It surprised me when she started to talk; I hadn’t expected her to take up my offer so quickly without any questions, without hesitation. I watched as Katerina dug her thumbnail into the flesh of an orange and sent a fine mist of citrus into the air. It smelled of summer and warmth and reminded me of when I was a child, my father peeling oranges for me as I sat on the deck at lunchtime, legs dangling in the pool as I waited to be allowed back in “after my stomach settled”.
“Is easy,” she responded in her thick Eastern European accent. I watched her peel off each segment and lay them down one by one in a row in front of her, neatly lined like little soldiers ready for battle. “But is need to be fifteen hundred, not twelve.”
I watched her closely as she continued set out her orange pieces. Her platinum blonde hair was pulled back tightly in a low bun making her look severe and harsh. She wore little makeup apart from mascara which served to highlight her piercing blue eyes. I, on the other hand, caked it on to hide bruises and swollen red eyes. Katerina looked like a formidable, but beautiful opponent, strong whereas I was weak. My husband would fall for her with little problem. I hoped she’d make him suffer just as he’d made me.
To look at Katerina, you wouldn’t guess that she had been responsible for the assaults of many less than loving husbands and boyfriends. She was slight, birdlike even, and quiet. I had no idea what her day job was or if in fact she had one at all. Rumour had it she had been behind the high profile murder case of the politician who took a stiletto heel to the eye. He had liked to dabble in unseemly sexual practices which had wound his wife up in A&E. That job must have had a sizeable payoff.
Haggling I had expected. A quick agreement to my proposition? Not so much. Katerina was the best in the business, but from what I’d heard she wasn’t one to take a job quickly. She liked to assess the situation, her potential client’s need for her very special skills. I couldn’t imagine Katerina doing much of the rough work herself—it had to be her two beefy bodyguards standing watch outside my front door who did the heavy lifting.
“Thirteen,” I shot back, eyebrow arched. I dug my nail into the soft wood of the table, pockmarked from science experiments, art projects and more dinners than I could count. It had also been the site of countless cups of tea while I sat, fighting back tears after another endless night of shouting and threats. Those nights, the nights where he’d threatened to take our children away to his home country—even thinking of those nights made my blood run cold and my anger rise like bile in the back of my throat.
“Thirteen fifty and is deal.” Katerina delicately bit into an orange slice, final offer.
“Thirteen fifty, then.” I stuck my hand across the table to shake hands with the gorgeous femme fatale who, I hoped, was the answer to my prayers—a lethal angel.
Instead, Katerina put her hand in the bowl on the table. “Kiwi?” She placed the fruit in the palm of my outstretched hand. (569)