The Žižkov Fiend was fortunate enough to learn of the Red Widow’s preying grounds by word of mouth. One such place was a nightclub called the Toxic Mistress. What a fitting name considering her effect on him.
Still, he wasn’t able to pinpoint her location until he learned of her detective agency through a newspaper.
The gray skies released a gasp of cold air. Icy pellets of rain drummed across the flagstone courtyard in front of the Vesely Manor.
The killer froze in his steps as he neared the abode of the Red Widow. He felt the same way he did every night. Unable to move. There was no doubt, this had to be the source of his torment. His eyes darted feverishly. His fingers twitched as he raised a fist to knock on the door.
He was here for only one purpose: to kill the Red Widow as soon as she answered his summons. Annihilation was the only solution. She would be a threat to him no longer once he showed her what ten years of finely-honed rage had achieved for his body and mind. Could it be labeled anything other than perfection?
There was ecstasy in the forethought of murder. That sweet spot where the adrenaline spikes and it feels like orgasms under the skin. He could feel the goblets of blood sluicing in his brain, drumming to a giddy rhythm. His sternum vibrated with laughter at the prospect of his penultimate triumph. It yearned to let loose a ragged declaration of bloodthirsty slaughter and unleash the voices for the first time. Yes, those voices that coalesced in the mind and scream in unison.
That this is the moment you were born for.
He felt neither heat nor cold. Hunger, sleep, and any bodily sense meant to prolong his life would only deter him from his mission. After all, his death was all but guaranteed, too.
The Žižkov Fiend knew he barely qualified as a human in this volatile state. God knew his intentions were anything but pure. He rapped his knuckles against the door.
He shook as the rain battered his face, rolling down the hairless contours of his head. He gasped and clutched his left arm as a wave of terror coursed through him. Without warning, he was overcome with misgiving. How could he be so brazen and foolish? He shouldn’t be here. This had been an ill-conceived misstep on his part. Perhaps it wasn’t too late to turn around, flee the estate, and—
The door to the manor swung open. Vivian Xu stood in the threshold.
The Žižkov Fiend stared at her in rapture and horror. He was struck by the blood red hue of her eyes and how they held him in their cunning depths. He was repulsed by what he saw; yet, the most damaged and emotionally confused pieces under his chitinous shell burned for her to defile him.
“Can I help you?” Vivian asked.
“Ah, yes... I hope so. I’m looking for the Red Widow.”
“That would be me. And you are?”
She looked different from what he recalled of his nightly terrors. How strange that she didn’t recognize him either. Perhaps her powers waned during the day.
He paused as the question hung heavy over him, savoring this connection, this tenuous meeting. At last, he was on equal ground with the demon whore.
He couldn’t kill her yet.
The moment had to be unparalleled.
“My name is Dalek.”
“You can call me Vivian Xu.”
She outstretched her hand to shake his. As she looked up, she saw a flicker of revulsion swimming in his eyes. The smile he wore, on the other hand, seemed genuine and harmless.
“Let’s get you out of the rain.” He seemed odd, but she didn’t think twice about inviting him inside. She ushered him into the foyer. Teeth chattering from the cold, the Žižkov Fiend surveyed the entrance hall for any bypassing corridors. This meeting with the Red Widow might prove to be instrumental.
A sensible opponent wasted no chance to study his foe and assess the battlefield. He followed Vivian into her domain. He barely listened to a word that she said, as he was too busy memorizing the layout of the Vesely Manor.
He peeked down an adjacent hallway, a spare room with drinking carts, and a dining room set aside for special occasions. The killer wasted no time sparing a cursory glance. He longed to know how the Red Widow lived. How she planned. How she defended herself.
He couldn’t help but admire a few nooks and crannies of the mansion. He gawked at the spiral staircase that paved the way to the library, observatory, attic, and at least seven bedrooms. He surmised that must be where he would find the inner sanctum of the demon.
“Take a seat with me in the conservatory,” Vivian said. She pushed through the oaken doors into a sprawling den. Accompanied by a medieval atmosphere, it featured delights such as a fireplace, Persian rugs, cyberpunk-styled suits of armour, and ceiling-to-floor shelves of books. The adjoining conservatory possessed all the signs of the nerve center for Red Widow and Vesely. Dusk and dawn proved to be the most spectacular times to enter the dome of scarlet glass. The conservatory no longer contained gardens, only leather chaises and a table where research was compiled on a daily basis.
Vivian seated herself at the far end of an ebony table. Almost instantaneously, the red-tinted sunlight burnished her in its fiery glow. Her skin turned scarlet, drawing contrast to the black tattoos on her arms and face. Her eyes and hair looked even more brilliant in the apocalyptic display.
Hairs raised on the killer’s neck when he saw her calmly awaiting him—hands folded, eyes peering up at him, lethal and composed. He had no choice but to enter.
He swallowed the lump in his throat. His footsteps echoed against the tiles as he pulled out a chair and recoiled into it. He leaned forward and fidgeted with his fingers.
His nervous tick wasn’t lost on Vivian. He slouched over the table and gave the occasional shudder as if he was cold.
Her potential client seemed to be waiting for her to break the silence. Before Vivian could speak, she noticed a pungent aroma. She caught traces of it earlier as she led him through the halls, but she quickly dismissed it as her imagination. It easily could have been a result of the man’s lacking hygiene. He appeared to be in poor health, judging from his weight and sickly complexion.
The man seemed all but oblivious to Vivian’s gaze. Instead, his eyes roved across the files and preliminary investigation notes on the table. He wondered what else she might be working on.
He spied something familiar and comforting among the chaos of paper. He recognized his handiwork in a newspaper clipping. The black and white portrayal of the crime scene couldn’t compare to basking in it during the early hours of morning. Try as he might, he couldn’t forget the energy he put into that particular creation. The victim had such left a lasting impression on him.
“Awful, isn’t it?” Vivian said.
The Žižkov Fiend suppressed the smile of pride that tugged on his lips. The Red Widow was seeking revenge on him.
“Is that what you do?” he asked.
Vivian looked at him quizzically.
“Is that your speciality? Unmasking killers?”
“I’m trying to diversify my portfolio beyond murder investigations,” Vivian chuckled. “I have experience tracking criminals and gathering intel on persons of interest. Recently, I crossed paths with an organ trafficking ring that led me to Thailand. Here’s hoping I don’t find myself too embroiled with another powerful criminal syndicate.”
“And you’ve been successful in finding murderers?”
“I certainly have. As for my specialty, I don’t think it can be pinned down to solving one type of crime over another. I’m happy to help the good citizens of Prague in any way I can.”
“I see,” he said, burying his hands in his lap. “You must be asking what brings a man like me to you.”
He couldn’t look directly in her eyes. It was much easier to focus on a singular spot on her forehead and feign eye contact.
“I heard of your detective agency, Red Widow and Vesely. I may be a little off the mark but I was hoping you could help me find someone. Is this within your… abilities?”
“I believe so. What can you tell me about this missing person? Is it someone close to you? A family member or a friend?”
“Yes, my father. He hasn’t been well for some time.”
“He… that is to say, he suffers from dementia. Sometimes he doesn’t recognize me. It’s becoming a problem because he has let strangers into our home, mistaking them for me.”
“Who are these strangers exactly?”
The killer’s eyes darted to the left.
“I don’t know. I found an odd man in the house one day and almost called the police. Sometimes my father is confused when I come home from work. He will tell me his son already came home and he believes I am an imposter.”
“What are you asking me to solve, Dalek? I’m not quite clear on your reasons for approaching me.”
“I’m sorry. I’m trying to gather my bearings. It’s… I fear I’m at my breaking point. Please let me start from the beginning. I came home one day and found the back door ajar. I searched the house from top to bottom and I couldn’t find my father anywhere.”
“Were there any signs of forced entry?”
“No, none that I could see. I’m not sure that this is a criminal matter. That’s specifically why I came to you. My father is a very confused man, to put it mildly. His mind hasn’t aged well. He tends to wander away from home, sometimes in search of his wife. He forgets that Mother passed away some time ago.”
“I’m sorry, that must be tough for you. When was the last time you saw your father?”
“It’s been nearly four days since I found the back door open. I thought he would come back like he always does. I’ll usually find him sleeping on the kitchen floor the next day, a little worse for wear and disheveled, but unharmed. I wonder if that won’t be the case this time.”
“How old is your father?”
“Do you share your home with anyone else beside your father?”
“No. Just the two of us.”
Vivian noticed his nervous tick had stopped.
“I’d like to start with any known associates of your father and methods for contacting them. I need telephone numbers and addresses. I’ll check with the hospitals and homeless shelters in your area. Also, if there’s any information you can give me about his medical conditions—”
“What do you do when you find them?”
“The killers. What do you do to them?”
“We were talking about your father… That isn’t relevant at this point.”
“But just in case something happened to him. Someone might have killed him. What will you—”
Without warning, he broke off in mid sentence and stared straight ahead, as if he was engaged with someone or something across the table. As far as Vivian could tell, he was petrified.
“Okay, Dalek, you need to take a deep breath and just relax. There’s no need to assume that your father is anything but alive and fine.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” he whimpered. “They aren’t moving anymore.”
Vivian inched back in her chair. Her gut instinct was telling her that this encounter had taken an unpredictable and possibly dangerous turn. There was a sudden, wild excitement—no, volatility—in his eyes. Everything from the way he moved to the expression on his face seemed trance-like.