~~~

Diane Conley stood uncomfortably behind the long leather bar. She was trying to breathe in the red silk nightgown wrapped too snugly around her muscular form. She used her one good arm to pull the back of the costume down over her ass and as much of her exposed legs as she could. She also readjusted two slender straps over her broad shoulders to reduce the amount of cleavage she was never aware she had until being forced into this humiliating role as one of Candyman’s personal evening attendants. She always felt like her annoying breasts were on the verge of either popping out of the top of the low-cut material or suffocating beneath. Her long brown hair was tied up in an elaborate braid that always made her long neck feel like a flimsy stick supporting a mountain of hair. On her best days she wanted to just rip her hair out and scream.

The worst part of wearing the ridiculous lack of clothing and trying her best to appear oblivious to it under Candyman’s amused glances was the fact that it left the stub of what was left of her right arm completely exposed, making her feel like some hideous beast trying to appear sexy by exaggerating the rest of her undamaged parts.

Diane never felt sexy.

The hunter reached nervously across her chest with her left arm to cover her nipples pushing out against the silk like arrowheads—another embarrassing feature on the surface of her strange upper body she had not thought about since her awkward developing days of youth. She reached over, resting her left hand over the stump of her right arm and tried to breathe normally. She closed her eyes and forced her thoughts away from her freakshow flesh and started preparing her mind for another verbal battle against the leader of New Cleveland.

At lease Nine’s not here. I’d die if he ever caught me in these whore clothes and gave me that sad, defeated look like I… like I just stopped fighting and gave up my self-respect. How could he ever love me after seeing me like… this? The hunter balled her only fist and started to shake in anger.

The tall slender coat hanger, Nadia, who had been assigned to watch over her while in Candyman’s sickening ‘love palace’ trailer, came over and draped the red silk cape she’d mercifully acquired over Diane’s exposed shoulders, fluffing it over her absent right arm. “That better?” she asked, in that motherly tone that Diane absolutely detested. Nadia could see right through her in these moments, making her feel like the nervous, misfit teen staring at herself in the mirror before Prom night.

“Yes… thank you,” Diane said, accepting the help with more humility than she knew she was capable of. She’d had to lean heavily on Nadia these last two weeks to maintain her composure before Candyman’s nightly ‘interrogations’. As much as she was offended by the whore who seemed perfectly as ease fucking that nasty old man every night, Diane had been caught off-guard by the amount of kindness and tenderness Nadia had reserved for her.

Nadia had shaken off Diane’s initial judgmental looks and rude remarks with a patient smile while trying her best to make the hunter feel comfortable. Not only did Nadia have to dress her every evening due to Diane’s missing appendage, but the blond-haired woman took Diane’s mind off the whole humiliating affair by poking fun at both their appearances and forms, shaking her head, and making general comments about how simple men could be. Nadia often spoke of the lesser counterpart’s need to downgrade a woman’s true beauty in cheap apparel, showing how stupid they really were. Over the last two weeks, Diane started seeing the young woman in a different light, understanding that both of them were forced into servitude, and both had needed to find a way to accept their roles. Nadia had just been at it for much longer.

The real turning point between them was when the young woman had lost her temper only once, turning to her after day three, right after hearing Diane call her the town slut for the ‘umpteenth’ time, and with a serious face, had said, “Look bitch, it’s bad enough that I have to sleep with the man. Do you think I was always Candyman’s whore? You think I can’t be replaced in a moment and thrown back out in the streets? You and I could both be in far worse situations than this… especially you!”

Diane had been shocked by the woman’s sudden steel, standing there while the coat-hanger waved a threatening finger in her face.

“You should be grateful that I’m the one fucking that man every night… and that I do it well! It’s only because I’m here that you’re not having your shaky legs spread out all over those nasty sheets, or that he doesn’t have a handful of Lunatics turn you over on your stomach while he rips your ass apart! Consider that carefully the next time you disrespect me, bitch! You should be kissing my ass for all that I provide that man… and that he only wants to talk to you. All I’m trying to do is help you look that man in the eye each night while he enjoys seeing you dressed and debased like this!”

From there on, Diane had understood just how little control she really had, and that Nadia was correct. Ever since, they’d formed a bond, each helping the other play their ‘parts’ as best they could in Candyman’s fucked-up world while confiding in each other about the day’s affairs.

“What am I doing here, Nadia?” Diane said. “I mean, look at me. I’m not attractive by any stretch of the imagination, or any way you ‘stretch’ one of these thin gowns over my misshapen bumps. I’m definitely not very good a pouring the man’s fucking drinks that he makes me pour one-handed while he talks me to a slow painful death. So, what’s the man’s game?”

Nadia laughed lightly and leaned against the leather bar, looking un-lady like as she reached within her top and scratched the top her left breast. She stared into Diane’s face, squinted her eyes, then raised a hand to wipe a speck off Diane’s cheek, causing the hunter to flinch, just a little. Nadia pulled back and smiled. She reached under the bar and brought out two shot glasses. “What are you having tonight?”

Diane laughed. “Your choice this time. That shit’s all the same to me.”

Nadia laughed. “Tequila it is,” she said, reaching back and retrieving a bottle from the shelf. She filled both shot glasses. “This always takes the edge off the fastest.”

Both women grabbed their shots.

Nadia downed hers first like a professional, slamming her glass on the counter. She followed it with a very un-lady like belch that caused them both to laugh.

“One more?” she said.

“Of course,” Diane said, consuming her drink with a sour face. “But just one more… that’s shit’s horrible.”

Nadia laughed and poured.

Diane smiled at the slender woman. Under different circumstances, in a distant life before the dead destroyed their world, the hunter could picture the two of them in the small country town where she’d grown up, tearing up the local bar, getting shit-faced and arriving home late as hell. Nadia would’ve been the attractive ex-cheerleader type, getting them into trouble with the local boys while Diane would’ve been the less-attractive, but no-shit-taking friend, who would’ve shut down all their advances while keeping blonde from getting out of hand when those boys got a little too ‘touchy feely’.

Nadia downed the second shot as quickly as the first, making her eyes briefly roll to the back of her head. “Yeah,” she said. “That is awful… but the second was definitely better,” she teased.

Diane drank the second shot much slower, then shook her head in disgust. “No… you’re wrong about that. Think the first shot’s warped your perception.”

Nadia giggled. “Or the three I had earlier.” She added a wink.

Diane shook her head with a smile. “Seriously, though. Where’s this headed. I mean… the man needs you, obviously. But why I am here?”

Nadia’s good humor started to fade. She looked away and said, “You’re a smart girl. You’ve been here long enough to figure that out. It’s all about the control.”

“So, seeing me in this cheap shit costume every night when Candyman knows I could reach across the table and snap his fucking neck gives him a thrill because he gets to see me on a leash?”

Nadia nodded. “You’re like the wild animal he gets to tame,” she said. “No offense, but you aren’t cut out for those clothes, and he knows that.”

“Thanks… bitch.”

Nadia snickered, then looked at her thoughtfully and said, “It’s not about how you look, clothes on or off. It’s about what he can control. If he can make you, the fierce killer who has lived outside as long as you have, even surviving minus an arm, if he can dress you up like one of his whores and make you squirm because he knows you can’t ‘kill’ that dress as easily as you could kill him, well… then he’s tipped the scales in his favor.”

“But there’s got to be more to it than that.”

“Of course, there is,” Nadia said. “He’s pumping you for whatever information he can about what’s ‘out there’. But he’s also keeping tabs on you and your friends.”

“More control,” Diane said with a nod. “While dodging all my careful probes he’s telling me exactly what he wants to tell me, while asking me all his veiled questions.”

“He’s waiting for you to slip up and confirm something he already suspects, or, he’s simply reminding you, and your friends, that he holds all the cards. He knows your people are reluctant to play along with his rules, even if you all agreed to being auctioned. Him talking to you is both prying into your business while maintaining that unspoken threat that he could still reach out and have all your friends just… disappear… like that.” Nadia snapped her fingers for effect.

Diane frowned. “So, I’m here as his unofficial messenger, and his unintentional spy.”

“Among other things,” Nadia said. “I don’t pretend to understand everything that goes on in that man’s head. But I know enough to know that he’s always thinking several steps ahead. I’m as close to him as anyone, and I still don’t know anything more than what he intends for me to know… and he points it out to me on a regular basis that he knows that I’m not here because I want to be. No matter how hard I pretend and make him want to believe that, he knows I’m here because I have to be, just like you. A man like that, who lets dangerous women like us this close to him, without fear, is either fucking insane… or extremely dangerous.”

“Or both,” Diane said.

Nadia frowned and nodded.

They both looked up as they heard Candyman moving around on the second floor of the trailer.

“It’s show time,” Nadia said. “You ready?”

Diane nodded. “Yeah. I know how this works. Thanks, by the way.”

“For what?”

“For just… keeping it real. I didn’t always appreciate it, in the beginning and all, but… you know.”

Nadia smiled. “You’re welcome.”

They could hear Candyman approaching the second-floor landing.

“I gotta go,” Nadia said. “You’ve got your part to play down here. I’ve got mine to play… up there,” she said, nodding to the bedroom. “We’ll talk later.”

“Okay,” Diane said.

“Remember, stay on your toes during his dark moods,” Nadia advised. “Sometimes he’s just agitated, but sometimes that’s a whole different game he’s playing.”

“What do you mean?”

“Just… be careful. Play the part, but always be aware that you may have to adapt to a sudden change in the script. He could be testing you at any time.”

Diane left it at that.

Nadia walked out from behind the bar to meet Candyman on the stairs before heading up.

The hunter waited nervously for their nightly conversation.

She could hear Nadia on the stairs, laughing flirtatiously at one of Candyman’s comments. Diane smiled and shook her head. Bedroom or not, she often wondered which of them had the easier part to play.

~~~

The long silences were the worst.

Three long leather sofas, centered in the large trailer, formed a ‘u’ pattern before a long glass coffee table. Candyman sat in his swivel chair, its long back facing her, as he continued to stare at his fake fireplace heater. All she could see of the older man was his right arm holding the half-full glass of scotch.

Diane waited uncomfortably on the middle couch, directly opposite the man’s chair on the other side of the table, the bottle of scotch at the ready should he need a refill. She was sitting up, legs together, trying to will the too-short silk gown over her trembling knees but only managing to keep her one hand resting in her lap to keep the thin material still at the base of her thighs. She stared at the paneled walls, trying to kill the time by pretending to admire the various artwork for the thousandth time, hoping she at least appeared calm.

On the inside, her mind was on overload, trying to anticipate the various verbal landmines Candyman might pose when and if he decided to speak to her at all. Sometimes he just sat in his chair for an hour, forgetting she was in the room. Other times, he’d stare at her from behind the scotch glass as if examining this strange creature sitting before him for the first time, asking questions that seemed to come from all over the place, always threatening to throw her off-guard and get her to say too much, or too little.

And then there was the exhausting role play when he was feeling amused and wanted to toy with her. It was no big secret that Candyman had illegally purchased her at auction, using another of his associates to buy her out in his stead. During the day, Diane ran errands in town for her fake owner, who she’d never met, that went by the name, Mr. Johnson. She’d been placed in a small trailer, near Candyman’s courtyard, presumably owned by Mr. Johnson. Every morning two rough looking men showed up at her trailer door with a list of incidental items for her to shop for in town. The men, mercenaries for hire like Sergeant Hash, were her assigned escort and protection. They never spoke to her. She was expected to parade herself in town with her escorts to maintain the illusion that she was Mr. Johnson’s errand girl, attempting to throw off the town gossipers who suspected the truth but didn’t dare speak it out loud. In truth, Diane never knew if any of the items she was sent to retrieve mattered, or if it was all just part of the ruse. One benefit to getting to walk around town was that it gave her a better sense of the town and where everything was. Each day, when her assigned runs were complete, the two men left her trailer, and she was free to do as she pleased until the men returned late in the evening to escort her to Candyman’s trailer. In her down time, Diane busily scribbled down every detail she could remember on a rough map she was putting together, hidden within her trailer.

Diane closed her eyes and took a deep breath as she thought about the rest of the ruse.

Each night, after being escorted discreetly to Candyman’s trailer, she’d spend time with Nadia until it was time for her nightly conversations. The remainder of the role play involved her sneaking away in the night to presumably meet up with Candyman, who had worked out a quiet arrangement with Mr. Johnson to use the one-armed errand girl for sex, and God-only-knew what else. This also gave the gossipers something to chew on since this was a common practice between owners who wanted to do favors for their powerful friends.

The humiliating part of the whole ruse was Candyman’s insistence that she ‘practice’ her end of the fiction by making it seem as though she were grateful for the honor to be Candyman’s secret girl, provided by the gracious Mr. Johnson as a nightly gift, in the hope that one day Candyman might ask her to remain, rather than have to return to her owner. This, of course, could not happen, but was for the benefit of the occasional guests that Candyman entertained in his trailer, who also suspected the truth about the auction, but had also heard the rumors about Candyman’s bizarre attraction to the one-armed girl. He insisted that she needed to keep playing the part so that they would return to their lots, laughing with each other about the leader of New Cleveland’s latest girl.

“It’s all about appearances, Diane,” Candyman had told her the first night he’d spent talking to her about the ruse. “Everyone plays their parts and does what’s expected, and the rest falls into place.”

Since then, he was adamant that she put on a convincing performance, proving to him that she really did want to be there, even when it was just the two of them, so that she would be just as convincing in front of all those prying eyes, and wagging tongues, when such occasions occurred.

But Diane knew the truth. Candyman simply enjoyed watching her squirm, playing the secret mistress that Candyman might one day keep at his side, should she prove worthy.

Diane started to fidget.

Candyman continued to ignore her from his chair.

Say something! Say anything! her mind screamed at him.

The silences were the hardest games to deal with. She never knew if she was expected to speak first, and failed, or, if Candyman had finally figured out what she and the others were up to when they secretly met together.

Fortunately, tonight was not one of those nights.

“So, how was your day?” he said in that deep melodic voice, laced with poison. Candyman finally turned around in his chair. He was wearing one of his bath robes, exposing the top his hairy old chest just beneath that sly old face and cunning stare behind his thin glasses. He held his glass of scotch up in front of him, turned the glass in a short circle to watch the fluid within move, and then took a slow slip, never breaking eye contact with Diane.

Diane smiled at the old asshole. She really believed she was getting better at it. “Oh, the usual,” she said, understanding immediately from the indifferent question about her day, which was nothing more than a cue, what was expected. “Did a little shopping in town. How was your day… dear?” That last bit she always struggled with no matter how many times she rehearsed it with Nadia.

Candyman smiled, placing the glass on the table. He ran a hand through his tied back silver hair and yawned. “It’s never easy running this town, but somehow… I managed to survive another day,” he said, in a jovial tone.

Diane laughed lightly, something else she’d had to practice. She immediately went to refill the man’s glass with scotch. “Same old shit, different day, I assume.” She filled the glass from the bottle.

“Something like that,” he said, retrieving the glass. “Thank you, honey.” He took another sip and then paused for effect. “Some days are just particularly trying.”

“That bad?” she said, leaning back on the couch and trying to look relaxed as she crossed her legs. The next part always made her want to crawl out of her own skin. “Is there anything I could do to help you relax?” A crooked smile was all she could manage.

Candyman raised an eyebrow at her and then laughed. “No. No thank you. The scotch and the company are fine.”

“Anything you want to talk about, then? You know I’m… here for you.”

“That’s nice to hear. But you really don’t mean that.”

“You know that I do,” she said, putting her shaky legs up on the couch in an attempt at appearing more at ease. She leaned against the arm of the sofa. “I’m all ears. What’s troubling you?”

He smirked at the girl and said, “You know I can’t keep you here forever. Johnson’s a good friend, allowing us this time together and all… but… I fear he may not be getting his money’s worth from you while I steal you away every night.”

“It’s no bother… really. I like spending time with you. It’s the highlight of my day, in truth. My owner, as much as I appreciate what he does for me, he practically ignores me. When I get to come here, and talk with you, I feel so much better.”

“So, you’re happy in New Cleveland? He treats you well?”

“You treat me better,” she added with another awkward smile. “Maybe I could just… you know… stay here?”

“Okay,” he said. “That’s enough.”

“Excuse me?”

“Lower the act, Diane.” His pleasant tone was replaced by an irritated one.

She immediately tensed up as she sat back up on the couch. Shit, now what?

“Did I… did I do something wrong?” she said.

He ignored her question. “You’ve gotten a little better with Nadia’s help. But you’re far from convincing. It might help if you didn’t shake constantly and learned how to smile. You’re horrendous at it.”

The ruse was up. Diane exhaled deeply and let her shoulders drop. “Maybe if you didn’t force me to wear these sickening whore clothes, I’d have something to smile about.”

This made Candyman crack up. “There she is,” he said through laughter. “Now that’s real!”

Diane waited. She knew he appreciated her bluntness, if not her acting skills. But she also knew that she had to tread very carefully.

“My discomfort never fails to provide you with amusement, does it?” she said.

He smiled at her behind his glass. “You are correct. Seeing you like this does provide me some entertainment at the end of the long day. I do thank you for that.”

She gave him her best ‘fuck you’ smile. Also, genuine.

He laughed again. “Oh, Diane. How long will we do this, I wonder. I guess that depends on whether I continue to find you amusing.”

She said nothing.

He stared at her gown, making her feel miserable as she pulled in vain at the fabric to cover what she could. “I suppose, in your own sort of way, you are a woman beneath all that silk. But I struggle to discover it.”

She glared at him, but remained silent, surprising herself.

He leaned over and put his chin in his hands. “But there is something alluring behind those dark eyes of yours. Yes… even now… there’s a fire there that I find particularly arousing.”

Diane averted her eyes.

“Relax. That was merely an observation.” He sat back in his chair and stared at her thoughtfully. “I wonder if I’ve taken the wrong course of action with someone like yourself.”

She looked up. “What do you mean?”

“Well, I’d hoped by now that our conversations would be a little more… forthcoming… considering the amount of tolerance I’ve shown you and your friends. But maybe the fault lies with me.”

She said nothing.

“You clearly lack in ways other woman have learned to master. Not that you’re physically unattractive, don’t get me wrong, but it takes more than parts. There’s something to be said about a woman who has learned how to wield what they possess. Don’t you agree?”

“I’ve never given it much thought,” she spat.

“And it shows.”

“Thank you.”

“But there is definitely something about you, something the typical woman doesn’t possess. Albeit, you’re certainly not pleasant on the eyes, no matter how much silk is applied, but there is still… something. You have a certain, caged animal-like quality that when pushed into a corner, you thrive at the game. And whether a woman is like Nadia, or someone like you, both of you play your version of the game very well.”

Again, Diane remained silent.

“But I digress. My point is, I had hoped our conversations would have evolved beyond this ‘cat and mouse’ scenario by now… and again… I believe I’m to blame. You and I talk around every subject and neither of us achieve what we want. And that waste of time and effort, is costly. I intended to strip you of your weapons, steal your ‘cutting edge’, so to speak, by dressing you up like my little doll and removing you entirely from your element of battle and blood and depositing you in silk and skin… to throw you off-balance and tip the scales to my advantage. That has not worked out since I’ve only pushed you further into that proverbial corner where the wild animal thrives.” Candyman paused, taking a deep breath. “How do you suppose we overcome this barrier, Diane, and stop speaking in circles?”

Diane considered the baited question carefully. “For starters,” she said, “we might be able to reach common ground if you started showing me some respect, as a woman or otherwise, by giving me my clothes back and stop holding this silk to my throat like your weapon.”

Candyman raised an eyebrow. “Indeed. Please, go on. What else?”

“Second, your veiled threats against my friends, that’s not going to get you what you want. If you want honest dialogue between us, leave them out of it. You’re trying to get me to tell you that we’re up to something behind your back when all we’re trying to do is honor our agreement and eventually, leave your town.”

He nodded. “Anything else?”

Diane paused, and said, “Make a promise to me now, in writing so that its binding by your own rules, that you will release us when our debts are paid… and I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”

“Interesting,” Candyman said, leaning back in his chair. “And that’s all I needed to do to get us to share a more meaningful exchange all this time?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you, Diane,” he said. “This time, I believe you. It’s very clear to me now what matters to you, and why I’ve failed to reach you. But most importantly, I now understand where I’ve wasted the most time.”

Shit… I fucked up!

He took another sip of his scotch. “I’m sorry to say that I can’t help you with your latter requests, but I can remedy the weapon at your throat. Your right, of course, it’s not been very productive.”

“Where is this going?” she said.

He gave her a puzzled look. “I’m talking about the silk. I’ll not force you to wear it any longer. Please, stand up and remove it immediately.”

“Excuse me?” Diane’s attempt at maintaining her calm composure was slipping. Candyman had enjoyed watching her squirm, unbalanced in the uncomfortable ensembles he forced her to wear, but he’d never taken it any further, until now.

He looked away as if already bored with the whole affair. He took another sip from his glass and said, “Don’t make me repeat myself, Diane. I’m trying to honor your first request. You’ve stated that these clothes that I’ve dressed you in have been a source of strain on our discussions. I now see your point. We’ll remedy that this instant.”

“That’s not what I meant!”

Candyman leaned forward and gave her a hard look. “The gown… stand up and remove it… now… or you’ll force me to get nasty for wasting more of my valuable time. Or, if you prefer, I could take out my frustrations for your insolence on something you do value—like your friends—for something as trivial as the removal of a silly scrap of silk.”

~~~

Next Episode 50-5

Previous Episode 50-3

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 50-4: Amusement” Copyright © 2019 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother. All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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