It was only when the door clicked shut behind me did Lila’s death start to sink in. I’d walked into a dream when I’d entered her room, all of it a numb, morbid nightmare. But, now her body was behind me, my shoes scuffing the hallway carpet in an aimless ramble, and the sense welled up in my brain that the vibrant patterns in the rug were about to open into a deep, dark sinkhole.
I wasn’t crying. Why wasn’t I crying? I’d loved Lila so much, it made me dizzy.
The man who’d stuffed the paper in my hand was gone. The address between my fingers had a dark red smear across it now. Lila’s blood was on my fingers.
Yesterday I’d been thinking about asking her to ignore the return date on our airplane tickets, just wander Europe with me. Us. Together.
I threw up in the trash can by the elevator.
Panting, a hazy fog of self-preservation made me pause. What was I going to do? Call the Polizei? What if they thought I’d killed her? I didn’t even speak more than a few words of Swiss German, or French, or… or…
Bubbling up under the fear was anger. What the hell had Lila been involved in? How could she not have told me? We’d known each other for years! Then again… what if she hadn’t been involved in anything? What if that man, that dressed-up, moustached bastard, had the wrong woman when he’d run his hands all over her dead body?
Blood. Sickness. Fear. I was paralyzed, gripping the trashcan, about to scream.
The elevator door clicked, swishing open. I turned my head away, dread rising, crumpling the note into my fist so no one could see the red stains. There was a steady stride behind me. A whisper floated to my ears, something polished and soft from a refined gentleman’s throat. “Fühlen Sie krank?” I didn’t know what he said. It wasn’t the Swiss dialect that had been bouncing around my head all week. Perhaps he’d just think I was a dumb, hungover American tourist. Perhaps he’d leave me alone if I waved him away.
It was the man Lila had spoken to downstairs. Her old friend. Mr. Black Mercedes. His cold gun barrel pressed against my forehead. “Did you take it?” he hissed. It was perfect English.
I felt the sweat on my neck freeze. “N-no.” My fingernails dug into my palms, helpless fists. “You.” He stared, expression hard. “Did you have Lila killed?”
His eyebrows raised in surprise, the stony look vanishing. The gun lifted, and with a smooth motion, he hid it in his jacket, like it had never been drawn. “No. Why would I?”
“Who the fuck are y—”
“Did you see anyone else?”
His interruption was calm, far too calm for the seething anger and pain I wanted to unload in his face. But something in his gaze… “…No.” It was his eyes. They were cold little beetles.
“Don’t lie.” His hand was quick, a hook around my wrist, snapping it back, making me gasp in pain as he wrenched my fingers open. The paper was in his hands, and I could do nothing to stop him. “Ah. There we are. I thought I smelled them about, the reason why I came back, you know?” His other hand made a careless wave in the air. “But they didn’t take it either, did they?” I guess he saw the despair and confusion in my face, because he smiled. “Good. Lila was always good at hiding things when she needed to. And, I know exactly where she left it.”
“Who are you?” I demanded again. “What do you even want? Why did someone kill her?”
His mouth quirked downwards. “Maybe you’ll find out. You’re coming along.”
“Fuck you. I’m not going anywhere.”
“You try anything else, and I’m just going to shoot you, you know?” He shrugged. “Don’t make me be unpleasant. We don’t have to be enemies. In fact, I need your help.”
There was a hard lump in my throat. Could I get the pistol from his jacket? I’d barely seen where he’d stashed it; his hands had flurried like a magician’s.
“See, what you’re going to do,” he continued lazily, “is help me get the item Lila hid. And then, you and I, we’re going to go to that nifty little address they gave you. And we’re going to kill them all.”