The Devil in a Little Black Dress

 

She gazes at her reflection in the mirror, admiring the elegant slope of her cut-glass cheekbones, the pillowy fullness of her lower lip. She's noticed the deepening lines around her eyes so she's been practising smiling without letting it reach her eyes. Maybe she'll book herself into a clinic to fix that particular problem - a nice little company funded operation, and hopefully her employee medical insurance will cover the cost of the shaman. Pursing her lips together she applies a final coat of scarlet lipstick with what seems like the languid expertise of a lifetime.

Smoothing down her thousand dollar cocktail dress -- a little black off-the-shoulder number, naturally -- she reaches into her purse for the silver vanity; a gift from an ex-lover whose name she only dimly remembers and their face less. Flicking it open, she retrieves the small airtight bag of white powder and deposits it onto the mirrored surface of the vanity. Arranging the fine crystals into two neat lines with a nail file, she leans down and inhales sharply, a perfect, pure white line for each nostril.

Closing her eyes, she straightens and lets the buzz like a million sparks of electricity spread through her, settling behind her eyelids and in the pit of her stomach. She clutches the counter for a second, steadying herself. It isn't a regular habit; it's just that she needs *something* to get her through tonight. Because not knowing whether you're expendable takes its toll and the fear and paranoia just isn't enough to drive you, to keep you awake. If her bosses are aware of her little indiscretions, they say nothing but she knows that secrets seldom remain that way. Not in a place like Wolfram & Hart.

She looks in the mirror again, checking for those telltale signs around her nostrils, and, satisfied, she clicks off the bathroom light, returning to the living room.

The sun is setting, shrouded in smog, and her large apartment in this pricey condo affords her a pretty spectacular view of the skyscape. LA at night is beautiful, even if you can't see the stars most of the time. During the day, she couldn't care less for it. The lowlifes and scum are invisible in the teeming dark and it makes her feel camouflaged too. Strange how she feels ragged in this Christian Dior dress and pumps. Because Lindsey isn't the only one with cognitive dissonance over their work, only she's learnt to hide it better.

Lindsey's the golden child, always in favour no matter how much he fucks up, and she can't work out why. Her loyalty is without question, or certainly her dedication to keeping herself one step ahead of the pack. She's the one who will do anything to hold on without qualm, no matter how despicable. Lindsey is the renegade, unpredictable, and that makes him dangerous to the Senior Partners. Maybe they think they can silence him, or win his obedience, by keeping him close. Sickening really. She'd graduated top of her class at Stanford and had a dozen law firms vying for her to join them. Whereas Lindsey had appeared from some backwater college in the South, a dropout, and worked his way up from the mailroom. By all rights, he should be making her coffee in the morning not besting her in the vicious little competitions they have.

But she's not blind to the luminosity that surrounds him, the confidence rippling quietly below the surface. He could've made it to the very top, if only his conscience hadn't kicked in. But he's learning that conscience can't be switched on and off like a light. You have to make a choice -- a choice she made right back when she started at this firm as a rather naïve junior associate, all shiny new shoes and bargain basement suit. It wasn't so much that she sold her soul to the Devil, more like she became one. The irony is, her parents, true children of the '60s who had somehow struck it rich, have always glowered about lawyers being the amoral minions of corporations. They don't know the half of it. They'd wanted her to study something meaningful and worthwhile to society, something in Social Sciences. . .

So when she makes her annual phone call to her parents at Christmas, they deliberately avoid the subject of her career. Instead her mother raves about her latest crusade - last year stopping whale hunting by Japanese fishermen, the year before bringing down McDonalds. And Lilah realises that she has nothing to say to her family, not even to her brother who's living the suburban cliché with a wife and two kids. Every contact she has with them makes her feel less like a human being and number, more part of the murky world that Wolfram & Hart rides on the coat tails of.

Stripping away emotions is part of the job requirement -- the honourable ones anyway. So all that's left is the bitterness and envy and petty jealousy over the blonde, syphilitic whore that Lindsey continues to fawn over. Except that she'd rather like to fuck Darla herself, to pop that particular cherry first, to spite him, or maybe . . . just because.

Sliding onto the leather couch, Lilah stares briefly at the framed photograph of her family on the mantelpiece. She keeps it there, prominently displayed, to remind herself of what she used to be and how far she's come. Not for any nostalgic reason because that would require her to actually give a damn.

She remembers the mousy girl she was in high school. Nothing remarkable - a blank slate for the persona she would later have to invent. Debates team, a forward in the netball team (always picked on account of the fact that she towered above the other girls and hence her junior high nickname had been the rather unoriginal 'Big Bird') but mostly she'd passed down the stark corridors unnoticed. She'd been pretty enough but she was too tall and too skinny to attract the attention of boys. Or at least the ones who were worth her while.

It wasn't until later, in college, that the boys flocked to her. By then, she'd realised her inclinations lay elsewhere. And it makes Mid-Western small-town Lilah Joni Morgan seem like a distant cousin of the woman she's become.

Oh, she still fucked men, continues to fuck men. But it's all about conquest, not feelings. Like the way she wants to fuck Lindsey and he, her.

For a self-indulgent moment she lets that parade of girls in tight blue jeans, with their shy, coy smiles traipse by in her memory. Sally, Rena, Tammy, Lisa, Janet from Wisconsin, that gorgeous Latina from UCLA whose name she can't remember because they'd both been so drunk and stoned. . .

And here she is, a sharp young lawyer in one of the most successful specialist firms in LA , a junior partner by the age of twenty-nine, and she doesn't have a date for Holland Manners' dinner party. Or more accurately, she doesn't have the inclination to do the leg-work required to find one. In a firm like this, appearances are everything and it's all about winning points with her superiors. Her lack of attachments for these social gatherings doesn't go unnoticed -- something she's well aware of.

A friend of a friend recommended an agency, had given her a card that promised a 'discreet and professional service' in elegant type. She'd filled in an application form, provided her credit card details, and was finally accepted. Who'd have thought it could be such a protracted process to hire an escort? Still, at the time, she guessed she must be in good company with their 'executive clientele.'

She leans forward, picking up the card from the coffee table, and casually keys the number into her cellphone. She's fully aware that the phone in her home is tapped, by the firm or Lindsey, and that they undoubtedly have access to her cellphone records too. It isn't paranoia, just good practise. Something she respects, being an amoral minion.

It's almost like ordering take-out. She tells them what she wants and they send it over. So she orders tall, but not as tall as herself, slim, brunette, dark eyes -- still rubbing herself against the image of that Hispanic girl from a decade ago. The woman assures her that they'll send someone over within the next half hour, informs Lilah that it'll be charged to her account, and wishes her a good evening. All very civilised now, hiring a hooker. She wonders idly how Darla would cope in this new century if she took up her old profession again . . .

Thirty minutes trickle by too slowly. She tries watching television but the mindless game shows can't hold her attention (even though she wonders if Anne Robinson is one of the Senior Partners) so she puts on music instead, except she can't decide between Chopin and Mozart. Eventually, the buzzer of the door entry system gives her a thankful reprieve.

She presses the intercom button beside the door. "Yes?"

A grainy, metallic voice issues from the speaker. "It's, um, Cecilia, from Urban Angels."

Lilah buzzes the woman in and a matter of minutes later there's a knock on the door. She opens the door with a smooth smile and finds a girl of not more than twenty looking slightly nervous on her doorstep.

"Hi," Cecilia, if that's her real name, says far too brightly, flashing a perfect smile. Clearly a poor little rich girl, fallen on hard times.

"I'm Lilah. Come in," Lilah says, oozing charm, taking the girl's hand and shaking it gently. "The car will be here to pick us up soon." She watches, with satisfaction, as Cecilia takes in the apartment in awe.

"This is a *beautiful* place you've got."

"Thanks," Lilah says without a hint of modesty. After all, she's worked damn hard for this. Why shouldn't she take pleasure in it?

While Cecilia appraises her apartment, Lilah lets her eyes roam over the girl. Definitely worth the hefty fee and certainly worth the unspoken extra it costs to fuck her. Perfect body, pert in every sense, and very beautiful. Long, wavy dark hair, dusky skin. She has the air of an old money family gone stale, of having fallen from a very great height. God, there's nothing quite so alluring as corruption in one so young.

"So, what do you do?"

"I'm a lawyer." Lilah reaches for the pack of cigarettes lying on the coffee table. She tips the pack towards Cecilia but the girl politely shakes her head. Slipping a cigarette between her lips, Lilah lights up, takes a long draw, and exhales a graceful plume of smoke. "We're going to my boss's dinner party so I need to make a good impression. Unless you have anything intelligent to contribute to the conversation, I'd prefer you to keep quiet."

"*Excuse* me?" Cecilia stares at her, an expression of stark offence on her face.

Lilah takes another draw. "I'm not paying you to talk, sweetie." She smiles disingenuously. "Just do what you do best, smile and look pretty."

"You bitch."

At this, Lilah simply laughs. The buzzer sounds again, signalling the arrival of the chauffeur. "That's our ride."

******


The journey is decidedly frosty. The girl focuses on the traffic whizzing past through the tinted glass, never once looking at Lilah.

"So why do you do this?" Lilah asks suddenly, to end the prickly silence, rather than because she cares.

Cecilia turns her head, pointing a withering look in Lilah's direction. "Because my non-existent acting career doesn't exactly pay well, okay?"

An actress. How cliché. This one has more chance of appearing in straight-to-video porn than on the silver screen with breasts like that. Maybe she already has. . . because Lilah's sure there's some flicker of recognition in her mind. And it isn't just what the coke is doing to her brain. "Been in anything I should know?"

Cecilia snorts in an unattractive way. "Hardly. I was in a commercial for a local tanning salon. Woo me," she says with sarcasm deep as a canyon.

Despite herself, Lilah smirks. She likes this girl's attitude and there must be something wrong there because she hasn't found herself liking anyone for a very long time.

"If you're such a big-shot lawyer, why do *you* do this?" Cecilia asks, turning the tables neatly.

Lilah contemplates her answer. Because it's easy, because she can afford to, because she can sweet-talk a jury but she can't keep a relationship alive beyond three dates. "I tend to scare people off."

"No kidding," Cecilia responds, deadpan.

Raised eyebrow. "But you're not scared."

Cecilia folds her arms, returning her gaze to night-time LA in motion. "Yeah, well, you're paying me, remember?"

******


The hors d'oeuvres are being served when they arrive at Holland Manners' mansion, and many pairs of admiring eyes turn Lilah's way. Well, she's always been one for making an entrance, and what better entrance than walking in with a drop-dead gorgeous girl on her arm? She smirks as she sees several annoyed wives swat the arms of their drooling, tuxedoed husbands. The entire accounting apartment all but faint beside the aperitifs.

Lilah leans in close to murmur in Cecilia's ear. "Make this work for me and I'll double your fee."

It must be incentive enough because the girl just flashes a dazzling smile as Lindsey moves towards them, like a miniature shark in a black suit. He's staring openly at Cecilia, focusing briefly, leisurely on her cleavage, which he's on eye-level with.

"Lilah," he drawls, "who's your date?"

"Cecilia, meet Lindsey. . . the bane of my existence," Lilah says with a smile that is completely without warmth or mirth.

Lindsey's brow furrows, ignoring Lilah's comment. "Have we met? I'm sure I -- "

"No!" Cecilia answers immediately. "No, you must be mistaking me for someone else. I get that a lot." The girl's dark eyes dart around the room, as if looking for an avenue of escape.

"Wait . . ." A little smug light goes on in Lindsey's head; Lilah can see it in his eyes. He tilts his head slightly. "Angel." Says that one word like a bitter caress.

Lilah's gaze swings between the two of them sharply as they stare each other out. "What?" she all but hisses and that sinking feeling comes over her. He wins again.

He smirks in triumph. "Cordelia, isn't it? The office junior. Does Angel know about your moonlighting as a prostitute?"

Lilah folds her arms, casts her eyes to the ceiling, and waits for the proverbial shit to hit the fan. If she didn't know any better, she'd think this was a set-up.

"Look, this has nothing to do with him. I'm just doing my job." Cordelia places her hands on her hips in defiance. "And for your information, Bionic Boy, I'm an *escort* not a prostitute."

It's then that the girl realises that a hush has fallen over the room. Lilah can see Holland Manners in the corner, an interested glint in his eye and she knows it's time for cutting her losses and not humiliating cow-towing to her superiors. So she grabs Cordelia by the elbow, and grinds out the words through gritted teeth. "We are leaving right now."

"Hey! *Personal bubble*!"

They're out the door and in the back of a limousine before you can say 'major league fuck-up'; speeding away from the smouldering ruins of Lilah's sparkling career. She rubs her temples, trying to fend off the headache that she knows will come. She needs a drink, preferably a large one, following by a line of the best Columbian.

"That sanctimonious little . . . *fuck*," she mutters under her breath.

"Where are we going?" Cordelia demands in a voice that is rapidly becoming irritating.

Lilah doesn't answer.

A small sound cuts the charged silence like a machete - the rumbling of a stomach -- and Lilah shoots a bemused stare at the girl.

"I haven't eaten today, okay?"

Shaking her head, Lilah sighs. "We can order pizza."

"We?" the girls echoes in a stiff voice.

"Unless you *want* to get out and walk. . ."

Cordelia holds up her palm quickly. "You keep using that first person plural."

******


Chin propped on her hand, Lilah watches the girl consume a family size pizza as if she hasn't eaten in a week, never mind a day. Maybe not far from the truth because Cordelia is all skin and bones. But carved into something beautiful nonetheless.

"You want that?" Cordelia asks around a mouthful of pizza, indicating towards the final piece lying in the grease-slicked box.

Lilah shakes her head. She's trying not to think about tomorrow . . . being called into Holland Manners' office, being reminded of just how much she's let the firm down again through her ineptitude. Bethany Chaulk was a big black mark against her name and this - tonight - was the kiss of death to her chances of promotion. Frankly, she's had enough of having her wrists slapped while Lindsey watches on smugly.

"I know you're like, big evil lawyer and, y'know, technically on the opposing side but . . . are you okay?"

Lilah glances up, blinks at the stranger slouched comfortably on her couch, and finds that no one has ever done that. There's never been anyone who has looked *at home* in her apartment. "You have pizza . . ." she gestures to the general mouth area.

"Oh, God. Where?" Cordelia laughs, bringing a hand to her mouth self-consciously.

"Here, I'll. . ." Snagging a napkin from the coffee table , Lilah slides across the couch. Cordelia's hand falls away and Lilah dabs at the red sauce staining the girl's chin. "How did you manage to get it all over your face?"

Cordelia just smiles and Lilah finds herself returning it. "Ever thought of modelling?"

"Why? Does Wolfram & Hart own an agency?" the girl asks archly. "Don't tell me, it's a nice little production line for female sacrifices. No thanks."

Lilah hoists an eyebrow in amusement and continues to wipe around the girl's mouth. "That's not what I meant." Although, not a bad idea . . . could save her neck with the Senior Partners tomorrow. "I think you could do better for yourself if you -- "

"Sell out? Like you?"

A thin smile. "I was going to say compromise."

"I think I've already made enough compromises to last me a lifetime."

There's something about that defeated tone that makes Lilah want to . . .

She pauses in her wiping, replacing the rough napkin with her mouth and licks the remnants of lipstick and whatever else from Cordelia's lips. She feels the girl stiffen under her mouth and realises that she's probably the first woman to do this to Cordelia. Small victories are always the sweetest . . . Then wide, full lips part beneath her own, allowing her inside and Lilah claims new territory, exploring velvet softness and wet, glorious spaces. She lets her hand drift down the girl's bare arm, skimming past her breast.

A small moan issues from Cordelia's throat and Lilah ends the kiss slowly. "Shall we take this through to the bedroom?"

An invitation extended and Cordelia nods once, hesitating only a moment, another compromise made.

******


She wakes alone, Cordelia presumably having left during the twilight hours. Pulling on a robe, Lilah pads out to the living room, enjoying the ache of underused muscles and that liquid feeling between her legs. The empty pizza box sits discarded on the coffee table and she decides to leave it for the cleaning lady. She's uncertain whether there will be an apartment to clean tomorrow, or a person to clean it for. And she tries not to think about Robert Price, or any of the other number of associates the Senior Partners have taken their displeasure out on in the past.

She works on her excuses in the shower as she washes the scent of sex off her body. Something along the lines of: I was attempting to cultivate an inside contact, which unfortunately backfired. However, I believe valuable information has been gathered, and yet more vulnerabilities have been exposed which are ripe to be exploited. Intersperse that with a lot of quality grovelling and she might not end up as Lilah-flavoured dog food.

Shutting off the hot water and drying herself, she selects her best power-suit from the walk-in wardrobe. Half an hour later, with hair teased to perfection and flawless make-up, she grabs her car keys from the hook beside the door.

She taps her purse, feeling the bulk of the revolver inside. Oh, yeah, plan B. Because she sure as hell isn't going to let those bastards make her eat her liver. She'd sooner take herself out first.

Slipping on her Gucci sunglasses, Lilah Morgan is ready to face the world.


The End