The woman frowns up at the building I’ve brought her to, and I can see why.
In the dirty shadows of the city’s dark heart, the place leans like a half-drunk tombstone. Several withered trees stand in front; their bony hands thrust to the sky in a death pose. A sad wall overlooks the car park — peeled paint, artless graffiti, and bare brick. I’m sceptical that the few cars that rust in the lot can run. More than one vehicle sits atop blocks — their wheels absent like knocked-out teeth. The gutter that separates us from the road holds an entire crack den’s worth of used syringes and broken glass.
Back in its heyday, the facade of the place looked quite elegant, I imagine. In its current state of disrepair, it only seems tragic. The height of the splendour since lost equal to the grimness — a sense of loss and emptiness. The ornate parapet spirals off to the sides, a single oval window placed in the centre. Shattered windows dot the building’s face like acne scars. Each floor has a micro balcony — big enough for a morning coffee or an evening cigarette if you don’t mind standing. The shutters are all down, except for the first floor where some intrepid thief pried them up with a crowbar. Here, the wrinkled metal curls like a cleft lip.
I pull out my keys and offer Krystal a nervous chuckle. “It’s my second place.” I adopt a nerdy, almost prepubescent patois. The nervousness is natural. It’s my first time, but not in the way in which she thinks it is. “M-My other place is—”
She waves me away with one hand, a cigarette burnt to the filter wedged between two fingers. A trail of smoke follows her movements. “Yeah, no worries babe.” Her voice carries the sultry tones of a woman who’s learned how to push the opposite sex’s buttons. But, unfortunately, it also contains the husk of a lifetime’s worth of smoking. “I’ve done it in dirtier places before. But, c’mon, let’s get this over and done with.”
And they say that romance is dead.
I open the door for Krystal, and she totters inside on her six-inch heels. “A-After you, M-Miss Krystal.” How her feet don’t commit suicide after standing on the street corner all night long, I’ll never know. She wears a short leather jacket that doesn’t reach her waist, with a ring of tatty fur around the collar. A leather miniskirt to match, and honest to goodness fishnet stockings. She must be freezing, scantily clad beneath the clear night sky.
“Just Krystal’s fine, hon.” She hooks a finger — bejewelled with purple glitter — to the elevator opposite the entry. Black and yellow tape criss-cross it. “I take it the elevator’s out of service?”
“Ah, yes. Unfortunately. I have left a message for maintenance—” a lie “—but I’m still waiting.” Krystal didn’t need to know that I’d put the tape there or hung the OUT OF ORDER sign on the door.
She sighs. Her shoulders rise and drop. “Ugh. Fine. But this’ll be another ten on top.” Krystal grins and flashes me nicotine-stained teeth. “It’s all physical exertion, ain’t it?”
I return the smile and do my best not to show my repulsion. Instead, I twirl my hand to the staircase like an eighteenth-century dandy. “After you, m’lady.” I drop the buzzword of incels and neckbeards. It adds authenticity to the act.
“Few ground rules,” she wobbles her way up the stairs and ticks them off. The points of her heels stab the tiles — clock clock clock. “One, no kissing. Two, always wear a jimmy no matter what. And I’ll know if you’re stealthin’. Believe me,” she offers a humourless chuckle, “you don’t wanna find out what’ll happen to you if you break that rule. And money up front.” Krystal shoots me a glare. “Cash. Beyond that,” she rounds the landing and does a pathetic pirouette. I feign interest and arousal. “I’m all yours, lover boy.”
I point to the end door. Number 13. Unlucky for some, as the saying goes. “Down here, Miss— Ah, Krystal.”
“Right you are, love.” She staggers towards the door and drops her cigarette on the floor as she goes. The smell of cold smoke trails after her, intermingled with the staleness of body odour.
I grimace and stare. Then, keys in hand, I squish the still-smouldering stub beneath my shoe before I follow. Krystal’s glancing around when I draw level with her, and my disgust has since vanished.
“Dark in here, innit?”
I throw a half-annoyed flick of the eyes to the ceiling. I took the bulbs out months ago. “Maintenance,” I say. “They need to get on top of things.”
I slot the keys in the lock and open the door.
The first thing that hits us is the smell.
Krystal steps inside, her nose wrinkled. “Christ, hon. You wanna open a window or something? Maybe get one o’ them scented candles. Or one of them sprays,” she nods at me, “you know, the kind for once you’ve finished having a crap?”
“I’ll get right on it,” I say and close the door. My sweat-wet fingers tremble and pull the chain across without a sound. “In the meantime, why don’t you make yourself comfortable?” I steer her towards the room at the left-hand end of the hall. Indeed not the right — that’s His room.
“What’s down there?” She jabs her bedazzled claw in the direction of the Master’s chamber.
“Never you mind that.” I distract her with the cash and shove it into her expectant hand. “Get in here and get ready.” I giggle. It comes out high-pitched and unhinged. Girlish. If Krystal finds it odd, she doesn’t say so. “Oh, you better be ready,” I whisper.
“Yeah, yeah, never you mind, love. I was born ready.” I guide her to the sofa, shrink-wrapped in plastic. She’s already counted and pocketed the money. I didn’t see where it went, and I’m not eager to explore. I turn to leave, but she stops me with her hooked fingers. God in Heaven, Satan in Hell, how could anyone ever find that touch exciting? “Oh, and don’t forget the jimmies.”
Plural. As if we could do the unspeakable more than once.
I smile, lips thin, bile high and acidic in my chest. “Will do.” I’m scared to open my mouth any further because vomit might rush out and paint this angel of the streets. But, it would be an improvement — in both sight and smell. And then I leave her there, as she starts to undress, whilst the plastic squeaks and farts beneath.
I still have the chance to stop — not to go this final distance. When I took up this thankless job, I always promised that I’d never do this. No matter what He asked of me. I’d do anything, follow any instruction, obey any whim and command. But, this rule remained my line in the sand: DO NOT CROSS.
Then the allure of the promise of promotion flickers in my mind, vibrant like a brothel’s neon sign. So my boss asked me to do this, which means I’ve moved up in the world — if not quite to the point that I want to be. Not yet. But if you keep moving up, you’re bound to reach the top at some point. So what if you have to climb through a few spider nests to get there?
In the kitchen, my hand curls around the handle of the hammer — brand new. Never before used. The rubber grip feels right beneath my sweaty grip. It weighs good, too. Plus, it has a decent length to it. I pick it up, balance it in my hand, wave it about for a bit. Can I do this?
“All yours, lover boy. Just remember, no kissin’.”
The thought of that thing, naked and ready on the couch, curls my lip downwards. One of two things could happen in the room, and one is less disgusting than the other. It offers a better reward, too. That light continues to flicker in my mind’s eye — The Promise. The Promise. The Promise.
I admit I don’t have a glamorous job, but I continue with it nonetheless. I keep at it for one fundamental reason — and that reason is a promise. A promise my boss made me back before I took the posting.
People tend to get their managers coffees and drinks and whatnot.
I suppose that, as of today, what I collect are also beverages of sorts.
And why do this when I swore that I had a code of ethics?
Because some point soon, He’ll turn me into a vampire, too.