Chapter 3"You're such a dork, Doug!" "Fuck, that hurt!"
Doug Sato, the other dysfunctional assistant manager here and one of the most entertaining mortals I knew, pulled off the rubber mask he'd been wearing, revealing the beautiful features he'd inherited from his Japanese ancestors. He rubbed his forehead, giving me a wounded scowl. Upon closer inspection, I saw that the mask was not that of a demon but rather Darth Maul from The Phantom Menace. I should have known. No self-respecting demon would have had that many horns."What are you doing?" I leaned down to pick up my scattered belongings. "Halloween was, like, a week ago." "Yeah, I know. Everything's on sale. I got this for three dollars." "You got ripped off." "Boy, you're one to nag, Miss I-Show-Up-When-I-Feel-Like-It. You're lucky it's just me here." "Why are you here?"
Doug and I held the same position. On days when we overlapped, we usually worked different shifts, not identical ones. It was for the best. We usually distracted each other enough to accomplish the work of one person. Sometimes less.He grabbed the back of the rolling desk chair and impressively flipped his body into it, the impact of which caused the chair to roll half-way across the office. "Paige called me in. She's sick." Paige, our manager, was about six months pregnant. "Is she okay?" "Dunno. If she gets better, she'll come in later." He spun around the room a few times, then rolled up to the desk and beat out a fast rhythm on it with his hands. I presumed the cadence was from one of his band's songs. "Jesus, you're wound up today. You get lucky last night?" "I get lucky every night, Kincaid." "Whatever. Your demon mask was more believable than that." "Okay, maybe I'm not getting lucky every night right now, but that's going to change. The group's getting fucking amazing." "I've always thought you guys were fucking amazing," I stated loyally.
Doug shook his head, dark eyes almost feverishly bright. "Oh no. You can't even believe it now. We got this new drummer, and suddenly…it's just like, I don't know…we're doing things we've never done before."I frowned. "Because of one drummer?"
"No, I mean, it's all of us. He's just one of the good things that's happened. It's like…everything's just clicking into place. You ever have days like that? When everything is perfect? Well, we're having weeks like that. Songs. Gigs. Style." His enthusiasm was palpable, and it made me smile. "We're even playing the Verona.""Seriously?" "Yup." "That's a major venue. I mean, it's not like the Tacoma Dome or anything, but then, they wouldn't let you play there anyway if you didn't have a monster truck worked into the act." He spun the chair around again. "You should come see it. A bunch of the other staff is. It'll be the greatest night of your life." "I don't know. I've had a lot of great nights." "Second best then. Unless you're thinking of joining my groupies. I'd let you be their leader, you know. You could always have first dibs on me." I rolled my eyes, then turned pensive as the sex jokes reminded me of my recent Seth issues. "Hey Doug, do you think men and women can date without having sex?" He had been tipping way back in the chair and suddenly snapped forward. "Oh my God. You are thinking of joining the groupies." "I'm serious. Two people dating without sex. Fact or fantasy?" "Okay, okay. For how long? A week?" "No. Like, months." "Are they Amish?" "No." "Are they ugly?" "Er, no." "No." "No what?" "No, they can't do it. Not in this day and age. Why do you want to know?" "No reason." He cut me an arch look. "Of course not." He didn't know about Seth and me, but he did know me. Our phone's intercom came to life just then, asking for backup on the registers. "Paper rock scissors?" Doug asked, spinning the chair around again. "Nah, I'll go. I should make up for my tardiness. Besides, I think you need to come down from your caffeine high. Or your megalomania high. Not sure which." He flashed me a grin and turned to the paused game ofTetris onour shared computer.
Truthfully, I didn't mind going out anyway. I worked for the fun of it, not the money. Immortality was long, and vocation and daily work sort of regulated human existence, even if I wasn't technically human anymore. It just felt right to be doing something, and unlike so many other unfortunate souls in this world, I actually liked what I did for a living.
I checked in on Seth a few times as I worked throughout the day, drank a lot of white-chocolate mochas, and dealt with what was becoming a heavy flow of business as the holiday season grew ever closer. At one point, I finally did have to pull Doug out with me. I found him in our office, still playing Tetris.
I opened my mouth to make a joke about his work ethic and then caught sight of the computer screen. He playedTetris on aregular basis, so I was familiar with the game and his prowess, but what I saw now blew my mind. His score was the highest I'd ever seen, and he was at such an advanced level now that the pieces zoomed down the screen. I couldn't follow them. Yet, he caught and placed them all, never missing a beat.
"My God," I muttered. There was no way his hands and reflexes could be responding like that. The computer would probably implode at any moment. "I guess everything really is clicking into place for you lately. "He laughed, either at my pun or my astonishment. "Need me out there?" "Yeah…though it seems so wasteful now compared to this…mastery. Like interrupting Michelangelo."
Doug shrugged obligingly, shut down the game, and followed me out. I think the computer was relieved. He and I worked together cheerfully for the rest of my shift. His good mood over the band's success kept him chipper and lively, making the day fly by. When it was time for me to go, I offered to close for him since he'd had to come in unexpectedly early. He waved me off."Forget about it. Go do something fun tonight."
As I was leaving the store, I passed a rack of magazines and saw a copy of the latest issue of American Mystery. In big letters, one of the headlines read: Cady and O'Neill Return! Seth Mortensen gives us an exclusive novella.
Eek. What a bad girlfriend I was. Seth had told me about this story's upcoming appearance, and I'd completely forgotten about it. It had just come out yesterday. Apparently being with him regularly was distracting me from his art. Before the publication of his last novel, I'd literally marked off days on my calendar until its release. Longing washed over me, but I knew I couldn't read this story tonight. Bastien had left me a cell phone message saying he'd stop by my place later, and I had a feeling he'd distract me for most of the evening.Tomorrow, I promised myself. I'd read the story tomorrow. I'd just settled in back home when Bastien showed up bearing Thai food.
"How was the literary world today?" he asked as
we had a picnic on my living room floor. Aubrey watched sharply
from a discreet distance, her eyes fixed covetously on a container
of green curry. Pad Thai did nothing for her.
"Weird," I reflected, recalling sleeping in late, Doug's behavior, and the frenetic pace of early holiday shopping. "Yours?"
I retrieved it from my bedroom and returned to find Aubrey licking the edges of my plate. I shooed her away and handed Bastien the computer. A few quick clicks, and he soon had the Committee for the Preservation of Family Values' website open. Dana's organization. Most of her radio broadcasts were archived and available for download. He picked one, and we finished the rest of our meal to the sound of her rich, melodic voice.
The first broadcast concerned homosexuality. The CPFV maintained an appearance of sugarcoated goodness, a desire to help people and improve American life. Consequently, because being openly racist or sexist was not good for one's image anymore, the organization only espoused views slanted in those directions in subtle ways. Blatantly condemning homosexuality, however, was not entirely taboo yet—unfortunately— and the bulk of this broadcast involved Dana oozing on about the importance of "helping" those people to understand the true way both nature and God intended love to be. Toleration of such misguided lifestyles, she claimed, would lead to a breakdown in our families. The children. For God's sake, think of the children.
Her next broadcast damned the abominable state of today's clothing. School uniforms and fashion censoring were the only ways to go. How could we expect young girls to grow up with any self-respect when they walked around dressed like sluts? It led to sexual acts they weren't ready for, not to mention instilling in them the idea that their value came from appearance, not character.I thought of the lacy purple thong I wore under my jeans just then. What was wrong with character and sex appeal? The third one we listened to concerned the futility of teaching teenagers about safe sex and contraception. Abstinence training was the way to go. Keep them in pure ignorance. End of story. "Enough," I said at that point. Her shallow, prejudiced values cloaked in so-called love and kindness unsettled the food in my stomach. Bastien grinned. "Still think it's just one lay?" I stretched back on my carpet, resting my feet on his lap. He massaged them for me. "I hate hypocrites, good or evil. Doesn't matter what they're touting." "You should hear some of her background, some of the past issues she's advocated for with her group. Lovely stuff there—I researched her all day. I can pull it up for you. " I held up a hand. "No, please. I believe you. The bitch must fall, okay? If I had a sword, I'd tap your shoulders and send you off with my blessings." He lay down beside me. "Well, why don't you take a front-row seat then? Come to the party with me. I'm sure no one would mind if Mitch brought his sister." "Party on the Eastside? My blessing only goes so far." "Oh, come on. Admit it. You have a perverse desire to meet her in the flesh. Besides, it's been a while since you've seen me in action. You might pick up on a few things. Get some pointers." Laughing, I rolled over on my side to better study him. "Like I need pointers from you." He rolled to his side as well, smirking. "Yeah? Then prove it. Let's go out tonight. Let's go hunting." My smile diminished. "What?" "Just like the old days. We'll find some club, work up a sweat, then tag respective fixes for the night."
Bittersweet memories flashed into my brain, recalling the French cabarets of the nineteenth century. Bastien and I would go out in fine form, separate, and meet back in the morning to laugh and brag about our conquests. The game no longer held much appeal."I don't do that anymore. I told you that." "Yeah, but you've still got to survive." "I am surviving. I got a fix just a couple days ago. I'm set for a while. " Bastien scowled. "A few days ago? Bleh. This writer guy's making you boring. " "Hey, it has nothing to do with him. It's my choice." "Sure." "What's with the tone?"
"Not sure. I mean, I thought the whole writer-dating thing was amusing at first—even if he seems kind of dull and will probably only end up causing you pain. But now I'm starting to think it's indicative of a larger issue with you. I mean, there's the whole nice guy hang-up to begin with. Then you're, what? An assistant manager at a bookstore? Not to mention the fact that you have a cat."Aubrey glared, and so did I. "There's nothing wrong with having a cat. And Seth isn't dull." "I suppose you'd know better. He just didn't really strike me as much, that's all. If you wanted to obsess about a mortal, I could find you a better one." "I don't want a better one. I mean, there is no better one. I want him." "Suit yourself. You're just becoming ordinary, that's all. You used to be extraordinary." "Ouch. All this because I won't go out with you tonight?" Bastien shrugged. "Okay then. We'll go. But no victim for me." "Fair enough."
We went down to a club in Pioneer Square, both of us groomed to the kind of sexy, beautiful perfection that only an incubus and a succubus could achieve. I had pulled my hair up in messy, sex-kitten glory and wore a baby blue tank top with a V-neck that almost went to my belly button. The opening was covered in very sheer lace and made wearing a bra utterly pointless. So I didn't.
The tension between us evaporated as we hit the dance floor. The rhythm pulsed through me, the movement and sweat intoxicating. Bastien and I danced together for a while, both of us aware of the admirers we drew, even in a packed room like this. Physical attraction was about so much more than just superficial appearance. It was about eye contact, outgoingness, and movement too. Incubi and succubi learn this early on, and the good ones move with a grace few mortals can match. I, who had danced well before becoming a succubus, knew I was among the best when it came to body language. Watching us was irresistible. A turn-on in itself.
After a while, we split up. The results of the succubus game distressed me sometimes, but the game itself was fun. Very fun. I moved from partner to partner, thriving on the effect I created, on the desire I could see mounting in those whose bodies mine toyed with. It was why, despite my frequent bitching, I had given up my mortal soul for this vocation.
I confess, that the thought of going home with someone grew tantalizing, my body warming to the idea of someone's hands upon me, but then I thought about Seth and his determined adherence to the arrangement we'd entered into. No. No superfluous victims for me tonight. I could be good. I wanted to be good. I'd wait until I actually needed a recharge.From across the room, Bastien inclined his head to me when he left the club, his arm around a small, entranced blonde. When he turned, I noticed a brunette in his other arm. Overachiever.
It was two in the morning when I finally made it home. I woke aching and tired the next day, the weather making me feel worse. Rain formed a steady gray curtain as I walked to work. Everything seemed colder. I had been raised in a warm Mediterranean climate; I could never quite accept these kinds of temperatures.When I showed up at the bookstore, it had once again opened without me. Oddly, though, despite exactly the same staff working today, I didn't get the same boisterous greetings as yesterday.
Casey and Janice, on the registers, paused in their work to watch me walk in, their expressions enigmatic. Janice leaned over, murmuring something in the other woman's ear. When they noticed my curious look, they both forced smiles. "Hey, Georgina.""Hey," I responded, puzzled and slightly uncomfortable. Passing by the information desk a moment later, I found Beth regarding me with an equally peculiar look. "How's it going?" I asked when she didn't say anything. "Fine." She hastily turned to the computer screen in front of her. Now, I'd been subjected to my share of strange looks upon coming into work before, but this was weird even for me.
Sometimes, after being with a lover, their absorbed life energy gave me a glamour that unconsciously attracted mortals. It was the same glow that Hugh had teased me about during poker. That was not to blame now, however. My last fix, as I'd told Bastien, had occurred a few days ago. The glow would have weakened by now. Besides, I know entranced looks when I saw them. These were not it. These were curious, what-is-she-doing looks. The kind of looks you get when you have food on your face or a missing button. The likelihood of either of those seemed low, but I ducked into the restroom anyway, just to check.
Nope. Flawless. A long denim skirt and a navy, off-the-shoulder sweater. Both smooth and perfect. Makeup in place. Unbound hair hanging to the bottom of my shoulder blades. A typical look for me. Nothing to warrant this attention.Assuming I was reading too much into things, I continued on to thecafé,getting a friendly nod from Seth as he worked in his corner. At least he was behaving normally. A new barista bustled at the espresso bar, and she nearly dropped the cups she held upon seeing me.
"H-hi," she stammered out, wide-eyed, looking me over from head-to-toe. "Hi," I returned. This woman didn't even know me. Why was she acting weirdly too? "Medium white-chocolate mocha."It took her a moment to churn into action, writing my order on a cup. As she rang it up at the register, she asked curiously, "You're Georgina, right?" "Um, yeah. Why?" "Just heard of you, that's all." She looked back down.
She said no more to me after that, simply making and handing me the mocha. Taking it, I walked over to Seth and sat across from him. The barista continued watching us with interest, though she immediately turned away upon catching my eye."Hey," Seth greeted me, eyes and fingers busy. "Hey," I returned. "Everyone's acting really weird today."
He glanced up. "Are they?" I immediately recognized the thrall he fell into when his writing seized him. He became even more distracted and scattered than usual under such conditions. A succubus should be so lucky to have that kind of effect on a man."Yeah. Have you noticed anything? I feel like people are staring at me." He shook his head, stifling a yawn before returning to typing. "Things seem the same to me. I like your sweater. Maybe it's that."
"Maybe," I conceded, slightly mollified by the compliment, even if I didn't believe it. Not wanting to distract him further, I stood up and stretched. "I should get back to work." Glancing over at the espresso bar, I noticed Andy, one of the cashiers, buying coffee. "There!" I hissed to Seth. "Did you see that?""See what?" "Andy just smirked." "No he didn't." "He did. I swear it."
When I went downstairs, back to the main part of the store, I passed Warren. Mid-fifties and strikingly handsome, the store's morally questionable owner had once been a regular for me before I'd promised Jerome I'd go back to seducing good men. Warren and I had not had sex in some time. Considering my current regiment of decent souls, I kind of missed having an occasional guilt-free one."Hello, Georgina." I was relieved to see he at least didn't give me any of those gaping looks. "Been up talking to Mortensen, I presume?" "Yes," I agreed, wondering if I was going to be chastised for not getting to work right away. "Pity you had to take the stairs. We do have an elevator, you know. "
Now I stared open-mouthed. Of course we had an elevator. It was key operated, there for handicapped customers and shipment transport, and was almost never used otherwise. "Yes. I know that."Warren winked at me and continued on his way upstairs. "Just making sure."
Shaking my head, I went back to the main floor and took over a register, giving Andy his lunch break. Janice and Casey remained stiff with me at first, eventually warming somewhat as time progressed. Other staff, moving in and out around me, continued to give me wondering looks, occasionally whispering to each other when they thought I wouldn't notice.When Seth passed by at one point to tell me he had to run errands but would see me later, I thought Beth—dropping off a book—might pass out. "All right," I exclaimed once Seth was gone, "what's going on here?" Casey, Beth, and Janice all turned sheepish. "Nothing, Georgina, honest." Beth gave me what was apparently supposed to be a winning smile. The others remained silent, faces perfectly innocent, nigh angelic.
I didn't believe any of it, of course. Something weird was going on. Weirder than usual. I needed answers, and there was only one person in the store candid enough to give them to me. Shutting down my register, I stormed back to my office where Doug sat occupied by the computer.
Bursting in, I opened my mouth, ready to rant and rave. He jumped about two feet in the air at my sudden arrival, reflexes kicking in with astonishing speed so as not to slosh coffee from the cup he had just raised to his lips. There was a funny look on his face, almost like guilt. No doubt anotherTetrisgame was in progress.
But it wasn't that that delayed my tirade. A strange feeling was creeping along my flesh—a feeling that brushed my immortal senses, rather than the usual five that accompanied a human body. It felt weird, almost uncomfortable. Like nails raking down a chalkboard. Nothing I could identify or had even ever felt before. I looked around the room, half-expecting to find another immortal lurking, even though that strange sensation didn't quite touch me like the signature I'd usually feel off of an individual.Doug drank from the cup and then set it down, watching me with bemused calmness. "Something I can help you with, Kincaid?"
Blinking, I gave the office another once-over and then shook my head. The feeling disappeared. What the hell? I could have blamed it on stress-induced imagination, but after over a millennium of succubus life, I doubted my immortal senses would start falling prey to hallucinations now. And yet the only thing in here that could possibly be construed as supernatural or divine was Doug'sTetrismastery. That, I thought wryly, had more to do with hours of skirting work than any sort of magic.Remembering my righteous fury, I pushed aside that momentary weirdness and ratcheted my anger back up to the other weirdness in my life. "What the fuck is going on?" I exclaimed, slamming the door.
"My sweetTetrisskills?" "No! With everyone! Why is everyone treating me so strangely today? They keep staring at me like I'm a freak or something."Doug's expression stayed baffled, and then I saw understanding flood his face. "Ah. That. You really don't know?" I could have grabbed his neck and shook him. "Of course I don't know! What's going on?" Casually, he moved some papers around on the desk and lifted up a copy of American Mystery. "You read Seth's story yet?" "I haven't had time." He tossed me the magazine. "Do it. Go take your dinner break somewhere—not here—and read. I won't leave until you get back." Looking at the time, I realized his shift was nearly over. "But what's that got to do with—" He held up a hand to silence me. "Just read it. Now."
Scowling, I took the magazine and left the store, settling myself at one of my favoritecafésdown the street. With clam chowder secured, I turned to the first page, wondering what in the world Doug expected me to find.
As Seth had explained a few weeks ago, the story was more of a self-contained mystery, dealing little with the overarching psychology and development of his characters. Cady and O'Neill worked for a fictitious institute based out of Washington, D.C., one that researched and secured archaeological and artistic relics. Thus, the two often found themselves liberating art from international thieves or uncovering mysterious code on a piece of pottery. In traditionally gendered styles, Bryant O'Neill worked as a sort of field agent, doing most of the physical work, getting into a lot of fist-fights and whatnot. Demure Nina Cady focused on the research, often staying up late to unravel some key piece of evidence in an ancient text.
This particular story contained a lot of those same elements, but like always, Seth's beautiful writing and quick, witty dialogue kept the material captivating. In another trend consistent with his characters' behavior, O'Neill almost always got involved with some beautiful woman, though Seth's last book had turned this pattern on its head, letting Cady finally see some action. The story I read today fell into old ways, and O'Neill, in his ever suave manner, made the moves on a stunning museum curator:
Genevievesauntered through the halls, a queen among subjects, surveying people and displays with both calculation and command. With those green-flecked hazel eyes, she put him in mind of a cat sizing up its next meal. He felt exactly like prey as she paused in front of him, favoring him with a languid look that oozed over his body, her tongue lightly moistening bee-stung lips.
Oh God, to be a mouse,he thought. "Mr. O'Neill," she purred, brushing a lock of that shining hair away from her face. Faint streaks of honey laced those pale brown strands, like gold veins in ore. He wanted to bury his face in it. He wanted to taste it. "You're late."
Despite nearly a foot separating their heights, he felt like the underling here, like he should do penance for his tardiness and kneel in her presence. Not that he would mind that so much, he decided, trying not to stare at the way her dress's thin material molded itself to her hips and full breasts. Those breasts, he decided, were perfect. Definitely impressive in size, but not grotesquely out of control. And their shape…ah, even a master sculptor could never have duplicated those exquisite curves…Realizing she expected a response, he filed his base thoughts away under L for Later and gave her an unruffled smile. "My apologies." Now probably wasn't the time to mention the attack back at his hotel. "But I never rush anything. At least not when a woman's involved. "
With that being only the mildest of the suggestive dialogue, I wasn't surprised when things escalated between them near the end of the story. After all, I thought dryly, it wouldn't be a true Cady and O'Neill experience if someone didn't score. And man, did he score. The feline comparisons were right on becauseGenevievewas a cat in heat. She ended up tying O'Neill up in an elevator, performing an array of kinky acts on him that made even me raise an eyebrow. I was surprised American Mystery hadn't edited them out, though I'd be lying if I said it wasn't sort of a turn-on to realize such sordidness had come from mild, complacent—Elevator? We do have an elevator, you know,Warren had told me. Light brown hair. Hazel-green eyes. Petite. Nice breasts.
"Ahh!" I cried, dropping the magazine as if it might bite me. It landed next to my now-empty bowl, and a passing waitress gave me a startled look. Hastily leaving a wad of cash on the table, I grabbed my coat and purse and sprinted back to the bookstore. Doug was still playingTetrisin ouroffice, butI was too upset to speculate much on what was again an amazing performance.All those looks. The whispers and smirks. It all made sense now. "They think it's me!" I told him, making him jump for the second time that day."Genevieve.They all think I'm some sort of horny, rope-wielding, elevator-fetish dominatrix!" Doug raised an eyebrow. "You mean you aren't?"