Authors: Nita Prose
Cheryl, of course. Only she would say such a heinous thing.
“I don’t like speaking ill of people,” I reply. “But since you’re pressing me, Cheryl Green, head maid, cleans sinks with her toilet rag. That’s not a euphemism. I mean it literally. She calls in sick when she’s well. She spies into people’s lockers. And she steals tips. If she’s capable of theft and hygiene crimes, how low would she go?”
“How low would
go, Molly? You stole Mr. Black’s wedding ring and pawned it.”
“What?” I say. “I didn’t steal it. I found it. Who told you that?”
“Cheryl followed you all the way to the pawn shop. She knew you were up to something. We found the ring in the front window, Molly. The shopkeeper described you perfectly—someone who blends into the background, until she speaks. The kind of person you’d easily forget about under most circumstances.”
My pulse is pounding. I can’t keep my mind focused. This doesn’t reflect well on my character and I must make amends.
“I should not have pawned that ring,” I say. “I applied the wrong rule in my head, ‘the finders-keepers rule,’ when I should have applied the ‘do unto others’ rule. I regret that choice, but it doesn’t make me a thief.”
“You’ve stolen other things,” she says.
“I have not,” I say, punctuating my disdain with crossed arms, a postural signal of indignance.
“Mr. Snow has seen you stealing food from discarded trays. And small pots of jam.”
I feel the floor of my stomach drop out from under me the way it does when the elevator at the hotel is about to go on the fritz. I’m not sure what’s more humiliating—that Mr. Snow saw me do this or that he never said a word to me about it.
“He is telling the truth,” I admit. “I have liberated discarded food, food that would have ended up in the trash bin anyway. This is ‘waste not, want not.’ It is not theft.”
“It’s all a matter of degrees, Molly. One of your colleagues, a fellow maid, said she worries that you can’t spot danger.”
“Sunitha,” I say. “For the record, she’s an excellent maid.”
record that’s on the line here.”
“Did you speak with Mr. Preston?” I ask. “He will vouch for me.”
“We did speak to the doorman, actually. He said you were ‘blameless’—interesting choice of words—and that we should dig for dirt elsewhere. He mentioned Black’s family members, as well as some strange characters coming and going at night. But it was like he was going out of his way to protect you, Molly. He knows something isn’t right in the state of Denmark.”
“What does Denmark have to do with any of this?” I ask.
Detective Stark sighs loudly. “Bloody hell. It’s going to be a long day.”
“And Juan Manuel, the dishwasher?” I ask. “Did you talk to him?”
“Why would we talk to a dishwasher, Molly? Who is he, anyhow?”
A son to a mother, a provider to a family, another invisible worker bee in the hive. But I decide not to press further. The last thing I want is for him to be in trouble. Instead, I name the one person who I’m certain would vouch for my reliability. “Have you spoken with Rodney, the bartender at the Social?”
“As a matter of fact, I have. He said he thought you were—quote unquote—‘more than capable of murder.’ ”
All of the energy that has kept my spine upright dissipates in an instant. I slump over and look down at my hands in my lap. A maid’s hands. Working hands. Chaffed and dry, despite all the lotion I put on them, the nails cut cleanly short, calluses on the palms. The hands of a much older woman than I actually am. Who would want these hands and the body attached to them? How could I ever think that Rodney would?
If I look up at Detective Stark now, I know the tears will spill from my eyes, so I concentrate on the cheery little teapots on my pajamas—vibrant pink, baby blue, and daffodil yellow.
When the detective speaks, her voice is softer than before. “Your fingerprints were all over the Blacks’ suite.”
“Of course they were,” I say. “I cleaned that suite every day.”
“And did you also clean Mr. Black’s neck? Because traces of your cleaning solution were found there too.”
“Because I checked his pulse before calling for help!”
“You had various plans for killing him, Molly, so why in the end did you choose asphyxiation rather than the gun? Did you really think you wouldn’t get caught?”
I will not look up. I will not.
“We found the weapon in your vacuum cleaner.”
I feel my insides twisting, the dragon slashing and gnashing. “What were you doing meddling with my vacuum cleaner?”
doing hiding a gun in it, Molly?”
My pulse is pounding. The only other person who knew about both the ring and the gun was Rodney. I can’t do it. I can’t assemble the pieces in my mind.
“We tested your housekeeping cart,” Detective Stark says. “And it tested positive for traces of cocaine. We know you’re not the kingpin here, Molly. You’re simply not smart enough for that. We believe that Giselle introduced you to Mr. Black, and that she groomed you to work for her husband. We believe you and Mr. Black were well acquainted, and that you were helping him hide the lucrative drug operation he was running through the hotel. Something must have gone wrong between the two of you. Maybe you got angry with him and you retaliated by taking his life. Or maybe you were helping Giselle get out of a bad situation. Either way, you were involved.
“So as I said, this can go one of two ways. You can plead guilty immediately to all charges, including first-degree murder. The judge will take your swift guilty plea and confession into consideration. An early demonstration of regret, plus any information you can provide about the drug-running happening in this hotel, could go a long way in lightening your sentence.”
The teapots dance around in my lap. The detective is droning on, but her voice sounds tinny, farther and farther away.
“Or we can do this the long and slow way. We can gather more
evidence, and we can end up in court. Either way, Molly the Maid, the jig is up. So what do you choose?”
I know I’m not thinking straight. And I don’t know the proper rules of etiquette when one is accused of murder. Out of nowhere, I remember
“You read me my rights earlier,” I say. “At the door of my home. You said I have the right to consult an attorney. If I hire one, do I have to pay immediately?”
Detective Stark rolls her eyes—exasperation writ so large that I can’t miss it. “Lawyers generally don’t expect cash on the spot,” she says.
I hold my head up and look straight at her.
“In that case, I’d like one phone call, please. I demand to speak to a lawyer.”
Detective Stark pushes back her chair. It makes an aggravating noise. I’m certain she’s just added to the plethora of unsightly scuff marks already on the floor. She opens the door of the interrogation room and says something to the young police officer standing guard outside. He fishes a cell phone from his back pocket and hands it to her. It’s my cell phone. What is he doing with my cell phone?
“Here,” the detective says. She drops my phone on the table with a clunk.
“You took my phone,” I say. “Who gave you the right?”
Detective Stark’s eyes go wide. “You did,” she says. “After you fainted in the cell, you insisted that we take your phone in case you needed it later to call a friend.”
The truth is that I don’t remember, but something vague niggles at the back of my consciousness.
“Thank you very much,” I say. I pick up my phone and press Contacts. I search all eight entries—Giselle, Gran, Cheryl Green, Olive Garden, Mr. Preston, Rodney, Mr. Rosso, Mr. Snow. I consider who is truly on my side—and who might not be. The names swirl before my eyes. I wait until I can see clearly. Then I choose and dial. I hear it ringing. Someone picks up.
“Mr. Preston?” I say.
“Molly? Are you all right?”
“Please pardon me for troubling you at such an inconvenient hour. You’re probably getting ready for work.”
“Not now. I’m working the late shift today. Dear girl, what’s going on?”
I look around the plain white room with the fluorescent lights beating down on me. Detective Stark eyes me with her ice-glazed stare. “The truth is, Mr. Preston, I’m not quite all right. I’ve been arrested for murder. And more. I’m being held at the station nearest the hotel. And I…I hate to say this, but I could really use your help.”
Once I finish my call to Mr. Preston, Detective Stark holds out her hand. In truth, I do not know what for, so I grab my empty Styrofoam cup and pass it to her, thinking we are finished and that she’s cleaning the table.
“Are you kidding me?” she says. “Now you think I’m your maid?”
I most certainly do not. If she were anywhere near a half-decent maid, this room would not look as it does—scuffed and scratched, stained and smeared. If I had so much as a napkin and a bottle of water, I could bide my time cleaning up this pigpen.
Detective Stark takes my phone from my hand.
“Will I get that back? I have essential contacts that I’d hate to lose.”
“You’ll get it back,” she says. “Someday.” She looks at her watch. “So, is there anything else you’d like to say, while we’re waiting for your lawyer?”
“My apologies, Detective. Please don’t take my silence personally. First off, I’ve never been very gifted with small talk and when I’m forced to make it, I often say the wrong thing. Second, I’m aware of my right to remain silent and so I’ll begin employing it immediately.”
“Fine,” she says. “Have it your way.”
After what seems like an unholy eternity, there’s a loud knock on the door.
“This should be interesting,” Detective Stark says, rising from her chair and opening the door.
It’s Mr. Preston, in civilian dress. I’ve rarely seen him out of his doorman’s cap and coat. He’s wearing a perfectly pressed blue shirt and dark jeans. There’s a woman with him dressed much more formally in a tailored navy suit, carrying a black leather briefcase. Her short, curly hair is perfectly coiffed. Her dark-brown eyes immediately give away who she is because they’re so much like her father’s.
I stand to greet them. “Mr. Preston,” I say, barely able to contain my relief at seeing them. I move a bit too quickly and hit my hip bone on the table. It smarts, but it doesn’t stop the surge of words that flows from my mouth. “I’m so glad you’re here. Thank you so much for coming. It’s just that I’ve been accused of some terrible things. I’ve never harmed anyone, never touched a drug in my life, and the only time I’ve ever held a weapon was—”
“Molly, I’m Charlotte,” Mr. Preston’s daughter says, interrupting me. “It’s my professional advice that you remain silent at this time. Oh. And it’s very nice to meet you. My dad has told me a lot about you.”
“One of you better be an attorney, or I’m going to lose it,” Detective Stark says.
Charlotte steps forward, her sharp heels clacking loudly on the cold, industrial floor. “That would be me, Charlotte Preston, of Billings, Preston & García,” she says, flicking a business card to the detective.
“Dear girl,” Mr. Preston says to me. “We’re here now, so don’t you worry about a thing. This is all just a big—”
“Dad,” Charlotte says.
“Sorry, sorry,” he replies, and zips his mouth shut.
“Molly, do you agree to be represented by me?”
I don’t say a word.
“Molly?” she prods.
“You instructed me not to speak. Should I speak now?”
“My apologies. I wasn’t clear. You can speak, just not anything
relating to the charges lain. Let me ask you again: do you agree to be represented by me?”
“Oh yes, that would be most helpful,” I say. “Can we discuss a payment plan at a more convenient time?”
Mr. Preston coughs into his hand.
“I’d offer you a tissue, Mr. Preston, but I’m afraid I don’t have one on me.” I eye Detective Stark, who is shaking her head.
“Please don’t worry about payment right now. Let’s just concentrate on getting you out of here,” Charlotte says.
“You realize that to release her you’ve got to post bail of $800,000. Now, let me see…” Detective Stark says as she puts her index finger to her lips, “I think that’s just a spot above a maid’s earnings and assets, am I right?”
“You’re right, Detective,” Charlotte says. “Maids and doormen are often underpaid and undervalued. But litigators? We do all right. Better than detectives, so I’m told. I’ve personally posted bail with the clerk out front.” She smiles at Detective Stark. I can say with one hundred percent certainty that it’s not a friendly smile.
Charlotte turns to me. “Molly,” she says. “I’ve arranged for you to have a bail hearing later this morning. I’m not allowed to represent you there, but I’ve filed some letters already on your behalf.”
“Letters?” I ask.
“Yes, from my father, who has provided a character statement, and from me, saying I’ll post your bail. If all goes well, you’ll be released this afternoon.”
“Really?” I ask. “Is it that simple? I’ll be released and this will be over?” I look from her to Mr. Preston.
“Hardly,” Detective Stark says. “Even if they get you off now, you’ll still have to stand trial. It’s not like we’re dropping the charges.”
“Is that your phone?” Charlotte asks me.
“Yes,” I say.
“You’ll make sure it’s kept locked and safe somewhere, right, Detective? You won’t be logging that as evidence.”
Detective Stark pauses. Her hand is on her hip. “It’s not my first
rodeo, cowgirl. I’ve got her house keys, too, by the way, which she insisted I keep after she passed out.” The detective fishes my keys from her pocket and drops them on the table. If I had an antiseptic wipe, I’d snatch them up and immediately disinfect them.
“Great,” Charlotte says, picking up my keys and phone. “We’ll talk to your clerk out front and make sure they log these as personal possessions, not evidence.”
“Fine,” says Detective Stark.
Mr. Preston is looking down at me, his eyebrows crinkling together. It may be that he’s concentrating hard, but I think it’s more likely that he’s concerned.
“Don’t worry,” he says. “We’ll be waiting for you after the hearing.”
“See you on the other side,” Charlotte adds. And with that, they turn and leave.
Once they’re gone, Detective Stark just stands there, arms crossed, glaring at me.
“What happens now?” I ask. I’m finding it hard to breathe.
“You and your teapots go back to your charming holding cell and wait patiently for your hearing,” Detective Stark replies.
I stand and straighten my pajamas. The young officer outside is ready to escort me back to the repugnant cell.
“Thank you very much,” I say to the detective before I exit.
“Thank you for what?” she asks.
“For the muffin and the coffee. I do hope you have a more pleasant morning than mine.”