Trish was awoken by the digital shriek of a telephone. Simultaneously cursing and blessing its interruption she picked up the receiver.

"Make it good." she groaned.

"Patricia? This is Richard Gariano." Trish's eyes flew open. "It's been a while. You do remember me, don't you?"

She smiled and decided that he deserved decent treatment, for old time's sake. "Of course I remember you, Richard. How are you?"

"I'm very well, thank you." Richard was always the soul of courtesy, Trish remembered. When you're as feared as he is, you don't have to be rude, Trish reminded herself. Perhaps I should work on that. "And you? You sound a little tired."

"I was just taking a nap." Trish lied easily. "Long day, y'know." Very long.

"Indeed. I was calling to ask if you would be willing to do a little favor for me."

"Favor?" Trish tried to remember if Richard possessed anything she wanted. Well, there are one or two things...

"A job, actually. I had heard this silly little rumor that you had retired..." Richard continued.

"Um. I've been lightening the work load lately, yes." Threw out the fingernail pullers, that sort of thing, she thought bitterly. She reminded herself that Richard had helped her, in his own way, through a very difficult period, and she should listen to what he had to say. Besides, she had been feeling pecky lately. Perhaps something of this nature would modify her mood.

"I have a task that needs your special touch, Patricia. Your deft hand and discerning eye."

"Flattery will get you nowhere." she laughed. "Who's the poor bastard this time?"

"I'd rather not say over the phone. Could you meet me later tonight?" Trish looked at the clock on her bedstead. Is that the time? Oh shit.

"Yes, I can do that, but it'll have to be later, I'm already late for something else." She thought for a moment. "How about midnight or so?"

"That would be fine. Do you remember where the office is?"

"Yes." How could I forget?

"Good. Meet me there."

"What sort of job is it? I need an idea of what to bring." she added quickly.

"It's something that is going to require a...delicate touch. That's why I called you, dear. You're so good at it, you'll probably enjoy yourself."

"That's also why you called me, right?" Trish asked, suddenly cold.

Richard was undaunted. "Certainly. Was it wrong of me to think of you?" he asked mildly.

"No, no," Trish shook her head. "it's just a bit depressing sometimes..." People used to know me as one who relieved pain. She stopped that thought quickly.

"Ah, I see." Richard lied.

"No you don't." Trish knew him well enough to hear the lie. "I'm going to go before this gets any more depressing. I'll see you later." She hung the phone up and lay back in bed. She was already late and saw no point in rushing. She had been dreaming again, and made a point of trying to remember them as vividly as possible. It was the closest thing to punishment that she allowed herself.

After a few moments, she sat up and looked around herself. With the exception of her rumpled bedclothes, the apartment was so tidy as to appear empty, a museum exhibit of late twentieth century urban living. Trish had heard that a lot of medical professionals were preoccupied with neatness. Combine that fact with a past rich with horror...she shrugged. She had always been inclined towards tidiness, even as a child.

She got out of bed and approached a closet. "What does a person wear to a night of kneebreaking and detox therapy? A suit, I suppose. I can always wear a coat if things get messy." she reached into the closet and began to dress.

 

Patricia looked up from the monitor in front of her. She was wearing the 'working professional' persona that she privately loathed, but was often forced to retreat into.

"So he's shown no sign of improvement in the past month, Mary?" She asked the woman with her.

"Not at all. He's relapsed at least once and his parents are in despair. I've told that I think we should farm him out to some other program..." Mary trailed off at Trisha's scowl.

"And I've told you that we don't ship patients out at the first sign of difficulty. If you're not strong enough to handle that policy, then might I suggest that this is the wrong place for you." Mary blanched and didn't reply. Patricia decided to ease off a little. "But I'd really rather you'd stay. You should know by now that the toughest ones are the most satisfying. Have I failed yet?" Trisha smiled. Mary shook her head. "See, I'm right. I'll take over young master Weinrich's case, and everything will be just fine." Mary nodded. "Is he awake right now?"

"He was watching TV half an hour ago, he's probably still up."

"Good." Trish stood up. "I'll go have a word with him right now, then. Let him now where he stands." In the shit, she didn't add. Time for Dr. DeMontfort's patent detox technique.

 

Trisha shut the trunk of her car and stood on the sidewalk, looking up at the building to her right. It was one of San Francisco's many unwanted office properties awaiting either an optimistic businessman or a wrecker's ball. Decades ago, it might have been a pleasing piece of architecture, but the fine brownstone details had since been worn down by pollution and covered with graffiti tags.

I didn't think I'd be coming back here. But there are places one can't avoid. She sighed and picked up the duffel bag next to her. "Perhaps I'll actually regret it if I try hard enough" she said aloud."Who am I kidding?" she added a moment later.

Climbing the worn stairs, she was met at the door by a familiar face. Richard Gariano was not the type of person anyone would have labeled as a crime boss, which made him perfect for his chosen profession. His features were closer to his English mother rather than his Italian father, and he unconsciously radiated the charisma that an observer usually associates with politicians or Lucifer.

"Patricia." he didn't smile, but he wasn't unduly tense, either. "Let me help you with that." he took her bag.

He closed the door behind her and began to climb dusty stairs. The interior of the office building was covered in choking filth. Patricia was glad that she no longer had to breathe it.

"Richard, since when do you answer your own door?"

"I'm trying to keep this as private as possible." he replied as he climbed. "It's just me, you and Johnny tonight."

"Johnny? Not John Keizer?" Trish stopped on the staircase.

Richard sighed and kept climbing. "Yes, I'm afraid so."

Jesus, no wonder he wants to keep this private. Trish continued climbing. Last time she was in the loop, John Keizer was Richard's closest lieutenant, and the favorite to succeed him, should he retire. Well, he obviously isn't Rob's blue eyed boy anymore. Patricia decided that she didn't want to think about this any further.

A few moments later, Trisha stood in very familiar surroundings. A vacant office, slightly less dusty than the rest of the building, containing several folding chairs, a tape recorder resting on a card table, one sturdy wooden chair with a bound occupant and several battery powered lanterns hanging from the ceiling.

Richard placed her bag on the table and turned to look the man tied to the chair.

"Johnny, you really fucked up this time." he sighed. He indicated Trisha, who was going through her bag, humming to herself. "You remember Patty, don't you?"

"Sure he does." Trish sang out. "He's seen me lots of times. Threw up once, didn't you, Johnny? But that was a long time ago." She looked at the pale faced capo, a length of surgical tubing dangling from her hand. "I'm sure you're a lot tougher now, aren't you, Johnny boy?" As usual, Trish had managed to shut out any part of her personality that may object to what she was about to do.

John said nothing, only swallowed hard. "What, aren't you even going to say hello? I'm crushed." Trish smiled. She beckoned Richard over and turned away from John. "So, what's the deal?" she asked intently.

"John's been selling me out to Bailey."

Trish whistled. "How long? How much?"

"That's what I need to find out. I'm quite sure it's been for at least a few months. Things started going bad for me around December."

"Moving in on your territory?"

"Yes, from all sides." Richard didn't like the way Trish was twisting the tubing around her hands. "I want you to find out if he's the one doing me in, and if he is, how much he told."

"If he is...?" Trish's hands paused.

Richard shrugged. "Then I've lost my best man."

"And if you've lost him, no one else can have him, right?" The twisting resumed.

"Exactly." Richard shook his head. "It's a shame, I'd hate to have an example made of him. But if he's fucked me over..." Richard shrugged.

"And that's why I'm here." Trish turned back to face John, and spoke aloud. "Don't you worry your aging head, Richard. I'll get the truth out of him. Have I failed yet?" Trish enjoyed the expression on John's face. "The recorder's ready to go?" Richard nodded. "Good. Go downstairs, I'll get you when I'm done." Gratefully, Richard left the office.

Trish placed a tape into the recorder and turned it on. "Now, Johnny boy." Trish crouched down in front of him. "I remember you and I'm sure you remember me." Johnny nodded quickly.

Trish leaned back for a moment and allowed herself to perceive his aura. She saw nothing unusual: fear, desperate hope and the usual swirls of black that Richard's employees carried behind them like a bridal train. Suddenly she leaned forward and looked into his eyes. "And I'm sure you remember that I'm good at hurting people. I'm the best, Johnny. You've seen me do it. You've seen me sitting right here, doing terrible, painful things to the people who were sitting right where you are now, and all that time you stood at the door and watched with the contempt of one who didn't have to go through it, hoping real hard that you never would. I bet it gave you nightmares, didn't it? Especially the way they looked when I was done with them. Like so much raw meat.

"Now every nightmare you've ever had about me is about to come true, and this time, you're the meat, Johnny. Every single, fucking nightmare you've ever had, and it's not going to stop." The smell of his fear became the stink of terror. Good, she had reached him. Time to give him a ray of hope.

"Unless you tell me the truth, John." she wheedled. "You can do that, can't you? It's a very easy thing to do, and the life you save is yours. C'mon John," she pushed a little. "Did you sell Gariano out to Bailey?"

John opened his mouth to speak and stopped. Trish watched his physical reaction with an experienced eye, then allowed her focus to wander slightly. She noticed the colors of his aura swirl wildly and then slow down. Something's not quite right there, Trish thought. I think he's been fucked with. John shook his head quickly. "No, no." he whispered hoarsely. "I didn't."

She scrutinized his aura carefully as she asked him: "Are you sure, Johnny, really sure?" She pushed a little harder. John nodded and once again, the colors moved in an unnatural pattern. That clinches it, she decided. Unless he's insane, and I doubt that, he's been fucked with by someone, maybe a kindred. Fucking great. She shrugged mentally. Well, I'm just doing my job, it's not my fault he's fallen in with the wrong crowd.

Trish got up and headed for her bag. Humming quietly she removed several tools from her bag and held them up in the dim light, as if to check their condition. She knew they were pristine, this show was for John's benefit. She took them out one at a time, noting his reaction at each one, remembering which ones scared him more than others. The blades, I thought so.

She returned once more to her seat and regarded John with a cold stare. A pair of meat shears dangled from her right hand. "You're wearing far too much for a nice warm night like this." She looked at him for a long moment, appraising his body. "Some people in your position would let themselves go." She reached out for the top button of John's shirt, delighting in his flinch. "But you haven't, have you?" she snipped off the buttons as she talked. "No, not at all." She ran the cold metal across his chest and sighed as she cut the shirt away from him. Every time the metal touched him, he flinched.

"Oh, don't do that, darling." she said sweetly. "We have so much further to go. There." she pulled the fragments of fabric away from him, pulling what she could out of the ropes that bound him to the chair. "That's much better." She stood back and appraised him. Mortals turn such interesting colors when frightened, she thought.

Placing the shears back on the table, she pulled a Polaroid camera out of her bag and pointed it at him. "Just a little momento, Johnny dear." she said as she pressed the button. The camera whirred, the mechanical noise surprisingly loud. "If you live, you can keep it. It'll be a good reference for whoever does the reconstructive work." She put the developing picture on the table, next to the shears, and picked up scalpel.

"Now, John, I'm going to ask you one more time." She crouched down next to him, blade in hand. "Did you sell Richard out?"

John began to shake. "No, I couldn't have..." he gasped out, every word an effort.

"That's what Richard wants to think, darling. And that's what I want to think, too." she sighed, falsely sympathetic. "After all, I rather like you. But for some reason, Richard doesn't believe you, and nor do I. Now, I think you're lying, and I'm afraid I only know one way to get the truth out of you. The whole and absolute truth." And it's the only way to subvert mind control that I know of. "I'm sorry that I have to do this to you, Johnny." She paused. "No I'm not." She admitted. " Not really."

The scalpel flashed close to John's throat and blood poured out of his ear, down his arm and chest. The smell was dizzying and Patricia was glad she had fed earlier.

She placed her left hand across his mouth, muffling his shout of agony. "That was just your earlobe, dear." she said lightly. "Imagine how much the rest is going to hurt." She pushed again. John's face twisted with fear. "Go on," she wheedled. "Just imagine. Your other earlobe goes next, then maybe your ears, or perhaps your fingers. Maybe I'll carve up those lovely pectorals." She stared into his eyes and drew the blade down his sternum, stopping just above his diaphragm. "Don't breathe too hard." she cautioned. "Or the blade will slip and you won't be able to breathe at all."

This was where it was hard to maintain control, the first rush that the pain giving brought. Years ago, she would become drunk on such a rush, and lose sight of her goal.

"So tell me, while you still can. Did you sell Richard out?" John tore his eyes away from her and groaned. "It's a real shame I can't shut you up." she snapped. "But you're going to need that tongue of yours to talk." She bent to whisper in his ear again, pushing gently. "And you are going to talk, aren't you, sweetheart? You're going to tell Trisha the truth. That's all that has to be done. Or this" The blade sliced his other earlobe. "continues."

She leaned back on her heels for a moment, gathering her scattered thoughts. He's been fucked with, she reminded herself, perhaps a little subtlety is called for.

"Now, Johnny. I know you, I know you wouldn't sell Richard out." A gleam of hope in his eyes, poor bastard. "Not unless you had a really good reason. Do you think you had a good reason, Johnny?" Had it not been for her years of practice, she may not have noticed the slight tension ripple through him, masked as it was by shock and pain.

"Maybe that's it, right?" she examined his aura. "Or maybe you didn't have any choice? You wouldn't want to betray your boss now, would you? Richard's been like a father to you, hasn't he?" No response. "Hasn't he?" she asked again, forcefully. John nodded briefly. "So of course you wouldn't do this to him. Not willingly, right?" Trisha made sure the bloody scalpel remained in view. "Did somebody make you do it, hm?" John began to shake violently, both physically and psychically. Bingo, she thought. I'll never be certain, but I'm pretty sure. "That must be it." she put the scalpel down on the ground.

"Good old Johnny would never fuck Gariano over. Somebody else forced you to, right?" A sympathetic tone, true this time, hid the bitterness she felt. "That's alright, John. You couldn't help it, could you?" Another psychic wrenching. She stood up and walked around him. "Somebody forced you to tell Bailey all about Gariano's rackets, didn't they? You couldn't help blabbing every single detail about the bookies, the dealers, the police chief and the mayor, could you?" John looked frightened by the sudden vehemence. Trisha took a deep breath and almost laughed at how some psychological hooks were still tied up with her defunct metabolism. "They peeled back your skull and picked your brains, and it wasn't your fault." she said softly. "It's alright. I understand." More so than you could ever imagine, she didn't add. "I forgive you." Trish paused, lost in thought, stroking Johnny's hair and ignoring the spectre of a bad memory. "Whether Richard does is another matter entirely." she concluded.

Patricia stood up and let herself look at him, finally. "Well, Johnny, it could have been - oh shit." She dug her thumb against his neck, trying to find the carotid pulse. It took several moments to discern his irregular, weak heartbeat, during which, Trish realized that he was too pale for the relatively small amount of blood he had lost.

"No, this is not going to happen." she snarled. "You're not going to have a fucking heart attack on me, dammit." She tore open her wrist with her own teeth and forced some of her blood into John's mouth. She had done this several times before when she needed to keep people alive, and it had worked. The wounds on John's body began to heal, but the coronary symptoms did not lessen. The weak pulse beneath her thumb ceased.

This doesn't make sense, he should have been able to survive this. Unless- no time for thinking, do something. Thought fled entirely and Trisha bit into John's throat. She had heard that it was possible to embrace the newly dead, and they don't get much newer than Johnny here, she thought as she frantically sucked his blood out of him.

It didn't work. The corpse would not accept the fresh blood that Patricia poured into its mouth. So much for that theory. She shook her head. I've got a bad feeling about this. He should have survived that, no problem. I gave this guy a checkup a couple of years ago, and he was fine, definitely not a candidate for a massive coronary.

Pushing her doubts aside, Trisha cleaned up and repacked her tools, pausing only to vomit in a darker corner of the room.

She found Richard sitting in the stairwell, staring at nothing as he waited.

"Well?" he asked, his face taut.

Patricia sighed. "It's a long story. Bailey got the information from John, alright - let me finish - but John didn't give it willingly." A little creativity was called for. "Bailey drugged him. John didn't have a choice. All the loyalty in the world doesn't mean anything to pharmaceuticals." Oo, another piece of wisdom painfully learned by Dr. DeMontfort, a voice cackled in the back of her mind.

"So, is he alright?" Richard asked, obviously trying not to look at the blood on Trish's hands and clothes.

She shook her head. "I'm sorry, Richard, he had a heart attack at the end of the session. I tried all I could." I tried something you'd never believe. "It's all on the tape."

"I'm sure it is." he replied slowly. "Why don't you go home, Patty? It's late and-"

"And I've done enough, right?" she asked wearily, suddenly too tired to be angry. Richard didn't reply. "You'll take care of the body?" He nodded. "Okay." she sighed again. "You're right. There's not much else I can do." she picked up her bag and headed for the door. "And, Richard?" she called out.

"Yes?"

"Next time you need a favor, ask someone else."

"Sure thing, Patty."

"I'm sure you can find another psycho of my caliber." she slammed the door shut behind her. In the mean time, she thought as she got in her car, I think I'm going to find out what really happened to Johnny. Since when did kindred bother with the Mafia?

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