Home > The Dollhouse(3)

The Dollhouse(3)
Fiona Davis

“Patrick, when did you start working here?”

He turned to face her, eyebrows raised in surprise. She gathered that few residents asked him personal questions. “Back in the seventies. Things were very different then.”

She liked the way things came out as tings. “Do you know many of the older residents?”

“The ladies? Of course. I know them all.”

“What about the woman who left a little while ago? The one with the dog.”

He smiled. “Miss McLaughlin. And Bird. Odd woman.”

A woman with buttery blond hair clopped toward them, carrying several packages. Patrick left Rose’s side and scuttled over to her. Rose checked her watch. She really should get upstairs, not stand around chatting, but Patrick quickly reappeared. “Can I get you a taxi, Miss Lewin?”

“No, no.” She waved her hand in front of her. “I was hoping you could tell me more about Mrs. McLaughlin.”

“Miss McLaughlin.” He was about four inches shorter than she was and he lifted his ruddy, round face to hers. “I don’t like to talk too much about the other residents, you know.”

Patrick loved to talk about the other tenants, but Rose put on a serious expression and nodded.

“She’s from way back, the fifties, that was when she first moved in. Came here to go to secretary school.”

“She seems like an interesting woman, the way she dresses and all.”

“Not many friends in the building. Management can’t stand her. She kicked and screamed when they said she had to move from her apartment down to 4B, with the rest of the longtimers. Threatened to call her lawyer. But never did. In the end, I helped her pack up and move. She’s a retired lady, couldn’t afford proper movers, and I was happy to do it. She always remembers me at Christmas with a card and a small token.”

Apartment 4B was the one directly under theirs. The one with the music. “That was very kind of you, to help her move.”

“Terrible story, what happened to her.”

Leave it to Patrick to bury the lead. “What happened?”

“There was a skirmish up on the terrace.”

“A skirmish?”

“Yes. I can’t say what happened exactly. She was up there with one of the maids. It was a hotel back then, not like today, employed a big staff. Anyway, the two girls got into a fight and the maid fell to her death.”

“Good Lord. That’s awful.”

“I know. I remember I talked to one of the older porters when I first came on the job. I noticed she always wore a veil, never saw her without it. I said, ‘Why does the woman always cover her face?’ He told me she can’t stand to be seen, ever since that day.”

“Why is that?”

A family of tourists interrupted them, asking the way to Bloomingdale’s. As if he knew Rose was on the edge of her seat, Patrick spent quite a while explaining the best route and recommending a decent bistro in the neighborhood. She really had to get upstairs. If they ended up ordering in dinner, the mood would be all wrong.

Rose was waiting for the elevator to descend from one of the high floors, when Patrick reappeared by her side.

“Anyway, like I was saying. Poor Miss McLaughlin. The old porter, you know, the one I mentioned I spoke with, he said she was going to secretarial school. She was one of the innocents who came from the boondocks, not knowing anything, and she got caught up in all kinds of trouble.”

“What kind?”

“That I couldn’t tell you.” He rubbed his temple. “But in the skirmish, as they called it, she was cut.”

“Cut?”

He made a motion from the corner of his forehead down through the opposite eye. “Cut. With a knife.”

Her stomach turned.

“She was left disfigured, horribly scarred. Poor, poor Miss McLaughlin.” He closed his eyes. “Hasn’t once shown her face to the world again since.”

The elevator door opened and Rose stepped inside, suppressing a shudder.

She should have never asked.

CHAPTER TWO

New York City, 1952

The woman behind the desk at the Barbizon Hotel for Women looked up in confusion. “McLaughlin? I’m afraid we don’t have anyone here by that name.”

“But I’m not here yet, I’ve just arrived.” Darby bit her lip. If only Mother had come with her, she wouldn’t be in this situation. If Mother had come, she’d be telling the clerk to go back and check her records, that she’d sent a letter off last month stating that Darby McLaughlin was arriving on the fifth of September and enclosing the three letters of recommendation. Then she’d turn to Darby and tell her to stop biting her lip.

She bit her lip harder and tasted blood.

The woman wore spectacles that made her eyes look unusually round, and Darby couldn’t help but widen hers in sympathy.

A group of five or six girls her age flounced through the lobby, and Darby could have sworn she heard one of them making a hooting noise. The lady behind the counter appeared not to have noticed.

“You’ve just arrived, you say?”

“Yes, I just arrived from Ohio today, and my mother, Mrs. Saunders, made the reservation ages ago. I’m to be here through June.”

The idea of getting back on a train and returning to Ohio was daunting. Grand Central Terminal had frightened her to bits, the hordes of people walking this way and that, knowing exactly where they were headed and why. She had stood close to the big clock and clutched her suitcase, trying to get her bearings as if she were standing on the deck of a giant ship. The floor even seemed to sway ever so slightly under her black patent leather pumps.

Then she spied the sign for taxis and hurled herself toward it, bumping into people and apologizing furiously. Before she had a moment to watch the city whizzing by in the cab, she was dropped off in front of the Barbizon Hotel and found herself standing in the cool, cavernous lobby. The dark wood of an intricately carved balcony loomed over three sides, offset by bright white walls. Lush palm plants stood guard against the columns.

All she wanted, after the overnight train ride, with its fancy dining car and linen tablecloths, was to go to her room and lie down for a moment. To collect herself from the onslaught of sensations. And now they said she didn’t even have a room.

She knew no one in the city, no one at all. The Barbizon Hotel for Women was her only hope.

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