At 8 am on Saturday, June 22, I left the apartment, finding my Upper East Side early bird neighbors walking their toy dogs with their latte coffees already in hand. The weather was good, the sparrows were celebrating the sun and, only a few kilometers away, the world’s first orange president was about to wake up; the announcement of the sixteenth sexual scandal of his mandate had already been printed on the front pages of all the country’s liberal press.
It is appropriate to mention that the sun depletes me, and that, in addition, its rays may damage my skin – irremediably so if I am not careful. Just as the rain and the snow energize depressive types, darkness brings me vitality. In this regard, I personally would have preferred to wait for the night to act, but Ben had requested a “quick and simple” job as a matter of urgency. On the other hand, Gloria, my Venezuelan maid, was late for work that morning. But it was better that way. I was hungry, tired and disappointed by the outcome of the previous night in Brooklyn. I didn’t need any distraction and wanted to focus all my remaining energy on my target that day.
According to the portal data, the doomed boy was called Bill, but he went by “Billy”. Billy was barely 20 years old and was of Irish origin. Apart from a high-level criminal career, the very young and overachiever Billy had developed a successful track record as a yoga instructor. Curious fact.
Or maybe not so much.
[From the middle of the 20th century to this time, I have been able to observe the existence of a potential correlation between the development of the spiritual market and criminal psychopathy statistics. With this remark, I want to warn you that, perhaps, your tiny and really charming mindfulness teacher is more of an ogre than a fairy in her private life. And I make this comment without any intention of judgment because deep down, we all need to balance it out, don’t we?]
The taxi driver left me at 129 on 41st Street, on the west side of the city. I was in the city center, and the center was full of herds of tourists headed by mothers who diligently complied with their detailed route plans, plans dictated by the well-known travel guide “Lonely Planet”, a little booklet hat moms kept suspiciously saved in their huge “totes.” This guide, alongside with “Internet for Dummies”, had already become my bedside book.
I looked around, fully enjoying that sunny morning, and I found myself really surprised. Before my last dream, the Bryant Park area was riddled with drug addicts and prostitutes. Now it was the nirvana of civilization, full of soft waves of laughter and casual summer kisses. I watched with satisfaction how the NYC Public Library and its colossal guardian lions were still standing. It was tempting for me to approach them and enter the library for a bit; I had already finished reading all the books that Ben had left me, just as Abba had previously anticipated.
But first things first, shall we?
“Welcome to Equinox, gym and wellness center.” – the same cordiality, the same perfect smile I had found in the bouncer of House of Yes last night. Different body, moment and scenario.
And there he was, announced on a glittering 55-inch liquid screen:
Hot Vinyasa Yoga
10:30AM, Yoga Studio
Instructor: Bill McGuire
Bill (Billy) McGuire. Bingo.
“Good morning, I wanted to join the 10:30 yoga class; what is the price of it?”
The young woman smiled again, and taking a breath, replied with a hit of false sweetness – “I’m so very sorry, we do not sell individual passes, miss. Would you like to study the possibility of becoming a member of the best gym…”
“Sure, yes, of course” – I interrupted her, in a hurry. “How much does it cost to become a member?”
“Thank you very much for considering us, miss! Great news to have you on board. We are delighted to serve you.” – the small receptionist of undetermined ethnicity smiled again, in the same way in which that Brooklyn bouncer had done when taking the USD 200 of my bra the night before. “The price varies should you require universal access (all Equinox gyms in the world), national (all in North America), or local (this gym only). To sign you up, we would be needing a piece of ID and a credit card …”
“Do you accept cash?”
“…excuse me?” – It was the second time that I interrupted her corporate speech in a minute. The girl’s voice weakened. I could imagine her in her training and coaching sessions, receiving recriminations by her instructors shall she failed to follow up with the script. Why the hurry, she would be asking herself? Equinox Yoga classes were first developed to help clients relax. In addition, the poor receptionist was surely following all the marked steps in the “Client management for dummies” manual [I was not sure about it, but most likely this manual already existed in 2019.]
I still had a lot to learn. My mind began to wander again under the feverish curiosity of a modern new world to discover. I proceeded to censor myself and refocused on my goal. I made an extra effort approaching the counter, trying to develop the receptionist’s empathy via human contact this way – “… I was wondering if you would accept cash as a form of payment.”
“Oh” – the perfect smile had returned again – “… I regret to inform you that for security reasons the company does not accept cash payments.”
Shit. Security? …. Security for whom exactly? I had forgotten how achieving any goal in modern capitalist systems without any form of banking identification can be as complex as leaving any European post office in good spirits.
Definitely, and until Ben’s arrival (he was now developing my new identity back in London) I was doomed to be a ghost in that city of glass and steel. Luckily, ghosts like dungeons. They like dungeons very much. That is it: I would first look for an excuse to access the ground floor of the gym. I would then find Billy and guide him towards the locker room.
“Quick and easy”.
“It’s a shame, I’ve left all my documentation at home, I’m very, really clueless; but hey, my mother used to say that people that have no memory always have feet to compensate…”
I then remembered my mother’s presence, her long blond hair, and that little damp bedroom in our old-world castle – “Bururik ez duenak, hankak ibili behar, laztana”. I quickly returned to the cold marble reception. “… I’ll come back for it then. Could I have a walk in the gym before I go, though? I’ve been told that this is the very best in town.”
“That’s right, miss! You could also enjoy a courtesy class on us if you wish …”
“Great!” – I interrupted again, this time trying to imitate her enthusiasm.
“Superlative!” – the very American tradition for positive exaggeration, a social act even more stupid and annoying in 2019 than what I remembered from the ’70s, was already making me nervous – “… I would be extremely grateful if you took me for a walk before entering the yoga class”.
I started a conversation with Jennifer, my “adorable” little receptionist of undetermined ethnicity, as we went down the wooden stairs in direction to the main hall. The girl was from Wisconsin and had arrived in New York 8 months ago. She studied nutrition and her dream was, eventually, to work in the specialized team for the Bryant Park gym. She took advantage of this brief emotional story to (of course) try to promote Equinox’s personal training services, in a sideway and velvety manner.
[Corporate indoctrination does seem to work.]
I glanced at the very sophisticated electronic clock that hung from the stretch zone. It was already 10 in the morning; I had half an hour left to meet Billy, and Billy had one extra hour to practice his Pranayama poses in complete freedom. I was excited, yes, but also really exhausted, and that gym was pure torture in my condition. Taking my attention off the clock, I fixed my eyes on the people around me, their smells, their presence, trying not to agonize in the process.
On the sliding belts, an amalgam of quasi-retired men mingled with some young blondes who had just begun their post-college-pre-MBA professional careers in the city. I watched the improbable tribe in total sweaty harmony and remembered the infamous encounter between that sexually hungry man and the childish tourists in House of Yes. Definitely, human attraction is completely contextual and terribly contradictory; while the two young women of the previous night could not hide the horror they felt in front of the man who asked them for intimate favors in the context of a private party of sexual flavor, the young women of Equinox appeared to act flirtatiously with the gray foxes in a very public space. It seems that enrollment in the best gym in New York City could not only result in a radical physical body investment, but also in a social (and status) one.
I walked with Jennifer towards the strength machines area, where we found a slightly more muscular yet equally social tribe. A black man and an ebony-skinned woman caught my attention. The pair formed by the lion king and queen clearly stood out from the flock of the white and weak. Definitely, social positioning in 2019 remains a contextual and very contradictory fiction; while darker people were still a minority in that place (which was designed for New Yorkers of high purchasing power) black customers were visibly the strongest and fittest of them all.
“Here we are, miss. Welcome to our wonderful yoga studio. Enjoy!” – we had turned left and we were already in front of a semi-transparent door. I took a deep breath; it was really going to happen. Finally.
I said goodbye to the receptionist with a smile and entered the dark room. Some students were already stretching on the floor, waiting for the start of class. Billy hadn’t arrived yet. I took a mat from one of the cabinets and placed it in one of the classroom corners, trying to avoid a couple of curious looks that I had noticed when I walked into the room. I lay down and decided to make time watching my curvilinear body reflected in the mirror, hidden by sportswear of doubtful aesthetic taste (courtesy of Ben, of course). I tried remembering the basic yoga postures I had learned on the Internet at dawn “…learning everything about the universe without having to move your ass from the couch”. In that room, American futurism would intermingle with the past of Eastern traditions, the cult of the body and the love for the community, not for the individual.
I noticed how my heart stopped. I quickly closed my eyes; Billy had entered the room. I could hear his footsteps. I could smell his body, that pepper and mint mix that I had imagined. I could hear how his left meniscus was worn, and I could also feel the beating of his heart “72 beats per minute”.
“Good morning everyone. Thank you for coming on this wonderful morning – just by being present, you have already achieved your first win of the day.”
Billy, despite having an Irish accent, spoke great American English; in the new world, everyone was a winner. I imagined Jennifer in her “Client management for dummies” training classes and her classmates, all applauding and congratulating each other after performing any sort of trivial exercise. I remembered those medals of merit at the gym reception and those white weak skinny types on their exercise machines. “The first win of the day” was a promising slogan; however, it was hard for me to feel like a winner in the anticipation of my very first hunting prey in decades.
Damn you, Fernando. I decided to remain optimistic and sat up, slowly opening my eyes, savoring the moment that awaited me. A small but muscular young man with a shaved head smiled placidly at his students from the comfort of a lotus position; Billy the Irish projected an almost tender image of himself. Would any of those 20 people know about the young McGuire’s activities in the Chelsea piers before dawn? Of course not. Would they know of the dark mix of violence and pleasure that Billy had felt when he claimed his first victim somewhere in North London, about 5 years ago?
There are moments which mark your life. Moments when you realize nothing will ever be the same again and time is therefore divided into two parts – before this, and after this. The first time you kill is one of these moments.
“Salazar“ – the flames had begun to die out, but the priest was still motionless on the ground, staring at my bare feet. I started walking towards him, caressing my alabaster body and staring eastwards. The sun was beginning to greet us; Alonso, on the other hand, couldn’t stop shaking.
“But who the hell are you, woman? – Alonso Salazar groaned on his knees – “… and are you going to kill me?”
“The key in yoga is not to force yourself to be something you really are not; let your true nature flow.” The first sun salutation of the group was already beginning to flow. I proceed to place my palms on the floor and took a deep breath, visualizing Billy walking around the room in circles.
“You are already dead, monseñor. But do not worry: I am going to give you the chance to live again.”
“You have a lot of tension in the back of the body” – the boy started playing with my feet in the dog’s position. I took advantage of his proximity to lie on my back and fix my eyes on his, crystal blue, making the first contact this way- “yes, I’ve been sleeping on a marble box lately, and I have developed a somewhat tense back as a result.”
Billy smiled shyly – “… I can tell.”
Bingo. He had become interested. The 60 minute class time gave me a couple more moments of physical intimacy with the Irish killer; from touching my feet he had proceeded to alienate my shoulders, and later my thighs. Meanwhile, I could feel how curiosity about me was slowly growing among the rest of the students; I definitely had to get out of there soon or I would end up raising too many suspicions. And we didn’t want any attention. Not yet at least.
“Thank you very much for the class; it has been the very first time I do yoga in my life!” – I smiled, flirtatiously, caressing my curls and looking sideways at the electronic clock in the room. We were done. It was already 11:30AM.
“Really? Congratulations. You’re quite flexible … what would you think if I skipped the shower, picked up my stuff from the locker room and buy you a tea?”
“You don’t need to skip the shower, Billy, what would your poor mother think of your manners?” – I replied while mentally analyzing all the potential complications that the locker rooms presented right after class time – “… you can always take a shower at my place. What do you think about that?”
Despite the speed of events, we decided to stick to the social protocol, take some time to get to know each other and walk together to the Upper East Side. Billy had gallantly offered to go to his apartment instead (which was closer) but I really didn’t think it was favorable to expose myself to roommates and other potential eventualities. This time everything would go well. Everything had to go well.
A cup of matcha tea in hand, we toured fifth avenue and its dazzling luxury showcases while we talked about Ireland, Brexit, his recent trip to India and his experience teaching yoga. I tried to focus the 30 minutes that separated the gym from my townhouse on a somewhat impersonal conversation; while the illusion of sex had proven to be a good bait for fishing Billy, I had actually no intention of sleeping with him.
“Quick and easy”.
“This is not an apartment, it’s a palace!” – Billy admired my home while throwing the gym bag on the hall floor. I picked it up immediately. Gloria had made an appearance, and I had to honor her work; the place was clean and beautiful. The high white ceilings echoed at us while the silky curtains invited us to venture ourselves into the bedroom. I took the boy by the hand, and smiling, seductively guided him inside.
“It belongs to my American relatives. I take care of it, in exchange for a summertime holiday in New York” – I left the sports bag on the bed, and sat down to plan the scene; I had decided that ending him in the bathtub would be the most comfortable way to proceed both for me and for Gloria.
“Can I tell you a secret, Lilith?” – Billy put his hands on my knees, playfully scratching my alabaster skin and leaning towards me. I tilted my head and narrowed my eyes – “… don’t sign up for Equinox. It’s not worth it. I can give you private lessons …”
“I agree. Although a lesson would be much better after a warm shower, dear” – I put my hand over his mouth and getting up, I began to undress him sensually. The boy really reeked. Under the cotton shirt, I found a tattoo of a spiny rose. I found another one of Mary the Virgin on his back, which ended where a fine gold chain began. Surprise, surprise. Billy was a gypsy. That shocked me; after all, minorities always try to protect each other. I imagined Ben trying to negotiate Billy’s life upon receiving the file. We had orders to finish him in less than 24 hours so gypsy or not, the boy represented a much greater danger than what he looked like.
The boy walked to the shower, excited and amused. “I won’t take long” I had whispered in his ear after biting his left earlobe. I heard the hot water tap opening and I imagined the taste of vanilla mixed with the mint on his skin. But no. I did not have time. I looked at the sports bag, and curiosity prompted me to open it, finding a notebook with a list of names. A shiver ran down my spine.
Residency: 30 Kensington Park Gardens, London
Shit. They had found Ben. That meant they could have found out about other family members as well. Worried, I began to stir the bag in search of more information.
“But what are you doing?”
The shiver in my back rose to my neck. Still horny, young Billy was taking a challenging stance from the bathroom door and was heading towards me.
“… Jewish witch, you’re going to moan in pain all night.”
I got up. The time had come.
“Estíbaliz … Lilith. Please. I am your brother. Think of our mother. Think of my children. Please. Do not do it.”
There is nothing in the world that can compare to the taste of human blood (beyond the water of sacred sources which was far from my reach in Manhattan, of course). Lying on the silky bed, with Billy’s body wide-open in two halves and his heart crushed under my right fist, I closed my eyes and got lost in that delicious moment. I groaned, no longer of pain, but of pure pleasure. I savored every corner of his chest, honoring his humanity, absorbing his vitality and imagining the life I had stolen from him a few moments ago when I ripped his small heart from his perfect thorax.
My weakness left me while the blood of the Irish gypsy filled my lungs and my muscles with oxygen and sugar. My skin, freezing, warmed. My eyes, violet, became grayer. My hair, coppery, became matte. I was born again, almost-human, that June 22. Like any opioid, Billy’s blood would allow me to continue wandering in the world for a few more weeks without forcing me to face my demons ahead of time.
12 hours later, I got up, went to the bathroom, turned on the hot water tap and threw a vanilla bar into the porcelain bathtub.
The eastern sun had begun to appear when I heard the sound of the keys at the front door. I instantly became alert. Gloria, perhaps?. I quickly got dressed in the Terry bathrobe and hid behind the bathroom door, waiting for a sign.
“… Lilith? Oy, oy, oy …”
I rushed to open the bathroom door. Standing in front of my eyes was little Ben, stunned by the blood and organic debris scattered on the walls, the floor, the bed. I felt my chest getting inflated with love, and my face drew the first sincere smile in over 48 hours, which was the time passed upon my return to this world. Before my eyes, I could not find any sight of the little Ben of delicious hazelnut curls. I was now staring at Benjamin Solomon, the new patriarch, the orthodox jew of perfectly tame gray-haired curls, ironed white shirt, black hat, and darker suit. But even that disguise could not hide Gabriel’s hazelnut curls or Raphael’s naughty freckles from me.
“Benjamin, is it you …”
Overwhelmed with emotion, I ran towards him, jumping over Billy’s body which, lying on the bed, was now the only thing on the planet that physically separated us after decades of loneliness in the desert. I hugged him and shook him so impetuously that I could notice how the bathrobe slipped from my shoulders and fell down my back. I laughed out loud; none of that mattered anymore. Fully naked, I started kissing his cheeks, his beard, his rough hands, his eyes, his freckles …
“Ben, my life, you are an old man now …” – he remained motionless, with the same stunned expression on his face – “But what the hell is going on with you? The boy is dead. I’m fine. Everything is fine. Aren’t you glad to see me?”
“All good, all good Lilith …” – Ben cleared his throat and pressed me against his body. I took a deep breath and snuggled into his chest.
“… I was just thinking about the huge bribe I’m going to have to pay your maid to keep her mouth shut when sees all this. Oy, oy, oy…”
Somethings never change. I smiled to myself, closed my eyes and got carried away in that delicious moment.