Page 50 of The Dirty Ones

“I’m going home,” Camille says, standing up and throwing her napkin on the table. “You need to leave anyway, right, Bennett?”

“I do, man,” he says apologetically to Hayes. “I have an appointment with my father tonight. I really can’t stay.”

“Sofia,” Camille says. “If you don’t want to be alone tonight, you can stay with me.”

We all look at Sofia.

“No,” she says, her quiet voice back. “No. I’m going to stay here tonight.”

“Are you staying?” Connor asks me.

“Yes.”

“I think this is a bad idea, Bennett,” Hayes says. “You should cancel on your father and stay here with us. We should all stay together. Buddy system, remember?”

“I’ll bring Camille with me,” he says, looking at her. “We’ll buddy up, OK?”

Camille nods her head, forcing a smile. “We’ll keep the candlestick close.”

“I don’t like it,” Connor says.

“Con, you know my father,” Bennett says. “You know I can’t cancel.”

“Do you think he knows what’s happening?” Sofia asks.

I lean to the side so I can see Bennett better and catch him in a shrug. “I dunno, you guys. I can’t imagine he knows what we’ve been through. Aside from Kiera, that is.” He leans to the side so he can see me now. “The shooting, I mean.”

I nod. “I get it.”

“We should meet up tomorrow,” Bennett says. “Maybe in the city.”

“We’ll see,” Hayes says, not committing. Then he stands and says, “OK. Let’s walk them out together.”

I know what Camille wants to say. Something like, We don’t need your help to get to the car. Or, Back off, I’m not helpless. But she holds it all in. Because we’ve been there. We all know how quickly things can change.

We make our way back through the house to the grand foyer. There are cops here now and we hear the familiar sound of radio-speak as we get closer to the entrance. There’s a group of doctors and a K-9 dog walking briskly across the marbled floor, nose busy sniffing, as the officer follows down a hallway and out of sight.

“Any luck?” Hayes asks the doctor, who’s talking to someone in a suit who appears to be in charge of the psycho hunt.

“She’s been all over this place,” the one in charge says. “They get a scent and then she… disappears into a wall. Mr. Fitzgerald, you don’t happen to have secret passageways in this place, do you?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Hayes laughs, patting the man on the shoulder like that is some fantastic joke. “No, I’m sorry. But she is a very clever girl so I’m not surprised she’s giving you the slip.” Then he pauses. “Do you think she’s still here? Inside, I mean. Or do you, perhaps, think she has vacated the premises?”

“Do you have an alarm on the doors and windows?”

“Of course,” Hayes says.

“And did it go off?”

“No, but some of it isn’t armed at the moment,” Hayes replies.

The detective—I think this suit guy is a detective—says, “That’s… typical? That you leave yourself so open and exposed?”

“Well, no.” Hayes frowns. “But I had guests coming today. So the main part of the house—this center wing right here—is unarmed. All the separate wings are armed at all times because we rarely go in there.”

The detective looks up at the ceiling where an elaborate crystal chandelier hangs. I look up too, unable to stop myself. But every time I’m in one of these mansions and I look up at a chandelier I imagine it falling from the ceiling and killing me.

Not that I’m in these mansions a lot lately. But I’ve been to everyone’s family estate for events. Except Louise’s.

That anniversary party for Connor’s parents. All those lavender balloons and butterflies.

A birthday party for Sofia’s great-grandmother. Four generations of wealthy Astors together in one room to celebrate the matriarch who started it all.

Bennett’s younger brother’s high-school graduation. A wild, extravagant rave complete with an in-person appearance of that rapper everyone loved back then. The glow-in-the-dark jewelry.

Camille’s family Christmas. String quartet in the corner playing traditional carols and a hundred thousand dollars worth of champagne flowing through a fountain.

And of course, I’ve been here to Hayes’ place many times. Not just for parties.

I stop imagining all the different times I could’ve been killed by a chandelier and focus on another K-9, sniffing its way across the lobby. Maybe it’s the same one backtracking. Maybe not. It’s just better than imagining myself being crushed to death by grotesque opulence.

“Ready?” Connor asks, snapping me out of my introspection.

I realize Hayes and Sofia are looking at me expectantly and Camille and Bennett have already left. “Sorry, drifted off there for a second. Yeah, let’s go.”

We follow Hayes up the stairs to the third-floor library, passing by several people still searching for Emily.

“It’s kinda ridiculous, don’t you think? That she’s loose in this house and we’re staying the night here?”

“No more or less ridiculous than anything else that’s happening today,” Sofia mutters, out of breath as we hike up the last flight of stairs to the third floor. “You don’t think she came back while we were gone, do you?”

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