Maisie Lipton peered down from her sixth-floor window at a middle-aged woman sitting on the freezing ridge of one of the Dakota’s courtyard fountains. The woman opened her full-length, white silk-lined Chinchilla coat.

On this freezing January morning, the woman was naked but for a pair of white leather ankle boots, presumably to keep her feet safe from the snow-covered blue Devonian stone walkway.

The woman leaned back, her face raised to the sky. Her long, ash-blonde hair swayed like corn silk in the slight morning breeze. The soft strands kissed the fountain’s non-sprouting wrought-iron white calla lilies. Her expression—void of knowing where she was, deep ecstasy.

Maisie shook her head and chuckled. Maybe this absurdity was a sort of initiation to life at the Dakota. Her Midwestern upbringing hadn’t prepared her for the culture shock she’d experienced since she and her two best friends had moved to New York City.

With a thick hair tie, Maisie pulled her mass of red hair back, then moved away from the window. Her coffee was ready. She contemplated the day ahead, coffee being one of her passions and this brew, a delicious French roast, symbolized a tribute to her first morning spent in Apartment 64. With her debut novel reviewed as “a literary surprise for the horror genre,” she took a sip and raised up her cup. She said with no one else around, “To you, Ms. Lipton, a former book shop clerk made good in Manhattan.”

The Dakota, known for its notable residents and overflowing stories of hauntings, was built in 1884. The huge building possessed an impressive combination of architectural styles: German Gothic, French Renaissance, and English Victorian. The old European-type structure had been kept up very well through the decades while the Upper West Side of Manhattan went through dramatic changes. The massive ten-story building resembled a tall, sinister castle with several ominous-looking gables that stood out, surrounded in a borough that forever moves.

Maisie made her way down the long corridor; rays of sunlight from the right front room windows hit parts of the mahogany walls and flooring to give her a sense she was being christened by streams of gold. From the kitchen on the courtyard side of the apartment there was some distance until Maisie came to the dining room. This room was so spacious there stood an antique elevator cab, serving as a divider.

With coffee in hand, Maisie stopped to take another sip of her French roast. She stared intently with her pale green eyes, to take in the pleasure of why she gambled her whole book advance on the down payment for this expensive dwelling. It was the elevator cab without the fancy carved sliding cage that made her decide to venture into such debt. Her eyes moved up inches from the computer monitor to a gold-framed landscape.

The real estate agent who showed Maisie the apartment explained about the unique room divider. “These old elevator cabs were removed in the 1950’s to get ready for more efficient models. The owner before you had this one taken out of the storage in the building’s basement to be made into a modern tech working station.”

The painting was to be taken away and sold for auction. Maisie insisted the painting stay in its home above the computer station. The real estate agency decided to grant her wish. The apartment had been empty for 18 months; unusual for an apartment at the Dakota to stay vacant that long. For an undisclosed reason, the real estate agent agreed to sell Apartment 64 for under the starting price of $1.2 million.

Maisie sat down at her computer chair to admire the painting, a depiction of an inland water scene with the focal point of a large terracotta-stained bridge going into a dense woods, a woods and bridge landmark Maisie was very familiar with. Her hometown was frequently called the backwoods of Falls Park in Pendleton, Indiana. She remembered many a time when a guy would pull her in for a kiss or two while she had been leaning against the bridge. A puzzling signature at the bottom right corner of the painting read “Anonymous 2009.”

The size of the elevator cab was the same as her Brooklyn apartment bedroom. She sat finishing her coffee. She was about to get up and go to the kitchen for another cup when the computer screen lit up. In a flash, Maisie’s inbox came up. She had made no commands of typing her email address or her password. She leaned closer, her eyes scrolling down to read the name “Anton.” She opened it instead of deleting it.

The message read, “Your hair is the same color as hers.”

There was no email address or phone number, only the name Anton a few spaces down from the message. Maisie looked around, an involuntary reaction when she felt somewhat uncomfortable. She shot up out of the chair and mumbled, “Oh, this has got to be a hacker of sorts. Only I made sure to update my security links.”

She went into her bedroom, hearing her iPhone ringtone. From the left end table close to her bed, the screen showed “Zelda.” She opened it up. “Maisie, for Chrissake, it’s going on noon. I’ve got news!” Zelda Price blasted.

Before Maisie answered Zelda, she turned time back in her mind from when she had stopped to admire her elevator cab. It was 10:30. How could she have lost an hour and a half?

“I’m sorry, Zelda. It’s been one strange morning. I guess that’s because I’m living at the Dakota. What’s the news?” Maisie asked.

“The New Yorker, kid! They want you to submit something on the supernatural vein. Well, as you said it, since you are a resident at the Dakota, get this: they are willing to pay for a short story! $6,000! That will cover your nut until spring,” Zelda expressed in her crude way of speaking.

“That’s so strange and coincidental. I might have something,” Maisie said. She was tempted to tell her agent about the strange messenger.

“Hey, doll! I got scads of calls to make. See you tonight. Wear that little black dress you got last week; got to wow your newly-acquired public.”

It was time for a shower. All through the shower, Maisie organized in her mind how to unpack all those boxes in her bedroom and make sense of her cluttered-up furniture in the freshly-painted parlor. In this apartment, she had been blessed with a walk-in closet that gave her access to the front parlor. Feeling refreshed and dressed in a loose-fitting large sweater and jeans, Maisie began putting her clothes and many pairs of shoes into her coveted closet.

An insipid and repetitive sound of bouncing broke her concentration. And more alarming to her was the bouncing was heard over the soundtrack of The Phantom of the Opera. She walked out of her bedroom to the main corridor. A red ball the size of a tennis ball was bouncing from the kitchen to where she stood. The ball stopped at her bare toes. With no prompting from her toes, the ball rolled into the direction of the elevator cab.

Like an invisible pulling, the ball rolled in front of the computer tower. Maisie walked to the computer and sat down without a thought in her mind. She made it to the few steps into her inbox. There was another message from Anton.

She read, “I bet you are from Indiana. What do you think of the painting?”

Without hesitation, she replied. “I know the landscape well. I grew up in Pendleton, Indiana. The artist captured the true colors of that scene. That bridge brings back memories for me.”

Maisie sat there intently, wanting this Anton to message back. She spent the idle time studying the stunning landscape. There seemed to exist an eerie connection between the painting and her disembodied messenger.

Her phone ringing in her bedroom broke her sedentary repose. Reaching the threshold of her bedroom, she looked back at the elevator cab. Strange; the red ball had disappeared.

A girlish, breathless voice brought Maisie back into a more normal state. “Maz, how you loving it?”

“Love what?”

“Your new place, silly! Like you said it last week. You’ve been fascinated with the Dakota for years,” squealed close friend and college chum Lissa Marron.

“I’ve had a strange set of happenings here since I put on the morning coffee, starting with spying a naked woman in the courtyard below my kitchen window.”

“Maz, do you need to tell me something?”

Maisie shouted, “Oh, Lissa, come on! Wouldn’t you look if a naked woman opened her Chinchilla coat stark naked in freezing temperatures?”

“What exactly was she doing?”

“Well, she sat on the ridge of one of those calla lily fountains. She sat back her naked torso bared to the frozen elements. She seemed to be in some sort of meditation,” Maisie explained.

“Wait, I remember the baker’s wife from the corner bakery used to sunbathe in the nude on our apartment roof. I never knew how to speak to her when I went up there,” Lissa said, laughing.

Maisie was tempted to divulge about the two other bizarre happenings, but she changed her mind. She changed the subject. “Is Wylie coming to the book reading?”

“Yes, both of us will not miss your stunning achievement. Get ready, though; he’s bringing a few of his painted drags,” Lissa informed her.

“All I hope is they don’t upstage me.” Maisie took the fact of Wylie’s fellow drag queens making an appearance in her stride.

“Gotta go, my best pal. I’m being paged here in the ER. It’s a madhouse today!” Lissa chuckled then clicked off. Maisie gave out a relieved sigh. She knew their presence would help with the acute nervousness at her first book reading.


While Maisie spent careful time after her light dinner making herself ravishing, she went back in time to ten years at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. The three wide-eyed freshman met in a poetry class. Lissa Marron was Pre-Med, taking this class as an elective. Wylie Taylor was a Drama major, hoping this class would widen his horizons for the stage. Maisie Lipton was an English Lit major where poetry proved to be a requirement. All three became friends in the class and stayed very close-nit through their four years.

When graduation rolled around, they decided to embark on a bold move to New York City. Wylie and Maisie altered their goals somewhat, while Lissa stayed true to her medical commitment by landing a residency at the Brooklyn Hospital Center. Wylie found the role of Grace, the caramel-colored drag queen, not only enjoyable but surprisingly popular at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Maisie had settled for working in a corner bookstore in Brooklyn, not too far from a fifth-floor walkup she shared with Wylie and Lissa.

When Maisie sold her manuscript to Gephardt Morris, there was a celebration bash at the Stonewall Inn. Wylie dressed as Grace in a tight-fitting hot pink sequin gown, crying away all his pain-staking elaborate eye makeup. This was a combination of emotions for him; he was saddened by his friend moving from their sweet trio existence, and he harbored serious misgivings about her finding a home at the sinister Dakota.

Hailing a cab, Maisie looked stunning in her classic Chanel black dress, knee-leather boots, and her Leanne hooded puffer coat. As she looked out from the backseat of the cab, she stared at the 72nd Street entrance of her new home. The well-crafted entrance, a porte cochere- covered passageway; she realized this was the location where John Lennon was shot as he tried to enter.

Her mind was reeling with the strange and unusual; messages from Anton, the case of the bouncing red ball moving on its own, and the death of John Lennon, a previous resident of the Dakota popping into her mind. When she arrived at the Mysterious Book Shop on 58 Warren Street, she took a deep breath. She paid the driver and stood in front of the bookshop. She huffed and spoke out softly, “As Scarlett O’Hara would say, I will think about it tomorrow. I need to meet my new public, like Zelda told me.”


This is an excerpt from Patty Fischer’s new novel, Pain Exquisite.