Even though nobody is looking in her direction, Gemma feels like she is being watched by several eyes. Stopping at Dawn’s private elevator, she sees reflections of the stuffed ravens in the polished metal. All of the fake birds are aimed in her direction, causing the detective to grip her leather bag to her chest. With a quivering hand, she uses the key to open the doors and gingerly steps inside. Imagination running wild, she expects the floor to give way or blades to erupt from the walls. Instead, the elevator closes and a lullaby plays over the loudspeaker, the song soft and lilting. The smell of roses and chocolate seep through a vent until the lift gets halfway to the penthouse. A loud crunch makes Gemma jump before the smell of smoke and cooked meat waft in from above. Low groans and gentle whimpers can be heard beneath the song, which has become harsher in an attempt to drown out the other noises.
“This was a bad idea,” she whispers as she reaches out to push the stop button. A tremor of electricity goes up her arm and numbs the muscles while the elevator moves faster. “Why did I think I could plant bugs in the room? She gave me the key and had to know I would try something like this. Damn it, I’m getting desperate and sloppy. Now she might get angry if I don’t do this.”
The elevator comes to a gentle stop and a bell rings before the doors open, a muffled voice talking about lingerie and golf clubs. Gemma is about to step on the plush, white carpeting when a sign drops from the ceiling. Telling her to remove her shoes, the simple warning dangles on thin strings that give it the illusion of floating. Bending down to take off her boots, the detective notices that the floor panel moves slightly and guesses she set off a pressure plate. Peering into the space between the elevator and carpeting, she can see a rusty hook has caught on some thin wires. Leaving her shoes on the lift, Gemma steps with a little more confidence since she is now sure that Dawn’s tricks are not supernatural.
Wandering the penthouse, she is surprised to find that many of the rooms are barely furnished, except for a stunning bathroom. With a chandelier above the ruby-studded tub and a wine cabinet built into the back wall, Gemma wonders if Dawn practically lives in this place and ignores the rest. She picks out a few places to leave a bug before searching the rest of the apartment for her enemy’s elusive husband. Most of the bedrooms have nothing more than a desk, an uncomfortable cot, and a trashcan. The walls are painted a dull tan that reminds Gemma of the neutral tones of a hospital instead of a lavish apartment. An old television and stained couch sit in the living room, neither of them showing signs of recent use. She is surprised to find a collection of VHS tapes that are covered in a layer of dust, except for a row of unlabeled ones that could be home movies. Empty birdcages are everywhere, most of them having black feathers that are warm to the touch. She notices an open window and assumes that the birds spend the day outside before returning at night.
“Where is this supposed husband?” Gemma asks in a low voice.
Feeling a breeze come from a large picture of a raven on an apple tree, she gets closer and runs her hand along the edge of the frame. With a dull click, the work of art shivers and slides into the wall to reveal the master bedroom. A king-sized bed takes up a lot of the space, the sheets a flawless crimson beneath blankets of the purest black. Pink pillows with unicorn horns sewn into their tops are against the headboard, which is shaped like a seashell. The walk-in closet is filled with dresses, costumes, and accessories that smell like they are fresh out of a laundromat. Searching the two racks, the only article of clothing that would be for a man is a nicely tailored suit in the back.
A chill running up her spine, Gemma returns to the main room and only peeks inside a tiny bathroom that would be more suited for a prison cell. Out of the corner of her eye, the detective thinks she sees something move beneath the sheets and blankets. Putting her bag on an oak dresser and drawing her gun, she tiptoes to the bed that remains unchanged. Focused on where she saw movement, Gemma shrieks when a scaly creature rushes out from under the dust ruffle and grazes her feet. Leaping away, she tries to catch sight of whatever she startled, but it has already disappeared. A low groan makes her jump again before the toilet gurgles and the sink faucet leaks for a few seconds.
“This place is creepy and there’s no husband here,” Gemma says to herself. Opening her bag, she goes about hiding listening devices and tiny cameras around the penthouse. “Just one of each in every main room. Not sure what I plan on finding, but it’s better than nothing. Maybe I’ll put extra in the kitchen.”
Entering the room of porcelain counters and stainless steel appliances, Gemma feels a wave of warmth hit her face. She checks the stove to make sure it is off, but none of the burners do anything more than click in vain. Standing to the side, she opens the oven and is shocked that her arm is hit by a burst of cold. The detective hides the devices in well-stocked cabinets and among the rural decorations, some of which have obviously been made by a child. Gemma stops at a pull out apron rack and considers bugging the seven, pristine garments. Checking each one, she can see that they are missing pockets and too thin to be useful. A whiff of bleach comes out of the narrow opening as she pushes the aprons back into the wall and she hears liquid getting sprayed once the rack is locked in place.
Holding the final camera, Gemma heads for the refrigerator and slides the device into a bowl of fake fruit on the top. When her elbow touches the freezer handle, she feels her skin stick to the metal for a brief moment. She touches the same place and watches as a thin trail of slime comes away. The rest of the refrigerator is clean, so she finishes setting the final bug before checking inside. To her mild amusement, the freezer is stocked entirely with orange-flavored ice pops that have been unwrapped. Their sticks are embedded in perfectly shaped ice cubes that are a light pink color. Running a finger along one of the treats, she shudders at the sour taste and spits into the sink. Reaching out to the lower section’s handle, a strange stench emerges when she opens the door a crack. Gently closing the refrigerator, the detective tries to place the smell that reminds her of the morgue.
A prickling sensation on the back of her neck causes Gemma to slowly turn around, the flicker of movement across the doorway making her heart leap. Creeping toward the entrance, she hears skittering across a solid surface and a repeated tapping. She steps out of the kitchen and finds herself facing twelve giant ravens. The birds are perched on the empty cages and she can hear flapping wings in the other rooms. All of them stare at her as she reaches back into the kitchen for her bag and walks back to the elevator. With the animals following her every movement, Gemma uses the key and jumps into the elevator as soon as it opens. The sound of their ear-wrenching caws echoes down the shaft as she returns to the lobby at what feels like an agonizingly slow pace.