The Braintree Institute saved Maddy Grant's life by implanting her with technology designed to correct her brain injury-and turn her into a killer.
As Maddy Grant plummeted from the forty-second floor to certain death amid the blaring traffic of Ninth Avenue, all she could think was, Stupid.
Until then, it had been such a sweet gig.
She had said she was a college student, an incoming freshman at Columbia University, and it wasn't even a lieMaddy fully intended to enroll at Columbia now that her situation was finally stabilized. Now that she had a job and a place to live and proper identification. A whole new identity: Brittany Higgenbotham, age eighteen, from Tempe, Arizona. The only thing she didn't have was references, but the woman who had hired her was so eager for a live-in nanny-slash-housekeeper-slash-whatever-else-she-could-think-of that she didn't care that it was Maddy's first job. All she cared about was that Maddy was cheap.
The condo was beautiful, a roomy three-bedroom on the West Side, just a five-minute walk from the park. Broadway and Times Square were not much farther. Maddy could hardly believe it: She was living in New York City!
Even in her achingly, fakingly sunny memories of growing up in the prairie suburbs of the West, she had always had a fascination with New Yorkso distant and out of reach, a fat, golden apple dangling from a high branch. More myth than reality. To her knowledge, she had only ever visited twice, years ago, once on a school trip and once with her parents, but somehow it was a deeply familiar place, the only place on the whole map that beckoned when she was lost and desperate. When she had nowhere else to go.
It was her second month on the job. Maddy's employer, an aging, fading starlet named Angela Brightly, was out for the evening, just as she was every evening, running out to clubs and parties and gallery openings, schmoozing with the rich and famous while Maddy babysat her two kids. Little Danielle and Sam knew that their mother was not just a swinging socialite but a struggling singer, actress, and model in fierce competition with all the newer models out there…; most of whom hadn't had two children. The living room was full of pictures and artifacts of Angela's once-promising career, many cropped to remove the face of her ex-husband and manager. Her children had learned to accept the situation without fuss: Mommy works hard so that we can have a good life. They were the quietest, gloomiest children Maddy ever met…; but they were certainly no hassle.
On that particular evening, Maddy made them dinner, read them animal stories from their collection of vintage children's books (television was a strict no-no), and tucked them both in. Then she changed into her sweats, made a big salad and some garlic bread, and plopped down in front of the TV. For dessert, she was looking forward to a nice slice of the cheesecake she had picked up at Zabar's that morning. Ms. Brightly wouldn't be home for hours. It was going to be another quiet eveningMaddy's favorite kind.
Then the fire alarm went off.
At first, she didn't recognize the noise; it wasn't the shrill peeping of a room alarm but a loud bell coming from outside. Annoyed that it was going to disturb the kids, she jumped up and ran to the front door, peering through the peephole. The emergency lights at the ends of the hallway were flashing. Shit! She opened the door a crack and could see other people on the floor sticking their heads out as well.
"Is it a fire drill?" someone called above the deafening noise.
A bald man across the way said, "I don't know."
"Either way, we better go down."
"It's probably nothing. Somebody burned the popcorn."
Suddenly, the elevator opened, and four firemen emerged. They had shiny yellow helmets, fire axes, and spanking new fire-retardant suits. The leader wore a tank on his back. They advanced down the hall, banging on doors, and shouting, "Everyone out! Now!"
People trying to ask them questions were jerked from their doorways and shoved toward the stairs.
"Get out of the way! Move! All of you! Everyone out, right now! Drop what you're doing and go! This is an emergency!"
One of the firemen glanced straight at Maddy, then hurriedly flicked his eyes away. It was a subtle, barely noticeable thing, but suddenly she realized what was going on. There was no fire, not even any fire drillthey had come for her. She could scarcely believe it, but somehow they had found her.
Maddy shut the door and locked it, her heart slamming in her chest. Her worst nightmare come true: They found me. And yet, in a strange way, it was also a relief, the end of the suspense. Thoughts racing, she headed for the kitchen and spotted Sam and Danielle standing anxiously in the bedroom doorway. The poor things must be scared out of their wits. Maddy made an effort to look calm.
"It's okay, guys. Just a drill, it should be over soon. Go back to bed."
"Sam needs to go potty."
"Well, you're such a big girl, why don't you take him?"
The front door exploded inward. It was a steel security door with multiple dead bolts, but it blew off its hinges like cardboard. The whole building shook.
Jeez, Maddy thought, shielding the kids. She had been expecting a few more seconds at least.
The firemen poured in, shouting, "EVERYBODY ON THE FLOOR, NOW!"
Deafened, Maddy sprinted past the bedroom, grabbed the two children on the fly, and piled into the bathroom. She shut the door just as the lead fireman let off a stream of liquid flame that roared down the corridor and set off the sprinkler system.
There were no windows, no escape. Looking around the bathroom for something, anything, she yanked open the medicine cabinet and scanned the dozens of prescription bottlesMs. Brightly was a total hypochondriac if not a drug addictthen grabbed a toenail clipper. As heavy boot steps squish-squished toward her across the wet carpet, Maddy used the clipper to strip the wires from a curling wand, then twined the bare wires around the brass doorknob and plugged it in.
Someone grabbed the knob. There was a bright blue spark and a loud snap, then a scream and a bone-jarring crash. The lights flickered, dimmed, and the men outside shouted, "Get back! Don't touch him!"
In the couple of seconds she had bought, Maddy hurriedly searched for a means of escape. The bathroom was like a desert, easily the emptiest room in the house; everything useful was bolted down. Still trying to act cheerful, she made the children lie down in the bathtub and covered them with an armload of towels and the toilet lid. They were both wide-awake, and intensely curious about whatever was going on.
"Them men shouldn't be here. It's too loud. My mommy's gonna be mad."
"Don't worry, I'll take care of it."
As axes began chopping at the door, Maddy reached up and pulled on the shower curtain rod. It was a fat enameled tube about five feet long, lightweight but sturdy. There was no way to get it down in one piece, not without toolsokay. Leverage. Sliding the shower curtain to the center and twisting it like a rope, she yanked the bar so hard it broke, landing her flat on her butt. Ow. She got up, wincing, and wrested the two halves out of the wall. The kids were fascinated.
"Ooohyou broke it. You're in trouble."
"Just stay there and be really quiet, okay? Just like two little deer in the forest."
"Just like Bambi, shh."
Digging around under the sink, Maddy grabbed a can of hairspray...
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