The glass makes a dull sound halfway between a chime and a thud as it descends onto a small coffee table, made of the finest mahogany wood money can buy. The striking brunette whose fingers are curled around the stem settles onto the couch, sighing as her back sinks into plump cushions. She curls a strand of dark hair around her finger absently, crossing her legs and lounging against the soft pillows siren-like. Her dangerously seductive eyes that can promise men - and a few women - anything in the world, anything at all focus on a spot that the golden-brown pupils don't see.

The machine by her side obediently springs to life at the command of a deceptively slender finger. Strands of her hair curl around her ears with a life of their own, revealing dusky curves still as stone as she listens.

* * *

Kicking, muffled protests, the harsh scrape of steel against raw- sounding concrete; from the acoustics, she judges that they're in the typical torture room. Dark, windowless, dirty, with a single naked bulb illuminating rivulets of moisture flowing down the walls. She can picture it perfectly because it was designed specially for her use.

Brisk footfalls herald the arrival of a new figure, one that causes the bound and gagged captive to stop struggling immediately. Her ears twitch momentarily - there's been no sound between the newcomer's arrival and the cessation of scraping noises, so her favorite operative must be looking particularly self-confident. He tends to do that, she muses fondly.

"Mr..oh. I imagine that must make it difficult to talk." She frowns at the polite concern in his voice - creative as it is, she still needs to teach him the effectiveness of pure intimidation, it seems.

"Marochydor," the captive gasps. "Brian Marochydor."
"Well now, that's an odd name," Sark replies easily. "Do you ever have problems pronouncing it?"

" ," the other replies warily. She can picture him, too, from the glossy full-color photos that accompanied the tape. Middle-aged Australian man, semi-balding, probably sweating under the thoroughly civilized glare her eighteen-year-old protégé is no doubt training on him as she listens.

"Oh, good," Sark quips brightly. "Then I do have a use for this after all."
The intake of breath before the terrified scream is barely audible, even to her experienced ears. Then a sobbing gasp, "You hurt me!"

"Oh, do tell." He sounds extremely amused, and she grins, raising her glass in silent approval to the employee she pictures standing before her. "I barely even broke the skin. See? Hardly bleeding. Clearly you've never been shot before." Smugly condescending. Not always acceptable in most cases, but then, Sark's a very talented boy.

"Have you?"

"Been shot? What, do you think I'm new to this?" She can hear the scoff and see the accompanying scornful look. "No, Mr. Marochydor, I was shot for the first time when I was twelve years old. How old were you, I wonder?"

"Bad neighborhood?"

Sark's wicked, almost predatory smile swims into focus behind her eyes, closed as if enjoying an aria at the opera. "You have no idea."

The footsteps start again, slower, more deliberate. Clothes rustle expensively: Sark insists on wearing nothing but the best. She's seen to it that he's able to do so.

"Mr. Marochydor, let's skip this, shall we? You have something that we want, and we'd really like to have it, if you don't mind."


"We'd like something of yours," Sark repeats patiently. "Of course, how quickly we acquire it depends on how willing you are to divulge the necessary information. Or, providing that you're disinclined to cooperate, how impervious you are to torture." His voice lowers, becomes more chillingly confidential. "I've witnessed a few tortures myself, and it's not pleasant to those who can't withstand pain. And frankly, you don't strike me as that kind of man."

A smile wraps itself around her mouth, snake-like. The Australian must be wondering what serpent's den he wandered into. Or hell spawn, if Sark had thoroughly terrified him.

"I'm waiting for an answer," Sark prompts softly. "My time is valuable."

Seconds elapse - long, creeping ticks and tocks punctuated by the harsh breaths that herald Marochydor's impending decision.

"Would you like a reminder?" Sark offers cordially, no doubt approaching the man with a gun or a knife.

" 's - it's in a bag, buried in the sand, outside my beach house in Miami."

Sark's condescending tone wavers indecisively between genuine pity and utter contempt. "A beach house. In Miami. In a bag in the sand. Did you never once remember that America is the one country in the world where ordinary citizens are both unoccupied and grubbing enough to cover the beaches with metal detectors? It's practically the national sport! You idiot," he hisses, "you despicable worm of a man."

"At least I'm not some twenty-year-old kid playing with decent respectable people's lives like they're toys that arrogant pricks who think they're god can play around with!" Ah, so he's found that little spark of desperate courage deep in the heart of every person alive.

Silence. Dead, empty stillness that hangs like a noose around the Australian's neck.

"I'm not here to explain myself to you," Sark says quietly. Nothing in his words seems threatening or presumptuous - but even she has to still the urge to shiver and look away from the sapphire blue eyes she imagines in front of her even though they're trapped in the tape, iced over into two chips of rock-hard drive and cruelty.

"Of course decent respectable people have affairs and engage in illegal affairs just for the purpose of getting more money to spend on children's toys or vacations to over-visited, over-rated, and over- populated vacation sites. Your life is hardly valuable, so I see no problem with taking it into my own successful hands. Understand, I'm not god. I'm simply very, very good at doing my job."

She anticipates the nervous swallow and fearful tone even before she hears them. "How many people have you done this to?"

"You ask how I can do this? You'd have to understand first that I don't come from a sheltered middle-class neighborhood like yours. I was brought up in places where desperation stinks almost as much as the blood splattered on the sidewalks. Virgins were little girls, like your daughter Stephanie, who could run fast and hide well. You can't understand any of that, you see, because you've never been there. It's one of those things you have to experience to really understand."

His footsteps are muffled, raspy, painfully slow. "And for the record," he whispers, "I'm eighteen."

She listens to Marochydor's dying breath, a gasping fish-out-of-water sound. She hears Sark's footsteps, brisk again, and his clipped order to a guard, instructions to get rid of the body and clean up the room. She smiles approvingly as he refuses the offer to notify the family, saying that he'll offer the condolences himself.

* * *

The cassette player clicks and goes dead instantly at her bidding, silenced under her finger as easily as her protégé squashed that ant of a man. The couch springs groan lightly and rise as she stretches luxuriously in the air, every muscle stretched to exquisite length, enough to feel the pull but not quite enough to cause her pain.

The dark red wine like the blood she sees on the photos of the Australian's death spread carelessly across the coffee table is tossed down her throat without ceremony or pause. The carpet sinks and slowly turns upright under her light footsteps, leading towards the bedroom.

She swiftly changes and stands in front of the windows before turning off the light, staring at the slumbering city lights outside. How many men and women out there, in that desolate devastating stretch where ambition is nonexistent, have apprentices as promising and excellent as hers? None, she thinks to herself with a self-satisfied smile.

She's still more fond of her means of seduction than Sark's, she reflects under the silken sheets. His power lies in conquering souls by planting little seeds of terror and foreshadowing - premonitions that he'll visit again, like a towering angel of death, odd though it may seem with his fair skin and blond hair.

But she - she prefers her own style. Coming to them like a shining angel in full glory, raising them up to heaven with smooth arms and a gentle kiss - before sliding the dagger into a trusting, worthy heart with a radiant smile.