He watched her, just as he had many others.
He called himself Mike, a trusting name. Those ignorant of his true intent had faith in a name like Mike. And with the handsome face he had carefully chosen by taking the soul of a victim, he could disguise his true nature.
Female victims came to him in droves. They had no idea what was going to happen to them until it was too late. This woman, Ronnie, was just like the others.
Hunching his shoulders to keep warm in the cool Scottish air, Mike salivated as he watched her walk down the sidewalk, following her from a distance, not wanting her to know he was behind her yet. It was a lesson in patience—studying prey and learning habits, like when and where they worked, slept, shopped, ate.
Mike followed Ronnie to a tattoo parlor on the Royal Mile that had a big, neon open sign flickering in the window. In the same window were posters, drawings of pin-up girls, and a large sign over the door that had been decorated to look as if clients were entering the gates of Hell, making it impossible to actually see inside. The sign above it read, “Enter at Your Own Risk,” and above that was an even larger sign that told all who came into the parlor that they would soon enter Hellish, the most popular tattoo parlor of Edinburgh, Scotland.
Wearing a skirt and a bodice that hugged her curvy, five-foot-four form perfectly, Nessa McRae sat at the glass reception desk, drawing in her sketchpad. She ran a hand through her black hair with its red streaks and looked around the tattoo parlor.
Hellish was located on the Royal Mile. Tattoo art sat in frames along the walls, along with drawings of women, colorful birds, and anchors with the name “Sailor Jerry” printed on them. Of course, there was also art from Nessa and Billy, her father and Hellish’s owner.
The parlor had a floral smell to it and was arranged with comfortable chairs in the lobby, a small, see-through coffee table shaped like a coffin that held their snake Pip, and the glass reception desk that held a display of shirts, tattoo ointments, soaps, and a variety of studs and rings for piercings next to a door that read “Employees Only.”
As she started watching her lazy snake, Nessa looked up at hearing the bell ring above the door and smiled at the woman who entered.
The woman, Ronnie, sat down just as Nessa’s dad and Hellish’s owner, Billy, walked out of his office with their guest artist, Jimbo, an asshole from somewhere in the Southwest, United States. He was currently under suspicion for trading sexual favors with Ronnie for tattoos. They weren’t really sure, though, and Nessa’s dad had been trying to catch Jimbo in the act for a while now.
“She cause any problems?” Billy asked after Jimbo and Ronnie went into the back room.
Her dad was a burly, tall man, who stood over many people at six feet and was intimidating. He always had a stern look on his handsome face, and he had a scar going from his left eye to his jaw, which he had gotten when he had been in the military. His whole muscular body held an aura of don’t fuck with me.
“No, but I’m sure she’s not here just for her tattoo coloring.”
Billy nodded. “I’ll keep popping in to check out his work from time to time. Maybe today will be the day that I catch him.”
Nessa nodded then grabbed her sketchpad to finish something she had been working on all day.
Billy leaned over to take a peek, but Nessa tilted the sketchpad toward her. “It’s not finished yet.”
“What is it supposed to be?”
“Well, it’s going to be a portrait of two demons in battle against each other. No faces yet, and their wings haven’t become clear to me. It would make for a very nice tattoo.”
Billy smoothed out Nessa’s hair then kissed the top of her head. “You’ll figure it out; you’re a natural artist. Whatever you draw always comes to life.” He smiled as he pushed back a strand of her red and black hair from her face. “Whoever ends up wearing it will be lucky to have your art.”
She gave him a skeptical look.
She smiled. “Not as good as you, Dad.”
He nodded. “True.” Then he patted her on the shoulder and went into the back room.
Mike watched as the door to Hellish opened. About damn time. But the woman who walked out wasn’t Ronnie. She had long, black and bloodred hair past her shoulders and wore a bodice, leggings, and a short skirt that complemented her hair, if he said so himself.
This woman was someone who treaded that thin line humans tended to cross. Fat, thin, beautiful, or ugly—nothing seemed to matter to her.
As the woman walked down the street, he followed her, completely intrigued. She smelled good, too.
Nessa walked into the Chinese restaurant that Billy and she loved to order from on long work nights. It had been there since she had been a scrawny child, only allowed to play in Hellish’s upstairs apartment while her father worked.
The well-lit restaurant was decorated with Chinese art and smelled of rice, noodles, chicken, and soy sauce that drove in hungry customers. Their chairs were comfortably soft for those who enjoyed the buffet in the banquet room, and the tables held more Chinese art that greeted the customer when they sat down. It was truly a comforting place, with just as comforting music.
A few men in the corner, whom she knew to be the restaurant’s regulars, stared at her as she came up to the counter. Nessa brushed her hair from her face and smiled at them. They shot her toothless grins of their own.
Nessa then smiled at the cashier and ordered as she reached into the pocket of her dress for her money clip when someone suddenly pushed her into the counter from behind. She glared back at the person, seeing a man wearing blue, mechanic’s coveralls look at her apologetically.
His face was tan and unshaven, with high cheekbones. He had short, reddish hair and the strangest color eyes. They were reddish- yellow and had to be contacts. He was handsome, though, despite being a little greasy from work.
“I’m sorry,” he said in a deep voice that made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end. “I didn’t mean to do that.”
“It’s all right.” Nessa grinned while looking him up and down.
“Just got done working on my niece’s car,” he told her with a giant smile as he brushed at his coveralls.
To Mike, she looked even better up close, with her creamy, unblemished skin; beautiful blue eyes; and red, full lips. Her breasts weren’t half bad either. She was perfect. Exactly what he had been looking for in a mate.
Nessa paid for her order then smiled at him again, thinking, A yummy mechanic. Not too bad.
She dug a card out of her pocket then handed it to him. “Come by sometime. Maybe I can find you a tattoo that you will love”—Nessa fingered his name tag—“Mike.”
“I would like that.” Mike looked at the card. “Nessa. Pretty name for
a beautiful woman.”
Nessa smiled as she grabbed her bags then left the restaurant. “Can I help you, sir?” the cashier asked.
Mike ignored him, following Nessa back to Hellish.
Nessa ate her fried rice as she stared out the window of Hellish’s
small breakroom, looking across the hall at the man sitting in her dad’s chair. His name was Ailes, a six-foot tall, tanned, tattooed, muscular man. His face was elongated, with a broad forehead and angular cheekbones. He sat there with his eyes closed, his dark eyebrows frowning slightly, while her dad worked on his muscular chest.
Nessa ate another spoonful of rice and looked at the sketch she had been working on. It irritated her that she wasn’t coming up with anything else to put into the drawing.
She ate more rice, looked back at Ailes, and froze.
He was staring right back at her.
She turned her attention back to her rice, trying to forget those eyes
and the cocky smile that he was currently aiming her way. Ailes rarely smiled when he came into the parlor.
“Dad, it’s time for your lunch break,” she called to him, shifting on her feet and looking at the skull drawing on her dad’s wall. Really, she was looking at anything besides the sinfully handsome man in her dad’s chair.
“I’ll take my break when I’m done,” Billy responded as he continued to work.
If he didn’t eat soon, his blood sugar would drop.
Nessa grabbed her sketchpad and left the room, making her way to the front, where she sat down at the reception desk and turned to a blank page to begin another drawing. When she looked up again, she found Ailes staring at her again. She ground her teeth, tapping her fingers on the glass desk as she tried to calm the nerves that she suddenly felt. Why did he do that to her?
“Can I help you?”
Without a word, Ailes pulled out his wallet, threw down a wad of bills, and then left the parlor.
Nessa breathed out a sigh of relief.
Billy put his arm around Nessa’s shoulders as they crossed the street, heading straight toward Mike, who was well-hidden behind a dumpster. He watched as they passed him on their way to the car that they shared.
Once they rounded the corner and were out of sight, Mike crossed the street toward Hellish. He knew the layout of the building; where he could enter without setting off the alarm.
Mike walked to the back of Hellish, pulled down the fire escape ladder, and then climbed up to the apartment. He hoped that fool, Jimbo, had left the window unlocked.
Excitement burned within him as he entered the apartment. Mike loved the hunt. It coursed through his blood. Learning about his prey gave him a sense of ecstasy, almost like the effects a good drug gave paired with alcohol.
Mike walked out of one room, into the small living room, and to the front door, where there was a stairwell that led to Hellish’s back office.
In the far corner of the room sat a desk and computer. Besides that, there was a filling cabinet. Mike crossed the room to the cabinet and growled. Locked. He ended up having to break it open, revealing hanging folders. There were tax papers, business receipts, and finally the folders on each employee. Mike grabbed Nessa’s file, jotting down her address and birthdate. It was coming up soon. Maybe he would give her a present.