When four Wall Street big shots on a losing streak are thrown together to prove their dedication to their firm, they assume they’re in for an escape room challenge or similar “team-building” exercise. Instead, the four Stanhope & Sons associates soon discover there’s much more at stake than their jobs.
That’s the set-up for The Escape Room (out now from St. Martin’s Press), the debut novel from Megan Goldin, who spins a gripping yarn of nepotism, sexism, unequal pay and workplace secrecy, with its single setting (the elevator of an under-construction office plaza) squeezed like a vice grip. We’re pleased to present this excerpt.
FROM "THE ESCAPE ROOM":
It was Miguel who called 911 at 4:07 a.m. on an icy Sunday morning. The young security guard spoke in an unsteady voice, fear disguised by cocky nonchalance.
Miguel had been an aspiring bodybuilder until he injured his back lifting boxes in a warehouse job and had to take night-shift work guarding a luxury office tower in the final stages of construction. He had a muscular physique, dark hair, and a cleft in his chin.
He was conducting a cursory inspection when a scream rang out. At first, he didn’t hear a thing. Hip-hop music blasted through the oversize headphones he wore as he swept his flashlight across the dark recesses of the lobby.
The beam flicked across the classical faces of reproduction Greek busts cast in metal and inset into niches in the walls. They evoked an eerie otherworldliness, which gave the place the aura of a mausoleum.
Miguel paused his music to search for a fresh playlist of songs. It was then that he heard the tail end of a muffled scream.
The sound was so unexpected that he instinctively froze. It wasn’t the first time he’d heard strange noises at night, whether it was the screech of tomcats brawling or the whine of construction cranes buffeted by wind. Silence followed. Miguel chided himself for his childish reaction.
He pressed PLAY to listen to a new song and was immediately assaulted by the explosive beat of a tune doing the rounds at the dance clubs where he hung out with friends.
Still, something in the screech he’d heard a moment before rattled him enough for him to be extra diligent.
He bent down to check the lock of the revolving lobby door. It was bolted shut. He swept the flashlight across a pair of still escalators and then, above his head, across the glass-walled mezzanine floor that overlooked the lobby.
He checked behind the long reception desk of blond oak slats and noticed that a black chair was at an odd angle, as if someone had left in a hurry.
A stepladder was propped against a wall where the lobby café was being set up alongside a water fountain that was not yet functional. Plastic-wrapped café tables and chairs were piled up alongside it.
In the far corner, he shone his flashlight in the direction of an elaborate model of the building complex shown to prospective tenants by Realtors rushing to achieve occupancy targets in time for the building’s opening the following month.
The model detailed an ambitious master plan to turn an abandoned ware house district that had been a magnet for homeless people and addicts into a high-end financial and shopping precinct. The first tower was almost finished. A second was halfway through construction.
When Miguel turned around to face the elevator lobby, he was struck by something so incongruent that he pushed his headphones off his head and onto his shoulders.
The backlit green fluorescent light of an elevator switch flickered in the dark. It suggested that an elevator was in use. That was impossible, because he was the only person there.
In the sobriety of the silent echo that followed, he convinced himself once again that his vague sense of unease was the hallucination of a fatigued mind. There was nobody in the elevator for the simple reason that the only people on-site on weekends were the securityguards. Two per shift. Except tonight, Miguel was the only one on duty.
When Stu had been a no-show for his shift, Miguel figured he’d manage alone. The construction site was fenced off with towering barbed-wire fences and a heavy-duty electric gate. Nobody came in or out until the shift ended.
In the four months he’d worked there, the only intruders he’d encountered were feral cats and rats scampering across construction equipment in the middle of the night. Nothing ever happened during the night shift.
That was what he liked about the job. He was able to study and sleep and still get paid. Sometimes he’d sleep for a couple of hours on the soft leather lobby sofa, which he found preferable to the lumpy stretcher in the portable office where the guards took turns resting between patrols. The CCTV cameras hadn’t been hooked up yet, so he could still get away with it.
From the main access road, the complex looked completed. It had a driveway entry lined with young maples in planter boxes. The lobby had been fitted out and furnished to impress prospective tenants who came to view office space.
The second tower, facing the East River, looked unmistakably like a construction site. It was wrapped with scaffolding. Shipping containers storing building materials were arranged like colorful Lego blocks in a muddy field alongside idle bulldozers and a crane.
Miguel removed keys from his belt to open the side entrance to let himself out, when he heard a loud crack. It whipped through the lobby with an intensity that made his ears ring.
Two more cracks followed. They were unmistakably the sound of gunshots. He hit the ground and called 911. He was terrified the shooter was making his way to the lobby but cocky enough to cover his fear with bravado when he spoke.
“Something bad’s going down here.” He gave the 911 dispatcher the address. “You should get cops over here.”
From "The Escape Room". Copyright © 2019 by Megan Goldin and reprinted with permission from St. Martin’s Press.