1—Blood, Muscles, Bones


HIS CELL phone hummed in his pocket, and Holden answered it without looking. It could only be Otter. “It’s him,” he said and hung up. Holden pocketed his phone and pulled the black leather gimp mask over his face. He unzipped the mouth so he could talk to the fuckhole on his way in.

Holden stripped off his T-shirt and tossed it aside, although he kept his jeans and boots on. He had to. He had to preserve the surprise.

There was a knock on the door before it opened, and by that time Holden was lounging on the bed in his best porn-movie-bottom pose, like he was patiently waiting to be pounded by the pizza delivery boy. The man who came in smelled of cigarettes and was wearing basically anonymous blue jeans, white sneakers, and a blue polo shirt. He had thinning brown hair shaved down to a fuzz, perhaps trying to imply his baldness was a choice, and pale blue eyes that seemed to betray nothing but a kind of dull emptiness. He was pudgy, with a bit of a gut, but at least some of it was hard fat. He gazed at Holden, checking him out before bothering to look at his face. “Take that off. I wanna see your face.”

Holden slowly pushed up from the bed, and stood beside it, keeping his posture and body language as casual as possible. “Maybe you should take it off, Master.”

Something sparked briefly in his eyes. He liked being called “Master.” “I told you to do it, slave. So do it.”

Holden played around with the zipper as he slunk closer, giving him his best sexy eyes, and as soon as he was able, he grabbed the waistband of the man’s jeans and ran his thumb over the top button. The man grabbed his wrist, a little too hard as expected, and while he was asserting his dominance, Holden slipped his Taser out of his jeans and jabbed him with it. Right in the dick.

The asshole tried to scream, but he couldn’t manage much more than a squeak. He collapsed to the floor, and as soon as he was down, Holden straddled him and pulled out his butterfly knife. He opened it with a sharp flick of his wrist, exposing the blade, and pressed it against his throat before he stopped spasming. “Shouldn’t have used the same online handle, DomNick101. Did you think just ’cause you rented a boy from Backpage that gave you license to do whatever you wanted with him?”

DomNick couldn’t yet speak, although the way his eyes bulged and mouth twitched, he wanted to say something. “You think you could just beat the shit out of Otter, and there’d be no repercussions at all? ’Cause he’d never go to the cops? Did you ever think that maybe there were worse things than cops, fuckhead?”

DomNick tried to squirm beneath him, but Holden hadn’t put away the Taser, so he jammed it in his armpit. “You wanna pick your next injury? Taser or knife? Or both? Ever wonder what it’d be like to be roasted and slit open like a pig at the same time?”

Finally he managed to speak, spit gathering in the corner of his mouth. “Don’t—”

“Don’t? You presume to tell me what to do, slave? I’m in charge, limp dick, and don’t you forget it.” Holden leered down at him, sure it was quite a sight in a leather gimp mask. “You’re not the first piece of shit like this I’ve had to deal with, and you’re probably not the last, either. Is it so hard to find someone who likes being beaten? Or is the fact that they don’t want it part of its appeal? Does the knowledge that you’re genuinely assaulting someone help you get your rocks off? I suggest therapy. Or, fuck that, go straight for the hard drugs. Couldn’t hurt you. Might help.”

The guy found his voice again, although he was clearly too terrified to move. But with a live Taser very close to his side and a knife at his throat, his predicament was understandable. “What do you want from me?”

“I was considering taking a pound of flesh from you. I’m being literal—a full pound. I’d have to take quite a few things, if not part of a limb, to make that weight.” Holden let that sink in, let Nick chomp on that for a few seconds. He now knew what Roan meant by a fear smell because this guy was starting to stink like an old sweat sock. “I’ve cut things off guys before, so this wouldn’t be new.”

“You’re crazy,” Nick said breathlessly, with absolutely no strength behind it. He was too petrified to work up any enthusiasm.

Holden just smiled and made sure it didn’t reach his eyes. Now that must have been a pants-shitting sight from a guy in a gimp mask. “You’re damn right I am. And you’re crazy if you think I’m going to allow you to do this again anywhere near my territory.”

Holden rammed the Taser right into the guy’s armpit, making him nearly convulse with pain. Holden used that opportunity to stand and kick the guy in the head. If he wasn’t unconscious, he was very close, and too insensate to do anything as Holden rolled him over on his stomach and started going through his pockets.

As an ex-hooker and a (mostly) former pickpocket, he knew all the places a man generally kept his wallet, and he found it on his first try. He continued looking through pockets, though, mainly out of curiosity. The guy had some loose change, a condom, some breath mints, a nipple clamp, his phone, and a receipt from a gas station. What kind of asshole bought ten dollars and forty-eight cents worth of gas? At least now he knew.

His name was Ronald Worth (Worthless, more like). He lived at an apartment in Edmonds, and he was thirty-eight years old. Old enough to know better, surely. And he either got his driver’s license twenty-five pounds ago or lied about his weight. Oh, Ronnie was a liar? Surely not.

Ron groaned and stirred, so Holden straddled his back and forced his head back down to the carpet. “If I kill you, will anyone miss you?”

“Yes,” Ron said desperately, and Holden didn’t need Roan’s supersense to know he was lying. “I’m expected to call my friend tonight. I’m due at work tomorrow. You can’t do this.”

“Oh, yes I can,” Holden replied, smiling at the singsongy quality in his voice. That definitely sounded crazy. He took the opportunity to look through Ron’s phone and found that he had already been setting up his next fuck, with a guy who went by the nom de shag spankmedaddy6969. Holden sent him a quick text: Forget it. You’re too ugly & old 4 me. Maybe you got a younger bro who’s into it? Hook us up. Maybe a 3way? “I can do anything I want with you. How does it feel? To be at someone’s mercy?”

“I am not—” Ron began, and stilled as Holden pressed the blade of the knife to the side of his neck.

“Yes, you are,” Holden whispered playfully in his ear. He slid Ron’s phone back in his pocket and then stroked the side of Ron’s face. Before he withdrew his hand, he dug his fingernails into Ron’s cheek painfully, drawing blood. People, especially people like Ron, really freaked out over the sight and feel of their own blood. Holden wanted him to really feel it. Feel the fear and the helplessness and the uncertainty about whether he was going to survive this night or not. It wouldn’t teach him a goddamn thing—guys like this never learned—but Holden wanted him to know this feeling and remember it. “And I have a plan to dismember you and parcel you out to various Dumpsters around the city. It’d work really well. I’ve done it before.” That was a lie, but who cared? “And I like the idea of you being garbage—just like, in life, you were human garbage.”

“P-please,” he said, now sobbing into the carpet. “I’m sorry.”

“Are you, now? Then why aren’t you advertising for a guy who likes getting the shit beat out of him? There are masochists out there, guys who get off on pain. You should be hooking up with them, not some poor fuckers who want a little slap and tickle and get you instead.” Holden grabbed him by the hair (which was difficult since he had so little of it) and pulled his head up. He slipped the knife blade beneath his throat so he was in prime throat-slashing position. “Am I getting through that thick skull of yours, Ron? Or do I just saw it off now?”

There was a moment of silence, and he assumed Ron was surprised he knew his real name. But then he figured out Holden must have gone through his wallet and had no choice but to let it go. “Y-yes.”

“I have people. They will be keeping an eye out for you online and on the street. If I hear one story about a guy matching your description beating the shit out of a trick, I will pay a visit to your home on 165 4th Avenue, apartment 11, in Edmonds, and you will not live to make the same mistake again. Are we clear?”

“Yes, yes,” he said desperately. “I’ll stop.”

“You’re fucking right you will. One way or another.” Holden let Ron’s head thud down to the carpet before tasing him again, this time in the back of his neck. It was kind of fun to use him as a human pincushion. He deserved so much worse.

Holden had done his homework. He was technically a private eye now, and he’d dug up a lot of shit on old DomNick101/Ron, here, including previous victims. Otter wasn’t his first. Hopefully, he would be his last.

Otherwise, Ron was going to find out the hard way that Holden didn’t make empty promises.



2—Part Man/Part Negative Space


HOLDEN HEADED home to take a shower and wash the blood and fear stink off of him. Other people’s fear stink was always the worst, as it seemed to cling to you like cigarette smoke. Still, he had this good peppermint goat’s milk soap that seemed to obliterate any scent, no matter how tenacious. Even hockey stink, which he knew was difficult to get rid of at the best of times.

Afterward, he slipped into his velvet “lounging pants” (pajama pants, but that seemed too immature) and poured himself a big tumbler full of gin, which he threw a lemon wedge into for vitamins. (He could just about hear Scott saying, “Yum. Pine with lemon. It’s like drinking Lysol.” Scott was not a fan of gin.) He was kind of hungry but also a little too lazy to cook, so he called out for a pizza.

Holden splayed out on his couch and turned on the boob tube to empty his head. He knew what he’d done to the guy was righteous and deserved, but he nearly always felt a little blah after, wrung out. He wasn’t a great fan of violence, but he was good at it. It helped when he played up his lisp, acted like a queeny, limp-wristed caricature, because nearly everyone bought it. They believed that campy act and didn’t realize until it was too late that Holden was feeding them what they expected, not the truth. Holden sort of liked seeing it in their eyes, the moment when they realized they were fucked. It was a rush.

What had Roan once told him? After his partial shifts to lion form, he suffered adrenaline crash when his system’s fight-or-flight response (which was nonsense, because with Roan it was always fight—and Holden respected the shit out of him for that) reached an end and fell into an abyss. As if being unable to move for the pain wasn’t bad enough, Roan would almost pass out from how exhausted he was. Maybe Holden suffered his own variation of adrenaline crash, but since he wasn’t a virus child superhuman who pushed his physical abilities to the edge of their limits, his crash wasn’t quite as drastic. That would make a sort of sense, he supposed.

Blindly flipping through channels, hoping for something mindless he could focus on while his brain shifted back into normal, the sight of a sweaty Tank stopped him cold.

It was hockey play-off season, and Tank’s team was in, although just barely. According to Scott, injuries had ravaged his team, and Tank had taken the remains of the team and lugged them single-handed into the play-offs because he was such a good goalie he almost made up for a piss-poor group. They were playing a game, and the camera was focused on Tank’s sweaty face as he pushed his helmet up and took a drink from the water bottle that every goalie had attached to the roof of his net. Scott figured Tank couldn’t last forever—he wasn’t going to be able to pull them into the finals all by himself, no matter how good he was—but Scott assumed he’d give it a damn good try. Just from the sweaty, exhausted look of Tank, Holden guessed that was true. But just before he drank from the water bottle, Tank said something to a player from the opposing team hanging around his net, and Holden wasn’t the world’s best lip-reader, but he would swear Tank just told him, “Your wife liked it.” By the way the guy grabbed Tank’s shoulder aggressively, and the way one of Tank’s bigger teammates came in to yank him off of their goaltender, that was probably true. So funny. That was the exact attitude of a guy who was trying to muscle his shitty team through a play-off. That was also why Roan was such a fan of Tank. It took one stubborn lunatic to recognize another.