I fantasize about her every morning in the shower.
I wait until after dawn when I know she’s home, asleep. Where does she go at night? Eyes closed, I replay the image of her long bareback. Then I pull her close, hike up her dress and take her from behind. Grabbing her hips, I pull hard and watch her head bob and hair fly – enjoying total control. But it never lasts more than a few seconds before her head turns, her mouth opens, and the whole thing unravels. It’s not what you think. Better start at the beginning, which is a month ago.
My fantasies involve girl “friends” who gained 35 pounds since freshman year. Not me. I have a high metabolism and low liquidity, which means I’m starving on my daily ration of Ramen. The State of Illinois failed to fund tuition grants again and, midway through my third year, the university stopped fronting cash. Reserves are dry, they said. Well so are mine. I upload my resume at a handful of job sites, but it’s not long before everyone says “No Thanks” because I lack a degree. The only hit comes from someone named Daniel. No last name, no company logo, just Daniel and a Gmail. I send him a simple question: What kind of job is this anyway?
There’s just one objective: to serve our employer.
Our employer? Will you be my supervisor?
I’ll retire after I train you. Until you’re ready to take over, I remain in service.
In service? Where are you, Downton Abbey?:)
Daniel cuts to the chase: The salary has eight figures. Then, an ultimatum:
The more you read, the more my employer will consider you a threat if you decline our offer. If you have no intentions of taking the job, delete this message now before reading further.
This is followed by several empty spaces. Finally:
This is your final warning: Turn back if you’d rather not devote every day of your prime years to one employer who demands utter secrecy and loyalty. Take a moment to reflect on which is more important — a career that allows for family and vacations, or a mogul’s retirement.
As an aside, he says he’s drinking some vintage wine given by “our employer,” one of the last of its kind in the world, but I’m focused on those eight figures which I only half-believe until he says $10 million. “OK,” my fingers move quickly, “I’m in.” Seconds go by that seem like minutes. Then:
Our employer is displeased that you don’t own a suit. Buy one, plus silk neckwear, and learn to tie an Eldredge knot. Your wing tips are fine, but they need polishing. Get a haircut, and tell your barber you want a shave. Under no circumstances are you to shave yourself. The next cut beneath your Adam’s Apple could be your last. She’s smiling as she says this, but I wouldn’t call it a joke. See you next Thursday just before Midnight, upstairs at the Blarney Pub.
It sure seemed like blarney, but how would a prankster know what’s in my closet, or that I shave badly? Maybe a hacker peered through my laptop or phone, which makes me wonder if I’m interviewing with a spy agency or Edward Snowden. A Russian mobster? Whoever it is probably doesn’t live in a small college town, so I’m feeling important as I enter the pub and climb to the second floor. Daniel told me about the black fedora but not the dangling sleeve. “I like a man who arrives early.” He extends his left hand, confidently waiting for me to approach.
I forgot what real shoes sound like; the room echoes with wood heels hitting old planks. Daniel’s hand is warm and dry. He indicates his head toward a wooden table with two empty chairs. “I told the house to leave us alone, but we can have a drink later.” His smile disappears as he asks for my phone “For security.” I take it out but keep it at my side.
Daniel keeps his gaze locked on mine. “You didn’t tell anyone where you were going tonight, as I instructed?”
I straighten. “I’d rather not answer.”
“For all I know this could be an ambush. Not answering is the only protection I have.”
Daniel’s eyes narrow. “Listen carefully. You won’t leave this room unless we’re satisfied with your answer. Are you armed?”
I look around us. “I have two to your one, so yeah. Better armed than you.”
Laughter erupts from my right. I turn and see a woman in a slender black dress, hand over her mouth, sitting in one of the chairs. She lets me glance at her plunging neckline before looking dead at me. “He didn’t tell anyone.”
“This is Fiona,” Daniel gives a slight bow in her direction. Then he takes my phone and walks toward the door. “Meet me downstairs.”
An empty chair beckons but I hesitate, sensing something I’ve never felt before. Vibration isn’t the word; nothing emanates from her. Instead, I’m like a chunk of debris floating toward a black hole. My steps ring in my ears as I near the table and pull the chair; the scraping legs sound like a child being murdered. I consider offering my hand but her nails are shaped like hawks’ beaks. Clearing my throat: “I appreciate you taking the time to discuss this opportunity with me. But I’m…disturbed…that you’ve been spying on me.”
Dimples form as her mouth curves upward.
“Do you work for the feds?”
She shakes her head.
She frowns, examining her nails, and I wonder if this suddenly bored woman will rip my face off.
“Are you in business?”
“I’m in the business,” she rises, “of surviving.” As her dress glides toward the unmanned bar, I stare at her exposed back. The dress pools around her feet so I can’t see them; the floorboards are silent beneath her.
She glides back, sets down a glass, and reaches down between her breasts. A flask appears and she fills the glass with a red liquid that’s way thicker than wine. She swirls, sniffs and swallows. Briefly, she opens her mouth, exposing stalactites on either side of her tongue.
BANG. The chair hits the floor. “Who…what are you?”
She offers me the glass. I sniff. Horrified, I let it fall but hear no crash. It’s in her hand again, singing softly as her finger mops up inside. “This.” Her eyes burn through me as her lips envelop her finger.
Bored again, looking at her nails. I’m tingling as my blood tries to bust out through my face. “Are you a – ”
“That’s not an Eldredge knot.”
My hand reaches for my throat but I’m distracted by her accent which isn’t American and not quite English. I’m sweating as I stare, and this time she doesn’t look bored; she stares right back – daring me to say or do the wrong thing.
Finally, I find my voice. “Will I have to kill anyone?”
“Not if you do your job right.”
“Will I bring…victims…to you?”
Her eyes aim briefly at the door. “Go talk to Daniel.”
I glance at the door. When I turn back, she’s gone.
“Each order is always the same.” Daniel slides a fifty toward the bartender and waves him off. “Ten pints of O-Negative. That’s how much she needs every night.” Daniel swallows some scotch. “I have people at hospitals and blood banks. Chicago, Rockford, Madison, even St. Louis.”
“That’s five hours away.” I down my bourbon in one swallow. Throat burning, I push the glass back to the bartender who refills it.
“St. Louis is the backup for when hang-ups occur.”
“The supply occasionally gets interrupted. All it takes is one train crash or explosion and our bags get sent to the ER. Other times,” he shrugs, “someone forgets.”
I grab my fresh drink. “How do we pay for all that bl –”
“Those pints?” Daniel’s voice drowns me out as he shoots me a look. “You invest her money.” Then he swirls the dark, heavy liquid under his nose before sipping. “Lately we’re staying away from tech stocks. New administration, playing it safe. We’re in toothpaste, deodorant – stuff people use every day.”
“So they smell good if we experience a ‘hang-up.’”
“Tell me: How often will I…disappear people?”
“You won’t have to if you’re…”
“Doing my job. She said that already.” I aim my finger at his face; he gently, but firmly, pushes it aside. I lean in. “How many times did you have to kill for her?”
He ignores me. Frustrated, I down the rest of my drink.
“Slow down, that’s expensive.” Daniel sniffs his. “This is a lonely job – one where you’re constantly on duty. Expensive liquor is one of the few things that makes it tolerable.”
Ignoring him, I catch the bartender’s attention. “Hey. Do you believe in vampires?”
Daniel eyes me carefully but the barkeep’s right on time: “I got a wife, two kids, two car payments, student loans and a cat with anxiety disorder. The whole world is sucking me dry.”
“Well, have I got an opportunity for you.”
Daniel slaps another fifty on the counter, grabs me by the collar, and hauls me toward the exit.
“Wow, pretty good for one arm.” I have marbles in my mouth. Outside, Daniel shoves me against the bricks, my shirt balled in his fist. “The answer is four. Want to be Number Five?”
“Why not?” I stare at him, eyes watering. “I can’t do this.”
“Yes, you can.” He lets me go. “Besides, you’re in now. Walk away and she’ll find you.”
“Maybe it’s for the better.” My eyes follow a nearby jaywalker. “Can she make me?”
“Can she make me like her?”
“I guess, but what’s the point?” He reaches into a pocket, takes out two cigars and hands them to me along with a clipper. The labels say Habana Cuba. “Cut the rounded ends.”
As I do this, his left-hand dips again into his pocket. Out comes a vintage Zippo which he uses to light mine first. “I was your age when I started working for her.” After lighting his, he exhales a cloud of smoke above his head. “I won’t sugarcoat it. I have no family, no friends, and lots of bad memories. But it’s almost over. I did 35 years. You might get away with 30.”
I cough. “You make it sound like a prison.”
“More a tour of duty.”
I pick a tobacco shred off my lower lip. “When…how do you feed her?”
Daniel inhales deeply and exhales over his shoulder. “I’ll explain everything tomorrow.”
“So there will be tomorrow, huh?”
“Long as you show up.”
I take another puff and feel myself getting used to the smoke, which is earthy and smooth; I relax and let it sink deep inside before blowing it out. “Where does she go?”
“After you feed her. Where does she go?”
Daniel looks at me for a few seconds. “Why do you care?”
“Look, I’ll be pissed if I’m busting my ass to keep her supply intact, and she’s out there grabbing a snack just because it feels good or whatever.”
Daniel looks away as he takes another puff.
“You wondered about that, haven’t you?”
Daniel takes the cigar out of his mouth and inspects the glowing tip. “I suppose she just hangs out with the others.”
“How many others are there?”
“I have no idea.”
“She’s a hunter — I could sense that right away. Why wouldn’t she and ‘the others’ kill some poor bastard just because it’s fun?”
“It is not fun.”
I exhale more smoke. “That’s the most human thing you said all evening. Is there hope for me?”
“Here’s what I know,” Daniel pulls his hat over his eyes. “As long as you work for one, you’re not that poor bastard being hunted.”
I step forward, trying to glimpse his eyes. “You’ve seen it, haven’t you?”
“Meet me here tomorrow, same time.” Daniel turns and walks away.
“No, you don’t.” I start after him. “I have more questions.”
“Here’s how this works,” Daniel turns, smoke obscuring his face. “You can ask all you want, but you’ll get no more answers. They are the answer.”
Back in my apartment, I need another shower. Taking off my suit, I feel something in the jacket. It’s an envelope addressed to “Mr Wolford Perry.” Opening it, I find this strange name under my photo on an Illinois driver’s license, U.S. Passport and other documents – even a Michigan concealed-carry permit. There’s also a card, slightly perfumed:
I like your style, but Man-Behind isn’t for me.
But I’ll get behind any man who keeps me “in the red.”
See you tomorrow…
Dan Klefstad published his short story “The Caretaker” in Crack the Spine (Issue 209). In April 2016, he published the novel Shepherd & the Professor on a traditional contract with Black Rose Writing. He lives and writes in DeKalb, Illinois, and Williams Bay, Wisconsin.