Have you ever felt someone is trying to blend in a little too much?
She first spoke to me when I was riding a bus to work. She was beautiful — tall, fit, late twenties, a pair of beautiful cross shaped earrings, an ankle length white skirt split on the side, and a white lace sleeveless blouse. Her hair was brown, in a french braid with bangs on either side of her face. She sat by me in a proper posture, with both hands flat on the top of either leg.
She spoke to me in a soft, almost inaudible voice.
“Why bring a shawl in weather like this?”, she said.
It was an astute observation — the dress code at my workplace demands modest formal wear. I begrudgingly wore a dark blue knee-length dress and a shawl to cover my shoulders, as required by my employer. The oppressive Arizona heat caused me to remove the shawl on the bus and only put it on as I entered the building — not to mention that the whole ensemble made me feel like a 1950s housewife.
“My work has a strict dress code.”, I replied.
“Your work requires a shawl? Do you work at a nunnery?”, she asked in a calm monotone, yet slightly raised voice.
“Not quite. Just a… very religious law office.”, I replied. This seemed to annoy her.
“How can a law office be religious?”, she asked.
I was afraid to identify my workplace directly. I work as a paralegal at a well known evangelical legal advocacy group — one of those ‘advocacy groups’ that drafts bills for state legislatures and has unfathomably deep pockets. I only got the job because the pay was excellent and the manager, Mike Greene, seemed like a very nice man. He was clearly deeply evangelical, but he did not mind that I was not an evangelical myself, so long as I follow the rules.
I did not agree with everything the company did, but my work there was benign. I just look up cases, file paperwork, draft motions, and so on. I just did what I was told and had nothing to do with the political stuff. Nonetheless I was always nervous to tell people where I work, lest they see me as the same kind of dark money autocrat that runs the company.
But the woman’s dress and posture clearly indicated that she was likely evangelical herself, so I went ahead and told her the truth.
“I work at a religious freedom legal advocacy group. I’m just a paralegal, though. I push papers around.”, I replied. This seemed to satisfy her — her slight frown turned into a slight grin.
“Do you enjoy your job?”, she asked. I was just about to give the small talk answer of “It’s alright”, but something about her demeanor compelled me to answer honestly.
“I like the pay, and my boss is nice. But some of the attorneys we work for are a bit… strict.”, I replied. This seemed to peak her curiosity.
“Define strict.”, she demanded. Her tone was kind, but assertive. Again, she had an aura of power about her, and I felt that being disingenuous would not serve me well.
I explained how the attorneys tended to treat the paralegals like children, and took pleasure in lecturing the female staff about their life choices; But they were great at their jobs and won 80% of the cases they fought. Mike Greene, the general manager acting for the less than savory CEO, did a great job of keeping the peace and making sure those attorney’s behavior did not get to the rest of the staff.
As I spoke, she used her right hand to adjust her earrings and adjust her hair while keeping trained on me. Her right hand was adorned, with rings of different colors and rainbow painted nails. She wore two pretty bracelets. Any time I would start to look away, she would put her hand on the seat in front of me, drawing my eyes again.
Talking only about myself made me feel like a narcissist, so I turned the conversation to her.
“What about you? What do you do?”, I asked her, politely.
“I’m heading downtown.”, she replied. I found this non-answer odd and began to question it, when she spoke again.
“Oh. I think this is your stop.”, she said. I nodded, said ‘thanks’, then bolted off the bus, lest I miss my stop. I wish I thought more about this sentence at the time, because it would have saved lives. I never named my place of work — so how did she know which stop was mine?
As soon as I stepped off the bus, my briefcase spilled open. This was especially frustrating because I always lock my briefcase. It was a work briefcase with a double 4 digit combination, containing my personal laptop and some random non-critical paperwork and forms for work. It was poorly designed and I’d opened it with a bobby pin before when I forgot my combination, so it was not too surprising that the lock would fail as I jumped out of the bus. I was able to recover most of the paperwork, but never found all of it.
Specifically, I was missing three pages of a long correspondence between our retiring secretary and a hiring agency which I had copied for her months prior. I did not fret and continued on with my day.
At the time, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. But three weeks after this, I walked into the office to find a new secretary in training. Her name-tag said Lyudmila Bolova. The name seemed vaguely familiar but I could not place it.
But the woman was very familiar. It was the woman from the bus, still wearing the same outfit as before, minus the adornments on her hand. I also noticed that she did not have her shoulders covered, and nobody seemed to care.
She was immediately good at the job. It was like she had trained her whole life for it — her CV contained exactly what we were looking for. Our usual secretary, a bitter woman approaching her 70s, tried to train the woman, but she needed little training. She was by all accounts an excellent secretary, and a kind woman. I let my odd interaction with her on the bus slide and enjoyed the benefits of having a hard working and friendly front desk for once. But there was something off about her.
She was wearing the exact same outfit every day, and her outfit did not meet the dress code. Her shoulders were exposed. I would have gotten crucified (no pun intended) for wearing that outfit. I wanted to ask my boss, but I decided not to as it would be quite petty of me to whine about dress code that I myself didn’t like.
Perhaps she had some kind of skin condition, or perhaps the boss made an exception because of the heat. There were many explanations.
I tried to talk to her many times, but she was quite reserved — she would gladly answer questions pertaining to work in great detail, but she never answered questions about her personal life. She was a silver tongue and I did not even notice that she was deflecting until later.
I avoided asking her why she was deflecting for two reasons.
First, it was really none of my business and she had a right to her privacy.
Second, I was not about to jeopardize my job by making a scene. In hindsight, I wish I did interrogate her further, before it was too late.
A series of unfortunate, yet seemingly unrelated events caused the company frustration.
None of it was particularly out of the ordinary, but the timing was definitely out of the ordinary.
First, it was the fax machine. We used these machines constantly, but over the last few weeks, they kept breaking down, each for a different reason. The first machine broke because an improperly installed ink cartridge. The second had a screen fail. Third had a damaged cable. This meant that a portion of the staff had to go down two blocks to fax documents.
Next, the fridge failed. This meant that we had to start ordering in food for lunch, but it didn’t meet everyone’s dietary needs — so, the company had to resort from sending some of the interns out on food runs. Next was the coffee maker. It lost a gasket and started spewing grounds into the coffee. Now interns were making coffee runs, too.
We had Lyudmila order in replacements for all of these, but she explained that the heat wave is causing supply chain issues and shipments keep getting delayed. This struck me as odd, but again, very plausible. All of this could be coordinated, but it could also still be a set of coincidences. So, I gave her the benefit of the doubt.
The result of this situation is that there were a few hours a day where the only remaining staff in the building were the general manager Mike, me and my two paralegal coworkers, our two vicious attorneys, our secretary, and our two security officers.
I was overworked but managing to keep my calm, until I stumbled upon Mike and Lyudmila in the office. I was merely peeking in through the ajar door marking his office as I passed by, when I noticed that Mike was caressing Lyudmila’s leg. She said something inaudible, and left the office in a hurry.
I was disgusted by this and my long standing vision of Mike as an kind man came crashing down in a moment. That is why he hired her. That’s why she doesn’t have to follow the dress code — he liked how she looked. But the feeling of betrayal over his action was overshadowed by the intense empathy I felt for our odd secretary. In a few seconds, my entire perception of religious culture was shattered.
I felt terrible for her. No wonder she was so reserved — she had been harassed by my secretly creepy boss the whole time. I pulled her aside and told her I need her help with something, then took her to a quiet library in the back of the building. This is where things took a turn for the strange.
“Are you okay? I can’t believe he did that.”, I asked, still gutted for her. Her response was simple, yet incredibly puzzling.
“Why?”, she asked, with the same confident and neutral tone she had on the bus.
This question threw me off guard. It was such a simple and innocuous question, yet it suddenly felt as if she was peering into my soul. It made no sense. She looked distressed as she left the office, yet now she was neutral. Some kind of coping mechanism, perhaps? I stood there, mouth open like I was going to speak, yet the puzzling response left me speechless. She repeated the question.
“Why can’t you believe that he came on to me?”, she clarified. Her tone did not change, but something about the way she stared, unblinking, made me feel obligated to answer truthfully. I had that same feeling on the bus with her — like something terrible would happen to me if I lied to her, yet nothing in particular she said or did suggested that.
“I…well… The purpose of the company is to protect religious freedom. He is a deeply religious man and we work to spread the word of God. I thought he was true to his religion, I suppose.”, I replied. She did not like this answer, just as she did not like it when I said I worked for a religious law office. She frowned, and spoke again with a sharper tone.
“Why do you think he would conduct himself in this way if he is true to his religion?”, she asked, unchanging in tone or expression. I thought about this question, and it hurt the more I thought about it. There wasn’t a reason.
“I don’t know.”, I replied.
“Perhaps one who presents themselves as devout may have ulterior motives. What might his motives be?”, she asked. This seemed strangely inquisitive.
I thought back to our interactions, our goals, all of our paperwork. I thought about the donors, the meetings, the high profile visitors. I thought about the cases I read. If it was not for the sake of religious freedom, then what was it all for?
She had an aura of omnipotence about her. It was like she already knew the answer to the questions and was testing me. I felt like I had no choice but to answer pragmatically and correctly.
“Because we are a pseudo non-profit dedicated to using religious protection laws to reduce liability for affluent clients, while drafting state legislation that further protects our clients by encouraging moral panic and using it to pass new laws that ensure the company can win even more cases in the future. Mike was chosen for his ability to manage attorneys and further this goal, and is no more religious than me. We are a legal machine.”, I replied.
I felt sick after saying this. It felt as if the words were put directly into my mouth, yet they were clearly true. Her expression changed — she was beaming. She loved my answer.
“You have a lot of work to do.”, she said, before walking off and returning to her desk.
This conversation left me shaken. I returned to my desk and got on my laptop, and sat there wondering what on earth she was doing.
The dichotomy of her divine presentation, and cold demeanor, reminded me of the biblical passages on false prophets. Thinking the word ‘false prophet’, and thinking of those earrings, caused an epiphany.
Silver tongue. Never changes clothes. Just like Mike, presents herself as devout, but she has ulterior motives. Omnipotent feeling. Forces me to tell the truth. At that point, the answer was obvious.
She’s a demon. Has to be. It’s the only explanation I could think of. Maybe even the antichrist. She was too religious, yet beamed when I realized just how cold and pragmatic my employer, and my company, really was. Could it be… the actual false prophet? It is the only explanation that made sense at the time.
I had to warn Mike. Even if his harassment was a transgression, I hated to think what in the world she was planning to do. I entered his office and told him, in a panic, “She’s the antichrist!”. He looked at me with an eyebrow raised and told me to take the day off. I realized how ridiculous I sounded and I obliged.
When I got home, I got on my laptop I quickly looked up that name. Lyudmila Bolova. The result was harrowing.
Lyudmila Pavilchenko was a famous Ukrainian sniper in World War II with at least 308 confirmed kills. She was married as a teenager and left her partner, but Ukrainian law dictated she would have to retain his last name. Her true last name was Bolova. Lyudmila Bolova.
The one thing Lyudmila Bolova, AKA Lyudmila Pavilchenko, was famous for was killing Nazis — and if this woman is using that name, and infiltrating an organization dedicated to religious freedom… I couldn’t piece together what exactly her motive was, or why some kind of evil being would use that name, but it didn’t matter. I didn’t know what she was planning, but I had enough information to know it was nothing good.
I tried to warn the police, but they told me to seek mental help. I tried calling Mike but he did not pick up. Called the attorneys, but they laughed at me and told me to stay away from drugs. You would think an evangelical organization would believe the idea of a demonic infiltrator, but it always just a mask for a pragmatic law office with the amoral goal of winning cases at any cost. I had no choice but to sleep it off and hope whatever plan she had was a long one.
Assuming she really was what I thought — some kind of demon, maybe even the anti-christ itself, it would take her some time to work her way to the top and gain the power she seeks. I banked on there being time and managed to get a few hours of sleep.
When i got to work the next day, everyone was there, as I anticipated. Lyudmila was at the front desk, and gave me a kind nod as she did every morning. The attorneys yelled at the paralegals, the interns rushed around the office, Mike stood in the break room talking on the phone to the CEO, and the security guards sat in their office, right behind Lyudmila’s desk, looking through security footage, bored out of their skull.
I went back to work as usual, keeping an eye on Lyudmila. It came time to send out faxes, and all of our machines were trashed, so some of the interns gathered the documents and headed out the door to file them elsewhere. Next, the interns were sent out on errands. Once again, this left just the paralegals, the two on-site attorneys, my boss, the secretary, and security.
I spent that morning drafting a motion for one of the attorneys that needed a case number, which I did not have. I walked over to Lyudmila’s desk and found it empty. I asked the security guards in the office behind her desk where she’d gone. They told me she went outside to smoke.
“To… Smoke?”, I asked. It was a rhetorical question. I left towards the front door to follow her before they had a chance to answer. This definitely seemed out of character for her, yet the security guards were none the wiser. The only problem is that I couldn’t open the door. I looked down at the handles — the doors were glass that were pushed from the inside, but pulled from the outside. On the outside was chains. Big chains.
At that point, I knew something was seriously off. I ran to the nearest fire exit. The nearest fire exit also served as a storage room — it was a small white room with packed shelves that I never thought about, offset from the doorway and the fire exit, which were directly in line. As I started to approach the door, I heard a soft spoken voice from the shelves just out of my field of view.
“Don’t move. Don’t speak.”, said the woman sullying the name Lyudmila.
I looked to my right, and there she was. I noticed her shiny crucifix earrings before I noticed the gun pointed at my face. Her expression was as dead and neutral as always. I was petrified, but I had enough sense in me to put my hands up. I could see the hidden thigh holster under that split white dress as she zip-tied my arms and legs. After she taped my mouth, she spoke once more to me before leaving the room. “I like you. Now you will not have to worry about these filthy snakes you call attorneys”, she said, before locking the door handle from the inside and closing it on her way out.
I had around thirty seconds of peace before the gunshots started. The first one was a single shot with a deep cadence, close by. The nearest office was Mike’s. Ten seconds passed before the a massive flurry. I heard four shots with a deep cadence, with a fifth shot of a shallow cadence, followed by three more. Someone started banging on the supply room door, no doubt trying to get to the fire exit — I heard one of the attorneys scream “NO!”. Four more deep cadence shots rang out. Thirty seconds passed, then three more, followed by nothing.
I heard screaming and moaning for a few minutes, then sirens, then all kinds of noises. I had a long time to think while I was sitting in the back room tied up. They say hindsight is 20/20 — and they aren’t kidding, because when I re-evaluated my experiences with this psycho, and remembered all those true crime videos I watched. It was all so obvious.
This fate was set in motion the moment I told her about the attorneys’ behavior. She only approached me because I looked like I worked in a law firm.
That answer ‘I’m going downtown’ was a deflection, because the real answer to “What do you do?” would have been incriminating.
The outfit was all an over-the-top disguise to make people feel comfortable while she rifles through their things.
Those adornments on her right hand kept my eyes trained on that hand, and not on her left hand, which was busy shimming open my briefcase below.
The reason I felt obligated to answer her is because of the evil and malice behind her eyes when I told a lie. It is that same gut feeling that makes people run from charming psychopaths. But I couldn’t quite see it.
She grabbed pages at random, hoping it would have an address, or some other useful information. The pages she grabbed were perfect — it not only told her where I worked, it gave her a point of entry. She read the document and tailored her CV, made up experiences, to look perfect at the job. She used my boss’s own disgusting perversion to seal the deal.
Once she was hired, she began sabotaging the office piece by piece. Her goal was to get as many lawyers and legal staff as possible while leaving as many other staff out of the office to minimize the chances of getting interrupted. So she sabotaged fridges, coffee makers, and more, to keep the office distracted, and empty. Once everything was in motion, and the office was sufficiently empty, she struck.
But why did she let me live? I wondered for a moment. My question was soon answered when the police found me. I was not injured, so they went directly into the interview. The officer asked me what I saw, then explained the fate of everyone else.
In a stroke of irony, the serial killer who named herself after a famous sniper, had poor aim.
She shot and killed Mike Greene, then went into the security room to take out the guards. She shot them, but took a shot to her abdomen. She fired back but missed her next volley, then fled towards the offices. Despite her injury, she managed to kill the two on-site attorneys, but could not find the hiding paralegal co-workers before she passed out from her own injury. In the end, only her, Mike Greene and the two attorneys died.
Her real name was Venessa Preston, and she had a long track record of crime. Pickpocketing, shoplifting, animal cruelty, assault, and more. Her childhood convictions made her hate lawyers, who she saw as liars. She hated liars, and used some kind of moral crusade against liars as an excuse to commit perverse crimes — the same kind of ostensible morality that make killers target prostitutes.
The police quickly linked her to two other killings — a lawyer in Vermont in her hometown, and a paralegal she met on the street. She only let me live because I was honest.
Although her rampage is over, the effect she had on me isn’t. I can’t stop seeing that same cold amoral motivation behind every organization. It’s killed my religion and my love for law. And I can’t stop thinking about those malicious eyes behind that pretty face.
Credit: Sophia Caldwell
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