My selection of silk and satin,
another piece of dirty opulence.
Dancing towards the shifting canvas,
moving until the skin no longer sweats.
Another overflowing cup for me,
it's like poetry for the tongue.
Tell me, how long will the high last?
This is our impossible orchestra.
It's made of the emptiness
that orbits each and every one of us.
Tell me, how numb will this make me?
It is the forbidden ideal
that makes the fire burn.
Tonight the world will sleep
entwined in dream catcher strings.
- The Living Dead, Jacquelyn White
His desire wasn't quenched.
She held the cigarette with the precision of a statue, her fingers framing it like architecture. It reminded him of the steel beams that framed the mighty skyscrapers downtown. With an elegant motion she brought the stick to her painted lips, making the tip glow bright in the dimness for an instant as she breathed in. The martini she held in the other hand sparkled in the glass.
Noble did not make eye contact with any of the other short-skirted women who coveted his attention, imagining his hands caressing them. He had no interest in their pathetic bodies, their vulnerability. He was tired of childsplay. He wanted a challenge. This challenge.
Eyes still fixed upon the woman with the smoke flowing from her cherry lips, he headed over to the bar for a drink. Tonight his longings would be appeased. Tonight he would have her.
The bartender arranged the glasses on the shelves behind his post, cleaning them with care. His eyes shifted from his task to the mirror reflecting the land beyond the bar. He paused his polishing to stare into the reflection at the creature lounging on one of the retro chairs scattered throughout the interior of Royal's Lounge. There she was again. She was here almost every night now, prowling for a kill. She never had the same name. She always ordered a dirty martini, unless she was feeling particularly slinky that night, in which case she would order one with white chocolate. He would watch her as she laid out on one of the sloping chairs like Cleopatra awaiting her Antony, sipping the white chocolate, sending glances that could stir immediate lust within any normal man.
He recalled an encounter he had with her some weeks ago. The men had been scarce that night, the Super bowl had distracted them from their preoccupation with getting laid. He wasn't complaining. Usually when the men showed up in meager amounts he got the remainder of the attention. It was one of the job's perks. Unfortunately the prowling one had decided to substitute her night of sexual courtship for drinking. She had ordered several martinis and though she remained collected considering the amount she had drank, he was inclined to cut her off. It was out of compassion, a need to do what was best of her. But somehow, at the same time, he was sure it was out of spite. He was tired of seeing her perform her hunting rituals before him without shame. When he cut her off, she laughed and leaned on the bar in her fluid way, giving him a clear view down her dress.
"I've been here often, but I've never seen you here before," she told him, a clear lie considering she was a regular and nights he didn't work were a diamond in the rough. Her eyes shifted to his name tag.
"Sam? Well will you look at that!"
"Yes, Sam," he repeated. He didn't get the joke.
"I would love another dirty martini Sam," she said again, her tone like needle-pricks.
"I can't. Lounge's cut off limit," he had told her.
"Oh c'mon. I would love another drink, please," she urged.
"Play it again Sam," she finished, playing with the famous supposed Casablanca quote. Only she didn't quite remind him of Humphrey Bogart. She annunciated her words with languid suggestion, pursing her lips. He was immediately reminded of Sharon Stone from Basic Instinct, the police interrogation room, asking Michael Douglas: "You ever fucked on cocaine, Nick? It's nice", uncrossing and recrossing her legs, rubbing them together like a praying mantis. But not wearing panties wasn't classy enough for this woman leaning on the bar. She conveyed her sexuality with her words, with her lips, with everything she had in her arsenal.
"No," he said. It was cold, flat, the bottom line embodied. Her smile only widened. A laugh. It was more of a cackle than a laugh. She backed away from the bar, shaking her head, the creases of her smile still haunting her face.
"You can forget about any tips from now on, Sam," she stated with as much sensuality as her previous words. Her smile widened to a grin and Sam felt a chill run down his spine. This woman was more than a bitchy lounge lizard. She was dangerous.
When he returned from his memories to stare into the mirror behind the bar once more, he was surprised to see the image of the woman staring straight at him, the same sensual, yet cruel smile on her face.
"I'll have a cosmopolitan," asked a voice from behind him. Sam tore his eyes away from the unsettling image in the mirror to a man standing at the bar, some green bills in his hand.
"Coming right up," Sam answered. He mixed the drink without error, placing the twist of the orange peel on the surface of the liquid with tact. With his most polite bartender smile (the one that always got him extra tips) he handed the glass to his client, the raspberry-colored liquid swishing.
"Thanks," the client said, retreating into the circles of retro lounge chairs. Sam looked back to the woman he had been watching in the mirror. As she blew smoke out of her mouth, he saw her cat-like eyes wander to the man with the cosmopolitan in his hand.
Sam turned to his next client, a blond in a red mini dress and spike heels. For the moment he was distracted from the dangerous woman drinking her martini, but he knew that his attention would always shift back to her. He was afraid of those cold eyes. He wished she would just disappear.
The young woman's heels clicked as they made contact with the tiles of the bar floor, the sound stopping altogether when she came to the carpeted lounge. She strutted down the aisle of chairs full of reclining bar-goers, balancing herself on her spike heels like a tight-rope walker with a toss of her blond-dyed hair. She felt ravenous eyes burn her skin as she paraded herself around. The attention being showered upon her made a smile tug at her lips and she promptly took a swig of her long island iced tea to hide her pleasure. When she tipped the glass away from her face, she wore her sexy, poker-faced mask once more.
She made her way through the maze of courting men and women towards her waiting friend. Everyone sitting in that lounge at that moment knew that their conversations were one elaborate poker game. Everyone was pouring lies from their mouths like honey, everyone had their interests invested in their own pleasures. She knew it as well as they did, and she adored every moment of it.
The young woman reached a large circle of multicolored La Chaise lounge chairs; giving a flirtatious smile to a guy she passed on her left. She wasn't there in search of love, friendship, or those other abstractions. She was there for a good time that was tangible and came in the form of sex and booze.
"That took you quite a while," a velvet voice noted as she took a seat. The owner of the voice was settled in a chair beside the young woman. Her curvy body fit into a classic little black dress, contrasting her sharp face and echoing her creamy brown skin. She was older than her blonde friend, only by few years, but she possessed a sophisticated beauty about her, the kind that lured men in like insects to a bug light. She tapped the ashy tip of her cigarette into a nearby tray.
"The bartender was a little spacey tonight. Drink's good though," the young woman explained, taking another swig.
"Did you still tip him?" the woman asked, her cat-like eyes zeroing in on her companion with a swift flicker.
"Yeah, three bucks."
The woman's eyes became active immediately. They rolled, conveying emotion almost as though they had their own faces.
"Shirley, you see, that's your problem right there. You're too nice," she said. Her tone seemed casual, but to a trained eye such as Shirley's, it was obvious that she was annoyed. The superiority saturating her voice was sickening.
"Please, Vivian, spare me! We all have our off days," Shirley said.
"And how many of us are rewarded for our off days? I know I'm not. It's not the way things are supposed work in this world. You make a mistake you get screwed, you do something right you might get reward or you might get screwed anyway. People aren't supposed to be paid for their oversights," the woman retorted. Shirley always despised her lack of emotion, her coolness towards subjects that even impassioned her. She couldn't imagine what a rigid bed mate she would make. Still, so many men were attracted to her. It was a mystery that had frustrated Shirley for years.
"And I told you not to call me Vivian in public," she finished, taking another drag on her cigarette. Shirley stared at the woman she deemed her friend and felt herself swallowed by anger.
"Remind me why I have to do that again?" the blonde questioned, loudly enough to attract the attention of others. Vivian gave her a look that warned her that she better quiet down or worse would come to her than mere verbal sparring.
"Men like mystery. They aren't just in it for the sex. Half the fun is telling their friends about it afterward. Many of the men here can have their pick of women, but part of the selection process is the name. Men want a name as luscious as the woman it belongs to, it makes the story sound more exciting when they tell their friends," she explained, as though she were discussing the philosophy of Confucius. This ergo this ergo this. Shirley gave a dismissive laugh and shook her head.
"That is one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard come out of your mouth," she said with spite.
"Oh really? Yet I'm always the one having them begging me to come home with them, aren't I?" she retorted, a smooth, lipstick red smile on her face. Shirley just sipped her tea.
"And you want to know why? Think about it Shirley. Think about who popularized your name. No normal man wants to sleep with a woman that he associates with a curly-haired, tap dancing little girl," she stated with normalcy, though her undertone was no doubt cutting.
That's what she's always doing, Shirley thought. Cutting and slicing at me until there's nothing left.
"What should I call you then?" Shirley asked, defeated.
"Elisa please," Vivian said with fake gratitude.
No words were exchanged between the two for quite some time after that. They were both eyeing and chatting with potential mates for the night. Shirley had been watching this one man who seemed to keep to himself, a man with a willowy figure but he was attractive in his own way. Very tall, very aerodynamic. He had a cosmopolitan in his hand. Good taste too.
She watched him, a flirtatious glint in her eye as she awaited him to make eye contact. He never did.
Noble, after patiently waiting for her to notice his presence, had at last caught her attention. He had been observing her over the course of several nights now, watching her drink, dance, court, pursing those soft cherry lips as she spoke, entangling men within her web. She eyed him in her deep, lust-inducing way, as though she were looking right through him to the animalistic monster lying beneath. She was calculating. It was easy to see from her eyes. With her dark skin, hair, and ebony dress she took on the appearance of a feline. Women like her were called cougars traditionally, but he thought panther was more suitable for her. A panther was darker. More classy, more conniving, more provocative.
It was amusing to him how she thought she had control, like her seduction could induce a man to lose his rational mind. Perhaps other men, but not him. She was strong, her will as unyielding as the concrete base of the city. He needed to break that foundation during her time of vulnerability. It would be a gradual process, but he knew he would be able to have his way with her in the end. He would be dominant.
Noble admired her impervious façade. But that's all it was, just another mask among the masqueraders that populated the underground of urban nightlife. It was nothing special. She just happened to have an innate sexiness about her, an iciness that would make her more fun to play with. She was hard to get yet she was so easy.
She cast her eyes towards him, their darkness brimming with want. The glass sang as her fingers traced the rim. Her motions, already liquid, had transformed into a dance of sexuality, a mating ritual. She was teasing him, beckoning him.
When he was about to take her up on her invitation and approach her he saw that another young woman, the one that had been hovering around Vivian all night, was advancing on him. His thoughts darkened. This could ruin everything.
Shirley walked over to Noble like she was on a catwalk. She stopped in front of him, prepared to begin the stage of verbal seduction when Vivian's figure stepped right in front of her, and began a conversation with him as though she had never been there at all.
"I've seen you here before, haven't I?" she asked, her voice working its magic.
"I come here occasionally," he answered, not acknowledging Shirley at all.
Vivian and Noble began the pleasantries that would no doubt lead them both back to his apartment together. Shirley felt her face flush, rage and envy mingling together into a storm of emotions that upset her stomach. An old memory flooded her mind.
Once Shirley had made the mistake of asking Vivian why the men always favored her.
"Even the guys who prefer blonds and white women still go to you. What's wrong with me? Am I ugly?" she had asked. Vivian had smiled her pleased smile, the kind of smile that showed an emotion that the English language has no word for. The Germans had a word for it though. They called it schadenfreude, taking pleasure in the pain of others.
"No. There is only one thing I have that you don't."
"And that is?" Shirley asked, curious as to the answer.
"Class," she had stated. Her voice had been the essence of sensuality, as though the thought of being one of untouchable superiority was more pleasurable than the fruits of their nightly labor in the lounge.
"Then why do you keep me around as your wingman?" she had asked.
Vivian had given her a minimalist answer that had made Shirley's long-festering hatred of her changed friend bloom beneath her skin.
With that thought in mind, Shirley finished off her long island tea and strutted back to the bar, leaving her friend and the man that had been stolen from her. And somewhere, within the deep crevices and caverns of her mind, she hoped that this time Vivian would choose to go home with the wrong man, and maybe this time, Vivian would learn that just because she swam in the evils of the world didn't mean she wasn't impervious to them. Especially not death.
An elderly woman bent over a row of cat bowls, pouring cans of wet and solid food into each one. The television in her living space made light flash across the otherwise pitch black room. The clanging of kibble falling into the glass bowls attracted a herd of meowing felines, all seeking a spot in front of a full bowl.
The elderly woman threw away the empty bag of cat food. She walked over to the front door, navigating around several litter boxes and piles of cat toys. Unlocking all five locks she peaked her head out of the door into the ramshackle interior of the hallway. Her wrinkle-framed eyes shifted to the door of room 131, the apartment beside her own. He wasn't home yet.
Old Agnes, as the building's owners and tenets called her, had lived in the apartment building for years. Though it was common knowledge she was nosey, they were unaware that she was tracking the lives of everyone in the building. She knew what they said about her, they thought was too senile to comprehend what they said, but she knew. She knew a lot of things they didn't know. The cats told her. Cats were secretive creatures, but if you could charm them into confiding in you, you would have very valuable information at your fingertips. That was Agnes' belief anyway.
She shut the door and relocked it five-fold. Agnes walked into her tiny kitchen space and pulled a chair up next to the row of cats feeding at the bowls. Making herself comfortable she watched them gorge themselves and spoke her mind.
"He always brings those whores from the bars home," she said in her tiny voice. The cats continued delighting in the feast they had laid out before them. Agnes continued nonetheless.
"Sometimes they're drunk, sometimes they're not. Dead, dead, dead inside. All of them. I wonder what kind he'll bring home tonight. You see, I think he does weird things with them. Weird things. Unholy things. Unclean! He's unclean. So goddamn loud! I always hear them through the wall. Every night almost. Unnatural. Unnatural," she ranted, her babblings bordering on nonsensical. The jumbled puzzle of thoughts all fit together in her mind.
"He'll bring one tonight. And he'll do weird things," Agnes muttered.
"Unnatural. Unnatural. Unnatural. Unnatural," was her mantra.
One of her salvaged strays lifted its head from the banquet and stared up at the mumbling Agnes. It gave a little mew.
Sam gave a middle aged man in an expensive suit a pat on the back before the man wandered to the exit weeping. Like a good bartender he took the man's car keys and stowed them in a locked drawer, where it was placed with a name tag among a few other sets of keys. He hoped that the man would find the note he left on the inside of his jacket that told him where his keys were. It was doubtful he would remember coming to Royal's Lounge at all when he woke up with a massive headache in the morning.
Sam served a few more drinks to his respective clients before focusing his attention back on Vivian. Between the therapy session with the man whose wife had demanded a divorce and when he had last been watching her, he saw she had managed to hook herself another fish. She was using her customary techniques to reel him in, though Sam had never seen her ring her finger around the rim of the glass to such an extent. It was something new.
Before he could make any more detailed observations he saw them both move away from his view, disappearing into a crowd of intoxicated patrons. The pair reappeared at the edges of the throng and headed to the lounge's exit. No doubt they'd be heading back to one of their apartments.
"I'll have zombie cocktail. A big one," said a female voice. The bartender turned his attention to his customer, who was apparently the blonde in the red minidress he had made a long island iced tea for about an hour or two ago. Considering she was out on the town, she appeared quite displeased with something.
"Special occasion?" he asked. It was a strong cocktail, one he didn't expect a woman like her to be drinking without a purpose.
"Got some time to listen?" Shirley asked.
"Sure. One large zombie cocktail coming up."
Agnes sat up, allowing one of her cats to fall out of her lap. She heard the main door of the building slam shut downstairs. The echo of male and female voices could be heard reverberating through the stairwell. He was home. The old woman tiptoed to her door, unlocking all the locks with the dexterity of someone half her age and opening it open just enough where she could see through the crack. The pair didn't seem to notice that the door was ajar as they made their way on to the landing.
"Well I'm not so sure if I want to come in now," she told him with a flirtatious smile.
"Please come in. I need you," he begged.
"And what are you going to give me in return?" she asked. She was playing into his hands. She was under the delusion that she was the one who held the power in this situation, when really it was the other way around.
"Anything you want babe," he said.
She raised an eyebrow.
"That sounds more like it," she replied.
After he unlocked the door and let himself in, pulling her in after him. Vivian's cold, cackling laughter was the last thing Agnes heard before the door was shut behind them. She closed her own door after the scene had been taken into a place where she could not follow. She dare not follow there.
"Something's gonna happen. Something's gonna happen. Unnatural things. Unnatural. Something's happening," the old woman muttered as she paced around her apartment, her cats gazing up at her with their slits for pupils.
With a fluid gait, Vivian walked to his bedroom and threw herself on his bed. He watched her stretch herself out on the cover, a satisfied smile on her face, convinced that she had him right where she wanted. Noble smiled as she lay still for a moment. He pictured it, the fun he would have with her. At that moment he knew that he needed it and he needed it now. Vivian stared up at him smiling as he climbed into bed with her, on top of her.
Checkmate, he thought.
Noble reached his hands down and wrapped them around her throat. He smiled as he began to squeeze. Vivian's smug expression turned to one of horror. She screamed. He squeezed harder. Before he could render her unable to speak she managed to rasp out a couple of words.
"Wait, no! No! I'm not into this choking shit!" she yelled. He held her neck down on the bed without budging, keeping her pinned easily beneath him. She was finally breaking. He allowed her to shake in his hands until she was motionless. Rebirth. Easing his grip he took a look at the new woman. Her eyes were lifeless. Her body was vulnerable and would never be able to move by itself again.
"You're so much better dead my dear," he said, caressing her cheek with his hand, staring into her glazed eyes.
Agnes pressed her ear to the wall of her bedroom. When you really tried, you could hear much of what was happening on the other side. The walls might as well have been paper. Though at first all she heard was muffled conversation, she could have sworn that somewhere in the mingling pool of voices she heard a scream. She pressed her ears harder against the wall. Nothing. Not even the conversation.
"No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no."
Agnes dug her fingernails into the wall, whispering to it.
"Unnatural. Unnatural. Unnatural. Unnatural. Unnatural. Unnatural. Unnatural."
Shirley looked at her red dress and high heels thrown across the bedroom floor as she lay wrapped in bed sheets. Her eyes felt heavy. She wondered what Vivian was doing, then stopped herself. She knew what Vivian was doing. The same thing that she did every night. Her focus shifted to the clock on the nightstand. The time 3:30 AM glowed red in blackness of the room. The person on the other side of the bed shifted, turning over to her. Sam ran his hands through her golden hair, not in a lustful way, but in an admiring way.
"Do you want anything to drink that isn't alcohol? I have coffee, tea, soda, you name it," he offered. Shirley was a bit taken aback. Usually when she went back to a guy's apartment the only thing they offered her was another round or a request for her to leave.
"What? You mean no liquor in a bartender's house?" she asked. He rolled out of bed, nude; his hair was tussled a bit from the activity. He walked to the kitchen space, which wasn't too far away. It was a modest, one room apartment.
"None. I have a dry house. I get enough of alcohol at work" he explained, getting a coffee cup out of the cabinet. Shirley lay in bed and watched him search for a mug that wasn't cracked. For once, she thought, maybe I won't go home in the morning. I think I'll stay. Shirley got out of bed and put on Sam's bathrobe, which was draped over a nearby chair.
She walked over to the kitchen space and grabbed the mug Sam had found.
"Hey, find another cup for me okay? I'll make the coffee, you've been making drinks for people all night," she said. Sam glanced at her and smiled. He was cute. Shirley realized in that moment she didn't want to be like Vivian. She didn't want to be a successful executive nearing her thirties and still be barhopping and sleeping with different men every night.
"You sure?" he asked. She doubted that it was what he had been expecting from her. Then again, she hadn't expected it from herself either.
"Yeah, go sit down, I'll make us both one."
Noble discarded his clothing, throwing them to the wayside. He climbed into the bed where Vivian's cadaver lay, where so many other cadavers had lain before. But only this one had ever made the mistake of thinking that she was in control. He smiled at the thought. As amusing as the thought was, he had to admit, she was certainly the most erotic one he had ever encountered. Defeating her when she was alive had been quite pleasant. But dead, in death she was a goddess.
He hovered over her corpse, bringing their lips together. She was getting colder. He began to unzip the side of her dress.
Tastes like chocolate, he thought.
Agnes filled up the row of cat bowls once more, the morning sunlight flooding into the small interior. She muttered to herself as she prepared their food, attracting them to the kitchen in a flood. The wet food smelled disgusting, but at least it could feed her little ones. The old woman hadn't seen the woman from the night before come out of Noble's house. She had calmed down about the entire situation after getting some sleep, a passing episode of anxiety. She never saw the girls that went in come out. It would always be a mystery to her, not even the cats could tell her all the secrets of her eccentric neighbor.
There were a few cans of wet food left. Though she had a bad feeling about Noble all over, the only way she was able to afford to feed all of her cats was the free cat food she received from next door. She always found free cat food on her step, placed in a bag, with a hospitable note attached. Today's note had read:
Hope your babies enjoy it. It's fresh this time. After all, you know how fussy cats are about their food.
Best regards from your neighbor,