I wonder if my blood smells as disgusting as his.
His wide eyes look up at me, partly petrified, partly questioning. He knows the beautiful voice is what made me stop, is what saved him from further suffering. But for how long, he wonders. It’s what I’d wonder if I was the one in the chair.
“W-What is that?” he asks with a lisp, unable to set his tongue right in his mouth now that his front teeth are missing. “Where is that coming from?”
His long, dirty fingers grip the ends of the chair arms, still trying to break his hands free from the leather restraints tight around his wrists. But at this point I doubt he realizes he’s doing it anymore. It has become instinct, a way to deaden the pain, and his body doesn’t want to let go just yet.
I look out ahead where the video camera is hidden in the wall, knowing that Cassia is looking back at me through the flatscreen in her room just on the other side of the brick.
Suddenly she stops singing Where the Boys Are by Connie Francis. Just when I was beginning to get lost in her voice, she stops and forces my mind back into the moment.
It’s for the better.
I get back to work.
“Fuck! No! Please! You crazy motherfu—,” the rest of Dante’s words come out in garbled, choking sounds.
I twist the pliers back and forth to the sound of bone crunching in my ears. The tooth pops out and I drop it in the silver tray next to me with the other six.
Dante chokes on the blood draining into the back of his throat. His body shakes violently like a fish dropped on the shore just inches from the water. His beady pale blue eyes open and close from exhaustion and pain. But he hasn’t felt pain yet. I’ll pull out his fingernails next.
“I-I’ll stop selling!” he spats. “I f**king swear it! I won’t sell anymore.” His mangled words begin to roll out amid sobs. His curly black hair, covered in filth and oil, glistens under the bright floodlight clamped on an IV stand at the back of the chair.
I hover over Dante and look into his eyes.
“You’re a liar,” I say in a calm, dark voice. “You’re a f**king liar. A shit stain in a pair of underwear. Men like you never stop. You’ll beg and plead in the face of pain, but the second I let you out of here, you’ll be selling heroin to little boys in abandoned houses.”
“Little b-boys? Man, I-I don’t sell to little boys!”
I grab his blood and spit-covered chin vigorously with my latex-glove-covered hand, wrenching it still, digging my fingertips into his unshaven cheeks. “How many little boys have you given drugs to for a blowjob? Huh?” I squeeze his face harder.
“W-W-What tha’ fuck are y-you t-talking about, man?!”
I dig my fingers into his cheeks so deeply I can feel the outline of his lower jaw. He struggles in my grasp, his head secured to the chair by a leather strap like the ones on his wrists, ankles and torso, it fights to move side to side. But I hold him immobile.
“HOW MANY?!” I glare into his terrified face.
He tries to speak and I loosen my grip on his jaw enough to let him.
“I-I-I don’t k-know! A few. I don’t know! But they weren’t children! Teenagers, maybe! But not little b-boys! I swear on my life I’ll never sell again! I-I won’t sell again!”
Without blinking, I bury the pliers inside his mouth and work on the next tooth. His body goes rigid in the chair, his filthy fingers curling in on themselves, his thighs covered by faded blue jeans hardening like blocks of cement. His eyes screw shut so tightly that a hundred deep crevices form around the corners of them.
Cassia starts singing Connie Francis again.
I try desperately to ignore it, pulling harder on Dante’s teeth. One by one, I rip them out mercilessly as if the more aggressive I become the more of her voice I’ll be able to block out. I’m never this sloppy, this angry. I pride myself on keeping full composure in the face of my victims, not allowing them to see that anything is bothering me. But Dante must know. He has to know probably just by the look in my eyes as I stand over him, that she’s getting to me.
I choke back my tears.
I step away from him, the pliers dropping from my fingers onto the concrete beside my shoes. My breathing is heavy, deep. The tears are burning the backs of my eyes.
Why is she doing this to me? How could I have ever let her do this to me?
I bring my arm up and wipe my tears from my face with the back of my shirt sleeve. Tiny smears of blood stain the white fabric when I pull it away.
I’m never this sloppy!
The singing stops when Dante’s pain stops. It’s a pattern now, I realize. She was singing to block out his screams.
I hurt her.
And I hate myself for it.
But what’s worse, I hate myself for giving a shit.
I snap the latex gloves off my hands, making sure not to get any of the blood on my fingers, and drop them on the floor by the pliers. And then I storm through the door into her side of the basement to find her sitting on the floor in the corner, crying into the palms of her hands.
I walk past her and head into the restroom not far from her bed. It’s a clean and cozy room just like the rest of Cassia’s side of the basement. With ivory walls and a fancy marble counter and marble tile flooring. Greta keeps it clean for her. Every day she comes down here and scrubs the toilet and washes out the sink and shower. She replenishes Cassia’s toiletries and makes certain that she has fresh towels. Everything in Cassia’s space is immaculate.
That is until I brace my hands upon the edge of the counter and leave bloodstains on the white marble. I don’t know how I managed to get blood on my hands after being so careful.
I can’t think straight!
I turn the bronze knob on the faucet and water gushes into my hands. Using more soap from the pump bottle than what’s necessary, I scrub them hard and vigorously like a surgeon would scrub his hands before performing surgery. I want them to be clean, but I’m doing it mostly for a distraction. I don’t want to face her. I don’t want to see Cassia crying.
But the singing…she’s never done that before. She has to have remembered something, and as much as I need to know what it is, I still don’t want to face her.
With the water still blasting I brace my hands on the edge of the counter again, sigh heavily and drop my head in-between my shoulders.
Get it together, Fredrik, I think to myself. Get it together. It’s all about Seraphina. Remember that.
I never wanted it to go this far.