Authors: Nita Prose
I walk quickly all the way home, takeout bags in tow. I’m eager to report back to Mr. Preston, Charlotte, and especially Juan Manuel.
Once I’m in my building, I climb the stairs two by two. I’m rounding the corner to my hallway when I see Mr. Rosso’s door open a sliver. He peeks out, spots me, then slinks back inside, closing the door behind him.
I put down the takeout bags to turn the key in my lock, then I walk through the entrance. “I’m home!” I announce.
Mr. Preston springs to his feet. “Oh, dear girl, you’re back. Thank goodness.”
Charlotte and Juan Manuel are seated in the living room. They, too, jump to their feet the moment they see me.
“How did it go?” Charlotte asks.
Before I can answer Charlotte’s question, Juan Manuel is beside me. He’s grabbed the takeout bags and is now getting out the polishing cloth from the closet. The moment I remove my shoes, he takes them, cleans the bottoms, and puts them away.
“You don’t have to do that,” I say.
“It’s okay. Do you need anything? Are you okay?” he asks.
“I’m fine,” I reply. “I brought takeout. I hope everyone likes the Olive Garden.”
“Like it? I love it,” Juan Manuel replies. He picks up the bags and whisks them away to the kitchen.
“You better tell us how it went,” Charlotte says. “Dad and Juan Manuel have been a nervous wreck since you stepped out that door.”
“Everything went according to plan,” I say. “Rodney’s heading back to the hotel now. He’s none the wiser that I’m the one who’s been arrested, and he believes the police are coming back to search the suite. I told him I’d be there shortly to get him the suite key.” I can’t help but smile as I say this, because I’ve accomplished something I wasn’t sure that I could.
“Perfect. Well done,” Charlotte replies.
“I knew you could do it!” Juan Manuel calls out from the kitchen.
“Dad,” Charlotte says, “your shift starts at six o’clock, right? Are you sure you can get your hands on the key to the Black suite?”
“I have a few tricks up my sleeve,” he replies.
“They better be foolproof ones, Dad, because the last thing we need right now is you in trouble too.”
“Don’t you worry. It’s all going to go tickety-boo. Trust your ol’ pa.”
Juan Manuel emerges from the kitchen carrying Gran’s tea tray filled with appetizers and pizza from the Olive Garden.
“I was supposed to be back at work a while ago,” he says. “They keep calling me.” He sets the tray on the coffee table and sits down.
Charlotte shuffles her chair closer to him. “It’s up to you, Juan Manuel, but I’m concerned that if you go back to work today—in fact, if you go to that hotel ever again—Rodney will find a way to use you as he always does, and then
going to be the one caught in a trap, not him.”
Juan Manuel looks down at his feet. “Yes, I know,” he says. “I’ll call the kitchen back and tell them I’m sick and can’t finish my shift.”
“Good,” Charlotte says.
“I’ll figure the rest out later,” Juan Manuel adds.
“The rest?” Mr. Preston asks.
“Where to sleep tonight,” he says. “First, we must concentrate on
catching the fox.” He nods and smiles, but it’s not the real kind of smile, not the kind that reaches his eyes.
Charlotte looks at Mr. Preston.
“Oh Juan Manuel,” Mr. Preston says. “We weren’t thinking. If you don’t go back to the hotel, that means you have nowhere to sleep tonight.”
“This is my problem, not yours,” he says without looking up. “Don’t worry.”
It occurs to me that there’s an obvious solution, but it’s one that’s also a little bit awkward for me. I’ve never had a guest stay overnight before, but I do think that in this particular instance Gran would urge me to do the right thing. “You can stay here, for tonight,” I say. “There’s plenty of space. You can have my room and I’ll stay in Gran’s room. It will give you some time to consider alternative arrangements.”
He’s looking at me like he doesn’t believe what I’m saying. “Really? Are you serious? You’d let me stay here?”
“Isn’t that what friends are for? To help each other out of binds?”
He’s shaking his head slowly back and forth. “I can’t believe you’d do this for me after everything that’s happened. Thank you. And don’t worry—I’m very quiet. I’m like a good oven—self-cleaning.”
Mr. Preston chuckles and grabs a small plate from the tea tray, filling it with bruschetta, pizza, and fried mozzarella.
I follow his lead and prepare first a small plate for Juan Manuel, then one for myself.
“Courtesy of Rodney,” I say. “He owes us both much more.”
“He does,” Juan Manuel says.
Charlotte gets up and grabs the remote control on the television, turns it to the twenty-four-hour local news channel.
I’m just about to take my first bite of fried mozzarella when what I hear stops me mid-bite.
“…and police will be holding a special press conference in one hour to release important updates on the search for real-estate magnate Charles Black’s killer. We don’t know for sure, but we expect to hear details on the charges and very possibly the identity of the accused, as well as…”
I feel all eyes on me. All of my confidence ebbs away in just a few seconds. “What now?” I ask.
Charlotte sighs. “I was worried about this. The police are eager to reassure the public and take credit for catching the killer.”
“This is not good,” Juan Manuel adds as he puts his plate down on the table.
“What if they say my name? What if Rodney finds out before he even gets to the hotel?”
“It’s five o’clock now. We’ve still got an hour,” Mr. Preston says.
“That’s right,” Charlotte says. “Let’s not panic. I say we stick to the plan. But we don’t have a lot of time.”
The newscaster is reviewing the details of the death and the findings of the autopsy—death by asphyxiation. We all watch in silence. “…and inside sources say that Mr. Black’s wife, socialite Giselle Black, may
be the accused and that she remains a guest at the hotel. But we’ll know more for sure in an hour when—”
Charlotte turns the TV off. “Let’s hope Rodney doesn’t see this and disappear. And that Giselle doesn’t check out anytime soon,” she says.
“She won’t,” I say. “She has nowhere else to go.”
Mr. Preston puts down his plate and gets to his feet. “Looks like I’m heading to work early today,” he says. “Molly, are you ready? You understand the next steps?”
I can’t seem to form words. I feel the world tilt a little, but I know I must forge onward. “I’m ready,” I say.
“Charlotte, when you receive the text from me, you’ll contact Detective Stark?”
“Yes, Dad. I’m actually going to wait right outside the station.”
“Juan Manuel, will you act as mission control from here? We’ll call you when we need your help.”
“Yes, of course,” he says. “You call, I’m on it. I won’t rest until we catch him.”
There is nothing else for me to say or do. I’ve lost my appetite, so I put down my plate.
The deep-fried mozzarella sticks will have to wait.
Mr. Preston insists we take a cab over to the hotel to save time. We’ve now pulled over just around the corner so the taxi can drop me off. I’m embarrassed when he pays, but I’ve really no choice but to accept his generosity.
“Molly, are you sure you’re okay to walk from here? You know the plan?”
“Yes, Mr. Preston. I’m fine. I’m ready.” I’m saying the words with the hope that the feelings will follow, but the truth is that I’m trembling and the world around me is spinning too fast.
I’m about to step out of the taxi when Mr. Preston puts a hand on my arm. “Molly, your gran would be proud of you.”
The mention of her makes my emotions bubble up, but I will them back down. “Thank you, Mr. Preston,” I manage before slipping out the door.
I watch as Mr. Preston drives away without me.
I walk the last block on my own and wait for ten minutes hidden in an alleyway across from the hotel. It’s eerily beautiful in the late afternoon. The golden light strikes the brass and glass of the entranceway, bathing it in a mysterious glow. The Chens are on their way to an early dinner. He’s wearing a pinstripe suit and she’s all in black, except for a
bright-pink corsage pinned to her bodice. A young family jumps out of a taxi after a long day of sightseeing, the parents lethargic and slow. Their two children dash up the scarlet steps, holding up souvenirs for the valets to see. It’s always like this at dusk—as if the day is throwing the last of its energy up the steps while the hotel itself patiently waits for the calm of night to come.
The podium is the only spot that’s forlorn and empty. Mr. Preston has not yet arrived. No doubt he’s still downstairs, donning his great coat and hat and signing in early for his shift.
Time is going by unbearably slowly. Nervous tension makes my entire body tremble. I don’t know if I can do this. I’m unsuited to this level of performance. The only thing that gives me strength is the fact that Mr. Preston, Charlotte, and Juan Manuel are in on it.
When you believe in yourself, nothing can stop you.
I’m trying my best, Gran. I am.
I remain where I am, tucked in the alleyway, hiding in the shadows of the coffee shop, up against the wall. At long last he appears, Mr. Preston, smartly uniformed. He walks calmly through the revolving doors and stands at his podium on the hotel landing. He pulls out his phone and sends a text, then tucks it back into his pocket. I lean against the wall even though I know it’s dirty. If all goes well, there will be time for washing later. If it doesn’t go well, I’ll never be clean again.
A couple more minutes go by. Just when I’m starting to fully panic, I spot him down the street—Rodney, walking quickly toward the hotel. I’ll admit that my feelings upon seeing him are mixed. On the one hand, his appearance means things are going according to plan; on the other, the very sight of his lying, cheating face fills me with murderous rage.
He runs up the front steps and stops at the podium. He talks to Mr. Preston. The conversation lasts no more than a minute. Then Rodney heads into the hotel.
Mr. Preston pulls out his phone and dials. I practically jump out of my skin when my pocket starts to vibrate.
I grab my phone. “Hello?” I whisper. “Yes, I saw it all. What did he want?”
“He heard about the press conference,” Mr. Preston explains. “He was asking if I knew who was arrested.”
“What did you tell him?” I ask.
“That I saw Giselle talking with the police. And that she looked upset.”
“Oh dear. That wasn’t part of the plan,” I say.
“I had to think fast on my big ol’ feet. You’ll do the same if you have to. You can do this. I know it.”
I take a deep breath. “Anything else?”
“The news conference begins in under forty minutes. We have to be fast. It’s time. Text him now. Proceed as planned.”
“Roger, Mr. Preston. Over and out.”
I end the call and watch Mr. Preston slip his phone away.
I open a text to Rodney:
Help. I’m at the front door of the hotel and they won’t let me in! If I can’t get that keycard for you, whatever will we do?
Rodney’s response is immediate: BRT DGA
What? What on earth is that supposed to mean? I haven’t the faintest clue. Think, Molly, think.
You’re never alone as long as you have a friend.
The answer is literally right at my fingertips. I find Juan Manuel in my contacts and dial his number. He picks up before the end of the first ring.
“Molly? What’s happening? Is everything okay?”
“Yes, everything’s fine. The plan is in progress. But…Juan Manuel, I’m in a bit of pickle and I need hasty assistance.” I read Rodney’s text to him.
know what that means?” he asks. “I feel like I’m on that TV show where you call a friend and they give you the answer and you win big money. But Molly, you called the wrong friend!” He pauses. “Wait. Hold on.” I hear some rustling on the end of the line.
“Okay, Molly? Are you still there?”
“I checked Google. Rodney means Be Right There. Don’t Go Anywhere. Okay? Does that make sense?”
It does. It absolutely does. I’m back on track. “Juan Manuel, I could…”
I could kiss him. That’s what I want to say—that I’m so grateful I could kiss him. But it’s such a bold and ridiculous thought, so unlike me, that it catches in my throat and doesn’t make it out.
“Thank you,” I say instead.
“Go get the fox, Molly,” he replies. “I will BRT when you get back home.”
I know he’s not here with me, but it feels like he is. It’s like he’s holding my hand through the line.
“Yes. Thank you, Juan Manuel.”
I hang up and tuck my phone away.
I take a deep breath, then walk out of the shadows onto the sidewalk.
Always look both ways….
I cross the street, trying to do so normally, without rushing, reminding myself to act as though it’s just another ordinary day. I steady myself at the landing, holding tightly to the brass rail. Then I put one foot in front of the other, and I climb the plush red stairs.
Mr. Preston sees me. He picks up the hotel phone on his podium and makes a call. I can hear him sounding perfectly believable when he says, “Yes. Urgently. She’s here at the front door and she won’t leave.”
As planned, Mr. Preston is wearing white gloves, not part of his regular uniform. He usually wears these only on special occasions, but they’ll come in handy today.
“Molly,” he says loudly and brusquely. “What are you doing here? You can’t be at the hotel today. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” He looks around to make sure people are watching. Several guests are streaming in and out of the hotel. A couple of valets on the sidewalk
stop what they’re doing and watch as well. It’s as though I’m an engaging spectator sport.
Though it feels so strange to do so, it’s time to play my part, to draw even more attention my way. “I have every right to be here,” I call out in a confident, booming voice. “I’m an esteemed employee of this hotel, and—”
I stop short when Mr. Snow emerges from the revolving doors.
Mr. Preston swiftly moves toward him. “I’ll get Security,” he tells Mr. Snow, then heads through the revolving doors.
Mr. Snow rushes over to me. “Molly,” he says. “I’m sorry to inform you that you are no longer employed at the Regency Grand Hotel. You must leave the grounds immediately.”
The words are a shock to me, and I must say I feel utterly bereft when I hear them. Still, I breathe deeply and stick to my performance, delivering my next lines even louder than my previous ones. “But I’m a model employee! You can’t just fire me without cause!”
“As you well know, there
cause, Molly,” Mr. Snow says. “We need you off these steps. Now.”
“This is inconceivable,” I say. “I won’t leave.”
Mr. Snow straightens his glasses. “You’re disturbing the guests,” he hisses.
I look around and see that more guests have gathered. It seems the valets have tipped off Reception. Several employees from the concierge desk are standing by them, whispering to one another. They’re all looking my way.
For the next few minutes, I keep Mr. Snow engaged on the stairs, demanding explanations, begging him to reconsider, talking at length about the added value of my devotion to hygiene and the high level of quality I bring to the hotel with each guest room that I clean. I channel Gran, how she used to be in the morning, how she would chirp and chirp and chirp without so much as a pause for breath. The whole time, I’m aware that we have only a few minutes left before the whole plan falls apart. I’m also aware that I’m not in uniform, which adds to my
distress and general discomfort.
Come back, Mr. Preston. Quickly!
I think to myself.
At long last, he walks briskly through the revolving doors and stands beside Mr. Snow.
“I can’t find Security, sir,” he announces.
“I can’t get her to leave,” Mr. Snow replies.
“Let me handle this,” Mr. Preston says. Mr. Snow nods and steps aside. “Molly, a word…”
Mr. Preston gently pulls me aside, out of earshot. We both turn our backs to the curious crowd.
“Did it work?” I whisper.
“It did. I found Cheryl.”
“And then what?” I ask.
“I got what I wanted.”
“How?” I ask.
“I told her I knew she was stealing tips from other maids. She got so flustered she didn’t even notice me pocketing her master keycard from her trolley. Not so much as a fingerprint left behind either,” he adds, wiggling his white-gloved fingers. “Here,” he says, holding out one hand. “Shake.”
I take the cue and shake. When I do, I feel the master keycard transfer seamlessly into my palm.
“You take good care, Molly,” he says in a voice loud enough for the entire neighborhood to hear. “You run home now. You have no place being here today.” He nods to Mr. Snow and Mr. Snow nods back.
Of course, Mr. Preston knows as well as I do that I cannot leave. Not yet. I’m about to start a whole new monologue about worker bees when at long last Rodney emerges through the revolving doors and bounds down the steps toward me.
“I don’t understand any of this!” I shout. “I’m a good maid! Rodney, you’re just the person I wanted to see. Can you believe this?”
Mr. Snow approaches. “Rodney,” he says, “we’re trying to explain to Miss Molly that she is no longer welcome in this hotel. But we’re having a hard time delivering the message.”
“I understand,” Rodney says. “Let me talk to her.”
I’m pulled away again. Once we’re out of earshot, Rodney says, “Molly, don’t worry. I’ll talk to Snow later and find out what’s up with your job. Okay? Probably just a misunderstanding. Did you get the key? To the Black suite? There’s no time to lose.”
“You’re right, there isn’t,” I say. “Here’s the key.” I discreetly pass him the card.
“Thanks, Molly. You’re the best. Hey, I heard the police announced a news conference that’s just about to happen. Do you know what that’s all about?”
“I’m afraid not,” I say.
I watch him carefully, hoping this answer appeases. “Right. Okay. I’d better get this done before Owl Eyes lets the cops in.”
“Yes. As quickly as you can. Good luck.”
He turns and starts up the stairs. “Oh, Rodney,” I say. He turns back, looks down at me. “It really is remarkable the lengths to which you’ll go for a friend.”
“You don’t know the half of it,” he says. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do.”
Before I can say anything else, he’s at the top of the stairs. “Don’t worry,” he tells Mr. Snow. “She’s leaving.” He says it just like that, as though I wasn’t even there.
After that, I hurry down the scarlet steps, turning back only once to see Rodney rushing through the revolving doors and Mr. Preston behind him, one hand out, the other guiding Mr. Snow into the hotel.
I check my phone: 5:45.