Book Showcase: THE NIGHT SWIM by Megan Goldin



The Night Swim by Megan Goldin
ISBN: 9781250219688 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250219701 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781250752499 (digital audiobook)
ISBN: 9781250752505 (Audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B082VMB1R7   (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B0818N4HC8   (Kindle edition)
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: August 4, 2020


After the first season of her true crime podcast became an overnight sensation and set an innocent man free, Rachel Krall is now a household name―and the last hope for thousands of people seeking justice. But she’s used to being recognized for her voice, not her face. Which makes it all the more unsettling when she finds a note on her car windshield, addressed to her, begging for help.

The small town of Neapolis is being torn apart by a devastating rape trial. The town’s golden boy, a swimmer destined for Olympic greatness, has been accused of raping a high school student, the beloved granddaughter of the police chief. Under pressure to make Season Three a success, Rachel throws herself into interviewing and investigating―but the mysterious letters keep showing up in unexpected places. Someone is following her, and she won’t stop until Rachel finds out what happened to her sister twenty-five years ago. Officially, Jenny Stills tragically drowned, but the letters insists she was murdered―and when Rachel starts asking questions, nobody seems to want to answer. The past and present start to collide as Rachel uncovers startling connections between the two cases that will change the course of the trial and the lives of everyone involved.

Electrifying and propulsive, The Night Swim asks: What is the price of a reputation? Can a small town ever right the wrongs of its past? And what really happened to Jenny?





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Read an Excerpt


1

Hannah

It was Jenny’s death that killed my mother. Killed her as good as if she’d been shot in the chest with a twelve-gauge shotgun. The doctor said it was the cancer. But I saw the will to live drain out of her the moment the policeman knocked on our screen door.

“It’s Jenny, isn’t it?” Mom rasped, clutching the lapel of her faded dressing gown.

“Ma’am, I don’t know how to tell you other than to say it straight.” The policeman spoke in the low-pitched melancholic tone he’d used moments earlier when he’d pulled up and told me to wait in the patrol car as its siren lights painted our house streaks of red and blue.

Despite his request, I’d slipped out of the back seat and rushed to Mom’s side as she turned on the front porch light and stepped onto the stoop, dazed from being woken late at night. I hugged her withered waist as he told her what he had to say. Her body shuddered at each word.

His jaw was tight under strawberry blond stubble and his light eyes were watery by the time he was done. He was a young cop. Visibly inexperienced in dealing with tragedy. He ran his knuckles across the corners of his glistening eyes and swallowed hard.

“I’m s-s-sorry for your loss, ma’am,” he stammered when there was nothing left to say. The finality of those words would reverberate through the years that followed.

But at that moment, as the platitudes still hung in the air, we stood on the stoop, staring at each other, uncertain what to do as we contemplated the etiquette of death.

I tightened my small, girlish arms around Mom’s waist as she lurched blindly into the house. Overcome by grief. I moved along with her. My arms locked around her. My face pressed against her hollow stomach. I wouldn’t let go. I was certain that I was all that was holding her up.

She collapsed into the lumpy cushion of the armchair. Her face hidden in her clawed-up hands and her shoulders shaking from soundless sobs.

I limped to the kitchen and poured her a glass of lemonade. It was all I could think to do. In our family, lemonade was the Band-Aid to fix life’s troubles. Mom’s teeth chattered against the glass as she tilted it to her mouth. She took a sip and left the glass teetering on the worn upholstery of her armchair as she wrapped her arms around herself.

I grabbed the glass before it fell and stumbled toward the kitchen. Halfway there, I realized the policeman was still standing at the doorway. He was staring at the floor. I followed his gaze. A track of bloody footprints in the shape of my small feet was smeared across the linoleum floor.

He looked at me expectantly. It was time for me to go to the hospital like I’d agreed when I’d begged him to take me home first so that I could be with Mom when she found out about Jenny. I glared at him defiantly. I would not leave my mother alone that night. Not even to get medical treatment for the cuts on my feet. He was about to argue the point when a garbled message came through on his patrol car radio. He squatted down so that he was at the level of my eyes and told me that he’d arrange for a nurse to come to the house as soon as possible to attend to my injured feet. I watched through the mesh of the screen door as he sped away. The blare of his police siren echoed long after his car disappeared in the dark.

The nurse arrived the following morning. She wore hospital scrubs and carried an oversized medical bag. She apologized for the delay, telling me that the ER had been overwhelmed by an emergency the previous night and nobody could get away to attend to me. She sewed me up with black sutures and wrapped thick bandages around my feet. Before she left, she warned me not to walk, because the sutures would pop. She was right. They did.

Jenny was barely sixteen when she died. I was five weeks short of my tenth birthday. Old enough to know that my life would never be the same. Too young to understand why.

I never told my mother that I’d held Jenny’s cold body in my arms until police officers swarmed over her like buzzards and pulled me away. I never told her a single thing about that night. Even if I had, I doubt she would have heard. Her mind was in another place.

We buried my sister in a private funeral. The two of us and a local minister, and a couple of Mom’s old colleagues who came during their lunch break, wearing their supermarket cashier uniforms. At least they’re the ones that I remember. Maybe there were others. I can’t recall. I was so young.

The only part of the funeral that I remember clearly was Jenny’s simple coffin resting on a patch of grass alongside a freshly dug grave. I took off my hand-knitted sweater and laid it out on top of the polished casket. “Jenny will need it,” I told Mom. “It’ll be cold for her in the ground.”

We both knew how much Jenny hated the cold. On winter days when bitter drafts tore through gaps in the patched-up walls of our house, Jenny would beg Mom to move us to a place where summer never ended.

A few days after Jenny’s funeral, a stone-faced man from the police department arrived in a creased gabardine suit. He pulled a flip-top notebook from his jacket and asked me if I knew what had happened the night that Jenny died.

My eyes were downcast while I studied each errant thread in the soiled bandages wrapped around my feet. I sensed his relief when after going through the motions of asking more questions and getting no response he tucked his empty notebook into his jacket pocket and headed back to his car.

I hated myself for my stubborn silence as he drove away. Sometimes when the guilt overwhelms me, I remind myself that it was not my fault. He didn’t ask the right questions and I didn’t know how to explain things that I was too young to understand.

This year we mark a milestone. Twenty-five years since Jenny died. A quarter of a century and nothing has changed. Her death is as raw as it was the day we buried her. The only difference is that I won’t be silent anymore.


2

Rachel

A single streak of white cloud marred an otherwise perfect blue sky as Rachel Krall drove her silver SUV on a flat stretch of highway toward the Atlantic Ocean. Dead ahead on the horizon was a thin blue line. It widened as she drove closer until Rachel knew for certain that it was the sea.

Rachel glanced uneasily at the fluttering pages of the letter resting on the front passenger seat next to her as she zoomed along the right lane of the highway. She was deeply troubled by the letter. Not so much by the contents, but instead by the strange, almost sinister way the letter had been delivered earlier that morning.

After hours on the road, she’d pulled into a twenty-four-hour diner where she ordered a mug of coffee and pancakes that came covered with half-thawed blueberries and two scoops of vanilla ice cream, which she pushed to the side of her plate. The coffee was bitter, but she drank it anyway. She needed it for the caffeine, not the taste. When she finished her meal, she ordered an extra-strong iced coffee and a muffin to go in case her energy flagged on the final leg of the drive.

While waiting for her takeout order, Rachel applied eye drops to revive her tired green eyes and twisted up her shoulder-length auburn hair to get it out of her face. Rachel was tying her hair into a topknot when the waitress brought her order in a white paper bag before rushing off to serve a truck driver who was gesticulating angrily for his bill.

Rachel left a larger than necessary tip for the waitress, mostly because she felt bad at the way customers hounded the poor woman over the slow service. Not her fault, thought Rachel. She’d waitressed through college and knew how tough it was to be the only person serving tables during an unexpected rush.

By the time she pushed open the swinging doors of the restaurant, Rachel was feeling full and slightly queasy. It was bright outside and she had to shield her eyes from the sun as she headed to her car. Even before she reached it, she saw something shoved under her windshield wiper. Assuming it was an advertising flyer, Rachel abruptly pulled it off her windshield. She was about to crumple it up unread when she noticed her name had been neatly written in bold lettering: Rachel Krall (from the Guilty or Not Guilty podcast).

Rachel received thousands of emails and social media messages every week. Most were charming and friendly. Letters from fans. A few scared the hell out of her. Rachel had no idea which category the letter would fall into, but the mere fact that a stranger had recognized her and left a note addressed to her on her car made her decidedly uncomfortable.

Rachel looked around in case the person who’d left the letter was still there. Waiting. Watching her reaction. Truck drivers stood around smoking and shooting the breeze. Others checked the rigging of the loads on their trucks. Car doors slammed as motorists arrived. Engines rumbled to life as others left. Nobody paid Rachel any attention, although that did little to ease the eerie feeling she was being watched.

It was rare for Rachel to feel vulnerable. She’d been in plenty of hairy situations over the years. A month earlier, she’d spent the best part of an afternoon locked in a high-security prison cell talking to an uncuffed serial killer while police marksmen pointed automatic rifles through a hole in the ceiling in case the prisoner lunged at her during the interview. Rachel hadn’t so much as broken into a sweat the entire time. Rachel felt ridiculous that a letter left on her car had unnerved her more than a face-to-face meeting with a killer.

Deep down, Rachel knew the reason for her discomfort. She had been recognized. In public. By a stranger. That had never happened before. Rachel had worked hard to maintain her anonymity after being catapulted to fame when the first season of her podcast became a cultural sensation, spurring a wave of imitation podcasts and a national obsession with true crime.

In that first season, Rachel had uncovered fresh evidence that proved that a high school teacher had been wrongly convicted for the murder of his wife on their second honeymoon. Season 2 was even more successful when Rachel had solved a previously unsolvable cold case of a single mother of two who was bashed to death in her hair salon. By the time the season had ended, Rachel Krall had become a household name.

Despite her sudden fame, or rather because of it, she deliberately kept a low profile. Rachel’s name and broadcast voice were instantly recognizable, but people had no idea what she looked like or who she was when she went to the gym, or drank coffee at her favorite cafe, or pushed a shopping cart through her local supermarket.

The only public photos of Rachel were a series of black-and-white shots taken by her ex-husband during their short-lived marriage when she was at grad school. The photos barely resembled her anymore, maybe because of the camera angle, or the monochrome hues, or perhaps because her face had become more defined as she entered her thirties.

In the early days, before the podcast had taken off, they’d received their first media request for a photograph of Rachel to run alongside an article on the podcast’s then-cult following. It was her producer Pete’s idea to use those dated photographs. He had pointed out that reporting on true crime often attracted cranks and kooks, and even the occasional psychopath. Anonymity, they’d agreed, was Rachel’s protection. Ever since then she’d cultivated it obsessively, purposely avoiding public-speaking events and TV show appearances so that she wouldn’t be recognized in her private life.

That was why it was unfathomable to Rachel that a random stranger had recognized her well enough to leave her a personalized note at a remote highway rest area where she’d stopped on a whim. Glancing once more over her shoulder, she ripped open the envelope to read the letter inside:

Dear Rachel,

I hope you don’t mind me calling you by your first name. I feel that I know you so well.

She recoiled at the presumed intimacy of the letter. The last time she’d received fan mail in that sort of familiar tone, it was from a sexual sadist inviting her to pay a conjugal visit at his maximum-security prison.

Rachel climbed into the driver’s seat of her car and continued reading the note, which was written on paper torn from a spiral notebook.

I’m a huge fan, Rachel. I listened to every episode of your podcast. I truly believe that you are the only person who can help me. My sister Jenny was killed a long time ago. She was only sixteen. I’ve written to you twice to ask you to help me. I don’t know what I’ll do if you say no again.

Rachel turned to the last page. The letter was signed: Hannah. She had no recollection of getting Hannah’s letters, but that didn’t mean much. If letters had been sent, they would have gone to Pete or their intern, both of who vetted the flood of correspondence sent to the podcast email address. Occasionally Pete would forward a letter to Rachel to review personally.

In the early days of the podcast, Rachel had personally read all the requests for help that came from either family or friends frustrated at the lack of progress in their loved ones’ homicide investigations, or prisoners claiming innocence and begging Rachel to clear their names. She’d made a point of personally responding to each letter, usually after doing preliminary research, and often by including referrals to not-for-profit organizations that might help.

But as the requests grew exponentially, the emotional toll of desperate people begging Rachel for help overwhelmed her. She’d become the last hope of anyone who’d ever been let down by the justice system. Rachel discovered firsthand that there were a lot of them and they all wanted the same thing. They wanted Rachel to make their case the subject of the next season of her podcast, or at the very least, to use her considerable investigative skills to right their wrong.

Rachel hated that most of the time she could do nothing other than send empty words of consolation to desperate, broken people. The burden of their expectations became so crushing that Rachel almost abandoned the podcast. In the end, Pete took over reviewing all correspondence to protect Rachel and to give her time to research and report on her podcast stories.

The letter left on her windshield was the first to make it through Pete’s human firewall. This piqued Rachel’s interest, despite the nagging worry that made her double-lock her car door as she continued reading from behind the steering wheel.

It was Jenny’s death that killed my mother [the letter went on]. Killed her as good as if she’d been shot in the chest with a twelve-gauge shotgun.

Though it was late morning on a hot summer’s day and her car was heating up like an oven, Rachel felt a chill run through her.

I’ve spent my life running away from the memories. Hurting myself. And others. It took the trial in Neapolis to make me face up to my past. That is why I am writing to you, Rachel. Jenny’s killer will be there. In that town. Maybe in that courtroom. It’s time for justice to be done. You’re the only one who can help me deliver it.

The metallic crash of a minibus door being pushed open startled Rachel. She tossed the pages on the front passenger seat and hastily reversed out of the parking spot.

She was so engrossed in thinking about the letter and the mysterious way that it was delivered that she didn’t notice she had merged onto the highway and was speeding until she came out of her trancelike state and saw metal barricades whizzing past in a blur. She’d driven more than ten miles and couldn’t remember any of it. Rachel slowed down, and dialed Pete.

No answer. She put him on auto redial but gave up after the fourth attempt when he still hadn’t picked up. Ahead of her, the widening band of blue ocean on the horizon beckoned at the end of the long, flat stretch of highway. She was getting close to her destination.

Rachel looked into her rearview mirror and noticed a silver sedan on the road behind her. The license plate number looked familiar. Rachel could have sworn that she’d seen the same car before over the course of her long drive. She changed lanes. The sedan changed lanes and moved directly behind her. Rachel sped up. The car sped up. When she braked, the car did, too. Rachel dialed Pete again. Still no answer.

“Damn it, Pete.” She slammed her hands on the steering wheel.

The sedan pulled out and drove alongside her. Rachel turned her head to see the driver. The window was tinted and reflected the glare of the sun as the car sped ahead, weaving between lanes until it was lost in a sea of vehicles. Rachel slowed down as she entered traffic near a giant billboard on a grassy embankment that read: WELCOME TO NEAPOLIS. YOUR GATEWAY TO THE CRYSTAL COAST.

Neapolis was a three-hour drive north of Wilmington and well off the main interstate highway route. Rachel had never heard of the place until she’d chosen the upcoming trial there as the subject of the hotly anticipated third season of Guilty or Not Guilty.

She pulled to a stop at a red traffic light and turned on the car radio. It automatically tuned into a local station running a talkback slot in between playing old tracks of country music on a lazy Saturday morning. She surveyed the town through the glass of her dusty windshield. It had a charmless grit that she’d seen in a hundred other small towns she’d passed through over her thirty-two years. The same ubiquitous gas station signs. Fast-food stores with grimy windows. Tired shopping strips of run-down stores that had long ago lost the war with the malls.

“We have a caller on the line,” the radio host said, after the final notes of acoustic guitar had faded away. “What’s your name?”

“Dean.”

“What do you want to talk about today, Dean?”

“Everyone is so politically correct these days that nobody calls it as they see it. So I’m going to say it straight out. That trial next week is a disgrace.”

“Why do you say that?” asked the radio announcer.

“Because what the heck was that girl thinking!”

“You’re blaming the girl?”

“Hell yeah. It’s not right. A kid’s life is being ruined because a girl got drunk and did something dumb that she regretted afterward. We all regret stuff. Except we don’t try to get someone put in prison for our screw-ups.”

“The police and district attorney obviously think a crime has been committed if they’re bringing it to trial,” interrupted the host testily.

“Don’t get me wrong. I feel bad for her and all. Hell, I feel bad for everyone in this messed-up situation. But I especially feel bad for that Blair boy. Everything he worked for has gone up in smoke. And he ain’t even been found guilty yet. Fact is, this trial is a waste. It’s a waste of time. And it’s a waste of our taxes.”

“Jury selection might be over, but the trial hasn’t begun, Dean,” snapped the radio announcer. “There’s a jury of twelve fine citizens who will decide his guilt or innocence. It’s not up to us, or you, to decide.”

“Well, I sure hope that jury has their heads screwed on right, because there’s no way that anyone with a shred of good old-fashioned common sense will reach a guilty verdict. No way.”

The caller’s voice dropped out as the first notes of a hit country-western song hit the airwaves. The announcer’s voice rose over the music. “It’s just after eleven A.M. on what’s turning out to be a very humid Saturday morning in Neapolis. Everyone in town is talking about the Blair trial that starts next week. We’ll take more callers after this little tune.”




Excerpt from The Night Swim by Megan Goldin. 
Copyright © 2020 by Megan Goldin. Published by St. Martin’s Press. 
All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.





Meet The Author



MEGAN GOLDIN worked as a correspondent for Reuters and other media outlets where she covered war, peace, international terrorism, and financial meltdowns in the Middle East and Asia. She is now based in Melbourne, Australia where she raises three sons and is a foster mum to Labrador puppies learning to be guide dogs. The Escape Room was her debut novel.



Connect to the author via her Website, Author Blog, Facebook, GoodReads, or Twitter.




This excerpt and tour brought to you by St. Martin’s Press

Book Showcase: THE ESCAPE ROOM by Megan Goldin



The Escape Room by Megan Goldin
ISBN: 9781250219657 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250219671 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781250221520 (audiobook)
ASIN: B07J4LQFK5 (Kindle edition)
Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: July 30, 2019


Welcome to the escape room. Your goal is simple. Get out alive.

In the lucrative world of finance, Vincent, Jules, Sylvie, and Sam are at the top of their game. They’ve mastered the art of the deal and celebrate their success in style—but a life of extreme luxury always comes at a cost.

Invited to participate in an escape room as a team-building exercise, the ferociously competitive co-workers crowd into the elevator of a high rise building, eager to prove themselves. But when the lights go off and the doors stay shut, it quickly becomes clear that this is no ordinary competition: they’re caught in a dangerous game of survival.

Trapped in the dark, the colleagues must put aside their bitter rivalries and work together to solve cryptic clues to break free. But as the game begins to reveal the team’s darkest secrets, they realize there’s a price to be paid for the terrible deeds they committed in their ruthless climb up the corporate ladder. As tempers fray, and the clues turn deadly, they must solve one final chilling puzzle: which one of them will kill in order to survive?





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Read an Excerpt

PROLOGUE



It was Miguel who called 911 at 4:07 a.m. on an icy Sunday morning.

The young security guard spoke in an unsteady voice, fear disguised by cocky nonchalance.

Miguel had been an aspiring bodybuilder until he injured his back lifting boxes in a warehouse job and had to take night-shift work guarding a luxury office tower in the final stages of construction. He had a muscular physique, dark hair, and a cleft in his chin.

He was conducting a cursory inspection when a scream rang out. At first, he didn’t hear a thing. Hip-hop music blasted through the oversize headphones he wore as he swept his flashlight across the dark recesses of the lobby.

The beam flicked across the classical faces of reproduction Greek busts cast in metal and inset into niches in the walls. They evoked an eerie otherworldliness, which gave the place the aura of a mausoleum.Miguel paused his music to search for a fresh play list of songs. It was then that he heard the tail end of a muffled scream.

The sound was so unexpected that he instinctively froze. It wasn’t the first time he’d heard strange noises at night, whether it was the screech of tomcats brawling or the whine of construction cranes buffeted by wind. Silence followed. Miguel chided himself for his childish reaction.

He pressed PLAY to listen to a new song and was immediately assaulted by the explosive beat of a tune doing the rounds at the dance clubs where he hung out with friends.

Still, something in the screech he’d heard a moment before rattled him enough for him to be extra diligent.

He bent down to check the lock of the revolving lobby door. It was bolted shut. He swept the flashlight across a pair of still escalators and then, above his head, across the glass-walled mezzanine floor that overlooked the lobby.

He checked behind the long reception desk of blond oak slats and noticed that a black chair was at an odd angle, as if someone had left in a hurry.

A stepladder was propped against a wall where the lobby café was being set up alongside a water fountain that was not yet functional. Plastic-wrapped café tables and chairs were piled up alongside it.

In the far corner, he shone his flashlight in the direction of an elaborate model of the building complex shown to prospective tenants by Realtors rushing to achieve occupancy targets in time for the building’s opening the following month.


The model detailed an ambitious master plan to turn an abandoned ware house district that had been a magnet for homeless people and addicts into a high-end financial and shopping precinct. The first tower was almost finished. A second was halfway through construction.

When Miguel turned around to face the elevator lobby, he was struck by something so incongruent that he pushed his headphones off his head and onto his shoulders.

The backlit green fluorescent light of an elevator switch flickered in the dark. It suggested that an elevator was in use. That was impossible, because he was the only person there.

In the sobriety of the silent echo that followed, he convinced himself once again that his vague sense of unease was the hallucination of a fatigued mind. There was nobody in the elevator for the simple reason that the only people on-site on weekends were the securityguards. Two per shift. Except to night, Miguel was the only one on duty.

When Stu had been a no-show for his shift, Miguel figured he’d manage alone. The construction site was fenced off with towering barbed-wire fences and a heavy-duty electric gate. Nobody came in or out until the shift ended.

In the four months he’d worked there, the only intruders he’d encountered were feral cats and rats scampering across construction equipment in the middle of the night. Nothing ever happened during the night shift.

That was what he liked about the job. He was able to study and sleep and still get paid. Sometimes he’d sleep for a couple of hours on the soft leather lobby sofa, which he found preferable to the lumpy stretcher in the portable office where the guards took turns restingbetween patrols. The CCTV cameras hadn’t been hooked up yet, so he could still get away with it.

From the main access road, the complex looked completed. It had a driveway entry lined with young maples in planter boxes. The lobby had been fitted out and furnished to impress prospective tenants who came to view office space.

The second tower, facing the East River, looked unmistakably like a construction site. It was wrapped with scaffolding. Shipping containers storing building materials were arranged like colorful Lego blocks in a muddy field alongside idle bulldozers and a crane.

Miguel removed keys from his belt to open the side entrance to let himself out, when he heard a loud crack. It whipped through the lobby with an intensity that made his ears ring.

Two more cracks followed. They were unmistakably the sound of gunshots. He hit the ground and called 911. He was terrified the shooter was making his way to the lobby but cocky enough to cover his fear with bravado when he spoke.

“Something bad’s going down here.” He gave the 911 dispatcher the address. “You should get cops over here.”

Miguel figured from the skepticism in the dispatcher’s cool voice that his call was being given priority right below the doughnut run.

His heart thumped like a drum as he waited for the cops to arrive. You chicken shit, he berated himself as he took cover behind a sofa. He exhaled into his shirt to muffle the sound of his rapid breathing. He was afraid he would give away his position to the shooter.

A wave of relief washed over him when the lobby finally lit up with a hazy blue strobe as a police car pulled in at the taxi stand. Miguel went outside to meet the cops.

“What’s going on?” An older cop with a thick gut hanging over his belted pants emerged from the front passenger seat.

“Beats me,” said Miguel. “I heard a scream. Inside the building. Then I heard what I’m pretty sure were gunshots.”

“How many shots?” A younger cop came around the car to meet him, snapping a wad of gum in his mouth.

“Two, maybe three shots. Then nothing.”

“Is anyone else around?” The older cop’s expression was hidden under a thick gray mustache.

“They clear out the site on Friday night. No construction workers. No nobody. Except me. I’m the night guard.”

“Then what makes you think there’s a shooter?”

“I heard a loud crack. Sure sounded like a gunshot. Then two more. Came from somewhere up in the tower.”

“Maybe construction equipment fell? That possible?”

A faint thread of red suffused Miguel’s face as he contemplated the possibility that he’d panicked over nothing. They moved into the lobby to check things out, but he was feeling less confident than when he’d called 911. “I’m pretty sure they—” He stopped speaking as theyall heard the unmistakable sound of a descending elevator.

“I thought you said there was nobody here,” said the older cop.

“There isn’t.”

“Could have fooled me,” said the second cop. They moved through to the elevator lobby. A light above the elevator doors was flashing to indicate an elevator’s imminent arrival. “Someone’s here.”

“The building opens for business in a few weeks,” said Miguel.

“Nobody’s supposed to be here.”

The cops drew their guns from their holsters and stood in front of the elevator doors in a shooting stance— slightly crouched, legs apart. One of the cops gestured furiously for Miguel to move out of the way. Miguel stepped back. He hovered near an abstract metal sculptureset into the wall at the dead end of the elevator lobby.

A bell chimed. The elevator heaved as it arrived.

The doors parted with a slow hiss. Miguel swallowed hard as the gap widened. He strained to see what was going on. The cops were blocking his line of sight and he was at too sharp an angle to see much.

“Police,” shouted both cops in unison. “Put your weapon down.”

Miguel instinctively pressed himself against the wall. He flinched as the first round of bullets was fired. There were too many shots to count. His ears rang so badly, it took him a moment to realize the police had stopped firing. They’d lowered their weapons and were shouting something. He didn’t know what. He couldn’t hear a thing over the ringing in his ears.

Miguel saw the younger cop talk into his radio. The cop’s mouth opened and closed. Miguel couldn’t make out the words. Gradually, his hearing returned and he heard the tail end of a stream of NYPD jargon.

He couldn’t understand most of what was said. Something about “nonresponsive” and needing “a bus,” which he assumed meant an ambulance. Miguel watched a trickle of blood run along the marble floor until it formed a puddle. He edged closer. He glimpsed blood splatter on the wall of the elevator. He took one more step. Finally, he could see inside the elevator. He immediately regretted it. He’d never seen so much blood in all his life.


ONE
THE ELEVATOR


Thirty-four Hours Earlier

Vincent was the last to arrive. His dark overcoat flared behind him as he strode through the lobby. The other three were standing in an informal huddle by a leather sofa. They didn’t notice Vincent come in. They were on their phones, with their backs to the entrance, preoccupied with emails and silent contemplation as to why they had been called to a last-minute meeting on a Friday night at an out-of-the-way office building in the South Bronx.

Vincent observed them from a distance as he walked across the lobby toward them. Over the years, the four of them had spent more time together than apart. Vincent knew them almost better than he knew himself. He knew their secrets, and their lies. There were times when he could honestly say that he’d never despised anyone more than these three people. He suspected they all shared the sentiment. Yet they needed one another. Their fates had been joined together long before.

Sylvie’s face bore its usual expression, a few degrees short of a resting-bitch face. With her cover-girl looks and dark blond hair pinned in a topknot that drew attention to her green eyes, Sylvie looked like the catwalk model that she’d been when she was a teenager. She was irritated by being called to an unscheduled meeting when she had to pack for Paris, but she didn’t let it show on her face. She studiously kept a faint upward tilt to her lips. It was a practice drummed into her over many years working in a male-dominated profession. Men could snarl or look angry with impunity; women had to smile serenely regardless of the provocation.

To her right stood Sam, wearing a charcoal suit with a white shirt and a black tie. His stubble matched the dark blond of his closely cropped hair. His jaw twitched from the knot of anxiety in his guts. He’d felt stabbing pains ever since his wife, Kim, telephoned during the drive over. She was furious that he wouldn’t make the flight to Antigua because he was attending an unscheduled meeting. She hated the fact that his work always took precedence over her and the girls.

Jules stood slightly away from the other two, sucking on a peppermint candy to disguise the alcohol on his breath. He wore a suave burgundy-and-navy silk tie that made his Gypsy eyes burn with intensity. His dark hair was brushed back in the style of a fifties movie star. He usually drank vodka because it was odorless and didn’t make his face flush, but now his cheeks were ruddy in a tell-tale sign he’d been drinking. The minibar in his chauffeured car was out of vodka, so he’d had to make do with whiskey on the ride over. The empty bottles were still rattling around in his briefcase.

As they waited for their meeting, they all had the same paranoid notion that they’d been brought to a satellite office to be retrenched. Their careers would be assassinated silently, away from the watercooler gossips at the head office.

It was how they would have done it if the positions were reversed. A Friday-evening meeting at an out-of-the-way office, concluding with a retrenchment package and a nondisclosure agreement signed and sealed.

The firm was considering unprecedented layoffs, and they were acutely aware they had red targets on their backs. They said none of this to one another. They kept their eyes downcast as they worked on their phones, unaware they were the only ones in the lobby. Just as they hadn’t paid much mind to the cranes and construction fencing on their way in.

Sam checked his bank account while he waited. The negative balance made him queasy. He’d wiped out all the cash in his account that morning paying Kim’s credit-card bill. If he lost his job, then the floodgates would open. He could survive two to three months without work; after that, he’d have to sell assets. That alone would destroy him financially. He was leveraged to the hilt. Some of his assets were worth less now than when he’d bought them.

The last time Sam had received a credit-card bill that huge, he’d immediately lowered Kim’s credit limit. Kim found out when her payment for an eleven-thousand-dollar Hermès handbag was rejected at the Madison Avenue store in front of her friends. She was mortified. They had a huge blowup that night, and he reluctantly restored her credit limit. Now he paid all her bills without a word of complaint. Even if it meant taking out bridging loans. Even if it meant constantly feeling on the verge of a heart attack.

Sam knew that Kim spent money as much for attention as out of boredom. She complained that Sam was never around to help with the twins. He’d had to point out that they’d hired a maid to give her all the help she needed. Three maids, to be truthful. Three within the space of two years. The third had walked out in tears a week ago due to Kim’s erratic temper.

Kim was never satisfied with anything. If Sam gave Kim a platinum necklace, she wanted it in gold. If he took her to London, she wanted Paris. If he bought her a BMW, she wanted a Porsche.

Satisfying her unceasing demands was doable when his job prospects were good, but the firm had lost a major account, and since Christmas word had spread of an impending restructure. Everyone knew that was a euphemism for layoffs.

Sam never doubted that Kim would leave him if he couldn’t support her lifestyle anymore. She’d demand full custody of the girls and she’d raise them to hate him. Kim forgave most of his transgressions, she could even live with his infidelities, but she never forgave failure.It was Sam who first heard the footsteps sounding through the vast lobby. The long, hurried strides of a man running late to a meeting. Sam swung around as their boss arrived. Vincent’s square jaw was tight and his broad shoulders were tense as he joined them without saying a word.

“You almost didn’t make it,” observed Sylvie.

“The traffic was terrible.” Vincent ran his hand over his overcoat pocket in the habit of a man who had recently stopped smoking. Instead of cigarettes, he took out a pair of glasses, which he put on to examine the message on his phone. “Are you all aware of the purpose of this meeting?”

“The email invite from HR wasn’t exactly brimming with information,” said Sam. “You said in your text message it was compulsory for us to attend. That it took precedence over everything else. Well, we’re all here. So maybe now you can enlighten us, Vincent. What’s so important that I had to delay my trip to Antigua?”

“Who here has done an escape-room challenge before?” Vincent asked.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Sam said. “I abandoned my wife on her dream vacation to participate in a team-building activity! This is bullshit, Vincent. It’s goddamn bullshit and you know it.”

“It will take an hour,” said Vincent calmly. “Next Friday is bonus day. I’m sure that we all agree that it’s smart to be on our best behavior before bonus day, especially in the current climate.”

“Let’s do it,” said Sylvie, sighing. Her flight to Paris was at midnight. She still had plenty of time to get home and pack. Vincent led them to a brightly lit elevator with its doors wide open. Inside were mirrored walls and an alabaster marble floor.

They stepped inside. The steel doors shut behind them before they could turn around.


TWO
SARA HALL


It’s remarkable what a Windsor knot divulges about a man. Richie’s Italian silk tie was a brash shade of red, with thin gold stripes running on a diagonal. It was the tie of a man whose arrogance was dwarfed only by his ego.

In truth, I didn’t need to look at his tie to know that Richie was a douche. The dead giveaway was that when I entered the interview room, a nervous smile on my pink matte painted lips, he didn’t bother to greet me. Or even to stand up from the leather chair where he sat and surveyed me as I entered the room.

While I categorized Richie as a first-class creep the moment I set eyes on him, I was acutely aware that I needed to impress him if I was to have any chance of getting the job. I introduced myself and reached out confidently to shake his hand. He shook my hand with a grip that was tighter than necessary—a reminder, perhaps, that he could crush my career aspirations as easily as he could break the bones in my delicate hand.

He introduced himself as Richard Worthington. The third, if you don’t mind. He had a two-hundred-dollar haircut, a custom shave, and hands that were softer than butter. He was in his late twenties, around five years older than I was.

When we were done shaking hands, Richie leaned back in his chair and surveyed me with a touch of amusement as I settled into my seat across the table.

“You can take off your jacket and relax,” he said. “We try to keep interviews informal here.”

I took off my jacket and left it folded over the back of the chair next to me as I wondered what he saw when he looked at me. Did he see a struggling business-school graduate with a newly minted MBA that didn’t appear to be worth the paper it was written on? Or was he perceptive enough to see an intelligent, accomplished young woman? Glossy brown hair cut to a professional shoulder length, serious gray eyes, wearing a brand-new designer suit she couldn’t afford and borrowed Louboutin shoes that were a half size too small and pinched her toes.

I took a deep breath and tried to project the poise and confidence necessary to show him that I was the best candidate. Finally I had a chance at getting my dream job on Wall Street. I would do everything that I could humanly do not to screw it up.

Richie wore a dark gray suit with a fitted white shirt. His cuff links were Hermès, arranged so that the H insignia was clearly visible. On his wrist was an Audemars Piguet watch, a thirty-grand piece that told everyone who cared that he was the very model of a Wall Street player.

Richie left me on the edge of my seat, waiting awkwardly, as he read over my résumé. Paper rustled as he scanned the neatly formatted sheets that summed up my life in two pages. I had the impression that he was looking at it for the first time. When he was done, he examined me over the top of the pages with the lascivious expression of a john sizing up girls at a Nevada whorehouse.


Excerpt from The Escape Room by Megan Goldin reprinted with permission from the publisher. 
Copyright © 2019 by Megan Goldin. All Rights Reserved.




Meet the Author

Megan Goldin is the bestselling author of The Escape Room, praised by Lee Child as “one of my favorite books of the year”, as well as The Girl In Kellers Way, a critically-acclaimed domestic noir thriller nominated for Australia’s leading crime fiction awards.


Megan worked as a journalist for Reuters, the Australian ABC and Yahoo! News before writing her debut psychological thriller The Girl In Kellers Way



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