Casey Johnson stared at the old three-storey house and shuddered. The light from the full moon cast a sinister shadow over the estate. Its forbidding stone wall and iron gate gave off a medieval vibe that Casey didn’t care for.
Two hours earlier, the tall, strange man in the fedora and long black coat had entered the Naughty Nanny, a sex shop on the east side of the city. Casey worked behind the counter but mostly played with his phone. Customers coming into the shop didn’t stop to talk to him. They were there for other reasons.
The Naughty Nanny was a front for the real business. According to the owner, an oily-haired man with bad teeth and breath named Danny, for a C note, customers could go into the back of the store and rent one of the seven rooms for questionable but legal activities.
Casey didn’t care what people got up to in the back. Danny, on the other hand, had cameras installed so he could watch or tape for later viewing or blackmailing. For Casey, the Naughty Nanny was a job and nothing more. So, he was surprised when the tall, strange man addressed him by name.
“Casey Johnson?” he asked, pushing a card across the counter to Casey. “My employer would like to offer you a job.”
Casey looked up from his phone and glanced at the man. He was about to tell this guy to take a hike with an F bomb attached when he saw his eyes. Beneath the fedora, the man’s eyes looked straight through him. Casey was reminded of Bela Lugosi from Dracula. His hands shook and it took an effort to calm himself. The man seemed to notice.
“Sorry if I frightened you. I am aware that I have that effect on people.”
Casey nodded and waved his hand like it was nothing.
“My employer has taken an interest in you and would like you to come for an interview tonight. You have a talent that would suit a position that has just come available.”
Casey looked at the man again and mulled over the offer in his mind.
“An interview?” he asked. “At this time of night?”
The man nodded.
“Yes,” the man answered. “Plus, you don’t have to sell glow in the dark dildos or any of this other shit.”
Casey thought it over and agreed to the interview. He had nothing to lose and besides, Danny was a shit boss and human being. Casey walked to the back and told Danny he was quitting. Danny never even looked away from his screens. But now as he stood in front of estate, Casey was having second thoughts.
“Screw it," he said aloud and walked toward the gate.
An unpolished gold-plated sign with ‘Midnight Gardens’ greeted him as he pushed the gate open. He walked past a small but unkempt graveyard and up the stone steps to the large oak door. As he reached up for the ancient iron door knocker, the door swung open and a tall gaunt man wearing a tuxedo greeted him.
“I’m here for an interview,” Casey said and the gaunt man motioned him inside. Casey turned to see the tall, strange man staring at him from outside the gate. After a moment, he turned and walked down the sidewalk. Casey entered the building and put the man out of his mind.
The gaunt man led Casey to a large room with a roaring fire. As he entered the room, Casey was taken aback by the artwork. The large paintings on the walls depicted scenes of predators chasing prey. Wolves and lions, blood dripping from their fangs as they stood over deer and antelopes. Their eyes followed Casey as he walked around the room.
“I am glad you decided to come,” came a voice from the other side of the room. Casey turned to see a dark-haired woman standing behind an oak desk, its two chairs being the only other furniture in the room. The woman pointed to the other chair. Casey walked over and sat down; the woman remained standing. “Mr. Sanderson, the man who brought you here, has a keen eye for talent.”
Casey studied the woman. She was tall and wearing a dark suit and boots under a long fur coat. Her dark hair hung around her face and fell on her shoulders. The light from the fire danced off her ferocious blue eyes which now bore into him. Her smile elicited both comfort and fear.
“I understand from your employee that you have a position that has just come available,” Casey said, trying to find his bearings with the woman.
The woman nodded and picked up a small bell. She rang it three times and replaced it on the desk. Moments later, the gaunt man entered the room carrying a tray with two glasses and a decanter of red liquid. He filled the two glasses, left the decanter and exited the room. The woman picked up the glass and emptied it. Casey didn’t touch his.
As she refilled her glass, the woman slowly sat down and addressed Casey.
“My name is Rowan Rapax. The current but temporary caretaker of this estate. The Board of Governors have instructed me to find a replacement. A person who is both responsible and trustworthy.”
Casey snorted and started to laugh.
“Lady, I work in a porn shop for a degenerate who makes money off the peculiar fantasies of people who must hide to be themselves. How can I help you?”
“By turning a blind eye to others who must hide to be themselves.”
Casey stopped laughing and stared at Rowan. As she pulled open a drawer and extracted a small laptop, the gaunt man entered the room.
Rowan nodded and the gaunt man left the room. As Rowan set up the laptop, Casey swore he could hear the padding of footsteps in the corridor. He also thought he could hear growling and hooting.
“Before we brought you in, we did a background check on you., Rowan said, turning the laptop screen toward him.
Casey saw a picture of himself standing beside his mother and younger brother. They were all smiling.
“Good looking family,” Rowan said.
Casey looked at the picture. His tall lanky body dwarfed his mom and brother. They all shared the same sandy brown hair and eyes. His mother was wearing her tweed jacket and skirt while the boys tried to look grown up in their blue suits. A twinge of sadness pulled at Casey.
“You know she died last year. Cancer. I couldn’t face it and she died without seeing me one last time,” Casey said fighting back tears. “My brother, Frank, decided to live with our aunt.”
“Your dad left when you were young. A stripper, if the information is correct.”
Casey nodded and wiped away the tears.
“What’s this got to do with this job?”
Rowan hit a button and cleared the screen.
“Casey, it seems you have a talent for looking the other way. A blind eye so to speak,” Rowan answered, and touched another button on the laptop. On the screen, a young blond-haired woman in a bathing suit appeared. Casey’s jaw dropped.
“Samantha Young. Your old girlfriend. Quite needy. You were bored of her, and she slipped away into a life of drugs. You looked the other way when she asked for help.”
Casey turned from the screen. Rowan continued.
“Lost in a sea of pills and alcohol. Currently on her third stint in rehab. Tragic.”
Casey couldn’t face the screen. Rowan touched another button, and the building's service entrance filled the screen. Casey glanced at the screen and almost fell off his chair. On the screen, several different creatures were unloading a van. There were large lumps wrapped in white sheets. Casey leapt out of his chair when he saw a foot sticking out from one of the sheets.
“Think you can turn a blind eye to this?” Rowan said standing up.
Casey tore his eyes from the screen and stared at Rowan. She was walking around the desk with a pleading look in her eyes.
“You see, our last caretaker, who we got rid off a couple of months ago, got curious. He found out about a few things he shouldn’t have and couldn’t look the other way. So, the Governors and I decided to try a different approach. Interview a candidate and let him or her know what we were hiding.”
Casey fell to his knees. He felt sick.
“You see, just like the people in the Naughty Nanny, these creatures can’t be themselves in the real world. They need to hide to be themselves.”
Casey heard footsteps in the hallway. Soon the room was filled with some of the most hideous creatures he had ever seen. They stared at him while Rowan continued.
“If they can be themselves, they are happy and they leave the world alone.”
“What about those bodies?” Casey screamed.
“Graves. Mortuaries. Criminals. Rapists. Killers. Only those who are gone and those who deserve to be.”
Casey looked around at the creatures. He saw a hopefulness in their eyes. They needed somewhere to be just like everyone else. A wolf-human hybrid walked over and helped Casey to his feet. A woman with large eyes and fangs took his arm. Casey felt a large hand on his back, giving it a pat. Rowan smiled.
“With your eyes wide open to their needs, can you turn a blind eye and protect them from the real-world madness?”
Casey shivered and felt sick.
“I’ve been so cruel to my family and Samantha. I don’t deserve your pity.”
“Everyone deserves a second chance. We will check on Samantha and make sure Frank is ok. Help us and we will take care of you.”
Tears flowed down Casey’s face as he slowly nodded. Cheers went up in the room as Rowan stepped forward and kissed Casey full on the mouth. He felt dizzy and passed out.
Three weeks later.
Casey slapped the alarm button as its numbers read six o’clock in the morning. He took his normal ablutions and breakfasted on the balcony. As he listened to the news and ate his eggs, Casey caught a story about the Naughty Nanny being shut down and Danny arrested for blackmail. Casey shook his head and gazed down on the estate.
The small graveyard was tidied up, the grounds were coming along, and the masons were doing a fine job on the stone wall. He made a note about getting the arborists in to look at the trees and finished his breakfast.
Later at his desk, Casey made several phone calls. He talked to Frank and promised to see him soon and called the rehab centre to make sure Samantha’s bills were paid and to get an update on her recovery.
Beside a picture of Rowan on his desk was a small note. It was from the residents. They hoped that the previous evening's activities didn’t keep him awake and apologized if it did. Casey also listened to a phone message from Rowan.
“The Board of Governors and myself are very pleased with the work you are doing and congratulate you on your efforts. Also, if you are free, I would very much like to dine with you this evening.”
Casey’s hand instinctively touched the two small circular scars on his neck. He shivered and smiled. Before heading outside to talk to the masons, he wrote a short note to the residents stating that their activities had disturbed him a bit, but he would turn a blind eye to it.