Happy Wednesday, everyone! My muse has been a busy bee, but she's not wanting to work on what I want to work on. On the other hand, I do need to try and finish Witch's Moon, so I guess it's not a bad thing that she wants to work on that story! Today's offering is the first little bit of chapter 2. I hope you like it.
Guts & Butts Gazette
Maggie Dishes the Dirt
Bon jour, pups and kitties, Maggie’s back with the latest scat on all the shifter doings. Which pack leads the pack? Which mutt is sniffing around someone else’s tree? It’s all here and it’s all true. Well, most of it’s true. I just put it out there. Your decision, darlings.
This week has been a busy one! A little birdie told yours truly that all is not well in Casa [REDACTED]. It seems that a member of that family is having a rather expensive problem with bowel incontinence. Or vowel incontinence, you decide which is which. (Wink, wink)
Also of note, Java Joe's has a new Talbot's Peak teamed menu. Yours truly suspects that the coffee monkey that brainstormed it had a hidden agenda. While the old menu poked fun at compassionate doctors and the complexions of the young and fabulous of Hollywood, this new one seems to be poking fun at the scions of powerful local families. Honey, you do realize that these people eat meat, don't you?
-We regret to inform you that, due to your recent legal troubles and the repercussions thereunto, we must release you from your position as a freelance columnist. Well, that jus bites!- Mooney groused. -My own brother. My own fur and blood! So much for pack loyalty and talk about the paper making sure everyone in the pack had a job. Now, how am I going to pay that stupid fine?-
I smirked as I listened in to the beta wolf's thoughts. It had been only twenty-four hours since Mooney's court appearance, and it sounded like Nick hadn't let any moss grow under his feet about mitigating the damage it had caused to the paper. I'd have to remember to take a peek at the gossip column to see if Maggie managed to talk Nick into including Mooney there, too.
Telepamancy wasn't usually quite so useful a spell since it only picked up clearly defined, unguarded thoughts from someone I targeted when I cast it. It wasn't like true telepathy. I couldn't use it to pick thoughts out of thin air. Most people just don't sit around thinking in full dialogue and few of the supernatural set would do it around a witch. My kind is sort of known for being able to harvest unguarded thoughts, after all. Mooney McMahon not only thought in complete sentences, he broadcast those thoughts so freely that any adept could sense them almost without needing to cast the spell. I tried to peek at the screen of his laptop but he noticed and slammed it shut.
"You gonna order anything?" I asked with a smile. I promptly bit my lip when he continued with the mental griping.
-This is the downside of using the free wifi at the coffee shop, they expect you to buy something,- he groused. -Why do they call it free wifi when it's not actually free?-
"Sure, ah, Marissa," he said out loud, nervously glancing at my name tag. -Nice tits- he added silently before turning his gaze to the menu board. I slammed my spell down. I really didn't want to hear him sexually assault me in his mind's eye, thanks.
"A... macchiato," he said after a moment.
"Macchiatos are chick drinks," I told him. Normally, I don't interfere with a customer's choice, but, well. He was kind of cute. In an asshole sort of way. And he'd been kicked around a few times already this week, even if he'd had it coming. "How about a mocha?" I suggested.
"Ack! No, I can't stand chocolate," he shot back.
"Dude, that sucks. Well, how about a cup of house blend, then?"
"House blend? That'll work," he said with a relieved smile. A real smile, without any hint of his usual smarmy charm. Oh, sweet Mother Goddess, Mooney McMahon was smiling at me. Not one of his fake lady killer smiles that made it clear he wasn't actually looking at me, a mere human. A real one that included eye contact.
"One cup of Kona Joe coming right up," I said as I tried to convince my stupid stomach there were no butterflies in it and that he most defiantly had not meant anything by it. He probably didn't consider me worth flirting with. Yeah, he may have admired my--crap, not helping. I smiled nervously at him before scurrying into the back room to retrieve my stash of special Kona blend. Double crap, did I really offer him a cup of my private stash? Yes. Yes, I did. Ah, well. He did smile at me.
"Well?" Lex asked the moment I stepped into the back to grab the tin of Kona Joe, the specialty roast I ordered in from a little house roaster in Kailua, Hawaii. I snatched the tin out of my locker before turning around and giving him the stink eye.
"Don't give me that look, monkey-child. He's perfect for my purposes. I need an investigator who won't raise any suspicions."
"Lex, we've been trying to crack the Yakooza stronghold for months. It's impregnable. What do you thing Mooney McMahon can do that we haven't tried already?" I asked incredulously.
"Have you no vision, girl? He's a well known face in Talbot's Peak."
"Yeah, well known as a bumbling idiot," I grouse, ignoring the fact I was about to make him a cup of my special brew.
"Exactly!" Lex exclaimed. "He'll blunder in to situations you have been too cautious to venture into."
"Because I'd like to live to see my next birthday!" I retorted. "Zere Ghan is not exactly forgiving. If he or one of his sons detects me, I won't."
"That is my point, child. The wolf, who is well known for blundering into situations, will not hesitate to blunder into this investigation, as well. And you will stay close to him to see what shakes loose."
"I will?" I asked doubtfully.
"Yes, you will," Lex confirmed. "You will play ball with him, or what ever metaphor you prefer, so that he opens up to you. So that he keeps you fully appraised of what he does and where he goes, perhaps even take you along."
"And what will you be doing whilst I whore myself to your pet wolf?" I asked darkly, feeling dirtier and dirtier by the second.
"I'm not telling you to sleep with him, child. Just keep him company. Flatter his ego. Listen to him when he talks about unimportant things and he will open up to you about other things, as well,"
"And if he's too principled to tell me sensitive things about your case?" I asked. I'm not sure why I felt compelled to defend Mooney at this point. To be honest, I kind of thought it would be easy to coax the braggart to spill his guts to me. But compelled I was. Apparently, I was just as susceptible to Mooney's smiles as Lex thought he would be to mine.
"Oh, he'll know you are a safe person to open up to, child. I intend to send him out with you on your planned excursion to that warehouse you found."
"Wait," I said sharply. "I thought you were backing me up on it."
"I was planning to do so. But now Mooney can do it. If the two of you are discovered, you can play it off like a date gone wrong. Considering he spent last night getting hammered and trying to vandalize the house of an elderly lady with toiletries, it wouldn't be a stretch for Ghan's men to think he'd taken a date out to an abandoned warehouse."
"True," I relented. I glanced down at the tin of black sin in my hands and signed. It would have been nice to have had a little harmless flirtation, even if it was with a goof like Mooney McMahon. But true to the story of my life, even this had become just a little sordid. I shrugged and began brewing him a cup of my favorite roast anyway. I couldn't keep Lex from making things sordid, but that didn't mean I couldn't find some enjoyment in it.
When I took his coffee out, Mooney was hunched over the keyboard of his laptop, smiling with suppressed glee and two-finger typing like a madman. He looked up at me as I set his coffee down and shot me another butt-head free smile of thanks and I smiled back. I then turned my back without a word to him and found something far away from him to keep my hands busy and off him. Holy shit! Did the wolf really not realize how hot he was when he wasn't being a prick?
My reprieve didn't last long. About ten minutes later, as I was wiping down tables that didn't need cleaning, a whole gaggle of seventeen year old girls came into the shop, bickering amongst themselves. The Goslin girls were identical quintuplets and some of my best customers. They were also geese and therefore a bit flighty yet vicious when they felt someone who belonged to them was threatened. As the enabler of their caffeine addictions, they had long since ago decided I fell into that category. Lucky me.
Judging by the way they kept shooting me furtive glances between bouts of tugging a newspaper out of each other's hands, I assumed I had managed to get myself mentioned. This was not usually a good thing for people like me. Shifters were an open secret in Talbot's Peak and were pretty much the main power in town. The only time a human managed to make the paper was when a shifter wanted to make their life hell. I'll give you two guesses how I made it into the Gutts & Butts Gazette, but I bet you'll only need one.
"Hi, Marissa," Gloria Goslin finally said. She was the spokeswoman of the group, so I wasn't overly surprised when it was her who finally chose to speak up.
"Hey, Glo," I replied in an airy, off-handed tone. "What are you guys in the mood for today? I just added a few things to the menu." A burst of nervous giggling followed my words. Yep, Maggie had ripped me in the gossip column, all right.
"Yeah, we heard!" she shot back in a high pitched cutsy-annoying whine, the teen standard for I'm so sorry but people are talking about you. Not me, but other people are. I had lots of experience with people talking about me, by the way. Lex had made sure I went to actual public schools growing up. As he'd never stayed long in any one place, a natural freak like me never had time to make real friends. Freaky little witches who live with freaky little bald men who were clearly not blood related to them tend to get teased, bullied, and generally made fun of when they have no friend base to watch their backs.
"Yeah, we heard all about it," Gracie Goslin joined in.
"We want you to know that we have your back," Georgia Goslin added as she glared at Mooney like she thought he was going to jump up from his spot at the counter and try to eat me now that he had an audience. Mooney, for his part, was looking at the screen of his laptop with one eyebrow raised. He glanced up at the menu board, then went back to reading his computer screen.
"I'm good," I said with a sigh. "Let me guess, Maggie ripped me in the gossip column again?"
"Yeah," all five girls said, their heads bobbing in a very goose-like motion. I chuckled, partially at them and partially at the situation.
"And I'm going to have to thank her for that the next time I see her," I said, shaking my head. "Gotta love free advertisement."
"You aren't worried about--" Gloria began.
"Being eaten by angry werewolves?" Georgia finished with a loud stage whisper that sounded more like a hiss.
"Is that Wolf's Tale thing about me?" Mooney cut in loudly. I glanced back at him, trying to decide how I was going to handle that conversation, when none other than Leona Lane, star reporter, walked in with Brand Fliddermous, the local cattle baron and brother of Joker. Oh, this was going to be interesting.
"Good morning!" I said with forced cheerfulness as I quickly made my way behind the order counter, leaving the gaggle of hissing goose girls behind. Leona looked hard at me, as if sizing me up for either a story or a body bag. Mooney scowled resentfully at her as if he thought she was there to rub it into his face that he no longer had a job at the paper like she did. Brand was gazing at the menu board with a bemused smirk.
"Joker's Wild?" Brand asked, finally looking at me. I smiled brighter and swallowed my nervous stomach, which was trying to climb my esophagus to escape it's doomed body.
"Yep," I said. "I've had several requests for a Talbot's Peak themed menu. I decided to honor several of the leading families by coming up with a drink for each."
"And what flavor, pray tell, is my family's coffee?" he asked, his smirk growing very brittle looking. I gulped hard.
"Caramel and Creme de Cocoa in a latte made with a rich Bavarian roast espresso," I squeaked.
"That sounds really... Good, actually," he said thoughtfully. I realized that he had been expecting an insult to his family, probably because of how Maggie had phrased the mention in her column. When things slowed down a bit, I needed to take a quick look to see exactly what she'd written.
"Want to give it a try?" I asked carefully.
"Sure, why not."
"And I'll have the Wolf's Tale," Leona said, openly grinning. "I assume that one is in honor of the Moon-Dog, right?"
In case you were wondering, having a leopardess grin at you like that is terrifying. It's like there's a little area in the back of a human's vestigial lizard brain that recognizes it as, "DANGER DANGER DANGER!" I responded to this danger signal the way I usually do, by being a smart ass.
"Oh, no," I said, shaking my head and made my eyes as wide and vapid-looking as I could. "It's in honor of all the news reporters in town. I named it the Wolf's Tale because the local paper is run by wolves. And so is the town's only investigator." I smiled at her then, a clear, guileless one to make sure she realized I was being very sarcastic, and hoped I read her right.
I had. Her feline grin morphed from a threatening one to a very amused one.
"We have a werewolf investigator now?" Gloria squawked excitedly. "Who?"
"Mooney, of course," I said as I shot a nervous glance his way. He was watching me, a peculiar look in his eye. "Was I not supposed to tell anyone?" I asked him nervously.
I was right to be nervous. I only knew that Lex wanted to hire him as an investigator because I was in on it. Mooney may or may not have known that. He certainly had not confided in me that he had a PI background or a job offer from my boss. I had no idea how he was going to react to this. It had been blind dumb luck that I had been managing the potential fallout of Maggie's revenge so well. How Mooney reacted could be the nail that held it together or it could be the puff of wind that blow my house down.
He shrugged and went back to starring at his computer and sipping his coffee. "It's no big deal, babe," he said with a partially hidden smile. "People can't hire me if they don't know I'm going back into that line of work."