"Can we dispense with the blindfold now, gentlemen?" Djvonic asked.
No response. He wasn't completely sure these guys even spoke English. One of them said, "Put this on" about an hour ago, thrusting the blindfold against Djvonic's chest, but that might have been a learned phrase. Since then he had been bundled into the back of a van and driven through endless back streets and into what felt and sounded like an underground car park. To the best of his reckoning, he was now in an elevator that was most curiously going down, rather than up. Secret underground lair? Who did this asshole Lazarus think he was? Fucking Blofeld or something? Resolution: if he has a white Persian cat, I'm outta here!
"Congratulations, your secret lair is still a secret," Djvonic sighed. "We're about a fucking mile underground but otherwise I have no idea where we are, so can we put a lid on the fucking 1980's cloak and dagger bullshit?"
"Shut up." That sounded like the same voice as Mr Put-This-On, or as Djvonic had come to think of him: The Man With No Neck. "Don't make me kill you," he finished. Must be feeling chatty.
He felt the elevator slowing and then glide to a stop. He was led down a corridor – long and empty by the hollow sound of their footsteps – and then one of them gripped him above the elbow, swinging him through a door and into a room.
"Wait," Neckless The Second grunted, then they both left and shut the door behind them.
Djvonic heard the lock engage after the door closed. He sensed that he was on his own and pulled the blindfold off.
"Thanks for the lift," he called, his voice laced with deadpan irony. "Can I have your card? I like a driver who appreciates the old-fashioned values like indifference and discourtesy." No response; just fading footsteps. Probably just as well, he could maybe take Neckless on his own, but not his less loquacious friend as well.
Was all this supposed to intimidate him? The blindfold, the goons driving him in circles, the secret location? It seemed more contrived to Djvonic than intimidating. Did Lazarus have any idea who he was dealing with? Surely he'd done his homework; he'd know that men have died for much less than the disrespect he was being shown. And if Lazarus didn't live up to the rumours Djvonic had heard, then dead was exactly how he would finish up. Oh, but if those rumours were true? Well then, high-end prostitution was about to take a very exciting upward turn, my friends, and I'll control it all. For that, he figured he could tolerate a couple of disrespectful goons.
Djvonic looked around the room; it was some kind of post-modern waiting room, decorated in neutral tones with a few chairs and side-tables. There were artless geometric prints on all walls except one, where there was a huge, opaque glass panel. Two-way mirror? Probably not; the room wasn't brightly lit and besides, the glass was opaque, not mirrored. More likely, it was that fancy privacy glass that turned clear at the flick of a switch. But when the glass cleared, who would be looking at whom?
He checked the door (locked) and quickly scanned for security cameras without finding one. Didn't mean there weren't any though; damn things were just too small and easy to camouflage these days. Safer to assume that eyes were always watching. Djvonic sat down and checked his phone. No service, no GPS. Quelle surprise!
He waited. Lazarus had better be a fucking magician.
"Mr Djvonic, a pleasure to finally meet you. Has anyone offered you a drink?"
A young man swept into the room; early twenties or thereabouts, tall and good looking with a shock of undercut black hair that was so bedraggled it must have been styled that way. The tailored t-shirt and slim jeans completed the picture: hipster. Great, Lazarus was employing his fucking nephew as an office boy. The fifteen-minute wait had done nothing to improve Djvonic's humour, and this kid was not helping matters. Man, he hated hipsters. Fucking quinoa-munching, pot-smoking, organic gardening socialists who choke up the inner suburbs, sitting outside their fucking macrobiotic cafes in their fucking Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses, sipping fucking fairplay single origin lattes through million-dollar orthodontic smiles that their Baby Boomer parents gave up their retirement to fund. His daughter Mandy had just finished high school; God forbid she turns into another fucking hipster.
"Please tell me I didn't go through all this to meet Lazarus's fucking cock-polisher," Djvonic said flatly. "Turn around and go get your boss, son. There's a good boy."
"I beg your pardon, Sir," the smile slid off the hipster's face as he turned back to the door. "I'll be just a moment.
He disappeared through the door as quickly as he'd arrived, but then a second later it opened again with the hipster back, his white smile beaming all the more brilliantly.
"Mr Djvonic, a pleasure to finally meet you. Allow me to introduce myself; I am Lazarus, CEO and founder of Heaven Can Wait." The hipster was holding out his hand in greeting, but Djvonic hadn't taken it yet. He wanted to bitch-slap the precocious little prick, but an alarm bell from his subconscious – that intuition that had saved his life in a dozen bad deals as a teenager and countless turf wars as an adult – warned him to hold back.
"Lazarus," he said, inclining his head and raising one eyebrow sceptically. "Really?" He thought that showed the right amount of incredulity at meeting a twenty-two-year-old underworld boss without being overly rude ... just in case.
"Shake my hand, you fat cunt," the hipster said mildly, his smile still gleaming. "Or I'll strangle your daughter's cat."
Figure of speech? Or did he know Mandy had a cat? If this kid wasn't Lazarus then he had brass balls the size of grapefruits. But if he was, then now they were even for his "There's a good boy" quip a moment ago. Playing it safe, Djvonic shook his hand. Neither of them tried any me-on-top mind fuck or macho bone-crusher bullshit, which was a positive step considering how this meeting had started out.
"Marvellous!" the hipster beamed, his eyes dancing with a psychotic light that made Djvonic nervous. "I think we're going to be fine friends, don't you?"
"Do you know who I am?" Djvonic asked in a low voice. He wanted the other guy to keep talking while he worked out who was in charge here.
"Of course I do, Mr Djvonic," he grinned. "That's the third time I've addressed you and we've even shaken hands. I would say we're well met, wouldn't you?"
Fucking smart-arse hipsters. Djvonic sighed and then opened his mouth to speak when the kid butted in.
"Andrej Djvonic, 53, born in Balmain, Sydney to Serbian migrants Mladen and Petra. Grew up in the inner suburbs dealing heroin on street corners but never established a gang affiliation. Six months in juvie when you were seventeen, but no adult criminal record. Your post-juvie career in pimping around Kings Cross hit a snag immediately when New South Wales legalised prostitution in 1979, but you moved to Melbourne and peddled whores in St Kilda for another six years before they too legalised the industry. You used your bankroll to move back to Sydney and bought into a legal brothel in Paddington, which you stuck with long enough to collect and train four of Sydney's most beautiful and exotic young whores, whereby you cashed out and started Australia's most prestigious high-end escort agency.
"Much to your parents' disgust, you married a Croatian, Allessandra, in 1995 and fathered Magdalena the following year. You're still engaged in mostly legal prostitution and mostly illegal human trafficking, and you spend three months of each year in Eastern Europe or South America looking for beautiful but disadvantaged young women whom you teach English, manners and fucking, in no particular order and then put them to work in your agencies."
Djvonic remained impassive through this, trying to hide his surprise so as not to give this cum-splat the pleasure of seeing him rattled.
"And what about me, Mr Djvonic?" the kid calling himself Lazarus asked. "Surely you too have done your homework?"
"Well Mr Lazarus, if that's who you are," Djvonic began, choosing his words carefully to mitigate his great lack of useful information. "With apologies to Winston Churchill, you are a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Beyond eight years ago, there's no trace of you, but since then you've cropped up in identity theft and long cons. In the last year or two, rumours began to do the rounds on the subject of mind control and personality imprinting." Djvonic was watching Lazarus for any signs that he was right or wrong, but the younger man was giving away no clues.
"Which brings us to our current problem, Mr Lazarus," he went on.
"Just Lazarus, please," he said, his smile so broad Djvonic wanted to punch it.
"Which brings us to our current problem, Lazarus," he repeated. "If my intel' is right – and for what I paid, it'd better be – then I'd guess you were about fourteen years old when you came to prominence as a criminal overlord in Sydney, which I reckon you'd agree, warrants some kind of explanation."
"Oh, Mr Djvonic, I assure you your research is indeed correct, although it is lacking in my less recent history," Lazarus explained, guiding his guest to a chair and taking the one opposite for himself. "I got my start in identity theft around the same time you got yours in prostitution, although back then I was mostly reselling stolen credit cards and passports. Notwithstanding my current youthful good looks, it's true that we are in fact the same age."
"What if I told you I find that difficult to believe?" Djvonic replied casually. His subconscious alarm was still pinging; despite his words, he was half way to believing this man was Lazarus. Worse, he was also half way to believing the impossible story he was being told.
"And yet it's completely true, Mr Djvonic," Lazarus shrugged, hands extended in a what-can-you-do gesture. "My most recent breakthroughs – to which you've already alluded – can be applied to solve problems we previously thought intractable. Like ageing, for instance."
"So how old are you?" Djvonic asked quickly.
"As I said, the same age as you, fifty-three," Lazarus replied indulgently. "Give me a hard one, Mr Djvonic."
"Who was Prime Minister when you were a kid?" Djvonic shot back. He watched the younger looking man's eyes, searching for those telltale signs of deceit.
"I was too young to remember Menzies, though he was much discussed," Lazarus said. "But I do remember Harold Holt drowning and McEwen taking office. Anything else?"
"Where were you for the Apollo 11 Moon Landing?" Djvonic asked, and then realising that one was too easy, he added, "and what time of day was it?"
"It was a school day," Lazarus sighed. "I was in Grade Two and Miss O'Connell left the television on for most of the morning. Armstrong and Aldrin came down the ladder at around lunchtime, Sydney time. I remember this because I had a crushed up ball of waxed paper from my sandwiches in my fist while I watched.
"How am I going, Mr Djvonic?" Lazarus sat back and crossed his legs. "Convinced?"
Some famous recollections from the 1960's wouldn't be too hard to fake, but why bother? What would be the point? More than anything, that convinced Djvonic that Lazarus was telling the truth ... or at least some version of the truth. Could he really have reversed the aging process? And if so, why wouldn't he sell the technology legitimately?
"Maybe," Djvonic answered. "So what else have you got? I've heard whispers, but they're about as easy to believe as your age."
"What can't I do, Mr Djvonic?" Lazarus sat forward, his eyes twinkling with mad light again. "That is the better question. What can't I do? You're a man who deals in fantasies, are you not? How is the market for them at the moment?"
This was a subtle turn in the conversation, and it wasn't lost on Djvonic. The introductions were over and now it was time to talk business.
"A man who deals in fantasies," he mused, warming slightly to the other man's charisma. "A strange choice of words. Most people would say I traded in women or sex, but I like your description better. The bottom tier of my trade sells sex; nothing more than wet holes to be plugged for a reasonable price. Next up is kinks and fetishes; usually women who are prepared to suffer pain and humiliation – or maybe inflict it," he quickly interjected, "to earn an extra quid."
"Neither of which are in direct competition with your business, correct?" Lazarus interjected.
"Right," Djvonic agreed. "Don't get me wrong," he waved an instructive finger, "there is a good market for masochism, but too often either the girls come back fucked-up or the client is pissed because they couldn't fuck them up enough, both of which spoil the chance of repeat business, which in my book is bad business."
"So you deal in fantasies," Lazarus stated. "Exotic fantasies."
"Beautiful, exotic, intelligent women. Exactly!" he said, checking off the points on his fingers. "Yours for no less than the full night, but more often for the weekend or the length of a holiday. The girls love those ones. 'Companions', is the word we use. Not just willing sexual partners, they're for wealthy men who've had their fill of dumb blondes and gold diggers."
"I sense a 'but'," smiled Lazarus, leaning forwards with his fingers steepled beneath his chin.
"But it's changing," Djvonic replied resignedly. "Fantasies aren't what they used to be. Fucking liberalism and internet porn has made everyone a fucking expert; Johns are exacting in how a woman should look and act and fuck. I said 'Repeat Business' earlier; we make a decent dollar off individual transactions, but our customer base is so narrow, repeat business is crucial. We can't afford to have these guys walking off soft, but they're so bloody hard to please, there's fuck-all we can do about it."
"Exactly!" Lazarus cried; Djvonic's problems seemed to please him greatly. "Your clients have very specific fantasies in mind – very real fantasies, if you like – and they're becoming increasingly difficult to fulfil."
"Real fantasies," Djvonic nodded, pointing at the other man in agreement. "You don't know how true that is. At least half of our Johns give us photos, videos, and even fucking names and addresses, for fuck's sake, of their doctor or gym instructor or barista; women they know and fantasise about but can't have. And we try to supply a surrogate, someone who looks, sounds, and behaves like what they want."
"And you're here because you see this shift as an opportunity," Lazarus actually rubbed his hands together in delight. "Tailored fantasies, a way to differentiate yourself from the competition."
Djvonic eyed him carefully. "So you can do something like this?" he asked slowly, beginning to get excited.
"Tell me, Mr Djvonic," Lazarus continued, ignoring the question. "What's your tailored fantasy?" He rested his chin on his fist and studied the other man, awaiting his reply.
"Ha!" he exclaimed. "I don't do fantasies. I've been in this game too long. I learned a long time ago that they're better kept than fulfilled."
"Very wise," Lazarus smiled. "But not indulging them is very different to not having them. Come on," he nodded conspiratorially, "just between you and me; two men talking. We all have a fantasy. Mine for instance is a beautiful young woman I see occasionally in the park. She knits, very nearly a lost art these days, don't you think. In my fantasy, she's riding me cowgirl style, knitting and whispering the pattern to herself while she slowly brings herself to orgasm."
Djvonic could see the attraction immediately. The juxtaposition of fucking and something prim and wholesome like knitting was a staple of his industry. Lazarus sat back and waited for him to reciprocate.
"My daughter's old maths teacher," Djvonic said, waving his hand dismissively. "Young, slim, and hot, but the way she dresses and the way she carries herself make it look as though she considers herself plain. I imagine leaning her over her own desk and boning her while she's teaching the class."
"And there you go," Lazarus gestured widely with both hands. "We all have them, but we rarely get to indulge them." Then he locked eyes with Djvonic and his face took on an expression of fierce intensity. "What if I told you that you could have your daughter's Maths teacher? Not in front of her class perhaps, but in privacy at a time and place of your choosing."
"A look-alike, then?" Djvonic asked, but the rapid pumping of his heart belied the false innocence of that question. This was what he'd come for. What was this man really capable of?
"Not a look-alike," Lazarus said through a knowing smile. "The actual woman herself. Perhaps not behaviourally so; after all, your Maths teacher may not really wish to be bent over her desk and fucked by a man twice her age, so obviously there needs to be some personality adjustment."
"Mind control!" Djvonic whispered, eyes wide with awe.
"Of a form, Mr Djvonic. Of a form," Lazarus waited for these revelations to sink in.
"But the fall-out..." he mused, mostly to himself. "Even if the women themselves don't notice the change, their friends and family will."
"The process is completely reversible," Lazarus offered. "Zero consequences. Or as close to zero as makes no difference."
"And you can do this now? Today?" As hard as it was, this was something Djvonic desperately wanted to believe. The possibilities ... boundless! What might billionaires pay for the right woman who was otherwise unavailable?
"That's why I brought you here," Lazarus explained. "I have the technology and you have the network. Prostitution is merely scraping the surface of my capability, Mr Djvonic. Once we've demonstrated the potential to your clients, I expect to sell them much more fantastical and lucrative services, but sex is the gateway. Have I piqued your interest?"
"Am I interested?" Djvonic tilted his head questioningly. "Yes. Convinced? Not yet. You can sing in tune, Lazarus, but I need to see you dance."
"What florid imagery, Mr Djvonic," Lazarus clapped his hands, laughing. "I was expecting just such a challenge, so I prepared a demonstration for you." Lazarus stood and beckoned the other man to follow him over to the glass wall. He tapped on it three times and a moment later, it turned clear, confirming Djvonic's earlier guess that it was electronic privacy glass. There was an attractive, middle-aged woman on the other side wearing a white lab coat, her finger still on the switch that cleared the window.
Djvonic scanned the rest of what looked like a medical treatment room; it was mostly bare apart from a trio of large devices that looked like MRIs he'd seen on television, huge cylinders with a hole in the middle and a bed that slides in and out. The three machines were coloured green, white, and red respectively, and each one was occupied by a motionless woman, their heads inside the machines and not visible from Djvonic's vantage point behind the glass. There seemed to be some kind of colour coding; the woman in the green machine wore a green hospital johnny, and similarly the one in the red machine was dressed in red. Although they had a healthy flesh colour, they wore toe-tags, and Djvonic wondered whether they might be dead.
The woman in the middle – the white machine – was the exception; she wore a pair of stylish pink heels and a pretty sundress. Even without seeing her face, Djvonic could tell that she was young and beautiful. Smooth, shapely legs. Full, firm breasts. And with her dress moulding to every luscious curve, the Y-shaped crease at the junction of her thighs formed a target that drew the eye and revved his ageing libido. Considering the conversation he'd just been having, Djvonic couldn't help wondering who this young beauty was and what Lazarus had in store for her.
"Crank it up, Ailsa," Lazarus said, making a spinning gesture with his fist to the woman in the lab coat. Djvonic doubted she could hear them, but she nodded her assent and picked up a computer tablet from the bench beside the window.
"What's she doing" Djvonic asked as they watched her navigate series of screens that presumably controlled the machines.
"Shhh," Lazarus dismissed the question. "Just watch. It won't take long."
The machines hummed to life with a low, cyclic beat. The woman, Ailsa, had her back to the window and Djvonic was able to watch what was happening on her screen. It showed a graphic of a human brain, and as the machines worked, small areas on the image illuminated like a heat-map before moving on to a new location. A progress indicator at the bottom slowly filled, but then when it reached one-hundred percent, the screen momentarily cleared and then started again from scratch. Djvonic had been holding his breath and released it with a shaky wheeze when he realised the process was still going. He was so keyed up. What the fuck was about to happen?
The progress bar slowly filled again with the brain map firing light-bursts like a satellite stop-motion video of a thunderstorm.
"Let's go take a look-see, shall we?" Lazarus said cheerfully, clapping the other man on the upper arm and moving towards the door. Djvonic's heart was racing; he wanted to think it was because of the enormity of this business proposition (mind control, fucking mind control!) but it was more than that; he could feel his cock hardening uncomfortably in his underwear, and he couldn't stop thinking about what might happen to the gorgeous young woman in the middle machine. What would she be made to do?
Lazarus led him to the adjacent room and held the door open, allowing Djvonic to enter first. The red and green robed women were still lying motionless in their machines, but the girl in the middle was sitting up, awake. The technician Ailsa was examining her pupils with an ophthalmoscope, blocking most of his view and only heightening the tension. All Djvonic could see was a corona of stunning, ice-blonde hair, the tips of her breasts beneath tight bodice of her sun-dress, and her long, smooth, flawless legs, which looked trim and round, even with her seated weight resting on them. Good God, he was with beautiful women every day and he'd fucked more of them than he could remember, but the thought of this nubile young thing – giving her body in a way that would be utterly out of character – had him harder than he could remember being in the last ten years.
"I think you're good to go, honey," Ailsa said, stepping away from the blonde and putting away her ophthalmoscope.
"Mandy?" Djvonic blurted, stunned almost beyond rational response to see his own daughter in this underground criminal lair. "What the blue fuck is going on?" he cried, turning angrily on Lazarus.
"Daddy?" the blonde girl asked, sounding just as confused as Djvonic. Then more excitedly, "Daddy!" She jumped off the bed and ran to her father, barrelling into him as she had done as a child, rocking him back on his heels. She threw her arms around his broad chest and hugged him fiercely, her breasts swelling lusciously out the top of her dress as she pressed them into his body.
Djvonic was doubly taken aback. Although she'd been a very tactile and expressive child, she hadn't hugged him so heedlessly, pressing the full length of her slim, young body into his, since she began to develop breasts several years ago. Djvonic realised with mounting horror that the sweet softness bearing down on his hard cock was the delicate mound of her vulva.
"Daddy, I didn't expect to see you here," Mandy said, kissing his cheek. "Oh my!" she smiled at him, leaning her chest back but pressing her pussy more firmly into his cock. "Is this for me?" Locking her eyes on his, she slowly ground her hips and opened herself up against her father's manhood. "It is for me, isn't it Daddy?" she cooed softly.
"Mandy, no!" Djvonic croaked, trying to prise his daughter's supple, young body away from him.
"Mandy, yes," Lazarus said calmly as he lightly pressed a scalpel to Djvonic's jugular. "Please don't move, Mr Djvonic. I wouldn't like for Magdalena's pretty dress to be blood-stained."
"What the fuck is your game, asshole?" Djvonic said through gritted teeth, conscious of the fact that even talking could cause the deadly scalpel to cut him.