B: The Biggest Trick

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Alliteration aside, Luscious Lucius really was the lothario of leisurely ladies. His track ran ‘neath those of the el train that delivered potential tricks and proven clientele to the product he offered. Well, offered is inaccurate: he was simply the middleman who ensured the transaction took place and his stable of ladies were kept draped in only the finest.

One night, Square Biz Sue—his bottom bitch—brought him a new lovely to audition. Sue, who looked more like the schoolteacher she had been at one time, screened all potential candidates. “Hey, Daddy,” she called to him, as was her custom.

Lucius was posted up next to one of the steel girders that served as support for the train tracks. The muck and filth of the city was beneath his Italian leather shoes he’d had imported all the way from 63rd Street. His face, affixed in a semi-permanent sneer, he’d been watching one of his newbies turn a trick in dark alley. Only lames paid for the horizontal mambo, even when performed vertically. He turned his attention to Sue, considering whether or not to deliver a swift backhand for distracting him from observing the back-alley Olympics. “What you want, bay-bee,” he asked in his sing-songy cadence which was his manner of speaking.

“I brought you a new one, Luscious.”

He exhaled, rolling his eyes behind the sunglasses he wore even during his nighttime hours. Only suckers got up in the morning for work, after all.

His pimp hand itched. One of the best ways to show just how cold of a player he could be and make an initial impression was to issue randomized discipline, whether his lady deserved it or not. Sue was loyal and brought him every dime; she even kept the other hoes in line, making them do the same. Still, his pinky ring desired to make its mark.

He readied his paw, the fingernails manicured and buffed to a gloss, about to deliver some of that corner education. The gorgeous slab of steak that stepped out of the conical streetlamp’s glow caused him to freeze in mid-strike.

Sue had already done the perfunctory cringe, a dull look of acted surprise on her made-up face. It was almost funny, watching one of her eyes slowly open when his hand didn’t hit its mark. It was almost as comical, seeing her pimp standing statue-still, his ring gleaming, his rat-fur coat blowing in the breeze, while his mouth hung in a guffaw.

Her assumption was correct, for Sue wasn’t as dumb as he always told her she was.

“Hi, Luscious,” the neophyte purred, rocking a t-shirt so tight, jeans so hip-hugging, and afro puffs so soft, it left her beholder bewitched.

The man forgot his assault and almost stood to attention, composing himself. With two long fingers, he slicked his hair back and adjusted his fedora. He smiled, forgetting all about Sue. “And who are you,” the human cartoon character inquired.

She puckered her reddened lips, her voice never rising much over a whisper: “I’m Sweet Shannon.”

“CLAWD HAMMERCY,” he exclaimed. “Indeed, you are!”

Sue had seen it dozens, if not hundreds of times when a new girl came to try out for Lucius’s stable. He always got dumb for a new set of thighs and the thought of a new piece of ass giving birth to dollar signs. Though he claimed he was, he was far from a good man. And it was time for things to change.

He buzzed around Shannon like a bee over a field of daffodils, high from the thought of the forthcoming “audition.” But he was in for quite the surprise.

The girls weren’t happy. Lucius was like all other purveyors of human flesh, making false promises that were backed up with the ready threat of violence. And, for all the work they put in on their knees and backs night after night, a misogynistic clown with bad fashion sense wouldn’t rule over them.

Susan had earned her nickname because, unlike most of the other girls, she was older and college educated. After some personal tragedy and the loss of her home, she had to do something to survive. Selling herself went from being a short-time plan to three years under Lucius with his constant cruelties. It didn’t take a CPA license to understand that the balance sheet didn’t. She was smarter than him and much more than some man’s living blowup doll.

For all the sexy pouting and primping, Shannon was much more than she appeared. Sue had met her and other members of her coven during a rare night off and made a deal. Her name wasn’t actually Shannon, but Sanguine. Sue didn’t expect for an idiot like Luscious Lucius to be able to understand the meaning or pun in the new girl’s name until he gave her a complimentary “test drive.”

Sue watched the seductive sway of the younger-looking woman’s ancient hips as she coaxed the pimp into the alley for what she’d been doing for more than a thousand years, if her claim was right… She’d worked the pyramids in what was now Central America forever ago, where the blood flowed down the steps until it congealed at the foot… Sanguine and her kind reveled in and subsisted off the red stuff.

And Lucius would be her next meal.

Sue smiled under the glow of lamplight, happy for the first time in years. She thought to turn away, but decided instead to invite the other girls watch as they all were about to be freed. After all, it wasn’t everyday a pimp was subjected to being the biggest trick…

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Cuddly

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Like clockwork, each month, my uterus went through a ritual of trying to turn itself inside-out. This made for some rather sleepless nights when the cramps were at their worst. I stumbled back from the bathroom, initially happy to get back to sleep until I saw him. Gerald had wrapped himself up on his side of the bed, stealing all the covers. As if to balance out his inconsiderate move, he’d left me a hot water bottle.

“I brought you a little something,” he said.

I wanted to comment that he’d also taken a little something by rolling himself up in the comforter, hogging it to the left side. Instead, I took notice of the bottle’s silhouette and replied, “How’d you know?”

“C’mon, babe,” he said, shifting a bit on his old pillow. “After all these years, you think I wouldn’t be aware of such a thing?”

“I guess you’re right.”

Oddly, I didn’t hear him head to the kitchen as I made my way to the restroom. I didn’t hear him stumbling about clumsily as he typically did, nor did I pick up the sound of running water. I wasn’t going to question how he’d done it. He wanted to impress me with the fact that he’d done it at all. I just wish he could’ve been as considerate when he was still…

“Come to bed,” he said, patting the right side of the mattress. “We can cuddle.”

With the blinds partially open, the pale moonlight formed stripes that contoured over the sheets, pillows…and my husband’s body, wrapped up in the blanket. This was a problem, because Gerald had been dead for over thirteen months and I’d paid good money to ensure he was. Yet, he always came back, more like cockroaches after an exterminator’s visit than undying love. I saw his presence as the former, his being there making the hairs levitate from the back of my neck; he saw never leaving me alone as an act of the latter: love everlasting.

I just wanted him gone.

“Come to bed,” he repeated, more demanding than asking this time. That’d been more like the tone I was used to, thinly veiled by feigned sweetness. The hand flipping back the covers and inviting me into his cocoon was gray and skeletal. Earthworms slithered through and beetles gnawed away at the dermis and tendons of his forearm. Graveyard dirt soiled the sheets and matched the dank, stolid smell hanging in the air. “We can cuddle.”

But I didn’t want to be near him, let alone make spoons so that his bony, dead fingertips could make my skin crawl. “I’m not feeling well, hon.”

“I know,” he said, his empty eye sockets ogling me. “But that’s why I’m here. The vow I took said ‘in sickness and in health.’ Remember that?”

“Yes. But I also recall something about ‘till death do us part.’”

He flashed a snaggletooth grin, his lips long devoured by insects, yet smiling, nonetheless. “That’s a minor hiccup, since I died before my time. I’m never going to leave you, Marjorie!”

I wished that he could’ve relented on that statement like his empty promises to stop drinking and to never hit me again. In death, there was no need to consume alcohol, he’d once told me, and with his muscles rotted away, he exerted no physical strength to worry me. It’s just that my husband’s constant nighttime visits ate away at my sanity like the spiders and maggots and stink bugs had done to his body.

The moonlight shifted and more of him was visible now. There was a garter snake inching along his pelvis where his penis should’ve been. He’d raped me the night he died, so anything phallic near him made me relive that horror.

Tears streamed down my cheeks and I forgot about the cramps and the hot water bottle which had been his gesture of kindness. And, though I wanted to run, my feet were cast in magnetized lead. I could move no way but toward him.

“That’s it,” he sang, his deteriorated vocal cords making his voice sound like fingernails across a chalkboard. “Come cuddle with your man, girl!”

With my sobs came the irrigation of snot and I didn’t care to wipe it away. All I could do was submit to his beckoning and climb back into the bondage of our marital bed.

© 2014, Don Miskel.

Whippersnapper

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“I hate when it rains. Reduces visibility.” That was my uninformed, upstart of a partner running his mouth again, not knowing a damn thing about anything that mattered.

“You talk too fuckin’ much,” I said gruffly. Stakeout tête-à-tête made the time go by, but it was only when that conversation wasn’t for the sake of creating carbon dioxide. “What’d I tell you about that?”

He sighed like a frustrated little brat that’d been relegated to the nearest corner when all he wanted to do was play.

“Rain is a good thing,” I informed him. “Reduced visibility makes it harder for witnesses to make out detail…and it washes away evidence, too. Lemme see your piece.”

I didn’t particularly like breaking in the new guys, tagging along so they didn’t make the stupid mistakes not covered in class. However, it was us older cats—me being one of the most ancient still able to work in the field—that pulled the coattails of the irreverent ranks.

He unholstered his firearm—a huge, gaudy monstrosity that would make a movie action hero soil himself with delight. He was trying to overcompensate and impress me. The organization already knew he had the basic skills to do the job; it was left to me to get the tyke fine-tuned.

“.50 cal, huh?”

He nodded proudly, big stupid grin extending upward to his rosy cheeks.

“We ain’t huntin’ buffalo, kid.”

His smile faded a shade and his brow creased ever-so-slightly. To him, I was a crotchety old relic that should’ve retired around the time his daddy refused to pull out the kid’s whore of a mother. I could’ve said something to the beat of the best part of him went running down Mama’s thighs and gummed up the sheets, but I didn’t. This was a learning opportunity for the youngster. I reached into my belt and pulled out my primary: an easily concealable, smaller caliber wheel gun.

“Whatcha gonna do with that, Pops,” the kid demanded to know. He was determined to let me know he had the cajones, smarts, and speed to get the job done. It was yet another teaching moment, of which the night seemed to have no shortage. “Rob stagecoaches?”

To that, he guffawed, still gripping the butt of his hand cannon. I smirked, since I could appreciate a good sense of humor. Besides, it would take more than remarks about my age or tools of the trade to get me seeing red.

“You’re funny, son. I like that.” A silence settled between us and I didn’t blink. “How many rounds does that thing carry?”

“Twelve,” he said with a defiant nod. “Twice as many as your old peacemaker.”

“Twice as likely to get your hopes up and twice as likely to get you killed, too. I have exactly six chances to get the job done right. That means I take my time and aim, remembering my fundamentals. I breathe, apply even pressure on the trigger, and pull it smoothly to the rear. Each round counts.”

“Takes too long,” he exclaimed dismissively. “By the time you fire your second shot, I’d already have emptied the clip and begun my reload.”

“You’re right. And there would be empty shell casings all over for the cops to find and accidentally wounded bystanders for them to question.” I leaned back a bit, squaring him up. “I’ll bet you even shoot sideways, like you’re in some in-the-‘hood gangster flick.”

His smartass expression said, Yeah and so what, old man?! It was his blatantly disrespectful attitude that made me decide just how to capitalize on the moment. After all, lion cubs had to be groomed to one day lead the pride.

“Let me tell you a story,” I began, much to his chagrin. He stifled the breath he wanted to huff, thinking better of it. “I was probably about your age…”

“Back in the days when they invented the wheel and Moses rode the ark, right?”

I shot him a glare, not bothering to correct him on the fact that it was Noah. But Sunday School was a class I hadn’t been paid to teach.

“Mind if I finish?”

He nodded. “Please…by all means, carry on.”

“I was arrogant like you when I was your age. I was fresh out of Force Recon when I was recruited by the organization. Had done a good share of wet-works by then, too.”

The kid exhaled, his eyes bugging as if to say, Is this gonna be a long story? I got shit to do, man!”

However, the only shit he had to do was whatever I told him. And, regardless of his insolence, I had to issue the story as a preamble. It was only right to give him a chance.

I continued: “My field training officer seemed more ancient then than I am now. Had a buzz cut of white needles framing his leathery face. Never smiled. Growled a lot, though…”

Yeah, yeah, yeah! And, as he lay dying in your arms, he passed on some sort of profound knowledge concerning this job. That’s it, right?! You don’t hafta go describing the type of aftershave he wore or the repressed homosexual urges you all shared. Just get to the fuckin’ point, man!”

I chuckled, looking through the windshield at the rain coming down in sheets. “Why don’t you step outta the car, youngster?”

To that, he exploded. “Ya know what, Gramps? I ain’t yer son, I ain’t a kid, and I ain’t here to listen to some tired old windbag relive his friggin’ glory days!”

I calmed myself, slowing my heart rate, taking time to breathe. This is what I did before engaging a target with a weapon or in hand-to-hand. Though I could easily leave the kid with a knife through his windpipe or a smoking hole in his temple, I still wanted to give the kid a chance. I liked him. “Step out,” I repeated, unbuttoning my jacket and opening the door.

Five minutes later, he was huffing and puffing, the fingers of his right hand broken to resemble a windmill. I’d hung that miniaturized missile launcher off his trigger finger, which he couldn’t bend. I’d told him not to reach for it, as I just wanted to knock him around a bit to prove a point. He didn’t believe fat meat was greasy and had to find out the hard way.

“M-may I please have a cigarette,” he begged. He was dripping wet from the rain, cradling his useless arm with his left. I didn’t break his elbow as much as I’d given it a nice hyperextension to reinforce some respect for his elders.

“No smoking when you’re with me. Cigarette butts leave a trail like breadcrumbs.”

“I-I-I’m sorry,” he said through bruised gums and clenched teeth. Though tempted to knock them out and leave them on the pavement like candy-coated tablets of chewing gum, I didn’t. The organization had an excellent dental plan, but he’d already be exercising the medical benefits that night.

“I know,” I said coolly, looking at his humbled countenance from the driver’s seat. “Now, may I please continue on with my story?”

His swollen lips drooled blood and saliva onto his dark shirt. The white of one eye was discolored from a nice blow to the temple. A little harder and I could’ve made his eye pop out altogether. Hell, I’d done it before.

He nodded. “Please do, sir. Please do.”

I cleared my throat, watching the rain, which had muffled his screams, washing any remnants of blood into the gutter. “As I was saying, I was also arrogant at your age, until I ran afoul of my mentor.”

The kid’s eyes blinked and he sat up straight, giving me his rapt attention.

I displayed my right hand, opening and closing the fist. “In fact, my arthritis flares up whenever it rains.”

The whippersnapper frowned at his own hand, the tips of each finger snapped to point leftward. His thumb, which I’d broken inward on itself, remained balled up against the palm. It was the same type of learning moment that’d enlightened me over 20 years before. It was a lesson that, if he was lucky, the kid would one day pass on to another aspiring assassin that’d been left in his care.

© Don Miskel, 2014.

Image courtesy of kellieelmore.com

Cuckold’s Comeuppance

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“The day was non-descript and far from special when I found out you’d been cheating on me. The depth of sorrow I felt—a grief deeper than a well that led to the bowels of the earth—erased the bright sun and wispy puffs of clouds against a beautiful blue sky. My thought process was replaced with pain and all that beauty melted away to a dark reality.

“You thought you’d break me, didn’t you? I mean, the fact that you cheated on me with her—a woman who was nowhere near as pretty as I was before I’d begun pushing out your pups. Though you’d dug an emotional grave for me, that’s not how this is going to play out.

“No, don’t snivel! It’s unbecoming of the man you once were; the one I trusted in and with whom I’d exchanged vows. Now you sit here, gagged, hyperventilating, and utterly helpless, wondering what will happen next.

“I want to keep you guessing.

“Did you know that a woman comes closest to death when she’s bringing life into the world? Did you realize that I was your legitimate shot at immortality? That’s right. Your DNA strand will live on in the children you fathered with me, long before your lies.

“You hurt me in a way I never thought I could hurt. And, though through therapy I’m just about over it, there’s still some bitterness left that has to be dealt with.

“That’s why I’m holding this in my hand. Scary, isn’t it? I was always the one afraid of guns. But this is the only time I intend to ever shoot one. I picked a revolver because it won’t jam. Semiautomatics tend to do that if you use cheap ammunition or hold them wrong. Yeah, I did my research.

“I purchased the .357 Magnum because of its option to use smaller .38 Special rounds. However, for this occasion, I chose to use the larger load to make this as quick and painless as possible. Plus, I wanted to spare no expense in giving you nothing but the best.

“You’re shuddering and sniveling again, tossing your head to and fro. As if I’d miss at this close range. You look ridiculous with snot curving over that nasty mustache and over your top lip. I’ll bet I could take a sample of that hair and find some of her dried essence still in there, couldn’t I?

“And to think, you’d probably kissed me with those tainted lips after making a meal of her. Had me practicing in lesbianism without my knowing. Shit, I may have experimented that way in a threesome, if you’d asked me.

“But you never did.

“You just took matters into your own hands… And used those same hands to spread another woman’s legs.

“You thought your indiscretion and repeated unfaithfulness would be the end of me. But oh, how the tables have turned.

“Remember, in the old comic books, how the good guy would often hold the villain’s life in his hands, then relent at the last moment? He’d typically say something corny like, ‘You’re not even worth it,’ and heroically save his archenemy in the end.

“Well, I’m no superhero. I’m just a woman. And you, my dear, the love of my life, are very much worth it. Now stop all that crying and hold still. This will be over before you know it.”

© Don Miskel, 2014.

A Nightmare in Orange (Part 1)

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Spooky Apartment (Obtained from Fazinphoto.com)

The entire apartment building was haunted—I could feel it in my bones. We stood there, staring up at the looming tower, which seemed to be the last dying thing against a backdrop of urban decay. Even the moon, which I could’ve sworn had been full and bright before we’d ventured into that part of town, refused to glow. Like a coward, it hid behind cloud cover, and I halfway couldn’t blame the heavenly body for doing so.

“Will ya look at that,” Marq said, holding his cap to his head as a warm gust of wind sucked the breath from his broad chest.

Lisa tilted her head back cautiously, as if the boogeyman was going to suddenly pop out and scare her out of her skin.

“Yeah, it’s a focal point of spiritual activity,” I informed them, “which is another way to say it’s haunted.”

“How do you know,” she asked, mesmerized by the five-story pile of bricks.

“I just do.”

“You sure we have to go in,” Marq asked. Though he was the largest of us—the highest curl of his head standing above mine a good two inches, his athletic frame draped in a football jersey—he was the most easily spooked.

“You big wuss,” Lisa ribbed. She was rarely kind to her on-again-off-again boyfriend. For the moment, they were on the outs. I suspected she was pretty enough behind thick, pop-bottle glasses, but would never take them off for confirmation. Kissing her would be like kissing my kid sister—at least, that’s what I kept telling myself. She probably would’ve belted me if I’d tried. Despite wanting to push her aside, there was something about her plaited, sun-bleached hair and cocoa skin that sent electricity up my spine.

“Yeah,” I sighed, answering my best bud. “My uncle lives in there. And, as Lisa said, you are a big wuss! In fact, that should be your new nickname!”

Marquez shot me a frown, his café au lait face sprinkled with bits of coffee that were a major turn-on for Lisa. She loved the freckles on and green eyes set in his olive-toned face, while I silently pined for her. And Marq, well, let’s just say he was enamored with the reflection in every mirror he encountered. We were all children of Caribbean parents; Marquez’s folks hailed from Puerto Rico, Lisa’s from Jamaica, and me, a second-generation Haitian. We made for an odd trio but this was my crew.

Clouds of moths, gnats, and mosquitos danced around the pale streetlamps. With the exception of the lights on the top floor, the building looked abandoned. That was where my father’s youngest brother, Georges resided. He’d called me and I came running to his rescue. I never asked why he couldn’t simply leave on his own. I put on the spectral specs I’d fashioned and didn’t have to question his logic—the place was overrun with ghosts like a Chicago apartment with a cockroach infestation. I had a deep disdain for cockroaches. They (the ghosts, not the bugs) swam in and out of the windows, most of which were broken, the jagged edges of glass having no effect on their ethereal movements.

“Whaddaya see,” Marq asked nervously.

“Yes, John-Henry,” Lisa joined in. “Don’t keep us in thrall!”

I grinned. Dead leg on a crooked love triangle or not, I was the de facto leader; the brains of the outfit, if you will. Oh, you’re probably wondering about my name. Well, let’s just say my mom and dad wanted to pay homage to an American folk hero while appeasing their desire for a strong Haitian moniker. I’d taken it upon myself to anglicize Jean-Henri so I’d be able to fit in. But fitting in was awkward for a gangly, 6’1” kid with the complexion of a black grape, an oversized head, and large extremities. I could palm a basketball and wore shoes large enough for a pro athlete, but alas, couldn’t dribble to save my life. What I did have in spades was smarts and a rather velvety voice at such a young age. Even then, I figured I might have a future in radio.

My maternal grandfather, who was reputed to have been a witch doctor of sorts, told me in broken Creole that I had a shine to me. That meant I could see spirits. The glasses I’d created helped to take their blurry figures and put them more in focus. He was a strange guy, my Gran-Pere, always mumbling stuff with a chew stick in the corner of his mouth. Most was in his brand of French, with snippets of English here and there. I was amazed by his creepy stories of zombies and magic and…

“Hey,” Marq yelled, giving me a light punch in my left arm. A light punch from that behemoth meant I slid to the right about a foot, and part of the earth knocked out of alignment just as much. The dude was strong as an ox, which was a benefit to him being my best bud. “Pull your head out your butt and let’s get to work, man!”

Lisa peered at me and smiled, her teeth beaming like beacons on the darkened landscape. I didn’t want to like her as much as I did and I feared what could happen if I’d stepped out of line with Marq. It didn’t matter that he didn’t want her half the time…

“You’re always daydreaming,” she said.

“He’s living the dream,” the jock chimed, making reference to my head perpetually floating in the clouds.

“Nah, bro. I’m dreaming to live!”

Marq paused and blinked, not understanding my brand of humor. “Whatever, man. Let’s get this over with.” He shook his head with a smirk and began trudging toward the building entrance, Lisa in tow.

Well, I thought I’d said something clever that would make them take notice. Guess not. I pulled a flashlight from my bag and followed suit.

The foyer leading to the staircase was black as a starless rip in the night sky. There was the spirit of an old doorman frozen in a long bygone era, when the neighborhood hadn’t looked like it’d been through a WWII air raid. In his dapper blue coat with gold trim and his hat placed perfectly, he stood proud. It was a warm summer evening and, as sharp as his outfit was, no living person in his right mind would wear such a heavy coat in this weather. But the dead were always dressed as they had been at the point of their transitions, their see-through bodies having no sense of hot or cold.

Typical of the deceased, his eye sockets were hollowed out. This was a fact that used to scare the cornbread stuffing out of me when I was little, but was nothing to be afraid of once I’d gotten used to it. The problem was encountering a spiritual entity with eyes—something that made me cringe and my skin crawl with invisible spiders. But the doorman was nothing more than a harmless, interactive recording. And he was friendly, too.

“Evening, sir,” I said with a nod of my head, to which he smiled.

“Who the heck are you talking to,” Marq asked, the doorman completely invisible to him. We’d done this half a dozen times but it was hard to retrain a troglodyte. “You do this every time.”

And you figured Marq would’ve finally gotten used to the fact that I could see ghosts and they could see me, too. That was part of the shine Gran-Pere recognized. I often saw my grandfather, too, whenever his spirit would wander into my room and stand guard over my bed.

“You already know the deal,” Lisa said, shaking her head and stifling a laugh. She couldn’t see spirits, either, but she was an empath who could feel them.

“Yeah,” my lug nut of a friend complained, “Doesn’t mean I’ll ever get used to it. John-Henry, you give me the heebie-jeebies!”

I chuckled and took that as a compliment. Without another word, we took to the stairs.

(Image obtained from Fazinphoto.com)

The Forgone Conclusion

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Erick's Logo Artwork

Somebody had to die. That was always the case when the secure, untraceable line of my cell phone buzzed. The SIM card to its predecessor self-destructed into a wisp of smoke at the end of the last job. And the ones before that.

“Love,” he said in his Kiwi accent. He wasn’t using it as a term of affection. It was my code name, but not how I felt about the job. I needed to find something else to do with my time, but I was caught up in the lifestyle of death.

“Harbinger,” I responded emotionlessly. His name sounded like failed superhero from a dime store comic book. Unlike the steroid-pumped, masked, and caped character that came to mind, this guy was real. I’d seen him in action and knew he was good at what he did. He was my handler.

“Got something for you.”

“You all ever hear of a vacation?” I was irritable and needed some time off. But an unused knife eventually went dull. I sighed.

He was smiling through the phone. “We’ve taken you all over the world. Had you ever been to Paris before us?”

“No.”

“London? Portugal? Copenhagen?”

Of course I had been to those places, as well as dozens of others, to include a Sumatran shithole almost ended me. Didn’t want to reimagine that visit. I sighed, considering my last quick tour of Rome, in which I only saw the Trevi Fountain in passing. When tracking a mark, there was no time for snapping photos of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, shopping near the Champs-Elysses in Paris, or touring the Great Wall of China. There was only time to kill and my bosses were going to ensure I made the most of it.

In a sarcastic way, he was right. My cover was that of a flight attendant, wife, and soccer mom with blue collar husband whose ambitions rarely rose above watching the game on television. With the demands of our family, we couldn’t readily afford trips abroad. Heck, we were stretching it by taking the drive to Wisconsin Dells the previous summer.

The company—for whom my husband knew I worked, but had no clue of what I really did—had sent me around the world and back. Oblivious to the fact that I did more than fluff pillows or pass out peanuts to passengers, Gerald was understanding and kissed me on the forehead each time I absconded for a last-minute trip. Hayley, our daughter, looked up at me with big, brown eyes, and would always ask, “Mommy, when will you be back?”

I’d always promise to return in a few days. We’d exchange butterfly kisses with our eyelashes and I’d tell her we’d have a tea party or rearrange the furniture in her dollhouse when I returned.

My husband didn’t kick up a fuss, though the sudden commitments often meant rescheduling or canceling a date night. With him, I assured him I’d make it up, which usually meant a wild romp between the sheets. What he didn’t know was that I needed that sort of release after the things I’d have to do while plying my trade.

I’d been conditioned to relegate kills into a separate mental compartment, but their attachment was real. I adored my dependable, albeit boring husband and my baby girl. I usually couldn’t stop thinking about the task at hand or lying to my family, but there was something else that was on my mind: I was late.

“Where to this time,” I asked my supervisor.

“Something close to home for you.”

I didn’t like the fact that they knew where I lived, where my husband worked, and where my daughter attended school. They were aware of more than that, since it was their business to know. With their agents, tracking algorithms, and technology assuring me Big Brother was always watching, I wondered if they could tell my period had yet to arrive this month.

“That’s a relief,” I said, playing the role.

“I’ll send the package your way. Are you logged in yet?”

I’d already gotten out of the bed, unwrapping myself from Gerald’s snoring embrace, and made my way downstairs to the study. I connected the phone into the USB port and it lit blue to let me know the communication was encrypted. “I’m in. Got it.”

The laptop completed its download and asked for authentication. I typed in the password, fingers moving lightning fast over the keyboard. I could just as easily use my phone, but the larger screen of the computer made the details easier to read. Not that I needed much background information, but it helped to know the proclivities of the mark.

The dude was a cockroach. Those were some of the few creatures that would survive to skitter about a post-apocalypse landscape. I’d seen him before, so he was someone of note. Even we Milwaukeeans could tune in to the Chicago news for the latest tales of political corruption below the border. An alderman who owned several daycare centers throughout the metropolitan area, the mark had been accused of not only money laundering, misuse of campaign funds, and had purported Mafia ties—standard for Windy City high rollers—but he’d also been charged with several counts of child molestation. And, true to form, he’d slithered his way out. I was watching video of a press conference he held after beating the last conviction.

“We have a client who wants to send a message. There’s a bonus in it for you, which is good with Christmas being around the corner and all. Hayley could—”

“Don’t say my daughter’s name,” I told him in a curt voice.

He chuckled, his subtle threat conveyed. My family was always in the crosshairs if I’d ever failed. The company relished having that insurance policy to keep operatives from going rogue or pulling a disappearing act.

My nipples were extra-sensitive against my housecoat. I dismissed the symptoms of a menses that wasn’t going to happen. My body went through some of the same signs before I found out Gerald and I were going to be parents the first time. But I couldn’t think about the life that was stirring about inside of me at the moment.

I thought to warn my handler again to never say the names of my husband, daughter, or anyone else whom I held dear. But it didn’t bear repeating. His smugness on the other end of the line was going to get Harbinger rubbed out one day. And I had just the eraser to do the job.

“So what do you think,” he asked. “You have the right of first refusal.” That was his way of letting me know that others had gotten killed and moved out the way, giving me seniority for my pool of agents.

I studied the beady little eyes of Alderman Beloit Kidd—probably the worst name for a pedophile proprietor of nursery schools… They were soulless and cold, vacant of anything approaching true empathy. He walked around displaying a wide, plastic smile for the cameras, but something in his eyes never grinned. There was no way in hell I’d ever send my babies to Kidd’s World Daycare.

“I see no need for refusal,” I stated. I wanted to kill that bastard, and that was a unique thing about my position: follow-through on fulfillment. When I wanted someone dead and the light turned green, it happened. I could assure Beloit’s untimely demise before the sun peeked past the horizon. Harbinger would have to wait his turn.

“Good,” he said, “we have a vehicle you can pick up at the welcome center on the Illinois side of the border. Your weapons and other details will be in the in the trunk. Keys will be in the third stall in the women’s room.”

We’d used the pickup point before and my tools were always in the trunk of the car. All I cared about was the money. I had college tuitions I wanted to purchase at today’s prices. “And the bonus?”

“You’ll get the standard rate, plus an additional 25% if you carry it out before his press conference tomorrow. The cleanup crew will trail you, so you don’t have to worry about that. You’re free to make it as messy as you’d like.”

I hadn’t asked about the cleaners or the standard rate; I was concerned only with the bonus. He was volunteering information on stuff I already knew, which meant he was trying too hard to sell this. It was never out of my head that the company occasionally “retired” its agents early. This wasn’t done with the regular going-away party that all your family and friends could attend, because doing a slide show of your greatest pieces of handiwork didn’t go over too well family photo album. On this type of job, the danger wasn’t only from the mark and his or her protective detail; it was also from fellow agents.

“Am I scheduled for forced retirement?” I was straightforward when I asked, so I could gauge his response. My hormones had me acting out of sorts.

There was a brief pause and he chuckled slightly before he answered. “Retirement? What would ever give you a crazy idea like that, Love?”

Because raindrops falling on my head shouldn’t be warm or smell like an old, pissy mattress, I thought. We women were already attuned to sudden frequency shifts and unnecessary vocal inflection—that’s how we caught men cheating and knew when Little Johnny broke the lamp. Harbinger was lying to me. He had no need to answer my question with a question. Now, I knew he had to die.

“Okay, just checking,” I said with a fake smile in my tone. I was almost ready for politics.

“You’re one of our best operators.”

Buttering me up and going too far. Damned liar. Well, no, he wasn’t lying about me being one of the best. The lie was in the fact that he was tossing out the accolade like a doggie treat, hoping I’d be distracted by the bait. Chasing tail was a puppy’s game and I was a full-grown bitch.

“Why, thank you,” I blushed, using my own program to calculate his possible whereabouts. He could be waiting in the backseat of my car, like bad guys did in cheesy horror flicks, waiting to pounce. His pistol’s silencer or the throat-slitting knife would make no noise to wake the neighbors.

Fucker.

“He’ll be dead before dawn,” I assured him. I wanted him to think I was concerned about that bonus and not his sleight-of-hand trickery.

“I’d expect nothing less from the best.”

“Yeah,” I said, pressing the button to disconnect the call.

As much as I would’ve enjoyed it, I wasn’t going to Chicago to snuff the alderman. I wasn’t even leaving the house that night. I headed upstairs to tell my husband what he needed to know. After all, we were in for a long night and there was wet work to do. I’d been lying to Gerald since before we got married, so there would be a lot to hash out at the counselor’s office. There was Hayley and our unborn child to consider. That and the fact that I was crazy about his lackluster, dependable, blue collar ass.

If he ever tried to leave me, I’d kill him, too.

– Artwork and Story Copyright by Don Miskel

Meeting Nefertiti

Standard

Nefertiti Moderne

 

Extreme was the best word to describe her. It was a dulled extreme, verging on the borders of exotic. Nefertiti had materialized in the doorway to my bedroom, standing in profile, cloaked in the shadows.

Her eyes and complexion seemed to glow even more than the gold that seemed to adorn every part of her. Her skin was smooth, the color of brownish-red earth and every part of her was elongated and graceful. She was a tall woman, standing more majestic than my mere six feet, her head crowned in a coal-black, short-cut bob.

Extremely beautiful.

There was gold which fell in large hoops from her earlobes, a manacle on one arm. Studs on the right side of her nose and beneath her sweet bottom lip. Each long, thin finger was fitted with a ring and she even had one on the second toe of her left foot. A chain encircled her hips, rising in the middle, threaded through the ring in her navel. More than her nakedness, I noticed the small gilded circles which pierced each nipple of her small, rounded breasts.

Extreme.

Akenhaten, she asked, telepathically.

“No,” I answered in a vocalized whisper, unable to match her advanced level of communication.

Her eyebrows raised slightly, eyes glowing red, made-up in the symbol of Horus’ all-seeing. Where is he?

Her “voice” was like notes of music in my head. It was a language that was comprised of no words, yet I understood her clearly.

I stood cautiously, not wanting her to disappear. I approached slowly, taking her hand gently in mine. “I dont know,” I replied softly. “But you can stay with me, tonight. I’ll be your Akenhaten.”

For a while, she was silent, even in my mind. I dared not speak again, afraid the wrong words would cause her to disintergrate and fade from this world.

Then, without any words or musical notes, she spoke to me in a language that transcended dimensions: a smile. She took my other hand into hers, guiding them both to the rings in her dark nipples.

Extreme, I thought.

To that, she nodded, came close and kissed me.