Ocean Tigrox, up-and-coming writer/editor and one of the cohosts of the Fangs and Fonts podcast, has put together an anthropomorphic noir anthology called Inhuman Acts. It includes stories by Mary Lowd (Otters in Space), Alice Dryden, Ianus Wolf and more, thirteen stories in total.
Inhuman Acts will premiere at Rainfurrest 2015 (September 24-27 in Seattle), and is available for print pre-order now at FurPlanet. After it’s released in print it will be available in DRM-free ebook from Bad Dog Books.
My contribution is “Fixer,” set in the broad Florida daylight rather than LA or NYC alleyways at night—which doesn’t make it much less dark. Here’s the first scene.
So I’d been thinking of leaving the business.
It wasn’t that work had dropped off, or gotten much more dangerous. It wasn’t that I disliked the area. I was a North Florida native, and I loved all of this crazy state, but the Gulf Coast was my particular paradise. The ocean breeze keeps summers from being too blistering and winters from being too cold, and there’s nowhere else in the world with sunsets like these. I lived a couple blocks from the water in St. Pete Beach, mostly surrounded by retirees. I’d turned forty nearly three years ago, and I admit I liked being the neighborhood spring chicken.
But the thing was: I’d turned forty nearly three years ago.
I started fixing things—tough things—for people the day I turned twenty-one, four years after V-J day, and I fancied my talents would make me a superhero. They didn’t. What they made me was the cleanup lady for people who stood square on the wrong side of heroic. Erasing stains. Masking scents. Giving the right people just the right gift at just the right time. That was thrilling for a while, too, but it wears on you. You know that even if you never cross any of your personal lines—and I had mine—the people you’re working with cross those lines every day, and you’re helping them do it.
Everybody else might retire to St. Petersburg, but I’d decided to retire away from it. Maybe find a nice little beach shack somewhere south of here, somewhere less built up. Maybe I’d be able to start helping the right kind of people. Maybe I’d just collect conch shells. I like conch shells.
To be fair, as far as criminals went most of the ones I dealt with around Tampa Bay were easy to deal with. Jimmy Espinoza, a recent transplant from Ybor City, wasn’t one of the easy ones. I’ve done favors for—and received favors from—a lot of lowlifes; Jimmy wasn’t the lowest, but he’d settled at a comfortable viewing distance from the bottom. He wanted to be a major drug lord and he had enough crazy to get there, but he didn’t have enough brains. He’d settled for minor. I’d met worse people. But I never liked the way he looked at me. I never liked the way he looked at any woman.
I caught him out of the corner of my eye as I paid for my Strawberry Shortcake bar, this morning’s nutritious brunch. I didn’t clue in that he was looking for me until I stepped out of the convenience store and saw him waiting halfway across the pitted asphalt lot. The wolf had hit fifty, but he had the body of someone a quarter-century younger, and dressed to make sure you knew it: tight jeans, tight T-shirt, unbuttoned casual blazer.
“Jimmy.” I raised my ice cream in acknowledgement.
He grinned in his more sly than sociable way. “It’s been a while, Miss Fixer. You’re as beautiful as ever.”
I couldn’t help but snort. At my age, five foot five and two hundred pounds, I most assuredly wasn’t as beautiful as ever. I was still cute—fox squirrels stay cute until their fur starts falling out—but that’s about it. “How’d you know I’d be here?”
“I didn’t.” He shrugged, turning around and waving for me to follow. “But I know you live somewhere in the area. People see you around here.” He waved a hand expansively, taking in the corner shops around the intersection. “And, they see you at this bodega almost every morning. So I waited.”
“It’s a Seven-Eleven, Jimmy, not a bodega.” I followed at a casual pace, doing a quick sweep of the area. Nobody who looked like they were watching for either him or me. “What’s up?”
“I have a problem.”
“I figured. But you’ve heard I’m retiring, right?”
“Yeah, I have.” He spread his huge hands wide, tail wagging, and flashed me a vixen-bait grin. “But retiring isn’t retired, and I have a little emergency I know you can help with.”
Of course. People didn’t come to me with non-emergencies. I just gave him a raised brow and waited.
“It’s my wife.” He lowered his voice. “A party last night at her beach house got kind of wild. Too much booze, maybe a little too much snow. A mink girl decided to go for a little post-midnight swim and drowned.” He sounded genuinely surprised, like he’d never have guessed that you shouldn’t take a refreshing swim when you’re drunk and hopped up on coke.
Wife? I didn’t know he’d remarried after Gina’s boating accident a few years ago. And “her” beach house? I’d heard Jimmy lived in a penthouse overlooking the Bay, and I’d wondered how he paid for it, since his business didn’t seem that good. I guess he’d married into money. “Pool or ocean?”
“Who knows about the body?”
He snarled. “I found out about this shit-fest when she called me a couple hours ago because the cops were banging on her door. They’d already found it.”
“So much for just dragging it a half-mile down the beach, then.” I sighed. “How much have they seen?”
“Just the body. I think. They didn’t have a search warrant so my guy didn’t let ‘em in, but one’s gotta be on the way. Ed should be doing some cleaning, but…he ain’t a pro. I can’t get anyone else in there with the police hanging ‘round.”
“You want me to find a way to get a bunch of incriminating evidence out of the house while it’s under surveillance.”
“You got it.” He nodded. “And get Marie—my wife—out of there, too. The cops didn’t see her, so I want you to make it look like she was never there.”
I knew a Marie, once, a decade ago. I knew her very well. I shook off the memories and sighed heavily. “Better and better. Were you at this party?”
“I left early.”
“You don’t think it’s going to be suspicious if you make it look like neither of you were at this beach house when this went down?”
“Nah.” He shrugged. “There are people there all the time even when we’re not. Politicos and celebrities down on vacation, hangers-on, professional houseguests. You know how it is.”
I knew how it was in the abstract. I used to have a reputation for being very detail-oriented, and I suppose I am, so I knew some particulars of the lifestyles of the rich and infamous. If the surviving guests were too plowed to remember much, we could just say Marie left with Jimmy. Did I want this to be my last job? I could use the money, in the way we all can use money. But I didn’t need the money.
After I failed to respond in a few seconds, Jimmy nudged me. “Look, we both know you’re not retired yet. You still fix the kinda problems that police can’t.”
I sighed. “I mean this in the nicest possible way, Jimmy, but I’ve stopped fixing them for people like you.”
“I get it. I don’t want you to fix it for me. I want you to fix it for Marie. I love her, I need this done right, and you’re the only one who can do it.”
“I don’t know Marie, but if she’s married to you, she’s—”
“Yeah. Yeah, you do. You know her.” He looked at me with narrowed, calculating eyes.
I felt my tail droop, the blood drain out of my face. I don’t honestly remember saying yes. Maybe I just nodded.