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The Continuing Adventures of the Precise Princess

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The guy had really kind of terrible spiky hair and was in a perfectly not-quite-rumpled white button down. He was also sitting in a coffee shop in the middle of the day and I didn't know him from Adam, but it's not like I had many options and I wasn't looking for a legit businessman. I pulled out the chair across from him and sat, ignoring how his eyebrows approached his hairline as he watched me.

"I hear you do good work." That's all I said, waiting for his response.

"I don't know who you've been talking to, but you've got the wrong guy."

"Look, I'm running out of options, I'm tired, I really need a shower, and Palmer told me you do good work and you might be willing to work a trade, so can you help me out or not?"

At Palmer his eyebrows went further north - I hadn't thought that was possible - and he said "I'm going to have to tell him to stop sending all the runaways my way."

"I'm not a runaway. Well, not exactly."

"Mmmmm. So what's the deal, running away from mommy and daddy, a huge multinational company that wants to kill you, or an ex-boyfriend?"

"All of the above, more or less."

"Yea, sure. And you don't have any money, but you really need help blah blah blah. What kind of skills do you have?"

"I'm smart, I learn things quickly, I can keep my mouth shut, I'm good with knives."

"Well, that's the most generic list I've ever heard. What about something teenage normal, like ever having worked retail?"

"I've never done it, but I can fake it."

"What teenager in the United State hasn't worked retail?"

"It's a long story, and I really can't tell you about it."

He stared at me for a long moment before picking up his phone, poking at it, and rereading a text message, then hitting a number in his contacts. "Hey... yes, I know it's the middle of set-up, but when you send another runaway my way, I'm going to call... Not your normal, eh?... Really?... Michael is pretty busy right now, but... You sure?... Well, okay." He disconnected the call and stared at me again for another long moment. "When did you go missing?"

"I really can't tell you that."

"You from Florida?"

"Can't tell you that either."

We stared each other down until he grimaced. "Well, Palmer vouches for you, and he doesn't do that often. Grab your bag and let's get you that shower and go from there."

--

We pulled up in front of a nice two story bungalow. Cute, decently maintained yard, lots of trees out front. It would be easy to hide in, but hell for seeing who was coming up to the house. Like everyone else in the United States, we used the back door. Barry - the guy with the spiky hair that Palmer had sent me to, and I promise I'll explain all of this in a second when I get a chance to breathe - opened the door, stuck his head in, and called out "Maddie?"

Big hair, big earrings, platinum blonde hair, a cigarette hanging from her mouth - Maddie was Miami personified, from what little of the city I'd seen so far. She came into the kitchen and put her hands on her hips before saying "Sam called me. What are y'all getting me into now?"

Barry kissed her on the cheek and said "Nothing, nothing at all. We just need to stash someone for a few days until we figure out..."

"How much help you need, if you can trust her, and where you're going to put the body if you don't. Same as always." My face must have belied my surprise at where you're going to put the body because Maddie turned to me and said "You can't be that surprised at that, if you got sent to this guy for help. What's your name?"

"Lisa." My cousin is Elsie, so Lisa is easy enough to answer to, and it's what I'd used with the circus that I'd dared to join up with for a week, which is where I'd met Palmer, so I was stuck with it now. That and every third woman my age in the U.S. is named Lisa. It was an easy name to hide behind.

Apparently, it wasn't that good, because Maddie was skeptical. "You're going to want a more convincing last name than Smith when Barry makes your ID, so I hope you have something in mind."

She bustled me out of the house and into the garage, which had a single bed and a table and chairs and bookshelves and... "I'd ask why your garage is conveniently kitted out as an apartment, but I'm not sure I'm up to the answer right now."

Maddie chuckled. "We can put you here for now, it's quiet, it gives you a little more privacy than being in the house, and I'm guessing you can sleep almost anywhere. Do you drive?"

"Sure don't."

"That's fine, there's bus service a few blocks over. I think they're going to have you work for Mrs. Pak for now anyhow, and you can walk there. What color was your hair on your last ID picture?" I stared at her for a minute, before she snapped, "We're pretty quick on the uptake here, and people don't end up here for vacations, so don't be surprised that I can work out a few details! That, and drugstore black looks horrible on you."

I grimaced at that and twirled some hair between my fingers, before sighing and saying "Light brown, but I normally henna it to reddish. But since the people I was last acquainted with are looking for red-headed me..."

She nodded. "How worried are you about facial recognition software?"

I must had startled again, because she looked hurt. I put out my hands to pacify. "I'm sorry, it's not you, and I normally have a better poker face, but it's been a really long few months and I'm really tired. I'm not even unused to people who rattle off hide the body and facial recognition software, it's just been a really wild few months. To answer your question, I'm moderately concerned if they figure out I'm in Miami, but I'm hoping to be out of your hair before that happens."

I must have said the right things (I'd gotten good at that) because she relaxed. "How attached are you to your hair?"

"Less attached than I am to staying alive."

"Good answer. Honey, why don't you get some sleep. Shower's down the hall in the house, we'll get you cleaned up for your pictures after we get some food in you, and I know you're tired because you haven't even asked what you're trading for this."

"It's not like I have a lot of choice in the matter."

Maddie nodded, a little sadly, and walked out of the garage without another word. I'm pretty sure I was asleep before I hit the bed.

--

I was awake - from a really delicious dream about my Sam, curse it - but I stuck my face back in the pillow, until I heard, in a lovely Irish accent: "What do you mean we have a bloody Price in Madeline's garage?" "Fi, why don't you just yell that loud enough that the entire Covenant of Saint George can hear you ACROSS THE POND?"

"You have got to be kidding me," I muttered. How I managed to end up in the one place in Miami that someone might know who I was? It's not like I'd gone looking for the local dragon nest or anything.

Luckily, since I'd pretty much collapsed, I hadn't undressed or unpacked. I didn't even have to put my shoes back on. I hitched my bag up over my shoulders, looked ruefully at my tank top and leggings (I really needed some new clothes), turned around, and... a tall, slender, dark-haired dude stood in the doorway to the garage, looking both as pretty and generic as could be in nice slacks and a button up. How did all the men in Miami manage to look like they'd posed for GQ recently?

He cleared his throat. "Hi... Lisa. I'm Michael. Look, I'm sorry we woke you up, but before you bolt, will you come into the house and talk to us? Please?"

I ran through my thoughts in a minute (they already know who I am, I can't take them all but I'm fast, they can't know my parents to call them or else I would have heard of these people before), and I think sheer weariness finally had me saying "Okay. Okay. Fine. Let's go."

The kitchen was significantly more crowded than it had been before my nap. There was Maddie, the newly identified Michael, Barry (who looked like he wanted to be anywhere else), a skinny white chick with long brown hair (presumably Fi of the beautiful-but-dangerous-sounding accent) in a slinky tank top and jean capris, a middle aged guy in a gaudy Cuban shirt drinking a beer, and a pretty boy of indeterminate ethnicity, also drinking a beer. I was sensing a theme.

"Want a beer?" Middle aged guy held one out.

"I don't drink, but thanks." I drew in a breath and began, "How did you make me, and which of my siblings do I need to kill now?"

"It's not quite that simple, so no killing yet." Barry grimaced. "I have a friend in L.A., who does way better work than I do, incidentally" - everyone looked surprised at that, but Barry shrugged - "it's true, and I'm not unwilling to say that. Anyhow, a few weeks ago, he put out to a couple of trusted colleagues that if someone who fit your general description turned up looking for papers, hook you up and he'd take care of us."

"But he wouldn't have named me." Uncle Mike was way better at this than that.

"No. He didn't. But we had a spot of trouble with some odd oceanic critters awhile back, and a friend of a friend of Fi's here hooked us up with a guy named Alex-" At that, I groaned loudly, sat my backpack on the flour, and pounded my head against the wall a couple of times before Maddie stopped me, put me in a chair, and put a glass of tea in my hand.

Barry took a deep breath and carried on. "This guy named Alex, who came down and dealt with the issue for us. He said something about having a couple of sisters-"

"Because we've always mostly hidden as ourselves," I interrupted.

Michael nodded. "That's the easiest way to do it."

"And you guys being vouched for by the friend of the friend, he didn't need to come down here as Alex the zookeeper, he could come down here as Alex Price, the cryptobiologist."

"Yup." Michael opened the fridge, paused for a minute, and then skipped the beer for the bottle of whiskey, which he poured neat into a glass. "Sure you don't want a drink?"

"Trust me, I wish I did." I did sip some of the tea, and ran my hands through my soon to be gone hair.

"And anyhow, even if he hadn't said he had a couple of sisters, my contacts back home said that there's rumors that a Price has gone missing, after that spot of trouble on Dance or Die." Fi arched her eyebrows. "That was... bold of whoever that was."

"If I ever get my hands on my sister again..." That got me an understanding chuckle from everyone at the table.

"So, Uncle Mike has someone missing he cares about, Alex Price has a couple of sisters, there's a missing Price in the works..." Michael arched an eyebrow at me.

"And I'm made."

"We were in a unique position to triangulate." Fi looked satisfied.

"How long until the Covenant gets here?" First things first, right?

At that, Michael looked a little surprised and a little hurt. "Are you kidding? We hate the Covenant."

Fi piped up. "They helped the wrong side during the Troubles."

"Of course they did. Burning... lots of other things to the ground was not enough."

Things got quiet for a minute, with everyone eyeing everyone else, trying to figure out what they knew. Barry finally broke. "Look, kid, we don't know everything, but we know enough to know the Covenant is bad news, and we wouldn't call them on anyone. I helped a couple of local boogeymen kids get fixed up with identities last year so they could go get business degrees, and I'm happy to call them if you need them to vouch for us."

I let that sink in for a minute. "I appreciate the offer, but I think we're good. Why are you being so manically helpful to me? Not that I don't appreciate it - I'm really tired and it's nice to relax for a minute and no one is trying to kill me, which is more awesome than a new X-Men comic right this second, though that means the ceiling is likely to cave in, but why are you being so helpful?" What can I say - sometimes I babble a little when I'm nervous.

Michael took that one. "We all know what it's like to be burned by the folks we're working for. We really hate the Covenant. Barry here owes your Uncle Mike a favor. And we're shorthanded and know your list of skills is better than you told Barry earlier, though you don't have to take that part of the deal if you don't want."

"What is the deal?"

The still unidentified middle aged guy piped up. "Well, you have a couple of options. Barry here sets you with an ID and a burner phone - we can get you a social if you want, but we're guessing that's too trackable for you since you're hiding from both the Covenant and your family. We can put you on a bus or train or boat to anywhere you want. We know some folks in South Dakota who are into stuff that's going to make even you pause, and I know some grifters in Boston who can always use help. Though we're a lot more fun."

The pretty boy took over. "You can work for our friend Mrs. Pok for awhile, to get some cash in your pockets; she needs some help and we're guessing you need money. That's just straight up retail, working the register at the bodega. She only needs help for a month or so, and after that, bus boat train etc. Maddie will let you sleep in the garage in the meantime; she doesn't charge rent if you do dishes."

Michael spoke up. This was getting dizzying. "Or, you work for Mrs. Pok and for us for awhile - until you decide to move on or until the Covenant makes you, though we're going to do everything we can to prevent that. Though I'm guessing your concern is less them making you and more, them finding your family through you."

I nodded.

"We need extra hands, I'm guessing you have skills. Spill them, what do you do?"

I sighed. Not running for awhile sounded really, really nice. "I am, in fact, really good with knives. It also happens that I'm good with pit traps, hand to hand combat, explosives..."

--

Madeline turned out to be a serviceable cook (though I might have been the only one to think so). Still, fish and nuke-in-a-bag broccoli and cheese sauce and rice was way better than the circus food (so much ramen) and the gas station hot dogs I'd been living off of. Eating real food at a table with people who didn't want to kill me was nicer than I could have dreamed. It turned out that under the right circumstances, even I could welcome company that wasn't my family or my roller derby team.

At the thought of my derby team, something twisted around in my gut, and I put the thought aside.

During dinner, we argued the finer points of what to do with my hair and name. In the end we settled on a pixie cut; we bleached the black out and put in strawberry blonde dye. I'd argued for a buzz cut, and while we'd given it strong consideration, there weren't enough punks in Maddie's neighborhood and we weren't close enough to the GLBT neighborhood, and I was going to stand out, which was so not what we were trying to accomplish.

As far as my name went, we zoomed over to a work space behind a corner store and got me newly laminated as "Lisa Phillips" ("just as generic as Smith, but less obvious" Barry had pointed out). I'd balked at getting a state ID card at all, since I didn't drive, but Michael pointed out that if they had to get me out of Miami in a hurry, that I'd need an ID for Greyhound or Amtrak.

We'd gotten Cuban coffees on the way home - Michael casually paying for mine, which I appreciated - and I'd stumbled to my garage, feeling slightly steamrollered by the turn of events, but grateful at the same time. I curled up in bed, missing my Sam (whom I'm going to have to refer to as Samuel to keep this from getting too confusing), my mice, and my cousins, and drifted off.

--

My name is Antimony Price. It is, as I had told Barry, a very long story, but my family has been in hiding from a large, semi-secret international organization that hunts cryptids - creatures, some humanoid, that didn't fit neatly into our known zoological categories. The Covenant of Saint George called them monsters and believed anything not human needed to be killed. Up my ancestral tree were several folks who had started out belonging to the Covenant but converted to trying to help cryptids when they could, maintain biological balance, and simply not kill everything that moved just because it might not be exactly like us.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a dogmatic organization like the Covenant, they hadn't taken too kindly to the defection. We'd managed to stay hidden for several generations - they were mostly in Britain and we were mostly in the United States. Every once in awhile they came snooping around, talking cash money about a purge, but it never went anywhere; my sister had converted the first agent that had come through New York, and we'd rearranged the brains of the next two. But then that sister, Verity, went on a reality show called Dance or Die. Some snake cultists managed to call up a giant serpent in the middle of an episode, Verity killed it with the cameras running, and outted herself on national TV, telling the Covenant to leave 'her continent' alone in the meantime.

I was still livid. In fact, livid wasn't a strong enough word to cover what I felt most of the time. Every once in a while, I thought that maybe Verity had made the best decisions she could at the time, but if she hadn't been on the show in the first place... I'd be at home, reading my comic books, sending the occasional ghost along the way with my cousin Artie, skating my butt off, and doing whatever else needed to be done.

Anyhow. In the aftermath of the show, we'd needed to know what the Covenant knew about us, so I got sent to England undercover as a volunteer, eager to kill the "monsters" who had killed her family. In turn, the Covenant had sent me into a carnival in the U.S. to figure out who was kidnapping and perhaps killing local teenagers and neutralize the threat. It had been a strange few months, and I wasn't the world's greatest double agent, but I'd done a decent job of it.

That had ended in tears and fire - literally - and it turned out that my cover had been blown almost from the minute that I'd set foot in the Covenant compound. I'm not entirely sure why we'd thought that the multi-generational terrorist organization with deep pockets wouldn't have someone with a photographic memory. Leo, who'd be the head of the whole mess one day, had apparently been up to the gallery of ancestors, matched me up with a painting, and was sitting on that knowledge until it suited his plans. At least, like every good evil mastermind everywhere, he'd let me know that he knew who I was before helping to clean up the mess and shipping everyone back to England, where he was biding his time and hoping to bring me back into the fold.

Meantime, I was now on the lam from both the Covenant and my family, since the Covenant knew who I was. Going home would lead them straight to my family. Contacting my family would lead the Covenant straight to them. Going to a local cryptid community might do the same, since not everyone trusted us. So, I'd joined the circus for a week - not a great idea, but I'd be out of cash and running out of options. The plan, as I'd told my Aunt Mary (the only family member I could communicate with, because she was a ghost and in theory the Covenant couldn't get their hands on her), had been to head towards one of the smaller amusement parks and work for awhile, but the circus kids had let me know that even the smaller places had been cracking down when it came to background checks and identification. The circus had wanted me to stay on, but I'd known that Leo was going to be looking at circuses and carnivals for me.

So when Palmer had let on that he knew some actual facts humans on the right side of the shady side of the law who might be able to help me out (and I'd thought, wouldn't know anything about the Covenant, joke's on me), I'd hitchhiked down to Miami.

I was tired just thinking about it, let alone living it.

--

Mrs. Pok, it turned out, was an older Korean woman; Ms. Pok ("for the love of God, Miriam, please") was her college aged daughter. Normally, Miriam ran the bodega in the morning while Mrs. Pok spent the morning with her mother, but "After 5 years of offering advanced archaeological techniques and remote sensing in the afternoon first summer session, as man and the anthropology department intended, Dr. Frank got an offer to go to Egypt for the summer and they had to bring in someone else who was already promised across town to teach classes in the afternoon, so I have to take them in the morning. Which leaves us needing help. Which means you." Miriam had looked at me skeptically, one hand fiddling with the blue hair pulled back into a sloppy ponytail.

"I've never worked retail, but I'm quiet and reliable."

Miriam had pondered that for a minute, apparently decided to go along with it, and then said "Okay. The hardest part of the whole thing is lottery tickets..."

So Miriam went off to class, Mrs. Pok went off to get her mother showered and dressed and fed and medicated and hauled to their weekly bingo game, and I sat at the counter at the bodega, selling cigarettes and candy bars and the occasional 40 - which boggled my mind, at 10:00 am - drinking a Red Bull and playing Candy Crush on the burner phone that Barry had given me. It had everyone's phone number programmed into it and urgent instructions to call or text at the first whiff of Covenant.

It turned into a quiet week. I got off work at noon when Miriam got back from class. The first day, she'd taken a quiet poke through the register, noted the receipts in the right folder and the neatly restocked coolers, and said "All right, you can come back tomorrow." Friday, she'd pulled $200 in cash out of the register and pulled a fresh Red Bull out of a cooler to put in my hands, told me "We're covered for the weekend, see you Monday," and that had been that.

Which left me at loose ends on Friday afternoon. I was pondering going for another run - I'd been getting up and running at 5 in the morning with Jesse, before it got impossibly hot in Miami. However, another run wouldn't hurt, since I didn't dare go to a skating ring (perhaps ever again, which was more terrible than I could find words for) and it's not like there was a handy trapeze anywhere. I was contemplating the merits of the beach - it couldn't be that hard to figure out a surf board, right? I was considering taking the bus to the mall and hitting up Old Navy for more underwear and the food court for cheap Chinese food. Or maybe some t-shirts, since I couldn't wear any of my roller derby swag... maybe ever again. And maybe some shorts, because it was hot in Miami. But could I maybe risk a run to a comic book store? I was feeling a little dizzy with having choices and leisure time and some cash in my pocket... when my phone buzzed.

Fiona: You busy?

I literally laughed out loud at that, and replied Nope. The phone buzzed again. Jesse will be there in 10.

Jesse appeared and ferried me over to what was apparently Michael's loft, big and open and industrial, the kind of place that I wouldn't mind having if I wasn't on the move. This whole adventure definitely had me reconsidering the merits of living with my parents. Find a nice loft in an anonymous urban area after all this blew over, find an easy job that paid the bills, find a nice derby league to skate with, eventually head to college (which had been the plan, eventually, before all this happened) ... but my folks had been leaning on me more and more for jobs in the Portland area - everything from exorcisms to figuring out how to Fedex a pond monster to Ohio to see Alex - and I'd miss Artie (my cousin) and and...

But I was starting to see why my siblings have moved away from home.

Anyhow, Michael's loft was nice, spacious and comfortable,. with a lot of contents clearly leftover from whatever it had been before he moved in. Fiona and Michael and Sam and Jesse were upstairs, and Fi had a bunch of clothes on the bed.

"Can you run in high heels?" she asked without preamble.

"Not as well as my sister, but well enough."

"Mmm." She considered, then turned to Jesse, tapping at her phone. "I texted you a link. Go get those wedges from Target. And a 12 pack of diet Coke." He turned and went back down the stairs without a word, while Fi started humming to herself and considering the clothes on the bed.

"What Fi means to say-" Michael looked at her, equal parts loving and amused - "is that she's running security tonight with Jesse for a gallery opening, and it turns out that Sam and I have some business to attend to elsewhere, so we thought you might want to come along for the security detail. You two are about of a size, so you can wear Fi's clothes and look the part."

"What kind of gallery needs you all for security at its opening?"

"The kind where the owner paints gigantic vaginas and mouths off in the local press about animal rights and pharmaceutical companies."

I pondered that one. "Fair enough."

So, I got fed my Chinese food for lunch (Sam disappeared and appeared 20 minutes later with the lovely white cartons, which we all fell on like vultures), and then Fi hummed and pondered and in the end, painted neutral but flattering make-up on me ("drink whatever you want, trust me, that lip stain is going nowhere"), did my nails (she even had a portable gel nails dryer, which meant that I was stuck with those nails for awhile, but they looked great), and put me in one of her dresses (sleeveless and black, and I winced at the lack of tone in my arms and vowed to add push-ups to our daily runs) and presented the wedges that Jesse had returned with. My only jewelry was a string of fake pearls around my neck. My hair we slicked back. Since the dress was Fi's, it was a touch short on me and I had to fight the impulse to tug on it, but in the end... I looked remarkably nice.

"Wowser" was Michael's comment. Fiona tapped him on the butt and said "down boy", but we all knew there was zero intent on either side of that exchange, in part because we all valued our lives (Fiona: lovely, loyal, beautiful, deadly. I can appreciate that.) She got herself done in half the time it'd taken her to doll me up, also in a short black dress, but with long earrings and heels I could never run in. Jesse borrowed the bathroom for a few and reappeared in a suit that had me whistling (what can I say? My heart might be considering if it wants to belong to Samuel, but I still have eyes and Jesse is gorgeous.) I got a couple of knives hidden in strategic places, Fiona provided me with a purse just big enough for my phone, ID, and a couple more knives, and we were ready to go.

--

The artist turned out to be beautiful, brown, wearing impossibly tall heels, a head full of braids, and a very short flowered dress over equally colorful leggings that didn't match the dress, and was "Thrilled, just so thrilled that you folks could join us tonight!", as if we were invited guests and not a (to my mind, too-heavily) armed security team. We picked her up and got her to the gallery early, and checked the perimeter and in general wandered around before deeming everything as safe as we could make it for the evening.

The opening itself was quiet, security wise - we cracked jokes a bit on the earpieces, and Jesse raised his eyebrows at the canvases of yes, very large vaginas, creative penises, and other such subjects. We all turned down champagne until the servers realized they should stop offering us some, though the artist herself ("Jules, please") got fairly tipsy. After it all, we got her bundled back into Jesse's car, despite her trying to cuddle up on Fi ("You're pretty, do I get to take you home as part of the deal?")

When I heard the first bullet fly, I yelped. "What the smeg, is someone shooting at us?"

Jesse handed me a pistol and pulled out one of the ones hidden on his person. Fi was driving, and as a bullet went flying just on the driver's side of the car, started cursing long and creatively. "You. Jules. Whoever you are. Why are people shooting at us? You told us this was a simple, straightforward night."

Of course, my dead aunt, Mary, picked that moment to materialize next to me. "What in the world?" Jesse hissed. I looked out the car window. Well, I suppose when you're on the road in Florida, you're always at a crossroad.

"Bad time, Mary, bad time!" Another bullet pinged around the side of the car, and I threw "Get down, you idiot!" to Jules in the same breath.

"I can see that!" Mary shrieked, before disappointing.

"What in the hell was that?" Jesse muttered.

"Long story."

"You can't keep answering 'long story' to everything!"

Meantime, Jules was still whimpering. "It is! It was! A nice simple night. I have no idea who's shooting at us!"

"LIAR." Fi hissed.

"I really don't know!" Jules wailed from the front seat.

"You're still lying, and we're getting ready to find out what's going on here." Heading back to Jules' apartment unfortunately involved a couple of blocks without much in the way of outlets, and two cars had turned out in front of us, blocking our way. I was very confident that Fi could have gotten us out of the situation, if she'd wanted to, but I was also pretty sure that Fi wasn't going to risk our lives over this, desire to protect the client or not. I'd gotten the impression that these guys would do some pretty heavy duty stuff for their clients, but that Jules wasn't there yet.

Speaking of... Jules gulped as three very well built gentlemen in dark suits got out of the black SUVs now parked in front of us. "Oh. Um. Well."

Fi glared. "Yes?"

"That's Misha, and a couple of his henchmen."

"And Misha is?"

"Ex-boyfriend. My weed hookup. Except I went straight to his distributor and now I'm selling some weed on the side." Jules was sobering up fast.

"You're what?"

"Did you think my art pays my rent yet?"

"I don't care how you make your damn money, but that. would. have. been. relevant. information."

"Oh."

"Yea. Oh." Fi was mad, and I took a vow then and there to never anger her if I could help it. "Does he know where you live?"

"Know? He still has a key. I bang him and his girl sometimes."

Fi started to turn fifty shades of red, and Jules said "Look, we're all adults-"

Fi interrupted. "I don't care what you do in your spare time, you idiot. But you've just told me that he knows where the only reasonable place that we had to stash you was, and he has a bloody KEY TO THE PLACE."

"Oh."

"Fuck. Get out." Fi bit off the words. The guys in suits were still standing patiently in the street, but that wasn't going to last. Fi continued to look mad. Jules looked panicked. "What do you mean, get out?"

Fi clipped every word. "Let's get out of the car and see if we can reason with these folks, since you haven't left us many alternatives."

We got out of the car. My fingers started tingling, and I thought not now not now not now frantically, biting the inside of my cheek. Now was not the time to introduce my new friends to my ability to set things on fire, Stephen King style. Fortunately, by the time we got near the guys in suits, the tingling had abated.

Misha looked amused. "Jules, baby, what is all this? You hired bodyguards? I'm touched."

Fi sighed. "It was apparently warranted, too."

Misha chuckled. "I wasn't actually trying to hit anyone. I just wanted this beautiful woman's attention, since she's not returning my calls."

"Fuck you, Misha."

At that, one of Misha's bodyguards jumped towards us, and things moved very quickly, ending up with me planting with a foot on the bodyguard's neck and a knife pointed at his head. Misha considered the scene before saying "Well, that escalated quickly. You're bleeding."

I could feel it dripping down my forehead. "I must have gotten cut while scuffling with your guy here. It will heal."

"So, what we're going to do," interject Fiona, "is you're going to let us walk away now. We're going to stash Jules somewhere for the night that you don't have keys to. In the morning, Jules will return your call, and we'll set up a nice meeting somewhere public and neutral, and she'll bring one of us along, and you two can settle your differences. Sound like a plan?"

--

Jesse stitched me up at Madeline's kitchen table. Fortunately - and not surprisingly - they had a full field kit, complete topical anesthetic and hospital strength Neosporin, and Jesse did good work. At the end, we wiped up all the blood (why do head wounds have to bleed so bad?) and as I looked in the mirror, I said surprised, "I'm pretty sure that's not even going to scar. Nice. Impressive."

Jules sat at the table, totally sobered up and drinking coffee. She was going back to Fi's condo with her once we got me finished up - it was more defensible than Michael's loft, and Fi had more space - and Fi and Michael were going to keep an eye on her until the next morning when they would call her drug dealer/distributor/boyfriendish and get all this worked out, so that no one got shot at again. She'd been incredibly apologetic, while Michael pointed out to her that this is why she'd hired a security team, but if she'd let us know of all the possible risks next time, we'd be better prepared. She'd accepted the dressing down with more grace than I had expected.

Once I'd finished admiring Jesse's handiwork, I'd turned around to see the whole gang looking at me. "So, want to stick around for awhile, help us with some heavy lifting on occasion?" Michael, as always, was the spokesperson.

My phone dinged.

Miriam: The kids who normally help us unload deliveries on the weekend have a basketball tournament in Orlando that I'd forgotten about. Sorry, summer school is frying my brain, I'm normally more put together than this. Any chance you can help us unload the truck at 5am? Please? I know it's early and short notice. Should take two hours, tops, and it's $30 and a case of Red Bull for you.

I laughed. "Yea, I think I'll stick around for a bit."