How to flirt with a nake.., p.10
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       How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf, p.10

         Part #1 of Naked Werewolf series by Molly Harper  
Page 10



  Kiss My Patois

  IT WASN’T NEARLY AS difficult to talk Evie into changing the menu as I thought it would be.

  Whether it was residual guilt over my being assaulted on the premises or the power of the almighty chocolate chess square, I was just happy she was open to new ideas. And it gave me something to think about other than the “incident. ”

  Against Evie’s protests, Buzz and I had decided not to tell anybody about my near-miss in the alley. The menfolk tended to get a little overvigilant when the delicate flowers of Grundy womanhood were threatened, despite the fact that most of those flowers could wield a chain saw with a surgeon’s precision. Still, Buzz didn’t want to cause a panic.

  If customers asked about the scrape on my cheek, I told them I tripped on a porch step and took a header onto the ground. Abner and Walt offered to come by and fix the step for me, which made me feel loved but slightly guilty.

  When Lynette asked me what happened, I told her Leonard Tremblay forgot our safe word.

  Buzz and I managed a discreet meeting with Trooper Brent, a short, squatty bulldog of a man, in the saloon’s office. Trooper Brent was far more worried about whether we had more applesauce cake than about taking my statement. As far as he was concerned, I was unharmed, so there was no foul. I identified John Teague from a photo lineup. When Buzz tried to hand over the pictures of my injuries, Trooper Brent slid the envelope right back to him.

  “There’s no need,” Brent said gruffly. “Teague’s truck was found twenty miles outside town. We think he lost control of his rig and rolled off an embankment into a ravine. Nobody saw the wreck, so it was burning for hours before anybody showed up. We’re still waiting for dental records to identify the body, but we’re pretty sure it’s him. And you can’t charge a dead man with assault. ”

  It seemed as if all of the air had been sucked out of the room. I couldn’t seem to feel anything but the rush of relief flooding through me. The man was dead, and I was glad. Well, not just glad. I was almost dizzy with savage delight that he was dead and that he had probably suffered quite a bit. What the hell was wrong with me? What kind of person would be filled with glee over another person being pinned in a burning vehicle? Maybe the changes I was going through in Grundy were not entirely positive.

  What had happened to John Teague? What had happened to the wolf? I found that I cared far more about the wolf’s welfare than about Teague’s.

  “Did Teague have any injuries besides what he might have sustained in the wreck?” I asked.

  Brent lifted a bushy brown brow, as if he were surprised I knew such big words. Asshole.

  “Well, as you can imagine, since the body was burned to the point that we’re relying on dental records to identify him, there wasn’t much left of it. Why do you ask?”

  Buzz interjected before I could open my mouth. “Mo punched Teague in the nose in the alley. I think she thinks maybe if the body has a broken nose, it might make it easier to identify. ”

  I shot Buzz a puzzled glare. He pressed his lips together and sent a significant look toward Brent, who was brushing the crumbs from his third piece of cake off the front of his uniform. Apparently, Buzz didn’t want me to mention anything about the wolf or Teague’s potential claw wounds. I guess losing a short-order cook to an involuntary forty-eight-hour mental-health evaluation would be damned inconvenient.

  “Well, honey, he had a couple of broken bones,” Brent said in a condescending tone as he slid a file folder across the desk. “From the truck turning over and all, it was hard to find any bones that weren’t broken. Dental records are a far more reliable way to ID the body. But good for you for giving him a good pop for his troubles. ”

  I’m sorry, did he just say “for his troubles”? Buzz sensed the growing tension in my arms, the way I was clenching my fists. He patted my hand and shook his head.

  “You’re a very lucky young lady. This guy’s a suspect in robberies at diners and dives up and down the highway. He’s put a couple of women in intensive care. He picks a waitress from the pack after closing time, jumps her in a secluded parking lot, and gets her to let him into the safe. And then he . . . Well, you’re not the first one to fight back, but you’re the first one to get away. ”

  I opened the file folder and lost my grip on it at the sight of a skeletal face, charred black, its teeth bared and open in a never-ending silent scream. My eyelids slammed shut of their own accord. This was so much worse than anything you’d see on the news or TV, because I’d seen the flesh covering those bones, looked into the wasted eyes. Pride was the only thing that kept me glued to my chair, instead of leaning over Buzz’s wastebasket and tossing my pancakes into it.

  “What the hell is wrong with you?” Buzz yelled, shoving the folder back at Trooper Brent. “Hasn’t she been through enough? She doesn’t need to see that shit!”

  “I thought she’d like to know he’s gone for good,” Trooper Brent said, shrugging. He looked somewhat chastened, as if it had just occurred to him that Buzz might have more loyalty to me than to his fellow law-enforcement officer and testosterone vessel.

  “How in the hell is seeing that going to make her feel better? And why haven’t I heard about any of this? I should know if my people are in danger, Scotty. Damn it, I’m the closest thing to law enforcement in town, and I didn’t get so much as a heads-up. ”

  “Most bars aren’t big on getting all-points updates to protect waitresses,” Brent mumbled.

  “Well, this one is,” Buzz shot back, slapping his palm against his desk.

  Brent seemed to sense that he’d stepped directly onto Buzz’s bad side now. “Look, he’s gone. Your waitress is fine. It all worked out. We’ll get back to you when we confirm the ID. And from now on, Miss, maybe you should just be a little more careful when you work late. Be more aware of your surroundings. Don’t walk in dark alleyways alone. ”

  My teeth clicked together, grinding so hard my jaw ached. He made it sound as if it was my fault, as if in a nice, safe office job, I wouldn’t have been hurt.

  “I don’t work late anymore,” I shot back. “And I just want to forget the whole thing, pretend it didn’t happen. Let me know if you identify him, but otherwise, I really don’t want to talk about it again. Buzz, thank you for how you’ve handled this. I appreciate your help. ”

  Without waiting to be dismissed, I got up from my seat and walked out of Buzz’s office. I hid in the kitchen for the rest of the day, trying to keep the images of Teague out of my head. The way he stood over me, the smirk on his face when I screamed. The stilted, unnatural way he scrambled away from the wolf, cornering himself against the wall. Blood soaking through his shirt in three long slashing lines. Then there were the images I created myself. The truck tumbling into the ravine. Teague’s anguished cries as the cab caught fire around him, his mouth falling open into that last gasping scream. His skin splitting and turning black. When Evie caught sight of my pallor, the overbright, feverish glint to my eyes, she sent me home, saying she would close the kitchen a little early that afternoon.

  But even with the door dead-bolted behind me, my comfy jammies on, and three cups of Sleepy Time tea in my stomach, I couldn’t seem to settle. I forced myself to go outside, to avoid shutting myself up in my little house. I sat on the porch, wrapped in a quilt, watching as a small black-tailed deer crept out of the trees and nibbled at the bread crusts I’d left in the yard. I stayed perfectly still to keep from disturbing it, but eventually, I had to sneeze, and it bolted back into the woods. I sat for almost an hour, scanning the tree line for . . . what, exactly? My furry black savior? The extra-crispy ghost of Teague? Was I afraid that he’d somehow escaped fiery death and was coming back for me?

  After baking, yoga, and way too much bad TV, I gave up on resting and used the manic energy to complete my menu proposal. I worked through the night, searching for the right recipes, cost analyses, shopping plans. I cras
hed somewhere around 3:00 A. M. , got up at dawn, baked some more, and beat Evie to work so I could set up my new dishes in the kitchen. I gave her my proposal for reasonably priced comfort foods—chicken noodle soup, beef stew, meat loaf, my aunt Sherry’s secret-recipe pot pie, chicken and dumplings, and, of course, all of the burgers and melts. My expanded dessert menu offered the improved apple-raisin pie, chess squares, my killer applesauce cake, banana pudding, and brownie à la mode.

  “Just give me time, Evie, and we’ll be busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest in here,” I promised.

  “Oh, how I love your genteel Southern patois,” Evie said, eyeing my overcaffeinated, jittery self with an expression I can only describe as wary concern. “I thought you belles were supposed to be all verandas and mint juleps. ”

  “How about this one? We’ll be busier than a one-armed paper hanger. ”

  She pursed her lips. “Why are all your metaphors amputation-based?”

  “I honestly don’t know,” I said, shaking my head.

  “Well, lost limbs aside, this is great. I’ve wanted to revamp the menu for a while,” she said as we whispered over the crackle of the fryer. “But when you don’t do the cooking, it’s pretty difficult to try to change what’s cooked. We’ll just tell Buzz that Pete dropped all of the menus in the sink and we have to print new ones. ”

  “There’s no way Buzz is going to believe that,” I said with a laugh.

  “Hey, Pete,” she called into the dining room. “Could you bring me that stack of menus?”

  I watched in shock as Evie went to take the menus from a compliant Pete, bumped his arm, and sent the menus plopping into the dishwater with a loud splash. My mouth popped open. Pete stammered an apology.

  “Oh, honey, don’t worry about it. It was mostly my fault. Why don’t you go serve Abner his coffee, and I’ll clean this up, OK?” Clearly rattled, Pete nodded, grabbed the coffeepot, and slunk out of the kitchen. Evie looked very pleased with herself.

  “I underestimate you,” I told Evie.

  She shrugged. “Most people do. ”

  Eager to erase the dirty gray smear Teague had put on the Glacier for me, I threw myself into our plans for the next week. I even solemnly stood by Evie as she fed Buzz her “Pete dropped the menus” story with an alarming lack of guile.

  One afternoon, fresh from Larson’s Antiques, a glorified secondhand shop that specialized in the leavings of former Grundy residents who wanted to make a fast escape from town, I breezed into the saloon. I had a mile-wide smile on my face as I carefully balanced a box of glass cake plates on my hip. I’d managed to get six plates for fifty dollars and hired Sarah Larson’s son, Nick, to come chop a load of firewood for me that weekend. All in all, it had been a very productive afternoon.

  “Hey, Mo!” Buzz said in his best impression of Curly from The Three Stooges. It had taken him all of a week of knowing me to come up with that inside joke, but now that he considered himself my de facto big brother and protector, he felt free to tease me at will. Quietly pulling me aside a few days before and telling me that Teague’s body had been positively identified had been some sort of bonding moment for him. Alaskan men were very strange.

  Pete stepped around the bar and helped with the heavy box of leaded glass.

  “Look what I found, Evie!” I said, gingerly unwrapping my purchases. “I figured we could use them to display the new desserts. None of them match, but I thought that would be sort of quirky and fun. ”

  “Looks great, Mo. ” She offered a wide smile as I tied on an apron and looked over the pending orders.

  “When’s the big launch?” I turned to find Cooper sitting at the counter, glaring at me despite the relative calm of his voice.

  “We start the new menu on Monday. What can I get for you?” I asked.
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