I’m flat on my back, eyes closed, body covered in sweat, loud music in my ears. Rebecca’s last moments are playing on my eyelids before I replace them with Donavan’s face, focusing on the teeth, the eyes, the hair, the rest of the little details. He’s still there. I still have him, and that means I still have some part of me left.
Not all of me is left, though. I remember what I experienced of Rebecca’s life, but Victoria Simone and everything in between is getting hazier, like snippets of a nightmare you barely remember in the morning.
It seems like eons have passed in the week since I first died and each death is weighing on me. If I’m going to get out of this with myself intact—or just have enough left to give Gerard what he wants—I need to give myself some of the closure I gave Rebecca. I need to see Donavan.
When I open my eyes, I realize I’m in a gym laying on a padded mat in an open area full of other padded mats. Fans are spinning on the roof above me. I focus on one of them to keep myself from weeping.
Once the feeling has passed, I look myself over. My arms are pale, lean, and muscular. My stomach is flat. I have curly red hair. When I sit up and look at myself in one of the many mirrors that line the walls, the woman staring back at me is heinously beautiful. I keep getting embarrassed and looking away before remembering I’m her, and she is me.
I feel a phone vibrating in the small pocket of my yoga pants. I reach for it instinctively and use the fingerprint scanner to open it because I do not know the passcode. Too simple, really. If your phone isn’t secure against the ever-present threat of someone stealing your body is it even secure at all?
It’s a text from a hidden number, but guessing the sender is easy enough.
“I’ll give you credit, Victoria. You had my hunter searching all day for you until he finally had to come to me for help. If only your friend had this much fight in him, but he broke into a million pieces before we could get anything useful. That will happen to you eventually. In fact, I suspect it already is and you just don’t know it. You can stop this any time, just give me what I want and we’ll all be on our way.”
He sends another text just as I finish reading. It’s a link that takes me to an article from the New York Times, with an image of a grieving couple that look be in their late forties or early fifties. The woman is in a black dress and jacket and the man in a suit. They are clutched in embrace, tears flowing down their cheeks. They seem… familiar.
“Oh my god…” I study their faces. “My… parents?”
I can barely breathe. My muscles are cramping. My throat is dry. I’m gripping the phone so tight my fists are shaking. How could I not recognize my own parents as soon as I saw the picture?
His face pops into my mind. Gerard will not take him away from me. I probably thought that of my parents as well and look where I am now, but Gerard will not take Donavan away from me.
The caption of picture would knock me on my back if I wasn’t already there.
“James and Elizabeth Simone grieve the loss of their daughter, Victoria, who was later found out to be an international criminal.”
And below that, the article’s title comes in with the finisher.
“Wannabe Robinhood Found Dead”
I skim the article because I can’t stop long enough to read more than a few words at a time. It details how they found me in the Sound. It details the early part of my life, where my parents struggled to make ends meet for Donavan and I. It details the mysterious fortune I left for them. And it details the forfeiture of that fortune to my victims rather than those who deserved it most. It’s only been a week since my death and everything I set up for them is already unraveling.
I’m so sorry, Victoria, Isabel whispers as the weight of the article crashes into me.
My feet are moving before I can respond to her. It feels like everyone’s eyes are on me as I leave, especially the men. Leering at me. I glare back through my tears.
Cold air greets me just outside the door. It’s morning and the sun is just over the horizon. I’m aimlessly walking, rereading Gerard’s text.
Just give me what I want and we’ll be on our way. That feels like so long ago, but it jolts within me a plan I seem to have nearly forgotten. Javier’s apartment, the Guilty Man, and following up on this ‘Mr. Turner’ who owned the building I was murdered in. The answers I need will be with them. They have to be. I’m never going to be the Victoria I once was, but at least if I give Gerard what he wants I can end this without having to risk the lives of more innocent women. Is that too much to ask?
I look down at this woman’s phone. It’s Saturday morning. I know where Donavan will be, and after seeing him we can go to Javier’s to see if he left us any clues.
Good, you need closure, Rebecca says. Then you need to hunt down Gerard for killing me.
I’d love that, but, honestly, at this point I’d almost be just as happy to give him what he wants and be done.
The gym I was at is on the southwest side of town, near the airport. Everyone in Victoria’s life was in the north end. It’ll be a couple bus rides and a light rail trip from where I’m at.
My phone tells me my full name is Britney McCray. The red hair is not a coincidence; I can see that it runs in the family and together we can be nothing if not of Scottish and Irish decent. A quick perusal of social media gives me an overview of the person I’m occupying: her likes, dislikes, that she recently broke up with her boyfriend and that she’s barely twenty. From her posts it seems like she’s still trying to figure out what she wants to do for the rest of her life but in the meantime works as a part-time model for some cash on the side. I could have guessed that last part just by looking in the mirror.
It’s sickening when I sit down and think about it for a minute. I don’t know this person at all yet here I am digging into her life and trying to impersonate her, and between Google, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram I can see just about everything I would ever need to know. Nothing is private anymore, no matter what we think, although I’m just a dead girl so what do I know?
The first leg of the trip is a bus ride over the to the light rail station. Britney has a transit card in her purse. I weave through the crowd at the station before swiping the card and taking a window seat in an otherwise unoccupied row. I’ve ridden the bus plenty of times to get through the city and, while not always stress free, it’s never been as uncomfortable as it is right now.
Every glance in my direction is cause for alarm, and there are a lot of glances. There’s a bald man a little older than me across the aisle. I see him turn toward me a few times out of the corner of my eye—he’s trying to play it off like he’s looking out my window—but he only stares. The seats at the back of the bus are facing toward mine. A man wearing a tank top—it started raining on my walk from the gym, by the way—who has long, black hair in a topknot peeps up at me over his phone at random intervals, seemingly to look down the passageway to the front but locking his eyes on me every time. There’s a man in a puffy jacket with a five o’clock shadow standing in the aisle. He’s looking beyond me to whatever scenery we pass, though whenever his gaze takes him over my head he lingers on me a moment before leaving.
It’s settled. Either every man in this bus is associated with Gerard, or men, it turns out, are just a bit creepy sometimes. It’s hard to tell which. How many of them want me dead? How many of them just want to talk to me and are too scared to do it? How many want a little bit of both?
This hatred I suddenly feel, at first it seems to come from nowhere but then I understand. Victoria had great relationships with the men in her life. Isabel had a loving boyfriend and Rebecca, though she had trouble showing it, loved her husband. It seems that Britney was less lucky. A woman who looks like I do right now no doubt has had to deal with her unfair share of men who wanted nothing more than to claim her as a trophy, and it seems this hatred was such a driving force in her life that it’s the one piece left of her soul after Gerard forced me into her body, because I haven’t noticed any other traits or any new voices in my head.
The ride is as tense as it is long, but finally the bus slows to a stop under the rail station. I make sure I’m the last one out, lingering so long one of the other women on the bus throws me a glance like that tells me she was waiting for all the men to leave as well. It makes my heart flutter; turns out the hatred of men is not all Britney left me.
I’m in a station I’ve been in many times. It’s two long flights up to where the rail leaves. I could take the elevator, but the spring in Britney’s step and my reluctance to be stuck in such a confined space both tell me I should take the stairs.
People look in my direction as they pass, but they don’t stop and neither does the crowd I’m following. After a moment, I feel my guard start to loosen. Perhaps Gerard’s goons aren’t after me today. Maybe I’m just overreacting to how society treats women who look like Britney.
Or, perhaps not. The topknotted man from the bus bends down to tie his shoe. I’m maybe ten steps away from him and I see him glance back at me as he finishes. I slow to keep him in front, but it’s to no avail. He waits until I’m by and then pops up next to me.
It’s a silent walk, side-by-side. Him eyeing me, me slowly fading away, just waiting for him to attack before he finally speeds his pace and leaves me behind.
Men are weird, Isabel says.
Yes, that was… uncomfortable, Rebecca adds.
I watch the man until he gets on the rail before I pick a car several cars behind the one he chose.
My phone buzzes when I sit down. It’s a text from someone named Brandi who is wondering where I am and if I’m okay. After a quick bit of sleuthing, I see that she’s a friend of mine and that we had plans today. I just leave it on ‘read’. The best response is no response.
There are several men in my car and a few women as well. The women pay me no mind, other than perhaps a passing glance as I take my seat. The men take turns staring at me. If I didn’t expect it, I would be a tad uncomfortable. In fact, I still am.
This is exhausting, I say, looking around and taking stock of the men in the compartment, who don’t seem much of a threat, at least not in the vein of Gerard and his hunters.
What, having them stare at you, living someone else’s life, or talking to yourself in your own head? Rebecca says.
All three, I say as I try to hold back a depressing laugh.
My mind wanders as the rail leaves the station. It strikes me as odd that Gerard hasn’t sent someone after me by now. No doubt it looks like I’m fleeing again, and when I see a stalky man walk into my compartment after our first stop I’m almost ready for him to be one of the hunters.
He takes a seat a handful of rows away that faces in the direction of my own, glancing at the other women in the train but not me. He is the first man I’ve yet seen to not sneak a peek in my direction, which immediately makes me distrust him. Turns out you can either look too much or too little, and there might not be a comfortable median, at least not for Britney.
I stare at him until he finally looks at me. My first instinct is to look away, but I ignore it. I’m well-past the point of being embarrassed.
The look he gives me betrays him almost immediately. It is one of guilt. It is one of sadness. It is one of remorse, which only grows the longer we hold our stares. There’s a tingle in my chest. Finally, he looks away, back at his phone, but it’s too late.
The Guilty Man!
How can you be sure? Isabel says.
He tried so hard not to look at me, and when he did I could see it in his eyes. I guarantee it.
We sit in an uncomfortable silence until the next stop, me wondering what to do and him trying his best to look like he’s not paying attention to me, but from the way he’s sitting and staring at his phone I can tell he knows he’s been exposed.
The train slows to a crawl as the next platform approaches. He remains motionless until the doors open and then he jumps to his feet and briskly makes for the exit.
I spring to my feet the instant he moves. There’s a banging beneath the seat as I throw my purse over my shoulder, but he never leaves my sights. I’m five steps back. Three steps. Right on his heels.
A hand reaches out and jerks my arm just as I’m exiting the train.
“Miss, you dropped something.” It’s an old man. “It’s over by your seat.”
“What?” I barely look at him, struggling for the exit. “I don’t care.”
The old man doesn’t let go. He’s grinning. “I think it’s your phone. You’ll probably need that.”
He’s right. The phone is sitting in the aisle just beside my seat. When I look back up, the doors are already closing.
I don’t know how Britney talks, but that was pure instinct. I can do nothing but watch as the Guilty Man walks off, my hopes shattered.
Finally, the train starts moving. The man never even looks back.
It’s okay, Rebecca says, we weren’t even looking for him anyway. We can still accomplish everything we needed to do today.
She’s right, but her words don’t help my fury. I’ve let yet another chance slip through my fingers.
A set of eyes catches my attention before darting aside as I go to retrieve Britney’s phone. The man with the topknot. He quickly looks away.
You’ll see the Guilty Man again, Isabel says. If he’s following you, he’ll be back.
But what if he’s not? What if it’s just a coincidence and I missed him, and he ends up being the key to figuring this all out?
Why would he help you? Rebecca asks.
Because the Guilty Man was there when I died. He was in the back and looked like he was in pain from watching me getting murdered. If anyone will help me, it’s that guy.
The topknot man looks up at me every so often through the next few stops. He’s trying to hide it, but I’m too focused on him to miss it.
The train goes underground as we approach the next station. The man has a book in his hands, but I haven’t seen him turn any pages. When I look closer, I notice his jacket is tighter around one forearm than the other, hugging the outline of some object he has concealed against his arm.
I can’t tell if he’s into you or wants to kill you, Rebecca says.
Either way, I don’t like this, Isabel says.
The train empties a bit more at this station. I risk a glance up to the map as a young woman and her daughter walk between the man and me. Only three stops left until my own. Our eyes meet as my gaze returns to him. We both look away immediately.
After the next stop, it’s just the two of us in the car. I’m watching him out of the corner of my eye as I pretend to check my phone. He’s watching me over the top of his book, and I still haven’t seen him turn a page.
We need to leave, I say as I throw my bag over my shoulder.
There are a few people in the next car. I nod and smile on my way by, nonchalantly taking my phone out of my pocket and using its black mirror to check around my waist. He’s following me and one of his hands is awkwardly cupped around the end of the object that’s up his sleeve.
The blade glimmers in my phone screen. A knife.
Here it is. At least I know it’s coming this time.
I take a quick breath to calm myself and glance around for my options. There are a set of parallel handrails attached to the roof that line both sides of the aisle and extend the length of the car. I’m walking beneath them right now. Between each car is a compartment that joins the two and provides extra seating. The doorway between the compartments and the cars doesn’t go all the way to the roof, leaving about two feet of wall above the doorway that you can’t see from inside the middle compartment.
The plan forms almost immediately. Britney has a strong body. It’s time to put it to the test.
As soon as I clear the doorway into the next car I make an exaggerated side-step as though I’m trying to hide around the corner. Once I’m out of his view, I pull myself up to the ceiling until I’m hanging over the door.
His steps quicken and he bursts through the doorway, already mid-lunge at where he thinks I am, the six-inch knife he had up his sleeve glimmering in the lights.
I pounce. He has no idea where I’m coming from. His back is exposed and the knife clanks to the ground when I crash into him from above. I throw knees, fists, elbows, and feet at him. Everything I can think of. It’s a brutal thrashing.
He’s still breathing when I’m done, but he’s a bloody mess.
“Tell your boss to call off his fucking dogs.” I spit the words on his motionless body. “I’m trying to do what he wants.”
Gasps filter in from the car behind me. I pay them no mind. The train slows to a crawl and the doors open. It’s a few stops before my own. I think I’ll just walk instead.
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