Hajji jumped to his feet before Nate could fully take in what had just happened. Hajji pulled a gun from somewhere and trained it on the wall. Was he planning on killing it?
"Easy." Nate pushed off the floor with one hand and turned an opened palm to Hajji. "This isn't a trick," he said, meeting the man's eyes. "I think it's what I've been looking for." He turned to study the wall with a giddy effervescent growing inside. "See, the stairs are just a decoy. This!" He aimed the flashlight at the crack in the wall. "This must be the real hiding place." He turned to Hajji with a big grin. "We should check it out."
Hajji moved his flashlight across the wall then nodded. "Perhaps fortune smiles on us."
"Yeah, come on." Nate pushed the wall until it turned inside the doorway and hung from its frame in the middle, splitting the entrance in half. He guided the beam to the floor and stepped inside. Nate couldn't imagine a more narrow space. He moved down so Hajji could enter.
Hajji stepped inside and turned his flashlight to the opening. He pushed the wall/door until it closed then studied it with, what felt to Nate, like tiresome attention to details.
"Here," Hajji said, shinning the light on a metal rod held in place by two clamps. "This goes into that hole. It's the lock."
"Lock it," Nate told him. "Let's see how this would have work."
They stepped sideways along the passage because it was impossible to walk normal.
"What place would this be inside the house, Nate Daniels?"
"I don't know," Nate said. "These must be the walls between two rooms."
They could see no more than a foot ahead and were squeeze between two plastered walls about eighteen inches apart. Overhead, the ceiling showed exposed beams and electrical wires. The same plank boards as the alcove made up the floor. From somewhere, the smell of kerosene drifted toward them.
After about twenty feet, Nate stopped as his lead foot slid across the board and found nothing to support it. Nate aimed the light down and saw that the floor ended in a sharp drop. A ladder was wedged between the narrow openings. Someone overweight would have a hard time passing through here. He tapped Hajji's shoulder and pointed.
"So, we go down?" Nate asked.
"We go down," Hajji agreed.
They descended and stood in another alcove, bigger than the one at the bottom of the secret stairs. It was bare except for a small desk and chair set beneath a slant in the ceiling.
"Looks like we might be under the stairway," Nate said.
"I do not believe so. I remember the stairway being farther away."
"Well, we are back on the first floor. There's a pantry and a laundry room back to back. We could be in between them."
"Yes, where no one would notice the missing space."
"I'll check after I leave. I'll knock on the wall, and you listen for it. Maybe there's more than one way in."
"Yes, a second exit route would be useful."
Hajji still carried the apple and bananas, but he would need water and a...