the first chapter of me novella/novel.
The meeting hadn’t started yet and my toes were turning into soggy raisins, thanks to the hard cold rain coming down. Believe it or not, the work of the corporate spy isn’t all that glamorous; and sometimes just plain old dirty. Which is why I was sitting in a puddle of water in the darkness on a warehouse roof peeking through an air vent to see what my company’s competitor was about to reveal to their Board of Directors.
A single drop rolled down my nose, cold and slimy. Clapping my hand over my mouth I closed my eyes and held my breath for a long minute. Sure, it was a long stretch that they would hear anything over the thunder cracking the air over us, but I couldn’t afford to get caught. Macky-Mack Delights wouldn’t bail me out of jail and I had no doubt that ChocoFun wasn’t going to either. The tickling subsided, letting me breathe again.
Safe again, I leaned over the small monitor, brushing away the drops as the minicamera caught an image of the CEO, David Longstreet, walking to the front of the table. The room was sparsely furnished; the ten men obviously uncomfortable in anything that wasn’t polished oak and leather and making do with the cheap chipboard table and the mismatched chairs sitting around it.
“Gentlemen…” Longstreet’s voice boomed out. Dialing the speaker down with a spin I rubbed my ear and cursed again as a trickle of water ran down inside. “Gentlemen, I thank you for coming here tonight under less than… convenient circumstances.”
The bottled chuckles rolled onto my tape at a decent level. I watched as they sat down as a group watching Longstreet as he placed the briefcase on the table, causing it to rock to one side.
“I have here the next great product for not only ChocoFun, but possibly for the entire industry.” The lid flipped up. “Presenting… Bloodsuckers!”
As the suits leaned forward to get a clearer look at the small candy I spun the zoom dial, trying to get a good shot. Spytech’s come a long way in the past decade, but there’s still only so much you can get. As it was, all I saw was a chocolate coffin with a garish wrapper lying to one side. Another crash of thunder over my head reminded me to thank the camera’s builders for making it waterproof. Too bad I wasn’t.
“As you can see, here we have a sweet little chocolate coffin…” Pulling out a cheap pair of plastic fangs he drove them into the center of the candy then turned it on one side; letting everyone see the red liquid that oozed out of the holes. “Cherry juice, just at the right viscosity to make it look like blood and the kids will lick it up like crazy!” He beamed as the murmurs started around the table. “Right now vampires are a hot commodity and this is pointed directly at that group. The packaging includes one set of fangs and you can bet that this is going to fly off the shelves at Halloween.” Dipping a finger into the sticky pool he smiled. “Sweet and chocolately, this is going to be the biggest hit of the year, to say nothing of the trade shows!”
The pictures were clearer than I expected; good enough for my boss to get a similar product out as soon as they could crank up the machines. Oh, sure there’d be rumours and suspicions and mutterings, but it didn’t mean a thing without evidence. And this was going from my computer to theirs and into the vault as soon as possible, if they didn’t destroy it to cover all the options. Me, I’d pocket a nice fee and slide on over to my next job.
They hovered over the table for a few more minutes, humming stereotyped approval before Longstreet waved them into submission. “Gentlemen, that ends the meeting. I appreciate the trouble you took to come out here at this late hour, but I’m sure you appreciate the security we needed regarding this.” His eyes focused on one young pup at the far end. “David, how soon can we retool a line to start production?”
The youngster stuttered, wiping his brow. “Two weeks at the max. I can force them to go faster, but we’ll have to pay overtime and start a bit of tongues wagging.”
“Do it.” He tapped the table. “I also want Marketing to create an adult wrapping as well.”
“Adult?” One of the older men frowned. “You want to sell this to adults?”
“Brindell, Goths are one of the biggest growing groups along with wannabee vampires. Hell, look at the rock concerts.” Longstreet grinned. “This is going to be marketed as well to them. And they’re going to lap it up, excuse the pun.” He waved an arm at the warehouse wall. “A hit with kids and adults. Who can’t tell me that it’s not going to sell?”
I nodded my response, glancing at the monitor as it continued to record. With a final winning smile Longstreet scooped up the sticky candy and dropped it back into his briefcase, pulling out an embroidered hankerchief to wipe his hands. “Now, gentlemen… let’s get out there and make money!”
Handshakes were exchanged as the meeting began to break up. One last solitary raindrop fell onto my nose as I began to pull up the small snake, closing down the station. The entire kit fit into a knapsack, which worked well for me since I was going to climb down the rustiest fire escape in the world and pray that it didn’t drop me thirty feet to the ground. And that wasn’t going to happen until everyone left, which hopefully was going to be soon. At least it had stopped raining.
“That went well.” A new voice broke over my headphones, freezing me in my tracks. I glanced down at the disassembled camera in my hands, useless. I had sent down the mike line first to make sure it wasn’t noticed; then the camera snake itself and to try and drop it again would probably give me away. Not to mention that the recording equipment was already packed up.
“It went great.” Longstreet’s familiar voice rang in my ears. “They’ll have the kiddy stuff out sooner than that; they’re as greedy as it gets.”
“Well, aren’t we all.” A thick laugh. “Do you foresee any problems with the third line?”
“I doubt it. We’ll call the night staff in and have them work for a special promotional batch; they won’t be any the wiser.” Behind me I could hear the limos starting up and racing off into the night, the corporate men returning to more familiar surroundings. Longstreet paused, his voice strained. “The… product…”
“We’ll be delivering it when you call, not before.” The voice went solemn. “You realise that if you’re caught we will not allow you to discuss this with anyone else.”
For one of the first times in memory I heard fear in Longstreet’s voice. “Ah… we have good lawyers.”
“I’m telling you that if anyone figures out anything you will be the first to die.” A soft hissing sound. “And even that may take time.”
I jerked back, almost taking the headphones off my ears. It’s one thing to talk business, another to outright threaten murder.
“I… we’ll be fine.” A sense of false bravado came out in Longstreet’s words. “After all, we both benefit by the… product.”
“Aye, we both do.” The thick voice conceded. “But remember – you must keep the special candy away from the public. Even a single person discovering the contents…” It began to fade away as the speaker moved out of range of the mike. “I do not wish for our partnership to fail. Nor should you, since the consequences will be severe.”
“Right. You bet.” The fear in the businessman’s voice faded as he continued to babble. “We’ll keep it all under wraps and you’ll make me and ChocoFun the richest candy company in the world.” I heard one last strangled sigh before footsteps signalled his leaving.
Pulling up the mike I pondered over the words while packing the cable. Maybe some sort of drug deal; maybe some sort of smuggling ring…
“You are most curious.” The voice behind me was familiar; too familiar. Spinning around I stared at the tall man; his hands tucked into the pockets of his black leather jacket. “In some cases that might be an admirable trait, but not in this one.” The cowboy boots and jeans gave him a bit of a tough guy look, backed up by one ugly scar that ran from his left eyebrow down his cheek and neck, disappearing into a thick mat of hair poking out from under the garish purple shirt. I had no idea how he’d travelled from the room below me up onto the roof so fast, but I wasn’t interested in that right now.
Reaching inside my worn old combat jacket I withdrew my .38 and leveled it at the man. “Look, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Now back off and let me leave.” Picking up the knapsack I stood and slung it over my open shoulder, keeping the barrel aimed at him.
He laughed, scratching the back of his neck under the short dark hair. “A feisty one. I like that. I think you really don’t appreciate your situation.” A wide grin sent a shiver down my spine. “But I think you might be able to learn…” He stepped forward, over the low air vent I had been using.
“Don’t make me shoot you.” I warned, my stomach twisting into knots. “I’m serious, bud. I’m no rookie to using this and I don’t want to hurt you unless I have to.” I stepped back, feeling my sneakers grip the loose gravel. “Just let me go and we can all just walk away from this.”
Raising his hands he grinned even wider, taking another step forward. “Go ahead. I’ll give you a freebie.”
Dropping the barrel down I squeezed the trigger, aiming for the upper leg. I know, I know – most times you don’t get the luxury of aiming, but if I was going to be hauled in for shooting someone I wanted him to be alive for the trial. And if he was going to ramble for his lawyer and the jury the way he was right now, I was home-free. Heck, I’d have no problem arguing that I feared for my life; as it was he was scaring the crap out of me just by speaking.
Except he wasn’t dropping. In fact, he took another step; placing him inches from me. I looked down, seeing the blood drip from the thigh I had just drilled. His head tilted upward as he locked eyes with me.
“Oh, sweetie… that’s going to cost you.” The words came down a long tunnel as I felt myself beginning to relax, to fall into the crooning tones. “You’re too beautiful to be playing with weapons like that; you deserve better. Maybe a long rest somewhere…”
My fingers began to slacken their grip on the old revolver as he stepped forward again, the wound forgotten. A cloud filled my mind; the fog wrapping itself around every thought.
“I know you’ve got to be tired, wet and just a bit sleepy right now.” The mellow tones swirled around me. “In fact, you probably want to just sit down and rest for a bit perhaps…”
My eyelids began to droop, despite all the caffeine pills I had taken over the past few hours. My arms felt like they had heavy weights strung out from each finger; dragging my hands down as I stumbled forward towards the mysterious man, towards his open and waiting arms.
“Catch this.” My muddy mind identified another voice, this one behind me. I wanted to turn and look but couldn’t; my eyes fixed on the stranger as I took another step forward, staggering towards the safety of his arms. His lips curled up in a smile as he stretched one hand out, almost close enough to touch.
A thick wooden bolt lanced through his shoulder, sending him back a few feet and provoking a snarl from the stranger as his hand came up to where it had punched through the black leather. Blinking my way out of the mental fog I gripped the revolver, feeling my knuckles crack with the pressure. I pulled it up and levelled it at his chest, forcing air into my lungs in deep gasps.
“Don’t pull that crap again!” My voice was high and squeaky, as if I’d been mainlining helium out of the carnival balloons. My finger twitched on the trigger, sending two bullets into his chest. Even now I don’t know if I really meant to do it or was just trying to get away. Not that it made a difference.
With a snarl he turned away from me, breaking into a run as he headed for the edge of the building; the dark cowboy boots kicking up loose gravel in their wake as a second bolt roared just shy of him, pulling to the left. Throwing his arms open he sprang into the air, tossing himself over the edge and disappearing from sight as one last wooden projectile waffled through the air towards nothing.
“What the…” I ran to the edge and looked over, seeing nothing and no one in the dirty alley below. Turning back I slid down against the cool stone ledge and shook my head, forcing back the nausea swirling in my gut; wiping the wetness from my forehead. My hand was shaking as I grabbed a speedloader out of one pocket and tried to reload, gripping the plastic bullet holder with as much strength as I could muster. Popping the empty cartridges out into my palm I dumped them into one pocket, grabbing the speedloader and slotting the live rounds up. The speedloader fell back into my pocket as I automatically checked to make sure the safety was on and the weapon ready to go again. The pulse pounding in my ears mocked the waves of bile surging up my throat. I hadn’t fired the damned thing in years outside of the local firing range.
“Nice aim.” I looked up to see another man, this one holding a crossbow in both hands; some sort of ancient reloader sitting atop the bamboo structure. Placing it on the gravel he raised both hands, a sly smile touching his lips. “Don’t shoot me. I’m one of the good guys.”
I didn’t lower my weapon, although I had to grip it with both hands to stop shaking. “What the hell is going on here and who are you and what the hell is all this about?” A bitter taste of iron filled my mouth, shocking me into the fact that I had bitten my lip somewhere down the line.
He leaned over; putting the crossbow slowly on the ground beside the stun gun as a blast of cold air blew the short black hair into his face. Brushing it back he raised his hands again, keeping his distance. “Name’s Fletcher Dillon. That…” One hand gestured towards the abyss behind me. “That was Janus Rosethorn. At least at present.”
“Okay.” I didn’t let my sights move off his chest. “And who the hell is Rosethorn that he sucks up three bullets and your arrows and jumps off buildings?”
Dillon shrugged. “A vampire. What else?”
At this point I feel the need to say that I have always been of a hearty sort thanks in part to holding a variety of jobs in my life. I do not go into a ladylike swoon upon being in a stressful situation. I have only fainted twice in my life; once when I was six and nearly sliced a finger off with a hatchet at a wilderness camp and once in high school when I tried my first joint to try and impress some boy and hyperventilated.
This was the third time.
thoughts? comments? sympathetic clucking of tongue over lack of enjoyment?