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Plundering Griet



 
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Summer

There is a certain smell to most strip clubs. Fog machine, old fryer grease, cheap booze, even cheaper perfume, and the very faint scent of Windex lingering as an afterthought. Not all smelled that way, but certainly most. Especially the one's Summer frequented. Or used to, rather. It was one of those scents that made a person instantly reminiscent. Doubly so when the person was in the strip joint to simply clean out their locker and say some final goodbyes. That is what Summer was attempting to do. It was proving difficult just getting to the dressing rooms.

“Heya kiddo! You got a visitor in room three.” Elliot said. The ridiculously short, balding man gave her a wide grin, revealing several silver molars. He was a mainstay at this club, serving in a position Summer never could put her finger on. He wasn’t the owner, at least she didn’t think he was. He certainly didn’t tend bar, and god forbid someone with his dreadful fashion sense actually act as DJ.

Lifting a dark, meticulously groomed brow, she shoved a blazing hot tater tot into her mouth. “I already told you. I’m retired. Break it to him gently, Elliot. Or take my place.” Her eyes scanned his abbreviated form, lascivious and slow. “I’m sure you’re someone’s type.” Her tone was rife with sarcasm.

He laughed, pushing himself up onto a stool next to Summer. Putting a small fist to his chest, he gave her a pained expression. “You wound me so, blondie!” Snatching a tot -and a smack to the back of his hand by Summer- he continued. “Really though. Apparently, they aren’t here for a lap dance. Or whatever hell else you girls offer back there. Asked for you by name. Your full name.”

Frowning, she spun on her stool to face him. Her booted foot twisted his stool so he faced her as well. “Couple things, shorty. One. Don’t take food off my plate. Two. Nobody knows my full name, not even you. So nice try on that one. Three. How dare you imply anything unrighteous goes on in those rooms. I mean, the audacity!” Her expression was aghast, with a tiny tell of amusement in her lip twitching. Oh, how right he was. But she’d never confirm that. After all, what happened in the rooms, stayed in the rooms.

“I know your full name now that he gave it. Tell me, exactly how high were your parents to name you Summer Squash Summers anyway?” Elliot cackled at what he thought was clearly a joke. Foolish man.

Summer’s face became a mask with a pleasantly artificial Stepford wife smile plastered on. “Eat my tots, Elliot.” She hopped off the stool and strutted to the back rooms. “And that’s not a euphemism!” She yelled back to him over the music. Lords of Acid nearly bursting out of the speakers. She’d have to tip the DJ on her way out for such a classic choice.

Flinging Room Three’s door open without preamble, Summer squinted. She didn’t need time to adjust to the dimmer, more ambient lighting. She just wanted the extra time to see who exactly she was dealing with. Jimi F-cking Hendrix. God. Or rather, the opposite as the case may be. She slammed the door shut behind her and flopped onto a lip-shaped couch. “I’d actually have rathered some hung up customer who wanted just one last dance. You sure I can’t offer you one and we can part ways afterward? If not me, then perhaps a short, middle-aged man with sour breath? I hear he has a trick pelvis.”

Full lips widened into a grin. “Summer. Always good to see you. Even if the feeling is clearly not mutual. Though I don’t know why, after how well I’ve treated you over the years. A consideration I don’t give to just anybody, you know.”

Swallowing hard, she had the good sense to know when someone was right. A skittering shiver ran down her skin. She stifled the urge to rub her arms. A fruitless endeavor, to be sure. It’s not like one could hide discomfort or fear from The Old Serpent. Ba‘al Zebûb. Mephistopheles. Diabolus. He’d always come to her in the image of a musician, usually ones she could recognize but sometimes he came looking a bit more antiquated. Probably some old composer, but she’d never figured it out. He was also correct in that he’d treated her remarkably well. Sometimes she wondered if he wasn’t some lesser demon, not the actual Lord of the Flies. Why would he be nice to her? She knew the horror and terror he could inflict on others. Oh, she knew. She’d gotten a tiny peek from his office during her visit down in hell.

“Tsk, girl. There is no ‘down’.” He said with a derisive sniff.

Frowning both at the topic of conversation and his statement, she took the bait. She always did, following the rabbit down the hole. Except it wasn’t down. “What do you mean? Maybe not directionally. I admit I don’t know the exact latitude and longitude of Hell. Surely you got my meaning.” She stopped short of calling him a pedant. The thought was in her mind though, so she may as well have just said it out loud.

With a roll of his dark eyes, he poked at his immaculate afro. “There is no Hell. Rather, there is no differentiation. Surely you’ve gathered that? What with your visit to ‘heaven’ and all?”

Sitting up, she folded her legs under her and faced him. He sat in a swing. The image was like catching your parents have sex, it was that level of disturbing. Summer wrinkled her nose, almost distracted. Almost. “You mean to tell me...where the f-ck was I then?”

His nose flared, amused that she’d bitten so easily. Humans. Worse than cats with laser pointers. “They exist, I suppose. I’ll leave it at that for your feeble mind. Different locations in the same place. Like New York and Los Angeles. Different coasts in one country.” He nodded. “Yes, just like that. Up and down gives one the idea that one is lesser.”

Summer blinked a few times. “Well...that’s the point, right? Hell is lesser? Or, that is what we are led to believe.”

He smiled wanly and leaned forward, fingering a guitar pick. “It is a strategy in a war, dear girl. Just as you are an angel, so am I. The subjects are lead to believe there is a difference. Keeps them separate. Easier to manage.” His smile revealed a bit more of his true self. “Divide et impera.”

Sneering, she shook her head. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say that theory was hatched by some college boy in his dorm after prepping for a political theory final.”

“How do you mean?” He asked, his voice plain and curious.

“Divide et impera cvm radix et vertex imperii in obedientium consensu rata sunt. That is to say, Divide and rule have been rejected since the root and the summit of authority are confirmed by the consent of the subjects.” Summer recited from memory. What seemed like a lifetime ago, Summer had been held captive. She’d lacked for nothing, save for autonomy and consent. She’d drowned herself in the vast library in the mansion, voraciously reading any and everything.

“Except the subjects do not confirm the authority. You are created by the authority and are pawns in the war designed for that purpose.” His voice was rich and melodic. Summer almost wanted to ask him to sing “Hey Joe”.

Sighing deeply, she dropped her head back into the dip of the top lip. In some folklore, it is said that cleft is created by an angel touching a baby in utero. How fitting for her to nestle there now. Slightly less so in that she is chatting with God’s favorite son while doing so. “Is this what you wanted to talk to me about? Tell me how I’m part of a pawn, there is no heaven or hell, see you later? You know my sister died? I see you sitting here and think you’re here to tell me about her. But no. We’re here to talk dumb sh-t like celestial wars. Cool story, dude.”

She pushed up from the sofa only to hit a barrier. Grunting, she pushed but was unable to rise. Shooting him a glare, she bit down on her lower lip to physically stop from talking. She didn’t want to utter the words in her mind or an apology. F-ck that.

Rubbing his forehead, he adjusted the scarf tied around his head, not acknowledging her glare. His voice was low and quiet, barely audible. Yet Summer could hear each word, the enunciation of each syllable. “Not many get my grace. Even fewer still get explanations of the inner workings of the High War. You’d do well to remember it next time you are choosing which tone you will use to speak to me.”

It felt as though nails were dragging down a chalkboard, and that chalkboard was her skin. Sh-t. This conversation was going spectacularly t-ts up. She could hardly negotiate for her sister when…

He gave a wave of his hand dismissively. “I’m not here about your sister. I have nothing to do with that, nor will I meddle. I’d recommend you make peace with her departure and move on. That is not why I am here.”

That knocked the wind out of her more than anything he could have said. Slumping back, she stared slackly at the ceiling. Make peace? But she needed her back! That was her baby sister! She wanted to thrash about in frustration. Instead, she merely kicked her feet out from the couch.

“No. That isn’t making peace with it. That’s throwing a tantrum. You’re acting as if this is the first time a sibling has died. You barely spoke to her. Did you even love her?” He asked.

Sitting up in a flash, she screamed out the words before she could think the better of it. “Shut up! Shut the f-ck up! You don’t f-cking know a god damned thing!”

Just like that, an icy grip had her by the throat, wrists, and legs. He remained seated, swinging idly. His expression was anything but. Sitting forward, he looked at her, meeting her frightened gaze. The warm chocolate brown of Jimi Hendrix melted away to something that defied color. Defied human understanding. “You are a slow learner, aren’t you? I picked you for that very reason. But it seems as though I may have chosen poorly. Overly daft becomes a liability and I can’t have that.”

He seemed to lean closer without moving an inch, getting right in her face. “I don’t own you, girl. You belong to them. My existence in your life protects you from their wrath. And if you think the damnation you saw before was the worst of it, you are more stupid than I thought. That is their doing, not mine. If you don’t show me some respect, I will release you to them without a moment’s hesitation.”

Despite squeezing her eyes shut, she couldn’t get his hideous eyes out of her mind. He seemed to peel through her eyelids like they were a sheer curtain. Whimpering, she tried to wiggle her head. The icy grip remained. “Why?” The question was far bigger than the word. It was all she could manage.

He stood up, pacing. Bell Bottoms swinging around his legs, hair bobbing. He barked out a laugh. “Still stupid, I see. Ah well. ‘Why’ isn’t of concern. What and when- now those questions are key. Perhaps ‘where’ as well. But why? Why is inconsequential.”

She’d roll her eyes if she could. As it was, her face was frozen. That and she actually was a little concerned about his ‘releasing her’ to...well, whoever. The light side, she presumed. The angels. She’d say heaven, but evidently, that didn’t exist. Paradigm shift, all while in the grasp of the devil. Isn’t this how everyone’s Tuesday afternoon goes?
October 19, 2018 12:15 am

Summer

“Hey, you finally done in there, kiddo? Took you long enough. Must’ve been quite the last hurrah, if you know what I mean!” Elliot chuckled ribaldly, his little tummy paunch quivering with the motions.

Slinging the gym bag over her shoulder, Summer curled her lip and did her level best to look nonchalant. Basically the opposite of how she felt- shaken to her core. “Do me a favor. If I’m ever in here again and someone doing a musician impersonation asks for me, say I’m out.”

His look was of abject confusion. “Huh? I mean, alright. But what about that meek, schoolmarm looking lady who was in there with you?”

Stopping short, Summer glanced back at the rooms. Meek schoolmarm? Ahhhh. She'd always wondered how he presented himself to other people. Can't very well go waltzing about town looking like Elvis or Jimi without causing a scene. She’d have to ask him about that next time she saw him. There was always the next time, no matter how much she wished otherwise. “Oh. Yea, her too. No more visits from her please.”

“Fair enough. Hey, before you go, I wanted to chat with you about an interesting job that I think you’d be perfect for.” He kept his voice low, conspiratorially. It was early afternoon and the bar was pretty dead. That lull between lunch and happy hour that was the worst time to dance at any bar. It allowed for lots of posing on stage for Instagram at least. The lighting could not be beat.

“Dude. I’m retiring. That means no more jobs.” Summer was pleased to see her tots remained on the plate. Popping one in her mouth, she narrowed her eyes at the short man. Perhaps he really thought she’d meant ‘eat my tots’ as a euphemism for something untoward? Gross.

Pushing his chin into his neck, his beady eyes widened. “Did you win the lottery or something? Not gonna work at all anymore?” His expression turned to that of keen interest as if his mark suddenly grew even more enticing.

Heaving a sigh, she grabbed her glass and polished off her drink. Waste not, want not, after all. “No. I’m retired from dancing. I’ll still earn my keep, don’t worry your pretty little head about that one, El.” The whiskey sour was watery on account of the ice melting. That coupled with cheap, rotgut whiskey left much to be desired. “So, no, I’m not interested in whatever you’ve got lined up. Hit up Cinnamon. That girl always says yes.”

Leaning his chin on his hand, he leaned over the bar and gave her an enticing look, wiggling his brows. “Not interested in anything at all?”

Putting the glass down with more force than she meant, she glowered. “F-ck off, Elliot. Seriously. F-ck right on off.”

Looking nonplussed, he asked mildly, “What’s gotten into you, Summer Sunshine? You used to be so cheerful. Always smiling.”

Using both middle fingers, she lifted the corners of her lips into a smiling mask. “Better?” Adjusting the bag on her hip, she snipped, “I’ve had some things on my mind. I’m allowed to do that, you know. Be in a less than cheerful mood. Not everything is sunshine and roses!” Her voice rose a few octaves with each word.

Hopping off his barstool, he canted his head to the back. “Step into my office. I do have an honest proposition for you that does not require dancing. Or smiles, sunshine or roses. In fact, you will be far more successful at this job with none of those things present.” Beaming a toothy grin, he held his arms out toward the door leading to the kitchen.

Knowing it was a terrible, stupid, no good idea, she huffed and followed. “You don’t have an office, Elliot. If this is a ploy to get me in the back room for a quickie, I’m going to shank you. Like, without hesitation.”

He laughed and opened the door to the walk-in refrigerator. “Settle down, Summer. This isn’t a job interview, you have it if you want it. No need to sell me on your um, ‘positive attributes’.”

The fridge? Cold didn’t bother her, although she did thrive in the heat. The sunshine, to be exact. But Elliot wasn’t asking for thriving. He just wanted to bend her ear about some scheme he hatched up. She’d be in there long enough to eat a few slices of cheddar out of the package, maybe sneak a pickle or two, laugh and roll her eyes at his hair-brained ideas, then leave. Sitting on top of an unopened bucket of mayonnaise, she dug into the behemoth jar of pickles and plucked one out. Crunching down on it, she waved with her other hand. “Out with it. Let’s hear it so I can be on my way.”

Leaning an elbow on the middle shelf, he nudged some bags of shredded lettuce out of the way. Grinning, he said, “I hear you have a quick hand.” Seeing her lips part and her brows furrow, he held up a hand. “I mean, as far as, you know, relieving people of things that belong to them. Sticky fingers." Clearing his throat, he said in a contrite tone, “Everything comes out as an innuendo. It is a born trait, I can’t stop it from happening.” The short man laughed heartily.

Her lips twinged, unable to resist chuckling along with him. Lifting one shoulder, she admitted, “I’m getting better at it. I’m rarely caught. I don’t always succeed, but nobody ever calls me on it.” Summer gave an innocent smile, looking every bit the angel.

Pointing a stubby finger at her, he let out another laugh. “See! This is what I’m talkin’ about. You are perfect for this gig. I know a guy. He’s got a bit of a problem and he needs someone to lift something from someplace secure. Up for it?”

Scrunching up her face, Summer quipped, “Sure, Elliot. That is so very specific, I can’t say no. Lift ‘something’ from ‘someplace’. Ohkayyy.” Despite her wry statement, she leaned forward on her makeshift seat, clearly interested. “What is this ‘something’? And what is the problem?”

Leaning forward, his eyes nearly twinkled with intrigue. “A painting. The Dulle Griet to be exact. It is presently on display at the Museum Mayer Van den Bergh in Belgium. Now, I don’t know the exact specifics of the problem. Some liability issue or some such, I’m sure. It is about to travel to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna for some celebration of the artist. It needs to be removed from the Van den Bergh before then. Obviously, that means timing is of the essence.”

“Dulle Griet...that the Bruegel piece?” She’d heard of it, read something about it. Couldn’t pick it out of a lineup, but she knew it was about Hell and a woman. Hmm. Her spidey sense tingled. Regarding Elliot carefully, she sat up straight. “Okay. Say I am interested. What are the actual specifics? Pay. Delivery timeline. Other expectations. You know the drill.” Or you damned well better, otherwise this is going down as a total amateur hour and she’d have nothing to do with it.

Leaning back, he grinned like a cat who got the canary. Exhibiting the air of an actual professional and actually surprising the sh-t out of Summer, Elliot told her everything. Within fifteen minutes, he’d pulled out his phone and booked her flight to Antwerp, departing the next afternoon.
October 21, 2018 10:27 pm

Summer

Truth be told, the born and bred Brit had never flown out of Southend before. Gatwick, yes. Heathrow, obviously. Southend? Never. It was far less hectic than the other two, which was nice. However, it meant she was going to fly to Antwerp in one of those little Buddy Holly commuter planes. Summer wrinkled her nose as she turned sideways, walking down the narrow aisle of the aircraft. Maybe not the best time to think of ill-fated flights, eh? That was a bit macabre even for the likes of her. Giving the obligatory tight smile to other passengers, Summer was relieved to see nobody had yet occupied the seat next to hers in row 5. Shoving her laptop bag under the seat, she sat back and internally murmured a supplication that was internationally known- that of the traveler not having a seat partner. Please, Pantheon of Gods, let no passenger sit next to me!

And for once, they smiled upon her. Stretching her legs out sideways under the seat across from her, Summer smiled with pleasure. As she shifted down into the seat to get comfortable, she felt a jab against her rib. Furrowing her brow, she sucked in a breath upon remembering. The stiletto. Reaching her hand into the interior pocket of her jacket, her palm slid along the cool blade. The very act of touching it had her think of how she’d been given it. Just yesterday, while at the club, a gift from none other than Jimi Hendrix.

Eighteen hours prior

“The most important question is ‘how’, not that you had the foresight to ask. That is what I am here for. Not to give you pointers on how to determine what is important. That seems to be a lost cause on you, more’s the pity. No, I am here to ensure you are properly outfitted for anything that comes your way. Can’t leave you simply to your wits, now can we?” His tone and inflection couldn’t be further from the dulcet tones of Jimi Hendrix. While still using the musician’s likeness, the voice was all his. It was incongruous in ways that made her feel wobbly inside.

Even her brain seemed frozen, churning like soft serve in her skull. If she were operating on all cylinders, she’d have gritted her teeth at the windbaggery of his diatribe. Perhaps being frozen in all manners was a gift from him, keeping her out of trouble if only for a few moments. Stalking toward her, she felt her stomach drop. Oh good, not everything was frozen. She could still feel sinking despair. Fantastic. Standing what seemed like a hair’s breadth away from her, he released his wings. Dark, matte wings spread at least 12 feet in either direction, hitting the ceiling and dragging on the floor. The color wasn’t black. It was darker than that. The complete and total lack of luster made them seem like pits rather than dimensional wings. Summer’s eyes narrowed, inspecting them as best as she could. Did they lack dimension? How was that even possible? Now her brain was going wobbly, not understanding what her eyeballs took in.

Bringing the left wing in a little, he reached to it, seemingly riffling around the feathers. With the closer proximity, Summer felt the center of gravity shift. It felt like her insides and his wings were repelling magnets, pushing and pulling at the same time. Biology taking over, she groaned, green around the gills. He eyed her curiously as he plucked a feather out. Eyes void of color trained on hers as he stuck the feather into his mouth like some twisted circus trick. Fascinated yet nauseous, it was absolutely like seeing a horrible car accident and not being able to look away. As he pulled the feather back out from between his lips, the matte black was gone, leaving only the ivory quill and shaft. It looked like some sort of primitive blade.

“Ah yes. Perhaps there is hope for you after all, simple one. It is indeed a blade. Fashioned from my wing. As you can imagine, it can do much damage, especially in the hands of an anointed one such as yourself.” He blinked, eyes returning back to the normal human eyes of Jimi. Summer was never so happy to see the warm brown hues. Her body slacked, letting her know she’d been released from whatever hold he’d had on her. Regardless, she remained still.

Holding his hand out to her, she took it. Pulling her to standing, he brushed an errant lock of platinum hair from her forehead. His expression was soft and sweet, making it hard to believe who he really was. Placing the blade in her hand, he folded her fingers overtop. Glancing down, she saw that the blade now had a distinct handle on one end. The business end was incredibly sharp. A stiletto then, not just any blade. He chuckled. “It seemed an appropriate weapon for you. Use it wisely, keep it close, and don’t lose it.”

Stepping back from her, he gave her an easy smile, flicking a guitar pick at her. “See you soon, Summer Squash.”
October 25, 2018 10:12 pm
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