Mafalda Hockneybrow tried to calm herself when he walked into Dark Moon Rising. Which was odd, as she was always calm.
Except when he came in.
Most of her clients had very particular tastes. It was why her establishment was so popular. Her girls and guys would do things that others wouldn’t.
Wanted a girl to wear a Swedish Milk Maid outfit and yodel at you for half an hour? Done. Want a girl to tie you up on a stock table and read you the Encyclopaedia Britannica while she whipped you? No problem.
Wanted a boy to drip candle wax on you while he made you bark like a dog and let you hump his leg? It would take a few days, but Mafalda would get it done. That was her promise and her guarantee.
But it was always the quiet ones that worried her.
The ones that came into her establishment only wanting to have sex with a person of their choice. Or, worse, the ones who only wanted to talk to the kids. She was an old woman and she was entitled to a few eccentricities; she thought of all her working boys and girls as her children.
It never failed. It was the quiet ones that always caused trouble, in one way or another. Some would become obsessed with one of her kids and Tito would have to step in. Others would hit, burn, bite. She had never known a quiet patron not to do something.
That was why Ignatius Finkelstein was so worrying.
Thus far, he had come in and always chosen a different male. He had done his business and gone home. She had waited for him to do something, sometimes pacing outside of the room. But nothing ever occurred.
He was always polite, if a bit abrupt. But Ignatius frightened Mafalda. There were no two ways about it. She was deeply afraid of him. She could never see his face. A cloud of smoke covered him from top to shoulders, but that wasn’t what frightened her.
What frightened her was the malice. There was a darkness in him that was dangerous. She could feel it, tensed and waiting to spring. She wondered if it had anything to do with her obvious prejudice against quiet people, but immediately dismissed it.
There was something off about that fucker; she knew that in her bones.
So, when she heard the screams coming from Room 9, Mafalda’s heart beat into over drive. This was it. This is what she had been waiting for, what she had been preparing for.
What she had not been prepared for was the blood.
Tito met her at the bottom of the stairs. His muscles bulged, almost ripping through his shirt. “You heard them screams, Miss Mal?”
“I sure as fuck did.”
Another scream ripped through the gloom of the house. All the other rooms were silent at the moment. Mafalda knew that each of the patrons in the rooms had all stopped what they were doing. They had all heard the screams, too.
Tito ran up the stairs three at a time. He had run varsity in college, and it showed. In seconds, he was at the top of the stairs. But when he stopped, Mafalda knew that something was wrong.
She went up the stairs quickly, but trying to take as long as possible. “What is it, Tito?” She asked. “What’s wrong?”
“There’s blood, Miss Mal.” He said.
Mafalda saw for herself when she got to the top of the steps and stared at the pool of blood that had seeped into the carpet. She could see more flowing through the cracks in the floorboards, underneath the crack of the door.
The screams had stopped. Now they could only hear a soft whimpering. Mafalda went to move forward, went to open the door, but Tito stopped her. “No, Miss Mal. Let me. That’s what you pay me the big bucks for.”
She grinned at his joke. They both knew that she paid him shit.
But before he could get to the door, it opened of its own accord. Ignatius Finkelstein stood in the doorway, his clothes in impeccable condition. The soft light from the room behind him made it look as if he were glowing.
“Bluegrass seems to have made a little mess.” Ignatius said. “I suggest you clean it up.” He reached into his coat pocket and took out a roll of money. He opened Mafalda’s hand and dropped it in her palm.
Mafalda was a woman who knew the weight of money. And she knew that she held a couple thousand in her hands. “This should cover the bill.” He said. Leaving a swirl of smoke behind him in his wake, Ignatius Finkelstein departed.
When Mafalda went to look into the room, Tito stopped her. But she pushed past him. “Bluegrass is my kid.” She said. “I need to see him.”
But when she got to the doorway, the world stopped for her almost completely. The entire room was red. The entire room.
“Oh, Bluegrass.” Mafalda whispered. “Oh, sweet Bluegrass.”