Noah’s Boy – Snippet 14
It was a good question, and Tom wished he had an answer to it. But he didn’t. It was after all, impossible to tell Anthony, whose closest held secret was that he danced bolero with a local troupe, that his bosses and their best friend shifted into animal shapes, an affliction that often landed them in trouble and caused them to have to get each other out of said trouble.
Kyrie cleared her throat, though, and Tom knew he had to come up with something as his employee stood there, holding the folded dark red apron with The George emblazoned on the chest, and looking from one to the other of them for some explanation.
“It’s a secret thing,” Tom said. “You know, he does things… that is, you know, there is trouble with … with drug dealing, and Rafiel is under cover and if he’s picked up by other police officers, his identity will be figured out.”
“This is Goldport,” Anthony said, almost yelling. “There are only what? Half a dozen senior officers? I bet half the city knows him. Certainly the half the city that is likely to have run ins with the police. They’ll figure out who he is, even if it’s you two picking him up!”
“They haven’t. He has a really good undercover disguise,” Tom said.
“Really good,” Kyrie said, full of fervor.
It must have been her tone of voice that convinced Anthony. He rolled his eyes towards the ceiling, which had been newly de-greased and painted just two months ago, and seemed to be contemplating the meaning of life, or perhaps the meaning of his bosses’ madness. “Fine,” he said, at last, as he put his apron back on. “Fine, fine, fine, fine. You’re lucky that I’m kind of fond of you, though you’re both complete lunatics. But I’m warning you right now, if my wife divorces me, I’m going to come gunning for you.”
Never having figured out if Anthony was Greek or Hispanic or some other culture with a very close-knit family, but knowing for a fact that Anthony knew everyone in the neighborhood, and that everyone was likely to know Anthony, and that half the neighborhood were perhaps not as… clean cut as they could be, Tom took the warning seriously. “She won’t. We’ll pay you double time.”
Anthony glared at Tom. “You’re a nut. Go on, hurry up, but don’t leave me here all alone with Conan’s thing tonight.”
* * *
“Conan’s thing?” Kyrie asked. She had turned to get out of the space behind the counter, but now she turned back. The words had an ominous ring, if she could just remember what they referred to.
The thing was, she suspected there had been a lot of talking, or perhaps pleading from Conan, who often seemed to mistake Tom for an indulgent father. The relationship was weird, given that Conan had started out by trying to kill Tom at the orders of the Great Sky Dragon, back when Tom had stolen the Pearl of Heaven, and the Great Sky Dragon had been trying to capture him and — from the looks of it — kill him.
But then there had been… something. Kyrie wasn’t sure what and neither was Tom, who refused to have more than he absolutely needed to do with the boss of the Chinese dragons. But suddenly, just when an ancient shifter called Dante Dare had come to town bent on punishing Kyrie and Tom, the Great Sky Dragon had sent Conan to guard Tom. In the ensuing battle and for good enough reason, Tom had claimed Conan’s fealty away from the Great Sky Dragon.
And it seemed that no matter how many times Tom told Conan he was free, the Chinese dragon shifter couldn’t quite believe it, and instead of merely treating Tom as a boss treated him somewhere between a father and his liege lord. And Kyrie was sure that was what had happened here. She was as sure as she was of standing here that Conan had decided to ask Tom for something — probably something absolutely stupid, and that Tom had given him out of kindness and a desire not to be pestered.
Her suspicions were confirmed when Tom put his hand on her arm and said, “I’ll explain on the way out.”
I’ll explain on the way out, from Tom usually meant You are less likely to bite my head off if we’re moving. Which meant whatever he’d agreed to relating to Conan must be a spectacularly bad idea.
But they couldn’t argue in front Anthony, and besides Rafiel was waiting. The thought of Rafiel made her look back over her shoulder, “Tom, we should take meat. He hasn’t eaten in –”
“Of course,” Tom said. “You start up the van. I’ll be right there.”
Kyrie nodded and got under the pass through, headed to the curving corridor that led to the restrooms and also the back door.
* * *
“You know I really can’t deal with this alone,” Anthony said. “Laura is doing the prep work and stuff, but I have no one to tend to tables, or for that matter to arrange tables and chairs for Conan’s thing.”
Tom looked up from the meat he was cutting. “You can’t call one of the part timers?”
“Not many of them around just now, with end of college year and finals and stuff.”
“Um.” Tom ran an eye over the patrons, looking for friends he could recruit. After all over the last year, many of the patrons had become friends — particularly those who were shifters and who knew that Kyrie and Tom were also shifters. But now, though the tables were full — and Laura had to keep interrupting her real work to go attend tables, he was having trouble finding a familiar face.
Until he heard a voice from the counter, “Hey,” the voice said “hey.”
Tom focused near at hand, on the man standing between two of the stools at the counter. He was stocky, olive skinned, wore a black t-shirt, had short-short hair with the tips frosted white, and looked anxious. “Hey, did you hear about the police officer? I mean, how is –”
“Jason, right?” Tom said. “Jason Bear.”
A smile. “No, Jason Cordova,” the man said tensely. “But yeah. Did you hear from Officer Trall?”
“Yeah. In fact, we have to go and … help him. Uh. Have you ever waited tables?”
“What?” Nod. “Yeah. Couple of times. Pizza Hut and stuff.”
“Would you do it, at least for tonight? To help us out?”
“What? You mean, like a job?” Was that an anxious light in the man’s eyes.
“Like a job, if you need it. We’re always short staffed, and now with students leaving will be very short staffed all summer. Here,” Tom grabbed an apron from under the counter and shoved it at the man.
“Minimum wage?” the man asked lifting an eyebrow.
“We pay ten fifty five an hour, double time for overtime, and you get all the meals you’re here for.”
“Suits me,” Cordova said putting on the apron.
“Good. Anthony. Jason here will be doing the tables. Teach him the ropes as he goes, will you?”
Anthony rolled his eyes. “What I like about this job,” he said. “Is the variety. Every day is a new experience. And the teaching opportunities. I really like that.”
“Good,” Tom said. “Then you have it covered.” He grabbed the carry out container and ran out the door.
* * *
Kyrie had completely forgotten about Bea, and nearly jumped out of her skin, as Bea surged out of the booth, and grabbed her arm. “Let me come with you,” she said. “Let me help.”
Kyrie hesitated. On the one hand Bea was a shifter, which meant she wasn’t likely to turn in shifter-kind. On the other hand, though what she’d heard of the girl’s story sounded good, Kyrie was very afraid that they hadn’t questioned her, and it was possible she belonged to one of those shifters’ organizations who thought it was their duty to keep every shifter in line.
Bea looked anxiously at Kyrie’s face, then said, “I know you have no reason to trust me, and I don’t even know what is happening here, but think about it from my perspective. I was almost roasted alive, and I don’t know why, nor whether the Grea– Himself is not likely to do the same thing again.”
Her terror was either real, or the girl was the most gifted actress alive. Kyrie nodded. “Okay. Come on.”
* * *
Tom was surprised that Kyrie and Bea were both in the van. Almost as surprised as he was that they’d left the driver’s seat to him. He didn’t expect the not-exactly-Chinese girl. And he never expected Kyrie to let him drive. “I couldn’t leave her alone,” Kyrie told him in an undertone, understandable only to a lip reader. “She was attacked and almost killed, after all.”
Tom tried not to smirk but must not have managed it, because Kyrie sighed. “It is not in the least like your taking in all sorts of strays.”
“No?” Tom said, and left it at that, because Bea was, after all, in the back seat.
“No. Not in the least. Now tell me what it is about Conan’s thing.”
“No,” Tom said, starting the van, the large vehicle they normally took to farmers’ markets in summer. “First you tell me what it is about Rafiel and where we’re going, and why.”
“Oh. He was attacked by something. He couldn’t describe it, because… he sounded pretty weak. But he was attacked by something, and he’s very hurt. Somewhere out 25, near Goldminers Road. He said he’s in a field, so when we get near, we’ll need aerial recognizance, which is why we needed you.”
“I see. So, I’ll drive out to Goldminers, then you can follow me while I fly. That way I minimize the time I spend in the air, in which someone might get a picture of me.”