The Hotel Tehran

March, 2014.

The Hotel Tehran is the nastiest deathtrap in all of Iran. Every insurgent within 50 miles of Tehran has either bombed or plans to bomb the hotel in the near future.

Nevertheless, there is no vacancy.

The man responsible for a full hotel is Rich Seal, a.k.a. the Prince, who at 10 o’clock in the morning is crossing the shag-carpeted lobby with his leather briefcase in hand and a smile on his face. The situation definitely looks good. Every threadbare room in the hotel is packed with spies from the C.I.A., the State Department, the F.B.I.—all of them paying peak-season rates. Prince could proudly say that in the eight months since the invasion of Iran, not a single noteworthy customer staying in his hotel had been killed. Naturally, everything isn’t perfect. The locals constantly gripe about Prince’s trigger-happy employees. There’s the ever-present threat of congressional oversight. But with the Iraq War over and the Afghanistan War winding down, Iran is Prince’s most dependable revenue stream—not too hot, not too slow, and no end in sight. So it’s with a high level of confidence that Prince arrives at Seamus McKinney’s hotel room to renew his contract.

“Morning everybody!” Prince says cheerily, waving to Seamus and Ted before heading to the kitchenette for a cup of coffee.

Seamus is the number one U.S. spy in Iran. He runs a U.S. government agency that doesn’t exist, with an unlimited budget that no one accounts for, and nothing happens in Tehran without his approval. At the moment he’s sitting at a small round table with the New York Times Sunday Edition spread out before him. Seamus grunts hello through a mouthful of Frosted Flakes, skim milk leaking through the edge of his lips, as he fluffs the newspaper to make it lay down smoothly.

Ted, a career C.I.A. man, watches over Seamus’s shoulder as Seamus meticulously adds upper-case letters to empty crossword boxes.

“I don’t know how he does it,” Ted says admiringly, gazing down at Seamus’s handiwork. Three quarters of the crossword boxes are filled-in with red ballpoint pen—no cross-outs. “But he does it.”

The cupboard is empty. Prince searches the pile of dishes in the stainless steel sink until he finds a white coffee mug with a soggy teabag still inside. His throat goes dry. He holds the coffee mug up to his nose and sniffs deeply. Chamomile, just as he suspected. And if the tea bag isn’t proof enough, red lipstick stains the rim of the mug—a particular shade of red Prince knows all too well. He scrubs the cup clean of any trace of her, and fills it with mail-order Starbucks.

“Where’s the vanilla creamer?” Prince hollers, peering inside the mini-fridge. He pushes aside the ketchup and mayonnaise and a six-pack of Hofbrau to view the rear of the fridge. “There was a half carton of vanilla in here on Tuesday.”

“Use the hazelnut,” Ted calls from the next room.

“I’m allergic to nuts,” Prince said as he joins the two men at the table with a cup of black coffee. He reaches inside his briefcase and pulls out two identical contracts typed on white paper and places them on the table.

“There aren’t any actual nuts in the creamer,” Ted says. “Seamus, are there actual nuts in the creamer?”

“There are no nuts in the creamer,” Seamus says, deliberately setting his coffee cup down on Prince’s papers. A muddy ring of coffee seeps outward, soiling the title: Contract Extension, Principle Risk Management, LLC.

 “If you’re here to ask about Lucy’s report,” Seamus says, returning to his crossword, “my answer is the same as yesterday.”

“But you must have some idea,” Prince replies.

Lucy Freeman was the chamomile tea-drinking, red-lipstick-wearing Inspector General for the State Department. She was in charge of all contracts in Iran—including Prince’s.

“Lucy and I don’t talk,” Seamus says. “I’ll know what’s in her report when she turns it in.”

“When’s that?”

“When. She. Turns. It. In.”

Seamus pushes aside Prince’s contract to make more room for the newspaper. He unfolds a pocket knife and surgically slices the crossword puzzle from the newspaper and hands it to Ted, who in turn thumbtacks it three quarters of the way down on a wall lined from floor to ceiling with eight months of chronologically ordered crosswords, each one filled in with red ink. Ted writes the number “241” above the puzzle.

Seamus grunts appreciatively and turns to Prince, “A new secret weapon arrived last night,” Seamus says casually, tugging at the corner of the tablecloth. “His name’s Joe. He’s a Private First Class out of Fort Bragg.” Seamus nods to Ted.

“Joe’s volunteered for a top secret experiment,” Ted says, pushing a laptop across the table. On the screen was the picture of a skinny young man in his official photo from Army basic training.

“Is this a joke?” Prince asks, feeling foolish. Were they screwing with him? He never liked spies. They think they’re smarter than everyone else—smarter, especially, than security contractors. “When this war started, this kid’s mom was still wiping the snot from his nose.”

“Joe’s the latest out of Aberdeen’s bio-transformation division,” Ted says. “A Variable-platform Airborne Multi-exsanguination Prototype.”

“What’s that? Some kind of super-soldier?” The scrawny youth on the computer screen stared rebelliously at Prince.

“He’s a vampire,” Ted says.

“Get the hell out of here!” Prince laughs. Ted doesn’t smile. Seamus wipes his thick lips with a rumpled paper napkin and stares dully at Prince.

“Wait…” Prince stammers. “You’re serious? But the Pentagon scrapped the vampire program back in, what…’99? Along with the Cherokee attack helicopter. Cost overruns. Not to mention it was a stupid idea to start with... .”

“It’s a brilliant idea!” Seamus cries, banging a thick fist on the table. The milk in his cereal bowl slops over the edge. “It’s the kind of out-of-the-box thinking this war needs. Listen, Prince. I’ve garroted Commies in Red Square, ran Honduran death squads, armed Kosovar militias, water-boarded Taliban … but I’ve never seen anything as promising as Joe.”

 “Joe’s made from original Styrian mast cells,” Ted explains. “All it took was a bone marrow transplant, a pair of orthodontic implants, a daily cocktail of desmodus rotundus pineal gland blended with the latest in human growth hormone and voilà! You’ve got yourself a vampire. Joe’s a fairly straightforward liquidation weapon. In laboratory tests, after accounting for the particular viciousness of the test subjects in Guantanamo, he was able to handle on average 27 combatants per session with 100 percent kill rate. For now, Joe doesn’t have any traditional Hollywood vampire skills like metamorphosis or mind control.”

“They’re working on it!” Seamus crows. He’d moved to the bathroom to begin his morning ablutions. His enormous pink body wiggling loosely in the bathroom mirror, lips retracting to the gums as he flosses his teeth.

“There are a few side effects—all within acceptable limits—which one expects at this stage of development,” Ted adds. “You know, sensitivity to daylight and the occasional exhibition of poor judgment and so on, but the important thing is that Joe’s been cleared for duty.”

While Ted rambles, Prince walks to the window. If Joe’s as good as Seamus and Ted claim, Principle Risk Management is in big trouble. How could he compete with the massive spending power of the Pentagon? If Prince invested every cent he’d earned in Iran, it would still take years to develop a comparable vampire. This nauseates Prince; he grips the window sill and looks outside to distract him.

A platoon of his guards are patrolling the front gate. The guards are short, brown, and stocky; all of them Gurkhas from Nepal. Prince had crunched the numbers; Americans are too expensive for gate duty. He considered using Fijians but they have a reputation as bullies and thieves, which doesn’t fly in a customer-service industry. Hondurans seemed like a good low-cost alternative, but they are sweet and lazy. All-in-all, the Nepalese are the most cost-effective.

Prince opens the window, flooding the room with petro fumes from the Tehran refinery. Diesel generators rumble in the distance, along with the occasional flurried popping of automatic weapons. A pair of Apache helicopters lift off in a cloud of dust. The day is bright and windy. Staccatoed clouds range across the blue Tehran sky like white buffalo in stampede.

“What a day!” Ted exclaims, joining Prince next to the window. Ted takes a deep breath and puts his hands on his waist, stretching left and right.

“Biotransformation is heavy stuff for a kid like Joe,” Prince says quietly.

Ted stops mid-stretch to glare at Prince.

“Joe’s 19,” Seamus counters from the bed, where he’s sitting, inspecting his calloused feet. “In America, 19 means Joe’s an adult. Don’t waste any tears on Joe, Prince. He’s a courageous kid and he’s an adult.”

“What about my guys?” Prince asks. “My guys can do the same job and they’re not that young. Joe’s too young to handle Tehran.”

“Your guys were that young once. Don’t give me that, Prince. We were all that young once. Besides, Joe’s a volunteer. Your guys are in it for a buck and Joe’s doing it for his country.”

“We’re patriots, too, you know,” Prince said. “You don’t have to volunteer to be a patriot.”

Ted slams the window shut. The mechanical pumping of Tehran ceases. Seamus continues to trim his toenails, patiently accumulating a pile of tiny horny-skinned scimitars.

“I want you to show Joe around,” Seamus says. “Take him under your wing. No one knows Tehran like you, Prince. He’ll be working the tough spots. You know the spots. Ted, where’s Joe going tonight?”

“I think it’s a group elimination … lemme see here …” Ted scrolls through his Blackberry, “What’s today, the 12th? We’ve got Joe scheduled to eliminate a death squad in the Northeast.”

“One kid to handle an entire death squad?” Prince scoffs. “That’s a suicide mission! Count me out. Why should I watch this kid get killed?”

“I’ll tell you why,” Seamus says. “Because unless you go with Joe, I won’t sign this.” Seamus grabs Prince’s contract from the table and tosses it on his bed. Prince puts the contract back in the briefcase.

“I’ll do it.”

“And I’ll sign it,” Seamus smiles. “Just as soon as I hear from Lucy.”

Prince takes a shortcut through the crowded hotel café, nodding to familiar and unfamiliar faces alike. The bleary-eyed analysts are coming off the graveyard shift, popping open Hofbraus over plates of runny eggs and turkey bacon, noisily debating the finer points of interrogation and high-tech wiretapping.

He walks into the hotel gym and looks around. The cardiovascular room is empty except for a fit middle-aged woman pumping away on a Stairmaster 2000 in pink spandex shorts, a Gold’s Gym training bra, and pink Nike cross-trainers with neon yellow laces. Reggaeton is booming from the ottoman-sized Bose surround-sound speakers hanging from the ceiling. Lucy is simultaneously watching CNN on the 40-inch plasma TV, reading Foreign Affairs magazine, and thumbing out e-mails on her Blackberry.

In the Stairmaster cup-holder rests a tall glass filled with viscous red liquid over ice. Prince takes a sniff, then a sip.

“Red Bull,” Lucy huffs, wiping her brow with a white terrycloth towel. “There’s more in the fridge.” Prince opens a can and walks to the bench press. He pumps out three quick sets while Lucy finishes her workout.

 “One hour four minutes,” she pants, climbing off the machine. “1,322 calories. 93 percent heart rate. Not bad on four hours sleep.”

Lucy slurps down the last of her drink.

“Be a good boy and rub my back, will you? I did two hours of Krav Maga yesterday and my shoulders are killing me.”

Prince obediently rubs her back while she sits on an exercise ball.

“Mmmm … that feels so good,” Lucy moans. Lucy’s muscles feel tender as baby veal beneath Prince’s fingers.

“I hate to talk shop, baby,” Prince says, digging his hands into her shoulders as Lucy moans again. “But Seamus is making a big deal over your report. Of course I told him not to worry…” Prince trails off meaningfully.

“Honey, you know Congress doesn’t like it when their money goes missing,” Lucy mumbles.

Prince drops his hands.

“Don’t stop!” Lucy snaps.

“Look,” Prince says, resuming the massage, “just because I specialize in private security doesn’t make me a crook.”

“Then why are you chartered in Delaware, headquartered in Dubai, with all your finances funneled through the Maldives?”

“It’s called globalization—everyone is doing it. It’s the American way. You spend money to make money. Even you can’t argue with that. Even you agree that you have to spend money to make money.”

“I wish I could help, honey,” she says, standing up abruptly. She shrugs off Prince’s grasp. “But if I don’t bust someone soon, they’ll give my job to Karla Wooster. You know how much I hate that bitch.”

Prince watches as Lucy disappears into the ladies locker room. How he got to this awful place, he has no idea. When he woke up this morning he was on top of the world. Now, a few hours later, no one wants to be his friend. Prince wanders out of the gym and into the hallway and halfway back to his room, he decides a night on the town with the vampire kid might be the only way out of this mess.

Prince orders a beer in the hotel lobby. Between sips of Hofbrau, he scans the crowd out of habit. He doesn’t pay any mind to the usual comings and goings of the hotel; he only recognizes threats. As it turns out, everything in the lobby is normal. Iranian informants looking for payouts. Prostitutes pretending to be informants, also looking for money. Tables overflowing with green cans of Hofbrau and empty bottles of bootleg whisky. Waiters in black shirts. Cooks in greasy white aprons. Ashtrays crammed with cigarette butts. The usual.

As he drains his beer, a young man walks to the edge of the lobby and looks around nervously. The kid is wearing dark sunglasses, baggy blue jeans, and a faded black hoodie with “Skate or Die” scrawled across the chest. The hood is up over his narrow head, partially covering a high and tight haircut. His face is pale and drawn. He has earbuds in and an iPhone tucked in his rear pocket. Prince nods when the kid looks over.

 “You Prince?” the kid asks, yanking a single earbud out, the white cord dangling down his chest.

“I’m Prince.”

The kid sits down heavily and opens a bottle of water. “I’m always thirsty these days,” he says self-consciously, polishing off the liter bottle in one long gulp.

 “Could be the anti-rejection drugs,” Prince says.

Joe’s eyes grow wide. He looks around to see if anyone has overheard, then leans in close.

“Seamus told you?”

“Of course,” Prince says. “He told everyone.”

Joe stares at Prince, mouth open until Prince smiles. A wave of relief flashes across Joe’s face. “Yo, dude … yo! You really had me going … no doubt!”

Prince puts on a serious face. “We’ve got work tonight.”

Joe nods solemnly.

“Let’s meet at the front gate. Say, oh-one-hundred?”

“Sounds good to me. And thanks, Prince.”

“Try to get some sleep.” Prince squeezes Joe’s shoulder and heads for the elevators. As he rounds the corner, his sixth sense makes him turnaround. From the far side of the lobby, a blonde-haired woman stands up and makes her way next to Joe. She situates herself directly in front of him, her tight miniskirt right at Joe’s eye level. “So, you must be

Joe …” she says, bending over to give Joe a look.

Prince stalks back to his room, fuming. He flops down on the bed, opens a can of Pringles and pops them in his mouth three at a time. Why should I care? He thinks. Lucy is using him as a pawn. Seamus’s spy game. Nothing more. Still, Joe’s a young guy, trim and fit. Prince runs a hand across his thickening midriff. For 10 years, he’d been classifying his belly as a temporary ailment, like a cold or the flu. They’ll see I’m still in the game, he decides. To prove it, he polishes off the entire can of chips and throws the empty container across the room, missing the wastebasket by a yard.

At 1 a.m., Prince’s best Gurkha is standing by at the front gate of the hotel with an old white Volga sedan. Roika, a squat, thick-necked brute from western Nepal, opens the trunk. Prince and Joe climb in. Joe is in the same clothes he’d worn earlier, but Prince has gone local: baggy linen pants and shirt and green rubber sandals.

A half mile up river, Roika snuffs the headlights and Prince and Joe hop out under an overpass. The Volga’s engine pops twice and Roika roars back to the front gate. The moon hangs low in the western sky, the last shreds of moonlight clinging to the concrete walls. Across the highway, the New International Zone is lit up bright as daylight, its faithful congregation of generators humming a vigil through the night. Prince and Joe strike out along a dirt path, and then dogleg uptown. The autumn air is warm and a sullen mist cloaks the city in a sleepy white pall. All around, the darkness expands with small noises, the night sounds of the city passing around them.

Prince motions Joe to take a knee. The two listen in silence as the swish of legs, a band of Iranian insurgents, eight men in all, pass by not 20 feet away. The Iranians are dressed in black, wearing black balaclavas over their faces.

“I can take them!” Joe whispers.

“Remember the mission!” Prince whispers back.

Joe nods, wiping his mouth with the back of a hand.

They start moving again, through the shabby commercial district as it changes into middle-class neighborhoods, and then into slums spattered with holes from heavy machine gun fire.

With every step, Joe grows more and more erratic, jumping at every shadow.

Not a good trait in a vampire, Prince thinks.

“Why did you join the Army?” Prince whispers, hoping to distract Joe.

“I turned six years old on September 11, 2001,” Joe whispers back, burying his hands in the pocket of his hoodie. “I grew up wanting get Osama bin Laden and everything, you know what I mean? That kind of thing. And college money.” At a dark, empty intersection, Joe looks right and left before crossing the street. “And I guess I’ve always liked vampire movies,” he adds. “Dracula, Twilight, and that old one with Wesley Snipes—you know the one. He’s got a sword and that black leather overcoat.”

“Snipes kills vampires in that movie,” Prince says. “By cutting their heads off.”  

“Yeah, that’s the one! That’s a great one. Wesley Snipes—there’s a guy who walks the walk. You think he’s still alive?” Joe asks, his face a spider web of rising red and blue blood vessels. “He was a black belt in shotokan and like 10 other things. The real deal—slash, whack, hiiiyaaa!” Joe does a few kicks and slashes in the street to demonstrate, startling a pack of stray dogs sleeping in a nearby garbage heap. When mutts howl in protest, lightning-fast Joe pounces on the nearest dog, a dirty white mongrel, gripping it by the throat. The wet-eyed dog whines and yelps, helplessly thrashing in Joe’s superhuman grip.

“For Christ’s sake, Joe, it’s a dog!”

Joe, his mouth poised to tear into the mutt’s belly, stops. He stares at the dog, its stubby legs frantically pawing the air. Joe sets down the mutt and watches as it tears off down the street, howling.

“Sorry about that,” Joe apologizes. “I swear to God I love dogs. It’s just that the longer I go without eating—I mean—drinking, the crazier I get.”

“Let’s get you fed then,” Prince says, falling in a step behind Joe, one hand on the grip of his pistol. They walk in silence until Prince calls a halt at the entrance to a narrow cul-de-sac lined with dead bushes and palm trees.

Prince checks the address and points to a dilapidated cinder-block home with a withered garden, shaded patio, and a head-high concrete privacy wall. A dim light glows toward the rear of the house. There are no sentries in sight.

“This is it,” Prince whispers. “These are our boys.”

Joe leans his skinny body against the solid steel gate door and with a quick shove, snaps the door off its hinges. Prince raises a hand just as Joe’s about to toss the door through the front window. Shrugging, Joe gently leans the door against the wall, next to a broom made of palm fronds and twine. They creep silently forward and peer through a window. A boom box playing Egyptian hip-hop sits atop a dresser. In the corner, a young boy with a mop of black hair bobs his head to the music as he strips the copper from a bail of heavy electrical wire. At his feet, a pile of stripped black rubber lies motionless as snakeskins.

In the main room, six men with Kalashnikovs sit cross-legged on the stone floor, arguing over a map spread out before them.

“I’ll take the three on the left,” Prince says in a low voice, pistol in hand. Joe is mewling softly, his hot breath bathing Prince’s neck. “You take the three on the right, you hear me? On the right. I’ll—”

Before Prince can finish the sentence, Joe bounds past him, smashing through the door and into the room with the insurgents. Prince freezes in the doorway, mouth open as Joe does his work. There is surprisingly little noise aside from the occasional snap of bones crunching underfoot, a few wet thumps, and some abbreviated screams. The sparingly furnished room has become a stinking mess of blood and guts. Body parts thrown around like clothes in a messy closet. As for Joe, the feeding has filled out his gaunt frame. The paleness has receded and a youthful luster returned to his face.

Joe, gnawing on the leg of a fat Iranian man, notices Prince standing there. His eyes narrow. Prince backs out of the room.

“Where are you going?” Joe asks, absent-mindedly cracking the femur and sucking out the marrow. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

The room behind Prince is dark. He fumbles for the light switch. The room floods with bright, glorious light. Prince backs into a corner and aims his pistol at the doorway as Joe wobbles into the room, his gait unsteady, like a drunk leaving a bar after an all-night bender. His face is flush and plump and content until the bright lights hit him. He throws an arm over his eyes.

“Dude, Prince! Turn off the lights. You know I can’t see a thing!” Joe’s hoodie is smeared with clotted blood. He waves a hand in front of him. From his wrist dangles a butterflied esophagus, almost like a salesman displaying a necktie. When Prince doesn’t answer, Joe makes his way back to the killing room.

“Whatever, man. Thought we were friends.”

The feasting goes on for an hour before the sounds of slurping and crunching stop. Prince waits another hour before risking a peek. Joe is curled up on the ground, snoring away in a sopping pool of blood. The Iranian boy, who earlier was listening to music, is tucked under Joe’s arm, still alive and squirming. The boy looks pleadingly at Prince. Prince averts his eyes, nudging Joe awake with the toe of his boot.

“Huh? Wuh?” Joe mumbles, waking up. He rubs his eyes.

“Where am I?”

He looks around the blood-soaked room.

“Ooooooh. That’s right.”

Prince motions to the boy under Joe’s arm. Joe flushes.

“Oh right … um … well, Seamus doesn’t have anything scheduled for tomorrow night.” Joe gives the boy a pinch, and the boy passes out. “So I thought, no sense in letting good food go to waste. Right?”

“No doubt,” Prince says.

The next afternoon, unshowered, his eyes bloodshot from tossing and turning all night, Prince works up the nerve to confront Seamus. The New York Times crossword for the day is already pinned to the wall. Seamus sits at the table in his boxer shorts, shoveling lamb and hot red peppers into his mouth, his massive stomach expanding to meet the latest demands upon it. Ted is baking cookies in the kitchenette. Prince opens his mouth to speak but Seamus holds up a hand to stop him.

“Chocolate chip?” Seamus calls out, sniffing the air.

“Keep guessing!” Ted sings from the kitchenette.

“Peanut butter,” Prince says. He takes a seat across the table from Seamus.

“Spoilsport,” Ted says in a hurt voice. He hands Seamus a wooden spoon covered in cookie batter. Seamus eyeballs Prince as he licks the spoon greedily.

“What’d I say about Joe?” Seamus asks. “With equipment like him, we’ll win this war no time.”

“In no time at all,” Ted echoes. “With Joe.”

“And since we won’t need guards with Joe around,” Seamus says in between licks of the spoon, “we thought you security contractors might be able to pick up a shift or two—in the kitchen.”

 “Come on, Prince, say you’ll do it,” Ted begs, theatrically falling to his knees. “I’m dying for some Nepalese food!”

The two men crack up laughing, slapping high-fives.

“But … that kid is a menace!” Prince cries.

“Six clean kills and no complications. How’s he a menace?”

“What do you mean no complications?” Prince asks. “That kid nearly killed me last night, along with the rest of them.”

“Oh, that,” Ted says, wrinkling his nose.

“I ordered a hundred just like Joe,” Seamus says. “With an option for a thousand more.”

 “Joe’s success has made Seamus the new ‘it-boy’ in Washington,” Ted says as he sets a plate of steaming cookies on the table. “I’m dying to know what’s next. Director of the C.I.A.? Secretary of Defense? Dare I say it … Vice President Seamus McKinney?”

Seamus hands Ted the wooden spoon, licked clean, and reaches for the top cookie on the plate. Ted spanks the back of Seamus’s hand with the spoon.

“Let them cool!”

“But I want one now,” Seamus complains, rubbing the back of his hand.

“Goddamnit, Seamus, listen to me!” Prince cries. Seamus ignores him, and redoubles his effort to take the cookies from Ted, knocking Prince’s contract off the table in the process, a flutter of pages disappearing beneath the table. Prince drops to his knees and crawls under the table, grabbing the contract. He looks up just in time to see Seamus chasing Ted across the room with the spoon, both of them giggling like school boys playing hooky. Prince feels something collapse inside him.

I’m fucked, he thinks. Totally, permanently fucked.

“What do you think, Prince?”

Prince slowly climbs out from under the table. Seamus and Ted are red-faced and breathing heavily, staring at him.

“Think about what?”

“About letting cookies cool before you eat them!” Ted says, exasperated. “Haven’t you been paying attention at all?”

“Let them cool,” Prince says. “Always let the cookies cool before you eat them.”

For the second night in a row, Prince finds himself alone in the lobby, drinking beer. He polishes off his third can when Joe stumbles into the carpeted foyer like a meth addict. He’s wearing an Army-issue field jacket over his freshly laundered hoodie, a skull cap pulled down low over his ears. He’s shivering and talking too fast. The kid is completely tweaked out.

“Is that you Prince? Are we on for tomorrow? We got work tomorrow, don’t we?” Joe stammers. His eyes dart about. “Hey man, why is everybody staring at me?” The lobby is empty but for a couple of contractors steadily drinking beer and minding their own business. “Who are they looking at? I don’t like people looking at me—”

“No one’s looking at you, Joe,” Prince says, forcing Joe to take a seat in the corner. “Take a deep breath. That’s right.” Joe breathes deeply, his bloodshot gaze swinging wildly back and forth.

“I’m sorry, Prince. I’m starving man. I gotta eat.”

“Have you … you know … the boy?”

 “No no no no! If I eat him too early I might get hungry before tomorrow and then I’d have to scrounge up something around here,” Joe trails off. His eyes bug out and his skin turns translucent, just like last night, immediately before Joe feasted.

“Bring some beers back to your room with you. Pretty soon you’ll have a full belly. Everything will be fine.”

“That’s a good idea,” Joe says. He turns his hungry gaze on Prince. “Hey, you want to come up to my place for a beer?”

“Some other time,” Prince says quickly. “I don’t feel like celebrating.”

He watches Joe call the elevator, and waves as the door closes.

That kid is a train wreck, Prince thinks. And Ted and Seamus despise me.

There’s only one person who can save his contract now.

Lucy opens her door wearing red flannel pajamas. Her luxurious hair, dyed blonde to cover up her gray streaks, is brushed to a sheen. She has a toothbrush in her hand.

“I’ve been thinking about you all day,” Lucy says. She draws Prince into her room. “I was in such a wicked mood the other day.” They sit on the edge of the bed holding hands.

“You hate me because of that silly report, huh?” Lucy says, tugging seductively at Prince’s elbow. “You shouldn’t worry so much. Other companies have stolen a lot more than your company. And those companies still have government contracts. After they convict you, call a press conference. Tell the American public that you’re a prescription drug addict. Two months of out-patient rehab and you’ll be back in Iran, no questions asked.”

“But—”

Lucy holds her finger to his mouth, shushing him.

“It’s too late, baby. I hinted to my boss that I was nailing a big fish and he promised me the ambassadorship to Belize.” Lucy lies back on the bed. “You probably want to tie me up or something, huh? Take it out on me? I have some plastic Flexi-cuffs somewhere—”

“I’m here about Joe!” Prince yells. “He’s upstairs right now.”

Lucy claps her hands.

“I knew it—you want me to break in Joe! You kinky old man. That’s the Prince I know. I’m in.” Lucy runs straight for the door. Prince blocks her path.

 “But…” Prince sputters, “he’s a goddamn kid, a nobody! I bet he’s still a—”

“A virgin!” Lucy breathes, her thighs trembling at the possibility. “I knew it! That sweet innocent baby…let me grab my slippers and those handcuffs.”

Lucy locks her door and hurries to Joe’s room with Prince trailing behind. Outside Joe’s door, Prince grabs Lucy’s hand.

“Baby, let’s go back to your room. We can turn on some music. I’ll—”

“No way,” Lucy snaps. She gives him a disgusted look, like, what the hell happened to you, dude?

“I’m bored with those old games,” she says. “I need some fresh meat.”

 Lucy musses up her hair with both hands, her bangs falling seductively over her eyes. “You’re going to stay and watch, right?”

Prince, one hand on the door knob, pauses to look at Lucy and a deep affection for her overcomes him. He takes his hand off the door knob.

“Don’t go in this room Lucy. You can turn me in. In fact, I want you to. I’ll do the jail time and then you and I can move to Belize.”

No fucking way. There’s a cherry in that room and I’m getting him now.”

Prince bows his head and steps aside. Lucy unbuttons her pajamas down to the navel, her recently augmented breasts spilling deliciously out of her top. With a final contemptuous look at Prince, she turns the knob and throws open the door.

“Come to mama, honey!”

Lucy steps into the room. Joe is sitting on the floor, covered in wet burgundy clots. In his left hand is a human heart, the fibrous muscle still twitching. Behind him, the body of the Iranian boy sits slumped in a chair, a gaping hole in his chest. Lucy tries to back out of the room, but Prince slams the door shut, gripping the knob with both hands. Lucy’s screams are cut short by the frothy crunch of teeth around her trachea, followed by the slap of wet intestines hitting the wall.

Prince scans the empty hallway. When he’s certain there are no witnesses, he treads silently back to his room.

The next morning, Prince wakes to find Seamus and Ted standing beside his bed, peering down with faces full of concern.

“We let you rest as long as possible,” Ted says, nervously pulling the duvet cover up around Prince’s shoulders.

“I’ve got bad news, Prince,” Seamus says. “Joe ate Lucy last night. He was snacking on an Iranian boy and the next thing he remembers, Lucy’s head is on the bureau next to his iPhone charger. Jesus, when the White House hears about this, I’m gonna be cooked! It’s the worst-case scenario.”

“For what it’s worth, Joe says he’s sorry,” Ted says. “He didn’t want to kill Lucy.”

“And for what it’s worth, I’m sure Lucy felt the same way,” Seamus says. “We sent Joe home on the first flight out. I spoke with Langley. We decided Joe can’t go running around willy-nilly killing the good guys. Langley thinks they can use him as some kind of training tool, state-side.”

Ted coughs meaningfully.

 “Oh yes. Right.” Seamus tosses a copy of Prince’s contract on the bed. “It’s signed in all the right places. I want to say that you and your men do a fantastic—”

“Is there anything else?” Prince interrupts. “I think I should be alone.”

“We are so sorry!” Ted says, motioning Seamus to the door. “You get your sleep. Try not to think about poor Lucy. We’ll handle things here.”

The two men tiptoe from Prince’s room. The door closes with a soft, considerate click. Prince rolls over, staring at the wall. Instead of feeling sad, a sudden rush of patriotism fills his belly, settling his uneasy thoughts, calming his nerves, paving the way for a deep sleep, a sleep like he hasn’t had in many months.

How, you might ask, could anyone sleep at a time like this?

Because Prince knows, deep in his heart of hearts, that when he wakes up, the first thought on his mind will be “What can I do to make America safer?”

And so who the fuck cares if his second thought is “How can I make money on it?”

Contributor

Matthew Igoe

Matthew Igoe is a farmer in the Hudson Valley. He can be reached at mattigoe[at]gmail.com

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