I had my own stool behind the counter at the Daily Grind now. I refused to use it on principal. Most of the time. I wasn’t above using it to gain sympathy points or to annoy irritating customers. We have a good staff, trained to make the best coffee. Or at least the best coffee on the rez, but we still got those customers that didn’t like their food, drink, or service and forgot their manners. I was facing off with one of those people and the stool tactic seemed to be working well.
“Here you go Miss Seija, a fresh mocha latte half caf quad, 1 mint, and with a light dusting of cinnamon,” I said for the fourth time, a too wide smile slapped on my lips. I had been more willing to be friendly earlier. Not anymore. I pronounced her name with a hard E sound for the EI this time while using the Y sound for the J as she’d corrected me with earlier. This made her name sound like See-yah instead of Say-uh. Sometimes, I had to give myself a mental high five.
“I want to speak to your manager,” she clipped through clenched teeth.
“Of course.” I nodded with exaggerated politeness and made an exaggerated show of getting off the stool and stretching my back, which really did feel sore now that I thought about it. Ugh. I left the front to Jesse and shuffled to the kitchen feeling her eyes bore holes through the back of my skull. Once the swinging door to the kitchen fell closed I walked at a normal pace to Peter’s office, rapping twice with my knuckles before pushing my way in.
Peter had his head bent over some papers on his desk, scrawling notes over them. Curious I took a peek at what appeared to be a handwritten apology. Victor hadn’t come back since Ryan’s party and Peter was crushed. I assumed that he’d exhausted phone, text, email and social media. Whatever he’d done to make Victor angry must’ve been pretty bad to resort to snail mail just to talk to him. Maybe it had something to do with trying, and failing, to have a baby. I’d overheard a little of a phone call once a few weeks ago.
I didn’t get to read much beyond the first few words when Peter’s head whipped up. “Keelan? What’s up?” He flipped the legal pad he was writing on.
“Oh, it’s nothing I can’t handle. Sorry to interrupt.” I waved a hand for him to continue what he was doing and headed back toward the door. I’d just tell the annoying woman that he was gone for the day.
“Keelan,” he said, but I was already out.
When I got back to the counter the pain-in-the-neck woman was gone, replaced with a pain-in-the-ass man.
“What do you want, Bobby?” I made no attempt at smiling at Robert and he gritted his teeth at the use of the nickname he hated. I thought it worked perfectly now that he was working with the police. At least that’s what I’d heard had happened a few days since. That isn’t to say that it’s a bad thing. I was happy he’d got a chance to turn his life around. Really.
But. He’d steadfastly refused to tell me anything since he’d been released except that I should get out of town, going so far as to ask if I’d take Levi with me. Which only confirmed my theory about what was going on. I’d gone so far as to build my own board with a map of the reservation and notes. So far the only two that were part of it for sure were Liza, the coywolf who was buried alive, and the thug, who’d died here in the kitchen and who I’d recently learned had been a shark. He’d drowned in air. I had my suspicions about Dr. Batista as well, but I couldn’t get much information on him. However, the potion to keep shifters as animals after death had to wear off right? And we’d found him months after his death.
“Can I get a hot chocolate with three shots of peppermint and lots of foam?” Right, no time to chase those thoughts. I noticed the speaker wasn’t Robert, but a hollow-faced teenage boy.
“Absolutely,” I said with a genuine smile. “Would you like white, milk, or dark chocolate?”
The boy’s eyes lit up in his stark face. “Dark, definitely, dark.”
He nodded enthusiastically.
I scrawled on a cup and set it to the side as Jesse finished his last order and called out for Seija three times before setting the cup down and moving on. “Anything to eat?”
“Grilled cheese, please.” The smile spread from his eyes to his lips.
When I turned to him Robert was staring at the lonely cup on the pickup counter. He noticed me staring and with a quick glance at the board above me he said, “I’ll have-”
“Black coffee and a slice of toast?” I interrupted benignly. He finally met my eyes, lips pressing to a thin line. He said nothing as I punched the order into the register and gave him the total. He continued to say nothing as he passed over some cash. However, he tried to say something when I held out his change.
Without taking it he said, “I’m sorry, but-” He looked like he wanted to say more, but he didn’t look sorry in the least. When he’d told me to run, he’d asked me to take his son with me. I’d said Levi could stay with me, but that I wasn’t leaving. So, I just set down his change and turned to take his order slip to the cook.
Peter met me in the kitchen and pulled me back into his office. I didn’t protest too much as I wasn’t having a very good day on the register.
“Sorry about earlier Pete,” I said as I thankfully settled in a chair, “but I did knock.”
He waved a hand. “This is not about that, although,” he paused to give me a look before he sat on his side of the desk, “now that you mention it, I am curious what you wanted to talk about earlier.”
It was my turn to wave off his comment. “Oh, just another ornery customer wanted to talk to management, but she seems to have left on her own.”
“Oh, that’s good, that’s good.” His thoughts seemed elsewhere. Then he actually seemed to register what I was saying and his focus sharpened on me. “Wait. They’re still harassing you?”
“Guess so.” Once news that I was in town got all the way around, coupled with the ongoing multiple homicide and likely serial killer, people were on edge. And for most people, I was as good a scapegoat as any.
He sighed and ran a hand over his eyes. “Maybe you should work in the back, or, I don’t know, take some time?”
“I can’t. This is my only income, now. Basil won’t let me on any of the construction sites,” I grumped. I hadn’t thought much on his not calling me in on my off days since I’d taken time off to recover, but when people started acting out around me at the café and I’d asked if there was anything I could do he’d shut me out.
“Good brother,” he said. He put up his hands against the glare I leveled at him. I didn’t want someone else to tell me that construction was no place for a person in my condition. “Look, things aren’t going to settle down for a while. It might be better if you stayed home. I mean, it’s not as if you don’t have people willing to take care of you.”
My glare turned into the evil eye and he sighed. I took that as a win, even if it ultimately didn’t feel like one.
“Did you want to talk to me? About something else?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Yes,” he looked at his desk as if he were looking through it, or maybe he could see a smudge I couldn’t. “Yes. I’m, uh, going away for a while and if I don’t come back before Victor, I’d like you to give him this for me.” It was a large manila envelope, tabbed closed with Victor’s name in a large scrawl on the front.
“Okay,” I drew out the second syllable in a kind of question. He either pretended not to notice or he was to distracted. Either way, it was none of my business. “I will.”
“I’m not taking a Lamaze class,” I said firmly.
“I think it’ll be good for you.” Basil was setting out the pizza boxes on the table while I was getting the plates.
“What can lamaze teach me that I don’t already know?” I asked.
“I don’t know, how to breathe?” I loved my twin but sometimes I just wanted to smack him upside the head. So I did. I’d found being pregnant granted me certain leniencies.
“If you needed training for that you wouldn’t have survived past infancy.” I smirked. “I, on the other hand, have mastered the art of moving air in and out of my lungs.”
“Someone blowing hot air?” Breath hit the back of my neck and arms came around me from behind as I set down the last plate, pulling me back to a wide chest. I liked how I fit there. It was as nice as relaxing in a hot tub and as comfortable as sleeping on a cloud. But I was still angry, so I just grabbed wad of flesh on his arm where it had lowered to rub my stomach and gave a hard twist. He yelped and let go of my waist. I stepped away with a hard glare and moved to the other side of the table, motioning him to be seated where I’d left him.
That’s right I was giving him the silent treatment. It wasn’t like that was my go to for arguments, but he left me no choice. It’d now become a kind of protest. If he won’t talk to me about what’s going on with the investigation, I wasn’t going to talk to him at all. Even if, legally, he wasn’t supposed to talk about it. More fool him. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an idiot or suicidal enough to try to stop the spell myself. I was pretty sure it was a spell. If I could find something definitive or at least information that could point toward something concrete, I’d tell him. Just to let him know, let them all know, that I’m not to be discounted just because I’m a civilian, or an omega, or pregnant. Okay, so maybe I was a little emotional, bordering on bipolar sometimes, at least that’s the way it seemed to me, but I was still right.
Basil plopped a recalcitrant Sean into his high chair, kicking and screaming.
“If you don’t calm down,” I said, “I’m gonna eat your pizza.”
He stopped immediately, eyes bugging at me as if he couldn’t believe what I’d just said. Before anything else could happen, Basil plopped Sean’s plate in front of him. The kid wolfed it down, eyes watching me the whole time, as if I were going to steal his messy food from him.
Haven cleared his throat as he took a second serving, eyeing me. “So, I’ve had my eye on this cabin I found just outside of town if maybe you wanted to check it out?”
My eyes probably bugged just like Sean’s had minutes ago. “I am not living in a cabin.” That’s another thing. Almost as soon as we’d had some time alone after finding Dr. Batista he’d proposed. I’d said no, not because I didn’t want to. Oh, no. I’d turned him down because I wanted him to really think about it. Not just offer because we made a kit or a calf, whatever it turned out to be. Sure, we’d been engaged before, but that was a different time.
“A house opened up just down the block from me.” Since then he’d brought up the topic of moving in together a few times, but as more of a ‘we should start thinking about it’ than a ‘let’s start looking’ kind of thing. Or so I’d thought.
“The Rusik house?” Basil asked interested.
“I always liked that place,” I said, excited. My mouth snapped shut for two reasons. One, the smile Haven turned on me made my insides turn to goo and I wanted to keep them from spilling out. And two, I remembered I was still mad at him. Even if it was a little harder to call on that anger.
“You staying for the movie?” Basil asked.
Haven scratched his neck just under his chin and said, “Ah, no, I shouldn’t. Gotta get, uh, going.” I knew I had no right to feel angry, he was just doing his job, but there it was.
Haven left almost as soon as dinner was over, yet the sneak had somehow managed to steal a kiss. A really good kiss. One that was all tongue and had my hands fisted in his long, straight hair, breathing in the scent of rain that was all him like the first breath of fresh spring air. He’d grinned like he’d won a battle. Maybe he had. Bastard.
By the time Basil had tucked a tired Sean into bed, I’d drawn the curtains on the lower level and pulled the map out from the underside of the table top, which required more acrobatics than I remembered. I needed to find another hiding place for it or very soon I wouldn’t be able to reach it. A notepad sat in front of me listing the facts as I knew them. Basil moved around the kitchen making tea before he sat down across from me with his own notes, laptop and three mugs of wild berry tea on the table. He’d caught me working in my room last week and, although he rattled off a lecture, he didn’t call Haven. He’d even started helping.
Basil studied the map that indicated the Moran’s house and the Daily Grind which each had a shiny red frowny emoji as indicators. What? That’s all we had.
“There’s more to Dr. Batista’s death than just access to hospital records,” Basil said.
There was a tap behind me on the wide, sliding glass doors that led from the dining room to the patio, making me jump. Basil got up and peeked out from one side before pulling the curtains open enough to let two individuals through before latching the doors and closing everything tight.
“Sorry we’re late. I had to lose a tail,” Robert said as he put back his hood. He pushed his shoulder blades out in a small stretch as if he could feel the feathers that had been clipped. Apparently some dragon lawyer had made him a deal with very clear-cut stipulations. His flight feathers hadn’t really been clipped, that wouldn’t work as shifting would repair that, but he’d been given a shot that bound his animal self for a time. “You sure you’re willing to take him for a few weeks?”
“Of course,” I said, irritated.
His son, Levi, had headphones in listening to music on his phone as he sat at the end of the table nearest me and pulled out a notebook.
“I got the information you asked for but you’re not gonna like it.” His features seemed permanently set at ‘somber’. “Batista wasn’t human.” Vindication and anxiety warred within me for supremacy. On the one hand, I’d been right about Batista being more than a means to get into the records. On the other, being right would have frightening consequences.
“But he wasn’t shifted when you found him, right?” I asked, as relief took over for a moment. He was right, the others had remained in their animal form after death. Relief died however, as I thought about how long it had taken to find his body compared to the others.
“No,” Robert pursed his lips, looking off to the side. “But, seriously, how long does the force shift potion, serum thingy work? No one stays in their shifted form after death.”
I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing; it wasn’t a laughing matter after all. “Look at the Egyptians.”
“That’s mummification,” He retorted. “Unnatural.”
“True, but the forced shift isn’t quite natural either,” Basil cut in. “Doesn’t matter. I talked to AJ today.”
I looked at him brows climbing. “And?”
“And unless a tanuki performs a reversal to a corpse treated with this particular serum, they’ll stay that way.” He leaned back and took a sip of tea. “To be honest, he seemed on edge about the fact that they were in animal form at all. Said the only one who could do that was a tanuki.”
“There’s other tanuki here?” I’d never heard of them so far from Atlanta. When the ‘family’, I was pretty sure they were yakuza, migrated to the US, they’d set up shop in Georgia with Atlanta as the hub of their operation. If you wanted to put in a request for a tanuki’s assistance in North America, you went through them. Their products were legit, they worked, but they ranged from white and grey to black ethically. And you only left the family under very strict circumstances. The ‘fact’ that this AJ was unaffiliated made me nervous.
“He’s the only one. Moved here a couple years back. I don’t think anyone expected him to stay more than a few months, but he’s been very involved in community outreach.” He paused and looked at me, probably reading my skepticism. “You don’t think he had anything to do with this do you?”
“Well…” I thought about phrasing. “Are you sure he didn’t? I mean, you know him far more than me.”
He shook his head after a brief pause. “He seemed too spooked at the prospect of another of his kind being here for it to be him.” He seemed certain of his analysis, and, though I couldn’t shake my growing paranoia, I didn’t want to push Basil. He was, after all, a better judge of character then I was and I’d already pushed him to accept housing Levi for a bit. Strangely enough, he’d seemed fine with Robert after winning a dominance stare, which in itself shocked me.
Loose in my notes, I had a smaller version of the map on the table, plotting possible points that would work for the elements. Letting the others argue over whether to dig into AJ’s life, I placed a dot in the woods of the south east part of Hidden Pines, where Batista’s body had been found, and drew a pentagram based on even proportions from the three.
I noticed Levi looking over at my map and I quickly closed the pad and smiled at him. “Need help with your homework?” I asked as I peeked over to see he’d been doodling clovers instead of doing algebra. He just blushed, shook his head and bent it to begin working the first equation.