USING THE flashlight sparingly, Jimmy pulled out the center double-page from one of the comic books, smoothed the crease in its middle by running it back and forth over the edge of the folding chair’s seat, and then slid it carefully under the ball door, directly beneath the knob. They hadn’t bothered to search him, so he still had his ballpoint pen, the inner cartridge of which was both thin enough and rigid enough to fit into the keyhole and slowly push the key out the other side.
After that tiny sound, of the key hitting the comic book sheet on the hall floor, Jimmy waited, tense, his ear to the keyhole, until he was sure the sound had not been heard downstairs. Then, slowly, carefully, he drew the sheet of paper back into the room, and there was the key, athwart Jughead.
Operating now in darkness, the flashlight in his hip pocket, Jimmy unlocked the door and tiptoed out to the corridor. Could it really be this easy, or were they testing his resourcefulness, leaving one of them hidden on guard upstairs here, to see what he might do?
But apparently not. A little light showed from his right, and when he moved that way he could hear the voices downstairs. He already knew there were five of them, and when he reached the head of the stairs and looked down all five were there. One of the men and the older woman were putting on coats. The other woman was fiddling with a hibachi in the fireplace. The second man was playing solitaire at a card table (and from the looks of things cheating), and the third one was prowling back and forth, holding a wet shirt out and shaking it as though to hurry its drying.
Five. They were either underestimating him or overestimating themselves; probably both. He waited till the couple with coats on went out and then, turning away from the staircase, he went exploring.
It took ten minutes to discover that all the windows up here were boarded, and that there was no second staircase down. He also discovered, in that time, a wire coat-hanger, an eight-inch-piece of galvanized pipe, and a hall-full squirt can of 3-in-i oil.
But the big finds were in the attic, which he gained access to via a trapdoor in a bedroom closet. In the mountain school in Switzerland last summer he’d learned the chimney climb, going up funnel-type openings by pressing one’s back against one side and walking one’s feet up the other. He went up the closet walls that way, got into the attic, and made both finds almost at once. In an old metal toolbox were several rusty abandoned tools: a hammer, a screwdriver, pliers, a long slender tweezers. And off in a corner, behind several stacks of Grit, was a good long coil of rope.
Pleased with himself, Jimmy used the rope to lower the toolbox, then dropped the rest of the rope down after it and walked his way back down the closet walls. It took two trips to carry everything back to his room, and on the second trip he paused at the head of the stairs again to see how his kidnappers were doing. The woman was now boiling water on the hibachi, and the two men were playing rummy. From the looks of things the woman would be bringing him food pretty soon so he shouldn’t stand around here wasting time.
Going back to his room, he put the key in the lock on the outside, went into the room, and pulled the door shut. Then, using the tweezers from the toolbox, he carefully turned the key from inside; one revolution all the way around and the lock clicked into place.
Now, to work.