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Page 83

I back away from her. First one step. Then another.

“Why . . . why would they need you to do that?”

“I don’t know,” Ingrid says. “I didn’t ask. By then, I had my suspicions about what she was. What all of them are. And I guess I thought it was some kind of test. Like they were trying to convert me. Enticing me to join them. But at the time, I was too desperate to ask questions. All I could think about was that five thousand dollars, and how much I needed it to get away from that place.”

I keep moving away from her until I’m on the other side of the bathroom, sinking into an open stall and dropping onto the toilet seat. Ingrid rushes toward me and drops to her knees.

“I’m so sorry, Juju,” she says. “You have no idea how sorry I am.”

A bubble of anger rises in my chest, hot and bilious. But it’s not directed at Ingrid. I can’t blame her for what she did. She was broke and desperate and saw an easy way to make a lot of money. If our roles were reversed, I might have done the same thing, no questions asked.

No, my anger is reserved for Leslie and everyone else in the Bartholomew for exploiting that desperation and turning it into a weapon.

“You’re forgiven,” I tell Ingrid. “You did what you needed to do to survive.”

She shakes her head and looks away. “No, I’m a shitty person. Truly awful. And right after it happened, I decided I needed to leave. Five thousand dollars was more than enough for me. I didn’t want to stay there and see how much lower I could sink.”

“Why didn’t you tell me all of this that day in the park?”

“Would you have believed me?”

The answer is no. I would have thought she was lying. Or, worse, deeply disturbed. Because no one in their right mind would believe there was a group of Satanists occupying a building like the Bartholomew. That, of course, is how they managed to go undetected for so long. The preposterousness of their existence is like a shield, deflecting all suspicion.

“And you certainly wouldn’t have forgiven me for hurting you like that,” Ingrid says. “In my mind, the best thing I could do was try to warn you by giving you some idea about what was going on there. I hoped it would, I don’t know, scare you enough to leave. Or at least make you think twice about staying.”

“Which it did,” I say. “But does this mean you really did run away?”

“Yes, but not the way I wanted to,” Ingrid says, talking so fast now that I can barely keep up. “That night, I was all packed and ready to leave. I put that note in the dumbwaiter, trying to do everything I could to get you to leave. I left the gun for the same reason. Just in case, God forbid, you needed to use it. I didn’t leave immediately, because Leslie told me she’d be by at some point in the night to give me the five thousand dollars I was promised. Also, I had arranged to tell Dylan everything I knew, just in case it could help him find out what happened to Erica. My plan was to get the cash from Leslie, meet Dylan in the basement, grab my things, and give the keys to Charlie on the way out. That didn’t happen, obviously.”

“What went wrong?”

“They came for me,” Ingrid says. “Well, he did.”

My thoughts flash back to that video of Erica.

It’s him.

“Nick,” I say.

Ingrid shudders at the name. “All of a sudden, he was there.”

“At the door?”

“No,” she says. “Inside the apartment. I don’t know how he got in. The door was locked. But there he was. I think he had been there for hours. Hiding. Waiting. But the moment I saw him, I knew I was in danger. He looked mean. Like, truly scary.”

“Did he say anything?”

“That I shouldn’t struggle.”

Ingrid pauses, and I suspect she’s replaying that moment in her head the same way I saw our collision in the Bartholomew’s lobby. She starts shaking again. Not just her hands, but her entire body—an uncontrollable tremble. Tears pool in her eyes as she croaks out a single, mournful sob.

“He told me it would be easier that way,” she says as the tears break free and stream down her cheeks. “And I knew . . . I knew that he was planning to kill me. He had a weapon with him. A stun gun. I screamed when I saw it.”

And I heard that scream as I stood in the kitchen of 12A. Which means others probably heard it, too. Including Greta, who lives directly below that apartment. I suspect no one said anything because they knew what was happening.

Ingrid was being led to slaughter.

“How did you get away?”

“You saved me.” Ingrid wipes her eyes and gives me a warm, grateful smile. “When you came to the door.”

“Nick was there?”

“Right behind me,” Ingrid says. “I didn’t want to answer the door, but when we heard it was you, Nick told me I had to open it or you’d get suspicious. He had the stun gun pressed against my back the entire time, just in case I tried to warn you. He told me he’d paralyze us—me then you.”

That explains everything. Why it took Ingrid so long to open the door. Twenty seconds, by my count. Why she had opened it only a crack. Why she wore that obviously fake smile and told me she was fine.

“I knew something was wrong,” I say, surprised by my own tears, which spring forth suddenly now that Ingrid’s have stopped. “I wanted to help you.”

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