Worse is the idea that it could get stuck, leaving me trapped in a dark limbo between floors. The very thought floods me with claustrophobia so overwhelming I become convinced the dumbwaiter is getting smaller, shrinking ever so slightly, forcing me into a tighter ball.
I flick on the flashlight. A terrible idea. In the sudden glow, the dumbwaiter’s walls remind me of the inside of a coffin. It certainly has the feel of one. Dark. Confining. Buried.
I turn off the light. Thrust once more into darkness, I notice the sudden lack of noise around me.
The creaks and groans of the dumbwaiter no longer exist.
When I grab the ropes again, I find them motionless.
The dumbwaiter has stopped.
I’m trapped. That’s my first thought. Just like I feared. I nudge the walls with my shoulders, certain there’s less room now than there was a few seconds ago.
But then my phone lights up, filling the dumbwaiter with an ice-blue glow.
A text from Nick.
I elbow the wall to my left, realizing it’s not a wall at all.
It’s a door.
A cupboard door, to be precise. One that slides upward just like its twin in 12A.
That I never considered the likelihood the door would be closed shows just how little I’ve thought this whole thing through. By bending my arm and using the flat of my left hand, I manage to raise it just a crack. I then slide my left foot underneath the door to keep it from falling. After contorting my body in ways I’m sure I’ll regret later, I’m able to lift the door completely and slide out of the dumbwaiter.
In the darkened kitchen of 11A, I take a moment to stretch, my joints popping. I then text Nick back.
Two seconds later, the dumbwaiter begins to move. Watching its rise, I again question the wisdom of coming down here. So much so that I’m tempted to hop in and let Nick haul me back to the safety of 12A. I ask myself what I truly expect to find here. The answer, if I’m being completely honest, is nothing. Which means I’m risking a lot to be here. If Leslie should suddenly barge in, there goes my twelve thousand dollars and that reset button I so desperately need to press.
But unlike me, Nick isn’t wasting any time. The dumbwaiter has already been lifted out of view, leaving me no choice but to close the cupboard door and turn on the flashlight.
There’s no turning back now. I’m in 11A. Time to start searching.
I begin in the kitchen, shining the flashlight into every cupboard and drawer, finding the usual assortment of pots, bowls, and utensils. Nothing looks out of place. Nor does anything look like it once belonged to Ingrid.
The phone brightens in my hand. Another text from Nick.
On the landing now. All is clear.
I continue the search, going through the hallway, the living room, and the study, all of which follow the same layout as 12A. There’s even a desk and bookshelf in the study, although they’re as devoid of information as the ones directly above them. The desk is empty. The bookshelf mostly is, too, save for a few John Grisham hardcovers and a phone book–thick biography of Alexander Hamilton.
It dawns on me that I have no idea why 11A is vacant. Ingrid never got the chance to mention a previous owner dying or a current resident being gone for an extended period of time. I suppose it could be either of those reasons, although neither would explain why the place looks so uninhabited. I get the feeling I had when peeking inside right after Leslie told me Ingrid had left. That the place seemed less like an apartment than a facsimile of one. Cold, quiet, tasteful to the point of blandness.
I move to the other side of the apartment, the one that doesn’t follow the same layout as mine. Where 12A stops at the corner of the Bartholomew, 11A continues down the building’s northern side. Here I find a bathroom, glowing white in the flashlight’s beam, and two small bedrooms across the hall from each other.
At the end of the hall is the door to the master bedroom. While not as grand as the one on the second level of 12A, it’s still impressive. There’s a king bed, an eighty-inch flat-screen TV, a master bath, and a walk-in closet. That’s where I go first, aiming the flashlight over bare carpet, empty shelves, dozens of wooden hangers holding nothing.
I go to the bathroom next, finding it equally as empty. The cabinets under the sink are bare. In the closet, towels line the shelves, neatly folded.
As I head back into the main bedroom, my phone lights up.
You’ve been in there awhile, Nick texts. Everything OK?
I note the time glowing at the top of the screen. I’ve been down here for fifteen minutes. Far longer than I intended.
Finishing up, I text, even though what I should be doing is leaving. There’s clearly nothing of Ingrid’s left in this apartment. I haven’t seen a single box or suitcase or even a remnant that she was ever here at all. But I also don’t want to leave without checking every square inch of the place. It took too much effort to get here once. I doubt I’ll be able to do it again.
I do a quick check under the bed, sweeping the flashlight back and forth across the carpet.
I go to the nightstand on the left side of the bed.
I then check the one on the right.
A book, resting like a hotel room Bible at the bottom of an otherwise empty drawer.
A new text arrives from Nick. Someone’s in the elevator. It’s moving.