After a busy day of going through résumés, printing the company photograph, and picking out flowers—regretting not bringing someone along with more floral knowledge—Peter was running late. Boris had the fort under control, but having a small staff worried him. More concerning, the coffin and its contents demanded explanation.
It was already dark out, nearly quitting time for most office slaves, and it appeared dark inside the building. The glass door provided a view of a hallway leading to one side, and somewhere around the corner a dim light splashed the white tile. Passing headlights cast sweeping shadows of the pedestrians hurrying along the sidewalk, day workers heading home or to happy hour. Glancing up at the street number over the door, he checked the address against the note on his phone.
He had tried the office several times on the phone with no answer, and seeing the dim light left a sinking feeling in his gut. Maybe the information was bogus, or the sender had bailed.
Tentatively, he grasped the door handle assuming it wasn’t going to open, but it did. He hefted his shopping bag under arm and slipped inside.
The short hall led to a nearly empty room, spacious for what appeared to be a reception area. Three closed doors lined the back, and one glass door provided a view of a room half-lit by a window looking out on the street on the opposite side of the building. The front desk, white like everything else, stood against the near wall beneath silver lettering spelling out the name of the owner, Steve Reynolds. Nearly hidden behind the high counter around the desk, a lamp on a craned neck provided the only illumination.
No answer, but Peter thought he could hear the dull drumming of music. Growing louder, it became the unmistakable sound of half-music squeaking from headphones. Approaching the counter, he spotted the top of a brunette bobbing in time to the music.
Reading something on her desk, the woman appeared relaxed nodding to her music coming from her white earbuds. Suddenly, her gaze shot up and she yelped, covering her mouth with one hand.
“Excuse me,” said Peter.
Glaring at him, she pulled on the wires popping her earbuds out. “How did you get in here?” she asked.
Heat escaping her face, she dropped her head into hands, her straight hair falling over her hands. In a muffled voice, she cursed herself for not locking the front door. Head flipping up, hair landing on her bare shoulders, she gazed up at him and apologized.
Peter leaned an arm on the chest-high counter, and the woman shrunk down lower. Catching a glimpse, he realized more than her shoulders were bare. As he leaned in for a better view, she drew closer keeping her small breasts hidden behind the narrow counter. He had no doubt, the receptionist was topless.
“So, how can I help you?” asked the receptionist.
“I’m not sure if this is the right place, but I received a delivery from Steve Reynolds.”
“Sure, this was his office.”
He was about to continue, but stumbled. He glanced up at the man’s name on the wall. “What do you mean? This isn’t Reynolds’s office anymore?”
“Steve Reynolds is no longer with us.”
“I’m sorry,” said Peter.
He tried to concentrate on his task, but the unexpected reply threw off his entire speech he had planned arguing the usual indifference. Her bare skin teased him, breaking his focus. He imagined she worked on the side as a stripper, and she had a cam back there showing off to web visitors. Of course, imagination had a way of running on its own around beautiful women.
“I’m Tigris,” said the woman, “my friends call me, Tiger.” Raising her hand, she clawed the air and growled like a girl teasing a baby.
She appeared both adorable and creepy at the same time.
“What did you say your name was?” said Tigris.
“Peter Gray.” Business with the coffin came back to him, and he dropped into autopilot. “I received a package—a coffin containing what looks like a very expensive sword and some other items. It must be a mistake, and I want to straighten it out.”
“Right,” said Tiger. She clicked the mouse and tapped the keyboard. “Let’s look you up, Peter Gray.” More mouse clicks. “Here we are.”
Tiger set three documents down on the counter, and Peter looked at them. Confusion struck him until he spotting the insignia for the motor vehicles department, a car registration for a sixty-seven Ford Fairlane.
“Hey, Tiger, I came to get answers not take more shit.”
“It’s a cool car. If you don’t want it, I’ll take it.” Arm extended, she held out a key.
“No you don’t understand,” said Peter. Reflexes taking over, he took the car key. “Inside the coffin I found bags of blood.”
“Blood?” said Tigris, scrutinizing him.
“Yes, within a canister inside the coffin. Two bags of blood, a small bag of a nearly clear substance, and a notebook.”
Peter removed the composition book from his shopping bag. Flipping it open to the first page, he removed a loose sheet of paper and set it on the counter.
“This is a letter from Steve Reynolds. The sword a nice gift, but the rest makes me think Reynolds got the wrong Peter Gray. It says the packs of blood are for Kandy Knight. Who’s Kandy?”
“Right there in front of you,” said Tigris. The creepy side of her grew like a weed, and a fire blossomed in her eyes. She appeared dangerous.
According to the registration, Kandice Knight owned the car. The next document was a letter of authority allowing ownership transfer of the vehicle signed by Steve Reynolds and dated four years ago. The final document, Kandice Knight’s death certificate noted cause of death as presumed dead.
A dead person didn’t need blood.
“Okay, Tiger, let me read the letter to you and you tell me if there’s a mistake.”
“It’s all right here on the computer,” said Tiger. Mouse click. “One Reaper’s Box coffin and one Fairlane car for Peter Gray at Autumn Twilight.”
No mention of the sword or blood on ice. The contents within the coffin weren’t documented.
There was nothing right about any of this. People didn’t give away expensive things for charity. Food and clothing, sure, never cars and coffins. Nobody gave coffins to the living. And why was Tiger naked? Outside of the adult entertainment industry, women didn’t work in the nude, certainly not receptionists. It was probably against a health code.
“That’s you, right? Peter at Autumn Twilight?”
Like a flower blooming in stop-motion photography, Tiger exploded with adorable cuteness, a closed-lip smile beaming with the tenderness of a kitten looking for love.
Holding the letter, Peter was about to continue reading the letter to Tiger, but he doubted the receptionist could make any more sense out of the letter than he could. Only Steve Reynolds could explain it, or maybe Kandy Knight. For the third time, he read the handwritten letter.
The solution I’ve left you is the only cure. Measure a thousand cubic centimeters of the solution and administer to yourself. It will be painful, and you may suffer hallucinations. Fear not, it will pass. Once the remedy fully takes effect, the next step will become obvious.
For Miss Knight, mix with the same volume of the solution with the blood I’ve provided. You have my notes in the unlikely event you need to produce more. Keep the remedy safe, and destroy the composition book once you’ve recovered Miss Knight.
The sword is my gift to you. I’m certain you’ll find it a perfect fit. As for the coffin, it is a replacement for the one broken by looters in Miss Knight’s former residence. If she will not have the coffin, you may do what you like with it.
With great sympathy,
The letter didn’t mention the powder that had been inside the test tube, erupting from the coffin after breaking the seal on the lid. He hadn’t felt any ill effects since inhaling the dust, and Nine appeared fine. The letter also didn’t provide any indication of what the solution was intended to cure, and deciphering the pages within the notebook required a chemist.
“Peter Gray, is Autumn Twilight hiring?”
“Sure,” said Peter. Autopilot took control of his lips, repeating the same phrase he’d uttered several times during the day. “I’m looking for a bartender and another waitress.”
“Cool,” said Tiger.
Looking up, Peter caught sight of Tiger’s naked backside. Slim, she moved more gracefully than a person should. She pulled a T-shirt on falling nearly to her knees. Her feet in short stockings with frilly tops, she scooted her feet across the floor, skating in almost child-like antics, but smooth like a dancer.
On the stairs spiraling to the underground garage, Tiger filled him in. Steve Reynolds had worked as an antique and art dealer, which might explain the sword. He also had operated an automotive shop on the side. “Among other things,” said Tiger. A wink, but she didn’t elaborate. Tiger had never been employed by Steve Reynolds, but the task of moving the last of the items in storage to their proper owners had fallen to her. There were no mistakes, she insisted, Steve Reynolds and his secretary had kept detailed records.
“No returns,” said Tiger, waving her hand. “I want it all gone like the Dodo bird.”
Sitting in the driver’s seat of the black classic car, Peter felt dazed and exhausted. He could handle the insurance, but what worried him was the understanding that everything came with a price. Bad things balanced out the good events in life, and a free classic car meant a heavy price tag was lurking out there somewhere. Coming from a mysterious departed man only made it feel worse like a setup by some criminal organization.
Tiger leaned over peering into the open window, her flowery perfume flowing inside. Her oversized shirt hanging down offered a glimpse of her small breasts, but her face demanded attention. Her hazel eyes simmered like fractured glass over a fire. Her closed-lip smile, warm, spoke volumes about life and love. Bewitching.
“Sorry I didn’t get your car to you sooner,” said Tiger. Smile growing, her lips parted revealing a row of perfect white incisors framed by large canine teeth. “I’ll stop by Autumn Twilight later to show you my skills.”
Studying her, Peter realized her eye teeth were too long disappearing behind her lower lip.
Peeling his gaze from her teeth, he looked around the garage trying to focus his thoughts on something else. Tigris could be one of those vampire groupies like the ones frequenting Club Necropolis, and her odd behavior switching between childlike princess and sex kitten supported that notion. Two other cars sat in the garage, an expensive four-door sedan and an old Japanese compact. He supposed the cheap compact belonged to Tigris. Staring at her car, he saw her teeth in his mind along with those simmering coals burning into him.
“You’re going to love this car, Peter at Autumn Twilight.”
“Would you like to buy it?” said Peter. He didn’t need the car. “A hundred bucks?”
Tiger jabbed him in the shoulder. “Don’t be a tease,” she said.
Peter turned the ignition, and the engine roared like thunder shaking him. An auto-shop on the side, indeed, he thought. The engine sounded like it had more horsepower than the muscle car could handle. He revved the throttle, feeling the pounding pistons, and Tiger gave him a thumbs-up.
The Fairlane had a manual transmission, rare these days. The army had trained him on driving with a clutch and stick, so he put the car in first gear while watching Tiger smiling at him.
Adorable and dangerous, that was Tigris in a nutshell.
Driving up the ramp onto the street, Peter gripped the steering wheel. He glanced in the mirrors every few seconds expecting the lights of a patrol car. He had the registration, but driving the Fairlane felt like a crime.
Peter knew one way or another something was going to bite him for this.