I’d been dabbing my neck all afternoon, feeling the hive begin to blister, then pop, and seep down my back. I was allergic to sweat, but I couldn’t help but run my fingers through my hair and smear it everywhere.
Agent Sunderland suffered no such compulsions. He’d spent the morning cooped up in the van with his suit coat buttoned the entire time. He didn’t mind sitting in a leather swivel chair, wearing giant head cans, or guzzling coffee like it was Gatorade. The man was a cold-blooded reptile with his hatchet face and beady eyes.
Agent Reese on the other hand had a head like a cinderblock, and no neck to speak of. He wore a pair of shoulder holsters over his pit stains. There was a Glock in one and silver flask in the other. The flask was covered in Celtic crosses.
“What is that?”
Agent Reese lifted his arm as if he needed to check. “A flask.”
“What’s in it?”
“Should I have some of that?”
Agent Sunderland shook his head. “She’d smell it on you.”
I itched the path they’d shaved down my chest, feeling the rash of ingrown hairs, the gaffer tape pinching the skin. “But she won’t notice this?”
Agent Reese snapped. “She will if you keep picking at it.”
Agent Sunderland guided my hand from chest to my knee. “Breathe. She can’t see through clothing, she can’t smell fear, and she can’t hear what you’re thinking.”
“How do you know that?”
Agent Reese peeled the cover off the van’s ancient surveillance equipment. “This is not our first rodeo.”
“Is that a reel to reel? What government agency did you say you worked for again?”
Agent Reese put a reel on the machine. “We didn’t.”
“What are you agents of exactly?”
“The lord.” Agent Reese threaded tape from one reel to the other.
I reached for the latch for the door. Agent Sunderland caught my hand. He had the same Celtic cross tattooed on the back of his hand.
“You saw what she did to your friend.”
The door to Jamie’s studio apartment was wide open. Signs of a struggle would’ve been an understatement. The mirrors were shattered. The drawers were smashed to splinters, and there were paperbacks everywhere.
As for Jamie his body was contorted on the kitchen table, arms locked in place, back arched in an upward facing dog position, head craned all the way back until his neck snapped. The screenplay he’d been toiling on for as long as I’d know him was rolled up and crammed down his throat.
Agent Sunderland put his hand on my shoulder. He squeezed it like he was giving a strong handshake, a show of sympathy from someone who’d read about it in books. “This town is filled with artists just like Jamie, bright kids with dreams of making it. The only thing between her and them is sitting in this van.”
I shook my head. “Pitching a screenplay is scary enough on its own, add this on top of that and…” I trailed off.
Agent Sunderland elbowed me, another show affection that didn’t suit him. “Good, use that fear.”
I hung my head between my knees. “If she’s licking her lips at the sight of my neck I’m going to lose the plot.”
Agent Reese scoffed. “You don’t think she’s a vampire, do you?”
Jamie had dragged me to a networking function for writers. There were whispers that a produced would be hiding among us. Matilda stuck out like a sore thumb with her leather lined suit, jet-black pixie hair, and fierce model features. Her skin was porcelain white and her eyes were so brown they might as well have been black. She wore an armored ring that ran up to her knuckle. When she reached out to shake my hand her palm was ice cold.
I scanned the van, shifting my gaze from one agent of God to the other. “What is she?”
Agent Reese lowered an eyebrow. “Not a vampire.”
Agent Sunderland adjusted the collar of the all black ensemble they’d fitted me with. “Listen. Don’t worry about your pitch. Let her do most of the talking.” He slid a pair of fine Italian loafers onto my feet.
“Just what the hell do you think she is?”
“Exactly.” Agent Sunderland smiled as he pressed the toes of the to check the fit. “Just remember, if you feel you are in any real danger, say the phrase, ‘Eye of the needle’ and we’ll come rushing in.”
“Eye of the needle, as in ‘It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God?’”
“That’ll be hard to work into casual conversation.”
“Which is why we won’t miss it.”
“And why can’t I wear my sneakers?”
Agent Reese motioned out the window to the line leading around the block to the bouncers at the door. One was shining a light on IDs the other was scanning the patrons from top to bottom.
“The dress code always starts with footwear.”