INFECTRESS

a science fiction novel
by Tom Cool



Arabella wore a red dress as evocatively as a fire wore flame. She undulated in the sunlight, her hips swaying and her buttocks swiveling in the form of a figure eight, the back drape of her skirt swinging inward, outward. As her hands swung, golden bracelets chimed. The steel of her heels rang on pavement in the rhythm of a woman unafraid of stares. In the brilliant sunlight of the Atlanta city street, Arabella's raven hair shined so vibrantly that its blackness seemed white. Her skin appeared pale.

In pursuit of her quarry, Arabella descended into the MARTA underground. Chameleonlike, she seemed to change color. Under the subdued lighting of the tunnel, her skin seemed dusky. Passengers on the train perceived a different woman than had the pedestrians in the street. After a short ride, she arrived in the glittering promenade of Underground Atlanta. By the gala lights, her cinnamon skin, glowing with sweat, made her gold necklace seem mere brass. Men turning to gaze wondered whether they whiffed a trace of precious perfume. Desperately, they investigated their olfactory sense, lost the trace and clung to the memory of the mysterious odor. Glancing at her wristwatch, Arabella smiled. She was never late for a seduction.

Moments later, she turned into the Falcon's Nest bar. Standing in the mezzanine, she surveyed the crowd below. There, she thought, at the bar. That's him.

Arabella made her way around the mezzanine and appeared at the top of the staircase, high above the heads of the crowd. She danced down the staircase. The first time Freddie Hanson saw Arabella, she was dancing as she descended. He fell in love. So did forty-nine other men. Five men in the corner were drinking Heinekens and watching Falcons football, so they did not fall in love, at least until they saw Arabella during the commercial break.

Freddie was leaning against the red leather pad of the mahogany bar. With the lovely chime of ringing crystal stemware, the bartender was just removing a wine glass from the overhead rack. The crowd parted reluctantly for Arabella, who sauntered up to stand so close to Freddie that he could smell her perfume. Freddie wracked his brain for one word to say to the gorgeous woman who had materialized by his side.

"Wine," Arabella said to the bartender.

"What sort, miss?" the bartender asked.

Arabella turned and looked up into Freddie's face.

"What sort of wine are you drinking?" she asked.

"White. White wine," Freddie stammered.

Arabella smiled gently and turned to the bartender.

"You have the Chardonnay from Stag's Leap Hill, '15?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Please, a glass. And fill a glass for the gentleman."

Freddie barely stopped himself from stammering thanks like a schoolboy. Quietly along with Arabella he watched the bartender uncork the bottle and pour two glasses. Arabella laid a hundred dollar bill on the barkeep's shelf. He made her thirty dollars change, which she ignored. Arabella handed Freddie one of the glasses and lifted her own to eye level.

"Wine with you, sir," she said. Her voice was low and mellow.



Their glasses chimed.

The wine changed colors inside Freddie's mouth.

"Thanks," he said. "This is really an excellent wine."

"It's white," Arabella said, grinning, revealing gleaming teeth and a deep dimple in her left cheek. Here in the subdued light of the bar, she looked Mediterranean.

Freddie chuckled. "My name's Freddie. Freddie Hanson."

"I'm Arabella."

"I won't tell you that's a beautiful name. I'm sure that's what you always get."

"Almost always, but I don't mind hearing it."

"Well, then, I'll tell you. Arabella is a beautiful name."

"Thank you."

"And you're a beautiful woman."

Arabella laughed and said, "According to the legend." She tossed her hair, sipped the wine and gazed up into Freddie's face.

Freddie Hanson was a tall, slender man. He wore his blond hair long on top, clipped short across the temples. Together with his straight-haired blond beard and his sharp blue eyes, this style of haircut made him look fierce. He had a long, straight nose and a firm chin. His hands were large and his fingers around the wineglass stem made the crystal look a toy. His wits and his looks had served him well with university women. Now, twenty-two, standing at the professionals' bar and talking with Arabella, he felt as if he had graduated into the major leagues.

"What else does the legend say?" he asked.

"Oh, that would be telling," Arabella said.

"What do you do?" Freddie asked, as Americans must.

"I travel," Arabella said. "And what do you do?"

"I'm a biotech. I work at the Centers for Disease Control."

Arabella made her eyes grow wider. She leaned in close enough to Freddie that he could feel her body heat. Freddie watched her mouth so attentively that he could see the lipstick-moistened membranes of her lips unseal slowly from center to corners.

"Biotech," Arabella breathed. "Centers for Disease Control."

"Yes."

"I find that . . . fascinating."

She laid her hand on his forearm.

They migrated to a nitrous oxide club, where they laughed hysterically and danced until two in the morning. Arabella danced well. She believed in dancing, because she thought that nothing was better for enslaving the male libido. After they closed down the club, Arabella slipped her card into Freddie's blazer jacket. She kissed him lightly on the cheek and whispered, "Call me."

Freddie called the next day. Arabella talked lightly with him on the phone and consented to see him on Saturday. Freddie dry cleaned his suit, readied his apartment and waxed his car. He bought a single long stem rose. Arabella insisted on meeting him in the restaurant. They dined and drank wine and laughed.

Afterwards, they went dancing in a Brazlian night club. Arabella performed the latest dances so well that Freddie kept insisting that she must be Brazilian.

"Oh, I know Brazil," Arabella said. "I love Brazil. I hate Brazil. But I'm not Brazilian."

"What are you, then?" Freddie blurted.

Arabella smiled and ran her fingertips across Freddie's hand.

"I'm human," she said.

"But what's your nationality? Are you American?"

"I'm a citizen of the world," Arabella answered, then sipped her champagne.

"Oh, you're so mysterious," Freddie said, half in admiration, half in frustration. "Why do you always answer me in riddles?"

"Why do you always expect simple answers to complex questions?"

"Look, some things are simple. You've got a passport, right?"

"Yes, one or two."

"One -- what? How many?"

"More than one. Less than the number I need."

"How many passports could you possibly need?"

"There are three hundred and fifteen nations in the world. I need three hundred and sixteen."

"All right, I'll bite. What's the three hundred and sixteenth for?"

"To leave with the police," Arabella said.

She and Freddie laughed together.

"So you're some sort of desperado, then?" Freddie asked.

"That would be telling," Arabella answered. "Would it matter to you if I were?"

"Were what?"

Arabella gazed into Freddie's eyes. "Answer me."

"That depends what for," Freddie answered.

"Oh, and what felonies are you OK with? How about robbery? Ah, say, diamond heisting? That's a nice clean glamorous crime, huh?" Arabella smiled, crossing her eyes slightly in a ludicrous way.

Freddie laughed. "You're a burglar?"

"Speaking hypothetically, would you be with me if I were?"

"What's the hypothesis? That you're a burglar? Or that I'm going to be with you?"

Arabella smiled. "Hypothesize, please, that I were . . . was . . . a burglar. Would you want to be with me?"

"I don't know," Freddie said earnestly.

"What if I only stole from the Afrikaner's kraal?"

"I guess."

"So you'd allow me to steal diamonds from white men who enslave black people?"

"OK. Sure. Is that what you've done?"

"I've done nothing," Arabella said. "Nothing that I can say."

"You're deep, Arabella."

"You have no idea, Freddie. You have no idea. So far you've just seen the glimmering on the surface, like . . . moonlight on the surface of the Loch Ness."

"And who's the monster?"

"Monsters," Arabella corrected. "There is a tribe of monsters."

That night, Freddie invited Arabella back to his apartment, but she refused. They parted in front of the Brazilian dance club. Arabella gave Freddie a deep, passionate kiss good-bye.

"I'll call you," she said.

Then she disappeared.




More of the story . . .


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