New to the story? S’okay–go here.
“Pull over here,” Tom told the taxi driver.
The taxi driver made no comment beyond a brief glance in the rear view mirror, but pulled over in front of the corner flower shop, idling the car in the space left free by a fire hydrant. Tom got out and quickly scanned the buckets of brightly colored flowers. Yellow daisies and orange lilies and plenty of sunflowers. Roses rested in the shade of the awning, and he scooped up the largest bundle, white and lush and flawless, though unscented. They looked fresh and healthy, like they’d last until sunset even in this warmth. He thought of how she’d look as she picked them up, maybe wondering who they were from.
He slapped down a couple of bills, and when the cashier took too long with his change, he waved her off and dashed back into the taxi. He glanced at his watch as he sat down and shut the door. Still had time. Had to check his bag on account of he was bringing his gun, but in a few hours he’d be in Kansas, and that much closer to the half million dollar prize.
“One more quick stop and then I want to go to the airport,” Tom said, tossing the roses down onto the seat.
That’s when he noticed there was a woman in the back seat. She had gray curls and a wrinkled face. She wore a polyester pantsuit, accented with a string of plastic beads. Her gloved hands were daubing something from a bottle onto a floral handkerchief.
“Hey, grandma, this is my cab,” he said.
The door opened behind him, and another man climbed into the back seat of the taxi.
“Hey, buddy, beat it. This is my cab,” Tom said. He hauled back to hit the guy, but the woman distracted him by putting the moist handkerchief on his face. He thought she might be trying to wipe a stain off his cheek, like his mom used to do with spit on a tissue. She didn’t wipe. She held it firmly over his mouth and nose. It smelled sweet, cloying, like a cheap perfume. He tried to pull it off, but the man had grabbed his arms and held them. He should have been able to throw the guy off. Tom was much stronger than people expected him to be, but the inside of the taxi was swimming.
He wasn’t going to make his flight.
* * *
Tom woke up in a dark room, aching and blindfolded. Someone had put menthol on his upper lip, so he couldn’t smell a thing. The fact that someone had thought to do that was more disconcerting than the handcuffs holding his wrists behind him. He sat in what felt like a narrow, wooden, ladder-backed chair, judging by the too-straight wood cutting into his spine. He tried to kick, but his ankles had been fastened to the chair legs with duct tape.
Someone moved on the other side of the room. A scrape, and the click and hum of machinery.
“Who’s there? What did you do to me?”
“Chloroform.” The voice that answered was unnaturally deep, spoken through a voice synthesizer. “Out of fashion, but it works.”
“What do you want?”
“We want to find out what you know.”
Tom struggled in the chair. This wasn’t good. What he knew about what? The people he’d killed? The money laundering? What really happened to his ex-wife? “About what?”
“About everything. About what you found with your spying.”
“Are you a cop?”
The gravelly voice laughed. “You should be so lucky.”
“What do you want to know?”
“Let’s start with Michael Jimenez.”
Tom began to sweat. How could they know about that? He’d been quiet.
He’d followed Michael Jimenez that night, stalking him from the Guild House. Dark haired and stringy, with a twitchy gait. He looked dirty and worn down, like a drifter. Tom had never seen him before, but the wind shifted and brought up that dirty dog smell. In a car, he wasn’t great at tracking. On foot, he wasn’t much better. On four legs, he was excellent.
He’d killed before, killed plenty of times. He’d started with deer, mostly because they were such a pest in the town where he grew up that it seemed a waste to have that much meat walking around uneaten. The first time, he’d been a teenager, full of bravado without a lot to back it up. He had to talk himself up to it, and even when his mind was made up, snapping the neck of a terrified doe with liquid brown eyes took every ounce of beast he had. After that, it had gotten easier. Kill the deer, eat what he wanted, hide the rest so people didn’t start looking for cats or poachers.
Deer were fast, deer were strong. And they were innocent. He’d kill a sweet, innocent doe just for a meal. Killing a dirty dog who stood between him and a half million dollars? No problem. Jimenez would never have trusted him. He had to keep him quiet before he made a deal with Melbourne. But to tell the truth, he didn’t need much of an excuse to put down a dog man. Filthy werewolves just needed killing.
Usually it was easy. A leap. A quick neck break, and then cache the body in a tree to hide later. Tom’s first bite hadn’t quite snapped his neck. He had struggled, fought back, but he’d been human the whole time, which had made it easier. Tom finally managed to tear his throat out, and by then his bloodlust was so high he would have torn the body apart even if he hadn’t wanted to make identification impossible. Well, difficult, at least. How that bitch Melbourne knew it was Michael Jimenez was anyone’s guess.
“Melbourne killed Barnabus,” Tom said. “I think she killed Michael Jimenez too, to keep him quiet about something.”
“Is she a were-cougar?”
“Don’t fuck with me, Tom.” The deep synthesized voice sounded even more evil. “I’m not stupid.”
Tom tried for a casual laugh, but it sounded forced. “She’s some kind of a witch, but she’s not a were-cougar.”
“Are you a were-cougar?”
Tom stopped laughing. “Who wants to know?”
“You’ve already answered my question.” The deep monster voice sounded smug.
“Who the fuck are you?”
“Tell me what you know about Joyce Albers.”
“No.” He tugged at the duct tape. He thought he could break it if he tried, but he wasn’t sure about the metal handcuffs.
Something shocked him from behind. His back arched even more painfully against the chair, his teeth gritted in a rictus. He tasted blood from biting his tongue. The pain seemed to linger even after the shock ended, and he panted shallowly. Fuck. He hadn’t even heard anyone approach.
“Tell me what you have learned about Joyce Albers.”
“Nothing,” he said, panting.
“Nothing I’m gonna tell you,” he said.
Again with the shock. Tom thrashed around, and the chair moved, shifting under his weight, but whoever was hitting him with the electric prod put a hand on his shoulder and kept him from falling over.
“What’s your interest in her?”
“She’s a classy broad,” Tom said. It came out as a mumble, but the two seemed to have heard him.
“Interesting,” the gravelly voice said. “You’ve been following her. Stalking her.”
“So? What’s it to you?”
“What have you discovered? What do you know?”
“None of your fucking business.” He tensed, expecting the cattle prod again.
“Councilman Albers has many secrets. Valuable secrets. We could make it worth your while.”
Tom spat. “Fuck you.”
He didn’t believe what Barnabus told him. He didn’t believe that Albers was going to screw him over. Whatever she’d hoped to get from Michael Jimenez, she would have shared it with him.
Nothing happened. He didn’t think they’d left, but he couldn’t sense anything in human form, with the menthol on his lip. He heard the sound of breathing. Or maybe that was just his own. He wished he could smell something aside from the menthol.
He was growing lightheaded, hyperventilating. They were going to hurt him again, shock him, beat him maybe. Make him confess his second form, confess the murders. Were they cops? He didn’t think so. Who were they then? He wouldn’t tell them anything. God, the silence. What did they want? Who were they?
“I’m satisfied. We’re done here.” The gravelly voice said. “Leave.”
Tom lifted his head. Go where? But the speaker wasn’t talking to him.
A door opened, and the cattle prod person left. He heard a click, and the silence of something electric being shut off. Someone touched his face with a cloth, and he thought he was going to be chloroformed again, but the hand just wiped the menthol rub off his lip. He could smell again, a little. A woman.
She cut his ankles free of the chair legs, then leaned over him to untie the ropes binding him to the chair. By the time she slid the blindfold off his face, he’d recognized her.
Albers smiled. She was a sight to see. She had blood red lipstick, and her blond hair had been pulled back into pin curls. She had a diamond pendant necklace and a silk blouse like she was going out for the evening. Her calf-length pencil skirt ended in stockings and blood red pumps that matched her lipstick and nails. She held a knife whose blade was sticky with duct tape residue.
“I thought you were a spy for my enemies, but it turns out you’re just an old-fashioned stalker.” She gently stroked his face and throat with the back of the knife blade.
“I’m an old-fashioned guy.” Tom swallowed. He was probably going to remain alive for the next few minutes, so that was good. Now to see if he could get out of here. That half million dollars was slipping away from his grasp. “Is there any way you could let me out of here? There’s somewhere I gotta be.”
“Somewhere important?” She trailed her fingers from her collarbone to the neckline of her blouse.
“Yeah.” He licked his lips. He tried to focus on the task at hand, but her long legs and the lacy top of her bra peeking through her blouse kept distracting him.
“Yeah.” His eyes fixated on her breasts.
“I don’t think so. You’ve been a naughty boy.” She slapped him hard across the face. “But you didn’t give up any information about me, so maybe you can be good.”
“I can be good. C’mon, Joyce. I need to go.”
“Hmm. No.” Albers sat on his lap. She unbuttoned his shirt, slowly, one button at a time, the lip of the plastic disk straining before it popped free of the cloth slit. Two buttons. Three. His shirt began to part. She pulled the shirt from this waistband, opening it as far as it would go. Still sitting on his lap, she stroked her hands down as if smoothing out the tee shirt over his chest.
His dick suggested they didn’t need to go anywhere just yet. The rest of him panicked, thinking of the last chance to steal the kids and get the money from the wolf king.
“I got a lot of money on the line.” He was breathing heavily. Focus. Focus. Last chance to steal the kids. Last chance to get the money. “What time is it? There’s a nine o’clock flight, I might be able to make it.”
Albers got off his lap. Okay. Good. She was going to let him out of the cuffs, let him go so he could make his flight. He had to get out of here. He didn’t want to go. He was as hard as a rock. Half a million dollars.
She stood close to him so that his face was even with her waist. Reaching behind herself, she undid the button on her waistband and let her pencil skirt fall to the floor. Underneath, she wore tiny lace panties, a garter belt, and thigh-high stockings. She gracefully swung one high-heeled leg over his lap, straddling him.
“You’re going to miss your flight.” Albers took her fingers to her blouse. One button. Two buttons. Smooth, creamy skin appeared. Three buttons. Four. “I could have helped you, if you were straight with me, but you kept secrets. About Michael Jimenez, about Barnabus.”
“I didn’t kill Barnabus.”
“I know.” She smiled. “But you scared him.”
Tom growled. “He got too close to you.”
“Ooh, jealous?” She raised her hand again, and he flinched, but she stroked the side of his face instead. He shuddered.
He’d lost. He wasn’t going anywhere. His stare fixated on the perfect curve of her lacy bra, aching to take those breasts in his hands. “Can you at least take off the handcuffs?”
“I’ll take them off if you’re good.” She leaned forward to kiss him on the lips, and he took her mouth in his hungrily. “You’ve been a naughty boy.”
“I can be good,” he rasped. When she pulled away. He tried to rise out of the chair. “I can be very good.”
Joyce gave a sultry chuckle. “We’ll see.”
He gave up. He was putty in her hands. The things she did to him weren’t quite worth missing out on a half million dollars, but they were pretty damn close.
Like the book, but short on cash? New chapter next week!