Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Book excerpt: Accountable To None by Ashley Fontainne


Preface
5 Years Ago

She pulled herself smaller and smaller into a tiny little ball as she hugged her legs so tightly with her thin, waif-like arms that her lower legs became completely numb. Her broken nails dug into the soft flesh of her bruised thighs, which caused fresh blood to trickle down and mingle with the old. Jammed up against the wall in her dark office, rocking slowly back and forth, she stared out the window at the city’s almost non-existent skyline and beyond to the darkened South Mountain Range and mumbled softly to herself.

Twenty stories up, she had a panoramic view of the vibrant lights below, which up until tonight had always given her a sense of pride at her accomplishment for making the rank of partner and attaining the much sought after “corner office” at the tender age of 33. Her shattered thoughts wandered to all the ridiculously long and grueling hours it had taken her to get there and how much she had lost in the process of her corporate ladder climb; James had left her six months ago after her miscarriage and subsequent post-partum depression; her parents barely spoke to her after the countless family events she had missed during the last three years due to her rigorous travel schedule; and lifelong friends had drifted away due to unreturned phone calls and missed special events.

And now this.

She sighed heavily as she stared at the twinkling lights below. What was once her major source of personal gratification now only brought her disgust and anger, for she realized that all of her hard work to attain this coveted space was just part of some sick joke perpetrated by the twisted hierarchy at her firm. She’d learned tonight that what her boss had really wanted was not the hard earned, well-educated knowledge between her ears that she had worked so hard to attain, but rather, power over the space between her legs.

Her mindset shifted as she regressed into that small place held over from nature where animalistic instincts still resided. She hugged herself even tighter as she fought the urge to strike out and kill the thing that had caused her so much incredible pain, and she struggled to keep her carnal instincts from taking over. This internal seismic activity was how she had come to be crouched in the corner, literally holding herself together with every fiber of her being, as she labored to keep a tight rein on her slippery sanity. Earlier, right after the attack, she had been overwhelmed with visions of bloody retribution, standing over her kill as he lay bleeding all over his expensive, gaudy rug as a result of her retaliatory onslaught. Those thoughts were so foreign to her Ivy-League educated mind that they frightened her almost as much as the attack had.

Almost.

Two hours had passed since her rape and the blood on her legs and arms had long since congealed, and now resembled rust colored glue that sealed her torn, costly clothes to her delicate skin. She recalled how much she had worried and stressed over what she should wear to the meeting to discuss her promotion to equity partner, only to have her clothes yanked and torn to shreds at the hands of a vile monster. Her suit was now covered in dried blood and completely ruined, just as her personal views on hard work and ethical behavior were. The stench of him, fused together with the rusty odor of her blood, finally broke through her shocked stupor and she realized she was going to vomit. Quickly, she uncurled her sore limbs and lunged for the bathroom, barely making it in time. The violent purging may have emptied her stomach, but it left an odd sense of what she was going to do now circulating through her head: purge and expose.

She stood up, inhaled deeply and faced herself in the mirror, half expecting to fall apart when she finally scrutinized the damage for the first time. She had to cock her head slightly since her right eye was almost completely swollen shut and already had turned a dark mixture of blue and black; both her upper and lower lips were split and covered in dried blood; and several of her artificial nails had been snapped off down past the quick as she had attempted to fight him off.   She knew she needed to survey the rest of her body, so she turned and limped out of the bathroom and grabbed her gym bag that sat in the corner by her desk. As she passed by her door, she compulsively checked once again to make sure it was locked before she headed back to the bathroom and the unforgiving glare of the fluorescent lights.

A sick, warped grin slid across her swollen lips when she realized that her meticulous planning had actually paid off. Reaching into the side pocket of the bag she found a large plastic storage bag that she had stuck there a few days ago so she could put her dirty gym clothes in it after working out and seal them up, thus keeping the smell from adhering to the remaining contents of the bag. Well, it had an even better use now.

As she carefully shed her ruined clothes piece by piece, she gently folded each one and placed it in the bag. Once finished, she sealed it tight and shoved it back in the bag. Summoning up courage from deep within, she turned to the mirror and stared at the myriad of bruises on her breasts, upper arms and thighs. Dear God, he had even left teeth marks on her left breast!  As much as she abhorred the idea of doing so, she picked up her cell phone and began snapping pictures of her battered body. She consoled herself with the thought that at least some stranger at a hospital wasn’t doing this.

Based on the pain she felt whenever she moved, she knew she needed to check out down below, but she couldn’t bear to think about what he had done in that area, so she decided to wait until she got home and began to painfully dress herself in her gym clothes. She leaned over the sink and filled the basin with enough cool water to wash off the dried blood on her face so she could leave the building without being stopped and questioned by the Maricopa County deputy rejects that served as security guards downstairs. While tenderly patting her face dry, she leaned in as close as she could to the mirror and began to truly grasp that the damage was worse than she thought and would most likely take weeks to heal. For once, she was glad that she happened to have a heavy mane of long hair that she could sweep across her horribly swollen eye.

She knew she should be in a state of hysteria at the moment, or at the very least catatonic as she had been earlier, but oddly, instead of feeling victimized, she realized her battered, bloody and bruised body was a trophy of her survival, and the fuel to the plan that had begun to form in her mind. She refused to shed a tear over what that bastard had done to her, so she shoved her traumatized emotions down into the deepest crevice in her soul to be dealt with another day, and only allowed one emotion to remain unchecked: anger. She felt it pulsate through her like a drug, numbing everything else.

As she continued to stare at her injured face, she couldn’t stop the playback of the words he had said after he had finally climbed off of her and began to buckle his pants: “Ah, thank you Audra!  That was good for me, but you look a little less than satisfied, which, as a gentlemen, I find rather disturbing. How about I make up for my lack of–shall we say, decorum?– and just go ahead with your promotion to equity partner? My treat, of course, as a reward for your troubles?

He had been so cavalier, almost chivalrous in his mannerisms as he stood there over her while her petite body was racked with pain and uncontrollable trembling in response to the violent beating and rape she had just suffered. And to top it off, he had offered to throw money and a promotion at her to make it better!

It was at that incongruous moment that she had made the decision not to involve the police, nor file any report or have any discussion with anyone about this evening, not even her attacker. A small snicker left her swollen lips and she winced in pain as she realized that all the rumors and office gossip she had overheard for years, yet brushed aside as the ramblings of less than devoted slackers or money-hungry high-heeled leeches, had actually been true. She had just been so embedded in her work and her determination to be noticed, she had failed to give any credence to them. Ironic that it took her being injected with venom by the snake before she even realized one had been in the room with her the entire time.

She decided that the entire firm, this filthy place that had destroyed so many lives over the years, including that of her unborn son, would pay; this nasty, blood sucking reptile that lured people into its lair with promises of gold, only to suck them bone dry and toss their empty carcasses aside when they were no longer interesting. She would make sure they were held accountable, and would not stop until every last one of them felt the same shame and humiliation she had experienced tonight.

Her eyes widened as she felt a strange sensation deep inside her core, and she noticed that the eyes that looked back at her from the mirror were those of someone else, a stranger she didn’t recognize. Even through the intense swelling of her right eye, she saw that they were no longer the na├»ve, innocent eyes from before; the ones that had viewed the world as a place where hard work and ethical behavior prevailed and were followed accordingly by just rewards.   Those had been replaced with eyes full of smoldering anger which now skewed her once lofty view of the world and had turned them deep emerald green.

Her mind crossed over into territory unfamiliar to her and her thoughts became dark and sinister as she began to mull over her new purpose in life. Never had the snake been exposed for all to see, for its secrets were buried deep beneath its lair under countless piles of blood money, just like the pile that had been offered to her tonight. Those piles of money had bought the silence of its victims for so long that accountability was not in its vocabulary. She would change all that, no matter how long it took. She wasn’t quite sure yet how she would do it, but she would change every single one of them from being accountable to none to accountable to all.