The biggest thing I learned, though, is that Marjorie Milton is alive and well and has been since 1943.
Some of this information, such as where she lives, was discovered before I left the Bartholomew. But most was gleaned while I was on the bench, the hours ticking by as I searched the internet from my phone.
I’m here in the hope that Marjorie will eventually come outside to take Princess Diana for a walk. According to a Vanity Fair piece about her that ran three years ago, it’s one of her favorite things to do.
Once she does, I’ll be able to ask not only why she left the Bartholomew, located a mere ten blocks south of her current address, but why the people still living there claim that she’s dead.
While I wait, I continually check my phone for responses from Chloe and Dylan that have yet to arrive. Finally, at half past two, a wisp of a woman in brown slacks and a teal jacket emerges with a leashed Yorkie by her side.
I’ve now seen enough photos of her to know.
I leap from the bench and hurry across the street, approaching Mrs. Milton as soon as Princess Diana stops to pee in the topiary by the neighboring building’s front door. When I get a few steps behind her, I say, “Excuse me.”
She turns my way. “Yes?”
“You’re Marjorie Milton, right?”
“I am,” she says as Princess Diana tugs at the leash, eager to mark the next topiary. “Do we know each other?”
“No, but I live at the Bartholomew.”
Marjorie looks me up and down, clearly pegging me as an apartment sitter and not a permanent resident. My clothes are the same ones I’ve been wearing since yesterday, and it shows. I haven’t showered. I haven’t put on makeup. Before leaving to stake out her building, I did the bare minimum. Comb through my hair, brush across my teeth.
“I don’t understand how that’s any concern of mine,” she says.
“Because you also lived there,” I reply. “At least that’s what I’ve been told.”
“You were misinformed.”
She’s in the midst of turning around and walking away when I reach into my jacket and produce a copy of The New Yorker that’s been rolled up inside it. I tap the address label.
“If you want people to believe that, then you should have taken your magazines with you when you left.”
Marjorie Milton glares at me. “Who are you? What do you want?”
“I’m the person living in the apartment you used to own. Only I was told you were dead, and I’d really love to know why.”
“I have no idea,” Marjorie says. “But I never owned that apartment. I simply stayed there for a brief time.”
She resumes walking, the Yorkie trotting several feet in front of her. I trail behind them, not content with the answers I’ve been given.
“How long were you there?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“Apartment sitters are disappearing,” I say. “Including the one who was in 12A after you and before me. If you know something about that, then you need to tell me right now.”
Marjorie Milton halts, surprising Princess Diana, who trots forward a few paces before being choked by the tightened leash. The dog is forced to take a few backward steps while her owner spins around to face me.
“If you don’t leave me alone this instant, I’ll give Leslie Evelyn a call,” Marjorie says. “And trust me, you don’t want that. I lived there, which you know already, but I won’t say anything else.”
“Not even if people are disappearing?” I say.
She looks away from me, ashamed. Quietly, she says, “You’re not the only ones with rules.”
Then she’s off again, Princess Diana pulling her along.
“Wait,” I say. “What kind of rules?”
I grab the sleeve of her jacket, trying to keep her there, desperate for one single bit of useful information. When Marjorie pulls away from me, the sleeve stays in my hands. Her arm slides out of it, and the jacket falls open, revealing a white blouse underneath. Pinned to it is a tiny brooch.
In the shape of a figure eight.
I let go of the jacket. Marjorie stuffs her arm back into it and pulls it closed. Before she does, I get one last look at the brooch, seeing that it’s not an eight at all.
It’s an ouroboros.
Two hours later, I’m in the main branch of the New York Public Library, one of many occupying the Rose Main Reading Room. The library itself is bright and airy. Late-afternoon sun slants through the arched windows. Puffy pink clouds adorn the murals on the ceiling. Hanging from it are chandeliers that cast circles of brightness onto the long tables aligned in tidy rows.
I’m gripped with unease as I contemplate the stack of books in front of me. A sense of darkness closing in. I wish it was because of the books themselves. Old, dusty volumes about symbols and their meanings. But this ominous mood has been with me since the moment I glimpsed Marjorie Milton’s brooch.
The snake eating its tail.
Exactly like the painting in Nick’s apartment.
I said nothing to Marjorie after I saw it. The brooch and its possible meaning left me speechless. I simply backed away, leaving her standing with her dog on the sidewalk. I kept walking, as if the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other would somehow help everything make sense.