Ooh! Have you ever wanted to go to assassin school for your birthday?
Me neither. Luckily, Octavia (“V”) Ling is crazy enough to do it for you.
When Octavia “V” Ling spots the ad for The Italian School for Assassins, she figures that it sounds like a crazy workout, better than pole dancing, and exactly the kind of nuttiness she craves for a birthday that ends in a zero.
Except, when V lands in Florence, the other assassin students seem…awfully serious about this whole execution thing. As in, V’s roommate tells her, “If I catch you breaking into my locked weapons cache, I will eat you.” And she ain’t joking.
Plus the orientation consists of the students attacking each other.
So who can blame V for sneaking out for a drink with a hot young Italian guy? The only problem is, V wakes up the in morning with a teeny hangover and a huge problem: someone killed her Scary White Female roommate. And the rest of the school kind of blames V.
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My roommate Rebecca’s alarm kept ringing.
Not just any alarm, but a recording of “Für Elise.”
Now, I like Beethoven as much as the next woman, but not at 4:30 a.m. Italian time, or any time, for that matter. I dragged my pillow over my head, rumpling my bird nest hair more than I managed to cover up my ears. It was a very thin pillow, though. Do Italians not like pillows as much as Canadians do, or is crappy bedding part of the preparation to become an assassin?
In case I forgot to mention it, I’m training to become an assassin. In Florence, Italy. For fun, not for serious.
Anyway, the bit of cotton batting hardly blocked out the tinny keyboard recording going nu-nu-Nu-nu-Nu-nu-nuuu…
I cleared my throat.
It kept playing.
“Rebecca,” I rasped. My temples ached. While everyone else had crashed last night, worn out from all the assassin drills, I’d snuck into Florence proper and discovered a bottle of red wine with my name on it.
I didn’t want to fight with my roommie. First of all, she’s tall, blonde, and fearsome, kind of like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, only more humourless. Rebecca told me that if she caught me breaking into her locked weapons cache, she would eat me. I was like, “Um, you mean in a gay way? I don’t actually play for that team.” And then she hissed. Yes, actually hissed. From Uma to African rock python in 2.2 seconds.
I did ask Mr. Anderson if I could switch rooms, but he just stared at me with his dead grey eyes. And considering that he’s ex-IRA, ex-CIA, and ex-actly as scary as Rebecca of Murderbrook Farm, if not more so, I just chirped, “Never mind! It’s fine!” and vowed to spend as little time in my room as possible.
I don’t know what I was expecting from assassin school. I guess I had it all wrong because it was in Italy. You know, the country shaped like a boot? I thought they made everything fun here. Well, not Mussolini, but fashion, art, language, opera, and foooooooood. And wine. I can vouch for last night’s wine. Not to mention the hot young Italian dude who drank it with me.
But you know, even Elizabeth Gilbert didn’t just stay in Rome and eat for a year. She did spiritual stuff in India, and—what was she doing in Bali again? Besides humping the real-life version of Javier Bardem? Anyway, I decided I should have a mission for my fortieth birthday. Not just “Hey, let’s go downtown and pay strippers for a lap dance”—not that there’s anything wrong with that, and my best friend, Jen, did exactly that for hers—but it’s predictable, you know? Happy fortieth, do something fake naughty like ogle naked men with Day-Glo penises. Happy 18th, drink. Happy 65th, retire (or whatever it is you do when you’re 65).
So when I saw the little online ad for a school for assassins in Florence, I was like, Wassup? That sounds like a crazy workout, better than pole dancing, and exactly the kind of nuttiness I need for a birthday that ends in a zero.
So maybe it’s not so surprising that I had the teeniest bit of a hangover on Day 2. And I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the workouts, especially since Psycho Rebecca got her alarm mindlessly playing “Für Elise” over and over and over, in the middle of the night. Oh, sorry. The pre-dawn, was what she called it. “I arise at pre-dawn, in order to accomplish my exercises,” she said last night, staring down her nose at me. The woman had to be six feet tall in sneakers.
“Cool,” I lied. What else was I going to say, even though I’d rather stay out until dawn instead of rise and shine it?
At this moment in time, I’d gotten three hours of sleep. You know what Zyang Ziyi says is the best thing for skin? Not cream that’s you couldn’t afford if you sold your left kidney. It’s sleep. And if you saw her radiant skin in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, you’d be hitting the sheets pronto.
So that was what finally made me sit up in bed. If Rebecca the Directa (I know that makes no sense. I’m out of jokes. It’s 4:39 in the morning! I’m going bananas from Beethoven!) got up to exercise before shutting off her alarm, then I’d have to do it for her.
Yep, I’m that kind of woman. Don’t mess with me.
Even in the middle of the night, thanks to the moonlight and possibly an outside porch light, I could make out the black outline lump of her blankets, and her little bedside table only had a few objects on it, one of which must be her phone or her alarm. Most people don’t use travel alarm clocks anymore, but the music was so annoying, I figured Rebecca had made an exception.
Nu nu nu Nuuuuu, nu nu nu Nuuuuu…
The wind stirred the paper-thin curtain at the window between our beds. Crickets chirped. And a train Dopplered in the distance.
Oh, for heaven’s sake. How was anyone supposed to catch Z’s around here?
And then, as the sleep seeped out of my brain, I watched the curtain stir a third time and remembered that I’d closed the window last night, when I came back from drinking. I get cold easily, even in Italy, and this is a stone building. Damp and cold are the operative words. And Rebecca had already activated the ceiling fan. So I’d figured I’d close the window but leave the fan on, risking her ire, plus I was drunk and happy from making out with the Italian guy, so I shut and locked the window.
Now the window was wide open. Or at least open enough to make the breeze blow.
My heart thudded in my chest almost as much as my brain felt like it was hammering against my temples.
Okay. It was possible, even likely, that Rebecca had woken up and opened the window again while I was passed out. But I turned to stare at the unmoving lump of blankets in Rebecca’s bed.
All we were issued was a wafer of a brown wool blanket, a white sheet, and a meagre square pillow, which was why I was wearing my trusty red fleece jacket to bed, plus full-length pyjamas.
That small amount of bedding would not account for the full-sized bump in her bed.
Rebecca was still here, either dead asleep, ignoring the siren call to exercise, or…
She was just plain dead.
I held my breath and stared at the lump. I waited for a twitch of limb or a little sniff to indicate that she was animate.
Da da da Dah, da Dah da Dah.
Right. There was no way I’d catch her clearing her throat, with all of this racket, and even with my eyes adjusting to the darkness, I’d be driven crazy donkey shapes before I figured out yes, she was alive (yay?) or no, she was dead (boo, I guess).
I’d have to turn the light on.
If she was alive and I woke her up, she would kill me. Probably with something sharp out of that weapons cache she kept locked in a steel box in our shared closet.
If she was dead, she was…dead.
Which one would be worse?
Okay. The worst was me and Beethoven, frozen in indecision forever.
I took a step toward the light.
“[S]cintillating…V has a great voice. Combined with the imaginative plot, this is a character who calls out for a series. At once Everywoman and Heroine. A woman through whom we can comfortably live adventures that enthrall, yet which [Yin] make us believe are just a little bit beyond what we ourselves might achieve with a few more trips to the gym, a few less kids, a little less attraction to the couch and the 65” TV. And though I would judge Octavia as directed more toward a feminine audience, I was quite gripped by her adventures, her wit, her insights, and of course her making out, which she carries off in grand style.” –Richard Quarry, author of Midnight Choir
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