September 25, 2020, Westchester, NY
“He could at least take me to a place in the city.”
“It’ll be fine, Blair. You’ve blown this guy off twice and it’s gonna look bad for me — for my business — if you don’t go. It’s dinner. Drinks. Maybe you’ll get lucky and mellow the fuck out.”
“Fuck you, David. I’ve got my own problems.”
Blair kept her eyes on the monitors and the phone pressed to her ear, watching the security videos flip from room to room. The activity was isolated to the lobby. They — her statues — had broken through the main outside door. Only two of them were left inside hovering around the exit and David was sending her on a date with a stuffy lawyer.
“Problems, yeah,” David said. “All you’ve done in the past month is moon over your special project. Your work is suffering because of it—”
“My work is just fine!”
The girl, Sophia, approached the exit now, and Kieron was letting her do it. All this time and Kieron was still letting her down.
“Not your real work. Your paralegal work. Blair, you gotta let this art stuff go. It was thirty years ago and you failed —”
“I’m having a crisis right now. I’ll go on your fucking date if you’ll leave me the hell alone.”
“Is that any way to speak to your boss?” His voice was suddenly serious and deadly calm.
Blair hung up.
It had been three in the morning when the first statue had toppled over and woke up. She’d seen statues topple and smash to pieces or break an appendage; never wake.
Blair had been in the basement with her half-eaten dinner, just like every night for the past decade. The screens had become a constant flicker: a night light of nostalgia to goad her while she worked on her newest project. The basement of her house was an excellent studio.
While reaching for a pair of scissors beside the monitor, she saw him picking himself up.
He was supposed to be crouched on a pillar, trapped in his last living moment, but the pillar had fallen over and Kieron was stumbling around the room feeling his limbs for injury.
She thought she was hallucinating.
Nothing else the cameras picked up looked out of order, so she zeroed in on him, studying his face (definitely him), the pillar (empty), the audio (“Hello? What the fuck?”).
By the time she’d switched back to look at the rest of the rooms, all five of them were moving around.
Sophia and that singer.
The Bollywood guy panicking at his painted-on blood.
For three weeks she watched them work out where they were, eat the food she’d left behind, dismantle her exhibits, wear her clothes. They made a home of the museum, sleeping arrangements, poked around every door and passageway, had sex with each other.
She’d done her best to barricade the outside of the building, thinking only of people trying to break in, never about anyone breaking out.
She called her mismatched team early, the day after she found the statues walking around. Didn’t call them to action yet, but told them to be ready.
The only people she trusted to help her were the ones she’d met over the years with something to lose.
Erica had witnessed Blair taking Sophia and Josh to the parking garage; she had also left incriminating “ransom notes” around the theater suggesting something nefarious would happen to Josh. When Josh disappeared, the police hounded the members of the singing troupe Erica belonged to — especially Erica, since she and Josh had apparently had an altercation before his performance. Blair collected the ransom notes in a baggie to preserve the finger prints and told Erica she’d hide the evidence in exchange for a favor later.
Nasir had been Ajay’s stunt double on a movie set in New York City. When he wasn’t in place at the right time and Ajay was hit with a car instead of Nasir, the movie shut down pending investigation (and the healing of their star player). Blair had heard Nasir talking about intentionally letting Ajay take the hit, so when he saw Blair taking Ajay from the hospital, she made a deal with him for his silence.
Sean had been Demetri’s co-worker. He had been at the restaurant bar downing shots in the middle of the workday when he saw Blair doping Demetri. As she stumbled with him to the door, Sean tried to stop her, only for Blair to remind him that his job hung in the balance if she told anyone how much of a liquid lunch he’d had. Not only that, all the witnesses in the restaurant saw him with Blair while Demetri was disappearing.
She called all three of them with the same message.
“I don’t have any details to give you right now, but be ready. You’re about to repay your debt.”
Now, dressed in business casual for her date with some dude her brother thought she’d like from a rival firm, she stared in horror at the monitor, watching her creations attack each other before leaving the building.
Grabbing her phone and seeing she should have left ten minutes ago, she sent a group text.
They’re out. Comb the woods. DO NOT let them get away.
“What do I have to do to get your attention tonight?” Todd reached across the candlelit table for her phone hand.
The restaurant might not have been in the city, but it was one of Westchester’s finer establishments. After passing through a nondescript door, the host ticked them off a reservation list and led them through a dining area Blair wished she’d designed herself.
She didn’t wish she’d designed it: she was angry for not having thought of the concept.
Instead of recessed lighting, trees choked with fairy lights provided mood lighting, and of course, a tea light candle on each table, like every restaurant table since the beginning of time. The organic ambience of the trees belied the sleek, clean edges of wood that made up the walls and ceiling in perfect, continuous runs.
That ceiling had to be twenty feet high.
Beautiful, high ceilings had been what her museum was missing, but she could only use what her predecessors had given her. Fake trees and Christmas lights: she had those and didn’t even think about using them as lamps. Using wooden boards with their edges facing out to create wonderful little pockets of darkness was also something she easily could have done. Yet someone thought of it for this place. A place as pedestrian as a restaurant. Some interior design student who’ll have the restaurant in their portfolio, showing it off to every new client, had the pleasure of knowing they’d created this beautiful space, and would always see the flaws in it.
I could have just done interior design and left this horseshit lawyer business in the dirt.
“I know leaving the office is no guarantee you’re leaving work,” Todd continued, “but…”
Blair quickly shut the screen off so he wouldn’t see her texts. “I told you I was waiting for an important message.”
“But I’m right here,” Todd said, fondling her hand and winking.
Blair downed three gulps of wine.
This place was really more magical than impressive. Sure, it made her feel warm and full of jealous prickles, but she’d have to throw in something ridiculously dark to balance everything. Skulls hidden between the slats of wood so you’d only see them once you were right up close. Something to take your sanity by the throat.
“What’s the deal, anyway?” Todd continued, his grin drooping for the first time that evening. “You’re miles away.” He extended a forkful of tortellini over the tea light candle. “Try this. It’s delicious.”
She shook her head and glanced at a new next that lit up her phone. “Nah.”
Erica: I’m here, but nobody’s at the hotel
Todd frowned, dropping the fork on his plate as he chewed. “And I thought you blowing me off was rude …”
“Jesus, Todd. I was having a good time. I told you I have messages coming in that I need to take care of. I could have stayed home to do it, but it won’t take me all fucking night. Chill.”
Blair: The other two are already in the woods. There’s a cabin — I’ll send you the coordinates
Erica: You sent them already
Blair: Then go! I have five people wandering around those woods and if even one of them gets away, I’ll be telling the police you’re responsible
“Blair,” Todd said.
Blair: Don’t forget what I have on you
He pulled the phone away from her.
“It’s okay to let something go for an hour,” Todd continued. When he glanced at her messages, he frowned.
Blair yanked the phone back and brought it to her lap.
“What’s going on?”
“Nothing.” She took her purse from the back of the chair and put the phone in it. “I’ll just visit the ladies room.”
Todd wiped his mouth and tossed the napkin beside his plate. “I might not be here when you get back.”
Blair stood, shouldering her purse. “You knew this about me.”
“I don’t know anything about you.”
She shrugged. “Now you do.”