Prompt: a chill in my bones
Diane was the stuff that dreams were made of – to hell with any bejeweled black bird. She was the most perverse fantasies made real … and available.
Not for free – don’t be silly. Women like Diane Ferris knew exactly what the market would bear, and had no qualms about charging it.
Which is why I upped my fees when she walked through the door to my office.
Those who can, pay through the nose.
I thought I was clever, making extra from a dame who could afford it.
You ever been to the Aquarium, seen the sharks? Flat dead eyes, eyes that look at you like you’re lunch – if not today, then tomorrow, or the day after. But that’s your destiny – lunch. Eyes that wouldn’t change at all if the shark was swimming, or tearing you to pieces.
Those eyes, those shark eyes, weren’t nearly as frightening as Diane Ferris’s pale blue eyes.
I shuddered, and realized no matter how much I charged her, in the end, it wasn’t going to be enough.
I remember when I was still a cop, they brought in the body of Maxi Vespucci, the local wise guys’s best hitter. His dead eyes, filming over already, were a thousand times more alive, more healthy, than Diane’s.
Prompt: envy, madness, confession
“I’ve heard a lot of good things about you, Mr. Shepherd,” she said, and I shivered again. It felt obscene that she knew my name.
“What … uh, what can I do for you, Miss Ferris?”
“I need you to find my friend, Emma Hanover, Mr. Shepherd.”
I wondered if a thing like Diane could truly have friends.
She saw my doubt, and over the next half hour told me her story, confessing things I never wanted to know about anyone.
I felt soiled when she finished.
“And through all that, Mr. Shepherd, Emma’s the only person I’ve ever really cared for. I don’t know why, never been able to figure it out.
“Maybe I envy her, never having been in the situations I have, done the things I’ve done. She isn’t innocent, Mr. Shepherd, but she still has a soul.
“I sold mine a long time ago, as I told you.”
Yeah, she’d told me a cock-and-bull yarn about selling her soul to the devil for wealth and power. She was crazy, she had to be. There was no devil, no deals.
I thought back to her story, stated so matter-of-factly it had to be the truth.
I thought of how she made me feel … how her eyes affected me.
Maybe there was a Devil after all.
Maybe Deals were made.
But was the Devil out there, or sitting in my office?
And what kind of Deal was I making?
Prompt: bathe in the incandescent glow
All she could tell me of any value was Emma’s address, place of employment, and the last place she’d seen Emma.
I questioned her rosy assessment of Emma from that piece of information. She’d last seen her friend at The Festival, a hard-core fetish club in the old Dockyard district. Not the kind of club for tourists or dabblers, The Festival was by invitation only, but Diane hadn’t invited Emma. She didn’t know who had.
I wanted to keep my association with Diane Ferris on the down low, and I knew a woman who could get me inside The Festival through the back door, avoiding pesky doormen.
Inside the club, everyone and everything strobed in the flickering light of countless television screens.
I chose not to believe what I saw on the screens. I figured I’d stay saner that way … only to have my sanity threatened by the hellish landscape of the club, illuminated in that flickering light.
I’m sure someone called what played over the booming speakers ‘music’, to me it was metal shredders singing the songs of Auschwitz and Dachau, backed by the sound of the last man on Earth’s heartbeat.
Should’ve been a fucking poet.
Prompt: order, innocence, deception
Two ways to get attention in a club – flash money (or your body if it was exceptional), or make trouble.
I didn’t plan on spending any of my cash, and even when I was young, I hadn’t been anywhere close to ‘exceptional’.
So I found the bar, and flashed a badge only slightly more convincing than one I’d get with plastic handcuffs and a cap gun in a dollar store.
“Health Inspector … surprise! Looking at all the fluids gettin’ sprayed around in here, you better get your manager, now!”
I had to shout over the sounds of cattle being incinerated … at least, that’s what it sounded like to me.
The bartender rolled her eyes, and I admired her tattoos as she stomped off. Not sure why she was into Latin so much she’d covered her body with it, and I wasn’t going to ask.
She came back with the manager, who looked like the Punk Years had desiccated him, leaving him that way through the intervening decades.
“Office?” I yelled, and he motioned me to follow him.
No matter the club, what style the music, or clientele, the offices all look and smell the same.
Rank, disgusting … but at least somewhat quieter than the club itself.
Prompt: another bullshit night in suck city
Myerson, the manager, wasn’t impressed by the badge, but the threat of having his permits pulled, because of some bullshit I strung together on the spot, did alarm him.
It alarmed him so much he had two goons with bald heads and ass-less chaps haul me into the alley and quite literally beat the shit out of me. By the time they were finished, I looked like a wino who’d been gang-fucked by a biker gang.
No way a cab was gonna stop for me, and it was a long walk back to my apartment.
I felt more dead than alive as I climbed the stairs, and let myself in. The harsh light in my bathroom did me no favors in that department either as I took a piss.
Reddish-orange – not the first time, doubt it’ll be the last. A few cracked ribs and a possible concussion on top of that … nothing new there either. I took a shower, threw on some sweat pants, and turned on the TV. Bottle of bourbon in one hand, bottle of aspirin in the other, I channel-hopped through infomercials, thinking about how much I really didn’t want to be working for Diane Ferris, no matter how much she could pay me.
The bourbon and aspirin would see me through to the morning, when I’d call Ferris, tell her I’d had no luck, and refund her money, quit the case.
The knock at my door didn’t startle me. Mrs. Dunleavy from across the hall. She’d probably seen me come in, was checking on me.
I stumbled to the door, and opened it.
“Mr. Shepherd,” the young woman said, “I’m Emma Hanover. I understand you’re looking for me?”
yeah, i’m probably going to rework the preceding sections and finish the story.
Prompt: good for the soul
She smiles, and I wonder how much longer I’m going to be breathing.
I’d done a really stupid thing – you don’t agree to launder money for the mob, and then have second thoughts. Silver or lead, that’s the deal you agree to.
I’d gotten my wife and kids out – a long vacation to Europe, that was the story. Hopefully I won’t scream out the truth in my last hours.
The mob had sent her.
She came up to me while I was eating my bag lunch in the park – 12 years old, maybe 13. She’d lost track of her parents, and wondered if she could sit with me until they found her. No cellphone, she’d lost it the day before. Didn’t remember their number, she’d saved it on her phone.
Sure, not a problem, glad I looked safe enough to be trusted.
She maintained the illusion for a few minutes, and then I felt something poke me in the side.
You’re never prepared for it when it happens, no matter what you think.
“Silenced Glock 9 millimeter,” she said, her voice sounding far older than before.
“You know the story of the dancer, Salome,” she asked.
“Hi, I’m Salome … and you’re John the Baptist.”
So now I’m waiting for her to go to work on me.
She likes power tools, and, evidently, punk rock.
This isn’t going to go well.
Please God, don’t let me tell her about the ranch in Montana.
Prompt: trust, tranquility, forgiveness
“So, you know why I’m here,” she said. “You haven’t bored me with protestations of ignorance.”
Sandy, little Carrie and Elizabeth, a small ranch outside of Bozman …
“Nope,” I said, angry that my voice was quivering. “Nick Philouma sent you.”
“Yeah, Art, you fucked up.”
I nodded, my head throbbing.
“Who … who is this?” I asked.
“‘Goat-Fuck Frenzy’ by the Dirty Rags.”
Salome smiles, and picks up the belt sander.
“And a music critic to boot. My lucky day …”
I scream until my throat is raw. The walls are splattered with my blood, and I can see all the bones in my left hand.
She’s coated in crimson, a demented child, finger-painting on my chest.
“You didn’t pass out, Art. I’m impressed.”
“Oh … g-g-goodie.”
“I’m also feeling a challenge, Art – that’s an unusual experience for me.”
“Yeah … oops, Art.”
She replaces the belt on the sander.
“You have funny-looking nipples,” she says.
I pray I pass out.
Prompt: send more idiots
Oblivion … beats the hell out of living in the moment, if you’re having moments like mine.
When I come to, I have no nipples, and she’s playing tic-tac-toe in the blood coating my belly.
“So, time for some questions.”
Inside, I cringe. I’m too well restrained to do so physically.
“The last deposit, what did you do with it?”
I wish I could smile.
“Bank of the Grand Cayman, account number 853062-92105.”
“Aren’t you talkative? Good. Let me check on that.”
She goes to her laptop, and kills the music.
“What was the account number again?”
I repeat it, gladly.
My thinking was, if got caught, and gave them the money, maybe they’d stop there, just kill me.
“$23 million and change … numbers check out,” she says, smiling at me.
For a moment, I smile back.
She saunters over, all sexuality-and-sadism.
“We’re done, far as I”m concerned,” she says. “Sad, really … I was looking forward to more time with you.”
“Sorry … didn’t really see a reason to hold out. I’m dead either way.”
“True enough … Rural Route 144, Bozman, Montana … you sent your family to Montana? Why, for fuck’s sake?”
What little I haven’t voided already is lost, and the smell cuts through the blood stench.
Prompt: health, stasis, compassion
“Oh, had an accident … again,” she smirked. “Thought you could save them, didn’t you? Nick wants your daughters alive – best not to think on their futures.
“Your wife … I’ve seen photos. I’m going to enjoy her. I think she’s going to prove a talented lover … so long as she thinks it will save your precious Carrie and Elizabeth. I’m going to ride her face like a jockey.”
She smiles, and I pray my family dies in a car wreck, a house fire, anything, so long as it’s soon, before Salome gets to them.
“Don’t worry, Art. When I tire of her, I’ll make it quick. Two in the head.
“I’ll let your daughters watch everything. It’ll help break their minds into a million pretty porcelain pieces. That’s kinder than letting them be broken earlier.”
“You’re a fucking monster …”
“You noticed! How sweet.”
She picks up a power drill.
“Now, I’m not gonna lie, Art. This is gonna hurt … a lot.”
I scream, and pass out, and come to, still screaming.
An eternity later, she stops.
I begin to fade … watching her masturbate, my blood as lubricant … giggling …
Monsters are real … God help my family.
This is a chunk of story about a character from the soap opera.
listening to: “Breaking Out (The Cowboy Escapes)”, Daniel Pemberton, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” soundtrack
mood: happy, productive