Nightmares are also dreams Part 33-The Photographer

I pull onto a private road that goes back into one of those McMansion neighborhoods. All clean lines and faux luxury finishes. Lush parks only seen by toddlers and nannies and midrange luxury vehicles when little Ethan and Tad play soccer.

The house is at the end of a long street ending in a cul-de-sac and only has one neighbor. The lot to the right appears to be some kind of guard house. Figures that this neighborhood would have its own private security.

To the left the house is a standard two story with windows streaming in light. Hell, even the door has windows. It’s the ultimate show piece. Look at my glass house and all the fabulous toys.

The house to the right has the same arrangement but all the windows are silvered and reflective.
And there is something off that I can’t put my finger on. These are supposed to be wedding photos…so where are all the cars?

Anyway, the jobs the job. I park on the street and get out my camera bags. Time to schlep like a sherpa. I really need an assistant. But assistants cost money…maybe an intern…

There isn’t a doorbell so I put down my bag, gently, and reach for the door knocker when a voice from a hidden intercom says, “Look up, into the camera.”

Startled, I look around until I see the camera perched in the upper right.

The feminine voice demands, “State your name and business.”

“Jonathan Franks. No relation,” I say with a smile. “Wedding Photographer.”

“Hold out your arms, perpendicular to your legs,” the voice states.

Rolling my eyes, I set down my other bag and hold out my arms. What are they going to do laserscan me?! This is such bullshit. I’m adding an asshole surcharge to the bill.

I jump when hands start running along my arms and back.
“What the fuck?!,” I demand.

“Sir, just hold still and this will be over soon.” That same feminine voice from behind me this time.

Mentally adding 5% to the surcharge, I hold still. Every nook and cranny is poked and prodded.

These rich bitches. Security as status symbol. Like it wouldn’t be in the camera cases if I was smuggling a weapon.

“Ok sir. Walk with me to the security building and we will get you processed and x-ray your gear.”

Fuck this. I’m hitting them with my 50% crazy bastards surcharge. Even with that, I know this is gonna be a shit gig.

Nightmares are also dreams Part 32-Interlude-Pel

Watching my girls play is the best part of my day. I spend time thinking about them. Wondering why I keep working. Why I keep taking ops. Why I keep doing this thing I do?

And then I remember. I remember the faces. The smiles. The jokes. The sorrow filled faces looking back at me, knowing that there isn’t anything left to do but die. My people.

I can lie to myself and pass them off as employees. As people who made choices. But at the end of the day, I’m the one responsible. I took the contract. I sent them into harms way. And I’m the reason they died.

People will say it’s the person who planted the bomb, pulled the trigger, or plunged the blade. And they’re right. They’re right. But it’s not a zero sum equation. And my choices, my intel, my signature on some piece of paper sent them careening into the path of the bullet and nothing I do makes up for that.

But what I can do is take care of their families. Take care of their legacies. And make better decisions in the future. But I can’t do that without money. And I can’t do that without resources. And really, this is the only life I know. So I take my joys where I can.

Take my girls and give them the chance at safety and joy and love. All while I know, my men and women are executing orders and placing themselves one step closer to that final sleep.

Sometimes the responsibility hits you out of nowhere. The crushing weight, briefly unbearable
Until something lifts you up.

Tara’s impish smile and Sara’s brazen grin. And the nods of the guards. Who know what happens when I go too quiet and my gaze slips distant. And remind me, life doesn’t stop. Best get to it.

Nightmares are also dreams Part 31-Tara

This body paint is something else. I could not believe that was me in the mirror and yet it felt like I was seeing myself as the truest me I’ve ever been. Being a fox makes sense to me. Like all the world has been slightly out of sync until I saw the truest expression of my self in the mirror and now the last tumbler has clicked into place and all I need do is walk through the now unlocked door.

I exit my room and notice Pel is doing that oh so attentive unattentive nonchalance thing he does when he is self-satisfied with some ploy of his. My eyes flick over to Sara. Her look says it all. If eyes could light fires, I’m sure Pel’s tux would be in flames.

I follow my last instructions and present myself to Pel. I know he loves me but I always feel the slightest moment of fear before he speaks. I can’t seem to find a way to get the thought that he’ll harm me out of my head. It’s not even some fear that the other shoe will drop. It’s just that the look of possession and lust and ownership in his eyes look just like Mark’s eyes. He’d be hurt if I told him that. It’s not how he sees himself. Not as a predator but as a protector, but those eyes are the same. Until he kisses my forehead and whispers in my ear, “How’s my sweet fox girl doing?”

I don’t know how he does it. Maybe the tone of voice? But just a whispered question and I’m blushing and my skins normally so pale that I blush all over. But he’s waiting for me to say something, and with a little hiccup, I say, “I’m a very happy fox, today.”

He takes my hand and turns us towards Sara.

With a smile, Pel says, “Well, my dears, ready to take some pictures.”

I struck silent. Sara’s eyes hold the same predatory gleam that Pel’s has. The same desire and possessive need pours from her.

I startle when Pel leans over to me and whispers, “You know, foxes are predators too.”

Nightmares are also dreams Part 30

I catch Sara looking as she realizes I’ve set her up. Her shock and wounded false innocence wakes a smile in me. One of those slow smiles that grow until you’re grinning. That slowly spreads until you are looking up from the deep well of self, shining out from your eyes and your pores. As if, suddenly, you are more yourself now. As if you are more fully awake than you have ever been.

I watch her shudder. She knows. Knows that I’ve constructed this just for her. Knows that she is deep in my web of machinations. I wait for her to call yellow or red. I know I’ve pushed her. She thinks that she has dealt with her parents but I know how they treat her. Like she has failed because she married me. Like she failed because she didn’t marry into some blue blooded, cold, social climbing family. Because she works and sullies her hands by brokering deals.

I know she is afraid of them. Afraid they will reach out their political might and squash me. What she doesn’t know is that I’ve worked with all of their friends. Small, personal contracts mainly but the bottom line is that they like me better than they like her family. And I have more than enough information to cut off any back channel deal they can try to cook up.

I can get along just fine with them because I don’t give a fuck what they think. But when she is around them, she reverts back to that scared teenager who is so different from them but can’t show it. She refuses to let me handle it. But a punishment and a scene can push her boundaries. Which let’s me handle this my way. I know she thinks that we are doing some kink shoot. And we will, we most definitely will. But first we are going to take some real wedding style pictures. Something we can send out for Solstice cards. Because, if they hurt her more than I can allow, I’ll have to do something I’d rather not. And this may spur a conversation that allows us all to circumvent that.

Here comes Tara. Fully body painted as a fox. She looks lithe and perfect. She walks over and presents herself for inspection. They’ve airbrushed the appearance of fur. It even shifts and moves with her movements. I snap her collar and lead on. Watching her beam at me. I glance over at Sara. I can see the war of pride and fear in her and know that she is trapped now.

Nightmares are also Dreams Part 29-Sara

I cannot believe that man! My mother’s dress! Like I would wear that frumpy conservative lump. And to imply that I had less than 30 minutes for hair and makeup…no absolutely not?! Just because he’s the Master doesn’t mean he gets to dictate how I look. We did not negotiate this and I am not going to let him get away with this…this…punishment. I encouraged our pet to play and she is super happy now and he punishes me! No, absolutely not. If he tries anything else, I’m calling red and stopping this trainwreck.

Pictures for my parents. They know that I’m married. They don’t know the specifics of our relationship and they don’t need to know! Their arch-conservatives rich bitches and they could start throwing their weight around. Pel thinks he can play in their world but he can’t. It’s all clandestine words of warning and bribes disguised as political contributions.

Pel’s idea of subtle coercion is blackmail and a gun. He’d get eaten alive in their world. Petty warlords and tin pot dictators have nothing on the political bureaucrats my parents buy.

Well this is going faster than I thought…

“Where do you ladies normally work,” Sara asked the makeup and hair artists.

“We work on Broadway, dear. Your beau flew us out just for you and had us sitting on standby all day at some private hotel,” the makeup artist replied.

“Flew us on a private jet, very posh, and we never went through security so fast, I don’t know how he managed that,” the hair artisan said.

That son.of.a.bitch. He was planning this the whole fucking time. Flew them across country on a whim! Bullshit. He was going to do this the entire day. He was just waiting for me to disobey or infract in any way and if I didn’t he would have set up a no win scenario.

That sneaky, conniving, beautiful bastard of a man.
I look over to see him sitting in his tux, reading on his phone and drinking a glass of pineapple juice. Not a care in the world.

He looks up like he can tell I’m looking and that slow possessive smile creeps across his face, darkens his eyes and the hunger their makes me shudder.

My Pel.

Nightmares are also dreams Part 28-Interlude

I look around at the small group of men. Disheveled, dirt and other offal staining our clothes and faces. I’ve never met them, but apparently they are with the Circle, which led them to my door earlier this afternoon. Apparently, I’m on some list somewhere as a safe house. Nevermind that I just do the accounts.

I’m watching them watch me as I code in, just as protocol was drilled into me.

I hang up and wait for the callback on the secure phone. I smile and ask, “Can I get you gentlemen anything? Juice or an apple?”

They just stare at me like I’m not even here.
Ugh, save me from the knuckle draggers.
The phone rings and I punch in the last code. So paranoid but most of these criminal types are. Except the cartel guys. They are mostly cheap swagger in bodies mommy didn’t hug enough.
But, the jobs the job.

I hand over the phone to their de facto leader and exit the room. It doesn’t pay to overhear these conversations…well, it doesn’t pay to be Seen to overhear. But I can hear quite well through the bugs planted around the office.

“Sir, they took the transhipment point down. A half dozen of us only made it out because they were paying more attention to the product rather than looking for hidey holes,” Mr tough guy says.

I can hear some response but nothing specific.

Mr Tough guy’s starts yelling, “No sir. NO! These guys were military, it wasn’t cops. They didn’t ask for surrender, they just started killing us. NO! This Was the only option. The last two safe houses had ambush teams waiting. We barely made it out alive. We lost half the survivors just making it here.”

I look over to the ambush team waiting at the other entrance and raise my glass of chilled peach juice to them. It’s so nice to work with professionals. People who know that it’s just business and are willing to accept the realities. Plus, who turns down half a million dollars for 10 minutes work?

“Yes, Sir. Yeah, all good. We’ll be at hanger 12 in 2 hours.”

As soon as he hangs up, the ambush team busts down my mahogany doors and swarms my ex-employers.

The CKD(Chief Knuckle Dragger) looks at me like I shot his puppy. I just smile and shrug. And he smiles back.

What’s that ringing? I look at my new employer and they are holding a silenced pistol on me, why?!

“No one who ever profits from this. Orders are orders.”

I seem to be sitting down. How did I get here?
My juice has spilled….that’s gonna stain…
I don’t remember adding strawberries to the mix….