“You’re not having any?”
“Sadly, I’m not allowed. Doctor’s orders.”
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I didn’t know.”
“You couldn’t have,” Greta says. “Now quit apologizing and drink.”
I take an obligatory sip, mindful about not drinking too much too fast. It could easily happen, considering how anxious I am about talking too much, asking too many questions, annoying Greta more than I already have. I take another sip, this time to calm my nerves.
“Tell me, Jules,” Greta says, “why did you really stop by?”
I look up from my glass. “Do I need an ulterior motive?”
“Not necessarily. But I suspect you have one. In my experience, people don’t arrive bearing gifts unless they want something. A signed copy of their favorite book, for instance.”
“I didn’t bring my copy.”
“A missed opportunity there, wouldn’t you say?”
“But you’re right. I came here for a reason.” I pause to fortify myself with more wine. “I came here to ask you about Ingrid Gallagher.”
“Who?” Greta asks.
“She’s an apartment sitter. In the unit above you. She left last night. In the middle of the night, actually. And no one knows where she went. And since she mentioned on Instagram that she met you, I thought that, possibly, the two of you were friends and you might know.”
Greta gives me a tilted-head gaze, curiosity brightening her blue eyes. “My dear, I didn’t understand a single word you just said.”
“So you don’t know Ingrid?”
“Are you referring to that girl with the ghastly colored hair?”
“I met her twice,” Greta says. “Which doesn’t qualify as knowing someone. Leslie first introduced us as I was passing through the lobby. And by introduce, I mean accost. I think our Mrs. Evelyn was trying to impress the girl into staying here.”
“When was this?”
“Two weeks ago or so, I believe.”
This likely would have been during Ingrid’s interview tour. The dates match how long she told me she’d been here.
“When was the second time?”
“Two days ago. She came by to see me.” Greta gestures to the open bottle on the counter. “Without wine. So you have her beat in that respect.”
“What was her ulterior motive?”
“Now you’re catching on,” Greta says with an approving nod. “She wanted to ask me about the Bartholomew, seeing how I wrote a book about it. She was curious about some of the things that have happened here.”
I lean forward, my elbows on the island counter. “What kind of things?”
“The building’s allegedly sordid past. I told her it was ancient history and that if she was looking for gossip, she should try the internet. I don’t use it myself, but I hear it’s rife with that sort of thing.”
“That was it?” I say.
“A two-minute conversation at best.”
“And you haven’t talked to her since?”
“I have not.”
“Are you sure?”
Just like that, Greta’s expression darkens again. Her bright-eyed curiosity was like a single ray of sunlight peeking through two storm clouds—fleeting and misleading.
“I’m old, dear,” she says. “Not senile.”
Chastened, I return to my wine. Murmuring into the glass, I say, “I didn’t mean to imply that. I’m just trying to find her.”
“Maybe.” Again, the vagueness of my reply infuriates me. I try to rectify that by adding, “I’ve been trying to reach her all day. She hasn’t responded. And the way she left, well, it concerns me.”
“Why?” Greta says. “She’s free to come and go as she pleases, isn’t she? Just like you are. You’re apartment sitters. Not prisoners.”
“It’s just— You didn’t hear anything unusual last night, did you? Like a strange noise coming from the apartment above you?”
“What kind of noise are you referring to?”
A scream. That’s what I’m referring to. I don’t specifically say it because I want Greta to mention it unprompted. If she does, then I’ll know it wasn’t just me. That the scream really happened.
“Anything out of the ordinary,” I say.
“I didn’t,” Greta replies. “Although I suspect you heard something.”
“I thought I did.”
“Now I think I imagined it.”
Only I don’t know if that’s possible. Sure, people can hear things that aren’t really there, especially the first night in a new place. Footsteps on the stairs. Raps on the window. I heard something myself when I woke up—that slithery non-noise. But people don’t imagine random, solitary screams.
“I was awake most of the night,” Greta says. “Insomnia. The older I get, the less sleep I require. A blessing and a curse, if you ask me. So if there had been a strange noise coming from upstairs, I would have heard it. As for your friend—”
She slaps her palm against the countertop, the motion sudden, unsettling.