Authors: Nita Prose
I’m sitting at the coffee shop directly across from the hotel. I’m right by the window, so I have a perfect view of the entrance to the Regency Grand. The light is fading. Sharp shadows fall upon the entrance, turning the scarlet staircase a different shade, closer to the color of dried blood. It won’t be too long before the wrought iron gaslights will flicker on and their flames will glow richly as dusk gives way to dark.
I have a metal teapot in front of me, the kind that dribbles and never pours cleanly, and a thick mug. I prefer Gran’s porcelain to this, but beggars can’t be choosers. I also splurged on a freshly baked raisin-bran muffin, which I’ve divided into four pieces, but I’m too nervous to eat it right now.
A few minutes ago, Mr. Preston emerged from the revolving doors and resumed his position at the doorman’s podium. He made a call. It was very quick, very quick indeed. I can see him look up and across the street at this very window. He probably can’t see me in the fading light, but he knows I’m here. And I know he’s there. Which is a comfort.
My phone buzzes. It’s a text from Charlotte. A thumbs-up emoji, which we agreed beforehand would be our sign for “Everything is going according to plan.”
Another text arrives from her:
Wait where you are.
I send her a thumbs-up emoji back even though I am not feeling thumbs-up at all. I am decidedly thumbs-down and won’t feel thumbs-up until I see some movement on those steps, until I see signs—any signs beyond an emoji—that the plan is actually working. And so far, nothing.
I wrap my anxious hands around my mug, even though it’s tepid now and not much comfort. I have a good view of the TV screen to the right of my table. There’s no sound, but it’s tuned as it always is to the twenty-four-hour news channel. A young police officer I recognize as Detective Stark’s colleague is about to speak at the press conference. He’s reading from the papers in front of him. The captions are scrolling:
…that an arrest has been made in connection to what police have now confirmed is the murder of Mr. Charles Black, on Monday at the Regency Grand Hotel. Photographed here is the accused, Molly Gray, hotel room maid at the Regency Grand. She is under arrest for first-degree murder, possession of a firearm, and drug charges.
I take a sip of tea and nearly choke when I see my face appear on the screen. It’s a photograph that was taken when I was hired, for my HR file. I didn’t smile for the picture, but at least I look professional. I’m wearing my uniform. It’s clean, freshly pressed. The captions continue to scroll:
…currently out on bail. Anyone requiring further information is invited to…
I tune out then because I hear cars coming to a screeching halt. Across the street, right in front of the hotel, are four dark cruisers. Several armed officers jump out of the vehicles and run up the stairs. I watch as Mr. Preston ushers them in. The whole event lasts only a few seconds. Mr. Preston emerges again from the revolving doors, followed by Mr. Snow. They exchange a few words and then turn to the various guests on the landing, no doubt reassuring them that everything is fine when everything is most definitely not fine. I feel completely helpless as I watch from afar. There’s nothing to do except wait and hope. And make a call. One important call.
This is the only part of the plan that I have kept to myself all this time. I never shared it with anyone—not with Mr. Preston or Charlotte or even Juan Manuel. There are still some things that only I know, things only I can understand because I’ve lived them. I know what it’s like to be alone, to be so alone that you make the wrong choices, that out of desperation you trust the wrong people.
I open my contacts on my phone. I call Giselle.
It rings once, twice, three times, and just when I think that she won’t answer…
“Good evening, Giselle. It’s Molly, Molly the maid. Your friend.”
“Oh my God, Molly. I’ve been waiting for you to call. I haven’t seen you at the hotel. I’ve missed you. Is everything all right?”
I don’t have time for niceties, and I do believe this is one of the few situations in life when skipping the rules of etiquette is entirely appropriate. “You lied to me,” I say. “Rodney’s your boyfriend. Your secret boyfriend. You never told me that.”
There’s a pause on the other end of the line.
“Oh, Molly,” she says after a time, “I’m so sorry.” I can hear it in her voice, that little catch that tells me she is near tears.
“I thought we were friends.”
friends,” she replies.
I feel the sting of this like a barb.
“Molly, I’m lost. I’m…I’m so lost,” she says. She’s crying openly now, her voice meek and scared.
“You made me move your gun,” I say.
“I know. I shouldn’t have gotten you involved in my mess. I was scared, scared the police would find it and then everything would point to me. And I figured they’d never suspect you.”
“The police found your gun in my vacuum. Everything’s pointing to me now, Giselle. I’ve been arrested on many charges. It was publicly announced a few minutes ago.”
“Oh God. This can’t be happening,” she says.
“It is happening. To me. And I did not kill Mr. Black.”
“I know that,” she says. “But I didn’t either, Molly. I swear.”
“I know,” I say. “Did you realize that Rodney would frame me?”
“Molly, I swear I didn’t. And the stuff Rodney made you do, cleaning rooms after his shipments? I only found that out on Monday morning. Before that, I had no idea. That black eye he has? That’s because I hit him when he told me. We had a big fight about it. I told him it wasn’t right, that you were an innocent, good person, and that he couldn’t just use people like that. I flung my purse at him, Molly. I was so mad. The chain whopped him right in the eye.”
That was one mystery solved, but only one. “Did you know that Rodney and Mr. Black were partners in illicit activity?” I ask. “Did you know that they were running an illegal operation through the hotel?”
I hear her shift and shuffle on the end of the line. “Yes,” she says. “I’ve known for a while. That’s why we spent so much time in this fucking hotel. But the part about you? About Rodney involving you in his dirty work? I didn’t know that until this week. If I’d known earlier, I swear, I would have put a stop to it. And I’m telling you, I had nothing to do with Charles’s murder. Rodney and I joked about it, sure, how we would fix our lives and finally be able to be together openly, just by offing his boss and my husband with the same bullet. We even planned running away together, far away.”
It clicks then. The flight itinerary, two one-way tickets. “To the Caymans,” I say.
“Yes, to the Caymans. That’s why I asked Charles to put that property in my name. I was going to leave him and run away, file for divorce from afar. Rodney and I were going to start a new life, a better life. Just the two of us. But I never actually thought…I didn’t know Rodney could actually be capable of…”
She trails off. “Have you ever felt betrayed, Giselle?” I ask. “Have you ever put a great deal of faith in someone who then let you down?”
“You know I have. You know it all too well,” she says.
“Mr. Black, he let you down.”
“He did,” she says. “But he’s not the only one. Rodney too. It seems I’m an expert at trusting assholes.”
“It may be something else we have in common,” I say.
“Yeah,” says Giselle. “But I’m not like them, Molly. Charles and Rodney, I’m not like them at all.”
“Aren’t you?” I ask. “My gran used to say,
If you want to know where someone’s going, don’t watch their mouths, watch their feet
. I never understood that until now. She also said,
The proof is in the pudding
“The proof’s in the…what?”
“It means I won’t trust your words anymore. I won’t.”
“Molly, I made a mistake is all. I made a stupid fucking mistake in asking you to go back into that suite and do my dirty work for me. Please. I won’t let you go down for this. They can’t get away with it.”
Her voice is raw and real, but can I trust what I hear?
“Giselle, you’re at the hotel now? You’re in your room?”
“Yeah. A princess locked in the tower. Molly, you have to let me help you. I’m going to speak out, okay? I’ll tell the police it was my gun and I told you to get it. I’ll even tell them that Rodney and Charles were running a cartel. I’m going to get you cleared, I promise. Molly, you’re the only true friend I’ve ever had.”
I feel the rush of tears break over the banks of my eyes. I hope it’s true, I really do. I hope she’s a good egg caught in a rotten basket. It’s time to put her to the test.
“Giselle, you need to listen to me. You need to listen very, very carefully, okay?”
“Okay,” she says, through sniffles.
“Can you get to the Cayman Islands?”
“Yeah. I have open tickets. I can go anytime.”
“Do you still have your passport?”
contact Rodney. Do you understand?”
“But shouldn’t I let him know that—”
“He doesn’t care a jot about you, Giselle. Can’t you see that? He’ll take
you down, too, at the first chance. You’re just another pawn in his game.”
I hear her struggle to draw in breath. “Oh, Molly, I wish I were more like you. I’m not. I’m not at all. You’re strong. You’re honest. You’re good. I don’t know if I can do it. I don’t know if I can be alone.”
“You’ve always been alone, Giselle. Poor company is worse than none.”
“Let me guess. Your gran told you that?”
“She did,” I say. “And she’s right.”
“How could I have ever fallen for a man so…”
“Vile?” I offer.
“Yes,” she says. “So vile.”
“Vile and evil are composed of the same letters. One begets the other.”
“Rodney and Charles,” she says.
“Vile and evil,” I reply. “Giselle, we don’t have much time. I need you to do as I say. And it has to be fast.”
“Okay,” she says. “Whatever you ask, Molly.”
“I want you to pack your basic necessities into a single bag. I want you to carry your passport and whatever money you have right next to your heart. And I want you to run. Not out the front doors of the hotel, but out the back ones. Right now. Do you hear me?”
“But what about you? I can’t just let you—”
“If you are a friend, you will do this for me. I’m not alone anymore. I have real friends, true ones. I’m going to be fine. I’m asking you to do as I say. Go now, Giselle. Run.”
She keeps talking, but I don’t listen because I’ve said everything I need to say. I know it’s rude, and if this weren’t an extraordinary situation, I certainly wouldn’t behave in this curt and clipped manner. I hang up on her without another word.
When I look up from my phone, there’s a coffee-shop employee standing by my table. She’s shifting awkwardly from one foot to the other. I recognize this behavior. It’s what I do when I’m waiting for my turn to speak.
“Was that you?” she asks. She points to the TV screen.
How am I supposed to answer?
Honesty is the best policy.
“That was me. Yes.”
There’s a pause as she takes this in.
“Oh, I should add that I didn’t do it. Murder Mr. Black, I mean. I’m not a killer. You have nothing at all to worry about.” I take a sip from my mug.
The coffee-shop employee stiffens and sidles away from my table. She turns her back on me only once she’s safely behind the counter. I watch as she rushes to the kitchen, where she is no doubt talking to her supervisor, who will soon come out and look at me with wide eyes. I will recognize the expression instantly. I will know that it means fear because I’m getting better at this—understanding the subtle cues, the body language that expresses emotional states.
The more you live, the more you learn.
That same supervisor will look me up and down and verify that it’s me, the one on the news. She will call the police. The police will say something to calm her down, tell her not to worry or that the news conference had the details wrong.
All will be well. In the end.
I take a deep breath. I enjoy another calming sip of tea. I wait and I watch the hotel entrance.
And then: there it is at last—what I’ve been waiting for….
The police emerge through the revolving doors with a man in front of them—Rodney, his white shirtsleeves rolled up, making it easy to see his lovely forearms in handcuffs. Trailing behind him is Detective Stark. She’s carrying a navy-blue duffel bag that I recognize immediately. The zipper is half-open. Even from here, I can tell it’s not filled with a dishwasher’s clothes and personal effects but with bags containing white powder.
I pick up one neat quarter of my raisin-bran muffin. How lovely. It’s fresh. Isn’t it interesting that this shop bakes goods in the late afternoon? You wouldn’t think many people would choose muffins in the
afternoon, but there you have it
Perhaps there are others out there in the world just like me.
People are a mystery that can never be solved.