Authors: Nita Prose
“You don’t have to worry about Victoria,” I say.
“Oh, Molly, you’re so trusting. You have no idea how vicious it is out there in the real world. Everyone wants to see me go down. It doesn’t matter that I’m innocent. They hate me. And for what? The police, they suggested that
was violent against Charles. Unbelievable!”
I watch Giselle carefully. I remember the day she told me about Mr. Black’s mistresses, how she was so angry she really did want to kill him. But thought and action are different things. They’re different things entirely. If anyone knows this, I do.
“The police think I killed my own husband,” she says.
“For what it’s worth, I know you didn’t.”
“Thank you, Molly,” she says.
Her hands are shaking like mine are. She sets her cup down on the table. “I’ll never get how a decent woman like Charles’s ex-wife could raise such a bitch of a daughter.”
“Perhaps Victoria takes after her father,” I say. I remember Giselle’s bruises and how they came to be. My fingers tighten on the delicate handle of my teacup. If I grip it any harder, it will shatter into a million pieces.
Breathe, Molly. Breathe.
“Mr. Black, he wasn’t good to you,” I say. “He was, in my estimation, a very bad egg.”
Giselle looks down at her lap. She smooths out the edges of her satin skirt. She is picture-perfect. It’s as if a cinema star from the golden age just crawled out of Gran’s TV and magically took a seat beside me on the sofa. That thought seems more probable than Giselle being real, a socialite who is actually friends with a lowly maid.
“Charles didn’t always treat me well, but he loved me, in his way. And I loved him in my way. I did.” Her big green eyes fill with tears.
I think of Wilbur, how he stole the Fabergé. Any fondness I felt for
him turned to bitterness in an instant. I would have cooked him in a vat of lye if I could have done so without repercussion. And yet, Giselle, who has just cause to hate Charles, holds on to her love for him. How curious, the way different people react to similar stimuli.
I take a sip of tea. “Your husband was a cheater. And he beat you,” I say.
“Wow. Are you sure you don’t want to tell it like it is?”
“I just did,” I say.
She nods. “When I met Charles, I thought my life was made. I thought I’d finally found someone who would look after me, who had it all and who adored me. He made me feel special, like I was the only woman in the world. Things were okay for a while. Until they weren’t. And yesterday, we had a huge fight right before you came in to clean the suite. I told him I was sick of our life, sick of going from city to city, hotel to hotel, all for his ‘business.’ I said, ‘Why can’t we just settle down somewhere, like at the villa in the Caymans, and just live and enjoy life like normal people?’
“People don’t know this, but when we got married, he made me sign a prenup so none of his properties or assets belong to me. It hurt, that he didn’t trust me, but like an idiot, I signed it. From that moment on, things were different between us. The second we were married, I wasn’t special anymore. And he was free to give me what he wanted and take it away at any time. That’s exactly what he’s done throughout our two years of marriage. If he liked the way I acted, gifts would be showered upon me—diamonds and designer shoes, exotic trips—but he was a jealous man. If I so much as laughed at a guy’s joke at a party, I’d be punished. And not just by him turning off the money tap.” One of her hands flits up to her collarbone. “I should have known. It’s not like I wasn’t warned.”
Giselle pauses, gets up, and retrieves her purse by the door. She rummages around and her hand emerges with two pills. She sets her purse down on the chair by the door, returns to the sofa, and pops the two pills in her mouth, washing them down with some tea.
“Yesterday, I asked Charles if he would consider canceling our
prenup or at least putting the Cayman villa in my name. We’ve been married for two years; he should trust me by now, right? All I wanted was a place to escape to when the pressure gets too much for me. I told him, ‘You can keep growing your business, if that’s what you want—your Black empire. But at least give me the deed to the villa. With my name on it. A place to call my own. A home.’ ”
I think back to the itinerary I saw in her purse. If the trip was for her and Mr. Black, why were the flights one-way?
“He lost it on me when I said the word ‘home.’ He said everyone always lies to him, tries to steal his money, takes advantage of him. He was drunk, storming around the room, saying I was just like his ex-wife. He called me a lot of things—a money-grabber, a gold digger…a dime-store whore. He got so mad that he pulled off his wedding ring and threw it across the room. He said, ‘Fine, have it your way!’ Then he opened the safe, rooted around in there, stuffed some paper in his suit pocket, then pushed past me and stormed out of the room.”
I knew what that paper was. I’d seen it in his pocket—the deed to the villa in the Caymans.
“Molly, that’s when you came in the suite, remember?”
I did remember—the way Mr. Black pushed past me, just another aggravating human obstacle in his path.
“Sorry I was acting so weird. But now you know why.”
“That’s quite all right,” I say. “Mr. Black was far ruder than you were. And to be honest, I thought you were sad, not mad.”
She smiles. “You know what, Molly? You understand more than anyone gives you credit for.”
“Yes,” I say.
“I don’t care what anyone else thinks. You’re the best.”
I can feel my face flush at the compliment. Before I have a chance to ask what other people think about me, a strange transformation washes over Giselle. Whatever is in the pills she just took, the change happens quickly. It’s like she’s turning from solid to liquid before my eyes. Her shoulders relax and her face softens. I remember Gran when she was sick, how the medications relieved the pain just like this, for a while at
least, how her face would turn from a tight, stony grimace to a look of peaceful bliss so clear that even I could read it instantly. Those pills worked magic on Gran. Until they didn’t. Until they weren’t enough. Until nothing was enough.
Giselle turns to face me and sits cross-legged on the couch. She wraps Gran’s blanket around her legs. “You found him, right? Charles? It was you who first found him?”
“It was me. Yes.”
“And they took you to the station? That’s what I heard.”
“So what did you tell them?” She brings one hand to her lips and nibbles at the skin by her index finger. I want to tell her that nail-biting is a filthy habit and not to ruin her lovely manicure, but I refrain.
“I told the detective what I saw. How I entered the suite to return it to a state of perfection, how I felt perhaps it was occupied, how I entered the bedroom to find Mr. Black lying on the bed. And when I investigated further, I realized he was dead.”
“And was there anything weird about the suite?”
“He’d been drinking,” I say. “Which I’m afraid I don’t consider unusual for Mr. Black.”
“You got that right,” she says.
“But…your pills. They’re usually in the bathroom, and they were on the bedside table, open, with some spilled onto the carpet.”
Her whole body stiffens. “What?”
“Yes, and some pills had been stepped on and were ground into the carpet, which is problematic for those of us who have to clean the suite after.” I wish she wouldn’t nibble her nails like a cob of corn.
“Anything else?” Giselle asks.
“The safe was open.”
Giselle nods. “Of course. Normally he kept it locked, never gave me the code. But that day, he took whatever it was he wanted and left it open when he stormed out.”
She picks up her teacup and takes a polite sip. “Molly, did you tell the police anything about Charles and me? About…our relationship?”
“No,” I say.
“Did you…did you tell them anything about me?”
“I did not hide the truth,” I say. “But I also didn’t volunteer it.”
Giselle stares at me for a second, then leaps forward and hugs me, which catches me off guard. I can smell her expensive perfume. Isn’t it interesting how luxury has an unmistakable scent, as unmistakable as fear or death?
“Molly, you’re a very special person, you know that?”
“Yes, I know,” I say. “I’ve been told that before.”
“You’re a good person and a good friend. I don’t think I could ever be as good as you, so long as I live. But I want you to know something: whatever happens, don’t you think for a second that I don’t appreciate you.”
She pulls back from me and springs to her feet. A few minutes ago, she was willowy and relaxed; now she’s overcharged.
“What are you going to do? Now that Mr. Black is dead?”
“Not much,” she says. “The police won’t let me go anywhere until the toxicology and autopsy reports are complete. Because if some rich guy turns up dead, then obviously his wife offed him, right? Couldn’t be that he died of natural causes, of the stress he caused himself and everyone else around him. Stress that his wife was trying to relieve him from so he wouldn’t drop dead.”
“Is that what you think happened? He dropped dead, just like that?”
She sighs. Tears spring to her eyes. “There are so many reasons a heart can stop beating.”
I feel a lump in my throat. I think of Gran, of her good heart and how it came to a stop.
“Will you continue to stay at the hotel while you wait for the reports?” I ask.
“I don’t have much choice. I’ve got nowhere else to go. And I can barely step outside of the hotel without being mobbed by reporters. I don’t own any property. I’ve got nothing that’s mine and only mine, Molly. Not even a crappy apartment like this.” She winces. “Sorry. See? You’re not the only one who steps in it from time to time.”
“That’s quite all right. I take no offense.”
She reaches out and puts a hand on my knee. “Molly,” she says, “I won’t know what Charles’s will says for a while. Which means I won’t know what becomes of me for a while. Until then, I’ll stay at the hotel. At least there, the bill is already paid.”
She pauses, looks at me. “Will you look after me? At the hotel, I mean. Will you be my maid? Sunitha is nice and all, but it’s not the same. You’re like a sister to me, you know that? A sister who sometimes says crazy shit and likes dusting way too much, but a sister nonetheless.”
I’m flattered that Giselle thinks of me in such a positive light, that she sees past what others don’t, that she sees me as…family.
“I’d be honored to look after you,” I say. “If Mr. Snow is fine with it.”
“Great. I’ll tell him when I go back.” She stands, walks to the door, and grabs her yellow purse. She brings it to the sofa and takes out a stack of bills—a stack that looks all too familiar. She flicks off two crisp hundred-dollar bills and places them on Gran’s silver tea tray.
“For you,” she says. “You earned it.”
“What? This is a lot of money, Giselle.”
“I never tipped you yesterday. Consider this your tip.”
“But I never finished cleaning the suite yesterday.”
“That’s not your fault. You just keep that. And let’s pretend this conversation never happened.”
I, for one, will never be able to forget this conversation, but I don’t say that out loud.
She stands and turns to the door, but then stops and faces me. “One more thing, Molly. I’ve got a favor to ask of you.”
I immediately wonder if this will involve ironing or laundry, so I’m surprised by what comes next.
“Do you think you might be able to get into our suite still? It’s cordoned off right now. But I left something in there, something I desperately need back. I tucked it up in the bathroom fan.”
That explains it, the clunky sound I heard yesterday when she was in the bathroom, showering.
“What is it you want me to retrieve?”
“My gun,” she says, her voice neutral and calm. “I’m at risk, Molly. I’m vulnerable now that Mr. Black is gone. Everyone wants a piece of me. I need protection.”
“I see,” I reply. But in truth, this request produces raging anxiety. I feel my throat closing. I feel the world tilt around me. I think of Mr. Snow’s advice—“When a guest asks for something above and beyond, consider it a challenge. Don’t dismiss it. Rise to meet it!”
“I’ll do my best,” I say, but the words catch. “To retrieve your…item.” I stand in front of her, at attention.
“Bless your heart, Molly Maid,” she says, throwing her arms around me again. “Don’t believe what anyone says. You’re not a freak. Or a robot. And I’ll never forget this as long as I live. You’ll see. I swear, I won’t forget.”
She rushes over to the front door, retrieves her glossy high heels from the closet, and slips them on. She’s left her teacup behind on the table rather than carrying it to the kitchen as Gran would have. She has not, however, forgotten her yellow purse, which she slings over her shoulder. She opens my front door, blows me a kiss, and waves goodbye.
A thought occurs to me.
“Wait,” I say. She’s down the hall, nearly at the stairs. “Giselle, how did you know where to find me? How did you get my home address?”
She turns around. “Oh,” she says. “Someone at the hotel gave it to me.”
“Who?” I ask.
She squints. “Hmm…. Can’t quite remember. But don’t worry. I won’t bug you all the time or anything. And thanks, Molly. For the tea. For the talk. For being you.”
And with that she flicks her sunglasses down, pulls open the broken fire door, and leaves.