So here’s the thing, kids:
In addition to readying myself for a move to Texas, I am on a “cleanse,” and feeling pretty shitty (har, har, ho, ho, hee, hee—it is to laugh). However, the scribbling must go on!
This is the first bit from my newest Cat the Assassin story. You may remember Cat, my “problem solver” and occasional assassin, from Another Dawn and Intermission. In this new story (the first ever to be published on the Kindle, and the first piece I’ll be publishing on the Kindle under my real name), Cat is ready to solve yet another problem, this time for a surly malcontent with a chip on her gloomy little Gothic shoulder. This has turned out to be one of the longest stories I’ve written, and I’m quite proud of it. What you’ll find below is, as I said, just the first bit. I hope you’ll let me know your thoughts, and be on the lookout for the publication announcement in May!
BLOOD TIES (working title)
I was sitting outside the cafe across the street from my flat, scanning the headlines and trying to keep the damp out of my bones with cafe breve and the occasional nip from my flask. A light mist was falling, and the headlights of the passing cars were throwing rainbows into the grey afternoon. Susan, my favorite waitress and an all-around swell gal, replaced my empty carafe with a steaming one and asked me if I wouldn’t be more comfortable inside. I considered this and said I probably would, then went back to my paper.
Poor girl. She meant well.
I watched her beat a puzzled retreat back to the cafe, where light and order and customers who did not sit in the rain wearing battered hats no doubt waited to fulfill her need for socialization. At the periphery of my vision, I saw her pause in the doorway, frowning. I flicked a few errant drops from the brim of my hat and kept my eyes hooded until she vanished. Susan and I had flirted a bit in the past, in the mercenary fashion of those who earn their bread through thankless service. But I was not there to flirt; I had an appointment. And my clients don’t take kindly to eavesdroppers.
The mist was developing into drizzle when the cab pulled up. The passenger door opened and a black umbrella emerged, springing open like the pupil of some great beast. The woman who stepped into its shadow was something of a shadow herself; her hair and clothes were the same black as her ‘brella. Her skin, though, was the pale cream of autumn snows, and the eyes that met mine over the obsidian mirrors of her sunglasses were seawater green.
She turned to pay the cabbie, and I used the opportunity to inspect her more closely. Expensive coat. Something exotic—saurian, maybe? It was all the rage since the Children of Moreau realized they could make more friends (and money) cloning dead animal pelts than they could resurrecting T. Rex and his buddies—and shoes to match. She didn’t appear to be armed, but with all the custom mods these days, who could know? I thought it unlikely my new client was going to attack me with a fistful of Derma-Blaydes™, but stranger things could (and had) happened.
Some of them in the past week.
I saw her check me out as well; those pretty green eyes wouldn’t miss much, even in the awkward reflection thrown by a dirty cab window. I continued to stare at the fashion page with an air of nonchalance. Nothing too scary here, miss. Just your friendly neighborhood Problem Solver, having a cup of joe in the pissy April rain. Apparently satisfied with her examination, she said something to the cab driver, who nodded and pulled away. She gave the road a casual glance for approaching vehicles and then darted across, slowing to a walk as she stepped onto the patio. Her heels were both very high and surprisingly quiet. She would bear watching, client or no.
“Ms. Cruz.” It wasn’t a question. Her voice was, like the rest of her, dark and slender.
So much for introductions. I set my paper aside and tilted my hat back, meeting her eye. “You must be Melissa Tarkington. Can I get you a drink? I’m afraid the drinks are strictly squaresville, but I’ve a flask of – ”
An impatient shake of the head. Her fingers twitched, and I got the sense she was in need of something. A cigarette? Something stronger? A hasty, ill-considered liaison with a surly, rain-soaked merc in the parking lot of a chichi cafe? She followed my glance and slid her hand into her pocket, scowling.
“Right. Well, Melissa, I can retrieve the item you requested. I can even attend to the…other…matter you mentioned. But as I told you at the club, my fee structure…”
She reached into her coat (I was sure it was saurian, now. Nothing from this side of the Cretaceous was that lush and pebbly.) and I let my own hand fall to the piece sitting on my thigh. “Semper paratus;” that’s my motto. Well, mine and the Coast Guards’. When we still had a Coast Guard.
But she wasn’t drawing down on me. Instead, she pulled out a black velvet bag and dropped it onto the table. Even with the Grav-B-Gone® disc attached, it made a heavy thud I found most reassuring.
“Half now, half after. All platinum, although I wonder if you’re worth the trouble I took to find it.” She put her hand back into her pocket. “I could’ve paid you twice as much in Credz, you know.”
I reached out and dragged the bag across the table toward me. A single disc, pure platinum, 320 oz. Twenty pounds at one G. I double-checked the gravity inhibitor and then slipped the bag into my satchel. “I find that metal is less susceptible to the “delete” key than Credz, Ms. Tarkington. Besides, we don’t need any electronic smears sullying either of our sterling reputations.”
My smile was neither acknowledged nor returned.
“So, you’re clear on the job, yes?” A note of impatient uncertainty, now. A bit of doubt dancing along the wave of her slight vocal fry.
“My assistant received the relevant materials by courier not two hours hence. You may consider it done. The rest is just…paperwork.” Well, and wet work. But that was not her problem. She relaxed a little, her posture shifting. I think she needed reassurance that it was all real, that her little plot was finally in motion. “Good.” She reached into yet another pocket, fumbled a cigarette into an antique holder, and lit it, inhaling deeply.
The cab pulled up, having completed its circling of whatever nearby block she’d told it to circle. “Looks like that’s your ride. I’ll be in touch next week.” She nodded at me through a haze of cigarette smoke, her green eyes languid and cool. Cat’s eyes.
She turned to leave.
“Ms. Tarkington…Melissa. I read the files. This guy’s a nut, and mixed up in some pretty evil stuff. But nothing that seemed, ah, Park Avenue enough to involve you.” She turned back to me, one whisper-thin eyebrow raised.
“Well, I mean, what’s your beef with this guy, anyway?” I asked, not sure why I cared.
She took a long drag on her cigarette. Compared to my new friend, Cruella DeVille was a piker.
“He’s my father. That’s reason enough on its own, but he took something from me. Something…precious.” She smiled for the first time, a cold grin like the flash of a blade. I found myself wondering if I might need the gun strapped to my ankle as well.
I blinked, nodding. This job was starting to feel like one long ass-ache already, and I’d only had it for five minutes.
She ran back to the cab, pausing to ditch her cigarette and grind it into the wet macadam. I folded my newspaper and started to gather my things.
“Oh, and Ms. Cruz?” She was half-inside the cab, her umbrella looming over her like a malignant spider.
I tensed. “Yes?”
“Bring me the head.”