Authors: Lucy Foley
He's coming straight for me, the guy in the parka. He's lifting his arm. The metal of the blade gleams again. Shit.
I'm about to turn and runâget a few yards on him at leastâ
But wait, no,
.Â .Â . I can see now that the thing in his hand isn't a blade. It's an iPhone, in a metallic case. I let out the breath I've
been holding and lean against my bag, hit by a sudden wave of tiredness. I've been wired all day, no wonder I'm spooking at
I watch as the guy makes a call. I can make out a tinny little voice at the other end; a woman's voice, I think. Then he begins
to talk, over her, louder and louder, until he's shouting into his handset. I have no idea what the words mean exactly but
I don't need to know much French to understand this isn't a polite or friendly chat.
After he's got his long, angry speech off his chest he hangs up and shoves the phone back in his pocket. Then he spits out
a single word: “
I know that one. I got a D in my French GCSE but I did look up all the swear words once and I'm good at remembering the stuff
that interests me.
: that's what it means.
Now he turns and starts walking in my direction again. And I see, quite clearly, that he just wants to use the gate to this
building. I step aside, feeling a total idiot for having got so keyed up over nothing. But it makes sense; I spent the whole
Eurostar journey looking over my shoulder. You know, just in case.
,” I say in my best accent, flashing my most winning smile. Maybe this guy will let me in and I can go up to the third floor
and hammer on Ben's apartment door. Maybe his buzzer's simply not working or something.
The guy doesn't reply. He just turns to the keypad next to the gate and punches in a series of numbers. Finally he gives me
a quick glance over his shoulder. It's not the
friendly glance. I catch a waft of booze, stale and sour. Same breath as most of the punters in the Copacabana.
I smile again. “ErÂ .Â .Â .
Please, ahâI need some help, I'm looking for my brother, Ben. Benjamin Danielsâ”
I wish I had a bit more of Ben's flair, his charm. “Benjamin Silver-Tongue,” Mum called him. He's always had this way of getting
anyone to do what he wants. Maybe that's why he ended up a journalist in Paris while I've been working for a bloke affectionately
known as The Pervert in a shithole bar in Brighton serving stag dos at the weekends and local lowlifes in the week.
The guy turns back to face me, slowly. “Benjamin Daniels,” he says. Not a question: just the name, repeated. I see something:
anger, or maybe fear. He knows who I'm talking about. “Benjamin Daniels is not here.”
“What do you mean, he's not here?” I ask. “This is the address he gave me. He's up on the third floor. I can't get hold of
The man turns his back on me. I watch as he pulls open the gate. Finally he turns round to face me a third time and I think:
maybe he is going to help me, after all. Then, in accented English, very slowly and loudly, he says: “Fuck off,
Before I even have time to reply there's a clang of metal and I jump backward. He's slammed the gate shut, right in my face.
As the ringing fades from my ears I'm left with just the sound of my breathing, fast and loud.
But he's helped me, even though he doesn't know it. I wait a moment, take a quick look back down the street. Then I lift my hand to the keypad and punch in the same numbers I watched him use only a few seconds ago: 7561. Bingo: the little light flickers green and I hear the mechanism of the gate click open. Dragging my case after me, I slip inside.
I just heard his name, out there in the night. I lift my head, listening. For some reason I'm on top of the covers, not under
them. My hair feels damp, the pillow cold and soggy. I shiver.
Am I hearing things? Did I imagine it? His nameÂ .Â .Â . following me everywhere?
No: I'm sure it was real. A woman's voice, drifting up through the open window of my bedroom. Somehow I heard it four stories
up. Somehow I heard it through the roar of white noise inside my head.
Who is she? Why is she asking about him?
I sit up, pulling my bony knees tight against my chest, and reach for my childhood
, Monsieur Gus, a scraggy old penguin stuffed animal toy I still keep beside my pillow. I press him against my face, try to
comfort myself with the feel of his hard little head, the soft, shifting scrunch of the beans inside his body, the musty smell
of him. Just like I did as a little girl when I'd had a bad dream. You're not a little girl any longer, Mimi. He said that.
The moon is so bright that my whole room is filled with a cold blue light. Nearly a full moon. In the corner I can make out my record player, the case of vinyls next to it. I painted the walls in here such a dark blackish-blue that they don't reflect any light
at all but the poster hanging opposite me seems to glow. It's a Cindy Sherman; I went to her show at the Pompidou last year. I got completely obsessed with how raw and freaky and intense her work is: the kind of thing I try to do with my painting. In the poster, one of the Untitled Film Stills, she's wearing a short black wig and she stares out at you like she's possessed, or like she might be about to eat your soul. “
” my flatmate Camille laughed, when she saw it. “What happens if you bring some guy back? He's gonna have to look at that
angry bitch while you're screwing? That'll put him off his rhythm.” As if, I thought at the time. Nineteen years old and still
a virgin. Worse. A convent-school-educated virgin.
I stare at Cindy, the black bruise-like shadows around her eyes, the jagged line of her hair which is kind of like my own,
since I took a pair of scissors to it. It feels like looking in a mirror.
I turn to the window, look down into the courtyard. The lights are on in the concierge's cabin. Of course: that nosy old bitch
never misses a trick. Creeping out from shadowy corners. Always watching, always there. Looking at you like she knows all
This building is a U-shape around the courtyard. My bedroom is at one end of the U, so if I peer diagonally downward I can
see into his apartment. Nearly every evening for the last two months he sat there at his desk working late into the night,
the lights on. For just a moment I let myself look. The shutters are open but the lights are off and the space behind the
desk looks more than empty, or like the emptiness itself has a kind of depth and weight. I glance away.
I slide down from my bed and tiptoe out into the main part of the apartment, trying not to trip over all the stuff Camille leaves scattered around like it's an extension of her bedroom: magazines and dropped sweaters, dirty coffee cups, nail varnish pots, lacy
bras. From the big windows in here I've got a direct view of the front entrance. As I watch, the gate opens. A shadowy figure slips through the gap. As she comes forward into the light I can make her out: a woman I have never seen before. No, I say silently. No no no no no. Go away. The roar in my head grows louder.
“Did you hear that knocking?”
I spin around.
. Camille's lounging there on the couch, cigarette glowing in her hand, boots up on the armrest: faux-snakeskin with five-inch
heels. When did she get in? How long has she been lurking there in the dark?
“I thought you were out,” I say. Normally, if she goes clubbing, she stays till dawn.
.” She shrugs, takes a drag on her cigarette. “I've only been back twenty minutes.” Even in the gloom I see how her eyes slide
away from mine. Normally she'd be straight into some story about the crazy new club she's been at, or the guy whose bed she's
just left, including an overly detailed description of his dick or exactly how skilled he was at using it. I've often felt
like I'm living vicariously through Camille. Grateful someone like her would choose to hang out with me. When we met at the
Sorbonne she told me she likes collecting people, that I interested her because I have this “intense energy.” But when I've
felt worse about myself I've suspected this apartment probably has more to do with it.
“Where have you been?” I ask, trying to sound halfway normal.
She shrugs. “Just around.”
I feel like there's something going on with her, something she's not telling me. But right now I can't think about Camille.
The roaring in my head suddenly feels like it's drowning out all my thoughts.
There's just one thing I know. Everything that has happened here happened because of him: Benjamin Daniels.
I'm standing in a small, dark courtyard. The apartment building proper wraps around it on three sides. The ivy has gone crazy
here, winding up almost to the fourth floor, surrounding all the windows, swallowing drainpipes, a couple of satellite dishes.
Ahead a short path winds between flowerbeds planted with dark shrubs and trees. I can smell the sweetish scent of dead leaves,
fresh-turned earth. To my right there's a sort of cabin structure, only a bit bigger than a garden shed. The two windows seem
to be shuttered. On one side a tiny chink of light shows through a crack.
In the opposite corner I make out a door, which seems to lead into the main part of the building. I head that way along the
path. As I do a pale face looms suddenly out of the darkness on my right. I stop short. But it's the statue of a nude woman,
life-size, her body wound about with more black ivy, her eyes staring and blank.
The door in the corner of the courtyard has another passcode, but it clicks open with the same set of numbers, thank God. I step through it into a dark, echoing space. A stairwell winds upward into deeper darkness. I find the little orange glow of a light switch on the wall, flick it. The lights hum on, dimly. A ticking sound: some sort of energy-saving timer maybe. I can see now that there's a dark reddish carpet beneath my feet, covering a stone floor then climbing up the polished wooden staircase. Above me the bannister coils around on itself and inside the staircase there's a lift shaftâa tiny, ancient, rickety-looking capsule that might be
as old as the apartment itself, so ancient-looking I wonder if it's actually still in use. There's a trace of stale cigarette smoke on the air. Still, all pretty posh, all a long, long way from the place I've been crashing at in Brighton.
There's a door to the left of me:
, it says. I've never let a closed door stay closed for long: I suppose you could say that's my main problem in life. I give
it a push, see a flight of steps leading down. I'm hit by a waft of cold underground air, damp and musty.
I hear a noise then, somewhere above me. The creak of wood. I let the door swing shut and glance up. Something moves along
the wall several flights up. I wait to see someone appear around the corner, in the gaps between the bannisters. But the shadow
stops, as though waiting for something. And then suddenly everything goes dark: the timer must have run out. I reach over,
flick it back on.
The shadow's gone.
I walk over to the lift in its metal cage. It's definitely on the antique side, but I'm too exhausted to even think about
lugging my stuff up those stairs. There's barely room for me and the suitcase inside. I close the little door, press the button
for the third floor, put a hand against the structure to steady myself. It gives under the pressure of my palm; I hastily
pull my hand away. There's a bit of a shudder as the lift sets off; I catch my breath.
Up I go: each floor has one door, marked with a brass number. Is there only one apartment per floor? They must be pretty big.
I imagine the sleeping presence of strangers behind those doors. I wonder who lives in them, what Ben's neighbors are like.
And I find myself wondering which apartment the dickhead I met at the gate lives in.
The lift judders to a halt on the third floor. I step out onto the landing and drag my suitcase after me. Here it is: Ben's apartment, with its brass number 3.
I give it a couple of loud knocks.
I crouch down and look at the keyhole. It's the old-fashioned kind, easiest in the world to pick. Needs must. I take out my
hoop earrings and bend them out of shapeâthe convenience of cheap jewelryâleaving me with two long, thin pieces of metal.
I make my rake and my pick. Ben actually taught me this when we were little so he can hardly complain. I got so good at it
I can unpick a simple pin tumbler mechanism in less than a minute.
I wiggle the earrings back and forth in the lock until there's a click, then turn the handle. Yesâthe door begins to open.
I pause. Something about this doesn't feel right. I've had to rely on my instincts quite a lot over the years. And I've also
been here before. Hand clasped around the door handle. Not knowing what I'm going to find on the other sideâ
Deep breath. For a moment it feels like the air contracts around me. I find myself gripping the pendant of my necklace. It's
a St.Â Christopher: Mum gave us both one, to keep us safeâeven if that was her job, not something to be outsourced to a little
metal saint. I'm not religious and I'm not sure Mum was either. All the same, I can't imagine ever being parted with mine.
With my other hand I push the handle down. I can't stop myself from squeezing my eyes shut tight as I step into the space.
It's pitch-black inside.
“Ben?” I call out.
I step farther inside, grope about for a light switch. As the lights come on the apartment reveals itself. My first thought is:
Christ, it's huge. Bigger even than I expected. Grander. High-ceilinged. Dark wooden beams up above, polished floorboards below, huge windows facing down onto the courtyard.
I take another step into the room. As I do something lands across my shoulders: a blunt, heavy blow. Then the sting of something
sharp, tearing into my flesh.