She pursed her lips to form a small, round hole. Loudly, almost unconsciously, she pushed her breath through the narrow opening. The cold, night air embraced her breath with its steely grip, and the air that pushed its way through glowed pearly white for an instant.
To anyone listening in the darkness, it would have sounded like a tyre tube that had just been pricked by a needle. The ecstatic hiss of air escaping from its confinement. However, it is her thoughts you should be listening to as you sit there comfortably in your seat.
Over the past few weeks, she had formed a plan and written up its agenda and timetable. The protagonists of this little drama were already known. As was the eventual outcome. That part was clear. Nothing could change that now. It is what she wanted. Desperately.
You see, she was contemplating murder. All the elements of this dangerous little game have already been assembled and set up. All she has to do is put them in motion.
Start the game.
She moved. She raised herself out of the chair and dressed quickly. Careful attention was paid to her clothes.
She put on a big, old overcoat which she rarely wore. A wide-brimmed hat and scarf were added to help shield her face from straying eyes that may look too closely and later recognise her.
Thick lipstick was applied. But not red.
For red, she thought, would draw attention to her face. She chose a dull pink.
A colour that almost made her lips melt into the colour of her face. She looked at herself closely in the full-length mirror. “Why the sad face?,” she thought. She held the mirror as if holding herself tightly.
She pulled it closer and kissed it, kissing herself hard on the lips, her tongue pressing against her own. Then she was gone. A small dull pink, wet ring on the mirror is all she left behind.
He slapped her face hard. It had not surprised her, nor did it make her angry. She expected nothing more, nothing less. A trickle of blood pushed itself free from the skin near her lip.
“Please,” she slowly wiped the blood away, smudging lipstick across her cheek. “Please,” she repeated calmly, “make love to me. Love me. Why don’t you love me any more?”
He slapped her again. This time tears washed the blood away. That memory, though a strong one, belonged to someone else.
The woman in the big, old overcoat and wide-brimmed hat you see now walking along the dark empty streets has changed slightly. She takes a deep breath and inhales all the foulness, the stench and the pain which, over the years, has spilled out onto the streets. She embraces it all like a mother embraces her offspring. She’ll never cry like that again. Not like that again. Never again.
“Hit me again, please.” The whispering coolness of her voice, its quiet sensualness, frightens him.
“Go on, please,” it continues. “I want you to make love to me. To love me. That’s how we do it these days.”
“Why? It’s all we have left.”
She looks up at him from the edge of the bed, her ruffled hair across her face. She moves it. “It’s all I have left, that’s why.”
He sighs deeply. Moves from one foot to the other.
Uncomfortable. “Oh, go on. I love it.
“Every slap is a caress. Every trickle of blood, the most tender of kisses. A shove to me is a hug. A bruise is an orgasm.”
“What’s that mean?” “The bruise?” She laughs quietly to herself. “It means I get the wet patch.”
This is the sort of night that sensible people used to stay at home. It is what most fiction writers would like to call “a bitterly cold night.” On such a night, there’s nothing better than to sit in front of the fire with a hot mug of cocoa and a good murder story. Only from such a position of comfort and warmth would you dare join a poor woman wearing an old overcoat and a wide-brimmed hat on a wet night.
Luckily she has an umbrella. He stands there uncomfortable, looking at this woman he no longer recognises. No longer loves. She smiles.
“I don’t love you,” he says.
“Look, it’s probably made you really bitter about me …”
“Not at all.”
“Well, especially now that you know about …”
“Don’t! Don’t mention her name, please, Michael. I don’t want to hear her name. Please.” A tear appears and slides down her cheek.
She pauses. “It hurts,” she says, her voice starting to break. “It hurts to hear you say her name. You no longer call me by my name. Why?”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake. I just want you out of my life.”
“Don’t be stupid.”
“Remember that game we used to play for fun?” she says, a little more composed. “The one about people we really hated. Remember? We’d think of different ways we could kill them.”
“What made you think about that? Stop it.”
“Remember how we’d cuddle up in bed, and we’d imagine such and such turned into a wooden statue? We’d then invite them over for dinner, and the only cutlery we’d set would be a hammer and chisel.”
“Stop it. It’s over.”
“Remember… oh, I forget her name, we changed her into a beautiful, wild bush bird. Then we put a huge ball and chain around her leg so that it would flap about wildly. Finally, she would just give up and die. Poor thing. Dead.” She laughs to herself. “Don’t you remember that awful game?” She looks up only to see the room empty. Down the hall, the front door closes.
“A beautiful, wild bush bird.”
A moth flies through the door into a smoke-filled hotel bar. If it had only taken the proper time to observe the patrons, it would no doubt have changed course quickly. It is a big, fat moth. A huge fist suddenly reaches up and encases it within its grip. The fist belongs to Tiny Tinston. No one really knows how Tiny got his name, for he was not tiny.
In fact, the term “built like a brick shithouse” would suit him very nicely. Actually, Tiny is the type who dresses with a lot of style but not a lot of taste. His finger is dressed with a jewel-encrusted ring. His double-breasted suit, though beautifully tailored, would look better on someone else. Probably anyone else.
On his head is a toupee` you’d swear is put on back-the-front, but no one has ever dared tell Tiny. He quite likes it anyway. Even thinks his pencil-thin moustache makes him look like a mature Clark Gable. If you look at the drink beside him on the bar, you’ll see a Kaluha and milk. His favourite. Though tonight, there’s more milk than Kaluha, and there’s only one.
For tonight he has a job to do, and right now, he’s waiting for a lady to provide the final details. The moth struggles for a while and then settles into the warm hand. Tiny takes a last drag of his St.Moritz menthol cigarette and stubs it gingerly into the ashtray, only using his thumb and forefinger. The other three stand upright, elegantly displaying his well-manicured fingernails. His attention now returns to the moth.
Carefully, he takes it by the wing. The moth struggles frantically to escape. Forget it. Tiny holds it up to his face and watches innocently, fascinated. “Hello, my little darling,” he whispers soothingly to his prey. “You’re looking extremely beautiful tonight. Just dropped in for a little chat, have we?” The moth, almost as if reassured, stops flapping. “There, now that’s better, isn’t it?” He gently pats the moth with a big finger.
“There, there, just relax. Tiny loves you. Relax.” Slowly, Tiny places the moth on the bar, where it sits quietly. Tiny puts his face close and smiles warmly. “Relax.” From the coat pocket, he removes a small knife. “Relax, baby. Daddy’s here.” A knife with a shining silver handle and a pencil-thin, steely sharp six-inch blade. “Baby, it’s ok.” The knife is poised over the moth’s head. Tiny pouts his lips and blows a kiss. “There, there, my sweet,” ever so quietly, “I love you.”
He drives the knife a short distance through the moth’s head and into the bar where it sticks. Tiny looks on, fascinated as the moth dies. He gets as close as he can, trying to see the expression on the dead moth’s face. “Oh, fucking hell, what the fuck. Get that thing off my bar.” Obviously, barmen aren’t as fascinated by murder as Tiny. “Terribly sorry,” says Tiny humbly.
He removes the knife and wipes the moth off the bar.
“Jesus Christ, mate.”
“I apologise”, repeats Tiny, more to himself. “It won’t happen again, I assure you, my little darling.”
This is the man, a lady in an old overcoat and wide-brimmed hat, who walks into the bar to meet. They seem to recognise each other straight away. “Mr Tinston?” she asks. “That’s right, Tiny Tinston,” his huge fist reaches out and overwhelms her hand. “Pleased to meet you. And you’re…?” “Never mind who I am,” she says coolly. “I’ve brought what was asked for. Here is the name, address and photograph of the person. There’s even a key.” Tiny accepts the items and studies them closely.
“Mia Burton,” he says, reading off the note. “Lovely name. Looks like a nice, respectable lady.” He studies his client closely. The dull pink lipstick is slightly smudged, and the eyes are deep blue. They’re like a long corridor with rooms on either side. All the doors are shut. “It should be done tonight.” say the eyes, who notice Tiny’s stare and hide behind the hat’s brim. “She’ll be home tonight. I know for sure.” “Then, my dear lady, it shall be done tonight. Poste Haste. We can’t keep St. Peter waiting, now can we?” “No,” is the cold response.
She produces a thick envelope from her bag. “Here’s the amount promised. I suppose you’ll want to count it or something.” She hands it to him, making sure no one sees the transaction. It matters little to Tiny; it’s just one of the formalities of his game.
Something else, though, takes his attention. He grabs the woman’s wrist and pulls it close to his face. “Very nice, if I may say so. Very nice tattoo, madam. I’ve never seen one like that. Work of art, really. Get it done locally,” he inquires. His grip is tight but not painful. She wriggles free.
“Never mind about that,” she says, “you have a job to do.” She leaves the envelope on the bar. “Ah, my work, madam. It is uppermost in my mind, I assure you.” “Good”
“Pardon me for asking, but Mia Burton, you must hate her passionately.” “Not at all,” she says without hesitation and, for the first time, looks him directly in the eyes. “In fact, I love her very much. Passionately, you could say, Mr Tinston.” She turns and walks away.
Tiny watches her very carefully, then looks closely at the photograph for a while. When his gaze searches for her again, all it finds is the bar room door swinging closed, shutting out the night. He looks back at the photograph.
Mia Burton has not slept well for a long time. Tonight is an exception. It seems that sleep, who until tonight had been on holiday, has now returned and embraced Mia within its soothing grip. Such deep, relaxing sleep. It caresses her furrowed brow and quietly closes her eyelids, shutting out the world outside where footsteps approach her gate. It transports her to a distant shore, where she lies relaxed on a sandy beach as a gloved hand expertly and silently inserts a key into the door.
A waiter, carrying a tray of long, cool drinks and wild, tropical fruit, approaches her. He smiles kindly as he places the tray beside her. His hand, she notices, is wearing a glove. From behind her it slips slowly across her face and grips firmly over her mouth. “Good evening, my sweet,” he whispers like a lover softly into her ear. “My little Mia. Relax. Everything’s going to be ok. There, there. I promise.
Tiny loves you, my little darling. Mia’s eyes open to the darkness. A gloved hand is planted firmly over her mouth. The smell of leather was almost suffocating. “Relax, Daddy’s here.” The voice is so gentle. Mia does not struggle. In the darkness, she sees a huge, black shape.
“Oh, you’re so relaxed. That’s good”, it whispers. “Very good. I want to love you. I’m going to love you.” She sees a shining, pencil-thin blade emerge from the blackness of the shape. It glitters and beckons her. It comes closer and closer, calling her. “Gently does it now, my sweet.” She feels the cold, steel blade come to rest inside her ear.
It is icy cold, she thinks. So cold. “Goodnight, my love. Thank you for a wonderful, exciting evening.” says the black shape. The long, cool blade is forced firmly through her brain, killing her instantly.
The blade is gently withdrawn, wiped clean and put away. Only a small trickle of blood emerges. “How was that for you, my sweet?” asks Tiny as he searches for the bedside light and turns it on. “Was it good for you, my sweet?” He looks closely at the face, at the calm expression. Tiny closes the lids over her deep blue eyes.
“Just relax now. Get some sleep, my darling.” He slowly leans over and kisses her on the lips. Just as he expected, he notices the dull pink lipstick slightly smudged. The same colour that’s on the full-length mirror next to the bed.
“It’s ok. now, sweetheart.” He reaches for her wrist and sees the tattoo. “A work of art that is Mia.” On her wrist is a beautiful, wild bush bird with a ball and chain around its leg.