Part one, by Eden Baylee
I gazed into pale blue eyes framed by ruddy, pockmarked skin. His smile revealed a missing front tooth. I wrinkled my nose as an acrid smell drifted toward me. Alcohol mixed with rotting teeth. Wonderful.
“Howdy, Missy. You’re a sight for sore eyes.”
I inhaled through my mouth and sucked in my stomach, afraid bile might force itself up my throat. How many times had he used that line before? “I’m sorry,” I said, “but I can’t say the same for you.” A steely calm draped itself over me, but inside, I was shaking. I pressed my hands against my thighs to steady myself.
His look of shock seemed genuine. For a moment, I thought I had blown it, but then I saw the corners of his eyes wrinkle as he burst into raucous laughter.
“Ooh, you’re a feisty one. I like that!” He snatched a chair from an adjacent table. Twirling it around as if he were a matador fending off a bull, he dropped the chair in front me and sat down with a heavy thud.
I pretended to stave off disdain, but it was actually relief I felt. The plan was working; the next steps would be crucial. He liked women who were hard to get, that much I knew, but it was a fine line between keeping him interested and turning him off. “He’s a charmer,” my boss had said. “We need to figure out what he’s telling these women, how he persuades them to bring him home. We know it’s not his looks.”
No question about that. In person, the bastard looked more disgusting than the few out-of-focus pictures I’d seen of him. The lead we had been waiting for came after his last victim called 9-1-1 just before she died. She only managed to utter two words —“Ugly Motherfucker.” He’d left her in a pool of blood after cracking her skull with a brass candlestick. It took a week to retrace her every step, where she’d been, who she’d come in contact with.
A spree of killings over the past three months had left the women of New York City in a state of panic. Aside from living alone, the victims had little in common with one another. They came from varied economic backgrounds, worked different jobs, and shared no social connections. I received the case after the mayor demanded an arrest be made to allay the growing hysteria. Crimes against women were my specialty, but this reeked of a serial killing—not my specialty. I had little choice in the matter though. We’d caught a break. I sat face to face with the first suspect of the case the press now called “The Candlestick Killer.”
He was an ugly motherfucker, all right. I braced myself to walk the flirtation tightrope with him, wondering how the hell he had convinced eight women to invite him into their homes and ultimately to their deaths.
Part two, by John Dolan
Manfred Bauer took a sip of beer and leaned forward slightly towards the woman sitting opposite him in the bar.
He continued to mouth platitudes while his real attention focused on the emotions she was concealing behind her confident exterior. The tendrils of his consciousness rippled out across the table which divided them and began slowly to insinuate themselves into her mind.
“I haven’t seen you in here before,” he said. “I’m sure I would have remembered. My name is Manfred, by the way.”
His extended awareness probed into her raw subconscious, gently caressing the texture of her feelings. Ah! There it was … revulsion. The expected revulsion. But there was something else. Something with an edge to it. It felt like … fear.
“You certainly are,” he smiled and ordered drinks for them both from a harassed waitress.
Manfred Bauer had a gift. It was a talent which in the hands of a good man could have been turned into something useful. But he was not a good man.
Bauer had been born into a family of poor German immigrants in one of the poorer suburbs of Detroit. He was unplanned and unwanted. Moreover he was ugly, and he was made to feel his ugliness.
At school he was tormented by the other children and became a loner, an outcast. He was not particularly bright and incurred both the indifference of his teachers and the contempt of his peers. Even at the local Catholic Church his family attended he felt unwelcome: the consolations of religion were withheld from him.
Later he drifted in and out of menial jobs; security guard, warehouseman, hotel cleaner. Wherever he went, he never stayed long. People were uncomfortable with him, and supervisors rapidly found excuses to let him go. When he heard the regretful platitudes, he looked into the eyes and he saw the truth: he was hated.
His family had heaved a sigh of relief some years back when he moved from Detroit to New York City.
But it was in that metropolis of isolated souls that he had discovered his gift.
Bauer’s only contact with women was through prostitutes. He felt even their contempt, but gradually he began to realise – social misfit that he was – that he had an ability that others did not have. Perhaps his upbringing and isolation had honed his senses; perhaps he was just a biological freak. But whatever the explanation, he discovered that he could know what others were feeling.
Their actual thoughts remained hidden to him, but he could delineate the shapes of their emotions, he could mark out the maps of their current motivations.
With practice he became a cartographer of others’ desires. If he concentrated he found he could lay bare the restless emotions that lurked behind the quotidian mask. He could do this with only one person at a time, but it was a singular discovery.
However, the skill did not bring him joy. It brought him an even deeper sense of loneliness. Denied to him were the white lies and petty hypocrisies that make daily life bearable.
When he lay down with a whore, he could no longer even pretend the experience was pleasurable. It was fake, it was simulated. For both of them.
Bauer’s bitterness and sense of injustice intensified, until one day he discovered his talent had reached a new level. He could not only detect the emotions of others: he could influence them.
The ability was fragmentary and only worked for a short time, but it was powerful. Exactly how it worked he had no idea, but he began to use it in small ways for sexual conquest. At first, it gave him pleasure, but later it merely deepened his contempt for women. His deep-seated misogyny for the sex that had most tormented him in his youth burst forth into full bloom.
And a new thought formed: Why fuck them when I can kill them?
Bauer sat back in his chair and studied Joy’s face. The usual signs of puzzlement were present in her eyes as her feelings were silently manipulated. Her body language was beginning to soften towards him. She started playing with her hair, and her lips parted in a smile as the mental metamorphosis continued.
“Another drink, Joy?”
“I’d love one, Manfred.”
Bauer looked at the hint of cleavage showing through her blouse and imagined the incipient wetness between her thighs. He wondered how long ago it was since he’d last had sex.
Perhaps for old times’ sake he’d have this one before he killed her. He deserved a little treat.
Part three, by Billy Ray Chitwood
None were visibly present in this lower Manhattan bar of zombie-like misbegottens but a swarm of flies or cockroaches would have been right at home. The scarred table in the corner of the large square room had a wall light that flickered and gave an eerie cast to the already dimly-lit room. The sordid place reminded me of dark and shadowy scenes from a Robert Rodriguez film. At this late hour there were still a few resident zombies on bar stools and at other worn tables.
At the bar Manfred waited, smiling, watching me, while the bald slob of a bartender mixed my vodka tonic and poured a generous serving of well Scotch into a highball glass for my newly acquired boyfriend… The harassed waitress who had taken our drink order was no where in sight. These few moments gave me time to consider a new line of work and a long soap-sudsy bath.
When Manfred Bauer (God! this genteel name, this man!) placed the drinks on the table and sat, his eyes and confident smile never left me. “I’m sorry, Joy, to make you wait. It appears our waitress has suddenly left the premises. Baldy the bar man says it happens frequently.” His smile still in place, he paused, drank, gave me a curious look with those blue eyes that were somehow conflicting pools, an odd magnetic mix of charm, evil, and sadness. “Tell me, Joy, you dress like a girl of the streets, sexy and slut-like, but I have the distinct feeling you don’t belong here… where do you belong?”
“Stop undressing me with your eyes, Manfred. Everyone has to be somewhere. Tonight, I’m here, and I belong wherever the hell I wish to present myself.” I took a sip of my vodka tonic, measured its taste, decided there was no alien blend, and took a larger swig. He couldn’t possible read my inside trembling, but his eyes touched a nerve within me and made my focus more difficult.
“Aah, a lady confident within herself! I’m not easily fooled, Joy. Why, indeed, are you sitting here with me at this hour in time?”
“There’s something about your brutish style and ugly looks that intrigue me, Manfred. What is it that you do for a living here in the lower east side?” I tried to hold it but involuntarily did a dry swallow before the drink glass reached my lips. I hoped my inceptive fear was not showing. Those eyes! Those damned eyes!
What a snake-charming creep, this perp! His orbs took me to an unwholesome place that frightened me more than I thought it possible. There was something else in those remarkably pale blue eyes that I could not define, an aura of malevolence that sought to bring me to it. My mind was being tested big time. Could I handle this? Could all my training get me through these last moments? I could only hope that the ‘wire button’ was doing its job, that my comrades at NYPD were ready to join the party when the time came, when we were sure this person was the candlestick killer. In my mind there was no doubt. In some exclusive way, as I sat across from this obnoxious and odorous man, there came a certainty that he was the killer. Further, another certainty came loud and clear: he wanted not only to have me sexually in the most awful ways but he wanted to kill me. All this I felt in those light-flickering moments.
“I do whatever I want, pure Joy! There is enough money, enough sex, and enough activity within the underbelly of the lower east side that keeps me active and alive … for a while longer.” His last three words fell softly like an afterthought not to be clearly heard. As he spoke he arranged his chair and guided his left hand under the table to gently rest upon my thigh. His devilish eyes betrayed him for a moment, and, without my protest, he removed his hand. I caught something in his pitted face, just not sure what the hell it was.
“‘For a while longer,’ you said? Is there a special meaning to that statement, Manfred?”
“Why not? Why not tell you? It doesn’t matter to me and it won’t matter to you. I’m to die shortly, pure Joy. A rare and fatal disease, I’m told. What you need to know is that I accept and embrace that knowledge. It is not knowledge that will upset our little world and I’m simply living out some final dreams and illusions. What say we get out of here, my lovely and sexy pure Joy.”
“Stop calling me, ‘pure Joy,’ and leave off with the ‘my,’ Manfred. You’re dying?”
His smile was locked into place and his eyes were doing a Hallmark number on me.
“Everyone dies at some point, Joy… You notice I’ve honored your request. Now, can we get out of here? Where do you live?” He pushed back his chair, stood, and put on his bulky winter coat.
“Whoa, el tigre, not so fast! Let me finish my vodka tonic.” I gulped down my drink. “What? We’ve known each other, twenty-thirty minutes?”
“Time is a relative thing, Joy. For me, it’s now or never.” His eyes did their last combo of devilry and wistfulness. “Where do you live?”
“Uptown!” I said.
I rose. I knew what it was that had brought me to this bar and part one of the mission was successful. There were the final dreaded and hoped-for moments ahead, but I had gotten the first part of the job done. Now, there was within me an odd deja vu feeling, a medley of sensations that played to my cop-side and to my woman-side. Not only was some of that mix beguiling, it was also a betrayal of self.
As he awaited my coat donning, he said: “So, you were just slumming, pure Joy?”
“Yes, occasionally I get the hankering to see multiple sides of the Big Apple. We’re all animals, you know?” I walked alongside Manfred out the bar door.
“Oh, indeed, I do. Are you driving or cabbing?”
“I’m parked a few cars up the curb.”
He was quiet as I started the car’s engine and pulled away from the curb.
He played ‘rub the thigh’ during the ride and kept his smile esoterically baffling. I tried slapping his paw away, but he kept up his game. Actually, the gentleness of his touch and the sensate stir it caused surprised, titillated, and annoyed me. I managed to check the rear view mirror occasionally but could not be sure that the few trailing cars far behind me included my unmarked back-up. There was not a lot of traffic, and we chatted, strangely like a romantic couple on their way for a sexual encounter. What bothered me was that I could feel the anticipatory urges. What the hell was up with that?
“What motivates you, Joy?” he asked, feigning perhaps an honest and sincere question. Damn, the question had a mysterious sadness to it. He removed his hand from my thigh and stroked my black smooth tresses.
“I motivate me, Manfred. I participate in life, in living, and, for the most part, I enjoy people and sharing…”
He abruptly removed his hand from my hair as though surprised by his own fondling action.
“Is this all just an animal instinct for you, Joy?” He asked in a surprisingly weak voice.
He caught me off guard with this near normal conversation. I needed to keep it real! I had to keep my focus. “What the hell else could it be, Manfred? You have your moments but you’re not the most appealing of the ape class! You do have an odd animal attraction. That, I can’t deny… What? You for sure can’t be expecting more than that after this rapid romance? I mean, hey, I’m sad, sorry you’re dying, and I feel like helping you realize some of those sexual illusions, but that’s it, pal.”
I glanced over at him. His face still held that unnerving smile on the lips. The lights of neon night produced a shiny side-view watery glaze to his eyes. For brief seconds, I damned near felt sorry for Manfred Bauer. He didn’t drug me, but what the hell was this wacko using on me? Was he using some weird mojo, voodoo black magic stuff on me? There was a lot going on in this new tech savvy world of ours, and I was not privy to all of it. Damn, maybe he did put some tasteless something in my vodka tonic…
“It was just a trick question, pure Joy. That’s ‘for sure’ all that it was.” His voice had regained its edge of hardness. He stared straight ahead with the pasted smile. It was as though he had reached a final determination on the outcome of this night. There was a sense that he knew all the steps that were to follow our drive to uptown Manhattan.
Despite all my investigative training, all the years of experience and heightened awareness in tough undercover situations, there was something palpable and very scary happening inside of me. A degree of fear always accompanied these operations, but the frenzied feeling that came to me now was beyond any I had ever known. Manfred Bauer had done a job on my emotional wiring, and I felt myself losing control.
We arrived at the recently rented NYPD apartment twenty minutes later.
Part four, by Diane Strong
Manfred Bauer leaned his tanned body back in the reclining chair with a sigh and pushed his manicured feet deep into the warm sand. It felt comforting. The sun sat just above the horizon casting an orange light over the vast beach and colorful bungalows. He breathed in the warm salty air, basking in the solitude. His thoughts drifted back to nine months ago, to memories he tried to keep out of his head but usually failed.
It had been so close.
Had he not changed his mind at the last minute and forced Joy to drive away from her apartment his pathetic but rhythmic life would have been doomed. The investigators would have captured him in her apartment, guilty. Evidence of his plans to kill her would have been obvious, had they reached him before the act which they most likely would have since he planned to have his way with her first…stretching out the night.
He would be on death row right now.
They wouldn’t have needed to drag a confession out of him, it would have spilled out. But then he wouldn’t have cared if they’d sentenced him to death. He had prepared for death anyway, and he certainly wouldn’t have made a difference if it come at the hands of the state or his own hands. He had wanted to die either way. He’d had no desire to remain in a world so appalled, so disgusted by him.
His gift hadn’t been enough. Sure he could influence the feelings of women, make them think they wanted him briefly, just long enough for him to have his way with them. But the manipulation always proved temporary and counterfeit. It had been like stretching a rubber band, you could pull it taut but as soon as you let go, it snapped back to its original shape, unchanged.
The sudden change of plans had saved him. There hadn’t been a chase, Joy’s back-up investigators weren’t close enough to understand what had happened until it was too late. He had ripped the wires from her body and tossed her cell phone into the back of a truck heading in the opposite direction. By the time the investigators realized they were following the wrong vehicle and got an APB out on the car, he had ditched it over an embankment.
Before making good his escape in his own car, Manfred had made a quick stop at his home which fortunately for him was not yet under surveillance.
As he scooped out the contents of his safe, he had recalled the phone call a year ago notifying him of his mother’s death. In spite the coldness between them his heart had sunk. His father’s death the year prior had hardly phased him, only creating a glimmer of sympathy toward his mother, now alone in his childhood home. His spirits had lifted, however, when in the same conversation he was informed that his mother, in good Catholic form, had left the entire estate to her one and only child, despite her never wanting him. Or perhaps because of it.
He wasn’t rich by American standards, but as he emptied the safe knew he could live quite comfortably in Mexico for the rest of his life. Moreover, he was struck by the realization that for the first time in his life, he actually wanted to live.
Manfred reached for his frosty pina colada and took a long pull from the large glass. He ran his tongue slowly over his upper lip collecting the salt from the exfoliated skin. His pale blue eyes stared into his drink, an unfamiliar image reflected back at him. The person staring back still felt so foreign with his clean shaven chin, plucked and trimmed eyebrows. Who could have known that a fresh hair style, a little dental work, daily hygiene and clean fashionable clothes could make a semi-handsome man out of him?
Of course, his new found love of running on the beach had helped tremendously. For the first time ever he had abdominal muscles and a tight ass that even he wanted to grab. The endurance he had acquired had worked for him two fold, he could run farther than most but even more importantly, he had become something of an athlete in the bedroom too.
This new life… how different it was from the one he had left behind. That creature he had been back in New York wouldn’t recognize the confident, loved man relaxing on this beach as the sun set across the ocean horizon. The Chinos, the Birkenstock’s and the soft organic cotton shirt draped over his muscular chest would all have been alien to him. Only maybe one thing would not…
“Joy, dear?” Manfred twisted his body and called out to the small bungalow behind him. A slender woman appeared carrying a tray of fresh fruit in her long tanned arms. A candle stick poked from the pocket of her long white cotton smock. Sleek, black tendrils of hair cascaded down her back, swaying as she walked carefully over the warm beach sand.
“Manfred, oh what an evening. It’s just to die for…”
“Yes, Joy. Pure Joy.”