Authors: Jennifer Stevenson
Tags: #humor, #hinky, #Jennifer Stevenson, #romance
Jewel took a
deep breath of stale danish and re-entered the living room.
walking from pile to pile of the magazines, tapping them. Poppets sprang up
wherever he tapped. “Interesting. My touch seems to summon the apparition.”
Clay said, “Could
that be because you’re, uh—” He glanced over his shoulder at the landlady. “English?
Jewel, you try.”
said tremulously, “Have you look in bedroom?”
Jewel got the icks just trying to imagine the bedroom. “Clay,
how about you look?”
you, little lady,” Clay said in a deep voice. He threw his shoulders back and
opened the bedroom door.
as long as one engages with them,” Randy said thoughtfully.
“What do you
mean, engage?” Jewel said.
At the bedroom
door, Clay gasped.
came to stand behind him.
“It’s — it’s
full of—” Clay turned away, pushing her back.
his nose. “Sweat socks.”
past. The bedroom violated the Clean Air Act, but Clay was right. It was
G-rated. Dirty laundry lay ankle-deep, but she saw no girlie posters, porn, or
She came out
and stood looking around at the stacks of porn and their dancing, twirling,
teasing, laughing poppets. She turned to the landlady. “Do you have a dumpster?
Or just those little garbage cans?”
“Deli on the
corner hass dumpster,” the landlady said.
“When do they
swap out for a new one?”
“I ask my
Aubrey!” The landlady went downstairs.
Jewel called a
huddle. “Randy, what do you mean they persist if you engage with them?”
your term is ‘interactive.’ They are autonomous but responsive only. That
signifies a message of some sort.”
“So if one
doesn’t ask them to appear, they will not appear. Probably. If one ignores
them, they subside — vanish. O’Connor must have known what would happen, for he
never threw away the old magazines.”
Jewel bit her
lip. “So did he, like,
appear? I mean, did he make this happen?”
around the room. “I don’t know.”
something else you don’t know,” Clay said.
at him impatiently. “Yes, Mr. Comic Relief? You have a contribution?”
bags.” Clay took a white ball of paper out of the overflowing wastebasket and
uncrumpled it. “Have you looked at the address?”
Jewel said. “My favorite.”
the rolled-up magazine out of Randy’s back pocket. “They’re from the same place
as this lame porn.” He flipped through the magazine and pointed at fine print. “Nine
sixty west Washington Boulevard.”
that address recently.” Jewel frowned. “Huh. Obviously we’re gonna have to pay
this porn company a visit.” She licked her lips. “And buy some pastry while
we’re at it.”
phoned in their discovery to Ed, Randy gathered up armloads of magazines and
hauled them to the dumpster behind the corner deli, and Clay got the landlady
and her husband to show him around O’Connor’s apartment and describe how they
were going to redecorate. As the magazines went away, the landlady cheered up.
“Ve never haff
cockroaches, you know.” She dug Clay in the ribs. “That’s something, in
neighborhood vit deli. Plus Mr. O’Connor vas no neatnik.”
came up beside her and put his arm around her waist. “That certainly was
something,” he said sadly, watching the magazines go out the door in Randy’s
“Oh, you.” His
wife slapped him gently on the hand.
the moment while they weren’t fighting. “Tell me, have you been approached by
anyone else from the city about — about all this?”
pinched his wife on the behind and she squealed. “Nope. You’re it. I’m
thinkin’,” he said to his wife, “we put the bed in this room, eh, honey? It’s
bigger and it gets more light.” He bumped his shoulder against his wife’s and
personal. Jewel looked out the window.
upstairs with his phone in his hand. “Ed says we can go over there tomorrow.”
“What about my
other job?” Jewel said, air-typing.
stuffed his phone in his pocket, then did a double take at the landlord and his
wife, locked in a clinch. “Whoa.”
“Let’s give ’em
their privacy. Randy’s done here.” She led Clay downstairs. “That was interesting.
Randy isn’t scared of this stuff at all.”
to the bone himself,” Clay said. “Why should it scare him? Come to think of it,
that could be a decent job for him.”
hinky stuff to disassemble pocket zones?” Jewel nibbled her lip. “I’d feel
better if I had the slightest clue how they worked or what makes ’em.” She
glanced up the stairs in the direction of the now-porn-free apartment. “Do you
suppose it’s safe for them to move in there?”
“I’m sure it
won’t hurt them,” Clay said.
sure at all, but she didn’t know how to find out. And she didn’t know how to
protect them without taking their home away from them.
she broached the idea of hinky-stuff removal to Randy. “You’d get on the city
payroll. The benefits are great.”
He lay under
the sheet, his schlong making a tent. He scowled. “You would make a dustman of
“One who takes
away filth. This is not a career.”
She slid under
the sheet beside him. “Nnno. But it pays. It’s safer for you to do than for
anyone else I know. Ed would sign you onto the payroll without a murmur. No
close scrutiny of your paperwork.”
“By this you
mean proof of my citizenship.”
“I think not,”
he said casually, turning out the light.
She sat up in
bed. “Look, it’s hazardous waste removal. That’s not garbage detail. It’s high
tech. You could charge whatever you wanted.”
his shoulder. “Hey! I’m trying to get you an income here!”
teaching me better skills.”
wanted to ask what had happened to the money Clay said they’d got when he and
Randy raided the bank accounts of a serial black widow. But that whole thing
made her honest soul so crazy that she couldn’t even bring it up. Since Randy
hadn’t mentioned that money, and he was still hitting her up for cash for
clothes, she assumed it was one of Clay’s jokes. “Does he ever bother to tell
you he’s teaching you something illegal?”
“We have been
most careful.” Not the answer she’d hoped for. Randy rolled over, propping his
head on his elbow. “Currently I am earning micropayments from a pay-to-read
company. I worked out the algorithm for the click-bot,” he added proudly.
wasn’t her expertise, but it sounded crooked. “And this pays what?”
“So far it earns
in the realm of twelve dollars a day.”
She threw up
her hands. “That’s not an income!”
“But I don’t
have to sit and click all day,” he pointed out. “I arm my click-bot and set it
running. In the meantime I can learn other skills, or take other positions.”
totally sounds like a scam. I’ll have Clay shut it down tomorrow.”
rose. “But I’m earning money!”
stink she’d made about him living off of her, she supposed she should be more
sorry, okay. I’ll talk to Clay and find out what the deal is.” She yawned and
slid down under the sheet again. “Let’s just have sex and go to sleep, okay?”
she said, laying one hand on his muscular thigh.
stiffly, “If my efforts to achieve solvency inconvenience you, I humbly beg
You’re such a drama queen.” She stroked his thigh. “Sex? Sleep?”
He lay rigid
under her hand.
Oh, jeepers. What now?
“You have no
use for me but one.” He sounded mortified.
“And what a
fabulous use it is,” she said, trying for lightness. He said nothing. “Don’t be
batten on you forever, trading
“Why do you
care? You’re a sex demon. You can’t help yourself.”
“I am trying
to break a habit of centuries.”
She rolled her
eyes. “You say yes to every woman who gets you alone! You make
say yes in my
You love it.”
“I was not
always a sex demon. In bed, yes, I am. But since you freed me from sexual
slavery,” he said with an ironic note that pissed her off, “I am reverting to the
man I was.”
“A lord. A
snotty, bossy, privileged—”
“Just so,” he
realized that she was being dismissive and impatient, while he was exercising
restraint criticized her.
She took her
hand off his thigh. “Oh, all right.”
I don’t have to put up with
turned over and put her back to him. She still wanted sex.
message was coming through. He felt exploited and taken for granted.
Every night for three solid months.
was fabulous, magical, powerful, totally swoony and explosive, and she rather
thought she was getting addicted to him. And now, naturally, he expected
something more of her.
In her heart,
she knew he was right. It was time for her to bite the bullet and make an
effort to get used to this... relationship.
how much relationship talk they’d have to do tonight before she could get laid
and roll over.
now you’re being insensitive, Heiss. Go to sleep.
to spend Wednesday investigating the link between the tame porn and the poppets
in the pocket zones, but when she called in to Baysdorter Boncil to claim a
sick day, the receptionist transferred her to Sharisse, not Maida.
today. When are you coming in?”
Jewel began, “Uh,
I was thinking maybe not—”
be here. You want to get him on harassment for the EEOC, right?”
What makes you think I’m with EEOC?
Jewel wanted to say. Maida was right. Her navy polyester had done its evil
If she was to
accomplish anything, she’d better do it soon. “We still on for lunch?”
drew a deep breath. “I’ll be there in an hour.” She hung up and told Randy, “I
have to go to BB. Stay out of trouble. Call Clay over to work on your identity.”
“I’m sure he
would prefer to hear that from you.”
her sex demon squarely. “Look. You two can lock horns on your own time. I can’t
be bothered trying to handle you delicately. Got me?”
He aimed huge
black eyes at her. “When is my own time, Jewel?”
She did a
double take. “What?”
eight-thirty to five with you, except when he is undercover. What is my
She opened her
mouth to say that, while she was at work, he could visit the zoo or take up tai
chi, she didn’t give a rat’s patoot, but she stopped. They both knew he might
zap into a bed at any time. He’d already zapped into a bed in a department
store and the back seat of a junked Camry, to name two. He couldn’t afford to
stray far from her side, and she couldn’t afford to let him go places where
retrieving him could be embarrassing.
So he stayed
with her, or he stayed home, or sometimes Clay babysat him.
hated it, which was reasonable.
“We’ll get you
a real job soon. I promise.”
She threw on
the navy polyester pants but compromised on the top: a white lace-edged cami
layered under one of those drapey scoop-necked tops that look so demure in Lane
Bryant until you get them on a woman with major boobs. Also, the scoop top was
red. She felt like all she needed was a scarf with stars on it and she could be
a walking tribute to the American flag.
after her. “I thought you wanted to see my pay-to-read click-bot.” He looked
like a hound dog watching Mom get ready for work, knowing he would be left
alone all day.
With her hand
on the doorknob, she said guiltily, “I’m sorry. I just don’t have time right
She shut the
door before he could make her melt.
Boncil office was humming. Girls whispered over the mahogany rails of their
corrals. Girls whispered over the coffeepot and the copy machine.
her way to her corral.
her there and handed her a bulging folder. “Steven will be back after lunch. He
left this stuff to go into the lease package spreadsheet. Remember how I showed