By D.T. Krippene
Leigh, as only her closest associates called her, glided across the circular top balcony of the Singapore’s Marina Sands Casino to observe people gathered around gaming tables three floors below. Though orphaned at birth with no direct kin, she took some comfort in the Singaporean-structured, yet chaotic, din of the place that filled the gap of loneliness in a bustling city-state where family was everything. A decade earlier at sixteen, her six-foot statuesque poise carried off the lie of being older when she applied as a dealer, and her high-cheek-boned, flawless Euro-Mediterranean face gave access to private gambling rooms of the super-rich.
Leigh’s personal valet appeared in the customary black suit and tie she insisted he wear in her presence. “Mr. Rashid has arrived, Ms. Enhedana,” he said with a deferential head nod.
“Thank you, Mr. Huang.”
He led her to a private room ensconced in ruby tapestry, an auspicious color for luck and good fortune. For those who believed in such mythical nonsense. The gambling tables empty, Leigh crossed the hand-tufted wool-and-silk carpet toward a gentleman in a tux-suit, silk black shirt, and a diamond brooch instead of the traditional bow tie.
He took Leigh’s hand. “Ms. Enhedana.” He was shorter than her by a good four inches. His pencil-thin mustache prickled the amber-wheat skin of her hand when he kissed it. “Your reputation doesn’t do justice to the real woman.”
“Mr. Rashid.” She withdrew her hand and ignored an urge to wash it. “And which reputation would that be? I have many.”
“Hot as sin. It sounds so . . . American redneck.”
Leigh disliked the moniker from those who thought it referred to her unmatched beauty, but if it attracted the testosterone-infused, clueless rich to her net, so be it.
Rashid gestured to Huang, who’d taken the station of bartender. “A drink before we start? What would you like?”
Without prompting, Huang set a Grey Goose Martini with an olive on the bar.
Rashid took a swig of his Balvenie single malt. “Please, call me Aaryan. May I address you as Leigh?”
An archetypal Saudi high-born with a first name that implied strength. How droll.
Leigh sipped her martini. “I prefer to keep things formal until I get to know someone first, Mr. Rashid.”
He raised his glass. “Here’s hoping I obtain the honor of knowing you better, then.”
Who drinks a forty-year-old scotch on the rocks?She set the martini glass down. “Shall we retire to the Presidential Suite?”
Mock disappointment pinched Rashid’s lips. “So soon?”
Leigh nodded to Huang. Rashid gulped the remainder of his drink and followed toward the maroon-carpeted staircase with the polished brass banister. It led to the enclosed Lion’s Pedestrian Bridge across Bayfront Avenue and one of three, fifty-seven-floored towers. Leigh suppressed a grimace when Rashid insisted she take his arm. Of course, he wanted as much exposure with her to enhance his station in society. The soft fabric of his sleeve felt new; a hybrid guanaco, baby cashmere, and kid pashmina, with a bit of Super 200 wool thrown in for good measure, she surmised. She bet he’d just had it tailored at CYC’s in Raffles.
Tourists stopped in their tracks to gape admiringly at her Nefertiti stature in a body-sculpted, floor-length dress of moonbeam white. More than one smartphone camera clicked at her sumptuous raven hair that curled inward an inch off the shoulder with a subtle hint of feathered, violet iridescence.
“It’s her,” a bellhop whispered too loudly to a colleague when they entered the grand atrium.
A female attendant in a black business dress bowed and removed the purple rope of the express elevator that ascended to the fifty-first floor. Leigh preferred the Presidential Suite; not for its suggestive allure, but for its absolute privacy. Though Singapore was infamous for its moles and sophisticated secret police, the Vegas-inspired theme of “what happens here, stays here” reigned sacrosanct.
“Excuse me a moment,” Leigh said when they entered the suite. Huang enticed Rashid to the bar while she went to the largest of two bedrooms.
She stepped onto the balcony to gaze at the polychromatic jewels of ships buoyed off the coast and the reflection of a waxing moon in its first quarter on the calm dark waters of the bay. As if her soul was tied to Earth’s solitary satellite, it was the essential influence of her instinctive perception to manipulating global money markets. It worked best, however, during the three-day period of the crescent moon, and was the only time she accepted new clients.
But tonight, a sourness in her gut foreshadowed something off-kilter—something her unique acuities couldn’t read.
She smelled Rashid’s presence before he spoke. “Beautiful view, though not as perfect as Monte Carlo on a warm, sparkling day.”
Even at this height, Leigh tasted the salty tang of balmy seawater, blended with hints of ship diesel and wok-fried foods from hawker stalls far below. How could anyone compare Singapore to the over-glitzed playground of Europe’s haughty rich, reeking of suntan lotion and arrogance?
Rashid leaned over the railing. “My boat, the Desert Star, is docked at the marina. Perhaps you’d join me tomorrow for a daytime cruise around the islands.”
“I’m more of a night person,” Leigh said with indifference. “You’d know that if you did your homework. Or did Prince Assam leave that out of his briefing?”
“I thought that was just a cover. I must concede, you’re as mysterious as you are beautiful.”
“Shall we begin?” Leigh turned back to main room to hide her disgust of the man.
Huang slid a chair out for her at a baccarat table. He poured a martini from the silver shaker in his hand, then served a freshened whiskey to Rashid, seated opposite. Huang took his position between them, moved the baccarat card shoe a few inches forward, dealt two cards face down to each, and two for himself as banker.
“I find this ritual of yours intriguing,” Rashid said with a smile.
“It helps me think,” Leigh said, turning the first card. “I understand you wish to invest two-hundred-million Euros with me.” She placed her hand on the table, a signal to pause the game before it even started. “What you didn’t tell me—the money isn’t yours.”
“Mr. Rashid,” she said with dispassion. “I have no issues with investments from financially embargoed countries. In fact, as I’m sure you know, it is often my stock and trade.” She moved her hand from the table and reached for the martini. “However, I insist on full disclosure prior to a first meeting.”
His bon-vivant demeanor crumbled. “When my cousin said you guaranteed 20% or better return, I—didn’t think you’d mind.”
Leigh’s methods yielded much greater than that, often double the original investment within a month. The investor got their promised return within the time frame agreed to, and she kept the rest. Her special insight made her hot financially—hence the true nature of her nickname, Hot as Sin. Because her deals mostly mined the illegal, often vicious underbelly of global transactions, she adhered to her cardinal rules, the first and foremost being no surprises before accepting a new client.
Leigh took another sip and nodded to Huang, who stepped behind her chair to assist.
“I will speak to Prince Assam about this breach of protocol,” she said with casual finality. It would likely result in Rashid being shunned from the royal inner circle, but her rules were inviolable.
Rashid gulped his drink and took a deep breath. “Can we please—talk about this?”
A knock on the door drew her attention and a scowl. Huang’s eyes widened in surprise. Another cardinal rule, no disturbances of any kind while she negotiated business. Leigh flicked her chin up for Huang to check.
After a few moments of mumbling through a crack in the door, Huang’s back straightened. Leigh gaped in shock when he left the suite without her dismissal. The door appeared to open of its own accord.
A man with an impeccably trimmed goatee stepped inside, dressed in a well-tailored silk suit of midnight blue. At first, he resembled a middle-aged Leonardo DiCaprio, but his hair and beard were jet-black, with a barely discernible violet iridescence. Like hers. His face appeared vaguely familiar, but she had an eidetic memory for all the middle-eastern princes and European wannabes, and she’d never seen this man before. Something about those eyes–dark, with a twinkle of purple.
Leigh reclaimed her composure. “You’d better have a good reason for this interruption of a private meeting.”
The mysterious gentlemen craned to look over Leigh’s shoulder and spoke with a silky contralto voice. “You may leave now.”
Rashid zombie-walked out the door without a word; his eyes blank and unseeing.
“Forgive the intrusion, Ms. Enhedana.” The man smiled. “May I call you Kaleigh?”
Nobody called her Kaleigh. She’d dropped the name in favor of Leigh when she was young. Despite a nervous flutter in her belly, she answered him with an indignant glower.
“We have never met,” he said, offering a polite bow. “In this place, I am Nannar S. Leffingfield, at your service.”
She swallowed at the name, recalling a different Leffingfield from a diplomatic ball a few years ago where she had trolled for clients. Few people in this world were aware of the enigmatic man with an extraordinary influence over global leaders and power brokers. Fewer still knew that malevolent things often followed in his wake. She remembered when he shook her hand during an introduction, a perception of ethereal darkness had surrounded them for a couple seconds. Leigh never forgot it and established a new cardinal rule: never do business with him should he ever ask.
“Are you any relation to . . . ”
“My father, Whitaker,” he jauntily answered. “I believe you’ve met him.”
A chill went down her spine. That man had a son?
Her eye drifted to the sapphire pin of a crescent moon on Nannar’s lapel. “What is it you want, Mister . . . Leffingfield?” The mere utterance of the name gave her goosebumps, and she wasn’t the type that scared easily.
The door slowly closed on its own. “Shall we sit?” Nannar said.
An intoxicating scent followed him to the chair formerly occupied by Rashid; a subtle mélange of rose, river water, and sweet hay. As if Leigh weren’t unnerved enough, Huang reentered glassy-eyed, bearing two drinks: a fresh martini for her and a snifter of brandy for Leffingfield, then left in silence.
Nannar crossed his legs and placed hands in his lap. “Your family name, Enheduanna, is ancient Akkadian, a language that was old before Babylonian times.”
What? He didn’t even pronounce the name right. “I know what Akkadia is. Twenty-fifth century BC.”
“My apologies for the presumption.” Leffingfield touched his forehead as a sign of respect. “Your given name, Kaleigh, signifies darkness and energy. Do you know where it comes from?”
Leigh huffed. The man was becoming insufferable. “Probably some dead relative of my mother’s before she died from childbirth. Now, if you don’t mind . . . ”
“Yet I’m puzzled why you discarded your middle name, Istir—or bright star.”
How the hell does he know my middle name? She’d had it dropped from the birth register when old enough to do so. “I hope you intend to make a point with this.”
“Ah, Louis XIII.” He lifted his snifter, drew in its bouquet, and took a sip. “Didn’t have this four thousand years ago.”
Four thousand . . . ? This guy came across as a certified whack job, but his effect on Huang and Rashid called for carefulness. “Are you some kind of hypnotist with a fondness for meanings in names?”
“Many centuries have passed since my last visit to this plane of existence,” he said. “Imagine my surprise when Father summoned me.”
It was obvious the man was toying with her. If he truly was the son of a person she’d vowed to give a wide berth, it was time to shut it down. “Mr. Leffingfield, I have no idea why you’re here, nor do I want to know. Now, if you’ll excuse me . . . ”
His eyes altered to orbs of flaming purple. Leigh sucked in a gasp when a halo of blackness consumed the room’s décor, leaving only her, the table, and Leffingfield. She shivered in the sudden cold of nothingness surrounding them.
She worked up the nerve to utter, “What are you?”
The blaze in his eyes calmed to a violet flicker. “I’d hoped your perceptive ability would tell you.” As if spotlighted by an unseen light, his lapel pin brightened.
She shuddered. The memory of Akkadian history went through her in a cold wave. A deity from pre-Babylonian times, the first lunar crescent his sigil—son of Enlil, god of darkness and the underworld.
She found her voice. “Nannar was the moon god of Akkadia.”
“Still am.” He smiled.
In the deepest reaches of her soul, cued by her perceptive ability that briefly went absent when he walked through the door, she realized the truth of it.
He tilted his head in the manner of a mentor to a student. “Aren’t you weary of being a money lender?”
She found her voice. “I don’t lend money. People give it to me to make more.”
“And you find manipulating people for mere shekels fulfilling?”
“I like the life it provides.”
“A life of perpetual distrust, no family, no real friends; afloat in a lonely sea of humanity that you care nothing for?”
“It’s a necessary factor in what I do.”
He leaned forward. “Be honest with me, please. Isn’t it more that you’ve never truly felt as one of them?” he said in a gentle voice. “You hunger for what you’ve been deprived; knowledge of who you are, family, perhaps love.”
A tickle of indignance rose with her. “What do you know of my wants?”
“I can sense the battle in your soul as accurately as my own.”
“You, my dearest Kaleigh, are my daughter incarnated.”
Leigh inhaled sharply when the darkness coalesced to the suite in its original state. She gripped her neck and took deep breaths to keep from fainting, struggling against shock burbling in her throat. When her wits returned, Nannar had translocated himself next to her.
Her cautionary insights refused to abate. “If what you say is true, where have you been for thousands of years?”
“We crossed to one of the uncountable universes when humans went all monotheistic on us. Our leader, Anu, was rather furious with it all. He left my father behind to sow dissonance in hopes the world would obliterate itself.” The brandy snifter levitated to his outstretched hand. He took a sip. “I must admit, humans have shown themselves to be quite resilient.”
Nannar frowned in sadness. “When Anu gathered up the family to depart this place, my daughter, Enheduanna, fell between the fabric that separated the universes. We never found her.”
“But I’m human,” Leigh said.
“A temporary predicament. We’ll make you immortal,” he said with finality. “Together, we will make the impossible, possible.” He waggled one eyebrow in mirth. “And you won’t have to wait for the waxing quarter moon.”
“I—I’ll be a goddess?”
He set the snifter down and opened his arms. “You’re family. One of us. The first incarnation of our kind since we departed this universe. Perhaps it’s a sign that humanity is worth saving. My father, Enlil—Whitaker in this world—just don’t ever call him Nergal, unless you want to experience the real darkness of his power—discovered you when you were still quite young. He gave you just enough mystical insight to see where you’d take it. The years have shown you worthy of the family legacy.”
“Worthy? Everything I’ve done is considered illegal on all continents. I’ve had people killed to protect the secrecy of my dealings.”
He laughed. “It is probably the reason your grandfather took a liking to you.” An electrified warmth percolated through Leigh’s quivering fingers when Nannar took her hands in his. “None of it will matter anymore as an immortal.”
To never die, and to be able to participate in future centuries; travel to alternate universes like taking a cross-continent flight; and gain what Leigh had longed for since she was a girl—a family. A thought trembled her hands with trepidation: a powerful deity who had manipulated the darker aspects of human nature for thousands of years—was my grandfather.
Leigh had never cried in front of anyone. What tears she’d shed had been done in private. Years of forced callousness, standoffish to those who tried to break through the wall of detached reserve, had been necessary. Whenever remorse for all the harm she’d caused to others threatened to suffocate her, she suppressed it as bad for business. What Nannar offered was more than immortality. It was redemption.
Hibernating emotions awakened from their hidden place, and she let the tears spill. “I have a family,” she choked. “And you, Nannar, are my father.”
He extracted a handkerchief and dabbed her cheeks. “I prefer my given name from the time our kind first arrived many millennia ago. Su-en.”
He pronounced it, sin. His real name is sin?
He brushed an errant strand of hair off her forehead. “You are a most beautiful creature in any universe,” he said in a manner only a father could.
His eyes flashed an iridescent purple when he grinned. “Certainly, hotter than me.”
A native of Wisconsin and Connecticut, D.T. deserted aspirations of being a biologist to live the corporate dream and raise a family. After seven homes, a ten-year stint working in Asia, and an imagination that never slept, his muse refused to be hobbled as a mere dream. A member of the Bethlehem Writers Group and Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group, D.T. writes apocalyptic science fiction, paranormal, and parallel universe science fantasy.
D.T. has published several short stories. “Hell of a Deal,” appears in the paranormal collection Untethered, and most recently, “Man’s Best Friend” is in the 2021 Best Indie Book for Fiction, Fur, Feathers, and Scales. He also appeared in the Write Here – Write Now short story collection with his middle-grade paranormal, “Locker 33C.” An active member of the Bethlehem Writers Group, he’s been a featured author in the BWG Writers Roundtable Magazine. His latest project is an apocalyptic tale of humans on the edge extinctio and a young man born years after surviving humans had been rendered sterile.