“Hey, Shaw.” she murmured. "What's up?"
His tone reflected enthusiasm for any interruption to the boredom of his station.
"Not a lot. They took off a while back, so I got the place to myself."
She rolled up and unhooked her boots from the railing.
"Did you get into the house yet?"
"Negative. One's still withholding permission, and I don't want to push it."
She shook her head to herself.
"I don't know how down I'd be with no access. Not with everything we're supposed to be coming back with."
"I never said I was down with it." he replied, holding the phone to his shoulder while he bent to reset one of the monitor units at the foot of the wall.
“Thought you liked the programme.”
“I like it fine when it doesn't kick me out in front of any cross hairs.”
Wiping the sweat from her neck with her towel, Josephine considered his reply for an interval that ran long enough to disperse the smack of impropriety.
“They don't call O’Connor the Expender because he gives a damn.”
“He’s called that?”
“No one told you that before you signed on?” she smirked, pushing the advantage. "You said the house and grounds are clear..." He said nothing, though she could hear him rise and press the phone back to his ear. "Ever thought about black-bagging it?"
"Yeah, I thought about it, but I get mugged at just for sticking to the script around here and..."
"Hey, forget I called. Probably better I fly solo anyway." she interjected.
"They'll pick up any entry..."
"It always looks that way when you don't have too many intrudes under your belt. Like I said, forget I called." Josephine glanced down the hall again while another silence worked its hidden levers.
Shaw looked back at the huge white house.
"You'll need to make it out here in under thirty."
Unused to the single-minded steering wheel, Susan wrestled the Jaguar with both hands into the darkness of a corner parking space, riding the accelerator and edging its nose into a row of bushes before William jerked the handbrake and sat quietly, swallowing a smile.
“Did anybody die?” she demanded; he wisely reserved his response. The expansive carpark was generously-proportioned but poorly lit, the pale blue globes atop their silver poles casting a glow that barely troubled the tarmac. From patting at her hair in the rear view mirror she gazed across the acre of grounds laid out around the gallery complex, clothed in supine vegetation in the two shades of oily grey-green specified by an architect rightly concerned by any vertical challenge to his structural child. “Are you sure this is the right place? It looks like the tinned fruit factory on the way to my Nana’s.”
He chuckled at her observation and sniffed at the breeze.
"Well, I smell brain farts and ulcerating insecurity so we can't be too far off." They turned a frown to one another, possessed of a coinciding disinclination. Susan brushed a spiderweb from his shoulder, then climbed onto her knees, leaning over the console to kiss him again with less haste and more venturesome enterprise, standing her hands on his legs. The sound of footfalls on the tarmac, like deer hooves trotting over ice, caused her to look past him at a face resolving in the darkness over the passenger door.
"Privet, milaya moya. Don’t worry, darlinks. I wait.” it said. The remark was languid and feminine, but its Slavic accent cut the English consonants and tumbled the snarling letter. William leant out to allow the creature to press her lips to each side of his face.
“Susan, Petrouchka Belyaev..." he sighed. "Strange but not a stranger."
The diminutive intruder leant against the vehicle in a high-collared coat of dense red fox, examining Susan with stone-coloured doll’s eyes in a face of startling, dead-white delicacy. Her hair draped her shoulders in heavy, bitter chocolate falls from a part on her right brow; it would have formed a luxurious adjunct to an extraordinary beauty had not some process scoured life from its materials and dosed her grey gaze with nightmarish, autonomic avidity, its staring pupils fixed in that dilated state of her decease. Susan was strangely moved by the sight of such expired loveliness, a counterpoint unto itself in its repulsive allure.
“Ahh... I see... he write to me of you... you are the vila of his every dream, this Susan he fall so much in love with...” Susan’s blush came as much from the creature’s unblinking scrutiny as from the nature of her declaration. Strings of amber lurking about the latter's neck clicked together softly when she moved, the vampyre reading her in an instant. "I would delight to be once more so foolish.”
William shook his head at Susan’s silent inquiry.
“Never tell a five hundred year old devushka anything private.”
“I think your child bride is very well inform.” Petrouchka observed, extending a glove toward him and rolling her fingers expectantly. “You have key? Perhaps... you have car for me?”
“Just the house. You can’t drive it into a river.”
She turned back to Susan.
“You give yourself to monster, in a place for motor vehicle? What did your mother tell you?” William stared at her pointedly, and she stared back, batting her silky lashes and leaning both elbows on the door. “Do you know, kotik, that in his land, the young men are train for century by priestess to please a woman? They don’t teach that at the Sorbonne. Make him take you somewhere nice.”
“You can’t have the car, but I’ve cleared you staying, so as long as you mow some lawns everything should be okay.” Secreting the keys he gave her in her coat, she smirked and slid her hands after them into her unseen pockets. “There is a guard and er... Ed’s cranky concubine.” William counselled.
“Your brother? He have girlfriend? Ni khuya sebe! No, I don’t believe.”
“Believe. And I wouldn’t breathe too hard in her direction... just... don't. There’s a room at the end of the attic. And Pet, there’s some surveillance, so keep it low.”
She clicked her fingers in irritation.
"Vse zayebalo... even here there is trouble?"
As though offering to demonstrate, a long black vintage ambulance roared into the car park in an arc that lurched to a halt nearby, the colour dying in its staring headlights. The rear doors were kicked apart to disgorge a scarcely creditable density of passengers, some already bickering and shoving at each other as their shoes hit the tarmac, complaining as they lit their cigarettes. In the dim light Susan glanced back at Petrouchka, comparing her blank, undifferentiated pallor to that of the new arrivals. The driver slid down from the running board in a vivid fuchsia evening gown that drooped under the weight of its aurora borealis beading and became entangled in its heels, forcing the wearer to double over and hoist the hem, exposing crooked, goatish legs and orange fishnets. The glittering apparition changed course toward the Jaguar upon espying it. Petrouchka turned to examine Siobhan with an air of acute distaste.
“I don’t like this country. Too many troll, not enough bridge.” she muttered.
“There’d be room aplenny if it weren’t fer th’ weight a fuckin paynim trash slidin off a tuna boat ten tahmes a fuckin night... if it aint the spics it’s the fuckin chinks, an if it aint them it’s beet-suckin Russ’in cooter.” The volume of Siobhan’s assertions grew with the creature’s proximity and it nodded from Petrouchka toward William. “Him an ol’ Happy Face don’t need nobody cumberin ‘em on the way t’ flushin the rest a us down the shitter with th’ help a that Opal cunt.” the vampyre urged, leaning over the door to glare at him and then offer a clammy hand to Susan. She made no move to reciprocate. “Huh... ahm espyin fe-male but ah kint hear a fuckin word outta it... ye gotta tell meh what ye do t’git em lahk that, cause mah way hurts th’ fuckin resale value.”
Petrouchka excluded Siobhan from her farewell and disappeared into the darkness that had purveyed her. The impatient mass that spilled from the back of the ambulance dissipated in an analogous manner, setting off across the carpark in their spangled, ironic evening wear, clutching ratted furs, tiaras and bedazzled handbags, save for a few that remained with the vehicle. Siobhan took to leering across the car at Susan once more, then rolling its little black eyes down at William.
“Ah got eyes fer a tight piece a tail... if that’s what they handin round jest fer puttin on th’ fuckin uniform, mebbe ah oughta sign up an take th’ fuckin week off.”
“What’s all this?” William inquired. Siobhan hoiked and looked back over its shoulder; a male passenger in jeans and a red-checked rodeo shirt re-emerged from the vehicle with something long and pale in his right hand, walking past the lamp post toward another bank of cars; Susan recognized him from the bollchu party.
“Mess of us got t’thinkin we might git along t’ Ed’s hoe-wrangle, git ol’ Opal squittin red bubbles heh heh heh. That there’s Caleb...” it told Susan. “He aint too fuckin smart, but ye don’t need Yale fer this shit.” Perceiving Siobhan's commentary, Caleb called in their direction while William returned his brief salute.
"Yeah, I heard that, y' dirty neckfucker. I'll get to you later." the lycanthrope promised.
He strode along the line of vehicles ensconced beneath the down lights, paused before a racing green Mercedes and swung the baseball bat in both hands into its windscreen, stepping back from the car into the darkness at the edge of the vacant bays. The screaming alarm attracted two security guards from the margins of the gallery; they conferred beneath the silver awning for a moment before setting off toward the car park.
"Er, maybe... something about discretion being the better part of something else..." William ventured, exchanging seats with Susan at her behest. She slid down beside the door, peering over it almost unwillingly; behind the guards who stared at the perplexing damage to the Mercedes three figures precipitated from the shadow as though constructed of its motile darkness, each one grasping a long, blunt weapon. She was, for once, entirely grateful for the velocity of their departure.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce