You are called to the Roxy Hotel at 10:13 pm on a moonless Thursday, on reports that Maeve Rhidian has been missing for 5 days. The first thing you should know about me is that I am a New York Times bestselling author of my debut novel, “The Last Check-In.” The second thing you should know about me is that you cannot trust anything I say. The last thing you should know about me is you can’t find me.
The last person to see me alive was a Delta stewardess from Italy named Octavia who met me to catch a showing of Django Unchained at a theater in the basement of the Roxy last Saturday night. For your interview at the precinct, she dresses in a simple black dress with silver string earrings, spiral multi-finger rings with connected chains, and a prominent Cartier Tank watch set off with cheaper and friskier aquamarine and fuchsia dot bracelets.
“Come in,” Sergeant Dickson says, leaning back with his hands behind his head and his feet up on his desk. He is wearing a slightly wrinkled J-Crew Suit, a sharply pressed blue button-down, and a crown of closely buzzed gray hairs, and you don’t much care for him as a boss.
“Sarge,” you say, “the witness is here.” You straighten your tie, pull up the knot, and say, “Anything before I get started.”
“Find out if—she—knows where Ms. Rhidian went when—she—left—her,” he says, elongating each word like he’s talking to a child and snickering. You turn to leave and hear Sergeant Dickson slam his hand on the table.
“And I want to know what they were eating,” he says, with a haughty laugh.
“Sure thing,” you tell him, without looking back.
* * *
In the cold, white-walled interview room, seated opposite one another at a metal table, you inventory her appearance.
You note the contrast between her numinous presence and her flirty femme fatale push-and-pull, catching your gaze and then lowering her glances with a craned neck posture. Her shoulders are square to you, and she rocks back and forth over crossed legs.
You wait a full two minutes in silence, with the file closed in front of you, looking down and looking up to observe her. You wait to see if she will speak on her own. Then, when she doesn’t take the bait, you crack open the file and begin.
“Says here, you were the last person to see Maeve Rhidian alive,” you say, without looking at her, putting your right hand to your forehead, then pulling off your glasses and rubbing your tired eyes.
“It’s not like Maeve is dead,” she says, looking you right in the eye and maintaining steady eye contact, then breaking your gaze, wagging her eyebrows, and flashing a smile. “You just can’t find her.”
“She tell you where she was headed Saturday night when you said your goodbyes?” you ask.
“The night is kind of a blur. We—made a connection—and went back to her room at the Roxy before we hit up the town,” she admits.
“And did you stop anywhere first?” you ask.
“The Roxy Bar. We were drinking cosmos. But things got out of hand a bit later on and at some point—I think at Bathtub Gin—we switched to Tequila shooters, oh dear, I have no idea where we ended up, but I think some creep got us Café Patron shots too and we actually drank them if you can believe it, and then more cosmos at some dance club,” she says, flicking some lint off the shoulder of her dress.
“And you have no recollection of where you were when you left for your hotel?” you ask.
“I wish I could tell you,” she says.
“Did you guys eat at all during this bender,” you ask, cocking your head to the side and raising your eyebrows.
“Fried Oysters. At the Roxy. They were to die for,” she says, extending her neck and twirling her jet-black hair in the fingers of her right hand.
“That it? There’s nothing you can tell me to help us find her,” and you tap the file for effect several times, “Other than what I already have in your report over the phone?”
“No.” She shakes her head, squeezes her cheeks, and bites her lower lip. “But do find her officer. And let me know when you do. I will be back in New York on another turn around two weeks from Saturday.” She uncrosses her legs and sits forward, indicating she is ready to go. You wave her off, and she bolts up and sallies out of the room with long deliberate steps in her high-heeled shoes.
You are even money on whether she is secretly a former nun with a wicked streak or a high-class escort with a heart of gold.
Either way, you don’t trust her. Either way, the interview is a bust and there is no new information for you to bring back to Sarge.
But you know all this. Or at least you think you do. You’ve heard this all already.
What you can’t possibly know is that I slipped some benzos into her drink, which is why she can’t remember our night out on the town or where she saw me last—it would be impossible for her to give you a solid lead.
What you also don’t know is that Octavia doesn’t exist.
* * *
It’s a simple assignment—find the vanished writer—the missing person. The person who made the missing person report was my agent, Liz Susanoo. Liz reported that I missed a pitch session for my next book, which I’d spent weeks getting ready for.
She had been unable to find me or anyone who had seen me at the Roxy, where she knew I’d been staying in Room 393. And that’s when she got worried and came to the precinct.
You are there. You interview her too, from your desk on the floor of the Detective’s Bureau.
Liz wears a floral dress and a huge belt with a large circular buckle in the shape of the moon. Her green eyes contrast with brown wire frames that seem to blend into her freckled cheeks.
You are sitting at your desk. The duty officer walks her back and announces her.
“Is it unusual for Maeve to miss meetings—I know she’s quite the drinker?” you ask.
“Oh no. Maeve was, is a consummate professional,” Liz says, looking down at the floor.
“Something you aren’t telling me Ms. Susanoo?” you ask, crossing your arms.
“It’s just… well… Maeve was demanding… by nature,” she says, breaking eye contact, and raising the pitch of her voice, “Where Jimmy was concerned.”
“Jimmy. The boyfriend?” you ask.
“I have access to her Gmail account,” she says, rummaging in her Tory Burch leather shoulder bag, and pulling out some computer printouts. “She’d sent out three e-mails the day she… disappeared,” she tells you. “Here,” she says holding them out at arm’s length.
You grab the papers and start reading, “Jimmy, I need you to send me $313 for some odds and ends by cash app, first chance you get. Please do send it today. Very urgent. I know you’re not happy with me, but I really appreciate you for this. I’m very sorry about us. I’m moving to Milan. No forwarding address. I will write. –Maeve?” you read.
“You see what I mean?” Liz says, putting her right hand on the back of her neck. “There’s two more, one to Maeve’s personal assistant, Aditi Akasa, instructing her about the upcoming schedule in New York and the upcoming pitch meeting.”
“That one is normal at least,” you say.
“And the third is to her cousin Finn, who is a beta reader for her, enclosing a short story she’s been working on… that’s all there is,” she says, putting her hands to her hips and looking into your eyes.
“Tell me something, Ms. Susanoo, how well do you know Jimmy?” you ask.
“Huhh, I hardly see what that has to do with anything,” Liz says, turning her head away.
“Ok Ms. Susanoo, you are free to go. I’ll be in touch,” you say.
You immediately find Liz to be credible, but peg her as a naïve sort, easily manipulated, one given to trafficking in the lies of others.
You’re also all-in that she’s sleeping with Jimmy behind my back.
And you’re right.
* * *
Driving up 6th Avenue, you speak to your girlfriend Sandy about her night waiting tables at Reserve Cut in the Financial District.
She unloads on you about the rude rabbi who got drunk at her table and started making passes at her, inappropriately grabbing her stockinged right leg with his grubby left hand as she stopped near the table to respond to his requests.
You tell her you are out on a case and will be home late.
Tonight’s doorman, Deion, is standing outside stationed where the road splits and 6th Avenue veers west away from Church Street. He smokes an American Spirit cigarette and keeps an eye on the patrons sitting at patio tables with black umbrellas, smoking and talking over the sounds of engines and of the tourists buzzing in various languages in the summer streets. He carries himself in an assured, breezy manner and wears his black suit, white shirt, and black tie ensemble a size too large, professionally unassuming.
“Have you seen this woman?”
Deion has not seen me.
And it is the same with the people at the front desk, with the Director of Security, and with housekeeping. But, when you reach the bar, you finally seize on a clue—if you can call it that.
The bartender, Bryan, an aspiring actor who is studying method acting under Elizabeth Kemp with a keen memory, remembers serving me and Octavia (although he doesn’t know her by name), but Bryan isn’t sure if it was during the time of my stay at the hotel or a few weeks earlier. Being that it is so many days ago, all he can recall is that we drank cosmopolitans before calling an Uber and heading off into the night.
And that is where the trail ends. Some investigator you are. Have you ever asked yourself why someone would suddenly disappear? Where would they go?
Why you can’t find me?
* * *
The following morning you stop into the Mysterious Book Shop on Warren Street a little before noon and pick up a copy of my novel.
The store is like a vault, with shelves from floor to ceiling covering every wall. The place smells of books, a musty earthen odor that transports one to a place of intrigue and possibility. Mugs and themed shirts are for sale by the register.
There is a locked door with crisscrossing crime scene tape and a sign, “No one shoplifts from a store with 3,214 ways to murder someone.”
From there, you head down to 787 Coffee Co. and begin to read the novel, searching for clues.
You sit in the corner on a soft leather couch. There are bright overhead lights, yellow cups and saucers, and red exposed brick.
As you read the first chapter, you realize that my protagonist checked in to the Roxy Hotel just before she disappeared. The entire chapter details a series of events seen through the eyes of others—all of which occurred in various places around the City—none of which occurred in the Roxy. You rub three fingers into the migraine developing in the front of your head.
You stretch your neck from side to side and shrug your shoulders as you hunch over the book.
Reading ahead, in hopes of a revelation, you discover that the investigating detective chases down one dead-end lead after another.
Becoming frustrated, you turn to the ending.
Your working theory is that someone must have read my debut novel and has decided to bring it to life by kidnapping me. What this theory lacks is motive. Well, that’s not all it lacks, but that is an obvious one.
You haven’t read the ending yet—you are stalling. Why are you stalling?
As you finally turn your attention to the final chapter, you read the Title, “Vanishing Woman, Vanishing Room.” This interests you, and you read how the disappearance of Maeve Rhidian grew into a legend:
"The young detective on the case returned to the Roxy Hotel, realizing that no one in the hotel had actually seen her during her stay. Returning to the hotel reception, the detective inquired of a short Italian-looking girl with dark curls that cascaded in luminous waves. She barked with a fiery affect at some of the detective’s more intrusive questions. “Are you sure there was no one by the name of Maeve Rhidian staying here?” I’m not stupid—do I look like I’m slow or something? “But, who was staying in Room 393?” There is no room 393. “But I have a witness who said she was with her in Room 393; I have a second witness who she wrote e-mails to with an itinerary printout for Room 393.” Show me that. No, no, that isn’t ours, here is what our confirmations look like."
You suddenly realize that Octavia had lied to you about our night together. Liz had lied to you about the itinerary. What is going on? And toward the grand finale, the author mentions the detective by name. It can’t be.
* * *
You return to the Roxy that night.
The encounter with hotel reception goes just as in the novel. Tara is the short Italian-looking girl, and she is chewing gum while you talk. But other than that, it is accurate, to the word. And confirms that everyone is lying to you.
How can they all be lying?
You slump down in a chair of a three-seater table over by the Grand Piano. A waitress comes over to you to ask if you need anything and gives you a look, saying, “Is anyone joining you?” You just shake your head and wave her off.
On the stage, a Cuban Rumba band is playing in upbeat, frenetic, syncopated off-beats. The chaotic music blares and the stamping beat gives tempo to the thoughts in your head.
Your brain struggles to make sense of the investigation, to puzzle out the leads, to find a line of reason to latch onto. You wrestle with the maddening fact that you are in the novel.
You refuse to consider the obvious.
These are the facts: a woman is reported missing, last seen by a one-night stand, last checked-in at the Roxy Hotel, but there is no record of or witness to her staying at the Roxy Hotel and the room two witnesses claimed she reported staying in does not exist.
You place your head in your hands—there is no earthly explanation for this.
Ahh, but there is an explanation.
I’ve already told you, my love, you can’t find me.
Because you are just a character in my story—and I make all the rules.