Like I used to be. Just a day or two ago.
I envy her ignorance. I wish I could go back to that blissful state.
But there’s no coming back from what I know.
I keep pacing from one wall to another, confronted by faces in the wallpaper no matter which direction I turn.
They know what Nick is.
They knew it all along.
A serial killer.
I know how improbable that sounds. I know it’s crazy. That I’m even considering the idea terrifies me.
Yet a pattern has emerged. Of girls coming here. All of them desperate and broke and without family. Then they disappear without warning or explanation. It’s a scenario that’s been played out at least three times.
I know what I need to do—call the police.
And say what?
I have no proof that Nick did anything to Ingrid, Erica, or Megan. Even though I’m certain he has Ingrid’s cell phone, it doesn’t mean the police will think he’s guilty of anything. And there’s no one else who can help me convince them. There were no other witnesses to the conversation Ingrid and I had in the park. No one but her knows the nickname she bestowed upon me that day.
But staying here could be a point of no return. The beginning of my end. My mother swallowing the last of those pills. My father striking a match outside the bedroom door. Jane climbing into that Volkswagen Beetle.
I’ll leave and go to Chloe’s. Back to her couch. To a place where I’ll be safe.
I grab my phone and text Chloe.
I need to get out of here.
I pause, breathe, type more.
I think I’m in danger.
I put down the phone, resume pacing, return to the phone five minutes later. Chloe hasn’t read my text yet. So I call her, reaching her voicemail. It isn’t until I hear her recorded greeting that I remember she’s out of town. Off to the Vermont wilderness with Paul. And me without a key to her apartment, which I returned the morning I left for the Bartholomew.
So Chloe’s out.
That leaves no one.
Literally no one else I can turn to.
Loneliness settles over me like a shroud. I’m shocked by how isolated I am. No family. No Andrew. No co-workers who’d be willing to help me out in a pinch.
But I’m wrong.
I have Dylan.
I call him next, again getting only voicemail. I consider leaving a message but decide against it. I’ll sound crazy. No matter how hard I try, it’ll seep through. It’s better to say nothing than to risk sounding insane.
Not getting a message might entice him to call back.
A crazy one would do the opposite.
My only choice now is to grab my things, go to a hotel, and spend the weekend there until Chloe returns.
It’s a good plan. A smart one. But it all falls apart as soon as I check my bank balance and am reminded of the five hundred dollars I spent to unlock Erica’s phone.
The twenty-seven dollars left in my account won’t get me a night anywhere. Even if I did find a motel that cheap somewhere in Jersey, all my credit cards are maxed and frozen. I have no way of getting any spending cash, nothing left for food or an emergency.
Nothing can happen until I get paid for a week of apartment sitting. One thousand dollars. Scheduled to be hand-delivered by Charlie two days from now.
There’s no other way around it.
In order to leave, I need to stay.
I look across the hall to the foyer and the front door. The deadbolt and chain are in place, right where I left them after Nick departed. They’re going to stay that way.
I move into the kitchen, drop to my hands and knees, open the cupboard beneath the sink. There, sitting innocuously between dishwasher soap and trash bags, is the shoe box Ingrid left behind.
I carry the box back to the sitting room and place it on the coffee table. Lifting the lid, I see the Glock and magazine exactly the way I left them. I remove both, surprised by how easy it is to slide the ammo clip into the gun itself. The two connect with a click that makes me feel, if not strong, then at least ready.
For what, I have no idea.
With nothing else to do but wait, I take a seat on the crimson sofa and, gun in my lap, stare again at the wallpaper.
It stares back.
Hundreds of eyes and noses and gaping mouths.
A few days ago, I had thought those open mouths meant they were talking or laughing or singing.
But now I know better.
Now I know what they’re really doing is screaming.
Dr. Wagner gives me a look that’s one part shock, two parts disbelief. “That’s an alarming accusation.”
“You think I’m lying?”
“I think you believe it happened,” Dr. Wagner says. “That doesn’t mean it’s real.”
“I’m not making it up. Why would I do that? I’m not crazy.” There’s a feverishness to my words. A simmering hysteria that’s crept in despite my best efforts. “You have to believe me. At least three people have been murdered there.”
“I read the news,” the doctor says. “There haven’t been any murders at the Bartholomew. Not for a very long time.”
“That you know of. These didn’t look like murders.”
Dr. Wagner runs a hand through his leonine hair. “As a physician, I can assure you it’s very difficult to disguise murder.”