There was enough rain falling from the dark sky to turn the front windscreen of my Challenger into an urban kaleidoscope; the neon lights of the markets, hostels, and burlesque clubs shifting in psychedelic patterns that, on any other night, would have been comforting to sit back and watch. Tonight, though, my partner and I were figuratively watching the back of our informant as he picked up a one kilogram bag of ecstasy tablets from his supplier. He was inside one of the clubs in the underground city, so there was absolutely no way we could have had line of sight with him, but a clear view would have helped ease the foreboding feeling that had been festering in my chest all day.
Our informant was your usual Seattle runaway; a white kid from a normal family who had developed an interest in clothing made from sustainable materials and ran away to join a vegan commune before graduating high school. To supplement the meager income he pulled in from his 9 to 5 at the organic grocery store, he took up selling X to the party crowd in the downtown area. Some black and whites picked him up two days ago in Belltown for selling to one of our undercover vice officers. My partner and I were brought in on his case when he tried to cut a deal by naming his supplier, Lady Meg. In addition to owning the Klondyke Gold Burlesque club, she was suspected of being the mastermind of Seattle’s largest organized crime syndicate since the Prohibition era. At the dawn of the millennium, a woman calling herself the Siren of the Sound began seducing, killing, and usurping the organizations of major players in the Seattle underworld. The Siren of the Sound now had her bloody fingers in every bowl of punch crime had to offer; from sex trafficking to drug trafficking, from assassination to extortion. Every federal alphabet soup agency that concerned itself with domestic crime and the vice, homicide, and gang divisions of Seattle PD were gunning for the Siren. To date, every investigation had turned up only circumstantial hints that Lady Meg and the Siren were one in the same. Holistically, they were hard to refute; we all knew who the Siren was, but nothing would hold up in court. We needed hard evidence to put her away. She was just so damned good at covering her tracks.
My partner and I were with Seattle PD vice division and had been working the local X ring and its connection to the Siren for over a year. We told the kid we’d work to get his sentence down to community service if he wore a wire to his next meeting with Lady Meg. If we could be the guys who got the first hard evidence against Lady Meg, we would be the top of the food chain. Promotions, raises, bonuses, job security, real professional career paths, and the ability to pull the best cases for ourselves is what lay at our feet. Not to mention a win for my partner. His marriage had turned sour about 18 months ago. By the time he was finalizing the divorce, his smiles – which had previously been as plentiful as beach balls at a Phish concert – had almost completely ceased. The child custody hearings, which were listing away from his favor, had killed his smiles completely. It was like working with a robot; we did our job, we went home to recharge for the next day. No banter and donuts in the morning, no practical jokes on the other detectives, no happy hour after work.
I gave up my futile efforts to see the Market District and leaned back in my seat to listen to the low hiss coming over our informant’s radio. I pulled a Jolly Rancher out of the pocket of my jeans and got ready to be bored. We weren’t aiming for an arrest tonight and, most likely, the kid would come out of the club with his bag of pills and I would never have to get out of the car. In case something went wrong, though, my partner and I were camouflaged in the standard semi-formal uniform of douchebag club-goers everywhere: screen printed button down shirts and embroidered flap pocket jeans. Finally, we heard a voice over the radio. The kid was asking one of the bar tenders to see Lady Meg. There was an excruciatingly long period of footsteps before anyone spoke again.
“Hi, Will! You’re looking cute as ever. I guess your business is really taking off, huh? Two bags in two weeks? I knew I could count on you.” It was Lady Meg.
“I dunno ’bout taking off. I jus’ got lucky with a crowd here for a EDM concert. Prolly back to norm after this,” said the kid. He was a natural, no nervousness bled through into his voice at all. He had probably honed the skill by lying to his parents and employers about being high.
“Don’t sell yourself short, Will. I’m sure your business will be changing soon. Speaking of short, I know there’s one area you definitely aren’t that…” Lady Meg’s voice had dropped a few semitones to an alluring growl, far more enticing than the usual seduction speak you’d hear from a prostitute or on a phone sex line. I was starting to stir just listening to it. “I love watching my girls grind their delicate curves into a sweaty sheen out on the floor, but sometimes I just want to see a man’s body. That raw power, like a rabid animal… Why don’t you stand up and show me a little something?”
“Shit,” my partner said, echoing my thoughts.
“Think she knows we flipped him? Or is she just horny?” I asked.
“Have you seen her, man? She could have any guy in that place. Why would she get dewey over a skinny cabbage grinder with dry dreads? She knows. Besides, even if she does have some kind of scrawny fetish, she’ll see the wire.”
Shit. The wire.
“Oh, fuck. We have to get him out of there.” My partner opened his door and jumped out to show his agreement. How had I not remembered the wire? I was so far gone in a fantasy about Lady Meg’s voice, softly girlish and lowered the perfect amount by a few years of smoking, that I momentarily forgot our objective. I shook my head, trying to clear that sultry voice from my mind.
We shoved through the crowd on Pike, cutting directly in front of a few slow moving taxis, before reaching the nearest stairwell to the basement city. The crowds only became more dense below, forcing us to sidestep, bob, and weave our way through the corridor. When we were in sight of the entrance to the Klondyke, we slowed. Over the wire, we could hear soft, wet smacking punctuated by the occasional grunt. Kissing. Messy kissing, by the sound of it, but nothing that told us Lady Meg had come across the wire. I pulled out my phone and poked around on the internet. My partner did the same. From time to time I would show him my screen and chuckle; just two assholes waiting for their crew at the club.
The sounds of the club leaked out from behind the pair of heavy, wooden doors. I ignored it at first, placing my attention solely on the earpiece connected to Will’s wire, but it started to get the best of me.
“Good music in there, man,” I said to my partner.
He nodded. “I was thinking the same thing. You know, I lost my virginity to this song.”
That didn’t seem right, but at least he was talking about something other than work. “No, man, there’s no way that’s true unless you were celibate until 24. This is the Sounds. Tony the Beat. It’s from their second album. I’ll agree it’s a great song to have sex to, but…” I rolled my eyes.
“What?! No. It’s Sex by Berlin, dude. It’s a classic.”
We were interrupted by Lady Meg’s voice over the wire asking will to take his shirt off. I nodded at my partner and we walked through the doors, paid the cover, and pushed through the writhing masses towards the back of the club where the open dance floor ended and hallways to the less glamorous alcohol storage pantries and management offices began. We hung around by the bar, ready to draw our weapons and sprint to Lady Meg’s office at Will’s signal. Until that signal came, though, we risked tipping off security if we didn’t blend in. I ordered a gin and tonic from the bar – top shelf liquor to make sure they skimped and I stayed sharp – while my partner popped open another button on his shirt and leaned backwards against a concrete support column, surveying the crowd.
Klondyke was different than most strip clubs I had been to; dancers are either bored (at the cheap clubs) or having a good time (at the classy ones), but they are never turned on. These dancers were clearly enjoying themselves as much as their clients. In the case of one private booth we passed on our way in, the dancer was having a better night than I had been able to manage for years. Even out on the non-professional dance floor (which wasn’t unlike the millions of other neon-bathed dance floors in nightclubs around the world) the attitude to tops for both genders appeared optional at best, which allowed sweat to flow unencumbered and act as a natural lubricant for the copious amount of body grinding going on. There were a few darkened alcoves around the perimeter of the club where tell-tale moans and slapping suggested an elevated level of partying.
A short, brunette server with the prettiest green eyes I had ever seen dropped off my drink. I thanked her and she winked her acknowledgement before bouncing away to the other end of the bar.
“Jesus H. on a fuckin’ moped, man; that girl smelled great! Like fruit punch with tits,” my partner laughed.
I laughed, too. It was nice to see him enjoying himself, however inappropriately timed. I had been trying to force some joy into his life months. I guess what he needed was a peek at some pansexual grinding. Still, I disagreed with him; the server smelled more musky, like brown sugar and oak leaves. How were we so out of sync?
I stared out at the club, enjoying the scenery with the smile from my laughter still lingering on my mouth like a deep kiss. I thought about the cute server again, which brought me back to her playful wink and the primal lust it evoked. It wasn’t just each other we were out of sync with; both my partner and I had been too mesmerized by the club to notice the sounds of struggle over the wire. The noise was punctuated by too many muffled cries to be the good kind of struggle.
My partner was still distracted, smiling, staring at a blonde on the stage, and bobbing his head to the music. I hit him with the back of my hand and pointed to my ear. Realization was slow to dawn on him, but when it did he drew his pistol and walked swiftly down the back hallway. I followed, a bit more cautiously, keeping my attention on the various bouncers and security around the club. All we needed was one ass hole to start shooting and everyone in the club would be seeing red a bit more literally. To my surprise, no one tried to stop us. One bouncer even nodded to us as we stormed toward his employer, weapons drawn.
My partner kicked through the wooden double doors into Lady Meg’s office without stopping his forward motion. She stood a few yards back from the entrance, a soft smile on her lips, her eyes bored but alluring. She hasn’t flinched at the battered door and she wanted us to know it.
“Detectives,” she greeted us with a slight nod.
She was perfect. Her green dress was short and tight enough to show off her toned physique, but not to the point that it seemed she was putting herself on display. Her skin was lightly tanned, a delicious caramel that faded down her throat and sternum to a milky white. What really stood out to me was her hair; the shade of henna used as hair dye that I’ve always found supremely alluring. I was so taken by her, so preoccupied with trying to smell the hint of indian champa that floated around her, that I didn’t even bother to wonder how she had known who we were.
“Would you care to sit?” Lady Meg asked, gesturing to a plush black sofa behind her. It looked soft, a nice place to rest. I hadn’t noticed it until then, but I was tired. The kind of bone weary you get from a long journey… But I had only been up about twelve or thirteen hours and most of that was spent sitting at my desk in the precinct or in the Challenger outside.
“Never could resist a blonde, ma’am,” my partner replied, all smiles and smarm.
Blonde? Was I going completely crazy? Was I getting songs, smells, and now colors wrong, or was it my partner?
“Wait. Blonde?” I asked quietly, holding my partner back with a hand on his shoulder. I took his silent, angered confusion as confirmation he was, indeed, seeing blonde hair.
He started to move for the couch again, so I gripped his shoulder more tightly. “Why did she greet us as detectives? And where’s Will, man? Something’s weird with this.”
The mention of Will pulled my partner back to his senses. We had been acting like rookies all night, but here, face to face with our suspect, we might be able to turn the operation to our favor.
“What happened to Will?” my partner asked, maintaining the casual tone and shit eating grin he had been using a second ago.
Lady Meg’s eyebrows raised slightly at that; an unexpected question from the cops she thought were her marionettes. However surprised she was, her smile didn’t falter, wet lips not even twitching. As I focused on her lips, I could feel my resolve fading into a daydream about how soft her mouth would feel on my own, how sweet she would taste.
“You’re friends with my Will? He’s right over there,” Lady Meg said, gesturing to a door on my right. I hoisted my pistol up from where it hung impotently at my side and opened the door slowly, keeping the opening in my field of fire.
The room was an old peepshow stage, the circular far wall filled with windows covered with sliding panels of chipped black plywood. Will slumped in a tattered leather office chair, possibly sleeping off the action he had just got at Lady Meg’s hand. I slapped his shoulder with the back of my hand, but he didn’t stir. Maybe he was high. I used my foot to swivel the chair.
Will was dead. His white track jacket was completely stained with blood down the front, blood that had spilled from his gaping throat. It looked like something had been feeding on him; his neck and left shoulder were all but gone. His left arm was connected to his body by tendons alone. I turned to yell to my partner, but the pop of his firearm stalled the words in my throat.
From my position in the peepshow room, I watched Lady Meg rush toward my partner with terrifying speed, taking several bullets without slowing or flinching. She grasped my partner’s gun with one hand and twisted, smiling at the wet sounds of breaking and dislocating bones. The Glock fell to the floor. My partner hasn’t made a sound, but his face belied the agony he felt. In one motion, Lady Meg buried her splayed left hand into my partner’s neck, grasping his sternum like a handle. With her right hand, she grasped his jaw, digging her fingers into the tender hollow under the chin. Then she pulled both hands away from each other with the ease of opening a bag of chips. My partner’s head came off in her hands.
I fired several rounds into her, but she didn’t seem to notice. She turned to me, licking her fingers clean of my partner’s blood. Her fingers seemed simultaneously long, grey, and bony, and sensually slender and dainty. Her face was both heart-achingly beautiful, and a withered, sallow mess of wrinkled flesh. It was as though I saw a different version of her in my periphery than when I focused on her.
She blocked my exit. I couldn’t fight my way out; bullets had no effect on her. I couldn’t see a single entry wound. She was too fast to slip past. I turned and brought my pistol to bear on one of the peepshow windows. I fired a few rounds to break the glass and splinter the plywood blinder, then I sprinted towards the window and jumped feet first. The impact against the plywood hurt. Bad. The splintered wood also cut deeply into my skin, but I made it through. I ended up in the booth where patrons used to come to watch the peepshow. The door was mercifully unlocked. From there, I exited into a hallway that opened, via a metal security door, to one of the main thoroughfares of the underground city, far from the entrance to the Klondyke. I limped, bleeding and gasping in pain, as fast as I could back to my Challenger to radio for help.
When SWAT got to my location, Lady Meg was gone and the bodies of Will and my partner had been further abused. More limbs missing, more bites taken out. Homicide division thought Lady Meg had probably let a large pet feed on them. An aggressive dog or a partially domesticated tiger. I disagreed, told them it was Lady Meg herself. They looked at me with unhidden pity. Fucking Petersen even had the gall to put his hand on my back and lead me over to an ambulance.
I had taken a minor cut to an artery that needed to be surgically repaired and a slipped vertebrae and torn meniscus from jumping through the peepshow window. That was six months ago. I’ve been on mandatory leave since then and have been ordered to see the department therapist to deal with my “trauma”. They think I lost it. The precinct commander and the chief and everybody thinks Lady Meg got the drop on us and I couldn’t handle the death of my partner, so I fabricated part of the events to make Lady Meg a more vicious opponent.
I didn’t. Lady Meg isn’t human. I don’t know what the fuck she is, but I’m sure she was fucking with our brains that night and I’m sure she’s done the same to anyone else who’s been close to getting solid evidence on her. Lady Meg hasn’t been heard from since that night, but the Siren still owns the Sound. On my leave, I went back to the Klondyke to look for anything that might lead me to her. It seemed dull in comparison to my memory. The music wasn’t a playlist of every song I thought was sexy, it was standard club fare; no one smelled like brown sugar and oak, they smelled like cigarettes and sweat; there were no beautiful young people grinding on the dance floor, the clientele of mostly males were all sitting around the stage watching the professionals dance.
Everything we saw was Lady Meg. She made it happen. All the people in the club were taken in by their favorite songs, the tailor-made smells to turn them on and annihilate their inhibitions. She changed our perceptions, just like she did when we saw the perfect hair color on her. If she could alter perception of music, smell, and hair color, she could change her face just as easily. Lady Meg probably hasn’t moved out of the city, but I’d never know her by sight. Instead, I wander around Seattle from club to bar, waiting to feel totally caught up in pleasure like I did at the Klondyke. I tell myself it’s to find her, to kill her, to finally take down the Siren of the Sound. I repeat that to myself every day. In the back of my mind, I wonder if that’s true. Up until I found Will, it was the best night I’d ever had. I can’t accurately describe the feeling, but it was light, comfortable, like how Jane Austen might describe summer. Am I just a junkie looking for another fix?