When the dead talks to the living, one tends to listen to them whether you want to or not. For me, it came in the form of a phone call at 3 a.m., via one of my burner cell phones I had been using that night. The voice belonged to a woman who I was sure I’d never hear from again, but like most clients found themselves dialing my number as a last resort. These calls never fail at being awkward, and was something I was only now starting to get used to. After giving the usual spiel of assurances on my part, she had become much more comfortable with speaking to me in the form of terse orders, and pointed questions meant to test my knowledge in a condescending sort of way with that I obliged with what I thought to be total sincerity while tuning out the rest. It was an obvious, if totally unnecessary power-move on her part to regain some perceived loss of superiority that didn’t matter to me whatsoever. However, given my position, I did have to pretend that it mattered, and play along with the mutual charade accordingly; a charade that was much easier for me to pull off over the phone.
“Are you under surveillance right now?” I asked her.
“Yes,” she told me.
“So will I need your key code to come into your home?” I asked.
“Yes, I’m not…” she paused, “I’m not entirely human right now. I’ll send you the code to the condo so that you can unlock it.”
“Maybe I should wait then,” I told her.
“No,” her voice was a stern venom of persistence over the phone line, “this is a fucking emergency. Get here. Now.”
The living also tend to do what the dead tell them to, whether they want to or not.
The condo was owned by her, or rather, she was living in the condo that was owned by a retainer of hers. Not the kind of retainer that was on my level, nowhere near that important; but he was rich, which is usually enough. I could smell the soft pheromones coming from the door as I walked down the white, brightly lit hallway to the pent house suite. I opened the inner pocket of my jacket and pulled out the thumb-pin-sized syringe containing the inoculation I’d need to take before entering. I quickly shoved the needle into a vein along my arm and just as quickly pocketed the thing. The serum, as well as the pain, was immediate. My body shivered like a cold fever while the serum went through the process of blocking any receptors to my sense of smell or taste for the next four hours. A bit extreme, but my life depended on it. I’d just as well be another victim to them otherwise; another pawn if I breathed in the pheromones long enough or taste something tainted within the condo. I’m more useful to them alive than dead, at least that’s what I tell myself. As an extra precaution, I also preformed the white mage ritual of the inde odor praesidium so that my body would not give off any appetizing scents to my client. I adjusted my suit, and pulled even tighter onto my leather gloves, and use the spare key card to open the door. The key card reader chirped with approval and the wooden door slid open, beckoning me to enter.
Inside I was greeted by a soft, violet haze that told me she had already been hard at work. It took me a few seconds to realize that the serum had made me, thankfully, immune to the miasma, but past years of nearly lethal mistakes allowed to imagine what I was walking into. It would be the classic wall of death’s stench quickly followed by the usual sweet twinge of a demon’s hard work to mask the smell of corpses he or she might have caused earlier. It was a technique that served two purposes: the first being to trap any suspicious smells from oozing out and prompting someone to investigate, and if that didn’t work the miasma would work its magic to turn the curious victims into suggestible, brain-washed zombies whose minds could be wiped or bodies turned into a second meal until a cleaner like myself arrived. Either way, it involved leaving no witnesses. I took a few more steps into the dark and adjusted my eyes to the haze that my client had created throughout the whole condo. I saw the contours of the oak polished hard wood floor and a Persian carpet that lead to the living room area. There was another trail, this time made by discarded clothes that trailed beyond a flat screen T.V to the sliding door leading to a beautiful stone terrace with a working Jacuzzi. I did one more scan to take in the Neo Art Deco interior design of the condo and then I found them.
There were three men lying naked on the living room carpet; all who looked liked they’d all died violently from heart attacks at the ripe old age of eighty, but I recognized them as acquaintances that were no younger than I was. As I got closer to the corpses, I managed to recognizing one of them crumpled on the floor: I had lunch with him last week as he was talking about his fiance and their plans for a honeymoon in Costa Rica. He told me her name, her age, her job. She had lied to him, of course. He didn’t have a clue, and wouldn’t have believed me if I told him. I had learned to accept these kinds of lies from my clients, especially when they told them to their retainers and my agreements to reinforce said lies. It was simply a reality of the world I lived in. However, the husks I saw nearly turned to ash did not soften the blow. As I looked at the bodies I felt a presence in the room that caused me to swallow and try to stifle the fear and bile building up in my stomach.
I felt around in my suit’s inner pocket for the retractable, electric prod that I’d taken in with me. This kind of client, whether it was demon or vampire, was way more unpredictable in this particular state of duress than in any other situation. Some would be polite enough to open the door and let you in to show you where the bodies are; others, after the reveal, will apologize profusely for the inconvenience (“sorry, we know you like to sleep during these hours” is a common one). However, there are those who will just wait for you to come in and simply watch quietly in the corner while smiling, before they decide you’re next. The worst of them will hide somewhere in their home and wait for you to arrive in order to fulfill a thrill that comes with hunting human prey. Because under those human exteriors of theirs, wearing expensive clothes, and sharing polite conversation lurks a beast trying to control their urge to feed and their willingness to kill to satisfy that hunger. But then again, when it comes to me, they’re not dealing with something completely human, either.
Copyright © 2017 Philip N.R Hauser