Charles realized he was alone. In a maze. Also, that metallic odor that he had first smelled when peering into the trapdoor had probably been blood. This man had been dead before he’d ever gone through the opening, and probably for quite some time before that, though given the coldness of the underground space, he had no idea how long.
He stilled as horrifying thoughts struck him. What if those footsteps and other noises had been real? What if the killer was still here? His heart rate picked up. He had to get out.
Standing, he crept against the wall as if it might shelter him, and raised the lantern. The light beam slipped past his free hand. It was splotchy. He brought it closer to his eyes. Blood. That sticky substance had been blood, on the other side of the maze’s center. What terrible events had happened here? Had the body been moved after the murder?
His gaze darted around the space, in and out of the light. He couldn’t remember how to get out of the maze. He’d never known how to get out. Was there a ladder somewhere? Another door? Should he go back to the start and climb up the rope? Was that trapdoor still open? What if Mr. Yupman had planned to leave him down here? Did he know there was a dead man in the maze?
“Get hold of yourself, man,” he whispered fiercely. No reason existed to hold him in this maze. While he couldn’t convince himself that this death had been an accident, it could be a suicide. Though the specific mortal injury made it unlikely.
He searched the space, hunting for the deadly knife. It didn’t appear in the lantern’s beam. Could it have fallen under the body? He shuddered and couldn’t bring himself to look.
He only saw one exit to the central space, which was also the entrance. Speeding into a trot, he went in that direction and reversed himself through the maze. What had he expected to happen? Not this. It made no sense to enter the maze and then return the way he’d come.
Although he did have the lantern. It proved he’d been in the center. Surely there were men upstairs, ready to celebrate his initiation. As the president likely had been, before he met his death.
The lantern also proved something else. It proved he’d been near the body. And he had blood on his hands.