I died first so I made the cookies.
They were popular fare so I needed to make a lot. Darryl had gotten me a jumbo-sized antique mixing bowl last Christmas that probably could have held the water supply for an elephant for a day. I don’t know where he found it. If I ever filled it entirely, I’d have to have one of the werewolves move it. It ate the eighteen cups of flour I dumped into it with room for more, all the while piratical howls rose up the stairway from the bowels of the basement.
My smaller mixing bowl, the one that had been perfectly adequate until I married into a werewolf clan, I filled with softened butter, brown sugar and vanilla. As I mixed them together, I decided that it wasn’t that I was a bad pirate, it was that I had miscalculated. By baking sugar-and-chocolate laden food whenever I died first, I’d succeeded in turning myself into a target.
The stove was at temperature, I found all four cookie sheets in the narrow cabinet that they belonged in—a miracle. I wasn’t the only one who got KP duty in the house, but I seemed to be the only one who could put things in the same place (where they belonged) on a regular basis. The baking pans, in particular, got shoved all sorts of odd places. I had once found one of them in the downstairs bathroom. I didn’t ask—but I washed that motherhumper with bleach before I used it to bake on again.
I thought I was good to go when I found the baking pans. But when I opened the cupboard where there should have been ten bags of chocolate chips, there were only six. I searched the kitchen and came up with another one in the top cupboard behind the spaghetti noodles which made seven. Seven bags of chips was leaner than I liked for a double-quadruple batch, but it would do.
What would not do, was no eggs. And there were no eggs.
I scrounged through the fridge for the second time, checking out the back corners and behind the milk where things liked to hide. But even though I’d gotten four dozen eggs two days ago, there was not an egg to be had.
There were perils in living in the de facto clubhouse of a werewolf pack. Thawing roasts in the fridge required the hiding skills of a WWII French Underground spy working as a secretary in NAZI headquarters.
That same egg-and-roast-stealing werewolf pack was currently downstairs enthralled in games of piracy on the high seas of the computer screen. There was irony in how much they loved the pirate computer game—werewolves are too dense to swim. Coyotes, even coyote shifters like me, can swim just fine—except, apparently in an Instant Spoils: The Dread Pirate’s Booty scenario because I’d drowned four times this month.
I hadn’t drowned this time, though. This time, I’d died with my stepdaughter’s knife in my back.
“I’m headed to the Stop and Rob,” I called downstairs. “Does anyone need anything?”
It wasn’t really called that, of course, it had a perfectly normal name that I couldn’t remember. “Stop and Rob” was more of a general term for a 24-hour gas and convenience store, a sobriquet earned in the days when the night shift clerk had been left on his or her own with a till full of thousands of dollars. Technology—cameras, quick-drop safes that didn’t open until daylight, and silent alarms had made working the night shift safer, but they’d always be Stop and Robs to me.
“Ahrrrr,” said my husband Adam’s voice, traveling up the stairs. “Gold and women and grog!” He didn’t play often, but when he did, he played full-throttle and immersed.
“Gold and women and grog!” echoed a chorus of men’s voices.
“Ah, listen to them,” said Mary Jo scornfully. “Give me a man who knows what to do, instead of these scallywags who run at the first sight of a real woman.”
“Ahrrrr,” agreed Auriele while Jesse, my stepdaughter, giggled.
“Swab the decks, ye lubbers, lest you slide in the blood and crack your four-pounders,” I called. “And whate’er ye do, don’t trust Jesse at your back.”
There was a roar of general agreement and Jesse giggled again.
“And Adam,” I said, “you can have gold and you can have grog. You go after another woman and you’ll be pulling back a stub.”
There was a little silence.
“Argh,” said Adam. “I got me a woman. What do I need with more? The women are for my men!”
“Argh!” roared his men. “Bring us gold, grog and women!”
“Men!” said Auriele sweet-voiced. “Bring us a few good men.”
“Stupidheads,” growled Honey. “Die!”
There was a general outcry because, apparently, someone had.
I took Adam’s SUV. I was going to have to figure out what to do for a daily driver. My precious Vanagon Syncro was getting far too many miles put on her and her transmission was rare and more precious than gold on the secondary market. I’d been driving her ever since my poor Rabbit was totaled, and the van was starting to need more and more repairs. I’d looked at an ‘87 Jetta with a blown engine last week. They wanted too much for it, but maybe I’d just have to pony up.
The SUV purred the couple of miles to the convenience store that was ten miles closer to home than any other store that was open at this hour of the night. The clerk was restocking cigarettes and didn’t look up as I passed him.
I picked up two dozen over-priced eggs and an equally overpriced bag of chocolate chips and set them on the counter. The clerk turned away from the cigarettes, looked at me and froze. He swallowed hard and looked away—scanning the barcodes on the eggs with a hand that shook so much that he might save me the effort of cracking the shells myself.
“You must be new?” I suggested, running my ATM card in the reader.
He knew who I was without knowing anything important. I found the limelight disconcerting, but I was slowly getting used to it. My husband was Alpha of the local pack, he’d been a household name in the Tri-Cities since the werewolves first admitted their existence a few years ago. When we’d married, I’d gotten a little of his reflected glory, but after helping to fight a troll on the Cable Bridge a couple of months ago—I was at least as well known as Adam. People reacted differently to the reality of werewolves in the world. Sensible people stayed a certain length back. Others were stupidly friendly or not-so-stupidly afraid. The new guy obviously belonged to the latter group.
“Started last week,” the clerk muttered as he bagged the chocolate chips and eggs as if they might bite him.
“I’m not a werewolf,” I told him. “You don’t have anything to fear from me. And my husband has put a moratorium on killing gas station clerks this week.”
The clerk blinked at me.
“None of the pack will hurt you,” I clarified, reminding myself not to try to be funny around people who were too scared to know I was joking. “If there’s ever any trouble you can call us—” I found the card holder in my purse and gave him one of the pack’s cards, printed on off-white cardstock “—at this number. We’ll take care of it.”
We all carried the cards now that we’d (my fault) taken on the task of policing the supernatural community of the Tri-Cities, protecting the human citizens from things that go bump in the night. We’d also been called in to find lost children, dogs and, once, two calves and their guard llama. Zack had composed a song for that one. I hadn’t even known he could play guitar.
Sometimes the job of protecting the Tri-Cities was more glamorous than others. The livestock call, in addition to being musically commemorated, had actually been something of a PR coup, photos of werewolves herding small lost calves back home had gone viral on Facebook.
The clerk took the card as if it was going to bite him. “Okay,” he lied.
I couldn’t do any better than that, so I left with my cookie making ingredients. I hopped into the SUV and set the bag on the passenger seat as I backed out of the parking space. In retrospect, I wondered if his strong reaction might be due to something that had happened to him—a personal incident. I looked both ways before hopping out onto the road. Maybe I should go talk to him again.
I was still worrying about the clerk when there was a loud noise that robbed my breath. The bag with the eggs in it flew off the seat and hit me with a loud bang and foul smell—and then there was a sharp pain followed by…nothing.
I think I woke up several times, for no more than a few minutes that ended abruptly when I moved. I heard people talking, mostly men’s voices, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying.
When I finally opened my eyes, I couldn’t see anything. I might not have been a werewolf, but a shapeshifting coyote could still see okay in very dim light. Either I was blind or wherever I was had no light at all.
My head hurt, my nose hurt, and my right shoulder felt bruised. My mouth was dry and tasted bad, as if I’d gone for a week without brushing my teeth. It felt like I’d just been hit by a troll—though the right shoulder pain was more of a seat belt in a car thing. But I couldn’t remember…even as that thought registered, memories came trickling back.
The run to our local Stop and Rob—the same all-night gas station slash convenience store where I’d first met lone and gay werewolf Warren all those years ago. Warren had worked out rather well for the pack…I gathered my wandering thoughts and herded them down a track that might do some good. The difficulty I had doing that—and the nasty headache—made me think I might have a concussion.
I considered the loud bang and the eggs and realized that it hadn’t been the eggs that had exploded and smelled bad, but the SUV’s air bags. I was a mechanic. I knew what blown air bags smelled like, I don’t know what odd effect of shock made me think it might have been the eggs. The suddenness of the accident had combined the related events of the groceries hitting me and the air bag hitting me into a cause and effect that didn’t exist.
As my thoughts slowly achieved clearness, I realized that the SUV had been struck from the side. Struck at speed to have such a great effect.
I took stock of my situation without moving. My face was sore—a separate and lesser pain than the headache—and diagnosed the situation as with having been hit with an air bag or two that didn’t quite save me from a concussion or its near cousin. The sore right shoulder, was just where the seatbelt would have grabbed me.
Probably all of my pain was from the accident…car wreck, I supposed, because I was pretty sure it hadn’t been an accident. The vehicle that hit me hadn’t had its headlights on—and if it had been a real accident, I’d be in the hospital instead of wherever I was.
My body was convinced it was a room-sized space despite the pitch-darkness. The floor was…odd. Cool—almost cold—and smooth under my cheek. The coolness felt good on my face, but it was robbing my body of warmth. Metal. It didn’t smell familiar—didn’t smell strongly of anything or anybody, as if it had been a long time since it was put to use or it was new.
A door popped open while I was trying to figure out where I was. A light clicked on, making all of my speculations useless because illumination was suddenly effortless. I was in a room that looked like a walk-in freezer—all shiny silver surfaces. I’d jerked when the door opened so it was no good trying to pretend to be unconscious. The next best thing would be to face whoever it was on my own two feet.
I rolled over in preparation for doing that very thing, but before I could do more, I had a sudden and unexpected bout of dry heaves that did my head no good at all. When I lifted my head and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand, I noted that there were two men standing in the doorway frowning at me. Neither had made any move to help—or, at least that I noticed, reacted at all.
I dry heaved a couple of extra times to give myself a chance to examine the invaders of my walk-in freezer cell.
The nearest man was tuxedo-model beautiful, with dark curling hair, liquid brown eyes and a thousand-dollar suit that managed to show off the muscles beneath without doing anything so crass as being tight anywhere. There was something predatory in his gaze and he had that spark that made one man more dominant than another without a word being said.
I’d been raised by werewolves, I knew an Alpha personality when I was in its presence.
The other man was at least fifty pounds heavier and three inches taller with a face that belonged to a boxer or a dockworker. His nose had been broken a few times and over his left eye was the sort of scar that you got when someone punched you in the eye and the skin around the socket split.
His eyes were brown, too, but they were ordinary eyes except for the expression in them. Something very cold and hungry looked out at me. He wore worn jeans and a tight-fitting Henley-style shirt.
Visually, I could have been dropped into a scene in some Italian gangster movie. There was no mistaking the Mediterranean origins of either one.
My nose told me the real story. Vampires.