© Copyright 2012 - Jo - Used by permission
Storycodes: Solo-F; other/f; plant; snake; drug; swallow; eaten; soft; cons/nc; X
Renee handed the app to the woman.
"Taneesha. Is that how you pronounce it - tuh NEESH ah?"
"Well, let's see. You have experience with dogs, cats, and fish. What about turtles, lizards, snakes?"
Taneesha shrugged. "Not much."
None would be more like it. Only pet she ever had was a turtle and it died after two days.
"Do you have any experience with plants?"
"Some. I mean they're plants, right?"
"Well, yes and no. Some people use our services for their plants, they treat them almost like pets and they need daily attention just like a critter. But they'll give you detailed watering instructions, so it's not hard."
"You didn't supply any references."
"I, uh, I'd rather not." Thinking fast. "It would mean that the people were away a lot and, uh, bad things could happen."
"Sure. I don't check references anyway. I mean, who'd give a bad reference?"
Only a fool.
"Getting back to reptiles, most are fed live food, mice and crickets and whatnot. Will that be a problem. Some of my people are kind of creeped out by it."
You got that right. Saw a TV thing of a snake eating a rabbit. Almost hurled.
"No. It's cool."
Besides, growing up where she did, bugs and mice were the enemy. Wouldn't mind offing a few just for fun.
"Good. Good. Okay, I'll need your driver's license and social security card. Background check, you understand."
"Sure," she said handing over Taneesha's ID.
Check all you want. Miss goody-two-shoes is so clean she squeaks.
"Okay. It'll take a day to check these and, if everything's okay, I may have something this weekend. A two week, house sitting gig. Includes room and board."
Sounds too frippin' good to be true!
Renee caught the free shuttle to the library, headed up to the career section, reread the books on pet care.
She had left home a year ago, took her sister's purse. Life was good until the bitch put a block on her credit cards. She'd kept the ID and was glad she did. Not that her life had been all that bad - busted for pot twice, aggravated assault once, shoplifting a couple of times. Nothing all that serious, well, except for the breaking and entering, but that was Raul's idea. Still it was good having Taneesha's stuff. Especially today.
She had been sleeping at a shelter, spending her days panhandling, swinging by the library for a clean bathroom. It had been raining that day and she was just hanging out. There was a book on pet care sitting on the table. She picked it up, idly flipped through the pages, then froze.
There was a picture of a house, a real nice house, looked like a frippin' mansion. And the book was talking about how pet sitters also do plant and house sitting. The proverbial light bulb went off. A clean bed, good food, and stuff ... valuable stuff.
Renee paid the taxi, asked him to wait a minute to make sure it was the right address.
She walked up to the iron gate, jabbed the intercom button.
"Uh, hi, it's Taneesha Adams."
There was a buzz, the gate swung open. She gave the cabbie the thumbs up and walked up the drive.
It wasn't a mansion, but it was big. Two floors, all brick, ivy growing up the sides.
The front door opened and a small, hunched over man stepped out. Renee thought at first he might be a butler. He extended his hand.
"Miss Adams? I'm Adrian Nash. I'm very pleased to meet you."
She allowed herself to be led into the home. It was obviously a man's home, lots of dark, earth colors. The only bright spots were the plants that lined the windows. He led her into the study. Books lined the walls and between the stacks were glass boxes. He gestured.
She followed him around the room as he described each animal. He went into the whole Latin thing and Renee just went "Uh huh" a lot.
There were several snakes, red, brown, yellow, each coiled in a corner of it's respective box. One had a lump part way down the body and Renee had to look away. But then, it was probably a mouse.
Serves you right, sucker!
Other boxes contained lizards. Adrian opened a door. It was a lighted closet of sorts.
"You'll find everything you need in here -mice, crickets, the schedule. Everything is marked and there's a diagram. You can see that they don't all eat every day. Just follow the schedule and you'll be fine."
They left the study and walked through the den.
"All the plants are on a timed feeder, but if the electric goes off, you'll have to water them by hand. The plant schedule is in the study closet next to the reptile schedule."
They came to a glass door. Adrian gestured to another door on the right.
"The plants in the greenhouse are very delicate, extremely delicate. I have to ask that you remove your clothes, all of your clothing, and put on a sanitized jumpsuit and booties."
He opened the door. Renee stepped in, closed the door behind her. It was a small bathroom. On the shelf was a stack of clothing and a pile of elastic hem booties, like the kind doctors wear. She pulled one of the garments from the shelf, shook it out. It was brightly colored in patches of red, yellow, and blue.
Renee stripped off her clothes, stepped into the thing, tugged it up, ran the zipper. It was a size too small and she had to wrestle with it a bit. She slipped on the booties, stepped in front of the mirror.
What is he, some kind of perv? I look like a frippin' clown!
She was about to say the hell with it, but the idea of being in the rich guy's house trumped embarrassment.
She stepped out of the room.
"Ah, and jewelry, too, please. If a piece should fall off and you were to try to retrieve it, well, the result could be disastrous."
Renee pulled off her jewelry, set it on the counter next to her clothes.
Adrian opened the door to the greenhouse.
"I apologize for the clothing. My clothes are laundered in a special way, but residue from commercial cleaning products could have a damaging effect on some of the plants."
There was a raised, wooden walkway that wound its way through the greenhouse.
He went into his spiel again, pointing at this plant and that. Renee followed, saying "Uh huh" at the appropriate times. He took a dish and a pair of tongs from a cabinet.
"Do you recognize these?"
"Yeah. They eat bugs, right?"
"Yes. Their popular name is Venus Fly Trap."
He dropped a morsel of rotten meat into one and it promptly closed.
"The watering system in here is automatic, also, but I'll show you the manual override just in case. As for feeding, if you see one of the plants with its "mouth" open, just drop in a bit of meat. All of them are near the railing, so there's no need to venture off the walkway - and please don't. As I said, the effect could be bad, very bad indeed."
The brilliant red plant was moving, quivering.
"Another carnivore. The movement attracts small animals, it then exudes a substance, a nerve gas of sorts. The animal dies, rots, and the nutrients seep into the ground, feeding it."
"Is it dangerous?"
"To a mouse or a rabbit? Deadly. To a human, it would have a similar effect, though not a fatal one. I should avoid it if I were you."
I'd like to avoid the whole frippin' place.
Renee followed the schedule, dispensing crickets and mice, making sure the plants were being watered, making brief forays into the greenhouse.
But most of the time she snooped. And it was good - very, very good. He had some seriously nice stuff - and cash. She resisted the temptation to take the stuff and run, but it wouldn't take long for them to make the Taneesha/Renee connection.
No, her plan was better. Do what she was hired to do, leave the place perfect, everybody's happy, come back a month later and clean the place out. She had already found the spare keys and the notes on the security system.
Piece of cake.
She was lounging with her second double scotch, watching a nature show of all things on the wide-screen TV when she realized she hadn't checked the greenhouse in two days.
She pushed herself off the couch and padded through the den. She stepped into the little room, stripped, reached for the shelf, stopped.
"Frip it. Don't need to be looking like no frippin' clown."
She pushed out of the room, naked, and went into the greenhouse. She grabbed a container of meat and the tongs and staggered her way down the boardwalk. On her way back she dropped the tongs. They bounced off the wood into the plants.
Renee knelt, stretched, could almost reach, but not quite. She gripped the railing, ducked her head under, leaned in further, just got her fingers on the tongs when a puff of air hit her face. But it wasn't air. It smelled bitter, like something burning.
She looked up. There was the red, quivering plant.
Renee's world spun. She lost consciousness, lost her grip on the railing, tumbled from the walkway and down into the plants.
Under the wooden planks a shadow within a shadow moved. It slowly resolved itself into the form of a snake - a very large snake.
It crawled over the unconscious girl's body, found her feet, opened it's mouth and bit. It worked its jaws, slowly, rhythmically, drawing first Renee's feet, then her legs into its mouth. When it reached her full, brown hips, it paused. It worked its jaw for a minute, dislocated it, opened wider and soon Renee was waist deep in the beast.
"I told her it was dangerous."
"Perhaps, she misunderstood. Perhaps she thought it would be dangerous for the plants. Did you tell her about Gertie?"
"No, no. Er, I find it best not to. She lives under the walkway, can't climb, doesn't crawl all that fast. It's easy to avoid her. But still ..."
"What ... what will happen?"
"Well, Adrian, if your conscience will allow it, nothing. Her name wasn't Taneesha, it was Renee. Taneesha is her sister. She's kind of the black sheep of the family. Left home a bit over a year ago and nobody's heard from her since. She's been using Taneesha's ID because she has a criminal record. It took a while to find it because they have different fathers and, so, different last names."
"I would guess this was a setup of sorts. I've seen it before, a couple of times. Person comes in and if they don't steal right away, they come back later."
"I don't mind the things."
"I know. I was just saying it happens."
"But you're saying she, for all intents and purposes, didn't exist."
Adrian wiped an imaginary hair from his forehead.
"I'll probably rot in hell for this, but let's just let it go."
"Works for me. And, Adrian, next time I send one of my people here, tell 'em about Gertie, okay?"