Some Like It Not
Alex Fimple drove through Grapevine pass entering Los Angeles, feeling his ears pop from the elevation change. He idly watched the scenery, feeling a childlike thrill at the sight of Magic Mountain. After he passed the city of Saugus he toggled between watching the road and consulting his map.
He merged onto the 134 and got off the freeway in Glendale, then drove with an eye on the map until he reached a dilapidated residence with a hand scrawled sign: Teresa Vergera, Curandera, el ojo del cielo.
"The eye of the sky," he murmured and shut off the engine.
The noise from a TV blasted as he walked up and knocked. The sound was turned off and an ancient man opened the door.
"I'm, uh, Willow," he said sheepishly. The old man led him to Teresa's bedroom, then he shuffled away.
"Willow," Teresa breathed startledly, "you really do look mannish." She threw her arms around Alex and squeezed. "Oh, I can feel it's you, though."
"This is me." Alex squeezed her back and stepped away. Teresa was a heavy woman in her thirties, wearing a sleek red kimono with dragon markings.
"I'm afraid I have no memory of you at all."
She gave a comprehending shrug. "You do, and you don't. It's the spell, don't worry about it. At least you had the initiative to call. Let's see what we can do."
She led Alex down the hall to her reading room, a small dark enclave curtained in black, dominated by a round center table and five chairs.
"I get by," Teresa replied. "Doing charlatan readings mostly, but now and then …"
"The real thing," Alex finished.
"Yes. When one of serious mind comes, someone who can contribute. Like you."
"You want something to drink, some tea, or some food before we start?"
Alex shook his head. "I'm okay, thanks." He took a chair and his eyes settled on a crystal ball, the only item on the table.
Teresa picked it up and put it contemptuously aside. "For the fools. Now." From a drawer she brought out a jar filled with yellow tinged liquid. She set it on the table and, peering into it, Alex saw two photos inside, pressed together.
Teresa twisted open the jar and dipped her fingers, then wet her forehead and Alex's. She sat down and took his hands in hers.
"We will sit and clear our minds," she said, and closed her eyes. Alex followed suit. Concentration was vital.
As they sat quietly, the TV noise came to their ears. Lucy argued with Ricky in Spanish, resorting to her unmistakable wailing. As time passed the noise faded and time caught up with them, sitting quietly in that small room.
Warren and Andrew stood outside Giles' apartment, nervously shuffling around. Warren pounded angrily with the side of his fist.
"They're not here," Andrew said again.
Warren kicked the door, then he looked around for signs of danger. "Just keep an eye out for any freaks, man." He stabbed the doorbell several times. "This thing work?"
"Yes, I can hear the bell." Andrew stood facing the street, craning his head for trouble. A siren wailed as a cop car passed, the wail rapidly receding.
"Must be two-for-one at Donut King," Andrew remarked.
Warren pressed his ear to the door. "Damn English creep. You'd think I'd hear something. Stupid robot."
"They're probably gone."
Warren slapped the back of Andrew's head. "You're just talking out the side of your neck, Bobo."
Andrew pointed at the parking lot. "You see any sign of his car?"
"What does he drive?"
"Some weird British car."
The two walked toward the lot. They watched a young couple drive up and park, then run in fright for their apartment.
"It's dangerous out here."
"It's that way everywhere,' Warren snorted. "That's why I need my 'bot."
Andrew inhaled deeply. "Can't we just make another one?"
Warren gave him a look. "No. We can't. I can, but you're useless. I guess I'll have to make another, and you're not getting within hearing distance of it."
Andrew hung his head. Something entered his vision and he turned to see Rayne rushing at them. He presented a vision in purple oddness, calling supervillains to Andrew's mind, paralyzing him with fear. Rayne's face was full of fury. Feets don't fail me now, Andrew thought, but his feets failed him.
Warren turned at the last second and emitted a squeaky scream. Rayne snatched the two youths by their scruffs and shook them.
"You gave me a robot," Rayne growled. "A robot!"
"It worked!" Andrew shouted back.
"Dude- I'm not in this," Warren piped up.
Rayne tossed him aside, and Warren rolled into a well manicured bush.
"You will come with me, you idiot."
Andrew tried to get his feet under him as Rayne pulled him along. He cast his eyes downward and closed them, telling himself they were not floating along, many feet above the ground.
Hermione sat across from Jim, sipped her tea and smiled. "You must get that a lot," she said. "That's two people now, who thought you look like the actor James Garner. How coincidental that you resemble him and share his name."
Jim drank some coffee. "How about that giddy elderly lady, she was something."
Hermione laughed delicately behind her napkin. "Yes, I do favor Julie Andrews somewhat, as a young lady, that is."
"There you go. We're a match made in Heaven."
Tara appeared at Hermione's elbow.
"Giles," she said urgently, "Ethan Rayne is behind this curse. He came to The Magic Box and he's got—"
Hermione looked at her questioningly. "Who are you, young lady?"
Tara put a hand to her forehead. She sighed, "I've been searching all day for you."
"Well, we thought we'd come here, have a nice meal outside the trouble zone." Jim stood and pulled a chair from an empty table and drew it close to Tara. "Please, join us. You look like you could use something to eat."
Tara sank down gratefully. She tapped one of the empty glasses thoughtfully.
Jim beckoned a waiter. "Some wine?" Tara nodded happily. "Bring us some Riesling, please," Jim ordered. "Do you have Jekel?"
"Er, yessir, Jekel Johannisburg, late vintage."
"That'll be fine. We'll take a bottle, and a menu for the lady."
"Nothing to eat for me, thanks," Tara protested.
"Are you absolutely sure?" Jim gave her a winning smile.
"I'll take a menu," Tara said mechanically.
"You look very familiar," Hermione said.
"Giles - uh, Hermine-?"
"Hermione. Hermione Down.""Yes, Hermione. You … ah, this is awkward." she lowered her voice. "You're a man, not a woman. You're really a man named Giles, Rupert Giles, and Jim here is actually a robot made to seduce you."
The wine was served and Tara chugged it while listening to their protracted laughter.
"I'm so sorry," Hermione managed, shamefaced. Jim chuckled some more and she dilated her eyes at him. Jim controlled himself. He picked up the bottle of Riesling and poured.
"I think this is an excellent vintage."
Tara let him fill her glass, and drank while shifting her gaze between them. Jim pushed his hand across the table and Hermione took it, and they exchanged knowing smiles.
"I'm wasting my time here, aren't I?"
"Not at all," Hermione replied. "You should try the cacciatore, it's ever so delicious."
Kendra waited trembling in the dressing room. She surveyed her appearance in one of the full length mirrors. Her outfit consisted of a gold teddy, black thong panties and fishnet stockings with garters, and three-inch pumps. The Feline was a second rate strip club on Rainbow Boulevard in Vegas. The whoops and catcalls streamed loudly from the cheapie audience. Kendra was debuting and her nerves were tightly wound.
"Relax, sweetie," an older stripper said. Kendra looked at her blankly, sitting at an unkind mirror with a cigarette and an open bottle of J&B. Her makeup was as thick as the smoke she blew in Kendra's face.
"M-my first time," Kendra stammered.
"Hell, with your ass –" the woman reached over and squeezed it, and Kendra jumped at the touch "—you have nothing to worry about."
She blew smoke at Kendra again and grinned with teeth that were stained darkly around the edges.
Kendra whispered, "Thanks," then Marsha Brady aka The Pole Python trundled through the door naked, her hands full of clothes and dollar bills. She saw Kendra and smiled, "Showtime, babe," and gave her bottom a slap. She made her way to a chair next to the older stripper and fell into it. She snatched the cigarette away and took a drag.
"Howdja do?" older stripper asked.
"Well, Ruby," Marsha Brady replied, sifting through her take, "I think these stiffs are saving to buy their mamas CSI sweatshirts." She looked up at Kendra. "What're ya waitin' for, Michael Buffer? Get out there already, it's your turn."
Kendra gulped stale air and opened the door. A wave of cigarette smoke enveloped her, along with a roar of expectation. She walked stiffly to the pole and grabbed it. She swung around it the way she had seen the others do yesterday. She twisted and rolled her body upside down. That move drew some approving noises from the men watching, and she twirled to her feet and dropped into the splits.
Rolling upward again, Kendra steeled herself for the moment of truth, the first reveal.
As she undulated sinuously, she untied the drawstrings of her teddy and tugged it off. And they loved it. Hands beckoned, and she grinded her way to them, where they pushed and curled and jammed dollars into her garters, and into the strand of her thong.
Her confidence swelled, and she spun and bucked and did all the moves she had seen, heard of, or thought up on her own. She did it with style and rhythm. She was erotic, she was naughty, she wrote checks with her hips then bounced them with her breasts, finally cashing them when she removed the thong to the thrill of the vocal crowd. They returned her generosity with their money. Among the singles Kendra spotted a couple of fives, a ten and … a rarity from The Feline's working class clientele - a twenty!
She got so into it, the next girl had to come out and pull her off, also helping her scoop up cash.
Back in the dressing room the older stripper's face showed grudging respect. "You're a natural, honey, an absolute natural," she told her, blowing more smoke in her face.