Venom: Beautiful Killers. Part 19.
"I'll take three cards."
"And I'll take two cards. This hand's gonna be different, boys. I can feel it."
"I'll take nothing. I got you guys beat."
"And dealer takes three. Not to put too fine a point on it once again, but we easily could have waited until Monday to do this."
"Yeah, whatever. I bet ten dollars."
"Damn! That fast, huh? I'll see you."
"Ten bucks to start?! And you took three cards? Now that's confidence. I call."
"I'll raise you. Twenty dollars."
"Hmm. A fool and his money are soon parted. I call."
"Call. This is gonna be good. Okay, church boy. We've called your bluff. What you got?"
"Ah, that bites."
"Damn. That means I'm now the short stack."
St. Croix smiles and gathers his winnings. He and his fellow players are using actual money instead of chips or anything else worth anything. There is a mess of dollar bills on the card table, no doubt the cash that each of the players has made during some of their mark-hunting endeavors. There are loads of tens, twenties, and fifties on display, adding up to thousands of dollars. St. Croix now has the biggest stash; he pulls it toward himself. A couple of tens drop at his feet as his side is overflowing with cash.
(Playing poker with the timber wolf are Hoeness, dressed as if he were in his own house instead of an office building, and the two red foxes who have appeared in at least half the dreams I've had. Maybe I'll learn their names this time. Each side of the table is occupied. The wolf and the dog are sitting across from each other; St. Croix sitting with the entrance at his back.)
"Okay, how much does each of us have?" the German shepherd asks.
The wolf laughs. "I should have close to ten thousand now. Of course, I'm still counting. Ask me later."
"Quit boasting. Boris? What about you?"
The fox to Hoeness' left gathers up his cash and starts leafing through it. "I should still have five thousand here. It's not exactly what I started with and I'm still poised to break even, but I usually do better than this."
Hoeness turns to his right. "What about you, Mr. Short Stack?"
"Still counting. Say fellas, I gotta ask you something. Late Friday night, I was all set to receive my pay and I was looking forward to buying a new car on Saturday morning. For some reason, what was once a fifteen thousand dollar payday got cut...by about twenty percent. The payments to a couple of other guys also got cut that night. Anybody know anything?"
The three men look at him silently for a couple of minutes, the ruffling of money the only sound being made. Boris shrugs with a mixture of surprise and ignorance. Hoeness, who had been shuffling the deck of cards, narrows his eyes confusedly. "When did this happen?"
"Friday, like I said. Ted just, out of nowhere, took off more than the commission the bosses usually get."
"Has that happened any other day?"
"I don't know. I was stunned, but Ted said it had to happen. He wouldn't really tell me why."
"That's stupid. Why would they do such a thing?"
St. Croix scoffs. "Didn't you all hear? We gotta pay new taxes. New taxes for everybody."
The guys turn to him incredulously. Hoeness smirks as if he's just had a joke pulled on him. "Yeah, right."
Boris seems a little miffed. "What kind of taxes?"
"The Petrescu tax, of course." The wolf chuckles. "Everyone loses the same amount. If you haven't experienced the pay cut yet, just wait. Chances are, on your next hunt, you will."
Hoeness growls under his breath and shakes his head. "Should have killed that son of a bitch when I had the chance. Instead, I just stood there and watched him leave the room. Winter was ready to bite his head off. I think she should have."
"You should save your ire for Pica and Dunn. It you wanna kill anybody, it should be them. By the way, anyone know whatever happened to him? Mr. Petrescu?"
"For all I know, he's probably at home counting whatever the chief gave him,wondering how he ever got the better of us."
"Forget it. Who's the dealer now?"
Boris raises his left hand and takes the deck from the German shepherd. "That's me."
"Tomorrow, I'll ask Ted about him. They wouldn't just let some outsider come here and take a piece of us. I'm sure Ted's found a solution this problem."
A tired Hoeness puts his face in his hands. "Meanwhile, my next payment will be curtailed twenty percent. I can't believe Shiloh was right." He puts his hands down and throws a five dollar bill in the middle of the table. "Ante up everybody. Next game."
The fox with the cards starts to deal. "Five-card draw, one-eyed jacks are wild. I propose that from the next game on, the ante is twenty dollars apiece."
"Oh yeah? How come?"
"'Cuz I want to wipe the smile off of church boy's face."
St. Croix laughs as he picks up his cards. "He means me, Hoeness. Of course, it's not going to do him any good. The way his luck is going, I--"
"Shh. Listen." Hoeness perks his ears up and turns toward the front door. The wolf follows suit, ignoring Boris as he finishes dealing.
"What's the matter?"
"I heard something. It sounded like--"
"Stop doing that," Boris says. "You're not gonna get out of this by distracting anybody. Just pick up your cards."
"Keep quiet. There's someone at the door."
"Stop pretending! Get your ass in the game."
The lock on the glass door clicks and turns, startling everyone but the German shepherd. Panic shows on St. Croix's face as he grabs his money and looks around him, presumably for somewhere to hide it all.
"Forget it," says Hoeness. "We've been caught. Just sit there."
Everyone observes the door nervously. As it opens, St. Croix holds his breath. Vivian Cross enters, pushing the door open with all her might. Seemingly out of breath, she angrily allows the door to close behind her. She is about to make her way through the lobby when she notices the boys surrounding the card table.
Hoeness ekes a smile. "Good morning, chief," he says. He greets her quickly before she could really soak in their presence. The rest of the boys greet her just as quickly.
Vivian sniffs. "Boris, Benny, Hoeness, St. Croix. What are you guys doing here on a Sunday?"
While everyone else stutters, the wolf has an answer ready. "Well...your liquor cabinet came. It came yesterday morning. I tried to hold it off until Monday morning, but it just wasn't possible. I asked Ted for the keys so it could be delivered on Saturday morning. Then I called these guys today to help me put it in your office. We wanted to surprise you."
She clears her throat, trying hard not to smile. "Mission accomplished. I'm also glad that Ted just freely gave you the keys just like that. I mean, if you have the keys to the building, you practically own the building itself."
"Thanks, chief. But what are you doing here?"
"That's for me to know and you to find out. Besides, now that the liquor cabinet has been delivered, shouldn't you guys be on your way?"
"Well," Hoeness says, "We wanted to see the look on your face when you saw it. I must say, it really fits your office quite well."
"Thanks for the compliment." She makes her way into the hall. "Hopefully, you guys can represent our business more readily without a gambling table involved. Where'd you get that anyway?"
"Oh, um, from the conference room. The executives also play."
Vivian shakes her head. "Never mind. Just clean up after you're done. Who's winning?"
St. Croix gladly raises his hand. "I am, ma'am."
"Yeah, I had the feeling you would be." The chief disappears behind the darkness while the men continue doing what they are doing.
Boris reshuffles and deals the cards. Meanwhile, the wolf laughs at the angry dog. "Well, I didn't think you'd be so restrained."
"Stop it. Just because I don't like her doesn't mean I don't respect her."
"Yeah? Can begrudging respect still count as respect?"
"I'm not saying that she doesn't deserve her position or anything. It's just that--"
"You're not the first guy who's had his manhood tested working under a woman. If it bothers you so much, look at the bright side. You also work under Ted. We met him before we met her, before we learned that she was his boss too. He's the one who gives us our orders, not her, so you shouldn't feel emasculated or anything."
As Boris reshuffles the deck, Benny loudly clears his throat, getting everyone's attention. "Which one do we talk to about our...'taxes?' Ted or Vivian? Seriously, something needs to be done about that."
St Croix nods. "Well, she's here. Just go in her office and talk to her."
Benny quickly shakes his head. "Never mind. I'll do it tomorrow. Let's just play."
"Damn. When are you guys gonna stop being so uncomfortable around the chief?"
Boris deals. "Like before, five-card draw, one-eyed jacks are wild. Listen, church boy, we don't exactly hate working for her, since she's the real reason we're able to have all this money in the first place. It's just that...no one wants much of anything to do with her. She doesn't understand our issues, she's not approachable, she's--"
"Stop with the excuses. Just say the reason. You don't like that she's your boss because she's not one of us. As a human, and a woman, she's the absolute last person you could ever see yourself working for. Well let me ask you...if your pay is cut like Benny's was, and Ted tells you to talk to her about it, would you do that? Or are you just gonna take it like a man?"
"Hey, I'll worry about it when it happens. Matter of fact, I doubt that's ever gonna happen to me. Besides, it's not like the cuts will continue. Right, Hoeness?"
The dog is not paying attention. He instead looks away from his cards and wrinkles his nose angrily. Quietly, he sniffs the air around him. "Anybody else smell bourbon?"
Everyone turns to him, surprised by the question. St Croix sticks his nose up, trying to sense what Hoeness is talking about. Benny stands. "Let me guess. Someone at the door?"
As Hoeness nods, the front door opens. The boys turn as a medium-sized, black sneaker slowly steps into the room. It stands there for a few seconds, then suddenly leaves, as if dragged out by force. Benny leaves his seat and looks through the blinds to see who is out there. He shakes his head in response.
The door opens again. This time, the interloper enters hurriedly, almost stumbling her way in. Pamila quickly looks behind her to see the door close. She is instantly recognizable to the boys. The suspense over, they sit down and return to playing poker, except for St. Croix who says hello.
Everything Pamila is wearing is black. Her shoes, her pants, her blouse, and even her socks are black. Her necklace is made of dark-colored gems, not exactly black, but pretty close. She looks around her as if in a daze. Her breathing is somewhat erratic, as if she ran to get here. She puts a hand to her chest as she examines her surroundings. As the boys start betting, St. Croix looks on with concern, but he nods happily as she begins to approach the card table. He smiles, waves, and repeats his greeting.
"Hi yourself," she answers. "How is everybody?" She stands there with her hands on her hips, expecting an answer. St. Croix is about to say something when Boris taps his shoulder; it is his turn to either bet or fold. As he takes a quick look at his hand, the fox laughs. "Come on, Hoe-boy, I'm back. Talk to me." She stands over Hoeness and looks at his cards. "Well, don't everybody rejoice at once. Anyway, I'm so glad to see my cards in action. Where'd you guys find them anyway?"
"In the storeroom," says the wolf. "We were thinking about moving the liquor cabinet there at first, and I found it while I was--"
"We have a liquor cabinet?"
Boris smirks. "I knew that would get your attention."
"Anyway, it's not for us. It's for the chief. We couldn't find room in the storeroom, so we put it in her office."
She starts to walk away from the table. "Yeah, I've come to see her. Is she here?"
St. Croix first makes his bet, then looks at her. "She wants to see you here, on a Sunday? Why not wait until--"
"I know! She's crazy. I'd be more than willing to do this tomorrow. It would be...." Pamila scratches her head. "Wait a second? Are any of the executives here?"
"Who gave you the key?"
"Ted did. It was necessary, or the cabinet would have been left outside."
The fox smiles. "Aww, this is fucking precious. You've got the keys to the kingdom. Are you taking over? Do I have to call you sir? Bow down and kiss your feet?"
"Stop that. It's not like that and you know it. We needed the building for the liquor cabinet. That's all."
Boris slams his fist on the table, surprising everybody. "Hey, she's here, okay? The chief is in her office, waiting for you. So just go! You're dragging the game down."
"You mean you're not gonna deal me in for a game? I've got cash."
"No. Now beat it."
Pamila scoffs and turns away. "Yes, sir." Hands on her hips and a big smile on her face, she struts toward the hallway.
Suddenly, Hoeness stands. "Hey, you stupid cunt."
Her smile rightfully disappears and she, along with the rest of them, turn to the German Shepherd, who has put his freshly dealt hand in his shirt pocket. "Before your sorry ass sees the chief, I just want you to know that the Shark Pit was raided last night." He pauses to let that sink in. Even though it was meant to shock her, the rest of the boys are just as surprised. "Apparently, they're looking for a suspect that they think might frequent the place. Now, that's not to say that they're looking for you, exactly, but they were there because of you. Your stupid actions, the bombing of that restaurant, just to get one guy, caused all this."
She is not smiling anymore, but she is not angry either. "Well, it speaks. No 'hi' or 'how do you do,' but 'stupid cunt.' Nice to see you too." She saunters towards the table. "Don't know why I'm so surprised you'd greet me like that. We don't like each other."
"The Shark Pit is my home away from home; I go there so much, my bar tab might as well be an overdue mortgage payment. However, I haven't been there in a month, so last night was heaven for me. It was my first day off in a long while. I said hi to the guys, my usual posse, and got reacquainted with some people from my former job. Thirty minutes in, I was chatting up this nice-looking bitch of a German Shepherd who bought me a couple of drinks. Heaven, like I said."
"You're boring me, dog. I'd rather you just call me a cunt some more."
"You know, there aren't too many German Shepherds in the greater L.A. area anymore? Unless they're cops? She wasn't. She's a schoolteacher who works not too far from this building. If I hadn't spent so much time chasing down marks, I could have known this so much sooner. Anyway, we talked about pretty much everything and had a real good time. We started to set up another meeting and she was about to give me her number. Then the police came, at least three cop cars, and they stayed in the bar for over an hour. They followed some tip that led them there and they questioned everybody about the bombing. By the time they finished questioning me, the bitch was gone. I imagine she'll come back to the bar some time in the near future, but--"
"Wait! I'm a cunt because you didn't get a phone number?"
"It's not about the number! Because of what you did, The Shark Pit's not a safe place to drink anymore. In fact, most of the bars in L.A. aren't safe from scrutiny. Bartenders and patrons are looking over their shoulders constantly. Everyone's behavior is changing. I'm almost afraid to go back to my favorite drinking hole and it's all because of you. In fact, I'm almost tempted to turn you in before police raid the place again."
St. Croix and Boris stand, completely stunned. The wolf almost falls down. Benny shakes his head. "Come on man, don't do that."
"Why not? Not only is she going to affect the livelihoods of everyone in The Shark Pit, but she's undoubtedly going to affect everyone here with her work ethic. I'm sure we'd all be better off if--"
"Hey, I work just fine!" Pamila moves even closer to the table. "You don't have to concern yourself about the way I do things. Just worry about your own damned self as always!"
"I'm just worried that the next mistake you make will cost more than the life of your mark. It might cost us dearly. Everyone here should be worried about that."
"I don't remember you being mistake-free when we first met. You've missed more than your fair share of marks and you're not exactly thorough when you're out on the hunt. You're no better at work than you are at drinking, and I can better you at either of those tasks."
Hoeness growls quietly as she talks. When she stops, she looks at him and waits for him to start the next round. He looks very eager to get his hands on her and is ignoring his friends who have been ready to bet on their hands for quite some time. St. Croix tries to coax the dog into his seat.
Pamila sighs, contented with having the upper hand. There is a smug satisfaction on her face that comes with knowing that she is as strong as he is, if not stronger. Anything he throws at her, she easily counters. She is more confident, more stable, and more centered. With his friends around him, Hoeness is easily embarrassed and struggling to save face. She knows this and is ready to goad him further. "Well? Cat got your tongue? Nothing else to say? No more names to call me? Is that it?"
St. Croix puts his hands on the dog's shoulders, trying to get him to return to his seat. Boris and Benny return to theirs. Their anger at Pamila has been overshadowed by concern for her adversary, who looks like he is about to jump on top of her. Hoeness hardly notices anyone else right now. His sights remain locked at his prey. "One of these days," he says, "you will respect me. You will recognize that I've been here longer than you have and I have all the stroke in this place. Forget everything you've heard about Shiloh; I'm the man you should be afraid of!"
"Come over here and say that to me." She puts her hands on her hips with anticipation. Her right foot taps the floor and her tongue darts out, licking her nose. She is so ready. He, on the other hand, responds by sitting down. He does so slowly and reluctantly, like he has just been scolded. She laughs. "That's what I thought. Don't forget, I've already laid out one of the execs. You're not so far behind. What's the matter, church boy?"
St. Croix points in her direction before returning to his seat. It takes Pamila a while to realize that he was not pointing at her, but beyond her. She turns around to see the chief standing just outside the dark hallway, leaning against the wall. The fox lowers her defenses, putting her arms down and lowering her head a little. She slowly walks to Vivian and stands before her, less combative but just as ready to face whatever is coming her way. "Good morning, ma'am," she mutters.
Vivian nods. "Come with me." She starts the long walk down the hall, probably to her office. Pamila follows, looking and probably feeling like a prisoner being sent to lethal injection. As the darkness envelops them, the fox walks a little faster, nearly passing the human.
"So, are you in mourning?"
Vivian laughs. "The black clothes you have on. It hardly reflects your persona. Is there a special occasion for those clothes?"
"No reason. I just haven't worn them in a long time."
"You know, I have a friend from college who I speak to often. She is from...." Vivian stops and looks up. Pamila, seemingly bored, stares at her angrily. The chief shrugs. "I've forgotten where she was from. Anyway, she was a bright and bubbly girl. She had a husband, two kids, a couple of dogs, and a big inheritance that she had no trouble living off of. She would always flaunt her success at others. You do a lot of that flaunting too, especially after you've finished a job; that's why I bring it up. Her husband died two years ago. She's more grounded now, more humble. Part of the reason for that is her fashion. She used to choose what to wear, but now she's wearing what she has to. You see, as per the traditions in her country of birth, because of her husband's death, she must wear black for the rest of her life." She scans Pamila up and down. "I was wondering why you'd wear what you're wearing. Do you anticipate something bad to happen?"
"I'm not wearing this for you, okay?" The fox surprises herself with her rather loud response. She clears her throat and lowers her voice. "It just felt right to wear today. Why did you ask me that? Is something bad gonna happen?"
Vivian chuckles. "I'm not going to fire you, okay? At least not directly. And I like the clothes you're wearing. They're sharp and sophisticated. In fact, I prefer these to the clothes you usually wear. They make our place of business look like a real place to do...business." She resumes walking.
"And what clothes do I 'usually' wear?"
"Ugh. Please don't get defiant with me. You know which clothes I'm talking about. Those stupid camouflaged shorts...and the informal shirts you wear with them. They're brash, loud, undignified; they're not professional. It makes--"
"Look, first of all, they're not 'camouflaged' shorts. They're camo shorts with a design I had custom-made for me. I'm friends with the guys who make them, and they do good work. There is nothing wrong with them. They're durable, comfortable--"
"They make you look like you left your house with no pants on!" She stops walking again and looks at her reticent guest. "God, woman, you don't know how much I dread that. This building stands alone, but just North of us is an office park where other real big businesses call home. The occupants of that area are truckers, delivery workers, stock brokers, accountants, realtors...very important people. If they ever caught you coming in here in those clothes, besides eyeballing you to death, they'd take away a bad impression of this place. It brings the kind of attention we don't need and cannot afford, considering the things that go on in here."
"We didn't come here to talk about my shorts, and there's nothing I need to change. Besides, they're the perfect clothes to wear when I'm on the job."
"We work in a close-knit community. What happens in here has ramifications everywhere. If we're doing well, the companies around us tend to do just as well. You need to remember that and dress appropriately. You can store your shorts in the locker room and change into them whenever you're ready to get a mark."
"I'm not ever going to the locker room. I'm not changing in front of those...'men.' That's not ever happening."
"If it's protection you need, I'll make sure you have it. I'll make sure the boys never even look at you."
"I said no! There's nothing wrong with my clothes. There's nothing wrong with the way I do my job. There's nothing wrong with me!" Pamila steps forward and stares into the eyes of her counterpart. It is this angry glare that has usually led to her opponents becoming helpless victims. She now has those sights set on the C.E.O.
Vivian sighs and closes her eyes. "I wonder...if this is what Colin saw before he was attacked." She remains calm and tolerant, waiting for the situation to calm itself. She takes a few seconds waiting for the fox to back off. Pamila eventually does, seemingly realizing that she is not helping her cause. The chief opens her eyes and chuckles. "Oh, that's right. I visited him on the day after you assaulted him. He told me he never saw it coming, that he was hit from behind, and he can't really remember what happened next. You know, you're lucky I own this place. Any other executive would have led an internal investigation; you'd be in much bigger trouble than you are now."
The fox is obviously tired of this meeting. "If you're not going to fire me, then what am I even doing here?"
Vivian continues walking. "Just because you're not getting fired doesn't mean you aren't getting punished. And I said that I'm not going to fire you directly. I'm going to allow you to make that decision."
"What the hell does that mean?"
The hallway at this point looks ominous. Only the glow from the nearby cafeteria lights is cutting through the darkness. The chief stops walking as soon as they reach the door to her office. She puts her hands behind her back as she turns to Pamila. "Look, I am the proprietor of a massively growing lending company. Our revenue last year closed in on a hundred million dollars. We're a huge success and the reason is because people trust us. When people look at the outside of this place, that's all they see--a very successful lending company. Now, being the owner, I know what else goes on here. Simply put, we kill people. I hate saying that but it's become a business in its own right. It's also something that I try to ignore as I do my job. I mean, I can't focus on your latest victim when I'm helping someone get a car loan. Both businesses have to be kept separate from each other, both physically and mentally. Nod if you understand me."
Pamila rolls her eyes and puts her hands in her back pockets. She looks jaded and uncomfortable. If she could be anywhere else in the world, she would. Still, she nods, hoping to speed things along.
"Good." Vivian opens the door to her office and steps in, holding the door open for her guest. "This must be your first time in here since you first started. I remember the interview; you had the brash confidence that I like to see in people I hire. In hindsight, I'm now wondering if I've made a mistake."
The fox enters the room and looks around. The bright light gets to her and she rubs her eyes. The office sparkles and shines, showing itself off in impressive fashion. The tiled floor is pretty much spotless, the windows and blinds are clean, and the desk is uncluttered. Vivian's books and laptop are neatly arranged. Pamila is cautious coming in at first, then her eyes light up. "Whoa. There's that liquor cabinet." She runs behind the desk to the new piece of furniture and bends down to peer through it.
"You like it?"
"It's beautiful." She touches the glass and the door handles. "This reminds me of the one dad owns. I wish I had one of these."
"I'm glad it meets with your approval, but don't worry about it now. It's the items to the right of the cabinet that I want to show you. That's your future, after all."
Pamila straightens herself and looks to her right. She looks at the items confusedly. There is a blue, plastic bucket standing against the wall. Inside it is a long mop, the handle of which looks old and worn. She touches the mop handle and snickers. While Vivian waits patiently, the fox stops laughing long enough to think about what the items are supposed to mean.
Vivian has enough time to sneak behind the confounded lupine and inspect the liquor cabinet, admiring her new acquisition.
Suddenly, Pamila turns to the human with the same old angry look she has been giving all day. It looks like she has put two and two together. "What the hell is this?"
"It's a million dollars. What the hell does it look like?"
"You've got to be shitting me!"
Vivian chuckles. "Wow, you catch on fast."
"I am not cleaning your office."
"See that look on your face? You're feeling like I felt two Fridays ago when you attacked Colin Besser. Because on that day, I was having a meeting with a customer, and a dear friend. Her name is Martha, and she's 62 years old. She's become a very loyal client and has been here many times. She's gotten car loans for all five of her kids and help set up a home loan for one of them. Anyway, that morning, she was in for a really important matter. She needed money to start a business. She felt that this was so important, she called me the day before to come early before opening hours. It turns out that she's not comfortable around anthros very much. She's never been able to get used to St. Croix sitting at the front desk. Am I going too fast for you?"
Pamila lets go of the mop and puts her hands on her hips. She is angrier at her than she was at Hoeness.
"So Martha and I are here early in the morning, before your usual meeting. Things are going well and she is about to sign the necessary paperwork. That's when we hear the shouting. Now, this room is secure, but it's not airtight. We could hear the sounds of an argument. I tried to convince my friend that there was another meeting taking place and everything was fine. About a minute later, we heard the screams. As soon as I heard screaming, I knew you were there...and I didn't have much to say; I couldn't very well tell Martha anything. I did have to stop her from calling law enforcement." She clears her throat and gets a good look at her guest. "Good. I'm glad you're angry. I'm angry too. Anyway, like I said earlier, the decisions we make in here have major ramifications elsewhere. Your decisions have led to major consequences. You bombed a mark and in the process, bombed a restaurant. The result? Hundreds of thousands in damage and more deaths than was warranted. I'm not even going to mention the bar and night club raids that have been all over the news. You fought and maimed an executive. The result? Martha almost called the police and Colin was in traction for over a week. You make a decision and suddenly the sparks are flying."
Pamila puts her hands at her sides and turns away, first toward the liquor cabinet, then to the mop and bucket. Her face shows concern as she slowly backs away from the chief.
"I'd like you to make one more decision. I've already told you that I'm not going to fire you directly. I'm going to give you the opportunity to redeem yourself. Whatever happens, it will be because you made a decision. You can either choose to accept my proposal...or quit this job altogether." Vivian looks for her desk chair and sits down in front of the mentally wounded fox. "Relax. I can hear your heartbeat racing from here."
"What's the damn proposal?"
"Well, I've talked to the executives about this, save Colin of course, and they're all in agreement. You don't hunt marks for a month. You stay away from the morning meetings. Instead, for the next thirty days, you will do what Tobias does. You will tend to all custodial matters--cleaning windows and the blinds, vacuuming the carpets, washing the dishes and coffeepot in the cafeteria, and all those other neat things that Tobias does."
"Hmm? How come? I'm not asking you to do anything you haven't done in your own house."
"Don't you know how big this place is?"
"About two acres... give or take twenty yards. It is a huge place. In fact, the area from the front door to the end of the hallway is more than half a football field long."
"So it's either this or I lose my job? Don't you have anything less soul-crushing for me to do? Like shine your shoes? Or wipe your ass?!"
"You'll be paid what Tobias also gets--fifty dollars a day for every day you show up and do the work to our satisfaction. Now granted, the money we give Tobias is more like hush-up money, but he still does good work." Pamila is about to speak again. Vivian holds up her left hand, quieting the fox. "Before you complain about the wage, just know that our regular janitor leaves for college in a few months. Once that happens, all the anthropomorphic beings in the building will be responsible for keeping the complex clean. That includes you should you still be working here. That job will pay no money, so be grateful for that fifty dollars a day."
Pamila takes a deep breath and heaves out a huge sigh. The hopelessness of the situation begins to break through and there does not seem to be a way around it, except to quit. They stare at each other stoically. Neither makes a move for a couple of minutes. Vivian will not be moved and the fox has little choice. Pamila turns once again to the mop and bucket. "How the hell do you hold one of these things anyway?"
"You've never mopped before?"
"I've never had to." She angrily spits into the bucket.
"Tobias can answer your questions. If there's any help you need, just start talking to him. Whenever your first day is...that's when the thirty days away from hunting starts. I'll make sure you two meet and you can then discuss who gets to do what chore." She rubs her hands together. "So, are we all set?"
Pamila looks at the floor and nods. She understands everything, but tries not to show weakness while thinking about the chief's ultimatum. Quickly, she tries to save face. "I just want you to know that I don't apologize for anything. Colin was a--"
"I know. I know you don't. You never do. You're about as predictable as my kid. But it doesn't answer the question. Do you accept or not?"
"I'll let you know on Monday. Excuse me." Pamila walks past Vivian and leaves the office, tired of mentally bowing to her. She dusts her blouse vigorously with her hands. To her, touching the mop was like touching a disease. Leaving the office restores her confidence and she quickly walks through the darkness of the corridor. She puts her hands in her pockets and releases more angry breaths. "Washing windows. Yeah, that'll happen." She is about to enter the lobby when she hears the voices of the poker players. They are joking, laughing, and carrying on. It sounds like the game is getting interesting.
She stops frowning and looks at the quartet of players. St. Croix no longer has the biggest pile. The money has evened out and the game is more competitive. The voices are louder as Hoeness, happier than before, deals the cards for the next round. Pamila sighs wistfully, probably wishing she were out there. She stands out of sight for a couple of minutes before nodding emphatically.
"The back door. Just leave. Back door."
[Author's note: This marks the halfway point of Beautiful Killers. That doesn't mean that there are 38 parts. It just means I am half finished. The outline of the remaining parts has been complete and the start of the second half will be posted here early next month. Until then, I'd like to thank everyone for reading, the comments, the watches and the faves. Have a happy whatever-you-celebrate and enjoy.]