A masculine fist rapped three times against the green metal
of a huge industrial door that faced onto a darkened corridor.
The owner of that hand, a tall and angular middle-aged male
dressed in an expensive grey suit stepped back, crossed his hands
low across his front, and waited patiently.
He couldn’t be sure if he could hear anybody behind the door,
though a cursory glance at the floor revealed a thin shaft of light
coming from inside.
Waiting patiently, he was distracted by the faint aroma of cinnamon
that seemed to surround him here in this dark and dingy hall.
A single light globe that dangled from a cobwebbed cable above his
head flickered in the gloom, illuminating the remnant of a painted
sign on the brick wall beside him.
Mitchell & Sons Granary Supply, in a faded, antique font, was
declared proudly over an image of a pair of Clydesdale horses.
They were hauling a vintage wooden wagon, piled high with what
the man assumed were sacks of grain. Curiously, the visual cue
touched off an olfactory hallucination within him. He thought he
could detect the scent of oats—a hint to this building’s long forgotten
He checked the face of his Tag Heuer watch and scowled. It was
10PM—a ridiculous time to be conducting business, he thought. He
had been given little choice, however. His superiors’ instructions to
him were explicit: Be at this address no earlier than 10PM and no
later than 10:05PM.
His lips shifted into a fleeting, ironic smile.
He would bet his left testicle that the instruction had come not
from his superiors, but from their contractor. And that very contractor
had earned a reputation for a being a hard arse.
Suddenly the green door groaned on its track and rumbled
sideways, revealing a petite young woman. Her tousled wet hair
was a dark nut-brown. He thought he saw hints of red in it, but he
couldn’t be sure. Upon first glance, it appeared to be a short bob
tied back in a pony tail, but he noticed that both the back and sides
were shaved close to the skin. A long fringe hung low over her large
green eyes. Those eyes were ringed by liner that made her appear
almost Gothic. Though her features were attractive and feminine,
her powdery visage was stony, dangerous even.
She wore a grey, long-sleeved Lycra gym top that hugged her
lithe figure and ended at the waist.
His eyes, almost involuntarily, scanned downward as he noticed
that she wore bikini bottoms only; her long legs and slender feet
The corner of his left eyebrow raised appreciatively.
“What do you want?” the young woman snapped, jolting him
from his procession of impure thoughts.
She folded her arms across her chest and leaned against the
door frame suggestively, maintaining an interrogatory glare at the
stranger before her.
“Schillinge?” he queried, shifting uncomfortably.
She nodded once.
“Is it done?”
Wordlessly, she reached down to the elastic waist of her bikini
bottoms and plucked forth an object.
The man watched as she flipped the shining golden object into
her palm and held it up for him to see. It was no bigger than a stick
of gum; an ingot that was perfectly smooth and shining in the halflight.
With a flick of her hand, one end of the ingot suddenly swung
open on a hinge revealing its true nature as an ingenious, delicate
The man leaned in closer to see and found himself gazing down
on the small ingot. His brow furrowed. Squinting in the low light
of the darkened hallway, he attempted focus on something printed
on the high capacity USB key, but all he could make out was a
symbol—a single octagon etched into the golden surface.
He looked up at Casey. “Is that it?” he questioned incredulously.
Casey merely shrugged.
Slowly, the man reached up to take the key from her when, without
warning, the lid snapped shut and she whipped it away before
he even registered what she had done.
“Money first,” Casey snapped as the man blinked at her.
Brushing down his jacket, the man reached into his inner pocket
and took out a thin rectangular box. He held it out and she took it,
stuffing it into the elastic of her bikini bottoms. Without taking her
eyes off him, she handed over the golden key.
The man took it and pocketed it, then glanced down at her hip,
at the shining rectangular tin tucked there.
“You’re not gonna check it?” he queried.
She allowed herself a smirk.
“I designed your people’s system, remember? You fuck me over,
all I have to do is press a key.”
The man grinned. “They told me that you’re a hard-on,” he
leered. “So, all they have to do is plug this in?”
Casey nodded. “It’ll do the rest. Deployment should take a half
hour at the most. Your entire network will be upgraded to the new
protocols, as per the contract.”
The man raised one eyebrow, impressed. “Sounds good.”
Casey watched as he turned on his heel and disappeared down
the stairs. Once he was out of sight, she retreated into the semidark-
ness of her warehouse apartment, locking the heavy green door
In stark contrast to the dingy hallway outside the door, Casey
Schillinge’s apartment was an altogether different environment.
The converted granary and flour mill offered a spacious living space
that was modern and comfortable while incorporating elements of
its historical past. A fully equipped, yet minimalist, kitchen lay to
her right while a luxurious living area occupied the space to her left.
Two leather sofas sat facing one another, watched over by a large,
flat panel TV and entertainment centre. Up a steel staircase that was
bolted to the exposed brick wall was a mezzanine level populated
by a master bedroom and bathroom. Casey hardly ever went up
there. It acted as little more than storage. Near a large window and
balcony that extended the full width of the building, the space had
been converted into a stylish bedroom that was divided from the
main living area by a tall, Gothic-styled wardrobe.
It was an item in the centre of the apartment, through which
Casey passed now, that presented the most divergent example of
decor in the otherwise stylish home. A large architectural workbench
with a tempered glass surface stood in middle of the room.
On it sat an LCD screen and a keyboard that had been fashioned
from a piece of glass. The light from the LCD screen accounted for
much of the apartment’s illumination presently, bathing everything
in its immediate proximity in a turquoise light. The work bench, the
screen, and keyboard were her tools of trade.
She set down the metallic cash box and she regarded the LCD
screen fleetingly. With a quick tap of the glass surface adjacent to
the keyboard, the screen went dark; its unearthly glow vanquished
for the time being. Casey considered opening the case, but she decided
to leave it untouched.
Having performed work for this particular client several times
before, she knew they were good for the money. And she knew the
payment was considerable.
For the past three years, Casey had employed her remarkable
skill set—gleaned from her double degree in mathematics and com-
puter science—and directed it into a career in which she operated
on the edge.
On one hand, she contracted herself out to big businesses, providing
her expertise in constructing and maintaining security systems
and network infrastructure that was considered second to none. On
the other, Casey performed work for various underground groups
who would be considered an enemy of the legitimate corporate interests
from which she earned her considerable living.
She was a “grey hat” in every sense.
A grey hat who was, finally, in between jobs.
This latest contract—the construction of a particularly complex
security system for a prominent investment firm—had consumed
her life for the past three months. It had involved writing a state-of-the-
art encryption language from scratch, deploying it across a vast
network, then testing it for weaknesses and flaws which she then
had to eliminate one by one, before testing the system again. She
put in long hours, had rarely left her apartment and had thought
of little else other than the contract. Now, with the exchange of her
signature gold-plated USB key with the company’s representative,
she had nothing left to apply herself to—at least for now. Casey
could finally relax.
But therein lay a unique and difficult dilemma.
Casey turned from the desk and faced the exposed brick wall
that separated the living area from the en suite bathroom. Hanging
from the bricks there, bathed now in a soft orange hue from
a street lamp outside, was a painting by the impressionist master
large, expressive eyes and lips that curled upward ever so slightly
in a smile that could, for all the world, have been meant for Casey
herself. Auburn hair hung down on either side of her elongated
features. There was a beauty about the woman in the painting, who
Casey knew to be Jeanne Hebuterne, Modigliani’s lover and muse.
Though not an original, the painting was Casey’s favourite possession:
a gift from her grandparents on her twenty-first birthday.
Her grandfather often said that she reminded him of a Modigliani
painting. Casey smiled at the recollection, then absently clutched
at the back of her head, feeling the short, sharp bristles of her dark
hair. It had once been as long and as beautiful as Modigliani’s muse.
It seemed like a lifetime ago.
Touching a hand to the glass that protected the print inside,
Casey went to the fridge in the kitchen and plucked out a bottle of
wine. A long-stemmed glass was already waiting for her on the adjacent
countertop and she poured a generous lug of the sauvignon
blanc into it.
Time to celebrate, she thought wryly.
Walking past the workstation, bottle and glass in hand, Casey
looked over to the entertainment centre, locking her eyes onto a
familiar looking object there: a voice activated R2-D2 toy from the
Star Wars saga. It was one of Casey’s little indulgences.
“Hey, R2,” she commanded.
The little droid’s flashing red and blue light winked to life and its
domed head swivelled in the direction of her voice.
A door on the barrel chest of the droid flipped opened and an
extendible arm appeared from inside.
This was not an accessory that came “out of the box” when Casey
purchased it. Rather, its presence was a result of some considerable
tweaking and customising by Casey herself.
The little droid rolled over to the front of the entertainment centre
and aimed its arm at the infrared pick-up of the sound system.
In an instant, the frenetic rock music of the Foo Fighters filled the
room. Casey allowed herself a satisfied smile.
Setting her glass on the edge of the work bench, she peeled her
gym top off and tossed it at her treadmill in the corner of the room
where it landed on one of the handles of the machine. The cool air of
the apartment caressed her skin, causing her nipples to stand erect
and she shivered, invigorated by the sensation. Reaching up, she
massaged a knot of tension from her left shoulder. An intricate tat-
too of a Japanese cherry blossom adorned her left shoulder blade, its
pink flowers catching the light from the street.
For a moment, Casey considered remaining topless, but she
opted instead to take a linen shirt that was hanging on the corner of
her wardrobe. She quickly threw it on.
Collecting her glass and the bottle and opening the glass sliding
door, Casey stepped out onto the balcony of her apartment. Immediately
she felt the balmy summer evening air on her skin and she
She set the wine bottle on a table and sipped from her glass as
she surveyed the bustling scene below her from the balcony railing.
This was the Esplanade, the main thoroughfare of the beachside
suburb of St. Kilda. The street was thick with Saturday night traffic,
both pedestrian and automotive, as people made their way to and
from the myriad eateries and entertainment venues that lined the
strip. To the north, Casey could see the lights from the iconic Luna
Park fun fair, as well as the equally famous Palais Theatre, where
large groups of people were milling about its entrance, waiting to
be admitted to whatever gig was playing tonight. Further on, she
could just see the famous Espy Hotel, another St. Kilda landmark
that routinely drew large crowds most nights of the week.
The sight of so many people below caused Casey to shiver. She
could feel an unpleasant knot of tension in the pit of her stomach.
She hated crowds as much as she hated being outdoors. The
very thought of being trapped down there in the throng of Saturday
night revellers filled her with dread.
Taking a larger gulp from her glass, Casey pulled her eyes from
below and cast them out across the inky waters of Port Phillip Bay.
A collection of flickering lights emanating from various ships and
boats captured her focus, taking it away from the chaotic throng
below. Her anxiety abated. Her breathing relaxed, the heartbeat
The heart, she thought darkly as she retreated from the balcony
edge and sat down on a lounge chair.
Balancing her glass on her knee, Casey closed her eyes and closed
out the sounds of the street until there was nothing but the sound
of the beating heart inside her chest. Its thump was vital and strong.
Casey reclined on the chair, lifting her feet and laying her head
back on the cushion. She placed her glass on the table beside her
and reached towards the buttons of her shirt, undoing a couple of
them, allowing the balmy summer breeze to caress her chest, her
almost perfect skin. A single blemish resided there, dark red in the
half-light. A thick, raised scar that ran down her sternum, perfectly
centred on her chest.
She hated that scar more than anything.
Though it was from a life-giving surgeon’s cut made in order to
deliver the heart she now carried, it served as a permanent physical
reminder of the journey she had taken from the edge of death, an
abyss from which she thought she would never escape.
She was alive.
She was alive but she was imprisoned by the realities of a life
post-transplant. The ongoing medical support and treatment and
medications were an omnipresent, oppressive fixture in her daily
existence. The regular visits to her doctors, the constant tweaking
of her medications, the continual tests to ensure that her new heart
remained functional and optimal. The medical team had inserted
themselves into every aspect of her life, observing how she ate, how
she drank, how she slept, how she worked. They were constantly
advising her and counselling her.
She hated it.
Casey felt like some bizarre human experiment, destined for an
eternity of analysis and scrutiny.
But there were also the other unanticipated things that no one,
least of all she, could have predicted. Her insomnia was foremost.
There were frequent periods where Casey could be trapped awake
for days at a time, unable to calm her mind. It was a phenomenon
that only existed since the surgery and it had not abated.
In order to function, Casey developed inventive strategies.
Work was one method. By taking on the most complex jobs she
could find, jobs that would occupy as much time as possible, she
would render sleep a luxury. So long as she was working, constructing,
testing and problem-solving she could avoid dealing with the
negatives of her insomnia. Medications helped too—and not the
type that were sanctioned by her medical team. Casey had done
enough research on the myriad of available stimulants and depressants
to know what she could take safely, and in what combinations,
if there was such a thing.
Despite this, Casey knew there was a limit to staving off sleep.
Her body eventually called time-out and she had to succumb.
Then she dreamed. It was the thing she hated most of all.
With the completion of the contract and no new work on the
horizon, she had run out of excuses to avoid sleep.
She drew the glass up to her lips again and sipped. Alcohol
would numb her, but only partially.
Looking down, Casey spied a small wooden box on the table.
Setting her glass down, she reached for it and balanced it on her
knees as she opened it. Inside was a small metallic pipe and a Zippo
lighter, both of which were surrounded by balled-up wads of green.
She plucked up the pipe and pressed one of those wads into the conical
spout, then lit the marijuana, taking a long drag. As the effects
of the drug worked almost immediately, she reclined and smiled.
Her muscles relaxed, the tornado of her thoughts dissipated.
If her physician knew what she was doing right now, he would
have a shit-fit.
His drug-addled heart transplant recipient.
Fuck him and his rules, she thought acidly. This is what changing
my life gets you.
Her life had indeed changed. It had shifted tectonically. No longer
was Casey Schillinge the wide-eyed, optimistic young woman.
The goody-two-shoes suburban daughter. The high achieving,
straight-A university student.
The heart had changed everything. It had taken as much away
from her as it had given her.
For now, the wine would anaesthetise her, but the weed would
knock out her subconscious and give her what she so desperately
craved: long, dreamless sleep.
The Recipient by Dean Mayes is out May 1st 2016 from Central Avenue Publishing.