Flight from mayhem, p.10
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       Flight from Mayhem, p.10

           Yasmine Galenorn
 

  “Won’t you have a seat . . .” I trailed off like I’d noticed humans do when they weren’t sure of whom they were talking to.

  “Pardon me. I didn’t mean to be rude. My name is Leon Spangler, and this is my wife, Emily. We’re Ralph’s parents.” He tipped his head to me, taking off his hat.

  It took a moment, but then it clicked. Ralph’s parents. Which meant they were werewolves. The man was burly and big. I could see the muscles straining beneath the work shirt. Emily was wearing a blue dress, tidy and modern but along the modest side. She was pretty but had a look in her eye that told me she was used to running things behind the scenes but never getting the credit. She flashed me a soft smile and I felt an instant camaraderie with her.

  “I’m sure Bette will be back in a moment. Please, sit down. That is . . .” I glanced over at the chairs, but Chai was gone. He had gone poof, and probably for the best. Werewolves and magic didn’t get along, and djinns were magical creatures through and through. As I cleared my throat, the Spanglers sat down. I had the feeling they weren’t going to leave the building without talking to Ralph, no matter whether or not Bette said he was out. No, they’d wait for him.

  I was about to offer them coffee when the phone rang. I picked up. It was Chase Johnson.

  “Shimmer speaking. I’m afraid you’ll have to talk to me, Detective. Alex is in a meeting with a client, and Bette is away from her desk.”

  Chase mumbled something that I couldn’t understand, then said, “We may have another. One of the Fae went missing. He was in the same art class as Marlene at the Supe Community Action Council. The one Bette teaches. And they both belonged to the OBC—the Otherworld Book Club.”

  I glanced around, looking for a pen. Quickly, so I didn’t miss anything, I scribbled down notes as he talked. “Classes . . . book club . . . got it.” Then, softly, I laid down the pen. “Detective—”

  “Call me Chase, please. Everybody else does.”

  “Of course. Chase, you’re going to want to talk to Alex. We have a possible theory, and I have to say, it’s not a pleasant one.”

  “Theory? All right. And I want to talk to Bette again. Since they all have ties to the Community Action Council, I was hoping she might be able to come up with something that seems out of the ordinary—anything she might have noticed. Can you have her call me when she returns?” He sounded tired—more tired than was good for a human—and I suddenly wanted to reassure him in some way.

  “Sure. Listen, we’re doing our best. I don’t know what we can find out, but trust me, we want this solved and over with. Bette’s really upset. She likes these people; they’re her friends. And we want to help her, too, so . . . so . . .” My words trailed off. I felt helpless. I wanted so much to soothe their worries—partly because their anxiety shifted around me like waves in the air, unsettling me. But I was quickly coming to realize that I lacked some basic social skills and understanding of how to behave among nondragons, and I didn’t like that lack in myself.

  “I know, Shimmer. And I appreciate it. I’ll talk to you later. Please have Bette give me a call when she can.” And with that, he hung up.

  I slowly replaced the receiver, staring at the phone. At a loss, I thought about calling Stacy to see how she was. But with bronchitis, that wasn’t the best idea. Though she usually kept to a nocturnal schedule because of her jobs, right now, I hoped she was asleep, healing.

  And that brought me back to thinking about the house across the street and Mary, the ghost. Toying with the pen, I didn’t notice that Emily and Leon were suddenly on their feet. I jumped, startled, but then saw that Ralph had entered the waiting room. He motioned for them to follow him into one of the conference rooms.

  Bette gave me a quizzical look as I vacated her chair. “Long thoughts?”

  “I don’t know about long, but lots of thoughts, yes. Just thinking about the murders.” As I blurted out the words, I realized that I had just put my foot in my mouth.

  But Bette reached out to pat my arm. “I’ve been around a long time, my dear. Longer than you may imagine. And I’ve seen a lot of people come and go.” For a moment, she sounded more like a grandmother than a biker mama, but then she snickered. “So, Ralph’s parents are here. That’s going to be fun. Not.”

  “What do you think they want?”

  “I don’t know, but every single time they show up, Ralph goes into a funk. I see Chai made himself scarce.” Bette lit up another cigarette as she tamped out the one she was just finishing. I grimaced. “I know you hate the smoke, girl, but seriously, you’re a dragon. You breathe fire. So don’t complain to me about my habits.”

  I grumbled. “I used to breathe fire, till they stripped away that power when they took away my power to shift on land. Now, the best I can do is an occasional belch and a wisp of steam. And since I have to be underwater in order to shift form, my fire can’t do much except make a burst of hot bubbles to kill a few fish.” Suddenly, I wanted nothing more than to go swimming. To shed my human skin and dive deep. “Bette, do you think Alex would mind terribly if I ducked out for a swim?”

  “I don’t know, but he seems in a somber mood—I’d ask him before taking off anywhere.”

  “Where are you planning on going?” Alex asked as the door to his office opened. The new client followed him, but within seconds, the man barged out the door. Alex handed Bette the intake form. “Shred. He won’t be requiring our services after all.”

  “Problem, chile?”

  “Wanted me to spy on his wife. Said he wanted to make certain she didn’t know about his mistress. I don’t see that as fair play.”

  One thing I liked about Alex—he had a sense of honor. It might be a little skewed, but it was definitely there. I stretched. “I was wondering if you’d mind if I take off for a swim. I need to be in the water—it’s calling me tonight.”

  He glanced at the calendar. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

  I nodded. “Yeah, a couple of weeks. I’m feeling restless.” When I was out of the water too long, I started getting antsy and it eventually led to discomfort and pain.

  “Go then. I can’t drive you, though. I have a lot of paperwork I need to finish. Ralph could, I suppose . . . or Bette.” He glanced over at Bette. “Why don’t you take her, darlin’? She needs the water and I think . . .” He stopped, but I knew what he was thinking. When Bette had found out about Marlene, the news had been a shock. Maybe she and I could talk while we were out.

  I knew Bette must be feeling the same way, because instead of arguing that somebody needed to watch the desk, she nodded. “All right, precious. Ralph’s busy with his parents, anyway.” She pushed back her chair and stood. I was sliding into my coat when the office door slammed open.

  Glenda was standing in the doorway, her eyes narrowed, with a vicious grin on her face. She tossed something into the room, laughed, and then vanished. The next moment, a pungent odor filled the room, along with a massive amount of smoke. The smoke alarm immediately began to screech. Swearing loudly, Alex dove for the security system. He punched in a code, but the phone rang and Bette snatched it up.

  “No, we don’t have a fire—someone dropped a smoke bomb in our office. Everything is fine. Do not send the fire department.” She sounded pissed out of her mind.

  My first thought was to open the windows. Barred on the outside, the bulletproof glass opened inward. I yanked open the ones nearest me as Ralph and his parents stumbled out of the conference room. Ralph took in what was happening and immediately joined me in trying to clear out the room.

  Mrs. Spangler began to cough, and Bette hustled her toward the exit. Leon Spangler followed as Ralph and I finished opening every window we could reach.

  Alex motioned to Bette. “The fans in the conference and break room—let’s get them set up, woman.” They moved in unison, hurrying to drag out the massive fans that kept the office cool during summer d
ays so it wouldn’t be sweltering at night, since there was no A/C and the walk-up had a closeted feel to it. After a few moments, the smoke began to clear. Ralph went to check on his parents, who were standing in the main foyer of the building. Bette punched a button to lock the outer door to the building.

  “Anybody who wants in can ring the bell,” she said.

  Another ten minutes and everything was under control and we were all back in the office.

  “Damn that bi— woman.” Alex was fuming. I had never seen him quite so angry. “It’s one thing to come growling at me at a party, but to invade my business and cause this kind of havoc? For all she knows, one of my clients could be an asthmatic.”

  “Boss, this was wrapped around the smoke bomb.” Bette handed him a piece of paper.

  Alex gingerly opened the folded origami-like page. He silently read it, then handed it to me. I glanced at the writing. Yes, this could definitely be called a hate letter. And also a threat.

  Alex, if you think I’m going to let you and your little fuck-a-cunt enjoy yourselves after you threw me over, you’re wrong. Tell the dragon she’d better get over her sob story because when I’m done with the two of you, you’ll both know what REAL humiliation is like.

  Bette, who was reading over my shoulder, let out a sharp whistle. “The bitch is back, that’s for sure.”

  Alex’s expression was dead serious. “I think it’s time Glenda and I had a talk.” He glanced over at me. “I’m sorry, Shimmer. I never meant for you to become a target.”

  I shook my head. “She has no clue . . . absolutely no clue . . . what hell I went through growing up. I learned how to play hardball. She wants to rumble, let her come. I think she might find that I come equipped with a few surprises.”

  “Like me.” Chai appeared behind me.

  “Damn it, dude, you do that one more time and I’m going to smack you!” But I laughed. I couldn’t stay mad at him. As I swatted his arm, he pulled me into an easy embrace.

  “Anybody threatens my Little Sister, they have to deal with Big Brother.” His eyes twinkled. “I think your ex-girlfriend might find a djinn more than she can handle. In every way.”

  Alex let out a snort. “Don’t be too sure of that. The woman’s a succubus. She’s insatiable.”

  Chai raised his eyebrows. “And I am a djinn. One of the Efreet. I could twist her words in such knots that she would never get out of the tangle. If she sets one hand on Shimmer, I swear, I don’t promise to leave her in one piece.”

  Alex gave Chai an odd look. “Not if I get to her first.”

  “I’m quicker than you, vampire.” Chai had a smile on his face, but to my dismay, I heard a growl of a threat there. What the hell?

  “You want to make a bet, genie-in-a-bottle?” Again, said with a smile, but also a show of fangs.

  Hell, we were in the middle of a testosterone match. I glanced over at Bette, and she must have seen the look of horror on my face because she broke in loud and clear.

  “Put away the measuring tape, boys. You both care about Shimmer. We know that. It’s not a competition. We’re all on the lookout now, so calm down. Chai, why don’t you go search the neighborhood and see if Glenda’s still around? Shimmer, come on, you and I are heading to the shore.” And just like that, she swept us out of the office, away from the chaos.

  CHAPTER 7

  “You know Glenda’s not going to be anywhere near the office. Why did you tell Chai to go look for her?” As we stepped out into the night air, I turned to Bette, confused.

  “Sugar lips, those boys were about to get into a tussle. I thought it prudent to misdirect the energy, and Chai’s so willing to help out that he’ll do it before he realizes the futility of it.” Frowning, she cocked her head. “What was that, anyway?”

  “Hell if I know. Chai’s always been protective of me, but he likes Alex, so I’m not sure what was going on. I’ve never seen either one of them puff up like that.”

  Then, at the very edge of my hearing range, I heard a shout from the building. “Hell, come on. I think something else is happening.”

  We rushed back inside to find Ralph scuffling with Alex. “I can’t believe you stole her out from under my nose!” Ralph was growling. His parents looked horrified.

  Chai snorted. “Little Wolf has big shoes to fill if he thinks he can seduce my sister!”

  Alex rolled Ralph over, pinning him down, but it was obvious the pair were well matched. “Like you ever stood a chance, you mutt!”

  Suddenly, everything crystallized. Alex and Ralph were close friends. Neither would ever treat the other like a punching bag without outside interference. And Chai had a level head—he wouldn’t egg either of them on without good reason.

  “Bette! That smoke bomb—it wasn’t just an annoyance, it was a spell. These guys are under a spell.”

  “Of course—that makes perfect sense.” She waded in and grabbed hold of Alex’s shoulders. The Melusine was far stronger than she looked, because within a moment, Alex slumped in her hands, glaring at her. “It has to be in the residue smoke. You—the Spanglers—grab your son and get him outside. Shimmer, you tackle Chai.”

  I grasped Chai’s wrist. “Come on, dude. Outside. Come with me, Big Brother.” I flashed him a warm smile and he relaxed, following me.

  As we all trooped outside, keeping the men apart, the crisp night air began to clear out a vague scent lodged in my nose that I hadn’t realized was there.

  Coughing, I turned to Chai. “Breathe. Breathe deep.” Again, he complied.

  Bette turned to Alex, still holding on to his wrist. “I know you don’t have to, but do me a favor, sugar pants, and breathe. Take a long, deep breath and get some of the night air into you. That smoke seeped into your body—and don’t give me crap about ‘I didn’t inhale’ . . . it managed to take root in those atrophied lungs of yours.”

  Alex glared at her, but he did as told and took a few very slow, very long breaths, sputtering as the shaky air left his lungs. Ralph was panting but finally composed himself.

  A few minutes later, we were all staring at one another. The three men looked sheepish. Ralph’s parents looked confused. Bette and I were just irritated. After another moment, Alex broke into an embarrassed laugh.

  “Ralph, I’m sorry, mate. You, too, Chai. I didn’t mean anything I said.” He sidled over and glanced at me. “Good call, Shimmer. Glenda had one up on all of us, it seems.”

  Ralph shrugged. “I know. Same here, Alex. I have no clue what the hell happened.”

  “Spell,” Bette said. “The smoke bomb? Was a spell.”

  “Damn that woman.” Alex glanced over his shoulder at the building. “Well, we have to clear out the dregs of it before the three of us go back in there.”

  Chai let out a low belch, then covered his mouth. “My apologies as well. I’m just glad I didn’t let loose with any magic. I could have seriously harmed the both of you.” He shot a look at me. “Shimmer, the best thing to clear that out would be a magical wind. I can do it, but you need to go open all the doors in the offices. I’ll stand outside a window and send the spell through after you open them. It should be enough to clear away any residue.”

  I nodded. “You know . . . yeah, good idea.”

  “What happened? Why were you so upset, Ralph?” Emily Spangler was looking more confused by the moment.

  “Don’t sweat it, Mom. Just . . . someone who doesn’t like us very much tried to trick Alex, Chai, and me into hurting each other. Part of the job.” The look on Ralph’s face told me that he was pissed off about something, and when I focused on him, I had the feeling it went deeper than any spell Glenda had cast. There was something going on, and by the way he pulled away from his parents, I had the feeling this wasn’t a pleasure trip on the elder Spanglers’ part.

  Bette stayed outside with everyone while I went in and opened every window I could fi
nd in the office. The smoke hadn’t filtered through the rest of the building—it had been localized from what I could tell. I leaned against the bars, staring down at them from the window in the reception area.

  “Windows are open. Blast away.”

  Chai gave me a wave. “You might want to get out of there.”

  As he spoke, a gust sprang up and if I hadn’t been holding on to the bars, I might have toppled over backward. I was about to shout down for him to give me a chance to move away from the window but then decided what the hell, and loped out of the office, the wind pushing at my back. A flurry of sparks—not actual flame, but flickering lights—glimmered through the rooms as I peeked in from the foyer of the building. Another few minutes and the wind suddenly died, and everything felt eerily calm. Another couple of minutes and we deemed it safe enough for everyone to troop back inside.

  Bette and I kept an eye on the three men, but they seemed back to normal, and there were no more outbursts. The Spanglers whispered something to Ralph, and then—with a faint wave to the rest of us—they left the building. Alex put up the CLOSED sign and we all gathered around the break room table.

  “So, Glenda’s not going to let this rest, is she?” Alex fetched a bottle of blood from the refrigerator, then stared at it. “I don’t think we should trust any food in here. For all we know, she may have come in and poisoned something. Toss everything edible, including any lunches you brought with you. I don’t care if it’s prepackaged. Get rid of the food.”

  We cleared out the cupboards and fridge.

  Ralph finally asked the question that was going through all of our minds. “What are we going to do about her?”

  “We’ve had the locks changed, and I’ve got a call into Ysella. I guess . . . maybe I should have a talk with her. Find out why she’s doing this.” Alex frowned as he waved away the protest I was about to lodge. “I don’t want to, but I think that’s the only way we’ll get any resolution.”

  I wanted to argue, but he looked tired. “Fine, if you think it’s wise.”

 
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