Previous episodes are here.
So impressed with all you do
Tried so hard to be like you
Flew too high and burned the wing
Lost my faith in everything
Nine Inch Nails, Somewhat Damaged.
Jasper shot a warning look at Olivia as she stifled her cry of alarm. He did this to avoid having his own appalled reaction at the thing in the tank.
Jasper had amused himself with imagining what his boss looked like. Jasper had imagined he was corpulent, fuelled by the vulgarity which came with the obsessive pursuit of wealth and no gap between desire and appetite.
The thing which floated in the tank was lean, covered in pearlescent scales down its midsection, jutting out from translucent blue-green skin. The water pressure distorted the details of its anatomy but it swam to the glass and Jasper saw an aristocratic cruelty in its fine, sharp features. It smiled and revealed rows of neat, needle teeth set into black gums set below two nostrils as undefined and fine as paper cuts. Its neck was thick, and there were gills at right angles on either side, from which drifted delicate strings of bubbles. Jasper watched as it placed a palm against the glass and gestured to the top of the tank with a clawed finger.
‘You are privileged.’ it said.
Olivia nodded in desperate agreement and Jasper mirrored her gesture, fighting the increasing urge to get up and run but conscious of the idea he would never leave the room alive if he did.
‘Yes, I am. I’ve respected your desire for privacy, sir.’ he said.
It chuckled and kicked up to the top of the tank with a propulsive leap. It broke the surface and rested its arms over the edge of the tank.
‘Now, I’ve had to come and speak to you both. There were details which caught my attention, thanks to Ms Nixon’s sterling work.’ it said.
Olivia stared at it, struck dumb by the cognitive dissonance of a compliment from a monster.
Jasper saw how its face was altering on contact with the air, the cartilage rising behind the translucent skin to lend its face a humanity and a poisoned handsomeness which frightened him more than its first appearance.
‘Thank you.’ she said.
Jasper swallowed and looked at his employer, struggling to dampen his irritation at how Olivia almost simpered in his presence.
‘We withdrew from the area, sir, it was a waste of resources.’ he said.
It looked at him and nodded.
‘I agree and I am not here to admonish you for it. If it were the case, I could have arranged it with a word, but I value competence and you’ve shown it.’
Olivia raised her hand and it nodded in her direction.
‘Sir, what do you want us to do?’ she said.
Jasper gritted his teeth, worrying if her obsequiousness would get them killed. It grinned at her, showing off its teeth before it spoke.
‘The thief is not worth pursuing. I’m interested in the man who shielded her.’
Olivia sat up in her chair as she brushed her hair from her face with a shaking hand.
‘He’s gone to great lengths to keep himself hidden. Nothing’s in his name yet he’d built a hospital theatre and rigged it to burn if anyone tried to enter. Those actions speak to a competence and a desire to hide himself, sir.’ she said.
Jasper raised his hand.
‘He had the briefcase in there, sir. I expected her to negotiate for it but she went with a scorched earth policy.’
It shook its head and Jasper lowered his hand as Olivia sat back, afraid all this had been a prelude to a swift and unhinged action. She had accepted her fall from professional grace but had not considered what was waiting for her in the darkness below.
‘Then one or both looked in it and knew enough to destroy it.’ it said.
Olivia glanced at Jasper.
‘Missile guidance chips would melt under those conditions. It’s a fuck you.’ she said.
It shook its head.
‘Ms Nixon, do you think I look like someone who has a need for missile guidance chips?’
The arch amusement in its voice disturbed the pair of them more than its piscine anatomy but Olivia shook her head which pleased the creature.
‘I have no desire to elaborate until you’ve proven yourselves with the responsibility I am giving you.’
Jasper felt a horrible relief. Work and task were tenets which made sense in his worldview even if they were being given by a thing which lived in a tank and spoke like an old Etonian.
‘What is it, sir?’ Olivia said.
It looked at them both. Jasper saw how each time it blinked, two pairs of eyelids worked in concert over the large black eyes. There were no irises or pupils two gelid ovoid black shapes sunk into the sockets.
‘I want you to find the man and bring him.’ it said.
They both agreed with quick nods and it raised its chin to appraise them both.
‘I know how I look, and your stoicism in the face of it garners my approval.’ it said.
Olivia chewed her lower lip.
‘It must be difficult to suffer as you do.’ she said.
Jasper had been an aural witness to some awful things.
The cries of a boiled child.
The defeated pleas of a man watching his family murdered in front of him and pleading to join them.
Nothing disturbed him so much as the thing’s laughter.
‘I do not suffer, Ms Nixon. I exult in who and what I am.’
Arrogant fucker for a merman, Jasper thought, but he kept his face still and pious.
‘Yes, sir. You do. I’ll need more resources to find him.’ he said.
It turned and looked at Olivia.
‘What do you think, Ms Nixon?’ it said.
Jasper gritted his teeth and breathed in through his nose. The faint marine tang to the air made him nauseous, but it was the change in the balance of power which sickened him. Olivia was useful but the other guys who worked with her had a less favourable opinion of her.
‘I’m looking into the company who own the cabin. There is something there, people hide their money for a lot of reasons and we need to know why he has done it.’
It turned its attention back to Jasper.
‘I want the theatre examined, despite its incineration, I believe there is something there for us to consider.’ it said.
Jasper nodded and it stared at them both before it slipped beneath the water and swam away into darkness. The lights came on and the doors opened.
Jasper and Olivia walked out without speaking and stood outside as the car pulled up. They got in and remained silent until they were back at the Marmont.
Jasper looked at her and pointed towards the restaurant.
‘I need a fucking drink.’ he said.
Olivia had turned pale, but her eyes blazed with zeal.
‘Me too, but we need to figure out what the fuck happened there before we go down this road.’ she said.
Jasper ran his index finger against the inside of his shirt collar as he reached for his cigarettes.
‘Drinks first, then you can tell me how you sat there and didn’t shit yourself.’
‘He’s not my first monster.’ she said.
Jasper’s mouth turned down at the corners.
‘No, but he’s the first one who’s paying us for our time.’ he said.
‘Then we need a drink.’ she said.
Kelly laid in the bed, too exhausted to sleep despite the tumult of aches and pains from days of walking and camping. She sat up in bed and grimaced at the dull ache in her chest before she sighed and rubbed her eyes.
John’s voice was hushed as he stood in the doorway. She waited for her eyes to adjust to the dark, wondering if he needed to as he stood there. He wore only a pair of black boxer shorts and she saw the silver slashes of old scars bisecting the dark, fine curls of hair on his chest and abdomen. His thick thighs and calves, all covered with the same dark hairs as the rest of him. She breathed in his musk and her lips tingled with the memory of his mouth against hers.
‘Neither can I.’ she said.
She shuffled to the right-hand side of the bed and looked at him, hoping he could feel her need through the darkness. Kelly watched him give a small nod as he came over and pulled back the covers and got in.
Kelly made the first move, reaching over and stroking his furred cheek as she stared into his eyes.
‘Are you afraid you’ll hurt me, John?’ she said.
He put his hand over hers.
‘Then it’s my choice, isn’t it?’ she said.
He pressed her hand to his cheek and lowered his eyes.
‘I don’t know how far my control stretches, Kelly. It’s been anger which triggers it, but -‘
He looked up at hers with a want which made her ache. She could have given any number of reasons, but she did not know what limits his condition imposed upon him. Kelly resented the limits which it had imposed upon her so she decided not to talk it through. She saw the desire in him and it was enough.
She took her hand from his face and slipped it underneath the covers as she leaned towards him and kissed him.
He did not pull away but instead cupped her face in his hands as he guided her down onto the bed.