Anita and the two normal-looking folks who had stood against the wall were soon led by Phoebus to a small parlor. Phoebus sat upon a pale blue Victorian walnut loveseat, and Anita sat down next to him, leaning in, licking her upper lip. He tried very hard not to shiver. Meanwhile, the other two took chairs, so that the four were all in a sort of circle around the coffee table, which Phoebus placed a few files upon.
“Before I bring out the more, er, in-depth details, shall we say, of the case, I believe introductions are in order. Ladies, as you know from her entrance, this is Anita Blake, the Executioner. Miss Blake, may I introduce Miss Eva Isaachar and Miss Max Singh.”
Eva was taller than Anita by about three inches, and had the air of a pixie or spry fey about her, though the spilling power vibes that spilled over Anita in a spill told her that she was a were of some type. She had a lithe, birdlike build, and her brown hair, cut in a short style that went halfway to her chin, completely covered the back of her neck but left her shoulders untouched, had blonde highlights added to it. Anita could tell that if it were ever allowed to grow, it would border between wavy and curly, but for now it was simply tousled artfully, and oh-so-adorable looking. Her skin was a light brown, perhaps beige, and the big clever baby-doll eyes that peeked out coyly from beneath mascara-coated lashes were a russet shade of brown. Her coral lips glistened from the coat of gloss that covered them, and her pink nails matched her skirt, worn with a lavender top and stylish shoes. Anita took an instant dislike to her. After all, any girl who like pink and skirts must be weak and stupid and not at all open-minded and strong like her own darkity-dark manly--but-still-gorgeous awesome liberated woman self!
As for Miss Max Singh…well, unlike Miss Eva Isaachar, Miss Max Singh did not look much like a “Miss” at all. She was probably two inches taller than Eva, and for all the world looked male to Anita, who had at first taken her for such until Phoebus’s introductions. The lesbians, she figured, must be getting more clever in their attempts to bed her. Disguising themselves as appealing young fellows, good grief, would those dastardly dykes stop at nothing to get at her delightful Doom Crotch?! For surely, no one, man or woman, could have any motive in their mind except getting some from Anita the Skankomancer!
Besides appearing male to the common observer, Max had wiry muscle built upon her boyish frame, flat hips and a flat chest, a commonly imperfect face with a nose that was just a touch naturally crooked, and coarse black hair worn short like that of a boy. Well, like that of a boy who wasn’t property of Anita, Mistress of the Loco Long Hair Harem. She was of North India Sikh heritage, with skin that was a copper shade between dark sienna brown and reddish olive and dark eyes. She wore jeans, a striped shirt, and a dark sports jacket, all of which had been taken from the menswear rack, and a black triangle earring dangled from one ear. Like Eva, she was a wereanimal, Anita could tell.
“Hi!” chirped Eva, extending a hand from which a trendy charm bracelet dangled. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, I’ve heard so much!”
Being a nice sort, Eva did not mention that she heard more these days about Anita’s current bedpost notches than kill count. Anita, not being a nice sort, stared Eva down simply for the crime of wearing pink, before taking the slender hand in a borderline bone breaking grip. But, being a were, Eva, handled it with a sweet smile that Anita did not return.
“Yo, same here.” Max also extended a hand, short-nailed and full of rough calluses. Like Eva, she sounded friendly, and her eyes were warm. Anita stared at the hand, terrified of taking it. Surely the lesbian lycanthrope would not be able to resist the urge to jump her bones then and there if they made skin contact! It wasn’t that Anita was homophobic, of course, she was just utterly terrified of lesbians! That’s all. Gay men were fine, though, as long as they paid homage to her sexy awesomeness by being straight for her. But only her! She couldn’t have other women getting any peen, now could she? It would cut in to her monopoly on the phalli market! That was why all other women had to be classified as a jealous hater, a spineless moron, a sexless lesbian, an evil rapist, or any combination thereof.
Max noticed Anita was not taking her hand, and instead just staring at it as though it were a diseased rat being offered to her for dinner, and though Max tried to keep her face friendly, her unplucked brows did raise slightly, as though asking when exactly Anita was planning on taking her hand…before or after it fell off her wrist?
Anita never did, because at that moment Phoebus decided he ought to break that little moment of tension by opening the file, causing Max to withdraw her hand and all three women to turn their attentions to the blond weredog.
“As was explained to all three of you ladies earlier, The Garden of Earthly Delights is secure in many ways. Customers are screened, and since all of our employees are preternatural in some way, they are hardly helpless against the typical human assailant. However, given the state of the bodies, we do not believe that said assailant was, in fact, human.”
He pointed squarely to the photographs in the file that detailed the bodies of the prostitutes and john that had been murdered, and spread them out on the table so that all could see. Each woman picked up pictures, examine them, put them down, picked up more, and so on.
“They were slashed to bits, practically butchered,” Max observed. “It looks like an animal attack from hell. Maybe a were did it?”
“Except him,” said Eva, who had a picture of the john. “His neck was torn out, but he isn’t ripped up like the others. Besides the scratches on his cheek, that’s the only mark on him. And you say he was the last one to be killed?”
As Phoebus nodded, Anita fumed. She was supposed to be the one pointing out this stuff! If there was one thing she had learned from working with the police in St. Louis, it was that no matter how damn obvious something was, everyone would miss it except her. Who did these bitches think they were, daring to do their jobs?!
“Geez, and after all that hoopla you gave me about how tight security is and how carefully everyone coming and going is watched?” she sneered. “I was right. Somebody did get under your radar.”
While Phoebus reminded himself to keep his cool and that she was a guest, Eva pointed out, “Not necessarily. Have we considered the idea that it might not be an outsider? One of the workers here could have gone rogue.”
“Yeah, I hope you don’t expect me to hold your hand through the night if that’s the case,” said Anita loftily. Eva looked at her much the same way that Max had, only much more unabashed. “Excuse me?”
“When the going gets tough,” said Anita, giving her best ice cold stare, which made Phoebus wonder if she was constipated, “I don’t want to play nanny to some little girly-girl who spooks at the first sight of blood.”
Eva looked surprised, then insulted, then…superior? A slow grin with a sneering quality of its own spread over her pretty little face. “Oh, don’t worry, Miss Executioner, I don’t think I’ll be the one spooking.”
“Easy now, everybody.” Lefty had entered the room, and had heard enough to decide that he ought to say a few cooling words before the room got too heated up. Phoebus might be polite, but Lefty was the peacemaker. “We’re all playing on the same team, right? You’re all getting paid the same amount…let’s not start anything this early.”
He sat on the floor, even though chairs were available. “All of you were picked for toughness. For brains. For--”
“Blackmail,” cut in Eva. “At first I thought it was just my head that you and your boss were holding something over, but Blake being here tells me it’s all of us, isn’t it? How else would you feel safe bringing in a lawperson to a case at an illegal establishment? It’s either that, or bribery.”
“Either way,” said Lefty, not fazed, “Out of all the people we could bribe or blackmail, you three were still picked. What do you think that says about you?”
“Dunno,” said Max, holding up the photo of the john Eva had examined earlier, “But what I think this photo says about the case is that we’ve got more than one killer. And both of them might be in this very whorehouse.”
Asher and Jean-Claude were having the best time of their afterlives since Anita had come along. They’d gone salsa dancing to start the night off, and had an imitation dinner at a French restaurant, where they actually paid money to sit at a fancy table, drink out of empty glasses, and stare lovingly into each other’s eyes while violins strummed in the background. They had just finished up a nice little round of “hide the rosary”, which, while it did not involve an actual rosary, did indeed involve beads. Just, not rosary beads. Definitely not. Considering where the beads they were using were going, and the effect holy items had on vampires, that would have been very, very bad indeed.
As they were picking their next lover’s game, the phone rang. Groaning at how the contraptions of mortals continued to make one’s sex life difficult, Jean-Claude answered. “This had better be important.”
“Jean-Claude!” The voice on the other end was Byron’s. “Oh, Jean-Claude! I just realized something terrible!”
Snapped out of his annoyance by alarm, Jean-Claude asked anxiously, “What? What is it?”
“I had sex with Anita!” wailed Byron. “It…it didn’t hit me now, I guess she must have left the city so her hold on me is gone! Oh, god, tell me it’s not true! A woman, Jean-Claude! Me, with a woman!”
“There, there,” soothed Jean-Claude. “It is not so bad, my duckling.”
“Not so bad?!” shrieked the stripper on the other end. “Not so bad?! Jean-Claude, how can you say that?! I’m her toy now! That damned ardeur of yours must have mutated or something inside the ghastly incubator of her vagina, because I willingly had sex with a double X! And the second she’s back in town, I’ll lose my mind and do it again, I know it! Please, can’t you do something?!”
“I am sorry, Byron, but ma petite wants beautiful gay men who are eternally underaged, and that is what she gets. I can do nothing. Simply try to enjoy the time that you have away from her power, as I am.”
“Goodbye, Byron, and good luck.” Jean-Claude hung up the phone, and then remarked to Asher with a chuckle, “You know, he called her ‘ducky’ during sex. Amusing, no?”
“Hilarious,” said Asher, with a smile that slid on his face as smoothly as the silk sheets that he pulled the incubus under a moment later. “Now, dearest Jean-Claude, let me see if I can find where your little ‘ducky’ is…”
“Oh, dear chardonneret, you know it is not so little once it has woken up…”
“The sun has gone down,” announced Phoebus. It was several hours later, and they were no closer to finding a single clue on the case so far. Despite the attempts of Eva and Max, they were not any closer to being held in anything but contempt by Anita, either. As far as she saw it, Eva was an air headed Barbie Doll on the basis that she dressed in pink, and Max was hopelessly infatuated with her. Neither were true, but reality and Anita had not been on close terms for awhile.
“We can keep working!” chirped Eva. “We’ve got no problem with the dark!”
Max nodded her ascent, while Anita began to mentally monologue about how she was at home in the darkness, and how fitting that was for someone who had become so close to the monsters, and how she wondered every day how she would hang on to her humanity, and if the monsters were in fact as bad as they were made out to be, and blah blah blah.
“We do much of our business at night,” explained Phoebus. “It would be more convenient if you simply took your sleep now, so that you can be well-rested in order to continue your work tomorrow.”
“And to get us out of the way, right?” asked Anita, pointing out the obvious. “Don’t want your clients tripping over us?”
Even as she was criticizing the idea, she actually approved, knowing that every man that walked through the door would doubtless be falling all over themselves to be her latest love-slave. After all, she was just that hot, and she had the ardeur, which was the greatest plot device for random gratuitous sex ever! It even let her get away with having loads of sex without ever having to be an evil nympho slut and actually have sex because she wanted to! After all, only evil nympho sluts ever wanted to have sex! Good girls were only allowed to enjoy it if they didn’t want it, and Anita was still a good girl! Really! She swore! Sure, she had sex with strangers and shape shifters in their animal forms and with eight men in forty-eight hours, but she was a good chaste woman, and anyone who thought otherwise was an evil jealous hater prude like Richard!
“Just lead the way to the rooms, man,” said Max, breaking in before Anita could really start hassling the poor blond. Feeling Anita’s, and possibly Eva’s, eyes on his butt as he walked, he led the ladies to three rooms, each side by side. Eva on the left, Max on the right, and Anita in the middle.
“Don’t worry about anyone coming into your rooms,” he assured them, “This is not the section of the manor where clients are, ah, entertained.”
“Yeah, well,” replied Max, only half joking, “Let’s just hope that our possibly-resident slasher doesn’t pay us a visit either, eh? Night, guys. Work with ya tomorrow. “
“Good night!” said Eva cheerily as she pranced into her own room.
As both doors shut, Anita simply lingered in her own doorway, eyes smoldering at Phoebus. She could feel her ardeur rising…well, that was what she called it, anyway. After all, there was no way she could ever have any actual sexual desires of her own, it always had to be the ardeur! Phoebus, meanwhile, was wishing that his trendy white jeans were not so tight in the seat or the crotch. He’d intended to advertise his goods, yes, but this was not the buyer that he had had in mind!
“Don’t worry,” she purred. “I understand you. I have a lover who used to be a hooker, so I completely understand that you’re a person and you need love and my healing cooch can make it all better, because I know you’ve doubtlessly been abused brutally by your father and your pimp and your customers and your neighbor’s cat and--”
“Excuse me,” interrupted Phoebus in a very stiff tone. “I am NOT a prostitute. I work for Master Himmelgarten in many capacities, but that is not one of them.”
“I knew it!” she cried dramatically. “He keeps you to himself, doesn’t he? And he’s trying to make you grow your hair as punishment for not starring in snuff films!”
“I…you…he…what?!” The poor weredog was completely flabbergasted. What in the name of all sanity was this woman talking about?!
“It’s all okay now!” she launched herself on to him, hands grasping tightly to the fabric of his pink shirt. “I’m here to save the day and your poor abused penis, and you can join my harem. Well, you’ll have to lose some of that muscle and feminize yourself up a bit and grow that hair out, definitely, but once that’s done, you can have a place in my phalli parade the second you drop any self-respect and individual personality that you might have! And better yet, you get to have sex with me any time I want!”
“Not be rude, madam,” said Phoebus, pushing her away, “but you are not my type.”
Anita blinked, confused, then seemed to get it. “Ohhh…you’re gay.”
“No, I’m bisexual, if you must know, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have standards, and you, Miss Blake, do not meet them! I bid you good night!”
“Hey! Hey, come back here!” Anita hollered after him as he departed huffily down the hall. “You’re supposed to do me while my mouth says no and my mind says yes! Hey!”
Hours later, Anita was still tossing and turning in her bed. It was a lovely canopy bed, large and with black silk sheets beneath a comforter stuffed with down and covered in burgundy velveteen, not unlike something Jean-Claude might fancy, but still she was unable to sleep, for the ardeur was not yet fed.
Groaning like a sex-crazed version of Frankenstein’s monster, she sat up. The notion of masturbation never even entered her mind. Such things did not exist in the world of Anita Blake! Sexual urges could only be satisfied by being on the bottom in missionary position to a well-endowed but girly man, which she for some reason thought to be extremely kinky and not vanilla at all. Again, reality and her don’t talk much.
Wearing nothing but a bit of black lace, the thought to put on the thick robe that had been provided for her never occurred to her any more than the thought of pleasuring herself did as she stepped out of the room to walk aimlessly in the halls. She examined the strange statues, and the stranger paintings. What kind of beautifully twisted mind could create such things?
Passing the small sculpture of what seemed to be a chimera-centaur about to strike upon a dragon-winged hermaphrodite, she came to a painting that caught her eye in particular, done in the neoclassical style. It depicted a woman with what Anita supposed was a male lamia wrapped around her. He was not, however, anything like the male lamias created by Melanie that Anita had encountered and killed in a cave so long ago. No, this one was beautiful, a milk-white male torso attached to a long thick snake body of green and gold, with long flowing hair just the way she liked it. He was offering an apple to the equally beautiful nude woman who lay supine in rapture among his coils.
“See something you like?”
The deep voice startled her out of her study. Hieronymus Himmelgarten was leaning against the wall next to her. He was not dressed for sleep, but was instead wearing just what she’d seen him in earlier. The only difference was that the multiple necklaces, crosses, and other such charms no longer decorated his neck; only a single dark red stone, set in a broach, remained at his neck, fixed to the top button of his shirt.
She suddenly wished, for the first time in a long time, that she was wearing more.
“Yes,” she asked, “What’s it called?”
Hiero tapped the small gold plaque beneath the painting. “The official title is Original Sin…but I always found Original Sinsuality to be far more appropriate. The fall of man was, after all, as much a seduction as anything else.”
Smiling slightly, he reached his hand forward to let his thick and bejeweled fingers stroke the air just above the surface of the painting, never actually touching it. “Even today, something slithers in our shadows, and we don’t realize that there’s always little teeth marks in our apples.”
Anita wasn’t quite sure what he meant, and simply stepped back a bit so as to be further away from him. When not in the presence of someone she meant to fuck, the ardeur mysteriously dissipated! Well, how about that?
“I believe that every human being retains an inherited, subconscious memory of Paradise,” he continued. “Why else do we always want more no matter what we have? We are trying to get home.”
He then turned his face back from the painting to her, tone now light. “Poor Devil! Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the snake, and the snake didn’t have a leg to stand on!”
Who did Anita have to blame?
A/N: You'll notice that Hiero's surname has been changed from VanPelt to Himmelgarten. There's a reason for that. Let's just say it suits him better. Also, spot the Tori Amos and Elvis Costello references!