Kitty Goes to War Page 5

“I assume KNOB has lawyers who can handle this?” Ben said.

“The legal side of it. I’m not sure they can do anything about proving there’s any supernatural involvement.”

He paused; I could almost hear him thinking over the phone. “I think I have an idea,” he said finally. “You coming home soon?”

“It may be an hour or so. What’s the plan?”

“We’ll talk about it tonight.”

“At least no one’s trying to kill me this time.”

“Yet,” he said. “Give it time.”

There was just no arguing with him. As a lawyer, he was trained to expect the worst.

WHEN I got home, Ben met me at the door and turned me right back around.

“You feel like going out to dinner, don’t you?” he said.

“Um, sure?” Ben had that predatory, on-the-prowl gleam in his eye. Not the predatory gleam that came from being a werewolf, but the one he’d had long before he became a werewolf. This came from being a lawyer.

He had a plan, and I couldn’t wait to see what it was. We were in the car, headed for the freeway when I asked, “Where are we going?”

“New Moon.”

New Moon was a downtown bar-and-grill-type restaurant, and we went there more than anyplace else because it felt like home. It practically was home—Ben and I owned it. I’d made it a refuge, neutral territory for the lycanthropes in town. A place where we could go and not worry about territory or posturing. New Moon’s manager was Shaun, Ben’s and my lieutenant in Denver’s werewolf pack. Any given evening, a few of us from the pack hung out there.

When we entered the restaurant, I got an inkling of Ben’s plan—Cormac was sitting at our usual table in back, against the wall.

Cormac had been out of prison for five months and I still wasn’t sure how I felt about him. Every time we got together, I was happy to see him. And worried, anxious, relieved, guilty, confused, and a few other emotions to boot. I could sense Ben tensing up beside me, a similar stew of conflicting emotions roiling in him. Cormac had saved our lives and ended up in prison for it. He’d had to put his life on hold; we hadn’t. Cormac and I had had a thing, once upon a time. Then he’d brought Ben, his cousin and victim of a recent werewolf attack, to me. I’d taken care of him, Cormac went to jail, and Ben and I got married.

The three of us understood each other when no one else did. No one else had the history to be able to understand us. We were like the three musketeers, but kinda twisted.

Cormac stood to meet us as we approached. He had an athletic leanness to him, and an easy, calm way of moving that could be nerve wracking. Physically, he hadn’t changed so much—same rugged features, short brown hair, a trimmed moustache. But he’d aged. His face was a little more lined than it had been, a little more tired. Like even though he’d spent two-plus years behind the same set of walls, he’d seen too much.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” I said back. And there ended our usual, laconic greeting.

Ben looked Cormac over, and he wasn’t very subtle about it. He craned his neck, checked his sides, looked as far behind him as he could without actually walking around him. Looking for telltale shapes.

Cormac glanced ceilingward and said, “I’m not wearing a gun.”

“Sorry,” Ben said, defensive. “You can’t blame me for worrying.”

“I’m not stupid,” Cormac said.

“So you don’t have a gun anywhere? You’re sure?”

“Like he could forget he was wearing a gun,” I said to Ben. “You can smell him, he’s not wearing a gun.” That was another thing about Cormac that had changed, along with the tired expression; I was used to Cormac smelling like firearms. Gunpowder and oil. Now he smelled like soap, clean human, and the leather of his jacket. As antsy as his old collection of weaponry made me, he smelled like something was missing.

“I’m sorry. It’s just that I haven’t seen you without a gun since high school,” Ben said. “I’m still getting used to it.”

“I’m still getting used to it.” He slumped back into his chair and took a sip of his coffee.

Cormac was a convicted felon on parole. Legally, he couldn’t carry a gun. Technically, he could carry a gun—he just couldn’t get caught with it by his parole officer or the cops, or they’d lock him up again. So he didn’t carry a gun. Once upon a time, Cormac might have taken the risk. The preprison Cormac would have been confident in his ability not to get caught. But something had gotten to him.

Ben and I slid into chairs across from him. I had a weird sense of familiarity, Ben and me sitting side by side, looking at Cormac across the table from us. This was how we’d sat when we visited him in prison. Then, we’d had a Plexiglas wall between us.

“I’ve got a job for you,” Ben said. “How do you feel about a little PI work? PI work that doesn’t involve carrying a gun.”

Cormac looked away, frowning. “You don’t have to give me a job because you think I need the work. I’m doing just fine without any charity.” His parole officer had gotten him a part-time warehouse job—it may have been the first aboveboard job he’d ever had. He even had his own apartment. He was determined to be independent.

“Cormac, I’m not asking you to do this because I feel sorry for you. I’m asking you to do this because you’re the most qualified person I know for the job.”

That got his attention. He straightened a little. Ben looked at me to do the explaining.

“For the last couple of years I’ve been hearing weird stories about the Speedy Mart chain,” I said. “Supernatural goings-on, all over the country, and all of them at a Speedy Mart. Usually at midnight. Vampire clerks, satanic rituals, intersecting ley lines. Think of every crazy supernatural angle you can, and there’s probably an anecdote about it happening at a Speedy Mart.”

Cormac looked thoughtful. “That vampire, the one you had me go after while you were doing the show—what was that, three years ago? Four?”

“Estelle,” I said. I hadn’t forgotten Estelle.

“She was hiding out in a Speedy Mart.”

“Yeah, exactly,” I said.

“That’s stretching it even for you,” Ben said. “It’s coincidence.”

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