Anna Marie – The Cult
By Rock Kitaro
My life begins every time he dies and I’m getting sick of it. I thought he was dead. I thought I had killed him. This time I know he’s not coming back. I suppose the only solace stems from the fact that he finally learned the truth. The truth is, I loved him. I’ll always love him. That’s all there is to it.
I don’t want everyone to know all about my family upbringing or whatever. It’s nobody’s business. So I’m going to skip all that.
I met Marcus in my early twenties. We worked together in the same building, at the same company, an up-and-coming media outlet focusing on entertainment. He was a journalist writing op-ed pieces on the ever-changing culture, while I made my bones on the forecast projections of upcoming album and box office sales. I heard he gave me credit for how much I changed him, inspiring him to grow. I suppose I should do the same.
I dunno… Marcus was really shitty at small talk. I think our first conversation was about God. That’s how deep and straight to the point he was. It was kind of annoying at first. I thought it was creepy and invasive. I was like, “who the hell are you that I should tell you all these deep and personal things?”
But after a while, I dunno. It kinda grew on me. I found myself thinking about crap I never would’ve even considered.
He talked about stuff like North Korea or the slave trade in Africa that still persists to this day. And when he spoke, he was so full of passion. Like, he honestly cared, as if he had a family member there or some stake in the matter. It was a spectacle, actually. Always so dramatic and full of histrionics. Caught myself smiling a couple of times. He’d notice, turn and blush. If black people could blush. Then he’d ask for my opinion. I wouldn’t have one. I just enjoyed listening. But he encouraged me to think. He was in my head. That’s how the bastard got me.
Of course, when you’re young, you never realize these things. Like, who actually takes the time to analyze why they’re hanging around another person? Other than Marcus, who takes the time? I know I didn’t.
As engaging as he was, I didn’t think Marcus was all that attractive at first. He had a big nose, tall and goofy-looking. And yeah he lost weight overtime, replacing fat with muscle, which was kind of hot. But still, his eyes. He had puppy eyes that expressed too much emotion. I didn’t like that.
Back then, I went for the strong silent types who looked like mysterious vaults begging to be pried open. With Marcus, he was already open. Too easy and painted with desperation. And when he told me he loved me after only five months of meeting me, I thought he was so stupid.
He called it being straight-forward and honest. But where’s the fun in that? So many times I tried to tell him, “Instead of showing all your cards at once, let the other person peel back the layers on their own.”
He wouldn’t let me. He’d counter with crap like, “If you think I’ve shown all my cards by this conversation alone, you’re sadly mistaken. My well runs deep and I’ve merely doused you with a bucket from the ocean.”
So arrogant and full of himself. Well…sure of himself. Either way, I suppose the reason why I’m writing all this is to convey how much I changed. Back then, as much as his overconfidence repulsed me, it never ceased to amaze me.
With him, every day was different. Always a new topic, always a new thought or some interesting story to discuss. Not just the main topics that dominated talk shows, but he’d read between the lines and bust out his theories of ulterior motives for everything. It wasn’t boring with Marcus. But at the same time, it wasn’t fun.
You see how confusing that sounds? Only Marcus could solicit that kind of response from me. With anyone else, I could sum them up in 140 characters. With Marcus, I’d need a couple of afternoons to explain. And even when I did, I’d probably confuse myself.
So when it comes to how much Marcus had changed me, I credit him with turning me into an independent thinker. Someone who not only sees what happened, but why it happened. And even when I heard explanations, I wouldn’t take it at face value, but consider the possibility that the speaker may be mistaken. Not lying, but oblivious to how wrong they are in their evaluation.
But, like I said…when I was younger I took all that for granted. I wanted to do more with my life whereas Marcus seemed more settled to the New York lifestyle. I come from Colombia. I knew there was more to the world than that, more the world had to offer, so I decided to venture out.
It was tough and scary and I left a whole bunch of friends behind. Marcus was especially pissed. I could tell because he didn’t even come to the farewell party. He sent this block of text, but I didn’t feel like reading all that.
I remember my last day, walking by his cubicle as he worked. It made me smile, because as much as he’s changed over the years, when Marcus worked, he had a habit of listening to loud metal music through his headphones, bobbing his head with his hood on like a total creep. I thought about scaring him like I used to do, but knowing him…It was a happy day for me. Marcus had a way of pissing on my parade. So I didn’t do anything. I must have stood there for at least five minutes just watching him type. And then I left.
Marcus…I honestly believed that one day he’d change the world with his thoughts. I prayed for him and wished him luck.
My next stop was Los Angeles. It didn’t take me long to find a job as an event planner with the LA Bulls football team. I was at the epicenter, a wheelin’ and dealin’ world of two-timing agents, backstabbin’ promoters, and all the hunks you could eat.
I loved it. Everything was high stakes and fast paced. Here, women had to walk the walk and talk the talk. You had to keep up and dish out as much dirt as the fellas. I worked directly under the Marketing Director so I was in charge of coordinating with vendors and making sure every thing was set up for all the parties, social events, and conferences leading up to the big game. There was a lot riding on my back and it’s exactly what I wanted. The responsibility. The power. The constant fear of failure. Knowing that one single mistake could cost millions. I loved it!
And the thing is, I knew from an early age that I was more attractive than the average woman. As a child, I was taught to have good posture, arch your back, stand up straight, take care of your skin and all that. I don’t think there was a single day where a man didn’t hit on me, or a girl didn’t sneer at me with envious eyes. It didn’t bother me. I knew my beauty was a blessing and I had every intention of using it to my advantage.
I could get any man to do what I wanted, no matter the inconvenience. All it took was a smile and a stroke of their ego. When it came to women, I knew how to befriend them and get them on my side. The trick was to show them that you’re down to earth, to convince them that you don’t want to be known for your looks and assets. Show ‘em that you’re a driven worker, tolerant and expecting of the prejudice while keeping your complaints to yourself, shutting them up by outperforming them all. That’s why women have it worse. We have to work harder. It’s what’s makes us better.
Being in a hub of professional athletes, I’ve dated football players, basketball players, athletic trainers, even managers and coaching assistants. They’re all the same. I won’t go so far as to say all they care about is sex, but it’s the main thing they cared about. And to be honest, it was all I cared about too.
I admit it. I was addicted to sex. The flutter of the flesh. The heat, the stimulation. I used to tell people, “Good sex is like morphine to the misery of a bad relationship.” It was the only way to explain why I was with an obvious dunce or some jackass whom I clearly had no intention of spending the rest of my life with. They were just hobbies I played with to pass the time.
I could care less about their dreams and aspirations or how they felt about me, so long as they quenched my desire. The problem was when they caught feelings, or as Marcus would say, “they loved me so much that they started to hate me.”
I’m talking about hard dudes built like iron, made of muscle and so tall that they had to duck to avoid the door frame. These monsters on the field were soft as teddy bears when they got to opening up. It made me sick to my stomach. I didn’t go after them to hear about their adversity or the obstacles they had to overcome. News flash! Everyone has obstacles. I didn’t care! I just wanted to have fun for fuck’s sake, a man with stamina who could handle me in bed. That’s it!
But no! The stereotypes are full of shit. They say women are all emotional but from what I’ve seen it’s the other way around. These gorillas lose their shit and flip over tables if you don’t compliment them enough or notice when they’re trying to impress you. And for some fucking reason, everyone wants to have children. Like, right away!
I don’t mind children, but first, let me live a little. I always made this clear from the get-go. And because they can’t wrap their tiny little brains around it, they’d lash out. I’ve had men put their hands on me and I fought back. I actually trained in MMA and us Latinos know how to work our legs. I’ve keyed cars, broken windows, and smashed bottles to defend myself. At the same time, I’ve come to work with swollen eyes and busted lips but I never felt ashamed about the bruises. I took pride in knowing I defended myself. Reliant on myself. As much as I got, I made sure to dish out ten times as much.
Over the course of five years, I’ve had fifteen men propose marriage to me in these grand elaborate displays. To be honest, I wouldn’t feel a shred of remorse when I’d tell them “no” even as a crowd looked on. It’s because they insulted me. They were either stupid or foolish for ever thinking they could contain me. And that’s what it all really boiled down to. All men wanted to possess me. They wanted to own me, mind, body, and soul. To cook, clean, and conceive. And of course, we all know men like to talk, bragging about exploits in the boardrooms and locker rooms.
After a while, I was tempted to quit the business. If I weren’t such an effective producer, I probably would have been fired. Then, everything changed when a star quarterback was traded in from Philadelphia. He was probably the most gorgeous man I’d ever seen in my life. He was tall with sharp eagle eyes, curly brown hair, this German African breed who looked like he belonged on the cover of a men’s health magazine. His name was Jason Turner.
The first time I met him was at the welcome party at a packed nightclub out in Malibu. We locked eyes on the dance floor and gravitated like magnets. It was the best sex I ever had in my life. I knew he was married with children, but none of that mattered. In fact, I think I liked it better so he wouldn’t expect to have children with me.
This probably went on for seven months. Jason had a stellar season and led the team to the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. But the night before the conference championship, Jason went out with the boys. Cameras caught him making out with a stripper in Miami. It didn’t really bother me that much, but it pissed the hell out of his wife and they ended up losing the game.
Jason returned to Los Angeles a disgraced train wreck. His wife filed for divorce and much to my horror, Jason wanted to move in with me to start a new life. I wanted none of that. So I started ignoring his texts and screening his calls. I avoided him whenever I could, but the night after a Mardi Gras party, Jason came staggering into my West Hollywood apartment with two of his teammates. All of them fuming with alcohol, stumbling one foot after the other.
I didn’t want them to stay the night. It had been months since I talked to Jason so I started to call him a cab. He wrestled the phone from my hands and demanded I talk to him.
“Your drunk, Jason! You need to go home!” I shouted.
“I am home, bitch. I paid for this couch. I paid for that TV. That bedspread’s mine!”
“You want it? Take it and get out!”
I ripped the sheets from my bed and threw it at him. “Take it and get the fuck out! All of you! Go!”
Yes, I was pushing him. I shoved the comforter in his arms and started pushing him towards the door when suddenly he punched me in my face. It was full force. I saw the look in his eyes. His intent to hurt me was clear. So of course, I fought back. I started clawing at his face and throwing hooks but he was too strong. He grabbed my arms and wrestled me to the carpet right there in my living room.
His boys sat there laughing. It was the first time since I was a child that a man overpowered me. That feeling of helplessness no matter how hard I struggled, no matter how hard I fought back…it’s the most wretched feeling in the world. This blinding rage overcame me and I started screaming. The teammates laughed louder, pointing like sick twisted gargoyles.
Jason flipped me over, pulled down my pants and started raping me. I clawed at the carpet, screaming, trying to crawl away, but he had my right arm pinned down, with his other arm coiled around my head, his hand clamped over my mouth, muffling my screams as he thrust himself into me again and again. He was grunting like a wild beast. My heart must have been beating at 200 rpms because I was convulsing, trembling with pure rage.
Then, out the corner of my eye, I saw the beer bottle he dropped. I grabbed it and started swinging over my shoulder. I couldn’t get good leverage for a solid hit, but it harassed him enough to remove his hand from my mouth. In that moment, I was able to turn around and smashed the bottle into his face. Before he even hit the floor, I was on him, jamming the broken bottle into his neck. Blood gushed and sprayed everywhere, the curtains, the wall, the couch. I stabbed him again and again…as if I was cuffed and I had to dig the key out from his throat.
Next thing I know, his friends got up, cursing as they ran for the front door. Only, they didn’t open it. Someone else did. A number of suppressed shots zipped out before their bodies hit the floor. I whipped around with my blood-soaked hair slapping over my shoulders like a paintbrush.
In walked a group of women all dressed in black overcoats and corporate attire. The one with the pistol came and stood over me. She had long black hair with crystal clear blue eyes.
“I’m Breanne.” She said as if that was supposed to mean something. “Perhaps you should get off of him now.”
I looked down. It was strange. Killing a man. With the exception of premeditated murder, you really don’t realize what you’re doing until it’s done. Crimes of passion are real. Jason had circular lacerations all over his neck and face. His right eye was stuck in the bottleneck of the beer bottle still in my hands. I tossed it.
When I looked up, Breanne had tucked her pistol and was now extending her hand my way. I accepted and she helped me up. Another woman came and wrapped me in a black overcoat. Another four ladies were packing the teammates in body bags. I watched three more ladies enter with soap buckets and brushes. Another woman had a police badge on her hip. She was speaking some command into a radio handset.
Breanne said nothing as she observed me watching everyone else. Of course, the first question to mind was “who were they,” but I never asked. I think Breanne was waiting for it and when the question didn’t come, she simply took me by the hand and escorted me from my apartment.
Everything seemed so coordinated and rehearsed. None of my neighbors stuck their heads out to inquire about the ruckus. There was a woman waiting by the entrance to the stairwell. Another waited by the exit door. The reception desk was vacant. A black limousine with tinted windows was waiting out front. It was late night, but I still expected to see a pedestrian or two. There was no one in proximity. A lady opened the door for us and as soon as Breanne and I were inside, the limo pulled off.
“We’ve been watching you, Anna. I knew it was only a matter of time before something like this happened. I was hoping to pull you beforehand, but…alas, I’m not an oracle,” said Breanne.
“Where are we going?”
“Somewhere secure. To get you cleaned up.”
At the other end of a limo was another woman, in her early twenties with a computer in her lap. This one had a sassy look about her, black hair, red eye shadow with a black choker.
“My associate, Scarlet.” Breanne informed. “She’s new. Like you, Anna.”
“Who are you people?” I finally asked.
“We’re a sisterhood of women determined to take charge. Our society has lasted for centuries. No one knows we exist. No one will ever find out we exist. Just like no one will ever know it was you who killed the star quarterback, Jason Turner.”
“You’re going to blackmail me?”
“Absolutely not, my dear. Merely illustrating that when it comes to realities, we’re quite adept at controlling them.”
“That’s right!” She whispered. “From here on out, your life will only get better. I will teach you to ride thousands of chariots with one hand. You will learn the extent your full potential and impose your will as you were born to do. Anna Marie, you are a goddess among men. You don’t have to hide it anymore.”
Breanne Cunningham, a member of the Society’s prestigious Armored Front. She might seem calm and collected, sophisticated and civil. But when it came to bloodshed and violence, Breanne was a professor of it. Her words struck a nerve. I pretended like I was enamored, but the truth was, I knew she was catering to my ego. If I were in her shoes, I would’ve done the same.
The strange thing was…even though I had just killed a man, I wasn’t traumatized by the experience. I didn’t even try to justify it in my mind. It didn’t bother me being cold and sticky with dry blood. I didn’t ask any more questions about this so-called society or how or why she had been watching me. My mind was just blank. I suppose, deep down, it was in that moment that I realized nothing would ever be the same. The alternative was prison. Instead, I was riding in a limo. So of course, I accepted it. Of course, I didn’t ask questions or asked to be let out. Whatever Breanne wanted from me, anything would have been better than life behind bars. Thus, it was easy to commit to their cause.
I went through the same training process that Gladys talked about, except while her vest weighed 40, I had a 80lb vest as I ran through the slopes. I wasn’t very talkative. Just driven. I came to work. Exercise and running came natural to me because I was already well versed to combat training. When it came time to learn a new system of fighting, I chose Krav Maga.
They allowed me to travel to Israel and learn Krav Maga from an ex-Mossad agent who was once an instructor of the all-female Israeli Defense Forces. Her name was Hannah Sjoberg, tough as nails. Krav Maga was a combination of techniques designed for practical combat in extremely close quarters. Whether you’re surrounded by a mob or cornered in an alley, with a knife in your hands and Krav Maga in your repertoire, you’re a fucking lion on the Serengeti. It emphasized aggression and maximum effort, both of which, I excelled.
Knives were my best friends. Daggers, field knives, the benthic knife, concealed blades, I was taught how to use them all. I learned the pressure points. I became familiar with the main veins and arteries of the body. You could stab, puncture, lacerate, and saw into flesh to drain the enemy’s life force. The human body can lose over four pints of blood in less than a minute from a single stab wound. This was Krav Maga.
One of my favorite techniques was a counter where I’d block high with my left hand and shoot to the opponent’s right side while slicing across their midsection. I got good at it. The first time I used it was on an extremist in a bazaar not far from Jerusalem. It was during one of the many uprisings. I saw his entrails spill out as he collapsed to the floor. It was spectacular.
Everything Hannah taught me worked. I trained with her for three months and every time there was a conflict, we’d don the burqa and involve ourselves for the sake of experience. It was an adrenaline rush. Hannah became like a second mother. She didn’t speak much. She didn’t ask questions. She didn’t judge. She just took care to discipline me, refining me into the fearsome warrior I am today.
When it came to motivation or what drove me…the truth is, I didn’t and still don’t know. I was a bit upset about having to leave my career, but it wasn’t the end of the world. The so-called friends I left didn’t mean much to me. My reputation was shit and Jason’s death was manufactured to look like a hate crime not far from Skid Row, instigating protests and a greater call for social justice.
Breanne served my sponsor, a mentor of sorts. When I wasn’t training in the field she’d trt to indoctrinate me with all kinds of dogmas about female empowerment and how men have continued to fuck up over the centuries. To be honest, I wasn’t really sold on the philosophy. It was the structure, the tradition, the sense of order and organization that made me feel like I belonged. Given my own frustration with men, it was nice to see women taking charge. Ever since I was little, I always thought of myself as more capable than most of the men in my life, so it made sense.
The Villa of British Columbia was a training facility, but it also served as a headquarters the way Swords came and went. Even when I was still a protégé, everyone treated me like I was already a full-fledged member. I didn’t sense they were disingenuous. These women didn’t wear masks or force politeness to make you feel comfortable. Everyone was sincere and full of purpose, so focused on their own tasks.
Mandee was in my training class. We came up together. I think she was jealous about how popular I was and right away, she befriended arguably the bitchiest girl in the house, Scarlet. I always thought there was something else going on between them, but that was none of my business.
Breanne kept me close. We were the same height and whenever I was with her, it always felt like…like if it was just the two of us against a hundred foes, I wouldn’t be afraid. At the head of the table, Breanne placed me at her right. Again, this was back when I was still a protégé. So yeah, Mandee and Scarlet hated my guts. But it didn’t bother me so long as it was limited to the scowling.
But one night…Scarlet showed just how crazy she was. I had just stepped out of the shower and threw on a towel when this short bitch pinned me against the wall and put a blade to my throat. She started whispering some threat but I immediately reacted on impulse, ramming her face into the wall and trapping her in an armbar. She kicked away from the wall and landed on my chest but I used my towel to wrap it around her neck.
Others heard the commotion and rushed in. It took six ladies to pull me off, partially because I was still wet and the steam was fogging the bathroom. I really was about ready to kill her. It was a good thing they managed to separate us.
I remember Celeste was there. She was the first black woman I saw in the society. She had been with the Swords of St. Catherine for about two years by then and apparently knew about Scarlet’s reputation.
“So what’s this all about?” Celeste said with a smirk. “Someone give this girl a towel.”
“You’re fucking dead, you fucking cunt whore!” Scarlet shouted.
“Now, now, Scarlet. It’s not whether you win or lose. It’s what you do with your dancing shoes,” Celeste teased.
“How bout I dance all over your fucking face!? How bout that?”
“What are you whining about?” Celeste asked her.
“She attacked me! I’m a Sword. She’s still a fucking protégé. She’s out! You hear me? She’s out!” Scarlet shouted.
“You’re not the one who decides that. I am.”
Everyone turned to see Breanne walking in with two soldiers armed with M16s.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see who provoked whom. Scarlet, this is the last I ever want to hear about you doing something like this again. Do I make myself clear?”
“Why do you coddle her?” Scarlet accused. “It’s been two years now! She still hasn’t done the initiation.”
“Alright listen up!” I said, fucking fed up and stark naked. “I don’t give a damn if you’re a protégé or the motherfuckin’ president of this club. Anyone try some shit like that again, and I’m stabbing your ass.”
Celeste started laughing. Scarlet pushed her and Celeste shoved back.
“ENOUGH!” Breanne shouted. “This is what I’m talking about. This is why women can’t get ahead! This is our problem, our biggest problem. Right here. Our own gender holding us back. No one can bring us down but us. Look at us. Not a single man in sight but we’re all ready to draw blood.”
Breanne circled Scarlet with a stare that could melt through ice. “Why are you so jealous? What is it that you want, Scarlet? Speak!”
“Respect, she says.” Breanne nodded. “And why is that so important to you?”
“It’s important to all of us. Even you.”
“See, here is the part where I should reach out and snatch the ever-lovin’ life out of you, but I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to threaten your life, Scarlet. I’m not even going to threaten you with expulsion. Because this is what we want. We want our women to think and act for themselves, determine of their own free will what is truth and justice. For that, I applaud you. But one lesson you will learn. Is that every choice has a consequence. Before you make that choice, you accept the consequence. That’s called personal responsibility. Do that and you’ll have my respect. Come along, Anna.”
I made sure my towel was wrapped tight as I bypassed Scarlet on my way to Breanne. Scarlet was about to follow us out, but was stopped by the women with the M16s. Four more women with boxing gloves were in the hallway. Breanne nodded. The boxers entered the bathroom as we continued on.
“Oh what? Y’all want some of this? Come on then! Let’s go!” Scarlet shouted.
I could hear the fast steps of squeaking boots and slapping impacts followed by grunts and shouts of exertion. Anyone who grew up in the inner city could tell Scarlet was getting jumped and fighting back with everything she got. Shame. I never did find out why she accosted me in the first place.
The next morning, Breanne was sitting on my bed as an assistant reviewed her upcoming schedule. I was in the closet, getting dressed in a black skirt with a white Chinese style collared blouse. Still heated about last night, I asked, “Is that what happens around here? Someone step out of line and they get jumped?”
Breanne chuckled. “Trust me. Scarlet’s a hard case, that one. She comes from a broken home and on top of that, she was kidnapped and sold in the Vegas sex trade. When I found her, she was fourteen and being charged with the murder of her pimp and six of his associates. In all my years, I’ve never seen such defiance, so ruthless. Logic and reason won’t work on her once she’s set her mind. The only way to keep her in line is with corporal punishment. It’s unfortunate but not the first time we’ve had to resort to such measures with her. The last girl she bullied ended up killed herself. Scarlet had carved an X over her face. The girl was supposed to be a model. We had plans to use her as an ambassador and Scarlet ruined it.”
“Then why is she here? Why keep her? Sounds like a loose cannon. You can’t depend on someone like that.”
“She likes to fight.” Breanne told me. “So do you, but not all of our ladies are hardened warriors. We teach them self-defense, sure, but a lot of what we do requires a more delicate touch, finesse, grace and charm. Celeste comes to mind. She has a knack for deceit and trickery. With priceless managerial skills, Celeste isn’t exactly one we’d send out with a sweeper team. Truth be told, I’m building Scarlet up as a name to be feared. Where the very threat of her name gets others to bend the knee without having to resort to physical violence. Speak softly and carry a big stick. Scarlet and eventually you will be our big sticks. I’d say we’re on the right track.”
“Is what she said true? That all we care about is respect?” I asked, staring at her through the vanity mirror as I put on earrings.
“It’s not all we care about. But respect is a big deal in terms of female empowerment. Take Suzanna here. Suzanna, what were you doing before you joined the society?”
The assistant, Suzanna, answered, “Hygienist. The dentist I worked for was a jackass, skimming money from a children’s charity down in Sarasota, Florida. When I confronted him about it, he planted fentanyl in my purse and reported it to the police. I spent eight months in county. Lost my job. My husband left me and took the kids. This is the nature of men. Corruptible. Selfish. Entitled.”
“And what did you do to the grubby little dentist and your disloyal husband?” Breanne asked her.
“Took the kids to my parents. I chained my husband to a billboard overlooking the park and made him watch as a dozen gators ripped the dentist limb from limb. Call it fear. Call it respect. Doesn’t matter. Fact is he now knows what I’m capable of.”
“There you have it.” Breanne said.
They were still in my room. I was planning to head into town to meet up with one of my first contacts, the son of a bank manager who bought me a cup of coffee. He worked as a loan officer and was already putting funds in a fake account for me.
“You know she’s right though.” Breanne said. “You haven’t completed your initiation yet.”
“Yes, you keep telling me. I’ve mastered Krav Maga. I’ve done my trials in the Middle East with that bush-eater, Cyrine. What could possibly be worse?”
“Come along.” She said.
Five minutes later, Breanne, Suzanna, and I were walking around the pond out back. It was more like a reflection pool not far from where protégés sparred. But around this time of year, it was so cold that everyone was indoors. Sunlight glistened over the white slopes making everything brighter than a dream.
“You’ve been through a lot, Anna. You don’t ask questions. You just do what we ask. Makes it difficult to get a good read on you.”
“Is that a problem?” I asked.
“When it comes to trust, it is. I wouldn’t trust Scarlet with vital information when her blood gets all hot and bothered. But I do trust her to destroy anyone I mark as an enemy. I trust that she’ll execute and come back to me alive. I trust Suzanna here with my Social Security number and most of my international contacts. I wouldn’t trust her with a hostile negotiation. I’d trust Celeste with that. But you…I don’t know what you want. I don’t know what you believe. You won’t talk about your past or what you did before you came to Los Angeles. How can anyone trust you?”
“You can trust me to get the job done. You don’t need to know why.”
Breanne squinted her shimmering eyes. “You wanna know what I did before Barbara took me under her wing?”
“Barbara, as is Barbara Godwin?”
“Yes, one of the Twelve Chairs. My sponsor.”
“Look, Breanne. You don’t have to tell me what you’ve been through. Honestly, I don’t care. I don’t need to hear all this back-story. I’m not saying that to be mean. I just, I don’t like sharing information about my past. Not to you. Not to anyone.”
“Not even to Marcus?”
I swear the moment she mentioned his name, it’s like every bone in my body just cracked. I held my breath and the mountains themselves seemed to shake. Staring into the deepest blue of her eyes, I saw it, a cold, predatory vault of pure malevolence. I had never seen her kill anyone up to that point, but I knew she was capable of it.
“Breanne, how do you know that name?”
She smiled and tugged on her coat. “My goodness. Has it gotten colder all the sudden?”
“Breanne. How do you know that name?”
“Should I call security?” Suzanna asked.
“Don’t be absurd.” Breanne smirked. “It’s just to three of us out here. We’re all friends.”
I yanked her by her lapels. I can’t remember what I was thinking. My adrenaline just spiked through the roof and this anger took over. But Breanne showed her true colors. She had to be in her early forties, but she grabbed me with the strength of a linebacker and hip-tossed me to the ground.
I didn’t try to get up. I just laid there on my back in two inches of snow looking up to the gray sky, wondering what the hell just happened. It was so fast. Breanne kneeled next to me. I remember her black heels and the design the heart and chains tattooed on her ankle. Her eyes sparkled like diamonds.
“You whisper his name in your sleep. Cyrine told me. I think that’s beautiful, Anna. Who is he?”
My eyes started to well. Stupid emotions. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
She sat down in the snow and crossed her legs.
“Once upon a time, I was madly in love with a poet. It wasn’t his job. He didn’t make money off his scribblings but that’s who he was, a poet working as a construction worker. He was gorgeous with the cheesiest smile you ever seen. I killed him. I brought him to our favorite spot in the Blue Ridge Mountains, slit his throat, and pushed him off a cliff.”
I sat up, shaken by the revelation. “Breanne. Why did you do that?”
“Because of this.” she said as she wiped a single tear that slipped from my lashes.
“The Swords of St. Catherine can’t have any attachment to the past. Our commitment to the Society is absolute. Every Sword in the Society has gone through the initiation process. It’s our crucible. It’s extreme and not many can handle it. But it’s the only way we can trust one another. Because all of us have lost the men we loved the most in this world. We kill them ourselves.”
“You gotta be kidding.”
“Suzanna, finish your story.” Breanne ordered. “You got your revenge on the dentist. But how is the husband? How are the children?”
“Ah, yes. Not long after, my husband was killed at a country music concert, one of dozens during a mass shooting. The children are with my sister.”
Suzanna spoke as if she was talking about taking out the trash. My heart palpitated. A fever set in as I got up and paced around. It was crazy. The way they talked about it, so callous, as if it was no big deal. They had to be joking. But after watching them sit there, straight-faced as if they were waiting for me to snap to reality…I should have ran away right then and there. It’s like all the answers to their problems were death.
“We can’t make you do this, Anna. You have to decide for yourself.”
“And if I don’t? What, you’ll kill me? You’ll kill him?”
“No, Anna. Why would we do that? We don’t even know him.”
That conversation could have gone on and on but I wasn’t so naïve. I’ve dealt with women like Breanne before. They think they’re master manipulators and they’re so well attuned to lying that in their heart of hearts, distorted truths, facts, and opinions are all the same. But most of all, I wasn’t oblivious to the inevitable consequence. There was no doubt in my mind that Breanne would have had me killed. And then she would’ve tracked down Marcus and killed him just to work off the frustrations of having wasted time training me.
“Ultimately it’s up to you, Anna Marie. We want you to join us but only if you want to.”
My back was turned to her. I had to be careful. If I slipped up and gave any indication of deceit, it would have been my last day on earth.
I turned around with a heavy heart, “Just tell me what I have to do and I’ll do it.”
A wind blew between us as we stared each other down.
“You can start by giving me his full name. And you should know your anger isn’t doing much in the way of convincing me.”
“That’s because I’m pissed! I’m just now finding this shit out. His name is Marcus Angel. Zip code 10001, Manhattan, New York. But I’m warning you. I’m the one who kills him. If I even get a whiff of Scarlet’s scent around him, rest assured I will break down the walls of your world.”
“Well…if that’s not love I don’t know what is!” Breanne teased.
I stormed off. I meant every word.
I didn’t give them an exact date as to when I would kill Marcus. I just told them it would be before the end of the year. There was a lot going on, a huge election. I went back to New York and I saw him for the first time in so long…
It really did hurt my heart so much. Stupid emotions. He had grown so much, a far cry from the 24-year-old lump of cookie dough I once knew. I watched him for a time, building the courage to approach. I observed as he walked through Central Park, ever deep in thought. I saw him interview professionals. He sparked up conversations with pedestrians, strangers, and city workers. The same goofy smile, the same big nose and expressive eyes. I saw in Marcus, purity. He was innocent. Whereas I was dirty, my hands stench with blood.
As I watched, I confess, I imagined a life with him, what would’ve been like if I stayed and somehow we found our way back to each other. I stalked him. Even slipped into his apartment one night and stared as he slept on the couch. He was stupidly adorable.
Then one day, I just went for it. I decided it would be the day that I reenter his world. And the funny thing is…it’s like we didn’t skip a beat. I could see in his eyes that my return was like a dream come true. And we talked. Not about how good I looked. Not about what I’ve been through. He asked about my happiness, how I felt, what I thought, what I wanted to do. It’s like, right away he got me thinking again. I missed that.
I…I really don’t want to go into full detail about the weeks leading up to his first death. Yes, we had sex. He was stubborn about waiting till marriage, but inevitably I took his virginity. We made the most of what little time we had. And I tried to save his life. But Marcus was too smart for his own good. He found out about the Society. Someone had tipped him off. He attended a rally in Louisville and overhead Breanne speaking with Celeste and Scarlet. When I went to his hotel that night, he was scared out of his mind. I don’t blame him. But I swear. I tried to save him. But after Breanne hit him with our Escalade, I shot him because I thought he was already gone.
And that was it. That was my initiation. Killing Marcus was the hardest thing I ever had to do. Thinking about it had me fucked up because I couldn’t decide who I was mad at more, so I simply decided to stop thinking about him. Never again. That chapter was supposed to be closed.
Two months later, I was on a private charter bound for Italy.
It was a grand ceremony with so many rituals and moving parts. Bells and whistles and all that. We weren’t allowed to know the name of the private island. It was home to the Palace of the Living Martyr. Only the Twelve Chairs, an elite squad of bodyguards, and a staff of oath-bound servants were allowed to revisit the island after confirmation. Protégés were kept in the dark about its existence. But once we we’re initiated and backed by our sponsors, all Swords were drawn from the same pool.
I know all this sounds confusing, so let me go ahead and explain how the organization’s structured, as was explained to me during the celebration the night after the ceremony.
The head of the Swords of St. Catherine was a woman who is believed to be a direct descendant of Syvil, the blood sister of St. Catherine of Alexandria. It was Syvil who founded the Society after Catherine was beheaded as a martyr. This was in the early 4th Century when Christianity was still young and feared by pagans and non-believers alike, basically men struggling to retain their sovereign veneration instead of sharing an ounce of it on the belief that a single Jew came and died for the sins of all mankind.
Anyways, the Living Martyr is the head of our organization, the supreme authority, a pope-like figure, worshiped and clothed in immense power. No one knows her real name save for the Twelve Chairs. The Twelve Chairs were the second-in-commands when it came to making decisions and giving orders. These were the generals, women of vast resources and their own private armies. The Twelve Chairs dedicated their lives to the cause, having risen through the ranks due to competence, grace, eloquence and the amount of blood they’ve shed over the decades.
So far, I only know two by name. One was the woman who sponsored Breanne Cunningham, Barbara Godwin of the prestigious Godwin dynasty who built an empire on shipping and aviation. Another was a woman named Jaida Fong, a highly influential network executive who was apparently quite popular within the Society for being the youngest of the Twelve Chairs and by far the one quickest to rise. It was she who started the movement of female empowerment within the entertainment industry. I also heard she wasn’t opposed to getting her hands dirty. In fact, she preferred it.
Beneath the Twelve Chairs was the Armored Front. These were the twenty elite lieutenants who were responsible for operations in different regions around the globe, sometimes collaborating if necessary. Breanne Cunningham was one of the three lieutenants assigned to the North American branch of operations. Everything the Swords, Protégés, and Pawns did was her responsibility. Whether we lived or died was in her hands. As far as I was concerned, Breanne was the queen.
With a single word from the Armored Front, entire legions would spring up. After I learned how vast the Society’s network of informants, sources, and sleeper cells was spread, I was kinda glad I killed Marcus. As much as I loved him, I had a little sister. And if anything happened to my sister…it’s one of the reasons why I don’t like to talk about my family. For her safety. For my sanity.
Beneath the Armored Front, were the Swords. I became a Sword. The Swords were soldiers, operatives, and agents who carried out missions and answered to the Armored Front. On most missions, we were entrusted with the details, as to why, the objective. We were allowed to ask questions, but word of the Armored Front was absolute. Disobedience would result in an escapable death. I know, because I had to kill a few insubordinates. I understood and accepted the justification. A Sword of St. Catherine is entrusted with so much. Failure would jeopardize not only the mission, but other operations contingent to their success.
Under the Swords were the protégés who spent a number of years honing their skills, sharpening their edges. And then there were the pawns, contacts, who could never be a Sword, especially if they were men. Even before I was a full-fledge member I had already established a string of pawns across the globe. With allure and feminine wiles, I could get any man to rob a bank. I had sources in law enforcement. I had hackers. I had congressmen and half of their staff. I even had other women like black market fencers and doctors feeding me information, giving me places to hide, supplying me with equipment and supplies if I needed it.
It was just after sundown on August the 18th when my inauguration ceremony began. An assembly had gathered in a cave where warm glowing turquoise waters from the Adriatic reached up to my waist. Everyone was holding a torch. And there, I saw the Living Martyr for the first time along with seven other inductees. All seven of us were naked, our bodies beaded with sweat.
The Living Martyr was covered from head to toe in a black and gold cloak. She walked with a hunch in her back as if she was old, but for some reason I suspect it was just an act. I saw a glimpse of her bangs. They were rich, brown, and healthy.
We were instructed to chant the following:
“The wheel will never be broken. We till the earth. We grow the seeds. We’ve come to collect on all man’s deeds. To the martyr. Till the end.”
Then, the Living Martyr was helped into the water, and one by one, she baptized us, dipping us and in the seawater, bringing us up anew. She was drawing us as Swords.
Then, each of our sponsors presented us with a silver ring, the Sinaya Ring. It was a replica of the same ring St. Catherine wore when she executed. We remained in the water as the Living Martyr was lifted out and brought to a throne. It was then that I learned the structure, the sacred order of the society. The history taught to me that day was astonishing. I never trusted textbooks the same way again.
An older woman, one of the Twelve Chairs with an Armenian look, whose name I never remembered, stood from a precipice as a Sword held a torch over her. The Armenian read from a thick book that looked like it came from some Egyptian tomb.
As the new Swords and I listened, I was overcome with immense pride to learn how the society had lasted for centuries. Our impact and influence on the world was amazing. Little by little, progressively, it was the Swords of St. Catherine who contributed to the betterment of all women. Joan of Arc was probably the most famous. There was also Queen Mary Tudor. Catherine the Great of Russia. Empress Josephine, who motivated Napoleon to conquer half of Europe. Along with other influencers like Mary Surrat, Mata Hari, and Emily Davison.
Learning what these women did, their contributions to the Society, it made me want to cement my own legacy, to do something, to start a movement and make my own mark in history. Not once did these women ever see themselves as inferior, and so badly, I wished every woman on Earth could learn from their example. They were strong, fearless, and committed. Some may have fought for and demanded equality, but in their heart of hearts, all of them already knew that they were superior to men in every way. To say men are stronger than women is to say a bulldozer is better than its maker. So stupid.
So many women live for the here and now. I know because I once one of them. I lived for fun, seeking thrills and swaying with the wind instead of using my potential to harness that wind. That’s probably my biggest regret, wasting my twenties on such trivial pursuits. I was always a formidable force. I was just playing by the rules of men that benefited men. No more. From there on out, I was determined to progress women of all walks of life. I would lead by example as the Andalusian, the dark horse, trampling any man dumb enough to stand my way.
After that ceremony, everyone drank, dance, and enjoyed themselves in the ballroom of the palace. Even Scarlet and Mandee, for once, acted like sisters, like teammates, friendly and polite. It was probably one of the few times I saw a side of Scarlet she kept hidden away, a giggling inner child.
After an hour of introductions, I retreated to a balcony overlooking the Adriatic as the moon reflected off the waves. By then, I was getting restless and frustrated. I couldn’t wait for my next mission. Socializing was all well and good, but I’d much rather put my hands to use. Why? Because I knew what would happen. And sure enough it did.
There on the balcony, I was struck. Marcus was still in my head. His opinions, his disapproval or rejection about the path I’m on, it scathed in my chest like a flare from the sun itself.
They said killing him would absolve me of the past. But how long before it takes effect? I hoped the sooner the better because at that moment, leaning over the rail, the pain was unbearable. I remembered him staring at me from the gutter as I shot him. Those eyes that conveyed his every single thought. It made me angry. I just couldn’t shake it!
“YOU WERE RIGHT! NOW STAY AWAY FROM ME!”
I was shouting at the moon. So stupid. He was gone and I needed to stop giving a damn. But it was hard. Letting go, that is.
“So you’re the Andalusian.”
I looked over my shoulder and immediately stood up straight. It was Barbara Godwin, one of the Twelve Chairs, with Breanne Cunningham by her side.
Barbara smiled as she drew near. “I’ve heard so much about you. It seems you’ve gone through quite the ordeal. I don’t think we’ve ever gone to such lengths, such an elaborate production to help a protégé with her initiation. Hopefully, it transfers to how much we value you, my dear.”
“Yes ma’am! Extremely grateful.”
She put a cold hand on my back as she joined me, shoulder to shoulder in looking out at sea. I glanced at Breanne for an instant. She stood back with a stare that was professional or dagger-like, depending on your interpretation.
“Ever since the dawn of antiquity men have sought to control and possess us. We’re taught that God made Adam first, and then he created Eve so Adam wouldn’t be alone. To give her to him. What rubbish. What most Bibles don’t have is that there’s another woman, named Lilith. She was created at the same time as Adam. And while Adam and Eve sinned, Lilith did not. She remained a perfect woman all her life and only produced sin by procreating with the weak-minded, easily tempted man. Did you know that?”
“It’s true. Look at it. Look at this world. God created the heavens and the earth. His worst creation has always been man. He delivered them from Egyptians by parting the Red Sea. He sheltered them, protected them from their enemies, provided food and water and all he asked was that they obeyed his commandments. But no. Man gave into false worship. False gods out of animals and the Baals. And now…do you know whom they worship?”
“Who?” I whispered.
“Themselves. That’s why you have wars, avarice, corruption and endless injustices. But that’s all right. Women are more than capable of taking the reins and enduring such hardships for the sake of the greater good. Our suffering, our sacrifice will lead to that proverbial paradise prophesized by so many. But it’ll take every one of us to make that happen. Anna Marie, are you with us?”
I turned and squared my shoulders to the old woman who exuded such elegance, the class of a patrician. Despite wearing a dress that rode up, I got down on one knee and bowed, reciting: “The wheel will never be broken. We till the earth. We grow the seeds. We’ve come to collect on all man’s deeds. To the martyr. Till the end.”
I received no response, just the rushing of waves. When I looked up, Barbara was staring at Breanne. Breanne was staring at me, still full of distrust. Then she beamed in what was obviously a fake smile as she came and embraced me in a hug. She squeezed tight as one sister to another. Then with her lips so close to my ears, she whispered something I’d never forget.
“If you ever jeopardize us like that again, I will open your neck with my teeth.”
She kept smiling but I knew she was serious. I nodded and told her, “To the day I die, I am yours, Breanne.”
She kissed me, wiped my tears, and chuckled for me to lighten up. After that, we rejoined the celebration in the ballroom. From that moment on, the past remained in the past.
Or so I thought…
The embodiment of pomposity, the pain in my side, the fly in my lashes, Gladys-fucking-Vandelay herself, dug up Marcus and brought him back from the grave. And yes, she did catch me in a fit of depression, but you know what, I’m not a machine. I’m still made of flesh and blood. As a Sword, I still slept with men here and there but they were disposable, like Kleenex. None of them, none of my fellow Swords, not Breanne or Barbara could ever fulfill what Marcus was to me.
So yes, from time to time, I thought of him. But it was rare. And it was Christmas fucks sake! I never expected Gladys or anyone else to be at the Villa. But that’s just Gladys, nosy and all up in everyone’s business.
No…I’m being too harsh on Gladys.
To be honest, I never thought Gladys would amount to anything when I first saw her. I never even thought she’d make it through the first week of running the slopes with a forty-pound vest. But they said she had rage and I saw it. For someone so small and dainty, I admit, I was a bit fascinated by her. Curious, anticipating, wondering what she was destined to do.
Never did I imagine she’d transform so much. From that timid girl with a quiet affinity for guns, to a blazing inferno of relentless rebellion. She’s so much younger than I was, but came to conclusions I should have reached long ago. And even though everything went to shit, I give her so much credit for repairing a broken part of my heart when she brought Marcus back to me. I wasn’t prepared for it. Caught me completely by surprise…but what’s a girl to do?
Like I said. My life begins every time he dies. This time…I’m free.