Two weeks earlier
Riva is a beautiful woman in her mid-twenties. Her skin glows in contrast to her luxurious black hair. Her intelligent gray eyes reach out and grab anyone careless enough to look directly at her.
That’s on a good day. Today, however, her hair is a tangled mess, her eyes are bloodshot, and her skin has a sickly pallor from whatever ailment has befallen her.
Holed up in this over-priced high-rise hotel on L.A.’s west side the past few days, she awaits the arrival of her boss, Serge. She hates waiting on anyone or anything. The fact that she might be coming down with something only makes it worse.
She is staying active, passing the time with her evening yoga, at the moment in the “downward-facing dog” position, when she gets the feeling that something is “off.” She pauses and looks toward the door. A “not alone” feeling pervades her senses. Someone is in the room with her, she is sure of it.
She cuts the session short with a quick namaste, picks up the small-caliber pistol always within reach, and digs into her purse. She is looking for that magical little device given to her at training for detecting electronic bugs and heat signatures, all in one. Not typically impressed by gadgets, she has to admit this thing is pretty cool.
“There you are,” she coos upon finding what anyone else might mistake for a cell phone. Flipping it on, clipping it to her waistband in order to leave one hand free, she begins her inspection of the suite of rooms.
Finding nothing behind the couch, she moves to the kitchen. Opening every cabinet and drawer, she finds no bugs or bad guys. Edging down the narrow hallway, with the device pointed at the front door, she finds nothing there, either. Looking out the peephole now, if there is anyone out there they are not generating any body heat. Nothing and no one in the bathroom, shower, toilet or cabinets, either.
As she enters the bedroom, the “bug detector,” as she calls it, starts vibrating furiously. A deep-voiced chortle emanates from the back of the room as she flips on the ceiling light. There on her bed sits Serge, wearing his signature black thick-rimmed eyeglasses, a smile, and absolutely nothing else. He is propped against the headboard, with his hands tucked behind his head. The chortle turns to roaring laughter now that he’s been discovered.
“Oh, dear God,” she gasps at the site of his naked corpulence. “Put some clothes on! Nobody wants to see that.”
“You look like hell,” he says between laughs.
Fluent in several languages, Riva now uses her favorite phrase, “Bite me.”
Healthy or not, with or without clothes, unlike Riva, Serge is the opposite of beautiful. With bulging, narrowly-set eyes, bulldog jowls and just a hint of a chin that serves to accentuate his oversized nose, he is not what anyone would consider physically attractive.
Aware of this, he will often adopt a jovial air. This is for practical reasons, not vanity. He knows people are drawn to and more apt to trust attractive and/or seemingly happy people. This is the only reason he cares what anyone might think of him.
“You couldn’t text first?” she complains.
“I have to keep you on your toes,” he speaks with an accent vaguely foreign to anyone listening, no matter the native language of that listener. Born Sergiusz Kolza near Pazardzhik, Bulgaria, he anglicized it to Serge Coleman upon immigrating to England as a teenager.
“Are you sick?” he adds as he slides off the bed and pulls his pants back on.
“Yes, and I hope it’s contagious. Here, give me a kiss,” she jokes. When he pulls his pants back down, she adds, “Just kidding!”
Laughing again, he says, “Seriously, Riva. You are sloppy. Do not let people surprise you like this. Not even me. It will get you killed.”
“It will get you killed,” she snaps. She is in no mood for his cheerful insults. “You must stop sneaking up on me. And stop with the lessons and helpful hints! I’m fully trained. That is why I am here!”
“My apologies,” he says, coming toward her. “But you are not quite fully trained. No one is ever fully-trained. Did I not see you looking out the peephole just now? We trained you better than that!”
She gives him a dirty look. “Forever correcting me!” she shouts. “Criticizing, finding fault, nitpicking! It is maddening!” He has struck a nerve again, and she hates that he gets under her skin so easily.
Laughing and shrugging his shoulders, he says, “That is my role, mon fleur. What would you have me do?”
“I never hear a ‘Well done’ or ‘Nice job,’” she says, now holding her pounding head. “‘Nice ass’ doesn’t count.” And with that, she adjourns to the living room.
For a moment, she considers dropping the handgun and bug detector onto the end table, but decides against it. Despite their familiarity, she and Serge are not friends. Their relationship has followed an evolution of prisoner-emancipator, then student-teacher, and now agent-handler.
Just after their prisoner-emancipator phase she might have imagined the possibility of them as lovers – back when he was taking great pains to be kind and considerate of her every need while grooming her. Such fantasies ended abruptly after he raped her – twice. Being almost used to that, given her history – not that anyone could ever get used to that – she is dealing with it better than most. Helping her to cope is the conviction that she will get even someday. She just hasn’t quite decided what that might entail.
She sets the detector down, but slides the gun into her waistband. Shaking her head at Serge’s naked entrance, she knows better than to be surprised by it. He is one of the most degenerate people she has ever known, second only to her adoptive father. Her second adoptive father. The one she killed.
If she is never given the chance to kill Serge herself, she takes comfort in the thought that he will meet his end – violently – at the hands of one of his many sexual conquests, gambling victims, or countless other enemies. Her goal for today is to simply make him sick.
She notices the oversized towel she had left draped over the back of the couch, and now wraps it around her shoulders like a shawl. Moving to the window, she studies the shadowy figures on the street below, memorizing their shapes and movements. From his position, Serge smiles lasciviously as he focuses on her perfect, heart-shaped ass.
Catching this in the window’s reflection, Riva rolls her eyes. Aloud, without turning around, she says to him, “I am amazed – as old and horny as you are – that you have never been caught in a ‘honey trap.’” Still gazing out the window, suddenly angry, she adds, “So many men, you included, simply cannot control their zippers.”
Moving in from behind as Riva stares out the window, Serge raises his arms as if about to massage her shoulders … or strangle her.
“Êtes-vous prêt?” he asks.
She turns around, unsmiling, focused on his hands. “Je ne parle pas français,” she says. “Why are we speaking French? ‘Mon fleur’ and now ‘êtes-vous’ something?”
“Are you ready?” placing his hands on her shoulders, he translates his own question while ignoring hers.
Her eyes flash at his touch. Maintaining control, she exhales, “Yes, I am ready.”
Grabbing her firmly, he says, “Say it like you mean it!”
Despite her slight nasal congestion, she can smell the onion garlic bread on his breath. She cringes and turns away, purposely showing as much contempt as her pounding head will allow. She knows he despises even the slightest perceived disrespect from women, especially younger women; worst of all, those who work for him. Numerous women – and men – showing such disrespect in similar situations have wound up dead.
She also knows Serge has spent too much time and effort on her to kill her now. Other than those times he has forced himself upon her, she has not yet served her purpose.
He is still in her face, holding her arms, when she decides against antagonizing him further. Now playing along, smiling and shouting like a new recruit, she shouts, “I am ready, moy kapetan!”
“Much better,” he oozes. His hands slide down her arms to her hips, pausing a moment before firmly grabbing her buttocks. Looking deep into her eyes, he awaits her reaction. Other than a sudden, cold stillness, she has none. Even her pulse is now barely perceptible as she awaits her next move.
This is déjà vu for Riva, reminiscent of the final moments of her adoptive father’s life. They were in this exact position then. She had been giggling happily about something one moment, being silly, only to turn cold and quiet when he had grabbed her in that familiar, disgusting way with that familiar, disgusting look in his eyes. And now, as then, for similar reasons, she is seriously considering killing the man standing in front of her. The only thing stopping her now is the knowledge that Serge’s people would hunt her down and kill her. It is not so much a fear of death as an unwillingness to allow them the pleasure of killing her.
Perversely aroused by her stillness, unaware of the murderous thoughts running through her head, Serge hisses like a snake, “Yessss! Very nice!” He slides in behind her, pressing himself against her as he moves.
“Tell me again what your assignment is.”
Riva drones robotically, “I must find someone … and …”
Then something in her snaps. At the depths of cold-blooded murderous thoughts one moment, the next moment finds her at first giggling, then bursting out laughing, unable to control herself. She is laughing hysterically now.
Serge does not know what to make of it. All he can do is step back, adjust his crotch, and wait for her to get over it. For a moment, he worries about her mental state. Is she having a mental breakdown right here in front of him?
His concern is soon replaced by sexual arousal with the realization that he is responsible for this emotional outburst. He is the one causing distress extreme enough to send her round the bend. To a man like Serge, there is nothing quite as satisfying as that.
Riva tries to regain control, tries to recite her lines, but she is finding it difficult. Get a hold of yourself, she scolds herself.
She eventually does manage to marshal her emotions and reduce her laughter to a stifled giggle. After a moment, she picks up where she had left off: “I must find someone and … make him my bitch!”
“Not your ‘bitch,'” Serge corrects her with an uneasy laugh, still not sure what got into her. “Your asset. Your pawn. We are chess players, you and I. We must be cold, calculating. Like you did earlier when I put my hands on your ass. That was good, very good! Judging by your reaction, it was good for you, too!” He tries to be funny. “You see there? I can give compliments. But this … laughing fit … this was bad. Very bad.” Again, she rolls her eyes. He adds, “We must be in control at all times.”
“Are you finished?” she asks. Laughing now, she turns and points her ass at him. “I shall make him my asset.”
“Good,” he gives a reluctant chuckle. “But tell me again, why are we ruining this stupid git’s life?”
She recites from memory one of the many lines drilled into her, usually by Serge himself: “Sacrifice of the one, for the good of the many!”
“Yes!” he shouts.
“Anyone in particular you want sacrificed?” she asks.
“To keep it interesting for you, I have procured someone entirely clean – no criminal past whatever – and have prepared him specially for you, my dear Riva.”
“What do you mean ‘prepared?’”
Not answering her question, as usual, he says, “I have recently returned from Palm Springs. Lovely this time of year! Warm, but not too hot. A few trees, but not too many. I do not like a lot of trees.”
Riva gives him a look. “What do you have against trees?”
He, of course, ignores the question. “I met a beautiful young man there. A male model. Named Christian, ironically.”
“How is that ironic?” she asks. He does not answer. “So, a young man, you say?” she continues. “Don’t ask, don’t tell?” When he simply stares at her as if envisioning snapping her neck, she changes the subject. “He’s my target?”
“No. God, no! It is his best friend that I have chosen for you.”
“He insulted me,” Serge replies unhappily.
“That’s it?” she asks. “He insulted you, so now we ruin his life?”
“Sure, why not?” he replies with a laugh.
Riva shrugs, reminding herself it does not matter to her, either way. That was the deal: Serge gets her out of prison, she now does whatever he asks.
“And now,” he continues, “we … rather, you turn him into your own little patsy. But remember, we will be expecting results. Failure is not an option.”