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“You said you wanted to help.”

The two of us are in the kitchen of 12A, standing shoulder to shoulder as we stare into the open dumbwaiter. Nick scratches the back of his neck, charmingly uncertain.

“This,” he says, “isn’t quite what I had in mind.”

“You know of a better way to get into Ingrid’s apartment?”

“You could—and I know this might sound crazy—just ask Leslie to let you in. She’s got a key.”

“I’m on her bad side at the moment. She says I was bothering Marianne Duncan.”

“And were you?”

I give him a quick rundown of the past hour, from Charlie’s flower delivery to Marianne’s skittishness to the idea that 11A might still contain some kind of clue regarding what happened to Ingrid.

“With Leslie highly unlikely to cooperate, it’s the dumbwaiter or nothing,” I say. “You lower me down, I take a look around, you pull me back up.”

Nick continues to eye the dumbwaiter with skepticism. “There are, like, a hundred ways in which your plan can go wrong.”

“Name one.”

“I could drop you.”

“I’m not that heavy, and you’re not that weak,” I counter. “Besides, it’s only one floor down.”

“Which is far enough to cause serious damage if you fall,” Nick says. “Trust me, Jules, this isn’t something you should take lightly, even though your bravery is admirable.”

I’m not brave. I’m in a hurry. I remember those cops who chastised my family for waiting so long after Jane vanished. They stressed that every minute counts. It’s now been more than forty hours since Ingrid disappeared. The clock is ticking.

“I do trust you. Which is why I asked you to help me with this. Please, Nick. Just a quick look. Down and back.”

“Down and back,” he says, reaching for the dumbwaiter rope and giving it a tug to test its strength. “How much time do you plan on spending between those two steps?”

“Five minutes. Maybe ten.”

“And you really think this could help you locate Ingrid?”

“I’ve tried everything else,” I say. “I called hospitals. I went to a homeless shelter. I’ve asked around as much as I could. I’m running out of options here.”

“But what do you expect to find?”

I know what I don’t expect—another gun, or an even more alarming note written on the back of a poem. But something less sinister and more useful could be lying among the tasteful furnishings of 11A.

“Hopefully something that might hint at where Ingrid has gone,” I say. “A piece of mail. An address book.”

I’m grasping at straws, I know. Not to mention ignoring the likelihood that nothing belonging to Ingrid remains in that apartment. But if something is there, finding it could finally help me locate her, which would put all my questions—and worries—to rest.

“I told you I’d help, so I will,” Nick says, shaking his head, as if he can’t quite believe he’s agreed to this. “What’s the plan?”

The plan is for me to climb into the dumbwaiter with my phone and a flashlight. Nick will then lower me into 11A. As soon as I’m out, he’ll raise it back to 12A, just in case Leslie keeps tabs on this kind of thing.

I’ll then search the apartment while Nick keeps watch on the stairwell landing between the eleventh and twelfth floors. If it looks like someone is approaching, he’ll alert me with a text. I’ll then leave immediately, using the door, making sure it locks behind me.

We hit our first hurdle as soon as I try to climb into the dumbwaiter. It’s a tight fit, made possible only by curling into a fetal position. The dumbwaiter itself starts groaning and creaking as soon as I’m inside, and for a fraught, fearful moment I think it’s going to collapse under my weight. When it doesn’t, I give Nick a nervous nod.

“We’re good,” I say.

Nick doesn’t look as optimistic. “You sure you want to go through with this?”

I nod again. I don’t have any other choice.

Nick gives the rope a tug, freeing it from the locking mechanism on the pulleys above. The dumbwaiter immediately drops several inches. Startled, I let out a whimpered half shriek, prompting Nick to say, “Everything’s okay. I’ve still got you.”

“I know,” I say.

Even so, I grip the twin strands of rope running through the dumbwaiter. They’re on the move, sliding through my clenched fists. One goes up, the other down, reminding me of the cables of the Bartholomew’s elevator. I descend farther, the bottom of the cupboard level with my thighs, then my chest, then my shoulders. When it reaches eye level, only a two-inch gap remains. Looking through it, all I can see of Nick is his shirt coming untucked from his jeans as he continues to lower me.

He gives the rope another heave and the gap closes completely, plunging me into darkness.

Only once I’m cut off from Nick and the rest of 12A do I begin to ponder the foolishness of my plan. Nick was right. This is not a good idea. I’m literally inside the walls of the Bartholomew. Any number of bad things could happen.

The rope could snap, sending me falling like a sack of garbage into a dumpster.

The bottom of the dumbwaiter could fall away—a serious possibility, I think, now that it’s started creaking and groaning again.