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A Dirty Job Chapter 16

Essay Topic:
string(117) " trying to figure out how this was going to work, and at the same time paying way too much attention to her breasts\."



Ray threw the door open so hard that the little bell went flying off its holder and tinkled across the floor.

“Oh, jeez,” Ray said. “You won’t believe it.

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I can’t believe it myself.”

Lily looked at Ray over her half-frame reading glasses and set down the French cookbook she’d been looking at. She didn’t really need reading glasses, but looking over the top of them conveyed instant condescension and disdain, a look that she felt flattered her.

“I have something I need to tell you, too,” Lily said.

“No,” Ray said, looking around to make sure there were no customers in the store. “What I have to tell you is really important.”

“Okay,” Lily said. “Mine’s not that important to me. You go first.”

“Okay.” Ray took a deep breath and launched. “I think Charlie may be a serial killer with ninja powers.”

“Wow, that is good,” Lily said. “Okay, my turn. A Miss Me-So-Horny called for you. She wanted you to know that she’s packing eight inches of luscious man-meat.” Lily held up Ray’s cell phone, which he’d left under the register.

“Oh my God, not again!” Ray cradled his head in his hands and fell against the counter.

“She said she was eager to share it with you.” Lily examined her nails. “So, Asher’s a ninja, huh?”

Ray looked up. “Yes, and he’s stalking a fuck puppet from my gym.”

“Think you’re living a rich enough fantasy life, Ray?”

“Shut up, Lily, this is a disaster. My job and my apartment depend on Charlie, not to mention that he has a kid, and the new light of my life is a guy.”

“No, she’s not.” Lily wondered about herself, giving in so early – she didn’t enjoy torturing Ray the way she used to.

“Huh? What?”

“I’m just fuckin’ with you, Ray. She didn’t call. I read all of your e-mail and IMs.”

“That stuff is private.”

“Which is why you have it all here on the store’s computer?”

“I spend a lot of time here, with the time difference…”

“And speaking of privacy, what’s the deal with Asher being a ninja and a serial killer? I mean, both? At the same time?”

Ray moved in close, and talked into his collar, as if revealing a huge conspiracy. “I’ve been watching him. Charlie’s been taking in a lot of stuff from dead people. It’s gone on for years. But he’s always having to take off on a moment’s notice, having me cover his shifts, and he never explains where he’s going, except soon after that happens, one of the dead people’s things shows up in the shop. So today I followed him, and he was after a woman who goes to my gym, who we might have seen the other day.”

Lily stepped back, crossed her arms, and looked disgusted with Ray, which was fairly easy, since she’d had years of practice. “Ray, did it occur to you that Asher handles estates, and that we’ve been doing much better business since he started doing more estates – that the quality of the merchandise is much higher? Probably because he gets there early?”

“I know, but that’s not it. You’re not around as much now, Lily. I was a cop, I notice these things. For one thing, did you know that there was a homicide detective keeping track of Charlie? That’s right. Gave me his card, told me to call if anything unusual happened.”

“No, Ray, you didn’t.”

“Charlie disappeared, Lily. I was watching him, and he just blinked out of existence, right before my eyes. And last I saw him he was going into the fuck puppet’s building.”

Lily wanted to grab the stapler off the counter and rapidly drive about a hundred staples into Ray’s shiny forehead. “You ungrateful fucktard! You called the cops on Asher? The guy who has given you a job and a place to live for what, ten years?”

“I didn’t call the black-and-whites, just this Inspector Rivera. I know him from when I was on the force. He’ll keep it on the down low.”

“Go get your checkbook and your car,” Lily barked. “We’re going to bail him out.”

“He probably hasn’t even been processed yet,” Ray said.

“Ray, you pathetic toss-beast. Go. I’ll close up the store and wait for you out front.”

“Lily, you can’t talk to me that way. I don’t have to put up with it.”

Because he couldn’t turn his head, Ray wasn’t able to avoid the first two staples Lily put in his forehead, but by then he had decided it was best to go get his checkbook and his car, and backed away.

“What’s a fuck puppet, anyway?” Lily shouted after him, somewhat surprised at the violent intensity of her loyalty to Charlie.

The policewoman fingerprinted Charlie nine times before she looked up at Inspector Alphonse Rivera and said, “This motherfucker got no fingerprints.”

Rivera took Charlie’s hand and turned it palm up, and looked at his fingers. “I can see the ridges, right there. He’s got completely normal fingerprints.”

“Well, you do it, then,” said the woman. “‘Cause alls I got on the card is smooth.”

“Fine, then,” Rivera said. “Come with me.”

He led Charlie over to a wall that had a big ruler painted on it and told him to face a camera.

“How’s my hair?” Charlie said.

“Don’t smile.”

Charlie frowned.

“Don’t make a face. Just look straight ahead and – your hair is fine, though now you’ve got ink on your forehead. This is not that hard, Mr. Asher, criminals do this all the time.”

“I’m not a criminal,” Charlie said.

“You broke into a security building and harassed a young woman, that makes you a criminal.”

“I didn’t break into anything and I didn’t harass anyone.”

“We’ll see. Ms. McKerny said you threatened her life. She’s definitely going to press charges, and if you ask me, you’re both lucky I showed up when I did.”

Charlie wondered about that. The fuck puppet had started screaming and backed into her apartment, and he had followed her, trying to explain, trying to figure out how this was going to work, and at the same time paying way too much attention to her breasts.

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“I didn’t threaten her.”

“You said she was going to die. Today.”

Well, they had him there. Charlie had, in all the confusion and screaming, mentioned that he had to get hold of her breasts because she was going to die today. In retrospect, he felt he probably should have kept that information to himself.

Rivera led him upstairs and into a small room with a table and two chairs. Just like on TV, Charlie looked for a one-way mirror but was disappointed to see only concrete-block walls painted in easy-clean moss-green enamel. Rivera had him sit, but then went to the door.

“I’m going to leave you here for a few minutes, until Miss McKerny comes down to file charges. It’s more hospitable here than the holding cell. You want something to drink?”

Charlie shook his head. “Should I call an attorney?”

“It’s up to you, Mr. Asher. That’s certainly your right, but I can’t advise you one way or another. I’ll be back in five. You can make your call then if you’d like.”

Rivera left the room and Charlie saw the inspector’s partner, a gruff, bald-headed bull of a guy named Cavuto, standing outside the door waiting for him. That guy actually scared Charlie. Not as much as the prospect of having to retrieve Madison McKerny’s breast implants, or what would happen if he didn’t, but still scary.

Cut him loose,” Cavuto said.

“What, cut him loose? I just got him processed, the McKerny woman – “

“Is dead. Boyfriend shot her, then, when our guys responded to the shots-fired call, did himself.”


“Boyfriend was married, McKerny wanted more security and was going to tell the wife. He flipped out.”

“You know all that already?”

“Her neighbor told the uniforms as soon as they arrived. Come on, it’s our case. We need to roll. Cut this guy loose. Ray Macy and some Goth-chef chick are waiting for him downstairs.”

“Ray Macy is the one who called me, he thought Asher was going to kill her.”

“I know. Right crime, wrong guy. Let’s go.”

“We still have him on the concealed-weapon charge.”

“A cane with a sword in it? What, you want to go before a judge and tell him that you arrested this guy on suspicion of being a serial killer but he plea-bargained it down to being a huge fucking nerd?”

“Okay, I’ll cut him loose, but I’m telling you, Nick, this guy told McKerny that she was going to die today. There’s some weird shit going on here.”

“And we don’t have enough weird shit to deal with already?”

“Good point,” Rivera said.

Madison McKerny looked beautiful in her beige silk dress, her hair and makeup perfect, as usual, her diamond-stud earrings and a platinum-diamond solitaire necklace complemented the silver handles of her walnut-burl casket. For someone who wasn’t breathing, she was breathtaking, especially for Charlie, who was the only one who could see her hooters pulsing red in the casket.

Charlie hadn’t been to a lot of funerals, but Madison McKerny’s seemed nice, and fairly well attended for someone who had been only twenty-six. It turned out that Madison had grown up in Mill Valley, just outside San Francisco, so a lot of people had known her. Evidently, except for her family, most of them had lost touch and seemed somewhat surprised that she had been gunned down by her married boyfriend who had kept her in an expensive apartment in the city.

“Not like you vote ‘most likely’ for that in the yearbook,” Charlie said, trying to make conversation with one of her classmates, a guy he’d ended up standing next to at the urinals in the men’s room.

“How did you know Madison?” said the guy, a condescending tone in his voice. He looked like he’d been voted “most likely to piss everyone off by being rich and having nice hair.”

“Oh, me? Friend of the groom,” Charlie said. He zipped up and headed to the sink before hair guy could think of something to say.

Charlie was surprised to see a few people at the funeral whom he knew, and each time he walked away from one, he’d run into another.

First Inspector Rivera, who lied. “Had to come. It’s our case. I’ve gotten to know the family a little.”

Then Ray, who lied. “She went to my gym. I just thought I should pay my respects.”

Then Rivera’s partner, Cavuto, who didn’t lie. “I still think you’re kinky, and that goes for your ex-cop friend, too.”

And Lily, who was also honest. “I wanted to see a dead fuck puppet.”

“Who’s running the store?” Charlie asked.

“Closed. Death in the family. You know Ray called the cops on you, right?”

They hadn’t had a chance to talk since Charlie had been released. “I should’ve figured,” Charlie said.

“He said he saw you go into the dead chick’s building and just disappear. He thinks you have ninja powers. That part of the thing?” She bounced her eyebrows – a Groucho Marx conspiracy bounce – made less effective by the fact that her eyebrows were pencil thin and drawn on in magenta.

“Yeah, it’s kind of part of the thing. Ray doesn’t suspect about the thing, does he?”

“No, I covered for you. But he still thinks you might be a serial killer.”

“I thought he might be a serial killer.”

Lily shuddered. “God, you guys need to get laid.”

“True, but right now I’m here to do a thing regarding the thing.”

“You still haven’t gotten her thing thing?”

“I can’t even figure out how to get it. Her thing is still in the thing.” He nodded to the casket.

“You’re fucked,” Lily said.

“We have to go sit now,” Charlie said. He led her into the chapel, where the service was beginning.

Behind him Nick Cavuto, who had been standing three feet away with his back to Charlie, made a beeline for his partner and said, “Can we just shoot Asher and find cause later? I’m sure the fucker’s done something to deserve it.”

Charlie didn’t know what he was going to do, how he was going to retrieve the soul implants, but he really thought something would occur to him. Some supernatural ability would manifest itself at the last minute. He thought that all through the ceremony. He thought that when they closed the casket, during the funeral procession to the cemetery, and all through the graveside ceremony. He began to lose hope as the mourners dispersed and the casket was lowered, and by the time the ground crew started throwing dirt down the hole with a backhoe, he’d pretty much given up on having an idea.

There was grave robbing, but that really wasn’t an idea, was it? And even with his years of experience in the death-dealing business, Charlie didn’t think he was up for breaking into a cemetery, spending all night digging up a casket, then cutting the implants out of a dead woman’s body. It wasn’t the same as swiping a vase off the mantel. Why couldn’t Madison McKerny’s soul be in a vase on the mantel?

“Didn’t get the thing, then,” said a voice beside him.

Charlie turned to see Inspector Rivera standing not a foot away. He hadn’t even seen him since they’d left the funeral home.

“What thing?”

“Yeah, what thing?” Rivera said. “They didn’t bury her with those diamonds you saw, you know that, right?”

“That would have been a shame,” Charlie said.

“Sisters got them,” Rivera said. “You know, Charlie, most people don’t stay to watch them actually cover the box.”

“Really?” Charlie said. “I was just curious. See if they used shovels or what. How about you?”

“Me? I’m watching you. You ever get over that thing with the storm sewers?”

“Oh, that? I just needed a little adjustment in my medication.” It was an expression that Charlie had picked up from Jane. She wasn’t actually on medication, but the excuse seemed to work for her.

“Well, you keep an eye on that, Charlie. And I’ll keep an eye on you. Adios.” Rivera walked off.

“Adios, Inspector,” Charlie said. “Hey, by the way, nice suit.”

“Thanks, I bought it from your store,” Rivera said without turning around.

When was he in my store? Charlie thought.

For the next couple of weeks Charlie felt as if someone had dialed his nervous system up past the recommended voltage and he was nearly vibrating with anxiety. He thought that perhaps he should call Minty Fresh, warn him of his failure to retrieve Madison McKerney’s soul vessel, but if the sewer harpies weren’t rising because of that, maybe the contact with another Death Merchant would put them over the top. Instead he kept Sophie home and made sure that she was never out of sight of the hellhounds. In fact, he kept the hellhounds locked in her room most of the time; otherwise they kept dragging him to his day planner, which had no new names. Only the overdue Madison McKerny and the two women – Esther Johnson and Irena Posokovanovich – who had appeared on the same day, but still had some time left before expiration – or whatever you called it.

So he started his walks again, listening as he passed storm drains and manhole covers, but the darkness didn’t appear to be rising.

Charlie felt naked walking the street without his sword-cane, which Rivera had kept, so he set out to replace it, and in the process found two more Death Merchants in the city. He found the first at a used-book store in the Mission, Book ’em Danno. Well, it wasn’t really a bookstore anymore – it still had a couple of tall cases of books, but the rest of the store was a bricolage of bric-a-brac, from plumbing fittings to football helmets. Charlie understood completely how it happened. You started with a bookstore, then you made a single innocent trade, a set of bookends for a first edition maybe, then another, you picked up a grab-all box at a yard sale to get one item – pretty soon you had a whole section of unmatched crutches and obsolete radio tubes, and couldn’t for the life of you remember how you’d acquired a bear trap, yet there it was, next to the lime-green tutu and the Armadrillo penis pump: secondhand out of hand. In the back of the store, by the counter, stood a bookcase in which every volume was pulsing with a dull red light.

Charlie tripped over a spittoon and caught himself on an elk-antler coatrack.

“You okay?” asked the proprietor, looking up from the book he was reading. He was maybe sixty, skin spotted from too much sun, but he hadn’t seen any in a while and he’d gone pasty. He had long, thinning gray hair and wore oversized bifocals that gave him the look of an educated turtle.

“No, I’m fine,” Charlie said, ripping his gaze off the soul-vessel books.

“I know it’s a little cluttered in here,” the turtle guy said. “I’ve been meaning to clear it out, but then, I’ve been meaning to clear it out for thirty years and I haven’t managed it yet.”

“It’s okay, I like your store,” Charlie said. “Great selection.”

The owner looked at Charlie’s expensive suit and shoes and squinted. It was clear he recognized the worth of the clothes and was qualifying Charlie as a rich collector or antiques hunter. “You looking for anything special?” he asked.

“Sword-cane,” Charlie said. “Doesn’t have to be antique.” He wanted to buy this guy a coffee and share stories of snatching soul objects, of confronting the Underworlders, of being a Death Merchant. This guy was a kindred spirit, and from the size of his collection of soul objects, all of them books, he’d been doing this longer than Minty Fresh.

Turtle guy shook his head. “Haven’t seen one for years. If you want to give me a card, I’ll put out feelers for you.”

“Thanks,” Charlie said. “I’ll keep looking. That’s part of the fun.” He started backing down the aisle, but he couldn’t leave without saying something else, getting some kind of information. “Hey, how is it, doing business in this neighborhood?”

“Better now than it used to be,” said the guy. “The gangs have settled down some, this part of the Mission has turned into the edgy, artsy-fartsy neighborhood. That’s been good for business. You from the City?”

“Born and raised,” Charlie said. “Just haven’t been to this neighborhood much. You haven’t had any weird stuff on the street last couple of weeks, then?”

The turtle guy looked fully at Charlie now, even took off his giant glasses. “Except for the thumper sound systems going by, quiet as a mouse. What’s your name?”

“Charlie. Charlie Asher. I live over in the North Beach – Chinatown area.”

“I’m Anton, Charlie. Anton Dubois. Nice meeting you.”

“Okay,” Charlie said. “I have to go now.”

“Charlie. There’s a pawnshop off Fillmore Street. Fulton and Fillmore, I think. The owner carries a lot of edged weapons. She might have your cane.”

“Thanks,” Charlie said. “You watch yourself, Anton. Okay?”

“Always do,” said Anton Dubois, and he looked back to his book.

Charlie left the store feeling even more anxious, but not quite as alone as he had five minutes before. The next day, he found a new sword-cane at the pawnshop in the Fillmore, and he also found a case of cutlery and kitchen utensils that pulsated with red light. The owner was younger than Anton Dubois, late thirties maybe, and wore a.38 revolver in a shoulder holster, which shocked Charlie less than the fact that she was a woman. He’d envisioned all the Death Merchants as being men, but of course there was no reason to think that. She wore jeans and a plain chambray shirt, but was dripping with mismatched jewelry that Charlie guessed was a self-indulgence she justified for being “in the business” the same way he justified his expensive suits. She was pretty in a lady-cop sort of way, with a nice smile, and Charlie found himself wondering if he should maybe ask her out, then heard an audible pop in his head as that bubble of self-destructive stupidity exploded. Sure, dinner and a movie, and release the Forces of Darkness on the world. Great first date. Everyone was right, he really needed to get laid.

He bought the sword-cane for cash, without quibbling, and left the store without engaging the owner in conversation, but he took a business card from the holder on the counter as he left. Her name was Carrie Lang. It was all he could do to not warn her, tell her to be careful of what might be coming from below, but he realized that every second he was there, he was probably increasing the danger to all of them.

Watch yourself, Carrie, he whispered to himself as he walked away.

That evening he decided to take action to ease some of the tension in his life. Or at least it was decided for him when Jane and her girlfriend Cassandra showed up at the apartment and offered to watch Sophie.

“Go, find a woman,” Jane said. “I got the kid.”

“It doesn’t work that way,” Charlie said. “I was gone all day, I haven’t spent any quality time with my daughter.”

Jane and Cassandra – an athletic, attractive redhead in her midthirties, who Charlie promised himself he would have asked out if she hadn’t been living with his sister – pushed him out the door, slammed it in his face, and locked it.

“Don’t come home until you’ve gotten some,” Jane shouted over the transom.

“Does that work for you?” Charlie shouted back. “Just go find someone to do you, like a scavenger hunt?”

“Here’s five hundred dollars. Five hundred dollars works for anyone.” A wad of bills came flying over the transom, followed by his cane, a sport coat, and his wallet.

“This is my money, isn’t it?” Charlie shouted.

“It’s you that needs to get laid,” Jane shouted back. “Go. Don’t come back until you’ve done the dance of the beast with two backs.”

“I could just lie.”

“No, you can’t,” Cassie said. She had a sweet voice, like you’d want her to tell you a bedtime story. “The desperation will still show in your eyes. And I mean that in a nice way, Charlie.”

“Sure, how else could I take it?”

“Bye, Daddy,” Sophie said from the other side of the door. “Have fun.”


“Relax, she just came in. Go.”

So Charlie, thrown out of his own home, by his own sister, said good-bye to the daughter he adored and went out to find a total stranger with whom to be intimate.

Just a massage,” Charlie said.

“Okay,” said the girl as she arranged oils and lotions on a shelf. She was Asian, but Charlie couldn’t tell from where in Asia, maybe Thailand. She was petite and had black hair that hung down past her waist. She wore a red silk kimono with a chrysanthemum design. She never looked him in the eye.

“Really, I’m just tense. I don’t want anything but a completely ethical and hygienic massage, just like it says on the sign.” Charlie stood at the end of a narrow cubicle, fully dressed, with a massage table on one side of him and the masseuse and her shelf of oils on the other.

“Okay,” said the girl.

Charlie just looked at her, unsure of what to do next.

“Clothes off,” said the girl. She placed a clean white towel on the massage table near Charlie, nodded to it, then turned her back. “Okay?”

“Okay,” Charlie said, feeling now that he was here, he needed to go through with it. He’d paid the woman at the door fifty dollars for the massage, after which she made him sign a release that stated that all he was getting was a massage, that tipping was encouraged, but did not imply any services beyond a massage, and that if he thought that he was getting anything but a massage he was going to be one disappointed White Devil. She made him initial each of the six languages it was printed in, then she winked, a long slow wink, exaggerated by very long false eyelashes, and performed the internationally accepted blow-job mime, with round mouth and rhythmic tongue pushing out the cheek. “Lotus Flower make you bery relax, Mr. Macy.”

Charlie had signed Ray’s name, not so much as a small revenge for calling the cops on him, but because he thought the management might recognize Ray’s name and give him a discount.

He kept his boxers on and climbed on the table, but Lotus Flower slipped them off him as deftly as a magician pulling a scarf from his sleeve. She draped a towel over his bottom and dropped her kimono. Charlie saw it fall and glanced back to see a tiny, seminaked woman rubbing oil on her palms to warm it. He looked away and slammed his forehead into the table several times even as he felt his erection struggling for freedom beneath him.

“My sister made me come here,” he said. “I didn’t want to come.”

“Okay,” she said.

She rubbed the oil into his shoulders. It smelled of almonds and sandalwood. There must have been menthol or lavender or something in it, because he felt it tingle on his skin. Every place she touched hurt. Like he’d dug a ditch to Ecuador the day before, or pulled a barge across the Bay with a rope. It was like she had special sensory powers, she could find the exact spot where he carried his pain, then touch it, release it. He moaned, just a little.

“Bery tense,” she said, working her fingers up his spine.

“I haven’t slept well in two weeks,” he said.

“That nice.” She reached across to work his rib cage and he felt her small breasts press against his back. He stopped breathing for a second and she giggled.

“Bery tense,” she said.

“I had this thing happen at work. Well, not at work, but I’m afraid I did something that could put everyone I know in danger, and I can’t make myself do what needs to be done to fix it. People could die.”

“That nice,” said Lotus Flower, kneading his biceps.

“You don’t speak English, do you?”

“Oh. Little. No worries. You want happy ending?”

Charlie smiled. “Can you just keep rubbing?”

“No happy ending? Okay. Twenty dollar, fifteen minute.”

So Charlie paid her, and talked to her, and she rubbed his back, and he paid her again, and he told her all the things that he couldn’t share with other people: all the worries, all the fears, all the regrets. He told her of how he missed Rachel, yet how sometimes he would forget what she looked like and would run to the dresser in the middle of the night to look at her photo. He paid her for two hours in advance and dozed off, feeling her hands on his skin, and he dreamed of Rachel and sex, and when he woke up Lotus Flower was massaging his temples and tears were running into his ears. He told her it was the menthol in the oil, but it was the lonely coming up in him, like the pain in his back that he hadn’t known he’d had until it was touched.

She massaged his chest, reaching over his head and letting her breasts rub against his face as she worked, and when he rose again under the towel, she asked, “You want happy ending now?”

“Nah,” he said. “Happy endings are so Hollywood.” Then he caught her wrists, sat up, kissed the back of her hands, and thanked her. He tipped her a hundred dollars. She smiled, put on her kimono, and left the cubicle.

Charlie dressed and left the Happy Relax Good Time Oriental Massage Parlor, which he had walked by a thousand times during his life, always wondering what was behind the red door with brown paper taped over the window. Now he knew: the pathetic puddle of lonely frustration that was Charlie Asher, for whom there would be no happy ending.

He made his way up to Broadway and headed up the hill into North Beach. He was only a few blocks from home when he sensed someone behind him. He turned, but all he saw was a guy a couple of blocks back buying a newspaper from a machine. He walked another half block and could see the activity on the street up ahead: tourists out walking, waiting for tables in Italian restaurants, barkers trying to lure tourists into strip clubs, sailors barhopping, hipsters smoking outside of City Lights bookstore, looking cool and literary before the next poetry slam, which would go off in a bar across the street.

“Hey, soldier,” a voice at his side. A woman’s voice, soft and sexy. Charlie turned and looked down the alley he was passing. He could see a woman in the shadows, leaning against the wall. She was wearing an iridescent body stocking or something and a mercury light at the other end of the alley was drawing a silver outline of her figure. The hair rose on his neck, but he felt something twinge in his loins as well. This was his neighborhood, and the hookers had been calling to him since he was twelve, but this was the first time he’d ever stopped and paid more attention than a wave and a smile.

“Hey,” Charlie said. He felt dizzy – drunk or stoned – maybe all the toxins had broken loose from the long massage, but he had to lean on his cane to steady himself.

She stepped away from the wall and the light silhouetted her, highlighting outlandish curves. Charlie realized he was grinding his teeth and his right kneecap began to bounce. This was not the street-worn body of a junkie – a dancer maybe, a goddess.

“Sometimes,” she said, hissing the last s, “a rough fuck down a dark alley is the best medicine for a weary warrior.”

Charlie looked around: the party a block ahead, the guy reading his newspaper under the streetlamp two blocks back. No one down the alley waiting to ambush him.

“How much?” he asked. He couldn’t even remember what sex felt like, but all he could think about right now was release – a rough fuck down a dark alley with this…this goddess. He couldn’t see her face, just the line of a cheekbone, but that was exquisite.

“The pleasure of your company,” she said.

“Why me?” Charlie said, he couldn’t help himself – it was his Beta nature.

“Come find out,” she said. She cupped her breasts, fell back against the wall, and propped one heel up on the bricks. “Come.”

He walked into the alley and leaned the cane on the wall, then took her uplifted knee in one hand, a breast in the other, and pulled her against him for a kiss. She felt like she was wearing velvet, her mouth was warm and tasted base, gamy, like venison or liver. He didn’t even feel her undo his jeans, just a strong hand on his erection.

“Ah, strong meat,” she hissed.

“Thanks, I’ve been going to the gym.”

She bit his neck, hard, and he squeezed her breast and thrust against her hand. She threw her uplifted leg around his back and pulled him hard against her. He felt something sharp, painful digging into his scrotum and he tried to pull away. She pulled him tighter with her leg. She was incredibly strong.

“New Meat,” she said. “Don’t fight me or I’ll tear them off.”

Charlie felt the claw on his balls and the breath caught in his throat. Her face was an inch from his now, and he looked for her eyes, but could see only an obsidian blackness reflecting the highlights from the streetlight.

She held her free hand in front of his face and he watched as claws began to grow out of her fingertips, reflecting the streetlight like brushed chrome, until they were three inches long. She poised them over his eyes and he reached for his sword-cane against the wall. She knocked it away, and the claws were at his face again.

“Oh no, Meat. Not this time.” She hooked a claw into his nostril. “Shall I drive it into your brain? That would be quickest, but I don’t want quick. I’ve waited so long for this.”

She released the pressure on his balls, and to his horror, he realized that he was still hard. She started rubbing his erection, pushing the claw deeper into his nose to hold him steady. “I know, I know – when you come, I’ll put it in your ear and yank. I’ve taken off a half a man’s head that way. You’ll like it. You’re lucky, if Nemain had been sent you’d be dead already.”

“Bitch,” Charlie managed to say.

She was stroking him harder and he was cursing his body for betraying him this way. He tried to pull away and her leg wrapped behind him crushed the breath out of him. “No, you come, then I’ll kill you.”

She pulled the claw from his nose and put it next to his ear. “Don’t make me leave unsatisfied, Meat,” she said, but in that instant her claw caught the side of his scalp and he hit her as hard as he could in the ribs with both of his fists.

“You fuckface!” she shrieked. She let her leg fall; yanked him aside by his penis, and reared back for a full slash of her claws to his head. Charlie tried to raise his forearm to take the blow, but then there was an explosion and a piece of her shoulder splattered on the wall, spinning her around.

Charlie felt her release his penis, and he threw himself across the alley. She rebounded off the wall with both claws aimed at his face. There was another explosion and she was knocked back again. This time she came up facing the street, and before she could brace to leap, two more shots hit her in the chest and she screeched, the sound like a thousand angry ravens set afire.

Five more quick shots and she was danced backward by the impacts; even as she went she was changing, her arms getting wider, her shoulders smoothing. Two more shots, and the next screech wasn’t even remotely human, but that of a huge raven. She rose into the night sky trailing feathers and spattering a liquid that might have been blood, except that it was black.

Charlie climbed to his feet and staggered out of the alley to where Inspector Alphonse Rivera was still in shooting stance, holding a 9 mm Beretta aimed at the dark sky.

“Do I even want to know what the fuck that was?” Rivera said.

“Probably not,” Charlie said.

“Tie your coat around your waist,” said the cop.

Charlie looked down and saw that the front of his jeans had been shredded as if by razors.

“Thanks,” Charlie said.

“You know,” Rivera said, “this could have all been avoided if you’d just taken the happy ending like everybody else.”

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