She suddenly looked very weary, very old. “I keep having the same dream, you know. Every night.”

Max studied her for a moment. “What’s it about?” he said, smoothly humoring her until the conversation could be turned back to the matters at hand.

“I dream of this little alcove in my cellar. It used to hold wine racks, I think, but in my dreamer’s eye it conceals a door in the stones, one that leads to an ancient staircase.”

“The staircase to another sub-basement, maybe?” said Max, probing for an opening to take control of their talk. “Or maybe a cave?”

“That’s just the thing,” Isabelle said. “Every night I lift myself out of this old shell and wander downstairs as a young woman. I find the secret to opening that door–it’s different every time–and start to climb down. Every now and then there’s a chink in the wall, but I can’t see through. Whatever’s lighting the stairs–I haven’t a flashlight or candle–doesn’t let me see anything beyond. I just get this…impression…of a vast space beyond. Something dark, inconceivable, even menacing. But even so I’m desperate to see it for myself.”

Max fiddled with his watch under the desk, bored. “What is it?”

“That’s the thing, Mr. Maxwell…I never reach the bottom. Each time I get a little further, but I never see what it is that the steps lead to. Maybe they’re endless. But I’m starting to feel that the steps lead somewhere, and I only hope I live long enough to find out.”

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