Saturday, March 3, 2012

Holy Sh*t, It's About Time.

Sweet mother of god, finally!

This is a bit of a rant followed by a snippet that has nothing to do with beautiful men having sex with each other, so be warned:)

You know how it feels when you've got something that you need to finish hanging over you for months and months and you're creeping closer to the finish line, but it just seems impossible to seal the deal?  All college students, please nod your heads.  I'm not in college anymore, but my alter ego, who is actually my real self, has been working on a novel that could possibly be considered more mainstream than gay male erotica.  I know, what the hell, right?  But that's the way of it.  I started the novel back in Togo, promised myself I would finish it before I left and...yeah...didn't happen.  I've been back for six months now and just got the rough draft done tonight.  About 90k words, it's an urban fantasy without the heavily romantic overtones that are so popular lately.  There are also no vampires, no werewolves, and the only angelic being who makes a cameo is an absolute dick. 

Still, it's fun, and since my alter ego has no captive audience of fabulous people at her disposal to throw a chapter at, I've allowed her to come and play on my blog.  Those of you who care can easily tell I'm a Gemini, can't you? 

The chapter I'm posting is kind of long.  Please bear with me if you have no interest in this, I've got delicious and captivating smut coming.  More Cinders, excerpts from coming attractions--oh yeah baby, I got your back.

Anyway.  Anonymous rough draft first chapter to be found below.  Happy Sunday, people:)

Chapter One

Their ship was ten miles out from the port of New Orleans when the fetish went crazy.

Gigi staggered out of the kitchen and into the driving rain, the kind of rain that hurt when it hit you, cold and hard against the skin.  It was early August, and the balmy south was supposed to be uncomfortably hot right now, but in the minute it took her to slide across the rusted deck of the container ship and into her box of a cabin Gigi was drenched to the skin and shivering uncontrollably. 

She shut her door and leaned her back against it, blowing out her breath in a long, controlled exhale meant to calm.  Her jean shorts clung to her thighs, and her white tank top would have been as effective as no tank top at all if not for some gaudy amulets hanging from silver chains.  She lifted up her shaking hands and surveyed the blood and feathers still clinging to them.

“Well, that sucked,” she muttered to herself. 

The sudden tantrum was more than a little surprising.  Three weeks at sea with this thing and she hadn’t yet had a problem with it.  The fetish spirit seemed satiated by the daily sacrifice of a chicken and a few hours of company from her.  The rest of the time she’d spent reading, playing cards or gambling with the crew and fending off the advances of the guys who thought that the best course of action when a woman turned them down was to try, try again.  Gigi had gotten more marriage proposals in the last month than she’d received in her entire life before this job.  At first it had been kind of flattering, but now it was just obnoxious.

Through it all, rain or shine, dry land or endless ocean, the fetish had stayed pretty calm for a spirit that had been uprooted from its ancestral homeland and shoved onto a ship in the company of a woman who had enough belief to provide it with sustenance, but not the faith to worship it.  Well, it looked like that supernatural cookie had finally crumbled. 

The change had happened so suddenly, too.  One minute they were sailing comfortably up the Mississippi at twilight, with just enough rain falling to obscure the stars.  Gigi had sat on a goat skin by the door of the shipping container and flipped through the latest magazine she’d scrounged up, a ten-year old issue of Popular Mechanics.  Cell phones, who knew they would come so far?  It had been, for her, a normal evening.

A moment later the air around her seemed to pressurize, making her ears ache so sharply that she clapped her hands against them in an effort to ease the pain.  The pile of bones in the center of the crate began to rattle against each other, and foul liquid spilled from the fetish’s cauldron onto the floor in a frothy, agitated wave.  Rotting, blood-stained feathers levitated above the upside-down clay pots on which they usually rested tranquil.  Seconds later they were flying at her face.

Gigi had run to the mess to grab a chicken, only to discover that the last of her pullets had been killed that evening as dinner for the captain.  The wide-eyed cook explained haltingly that he had assumed since they were so close to the port, another sacrifice wouldn’t be needed.  After all, she only used one a day, right?

“Right.  Asshole.”  She pushed dark, mucky hair out of her face with gory fingers and reached for her phone.  It was right where she’d left it on her rickety bedside table, even though she hadn’t locked her door.  Gigi smirked a little, despite being so on edge that she could barely press the cell’s buttons.  Her first few days onboard, several of the more enterprising crewmembers had broken into her cabin and stolen her phone, her cash, passport and several pairs of her underwear.  A passport was one thing, but a Victoria’s Secret microfiber and lace thong was irreplaceable under the circumstances.

Gigi had gone to the captain, who had apologized but said, basically, “What did you expect?  You’re a lone female yovo on a ship full of sailors.”  Yovo was the Ewe tribe’s word for foreigner, and most of the twenty-man crew of the Coeur de la Mer was made up of Ewe from the Ivory Coast, Togo and Benin.  If there was one thing they could bond over, it was screwing with the silly single white female currently escorting a strange northern fetish to America.

Gigi deRossi was decidedly single, white and female, and there was nothing she could do about any of that.  However, she was pretty far from silly and had been expecting something like this.  With the captain’s help she’d gathered the crew together, explained the problem and given them one chance to come clean.  When that predictably resulted in nothing, she got out her personal dowsing pendulum, a silver chain with a resin-coated peach pit hanging from it, and went to work finding her stuff.  An hour later she’d not only found all of her things, she’d also shocked the hell out of the crew, launched herself into the “not to be fucked with” category of passenger and given everyone a laugh by lifting the edge of a midnight blue lace thong out of the back of one burly sailor’s pants, then snapping it down and telling him that if it meant so much to him, he could keep it.

Gigi pressed the number three on her speed dial, waiting impatiently for the ringing to end.  It ended by passing her over to an answering machine, which was no help at all.

“No, don’t make me call the hotline,” she moaned even as she began to punch the numbers in.  1-800-SOLARIS, Your Conduit to the Divine, Impressively Personal and Amazingly Insightful Psychic Readings for 3.99 a minute, except on Sundays.  There was no way she was getting this call reimbursed. 

A few seconds after the call went through, Enya’s Orinoco Flow began to play, overlaid by a sultry female voice that said, “I’m communing with another truth seeker right now.  Please hold until I can respond to your needs.”

“Shit.”  Gigi disconnected.  She didn’t have time to hold.

A loud banging sounded against her door.  “Demoiselle!  Demoiselle deRossi, il faut contrôler le fétiche.”  It was Paul Adebayor, the chief mate.  He was the only one on the entire ship who called her by her last name.

“What’s it doing?” she asked in French.

“Half of our instruments have failed, including radios.  The captain is steering the ship manually for now but we must keep our lights, and our depth gauges.  What’s wrong with the spirit?”

“I don’t know, it just went crazy all of a sudden.”

“Well get it under control, quickly.  This is a busy part of the river, and we have no chance at all of managing the ship in port if this continues.”

That was just what she needed, to stumble so close to the finish line.  Not for the first time, Gigi wondered how she had let Fernando talk her into taking this job. 

No, no, she could handle this.  There had to be a solution besides killing something for it, even if it wasn’t occurring to her immediately.  Gigi didn’t speak the language that the fetish was used to, from a northern tribe called the Moba, and there weren’t any of that tribe’s members on board to advise her.  Poor planning in her opinion, but all the legwork for this had been put together by the Sinandjas, the Beninois family that the powerful fetish belonged to.  Still, there had to be something else she could do.

Gigi crouched down next to her cot and peered at the corner of the bed next to the wall.  There was an orb spider there, one she’d brought with her when she first boarded the ship back in Lomé.  Not that she couldn’t have found a spider on board, but orb spiders made for cleaner webs and clearer messages, when her bosses decided to send her a message at all. 

There was the pretty little critter, its bulbous black abdomen spotted with starbursts of yellow and white.  It sat complacently on a tiny web, the same web it had been sitting on this morning.  No new strands, no new connections.  Gigi strained her eyes for a message, a signal, for anything that might mean that Nona was looking in on her, but there was nothing there.

“Damn it!”  She considered calling them personally for a second, even half-raised the phone to her ear, but she stopped herself.  Nona and her sisters were busy women, and they’d let Gigi know in no uncertain terms when she started this job that if she contacted them for anything other than a matter of life or death, they’d be very displeased with her.  Gigi didn’t even want to think about what qualified to a Fate as “displeasure,” but she hadn’t tempted them so far and she wasn’t eager to start now.  She could handle this.  She totally could.  She had to.

“Wish I could sacrifice that bastard who stole my best pair of undies,” Gigi said to the spider, which looked back at her with blatant unconcern.  Of course she wouldn’t dream of involving any of the crew, not really, they were too freaked about what was going on as it was.  There were rats to be had on the ship, but she didn’t have time to catch one and she wasn’t sure the fetish would like the way they tasted.  The last thing she needed was a spirit with a bad taste in its metaphorical mouth.  She swiped one hand down the length of her arm, removing feathers but smearing her olive-toned skin with streaks of watery blood.  Blood…which she had plenty of, personally.

But man, that could be tricky.  Human blood was always tricky when it came to appropriate sacrifices, but Gigi had run out of options.  She could hear the distant banging of the fetish from here, and knew that if she could hear it the crew definitely could.  The last thing she needed was any of them poking their faces into the shipping container.  Not stopping to reconsider, she grabbed her Spyderco folding knife out of her purse and opened the door.  A cold gust of rain slapped her in the face, and she took a moment to steady herself before continuing across the deck.

Gigi had left her flashlight in the crate with the fetish, which turned out to be a mistake.  The spirit had beaten it until the batteries popped out, then levitated it and powered it with its own energy, which produced not warm yellow light but a wavering shaft of malevolent, dirty blood red.  The beam swung in crazy arcs around the confines of the container, highlighting rattling skulls and the bones of decades’ worth of sacrifices like a macabre spotlight.  When Gigi closed the door behind herself, the light settled on her face.  She could feel the anger of the spirit, ever-increasing anger and something that registered a little like fear as well.  What was the spirit afraid of?  Gigi didn’t have the time to find out.

“You need to calm down,” she told the fetish firmly, hoping her tone if not the meaning of her words would soak in.  She opened her knife with one hand and got a firm grip on the handle.  This wasn’t something she wanted the fetish to take away from her and start swinging around.  “It’s okay.  We’re almost there.”

Anger pulsed at her, anger and fear and hatred, hated her for stealing the spirit away, hated her for doing this to it, for subjecting it to this new place and this new enemy, enemy, enemy, hated her—

Gigi cut her left arm.  She made a shallow slice with the smooth part of the blade, just below her elbow, and let the liquid gather on the blade for a moment before lifting it away from her skin.  The blood glistened thickly in the sweeping red light, more richly than water or the filthy mixture of millet beer, gin and animal blood that sloshed about the floor. 

“Calm down,” she repeated, and extended the knife to the spirit.  The blood was cleaned from the blade in moments, but there was still an urgent pulse for more, more blood, more power.  Gigi cut herself again, just beneath the first one.  They were little more than nicks but they stung like acid.  She held the knife out again.  Again the blade was pushed back to her, clean but insufficient to calm the fetish.

  She cut herself two more times, offering her blood until finally she gave enough to satisfy the spirit, and it settled back into its disarrayed fetish.  Skulls clacked and bones knocked together as they rearranged themselves to the spirit’s satisfaction.  One by one feathers lifted out of the cesspool coating the floor and replaced themselves on their jars.  Bits of cola nut and cut-away animal parts crawled up the sides of the cauldron and back into the mixture within, and finally the flashlight itself settled gently back into Gigi’s free hand.  Then the light went out.

“Couldn’t have brought me the batteries too,” she groused, bending over and feeling around in the last place she’d seen the bulky C-sized cylinders.  She found one and shoved it into the casing, then spent another minute searching for the other.  It turned out to be held daintily between the jaws of a huge crocodile skull.  The teeth shivered around her hand as her fingers closed on the battery.

“Oh, very cute.”  Gigi pulled the battery out and put it back into the flashlight, relieved when it lit up again.  The backing was gone, but she could hold the damn thing together for the amount of time she’d be spending in here at this point.  She swung the light around the shipping container.

Apart from the pale pink liquid still sloshing on the floor and the blood that specked the walls and ceiling, the fetish looked pristine.  Well, as pristine as something made mostly of carrion could ever look.  “You gonna behave now?”

Gigi felt the air thicken a little, as if the spirit were considering boxing her ears, and then it dissipated again.  “Yeah, that’s what I thought.  I’ll be back in a little bit.  Make sure the ship is working, because if we sink in the Mississippi River no one will ever be able to find all the pieces of you.  Got it?”  There was no reply this time.  Gigi turned and left the shipping container, only to come face to face with a very relieved chief mate a moment later.

“Tu as gagne?” he asked anxiously.  “Tout les choses marche encore.”

“Yeah, I won, Paul,” Gigi said, flexing her stinging left arm and folding up her knife.  It was a tight fit in the back pocket of her cutoffs, but she didn’t want to touch it right now.

“Good, that’s good,” Paul replied.  “Will it stay this way?  We’ll make it into port on schedule if it does, but if there are to be more problems the captain doesn’t want to risk docking.”

“It should be fine,” Gigi assured him with more certainty than she felt.  “Can you have a bucket of water brought to my room, please?  I want to clean up before we get in.”

“Certainly.  That’s a good idea.  You look…”  He surveyed her, not lasciviously like so many of the crew, but rather with something like pity in his eyes.  “You look like you’ve been in a fight with all four of my wives at once.”

“Oh thanks, Paul,” she scowled.  The chief mate’s wives were the stuff of legend among the crew, with new tales forever circulating about their beauty, their sexual appetite and how viciously they fought each other for the privilege of sleeping with their husband when he was at home.  Gigi was positive that the stories were 95% bullshit, but Paul loved to talk about them and the men loved to listen. 

Gigi pushed past him and sloshed her way back to her room, kicking off her damp Chacos once she got in the door.  It took an effort to get out of the shorts but she wriggled free after a few seconds’ struggle, wrung them out as best she could over the tiny drain in the floor that signified her shower space, then hung them on a hook in the wall.  Her tank top went the way of her shorts, followed by her more delicate pieces of jewelry.  Finally she was left naked, shivering cold and covered with goose bumps.  She stared at her reflection in the old, spotted mirror hanging on the wall. 

Gigi looked like she had been in a cage fight and smelled like the aftermath of a frat party.  Her long dark hair, pleasantly curly when it was dry, was now a sodden mass that would frizz into a halo without conditioner, which she’d run out of two days ago.  Her arms and legs were covered in tiny cuts, courtesy of the quills and shards of bone that the fetish had been flinging around.  Some of said pieces were still clinging to her hair and skin, specks of off-white lodged in her healthy tan that made her look vaguely leprous.  Of course, the massive streaks of chicken blood all over the place didn’t help either.

There was a single knock on her door, followed by the sound of something metal being set down.  “Merci,” she called, and waited a moment for whoever it was to leave before cracking the door open and verifying that it was a bucket of water.  Rainwater, from the freezing feel of it.  Gigi opened the door just wide enough to get the bucket in, and then closed it behind her.  She grabbed her soap and the bottle of Betadine that so far had been worth its weight in gold and settled in to the corner of her room for a thorough, freezing scrub down.  She cleaned, disinfected and cleaned again, checking her body scrupulously in the mirror to make sure that she cleared away every speck of blood and rubbed the antiseptic solution into every little scrape or cut she had.  She was especially conscientious of the four narrow cuts on her arm, cleaning first them and then her knife before slapping some band-aids on and calling it good.

It wasn’t solely out of a desire to be clean that Gigi took so much care to scrub up now.  She was going to be meeting the fetish’s family at the port, the family who had paid her to go to Benin, retrieve their ancestral idol and bring it back to them.  The family, for a multitude of reasons, were under surveillance by the police and couldn’t travel freely back to West Africa, but they also couldn’t trust the transport of their fetish to any old person. Competition among the crime kingpins of the United States was fierce, and to hand over access to something as potentially damaging as a fetish to people unrelated to them could have lethal consequences.

The Sinandjas were rising stars in New Orleans, controlling all of the cargo from West Africa that came through the port, and all of the drugs interspersed with that cargo as well.  They had gone to a higher power to seek help in bringing their fetish to the New World, and through the trickle-down process of delegation, that power had eventually turned the matter over to Fernando Xolo, who in turn offered the job to Gigi. 

After a brief consultation with the Fates, Gigi had accepted the job.  After all, she spoke French, sort of, and she’d always wanted to see where her parents had first met thirty years ago, when her mother was a Peace Corps volunteer and her father was an Italian NGO worker building wells.  The Sinandjas had paid for her plane ticket and put her into contact with their extended family back in Benin, but she hadn’t met any of the stateside members yet.  Just speaking with the heir-apparent, Dominique,  over the phone had been more than enough contact for Gigi to realize that he was a conceited prick though, and she wasn’t in the mood to be looked down upon after delivering their damn fetish just because she was a little messy.

Gigi glanced down at the filthy clump of refuse clogging her tiny drain and sighed.  Okay, a lot messy.  But she’d do what she could.

Two hours later the rain had stopped, the Coeur de la Mer had settled into their berth at dock and Gigi was dressed in the best outfit she’d brought with her, a dark denim skirt that never needed ironing and a soft, fitted t-shirt with the final death scene from Repo: The Genetic Opera on it.  They weren’t the nicest things she owned, not by far, but travelling through rural West Africa wasn’t a job that called for the use of name brand fashions.  She finished herself off with knee high black leather boots that added a few inches to her five foot eight frame, and a hip-length brown suede jacket with a fringe running down the sleeves.  It had been too warm to wear for the most part, but she’d wanted to be prepared.  Now it served the dual purposes of sprucing up her outfit a little while taking the edge off of the chill in the air.  Her hair was actually curling and not poofing, her lips were nicely glossy, none of her cuts were showing…not a bad effort, Gigi congratulated herself as she looked in the little mirror before grabbing up her backpack and heading outside.

“Your container will be the first we unload,” Paul told her when they met on the rusty deck, now well lit by evenly-spaced floodlights.  “But, Demoiselle deRossi, we have no papers for you.  The container is taken care of, but if the port authorities were to see you, they might ask questions beyond what they have been paid to ignore.  You must disembark with the fetish.”

“What, inside the container?”  This wasn’t exactly the fast and welcome return to US soil that she’d hoped for.

“Yes.  We’ll close everything up, then use the crane to get you from the deck onto the ground.  It’s very safe,” he hastened to assure her when he saw the look of apprehension cross her face.  “We will set you down quite gently.”

“How long is this going to take?” Gigi asked, shifting her backpack from one shoulder to the other.

“Not long,” Paul assured her, in that way people had of acting confident while not really knowing what they were talking about.  “Not long.”

An hour later Gigi was still inside the dark interior of the shipping container, steeped in the sweet-rot scent of the fetish and trying not to breathe too deeply as metal clanked and clanged around her.  How long did it take to lift this box with a freaking crane, anyway?  There was still enough liquid coating the floor that her footing wasn’t all that stable in these boots, and her backpack was starting to feel heavy, but there was no way she could put it down.  Now that the rain wasn’t falling, it was growing hot again, almost unbearably hot, and sweat had started to bead her forehead and upper lip and crawl down the backs of her arms.  Gigi was used to having things crawling on her, but that didn’t keep her from wanting to scratch at it but being thwarted by her jacket.

Gigi left her light off, making do with the faint beams that filtered in through the ill-fitting door.  Five more minutes.  She would give these bastards five more minutes before she began pounding on the metal and demanding an explanation.  Jesus, now she had an idea of how it would feel to be trafficked, except instead of sharing her shipping container with a dozen other people, she was sharing it with a stinky, petulant fetish spirit. 

An invisible hand smacked the back of her head, not hard enough to hurt but enough to jar her forward a little.  “Quit it.”  It tugged down on her ponytail.  “I said quit it, asshole.”  The next time it smacked her, very firmly, on the ass.  “Don’t make me come over there and rearrange your teeth, because I don’t care how long it takes me, I will knock the block of off every single skull in your entourage!”

For a few moments, everything was still.  Then a second later Gigi felt an invisible hand start to tug at the knife in her pocket.  She had it clipped to the fabric, so it would have taken a really firm pull to get it free, but the message was clear.  “No.  You’ve had enough.”

The wounds on her arm suddenly began to burn again, as though they were fresh and open to the fetid air.  She clamped her free hand down firmly over the cuts, and the feeling diminished.  “I said no.”  Gigi turned so that she was glowering in the direction of the fetish, her patience almost entirely gone, more than ready to start breaking pots and grinding bones to powder beneath her heels if that was what it took.  She could feel the fetish glaring back at her, wanting more but still waiting, the two of them locked in an uncomfortable standoff.

The container suddenly lurched into motion, making Gigi scramble to keep her balance as they groaningly rose into the air.  She made her way over to a corner and leaned into it, both palms pressed flat to the wall behind her to help steady her.  She could feel the container turning in the air, feel it reach the apex of its rise and then slowly, steadily, begin to descend.  Here, at least, Paul had been correct.  The set-down was actually quite gentle.

There was the sound of voices shouting mixture of French and English, more clanking as chains and hooks were cleared away, and then the container doors were pulled open.  Gigi pushed off the wall and stepped out onto the cement walkway, then took a deep breath.  The fresh air, as close and cloying as she had found it on their trip up the river, was a million times better than what she’d been breathing inside that container.

There was a group of men standing a few yards away.  They were all black, except for a short white man with mutton chops and a pronounced beer gut.  He was holding a clipboard and seemed surprised to see Gigi emerge, but one look from the man in the lead had him turning his eyes back to his papers.

The man in the forefront was fairly tall, broad shouldered and slim hipped in the way that a lot of young Beninois men were.  His skin was smooth and dark, without any of the facial scarring that Gigi had half-expected.  His face was an oval, accentuated by sharp cheekbones and a pointed chin that highlighted his handsomeness.  He wore a tailor-fit gray silk suit with a vividly blue shirt, open at the collar with no tie.  His companions clearly deferred to him, and Gigi figured he was the heir-apparent of the crime family that she’d been dealing with.  She stepped forward.  “Mr. Sinandja?”

“Miss deRossi.”  He had no accent apart from a trace of a Louisiana drawl, and the way he spoke her name was familiar.  “Bon arrivée.”

“Thank you.”  She held out her hand.  Dominique looked at it, then at her with a slight sneer curling the edge of his lips.  Gigi narrowed her eyes.  She knew what she probably looked like right now, definitely knew what she smelled like, but she wasn’t going to be cowed by some fancy-pants playboy who couldn’t get his own hands dirty moving his family’s fetish from one continent to another.  After a moment, he shook.  His palm was smooth, and this close she could smell his cologne, a combination of vetyver and musk that for some reason made her want to sneeze.

He dropped her hand after just a second.  “I assume everything went according to plan.”  There was a hint of relief in his eyes, as though her arrival had lifted an internal strain.

“I’m here.  It’s here.  We’re both in one piece and so is the ship, but I recommend you get your priest to tend to the fetish as soon as possible, because it’s getting hungry.”

He looked at her sharply.  “You have been feeding it, though?”

“Regularly.”  Even irregularly on top of that.

“Good.”  He moved past her and turned on his flashlight, looking avidly into the container.  Apparently it wasn’t quite what he’d expected, because his face fell.  “Are you sure you got all of it?  Every piece?”

“Down to the last chipped tooth,” Gigi assured him flatly.

“Hmm.  Well, my grandfather will know for sure.”  With that reassuring statement he turned back to face her.  “I presume you’re ready to leave.”

“Very ready.”

“Let me give you the rest of your money, then.”  He motioned one of his cronies forward, a much larger man with a vertical line slashed deep into each cheek.  The bruiser handed her a thick envelope.  Gigi opened it and counted the money inside, coming up with a satisfying ten grand.  Cash payments.  What a blast from the past.  No charge cards, no bank transfers, nothing but slightly-wrinkled hundred dollar bills, so perfectly anonymous.  She put the envelope into her backpack.

“We have a car waiting to take you wherever you like, as long as it’s in state,” Dominique continued, pointing towards a silver Cadillac CTS that was idling on a service road a little ways off.

“I appreciate it.”

“My family appreciates your efforts.  We’ll be in touch.”  He moved back to the container, very clearly dismissing her.  Gigi started to walk to the car, rummaging through her backpack for her phone.  We’ll be in touch.  Nice, semi-ominous way to get rid of her.  It implied that if she’d somehow fucked their fetish over that there would be hell to pay, while still allowing her to believe that it might actually mean they’d be interested in repeat business.  Not that Gigi had any intention of working for the Sinandjas again.  She had her own business to run but still, it was nice to know that her shop’s expenses for the next three months were covered.

Her little orb spider shipmate crawled out from behind her jacket’s collar and onto her neck.  “Sorry, buddy, I can’t take you home with me.  The natives might eat you.  You’d better stay here.”  Gigi gently removed the spider and placed him on a low concrete pylon, then walked on to the sedan.  An older man was waiting beside it.  He offered to take her backpack but she shook her head, and instead let him open the door to the backseat.  The scent of newly-detailed car washed over her, and she sighed happily, then kept searching until she found her phone. 

“Where to, ma’am?” her driver asked as he got in.

“I’m about to find out,” Gigi replied.  She found the latest number for Fernando in her contacts and dialed it.

“Please have service, please have service, please have service…”  Given his occupation she usually had about a 50/50 chance of getting him.  The phone rang, though, and after a moment Fernando picked up.


“For the record, just so you know, you suck donkey balls.”

He laughed.  “I didn’t know you’d seen my show in Tijuana, Gigi!  You should have told me, I would have bought you a caguama and showed you around backstage.”

“I could never drink that much beer in one sitting.”

“I take this to mean that the job wasn’t entirely smooth,” he said diplomatically.  She heard the scuffle of feet on rocky soil from his end.

“It went pretty well except for the end,” she replied.  “We had a minor freak-out on the way up the Mississippi, but I got it under control.”

“I knew you could handle everything.”  Fernando’s voice was a rich, vibrant tenor, and always made Gigi think of chocolate.  Mmm, chocolate…she hadn’t had chocolate for three weeks.  “And you got back right on schedule.  Nice work.”

“Fetishes R’Us, we make animism easy.”

“You could make a go of that kind of business if you want to, you know.  There are a lot of people in America who need things that take a more knowledgeable touch than your average UPS deliveryman has,” Fernando said, his tone actually serious for once.

“Thanks, but this was a one-time deal.  I’ve got to get back to my shop before something decides to get up and walk away.”  Gigi wasn’t really kidding as she said it.  She wouldn’t be surprised if some of her stock was chafing at the bit to be in the right place by now.  “So how am I getting home?”

“I talked to the boss and got you a ride on the corporate jet.”

Gigi felt intrigued and mildly sick to her stomach at the same time.  “I’m going to be riding in the Evil Empire’s personal plane?”

“We’re not so much an empire as an evil conglomerate these days,” Fernando joked.  “C’mon, it’s better than flying commercial.  No lines, no waiting, no pesky bag checks…and how often do you get the chance at your own personal jet?”

“Will there be sexy male flight attendants?” Gigi asked consideringly.

“I don’t think the Boss swings that way, but there might very well be sexy female flight attendants.”

“Ugh, all the more reason not to use it.  I look like crap and smell like a slaughterhouse right now.”

“It has its own shower,” he wheedled.

“Sold,” she said instantly.

“I thought that would get you.  I’ll let them know you’re coming.  The plane’s at Lakefront, not Louis, by the way.”

“Thanks, Nando.”

“My pleasure, Gigi.  Thanks for doing all the heavy lifting.”  His voice became more thoughtful.  “I’m actually kinda surprised that you took the job in the first place, honestly.  I knew you could do it, but it didn’t really seem like your thing, and you did turn it down at first.  You ever gonna tell me what made you change your mind?”

“Possibly,” Gigi allowed.  “Maybe.  If I’ve had too much to drink and you’re being particularly charming.”

“Baby, charming is my middle name.”

“Just keep telling yourself that, Perrito,” Gigi scoffed.  She hung up on the sound of his laughter and settled back against the seat.

“What’s our destination, ma’am?”

“Lakefront Airport, please.”

“You got it.”  The car started with a pleasant hum, and the even more pleasant air conditioning kicked in right after.  Gigi tossed her phone into her backpack, shut her eyes and dreamed of all the clean hot water that was coming her way.

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