[This one goes out to the commenter who told me to go work on Metanoia instead. I have a message from my muse. He says, "Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker."]

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Hench!4: The Pink Peril

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"Is it just me, or has the boss been working out?"

Shoe slides his eyes sideways without lowering his beer. He finishes taking a slow sip before he answers. "She has been looking rather firmer of late, now that you mention it."

We're sitting at the bar. It's after hours, but the club's still hopping. Violet's employees are always welcome, no matter what time it is, though if you come in before the bartender does you have to get your own drinks. It's office party night every night in this gig, baby. Consequently, most of the guys are half tanked at all times.

Me and Shoe are among the exceptions. I make an effort to pace myself. Shoe... just doesn't get drunk. I think he may be an alien.

"Now, why would she be priming up like that?" I muse. "You think maybe she's got something big planned?"

"Hmm."

"Like... something she wants to get in on personally?"

"Yes, I fear you may be correct."

I raise my eyebrows at him, but he's not looking at me, so I have to elbow him a little. "Whaddaya mean, fear? Big job means big money. You know it's not gonna be something like taking the world hostage with a madness ray or some shit. Violet ain't like that."

"No," Shoe says slowly. "No, that is not her sort of mistake."

I'm about to ask him to clarify that ominous phrase, but the boss catches my eye and crooks her finger. I clink bottles with Shoe as we get up to join her.

She recrosses her legs as we reach her, eyes locked on me like a reptile's, and gives me a smile that belongs in a zoo. It makes my scalp prickle a little. Her eyes slide to Shoe. Her smile curls further.

"Shoe," she purrs, "be a dear and run an errand for me." She holds out a folded piece of paper. "This silly little man is threatening to go to the police. Drop by and explain the flaws in his plan."

Shoe unfolds the paper. "Yes ma'am."

I reach for the paper as we both turn to go. Violet clears her throat. "Rocket. You stay."

Me and Shoe trade a look. Shoe's face has no expression on it. He's like a mannequin. He drops the paper in his pocket and goes.

I try not to look uncertain. "What can I do for ya, Boss?"

She pats the seat beside her. She waits for me to sit, then drapes an arm around my shoulders. "Tell me all about yourself, darling. I hardly know anything about you."

Ah. So that's why Shoe said 'fear'.

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The next night, when I get to work, Shoe's car's not there. I drive around the whole lot twice looking for it. This is weird. He's always here before me.

I sit on the hood of my Herpes Nova and pull out my phone to call him. There's a voice mail waiting for me:

"I'm riding shotgun on a shipment of 'used' cars. I'd appreciate a pickup at the airport tomorrow afternoon. If Violet will let you go."

There's something unnerving about the way he says that last sentence. It has kind of a twist in it. Almost... bitter. What the hell is going on here?

I call him back. It goes straight to voice mail. I leave him a message: "I'll be there." And I fucking will, too, even if Violet tries to stop me. Not that I have any idea why she would.

When she sees me come in, she beckons me over again. She has me sit by her and pour her wine, and she asks me a lot of uncomfortable personal questions. And she touches me a lot. She doesn't grab my junk or anything, though, and she is normally a pretty touchy-feely type of boss. She likes to tease the guys. So it's hard to put my finger on what's different.

Except for how she's sending Shoe out without me lately. That's new, and I don't like it. When I make my excuses around two in the morning, I kind of expect her to stop me, but she just blows me a kiss and lets me go.

I have nightmares that night. I dream I'm married to Violet, and she keeps giving birth to pink frogs. I keep asking what she did with Shoe. She tells me she sent him to Hong Kong as our liaison to the heroin trade. I point out that we don't run H, that's the Ace of Spades' action. Also Shoe doesn't speak Mandarin. He's Korean, not Chinese. That's when Violet drowns me in a giant bowl of strawberry pudding.

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Shoe looks surprised to see me at the baggage claim. I can't imagine why. I freaking called him half an hour ago and said I was on my way.

"Hey, bro." I thump him on the back. "How's the used car business?"

"Excruciatingly dull. How's your romance with Violet progressing?"

I stop walking. Someone bumps into my back. I start walking again. "That's not funny, man. She's freaking me out."

"Let's go get a drink. Somewhere new."

Somewhere Violet doesn't have ears, he means. I nod grimly.

Ten minutes later, we're sitting in a sports bar in a strip mall, watching suburbanites eat burgers and try not to look at us. Out here in airport land, nobody knows what purple leather means. They probably think we're in show business.

"So," Shoe says. He clears his throat. He takes a drink. Under the guise of pushing up his glasses, he wipes sweat off his forehead.

Oh shit. He's nervous. I don't know how to handle that. Shoe doesn't do nervous. From what it takes to make Shoe nervous, any other man would be hiding under the table.

"Yeah, bro," I say gently, like I'm trying not to scare a kid.

"Yeah. You and Violet. Is that happening?"

"Nuh-uh! I told you, she's freaking me out. I just can't tell her no yet, you know?"

He goes from nervous to angry in a split second. "No, I don't know," he snaps. "Why can't you? Is it perhaps that you don't want to?"

And suddenly I get it. I laugh, which is probably a bad idea but I can't help it. "You're jealous."

His eyes narrow. "What did you say?"

"Don't give me that look, it doesn't scare me. I said you're jealous. It's the only possible explanation."

"For what, Lewis? Enlighten me."

"For you being such a dick."

"In what way am I being --"

"I'm telling you our boss is borderline sexual-harrassmenting me, and you're mad at me about it. Not cool, Tsoo-jae."

He rears his head back like a turtle and blinks at me. I guess that's what 'taken aback' means. And I don't think it's because he didn't expect me to remember his real name. After an awkward pause, he says cautiously, "And... what would your reaction be if that were the case?"

"I guess that depends on which of us you're into. Me or her."

The face he pulls answers that question even before he says, "She interests me only marginally more than a big mug of warm sewage."

Beer comes out my nose.

It takes me a while to get my laughing under control and mop up the mess with a stack of bar napkins, but it's not enough time to figure out how I feel about learning my best friend is sorta into me. "Maybe if you and me were an item, she'd lay off me," I suggest tentatively. "Worth a try, right?"

His face ices over. "No," he says. "I think that would be a bad idea."

I... really did not expect that to hurt. Ow. I slap some money down on the bar. "We better get to work."

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"I can't help noticing," Violet purrs, "that your relations with Shoe seem a little strained."

You don't have to sound so fucking happy about it. No, can't say that, she's the boss. "I think he's pissed that I'm always hanging out with you instead of helping him."

"How selfish of him. And do you like being his little helper?" She taps her pink lipstick with a pink fingernail. The pink is new, like the working out. I guess it makes her look younger, kinda. But it doesn't make her any less scary.

"Yeah, actually. I do like it."

"Really?" Exaggerated eyebrow lift. "You like it more than partying with me?"

"Out there's where the action is."

She leans in so her mounded cleavage is pressed against my arm. "Oh, no, Rocket darling. The action is right here. Come upstairs and I'll show you."

Fucking finally she gives me something I can answer. I look her straight in the eye. "No ma'am, I don't believe I will."

Her smile stretches dangerously. "Is that so? Now, why would you rather be working than relaxing with a beautiful lady, Rocket? Is there something about you I should know? Something you haven't told me?"

"Yeah. My creed. Bro's before ho's."

Her smile is gone. Her face is stone. "You did not just say that."

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"And that's when she tied you up and spanked you?"

"Stop laughing, Shoe! It's not fucking funny!"

"Tragedy is when I sprain my ankle. Comedy is when you fall down a manhole and die."

I smack him on the forehead. "You are such a prick. It was really skeevy, man. My skin's still crawling. And it hurt. She takes that dominatrix shit seriously."

"Aww, is your bottom sore?"

"Yes, damn you, it is."

Shoe laughs so hard he has to put his head down on the bar. Eventually I find myself joining in. He's right. It is kinda funny. In a tragicomedy sort of way.

Eventually he rolls his head to look at me, sticking a thumb up under his glasses to wipe away tears of laughter. "Oh, Rocket. What are we going to do with you? You're so handsome you're a danger to yourself and others."

"Silence, jerkass." I sigh. "Did I tell you about the nightmare I had? She said you were in Hong Kong but I think actually she ate you. Then she killed me with pudding."

"Ahaha -- don't get me going again, my stomach hurts." He wipes his eyes again. Then he pats my arm. "You'll have to hang tough for now. I'm afraid my inquiries might take some time. We'll need someone who can protect us from her. You know how she feels about quitters."

A great weight lifts off my heart. "We're bailing?"

"Of course. We can't let her bully you into bed. It might scar your fragile psyche." He grins.

"Asshole." I give him a one-armed hug, politely ignoring the way he turns red, and flag down the bartender.