“So you didn’t talk to her about my aunt?” Rose asked, standing in the doorway and watching Michael as he carried some files to the cabinet on the far side of his office.
“Not so much,” he replied. “I think I’ve told you everything I -”
“I’m just trying to make sense of it,” she continued, interrupting him, “because I figure if I can work out Megan’s exact movements, I’ve got a better chance of spotting where she slipped through the cracks. So she arrived at the building, I’m pretty sure she said she took a taxi, and then I guess her next stop was that she came and met you, yeah?”
“She did.” He began to put the files away.
“And next, you showed her up to my aunt’s flat?”
“And you let her in.”
“I’ve already -”
“And then what?”
“Then I left her to it and got back to work,” he replied, with just the faintest hint of annoyance starting to enter his voice.
“You didn’t chat at all?”
“Just some pleasantries.”
“So nothing important?”
“I just need to be specific,” she continued.
“Believe it or not,” he replied, “it can get pretty busy around here. As you can see, I don’t have much time to stand around talking.” He paused for a moment. “We talked a little, she mentioned her aunt, and I told her I’d help out if I could. That was about it:”
“So when was the next time you saw her?”
“I’m…” He paused for a moment. “I’m really not sure I did.”
“You didn’t set eyes on her again? Not even once?”
“And what happened?”
“I don’t remember, precisely.” He put the last of the files away, before sighing and then pulling it out again and sliding it into a different section of the cabinet. A few minutes earlier, when Rose had entered the office, Michael had seemed calm and relaxed; after just a short bout of questioning, his frayed edges were starting to show.
“Sorry,” Rose said with a faint smile, watching his body language intently, “am I annoying you?” She already knew the answer.
“Of course not.”
“So Megan didn’t come down to your office again and talk to you? She didn’t ask for your help, not even once? That’s kinda odd, isn’t it? I mean, she was new here and you’re basically the king of the manor, lording it over everything, so I’d have thought she’d come to you with a few questions. You’d kind of be the obvious choice.”
“She might have popped by once, but it was very brief and I really don’t remember what she said.”
“And you didn’t tell her not to be awake at three in the morning?”
He turned to her.
“She just mentioned something on the phone,” Rose continued. “Oh yeah, didn’t I tell you? We talked on the phone while she was here. A lot.” She paused, watching the sense of concern on his face, as if he was trying to work out what she might have been told and how she might be looking to trip him up. “The best part,” she continued, “is that my phone’s set up to record all incoming calls. Call me paranoid, call me creepy, you won’t be the first, but sometimes this kinda thing comes in handy.” She held up her phone and tapped the screen, launching the audio player. A moment later, a tinny recording of Megan’s voice could be heard from the speaker:
“It’s late, we should both get some sleep. I’ve been talking to the building manager, this Michael guy, and he’s told me all this stuff about the place.”
She tapped the screen to stop the playback.
“I record all my calls,” she said calmly. “I’m a bit weird like that.”
He forced a smile.
“So do you wanna tell me what ‘all this stuff’ means?” she asked. “Sounds like a bit more than a casual chat. What ‘stuff’ did you tell her?”
He paused. “We talked about your aunt’s apparent interest in trains,” he said after a few seconds, clearly on edge now that he knew there was a recording of Megan’s comments. “We talked about the fact that she seemed to be obsessed with the times of the trains passing the building, and…” He paused again, watching Rose with concern as if he still wasn’t quite sure how much she knew. “We talked about some of the stories people tell about Marshall Heights.”
“Like about not getting up at three in the morning?”
“That’s one of them.”
“What are the others?”
“There are so many, I -”
“So why shouldn’t someone get up at three in the morning?”
“It’s just a dumb story.”
“I like dumb stories.”
He sighed. “Some people have got it into their heads that there’s… something out in the corridors and walkways during the night, mainly at 3am, or just something in the air that feels wrong. Believe me, it doesn’t get any more specific than that. A few of the residents have mentioned a knocking sound on their doors, but that’s probably just kids. For the most part, you can safely ignore all the urban legends that swirl around this place. It’s just people with overactive imaginations and far too much time on their hands.”
“But you still warned her about it?”
“I was make smalltalk.”
“You don’t have cameras?”
“We have one broken shell in the foyer, but it doesn’t record. It’s just there to make people feel safer.”
“You don’t have any kind of access system at night? Anyone can just walk in?”
“In theory, but I really don’t think that’s an issue.”
“But you still warned Megan to be careful.”
“I wouldn’t say I warned her,” he replied. “I… told her. It seemed like the right thing to do.”
“Hang on,” Rose continued, tapping her phone’s screen again and bringing up another audio clip of Megan’s voice:
“No, he seemed genuinely friendly. He’s very friendly and helpful, I almost had to push him out the door. Not everyone in the city is a monster. Just most of them.”
She stopped the recording again.
“She’s talking about you there,” she explained.
“Seems like she thought you were an okay kinda guy. So when was the last time you saw her? Be specific, it’s important.”
“I…” He paused. “I’m really not sure.”
“When did you notice she was missing?”
“I just thought she’d… gone.”
“Home? Without saying anything to you?”
“We weren’t exactly friends.”
“So from your point of view, she spent a couple of days poking around, asking questions and looking for my aunt, and then she just… stopped being here?”
“That is exactly how it seemed to me,” he replied, glancing nervously at the phone. “Is that so strange?”
“But obviously you went up to the flat eventually.”
“To fix the taps.”
“Who told you the taps weren’t working?”
“No-one,” he sighed. “The whole building has been having plumbing problems. Look, this is starting to sound like an interrogation. I went to check on the taps in every flat, including your aunt’s. That’s what I was doing when you showed up, but I’m afraid I don’t exactly have anyone around to corroborate my story. In case you haven’t noticed, I tend to work alone.”
“So you went to fix the taps and when you got there you knocked on the door to see if my sister was still there?”
“And when no-one answered, you let yourself in?”
“I did, but do we really have to -”
“And all her stuff was gone?”
“As far as I could tell.” He paused. “Look, I admit that it’s odd, the way she just upped and left without saying anything, but this is London. I know you and your sister are from a small town, and I guess everyone knows everyone else there, but here in the city it’s a little different. Everyone gets on with their lives, and for the most part our contact with one another can be pretty minimal. There’s really nothing that strange about someone just taking off like that, at least it didn’t seem strange to me. She came, she did what she could, and she left. In an ideal world, things would be different, but we’re not living in an ideal world, are we?”
“If you knew Megan at all,” she continued, “you’d know that there’s no way she’d just give up like that.”
“But that’s just it,” he replied, “I didn’t know her. Besides, how was I to know that she hadn’t found your aunt alive and well, and gone off to fetch her? I wasn’t exactly expecting to receive daily updates. To be honest, when your sister arrived it was the first time I’ve ever known a concerned relative to show up here. Most people, after they move to Marshall Heights, they just get forgotten by the rest of the world.”
“And what about the creepy stuff?” Rose asked, watching as he made his way over to his desk. She was enjoying setting him on edge, and she felt as if she was close to prodding him into making a real mistake. “Did Megan mention any of that?”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to be more specific.”
“Bumps in the night, that sort of thing. The stuff that people were warning her about.”
“I’m not aware of your sister experiencing anything like that,” he replied, taking a seat. “Really, all the ghost stuff gets blown out of proportion. Sometimes I think Marshall Heights is like an echo chamber. One person starts a rumor, then it spreads, then by the time it gets back to the first person they’ve forgotten, and then they believe it, and then it snowballs from there and so on and so on, forever and ever in a vicious circle. Excuse the mixed metaphors, but when you take a whole load of very bored and very boring people, you can end up with quite the urban legend. Honestly, it’s all -”
Before he could finish, the phone on his desk rang and he fumbled to grab it and answer. As he held it to the side of his face, he almost seemed grateful for the interruption.
“Yes, Mrs. Partridge,” he said after a moment. “Of course, Mrs. Partridge, I can come and take a look right now.” He listened for a few seconds. “Well, that’s strange, the gas supply should be absolutely fine, but I’ll help you figure out the problem. Don’t worry, it’ll be back to normal in no time.” He listened again, while maintaining eye contact with Rose. “That’s what I’m here for, Mrs. Partridge,” he continued finally, with a forced smile. “I’ll be up in two shakes, okay?”
Cutting the call, he got to his feet and headed over to grab his coat from the hook on the wall.
“Duty calls,” he said. “I’m sorry, I have to go and see a lady on the first floor about a malfunctioning stove.” Heading over to the far side of the room, he grabbed a spare gas canister.
“That’s cool,” Rose replied, stepping out of the office and watching as he pulled the door shut behind them and locked it. “I hope you didn’t think I was giving you the third degree or anything. I wasn’t trying to interrogate you, I just want to know what happened to Megan.”
“That’s entirely understandable,” he continued, as he carried the canister toward the elevator. “I imagine it’s very alarming when someone goes missing, and I know from experience that the police often aren’t very helpful when Marshall Heights is involved. I can’t help thinking that you might be looking in the wrong place, though.”
“Because if she’s really gone missing, I figure there’s more chance of it having happened after she left. On the way to the train station, or when she got there, or…” He hit the Call button, and a moment later the elevator’s mechanism could be heard springing to life in the shaft. “She’s not here,” he added finally. “That much is clear. Search all you like, peer into every nook and cranny, but you won’t find anything. There are a lot of other places between Marshall Heights and your sister’s front door.” As soon as the doors slid open, he stepped inside and turned back to her. “Coming up?”
“Nah. I’m heading into town for a bit. There’s no internet in this goddamn building, and I need to get online.”
He paused. “Into what?”
“You mean Marshall Heights?”
“Among other things. It’s the first floor you’re heading to, isn’t it?” Reaching inside, she hit the button before stepping back. “I guess I’ll see you around. Unless I go missing too, of course. And then someone will come looking for me, because I don’t know how things usually go here at Marshall Heights, but when someone from my family disappears, the rest of us care. If someone thought they could steal my sister and I wouldn’t come looking for her, they made a very, very bad choice.”
Rose smiled as the door slid shut. A moment later, she heard the chamber starting to rise in the shaft.
“Well,” she said finally, “you’re a dirty liar, Michael Powers, and I don’t like liars. You’re hiding something.”
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