THE SKIN MECHANIC (part 6 of 6)

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I suppose Mia had kept me drugged all day long, because when I woke up it was night. I lay in the bath with dried vomit on my chest and pain behind my eyes. There was a man in the bathroom with me. He was crouched by the door, peeking through the keyhole. The door was obviously locked from the outside.

When he saw I was conscious, he put a finger to his lips and whispered, "Keep quiet. I'm a policeman. Stay calm, and I'll get us out of this."

An undercover cop. He thought I was one of Lady Bathory's victims – which wasn't far from the truth, I suppose. He was frightened. He shook his head a couple of times as if to clear it of grogginess. Obviously Mia had got him into the bathroom with the help of drugs, too.

Mia's voice came through the door. "You're going nowhere, Mr Plod," she said. She sounded excited. "You're going to die here tonight."

The policeman couldn't have escaped. The window in the bathroom wouldn't open, and even if he smashed it, it was too small for him to climb through. Shouting for help was pointless too; the motel was caught between wasteland and a noisy motorway.

Desperate now, he said to me, "Can you stand? If I get this door open, are you strong enough to fight?"

"I can hear you, you bastard!" Mia screamed through the door. "It's not me you've got to worry about - it's the man in there with you. He's the Skin Mechanic."

The policeman looked at me, his expression doubtful but calculating.

You have to understand, I had no idea of the time, and all I could think was that Max would arrive any second to take my skin unless I acted. I panicked. Mumbling, "Sorry," I fumbled the cutthroat from my pocket, and tried to open it with thick fingers. Mia had thrown me into a fighting pit, a dog-eat-dog situation, and I didn't stand a chance. The policeman took one look at the cutthroat, and he beat the crap out of me.

I don't really remember what occurred next. I suppose Mia must have figured out what had happened and opened the bathroom door. I remember hearing a scuffle, but no shouting, and the sound of one person hitting another with something heavy, over and over and over. And then Mia was at my side, helping me to sit up in the bath. She put my cutthroat into my hand, as though it would give me comfort, and she pushed the hair back from my face. There was a bruise forming on her cheek.

"I'm sorry," she said, kissing my forehead. "It wasn't meant to happen that way. But don't worry. I've taken care of things for you. That copper – he's dead. Max can take his skin."

But Mia didn't understand; she never had.

Max isn't interested in just anyone's cast-offs. He's only interested in what I provide for him. He only wants the skins I mark, and he wants them live, fresh. And that night, Mia had backed me into a corner.

The first cut seemed to confuse her. I slashed the cutthroat across her face, and she stared at me, disbelieving. The second sliced through her T-shirt and the skin of her stomach. She jumped to her feet and backed away. There was blood on her hands and in her eyes. There was no time to say anything more to each other, no time for goodbye or sorry. Max stripped her naked, and her shredded clothes fluttered around the bathroom like confetti. Mia gave a worried moan, and then Max ripped the skin from her body, all of it, from head to toe. Mia's raw and wet remains slapped to the bathroom floor in a heap. Her skin hung in the air like a full body suit for a moment, and then disappeared.

I should've left her long before, when I had the chance.

If you're scouring these words for clues that will reveal identity, don't bother. Everything I've written here, everything I've told you, will only lead to Mia: Lady Bathory. At least that's another case you can close.

You'll never find me. Let me tell you straight; it's impossible for you to know who I am, because you think I'm already dead. You won't catch my face on CCTV, find my fingerprints or any other forensic evidence. Max won't allow it. He doesn't want you to catch me. He wants me to give up. He wants me to reach the day when I finally refuse to mark anyone else for him. That's the game he can't lose, you see. No one's skin is more desirable to Max than that of the Skin Mechanic.

And please – please – if you go public with this, allow the press to publish it, don't let them say it's a confession, or that I'm crying out for help. Let them know the truth.

Let them know I just wanted to tell you about Mia.

Thank you for reading. If you're enjoying the story, please remember to vote. I try my best to reply to all comments, and questions are always welcome.

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