Skinship 3: A Feel For Torture

Skinship 1 * Skinship 2

Cutter woke to total darkness. The last thing he remembered was walking out of the police station and heading for the E train home. Now, something was covering his face that stank of stale sweat.

“Are you finally awake, Mr. Coles?” a man’s voice said in an accent that Cutter couldn’t identify but sounded vaguely European.

The thing covering his face was a sack and it was snatched off his head. It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the light and to regain his senses. Standing directly in front of him were four men wearing balaclavas and dressed in all black, with holstered sidearms. Cutter tried to move but found he couldn’t because his body was strapped to a gurney that had been tilted at an angle so that his feet were higher than his head. He was in some sort of abandoned warehouse, big enough to house a black van with tinted windows parked in the distance.

If he wasn’t scared out of his wits, he would have laughed at how cliché it all was.

“Who are you? Where am I? What do you want from me?” Cutter asked the questions in rapid succession.

One of the balaclava men stepped up, the one with the indistinguishable accent, and said, “I wish to make one thing perfectly clear before we begin, Mr. Coles: I have no grievance against you. I recognize your part in all this. You are an innocent man caught in the web of deception spun by a cunning woman you knew as Michelle Clarke. Were she still alive, I would be having this conversation with her instead.”

“Was it you, you sonuvabitch? Did you kill Mickie? I fucking swear I’ll make you pay!” Cutter meant it to sound more threatening than it did, but fear made his voice crack.

“Spoken like a true friend, but your anger is misguided,” the balaclava man said. “We had nothing to do with Miss Clarke’s demise. In fact, we first arrived to see you being escorted from her apartment in handcuffs by the police after you destroyed her apartment looking for something. What were you looking for, Mr. Coles?”

“I’ll tell you like I told the police, I didn’t trash Mickie’s place, it was like that when I got there! Somebody came in through the window! How do I know it wasn’t you and your goons?”

“We have not been properly acquainted, Mr. Coles. You may call me, Mr. Vex. I will be your interrogator for the evening, and I have but one pet peeve, I hate liars, therefore I do not lie myself. Behind me are my associates, Misters Rampage, Bedlam, and Blitz. They will be offering assistance during our tête-à-tête.”

“This can’t be real,” Cutter mumbled to himself. “I’m not about to be tortured by some faux Bond villains with codenames ripped from a Tarantino script.”

Vex said, “I assure you this is very real. As for the torture, that does not need to take place.”

“Great! So how about you untie me and we can talk about this like civilized men? I’ll tell you everything I know, which’ll be a short conversation because I don’t know a goddamned thing.”

“I will make you a promise, Mr. Coles: if you tell me what you were searching for in that apartment, I will release you unharmed. You have my word on that.”

“But that’s the thing, you see, I don’t know what I was looking for. I was hoping to find a clue or something that would help the police find Mickie’s killer!”

“Why is it that I do not believe you?”

“I don’t know, man, but I swear I’m telling you the God’s honest truth!”

Vex seemed to consider this for a moment before saying, “Perhaps you might reconsider your answer if you saw things from my point of view. Your friend, Mickie, illegally obtained something that did not belong to her, something that was meant to be delivered to me. Fearing that I was coming to collect my goods, she undoubtedly hid it somewhere she considered safe. It was too valuable to be left in her apartment, so she would have entrusted it to a person that she groomed to care for her because that was what she was trained to do. And all signs point to you, Mr. Coles. Now, all you need do is to tell me where I can find my property. I will consider this matter closed, and you can return to your normal life.”

“I don’t know anything about any stolen property.”

“The last time you saw her, she gave you something.”

“She didn’t give me anything. But wait…let’s say she did…now, if I had this thing, why would I need to tear her place apart looking for it? I mean, what sense does that make?

“Perhaps you left it behind by mistake,” Vex shrugged. “Or you somehow realized what she had given you and you became greedy and returned looking for more? Whatever the case, I will have the truth from you. And since you refuse to be cooperative, you leave me with no other choice.”

Mr. Vex signaled to Rampage, Bedlam, and Blitz, who picked up metal buckets of what appeared to be water, as he fitted the sack over Cutter’s head again. Then something else was placed on top of the sack, over the areas covering the nose and mouth, a towel, perhaps?

Cutter felt a slow cascade of water going up his nose, and he held his breath for as long as he could. He was not a swimmer, had never done any breathing exercises in his life, and had no idea how many minutes he could go without air, or how much time had passed since he last took a breath, but eventually, his lungs began aching for air and his body gave him no other option but to exhale. On the inhale that followed, the wet cloth clung to his face and he was breathing in water.

Cutter, at one point or another, most likely after watching films with interrogation scenes in them, had constructed a belief that he could retain his manhood up to a certain level of torture. That delusion was shattered the moment water entered his lungs and his gag reflex kicked in. He was in the grip of a sheer panic like he had never known before.

The water pour stopped, and Mr. Vex said, “That drowning sensation must be a horrible experience. Tell me what your friend gave you and where I can find it, and I will make this stop.”

“She didn’t give me anything!” Cutter sputtered, coughing up water with each syllable.

The pour started again and Cutter’s body flopped and squirmed on the gurney as if he was having a seizure.

While this was happening, Mr. Vex said, “Did you know this process causes lung and brain damage from oxygen deprivation, and even lasting psychological damage? The adverse physical effects can last for months, and psychological effects for years.”

The pour stopped again and this time Cutter was expelling water and snot as he was vomiting. The pain was excruciating.

“Where is my property, Mr. Coles?” Vex asked.

“I don’t fucking know!”

The pour began again, and Vex said, “I was being kind by having the water poured intermittently to prevent permanent injury. However, if you continue to be uncooperative, the water will be poured uninterruptedly which will lead to death by asphyxia.”

Suddenly there was a noise, a loud explosion and the pour stopped abruptly. Vex ripped the sack from Cutter’s head, as Rampage, Bedlam, and Blitz ran out of Cutter’s field of view. There were gunshots and sounds of commotion in the distance.

“You have to tell me where I can find my property now before it is too late,” Vex said.

Cutter couldn’t concentrate on Vex’s words because the bits of the man’s face visible in the holes of the mask, his eyes and mouth, seemed to be melting and sliding down his face and disappearing into the mask.

Before he could question it, there was another explosion and Cutter’s world went white in a blinding flash, before it went pitch black.

To be continued?

©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Skinship 2: A Touch of Suspicion

Skinship 1

Cutter didn’t know jack shit about investigating a murder, but he watched enough cop shows to know that the detectives always began their investigation by looking for clues in the victim’s home, so he headed straight for Mickie’s apartment. When he got there he expected to find crime scene tape over the apartment door but quickly realized that Mickie wasn’t killed in her apartment so that wouldn’t have made sense.

In case she went dark, as she used to call it, Mickie gave Cutter a set of keys because she typically returned with no personal possessions, except for the guitar. No matter how bad things got, or where she wound up, she always managed to hold onto her guitar. It was the only thing that kept her tethered to this reality. Cutter took it as a sign of trust but the niggling little voice in the back of his mind rationalized that him having a spare set of keys was easier to deal with than having to go to the nosy building superintendent or a locksmith to get back into her own apartment.

When he opened the door, the place was barely recognizable. The interior looked like it had been hit by a magnitude 9.2 earthquake, it had been ransacked so bad. Cutter stepped gingerly into the apartment, careful to avoid treading on the broken and discarded bits of the life Mickie left behind. Searching for clues when the apartment was in its normal state would have been hard enough, but this? Where would he start?

The window in the living room, the one that led to the fire escape was wide open, which was unusual, so he decided to start there. The planter Mickie kept on the fire escape, the one she grew her marijuana in, had been kicked over. Cutter reached outside and brought the planter in… and this was the precise moment that the building’s super let Detective Max Matthews into the apartment.


The interrogation room was smaller than the ones on tv, and instead of being in the center of the room, everything was pushed up against the wall opposite the door. His chair, the one Cutter was seated in, was in the corner diagonally opposite from the camera mounted in the upper far corner, and Detective Matthew sat across a small folding table from him.

“Why did you break into Michelle Clark’s apartment?” Matthews asked.

“I didn’t break in, I have a key,” Cutter said.

“You were given a key by Miss Clarke?”

“Yes, sir.”

“We’re going to need you to hand over that key.”

“But I have stuff in that apartment.”

“You can submit a list of items you claim belongs to you with Miss Clarke’s next of kin,” Matthews said. “Is that what you were doing in the apartment, collecting your stuff? Then why trash the place?”

“I didn’t do that. The place was totaled when I got there. The apartment door was locked but the window to the fire escape was wide open, which was probably how whoever broke into her place got in,” Cutter said.

“When I entered the premises, you were holding a flower pot containing cannabis. Was that why you were there, to grab your stash before the police arrived?”

Laughter unexpectedly burst from Cutter.

“Are you kidding me? Mickie grew her own weed on the fire escape for medicinal purposes. She claimed it helped level her out at times. Do you smoke? Try some, or get one of your experts to test it. It’s schwag ass weed. Barely gets you high and leaves you with a headache. Hardly the stuff to kill someone over,” Cutter said and instantly regretted his syntax.

“Oh, really? What’s some stuff you might kill someone over?”

“Me? I never killed anyone, so I couldn’t tell you. But you asked why I was there and the simple answer is someone killed my best friend and I was hoping I could find something, a clue, to bring to you guys.”

“You mentioned that you and Michelle…”

“Mickie. No one called her Michelle,” Cutter interrupted.

“All right, you and Mickie were friends, but were you ever intimate?” Matthews asked.

“We tried once, in the beginning, but it didn’t feel right. It was like making out with my sister, and she felt the same way, so if you’re trying to work out some sex angle thingie, you’re barking up the wrong tree, detective. We were friends, best friends, and that’s as far as it went. No extra benefits, no secret burning unrequited passions, just friends.”

“Can you tell me when was the last time you saw Mickie alive?”

“That would be the day she was murdered,” Cutter answered.

“What were you two doing leading up to the murder?”

“Let’s get one thing straight: from what I understand, Mickie was killed at night, I saw her earlier that day. I wasn’t with her in the evening leading up to the murder. Nice try, though.”

“I’m not making any sort of accusation,” Matthews said. “I’m just trying to get a clearer picture of the events that occurred that night. So, tell me about the last time you saw Mickie.”

“It was about noon or so,” Cutter said. “We met up in Washington Square Park, that’s where she used to busk. Sometimes she’d draw a decent crowd, but that day people weren’t in a folk song mood, I guess, so she packed it in early, we swung by her favorite ice cream spot, and went back to her apartment.”

“And what did you do there?”

“Chilled for a bit, listened to some music, ate our ice cream, talked, you know, regular stuff. She mentioned she had a gig in a bar later that night and asked me to come to show moral support. Of course, I was going to go, but I did that thing where I pretended to have other plans just so she could have a mini freak out and beg me to come, then I pretended to reluctantly relent. Don’t ask me why, it was one of those stupid teasing routines friends fall into sometimes. She said she had some business to take care of beforehand, so we agreed to meet at the bar, some little performance art hole-in-the-wall joint in the East Village, and I went home. That was the last time I saw Mickie.”

“And what time did you leave her apartment?”

“About five-ish.”

“And what were you doing that night between the hours of nine and midnight?”

“I was sitting in the bar, waiting for her, like I promised.”

“Can anyone corroborate your story?”

“Sure,” Cutter said. “Ask the manager of the joint. Mickie wasn’t answering my calls or texts, so I became a pain in the manager’s ass to see if he heard from her, if she canceled or called to say she’d be running late.”

“Where did she go after you left her that day?” Matthews asked.

“No idea.”

“You didn’t ask her?”

Cutter chuckled. “Mickie was the type of person you didn’t ask about her business, you learned that early on if you wanted to remain on friendly terms with her. If she wanted you to know, she’d tell you. If she didn’t tell you, mind your own business. Want to know something funny? Until today, I didn’t know her last name was Clarke, and I’m her best friend, so that should tell you how secretive she was.”

When Detective Matthews first entered the room, he was carrying a folder, which his hands rested on the entire interview.

“Now, I’m going to ask you an important question, and I need you to think about it before answering,” Matthews said. From the folder, he produced several photographs taken at the crime scene, and placed them on the table in front of Cutter, one by one. “Who would want to do this to Mickie?”

The photos showed different views of Mickie lying in an alleyway, covered in blood, with her head caved in. A separate picture displayed a hammer, the claw end covered in blood, hair, and unidentifiable matter.

“Jesus Christ!” Cutter jumped out of the chair and moved as far from the photos as possible. “Why the fuck would you show me something like that? Putting those fucking images in my head? That’s not the way I want to remember Mickie!”

“You don’t know how much it pains me to do this,” Mathews said, and this time his tone was softer, more compassionate, almost on the border of pleading. “I just need you to understand the seriousness of the situation. This is what some maniac did to your best friend. This is why we need to catch them, to stop them from doing it to another innocent person, to make them pay for what they did to the woman you loved.”

And the questioning went on like that for hours. Detective Matthews collected the name of the bar and manager to check out Cutter’s alibi, and in his absence, other detectives gave the interrogation a try, asking the same questions, introducing new theories and motives for Cutter wanting Mickie dead.

He was bone tired and aggravated to all hell, but he answered all the questions put to him, avoided all the tricky interrogation traps and pitfalls, and when his alibi panned out, Detective Matthews had no other choice but to release him.

It was nighttime when Cutter left the police station. He walked in the direction of the E train to head home, but he was so lost in his thoughts, trying to push the crime scene photos out of his head, that he hadn’t noticed the tinted-windowed black van bearing down on him until it came to a screeching halt curbside. The van’s back panel doors flew open and three men dressed in all black, wearing balaclavas, leaped out, grabbed Cutter, and tossed him inside like he weighed nothing. The men climbed in after the bewildered Cutter and slammed the doors shut, as the van sped off into the night.

To be continued?

©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Skinship: That Which Binds Us


And thus came the point in Cutter’s life where the number of people he knows—them what breathes—were equally balanced with the people he knew—them what don’t. At the moment, he was ruminating on one such them-what-don’t, an odd and utterly frustrating yet absolutely captivating and charming woman whom he only knew as Mickie.

It was at one of those wretched singles mixers that provided icebreaker questions and fill-in-the-blank statements designed for people who found making small talk with absolute strangers—in order to attract a mate or at the very least make a new friend—a nigh-impossible laborious chore. One of the more popular among these was the incomplete statement, “The first thing people usually notice about me is…”. With Mickie, it was her voice. Spoken, it was smooth enough to polish silver. In song? It was cool and blue and crystalline and bright enough to transport even the dourest of souls to better times, despite whatever kind of mood they were in.

Her hope was to pursue a singing career and every summer she would trudge down to New York City’s infamous Washington Square Park, guitar in tow, and sing to anyone who would listen. Even though she was an atheist, she hoped the god of dumb luck would smile down upon her and help her get discovered. And even though that never happened, it didn’t stop her from trying and giving it her all.

Cutter possessed no pictures of Mickie and only the vaguest of images lingered in his mind of the petite woman, barely bigger than her guitar, who belted out folk tunes that resonated from Greenwich Village all the way up to Carnegie Hall.

But, singing aside, she wasn’t a well woman. She had her first psychotic break when she was eleven. Moody and tearful one moment and positively beaming the next. Then she began disappearing for days at a stretch, only to reappear battered with what appeared to be self-inflicted wounds and no memory of what happened or where she had been.

When Mickie was in her positive state, she was extremely tactile. Always so overly affectionate and the type of person that simply had to touch whomever she was talking to. Cutter couldn’t lie, it used to annoy the hell out of him. He loved her like he loved bacon, but he wasn’t raised by affectionate parents which ultimately shaped him into an elbow room kind of guy. He even brought it up in conversation one day when she was super touchy-feely.

It’s skinship,” Mickie smiled in reply. “I share it with you; you share it with me, shit, we all share it with everybody we come in contact with. It’s an important part of communication. The kind we forget about because we’re all so wrapped up in words, which is stupid because I can touch you right now and convey more meaning than if I spoke to you for four days straight. My hand on yours binds us in a way that nothing else on this earth can.

At the time, Cutter debated this for perhaps an hour or so and he walked away unconvinced that she had any special insight regarding the communication of touch.

Now Cutter realized what an idiot he had been for not taking the time to try to understand what she was trying to tell him. And she was right, of course, because now he was sitting on a park bench near her favorite performing spot, wishing he could touch her, be bound to her. There were so many things he wanted to communicate to her, so many things he wanted to ask, primary among them, “Who murdered you?”

He was hellbent on finding out.

To be continued?

©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Busker For The Dead (Part 1)

I don’t have that look. Some people do, but I’m not so lucky. I don’t look like my profession. I’m a busker. Don’t laugh, it’s a living. Problem is, when you shut your eyes and picture a busker in your mind, be they small or tall, slight or portly, I will never fit the bill. I have the unfortunate appearance of someone whose job title is preceded by the word man. Milkman. Mailman. Garbageman. Just not a streetmusicman.

You may be asking why this is important. Fair enough question. When you’re panhandling for money–come on, let’s face facts, street performing is begging with a musical accompaniment–having the look of a starving artist plays as much a part in getting people to part with their hard-earned cash as talent.

“Oh, look at the poor wretch having to sing for his supper, let’s toss him a pittance, shall we, dear?”

Some of the others have nailed the look down from the hair that refuses to be tamed to the ragged clothes just over the borderline from being hip and trendy. Me? I look like a well-fed blue collar worker trying out a new hobby. That’s why I have to work twice as hard to earn half as much as my compadres. My audiences tend to be tight-fisted, self-absorbed philistines that expect blood for the bits of copper they toss my way.

Oh, I should probably mention that I busk for the dead.

Not the kind of job you rush out and apply for. Me? I kinda just fell into it. Turns out a friend of a friend knew a guy who used to work for the cousin of a woman who lived next door to a guy who was complaining that his employee just up and quit on him. Seems he couldn’t handle the stress of performing in Perdition, which I can plainly understand now.

What? No, I’m very much alive, thanks for asking. My work ID acts as a sort of day pass and allows me to mull about in Hell without experiencing any of the torment and damnation. Kinda cool, but it takes some getting used to.

Although it’s a paying gig, it ain’t enough to cover rent and bills–minimum wage in Hell is murder, no pun intended, so I rely heavily on the gratuity chucked into my hat. And yes, the dead have real money. Don’t ask me how that works. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the day pass into Hell thing.

My spot is the corner of Abaddon and Wretchedness, and while a part of the overall design of Hell, it’s technically Limbo, the waiting area where souls are processed and dispatched according to assessment. And as time moves differently in Hell, the wait can be an extensive one, so you figure folks would jump at the chance to experience anything that takes their minds off the situation at hand. That is so not the case. When facing damnation, the furthest thing from their minds is to listening to anyone sing. This is made evident from the contents of my hat. Today’s take so far consists of three dollars and eighteen cents in coins, a stick of chewing gum, a balled up snotty tissue and a punch card from some boutique java spot with one punch away from receiving a free coffee. The coins stay in the hat, the gum in my mouth, the tissue–ick–in the trash and the punch card in my pocket. I’m not one to go in for designer coffee but like The Police sang, “When the world is running down, you make the best of what’s still around.”

“Not what I expected,” a voice says from behind, nearly startling me out of my skin.

I turn to see a woman in her sixties, seventies, maybe–I’ve never been good at guestimating people’s ages–all done up as if for a night on the town. “You’re not the first person to say that.”

“And is it just me or is it chilly here?”

She was right, you’d figure being so close to Hell there’d be some sort of radiant heat, but there was a constant wind that blew shivers down the spine. “Not just you.”

“You’re not half bad, you know.” the woman said, looking into the hat. “You deserve more than that.”

I look up and down the avenue, We’re the only two people on the street at the moment. “It’s like they say, it all comes down to location, location, location.”

The woman opens her purse, a small clutch bag that’s a throwback to a classier time, and produces a two dollar bill. “I’m afraid I’m not in the habit of carrying cash, so this is all I have.”

“It’s the biggest tip I’ve received in a long while.” I smile as she places the bills into the hat.

“Not that I’ll have much need for it anymore.”

“Not unless you were crossing the river Styx.”

“You mean the ferryman doesn’t accept the card?” the woman pulls out an obsidian credit card. “I was told never to leave home without it.”

It’s an outdated reference, but we both chuckle at it.

“If you’ll pardon the intrusion,” the woman asks. “How did it happen?”

“How did what happen?”

“How did you die? Peacefully, I hope.”

“Oh, no. I’m not dead, I just work here.” I show the woman my day pass.

“How interesting.” and she appears to actually find it interesting but her expression drops.

“What’s the matter?”

“It would be my luck that the first person I strike up a conversation with in the afterlife would be with a living person. I was sort of hoping to find a travel companion for what lies ahead. I’ve always dreaded doing things by myself.”

“I’m not sure that’s how it works here. I think isolation is part of the torment process.” I realize what I’m saying just a smidgen too late to pull it back.

“Torment. I hadn’t considered that.”


“Not your fault. You’re not responsible for my sins.”

“I know I’ve just met you but it’s hard to believe you’d have anything to worry about.”

“Kind of you to say, but we’re all sinners in one fashion or another. I just wish there was a way for me to plead my case. I believe my sins were righteous.”

“You can always try.”

“No, no. I’ve never been good at that sort of thing.”

“Maybe if you practiced, rehearsed what you want to say? You can try it out on me and I’ll give you my honest feedback.”

“No, I couldn’t.”

“What have you got to lose? If you botch it up, you’re still being condemned anyway, at least this way you’ll have had your say.”

“Like my final words?”


She contemplates it long and hard. “All right then, if it wouldn’t be a bother.”

I gesture up and down the block. “Not like I’m doing anything else. Ready?”

“No, but go on.”

I straighten my posture and assume an authoritative voice. “You stand here accused of the sin of…”

“Murder.” she adds, sheepishly.

“Murder.” I repeat, stunned. “What say you in your defense?”

“I don’t deserve to be here. I was sent to the wrong place. I did what needed to be done, what no one else had the courage to do and now I’m being punished for my actions.”

“And whose life did you take?”

“My own.”


“Others would have died if I didn’t.”

To be continued…

Text and audio ©2015 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys