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’Tis the season for murder, mayhem and mistletoe!
There will be no peace on Earth if Donna and Jack don’t find a shipping container filled with heat-seeking missiles.
Forget Santa! Terror is coming to town…
“No one’s perfect,” the plastic surgeon, Dr. Richard Smith, murmurs with a smile. “Sometimes we need to tweak God’s handiwork.”
His tone is soothing, his British accent just slightly off-kilter, which is to be expected from someone who adopted the language.
Not that I’m supposed to know this.
Fifteen years ago, Smith, a doctor in Serbia, went by the name of Ratko Zoran. When the Bosnian War broke out, he served as a general under Yugoslavia’s blood thirsty dictator Slobodan Miloševich. He fit right in with Slobodan’s sick, inhumane warcraft. Under Zoran’s command, whole villages were destroyed. Many of the women were raped, most of the men and boys executed, and everyone left breathing was put in detention camps.
Then the real fun began. Zoran harvested and sold his prisoners’ organs on the Russian black market.
No wonder his nickname is “the Sadistic Surgeon of Serbia.”
When the United States got involved, he parlayed important intel regarding Russian aid and arms to Serbia into a new, anonymous life on American soil. With that transformation came a full makeover. No longer does his nose resemble a potato, In fact, in profile, you’d swear he was George Clooney. His face is now as smooth as a baby’s ass, not pockmarked like his international fugitive watch list poster. Instead of a bald pate, the hair plugs Zoran now sports gives him a salt-and- pepper mane. With LASIK surgery, he was able to dump the monocle. After lipo and the re-sculpting of his robust physique, daily use of his Equinox membership helps him stay trim.
For over a decade, under the assumed name of “Dr. Smith,” he’s been putting his physician skills to its highest and best use: nipping, tucking, lipo-ing and JuveDerming those women who yearn to be just as new and improved as the high-tech appliances in their kitchens.
Goodbye, Dr. Kevorkian. Hello Dr. McDreamy.
But now that it’s been verified Zoran is back in the business of slicing and dicing organs from undocumented immigrants here stateside, our country feels he’s outstayed his welcome. Should the cops get involved, he’ll get arrested, and the ugly truth about how we saved his ass will be exposed. Needless to say, the media would have a field day.
But should he die quietly of natural causes, no one will give a damn except for a bevy of housewives hooked on his steely gray eyes and their Botox fix.
That’s where I come in. Acme Industries, the government-sanctioned black ops firm I work for, gave me a needle with his name on it. The serum inside contains just enough succinylcholine (appropriately nicknamed SUX) so that he’ll die of what will look like a heart attack.
Exterminations rarely take two operatives. I’m flying solo on this mission. That’s okay. My usual partner, Jack Craig, is in the midst of something just as important: he’s out at the mall, shopping for my Christmas present.
You see, he’s also my main squeeze.
If it’s a gift certificate for a plastic surgery procedure, he’s in big trouble.
My hope is that it’s an engagement ring, but fat chance of that, since he’s married to someone else.
She abandoned him. He may not admit it, but the fact that he hasn’t had closure with this anecdote stands between our happily ever after.
I know this first hand: my husband, Carl, did the same thing to me, on the night our third child, Trisha, was born. Talk about abandonment issues.
I channel my anger into my job. Good thing I’m not a librarian. My punishment for late fees would be excessive.
To add insult to injury, Jack recently admitted that his wife, Valentina, was seduced by Carl. Since they turned out to be double agents who left Acme to work for a rogue spy cell known as the Quorum, they’re now both on the international terrorist watch list.
Even worse, they are also on my shit list. They should hope I don’t find them first.
Until the embers on that torch Jack carries for Valentina grows cold, the only diamond I can call my own is the one on my old wedding ring, which I now wear on my right hand. I’ve only just put it back on because I know it annoys Jack.
Well, too bad. When he’s ready to move on, I will, too.
The opportunity to get up close and personal with Zoran came via a pricy thirty-minute consultation, which I booked under the name of Angelina J. Pitt. Not that I wanted to get his hopes up or anything, but come on already. How do you improve on perfection?
From the way he’s going at me with a black Sharpee marker, I guess I’m about to find out. Little did I know he’d consider me a work in progress as opposed to my own opinion of myself: practically perfect in every way.
Zoran frowns while scrutinizing every wrinkle on my thirty-something face. Any notion I’ve harbored about a perennial cuteness goes right out the window when he adds, “Then there are the times we must admit that God went on a bender the day we were created, and opt for a complete make-over.”
He shifts my chair so that I can look at myself in the mirror. I’m wincing at what I see. He has drawn a baker’s dozen black circles around the parts of my body and face which, he feels, need to be sliced and diced to create his idea of perfection.
In hindsight, I wonder if that means sans liver, kidneys and still-beating heart. Perhaps if I had just crossed the Mexican-American border in an unmarked van, as opposed to pulling into the parking garage of his Wilshire Boulevard office in a Lexus sedan, the answer to that question would be a resounding yes. His side business is the most literal way in which America the Beautiful can be heartless.
I sigh. “You might as well have taken a roller of black paint to me.”
My tone is sarcastic, but he laughs anyway. “Most women feel that way, at first. Everyone knows true beauty comes from within. But having it on the outside, too, doesn’t hurt our self-esteem.”
He takes a camera and starts shooting away. “Look straight into the lens…. That’s right. Now, turn your head left… now, right… ”
Seeing my reflection in the ceiling-to-floor mirrored wall behind him, I certainly don’t feel like a magazine model. More like a med school cadaver.
“I notice you’ve circled my smile lines. I don’t get it. They aren’t all that deep.”
He shrugs. “Sadly, they are one of the first telltale signs that your youth has begun to vanish. Not to worry. Many women of a certain age find it difficult to admit when they’ve waited too long for a little maintenance. My motto is ‘Surgical intervention and prevention is worth a pound of aging.’ Apropos, wouldn’t you say?”
What I’d like to say is that I’ll enjoy gutting him like a trout, but I hold my powder. Instead, I gulp hard. “Okay, yeah, I can see that. But why did you draw on my ears, too?”
His smile is almost pitying. “I just presumed you’d want them trimmed back a bit! That way, you won’t always have to wear your hair long, to hide them.”
“I wear long hair because I like it that way,” I mutter.
His eyes open wide with disbelief. Asshole.
I look down at my naked breasts. “Why all the concentric circles, starting from my nipples? I feel like an old-growth redwood tree.”
“That’s a bit harsh.” He tilts his head as he grimaces at my breast. “But I see your point. In all honesty, Mrs… um, Pitt, a breast lift would do wonders for you. If you wait even another year, they’ll be touching your bellybutton.” He moves in for a closer look at my stomach, then frowns with displeasure when it bounces back at his touch. At least, I think it’s a frown. Hard to tell, really, since his smile seemed stretched across his face. Obviously he practices what he preaches. “Make that, another four months. That is, if we do lipo before it extends out any further.”
What the hell? To my eye, my belly looks concave. Okay, maybe just flat. Alright, to be honest with you, just a tiny bit pouchy…
Okay, I get the point. “You’ve drawn so many spots on my stomach, ass, and thighs, I look like a Dalmatian puppy. I’m guessing that’s not a good thing.”
“Smart girl!” he says brightly, as he points to my tummy. “I would be remiss had I not pointed out your very visible abdominal deformity,” he adds, in the severest tone.
“It isn’t a ‘deformity’! It’s just some leftover baby fat, from the birth of my youngest child!”
His laughter is light as air. “And she’s how old already?”
I shrug. “In…kindergarten.“
His pity comes with a shake of his head. “What is that Robert Burns’ poem? Ah, yes! ‘Oh, what power gift ye gie us, To see ourselves as others see us…” He pauses, with a sigh. “But we don’t, do we?”
I long to answer I see right through you, Ratko Zoran. You’re a beast.
“Now, I take this memory card and put it in the computer, and voila!” He points to his computer screen. “All the circled areas have been digitized to show you at your best.”
Wow! Talk about the wonders of CGI. On his screen, I look like the real Angelina.
Okay, maybe if you squint through one eye.
Still, I’m a sight to behold. Perhaps I can stall Acme on this assignment until after Dr. Death performs these few nips and tucks…
Nah. I’ll live with my life with the gifts Mother Nature gave me. Besides, only twelve more minutes to go before my appointment is up. Time to give the doctor his medicine.
“It’s incredible! I can’t wait to be so beautiful!” I sigh, as if I’ve had my best orgasm ever. “Of course, I have to ask: How much will all this cost me, doctor?”
“How can one put a price on beauty?”
“Try, why don’t you? Hubby will insist.”
He counts up my circles, then sits down on a stool, where he pulls out a calculator.
While he tallies up the total on his lined patient prescription pad, I consider my options. Ideally, I should stab him between two toes, where the pinprick will be hard to detect. But that isn’t going to happen. Today I’m playing patient, not honeypot. A lesser option is behind his ear, or a jab to the thigh. I’ll go with the latter, since it will be the easiest to reach.
To do so, I come up behind him, needle ready to go. This isn’t easy to do, what with all the mirrors around, and the way he glances up, periodically. If I had as many ghosts chasing me, I imagine I’d be nervous, too.
By the time he tears off his tally sheet and is about to hand it to me, I’m literally at his side. “Oh, here you are!” His eyes narrow with surprise. “Each procedure is a line item: lipo, tummy tuck, otoplasty – that is the ear pinning – breast lift, breast augmentation, face lift—”
“Whoa, wait! I thought we were talking about a little Botox here, a little Collagen there. Why would I need a full face lift?”
His pitying gaze is accompanied by a click on his computer keyboard. Suddenly the circled areas on my picture is aged through some sort of instant digitization. This future me will have to stay inside during Halloween, or the neighborhood kids won’t come near my house. And I certainly won’t be handing out apples for their trick-or-treat bags.
I shake my head in disbelief. “So, you’re saying this is how I’ll look in, what, twenty years?”
He roars with laughter. “Twenty years? Ah, Mrs. Pitt, if only you had that kind of time left, to do the right thing. I give you two, five years at the outset.”
One consolation prize. If and when he’s right, I’ll still be here, he won’t.
“Eek! Can’t let that happen.” As I sigh, I wonder if I’ll ever smile again, knowing now the damage it does to my face. “Where do I sign up, doctor?”
“Let me print out the contract. In the meantime, you can sign a release form.” He pulls the necessary paperwork from a file folder on his otherwise clean desk. This goes to show you how much thought went into my prognosis. Jeez, talk about cookie cutter!
Once again I sidle up beside him. After I stab his thigh. I’ll hang around until he flounders and fades away, then scream at the top of my lungs, so that his assistant can witness his demise from cardiac arrest.
Most days, I am a wife, a mother, and a lover. Today, I am the Angel of Death.
Or not. I hand the release form back to Zoran with my right hand, palming the mini-syringe in my left one. Just as he reaches for it I make my move—
Only to hit something hard. Plastic? Um…what the hell?
He comes out of shock before I do. “I see you’ve found my prosthetic leg. I lost the real one the war.”
Damn it, Acme intel should have disclosed this.
Now that he realizes the score, he throws me back against the mirrored wall. Before he can charge at me, I give him a roundhouse kick that sends him reeling, toward his medicine cabinet. When he smacks into it, the doors come off their hinges.
He throws it at me, but I duck out of the way. Angered, he barges toward me again. My jump kick knocks the wind out of him. This gives me the time I need to grab a couple of scalpels off a small operating kiosk, and come at him.
He moves pretty quickly for a big guy. What I don’t anticipate is his willingness to grasp one of the scalpels in mid-air. Despite all the Botox and Collagen that leaves his face a congenial mask, I can see the pain in his hard gray eyes as it slices deep into his palm. His anger surges into a force stronger than I can hold back. He bends my arm all the way around my back and shoves me, face down, against his patient table.
“You fucking bitch, I need my hands! I’m a surgeon, remember?” he hisses in my ear.
“Get real! You’re a butcher, you son of a bitch.” My tone is calm, but frankly, I’m scared. He’s got my arm angled so that if I try to get up, I’ll break it for sure.
Not to mention my face is crammed up against the padding of the table, which can’t be good for my skin. As a plastic surgeon, this jerk should know better.
No, I should know better. In his eyes, I’m no longer a deep-pocketed patient.
I am now another unwilling organ donor.
The broad hint I should be panicking like hell hits me when he mutters, “This will only hurt a little.” The next thing I know, he’s jabbed a needle in my ass. It hurts like hell! I try to shout, but just a squeak comes out. My lips seem to freeze up. They are not the only things that are paralyzed. No matter how hard I struggle, the muscles in my arms and legs seem too heavy to move. They have seized up, too.
Zoran slaps my face to make sure that whatever he’s injected in me has taken total affect. Smiling, he cops a feel, too.
Then he pushes the intercom button to his receptionist’s desk, and says with in a cheerful voice, “Caroline, my last appointment went out the celebrity entrance. Please cancel the rest of my appointments. I’m taking the rest of the afternoon off.”
He picks me up as if I’m a large plastic doll, and tosses me over his shoulder along with the purse I brought, which holds my fake ID. The next thing I know, he’s carrying me into the private elevator his celebrity patients take to the building’s basement parking garage, which stymies any attempts the paparazzi may have to score a Hollywood money shot: the telltale procedure bandage.
I should be so lucky as to have anyone witness Ratko Zoran toss me in the backseat of his Lexus sedan.
Next stop: the butcher’s shop.
I would scream if I could.
(c) 2012 Josie Brown. All rights reserved. This excerpt may not be resold or redistributed without prior written permission from Josie Brown or Signal Press Books (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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