

“This room,” she said, thoughtfully. “It is horrid. Also, it excites me.”

“I noticed.”

“So bold, so-”

“Like tigers,” I suggested.

“But of course!” She seized my arm. “You understand, do you not? Precisely like tigers.”

“He who rides the tiger,” I said, “must pay the piper.”


“An old saying, but I seem to have gotten it wrong.” I began to recite the limerick about the young lady from Niger, but it didn’t work at all well in French. I explained that it was about a young lady who rode upon and subsequently nourished a tiger.

“To be eaten by a tiger,” Arlette said. There was an odd light in her eyes. “To be eaten by-”

I felt it was time to change the subject.

“They must empty the place every night,” I said. “They fill it up during the day with whoever they intend to kidnap, and then after the fair closes down, they take them all away somewhere.”


“I do not know. Minna was here, Arlette. Right in this crazy room. If I could have found this place sooner-”

“How, Evan?”

“I know. There was no way. They must have moved her out of here the first night. Last night.” I turned to look at her. “I don’t understand it,” I said. “Nobody can kidnap a dozen people a day and still manage to keep the whole operation secret. People don’t vanish that way, not without making waves. I just don’t get it.”

“What shall we do now?”

“I don’t know.”

“If we stay here-”

“No.” I went over to her and took a sandwich from the paper bag. I sat down and gnawed at it but couldn’t develop enough of an appetite to finish it. I wrapped it again in waxed paper and returned it to the bag. Arlette took a last drag from her cigarette, stubbed it out on the heel of her shoe, and put it in the paper bag along with our sandwiches and burglar tools.

“Perhaps I could conceal myself here,” Arlette suggested.


“I do not know. It is so bare, so desolate. Perhaps you could shackle me to the wall and leave me, and when they return in a few hours, they will think I was left behind by error.”

“I don’t think that would work.”

“Nor do I. Nevertheless…”

I tried to think it through on my own. Minna, along with any number of other persons, had been confined in the basement dungeon. She was not here now. Thus, I reasoned, either she and her fellow prisoners had been removed to other quarters, or else their captors had-

I didn’t want to think about it. It was inconceivable, I told myself, that the Cubans would have murdered them all. But it was equally inconceivable that Minna could have been kidnaped in the first place. I got up and paced the floor, back and forth and back and forth, pushing things around in my mind in an attempt to force them into some sort of order.

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