Darkheart navigates his path down the cobblestone, careful to probe his cane between wet rocks so he won’t slip and break his other hip. Years back, when an ambitious young citizen tried to clean up the red light district, vandals had their way with the avenue. They pulled up stones and hurled them through abandoned houses’ windows, carefully removing a pattern in the path to leave the message “BUGGER OFF!” for those with a crow’s eye view.
The moon peeks between clouds, winks twice, and vanishes behind grayness, uninterested in watching the detective meander toward home. He spies the glimmer of the last unbroken streetlight bulb, wonders when it will abandon hope and extinguish itself like so many other things in this godforsaken borough.
Home has eroded into little more than a shanty, the downstairs windows never replaced. Thieves are no threat to the inspector; the only way to avoid them is possessing no valuables to begin with. Once antiques, the furniture has been relegated to junk store and charity offerings. In detective school, Darkheart learned he can discover much about a man from where he lives. Not so here, beyond the probability of a worn down, empty soul.
A stray cat named Messiah is the only spiritual presence to ever grace the residence.
Darkheart pulls a mostly empty bottle from his coat pocket, examines the two fingers of liquid at the bottom. The “save or swig” debate vanishes as quickly as the warmth in his belly; he stokes his internal fire and sets the bottle next to his hearth. Not enough firewood to last the few hours until morning, not enough care to carry in more. He locates the tattered quilt willed him by his late friend, Augustus, wraps himself snugly, and fades into sleep in his chair.
Two pounds on the door shock him from his slumber. Vandals? The doorway is open, providing a clearer perspective than his mind. Indeed, a shadow stands over his threshold. He squints to sharpen his focus, but doesn’t recognize the form. Above the fireplace mantel is a shotgun, seldom used but always loaded. Darkheart watches for movement – not that he needs a motive to dispatch of the intruder, but if this is merely an accidental visit, he can avoid stacks of paperwork and save a shell.
In all his experience, is there ever a bad time when an unknown woman calls your name in the middle of the night? The detective thinks not. Still, he waits to speak until he sees the face and body attached to the voice.
The top heavy shadow sniffles, enters, and closes the door behind herself. She must be imported; he doesn’t recognize her as one of the regulars. She detects misty breath beside the fireplace, retraces her lipstick with a new coat. “You Malachi?”
“This isn’t a safe neighborhood.”
“It’s not a safe profession either, but that hasn’t stopped me. Where do you want me?”
She extracts something from her pocket before lowering her overcoat to the floor, her ample bosom fighting to stay inside her blouse. Definitely a foreigner – the American accent, athletic build, full set of teeth. Darkheart pinches himself to confirm the her reality. It hurts, but not as badly as the old-but-familiar ache in his loins.
She lights a cigarette and puffs the embers to a bright red, a tiny spotlight to lead his eyes down her cleavage, toward her belt. Leather pants keep no secrets; she slowly twirls to display the rest of her curves.
“What’s your name?”
He can’t contain his laughter. “Do you know, love, what a cookie is ‘round these parts?”
“Yeah. Believe it or not, my sister is Fanny. Ironic, isn’t it?”
He considers the misused term, but bypasses semantics for more important matters. “Why me?”
“A birthday gift.”
“My birthday’s not until September.”
“Oh, how awful,” she coos, “Better late than never, right?”
He can’t imagine how she keeps from shivering in her outfit, but there is no time to ignite anything in the fireplace, unless they happen to roll that direction. Cookie locates and straddles a wooden chair, reaches behind her back and unzips the black leather. “Do you like to watch? Or would you rather give me a hand?”
He claps twice, then unravels his quilt and joins her. It’s been too long since paychecks afforded him this luxury. He peels back the leather flaps and slips a hand beneath the lace underneath. She shudders, presumably from his cold palm, but settles as he kneads her flesh. His other hand snakes around her waist and under her brassiere, her nipple scraping gently against his love line. She leans forward against the chair back, lifts her bottom, and rolls her pants over her hipbones, much like a snake sheds her second skin.
Darkheart overloads his senses, drowning faint memories of how it feels to share his warmth, skin against skin, sweat that never chills. Foreplay is brief and undoubtedly disappointing for her, but she can take that up with her employer. She barely has enough time to tease before he is on top of her, inside her, and words are supplanted with groans and gasps.
His heart pounds as they roll across the floor and arrive on a rug, her on top, grinding, pressing his hands against her thighs, bouncing and heaving, plunging herself against him, moaning like an adult starlet. A sudden surge overwhelms him and he convulses triumphantly, quakes with diminishing aftershocks, and pulls her down into a hug.
Messiah the cat spies from the outside window, either cleaning himself or sharing the moment.
Dull discomfort in his hip escalates to outright pain, so he rolls to his side and frees his hired lover. Cookie tugs at a handful of chest hair, examines her handiwork, and collects her clothes on her way to the W.C. Darkheart tries to hear her speaking, but his energy entirely depleted, he returns to dreamland, smiling.
A harsh scream reawakens him, though he has no concept how much time has passed. Sometime in the night, he curled up inside the rug, the wet spot wound inside another layer. He rolls free and wipes frost from the window and finds Ewen, one of the neighbor’s kids, screeching and pointing at his door. After draping the quilt over his shoulders for dignity, he opens his door. Splot!
Ewen scatters across the field, his book bag and cap discarded as he stumbles on the morning grass. Darkheart spots Messiah and invites him in, but the feline lingers on his window ledge. Only when the detective turns to shut the door does he notice the blood and hair stuck to the knocker. Deep umber strands, though it’s hard to discern how much the color is affected by the mottled blood. He follows the trail down the plank and finds something worse: a scalp. Skin’s underside, follicles and roots stemming in pinks and reds, the human sod eyes aren’t supposed to view. Unless Cookie wore a wig – and he was confident she didn’t – it isn’t her “hair piece.” Though he doesn’t know the owner, he suspects the identity of the delivery man. Bonepierre.
He chides himself. As an inspector, he can’t allow himself to miss details like this. Still, he considers last night’s escapade and forgives himself the momentary lapse of focus.
Returning inside, he fetches two washrags – one to clean himself and one for his home. He gets his gear and meticulously gathers the evidence into plastic bags to take to the lab. This marked the fourth body part in the last five months – since his birthday, in fact. Hopefully they’d be able to determine more than “female, probably twenties or thirties” this time.