I whirl around to see Nick standing in a corner of the study.
In his hands is Ingrid’s gun.
He lifts it, aims it my way, and pulls the trigger.
I close my eyes, wince, try to spend my last second on earth thinking about my family and how much I miss them and how I hope there’s some way to see them in the afterlife. In that fraught, fearful darkness, I hear a metallic click.
Then two more.
I open my eyes and see Nick continuing to pull the trigger of the unloaded gun. Like it’s a toy and he’s just a kid playing cowboy.
I don’t try to run. In my condition, I won’t get very far. All I can do is lean against the bookcase and contemplate Nick as he smiles, pleased with himself.
“Don’t worry, Jules,” he says. “I can’t shoot you. You’re too valuable.”
Nick takes several steps toward me, the gun now lowered.
“Over the years, my family has received a lot of money for people like you. It’s ironic, I know. That you, who’s so worthless on the outside, is worth so much on the inside. And that people who on the outside offer so much have inside of them things so useless that they must be replaced. You think that what we do here is murder.”
I glare at him. “Because it is.”
“No, I’m doing the world a service.”
Roughly ten feet separate us now. My grip tightens around the knife’s handle.
“Think about the people who come here,” Nick says. “Writers and artists, scientists and captains of industry. Think of all they give to the world. Now think of yourself, Jules. What are you? What do you offer? Nothing.”
He takes two more steps, closing the gap between us.
I lift the knife, barely aware of what I’m doing until it’s pressed against my neck. The blade’s edge creases the flesh beneath my chin. My pulse hammers against the steel.
“I’ll do it,” I warn Nick. “Then you’ll really be left with nothing.”
He calls my bluff.
“Go ahead,” he says with a blithe shrug. “There’ll be someone else to take your place. You’re not the only desperate person out there, Jules. There are thousands in need of shelter and money and hope. I’m sure we can find your replacement tomorrow, if need be. So go ahead. Slit your throat. It won’t stop us.”
He takes two more steps. One slow, the other a startling leap toward me.
I thrust the knife forward until it makes contact with Nick’s stomach.
There’s a pause. A breath of resistance as the blade runs up against flesh and muscle and internal organs. It passes in a flash and all that flesh, all those muscles, all those organs give way as the knife continues onward, sinking deeper into his stomach. So deep that my hand doesn’t stop moving until the edge of it is pressed against Nick’s shirt.
So does Nick.
The sounds are simultaneous. Two shocked, shuddering inhalations that fill the room.
I gasp again as I yank the knife away.
He can only moan as blood soaks his shirt, the fabric changing from white to red in seconds. Then Nick hits the floor. A swift, uninterrupted drop.
I back away from him and the blood that’s quickly spreading across the floor. That backward shuffle takes me through the bookcase passage into the study of 12A. There I do another shoulder nudge to close the bookcase. Before it lumbers into place, I take one final, fleeting glance into Nick’s apartment. He’s still on the floor, still bleeding, still alive.
But probably not for long.
I let the bookcase fall back into place without a second glance.
Inside 12A, all traces of my existence are gone. The apartment looks just as it did when I first set foot inside it. Uninhabited. Devoid of life.
But it’s also a trap.
I know that now.
I should have known it then.
This perfect apartment with its perfect views inside a perfect building. It was all designed to be as enticing as possible to someone like me, who started out poor and stayed that way. What’s worse is that this isn’t a recent development. It’s always been the sole purpose of the Bartholomew. The only reason the building exists is to serve the rich and trap the poor.
Those servants laid out like firewood. Cornelia Swanson’s maid. Dylan and Erica and Megan and all those other men and women without families who were lured here with the promise of a reset button for their sad lives.
They deserve closure.
Even more, they deserve vengeance.
Which means only one thing.
This whole fucking place needs to be burned to the ground.
I start with the study, pulling books at random from the shelves to form a pile in the middle of the floor. When I’m done, I grab the copy of Heart of a Dreamer Greta signed for Erica and hold the lighter to a corner of its dust jacket.
Fire tears across the book.
I drop it onto the pile and walk away.
In the sitting room, I remove the cushions from the crimson sofa. One is shoved under the coffee table, where I use the lighter to set it ablaze.
In the dining room, I repeat the process—place a cushion under that ridiculously long table, light it, leave.
In the kitchen, I stuff the cushion into the oven and crank up the heat.
Sitting on the table in the breakfast nook is another copy of Heart of a Dreamer. I turn to the page Greta signed for me and, with a flick of my thumb, light it up. I wait for a flame to bloom before dropping it down the dumbwaiter shaft.