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Coyote Dreams - C. E. Murphy

By Charles Ortiz,2014-10-01 19:37
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Coyote Dreams - C. E. Murphy Coyote Dreams - C. E. Murphy

C.E. MURPHY

    COYOTEDREAMS

    www.LUNA-Books.com

    CONTENTS CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER FIVE CHAPTER SIX CHAPTER SEVEN CHAPTER EIGHT CHAPTER NINE CHAPTER TEN CHAPTER ELEVEN CHAPTER TWELVE CHAPTER THIRTEEN CHAPTER FOURTEEN CHAPTER FIFTEEN CHAPTER SIXTEEN CHAPTER SEVENTEEN CHAPTER EIGHTEEN CHAPTER NINETEEN CHAPTER TWENTY CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

    CHAPTER THIRTY

    CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

    CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

    CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

    CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

    CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

    COMING NEXT MONTH

    Most especially, I want to say thank you to my husband, Ted. The kernel of this series was his,and I quite literally wouldn’t be here without him. I love you, hon. Let’s hope there arelots of Walker Papers to celebrate in the future.

    Thanks are also due to cover artist Hugh Syme; my editor, Mary-Theresa Hussey; and my agent,Jennifer Jackson; as well as my usual suspects, particularly Silkie, who once more went beyondthe call of duty in doing unpaid research and catching my embarrassing spelling errors.

    For Ted,

    because I wouldn’t be here without him

    CHAPTER ONE

    Tuesday, July 5, 8:58 a.m.

    Someone had driven a tire iron into my skull. I could tell, because centered in my left templewas a vast throbbing pain that could only come from desperate injury. It felt like there were athousand vicious gnomes leaping up and down on the iron, trying to increase the size of thehole in my head. I had the idea that once it was split open far enough, they would run down thelength of metal and dive into the soft, gooey gray matter of my brain and have themselves alittle gnomish pool party.

    Neither of my eyes would open. I fumbled a hand up to poke at them and encountered sufficientgoo that I took a moment to consider the possibility that the gnomes were already in my head,had overfilled it and were now flowing out my sinuses and tear ducts. It wasn’t a prettythought. Then again, nothing could be a pretty thought when some-one’d smashed a tire ironinto my head.

    I rolled my fingers across my eyelashes, trying to work some of the ook out of them. My heartwas beating like a rabbit on speed, except when it paused with an alarming little arrhythmiathat made me start hyperventilating. I hoped I was dying, because anything else seemedanticlimactic with all that going on. Besides, I had some experience with dying. It was kind ofold hat, and so far it hadn’t stuck.

    Unlike my eyes. I physically pried one open with my fingers. The red numbers on my alarm clockjumped into it and stabbed it with white-hot pokers. I whimpered and let it close again,wondering why the hell I was in my bed, if I was dying. Usually I found myself dying in moreexotic locations, like diners or city parks.

    A whisper of memory drifted through my brain in search of something to attach itself to. Thedepartment’s Fourth of July picnic had been the day before. I’d attended, feeling saucy andcute in a pair of jeans shorts and a tank top. I’m five foot eleven and a half. Cute and I are

    not generally on speaking terms, so the feeling had been a novel one and I’d been enjoying it.The outfit had shown off a rare tan and the fact that I’d lost twelve pounds in the past fewmonths, and I’d gotten several compliments. Those were as rare as me rubbing elbows with cute

    , so it’d been a good day.

    Which did nothing to explain how it had ended with a tire iron separating the bones of mycranium. I walked my fingers over the left side of my head, cautiously. My fingers encounteredhair too short to be tangled, but no tools of a mechanic’s trade. I pressed my hand against mytemple, admiring how nice and cool it felt against the splitting headache, and the memory foundsomething to attach itself to.

    Morrison. My boss. Smiling fatuously down at a petite redhead in Daisy Mae shorts that huggedher va-va-va-voom curves. Right about then somebody’d offered me a beer, and it’d soundedlike an awfully good idea. I tried to close my eyes in a pained squint, but I’d never gottenthem open, so I only wrinkled them and felt crusty goo crinkle around my lashes.

    The only other thing I remember clearly was a bunch of guys from the shop swooping down on meas they—each— bore a fifth of Johnnie Walker. With my last name being Walker, they figured meand Johnnie must be cousins and that gave me a leg up on them. I was pretty sure my leg up hadturned into a slide down the slow painful descent of hangover hell.

    I gave up on rubbing my eyes and prodding my head, and instead flopped my arm out to the sidewith a heartfelt grunt.

    Unfortunately, the grunt wasn’t mine.

    It turned out my eyes were willing to come open after all, with sufficient force behind theattempt. I wasn’t sure I had eyelashes left after the agony of ripping through loaded-upsleep, but at least the subsequent tears did something to wash away some of the goop. I was outof bed and halfway across the room with a slipper in hand, ready to fling it like the deadlyweapon it wasn’t, when I noticed I wasn’t wearing any clothes.

    Neither was the blurry-eyed guy who’d grunted when I’d smacked him. At least not on his upperhalf. He pushed up on his elbows while I scrubbed at my eyes with my free hand. I’d gone tosleep with my contacts in, which partly explained why there was such a lot of gunk in mylashes, but I didn’t believe what my twenty-twenty vision was telling me. I was pretty certainthe goo had to be impairing it somehow, because—

    —because damn, sister!

    “Easy on the eyes” didn’t cover it. He was so easy on the eyes that they just sort of rolledright off him as precursor to a girl turning into a puddle of—

    All right, there was way too much goo going on in my morning. “Who the hell are you?” Idemanded, then coughed. I sounded like I’d been on a three-day drunk. In my defense, I knew itwasn’t more than a one-night drunk, but Jesus.

    “Mark,” he said in a sleepy, good-natured sort of rumble, and grinned at me. “Who’re you?”

    “What’re you doing here?” I asked instead of answering. He arched one eyebrow and looked mynaked self over, then lifted the covers a few inches to inspect his own lower half.

    “I’d say I’m havin’ a real good night.” He grinned again and flopped back onto my bed,arms folded behind his head. His hair was this amazing color between blond and brown, notdishwater, but glimmering with shadows and streaks of light. His folded-back arms displayedsmoothly muscular triceps. Who ever heard of someone having noticeably beautiful triceps, forheaven’s sake? The puff of hair in his armpits was, at least, an ordinary brown and not waxedaway. That would’ve been more than I could handle.

    “So who’re you?” he asked again, pleasantly. More than pleasantly. More like the cat who’dstolen the cream, eaten the canary and then knocked the dog out of the sunbeam so he could lollin it undisturbed.

    For a moment I was tempted to open the curtains so I could see if he’d stretch out and exposehis belly to the morning sunlight. God should be so good as to give every woman such a viewonce in her life.

    The thing was—well, there were many things. Many, many things and all of them led back to mebeing unable to think of the last time I’d done something so astoundingly stupid.

    No, that wasn’t true. I knew exactly the last time I’d done something so astoundingly stupid.I’d been fifteen, and I’d have hoped the intervening thirteen years of experience would beenough to keep me from doing it again. Only I hadn’t been shitface drunk then, and if the Godwho was kind enough to provide the gorgeous man in my bed was genuinely kind, there wouldn’tbe the same consequences there’d been then.

     was, Mark was so far out of my league it wasn’t even funny. I didn’t think I’dThe point

    said that out loud until he pushed up on an elbow again and looked me over a second time beforesaying, “I beg to differ,” in a mildly affronted tone. Then curiosity clearly got the betterof him as he sat all the way up, drawing his knees up and looping his arms around them as hesquinted at me. He had a tattoo on his right shoulder, a butterfly whose colors were so brightit had to be new. His biceps were magnificent. He had smooth sleek muscle where most peopledidn’t even have flab. It was like he took up more space than he really ought to.

    Which, in my experience, suggested he probably wasn’t human.

    I didn’t realize I’d said that out loud, either, until he threw his head back and laughed,then scooted around on my bed like he belonged there, giving me a curious grin. “What is your

    name?”

    “Joanne,” I finally answered. “Joanne Walker. SPD,” I added faintly, for no evident reason.Maybe I thought announcing I worked for the police department would provide me with some kindof physical shielding.

    It struck me that clothes would be a lot more effective in that arena. Still clutching myslipper as a weapon, I scampered for the bathroom and pulled my rarely used robe off the door.

    “I’m pleased to make your acquaintance, Joanne Walker,” he called after me. I stuck my headout the door incredulously.

    “Is that what you call it?”

    “What should I call it?” He shrugged, a beautiful movement like glass flowing. “I’mgettin’ a kinda freaked-out vibe from you, ma’am. You want I should vacate the premises?”

    “I want you should tell me you had rubbers in your wallet and you don’t anymore, and thatyou’ve got a nice clean blood test in your hip pocket. I’ll think about the rest of it afterthat.” I retreated into the bathroom again and poked through the garbage nervously. Funny whatstrikes a girl as relieving in the midst of mental crisis. Having a naked guy whose name Ibarely knew in my bed would normally be more than enough reason to come apart at the seams, butoh no. Give me a little evidence of safe sex despite drunken revelry and it seemed I couldhandle the naked guy.

    Pity there was no such evidence. Despite that, my hind brain announced it wouldn’t half mindhandling the naked guy. More than once. Which, in fact, I could only presume that I had.

    Augh.

    “Sorry,” he said. “Still got three in my wallet.”

    Three. I stopped poking around in the garbage to stare though the wall at him. “Confident,aren’t you?”

    I heard a grin come into his drawl: “Looks like I got cause, ma’am. I had five to beginwith,” he added cheerfully. I lurched to the door so I could stare at him more effectively.I’d developed some unusual skills lately, but X-ray vision hadn’t been one of them.

    “Are you serious?”

    “No,” he said, still cheerfully. “Sorry, ma’am.”

    Jesus. I didn’t remember the last time I got laid, or more accurately, I remembered inexquisite, precise detail, and now it appeared I’d missed an all-nighter of action thanks toway, way too much whiskey in the jar. That was wrong on so many levels I didn’t even knowwhere to begin.

    “Stop calling me ma’am.” For some reason I found the ma’aming kind of charming, and Iwasn’t sure I wanted to be charmed. I wasn’t sure what I wanted at all. All my base impulseswere to throw the guy out and hide under the bed until it all went away. It’d been an approachto life that had worked pretty well until recently, but a couple of weeks ago it’d becomeviolently clear that the ostrich strategy wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Violently was the

    key word: there were two people dead because I’d refused to step up to the plate when I shouldhave. So much as I wanted to take my slipper and drive Mitch out of my apartment with it, Ikind of thought maybe I should do something adult and sensible, like own up to my great, huge,flaming mistake and try to cope.

    The tire iron reasserted its presence in my skull. I groaned and grabbed my head, trying tofocus on a cool, silver-blue flutter of power that typically resided beneath my breastbone. Ahangover, in a mechanic’s parlance, was essentially an overheated engine—dehydration in anyform fit nicely into that analogy—and helping someone recover from dehydration was in my bagof tricks. I called on that power, for once selfishly glad to have access to it.

    Absolutely nothing happened.

    No, that wasn’t true. Reluctance happened, a feeling I’d encountered once before, when Itried healing a knife cut on my cheek. That cut had left a scar when being stabbed through thechest by a four foot sword hadn’t: my newly-awakened power’s way of announcing that itthought some things should be acknowledged and dealt with on a purely human level.

    Apparently hangovers fell into that category, too.

    I whimpered and dared peek at myself in the mirror while I got a glass of water and fumbled foraspirin. Aside from the sleepy eyes, I didn’t look nearly as awful as I thought I should. Infact, between the tan, the mussy hair and what could reasonably be called a rosy, satisfiedglow, I actually looked sort of hot. As in sexy, not overheated, the latter of which being howI’d normally use the word. The robe was even this nice soft mossy green that played up thehazel in my eyes.

    Mitch or Matt or Mark or whatever the hell his name was, appeared in the reflection behind me.He’d put his jeans on and left the top buttons undone, which was possibly more distractingthan him being naked. My eyes just sort of slid right down his torso and fixated at that littleflat bit of belly before more interesting things got started.

    “Don’t suppose you’ve got any more of those?” he asked in a woeful little-boy voice. Iflinched, slammed the aspirin with a gulp of water and handed him the mug without rinsing it orrefilling it. Ordinarily I’d think that was gross, but under the circumstances, beingsqueamish about swapping a few bodily fluids seemed hypocritical. Matt seemed to feel the sameway, because he took the cup without comment and put out his other hand for some aspirin. Idropped two in his palm and he popped them, then sagged against the bathroom wall with a groanand extended the mug again. “More,” he pleaded, putting enough pathos into the croaked wordthat I erupted a startled giggle. He gave me an adorable wan grin in return and I got him somemore water, then took the cup back and drank another fourteen ounces myself. When I was done Ifelt like my equilibrium had been restored, which I knew perfectly well was a big fat lie, butI planned to run with it, anyway.

    “So.” I leaned on the counter and looked at his reflection behind me. He was taller than Iwas by at least three inches. I couldn’t remember having ever slept with somebody who wastaller than me before.

    For that matter, I still couldn’t.

    My brain went augh again and I squinched my face up. Mike’s reflection made concerned eyebrowsat me. “So,” he echoed, as if it might smooth my features out again. It worked, because Iforced my own eyebrows up to make myself stop squinting.

    “What was your name again?”

    “Mark.”

    “Mark. Right.” I pressed my lips together, staring at our reflections. He looked sort ofwoeful and cute and headachy, and throwing him out seemed kind of like kicking a puppy. “Idon’t suppose you can cook, Mark.”

    He gave me a big bright grin in the mirror. “Just tell me where the kitchen is.”

    ?

    The problem with my kitchen was it didn’t have anything to cook in it. Mark slapped around thelinoleum floor barefoot and cast me looks of unmitigated dismay as he opened cupboards thatwould do Old Mother Hubbard proud. His butterfly shifted subtly with the play of muscle in hisshoulder, as if it might wing away from his skin. I watched it and mumbled, “There are toasterwaffles in the freezer.”

    It was the best I could do. I had no raw ingredients in my apartment; the only reason therewere eggs was my weakness for fried-egg sandwiches. That was as close to cooking as I got. Therest of it was frozen dinners and canned soup. Even the frozen dinners were a real step up forme. A year ago it’d been all about the macaroni and cheese. Since then I’d met a seventy-three-year-old man whose physique put mine to shame, so I’d started making an effort to eatmeals that at least came supplied with a serving of vegetables. The seventy-three-year-oldlooked pleased, then started nagging me about my sodium intake. I couldn’t win.

    “How can you have that body and nothing but junk food in your cupboards?” Mark asked whenhe’d finished looking behind every door in the kitchen. I looked down at my terry-cloth-cladself and wrinkled my forehead.

    “That body?” I knew I’d lost some weight, but the way he said it you’d think I was a covermodel. “I walk a lot at work,” I added lamely. “Beat cop.”

    “It’s not nice to beat cops,” he said, mock-severely. I blinked, and a smile swam intoplace. At least if I was picking guys up in fits of drunken idiocy, they were not onlyhandsome, but also even mildly clever.

    Speaking of which. “How, um. I mean, who, um. I mean, um.” Okay, only one of us got theMildly Clever Badge for the morning, and it sure wasn’t me.

    “Barb Bragg is my sister,” he volunteered, somehow managing to translate my garbled questioninto something coherent. “Redhead? Yea tall?” He made a gesture around five and a half feetfrom the floor, and took a frying pan out of my cupboard. “She’s got some buddies in theNorth Precinct and got invited along to the barbeque. I tagged along. Never could resist awoman in uniform.”

    I stared at his shoulders. Nice wide world-supporting shoulders that tapered into a narrowwaist and hips that— “I wasn’t in uniform,” I muttered. He flashed a grin over his shoulderat me. His teeth were very slightly crooked. It was the only thing that saved him from sheerperfection. He couldn’t possibly be real, although my dreams weren’t usually this good. “Areyou actually real?”

    “Guess I can’t resist a woman out of uniform, either. Least-ways not when she can out-arm-wrestle me.” He did a double take at me. “Am I real? I dunno. Did you want an after-partydrunken philosophy answer, or just my driver’s license?”

    “The license would be great.” I was pretty sure the average godling or demon or monster underthe bed didn’t carry one, although I hadn’t thought to ask any of the ones I’d met. I’d tryto remember, next time. Mark arched an eyebrow, then took his wallet out of his back pocket andtossed it to me.

    I opened it and pulled out an Arizona state driver’s license that had a relievingly badpicture of Mark, along with his birth date—he was two years younger than me—and an organdonor’s stamp. A knot I didn’t know was there untied beneath my heart. I could look up hislicense number at the precinct, but the fact that he even had ID was an awfully good start. Iput it away and let out a fwoosh of air. “Did I really beat you arm wrestling? You must’vebeen really shitfaced.” My biceps weren’t sore and I was sure I didn’t have the upper-body

strength to match his smooth muscles in a fair fight.

     seemed rather important there for a moment, but Mark laughed, which was surprisinglyNot sore

    distracting. He looked even brighter and prettier when he laughed, just all around sparklingwith geniality. I kind of liked it.

    “Either that or I know what hill to die on.” In the time it’d taken me to peruse his ID,he’d taken over my kitchen, and now appeared to be making omelets. I hadn’t known I hadomelet fixings, but he was managing. Omelets with chili and cheese, no less. And toast. He’deven taken a can of orange juice out of the freezer. Maybe I needed to get drunk and pick guysup more often. I’d never managed to get such a babe to sluff around my kitchen half naked whenI’d tried sober dating. Not that I’d done that for a while, either.

    “Your sister,” I said. “She wouldn’t be the one in the Daisy Mae shorts, would she?”

    “That’s her, yep. A million pounds of punch packed into a teeny-weeny body. Cute, isn’tshe?”

    I knew there was some kind of enormous cosmic irony going on here, but I put my head down onthe table, held my breath and hoped, just for a moment, that it would all go away.

    Instead, the doorbell rang.

    CHAPTER TWO

    “Want me to get that?” Mark asked easily. Maybe he was accustomed to waking up in strangewomen’s beds as a matter of course and had a certain protocol about it all. Me, I wasn’taccustomed to that sort of thing at all, and leaped out of my chair with a yelped “No!” Thechair banged into the wall and I ran for the door as if Mark might disregard my reply and whiskhimself off to open it. The smell of omelets cooking made my stomach rumble impatiently as Iunlocked the door and pulled it open to find a big old man with bushy eyebrows looking at mequizzically.

    “Nice robe. You ain’t cookin’ an old man breakfast, are you? ’Cause I brought doughnuts.Besides, I know how you cook.”

    I clutched the collar of my robe closed, feeling like a fifties housewife. “Uh. Gary. Uh. Hi.What’re you—ah, shit!” God, my prowess with the language was stunning today. I was anembarrassment to the diploma laying claim to a B.A. in English lying somewhere in my apartment.“Gary, I, uh, forgot.”

    He squinted down at me, gray eyes curious. Gary Muldoon was the most solid, real-looking personI’d ever met in my life, and at seventy-three he still had the build of the linebacker he’dbeen in college. But there was a bit of tiredness in the Hemingway wrinkles, and he was movingslower than he had when I met him, thanks to a heart attack a few weeks earlier.

    A heart attack that was my fault, something I couldn’t forget. Even the memory made a nervousflutter in my stomach.

    It wasn’t your usual butterflies. It was the way I perceived the power that had awoken in meseven months earlier, when catching sight of a fleeing woman through an airplane window hadtriggered a series of what I considered to be remarkably unfortunate events. Finding the womanhad resulted, more or less directly, in getting a sword stuffed through my lungs. While I wasbusy dying, a snide coyote dropped by my psyche and gave me the option to survive theskewering—as a shaman. A healer, one with Great Things in store for me.

    If I’d known then what I know now…

    All right, I’d have made the same decision, because nobody wants to die at twenty-six ifthere’s a choice in the matter. But I didn’t want to be a shaman. The whole idea that therewas a magic-filled alternative to our world made my skin itch. I like rational, sensibleexplanations for things: that was part of why I was a mechanic by trade. Or had been, anyway.Vehicle diagnostics were simple and straightforward. Follow a certain set of steps and thevehicle runs better. Et voilà. Normal.

    Having an insistent, fluttery coil of power centered right below my sternum, impatient to beused to right the world, is not normal. And that bubble was what shivered in me every time Isaw Gary, partly because he was still healing, and partly because his illness really had beenmy fault.

    I’d spent most of the past six months ignoring my power as best I could. It turned out thathad been a massive error in judgment. Among other things, it let a very nasty person induce aheart attack in my closest friend so I’d be distracted while the world went to hell in ahandbasket. It had worked extremely well.

    I was capable of learning from my mistakes. After six months of strenuous denial, I finallyrealized I was going to have to suck it up and learn to use this power, because otherwise I wasgoing to be used and taken advantage of. Worse, my friends were in danger, and that, if nothingelse, was enough to convince me to pull my head out of my ass.

    I put my hand over Gary’s heart. A little thread of glee burst free from that coil of powerinside me, silver-blue light splashing up my arm, under the skin, as if it followed the bloodvessels. It probably did. Through that spatter of power I could feel the steady, comfortingstrength of an ancient tortoise, sharing its spirit—and, I hoped, its longevity—with Gary. Itwas the one thing I’d done right recently, bringing a totem animal back to help heal myfriend.

    The tortoise accepted my offering of vitality, though I got a sense of amusement from it as Iworked through my favorite analogy: cars. To me, patching up a heart that’d had an attack waslike changing out bald tires. They were worn and tired, just like an attack made the heart, butyou couldn’t just switch out one heart for another. I liked the idea of working from theinside, like I could slip a new tire around the hub and slowly inflate it, strengthening theold muscle with newer healthy cells. Every time I saw Gary I threw a little of that idea intohim, trying to help fix the damage I’d allowed to be done. I expected his next annual checkupto determine he had the heart of a twenty-five-year-old.

    “How could you forget?” he demanded as I let my hand fall again. “We been doin’ this everyday for the past ten days, Jo. And your eggs are gonna burn.”

    “What’s ’this’?” Mark came out of the kitchen, all full of tenor good cheer. “Crap,Joanne, are you seeing somebody? I’m sorry if I screwed—oh.” He got a good look at Gary andevidently categorized him as too old. That was new. Half the people I knew were convinced I wasinvolved in a lusty May-December romance.

    “The eggs aren’t going to burn,” Mark added with a broad grin, and offered his hand to Gary.“I’m Mark.”

    I wrinkled up my face, afraid to look at Gary, but one eye peeped open, unable to look away,either.

    He’d all but dropped his teeth, jaw long and eyes googly. He was staring at Mark, but somehowmanaged to encompass me in that stare, making me squirm. I felt like a teenager caught neckingwith her boyfriend. Gary put his hand out and shook Mark’s without winding his jaw back up,and Mark gave him another broad smile. “You Joanne’s dad?”

    “No!” Gary and I said at the same time. Mark’s eyebrows went up and he rocked back on hisheels a bit. “Just a friend,” I muttered. Gary transferred his googly-eyed stare to me, andit was a lot worse than when he’d managed to pull off gaping at me without actually lookingdirectly at me. I squirmed again. “I, um, yesterday was the department picnic, and, um…”

    Gary handed the box of doughnuts to Mark and said, in his best deep-voiced dangerous rumble,“Could you excuse us a minute, son?”

    Mark retreated to the kitchen while I gave Gary a steely-eyed look of my own, hoping to headhim off at the pass. “’Son’? Women get ’dame’ and ’broad’ and ’lady,’ and he gets’son’?”

    “It’s part of my charm,” Gary muttered, then scowled enormously at me. “You okay, Jo?”There was no reprimand in his voice at all, just a hell of a lot of concern.

    My mouth bypassed my brain entirely and said, for no reason I was willing to admit to,“Morrison was flirting with this redhead.” To my huge irritation, that clearly made sense,because Gary’s expression landed between understanding and sympathy, with a good dose ofwryness thrown in. I said “Shit,” and stomped into the kitchen. Gary closed the door behindhimself and followed me.

    “Hungry?” Mark asked genially. “Plenty where this came from.” He lifted the frying pan andthen slid its omelet onto a plate that already had two slices of buttered toast on it. I was inthe presence of culinary genius. Gary eyed me, eyed Mark, and shrugged.

    “I could eat. ’Cept you sure you want to eat, Jo? You know it’ll ground you.” He put on asolicitous tone, but underneath it I heard: don’t eat anything, we got work to do. Gary had

    been there, quite literally standing over me, when my powers woke up. Frankly, he handled theentire thing a lot better than I ever had. I was, he’d told me more than once, the mostinteresting thing that’d happened to him in the three years since his wife had died, and hewasn’t going to miss out on any of it. I wasn’t at all sure I liked being an interestingthing. It was like the proverbial Chinese curse, may you live in interesting times. I’d far

    rather live in really, really boring times. Especially since much of the interesting partseemed to be directly focused on trying to make me dead. Boring was good.

    With this in mind, I took the plate like a lifer in prison, hunching myself over itprotectively. “Right now I need some serious grounding.”

    “What are you,” Mark said, “some kind of electrician or something? I thought you were acop.” He brought a glass of orange juice to the table and gave me a quirky little grin thatwent a fair way toward melting my knees, even if I both knew better and was sitting down,anyway. Nobody ever said knee-melting only worked on the vertical.

    I managed to mutter, “Thanks,” and tried giving Gary the hairy eyeball to shut him up, but heanswered Mark with such blasé cheer I knew he was ignoring me on purpose.

    “Not that kinda grounding. Spiritual grounding. Food anchors your soul to your body, makes ita lot harder to go spirit questing. Jo here’s a shaman.” He said it all casual-like, but hisgray eyes were sharp and judging as Mark went back to the stove to make another omelet. Me, Ijust sank down into my chair until my nose practically touched the eggs, and shoveled as manybites into my mouth as I could before Gary took notice of me again.

    “No shit,” Mark said curiously. “Like a medicine man? What exactly does a shaman do,anyway?” He grinned, bright and open. “Get hooked up with some peyote, maybe?”

    My stomach contracted around the food I’d eaten. I un-hunched from over the plate and Marknoticed, speaking a little more quickly, as if he was afraid I’d cut him off. Which wasexactly what I’d been going to do, so I couldn’t exactly blame him.

    “No, no, look, I’m sorry, I’m kidding. Bad joke, sorry.” He sounded like he meant it,expression all fussed as he looked at me. “I just never met a shaman before. Guess I don’tknow what to say. Mom says her grandad was Navajo—”

    “What,” Gary said, “not a Cherokee princess? I thought those came standard these days.”

    I shot him a look. I actually was part Cherokee, although not through remote ancestors. Myfather’d grown up in Qualla Boundary and I’d gone to high school there. There were a lot ofpeople there who legitimately could claim Cherokee blood, but most of them weren’t royalty.Mostly it seemed like people from much further away than the Carolinas—or Oklahoma—hadmanaged to land themselves the royal blood. It was like the U.S. version of being descendedfrom Cleopatra.

    Mark only laughed. The guy was nine kinds of casual. Maybe he did this for a living, like thekid in Six Degrees of Separation. Never mind his health or my peace of mind. It seemed like Ishouldn’t trust him.

    I’d start not trusting him as soon as I was done eating breakfast. I hunched over it again,hoping Gary wouldn’t notice.

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