Alexis Liao, sat at the bar with an expensive glass of wine, her fourth, in front of her. She was a mix of Chinese, French, English, and a bit of Canadian, all muddled together to create what she thought of as the perfect mutt. There was something about not having a clean heritage, and the teasing she had received in school, that left a mark on Alexis’ soul. It had driven her to be better than everyone at everything.
While living in D.C., still in her early teens, her uncle had taught her Wushu and Kung Fu. Another uncle, her father’s brother, had been invited to the Olympic trials for Judo, in France. He once said Alexis had more natural ability than anyone he had ever seen.
On her 18th birthday, her cousin, from the Canadian branch on the family tree, had been abducted. She had spent the entire summer before college trying to help find her, until it ended in tears on the last day of August. The body was found, but the killer was not. Her plans for a degree in biology and then med school were replaced with the forensic sciences. She got straight A’s and then completed her Master’s degree before joining the F.B.I.
Her time at Quantico was the happiest of her life. She met her future husband in a combat training class. They were paired up for sparring and she had overestimated his ability to defend himself against her attack. When he came to, her worried face was the first thing he had seen. He was smitten and soon they were dating. He had later joked that with an ass whooping like that, he had to marry her, because he didn’t think he could take another pounding. Three days before their tenth anniversary, he died of natural causes.
There was no foul play, no bad guys to chase, nobody to blame, and this was beyond her ability to grasp. She had woken up each morning for six months, believing he would still be next to her. The first time she didn’t sense him, it made her angry. That day, during a raid of a biker bar in Nevada, an especially offensive man in leather had spit on her as the team was trying to get things under control. The leather clad spitter had his knee shatter so quickly that he didn’t know what hit him. His two friends, who were stunned by the ferocity of the attack, tried to help. One of them never fully regained the use of his left arm, the other spent a month in a coma and now has the I.Q of a second grader, though some question if it was much of a drop. The two agents who pulled her off of a terrified biker who went by the alias “crusher”, both ended up with serious bruising around the eyes.
She was given six months paid leave and enrolled in anger management classes. She tried to cope with the anger, even made deals with herself that she would move on, but it just didn’t seem to take. Eventually, it was too much and she left the Bureau and took up drinking.
The last ten years had found her travelling the world trying to find an escape that wine, vodka, or scotch didn’t provide. She had been in Italy for the last two years and during that time had done some consulting work for the Guardia di Finanza, a branch of the Italian police force under the Minister of Economy and Finance. Her reputation for cleverness was even greater than the stories about her final raid with the F.B.I.
Alexis ordered another glass and a swarthy man in an expensive suit stepped up and said, “I would like to buy this round for the…”
The bartender, a retired British Special Forces expat, who had seen this scenario play out before, brought a Louisville slugger down on the bar with a crash and said, “Walk away buddy. She doesn’t need you to buy her drinks, comprende.”
The man, a full four inches shorter than the bar tender, held up his hands and backed away.
Alexis hadn’t even flinched, “I might have liked that one.”
“You might have liked to bang his noggin off my bar. I just got done polishing it, luv, I couldn’t let that happen.”
“I do hate it when they bleed on my shoes.”
He poured her another glass.
A second man, also wearing a suit, but not the attitude, sat down next to her. He set his briefcase on the bar and took out a photo.
She said, “You’re out awfully late, Antonio.”
“This happened two hours ago. As soon as I saw the photo, I asked the captain if we could bring you in to help.”
“I need to get office hours. Can’t you see I’m busy right now.”
“Please Alex, take a look.”
The wine and the dark bar made it hard to see. She got up and went over to the light over the menu board. She rubbed her eyes and the photo came into focus. “It looks like the letters ATM carved by a very sharp knife, maybe military or hunting.”
“What do you think?”
“How did he die?”
“He was strangled in an alley behind the coffee shop where he worked.” He pulled out another photo that better showed the ligature marks.
“You have any other cases like this one?”
“Then I’d say you have a revenge killing or…”
“You know, I drink way too much. My mind is mush right now. Why don’t you call me tomorrow, we’ll get some coffee and see if we can’t put together a coherent profile.”
“Grazi,” he said, returning to the bar and handing a few notes to the bartend. “See she gets home.”
“You got it mate. Cheers.”
Alexis returned to the bar and played with the wine glass. She held it up, said, “Salut,” and poured it down her throat. “I best be getting some sleep.” She reached for her purse, but the bartender held up his hand, “Your friend covered it.”
She smiled and said, “Call me a cab, please.”
Twenty minutes later she was sitting at a bare wooden table with a pad of yellow paper and the last three days worth of newspapers, pulled off the pile she rarely threw out. Alexis never slept great, but when her mind was working, it was much worse. For the next two hours she would think and read, but nothing came of it and eventually she threw herself on the couch and let the wine do its job.