Home > Storm Cursed (Mercy Thompson #11)(8)

Storm Cursed (Mercy Thompson #11)(8)
Author: Patricia Briggs

“Always a good sign when they don’t run screaming,” I agreed.

She tilted her head at me. “Maybe if you hadn’t decided to become Adam’s mate, I might like you.”

“Maybe if you weren’t such a backstabby puppy, I might like you, too,” I told her.

“Backstabby puppy?” Her voice rang with indignation. Then she grinned. “That shoe might fit.” She sobered. “I wanted someone human for him.”

“Him” was Adam, my mate.

“No coyotes allowed,” I murmured.

Mary Jo’s expression hardened. “He deserves someone who will take care of him, who doesn’t bring him more trouble.”

I raised my eyebrows. I’d thought we’d gone through all of this.

She waved a hand, her tough face giving way to sadness.

“He needs a Christy,” she told me honestly. “Someone worthy of him.”

Christy was Adam’s first wife. She was a cold, self-involved, manipulative bitch and I hated her. And I couldn’t express my opinion about why I hated her without causing a civil war in Adam’s pack, most of whom were her willing slaves.

“Why on earth would you want to do that to him?” I heard myself say. “Wasn’t once enough?”

Her mouth opened and then closed.

“She encouraged him to hate what he is,” I told her hotly. “Werewolf and man, both. Even back at the beginning, when I first met them, met him, when I still disliked him for being the control-freaky dominant that he is—even then I just wanted to smack her when she would look at him with big eyes and say, ‘You’re scaring me, Adam.’” I knew I’d done a passable imitation of Christy’s voice from Mary Jo’s widening eyes. “Do you know how long it took me to get him to express even mild anger after she left him?” He still occasionally waited for me to wince or back away from him when he was in a temper.

And I had exposed his pain to Mary Jo, who had no right to it.

That bit of shame finally put a guard back on my tongue. I ran my hands over my face a couple of times. “And I don’t know where that came from. He’s been divorced for a long time and she is, finally, in Eugene again, moved to her own damned town, and it is almost far enough away.” I’d really hoped that she’d find the man of her dreams in the Bahamas. The Bahamas were a lot farther away than Eugene. “Mary Jo, do you hate Adam so much you’d wish another Christy on him?”

Mary Jo’s mouth curled up. “Tell me how you really feel about her, Mercy.”

I growled at her and her smile grew, then faded back. “I’d forgotten that,” she said. “Forgotten how she’d cringe from him. From all of us.” Before I could read the expression on her face, her eyes went to the building and I knew Renny had returned.

“Showtime,” I said.

* * *

• • •

After leading us up a set of stairs and through a couple of locked doors, long hallways, and the main office, Renny brought us into a room that I presumed to be a conference room—because that was what the sign next to the door read. It was bigger than I expected, big enough for six or eight people to sit around the table comfortably.

He’d dealt with the head himself, loading it, tarp and all, into the big black garbage bag. It had dripped more than a little. I felt a twinge of Lady Macbeth—“who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?” The upside was that the mess made my decision as to whether to get new carpet throughout the car pretty easy.

He put the head on the table, steadying it when it rocked a little. He hadn’t looked at the head itself—I didn’t blame him. I didn’t want to see it again.

“Properly,” he told us, “you should have called the coroner in and this wouldn’t be a problem at all.” He glanced at Mary Jo. “You should know that much about procedures.”

She shrugged and gave him a nod. “I do, and you’re right. It’s just that La—the goblin king told us what to do. It didn’t occur to me that we might have made smarter choices until just before I called you.”

I still didn’t think Larry had done anything magical to influence me. Maybe I was fooling myself, but I thought I’d have noticed if he’d tried anything like that. But given that Mary Jo had done the same thing I’d done—maybe if the king of the goblins tells you to do something, you do it. Something like the way an Alpha wolf can make people, even people not in his pack, follow his command. I’d say “his or her command,” but so far as I knew, there were no female Alpha werewolves.

Renny was frowning at Mary Jo. “Having never seen a goblin king, I’ll take your word for that. I’ll give that explanation a toss at the captain and see if it floats with him, too.”

He looked around. “Take a seat. Anything substantial you’ve got to say should wait for the captain. Can I get you something to drink?”

While we waited for his captain, I called Adam and told his voice mail everything that had happened, beginning with the fact that we were all safe and Mary Jo and I were sitting in the sheriff’s office with the goblin’s head.

I got a call as I was finishing up the message and wasn’t quite agile enough with the phone to pick up the call. But the Benton County Sheriff’s Office called me back.

I listened for a few minutes, then told them where I was and handed the phone to Mary Jo’s Renny. He got about sixty seconds into the call before an expression very close to ecstasy crossed his face.

“Could you repeat that?” he said. “No, I’m not laughing at you. I heard you just fine. I only want to hear it one more time because I’m pretty sure that I’ll never hear exactly those words together ever again.”

* * *

• • •

We left Renny still waiting for his captain with the goblin head. I assured him that I didn’t want the tarp back.

Driving out to meet the Benton County Sheriff’s officer, I looked at the sunny sky and sighed. I called Tad again.

“You are going to be late because why?” asked Tad blearily. Then he sounded more alert. “Didn’t we already have this conversation? Or did I have a nightmare? It was about a dead goblin, right?”

I sighed and said, “It was about a goblin. Now it’s about zombie miniature goats. Or miniature goat zombies. Nigerian dwarf goats. Twenty of them running free all around Benton City, apparently.”

“Miniature zombie goats,” murmured Mary Jo. “I think that sounds the cutest. I can see the newspaper headlines now.”

“Are they dead?” Tad asked.

“That’s what ‘zombie’ means,” said Mary Jo loudly, to make sure Tad heard her. “But we’re on our way to kill them again.”

There was a little pause. Tad said, “Zombie miniature goats. Roaming the countryside. Doing what zombie goats do . . . whatever that is. I think there might be a song in that. Or a movie that is only supposed to be good if you are high on something psychedelic. Okay, Mercy, I’ll see you around lunchtime. Good luck with your mini goat zombies.”

“Thank you,” I said with dignity. “I don’t know about lunch, it depends on how long it takes us to find all of the goats.”

“Do you need help?” he asked.

“Always.” I sighed. “But it is too late for me. You just stood there watching when I went out on that bridge and started blabbing about the Tri-Cities being our territory to guard, when any idiot could have seen that I needed you to shove a gag in my mouth.”

He laughed and hung up. The jerk.

* * *

• • •

The outskirts of Benton City, another of the little satellite towns that surrounded the Tri-Cities, were filled with small-acreage farms sprinkled amid orchards and vineyards. I didn’t bother looking for addresses; I just found the house with all the activity.

We turned into a driveway next to a tidy but not beautiful pen that enclosed maybe a quarter of an acre. The side of the fence nearest to the driveway had been cut open.

There were four sheriff’s vehicles parked next to a miniature-goat-sized barn that was painted blue with white trim. Five deputies stood near their cars and watched me drive in. About twenty yards from the deputies was a small and well-kept house with a big, friendly wraparound porch. There were four people on the porch: a woman, a child, a man, and a giant-sized man who looked as though he ate locomotives for lunch.

I parked in between the house and the sheriff’s cars.

“Face-off,” said Mary Jo before she opened her door and got out.

She was right. It was impossible to miss the implied hostility in the empty space between the deputies and the people on the porch. For that matter, there was some hostility between the deputies, too.

“First the sheriff’s office, then the civilians,” I murmured to Mary Jo.

I hung back and let her take the lead with the law enforcement. One of the deputies had misstepped with the civilians, I thought, watching the aggressive stances. He’d gotten some blowback and they were split three to two. I was betting, from his clenched shoulders, that the man with the runner’s build was the culprit. But it might be his stocky buddy. He’d been reprimanded and it had stuck because he was hanging back and letting the others talk.

Body language shouts louder than words in most cases.

I half listened to what they had to say, because most of it was just a repeat of the information I’d gotten on the initial phone call. Once I had the deputies analyzed, I studied the people waiting on the porch without looking directly at them.

Family and family friend, I thought—the giant was noticeably not Hispanic.

The farm belonged to Arnoldo Salas; the goats had belonged to his ten-year-old son. Arnoldo wasn’t hard to pick out.

An extremely fit man in his midforties, he stood in the center of the porch, one hand on the shoulder of a teary-eyed boy while his other arm was wrapped around a woman who looked to be his wife, who wasn’t in much better condition than the child. He watched me with hostility.

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