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Page 62

While I unscrew the grate, I think about Nick. Mostly I think about what he thinks of me. That I’m easy? Desperate? For money, yes, but not affection. Last night was an anomaly, spurred on by adrenaline and fear and, yes, desire.

I harbor no illusions that Nick and I are going to fall in love, get married, and live out our days on the top floor of the Bartholomew. That only happens in fairy tales and Greta Manville’s book. I’m no Ginny. Nor am I Cinderella. In less than three months, that clock’s going to strike midnight, and it’ll be back to reality for me.

Not that I’m far from it. Lying on the floor in yesterday’s clothes while reeking of sex is pretty damn real.

But I’m pleased to see that Charlie was right about the grate being easy to remove. I loosen the screws and remove the covering without a problem. The biggest issue comes from the penlight, which flickers until I give it a few good whacks against my palm.

Once it’s working properly, I aim it into the vent itself and immediately spot the keys. Surrounding them are other items that have fallen in and been forgotten. Two buttons. A rubber band. A dangly earring that must have been cheap if whoever lived here couldn’t be bothered to fish it out.

I grab the keys and leave everything else. Before replacing the grate, I sweep the light across the bottom of the vent, just in case something more valuable has fallen in there. Like cash. A girl’s allowed to dream.

Seeing nothing of value, I’m about to turn off the penlight when it catches the edge of something shiny wedged in the corner of the vent. I steady the light and move in for a closer look. Although not cash, it’s something just as unexpected.

A cell phone.

Even though Charlie told me it’s happened before, I’m still surprised to find a phone at the bottom of the vent. I can understand not bothering to retrieve a cheap earring. But not even someone rich enough to live at the Bartholomew would just abandon their cell phone.

I grab the phone and turn it over in my hands. Although the screen is slightly scratched, it appears to be in good condition. When I try to turn it on, nothing happens, surely because the battery is dead. It might have been down there for months.

This phone is the same brand as mine. Although the one I have is older, my charger fits it all the same. I go upstairs and plug it into the phone, hoping that after it charges I’ll be able to figure out who it belongs to and eventually return it.

While the phone charges, I replace the grate over the vent and then take a shower. Freshly scrubbed and dressed, I return to the phone and see it now has just enough juice to be turned on. When I do, the phone brightens in my hands. Filling the screen is a photograph, presumably of its owner.

Pale face. Almond-shaped eyes. Brown hair in unruly curls.

I swipe a finger across the screen, seeing that the phone itself is locked—a security feature also in use on mine. Without a passcode to unlock it, there’s no way of knowing whose phone this is. Or was, seeing how they simply abandoned it in a heating vent.

I swipe back to the first screen, staring again at the woman pictured on it. A realization bubbles up from the deep well of my memory.

I’ve seen this woman before.

Not in person, but in a different picture. Just a few days ago.

In an instant I’m out of 12A and inside the elevator, which shuttles me to the lobby with its typically excruciating slowness. Outside the Bartholomew, I pass a doorman who isn’t Charlie and make a right.

The sidewalk is filled with the usual mix of joggers, dog walkers, and people trudging to work. I pass them all, practically running down the sidewalk until I’m two blocks from the Bartholomew. There, at the corner streetlamp, is a piece of paper hanging on by its last bit of tape.

In the dead center of the page is a photograph of the woman whose phone I found. Same eyes. Same hair. Same china-doll skin.

Above the photo is that red-lettered word that so repelled me the first time I saw the flier.

MISSING

Beneath it is the woman’s name.

One I also recognize.

Erica Mitchell.

The apartment sitter who was in 12A before me.

30


I slap the flier flat against the kitchen counter and stare at it, my heart buzzing.

Erica and Ingrid.

Both were apartment sitters at the Bartholomew.

Both are now missing.

That can’t be a coincidence.

I take a deep breath and reread the flier. At the top is that awful word spelled out in gaudy red.

MISSING

Below it is the photo of Erica Mitchell, who reminds me more of myself than of Ingrid. We have a similar look. Friendly yet wary. Pretty but not very memorable.

Both of us also occupied 12A. Mustn’t forget that.

Running next to the photo is a list of vital statistics.

    Name: Erica Mitchell

Age: 22

Hair: Brown

Height: 5’1”

Weight: 110 lbs.

Last seen: October 4

That was twelve days ago. Just a few days after Ingrid moved into the Bartholomew.

At the bottom of the page, also in red, is a number to call if anyone has information regarding Erica’s whereabouts.

My parents did the same thing for Jane. Our phone rang a lot those first few weeks. One of my parents always answered, no matter how late it was. But the callers were cranks or desperately lonely or kids daring each other to call a missing girl’s number.

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