Even across the expanse of timber flooring the canines were visible. A full seven inches in length, they encroached like daggers into a gaping mouth held open in a look of permanent surprised aggression, on a face which stared out, with glassy eyes, onto the interior of the waterfront studio.
The girl kneeling on the polar bear rug grinned through the tightening pain in her calf. She straddled the deep white pile like a wrangler, sheer black nylon stockings and patent leather stiletto heels contrasting starkly with the purity of whiteness beneath her. Her bare fingers, at the end of opera length lace gloves, clenched the thick fur of the polar bear head tightly as the pain increased.
“I think I’m getting a cramp, Patric!”
“Stretch your legs then darling.” The man, seated before her in the white cotton shirt replied absently. “I think it’s time for a break anyway!”
The girl had been sitting on her knees for almost forty minutes now, and numbness flooded her legs as she pushed herself onto her feet.
The man sat back and stared hard at the large canvas in front of him. He stretched an arm forward, without changing the position of his head, and dabbed the brush he held in his hand across the lower part of the painting.
“Haahh-aah!” The girl half laughed, half yelped as the pins and needles of recirculation attacked her calf muscles and she reached for the windowsill for support. She kicked off the shining spike heels, wriggling her toes as the agony in her legs eased.
The man laid the long brush onto the small table by his side and eased himself to his feet. Wrapped around the beige fabric of his right slacks leg, the leather and steel caliper creaked softly as he straightened and stood upright. He massaged the small of his back with one hand as he rubbed the other across his moustache and yawned.
The girl stared at her reflection on the window glass as she stretched onto pointed toes, steadying herself with both hands against the sill. Her hair had been set in a lush, classic style, pulled away from her ears and face – swept upwards and back and collected on top of her head like Jean Peters in, ‘Pickup on South Street’. She did not like it. She much preferred the fringe and long bob that she wore during the majority of her dance routines. It felt right, and suited her Latina bone structure more than the style she now wore but, as Patric had explained; it was more in line with the sensibilities of the magazine.
“Would you like another coffee, Sophia?” The man said as he walked, bare footed, across the studio floor.
Sophia turned without taking her hands from the sill and continued to wriggle life back into her toes.
“How much did you say that that cost you again, Patric?” She stared at the huge coffee bar that occupied the whole of the far wall of the studio. Deep, lush, walnut panels contrasted pure white marble countertops, rich brass fittings and foot rail.
“You can’t put a price on what makes you happy, Sophia!” He replied tapping the dregs from the filter into the small built in sink on the countertop, before sliding it back into place. “Cappuccino?” He raised his eyebrows questioningly and looked at her as he unscrewed the lid of a tall glass jar.
“Please.” She replied, smiling at his obvious pride in his huge indulgence, and turning to rest her hips against the sill, watched him as he worked levers and turned taps, closing his eyes to savour the hiss and squeal of boiling water in fine pipe work. Finding beauty in the mundane.
She had modelled for Patric for over eighteen months now. She knew little about him, other than the fact that he was an artist whose work was much in demand and could be seen in many of the prestige magazines to be found on the cities newsstands. She knew from friends that he was a decorated war hero, although he made no mention of it in all the sessions that she had currently sat for. She knew that he had an inordinate liking for coffee, could play the accordion and always wore his sleeves long when painting. He was around forty years of age but looked older, and she knew that she felt safer with him than with any other man in her life since her father. She turned to the window again and wiped condensation from the glass.
Four storeys below, somewhere in the darkness, ice fringed the slow moving river as it crept its cold way slowly to the bay. It was the coldest night that December had yet offered up. A sullen moon stared clear and sharp, from a crystal black sky onto the derricks and warehouses that spread along the waterfront and down to the harbour. At three in the morning the isolated sounds of shift working foundries and shipyard works, mechanical firms and stray cats lent a subtle hum to the mood of the night. Random, lighted windows spread a broken pattern across the black backdrop of shadowed buildings and spilled wan light streams into the night.
“Don’t stand there too long like that, honey… prying eyes!” He limped across the huge room, traversing the polar bear and offering a blue porcelain cup with an outstretched hand.
“At three in the morning, Patric… who’s around at three in the morning?” Her eyes sparkled with mock mischief as she took the cup from him and wrapped her hands around it. “Thank you!” She sang as she followed him back across the room to look at the painting.
“How does it make you feel, Sophia… wearing the clothes you’re wearing now?” he tilted his head at the picture. “Do you recognize yourself in the painting? Or do you see someone else?”
She turned to look at the picture as he turned to look at her. Spain was many years behind her now, but she could see in the brushstrokes that accentuated her cheekbones and colored her skin with a forgotten sun, that the face was hers. In the drape of lace and nylon and the curve of her calf, in the dappled light across her bust and the easy curve of her buttocks the figure was hers… but the clothes? She turned to him.
“How do you feel?” He repeated, sipping from his cup.
She turned again to the picture, running naked fingers across the firmness of her corseted stomach. She hadn’t thought about feeling anything in all honesty. The sheer nylon, the high heeled shoes, the ribbed corsetry and suspenders, all these things were merely necessities for the life she had chosen. The 58 Welt Club dictated their presence during the dance numbers. The painting sessions dictated their presence for the subject matter. Subconsciously her hand moved to her lower back to stroke the lace frills along her panty tops.
“Do you know what it makes men feel, Sophia?” He moved away, sensing her hesitance, and sat gently into the big Chesterfield couch. He winced at the sharp pain in his knee and spilled some of the almost black coffee onto the varnished timber floorboards.
“I guess it makes them feel…” She grinned coyly and smoothed her hands across her buttocks. “Sexy?”
“If only it were that simple.” He smiled, and lounged deeper into the cushions thrown across the settee. “What you’re wearing now can bring a man to his knees in a heartbeat, Sophia.” He took a long swig of the swiftly cooling coffee and stared at her for a moment.
For a fleeting second she felt the brush of something uncomfortable in the air, but as he continued to speak she realized that it was her own preconceptions and not his that had caused the effect.
“Even I don’t fully understand what…” he waved an open hand toward her attire. “That… does to a man. Or what it does to the woman who wears it.” He took another sip of coffee. “But I do know that you, as women, sell it way, way short!”
Sophia sensed the onset of one of Patric’s occasional contemplative conversations and, collecting a heavy toweling dressing gown from a hook behind the studios main door, crossed the room to sit beside him.
“God knows I’ve painted a thousand pictures of women in lingerie. Stockings, corsets, high heels and suspenders! There has to be a reason why these pictures are so appealing… a reason beyond the obvious sex thing, I mean.”
Sophia pulled the waist belt tight around the robe and lounged into the cushions by his side. She felt tired and the pain in her calves had left a dull ache that was uncomfortable. She rested her head on her hand and pulled her feet up beneath her.
“When I was out in the Pacific… in the early days of the war, I remember me and some of the guys – maybe ten of us – being taken to a local bar. The bar turned out to be a brothel. We sat along one wall, smart in our uniforms, full of pride and power and ready to die for our country at the drop of a hat. On the other wall a parade of Asian girls sat and made eyes, lewd gestures – and worse – at us…” He frowned, as though attempting to make sense of what he was about to say next. “One sweet looking thing – in her early twenties perhaps – gave me the eye for maybe fifteen minutes. Kept crossing and uncrossing the most luscious legs in the Southern hemisphere. Black silk stockings, crossing and uncrossing, black seams and olive thighs like a tickertape parade…” He smiled wryly and looked at the floor. “They kicked me out eventually. I just couldn’t – not with her.” He looked at Sophia. “The brothel owner got mad, the girl got pissed waiting, and I walked ten miles back to base in a monsoon.”
Sophia returned his gaze in silence.
“I think lingerie amplifies intent.” He turned and looked at her. “I think lingerie amplifies the intent of the wearer – and is a separate…” He struggled for words. “Thing!” He conceded.
Sophia smiled. She had seen him struggle with this sort of thing so often.
“It has the potential to be an armour.” He continued. “A physical and mental armor – that can be many things at once, depending on the intent of the wearer.”
“So this is like – armor?” Sophia stretched a toned leg out from the couch and pointed her toe. The sheer nylon shone in the studio light as she smoothed wrinkles from around the knee. “But it’s made for… sex, Patric! Come on!” She sat back and finished the remnants of her coffee, unabashed.
“Is it, Sophia? Is it really that simple?” He swung himself up from the couch and returned to the painting. “A woman wears pink and mint green lingerie, a red choker with black nylons and stiletto heels; it’s easy for the guy in the room to understand her intent.” He picked up the brush once more and ran his fingers across the metal ferule that held the bristles. “Give her a whip and darken the green, and that’s a different matter. Tie her up with a ball gag in her mouth like Bettie Page and dress her all in black and you give off another signal, altogether. You put a gun in her hand…” His voice tailed away.
“A gun!” Sophia stood and crossed to the window, dropping the towelling robe and slipping arched feet into the waiting spikes. “I suppose I feel… I don’t know, Silly, Sexy, Empowered and stupid!” She smoothed the hair from her temples to the back of her head feeling the faint flush of embarrassment.
“Okay – you’re dancing at the 58.” He sat down again on the adjustable wooden stool. “You’re wearing the same clothes as you’re wearing now.” His face clouded. “The only guy in the house stands up and starts to climb onto the stage. He shouts out some shit about what you’re wearing – and tells you that you’re a whore. He throws a handful of money in your direction.”
Sophia stood astride the dead polar bear skull, statuesque.
“You know you want it – he says. You’re begging for it! – he screams… and you point a pistol into his face.”
Sophia remained standing.
“You’re intent is that you will shoot the sonovabitch if he doesn’t sit back down. You will drop him where he stands and spit on his dead face.”
Sophias’ eyes caught her own reflection in the window. The night outside drained the colour from her outfit and somehow she did not feel quite so feminine.
“He totally gets your intent! His vision of you is reversed. His expectations of you are totally destroyed. You still wear the same outfit… but your intent is amplified.”
“Isn’t the intent amplified simply because of the gun?” Sophia responded, and from some hidden place in the back of her mind she almost felt the steel weight of the weapon in her hand.
“Perhaps.” He reached for the oil palette that sat, waiting, by the painting. “But if you had the gun all the time, in full view – the fact that you were wearing what you are – would simply make you stronger. Amplify your intent. Empower you in ways I can’t even imagine.”
Sophia turned to look at the artist. “I have no idea what you are talking about, Patric,” she said as she lowered herself slowly onto the shoulders of the once mighty creature that now warmed her floor. Stockinged thighs eased apart and she felt the fur pile warm her.
“Lingerie works on a different level it seems to me, Sophia…” He smiled as she tilted her head downward and gripped the fur again with stronger fingers. “I don’t know what that level is… but its way beyond lust….”
The door split from its hinges with a scream of rending timber and spun into the room like a dying thing. It pirouetted on one corner point and came to rest with a crash, savagely wedged against the rich timber of the coffee bar with its sundered locks facing outwards.
In the empty doorway that remained, two figures stood, one, average height and build, the other large and almost apelike. The smaller of the two, entered the studio first, though it was clearly the larger man who had destroyed the door. Raising a large, snub nosed revolver in a gloved fist he moved confidently into the room. “Well, well, Grayson!” He leered manically. “What have we got here?”
Sophia pulled herself into a sitting position and lifted her knees close to her body. Automatically her arms crossed her chest and adrenalin flushed her system. She wanted to scream but her throat clamped fast and she stared at the floor, breathing in short sharp gasps.
“Dirty man – and his whore-bitch, Grayson!” The man with the gun crossed the studio floor with a slow arrogance, the pistol threatening violence with a casual grip. “A looker… and in fancy dress too!” He glared toward Sophia with dangerous eyes then angled a course toward Patric in a straight legged parody of a jester’s gait. “This… your scene, old man?”
Patric did not move. Both of the men were young, in their mid twenties at the outside, armed; random cruisers hoping to venture on an open door. He caught Sophias frozen figure in his peripheral vision and cursed himself for a fool. The ease with which the boy with the gun distributed fear to those around him indicated that any wrong word would prove disastrous, so he watched and waited in silence.
“Pictures!” The gunman waved the pistol randomly at the work spread around the studio. “Filthy pictures… of all your little whores?” He flashed another vicious glance toward Sophia and brought the gun butt down on the painting. The timber frame splintered and the heavy gunmetal tore downward through the canvas, lodging in the fibres half way down the picture. Maniacally the man ripped the still wet oil study from its easel, dislodging it hard toward the coffee bar where it came to rest, shattered, in the basin of the small sink.
“What do you want?” said Patric, averting his eyes and trying to recall whether he had locked the fire escape door at the rear of the building.
“Flimsy, flimsy, filthy pictures…“, murmured the boy quietly, vacantly, lifting the gun to his face. A rainbow smear of paints clung to the short barrel and variegated the forearm of his leather jacket sleeve as he drove it savagely down toward Patrics head.
Patric did not see the blow coming but he knew that its arrival was inevitable. His head exploded with pain, a tornado of lights flashing across his vision as he rocked back on his seat with the impact. He felt the flesh of his cheek separate and the warm rush of blood cascade across his face. He smelled a thick stench of heavy alcohol and heard the muffled howling laughter from somewhere near his skull as the shadows gathered to take him, and then he grasped frantically at the pain to keep himself from fading. “Don’t get lost in the dark parts.” He mumbled quietly and opened his eyes.
“Whoa! What’d you say? Hard head, filthy man!” The gunman swung the pistol to draw a bead above Patrics left eye. “I think my man wants to watch, Grayson!”
Patric looked around the room. The ape man had moved to within three feet of Sophia, but the gunman remained before him in the same place he had stood when delivering the blow. Confident that he had not fully lost consciousness he suddenly realized that he could no longer see in colour; the fingers of his hands felt numb and he dropped his head to see the steadily pooling blood between his feet, and the paintbrush still firmly in his grip. When he lifted his head again the black and grey image of the unknown gunman leered at him from a few feet away.
“Okay, baby,” said the monochrome leer, without taking his eyes from the unblinking stare of the injured man in front of him. “All yours, Grayson… times a wastin’!”
Sophia felt large, rough hands grasp her shoulders but could not open her eyes. Vice like fingers dug into her flesh and she felt herself leave the floor. Half dragged, half carried she whimpered through clamped teeth as she grasped herself across the breast tighter than ever. A huge, cold, leather clad arm wrapped around her waist and she felt herself flung forwards across the room. Automatically she opened her eyes and put out her arms as the couch hit her midriff. The air left her lungs in a sudden rush as the cushions wrapped around her face and she felt the hands again, at her hips this time, lifting her onto her knees and pawing unceremoniously at her clothing. Other knees, between and behind her own pushed her legs roughly apart and with a sudden ripping pain her head was pulled upward by the hair and she breathed again. She looked to Patric. He sat limply on the stool, shoulders hunched forward with his head erect, staring directly at the man with the gun. She wanted him to look at her, to feel her pain and be with her through the thing that was about to happen. She willed him to look but he sat like the dead, staring into the eyes of the thing that had killed him as he bled away across the waxed timber of the floor.
“Still!” The ape man spoke one word, in a voice akin to a child, which sounded almost dreamlike in the stifling tension of the room. He looked down at the prone figure of the beautiful girl before him. He had seen the type of clothes she wore, in the magazines that his brother, Jodie brought home to the flat. He liked them but could not understand why. He looked across to Jodie, with his gun and his power, and he smiled. ‘Tonight would be a special night’ he thought as his trousers fell and he grabbed the girls frilled panties in his hand.
Sophia smelled the animal stink from the man behind her and choked as he pulled her head back even further. She looked at Patric for the last time as tears welled in her eyes and blurred him from sight, indelibly printed on her memory, a prone, destroyed figure, ever staring at the brutal cruelty of an evil world. She heard the ripping of her underwear and felt the burn, as the satin raked down her thighs. She closed her eyes again and moaned, pitifully.
The man with the gun grinned at Patric inanely and glanced toward the couch; and in the moment that it took for his eyes to travel – he was a dead man.
Patrics left eye was slowly closing with the fluid that steadily seeped from the fracture in his skull, and his right eye was gritty and numbed with the effort of holding the man’s face in focus. He held one course of action in the forefront of his mind, long decided, reliant on one simple turn of a head. Muscles, wasted and sound, of both legs propelled him upright as his right shoulder dropped and the muscles across his torso dragged his arm from somewhere close to his knees in a long arc toward the man’s head.
The grin faded from Jodie’s face as the gunman turned his gaze back to the now moving figure before him.
Patric heard the crack as the metal ferule of the brush ploughed its way through the flesh and bone of the gunman’s temple. His shoulder and abdominal muscles contracted as he continued the blow and turned the weight of his body left, driving the brush handle into and through the man’s brain, stopping only when his fist smashed into side of the head. He released the protruding handle of the brush as the report of the gun bellowed around the room and he felt heat flare across his stomach in a wave of dull pain.
As the body rocked away from him and began to fall, Patric half lunged, half fell toward the turning face of the apelike, Grayson. Using the couch for leverage he pushed with his feet and thrust an elbow at the giant’s throat. Grayson’s hands released the girls’ hips and began to rise, defensively. Patrics elbow was forced upwards and drove into the boys nose instead, snapping back the huge head in a welter of blood. In a fluid motion Patric’s arm wrapped across the wide throat and around the back of Grayson’s neck, his hand balled into a fist at the base of the boy’s skull he squeezed, and pulling his hips behind the wide shoulders fell backward. The kneeling boy’s neck snapped with a report as loud as the gunshot. Patrics weight collapsed onto the twisted face and he lay there, unmoving, until the choked whimpering had stopped, and the great arms and chest had ceased to move.
Sophia stopped screaming. Echoes of the gunshot and the smell of cordite hung in the air. Trembling, her ears ringing, she turned her head and looked about the room.
By the shattered easel the body of the gunman lay crumpled, the wooden handle pointing skyward from the broken skull. Blood flowed in a steady stream from one eye socket where the bristles, like some grotesque eyelash had exited the confines of the head. A trail of broken tables and scattered debris lead directly behind her, and she saw the tangled limbs and shattered bodies for the first time. Blood pulsed from a torn bullet wound in the stomach of the uppermost body. Organs protruded from the rent in the white shirt material, rising and falling gently in the eerie silence that had now fallen across the room and slowly, through her shock she recognized the bare feet and callipered leg.
“Patric!” It was a whispered scream – whispered, lest a savage world might hear. She pushed herself away from the couch and crawled to his side. Some feet away she saw Jodie’s grasping fingers spasm once and become still. She crawled into the crook of the artist’s free arm and whispered his name again. “Patric.”
He opened his left eye slowly, the right eye remaining closed, a bloated mess of blood and fluid. He rolled his head toward her, the jerky movement reminiscent of a broken puppet in some toy box of the devil. “Sophia…” Blood flowed from between his lips and he choked, coughing.
She wept. Stroking his broken cheek she began to sob, deep wrenching sobs.
“I’m… sorry…” His voice slurred weakly and he coughed again, spraying the already bloody shirt with fresher crimson.
“Don’t…” She wrapped her arms around him and gently hugged him to her, trembling. “They didn’t…” The words would not come but in his eyes she saw that he understood.
Patrics head rocked backwards and he stared into the ceiling light that hung directly above. Somewhere in its glow he thought he saw the movement of wings.
“Tell Raphael… I am sorry…” He whispered and was still.