It happened because of a photo. A photo of a naked woman. A red-headed woman down on her knees, licking a bloody knife, over an off-white infinite background. Nothing hardcore to me. But very powerful all the same.
She was neither über-model-thin nor pin-up-plump; rather slender, willowy, a bit curvaceous. Skin very white and spotless, not a tiny freckle on it. So perfect I could only attribute it to the eldritch arts of Photoshop.
Most of her small breasts were covered by the hand that held the knife. The nipples couldn’t be seen. Pubic hairs – if any – weren’t visible as well.
I loved the way the colors of her hair and the blood on the knife and the tongue clashed and contrasted: auburn, copper, red, pink, dark brown. It suited me fine for something I was just thinking of doing then.
But first I had to ask the photographer. He was an old friend and I was visiting him in his studio. We used to get drunk a lot in college days. Now, not so much.
“This is a nice one,” I told him, showing the photo with the naked woman. It was among the first ones in a portfolio wide open on his desk.
“It was a photo shoot for a death metal cover,” he said, showing me the rest of the pictures. Most of them virtually the same scene, with minor variations, and two which deviated a lot from the established template, with arms and legs spread in a number of different angles (yes, she had pubic hairs).
But the first photo still attracted me more.
“Was?” I asked.
He shrugged. “It didn’t pan out. They wanted more of the same. Black and red. Arcane symbols and the like. And less nudity.”
I chuckled. “And you told them to fuck off, right?”
“No,” he said. “I delivered.”
“So much for the old punk spirit, huh?”
He stared at me as if I was joking – or, in retrospect, a jerk; that, I think, is the best option – and said: “Punk has nothing to do with it. I’m a professional. During the briefing, I listen carefully to all the client has to say. After she’s done, I make a few suggestions. The client is free to accept them or not. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t, sometimes they accept everything you say and, when you just finished what you think is the best goddamn photo shoot of your life they shrug and tell you it just wasn’t what they imagined how it would be in the end.”
“Don’t it makes you want to kill someone?”
“No,” he said. “I always charge upfront.”
“So these are already paid for?”
“What are you going to do with them?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“You know, this is just what I’ve been looking for,” I said.
And told him about the porn noir novel.
Nothing hardcore to me: hardboiled detective meets femme fatale who happens to be not only the mastermind behind the very murder-cum-theft he was just hired to solve, but also his long-lost sister, of whose existence he didn’t even know until few weeks before the whole shebang. And, of course, they fall in love before he discovers the truth. Did I mention they also fuck? A lot?
And a red-headed woman down on her knees, licking a bloody knife, over an off-white infinite background, would be just the right thing to spice things up a bit. And, with luck, to help boost sales.
“What do you think?” I asked him.
He shrugged again. The man liked to keep his cool.
“It can be done,” he said. “I can charge you a symbolic fee for it. Just to make things official.”
“But…?” I sensed the but coming as a wall of tear gas in a crowded place.
“But you’ll have to get permission from the model.”
“I thought photographers had the rights over their work.”
“They do. But she’s a friend. I just want to let her know she’s going to mutate from a metal goddess to a pulp vixen.”
We met a couple of days later in a bar near the studio.
She wasn’t red-headed. At least not then. Her hair was black, very black, Bettie-Page black, Dita-Von-Teese black. Her skin, though, was really milk-white. And she had freckles.
“Do I meet your expectations?” she asked me wryly as we shook hands. She did, but I had no words. I only smiled at her and mumbled something I can’t remember, but must have been complimentary, because she smiled too.
The weather was so good we took a table outside and drank draft beer and talked a lot about photos and vintage covers of noir books. We even talked about my short-lived interest in parlor tricks and of how much I had laughed when I saw that scene with the pencil that Heath Ledger did as the Joker in The Dark Knight.
It was a fine evening. Good beer, fine company.
Until the homeless guy appeared.
If his clothes weren’t so tattered and stinky, he could qualify for a model himself. He might have been a handsome man one day. He was a tall, slender man, maybe younger than me. His face had seen better days. His long and tangled hair, though, had no sign of gray; same with the beard.
But he wasn’t any noble beggar. He came up the street wobbling with some difficulty, a bottle of Johnnie Walker’s Red Label almost empty under his armpit, and went right to our table. I was watching the bastard from across the street – I was pretty sure he was coming for us. I’m a magnet for beggars and such. But I wasn’t his target audience, naturally. He took his time, backpedaling, swaying a bit to the side, then straightening up and resuming his journey, which at this point in time was almost a quest. A quest for the model, who happened to be seated right by my side. He finally approached her, leaning over her in a very uncomfortable way, putting himself between us. The stink, the stink.
“Do you want to see a magic trick, beautiful lady?” he asked her in what I could only guess he thought it was a mellifluous voice (it was a rough, bone-dry voice). Then he touched her on the shoulder.
Maybe I shouldn’t have done anything. She didn’t move, didn’t even flinch. Maybe she was being polite, maybe she didn’t care about the guy. Perhaps she was thinking that, if she gave the poor bastard a few moments of her time, he would happily go away and that would be that. I really should be more patient.
I stood up and grabbed the guy by the lapel of his almost disintegrating coat. And said: “Do you want to see ME doing make a magic trick with you? I can make you DISAPPEAR! On the count of five: FIVE, FOUR…”
I felt the pain before the three.
It was so unexpected I yelped and let the man go.
There was a knife in the model’s hand. There was blood in my arm.
“You don’t meet my expectations,” she hissed.
I couldn’t stop looking at the blood flowing down my arm. It didn’t look like a deep wound, but it hurt like fuck.
“He’s a friend,” she said.
I looked up. The homeless guy was gone.
“He had drama classes with her a couple of years ago,” the photographer said. “He modeled for me occasionally.”
The girl only shook her head. And drank.
I was feeling cold. I looked down: my arm was scarlet now, blood flowing freely down my fingers, pooling in the pavement.
“Don’t be a sissy,” the model said as if she read my mind. “You’re not going to die. He is, poor Dan” and pointed with her chin down the street.
“So I guess no photo to me, then,” I thought of saying. But I didn’t. So much for the punk spirit.