Leona Wiley stood outside the casino, waiting. She leaned against its brick facade, one suede heel up against the building’s side. Her dark blonde hair was neatly curled, just barely hitting her shoulders. Dangling pearls weighed down her earlobes, obsidian mascara darkened her eyelashes, and her lips shone a vibrant vermillion. She wore a copper fox fur coat and, under it, a black velvet dress. Leona watched as people slipped in and out of the casino’s double doors, looking for the person she was sent to see.
The lights of the city twinkled around her. It was a quiet night, save for the occasional car that drove down the narrow street. This particular street was nearly free of the hazardous smog that plagued many other areas of the city.
She reached into the inside pocket of her coat, taking out a pack of cigarettes. Leona slid one out and held it between her teeth while she put the remaining cigarettes away. Her hand emerged from the coat’s pocket again, this time holding a bronze lighter.
She ignited the lighter and brought it to the end of her cigarette, taking a long puff. Leona blew the smoke out of her mouth as she returned the lighter to its place. The smoke hung in the air for a few moments before it dissipated.
She took another puff on her cigarette. Through the smoke she had created, Leona saw one of the casino’s doors open. A bald man in a brown tweed suit walked out, leather briefcase in hand. He wore a bushy mustache on his long, thin face. His round, black glasses were perched so highly on his nose that they were practically on his forehead, which had several wrinkles and creases.
Leona waved her cigarette smoke out of the air. “Hey, Grey!” she called as she threw her cigarette onto the sidewalk and quickly put it out.
Grey turned around, startled. He dropped his briefcase to the ground and adjusted his glasses. “Leona,” he said, trying to keep his voice from trembling. “To what do I owe the pleasure?” he asked, eyes saturated with terror.
Leona sauntered a few steps closer to the man. “Fitz is not happy with you,” she informed him. She spoke the words with a slight accent, her vowels honey-tinged.
“Tell Fitz I’ll get him his money. I-I just need an extension is all,” Grey forced out, managing a shaky smile.
Leona rolled her eyes. “You’ve already had two extensions, Grey. That’s more than most people ever get,” she replied, her voice dangerous. She threw her arms up in the air, gesturing at the casino doors. “What were you doing in there, gambling away some more of Fitz’s money?” She crossed her arms over her chest while she waited for a response.
“N-no.” Grey shook his head, raising his hands placatingly. “I was winning money—to give back to Fitz. I was just trying to pay my debts.” Desperation seeped into every word.
Leona chuckled—a deep, menacing chuckle. “Boy, Fitz is going to be so mad. You should have heard what he told me to do if I found you here,” she told him, taking a step closer.
“Pl-please, Leona,” Grey begged, hands clasped together, as she took yet another step closer.
Leona took one more step forward before she spoke again. She was now close enough to reach out and touch him. “Lucky for you, Fitz’s bark is worse than his bite,” she purred as she laid a hand on the man’s cheek. Then she dug her sharp, manicured nails into his skin until he winced. Sweat pooled on his brow as his heart beat a frantic tattoo.
She leaned in closer and whispered into his ear, “But my bite is far worse than my bark.” Grey shrank away from her cigarette-tainted breath, his eyes stinging.
Suddenly, Leona’s fur coat dropped to the ground, its owner nowhere to be seen. For a moment, silence blanketed the air. Then, there was a strange hissing sound coming from the coat. A brown-scaled snake slithered out from underneath the fur, its forked tongue sliding in and out of its mouth.
Grey watched in horror as the snake inched closer. “Please don’t do this,” he pleaded softly, though he knew his fate was sealed.
The snake opened its mouth wide, revealing gleaming fangs. It sank them into an exposed bit of Grey’s ankle, releasing its venom into his bloodstream. The man howled in pain and fell to the ground, spasming.
The snake turned back into a woman, scales becoming flesh, slitted pupils becoming round. Leona smoothed out her dress, then leaned down and sternly whispered, “That’s what you get,” into Grey’s ear.
Leona picked up her coat and draped it over her shoulders, then bent down to pick up Grey’s leather briefcase. She made her way down the sidewalk, not looking back at the convulsing man she left in her wake.