The Princess and the Monster
Author's note: I thought I'd try something more realistic and was inspired by the story of Aladdin...but I... Show full author's note »
Chapter One“Milo James Lehmann, you face charges against the country of Spain and King Carlos Santiago III, the penalty for which is death. Thirteen counts of first-degree murder and confirmed intention to assassinate the heir to the throne. Do you have anything to say in your defense?” The burly officer glared expectantly at the offender. Such words would strike terror into the everyday human being, but what sat opposite Officer Morales was arguably far from human. Eyes of pale ice rose to meet his, and the criminal, to say the least, raised his thick, dark eyebrows in reply.
“As a matter of fact, I do,” he retorted, scooting closer to the table before resting his chin on a fist. Morales lifted a disinterested eyebrow, already closed to any remarks Milo would make. Like most of the king’s guard, Morales had learned over the years to simply trust his gut instinct, and from the moment Lehmann walked in the hairs on the back of his neck stood at attention. The guy made him nervous, and Morales didn’t like that. However, law stated that no matter how severely disturbed an individual appeared to be, he was obligated to treat them with a certain degree of courtesy. On days like this, he wondered if the job was worth it.
“Oh really? And what might that be?” he asked with a sarcastic lilt in his voice.
“It’s only twelve counts of murder. Miss Luiz didn’t die. She’s due to be released from the hospital. I remember the article in the newspaper, Morales,” Milo said with a neutral, pleasant smile. Well, Morales thought, it would be pleasant from anyone but him. On this guy, any smile is just creepy. No matter how uncomfortable Milo made him, though, Officer Morales refused to break his poker face. There was no way he’d let fear show in front of the equivalent of gum he might scrape off the bottom of his boot. As he watched, Milo’s “pleasant” smile became a knowing grin, still beneath a sheet of pleasantry.
“Do I make you uncomfortable, Officer Morales? The lower lid of your right eye has started to twitch slightly…and your pulse has quickened considerably.” His poker face had been blown, and Milo relished in the idea. Morales began to mildly panic at the extent of Milo’s inhumanity. There was just something so indescribably wrong with the way Milo leaned against the back of the metal chair, still as stone save for the movement of his lips. He was like a snake watching a mouse with interest, and Morales happened to be the mouse in uniform. Like a nervous tic, his hand involuntarily twitched towards the gun on his hip. Cool it, Morales, he told himself, you’ve got three guards behind the one way mirror in front of you and Lehmann is unarmed. Relax. His fingers eased away from the holster, and with a deep breath, he leaned against the uncomfortable back of the chair, imitating Milo to the best of his ability. Rolling the tension out of his shoulders, he exhaled in a whoosh, and eased a content smile across his face.
“You don’t care about the consequences of your actions, do you Lehmann? There’s something just not wired right up there...but don’t worry. When your autopsy is done, the doctors are under instruction to pay special attention to your intensely twisted brain.” As Morales expected, there was no reaction from his conversational partner. If he didn’t see him breathing, he wouldn’t believe Milo was anything more than a wax statue, set there to mock him. Alright, let’s get this over with, he thought in frustration. The quicker he got the perpetrator’s story, the quicker he could go home and be with his family.
“Lehmann, let’s just get this over and done with. You and I both know why we’re here, and the quicker I’m done interrogating you, the quicker I can get the hell away from you, you creeper,” he said abruptly. Milo gave a short bark of laughter, and, when he noticed Morales staring at him, motionless, began his story.
“You’d think a man cleaning a bloody machete as he walks down a crowded cobblestone street would raise eyebrows. Maybe I had an unnoticed talent of becoming invisible after a killing, or maybe Spain is just an ignorant country. I vote for the latter. It was October 23rd, and the pieces of flesh I’d left bleeding out in the alleyway had once been-“
“Rebecca Gonzales,” Morales interjected, “Yeah I was put on your case the day we found the crime scene.” Milo nodded slowly and continued.
“Personally I believe it wasn’t much of a loss. Rebecca wasn’t known for being particularly kind or virtuous,” he murmured, the corners of his mouth twitching into a grin as a vein in Morales’s forehead began to pulse angrily.
“Gonzales had four children,” he growled through gritted teeth.
“That she beat excessively, putting each in the hospital at least once. Her husband also sexually assaulted the youngest girl, yet no one ever provided enough evidence to put either away. I did you a favor by taking her off this earth and giving those children a chance to go to a better home.” Morales crossed his arms on the table.
“Is that why you did it? To help the children?” he asked with a hint of sarcasm in his voice that Milo surely didn’t miss. Truthfully, Morales figured he’d butchered her just to see what her insides looked like
“Of course not. I wanted to see if her heart was as black and withered as she made it seem,” Milo replied, returning the sarcasm. Morales had to clench his fist tightly to keep it from noticeably shaking. The look in Milo’s eyes said that the previous statement wasn’t too far from the truth.
“As I was saying, I had just finished the day’s work and was on my way to run a few errands when I met the woman who would soon become my next job. I had just placed my machete inside my jacket when I happened to pass the town’s most popular brothel. It was only noon, but there she was, lounging on a bench in front of the entrance, an advertisement for the night’s show. Her legs went on forever, stemming from the frilled skirt of a flamenco dress that left little to the imagination. Endless waves of hair black as a raven’s wing framed a porcelain face of exceeding beauty. Her lips were red as a rose, and her almond eyes were chocolate windows into a soul as dark as night. Her cold cruelty was what sparked my interest, and her extremely misguiding appearance drew me to her. I had to know if there was a human hidden beneath that flawless beauty…or merely a siren.” Morales was unknowingly spellbound by this creature’s storytelling. As much as it frightened him, such a complex and alien mind was fascinating to behold. Milo still scared the bejeesus out of him, oh yes, but in a way he was like a scientific specimen that Morales felt compelled to study.
“Her name was Nina Cortez. I’m sure you remember her case file,” Milo began again, glancing up to meet Morales’s uneasy stare. As expected, Morales nodded slowly, lowering his gaze to the table. The very memory of that particular crime scene was still grisly enough to make his stomach lurch. Without 15 years on the police force, Morales would have never believed that a body could expel so much blood. That had been the cause of death-she had been skinned alive and bled to death. Her bloody carcass had been found hanging from a hook in the freezer of the local butcher shop. There had been a river of blood leading from the alley in back to where the body then hung, and it was almost as if buckets of red paint had been splashed across the walls. It seemed Nina put up a bit of a struggle.
“Officer Morales? Are you still listening?” Milo asked quietly, waving a hand in front of his face. Morales raised his gaze, taking a moment to glance past Milo into the one way mirror. His complexion had turned considerably pasty and grey, and he was visibly trembling. Attempting to regain his composure, he cleared his throat and replied, “You really did want to see what was beneath Nina’s skin, didn’t you?” Milo grinned.
“As with Miss Gonzales, I was sorely disappointed. You’d think the women I chose would be different on the inside than the rest of us. However, I was glad to remove that gorgeous exterior. Her muscles, bones, and organs were just as ugly as the rest of the world. Without her alluring looks, she was the same as the rest of us. However, I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I?”
“Anyway, the moment I laid eyes on her, I saw right through her exterior and gazed upon a beautiful but cruel siren of the night. She gazed right back, and saw only the money in my pockets. Perfect, I thought to myself. She wouldn’t be hard to lure. She wasn’t, in case you’re wondering. Once I exuded interest, she was more than happy to play the game with hopes of hitting the jackpot, so to speak. It all started with possibly one of the cheesiest lines of my career.”
“’Are you the sideshow or the main event?’ I asked, approaching the bench she was stretched across. I made a movement as if to sit beside her, and after a moment’s pause, she smiled saucily at me and uncrossed her legs, assuring that I caught a flash of what lay beneath that minuscule skirt before placing her feet on the ground.”
“’You tell me, honey,’ she replied smartly, pulling a cigarette out of her dress and lighting it. She inhaled long and deep, and exhaled through her nostrils, twin jets of nicotine flooding the air. I looked up, flashing my best neutral smile at her.”
“’I’m betting you’re the grand prize that very few men have the skill to win.’ Her eyes narrowed a bit and the arch of one of her eyebrows rose a bit.”
“’You could say that. I’m the courtesan. The pricey courtesan, at that. It takes a very deep wallet to buy a night with me.’ I smiled.”
“’What may I call you?’ I asked softly, turning towards her a little more. She inhaled and exhaled again, this time blowing the smoke in my face.”
“’My name is Nina Cortez. But for the right price, you can call me anything you’d like. She was practically walking into this, she really was. But, I am a man who loves the chase, so I decided to draw it out, and cut the conversation rather short.”
“’Well, Nina,’ I said to her, rising and tipping my hat, ‘Until we meet again.’ She gave me a hint of a rather cynical smile, and twitched her fingers in an almost confused miniscule wave. I tucked my hands into my pockets and left for the market in the central square, ideas swirling in my head. This siren had successfully cast her spell on me, but I had something different in mind than her usual “victim”. It promised to be an interesting week.”
“When I reached the central square, it was packed with people and bustling with business as usual. If I remember correctly, it was the first day of the Fall Festival, and it seemed as if the entire nation had fit themselves in front of the palace for the day. In fact, there were so many people that all you could really see was the palace rising high above their heads. The rest of my day had recently been freed up, so I decided to participate in one of my favorite hobbies.” Morales raised an eyebrow.
“You have…hobbies,” he said quietly, more to himself than to Milo. Milo nodded.
“People-watching,” he said simply. Morales’s mouth formed a small “o” of understanding. His thoughts had been more along the lines of boats in bottles or a musical instrument…which would have been much stranger.
“I made my way over to an (amazingly enough) empty bench and sat down. There were plenty of strange people to study, frantically pushing and shoving their way through the throngs of bodies. I noticed visitors from all over Europe, and heard dialects from Britain and France, Poland and Belgium. I watched a man and woman argue in two completely different languages and what I think might have been a streetwalker from France arguing with a shopkeeper. A noticeably irritable bird swooped down and pecked a grape out of a little boy’s hand. I was watching it fly back to its home in a nearby tree when I noticed movement in the top east window of the palace.”
“The princess?” Morales interjected. Milo dropped his gaze and smirked.
“The princess,” he confirmed. “Of course, all I saw of her then was a shapely silhouette high in a castle window. She resided so far above the hustle and bustle of daily life…Later I began to wonder what could have made her want to leave such a calm world of regal splendor.”