When the girl stepped through the doorway with the good looking, well-dressed older gentleman, she had no idea that the dingy, dimly lit room would be the last thing she would ever see.
Her evening had started off badly, fuelling even more unwanted nervous energy to the bolts of anxiety that had been pulsing throughout her body since she woke up at 2pm that afternoon. The drugs had run dry the day earlier and she was already getting the shakes. She would have to get through the evening straight, at least until she turned enough tricks to be able to cop a hit. She also knew that Bodie, the violent burn-out of a boyfriend that she shared a crash pad with, would likely fly into a rage if she came home without enough cash and smack to keep them going for at least a few days. Another black eye and bloodied lip didn't tickle her fancy at all. She needed to cop an early trick to take some of the pressure off.
"Fuck it all", she cursed under her breath. Another glorious night of being a hooker and a junkie in St Kilda ahead.
As she made her way up and down the tenebrous street, she pulled the black leather jacket...at least two sizes too small...tight across her chest to block out an imaginary chill. She sensed there was nothing happening where she was, and turned back down onto Fitzroy Street, where with the nonchalance of a hardened beat cop she made her way past the seemingly endless parade of cheap motels, all-night sex shops, gaudy neon-lit tattoo parlours, grotty fish and chip shops and dive bars so sleazy and full of local colour they took on a glorious, almost otherworldly decadence all of their own.
She turned into the bottom end of Acland Street to try her luck, then paused and produced a cigarette from her cheap leopard skin shoulder bag. Sliding it between her cherry-red lips and inhaling deeply, she looked up and briefly contemplated the full moon above. There was a time, long ago, when the moon was considered an object of beauty and magic, to be worshipped and looked upon with reverence and awe. Now, partly obscured by clouds and seas of thick smog, it looked more like a symbol of absolute evil, beaming down its macabre approval over the prostitutes and their pimps, the dope peddlers and the gutter-bound drunks, happy just so long as their stash holds out.
"Luna, the ancient symbol of madness."
She spun around, startled, to see the man standing within two feet of her. She had not heard him approach.
"What?," she mumbled, off guard and somewhat disoriented.
"I saw you looking at the moon." He reached out and confidently took the cigarette from her lips and crushed it under his foot, his eyes never leaving hers the entire time. "If there's one thing I can't stand, it's smoking."
The girl studied him, as best as she could under the dim street light that didn't do her short-sightedness any favours. With his thick shock of dark hair and handsomely chiselled features, he seemed the type who would have little trouble in attracting the opposite sex, even if he did seem to be well into his fifties. A well-cut, expensive charcoal suit accentuated what she thought would be a trim and finely-honed body. He reeked of money, but she had long ago stopped wondering why people like him felt the need to turn to prostitutes to satiate their urges. The young and the desperate, the ugly and the pathetic, the sad and the lonely...it was a lot easier to understand where they were coming from.
"You a cop?," she asked out of necessitation and habit.
"No, I'm not a policeman." His voice sounded as calm and confident as his manner, nothing like the sweaty, nervous language of most johns, who were usually desperate to get themselves and their prey away from prying eyes and behind looked doors. "Do you have a place?"
"Sure, we can grab a room just up the road. It's a hundred for regular, one-fifty for oral and regular, and..."
The man placed his finger against the girl's lips, hushing her. She could almost taste the gold of his wedding band as his other hand reached into his suit pocket and produced a wad of crisp fifty dollar bills, which he waved teasingly in front of her face.
"Money talk is so distasteful. All you need to know is that I have more than enough to buy one each of whatever you're selling. Now, let's go find that room."
The door to the Esquire opened with a noisy squeak. A horrible, musty smell wafted into the girl's face. The dimness of the hallway light illuminated the small room just enough to make out its bare contents. Apart from a double bed, a chipped dressing table and a few framed landscape prints that looked like they were well overdue for a trip to St Vincent's, the room was completely empty. Off to one side was a door that led to a small, corroded bathroom. The wallpaper bore a garish, yellowing flower pattern, while the walls themselves looked like they would be a sarcophagus for dead rats.
Entering and turning on the dressing table light, she turned and saw the man standing against the far wall, as if afraid to go near the bed and caught in an unexpected moment of uncertainty. She thought of the money he was holding and didn't want to let the fish off the hook.
"Be with you in a minute honey." She flashed him a seductive but insincere smile and moved over to the bathroom. "Why don't you get out of the suit and get between the sheets?"
"Don't get undressed in there...I want to watch you."
"Sure thing, lover."
She closed the bathroom door and filled up a dirty glass with cold water and used it to help her get a valium down. She didn't even bother to check herself in the mirror, satisfied that the peroxided rats' nest, heavy eye make-up, fishnet body stocking, stiletto heels, and red patent leather mini-skirt had already done enough to earn her first pay check for the night. She sprayed some cheap perfume across her prominent cleavage and up between her thighs, hoping the sweet scent might hasten the man's climax, then turned off the light and opened the door...
It was virtually over before she even realised what was happening. Exiting the bathroom, she was surprised to see that the bed was still empty, and the man was nowhere to be seen. By the time she had closed the bathroom door and saw him standing there, it was far too late to do anything. She caught a quick glimpse of cold blue eyes and a brief glint of light reflecting off razor sharp stainless steel before her body and soul simultaneously erupted into a single, searing outburst of unbearable pain.
As the steel twisted savagely inside her, amongst all the madness and craziness and pure galvanizing terror that gripped her, she had a brief moment of clarity, a split-second understanding that everything she had ever been, everyone she had ever known, everything she had ever accomplished, and everything she was still hoping to someday accomplish - it was all going to end here, at that very moment, in a dirty low-rent motel room at the hands of a complete stranger. Life can be very random like that.
The man withdrew the knife from her chest and she fell forward, mercifully dead before she even hit the floor. A deathly silence fell upon the room, the only sounds being the faint traffic noises that drifted their way up from the street outside. Seemingly devoid of any emotion or concern at detection, the man calmly knelt down and gently kissed the already cool and clammy forehead of the lifeless shell he had left in front of him.
"Sleep tight, my sweet little one..."
With those words, the man tightened his grip on the handle of the knife as he proceeded to unleash all of his pent-up nightmares of aggression and frustration in an explosive outburst of violation that created an obscene mess out of the young girl who knew no other way of life and had simply very much been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Meanwhile, outside, far above the steaming city streets, Luna, the full moon, ancient symbol of madness, continued to beam down its malevolent approval.
Two hours later, another hooker stumbled upon the grisly scene...she was young and new to the game but she grew up quick smart when she walked into that motel room, and if she had any sense in her messed-up head she'd get on a bus first thing the next morning and go back to wherever she came from, before the place got to her like it got to every other girl who worked the streets for a living. The john who was with her took one look at the slaughterhouse and left the girl standing there, screaming and rigid with fear, to deal with the mess on her own.
Within fifteen minutes of the discovery, everything was in chaos a few k's down the road at the St Kilda CIB. Floor by floor, the message was being spread like an incendiary that took only six words to ignite: "Looks like we got another one."
Kristina Neal sat up from her bed with a start, then slowly eased herself back down onto it after glancing at her clock and realising she hadn't slept in. She hated it when daylight savings ended and the morning sun tore through her bedroom curtains an hour earlier than she was used to. She was much more manageable when she woke up in semi-darkness and slowly eased her way into the day.
Rather than wait for the radio alarm to suddenly spring to life with some bouncy Top 40 pop hit...about the last thing she wanted to hear at this moment...she decided to jump into the shower early and grab some take-out breakfast on the way to work. Snap, Crackle and Pop didn't appeal to her this particular morning, nor did the thought of having to sit at the breakfast table and look across at Anthony, her boyfriend with home her relationship was becoming increasingly strained. She briefly studied his shape, motionless and still asleep under the sheet next to her, and thought of how he was little more than a stranger to her now, cold and distant. She often wondered if he was having an affair, and how much easier it would be if he was.
"Get it together, girl," she told herself as she stripped off her black singlet and panties and stepped under the shower, letting the warm jets of pulsating water massage her back as she washed her long, deep chestnut hair that she always seemed to be experimenting with.
Wrapping a towel around her body and another around her wet hair, she made herself a cup of coffee and sat herself down at her dressing table, wondering what sort of look she might be able to get away with for the day. She had been told by jealous and spiteful superiors at the medical insurance company she worked at to tone it down, but what she had couldn't be contained. When she tried to hide it, it just made her even more desirable. The smart corporate attire she donned failed to disguise the voluptuousness of her figure, and it didn't take a rocket scientist to work out why she made so many of the women who worked around her feel uncomfortable. Most of them could only dream of having a body like she had been blessed with. What burned them up even more was the fact that she didn't have to work hard at maintaining it. She was just the way that God or the Devil or whoever the hell hands out our genes decided she was going to be.
She was a waif but she was no shrinking violet, and you could bet there had been more than one man in her life who had found out the hard way that she was not a woman to be messed with. Like the most desirable of women, she was equal parts fire and ice, and was no doubt at her best when she put the two together and unleashed them upon you with complete abandon and unfettered fury. She was that rare kind of woman who could knock you for a six with a warm, wet kiss to the lips or seduce you into her bed with a cold, hard slap across the face.
Ultimately, she decided to snake herself into a plain but stylish longblack pencil dress which hugged her curves nicely but would hopefully keepher out of too much trouble. A pair of black stilettos, a silver braceletthat clung to her upper forearm, a dash of Chanel and some Cliniquelipstick and minimal mascara to highlight her auburn eyes, completed thetransformation. She didn’t bother fussing with her hair, letting it hang inloose natural ringlets that framed her thin face and lightly bounced as she walked.
“Not too shabby”, she thought as she quickly checked herself in thefull-length mirror, running her manicured hands over her hips to straightenout the dress before swinging her black and white Lafinia handbag over hershoulder and walking out the room, happy to be leaving her home life behindfor a day.
It wouldn’t be long before she was wishing she was back in bed with the covers pulled tightly over her head, and the world outside was just another bad nightmare.