Monday, June 6, 2011
Fish Out of Water
Torrence liked his job. He liked his boss, he liked his heavily-muscled build, he liked how everybody scurried out of his way whether he was striding down a sidewalk or gliding lazily through the ocean depths. He even liked his name these days. Most of the teasing had died off once he attained his full growth, and when he went to work for Karkarias it stopped completely. It helped to have friends in high places.
Today G.W. had sent him out on a milk run: take the underland tunnel to Montana where Durand was hiding out and snatch the kids. Kill Durand if opportunity presented itself. G.W. wasn’t that concerned with the seahorse as long as he got the guppies. Torrence didn’t ask questions. If Karkarias wanted Durand’s spawn, that was good enough for him.
He swam up the tunnel in tiger shark form, wary of guardians. Word said a Nessie had taken up residence in the underground sea. If he hadn’t been on assignment he’d be tempted to try his teeth against her. Nessies were nasty business, but he was quick and his jaws could crush damn near anything. Including a Nessie’s neck? Might be fun to find out. But not today.
He made it through the tunnel and into the sea without running into the Nessie. Torrence emerged from one of the many land portals, a lake in the middle of a forest. As arranged, clothing, instructions and a map of the area were waiting for him in a cache on the shore. Karkarias had found a business associate among the land-scrabblers. Torrence didn’t waste any thoughts on speculation. It wasn’t part of the job.
He studied the map. The town’s name was Talbot’s Peak. Intel said it was infested with shapeshifters, so nobody’d look twice if he had to shift and dive into a river. Perfect.
Once in town Torrence immediately headed for the fountain, a big ugly thing that looked like a water dish. Durand and his spawn had been spotted frolicking in it. Sure enough, there was the seahorse and his get, seated on the fountain’s rim and happily splashing each other. This would be easier than gutting tuna. Torrence started toward them.
Before he could reach them, however, they left the fountain and headed across the street. He must have just missed their daily swim. The fact all three were fully clothed should have tipped him off. A water attack would have suited him best, but that wasn’t to be. He’d have to make do.
They entered a small coffee shop. Durand ordered himself a coffee and two hot cocoas for the twins. Torrence took a seat nearby and ordered lemon tea. He noticed the waitress had blue hair. Maybe she was a mermaid. Torrence grinned at her and was pleased to see her shudder. He liked mermaids. He loved how they flopped around and screamed and begged for their lives when he took them.
The place was moderately crowded. Torrence had been well-prepped in how to recognize the different species of land shifters. He picked out a twitchy-looking wolf and his mate and formulated a plan. When the she-wolf went to the ladies’ room, Torrence made his move.
He got up and stood by the wolf’s seat. “You see that he over there, with the two cubs?” he murmured to the wolf. “I know him. He’s got his eye on your she. His cubs need a mother and he’s decided your she is the one.”
“He what?” The wolf bolted off his chair, glaring at Durand. Sure enough, wolves were territorial fry, especially when it came to their mates, just as he’d been told. In seconds the wolf had charged Durand’s table and picked a fight with him.
Naturally Durand scooted his guppies out of the line of fire. Torrence circled the tables, waiting for his shot. As voices rose and lookie-loos pressed in, Torrence saw an opening. He darted in and snatched up the twins, one under each arm, right from behind their father’s back. Like taking fish from a baby whale. He clapped his hands over their mouths before they could cry out. The brats squirmed in his grip like beached bass but didn’t stand a chance. He darted for the door.
A hand on his upper arm stopped him cold. “These are not your cubs.”
The hell? Some land-scrabbler thought he could take on a tiger shark? Torrence bared his teeth and turned. The landie was dead. He was chum. He was –
Bigger than Torrence.
Torrence found himself staring upward, a rare occurrence in itself, into blue eyes like flecks of arctic ice. The landie was ice from head to toe, hair, skin and deadly teeth, wrapped in a long black coat. His huge hand closed around Torrence’s neck, over his dormant gills. Torrence was lifted onto his toes. His flat black eyes bugged and he fought for air.
“Put cubs down,” the ice giant ordered.
Torrence dropped the spawn. He had to. He needed his hands to claw at the grip choking the life out of him. “Go behind counter,” the monster said to the twins. “The blue-haired woman will protect you.”
His targets darted to safety. Torrence clawed at the landie’s arms. He might as well have been pounding on concrete. The huge landie dragged him into the men’s room and flung him against a sink. “You are long way from home, little fish,” he growled.
Torrence grinned, showing both rows of his teeth. “You’re out of your depth, you – ”
What was he, exactly? His scent said tiger, but he was far too big and far too white. His eyes, for all their icy blue, were as flat and emotionless as a circling shark’s. He looked possible death in the face with absolutely no fear, or much of anything else.
He was, in short, the landie version of Torrence.
Slice me into chum, Torrence thought, and realized, with a sinking gut, the stranger could probably do it.
“You are on land now,” the land shark said. “Here we cherish our cubs.” He moved forward.
# # #
The confusing attack had lots of shouting and bluster but very few blows. Wolf fights were more about intimidation than blood. It ended when the she-wolf returned from the restroom. She cuffed her mate, apologized to Jess, and dragged her chastened husband out of the coffee shop. Jess shook his head. Landwalkers. So touchy.
“You okay, kids?” he said, and looked around. Panic seized his heart. Garth and Tula were gone.
“Hey. These yours?” Marissa, the blue-haired waitress, appeared with Garth and Tula in tow. They ran to him and hugged his legs. He could see they weren’t hurt, just upset. “What happened?” he demanded.
“Someone tried to grab them. Sergei stopped him.”
“Big Russian guy with white hair. He comes in two, three times a week for this awful strong tea. I think he dragged the other guy into the bathroom. I already called the cops.”
Human law enforcement would be less than useless, if Karkarias had sent who Jess suspected. Before he could pry his children loose and go to help, Sergei emerged from the men’s room, straightening his coat. He went to Jess and Marissa and peered down solemnly at the twins. They squeezed Jess’s legs even harder. “The cubs are all right?” he rumbled.
“The, um, cubs are fine,” Jess said. In a lower voice he added, “Are you nuts? That was a tiger shark!”
Sergei sniffed. “Was fish. Cats eat fish. It is, how do you say, not biggie.” He pulled a thick roll of bills from his pocket, peeled one off and handed it to Marissa. “For the mess,” he said.
Marissa gaped at the denomination. Then realization hit. “Mess? Oh crap.” She sprinted for the men’s room.
Sergei recovered his hat from his table and started for the door. “Uh – Sergei?” Jess said. “Thank you.”
Sergei pinned him with emotionless eyes. “Is no need. I had cub once,” he said, and went out.
Moments later Marissa burst out of the men’s room with her hand over her mouth and her breakfast in her throat. As soon as she got her spasming stomach under control, she’d have to go tell Lex they had a body in the bathroom with its head stuffed down one of the toilets. Again.
Posted by Pat C.