The clock on the antique desk ticked like a time bomb as the walls slowly closed in on her. With each quarter chime, the perimeter of the room decreased by several inches. The room itself wasn't that small, perhaps 20' x 15', but it was the absence of windows and doors that was alarming. The air was thin as though the oxygen had been sucked out of the room leaving an uninhabitable vacuum. Apart from the clock, the room was silent. The noise, though, was absolutely deafening.
The ringing in Emily's ears, coupled with the rapid throbbing of her pulse, made it hard for her to focus on steadying her breathing. Greedily and noisily she gulped for air, unable to slow down her rapid respiration. Heart racing, head pounding, her mind kept repeating her mantra, “It’s okay, you’re okay.” Emily felt sick to her stomach, certain she was dying. She recognized her symptoms as those of a full-blown panic attack, but that didn't help to calm her down. The only thing she held onto was the fact that the lights were on, that she wasn’t in total darkness. It wasn't bright by any means, but there was a floor lamp on one side of the room and a table lamp on the desk next to the clock.
Emily had woken disoriented about 40 minutes ago. At first, she thought she was still immersed in some nightmare, having trouble clearing the fog from her brain. Once she understood she was awake, she scanned her surroundings, trying to remember where she was and why she was there. Feeling groggy, Emily initially felt only confusion and a sense that there was something she was missing. “I don’t know this place,” she thought to herself. “What am I doing here? Where’s Brad?” Her eyes took in the oak panelled walls and thickly carpeted floor, and the furnishings in the room. It was all foreign to her, but her mind suddenly snapped to attention and she awoke fully. Then she remembered.
“It’s fine, I’m okay. I can do this,” she said aloud. Emily was in a Mystery Escape Room. She recalled what led her to be here.
About a week ago, she received an invitation in her email inbox. Addressed to her, Emily Johnson, it read:
Congratulations! You are one of twelve people who have been specially selected to participate in the Grand Opening preview of our new Victoria Mystery Escape Room Experience. We are offering this complimentary escape adventure in exchange for a review of your experience with us. Your appointed time is 3 pm to 5 pm on Saturday, October 13 at 353 Victoria Road. Refreshments and all game materials will be included free of charge. Please RSVP by October 10 by responding to this email. We ask you come alone.
Looking forward to sharing a great escape,
The Escape Room Experience Management
Emily’s first response was to send the invitation into the recycle bin. Why on earth would someone pay to be locked up? It was the newest craze these days - puzzle rooms, adventure rooms, mystery rooms. Whatever they called it, she couldn’t understand why anyone would find it fun to be locked in a room, free or not. Emily’s finger hovered above the delete button. Then she reconsidered, and walked away from the computer.
When her husband, Brad, came home from his office at the law firm, Emily showed him the invitation. “You’re not thinking of going, are you?” he asked. Brad had experienced the effects of Emily’s claustrophobia on numerous occasions during their 24 years of married life.
“No, but I don’t know, maybe I should. You know, try to face up to my fears,” answered Emily. “Maybe this invitation is a sign that this is something I need to do. I’m so tired of not being able to go in an elevator without freaking out.” Emily was reasonably fit and healthy for her 47 years, so she could handle a few flights of stairs. That wasn’t the issue, though. Their daughter, Lisa, lived in a highrise condo in the city. Emily wanted to be able to visit without having to medicate herself beforehand. There was also the problem of change rooms, public bathrooms, planes, crowds in public places, the car in a snowstorm...the list went on and on. Life was difficult when you lived in fear of being trapped.
“Do you think you can handle it?” Brad asked again.
“Well, I think I handled the gondola up the mountain pretty well. So, yeah, I can handle it,” Emily told him. “Maybe this will get rid of my fear once and for all.”
Last year, Emily and Brad had gone on vacation to a resort in the Rocky Mountains with their friends, Joyce and Tom Burke. Joyce suggested going up the mountain on the gondola to see the views. Brad said, “You two go ahead. We’ll wait down here.”
“What? And miss out on this? Come on, you don’t get a chance like this every day,” coaxed Joyce.
“You go along, Brad,” suggested Emily. She reminded Joyce and Tom about her fear of heights and closed spaces.
But Joyce wasn’t one to take no for an answer. She persisted, “Well, you know what they say about facing your fears head on. It’s the best way to overcome them. You’ll be fine. We’re all here for you. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity!” Joyce took Emily’s hand in hers and led her towards the ticket booth.
“Are you sure?” asked Brad.
Emily responded with a weak smile. “Yes, I’ll probably regret it if I don’t do it and miss out.” This was her first trip to the mountains, something she had always wanted to do. She didn’t want to spoil it.
Although she closed her eyes for much of the ride, Emily was ecstatic when she got to the top of the mountain. The view was incredible. The miniature town below was cradled by the surrounding mountains with their snow-covered caps. There were goats on the overhang just
under where they stood. Emily never once regretted her choice to take the gondola ride. “I did it! It wasn’t bad at all. You’re right - I do need to face my fears head on. I’m so glad I did this!”
“If you really want to do to this Escape Room thing, I’ll come with you,” Brad said.
“No, it says to come alone. That must have something to do with whole experience, I guess, being alone with 11 other people you don’t know yet,” replied Emily.
“Okay, if you’re sure this is something you really want to do…?” Brad was always supportive of whatever she did, but also somewhat overprotective at times.
Now, with her head in her hands, rocking back and forth on the leather sofa, Emily wished Brad were here with her. It hadn’t taken long for Emily to lose control. As soon as Emily realized there were no windows or doors in the room, she felt that wave rising through her body, that sense of dread, that paralyzing fear no amount of reason could squelch. She had no choice but to wait and hope it would pass. Emily closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on slowing her breathing. “You knew this wouldn’t be easy,” she thought to herself. “Remember it’s a game.” Emily now recalled something about an emergency button. She needed to locate it, she thought, even just to know where it was in case she couldn’t go through with this. “A red button. On the door,” she remembered being told.
Emily stood up and looked around the perimeter of the room looking for the door with the red button. There was no door.
"There has to be a door,” Emily thought frantically, "I got in here somehow." Emily sat back down on the couch and tried to remember how she had gotten in there.
She had a clear memory of driving up to the old Victorian mansion just before 3 pm. The sign on the front lawn clearly read ‘Victoria Mystery Escape Room Experience’. Leaving her parked car on the street in front of the building, she headed up the walkway towards the front door.
"Hi there, you must be Emily," called a voice from the front porch as Emily approached. The attractive young man who greeted her introduced himself as Tim. "Welcome to our Escape Experience. Before we go in, there are just a few things that we should go over together so you understand what's going on."
"Shouldn't we wait for everyone else to come?" asked Emily.
"It's just the two of us,” said Tim. "Each of our preview experiences are individual adventures. I'm sorry if that wasn't clear in the email."
"But I expected that we'd be in a group," explained Emily. "I don't think I can do this on my own.”
"There's nothing to worry about. It's perfectly safe. The whole experience only takes an hour. If you're unable to get out within the hour, I'll release you," Tim assured her.
"You don't understand," continued Emily. "I have claustrophobia."
"No problem. There's an emergency button just in case. It's a large red knob on the doorframe.
If you feel panicked just give it a push. The door will open right away," Tim explained. "There's also a camera in the room. So I'll be monitoring you the whole time."
"I don't know. I think I'll just leave it, thanks." said Emily hesitantly.
But Tim opened the front door and said, “It’ll be great, I promise you. The hour will go by quickly and if you do solve the mystery and escape, you’ll have first bragging rights. You’re our fourth client so far, and no one else has figured it out yet.”
Emily walked into the entrance way and the door closed behind her. There was a reception area to the right. Tim told Emily to help herself to refreshments. “Just have a seat on the couch for a moment and I’ll be right back with some forms for you to fill out,” said Tim. “Then we”ll get started.” While Emily waited, she poured poured herself a cup of coffee and treated herself to a cookie. She vaguely recalled being helped to her feet and guided out of the reception area a while later. That was all Emily remembered. The next thing she knew, she woke up in the escape room, alone and disoriented.
"I must've blacked out and lost some of my memory in my panic," thought Emily. "I just need to stay calm until they come to let me out." As the clock chimed the quarter hour again, Emily noted that it was 6 o'clock. Surely she had been in here for at least an hour. Tim would come to let her out any time now. She waited. No one came. With each passing minute, Emily became more agitated.
"Calm down," she told herself. "Think think think. There must be a way out of here." Emily
was accustomed to solving mysteries. She was the author of several suspense novels as well as an avid reader of thrillers. But this was no novel, and she was not a character fabricated out of someone's imagination. This was real.
As the clock chimed again, Emily realized she needed to take action to get herself out of this situation. She picked up her purse and searched for her phone. Not finding it, she dumped the contents of her purse on the table and rummaged through everything several times. She checked the pockets of her jacket. It wasn’t there. “I didn’t leave it in the car, did I?” Emily panicked. “Now what am I going to do?” She eased herself off the couch, steadied herself, took a deep breath, and started feeling along the wall behind the couch. She felt her way carefully along the panels, searching for a crack that might be the edge of a door. There didn’t seem to be any opening as far as she could tell. When she got to the end of the wall, she noticed there was a hidden recess between it and the adjoining wall that she hadn’t seen in her panicked state. “The door!” Emily exclaimed with relief. But when she turned the corner into the recess all she found in the small space was a toilet and sink, equipped with toilet paper and towels. “Why would they have this in an Escape Room?” she wondered. Along the next wall she continued searching for a gap, finding none. Nor was there any sign of a break in the panelling on the third wall, where the desk and chair were situated next to a bookcase. There was, however, a small air vent near the bottom of the floor, not large enough for her to crawl through, by any means. Emily continued
along the final wall, where two chairs and the floor lamp stood. Apart from a coffee table in front of the couch, there was no other furniture. A throw and 2 pillows adorned the couch. Otherwise, nothing. No TV, no computer. No decorative touches, no knick knacks, nothing on the walls. Nor was there a door.
Emily checked out the bookcase and saw that it held some books, one of them being her first novel, a battery operated radio, a box of kleenex, several bottles of water, a box of crackers, and a couple of boxes of granola bars. Then she went over to the desk and opened a drawer, hoping to find some clues. She found some blank sheets of paper and a pen in the top right drawer. In the second drawer, she found a flashlight and a first aid kit along with some pain pills. The last drawer held a folded piece of paper, and a vial of pills.
Emily took out the piece of paper, unfolded it, and read the typed message she found:
I’m sorry it came to this. I’m not a killer, really I’m not. But my life is ruined and I felt I had no other choice, so I took a chance. But I’m giving you a choice. I want you to have a chance to end this as quickly and painlessly as possible. So you can take the pills and it will be over in minutes, or you can wait…It’s up to you. The heat’s not on, the water’s not connected, the food and water will run out. No one will come for months.
Emily felt the rising wave go through her body once again and she nearly passed out as she felt the blood drain from her brain. “No, no, no...this isn’t happening,” she shouted. She rose
slowly and screamed as loud as she could and banged on the wall beside the desk with all her might. The chiming of the clock brought her to her senses, and she sat back down. “Calm down, think,” she told herself. Then she remembered. Brad knew where she was. Lisa, her daughter, and Greg, her son, knew where she was. When she didn’t come home soon, they would come look for her at the Escape house. Looking around the room again, Emily was confused. This didn’t look like an escape game room, but rather like a safe room, one of those panic rooms that rich people build into their homes in case of a break-in or some other emergency situation. What if she wasn’t where she thought she was? What if she wasn’t where her family thought she was?
It dawned on Emily that no one knew where to look for her. “Who would want to do this to me?” she wailed out loud. “What did I do to you?” She put her head in her hands and cried. After a few minutes, she got up and walked around again, looking for something she might have missed. “I need to focus, calm myself down if I’m going to get out of here,” she thought. “The good news is the room is not getting smaller, there is oxygen in the room, I’m not in immediate danger. That was just my hysteria getting the best of me before.” Then she took the note, some paper and a pen from the drawer and sat down at the desk.
“Pull yourself together,” she said to herself. “Okay, so there are two things I need to focus on. One, I need to find a way out of here. The sooner the better. Two, I need to solve my own murder. No, make that attempted murder.” In the event that she didn’t make it out, she hoped to be able to leave some sort message leading her family and the police to her killer. Emily took a
bottle of water and took a small sip and then settled down to work. Since she had received the email about the escape room about a week ago, she thought she would try to retrace her steps over the last few weeks to look for clues. Being a writer by nature and by trade, she took one piece of paper and began to map out recent events in her life as best as she could remember them, and on another piece of paper she recorded suspects, motives, means, and opportunities. Then she cross-referenced her lists.
“I’ve never done anything to hurt anyone. Who would want me dead? And in this cruel way? Is it for revenge? Or money? Or just some psycho toying with me?” she wondered. Emily thought she should be able to figure this out. Afterall, her hobby was reading and writing mysteries. She considered the usual suspects in a story. It was always the husband. Except not in this case, it wasn’t. Brad would never do anything to hurt her. Even though there was the half million dollar life insurance policy, she was sure of this. Brad loved her. Besides, she also held a half million dollar life insurance policy in his name. Would they even pay if her death was a suicide? “Stop!” she told herself, “I can’t seriously be suspecting my husband! What is wrong with me?” Money couldn’t be the motive. Emily was well-off, but not rich. Brad did very well himself as a criminal attorney. But if money was the motive, the only people who stood to gain from her death were her husband and her son and daughter.
Could it be revenge? For what? Emily had never intentionally hurt anyone. She led a simple life. With Brad at work and the kids moved away, she was home alone much of the time. She
spent most of her days at home reading and writing. She did the laundry, cooked, cleaned, watched some TV. She bought groceries. Groceries? Could that be it? A couple of weeks ago there had been an incident when she went out for groceries. She had abruptly switched lanes to get on the exit ramp in time, and in doing so she cut in front of someone causing them to brake suddenly and swerve. She was lucky she hadn’t caused an accident. The driver of the other car pressed the horn hard several times in disgust at her inconsiderate driving. Maybe he or she memorized Emily’s license plate number or maybe even recognized her from a photo on a book jacket. Or maybe it was the owner of the dog she had run over last year. Distracted driving may well be one of her faults, thought Emily. She didn't like to drive, especially in the winter, and she seldom went anywhere without Brad. There was that time she caused another driver to swerve into the ditch because she was moving too slowly and the driver decided to pass, not seeing the oncoming car in the opposite lane. But both those accidents had taken place quite some time ago. So revenge was a possible, but surely not a likely, motive, thought Emily.
Could it have something to do with Brad’s job? As a criminal attorney, he was responsible for some innocent people being sent to jail, and some guilty people being let off scot-free. It was the nature of the job, not his fault. Could someone be getting back at him by killing his wife? But how did people know about her claustrophobia? Emily wondered. “Facebook, my bio, it’s probably public knowledge,” Emily thought. “So really, anyone could know.” Revenge was often a motive in books, but Emily couldn’t believe someone would go to this much trouble over some little car accident or even a court judgement that she had nothing to do with.
Emily got up and did another round of the room, more thoroughly this time. She felt up and down and all around the wood panels trying to find a break. She looked up at the ceiling. There was another air vent there, but again, it was way too small for anyone to fit into. She checked around the sink and the toilet area. Then she started to move the furniture away from the wall. The chairs and floor lamp moved easily enough. The couch was a little more difficult, as was the desk, but she managed to push them aside so that she could get in behind them. The bookcase wouldn’t budge. After several attempts to move the bookcase, Emily sat back down at the desk. She gave some more thought to motive and suspects.
Could it be that someone was jealous of her? What about her divorced next door neighbour? She seemed friendly enough, but who knew? Pam was always needing Brad to help her out with odd jobs around the house and yard. Was she hoping to have Brad to herself once Emily was out of the picture? Maybe she envied Emily with her husband and family, her successful career, and happy life. Maybe she was so lonely she was desperate. Or maybe they were already having an affair right under her nose. “How could I be so naive, not noticing them carry on like that? That must be it! Brad doesn’t seem to mind spending time over there,” she convinced herself. “And I’ve been so busy with my writing, I haven’t been paying much attention to Brad lately.”
“My writing, I wonder... Does that have something to do with this?” Emily switched gears. She had just submitted her last novel to her editor. “What if I wrote something to offend someone, one of the proofreaders, maybe, or even my editor herself,” pondered Emily. “Or maybe I somehow inadvertently exposed someone or something during my research. Could I have been a witness to something without knowing it?” Emily considered if perhaps she even had a crazed fan who was putting her in a situation similar to one in one of her books to see how she would handle it. Maybe she was the victim of an absolute psycho. This made her think of Tim, her host at the Escape house. She knew nothing about him. Sure, he didn’t look like a crazy person, but then you never knew, did you? Some of the most famous serial killers were very normal and attractive looking people. “I should have known something was wrong when he was the only one there,” Emily told herself. As she tried to envision him, there was something nagging at the back of her mind. It was as though she had seen him somewhere before, but she couldn’t quite place him.
Having completed an inspection of the room twice now, Emily decided to check through her pockets and purse again for anything that might be of use. The pockets were empty, as was the purse now. She checked the contents she had dumped on the table earlier: keys for the car and house, her wallet with ID and credit cards along with a few bills and some change, a few pills, some kleenex, a pack of mints, a hairbrush, a couple of old lottery tickets along with this week’s ticket, some hand lotion, lip balm, a notepad and a pen. But no phone. Emily got up and checked the contents of the desk again: a clock, a lamp, writing materials, a flashlight, first aid supplies, and the note with the pills. On the bookcase, she noted the radio, the books, the food and water, and kleenex. She shook out the pillows and the throw that were on the couch, as well as the towel and toilet paper rolls in the bathroom area. All these items might keep her comfortable for a while, but wouldn’t help to get her out of here. She would need to leave some clues to help her family solve her murder, that is, if she was ever found at all.
Emily went back to the desk and continued recording her thoughts and ideas about her situation. Someone had to have the means to carry out this plan in order to get rid of her in this way. “Someone who has a panic room in their house, or someone who has access to a house with a panic room. Maybe a house that’s currently vacant?” Emily considered. It would have to be someone who was able to physically remove her from the waiting room of the Escape house into this room, or perhaps into a completely different building. “It wouldn’t make sense that I’m still at the Escape house. Brad and the kids would look for me there. My car’s parked outside. Other people would see it. Other people would come into the Escape house at some point. So I must be somewhere else, maybe somewhere no one is expected to show up,” she reasoned. “And whoever did this to me doesn’t know me as well as they think they do. I would never take the easy way out and take my own life. I need to think about the kids and Brad. What would happen to them if I just gave up?” Of course, it could be that someone was so twisted and cruel that they wanted to prolong her suffering and wait it out until she simply died, whether as the result of fright or panic, or the lack of basic necessities.
Emily took another sip of water and lay down on the couch with her eyes closed for a few
moments. She thought about her parents and her brother. She hadn’t seen them for the last month as she had been concentrating on getting her book finished. Would they think she had walked out on her family? Surely Brad knew her well enough to know that she would never do that. What would everyone think? She opened her eyes and glanced at the contents of her purse, picked up her wallet and looked inside just in case she still had some family photos inside. No such luck. She thought she might never see her kids again.
As she set down her wallet, the lottery tickets caught her eye, and she thought of Joyce. Emily and Joyce had been out for lunch Wednesday at their usual spot. The two of them had a sort of “lottery pact”. Each week, they would take turns choosing numbers and buying a lottery ticket with the understanding that if one of them won, they would split the prize. This week had been Emily’s turn to purchase the ticket. “No amount of money would help me now,” Emily thought. “It really is true what they say - money isn’t everything.” Although she and Joyce knew they would never win the lottery, and more often than not forgot to check their tickets, they joked about what they would do when they won. Emily thought about Joyce now and was again ashamed of where her mind was taking her. “First my husband, now my best friend? How could I even think it?” she reprimanded herself. But what if Joyce held a winning ticket and didn’t want to share? Could she do this to her? Was she capable of this?
Emily had known Joyce since they were three, when they met in the park. They had attended school together, grown up together, and gone to university together. Emily didn’t remember a
time when they were not best friends and confidantes. When Emily married and started a family with Brad, Joyce was there through it all. When Joyce met and married Tom 12 years ago, Emily was her maid of honour. Joyce was a successful real estate agent and Tom owned a small chain of retail stores. They had a 10 year old daughter and Tom had a grown son from a previous marriage. They seemed to be well-off and happy with their life together. During their Wednesday lunch, Joyce and Emily had talked about their husbands, their jobs, the kids, and their favourite TV programs. Nothing Joyce said or did was out of the ordinary. What would Joyce think when she found out she was missing? Would she think she had run away? What if Joyce and Brad were having an affair? Could they be in on this together?
Emily was starting to worry whether anyone would actually look for her, or whether they would assume she had left of her own accord. Each time the clock chimed, Emily knew she was one step closer to never escaping, never being found. She looked around the room again, wondering what she was missing. She focused on the bookcase. If she removed everything from the shelves, would she be able to push it even the slightest bit? She doubted it. Knowing she had no other options at this point, Emily went to the bookcase and started to remove all the items on the shelves. Then she pushed with all her might. It didn’t budge. She tried to move the shelves and found they weren’t fastened. They came out fairly easily. After she placed the shelves on the floor away from the bookcase, Emily tried once again to move the bookcase, but to no avail. “What is making this so heavy?” she screamed in frustration. She stared at the bookcase willing it to open up and set her free. Then she remembered the flashlight in the desk. Grasping it in one hand and feeling her way along the back and sides of the bookcase, Emily peered inside and saw nothing. She grabbed her keys off the table and started gouging the back wall of the bookcase, but it was solid. Defeated, she held the sides of the bookcase and slid down to the floor. “Ouch,” she cried out as her thumb scraped against something. Emily felt along the recessed edge of the bookcase and felt a small built-in release button. “Yes!” she screamed. Emily pushed the button, the bookcase swung open, and she almost fell headlong into the next room.
It was dark. She saw very little. The bookcase swung closed behind her. She felt along the closed door and realized there were shelves, that it was a double-sided bookcase.
Emily turned around and stared into the dark space ahead, almost expecting someone to grab her and send her back into her prison. Once she realized she was alone, she carefully walked forward with her hands outstretched and felt a wall about 6 feet away from the bookcase. She turned and walked to the right, finding another wall. Then she turned around and walked in the opposite direction until she once again came to a wall. To her horror, Emily realized that she had been trapped in a box within a box.
She screamed and pounded, not caring who might hear. After some time, she sat down and tried to calm herself. “It’s okay, you’re okay,” she kept repeating. “I got this far. There has to be a way out. No, it’s not a box. It can’t be. Maybe an entryway to the safe room,” she reasoned. She judged the space to be about 6’x10’. “Maybe a closet,” she thought. “If it’s a closet, there must be a door.” Emily got up and felt along the wall in front of her. Her fingers came upon a small round raised spot. “A door pull? No, maybe a camera?” she guessed. “No, not a camera. A peep hole!” Emily knelt down and peeked through the hole and saw darkness. She kept working her way across the wall and then she felt it. There was a crack in the wall. It ran from the top to the bottom of the wall. Emily pressed hard on the crack in the wall. Nothing happened. She continued to feel along the wall until she felt another crack. When she pushed on it, this time it gave way and Emily tumbled into yet another room.
It was dark as well. Emily stood still for a moment, wondering if this was another box she was trapped in. Then her eyes began to adjust and she saw there was some moonlight coming in from a window. Emily gingerly walked towards the window, which she soon realized was a door, opened the curtains, and looked out into the darkness. Then she opened the patio door and stepped outside. She was greeted by the sound of waves crashing against the shore. As Emily gazed at the black lake, she said to herself, “I know who did this. And I know why.”
Emily worked her way towards the front of the house. The moon and stars provided just enough light for her to see where she was going. The gravel driveway led to a gravel road. She didn’t know which way to turn, so she took a right. Emily didn’t know how long it was, maybe an hour or two that she spent walking down the road. Finally, a car came along and stopped. It was an older couple just heading back home from closing up their cottage for the winter. They asked her if she needed a ride, if she needed help. Emily said, “Call 911”, and then she told them her story.
It was after midnight by the time Emily was reunited with her family. The ordeal she had been through had lasted about 8 hours, but it felt more like days to Emily.
“I started to get worried when you didn’t come home for supper. Then when you didn’t answer the phone after I kept calling, I called the kids,” Brad told her. “We were just about to contact the police when they called us into the station and told tell us what had happened to you.” Emily was safe in her husband’s arms with her children by her side.
Emily’s version of what happened was confirmed thanks to financial records, a nosy neighbour who saw Emily and Tim enter the Escape house, and fingerprints on the vial of pills. She explained to the police how her friends Joyce and Tom had a cottage about an hour north of the city. Joyce was selling a nearby cottage for a friend, but it had been closed up for the winter, awaiting spring for further showings. When Emily saw that she was at the lake, she thought she had solved the mystery of her attempted murder. She had at first assumed Joyce was having an affair with Brad and wanted her out of the way. But then as she walked along the road, and thought it through logically, she knew Brad and Joyce wouldn’t betray her. That got her thinking about Tom. And then she remembered why Tim looked so familiar. She had seen his childhood photo on Joyce and Tom’s mantel. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, she thought. So she told the police she suspected Tom might be responsible for her abduction, but she didn’t know why he would do such a thing.
When they found the evidence to incriminate him, Tom broke down and confessed. He wanted Emily gone, but he didn’t have it in him to kill her by his own hand, so he hoped that she would be driven to kill herself, or if not, then die of thirst. After some time had passed, he would dispose of her body in the deepest part of the lake. Unknown to Joyce, Tom’s retail stores were heading towards bankruptcy and Tom couldn’t deal with the prospect of financial ruin. He enlisted the help of his son, James, known to Emily as Tim. James, who had been raised by his mother, had just recently been released from prison for serving time for a botched armed robbery. Together, they created a plan to get rid of Emily by luring her to the Escape house.
Tom had made a set of duplicate keys for the cottage Joyce had been showing. They sent Emily the email, then broke into the Escape house on the meeting day, drugged Emily, and Tom drove her to the cottage in her car. James followed in his car and they disposed of Emily’s car in the lake.
It seems that one of the lottery tickets from a few weeks ago had won 6 million dollars. Tom was in the habit of checking Joyce’s tickets without her knowledge, and when he realized she held the winning ticket, he took it. Joyce simply thought she had lost the ticket and had no idea she had the winning numbers. Greed got the better of Tom. He thought that if he could get Emily out of the picture, he would pretend to find the missing ticket behind the dresser, and then he and Joyce could keep all the money for themselves. Even with the “gift” of a half million dollars to his son James, there would be enough to save the business and live a life of luxury. Tom broke down crying, saying he never wanted to hurt Emily, but he felt trapped and didn't see any way out of his situation.
Emily was all too familiar with the sensation of being trapped. It could lead you to do crazy things. Like suspect your husband and your best friend of murder. You never knew what someone might be capable of doing. “Tom sure underestimated what I’m capable of,” she thought. “I’m a lot stronger than people think. Turns out I’m a lot stronger than I knew myself.”
Joyce was devastated when she learned what her husband had done. Emily didn’t know how Joyce would ever get her life back on track, but whatever happened, Emily would be there for her. Brad told Emily how brave she had been to think her way out of the prison she was in despite her fear of being trapped. “I think I won the battle against my claustrophobia, for sure,” Emily agreed. “But I don’t think I want to be alone in an enclosed space again any time in the foreseeable future. But at least now I know what my next novel will be about.”
It’s not that easy to get away with murder, Emily thought. It’s always the husband. Even if it’s not your husband.