Monday, August 15, 2011
Just A Quiet Night Out
I could be home, Beth Carter thought. She dodged a flying beer mug and just barely made it under the table with her dress intact. A plate of hors d’oervers sailed overhead like a Frisbee, scattering Vienna wieners the length of its trajectory. I could be watching Dancing With the Stars or reading a book or something. But nooooo. Everybody at work says this place has the best food around and why don’t you give it a try?
Someone tipped a table over. Beth risked a peek beyond her table’s rim. She couldn’t be certain, but it looked like a hawk was trying to divebomb a wolf in a tie and sports jacket. The wolf, like Beth, had taken refuge under a table. Every time it tried to dash for the door, the hawk lunged at its muzzle with talons and beak. Beth pulled her chair before her for extra security.
Trouble was, the food here actually was downright tasty, at least the bit she’d been able to sample before the hubbub started. It had all begun so innocently. She walked into Rattigan’s, ordered a drink and the Mucho Muncho Nachos, and amused herself trying to guess which patrons were human and which weren’t. Rumor had it Rattigan’s catered to shapeshifters. Beth had heard the stories about Talbot’s Peak but never believed them. Shapeshifters? As in werewolves? Seriously?
She’d been sort-of flirting with a cowboy at the bar when the man in the sports jacket came in. He took a seat in the corner and ordered a burger. Maybe his burger wasn’t as good as her nachos. He’d certainly been vocal about whatever his problem was. The server, a striking woman with feathers in her hair, took it in stride, and marched his plate back to the kitchen. She returned shortly with another serving. The man knocked the plate aside with a sneer and a loud suggestion about what she could do with the food here.
They must have put something other than whiskey in her drink, because the next thing Beth knew, the server had turned into a hawk, the rude customer had turned into a wolf, and fur, feathers and food starting flying.
She eyed the door and considered making a break for it. Something that looked like a bear in a hoodie lumbered past her table. It started waving its paws, though whether at the wolf or the hawk Beth had no idea and didn’t want to know. I should have gone to the vampire bar.
When the rat with the cleaver came out of the kitchen, she knew she was going to faint.
“Hey.” Someone wriggled under her table. She cowered back until she realized her new companion was, or at least looked, human. “You okay, miss?”
The bear bawled. The hawk screeched. Somebody flung a salad at the wolf. Beth whimpered.
“Human. Thought so,” the man said. “Let’s get you out of here.”
How they made it to the door unscathed Beth had no idea. The man must be a running back; he maneuvered her through the chaos like he was headed for a touchdown and the whole offense was after him. The quiet bar had turned into a zoo gone berserk. “Is that a panda?” Beth said before her rescuer thrust her and himself into the relative safety of the street.
Not a moment too soon. Sirens announced the imminent arrival of the cops. “Time to skedaddle,” her savior announced. They legged it down the block.
“Don’t let that put you off Rattigan’s,” he said while they watched, from a safe distance, the cops round up the patrons and herd them into the backs of patrol cars. The wolf and the woman, her hair-feathers now askew, got separate cars. “Usually it’s pretty quiet. Well, there was that bit the other week when the special pulled a gun on the dinner crowd, but that doesn’t happen too often.”
“Um … ’kay … ”
"It’s a good place to drop in for a drink and a bite. Louie’s the best danged cook we’ve had in Talbot’s Peak in a coon’s age. I don’t blame Sam for going off on that flea-bus.”
“Sam Knighthawk.” He nodded toward the police car with the server in it. “She won’t hear a word against Louie.” He pointed out the wolf, now human again, his sport coat in tatters. It didn’t cover nearly enough. Beth hastily looked away. “Food critic,” her rescuer explained.
The man snorted and dusted his hat against his thigh. Beth recognized him now. The cowboy. He was even cuter up close than when he’d been leaning on the bar. He tossed back his rich, copper-colored hair before he put his hat back on. “Name’s Tanner,” he said. “I herd cows at the Wayne spread back of the hills. You’re … ?”
“Beth. Beth Carter.” She checked her dress for stains. Oh crud. That smear on the knee wasn’t coming out without a ton of Tide.
Tanner grinned. “Well, Beth Carter, I’ve had my eye on you since you came in. I’m sorry you had deal with that. That isn’t how shifters act. Not on a normal day, at any rate.”
“I kind of figured.” She looked up at him with sudden suspicion. “I suppose you’re … something?”
He laughed at that. “Oh hell yeah. Nothing carnivorous, so don’t you worry. Would you let a fellah give you a ride home?”
Oh heck, why not? The whole point of the evening, aside from the food, had been to see an actual shapeshifter. She smiled up at the lean, handsome cowboy. “I’d like that.”
Beth’s report on her visit to Rattigan’s the next day at work had to be carefully edited. She mentioned the bar fight, but not the forms of the fighters. She especially left out her wild, exhilarating ride on the bare back of a mustang. Both her rides, and the one she had lined up for Friday. The way she saw it, that wasn’t anyone’s business.