Vera knew better than to ask for love; but the appearance of a striking man in her life leaves her hoping against hope, grasping at the slightest chance that maybe, just maybe, she might find it. Or at least something close.
Dark Poetry or Vera Voclain
“You truly are an angel.”
He said it so reverently, quaking with worship at the pearly alter of her knees. His eyes were glazed and squalid as they climbed the long camber of her thigh, like a ramp to heaven draped in sheaves of silk. Her legs poured from the nocturnal hem of her chemise like milk, smooth and white save for the occasional interruption of steel-trimmed glass, completing the odds and ends of her body in an icy kaleidoscope. She flexed her onyx-tipped toes on a rug and openly admired the way his knobby fingers shuddered over her calves—one flesh, one glass—desperate to feel; terrified to touch.
The woman tapped a finger against the neck of her quellazaire and watched the slag from her cigarette tumble into an ashtray. “What a poetic thing to say, Senator.”
“But my dear, you are a poem!” Those squalid little eyes leapt from the ledge of her hip and landed in the drapery of silk that plunged over the flanks of her breastbone. “A beautiful poem…”
She gently pressed the quellazaire to her lips, its silver rod cracking the blood-red bloom of her mouth. She took a deep, smooth drag, a spectral veil of smoke spilling over her words. “My dear senator,” she purred, quietly smothering the nub of her cigarette and setting the quellazaire down, “surely you know that a poem can only be truly appreciated when read aloud?”
Leading with her chest, the woman lifted herself from the chair, the senator curling around her like startled mist. From there she moved swiftly past him and proceeded to lope across the rug, the slinking fabric of her robe falling slowly from her shoulders with every step. “You have to be able to hear it,” she continued, the robe slipping farther and farther down her arms as she moved closer to a luxurious queen-sized bed. “To taste it…”
At last the robe drizzled into a black puddle around her ankles, and when she writhed to smooth herself over the velveteen duvet, the scanty neck of her chemise fell almost entirely from her breasts. She trailed a hand up the rising curve of her hip, teasing at the dark hem that interrupted her pale skin. “To feel it…”
By now the old senator was dripping sweat and spit, salivating like a junkyard tramp eyeing a shank of meat. He hobbled to his feet and shuffled across the room, unsure if he had truly reached the Gates but enamored just the same. He was like a typical moth drawn to the crackling tongue of a flame; a fly trapped in sweet, sweet honey. His body creaked in protest as he angled himself awkwardly beside her legs, his red-rimmed eyes wide and glassy. “I do love poetry…”
“All good men do.” The woman lifted herself up until the alcoholic stench of cologne was raw in her nose. She breathed softly, lashes fluttering, a long finger slipping under the crooked knot of the senator’s tie. “Shall we take turns reading?”
The senator was stricken beyond words. He nodded vacantly, his parched mouth pulling into an open and gasping smile as she curved her hand around his shoulder and guided him forward. She twisted him over her legs, turning him about so that his back may hit the duvet, and then snapped him down onto the waiting fang of a stiletto blade.
The polished metal punched through his flesh easily, jutting up from the wrinkles of his throat like a bloody crag. A muted pop and gurgle bubbled up from the senator’s mouth, his eyes falling out of focus and his body seizing from shock. She hoisted herself up and rammed her knee into the man’s stomach to keep him still, causing him to gurgle and seize again. The oily barbs of his hair tickled her knuckles as she wrenched the dagger free, forcing his head to twist aside and exposing the swell of his jugular, which she slashed with a fluid twirl of her wrist.
“To tell you the truth, Senator,” she crooned, pumping the last pocket of air from his lungs with her knee, “I’ve always hated poetry.”
Vera sighed and tipped some fresh antiseptic over her leg. The clear liquid fizzed softly against her skin, breaking up the dried blood so she could scrub it away with a rough cloth.
Damn, that bastard had a lot of blood.
When she first stripped down, her chest and arms had been thoroughly coated in the scabby residue, with a tapering spray running up her neck and onto her cheeks, the red detritus smearing her glassware and looking very unladylike.
She didn’t normally let the blood dry after finishing a job; but there had been some complications with the senator’s disposal which set her back an entire hour. So now, instead of sleeping, Vera was perched on the cool granite ledge of her bath with a towel draped around her hips, scouring what she hoped was the last of the senator’s blood from her body. Her skin was raw and flushed, her prosthetic patches damp and beaded. Satisfied, Vera moved the rag and antiseptic aside, sliding out of her towel and into the empty bath. She stoppered the drain and waited for the water to rise.
The senator had been her fourth job this week—and possibly the most lucrative. She’d swiped over 200 bills from his wallet alone, and that white-gold watch would turn a lovely profit. Add that to the cut Madame Esmé would slip her at the end of the week, and Vera wouldn’t have to worry about money for a while. Not that she ever did.
As the brothel’s chief earner (and Madame’s personal favorite), Vera was very well accommodated. Case in point, the top floor of the brothel had been renovated into her own private apartment, and unlike the other girls, Vera was free to come and go as she pleased. The others saw it as doting, preferential treatment, but Vera knew better. Mme Esmé was a smart woman, one of the smartest Vera would ever meet—and she knew far better than to test a murderer.
The water was still a little cool, creeping in a pool along her legs and tickling the plains of her legs that hadn’t been replaced by decorative glass and wrought-steel. She shifted absently and picked at the soft spines of her siren-white hair. The water splashing over her toes began to heat up.
When Mme Esmé bought her at age thirteen, Vera had been put through the paces just like any other whore-to-be. For the first few years she worked as a servant to the house—running errands, cleaning, bowing to the will of the worker bees. Then, when Madame deemed her “ripe” enough for work, she was dolled up, broken—“If you ask me, no man deserves the privilege,” Madame said—and fed to the sharks like a pretty bucket of chum.
Her first patron had been another government official like the senator; old, well-dressed, and disgustingly obsessed with young, painted women. He’d been all over her, touchy and determined. She’d been sixteen and terrified. Her terror boiled into anger. She drove herself into a blind rage, and by the time her head was clear again, Vera was straddling the government official’s corpse with a bloodied candelabra in her hand.
That man had been the first in a long string of unregistered victims. She just couldn’t stop herself. The gravity of killing seemed to much more bearable than being a sex slave. She’d clock the patrons, raid their pockets, then do her best to dispose of their bodies. She was hoping to gather enough bills to make a run for it; but after a few days, one of the other girls walked in on her stuffing a body in the downstairs furnace. (It said a lot about the cleanliness of the brothel that no one noticed the stench of burning flesh in the air vents.)
Hot water was climbing its way up her stomach, casting light intricately in the fusion of glass over her hip. Vera curled her legs so her knees rose back into view. She was already feeling clammy from the heat, a light layer of sweat beading over the fringe of her hair. She still remembered the frigid knot in her gut as she was frog-marched through the brothel’s “catacombs” to Mme Esmé’s office.
Just as they did now, the subterranean service halls of the brothel were cramped and dark, lined by heavily-soldered pipes and gasps of steam. Wall-to-wall the catacombs reeked of rubber, a byproduct of the pitch they used to seal the numerous leaks—and as if that weren’t rancid enough, the yellow stench of dead rat hung from the ceiling like niter. Madame’s office, however, was a surprisingly nice change of pace. Clean and lavishly furnished, the room was filled with the aroma of scented oils and fine cigarette smoke.
Madame herself had been settled comfortably behind a high-gloss mahogany desk with a Black Russian pressed to her lips, her blue eyes wide at being intruded upon. The girl shoved Vera to the floor and dove into a heated recollection of the horrors she’d just witnessed.
“Fucking disgusting! No wonder those men never came back—this little tramp’s been dumping ‘em in the damn boiler!”
At first, Madame didn’t move. She didn’t even seem to be breathing. She set her glass down quietly and leaned forward, watching the girl hike Vera up by her hair—which had still been a disappointing shade of yellow at the time—and jerk her head around. “It’s gotta be the streets for this one, Ma’am. If we get caught with a filthy little murderer in here, it’ll be the peats for all of us! Not to mention the money we’ve lost—!”
“Merci, Irene,” Madame finally said. “I’ll take care of this.”
Irene stormed out, and Madame stayed silent for a very long time, and for her part, Vera remembered nothing but the sight of the floor, her small fingernails crowded by dry blood. When Madame finally did speak, well, Vera still couldn’t believe it—and it had been nearly ten years.
“You will stay here,” Mme Esmé announced. “And you will work; but not as the other girls do. Deux ancres son bons au navire. From now on you shall sing—chut, my love, of course you can sing—and we will make you the most belle femme in all of Vapor City. I will manage all of your callers. Chut! They will be special callers. When I bring them to you, you shall do exactly what you have done tonight, and I shall pay you. You shall live here in my brothel, as ma fille, and together we shall turn this…morceau de merde into a magnificent palais du péché…”
She lapsed into a great deal of French from there, but Vera understood. Mme Esmé was an incredibly frugal woman, and she wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity to make money—even if it meant dropping a few bodies into the furnace. And so it began. Madame used her connections to harvest assassination jobs, lured the targets to her humble house of sin, then sent them straight into Vera’s web.
The water was past her breasts now. Vera leaned forward and twisted off the tap before carefully immersing herself—her shoulders, her chin, her hair. The water crept luridly over her skin, her hardware. She thought fondly that Copper had kept her promise—the prosthetics were totally waterproof.
Just as Vera was starting to relax, a rapping carried in through the open bathroom door.
“Oh, for the love of God,” she groaned loudly. “I’m busy.”
The door to her apartment opened anyway, and Vera wasn’t even remotely surprised to see Mme Esmé sashay up to her tub, a wad of folded documents in hand.
Vera sat up shamelessly, propping her arms over the rim of the tub and resting her chin. “Plus d’affectations, Maman?”
Mme Esmé smiled, casually guiding a tendril of blond hair out of her face. “Oui, my love. These are for the next week,” she explained, setting all but one of the letters on the sink behind her. “But this one will be for tomorrow night, after your last show is done.”
“My last show? But Maman—”
“Chut,” Madame sniped. “That is when your caller will arrive.”
“Can’t you push it up at all? Maman, I’m exhausted.”
“Then I hope you sleep well ce soir,” Mme Esmé said mercilessly. “Now, finish your bath and get to bed.”
Vera sighed and tapped a finger on the granite in defeat. “Oui, Maman.”