I hunt people in my spare time.
Some women crochet. Others garden. I deliver my own brand of vigilante justice.
I only track down those who deserve it. Those who are about to commit a crime against another person. I know this sounds like I’m one slippery step away from a padded cell and a lifetime supply of anti-psychotic drugs, but I can hear when someone is going to give in to their inner demons.
Evil has a voice all its own. It sounds like insatiable greed, impotent rage, and terrible grief blended into one throbbing hunger for power. To the best of my knowledge, I am the only one who hears it. It haunts me, compelling me to make it silent.
I have no control over the fact that I can hear the worst people have to offer. I do, however, have complete control over my wardrobe. Few things are as thrilling as hunting down evil in a kicking pair of four-inch stilettos. I never know when the need to hunt will strike and the fact that I can wipe the pavement with a man twice my size while wearing heels is a pretty satisfactory bonus. It’s like being Wonder Woman without all that tacky spandex.
It’s not as crazy as it sounds.
Why else would I be clinging to the side of an old brick apartment building on Fifth Avenue wearing a little red dress and a gorgeous pair of leopard print Manolo Blahnik stilettos?
I was four stories up, digging into the tiny ledges between brick and grout for balance. My bronze beaded clutch swung gently on my wrist. Beneath me, New Yorkers stalked the streets. Above me, a few intrepid stars winked in the velvet sky, their light pale compared with the brilliance of downtown Manhattan. Two feet to my left, a fire escape led to an open window and the sound of breaking glass. I hoped the owner of the apartment was far from home.
I gathered myself and leapt sideways, landing softly on the fire escape. A sudden gust of wind swept the street, chasing leaves and bits of paper and forcing me to do a quick Marilyn Monroe as my dress fluttered toward my ears. I comforted myself that most New Yorkers wouldn’t notice anything beyond the three feet in front of them and even if they did, I’d worn cute leopard print bikinis to match my shoes. Not only would I have clean underwear in case of an accident, by God, I’d be color-coordinated.
The sounds of glass breaking and furniture thudding escalated with a woman’s terrified scream. The owner was home after all. I cleared the stairs in one leap and slid over the windowsill and into a bedroom.
The sound was deafening. Waves of twisted need edged with hate screamed for power.
It always came down to power.
I blocked the noise in my head as best I could and slipped through the room. The woman’s scream died to a thin, agonized wail, and I heard triumph surge.
The only light in the apartment came from the kitchen, separated from the living room by a half wall. I skirted the broken glass strewn across the floor and reached the doorway.
She lay on the floor, eyes shut tight - as if by denying his presence, she could make him disappear.
He straddled her. One hand viciously clamped around her neck, choking off her air and her will. The other scored her flesh with the tip of a knife, drawing perfect beads of crimson in its wake.
He jerked his head up, swinging the knife toward me. Her eyes flew open, flush with terror and hope.
He lunged to his feet.
“Tonight must be my lucky night,” he said. “Two for the price of one.”
Obviously, he and I had never met.
I stepped back from the doorway.
“Go on. Run.” He said. “I love a good chase.”
Funny, so did I.
I ran through the living room and into the bedroom. Keeping my back to the door, I listened. A grunt as he rushed from the kitchen. Sharp crunching as his feet dug glass into carpet. The slap of his hand on the doorframe as he skidded into the bedroom and stopped.
“There you are.” He said.
I kept my back to him, facing the open window. Listening. Through the lust, the hate, I sensed the hardening of intent. A soft twang disturbed the air as he threw the knife. The blade arced, vibrating delicately. At the last possible second, when he was already moving toward me, sure of victory, I ducked.
Spinning on my left foot, I shot my right leg into the air and snapped his head back as the knife buried itself into the wooden window sash. The four-inch heel of my shoe snaked across his cheek, opening it wide and eliciting a scream that did my heart good.
Stilettos. Never leave home without them.
Waves of anger poured off him, drowning out all but the primal struggle between us. He wanted to kill me.
I had other plans.
He lunged. I bent back, nearly parallel to the floor, and he flew over me, crashing into the wall. Scrambling to his feet, he yanked the knife from the window sash and threw it at me.
I held up my hand, palm facing out. The knife struck, sending vibrations up my arm. The tip crumpled, and the weapon dropped to the floor, useless.
“What are you?” He asked. Blood leaked down his cheek, puddling against the black jacket he wore. I sniffed the air experimentally. Faux. Cheapskate.
“You don’t act human.”
“I’m not.” I said. I meant it. I’m something more, but what that really means is as much your guess as mine.
He bolted for the window and crashed onto the fire escape. Sirens wailed in the distance as he clattered down the metal stairs.
I followed him out the window and judged the distance to the ground. Making a jump like this in heels could be tricky but I didn’t want to waste time taking them off. He was already skidding around the landing of the second floor. I wanted to beat him to the bottom.
I swung my body up and balanced for a second on the thin metal rail of the landing. Successful free-falling was all about precision, control, and, of course, choosing the right place to land. I scanned the sidewalk, picked a planter full of soft dirt that was more or less directly beneath me, and jumped.
The heels of my stilettos sank into the dirt, and I rolled my body down into a crouch, letting the ground absorb the force of my landing. People walking by barely spared a glance for me. God bless New Yorkers.
The man scrambled off the fire escape and hit the ground beside me.
“Still with you.” I said.
He plunged forward. I waited for a moment as he dodged the traffic on Fifth, narrowly escaping the front grill of a taxi. I wasn’t really hoping he’d become road kill. I do love a good chase.
He reached the opposite side and raced toward Central Park. Only fools or those strong enough to survive anything go into the heart of Central Park at night. Of the two of us, he was the fool.
The distant sirens materialized, and police cars screamed up Fifth Avenue to the entrance of the apartment building. Someone had called the cops. It didn’t matter. I’d get to him before they could.
I walked half a block to the nearest pedestrian crossing. No point jaywalking in front of the police when the heels of your shoes are dripping blood and dirt. When I reached the entrance to Central Park, I sniffed the air.
A flood of scents assailed me. Rotting leaves. Unwashed bodies. Kettle corn. A faint whiff of Calvin Klein Eternity for men. Yum.
To the left, I caught the scent I hunted. Sweat, blood, and faux leather. I slid into the shadows of the park and followed.
He was hiding - crouched behind some bushes. The soft rasp of his frightened breathing scraped my ear, giving me his exact position.
I bent to take off my shoes. It was bad enough that my eight hundred dollar Manolo Blahniks now had blood and dirt on them. I didn’t intend to add gore to the mix. Besides, I could stop him easily enough with my bare hands.
Silently, I slipped from shadow to shadow, circling to his right until I could see him, hunched between two unyielding shrubs. His fear cloaked him but I could still hear it: beneath the fear, the anger, beat the same jagged need for power. I felt an answering hunger in my own mind and shut it down.
“You hurt a woman tonight. Nearly raped and killed her.”
He swung to face the sound of my voice and his eyes skipped frantically from tree to tree. He couldn’t see me. I was part of the shadows.
Ah, questioning the sanity of a woman who can kill you. Good plan.
“What do you have to say for yourself?”
He stood slowly, still searching the shadows for me. “I didn’t mean to do it.”
“I didn’t – I don’t know what happened.”
“I won’t do it again. Just go away. Go away and I won’t do it again!” He screamed.
“You will.” I said and let him see me. “You will hurt and punish and hurt again. You hunger for it. I can hear it in you. I can smell it.”
He scrambled to the left. I space-shifted and blocked his path.
I was relentless. Space-shifting every time he moved, staying in front of him, hedging him in. His anger grew in proportion to his fear.
“What do you have to say for yourself?”
“She had it coming!” He cried, spittle flying. Hatred twisted his face, an imperfect version of the beast he held inside. He scrambled to run away.
I snapped out a roundhouse kick, slamming into his left leg and snapping his femur with a thick, wet crack. He screamed.
“No running.” I said and dragged him against a tree.
“You broke my leg.” He was sobbing in short, panting bursts.
“You’re lucky I didn’t break your neck.”
“This hurts.” He moaned.
“I’ll do much, much worse to you if you ever terrorize another woman in this city.”
He grabbed the tree and dragged himself up on his right leg. I rolled my eyes as he hopped a few steps away, clinging desperately to the trunk for help. You’d think by now he’d get the point.
A sharp, sideways kick shattered his right ankle. He fell, wailing.
“I said no running.”
I leaned close. “I’ll know where they send you to prison. I’ll know if you get parole. I’ll know where you live, what you eat, when you sleep, and where you go.”
“Urgh.” His face was pale and shiny with sweat.
“If you ever hurt another woman, I’ll tear you apart piece by piece.”
I left him lying there and gathered up my shoes. Carefully wiping the heels on some leaves at the edge of the Park, I walked sedately onto the sidewalk at Fifth and hailed a cab. An ambulance joined the police cars, and officers were canvassing the street, heading steadily toward the Park. I turned to the cabbie.
“Heidelberg’s on Second Avenue.” I was late for a date.