Chapter 10: Josh

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1

They’d never had hot water in the shower, but at least they had water. Every bout of cleanliness was an exercise in speed; wet the body, shut off the water to soap up, rinse while shrieking.

Josh missed taking long, hot showers. They gave him time to think or feel, time to zone out. Thoughts of Erica came up a lot in the shower, innocently enough: she liked certain smells, so Josh bought shampoo and soap in accordance with what might bring her closer. She liked clean-shaven men, so he shaved afterward, wearing only a towel, imagining what conversation they might have that day either before a show or on the phone, whether or not his baby soft skin would raise her eyebrow.

She never commented on any of it.

Showering at the museum gave Josh something to occupy his time, like now when he couldn’t sleep. That, and he wanted to be sure Sophia didn’t find him repulsive in case they got close, which they had that day, but he’d pushed her away because of the cameras Kieron had pointed out. He’d really pushed her and couldn’t remember exactly what her expression had been. If he’d messed everything up with her, the next few weeks or years were going to be awkward.

It won’t be years, he thought. We’ll all be dead because the food’s almost gone.

Because there weren’t any choices, Josh didn’t know what scents Sophia preferred. While there were a few disposable razors in with Cy’s leftover things, and Josh had kept his face smooth for the first week or so, the lack of shaving cream irritated his skin, and he actually liked himself with a bit of stubble. Letting it grow felt comfortably like leaving Erica behind.

He supposed if he were rescued from the museum and found his way home now, Erica might look at him differently. Extreme situations tended to bring people closer, but she’d made herself clear about the way she felt. Josh was sure he and Sophia would stay together once they were free, although he couldn’t remember if she’d mentioned being attached to anyone outside; extreme situations also promoted infidelity.

Getting on with his life felt like a satisfying jab at Erica, although she might never know. And that was the thing — no one might ever know what happened to him because they might never find a way out. His tour would think of him negatively for a while because he’d bailed on them. His friends wouldn’t notice he was gone at first because he’d been on tour for the past month. They weren’t expecting him back for another month, at least. Same with his family: he’d already told them not to expect him for Christmas, and they were upset about that, but they wouldn’t be looking for him. He supposed that made him the perfect kidnapping victim.

The soap at the museum, like the food, was down to a sliver. He lathered the piece in his hands once, rubbed the suds on only the most important areas, and let the rest go. His hair was already adjusting to infrequent shampoos, although his curls could have used conditioner.

He shut the shower off, grabbed the t-shirt he’d claimed as a towel, and shivered as he dried off.

“Is it strange we haven’t run out of water?” Ajay said.

Josh dropped the shirt in surprise. Ajay was standing at one of the toilets.

“Didn’t hear you come in,” he said, and continued toweling.

Ajay zipped and washed his hands. After a silent moment he said, “We all make mistakes.”

Ajay wiped his hands on his pants.

Josh pulled his clothes on.

“All of us,” Ajay continued.

“What are you talking about?”

Ajay leaned against the sink and rubbed his hands down his face. “Got any kids?”

“No.”

“I do. One. He’s ten. I’m not there all the time, but I do the best I can with my schedule. Mostly if we’re filming in Mumbai, I’ll go home every night, but I’m also on the road a lot. He spends so much time on his video games and reading books — my wife can’t really get him to open up or socialize, but I can. She says he’s like a different person around me.”

Josh squeezed the water out of his hair with the t-shirt.

“He has issues with a kid at school twice his size, but he never backs down. My son isn’t physical, but he’s smart. My wife thinks we should talk to the other boy’s parents and move our son to a different class, but I said that’s only going to make him weak, you know? You have to let them struggle.”

Josh shrugged. “Yeah. Makes sense.”

“I worry about him, though. He’s so sensitive, which is why … I almost want to see him fight. Take a punch. Give a punch. Really let someone have it.” Ajay crossed his arms and smiled at the floor. “He tells the lamest jokes. I mean, really lame. The last time I ate dinner at home, he asked me, ‘What did the mother goat say to her baby goat? … You’ve got to be kidding me!’ And then he laughed until he snorted and choked.” He chuckled and fell silent, sober. “I didn’t even laugh. I guess I worry if that was the last time I —”

Footsteps thundered outside the bathroom.

“—Why the hell would you lock it up?” Sophia shouted. “That door is an inch thick. There’s no other way to get through it.”

Kieron responded, muffled.

Josh and Ajay exchanged glances and followed the sound to the adjoining kitchen, where Kieron had overturned his cot mattress on the floor. Sophia stood nearby with rings under her eyes and her arms crossed.

“What’s going on here?” Josh asked.

Kieron stopped his search under the cot and focused menacingly on Josh. “Why don’t you tell me.”

Josh put his hands up. “I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.”

Sophia stepped forward to explain, “We—”

Kieron yanked her by the arm and she fell on her butt. “Don’t talk to him.”

Josh charged Kieron. “Hey! Don’t put your hands on her!”

The two men locked together, each with the other’s lapel in his fists.

“Are you okay?” Ajay asked Sophia, offering her a hand.

“I’m fine,” she spat, standing without his help, and shot Kieron daggers with her eyes.

“Don’t you fucking say anything, Sophia.”

“I didn’t say anything, jackass!”

Josh yanked Kieron to attention, but Kieron easily pushed him away. 

“What the hell is going on?” Josh asked, steadying himself against the table.

“Where is it?” Kieron asked. Before waiting for an answer, he tossed the thin mattress aside and pulled the cot frame away from the wall. The adjacent sofa was next: cushions flying, the scrape of wooden feet against the tile floor.

“No one’s been anywhere near your stuff,” Ajay said. “If you want help —”

Kieron checked his pants pocket and pulled out a single key. “Nevermind, I got it. Come on, Sophie.”

She reluctantly followed Kieron out of the kitchen.

Josh motioned to Ajay. “We’re going with them.”

2

The argumentative voices led Josh up to the main gallery and a heap of curtain beside a recessed staircase he’d never seen before. Only the first step up was visible in the darkness.

“Get out of the damn way!” Kieron’s voice echoed down the stairs.

“No wonder we haven’t gotten out,” Josh murmured to Ajay, close behind him.

“What the hell are they doing?” Ajay whispered.

A loud crack upstairs indicated they were using the ax they’d fought about downstairs. After finding the key Kieron insisted one of them stole, he rushed for a locked closet where he’d stockpiled anything useful as a weapon. Without explanation, he dug out the ax and locked the door before barreling upstairs.

“Let’s see what they got,” Josh answered, trying to keep his voice low.

At the top of the steps, Kieron took another swing at a glass door, the ax barely cracking it. A brunette man in a white shirt sat on the other side of the door, seemingly unfazed by their actions. Sophia stood well back with her fingers in her ears.

A large metal plant pot lay on its side near the man inside, an obvious attempt made to get through before giving up.

Josh sidled up to Sophia, and she unplugged one ear, flinching when Kieron took another smack.

“Why isn’t that guy moving?”

“There’s something wrong with him,” she answered.

“What, like —”

“In the head. I hate him. I hope we can’t get the door open.”

Kieron whipped around. “You and I both know we gotta get through here. You wanna go home?”

She frowned and led Josh around the corner, still well within earshot of the ax, but out of sight.

“You all right?” Josh asked.

Ajay peered around the corner, eyes narrowed. Josh waved him away.

“I don’t like this,” she whispered so quietly Josh leaned his ear closer to her mouth. “Kieron attacked me, Ajay’s coming onto me, and this guy behind the door …”

“What?”

“He had phone sex with me and I didn’t even know till it was too late. I don’t feel safe and I don’t know what to do.”

“He did what?”

The door shattered with the next swing.

“Oh shit, we’re in,” Kieron said.

Josh took Sophia by the hand and led her into the open. 

Kieron pushed the shards of glass out of the doorway with the ax and shook his head at the man still sitting in the way. Blood soaked rapidly into his white button-down shirt at his shoulder where the falling glass had cut him.

“Demetri, my man, I told you to fucking move,” Kieron said.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said, not moving. Dark hair hung in his eyes over pale skin. Broken glass lay on his boxer shorts.

Kieron pushed as much glass out of the walkway as possible with the ax, keeping hold of the handle, ready to use it as a weapon.

“Where are your pants?” Ajay asked on his way through the door, bumping Demetri’s bare leg with his foot.

Demetri’s eyes widened at Ajay. “Ajay Kapoor is here?” He clutched his bleeding shoulder and scrambled to his feet. “Nobody told me Ajay Kapoor was here.”

Josh squeezed Sophia’s hand and hustled her through the doorway, focusing on the lobby and not the blood.

The lobby swept around a round central ticketing area, recessed lights long since blown out, leaving valleys of shadow in ceiling grooves and under the desk. The coats left behind in the checked area had all been taken down and made into a nest Demetri no doubt slept in. The jacket, tie, and trousers of a business suit lay crumpled against a wall. The entire area smelled dense, as though he’d been living there a long time without showering. Rooms radiated from the circular middle: the ladies and men’s rooms, the gift shop, the cafe.

“Why would anyone build a place like this?” Sophia asked, peering into a darkened doorway.

“The lights were on when I first got here,” Demetri said behind them.

Sophia whirled around.

Josh held her around the waist, but caught the angry eye of Kieron and relaxed his grip.

“When was that?” Sophia asked.

“Monday,” Demetri replied. “Whenever that was.”

The first two buttons of his shirt hung open, sleeves rolled to his elbows. He winced when he adjusted the coat staunching the bleeding on his shoulder.

“We should get that cleaned off,” Ajay said to him, catching sight of the men’s room around the bend.

Demetri’s face reddened, but he smiled. “Aw man, I don’t want you to see me like this.”

“It’s totally fine. It’ll be like taking off special effects makeup. I do it all the time.”

“Doesn’t your makeup artist do that for you?”

The closing men’s room door swallowed their conversation.

“This is goddamned it,” Kieron said, taking stock of the lobby. “If the exit isn’t here, we can forget it.” Before he passed Sophia, he stopped to stare at her, at Josh’s hand around her middle.

Josh dropped his arm.

“Don’t fucking stop on my account,” Kieron said. “You two got something going on. You can’t hide it. But I’m so close to being home, I can’t give a shit about what you’re doing. And if you come at me,” he waved the ax at them, “I’ll cut your heads off.”

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