A fugitive from the Sprytes, one of the most dangerous supernatural cults on Earth, Betty has refashioned herself as a revealer of dark conspiracies and a killer of misogynous conspirators. On her crusade, she has successfully stayed off the radar for months. When the Sprytes close in, however, Betty may find herself entangled in a conspiracy too dark to escape.
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It’s easy to kill ugly things.
The urge wells up like sexual desire, easing through the body, imbuing the soul as it pushes back against the disgusting assault on the senses. Only the repressed, the normals—the plain Janes and Johns—successfully suppress what their bodies are telling them to do. Yes, there are lines—but to the wise, those lines are blurry.
Only a despicable character would pass by a well-maintained flower garden and have a sudden urge to trample everything in sight. But consider a pretty girl of stable disposition passing the front yard of a careless homeowner, one who has let weeds overtake the grounds to such an extent it appears to be a tallgrass prairie. As the environment is clearly a reflection of the one charged with maintaining it, it would be easy to understand and excuse her taking a scythe to both owner and his property.
Only the most twisted among us would ever consider decapitating a puppy or putting a kitten in a blender. But if sympathetic gal observed a wheelchair-confined boy with a stumped appendage and at least one other physical deformity, a boy prone to incessant drooling and spontaneous fits and violent outbursts, verbal and otherwise, she’d rightfully wonder how his parents could be so inhumane as to allow him to suffer incessantly, and how society could allow the parents let the boy live a life of unending misery, and, while she wondered, her subconscious would nudge her into the role of merciful angel, a role the plain Janes and Johns would misinterpret as villainous.
And then there were the more complicated scenarios, involving truly vile creatures, aided and abetted by the Janes and Johns. This is where the lines went beyond blurry, and twisted into wavering spirals. There were dimensions to true justice, shades to beauty . . .
My sunrise exercise gave me such a charge.
I ran through a rumination of colorful scenarios and contrasts every morning while applying my makeup; and the runner’s high sometimes became so overwhelming I inadvertently squeezed a steel canister out of shape.
My makeup came in reinforced containers, specially made. The powders and paints themselves had been specially formulated, concocted by doctors and scientists who’d devoted their careers to studying the White Fire Virus and devising ways to keep its carriers comfortable. The hope, perhaps, was that if the carriers felt comfortable enough, moral enough, pretty enough, they’d be more inclined to do whatever they could to tamp down their strange urges and not display the supernatural abilities that neither they nor the doctors nor the scientists truly understood. The same pharmaceutical company that sold the makeup also produced the prescription-only lotion I applied to my hands and forearms, my ankles and calves, and—on the days I was so inclined to wear an outfit that would leave it exposed to light—my midriff.
My authorized prescriptions had run out some time ago. But I had good connections. One of them stood in the bathroom’s doorway, watching me, waiting for the day’s agenda.
“Yesterday, whore chic,” Bruce said. “Today, businesswoman bleak?”
“Necessary,” I said as I applied eyeliner. “I need to charm my way through an office building, not a Marriott. Today’s target is an old colleague.”
“Yeah? From which profession?”
Touché. “The legal one.”
Bruce guffawed. “The really shady one.”
He looked ready to make a joke about the connection between prostitutes and lawyers, but I gave him the look that let him know I wasn’t in the mood.
He shrugged. “Anyway, so long as you keep to your medications, it doesn’t matter how you dress.”
“Of course it does.” I picked up the pencil and worked on my brows. “It takes a lot of energy to shift. And a lot of concentration to maintain. How I dress can hurt or help the whole operation.”
“You want me to wait till you’re finished?”
“I’m almost done here,” I said. “Go get the black leather briefcase ready.”
“Persona: Jacquelyne Mae. Operation: Interview. Location: law firm.”
Bruce backed out of the doorway and headed toward the den.
I finished my makeup, went into my bedroom, and examined the complete package in the full-length mirror. Specially designed black dress stopping at the knees, cord belt, and citrine stud earrings. Appropriate for late September. Appropriate for an interview at a law firm. It was a pretty outfit. It would be even prettier when I added the matching jacket and handbag. And my face, when I remade it, would make the entire package absolutely beautiful.
But I wasn’t quite there yet. Deciding on shoes was always difficult. Beauty versus practicality . . . Choosing the former sometimes provided a decisive advantage when confronting certain enemies. Heels would be expected, and they would certainly complement my dress, but at some point I was going to need to break, run, and take some long jumps. Even though I could damn sure move quickly in heels, I couldn’t sprint more than fifty meters in them without bruising myself. In some situations, they’d make for nice weapons. For today’s job? Flats would be more effective once shit hit the fan, but I certainly couldn’t wear those to an interview.
“Your briefcase, Miss Mae.” Bruce poorly affected the tone of an English butler as he walked into the bedroom and laid the case on the bed, next to the handbag. “The papers are inside.” He held up his left hand. “Here’s the wallet for your purse. Fake license, credit and debit cards, and one hundred and twenty dollars in cash.”
“Lay it next to the handbag.”
“Will you be needing any accessories?” Bruce asked.
“The thumb drives we discussed last night should be in the briefcase. Just the usual makeup and touch-up perfume in the handbag.”
“Already done,” Bruce said. “I meant anything sharp and shiny?”
“I’m going in soft,” I said. “I will have to pass through a metal detector.”
“So we’re definitely not hitting a pimp this time?”
“A white collar pimp,” I said. “The worst kind.”
“Which one from my list?”
“He wasn’t on it. His name’s Prakul Varman.”
Bruce shook his head. “Not a familiar name to me. But you’re going into this place to get him . . . You don’t want to wait for him to come outside? Hit him on his way to lunch or coffee?”
“He doesn’t get his own coffee. He has one of his girls do it for him—ditzy paralegals and chirping secretaries. Besides, we need to make a statement. I need to do it in his office so all his colleagues can see.”
“You could just as well do it in his home. Film it, stream it over the internet while you run a blade across his—”
“Bruce, this firm is an important link in the chain. I need to get info I can only get from inside. Once we have it—”
Bruce nodded. “Alright, Betty. Got it.”
“Besides, seeing the body freshly bled in front of them will be much different than his colleagues seeing it on a screen. Jaded souls, I’m sure they are.”
“Yeah.” Bruce chuckled. “Jaded souls we all are.”
“While I’m inside, I’m going to need to you rendezvous with one of the suppliers. Pick up some more of my medications.”
“For the skin,” Bruce asked, “or for what’s under?”
“Everything,” I said. “I don’t ever want to be on short supply for anything. Make your connection then get the car ready. And double check the traffic reports. My interview’s at ten. I want to be at least fifteen minutes early.”
Bruce left the room.
I opened the briefcase. Thirteen copies of Jacquelyne Mae’s resume, five copies of each letter of professional recommendation, three blue pens, two black pens and one red pen, notepad, and two thumb drives. Plenty of room to spare for a blade or two, even the kind that wouldn’t be picked up by metal detectors or a visual search—but, no. Today I was resolved to rely solely on my prettier talents.