By John McNee
Belle was only vaguely aware she was being fucked. A part of her recognised that a pair of thin hands were pawing at her breasts, a foreign tongue was squirming around in her mouth, a sweaty naked body pressing down on hers. But her body was not her. Her body was a shell. A dummy. It was a vacant, hollowed out mannequin and she was a tiny speck of light buzzing around in the deepest, darkest catacomb. She was far from reality and safe from harm. This was the way she liked to have sex. For the most part she was blissfully unaware, but if she listened, if she chose to let the outside world reach her, she could hear the blood pumping in her body’s veins. And if she listened beyond that, she could hear the sound of her body’s breaths. And far, far beyond that she could hear the grunts and moans of Malkie as he slid his dick in and out of her.
The drugs took Belle into herself and she liked that. Awareness was too much misery. To be conscious of the world around you meant too much pain, too much cold, too much fear. To achieve orgasm in such a state was an impossibility. The drugs offered something better. They insulated her not only from the world around her, but from herself. She became an alien in her own body, an amnesiac traveller from another world who knew nothing of this one. She floated on an invisible wave of confusion, so happy to be confused, so glad to not know her name or her past, not to be able to recognise this stained mattress or this dank room or this intruder shadowed in the doorway. And only vaguely aware she was being fucked.
She had complete control in the fugue. She could make herself larger or smaller, filling her body up or shrinking herself down to a microscopic particle. She could raise the temperature or lower it. She could raise the volume and hear Malkie cry out “The fuck are you?” before a hand clamped over his mouth, or mute it completely and wash herself in silence.
There was no pain here and no danger. No need for concern. There was no dick inside her anymore, no body atop hers. These weren’t troubles. Somewhere beyond the sky, a million miles up and out, Malkie screamed. But that was irrelevant.
A hand clamped around her ankle and dragged her from the mattress. Again this was only her body and might has well have been anyone’s. The strike of a match might cause her as much anxiety. Equally so the lighting of a cigarette. A smell of burning in her superfluous nostrils. “Wake up, cunt!” the echo of the blood in her veins seemed to sing.
A firework exploded behind her eyes and Belle was awake. Very awake. She screamed before she knew why she was screaming, then realised some sadistic freak was twisting a lit cigarette into the flesh of her wrist. “Mother-fucker!” she cried.
She was naked on the floor of her bedroom. Dirty clothes strewn around, torn rock posters, broken furniture: it was all just as she’d left it. Malkie was unconscious and propped against the wall opposite. He was still skinny and bald and ugly, just as she remembered, only now there was blood around his nose and mouth. He was as naked as she was. His dick was still hard.
Belle swung her free arm around and tried to slap the cigarette away from her wrist, but it was no good. There was no strength in her limbs. She was still too deep in the fugue. “Mother…” she groaned, through clenched teeth. “Mother-fucker…”
“Good,” said her assailant. “You’re awake.”
She blinked the water out of her eyes and tried to focus. There was a big, angry looking fucker kneeling over her. White guy in his late 30s or early 40s. Hair closely cropped to his square head and built. Really built. The thick navy raincoat he was wearing looked ready to pop at the seams. There was bruising on his face and dried blood on his lips and forehead. One of his eyes looked swollen and there were dirty bandages wrapped around his knuckles. The first thing Belle had realised at the sight of this guy was that he meant her serious harm. The second was that she had no idea who the fuck he was. “Who… who are..?”
“You’re Jezebel, aren’t you?” He growled and tossed the spent butt into the corner. “Well, aren’t you?”
Belle grinned at the stupidity of the question. The shock of the pain was receding. The fugue was returning, encroaching back at the peripheries. She giggled. “Who’s asking?”
The stranger sighed and picked something up from the floor. He held it up to her but she couldn’t see. The clouds were thickening, getting darker. He said something like “Fuck us.”
Belle’s eyelids fell shut. “You… wanna… fuck me?” She slurred. She slid her free hand between her legs, fingers playing lazily with her cunt. “Stick it in…. Inside…”
The stranger slapped her, pinched her nose. Her watering eyes opened again and saw that he was holding a metal nail, maybe 6 inches long. “I said… focus.”
The thought occurred to her that she might really be in trouble here. “What… What are you going to do?”
A couple of feet away, Malkie coughed. Belle looked to him and saw that his fingers were twitching, his brow creased. He was coming around. She also couldn’t help but note, with a distant sadness, that his dick had withered back to nothing at all. The stranger looked to Malkie then back to Belle, then to the toolbox at his side. He reached in and pulled out something big. “Do you know what this is?” he asked.
Belle shook her head.
“It’s a nail gun,” he answered. To illustrate he loaded the 6 inch nail, turned the gun towards her and made a noise like a pistol going off. “You understand?”
The stranger didn’t rise from his crouch, but shuffled a few steps across to Malkie. He grabbed one of Malkie’s folded up legs and extended it fully, then pressed the muzzle of the nail gun against his knee. “Now,” said the stranger, still addressing Belle. “You are going to tell me everything that I want to know and you’re going to do it quickly. Piss me off in any way, and I’m going to put a nail through your boyfriend’s knee-cap.”
Malkie’s eyes fluttered open. He licked his lips. “Wha…” he muttered, in a daze. “Who…?”
The stranger’s eyes were still on Belle. “Do you understand?”
Belle couldn’t help but smile. “Boyfriend?” she laughed. “He’s not my boyfriend! I barely even know the prick!”
The stranger narrowed his eyes. He seemed to be considering the information. “Oh,” he said.
Malkie’s eyes were open all the way now. He touched a hand to his face and saw the blood on his fingers. “The fuck…?” he said, then turned to look at the stranger. “Who the fuck…?”
The stranger lifted the nail gun away from Malkie’s knee, pressed it to his temple and pulled the trigger. The gun made a hiss and a crunching sound when it went off. All 6 inches of the nail ploughed through Malkie’s skull and into his brain, sending a thin jet of blood up the wall and displacing his right eyeball, so that it protruded out of the socket. His head bounced hard off of Belle’s broken chest of drawers then lolled forward, bobbing like a rag-doll’s.
Belle didn’t scream. It seemed crazy for her not to scream, but she didn’t. It was all too insane for that and she was too practical. Malkie was dead and she was next and screaming wasn’t going to help that. The stranger shuffled back across to her, reloading as he did so, and pressed the nail gun to her knee. “So,” he said. “Same deal.”
“I think you might have the wrong person,” Belle whispered.
“Are you Jezebel?” the stranger asked.
“Yes,” Belle answered and swallowed hard. “People call me that.”
“You’re a dealer, right?”
“I’m guessing you’re a user too, by the looks of things, huh?”
“Ok. Then I don’t have the wrong person. My name’s Tommy Carson.”
“I’ve never even heard of you.”
“That’s ok. No-one has. What about my wife? Shona Carson? Heard of her?”
“No,” said Belle, and glanced over at Malkie’s body. Blood was dripping out of his eye socket. This was insane. “I don’t know who you are. I don’t know… why you’re doing this.”
“You will,” said Carson. “Now… I’ve got another name for you. Bronco Doyle. You knew Bronco, didn’t you?”
Bronco was a low-level trafficker. Drugs, stolen shit, women. Every week it was something else. A useful contact in a pinch, but she’d only rarely had cause to deal with him. “We’re not close…”
“Uh-huh. Do you remember when you last saw him?”
Belle nodded. The clouds had fully receded now. Nothing but blue skies. She was cold and uncomfortable and painfully aware of the nail-gun at her knee. Her heart raced. “I… It was tonight. A few hours ago. I saw him at The Bowmans.” It hadn’t been a meeting of any importance. She didn’t even remember saying hello to him. She’d passed him on the way out. This was crazy. “I didn’t talk to him.”
“I barely even know him!”
“You’re looking for him? I can find him. I know where he’ll be.”
Carson smiled meanly. “Already found him.” The scars, the blood, the bandages…
Belle shook her head. “Then… then what..?”
“There was someone else at The Bowmans,” said Carson. “Doing business. Your friend Bronco had a meeting with this man. He said he’d never seen him before, that he was directed to him by an ‘intermediary’. I’ve been hearing that shit a lot the past couple of days. You scumbags learn big words when you’re trying to cover your backs. Bronco said he went to meet this guy, that he didn’t recognise him, but he did recognise you and you were just leaving the table. He said you’d know who it was I wanted.”
Belle blinked. “Geppetto?” Crazy mad Russian fucker. “You’re not serious!”
“You do know him…”
“Yeah. So what? You’re trying to find him?”
“Don’t tell me to look in The Bowmans,” he said. “I’ve already been there.”
“No,” said Belle. “He doesn’t stay in one place long. Always watching out for cops’n that…”
“Well,” Carson checked his wrist-watch. “It is presently 11.48pm on a Wednesday night. Where could I find him now?”
She shrugged. “I… I don’t…”
Carson placed the muzzle of the nail-gun between her eyes. She recoiled, sinking down till the back of her head was against the floorboard, arms and legs instinctively coiling up in panic. “If you dare to try and tell me you don’t know,” he said, with terrifying calm, “I’ll put a nail through your skull.”
“I can find him!” Belle squeaked. “I just… I just need to send him a text. He tells me where and I go meet him. I can help you. I can!”
Carson pursed his lips and nodded. “All right,” he said and lowered the gun. “Put on some clothes, grab your phone and we’ll go for a little ride.”
Carson had a white transit van parked in the alley behind Belle’s flat. A builder’s van. Looked like it and smelled like it. There was a Daily Record on the dash and bags of cement in the back. Carson lifted Belle into the passenger seat. She was now dressed in frayed jeans, long-sleeved top and leather jacket and her hands and legs were bound together with duct tape.
The message she’d sent Geppetto was answered almost immediately - he was good for that - and he instructed her to meet him in the back room of Shipman’s, an underground bookmakers in the east end of town, at half midnight. Carson drove them over there and parked across the street. They were twenty minutes early and Belle had instructions to point Geppetto out if she spotted him on his way in. She asked him: “What if he’s already in there?”
He answered: “If he is, then you’ll have to come in with me. And you don’t want that to happen, because it means you probably won’t be coming back out.”
“Are my odds any better in here?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean,” said Belle. “You’re going to kill me when you’re done with me, right?”
“Did I say that?”
“Well tell me if I’m wrong. Is there the slightest chance I’ll get out of this alive?”
Carson stared at her for a long moment in silence. “There’s a chance the world will end tonight,” he said, at last. “There’s a chance you’ll wake up and this’ll all have been a dream. It’s like they say - there’s always a chance.”
Belle sighed. “You know what else they say? They say there’s no reasoning with a psychopath. I guess that part’s right.”
Carson shrugged. “If that’s what you think that’s what you think.”
Belle turned her attention back to the street outside. “That’s him,” she said a few moments later, nodding in the direction of a man in a dark suit and overcoat crossing the road.
“Blond hair?” said Carson. “Smoking the cigarette?”
She nodded. “That’s Geppetto.”
They watched him till he went inside the building on the corner, then Carson zipped up his coat, grabbed the nail-gun from the floor and opened the door. “Right,” he said. “I’m going in. If you’re really lucky maybe I won’t come back. But just in case…” He took a final strip of duct tape and pressed it firmly over her mouth, then jumped out and slammed the door shut behind him.
Belle was left alone and immobile, watching Carson head across the street into Shipman’s and almost certain death. She’d been to Shipman’s a few times before. There was, she knew, one man on the door, another inside and a shotgun in the back. On a busy night there were usually five or six local hard bastards in attendance. Then there was Geppetto himself, the only gangster she knew in the region who actually carried a gun everywhere he went. Lots of others talked about it, but he was the only one who was genuine. Trust a Russian. All the Scottish gangsters were happy enough with knives and bats, but the immigrants had to come in and change things up. She hadn’t imparted any of this information to Carson and knew he was walking to his death.
Oh well. Shame.
She kept her eyes fixed on the building. Things were quiet for a minute or two. Then the first sign of trouble. The door was flung wide and a man she didn’t recognise hurtled into the street and collapsed in the road. He was face down, legs still kicking but apparently unable to right himself. His hands were flapping at a wound in his back. She could hear shouts from within. The echo of a loud crash. A scream. Then a gunshot. Another. And another.
When Belle saw Geppetto again he was emerging from the side street. Obviously he’d found another exit. He’d taken off his coat and suit jacket and she could see blood-staining on his shirt. His pistol was in his hand and he was limping, badly. Damn near hopping. He hopped over the man in the road - who looked like he’d stopped breathing - and started towards the van, glancing back every other step to make sure no-one was following him.
Belle, if she could have made herself heard, would have shouted Hey! Geppetto! Over here! Help! I’m tied up, man! Get me out of here! As it was, she could only hum excitedly and jump up and down in her seat.
It seemed enough. As Geppetto drew nearer he spotted her, hand wiping his disbelieving eyes, then pointing an accusing finger. “PIZDA!” he roared and raised the pistol.
Belle didn’t know much Russian. Only bits and pieces she’d learned from Geppetto and other gangsters. But she knew ‘pizda’. It meant ‘cunt.’ She did her best to duck, awkward though it was with all the tape restraining her. Geppetto’s aim was off, probably due to his injuries. He fired three times, all wide of the mark, and then the pistol clicked empty.
It was this moment Carson chose to emerge from Shipman’s front door with a sawn-off shotgun in his hand. He marched across the street to meet Geppetto and, just as the Russian was loading another magazine into his weapon, raised the shotgun and hammered the stock against his head. Geppetto cried out and fell. Carson grabbed his pistol, stuck it in his jeans, picked Geppetto up by his collar and dragged him around the van and into the back.
“He didn’t hit you, did he?” Carson said to Belle as he clambered into the front seat and started the engine. “Sorry about that. I shot him in the thigh with the nail-gun and told him it was from you. Don’t ask me why. The notion just took me. Of course, if anyone had warned me he was armed, I might have handled things a little differently. But you live and you learn, eh?”
Fifteen minutes later they were parked down another dark alley in another part of town and Geppetto was awake and bound and being quizzed for information. Carson held the sawn-off at the Russian’s head. “You’re Geppetto, right?” he said.
“What happened to the nail gun?” Belle asked. Her gag had been removed as soon as Carson had got them moving. “I thought it was your gimmick or something.”
“I had to chuck it,” Carson answered, without looking away from his hostage. “Doesn’t matter. I was running out of nails anyway. Your name’s Geppetto, isn’t it?”
“You know who he is,” said Belle. “I told you.”
“I want to hear him say it,” said Carson. “Well?”
“That is not my name,” Geppetto growled, in reply.
Belle sighed. “Yeah, and nobody christened me Jezebel. But you’re the mad Russian fucker who met with Bronco Doyle at The Bowman’s last night to discuss some kind of business. Right? I mean… we all know. I was there! But just to be clear, so everyone knows who everyone is…”
“I don’t know who this mother-fucker is!” Geppetto spat between Carson’s legs.
“My name is Tommy Carson.”
Geppetto shrugged and screwed up his face. “I never heard that name before!”
“And Shona Carson? What about her?”
A flash of recognition. Geppetto laughed disbelievingly. "No way. No. I don't believe it."
"Catching on now, huh?"
"Her?" the Russian said. "You fucking... You crazy mother-fucker. All the... All the people you killed! For what? For her? For some useless bitch? You've got to be crazy! You're crazy!"
"Where is she?"
"Gone," Geppetto laughed. "She's long gone, friend. I sold her."
"You sold the man's wife?" Belle asked.
"Meat!" said Geppetto. "She's fucking meat! All this fucking blood and violence! All the people you've killed over fucking meat! She's not even..."
Carson cracked the shotgun across Geppetto's jaw, caught him as he fell and hauled him up. "Don't tell me she's not worth it," he growled. "Don't even try. Just tell me where she is."
Geppetto spat blood through smiling lips. "Herringbone."
Belle's eyebrows arched. "Herringbone Corner?"
"Where's that?" asked Carson.
"I know where it is," said Belle. "And you don't want to go there."
"You should listen to the girl," said Geppetto. "You can't get the drop on these people. They're even nastier than I am and they won't so much as open the door to people they don't know."
"They know you though, don't they?" said Carson. "You'll get me in."
"No, he won't," said Belle. "Not looking like that."
Carson turned. "You have a better idea?"
"I've dealt with them before. They'll open the door for me."
Carson turned back to Geppetto and grinned. "You know what that makes you, don't you?"
Geppetto stiffened, eyes going wide. "Hey... Fuck you! FUCK YOU!!!"
Carson reached behind him and picked up a hack-saw from the van floor. "Yeah," he sighed, drawing closer. "You know."
It was an old three-storey house down by the canal. A hundred years ago Herringbone Street had been forty houses long. German bombs in the 40s and a fire in 60s had destroyed all but the corner house. Subsequent redevelopment had left it sandwiched between a couple of cranes in the shadow of a warehouse. It looked odd, crooked, curiously elegant. A strange piece of history forgotten about. Only it hadn't been forgotten, not really. The way Belle told it, the house at Herringbone Corner was occupied by a very strange, very powerful, very secretive fraternity, and had been for many years. It was a brothel and social club catering to the grotesquely rich and richly grotesque.
"It's another level," she warned. "These aren't gangsters and dealers you're going after. They're clientèle. High-rollers and unpredictable with it. I've sold to them. A lot of people have. But I've never been inside. I don't know what goes on in there. Few people do and the ones that know never talk about it except to say that it is fucked up. If your wife's in there... odds are she's not coming back out."
"Well that's simple," said Carson. "We've got to go in there and get her."
The van was parked maybe a hundred yards from the house. Close enough to see lights on on the top and ground floors. Belle looked over her shoulder, stealing a glance at Geppetto's body, throat sliced open, half-hidden by tarpaulin and cement buckets. "Are you really just a builder?" she asked.
Carson had Geppetto's pistol in his hand, practising loading and unloading clips. "That's right," he answered.
"Fuck," Belle sighed, running her hands over her face. "Listen, I don't want to end up like him."
Carson shrugged. "You should have considered another career path."
"I'm serious," she said. "What's happened here to you... it's awful. Really. You're wife gets kidnapped, sold into the sex trade, worse to these sick freaks, I know it's horrible."
"Don't try and tell me you understand."
"I just... I get why you're doing what you've been doing. If what's happened to her ever happened to me I could only pray that someone loved me enough... had the guts to do what you're doing. But see the thing is... I've got nothing to do with it. I'm not a part of that shit."
"You know it is. You said it yourself. You came after me because I could put a name to a face. That's all. I've never done anything to you or her."
"Is this you back to pleading for your life again? Even though I'm a psychopath?"
Belle laughed bitterly and shook her head. "Something like that."
Carson chambered a round in the pistol. "Get me inside," he said. "And we'll see how we go from there."
The man on the door this night – and most nights - was Fulci. He was a skin-head bruiser getting old and past his prime, but those who knew him knew he was mean and ruthless when it counted. He recognised Belle on the security feed in the downstairs office. They'd done business before. He liked her. He'd fuck her at the drop of a hat and didn't consider such a thing too far beyond the realms of possibility, so popped a breath-mint and straightened his tie before opening the door for her. "Look who it is," he grinned. "How are you, luv?"
Belle shrugged and smiled coyly. "Not so bad, Fulci. Yourself?"
"Oh, can't complain. What brings you round these parts? Haven't seen you in a while."
"Stupid favour for Bronco," said Belle. "I've got a delivery for someone who's supposed to be coming by."
Fulci frowned. "Got a name?"
Belle shook her head. "Like anyone tells anybody their name anymore..."
Fulci laughed. "Fucking world we live in, eh? Let's have a look at it then."
Belle reached into her inside coat pocket. When she withdrew her hand it was clutching Gepetto's pistol. She stuck it in Fulci's face and pulled the trigger. He toppled amid an explosion of gun-smoke and blood.
Carson had been watching the exchange from the safety of the shadows a few feet away. He'd given Belle her mission and a single bullet to play with and had kept the sawn-off aimed at her back throughout. Just in case. Now he ran to her side, pushing her across the threshold and out of the way as two armed men came rushing down the stairs to meet him. He greeted them with an almighty blast from both barrels, then dropped the shotgun and slammed the door shut behind him.
"Pistol," he said.
Belle was on the floor, hands over her ears, half-straddling Fulci's corpse. The shredded bodies of his two friends were rolling down the stairs. Blood was pooling around his head.
"Pistol," Carson repeated, urgently, and snapped his fingers. Belle realised she still had Gepetto's empty weapon in her hands. She passed it to Carson, who reloaded it with a fresh clip then hauled her to her feet. "You ok?" he asked.
She nodded, dumbly, wishing she was high. She could hear shouts from somewhere upstairs, and the hissing of a radio.
"Come on," Carson said and walked her past the bodies and up the stairs. On the way he grabbed a working radio from the belt of one of the fallen gunmen and held it to his ear. Belle didn't understand the garbled sounds apparently emanating from Fulci's colleagues in other parts of the house, but Carson seemed to be able to make some sense of it. "This way," he urged, turning right when they reached the landing and leading her down a red-carpeted hallway into a second stairwell.
A man met them on the second floor landing as they were coming up. Not security staff this time. He was too short, too spindly, too old. He was half-dressed, fumbling with his shirt buttons as he tried to make his escape. At the sight of Carson and Belle his face dropped and he doubled back, crying out: "They're here! Help! Save me! They're..." Carson shut him up with a bullet between the shoulder blades.
"Jesus," Belle moaned. "This is a fucking blood-bath."
"What'd you expect?" Carson muttered and pressed the radio to his ear. "Quick. In here," He pulled her round the corner and through the first door they came to, into a large, dimly-lit bedroom. "Be quiet," he whispered, pulling the door closed behind them. Belle could hear people running down the hall. Gun-shots from the ground floor. Full-scale panic.
"We're going to die in here," she said.
"I told you to shut up."
Belle stepped away from Carson, moving into the middle of the room, trying to get a better sense of her surroundings. There was only one lamp in the far corner and it didn't count for much. Squinting through the gloom she could make out a second door leading into the corridor, a few items of clothing strewn about the floor – possibly belonging to the client Carson had just killed – and a female form curled up beneath the bed-sheets. "Fuck..." she breathed. "Carson..."
Carson looked where she was looking, lowered the radio from his ear and crossed to the bed. He pulled back the sheets and made a closer inspection of the nude female beneath.
"Is it...?" said Belle.
Carson shook his head, touched his palm to the woman's face.
"She drugged?" Belle asked. "Sleeping?"
"Not exactly," Carson answered, grimly.
Belle was in the process of taking a step closer when the door was flung wide and the room erupted into gunfire. She dropped to her haunches and darted towards the second door and out, crossing the path of yet another gunman, crossing the hallway and launching herself through a velvet covered archway. She hit the ground in a roll and raised her head to find herself in a plushly furnished lounge and bar, surrounded on all sides by exotic fish tanks.
She wasn't alone. On the carpet a few feet away from her crouched a sickly-looking fat man with a toot-brush moustache and green cardigan. They had a split second to exchange bemused looks before the last suited gunman Belle had seen in the hall chased her through the velvet drapes. He was chased in turn by a pair of bullets that entered the small of his back and exploded out through his chest. He stumbled and fell forward, small revolver dancing out of his hand to land between Belle and the fat man.
He lunged first, but she was quicker, delivering a kick to the side of his head, snatching the gun out of his flailing arms and turning it back on him before he had a chance to focus.
"Don't!" he cried, throwing up his hands, scuttling backwards across the floor. "Please! Don't shoot! I'm sick. I'm sick, don't you understand? I need help. I can get help!"
"Shut the fuck up!" Belle snapped. There were further shots from the outside hallway, followed by more footfalls and slamming of doors. The radio in the dead gunman's hand buzzed maniacally. Carson was still alive and on the move. Belle rose from her kneeling position, crossed the distance between the fat man and herself and stuck the barrel of the revolver in his eye. "I need to know if there's another way out of here," she said. "Tell me. Now!"
The fat man nodded. "It... It's easy! There are stairs at the back of the party room down the hall. Follow them all the way down and straight ahead. It takes you right out the back to the canal."
"OK," Belle nodded. "That's good." She went back to the body of the gunman, snatched his radio and threw it to the fat man. "You want to live don't you?"
The fat man nodded.
"Good. Then get on that radio and tell them you're trapped on the first floor, front of the house and there's mad fuckers everywhere. You're surrounded. You tell them that." Belle left the fat man babbling into the radio and walked down the hallway searching for the 'party room'. It didn't take her more than a minute to find it.
There were three women in the room, abandoned by their customers along with so many half-smoked cigarettes, drinks and piles of white powder. Each girl was young, slim and attractive. One was dressed in white lingerie and was sprawled out across a leather couch. A second was slumped beside her in a wrinkled party gown. The last, a long-haired blonde, was completely naked and lay face-down on the rug at Belle's feet. It was plain to see, without any close examination, that they were all dead. Belle could also gauge from the conditions of the corpses – sunken eyes, black protruding tongues and darkened veins standing out on grey flesh – that they had been dead for quite some time. Belle could feel the bile rising at the back of her throat as she began to understand what this place was.
I'm sick! The fat man had told her. I'm sick, don't you understand?
"This isn't sick," she heard herself reply. "This is more than sick..."
Forcing her revulsion aside, she stepped over the dead girl on the rug, rounded the couch and crossed to the back of the room, where an open door led to a spiral staircase going down. She took the steps as quickly as she dared, terrified of running into armed opposition. In a matter of moments, however, she was at the bottom, stepping into a narrow brick tunnel lined with open doors. At the far end a fire escape stood slightly ajar, showing just a glimpse of the cobbles at the canal's edge.
Belle was sorely tempted to break into a run, but ordered herself to be careful. The way ahead smelled acutely of formaldehyde, shit... and gunpowder. Carson was surely close by. She held the revolver out in front of her and started forward, glancing round to check her back every other step. The rooms that lined the tunnel were almost identical. They were about the size of prison cells, often containing nothing more than a single cot or worktable. She passed two in which the corpses of young women were laid out as though on a mortician's table, to be prepared for embalming. These girls had been undergoing preparations for far worse. This was clear.
A low sob from up ahead stopped Belle in her tracks. She held her breath and listened. Another cry, even softer, from a room on the left, two doors down. Belle crept slowly forward and peered in through the open door.
A white haired old man in a tweed waistcoat was sitting on the floor facing her. There was a frayed red hole in his forehead and bloody brain matter spattered up the wall behind him. Carson sat on the bed, his head bowed, tears on his face. He was cradling the body of a young woman wrapped in a white shroud, dark hair tousled about her head.
It was a pitiful sight.
Belle lowered the pistol to her side. "Carson..."
"She's still mine," he answered. His voice was a dry croak. "It doesn't matter. She's still my Shona. I couldn't let them take her away from me. I couldn't bear it. It's not right."
"It's far from fucking right," Belle agreed. "Believe me, I knew they did some messed up things here but I never dreamed... I couldn't have imagined they were killing the girls before they..." She couldn't find the words to finish her thought and didn't much want to. "I'm sorry."
Carson cringed. "What for?"
He licked his lips and spoke more slowly. "For what... are you sorry?"
Belle glanced down the hall to the fire escape, then looked back. "Listen, Carson, we can't have much time. I think I managed to send them in the wrong direction, but any second now..."
"No," he said. "You need to understand something."
"We don't have time..."
"She was already dead."
He smiled without mirth. "She overdosed. The last time I saw her was going into Casualty. Two nights ago. Bronco Doyle's people stole her right out of the morgue."
Belle's face fell. "You're not serious..."
He nodded. "No-one cared. Apparently it happens more than you'd think. A body just gets lost. Cops might promise to investigate, but what do they care? She's dead already. A junkie to boot. Not worth worrying about, right? Dead meat?" He let out a sob and hugged his wife's body tighter. "Well fuck them. She's worth more. Alive or dead, she's still mine. I still love her. She deserves better than that. Better than this." He took hold of his wife's hand, raised it to his mouth and kissed her pale fingers. "She deserves justice."
"Oh... you haven't heard the best part. See, before she lost consciousness – for the last time – I asked her who it was who sold her the bad dose. And she told me."
Belle didn't dare think... She'd never heard of Shona Carson before this night. But now, taking a look at her face for the first time. Jesus, that face...
"When Bronco used the same name," Carson continued. "This... 'Jezebel' girl, I almost couldn't believe it." He looked up and flashed Belle a nasty smile. "It's a small world, huh?"
Belle stepped back and raised the pistol. She had it halfway up when a hand reached from behind, grabbed her at the wrist and pulled her arm back. She fell back into the stranger's clutches as he twisted her arm, forcing her to drop the weapon and thrusting his own out over her left shoulder.
Carson was already on his feet, clutching Shona's body to him with one hand, pistol raised in the other. He took a step forward.
"Hold it there," said the man behind Belle. His breath was hot at her ear. "Drop the weapon. Do it."
Carson shook his head. "We're leaving," he said.
"I don't think so."
Somewhere a radio crackled. Belle could hear voices in the stairwell. Back-up.
"Carson..." Belle choked. There were tears in her eyes. "Whatever you're thinking..."
"I'll trade you," Carson told the gunman. "I leave with my wife. You can keep the girl."
The gunman smirked. "She's not exactly my type."
Carson shrugged. "Easily fixed."
He fired three shots. The first bullet took Belle in the chest and knocked her to the floor. The second and third found homes in the gunman's neck and head. He hit the deck beside her.
Carson bolted into the tunnel, heading for the fire escape. He dropped his pistol and threw both arms around his wife's body. At the other end two of the gunman's colleagues had reached the bottom of the stairs. They raised their weapons and opened fire.
He was bursting through the doorway when the first bullet hit. It carved through his shin, shattering bone, throwing him off balance but not bringing him down. He was out in the open, a few yards of cobblestones between him and the canal. A second round took him in the back. A third in the arm. He stumbled and spun and a fourth carved into his side. The world spun before him. He closed his eyes, hugged Shona's body tight to his chest and toppled.
When he opened his eyes he found his was falling through darkness. Down and down and down. Cold and warm. Endless shimmering oblivion. Shona was with him, hair floating like a halo about her head. Her beautiful, vacant eyes stared into his. Her soft blue lips begged to be kissed...
With desperate longing, he obliged them.
"He went into the canal."
"He's not coming back up."
"Oh, I'm sure. What about this bitch? She still alive?"
"Not for long."
"Blood in her lungs. And she's got that look in her eyes. I give her maybe ten minutes."
"Pity. She's cute. What do we do with her?"
"I was just thinking..."
"Ever wanted to be able to say you fucked someone to death?"
It was a warm, familiar feeling for Belle. Shock insulated her from the world. The slow creep of death shrank her down, planing away her conscious thoughts, her fears, her memories. She became an alien in her own body, an amnesiac traveler from another world who knew nothing of this one. She floated on an invisible wave of confusion, so happy to be confused, so glad to not know her name or her past. Her body was not her. Her body was a shell. A dummy. It was a vacant, hollowed out mannequin and she was a tiny speck of light buzzing around in the deepest, darkest catacomb, growing smaller, smaller, smaller.
And only vaguely aware she was being fucked...