THE NICK OF TIME
(and other abrasions)
Acquainted With The Night
Al Bruno III
“My, my, my.” The matronly woman in black velvet paced with glee, “THE Dr. Flesh. What an honor it is to have you visit my establishment.”
Leaning back in the soft couch Dr. Flesh sipped from a goblet of spiced wine and half listened while his gaze flitted about the Crimson hued parlor. All around him pleasures were being haggled over. Madame Regale's girls were of every conceivable size, age and appearance but were all required to wear a standard 'uniform' of white bloomers and lace bodices. Madame Regale claimed this was the secret of her success; it gave her brothel a 'New Orleans Charm'. Dr. Flesh watched as one of the girls, so slender she looked as though her skin had been lashed tight over whipcord muscles, took a man by the hand and led him up the stairs to the private rooms. “I'm only here to ask you a few questions Madame Regale, not to sample your wares.”
The smile never dropped from her gently aged face but she did narrow her eyes slyly, “How very disappointing. I was even willing to let you sample them for free.”
“For free?” He was almost flattered.
“An endorsement from you would more than cover my immediate loss.”
The front door slid open; an older man all but dragged a young boy inside. Madame Regale excused herself with a wink and greeted the new arrivals with a motherly smile. Dr. Flesh pulled his pocket watch from his waistcoat, the digital read out told him it was 12:21 4:03 P.M.; that gave him a little under two hours to wrap things up here and speed across the City to Scamander's house.
Turning his attention back to his host he saw that the brokering was drawing to a close. Madame Regale clapped her hands four times and a pair of her girls, one black the other white, approached. With a few words from Madame Regale they wrapped their arms around the man child's shoulders; both women were a full foot taller than the boy and had to stoop to coo lecherously in his ears. Without another word they half led, half carried him upstairs, his eyes wide with terror and lust.
The older man watched them disappear into one of the rooms and then handed Madame Regale a thick envelope; she led him to the door and kissed him on the cheek.
“More wine?” she asked upon her return.
“No thank you.” he shook his head and handed the empty goblet back to her, “It's none of my business, but what was that all about?"
She slid her finger along the rim of the goblet, “Oh, it's so sweet.
That was his first born son and today's his thirteenth birthday.”
Dr. Flesh raised an eyebrow, “When I turned thirteen all I got was a pony.”
Madame Regale burst out laughing and gave his arm an affectionate squeeze. The girls and their prospective customers eyed them and exchanged whispers. A eunuch came by and took the goblet from her hand. “On that note,” Dr. Flesh began, “I have some questions about one your regular customers, a tall man with a powdered wig...”
“Morgan.” She jerked her hand from his shoulder as though she'd been scalded.
“That's right,” Dr. Flesh leaned forward, “Morgan. Does he come here a lot?”
“I- I'm not sure if I should tell you any more,” She drew back, “There is such a thing as client confidentiality.”
He slowly stood, “Of course I understand, but tell me Madame Regale do you understand the consequences of your refusal?”
“You can't just barge in here and make demands.” She was growing paler by the second.
“I can.” Dr. Flesh reached for her, his bare fingers wrinkling the velvet of her gown, “I can do anything I want.”
Teardrops were beginning to shimmer in the corners of her eyes, “Please. I can't.”
“I have friends among the Constabulary, among the Monarchs and the anthropophagites.” He drew her in close, “I could give you over to any of them and no one would bat an eye. Believe me I'm a veritable kitten compared to what they could do.”
Dr. Flesh could almost taste the confession rising to her lips but she choked it back. “Get out!” She screamed, “Get out of here!”
A eunuch dashed from his post.
“Why are you protecting him?”
A pair of meaty hands wrapped around the back of Dr. Flesh' neck, he released Madame Regale and she scrambled to the other side of the parlor. All along the balcony people were rushing half naked from their rooms to watch the commotion as two more geldings rounded the stairwell, their weapons drawn.
The patrons and Madame Regale's girls whispered among themselves, all thoughts of carnal pleasures forgotten, “Isn't that Dr. Flesh?”
“He's getting his ass kicked!”
“I don't believe it!”
“Fifty says he gets tossed out into the street!”
The words were like a splash of scalding water in Dr. Flesh' face, he reached back and dug his fingers into his attacker's wrist. The eunuch's skin split like an overripe fruit and fell away in huge sections to reveal a glistening network of vein, muscle and bone.
The agonized scream left the onlookers frozen in place. Dr. Flesh spun and caught the eunuch as his knees buckled; droplets of blood fell from every inch of him, spattering on Dr. Flesh' clothes and boots. The other eunuchs slowed but were still moving in on him, their weapons drawn, their pace cautious.
“Regale.” Dr. Flesh threw the flayed man at their feet, “Call them off or this is going to get a whole lot messier.”
She gagged, “Hold!”
“I want to know who he's been with and how often. I want the whore's name.” Dr. Flesh bore down on her, his footsteps squelching on the blood soaked carpet.
“Joy.” She answered, “Joy Sctizm. She works out of the pink room.”
He loomed over her, “There, now that wasn't so difficult was it?”
The eunuch crawled along the floor, scrabbling at Dr. Flesh' coattails, his skinned lips pleading. The room was silent save for the sound of someone retching.
Dr. Flesh ascended the stairway, knowing that they all stared after him. No doubt the same individuals who had been so eager to dismiss would now speak his name in fearful tones for the rest of their lives. The thought was pleasing enough to evoke a brief smile.
A few steps from the stairwell was a door that had been painted a stomach wrenching shade of pink. Dr. Flesh opened it and let himself inside.
The walls and floor of the room were the same garish color. The brass bed was wide; each post sported a pair of worn handcuffs. Dozens of bottles brimming with lubricants and oils clustered on the nightstand, a drawer hung open allowing a glimpse of the painful looking implements it contained. Dr. Flesh looked up and caught a glimpse of his reflection on the mirrored ceiling and thought to himself that no cliché had been left unturned.
“Morgan said you'd come.”
Joy was stretched out on the bed, carelessly naked, her frizzy hair splayed out around her head like a dark halo.
“He did?” Dr. Flesh closed the door behind him.
“Oh yes.” she grinned and drew herself to her knees, “He told me you'd come here, acting like an atheist in church.”
“You've been servicing Morgan?”
“Servicing! What an amusing term.”
Dr. Flesh wandered over to the closet and perused her belongings, “I'll take that as a yes.”
“How long has it been,” Joys slithered from the bed and advanced on him, “since you've been serviced Comprachio?”
“I wouldn't joke around if I were you.” Dr. Flesh turned to face her, she was close, so close that he could smell her breath, it was sickly sweet.
“The Monarchs' power is at its twilight. Everyone knows that.”
“I don’t care.”
“They say you used to. The say you were almost Regent a lifetime ago.”
“They say a lot don’t they?”
“They say a lot about you.” She toyed with the beads of crimson on his boots with her bare toe. “Morgan thinks you’re fascinating.”
“Mother would be so proud.”
Giggling Joy backed up and perched on the edge of the bed, “Ally yourself with Morgan, do it openly. Be more than an assassin.”
“Sorry. I can’t be bought off.” Dr. Flesh sighed, “You people have no idea who you’re dealing with.”
“I know what I'm dealing with.” She crawled along the bed on all fours, “A man and if you accept his offer you get me. You can make me into whatever you desire, do with me as you will, take me any way you like.”
She placed the pad of her index finger on her right eye and twisted until nothing showed but white. With one fluid motion she brought her thumb to bear on the bottom or her lid and popped the glass bauble from its hole, revealing a glistening socket. “You can even take me like he does.”
Dr. Flesh took the glass eye from her hand and laid it gently on the nightstand where it rolled in lazy circles and came to a halt. She embraced him, her practiced touch running up and down his back.
“Joy, Joy, Joy.” he whispered softly, cradling her head in his hands, “I'm afraid not.”
His grip became savage, the hard bone of her cranium squealed in protest. Joy tried to scream, her voice reduced to a hoarse keening. Dr. Flesh kept squeezing; her eye bulged, her jaw snapped like dry wood, spilling teeth from her mouth. Cracks opened in her skull, allowing the dull gray of her brain to seep free. The bones of her face crumbled and shifted.
For a moment Dr. Flesh paused, knowing that he was taking this beyond the realm of a simple assassination to a declaration of all out war. Joy was sobbing, her breaths heavy and labored. He could simply leave now, and let her pain and disfigurement be a warning. For a moment he truly considered it. Then he remembered her calling him Comprachio and the mercy went from his eyes. He crushed her skull with a final squeeze.
Dr. Flesh let the quivering body crumple onto the bed and left the room. He descended the stairs, brushing splinters of bone from his sticky hands.
The parlor was empty save for the trio of weeping eunuchs gathered around their skinned comrade. A familiar dark clad figure stood nearby, trying to explain as gently as possible that he couldn’t administer he last rights until the body stopped breathing. “Father Muñoz?” Dr. Flesh smiled.
The eunuchs fled at his approach.
“Dr. Flesh?” Father Muñoz's jaw dropped, “Are you all right?”
“Oh, I'm fine.”
“But you're covered with blood!”
“It's not mine.”
Father Muñoz took an involuntary step backwards, blessing himself with bandaged hands.
“So, what are you doing in a place like this? Preaching to the fallen women?”
He replied through gritted teeth, “Just because I'm a priest doesn't mean I'm a perfect human being.”
“I'm sorry.” Dr. Flesh said, “If I've offended you Father, forgive me.”
“It's all right. Think nothing of it.”
“Say, do you have dinner plans for this evening?”
Madame Regale stepped out from behind the couch. “What have you done?”
“Tell Morgan she got off easy.”
“What did you do to her?” She demanded.
Dr. Flesh led Father Muñoz to the door, outside it was snowing lightly, “Tell him she got off easy because I thought she was cute.”