Beauty is everywhere.
Doctor Karias watched the mousey, timid woman cross the street. She first caught his attention two months earlier, standing in front of him in line at the cafe. With her hunched shoulders and crossed arms, she looked as if she were trying take up as little space as possible. When she’d received her coffee, she turned to leave and ran right into him, dropping her cup and spilling its content on his Salvatore Ferragamos. She mumbled hurried apologies and left without ordering another drink.
She never looked at anyone. The entire time she was in the coffee shop, and in fact every time he saw her after, she held her head low, eyes cast to the floor. This was a woman who had been made invisible her entire life, a woman who believed everything she’d ever been told about herself. Like shooting fish in a barrel.
Karias continued to observe her, identifying the things he would change. She wasn’t pretty, not to the untrained eye. But the doctor saw the foundation, the raw base from which beauty blooms when cultivated properly. This woman had potential.
Placing his credit card back in his wallet, Doctor Karias withdrew one of his custom business cards. He followed the woman into the library and found her at the circulation desk checking in books, engrossed in her work. When she did not acknowledge him he rang the bell, causing her to jump.
“I’m sorry. Can I help you, sir?” Her voice sounded like it had been stuffed into a box.
He smiled politely, fixing her with a penetrating stare that was at odds with his grin. The woman’s unease beneath his evaluating gaze was arousing. He remained silent, indulging in her awkward discomfort, until she cleared her throat.
“Sir? Can I help you find something?”
The man shook as if roused from a deep thought. He slid a card across the counter, looked at her for a minute longer, then left.
Beauty is everywhere.
The only other information on the card was a phone number. No name, no address. Orli looked from the card in her hand to the image reflected in the bathroom mirror, tucking her stringy brown hair behind her ear. She gently touched her nose, too big for her face, before running her fingers over her thin lips. As she gazed into her plain brown eyes – hidden behind outdated wire-rimmed glasses – she wondered could it be true? She knew she wasn’t beautiful on the outside and questioned the adage about beauty on the inside.
But something about the card, and the man who’d given it to her, struck her. Beauty is everywhere. Had he actually noticed her? Did he think she was beautiful? Desperately wanting to find someone who could change her unremarkable and lonely life, Orli dialed the number. No harm in simply inquiring.
“Doctor Karias, we are extremely pleased you’re joining our medical group. Certainly, giving up what I’m sure used to be a lucrative private practice must be difficult. But we believe that the addition of your skills will bring added value to our ever-growing list of patients.”
Balding and fat, in a suit desperately trying to hold together at the seams, the CEO of Integrated Medical Group, Inc. practically salivated. Karias had been fending off his offers of a merger for years. That he needed the tubby swine now to stay solvent disgusted him. His only small comfort was that the chair in which the CEO sat looked about to lose its battle against the porcine man’s girth. He chuckled at the thought, recalling his business slogan: Beauty is everywhere. It certainly wasn’t here.
The truth was it was becoming more difficult to find patients who were interested in new noses and chins, smaller asses and tinier waists. His bills were beginning to suffer for it. Loan money and savings had been exhausted, there was no other choice. Aesthetic surgery was becoming obsolete in the era of self-love and acceptance. Joining the medical practice was the only option left and this fat slob of a man knew it.
The CEO continued, “We’ve brought along the best merger specialist in the business, Ms. Alexa Manescue. Her reputation for speedy contract negotiations precedes her and she will be a valuable asset to our business coupling.”
What an ass. The fact that he was losing his solo practice to this jerk was untenable. On top of being employed by this buffoon, he’d lose his private operatory and would be subjected to increased scrutiny and regulation. And where would he keep her?
Any artist would find it difficult to perform under those circumstances, and his masterpiece wasn’t finished. The end of this meeting signified the start of the countdown. Time was running out.
Ms. Manescue approached as the members of Integrated Medical Group left the room. “Doctor Karias, I want you to know I understand how disruptive this process can be. I assure you I will make every effort to ensure a smooth and seamless transition.”
The woman’s voice was warm and soothing, a tone she reserved for such affairs. Her soft smile and practiced pathos for the “losing” company certainly earned her the 6-figure commission she surely commanded. The low-cut blouse and tight skirt probably didn’t hurt either.
“I thank you for that, Ms. Manescue.”
Beauty is everywhere.
Frustrated from the meeting, Doctor Karias dialed the phone aggressively.
“Greta, it needs to happen tonight,” he barked by way of greeting.
“What’s your problem?”
“Do you have something for me or not?”
“Construction has been halted for weeks. What do you need?”
“Waste disposal. Three. It’s been a while.”
“That’s a tall order. We’re supposed to be getting back to work tomorrow. Can you wait a couple more days?”
“I guess, but the number will be higher by then. We’re running out of time.”
“Understood. I’ll get back to you.”
“Don’t disappoint me.”
Good thing she’s reliable. And there’s the other thing too.
Greta wasn’t his usual cup of tea, with her chunky build and lack of femininity. But the doctor imagined that was necessary for a female heavy equipment operator.
They’d met by chance. She approached him at a bar one evening wearing an outfit that was an obvious attempt to display her more feminine features, for all the good it did. Her calloused hands couldn’t be hidden by the cheap press-on nails, and her construction site body didn’t fill her dress in the desired way. The effect was jarring, and a little sad.
But his business card wasn’t simply a slogan. He did believe beauty was everywhere. He’d found it in a hand, in an earlobe, even in a navel. Looking at Greta he wondered what beautiful part she was hiding beneath her ridiculous attire. When he took her home, he found it: two perfect nipples atop a pair of heavy, sagging breasts. Making love to her was a bit like bedding bread dough, but she was eager to please and he couldn’t get enough of those two beautiful nipples.
And she was useful, irreplaceable in fact. Not only was she an easy lay, but it was easy to sell her on their current agreement. She was desperate for attention and didn’t want to lose him. He would indulge her fantasy, crawling over her zaftig body to get to her impeccable nipples as long as she fulfilled her part. And she came through every time.
“My beautiful Orli, you are almost complete.”
Her skin crawled at the doctor’s caress, his gaze over her naked body. Months ago, when the realization that no one was looking for her settled in, she stopped crying. No one would know it was her anyway.
Though his touch terrified her, he was never violent. She asked repeatedly if he would kill her, practically begging for it, and his response was always the same.
“I have other plans for you, my pet.”
Smiling silently, he would continue about his business.
He was changing her, one piece at a time. A more flattering nose, unattached earlobes, a “cuter” belly button, fuller lips. One particularly long recovery found her with bandages over her eyes for weeks. Upon their removal she found green eyes instead of brown, and eyelids that had been shaved down to make her eyes larger. A realization worked in the back of her mind.
“How did you do it?”
“My eyes. Contacts? Injections?” Orli knew this wasn’t true.
“No, beautiful. Nothing so superficial. I replaced them altogether, like everything else.”
The urge to vomit welled up inside her. She gagged, and the doctor helped her lean up and to the side as she wretched.
“What do you mean you ‘replaced everything’?”
“The cruel trick of nature, my pet, is that it hides beauty in the strangest of places. You are the canvas. As the artist it is my responsibility to find the rest of the beauty wherever it is and bring it to you.”
“You used other women’s parts to do this to me?”
“I found the beauty.”
“Where are the other women?”
“All art produces scrap. I dispose of the waste like any artist does.”
Fear crashed through her anew.
“What happens when you’re done with me?”
“Greta, it’s been four days. I can’t wait any longer.” The five bodies in the office’s cold storage were an ever-present reminder that time was running out. The final inspections were coming up and Doctor Karias needed time to properly sanitize.
“Good news. We poured new concrete pylons this afternoon. They’ll be wet for a day, after that it will be harder to work with.”
“Good girl. Come get your reward.”
Bludgeoning Greta was inelegant, distasteful. But it was effective. This was the last piece needed to complete his masterpiece. Orli was prepped and ready, gagged and strapped to the operatory table. The truck was already loaded in the alley. He would perform the surgeries one after the other, then move everyone out. It would be a long night.
The door unlatched and Doctor Karias struggled his way in. He hauled the limp, chubby woman onto the empty table next to Orli. The woman bled heavily from the back of her head. When he gracelessly arranged her on the table, she groaned. Orli screamed through her gag and thrashed against her restraints.
“My darling, this is the last one. When you have healed from this, you will be complete.”
He strapped the other woman to the table and cut away her clothes with surgical shears. The woman let out a confused whimper, slowly coming to, eyes fluttering as she struggled to wake. When consciousness took hold, he watched an oppressing dread wash over her face.
“What the hell are you doing?”
The doctor said nothing, only showed her the scalpel in his hand. As the woman took a deep breath to scream, a practiced flick of his wrist opened a gash across her throat. The cut was deep and quick, blood cascading out in crimson rivulets that pooled beneath her head.
Doctor Karias ignored the woman on the table, gasping her last breaths, bubbles of blood gurgling at her throat. He stood next to Orli’s table and placed a hand on her cheek.
“My sweet Orli, you are a collection of all the beauty I see in the world. You are my masterpiece. Having you will be my reward for all my hard work.”
When the bleeding woman was finally dead, her head flopped to one side, wide, unseeing eyes staring, the doctor began his macabre work. After meticulously prepping the area, he made his first incision. The procedure was surprisingly quick considering how much nerve he would need to preserve. But, within the hour he had completed his task, the last pieces of his masterpiece sitting on a tray waiting to be affixed.
He brought the tray over and looked into Orli’s terror-filled eyes. Fear made her even more beautiful. The anticipation of his reward rippled through him as he prepared for the final brushstroke.
Two perfect nipples from an otherwise odious creature. Beauty is everywhere.
The doctor positioned and adjusted the dead woman’s nipples atop Orli’s pert and perfect breasts. He felt Orli’s body tense as she tried desperately to dissociate from his ministrations. When he was satisfied with their placement he removed the unbodied nipples and marked where he would make his final cuts.
“I’ll make this simple for you. Anesthesia or no?” He brushed a hair from off her forehead, leaving a void of silence for her to contemplate her options. She stared back at him in trembling silence.
“That’s what I thought.”
“Gentlemen, I have in my hand the final contract, including all of the updates you each required. All that’s left to do is collect signatures and then celebrate the newest addition to Integrated Medical Group.”
Alexa Manescue delivered the contracts with all the pomp and fanfare the conclusion of negotiations could bring. Doctor Karias beheld her, really seeing her for the first time. Conventionally attractive, he spent the remainder of the meeting meticulously cherry-picking the features he would replace. She approached to congratulate him extending her hand. As he took her hand in his, delicate and soft, the thought bubbled to the surface.
Wouldn’t it be grand if there were two?