No ExitBy: Lena Diaz
Once she was ready for bed, she made a detour to the desk by the balcony doors and pulled open the top middle drawer. Two permanent markers lay inside: a black one and a red one. She took them both as well as the key that was hidden on the underside of the desk courtesy of a small magnet.
It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Silvia when she was here to clean. It’s just that there were some things the sweet woman didn’t need to know about, things Melissa wished she didn’t know about.
The recessed TV cabinet on the wall at the foot of her bed beckoned her forward. She fit the key in the lock and pulled the doors open. In the middle was a large corkboard she’d had custom cut to fit the opening. It matched the corkboards she’d affixed to the back of each door.
There were dozens of photographs tacked to the boards. Colored lines connected them in a complex spiderweb reminiscent of police procedural shows. Except that the man whose picture was at the top middle, the man where all of the lines intersected, wasn’t a stranger or an unknown subject.
He was her father.
She rolled the pens in her hands and studied the photographs and the words she’d written beneath them. Each piece of information was hard-won, from an overheard conversation, or a note her father didn’t know she’d discovered, or a long, painful search on the Internet.
To the left and right of her father’s portrait were photos of his previous assistants, along with security-badge pictures of his two current ones—Sebastian Smith and Tarek Vasile. She hadn’t been able to find any better pictures of them since they didn’t appear to have any social-networking accounts, at least not that she’d been able to find. That alone seemed odd. Everyone was on social media these days. But her wariness about them was heightened even more because of how secretive they acted and the way her skin crawled around them.
They’d been hired as a team, which was unusual. And when she’d asked her father why he’d hired two assistants, he’d claimed it was necessary because of the company’s recent expansion into North Carolina. And they’d supposedly come highly recommended. But somehow he always managed to change the subject whenever she asked to see those recommendations. And there was nothing in their human resources files about previous jobs. She’d checked.
The assistant prior to “the twins,” as she thought of them, had been killed in a home invasion. The one before that? Suicide. Either her father had remarkably bad luck in his choice of executive assistants, or something far more sinister was at work here.
Her stomach clenched as it often did when she looked at the names on these boards and considered the sheer number of people connected to her father who’d died young, violently, or suspiciously.
Including the man she’d been falling in love with. Thomas Hightower.
Bile rose in her throat, but she fought it down. It wasn’t as if she believed her father had killed Thomas, or anyone else. The man who’d fought through his grief for the family he’d lost and forced himself to carry on for his one remaining child could never commit a sin as ugly and horrific as murder. She didn’t believe that, couldn’t believe that. But she couldn’t ignore the evidence in front of her either. Someone was killing these people. And they were slowly and inexorably destroying everything and everyone that her father cared about.
She traced the lines between the names. Most of these people, thankfully, were still alive—at least as far as her research could confirm. Their names were written in black. Other names were written in red, either because they were dead or because she believed they were in danger. One specific subset of names she even put under the label “Enemies,” because she’d heard enough to know that her father thought they were out to get him. Names like Devlin and Emily Buchanan, Ramsey Tate, Mason Hunt.
She knew Devlin and Ramsey and couldn’t begin to understand why her father deemed them a threat. They’d both been excellent EXIT tour guides, extremely popular with clients for many years. And both had quit with no notice within a few months of each other. Shortly after that, she’d started hearing their names whispered in conversations between her father and his assistant at the time.
The other name listed with theirs, Mason, was a man she’d never met. It was only through overheard conversations a few months ago that she’d learned he even existed. Then, just as abruptly, he was never mentioned again. She could only pray that didn’t mean he was dead.
When she’d asked her father if he knew why Ramsey and Devlin had quit, he’d claimed not to know. But that was a lie. She’d overheard Eddie, the head of EXIT’s information-technology department, mention their names when speaking on the phone with her father last summer about an alleged outside hack into the computer system. But just as Melissa had been about to announce her presence and offer to help, she’d been frozen in the doorway by the rest of the conversation. It was bizarre and made no sense.
Eddie had talked about searching some “enforcers” database she’d never heard of to find out what real-estate holdings Mason had so they could find him. And although none of that made sense in terms of the company’s day-to-day operations, what alarmed her the most was the menace and finality in Eddie’s voice when he swore he’d get the information. The deadly promise in his tone had sent shivers of dread down her spine and had her quietly backing out of the room without revealing her presence. That very night she’d purchased the corkboards and had begun her quest for the truth.