You’d think I would have gotten this part down, but I’m as bad as I ever was.
“I’m a genie,” I say to the guy, and take a drag off my cigarette. A thread of smoke pools against the roof of the taxi.
“You’re a genie,” the guy parrots back to me.
“Well, I’m your genie, specifically.”
“Okay,” the guy says, no expression on his face. He leans forward and says to the cabbie, “Drop me off up ahead, as soon as the traffic clears.”
I sigh and slip my giant celebrity-esque sunglasses off my face. I rub the bridge of my nose and wonder why I’ve never bothered to come up with a better pitch. I’ve had 3,000 years to perfect it. I guess procrastination doesn’t get easier with immortality - when you can put something off literally forever, you do it all the time.
“I’m not crazy,” I say, no inflection - desperately entreating that you’re not nutballs only makes you look more nutballs.
He’s mid-fifties, the age where men start to act like silverback gorillas. This guy is tall, 6′2, but thin. He’s crisped tan, the rosy glow of health and wealth. Salt-and-pepper hair, high on his forehead, but the word “balding” is premature. Yuk yuk yuk. His lips flirt indecisively with a scowl. He’s not bad-looking, if you have daddy-issues.
His eyes glide past me, through me, as he checks out the street. I’m in his way - he’ll have to step out into traffic and circle around the car when we stop.
“You’ve got three wishes, by the way,” I say.
“Naturally. Can we stop yet?”
“Can’t get to curb,” the dusky cabbie grunts from the front seat.
“Can you just humor me here?” I ask the guy.
I take another deep hit from my cigarette and feel the fire pushing against my ribcage from the inside. I hold it for as long as I can, then I roll down the window and blow it all out. The sour/spicy tang unique to Constantinople stings my nostrils. I watch the smoke swirl in the wind and expand into racing nothingness. I flick the cigarette out the window and crank it closed.
“No,” the man says. He has the annoyed, imperious tone of a guy who’s used to the ’ole step-and-fetch.
I give him another once-over. He’s wrapped in a gray suit that might be silk - Zeta or Levi would know, but let’s just say that my wardrobial tastes generally run to “whatever the hell I can afford” and “covers me in cloth or cloth-substitute.” The suit could be Italian or Martian as far as I could tell. I’m currently wearing threadbare black jeans that almost have all the black washed out of them and a men’s dress shirt. My shoes are the desiccated corpses of Chuck Taylor’s. As ladies fashion goes, it sucks.
The cab rocks to a stop as a crazy person yanks his sedan into the street in front of us. The cabbie curses in enthusiastic Turkish, and the old guy recognizes his chance to book. He digs through his wallet, and I take the opportunity to scope his driver’s license.
Harlan Parish. It’s a New York license. It disappears too fast to get any more detail.
Parish tosses a fold of cash onto the dashboard and throws the door open, sparking more breathless Turkish from the cabbie. Parish gives me a measuring look and steps into traffic. Horns blare.
“You need a new pitch, honey,” Parish says, leaning into the cab. “Hooking in a place like this is dangerous.”
“I’m not - ”
The door slams. The cabbie is now describing, in Turkish, a graphic and acrobatic sex act to both the fleeing Parish and the driver that cut us off. The cabbie’s suggesting they give this flying act of sensual exuberance a shot. I incline my head, make a Looney-Tunes “yoink” sound, and jump out of the cab.
I’m standing in the bathroom, staring at a pack of cigarettes and mourning fresh oxygen. The bathroom tastes like chemical mint. Mortals. Heaven forbid you use the actual subject of your scents. Synthetic mint smells like air sucked out of a bottle of Windex.
My shades lounge on the paper towel dispenser, and I’m pretending to apply eye makeup that is clearly already on my eyes. It’s okay, the women sliding in and out of the stalls are rocking heavy martini eyes and brittle cocaine stares.
I’m waiting for the chick Parish bought.
A rich American in this city means business, which means pleasure. Not a huge deductive leap, and bingo-bango I just had to ghost him for a while before he ordered delivery. I thought she’d be pubescent, but the girl who stepped out of the black car looked to be mid-thirties. Actually surprised - men Parish’s age usually climb neck-first into rented cheerleaders the second they get a few hundred thousand bucks to their name.
Oh oh here she comes.
Parish’s dessert is wearing a (relatively) conservative black cocktail dress with full black stockings. Her nude heels are simple and only a teensy bit slutty. She’s got an inch or two on me, but most of it is pump. She’s some kind of ethnic blend I can’t quite pinpoint. I don’t exactly fit into any ethnic categories beyond “dusky,” which is a nice way of saying “dark.” I could be mistaken for Turkish in Turkey, Persian in Persia, and Brazilian in Brazil. For the job, it’s convenient.
I think the brassy hair on Parish’s escort is fake. I’d bet hard coins on it, actually. Her roots are darker than my prospects of scoring cheap blow.
She glides up to the sink and fusses with the delicate pile of honey-colored hair on her head. She’s smooth, no scars that I can see, and her eyes don’t have the gutted-pumpkin look of a streetwalker. She’s been doing this for a while, and she’s well paid, and the service made sure she’s never had to deal with the everyday brutalities of a pimp. If I were to take the long-shot guess, I don’t even think she was trafficked. This is a girl with specialties. I respect that.
“I like your hair,” I lie. Too elaborate, it looks like a fucking weathervane. “It’s really pretty.”
I see her real face for about a half millisecond, flicking with the kind of fear you see on the eyes of small forest animals. It’s just a whisper before her mask comes up, the Sultry Bitch talking to the Street Urchin.
“I don’t have any money,” she lies.
Jesus, am I really that pathetic looking? I glance into the mirror fretfully. I allow a moment of honest assessment - the dark eye makeup only accentuates how tired I look, and the motley assortment of ill-fitting clothes evoke the image of a thrift store’s vomit.
“Oh,” I laugh and slap at my sleeves. “I’m backpacking around the Mediterranean. Most of my clothes got jacked in Pula. Womp womp.”
Her eyes lighten one shade, but this isn’t the kind of girl who takes chances.
“Well thank you,” she says, after a long time, like she was looking for the words at the bottom of her purse.
“Smoke?” I ask, and I shake a pack at her.
She straightens her shoulders, her back arching, unconsciously striking a Zebra-like pose of alertness. Her eyes flick toward the door then back again.
“Yeah, why the hell not?” I ask. “I snuck into this place because it seemed like it had good air-conditioning.”
She laughs, and it’s a pleasant, throaty sound. There’s no hint of girlishness in it, which I suspect she might have affected if she was laughing around Parish. Oh Parish you’re so funny, please penetrate me.
I tap out a pair of coffin nails and light them with a disposable. She leans in to get the flame to her mouth, and I get a close look at a few things. I’ve got fast hands.
“Remmy,” I say, simply, between drags. I prefer breathing fire to that other stuff. Call me nostalgic.
“Desiree,” she says, and I laugh. She laughs back. “Ceyda.”
“Better,” I say into a tail of smoke, chin tilted toward the ceiling tiles. “What’re you in for?”
A smirk. “Business.”
She cocks her hip in annoyance and plants her free hand there. She’s got long, well-manicured nails. My nails are streetfighter short, bitten in boredom and filed against my jeans.
“I make more money than you,” she snaps. This girl has a dagger behind her back all the time. I don’t blame her.
“I’m 100% positive about that,” I say.
“What do you do?”
“Mostly shitwork for ungrateful assholes,” I say. “You?”
“Similar, but mine pays.”
“Oh come on, sometimes they’re grateful.”
Ceyda offers a smile that would make DaVinci break out his paints.
“I’ll bet you’ve never had to buy jewelry in your entire career,” I say, gesturing with my smoke-hand towards the cords of ice strapped to her wrist and nestling between her bronzed tits.
“Maybe one or two,” Ceyda admits.
“Aren’t you late?”
“Never,” she says. “I arrive when I mean to.”
“Like Gandalf,” I say.
I wave my hand.
Ceyda stubs her cigarette out against the shiny black marble around the sink and tosses the roach into the trash. A white mint goes into her mouth next. She collects her purse off the counter and tilts her head.
“Thanks for the smoke,” she says.
“And the chat?”
“Well,” she says, and her eyes are hard again. “It’s been a while.”
To my surprise and delight, she cocks a finger gun at me. I’m almost too stunned to laugh, and she strolls gracefully out of the bathroom. I shuck my sleeve and catch the white keycard I lifted out of her purse when I’d leaned in to light her cig.
They have dinner at a fancy restaurant attached to the hotel bar: it’s called “The Golden.” She’s laughing more than she’s talking, and Parish yaps quietly but endlessly. His bodyguards are all eyes from their spot at the Golden’s mirror-finished mahogany sidebar. The two palookas nurse beers that look suspiciously non-alcoholic.
Everything’s coming up Remmy, though, and the long dinner allows me to ride the elevator to the tenth floor and scope out Parish’s room. He’s got private security downstairs, but no one in the hall or in his room. The inside is decorated like Mediterranean Disneyland - lots of old-school arches with Arabian cutouts. The tones lean toward sand and flame, and I’m not feeling remotely nostalgic. There’s one California King bed with aqua sheets, the only nod to cool colors. An oasis. Cute.
I turn the room upside down, but I do it delicately and make sure to memorize where everything goes. I find a few hundred bucks in various pants and coats, I skip the jewelry (too much hassle), and I try the manufacturer debug code on the safe. It works, and I take the time to assess what’s going on there.
Here’s what’s inside the safe:
10 stacks of lira in hundreds, pushed into a miniature tower of pale blue. Probably around a hundred grand, which let me do the math divide by cosine equals about 50,000 America. 30-something thousand Euro. Nobody’s buying an island with it, but it’s more cash than I’ve ever had. I don’t steal it, though, because eldritch mythological entities shouldn’t look so fucking petty.
Also inside the safe:
A tiny European-looking pistol, a notebook full of what looks like financial reports, and a bottle of wine.
I have no clue what’s going on in this guy’s head.
I’m about to close the safe when inspiration kicks me in the labes. I grab two empty wine glasses near the complimentary wine bottle on the hutch. I pop the wine in the safe and fill the two glasses with blood-red. I set the glasses and the open bottle of wine inside the safe. Then I rearrange a few stacks of lira so they look like a little house. Then I close the safe, grab the cheap bottle of wine from the hutch, and uncork it. I take a swig, roll it around in my mouth, and nod approvingly. Shades of Two-Buck Chuck, but conventional wisdom tells me something shitty about beggars and choosers.
I glance at my mobile - their dinner could end early if Parish is a poon hound, but something tells me different. Maybe it’s the fact that he ordered a 30+ year-old escort, or that he keeps wine in his safe, or just his general look, but I’m betting he’s a man who thinks being personable to an escort is romantic.
I take my first shower in like five days, and Oh Sweet Jaime Lannister does it feel like six giant masseuses melting my bones with ancient Babylonian stress-relieving rubs while the Archangel Gabriel plays burning noir jazz in the corner. I stay under the hot water until it threatens to poach me, then I towel off and hop into a fluffy white robe, compliments of the Whatever Hotel whose name I forget. I use some tiny bottles of goo to get my short hair into “fashionable messy,” pop on my sunglasses, and head to the balcony with the cheapo bottle of wine to my lips. Another few swallows and the world gets better.
I close the balcony sliding-glass and recline in a deck chair. I let my bare feet dangle over the railing.
The spray of Constantinople’s nightlights dazzles me, and I breathe in the cool air and see the sights for a long while. The lights reflect in the glassy mirror of both the Bosphorus and the Marmara, soft-focused windows to the deep.
I’m halfway through the bottle when the lights behind me come to life. I glance at my phone - almost two hours at dinner. Not bad. I hear Ceyda giggling, and Parish is mumbling in low tones. Low-resolution silhouettes play against the white curtains, and I watch them fuck for around 18 minutes. Lots of foreplay, good for him. When they’re done and cleaned up, I take a deep breath, a big swig, and scoop myself up. I count to forty, hoping it’s enough time for them to get decent.
I knock the wine bottle three times against the sliding glass door, then I tip it back and drain the rest of the bottle. Clothing sounds shuffle around, and the curtains rake and sway to a stop. The “Lawrence of Arabia” decor both clashes and compliments the salt-and-pepper Caucasian now staring at me through the glass. He’s got his own white fluffy robe on - I smile and tug the trailing belt ends of my robe.
This is where it could have gone bad. A knock on a strange hotel window in the middle of the night. This is where he could have gone to his safe for the pistol, or he could have called his goons, or the hotel staff. Hell he could have just booked screaming from his room. Instead here he stands, glaring at me disapprovingly. His eyes narrow, and his lips press into a line, but he’s not nearly as unmanned as he probably should be.
I guessed right. A “hands on” type of guy. Remmy, you sexy devil.
I hold up the bottle and wiggle it.
“Should we call room service?” I ask.
I wonder if the words make it through the thick glass.
Behind him, Ceyda’s wearing his button-up, the tails tied up to reveal most of her golden thighs. Her hair is tussled, her makeup perfect, and her eyes are calm but wide. Taking in everything, missing nothing. The look clever prey can get when they hear the wolf howl. She’s sitting on the bed, on her knees, her back drawn up. She could spring to her feet and be out the door before either Parish or I could pivot.
Parish reaches out and settles his hand on the sliding glass door handle.
I waggle my eyebrows and pitch the wine bottle over my shoulder, off the balcony. It’s okay, there’s a giant fountain down there, I checked.
His thumb hesitates on the lock, but he doesn’t push it. Instead, he slides the door open and returns his hand calmly to his side.
“I know you,” he says.
His voice is smoother than our first meeting. Ceyda’s certainly buffed down the edges. Men are like that, though. Porcupines before sex, marshmallows after. Whoever called them the weaker sex really had their head screwed on right.
“You do!” I say brightly, and glide past him and into the room. My bare feet grab at the lush carpet.
Ceyda’s purse is on the chair by the door. I drop something into it with my right hand while my left hand makes a mystical-looking gesture in Parish’s face.
“The cab.” Parish’s voice is slow, a bit dreamy.
“Two points, and you only need one more to take home the prize,” I say. I hop up on the edge of the dresser and cross my legs. The robe is brief, to say the least.
“Remmy?” Ceyda whispers, from the bed.
I grin at her and waggle my eyebrows theatrically.
“Bonus points! Your team is deep in the green here, Mr. Harlan Parish.”
Parish stiffens. His eyes bore into mine.
“How do you know my name?” Parish says to me.
I saw your wallet when you paid the cabbie. “I’m a djinn, remember?”
“Djinn?” Ceyda whispers.
“Sorry, genie,” I say, to Parish. “Same thing different bastardization, you dig?”
Parish crosses to the closet and throws the door open. He looks at the safe (which is closed and locked), then at me. His eyes scrape me from toes to coif, and it’s the least sexual up-and-down I’ve ever seen. He looks through me, then he takes me apart piece by piece and puts me back together again. I almost shiver under the scrutiny. Almost.
“Did you come here to rob me?” Parish asks.
I turn out the pockets of my robe. I think about flashing him to show him just how defenseless I am, but I think better of it. Not a good idea to put that thought in his head. That way lies unpleasantness for everyone. I am buck-ass nakie beneath the terrycloth, for the record, though.
“Then why are you here? How did you get in here?”
I shrug. Parish glares at Ceyda.
“How do you know her name?” Parish asks Ceyda. “Partners? Is this a shakedown, assassination, blackmail, what?”
Ceyda’s eyes narrow, and her breathing tells me she’s about four microseconds away from cutting an escort-shaped hole in the flame-toned wall.
“No,” Ceyda says. “I just - ”
I stole your room key from her purse. “I met her downstairs,” I say. I pop my hanging foot up and down. “In the ladies room. You know how us gals are.”
“You’re lying,” Parish says, but it sounds like a question.
“It’s true,” Ceyda whispers. Parish doesn’t look at her.
“Tell me what you want right now,” Parish says. “I haven’t called my security yet because the sudden appearance of a nearly-naked woman in my hotel room intrigues me.”
I laugh at that. His lips don’t smile, but his eyes do. It’s not entirely warm, but I like it anyway.
“Let’s cut the bullshit,” I say. “I’m a djinn, and you have three wishes.”
Parish sighs and rubs the bridge of his nose. He leans down and starts pushing buttons on the safe.
“Wait!” I hold both hands out, because that part of the trick isn’t ready.
Parish glances at me. His finger hesitates over a button. I figure he’s going for the pistol.
“Why in God’s name would I ever believe that? Do you honestly think that would work?” Parish asks.
It’s not a bad question. I bite my cheek, hard, and I hide the wince as I tear a hole. Pennies flood into my mouth, and with it the little power I have soaked inside my body. I lift my sunglasses and push the power into my eyes - it’s no easy trick, and I have to shove with more willpower than I’d like. In response, my eyes flash with deep orange embers, for just a moment. With the grin I’m rocking on my dark maroon lips, the effect is immediate.
Parish takes a step back, and Ceyda starts crying. It’s not weeping, don’t get me wrong, she’s still as ever. But her eyes pour tears across her lovely cheeks.
I drop my sunglasses back into place and lean backward on the dresser.
Parish runs a shaking hand across his face.
“I think I need a drink,” he whispers.
“That’s a wonderful idea,” I say, and snap my fingers. “I’ll have one too. The bottle in your safe will do, I think.”
Parish’s eyes are glazing, but my words shake him. He looks through his fingers at me, then toward the safe. He finishes inputting the code, and the door pops. He swings it open and looks inside for a long time, like there’s an open Clive Cussler novel in there or something.
He’s turned away from me, blocking the action, but I see him reach in with both hands. He turns back, and he’s holding too full glasses of wine. Ceyda screams.
“Stop it!” Parish growls, and Ceyda covers her mouth.
Parish marvels at the two full glasses of wine, and the open bottle. I wonder if he even noticed the cash-house I’d made inside. Maybe I gilded the lily too much. I have that problem.
“Is this real?” Parish whispers.
I nod slowly, straight face. There’s a fine line between “theatrical” and “demonic,” and I try not to take a flying leap over it. Normies never do well at this part. It’s not their fault. This is the part where everything turns upside down and shit gets real and the boogie monsters of the world are suddenly re-
I frown at Parish.
Well that was quick.
“Like Aladdin?” he says, and takes a sip of wine. He turns and hands the other glass to Ceyda.
I sigh. Dammit. I really wanted to try that wine.
“Well, bless-his-hilarious-face but I’m no Robin Williams -”
“And I get whatever I want?”
“There are some addendums - ”
“Okay.” Parish takes another sip and stares at me.
“Do you have a business card?” Parish asks.
“Somewhere I can reach you? Like an office? Or an email? LinkedIn account? What do your Mondays look like? I’m pretty busy this weekend. Is Monday good?”
“Monday’s fine,” I mumble, but Parish is already taking my hand and leading me out of the room.
“Wait, hold on. You gotta hear the rules - ”
“I’ll call you when I’m ready, shouldn’t be more than a few days. I’ll have the guys give you the details.”
I gawk at him, and he pushes me outside the hotel room.
“Get her some clothes and have Clay drive her wherever she needs to go,” Parish says, to his bodyguards. “And tell Clay to get her contact information, as much as he can.”
The two giant-necked security guards look at me. I expect a double take or even a hint of surprise, but the door behind me whumps shut and they ask me where I’d like to go shopping.
My face is numb, and they lead me downstairs arm-in-arm.