Oct 09

Alternate Susan –Chapter Thirteen

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Chapter Thirteen



Susie’s spell book had a way for me to find Darius. It was a ‘synchronous resonance’ spell. The way it worked was this: you prepared the spell at home, placing an object from the subject inside a cleansed power circle. Then you had thirty-one hours (thirty-one made no sense to me, but that’s what it said) to find the person by ‘synchronous resonance’. I was a little hazy on the details, but it sounded like that meant doing something the person often did, or frequenting the places the person often went. Like hanging out at your favorite bar in hopes of seeing that cute guy again, except with a little magical oomph behind it.

I cast the spell in the morning, and after work I planned to come home, change, and spend the evening hanging out in the Black Bean, drinking extra-sweet mocha lattes. And then Bo called. Prince of imperfect timing.

I wanted to meet him someplace neutral, but the bastard said he already knew where I lived. (Either he reverse-looked it up, or he’d followed me home.)

I wore a lemon yellow sundress and sandals that came off easily (in case I had to run.) The outfit was only spoiled by the white shirt tied around my waist. It made me look especially chunky, but it hid my Glock. And anyway, who cared about chunky? This was Bo. The less attractive he found me, the better off I’d be.

Bo pulled up in front of the house in a dirty Honda CRX that looked so old and ugly it actually made me happy to be a Daewoo owner. He honked the horn. Would he be polite enough to come up to the door? More honking. Nope. Asshole.

I grabbed my bag and keys and met him at the curb. He leaned across the front seat to open my door for me. Not politeness. The handle had broken off on the outside.

Bo was wearing a torn white tee shirt advertising a local radio station’s Beer Bash. He had cutoff jeans exposing his pale freckled thighs, and enough cologne to marinate an elephant.

Fast food cups, papers, candy wrappers and empty soda cans littered the passenger seat. Even if I’d Scotch-guarded my dress, I wouldn’t dare sit on that. The car had a reek of B.O. and spoiling food, the kind of reek you can only get by a serious dedication to uncleanliness. The cologne didn’t help.

“We’re taking my car,” I said.

“Okay.” Bo agreed so readily he must have been low on gas.

“Where to?” I asked, once we were in the car and backing out of the drive.

Bo didn’t wear his seatbelt, which gave me a perverse desire to slam on the brakes unexpectedly. Not that I wanted him dead, exactly, it was just that sometimes loathing won out over pity.

“I’ve got something romantic in mind.” Bo winked at me, and put his hand on my thigh. He ignored my glare, so I picked his hand up and put it back on his lap.  “We’re going to row a canoe across a lake, and then have a nice picnic dinner on the shore of an island. I’ve been planning this for a while, you know, in case you ever agreed to go out with me again.”

A day on the lake. Even though it was too hot to enjoy being outside, the idea of being on water had a lot of appeal for a desert girl.

Once upon a time the Salt River had flowed most of the year, but because of damming and extensive water use, these days it was dry most of the time. We were lucky to get a trickle after a rain. Hayden’s Ferry, like the Tempe of my reality, had installed a lake a few years ago. They dredged out some of the river bed, put a dam both upstream and downstream, and filled it with water. Now we had a real lake, with sailboats and everything. They had rowing classes there too, and if Susie had read my datebook back in the real world, she’d have already taken the first class last Saturday. With any luck, she had flirted with Will too. It sure would be nice to have a date lined up for when I got my body back.

When we were almost there, Bo cleared his throat. “Uh, no, not that lake. I meant the one at the park. I already packed a picnic. It’s waiting for us there.”

“Oh. You mean the pond then?” So we weren’t going to the lake. So much for my silver lining.

“This is going to be great, Susie. You’ll see. I’ve wanted to go out with you again for the longest time. You’re a super gal. We’re really meant for each other. Don’t worry, I forgive you for all those mean things you said to me.”

Bo had the answers I needed. This date was the way to get them. I ground my teeth together and drove to the park with the pond.

The maintenance crew at the park had also chosen that particular weekend to irrigate the grass. It was hot, and since we were near the pond and walking across flooded fields, it was also humid, reeking, and swarming with mosquitoes.

“I’m an expert at canoeing,” Bo said, squelching through irrigation water. He started manufacturing boating exploits, to impress me, no doubt. My brain shut off, leaving only enough capacity to power “uh huh”s and “mmm”s. Poor Bo. Such a loser that he wasted his time planning dates with women who hated him. Poor me, so desperate for answers I was willing to slog across a damp field with the stalker ex I’d gotten a restraining order against. And what kind of a picnic could you have in swampy grass? The tepid water came up to my ankles. Good thing these sandals were cheap.

We had to walk half a mile to get from where he had me park to the boat rental, and when finally we got there we found that Bo hadn’t planned this as well as he thought he had.

“Whaddya mean there aren’t any canoes?” Bo looked angry, bordering on violent, at this grievous hitch in his plans.

I backed away from him. Now it came. Mr. Anger Management would throw a fit, and start screaming. Ugly. Scary. Maybe there was another way to find out how to stop Nightjack? Bo swore at the boat rental guy, pounding on the counter. His left hand was playing with a bulge in his pants. It was probably his survival knife. Hopefully. Either way, bad news.

“It’s okay, Bo, we can rent a paddle boat instead.” I reached under my sweater and unsnapped the holster of my gun. Just in case.

Bo wavered. Whereas Nightjack had flipped from fury to happy in an eyeblink, Bo settled into it grudgingly.

We rented a paddle boat (I insisted the date be ‘Dutch treat,’ but Bo protested, even though he had to borrow twelve dollars from me). And there weren’t any islands, so he directed us towards a bank on the opposite side of the pond not too far from where we had to park.

“Ummm … here?” I asked.

“I packed food for us. Sandwiches. I put it right here, but someone must have thrown it away.” Bo stood in the mud near the bank of the pond and searched the ground around him. He looked so forlorn that I was starting to feel sorry for him, until he lifted me up and tried to shove me into the trash can. “It’s probably in there. You’re smaller, you can look for it better.”

“Put me down!” I thrashed until he released me. For such an unathletic looking guy, Bo was surprisingly strong.

Bo let go, and I slipped, falling to my knee and hip. Great. Now my white shirt had mud all over it, and the dress would probably be stained too. Okay, that was it. Time to go. It was bad enough tolerating Bo’s company without having him grab me and ruin my clothes. Screw him. I spun on my heel and started walking back to the car.

“Don’t you back out now,” Bo said, menacingly, then switched to a whine. “Please, Susie?”

I looked back, which was a mistake, because Bo had a sad, pleading expression. I hated when he did that. Angry and lascivious was one thing, but the puppy look got me every time. Every stinking time. Stupid maternal instincts.

“Fine,” I sighed.

Only when we were back in my car did I let him in on my plan. I didn’t have to drive long. “It’s this game I saw on television. You’ve heard of a pub crawl, right?”

“Uh, yeah?”

We were only two blocks from a Filibertos. Perfect. “Well, this is like a pub crawl, except that instead of drinking shots of alcohol at every pub, you drink shots of hot sauce at every taco stand.” Which would mean that we’d visit one of the few spots I knew Darius was fond of. ‘Synchronous resonance’. Might as well multitask.

“Hot sauce?”

“Well, if you can’t handle it, maybe we could go see a movie. There’s a remake of one of Jane Austen’s novels that’s gotten some good reviews. My girlfriend saw it and she said it was a real tearjerker.”

Bo chose the hot sauce.

And so we drank.  American salsa is chunky, where you can see the bits of onion and cilantro and green chili floating around in a tomato puree. The Mexicans like it thinner, something like Tabasco sauce with seeds, and all the taco chains offer little plastic cups with their combo meals. I’m partial to the green ones. They’re made with tomatillos and Anaheim chilis, and have a nice tartness to them. Bo said he didn’t trust green foods, and went for the red sauce, which are actually hotter. Bo sucked it up, bragging that it didn’t hurt him at all, though I knew he had a gringo mouth. I tried hard not to smirk at his pain; inside, I was gleefully enjoying it.

After eight taco stands and about a pint of hot sauce each, I’d had enough, and judging by his puffy face, so had Bo. We were sitting in the outdoor eating area of Juanitos. Juanitos was just like Abuelitos, Filibertos, and all the other ‘tos’ taco stands. The metal picnic tables were covered with various graffiti tags and bits of chewing gum. Heat radiated from the cement, from the corrugated tin roof, and from the building itself, a shack so small you couldn’t park a car in it if it were emptied.

I emptied a green hot sauce into my mouth, and handed one to Bo. He set it on the seat of the picnic table and stomped on it with his army boots. “Sue, I’m done. Let’s go back to my place and have sex now.”

I grabbed his Crown Royal sack. “How about you answer my questions instead?”

He pouted, but pity won’t get you laid. Not by me, anyway. Well, not since I was in high school.

“You said you were good at divination.”

“Fine.” Bo sighed and picked up his purple felt sack.  He couldn’t seem to get the knot untied, so he used his teeth on it, and then cut it with the survival knife. “What’s your question?”

“I have a few. I want to know how to get rid of Nightjack.”

“Who’s Nightjack?”

“Ah, an ex boyfriend.”

“You want me to cut him up?” Bo flipped his survival knife in the air. It might have looked cooler if he hadn’t dropped it. The knife bounced off the metal picnic table and clanged on the cement pad. Bo picked it up, and was about to flip it again when I put my hand on his arm to stop him.

“Please. Just tell me what I need to get rid of Nightjack.”

“Okay. Fine.” Bo set the knife down and started rummaging in his Crown Royal sack. Two letters fell out, but he scooped them up before I could see them and put them back into the bag.

“How does this work?”

“Shh. It won’t work if you interrupt me.” He drew out some scrabble tiles, setting the wooden squares one at a time on the dirty aluminum table.

Bo rearranged the tiles. Concentration made him look different, more adult, like a non-stalker who had social graces. He had drawn a crappy septet of tiles with too many Es. DYFFEEE. He rearranged them.


“Feed fey?”

Bo shrugged. “You interrupted me.”

I frowned. Maybe that sort of made sense. The djinns were gnosti, and the fey were gnosti too, and if they were both partly of the Elsewhere and partly of earth, maybe there was some way to make the fey eat Nightjack. Gruesome, but potentially workable. “Can you answer a couple more questions for me?”

Bo sniffed, and wiped his nose with the back of his hand. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“Where’s Maggie’s spellbook?”

Bo drew eight tiles this time, and came up with the answer almost as soon as he laid them on the table. He murmured something under his breath as he rearranged them, not like a man who can’t read without moving his lips, but as though he was letting a gnosti borrow his lips for a moment while he wasn’t using them. I did that tearing gesture with my fingers, enhancing my second sight. Bo’s aura began to flash pale green, bright enough that it made my second sight overcome my normal vision. Like most magic, it was creepy as hell.  His aura grew brighter, and vibrated, causing the empty hot sauce cups to shimmy on the picnic table. “Computer.”

“You sure?”


Crap. That meant fiddling with it again, and maybe finding antique parts to make it run. “Okay, last question. Where’s Darius?”

Bo reached into the bag. “Uh, it’s harder if it’s not a one word answer.”

“Well, maybe it is.”

“Nuh-uh,” he said, drawing out a fistful of tiles. “Too many letters. He must be moving or something.”

“Fine. Um.” What else did I want to know? “Who put the curse on me at the Black Bean?”

Bo put the tiles back in the sack. He stuck his hand inside and rummaged around, like a guy playing pocket pool. Bo began to draw the Scrabble tiles out of the sack. He handed me an R. He handed me an A and a D. Bo gave me an I and a U. He fished into the bag, fingers writhing around as they searched for the last letter. The air around him shook like a truck on a bumpy road, and his aura began cast real shadows on the ground. He handed me an S, and then sighed.

“Radius?” I stared at the letters in my hands. “What does this mean?”

“Like I said. Sometimes you got to fiddle with the letters.” He shrugged. “Now let’s go back to my place so we can have sex.”

I flipped the D and the R around. Darius. Darius cursed me? That nice kid?

“Come on, now let’s go back to your house so we can fuck.”

“I’m not going to have sex with you. That wasn’t our arrangement. I promised to go on a date with you, that’s all.”

“I took you out.” He grabbed for my breast. “If a guy takes a girl out for dinner, she has to put out.”

For a moment I was so mad I could only splutter. “ExCUSE me?”

“Come on, babe. That’s the rule.”

“You think I have to put out because you spent money on me? I’m not a whore, and if I were, I’d cost a hell of a lot more than a six dollar taco plate.”

“You wouldn’t have gone out with me if you weren’t going to spread your legs. I know you’re just playing hard to get.” He reached for my breast again.

I backed off the picnic table, glaring at him. “Let me spell this out for you, Bo. I will never, ever, have sex with you. I hate you. You made me change apartments, you made me change my number, you made me stop hanging out at that coffee shop I liked just to avoid you.”

“You’re mine, you just don’t know it yet.”

“Like hell I am.” I gave him my steeliest stare. I might have drawn my gun, but they taught us in the gun safety classes that that’s called brandishing, and you can get in trouble for that. Besides, even though Bo was the reason I got the gun in the first place, I didn’t really want to shoot him. Well, yeah, I did actually.

Bo had scared the shit out of me when he lurked under my windows at night. He’d scared my neighbors too, leaving dead animals on my doorstep. He never seemed to understand what was courting and what was just plain threatening. He never showed any remorse, or comprehension about the emotional damage that living in constant fear does to a person.

But this time I wasn’t going to put up with any of his shit. I’d brushed with a djinn, and a pale dorky psychopath wasn’t going to keep me awake anymore. My hand itched to draw my gun and put that bullet in his spine. Or maybe the kneecap. I’ve heard that hurts a lot.

“Come on, babe, don’t make me get nasty.” Bo pulled out his knife and started cleaning his fingernails with it.

What would Susie do?

I made a gesture like raking up sand with my fingers, then turned my palms over and flicked my nails at Bo’s face, spitting out darts of energy. I don’t know what kind of spell it was, but it distracted him long enough for me to fish the pepper spray out of my purse. Bo didn’t like capsicum in his eyes any more than he had liked drinking it, because he fell off the picnic table and began thrashing on the ground. His survival knife lay on the seat, and another knife fell out of his army boots. Just for that, I sprayed him again.

“Consider this a warning, Bo. The next time you threaten me, I won’t be so nice.”

I got in my car and left him still writhing on the dirty dining area of the taco stand. Pulling out of the drive, I had an urge to go back and kick him a few times while he was down. Rage washed through me, making me alternately excited and shaky, until I realized I had to pull over and calm down or I’d never make it home in one piece.

Susie’s cellphone had mostly the same numbers that mine had. It even had Jess and Christopher’s number from when they rented out that house in Phoenix with their band members.  My eyes burned, and I turned on the radio to distract myself.

“Focus. Calm down.” I started to rub my eyes, but my hands smelled like hot peppers. “Find out where Darius is first.”

And then what? None of this was getting me any closer to getting home, was it? It felt like trying to play one of those stupid computer games that Christopher was into for a while. You had to get the wrench to open the door to free the cat to chase the mouse, who had the radioactive cheese that would make the monster get big so that it would scare away the mad scientist, and you spent so much time looking for the damn wrench that it was hard to remember what the end goal was.

All I wanted was to go home and let Susie fix her own problems. Instead, I alienated her friends, got kidnapped, had my house trashed by a djinn, and gave my phone number to a freckled cockroach with a survival knife.

I allowed myself a song and a half’s worth of self-pity before going to Darius’ house. Maybe he’d come back. It took me a while to find the place, even though I’d been there, but I recognized the broken tile out front, and I recognized the angry black man Darius had called his father.

“What the hell do you want?” He asked me, not quite opening the door all the way.

“I’m looking for Darius.”

“He’s gone,” Darius’ father said. “And if you find him, tell him he’s not welcome back.”

“But when—“

He shut the door on me.

It only took an hour and a half to call the local shelters. I started with the ones that specialized in teens, then went down the line, finding ones that were in Hayden’s Ferry, or close enough in Phoenix or Brighamville that Darius could get there on a bicycle.  There weren’t as many as you’d think a city this size would need, and most of the beds were full. One woman told me in a tired voice that the residents were only allowed to stay a week. How long had Darius been gone? Where was he staying? Was he dead?

I felt guilty. What if he was dead? What if I was trying to get revenge on a poor boy lying in a ditch somewhere?

I called Amber and asked if she’d seen Darius.

“Darius?” She laughed, as though I’d made a joke at her mother’s funeral. “You’re worried about Darius?”

“Yeah, he’s been missing for a while now, and his dad wouldn’t tell me where he is.”

Amber paused, and I thought I heard her sucking on a cigarette. She smoked cloves, didn’t she? “Susie, is it true? Is it true what you said?”

“That I’m not Susie? Yes.”

“It’s just that … you seem so much like her.”

“I kind of am her.”

“I need her right now. I’ve got some stuff going on. I wish she were here.” She sounded like Christopher, asking for seventy bucks to help pay the rent, or Jess, wanting to borrow my new jacket because she’d heard a record scout was going to watch their show. Call me pathetic, but Amber’s need pulled at me. I wanted someone to rely on me. I liked being the grown-up in the family.

“Amber, I know we’re just barely friends and all, but if you need to talk we can. Wanna meet tomorrow? We can hang out, see a movie, whatever.”

“A movie.” Amber laughed again, as though I’d made another painful joke. “You want to see a movie?”

“Sure. Until Susie gets back, I’m accepting her obligations as my own.”

“Oh, is that what I am? Susie’s obligation?”

“I didn’t mean it that way.”

But Amber had hung up, and when I redialed it went straight to voicemail. Great. Was there anyone I hadn’t pissed off yet? I needed Maggie. I needed Jess and Christopher. Most of all, I needed Susie to come home and clean up the mess she made, because I sure wasn’t doing a good job of it.

There weren’t any strange cars parked in front of our house, so I had no warning until I walked into the kitchen and saw him sitting at the table.


Darius’ face was marred by a cut near his ear and a winner of a black eye. His backpack was slung over the chair behind him, stuffed and worn as though it regularly carted half a library around. His hair, tangled and unwashed, clung together in white mini-dreads around his face. He wore his long black coat, despite the heat, and wore thin pants with Birkenstocks that looked ready for resoling.

I wanted to cheer and hug him, but then I remembered what Bo’s Scrabble tiles had told me. I glared. “You cursed me.”

“Who, me?” He looked up. “What you talking about?”

“Why’d you curse me, Darius?”

“I didn’t do nothing.”

“Bullshit!” I drew my nearly empty pepper spray canister and pointed it at him. I knew when someone was lying, and lying made me mad faster than anything.

“Darius got kicked out of his house. I said he could stay here.” Zoë came out of the other room, holding a screwdriver.  Zoë sounded calm about Darius cursing me, too calm. “Now put the mace down.”

“He can’t stay here, he cursed me!” The can was shaking.  Susie’s puny arms couldn’t hold their own weight anymore.

“Guys, please don’t fight,” Darius pleaded. He hunched his shoulders as he slung his backpack on. He didn’t seem fazed by the spray at all, which said a lot about how his life had been. “I’m sorry, I’ll just go.”

“No, Darius, you stay here. Susan, this is my house, and I can choose who I invite in. If you don’t like it, you can find someplace else to live.” Zoë folded her arms and stared at me.

He still wouldn’t meet my eyes. “I’m sorry about cursing you. It was an accident.”

“Sorry? That’s it?” I had to drop the can. “You tried to kill me!”

“Kill you?” He scoffed. “Sue, I just cursed you that one time, at the Black Bean. A minor vit.”

“And you still haven’t told me why. Start talking,” I growled.

“See, it’s like this. I knew Maggie was gone n’shit, and I kind of thought she might be at Dottie’s house, so I was gonna go by and see, you know? But then I saw Jason’s Lexus out front, and figured if Maggie were there he would have told me, so I just took off, except that I saw you following me. I didn’t know it was you.  You could have honked your horn or something. I mean, come on. I just threw a minor vit spell at you, you know, to make you go away, but you kept coming after me.  It was only when you came out of the car in the parking lot that I figured out it was you. I felt real bad, but what was I gonna say, gee, sorry about the minor vit? How was I supposed to know you couldn’t dissolve it on your own? I mean, Susie could, no problem. Then when you were all set to blame Derek, I decided to go along with it.”

“That was Miles’ idea. He also had me lie to you.”

“I already told him what happened to you, Susan.” Zoë said. “I think it’s about time you came clean to everyone.”

“I figured out you weren’t Susie, but I didn’t know what was going on. Doesn’t mean I’m not on your side.” Darius gave me puppy eyes. “You at least talked to me. Susie just ignored me when she found out I wasn’t all that great at magic.”

“Susie is a bitch.”

Zoë and Darius didn’t say anything to contradict me. They both found places in the room to stare at.

Zoë cleared her throat. “How’d your date with Bo go?”

“Stalker Bo? You went out with him?” Darius wrinkled his face. “Susie hated him. She used to make me walk her to her car n’shit, just in case he was there.”

“I know. I had to pepper spray him to keep him from assaulting me. But what choice did I have? I need to know what’s going on. I have to get rid of Nightjack, and I need the spells that are in Maggie’s spellbook.”

“So what does that have to do with Stalker Bo?”

“He’s good at diviniation.”

“That useless fuck?” Darius laughed. “What else did he tell you?”

“He said Maggie’s spellbook is in her computer, and that the way to get rid of Nightjack is to feed the fey.”

“What? That’s pretty f’ed up. How are you going to feed Nightjack to the fey? Or are you going to bribe the fey with food n’shit until they promise to whack him?”

“I don’t know.” I sat down at the table and folded my arms in front of me.

Zoë gave me a diet Coke, and offered one to Darius as well. Darius scoffed and wrinkled his lip, muttering something derogatory about diet sodas, but he popped the can open and started drinking.

“Why did you get kicked out of your house?” Zoë asked.

“My mom took some drugs, put herself in the hospital again. My Dad and I got in a fight about it. Dad got all pissy and told me to ship out. It was just another suicide attempt. She does this shit all the time. She and my dad fight, then she drinks NyQuil and lands herself in the hospital.”


“Cold medicines. Last time it was Sudafed. This time it was NyQuil.” He shrugged. “Faerie thing. There’s a whole long list of drugs that fuck us up. Mom’s tried them all. Usually I catch her in time, and she just has to have her stomach pumped and drink charcoal n’shit, but I was out hanging with some guys from school, and by the time I got there she was pretty far gone. She had to have kidney dialysis or something. That’s why Dad and I fought. I’m supposed to keep an eye on her, make sure she doesn’t do this shit anymore, but still, it pisses me off. I mean, it’s not like she put ‘kill myself’ on her calendar.”

“You have a seriously messed up family.”

Darius scoffed. “Pot calling Kettle. Do you read me, Kettle? Over.”

“How long are you going to stay here?” I asked.

Darius shrugged. “Maybe just tonight, I’ll crash on the sofa.”

“You’ll stay until you graduate high school.” Zoë sounded like a schoolmarm, or maybe a Salvation Army Sergeant who found herself a new project. As far as I knew, Zoë had never met Darius before tonight, but then again, she had barely known me when she let me move in. Zoë said once that she was an excellent judge of character. If it were true, it was sad that Darius was the only friend Susie had that Zoë respected. “Next weekend I’ll clean out the third bedroom for you.”

“I’ll help,” I offered. “This house will be safer with him here.”

Darius’ expression went from stoically resigned to slyly grinning. “Sweet. One young stud, two hot chicks.” He started to strut around. “Wait until I put up the web cams. We can make ourselves some mon-ay!”

Zoë and I both laughed. When a guy as young as Darius started talking like that, it just came off as cute.

“I’m sorry I drew the pepper spray on you. I’m still wired from hanging out with Mr. Psycho.”

“Nah.” Darius waved me away. “It’s cool.”

“So, uh, you wanna walk with me to the Black Bean? We can talk, I can work off some of this adrenaline, and maybe you’ll accept an extra sweet mocha latte as an apology?”


“Lock the door behind you,” Zoë ordered. She tossed Darius a purple key on a long string. “I’m going to bed.”

Darius caught the key and tied it around his neck. He sketched a salute to Zoë. We locked the door behind us. Bo’s car wasn’t at the curb anymore, which must have meant that he came and got it while we were having our little discussion in the kitchen. That was a relief. I paused at the edge of the ward, pushing a little extra energy into it.

“Come on! Coffee coffee coffee!” Darius stood under the street light, dancing from one foot to the other.

“I’m coming.” I grinned and we headed off to the coffee shop at a brisk clip.

“So what else did Mr. Psycho say about how to get rid of Nightjack?” Darius had a hunched-over walk, as though he were leaning into a stiff breeze.

“Nothing. Just feed the fey.”

“That don’t make sense at all.”

I shrugged. “That’s what he said. Feed fey.”

“Man, that’s weird. We should talk to my mom about it.”

“I thought you said she ODed? Is she up to visitors?”

“Sure. It’s never as bad as she pretends it is.”

“Great, then maybe we can-” I screamed, as a huge pale form jumped out from behind a car.

“You bitch!” Bo yelled. He had his survival knife drawn. His eyes were red and puffy, and he looked a little like an angry pig. “You fucking bitch!”

Darius rushed forward, as if he were trying to grab Bo, but Bo swung his knife in a circle.

Darius jerked away from the arcing blade. “Susie! Is this Nightjack? Is this him?”

“No,” I said calmly as I took aim. “It’s just Bo.”

The bullet went cleanly through the laces of his combat boots. Bo dropped his knife and grabbed his foot. He hopped on the other foot, wailing like a cartoon character that had just had a mishap with an anvil.

Darius snatched up the knife and pointed it at Bo. “What the fuck you doing here, man? I’ll cut you! I’ll cut you bad!”

“That’s my woman! Susan, you two-timing bitch, what are—“

“Quiet!” I shouted, in my best singing-across-a-noisy-room voice. Since I was the one with the gun, they more or less obeyed me. “Bo, this is the last time you will ever fuck with me. Do you understand?”

“You fucking bitch, why’d you shoot me?” In the sulfur-yellow streetlight Bo’s cheeks were glinting. Heh heh. I made the bastard cry.

I aimed at his head. It quieted him down nicely. “This is the last time you will ever fuck with me, do you understand? If I ever see you again, I will kill you. If you even cross the street in front of my house, I will kill you. Do. You. Under. Stand?” And the weird thing was, I thought I might actually do it.

Bo glared at me, but this time my arms weren’t wavering. We watched him limp down to the end of the street, get in his car, and drive it away.

“Damn, girlfriend.” Darius shook his head. “You’re one tough cookie.”

“I am now.” I rubbed my eyes, then swore as they started to burn. Tears poured out, trailing down my cheeks and dripping off the end of my chin, and my breath came in gasps. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I was crying or laughing. Green peppers in the eyes. Youch.

“Still want that coffee?” Darius asked.

“Yeah. I don’t think I’m going to get much sleep tonight anyway.”



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