Home > Beauty and the Assassin

Beauty and the Assassin
Author: Nadia Lee

 


Chapter One

 

Angelika

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

It’s a great saying. Full of optimism and positive outlook.

But whoever came up with it assumed that life only has fresh lemons to hand out.

What if life gives you rotten lemons? Then what? What do you have to say to that, First Person Who Came up with the Saying?

Forget lemons. You need to take a break, my lungs whine. My muscles are screaming a chorus of pain and my feet are demanding a better pair of running shoes because pounding along a jogging trail—even a dirt one—is still hard on the joints.

I grit my teeth and push harder, sweat running in rivulets despite the cool morning air. My body’s complaining because it doesn’t quite grasp the implication of a wildlife documentary I saw once. In it, the narrator said, “You don’t have to be the fastest animal in the herd. You just have to be faster than the slowest one.”

But what about prey that doesn’t have a herd? Prey that has to run alone?

Prey like me.

I’ve been running for eight years now, while the damn universe keeps throwing one rotten lemon after another, hard enough to leave bruises. Soon it’s going to start lobbing lemons with razor blades embedded. Why settle for bruises when you can slice and dice?

Okay, stop with the negativity, please.

Fine, fine. I shake off my morose thoughts. I didn’t move to Los Angeles to bitch about my life, certainly not in my first month here. I’m in the City of Angels for a sign, something—anything—that says I’m going to be okay. That I’m going to be safe…that I can quit running and rest.

A guardian angel.

The universe owes me something half-decent by now. I’m not even looking for fresh lemons. Just some that aren’t totally rotted out yet, so I can turn them into the lemonade everyone’s always talking about.

I take in my new environment without slowing down. Cincinnati was such a lovely town. A place that could’ve kept me safe, or so I thought.

My wishful thinking lasted ten months and three days.

The universe gave me a sign that final morning. I was watching TV, and the news anchors were bursting with morbid excitement over a missing young woman who was found dead just three days earlier. The killer? Her ex-boyfriend.

“Young men with twisted sexual desires and fantasies…” intoned one anchor. His partner picked it up: “…who lose their outlet…can go dark.” Her tone was somber but her eyes shone with a macabre eagerness to share the nugget of wisdom. “They can’t stop. Until they’re caught or they satisfy their fantasy, which can escalate all the way up to murder.”

What I heard was: My stepbrother Roy isn’t going to stop tormenting me. He’s going to keep going until he kills me.

It’s okay. I’ve been in Cincinnati for over ten months, and he still hasn’t found me. And that’s a new record. Maybe—just maybe—he’s gotten bored chasing me all around the country. Maybe he’s even dating, although I feel sorry for his girlfriend because she probably doesn’t know Roy’s a sociopath.

If Roy hadn’t done anything by my next birthday—which would be a big deal, since he always sends me a “gift” to make sure I know he hasn’t forgotten about me—maybe I could’ve thought about something beyond running. I might even have been able to make friends I could actually hang out with. Maybe started college.

When I turned TV off and exited my half-basement unit—which I rented from a nice old lady who was supplementing her social security with the wrinkled stack of cash I gave her every month—I saw a brown sedan coming down our residential road entirely too fast. My throat went tight as I saw old Mrs. Kowalski in the way. She saw the car but froze, like an actor caught in a slow-mo scene. I screamed at her to move, waving my arms.

The sedan didn’t stop. It plowed into her full speed, blowing her out of the way like a scarecrow in front of a tidal wave, then swerved around the corner and vanished. But this time it was me who was frozen as blood shot up to my head, then almost immediately drained away, leaving me dizzy and dazed.

The license plate. The same damn Georgia vanity plate that appears in every city and town I try to run off to.

 

RN IF U CN

 

When the police questioned me, I told them I hadn’t seen anything useful. I knew from experience that giving them the vanity plate wouldn’t lead to anything. The plate doesn’t officially exist. Roy had it made just to torment me, to let me know he’s found me.

Run if you can.

Now, running along the path, I can still feel his creepy artificial watermelon breath against my ear. I shiver, even as sweat pours down my body in the Los Angeles heat.

Universe, you gave me a sign in Cincinnati right before Roy’s car appeared. That means you feel like you owe me one after eight years of shitty luck, right? So come on. Give me something. A guardian angel to keep me safe. If that’s too much, then just a sign. Just direct me where I can find somebody who can do something about Roy.

A man jumps in front of me. Adrenaline spikes, scorching through me and expelling an unsteady breath from my lungs. Is this a sign? I squint, running my shirt around my forehead and eyebrows to get the sweat out of my eyes.

The air carries the smell of stale alcohol, and then the most incredible stench. His dark, greasy curls stick to his dirt-smudged face and hollow cheeks. Yellow crust lines bloodshot eyes. His long coat is a mysterious shade somewhere between dingy and grimy, and his calf-length athletic socks were white at some point in the past.

The man in front of me hasn’t been intimate with soap in days. And it’s been months for his clothes. But as awful as his body odor is, I don’t think it’s enough to kill Roy.

“Hey there, pretty girl.” He smiles, displaying crooked teeth a shade lighter than mocha.

My lungs are still demanding air, so I breathe through my mouth, wondering whether to go around this person or just turn and jog back the way I came.

His eyes twinkle. “Gonna show you something good.” He yanks the coat open.

“Agh!” I jump back, raising my hands to block the view, but it’s too late.

Rotten lemons, and now a disgustingly dirty sausage? Fuck you, universe! I seethe inside. If I didn’t have to screen out the sickening display, I’d be shaking my fists.

He laughs triumphantly, then starts walking toward me.

I step back, my heart beating hard for reasons that have nothing to do with the morning run. This isn’t the kind of torment my stepbrother enjoys, but he could’ve expanded his repertoire.

Please, for God’s sake. Let this guy be a random pervert freak!

I run my gaze down the man’s naked torso and legs. Just lots of filthy, hair-matted skin, no tats or writing mentioning Roy. Thank God.

Apparently Roy hasn’t found me yet, even though he has to know by now that I’m no longer in Cincinnati. That’s good. Very good.

Then I realize something else. The section of the huge park this freak and I are in is secluded. Lots of trees and nobody around. At least not anyone I can hear.

I need to either fight or run. I don’t want to run, but it’s the most logical option. No matter how unhygienic this man is, he’s taller and bigger than me. Probably stronger, too, although I doubt he’s fit enough to chase and catch me if I take off.

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