The Nightmare of Red O'Leary
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$3,500 a week. Obviously a fake phishing advert after her personal info. Bastards. If Red could catch these sneaky thieves, she'd bathe in their blood.
Child Care Provider. Fry Cook. Dry Wall Installer. Red's mouse quivered over the personals, fancying the free porn she'd find in Casual Encounters. Instead, wielding her acclaimed self-control, she shifted her gaze to her credit card statement and rent bill.
Red slumped back in her chair, letting the wheels roll her across the linoleum floor. A crack in the flooring caught the wheel and swiveled the chair around so she faced the outside. Beyond the smudged window pane, the sunny day held the crisp edge of fall. Red could feel the seasons in her bones. The autumn rains had already started and this day was a rare, bright gem. She glanced back at the Craigslist ads.
"This bites." And not in the good way. She should be out, roaming the countryside, luring unsuspecting idiots into dark spaces so she could slash them down and soak in their blood. She was a redcap, after all. It was in her ancestry. But those days were past, and now her kind had to fit in and mingle with the norms and toe the line, whatever that meant.
Well, she knew what it meant. It meant no more revelry, no more blood.
No more fun.
It meant bills and banality. Pretending to be normal.
It meant getting another day job. Mission Cellular had fired her due to her "unreasonable attitude toward complaints." Listening to an asshole bitch for ten minutes earned equal treatment in Red's book.
This was Hell.
Reaching up, she groped for her cap and brushed against her bare hair. Her hand dropped limply to her side. No more caps for her people. She kept forgetting. Against the rules, the Committee declared. Needed to blend in.
Fortifying herself with a zesty curse for these modern times, Red faced off against the list of job opportunities. She grumbled. None fit her finely tuned skill set. Really though, not too many job adverts for assassination and culling of the human herd.
Exciting Opportunities for Bold Individual
Red sat upright. Exciting. That sounded good. And she was certainly bold. It was practically type-mapped in her DNA. She clicked the link.
Seeking independent, highly-motivated individual as a personal assistant to the CEO of a professional art purveying company...
Personal assistant. How hard could that be? Get some coffee, make a few phone calls. Red could make calls, it was receiving them that wasn't her forte. In fact, she'd been told she had a pleasant voice; few people wet themselves when she addressed them anymore. With her forward teeth capped, she could even offer reassuring smiles. This would be easy-peasy.
She snatched up her cell and tapped in the number, humming an old European bedtime lullaby.
"Prissy Shepard Agency."
"Hello, I'm Amured O'Leary, and I'm calling about the position for the personal assistant."
The woman on the other end of the phone sighed in relief. "Wonderful."
Red perked up. "I can email or fax over my resume if-"
"Oh, no need, Mrs., or Miss...?"
That brought a snort. "Miss."
"Miss O'Leary. If you can come in this afternoon, we'd love to interview you immediately. Ms. Shepard is organizing the Artist Preview Extravaganza and her former assistant had to move to Spain for family business, so she's eager to fill the position as soon as we find someone." The woman paused and Red assumed she'd finished, but then the speaker added: "Qualified."
Red did a little jig on the spot. "I can come in this afternoon."
Feeling spiffy, decked out in her power suit with crimson scarf, Red yanked the glass doors to the Mumson Building wide open and strode into the airy foyer. A stark desk of chrome and steel rested at the entrance, flanked by a pale pine door. The iron soles of her low heels clank clanked upon the marble floor as she approached the information desk. A young Asian woman smiled politely, her long black hair reminding Red of the yurei she met in Kyoto at the last Nightmare Convention. The plaque on the desk read: Inkina Matsuba - Receptionist.
"Hello, I'm Amured O'Leary-"
Inkina's face exploded into a rictus of joy. Red frowned, then remembered herself and offered her own charming smile.
"Miss O'Leary, thank you for coming on such short-"
The pine door banged open, the brass handle slamming into the rubber guard on the wall. Red's smile hardened as a typhoon of a woman - half a foot taller than Red with a rotundity to match her stature - charged towards her.
This must be Prissy Shepard, extraordinary frown painted burgundy, eyelids dusted the colors of peacock feathers. Thin bracelets armored her wrists and her suit was finely cut to fit her abundance. "Are you the new girl?"
Girl? Red was no young mouse. She ran her tongue along the points of her back teeth, savoring the delicate tang of blood as she nicked herself. This woman needed to understand-
Images of her overdue bills surfaced like shoddily weighed-down bodies. Plus, there was next year's Nightmare Convention. Red galvanized her cheerfulness. "I'm Amured O'Leary."
Red stepped forward, offering her hand.
Prissy waved her flabby arm towards her office. The hoops around her forearms rattled merrily. "Good, get in here." The woman swiveled her bulk and stampeded back into the office.
Inkina's smile appeared ready to shatter. "Good luck," she said, perky as could be.
"Last one moved to Spain?" Red said.
The receptionist nodded. Grin carved in stone, fake as leprechaun gold.
"Right." Red followed Prissy into her office.
"You. There." Prissy flicked her wrist toward a small plastic folding table topped by a phone, a laptop and a mug filled with pens.
"What would you like me to do, Ms. Shepard?" Red hoped to get this ball rolling and her paycheck building.
Prissy leveled Red a glare. Shoulders squared off, Red raised one eyebrow, letting the glare wash over her with no effect.
"Do I have to tell you to do everything? There is a list-" Prissy fluttered her hand again, "-on the computer of Things Dire. That last girl left with no notice. I've had her blacklisted." A shadow of glee crossed the woman's pudgy features that any Nightmare would have been proud of. "She'll never work in Art again." Prissy said Art with a capital A and gave it as much weight as others gave a deity.
Red ignored the drama, and pulled out the folding chair and sat down at the computer. It took nearly five minutes to boot and all the while Red could feel Prissy supervising her in silent disdain. When the computer sighed into operation, Red found a doc file on the desktop: DIRE.
She had to bite her lips.
With a click, a seventy-two item list appeared. Many overdue. Hire painters. Sample cakes and wines. Book hotel. Schedule artists. Pick up clothing from the cleaners was a recurring duty, one Red had assumed a personal assistant might perform. Get coffee. Shop for groceries. Here was one: walk the cat. You walked cats? Red pondered this and decided Prissy did look like a cat woman, one of those fluffy, flat-faced kind of killing machines. Scoop box? Did this mean Red was supposed to go to her house?
"Are you prepared yet? You've been taking your sweet time with that list."
Red twisted in her seat, pulling her scarf over her nose to breathe in the soothing scent of clotted blood. "Where would you like me to start? Are these preparations for the Extravaganza done yet? The hotel? Painters?"
Prissy sneered. "Is it marked off as performed?"
None of them were marked off as anything. Red shook her head.
"Well, let me deduce this for you." Prissy put her finger to her lips and hmmed in thought, then scowled. "If they are not marked off as performed, they were never performed."
Red's eyebrows lifted. That was a long list to tackle before...
"When is your Extravaganza?"
"Don't you know a thing? Are you even interested in Art? Saturday, the Extravaganza is Saturday the twelfth."
A titch over two weeks. The To Do List overshadowed Everest and they hadn't even talked pay or bennies, let alone filled out tax forms.
Putting to use her people skills taught by the Nightmare Committee on fitting in, Red cleared her throat. "How much are you going to pay me to have all this ready in two weeks?" She gave her best smile, teeth pearly white and flat across the line.
Prissy narrowed her eyes. "Didn't the girl settle that with you?" She snorted, setting her double chins to jangling. "Of course not. Vapid showpiece. Probably painting her nails or staring at pictures of bunnies on her phone. Seventy thousand. You are to be available to me at all times." She shook her finger in the air. "And I'll provide you a phone." The beefy finger pointed at Red. "Only for agency use, mind you. For now, leave your number with the girl out front. I expect exemplary service."
Seventy thousand. That would cover her bills, pay her rent, and she could save up for the Nightmare Convention next year. Bora Bora or Bust!
Red faced her computer, picked up the phone and began making calls.
Grabbing her pillow, Red threw it at the phone on the nightstand.
Now pillowless, her pissiness bubbled over. The red glow of the clock read 1:15 a.m. What did that cow want now? Then Red admonished herself. Calling her boss a cow was an insult to all cows everywhere. Red's humanity skills still needed work.
Fussy Prissy had yattered at her until 11:30 that night. Didn't the woman sleep? Red's last week under Prissy had been a certain kind of torture the Nightmare Committee would have - in its glory days - been very impressed by. However, in this new, domesticated world, they would shuffle Prissy Shepherd off for deep conditioning, because she just wasn't fitting in.
Except Prissy Shepherd was human and could be as dastardly as she wanted. It wasn't fair.
Under the yoke of eighteen-hour days, with an amazing volley of phone calls, liberal use of the credit card, and the special unending endurance of her kind, the list had been overthrown. This Saturday, the Extravaganza was on. Finally a solitary night would be hers, and Red had planned on Netflixing a good slasher flick and wallowing in a half-full tub of warmed cow's blood. It was frowned upon, even though it wasn't like she was doing anything illegal. But that woman had called and demanded to know every detail ad nauseam. After the soul draining evening, Red only wanted a good night's sleep, the blood bath requiring too much effort.
Now this one a.m. call.
"What." Pleasantries were uncalled for.
"I need you. Get over here. Now." Click.
Red stared at the phone, her lips twitching, her fingers tightening. The plastic in her hand creaked. How dare this woman, this, this human... Red inhaled and smashed her lips into a thin line.
Seventy thousand. Seventy thousand. Seventy thousand.
It was almost like counting to ten.
Awake and grumpy, Red rolled out of bed and threw on some sweats and a red sweatshirt covered in bleach stains. Purse and keys in hand, she stepped out of her door, then trotted back in to grab her scarf. Burying her face in the cotton, she inhaled the scent of past times. The hunt, the kill, the warm, sticky essence dripping down her face.
The thirty minute drive to the dragon's domain took twenty with the empty streets and Red's liberal use of the gas pedal. Her tires squealed up Prissy's driveway. With a tight fist, Red banged on the door with all her might, leaving an indent in the previously smooth surface.
The door opened. Prissy filled the doorway, wrapped up in a flimsy nightgown, her hair a tattered mess. Lipstick smeared a clown-smile across her mouth. "About time. What took you so long, get your nails done?" Prissy glanced down at Red's hands and snorted. "Guess not." She turned her back and sashayed towards the kitchen, her silky negligée swaying. Red followed with a sigh. Seventy thousand or not, there had to be easier ways to get the cash. Maybe she'd start a kidnapping ring, or just knock over a Chevron or two.
Prissy turned on Red and pointed to a man - a rather young and dashing blond - perched on a kitchen stool smoking a Camel and sipping on a tumbler of scotch. His hair was tousled and a line of bruises marked his throat and chest... and he was wearing nothing but a pair of white boxers scattered with hearts and a pair of wooly calf-high socks.
"Ah, hello," Red said.
Prissy thrust her finger at the barely legal man, the pendulum of her arm flab swaying back and forth. "Get him out of here."
"I'm done with him and I want him gone."
The man puffed out a halo of smoke. "I'm not leaving until I get paid."
Red looked from him to Prissy and back again. "Wait, you're telling me you screwed her?"
The man shrugged. "Quick cash."
Red shuddered. At least her form of prostitution didn't amount to physically touching the demon woman.
"I didn't tell you to talk to him, just get him out. Is that too much for a brainless twit to handle?"
Brainless twit. Real creative.
"Okay, you've got to go now," Red said, more exasperated than threatening.
Prissy pushed Red towards the prostitute. "I know what you are. Just do what you do."
Red turned on Prissy and raised her eyebrow. "Are you sure you know what I am, woman?"
"Oh come on." Prissy rolled her eyes. "The dental work doesn't cut it, Red. Plus, you smell like a butcher shop."
Red pursed her lips, unsure of what to say. Prissy smiled, a nasty little flash of teeth. Familiar somehow. Red studied Prissy, really looked at her, and it hit her like a sledgehammer.
"You're a hag!" The bad temper. The lack of manners. The drooping skin. It all added up. Then Red turned her eye on the sex toy. Her gaze ate up the fine-tuned chest, the nicely built thighs and landed on those furry socks. They were not socks.
"Satyr," she accused.
The satyr took a drag and puffed out a circle of smoke rings.
"Now, do what I've hired you to do, you damned redcap," Prissy said.
Red turned on the hag. "Do I still get my seventy thou?"
"Seventy thousand what?" the satyr asked. "You ever get the specs in writing? You gotta watch out for this one, she's dirty." He drew the word dirty out, tossing in some flirt that made Red gag.
The hag smirked. "You just do as you're told and you'll get what you deserve. Maybe you'll be able to replace that rag you wear around your neck."
Red stiffened. "What are you talking about, Ms. Shepherd?"
"Sad little redcap, can't wear a cap so you wear a rag instead. Poor pitiful little-"
Red grabbed a chopping block off the counter and slammed it into Prissy's face. Prissy cried out, cart-wheeling her arms as she tumbled backward and landed on the kitchen floor. The satyr stood and leaned over the kitchen island as Red landed the heavy chunk of wood against Prissy's head. And again. The skull gave. Hysteria convulsed Red's body as her smile overtook her; squelching thuds drummed within the kitchen.
Out of practice and tired, Red stopped to catch her breath. Nothing of Prissy's head remained but a pool of sludge. Blood had splattered Red's shirt and sweats. A trickle of it slid over her eye, giving her vision a red tint. She licked around her mouth, shivering at the metallic ambrosia.
Behind her, the satyr began to clap.
"Nicely done. Nicely done."
Stiffly, Red turned and faced him. "Ah, so..." What did you say to an eyewitness to a murder you just performed?
The satyr shrugged. "No skin off my dick. I didn't get paid either, so I figure the entertainment was worth it." He downed the last of his drink.
Red looked down at the body. Fat, wrinkled, headless.
Ah damn, she'd just killed her boss. "There goes my paycheck."
She dipped her scarf in the pool and brought it up to her nose. The wild hunt came back to her, the feel of her teeth sinking into her prey, the adrenalin of the chase, the freedom of being who and what she was supposed to be.
Something brushed against her leg. Red swiveled around. The cat. Queenie. Little bloody paw prints painted the tiles.
"Cat likes you," the satyr said.
Red scooped up Queenie and studied the satyr as an idea blossomed. "Quick cash? Times are hard?" She nodded, and he nodded in return. Queenie licked Red's bloody chin. "I've got a proposition. Do you know a good forger?"
"Miss O'Leary, good morning," Inkina said. "And good morning to you, sir."
Jack Dirge, the satyr, nodded in greeting.
"Inkina, Ms. Shepard had to make an unexpected trip to Spain, and asked me to take over for her while she's away. Could be months." Inkina's eyes widened. Red handed her some documentation, signed by Prissy Shepard. "This is Mr. Dirge. He'll be aiding me. Now." Red clapped her hands. "Let's make this is the best Extravaganza the art crowd has ever seen."