(Wrestled this one kicking and screaming out of my brain over the last few days. I'm really not sure what to think about it. It's a first pass so please forgive if it's a bit rough. -J)
Freeman was special. Freeman was useful.
Freeman was wearing a white suit with a thin black tie. It wasn't his decision. He hopped down out of the massive SUV, his handler close at his back. His handler didn't have to wear a white suit. He wasn't special. He was rarely useful. Freeman had a stable of handlers. Tonight it was Hennings. He was a slab of cellulite, folded and stretched into a marginal man. He wasn't Freeman's favorite, but it wasn't his decision.
Hennings lead the way down a winding stone pathway towards a mansion. His work rarely took place anywhere else. A leafy canopy spread overhead, attempting to blot out all trace of the night sky. In exchange, the ample flora gifted a crisp, refreshing air. Freeman thought it was a fair trade.
They were almost to the large wooden double doors of the house before they made out the sounds of the party-goers inside. They climbed the white stone steps and the doors were pulled open by a lumpy, disinterested doorman. He nodded them through a brightly lit foyer and down several steps into a large reception hall. There were several dozen immaculately dressed guests milling about the room, lounging on luxurious sofas and picking at spreads of colorful fruits and vegetables on tables throughout the room. None of them were wearing white suits. Freeman was special.
The hall was spectacular. The west wall was dominated by a gigantic, thick paned window, and several couples were occupying themselves with a view of the starry sky. Two long wooden wet bars stretched along the opposite wall. Tuxedoed bartenders whirled up and down the length of the bar, serving complicated drinks to the glittering tide of the comfortable and carefree.
A good-looking young Cuban swept across the room towards them. More money than attention had gone into his dress, but he carried himself gracefully and wore a smile that went on and on without ever seeming to stale. He extended his hand to Hennings amiably.
“Mr Hennings, is it? Welcome.”
Hennings greeted him coolly and professionally, extending a moist, fleshy hand of his own, “Mr Mosqueda?”
“Please. Call me Rodrigo.” he turned his attention in Freeman's direction, taking in the full scope of his attire.
“And this must be...”
Freeman was sure he was about to say Ricardo Montalban. He winced in expectation.
“This is your Tac.” Hennings interrupted, drawing the host's attention back his way. “You've set up as we requested?”
Relieved, Freeman turned his attention back to the party guests as Rodrigo led them toward their designated “working” area. Many of the guests had taken note of their arrival. A chain of whispers had spread throughout the room and he was forced to bear even more scrutiny on that damn white suit. He could tell which guests knew who he was, and what he could do, by how openly they gaped at him. A tender blond nymphet who Freeman had sworn he'd seen gyrating in a music video last week looked at him, and between giggles, blew mocking kisses in his direction. She would be very disappointed when he started the dishing.
There were other notable figures floating about the room. He estimated that half the crowd consisted of entertainment industry types. He recognized Porter Bridges, creative mind behind the pop horror movie franchise The Squeezers. Bridges was greeting fellow guests in groups that were being led up to and away from him by members of his entourage. He seemed wearied by the endless audiences. Fame taking its cut.
Hip Hop producer Cadence Rev was there as well. Like Porter Bridges, he was not without an entourage. Unlike Porter, he was not receiving well-wishes from fans. He slumped on a leather couch, surrounded closely by his retinue, working very hard to look both angry and relaxed at the same time.
The remainder of the crowd was made up of money. Shimmering young scions of old wealth mingled amongst newer members of their affluent fraternity. There were internet entrepreneurs, sports agents, corporate executives, stock manipulators, divorce attorneys, and even the odd mobster or two.
“Nice crowd.” he said.
“Ah... My lady Sari is responsible for the guest list.” Rodrigo admitted as they came to an ornate wooden desk tucked in an open corner of the ballroom. Hennings reached into his leather satchel and began placing several shallow porcelain dishes on the table.
“That would be me...” her voice floated over his left shoulder, danced close to his ear, and drifted on into the room. He felt like chasing it. Instead he turned to face her.
She was long and slender, with pearly skin and hair washed of milk and blood. She leaned in closer to him, seemed to inhale hungrily, and her green eyes flashed. Freeman had the distinct impression she had learned everything about him.
“I'm Freeman. I'm the Ta-”
“You're the Narco-Tactile” she finished. “I've been wanting to meet you for a very long time.”
“I'm useful” he said.
At the desk behind them Hennings and Rodrigo were busy filling the porcelain dishes with an impressive array of drugs. He was going to have a very busy night.
“You're special” Sari looked him up and down. “And so is that suit.”
She moved closer, and inhaled deeply once again. It was starting to make him nervous.
She licked her lips and swallowed. “Nervousness always tastes like sauteed onions.”
“I'm sorry?” Freeman was beginning to suspect that Lady Sari might have gone into the drug stash already. He looked over to Hennings, who was dumping several buds of leafy green pot into a dish. The desk had nearly twenty separate dishes, each filled with an illicit narcotic.
“Suspicion... It tastes like marshmallows. Not toasted though...” she looked at him intently. She didn't appear high. He was quickly becoming as fascinated with her as she seemed to be with him.
“How do you know what I'm feeling?”
“I can taste emotions.” She offered it up so plainly that he struggled to muster up disbelief at the notion. She laughed and leaned in close to his ear. “You're not the only one who's special, Freeman.”
The desk was finally set up and Hennings signaled him over. Freeman took at seat and surveyed the now filled porcelain dishes. As usual there were several strains of marijuana and cocaine, along with heroin, PCP, and a variety of hallucinogens, amphetamines, and opiates. The crowd was beginning to buzz expectantly. The dishing was about to begin.
It was decided that allowing a line to form would be unseemly, so Rodrigo was tasked with bringing the guests to Freeman one at a time. Hennings stood to the side of the desk, arms folded across his puffed chest, dividing his time between monitoring the stash and scanning the crowd.
Rodrigo had slipped out into the room to fetch the first guest. Sari took up a position just behind Freeman's right shoulder and feasted on the anticipation in the room. Her breath was warm and sweet in his ear.
“Anticipation tastes like pistachio nuts.” She made an ick sound. “Never liked pistachio nuts.”
Freeman had so many questions for her, but before he could ask Rodrigo returned to the desk. He was joined by a mid-forties corporate lawyer with a mid-twenties tart perched on his arm. His charcoal suit jacket was unbuttoned and he had removed his tie. She was squeezed into a black cocktail dress streaked with silver. Both had spent most of the evening at the bar. Rodrigo angled towards the head of the desk.
“They both want coke.”
Freeman nodded. It was time to go to work. He dipped the fingers on his left hand into a dish with fine white powder, holding out his other hand to the young woman.
He closed his eyes and instinctively opened a channel for the narcotic effect to pass into her. He heard her inhale sharply as it hit her. Her exhalation was longer, and capped by a fit of giggles. Freeman closed off the channel and released her hand. He looked her over. He'd nailed it, as usual. One of the benefits of a tactile dose was the ability to receive a perfectly measured amount of the narcotic, thereby minimizing long term physical damage to the user.
As the tart giggled and jumped in and out of the arms of her corporate “daddy,” Freeman found Sari in his ear.
“Joy, rapture, euphoria...Yummy.” Freeman waited. She'd tell him. He had to know what it tasted like. What he'd been dishing out for years.
“Strawberries... My favorite.” she sighed with delight. “You are useful.”
He swelled, pride mixing with wonder. She nibbled away.
“Gratification is all about the pumpkin pie, honey.”
He was falling in love with what she could do. It was a every bit as intoxicating a drug as the ones on the desk. Even more so.
The night wore on, and he dished like he'd done a hundred times before. But it had never been like this. Sari never left his side. She shared everything. Every emotion. Before the high and after. When he opened a channel and dumped a slug of PCP into a local music reporter she was there to whisper of his repressed rage.
“It's like popcorn with chili powder instead of salt...”
When Porter Bridges requested a touch of LSD, Freeman and Sari were treated to a look into the creative process of this self proclaimed master of modern horror. His paranoia tasted of peanut butter and goat cheese. They laughed at the box office possibilities.
It was very late into the night when Cadence Rev finally stalked his way to the desk. Rodrigo followed behind, walled off by Rev's retinue. Freeman wasn't surprised by the request for heroin. He was a little afraid of Rev though. Sari, no doubt tasting his apprehension, placed a delicate hand on his shoulder.
He grasped Cadence Rev's hand and let the heroin flow into him. Rev snorted ferociously and bared his golden teeth as the effects came over him. Freeman closed up and leaned back in his chair warily. Sari was humming pleasantly, smacking her lips on yet more strawberries. Freeman wondered how she hadn't grown sick of them yet.
Rev staggered up out of his chair and his posse guided him away. Sari showed no displeasure.
“He's already crashing. That's the problem with heroin. The rush is always so quick.”
Freeman looked down at his watch. Dawn was bearing down. Soon Hennings would be gathering up the stash and escorting him out, escorting him away from her.
“You taste like roasted veal. That's despair.”
“I'm done here. I'll have to go soon” he slumped down in his chair.
Sari swung around in front of him, tumbling into his lap. She purred and fiddled with his thin black tie. Freeman felt desire stirring and puzzled about its flavor. He struggled to gather enough breath to ask.
“You know, this doesn't have to end.” she said.
“I'm afraid it does, Sari.” He said the words reluctantly. “The men I work for, they won't let...” Freeman knew it was best to not say more of his patrons.
“I'm useful... to them.” he finished.
“You're special... to me.” she was brushing his neck with soft kisses.
He was melting. “But what about...”
Rodrigo! Freeman straightened up in the chair. Sari shifted with him to avoid being thrown from his lap. He studied the room, looking for the affable Cuban. He found him over by the bar directing the party staff in their break down.
“Relax, honey... Panic is like a shot of lemon juice.” her face twisted up and then slowly back into a seductive grin.
“Sorry I, uh, so you and Rodrigo aren't?”
“No. But he is kind enough to throw these parties so I can... graze.”
Freeman heard a groan, and noticed Hennings rising from his post and gathering up his satchel. Sari watched him warily.
“Listen, love. This doesn't have to end. We can be together” she bit down on her bottom lip and stared at Hennings with concern.
Freeman had an idea where this was going. He looked into her eyes and instantly knew he was going to do it. She dined on his submission.
“Take him out.” she whispered “And you'll find out what liberation tastes like, Freeman.”
When Hennings reached the desk Freeman was waiting for him, a lude pressed into his left hand. He offered his free hand to his beefy handler.
“Nice job tonight, chief.” Hennings took his hand without suspecting anything was amiss. He was never terribly bright. Freeman channeled enough of the drug to put a horse to sleep and Hennings went out. Sari pulled the empty office chair behind him and Freeman grunted as he eased the girth of his now former handler into it. No turning back now, he thought.
Sari relieved Hennings of his satchel and grabbed Freeman's hand. She lead him through the throng of guests, most now grinding through their come downs. The two of them were hardly noticed.
“What now?” he said
“We could head down to Greek row. Those kids party 24/7... It'd be a feast.” Freeman wondered if her hunger was ever sated. He wondered if he ever wanted it to be.
“But first...” She stopped, turned to face him and grabbed him by the lapels of his white suit jacket. “Baby, let's get you some new clothes.”
Freeman smiled. He could have swore he tasted strawberries as they stepped out the front doors and fled into the birthing dawn.