Chelsea stepped around the rats, unconcerned. These critters were clean. Someone had to scrub their cages every day, and that was usually her since she had tiny hands. She wouldn't miss that part of the job. Fletcher opened the door and let out all but two fat, pink rats clinging to one another.
Too stupid to save themselves, Chelsea thought.
The place looked like it had been broken into by people who wanted to save the 'fuzzy wuzzy animals'. The ruse would throw everyone off her scent until Monday, when it would dawn on Brenda that Chelsea, her wide-eyed intern, had disappeared at the time of the fire.
Before they left, she poured out the gasoline onto the computers, the old filing cabinet, and Brenda's desk. Chelsea lit a match, the most deep-down satisfying sound she knew. She felt cleansed, climbing into the pickup afterward, giddy from fumes. She listened to the smoke alarm while they pulled away and watched another window develop a sunny orange glow.
Fletcher drove in the darkness. The only sound was the low hum of the engine, and that quiet felt wrong to Chelsea. Fletch was never the best of conversationalists, but how could he be silent now? Couldn't he see that they won?
"We need a bigger cut." She fiddled with the radio. "This stuff has to be worth a lot more than he said. The first targeted aphrodisiac? Targeted. That can be our slogan. Put a fucking cupid on the logo. They're all gonna pay through the nose to get with whoever they want." She drummed on the dashboard. "Come on! Tell me that doesn't blow your mind. Whatever, I'm buying an island."
Chelsea found a country station and kept searching while the truck pulled into a carpet store's parking lot. It was well-past closed. Fletcher turned off the engine, but kept his eyes forward.
"With the intern cover, you took a lot of notes, right?"
He speaks! Chelsea smiled. "Boss said I should. More you know, the more prepared you are. Made a backup, even. I am prepared up the wazoo." Why were they sitting here?
Fletcher said "You should keep it on you, just in case."
"Inside pocket." She grinned.
Fletcher finally looked at her face, though not in the eyes. "He can't have any connection to the lab, not through anyone."
She understood what Fletcher meant and hated herself for not smelling danger sooner. The child locks kept her in. Pushing him back with all her strength, she wondered if Fletcher saw the irony of using safety as a weapon. He shoved a bag over her head, and eventually, she stopped wondering anything at all.
Roman joggers found a petite Jane Doe in the Tiber by Santa Maria in Cosmedin. Her pockets were empty. She had no identification, and no one claimed her at the morgue, but that was not what made the headlines. The dozen antique arrows in her chest did that.
That Monday, a new drug hit the black market.
"Are you sure you'll be all right here on your own?" Mattie stopped the Mercedes in front of the big old ranch house, looking up at it with a pensive expression.
From beside her, Lawrence tried not to frown. "I'll be fine."
"Are you sure?" Mattie looked over at him, her hands still on the wheel. "I just don't like the idea of you being in such a big house all by yourself."
"I told you." Lawrence reached for the car door and pushed it open. "I'll be fine."
"You're stubborn like Father." Mattie pushed her own door open, stepped out, smoothed down her skirt, and moved around the car to stand by him. "He died in this house, you know."
"I am not going to die." Lawrence put his cane out of the car and managed to lean on it enough to push himself out. Mattie held her arm steady and, after a moment, he took it and leaned on her as well.
When he was finally out of the car and standing on the gravel drive, Mattie fussed with his suit jacket and hat. Lawrence ignored her for a moment, scanning the pastures beyond the house and stable. He could see the horses, and he felt a wash of excitement and happiness at the thought of spending his days with them.
"Who's been taking care of the horses?" he asked, and Mattie turned to look.
"Mother's been paying Billy and Tommy to do it. I think Billy's been living in the house, too, at least until I rang to tell him you wanted to move in." She frowned, and Lawrence reached for her small hand and gave it a squeeze.
"I'll be fine," he said once more. "There are plenty of people around here I can call if anything happens, and Billy and Tommy will be here every day to take care of the horses. What could happen to me?"
Mattie didn't say anything to that. Instead, she led the way towards the front door.
From the outside, the building was much as Lawrence had remember it. The house was huge, painted white, with two gables at the front and a long wrap-around porch. He could remember his mother sitting with her friends on the porch, drinking tea and embroidering. The white wicker chairs were still there, he saw as he pulled himself up the two steps and onto the porch, despite the fact that his mother hadn't lived in the house since the war ended. Someone pushed open the screen door to the house before they reached it and a tall, broad shouldered young man in overalls and a cowboy hat stepped out.
"Billy," Mattie said, and then turned to Lawrence. "This is my brother, Lawrence. He'll be living here now. Lawrence, this is William Johnson, Dick Johnson's youngest boy."
"Pleased to meet you." Billy held out his hand, which Lawrence shook while Billy smiled down at him. Although he was a big, strapping man, Lawrence could not quite get over how young he looked. Twenty at most, certainly not old enough to have fought in the Great War. His dark hair curled around his ears, his hands were big, and his skin was the dark tan of a man who spent most of his time outside. Lawrence felt a pang in his chest and pulled his hand away.
"Look at us on our fifth date." Derek Fowell chuckled weakly, feeling nervous. Against his better judgment, his feelings for Matthew Zee had grown. Something was different about him, but Derek couldn't pinpoint it. For now, he wanted to enjoy the meal and get to know Matthew better.
Matthew smiled and showed off his perfect, straight white teeth. "So far, I'm enjoying your company."
"I agree. How was your day at work?"
"Ready to order?" the waitress interrupted.
"I'd like to get a strawberry salad with chicken. Can you put the dressing on the side, please?" Matthew smiled first at the waitress, and then at Derek.
"Absolutely. And you, sir?"
"I'll have the same, but with steak. Medium-rare, please."
"I'm sorry, sir. We can only serve medium and above for the steak."
"Medium's fine, thanks." Derek handed the menus to the waitress.
Once the waitress left, Matthew cleared his throat. "My day at work wasn't bad. I just cleaned patients' teeth and tightened a kid's braces. Nothing exciting." He chuckled and took a sip of red wine. "What about you? You never told me what it is you do."
"Oh, I don't work. My parents died several years ago, and they left me a rather large sum of money. I made a smart investment, and so far, it's working out. I'm financially secure for the foreseeable future.
"Ah, I'm jealous. I'd love to not to ever work again."
Their meals were delivered, and they ate in silence. Derek took his chance to watch Matthew eating. Strong sweet scents attacked his nose, he sniffed deeply. Mix of strawberry and his pheromones. Matthew clearly became horny just as soon as Derek slid his right foot toward his. Matthew's cheeks grew red and avoid making an eye contact to Derek. Grinning, he changed his attention to his salad. Everything in his view turned red and something inside him awoke. Squeezing his eyes shut, breathing slowly, and his breath ceased the minute he heard his inner voice. He's horny and smells delicious, it growled.
Shut up, Derek mentally shouted back at that inner voice. He shook his head, and his vision was back to normal. Colors and all. It wasn't his demon eyes looking up at Matthew's puzzled face. "Excuse me. Nature calls." Derek walked away before Matthew could respond. Derek was pissed. It had been four dates without even a peep. It wasn't until things had become more personal between him and Matthew that the inner voice had decided to speak up. Derek locked the door behind him in the restroom, and then his legs gave out. His muscles twitched, his body shook, and his head might as well be splitting open as the demon he valiantly fought took control of his limbs.
"About the fucking time. I'm back!" the demonic voice crackled.
Derek screamed in the demon's head. You can't do this. Not Matthew! Please, I beg you. I'll do anything as long as you don't touch Matthew. Please!
"Okay, I promise. Matthew will not be harmed." Staring at the mirror, his skin was turning purple, and horns grew on his forehead and side of his head. Eyes turned red. Shaking his face, he was back to Derek's appearance. Tan skin with two days shade of beard and short shaggy brown hair. His eyes were back to golden brown eyes. Looking down to his shirt, rumples all over it, he pulled it down and tucked in his pants until it was straightened. Then, fixing his hair really quickly, he was on his way back to Matthew. It sickened him to be trapped in Derek's body. Derek didn't know how to have fun, but the demon certainly did.
"Seriously, how is it hard to come up with a porn name? It's not rocket science," Bobby said as he laughed.
Matt, sitting on the dusty, old hospital bed, rolled his eyes. "It's important for my name to be memorable!" He sighed and moved a hand to rub his eyes before remembering that the make up artist had already had her way with him. She made his skin pale, but used a ridiculous amount of kohl and black eyeshadow around his eyes to achieve a 'haunted look', as she had called it. He itched, but resisted the urge to scratch, unwilling to sit through another hour of makeup.
"Matt Cumjizz?" laughed the sound guy, whose name Matt couldn't seem to remember, especially since he didn't have any distinctive features whatsoever. The proposition made him snort.
"That's my man. Nothing sounds as sexy as 'Cumjizz'."
"Just putting it out there!" said the guy as he fiddled with his equipment.
Matt could only sit there, naked, waiting for the remaining members of the crew they needed for this scene. They couldn't start filming without Pablo, director and set designer in one, to come back from wherever it was he'd gone to. Matt felt a little overwhelmed. Not that much by the perspective of having sex in front of strangers, because that was something he had already done on several occasions, but the fact that it was being filmed. Sure, he would probably be getting laid all the time if he became recognizable, but he wasn't sure this first gig was the kind of skin flick that would get him there. 'Thriller porn' wasn't exactly everyone's idea of sexy.
"I could be Mark Maskator," Bobby continued with the topic. He put on a balaclava as soon as he finished setting up the lighting. The set was a pain to illuminate since the deserted asylum had no electricity. That meant they had to carry loads of batteries into the building, and Matt had to help, but when he saw the interior of the place for the first time, he had to admit it was worth the effort. The old asylum was run down, with the roof collapsed in the west wing and some of its original equipment left around. There was an eerie feel to it, as if people had left this place in a rush. He heard rats roaming around somewhere in the corridor, and everything was covered in dust.
It was fucking amazing.
Matt snorted, getting up to stretch his muscles. He wasn't ashamed of walking around naked because he did a lot of sports and had a nicely toned body. "Turns me on," he teased.
"Take that off or you'll get all sweaty, mate," said John, the actor whom Matt was supposed to give his first ever professional fuck. The man was in his early thirties, masculine, brawny, with lots of chest hair. Despite his intimidating physique, it was hard to believe he could harm a fly once he flashed one of those wide grins. As John entered, Matt noticed his blue eyes scanning the place. Like most of the rooms they'd seen in here so far, it had cracks on the walls and, with some of the furniture and other items left behind, it looked like it was lost to the world. It reminded Matt of photography of Chernobyl he saw online.