If you missed the prologue last week, make sure to read it HERE to catch up before reading chapter one! Otherwise, enjoy this week’s chapter:
Copyright Maggie Lynn Heron-Heidel 2019
Chapter One: Anna
Imagine living your life inside a body bag, breathing through a minuscule hole poked in the side to get oxygen. You’re desperate to escape but the zipper is on the outside, out of reach, and the plastic refuses to rip.
That’s how I live my life.
That is my existence.
It’s a wonder I don’t suffocate.
Currently every ounce of my aggravation was being taken out on the aging punching bag in the corner of my suite. Left strike. Right strike. Someone’s head was getting bashed in my mind, namely my mother’s… and I didn’t feel guilty considering what she’d pulled this morning. Obsessing over my diet was one thing. Deciding to starve me was another.
But as my sneaker got stuck on the Velcro edge of the bag, leaving me to wobble unsteadily on my feet, I cursed. “Crappy piece of-“
“Your father would throw a fit if he heard that.”
Unable to turn to Mortimer as he came in and still stuck by one shoe, all I could do was laugh sarcastically as I loosened the shoelaces that’d gotten caught. “He can kiss my ass. There aren’t any TV cameras around; are there?”
There would never be one in this room. Daddy dearest wanted to broadcast to the public that I was a dainty, perfectly primped and competently obedient woman. Showing the fact that I was a fighter and one that could kick most of his security teams’ collective asses wasn’t his idea of a good daughter.
As the presidente of Dejado Atrás, or so the public thought, he was the subject of a federally funded reality television show. Every part of his life was televised to the public on Friday nights. To my condescension, I was also expected to appear weekly. Lucky me.
Finally managing to get unstuck, I smirked. Looking back at Mortimer, his eyebrows were definitely up; his greying buzzcut wet with rain. I smirked, gesturing at the bag. “What? No comments on my error?”
Usually he would. Mortimer had been by my side since I was ten, teaching me how to fight. Considering my father’s position of power, he’d done his best to turn me into an absolute beast in case I ever was captured. His lip quirked. “You already know the critique. I merely came with news…”
I groaned in a manner that I didn’t dare do on camera. “Don’t tell me. I have to meet with another ambassador.” I wiped off the sweat that was dripping down from my brow. “Tell them how honored I am to meet their worthless ass?”
He chuckled, going to sit by the door. “You’re in a fine fettle.”
I leaned on the punching bag with a weary chuckle. “Heard Dad on the phone with the loser from Espocha City. Wonder if he’ll have the balls to approach me with that moron.”
Mortimer sniggered as I rolled my eyes, pitching my voice down to imitate my father. “Pumpkin, I’ve found you a very special man, one even more corrupt than I am. You’ll make a perfect couple, providing you don’t tell him how morally repugnant you find his business practices…“
He shook his head at my ranting. I could tell he agreed, though he didn’t dare say so for fear it’d get back to his boss. “Aiyla, you’re his daughter. Get over it. Can’t change it. Gotta get used to the bullshit like I did if you want to survive.”
I nodded, glumly tightening my gloves. As the former head of my father’s security and before that an army beret, he knew everything. “I know. Just another day in the life of chica numero uno, the most useless-“
“You’re not useless.”
“Sitting pretty is useless,” I grumbled, looking at him. I knew damn well just what everyone outside of these walls thought of me. I was collectively despised.
“Ah,” he said theatrically, his murky grey eyes solemn as he leaned forward. “I take it your proposal to become spokesperson for the children’s literacy grant was blackballed?”
Bingo. I punched the bag again, this time with renewed vigor. “Of course. I have too much on my plate already.“ I kicked the bag and then sucker punched it, gritting my teeth. “Especially since there’s only so many times I can straighten my lipstick in a day!”
“For once, your father is correct,” Mortimer harrumphed.
That declaration certainly got my attention. I turned to look at him, seeing his amusement gone as he rubbed his hands together. Whatever it was, he was dreading telling me. “Aiyla, they’ve decided to broadcast the Tourney again.”
No. God, no.
I sat down on the floor with a dull plunk, my knees without feeling. They were holding it again. The Tourney was a series of deathly televised games where men would compete, supposedly to win a chance at ten million dollars. Oh, plus my hand in marriage to cement themselves as an elite.
What all the entrants didn’t know was that it was rigged; not to test the contestants but to kill them all right there on the silver screen. Pure entertainment to cater to the bloodlust of masses; the height of reality television. Blood sold just as well as sex and the TV networks knew it.
It was my father’s sick idea of boosting public ‘morale’ with the idea the winner, too, could become one of us if he survived.
But my father didn’t know what the less fortunate public called the Tourney behind his back: Espectáculo de Asesinato. The Murder Show. A real morale booster for sure. And we were considered the murderers.
“He’ll announce it at the press conference tomorrow along with the names of the competitors,” he continued, looking troubled.
“Estan loco!” I said, referring both to the show itself and the willing competitors. Father had already managed to dig up contestants; more morons who would die for a worthless competition. I slammed my fist on the floor. “How many lunatics did he get this time?!”
“Ten.” I groaned and flopped back on the mat, letting a few more four-letter words slip past my lips. Mortimer grunted, always a sure sign that he was on the edge of admitting what he really thought but decided against it. “Don’t upset yourself. They’re grown men. It’s their choice.”
“All this is a con,” I groaned, running a hand through my hair and looking at the ceiling. “A trick to make people think there’s a one in a zillion shot that they could win. How can they not see that?!”
My last sentence ended with me shouting. Thirty men had died already, and all in my name. Their deaths were televised across the country, this being the third year in a row.
“Power is a tempting lure; as are you,” Mortimer said simply, lugging himself up to come over to me with arms crossed.
I snorted humorlessly, ready for another round with the punching bag despite having done so for the last hour. “Yeah, because a piece of ass and a wad of cash is really worth dying over.”
Getting up, I met Mortimer’s stare evenly. He was only a bit taller than me, a stocky but strong man. And he knew exactly what I was going to ask. “Your father isn’t here. Don’t waste your breath-“
“I said nothing the last time,” I declared, raring to go confront him. “I know damn well how much money there is to be made off of this! All the elites involved do! They know no one will survive and reel in the advertising money all the same! Now he has ten new victims.”
Mortimer put his hand out to stop me, placing it on my shoulder. He shook his head, still somber. “Nor does he care.”
“I have to try!”
This time he physically stopped me, stepping in front of me. He took my shoulders in his hands, making me stop and face him. “Aiyla,” he said softly, dropping his normally brusque tone. “You can’t stop it. The system is designed so that-“
“No one can fight it,” I whispered, knowing that if he was saying it was futile, it really was. I lowered my eyes to the floor. “Even me.”
Much like the citizens, I was trapped. Father was only a figurehead, controlled by the more powerful shadow state behind the scenes. He was a puppet for them to manipulate, a face for the public to equate as the leader and falsely blame for their troubles.
As his daughter I was held to the same standards. If I displeased those in true control, I’d be killed. I was an unwilling marionette, one that was manipulated every day of my life. A lamb for the slaughter before the golden calf of society. At twenty four years old, there was absolutely nothing in this life that was mine; not even my face.
He tipped my chin up. There was no hint of a smile in his eyes as he muttered, “These men are all volunteers. They’re not your problem.”
I smiled sadly, putting my hand on top of his. “Dangle a diamond in front of a beggar long enough and they’ll do anything for it. But I’m no diamond. I’m a crystal. Looks like a diamond only because it’s been polished for so long.” I shook my head. “Rub off the shine and it’ll crack.”
“Your beauty isn’t a curse.”
“I don’t care what I look like,” I grumbled as he gave me a teensy hug and then stepped back.
No matter how much he obviously wanted to comfort me, Mortimer knew better than to get too chummy with me in this place. Cameras were everywhere and we both knew if Father started to feel threatened as my ‘paternal figure’, he’d fire Mortimer in a heartbeat. I forced myself to smile, keeping my usual sarcasm as a defense. “Everything in my life is superficial except you.”
He cracked a rare smile, the expression fleeting from his features. “You are a diamond, hun. You’re as hard as one, as well as the strongest person I know. Someday you’ll see.”
For the millionth time ever, I wished that Mortimer was my true family. In my heart, he already was. He’d been by my side since forever, teaching me everything he knew. I even stayed at his house a few times when boarding school had holidays and my parents were away. He and Aunty Lola would do their best to care for me.
He went to say something else, but we were interrupted as my personal assistant came trouncing in. For all intents and purposes, I despised the woman but knew better than to tell her that. Tiny thrived on making me miserable and I knew she could turn up her efforts to an even higher notch.
Her name didn’t fit all two hundred pounds of her as she charged toward me, her black hair pulled into an insanely tight bun. But my stomach bottomed out as I saw that she had another garment bag.
“Aiyla, you have a dinner with the police chief’s son,” she proclaimed, acting more like I was her servant than her boss. Then again, she answered to my mother Elena so any control I had over her was a farce. She tapped her tablet, barely even looking at me and clearly already put out. “You’re supposed to have been ready-“
“Gorgen can handle me like this,” I grunted, unbothered while taking another chug of water. “I used to kick his butt every week in boxing class before Dad decided I was ‘above’ taking public classes.”
She sniffed with impatience. ”You’re so predictable, Anna.“
“My name is Aiyla,” I snapped, officially losing patience. “If you want me to listen to you at all, use my friggin’ name.”
She rolled her eyes. “You know that the statistics of the poll showed that the public prefers a European name. We need to make the citizens more comfortable.“
Comfortable was another word for pliable. “Yes, because giving me a bland, European name in a Latin American dominated culture is really going to make me popular,” I growled, my eyes narrowing and hers mirroring the movement. “Need to keep them passive, right?”
Mortimer choked on a laugh, cackling as he strode off. He hated Tiny just about as much as I did. She knew it, too, thrusting the garment bag at me. ”Get changed.”
“If you don’t like it, then quit,” I challenged, snatching it from her.
She tutted, absolutely scandalized. “When I took the job I was assured you were socially pliable.“
Socially pliable equated with being dragged along like a yap yap dog in her wake. I.e., I’d be her bitch.
“If ya wanna keep your job, give me a little more sugar and drop the spice, sweetheart,” I drawled, bearing down on her. Tiny squared her jaw, looking like she wanted to scream at me. I smiled, letting her know that despite my general tolerance for her orders, I wasn’t going to give in. “Bring the car around…”
She quickly disappeared from my suite, loathing radiating out of her every pore. Looking over at Mortimer, I shrugged as I saw his open amusement. “What little power I’ve got isn’t going to be wasted.”
He just chuckled as I headed for the bathroom to change. “Enjoy your ‘date’. Tell Gorgen that I hope his left hook has improved since the last time you beat the crap out of him.”
All I did was wink, draping the garment bag over my shoulder as I went.
Two hours later and I was beyond bored.
Sitting in the upscale, five-star restaurant on an obscenely hard plastic bar chair, I was wishing it’d cone complete with a punching bag like the one I’d left behind with Mortimer. Gorgen had yet to show, leaving me alone, looking like an idiot and trussed up like a Barbie doll.
Done up in a pastel pink suit with a pencil skirt, silk blouse, diamonds on my neck and pointy shoes, I oozed high fashion. What it didn’t scream was ‘me’. I hated everything about it, even down to the body that was currently in it.
Oh no. I liked me right fine. I just hated my bleached, blonde hair and the pale tinge my skin had taken on since mother insisted I needed skin treatments to lighten my ‘commoner’ colored tan skin. Between that and feeling grouchy because of the diet they’d stuck me on, my heels were killing me.
Sipping on sparkling water with lemon, I stared at the bottle of Jack that was behind the bar. Could’ve done with a shot of that right about now but I knew better. The glasses on the table were glinting with the flashes of the paparazzi’s cameras. They were all outside watching me, snapping photos from the outside of the restaurant. The entire wall of this place was glass. Bulletproof glass, but glass all the same.
My pink-dyed fur stole fell on the floor again and this time I just left it there. I hated the damn thing with the fox’s head still attached. It should’ve been alive; not slaughtered for the sake of high fashion.
As a waiter came up, I turned toward him. I noted that he appeared too young to be working here, but he had a kind smile. He even had the same light, cognac-colored skin and dark hair that I once had. His hazel eyes rested shrewdly on me, taking in my continued vigil in front of the window.
“Can I get you anything?” he asked for the fifth time, looking me over. “You look like you could use-“
“Cyanide with a side of arsenic,” I said out of the corner of my mouth, not bothering to hide my aggravation.
He smirked with a wink, sticking his hands in his pockets. “Best I can do is a suicide. Our bartender is a magic maker. Had a sip once and that was enough to knock me for a loop.”
At least he had a sense of humor. “I’ll pass.”
The last thing I needed was to get smashed in front of the cameras. Then again, screw it. I knew another form of preferable suicide. I smiled at him. “You know what? Bring me a hot fudge sundae. Better: two.” I gestured at the empty seat next to me. “It’ll kill my mother when she sees it in the headlines tomorrow. ‘Presidente’s daughter commits diet suicide’.” I sneered. “An absolute tragedy. Put it on Gorgen’s tab.”
He smirked, enjoying my behavior. “Hardly a tragedy, miss. If your date can’t appreciate you, then he’s not worthy of you.” I stirred my drink with my straw, eyebrows up as he added flirtatiously, “I wasn’t kidding when I offered you anything you like.”
I took a sip, drinking him in a little with my eyes. By the looks of him, he was certainly a looker but a little young for me.
“You’re very cute,” I said slowly, enjoying myself but also withdrawing from him. “But take my advice. You may want to bite into an apple, but sometimes even the shiniest red sheen can turn out to be rotten to the core.”
He stared at me for a second, clearly unnerved with my candor before moving off to do as I ordered. I lost my patience and slipped my shoes off, turning my back to the window entirely. I snapped my fingers and the AI drapes lowered over it, shrouding me inside.
I closed my eyes, feeling the tightness of my skin from the makeup and wondering just what it’d take to get it all off. I felt like a wall with peeling paint, my lips dry from the matte lipstick that’d been painted on.
But as I heard footsteps and then something being placed on the bar next to me, I opened my eyes. There were three sundaes in front of me: one with candy, another with cookie crumbs, and the last with sprinkles. And next to them stood someone I knew all too well.
“I didn’t know what toppings you’d like, so I had all three made differently,” Ryan Haynesworth said with some amusement, noting my shoes on the floor along with the stole. His flashing blue eyes were filled with laughter. That and a great deal of lust.
He held out a whipped cream container. “I brought the whipped cream since you drew the curtains. You can eat straight out of the can without fear.” He lowered his voice, sitting next to me with a saucy wink. “Or off of me. Say the word and I’ll have the restaurant cleared for us. You’re worth it.”
I took a spoon and pulled the sundae with the cookie crumbs toward me. “Ah, Ryan. You’re always so… sweetly inappropriate.”
He laughed, taking his jacket uniform off and sitting next to me. Since he and Gorgen were brothers, he had the same striking blonde hair and light features. Despite being of an elite status, he was on the police force as a captain.
I extended a spoon to him. “Take your pick.”
He pulled the candy sundae toward himself, still eyeing me with amusement. “I don’t mind double dipping so help yourself. You can dip into my ice cream anytime.” He wasn’t talking about the sweets either as he took a bite. “You’re trying to spite your mother with calories, eh?”
He licked his spoon suggestively and I rolled my eyes. “Now you’re just trying to get my goat.”
“Now why would I go for your goat when I can have you?” he said with some humor and dug further into his ice cream. “My brother sends his apologies. He was… waylaid. Emphasis on laid.”
“Send my regards to his hookers because that man needs a sure thing,” I retorted, making him chuckle. “So you came instead? My hero…”
“Hero? Well, I could be,” he said, making me snicker again. “Just say the word.”
Oh, dear Lord. I turned to him, sensing he was doing his best to be outrageous. His eyes were glinting with ulterior motives as always. I crossed my legs, leaning back in my chair. “Why are you here?”
“I’m your personal escort until the games are officially over,” he said with no further humor, dropping his teasing. Seeing my revulsion with that announcement his eyes hardened and he chuckled. He took my hand and squeezed it, saying in a teasing tone, “I’ll be as sexually obnoxious as possible to keep you distracted. I promise.”
That I could believe. “Why, thank you,” I said dryly, taking another spoon of vanilla ice cream. As I felt something go up the inside of my calf, I looked down.
Ryan smirked at me. “Complimentary footsie is included in the ‘obnoxious’ package.” I rolled my eyes as he leaned forward deviously. “And believe me, the ‘package’ is fabulous. You should really consider inspecting the goods…”
As he sat back with cat-like smugness, I looked at him and all he entailed. While he was undoubtedly attractive, he knew it and that immediately turned me off. His arrogance was legendary. As his eyebrows went up, I said, “We do this every time we cross paths, Ryan. We both know you don’t want me.”
It was a game just to see how far he could get me to go. There was absolutely no chemistry between us, other than the innuendo banter to see who could outsmart the other party. He rolled his eyes, knowing I was dismissing him. “Oh, I want you; just minus the hideous pink fur stole.”
This time I laughed and he chuckled. That was a load of bunk, the quip made purely to get a reaction out of me. I stood in a fluid motion, bending to pick up the stole and then draping it over his shoulders. I kissed his cheek as I slipped my shoes back on. “See you tomorrow.”
He chuckled, wrinkling his nose at the pink fur around his neck. “I’ll be there cocked, loaded and ready to go.”
“I’m sure,” I said dryly, heading for the exit. His low laughter followed me, his focus probably shifting to bedding one of the waitresses who had been flitting around the restaurant. He was a notorious womanizer, one with immense success at landing himself willing prey.
Eyes followed me as I headed for the back entrance, all from people who were dining in the obscenely expensive restaurant. The waitstaff stayed out of my way, keeping a reverent distance.
The limo was supposed to wait in the back for me, away from the crowds out front. I texted the driver to make sure he was waiting and got an immediate response. Passing the kitchen, I headed out but, to my displeasure, once outside there was no limo. I looked both ways, seeing no cars whatsoever. Adding to my unease, the door snapped shut behind me almost like it’d been closed from within.
Immediately my hand went for my clutch, thinking of the handgun I kept inside it. Now on red alert I drew it, taking the safety off. I slipped my heels off, knowing they’d be nothing more than a hinderance in a fight.
The damp alley was dimly lit so I wasn’t able to see beyond another ten feet from me. Only an orange, overhead light shone, giving it a stark, creepy look. A dumpster was on one side, blocking the view beyond it.
Whirling as I heard a noise from behind it, I aimed and stepped out to keep the area in view. I hastily lowered my gun as I saw my previous waiter yelp and then put his hands up. He’d been behind the dumpster, apparently sneaking in a drink. His glass bottle fell from his hand and smashed on the pavement.
“Whoa!” he sputtered out, hands still up as I studied him with suspicion. “Please don’t shoot me. My family won’t be able to afford the loss of income if I die!“
Clearly he wasn’t the fighting kind. He looked even younger out here than he did inside – maybe on the edge of seventeen – and remained absolutely terrified. I lowered the weapon. He heaved a sigh of relief as I stepped forward. “You seen a town car?”
“No,” he said, looking around bewilderedly. “Usually VIPs go out the front, so I thought you were my boss coming to yell at me.”
I nodded, wondering where my driver had gone to. I studied the alley and rooftops beyond, wondering if I was in for an ambush. It wasn’t the first time nor especially the last. And since Father wanted people to believe we lived in utopia here and didn’t need protection, I had no bodyguards to fall back on either.
Leaving the alley and going on the main street would be dangerous. I was so ill-liked that I’d probably be attacked.
The young waiter ambled up, mournfully looking at his smashed bottle. “And no, I haven’t been drinking. I don’t handle liquor well, so I put root beer in the bottle to stop my co-workers from making fun of me. I’m Alvin-“
Alvin was clearly a friendly talker. I grunted, paying him little attention besides monitoring his movement. He frowned. “Shouldn’t you be out of here by now? VIPs never linger.“
“Driver’s bailed and the door locked before I could get back in,” I grumbled, having stuck my hand in my pocket and pressing the panic button on my alarm system. It’d alert the police and I had a very bad feeling I’d be needing them. The question was where Ryan had gone to.
Alvin’s eyes widened in alarm. “Locked? That shouldn’t be.”
He went to the door, testing it himself. It didn’t budge, confirming to me that we were in for a rough time of it. But as he looked back to say something, his eyes darted past me to widen with dread.
Following his gaze, I spotted men coming from the mouth of the alley. There were seven, all in black with their faces covered with black bandanas. I aimed the gun squarely at the closest’s chest, not taking any chances. Lord knew they were probably looking to abduct not kill, but I wasn’t taking any risks.
Surprising me, however, Alvin put himself in front of me. He squared his shoulders, saying with authority, “This is private property!”
Somehow I doubted very much that the men would be dissuaded by that. They were toting heavy automatic weapons.
My eyes darted around, spotting a fire escape about fifty feet away, but I wasn’t going to make that. They’d likely shoot before I could get to it. Not to mention one side of it was held up by a rusty bolt half hanging out of the brick wall. Any weight on it could bring it crashing down.
“Alvin, run,” I muttered, seeing he wasn’t going to back down. Preparing to defend me, his fists were clenched but he was in no way a threat. He hadn’t grown into his body yet, still more scrawny than muscular.
He stepped forward before I could stop him and was instantly struck down, the man closest punching him out. I edged away from them toward the back of the alley, keeping the gun aimed at the biggest’s head as they stepped around Alvin’s limp form.
“Whatever it is you want, it’s not worth dying over,” I snarled, edging back as they prowled forward. A trigger-happy woman was something nobody ever wanted to deal with, so they would probably try to sway me into giving up.
None of them stopped and, if anything, a few hands were twitching toward their own guns. One snickered at me, clearly not bothered by my threat. “You sure about that, Anna?”
They all laughed together, making my stomach sink. There’d be no ending this peacefully. Their leader gestured at my gun. “Put that down before you hurt yourself.”
“It won’t sting a bit if I shred your brain,” I threatened, still creeping toward the other end of the alley. At worst, I could wedge myself in the narrow to try to avoid them grabbing me. If I kept them talking long enough, I could keep them at bay until the police answered the summons from my panic button.
As one lunged for me, another used the distraction to his advantage, coming at me from the side. Before he could subdue me, I officially decided to stop playing nice.
Firing on the one going to grab me, it hit him square in the chest. But to my disgruntlement, other than staggering back a little, it didn’t stop him. He must’ve been wearing a concealed, bulletproof vest, most likely meaning the rest were, too.
I kept my aim true, hissing out, “Next one goes in the head. Tell me what you want and you might live.”
The back of the alley was getting closer as I paced backward. I refused to be cornered. They didn’t know what I was planning, matching my every step just like I wanted. They would be right under my target ambush zone in a minute.
They moved into a tight, half semi-circle around me, blocking any attempts to run past them. They’d obviously taken me to be an untrained fool. The lead one sneered from behind his mask, “Come quietly. There’s only five bullets left in that pistol now, and seven of us…”
I snickered, making them pause. “Only need one.”
Looking up, I shot the faulty bolt holding up the end of the fire escape. As I broke the bolt, it groaned and crashed down on top of all seven; the men crying out as it landed on them. Darting around it as they struggled to get free, I headed straight for back door of the restaurant.
I shot out the lock on it and attempted to kick it in. I reeled back as it failed to move, somehow barred shut from the inside. Deciding to abandon the idea as I heard movement behind me, I whirled for the open end of the alley. Better to risk running into the street than to remain within firing range. Before I could make it two steps, I was grabbed from behind.
Now down to three bullets, I pitched forward, trying to throw my assailant over my back. He anticipated my move, jerking back and dragging me with him.
Taking my next shot and managing to get one arm out of his grip, I fired at his foot. He screeched and then fell as I pistol whipped him, taking him down.
Whirling to see only two more of the men coming at me, the rest trapped under the fire escape, I decided to make sure they wouldn’t stop me from escaping. I popped one of them in the neck and then aimed directly at the second one’s forehead.
He paused mid-run, skidding to a halt with fear. His eyes widened and then abruptly changed course, booking it for the open end of the alley. I snorted humorlessly. “Yeah, you’d better run, you lousy, mother f-“
Hearing a noise from behind me, I whipped around to aim at a male figure in the shadow of the dumpster. While I couldn’t see him well, I could make out that he put his hands up as my finger twitched on the trigger.
“Whoa,” a heavily vocoded voice said to me, leaving me to see a set of shining eyes widen in the gloom. “I come in peace. Don’t shoot.”
Not altogether assured, I bellowed, “I warn you-“
“You took out all these guys before I could, chica, so chill,” the man said, cutting me off and stepping out further into the light.
Thoroughly bewildered as I saw black attire with what looked like some kind of a mask-helmet with two huge, horn-like things on top, it took me a second to realize they resembled some kind of animal ears. Between them and his black, flapping cape, I was absolutely astounded. What the hell was this supposed to be?
Apparently he could see my incredulity. He grinned, the lower half of his face discernable; only his eyes visible otherwise. “I’ll take credit for scaring the last guy off, but the rest was all you.” He looked over at the fire escape that was still pinning down several of the struggling men. “I came when I heard the scuffle but I was too late. Not to mention unnecessary.” He looked back to me, grin widening. “I’m impressed, chica.”
He was clearly from somewhere in the lower end of the city. While he had a voice changer, he carried the accent of one of the less wealthy ends of town. And one so thick that if it’d been any of my father’s men here, they likely wouldn’t have understood him.
Still unsure what his game was and deciding to cut the crap, I asked in Spanish, “You a cop?”
He laughed, flat out annoying me as he replied in what I was sure was his usual Spanish dialect. “Nah. If I were with the fuzz, you think I’d be talking with you? You look awfully guilty with that pile of bodies behind you.”
He was yanking me around now. I could hear humor in his voice, despite the voice changer in the side of his mask. He leaned against the wall, completely unbothered by the gun I kept aimed at him.
“Your driver won’t be coming,” he added further, clearly waiting for me to lower my weapon. I did so slowly, realizing he wasn’t out to harm me. “Those men got to him before they could you.”
So that was where my ride went. As I studied the newcomer further, I couldn’t help but ask in English, “Who are you?”
If anything, he reminded me of a Zorro-wannabe. He only smiled wider, as if he’d been waiting for the question. He reverted back to English as well. “I am the Lynx.”
That didn’t sound right. Had I misheard? “The link?”
His smile faded a little, using his foot to nudge the fellow who I’d pistol whipped. “Uh, no. The Lynx.”
Completely stymied, I gave in and asked, “The link to what?”
He rolled his eyes, starting to look frustrated. “Ai! No, señorita. The Lynx. You know. See the ears? El lince? Meow?”
As he pointed at the enormous ears on the top of his mask, suddenly I understood. “Oh, a ‘lynx’?”
He nodded, satisfied with my recognition. Now remembering what my father had been bitching about a few days previous, the word ‘vigilante’ had been mentioned, as had a mysterious Lynx that’d been interfering with police territories. And here he stood in front of me now.
Knowing that the police absolutely hated him, as did all of the elites, I inclined my head. “Well, ‘Lynxy’, while I thank you for the assistance, you’d better scram. My entourage doesn’t like civilian interference.“
Hearing my tone change, he cocked his head. “Eh. Watch it. Do I know you? Swear I’ve heard your snotty tone before. Few gatos speak with such authority.”
Now he was just sassing me right back, calling me a ‘cat’ in his disparaging manner. I rolled my eyes and suddenly his eyes zeroed in on me. He pointed at me with one fingerless-gloved hand. “Si! That’s it! Señorita Anna Gobacheva. The Presidente’s daughter.”
Didn’t sound like he was altogether that fond of me. I inclined my head before turning, deciding that humoring my vigilante tagalong would be bad on a number of levels and mostly for him.
“Wait. Now that I know who you are, we should talk,” he insisted, getting a belligerent tone and following behind me, refusing to give up.
I sighed. “Unfortunately, I don’t have the time-”
“For anyone,” he finished incorrectly for me, cutting me off and thinking I was dismissing him. A gaze of steel met mine. “What I want to know is how it is all you silver spoonfed aristocrats can brush off the people’s suffering! They die by the thousands while you pad tu billeteras-“
Recognizing the word for wallet, I rounded on him. This one talked big, but didn’t know who the hell he was attacking. “You think I like it?! You think I don’t get angry over the same thing?!”
He got up in my face, not altogether much taller than me. It put us on the same level, nose-to-nose while he snarled, “That diamond necklace on your chest could feed an entire slum for a month! That tells me where your intentions lie! If you gave a damn-“
“If I gave a damn I’d be dead,” I growled back, not backing off in the slightest and jabbing him in the chest. “You’ve no idea what you’re talking about! Don’t waste your breath. I’ve wasted mine too many times-“
“All you care about is yourself,” he spat in my face, starting to get riled up. “I can see that now-“
“Oh, can you? Then congratulations on seeing through all their bullshit,” I snapped, making him pause. I shrugged, mocking him. “You’ve obviously figured out that my father’s ‘social preservation’ campaign is a farce. Or is it you’re too short for the armed forces?”
The Lynx turned mottled red below his mask, my jab hitting its mark. If I was five-four, he was barely five-five. The tension between us was fierce, neither of us backing down.
I sighed and shook my head. “Look, we would agree on every point you make. But I can’t help you. I can’t help anybody. It’s not that I won’t. It’s that I can’t.”
“I don’t believe that,” he said with just as much ferocity as before, not softening one bit.
I looked down, unhappy with the way that things had turned out between us. “Believe what you want. Now I’d suggest you go. My security team will be here soon. Then you’d get to see just how much control I’ve got. They’ll shoot you even if I order them not to.”
He just glared at me, completely unmoved by my statement. I looked at the gun in my hands, wishing he’d leave. “Do yourself a favor. If you want justice, keep this up. But don’t expect any help because you won’t get it.“
“Then don’t expect me to help you the next time you’re in trouble,” he snapped, looking me over with hatred. “Because-“
Hearing sirens coming, I turned to the opening of the alley. Realizing I should warn the Lynx, I turned back. But no one was there.
All that was left was the downed fire escape and the bodies of the men who’d been knocked out. Where the hell did he go? It was like he’d evaporated.
Hearing a groan, I stepped back to Alvin. He stirred with a pained grimace, looking up at me groggily with widening eyes as he came to. “Oh, God! Where did-?”
He sat up, seeing the remainders of the men who’d tried to take me. His eyes came back to me with astonishment. “Did you – you’ve must’ve – are they dead?!“
I extended a hand to him as a few cop cars pulled up at the opening of the alley, flooding it with blue and red light. Their doors opened as Alvin took my hand, rubbing his head where he’d been hit.
I sighed as he stood, all the security getting out and thinking he’d been an attacker because of his ethnic features. Alvin let out a frightened squawk and threw his hands up as I shook my head. This was not going to end well; that was for sure.
“Just let me do the talking…”
And that’s it for chapter one! Sparks certainly flew between Aiyla and the illustrious Lynx. Any predictions for next week’s edition? I’m all ears and so is the Lynx – wink, wink! I know. A bad joke but still.
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Thanks for tuning in and much love during the quarantine! We’re all in this together and I want to be there for you, my dear readers. Hugs to you!
– XO Maggie Lynn Heron-Heidel
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