I looked at the clock. 10:23pm. She was late. I looked at the door, willing it to open. I drummed my fingers on the edge of the desk. She knew I was pushing a deadline here. My publisher wanted to move forward the release date of the next Dick Trenton mystery, and I still had fourteen chapters to write. I caressed the keys of the typewriter with trembling fingers, and considered typing something. My fingers locked up - no, I couldn't write without her. I snatched up the smouldering cigarette and took a drag.
At 10:30pm, the door swung open and crashed against the filing cabinet. I looked up, expecting to see her. Five feet and eight inches of pouting redhead, all curves and sophisticated tailoring. She liked to perch on my desk as I wrote, telling me the stories I would type.
"You Arthur Brannigan?" The 6ft brunette in the doorway pointed a red lacquered talon at me. A cigarette dangled from her scarlet lips.
"Yes. Who are you?" My fingers crawled along the edge of my desk to my drawer. I kept an antique Colt .44 in there, just in case.
"Your Muse." The brunette tottered into my office on skyscraper heels, wobbling around like goddamned Bambi. She wore the same kind of pinstripe outfit as my usual girl, but my usual girl had the parts in the right places to fill it out. This dame was built like a garden rake, and the suit hung off her like my dad's old business suit on a scarecrow.
"You're not Claudia."
"No, I ain't. Claudia ain't available, so the Agency sent me." The brunette sat down on the edge of the desk with a thump. My skin crawled to see her up close. Makeup pooled in the deep creases around her eyes and mouth. She grinned, displaying a mouthful of crooked, yellow teeth.
"Well, I, er, I suppose you'll do. You know the story?" I asked.
"Yeah, though I gotta tell ya, it ain't all that good." The brunette stubbed out her cigarette in the ash tray.
"What do you mean?"
"Your Dick Trenton crap is all the same. I liked that other one. What was it called?"
"Staircase to Nowhere." I sat back in my chair, deflated by her harsh tone. I hadn't thought about my first book in over twenty years - the only book to bear my real name.
"Yeah, that was some good storytellin', Arthur." The brunette fished around in a battered purse for a dented cigarette case.
"Well I don't write like that any more. But I got to get this one finished, so, I, er...I guess we better get started. You gonna tell me what happens next in the story?" I pulled my chair forward and laid my fingers on the keys, ready to type.
"Not so fast, bucko." She slipped another cigarette between her fire engine red lips and fumbled with the lighter.
"Hey, I'm paying you to do some work here!"
"Correction, you're payin' the Agency, and they pay me. You ain't my boss." She clicked the lighter again.
"I have a deadline to meet, and-"
"Then ya better get workin', hadn't ya?" She snapped her fingers and pointed at the typewriter.
"Well, where does the story go next?"
The brunette waved her hand to dismiss me. She shook the lighter and tried again. Still no flame. She growled at the unlit cigarette.
"What's your name?" I asked.
"That ain't important, sugar. Your deadline is, though, so you better get to typin'."
"Fine then, I'll just put in a complaint about the dumb broad who didn't want to do any work."
I reached across the desk for the telephone. She darted forward and put her ice cold hand over mine before I could lift the receiver.
"What did you call me?" she asked. The gruff edge fell away from her voice, and a steely glint in her eye taunted me.
"I called you a dumb broad. Now you gonna do your job?" I forced myself to sound forceful.
"Ain't nobody calls me a dumb broad, asshole."
She reached forward and laid her hand over my mouth. I tried to pry her fingers free but her grip was too strong. I kicked and bucked but she didn't let go. Intense cold radiated out of her hand, freezing my throat as it made its way down. My kicks grew weaker, until I couldn't kick any more.
I stood up, aware that I'd left my body behind. I turned around to see the corpse of Arthur Brannigan slumped in the chair by the desk. The brunette leaned forward through me, and hauled the corpse aside. The body landed on the floor with a thud. She climbed over the desk and sat in the empty chair. A wicked grin, devoid of any humour, spread across her face as she began to type.
I watched that bitch finish the manuscript. I watched her take phone calls, impersonating my voice. I read the reviews that she clipped from the newspaper and pinned to the wall.
I watched my replacement Muse become a better writer than I ever was.