[Originally written 1/15/2008]
“She was a good kid,” the landlord says as he escorts the couple up the stairs of the old brownstone.
“Thank you. Yes, she was,” Joan said. “She always kept in pretty good contact with us since she moved out here two years ago.” Joan starts sniffling, and raises a tissue to her face. Steve squeezes her hand.
“We hadn’t been out here to see the new place yet. She’s only been living in this building for about six months, is that right?” Steve asks.
“Yes, sir,” the landlord replies, “about that.” They continue up the flights of stairs, until they arrive at the fifth landing. “She lived up here. She was a pretty quiet girl, but she always seemed to be helping out some of the other neighbors and getting along alright,” Steve continues, following the hall around the corner to number 531.
The landlord unlocks the door to the apartment, and turns to leave. “My condolences to you both. The paper says it was pretty quick, and that the other driver was at fault.” The landlord shakes Steve’s hand, then Joan’s. “I will be down in my office if you need anything,” he says, giving a key to Steve before walking away.
Steve and Joan stand outside the door to apartment 531, holding each hands and stiffling sobs.
“Okay,” Joan rasps, her cheeks still streaking with tears. Steve opens the door and lets Joan walk through first. They walk into the living room, eyes moist with tears, and look over the details of the tidy room. There are two closed doors off of the living room, with a third door, open, leading to a bedroom, and a fourth, also open, that looks like a bathroom. The kitchen opens directly off of the living space. “Nice place,” Joan whispers as she sits in a chair in the kitchen.
Steve closes the door, and joins her at the table. “Whenever you feel ready, Joan,” Steve says, as much for himself as for her. She nods, still trying to take everything in.
After an hour of sitting, staring and crying at the table, it is time to look around the apartment, and begin taking inventory of what remains. Nicole had a good job in marketing and graphic design, and was excited to be moving into a new place by herself. Joan began looking in the bedroom, while Steve looked into the other two rooms.
The first door that Steve opens reveals an office and spare bedroom, with a daybed, a drafting table, and a desk with a laptop and printer set up. A couple of bookcases and display shelves filled out the room.
Steve attempts to open the second door, only to find that it is locked. Steve is surprised, and begins feeling the top of the door frame for a key, finding nothing. Joan emerges from the bedroom, seeing Steve examining the door. “What?” she asks as he turns towards her.
“It’s locked,” he replies, “and there’s no key over the frame.” He examines the knob, and sees that the lock is a basic interior “pop” lock and does not need a special key. Steve returns to the office to find a paperclip, or something else that could be used to trigger the button-lock mechanism. He returns a few moments later, bending a jumbo size paper clip into a “T”.
Joan is standing next to the door as Steve grasps the knob and slides the paperclip inside. Steve bends over slightly, leaning into the door frame as he moves the clip inside the lock mechanism, searching for the button. After several moments of trying to turn the knob with no luck, Steve is finally able to move the handle. The inside of the room is dark, and Steve slides his hand along the wall, looking for a light switch. As the incandescant bulb flashes to life, both Joan and Steve stand dumbstruck. Joan lets out a slight shriek, while air slowly leaves Steve’s body. Their eyes dart around the room, taking it in.
The room is darkly painted, with padding covering the windows. There are a few shelves, mostly lined with large candles. There is a television with a DVD player in the corner, and a stack of DVD cases on a shelf under the television. A video camera is on a tripod, standing next to the television. There is a small bookcase under the window with a small stack of books. There is a steel framed daybed – twin size – along one wall. Hanging from the ceiling, near the corner opposite the door was a hammock-like swing. Along the far wall, between the swing and the bed is a three drawer dresser. On top of the dresser, neatly arranged, are four narrow candles of various lengths, some with streams of wax along the sides, one silver and one pink bullet shaped rods, and a pair of handcuffs.
Steve turns out the light and closes the door, letting the paperclip fall to the floor. Steve pulls Joan close to him, and they start to cry.