Chapter 6: Good vibrations
Copyright © 2017 by Brian Bixby
His name, it turns out, is Pedro. He’s originally from Brazil and was banished from South America for a love affair with a goddess who was married to someone else. Or so he tells me. The reason he’s here is that he was hired by a Council member; “I cannot under any circumstance tell you who, but I understand your brother-in-law has an interesting family tree,” he confides to me. His job is to give me a fun night off after what said Council member figured would be a trying day.
And he is indeed funny and entertaining. Everything from wine to after-dinner coffee is a production, each with a different costume, each accompanied by outlandish stories, and each course excellent in its own way. He’s using serious magic to pull this off, of course, which makes me wonder if he’s a god, but, no, he insists he’s only a demigod, “a penniless exile who will never again see the beloved shoreline of his native land.”
At the end of the dinner, we are both sitting on the floor, sipping an excellent espresso made from what Pedro assures me is the best Brazilian coffee. I’ve switched out of office wear to casual attire that might be construed as an invitation, because I’ve been considering the possibilities. Pedro is now dressed as a Vegas lounge singer, and is finishing off a rather smutty song on a rather odd guitar.
When he finishes, I announce, “That’s it. You are forgiven. You don’t have to go to the landfill, after all.”
In mock indignation, he protests, “I cook you a fine meal, serve you the best of beverages, and it is my singing that you choose to praise?”
“I like personal attention and dirty songs,” is my response.
He puts on a sultry expression. “Just how much personal attention do you need?”
I decide reluctantly that I’m not going there. Although, I have to admit, I suspect it would be quite nice. “A lot. But not from you, not tonight, Pedro. Although I like you a lot better than the men the Council has lined up for me.”
He stands up. “That is the best compliment you could pay me. Although, to be fair, I know some of your potential husbands, which sadly removes some of the shine off that compliment.” He pulls a card out of his pants pocket. “Have this, Madame, and if you ever want to see me again, I’ll be around.”
He flicks the card toward me. I almost fumble catching it. It’s got his name and contact information, as “President and Chief Employee” of “Daydreams and Night Dreams, Inc.” I look up to thank him, only to find he has disappeared.
I wonder if I’ll regret not having him stay. He was funny, handsome, and appealing, a rare combination, that. But there is something disquieting about the whole business. A council member hiring entertainment for me? One of Henry’s relatives? For the first time in my life, I wish I had a list of Council members in front of me. Assuming Pedro was telling the truth (and why would he lie about it?). I suspect Agatha stuck a bee in her husband Henry’s ear, and he must have called up his Council relatives. The more I think of it, it’s the only way the whole business makes sense.
So, yeah, maybe I should have taken him to bed. At least the thought of what that might have been like makes me smile when I do go off to bed. And I’m in a cheerier mood when I arrive at work Tuesday morning. That lasts until Denise, the receptionist, sees me. She breaks up in laughter, and can’t stop, blurting out between chuckles that I should see the packages on my desk.
I walk into the office space. Carl, who’s my boss’s peer, sees me and says, “Having a party during today’s coffee break?” and breaks out into a gale of laughter.
Nuts to him. What could possibly be going on? The only thing I can think of is chocolates. Some idiot suitor sent me pounds of chocolates. So the coffee break will once again be in my cube. That has to be it. I pick up my pace, the Wrath of God on my face, ignoring everyone I pass, until I turn into my cube.
It’s not chocolates. It’s boxes all right, but they are not chocolates. And then I see the diagram on the side of one of them and I know.
I sit down in my chair and put my head in my hands. I will never, ever live this down.
Someone puts a hand on my shoulder. I look up. It’s Monica. She looks sorrowfully at me and says, “Kind of embarrassing, isn’t it.” And then she adds, “But do you really need fourteen?” and cracks up.
They’re vibrators. Fourteen giant-sized vibrators. At least half a dozen have pictures or diagrams of the contents on the outside.
Someone, no, a whole bunch of someones of a particular stripe, went through my social media, found my joke, and didn’t realize it was a joke. And now everyone in my office knows I have fourteen vibrators. Giant-size ones.
Pedro says he works for hire. I wonder if I can hire him to kill my suitors?
And then I realize I am avoiding the problem. This unwanted courtship thing is getting out of hand. If I don’t take charge, my life is going to become a living hell. There are times when a girl has to stand up on her own hind legs and spit in the world’s face. This is one of them.
First step: text all twenty of my suitors. Tell them that I want all the vibrators recalled. And I want a box of chocolates from each of them, not to please me, but to buy off the shame they’ve caused me with my co-workers.
Second step: send them another text, “Don’t contact me. I’ll contact you. Penalty for disobedience is being dropped for good.”
Third step: send one more text, “I’m sorry I kicked one of you yesterday. I should have kicked you all for being idiots. And remember previous text.”
There. I am now in control.
During the course of the day, the vibrators gradually disappear as delivery people come for them. Only one is left behind. I think it’s a converted chain saw, between its size and that it runs on gasoline. I get a text message back from one suitor saying he’s sorry to violate my order, but he wants me to know he can’t return the vibrator in question, so he’s sent three boxes of chocolates (one per my original request, one for being unable to return the vibrator, and one for violating my command not to contact me).
My co-workers wipe out a box of liquor-filled chocolates during our afternoon coffee break. They’d have wiped out two of them, but my manager, Linda, puts a stop to that. And then she summons me to a private meeting
We sit down in Linda’s office, me in front of her desk, her behind it, looking serious. She can look serious easily. The gray hair, square face, and the immaculate business suits she wears never fail to impress. Linda says to me, “Daphne, your private life is your private life, but what the fuck is going on with you?” She breaks up laughing at the end.
“I won the lottery and now my family wants to arrange a marriage with one of my score of first cousins so we can have nice inbred children. My cousins don’t do anything for me sexually, so that’s why they sent me the vibrators.” I say all this with a straight face.
“I told my family I work with a bunch of sexually frustrated women. Today they sent vibrators. Tomorrow they’re sending kittens.
“I went on a cruise during my last vacation and slept with the entire crew, and they now have their first shore leave. I may need help handling them, if any of my co-workers are interested in an orgy.”
“Stop!” Linda has finally stopped laughing. Apparently I’m better at being a joke than telling one. She gets herself fully under control. “Look, I don’t need to know the details. Can you just promise me this is going to stop soon? It’s disrupting work.”
“Already under control, I think. They got the message that sending a vibrator looks a little pushy before the first date. After, well, it depends how the first date goes. I make no promises there.”
I nod, put on my grave face. “Seriously, Linda. I’m sorry this all happened. I’ve put my foot down, and I expect it to stop after today.”
Linda knows she should end the meeting, but she’s dying of curiosity. “Why . . . ? I know I shouldn’t ask, but, I mean . . .”
“It really is a family thing,” I tell her. “Twenty cousins. I’m supposed to marry one of them. Old family tradition.” Close enough to the truth, and the difference would be meaningless to Linda.
“You agreed to this?” Linda knows something of my romantic history. She can’t believe it.
“No, but that’s not stopping them.” I try to smile. “Look, Linda, they’re a bit . . . enthusiastic. But I can deal with them. You’re not going to read how I was forced into an arranged marriage and then killed when my husband found out I wasn’t a virgin.” I hope.
But, as I head home, carrying a gasoline-powered vibrator with me, I admit I’m kidding myself. My control is temporary, and will last only until the suitors complain to the Council. And then I will get orders. I think of what Agatha told me. If my father really is an Exile, he could be a full-blown god, in which case the Council would have to give me some rights, grant me status as a demigoddess at the very least. I imagine what it would be like to tell some suitor who thinks he’d be marrying beneath him that I’m actually superior in rank to him. Hah! Forget that, I could probably tell the Council to go stick their marriageable list where the sun don’t shine. To hell with their orders!
Nice fantasy. Back to real life. Once I get home, I settle down to arranging dates with two of my suitors chosen at random from the list. I make the dates for Wednesday and Thursday, weeknights, to strongly hint these dates are not going to end up with me in bed with them. And I copy the Council’s secretary, just to let them know I am being an obedient little prospective bride. Grrrrr!
That done, I settle in my bathtub with a glass of wine, congratulate myself on a job well done, and wonder just what the heck I’m getting into. This peaceful and pleasant moment lasts all of five minutes before I hear someone come into my apartment through my locked door. I’m annoyed. It’s almost not worth the bother of having locks with Mum’s people around.
A woman steps into my bathroom. She’s wearing the gray uniform of the Council’s Enforcers, the equivalent of police. “Daphne Vane?” she asks.
“Answer the question, yes, or no.”
Oh, great, a martinet. The Enforcers are usually selected from some barely powerful demigods. But they are backed by the Council and All-Father, so they tend to throw their weight around. And one does not defy them lightly. I say, “Yes.”
“You encountered Maria Tarretti on Sunday?”
“If she’s Mike Tarretti’s sister, then the answer is yes.”
I wait for her to tell me just to answer “yes” or “no,” but that answer is apparently acceptable. She goes on, “What did you do to her?”
“Why? What happened to her?”
Wrong answer. The Enforcer says, “I ask the questions here. What did you do to her?”
My temper is getting up. “Well if you tell me what’s happened to her, maybe I can give you a more informative answer.” She comes barging in here, acting like . . .
The Enforcer hits me with a magical shock. It’s like having a convulsion, I guess. My head hits against the tub behind me and I reach back to feel where it hurts. And the next thing I know, I’m choking. The Enforcer has knelt down and caught me by the throat. She drags me up the wall behind me as she stands up herself. I don’t know if I am going to choke to death or die of asphyxiation.
So I do something so stupid, I would never have considered it in any other circumstance. I let her see my eyes as they really are, and make her let go.
One deep breath, keep my eyes focused on her, two deep breaths, I have just taken control of an Enforcer, three deep breaths, this means I’ve just assaulted an Enforcer in performance of her duties, four deep breaths, keep my eyes focused on her, five deep breaths. Okay.
I am in deep shit. Assaulting an Enforcer is a crime. I need to let her go. But I can see into her mind, and know she will beat the tar out of me if I let go.
Calm down, Daphne. First let’s find out what happened to Maria Tarretti. Look in her mind for that. So I do. Unfortunately, this Enforcer doesn’t actually know what happened. She was just sent here to bludgeon information out of me. So much for progress.
What next? This is an Enforcer, and I have not just interfered with her official duties, I’ve humiliated her. I cannot bear to let her go, knowing she’ll hurt me very, very badly as soon as I do. I need to make her leave. But I doubt any order I give will last long once I break eye contact. Having her leave without completing her mission runs against all her training and habits.
But, what if I do something to her like I did to Maria Tarretti, manipulate her emotionally? After all, I’ve just humiliated her. I work from that. I tell her she’s failed. I make her deeply ashamed. I tell her she can’t save face. And finally I tell her the only course left for her is to leave.
And then I get out of her mind.
Tears start falling from her face. She begins to cry. She notices me looking at her, and she turns away in shame and runs out of the bathroom. A few seconds later I hear my apartment door open and close. She’s gone. That worked out well, from my perspective.
Still, my evening is ruined. I towel off and get dressed. And I curse myself for being a fool. I haven’t saved myself a beating, just postponed it. The Enforcers will return, and I’ll bet they are going to be a lot less nice this time around.