Now, before that settles too deeply inside your brain, let me clarify: Madame Dusar is not my pimp. Nor is she anyone’s pimp. She doesn’t tell anyone who to fuck and I’m quite sure she doesn’t care.
Madame Dusar runs an entirely different kind of illicit business.
Not to put too cotton-candied of a point on it, but, at its core, what the Madame does is wish-fulfillment. So do I, I guess, but this is different. This is literal.
I say ‘wish’ because ‘prayer’ isn’t the right word.
When your grandmother is sick, you pray that she will get better.
When you want a new bicycle, you pray that you will get one for your birthday.
Prayers go to God.
When your best friend is assaulted and killed in front of you, you can’t really pray that God will have those responsible slowly disemboweled and garroted. God’s not taking that call. That’s not a prayer.
That’s a wish.
Wishes go to Madame Dusar.
She does a number of things with them, but most commonly she finds a hellion to help grant them. Any hellion Above is a demon – and demons work for the Madame. They work doing nasty, terrible things mostly to nasty, terrible people.
Heaven has its angels, hell has demons. The main difference is that God has a lot of laws to follow. Lucifer doesn’t.
The Madame and I became acquainted a number of years ago when a particular mark was eluding her and I matched the physical appearance of his other victims. Since then, she had asked for my assistance on several occasions.
Inside the Madame’s chambers, I was escorted to a meeting room off of the main hallway by a rail-thin woman with a severe red bun. Through the window I could see many people walking past, always quickly. It’s a busy place.
The Madame always enters through the door on the other side of the room. She doesn’t like crowds and has her own set of hallways and rooms to get around. Her ever-changing assistant is always with her. I had seen this one before – a pale young man with icy blue eyes that squinted just a little too much – and nodded to him as they walked in and the Madame took her seat across from me.
If Ariadne Dusar was a weather event, she would be a summer thunderstorm – foreboding, powerful, and just a little bit magical. Everything about her had movement – her hair, the flowing jackets she always wore. She was amazingly well-suited for her position, never smiling, only smirking, and never suffering fools or marks.
Without speaking, she slid a file across the table to me. Black, not red. I opened it carefully.
Not all wishes get fulfilled, of course. The Madame employs a block of trusted hellions who evaluate each request and pick those most urgent and most deserving. They also keep a special “rainy day” file of requests for when (or if) a slow day ever comes along.
The Madame makes all of the final decisions, of course.
In what I would imagine the most difficult part of her position, the Madame must read through the deserving requests and see which ones can actually be granted. Like any position, hers has some rules. Sometimes there are reasons why a wish can’t be fulfilled. Sometimes it’s timing, sometimes it gray morality, but mostly it’s God.
Quite often, even in Hell, God gets in the way.
You see, if a serial killer repents to God, we can’t touch them. They could have murdered fifteen children, violated them, cut them up, and fed them to pigs. But a few words Upstairs and poof! All gone.
That’s not how things work down here.
(Once every few centuries a particularly nasty saved soul will come along and God and the Devil might have a meeting to discuss their fate. But its very, very rare.)
However, we at the Bureau do what we can to make up for the lack bouncers Above. Lucifer can’t put a hold on a soul or anything, but whether or not it’s okay to intentionally break someone’s faith is a gray area when it comes to afterlife justice. It usually take the form of a formal request, hand written by a hellion judge and taken On High. If God agrees, a team of angels and demons are sent to the land of the living with the sole purpose of ruining the mark’s beliefs.
Occasionally we do this without God’s permission but those missions are really hush-hush.
Despite common beliefs, most temptations faced during the living years aren’t brought about by demons – they are brought about by currently living people who will eventually become demons. Some people are just bad and some people just don’t want to live by God’s rules. Doesn’t mean they are from Hell.
Trust me when I tell you that if you met a demon, you’d know.
And we have to work fast. Of course, there is still a few years backlog, but the Madame and her minions work as accurately – you really don’t want to send the wrong person in front of a bus, it’s a bureaucratic nightmare – and as fast as they can.
The date on the file said this one was only weeks old.
Inside the black file, I found several pictures on top of the mission paperwork. They were bloody and obscene – a naked woman with deep slashes all over her body. Another photo was a close-up of her face and showed in detail the gruesome sockets that used to house her eyes.
Technically speaking the photos are unnecessary. I don’t need them to do my job. But they serve their purpose well – I’m mad already and I haven’t even read the request.
“28-year-old female,” the Madame said. “Raped and murdered in Annapolis, Maryland. Second one in a month.”
My stomach and jaw tightened.
I nodded and started reading the details of the case. I was suddenly brought back to my first mission – the one that had brought the Madame to my door years ago.
I was a relatively new working girl – popular but only just beginning to attain status. I worked with mainly army boys then – not a bad choice on my part, considering the contacts I made – and one of them worked with the Madame on the side. He mentioned my name when a serial rapist made a habit of targeting young women.
I had just finished work for the day and was on my way out when I heard a terse knock. At the time, I was cautious about opening my door to strangers in the district after hours, but the Madame slid her credentials under the door.
“Good evening, Miss Scorch,” she said as she entered.
“Ms…Dusar," I greeted, reading her name off the identification card.
“It’s Madame,” she corrected, not rudely but in a matter-of-fact tone that I would come to understand was just her voice.
“Well, Madame Dusar,” I said, “what can I do for you?”
“I have a job opportunity for you.”
I looked around the room and raised my eyebrows. “I have a job.”
“And you would keep this job,” she replied. “My offer is a one-time opportunity, it would be after hours, and it would be tomorrow tonight.”
She gestured for me to sit, but I didn’t. She sighed. “Miss Scorch, are you aware of the Bureau of Demons?”
“As much as anyone is, I guess.”
“I run it.”
My eyebrows lifted higher. “You run the agency that sends hellions Above to punish humans?”
She nodded again.
“And you’re here to see me about a job?”
I stared at her for a long time. “Well what is it?” I asked impatiently.
Her face twitched in a way that I would later find out meant she was holding back her amusement with me. “Six young woman have been raped and beheaded in Iowa.”
My reactions were more prominent then and I felt the blood leave my cheeks.
“I have eighteen requests and I want to fulfill them. I need to fulfill them,” she continued. “He is set to strike again tomorrow night. If you are willing, you will be his next victim.”
I stilled. “You want to send me Above?”
“Yes. And then I want to you to let the killer pick you up and take you to a secluded barn in a field.”
I was still staring.
“Can you do that?”
Taking a slow breath, I thought about six lives. All of them ended. I nodded.
“Excellent,” she responded in that same tone. “You finish your day tomorrow at four, so we’ll expect you at the Bureau at five o’clock sharp. There are a few things we’ll need to go over beforehand.”
She got up to leave.
“Where is the Bureau?” I asked quickly. She turned back. “I don’t know where it is.”
“You’ll be contacted tomorrow with the address and a few more details.”
The next day I go my first anonymous knock. Waiting for me in the doorway was a black envelope with an address and instructions to wear a blue dress.
At four, I cleaned up and dressed quickly, trying to leave enough time to get across the city on time. Finding the building was more difficult the first time, simply because it doesn’t look like a place that would house a bureau like this.
That’s the idea, I guess.
When I got inside, I went to the front desk and asked for Madame Dusar. The attendant lifted a condescending eyebrow and nodded to the elevator. I got inside and looked at the buttons. There were numbers one through thirty-five but at the bottom were two other buttons. One read “DB” and the other “K.” I pressed DB.
As soon as my fingers lifted, the doors shut violently and a beeping sound emitted from the panel. There was a flash of red light and then the elevator began to hum. My heart beat picked up as I realized where I was headed.
My mind as clicked together what “K” meant – the Kennel. The Kennel – where they kept the hounds.
When you don’t follow God’s rules on Earth, you get sent to Hell. When you don’t the Devil’s rules in Hell, you get sent to the Kennel. Just a button lower and I’d be amongst the vilest inhabitants in damnation.
I was beginning to suspect my heartbeat would never return to normal.
When the doors finally opened, I saw an office must like the one above. A trio of cheerful woman sat at the desk, typing furiously. The middle one looked up and smiled warmly.
“Miss Scorch,” she said. “Welcome to the Bureau of Demons.”
I didn’t answer.
She stood up and gestured down a hallway. “Right this way.”
I followed her down the hallway and into a large conference room. There was a long table down the middle. Madame Dusar was at one end, a black-haired young woman standing behind her, and three more brunette girls sat along one side of the table.
The receptionist pulled out a chair for me. I took a seat, my skin pricking from the stares from the woman across the table.
“Thank you, Mrs. Harris,” the Madame said and the receptionist disappeared. Then she turned to me. “Thank you for joining us, Miss Scorch.”
I nodded, but my eyes flickered back to the three woman staring at me so intently.
“I’d like to introduce you to Hannah, Mila, and Leslie,” she said, waving a hand at the other women. “Ladies, this is Zola Scorch. She’ll be baiting your killer tonight.”
My stomach dropped out and looked back at the Madame.
“These are your marks victims,” she continued. “The ones that wanted to be here anyway. They wanted to meet you, to make sure you didn’t have any…reservations.”
“I don’t,” I said quickly, looking at each of them.
And I really didn’t. I was convinced before. Of course, manipulation was a large part of my job and a recognized the brilliance of bringing in the victims. It would be hard to turn down a group of the wrongfully murdered.
It made the whole business a little more…justified. Understandable. I’d been ready to the take the job based on the idea of these women, but now they were right in front of me, undeniably real. A need for vengeance became easier to summon.
“You’ll be working with another demon,” the Madame continued, talking only to me know. She waved and the door opened again. A tall blond hellion walked in and took a seat at the other end of the table. He nodded to me.
“Zosia, this is Aric Link. He’ll be the one fulfilling the requests.”
“Which are?” he asked casually.
“Castration,” Hannah said quickly.
“Disembowelment,” said Mila.
“Decapitation,” finished Leslie.
I sat in my chair, my head whirling as I fully understood what the Madame was asking of me. And it’s only kept going from there.
You see, Madame Dusar doesn’t tell me who to fuck. She tells me who to kill.