Katherine’s assistant had gone on something of a purge. A number of the people I dealt with on a daily basis had either been transferred or removed from their position. Doormen, handymen, even suppliers to the building, all had been changed. The effect, no doubt, was to surround me with people that could never suspect who I was. The powerlessness I suddenly felt gave rise to a familiar, delicious tingle between my thighs. It is amazing how those three words, ‘who I was’, could elicit such delight. I had found it increasingly wasteful to fret about the question. The anxiety I had experienced at the start of this adventure had given way to tiredness and exhaustion. As time ran away from weeks to months, I had found it difficult to even start contemplating turning back without eliciting a degree of horror at what that would involve. My exit from this life depended on one person and she showed no signs of changing anything.
As well as attending to the lobby and the various communal areas of the building, my duties extended to cover my former penthouse. Katherine’s assistant now lived here and was revelling in the luxury that it offered her. She had taken to wearing many of my former clothes and jewels, and for all intents and purposes, was living a similar life to the one I had vacated. I assumed that both of us got a thrill from my servile role in my former home. At least I was sure at the outset, though as we grew used to the situation, things turned a little more routine. The dominatrix-style sessions we had enjoyed previously became rarer and, eventually ceased.
I am not sure whether she did it on purpose or not, but Katherine’s assistant had the habit of leaving important papers on her desk when she knew I would be tidying upstairs. I felt she did it as a way of taunting me about my former life, reminding me that Katherine was now something else: a fiction, less real now than Marta. How else could one explain printed emails for goodness sake! Most often they were emails from ‘Katherine’ to her, granting her privileges or roles within the company that elevated her yet higher.
As part of my induction – some might say brainwashing – I had been given no access to local media. The only things I could watch were designed to help my Spanish skills. In those early stages, this meant a constant diet of cheap soap operas. Katherine’s assistant and I spoke less and less, but when we did, she would not discuss anything that I may be familiar with. She seemed most interested in soap operas. In my warped reality therefore, retelling her the latest storylines was a way of pleasing her, or engaging with her. I felt good when she listened and this was about the only way she did. Otherwise our ‘conversations’ were one-way: her telling me what she wanted me to do or how I should act. I was now able, with extreme focus, to speak with a convincing Spanish lilt to my accent, a side effect of improving language skills. In short, I lived in a bubble. All the people around me, who I might deal with on a daily basis had changed. My tired mind was most pre-occupied with remembering the details of the latest episodes of some dreadful TV serial.
However today would prove very different. As soon as I walked into the room, I saw there was just one thing on the desk, a newspaper. Katherine’s assistant was still getting ready to leave in an adjoining room, so I had to wait before going to look. Besides I did not get that often to be close to her these days. I missed the intensity of the relationship we had struck up as we had left Abbotsville. I kept hoping, somewhat forlornly, that she may want to use me in that way again, though a quick glance in the mirror would disabuse me of such hopes.
The previously loose dress she had given me was now tight around my bust and hips. In fact, my uniform was now so tight it clung to my body in a rather ungainly way, creasing and bulging at my widest points. I straightened my maid’s cap and pinned it back into position over my short, cropped hair, slicked back with straightening lotion that black girls commonly use to control their otherwise frizzy hair. My skin, dark now for many months, was a little dry in places. I had no money for moisturiser or other fineries of life. That made it all the more galling when I saw Katherine’s assistant applying the last of her expensive makeup and earrings. She looked wonderful in her tight skirt, hugging her figure closely to the knee. An expensive looking, silk blouse, tailored beautifully to accentuate her feminine curves. I was gawping at her. Like a child staring into a shop window at all the things she could not have. Our eyes met for a moment as she brushed past me into the office. She remained silent and went to the desk.
I expected her to retrieve the newspaper. But she did not. She fingered it and opened it at a specific page and then, ignoring me like I was not even there, strode away and out of the penthouse, her heels clacking all the way. She had only been gone a few seconds when the temptation to look became unbearable and I hopped over to see what she had left me to read.
All by itself the headline was enough to panic me in a way I had not experienced before. Any notions I may have had of returning to my old life suddenly crashed and burned.
‘Rich Heiress Dies in Freak Yachting Accident’. I did not need to read further to know that it was Katherine that had met a grisly end somewhere out at sea, but still I ploughed on to confirm what I already suspected. I was feeling dizzy and faint and fell back into the chair, struggling to summon up sufficient focus to read on. For a moment I felt like I was in the plot of one of the tawdry soap operas I had been binge watching. A sense of rage gripped me only to slip away into mortal fear when I read that a body was unlikely to be recovered as the location was so deep and outside of any territorial waters. My father, looking somewhat frail in the photographs, was said to be ‘devastated’. Nothing was mentioned of my sister. I scoured the articles for details – any details about what was happening, but only found equally devastating news and the reason my father looked so unwell.
It seems he had been pocketing serious sums of money from the company that he was not entitled to. My heart raced as I read that he was co-operating with investigators and was facing jail time of around 10-15 years, a virtual death sentence for someone of his age. The agony I felt was so extreme, for a moment, my heart skipped several beats. Though my father and I were not close, he was not the man the papers were portraying, with their salacious reading of recent events. I ached to comfort him; to be with him. For a moment, I thought of going to see him. But what would make him believe it was me? Again, I looked in the mirror to see an increasingly overweight woman from somewhere south of Mexico.
My god! My identity had literally been taken from me and was now lost forever! Who could and would believe anything I say? At times like this, when people feature heavily in the news, all kinds of cranks appear from the woodwork to try and profit from the situation. Would anyone see me as anything but another one of them? I look very little like my former self. Perhaps though, if only I could get to my father, I could convince him of who I was. I could remind him of something only he and I would know, proving I was who I say I was. I then looked at the picture of him again. Would it help? Seeing his daughter this way? Surely, he would conclude I was crazy or mad. He already thinks I am dead; would it be better to stay that way?
I forgot everything I was meant to be doing and sat there frozen by indecision, barely able to compute all that was happening right now. It all seemed so fanciful, but there it was, laid out in black and white. While I panicked, a little voice in my head suggested: you can just run away from it all. I shunted it aside, but the notion made me feel better. In a moment of reflection, I later considered this a fight or flight moment, though my freedom of manoeuvre was so limited that I had little sense of it at the time. In many ways, I was already hiding. This just meant that, rather than hiding from my life for reasons never wholly apparent, I would now need to do it to protect myself.