In a dark corner of the canal, Gia sat on the curved wooden edge of her Riva doing what most locals did during the Venice Film Festival: She observed celebrities. Mega-yachts littered the
Grand Canal—no doubt there were many billions in global currencies floating on the water.
She was not a star-struck teen. On the contrary, she’d crossed paths with her fair share of the glitterati on the floors of her casinos and in the VIP rooms of her clubs in Paris and Berlin and Monte Carlo. Gia preferred the shadows, though. On this particular evening, she was staked out for one particular star, Nicolás Ángel Fernández, her lover.
Nico was scheduled for the red carpet at five o’clock, a prime slot for maximum exposure to the paparazzi. His handlers would make sure he hit every mark and, then, that he would be smuggled out of the theater’s side door just as the lights went down. He couldn’t stand the sight of his own famous face on the screen. Never mind that he’d attained “Sexiest Man Alive” status several times over. He didn’t even like to see himself on directors’ monitors. The lack of vanity, the self- loathing, it was all part of his appeal. He preferred, instead, to look at Gia. Her deep brown hair, nearly waist long. Her pearly skin. She was almost fifty, but he didn’t know that—almost no one did. Those fortunate enough to meet her assumed that she was a rich woman in her late twenties or thirties. Her beauty defied logic, except that it didn’t.
The two had met a year ago in a tunnel underneath her club in Buenos Aires. He was escaping his pop star girlfriend du jour, Jessica Joyce, and her entourage. Gia found him on his own, head against a concrete wall, on the verge of a panic attack. She touched his shoulder and asked if he was all right. He balled up his fists and shook his head.
“Please,” she said, “come with me.”
She put her hand around his right fist and led him down the hallway to a small office, covered in black velvet wallpaper. She gestured for him to sit, and he collapsed, head in his hands, onto a leather sofa. She opened up a cabinet to reveal a desk and from inside that desk, she extracted a small bottle of pills. She passed him one with a bottle of Pellegrino.
“I don’t take drugs,” he whispered.
“This is valerian root.”
“It is sort of like melatonin, all-natural,” she explained.
He exhaled deeply and downed the pill. “I’m sorry,” he said. “This is really embarrassing. I hate crowds.”
“Funny choice for a career you made,” Gia said.
“You will start to feel the effects in about ten minutes. What if I tell you a story until then?”
He furrowed his big, black eyebrows at her.
“What,” she asked, “you do not like fairy tales?”
“You’re a little weird,” he replied with a half-laugh.
“The best people are.”
That made him think.
“True.” He paused for a moment and then agreed, “Fine, tell me your story.”
“Lean back on the sofa and close your eyes.”
He burrowed himself into the corner of the sofa, resting his head on the soft wall.
“Once upon a time, there was a ship captain…” she began. Nico opened one eye, squinting at her. “Tsk, tsk,” she chided. “Naughty boys never get what they want, do they?” He resigned himself and fully relaxed, finally. She continued, “The captain stood at the helm of his bright blue boat and steered past the white cliffs of an island. The sun beat down, baking the crew. They had run out of water the day before. Rain was like a sweet memory from childhood. That summer had been cruel and hot. They dropped anchor and prayed to find freshwater on this dry-looking island.”
She slid from the club chair over to the couch and eased in beside him. He turned his head to look at her. He sensed sadness in her almond eyes.
“Who are you?” he asked. “Where did you even come from?”
She laughed silently and smiled a little. “Some people say that the world is destroyed… that the oceans have claimed the land, and that we are all living in a simulation like the Matrix. Do you believe that?”
“If that’s true,” he said, “I’m sending the coder a fortune in bitcoin.” He reached out for her heart-shaped face and took it into his big palm. She leaned in, their faces almost touching. He could already feel her lips on his, but he looked away.
“I have to go,” he sighed. “Someone’s waiting for me up there. I’m sorry.” He pried himself off the sofa and stared at the door. He took a timid step forward. “I wish I could stay.”
“Wishes live in fairy tales,” Gia whispered, stopping him in his tracks. “So, if you want something,” she said, “you should always take it.”
“Fuck.” He turned around to find Gia perched at the edge of the sofa peering at him, daring him on. “Please,” he said, voice trembling, “give me ten minutes? I’ll come right back.”
She shrugged. “Please.”
“Just fucking kiss me,” she commanded. “I know you want to.”
He kneeled in front of her. She grabbed his face this time. She kissed him softly, then pulled away. She traced his lips with two fingers and pushed them inside. Her mouth followed and then her tongue. They made love in that small office while his girlfriend sang a coked-up, impromptu set with a famous DJ upstairs.
After their first time together, Nico flew to Gia, or she to him, rendezvousing at varied locations around the globe. Despite her high- profile businesses, she took every precaution to maintain anonymity. When he wanted to go public with their relationship, she flatly told him no, that she was an intensely private person and didn’t want the press hounding them.
Plus, she suggested, was it not better for his career to maintain the illusion of being single? Did that not sell more magazine covers, get more likes on Instagram?
He agreed, but in interviews, whenever those blonde female reporters would ask him the dreaded question, “Are you seeing anyone special?” he’d have to smile through a pang in his heart. He never felt Gia was his, not really.
And so, as they were set to celebrate a year together on that unseasonably chilly September evening in Venice, Nico, as usual, had to argue with his agent and press squad about not attending the festival after-parties and about being on his own without security, particularly during a big event like the film festival. He escaped nonetheless.
In a shadowy corner of the canal, Nico waved to Gia, signaling her over. She motored close to him and scooped him up.
Off they went.
She turned into an obscure, narrow canal and angled through empty boats tied against pilings.
“Where are we going?” he asked. “Are you taking me to that little restaurant I love?”
“No, I have a surprise for you.”
He knew better than to ask anything more. He loved her mysterious ways. She took a left into an even smaller waterway and turned off the engine.
“Pass me the big oar from under the back, please.”
Nico lifted his seat and reached underneath. She took the paddle from him and used it to maneuver the boat down the tiny canal. Finally, they floated under a small bridge and Gia lowered the anchor. With the new moon in the sky, the water looked black. Flick- ering on the current was the tiniest light from a bar down the way, a light so small it looked like a singular bulb from a Christmas tree.
“What’s my surprise?” Nico inquired, smiling.
“Come here,” Gia purred, pulling him in for a kiss. She gripped her hand around the hair at the nape of his neck and yanked it back hard. He moaned with delicious pain. She kissed him below his ear, and licked him, moving her tongue under his lightly-stubbled chin, biting his throat. His body was tense with wanting her. She leaned back and ran her free hand over his face and onto his neck. And then, in one smooth motion, she sliced his throat with the sharp gills in her forearm.
Nico’s eyes flashed with hot pain, and he tried to scream but was only able to gurgle sloppy moans. Gia kept her eyes trained on him and felt her pulse quicken with elation as she watched his last moments. He began to stumble, and she pulled him into her, locking him in a deadly embrace. As the blood drained from his body, she held his head on her silk slip dress, resting his cheek against her breasts. His blood soaked through the fabric and wet her nipples. She felt the warm liquid pooling onto her chest, and she nearly orgasmed.
When his body fell limp, she pulled him with her into the water. Her legs swam fast, and then became slower as her scales came in. Toting him through the water was light work once she had her tail to propel her. She turned down the familiar path toward the Hotel Bauman and, when she arrived, dipped into a crevice, dove deep, and tied him up in her graveyard with all of the others.
To be continued…