"So, Max, how long have you worked for Creamy Cups?" Valencia asks me. I try not to appear suspicious as I wipe the rim of the glass I drank from with a gloved hand, so as not to leave my DNA for anyone to find. But perhaps the fact that I am still wearing gloves inside is suspicious in itself.
"Eight years," I say. "For most of it, I kept books. And now, I am only regional manager in title. Until, that is, our next store opens in downtown Chicago."
"Where in downtown Chicago?"
"Close to Shedd Aquarium."
Valencia smiles. "Wonderful. Would you like some coffee, or fruit? I have a watermelon in the fridge."
"Where did you get a watermelon this late in the year?"
"I have friends." Valencia places a cutting board on the lovely gray kitchen counter. "Farmer friends." A watermelon comes out of the refrigerator, and a knife comes out of the drawer, and the sweet summer smell of watermelon fills the air.
"Are you a country person, Miss Beltramo?"
"I have called myself a city girl since I could talk, but I'm beginning to appreciate the safety of suburbia." She brings two slices of watermelon to the table, never putting down the knife. "What about you?"
"I've lost all faith in humanity."
"As have I," Valencia says. She holds the watermelon knife in a tightened fist. "Especially since I've talked to my boss, who is not aware that you, or the position of regional manager, exist. Would you like to explain yourself, Mr. de Angelis?"
I smile. I would like to think that I can defend myself from a girl with a knife, but I can see her hacking me to bits and burying my broken body underneath her cat to give any police dogs a false positive.
"Valencia, what do you think of New York?"
Her knuckles turn white. "I think it's nice. Full of crooks, but what city isn't?"
"What do you think of a man by the name of Skylar Keeson?"
"He was my husband's boss. Why do you ask?" Her voice shakes, and her eyes begin to shine. She still grieves her husband. I take a breath.
"Because he does not think highly of you, Valencia. He wants you dead, and I am here to protect you."
This is what I have told all of my targets who I decide not to kill. Everyone reacts differently to it. Some become defensive, others turn white and tremble. Three people have fainted, and a few have vomited. But Valencia merely puts down her knife and sits down. She might be afraid, she might be angry. But her face is stoic, although pale, and she looks up at me.
"How good are you at protecting people?" she asks quietly.
"Skylar Keeson will believe you to be dead," I answer. "Your friends, relatives, and coworkers will merely believe that you have moved out of the country. In reality, you will be living under a false identity, preferably somewhere other than America."
Valencia smiles. "Is that legal?"
"Would you rather die?"
"When do I leave?"
"As soon as you can sell your house. Trust me, you will appreciate the funds when you relocate. Where would you like to relocate to?"
Valencia presses her eyes shut. "Somewhere safe. Somewhere in a city, maybe Europe...?"
"Iceland," I suggest.
"I've never relocated anyone to Iceland before."
"And I'm not going to be the first." Valencia stands and puts the watermelon she's already cut into a bowl, handing it to me with a fork. She cannot eat now, and I can't blame her. "What about Germany? I have family there."
"Unfortunately, you won't be allowed to contact any of your current friends or relatives," I said. "I'm terribly sorry."
We both smile, and I write it down even though I don't need to. "Italy it is."
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.