“What the hell are you doing here?”
Neal was surprised that Lena, who was staring down his reflection in the vanity’s mirror, hadn’t asked the more obvious question: why was Neal aiming the gun at her back? Or maybe it was the right question; he still hadn’t pulled the trigger.
Neal watched as Lena slid her lipstick over a full bottom lip, leaving a crimson streak that contrasted with her pale complexion. She pressed her lips together and blew him a kiss. He tried not to notice that she only wore a black, silk slip that hung from her shoulders by two thin straps.
He glanced over at a red, satin evening gown waiting on a nearby dress form. Wire mesh ribs peeked out from the gown’s open back. “When I was here before, I couldn’t look you in the eye.”
Her reflection cocked an eyebrow. “You still aren’t.”
His gaze drifted upward from where it had landed on the contours of her breasts rising like sandbars in the river of her neckline. Her skin was almost too perfect to ruin with a bullet wound.
He shrugged. “You’re a beautiful woman.”
Lena faced him. “You’re a creep.”
“You’re the weirdo who married a man old enough to be your father and paid me to kill him. He’s been dead less than a week, and you’re going to some cocktail party? At least wear black and pretend you’re in mourning.”
“That wasn’t a marriage. It was an abomination.”
Lena unrolled a pair of nylon stockings. Her slip rode up her thigh as she lifted one leg and hoisted the stretchy fabric over a shapely calf.
Neal swallowed his libido with a quick gulp. He was here to kill her. If he didn’t, she’d turn on him. There was no way he was taking the fall for her. He’d already done a dime in jail.
“What do you want, Neal?”
“I want a perfect body and a perfect soul. But I’ll settle for the money you owe me.”
Lena reached into the vanity’s drawer, and Neal cocked the gun. He hoped she was retrieving a thick wad of cash in an envelope but suspected otherwise.
To his surprise, she produced a black velvet case, unclasped it, and revealed a string of pearls. She flipped her dark locks over one shoulder and fastened the necklace. When she stood, the black slip unfurled and covered her legs, but nothing about her form was modest as she strode over and unzipped the gown.
Neal kept his distance. He wasn’t going to fall for any of her tricks—not this time. She couldn’t just bat her pretty lashes and get him to do her bidding.
Or maybe she could.
She’d already convinced him to kill her husband when they’d met by chance in a bar.
“That’s enough, Lena. You think you’re so special. You think you can, what? Perform a striptease and seduce me? I know what’s going on here.”
Lena rolled her eyes. “I doubt it. If you did, you wouldn’t be looking at me like that.”
She stepped out of her slip and it descended like a black cloud to the floor. A constellation of freckles spread across her back between her shoulder blades. They looked a bit like the big dipper, its handle pointing directly to a mole.
The blemish seemed familiar but backward, like the mole should be near the right hip and not the left one. Neal inventoried his memory of lovers, but none of them had this pattern on their back.
Lena stepped into the dress and lifted it over her hips. “My husband was quite the man. Brilliant, but also a narcissist. There was nothing he loved more than himself. But he was quite striking as a young man. You should have seen him.”
Lena talked like she was still in love. But if that was the case, why had she asked him to murder her husband? Was it jealousy, neglect, or something else?
“You owe me,” he reminded her.
Lena glanced over her shoulder and nodded a chin toward the zipper. Without thinking, Neal hurried over to help. As he zipped the garment closed with one hand, he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror.
What the hell was he doing here?
Lena turned and smoothed the front of her dress. “There’s a picture of Alen on the dresser. He must be about your age. Have you seen it?”
In a gilded frame, Neal’s own face stared back at him.
“Alen was a brilliant geneticist. He wanted to remake the world in his own image.”
Neal dropped the gun. He tore open his own shirt, popping several buttons in the process. As he turned toward the vanity’s mirror, he saw the same constellation of freckles across his back. They matched Lena’s perfectly.
This was impossible. It couldn’t be.
Neal groped at his shoulder, trying to pull the skin on his back taut. Its surface now felt foreign to him. He took two long strides toward the vanity and fell into the chair, his face inches from its reflection. The full bottom lip, the pale skin, and bone structure. If his dark hair was longer, then he’d look exactly like…
Lena aimed the gun at his back. “You don’t belong here.”
In the mirror, his own lips replied, “I don’t belong here.”
This flash fiction story originally appeared with Havok Publishing on Nov. 4, 2019