Chapter 2

THE METAL TEETH shone colder than I remembered. Oh, no, oh no, oh, no, the mantra is repeating in my mind and part of me wants to slash his dick out and feed it to the dog. The bitch crazed at the smell of blood is barking and yelping, leaping around Teine. He lures her out and closes the gate behind him. A few pigeons fly past our heads in the heights of that stone and wooden beams old barn converted into workshop. The dump air seeps into my lungs and from my lungs, back to my throat and from my throat to my stomach. I'm on my knees, beaten down by tremors, while the Frenchman, Axe, locks his arms around me, forcing my face to stick against his sweaty t-shirt.

And that son-of-a-bitch keeps saying: "My mom is ill, please, let me go home."

Teine doesn't mind him. He's having something very close to an orgasm.

They refused to gag the scum. Teine admitted he liked it better to hear the screams, it "pampered" his soul: he put it.

Yet Metal-Teeth as I nicknamed him, after his horrific denture, doesn't roar, he only begs. And cries like a little girl about to be grounded for a week. It pisses Teine off a bit. The thing is when Teine is pissed, he gets nastier.

"Gonna do very bad things to ya, arse!"

That's even worse for Metal-Teeth. It's not a small thing to be beaten over the mouth with a wrench. Dark blood is dripping from the man's mouth, all over his naked chest. He's being beaten to a pulp. And he shuts up. He chocks and groans, but at least he doesn't produce any other word.

But, Metal-Teeth is an expert in pain. A brutal pounding received from a fellow lawbreaker, earlier on in his youth years, had given him that ugly denture in the first place. Or perhaps he had chosen that on purpose to upset his mother, a former piano teacher, who loved him just as much as she loved his father who raped her. The product of this unfortunate union, Metal-Teeth, was born to be a curse, rather than a blessing. At least in her eyes.

There must be delight in aversion, otherwise why choose spending your last years in the company of your "mistake" son? Metal-Teeth flipped and flopped with joy each time she scolded him. For him, the most inflictive words were a sign of love. He needed that: any kind of attention he got from her. He didn't know any better.

I am aware of these things, because we investigated, Teine and me. We stalked, we documented, we prepared the way cops, private eyes and successful serial killers do. Teine had met him before. He used his services every now and again. Anybody involved with "the underworld" used Metal-Teeth at least once. The bastard could keep his mouth shut and that was a very important quality.

His real name was Markus Vester.

Axe's shoulders make me think of a colossal building with the sunset behind it. He is closing around me, holding me inside his muscular mass. My chest expands and then thump-thump drops into a jerking sob.

"Everything is okay," Axe mumbles. "Don't worry, don't worry." The way his French accent stresses the "ry" rather than the "wo" loosens my concentration. Puff! Puff! Bwahahaha! My laughter breaks in a shard of giggles and squeals.

He figures I'm only having a burst. He's not letting me go. He keeps me blind to the horror.

I dare. I dare and I pick out from under his armpit.

The blade flicks, splitting the air.

"Noooooooo!" a wild, high pitch cry erupts from the depths of my mind. "Nooooooo!" I echo with less vigor.

Teine twists his face around, glancing at me. A creepy grin flies over his mouth while he's scratching his forehead with the bone handle.

"What?" he asks.

There isn't a thing to explain, he grasps everything. I'm such a softie. A merciful, frustrated, pained faker. A faker none of the less. If I wasn't a faker I'd do it myself: slash him up in such a way he would perish slowly.

Markus lets out a wounded growl. His chin falls to his chest, the legs tremble with the anguish and the massive blood loss.

He shutters.

One last cut and that lump of flesh is off, messy and warm. I press my face against Axe's sweaty biceps screaming.

Teine is turning around fixing me with those mad eyes of his. The hands, his huge hands smudged in red, that meat still in his grip, he stretches towards my shoulders. He grips, flips and tosses me to the ground.

"Should I let him live?"

His irises are the color of the summer sky, not a cloud there, but the deep blue. Framed by a thin rim of darkness. I avoid their deceptive beauty and focus on the bit of Celtic tattoo extending half his neck. The blood is sticking the blouse to my arms and his fingers to the blouse and to my arms.

"Should I? After what he's done to you?" he hushes. His muscles tremble with rage.

I'm lost, I'm lost, I'm lost.

"Not going to let live, you know I can't, but for the sake of your immortal soul… should I let him?"

Of course I see the ramification, the complexity.

Of course I understand why Metal-Teeth has become the monster he is.

Of course, of course…

But that smell of the oily rag they gagged me with, Metal-Teeth and his mates, their naked bodies smudging against mine, the punches to my face that got my head bouncing off the concrete, these cannot leave me. Ever.

I remember the exact date, even the time: Amsterdam, December the 5th 2008, around two o'clock in the afternoon:

"You're gonna die, bitch!" spitting between his metal teeth.

Slam! A punch to my face.

My cheek crunched.

A dim whistle blew in my ear.

The rope, rough and shaggy, ate into my wrists. We rocked passing over an obstacle in the road. A cold Dutch winter drizzle sprayed the windows of the van, rattling as we swerved through a maze of narrow streets. The joyful clinker of a bike bell echoed in my ears. I hit the door, yelling, hoping to draw attention.

Fucking stupid, indifferent people!

They can't hear me.

They won't hear me.

Why bother? goes through their empty, jaded minds.

They think they are good and brave. My ass!

Metal-Teeth hurried to gag me with the oily rag. I gasped. I puked. Nearly drowned in my own puke. My ribs hurt.

"Hey slut, did you hear me? You're gonna die, bitch," said another.

They laughed.

Their laughter was like a blast.

It ended my hope.

The engine purred to a halt.

A pop and a screech and open sesame! The back door hurled upwards. It sent violent tremors throughout the vehicle. The two came out to the back, pulling me kicking and groaning. I landed on the concrete. Hard. Breathless, from that shock rippling through from the belly to the chest. The grey room, perhaps a garage, was full of men. Rough looking men. All smiling at me, but not in a good way.

Metal-Teeth grabbed a handful of my hair. My head flipped backwards. He spit in my face for a second time. I cleaned wiping my cheek against the floor. Tiny particles dug into my skin, scratching. I wasn't going to die without battle scars, after all.

"Little precious is gonna take it up the ass."

Beast! He sat on top of me grinning, pointing a gun to my head. That shiny steel pipe so close, it froze me. His clawed hand tore off my blouse and my bra with one swift move.

His fists began pounding.

His knuckles cracked against my cheek bones.

His punches came one after another.

And there wasn't a damned thing I could do about it.

A sensation of burnt electric cables and fresh meat filled my nostrils. I must have smelt my own bleeding brain.

He let go giggling.

"Start rolling!" he yelled, putting on a black ski-mask.

The beasts unleashed. Military-style boots kicked to the stomach in turns. My arms protecting me, my curled up body, they couldn't cope. Even the ribs were giving in.

I went limp.

My jaw clanged.

Shut down.

The putrid taste of the oily rag invaded my throat once more. I nearly puked again.

His sweat-booze-cigar-smoke smell sipped in through my pores, chocking me. Crushed under his weight, I couldn't even scream properly. His skin glared, smudging against my body.

Metal-Teeth pulled down my trousers and forced my legs opened. He went in.

"I said I make you die, bitch!" the pig grinded his teeth. "Gonna push it in till your eyes pop out."

It hurt so much.

I closed my eyes trying to die by pure will. And it didn't work. I was still there.

It wasn't the violation, the absolute strip of one's dignity and privacy. It was the fury that did the trick. That fury, that devastated, that poisoned, that squashed. His fury.

Then another man's fury. And another man's. A strange procession. The last one, a jerk with grey chest hair. He untied me, took the rag out of my mouth, as if he cared about me. Then he removed his mask and I knew that was a bad sign. They were going to kill me anyway. "We're going to take a break. Okay?"

He lit a cigar, one of those Dutch Antilles imitations of Cuban quality Tabaco and put it off, scorching my nipple.

The temperature of a cigar during drawing is 1472-1652 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes for about 800 – 900 Celsius. Some claim less, some claim more. I investigated. Scientists never seem to agree on a damned thing! The natural smoulder during puffs is about 1292- 1472 F, which amounts to 700-800 degrees C. Some say less, I tell you, it's hot. This means the heat produced by a burning cigar matches or even exceeds that needed to melt a silver coin (1615 F, 879 C). Yeah, I investigated.

You'd be surprised how obsessed I've become with numbers. With numbers and details.

There are four boxes of cereals in our kitchen: two chocolate-flavoured, two strawberry-flavoured. Axe likes the strawberry flavour. He says the chocolate doesn't cut it for him. Had they used Swiss chocolat… but they hadn't. Bastards. Teine doesn't care. He hates cereals. Period.

"My mom used to feed us real food like sausages and beans. Fuck that! Food for pigs!" he growls at me when I mix those with yogurt.

The cupboard door is blue on the outside and black on the inside. The other door is blue on both sides.

"How many slices of ham in the fridge?" snaps Teine.

"DON'T KNOW," I shrug. "I LOOK?"

"Palms up!"

Damn! That always drives me craaaazy! That and the bullshit with the "avenue of survival".

Duck down and search for cover!

"Be fucking perceptive of your environment, bitch! Are ya on the avenue of survival or not?"

"If you're prepared, you live without fear."

"Assess the damned perimeter for weaknesses!"

"We're not average people. Get that into yer mushed up brain! Who you're gonna turn to when everything goes to shit, huh?"

"Move up the bloody food chain, baby!"

"Hey, I'm mayhem, calculated mayhem."

"People are too stupid to be fed up with anything… they just know they're unhappy. But put someone there to show them and they would do anything, anything at all to screw things over."

"Give me 10."

Push ups. I faint after the first five normally. He says I try to cheat: I keep my arse too high.

"What's that? A pyramid? Are we in Egypt or what? Arse down!"

He pushes my bottom with his boot.

"Palms up!"

I felt like an old fashioned little girl in front of her teacher.

He doesn't use a tool. He slaps with those thick, bony fingers of his. I squeak, biting my lip and twisting in place.

"Oh, la, la!" barks Axe. That noise distracts him from his favourite show: Tom and Jerry cartoons. The old ones, the new ones are crap, he tells us.

Yeah, I'm still not talking. Teine has given me a notebook. I carry the damned thing everywhere. I even brought it here, to this doomsday place. It's ridiculous, but effective.

"How many yogurts?"

"6."

"Correct. What flavours?"

"BANANA, FOREST BERRY."

"Wrong! That French dick finished all forest berry-ones. Do you have eyes?"

I nod.

"I don't think ya use them. So how many flavours each?"

"BANANA. FRENCHMAN ATE ALL FOREST BERRY."

"Crap! Correct answer was: banana. What the hell yer giving me that long bullshit for? Down! 10!"

"Mon Dieu!" protests Axe.

"Yeah, yeah, He's a bit of a dick. My favourite is the Virgin. She understands me, my pain. This bitch's pain, She gets it, ya know. She's more humane."

"Whatever, man," grumbles the Frenchman.

"It's okay, sugar, pray to Her for help to finish your training," he ignores Axe, crouching opposite to me. "One more, come on, pray harder!"

I collapse, sweating.

"Fecking idiot! Ye're not paying attention to the world around ya. Ye live in yer head. That's bad. But we're gonna change this. No dinner, no snacks, no nothing. Let's see if hunger adjusts the situation."

Makes you wonder about the story between him and his mother. But you should ask about his father instead.

"Identical twins. My mother and my aunty," he tells me. "Dad hit them both. Redundancy: better keep it in the family, if anything happens to one of them, the other can take over, no sweat. One has to stay prepared. All affiliations are there, 'cause they were sisters, twin sisters, even better. Same DNA, ya figured?"

You cry and cry shoving the notebook under his nose. You've written that you were hungry, very hungry. You've also written you were sorry, very sorry.

He doesn't give a squat. He keeps telling you things you don't want to hear.

You don't want to hear because then you feel bad for him. And if you feel bad for him you start loving him. You already do, after all, he saved you from those monsters, which in a pop-culture-Chinese-Kung-Fu-movie-way makes him responsible for you. You're a woman: you fall for the broken types hoping you could fix them.

You can't! Forget about it.

"He fucked the brains out of them right in front of us kids. Strangled the bitches till they pissed themselves and boned them right after. I have a brother. He's okay… he went back to Alaska after getting outa' prison. He has a fat wife and two ugly daughters he humps every now and again when he's too bored and too drunk to screw the dog."

There is little doubt Teine "loves" his family. Maybe that's why he found surrogates: the Motorcycle Club, the IRA, the Apocalypse Preppers Club, the Expat Irishmen Club, the Eastern Europe Real Estate Investors Club, the Hunter's Club, the Security Company Owners in Amsterdam Club and many others you don't know about. But mostly these days, is the Motorcycle Club again, after the IRA suspended the hostilities and eventually gave up their weapons.

"That shit is over. Now we're supposed to be doing real estate investments. I don't buy that."

Brothers and soldiers, a generation of men who want to stay men.

Some were brought up by their mothers.

Being a boy brought up by your mother, you must feel castrated. It takes your whole life to move passed the fact that your father was too much of a pussy to handle a child.

Every man secretly hates his father anyway. Or so Freud claims.

I'm a girl and I still hate him, my dad.

But men, they need to bond to exercise their manliness. And perhaps there is no greater bond than in the presence of hazard and death.

Men need to be able to pretend they don't belong to a particular woman in order to be deemed worthy of her love. The woman, she has to belong to the man, otherwise she's just a tart-boning-material.

Men need to throw punches to prove themselves they are alive. More conflicts turn into friendships this way than they do by shaking hands.

Men need to bear scars and tattoos and have buddies who would die for them and for whom they would in turn die, just so they can feel different to pussies.

That and working on their toys on wheels.

And Teine, he is not really in the Club. He's more like a lone wolf with strong connections: helps their interests, but doesn't wear any patches.

"I can't take the rules and the hierarchy anymore, I'm too old for that shit."

Axe, does. His vest is the testimony, not the cliché leather piece you see in the movies, but a simple jeans vest. It bears his gang, his rank and his "road name" - the nickname he goes by in the gang.

"Jean-Marie is not a serious enough for a dude," he explained. "Axe sounds ferocious."

You didn't ask what he had to do to be nicknamed after an axe. The less you ask the better.

Teine refers to Axe's Club as his "friends" and sometimes "brothers".

"I'll introduce you to my brothers, Kido!" he told me.

THE BITCH BARKS with fury. She barks even louder now that we've all gone pretty much quiet.

"Yer scared, aren't ya?" Teine shakes me back in that damned barn-workshop-killing-place, his thighs hugging my knees. "You see your death in his, don't you? Well, I do. That man's pain creeps inside my soul, it teams up with mine and it's chewing me alive. And I still hate him for what he did. I guess there's a huge gap between forgiveness and fear."

I glance quickly at the dying Metal-Teeth. We've only taken a break.

I haven't forgotten.

I haven't forgiven.

So I murmur to him: "No. Gut him!" A glitter of joy moves in the cold accuracy of his eyes. He entrances me. I descend into an awkward abyss, down this narrow corridor in my mind, where he holds my hand and walks ahead, turning every now and again to make sure I follow. I moan as if my reason has been temporary suspended: "I love you, I love you, I fucking love you!"

His breath in my face. A thumb pressing my lips.

"You talk, baby," he murmurs.

I dissolve in that glitter of warmth shining in those cold eyes of his and I'm happy. I've never been happier my whole life.

His hand slaps that lump of carved up meat in my palm.

"For ya!"