For the weeks after her failed escape, Milena sought refuge in old Russian novels. Anna Karenina and Raskolnikov became much more alive than Bonso and the faceless men who used her body at night. She ate without tasting and listened without hearing, obeyed her captors’ orders, carried out the household routines mechanically and efficiently, but her heart was filled with the absolute certainty that only death would free her from her slavery. Once again, Vila-Rojas changed her life.
“You cost me a fortune,” he told her weeks after the scene with the dogs, the first time they were alone together. “Now you’re mine, precious.”
“I’m not anyone’s.”
“I admire your poise, but you and I both know that’s not true. Still, I can set you free.”
Milena looked close at Vila-Rojas’s face, trying to find a hint of humor in his tone or expression. But it was neutral, categorical. They were fully clothed, drinking whiskey in the living room of a large suite in one of his properties, the Hotel Bellamar, and as always, he didn’t seem interested in her body, but in what she had to say.
“So what would I have to do for it?” she asked suspiciously.
“Work for me a few years. If you do it to my complete satisfaction, I’ll give you a nice wad of cash and you can start over wherever you want.”
“Is that why you stopped Bonso when he was going to punish me?”
“You got it.”
“You’ve got a rare ability to pick up on things other people don’t see. You showed it to me the night I met you, at the party on the yacht. And your profession puts you in places where things get said. That could be useful to me.”
“You want me to be your informant?”
“Much more than that. I’m not just interested in your eyes and ears. It’s your access to their bodies that justifies the fortune I paid for you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You don’t have to understand anything for now, just know that from now on your fate and mine are linked.” For the first time since their conversation had begun, Vila-Rojas’s words had some warmth to them.
Milena weighed the implications of what she’d heard and assumed it must be good news. Until then, only the pimps had decided her fortune.
“Unfortunately, there are two or three individuals who are putting our destiny in danger,” he added.
“In danger? What do you mean?”
“That as long as those people are alive, I’m running serious risks, and you are, too, by extension. Unless you help me resolve the situation.” Again, his tone was gentle. “For you, it would be simple to eliminate those obstacles, make them disappear from the map.” He spoke as if they were talking about a minor inconvenience.
“You want me to become a hit man?” she asked incredulously. “What makes you think I would do a thing like that?”
Vila-Rojas didn’t answer. He refilled his glass, this time with water, and sat back on the sofa.
“You don’t have another option. All your alternatives have vanished. Look at you: if it wasn’t for my intervention, there wouldn’t even be a trace of you left in the stomachs of Bonso’s dogs. And look, that’s still a possibility; it’s just off the table for now. It seems like a waste to me, given your faculties, but what can you do—those are the rules of the game, so I’ve been told.”
“I don’t think I have what it takes,” she said.
She couldn’t understand how the conversation had gotten to a point where she was talking about committing murder, and it hurt her to hear him talking about her as if she didn’t matter. She liked to think it was just his way of negotiating. She was unable to believe Agustín didn’t have feelings for her, even if his tough guy exterior made them hard to recognize.
“You do, believe me. You’re not the only one who knows how to size people up.”
“But what about the risks? I’d be the first one they came to if I killed one of your enemies, and that would make people look at you, right?”
“Leave that to me. They won’t find you out, and besides, no one but Bonso knows you’re working under my command. And he owes me his life, too.”
The image rose up in Milena’s mind: a client she detested with his throat sliced open, bleeding to death in bed. She was less perturbed by the violence of the scene than the feeling of calm it produced in her. The idea wasn’t completely disagreeable. She could reserve the right to limit her killing to human trash: she knew a dozen particularly cruel men whose premature deaths would leave the world a better place. It might not be a bad job, and if she was lucky, Vila-Rojas would keep up his end, and in two years, she’d be free.
“What do I have to do?” she asked.
She didn’t dare admit that being useful to Vila-Rojas, working side by side on something so delicate, might allow the peculiar relationship of shared secrets they’d had till then to evolve into something deeper, more caring, more in line with the feelings he aroused in her. As if reading her thoughts, he went over to her, stroked her cheekbone with his hand, and kissed the other side of her face softly.
“You won’t have to do anything. Just stay fit. And don’t worry, we’re not talking about beating anyone’s head in. Our methods will be subtle. I’m more interested in your ability to read people and situations than in your athleticism. You belong to me now, but you’ll go on working in Bonso’s place. I’ve given instructions for your clientele to be restricted to wealthy businessmen and public figures. I’ll make sure you’re at all Marbella’s upper-echelon parties.”
“Who’s going to tell me what to do when the time comes?”
“Once a week you’ll have an appointment with Mr. Schrader, a retired, inoffensive German no one knows I have any connection to. You’ll have a drink in the bar, then you’ll go up to a room connected to this one. He doesn’t know anything about our arrangement. He’ll wait on the other side while you and I chat. On those occasions, you’ll tell me who you’ve seen and what you’ve found out, and if it’s necessary, I’ll give you instructions on how to act. In the meanwhile, read those two books closely.”
Vila-Rojas pointed to the nightstand beside the bed. Her eyes followed his arm, and she sat down and looked at two books with thick covers: one was a manual of toxicology and the other a textbook on infectious diseases.
She picked them up and examined them. Both were well-thumbed and had countless underlines, arrows, and brackets on the pages. It seemed that her reading days hadn’t ended with War and Peace. It also seemed to be the first time in her life she’d ever had a purpose. The small revenge against her clients she’d found in her Tales of the XY Chromosome was about to grow exponentially.
Excerpt from Milena, or The Most Beautiful Femur in the World
By Jorge Zepeda Patterson
Translated from the Spanish by Adrian Nathan West
Forthcoming from Restless Books, 5/2/2017
Posted: March 30, 2017 at 10:22 pm