‘Death solves all problems. No man, no problem,’ Josef Stalin
“You have the right to remain silent, isn’t that what you should be saying?” Adrian said, ignoring the cops. His gaze was straight at the mirror wall behind them. Wait for it, he thought. The game has only just started.
The cops followed his eyes and shrugged. “He’s not saying anything without his lawyer, chief.”
Moments later the door was thrown open with a band and a wide shouldered middle aged man in a too slick suit entered the interrogation room. “Scram! I’ll handle this,” he snarled at the uniforms, then switched off the recorder.
The chief sat on the edge of the table, depriving the people behind the glass of their view of the prisoner. “No one needs hear this,” he whispered at Adrian. “We have exactly three minutes before one of these pencil pushers has plucked the commissioner from behind her mahogany desk. When Mrs. Bitch gets here, all deals are off.”
Adrian looked past the chief and grinned at the black glass. “No deal with you, Bert. We both know keeping your word isn’t your strong suit.”
“Bartholomew-John I’m called nowadays. BJ for friends,” the chief said while peeling at the band aids around his eyes. “Esmée thinks it suits me better.”
“Did you really have your eyes lifted for that fancy lady of yours? You grow more pathetic by the year.” Adrian stared at the band aids. “No, the Bert I know, he’s no longer around. But the world doesn’t give a hoot. You were an asshole; you still are, far as I can tell. Only the bags have gone.”
The chief turned red. “I had good reasons to go to the clinic. I saw her. I’m serious: when I picked up Esmée about a month ago from a lipo treatment at chateau Rozenburg, I saw her behind the glass.”
“Who? One of your many mistakes?”
“No, listen, Adrian, no shitting about. I saw Rosie. I’m certain of it. Although more beautiful than I remembered.”
“Poor Rosie with her deck of cards.” Adrian spat on the desk before the chief. “You made her a junkie and when you found something better, you dumped her. And me as well.” He looked at the door where he expected the commissioner at any moment. “What do you want from me? To tell you she isn’t gone? That her death isn’t on your head?”
“I’m certain, Adrian, she’s alive! That’s why I returned there, why I had my eyes done.”
“So, did you find Rosie?” Adrian was cautious.
The chief shook his head. “No, but that morning I found this in my jacket pocket.” He produced a wrinkled photo. Adrian didn’t have to look close to see her toothless smile.
“So what’s the deal?”
The chief peeled his band aids until they came loose. “You will visit the chateau and help her escape. And I’ll make sure this old lady swindling case disappears in the bottom drawer. You’ll be a free man.”
“Escape?” Adrian sat up straight suddenly. He pulled his restraints. “You said nothing about imprisonment. What are you yammering about?”
The chief held the photo close before Adrian’s face. “HELP ME” was written on it in red characters. He approached until his face was next to the photo. “If they really keep her there, that would mean she has already been there for six years. And we did nothing to help her, all that time. Think about that.”
Adrian looked at the photo intently. He had forgotten how ugly she was, with the exception of those green marbles. Those were enchanting. He sighed. “We thought she was the victim of that drug gang. Someone taking her and keeping her never occurred to us. She was so addicted and emaciated that even the cheapest johns ignored her. Abduction never crossed our minds.” Adrian looked up at his former colleague. “What do you want, Bert? Why not just organize a search warrant.”
The chief groaned.
Adrian laughed derisively. “Ah, now I see. You want to save her, but preferably without being involved. Well, let me tell you this: there was no love involved when you shot her full of that party drug so you could have your own little party with her. You abused her for months. When the commissioner comes in and I tell her, you can kiss being chief goodbye, along with that pretty little lady of yours.”
“I understand. Stop patronizing me. You weren’t exactly squeaky clean while in the force. You had your way with Rosie whenever she was out, which was often.”
“I left because of that. When Rosie disappeared I couldn’t anymore, but you…” Adrian looked at Bert with open contempt. “You even got promoted because of that filthy case. You and I are nothing alike.”
The chief got up. “Six years, Adrian. It’s about time you forgave me.” He looked at the photo. “And it’s time we found her. Six years imprisonment is a mighty long time. Way too long.”
Adrian swallowed. “What do you want me to do?”
“What you do best.”
“Huh? Swindling old ladies out of their pension?”
“No. I know how you get in with those ladies. You flush their pipes, in more ways than one. So you have all the required skills. I’ve made sure there’s quite a backup occurring at chateau Rozenburg for which your company’s name appears at the top of Google’s search ranks. With the necessary recommendations, of course.
“You really think Rosie’s in danger?”
The chief nodded. “Look at the ink: that’s blood. Her blood.”
The moment Adrian left the precinct with all charges cleared, the chief picked up his cell. “It’s done. Now finish it.”
“You got it, BJ.”
“That’s what you told me six years ago. No witnesses this time.”
Adrian awoke in a white hall. His head hurt something fierce and fragments of the fight he had painfully lost surfaced in disparate flashes. His hands were cuffed to the metal sides of the bed and his legs were fixed tight. He felt his forehead being dried with careful strokes. Cautiously he opened his eyes and looked into the face of a girl laughing. She had bandages taped to her nose.
“Rosie?” he asked. His head burned. He squeezed his eyes closed. I’m hallucinating.
“My name is Lo-, I mean Esther,” the girl said.
Adrian again opened his eyes and looked into the greenest emerald eyes he had ever seen. She reminded him of Rosie, but she couldn’t be her, for this girl was not older than fifteen at best. Her emaciated cheeks and rotting teeth told him drugs had been her friend for a while already. Yet something was wrong. He examined her bandages.
She noticed him looking at her nose. “Phase two is finished,” Esther said with a proud voice. “I’ve detoxed and had my first beauty improvement.”
“Where the hell am I?” Adrian said. “Why am I tied up?”
“You were sneaking through the corridors, claiming you were lost. Not very believable with that set of burglar tools in your pocket.”
Flashes of his nocturnal adventure rushed back into his mind. He went to chateau Rozenburg to flush some pipes. He quickly charmed the girl at the reception who he finagled out of a copy of the plans of the castle. By day he reconnoitered the various floors, between the repair jobs, until only the cellars remained. Those he had visited last night. Before he had discovered anything he had been attacked and now he was here, tied up.
Adrian looked at the girl who seemed not in the least afraid, more excited to be able to talk to someone. “Why are you here?” he said. “Aren’t you a little young?” He nodded at her improved nose.
“Always too young,” she said in a bitter voice. “Too young for drugs, too young for my step dad who couldn’t keep his filthy paws to himself.”
“Life’s not fair,” Adrian said. He looked around the hall. In the bed next to him was someone whose head was completely covered in bandages, some blood seeping through. She too was cuffed to the bed. Her well manicured hand missed its ring finger. “What’s with her?”
“That’s phase three. The marriage.” Esther walked to the bed and lifted some of the bandages from her face. “I’m more worried about her head. They usually don’t come in this seriously injured.” She turned to Adrian. “She wasn’t serious enough about her marriage, I heard. I won’t make that mistake.”
Adrian tried to lift his head to see the woman next to him better. “Who did this, Esther? Will they come back? Can we escape?”
Esther laughed. “Escape? I don’t think so.” There was a remote sound. Startled she turned away. “Someone’s coming. We’ll talk later,” she whispered and snuck back to her own bed.
“That won’t happen, Esther14. He’s mine now,” a female voice said. A syringe appeared before Adrian’s nose.
Rosie, Adrian thought before he lost consciousness for the second time that night.
“You look good.” Adrian gratefully drank from the glass she gave him. “Gorgeous in fact.”
“Did you think I was dead?” Rosie kept her head tilted, allowing her long red hair to fall across her shoulder in a seductive way. “Why did you never come looking for me?”
“We thought you were dead.”
Rosie obviously swallowed some tears. “No one looked for me, right?”
Adrian shook his head. “I did miss you very much.”
She wiped a lock off his forehead. “And he?”
Adrian blinked. “Bert asked me to search for you. He still cares about you.”
“You’re a bad liar, for a fraud.” She looked over her shoulder. “Quiet,” she whispered. “We don’t know each other. Esther2 is coming.”
Adrian looked around and expected to see the candid girl he saw earlier that night. Through the door however, came a mid thirties woman. She stopped before Adrian. Out of nowhere she slapped him in his face, hard. “What has he seen, Esther6?”
“Nothing,” Rosie answered. “He’s had enough serum to get truths all the way to his childhood from him, so I’m positive he has nothing to hide. He’s just an ordinary plumber.”
Esther6? Adrian thought. What the hell? He looked from the woman who was identified as Esther2 to Rosie. There is a resemblance, except for age. He thought about the girl with the altered face he met earlier and an unheimisch feeling crept up on him.
“Have you checked his history?” Esther2 said.
“Nothing special. No wife, no kids, rarely a steady job and if he continues like this his business will go bankrupt within a month. No serious police records.” Rosie answered as if reading text directly from a tablet.
“Make him the offer. We could use a new guy.”
Adrian waited until Esther2 had left. “A new guy? Do I want to know what happened to the old guy?”
“Did you see the woman in the bed next to you? That was Esther7. She tried to elope with the ‘old guy.’ I think she was lucky, his face was a total mess.” Rosie sighed. “Those are his rules. We Esthers are free to do as we want, as long as we follow His instructions
“The Savior, our husband.”
“Is that why you want to escape?”
The new guy’s tasks were simple and pleasurable. Adrian worked several hours a day and the rest of the time was taken care of perfectly. Rosie remained stubbornly silent, so Adrian watched and listened well.
In the following weeks he never got to see the Savior, the husband and owner of the Esthers.
The young Esther, who in her previous life was called Lola, told Adrian that all girls were rescued from a miserable life on the streets. When they entered the chateau they were first isolated to kick their habits and to regain some strength. After that phase two began, the so called ‘make over.’ Adrian did not understand its motivation or purpose, but the result was obvious and stunning. All Esthers possessed those beautiful, perfectly emerald eyes. They lived in luxury and comfort. Some of them even had good jobs and were absent during most of the day.
Everything seemed perfect. Except for a few missing ring fingers and some obvious bruises. Not all Esthers were accounted for. This worried Adrian.
Number 1 was missing, but from what he had observed, he concluded this had been the archetypical Esther. The Esther with the solid left hook was therefore named just Esther in stead of Esther2. She was the de facto leader, the one who had been recruiting new Esthers from the streets. Lola was the last. She ticked all the boxes, but she was also by far the youngest, even for the weird definitions and preconceptions of this place.
“It’s not the years that count, but the mileage,” Lola laughed. “I’m old as sin.”
Adrian looked at her radiant, white smile that hid a painful operation. “They’re very nice,” he said. “Are you ready now?”
“Ready with phase two or ready for him?” Her smile widened.
“Aren’t you afraid?”
“For him. Your marriage. You know what he is capable of.”
“He never strikes in anger, he just wants to teach us. He is shaping us and that requires strength and dedication.”
“I’ve seen the dedication he’s capable of and it ain’t right, girl.” Adrian lifted the girl’s chin. “That’s not love, Lola.”
“Without him I would be dead.”
Adrian shook his head. “I know there are several Esthers missing. What happened to them?”
Lola moved back and forth on her chair. “They did not satisfy,” she said softly.
They were both startled when Rosie entered. Adrian wondered how long she had been in the door opening. He noticed her black eye and one side of her mouth was swollen. She walked to Lola and stroked her red hair. “You get more beautiful by the day. A waste to feed you to that old shark.
Lola laughed. “He saved me from the streets, needles, prostitution and an early death, most likely. Look at how beautiful I’ve become. I’m grateful and I know what men want from me, no matter their age. She smiled at Adrian and his stomach turned.
“You’re a child. You should not speak like this,” Rosie said. “Adrian isn’t like this. He only looks at me in that way.” She laughed at his burning cheeks. “Do you really want to know what happened to the Esthers that disappeared?”
Rosie sat down and shook the cards for Lola. “He saved us from the streets,” she said. “We were taken here, kicked our habits. We were made beautiful and prepared for marriage. I remember my excitement.” Casually Rosie flicked a tear from her cheek. “As a wedding gift he would get rid of one ghost from the past.” Without looking up she placed more cards. “I had my dealer murdered; Lola chose to have her step father terminated. But some Esthers were different. They would not relinquish the ties to their former lives. They wished to return. The Savior released them. They were found a day later. Their remains anyway.”
Lola’s hands shook. “I’ve chosen my fate. I will be grateful to the Savior.”
Rosie snorted. “After exactly two years he will allow you to leave his rooms, because by then the Savior will want a fresh copy. I wanted him too. Really. But it’s no longer working, the Savior is getting more violent by the day.” She lifted her loose shirt, showing the fresh swelling of her belly.
Adrian looked away, in time to see Lola running from the room.
“I have to put all my ghosts down,” she said, “you understand that, don’t you, Adrian?”
She turned the last card of her spread. It was Death.
Adrian kissed Rosie’s forehead. “Are you sure you want to leave?” The question had been bothering him for a while. “Is that why you asked Bert for help?” He pointed at her belly. “For this?”
Rosie gave him a motherly smile. “When did you know?”
“Does it matter?” Adrian took Rosie’s hand, the one that had the missing finger. “The Savior is a monster. I’m happy for you you’re leaving. He beats you even when you’re pregnant.”
“You really don’t get it?” Rosie looked him straight in his eyes. “I’m not going anywhere. Bert is a gift for the baby. Just like my marriage, I’ve been given a favor. My Savior honors me and kills a ghost from my past for me. I asked for the life of Bert. I’d been on the lookout for him.” She kissed Adrian’s mouth. “But then you came along.”
“Bert?” Adrian said. “I thought you loved him.”
“We both know Bert screwed me over. Unfortunately he will never change. He even sent a guy after you, to kill us both. The chief doesn’t want any witnesses of his darkest deeds.”
Adrian sensed her sincerity. “Is he…?”
She nodded. “Tonight my final ghost gets it. I want my child to be born in a world where nothing from my past can come back to haunt me and hurt us both.”
Adrian blinked. “What did you do?”
“The Esthers killed the Savior. That leaves only one ghost for me.”
Suddenly anxious Adrian looked around. Behind him he saw the dozen red haired Esthers look at him in total silence. Step by step they advanced.
Lola carried a wicked looking knife. “I can’t do this, Rosie.”
“No need, Lola. I’ll do it for you.”
Adrian closed his eyes and waited until Rosie finally laid her final ghost to rest.
Esther ‘Death solves all problems. No man, no problem,’ Josef Stalin “You have the right to remain silent, isn’t that what you should be saying?” Adrian said, ignoring the cops. His gaze was straight at the mirror wall behind them. Wait for it, he thought. The game has only just started. The cops followed his eyes and shrugged. “He’s not saying anything without his lawyer, chief.” Moments later the door was thrown open with a band and a wide shouldered middle aged man in a too slick suit entered the interrogation room. “Scram! I’ll handle this,” he snarled at the uniforms, then switched off the recorder. The chief sat on the edge of the table, depriving the people behind the glass of their view of the prisoner. “No one needs hear this,” he whispered at Adrian. “We have exactly three minutes before one of these pencil pushers has plucked the commissioner from behind her mahogany desk. When Mrs. Bitch gets here, all deals are off.”