The lobby of Heaven’s Nest is brightly lit by flame-shaped lightbulbs set into a series of chandeliers. For a brief moment, Gemma forgets why she is at the hotel and takes in the awe-inspiring landscape. Employees and guests are heading in every direction, the majority going through a beaded curtain that resembles a gentle waterfall. Across from the dining area, three steps lead to a twenty-four hour bar and lounge that is kept in low light. Tinted windows make it difficult to see any details, but the detective can see the silhouette of a piano player and a woman sitting on the instrument. The front desk is long and manned by three well-dressed men, each one typing at a computer without looking away from whoever they are helping. The sight of an outdoor pool is barely visible through the glass doors in the back, but Gemma notices a neon sign that points to an indoor swimming area and game parlor. Walking further into the extravagant building, she sees stuffed ravens are perched on ledges and their heads move as if following a target. Considering their placement and blinking red light in their open mouths, the detective assumes they are poorly disguised cameras.
Stopping at the feet of a huge, golden statue, Gemma stares up at the crying face and feels a pang of pity for the inanimate object. Intended to be a welcoming angel, the figure has its wings on upside down and one of its hands is missing. Touching the sandaled foot, she is surprised to find that the metal gives enough for her to leave a print that steadily disappears. Not wanting to waste any more time, Gemma turns to head for the front desk and comes nose to nose with Dawn. The hotelier’s appearance is so sudden that the detective screams loud enough to draw attention to herself. She glances at her left hand to see that it is where her firearm would normally by, so she lets her arm hang limp. Embarrassed and shaken, she does nothing to stop a handsome bellhop from taking her things to one of the elevators. Instead of an eye-catching dress, the smiling woman is wearing a white shirt and slacks of the purest black that make her seem disturbingly mundane.
“Food or drink?” Dawn asks, her arms spread out to point at the bar and restaurant. She snaps her fingers to open the doors to both areas, the smell of food and alcohol mixing to draw more people inside. “We also have a coffee shop around that corner, but people aren’t allowed to talk to each other there. Only cellphones and passing notes. Now as my special guest and newest pet, I will let you choose.”
“I haven’t eaten yet, so I choose food,” Gemma replies before her stomach rumbles in loud agreement. She rubs her belly and is surprised to feel a vibration that reminds her of when a cartoon character is hungry. “Thank you for letting me stay here. Although, I do wonder why you made this offer. I’ve been a thorn in your side for two years. Is this an attempt to be the bigger person?”
“I’m not concerned with our height or weight,” the brown-haired woman says, leading the way to the restaurant. She plucks an orchid from a vase and puts it in her hair, the flower shimmering as if covered with dew. “To answer the question you keep dancing around, I’m bored and you’re a challenge. Try the melon because we got them fresh this morning. Perfectly ripe and they make a delicious noise when you crack them open.”
Following Dawn into the busy restaurant, Gemma is struck by how the noise remains at a tolerable level even with so many people talking. Burgundy curtains are being opened to let in the morning sun while two elderly women go about watering the colorful plants that are slowly blooming. Circular tables have been spread out among tiered daises that surround the central buffet that is steaming with fresh food. Lights are along the edge of the steps to help people avoid tripping, but there are several ramps that allow those in wheelchairs and employees with carts to move about with ease. A shadowy corner has been roped off, but the orb-shaped light bursts to life when the two women take their seats.
“I didn’t know what you preferred to drink,” Dawn admits as two platters of food are placed on the table. Running her finger around the edge of her eye patch, she watches the waiter mix two cups of chocolate milk. “I do recommend this because the syrup is expensive. Made from a rare something from somewhere. I need to be somewhat brief because there’s a pool meeting that I have to attend to. Takes an hour to pick the right business bikini. So, how do you plan on stopping me from killing again?”
“What?” Gemma blurts out, dribbles of milk going down her chin. She hurries to wipe up the mess, her eyes never straying from the other woman’s calm mask. “Are you actually admitting to murder? Not only what you did, but that you plan on killing again?”
With a loud crunch, Dawn bites into a slice of melon and refuses to talk until she finishes the piece. “It isn’t like you have any evidence and maybe I’ve been drinking. This could be the rambling of a wealthy businesswoman who wants attention since her husband is always busy with work. Besides, you’re not supposed to be working any more. So that makes this a fun, little game between two people with nothing better to do. You can take as much time as you want, but it won’t be easy. I can be a very crafty serial killer or an innocent tease.”
“I’m regretting coming here.”
“Then leave and feel guilty when somebody else dies.”
“This is sick.”
“And yet it’s the only way to stop me or whoever is killing around here.”
“What about the incidents at other hotels?”
“If I had the power to kill a man like Carl while being seen elsewhere at the same time then I wouldn’t have a problem with that.”
Gemma jumps when a waiter trips and drops several plates onto the floor, several guests applauding the accident. Her eyes scan the room, but she has no idea what she can look for to make any sense of the situation. The truth is that she cannot prove Dawn is a murderer and her obsession with the woman would make her report reek of desperation. Chewing on a piece of bacon, the detective turns her attention back to the hotelier, who is staring at her wrist as if there is a watch there.
“I think I lost my appetite,” Gemma claims while pushing her food away. Her stomach complains, the noise briefly sounding like a voice asking to be fed. “Killing people isn’t a game or hobby, Ms. Addison. Both of us could get arrested for withholding evidence or whatever this mess is going to be. Outside of a Hollywood movie, I have no idea what the precedence for this type of thing would be. If you know anything about what’s going on here then you should tell the police.”
“Then we’re lucky I don’t know anything,” Dawn replies with a sigh. Running her fingers through her hair, she stops for a minute to massage her scalp. “Well, I made my pitch and now I have to go. Your keycard is already in your back pocket and feel free to put whatever you want on my tab. Consider yourself a special guest of mine. I’ve been so bored for so long that you might be just what the doctor in my head has ordered.”
“No parting words of advice?” asks the detective, faking a smile to hide her anxiety and disgust. She stands to follow her host to the lobby, the brighter lights making her squint and trip over a faint rise in the floor. “At least give me a clue about your next victim. I hate being part of this game, but you’re right that it might be the only way to stop you. So let’s play fair. You can’t just tell me you’re going to kill someone and walk away like nothing happened.”
“But nothing has happened,” the confused woman states while heading toward an elevator that blends into the wall. Pulling a key out of her shirt, she unlocks the private lift and steps into the doorway. “Be patient and enjoy yourself. I’m far too busy for the next two days to maim anyone, much less kill. Not that I have anything planned because I’m an angel. That’s why I live in Heaven’s Nest.”
“I will stop you, Dawn,” Gemma growls, putting her hand in the way of the closing doors. A sharp pain in her palm forces her to pull away and examine the shallow cut. “Nobody can get away with what you’re doing here. You’ll make a mistake during this sick game and I’m going to be right here to catch you.”
“I hope not because standing in front of my private elevator sounds so boring,” Dawn says, stopping the door with a single finger. She hands the detective a handkerchief that smells of sweet perfume. “Don’t bleed on the floor because we just had it waxed. Please come to the rooftop party tonight. It’s a haunted asylum theme. My husband came up with it and we’ll have colorful jackets for everyone. Consider it the first of many new and exhilarating experiences for you.”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”