Ok, since none of the booboos are in the first chapter, I'm going to share that with you now. There have been some subtle but significant changes from the last time I posted it. For one thing, Mooney is no longer a moron, though he still does some really silly stuff. This was in response to the editor I hired pointing out that most people don't enjoy moronic main characters, male or female. I have to admit, I do like the new and improved Mooney a lot more. I hope you do, too!
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Guts & Butts Gazette
Competitive Sports Around Town
By Mooney McMahon
It’s been a tough week out there for high school sports enthusiasts as we get ready to break for the winter holidays. The Talbot's Peak H.S. Timber Wolves lost to the Naperville Jack Rabbits 70-50 in the first playoff game of the state basketball finals. They did manage to move on to to move on to the next round despite losing to prey animals, so they’ll be facing Nettuno High's Waves this Friday. Hopefully the pups won’t get washed out of the playoffs by a pond.
Right after the holiday are tryouts for the junior high wrestling team. All you pantywaists will be happy to hear that Coach Barton bowed to pressure to let girls tryout for a spot on the squad. At this rate, I’ll be announcing dudes doing cheerleading!
At the request of the Naperville drama teacher, I’m mentioning that results from last week’s debate team exhibition are available, but I’m not going to report them because arguing is not a sport.
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, assuming we can get old Mrs. Fuddy-Duddy to agree. There may or may not be a TP party planned for her house tomorrow night to encourage her to play nice.
On a positive note, the dodgeball league did get the funding needed to buy Kevlar volleyballs. As you may remember, the adults-only tournament was suspended when every one of the normal balls were popped. The All City Meat and Gravy Dodgeball Tournament should be rescheduled for after the New Year, just in time to work off the extra baggage from eating too much at Christmas dinner.
This is Mooney McMahon signing off for now. Don’t bother sending any more hate mail. I just drop it in the circular file.
The bailiff's gravelly voice jerked my attention back to reality. I was supposed to be checking out the crowd attending this hearing, not the guy on trial. Mooney McMahon was almost six and a half feet of black haired, blue eyed, well-muscled werewolf with classic All American looks. He might be trouble, but he was also serious eye-candy. All the bad ones were. That's the only way I explain why otherwise intelligent women fell for bad boys. We got hooked on the yummy bits before realizing our peril.
If there was a list that summarized every person alive, my entry would read ‘Marissa Cooper, earth witch, social misfit, and sucker for bad boys.’ I should have told Lex to shove it when he told me what my mission for the morning was. I have a coffee shop to run and no budget to hire any employees since it had only been six months since I’d opened. When I pointed out that me being his spy meant Java Joe’s would be closed while I was out, Lex nobly offered to cover the counter. The gods only knew why Lex was interested in the town’s ne'er-do-well sports columnist enough to do actual work, but I wasn't in a position to refuse. So there I sat, watching Talbot’s Peak, Montana’s version of Judge Judy.
Today’s judiciary hero, the Honorable Kevin Foxsmith, banged his gavel to silence the peanut gallery, which had been offering a running commentary. “Mr. McMahon, care to tell the court why we are here today?” Mooney, who had been busy making angry eyes at a heckler, jerked his attention to the judge's bench.
“Weren’t you supposed to call the court to order before you ask me questions?” The room filled with snickering.
Shaking my head, I marveled that a defendant could be this clueless, even after reading that ridiculous article in yesterday’s paper. Mooney McMahon should have been a blonde so the rest of the world would have some warning about his true nature.
“We did that part already,” the judge said sardonically.
“Ah.” Mooney looked like he was having to physically stop himself from snapping. With obvious effort, the wolf began defending himself. “So I was walking back from Walmart last night—”
“Walmart?" the judge interrupted. “At one ‘o'clock in the morning,” 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 eight miles from Walmart, Mr. McMahon,” the judge interrupted again. “That store is down by the interstate, not in Talbot’s Peak proper.”
“Right,” Mooney agreed with a cheesy win-over-a-tough-crowd smile. “I do have the receipt, if you want it. Anyway, I’d almost got to my car when the cop shined his flashlight in my face.”
“Walmart closes at eleven. Are you saying it took you two hours to walk to your car?”
“Yes, Your Honor,” Mooney answered earnestly. “Remember, I was carrying four cases of toilet paper and it was an eight mile walk.”
“And you did all of this while drunk? I see here that you spent the night in the drunk tank.”
“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 parked in front of the bar because you couldn't find any place closer to park?"
"That's right, Your Honor," Mooney nodded. The judge regarded him disbelievingly before looking down at the papers in his hand.
"The arresting officer reports that the bar you visited happens to be down the street from the house of a woman you made threats against."
“I didn’t make threats against anyone, Your Honor. I was just buying toilet paper.” Mooney straightened his collar on his white button down shirt, trying to look charismatic and trustworthy despite the sweat beading his forehead.
“Four cases of it?”
“Yep. Never know when you’re going to get diarrhea.” Mooney grimaced when sounds of snickering began to compete with sounds of disgust. I’m pretty sure someone said, "Especially of the mouth."
I had to agree. This half-hearted defense was silly, even by werewolf standards. Most wolves are arrogant enough to think they can get away with anything. But most of them also realize they have to at least offer a plausible excuse.
“All right, Mr. McMahon. I think I’ve heard enough." Judge Foxsmith sounded disgusted. "I’m sentencing you to twenty hours community service and a five hundred dollar fine—”
Mooney lost it. “Five hundred dollars? For carrying toilet paper?”
This time, it was the judge scowling as more sniggering broke out. “No, Mr. McMahon, for wasting my time. The community service is for attempting to carry out a terroristic threat.”
Mooney chuckled weekly. “Maybe we can talk about this, Your Honor. You know how these things go,” he continued. “I mean, there was that account in the paper about grey fox hair on someone’s dress—”
“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.
That nugget of information startled me. Judge Foxsmith was an actual fox? I was still pretty new to town, so I didn’t know all the ins and outs of the town yet. I did know that only about half of the residents of Talbot’s Peak were regular human and that not all the mundanes knew about their non-mundane neighbors. Could I could use family names to guess if someone was a shapeshifter and what they changed to? I filed that thought away, because the courtroom soap opera was continuing without me.
Mooney was looking a little green at the defendant’s table. “Well, no, Your Honor. Of course not.”
“Good.” The judge glowered. “As I was saying, forty hours of community service and a thousand dollar fine—”
“But you just said—”
“And you should refrain from using the newspaper as a platform for bullying, or as legal defense. I do not want to see you in my courtroom again. Are we clear?”
“As mud,” Mooney snarled, spinning around and stomping toward the door.
McMahon’s dramatic departure made my eyes roll spontaneously. As soon as they stopped, I resumed scanning the courtroom as the hearing wrapped up. If anyone was spying on Mooney the Goof, they’d be showing signs by now. The wolf probably didn’t have the money to pay his fine. Now I knew why I’d been sent to spy here. Lex wanted to make sure no one else was interested in Mooney McMahon’s financial or legal situation before trying to recruit him.
The room emptied quickly but no one was in a hurry to exit the courthouse itself. The lobby was packed with gossiping housewives and bored teenagers, their noise drifting back into the nearly deserted courtroom. I snuck one last glance around to check out who remained, mostly people that had actual business in the courtroom that morning, and then left on the heels of a few stragglers.
“Oh, look! It’s the blue-haired coffee monkey!” a sharp voice cut through the low rumble of the crowd.
I glanced at the speaker, Maggie Novak, but otherwise ignored her as I fought my way toward the door. Maggie was the gossip columnist for the somewhat ignobly named Guts & Butts Gazette. She’s also a coyote shifter and the leader of the Maggie Novak, Cruel Girl fan club. I had little use for her because she’d never matured much past junior high and spent a vast amount of time trying to convince everyone that it’s cool to be her.
“Hey, monkey,” Maggie said, cutting me off. “I’m talking to you.”
Sighing, I looked the taller woman over with a critical eye. Maggie had big dreams of getting a syndicated daytime talk show and she dressed as if she already had it. Today, she wore Gucci head to toe in shades of white and bright red. One’s personal style should be an indication to others of what they could expect. In my opinion, that meant Maggie should be dressed like hillbilly trailer trash, not Housewives of Orange County.
“What do you want, flea 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. I’m a witch, not a shapeshifter, but there are ways to take a chunk out of someone’s ass that don’t involve slobber. That might be part of the reason so many carnivores feel the need to try to browbeat me, but that’s their problem, not mine.
"I’m wondering what a lowly doulos like you is doing so far away from her master's heel," Maggie replied with a toss of her bottle-blonde hair.
I flushed at the lycan slur for a slave. Lycan culture is rooted in Ancient Greek zoology, not mythology. The Greeks had known that shape shifters were real, so most of the nastier shifter slurs are archaic leftovers from that long dead culture. I'd been called just about every name for an owned person from every culture over the years, so her insult was unpleasant, but hardly crippling.
I wasn't a slave, per se. I had rights and liberties. I own Java Joe's, even if Lex got 70% of the profits. But magic doesn't care about the laws of men. Parents own their children, magically speaking, until they come of age. When Lex took my life in exchange for a debt my mother owed, it was binding magically 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, if I did. 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 shifter trash like Maggie called me names.
I smiled coldly at her as inspiration hit. I needed to treat this as an honest inquiry.
"I'm here gathering ideas for a new Talbot's Peak themed menu." With a cocked an eyebrow, I returned her derision with some of my own. "What are you doing here? Trying to get on your boss's good side by smearing his brother in your column?"
Her face bloomed an ugly crimson that clashed with her outfit. She turned without another word. Giving me her back was the ultimate carnivore insult and I knew it. It meant I wasn't worthy of her protecting her back around. I was very tempted to show her how wrong she was, but decided against it. Instead, I pulled on my heavy winter parka and trudged into the frigid late morning air, chewing on what I'd learned. I had a long, cold walk back to the coffee shop and plenty of time to digest it.
This town was a mixed bowl of crazy. The mayor was a chimp--and something of a chump. Many of the cops were German Shepherds, and half the hospital staff were ungulates of one type or another. Nor could one miss the high number of wild animals wandering around town in broad daylight. There were lots of things that went bump in the night around here, too. Of the ruling families, one was a clan of bats and one was a herd of big horn sheep, but the wolves were at the apex.
The McMahon pack, one of three local packs, 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 romance with Zeva Wilk, alpha of the other smallish pack. They were a feast for a gossip columnist like Maggie. A feast she could not partake of because Nick paid her salary.
The largest pack, the Hancocks, was too scary to gossip about. Damien Hancock ruled his wolves with an iron fist, parading his perfect golden son Devon around like a champion Thoroughbred stud, damaging anyone who puts ink to stories that might tarnish his beloved heir’s image. My involvement with the Hancock Pack began and ended with the half sister I barely knew marrying one of Damien’s escaped wolves.
That left only the Wilks to gossip about. Making quasi-journalistic fun of New Age hippy wolves might be entertaining for a while, but it had its limits. One can only write about Oksana Wilk making patchouli flavored jerky and howling at the moon in naked human skin only so many times before it starts sounding stale. Especially since a smart gossip columnist wouldn't dream of mentioning that these are werewolves she’s making fun of.
That left the cud chewers, some bunnies, and the banana mad mayor for target practice. I could understand why Maggie might take another look at Mooney for gossip fodder. Everyone knew Nick was getting tired of cleaning up after his little brother. An alpha would never actually throw a member of his pack under a bus, 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 would be a bigger asset to the pack as a subject of ridicule than as a writer.
That may or may not affect Lex's plans for the McMahon Pack’s beta. I hadn't noticed anyone paying more attention to the proceedings than normal. Unfortunately, Maggie had noticed mine. That’s why I told her I’d been there looking for menu inspiration. It was the perfect cover.
A while back, I'd started coming up with names for drinks that made fun of pop culture icons. There was the Kevorkian Jackknife, which was guaranteed to wake the dead. A frothy orange juice and ginseng tea smoothie had been christened the Kardashian Kooler. My culinary inventions had been so popular that several patrons began asking for drinks named after locals.
Now, thanks to Mooney, Java Joe’s would have a new drink. It would be christened the Wolf's Tale. All I had to do was come up with a palatable recipe that evoked Walmart, toilet paper, and extortion. That could be tricky, but I figured if I could make Belieber Juice taste good enough to keep the tween scene coming back for more, I could make it work. Kicking ingredients around in my head, I started shedding layers of warm clothing in Java Joe's back room.
"It is about time you returned," a deep, cool voice said from behind me.
Groaning, I turned to face my boss/owner/bane, Lexor Naifeh. That wasn’t his real name. They didn’t have first and last names as modern people think of them back when he was born. Lex was an ancient Egyptian, the grandson of the lion god Nefertem. That was about all I knew for certain about his origins. He was extremely stingy about personal information. Actually, he was stingy with any information. It’s 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, standing about five’ six”, trim and utterly hairless. As in not even eyebrows. His copper skin was smooth and without the plasticy look that usually accompanies the very old who look young. His dark brown eyes are deep pits that bore into a person’s soul. He could be anywhere from forty to four-thousand years old. That agelessness was one way to tell a true deity from a mere immortal. Immortals look a specific age because they started off as mortals. Whatever age they were when they lost their mortality at was the age they got frozen at. Gods are not born mortal and do not age physically once they hit full maturity, be that at age two, like Cupid, or somewhat older, like Lex. It’s creepy. I could say that with full confidence because unlike most witches, I was raised by Lex in the Egyptian god realm.
"I'm back before the lunch rush, just as I said I would be." I flung my parka, scarf, mittens, and snow boots into a heap by the back door. Yes, I really did need all the outdoor clothes. Montana a week before Christmas was cold enough to freeze nose hairs to nasal cavity walls. I don'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 Montana was done, he'd leave and I'd leave with him.
"And?" Lex demanded, pinning me in place with a glare.
"Mooney McMahon is an imbecile. I have no idea why you wanted me to snoop on him. The courtroom was packed with nosy people waiting to see what cockamamie comment was going to come flying out of his mouth next. They weren’t disappointed. He said he'd carried four cases of toilet paper eight miles because he might get diarrhea. A five-year-old could have come up with a better story." I brushed past Lex, ignoring his thunderous posture. He wasn't actually angry at my sass, and wouldn't have hurt me even if he had been. Not once in the fifteen years I’d belonged to him had he ever caused me actual harm. It’s pretty sad that he'd taken better care of me than my mom ever had.
"Anyway, the only person who showed more than idle interest in him, other than me, was the gossip queen of Talbot's Peak."
"Did she notice your interest, monkey-child?" 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. Told her I was looking for recipe ideas, and I said it loud enough that several people heard. I'll debut a new drink called Wolf's Tale just as soon as I figure out how to express his drunken debacle in coffee form. No one will think anything of it." Watching Lex out of the corner of my eye to gauge his reaction, I slipped on my apron.
He looked thoughtful, which was a good thing. Life with a demigod was like that. One minute, the world as I knew it was coming to an end. Before I could blink, everything was chill. Chill Lex was much easier to deal with.
"Very good," he murmured approvingly. "I would suggest a black chicory blend, brewed extra strong with a shot of Kahlua syrup. Leave off the whipped cream. Male wolves don't usually go for frou-frou drinks that might question their masculinity."
I nodded in agreement. Lex was very good with creating concoctions. He once told me he'd learned the art of brewing at his grandfather's feet. Nefertem had been a god of perfuming, healing, and beer. I’d met him once when Lex took me to his grandfather’s court. Let’s just say I was glad we didn’t stay long in that hoary old lion’s den. Hippy werewolves were not as freaky as a hippy god. All drama aside, I'd been lucky to be taught potion making by Lex.
"I can change it up a bit for a few other people. Bavarian chocolate syrup for a Joker's Wild drink in honor of Brand Fliddermous's little brother, Joker. Maybe rose hip, patchouli, and lavender tea for the Wilk pack."
"Call that one Green Peace," Lex agreed nodding. "Add a bit of St. John’s wort. That mix, brewed at a low temperature, actually will lower cortisol and decrease blood pressure."
"Should we include a cinnamon coffee to the menu? Call it Cinnamon Dream in honor of Devon Hancock?” I asked. "Or would that piss his daddy off?”"No, he will probably be amused by it," Lex shrugged. “Most of the wolves in that pack are cinnamon colored.”