Chapter 8: Josh

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1

The tour would have been in Boston by now. Maybe Toronto, if time had gotten away more than Josh thought it had. The company would have left New York without him.

He lay on the sofa in the break room with his arm crooked under his head, staring at the acoustic tile ceiling, lousy with hunger as they began in earnest to ration the cans of tuna, granola bars, and boxes of cereal. They hadn’t expected not to find their way out; the museum was sealed.

Josh lived in New York, where that last show had been. After Erica’s pranks — the blood capsule, the ransom note and rumor on the same night — the company must have thought he went home to sulk, to ignore the door and the phone, and abandon the tour. A move like that could brand him a divo, ruin his career; but surely they wouldn’t have given up on him.

They had to move on (the show must go on, and all), but they would have kept trying to get in touch with him. Anthony would, at least.

Did I admit to him how empty the apartment felt on my own? He thought back to his confession after the performance. Maybe Josh had only thought it instead of laying himself out like that, but there had been drinks in the lobby, and Erica had already emasculated him. Would have felt good to get it all out. Besides, it wasn’t as though he and Anthony hadn’t confided in each other when they’d been roommates.

Without another body, the apartment went from hours of inane conversation, cello scales, and clumsy banging noises to silence. The refrigerator hummed. The neighbor’s baby cooed through the wall. While Josh tried to fill the void practicing his violin, or switching it up with the keyboard he’d kept in the closet since college, he spent more and more time on the sofa late at night watching shows about how aliens quite possibly built Egypt.

Anthony had found love with the Stars of Pop Opera; Erica was supposed to be for Josh what Steph had been for Anthony. The tour had been his life for the past three months — and would have been for three more if someone hadn’t sidetracked him with a kidnapping — his chances to meet people outside his musical circle was dwindling to nothing. If he screwed it up with Erica, and she was already spreading rumors about him, he didn’t have a shot with anyone else.

So much easier to make friends as a kid.

But then there was Sophia. He hadn’t intended on staying for the reception in the lobby, and couldn’t now remember why he had. Maybe she’d been in the right place when he’d felt low enough. He would have chatted up anyone who’d stroked his ego.

At his most vulnerable — emotionally, and then after a few drinks — he’d been taken.

One of the cabinet doors in the kitchen banged shut, startling Josh’s attention back to the kitchen. Kieron twisted off the top of a water bottle.

“You really cleaned this place out,” he said.

Josh sat up. “Sure. It was all me.”

“This place is full of secret little rooms. We could be stuck in here for the rest of our lives.” Kieron gestured to the kitchen cabinets. “Which might not be long with the food we’ve got left. How long do you think it’ll take for us to resort to cannibalism?”

“Find anything interesting?”

“Funny you should ask. Yes, I did. Lemme show you.”

Kieron left the kitchen and Josh gave a moment of thought before following. 

After passing through three galleries, Kieron opened a door disguised as a shelving unit and slipped inside without a word. The door led to a dark, concrete hallway, its cold, damp air closing around them.

Josh crossed his arms against the chill and looked back at the light around the cracked door. It wasn’t much, and didn’t illuminate the corridor. He brushed the wall with his fingers for guidance.

“Where the hell are you taking me?”

“Command central, my friend.”

Kieron hadn’t inspired confidence from Josh in the time they’d known each other. Mostly, he spent time alone, disappearing for days at a time, leaving Josh, Sophia, and Ajay to assume he’d either found escape without coming back for them, or he’d become trapped again in the endless maze of galleries.

“Why didn’t you bring a flashlight?” Josh asked.

Kieron opened a door, the sudden glow behind it making Josh squint.

“Because I don’t like announcing myself.”

The room was small; one wall contained twelve monochrome security monitors, each showing a different gallery. After a few seconds, each screen flicked to a different camera.

“There’s not an inch of space not being filmed,” Kieron said.

The chill returned in earnest as Josh frantically thought back to everything he’d done in the last few days. He didn’t think he’d done anything sordid, but he had believed several times he’d been alone.

The table in front of the monitors was bare: no keyboards or controls.

“Someone could be watching us remotely,” Kieron continued.

“What about the bedroom or the —”

Kieron pointed to the screen in the top corner as though he hadn’t been listening. “There’s the kitchen.” He indicated another screen, and another. “And the offices. But no one’s spying on you in the shower, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

One of the screens switched to an office where Sophia sat at a desk with a phone receiver to her ear.

“Ah,” Kieron said, crossing his arms. “Your girl’s talking to Demetri again.” He glanced at Josh for a reaction.

“Is there audio?”

“Does it sound like there’s audio?”

Josh frowned.

“Maybe someone else has it, but there’s no volume, no switches here, nothing.”

“Who’s Demetri?”

Kieron pointed to a screen, where a man with dark hair and rumpled button up shirt slumped on the floor beside a phone cord stretching over a ticket counter. Josh had never seen this guy before.

“Why haven’t we found him? Are you even sure he’s in the museum? What if he’s behind the whole thing, watching us?”

“No chance,” Kieron said. “I’ve been watching him. He’s alone, stuck in a much smaller space than we are. Isolation like that you can’t fake.”

One of the monitors was dedicated to the area where Demetri was confined. It flipped from the ticket counter to the coat check room where a few coats still hung on the rack, to the cafe, the gift shop —

“And there.” Kieron’s eyes shined as he pointed to a door. “He tries every day, but can’t open this door. Judging from its position in the lobby, this is the exit.”

Josh stared without blinking until his eyes burned. “How do we get to it, though? There’s gotta be something to— the ax!”

“Gotta find it first.”

“How is he calling Sophia?”

Kieron raised his eyebrow and smirked. Josh sighed.

“The phones don’t work,” Kieron said. “But here’s the strange part: somebody’s rigged them so they operate as an intercom.”

“What do you mean?”

“Every phone in the building can communicate with each other, but not with the outside. Like when your mom tried to pretend she wasn’t listening in on your conversations, but really she was in the kitchen with the receiver to her ear.”

“That doesn’t take rigging. That’s how phones work.”

Kieron shook his head. “After the phone company cuts power, the phone is dead. No more power source. Over here, though, someone took the time to rig the cord to an AC adaptor and connect the phones again. They can’t ring, but you can hear someone who’s picked up at the same time. So when Demetri’s had enough banging on the walls, he’ll sit with the receiver until one of us picks up. Sophie does too.”

An unexpected pang of jealousy made Josh laugh nervously. Josh had never called her Sophie. “Anyone else —?”

“Nah. Just us and this guy. No sign of Blair, but she’s probably laughing her ass off at us trying to figure this out.” He clapped Josh on the back. “All right, bud. Now you know.” He left the room.

Josh followed. “Wait, why’d you show me this?”

Kieron kept going through the corridor without slowing. The darkness enveloped him.

“I dunno, man. I’d wanna know if someone were watching my every move. Plus, you asked.”

“So if I hadn’t asked about what you’d found, you would’ve gone on keeping tabs on us without anybody knowing?”

“Listen, I don’t think it’s me you need to worry at about being sneaky, all right?”

“The hell is that supposed to mean?”

The black hall swallowed his words and all trace of Kieron.

“Kieron?”

Josh blinked hard, trying to focus in the dark, but there was no light to grab onto. Kieron wasn’t making any noise: no footsteps or breathing or doors closing in the distance. For all Josh knew, he could be waiting in the hall with him, ready to attack.

I’d give him a fight, Josh thought, but his blood turned to ice.

He dragged his fingertips along the wall and crept forward. 

Kieron had to have meant he’d seen Josh and Sophia sneaking around — or he wanted to implant the thought. They’d been careful, though: Josh never went into the bedroom again after he and Ajay moved all the previous male tenant’s effects into the kitchen for communal use. He never slipped into the ladies restroom with her, even though they’d tossed the idea around. They never even stood with each other when anyone else was in the room. They hadn’t kissed — they held their conversations in private because the other guys took offense when they thought alliances were being formed, secrets exchanged, lies told. Josh liked relaxing around her.

It didn’t matter how careful they’d been, though: neither of them had known about the cameras.

The wall suddenly ended and Josh stumbled to his knees. After getting back to his feet, he flattened himself against the wall.

“Kieron!”

He hadn’t taken a turn when he’d followed Kieron the first time; the offshoot had to have been only on one side.

The texture guiding his hands went from smooth concrete to rough stone, and the floor sloped gradually upward. After leveling off, the wall was transitioned to cool tile.

A dim light in the distance cast something giant in the shadows: a great mouth of darkness lit above by long, dying tubes. The dark tile floor led to a lighter, textured stripe — yellow —before plunging into darkness. 

Just ahead was a subway car. An R train.

2

The yellow R in the train’s front window identified a line he’d taken many times, stationary in a platform lit by dim overhead bulbs. The lighting rendered the name denoted on the mosaic walls illegible. The station was designed to resemble a smaller, one-way stop, probably in Queens or Brooklyn. 

Alone and silent, the place didn’t feel like New York. Wheels didn’t screech through the tunnels or rumble above; no voices clamored in the distance. The darkness and quiet closed in, solid.

Framed posters for companies Josh didn’t recognize hung on the walls between wooden anti-sleeping benches. A whiskey bottle lay against the wall beside a full, open garbage bag.

The tunnel swallowed a third of the car and the remainder of the train.

“Hello?” he called. The station echoed. 

The corridor Josh had come through was an inky black hole. He ran toward the single open train door and boarded. 

Inside, only the lights above the ads worked, leaving the floor and ceiling dark. These weren’t normal ads: they were sexy, grotesque parodies for diet pills and cosmetic surgery and television. Even the system map labeled the stops by the way the creator felt about each area.

Hell’s Hell

Anal St.

Service suspended due to Hurricane Sandy

Ground Zero

That’s dismal, he thought, and moved on.

Plump, colorful throw pillows dotted the plastic orange and yellow seats. Darkened Christmas lights hung from the topmost straphanger poles, and more than one empty liquor bottle lay on the floor amongst a few forgotten red plastic cups.

“Looks like the subway to me,” he murmured.

Kieron hadn’t followed. Because Josh hadn’t spied the subway in the security monitors, he sat for a moment like a passenger and shut his eyes. In the familiar space, he pieced together a reality: a squeeze of people, floor sticky with spilled drinks, announcements, alarms, voices.

He tried to remember everything he’d done in the museum when he’d thought he’d been alone, and it terrified him that he couldn’t.

No one’s spying on you in the shower, Kieron had said with the authority of someone who’d put in the time to make sure. 

From his seat, Joshua searched the ceiling and walls for cameras, but couldn’t see much.

The few muted notes weren’t imaginary. 

Josh listened as they came again, crude, but familiar — a harpsichord? — and stood to exit the car.

The notes were louder near the shadowy wall, and as he leaned his head toward it, his fingers brushed the edges of a door. Though there was no knob, it pushed out slowly, heavy, into a gallery. A lantern stood on a harpsichord in the middle of the room, struggling to light all but itself.

Sophia sat on the bench, picking out a tune, oblivious of her newfound company.

On the gallery side, a bookcase disguised the door. Josh pushed it closed quietly, but a falling book startled Sophia, and she jumped off the bench.

“You came out of nowhere,” she said.

“Sorry.” Josh approached the instrument and pressed a few keys. “How’d I never see this?”

“The lights don’t work in here, but I found a lantern and thought I’d check it out.” 

She picked up the light source and swept the room with it, giving him the nickel tour. Several boxes and piles of equipment dotted the floor like every other gallery, but she lingered on the half-cocked bookshelf.

“You’re not really a rich villain if you don’t have a bookcase door,” she said, stepping forward. 

When Josh felt out a tune on the keys, something by Bach he’d always loved, she perched on the bench with him.

“I’ve never heard a piano like this,” she said. “Like something out of an alternate universe.”

He kept playing. “What do you mean?”

“The keys are backwards. The white and black.”

“It’s a harpsichord. The strings inside are plucked instead of hammered. You’ve heard one before, I’m sure.”

She shrugged.

He stopped playing and thought about which popular song would have featured the instrument. While he wasn’t sure Sophia listened to the artist, he played Blood Roses by Tori Amos.

She smiled in recognition. “I thought it was a keyboard effect.”

He played through and sang the first line, repeated it, and chuckled. “I only know the music, really.”

Even in the paltry lantern light, Sophia’s cheeks flushed. “You sound so different singing pop music.”

Sometime during the song she’d scooted close to him. Their legs touched.

“Why didn’t you ever go that way with your career?” she asked.

“Oh, my dad didn’t —” he said, but stopped himself. He hadn’t talked about or thought about his dad in so long he wasn’t sure what would come out if he continued. Instead, he sighed through a smile, and Sophia put her hand on his leg.

“My dad hated the music I liked too. ‘Turn it down’ was that all he said to me for a year. But you at least enjoy classical, right?”

“I love it. Different from being a rock star, but it’s pop opera, so I’m still sexy.”

He expected her to laugh because his career and his face were two of the least panty-dropping things he could imagine. Instead, she tucked her hair behind her ear and raked her fingers through it several times. She wouldn’t meet his eyes for a moment, but when she did, he kissed her. For a moment, she didn’t respond and he thought he’d made a mistake.

Sophia slid her hands slowly around his neck and shoulders, parted his lips with her tongue.

As much as Josh wanted to focus on the soft, beautiful woman in his arms, Kieron’s voice came back to him.

I’d wanna know if someone were watching my every move.

He pushed her away gently, his pounding heart betraying what he needed to say.

“We can’t do this,” he whispered.

“I don’t — Did I do something …?”

“Sophia, no. Someone’s watching.”

Her eyes darted around the room.

“Cameras,” he continued. “They’re everywhere.”

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