By John G. Mc Gerr
A sense of wonder filled Jim as he entered the reception area of Kellman-Hiver, the software company. Polished marble and brass gleamed and the full toothed smile of the receptionist seemed all to welcome him. She, in fact did. 'Welcome, Jim, here's your security tag and office key. Welcome to KH Software. I hope you enjoy your work here.' Jim smiled his thanks, clutched his briefcase tigher and entered the elevator.
Two years of filling out incorrectly filled forms in an office had almost dimmed Jim's ambitions. A bright graduate of the university system with a degree in software engineering he felt certain he would soon be doing exactly what he'd hoped for since first acquiring a computer. His illusions had not lasted long in the harsh realities of life. There was supposed to be a shortage of graduates like him in the workplace. It was only a matter of time, but after twelve months of brief interviews and endless rejections he'd accepted the pen-pusher's job, hoping it might lead to something. When the call had come six weeks before Jim had forgotten even applying to the firm, but they'd kept his name on file, called him to an interview, then a second and finally offered him the job as part of the development team.
As he stepped into the small room that would be his private office Jim quelled an urge to cheer, but couldn't help gloating. He sat on the chair, opened the drawers in the desk, moved his keyboard and monitor around and checked out the drooping pot plant on the filing cabinet.
Donald Mc Gregor was the first to come through the door. He was about as Scottish as spagetthi, but he was friendly and would head the team Jim was to work with. He welcomed Jim and led him down the hall to a large room, filled with computers, printers whispering out pages of data, tables, books, computer generated graphics on the walls and five people. Only one made an instant impression on Jim. Her name was Laura, she stood five foot five with waist length black hair and a nice smile. She returned Jim's handshake firmly and then returned to the work she was at. Jim found it hard to take his eyes off her as Donald began to explain what they were at.
Then Jim was returning to his office with a stack of printouts, two CD's, a carton of floppy disks and several manuals, all part of the trucking database the company was designing. He spent several minutes remembering Laura in his mind before starting to work. It turned out the work was less glamorous then he's imagined, but it was what he wanted, and he was able to forget about Laura until almost quitting time when she walked into his office.
She was dressed in a trouser suit and white T-shirt and he couldn't but admire the way she was put together. He knew it was sexist of him to wonder why she wasn't modelling or an actress, a career based on her looks rather than her intelligence. She repeated her welcome of earlier and said the team traditionally had an evening drink with any new recruit and invited him, as the latest recruit, to keep up the tradition. He accepted.
Part of him hoped that he could hit it off with Laura and get into a serious relationship, even while another part just wanted to get her into bed. A small niggling voice kept insisting that a woman who looked like her probably had lots of offers and might even be married.
The evening depressed him. Laura, dressed in a skin tight, gold and white dress that showed a lot of her ample cleavage, turned up with a tall, muscular coloured guy who's coffee skin contrasted nicely with Laura's lightly tanned skin tones. And they made no secret of their attraction to each other. He worked for the firm's accounts department and had been seeing Laura for a few months. Jenny, the second woman on the team, a small, pretty woman who obviously resented her co-worker's glamour, told Jim that Laura was called the Maneater. ' She's dated and ditched half the guys in the company. Some say she's slept with both Kellman and Hiver and both of them are in their sixties. It's disgusting. I think Donald would have got rid of her except she has a genius IQ, The first person to win the Fehr Prize and the Masterson Award in the same year. There's something else…..'
Whatever Jenny was going to add was cut off by a shriek from Laura as one of the straps holding up her dress broke, apparently her lover's horseplay had been a bit too rough. Jim was stunned as Laura lashed out at the man, who was apologising and offering to pay for the damage. Laura ignored him, her right hand crashing into the man's face. He reeled backwards. Even allowing for the drink he'd consumed and the surprise of the blow, the punch was delivered professionally. Jenny made a comment about martial arts and then Laura left. The others left, uncomfortable with what they'd witnessed.
Laura was at work the next day as if nothing happened, though reports filtered through that her now ex-boyfriend had a swollen jaw and a black eye. Jim had to spend time in Laura's company over the next few days debugging software routines and he found himself even more attracted to her. Not only did she look like a centrefold and pack the punch of a boxer but she had a mind like Einstein. And she was a hard but fair person to work with. She did not soften her words when pointing out Jim's mistakes but she was generous with her praise when he did something well. As the days went on and they worked more and more together Jim found his courage building up and he finally asked her out. She refused. 'You're a nice guy, Jim. Jenny's more your type, or Sherry, the receptionist. I'm not what you're looking for.'
Jim was disappointed but he shrugged it off, reckoning that if he tried enough he'd succeed. Comforting himself with this he threw himself back into work and was so sure of his eventual success that even when he saw Laura with another man, kissing heavily, his enthusiasm never waned.
It was after Jim's first attempt to date Laura that he first heard the rumours. It seemed that there was something odd about some of the men Laura had dated. Five had disappeared, though there were rumours of more. Jenny confirmed the stories to Jim.
'Laura dates heavily and the affairs are usually short and intense. Even with the threat of AIDS around she's often shacked up with men she hardly knows. It was about two years ago that the first disappearance took place. He was Hector, from the graphics design department. They had seen each other for a few weeks, even though he was married. He lived out of town and commuted, sometimes spending the night with Laura though she was just as likely to have sex in a hotel, go back to her own place and he'd stay the night, possibly hoping she'd return. The wife had no notion for a time, then suspected he'd had an affair so when he didn't turn up for a whole weekend she decided that a divorce was in order. She rang on the Monday to contact him but she hadn't shown for work. Two days later the body was found by a hotel maid. Body had been mangled. Laura was questioned but she had an alibi and though Hector was no heavyweight it was doubtful that Laura could have done it anyway.
Anyway since then there have been four other disappearances, all of men Laura had been seeing at the time, or shortly after they broke up. I hear they've staked her out on several occasions but apart from a promiscuous lifestyle there's nothing on her. She has threatened the cops with legal action and they have left her alone. In fact the last guy that vanished they didn't even question her. I have to admit, I don't like her, but I don't think she'd kill anyone, I think it's just sheer coincidence' Jim thought that too. Sure, the last one to see someone alive was always a suspect but not necessarily a killer.
When Jim heard a few days later that Laura was single again, he asked her out once more, this time persisting until she gave in. Then, with his success assured, anxiety set in. The bar the team frequented, and where Laura often was, was okay but he felt a classier place was called for and he spent the days up to the date setting up everything so he could he was treating her to something special.
He was surprised that she dressed so conservatively for him after some of the low cut or even sheer dresses and outfits he'd seen on her outside of office hours. They had a beautiful meal, saw a film and had a few quiet drinks and a chat in a bar. Jim went home full of pleasant relief at how well things had went, and Laura, outside the office was charming and witty. He'd also revelled in the envious stares of men as they eyed her up. It was a tremendous ego boost.
Work now became even more enjoyable. Word got out that Laura and Jim were an item and heads were shaken at how quickly Laura had picked up the new recruit. Jenny had come to him privately and suggested he not get too infatuated. 'She'll chew you up and spit you out. She's done it before.' Jim, as politely as he could , told her it was none of her business. Jenny could only retire hurt, she was very attracted to Jim but apart from work and the odd social outings of the whole team, he'd never shown any interest in her, easy to understand with Laura around.
Jim and Laura's relationship cruised along. They played squash and basketball, went swimming, ice-skating and golfing. They took off for weekends, camping and hiking, they saw movies, plays, musicals and frequented high class restaurants. Jim was in bliss. He was even surprised to consider that despite Laura's relationship, they had not slept together despite two months together. Not since he'd been a teenager had a relationship lasted longer before he'd slept with his date. He took this as a good sign. If Laura could suppress her urges for him, and he for her then the relationship was more than pure lust.
While Jim was wallowing in his feelings for Laura his work mates and most of the town were talking about the latest odd death. The previous weekend a mangled body had been found, that of a fifteen year old street boy, one of those homeless urchins that roamed the streets at night and slept in derelict buildings and warehouses. His friends said he'd been missing for three days and one old man, who was addicted to glue and none too reliable a witness spoke of seeing Luke in the company of a woman. This evidence was considered flimsy at best and ignored.
Jim though did briefly wonder. Laura had cancelled their date suddenly on the Wednesday of the previous week… He chided himself, tying a woman he loved in with a sordid death purely on the basis of a cancelled date. So when Laura suggested they spend the weekend together, Jim forgot all about Luke and the old man and rumours of any kind.
Laura's house was in a quiet neighbourhood, where the houses had spacious lawns and many had swimming pools. Most had two cars unless their children were old enough to drive then there could be three or more cars or large motorbikes. Jim loved it and wished he had his own house and not a rented apartment, comfortable though it was.
Laura met him at the door dressed in white, sexy but still less revealing than some outfits she'd worn. Another thing that had changed in her during their relationship. He complimented her, handed over the bottle of wine he'd brought and was given a quick tour of the house. It was beautiful but not ostentatious, merely tasteful. Somehow it didn't fit with her reputation and Jim chided himself again for thinking ill of her.
Laura's many talents also extended to cooking and they had satisfying meal, complete with candlelight and mood music. Afterwards they sat sipping drinks, companionable silence broken by occasional bursts of conversation until it was almost midnight. Laura then rose, let her dress slide the floor, took Jim by the hand and they went to her bedroom. They made love and Jim was once again reminded of her strength. It was a night he would cherish.
Jim awoke with sunlight warming his bare back. He could hear the shower running and wondered should he join Laura there. Just as he decided he would, he heard it stop and then she came out, wrapped in a long towel. She urged him to take a shower, saying she was feeling in the mood again. He grinned and went to take a quick shower. Emerging from the bathroom he was surprised to find she wasn't there. He left the room, guessing she'd gone to the kitchen or living room. The only sign of her was her discarded dress.
He called her name and heard a muffled reply. Walking down the hallway he kept calling and eventually came to a door near the end of the hall, behind which was a stairs leading down. He went down to find her, naked, lying on a large sheet of plastic.
'What's going on Laura?' he asked unable to keep the edge from his voice. 'I have a surprise for you, Jim. This is the basement, built by the previous owners. I was going to make a games room from it but never did. I only bring special people here. Would you let me play a game with you.' She started to stroke him and he melted, falling down beside her. Her game was simple, she tied him up, to ropes he hadn't noticed before. Then she sat over her stomach.
'Oh you've been so kind, Jim, so nice and I hate to end it this way, but I'm hungry and I need to feed' Jim asked her what she was talking about and felt a little twinge of fear twist his spine. Was she going to kill him? Or was this part of the game? He looked up towards his right hand to see if he could loosen his bonds then heard a popping sound and a crack, followed immediately by a harsh moan of pain. His head whirled back to look at Laura. Something was happening to her, the skin of her face seemed to be bulging. There were longs cracks and pops, ripping noises and moans. Her hands, which had been gripping his upper arms tightened and he could see long, silvery talons growing from the ends of her fingers, they bit deeply into the meat of his arms, drawing blood. He screamed, writhing now, pure terror urging him to throw her off, but….. he screamed louder as he saw it, emerging from below her navel, a thin, silvery tube, the end ringed with a serrated edge. It was a nightmare. His screams increased in volume as the tube plunged into his guts, ripping through his flesh making him thrust his upper body upwards towards where her face had been.
Now she no longer resembled the Laura he'd so strongly fancied. Her mouth had elongated into a tube, like that ripping into his entrails, her eyes glowed with a reddish fire and blood oozed from them. Other tubes grew from each of her cheeks and even as the largest tube sliced into his throat he became aware that her breasts too had grown their own tubes. He could no longer scream and his mind had shut down. It took an hour to feed, leaving a mangled husk of a man..
The body was found in the boot of the car, twenty miles away. No one could remember seeing Jim that night, and Laura when questioned said Jim had stood her up. Jenny told the police she'd seen Jim's car heading out towards that quiet neighbourhood but the residents, ten families, all denied seeing the car. But then they would. They too had to feed.
Copyright, © John G. Mc Gerr, 1997
(Written March 1997)