It hadn’t happened just once: she’d fantasized about kissing Joshua Rossi daily for almost a year. When the crush of the subway commuters became too much, she’d close her eyes and imagine Josh, not a stranger, was sitting too close; if she didn’t open her eyes, the trick worked well enough to get Sophia home without panicking.
She lay in bed with her head in the crook of her arm the night the kiss happened. She should have been happy. It wasn’t that he didn’t live up to her expectations or she felt she was in love with an idea, not a person: she would have liked the Joshua Rossi stuck in the museum with her even if she hadn’t had preconceived notions of him. He was supportive and sweet and he had those eyes.
But the cameras…
When he’d pushed her away, she thought it was because she’d responded too enthusiastically. Then he showed her.
The cameras were in every room. Though he assured her they weren’t in the bedroom she now occupied or the bathrooms, and the two of them spent an hour in front of the surveillance screens double checking, Sophia still switched the light off before undressing.
Of everything she thought she’d never miss, the sun/moon cycle was a big one. Though her body and mind were tired, keeping time still seemed important, but impossible. She’d been in bed long enough to know nothing was going to happen.
She dressed in one of the all-black ensembles from the clothes rack (in the dark), grabbed her charging flashlight and headed into the quiet galleries. Snores coming from the kitchen told her she had the place to herself.
How long is that food gonna last? she thought, casting a furtive glance to the untidy countertops as she passed the doorway. Once they ran out of tinned vegetables, bags of chips and assorted sweets, they might resort to cannibalism — starting with non-vital parts, everybody chipping in. Long before, things would surely get rapey. The men would grow hobo beards and use Sophia up.
“The village bicycle,” she whispered.
Much as she’d liked it, Josh had moved on her already. Ajay made a pass she hadn’t wanted. Kieron would be next, and she was afraid she wouldn’t be strong enough to stop him.
She hurried upstairs before switching on her flashlight, and went back to the office with the phone. Before picking up, though, she sat in the squeaky chair and opened the desk drawers to poke around and collect her thoughts. The desk was stuffed with papers and office supplies, metal wall hangers, tools, and photos, which she flipped through. Most of the pictures dealt with the museum itself: closeups of things needing repair, empty spaces with areas blocked out in permanent marker, and others featuring people she didn’t recognize.
One of them she did.
The three-by-five showed Kieron smiling, hand blocking most of his face. He squinted against the bright flash and held a red plastic cup in the other hand. The contrast between the flash and the dark background made the location impossible to identify.
The next in the stack was easier to place — Sophia’s eye went straight to herself. It was the worst picture she’d probably ever appeared in: eyes half closed, sloppy, drunken smile, posture slouched on a sofa in a home she didn’t recognize. Josh lay against her, passed out, unruly curls covering most of his face. No one else was in the frame, but the Sophia in the picture grinned at whoever was taking the snapshot.
She didn’t remember anything. Since she hadn’t met Josh until the night of the concert, it had to have been taken after the show — before Blair brought them here.
She shoved the photos in her back pocket and lifted the receiver.
He was already breathing on the line.
He heaved a sigh and said, “Oh. You’re back.”
“I couldn’t sleep. I found something…” Before she could finish the thought, she switched gears. “Did you know about the cameras?”
He took his time answering. “If you mean the little security ones, yeah. But they’re over the ticket counter and in the gift shop. Anti-theft.”
“They’re here too.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it. This place is abandoned.”
“But they’re still on. I’ve seen you.”
“You’ve got dark hair and a business shirt.”
He stayed quiet for a moment. “Can you see me right now? What I’m doing?”
“I’m not in the room with the monitors, but earlier I was. We don’t know how to get to you.”
He didn’t reply, but he let go of a breath.
“Someone’s watching us from outside. Someone with a vested interest in us. You know, like this is all some performance art thing.” She coiled her finger around the phone cord. “Is it to watch us die, do you think? Is someone getting off on it? Our confusion? Our worry?”
“Maybe.” The line was quiet for a moment. “I guess it’s fate you’re calling right now.”
She chuckled. “Why’s that?”
“No one else would get me through this.”
Sophia smiled and leaned back in the chair. “I don’t think I’m doing anything, but that’s sweet.”
Demetri was quiet, but his breathing hitched.
“Are you okay?” She lowered her voice. “Are you crying?”
He didn’t answer.
“It’s okay. I’ve done it so many times since I’ve been here. It’s hard to know who’s watching, though, especially with the cameras now. I can’t imagine being all alone like you.”
“Mmh,” he said.
Sophia frowned and listened, concentrated. He was panting, trying to keep it away from the mouthpiece.
“Demetri, what are you doing?”
“Unhhh … keep talking.”
She slammed down the phone and pressed her hands over her face. After a beat, she knocked the chair over in her hurry to leave the room.
“Hello?” Kieron’s voice came from down the hall.
She whipped around in the direction of the sound, heart racing, and listened, frozen. It didn’t come again, and like a horror movie heroine, she ducked into a dark dead end.
“Someone’s around here,” Kieron called, near, but not near enough for her to worry.
Sophia sat behind the taxidermy lion with her flashlight beam trained on the photos, studying them in turn. The longer she stared at the picture of herself and Josh on the stranger’s sofa, the more she implanted the memory of having sat for it. But she didn’t remember the event or the room or whoever was behind the camera.
When she flipped to the picture of Kieron, his voice was in her ear.
“You wanna explain?”
She gasped, jumping to her feet as he swiped the photos from her hand.
Kieron knelt on the other side of the lion, leaning on its back, his brow drawn. “You were in her apartment?”
Sophia shook her head, but couldn’t think of what to say.
“Blair took this picture. She had to.”
“I don’t remember —”
He rounded the lion to her side and pinned her shoulders to the wall before she could evade, crushing the photographs in his hand.
“Bullshit. You thought none of us would find out? You up here destroying evidence? Sneaking around by yourself?”
“But you —”
“Don’t bring me into this. I know me. I know Blair.” He glanced at the crumpled image and back at Sophia. “But you got me stumped. Although,” he paused, looking her up and down. “If you’re hiding something, and I believe you are, there’s ways of making people talk.”
Sophia tried to wriggle free, but he doubled the pressure on her shoulders, pinned her legs to the wall with one of his to stop her kicking. Though she tried not to tremble to hide how scared she was, her body betrayed her.
“I found them in a desk. In a drawer of papers.”
“While you were talking to Demetri?”
“Why’re you talking to him so much?”
“It’s not like —”
“You know him too? Like you know Josh? Like you know Blair?”
“No, I —”
He let her go enough to wave the photo in her face. “All the time I spent in Blair’s apartment, I know it when I see it. You were all there as chummy —”
She took his lapse of hold and struck him in the solar plexus. The hit was enough to knock him off-balance and she slipped around him. Before she ran out of the gallery, he tackled her from behind and sat on her back with her arms pinned under his knees.
“I’m not gonna hurt you, goddamnit!”
“If I wanted to do anything with you, I would have already,” he continued. “All the fuck I want are some answers.”
“I don’t know anything!”
“Stop saying that. Once you get caught out in as damning a way as you have, you gotta own up. Now what the fuck with this photo?”
“I swear I don’t remember. I think she had us drugged.”
“If there’s one thing I’m sure of, Blair’s into some real shady shit. Occult shit. If she drugged you, there’s no way in hell you’d still be standing.”
“You’re hurting me.”
“How ‘bout this: I’ll tell you a story and then you tell me one. Is that fair?”
“Please let me go.” Her arms numbed under the pressure of his knees.
“I’m gonna trust you not to run,” he said. “Because I just told you if I wanted to do anything to you, I could have already.”
Breathing became more and more difficult. “Please,” she said.
He dismounted, but kept hold of her upper arm and guided her to sit against the wall with him. “I’ll tell you about my sister so you know I’m a decent guy.”
She stared at him, frowning.
“Name’s Annie. Couple of years younger than me. Maybe your age? I’m not gonna ask because I’m too polite.”
She tried to keep her huff to herself, but he glared at her for a moment.
“Anyway, she died a few months ago, and to be honest, it’s probably clouding my judgment.”
“Oh,” Sophia whispered, but didn’t think it excused anything. “Of course. I’m so sorry.”
“She was a ballet dancer and we hated each other like all siblings. You got any?”
“She got more attention than me because of her practices and recitals. My parents bought her shoes and costumes and what have you. I wasn’t ignored, but when you’re an average kid… They kinda let me go my own way and I got in trouble a bunch. I resented her for it.”
“You didn’t —”
“Sophie, you gonna let me finish?”
She kept her eyes on the lion, wishing he were still alive.
Kieron continued, “She fucked up her knee while practicing. Tore cartilage or tendons or some shit. The doctor recommended surgery. She held off as long as she could, hoping physical therapy and painkillers would get her through, but she kept damaging it and had to give in. With or without it, there was a chance she’d never dance again.” He hesitated. “They told us the surgeon accidentally cut an artery. Full-on doctor error. But because it was a ‘reasonable’ risk, due to the nature of the surgery and my parents had signed whatever the fuck they had to sign, no action could be taken.” He paused and added, “by them or by the hospital.”
Sophia wished one of the other guys would show up or at least that she was in a room with more than one exit.
He continued. “One of my friends was a nurse in the OR when it happened. She said because the doctor was upset with his assistant, he made an angry gesture. My friend was afraid for her job, so she stayed quiet when everyone was questioned. The doctor went back to work the next day.”
Sophia scoffed, mustering sympathy. “So he’s still practicing.”
Kieron nodded. “I went back to the hospital after her funeral, though. My friends all told me to sleep on it; I’d change my mind in the morning, in a few days, a week. So for a week I went to the hospital and sat on a bench outside, watching this doctor come and go. On the fifth night, when he left the building —”
“Kieron, I don’t think —”
“I wanted to look him in the face. That would make or break it for me. There was security around, but not much. Probably cameras, but there’s cameras everywhere.” He gestured around the gallery. “He came out of the building wearing a sports jacket and carrying an umbrella. Not much of a weapon, right? I mean, it didn’t help him. I stood without a word when he passed, approached him from behind and squeezed my arms around his chest, pressed a knife against his throat. I said, ‘Annie Mansell,’ right in his ear —”
Sophia didn’t realize she’d been covering her face. But as she waited for Kieron to describe the death blow, he was silent.
“So, that’s really what you think of me,” he said.
“What?” she squeaked.
“You believe I’m capable of killing a man for hurting someone I love.”
“Maybe now that we’re on the same page you wanna tell me something.” His face softened and his voice lowered when she didn’t reply. “Don’t leave me hanging, Sophie.”
There was no way she was reaching into her life of office drama and sidewalk catcalls to answer his admission of murder.
“I mean,” Kieron said, staring at her, “I’m an honest guy. I’m a real softie at heart, but if you hurt someone I love… I guess I wanna know why you’re wearing my girlfriend’s clothes. Why you were in her apartment. If she’s here, or you have something to do with us being locked in this place, you can tell me and we can reach an understanding.”
“I don’t know where she is. You think I had something to do with it because of the way I’m dressed or because of that picture, but I have no idea what’s going on. You’re acting like you know way more than anyone and you could at least point the rest of us to the exit, because I want to go home.” Tears stung her eyes and she turned away from him. Really, Kieron would kill her before he pointed out an escape. Any rational person would run straight to the police with the story he told her.
With a yell, he jumped to his feet, tore a painting off the wall and slammed it over the lion’s head.
Sophia scrambled through the door, running until she came to a dark curve in the wall two galleries over. Because a curtain covered a portion of the wall, she slipped behind it and found herself at the foot of a staircase she hadn’t seen before.
The steps were made of stone, so she slipped upstairs quietly. Instead of darkness at the top, the first thing to catch her eye at the end of the room was a closed glass door, behind which, a light was on and a man sat on the floor against a wall.
At least the motion sensor light hadn’t popped on; Sophia held her breath as she slowly flattened herself against the wall.
The man’s outstretched legs, his shoulder, and the side of his face was visible, and he hadn’t seen her.
A large sign in the distance behind him listed ticket prices.
“Sophie,” Kieron’s voice bellowed from downstairs. “I’m sorry. Don’t worry me, babe.”
Kieron wouldn’t find the staircase because none of them had. The curtain hiding it hadn’t been large enough to suggest something important: a piece of decoration or a mask for a missing painting. That was, of course, unless he thought she was hiding behind it.
“Soph?” he called again, closer.
Of all the guys she could be trapped between, Kieron and Demetri were her last picks.
The only threat Demetri posed would be if he saw Sophia — or heard Kieron — and banged on the door, cluing Kieron to the stairs.
The more her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she picked out a few hanging art pieces, wall plaques, and a small stand in a shadowy corner. No doors, nowhere to hide, nothing really to see. The glass door off the lobby must have been a double security to keep anyone from getting inside after hours. This room would have ushered guests into the main exhibit down the stairs Sophia had just taken.
She sat on the floor and drew her knees to her chest, keeping her eyes trained on Demetri. He wasn’t doing anything, just sitting. She could only tell he wasn’t asleep because every now and then he’d pick his fingernails.
“Ho-ly shit,” Kieron said, closer than ever.
He’d found her.
“So this is what we’re doing now?” he said as he took a seat beside her. “How long have you known he was up here?” He nodded toward the glass door.
“Like two minutes,” she whispered. “I don’t really want to get his attention.”
“Thought you two were buddies.”
She shook her head quickly.
“See, this is what I don’t like,” he said. “All these secrets.”
Sophia sighed and whispered, “He was masturbating, okay? Earlier on the phone. I didn’t know until it was too late. I didn’t know he was up here, and he hasn’t seen me.” She paused. “And for the record, you’re one of the sneakiest, most secretive people I’ve ever met, so I’m getting sick of hearing you complain when any of us wants some alone time. How about when you were hiding before we even found you? You got trapped and needed help, otherwise you’d still be on your own.”
Kieron was silent, rubbing his thumb along his opposite palm. “Yeah, well.”
Sophia crossed her arms and kept her eyes on the piece of barely visible art on the opposite wall. She was tired of trying to imagine what the place looked like when it was open, or why a museum was a good place to leave a few kidnapped victims with little to nothing in common. She didn’t want to talk to Kieron anymore, didn’t need his excuses or accusations. She wanted to go home. Sure, David was the worst boss she’d ever had, but the job paid well. She liked her co-workers. And though Ms Nina wasn’t a friend — or friendly — Sophia’s tiny bedroom housed all her creature comforts. She missed sleeping in her own bed, buying her own groceries from Key Foods, and even, just a little, the crowded anonymity of New York City.
“Listen,” Kieron said.
She didn’t look at him.
“I didn’t know anyone else was here when I woke up,” he continued. “I didn’t even know where I was for a little while. I knew Blair worked in a museum, and I’d seen a piece or two in her apartment, but never came down here myself. It’s in the middle of nowhere and to be honest, I didn’t care.”
“I didn’t say I was a good boyfriend,” Kieron continued. “In fact, I told her from the beginning I wasn’t. We met at college, just two loser adults reaching for that degree we didn’t have the discipline to get when we were younger. The teacher treated us all like high school students, and Blair and I would roll our eyes at each other and bitch about her. And you know how bitching about somebody brings people together.”
She shrugged, but it was how she’d made most of her friends at work; everyone hated David.
“She had a car, so she’d drive me home. Did a little kissing. Thing is I didn’t know much about her when we got involved. Most of the time she came to my place. I don’t like to open up much, and neither did she, so we watched movies and worked on our damn essays. I didn’t have a roommate and she did — who I now understand she was fucking as well.”
Demetri’s head turned slightly as Kieron’s voice rose. He was listening, but trying to give the impression he wasn’t.
“Thing is, I liked her,” he continued. “It had been a long time since a girl had given me the space I needed. She was always busy with the museum and her art, so it didn’t really phase her when I had shit to take care of and couldn’t call for a week or so. I returned the favor by never insinuating her roommate Cy couldn’t be trusted, even though … Well, anyway. The shit hit the fan when the museum she worked at shut down. She was scrambling for money — I even gave her some — because she and some people she worked with were trying to buy the place out. I guess it worked out because she kept going to work there. Here.”
“It doesn’t look like she did anything with the place.”
He shrugged. “I guess not. I had some business to take care of, and I wasn’t able to pay her any attention. To be honest, I forgot about her a little bit. She was busy, I was busy. That was the backbone of our relationship. Then all of a sudden, she started calling me every day, leaving messages like I hadn’t talked to her in forever. She was pissed. I didn’t have time, so I never got back to her. Then she showed up at my fucking apartment. I mean, she not only got through the front door of the building, she got inside my actual unit. Now I’m not a small guy, and I deal with people trying to jump me all the time, but let me tell you: when you see someone you’re in a relationship with, even if they’re somewhere they’re not supposed to be, you let your guard down. I didn’t think she would hurt me, and I knew I could put her through the floor without even trying — I didn’t want to injure her. I just asked what she was doing there. How did she get in? And without saying a word, she hugged me, I felt a little stick, and —” He blew out a breath. “I was here.”
Sophia kept her eyes forward. She remembered how disoriented and scared she’d been when she woke up in this place that first time. Someone had changed her clothes and done her hair so tight she could feel it in her face. With the first stir, she fell off the backless bench she’d been lying on, every muscle stiff as though she’d run an untrained marathon. Before she’d taken in much of the room, someone nearby was breathing heavily: because of the moody lighting along the sides of the curvy walkway and mannequins up on pedestals, the way she was dressed suggested she was in a display. She’d finally been kidnapped the way her mom had always cautioned her, and put in a sex dungeon.
“Yeah, it was … it was really scary waking up here,” she said.
“To be honest, I wasn’t totally shocked to see the place in this state. I didn’t think she could float the museum on her own. But I did expect to see her around here somewhere. I figured it’d just be me and her in some forced togetherness. But no, it was dark and I was tripping over things, and then I heard you. You and your two dudes. Got to admit, I shat myself. I mean, these weren’t just voices, you all were in distress. I thought Blair was fucking with me, but it wasn’t her, and they weren’t recorded voices.” He shrugged. “Thought maybe I could lay low and escape, but that cabinet fell on me and I could either get your attention or starve to death.”
“You still think we’re in on it, though.”
“Ajay said himself he was an actor. Maybe you’ve all been hired.”
“Not everything’s about you.” Sophia stood up. “We gotta get him out of that lobby and see if we can find our way out.”
“What’s your plan?”
“It’s a glass door. We’ll break it down.”