Appenzell

So there I was, on Christmas Eve, high on a cliff overlooking the travel-poster town of Appenzell, Switzerland, with its twinkling holiday lights, sliding down a snow-covered slope to a sheer drop and my death.

Cristiana Ferrugi, the woman I’d been hired to kill, had preceded me off the cliff. According to the helpful information sign at the view site, in four languages, the drop was, was 150 meters or – for us non-metric people – 485 feet. I was pretty sure she was dead, and I would be joining her.

The skinny bald man who’d driven us up to the cliff, Cordera, had cut the safety rope that held me, just as I’d cut Cristiana’s a minute earlier. The snow was deep and powdery, great for skiing, not so good for not dying. I dug in my Jimmy Choo snow boots and I slowed down a little, but didn’t stop. I grabbed a snow-covered boulder with my left hand as I slid, which kind of swung me around until I was sideways to the slope. I was maybe six meters, or 20 feet from the cliff’s edge. My hand slipped off the icy rock, and I kept sliding.

I am Deborah Sokolov. I am not dying today. I am Deborah Sokolov. I am not dying today, I said.

I raised my right leg, pulled my trusty Ka-Bar knife from its sheath and stuck it into the snow as hard as I could. Success! The knife stuck in the grass and dirt beneath and momentum swung me around again, facing uphill. But I’d stopped. I didn’t want to look to see how close I was to the cliff’s edge. I rolled over and grabbed the knife with both hands, pulling myself upward.

To my left was a metal railing, thoughtfully put there by Schweiz Tourismus, to keep more people from falling off. I swung my legs over and wrapped them around one of the uprights, yanked the Ka-Bar from the ground and pulled myself to the railing. Just outside the railing were two tiny fir trees, about two feet tall, snow-covered and Christmassy-looking. I looked up the slope to the parking area, just as Cordera, probably wondering why he didn’t hear me screaming as I fell, came to the edge of the view site and looked down. I tried to pull myself over to hide behind the little Christmas trees, but the moon was bright, and Cordera saw me. It took him a few seconds of surprise, but then he reached into his jacket and pulled out a gun.

I reached into my ski jacket pocket, pulled out my Beretta .22, aimed at Cordera’s chin, and fired.

I was like three or four when the Iraq war was happening, and don’t remember it. But I remember the YouTube video of the pulling down of Saddam Hussein’s statue. Cordera fell just like that: he stiffened, his hand outstretched, dropped his pistol and toppled into the snow. Then his body slid down the slope where he’d wanted to send me, gathering speed, faster and faster, then over the edge.

I found the safety rope and, grabbing it and the metal railing, pulled myself to the top, where the helpful Swiss tourist sign pointed out in German, French, English and Spanish, that the ‘Rope View site is very dangerous. You must have the safety harness attached to you at all times.’ Yes, Rope View sites are a thing. I picked up Cordera’s pistol, also a Beretta, but a 9 millimeter, with a silencer.

Cordera’s Maserati Bi-Turbo was parked next to Cristiana’s Lexus. I thought about wiping prints, but I’d had my gloves on the whole ride. The Maserati’s electronic key was in the cup holder, which was good, because hotwiring cars is not in my skill set, and it was a two mile, or 3-something kilometer walk back to Appenzell. And I was freezing.

Then I felt it. Again. My stomach, reacting. I keep thinking maybe it won’t happen, but it does, every time. A burning feeling in my gut, my stomach rolling. I grabbed a barf bag from my jacket, which I’d gotten on the flight over, and puked into it. Retching, again and again, maybe trying to get rid of the memory of what I’d done, maybe bending double to ask some kind of forgiveness. Even though Cordera and Ferrugi had both tried to kill me, my stomach didn’t take sides. I grabbed a handful of glittering snow and put it in my mouth, trying to wash away the sour taste of upchuck.

I had a lot of thinking to do, and I think better in a warm Maserati. I drove down the hill, heading back to Appenzell. I stopped about halfway down at an overlook. In the moonlight I could just make out, in the wide meadow at the bottom of the cliff, two darker body-sized holes in the deep snow. It might be spring before anyone found them.

I already knew that someone, maybe a lot of someones, wanted KillGirl dead. But now someone knows that I am KillGirl.

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