“Anyway, I think I’m pretty damned near the bottom of this,” Blakley seemed to conclude after having droned on for whatever approximation of time one can reasonably estimate when going by the nonstandard unit of measurement consisting of cigarettes smoked and coffee consumed. He’d been going over the most recent developments in a missing persons investigation of a peculiar nature. Three different clients had all reported persons going missing under similar circumstances, and none of them wanted to involve the police for some reason. So they chose to keep the affairs private by hiring Blakely, a man known for his thoroughness and discretion, his being tight with the right law enforcement officials, while still being allowed the loose luxury of operating somewhat outside of the law. Qualities which made up for his general lack of protocol and basic humanity. Blakely had managed to connect all three cases to one young woman, and had been regaling his ‘business associate’ with all the intricate details of his genius at a diner just a few blocks from her residence before he’d planned to go question her.
“Everything leads to her and seemingly stops with her, so either she has a pretty crowded basement by now, or, more likely, she’s just the tip of the iceberg, and going through her, we’ll find out where they all went. Either way, I’ll have her. I just need to pop over to this darling member of society’s house and apply a bit of pressure, and boom!”
He punctuated his closing statement by flicking the tip of his probably-fourth cigarette hard, dislodging the whole ember instead of merely ash and sending it flying into the leather clad breast of the jacket being worn by the person across from him, much to the displeasure of the somewhat tired and very much distracted young man.
“Sunava bitch!” Jones swore, patting the now-plentiful bits of ember and ash off of his jacket before they could do any more damage than time and neglect had already done to the dingy thing.
“If you’d been paying attention, you’d have seen that coming.”
“If I’d been paying attention, you wouldn’t have fucking done it.”
“So, you admit that this is your fault. Anyway, if you caught any of that, I’m headed to her place now. I just need you to hang here and back me up if I need it. But I don’t think I’ll have any problems. Should be able to manage her just fine. I’ll phone you when I’m ready for pickup.”
“What if she doesn’t tell you anything? I mean, you always refuse to do this shit straight, and she’s not going to invite you in. So unless you--”
“I’m not a fucking vampire, kid. I don’t need an invitation. Besides, I’ve got two people willing to say they saw the last victim enter her residence less than a day after the last time he was seen alive. I’m sure that’ll rattle her enough to at least be a little cooperative.”
“You’ve got one guy. One poor addict. That guy’s ‘testimony’ isn’t worth its weight in the plaque caked on his meth-addled teeth. And the ‘reputable’ neighbor didn’t see shit. He was just affirming your leading questions so you’d leave him be.”
“She doesn’t know any of that.” Blakely seemed to consider something for a moment, but then simply rolled his eyes and shrugged. “Whatever, all she needs to know is what people are willing to say they saw. Would you just shut up and mind your damn phone while the boss does business?”
“It had better be business, because I swear to God, man, if this shit ends up anything like that slimy stunt you pulled with that witness in the extortion case…”
“What, you gonna rat me out? Huh?” The pair of them just stared silently at each other for a moment. The younger man cleared his throat like he was about to respond, but Blakely cut him off. “You think I can’t play dirty, too? You ain’t the only investigator at this table, and you’re half as good a sleuth as I am a mean bastard. I didn’t think I’d have to explain it to you twice what would happen…” Blakely trailed off menacingly, his implication clear. Jones had lied as instructed to the police to cover his ass last time under a fair bit of duress. In the end, Blakely had indeed managed to convince the much younger and much greener private investigator that it was in his best interest to forget about the whole thing. Jones met his stare for a moment, and relented.
“No. But I’m not bailing you out again,” he finally said. “I mean, Jesus, man. I’m your partner. I respect your experience. But we aren’t above the… we can’t just… I mean…” His knuckles were turning white as he tightened both hands around the cold porcelain of his coffee mug. He lowered his gaze, seeming to focus on nothing in particular as he reminisced. But the young man was simply too cowardly to challenge the seasoned veteran, no matter how unorthodox his methods, because he really was convinced that this man could ruin his career and his life if he decided to put his mind to it. Jones was no boy scout either. He didn’t have a perfectly clean slate, and he know that Blakely could use that, even if his own crimes were petty by comparison.
“Hey, kid. Relax. I’ll do it straight. ‘By the book,’ even. Alright? Just…” He stood up, placing a large, calloused hand onto Jones’ shoulder. “Mind your phone. Daddy won’t be long.” He chuckled and placed his hands in the pockets of his own oversized leather jacket, and sort of strutted in his too-big-for-this-room sort of manner out of the diner. Jones shivered from the feeling of having been touched by the man. Blakely really gave him the creeps. He was dirty, and Jones would be happy to be free and clear of the man at the first clean-cut opportunity, if such a thing ever presented itself. And the way things seemed to work in this town, opportunities were slim. He sighed deeply, sinking into the booth a little, and took a sip of his pretty-cold coffee.
“Just mind my phone. One thing at a time, one day at a time.” He stared out the glass doors into the snow, wondering if his partner would be likely to do things ‘straight.’ More likely, he’d resort to his old-fashioned tactics of coercion, violence, or something even worse. He swore quietly, practically whispering into his coffee, and waited impatiently. He was actually worried about the girl, suspect of kidnapping or not.
Jones had just finished his third cup of coffee he’d had since waiting for his partner to call for him to come and pick him up when his phone started buzzing on the table. He put the mug down and took a deep breath before picking up the clunky phone and flipping it open, pressing the receiver to his ear. He’d barely said “hello” before he heard the extremely garbled voice of Blakely screaming at him incomprehensibly.
“Jesus, Blakely, calm the hell down. What’s going on?” He only heard static for a moment before the voice came through again, a little more loudly, but no less garbled. There was some serious interference for some reason. He pressed the receiver of the little flip phone to his ear as tightly as he could while plugging the other so he could try and make something out.
“Some kind of gun! And now she’s somehow… *static* under the fucking couch! Get over… *static* She said she’s gonna… fuck! She’s got me! Jones! You crazy… Let fucking go!” Jones could barely make anything out over the awful distortion, and then the line went dead. But he’d caught the word gun, and was already running out the door by the time the connection finally failed.
He decided it would be faster just to leave the car and run. It took him no time to sprint the few blocks separating the diner and the house in question, and having to navigate the car would have only slowed him down. By the time he’d gotten to the residence, his cheeks were red from the cold wind whipping his face, and he was extremely out of breath. It was then that he realized his mistake. His gun was in the car.
He froze in place at the front door of the residence, feeling like a complete fool. He cursed under his breath in as many colorful combinations of obscenities as his frenzied mind would allow, and tried to figure out what he should do. Should he run back to the car at the diner? Did he have time to waste? What the hell kind of situation had Blakely gotten himself into on the other side of that door? There was no one else he could call, and he didn’t know what to do, but the longer he stood there like a dumbfounded oaf in the snow, the more idiotic he felt. He decided that he’d just have to make due with whatever he had that passed for ‘wit.’ He tried to take a deep breath to slow his breathing and heart rate down to something resembling that of a hyped-up hamster, and knocked roughly on the white wooden door three distinct times.
In seconds, he heard a latch slide out of place, and the door swung open widely, but casually, revealing the owner of the residence standing before him, Bethany Fitz. She opened the door wide enough for him to see inside into the well-lit living room, apparently not trying to hide anything, and she really looked as if she had nothing to hide. She kept one hand on the door and placed the other on her hip, and leaned against the door frame in what seemed like total relaxation.
“Good evening, mister,” she said, smiling brightly at Jones. There was something funny about the way she was speaking, but Jones was too flustered to make sense of it immediately. “Is there something I can do for you at this hour? I was just…” She paused mid-sentence, allowing her eyes to flutter shut lazily for a moment while she tilted her head to the side and seemed to inhale with a sort of exhilarated contentedness. “Wrestling up some supper. But I’m not sure if its agreeing with me entirely. Would you like to come in?”
Jones just stood there, staring at her dumbly. He was at a total loss for words. Where was Blakely? He was supposed to be here, questioning this petite little blonde girl concerning multiple missing persons, and had called him screaming something about a gun and a couch! He’d said she ‘got him.’ What the hell had he meant? Jones wasn’t sure what to make of the situation, and he was even less sure that he wanted to enter her home. Something about her was off and he didn’t know why.
“Well, miss, my… partner… and I were investigating a few disappearances, and he was supposed to be questioning the owner of this residence. Am I to understand that you’re the owner?”
“I am,” she said, and Jones figured out what was strange about her speech. She never fully opened her mouth to annunciate, keeping her top teeth lightly against her bottom lip while saying every syllable and smiling. Jones thought it was a little shifty.
“Supposedly he thought she could help us with some information. He’s a middle-aged man, large build, greying hair, and a little rough around the edges. Have you seen him?”
“I have,” she said. He stared at her for a moment, expecting her to say more, but she just stood there, smiling at him knowingly, seeming to dare him to press further.
“And do you know where he is now?”
“I do.” Again, he waited for some kind of elaboration, but he was beginning to feel like she was playing with him.
“Do you mind telling me where he is? He called me a minute ago and sounded… pretty stressed out to put it lightly.” This seemed to prompt a different kind of response. Her eyes widened a little in apparent surprise and she finally stopped flashing that brilliant white smile, opting instead to close her lips and gulp hard in a very obvious way, taking her hand off the door and placing it on her chest just below her neckline. The whole gesture looked like a mixture of feigned surprise and somehow… satisfaction.
“A call, you say? Well, I don’t actually have a phone line hooked up here, so I’m not sure how--”
“He called me from his cell, miss.”
“Ah-h-h. How silly of me. I keep forgetting how common those silly little things are becoming these days. They’re so portable and compact now! I’m surprised they get any reception at all… at that size.” As she spoke, she gradually dragged the hand she’d placed on her chest down to her belly and began to rub it in a slow, sensual manner, lifting her tank top slightly, exposing the tight skin of her midriff to the cold winter air and the view of Jones. “Did you try calling him back? I’m sure he’d be happy to explain exactly where he is and clear this up for you. Actually, if you’d like to come inside and warm up a little, I’d be happy to explain it myself.” She turned her head away from Jones and broke away from the door, leaving it open with him standing in the snow on the stoop. She strolled across the livingroom and sunk into a corduroy sofa, and gestured to a leather armchair across her, inviting Jones to join her for what he was sure promised to be anything but a pleasant and casual conversation.
Truthfully, he had no idea what to expect, and was seriously unsure about taking her invitation, but he couldn’t very well just leave. He thought about what she had suggested; calling Blakely back. Of course he could try that. She had seemed surprised at the mention of the cell phone, so maybe that meant she didn’t know about it, and wouldn’t have taken the time to turn it off or otherwise disable it before he had arrived. His head was spinning. It had taken him less than two minutes to get here! In less than two minutes from the time he’d received his partner’s call of distress, he’d gotten here only to find this tiny, innocent looking little blonde woman dressed in sweatpants and a tank top looking totally innocuous! He stood there for another few seconds and stared at her, and then, keeping his right hand in his jacket pocket, and pulling his cell phone out with his left, he stepped through the threshold of her front door, and pulled it closed behind him.
He hoped that if he kept his right hand concealed, she might assume that he was armed, and might hesitate to try any funny business. He closed the distance between them and took a seat perched on the edge of the leather arm chair. He didn’t want to get too comfortable.
“Call him,” she suggested again. “I’d really like to hear what he has to say. Seriously. I couldn’t be more intrigued.” While she spoke, she seemed to be rocking in place where she sat deeply in the large, soft couch. She gripped the left arm of it tightly with her left hand, but her right never left the skin of her midriff under her tank top. She continued to trace little circles around her belly with her index finger, occasionally switching to using her full hand to give the general area a firm squeeze. She looked like someone who had just enjoyed a very full meal, except that petite figure showed no signs of such a thing. Jones was utterly perplexed, and never took his eyes off of her. He found her casual insistence that he call Blakely back utterly bizarre. Perhaps she just didn’t expect him to answer, and hoped that, whatever she’d done with him, it would ensure that Jones couldn’t hear it ring if it was still close by.
“I’ll do just that,” Jones said calmly. He pressed the callback button for Blakely’s phone, and held his own up to his left ear. While he waited for it to connect, He and this ‘Bethany’ held each other’s gazes intensely. The line connected, and he began to hear it ring a few times. His eyes widened and he listened very carefully, hoping to hear Blakely’s phone ring aloud or at least vibrate loudly from somewhere within the house, but before he heard anything, Bethany closed her eyes and began to shake in her seat. She seemed to gasp a little before she stifled what might’ve turned into a full out moan by chewing on her lower lip. What the hell is with this woman? Jones thought to himself.
“Oh, wow,” she whispered under her breath. Then she spoke a louder so Jones could hear her clearly. “Not picking up, is he?”
“No, he’s not.” He let it ring a few more times, and then it went to voicemail. As soon as it had done so, she opened her eyes as if she could hear it from across the room.
“Aww, shoot. He didn’t answer. You should try him one more time. I think he’d really appreciate just a little patience.” Jones just stared at her, jaw slightly slack, his mouth hanging slightly agape. She’s acting so damn strange! Jones hit the callback button and returned the receiver to his ear. On cue, she started squirming again as soon as he heard the line ringing. He tried to ignore her bizarre behavior and focused on the call. One thing at a time. It rang three times when suddenly, he heard some static, followed by some muffled coughs and gasps of his partner!
“Blakely?” He shouted, surprised to hear the man’s voice again, but not exactly relieved yet.
“Oh, he actually answered! Fascinating!” She cooed. Jones ignored her. Blakely continued to make coughing sounds into his left ear through the distorted phone call, the connection barely holding.
“Blakely! Where in the hell are you, man?” He listened for a moment, and finally, he started to make out a few words between Blakely’s gasps for air.
“Crazy bitch… ate… help… *more static and coughing.*” He wondered if she really did have all the missing men in her basement; perhaps in some kind of well or pit, which would explain the poor reception.
“Blakely, in one word, please. Tell-me-where-you-are!”
“Bitch… ate me!” Jones’ eyebrows furrowed in a disturbed sense of concentration. He couldn’t be serious. He couldn’t be correct! He realized that while he had been focusing on hearing his partner, he’d taken his eyes off of the girl. He very slowly returned his gaze to where she sat on the couch. Her eyes were fixed upon him. Her right hand was still playfully rubbing her tummy-- the same one in which his partner claimed to now be contained. Her left hand, however, was now behind her back. She was chewing on her lower lip. She had a very mischievous look in her eye.
“What did he say?” Was all she asked. She stopped moving her right hand. She seemed braced for action in anticipation of Jones’ reply. Jones considered his options. What was she doing with that hand behind her back? Was it the gun Blakely had spoken of? Did it somehow have something to do with his current predicament? Could he really be inside of this woman? Did she know he wasn’t armed? If she didn’t, was she counting on her reflexes somehow surpassing his own? Even if he was, in reality, quicker on the draw, he didn’t have his goddamn gun! Somehow he had to diffuse this situation, no matter how bizarre it was. He had to take it seriously. He had to believe that Blakely was right. That he was somehow inside this young woman’s stomach right now, being digested slowly.
Suddenly, it hit him. Blakely’s voice was still coming through the line in garbles and coughs. He wasn’t saying anything intelligible anymore. Jones wondered if he had to go diving in acid, stomach acid, to retrieve the phone, and if he didn’t have much strength left. Jones thought about his partner trapped inside this innocent, beautiful woman, and he realized something. He didn’t care. It was an ending befitting a man like him. He deserved it, and if Jones could escape suffering the same fate, he’d finally be rid of the man. He’d be scott free.
Jones very slowly, so as not to provoke an unnecessary reaction from his potential assailant across the room from him, closed the phone, and calmly set it down on the arm of the chair beside him.
“He said that you ate him.”
“This woman does not live on bread alone…”
“He took the bait.”
“What? What bait?”
“I claimed to be a minor placed here by the ‘man in charge’ to guard the ‘operation.’ I didn’t have to prompt him much after that. He said I’d have to do something for him so he’d keep his mouth shut about whatever was going on here. I told him I’d let him ‘come inside me.’” She sensually rubbed her belly again to emphasize her point. “I think I’ll let him stay.” Jones was more than a little horrified, and yet, he found the whole thing somewhat fascinating, and on some sick level, goddamn hilarious. He held his left hand up inoffensively, and very slowly withdrew his right hand from inside his jacket pocket, clearly empty. He hoped she’d think he simply let go of the gun he’d hoped she’d believed he had.
“I think I’ll let you keep him.” Her eyebrows both went up at hearing this.
“Oh? In exchange for?”
“You’ve already done me a solid by dealing with him. He’s… bad people.”
“M-m-m, no. He’s good people.” She made a dramatic point of smacking her lips once. She patted her belly hard making a loud “smack!”
“Were the other three also good people?”
“The three missing persons we’ve been investigating.”
“Oh, you’re not very good detectives.” She laughed jovially. “Maybe three involuntary guests. But otherwise, you’re way off the mark, Mr. Jones.” Jones was silent. He had no idea what to make of this situation. He was disturbed, terrified, and fascinated all at the same time.
“Are you telling me that the rest were… um…”
“They were very much voluntary, yes. I only swallow up two kinds of people, Mr. Jones. I’m not a total monster. I prefer volunteers above anything else. But, in a pinch, I’ll take the occasional little monstrosity into my beautiful body. Your little partner qualifies. He’s a little monster. Now the world’s got one less.”
“And what about me?” Jones asked her as calmly as he could muster, wanting to find out what his fate would be. If she decided to draw on him, he didn’t like his odds. She stared at him for a moment, and finally broke the silence.
“Well, you’re not volunteering, are you?” He actually laughed.
“I’m not claiming to understand the reasoning behind such a thing, but no. I can’t say that I’m particularly interested in seeing my partner again. Out here, or…” he nodded in the general direction of her abdomen, “in there.”
“Fair enough then.” She too held her free hand up, and slowly pulled her arm from behind her back, empty-handed. He felt the world suddenly lifted from his shoulders. She was going to let him live. “Can I ask you for a favor then?” She asked.
“I think that’s reasonable.” He said, even-toned.
“Can I borrow that cell phone? I’d rather like trying your friend again a few more times before he… stops what he’s doing in there. Partially to keep the line busy, and partially out of a very gross fascination. I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”
“I don’t. Well…” He considered for a moment. “I wouldn’t want to hear it from him. But sure. You can keep it. It was actually one of his anyway.” He said, offering her the cell phone. It was only as she daintily took it from his outstretched hand that he realized that this might be an opportune moment for her to try and make a move. His guard was down, and he was giving up his only means of calling for help. They both paused for a moment during the exchange, his eyes flicked over her shoulder, and he could see what looked like the handle of a strange pistol protruding from the seam in the couch cushion behind her. She wasn’t holding it. He relaxed. She seemed to follow his gaze and giggled sweetly.
“I’m pretty confident that I don’t have to gobble you up against your will, Mr. Jones,” she teased. He wasn’t sure he liked the implication in her tone that he might willfully allow it at some point, though he couldn’t help but feel intrigued at the concept of what was taking place three feet away from him and a few inches deep. “That being said, please feel free to give this number a call if you happen to change your mind.” She waved the phone around playfully. “In the meantime,” she turned her attention back to her stomach, “it’s not very often that I get the satisfaction of consuming someone decidedly against their will, and you arrived so quickly, I didn’t get much of a chance to really savor it, so if you don’t mind, I’d like to spend some time alone with your little friend while he’s still interesting in here.” She said. “I trust you can find the door.”
At that, she simply stood up, grabbed her little strange pistol from out of the couch cushions, and strolled out of the room. Jones sat there speechless for a moment, before he heard the distinct sound of her moaning coming from somewhere far off in the house. He decided it was time to leave, lest he tempt fate.
He carefully closed the door behind him on the way out, tucked his hands deep into his pockets, and headed back to the diner to grab his car, and pay for his coffees.