Venom: Beautiful Killers. Part 8
"Do you shed?"
One look at Tivoli leaning next to Vivian Cross, with Mrs. Cross' arm around her, and anyone would think that they were best friends. As they walk out of the office the ocelot looks comfortable. There seems to be no sign of the craziness or nervousness that she entered with. They talk as they pass the conference room. The door is open and Tivoli can see two of the men inside cleaning the table.
"Are these the guys, um...men I'll be working for?"
Vivian releases the grip from her probable employee and folds her arms, staring through the open door. Ted comes into view, notices the females, and angrily closes the door. The chief shakes her head. "Why don't I show you the lobby first? We'll come back here later."
They stroll down the dimly-lit hallway, Tivoli slightly behind Vivian. She looks around, quickly fixing her eyes on all the closed doors and the glowing hues coming from the much brighter lobby. When they actually enter the lobby, they stop to look around. The only ones left there are St. Croix, still at the front desk, Hoeness and Inverness, who were putting chairs away, and two red foxes going over the marks they picked.
Tivoli clears her throat. "Well, where is she?"
"Winter said she'd be right here when--"
"It's almost nine o'clock. She had to leave. She just can't stay here and wait."
"Well, why not?"
"Hold on. Good morning, everyone." She waits for greetings. St. Croix answers her enthusiastically. Hoeness and Inverness only wave. The foxes do not pay attention. Vivian chuckles. "Typical. The hellos have stopped coming. Oh well." She turns to her guest. "So, while I'm showing you around, I'll explain some of the guidelines that are followed here. If you're accepted, you have to follow them too."
Tivoli nods. "Shoot."
"Office hours are from nine to five. Some customers like to arrive early, and on rare occasions, we have a small line of people waiting for us to open. Anyway, the office opens at nine. However, for you and the other workers, the building opens an hour early. At eight in the morning, someone, either me or one of the executives, will open the door. That's the time you come in."
"I come in at eight."
"That's right. You wanna write this stuff down?"
"No, I'll remember. Why so early? We don't come in with the customers?"
"Please don't get ahead of me. Just listen. You come in at eight. Now this timing is not mandatory. This is not a classroom and attendance won't be taken. If you feel like working, you come in. It's that simple. There are a few hitmen who do a job, come here to get paid, and leave for weeks at a time. Then they come back and do it all over again. One of the workers is a lion whom I haven't seen for almost two months. He went overseas with his latest earnings."
"Yeah, that's neat. I'm gonna do that."
"Slow down, girly. You don't have the job yet. Now back to it. This lobby is a waiting room most of the day. The customers sit here until they are called into our offices. Between eight and nine, this place is turned into a conference room. The workers sit here for the morning meeting, which begins at around half past eight. They usually arrange the chairs to their liking. You can grab a chair and sit anywhere you please. In the meeting, an executive displays the marks--the people that are shown on a constantly updated hitlist. It's usually Ted who does this, but any of the executives can. Ted shows off all of the pictures, one by one, of the marks available. He does this to every mark, even to those that have been shown on previous days. He goes through their names, bounties, and last known locations. The best hunters always take notes to weigh their options."
Tivoli nods again. "Got it. Take notes."
"After showing off the pictures of the marks, new and old, Ted places them on the front desk. The workers gather around the desk to select whom they want to go after. Now a hunt usually goes to the one who chooses it. That means that the mark you get will most likely be on a first come, first serve basis. If you get here late, you'll be picking a mark that's been left over. So, you can really help your own cause if you arrive as early as possible. From the pile of marks, you should take the one that is right for you. Anyone who doesn't have a mark he or she likes can trade with others for much better ones."
"How will I know which to choose?"
Vivian shrugs. "You'd have to ask Ted; I can only make assumptions. I'd assume, for instance, that location and price are the main reasons those guys choose whom to go after. There are those that pay a lot, but are quite a distance away. You can keep the one you have, trade with someone else, or decide not to do one that day. There are no wrong answers. Now, the meetings don't usually take long, but you and the others must always remember that we open for business at nine. So all 'hitman activity' must stop right then. Because we have so many workers, we need to get extra chairs from the storeroom."
Vivian points at the front desk. The door to the storeroom is to the right of St. Croix. The gray wolf looks at them and waves. Tivoli giggles and waves back at him.
"That's St. Croix, the former P.I. that I mentioned earlier."
"He looks a lot like Shiloh."
"Pay attention. This is very important. Remember that there are twenty seats on the floor when you come in at eight. The chairs are arranged in five rows of four. They all face the television. When the workers come in, they can get as many chairs from the storeroom as necessary. But right before nine, things must be put right back where they were. The lobby must again look like a waiting room for our loan customers. There will always be someone at the front desk greeting them as they come in. St. Croix usually does that."
Tivoli smirks. "So at nine, we all must leave."
"Exactly." Vivian looks at her, happy that her guest seems to be gaining the necessary knowledge. Suddenly, her smile disappears. "Actually, you don't really have to leave, but for the most part, you have to be out of sight of the customers. Many of them are elderly and the sight of so many anthros can make them nervous. Plus, we don't want to expose you to someone who may have seen you doing a hit. Bottom line, anyone anthropomorphic who is still in the building during working hours must either be greeting customers at the front desk or out of sight. That said, there was one time a meeting ran long. Customers came in while we were trying to put the chairs away, so the anthros who were there had to pretend to be customers. That was scary, but we got away with it."
The ocelot giggles again. "Was Winter there?"
"She wasn't with us at the time."
"I can't possibly imagine her in an office waiting for financial help. The thought of that is almost funny to me."
"Don't laugh. You might need some of that help someday."
"I borrowed money to come to Los Angeles, so I know what that's like."
"Don't worry about it. If Ted likes you, you may never have to borrow again. Now, where were we?"
"We've got to turn the lobby back to a waiting room and leave before office hours."
"That's right. Again, hours are from nine to five. You can show up before then, starting at eight. You can also show up after hours, from five to eight at night. The evening is the time when workers come to get paid. Now let me show you the rest of the place." She leads Tivoli into the hallway. "I cannot say this enough. Unless you're greeting customers at the front desk, you must be out of sight. Luckily, if you don't feel like going anywhere, there are rooms in this building that the customers don't have access to. I'll show you."
The couple enters the darkness again. Tivoli shudders. "I don't think I'll ever get used to this hallway."
"That's the price we pay for expanding. A couple of years ago, we added extensions to this building to accommodate the workers. I don't think you'll disagree with what we did. Anyway, the hitmen don't get seen. You all can come through the front door for the morning meeting, but once it's nine, you must take the back door when you leave. And that's whether or not you parked your car in the front. No one likes that rule, but it's there for a reason. If you happen to come here in the afternoon, you must enter and exit through the back door, no exceptions. There's hardly any reason for anthros to come here during work hours at all, but there is one occasion when it happens. I'll tell you later." Vivian stops, causing the ocelot to bump into her. They are only a few feet from the lobby. "To your right are the restrooms, for both customers and anthros. By the way, they're divided male and female, not 'customer' and 'furry killer.' So, you'd be using the same toilet a female client would be using. Needless to say, if you have any...digestive problems, it'd be best to let me know. By the way, the restrooms endure a thorough cleaning, and they're cleaned very well."
Tivoli stares at the restroom doors, taking in all she is being told. "That's progressive of you. Not many places have us sharing restrooms with humans. The last place I worked tried it. People had trouble adjusting to the huskies that worked there. Some of my human co-workers got allergies every day from having to share the restroom with them."
"Yeah, we used to come across those problems. Thankfully, our custodial service is very meticulous. Now look to your left. The two doors there lead to two offices. Nothing special, just the rooms where our customers meet our people; room one and room two. Three of the five executives, and St. Croix, are the loan officers who use these rooms. At least two of them will stay in the building to do this job. The others will be out in the city, looking for new marks to add to the list. Let's keep moving."
"Of course, the customers also see you."
"Yeah, but I don't work in either of those rooms." She leads Tivoli a few more feet until they stop in between a different set of doors. "To your left is what the boys call the 'psych room.' This room is where the psychiatrist works. Her name's Miranda."
"You guys have a shrink? That's worrying."
"Hey. Don't you be calling her that in her presence. You show her some respect when you see her."
"Yeah, sure. But is a psychiatrist really necessary?"
"It was St. Croix's idea. He said he needed to see one because of a conflict of interest during one hunt. Shiloh was kind to introduce us to Miranda, who is a good friend of his. She liked the setup and has been working for us for almost a year. Now everyone, the male workers that is, swear by her. It's weird when you consider that some of them have an aversion to human females."
"She knows she's working with killers?"
"Shiloh saved her life once. He killed the guy who was stalking her. It helped that the criminal was a mark. She seems to be into that kind of vengeance. You'll like her. She's smart and can help you if you're stressed out. The guys like her because she can ease their minds." Vivian shrugs with uncertainty. "I guess the fact that she's leggy also helps."
"Is she here?"
"She's on vacation. When she comes back, she'll be available during and after work hours. Customers will not be sent to the psych room. That's just for the workers. That said, if she ever chooses to leave us, it will be used as room three. You can see her any time she's in the building; that is as long as she's not having a session with someone. When you see her, you can choose to be alone with her or with a group. The boys prefer group meetings. To our right, next to the restrooms, is the locker room. This was an idea floated by Shiloh one day. A month after that, everyone was clamoring for it. Some of the workers depend on subterfuge, and they felt they needed a place to store clothes and disguises for hunts and such. You want to see?"
Tivoli nods and they enter the open doorway. The entrance widens and they are greeted by long rows of blue lockers on either side of them. In front of each row is a wooden bench, each one stained with freshly applied varnish. The ocelot nods. "This must have set you back."
"I was against it, so Shiloh and a couple of others paid with their own funds. I don't use it, so I don't have to worry about it. If you want to see the showers, go straight and turn left."
Tivoli runs to where the showers are. Vivian waits patiently, inspecting the benches. She sits on one of them. It seems that she likes what they look like. Seconds later, the ocelot returns. With a big smile and her hands behind her, she nods her approval. "It's fancy, but there's only three of them."
"True. Shiloh would have liked more, but his frugality overwhelmed him. I'm glad for that, because for a while, we had hitmen, loan officers, and construction workers all at the same place. It was a nightmare for a couple of months. By the way, there are no 'boys' and 'girls' showers. If you want to use it, you'd have to share. Of course, considering that the guys act...immature when naked, the girls don't take showers here at all."
The ocelot furrows her brow. "How immature?"
"Like a bunch of baboons."
"Hmm. I guess I won't be using it either." She looks around. "There are only thirty lockers here."
"Yep. Fifteen on each side. Don't worry. There are plenty of vacancies, although there are a couple of workers using two each. If you choose to use one, put your name on it so nobody sneaks it away from you."
"But there are no names on any of these. Mine would be the only one with a name on it."
"The workers who use these things have good memories and good noses. They know which one is theirs before they open it. Two more rooms to go. Come on."
They leave the locker room, going further into the hall. Tivoli is now in front of Vivian, not quite as scared of the dark hallway. She leads the chief until they stop in front of the chief's office. They turn left and face the conference room. The ocelot perks her ears and her head. She is in front of the obscured conference room windows. From them, the sounds of an argument are bleeding through. They may be muffled, but they are still quite loud.
Vivian sighs and brushes against her guest. "Don't worry. The executives are still hard at work. They just work differently than we do."
"I'm gonna be working for them?"
"Don't keep asking that. You'll get depressed. Follow me."
To the right of Vivian's office is another doorway. Once through, Tivoli gasps. This room is brighter than even the lobby.
"We don't have much time left, so I'll make this quick. This is the cafeteria. It's actually an extension we added to the original kitchen. There's no stove, so you can't cook, but you see the microwave ahead of you. The tables and chairs are on the left. I'm getting a tangerine from the fridge. You want something?"
Tivoli doesn't answer. She leaves Vivian to thoroughly inspect the room. There are three large tables surrounded by chairs. There are enough chairs for eighteen people. As she looks around, she notices two television sets mounted on the same wall. One is in front of the tables. The other is in the farthest corner of the room. "Hey, what's with the two televisions?" She moves closer to the cornered television, then notices the reason the second television is there. She starts laughing. It is a loud and energetic laugh, a clear sign that she is starting to relax. She notices Vivian coming toward her and slowly calms herself. "What the hell is this?"
The chief chuckles. "That's the...exercise room."
"Ha. A bunch of stairmasters, treadmills, and spinning machines. All on one side of the cafeteria!" Her delivery sounds like that of a stand-up comedienne. "It's ironic and sad."
"Don't forget the free weights and the bench press."
"Let me guess. This is Shiloh's idea too."
"No. I've been to Shiloh's house. He's got a man cave where he does his workouts, so he doesn't need this crap. This was the brainchild of a dingo named Rory. He's one of our longest working employees. His ideas are almost never wrong. This is the 'almost' part. I don't come here either. But the boys like to remain fit for their hunts, so--"
"This is a mess."
"A couple of the females use it too, just not around the men. Now, let's go. We've got an executive to meet."
Tivoli nods and follows closely. "What if they're still fighting?"
"Well, they're used to me, so let's hope your stunning beauty can distract them into submission."
The ocelot smiles as they return to the hallway. Vivian knocks on the door to the conference room. "Tell me, how tall are you?"
"Well, stand next to me and try to think tall. Don't slump your shoulders or put your hands behind your back. Look impressive."
The red door slowly cracks open, then quickly widens as Robert Crevecoeur stares at the two females. He shrugs, staring at Tivoli. He is paying specific attention to her tufted ears, as if she was the first ocelot he had ever seen. He clears his throat but does not say anything.
Tivoli beams from ear to ear. She bashfully disobeys the hands-behind-back advice. Vivian is not so jovial. "Are you guys done embarrassing the company? Please say you are, 'cuz it's around nine, and people will be here any second. Besides, I've got the new girl I'd like Ted to interview."
Crevecoeur answers the ocelot's wide smile with one of his own. "Charmed. One more to add to the cauldron of insanity."
"Be nice." She places her left hand on the ocelot's right shoulder, giving it an extra squeeze. "Her name is Tivoli--recommended by Shiloh. As you know, the other guys he has recommended have all lasted, so she shouldn't be any different." As he and the feline shake hands, Vivian scoffs. "I can smell the alcohol on you, so if you don't mind, I'll tell her who you are. Tivoli, this is Robert Crevecoeur. He's a former detective and friend of Max. He's knows nothing of the loan business, so he doesn't help us there."
"No, I don't. I just find the marks. As soon as I leave here, I'm gonna follow a lead that will show the way to not one, but three of them. Wish me luck." He cackles loudly and waves at Tivoli as he makes his exit. The girls look at him with concern as he stumbles through the hallway.
As soon as Robert leaves, Simon steps out. He undoes his tie as he faces Vivian. "Good morning, chief. That was a good speech you gave there."
"Yeah, well I thought it fit the occasion. I want you to meet Tivoli." She watches them shake hands, taking note of the ocelot's incessant, simpering giggle. "She's a potential hire."
"Another one? Well, good luck. Does she have Shiloh as a reference?"
"Yes she does."
"Oh! Well then, forget 'good luck.' Congratulations and welcome."
"She's not one of us yet."
"Shiloh's choices always become so. He's become a fantastic asset at this kind of thing." He releases his grip and smiles broadly. "Got to go."
"Hey, wait a minute. What happened while I was away?"
"What usually happens when you have four leaders with undefined roles. An argument broke out."
"Is Robert drunk?"
Simon shrugs. "Apparently so. He's been doing that more often."
Vivian opens her mouth in anger, stutters to find the right words, then exhales with resignation. She turns to her guest. "Tivoli, this is Simon Blank. Like Crevecoeur, he's a former detective. He has many contacts in the city that lead him to future clients. Just like Crevecoeur, he finds marks for the workers. There's a bit of a competition between the two."
"There's not supposed to be, but Robert pretty much insists on it."
"Go check on him, will ya? If he tries to drive, bring him back here. Drag him by his ankles if you have to."
Simon sighs with dread as he leaves the doorway. Vivian leads Tivoli inside the conference room, almost bumping into Ted, who is on his way out. He is the tallest of the executives and a rather imposing figure in person. The sixty-three inch ocelot stands on her toes trying to see his face without craning her neck. The pace of her breathing picks up and she jumps slightly when Vivian touches her shoulder. "Ted, meet Tivoli."
Tivoli is caught between minds. She does not know whether or not to extend her hand. Ted is not making the decision any easier; he is keeping his hands in the pockets of his slacks. "You know I came here today just for the celebration," he says glumly. "I was gonna take the rest of the day off. I haven't had one in weeks."
"Yeah, well Colin's laid up and I gotta go visit him, so we'll be without two people. I'm afraid you'll just have to bite the bullet."
"Don't I always?" He bends his head to accommodate his view. "You're Tivoli. I've heard much about you. But then again, I always look forward to an interview with the people Shiloh has vouched for." He extends his right hand.
Tivoli, still a little intimidated, makes a weak effort at shaking hands. While it happens, Vivian adds, "The guy behind Ted is Joseph Luisi. I've mentioned him to you already. He's one of our loan officers during work hours. After hours, he's like the treasurer. He handles the money that comes in from both projects."
Joseph, a spry, handsome young man, most likely in his thirties, appears from behind Ted. He reaches his left hand in and Tivoli exuberantly shakes it, feeling less nervy with someone more her size. "Welcome to the fold," he says. "Good luck to you."
"Joseph, where's the rest of the wine?"
"It's on the table. One bottle's empty. I was gonna take the other one to the cafeteria."
"No, you don't. You can't put that in the cafeteria fridge. If the boys get their hands on that thing, they'll go crazy. Give it to me. I'll put it in my mini fridge."
Ted scoffs as he watches Joseph obey her order. "You gonna drink the whole thing?"
"If any of you want a drink after hours, you can come to my office." Vivian laughs as she leaves the room. "By the way, I just ordered a liquor cabinet. It will add a touch of class to the place. It'll also be in my office, away from the anthros." She turns to the ocelot. "No offense, but I've found, through past experience, that once you guys get your hands on alcohol, you all turn into little monsters." She allows Joseph to pass her and closes the door. "Have a good interview, you two."
Tivoli's watch beeps. The time is nine o'clock. It, like most everything else today, startles her. She looks at her timepiece and exhales loudly.
"Something wrong?" Ted asks, not looking at her.
"Nothing! I mean, I just remembered that at nine, the customers arrive, so we can't be seen. I'm just trying to keep that in my head."
"Anyone seeking a loan will be sent to one of the two offices in the hallway. The loan borrowers will never come here. So you can relax. Sit anywhere."
Tivoli stares at the long, racetrack-shaped table. Her mood changes again, as it so often does, back to one of doubt and mistrust. "Where will you sit?"
"I don't sit during interviews. I'm always getting up to show the new guys all the stuff that's in here. Just sit anywhere."
She gently touches one of the sleek, soft, velvet chairs--the one directly in front of her. It is the closest to the door, and she turns to it a couple of times as if planning a quick getaway. She pulls the seat toward her and gently sits on it. After giving a muted sigh, she leans her head back above the top of the chair. It is probably the softest thing she has ever sat on in her life.
Quickly, she looks up and sees Ted staring down at her. She bolts herself upright.
"So what she tell you?"
She primes herself by taking a deep breath. "I come in at eight, attend the morning meeting, and leave before opening hours. I don't come in again until after five, when the office closes. There is a 'psych room' where the psychiatrist works. Her hours are the same as the office hours. If I want to see her, or if I want to come in the office at anytime during work hours, I must come through the back door. The hitmen don't get seen."
"Good for you. You got all that down."
"I have a question though."
"Uh-uh. This is an interview, not a town hall meeting. I ask the questions. You listen and answer questions. Understand?"
She frowns. "I just wanted to know why I had to do two interviews."
Ted clears his throat. "The answer is simple, really. This building houses two enterprises. The title loans, which Mrs. Cross looks after, and the business you are interested in, which is headed by yours truly. Both entities must be kept as separate as possible, even though they are run in the same place. Vivian's interviews let you know how both businesses 'get along' in the same building. She lets you know where to go and what your limits are so that the customers don't suspect anything. Then I interview you to find out how your temperament is. I also lay the rules of this job on you. Does that answer your question?"
She nods emphatically. "I was just confused. That's all."
"Speaking of the rules, listen carefully. I own this side project, but all five executives keep it running. Mrs. Cross knows how the system works, but doesn't care about it as long as it doesn't interfere with her work. She plays no part in the hitmen's activities. She doesn't know who is on the hitlist, nor does she know who hires the furries for the hits. We also do not discuss the more intricate details of the business in front of her. Do you understand?"
"Yeah, I got it."
"She does not need to know much about the killings. In fact, she chooses not to know. She'll hardly even use the word 'killer.' She'll use something like 'worker' instead. The male furries revel in her ignorance and they always like that feeling of getting away with murder right under her nose." He fixes his eyes on Tivoli. "All that said, she is the owner of the building. She is the reason they have a place to stay and hide. She is the reason they get paid those hefty sums. She pays for the utilities and keeps the IRS off our back. As long as the rules of the building are followed, everyone is safe. It is because of that safety that Vivian Cross is so appreciated in this place. Everyone treats her with respect, even those who don't like her. And believe me, there are a few."
"Oh, I respect her, sir."
"Do you now?"
"She got me this far. Of course I do."
"Hmm. That makes you better than some of the guys who kill for us. They don't like having their manhood tested by some female they don't really care for. They think if they follow her orders, their dicks will shrivel up and die. But make no mistake, they like the money. If they want to keep making it, they will follow her orders. She's not only their boss, but she's mine as well. If she wants something, the executives make sure it gets done. There's nothing the boys can do about it." She waits for Tivoli to stop laughing. "Luckily, Shiloh likes her enough that he'll defend her honor if anyone forgets who they work for. He's got tenure, so he keeps everyone in line."
Tivoli swallows and turns serious. "He doesn't need to worry about me. I won't forget."
"Oh no. Trust me, you will. They always do. But like I said, Shiloh reminds everyone who rules in this place. Now let me tell you what happens should you be allowed to join. If you say yes, you don't join right away. You are given a couple of extra days to think about it. You'd be thinking about the rewards and the consequences. If you still want to join then, you just come in the building before the morning meeting. At that time, you'll be treated to the same initiation process that everyone gets when they first start out. You will be put in the charge of what we call a 'handler.' You with me so far?"
She leans forward and answers, "Yes."
"Good. The handler can either be an executive, like Robert or Simon, or one of the furries. By that, I mean one with tenure. The newest girl, Winter, could not be a handler. On the other hand, Shiloh, St. Croix, or someone else who's been around the block, can be. Now the handler leads you, the apprentice, through three of his hunts. Please don't misunderstand. He's not gonna teach you to hunt. You already have your instincts intact and I'm sure you can use then to find anything or anyone you want. But this isn't Yellowstone. This is L.A. The handler teaches you how to hunt for a mark through the big city; through the air pollution, water pollution, light pollution, incessant rain, seedy locales; all that good stuff. He gives you tips, instructions, procedures, and orders that you must heed. He talks, you listen and obey."
"Again, the handler leads the apprentice through three of his hunts. Whichever of you kills the mark is up to him. However much you get paid, or if you get paid at all, is also up to him. All that really counts is that the recruit sees the master at work. After the three hunts, the handler comes to us. He then says whether or not you pass his test. If he says yes, you're added to our ledger, and you're officially 'in.'" As if he knows what to look for, he pauses to notice Tivoli smile from ear to ear. "You like that, don't you?"
She tries to stop smiling. "I'm sorry. This is supposed to be serious."
"Yes, it is. Now, since you know what you're in for, I assume you have some sort of method or weapon on you?"
She shifts in her seat. "It's in the car. I usually don't bring it to places like this."
"What is it, if I may ask?"
"It's a knife with an eight-inch stainless steel blade and a handle with a pearl inlay. It's really nice."
"You use it for self-defense? You ever had to use it?"
"Not often. I've scared people with it, but I haven't killed or hurt anyone. It gives me confidence and support. When I have it on, I can go...almost anywhere. I didn't bring it here, but nothing bad happens in these kinds of places, so I leave it in the car."
"I collect knives, and I love pearl inlay handles." Ted takes a chair and sits in front of her. "When you have it on you, how do you keep it concealed?"
"I keep it holstered on my inner thigh. I can take it out and use it in one quick motion. My mother taught me. Of course, if I'm wearing pants, it feels uncomfortable in my pockets. That's why I usually wear a skirt or dress."
"How are you at pressure situations?"
"Um...what do you mean?"
"Are you one to fly off the handle when things are going wrong?"
"I can assure you, I don't fly off any handle. I am analytical by nature and I don't have problems adjusting.
"If a situation called for you to be ruthless, would you follow through?"
"I was raised in New York, sir. There's no other place I know where ruthlessness is the way of things."
Ted nods as if he understands completely. "I like what I'm hearing. Now, besides being ruthless when need be, and having the tools, and learning how to hunt in the city, you need the smarts that go with securing a kill."
"Do me a favor and look at your hands." He waits until she confusedly looks at her palms. "Good. Now tell me what you see."
She smirks as she stares at them. "My hands? Fingers, fingernails, knuckles...I don't understand what you're asking for."
"Now tell me what you don't see."
She looks at them again, this time with more urgency. "Uh...hangnails? Calluses?" She shrugs.
"Fingerprints. You don't have fingerprints. As you know, they are the most important facet police have in finding perpetrators. It's the most innocent of features that turns the tables in detective work. You don't have them. Of course, neither do any of the furries."
Tivoli stares open-mouthed at her hands. She smiles a few seconds later. It looks like she has a new understanding of her potential use.
"Without fingerprints, a detective's work is twice...three times as hard. Without useable prints, cases slow to a grind. When you're out on the field hunting a mark, you can be secure in that knowledge. You won't leave prints. Of course, it doesn't mean that you still can't leave DNA. That's leads me to my next question. Do you shed?"
She stops smiling. "What?"
"Do you shed? Do you have a propensity to molt?"
"I can't answer that!"
Unmoved, Ted folds his arms. "Why not?"
"Because it's none of your business!"
"Listen, girl. Fingerprints may be the main thing, but they're not the only thing. You can still leave personal evidence behind after a kill. It only takes one strand of fur, or one piece of hair, for the police to catch you. Believe me, the police force in this city is good. The human cops are now fortified with more K-9 units than ever. If that wasn't enough, they work with Dobermans, German Shepherds, and even Bloodhounds to one-up the criminal element. If you make a kill, you'll leave a scent, but it can be easily lost if you drive away. However, if you leave a piece of you behind, they'll have your scent forever. They'll find you, they'll question you, and then they'll find us. That can't happen. " He leans toward her. "So I'll ask you once more. Do you shed?"
There is nothing she can argue against this time. She places her hands on her lap and shakes her head. "I don't shed. At least, I try not to."
"The showers down the hall can help to take care of any shedding problems. Just so you know." He shows no remorse, even as he sees Tivoli turn her head away in embarrassment. "Think like a cop; limit DNA evidence. Make sure you groom yourself every day. Make sure your fur stays as undamaged as possible. You need to try and avoid getting as much of yourself on your victim as possible. Never kill your mark with your mouth. " He chuckles. "I know you won't do this, but that's how Shiloh used to do it, so it's become mandatory to say. Also mandatory: make sure you're using tools common to the criminal element. That is, use what regular criminals use. Don't use any special or rare weapons. We call that the Pamila rule."
"That's a lot to remember."
"You'll be reminded of that stuff often. Furthermore, most of our hunters are wolves, foxes, and dogs. Most look like one another, or any other average L.A. resident. Once they leave the scene of their kill, they can blend in long before the police take notice. You being who you are...well, you're easily noticeable. But there are those who specialize in killing from far away or killing at times they know they won't be seen. You can learn those methods too. Speaking of learning, always listen to your handler. It's a bond that can serve you well and help you get along with the other workers. You may be trading marks with them one day. Don't be intimidated; get to know them."
Tivoli chuckles and stands, breaking etiquette. "Wait a minute. You just told me always listen to the handler. Does that mean I've got the job?"
Ted laughs and stands also. "Well, you answered my questions, you gave me little pushback, and I liked how you said you were analytical. We could use more of those qualities. Your temperament tells me that you can easily follow orders. I don't see how I could refuse--"
The ocelot reaches out and hugs him, catching him by surprise. A couple of seconds later, she backs away, surprising herself. "I'm sorry! This is great!"
"Have you ever thought of cutting your hair? I like blondes too, but you could use a trim."
Ecstatic, she puts her face in her hands and laughs loudly. "I feel like I really accomplished something."
"The hire is not official until Vivian signs off on it. Then you need to take the next couple of days to think about your decision. I don't need you to have doubts in the middle of a hunt."
"Thank you very much." She turns her back on Ted, looking around the office. "Hey, before I see Mrs. Cross again, could I stay here for just a couple of minutes? I wanna look around this fabulous room."
"Nah. You just want to try out those chairs."
"Could I take one home?!"