Authors: Nita Prose
“All good,” he says. “What’s up? I saw you leave the hotel with the cops. Everyone’s talking, saying you’re in trouble.”
“I’m sorry to report that in this particular case, the gossip may be correct.”
“What did the police want?”
“The truth,” I say. “About me. About Giselle. Mr. Black didn’t die of an overdose. Not exactly.”
“Oh, thank God for that. What did he die of?”
“They don’t know yet. But it’s clear they suspect me. And maybe Giselle too.”
“But…you didn’t tell them anything about her, did you?”
“Not much,” I say.
“And you didn’t mention Juan Manuel or any of that, right?”
“What does he have to do with anything?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all. So…why are you calling me?”
“Rodney, I need help.” My voice cracks and I find it difficult to maintain my composure.
He goes quiet for a moment, then asks, “Did you…did
kill Mr. Black?”
“No! Of course not. How could you even—”
“Sorry, sorry. Forget I even said that. So how are you in trouble exactly?”
“Giselle, she had me go back into the suite because she’d left something behind. A gun. She wanted it back. And she’s my friend, so I…”
“Jesus.” There’s a pause on the other end of the line. “Right.”
“Yes, I’m here,” he says. “So where’s that gun now?”
“In my vacuum cleaner. By my locker.”
“We have to get that gun,” Rodney says. I can hear the agitation in his voice. “We have to make it disappear.”
“Yes! Exactly,” I say. “Oh Rodney, I’m so sorry to involve you in all of this. And please, if the police ever talk to you, you have to tell them I’m not a bad person, that I would never hurt anyone.”
“Don’t worry, Molly. I’ll take care of everything.”
I feel raw gratitude climbing up my chest, threatening to spill out of me in blubbering tears, but I won’t let that happen in case Rodney finds
it unbecoming. I want this experience to draw us closer, not break us apart. I take a deep breath and push my sentiments back down.
“Thank you, Rodney,” I say. “You’re a good friend. More than that, even. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“I’ve got your back,” he says.
But there’s more. I fear that when he hears the rest, he may turn away from me forever.
“There’s another spot of…information,” I say. “Mr. Black’s wedding ring. I found it in the suite. And, well…. This is very hard for me to admit, but I’ve recently found myself in some acute financial distress. I took the ring to a pawn shop today so that I could pay my rent.”
“It’s on display in a shop window downtown.”
“I can’t believe it. I really can’t believe it,” he replies. I can hear him almost laughing, as if this is the most wonderful news. Surely he doesn’t find this funny. It strikes me that laughs are just like smiles. People use them to express an array of confounding emotions.
“I’ve made a terrible mistake,” I say. “I never thought they’d interrogate me again. I thought my part in all of this was over. If the police find out I pawned Mr. Black’s ring, it will appear as though I killed him for financial gain. Can you see that?”
“Absolutely I can,” says Rodney. “Wow. It’s…incredible. Listen, everything’s going to turn out just fine. Leave everything to me.”
“Will you make the gun go away? And the ring? I should never have taken it. It was wrong. Will you buy it back and make sure that no one ever sees it again? I’ll pay you back someday. You have my word.”
“Like I said, Molly. Leave everything in my hands. You’re at home now?”
“Yes,” I say.
“Don’t go out tonight. Okay? Don’t go anywhere.”
“I never do. Rodney,” I say. “I can’t thank you enough.”
“That’s what friends are for, right? To help each other out of binds?”
“Right,” I say. “That’s what friends are for.”
“Rodney?” I say into the receiver. I’m about to add that I most
desperately would like to be more than just a friend to him, but it’s too late. He’s hung up without saying goodbye. I’ve left him with quite a mess to tidy, and he’s not wasting a moment.
When all of this is over, I’m going to take him on an all-expenses-paid Tour of Italy. We will sit in our private booth at the Olive Garden under the warm glow of the pendant light, and we will eat mountains of salad and bread, followed by a universe of pasta and topped by a smorgasbord of sweet desserts. Somehow, when we’re done, I will pick up the bill.
I will pay for all of this. I know I will.
The next morning I’m at the hotel, and I’m late, oh so very late. No matter how hard I work, no matter how many rooms I clean, I can’t keep up. I finish one room and an obsidian door, like a great, gaping maw, opens to the next guest room just down the hall. There’s dirt everywhere—grit ground into the pile of every carpet, cracks in all the mirrors, greasy smudges on tabletops, and bloody fingerprints smeared across twisted sheets. Suddenly, I’m climbing the grand terrace staircase in the lobby, desperate to get away. My hands clutch the golden serpent balustrades, each one slippery to the touch. The beady reptilian eyes look familiar, then they blink and come to life under my fingers. With each step I take, a new serpent awakens—Cheryl, Mr. Snow, Wilbur, the tattooed behemoths, Mr. Rosso, Detective Stark, Rodney, Giselle, and finally, Mr. Black.
“No!” I scream, but then I hear knocking. I sit bolt-upright in bed, my heart pounding in my chest.
“Gran?” I call out. It comes back to me as it does every morning. I’m alone in the world.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
I check my phone. It’s not quite seven in the morning, so my alarm
has not yet gone off. Who in their right mind would be rapping on my door at this most inconvenient hour? Then I remember Mr. Rosso, who owes me my receipt for rent paid.
I haul myself out of bed and put my slippers on. “Coming!” I say. “Just one moment!”
I shake away the nightmare and walk down the hallway to the front door. I slide the rusty dead bolt across, then turn the lock and open the door wide.
“Mr. Rosso, while I appreciate you bringing—” But midsentence I stop cold because it’s not Mr. Rosso at the door.
An imposing young police officer is standing with his feet apart, blocking all the light. Behind him are two more officers, a middle-aged man who would fit in fine in
and Detective Stark.
“Please excuse me. I’m not properly dressed,” I say. I clutch at the collar of my pajamas, which used to be Gran’s—pink flannel with a delightful array of multicolored teapots all over them. This is no way to greet guests, even ones impolite enough to arrive unannounced at an inconvenient hour of the morning.
“Molly,” Detective Stark says, stepping in front of the young officer. “You’re under arrest for unlawful possession of a firearm, possession of drugs, and first-degree murder. You have the right to remain silent and to refuse to answer questions. Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future.”
My head is spinning, the floor is tilting under my feet. Tiny teapots spin before my eyes. “Would anyone like a cup of…” But I can’t finish the question, because my vision dims.
The last thing I remember is my knees turning to marmalade and all the world fading to black.
When I come to, I’m in a holding cell, lying down on a tiny gray cot. I remember my front door, opening it, and the shock of my rights being read to me just like on TV. Was that real? I sit up slowly. I take in the
small room with bars. Yes, it’s all real. I’m in a jail cell, probably in the basement of the same station I’ve visited twice before for questioning.
I take a few breaths, willing myself to remain calm. It smells dry and dusty. I’m still wearing my pajamas, which strikes me as entirely unsuitable apparel for this particular situation. The cot I’m sitting on is stained with what Gran would call “unresolvable dirt”—smeared blood and some yellow circular stains that could be many things that I don’t want to think about. This cot is an example of a perfectly serviceable item that should immediately be disposed of because there is simply no way to restore it to a state of perfection.
How sanitary is the rest of this cell? I wonder. It occurs to me that a far worse job than being a hotel maid would be working as a janitor in such a place. Imagine the plethora of bacteria and filth that has accumulated here over the years. No, I cannot focus on that.
I put my slippered feet on the floor.
Count your blessings.
My blessings. I’m about to start at number one, but when I look down at my hands, I see they are besmirched. Stained. I have dark black ink marks on every finger. It comes back to me then. Lying on this cot in this cramped, germ-infested cell, two police officers guiding each of my fingers toward a jet-black ink blotter. They didn’t even have the decency to allow me to wash my hands after, though I did ask. After that I don’t remember much. Perhaps I fainted again. It’s hard to say how long ago that was—it could have been five minutes or five hours.
Before I can think about anything else, the young police officer who was at my door at home appears on the other side of the cell bars.
“You’re awake,” he says. “You’re at the police station, do you understand? You passed out at your front door and in here too. We read you your rights. You’re under arrest. Multiple charges. Do you remember?”
“Yes,” I say. I can’t recall what exactly I’ve been arrested for, but I know it most certainly has to do with the death of Mr. Black.
Detective Stark appears beside the young officer. She’s in plainclothes now, but this does nothing to alter the dread I feel the moment
her eyes meet mine. “I’ll take it from here,” she says. “Molly, come with me.”
The young officer turns a key in the cell door and holds it open for me.
“Thank you,” I say as I pass.
Detective Stark leads the way. Behind me, the young officer follows, making sure I’m hemmed in. I’m escorted down a hallway with three other cells. I try not to look inside them, but it’s futile. I catch a glimpse of a sallow-faced man with sores on his face, holding on to the bars of his cell. Opposite him a young woman in torn clothing lies crying in her cot.
Count your blessings.
We go up some stairs. I avoid touching the railings, which are coated with filth and grime. Eventually, we arrive at a familiar room that I’ve visited twice before. Detective Stark flicks on the lights.
“Sit,” she orders. “You’ve been here so often it must feel like home.”
“It’s nothing like home,” I say, my voice like a blade, cutting and sharp. I sit in the wobbly chair behind the dirty, white table, careful not to touch my back against the rest. My feet are cold despite my fuzzy slippers.
The young officer walks in with a coffee in a dastardly Styrofoam cup, two creamers, and a muffin on a paper plate. And a metal spoon. He puts all of this down on the table, then leaves. Detective Stark closes the door behind him.
“Eat,” she says. “We don’t want you passing out again.”
“That’s very thoughtful,” I reply, because you’re supposed to say something complimentary when offered food. I don’t believe she’s being authentically caring, but it hardly matters. I’m ravenous. My body craves sustenance. I need it to carry on, to get me through what’s next.
I pick up the spoon, turn it over in my hand. There’s a dried clump of gray matter on the underside. I put it down immediately.
“Do you take cream in your coffee?” Detective Stark asks. She’s taken a seat across from me at the table.
“Just one,” I say. “Thank you.”
She reaches out for the creamer, opens it, and pours it into the cup. She’s about to grab the revolting spoon and stir.
“No!” I say. “I prefer my coffee unstirred.”
She stares at me with that look of hers that is becoming easier and easier to interpret—derision and disgust. She hands me the Styrofoam cup. It makes that horrific squeaky sound as I take it in my hand. I can’t help but cringe.
Detective Stark pushes the plate with the muffin closer to me. “Eat,” she says again, an order not an invitation.
“Thank you very much,” I say as I delicately pry the muffin from the paper lining, then sever it into four neat pieces. I pop one quarter into my mouth. Raisin bran. My favorite kind of muffin—dense and nutrient-rich, with random bursts of sweetness. It’s as if Detective Stark knew my preference, though of course she didn’t. Only Columbo could have figured that out.
I swallow and take a couple of sips of the bitter coffee. “Delightful,” I say.
Detective Stark guffaws. I do believe it is a proper guffaw. No other word would suffice. She crosses her arms. This could mean she’s cold, but I doubt it. She distrusts me, and the feeling is entirely mutual.
“You realize we’ve laid charges against you,” she says. “For unlawful possession of a firearm, for possession of drugs. And for first-degree murder.”
I nearly choke on my next sip of coffee. “That’s impossible,” I say. “I have never hurt a soul in my life, never mind murdered one.”
“Look,” she says, “we believe you killed Mr. Black. Or you had something to do with it. Or you know who did. The autopsy report has come in. It’s definitive, Molly. It wasn’t a heart attack. He was asphyxiated. That’s how he died.”
I jam another chunk of muffin into my mouth and concentrate on chewing. It’s always good to chew every bite ten to twenty times. Gran used to say it aids digestion. I begin counting in my head.
“How many pillows do you leave on every bed that you make up at the hotel?” Detective Stark asks.
I know the answer, obviously, but my mouth is full. It would be impolite to reply right now.
“Four,” the detective says before I’m ready to answer. “Four pillows are on every bed. I verified it with Mr. Snow and some of the other maids. But there were only three pillows on Mr. Black’s bed when I arrived at the scene of the crime. Where did the fourth pillow go, Molly?”
Six, seven, eight chews. I swallow and am about to speak, but before I do, the detective slams both hands down on the table that divides us, which causes me to nearly jump out of my chair.
“Molly!” she barks. “I just insinuated that you murdered a man in cold blood with a pillow, and you’re sitting there, mindfully eating a muffin.”
I pause to regulate my pulse, which is racing. I’m not used to being yelled at or accused of heinous crimes. I find it most disconcerting. I sip my coffee to settle my jangling nerves. Then I speak. “I will say it in a new way, Detective. I did not kill Mr. Black. And I most certainly didn’t asphyxiate him with a pillow. And for the record, there is no possible way that I could ever possess drugs. I’ve never seen nor tried one in my life. Also, they killed my mother. And very nearly killed my gran of a broken heart.”
“You lied to us, Molly. About your connection to Giselle. She told us you often hung around the Blacks’ suite long after you were done cleaning it and that you engaged in personal conversations with her. She also said you took money from Mr. Black’s wallet.”
“What? That’s not what she meant! She meant took as in accepted. She
the money to me.” I look from the detective to the camera blinking in the corner of the room. “Giselle always tipped me generously and freely. It was she who took bills from Mr. Black’s wallet, not me.”
Detective Stark’s mouth is a hard line. I straighten my pajamas and sit taller in my chair.
“After everything I’ve said, that’s the one point you want to clarify?”
The straight angles of the room begin to warp and bend. I take a deep
breath to steady myself, waiting until the table has corners instead of curves.
It’s too much information. I can’t process it all. Why can’t people just say what they mean? I gather the detective has spoken to Giselle again, but it’s impossible to believe that Giselle misrepresented me. She wouldn’t do such a thing, not to a friend.
A tremor starts in my hands and travels up my body. I reach for the Styrofoam cup and almost spill it in my haste to bring it to my lips.
I make a quick decision. “I do have one clarification to make,” I say. “It is true that Giselle confided in me and that I consider—considered—her a friend. I am sorry for not making this entirely clear to you before.”
Detective Stark nods. “Not making this entirely clear? Huh. Is there anything else you decided to ‘not make entirely clear’?”
“Yes. In fact there is. My gran always said that if you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, it’s best to say nothing at all. Which is why I said little about Mr. Black himself. I’ll have you know that Mr. Black was far from the fine VIP that everyone seems to think he was. Perhaps you should investigate his enemies. I told you before that Giselle was physically harmed by him. He was a very dangerous man.”
“Dangerous enough for you to tell Giselle that she’d be better off without him?”
“I never…” But I stop right there, because I did say this. I remember now. I believed it then, and I believe it still.
I fill my mouth with a chunk of muffin. It’s a relief to have a legitimate reason not to speak. I return to Gran’s chewing imperative. One, two, three…
“Molly, we’ve spoken with many of your coworkers. Do you know how they describe you?”
I pause my regimen to shake my head.
“They say you’re awkward. Standoffish. Meticulous. A neat freak. A weirdo. And worse.”
I reach ten chews and swallow, but it does nothing to alleviate the lump that has formed in my throat.
“Do you know what else some of your colleagues said about you? They said they could totally picture you murdering someone.”