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Drew Shrake had been waiting on the front steps for nearly five minutes before Mickey Crowley finally appeared, who cautiously opened his door to see Drew's shadowed figure underneath that evening's miniscule sliver of moonlight. Drew was tall and lean but practically impish compared to the muscle bound image of Mickey. Mickey observed his visitor's wary expression, knowing that Drew was worried about why he'd been summoned to his employer's house that evening. Drew's face looked pale and he stared at Mickey with disquieting expectancy- he appeared as if he'd just been injected with some deadly snake venom. Mr. Crowley had only mentioned an important business deal over the phone, but Drew was still fearful since Mickey was notorious for getting easily aggravated. Drew rarely saw the man in person, but he could do little but assent to his boss's command.

"Hey there, Drew old guy. Glad you could make a visit. Come on in."

Drew took immediate notice to Mickey's friendly countenance and it partially relieved some of his anxiety. But only some.

"Hey, Mr. Crowley. How's it going?" Drew stepped into the foyer and caught a glimpse of the fantastic chandelier hanging directly above them; it shivered and glittered, refracting the light with an intense gorgeousness. He'd never seen Mickey's extravagant home before, but he'd heard from others about the lavish beauty of the place. Drew was aware the moment he drove through the front gates and received a great frontal view of the mansion that all the rumors he'd heard were right on the button. Spectacular. Hell, the man could afford it.

"Sorry I haven't been in touch in a while," Mickey spoke as he closed the front door. "But I've been extremely busy as of late."

"Yeah," replied Drew. "I understand. How was St. Tropez?"

"Terrific. Terrific. Would you like a drink?"

"Fine." They had been walking down a wide marble saturated hall and reached the opening to what Drew imagined as the living room, gigantic as it was, where a middle-aged butler stood quiescent near a doorway. Mickey made a quick gesture with his hand and the butler left. The two men then traveled over to a massive royal blue sofa. Drew decided to sit in an armchair opposite of where the intimidating Mickey convened.

"You have a beautiful house," Drew remarked. He was unsure about what he should be saying.

"Thanks," said Mickey. "I just had this room cleaned and re-furnished. Brand new couches from Austria... Have you ever had bursitis, Drew?"

Drew looked at Mickey in astonishment.

"No- but I didn't know that could be a problem at your age- or mine."

Mickey scoffed and began to massage his massive right arm. "Fifty-two isn't all that young. My damn arm is killing me. How old are you now, Drew?"

"Thirty-nine."

"Haven't even hit the four-o yet, huh? I'm telling you- make sure you keep in touch with your doctor. I realize I keep in good shape and all, but strange shit like this is already beginning to sprout all over my body. I think it runs in my family, though. Does your family have any bad medical history?"

"I don't really know. I haven't been in touch with my family, 'cept for my brother, for the past twenty-six years."

Mickey nodded. Inadvertently he began to sharpen the crease of his black slacks between his thumb and index finger. "Yep. You've been in this business for quite a while, eh? Started pretty young."

"Yes, sir."

The butler returned with two wine glasses. He served them to the men and disappeared once again.

"Savignon Blanc okay with you?" asked Mickey. Drew nodded and sipped from his glass, the sweet taste barely burning as it trickled down his throat. He didn't know much about wine, but he knew this was probably the best around.

"You don't have anything with you at the moment?" asked Mickey, now leaning forward with the drink in his hand. Drew noted the wrinkles developing on the man's forehead and around his eyes, realizing that he was beginning to age. However, the man did not cease to be frightening, and Drew remained vigilant in choosing the words that came out of his mouth.

"Oh, no Sir. I just dropped off a half-kilo of coke about four hours ago. Nothing is with me."

"Good. Good. I don't like to bring any business at my house. Very good."

Drew breathed a small sigh of relief. Keep on his good side, he kept telling himself. He had a firm grasp around the gold stem of his wine glass. Drew had been working for Mickey for over twenty years and he wanted to continue working for him until he felt secure enough to quit; his ambition being to eventually reside in a home like the one he was sitting in. Only, he was not completely sure as to why he was sitting in the house at that moment.

"Drew," Mickey continued, sipping his wine and again fidgeting with the crease in his left pant leg. "Have you ever been to The Marcy? It's in downtown Miami."

"The Marcy? You mean the hotel?"

"Yeah."

"No I have not."

"It's a terrific hotel, you know. My wife goes there occasionally for business. She says they serve you strawberries and cream in the morning if you ask- for free. Strawberries and cream. I haven't had something like that in a long time. I mean, my breakfasts usually consists of everything else under the sun. Lord knows I need to cut back on some of the sweets I eat. Hell- I eat a mountain before noon. But never had it crossed my mind to eat cream and strawberries until my wife mentioned it one day."

Drew licked his lips. A small amount of turbulence had begun to work in his stomach, like the rotary wheel on a ferry boat. The wine was disturbing him, and he didn't like Mr. Crowley's chit-chatting.

"Mr. Crowley, why did you invite me here? I don't mean to be rude of course, sir. But I thought you mentioned something about a special export you wanted me to handle."

"Yes, Drew. I did. I just didn't want to jump into business right away. I'm constantly working, and I just like to have some friendly talk with some of my employees sometimes."

Drew nodded but did not respond vocally.

"You see, Drew. I realize that a lot of you are afraid of me. You're worried about what my intentions are, I'm sure, because you've heard about things you'd rather not hear about. Am I correct?"

"Well, sir, I was just-"

"It's not a problem, really. I doubt that what you heard isn't for the most part true. You just can't be so uptight all the time. That's just not me."

Drew swallowed a gulp of air. However, he felt as though a tennis ball was stuck in his throat. He finished off the final puddle of wine in the bottom of his glass and kept his gaze on Mickey. He developed the nerve to speak.

"I'm sorry, sir. I was just curious as to why you chose me specifically for this job. I mean, you usually have several people carry out any significant exports..."

Mickey nodded. "Yes, but this time the demands are different. I don't think-"

"Mickey?" The intrusive voice was female, and it came from the hallway directly behind the couch Mickey sat upon. After the voice the body of Lana Crowley made an entrance, imploring her husband. "There's a phone call for you from Mr. Groal. He says it's important."

Mickey tilted his head to listen to the brief message and then pardoned himself from the room for a moment. He departed with his wife and Drew was left to fidget nervously with hie empty wine glass. He longed for a re-fill.

In Mr. Crowley's absence, Drew felt the urge to get up and move around, but decidedly stayed put in the armchair in the event that Mickey returned soon. He didn't want to appear nosy. Instead he gazed at the eight-by-ten frame of Mickey and his wife which sat upon the end table diagonal to where Drew was. Lana the long legged beauty with smoky majestic eyes. An indisputably gorgeous lady. A lot of people talked about her, speculated on exactly who she was and where she had come from.

He was busy searching the photo for any actual evidence of real love between the couple, when Drew was interrupted by the sound of heavy feet not too far off. He stared in consternation as the incredible sight of a magnificent Bengal tiger appeared from the hallway that the Crowley's had disappeared into. Drew watched in horror as the tiger sauntered over to where he was sitting, his terrific paws- four gigantic powder puffs- moving along the wooden floor, and promptly sat directly in front of the bristled man. The tiger's eyes were the size of peaches and his swishing tail looked as if it could lacerate anything it decided to hit. Drew was utterly stunned and did not know what to do. He sat frozen in the armchair.

A minute later Mickey re-entered to find Drew looking like he was posing for a still-life painting, staring invariably at the tiger in front of him.

"Hey, so you've met my sweetheart! Vasco Da Gama has been with me for three years now. I bought him from a Japanese exporter. No drugs- just animals. Vasco! Vasco baby come here."

The massive beast immediately turned his attention to his owner and trotted over to Mickey's side. Mickey placed his hand closer to Vasco's head and the tiger licked it affectionately, virtually bathing Mickey's large palm.

"Pretty amazing house pet," remarked Drew, his eyes still huge. "Could you keep him over near you?"

"Oh, don't be scared of him Drew. Vasco won't hurt you. As a matter of fact he seems to like you really well. You might say we have a love triangle in this house between Vasco, Lana and myself. I think he loves Lana most of all. Women have a way with animals."

"Was he expensive?"

"A pretty penny. Anything like Vasco is gonna cost you though." Drew nodded. He desperately wanted to leave at that moment. His stomach was beginning to develop spasms. "Hey," continued Mickey, "Would you like to meet my wife? Hey Lana! Sweetheart! Come in here and meet Drew Shrake!"

Seconds later Lana appeared, her flaxen hair up in a bun with the exception of a few wisps delicately framing her face. She looked over to Drew with worry blushed along her brow and across her slightly paled cheeks.

"Hello, Drew. Nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you," Drew mumbled. He carefully placed his wine glass on the table next to him and began to rise from his seat. "Mr. Crowley, unless you plan to tell me about this business deal I have a lot of things-"

"Relax, Drew. Sit down. I was just about to. I just wanted my wife present since it involves her as well."

"Oh?"

Husband and wife both sat down on the couch, though each had distinctly different facial expressions; Mickey's face was placid while Lana's was anxious. The tiger quietly positioned himself between the two but kept his attention on Lana, who gently stroked the animal absentmindedly.

"You see," Mickey spoke. "Vasco loves her. He loves us both. And you know, he's probably the best protection we have in this house. Better than guards, guns...He's never had to harm anyone breaking in, but he really chewed up a servant we'd once employed who didn't serve his dinner on time."

Drew frowned. "Chewed him up?"

"Yeah. He's still alive but he no longer works here."

"I would guess not. I would leave if a tiger attacked me on the job."

Mickey shrugged. "Yeah, well, he couldn't really continue his job unless he had arms."

Drew's eyes glanced over a few times towards Lana, his stomach still turning with bleak anticipation. The ferry boat inside of him was churning at full speed and Drew desperately wanted to flee the house, but he knew he couldn't. Mickey continued talking.

"Yeah, if anyone ever hurt Lana or me I know he'd be ready. He's very well trained. As a matter of fact, he could probably tell if you did a disservice to me."

"But Mr. Crowley I haven't done anything-"

"Oh? Where were you this afternoon- really."

"What do you mean? I've been working! I swear!"

"I beg to differ. However, Vasco can assure me. He has a very keen sense of smell. Extremely well-tuned to particular scents. I could tell he liked you by his affection towards you a moment ago. And normally, Vasco loathes the scent of a business man. He abhors tweed suits, so he tends to dislike most of my male clients and employees who visit the house. But you must smell pretty good. What sort of cologne do you wear?"

"I... wear none."

"Oh? Well, there must be something on you he likes. You see, I'd had a hunch before, but Vasco has confirmed my suspicion. Now, Vasco adores the smell of Chanel No. 5. My wife wears Chanel. And I think you have some on as well, don't you Drew?"

Drew rose, a bitter sickness developing in his throat, coming from what he had feared the most- that Mickey would find out. That he would know. But he could not run away because he was paralyzed with fear. And running, he knew, would be futile anyway.

"My wife loves Chanel and so does Vasco. Unfortunately she also loves to seduce idiotic men who have no fucking clue as to what they get themselves into. Bad business men. Do you know what one of the worst things you can do in a job, Drew? Screw your employer's wife."

The corners of Drew's mouth turned funny, and the pain of what was to come was already fully registered in his face. Lana cringed and kept her face to the floor.

Mickey spoke once more. "Drew, it turns out that tonight, you are the export..."

"No..." this was Drew's last utterance.

"Vasco- attack!"

The rage in Mr. Crowley's voice was deafening and hardly a flash of a second passed when Vasco pounced upon Drew, the skin of the man's arms immediately being peeled off by the force of the tiger's claws. Vasco sank his teeth into the screaming man's neck, the enormous creature full of primal delight as he tore off chunks of soft flesh, silencing the doomed man's lips.

"I wish you'd stop doing these things. I hate it." Lana kept her eyes covered as she sat daintily on the couch, the massacre taking place in front of her. Mickey sighed.

"As soon as you stop these little fuck rendezvous."

Lana huffed as she rose and exited the room. Once Vasco finished ripping up the body of his prey he paced back to his master, bloody but satiated.

"I've got to clean the room again," Mickey muttered. He bent down to stroke his scarlet-soaked pet. "You're my true love, Vasco baby. You are."

Me, 1997.

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