LIGHT MY FIRE
By J. T. Seate
Tom and Kendra looked like adult versions of Ken and Barbie dolls come to life; he, with his wavy, well-groomed blond hair and timeless collegiate, ivy-league apparel; and she, with a bouncy gait, bubbly personality, and sweet, blond ponytail tied back with a pink ribbon from her blemish-less complexion. They both brimmed with self-confidence, fitting together like two peas in a pod, borne from a white-bread life of privilege. Who could resist the handsome Adonis and his mate, two paragons of youth, health, and virtue? Certainly not those who opened their doors to them when they posed as a couple of kids working their way through college, or bearing a clipboard bearing signatures for some righteous cause.
The couple loved their work, traveling from place to place, staying in each town’s nicest hotels. Their assignments provided good hours, great pay, and the performance of services most people would be repelled by. But they weren’t most people. Underneath the clean-cut veneer were two stone-cold killers. They were good at playing their parts until safely inside dwellings where their crimes could be hidden from the outside world, at least until bodies were discovered, by which time the cute couple was far away.
Tom and Kendra, who called each other TK— two parts of one whole, were not merely marauding murderers. They worked through a syndicate of professionals, specialists diametrically opposed to swarthy hit men who would look suspicious the minute they walked into a neighborhood.
Mrs. Allen lived in a tidy two-story Tudor on a residential street in a nice, quiet upscale section of town. At the sound of the doorbell, she climbed out of her comfy chair and slowly padded to the front door. She peered through the peephole and spied two young, attractive, blond people on the porch. She was seventy-eight years old and did not want to buy anything or sign anything, but was still curious enough to open her door.
“May I help you?” she offered.
“Hello Grandma Allen,” Kendra gushed. “I’m Marianne’s girlfriend from school. She said you were the sweetest grandmother anyone could have, and that I should look you up when I was in the neighborhood.”
Mrs. Allen looked the young couple over, not sure how to respond. She knew you couldn’t be too careful these days.
“Excuse me and Tom for coming here unexpectedly, but we lost our grandmother recently, and, well…Marianne is such a good friend, we just thought we would stop and say hello.”
Mrs. Allen seldom had company, occasional visits from her son or her granddaughter, but mostly just phone calls. “That’s awfully nice of you.” The couple seemed intent on extending the visit, so Mrs. Allen finally said, “Would the two of you like to come in?”
“Oh that would be delightful,” Kendra almost squealed as Tom smiled affably behind her.
He opened the screen door. The twosome entered the old lady’s home. “How charming,” Kendra said, squeezing her clinched fists beneath her throat. “Marianne said you had a beautiful house.”
“My son bought it for me and his father. Unfortunately, my husband passed a few years ago, so it’s left for me to clean and putter around in, but I do enjoy it.
“Have you talked to Marianne recently?”
“No, but I’ve been wanting to call her. Maybe I’ll do that since you two are here.”
“Oh, we just have a few moments. I’ll call her soon and tell her we met her dear grandmother. She’ll like that.”
Mrs. Allen beamed. “Would you two kids like some cookies and a cup of tea perhaps?”
“Please, ma’am, don’t trouble yourself. But Marianne told me you had some family heirlooms in an upstairs sewing room that Tom and I would love to see. He buys and sells antiques.” She and Tom had been given all the necessary information.
“Yes, but I wouldn’t care to part with them.”
“Oh, he doesn’t want to buy, just have a look, if it’s not too much of an inconvenience.”
“Well, I suppose…But then you must tell me about how you and Marianne know each other. Did you go to school with her? You said you recently lost your grandmother?”
Kendra had provided more prompts than necessary. “Let’s look at the sewing room, and then I’ll tell you everything you’d like to know.”
“Follow me then.”
Mrs. Allen turned from the young people and motioned them to follow. Tom and Kendra traded cock-sure smiles. He was glad he wouldn’t have to knock the old bag out and carry her up the stairs himself.
Her frail form led them across the hall to the stairs. “I’m getting a bit long in the tooth to manage the steps, especially when my arthritis kicks up, but it’s probably good exercise, at least that’s what the doctor tells me.” She chortled for a moment and then started her ascent, hitching one leg up after the other with Tom and Kendra trailing behind.
When the final step was cleared, Tom walked around the old lady to stop her from going further. She looked at him with clear but confused eyes. “The room is just ahead,” she told him.
“Not that you need to know, but your son has been a very bad boy. He owes our employer a lot of money. Maybe the sale of this house will help his situation.”
“I don’t understand,” Mrs. Allen replied. “You’re friends of my granddaughter.”
“Not hardly,” Kendra chimed in. “From what we know about her, she’s a little tramp, fucking everything that’s willing to give her the time of day. We plan on taking care of her next.”
More confused than ever, Mrs. Allen looked from one pretty face to the other. “But you said—”
“What we always say,” Tom answered. “Sugar and spice and everything nice. Have a nice trip, Granny.”
Kendra stepped aside. Tom took hold of Mrs. Allen’s shoulders. He could feel the bones inside her thin flesh. He straightened his arms and forced her to the last step, and shoved her down the stairs. The woman tumbled head over heels, crash, thud. Tom and Kendra followed her down in a conventional manner. One of Mrs. Allen’s legs was bent back on itself and her arms twisted unnaturally. She looked like a bag of broken sticks.
Tom checked her pulse. “Not dead yet, but it won’t be long,” he told Kendra.
Mrs. Allen’s eyed fluttered for a moment, and then froze. They both listened to her final breath, the death rattle, her face frozen in a grimace of pain.
“Tsk, tsk,” Tom said. “Deader than the proverbial doornail. Leave it to the funeral director to put a happy face on her.” He smiled at his accomplice. “Glad the fall killed her. Keeps things simple.”
“She was ancient anyway. She won’t be missing much,” Kendra answered with little emotion.
“Happy endings are so rare. They can vanish with no more than a nudge down a flight of stairs.”
“But not for us.”
“Not for us. We’ll go on forever.” Tom glanced at their latest victim one last time as if she was no more than a broken toy. “Job done. Darling Marianne next. If dad doesn’t come up with the dough after we kidnap her, then —”
“We get to kill her too,” Kendra said hopefully.
“Or we do her then him as well. A Trifecta.”
“Another one bites the dust for Team Snuff.” The couple high-fived. “Hey, let’s split and go ‘do it’,” Kendra added with even more enthusiasm. “Dead bodies always make me horny.”
“Don’t I know it, but try to think about a basal cell carcinoma, or a peptic ulcer until we wipe the place down.”
“Oh, you,” she giggled, her body bouncy.
“Wipe the doorknob, double-check for anything tracked in, and we’re outta here.”
* * *
Marianne was on the heavy side and would be the first to acknowledge the fact. When asked once if she enjoyed preparing meals, she responded by saying, “If you’re asking me if I like to cook, I’m wearing the answer.” She didn’t mind that she’d lost her figure, or that the string-bean, strung-out party chick she’d been a few years ago had been buried in a deep hole. That Marianne was dead, but the close connection to her Grammy had remained.
Marianne heard the knock at the door of her condominium. She approached the door with reservation. Like Grammy always said, you can’t be too careful. “Yes?”
“Special delivery for a Ms. Allen,” said a young, perky voice.
Marianne opened the door to a man and woman wearing uniforms of some kind. Not UPS, but close. She marveled at how beautiful the two people were, very blond, very Scandinavian. The man held a large package wrapped in brown paper.
“Hello,” the man said. “This is rather heavy. May I set it on a table for you?”
“Just here, around the corner on the kitchen table will be fine.”
The woman followed the man inside. The room seemed to energize in the presence of the two bubbly delivery people. The box bore Grandmother Allen’s return address. There was nothing inside, of course, but Marianne wouldn’t know that.
“Do I have to sign anything?”
“No,” said the young woman, “but what is that wonderful smell?” The note of flirtation in her tone wasn’t necessarily directed at Marianne. It was just a habit, quite possibly permanent.
“Fresh baked cookies, a new recipe, and I promised to share them with my very first visitors. Please, have a seat and sample.”
Baking friggin’ cookies must be a thing in this family, Kendra mused as she looked at Tom and smiled like a Barbie doll on a date with Ken. He shrugged his shoulders. They watched their calorie intake, but what harm could one cookie do and it would put their next victim at ease. They sat at the small table as Marianne pushed the package aside to make room for the plate of warm cookies.
“How about a cup of coffee?”
“We don’t drink coffee, Marianne, but it’s certainly kind of you to offer.”
“You know my name?”
“It’s on the package,” Kendra said before sampling the cookie.
Ken chewed as well. “Interesting taste. Kind of tart. My mother would love to have your recipe if she were still alive.”
“I’ll give it to the young lady if she is as enthusiastic as you.”
“Kendra and Tom,” Kendra said.
“A pleasure to meet you. Anyone ever call you two the Gold Dust Twins?”
“People like to turn others into objects, don’t they?” Kendra added, glancing at Tom with a knowing smile. “We’ve been called many things. Mostly Ken and Barbie, and we’re much more than friends. We belong to an exclusive club.”
Tom looked shocked. Kendra had become more cavalier of late, sometimes saying things that could put their victim on guard. His eyes turned steely in hopes she would put a lid on it.
“I’m sure you two could belong to anything you chose,” Marianne replied. “I’m so glad you like my cookies. Take one with you if you want. I’ll never finish them all myself.”
“You look like you could.”
Marianne looked at Kendra. “Well, dear, some of us are disciplined in other areas.”
“We better get going,” Tom quickly interjected. “If I could just use your bathroom…”
“Certainly, Tom. Anything you need, feel free.”
Tom excused himself. He would flush the toilet and then ask about some object in a place beyond sight of the front door. When Marianne came to comment, Kendra would grab hold of her arms while he took a saturated cloth from the plastic bag in his pocket and hold it tightly over her nose and mouth.
That was the plan, but something didn’t feel right. While he stood in Marianne’s bathroom, his mind seemed to cloud up. The room began to swirl. He tried to steady himself against the glass shower door, but felt himself fading. It was Kendra he called rather than Marianne as he sat down on the toilet seat. He heard something disturbing on his way toward oblivion, something hitting the floor in the kitchen and he knew it wasn’t their hostess.
* * *
Consciousness returned to Tom and Kendra at about the same time. As Tom swam his way out of the blackness, he wondered if he was paralyzed. Then he realized he still had feeling in his hands and feet. He looked down.
Bindings. Oh, sweet Jesus.
Tom and Kendra sat back to back, tied to matching kitchen chairs. They were able to twist their necks far enough to realize they were both naked, their body’s exposed. Marianne stood to one side of them as if nothing were amiss, as if they were just continuing the conversation before she’d subdued them with the cookies’ ingredients.
“Epinephrine, the stuff in those asthma inhalers. A little risky, but neither of you look like the sickly type. Couldn’t have hauled the two of you around without the help of something more than my cookie recipe.”
This was the only time someone had been expecting Tom and Kendra, ready for them, and not having the upper hand was a true bummer. A smear of dried blood rested on each captive’s forearm from a syringe injection. “I don’t know what you think you’re doing,” Tom groggily offered.
“I think you do. Such a lovely couple to have such horrible habits.”
Trying to clear her head, Kendra looked at the heavyset woman. “I’m sorry if we offended you in some way. We just wan —”
“You can stop the playacting, my dear. I knew something was wrong with my grandmother. We’re clairvoyant, you see. I drove over and found her the way you left her. I knew it was no accident and I could sense this was the act of someone who would come for me or my father next. Dad always gets himself in deep ca-ca. I couldn’t care less about him actually, but my Grammy is a different story. We have a bond deeper than what is seen. I knew someone would be coming soon.” Marianne paused to admire the bodies of the couple as they strained at their bindings. “I had a figure like yours once,” she said to Kendra. “I misused my body and mind for some time. It was Grammy who helped me out of that dark hole.”
Marianne ran her hand over Tom’s chest and down the front of his torso. He flinched. She then ogled Kendra. “You are just too perfect, little girl. Your pink fingernails and toenails match the color of your nipples perfectly. I can almost imagine the two of you owning a little pink trailer just like Ken and Barbie.”
Marianne was in the mood to talk. She seldom had a captive audience. “When I was thin, I had bruises on my arms and legs from running into tables and chairs and the corners of things. Then I went through that phase where I ran into a lot of wrong men. I’m still kind of clumsy, but the bruises don’t show much with the extra padding. Sometimes less perfect is better.
“Ever hear the tale of a beautiful woman who took pride in her delicate feet above all else. She soaked them in warm oils. Then Lanolin was applied to the soles, arches, and ankles. The result was feet of perfection without calluses or blemishes. They were powdered and perfumed to smell as fetching as they appeared. Only a few people, men and women alike, the special ones, understood how important her feet were to her. They were the ones allowed to caress them and make her pretty painted toes wiggle in blissful anticipation. The adoration her wondrous feet drew was of utmost importance. They were the blessing that accompanied a horrible curse. It was no wonder the woman took such pride in her tantalizing tootsies, for she had no arms.”
Her reverie came to an end. She studied the beautiful, naked couple a moment longer. The tape wrapped beneath Kendra’s breasts made it look as if she’d fallen out of a silvery tube top. Tom was the Arian warrior wearing a strip of shiny armor beneath his pecs. There was no envy reflected in Marianne’s expression, only resoluteness when she said, “Don’t worry. I didn’t fondle you or anything while you were out. I’m not like that. It’s just that clothes get in the way if you’re going to burn skin.” She sighed heavily. “What a waste. Well, time to get the show on the road.”
She abruptly left the kitchen.
“What do we do now? How the hell did chubby know about us?” Kendra shouted.
Tom strained at the duct tape holding his wrists and chest to the chair. “Said she was telepathic, or some such shit. She must’ve —”
Marianne swept back into the room “Go ahead and speculate all you want. Won’t change the situation.” She was holding a blowtorch, and it was lit.
The couple went stiff with terror. “You must be insane,” Tom hissed.
“Not quite, my little chickadee. I’ve always been fascinated by evil. I’ve flirted with it, been tempted by it, but only now have I fallen in love with it. You should never have messed with someone who is clairvoyant.”
“Are those endorphins kicking in, or is bumping off a nice old lady all that excites you?” she asked of Tom.
“I’ll answer your questions,” he whined.
“I don’t have any questions. I know what you two did. This is about paying for your crimes.”
“You’ll never get away with this.”
“We’ll see,” Marianne said with a benign expression that reminded Tom of Kathy Bates in the movie, Misery.
“Help!” Kendra screamed.
“Please, not so loud. The condo walls are pretty soundproof, but you can never be too careful. Can’t have you upsetting any neighbors, now can I. I better fix you.” Marianne set the torch down long enough to slap tape over Tom and Kendra’s mouths.
Kendra’s eyes welled with tears.
“Cue tears and claps of sympathy. Last act of scoundrels — to beg,” Marianne said with a glint of maniacal humor. “Humans are like fruit, soft and vulnerable under the outer skin. My Grammy was vulnerable. Let’s see how vulnerable you can be.” She twisted the knob on the torch giving the flame strength and distance. She moved in front of Tom. His penis and scrotum, seeking self-preservation, receded a centimeter. He hadn’t thought about screaming until after his captor had slapped the tape over his mouth. “Revenge is the Auschwitz of emotions, I suppose,” Marianne added, “but there are times when all one wants is a slow, painful revenge.”
The ringing of the kitchen phone sliced through the mounting tension, the jarring sound of the bell alternating with the constant hiss of the torch. Marianne moved a few steps and plucked the receiver.
“Hello…? Hi daddy…. Yes, they arrived just like I told you they would.… I know…. I’m just as distraught about Grammy as you are, but these two will pay for…what…? Yes, two of them, Ken and Barbie. You know those little dolls they make for girls. These two are the grown-up version. I want to get to work on them. You just worry about the people who sent them. Yes, I’ll save something for you. Don’t worry…. Bye. Love you.”
Marianne sighed. “What a phony he is.” She hung up and turned her attention back to her captives, her grin now more of a psychotic leer. “Just like the two of you.”
* * *
Tom’s mind raced like a hive of panicked bees; fear cold around his heart. He’d been immobilized by a supposed victim, a hellacious, unacceptable humiliation. There wasn’t going to be any cavalry, no last minute rescue, just torture and pain. He had a brief vision of his corpse lying next to Kendra’s, together till the end, their respective genitals burned off.
Marianne moved the torch’s howling blue flame between Tom’s thighs. He grimaced unflatteringly. The tendons in his neck stood out like pulley-wires as excruciating pain ripped through his body. His pubic hair disintegrated into brittle strands. Although his legs were bound together at the ankles, he mustered the strength to raise them and kick forward into Marianne’s stomach. The woman lost her balance and fell backwards crashing onto the floor. With a rush of adrenalin, he lifted up his side of the entanglement and dragged Kendra over to Marianne before she could scramble to her feet. The chairs tilted sideways. The weight of their occupants made them tumble sideways in a heap pinning Marianne underneath, her legs lodged between those of the chairs and her arms pinned awkwardly under all the weight.
Amidst the almost humorous tangle of bodies, the dropped torch lay on its side and teased the hem of Marianne’s dress. Then the dress caught fire. She screamed. Neither she nor the bound couple could get up nor roll away from the quickly spreading blaze. The rug beneath the kitchen table ignited. Flames quickly searched for more fuel, from the rug to the table cloth. The empty box caught quickly, and then the wooden table and chairs holding Tom and Kendra together, one fire-worm spawning another, and another, like a living thing devouring all hope. Mingled with the whoosh of the fire, the screams beneath Tom stirred a cauldron of human stew as the horror of the situation engulfed them.
The blaze leaped to the curtains as if a supernatural breath directed it, rapidly eating oxygen, the temperature sufficient to cook flesh while melting garments sizzled against skin. Locked in a contorted embrace, the fire consumed the three twisting and turning bodies as they combusted, actually becoming the fire. With duct tape peeling away, Tom’s and Kendra’s screams joined with Marianne’s until the breath burning inside their bodies made screaming impossible. They became no more than lumps of charred flesh and burned hair.
What a shame Marianne’s psychic powers did not cover all contingencies. The Snuff Team’s tormentor may have been clairvoyant, perhaps even diabolic, but she hadn’t planned her torture scene very well. Stick a hot flame on someone’s genitals and their ability to respond had best not be left to chance. The house fire had altered the features of the bodies into a horror movie rictus. Hair, noses, and lips had been seared away. Ears were burned down to nubs leaving little more than macabre grimaces. In death, the threesome was fused together into a black mound making it hard to tell where one ended and the other began.
Daddy arrived just after the fire department. Upon discovering the fate of his daughter, he headed for parts unknown. Arson investigators swarmed over the burnt-out condo like vultures cleaning an animal carcass. An altercation amongst the three dead people had certainly taken place. Although fingers and toes had been burned away, it took little time to discover the identity of the woman who lived there, but the other two victims remained a mystery. All the investigators had to go on was the description given by another neighbor about a young, blond couple entering the building earlier in the day.
Sketches were made. Eventually, a hotel reported a couple who had never checked out. Security video showed the twosome in the lobby and on an elevator. The condo description and the videos matched, but that was as far as they got. A connection between Marianne’s fire and the death of her grandmother had sent her father into hiding, a situation which authorities were pursuing.
The Snuff Team’s demise was a blow to their employer, a bit of business gone horribly wrong, but they’d had a successful run. They had died young and pretty, at least until the blazing flames of eternal retribution had taken them. But then, the Ken and Barbie look-alikes had always danced to their own fiery beat.
J. T. Seate is author of the popular Inspector Basham stories. Seven Inspector Basham stories have been published online at omdb! — “Turn About” (November, 2012), “Letting Off Some Steam” (June, 2013), “The Case of the Open Grave” (October, 2013), “Basham's Theory” (April, 2014), “St. Andrew’s Cross” (August, 2014), “Cat and Mouse” (December, 2014), and “Winds of Change” (March, 2015). Five non-series stories have also been published here on omdb! — “The Thompson Kid” (December, 2014), “The Songbird” (August, 2014), “The Constant Reader” (April, 2013), “Mask” (March, 2013), “Montezuma's Revenge” (January, 2013).
The author’s other publishing credits include six novels/novellas, a dozen one-author anthologies, and more than two hundred short stories and memoirs.Recent publications can be found at www.melange-books.com and www.museituppublishing.com for those who like their tales intertwined with the paranormal. See it all at www.troyseateauthor.webs.com and on amazon.com. You may also wish to visit the author's blog.
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