Happy Wednesday, everyone! Today is a very blah day for me. It’s my birthday and I’m down with a cold. (How typical, right?) So anyway.
Last week’s winner of the comment contest was Mary Preston. Congrats, Mary! Check your e-mail for the Amazon.com gift card!
Next order of business is… a preview of “Witch’s Moon,” the Mooney and Marissa story I’ve been trying to get polished up to release. As I said, I feel like warmed over goose turds, so this is the easy post. Also, I’d really like everyone’s input on what they think about it. I’m writing in in first person, which is fairly new for me.
Any who, have a great day. I’m going back to bed to moan in abject misery now.
Guts & Butts Gazette
Competitive Sports Around Town By Mooney McMahon
It’s been a tough week out there for high school sports enthusiasts as they get ready to break for the winter holidays. The County High Timber Wolves lost to the Naperville Jack Rabbits 7-0 in the first playoff game. What self-respecting carnivore is going to lose to food, I ask you? Next week they are playing the Columbus Waves. Hopefully the pups won’t get washed out by a pond.
Next week is try-outs for the Jr High wrestling team. All you panty-waists will be happy to hear that Coach Barton bowed to pressure and they will be allowing girls to try for a spot on the squad. At this rate, I’ll be announcing dudes trying out for the cheerleading squad next year.
As per an official request from the Naperville drama teacher, I am also mentioning that the results from last week’s debate team exhibition are in. I am not reporting the results, though, because arguing is not a sport. Maybe if you had an actual mascot and not food, all those nice young gentleman would be out doing manly things!
The city council did not approve the request to allow roller derby tournaments at the city’s recreational facilities, so next week’s bone crusher will be held at the Roller Rama again, assuming we can get old Mrs. Fuddy-Duddy to drop the cease and desist charges. There may or may not be a TP party planned for Mrs. Fuddy-Duddy’s house tomorrow night to encourage her to play nice.
And on a positive note, the adults-only dodge ball league did get the funding needed to buy Kevlar volleyballs. As you know, that tournament had to be suspended when the Pack popped every stinking one of the normal volleyballs. The new shipment is due in by Wednesday, so the All City Meat and Gravy Dodgeball Tournament should be back on next Saturday.
This is Mooney McMahon signing off for now. And don’t bother sending anymore hate mail my way. I just drop it in the circular file.
The deep voice of the bailiff woke me from my daydreaming, and I tore my eyes away from the hunky werewolf at the front of the packed courtroom. I was supposed to be checking out the crowd attending this hearing, not ogling the guy being reprimanded. It was hard, though. Mooney McMahon was six and a half feet of black haired, blue eyed, well-muscled werewolf. He may be trouble, but he was also serious eye-candy. All the bad ones were, it seemed. It was the only excuse I could come up with for why otherwise intelligent women fell for them over and over.
My name is Marissa Cooper, by the way, and I'm a witch. Some would say both literally and figuratively, and I have to admit that I could be both under the right circumstances, but mostly I stick to actual witchcraft. My formal employment is manning the counter at an internet café called Java Joe's down on Main Street. Its owner is more than my boss; he actually owns me, as well, and he wanted me here, spying on McMahon. Or rather, checking to see if anyone else was spying on him. I have no idea why Lex is interested in the town’s ne'er-do-well sports columnist and I really don't want to know. Lex's schemes always get me into trouble. I’m not a big fan of trouble, even the tall sexy kind. Lex’s schemes are never sexy.
“Mr. McMahon, care to tell the court why we are here today?” Judge Foxsmith asked dryly. McMahon, who had been busy making angry-eyes at a heckler, jerked his attention back to the judge's bench.
“Um, wasn’t there supposed to be some stuff said before you ask me questions?” he asked. He scowled when the room filled with snickering and I shook my head. I'd like to think I was dumbfounded by the idea that a defendant could be this clueless, but I wasn't. This was Mooney McMahon, after all. He should have been a blonde so the rest of the world would have some warning about his true nature.
“We did that part already,” Judge Foxsmith said slowly, like he was talking to a backward child.
“Oh,” Mooney said, looking like he was almost having to physically stop himself from snapping at the judge. “Um, so I was walking back from the Walmart last night—”
“Walmart, Mr. McMahon?" the judge interrupted. “At one ‘o clock in the morning with,” he paused while he ruffled some pages on his podium, “with four cases of toilet paper?”
“That’s right, Your Honor. The parking lot was full, so I had to walk a bit—”
“You were found three miles from Walmart, Mr. McMahon,” the judge interrupted again.
“Right,” Mooney agreed with a cheesy win-over-a-tough-crowd smile. “I do have the receipt, if you want it. Anyway, I had almost got to my car when Officer Tom shined his flash light in my face.”
“Mr. McMahon, Walmart closes at eleven. Are you saying it took you two hours to walk to your car?”
“Yes, Your Honor,” Mooney said earnestly. “Remember, I was carrying four cases of toilet paper.”
“And you did all of this while drunk? I see here that you spent the night in the drunk tank.”
“Well, I wasn’t drunk, Your Honor. I did stop at a bar to take a little break, but I didn’t get drunk.”
“And your car was three miles away because you couldn't find any place closer to park?"
"That's right, Your Honor," Mooney agreed, nodding. The judge eyed him with disbelief before looking down at whatever papers were in his hand.
"The arresting officer reports that your car was found parked in front of the bar you visited, which just happens to be down the street from the house of a woman you made threats against."
“I didn’t make threats against no one, Your Honor. I was just buying toilet paper,” Mooney said, still trying to look charismatic and trustworthy despite the sweat starting to bead his forehead.
“Four cases of it.”
“Yep. Never know when you’re going to have diarrhea,” Mooney confirmed. He scowled again when sounds of snickering began to compete with sounds of disgust. I’m pretty sure I heard someone say "especially of the mouth." I had to agree. This half-hearted defence was silly even by werewolf standards. Most wolves were arrogant enough to think they could get away with anything. To be fair, they usually could. But most wolves also realized that they had to at least offer a plausible excuse for their actions.
“All right, Mr. McMahon. I think I’ve heard enough of this farce," Judge Foxsmith said, sounding disgusted. "I’m going to sentence you to twenty hours community service and a $500 fine-”
“$500?!?” Mooney exploded. “For carrying toilet paper?”
“No, Mr. Mooney, for wasting my time. The community service is for attempting to carry out a threat you made.”
“Now maybe we can talk about this, Your Honor,” Mooney chuckled, sounding desperate. “You know how these things go,” Mooney continued. “I mean, there was that account of that grey fox hair on that lad—”
“Are you trying to bribe your way out of trouble from threats you made by extorting me over the town gossip column?” the judge asked incredulously.
“Um,” Mooney hedged. “Well, no, your honor. Of course not!”
“Good,” the judge said with a sinister smile. “As I was saying, forty hours of community service and a $1,000 fine-”
“But you just said—”
“And you should refrain from using the newspaper as either a platform for bullying or a source of legal defense. I do not want to see you in my courtroom again. Are we clear?”
“As mud,” Mooney snarled, then spun around and stomped toward the door.
I rolled my eyes and resumed scanning the court room. If anyone here was spying on Mooney the Goof, they’d be showing signs of it now since the hearing was wrapping up. I doubted McMahon had the money to pay his fine and there was no way Nick, his older brother and pack alpha, would give him an advance on his pay from the newspaper. It was a small pack business, after all, and Mooney was always getting into scrapes like this. It also told me why Lex was interested in hiring Mooney—the wolf would need the money. Lex wanted me to make sure no one else seemed overly interested in Mooney’s financial or legal situation before moving forward with his plans.
The room emptied quickly once the star entertainment left but no one seemed to be in an actual hurry to leave. They wanted to get out of the courtroom quickly so they could gossip without incurring Judge Foxsmith’s wrath. I didn’t wait until the end because that would have marked me as being unusually interested, but I did let the bulk of the looky-loos clear out first. I snuck one last look around to check out who was left—mostly people that had actual business being in the court room that morning—and then left on the heels of bored housewives.
“Oh, look! It’s the blue-haired coffee monkey!”
I glanced at the speaker, Maggie Novak, and rolled my eyes again but otherwise ignored her. Maggie is the gossip columnist for the Guts & Butts Gazette. She’s also a coyote shifter and the leader of the ‘Maggie Novak, Cruel Girl’ fan club. The best way to describe Maggie was to say that she never matured much past junior high bullying and she spent an vast amount of time trying to convince everyone that it was cool to be shallow and mean. She had an assistant named Lamar who was almost always slithering around her ankles. I’d seen him slip out of the court room just ahead of his boss earlier, probably so he could fetch the cup of vending machine bilge he was handing her.
“Hey, monkey,” Maggie said as she cut me off. “I was talking to you.”
I sighed and looked the taller woman over with a sarcastic eye. Maggie had big dreams of gaining syndication and a daytime talk show of her own and dressed as if she already had it. Today, she wore Gucci head to toe in shades of white and bright red. It almost made me as nauseous as the smell of instant latte coming from the paper cup she held in her $200-manicured hand. To say her L.A. look clashed horribly with my own Goth style was an understatement. Your personal look should be an indication to others of what they could expect from you. In my opinion, that meant Maggie should be dressed like hillbilly trailer trash.
“What do you want, flee bag?” I asked in my surliest tone of voice. See? My outside matched my inside. My short, funky blue hair, black skinny jeans and sloppy off the shoulders sweater and tank top said, ‘Stay away from me because I bite,’ and it didn’t lie. That might be part of the reason so many carnivorous shape shifters felt the need to try to brow beat me, but that was their problem, not mine. As a witch, I don’t use my teeth to intimidate but there’s lots of ways to bite that don’t involve slobber.
"I was wondering what a lowly doulos was doing so far away from her master's heal,” Maggie replied with a toss of her bottle blonde hair.
I flushed at the lycan slur for an owned person. Lycan culture was rooted in Ancient Greek zoology, not mythology. Ancient Greeks had known that shape shifters were a real and natural part of the world, so most of their nastier slurs were archaic leftovers from their ancient roots. I'd been called just about every slur for an owned person from every culture over the years, so Maggie's insult was unpleasant but hardly crippling.
I wasn't a slave, per se. I had rights and liberties. I owned Java Joe's, even if I'd had to ask to open it and had to give Lex 70% of the profits, so I wasn't a slave. But magic didn't care about laws. Parents own their children, magically speaking, until they come of age. When Lex took my life in exchange for dismissing my mother's debt, it was binding magically speaking if not legally. I could now, as an adult, walk away from him, but I'd forfeit my magic and lose my protector. But not my knowledge of the darker side of the word. I'd lose the ability to protect myself while gaining a giant bulls-eye on my forehead. So I stayed and tried not to react when asshats like Maggie Novak called me names.
I smiled coldly at her as inspiration hit.
"I'm here gathering ideas for a new Talbot's Peak themed menu idea," I said, responding to her snub as if it had been an honest inquiry. I cocked an eye brow and looked her over with derision. "What are you doing here? Trying to get on your boss's good side by smearing his brother in your column?"
Direct hit, I thought with dark glee as Maggie flushed. She sneered at me and turned away without another word. Giving me her back was the ultimate carnivore insult and I knew it. It meant I wasn't worthy of watching her back around me. I was very tempted to show her how wrong she was but decided against it. Instead, I pulled on my jumbo-sized winter parka and trudged out into the frigid late morning air and chewed on what I'd learned as I trudged through ankle deep snow on the walk back to the coffee shop.
The McMahon pack, one of three wolf packs in and around Talbot’s Peak, tended to provide the most entertainment. It wasn’t just Mooney, though he was bad enough. The pack alpha and editor-in-chief of the only paper in town was well known for his hair trigger temper and his tumultuous relationship with Zeva Wilk, alpha of the other smallish pack in town. They were a feast for a gossip columnist like Maggie. A feast she could not partake of because Nick paid her salary.
The biggest pack, the Hancocks, were not nearly as much fun to gossip about. Damien Hancock ruled his wolves with an iron fist, parading his perfect golden son Devon around like the champion Thoroughbred he was and damaging anyone who put ink to the stories that tarnished Devon's image. Damien's black sheep--black wolf?--son, Dante, would have made good gossip fodder except that he was three times more dangerous than his sire. Damien talked big and left behind bloody corpses. Dante smiled to your face while orchestrating ways to make hang yourself.
That left only the Wilk pack to gossip about. While making literary fun of the New Age hippy wolves who ran a spiritual retreat that never seemed to have any actual guests was fun, one could only write about Rose Wilk making lavender water flavored jerky and venison flavored granola so many times before it started sounding stale. Especially since a wise gossip columnist didn't mention the fact the these we're werewolves she was making fun of. Hippies acting like hippies wasn't nearly as amusing as werewolves acting like hippies.
That might make Maggie take another look at Mooney for gossip fodder. Everyone knew Nick was getting tired of cleaning up after his little brother's messes. An alpha would never actually throw a member of his family to the wolves, so to speak, but he might look the other way if the gossip columnist for the pack's paper started in on him. In twisted wolf logic, Mooney could be a bigger asset to the pack as a subject of a column rather than as a writer of columns.
That may or may not affect Lex's plans for the scatter-brained beta. Other than Maggie, I hadn't noticed anyone paying more attention to the proceedings than normal. Unfortunately, just as I had noticed Maggie's extra interest, she had noticed mine. That was why I'd told her been there looking for inspiration for menus.
A while back, I'd started making up names for drink specials that made fun of pop culture icons. I had the Kavorkian Jackknife which was guaranteed to wake the dead. I'd christened a frothy orange juice and ginseng tea smoothy the Kardashian Kooler. They had been so popular that several patrons had begun asking for drinks named after local folks.
And thanks to Mooney McMahon, I had my cover: a new drink I would christen the Wolf's Tale. Now all I had to do was come up with a palatable recipe that managed to evoke Walmart, toilet paper, the drunk tank, and sports. That could be tricky, but I figured if I could make Belieber Juice taste a good enough to keep the tween scene coming back for more, I could make the Wolf's Tale a hit, too. I kicked around ingredients in my head as I pulled off my many layers of warm clothing in the back room of Java Joe's.
"It is about time you returned," a deep, cool voice said from behind me. I closed my eyes and groaned before turning around to face my boss/owner, Lexor Naifeh. That wasn't his real name, of course. Or not the one he was given at birth, anyway. Lex was an ancient Egyptian demigod, the grandson of the lion god Nefertem. That was about all I knew for certain of his history. Lex was extremely stingy about personal information. Actually, he was stingy with any information. He'd acted like every iota of training he'd given me over the years was a piece of his soul which he parted with only under duress.
Lex was sardonic and timeless. He was 5'6", trim and utterly hairless. As in not even eyebrows. His copper skin was smooth but without the plasticky look that usually accompanied the very old who tried to look young and his dark brown eyes were like deep pits that bored into you like he could see inside your soul. He looked like he could be anywhere from thirty years old to seventy. This, I eventually learned, was the one way you could always tell a true god from a mere immortal. It was also creepy as hell.
"I'm back before the lunch rush, just as I said I would be," I harrumph as I flung my parka, scarf, mittens, and snow boots into the little mud room I'd added to the coffee shop's back office. Yes, I did really need all those outdoor clothes. It was a week til Christmas and therefor cold enough to freeze nose hairs. The locals may not consider 15 degrees Fahrenheit to be all that cold but I had been raised by a hairless Egyptian who shapeshifted into a sphinx cat, which meant I'd grown up in locals close to the equator. I didn't like the cold, even if Talbot's Peak was starting to grow on me. Not that it mattered. As soon as whatever plot drew Lex to south western Montana was done, he'd leave and I'd be leaving with him.
"And?" Lex asked archly, drawing me out of my internal grumping. So I treated him with some external grumping instead.
"Mooney McMahon is an imbecile. Really. I have no idea why you wanted me to snoop on him. The court room was packed to the rafters with nosy people waiting to see what cockamamy comment was going to come flying out of his mouth next. They were not disappointed, trust me. He said he'd carried four cases of toilet paper three miles because he might get diarrhea. A five-year-old could have come up with a better lie." I brushed past a scowling Lex, ignoring the thunder in his expression because a, I knew he wasn't actually angry with my smart comeback and b, because he wouldn't hurt me even if he had been truly angry. Not once in the fifteen years he'd owned me had he ever caused me actual harm. It was pretty sad that he'd taken better care of me than my parents ever had.
"Anyway, the only person who showed More than idle interest in him other than me was the gossip queen on Talbot's Peak."
"Did she notice your interest, monkey-child?" Lex asked. He'd used my least favorite nick name, so I knew not to be flippant in my response this time.
"Yeah, but I covered it well. Told her I was looking for something to base a new coffee recipe from, and I said it loud enough that several people overheard. I'll debut a new drink called Wolf's Tale just as soon as I figure out how to express drunken TP excursions to Walmart in coffee form and no one will think anything of it," I finished as I tied my apron on. I peeked at him out of the corner of my eye to gauge his reaction to my words. He looked thoughtful, no longer thunderous. Life with a demigod was like that. One minute, he was short tempered, the next he was angry, and before you blinked again, he was calmed down.
"Very good, child," Lex murmured with approval. "I would suggest a bitter chicory blend brewed extra strong with a shot of Kahlua syrup. Leave off the whipped cream. Male wolves don't usually go for fru-fru drinks that might question their masculinity."
I nodded once with relief. Lex was very good with brewing concoctions. He had once told me he'd learned brewing at his grandfather's feet. Nefertem was a god of perfuming, healing and beer, all of which involved brewing things. All the drama aside, I'd been lucky to have been taught potion making by Lex.
"I can change it up a bit for a few other people. White chocolate syrup for a Joker's Wild drink in honor of Bran Fliddermous's little brother, Joker, and rose water, pachouli and lavender tea to honor the Wilk pack."
"Call that one Green Peace," Lex agreed nodding. "And add a bit of St. john's wart. That mix, brewed at a low temp, actually will offer peace and lower blood pressure."
"Should we add a cinnamon coffee to the menu? Call it Dante's inferno?" I asked. "Or would that piss off the rogue wolf?" I didn't want to annoy Dante Hancock. Unlike the other three, Rose, Joker, and Mooney, Dante was no joke. He'd split off from his father and started his own little pack right under his sire's nose. Any wolf with balls that big was not a wolf you went out of your way to annoy.
"No, he would probably be amused by it," Lex replied.