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Chapter 1


I never took anything that would be noticeable. And I always brought it back the next week. 

            The upscale apartment complex off Sage Road in Houston looked like a standard gated community for the Galleria area. 

            But it came with some services that other apartment complexes didn’t provide. 

            As I stood wiping the patio window with lemon-scented Windex, I looked out at the well-manicured courtyard. 

            Considering that this apartment complex hadn’t been here three years ago, it was pretty astounding that there were full-grown trees insidethe square complex. Of course, there was also a waterfall. So what did I know? 

            Someone slammed a door below, jarring my thoughts back on task. It was either a kid or a senior citizen. Neither seemed to know that doors closed just as easily – and so much quieter - by turning the knobs.

            The apartment complex was mostly deserted during the day since most of the tenants were working professionals. 

            I wiped my hands on the apron that I wore over my little white skirt. Standard uniform of The Finishing Touch. White mini-skirt, white tights, white sneakers, and a white shirt. We all wore a little black apron over our skirts and black latex gloves.

            It was a good thing that most of our work didn’t require cleaning anything that was actually dirty. 

            Every week we made a pass through our assigned apartments. I was assigned to floor six. The sixth floor was the top floor and the apartments were considerably more expensive than the lower ones. They all had had an upstairs bedroom and bath. Some called it a parlor. Others a study. Some just called it empty space.  

            So each of my units had two or three bedrooms and two or three baths. No one used more than one of each unless they had a guest. That meant I ran a damp cloth over the counters each week and made sure the whole apartment was freshly vacuumed.

            We really did just what our company name implied. We did the finishing touches. Wiped glass, counters, and vacuumed. The worst part of the job was cleaning the toilets. But these apartments belonged to executives who traveled a lot and were rarely at home.

            It wasn’t a hard job and I liked that no one looked over my shoulder. And no one forced me to have conversations that I didn’t want to have. 

            We had keys to all the apartments on our floor. We kept a tight schedule so that the tenants always knew when to expect us just in case they happened to be home. I cleaned one unit each morning and one each afternoon. I was able to take my time and I never felt rushed.

            It was a good job. Even if it was a thankless job. 

            I doubted anyone even noticed that I’d been there. But they all knew that they paid a premium price to come home each night to a spotless apartment.

            I had a cart – much like a hotel maid. But it was for things like a vacuum cleaner, a clothes steamer, my Windex, and such.

            Oh and I did laundry. I’d put sheets in the washer when I first arrived and by the time I left, everything was fresh and clean. If I knew a guest bed hadn’t been used, I didn’t touch it. 

            Perhaps they noticed the fresh scent of clean sheets or the empty hamper.

            Sometimes there would be dishes in the sink to load into the dishwasher, but that was rare. Most of the tenants either ate out or had food delivered.

            Today I was cleaning Abigail Chandler’s apartment. I knew her name by the little stack of mail on a table by the door. I also knew that she was single and shopped at Nordstrom’s. She drove a BMW and had family in Lafayette, Louisiana. I knew all this from her mail. 

            I had no idea what Abigail looked like, but I knew a lot about her. I knew that she was a vegetarian and wore a size six. 

            The same size clothes as I wore. I decided today to freshen up the clothes in her closet. I heated up my steamer and took the wrinkles out of an emerald green silk blouse and a black crepe skirt. 

            The outfit would suit my purposes perfectly. For good measure, I steamed a couple of other items as well. All the other clothes looked good enough. 

            I took a pair of black red bottom shoes and tucked them in a bag on my cart. I knew that Abigail never wore them. They were tucked in a box in the back of her closet and hadn’t moved once in the six months I’d been coming here. 

I would bring them back next week. 

I was very careful. There were no wedding invitations in her mail. Nothing to suggest that she would need her special black heels.

I carefully folded the skirt and the green blouse and tucked them on my cart.

If anyone asked, I’d say I was taking them to the cleaners. The shoes were more of a risk, one I rarely took, but I had my own special occasion to think about.

When the apartment was perfectly clean and everything was in its place, I rolled my cart to the sixth-floor janitorial office and parked it. Even the janitorial office was spotless. Sometimes I imagined that real people didn’t actually live here. At least not on the sixth floor. 

I took the bag with the borrowed clothes to my car. Such that it was. It was a ten-year-old Ford Taurus in an outdated bright blue color with a dented passenger door. It was embarrassing to drive around the nice areas of Houston, but it got me where I needed to go at least most of the time.

It was eleven thirty. I had an hour for lunch before I had to go to apartment 602. 

Apartment 602 was my most… unusual. It belonged to Stephen. I didn’t know his last name. He kept his mail tucked away, so I knew few details about him. 

Stephen, however, unlike the other tenants was always home. 

I hadn’t decided if I liked 602 or not.