Jean woke up in a snooker hall. She was lying face down on the floor with her face being rubbed by the soft fingers of the plush carpet. It was a deep shade of red. She could just about make out the foot of a snooker table a few feet ahead of her; shiny mahogany wood capped with a bronze claw, complete with curved nails digging into the shag. The smell of cigarettes and stale beer permeated her nostrils, and as she slowly came to her senses she made an effort to get up, only to find her arms were powerless.
“Ah, you’re awake.”
A woman’s voice came from somewhere in the room – behind her? – not in front of her that was for sure. She tried to roll herself over but found her whole body was stiff; she couldn’t even move her head. She heard the creak of a chair and the soft rustle of clothes rearranging themselves around their owner, and, although still hidden from her line of vision, her senses were telling her this figure was now standing to her left. Her mental reactions were dulled; though she should have focused on the owner of the sinister voice she couldn’t stop thinking about the bronze claw a few feet ahead of her and how familiar it looked.
“Terribly sorry about all this, Jeanie. You must think us a right bunch of miscreants, after all that kerfuffle in the restaurant” – Jean’s memory was starting to kick in but she couldn’t quite place the restaurant yet, the feeling of lead in her stomach told her it was not good whatever had transpired – “and now, here you are, lying on the floor of my billiards room with a good dose of succinylcholine coursing through your veins.”
Of course, she’d been drugged. That explained why she was completely paralysed. It did not explain anything else. The voice paused as if waiting for her to reply, but Jean was unable to make the necessary muscle movements to do so.
“Oh no, that’s not what we had planned – this whole thing is no good if you can’t talk. Sylvester? Sylvester!”
Jean sensed the footsteps moving across the room away from her as her captor went in search of someone called Sylvester. Weirdly, panic hadn’t yet set in for her and, despite being completely paralysed in a stranger’s billiard room with no memory of how she came to be there, Jean felt relatively calm. She attributed that to strong will on her part but it was in fact just a side effect of the succinylcholine; she was high as a kite and yet to realise it.
There were hushed whispers coming from somewhere in the room and Jean strained to try and hear. Clearly her captor was giving some instructions to Sylvester, but she was unable to determine what they were. The murmured conversation came to an abrupt end as Sylvester left the room and, in doing so, a sliver of cool light sliced through the jazzy gloom and Jean was able to take in some more of her surroundings:
Tall side tables with spindly legs, thick base chrome lamp fixture with emerald green glass shade, marble bust of fat old man, raised stage in back left corner with thick velvet curtain either side –
She’d been here with Alex last Christmas for cheap cocktails on some Timeout voucher – he had taken an old fashioned and she a Negroni – and they had sat in a corner booth (brown sofas, hideous) and she had dropped her bag and spilled the contents all over the floor and when picking them up she noticed the very same bronze claws that now gloved the points of the table leg in her snooker dungeon. She was downstairs in Merchant House on Fleet Street, near Mansion House tube. The light was quickly put out and Jean was plunged back into her near field vision of maroon carpet and the claw.
“Terribly sorry about that Jeanie – Sylvester has just gone to get something to pep you up a bit – he’ll be back in a few. While it’s just us girls why don’t we get to know each other a bit better?”
Jean could hear the woman busying herself at what she assumed to be a bar; the little squeak of a bottle uncorking, the firm chime of glass on glass, the silky flow of a liquid pouring; and became aware of the metallic tang in the back of her throat, her mouth suddenly feeling like it was stuffed with cotton. The discomfort and thirst was so overpowering she did not hear her host’s next few words and was brought back to reality when a black open-toed stiletto kicked through her eyeline. As it came to rest it displaced the tendrils of the carpet only to have others take their place, growing over the shoe like moss, and Jean was struck by the angular foot contained within: pale white skin barely stretched over the blue veins and birdlike skeleton, long, thin toes crowned with nails dipped in an exaggerated back polish to give the appearance of oil. She was not able to tilt her head so she could not see higher than the ankle and shin, both sharing the ghostly white tint of the foot.
‘”-well, you know how those brutes can be – I just couldn’t let them do it, you see Jeanie, so I had them bring you hear instead.” The voice dropped to an excited whisper, as if sharing some naughty secret. “Honestly though, I just wanted to get a look at you myself, see what all the fuss was about; I can see why he’s so taken with you though you pretty, pretty girl.”
The door opened and the (artificial?) light fell on the leg in front of her causing its owner to take a sharp intake of breath and mutter something inaudible. Even though it lasted for just a split second it was long enough for Jean to discern something very troubling about the woman stood in front of her, something that in other circumstances would have created great skepticism in her; something that would require far closer examination before giving way to fear but in her current helpless state she did not have the time or the luxury to question it…
Jean could see the claw of the table through the woman’s skin. It was tinged with a milky hue, as if she were looking through a sheet of thin white plastic, but its brass talons and mahogany leg were clearly visible despite being obscured by a human (?) leg, as was the shag carpet and the shadows beyond it, and, though not quite obscured, the corner of the emerald lampshade she was not supposed to be able to see remained visible.
Her reactions were still dulled by the succinylcholine and before she could process the impossible leg her world tumbled on a ninety degree angle as she was roughly positioned into a seated position, propped against a table. Strands of hair fell in front of her eyes and through them she could see the woman’s translucent knees were hemmed by an opaque black dress.
Once Sylvester was done manhandling her into an upright position she was aware of him still crouched by her side, busying himself, and seconds later she felt something warm flowing through her right arm – and she was able to start to wiggle her fingers. Sylvester must have injected her with some antidote to the poison which was now slowly fizzing its way through her circulatory system, bringing with it slight spasms that gave way to rolling aches and returned feeling in her muscles. Before she could fully regain control over her limbs she felt her arms being yanked behind her – thankfully her pain receptors were still slightly numb so she did not feel the popping of her joints and stretching of her muscles as Sylvester fastened her wrists with cable ties. Jean found she was now able to move her eyes in their sockets and dashed a look around her surroundings for the first time, the first priority being the identity of her captors: Sylvester, still crouched down, his torso close to hers as he finished securing the cable ties, was a grizzly man with hard, cracked skin on his face, a long purple scar trailing down his cheek that disappeared under the black collar of a tight black undershirt, lumps and bumps on his body visible through the clingy material. He had long black hair that seemed to hang limply over his shoulders, dank strands clumped together over his face and half an ear missing underneath.
Thankfully he, at least, appeared to be solid and opaque.