In February of 2004, I was employed as a housekeeper for a wealthy real-estate developer. I’d been gone for a few days; my uncle had died and I’d traveled from New York to Florida on short notice to help with the arrangements. I came back one day earlier than I’d planned. My boss was quite irate when I told him I was leaving in the first place, so I thought an early return might help put me back in good graces.
I got to the penthouse around 3am, ready to get a jump on the day’s work. According to the schedule my boss had given me, he’d be home later the following day and expected the place to be spotless. “I don’t care if you’re still in your funeral clothes while you scrub the toilet,” were his final words to me before I left for Florida.
When the private elevator reached the residence, I was surprised to see all the lights were on. Like I said, he wasn’t supposed to be back for almost 30 hours. None of the other staff were scheduled, either.
A strange sound caused me to jerk my head in the direction of the dining room. I couldn’t identify the noise at all. It was like a mewl and a groan and a gasp all at once. Whatever it was, it was very unsettling. I waited and listened. There was a voice. A familiar one. My boss’s adult son.
I couldn’t make out what he was saying, but I felt a little better. At least it hadn’t been a burglar. I put my supplies on the counter and headed toward the dining room.
The doors were shut. Almost shut. One was slightly ajar, and I could see movement on the other side. That strange sound came again, this time quieter. More like a sigh. Gooseflesh rose on my arms and neck. I tiptoed over to the doors and peered inside. Had the son not coughed the moment I stifled a gasp, they would’ve heard me.
My boss sat at the head of the table with his face between the legs of a dying girl. Her throat had been cut. The sounds I’d heard were her pained, gurgling breaths. The son, whose back was to me, held the girl down as her flailing tapered off. Her head came to rest with her eyes fixed in my direction; eyes that locked onto mine. Eyes that screamed “help” with silent desperation.
She didn’t move after that. I swallowed a scream.
I heard my boss grunt, “bring her mother out to clean it up.”
His son crossed the room and unlocked the gold and black-glass cabinet that’d stood in the corner for as long as I’d worked there. I couldn’t see him opening the door, but I heard a terrible, howling wail as the woman trapped inside was released and saw the remains of her daughter.
“Oh shut up,” my boss yelled at her. Then he chuckled. “My boy’s going to put another one in you soon enough.”
The whole scene had lasted less than two minutes, but those minutes were indelibly etched on my consciousness. On my psyche. On my soul.
I left the residence as quietly as I’d entered. In the lobby, I saw the lone, overnight security officer who’d let me in. Abdullah. He’d always been kind to me. “Please, please, please don’t mention I was here,” I begged. He looked bewildered, but then he nodded. He hated our boss as much as anyone.
The moment I exited the building, I called 911 from one of the few remaining pay phones and told the dispatcher what I’d seen. I didn’t give my name and I disguised my voice as best as I could. Then I waited by the subway entrance until the police cars and ambulances arrived.
I got home where I tossed and turned and cried for sleepless hours as I pictured the poor girl, who couldn’t have been older than nine or ten, bleeding out as she was so hideously violated. Even now, 12 years later, the scene is as sharp in my mind as it had been that night.
The next day, I got the newspaper, ready to see his awful, smirking face on the cover with a headline declaring him a murderer. But there was no such thing. I flipped through each page, poring over the stories and looking for his name. Nothing. I rushed to my computer and searched online. Headlines about his TV show and his business dealings were all over, but nothing about an arrest; nothing that even hinted at an investigation.
Sickness washed over me as I realized his money and influence had certainly kept his crime quiet. I sobbed at home all day.
The following morning, after I’d somehow slept for a couple hours, my phone rang. “Why the f**k aren’t you at work,” a voice screamed. It was him. I couldn’t speak at first. My mind was blank. After nearly a full minute, I stuttered, “I…I’m sorry. I’ll be in as soon as I can.” He hung up.
Everything went gray as I realized I couldn’t leave the job. If I did, he’d know it’d been me who called the police. If I even momentarily showed fear or uncertainty, he would figure it out. I had to go to work. I had to do what he told me until I was absolutely sure he’d never learn I’d discovered his secret.
So I went to work. I went like nothing was wrong at all, aside from how I claimed I was still mourning the death of my uncle. It was an excuse, but it was one he bought. “Get your s**t together,” he demanded. And I did. My first order of business was to clean a stain on the dining-room table that he said had shown up out of nowhere.
As I scrubbed and held back a scream of indignant anguish, I did everything I could to pretend I was somewhere else. Anywhere but where I stood. And, for the most part, it worked. All I had to do was lie to myself and pretend I didn’t hear the nearly-inaudible sound of muffled crying coming from from the gold and black-glass cabinet in the corner.