Don't own Moonlight, Josef…the cleaner…blah, blah, blah. Ever since Doctor Feelgood, the elusive character of the Cleaner has been in my brain, urging me to write a piece on her. Reviews are a major thrill, the only pay we fanfic writers get…Chapter 5 of Now and Then should be up soon.
They call me the Cleaner. I've had other titles over the years, some of them not so complimentary, but lately I go by Ruby Smith, when people bother to catch the name. Well, better than Jane Doe, that's what I say. In my human days, I went by Lillianna Parker, but any flower names don't have the right ring for the trade I deal in, you know? Vampires like Josef Kostan would never let me live it down.
My old man was a cop, always said I took after him like that, and would be a natural at the job. Well, having a vagina kind of ruled law enforcement out. Back in the 1920's, women may have gotten the vote, but still had a lot of doors to knock down. My old pops probably would piss himself if he saw his only kid hiding corpses, making a monkey out of LA's finest. Still, I like to think he'd get my motivations, what drives me. He's the only one who ever had any faith in me, the only one that thought I was something special. My mom kicked the bucket popping me out, and dad never did get himself remarried. I like to think he's with his wife now, if you buy into the idea of heaven.
I buy into a lot of things, personally. Hey, you hang around this world long enough; you see stuff, freaky ass shit that'd make a believer out of just about anybody. Not religion per se, just fantastic stuff in general. I guess you could say I cash in on the chaos, and why not? There's enough of it to go around, might as well get something out of it. But it's more basic than that, it's all about maintaining the balance, that's in anybody's best interest, human or vampire. Sure, once in a while, you get a nut who wants to turn the world on its ear, shake things up. You got to treat those wack-jobs the same way you do any problem. You squash 'em.
The thing with most people, undead and mortal alike is no one likes getting their hands dirty, doing the grunt work. Hey, no problem for yours truly, more business to go around for me. Not that I'm the only cleaner, you think I could cover LA on my own? Hey, I'm good, but I'm not frickin' wonder woman. Still, the competition's pretty slim; it's not the most popular vocation, even among vampires. They just pass it off as glorified garbage collecting, not seeing the big picture.
Not that cleaning up after sloppy eaters is the only way I line my pockets, you'd be surprised how many pots I've got on the stove. But that's another kettle of fish altogether.
I won't lie and say it's the road I ever set out to find. All I was ever interested in doing was surviving. When dad passed on, I was just fourteen, the biggest blow of my life. I lost my pal, I lost my protector, I lost my rock. Still, there wasn't time to cry over it, life takes money, and on a cop's salary, dad didn't leave much. I dropped out of school, struck out of my own, ended up pulling a stint in a cat house to keep my stomach full and a roof over my head. It was either that, or turn tricks myself, even though, keeping 'friendly' patrons out of my skirt was full time work, so I had my opportunities to hustle a little extra on the side, believe me.
Well, I'm not gonna go on and on like a bad Lifetime movie. Actually, all things considered, things weren't so bad. I had some tough breaks, sure, but I made a go of it, and came out okay. Life was sweet in America, still in the swing of the Roaring 20's, the Crash still years away. I left the whorehouse for tamer locations, landing a job as a secretary, if you can believe it. Not that there's any shame to the profession, it just wasn't my cup of tea, even then. Oh, well. It was a step up, and I had a good brain, and was ready to use it.
Then I walked in the ever loving last trap I should've ever fallen into. I fell in love. Now that's a mighty precarious position to be in, but I went a step further, I fell in love with a snake, Marcus Sutherland. Of course, I didn't have the benefit of seeing him with clear eyes, and was dopey enough to think I found prince charming. The fact he had a pair of fangs didn't bother me, I was in the clutches of loving bliss, dammit, in the middle of fool's paradise. I actually shacked up with that bum; let him turn me, the whole nine yards.
Things went south, and if I'd been paying attention to the red flags, I'd have seen it coming a mile off. He jumped ship eventually, and you know what I say? Good riddance. It wasn't the first time I was in a tough spot, and this time, I had some experience to back me up, and the perks of immortality. I knew I'd come out in the black. I just wished I'd been the one to kick his ass to the curb.
Long story sort, I caught a gig apprenticing to one of the few cleaners in LA, Cleo, learning the ropes hands on. I got stuck with the shit jobs, Cleo liked to shake down newbies, see what they're made of. Sure, there were times I wanted to walk away, carve a chunk out of another avenue. Still, I'm no quitter, and I wasn't going to give Cleo that satisfaction. Long story short, I stuck it out. It took a while, but my boss was finally convinced I had what it took to make it in the business. I clawed myself up higher and higher on the crew, kicking anyone down that got in my way.
I'm the youngest Cleaner to ever set up shop, and it took me a few years for my fellow vamps to get the message-that I wasn't some light-weight. Not saying it wasn't a pain in the ass, but in my experience, you just hang in there long enough, take care of business, and don't be shy to defend what's yours, the rest will come natural.
Obviously, my life's philosophy paid off. I'm the top dog in LA, and not afraid to bare my fangs to protect that spot. I've got enough clients to keep my in the black for years to come, and as long as vampires are still stupid enough to off their midnight snack, I'll be around.
Right now, my crew's wrapping up a job. Every vamp on my crew's hand picked, I made sure to get the best of the best. Hey, your team represents you whenever they go, one dud and the whole thing can go to hell in a hand basket. I can't say as I know any of them on a personal basis, I'm not one to get all warm and fuzzy with my crew, it's just business, you know? Not saying I don't have a pal or two, eternity's a long time to go without having somebody to watch your back. I just don't mix business with pleasure…if I can help it.
My cell buzzes, and I pick it up. "The cleaner."
"Hello, Ruby." Even if that voice wasn't burned into my memory, I'd know it was him. He's the only one to ever call me by my most recent given name.
"Josef Kostan," I clip out, not about to let my guys hear me sound all sappy. It's all about image: From the leather duster to the way I carry myself. "Need a clean up?"
"My dear, you wound me to the quick. I can stash my own bodies."
"That I believe," I said, keeping one eye on my team packing it in. "Well?"
"Thought you'd never ask," he teased. "You think you can squeeze me into your busy schedule?"
Flashbacks of the last few times I squeezed Josef into my schedule flashes in my brain. I shut the door fast, before I get all hot and bothered. "I might take it into consideration. Think you can make it worth my while?"
"I guarantee it," he purred into my ear, and against my will, a scorching shudder ran through me.
"One hour," I curtly informed him. "Usual place." Then I disconnected the call. I'm sure my crew could smell the fact I was hitting the sheets with Kostan, no big deal, bumping and grinding was second nature to vamps. In fact, having a senior vamp's scent all over you is something to advertise, not mask. He's filthy rich and has major connections, both of the human and vampiric kind, just the kind of bedmate most vampires would give their left arm for.
I can't say as my mind was strictly on perks when I got horizontal with him. Sure, it was a nice bonus, but it was really about jumping that fine specimen's bones. It started out purely physical, and I'm not saying that I'm ready to pick out china or anything, but something shifted along the line. Not just for me, him too. Trust me, I'm not just flattering myself, I know. There's a bond developing between us, one neither of us has bothered to acknowledge, but it's there.
I'm not so provincial to think we'll fall in love. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. Besides, unless I'm off the mark, Josef's heart is already occupied. Whoever the gal is, she's probably dead, since humans have a bad habit of croaking on you just when you get attached. Or maybe it was a vampire, and it just ended bad. For whatever reason, Josef's flying solo these days. No reason we can't keep company, add some spice to immortality, have some laughs.
I head to a small apartment Josef has in town, away from his harem. I got to say, he's got excellent taste in freshies, it almost makes a woman want to start batting for the other team. Chuckling, I turn the stereo up, anticipation sweet and hot in my veins.