Most people despise the daily grind. Rebecca Tanaka thrives in it.
Rebecca’s schedule is nonstop. Her evenings are always free – most of the time – but from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., she is one relentless busy bee, churning along at her own frenzied pace.
7:00 a.m. – Wake up, eat breakfast consisting of egg whites, oatmeal, and fruit smoothie
7:30 a.m. – Walk on the treadmill for an hour, interspersing with light jogging every 10 minutes
8:30 a.m. – Take short shower, dress, and drive to the gym
9:00 a.m. – Workout at the gym, regimen changes depending on the day (Monday: Chest and shoulders, Tuesday: Abs and back, Wednesday: Rest day, Thursday: Arms, Friday: Rest day, Saturday: Legs, Sunday: Rest day)
11:15 a.m. – Shower, dress, eat second meal of the day (brown rice, chicken, and steamed carrots)
12:00 p.m. – Drive to physical therapy clinic, work with clients
1:30 p.m. – Eat third meal of the day (sweet potato, steak, and raw broccoli)
6:00 p.m. – Leave work, drive to grocery store, drive home
6:30 p.m. – Arrive at home, eat fourth meal of the day (Salmon, kale, asparagus, couscous, and tomatoes)
7:00 p.m. – Answer e-mails, schedule personal training clients, set up photoshoots, etc.
9:00 p.m. – Eat fifth meal of the day (protein shake and raw fruit)
11:00 p.m. – Go to sleep, prepare to do it all again the next day
Rebecca, one of the world’s rising stars in the international bodybuilding industry, doesn’t have much time for relationships or pets. No dogs, no boyfriends. But this doesn’t bother her at all. She loves her life and wouldn’t change a single thing about it.
Except for one thing, however. Being a competitive bodybuilder and part-time physical therapist doesn’t pay a whole lot of money. Lucky for her, she inherited a nice studio condominium from her deceased aunt and uncle (they died tragically in a car accident while travelling through South America four years ago) located right in the heart of downtown Bellevue. However, living expenses are still living expenses. Money isn’t tight, but she can’t afford to not be frugal.
All of that changed one fateful Tuesday evening.
Rebecca drove home and parked her car in the underground parking garage like usual. With her massive gym bag slung over her broad shoulders, she takes the short flight of stairs up to the lobby. There, she sees Craig, the reliable and friendly front desk staff person.
“Good evening, Rebecca!” Craig greets her with a wide toothy grin.
“Hi Craig. Has your wife decided on whether she wants to take the promotion or not?” Rebecca takes her keys out of her pocket and walks toward the row of mail boxes.
“She has. She’s not interested. Macy loves where she is right now,” he says. “I guess that means I’m here to stay.”
Rebecca turns around and shoots Craig a happy smile of her own. “Oh well. Darn. I was just getting used to putting up with your antics!” Craig’s wife works at the city’s water treatment facility and was asked to move to Washington D.C. to supervise the federal government on crafting better national water policy. Apparently, Macy didn’t like that offer and would rather stay here and get paid less. Rebecca has never met Macy but she’s starting to like her more and more.
Craig laughs. The phone rings. He stops laughing, puts on his “professional” demeanor, and answers it. Rebecca chuckles to herself and approaches her mail box. She unlocks it and finds the usual assortment of junk: Grocery store coupons, a community newsletter, a postcard asking her to donate to needy children in Tanzania, her monthly cell phone bill, and a lone letter. She doesn’t usually get individually written letters anymore. For that matter, in today’s digital age, who does?
“Jones,” she reads aloud. The return address is somewhere in Kirkland. Only the sender’s last name is revealed. The 4”x3” letter is modest in size but remarkable in its simplicity. She stuffs the mail in a pouch on the side of her gym bag and heads toward the elevator. She nods at Craig, who is still talking to a potential tenant on the phone. He graciously nods back.
Five minutes later Rebecca opens the door to her 15th story condo unit and walks inside. She lays her heavy gym bag down on the floor and gently shuts the door behind her. Not thinking too much about the letter, she turns on the TV and tunes in to whatever baseball game happens to be going on. It appears the home team is losing by a score of 5-2. It’s the seventh inning. Whatever. Sports never interested Rebecca too much – except for bodybuilding, of course. That’s a sport she pays attention to with keen interest.
The clock in the kitchen says it is 6:39 p.m. Rebecca opens the refrigerator and pulls out a blue Tupperware container. Fish, veggies, and corn are inside. She pops it in the microwave and sets it for three and a half minutes. The humming of her dinner heating up provides the background music she needs to relax and unwind. Rebecca plops herself on her bed and turns on her laptop computer. Just as the home screen starts to boot up, the microwave makes the joyful “ping” sound.
Rebecca grabs a fork, napkin, bottle of FIJI Water, and the steaming hot Tupperware container. She returns to her bed and starts to eat. By now, the home team has scored another run and the score is now 5-3. The crowd goes wild. She couldn’t care less.
There are only four e-mail messages in her inbox. Two of them are junk. One is a balance statement from her bank and the other is a picture of a random man’s penis taken with his shitty cell phone camera. As a nationally known female bodybuilder, Rebecca is accustomed to receiving creepy or obscene e-mail messages from fans across the globe. She promptly deletes the dick pic and blocks the idiot from ever communicating with her again.
“Congratulations on being so well-endowed, buddy,” Rebecca says. “But you’re still a perverted jerk.”
A solo home run by the other team. 6-3 road team. The crowd goes silent. Rebecca swiftly changes the channel to the evening news. The first story she sees is a report that ISIS has kidnapped another European aid worker and has threatened to cut off his head. She decides to turn off the TV altogether. Nothing but bad news.
“It’s a hellish world we live in,” Rebecca whispers to herself. “God help us all.”
She looks at her gym bag and suddenly remembers the letter. After putting the dirty Tupperware in the sink, she takes a last sip from her FIJI Water and dumps the empty bottle in a recycling bin. Rebecca takes the envelope out of the pouch and opens it with a letter opener. She sits down on her comfortable leather sofa and reads it.
Rebecca gets plenty of fan mail, but they all go to her business mail box at the Post Office. So she has no idea who this could be from. Who does she know in Kirkland? The handwritten note says the following:
Dear Miss Tanaka,
I am a dear fan of yours. We’ve never met, but I’ve been following your career from the start. I see a lot of promise in you. You are destined for stardom, there’s no doubt in my mind about that.
I don’t know how much money you make being a professional bodybuilder, but I’d imagine it’s not nearly enough for you to live off. Or maybe you do make enough. Either way, who couldn’t use a little extra cash in their pocket?
That being said, I have a simple proposition for you, one you can refuse to do if you choose to with no consequences.
I happen to live within viewing distance of your condominium unit. With my trusty pair of binoculars, I have a clear view of your balcony. I have never made any effort to physically contact you, so do not feel alarmed. Thus, I’d like to offer you this: Every Tuesday evening at 9:00, I want you to stand outside on your balcony and strip naked for me. I want to see your beautiful body in all its splendor and glory. You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen in my life.
Every time you do this, I will mail you $1,000 in cash the following day. I will also send you written instructions on what to do next. I will never ask you to do anything dangerous or unreasonable. But it will always involve me wanting to see your beautiful body.
Just to prove that I’m not joking, tonight at 9:00 please stand outside fully clothed for a solid 90 seconds. I will send you $500 in the mail tomorrow just for that simple gesture. If you do not do as I ask, I will interpret this as your refusal and I will never contact you ever again. I can promise you that.
I look forward to seeing where your career goes, Rebecca. Peace be with you Angelic Sweetheart.
Uh, what? Rebecca looks up at the ceiling in disbelief, remaining frozen for what seems like forever.
What the fuck is this all about? Should she call the police? She knows the return address of this creep, so it wouldn’t be too difficult for the authorities to investigate and put this asshole in jail. However…
$1,000 is a lot of money. Fuck, that’s $52,000 in extra tax-free cash per year. Perhaps she should consider it.
Damn it! That’s crazy talk. This guy is nuts and should be arrested for harassment! Rebecca tosses the letter in the trash can and closes the blinds on all her windows. The last time she ever had a stalker was back in college. A random dude kept writing her love notes despite the fact she was in a committed relationship at the time (they broke up when he later revealed he was gay, but that’s a whole other story for another time). She reported this to campus police and found out it ended up being not a student, but a tenured English professor. She (yes, it was a she) was fired and had to spend 150 hours doing community service and pay a small fine. Rebecca never saw her again.
The clock now says it is 7:45 p.m. Rebecca decides to call the police first thing in the morning and report this idiot. She logs on to Netflix and begins watching “House of Cards” to get her mind off of this shit. She may have seen this episode before. Or maybe she hasn’t. Whatever.
Time passes. Soon, it is 8:56 p.m. She looks at the time on her computer and smiles. Should she poke her head outside her balcony just to see if this asshole will actually pay her? Rebecca peeks at her phone bill and gasps when she sees how substantial it is. She’d used a lot of data this month, between using her phone for personal and business matters. Damn. How the fuck is she going to pay for all this shit?
Rebecca puts on a pair of old slippers and cautiously opens the glass door leading to the balcony. She’s wearing pajama pants and a tank top but no makeup or a bra. Her jet black hair is a mess. She doesn’t think she looks terribly appealing at the moment, but this pervert apparently thinks she’s the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen in his life. Rebecca doesn’t know what is compelling her to follow through with this, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
Standing at a diminutive 5’2”, Rebecca is just as short as most Japanese women but is much huskier than usual. Her thick thighs, broad shoulders, big biceps, 8-pack abdomen, and rounded butt make her stand out against most women, Asian or not. Her 30th birthday is right around the corner, a fact she’s trying to not think about. She’s never been married but has never struggled to find a boyfriend. Most of her past boyfriends have been white, but she’s dated her fair share of Asian guys. But after committing her life to bodybuilding, she’s discovered fewer and fewer men want to be with her romantically. Maybe they’re intimidated by a woman with bigger muscles than them!
Rebecca looks up at the clock. 9:00 p.m. on the dot. Alright, time to do this.
She enters the outside and takes a deep breath. The sun is beginning to set. Earlier in the day it reached 85 degrees, which is practically the seventh level of Hades for someone who was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. She silently counts to 90 in her head. She looks around to see who this creepy stalker could possibly be. All around her are apartment buildings, office buildings, and fancy homes overlooking Lake Washington. There are hundreds of thousands of people who could see her at this moment. Is this guy for real? Or is this a prankster who gets off on writing disturbing letters to competitive female bodybuilders?
Rebecca may be willing to temporarily embarrass herself, but this is far from being the first time she’s ever felt helpless. Though she’s never been married, when Rebecca was 15 she became pregnant thanks to her then-boyfriend (who happened to be Asian like her) using a faulty condom. Her parents were outraged. The rest of her family shunned her. She eventually gave birth to a healthy baby girl. Rebecca reluctantly put the baby up for adoption. Within weeks of giving birth to the child, a couple in Indiana flew out to meet little Cecelia. They immediately fell in love with her. They hired some lawyers to draw up the adoption papers and within days the couple flew back home with a new daughter.
Rebecca has never seen her daughter since. Her family has never spoken about it. They’ve kept absolutely no contact with the couple from Indiana. She tries to not think about that dark chapter of her life, but every so often she’s reminded of it. This moment is one of those times.
90 seconds have officially passed. She returns back indoors and shuts the glass door. She locks it.
“That was the longest 90 seconds of my fucking life,” Rebecca says to nobody in particular.
Looking outside at the setting sun, she wonders if anyone was actually watching her. Who is this “Jones” guy? Was he a balding middle-aged loser who was jerking off at the sight of a female bodybuilder wearing pajama pants? God, that’s disgusting. The thought of this put a churning feeling in her stomach. Rebecca feels foolish that she even went outside on her balcony as the letter instructed in the first place. Wanting to forget the whole ordeal, Rebecca goes to the kitchen, takes out a wine glass, and pours herself some Chardonnay. She returns to bed and turns the television back on.
The home team tied it up in the bottom of the ninth and ended up winning it in the 12th thanks to a walk-off home run by the second baseman. Rebecca thinks he’s cute. Good for him. Good for his teammates. Hopefully, he’ll sleep tonight with a big fat smile on his face.
The next day Rebecca didn’t give a single thought to what had happened the previous evening. The thought of calling the police about the disconcerting letter never crosses her mind.
Wednesday is her rest day, so she can spend the morning working on her personal business before going to work at the clinic at noon. She spent the whole morning scouring the Internet for a new bikini. Her photographer tells her it’s about time they take new photos for her website. Now that the weather is improving, they agree to go down to the beach this Saturday and snap a few photos before the hordes of families, little kids, and drunk tourists show up.
Work is boring as usual. She sees four clients altogether. James, an 87-year-old former steel worker who’s suffering from chronic lower back pain. He thinks it’s caused by his days hauling gigantic hollowed rods across the mill he worked at back in Pennsylvania. Rebecca thinks it’s caused by the fact he’s in his late 80’s. Whatever. He doesn’t want to argue with “the pretty girl with big muscles.”
She also sees Tyler, a high school football player who suffered a major knee injury last season while returning a punt. Tyler’s a nice kid. He isn’t good enough to play at the college level, but Rebecca nevertheless feels he deserves a shot at being able to step onto the field again. He’s rehabbing his injury and hopes to be able to be ready in time for summer practices.
Rebecca is confident he’ll be able to do so. Tyler and his mother concur.
The other two clients are a married couple named Frankie and Loren. They’re both in their 60s but still manage to work at the local public school district. Rebecca cannot imagine why they still want to put up with spoiled bratty kids when they’re so close to retirement, but they seem to enjoy the work. They must be good at what they do, apparently.
“I do it for the kids. I can’t speak for Frankie, but I feel like it’s my duty to my community to put these youngsters on the right path,” Loren tells Rebecca and Julie, the clinic’s senior physical therapist. Frankie nods in agreement.
“Damn right! But don’t tell the kids I occasionally swear. I always get them in trouble for cursing, so I don’t want to seem like a hypocrite,” he fires back.
“Don’t worry you two,” Rebecca assures them. “Your secrets are safe with me. My lips are perfectly sealed. What’s discussed in this building doesn’t leave this building, I can assure you of that.”
Now it’s Julie’s turn to nod her head in agreement. It’s so wonderful when everyone agrees with one another. That’s what makes life pleasant.
“See you next time!” Rebecca exclaims as Frankie and Loren stroll out the door. She waves at them. They wave back. All is good and right with the world.
The drive home is messy but not a surprise. There’s a stretch of 8th avenue that’s being repaved. It’s a project the City Council promised to implement years ago, but it’s just now getting underway. Even in the most financially affluent cities it takes forever for simple government tasks to get done. Oh well. That’s the way things are, Rebecca supposes. Maybe that explains why Macy wants to stay put.
Like usual, she parks her car in the underground garage and hikes up the stairs to the main floor. It is at this moment that she remembers the strange letter she got yesterday from that mysterious creep. Today, Craig happens to not be working the front desk. That usually means he’s talking with the maintenance man to fix something. Instead, Hannah, a spunky 22-year-old blonde girl fresh out of college, is working in the lobby. Rebecca thinks Hannah is scared of her. It’s not a stretch of the imagination, however. It’s not too often you encounter a pretty Asian girl with big muscles!
“Hi Hannah. Where’s Craig?”
Hannah jumps in surprise at the sound of Rebecca’s voice. She is busy playing Temple Run on her phone and didn’t expect anyone to want to make casual conversation with her. Hannah puts the phone away and regains her composure.
“Oh, he’s milling around somewhere. A tenant on the 8th floor complained about a weird smell. He’s looking into it.” That’s what Rebecca thought Craig would be doing. Fixing a problem. Hannah is usually an on-call staff person who comes into work if Craig knows he has a lot of building maintenance work to do. Rebecca thinks Hannah works part-time as a cocktail waitress at a dive bar in Renton. She could be wrong about that, though.
“Hm. Thankfully for him, I don’t have any weird or offensive smells coming out of my unit,” Rebecca says. “I’m sure he’ll be glad to hear that.”
Hannah can only smile. That’s pretty much all Rebecca expects from her. This must confirm her suspicions that she’s frightened to death of her.
Rebecca takes out her mail box key and puts it in the slot. She twists it and opens the small door. She reaches inside and only finds a single item.
A modest 4”x3” letter.
She looks at the return address. Sure enough, it says “Jones” followed by a Kirkland address.
Stuffing the letter in her jacket pocket, Rebecca smiles at Hannah and scurries off to the elevators. She presses the button for the 15th floor. Three minutes pass until it shows up, which feel like ten. The door opens, Rebecca walks inside, and within moments she’s at her front door.
Rebecca isn’t usually a paranoid type of person, but how could you not be at this moment? Perhaps her decision to not notify the police was dead wrong. Before opening the door to her condo unit, she looks around the empty hallway. No one is in sight. That’s how it usually is at this hour. She unlocks the door and steps inside.
She immediately drops her purse on top of a nearby chair, tosses her jacket carelessly on the ground, and sits down on the leather sofa. Taking in a deep breath, Rebecca cautiously opens the letter without the letter opener. She doesn’t mind if she gets an innocuous paper cut. Fortunately, she’s just fine.
It’s another handwritten note. Of course. It reads:
Dear Miss Tanaka,
I’m glad you decided to follow through with my wishes last night. I did not know if you would ignore me or not. Fortunately for me, you made a choice I am most pleased with. Bravo to you.
In return, I’ve enclosed $500 in cash as I promised in my previous correspondence. I hope you put this newfound money to good use. I trust you will be judicious with it.
Your participation in last night’s trial run tells me you’re willing to play along with my proposition. I am pleased to learn of that. Now is the appropriate time to up the stakes. As I outlined before, I am willing to pay you $1,000 for further exhibitions. That offer is still on the table. I am only interested in watching you perform for me on Tuesday evenings at 9:00 p.m., so you have a full week before I am able to see you again. I cannot wait for our next encounter.
Next Tuesday, June 7, I want you to walk outside your balcony at 9:00 like last time. I want you to wear whatever clothing you happen to be wearing at the moment. I care not what it is. Once you are fully outside, I want you to meticulously strip naked until every single article of clothing is removed from your immaculate body. Then, I want you to twirl around slowly in a circle three times. No more, no less. I want to be able to see your entire body. It is my desire to be able to do so.
I want this full performance to last two minutes. Bring your phone with you if you need to keep track of time. Anything lasting less than two minutes will result in you not receiving any monetary compensation.
I trust you will agree with these terms. I look forward to seeing you next time.
Peace be with you Angelic Sweetheart.
Rebecca freezes in stunned silence. Before she could reread the message, she digs into the envelope and finds five crisp $100 bills tucked inside. She holds the bills up to the light. As far as she can tell, they’re perfectly legit. A professional bank teller could tell the difference between a legitimate and a counterfeit $100 bill, but Rebecca’s amateurish opinion will have to suffice for now.
“Holy fucking shit.”
A chill runs down Rebecca’s spine. She isn’t sure if she wants to cry or call the police without a moment’s hesitation. Instead, she chooses to sit there on the sofa and stare off into the nothingness in front of her.