Feminist, Fictionista, Foodie, Francophile

Monday, February 13, 2012

Tales of the Misbegotten: Customer Service

As I inch toward completion of my novel Misbegotten, I keep fleshing out the paranormal version of Los Angeles where the story takes place. My main character, paracrimes reporter Kira Simkins, does not appear in this story, but she shares the same basic outlook as the protagonist. Neither is especially fond of the vampires who now run their city.


Even before the recession hit, I was struggling. My part of L.A. there’s a dry cleaners on every corner, all of them bigger than me, all of them offering coupons and discounts and while-u-wait service. You need a gimmick to compete and even with a gimmick, you have to keep the price down. It was my daughter who came up with the idea of targeting the needs of the paranormal newcomers who arrived in droves after the city went bankrupt.
Illustration by Mark Satchwill
She put up big signs that said “Stain removal a specialty” and “Discreet and Professional Service.”
We bought ads on Voogle, the vampire-centric search engine, and offered downloadable coupons and two-for-one deals and deep discounts to bring the customers in. We stayed open late.
Business picked up.
We never had to deal with the vampires direct, of course, they always sent their renfields. Most of them were pleasant enough, and usually a bit embarrassed to be dealing with their employers’ dirty laundry.
I made it easy for them by being matter-of-fact, but there were times when even I was taken aback by how badly stained the clothes were.

The first time had been the hardest. A renfield had come in with two laundry bags stuffed with shirts and underclothes. The first shirt he shook out was so blood-soaked I thought it was brown at first rather than white.
“That…is a lot of blood,” I said.
He glared at me. “My employer is a hemophiliac,” he said. “He gets a lot of nosebleeds.” I nodded as if I believed him and bundled the clothes into a bin. “Friday all right?” I asked.
I always wore protective gloves when I worked the front desk and made sure everyone else did too.
I installed a night drop and a drive-through to minimize contact with my new client base and business doubled. I opened up two more locations and hired eight new people, including a guy to replace my daughter. I didn’t want her working at night any more. I knew how susceptible young girls are around vampires.
We used organic methods and natural products like washing soda and oxygen. We offered a “satisfaction guaranteed or your money back” option.
The only one who ever wanted his money back, oddly enough, was a human who’d brought in a pair of slime-coated fishing overalls that had been marinating in his car trunk for a couple of weeks.
So the money was good as long as I didn’t think too much about where it came from. And even then, there were times when I cringed as I processed certain items—a cub scout uniform, say, or a little girl’s party dress.
I charged extra to clean kids’ clothes. The customers paid without complaint.
Then one day a renfield I didn’t recognize came in with a bloody baby’s onesie crammed into a silk pillowcase filled with hand-made ladies’ lingerie.
I paused as I sorted the contents of the case and the customer noted my hesitation.
“Is there a problem?” he asked.
I pushed the tiny garment back across the counter. “I can’t clean this,” I said. “The fabric’s too delicate. It’ll disintegrate.”
The renfield smirked. “I don’t think it’s the fabric that’s too delicate, Mr. Dugardi.” He shoved it back towards me.
“If it’s a matter of price…”
He let the temptation dangle but I did not snap at the bait.
“I can recommend another establishment,” I said neutrally. “Perhaps they can accommodate your needs.”
He gave me a hard look.
“My employer will be disappointed,” he said, equally as neutral. “All his friends swear by you.”
“The disappointment is mine,” I countered but I did not touch the blood-stained scrap of fabric between us.
Finally, when he realized I was not going to change my mind, the renfield gathered his cleaning and left in a huff.
As soon as he pulled out of the parking I lot I started scraping off the painted “welcome” sign on the sliding glass entry doors.
Vampires can’t cross thresholds when they’re not invited. I didn’t want my generic “come on in” message to be misinterpreted.
It’s illegal to post “no vampires allowed” signs but the pots of society garlic I put out to flank the doors and the large crucifixes I mounted above the entrance conveyed my feelings clear enough.
I had to sell the other two stores and lay off my extra employees. I close early these days and don’t open on Sundays. If it weren’t for a laundry contract I have with a local hospital, I’d have had to shut my doors completely.
Business sucks.
But I sleep at night.