by Max Christopher
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Mildred was prowling the house like a restless lioness when Brian got home. “Where have you been?”
“Working late at the office, dear. I told you.”
“You didn’t say you’d be this late.”
“I didn’t know. Why didn’t you call, if you were concerned?”
“Was that woman there?”
“My client was there, yes.”
“And I suppose you didn’t notice the passage of time, and now you come breezing through the door at midnight—”
“Did I breeze? How unlike me. And my watch says ten after eleven. Are you holding a nearly empty glass of the nice Merlot you didn’t want me to buy?”
“Yes, and I was just going to have another.” She downed the last swallow.
“Fine. I’d like a glass too, please, since you’re pouring one for yourself.”
Mildred glared at him, lips compressed to a white line. The battle puff began to inflate.
Well, thought Brian, I might have a bit of a battle puff myself. He squared shoulders that had begun to slump and pulled himself erect.
Mildred said, “I have just remembered that I finished the bottle with this glass.”
“I will go out and purchase another.”
“The stores are closed.”
“Then I will make do with a vodka tonic.”
“We’re out of vodka.”
“Then I’ll go to a bar.” And he left.
* * *
Carly had uncurled herself from what Brian now thought of as her chair and stood up to stretch her back. “Ahh,” she said, swaying hips and bottom slowly with the effort of stretching. She saw the heavy old book among the papers on Brian’s desk. “What’s this?”
Brian leaned back in his chair until the top bumped the wall. “A book I brought from home.”
“A book, you say? Not a toaster, like I thought?” It was another late night and they were in a silly mood. She opened the book where a scrap of paper marked a page.
“I don’t know. Stick some bread slices in between the pages and see.”
“There’s no bread in your office, Mr. Hibble.”
“Then may I suggest you insert your own posterior between the pages and tell me if it warms up to an appreciable degree.”
“Do you find my posterior chilly, Mr. Hibble?”
“I am not in a position to say, Miss Swift.”
“Isn’t it funny how we’ve fallen into more formal habits of address as we’ve become closer?”
“Some days it’s all I can think about.” A playful swat on the forearm where it emerged from his rolled-back sleeve was Brian’s reward for this drollery.
“You should think about getting new shirts. The ones you wear lately are too small through the shoulders.”
“Maybe I’ll get some plaid. Grow a beard, look like the young people in the magazines. Some tattoos.”
“Those boys have stick-figure forearms. Yours have begun to look like you unload crates at the dock without a crane. This looks like a kind of dictionary. What word were you looking up?”
“Having overlapping leaves, like a liverwort?”
“Not succubous. Succubus. Plural: succubi.”
“I was hoping to fill the gaps in my knowledge about liverworts,” Carly said. “But all right. Tell me about succubi.”
“It’s all right there,” he said.
“I’d rather hear it in your resonant tones.”
“Well, a succubus is a malign spirit that drains the life energy from a man.”
“And it’s always female?”
“As far as I know.”
“And how does she drain a man’s life energy?”
“She visits him while he sleeps and, ah, has relations with him.”
“Relations?” she said
“Yes,” he said.
“So she kills him with sex.”
“I believe that would be the eventual outcome, yes.”
“Wicked girl,” she said.
“Quite so,” he said.
“Still, if you have to go...”
“Mm.” Brian shifted in his chair.
“So, is the sex good?”
“I don’t know.”
“Doesn’t it say in your dirty book here?” She waggled the heavy volume at him. It took both hands.
“It does suggest, yes—”
“Any pictures?” She riffled the pages. The scent of old book mixed with her wildflowers.
“Not even a naughty old woodcut?”
“I fear not.”
“Too bad.” She thumped it shut. “Suggests what?”
“That the fellow enjoys what’s going on enough to, ah, return to the trough time and time again, as it were.”
“Even unto death?”
“That’s rather dramatic, Carly, but yes.”
“Makes you wonder what the lads are thinking.”
“Doesn’t it, though?”
She paused. “Still, that must be some nookie.”
“So one imagines.”
“Do these guys have wives, I wonder?”
“So they should be getting their oil changed in the waking world.”
“One would like to think so,” Brian said.
“The succubus must offer something the guy can’t get with his wife. Reverse cowgirl, say.” Her eyes sparkled. “Or maybe a damn good pegging.”
“Unlikely, since it comes from the Latin succubare, ‘to lie under’.”
“Hm. Hey, if she offered him aid and comfort rather than sex,” Carly said, grinning madly, “would she be a succorbus?” The dimple flashed.
Brian goggled at her. “Sucker bus?”
“You know, like giving succor?” she said. “What?”
“Nothing,” Brian said. “That is, I... Miss Swift, you are entirely too pleased with yourself.”
“Of course, she could hardly kill him, then, could she? More like restore him to life.” Still grinning, she poked at the book again. “So do all these nocturnal tarts use sex to kill their boyfriends?”
Carly said, “I was just wondering if there isn’t another sort of — how did you put it? — malign spirit? Or another entity entirely? That drains a man without his having to paddle the skin boat to tuna lagoon?”
Brian’s eyes went hard. He frowned.
Carly’s face fell. “I’m sorry. I’ve been inappropriate.” Her hands jerked papers into a stack.
“No, that’s not it. What you just said. And your appalling play on words.”
“You make me think.” He fell to brooding.
Carly said, after tidying the papers, “Well, it’s getting late—”
“Wait,” he said. “A devourer of souls. Destroying a man, draining him to an empty husk. Not with sex, not a succubus. And the idea that there may be an... opposite entity. That does not devour him, but...” He trailed off.
“Restores him to life? Again without sex?”
“Like your” — Brian rolled his eyes — “succorbus.” He said it again, slowly. Then he exhaled and straightened, bringing his palms together with a slap. “Well, this layout isn’t going to assemble itself. And it needs to be perfect.”
“This client is, ah, demanding.” His eyes twinkled.
“Indeed? Man or woman?”
“Oh, a woman.”
“One hardly needed to ask,” she said. “One of these pain in the ass females?”
“Never satisfied.” He nodded solemnly. “Each change fussier and more froufrou than the last.”
“Froufrou? Did you really just say ‘froufrou’? What a nightmare this harridan must be to reduce you to such terminology. Next you’ll be saying ‘doily’.”
“I don’t know what that is.”
“A girly underthing. I’m wearing a red one under this sweatshirt. It’s cute.”
“So it’s like an armband?”
“Yes,” she said. “I’m really a battlefield medic.”
“That explains your way with tape,” he said.
“Mm. Why do you put up with this termagent?”
“You know, it’s funny. The more work she makes me do, the more I like it.”
“Nothing like being treated as though what you do matters, is there?”
He nodded again, looking at her, then away. “It’s like you’re... reading my mind.”
After a pause she said, softly, “That’s a part of drawing closer.”
“I was saying earlier that we’re becoming closer as we work together.” She said it quietly. Her hands rested on the papers she had straightened in her embarrassment. One of them, on heavy bond and under an imposing letterhead, was from a person who identified himself as Mildred’s lawyer. Brian noticed it on top of the stack. I should have gone into law like my father, he thought. Then his gaze fell on Carly Swift’s hands. Slender, capable, nearly translucent with blue veins faintly visible. He was gripped by a sudden desire to trace the veins with his finger, barely touching the soft-looking skin. To hell with law, he thought.
“Oh,” he said. “Yes. Natural enough. Though it doesn’t always happen.”
“Don’t you feel closer to me, Brian?” His desk lamp, trained on the work, left her face in shadow. Her calves in their leggings made soft swishing sounds as they brushed against each other.
“Ah... of course I do, Carly.”
“You’ve never shown that you do.”
You can’t really read my mind, he thought. Good thing. “I guess it never occurred to me to... express it in an overt way.”
She leaned, closing the small distance still between them. “Express what?”
His head swam. “Did you spray on more scent while I wasn’t looking, Carly?”
“I don’t wear scent.”
“But the smell of wildflowers, that—”
“That smell. That intoxicating scent of clean growing things.”
She brushed against him like soft electricity. “You like the way I smell?”
His voice shook. “I like it... very much.”
“Is that all you like about me?”
“Ms. Swift, if you don’t... that is, if you continue to do that—”
“I shall be in peril of giving way to temptation.” He stood up and his chair struck the wall of the tiny office. He intended to step away from her but moved closer. She had come into the lamplight. He saw her face. It was so vulnerable it made his heart lurch.
“You’re not made of ice, then? You can feel temptation?”
His chest heaved. “Of course I can.”
She dropped her eyes. “Do I tempt you, Mr. Hibble?” she whispered, head bowed.
His throat closed so that his “yes” was choked.
He swept her into his arms. “Far too much.”
When he released her from the kiss, he still held her pressed to him. When she could speak she said, “Goodness!” Her eyes were closed and her cheeks burned red.
“I’ve caught you out.”
“Your speculation is all wet,” he said.
Her eyes popped open. “My what, now?”
“You missed the bullseye with your succorbus.”
“You asked what if the succorbus—”
“Gets easier to say, doesn’t it?” she said.
“I’m forcing myself. What if the succorbus—”
“Kind of grows on you.”
He stopped her mouth with another kiss, his body driving her lovely round bottom against the hard edge of the desk.
“Like something else,” she gasped.
“Hush. You asked what if the succorbus gave the man life, by some method not sexual.”
“I really can’t remember what I said. Or how I got here.” His hands thrust her sweatshirt up and found her belly, hips, the small of her back. His hands climbed as he kissed her again. Her knees gave out. “Or how to stand.”
“You won’t need to.” His breath rasped. “Is this the camisole?”
“So my question to you” — he kissed her — “is, what if your wicked little succorbus restored our man to life with sex?”
“Let’s find out,” she said.
The desk was too small; they got bruises. The red camisole thrown over the lamp drenched the office in crimson.
The layout was ruined.
Copyright © 2019 by Max Christopher