In the dingy elevator, Matt pulled down the cuffs around his left wrist to read the tattoo. Juliana Nguyen. “Jul-lee-onna Nu-win,” he whispered out loud. He picked up the bouquet of roses he laid down before and pondered the name again. His heart pumped in a mixture of excitement and dread. At last, he would meet her. When the tattoo first appeared on his eighteenth birthday, his grandmother told him that it revealed either the name of his true love, or his murderer. At first, he scoffed at her. Then the call came. Juliana wanted to see him. After considering the many years of failed romances, he agreed.
The elevator door opened. The hallway greeted Matt with a dusty and mold-tinged smell. Fighting the urge to vomit, he stepped out on a damp carpeted floor. Torn wallpaper hung off the sides, as if a wild animal had rampaged through in the past. Lights blinked on and off above him. He avoided letting his feet sink into the carpet. Matt let off a breath of relief as he approached Apartment 2B.
After adjusting his tie, he brought his free hand to the door and rapped it three times. He checked the 9 mm pistol strapped around his right ankle. A small shadow appeared under it. He waited as the inhabitant removed multiple locks. What would happen when she opened the door? Matt wondered. Would he be greeted by a gun to his chest, a knife to his gut, or acid splashed in his face? He attempted to banish the thought from his mind. Many first dates go bad, but not many end in death.
The door emitted a small whine as it opened. Matt’s heart stopped. Before him, a slim woman greeted him with chocolate eyes, silk hair, and skin that appeared to glow. Long eyelashes fluttered over her cream complexion. Her strawberry-red lips moved as she enunciated her next words.
“Matthew Lokken?” they asked. Her husky voice reminded him of piano bar singers. The scent of fresh wood wafted into his nostrils as he struggled for a reply.
“Yes,” he said. “You must be Juliana.” His heart resumed its normal beat, although it quickened at times. Wait! He was forgetting something. The roses! He thrusted them out at her. They rustled. A petal fell to the ground. “These are…ah… for you,” he stammered, almost trapped in her eyes.
“Thank you,” she replied, reaching both hands forward. He noticed her lacquered fingernails. A tingle of electricity rushed through him as her fingers brushed the skin on his hand. “Come on in,” she beckoned.
He stepped inside. In contrast to the hallway outside, her apartment was clean and immaculate. The walls and ceilings exuded warmth from their earth-tone colors. Landscape drawings hung throughout the living room. At least she doesn’t decorate like a crazed killer, he thought. A table stood in the middle, covered in a cloth, and set with expensive-looking silverware. There was a fireplace in the corner, not active, perhaps more for decoration. A sharp-looking poker was placed beside it. Were pokers supposed to look like that? He couldn’t remember. Before the fireplace, he saw a gray couch. Beyond, he could see the entrance to the kitchen. The smell of freshly baked pie emanated from it.
“I didn’t know what you liked, so I went with steak and potatoes. I hope that’s okay with you,” Juliana said as she stepped next to him. Her dress rustled, drawing his attention to it. Black as night, it accentuated her bare shoulders and arms. Her even-heeled shoes were the same color and somehow made her legs look even more slender. His $300 dollar suit seemed cheap in comparison. It WAS cheap in comparison.
Matt cleared his throat. “I love steak! Nothing better on Earth!” Dammit! Couldn’t he think of something more suave to say? He shuffled his feet, attempting to drive out the nervous energy.
She laughed, a pleasing and calming sound. “That’s great.” She went to the couch and set the roses on it. A subtle smile crept up her face. “Come on. Dinner’s ready.” She sat down at the table.
Nodding, Matt walked towards her. He reminded himself of the pistol attached to his ankle. Sitting himself down, he took stock of what was in front of him. Indeed, dinner was steak and potatoes. On the steak, a tinge of pink stretched across the meat. The potatoes made his stomach rumble, lathered as they were in butter and garnished with chives. He looked at the utensils. The plates and forks appeared simple enough. The steak knife, however, looked sharp enough to cut through diamond. He fingered it nervously.
Across from him, Juliana poured them both glasses of red wine. “So, tell me about yourself,” she asked when she finished.
He took a sip of the alcoholic liquid, savoring its slight acidity. “Well I do software engineering with Virtus Soft. UI stuff, mostly. You?”
“Uhm-hmm,” she replied. “I intern with Congressman Macready. Quite fascinating. It’s teaching me a lot.”
“Oh yeah? What do you do exactly? Is it mostly campaign work?”
“Hardly, I mostly send form responses to constituents. I bet I could write them from memory.”
“I heard he was introducing some Bitcoin legislation.” Don’t push it, a voice in Matt’s head said.
“Regulation. He’s trying to prevent people from losing their money.”
“I think that’s hardly necessary. Bitcoin works best without regulation. Besides, people shouldn’t be protected from the consequences of their mistakes.” You goddamn fool, the voice whispered.
Her eyes flashed. “You don’t understand! The whole thing’s a pyramid scheme. It needs to be outright banned.” She stabbed her steak in a violent motion. Noticing his wince, she stopped and placed her knife down. “Sorry,” she said, wiping her mouth.
The next few minutes went by in agonizing silence. Matt poked his steak with his knife. Both of them began to gulp down the wine in more frequent intervals. Unable to take it anymore, Matt scanned the room for a lifeline. His eyes rested on a painting.
“I like that painting.” He gestured towards it with his head.
Her eyes turned towards it. “The Last Supper,” she murmured. “It’s quite a good recreation.”
“Yeah, where’d you find it?”
“Well, I was taking a walk one day, and this street vendor was selling it for an unbelievably cheap price. I couldn’t pass up such a great bargain!”
“It is quite a good imitation. Almost perfect down to the stroke,” he lied. He had no clue about paintings.
She laughed. “I didn’t know you were such an art connoisseur!”
“It’s a bit of a hobby of mine. I find myself particularly drawn to Rembrandt and Da Vinci.” Emboldened by the wine, he regaled her with false tales about his art hobby. She seemed receptive. The hours passed by as they discussed their backgrounds. She told him that she planned to go to law school. Society screwed too many good people and she wanted to protect them. In turn, he admitted that he found programming work dull and uninspired. He dreamed of becoming a male model. Just needed to start on that Keto diet. That sounded incredibly charming, she admitted.
Too soon did dinner end. Juliana stood up to gather the dinner plates. Matt’s eyes rested on her shoulders. He imagined his lips on that smooth skin. She stopped, noticing his stare. He tried to avert his gaze, but too late. She walked over to his side of the table and, to his surprise, sat down on his lap, wrapped her arms around his neck and leaned her head towards his face. The fruity scent of her lipstick assailed his nose. He leaned in too and met her kiss. He could barely breathe, the smell was so overpowering. His chair creaked back as their kiss and associated motions became more vigorous.
They both stood up to avoid falling. The room became a blue as her eyelashes brushed his cheek. She began unbuttoning his shirt and his fingers moved towards the straps on her dress. Somehow, they ended up near the fireplace. His back banged against it, making a rattling noise. They continued kissing, the wine and delirium of the moment controlling them. As her hands reached toward the middle button of his shirt, he heard the rip of his pants. They had been caught by the poker.
She looked down and her eyes widened. His gun. He stared dumbfounded as she pulled away and dived behind her couch. Only then did he realize her intentions when she pulled out a snub-nosed .38 caliber pistol. He turned and ran to the kitchen as she aimed. A shot rang out, the bullet missing him by centimeters and hitting a hanging pan. The clanging noise echoed throughout the apartment.
He laid low, taking shelter around the corner. Another shot. The bullet pierced the section of wall above his head. His hands frantically grabbed the holster around his leg, trying to get the 9 mm out. “Wait!” he called out.
She fired again, lower this time. The bullet grazed the side of his left leg. He felt something akin to an animal bite near his lower calf. Blood seeped into his pants and onto the kitchen floor. Finally, his hands found the gun and unlocked the safety. He blind-fired two shots into the living room, but heard the small bullets impact the plaster wall. She returned fire. A bullet hit the refrigerator across from him. A hiss of air escaped from the hole it left.
He took a quick peek out the corner. His eyes locked onto the couch. He squeezed two shots in its direction, before taking cover back in the kitchen. A grunt and a heavy thudding noise emerged from behind the couch. He had her.
Running out the kitchen, he raised his gun and approached the back of the couch to get a better angle. He saw her arm as she reached for her dropped gun. He fire at it. It recoiled back. Before he could get close, however, she stood up and threw a small knife with a flick of her wrist. He felt a sharp pain on his gun arm. A cry escaped his mouth as he dropped the 9 mm.
Juliana grabbed another knife hidden in her dress and rushed him. It gleamed in her hand. He raised his hands to block her. A cold sensation spread through his left palm as her knife pierced it. She grunted with exertion. They both fell to the ground. He grabbed her arm before she could stab him again. He reached for his gun with his free hand.
Realizing she couldn’t overpower him, Juliana jumped up and back. She drew her arm back to throw her knife. However, while she jumped, his hand found the gun. Before she could react, he squeezed off three shots: two in her chest and one in her head. She crumpled to the ground.
Matt stood up, panting. He approached her body carefully, with gun aimed. It was then that he noticed the tattoo on her left inner thigh; her dress revealed it when she fell. The blue writing read: MATTHEW LOKKEN.
“Goddamit,” he said, as sirens screamed in the distance.