As many of you know, in addition to my professional career as a content creator, a poet and an author of smut, I also write short fiction under my own name. My first eBook, a story starring my “problem solver” Cat Cruz, is nearing completion, and I thought I’d share with you the preview that will accompany the finished product on Smashwords and Kindle. It’s called “Blood Ties,” and it has action, adventure, smartassery, and fun. In some pretty random amounts.
Let me know your thoughts!
Daddy’s Little Girl
She came to me in the rain.
It had been a decidedly bleak and chilly April; the sort that inspired Bill Shakespeare to put pen to paper. I was sitting outside the dilapidated cafe across the boulevard 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. And a coast worth guarding, for that matter.
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 flash of a red-rimmed blade. I found myself wondering if I might need the heater 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.”
I watched the cab roll away from the curb, fingers drumming lightly on the damp table. Something was wrong with this job; I could feel it, slithering around under the surface, fangs dripping with noxious venom. But the Tarkington girl had paid my rate without blinking, and if I wanted out of Sparta, I’d need the cash. 640 oz. could get me across the ocean in style, even in this shitty oligarchy.
Then we’d see about a few things. Settle a few old debts.
But that was for later. Right now, I had other fish to fry. Well, one very large, very weird fish. One who wouldn’t be winning any Father of the Year awards at the ole company picnic.
I slid my piece into the huntsman’s clutch at my waist and squeezed the turquoise implant in my left earlobe twice.
“Jesus Christ, Cat, you got yourself a real creepy-crawly there,” said a voice in my head.
I sighed. “Yes, thank you, Danny. Morticia Addams isn’t our biggest problem, though. I assume you were monitoring our exchange?”
“No doychek, boss. That’s why you pay me the big bucks. Speakin’ a which…”
“I’m aware that I’m a little behind on payroll, Daniel. But unless you’d like me to take my Mac to the $500K Frisbee in my satchel, you’re going to have to wait a bit. You know I’m good for it. Besides, it’s not as though you’ve got any pressing debts. Right?”
A heavy sigh.
Silence loomed on the Neurocom line.
“Fuck, Danny, what is it this time?”
“Nothin’, boss, nothin’. I was just thinkin’ I might, y’know, ask Cherie to get hitched. Maybe make it official. We ain’t gettin’ any younger, you know.”
I considered telling him that twenty-four was hardly the threshold of doom, but as he was twenty-four, I knew it would do no good whatsoever.
“Yes, well, you and Cherie have a bit of time yet before we have you packed up for storage at the local raisin ranch, I suspect. How’s Woden’s Day next?”
“That’s fine, boss. Hey, like you said, you’re good for it, right? We got nothin’ but time.” Sometimes, my amanuensis and his capricious, yet unfailingly earnest, demeanor made me want to find a very large rock and run at it with my head down and my arms spread wide.
“Excellent. Having determined that we are all going to live forever, can we please get back to business? Do you have the equipment manifest? I need to book a ticket for tomorrow night, and I don’t want to get held up because some Deputy Dawg with a hard-on for promotion decides he needs to poke his snout where it doesn’t belong.”
In the distant corner of my eye, I could just make out Susan, hovering with a carafe in the cafe door, unsure of her current personal and professional obligations. I made the “hang ten” symbol people still inexplicably used to indicate they were on the phone, and thought about how the most persistent artifacts are cultural, rather than archaeological, in nature.
Susan and her carafe retreated to more welcoming climes. I adjusted my hat and said, “Well?”
“Oh, sorry, boss. Your readout went to deep thought waves for a sec. We’re all set. You know, Cat, some of the stuff was a little unusual, even for you. But then again, this guy…”
I thought about the notes I’d seen in the file. Not to mention the holostills. I don’t really enjoy the messier parts of my job, but occasionally I relish the good that comes from it. This was going to be one of those times.
“Yes. This guy is something else, as we used to say when I was but a wee slip of a lass and the grass grew tall in the pass.”
“You’re kinda weird yourself, boss.” His smirk leaked across the neurocom, and for a second I could almost see his beardless face floating in the air in front of me. I smiled in spite of myself. Hell, I’d been twenty-four once myself. Back when we had sunshine more than rain, and disco ruled the earth.
“You don’t know the half of it, m’dear. Now, get everything ready and have it delivered to the staging area outside Tommy’s. He’ll keep it safe ‘til I can sort out the fares and, ah, gratuities.”
“You got it, boss. Seven AM?”
“Make it six. The earlier I hit the ‘port, the more content the blueshirts will be to take a bite out of free doughnuts instead of squeezing a mordita out of me.” I waited, as usual, for a laugh that never came.
“OK, boss. Five by five. See you Monday?”
“If not before then. This guy’s a real fucker, but I don’t plan on staying any longer than I have to. You know the mountains and I don’t get along.”
“Sure, boss, sure. Say, boss?”
“Yeah, Danny?” I felt the impatience in my voice.
“What’s a Morticia Addams?”
“See you Monday, Danny. Say hi to your elderly girlfriend for me.”
The Unfriendly Skies
By the time the cab dropped me off at the ‘port the next morning, the rain had relented. The sky remained thunderous and surly, however, and I knew the respite wouldn’t last. I tucked a few stray coffee-colored hairs under my hat, belted my coat, and slid out of the cab.
“This one’s on Tommy, chief,” I said with a wave. The cabbie shook his head.
“No way, sweet cheeks. It took me two months to get that fuckin’ fossil to cough up the dough last time. Credz, lucre, whatever, but you’re payin’ me right now. Or you can talk it over with Roscoe and the boys over there, huh?” He gestured theatrically with a meaty, cigarette-stained hand to the security booth, where the local heroes of Territorial Law Enforcement were indeed poised to serve justice to the populace.
Right after a cup of coffee or ten.
Still, I knew better than to argue. Tommy’s great in a pinch, and he’s even better in a fight, but he’d squeeze six cents out of a nickel if he could.
Assuming he could find a fucking nickel.
With a sigh, I gave my right index finger a twist. Blue light ran up and down the dermals, and I tapped the pad.
“There, Mr. Andretti. Seventy-four Credz.”
“What, no tip?”
I turned back and leaned into the cab, patting his unshaven jowl. “My tip,” I said through my sweetest smile, “was not making you drive home with your elbows.” My hand snaked down to his wrist and I rolled it, feeling the bones creak.
“FUCK! Ok, okay! Goddamned dykes, can’t take compliment.” He cradled his wounded wrist, a hurt look in his rheumy eyes.
“Cry me a river. Have a nice day…sweet cheeks.” I turned and marched away before I could get myself in real trouble. I ignored his speculation on my parentage (wrong, as usual) and flipped him the bird without looking back.
I might be the product of a barbarous age, but at least we observed the social contract.
Most of the time.
Tommy was waiting for me in his usual spot, perched on a stool behind the counter of his InstaShop. Hand-rolled cigarette in one hand, a dirty cup of even dirtier coffee in the other. Many people assumed Tommy was a dime-store mummy until he asked them, voice full of nicotine and phlegm, if they were gonna buy somethin’ or just stand around breathin’ his fuckin’ air.
Tommy was not the worst representative the Afterlifers had, but he was doing his damnedest to snatch that title.
“Well, if it ain’t my dear old granny, come for a visit.” Tommy’s creaky sense of “humor,” along with the apparent difference in our ages and his status under Revised Territorial Law as a “Reanimated Personage,” meant I got to hear this thigh-slapper every time we met.
I’m not gonna lie; seventy years in, it had lost most of its charm.
“You and Henny Youngman, Tommy boy. You and Henny Youngman.”
“Ah, but I ain’t such a young man no more, am I?” This sparkling witticism was followed by the wheezing, sputtery hack that passed for a laugh amongst the Afterlifers. Little black flecks settled on his lips and pattered on the countertop, where he swept them away with a knobby hand.
Nobody knows what causes reanimation, but it’s bad enough even without all the zombie malarkey the kids were so crazy about back in the Twenties. I knew Tommy…before…and even with all we’ve been through, there’s not a day that goes by I don’t wish he’d found a little peace on that battlefield instead of Life Everlasting.
So to speak.
It’s better to joke it out. For both of us. Run out that clock. We’ve got nothing but time, after all, har, har, har, hack, choke, wheeze.
“I’d offer to let you eat my brain, you dried up bastard, but I don’t think it’d make you any smarter.” Another hack, another sweep of flakes.
Good times in the Sparta Municipal Naviport.
“Listen, Tommy, Danny should’ve sent over…”
“All taken care of, my sweet dewy flower. Packed away and approved by Roscoe and his pack of faithful hounds not an hour gone.”
“OK, great. And my seat reservations are…?”
“Confirmed and configured. I imagine those sexy little AirMaidens are getting your suite ready for you as we speak, Mrs. Holder.” A sly grin crept across his eldritch features. “Mrs. Holder, is it? And what would Mister Holder think if he knew the missus was tryin’ to join the Quantum Level Club with some bouncy cutie barely past her E-CAPS?” He took a deep draft of his cigarette and winked at me
“I won’t tell if you won’t.” I waggled my eyebrows suggestively and gave him a friendly elbow. He grunted and then pushed his bones back into place. Cigarette smoke leaked alarmingly from several spots in his chest and neck.
“Hey, Tommy, before I go, I wanted to tell you there’s a new place open down on Fifth. It’s right up your alley.”
“Is that so?” He raised a ratty eyebrow. “I’m not much for the clubs, me.”
“It’s not a club, you beat-up Mr. Potato Head. It’s the new cemetery. Take a hint, would ya?”
I gave him a kiss on his weathered cheek and let the sound of his sad, creaky laugh carry me all the way to the transport pods.