The brakes squealed as the hatchback shuddered to a halt outside the highrise apartment block. Dom was about to make a crack about women drivers, but decided against it. Sarah already seemed reluctant about the entire thing; the slightest provocation and she might back out altogether. Wordlessly, Dom jumped out of the car, and Sarah followed.
They entered the building brazenly, acting as though they belonged there, though in truth Dom couldn’t have felt more out of place. The foyer looked like it had been imported from the palace at Versailles, its plaster ceiling resting on high marble arches and decorated with elegant curves and spirals. The arcs emanated from a glorious golden chandelier laden with diamonds, suspended above the centre of the foyer. The room had about twenty people in it, either going to or coming from some manner of formal party, the women in cocktail dresses, the men in fine suits. Dom, dressed in a pair of jeans and a short-sleeved shirt, felt like he had more in common with cleaning lady making her way surreptitously down the hall than with these toffs.
“I still can’t believe we know someone who lives here,” Sarah said, looking around in wonder.
“Do we really know him, though?” Dom asked darkly. Sarah didn’t reply.
They hurried through the hums and haws of the well-dressed crowd, avoiding their upturned noses and scandalised looks, before making it to the elevator at the back wall. Once inside, Sarah stuck teddy bear adorned key into the slot, and pressed the button beside it labelled ‘PENTHOUSE.’ It rose smoothly and swiftly, shooting up through at least thirty floors of wealth and excess.
“What do you expect to find in here any way?” Sarah asked.
“I don’t know, but there’s got to be something, doesn’t there? Some sort of clue that’ll explain all of this.”
“Dom Parker, the new Sherlock Holmes,” Sarah jibed. They both laughed. Ping! the elevator opened, revealing a grandeur Dom still couldn’t fully wrap his head around, despite the fact that he’d been there several times before. Luxurious couches on a lush carpet surrounding a massive flatscreen TV, tall oak bookcases lined with serious-looking hardback tomes with identical covers, a white-tiled kitchen beyond all that with gleaming fossets and a double-doored fridge, and way back Dom could just make out the corner of Jeff’s red hot tub.
But in the midst of all that wealth, there was a sense of emptiness Dom couldn’t quite put his finger on, a sense of unease and darkness. “It’s like walking into a haunted house,” he breathed, and moved off to the left, through the living room, flicking various light switches as he went.
He tried to work out what it was that seemed so off-kilter about the place, but it wasn’t until he reached the kitchen that he worked it out. A calendar hung on the wall beside the fridge, displaying a bright and cheery photograph of a beautiful beach in some far-off tropical country, apparently meant to evoke the spirit of the month of July. But it wasn’t the calendar that was wrong with the penthouse. It was the fact that it was the only personal effect in the entire place. “You can tell a lot about a person by the place they live in,” Dom remembered his father once saying, but nothing could be gleaned about Jeff from this place. “He might as well be a ghost,” he murmured, triggering another memory, this time of Melissa, after the first time they had visited Jeff’s place.
“I don’t like him,” Melissa said, the duvet pulled right up under her chin.
“I think he’s all right,” Dom said, a little light-headed from all the wine they had drank. “He’s a bit distant, maybe, but who can blame him? The guy barely knows us.” He looked at Melissa. The way she lay there, she was like a scared little kid, and Dom was disturbed; Melissa was never scared. “You okay babe?”
“Yeah, it’s just…” Melissa hesitated. “Something about him, reminds me of the last job I worked at… y’know… The Company.” She mouthed the last two words, and Dom shivered. Melissa had rarely spoken about her last job at the CIA while she worked there, and even more rarely in the year since her sudden dismissal.
“What, you’re saying he worked there too?”
Melissa shook her head, tight-lipped.
“He wasn’t a suspect was he?!”
“Oh God Dom, I don’t know!” Melissa snapped, “I just don’t like him, all right?” Dom backed off, raising his hand.
“All right, fine!”
It wasn’t until much later that night that Melissa broke the awkward silence between them.
“Are you awake, Dom?”
“I’m sorry about earlier. I know we’ve never really spoken about… about the last job, and I know how frustrating that must be for you. But there’s memories I have of that place, memories I wish I could get rid of, memories I don’t want you to have to share in.”
There was a long pause, one in which Dom found himself forming the question he had always wanted to ask, but had never had the guts. Until now.
“Why did they fire you Mel?”
He winced as he asked it, expecting her to start shouting once more. Instead, a sigh answered him, followed by two words that would haunt him for weeks afterward.
Dom shook his head, snapping back to the present. He hadn’t broached the subject since with Melissa. He told himself that he was just preventing her from having to remember her days at the Company, but if he was really honest, it was because he was too scared to know the full story, too scared of what it might reveal about the woman he loved. That’s probably how Sammie feels about Jeff, he realised.
He looked at the image of the tropical beach on the calendar, imagining going on a long holiday with Melissa, once all this had been sorted out. He spotted something on the calendar, and leaned in for a closer look. On that day’s date, the 15th, someone had scrawled a letter in black ink. It was a ‘P’. Dom wracked his brain, trying to work out what it could possibly mean, but his pondering was cut short by a soft ping! behind him. Dom whirled. He hadn’t even noticed the elevator closing and descending, lost in reverie as he was, and now it reappeared. He ducked behind the kitchen counter, but it was too late.
“I know you’re in there,” a strange woman’s voice called out. “And I’d advise you stand, sharpish.”
Dom rose, adrenaline pumping. His brain worked at hyperspeed, noticing a million details at once. He noticed that the woman who called out was the cleaner he had seen downstairs. He noticed her short black hair, long crooked nose, and icy blue eyes that seemed eeriely familiar. But above all, he noticed the semi-automatic pistol she held pressed against Sarah’s temple.
“Unless you want Blondie here to end up with an unfortunate case of exploded skull, I’d suggest you answer my questions, and I’d suggest you answer them quickly,” the black-haired woman threatened. Dom simply nodded, too scared to speak.
“Question One: What are you doing in my brother’s apartment? And Question Two: Where the hell is my birthday present?”