"Guten Abend, Herr Lange, Herr Klein," the portly gray-haired matron greeted the two men standing guard at the entrance of the posh penthouse.
"Guten Abend, Frau Steinar," replied the smaller, senior man. "You came earlier than we expected."
"Herr Pfeiffer asked for a fresh new lamb. And here he is."
Steinar planted her gnarled hands upon the shoulders of a thirteen year old boy. She pushed him forward none-too-gently for the guards' inspection.
The child had milky white skin and silvery hair. He dared not meet the guards' gaze. Instead he stared at his own shoes. His shy demeanor accentuated the doll-like delicacy of his appearance.
"This is Ion," Steinar grumped. "Greet the nice men, Ion."
"It's 'Guten Abend', you Romani brat." Steinar lightly rapped the boy on his head.
"G-gute Nacht," the tearful Ion squeaked.
Lange raised his bushy eyebrows. It was not every day that one saw an albino. "Where'd you find him?" he asked Steinar.
"Where else? Romania, of course," she clarified. "My friends there are very reliable."
That got Klein to bark in amusement. "Those inbred fuckers put rabbits to shame. They'll never run out of orphans," he agreed.
Lange rolled his eyes at his companion's coarseness. "You can go in, Frau Steinar," he said with a wave of his hand that declared Alles in ordnung, 'all is in order'.
"Thanks, Herr Lange," Steinar bit out.
"Herr Pfeiffer's gonna love him," Klein said as he opened the door for the pimp and her prize.
Joachim Pfeiffer was indeed appreciative of Steinar's gift. Clad in just a terry bathrobe, the stern man did not take his hawk-like gaze off the fidgeting Ion since the boy and his handler stepped into his bedroom.
After exchanging the usual greetings with Steinar, Pfeiffer reached for Ion's chin. The boy flinched as his face was propped up for examination. His fearful eyes were like amethyst marbles and dripped salty tears.
"He will do," Pfeiffer judged with the eye of a connoisseur. "You have my thanks, Frau Steinar."
"Send your regards to my account, Herr Pfeiffer. I'll fetch Ion in a week's time." Steinar glared at Ion. "You behave yourself now, boy. You hear me?"
"D-d-da, Do-Doamnă Steinar."
"It's 'Ja, Frau Steinar'," she scowled. "Honestly, children nowadays have no respect for your elders."
The door had barely closed behind the grumbling Steinar when Pfeiffer placed his hands upon Ion's cheeks. "Don't worry," the older man coaxed his newest plaything. "You will love this."
"I'm not worried."
Pfeiffer's eyes went wide. Ion's lavender pupils were suddenly hard and piercing. The boy's pale pink lips had peeled back to reveal pearly white teeth.
"I do love this."
And Ion drove his foot in between the astonished Pfeiffer's legs.
Sheo Darren does not own Gunslinger Girl and Black Lagoon.
the juniper tree
Outside, Klein and Lange were just biding the irascible Steinar a "Guten Abend" when a blood-curdling scream came from the direction of the master bedroom.
Klein winced. "Already? The boss usually takes time to savor his toys."
"That doesn't sound like the kid," Lange hissed while drawing his pistol out of his shoulder holster. "That was Pfeiffer."
"What? Steinar, what the fuck is going on?" Klein demanded of the old hag.
Steinar's answering smile flashed bright and blinding like the light reflecting off the knives that her pudgy hands plunged through the gaps between their third and fourth ribs.
Pfeiffer writhed across the carpeted floor of his bedroom. "You little prick," he wheezed while clasping his shattered nuts.
Ion smiled at him. It was the exact same smile Steinar had flashed the guards outside.
"Isn't that you?" the boy asked while pointing to Pfeiffer's exposed groin.
"I'll kill you," Pfeiffer promised through gritted teeth. "You and that whore Steinar... I'll kill you!"
Ion's smile grew even wider. His eyes seemed to glow with an eerie light. His tone remained sunny, which made his next words all the more chilling.
"Sora mea Masakari is not a whore," he mewled.
Pfeiffer kept his mouth shut. The more time this psychopath took to finish him off, the more time he could recover. Although: 'Who the fuck is 'Sora mea Masakari'?'
"She is a crazy bitch."
Ion abruptly turned his back on Pfeiffer. The boy took dainty steps towards the lone chair in the bedroom.
Baffled by the unexpected reprieve but relieved for the distraction, Pfeiffer started a desperate crawl for his bedside, where he'd hidden a pistol for this exact kind of crisis.
"My mother has butchered me."
Pfeiffer froze like a deer caught in the headlights of a speeding car. He dared to look over his left shoulder.
"My father is devouring me," Ion sang to the patter-patter accompaniment of his feet flitting across the thick red carpet.
The paralyzed Pfeiffer recognized the song. It was part of an old German folktale called The Juniper Tree. It told the story of a strange but innocent boy, blood-red and snow-white, who was murdered by a hateful stepmother, cannibalized by his unwitting father, and brought back to life by his faithful sister to wreak bloody revenge.
Pfeiffer loathed that story. His bitch of a mother used to scare him with it to put him to sleep. It achieved the exact opposite. He never was able to sleep soundly after hearing it.
"My brothers and sisters huddle under the table, gathering up my bones."
'That's wrong,' was the increasingly irrational Pfeiffer's disjointed thoughts. 'The boy in the folktale only had one sister. Her name was Marlene.'
Ion rested his hands upon the backrest of the chair. "They will bury them under the cold," he murmured.
His small hands gripped two lengthy chunks of wood, which he'd effortlessly wrenched out of the now-wrecked backrest. He grinned at the horrified Pfeiffer, the latter only now realizing that he had been doomed from the beginning, that the pistol would not avail him against this monster wearing the guise of a boy.
"You're a mechanical body-"
My mother, she killed me
My father, he ate me
My sister Marlene
Gathered all my bones
Tied them in a silken scarf
Laid them beneath the juniper tree
What a beautiful bird am I
'Steinar' was waiting in the living room. The previously grumpy grandmother lounged upon the sofa like a lioness. A huge man-eater smile, all canine fangs, hung from her flabby jowls.
"How was it, Jess-chan?" she asked the blood-drenched 'Ion' who'd only now emerged from the finally silent master bedroom.
"Pfeiffer wanted me to play his fife," Jess chirped. "But it was too tiny to be useful, so I beat him like a drum instead."
'Steinar' brought her right hand as demure cover for her mischievous smile. "Ara, ara," she giggled. "He can't please even a little girl, so he turns to little boys..."
"How about you, Masakari sora mare? Did you enjoy yourself?"
"Yup!" She gestured to what appeared to be a normal section of wall. "Did you know that there's a door in that wall? It leads to a restroom!"
"Why would they hide the restroom?" Jess wondered. "What if someone needed to go in a hurry?"
"Wakaranai." After shrugging her shoulders, which she'd padded to assume the guise of Madame Pfeiffer, Masakari grinned anew. "But the restroom could fit both Lange-kun and Klein-kun at the same time, so it gets an eight out of ten in my book!"
To her surprise, Jess pouted. "Sora mai mare!" the girl scolded her senior. "I was going to use that restroom!"
"Eh? You have to go now?"
Jess blushed. "No! I was just going to wash up first before we left."
"Gomen, gomen. But what's wrong with the one in the master bedroom?" Masakari wondered. "Why didn't you use that one?"
"It works, but then I have to cross Lake Pfeiffer to get to it," Jess muttered.
"Lake Pfeiffer?" The older assassin waddled over to the still-open door of the bedroom and peered inside. "Ara... ara, ara," she murmured thoughtfully. "Just like Latveria..."
Jess stiffened. She didn't like to think of their stint in La- in That Country. It had been… messy, even for the likes of them.
"It's Latvia, sora Masakari," she softly corrected.
"Same thing." Masakari looked over her shoulder. "Did he make you really angry?"
"...Just a little," Jess reluctantly admitted. "He called you a whore."
Then she let out a squeak of surprise as Masakari drew her into an unexpected hug.
"Ah! Sora mai mare Masakari! You'll get blood all over your disguise!"
"It's okay to be angry, Gretel."
She went still. Her old name. It retained power over her. Even after she had died and been reborn as Jessica Dios.
"Smiling is still the best. I learned that from Okaa-san, who learned it from Obaa-san, and so on. But it's also okay to get angry," Masakari averred. "Because otherwise it will rip you apart from the inside. So if it feels too much for you, just let it all out."
Jess let herself sag into her adoptive sister. "I still don't like it," she mumbled. "It feels... it feels awful..."
She could only remember one time that she'd gotten angry. And it was-
I'm not going to die.
I don't want to die!
"But that's what bad things are for," Masakari promised the shivering girl in her arms. "To make the good things better."
Jess thought back to the past, her past. The orphanage. The snuff films. The wild life on the run as a gunslinger girl & axe boy. And now this second chance. Not survival. Living.
"Sora Masakari? Did you ever get angry?"
The embrace tightened. "...Just once," Masakari confessed.
"Can you tell me?"
"It's a long story."
"Please?" Jess begged.
"...all right, but we'll wash up first."
In the midst of returning Masakari's hug, something occurred to Jess.
"Sora Masakari? Why do you like to tell stories while we bathe instead of after?"
Masakari grinned. "Fan service, my dear Jess," she revealed. "Fan service."
Later, still in the penthouse...
"There was a boy. I met him long ago. His name was Aldo Talon. He thought I killed his parents, so he tried to kill me."
The sopping wet murderess smiled fondly at the raptly-listening child seated between her raised knees as they shared a companionable soak in the scented water of the jacuzzi.
"And he succeeded," Masakari smiled at Gretel.
To Be Continued