26 October 2007
NightMare in DunVegas
What in Hera’s name was a ParaPleasure Expo? And why was it happening in his favorite casino?
Nicolas Hippotakis strolled through the dungeon-like atmosphere that pervaded the DunVegas resort, eyeing the conference attendees askance. They were easy to spot, actually. Aside from the leather and chain lanyards holding their conference badges, they were draped with lengths of condom packets and gleefully carting around boxes featuring plastic penises in varying sizes and colors.
Then there was the couple copulating on the floor of the lobby. That was a big clue.
ParaPleasure? It was a sex convention!
He snorted. Just what he needed. All he wanted to do was close the deal and get the hell back home.
“Mr. Hippotakis.” The voice was a sultry purr. Not surprising, considering that the speaker was his casino hostess, Amanda Bast. Her feline heritage was obvious in the tip-tilted eyes and erotically languorous walk. She glided closer and placed her claw-tipped fingers on his arm. “I’m so sorry. I had no idea you were coming in today. I’ll arrange a suite for you immediately. Perhaps you’d like a private table for Blackjack?”
“Sorry I didn’t give you any advance warning, Amanda. This business trip came up suddenly. I don’t think I’ll have time to play.”
“Mr. Hippotakis, there’s always time to play.” Aphrodite’s apples. If that voice didn’t get his engine running, nothing would.
Nope. Not a single piston fired.
And damn if that wasn’t annoying. He was surrounded by people with sex on the brain. He had a black book full of women who would just love to service his needs. But lately, those needs had been seriously flagging. He was pretty sure he could perform if he really wanted to – he just hadn’t wanted to lately. With any of them. Blonde, brunette, redhead. Tall and lean or small and curvy. None of his usual ladies intrigued him anymore.
Thank Hera that business was occupying his time at the moment. The letter he’d received from Mr. Fritz, the mysterious owner of DunVegas, had catapulted him from his Colorado mountain ranch to this parched cityscape in hours. In fact, he still had no clear idea what exactly Mr. Fritz was offering for sale.
All he had gleaned from the note was that this item was something he'd been seeking for a very, very long time.
“Not this time. I need to find the stables, though.” He looked at his watch. “Now.”
The gold suit she wore shimmered as she led him through the lobby. The elevator doors closed and the noise of the casino was abruptly silenced. Amanda slid her employee card into the panel and they descended. For a very long time.
Suddenly, the unmistakable refrain of “What’s New, Pussycat?” jangled from Amanda’s cell phone. Nic eyed the suit that fit her like a second skin. Where did she have room for it?
She drew the slim phone from what had to be her bra. If she wore one. Damn. She raised an eyebrow as she answered, but Nic just shook his head.
“Yes? Hello, Will. A package delivered? Certainly. I’ll meet you at your suite. Ten minutes? I’ll be there.”
As she hung up, the elevator dinged. The doors opened to the suffocating scent of rot and death. The last time he’d smelled something like this, he’d been on a pig farm where all the creatures had been poisoned with anthrax.
Nic and Amanda both recoiled at the stench, the elegant hostess pressing a manicured hand over her nose. Her large eyes widened, the pupils thinning to vertical slits as she arched her back and hissed.
Nic’s head went up and he snorted – trying to get the reek of filth and flesh out of his head. “Stay in the elevator, Amanda. Go back up and do not return. You’re out of this now, you hear?”
She hesitated. “Mr. Fritz will be very upset if I lose one of his high rollers. Do you need me to send security?”
“No. I can handle this.” At least he was fairly sure he could handle it – as soon as he figured out what it was. “Go back. Be safe.”
This time, Amanda nodded and punched a button on the panel. The door slid shut, leaving him in hell.
The unmistakable sound of a horse’s scream short circuited most of his brain and he fought to retain reason. An urbane voice reached through the chaos.
“Mr. Hippotakis, I presume?” A dapper, elderly gentleman in a designer suit stepped out of the shadows.
Nic’s nostrils flared. Evil. It wasn’t dead, rotting meat he smelled. It was evil.
“Are you Mr. Fritz?” He needed to know his opponent, but he had never met the reclusive and mysterious owner of the casino.
“In a manner of speaking. It’s one of several names that I’ve found useful. I’m very pleased with your prompt response to my note.”
“You implied I didn’t have much choice if I wanted to obtain the…item.”
“An accurate assumption. Would you like to see it?”
Nic’s entire body was on fire with the effort not to charge the man. If he was right about Mr. Fritz’s true identity, it wouldn’t do any good anyway.
He allowed the older man to lead the way. Dim light flickered, barely penetrating the murky darkness. Had the place been cleansed of filth on several planes, it would have been an ideal place for horses. The stalls were large and well-equipped. It occurred to Nic that the disgusting state of the stables might be an illusion, designed to drive him to fear and fury.
Mr. Fritz laughed abruptly. “You’re smarter than I gave you credit for, Mr. Hippotakis.” He waved a hand and the dungeon brightened. The scent of fresh hay and clean water replaced the reek of evil, although not entirely.
They reached the last stall. Inside stood one of the most beautiful mares Nic had ever seen. Sleek and lean with a heavy chest and masses of mane and tail, the golden bay held her finely sculpted head with pointed delicacy, nostrils flaring to show the bright red lining of panic. Her dark eyes rolled and she danced back as far as she was able.
At her movement, the metal clanged. She was chained to a bronze manger by a manacle around one slender hock.
“What the hell is this, Fritz?” He stepped into the stall and turned on the man, who smiled back with a mouthful of teeth.
“It’s your destiny calling you, Mr. Hippotakis. I mean to take you back to your roots and recreate your ancestors.” As he spoke, his gnarled hands made swift signs in the air, each stroke of his fingers leaving a fiery trail.
Nic reached out to knock him back, get him out of the way so he could lead the terrified mare out of this stable of the damned, but he couldn’t. A wall of invisible power had slammed into place between him and the wizard, locking him in the stall with the horse.
Fritz laced his hands behind his back now that the task was done and nodded, apparently satisfied with his work. “Alcippe here is a very, very distant cousin of yours. A descendant of one of the four wild mares of Diomedes, just as you are. Gifted by Hera with the ability to shift from horse to human."
"And Hera would be beyond pissed off if she discovered what you were doing here." So where was she, he wondered.
"She would be...If she found out. Hera does not see what happens down here. Her power is limited under the earth's surface. And since Alcippe here has been in my care below ground since she was a mere foal, she's not even on Hera's radar."
"What do you want with us?"
"Ultimately, my goal is to breed a few more like you. Rebuild a herd of vicious, man-eating horses. Untamable and savage. It appeals to me.”
“It would, you freak. We no longer eat the flesh of men.” The mare whinnied in agreement.
“Then I suppose you’ll be here for a very long time. At least until…” Fritz let the words die off and Nic followed through.
“Until one of two things happens. Either you provide me with a foal I can mold to my wishes. Or until Alcippe learns to talk.” With that, he spun on his heel and walked away, humming the tune to Mr. Ed.