This evening, I show up at the penthouse with an arm full of dry cleaning. All of it belongs to Douglas Garrick. I’m picking up four suits, each of which probably cost more than I earn in a year. If I went rogue and tried to sell these on my own, I would probably clean up. But it’s not worth it. I’m already terrified of Douglas, and the last thing I want to do is make him angry with me.
Although what I am about to do today may very well serve that purpose.
When I get into the living room with the dry cleaning slung over my arm, the house is silent. Wendy is likely upstairs, and presumably Douglas is working late—or with his mistress. I carry the dry cleaning up to the second floor, the pounding of my sneakers against each step echoing throughout the penthouse. I’ve cleaned in houses much larger than this one, but I’ve never been in one that seems to have such loud echoes. I wonder if it’s related to the age of the building.
It’s no surprise that the door to the guestroom is closed. I take the dry cleaning and bring it into the master bedroom. I hang up Douglas’s suits, but my mind is on the woman shut in the guestroom. I’m determined to talk to her today.
So as soon as I put the suits away, I creep down the hallway to the guest bedroom.
For some reason, the lights in the hallway don’t turn on. I asked Douglas about it once, and he mentioned some sort of wiring problem. He mumbled something about getting it fixed, but those lights have been nonfunctional the entire time I’ve been working here. In addition to the
architecture being so ancient, the lack of lights on the second floor gives it a creepy feel.
I stop in front of the guest bedroom. The carpet beneath my feet is clean
—I scrubbed off all the blood in the bathroom and removed the stains from the carpet using hydrogen peroxide. There’s no sign that Wendy’s blood was ever dripping all over the carpet. And Douglas does not know that I know.
I lift my hand, ready to knock on the door, and a chill goes through me.
I can’t help but remember Wendy’s warning the last time I spoke to her:
If you know what’s good for you, you need to close this door and get out of here.
I swallow down my doubts. No, I never walk away. With renewed resolve, I rap my fist on the door.
I am fully prepared to beg her to open up again, but this time, I hear footsteps behind the door. A moment later, the door cracks open. Once again, I am staring into Wendy’s bruised face, although admittedly it looks better than it did a few days ago.
“What is it?” There is a tone of resignation in her voice. “I was trying to sleep.”
My eyes drop to her pale yellow nightgown, which thankfully doesn’t appear to have any blood on it this time. “That’s a pretty nightgown. I always just sleep in my Mets T-shirt.”
She folds her arms across her chest. “Is that what you woke me up to tell me?”
“No, it… it’s not. The truth is, I need to ask you something.”
Wendy shifts between her slippers. I hadn’t realized before how thin she is. The woman is downright emaciated. I suppose it could be from her illness, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a woman quite so skinny before. Her collar bones jut out painfully, and when she tugs at her nightgown, I can make out every single bone in her blue-veined hand. Her eyes look enormous on her thin face. “What do you want?”
“I want to know how you got my number.”
She toys with a lock of her auburn hair, and I recognize the bracelet hanging off the wrist. It’s the same one Douglas gave her as a gift recently. “What do you mean?”
“Douglas told me you gave him my number to call me for the cleaning job. But how did you get my number?”
“You placed an ad, didn’t you? That must be how I got it.” She lets out a long sigh. “Now if you don’t mind, I’m going back to bed. It’s been a long day.”
“Actually, I found out the ad never went live. So, like I said, how did you get my number?”
I can almost see the gears turning in Wendy’s brain. Before she can concoct another lie, I cut her off: “Tell me the truth.”
Wendy drops her eyes. “Please. I don’t want to do this. Just leave it alone.”
“Tell me,” I say through my teeth.
“Why won’t you ever do what I ask?” She throws up her hands. “Fine. I got your number from Ginger Howell.”
And now I feel like somebody just sucker-punched me. I know who Ginger Howell is, but I haven’t seen her in years. Two years, to be exact. She was one of the last women I worked for before Enzo took off for Italy. We found her a lawyer who was willing to work on a contingency basis to help her get a divorce from her monster of a husband. He fought tooth and nail, and we were on the brink of trying to get her a new passport and ID, but he finally let her go.
I hope she’s doing okay. Ginger seemed like a nice person. She didn’t deserve what her husband was doing to her.
But if Wendy heard about me from Ginger, then…
“Why did you tell Douglas to call me, Wendy?” I say. She starts to open her mouth, and I add, “I need you to tell me the real reason.”
She still won’t look at me, instead staring down at the carpet. “I think you know why.”
A dull ringing echoes in the back of my head. I suspected the moment I walked in here that something was strange about this house. But every time I tried to reach out to Wendy, she didn’t seem interested in talking to me.
“I broke my wrist,” she says bitterly. “He pushed me down and it broke, but when I saw the doctor, he wouldn’t leave the room. I had to tell them I slipped on some ice and fell. That’s the only reason he let me get some help for the house—he never allows anyone else to come in here otherwise.”
My hands ball into fists. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Because it was a stupid idea to bring you here.” Her bloodshot eyes fill with tears. “I was desperate, but once I saw you, I knew I couldn’t go
through with it. You don’t know Douglas. You don’t know what he’s like. Getting away from him is not an option.”
“You’re wrong,” I say.
She throws her head back and lets out an acid-tinged laugh. “You have no idea what you’re talking about. Douglas is everywhere. He sees everything.”
I think back to all the times on the street when I felt like somebody was watching me. “Does he see us right now? Is he listening to this conversation?”
“I… I don’t know.” Her eyes dart around the hallway. “I haven’t been able to find any cameras in the house, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. Douglas has access to technology that we can’t imagine. He’s a genius, you know.” Her laugh is sad this time. “I used to find that attractive about him.”
“It’s still worth trying.”
Her bruised cheeks color slightly. “You don’t understand. He would spend every penny he has to track me down.”
She’s right—and Douglas has a lot of pennies to spend. With a husband like Douglas, escaping would be difficult—I indeed have no idea what he is capable of. And I don’t know if I can help her. Especially since I don’t have the resources that Enzo had… I don’t have “a guy” for everything. That’s why I swore I would give up this life and focus on getting my college degree, so I could help women in a way that didn’t involve bending the law. But every molecule in my body is crying out that I have to try to help this woman—now.
I would never walk by a man in a subway who needed help. Or a woman who was being stabbed to death outside my window. I can’t allow this to happen under my nose.
“Do you have any money?” I ask. “Cash, I mean?”
She nods hesitantly. “I’ve been slowly selling off some of my jewelry. I’ve got so much of it—every time he hits me, he buys me something new and expensive. I’ve got some money tucked away in a place where I don’t think he’ll find it. It won’t last long, but maybe long enough.”
My mind is racing. “Do you have any friends who can help you? Friends that maybe he doesn’t know about? From high school or college or…?”
“Please stop,” she croaks. “You don’t seem to understand what I’m trying to tell you. Douglas is extremely dangerous. You cannot underestimate this man. If you try to help me, it won’t work and… and you’ll be sorry. Trust me.”
“I can’t do it, okay?”
She looks down at the bracelet on her left wrist—I remember how proud Douglas was when he showed it to me. A wild look in her eyes, she fumbles with the clasp until it slips from her narrow wrist.
“I hate the gifts he gives me.” Her voice is dripping with venom. “I can barely look at them, but he expects me to wear them.”
She squeezes the bracelet in her fist, then reaches out and grabs my own hand. She presses the bracelet into my palm. “Get this out of my sight. I can’t even look at it anymore. If he asks, I… I’ll tell him I lost it.”
I open my hand to look at the small bracelet. I wonder if it’s stained with her blood. “I can’t take this, Wendy.”
“Then throw it out,” she spits. “I don’t want it in my house anymore.
Especially after what he wrote on it.”
I bring the bracelet closer to my face to examine the inscription. I read the tiny lettering:
To W, You are mine forever, Love D
“His forever,” she says bitterly. “His property.” The message is unmistakable.
“Please let me help you.” I grab her wrist, forgetting that it might be the broken one. She winces and I let go. “I’ll do whatever it takes. I’m not scared of your husband. We can figure out a way out of this.”
And then I see it in her eyes. A flicker of hesitation. Of hope. It only lasts a split second, but it’s there. This woman is desperate.
“No,” she says firmly. “And now you need to leave.”
Before I get out another word, she slams the door in my face.
Wendy Garrick is absolutely terrified of her husband—and I’m afraid of the man, too. But after all these years, I’ve learned not to let fear control me. I took down Xavier. I’ve taken down men who are just as powerful as Douglas. I don’t care what Wendy says. I can handle him.