They say old flames never die. They were wrong.
Lily raised her key to the lock. The wind shifted slightly in a way few would have felt. She closed her eyes and withdrew into the silence, taking soft rapid intakes of breath to read the air. Vanilla. Blueberry. Sweat. The right corner of her mouth twitched upwards as a hand slid over her eyes from behind.
“Pretty ladies shouldn’t be wandering these neighborhoods alone.”
Lily leaned back into the voice and sweet sweaty smell. Her right fingers plunged into a sea of curls and her left ones set anchor into the man’s wrist. With knees lowered, torso twisted, she pulled him closer and snapped forward. Up and over her crouching form, the man twisted and fell through the air. He landed on his back with a knee in his chest and a knife to his throat.
“Next part of you that touches me without a permission slip isn’t going to be reattached.” Lily slid the knife back into her boot and returned a few strands of purple hair to the tangle of knots on her head. “You were supposed to be here yesterday, asshole.” She reached out her hand to him.
“So you were warned!” He brushed dirt off the back of his pants and shook his head, grimacing at the grimy souvenirs of the New York alley that fell from his hair. “Jesus, Lil. You should really get laid or lay off the caffeine.” He held out a crumpled brown paper bag. “Peace offering? I stopped at that place you like on the west side.”
Lily unrolled the top and inhaled deeply. “Pre-chewed cheesecake? My fave.”
“Well I wasn’t expecting a journey-through-space-and-time-type greeting from you.” He shrugged.
“I’m teasing, Johnny. Thank you.” She shook the open bag and steered a few chunks into her mouth.
The Agency found Lily by accident when a recruit showed up late to a knife throwing contest. As a handful of people practiced on the remaining targets, a woman on the fringe quickly became all the recruiter could watch. Though quiet and unremarkable, her aim was deadly.
Lily passed all of the physical and written tests. The mental ones were waived. The psychologists left a note in her file that said “Damaged. No emotions.”…but that mattered little to those who’d taken an interest in her.
The Agency quickly learned there was little to teach her and she didn’t respond well to authority. Martial arts, marksmanship, self-defense: mastered. Her higher ups dubbed her “The Feral Cat” and her handler treated her as one: gloved and from a distance.
On paper, Lily became the tattooist for undercover ops. She could replicate any tattoo from any criminal gang in the world. When agents returned from assignment, she switched from ink to laser and erased her artwork.
Only highest command knew Lily was also called in to erase people, assignments she did with surgical precision.
Lily led Johnny through the dark into the back of the parlor, closed the inner door and flipped on the lights. “Drop your pants, cowboy.”
“Why Miss Lily, I do declare. I didn’t know you still fancied my man parts,” Johnny lilted and fanned his hand over his face.
“C’mon Lil, I was joking. I know it was just a nine-time thing.” He winked.
“Three-and-a-half if we are talking timed events, Quickdraw.”
He slumped his shoulders and flopped into the chair, whistling the sad Peanuts song.
“We can probably do this if you lift your pant legs.” She pulled the laser arm towards him. “Such a shame though because those stars were,” *chef’s kiss*, “but all good art must end in destruction.” Lily snapped the latex gloves against her wrist.
Johnny slowly rolled the cuffs from his ankles to his thighs.
Lily leaned closer to inspect the scars on his knees. “Jesus. What did they do? Drag you through the Kremlin on sandpaper?”
“Turns out your ‘I bow to no one’ stars don’t survive acid.” Johnny sighed as he pulled his shirt over his head.
Lily wrangled her glasses out of her purple knot of hair and wheeled her chair closer to his chest. Her head was cocked but her face showed nothing.
“That eagle has great line work. The woman’s body in his talons will take time and I can’t do much about the blood today. I have to rent a laser for red pigments.” She pointed the beam at the eagle’s head. “Guess this means you won’t be back to Russia again.”
“It’s not what you think. They initiated me at a party. Those psychos can drink gasoline and piss out water. All I remember is waking up with a dead girl and this goddamned Russian pigeon “he’s a rapist murderer” tattoo on my chest. They said I left the bar with her. I don’t know what happened.”
The laser pulsed and the eagle bubbled and frothed. The burned smell of skin reminded Lily of corn chips. She made a mental note to pick up chili for dinner.
“I’m scared, Lily.”
Her mind searched the halls of memory for a spark of empathy. None came so she looked for shapes in the places where his skin sizzled. A dog in a beret. A frog with a cigar.
She turned off the laser.
“Gotta pee.” She stood up and walked towards the back of the room. Johnny grabbed a magazine. Lily slid the blade from her boot, held it loosely between her fingers and flicked her wrist forward. Never hold anything tightly or you lose control. The knife lodged into the base of his skull and he slumped over.
Lily looked at the clock. The cleaners would arrive in a half hour and Johnny would disappear. She turned off the lights and locked the door behind her. An orange alley cat ran up and wove in between her ankles.
“Sweetness, I have a treat for you today. Mommy’s assignment left a snack!” Lily scratched its chin and dumped the cheesecake on the pavement.