“Wake up,” I hear in my sleep. It must be part of my dream as no one is home but me. “Wake up, bitch.” Not a very polite person; I wish her out of my dream. “Now!” Someone is shaking me. I feel something cold and metallic pressed to my temple. This is the most unpleasant dream I’ve had in ages. I try to move my arms, but I can’t. “Goddamn it! Wake the fuck up!” There is an explosion across my cheek, jolting me awake. I open my eyes slowly, not wanting to give in to my dream. There, a gaunt face is inches away from my own face, the black-rimmed eyes staring at me intently. “’Bout damn time!” She backhands me once for good measure. I stare at her, not knowing what the hell is going on. She looks vaguely familiar, but I’d have to be much more awake to place her. She slaps me again.
“Stop that!” I try to move away, but I can’t. I’m puzzled until I realize that she’s sitting on top of me. Even though she’s smaller than me, she has leverage. She also has tied my hands together in front of me and has a gun pressed to my temple. I tell myself it’s just a dream, but my perspiring body knows better. My heart starts racing, and I can barely restrain my bladder from voiding itself. “How did you get in here?”
“You sure sleep hard,” the vision says critically, pressing the gun more firmly against my temple. My mouth goes dry. I don’t know if she has the safety off, and I don’t want to find out. “The front door was propped open, then I picked your lock. You really need better security.” I stare at her incredulously. She’s giving me safety tips as she presses a gun to my head. Unbelievable! I keep my mouth shut, however, not wanting to aggravate her any more than I have to. She’s already agitated, and I have a feeling it would take little to push her over the edge. Now that I’m awake, I can place her face.
“You were at Moira’s party,” I blurt out before I can think it over and understand that it may not be the best idea to let this psycho know that I recognize her. She was the one sobbing to her male friend about being dumped by Moira. What was her name again? I can’t remember, but it was an unusual name.
“Yes, I was. The bitch.” The woman’s face is taut as she moves the gun away from my temple, then places it against my left breast. “She seduced me, did you know that? I was just a kid, but she didn’t care.” The woman is talking more to herself than to me, but I know better than to interrupt.
“It must have been horrible,” I say cautiously. I want to keep her talking, but I’m not sure what to say. I don’t want to say the wrong thing and hasten my demise.
“It was wonderful!” Her eyes light up at the memory. “I went to sit for her, and she made me feel so special.” It’s clear that she’s rehashed the seduction over and over again in her mind. “Until she got tired of me. After she got me hooked on crack, of course.” She laughs, and I flinch. It’s a harsh, ugly sound devoid of hope or humanity.
“You must be Emil’s daughter, Annie!” I gasp, my mouth once again ahead of my brain. “That’s not your name, though.” I frown. I’m sure she’s Emil’s daughter, but what had her male friend called her?
“You are too damn smart for your own good.” Annie lightly taps me on the breastbone with the gun, making me shudder. “It’s Anya, by the way. Annie is a baby’s name.” Anya. That’s it. I can’t believe I didn’t make the connection earlier.
“Did your father know you were at the party?”
“Of course he did,” Anya says scornfully. “Daddy tracked me down at the party right after I—and he demanded to know what I was doing there. I didn’t tell him anything.” So Emil had lied to me. I can understand his need to protect his daughter, but it would have been nice to have had this information earlier.
“Where have you been staying all this time?” Even though my brain feels like mush, I keep asking questions. I don’t want her remembering that she had a gun pointed at me.
“Here and there,” Anya shrugs. “I saw you coming out of Daddy’s house once. I thought you were up to no good.”
“You’re the one who attacked me?” She doesn’t answer, but I can tell by the look in her eyes that it’s true. She eases up the pressure against my breast, but it doesn’t matter as I’m firmly trussed up.
“You shouldn’t have interfered,” Anya says petulantly, backhanding me across the face again. She must be hopped up on something because her behavior is erratic. I absorb the sting of her hit without reacting. “The bitch deserved it. She said she loved me, but she was only using me. Then when I asked her for money, for the drugs, you know, she laughed at me. Said it wasn’t her problem.” Anya’s eyes fill with tears. She wipes her eyes with the back of her hand before transferring her gaze back to me. “Why did she do that?” It takes me a minute before I realize that the question is not rhetorical.
“I don’t know, Anya. She wasn’t a very nice person.” My arms and legs are beginning to cramp, and I can already feel my face puffing up.
“Know what I did to her?” Anya whispers in my ear before giving it a quick nip. I try to stop myself, but I cannot restrain a shudder. “I talked her into being tied up. You know how?” She waits; I wait. Belatedly, I realize that she’s waiting for me to respond so I carefully shake my head. “I told her I needed a model.”
“At the party?” The question slips out before I can help it. I tense for the blow, but it’s not forthcoming.
“She really dug it. I told her it would be in juxtaposition to the party going on outside the door.” She smiles with her lips, but not with her eyes. I remember the camera she had at the party. How I wished I had remembered it before. “It was too easy after that. When she was dead, I gagged her to make it look like fun and games.” Score one for Paris. “Wanna see the pictures?” It takes me a minute to realize what she’s asking, and I reflexively gag. “I guess not,” Anya giggles, her eyes watching me with amusement. “They’re good, though. I call them Portrait of Death: A Series in Detachment.”
Before I can blink, she shoves a picture in my face. It’s of Moira, dead, of course. The picture must have been taken right after Anya killed her because she still looks alive. Moira’s tied to the bed, but her mouth isn’t gagged, and there’s no rose on her stomach. Her eyes are open and to my eyes, pleading. I want to scream; I want to shut my eyes; all I can do is look. The next picture is a close-up of Moira’s face—her waxen, still face. Her eyes are devoid of humanity, causing the bile to rise in my stomach. The third picture was taken after Anya dressed up the corpse with the gag, the cigarettes and the rose. The fourth and final picture is of Anya pressing her lips to Moira’s. It’s the last picture which finally breaks the spell and allows me to close my eyes. Anya immediately slaps me, causing my eyes to fly open.
“Like them?” She asks, smirking at me as she stuffs them back in her pocket.
“You’re very talented,” I reply, not even having to lie. The pictures are fucking brilliant if one doesn’t care that the subject portrayed in them is a corpse.
“Thanks. I’d like to get them published somewhere, but it’s probably not possible,” Anya says chattily as if we are two old girlfriends just passing the time. A sense of the surreal settles over me. What planet is this girl from?
“What about the cigarettes?” I ask, continuing the questioning. I might as well know everything if I’m going to die for the information.
“I got them from Flaubert. My friend at the party. Said I needed to calm my nerves. I sure did. After I smoked her, I smoked the cigarettes, then shoved them up her fucking cunt! That’ll teach her to fuck with me!” I can’t help but recoil at the venom in her voice. She notices, and her mood abruptly shifts. She clams up. “Get up.” She shifts off me, but keeps the gun trained at my heart. “Don’t try anything stupid.” I wouldn’t dream of it—not as long as she’s pointing that gun at me. I’m not much good, anyway, without the use of my hands. I struggle to get out of bed as she watches me. She finally hauls me to my feet as I am having trouble finding leverage. She stares at me after I am standing.
“You have a nice body,” Anya sighs, quickly switching subjects. I forgot that I am naked—it’s how I prefer to sleep—and her reminder makes me blush. Somehow, it makes the situation harder to bear, knowing that she can look at my naked body whenever she wants. “I use to have a body like yours. Curvy. Now, it’s for shit.” She pulls down the neck of her sweatshirt so I can see her sternum poking through her paper-thin skin. She is a dead woman walking.
“Why don’t you let me go, Anya? You’re not a killer, not really.” That comment earns me another slap across the face, then a crack in the ribs with the gun that leaves me moaning. I am a tough woman, but the pain is excruciating. My knees bend, but I manage to stay on my feet.
“You bitch, you must really think I’m stupid,” she hisses, her mouth right next to my ear. Her breath is sour with fear, booze, and despair. I don’t think she’s showered in a week, which makes her even less appealing. “Max thought I was stupid, too. She let me come over to her house, even when she suspected me of killing Moira. I showed her! I showed her who was stupid!” Anya begins laughing maniacally. I have been working on freeing myself, but at the sound of her laugh, I give up trying. I know that I’m going to die, and I’ll be damned if I spend the last minutes of my life giving myself rope burn.
“Why me?” I ask in resignation. She must have heard it in my voice because she settles down. “Why go after me?”
“You’re the only one who cared,” she snarls, poking the gun against my already sore ribs. “The police didn’t give a damn about some dyke murders, but you did.”
“How did you know that? Did your father tell you?”
“I didn’t see Daddy after the one time. No, it was Vashti. She told me that you were investigating, and she was concerned about me. I even got her to tell me your address because I convinced her I just wanted to talk to you!” Anya laughs again, nearly falling over. I turn ashen at the new information. This is what Vashti was holding back from me? This is the person she thought was harmless? I can’t process the news, and it doesn’t matter, anyway. I dismiss it from my mind to concentrate on what Anya’s saying. “I stayed at her house for a night. Did you know that?” The look on Anya’s face chills me—this is no ingénue led astray by a corrupt elder. “She’s been a good friend to me. I really like Vashti. Do you think she’d go out with me after this? I know she likes you, but I could help her forget you.” It hits me then that the reason she’s spilling the beans is because she fully expects to kill me. I knew it in the back of my mind, but I didn’t really understand until this moment that she has no intention of letting me walk away from this alive.
“What about the note?” I ask desperately. I have to keep her talking. Keep her talking. Must keep her talking. All the mysteries I’ve read advocate keeping the suspect talking, though to what end I’m not sure.
“Nice touch, huh? I used to write her love poems. But then, that love turned to hate. It ate me up—it was going to kill me. So I killed her first. I had to. It was the only way I could survive.” So there was no deeper meaning to the quotes; just the ravings of a crack-addled mind.
“And the rose?” My voice is dull. I no longer care, but I throw it out there anyway.
“Symbolism,” Anya hisses, drawing the gun all over my body. Every place she touches with it turns cold. My flesh cringes at her touch, so obscenely mocking that of a lover’s caress. My body is starting to shut down, preserving energy. “Beauty, death. Rose, thorn. It’s all intertwined. Something so beautiful can hurt so dreadfully.” Again, she pauses to caress my body with her gun. “Then you, you, bitch. Why couldn’t you let it go? I couldn’t believe it when Vashti told me that you were asking so many questions about me. That’s when I knew.” Anya pauses, lost in thought.
“Knew what?” My mind is flooded with bitterness towards Vashti, a woman I have made love to twice. What was she thinking telling this woman about me? Did she not care for me at all? Without warning, pain explodes in my nose. Anya has pistol-whipped me with the gun, most likely breaking my nose. I stagger backwards, not able to counterbalance myself.
“Don’t play me, you bitch! I told you I’m not stupid! I knew you knew I killed Moira and Max. I knew I had to do something about it.” She smashes me against the right knee for good measure, causing me unendurable agony. This time, I do collapse to the ground where I can’t stop writhing. I finally subside, ending up on my side.
“For god’s sake, stop it!” I yell up at her. I’m through being civil. This bitch is going to kill me. While there’s nothing I can do about that, I can at least go out fighting. “You’re out of your mind. I didn’t know a damn thing and even if I did, what evidence do I have? None!”
“You could have found some,” Anya retorts, towering over me. “Who knows the kind of things they can do with DNA these days? Maybe I left a hair or a fingernail or something. You don’t think I don’t watch TV?” God save me from someone who knows a little, but not enough. She can rattle off terms like DNA without understanding what it really means. Thank you, Law & Order.
“This is crazy, Anya. All you have to do is leave San Francisco, and nobody will be the wiser. I bet you never even got questioned after the party.” It galls me that someone like her can slip through the cracks simply because she has no place she calls home.
“Leave San Francisco?” She gapes down at me as if I’ve just spoken Chinese, which I’m fairly sure I haven’t. “This is my home. Why would I leave?” I give up. It’s impossible talking to crackheads about anything. Besides, my body is hurting too much for me to do anything other than concentrate on the pain. “If I kill you, then it’s over.” She points the gun down at me. It’s now or never. I roll sharply to the other side, swinging my arms best I can. I knock into her legs, not with much force, but enough to cause her to lose her footing. Her balance is shot from the drugs, so it doesn’t take much. The gun goes flying across the room as she staggers to and fro. I don’t know what I’m going to do next, but I feel better already. I struggle to get to my feet, ignoring the pain. I recover my footing before she does, and I charge her head-first. My head drives into her nose with a satisfying crunch. A nose for a nose. I like the symmetry.
“You fucking bitch!” She grabs me by the hair and smashes my head against the wall. I forgot that crackheads don’t feel much pain. What a sight the two of us must be with blood pouring out of our respective noses. She is winding up to smash me again when there are sirens outside the building. She lets go of my head, her eyes wild. Her face is a mess, and I’m sure it mirrors mine. “The fucking pigs. They’ve found me! I’m not going to let them take me!” I close my eyes, thinking this is the end. She’s going to use me as a hostage, then she’s going to kill me. I say a quick prayer to a God I don’t trust is there. I wait. Nothing happens. I cautiously open my eyes and see Anya standing by the window struggling to open it. I don’t understand what she means to do until she finally pushes it up. Cold air pours into the apartment as she sticks one thin leg in the suddenly empty space.
“Anya! No!” I scream, stumbling towards her. As much pain as she’s caused me, I don’t want to watch her die. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I get there as my hands are still tied, but I don’t stop to think. “Please, let’s talk about it!”
“No time to talk,” Anya says, smiling sadly. “I always knew this ride had to end sometime. I’m sorry for hurting you. Tell my daddy to forgive me, ok?”
“Don’t do this! There are other ways!” I am screaming at the top of my lungs, spewing whatever comes to mind. “You can get help. You can stop taking drugs. You can talk to someone. I’ll take you!” I am almost there. Just a few more steps. I pray harder. I reach out my hands, still bound in front of me, intending to grab her as best I can. Instead, I am grasping nothing as she slips out the window. She is silent on the way down, as if she is already dead. I am aware of a wailing sound somewhere far off. I sink to my knees, naked, tears, my hands tied, and blood streaming down my face. The noise grows louder, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. The sound is coming from me.