Steve twisted his mouth to a lopsided grin. “You all trying to get back those points I won?” He laid out the word nutty. “I’m cleaning up tonight. Fifteen points.”
“You could say that,” Ward agreed. He handed Steve a sandwich. “Have one of these. Peggy’s speciality.”
Steve took a big bite before Dulcie could stop him. “Hey, very good, Peggy. Could use a little salt though. What kind of sandwich is it?”
“I don’t use salt. Just something I like to whip up for company. Have one, Dulcie.”
Dulcie smiled, setting the sandwich beside her glass. “My turn?” she asked brightly. Turning her and Steve’s pockets might give some small protection. It once saved an ancestor from a death trap. One hand to her chin, she used the other to pull the pocket of her slacks out.
She brushed each tile with the ring then spelled out the word strong. “It’s a shame no one else from the office is here. I was looking forward to meeting everyone.”
“There’s just Steve and me.” Ward’s smooth explanation sent warning tingles to Dulcie’s mind. The room felt cooler now. Shadows flickered in the hall way. “My turn. Mind. Now that’s a good word.”
“I can top that, darling. Doorkeeper.” Peggy’s eyes opened wide for a moment as she smiled at Ward. He glanced at Steve, one eyebrow raised a fraction.
“That you did, my dear.” He turned a bland face to Dulcie and Steve. “Your turn.”
Steve screwed up his face, studying his tiles. “Wow, this is getting tougher. You two play this game a lot?”
“We find it’s a lovely way to pass the evening.” Peggy put her hands in her lap. Somewhere in the back of the house, Dulcie heard a creak, as if something shifted against a wall. The air grew close, cooler. Darkness hung outside the lamp lights.
“Got one. Skill. Talk about reaching.” The word attached to Dulcie’s last word. “Your turn, Dulcie.” His words slurred but he didn’t notice.
She had to get him out of here before the game ended. A sharp scent from her untouched sandwich bit her nose. Studying her tiles, she leaned toward Steve. She twisted her ring but what little protection it afforded did not go past her hand. “Let me see.” She fiddled with the tiles. Nothing. She racked her mind for something, anything.
Her nose tingled. “Excuse me.”
Dulcie picked up her purse, digging. Debris from past lunches, salt, ketchup packets, old napkins met her fingers. She grabbed a napkin, palming the salt packet and dabbed at her nose.
She sat upright. “Looks like I need to trade letters.” Thrusting her hand in and out of the bag, Dulcie felt the cold clinging of worn leather. Reading the tiles, she allowed a tiny smile. “Raven. The guardian.”
Ward frowned then shifted his face to a bemused pout. Peggy’s mouth twitched. “Guardian?” She shifted, hands under the table. The shadows thickened.
Ward leaned back in his chair. “Ravens. We don’t let any roost around here.” He clicked out three tiles to make a new word on Dulcie’s. “Ravenous.”
Steve shook his head, forcing his eyes open. “Is it getting warm in here?” He blinked.
Peggy and Ward watched him, cats eying a canary. Peggy’s tiny pink tongue flickered in and out. Dulcie swallowed. Behind her, faint scrabbling noises came from the dark hallway.
“Here, Steve.” She shoved the glass into his hand. He drank automatically, a slightly dazed smile on his face. Quickly, she turned the pocket of his trousers. The Kellers didn’t notice.
“Thanks, Honey. My turn?” He studied the board, frowned and began to hum an old pop tune. “How about this. Vain.” A silly grin creased his face.
Ward and Peggy sat back in their chairs, predators gathering muscles to spring. Twisting her ring, Dulcie looked around the room. Steve sat on her right, the front door beyond him. Until the game ended, they were safe. She had to act soon. But with what?
The tissue in her hand brushed the ring. Her purse. Salt. “Oh, this nose.” She bent as if getting another tissue. Palming a salt packet in her left hand, she wiped her nose with the new tissue then shook the leather bag. Thumb against the tiny paper tube now inside the bag, she pressed it open scattering salt among the tile. Acrid smoke began to curl out.
Peggy jumped up, sweeping the bag to the floor. Tiles, salt and bits of leather scattered in front of Ward. Dulcie jerked Steve to his feet, racing for the front door. As she dragged it open, a huge raven, wings blacker than the darkness swooped overhead, settling on their car roof. Steve stumbled, almost balking when the bird lifted its wings.
Dulcie shoved him in the suddenly open car door, scrambling in on the drivers side. A rising howl tore from the now dark cottage. Peggy, humpbacked and huge stood over Ward. He groveled, just out of reach from her claws.
“No, Peggy, No! I’ll find someone! I promise!” He crouched, arms flailing in the grip of the dark form growing from Peggy. Dulcie started the car, eyes on the rear view mirror, Steve passed out beside her. The raven cawed once then beat its wings, pushing the little car to safety down the narrow lane. As they sped away, Dulcie heard a ragged gnawing sucking of something being drawn down behind the stone walls of the cottage.