Madame Colti

Standing around the corner from Mornington Crescent tube station, Colin Babb checks the address on his phone once more. The map shows that he is in the right place. But in front of Colin, wedged between a bicycle repair shop and a fast food outlet, he could see only this unremarkable door.

By the pictures on Madame Colti’s website, Colin had expected a touch more grandeur. Black flakes of paint, with shards of the grey undercoat attached, are peeling from the door, revealing splits in the wood beneath. The octagonal brass doorknob is tarnished to dirt brown. Looking down, Colin sees woodlice crawling in and out of the door sill. Around the frame of the door are many spider’s webs captured with dirt, lattices of smeared grey silk. Peering closer, covered by the gossamer shroud, Colin notices a little brass plaque. He brushes a finger over it, the webs sticking to him. It reveals engraved text, confirming that he is, indeed, in the correct place.

Before leaving his flat in Belgravia, Colin had showered. The warmth of the late-afternoon journey, combined with the stored heat of the shower, is making him perspire heavily. Beneath his chinos, he is sweating from the bottom to the tops of his legs. Under his Homburg hat, the finer strands of his thick mop of curly hair stick to his wet forehead. His shirt is clinging to his pudgy frame.

The intention had been to present himself as washed and clean, as he usually would for this kind of tryst. The heavy sweating makes it feel as if dirt is leaking from every pore in his body. From the inside pocket of his blazer, Colin removes a handkerchief and dabs himself over. Like mayflies hatching, the stored water quickly re-emerges to the surface of his skin.

Colin Babb is a single man by choice. He enjoys his opulence and has never wanted to share a single part of it, with anyone. As soon as he finished university, Colin had moved to the city from the home county of his youth, and had rarely since left – usually only for corporate days. Colin had further refined the limits of travel: each morning he rides to the Square Mile by taxi, and again when returning home to Belgravia. To find himself in the north part of the city is a journey rarely taken.

It was curiosity that had led Colin here. Usually the girls come to him; and then leave, substantially wealthier, at a time of his choosing. Nearly every night of the week, a new girl arrives at his Belgravia home, for Colin to do as he pleases with them. But lately Colin has been feeling he has tried everything that could be telephone ordered. Madame Colti had declined the voluminous reward he offered, if she were to travel to him. Perhaps it was that very fact that had encouraged Colin to make this journey.

The email, sent on her behalf, had told Colin that “Madame cares not for money.” A whore playing hard to get, Colin had thought, reading the email. Very high class. And very confusing that he should then find Madame Colti’s given address to be holed up between a bike shop and a take away.

Wiping the spiderwebs, clinging to his finger, onto the soot-covered wall, Colin pushes the brass buzzer. It is so old and worn that it resists, leaving an impression of the rough surface of the button on the pad of his finger. Colin had heard the answering bells clanging from the other side of the door, but he could hear no movement behind it. He pushes the button again.

‘Keep me waiting, eh?’ Colin mutters, feeling vulnerable out on the grubby street. ‘Should have paid the cab driver to ring the doorbell for me.’ Because Colin Babb “doesn’t do” standing outside doorways. At the places Colin usually frequents, men in dress suits are waiting outside to open the doors for him.

The traffic in this part of town is noisy and smelly. Necessitous people pass by, carrying their own bags. It wouldn’t do to be spotted in this bandit country. This woman, whoever she claimed she is, had better be ready for some serious Babb action. Colin would show her to not care for his money. Moving his weight from foot to foot, preparing to push the buzzer again, Colin hears locks being unlocked and chains being unhooked.

The dirty door finally opens inwards to reveal a dark corridor.

The woman who looks down upon Colin is not the raven-haired, pale-skinned beauty pictured on Madame Colti’s website. This is an entirely different breed of female. Her white hair is pulled back into a bun, the sides fastened with clips. The lines around her mouth spear into her pinched lips like scars left by surgical staples. On her blue cardigan is a silver broach, an intricate mandala pattern within a square, flames spouting from its centre. Her eyes are as blue as water in a chalk lake, matching the colour of the scarf around her neck.

Shaking his initial incertitude, Colin huffs at the headmistressly woman. ‘Now look here, if you think –’

‘Mister Babb,’ the lady says. ‘How do you do? Please.’ She opens the shabby door wider.  ‘Come in.’ She stands away from the door, her back pressed against the wall.

Colin Babb treads carefully up the two concrete steps – worn from years of passage – and enters into the dark hallway. It smells musty, mouldy like a basement. The stench pours over him, making Colin feel even less clean than he had. The bottom of the hallway walls is cladded with dark, stained wood; a deep ruby-red wallpaper adorns the upper half, stretching up to the infinitely high ceiling, hidden in darkness. Halfway along the ceiling hangs an old chandelier, covered with more cobwebs, offering only scant light. Underfoot, from what Colin can discern in the dimness, the long, patterned rug covering the wooden floor is thinning, almost fused to the floorboards by age, dirt and dust.

The hallway becomes darker still when the lady shuts out the light of the day.

It is chilly. Colin’s sweat shrinks to his gooseflesh skin. Very chilly. Where his clothes are in contact with his body, the sweat turns to ice. The ruby wallpaper and stained wood have become black. Colin eyes the evil-smelling darkness. The little bit of light from the chandelier reflects upon the glass in picture frames hanging further along the walls.

‘This isn’t what I –’ Colin begins, turning on his stacked heel.

The lady is standing directly behind him, close. Her hands are clasped together in front of her long, pleated skirt. Even inside the gloom, the watery surface of her eyes lose none of their radiance. As her smile raises, the lines around her mouth smooth slightly. With Colin’s eyes adjusting in the dimness, she grows out of the shadows.

‘Come,’ she says, and breezes past him through a whisk of the dusty air.

Following the lady along the corridor, Colin looks at the framed pictures. Each of them depicts scenes of ancient battles: armed cavalry men thrusting pikes forth; fierce-faced men atop horses brandishing swords; a figure in a chariot twirling a spiked ball on a chain. The last picture Colin sees is not of a battle, but of a woman being burnt alive. It is only then that Colin recognises a familiar theme within the frames: the subject of the men’s attack in each one of the pictures is a woman. He stops in front of this last picture. Even while the flames illuminate the burning woman, the expression on her face is of serenity. Colin notes the wings folded around her, which he assumes are her own. They seem to be immune to the fire burning beneath her feet.

None of the pictures exactly stirs the excitement one would expect for a client entering into a brothel. Even if some of the women do have their tits out.

‘Please,’ the lady says, holding open another door for Colin, ‘do come through.’ She extends one arm across the corridor, inviting Colin in. Again, once he has entered, she closes the door behind them.

The room is large and bright. Daylight is pouring in through the wide bay window on the back wall. Little of the musty smell pollutes this room. Colin can hear the clunking and gasping of the fast food outlet’s extractor fans, and some other noises of the day outside. There are no more pictures inside here, just one mirror. Looking at his dishevelled reflection, Colin removes his hat and rearranges his flattened hair into its usual state of disarray.

The only furniture in the room is a huge desk in the centre, and a burgundy chaise longue in the window. His feet clopping on the floorboards of varnished oak, Colin wanders over and places his hat on the chaise. There is an old hardback book sitting upon the velvety upholstery. Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita.

A chair scrapes over the floorboards. Spinning on his Berluti brogues, Colin watches the lady sit down. On the surface of the desk, she folds some papers over, adjusts her scarf, and then looks up at him. Yet again, her appearance seems slightly altered; just another lonely spinster working in a counselling office, perhaps, rather than . . . whatever she is. Madame’s madam, perhaps?

With a prim tilt of her head, she indicates the seat on the opposite side of her desk – a tall, burnt-red leather wingback chair. Colin obliges.

‘Now, then, Mister Babb.’ She places her hands, one over the other, on the desktop. ‘You are here, today, to see Madame Colti.’

‘I thought I was, yeah.’ Colin crosses his legs. Despite the cooling sensation of the hallway, around his crotch still feels a little damp and uncomfortable. He uncrosses his legs and sits with his hands on his thighs.

‘There’s need to feel nervous, Mister Babb,’ the lady says.

‘I’m n –’

‘Are you new to this?’ she asks, cutting short his defence.

‘Well, no. Like I said in –’

‘Because there really is nothing to be afraid of, Mister Babb,’ the lady continues, nodding slowly at Colin with pursed lips. ‘Well . . . not entirely.’

The lady glances at the door behind Colin. He wants to turn on his seat, to follow her gaze. Colin Babb is not used to feeling this stiff and skittish. Such were his reasons for seeking this new pursuit, his agitation is not an altogether displeasing condition.

‘I’m sorry, I haven’t introduced myself,’ the lady says. ‘I’m Margaret and I run all of Madame Colti’s administration: bookings and enquiries, and so forth.’

The gentle, polite and reassuring way that Margaret speaks, her voice reminds Colin of the middle-aged women from the market town he was originally from. This Margaret could easily be a church friend of his mother’s. Or one of the older primary school teachers of his youth. Not the sort of lady that one would expect to handle the administration for a prostitute.

Margaret turns over one of the papers on the desk and plucks a pen from a drawer. ‘How did you find us, Mister Babb, if you don’t mind me asking?’

‘On the internet,’ he replies, leaning an elbow on the arm of the chair and plonking his head on it.

‘Oh yes. On . . . the,’ Margaret repeats as she writes, ‘internet. Good.’ Her bright eyes again settle upon him. ‘So, you’ve read about what you can expect from your visit?’

‘Yeah,’ Colin says, his jaw attached to his hand. God, it is so much simpler when a girl just comes to the apartment. “Champagne? Here you go. Now take your knickers off.” Unless the girl was playing the role of someone seeking sanctuary from an attacker, banging tearfully on the door; or if she was pretending to be an inspector from HMRC, or something. “How about I settle my taxes with this instead, young lady?” They love it. Well, Colin loves it. They love the healthy wodge of cash that the little game earns them. ‘I know what I can expect, yes,’ Colin replies, becoming a little bored by these officious delays.

‘Good,’ Margaret says again, ticking something on the paper. She carefully places the pen on top of the desk, once more folds her hands, and smiles. ‘We like to give all of our clients a little bit of background information about our lamiae lady. So . . .’ Margaret begins, again reminding Colin of his original feeling of having arrived in the offices of a counsellor. ‘Madame Colti was born in Louisiana in nineteen-seventeen to a farm labourer and a poor peasant girl . . .’

Colin’s body slumps further into the chair. Perhaps he should have read more about Madame Colti on the website, and not just looked at the pictures. He had come here to buy time in the company of a twenty-five-year-old, not a centenarian. While he watches Margaret’s wrinkly lips moving, Colin’s finger picks at one of the metal studs in the dimples of the armrest.

Madame lived a simple life in her youth, working on a farm, and then later on a steam paddleboat. It was there, one late night, that a Romanian immigrant, one the jazz musicians on the steamer, captured to the shadows on the dock and administered the bite that would change Madame’s life into one immortal. Yes, in nineteen forty-two, Madame Colti was reborn!

A grin creeps slowly upward from Colin’s baggy bottom lip. This woman is setting the scene for him, that’s what she’s doing. A lovely little bit of terror-inducing role play. Good stuff. If only she’d hurry up with it . . .

Colin listened on as Margaret told of Madame Colti’s feeding habits thereafter she had been turned. Madame could not bring herself to take a human life, but soon learned how to draw just enough of one to keep her appetite fed. Madame found a great sexuality in being undead, associating rampant feeding with copulation. How she craved strong and healthy men. Men whose blood pulsed through their veins like galloping stallions.

Unlike any of the tepid plays that Colin had previously encountered, to his surprise, this build up to the event, alongside the passion of Margaret’s storytelling, soon began to make his blood flow. From one of the pictures on the website – tall, pale as the moon, a sharp jaw, dimpled chin and aquiline nose; her straight black hair framing the strong bone structure – Colin could imagine such a woman having this animal lust; an uncontrollable frenzy to take from a man as much as he was willing to give.

Frankly, Colin couldn’t wait to meet her. And, this day, Madame Colti would meet her match.

Colin discretely plunges the metal stud, which he had levered out of the armrest, back into the leather.

Pulling open a draw, her tale told, Margaret slips another sheet of paper onto the desktop. ‘Now, Mister Babb, I’d just like ask for you to fill in a few details on this form here, if you will?’ Margaret slides the piece of paper over the desk.

Dragging the chair noisily forward, Colin leans on the desktop. On the sheet of paper, beneath a pile of text, is a diagram of a figure.

‘This form is just a simple disclaimer that we ask clients to have a quick read of before they go for their session. It is necessary to ask you to fill out this waiver to confirm that you acknowledge the risks involved. Do you understand what I have explained to you today, Mister Babb?’

After confirming, ‘Yeah,’ Colin’s eyes skip to a line that reads: In case of death, next of kin whom you would like to be contacted. If Madame Colti is as rampant as she sounds, then the odd client might be liable to the old cartwheel inside the chest. With what he had planned for her, Colin hoped that Madame Colti had signed the odd insurance document of her own.

The rest of the form was comprised of simple check boxes, next to lines such as –

Have you ever:

Contracted hepatitis – Yes / No

Been diagnosed with any blood disorders – Yes / No

Had any illness of the blood at all, including haemophilia or septicaemia– Yes / No

In fact, most of them were blood-related questions. Including a strange, quite unexpected one:

Have you recently been bitten by a tick – Yes / No

With very few ticks spending their time in Belgravia, Colin circles No next the question; as he had done with all of the other boxes.

‘I’ve got a question for you,’ Colin says, tapping the pen against the desk. Margaret glances down at the pen, her eyes lingering. When Colin points the pen at her, she offers the same expression of displeasure. Piques do not register with a man like Colin Babb. ‘I’m not certain of my blood type. Does that matter much?’

‘Not really, Mister Babb,’ Margaret says, reaching a hand over the table to gather the form.

Before she can reach it, Colin stabs the pen into the diagram of the figure. ‘What’s this about?’

‘The diagram is for office use only,’ Margaret replies with a smile, and a look that says If I may . . . ?

Lifting the pen off the piece of paper, Colin watches the form disappear over the table. Like a hen, Margaret gives the form a quick appraisal. She cocks her head to the side, and then hovers the piece of paper back over the desk.

‘You have not signed, Mister Babb,’ she says. ‘It is important that you do so.’

With a quick scribble, Colin signs his name on the solid line next to text that reads,

I have full understanding of the risks that I might encounter in my session with Madame Colti. All of the information supplied is true and absolute. [signed]                                           

After another quick scan, Margaret slides the form into a different drawer, and then stares at the pen in front of Colin. He rolls it over the desk to her. When Margaret gazes directly into his eyes, Colin feels a flutter of unease. There is something unnatural about eyes so bright, ones that had twinkled in the darkness. The thought of Madame Colti spread out on an ocean of bedsheets, wearing silky drawers and suspenders, flits into his mind, batting Colin’s discomfort away.

‘Do you have any other questions before you meet with Madame, Mister Babb?’ Margaret asks, playing with a loose flap of her scarf.

Pouting his bottom lip out, Colin rapidly shakes his head. ‘Not at all,’ he replies. ‘Oh.’ Reaching into his blazer pocket, he withdraws a brown envelope. ‘Here. Two thousand pounds.’

Margaret frowns. Even though the envelope is being proffered over the surface of the desk, she does not reach for it. ‘Two thousand pounds, Mister Babb? But the price is only one thousand. Madame Colti –’

‘Yeah, I know,’ Colin interrupts, pushing the envelope towards her. ‘Madame does not care for money.’ Colin grins. ‘Let’s just consider it a down-payment on future sessions. Or perhaps a taster for what Madame can expect should she ever venture to the Kensington area, eh?’

Colin’s entire face is smiling. Now that the game is really getting going, he can scarcely contain the excitement bubbling in his stomach. His cheeks are bulging like the envelope.

They deflate when Margaret yet refuses to even touch it.

Linking her fingers together, Margaret leans forward slightly. Now she is smiling. Colin Babb doesn’t like that. This woman should be wide-eyed, gasping, snuffling the envelope and offering to pop around the corner to buy a bottle of champagne.

‘The extra money is completely unnecessary, Mister Babb. Because Madame Colti really does not care for wealth. As I have explained already, Madame will get as much of a thrill by your visit today as you do. To spend time in the company of men such as yourself, Madame is insatiable.’

Colin’s happy smile begins to flitter back into the room.

‘But Madame does not, and will not, do personal visits, I’m afraid, so this –’

‘Keep it,’ Colin says, showing Margaret his palm. She stares at Colin’s hand until he lowers it. This woman thinks that she is in a power battle, here, Colin thinks.

Even if Colin probably should have delved deeper into Madame Colti’s website, it might have been wise for Madame’s administrative assistant to research a little bit about him, too. She would have discovered that, in his recent past, Colin has advised members of the Prime Minister’s cabinet as to where they were going wrong. And one time, when he was at the London Palladium, Colin had told Andrew Lloyd Webber to get out of his seat. Yes, if this Margaret did want to take Colin Babb on, there was simply no way that she could win.

‘Please consider the extra cash as a gift,’ Colin says, ‘if nothing else.’

After a moment, Margaret pushes the envelope to one side. ‘Very well.’ Rolling the chair backward, she stands up. ‘Now, then, Mister Babb. I think that the time has come for you to meet Madame Colti. And my, has Madame been waiting to meet you.’

‘I bet she has,’ Colin mutters.

Margaret smiles. She plucks an imperial mint from a small glass bowl on her desk and pops it into her mouth. ‘Would you like one?’ she asks.

Colin says, ‘No.’ Even though he did want one, really. As Colin follows her to the door, he smiles triumphantly at Margaret’s back.

With the door open, Margaret stands aside. As before, with an outheld hand she gestures, this time for Colin to proceed into the dark, dank hallway.

Stepping alone into the dinginess, Colin looks back at Margaret. Now her hand indicates that he should head deeper into the building.

‘Just follow the corridor and then the stairs,’ Margaret says. ‘When you get there, you’ll know where to go.’

After a glance into the depths of the hallway, Colin watches Margaret rub a thumb over the heart of the brooch. Peering around the door, again she encourages him forward, into the darkness.

Colin begins to walk towards it, beyond the pictures and the chandelier.

He hears a click. Glancing over his shoulder, Colin sees that Margaret has closed the door to the office. Her retreat into the room has closed off the bright natural light.

Colin is left standing in a dim oblong cast by the chandelier, his shadow facing in the direction that Margaret had pointed for him to go. At the top of his shadow, Colin notices that a cowlick is sticking out from the side of his head. It appears like a horn.

Slowly leaving the periphery of the light, Colin notices another weak glow up ahead. With each step, the leather soles of Colin’s shoes tap against the floor, emitting a damp echo that dies just beyond his feet.

More frames are hanging upon the walls here, in light too weak to reveal the images inside them. Colin can imagine the macabre scenes that they hold. This current setting fits them well. It reminds Colin of when his father had taken him around Dover Castle, when he was a child. It had been large, creepy, and the most boring trip of his life.

This place is creepy, alright, but she is here. Somewhere. The ghostly, dark-haired beauty from the internet who claims to be a vampire prostitute. Colin can sense her. Having had all of the schoolgirls, headmistresses and secretaries, dwarves, dominatrixes, and damsels in distress, rogue doctors and hairy farmer’s wives, each new visit to Colin’s flat has recently ended up feeling exactly like the kind of bland relationship he didn’t want. Colin could not remember a build-up to any sex sessions before that could even closely rival this excitement he was feeling. He had never known how arousing dim terror could be. The darkness hides his grin.

Just before Colin reaches the lights, he notices the stairwell. The steps lead down, into a deeper dark. Colin looks around, for any doors, or stairs leading upward, anything. Around him, there are only the walls and the thin electric candlelight.

The stairwell spirals down. More of the muted candlelights upon the wall lead the way. A chilling draught drifts up towards Colin. The sound of reedy music clouds within the silent breath of air: solo violin in a minor key. The melancholic, drawn out notes whish from the depths.

Standing at the top of the stairwell, Colin puts his hand down his trousers. He removes it, and sniffs. A bit vinegary, but not too bad.

With a hand running against the wall, he descends.

The cold, forgotten passageway of a busy city gives Colin a slight sensation of being in a Haunted House at a funfair; that at any moment some spook might jump out. His vision has adjusted as much as it will, where shadows in the dark become only hidden blackness.

Treading beyond the bottom step, Colin’s foot lands on the solid concrete floor. He glances back up the stairs, where the light ends. Ahead of him there is no more illumination, but for the cerise velvet radiance billowing from underneath a door at the far end of the passageway.

In anticipation of his visit, Colin had expected Georgian facades, thick carpets and crystal chandeliers. Maybe even handmaidens, wearing see-thru gowns, to act as his guide. These gorgeous young girls would then sit by and watch, all clamouring for Colin to throw another stuffed envelope at their naked feet. He had imagined a corridor lined with walnut doors, full of the sounds of men experiencing the best sexual encounter of their lives. Yet, instead, in this underground passage, the smell of damp is even more enveloping than before. Behind and within the subterranean walls, Colin could hear only scratching claws. And the mesmerising, chilling sound of violin.

Despite his disappointment, Colin’s stomach is alive with fear and excitement. Blood pulses in his ears, and his expectations stir. As Colin moves closer to the doorway, the shimmering colour grows. Beckoning. Welcoming. Enticing.

He taps on the door.

‘Please come in,’ a voice answers after a moment.

Colin reaches for the handle, but he cannot find one. Placing both of his hands against the door, he pushes. Nothing happens.

‘Come in,’ the voice says again. Soft, American, and as sexy as hell.

‘I, uh . . .’ Colin eases his weight against the door. With one foot braced behind him, Colin pushes with all his might. Again, he feels around again for some way of opening it, a handle, a latch. ‘I can’t seem to get this thing open.’

‘Slide it,’ the voice coos. And then laughter; humiliating laughter.

This bloody place. That woman upstairs and this stupid door. But that laughter, so rapturous, so enthralling.

With his hands flat against the cold, metal surface, Colin applies pressure in one direction, and then the other. The door noisily slips over the runners and inelegantly clangs to a stop. Standing in the open doorway, Colin bathes in the ethereal pinkish glow.

Mister Babb.’ The voice slides through the bright waves of colour. It echoes around the chamber, coming from one corner then another. ‘I’m so glad that you . . . came.’ The voice sounds like a yawn, but seductive and seducing. The laughter is low now, coming from the floor. A groan sifts from the ceiling.

Colin can see no woman, no lady vampire of the shadows. He steps inside the room.

‘I’ve been . . . waiting for you. Mmmm.’

Colin’s eyes peel around the room, alive with yellow light. There must be a hundred pillar candles dotted around in here: in holders, on the floor, and on the dark, wooden side tables. In the centre, beneath the ceiling painted black, is a four-poster bed. Red drapes are tied to the curvaceous wooden frames; a thin fabric hangs from the sides. Through them, Colin can see sheets of blood-red silk, and a folded comforter lined with a gilded tapestry. The bed is standing upon a rug, decorated with complex patterns, similar to the fiery mandala on Margaret’s broach.

Even if the rest of the building is a stinking shithole, this basement room oozes luxury.

Another groan comes from Colin’s left. He turns his head. Still, there is no one there.

Colin notices that the walls are billowing, breathing, alive. They pulse, a ripple of a wave travelling around the room. The walls are lined with decorative rugs hanging from rails, he sees, which must be catching a faint breeze, giving this poppling effect. But the temperature in here is as perfect as a summer morning, such a contrast to the passageway. And the smell: a scent that is not entirely sweet, slightly metallic, but utterly intoxicating; as comforting as the aroma of a pine forest, as alluring as rose petals, but tinged by their decay.

‘Where are you then?’ Colin says, hands in pockets, taking a step further into the room, towards the bed. The closer he becomes, the further into the bed he can see. The sheets are smooth, flat, and otherwise empty. Colin adjusts his blazer. In the large room, except for the candles, the bed, and a few bits of furniture around the edges, there is nothing else. There is nowhere else to hide.

A gentle click from a behind him.

Colin turns. The door has closed. Candlelight shows the pattern upon the tarnished metal surface: a simple cross, but with a loop at the top, like a key. There is a table by the door, piled with red handtowels, when –

‘Ouch!’

A sharp pain at the back of his neck, beneath Colin’s ear. His hand reaches up and it feels a long, delicate finger. And then the kiss. And another. A hand across his stomach. Caressing. Moving continuously over his belly.

It is irresistible.

The other hand is now at his chest, fingering between his buttons, inside his shirt, teasing his nipple. It feels like floating upon a gentle sea. A long nail scratches against the fabric. Strands of hair swirl against the side of his face, tickling his eyebrows. Colin reaches up, to touch. Inside a firm grip, his hand is taken, down to his side. And Colin is turned around.

She is even more ravishing than in her photographs. But tall. Very tall. A full head taller than Colin. She is looking down upon him, her body moving slightly, as if she were woozy. The whites of her eyes so bright, and the irises so dark that it seems to be all pupil. Dots of the reflections of candles shimmer within the black pools of them, petals floating on oil. Her lips are full and bright red, smiling from one side of her mouth, a slight dimple in her cheek. The portrait on her website, alive. Only better. Pure sex. And with a trace of masculinity.

Cheeks puffed out, Colin’s eyes travel all over her body. With one knee crossed over the other, she pulls open her kimono, for him to see. She is wearing black silky underwear and nothing else. With each fervent breath, her bosom presses harder against the balconette bra. She rides each breath, her tight stomach pushing outwards, as if being massaged by invisible hands. The shape of her legs, her hips, her waist, her slender shoulders: this is the perfect model of a woman. Her skin so pale, white as paper, a canvas upon which to paint the most alluring artwork of all time.

‘You’re incredible,’ Colin says, staring into her eyes and all over.

The dimple of her smirk yet lingers. She laughs, her kimono flapping around her like bat wings.

Colin sees her perfectly white teeth – in the city, the girls drink so much tea that their teeth are all a bit more Earl Grey, these days. But this woman. Mostly it is the dagger-sharp cuspids that drew Colin’s attention. When her laughter stops and she closes her mouth, they stick out over and into her bottom lip. Really, all that does is adds an even greater beauty to her smile.

‘You are, without a doubt . . . the fittest bird I have ever seen,’ Colin says. He bites his bottom lip, too, and raises one eyebrow.

‘You say that to all the gals,’ she drawls in her creamy southern lilt. ‘You’ll tell ‘em whatever they wanna hear.’

‘Not at all,’ Colin replies with a huff. ‘Your accent. Your beauty. You’re just so . . . God!’

Colin attempts to draw her close for a kiss. Madame Colti catches his hand, and then leads him towards the bed. Sitting slowly down on the soft mattress, she grabs his love handles and draws him forward, inside the thin sheets of fabric, to stand between her open legs.

It is as if the walls are breathing simultaneously with the fire inside Colin’s chest. The rugs hanging from the rails relax like an emptied lung, and then weave again away. Colin has never even seen a woman such as Madame Colti before, let alone to be touched by one. To imagine being in a hidden basement with a woman like this . . .

Colin watches as Madame Colti unclasps his belt and pulls the leather through the loops in his chinos. Allowing the belt to drop to the floor, she places both of her hands on his thighs, lightly rubbing. The material of his trousers feels as smooth as it ever has against his skin.

‘Whaddaya like?’ she asks, with her sexy little sharp-toothed smile.

‘Anything!’ Colin replies, almost before the words have finished leaving her lips. ‘Anything at all. I don’t mind if you want to tie me up or tie me down. Throw me around, if you want. I want you to do everything.’ Colin’s blood is flowing so fiercely that he can feel a pulse in his forehead and in his neck. Furthermore, the little blue pill he popped in the cab has begun to do its work. ‘I do usually insist upon a finger up my arse, though,’ he says. ‘I’ll pay you for anything that might be considered an extra. Anything I want you to do.’

Colin watches Madame Colti lick her lips. Her incisors bite coquettishly into her bottom lip, chewing lightly.

‘I was hopin’ you would say that you’d allow me to do anythin’,’ she says. ‘Promise?’

‘Oh yes, indeed,’ Colin replies keenly. Leaning forward, he again reaches to touch her. Once more, Madame Colti’s strong grip stops him and lowers Colin’s hand to his side.

When Madame Colti pops the top button of his chinos, Colin gasps. He hasn’t experienced such a breathless reaction to that very slight act since his first sexual encounter, when he was fifteen. He almost feels fifteen again when Madame Colti stands up to slide the blazer from his shoulders. Colin’s shirt joins the blazer on the floor beside the bed. The force of his breaths make Colin’s belly and saggy pectorals wobble.

The violin plays on, a mournful concerto. The clouds of pink and yellow light in the room add colours to Madame Colti’s skin, softening the sharpness of her features. In time with Colin and the billowing rugs, she emits heavy, passionate breaths. Her breasts continue to heave against her underwear. Sitting back down on the bed, Madame Colti pulls Colin’s trousers and pants down. She looks his body over, covered from ankle to earlobe in thick dark hair.

Colin treads off his shoes and waggles his ankles free of his clothes. Watching, Madame Colti’s dimpled half-smile returns, as the winking face of Colin’s pink pickle dances atop the bulging nest of his balls. Madame Colti slides backwards onto the bed, and she invites Colin to join her inside. The feel of the silky velvet sheets against Colin’s naked skin, as he is guided towards the pillows, adds width to his bubble of exhilaration.

Usually, Colin Babb insists that his paid lover is naked long before he is. Asserting that dominance, living by his own rules, is one of the main reasons why Colin has a preference towards ordering the sex to be delivered to his flat. On plenty of occasions, it was him who ended up spanking the dominatrix, or waterboarding her with champagne. Now, with Madame Colti running her long nails deep inside his chest hair, Colin can barely find the air to even gasp. He has certainly been with plenty of beautiful girls, Colin Babb, but never has he had a woman quite like Madame Colti.

She wouldn’t have it all her own way, of course. But she could earn her money first.

‘For a ce-ce-centenarian, you look am-ma-ma-mazing,’ Colin says through jittery breaths. He puts a trembling hand behind his head. It catches the scratch beneath his ear. A dull tingle of pain shoots through the area, but he barely feels it. ‘I mu-mu-mean, you’d la-la-look good for twuh-twenty.’

‘Thank you,’ Madame Colti replies. She watches her nail tracking through the hair, an owl over a field at night. Her lips are slightly parted, the deep ruby of her tongue occasionally plugging the gap. Bursting through the air, quicker than a lightning strike, her head snaps forward and clamps onto Colin’s nipple. Her back arches like a hyena, moving forward, up, rotating.

Kicking his feet, disturbing the comforter, Colin howls. ‘Aaaarh! Aarhyes. Yeah. Uh. Uh. Aw!’ His eyes pinch shut. A crowbar could not prise open his tightly clamped teeth. ‘Aw. Ooo-ooo.’

Biting. Colin knew that he could expect biting. Of course there was going to be biting. But the pincer grip that Madame Colti has on his skin is like blazing hot crocodile clips. It was excruciating. Even so, Colin could feel tingles all through his crotch – not entirely enjoyable; an unusual, very painful pleasure.

‘Uhm . . . Oooo-waooh! I, uh . . . Ooooch!’ Colin attempts to lift his head from the pillow, to see what this wild animal of a woman was doing to him.

Grabbing Colin’s neck, Madame Colti pushes him back down. Her nails, one deep in the suprasternal notch of his collarbone, pin Colin to the pillows.

Colin lifts his arm, to stroke her kimono-covered back. Before Colin has barely even moved his hand, to touch her, Madame Colti grips his forearm. Her nails jab into the veins of Colin’s wrist.

‘Listen,’ Colin says, wincing. ‘I’m not sure that . . . Ayyyieee! I mean . . . I mean, do-duhduh-do . . . yah . . . duh you have a safe word for if I bub-bub-burba –’

Madame Colti had slipped a finger into his mouth; Colin’s tongue a sea slug squashed beneath a rock. Before he knew what was happening, even if Colin did know what was going on, Madame Colti’s silken hair was caressing the tops of his legs. Her head begins to bob up and down, working Colin back up from his state of semi-softness.

The nails are rubbing over his belly. Scratching. Pinching. Grabbing wads of flab.

‘More like it,’ Colin yells, his arm returning behind his head; his body in painful, agonising ecstasy. ‘Ahhhh, that’s more like it. Oh yeah. Oh! Yeah . . .’ In half-time to her, in pace with the violin, Colin moves his hips up and down.

Once more, Madame Colti clasps Colin’s hand before he can reach to touch. And then he gasps as she begins to probe inside his sphincter, more professionally than any greedy Harley Street doctor had ever managed to.

‘Like that?’ she mumbles. ‘You said you like that?’

‘Oh, I do,’ Colin replies, grinning and wincing both.

The long nail inside him was scratching a bit, but no more than he had experienced before. It was going deeper. Two nails! Ceaseless pleasures. The red fabric above the bed is dancing, and Colin watches it. Breaths catch in his throat, and then they raced out upon moans. It feels like this woman is eating him alive, while simultaneously tearing him apart. Such sensational sadism. If he is still in one piece and in working order, Colin simply can’t wait until –

Arrrrrgggh! Bite! Why are you so bitey? That really . . . Huuooooaaahhh. Noope!’

Madame Colti’s nails are again at Colin’s neck. As he squirms, they tear little lines along the skin of his collarbone. The finger in his suprasternal notch digs into his throat, restricting Colin’s cries to pathetic whimpers.

After a long, hard suck, Madame Colti slowly lifts her head. The waves of her long, dark hair half-cover her face. Her lips are curled back. Blood drips from her fangs; runs over her chin. It drops down onto Colin’s chest. Now she finally allows Colin to lift his wobbly head.

Colin catches a glimpse of his penis. It is covered in blood, like a tiny newborn thing. Colin’s jaw is bouncing up and down. His body shivers. The flab of his belly wobbles like jelly.

‘Why do I bite, Mister Babb? Because I am a vampire,’ Madame Colti explains, with the most honest simplicity.

In a blur of blood and tears, Madame Colti springs forward. Quicker than Colin’s quivering cowlick, she is upon his neck, sinking her teeth into his jugular, feeding from Colin Babb.

His eyes can do nothing but stare and the room swirling around him. Colin’s mouth is open, but he makes no sound.

*

The basement room is in semi-darkness. No candles are alight, just one lamp in the corner.

Madame Colti picks up the used, red hand towel and slips it into a laundry bin. She walks over to the bed and runs her hand over the fresh sheets, ironing out of the last of the crinkles. The imprint from one of her nails leaves a single line drawn upon the silk. With the pad of her finger, Madame Colti rubs the sheet and the blemish vanishes.

Walking to the record player, Madame Colti lifts the arm and places it in the rest. With her arms above her head, licking the corner of her lips, she stretches her back. The rugs, hanging darkly upon the walls, are still and the chamber is silent. After looking around the room one more time, Madame Colti walks out through the door and she slides it closed behind her.

*

In the office, Margaret is sitting behind the desk, reading a couture magazine. ‘Oh, hello, Madame,’ she says. ‘I didn’t hear you come in. One moment, Madame.’

Margaret goes to the curtains and draws them, shutting off the light of the bright morning.

Tightening the waist band of her kimono, Madame Colti smiles. Entering into the office, she brings with her the sweetish scents of her basement boudoir. Standing across the room from the mirror, reflected within it is only the door and the wall behind Madame Colti.

‘That man,’ she says, stepping across the room, towards the chaise longue. ‘I have never heard anyone scream so loudly. He’s one of the loudest screamers I’ve ever had.’

‘He did leave in rather a hurry,’ Margaret replies, sitting back down with a chuckle. ‘In such a hurry, in fact, that he forgot to take his hat.’

Madame Colti is already holding Colin Babb’s Homburg hat, twirling it around by the rim. ‘He’ll be back, that one,’ she says, dropping the hat at the foot of the chaise longue. ‘Once he stopped crying, he quite enjoyed it.’ Laying back on the sofa, Madame Colti picks up the copy of The Master and Margarita.

‘So it went well, then?’ Margaret asks, her hands in their usual folded manner.

‘It is Saturday night and I am well fed,’ Madame Colti replies with a flourish of her arms, the hanging wings of her kimono fluttering. ‘Although, by his taste, Mister Babb drinks too much, has a terrible diet, and masturbates a lot. Now, I am so full that I just want to read and relax.’

‘Good good. Just before you do, Madame,’ Margaret says. She slips a couple of pieces of paper out of the drawer. ‘We’ve had some enquiries. There is a new gentleman that we’ve not heard from before, going by the name of Lee Cushing, who would be interested in booking a session.’

Lee Cushing? More original than some, I suppose.’

‘Also, Madame . . .’ Margaret raises her eyebrows. To one side, she gives a little tip of her head. ‘There are quite a number of politicians who are keen to book some sessions in. There are very few of them that we haven’t seen here before.’

‘Uh, politicians,’ Madame Colti replies with a roll of her eyes. She pats the cover of the book, sitting on her thigh. ‘If ever you wanna know what greed and delusion mixed with soap taste of, drink the blood of a politician.’

‘Indeed,’ Margaret agrees. Reaching back into the drawer, she pulls out one final piece of paper. ‘I have Mister Babb’s intake form here, Madame, ready for you to mark up the diagram with the areas you treated.’

‘I will,’ Madame Colti replies, noticing, and then, picking at something beneath her nail. ‘But first I must read,’ she says, opening the book.

‘Judging by the way that Mister Babb waddled out of here, I could probably fill out some of the diagram for you,’ Margaret says with a chuckle, pushing the form along the desk.

Through her bright, milky-blue eyes, Margaret looks at Madame Colti lounging on the chaise longue, reading, twirling a finger through her hair. Madame Colti yawns, a reflection of her sharp, bright white teeth glinting upon the ceiling.

‘You do make quite an impression on people, Madame,’ Margaret says quietly, to herself.

With a sigh that could make a rug breathe, beneath her scarf, Margaret strokes the scars of the puncture marks on her neck.