"God, I feel so foolish," Trixie said, stabbing a finger at the doorbell button.
"It's Halloween, " said Tom. "Loosen up. Get in the spirit."
"Easy for you to say," she said. The porch light painted her pout yellow. "You're not the one who'll get arrested for indecent exposure."
"Sweetheart," said Tom, letting his eyes roam the swells of her cleavage, "the last thing you are is indecent. If you looked any hotter, we'd have to skip the party and go home and screw like newlyweds."
With a fragile smile, she tugged upward on the bodice of her French Maid costume in a futile attempt to cover more of her bosom. "I hope they're not fighting tonight," she said, lowering her voice. "Otto can be such a prick when he's drinking."
"He's all bark and no bite," said Tom. He dropped his voice to add: "It's Inga you have to watch out for. I wouldn't want to get on that woman's bad side."
"Inga won't be the one ogling my boobs."
"Ring it again," he said, nodding at the door. "Those storm clouds are right on top of us. All hell's going to break loose and I don't want lose the deposit on these costumes."
Trix pushed the button three times in quick succession. They heard the frenzied chiming on the other side of the door. Then footsteps.
A crack of thunder made Trixie jump. Tom barked a nervous laugh. The door swung open.
Otto Krieger crowded the doorway, grinning broadly and rubbing his beefy palms together. "Inga," he deadpanned over his shoulder, "the maid's here."
Trixie covered her breasts with her feather-duster prop.
"Bonsoir, mon cher," Otto said with a curt bow. "But who's this dastardly fellow at your side?"
Tom clicked his heels together, touched the brim of his stovepipe hat and said, "Dr. Jekyll, at your service."
"Bugger all," Otto said, affecting an English accent, "I was hoping for Mr. Hyde. He's a bit uncouth, but the chap's great fun at parties."
"That your costume?" Tom joked, referring to Otto's terrycloth bathrobe gaping open on his broad chest, showing wiry coils of reddish hair.
Otto chuckled, then stood aside and said, "Come in before the sky pisses on you both."
As Trixie stepped over the threshold, Otto put his hands on her bare shoulders, leaned down and kissed her cheek. She turned up her nose at his boozy breath. "You look lovely, my sweet," he said. "And you, young Dr. Jekyll, you look like a smooth operator. Pun sarcastically intended."
He led them to a loveseat in the den and stationed himself behind the mini bar. "Name your poison," he said.
Trixie glanced at her watch. "What time are we supposed to be there?"
"Well, the festivities begin at eight, but Inga likes to be fashionably late, so we have plenty of time. It's just a thirty-minute drive from here. Wait till you see her costume. Magnifique!" He kissed his fingers, then flung them at the air. "For a bitter old broad, she looks damned sexy in it."
"Fuck you, Otto," Inga said, strutting into the room and slapping a rider's crop against her black leather boots. Sheer black stockings sheathed her long legs. A garter belt hugged her ample hips. She wore a black top hat at a roguish angle, and a waist-cropped tuxedo jacket clung to her heavy bra-less breasts. A choker with a faux bowtie and her short hairstyle rounded out the cabaret-singer's outfit, giving her an androgynous look Tom found surprisingly sexy. "I'll whip you till you bleed."
"Be still my foolish heart," said Otto. "See? I told you. Doesn't she look great?"
"Fantastic," said Tom.
"Wow," said Trix. "Great costume."
"Too bad she sings like a dying canary," Otto said, raising a bottle of Inverness. "Scotch all right?"
"Fine," Tom and Trixie said in unison.
"You two sound like an old married couple already," said their host. "You've been married how long?"
"Five years," they both said, then laughed, embarrassed.
Inga sashayed to the bar, put down the crop and poured herself a vodka-on-the-rocks. She took a big swig and said, "I've been strapped to this bozo for sixteen frigging years. Can you believe that? I can't."
"Sixteen years of blissful torture," said Otto as he delivered their drinks. "She could've had any man she wanted, but I was the lucky guy. And do you know why she chose me?"
"Shut up and go get in your stupid costume," Inga told him. She sat on a barstool with her back to her husband and lit a cigarette. Her stockings whispered as she crossed one lithe leg over the other.
"She chose me because from the very beginning she could see my weakness, my secret masochistic streak. She knew I would make the perfect victim of her sadistic urges. A normal person would've murdered her years ago."
"Ignore him," Inga said. "He's already soused to the gills. You always were a mean drunk, Otto. I used to think you would mellow with age, but you're the same passive-aggressive bastard you always were."
"You know you love me, shit dumpling. You can't help yourself."
Thunder boomed and rolled over the house, rattling the ice cubes in their glasses.
"If you aren't ready by the time we finish our drinks, we're leaving without you," Inga said. "I don't need you with me to have a good time at a Halloween Ball."
"Don't I know it. You'd be balling the first young stud you could sink your teeth into." Otto winked at Tom and Trixie as he was leaving the room. "When I return, I shall be wearing the prize-winning costume."
Inga made a spitting noise with her lips to show her disgust and disdain. "Right. If there's a prize for Biggest Butt of the Ball," she said.
"That's my little dominatrix," he replied with a dry laugh. "All mouth and no cunt."
Trixie literally gasped. Tom patted her bare knee as if he were comforting a child and glanced at Inga to see if she would return fire, but Otto was already bounding up the stairs, out of range.
Inga drew furiously on her cigarette, then noisily exhaled. "You have to forgive Otto. He's not been himself lately."
Trixie muttered to Tom: "More himself than ever."
"He would hate me for telling you this," Inga told them, "but his doctor found a brain tumor. Otto's scheduled for surgery next Tuesday."
"God, that's terrible," said Trixie.
"Jeez, I'm sorry to hear that," Tom said. "Is it…?"
"It's very serious. Dr. Crawford won't know till he gets inside his skull if he can safely remove it. The brain-imaging test results were inconclusive."
"So it's…affecting his behavior?" asked Tom.
"Oh yes. He's always been a pain in the ass, but now he's downright nasty. You heard him. Before the tumor, he wouldn't have dreamed of saying such things in front of guests. Now…well, I never know what he's going to do or say. Sometimes he really scares me. A couple of nights ago I locked myself in the spare bedroom all night because…I'm sorry. I shouldn't be bburdening you with all this. We're going to the party to have a good time."
Trixie asked, "Should he be drinking?"
"No, he shouldn't. But who can stop him?" Inga shrugged.
"Maybe I could talk to him," said Tom. "He listens to me. Sometimes."
"Good luck," said Inga. "He won't listen to me or his doctor."
The phone rang. Inga excused herself and went into the next room to answer it.
"Now I'm really scared of him," Trixie confided. "I don't want to ride with them to the party. Not if he's driving."
"I'll drive," said Tom.
"The man was scary before he got a brain tumor. He's always been creepy. Anybody who writes such horrible books…"
"He's a horror writer, Trix. They're supposed to be horrible."
Inga returned to the room. Trixie caught Tom ogling Inga's sexy outfit and elbowed him in the side.
Lightning flashed in the windows. The rain came all at once, as if a malicious storm god had thrown a switch. An artillery barrage of thunder pounded the house.
"Great night for a Halloween party," said Inga, lighting another smoke.
"Talley-ho!" shouted Otto, thumping down the stairs. He stomped into the den and preened for his small audience, showing off his bizarre costume. From the waist down, he wore the legs, hoofs and horse-tailed rump of some gray-furred equine creature. A horsehair vest topped off his outfit.
"What, a horse?" said Tom.
"Horse's ass," Inga said. "Very fitting, don't you think?"
Otto stopped dancing about and said, "Don't you people know a satyr when you see one? The mythological creature of ancient Greece? Half man, half goat. Disciple of Dionysus. Usually pictured with a huge erection, but I have to supply my own, you see."
"Contest over, you win," Tom said.
Otto danced some more. "Let the debauchery begin!"
"Good Lord, Otto, get hold of yourself," Inga said sharply.
He grabbed at the sexless crotch of his costume and made an obscene gesture. "Shut up, Nazi trash. I've got my eye on a comely French maid. What say you, my lovely? Ready to ride the beast?"
"Cool it, Otto," Tom warned. "You're over the line."
Otto galloped over to where Tom and Trixie were seated. "There is no line, Dr. Jekyll. They've all been erased. This fine madness of mine has taught me that much. Oh, I know my better half-and I'm talking about my wife, not my costume-has told you about my condition. I know her inside out. There's a ghastly image." He shuddered for effect. "I know a lot of things now. For instance, I know your young wife here isn't getting enough cock. Fess up, sweetheart. Tell him I'm right."
Tom tried to stand, but Otto was towering over him and he fell back onto the loveseat.
Inga was coming off the barstool with the rider's crop in her hand. Trixie cringed in her corner of the loveseat, hugging her feather duster.
"Back off, Otto," Tom said. "I don't care if you are sick, we don't have to put up with this crazy shit. I think we'd better go."
"That's where you're wrong. Doc. I'm not crazy. I've finally gone completely sane. I think everybody should have a brain tumor. It opens the doors of perception."
Tom pushed Otto backward and stood up. Like a mother swatting a misbehaving child, Inga slapped the crop across Otto's back. Otto rounded on her and threw her toward the bar. She rode the barstool to the floor, losing her top hat.
"Stop it!" shouted Trixie. She jumped to her feet and shook the feather duster at the mad satyr. "Leave her alone!"
Laughing maniacally, Otto seized Trixie and crushed her to his thick chest. He pressed his lips to hers in a rough kiss. Tom tried to pull them apart, but Otto's grip was too strong, so he drew back his fist and swung it at Otto's head. At the last instant, fearing that a fist to the head could have dire consequences for a man with a brain tumor, he opened his hand and the would-be sock became a slap.
Otto said, "Ahhhh," as he released Trix and ripped the lacy top of her costume off her breasts, revealing a black push-up bra. "A real bodice-ripper, eh?" Otto brayed. "You have beautiful breasts, dear. You should display them proudly."
"Keep your hands off my wife," Tom said, balling his fists. "Are you all right, Inga?"
Inga was getting up from the floor. "That's it," she said with a demonic look. "I'm calling the police. And then I'm going to have you committed."
Otto stomped his hoofs and howled. "Here's Dr. Jekyll. Maybe he'll do the honors."
"Otto, settle down," Tom said, trying to reason with the madman. "This behavior is unacceptable. You can't go around attacking women. Jesus Christ."
Inga started toward the kitchen, presumably to use the phone. But Otto put himself in her path. "Get out of my way, goddammit," she said.
"I am in the way, all right," he said. "A real bad way. And all the king's horses and all the king's men can't put Otto together again. Don't waste your time trying."
Holding her torn bodice up to her breasts, Trixie said, "Take me home, Tom."
"We can't leave Inga like this," he said in a loud whisper. "There's no telling what he'll do to her."
Inga tried to get around Otto, but he moved sideways to block her. "I swear to God," she said through clenched teeth, "if you touch me again, I'll kill you."
"Oh-ho, a death threat," said Otto. "Now we're cooking. Is this a party, or what? Happy Halloweeeen!"
Inga feinted left, then darted to the right, but Otto grabbed her by the throat and rushed her backward until she banged into the wall. "Didn't know I had it in me, did you?" he said. "It's in me, all right. An insidious throbbing lump of death. But the really remarkable thing is, it talks to me. It makes demands. Right now it's telling me how hungry it is for a kill."
"Let go of her!" Tom shouted.
Inga's face was turning red. She worked her mouth like a fish out of water, trying to desperately to breathe. Her eyes bulged from their sockets.
"Stop him," Trixie whimpered.
Tom picked up the barstool by two of its legs and swung it at the back of Otto's head. The rounded edge of the padded seat struck the occipital region of his skull and bounced off. He didn't go down, but he did let go of his wife's throat, and Inga slumped to the floor, wheezing and coughing.
Otto turned to face Tom. He grinned. His bloodshot eyes were bright with wicked madness. "So there you are, Mr. Hyde. I knew you'd show up for our little bash."
Tom backed away, feeling small and helpless before the big man. Could a brain tumor give a man superhuman strength? The barstool to the head would've put a normal man down, but Otto was still standing, crazier and more dangerous than ever.
Trixie was kneeling beside Inga, trying to see how badly she was hurt and keeping a wary eye on the psycho satyr. She was no longer concerned with her ripped bodice and exposed brassiere.
"Otto, I'm sorry I had to hit you, but…"
"Tut, tut, Hyde, bugger that. It's just your nature, n'est pa? I've got something to show you, something I know you'll appreciate, being who you are."
Christ, thought Tom, does he actually believe I'm Mr. Hyde come to life? No, he's just toying with me. Isn't he?
Otto went behind the bar, reached down and came up with a huge handgun. "Beautiful, isn't it? Desert Eagle .357 Magnum. You can see the power radiating from it, nicht wahr?"
"Otto, what are you doing with that?" Tom couldn't keep the tremolo of fear out of his voice.
"I was going to use it after my final fling tonight, but the way this is turning out, I see we won't make it to the Halloween Ball. This is too great an opportunity to pass up."
"Use it for what?"
"Don't be dense, dear boy. What do you think an old fart with an inoperable brain tumor might do with such a fine weapon?"
"But you're having surgery next Tuesday. You--"
"Surgery I'd never wake up from." Otto picked up the pistol and waved Trixie and Inga to the loveseat. "Sit down and get comfy. You sit between them, Mr. Hyde."
"Otto, don't do this," Inga said in a strangled voice. "Don't give up hope."
Otto smiled as Tom wedged his rump between the women on the loveseat. "I don't expect you to believe this, but this thing growing on my brain really does communicate with me. They call it a tumor, but that's not what it is. It's a little lump of god stuff. I think I've figured it out now, with its help, of course. The godlike intelligence behind the process of evolution tried to make its next leap in me, Otto Krieger, hack horror author. Wild, isn't it? Why it chose me, I don't know. Mysterious ways and all that rot."
"You aren't thinking clearly, Otto," said Tom. "This is delusion. It's not your fault."
Otto leaned his elbows on the bar and stared at the .357 in his thick fist. "Unfortunately, this great evolutionary leap for mankind is a failure, humanity's doomed attempt at godhood. Maybe next time." He shrugged. "That's how evolution goes. Trial and error. Hit or miss. But as the losers at the Oscars always say, 'I'm just happy I was nominated.' Can't all be winners."
"So you're going to force us to watch you blow your brains out? Jesus, Otto, think about it. Your wife doesn't deserve this. Neither does mine. Please."
"It wants to come out," Otto said. "It's demanding its freedom. What're you gonna do?" He shrugged again. "Who am I to argue with a god?"
Trixie said, "A tumor is not a god. It's an abnormal mass of tissue. That's all it is."
"Tumors don't talk, mon cher. But this thing…" he tapped the muzzle against his temple, "is a hell of a conversationalist. And smart? My God, if I had one tenth of its intelligence, I could save the world from itself. But, alas, I'm just a failed experiment. A talking lab rat that needs to be put to sleep."
Otto looked at his wife and said, "Inga, I'm sorry about our little dust-up while ago. I never wanted to hurt you. It made me do it. Truth is, it wants the three of you dead. It's smart, but it has a hell of a temper. It doesn't deal well with failure."
Trixie choked back a sob. Inga said, "Oh, Jesus." Tom's jaw dropped.
Otto said, "Sit quietly now while I try to convince it that we don't all have to die." He closed his eyes.
Trixie started to speak, but Inga placed her fingers to Trixie's lips. A whip-crack of lightning made them all jump. A tree, or perhaps a large limb, crashed to the ground in the back yard. Thunder shook the house. Bottles behind the bar clinked against one another.
Otto opened his eyes. "Good news," he said. "Only one of us has to die now." He pressed the muzzle of the pistol to the center of his forehead. "Sit still. I'm not sure what it will do when it comes out. Don't draw attention to yourselves."
"Otto, please," Inga moaned. Tom clutched at her hand.
"I love you, sweetheart," Otto said. And pulled the trigger.
The explosion resounded within the walls of the den, followed by a long roll of thunder outside. The lights flickered off, then came back on. Otto wasn't there, but his blood and bits of brain were splattered on the wall behind the bar.
Trixie shrieked once and covered her eyes with her hands. Inga jumped up and ran to the bar. Tom remained seated, looking at an eerie black mist rising over the mini bar. He knew the spectral fog wasn't smoke from the barrel of the gun.
"You stupid son of a bitch," Inga said to her dead husband.
"Inga…" Tom called.
"You goddamn stupid son of a bitch," Inga said, her voice breaking with a mournful sob.
"Get away from there," Tom urged her. "It's right--"
An ear-splitting crack of lightning knocked the lights out.
Trixie trembled at Tom's side, mewling like a kitten. In the next strobe-like flash from the storm, Tom saw the inky mist enveloping Inga's head.
He sat dead still in the dark for what seemed an eternity. Thunder rumbled in the distance as the storm moved east. The heavy rain became a drizzle.
In a silent flash of lightning Tom saw Inga's dark shape hovering over the bar, the big pistol rising with her hand.
"I see you," said Inga, her voice full of wonder. "I can see through the dark."
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