Following this blog’s tradition, this is this year’s Halloween story. Enjoy!
“No way,” I say and lick my lips. The mere thought makes my mouth water.
“Yes way,” he says and leans back on his seat, a smirk playing on his handsome face.
Does this young man feel as confident as he sounds?
I glance at the rest of the tables in the half-empty restaurant. It is a slow night, which works fine for me. I don’t want any nosy reporters listening in to our conversation. I lean forward, lowering my voice. “You’re telling me you can get people all over the country to dress up like pork.”
“Like pigs,” he corrects me. “Snout, ears and tails, to be exact. Maybe even hooves. Shouldn’t be too hard to design shoes that resemble those.”
I give him a hard stare, still finding it hard to believe, and point my fork at him. “Just because you tell them to.”
“Not really,” he admits. The leather chair under him groans as he shifts his weight. “Because Parooh will tell them to.”
I dig my fork into my steak. “And Parooh will do anything you tell him.”
A smug smile breaks on his face. “You see him every night on your TV and think he’s infallible, don’t you? The greatest TV host to have ever lived and all that. Millions of people tuning in daily just to watch his show.”
I don’t answer, just stare at him as I chew. He stares back. I know what he thinks. I chew loudly, my mouth open. Like many, he probably hates that. Still, he holds on to his smile. To him, I’m a big, fat bonus at the end of the year. He won’t do or say anything to jeopardize that.
I swallow and seesaw my knife. His gaze fixes on the back of my hand. Hypertrichosis. Does he even know the term for excessive hair? Or does he think my hairy hands are the result of excessive visits to the bathroom with a dirty magazine in hand? Does that explain the amused glint in his eyes?
I push the thought from my head. You’re being ridiculous. All he sees is a man who’s made his vast fortune raising and selling pork. A man who can hand his network one of their greatest ad accounts on a silver platter.
He mistakes my silence for doubt. “Well, here’s something most folks don’t know. Parooh—and everyone like him—depends on a score of people,” he continues. “I happen to be in charge of new fads. A tastemaker, as my card says.”
He proves his point by pushing a plain black card with silver letters a few inches from my face. My head nudges back and I squint to clear the blurry image—I’m not as young as I once was. Under his name, a simple word in an elegant, smooth font speaks volumes: Tastemaker.
He flicks his wrist and the card disappears. “It’s my job to keep my finger on the people’s pulse, so to speak.” His face beams with pride. “If I tell Parooh that pig-dressing is the new rage, he’ll never question me.”
“It’s a bet, then.”
The smile fades from his face. “A bet?”
A bet. Haven’t had one of those in ages. I chew bloodied meat for a moment, savoring the metallic taste. I like my steaks raw. “A bet,” I repeat when I swallow.
The cocky smile returns to his face. “Fine.”
“You have one month to make people dress up like pigs. In return, half of our ad budget will go to your network.”
His dilated pupils and fast breathing betray the excitement behind his poker face. “Deal,” he says. His voice sounds hoarse. He sips some water.
“So, how will you do it?” I ask with genuine curiosity.
“The usual.” He makes it sound as if it’s routine for him to convince people to dress up like pigs.
Huh. Maybe it is.
He chews a rocket leaf before continuing. “Guys will do what girls tell them to. And girls will do whatever Parooh asks of them. So we focus on them first.” He ticks off items on his fingers. “First, we show a video of some partying students all dressed up as pigs. Perhaps a sorority. We’ll call it the hot new trend.”
Images of skimpily-dressed hot college students fill my head. I lick my lips, liking the way he thinks.
He touches his index next. “We continue to show short videos daily for at least a week on both our show and social media. Depending on how soon they turn viral, we’ll then bring to the show a sexy celebrity dressed up like a pig. She’ll surprise us by saying how much she enjoys it, and how liberating it is to wear a snout. She’ll describe it as wearing a naughty mask or something. Makes her feel hot. Especially in bed.”
I nod. He has me hooked now.
“We’ll continue with more videos,” he says. “This time, guys, too. Shockingly, one of them will confess on camera how girls dig that.”
A cute waitress approaches. I motion at my wine glass and she fills it with more of the lovely Chateau Margaux we’ve been enjoying. She makes a serving motion toward his glass, but he declines with a wave of his hand, too caught up in his ideas to need any extra lubrication. I have to respect his dedication to the job.
“A week later,” he continues, “it’s time for the coup de grace.” His mouth splits in a grin as wide as his head. “Parooh himself will dress up as a pig.” The mere thought has him giggling like a schoolgirl asked by the school hunk for a date.
“Parooh will do that?”
“You bet. Remember the diamond stud craze?” I didn’t think possible for his grin to widen any farther. I was wrong. It practically left his head to fly around the room as he pointed at himself. “That was me, baby.”
I dig my fork into the remainders of my steak. “What market penetration are we looking at here?”
“Fifty percent, easy.”
The fork slips through my fingers and lands with a loud clang on my plate. “One hundred and fifty million people.” I let out a slow whistle.
“One hundred and fifty million Americans,” he corrects me. “You’re forgetting our worldwide appeal. It goes like this.” There’s that cocky smirk again. “The rest of the world does as good ol’ US does. The US does as Parooh does. And Parooh does what I tell him to.” He leans forward to stare at me. “You’re talking millions. I’m talking billions.”
I spear the last piece of the steak and bring it to my mouth in a slow, deliberate motion that hides the cogs spinning in my head so fast, I’m afraid sparks will fly out of my ears. I take a full minute to chew and swallow. “I can see I approached the right man for this.”
His face beams. Time to prick that ballooning head of his.
“But I doubt this will impact pork sales.”
His jaw drops. He leans forward. “Are you kidding? People will see pigs everywhere they look. Tell me, what do you think about when you think pig?”
I take my glass and swirl its contents to avoid having to answer that question. Instead, I focus on the restaurant dim lights reflected in the wine, making me feel as if I’m holding the Mediterranean in my glass.
“Exactly,” he says in a triumphant voice. “Dirty. Unsexy. Unclean.”
Not at all what I had in mind. Me, I love pigs. Bacon and ribs have made me more money than I can spend in a hundred lifetimes. Still, it makes little difference, and I don’t bother to correct him. Instead, I take a sip from my glass, pretending I can taste a hint of sea along with the floral notes.
“But you and me, baby, we can make pigs sexy again.”
Again? When were pigs sexy in the first place?
“We can make pork the most exciting food on the table,” he continues.
I detect a hint of uncertainty in his voice. Good. I’ve got him where I want him. Now, to let him reel me in. I swirl the wine some more. “I don’t know…” I stare into my glass, as if it contains the answer to all of humanity’s questions. Yes, there is a God. My glass of wine tells me so. I swallow a chuckle.
He holds his breath for so long, I think he’s going to pass out. Only then do I let my gaze snap up to him. “Oh, what the hell. Let’s do this.”
He bangs his hand on the table. “Yes!” He throws his head back and laughs. “You won’t regret this, Mr. Wolfe. Best decision you ever made.”
Yes, it is. But not for the reason you think. “Let’s talk terms.”
We spend the next half hour hammering out the details of our little agreement. It all boils down to a simple deal. In exchange for half of my advertising budget, he will dress the world up as pigs. Not a bad arrangement. We shake our hands and I let myself relax a little.
The hard part over, he turns his attention to his food. Leaves crunch under his fork. The negotiation has worked up his appetite. As for me, I’m ready for dessert. I raise one finger and the waitress rushes to my side.
“I’d like the chocolate soufflé, please.” I turn to my new friend. “You don’t mind if I order it now, do you?”
He shakes his head, his mouth full and his eyes foggy as if he’d just had the best sex in his life.
“Our chef prepares it on the spot. It may be a minute before it’s ready,” she warns me.
“That’s fine.” I give her a reassuring smile.
She smiles back and clears my plate and cutlery before disappearing into the kitchen.
“Best soufflé in town,” I say.
“Mmm,” he mumbles, still chewing. He reminds me of a goat, the way his chin moves side to side.
I lean back and stretch my hands. “So, what else do you do?”
“My work is my life,” he says timidly.
I give him my friendliest smile. “I find that hard to believe.” Does he really think I haven’t done my research? “Surely you have other passions as well? Like, say, writing?”
He gives me a look like a deer caught in the headlights of a hunter’s Jeep and chokes. I hand him a glass of water and he takes a few sips to calm his cough down. “I do enjoy writing the odd screenplay,” he confesses, avoiding my gaze.
“No shame there, son,” I say and slap his shoulder. “I happen to know a few agents. You keep your end of our bargain, and there just might be a movie deal in it for you, too.” I’m not usually so generous, but I’m in a rare mood. Plus, I want him to want this as badly as me. Even more, if possible.
The blood drains from his face for a moment, then his whole head turns crimson. “You’d do that?”
“Of course, I’m sure that Parooh can also help you,” I say with false modesty. In fact, Parooh is notorious for never helping his people with any extracurricular interests they may have, as he wants them focused on just one thing: him.
“You’d think so,” he says, his voice heavy with bitterness.
He might have gone on, but I don’t want to hear him badmouth his boss. “It’s a deal, then.” I let him savor my promise for a moment while the waitress brings me a plate and a spoon, plus a fresh napkin. I unfold it and place it on my lap.
Moments later, a steaming cup overflowing with molten chocolate lands in front of me. I take a deep whiff, savoring the rich aroma. Few people know just how sensitive my sense of smell really is. I detect a hint of strawberry and caramel, revealing expert conching. I dip my spoon into the steaming, velvety mass and wait for a moment for it to cool before wolfing it down. I press it with my tongue against the roof of my mouth. Cocoa particles explode in silken bliss.
Soon enough, too soon for my liking, I am scraping the spoon against the cup, dislodging the last bits of chocolaty goodness. My taste buds are saturated, making the orgasmic sensation of the first spoonful a thing of the past. Still, I savor that last bite and suck my spoon clean. Dogs don’t know what they’re missing.
The waitress shows up and my new friend stops talking. Funny, I didn’t take him as the shy type. When I see him slipping her his number, I marvel at his nerve. At least, I was right. Definitely not the shy type.
“Will that be all?” she asks as she slips the piece of paper into her pocket.
Do they really think I didn’t see that? I shake my head and barely resist the temptation to click my tongue in disappointment. She mistakes my gesture for a no and turns to leave. I clear my throat to let her know I wasn’t done. “I’ll have some tea, actually. White, with honey.”
“Of course. Milk?”
“Just a lemon wedge on the side.”
She leaves us and I give my new friend an encouraging smile. “Smooth.”
His face turns red, like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and he twists his napkin.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spot a familiar figure weaving its way through the tables. I glance at my watch. “I hate to do this, but I see that my next appointment has just arrived. Do you mind…?”
He jumps to his feet and grabs my hand. He shakes it so fast I think my arm will come out of its socket. “Thank you. For everything.”
“It was a pleasure, son. Can’t remember the last time I had such a fun dinner. Have your people call my people in the morning. Can’t wait to get started.”
“Thank you,” he repeats and finally releases my hand. His whole face beams as he turns away. He looks as if he’s walking on a cloud, his feet barely touching the ground. On the way out, he winks at the waitress, who gives him a smile full of promises.
A moment later, my brother sits down next to me. The waitress rushes to our side, but he turns her away with a flick of his wrist. He glances at the glass door closing behind my new friend. “What was that all about?”
“Someone getting lucky. More importantly, the answer to our problem.” I savor the last bite of the soufflé and smack my lips in delight.
I steeple my fingers. “What would you say is our kind’s greatest problem?”
“We’re werewolves,” he says with a shrug. “Lack of a decent hair conditioner?”
“Ha ha. Ever the comedian, I see.” The smile fades from my face as I lean closer. “Since the Human-Lycanthropes treaty of 1353, we’ve been forbidden from eating people.”
His frown reveals his confusion. “That’s ancient history. No one cares about any of that.”
That’s our greatest problem—how you’re all resigned to your fate. I tap my fingers on the table until the flash of anger subsides. “But they should. For, without human flesh, we turn weak. We’re supposed to be immortal, for crying out loud.” I slam my fist on the table. A few heads turn our way. I raise my hands in apology and lower my voice. “And yet, we barely live a few centuries. Now, if that’s not our greatest problem, I don’t know what is.”
His heavy gaze studies me for a long moment. “Are you suggesting we break the treaty? Because you know what that would imply.”
My cheeks burn with anger. “Do you take me for a fool? I don’t want any gods after me. An oath is an oath. And one given in front of a vengeful deity is not to be broken lightly. I get all that. But…” I stress that last word, savoring the confused look in his eyes. “What if there was another way?”
“What other way?”
I whip out my tablet and my finger dances on its smooth surface for a moment. “Read this,” I say and hand him the device.
“Nisi homo velit ostenditur…” He lifts his gaze at me. “This is from the treaty.”
“This is the treaty. The original text. How’s your Latin?”
“Not good,” he confesses and hands me back the tablet. “It’s been a while.”
I take out my glasses and place them before my eyes. Damned farsightedness. Then again, eight centuries will do that to you. “Unless a human demonstrably wishes to be consumed,” I translate and remove my glasses. “You see, some humans believed back then it was a privilege to being eaten by a werewolf. A worthwhile sacrifice. So, they made this little exception.”
“So what?” he asks, still confused. “I doubt anyone would go for that nowadays.”
“What if I told you I just arranged for billions of humans to dress up like pigs?”
Deep lines scar his brow. “How?”
I make an impatient motion with my hand. “Not important. What’s important is this.” I meet his gaze. “Do you think that counts as demonstrably wishing to be eaten?”
His eyebrows shoot upward. “Dressing up like livestock?” His lips part in a hungry smile, revealing sharp, gleaming teeth. “Why, yes, I do.” He lets out a guttural chortle. “Yes, even a vengeful deity would have to agree that’s demonstrable enough.”
I raise my coffee cup and he fills his glass with the remainders of the Chateau Margaux.
“To livestock,” he says and drains his glass. “May their flesh be tender and sweet.”
“To livestock,” I repeat and empty my cup. “May they ever do as we tell them to.”