Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Predator and Prey - a mystery by Jacqueline Wong, Ashley Tsang, and Michelle Feng

“Last month, the police force apprehended the chief suspect of the recent string of serial killings, but another person has recently gone missing. All of the victims were men in their twenties and thirties, and were last seen leaving respectable pubs after an evening of revelry. Each disappearance occurred roughly one month apart, with the first being thirteen months ago. As the death toll mounts, it seems that the police have fallen upon the wrong suspect. One can only wonder whether they are up to the challenge. This has been Bruce Navid for the Crime Radio News. Thanks for listening, we’ll be right back after a short break.”
    The jingle of the newscast played for a few seconds, before being replaced by the sound of saxophones and piano keys. “Tired after a long day at work? Settle down for a relaxing dinner at Acheron’s Kitchen, voted the best comfort food in town.” The car radio was switched off abruptly by the middle-aged man in the driver’s seat.
    “Damn,” muttered Dan as the light ahead turned yellow. “That idiot Sullivan screwed up again. Whaddya expect...” After a moment’s impatient pause, he cranked the wheel and turned into an alley instead. Three-fourths of the way along he pulled into a parking lot behind a brick building. Locking and slamming the door, he strode up to the back door.

    Dan entered into the dim light and jumbled chatter of the pub.  Middle-aged men with reluctant pot-bellies and greying hair were grouped at round tables, clinking beer mugs and laughing heartily. Younger men and women milled about, hungrily scoping out the scene. Dan headed straight for the bar and ordered a beer. He grunted as he sat down. He sighed. Sports news rolled across the hanging television screen.
“Hey,” a smooth female voice whispered beside him. He turned and felt her predatory gaze as she shifted her legs closer. Dan looked away, pretending to be fascinated by the moving pictures above him. She moved closer, sliding her arm past his, as if by accident – but it wasn’t, of course. He shuffled decisively over to the next bar stool with a grunt.
“Another beer, please.” The bartender filled another mug from the tap, and Dan took it gratefully. Half an hour passed quickly as the hockey game progressed on the screen. As the visiting team scored the tiebreaking goal, he groaned and noticed the woman leaving with a smart-looking young man. A few minutes later, Dan picked himself up and left as well.

    “Dammit,” Dan said, flinging the case papers onto the desk. “Why’s it always me who has to pick up after stupid Sullivan?” he mumbled. He yelled over the cubicle wall, “Sullivan! I’m taking my lunch break.” Glancing at the clock, he found that it was already 4:30 pm. He cursed, “Damn, there was a lot work than I thought... ” Slipping his wallet into his back pocket, he left the office.   
    A short walk later he stepped through a pair of swinging glass doors. “Hello, welcome to Acheron’s Kitchen; table for one?”
    He sat down as the cheery waiter placed the water and menu on the table.  It was late in the afternoon – too late for lunch, too early for dinner – and the place was quiet except for a man in the corner.  Dan asked for the best thing there, and the waiter told him it would be the Special, shepherd’s pie, so he ordered that. “Dammit,” he said again. The battered and worn folders of the recent case had followed him, nested in his hand from force of habit.  He wearily flipped through the details again, the pages already wrinkled from thorough study. “Why didn’t I take my chances last night. You idiot. No girl’s going to be chasing after you in a few more years.” Dan thought of how he must look like, a tired-looking man muttering bitterly to himself, and stopped, indulging his petty self-pity only in his thoughts. Shut up, idiot, you’re not that old yet. Pushing thirty isn’t that bad...
    Thankfully, the waiter soon returned with the Special. “Your shepherd’s pie, sir.”
“Thanks.” Dan’s worries were discarded for those few moments as he ate. He licked his fork clean, and would have licked the plate too, if not for the man in the corner, who had waved down a waiter and was squeaking excitedly. “I’d like... let me speak to the Chef... meal was fantastic...”  Dan reached into his coat pocket, feeling his lighter and cigarettes. He paused, then he waved down the same waiter who was just with the Mouse-Man, and asked for dessert. “I’m just going out for a smoke first.” He walked out.
In the privacy of the back alley, Dan lit up. He leant back against the brick wall and tilted his head to look at the sky, blowing smoke into the air. He sighed restlessly and muttered to himself, “Great. Overtime again. Why the hell do I have to do the grunt work?”
Just then, a loud door-slam echoed through the alleyway, making Dan jump. The noise was followed by the unmistakable sounds of argument. Swiftly he dropped his cigarette and crushed it under his foot.
“Jesus Christ! Stop following me, won’t you?” A young man’s voice drifted down the alley.
“What do you mean, hon? You’re so cute when you’re mad,” came a woman’s honeyed reply.
Dan heard a frustrated groan, followed by a tirade of cursing. “You know what I’m talking about! Now get the hell out of here! I need to work!”
He found himself conveniently hidden behind a dumpster and watched, somewhat bemused, as a middle-aged lady stormed out from the back of the restaurant. She threw open the door of a truck labelled “Susuarana’s Sumptuous Sustenance” and raced down the alley, tires screeching. She didn’t notice the detective unflattening himself from the wall after being narrowly missed by the vehicle.
A moment later the young man’s voice returned, this time pleading, “Please, why do you have to keep working with her? The woman is insane. Can’t you find yourself another butcher?”
A female voice replied, “She’s my friend, and I’ve been working with her for years.” The voice was melodious and somehow familiar. It was the kind of voice that belonged to a beautiful, seductive woman, but not just your average bimbo – a woman with wits, who knew what she was doing.
“Listen to me. She’s insane. She’s stalking me. She’s been following me to my house. My girlfriend is getting suspicious. I know she’s your friend and all, but this is serious. I tried reasoning with her but she didn’t listen. If she won’t listen to you either I’m going to have to take drastic measures.”
“Rhys darling, honestly, I think you’re blowing this out of proportion. Maybe Sue has a little crush on you, sure. It’s not like that’s going to kill you.”
“You know, I don’t know. I just don’t know.” Rhys breathed an exasperated sigh. “Can’t you just go to a different butcher?”
“Rhys.” The woman’s voice was different now – commanding and powerful. “She is my butcher and you are my sous-chef. End of story. Now back to work.”

    “Acheron’s Kitchen Rave Review!
After an exhausting day in the office, I gave Acheron’s Kitchen a visit. This is definitely a must-try any foodie! Acheron’s Kitchen turns simple comfort food into gourmet masterpieces. The shepherd’s pie was delightful, not to mention the perfectly baked apple tart. Owner and Executive Chef Rune Acheron proudly boasts the freshest local produce, which she claims is the secret to her delicious dishes.
    Acheron’s goal is to “re-inspire adults and to refresh their child-like youthfulness.” She gave me an exclusive tour of the kitchen – a pristine special edition GE monogram kitchen set and a special meat-treating room at the back make sure their produce is the freshest possible. Now that’s commitment and passion!
    Thanks for reading Larry’s Reviews, and you gotta eat at Acheron’s Kitchen!”

    The stars were barely visible above the jack-o-lantern glow of street lamps, and the diffuse light from the windows illuminated the city in another dress. Briskly, he walked as all detectives walk in the night past downtown fashion stores and closed Oriental food joints, Acheron’s Kitchen, and Susuarana’s Sumptuous Sustenance. Susuarana’s logo, a cougar licking its chops, pulsated neon-yellow in the window. He paused briefly, and looked past the storefronts into the darkness. There was a commotion of scratching and scrambling, the ringing impact of something against the industrial garbage bins. “I should get a bonus,” he groused as he walked through the alley behind Susuarana’s Sumptuous Sustenance. There was a rustling of plastic, and the crunch of bones. Dan stopped. He flattened himself against the back wall of the butcher’s shop and slid along towards the dumpster. He peered over. A small lamp stood just beside it, casting a menacing shadow through the alley. In addition to its glare, he saw two pairs of glittering eyes. No, it looks like three... two bright, and one dull. One dull? Dull, dull, unseeing eyes – A SKULL?! Dammit! Dan ran straight towards the dumpster just as the dark forms dashed away at an unprecedented rate.
“@#&! stupid raccoons! Come back here!” he yelled, as he pelted after them. “Damn, who knew raccoons were this fast?” he muttered to himself. He suddenly tripped over an ungainly bramble and sprawled face down on the hard concrete as the raccoons melted into the bushes, taking their gruesome bounty with them.
    Dan carefully picked himself up from the ground, slightly embarrassed and disappointed. As he brushed off his coat with his hands, he realised they were trembling. His brow twisted as he replayed the scene in his mind. He couldn’t shake the image of those dark holes among the bright eyes – the empty eye-sockets of a rotting human skull.
    “Shoot. I hope that sous-chef guy is alright,” thought Dan, as he remembered the argument he’d overheard several weeks ago. His feet had already turned away from the butcher shop towards the restaurant. “Damn that crazy butcher lady... Damn overtime again...” he rambled as he turned the corner and ran back towards the restaurant. “They’ll be closed now. Wonder if anyone is still around the back?”
    A minute later he scrambled up to the back door of Acheron’s Kitchen and, pounding on the door, puffed, “Rhys! Is that your name? Are you there? You better be alright!”
    There was silence.
    “Dammit. You better not be dead. Answer the freaking door...”
    There was a slow creaking noise and a sliver of light fell across the doorway. “Who’s out there? Quiet down or I’ll call the cops!”
    “I AM the cops, godammit! Are you Rhys?”
    The light grew, until a blond, naturally-permed head could be seen atop a well-muscled body. “Yeah, I’m Rhys Dorian. You’re the cops? You need to work out more.”
    “Yeah, yeah, thanks, I’m trying to save your life here, in case you didn’t notice. I overheard your argument with that butcher – Sue? – a couple of weeks ago. I have reason to believe she is involved in criminal activity.”
    Rhys sky-blue eyes widened and his perfectly-rounded lips gaped. “What... who...”
    “Er... The name’s Dan Frank by the way. Crime investigator. Are we alone here?”
    “Um... yes, we’re alone... the chef’s gone out for a drink I believe...”
    “Very good.” Dan flipped open his notebook. “Let’s sit down and have a little chat. Please tell me everything you know about Susuarana Desperaux, her history, your recent encounters with her...”

    “Well thank you very much, Rhys, you’ve been very helpful,” said Dan. “I’ll take my leave now. Goodnight.”
    “Yeah, no problem Mr. Frank... I’m just a little bit worried now. You think I’ll be okay?” Rhys giggled nervously.
    “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. I can set an officer on watch if you like.” Can’t be too careful after finding heads in her trash, Dan added to himself. “Try not to worry about her too much,” he continued to Rhys, “just take it as a compliment that your great looks can attract even an older woman.” But don’t laugh like that again - giggling doesn’t suit you at all, he thought. He got up from the table in the employees’ lounge and Rhys walked with him to the door.
    “Ok, thanks again, Mr. Frank, for warning me about Sue. I knew there was something up with her! I’ll keep my eye out in the future. Have a safe night.” He held the door open as Dan walked out, tipping his cap in farewell.
    Dan walked down the alley, pondering what he had just learned. The butcher seemed like a normal-enough woman... lonely after her children had moved out and she had separated from her husband. Dan could understand her obsession about a handsome young man like Rhys. He really wished he could believe that there was another explanation for the morbid object he had glimpsed earlier. Perhaps he had imagined it? Trust your instincts, he reminded himself. As he reached the sidewalk and the light of the streetlamps, he heard a familiar voice. Turning around, he caught a glimpse of the beautiful young woman he’d snubbed in the bar some time ago. Damn, I’m a moron. Look, you idiot, there she is with another man. He looks pretty good too, you’ll never get a chance with her after a guy like that. I wonder if she’s met Rhys before...
    “Hey boss!” Rhys’s voice came ringing down the alley. “Why’re you back? I thought you were going to the bar.”
    Dan’s ears pricked. So that’s why the chef sounded so familiar when I heard them talking before... Dammit, good-looking and a good cook! You missed your chance!
    “Yeah, I went to the bar,” the beautiful chef replied. “I just came back to prep for tomorrow.”
    “Um... and who is this?” Rhys sounded doubtful.
    “Oh, this man? I’m considering hiring him. We’re just doing a quick interview. Don’t worry, I’ll clean up and do all the prep for tomorrow. You go on home.”
    “Really? Thanks, boss!” Rhys’s doubt had faded into gratitude. “See you tomorrow!”
    An interview this late? thought Dan as he shambled off down the sidewalk. Just exactly what position is he applying for?

    Damn, thought Dan as he walked out of his office the next morning, another disappearance. And Sullivan slept in this morning again. Why do I have to do all the dirty work?
“Hello, sir, nice to see you again,” the waiter greeted Dan at the door. It was a crisp spring morning, the blossoms just blooming, accompanied a slight breeze to inspire the senses. “You’re lucky we have the Special again today.” D recognized the waiter who had served him last time, and who now led him to an empty table with a glass of water and a menu.  
    “What do you mean, lucky?”
    “Well, you’re lucky because we only serve the Special occasionally,” the waiter explained.
    “Really?” asked Dan, “how often is the Special usually offered?”
    “Oh, well, it’s quite sporadic, even the staff don’t know. It depends on when the ingredients are available. The chef is very particular about the spices. Some of them are quite rare.” The waiter further explained how quickly the pies sold out each time, within the first two days. Dan thanked him, and contemplated as he ate the famed shepherd’s pie.

Lost in his thoughts, Dan started when a hand gently tapped his shoulder.
“Jesus, you scared me for a moment there,” he grumbled, thoughts of murder still fresh on his mind.
“I’m sorry, sir,” the familiar waiter apologised, “the restaurant usually closes at this time to prepare for the lunch rush; but if it’s not too inconvenient, I could help you relocate outside to our verandah?”
“Thank you, but that won’t be necessary. I was just about to leave anyway,” he said blithely. As he walked past the alley of the restaurant, he heard the melodious sound of women’s laughter. Two very familiar sounding women, to be precise. Instinctively, Dan ducked behind the familiar dumpster bin and pricked his ears, hoping to gain some more insight.
“Really, dear Sue, you should stop harassing the poor boy. If you go any further, he’ll not be able to do anything for me! Recently he’s been a mess in the kitchen, whirling like a manic dervish and always muttering under his breath – quite unbecoming. If you’re not careful, he’ll call the authorities on you, just like the last one.”
“But Rune! You know how I like ‘em young. Besides, it’s been five months since that incident. Anyway, this one’s special, I can tell.”
“Ha! He is rather... striking. I can see why you like him so much.”
“Of course! He looks so deliciously cute... I could just eat him up!”
Better have this on record, Dan thought, and fumbled with his jacket, trying to find his recorder within the voluminous folds. As he searched, the recorder flew out and bounced loudly against the dumpster. He froze.
“... What was that?” asked one of the women.
Crap! he thought. Please don’t come over here! There’s nothing! Nothing, I tell you! He held his breath and clasped his shaking hands together as he crouched out of sight. A moment passed. Somewhere a crow cawed.
“Probably just one of those hungry birds,” the other replied at length. “I really should get back to work now.”
Dan stayed hidden and did not move from his stiff position until long after the two women had gone. When he did get up, his features had hardened into a mask of determination. Not even a cockroach dared to cross his path as he walked swiftly back to his car.

The alleyway which had seemed so foreboding the night before was completely changed under the sun. Dan wondered if he had imagined the severed cranium, but a detective should always trust his instincts, he reminded himself. As he surreptitiously slid behind the wall of Susuarana’s Sumptuous Sustenance and shuffled towards the dumpster, he remembered his conversation with Rhys the night before. He wished he could ignore his suspicions and go on regarding the butcher as just another lonely older lady – a lesser man might have done so, or even have taken his chances with her – but as he thought of the case papers that Sullivan had handed him that morning, he steeled himself and continued creeping along the wall.
Reaching the tall metal dumpster, he glanced about furtively – no raccoons, thank god – and, with gloved hands, carefully lifted the lid. As he peered into the dark and smelly void he pulled out his pocket flashlight. He swung it about… and swung it… and swung it…
Several minutes later he breathed a heavy sigh. “Damn. I’m coming all the way over here, getting my paws dirty in the trash, freaking dead animal bits everywhere – you need a better dumpster lid if you don’t want to feed the wildlife with this stuff – and what do I find? Nothi—”
Amidst small chunks of pig spleen and household trash, the beam of the flashlight suddenly fell upon a dark, glistening patch of liquid. Its splattered surface seemed out of place even amongst the discarded waste of the butcher shop. Clenching the flashlight between his teeth, Dan pulled himself up with both hands for a better look. Just as he was able to glimpse a slightly bedraggled crown of hair, still seemingly set with last night’s gel, he heard the creaking of an opening door from the other side of the dumpster. Dropping as quietly as he could to the ground, he swore under his breath, “Dammit. Seems like all I’m ever doing these days is hiding behind dumpsters.”
A woman’s voice came sailing through the air. It was the butcher. She seemed happy, humming as she approached. The rustling of a heavy garbage bag followed her. Dan clenched his eyes shut, waiting for her to round the corner and see him, waiting for her anger as she reached over to lift the lid and instead spotted Dan crouched on the floor like a child playing hide-and-seek, or an addict burned out after a night of boozing. He heard her footsteps stalking nearer, the thick clunking of protective industrial boots, close to his head. For a moment a crazy dream-like scene flashed through his mind – lifting the lid to the dumpster, and finding his own skull staring blindly back at him. Now her footsteps were so close he could have reached around the metal corner of the dumpster and undid her shoelaces. Suddenly, they stopped. There was an unwilling creaking of metal hinges and a plasticky thump. Dan breathed out slowly as the hinges creaked closed. Thank goodness she had been able to reach the lid from the other side.
As Dan prepared to creep away, he heard a bang and a stifled curse. In a moment the heavy boots had stumbled past his head and the butcher appeared around the corner of the dumpster, swearing and clutching a bleeding finger. “Damn metal edges! Got to get those filed down,” she cursed. As her eyes fell upon Dan, her voice changed. “Oh dear, what have we here? Please pardon my French. Have you lost something?”
Dan scrambled for words. It was lucky he had had lots of practice lying to his parents as a teenager, sneaking out to meet his then-girlfriend. “Oh yeah, dropped a coin and it rolled away on me. No worries, I’ve found it now,” he responded in what he hoped was an endearing manner, pulling a loonie out of his pocket for good measure. “Thanks for your concern.”
“Oh, don’t mention it dear. Why don’t you come in for a minute? You look a little beat up – expect you would be after rummaging around back here. Come in and I’ll put on some tea – you can wash your hands at least. I insist,” she added with the firmness of a mother of three.
Dan glanced helplessly back at the sunlit street as her worn, firm hands dragged him to his feet, and into the dim shade of butcher shop.

Phew, I just managed to get away, thought Dan as he hurried down the sidewalk towards his office. He’d been pulled into the back room of the butcher shop – the chopping of the cleaver-bearing assistants and the clattering of the cash-register were still ringing in his mind. After fifteen minutes of listening to the butcher ramble on about her unrequited love and her loneliness, he’d politely taken his leave, faking an urgent phone call. She seemed like a nice enough lady, if a bit obsessive. As he looked down at the business card she’d pressed into his hand, he reminded himself that a bit obsessive could easily lead to much worse things. There was still no explaining away the almost certainly human body parts it seemed she kept throwing away.
Think, Dan Frank, he told himself. There’s no denying the evidence. Stupid way to get rid of evidence but she is a butcher… no problem getting rid of the rest of it. Obsessive about men, skilled with knives… you’re lucky, man, that the assistants were in today. Who knows how lucky the next poor guy will be. Time to put an end to this once and for all.

“Sullivan! Oi! Wake up, you!” Dan prodded Sullivan roughly in the forehead.
In the next cubicle, Sullivan snorted in his sleep and jerked upright from his reclining chair with a start. “Eh? Wazz happening? Where’s the fire?” he looked round, disoriented.
    Dan rolled his eyes. “Get up man, there’s no cavalry to save you this time. I’ve been picking up your mess for the past few weeks, it’s your turn.”
    “Why? Is the rising prodigy stuck on a case?” he smirked.
    “No. Well, yes. But not in the way you think! Anyway, I need you to start pulling your own weight. You–” he paused, and waved a hand in front of the other’s eyes, “Hey! Pay attention! I need you to become bait. The suspect is the 40-something year old proprietor of Susuarana’s Sumptuous Substenance. Here’s a quick profile I did on her.”
    “Ha! Don’t worry big guy, I’ll become bait good enough to eat!” Sullivan was probably referring to his infamous womanizing skills, but...
    “I hope it doesn’t come to that,” muttered Dan, “at least, not literally.”
    “What did you say?”
    “Nothing of import.”

    “Ivan, you are such a wonderful man.” The slender women wrapped her arm around Sullivan’s undercover character’s arm. He was acting at what he did best, slurring like a drunk man. “You are so lovely.” She rested her head on his shoulders endearingly. He felt himself slipping away into her soft embrace.
    “No, YOU are lovely, Rune,” Sullivan replied, enthralled.
Beside them, an older woman grumbled to herself, “that slut. What sort of person would steal her friend’s man? What sort of man would let himself be stolen from ME? I am THE man-hunter... Humph. Rhys would never do that.” Rising out of her bar stool, she said to the couple beside her, “I’ll leave you two lovebirds alone now.” She flipped her short hair and walked stiffly to the door. Neither Sullivan nor Rune noticed her leaving.

As he tilted his head towards Rune’s, Sullivan heard a crackling from the hidden speaker in his ear. “Sullivan! What the hell are you doing? Susuarana Desperaux just parked behind the butcher shop and ran over to Acheron’s Kitchen. How did you let her get away? Get your brain out of your pants for once! And get the HELL over here, pronto! IDIOT.”
Sullivan heaved a sigh. Sheepishly, he turned to Rune and managed a sly grin.
“Hey baby, let’s head back to your place. I want you to feed me your famous shepherd’s pie. And afterwards, we can share some dessert...”
    Dan watched carefully as the butcher fiddled with the handle and opened the back door of the restaurant, looking around surreptitiously before entering. Quickly, he ran on light feet and stuck his shoe in the door before it could lock. With bated breath, he crept quietly into the darkness of the restaurant. He followed the heavy breathing of the butcher as she attempted to quieten her plodding footfalls, wondering why she failed to flick on any of the restaurant lights. Hearing her pause, he hid behind a coat closet just in time to shield himself from the light that spilled out of the next room as she opened the door to the employees lounge with a loud, confident bang.
    “SURPRISE!” she screamed delightedly, like a squealing fangirl. “Hey baby, I brought you something special tonight,” she sing-songed.
    “Wh– You– I... WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING HERE?” Rhys sputtered. “I just locked up!”
    “Oh, well, you know the chef. Said I’d treat her to a drink and she went off with a man again. Don’t worry, I’m not jealous as long as I’ve got you.”
    “You don’t ‘got me’ in case you hadn’t noticed.”
    “I got you alone here, haven’t I?” Sue cooed, batting her slightly greyed eyelashes.
    Rhys sighed despondently. “I could have you arrested for breaking and entering, you know...”
    True, that, thought Dan, as he peeked through the doorway to see Sue doing her best seductive school-teacher act.
    “Why, what a naughty boy, Rhys! I shall have to punish you,” Sue laughed as she leaned in closer. Her face within a knife’s length from his, she whispered, “but I know you wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t let you.”
    Rhys giggled nervously, remembering his conversation with Dan the night before. He promised to put someone on watch. God, I hope he didn’t forget.
    PLEASE don’t giggle like that, thought D, facepalming.
    Rhys blinked, and found Sue’s face not an inch from his. “Cute laugh,” she murmured, flicking his hair playfully. “I knew you weren’t a tough guy through and through. I knew you’d open up to me eventually. So how’s about we play a little game?” she asked. Rhys felt as if the lines on the wallpaper were burning into his back as she pressed him up against the wall. “I have something special for you tonight. If you do what I ask, I’ll show you what it is.”
    What is she doing? Her back is towards me. I can’t see, thought Dan, as he watched Sue fumbling with something. Triumphantly, she seemed to free whatever-it-was from it’s wrapping.
    “What the hell? What are you trying to do to me?!” screamed Rhys, pushing her away as he ran into the hall, narrowly missing Dan. The sound of Sue’s wild laughter followed as she dashed out behind him.
“@#$%!” cursed Dan, as he leaped up and joined the chase.
    “Odd, I must have forgotten to lock the door. Oh well. Welcome,” purred the chef, as she tiptoed into the kitchen, leading Sullivan by the hand. “Ivan, you like?”
    “It’s beautiful,” he replied as he took in the state-of-the-art spatulas, spoons, and cleavers hung along the wall. Several large sinks adorned the long stainless steel counters. A small drain lay in the the middle of the floor, for easy clean-up of spills. And a huge, industrial-sized refrigerator stood menacingly along the far wall, facing the heavy door. “But still, you are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” he added hastily.
    “Oh Ivan, you are adorable. So, you want to try my famous shepherd’s pie? You’re in luck. I have just one left,” the chef replied, as she opened the refrigerator and found a small package amongst the bulky raw meats. She placed it in a small microwave. “I’ll be sure to heat things up for you.”
    “Of course you will,” said Sullivan, as he pulled her close to him. “You already are.” He could hear Dan’s voice echoing around his head...
You moron! Have you forgotten our mission?!
But you’re watching the butcher already. And she’s GORGEOUS. Sorry Dan, forgive me, Sullivan thought with the air of a prayer. The ding of the microwave woke him from his reverie.
    “Ready?” whispered the chef. “I’ll feed you. Close your eyes so you don’t miss anything. Are your eyes closed?” she teased seductively.
    Sullivan closed his eyes obediently. Suddenly he heard the unmistakable sound of pounding footsteps coming towards the kitchen. “What the–” Sullivan was turning towards the door when he was abruptly knocked down hard.

As Dan pelted out of the employee’s lounge, a loud thump and shrill shriek echoed out from the kitchen. Crap, he thought. His momentum carried him through a pair of swinging metal doors into the kitchen.
The kitchen was just as Dan had imagined it from the critic’s review – except for the mess of bodies on the floor.
Crap isn’t that Rhys? Am I too late? Oh god, Sullivan, you too? And–”
Even Dan’s internal voice faltered as he registered the woman’s body on the floor beside the two men. Graying hair covered her face. Her white shirt was ripped.  It was Susuarana Desperaux, with a knife in her chest. Her pale hand still gripped the bloody handle of the half-imbedded cleaver.
As Dan stared, taken aback, the silence was interrupted by another woman’s wails.
“Oh Sue, why did you do it? I tried to stop her, I really did.” The beautiful Rune Acheron knelt, crumpled on the floor beside her older friend, holding her blood-stained hand. “Why Rhys and Ivan too? They were innocent, it’s my fault, all my fault for stealing all those men away from you over the years. I didn’t know it bothered you so much. Why did you blame them? Why did you blame yourself? Why didn’t you kill me? I’m so sorry... forgive me... I can’t live with this...”
Dan stepped forward almost unconsciously, offering a comforting hand. Suddenly, Sue’s mouth trembled.
“She’s lying...” she choked out, her eyes still closed.
Rune’s lovely face contorted, her beauty orchid-like even in tear-stained fury.
“Some friend you are,” she growled cattishly as she wrenched out the knife, heedless of Sue’s tortured moan. “It’s time to clean up this kitchen.” She lunged.
Hardly knowing how, Dan dodged Rune’s blow and managed to knock the weapon out of her hand. It clattered loudly onto the floor. Thank goodness for my reflexes. Now I know why they made me do all that training back then.
A voice that Dan had never expected to hear again then spoke. “Hands up, miss. This gun is loaded.”
As the chef slowly raised her blood-stained palms, Dan looked down to see Sullivan – Sullivan! – with his gun pointed at her head. Wow, no wonder all the girls were after him, Dan marveled at his older colleague, he looks like a moviestar detective.
“Didn’t think you could get rid of me that easily, did you?” continued Sullivan huskily. “It’s not for nothing Dan calls me Stupid Sullivan. I’ve got a hard head. Comes in useful at times like these. Cover for me, Dan. I think Rhys is lying right on my bladder here.”
Dan pulled his gun out of its holster and took aim as Sullivan pushed Rhys away. He slid limply onto the floor. “That blonde head of yours is cracked if someone can knock you out like that,” he said grimly.
Dan cocked his head, listening to his earpiece. “Backup is coming,” he informed Sullivan. “By the way, thanks man. And you,” he addressed Rune.
Rune flicked her hair nonchalantly with one hand, keeping the other fixed in the air.
“Fine, I’ll explain myself.” She smiled flintily at the detectives. “Men are such scum. I learned that a long time ago. A girl’s got to be able to protect herself, especially when she’s cursed with beauty like mine. Oh, I know what they think. They look at me and they think, ‘damn, I want her. I’m going to have her.’ I tried to tell them to back off, but they never listened. I learned that it’s pointless to try.” She smiled bitterly. “They taste much better dead than alive anyway.”
Oh god, thought Dan, as he remembered the delicious shepherd’s pie he’d eaten than morning, and the handsome young lad he’d glimpsed last night. Oh GOD.
The gorgeous chef smiled, self-satisfied, as a look of recognition passed over Dan’s face. Her blood-smear face twisted into a grotesque cheshire. “Got you there, didn’t I? No one ever suspected me. I was just a dumb blonde to them, just a woman, good at working in the kitchen where I belonged. That’s where my beauty was a blessing as well. I was just a beautiful woman ripe for the picking. I couldn’t do anything myself, they thought. But I could – I could. I opened this restaurant, and all those men, those scumbags, they helped me make it a success. No one ever suspected anything. It’s just too bad poor Sue had to interrupt me like that today. I really am sorry for that.”
Dan and Sullivan exchanged a look of annoyance. Save it for the court, girl, thought Dan. Can’t believe I was interested in a nutter like you. Sullivan shrugged back. You couldn’t help a narcissistic genius.
Rune smiled again, this time unnoticed by the exasperated men. “They never will suspect anything,” she whispered, as she turned to run.
A gunshot rang out, the bullet carving a hole in the linoleum just next to her feet. “Damn!” swore Sullivan as he missed. He needn’t have worried, though. Running with stiletto heels clicking happily, she failed to step over Sue’s outstretched arm. Mid-laugh, she fell, shoes kicking up the knife she’d dropped earlier. Her blood-flushed face froze tragically as gravity swallowed her and her delicate, perfectly proportioned body was impaled on the blade.

Insistent sirens could be heard, coming closer down the block. As their mournful moans reached the funereal kitchen, Rhys’s golden eyelashes finally fluttered open. Expressions of amazement, fear, and distress chased each other across his face like hungry animals. As he gingerly raised himself to his knees, his eyes dilated in denial. “Oh no. Sue... Please forgive me. Please don’t be dead. Please, be okay!”
Dan and Sullivan looked on wearily as Rhys shuffled past the chef, painfully beautiful even in death, and crouched over Sue’s aging body and felt for a pulse.
“It’s okay, I’ll be okay,” she whispered. “I’ll be okay if you are here.” She repeated it like a mantra as the ambulance screams choked to a stop and uniformed workers dragged Rhys off of her. Dan and Sullivan watched her lips moving, praying, as they carried her and the late chef out of the blood-drenched kitchen. Police officers tiptoed in carefully and pulled Rhys away, congratulating Dan and Sullivan.

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