Legal disclaimer: There's no Xena and no Gabrielle, just a few people who happen to share an amazing likeness to them (wink wink, nudge nudge)... the characters were borrowed for my own amusement only, with no intention of making any profit from this, and I'll put them back when I'm done playing with them.

Explicit content and sex warning: This story features consensual sex between two adult women. The works, OK? If this kind of love bothers you, please read some nice general fiction story instead. If itís illegal where you live, move. Bondage, domination, sadism, masochism and all their pals featured as well. Nothing too perverted and/or illegal though, and no sexual violence.

Drug usage warning: Drugs, their use and effects are possibly featured here. Nothing glorifying and/or disturbing.

Extreme violence warning: Whereís Xena or one of her descendants, thereís violence. Canít help it. If her batting average gets worse than two cracked skulls per day, sheíll get all aggravated and nasty. And we donít want that, right? Right. In this story, extreme violence and its aftermaths are depicted in a realistic, graphical way. Lots of anatomy and blood, since I'm that kind of gal.

Language warning: Proper English, featuring the f-word, the s-word, the c-word and the rest of the alphabet soup. I wonít go on the bleepiní bandwagon even if Scully does it.

This story is the fifth (!) part in The Kink series.

My heartfelt thanks to docgirl for invaluable medical assistance and of course, I'm forever in debt to my wonderful beta readers, Alphanumericx and Michal Salat (mio tesoro).

The Poetics and Politics of Kink

© Penumbra 1999

The eyes have to go.

You see the familiar look in them, the fear and the pain and the depth of a tired soul in the dark chasms that are his pupils. It is him, and it is not; the look is there, and the agony -- but the brain behind the eyes is dull.

No worth.

Your enraged scream echoes off the sweating walls, chilly and ugly as the mottled concrete there. Like a cancerous tumour slowly eating away the integrity of the structure, mold grows in the cracks of the old plaster and you see the green disease, nature taking over man's territory. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, you recite in your mind and smile at the memory of the priest that helped you through the dark times, and of how thick and sticky his blood was on your hands.

Ashes to ashes...blood to blood.

The thick red liquid soaks you, burrows into your clothes and through the leather to stain your sweating skin. It is hard work and you grunt, the salty drops inching down your forehead and into your eyes, stinging like hell. His eyes, which widened at your smile, are dull and white in your grasp, and you poke out your tongue at them. He screams and screams, but the blood runs into your ears and wets your lips and you taste the copper on your speed-numbed tongue. The crystal is the truth, and it makes you fucking sick. Futile.

No reason.

"What in God's name is that?!"

Detective Delaney Covington turned at the exclamation, one arm already through the sleeve of her t-shirt. Raising an eyebrow at the finger Constable Mary Cracker was pointing at her, she finished putting on the shirt before answering.

"What is what?"

"That...thing you have on your back."

"Ah," Della exclaimed and reflexively brushed her shoulderblade with her fingers. Even through the cotton of the shirt she could feel the old, uneven ridges that formed an X inside a circle, usually hidden by her sports bra. This new model she had bought the previous day, however, did not cover it. "It's my --"

"A bridal mark of Satan, it is."

A barely-contained round of chuckles followed Daisy's bitter remark. Della bit her lower lip to curb her laughter. Detective Daisy Wilson was always picking on her and her lifestyle. Ugly rumours said this was because Daisy hadn't had a man in years, but Della was more convinced that the real reason was her rather narrow-minded upbringing.

"Actually, we consider it more an engagement ring of sorts," Della commented mildly. At Cracker's uncomprehending expression, she clarified: "It's a branding."

"Ah. I see," said Constable Cracker, obviously not understanding.

"What? You mean you're engaged?"

It was Detective Tyers, better known as Whitey, though her skin was just shy of midnight black. The beautiful shade highlighted her flashing white teeth in moments like that one, when she smiled widely. She was pulling on a pale brown tank top, and she headed Della's way.

"Yeah. Sort of," Della said, and felt an irresistible smile creep across her face. She was sure she was blushing -- more so when Whitey thumped her on the back.

"Congrats, you devil! So you bagged the dark and gorgeous one for good?"

"Yeah, seems so," Della said as she tackled with the drawstring of her jogging pants. She smiled at the beaming Whitey and followed her out of the locker room and into the gym.

After a few miles on the bike she decided on the bench press, and sat down on the worn fake leather of the padding to adjust her wrist supports. Tugging the velcro tighter, she let her eyes roam around the worn, spartan gym, located in the ground floor of the New Scotland Yard building. It would soon be the time for the women's morning Krav Maga lesson, so the tatami in the middle of the room was occupied by women, as was most of the gym. Della didn't take that class because the training conflicted with her Tae Kwon Do.

When the instructor arrived, Della was already on her second set of six presses, the veins at her temples bulging dangerously. She liked taking herself to the limit of her powers, the muscles in her arms trembling from the effort. She had gathered a lot of bulk in the form of muscle and she was secretly rather proud of the washboard abdomen she was developing. Not that she was any contest for Ghis in arm wrestling, though. Sometimes her lover's exemplary physical condition could be downright depressing.

The rhythmic slap of bare feet on tatami was her music as she sweated through her reps and moved on to squats, determined to sweat off at least half of the food she had consumed over the weekend. She was in the middle of her stomach crunches with a ten-pound weight when her beeper went off. Wiping the sweat from her forehead, she fished the small item from her gym bag and lifted it to the light. The small viewscreen said only RPRT SQUADRM.

Sticky floors rated high on Della's list of weird shit to avoid. Whatever exactly the substance was that caused the sharp sucking noises when she walked, she didn't want to know, focusing instead on cursing her choice of footwear that day. Next time, wear the Undergrounds...

"What the hell is this?" a constable asked out loud, lifting an item from the floor with a pencil. It was a rubber ball about an inch and a half in diameter with four leather strips attached.

"It's a ball gag," Della said, deep in thought, as she passed the uniformed man. She missed the odd, surprised look he shot her way for she had already found something of interest. Crouching, she looked at a pool of blood, her hand hovering over the dark surface. It was already halfway to full coagulation, a dark crust forming around the edges.

"Hullo, Detective Covington. Fancy seeing you here."

The meticulous accent and brisk staccato was very familiar. Della stood up and brushed her jacket, smiling at the perky, petite figure of Dr. Dawson, the Queen's Coroner. Or, as she preferred, Medical Examiner. It had been months since Della had seen her, for the Yard had a coroner of their own.

"Hello, Doc. How come you're here?" the detective asked.

"The local Deputy Coroner is down with the flu so I'm filling in," she answered, gesturing vaguely around the small room with a somewhat frustrated air. Della knew Dawson to be a perfectionist; her postmortem examination room was always spotless. Messy, disorganised crime scenes were bad for her migranes. "If I may ask, what's the Yard doing here?"

"I have no idea," Della said truthfully. By all accounts the case was a clear-cut one, and clearly the property of the Metropolitan Police. Why DCI Pettersson had dispatched her and Detective Yang to the scene was a mystery to her. "So, what's up?"

"He is," Dawson supplied succinctly and pointed a gloved finger towards the far wall.

"Yeah," Della murmured and moved closer to take a better look.

In a word, it was a mess. No wonder Dr. Dawson was feeling antsy -- the scene was a residue nightmare. In a three-metre radius from a corner, almost everything was coated in thickly with blood. It covered the concrete floor of the basement in uneven pools and lakes, stained the sparse furniture and the walls, and even the low ceiling held splotches of the sticky substance. And in the middle of it all, between a small steel table and a chair, was the source. Della bit her pencil to concentrate on something other than the heavy smell of death and decay the room reeked of.

A man, apparently in his thirties, was bound to a gigantic wooden X with what looked like sturdy leather restraints. He was heavyset, with extensive body hair. The blood had flowed from the gaping hole in his chest and onto the carpet of his chest hair, producing a thick soup that covered most of what was left of his torso. Standing ridiculously rigid and upright, he stared at the ceiling with unseeing eye sockets, his mouth agape and brimming with drying blood. His eyes had been neatly cut out and placed on the steel table, along with a squeaky clean surgical scalpel.

"Meat hook?" Della asked Dawson, who nodded and, with a gloved finger, tapped the blunt end of a curved metal bar that protruded from the victim's chest like a solitary horn that had suddenly grown there.

"Yes. From the looks of it, rather new at that." The examiner stood on tiptoes and aimed her little Maglite into the empty sockets. "Both eyes appear to have been gouged out with a sharp instrument, and the orbs are completely severed from the optic nerve. The degree of hemorrhage from the severed optic nerves and surrounding conjunctiva suggest that this injury was inflicted before death, though the main cause of death is quite evident," she commented dryly and made a sweeping gesture around the blood-soaked corner. "That chest wound is so massive he would have bled to death in mere minutes."

"Love the decor," Dawson's assistant, a man with bodily proportions close to those of Arnold Schwarzenegger, said wryly as he stepped into the cellar and looked around. "Can I take him down now, Doc?"

"Yeah, sure," the doctor said, her mind already elsewhere. She snapped on a fresh glove and tugged at Della's sleeve. "There's something else."

"Hmmm?" The blonde detective snapped out of her trance at the insistent pull on her arm. She followed Dawson to where a forensics assistant was busy dusting the metal table for fingerprints. The doctor dug into an evidence bag and pulled out a bloodied sheet of white paper inside a plastic sleeve.

"This was on the table, next to the eyes."

It was a sheet of regular copy paper, black text scribbled diagonally on the faintly red-spotted surface. I'm sorry, it read. No signature. Della's eyebrows hitched halfway up to her hairline and she turned her attention towards the doctor with a wordless question. The doctor shrugged. Until the John Doe on the wall was processed, she knew as much as the detective did.

"I'll post him first thing tomorrow and have a preliminary report for you by noon," the doctor said, and snapped off her rubber gloves.

For a November day in London, the weather was unusual. As Della stepped through the low door that led to the ground floor, she discovered that it was snowing. A light, featherlike coating covered the street, the twinkling flakes wafting from the sky to a quick death for the snow would surely disappear come the next day. But for now, the dreariest of neighbourhoods in the East End looked almost virginal.

As she lifted the signal-yellow crime scene isolation tape and stepped into real world again, she pulled her camelhair overcoat more tightly around her. The moist air was chilly and she shook her head to rid her strawberry blonde tresses of the big slushy flakes. Her car was equally cold and clammy as she got into it. The snow in her hair melted instantly and as she started the car, small beads of water ran down her temples.

It was nearing six in the evening as she arrived in Mayfair, and as she parked she could see the tell-tale bluish glow of a monitor through the second floor window. She got in and, discarding her coat to the nearest chair, made a beeline for the kitchen.

It was another one of the many British customs that she had adopted. On days like this, there was nothing better than a steaming cup of tea. She put the kettle on, readying two cups of plain Assam tea. She knew it would be futile to call out to Ghislaine from the ground floor; the heavy beat of industrial garage music was making the glasses jingle in the kitchen cabinet. Her lover was working again, with the stereo knobs set towards the southeast.

As she waited for the water to boil, she took Ghislaine's mug into her hand, smoothing cold fingers over the slick ceramic of the delicate white mug. There was a drawing, a silhouette of a stiletto-heeled boot and a whip, painted on the mug and Della traced the graceful curves of the whip with her thumb, smiling at the fanciful image. She had bought the cup for Ghis, at a small shop in Soho. Though she wasn't too keen on stiletto heels, the mug had seemed the perfect epitome of the love of life: black and white, with little grey in between; stylish to the point of perfection; gentle, yet deliciously dangerous.

The kettle whistled and Della poured water over the tea leaves. The steam that rose from the reddish liquid had a faint aroma of scorching sun and oriental spices and the detective inhaled deeply, almost feeling the burn of the hot tea in her stomach. Grabbing the two mugs after stuffing a biscuit into her mouth, she headed upstairs.

From the doorway, all she could see was a flowing mane of ink-black hair that was spread haphazardly over the backrest of a high-backed computer chair, and the rectangular halo of the monitor around the dark head. The tea in the cups rippled a la Jurassic Park, to the massive bass tunes of the music as Della crossed the room and set her lover's mug next to the monitor, before hitting the mute button on the amplifier. The music stopped abruptly and the silence was positively deafening.

"Hey, hon," the detective smiled and bent down to kiss a pert nipple. Ghislaine du Plessis, the chair's occupant, let out a grunt of surprise and, with a hand under Della's chin, guided the inquisitive lips towards her own. The detective hummed in delight and managing to set her mug safely on the table without opening her eyes, she placed her hands on Ghis' shoulders and squeezed the corded muscles under the warm skin. It was a soft, exploring kiss, Della's finger brushing along her lover's jawline as she nibbled on the utterly delicious lower lip.

"Evening, luv," Ghis said when they finally broke the kiss. The wry, dark curve of her eyebrows made Della chuckle and she straightened, offering her lover a biscuit. The dark woman took it neatly between her teeth, taking two of Della's fingers as well. Valiantly ignoring the lurch she felt in her abdomen, the detective extracted her fingers.

"Now now. We have an appointment to keep."

Ghis lifted an eyebrow. "Madama Butterfly outranks me?"

"Seeing as how you didn't cost me fifty quid, yes," Della smiled and sipped her tea. "Not that I wouldn't pay ten times that much for you if I had to," she added, letting her appreciative gaze travel along the length of Ghis' body.

"All right," Ghis uttered, smiling, and turned back towards her monitor, her hands already flying over the keyboard. "I'll just finish this here and compile, and I'm all done. Seven-thirty, was it?"

"Yeah," Della said, smiling. Ghis' geekiness was something she found enormously endearing, but of course she would never in her life say so to her lover. My big bad hacker, the detective thought and, biting her lip the stop the impending burst of laughter, headed for the shower.

"Damn, that ending always gets to me," Della sighed, and dabbed a tear from the corner of her eye.

"Spacagna was in above average form tonight," Ghislaine replied, and handed her lover a tissue before resuming the struggle with her opera binoculars. Trying to get the darned things folded was always a puzzle that made Rubik's cube seem child's play. Finally, the binoculars were safely inside their case and Ghis straightened. "All right, let's go."

The blast of cold, clammy air wrapped like a wet towel over their faces as they stepped out of the comfortable warmth of the English National Opera. Della let out a brrr and tugged up the collar of her coat. Ghis glanced at the smaller woman and, smiling dreamily, extended a long arm around her shoulders. Snowflakes drifted down sparsely, white specs momentarily marring the black expanse of Ghis' overcoat before melting and running down the leather in icy rivulets.

The ENO was located only a block away from Leicester Square, so although they had to dodge streams of people pouring out of the tube station exits, they arrived early for their late-night rendezvous. After a few minutes' wait, a familiar bush of platinum blonde hair rounded the corner from the direction of Charing Cross Road. Della waved.

"Hi Maria," Ghis grinned and gave the blonde a brief hug.

"Hi gorgeous," the woman replied, smiling like the Cheshire Cat. Almost as tall as Ghislaine but wiry where the dark woman was muscular, Maria's Scandinavian heritage was evident in her high cheekbones and pale skin. Now, however, the skin and the extensive black tattoos that covered it were thoroughly covered in black wool. Turning her attention from Ghis to Della, the impeccably sociable Maria hugged her as well. "Hiya to you too, cutie. I don't think you and Nikki have met."

Della shook hands with Maria's girlfriend, a beautiful, slender woman with the unfortunate name of Nikki Starbuck. She smiled back towards the detective, her white teeth almost painfully bright against her smooth, ebony skin. "Hi, nice to meet you," Della smiled and sniffed. "Weather could be better, though."

"Nice t'meet you, too," Nikki answered, a slight accent speaking of her colourful heritage. "Heard lots about you."

"Nothing too embarrassing, I hope," Della said and stole a glance towards her lover and Maria, who were already deep in conversation about Diffie-Hellman over elliptic curves. Great. The geeks are revving up their engines, Della thought, exchanging a knowing look with Nikki. If possible, Maria was even more of a nerd than Ghislaine.

"C'mon, let's go find a restaurant," Nikki said, tugging discreetly at her lover's sleeve as the sleet began turning into rain.

After three courses, Maria and Ghislaine had progressed to Diffie-Hellman in multiplicative groups, and as dessert arrived, Della was busy telling war stories to Nikki, who listened with an enraptured look on her face.

"... so then the guy panics and puts the still-burning spliff in his mouth and tries to swallow it. Saunders rushes him and tries to pry open his mouth while I try to stop him from pounding the bejeezus out of Saunders there," the detective said, waving her dessert fork in the vicinity of her tiramisu.

"Oh man," Nikki laughed and set her cognac back on the table.

"Saunders ended up with three stitches, the guy got five years for dope dealing," Della smiled and scooped up some of the tiramisu. "Mmmm, divine."

"Aren't I glad I'm just a physicist," Nikki smiled and lifted a wry eyebrow. Her field of specialisation was high-temperature superconductives and, chuckling to herself, Della wondered what on earth she and Maria talked of with one another. But then again, I know as much about cryptology as Ghis does of psychology: zilch.

The restaurant they had decided on was one of the dozens of small Italian restaurants that dotted the narrow streets of eastern Soho. After some wafer-thin prosciutto and a generous helping of delicious linguini with paprika sauce, Della was feeling pleasantly full and she relaxed easily in the restaurant's quiet atmosphere. The interior was bordering on tacky without quite crossing the line, with straw-seated chairs and old framed photographs of the dry hills of Sicily. But the waiter's accent was genuine and the pasta homemade and that was all that mattered.

"But why can't you use multiplicative groups of finite fields, then? Much easier to implement, I assume," Maria was saying, gesturing enthusiastically.

"Odlyzko has a paper out that states they're not safe for applications with discrete logs," Ghis replied, her low alto unobtrusive and warm. Shrugging, she focused again on her cheese plate, slicing off a hefty chunk of Roquefort to put on her bread. "But I don't know that much about number theory anyway."

As Nikki excused herself to powder her nose, Della inhaled the last of her delicious dessert and leaned back in her chair, feeling positively stuffed. The two ex-lovers' chatting was low background music to her thoughts as she watched the women.

Initially, she had found Maria's intentions dubious. Hopelessly nymphomaniac, was Ghis' definition of the platinum blonde, and that had given rise to suspicion on Della's part. Later on, she had been slightly ashamed of her bout of jealousy, when both Ghis and Maria had stated that they were now just good friends and that was that. The detective could still remember Ghis' endearing, wild chuckles when she had voiced her insecurities, and the warm, reassuring words with which she had explained that she and Maria had long ago discovered that they were incompatible when it came to domestic life.

"So, Maria... how're things at Relative?" Della asked when the argument paused momentarily. The woman's dark indigo eyes turned to regard her, smiling.

"Same old, same old," she said, waggling her hand sideways. Relative Gravity Inc. was the company where Maria cracked her computer knuckles professionally, acting as a systems designer, analyst and all-around whiz kid. "Sal's still gaining weight and Celia still worries about my hearing." Sal was the rotund, larger-than-life owner of Relative and Celia was Maria's slightly fussy but well-meaning assistant who bugged her about her listening habits which were as appalling as Ghis'.

"Sounds familiar," Della said. Ghis' hand found hers under the table and she squeezed it, feeling the warm touch of the blue gaze on her.

Della's beeper went off and as she dug into her handbag to retrieve it, Ghis extracted her hand and sipped the last of her dark, rich merlot. "What is it?" she asked, leaning in.

"Damn," the detective groaned succinctly, squinting at the small fluorescent display. "I'm sorry, I gotta go," she said. She was on call for the night, and the duty officer wouldn't have paged her if it wasn't an emergency of some sort. "It was nice to see you again, Maria... give my regards to Nikki," Della said, gathering her coat and purse. One last kiss for Ghis and she was out in the cold, rainy November night.

The redness stains you again, ugly smears of drying crimson mottling the latex of the gloves. You can feel the sweat gather the talcum powder inside the gloves into moist clumps and the rubber sticks to the backs of your hands. The gloves are irritating but you understand that they are a necessity. After all, if the men in blue were to catch you, you would never find him.

It wasn't him this time either. The eyes are all wrong; pale blue, instead of green-tinged dark blue. You can still remember the colour. It was as if his eyes had stolen a sliver of the Caribbean Sea and dusted it with brown speckles that glowed under the fluorescent lights. You haven't been able to stand artificial light since that day.

The air smells of ozone as cars speed down the street four stories below you. Leaning back against the brick banister that separates you, on the gently sloping roof, from the chasm that leads to the wet asphalt, you listen. The sound of wheels on the street is a curious whizzz, punctuated by a muted splash whenever a tyre hits a puddle. The red and blue lights of police cars create odd shadows on the roof and you smile at the urban ghosts that dance before your eyes, feeling the clammy roofing felt exhale its moisture into the seat of your pants. You should go soon, for the place will be swarming with bobbies in a few minutes, but the eyes keep you enraptured.

Wrong colour.


You leave the mementoes on the low brick wall before snapping off the gloves, stuffing them into your breast pocket and heading for the emergency ladder, feeling angry and small. Next time you will check the colour more carefully.

"If you yawn any wider, your jaw's going to dislocate," said Detective Edward Yang and refilled her prized chamberpot-sized FBI mug when prompted.

"Oh, ha-bloody-ha," Della snarked and sipped at the black poison before heading back towards her desk. It was her fourth cup of coffee since six a.m. and the caffeine was making her hands shake. Sitting with a heavy sigh, the detective noted that it was past nine o'clock and she still hadn't visited Dr. Dawson about the autopsy. The case had taken on a new urgency after the events of the previous night.

Della was still clad in her opera clothes, an Ivo Nikkolo power suit, and her silk blouse, by now completely wrinkled, was sporting fresh and probably permanent blood stains. Loosening her belt, the detective sat back and rested the case inventory list on her lap, thinking.

The scene that had greeted her last night had been eerily familiar. After half an hour's taxi ride to the station, she had been whisked to another car and off it had sped, into the dark bowels of Bermondsey. As she had entered a nondescript four storey house, feeling quite out of place amidst the gaggle of forensic scientists in their plastic aprons and detectives in their ubiquitous trench coats, she'd felt a grim sense of deja-vu. In the bathroom of a second floor flat, in a bathtub half-full of some transparent, sticky substance, was a man with no chest and no eyes. The chest, as much as she could deduce, lay all over the dirty mauve tiles of the floor and walls, but the eyes were nowhere to be found.

Exactly two hours and six minutes after she had entered the scene, while busy combing through the flat's numerous wardrobes and boxes, a uniformed Met officer had entered the room, his face sickly pale, and handed her an evidence bag. She shuddered as she remembered the soft, squishy feel of the eyeballs in her hand, like a couple of ordinary three-minute eggs.

In addition to the victim, his eyes, and as much of him as the forensics team could scrape off the walls, the evidence had consisted of numerous items of sexual paraphernalia. S/M paraphernalia, to be exact. The list was long and included items not even Della recognised. She had been back at her desk a shade past four-thirty in the morning and had sent an email to Ghis, saying that she wouldn't be home until dinnertime. Pressure was heavy on her and her team, for the first victim had turned out to be an MP's son. That explains involving the Yard's involvement, but still... this can't be political. No way. John Doe #2 was still nameless, but if the flat had been his, it was clear he was not exactly a member of the upper echelons of British society. Apart from the S/M equipment, the most expensive item in the flat was the TV and that looked to be almost twenty years old.

"Poor Muse, what's wrong? Your hollow eyes today / Are full of nightmare visions, silent, cold," Della murmured, Baudelaire springing to the surface of her tired mind as she flipped through the crime scene photos, two thirds of the large glossies depicting the mutilation the second victim had suffered. Closing the thickening file with a sigh, she glanced at her watch and rose. It was time to go see Doc Dawson.

The body appeared pale blue in the harsh fluorescent light that bathed the tiled the autopsy suite in its unnatural glare. All the blood had been washed away; the only thing marring the chest of Eamonn H Pearse, Jr, son of the Hon. Eamonn Pearse, MP, was an ugly tear the size of Della's fist, and the neat stitching of the Y incision above and below it.

Leaning against the cool wall, Della rubbed her weary eyes and tried very hard to focus on the rotation list on the wall opposite her. But her gaze kept wandering back to the deceased Pearse, into the gawping holes of his empty sockets, and his mouth, still twisted into a grimace of agony. She knew the mouth was open only because the doctor had taken dental photographs, but she had always been gifted -- or, perhaps, cursed -- with a vivid imagination.

"Well, you know about the eyes already," Dawson said and lifted her gaze from the preliminary report. "The pair found on the table were his."

"Yeah, as we suspected," Det. Yang said and loosened his tie. He, like Della, had been on duty since the previous night and his appearance said as much. But Della was glad she had been assigned to this case with him, for Edward Yang was meticulous to the point of anal. He never missed a detail, and despite his irritating habits of smoking cigars on the scene and playing pranks on fellow officers, he was one sharp fellow. Besides, his mother made the best Moo Shu Shrimp; the family business was one of the small restaurants that dotted Gerrard Street.

Dawson paced to the autopsy table and set the report down. Brushing a lock of her dark hair under the surgical cap, she pointed to the chest wound with a red ballpoint pen. "There is a 4 by 6-centimetre laceration just to the left of midline at the levels of T5 to 6. Significant hemorrhage in the surrounding tissues suggest that this injury was inflicted before death."

"The meat hook," Yang said quite unnecessarily, and bounced on the balls of his feet. "How clichéd."

The doctor nodded, though she most certainly didn't catch the words as she was reviewing her notes. "The left pleural cavity contained 500 ml of blood, while the right contained only 50 ml of blood. Heart, lungs, and trachea were normal. A large, complex, full-thickness laceration, measuring 3 by 4 by 8 cm, was noted on the posterior descending aorta at the levels of T3-5. The laceration was stellate, and extended laterally approximately half of the circumference of the aorta, and extended upward 5 cm. Ribs 5, 6, and 7 were fractured posteriorly, to the left of midline, and there was significant hemorrhage in the surrounding intercostal muscles."

Involuntarily, Della yawned. Her clothes felt clammy and she once again remembered how much she hated ceramic tiles.

"Oh, and the hook also penetrated the esophagus, which explains why he had vomited blood. My take is, somebody extracted his eyes, and immediately afterward, shoved the hook through him. The wound is large enough to suggest it was jerked up--," she made an abrupt gesture with both hands in front of her and Della could almost hear the wet tearing sound, "--like this, to speed up the exsanguination. Ten minutes, maximum, and he was dead."

"Lovely," Della murmured dryly and flipped her note book closed. "Anything on our newest victim there?"

The doctor darted a look towards table four and shook her head. "Two kids found a plastic bag full of bones near the M25, that'll keep me busy until tonight. So, tomorrow. The lab replied already, though..." she added and shuffled through the papers on her desk. "Ah, here we go. The substance he was immersed in was apparently a home-made artificial lubricant."

"I... see," Della said, trying to cover her surprise. Lube?! What on earth...?

Leaving the doctor to her work, the detectives exited. Della felt that her heels were entirely too loud on the tiles of the corridors of death there and she tried to walk more quietly, quite unsuccessfully. They rounded the last corner and the light changed from artificial to natural as they approached the doors. Beside her, Della saw Yang yawning. "Let's call it a day, OK? We're too tired and the boss is still in Yorkshire."

"All right," the detective agreed, raking his hand through his thick black hair, making an even bigger mess of it. "I need a shower and some lunch anyway."

Going via the station to dump the preliminary autopsy report on her overflowing desk, Della headed for the nearest tube station. When she exited at Oxford Circus, the lunch crowd was at its thickest and, with tired feet, she dodged the wallowing masses of tourists and shop salespeople hurrying to grab a bite. As soon as she got off of Regent Street and stepped into Mayfair, the going was much easier. The black front door of Ghis' house had never looked so comfortable and homey.

"Hey Lucy, I'm home," the detective called in her best Ricky Ricardo imitation, and to her surprise, the tall form of her lover stepped out of the kitchen, sucking on a wooden ladle. "What're you doing home?"

"Cooking," Ghis drawled and gestured towards the kitchen with the ladle. "Fancy some spinach cannelloni? Best I can manage."

Della gazed at her warmly and stepped closer, laying a gentle hand on Ghis' arm. "You're a treasure," she said before giving in to her cravings and resting her forehead on Ghis' shoulder, murmuring quietly into the tickling wool of her sweater. The taller woman gathered her into her arms and held her, gently kissing the top of her head.

"Rough night?"

"You have no idea," Della grumbled and, with a heavy sigh, she extracted herself from the warm embrace. "Let me take a shower first." She was halted by a hand on her shoulder. Turning and raising a questioning eyebrow, she felt her face melt into a smile at the wicked gleam in her lover's eyes.

"Let's eat first... I've got other plans for the shower part," Ghis said, the heat in her voice speaking volumes as to exactly what kind of plans she had. Grinning wildly, Della followed the broad back of her lover into the kitchen, determined to inhale her lunch.


The sound of the razor was a slight rasp as it was wielded by a knowing, if slightly trembling hand.


Another patch of white lather was removed, carrying the coarse, dark pubic hairs along with it to reveal slick skin. The steel was then rinsed in lukewarm water. Della was very careful not to hit the edges of the metal basin with the cutthroat razor, because that would most certainly dull the blade and disturb her lover. Ghis was so engrossed in a recent copy of Mathematical Models & Methods in Applied Sciences that if it hadn't been for the additional moisture that was pooling at the apex of her legs, Della would have thought she didn't realize what was being done to her. As it was, all the detective could do was to admire her lover's ability to multitask.


The mathematical journal came to rest on Ghis' chest with a faint rustle of paper, and Della looked up to find a look of utter concentration on the tall woman's face. She had a faint idea that the look had little to do with Euler-Poincarè and double bracket dissipations that were the subject of the cover story of the periodical. There was a familiar glow to her eyes and as they shone down on her, their usual coolness swallowed by intensity, Della could see the dark, stormy hue they had taken on. Her stomach did a jittery little dance at that look and she had to take a deep breath in order to refocus on her rather delicate task.


She was almost done now. Earlier on, when she had slowly traced the outer pubis, first with the lathered badger-hair brush and then with the gleaming blade the newly revealed skin had assumed a delicate pinkish hue. Now that skin was glistening with the nectar Della so longed to taste -- but she knew she couldn't, not just yet.


Only a few small patches remained near the bikini lines and the detective licked off the perspiration that was beading on her upper lip. The amount of patience this task took was something that dangerously neared her threshold. Patience was usually Ghis' department, something she excelled at, to the point of being able to drive Della nuts from desire, pain and pent-up sexual need. She could make Della beg, scream and grovel before she finally relented, building up the experience just so that she could see the stars spark into life as she came, almost crying with relief.

Inhaling shakily to regain her equilibrium, she pushed those thoughts to the back of her mind. Seeing the quiver of abdominal muscles above the blade as she positioned the razor over the gentle swell of Ghis' mound, love blossomed in her heart. The amount of trust this took, the power Ghislaine was placing on her hands, was something quite beyond Della's comprehension, even though she so often trusted Ghis with her own well-being. It was the sum of all things that really mattered; the casual acts of tenderness, the carefully orchestrated, elaborate surprises, and the willing concessions. With this sacrifice of self-control, Ghis was showing the absolute confidence she had in her.


One last draw with the wickedly sharp blade and the last of the soap was gone. Cleaning the blade with a small towel, Della inhaled deeply. The clean, clinical scent of the cream mingled with that of Ghis' essence, producing a potent mixture that nearly undid her then and there. She felt the dampness between her legs increase, the need flaring into white-hot, aching desire. After patting away the last traces of whiteness, Della kissed the newly bare skin, the feel of it exotic and soft against her lips.

"All done," she murmured and set the razor down carefully. It would have been a bad time to cut herself.

"Are you sure?"

The words overrode the faint strains of Turandot, sung with icy detachment by Joan Sutherland, that reached the bedroom from downstairs. Ghislaine's voice took on a darker hue when she was in a heightened state and, as always, Della was reminded of something primal and wild, power barely contained and raging for an outlet. Dark with demand, yet gentle in its need.

"Yes," she whispered and brushed her cheek against Ghis' inner thigh. The muscles there jumped.

"Do make sure," Ghis replied, and smiled down at Della. There was a definite streak of mischief in the voice and Della chuckled. In the impatient shifting of the legs she was kneeling between, and in Ghis' slightly uneven breathing, she could sense the need. Brushing her fingers over the pinkish, sensitive skin of her mound, Della bit back a moan as Ghis twitched. Sometimes, she thought, if asked what was the most erotic thing about Ghislaine, she would have to bypass the usual and obvious physical attributes and say that it was the way the woman reacted to her touch, with such readiness and intensity it could occasionally be described as violent.

"What was it that you were reading, by the way?" Della asked. When Ghis lifted an impatient eyebrow, she just smiled back and let her fingers' path wander nearer to her already throbbing sex.

"It was discussing the perturb -- oh fuck!"

The last words, almost a low scream, were largely incomprehensible. In the middle of the sentence, Della had suddenly lowered her head and lapped up all her extraneous moisture, her tongue bold and rough. Ghis' powerful frame jerked beneath her, almost tumbling off the edge of the bed. Della guided her lover farther onto the bed, pushing away the damp towel under them, her mouth still attached to Ghis' centre.

"The perturbation of an E-P system by a special...oh gods, right there...dissipation term. Oh love..."

Ghis' scientific explanation was a continuous, low growl, her hands clutching the sheets convulsively. In her mind's eye, Della could see the powerful tendons cord at her neck and shoulders, feel the tremble of muscles as she now felt that of the abdominals. Lovingly, she traced every fold with her lips and tongue, sucking in the pliant flesh before returning momentarily to the throbbing nub of nerves.

"The...term has a...sweet fucking Christ, Della...has Brockett's double bracket...formohFUCK!"

The last exclamation of delight came when Della pushed Ghis' knees up and poked through her sphincter with her tongue. The ring of muscle gave in and allowed entrance, first to the probing tongue and after that, a finger. At that move, Ghis' squirming became more frantic, the added moisture flooding Della's mouth and face and senses with its richness and with the passion it spoke of. With added fervor, she moved to Ghis' clit, rolling it between her lips.

Ghis' release was a blind, white-hot fury that consumed her. As she came, hard, she screamed out her lover's name, the syllables transformed into a primal roar. Della held on for dear life, riding the roiling waves with pure stubborn will, and with the help of two arms around Ghislaine's thighs.

Gulping cool air into her lungs, Ghis laid a hand on the fair head still between her legs, guiding Della's mouth gently away from the tortured nerve endings. As the last shards of her release morphed into the sticky warmth of afterglow, she regained control of her breathing.


"I never thought mathematics could be this much fun," Della quipped and rested her chin on Ghis' stomach. Her breasts were grazing all that lovely wetness between Ghislaine's things and she felt like squirming herself, her need still burning bright.

Lifting a lazy eyebrow at her smirking lover, the clubowner gathered her strength and surprised Della by grabbing her shoulders and flipping her over before resting her heavier frame on top of her. Delicate, knowing hands meandered down Della's sides and she moaned into the mattress, reaching out behind her futilely. Her wrists were grasped in one powerful hand as the other hand found her behind, kneading the welcoming flesh gently.

"Well, let me tell you more on unstable equilibriums then," Ghis hummed, her low alto thrumming with promise, before her hand dipped between the twin globes.

The day had progressed into early evening and the mathematical journal had been replaced by The Times, the various sections of the newspaper scattered around the white sheets. Della snuggled deeper into the warmth of the covers, a pleasant dose of languor making her limbs heavy. Her head was resting on a firmly ridged stomach, the muscles contracting slightly whenever Ghis turned a page, the rest of her at an oblique angle to her lover's lanky frame. Their bed was king-size, as much to allow Ghislaine a comfortable fit as to give Della room for the various twitches, limb-throws and head-butts she executed in her usually very lively slumber. Ghis, on the other hand, always slept soundly, and more often than not the detective found her in the same position in which she had fallen asleep.

The air of the bedroom was warm and sprinkled with sunlight as the golden orb, low in the sky, had graciously had decided to bestow some light on them that afternoon. Dame Joan had long since ceased her faithful but uninspired rendition of Turandot's tragic story and the only music was the faint rustle of the newspaper's pages.

"Well, this certainly is strange," Ghislaine muttered behind the wall of paper.

Della rolled onto her side. "What is, hon?"

"Do you recognise him?" Ghis asked and folded the newspaper to a fourth of its original expanse before handing it to Della. "Top right-hand corner."

It was, according to the caption, Eamonn H Pearse, Jr, looking very fresh and lively in his snappy suit and Trinity College tie. Compared to the blood-drained body that now resided in the forensics laboratory's fridge, the smiling, prosperous-looking man could have been from a different planet. Seeing this new picture, something went click in the detective's fine-tuned brain.

"I've seen him somewhere... where on earth...?"

"It's Mr. Smith," Ghis helped. She retrieved the paper from her lover. "One of Soli's regulars."

"So," Della said, her eyebrows hitching towards her hairline, "I've seen him at the club?" Mistress Soli was one of the resident dungeon mistresses at The Rapture, Ghislaine's establishment.

"Mmm-hmm," her lover hummed before re-folding the paper and flipping to page 13. She handed it to Della again, tapping an artist's rendition of the second, unidentified victim (because the autopsy photos were not something any legitimate newspaper would print) that was positioned above the Metropolitan Police's announcement and plea for help in identifying the man. "And the funny thing is, this guy is a scene regular as well. He's the public whipping post at Torture Garden, has been for the past two years."

"Don't recognise the face, but no surprise there," Della said, giving a half-smile, her eyes still on the drawing. "My eyes are always glued to you."

"Aw, shush," Ghis smiled and play-punched her lover on one shoulder.

Della gave the picture one last look before setting the paper down with a sigh. Reaching to Ghis, she captured a lock of the midnight-black hair and twirled it around her finger. "Any plans for the evening?"

"We-ell," Ghis said, drawling out the syllables, a grin twitching on her lips. "We could always do the dishes, and I've got three months' worth of Software Development issues to flip through..." As Della's brows drew together, Ghis tickled a convenient nose and chuckled. "Or, Vertigo is on ITV in fifteen minutes."

"Excellent!" Della smiled and rose, a new bounce in her steps. "I'll nuke us some popcorn, you go and warm the sofa for us." Another round of Ghislaine's chuckles followed her steps as she dashed downstairs.

The dealer shuffles backwards from you, his greedy, beady eyes flicking back and forth, and you wonder how he can see anything with his pupils that are barely discernable. Seems he has been indulging himself a bit too much with his own product. You fight the urge to test whether the pupils really are the size of pinpricks, as the common expression says, but after a few fleeting seconds, reason takes control. He's been easy and inexpensive and while it might be amusing, such a test would most probably end your professional relationship with him.

You wet your pinky, dip it into the white powder and put the finger into your mouth. The tingling feeling spreads rapidly, flooding your brain with its sharpening senses and piercing clarity. Fucking A, you grin to the white beast roaming inside you and you feel like bursting into laughter. A passing Met van, full of bobbies, curbs your enthusiasm so you just chuckle to yourself and stuff the small plastic bag into the breast pocket of your jacket.

Tonight's the night, then.

You check your watch. Ten to ten -- such symmetry -- and he is probably waiting for you already. He is standing naked next to the sling and sweating and he's grinning under his hood and his erection is growing and his feet are cold on the concrete floor but he doesn't care because it's your will that he be there.

Dark blue, dark blue, dark blue... you remind yourself. His are dark blue, behind the leather hood and the long dark lashes. You checked.

"Another?" The day was not starting well for Delaney.

"Yeah," DCI Pettersson said grimly and rolled his other sleeve up, revealing a muscular, if pale, forearm. "Doug and FJ are at the scene... the Times paperboy found the victim. The door was ajar and the poor lad decided to investigate. FJ called in and said the place is a slaughterhouse."

"Great," Della said and sighed. "Anything on the SM aspect?"

"Whitey's on loan from Anti-Terrorism, she's tracing the paraphernalia found in number two's flat, along with the few items found on the late Pearse Junior. So far, nothing of note."

"OK. When I'm finished with this," the detective said, lifting her mug, half-filled with the dark sludge someone with much imagination might call coffee, "and my mail, I'll start on the past cases database. See if anything matches the MO here."

"Good. Try to prod the coroner on the autopsy report on number two, too."

"Aye, boss," Della said an gave a small bow. Pettersson rolled his eyes, smiling, and headed back into his office. The detective ambled back to her desk and, after a moment's re-stacking of scattered folders, cleared enough space to set her mug down.

Two hours later the mountain had finally come to Muhammad: the Met's vast database had coughed up about two dozen cases that shared one or more of the details of the case currently in the works -- if these murders really were committed by the same person. That seemed like a plausible assumption at the moment, so the cases were being treated as a probable serial homicide.

Serial. Damn, Della thought as she waited for all the files to upload. Serial killer was one of the most feared phrases in the police business, because multiple, similar homicides rarely had a motive that was clear to the rest of the world but instead, one that existed solely in the derailed mind of the individual committing the atrocities. And serial killers were notoriously unpredictable. They could stop with no discernable reason, only to continue ten years later, or they could change their modus operandi, again without apparent reason. But if there was one unifying, consistent thing about such unblanced individuals, it was the fact that they felt that they had a reason to commit their acts. That reason might be a far-fetched one or something quite insignificant, but it was always there. Fortunately, real-life Hannibal Lecters, people who considered murder to be merely an exercise of the mind, were few and far between.

When Doug and FJ arrived, Delaney was almost through the case files. She had discarded about a dozen of them on various reasons, labeled a few with the word 'unlikely' and the rest as 'maybe'. None of the unsolved cases directly matched the current ones, but that would have been too much to expect.

"Hi, FJ," Della smiled to Florence Johnson. The squad's senior investigator nodded to her and took off her wet coat before perching on the edge of Della's desk. She was rubbing her hands together to ward off some of the wet chill the sleeting weather had given the great city.

"Morning, kid. Lovely weather, eh?"

"Uglier than a buzzard's butt," the young detective agreed and sipped some lukewarm coffee. "How was the scene?"

"Bloody awful mess, as expected," FJ grunted. "I'm calling a team meeting in thirty minutes -- we'll tell you all about it there."

"All right. I'll have the past cases report by then."

This time, one of the eyeballs had been set on the smoked glass coffee table, next to the TV remote, while the other one was nowhere in sight. In the crime scene photo, one could just make out the fuzzy form of the victim as he hung limply in a rope harness, suspended from an S-hook in the ceiling. The next thirteen glossies told the whole grim story; this poor fellow had been dispatched with a traditional Colombian necktie, his whole rope-bound torso drenched in blood, a condom still over his shrunken member.

"Nice handiwork," Whitey commented behind Della and the detective turned, smiling a lopsided grin. The team meeting had ended a few minutes ago, and now everyone was chatting amongst themselves in small knots of two or three people in the conference room. Della had counted all of six detectives in attendance, which meant someone was putting the pressure on DCI Pettersson; few cases got more then three or four detectives, because they did have the Metropolitan police for help.

"The necktie or the ropes?"


Picking up photo #26, Della traced the ropes with a finger. She easily recognised the replicating diamond pattern. "Well, this is a Karada body harness, which means whoever did this took at least one basic course on Shibari."

"Shibari?" Whitey asked, stepping closer. She was definitely intrigued and the spunky detective's knowledge on all things BDSM-related was well-known, after an involuntary publicity stint regarding The Rapture a few months back when a fundamentalist group had threatened to blow the club to kingdom come.

"Japanese rope bondage," Della clarified and set the photo down. "So we're talking about a scene pro here. A professional dom perhaps."

"Right," Whitey muttered, scribbling Della's thoughts down for later study. "I'll have Doug look into the professional dominant aspect. We're rounding up some well-known people from the, uh, SM scene to see if they have any ideas about a connection between the victims."

"Oh, I think I'll recognise a few of those names," Della said, her eyes twinkling.

"I think so, too," Whitey said and winked. "All right, time to bite the bullet. I'll stop by my desk at Anti-T and then come help you with the past cases for the afternoon."

"All right," Della agreed, and grabbed her copy of the new victim's case file before exiting in Whitey's wake.

"Here you go, boss," Salome yelled over the music and handed Ghislaine her two fingers of Ben Nevis, neat. The club owner nodded to the bartender and leaned against the bar, studying the dance floor where the sweaty, colourful patrons stormed just a few metres from her.

There used to be a time when the underground fetish/BDSM scene was nothing but black on black. Times were changing, or so it seemed; Ghis nearly inhaled her drink down the wrong passage when a man dressed in fluffy, bright pink shorts passed her on his way to the gents' toilet. I'm certainly getting old, she thought and grinned. It hadn't been until the proliferation of fetish imagery in music videos and films that the clubbing crowd conquered venues such as The Rapture. Now, brightly-clothed ravers were almost as common a sight as the morbid-looking goths that had adopted the scene as their own a long time ago. Ghis didn't mind, of course; she found the added colour refreshing and, as always, the new trend brought more business to the club.

The scotch burned down her throat in warm waves and she adjusted her tie. Her outfit du jour was simple: white dress shirt with a tie, complemented by a long, black leather skirt. Eppie was holding court on the raised dais on the other side of the dancefloor and Ghis debated momentarily whether to join her or not. A warm voice near her tilted the decision to the latter option.

"Hi hon," Della said and stood on tiptoes to peck her lover's cheek. Ghis turned her head so it became a real kiss, albeit a short one.

"Thought you didn't have time to come," the club owner said, smiling with a new purpose. Her low, powerful voice carried over the murderously loud bass beat quite effortlessly.

"The DCI took mercy on me," the detective explained and settled on a vacated bar stool next to Ghis. "Which reminds got a call?"

"From a Detective Johnson, yes. I'm meeting her tomorrow."

They fell silent for a while and Ghis wrapped an arm around Della's waist, drawing her near. The alcohol was making her mood mellow and relaxed, and even through the club's potpourri of smells comprising mainly rubber, silicone, fake smoke and sweat, she could detect the faint scent of her lover's shampoo. Wild apples. And something spicy.

"It's a strange thought, y'know," Della said after a while.

"What is, love?"

"You saw The Evening Standard headline, right?"

"Oh yes," Ghis grunted. "Screaming '90s Jack The Ripper On The Loose!' in mile-high letters. An Imperial mile, at that."

To avoid public panic, the suspected link between the murders hadn't been voiced officially by the police but the press had put together two and two and, for once, had come up with exactly four. The Standard had gone so far as to print all the available details on the second and third murder, with customary 'fact boxes' on sado-masochistic behaviour.

"I meant, this culture," the detective said, gesturing in the general direction of the dancefloor that, at this peak hour of partying, was a raging sea of rubber, leather and perspiring human flesh. "How dangerous it can be, and how easily one can get burned."

"Yeah, it's dangerous and perversely enough, that's one of its main points of attraction," Ghis replied, downing the last of the rich, peaty scotch. "But you only get burned if you play with a fire unfamiliar to you."

The detective murmured in agreement and burrowed deeper into the loose embrace. "I know what you mean."

Another bout of silence followed and, with a small smile, Ghis mused a bit about how much of an old couple they were. Their non-verbal communication had progressed to something akin to telepathy, and they could spend long stretches of time in comfortable silence, something one wouldn't have believed of the usually so-talkative Della.

"How about a dance, my dear?" Ghis asked after a moment. She extracted herself from Della's side and bowed, her moves effeminate and graceful.

"Absolument, mademoiselle Ghislaine," the detective said with a smile brighter than a thousand-watt lamp. Ghis took her hand and led her to the dancefloor, where they were soon swallowed by the churning mass.

In the pale daylight, as little of it as there is at this time of the year, blood looks like rust. You lick at the blotch on your sleeve and verify that the taste fits the image as well. The jacket will have to be disposed of. It smells rotten, the scent like wet leaves overpowering the tang of blood so you can't tell if the caking stain smells coppery.

Even the crystal is having a bad day. With trembling hands you light a number and aim your exhalation of the sweet smoke towards the half-open window, hoping the landlord isn't enjoying one of his outdoor lager breaks at the moment. He's bound to recognise the scent, his balcony only a floor above you. But the chances of that are slim.

The eyeball, on the desk and coincidentally enough, at your eye level, stares at you admonishingly but you just exhale the grass smoke towards it, obscuring the milky orb for a moment. The floor is hard but sitting in the desk chair always makes you feel as if you should be doing something productive, instead of sitting her on the cold floor and bearing the chills of a bad load with the stubbornness your daddy taught you.

Hi dad, you greet the eye and salute, nearly torching your hair with the spliff. It's not really admonishing, the orb, it just sits there. The meth makes one see things, people say. So true.

The November day wears on and the evil turkey lets go, eventually. When the placid, orange-hued night of the big city falls over the drab day, you feel refreshed and, energetically, you bounce off the floor and to the desk. Picking up the flaccid, cloudy eye, you place it in a jar of formaldehyde. Eventually, the chemical will distort the colours, but at least for a while you will have a perfect replica of the colour you seek.

Blue. Dark blue, with a touch of green around the pupil.

At least the dollar bills have different ugly mugs on then, Della thought idly as she flipped through her assorted collection of bank notes of various denominations. The face, hardly in a league with Lincoln et al. when it came to the 'ugly mug' category, was that of Her Majesty The Queen, Elizabeth II, staring back at the detective in various sizes and interpretations. Fishing out a five pound note, she handed it to the cashier and, juggling her change and a case folder in one hand, poured an extra helping of milk into her coffee. If the squad room's black brew was strong enough to melt spoons, the cafeteria's version was even worse.

Of the past cases in the 'maybe' category, the earliest one dated back to 1983. Four women were found dead, raped, mutilated, their eyes poked out posthumously. The perpetrator, one Mick Buelow, had served thirteen years in a mental institution, from which he had been released in April, supposedly cured. Della smiled grimly and, lifting her paper cup gingerly, flipped ahead to the attending psychiatrist's final report. Buelow had expressed deep sorrow for his deeds and he had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition resulting from years and years of childhood beatings, verbal assault and molestation on his father's part.

"Well, unless the psychiatric treatment turned him gay, I'm not sure. The MO holds striking similarities, though," the detective said and handed the folder to Whitey, who was sitting opposite her, the dark circles under her eyes visible even against her dark skin. The Anti-T detective lifted a tired, noncommittal eyebrow at her and gave Della the sad story of Jacob McGilliquay, MBE, OBE, and half of the remaining alphabet.

The proud head of the McGilliquay clan, an outspoken advocate of the Scottish independence movement, had been held hostage for thirty-one days in one of the most publicized cases of the early 90s. The kidnapper had tortured the poor fellow, first cutting off his ears and nose, sending them to Scotland Yard, before gouging out his eyes and leaving him to die in a parked van in Manchester, where he was found three days later, completely exsanguinated through his eyesockets. Neither the motive (though pro-monarchists had been suspected) nor the perpetrator of this singular case had been uncovered to date.

After flipping through the last file on Whitey's small stack, the unsolved case of four gay men who'd met violent deaths, Della leaned back, harrumphing. The last case was otherwise conventional: the men had died of multiple stab wounds to the midsection -- the blade in question later recovered from a rubbish bin near the last victim's house -- but with their eyes intact.

Those crimes were linked to a Michael Ryan, a victim of child abuse who was known to violently hate homosexuals. He had apparently cruised bars, seeking out men with SM fantasies, and lured them to his flat. Once there, he had convinced them to be tied, whereupon he had pulled out a knife and taken out his hatred on the hapless victims. Ryan had escaped before the police managed to get hold of him, however, and subsequently he vanished completely.

"Y'know, maybe we're approaching this from the wrong end," Della murmured, more to herself than to anyone else.

"How so?" Whitey said, taking off her wire-rimmed glasses and rubbing her eyes.

"All of these cases," Della said, patting the 'maybe' pile, "are either madmen slashing girls or madmen committing crimes that are more or less planned. But what I gather from the forensics report, our guys had been engaged in heterosexual sex prior to death, and the late Pearse Jr. was a famous womaniser."

"And these are surely crimes of passion, in a sense," Whitey finished her thought, leaning over the linoleum table. "Very emotional."

"Enraged, even," Della mused, taking out a photo of the latest victim, who had been identified as Jean-Baptiste Mancour, 37, an employee of a Fortune 100 company in the City, and a well-known figure in one of London's sado-masochistic niches. "I mean, this guy's head is almost severed from the rest of him. That takes a lot of power, especially when the perpetrator is, possibly, a woman."

"Mmmm," the detective hummed, rapping the table with her long nails. The sound was oddly chilling. "But 99% of serial killers are men."

"Well, there's always the one percent," Della said and smiled a crooked grin.

"So, what you're saying is that instead of asking who? we should be asking why?, right?"

"Yea. After all, even the most seemingly random acts tend to have a purpose behind them," Della said, her blonde brows scrunching as she thought. "We need to do a profile on the victims, their habits. Think this through."

"That's your specialty, hon," the other detective smiled and put her glasses back on. "I'm better at chasing bad guys and defusing bombs. Y'know, macho stuff," she added, smiling brightly.

Della chuckled and checked her watch. Quarter past eleven; she was meeting Ghis for lunch in five minutes. Rising, Della went around the table and punched Whitey on the shoulder. "C'mon, mister. You've got a scene personality to interview."

"Right," the detective said and pushed herself up. "Do you know this Thomas MacAllister?"

"T-man? Sure. That's why I'm not the one doing the interview," Della answered as they exited the cafeteria. She did a three-point throw with her paper cup into the rubbish bin. "He's one of the nicest guys I know."

"I'll take your word for it," Whitey smiled and started for the stairs.

The weather had been absolutely beautiful that day. The cafe's interior was flooded with the cold, piercing light of the November sun and she momentarily considered digging out the sunglasses she always carried with her -- an overly optimistic gesture, considering the normal weather conditions of a London winter. Deciding against the shades, she shielded her eyes with a hand as she dug into her roast beef sandwich.

"Strange weather."

In addition to her voracious appetite for tea, one of the ridiculously endearing British qualities Ghislaine possessed was her never-ending supply of weather-related comments. Della smiled to her lover, sitting across the small table and looking absolutely, breathtakingly gorgeous in her thick, dark blue turtleneck sweater, her hair falling in electric, shimmering strands over her shoulders. "Didn't notice."

"Eh?" Ghis uttered, one of her perfect, dark eyebrows rising inquiringly.

"You are my sunshine," Della retorted, making Ghis splutter into her orange juice. Wiping her chin and nose with a napkin, the dark woman glared at her lover, hovering between indignation and amusement. She compromised.

"Delaney Covington, that was evil of you."

"I know," the addressee replied indulgently and propped her chin on a fist. "I just love to see you blush," she said as an addendum and to her delight, the enchanting shade of pink that coloured Ghis' cheeks deepened.

"Del-la," Ghis hummed dangerously, enunciating each syllable with utmost care, and fingered her salmon sandwich. Her blue eyes were the colour of the southern seas in the pale sunlight, glinting with the fire that burned within the dark woman, topped with gentle laughter. The detective's gut lurched most disconcertingly and a sudden pang of desire-rimmed, aching tenderness blossomed in her.

"Love ya," Della murmured and took Ghis' free hand into hers. It was warm and dry, the beautiful twining of bone and tendon strong and rock-steady, as always.

"Same here," Ghis smiled and bit into her sandwich, keeping an eye on Della. The other woman was fidgeting slightly, nervous hands fiddling with her Coke can. Ghis recognised the signs and bit the inside of her mouth to stop her smile. "You wanted to ask me something?"

"Um, what makes you say that?" Della asked, setting down the can with a conscious effort.

"You always squirm when you have something important to say," her lover informed her.

"Ah. Well. I hadn't realised I was that transparent," Della replied, lifting a wry eyebrow. "Anyway. What I meant to ask...would you go along with an idea I had for a bit of play?"

"I am, as they say, game," Ghis said readily, leaning across the table and smiling one of her slowly developing, sexy grins that Della deemed quite unlawful, right then and there. "Please elaborate."

While Detective Johnson was all professional coolness, Detective Douglas Wells's disposition could have been called obsequious. Ghis folded her arms across her chest and tried very hard not to smile.

"How about this person," Johnson inquired, her voice echoing hollowly in the ugly closet of a questioning room. Earlier, she had apologised for the cramped space, citing the arrest of two gangs and their proliferation across all available rooms as the reason for their sudden shortage of proper space. She set a picture of the third victim in front of Ghis.

"Mmm. The face rings a bell...ah. Bappy, I believe he was called. Used to frequent the club. Haven't seen him for about a year, though," the club owner said, picking up the autopsy picture that, while being not as gruesome as it could have been, still displayed the neck wound in all its garish detail. Ghis recognised the dislocated jaw and wound type immediately. "Colombian necktie?"

"Yes," the detective said, giving her a sharp look that Ghis met evenly. "And 'the club', in this context, means," she checked her papers, "The Rapture?"


"So, Ms. Du Plessis, where were you two nights ago, between ten p.m. and three a.m.?" Detective Wells's question came abruptly as he sat opposite Ghis. "This is purely routine, you understand," he added apologetically.

"At home, watching TV." Amongst other things, she amended, remembering the game of slap and tickle that had caused them to miss the ending of Vertigo, as well as the better part of the following three hours.

"Do you have anyone to verify that? Anyone reliable?" Wells continued.

"Yeah," Ghis grinned and took out one of her business cards. She had replaced the transparent plastic ones with a new design, dark blue over light grey paper, to be able to write on the reverse. She scribbled two phone numbers and handed the slip of thick paper to Wells. "First one is my alibi, the second is someone who can speak on my behalf on the matter of my general reliability." The latter number was that of Rear Admiral Devon, the former...

"But this is one of our numbers," Wells said, his brow drawing into deep ridges as he stared at the first set of digits.

"That of Detective Covington, if I may hazard a guess?" Det. Johnson said, coming to sit next to Wells. Ghis smiled to her and nodded. The detective held her gaze for a second longer before transferring it to her pad, flipping through the pages. The only sounds were the quiet humm of the tape recorder and the rustle of paper. Wells turned the card in his hands a few times before stuffing it into his shirt pocket.

"Well, I can't think of anything else, Ms. du Plessis," the man said, loosening his tie even more. He produced his card. "Call me if you think of anything that might be pertinent to the case."

"I will, Detective," Ghis said and favoured him with a bright smile.

Upon exiting the interrogation room -- what a barbaric-sounding term, Ghis thought idly -- she spotted a familiar figure at the end of the hall, conversing quietly with a detective.

"T!" Ghis' voice carried down the corridor easily enough and the man's head came around, recognition glittering in his eyes. When she reached the pair, the man grabbed her hand and shook it energetically, smiling with his neat row of filed teeth that were, in their strangeness, in stark contrast to his spiffy pinstripe suit and tie.

"Hey, gorgeous," T-man said, his voice as husky as ever. "Meet Detective Tyers, here."

"Pleasure to finally meet you," Whitey said and smiled. "Gotta rush, but congratulations on the engagement." She gave the perturbed club owner a wink and vanished into the squad room, leaving Ghis to T-man's mercy.

"Engaged?!" His exclamation was an outraged squeal that turned more than a few heads in the busy corridor. "And you haven't had the courtesy to relay the news to me?"

Ho boy, Ghis sighed. "C'mon. I'll buy you a pint," she said and took the now constantly grinning man's arm, guiding him towards the stairs.

Blue. Dark blue, with a touch of green around the pupil. Yeah.

The power in your hands is liberating. You cry of joy and sorrow as he passes into the afterlife, struggling vainly against the Reaper as He comes to collect. His bony fingers drain away his power slowly, His cold presence is pure ice in your veins as you wield the blade. In the last spark of life in his eyes you see the pain ebb away, going through the stages you know so well, and your soul flies free as well.

Goodbye, dad.

She coughed. Her voice was hoarse from shouting, 'No comment!' to the gaggle of reporters that swarmed beyond the bounds of the yellow crime scene tape, and she felt like she had just done a double shift on the tatami. One reporter, adamant about getting a word out of her, had even grabbed her arm hard enough to bruise it.

"The lemmings have found their way to ground zero, it seems," Detective Yang said by way of a greeting as he emerged from a ground floor flat, taking off a slightly bloodied rubber glove. Della's heart sank; this was the fourth victim inside of a week and their case had progressed little.

"Our guy again?" Della asked as she dodged another strip of isolation tape, this one at the flat's door and guarded by a severe-looking bobby who glowered around the dim hall in the best Christopher Lee imitation the detective had seen in a while.

"Our lady, according to your profile," Yang reminded her, grinning a tired grin and handing Della a pair of gloves. "Today's poor lad is a Mr Simmons, Harold Beauford. Died of a single stab wound to the abdomen."

The knife was still in Mr Simmons, Della saw as she stepped into the bedroom of the flat. Around and onto its dark wooden hilt dark, thick blood had flowed freely, staining the delicately grey carpet, the nearby bed's matching covers bearing liberally scattered stains of rusty red. The deceased was standing rigidly in front of his wardrobe, his dead weight held upright by thick ropes that coiled around his arms and towards the wrists, finally ending at sturdy hooks that decorated the sides of the wardrobe, a massive affair in dark wood with brass hinges. He had rope burns all along the length of his naked body, especially on his limbs that were all pinioned securely with the coarse, heavy manila rope.

"And here we go again," Della murmured and pulled on the gloves. Bending closer to investigate the wound, she caught a whiff of the residual scent of fear, mingled as it was with that of old blood. "Anything on the neighbours?"

"Surprisingly, yes," Yang said. That made Della's eyebrows rise and she straightened, aiming a curious gaze towards her companion, who was flipping through his little black book. The previous cases had yielded little on that front; either no-one had noticed any commotion, or they had conveniently gone deaf at the critical moment. "The next door neighbour woke up to loud banging at about half past one. Her bedroom is behind that wall," Yang said, pointing to the white expanse behind the wardrobe. "I'm willing to suspect that this guy, though gagged and bound, banged the wardrobe against the wall in his struggles."

"Yeah," Della said, stealing a glance at the victim. Beneath his bleeding, empty eye sockets and nose, a ball gag similar to that found at the first scene was stuffed into his mouth.

"About fifteen minutes later, the neighbour, Ms. Hernandez, got up to pour herself a glass of milk to help her get to sleep again. She was used to nightly noises emanating from Mr. Simmons's flat, it seems," the detective continued, smiling a lopsided grin. "Her kitchen window gives out towards the street."

"Ah," Della said and grinned. Yang handed her Ms. Hernandez's description of the person leaving the building and Della scanned it quickly. Dark green army parka, black trousers, sunglasses. Tall, medium weight, Caucasian of undefined gender. The figure had turned north at the door so Ms. Hernandez had not had a chance to have a look at their face before he or she had vanished towards St. Mary's and, most likely, Old Brompton Road. "Not much, but it's a start," Della said as she handed the paper back to Yang. "Make sure to send that to the lab, for comparison with the stuff at the second scene," she added, pointing towards a small jar that rested on the nightstand.

"The lube?"

"Yeah. Doug should be doing his pharmacy rounds today, following that tangent. We shall see if he digs up anything," Della said, snapping off her gloves. The laboratory had returned a full analysis of the artificial lubricant found in the second victim's bathtub.

"All right," the young detective grunted, stepping aside to let the forensics team, with their vast assortment of brushes, tweezers and plastic bags, prowl the scene. Soon the late Mr. Simmons was surrounded by plastic-aproned men and women dusting and nipping away the last of his dignity.

Upon their return to the station, the detectives found that Det. Wells had indeed spent his morning usefully, ringing through the list of the biggest chemicals manufacturers, most of which had readily agreed to assist and faxed mile-long lists to the station. While most of the chemicals needed for the lube were simple and common enough, a few required the company to record the name of the buyer, when an individual person instead of a company purchased the said substance.

"Hi Doug," Della greeted the shy, very likable detective, peeking around the foot-high piles of fax paper that cluttered his usually so pristine desk.

"Afternoon, Detective Covington," he replied quietly and smiled. In contrast to the genial, relaxed atmosphere of the squad room, he always insisted on addressing everyone formally, but it was not out of rudeness on his part. His upbringing had simply been very old-fashioned, in the tradition of the British society at its worst. "I found one possible lead."

"Oh? Do tell," Della said, peeling off her overcoat and coming to stand next to him.

"Three separate companies, three key ingredients, three bad checks, one name. Need I say more?" he said, grinning, handing Della a fax slip that had the name circled in red. "The checks are by one Shayna Foster."

"And...?" Della prompted, her eyebrows knitting. "Anything on her?"

"She's been in Woodley since 1993," Wells said, his eyes twinkling. Upon Della's blank look, he leaned forward and clarified: "It's a mental institution, near Basildon in Essex."

Even in the lead grey deluge of the not-quite-sleet rain, the Woodley Institute looked little like a mental institution and more like a maximum-security prison. A flash of her badge at the gate granted them access quickly enough and Yang steered the unmarked blue Ford neatly to the parking lot. The rain had started as they were near Brentwood, and of course both detectives had forgotten their umbrellas at the station.

"Can I get you some hot tea, detectives?" the institution's chief psychiatrist asked them, a small smile twisting his thin lips up. Doctor William Adams-Morris was in his fifties, a tall man with the bearing of a Royal Guardsman. The photographs and plaques around his office testified that he had indeed served in the Army during the Falklands War. His handshake had been warm, his paw enveloping Della's hand almost completely.

"Yes, please," Della smiled and discreetly shook her head to free the last droplets of water from her hair. Yang nodded in assent and the doctor poured them all cups from the kettle perched on the corner of his desk, which was improbably large for the close confines of his office. In addition to the desk, the space was cluttered with medical books and journals that covered every horizontal surface, except the seats of the two visitor chairs the detectives currently occupied.

"Shayna Foster, eh?" Adams-Morris said, sipping his own tea which he took laced heavily with milk and sugar. Della could smell the sweetness of the liquid across the desk. "Yes, she is with us. Of course, you understand I cannot divulge any information concerning her patient history."

"Of course," Della said and dug out the fax sheet Doug had given her. The doctor glanced through it and nodded for the detective to explain. "We were wondering why checks in her name have been appearing recently, under most alarming circumstances."


Instead of an answer, Della passed the doctor a pre-autopsy picture of Pearse Junior. Adams-Morris's bushy eyebrows hitched halfway to his receding hairline and he put the cup down carefully. "I see." There was no trepidation in his voice, only professional interest. He set the photo on the desk and steepled his fingers over it. "I understand your urgency, detective," he said gravely, "but I do not see how I can help you."

"Ms. Foster hasn't been outside the institution since...?" Yang prompted.

"1995. She had two days' leave so she could attend her father's funeral."

"Damn," Della swore under her breath. Another false alarm.

Her eyes were turned towards the Georgia O'Keeffe but she did not see it, nor did she hear the soft notes of Chopin that flowed richly around the spacious, sparsely furnished living room of the Mayfair house. Della's tea was also alone, cooling, forgotten on the table.

"O'Keeffe isn't that interesting an artist, m'dear." Ghislaine's voice was low and unobtrusive, coming from behind and above Della. Two warm hands landed on her shoulders.

"Hm?" Della said, snapping out of her trance. Her neck popped audibly as she craned it, producing a half-grimace on her face. "Ow."

"Oh, poor baby," Ghis chuckled and came around the sofa to sit next to her lover. Looking unusually severe in her black turtleneck sweater, her hair in a braid, the dark woman smiled warmly and reached out, laying a hand on Della's shoulder. "Does this hurt?" she asked and pressed at the juncture of her neck and shoulder. Della almost jumped off the cushions.

"Yessss, it hurts," she hissed to her lover and swatted the offending hand away. Ghis just tilted her raven head, the ice blue eyes glinting with mischief.

"Sorry," Ghis apologised and gestured for Della to turn.

"No, you're not."

"You are absolutely correct," Ghis agreed and Della could feel the radiance of the smile that followed the words. Knowing hands went to work, kneading at the muscles between her shoulderblades. "Always let a sadist do your backrubs."

"Why is that?" Della groaned, her head lolling between her shoulders. Gods that feels good, she thought, but felt too drowsy to say it out loud.

"Just the right amount of pain," Ghis replied and to illustrate the point, pressed the heel of her hand against an acupressure point in Della's back. The pain radiated in warm waves from the point and Della had to focus consciously to be able to breathe evenly.

"Yeah. Shihatsu is the reason I keep you around," she managed, her voice sounding pained and muffled to even herself.

"Oh, it's not my cooking then?"

"And then there's that," Della amended with a chuckle, the weariness of the day draining away. No longer was the bad weather and the evil of man getting to her. All she felt was the warm, sure touch on her back and shoulders and the closeness of the woman she loved. Ghis' comforting scent was around her and in the old Oxford University sweater she was wearing, the warm, musky fragrance she would recognise in her sleep.

"So, about this game..."

Della smiled at the casual phrasing. The exact nature of Della's idea had obviously been tickling Ghis' brain constantly, ever since she had popped the question at the café. She had divulged only that it was a surprise that required only Ghis' promise to go along with it, and let the rest remain a mystery. The dark woman had agreed but...


"Can't you tell me anything about it?"

"Nope," Della said firmly and shook her head for added emphasis, though it was hard with Ghis massaging her neck. "All things come to those who wait, my love. Next Friday."

"I could just torture the details out of you, y'know," Ghis mused and pressed another acupressure point at the nape of Della's neck, making a shiver skitter through the detective.


"All right, I'll wait," Ghis resigned with a sigh and continued with the massage, kneading away the soreness in Della's lower back. The smaller woman groaned. "Tomorrow's Saturday. Any plans?"

"How about if we go shopping?"

"Must we?" Ghis' tone was slightly wary; if there was one thing she loathed, it was crowds. Her anxiousness was at its peak in chaotic places, mostly because of her military training that had insisted on inconspicuousness, and for one over six feet tall and as exotic-looking as she, being invisible was not an option on Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon.

"I'll cook tomorrow," Della offered.

"Mmm." Still noncommittal.

"And give you a foot massage."

"You would have done that anyway, ma chérie." Della could see in her mind's eye the gentle, teasing curve of Ghis' eyebrow as she said that.

"Lingerie shopping."

" you're talking..."

"Are we clear?"

"Huh?" His skull was obviously thick enough to absorb neutrinos. Ghis mused that he was yet more living proof of the fact that for some people, the cubic capacity of their car's engine was in linear inverse relation to the volume of grey matter in their head. She took a step closer and he instinctively backed away.

"You do not honk when I'm at the petrol pump," she enunciated carefully. Another step. "And you do not call me a 'slow cow' without losing the use of at least two fingers and possibly some more...valuable organs," she continued, and the next step took her right next to him. He had no room to back up any farther as his calves brushed the bumper of his Lexus.

"Um, yeah," he said. Sweat beaded on his upper lip and he looked as if he needed to loosen his tie, badly.

"And you will apologise, fou," she finished, twirling the petrol tank's cap in her fingers.

"I'm sorry."

"Of course you are," Ghis said and smiled one of her best feral smiles, taking full advantage of the three inches in height she had over him, and of the years of experience she had in the art of intimidation. The man blanched and almost sat on the gleaming hood of his car. "I'm going to finish my aborted task and you'll keep quiet."

"Sure," he squeaked, and satisfied, Ghis turned away, her mood suddenly better. Nothing like a verbal beating of un cretin to cheer up a sordid, cold November day. She grabbed the pump again and resumed her interrupted business. She had been only a third of the way through when the black Lexus had queued behind her and started honking.

She was just stepping into the antique Bugatti when her mobile phone rang. Manoeuvring the car off the petrol station's premises with one hand, Ghis fished the silvery item out with the other. The number on the screen was a very familiar one.

"Hi hon...yeah...five minutes? I'll be there. Bye."

Miraculously, she found a free spot on Wigmore Street and neatly slid the gleaming black car into the slot. The engine's loud noise died abruptly and she took off her driving gloves, tugging her shawl tighter around her. The day was a very cold one, and that fortunately meant there were fewer people out and about. She met Della near the Bond Street tube station.

"Hi love," the blonde woman said, smiling radiantly and waving her assortment of shopping bags that contained what she described only as the 'necessary equipment' for her still undisclosed game. "Got all I need. How about you?"

"Drove around, filled the tank, picked a fight with an imbecile," Ghis replied and gave Della's cheek a quick peck.

"Imbecile?" The blonde brows drew together.

"Il a une tête a faire sauter les plaques d'egouts, as maman would have said," Ghis smiled.

"Oh, gods," Della laughed. "A face that could blow off manhole covers? That ugly, eh?"

"And that idiotic," Ghis said and wrapped an arm around her lover's shoulders as they started down Bond Street. "But I didn't hit him. Honestly."

"Lucky bastard," Della smiled and took a right turn towards a lingerie boutique. One dark eyebrow lifted and the detective winked. "I promised, didn't I?"

After flipping rapidly through the lacy half of the racks, Della got stuck at the rack of sleeker items. Ghis told her to take her time and, after gathering an armful of bras and other assorted items, the smaller woman headed for the fitting room, guiding her lover to a seat just outside the curtain. Ghis was two-thirds through the latest Dr. Dobbs Journal, Della on the dark blue garter belt, when the detective's mobile phone rang.

"Shit," was Della's laconic comment when she looked at the caller's number.

"Trouble?" Ghis asked, folding the magazine under her arm.


"What's in there?" Detective Yang asked, pointing at the plastic bag Della clutched.

"Two Gossard's Glossies Sheer bras," the detective grunted as she crouched next to her partner and stuffed the bag into the pocket of her overcoat -- she had forgotten to leave them in the car with Ghis. The concrete of the wall next to her felt cold and clammy to her fingers, and her breath obscured the air in front of her with small, white clouds. "What's the story?"

"Possible situ in there," Yang said and nodded towards the three-story building across the street. They were hiding in a narrow alley between two old houses, the front door of the building in question directly ahead and what seemed to be half of the manpower of the London Metropolitan Police, Holloway Division, behind them. "The neighbour of one Nancy Wittstock called the police. Earlier on, the neighbour had seen Ms. Wittstock enter her flat in the company of a young man. A few minutes later, a ruckus started in Ms. Wittstock's flat -- loud noise, screaming, the sound of someone getting one hell of a beating, the works."

"And...?" Della prompted and wiped the sweat off her brow discreetly. It had taken her just under twenty minutes to get to Islington -- record time, she was sure.

"The neighbour describes Ms. Wittstock as a tall, blonde woman with a, mmm, less than reputable profession and even seedier hobbies."

"Right. What's the tally now?"

"This is number twenty-four of the even remotely possible tips," Yang grimaced and yanked his scarf tighter. The day's newspapers had carried a description of the suspected murderess and ever since the first issues had hit newsstands at five a.m., the Met's phones had been ringing off the hook. Most calls had been, as usual, false leads. "The best one so far," he added. "That's why I called you in."

"Yeah," Della said, her eyes narrowing as she regarded the house. "Shall we?"

"Guys in goon gear first," Yang smiled and gestured for the sergeant of the policemen to go first.

The men and women, dressed in bulky protective gear, bulletproof vests and all, filed quietly across the street and fanned out, a few going round the house to secure the back entrance. The sergeant gestured silently, his helmet bobbing up and down as he checked his troop status. At the drop of his hand, the front men rushed the stairs and barged through the door, followed by another contingent of policemen, before the detectives got in.

"Police! Don't move a muscle!" the sergeant roared as he shot through the flat's door, the yellow-painted wood parting before him as easily as balsa. The gaggle of policemen streamed in and filled every cranny and nook of the small place in the blink of an eye, shouts of "Clear!" echoing down the hall as the detectives jogged to catch up with their uniformed colleagues.

Surprisingly, it was the slightly rancid smell of the place that Della noticed first; old, mouldy food, mixed with the bittersweet, heavy scent of sex. And...blood. The smell became stronger as she went down the short hall and turned left into the bedroom.

"Otium cum dignitate..."

"Ma'am?" the sergeant asked, his shotgun not wavering. "I didn't catch you."

"Nothing," Della sighed and waved a hand to dismiss her ironic but to-the-point whisper -- for if anything, the scene that opened up before her was certainly not one of 'leisure with dignity.' She couldn't decide if the sight of the couple, the man tied to the trestle and the woman standing rigidly at attention next to him, was silly or sad. "Lower your weapon, Sergeant."

"Ma'am!" the man protested, his light brown moustache twitching. A glower from Della did the job and the shotgun barrel lowered, and along with it, the woman's painfully erect posture deflated as well. The leather paddle she had been holding clattered to the floor.

"You're Nancy Wittstock?"

"Yes," the woman said to Yang, who had joined Della in the bedroom. " mean, shit..." She trailed off and shook her head, leaning against the prone man who issued an alarmed grunt through his gag.

It took Ms. Wittstock a few moments to gather her wits and unleash her client from the trestle. After a change of clothes, she had transformed from a leather-clad dominatrix into an ordinary woman and Della smiled sadly, her eyes travelling around the dingy, sparse kitchen where they were sitting. Ms. Wittstock drank from a cup of coffee as if she hadn't had caffeine in three months, though otherwise she was relatively calm.

"Well, I'm a professional dominant, as you probably guessed," she said and Della nodded, scribbling nonsense into her yellow pad because she was expected to write something -- an illusion aimed at giving the interviewee time to think. "Semi-pro," she corrected herself. "So I whip people for extra cash. The guy's an old customer...I don't like to take him during the weekends or in the evenings because he's so loud," she said, smiling a crooked smile. "He convinced me to make an exception this time."

"So I gather," Della said, smiling as she lifted her gaze from the pad. Ms. Wittstock's eyes were a deep, calm brown and very tired-looking, as if she had already seen everything and that nothing, not a single thing, could surprise her any more. "So he's a regular?"

"Yeah, I've been beating his ass bloody for the past year or so. Twice a month, or whenever he has an extra fifty quid," Wittstock said and fished out a slightly crumpled pack of cigarettes from the back pocket of her jeans. The cigarette was slightly bent and she had trouble striking the match with her shaking hands.

"Fifty quid, eh?"

"Better than slaving away at some supermarket for the minimum wage, that's fer sure," Wittstock smiled and inhaled deeply. Della pushed the ashtray towards her. "I even pay the bloody taxes for this."

"Really?" the detective asked, both of her pale brows lifting in surprise.

"Yeah. It's not prostitution. No sex, just your basic whippings and bondage. Nothing against the law." The thin smell of the cigarette smoke mingled with that of stale food and Della's nostrils twitched at the curious mix. "What about my door?"

After Della reassured that the Met would pay for the broken door, the rest of the interview was routine. On the dates of the two first murders, Ms. Wittstock had been in Brighton, visiting her sister. The necessary phone numbers were exchanged, and when Yang entered the kitchen and shook his head to signal that his chat with Wittstock's client had yielded exactly zero, it was time to retire back to the station.

Detectives Wells and Johnson entered the squad room just as Della was pouring herself a cup of coffee.

"Any luck?" Johnson asked Della as she took off her coat.

"False alarm. Yours?"

Johnson formed a circle with her thumb and forefinger and blew through the hole, to which Della lifted a knowing eyebrow. "Public help, my ass," Johnson grunted and leaned against her desk. "Oh, a doctor with a fancy name called you," she added, handing Della a pink phone message slip. It read Call Dr. Adams-Morris -- urgent!

The squad room's plaster wall had a coffee stain above the green filing cabinets which were relics from a bygone era. Della's eyes were turned towards the blot, the result of Yang flipping through files with one hand, coffee cup in the other, and an irate suspect who had refused to co-operate and bounced into him, sending paper and coffee flying. Sipping slowly at her black poison, staring at the stain, Della mulled over the strange conversation she had had that evening.

Dr. Adams-Morris had had an epiphany that morning. Shayna Foster had had a roommate, Allison Abbey, until last April. The doctor hadn't disclosed exactly why that information was so urgent, but he had implied that if they dug deep enough, they would see the relevance. And so, Della had spent the better part of a lovely Saturday evening with Ms. Foster.

"Don't know. She was just... weird."

"How so?" Della had asked once again, trying very hard to keep her patience with the rather sullen Shayna Foster, whose moist, sharp eyes were staring at her across the small table, their refusal to blink quite disconcerting.

"She was cool. In a chilly way," Foster tried, gesturing nervously with her hands. A muscle in her right cheek twitched. "I mean, I never saw her shout to a guard, and she never picked a fight with anybody. A loner. Polite, a perfectionist."

"Mmm-hmm," Della hummed, her gaze flickering from Foster to her notepad. "Did she have any peculiar habits?"

"Except for her fascination with sharp objects, you mean?" Foster said and smiled suddenly, showing a row of neat, white teeth. "She was always drawing. Men. Same pose, always. And eyes, sometimes. Not faces -- just the eyes."

"The eyes?" That caught Della's attention.

"Yeah. She agonised hours on end with her crayons, trying to get just the right shade of blue. Sometimes, I think she got it too right and that was always a fallout day. She would rage and scream and then cry and be in a dark funk for days on end. And then it would start all over again."


Foster smiled again and leaned in closer. "They don't let us have anything sharper."

"Right," Della answered, tapping her pad with her pen. "She must've been frustrated, then?"

"Yeah. Made her day when, at Christmastime, we got food that required a fork and a knife. Every time she tried to nick the knife."

"Did she ever succeed?" Della asked, lifting a lazy eyebrow. Foster was obviously more observant than she had led them to believe.

"With her and me and a knife, all in one ten-by-twelve room, there's just one possible outcome... and I'm alive, aren't I?" Foster asked and fiddled with her earlobe nervously. Della suspected she was manic-depressive and counted herself lucky that she had caught Shayna Foster on her manic day. "You do the math, detective."

"Here's the file on Allison Abbey that you requested," Yang said, interrupting her train of thought. He dropped a folder on her desk. "Fresh off the printer."

The printout was only thirteen pages long but it took three hours before Della put it down again. Brushing away a tear, the detective leaned back, her mind a thousand miles away from the squad room and the great city outside. Her face was drawn, her palms moist as, with shaking hands, she dug out the pictures.


The image in the mirror is pale. The crystal is a flesh eater, the saying goes, and how true that rings right now. Where there used to be round, smooth flesh, there are now angles. It didn't take you the expected thirty years of sad existence to develop cheekbones, as daddy said, but instead, two or a thousand pinches of the magic dust. Angular, dark circles around the eyes.

The night had yielded nothing. Nobody. None of your regulars had called, nobody had dared to approach you in the bars you had vainly scoured. The need burns in your veins, the lust and the irrepressible draw of the discovery you feel is near, whispering to be stoked and obeyed and followed. He is the next one. Has to be the next one -- you can't bear to be alone and disappointed, it is tearing you up inside. You can feel it, almost smell it in the dusty air of your flat.

Fuck this shit.

You slump to sit in front of the mirror, bowing your head so that you don't see yourself any more. You'll be alone, tonight. But chemistry is still your friend, if man will not be; the pristine, white dust always has new ideas and new visions to share with you. And tomorrow is a new day.

Part 2 -(End)

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