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Oct 13

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Doggy Bag

Summary: Ari and Dale investigate a creepy customer at the sandwich shop they frequent.

 

BitchesCard

“Nothing would happen.” Ari was in her office, tidying up and talking loudly so Dale could hear her from the front desk. “The full moon has no effect whatsoever on canidae. That myth cropped up because wolves hunt by the light of the moon, so when it’s brighter wolves are apt to be more active. Plus it helped out a lot of scary movies.”

Dale nodded even though Ari couldn’t see her. “I know. But just for the sake of debate. Like, you know, could Superman beat up a T-rex–”

“Superman could definitely beat up a T-rex. How is that even an issue?”

“I just want to know what happened if there was a canidae astronaut. If the full moon caused the transformation.”

“Which is doesn’t.”

“But if it did…”

Ari sighed heavily, and Dale stifled a snicker. “Okay. Here’s a plausible argument. I can go a full month without transforming if I really focus and really strain. But five weeks, I’d be a basket case. The wolf would come out whether I wanted it to or not. So putting it that way, if a canidae was chosen to go into outer space, and there was training and quarantine and whatever else, if the mission lasted more than thirty days, there would be the possibility of a werewolf in space.”

“So we can go see the movie?”

No. God… Blood Moon. Like, even if there was a werewolf on the space station, why would transforming turn him into a serial killer?”

Dale said, “It’s just a movie, hon.” The office door was slightly ajar so when Dale looked up she could see someone hesitating in the hall. Dale was about to call her in before the girl finally brought up her hand to knock. Her knuckles made the door swing open slightly and Dale leaned to one side so the girl could see her. She smiled and waved her in. “Hi. Can I help you?”

“Maybe. Uh. You’re Bitches?”

Dale could hear Ari snicker from the inner office. “We’re Bitches Investigations. That’s right. Ariadne?” Ari appeared at the door. “This is Ariadne Willow.”

“Hi. I’m Heather Craig. I work at Laska Sandwiches…?”

Ari perked up. “Oh, I love that place. Dale gets us lunch there all the time.”

Heather smiled and reached into her purse. “I know. Actually, um.” She withdrew one of the agency’s cards. “We drew this out of the bowl for a free lunch.”

“Get out of town. We won?” She smiled at Dale. “I guess I know what I want for lunch.”

Dale said, “That’s amazing. I’m sorry. Just from the way you were acting, I thought you were here to hire us.”

“I am. Do you mind?” She gestured at one of the orange plastic seats, and Dale nodded for her to sit. Ari leaned against the door and crossed her arms. “We draw the cards every morning, and when I drew yours I thought it was… I don’t know. Fate. But I don’t even know if I can afford to hire you.”

“We can work something out,” Ari said. “Besides, you’re offering us a free lunch. That might cover the cost of a retainer right there.”

Heather offered a weak smile. “Like I said, I work at Laska Sandwiches. For the past few weeks, a guy has been coming in. He never does anything creepy and he doesn’t even really… stare at me.” She furrowed her brow and shook her head. “I feel stupid saying it out loud.”

Dale said, “He makes you feel uncomfortable?”

“Yeah. I can’t explain why. But every now and then he’ll look at me. He won’t stare, he’ll just glance my way and then look away. It’s like the only reason he’s not staring is because he doesn’t want to get caught staring.” She was turning Ari’s business card over and over between her hands, pinching the edges to spin it lengthwise. “I saw your card and thought, ‘okay, it’s not the same as going to the cops, because you might not laugh me out of the room.’ But now that I’m here…”

Ari said, “You’re uncomfortable. That’s reason enough to get a little more information. We’ll check it out. We might be able to knock it out in an afternoon, in which case the free lunch would be all the payment we require.”

“Really?”

Ari shrugged. “You should feel comfortable in your workplace. I’d do it for free, but this one yells at me when I do stuff like that.” She gestured at Dale with her head.

Dale sneered at her. “We would be more than happy to work out something that fits with your budget.”

“Thank you so much. He doesn’t come in every day, but when he does it’s always toward the end of the lunch rush. The place starts to empty out and he’s just… there.”

“Do you work today?” Ari asked.

“Yeah, I asked to take a quick break before the lunch crowd moved in.”

Ari said, “So the guy could already be there?” Heather nodded. Ari held out her hand for the card, and Heather gave it to her. Ari wrote a number on the back. “Okay, go back to work. If he’s there, text us at this number. Tell us where he’s sitting, what he’s wearing, anything that can help us identify him. You’ll probably have to deal with him staring at you for another shift.”

“I can do that.” She shuddered and brushed her hair away from her face, tucking it behind her ears before she stood up. “Sorry. He’s probably a sweet guy who is just a little shy.”

“If that’s the case, then there’s nothing to worry about and we won’t be out anything but our lunch break. When we show up, act normal. There’s no reason this guy has to know you hired us. We’ll figure out what’s going on.”

Heather shook their hands before she left, closing the door behind her. Ari looked at Dale and smiled. “Looks like we have a case today after all.”

“Yeah, yeah. You’re not getting out of taking me to the movies.”

“I’m fine with going to the movies. Just no dumb werewolf movies.” Ari went into her office mid-sentence, raising her voice so she could be heard.

Dale said, “You think all werewolf movies are dumb.”

“When they’re crap like werewolves in space or Twilight, I feel like I have an argument.”

Dale shut down her computer as Ari came out of the office wearing an overcoat. “Okay. So what kind of werewolf movie would you watch?”

“Sexy lesbian private investigator werewolf. That is a show I would watch.”

“I suppose it should be set in Seattle, too.”

Ari said, “Sure, I think that would work.”

“Well, at least you know what you want.”

They left the office and Ari let Dale lock the door behind them. “Are you telling me you wouldn’t watch a movie like that?”

Dale grinned and slipped her arm around Ari’s. “Why would I need a movie when I have the live show every single day?”

#

Laska Sandwiches was shaped like an upper-case T with a broken crossbar. The counter ran along the right side as the customers entered, with tables and cramped booths along the walls. When Dale walked in she joined the line of customers and scanned the menu until it was her turn. A few minutes ago Heather had texted to let her know the creepy guy was there, so Dale left Ari with the car and went inside to see him for herself. Heather took Dale’s order without giving anything away. They had agreed Dale would pay and get reimbursed so they wouldn’t complicate matters with the free lunch redemption.

As Heather handed back Dale’s change she said, “Do you need anything else? Do you see him?”

Dale said, “I think this will do it. Yep.”

The text had told her he would be sitting near the turn, in a table underneath a painting of a small yellow-and-black bird. Dale saw him as soon as she walked in. He was handsome in a bland sort of way, dirty blonde hair cut short to hide a receding hairline, nice clothes, not outwardly tipping her creep-meter. While she waited for her sandwich to be ready she idly looked back toward him. He was looking toward the front of the store with Heather in his line of sight. Dale could understand how being the object of that stare might be off-putting if it was constant and unrelenting.

Heather brought her sandwich. “So, you guys are open every day. You must have a lot of regular customers.”

“We do,” Heather said. “Some people are here three, four days a week.”

“That much, huh? Okay. Thanks.” Dale took her sandwich to a spot where she could see both Heather and the target. Over the course of ten minutes Dale could already tell Heather had a reason to feel uneasy. The man didn’t just stare at her, he seemed completely obsessed with her. It was as if a spell was cast over him whenever she was at the cash register and broke when someone else took the position. Dale took out her phone and sent Heather a text message.

“See if your boss will give you an hour off, but act like you’re leaving for the day.”

She watched Heather check her phone. The girl was good, reading it without looking up at Dale. She put the phone back in her pocket and went into the back of the restaurant. She reappeared a few minutes later with her purse and a jacket draped over her arm. She had removed the small apron the restaurant made her wear and looked like someone on her way home for the day. Dale surreptitiously watched the target as he lifted his head and trekked her departure.

He remained seated for a few minutes, perhaps waiting to see if she was coming back, but finally began gathering his things. Dale reached into her pocket for her car keys and used the fob to unlock the doors. A second later she locked them again, focusing on her phone as the man passed her on his way out of the restaurant.

#

Ari’s overcoat was draped over the passenger seat, the car empty when the locks disengaged with a hollow thunk. They reengaged immediately afterward with a quiet chirp. A large brown wolf lifted up off the pavement next to the car, stretched out her forelegs, and then gave herself a quick shake before she moved to a spot where she could see the street. Ari had transformed after Dale went into the store, their logic being that he might spot a human tail but wouldn’t think twice about a dog following him home. Laska Sandwiches was in the middle of the block so her target couldn’t give her the slip by ducking around a corner. The door opened and he came out, pausing on the sidewalk for a moment before he started walking toward the spot where Ari was waiting.

She waited until he was past her before she got up and started following him. She kept close to the buildings, acting friendly but standoffish to anyone who tried to pet her or look at her collar. The tag had Dale’s address and phone number, an accessory it had taken them far too long to come up with. She’d spent a few nights at the pound waiting for Dale to track her down. If only she’d known how comfortable the collar would end up being…

Focus. The wolf had a tendency to take her off on weird tangents, which then faded into murky half-memories when she was in human form again. She couldn’t risk losing the target and starting all over the next day. Other than being frustrating for them, it would be hellish to ask Heather to suffer through another shift under the creeper’s gaze. She kept the back of the man’s head in her sights, weaving to avoid obstacles like people and sidewalk displays. There was a brief moment of panic when she thought he was about to hail a taxi, but he simply stepped between two cars and hurried across the street. Ari waited until the road was clear before following.

The man walked south for three blocks, then cut northeast on a spur. Soon downtown was left behind and they were in a residential area. He slowed down slightly and Ari was able to catch her breath even as her ability to keep out of sight became severely diminished. Fortunately he never bothered to look back before he turned up a sloped driveway and reached into his pocket for his keys. She squatted down next to his neighbor’s car and watched him climb onto the porch, unlock the door, and disappear inside.

She made a note of the address, her human voice echoing in the wolf’s mind as she turned and ran back to where she had started. Dale was waiting in the car when Ari arrived, stretching around the passenger seat to unlock the back door so Ari could clamber in. The transformation washed over her in a series of tremors, her arms and legs popping back into their original position. She curled up on the floor between seats, gasping as her body reshaped itself, as the thicker skin and fur was reabsorbed into a sweaty human woman.

Finally, out of breath and grimacing in pain, Ari put her hand out so Dale could give her the overcoat. She slipped it on, buttoned it enough so she could be in public without getting arrested, and climbed up into the passenger seat. Once she was buckled in, Dale handed her a sandwich wrapped in paper from Laska.

“Grilled chicken parm.”

“Thanks,” Ari said, still slightly out of breath.

As Ari unwrapped the sandwich and took a generous bite, Dale reached up and brushed the hair away from Ari’s face. She tucked it behind her ear and let her hand trail down to Ari’s neck.

“You okay, puppy?”

“Yeah. Just hungry. Lots of running. I followed the guy all the way to his house and back.”

She gave Dale the address, and Dale handed over her phone with a reverse directory. As she drove Ari punched in the numbers she’d been reciting to herself, her already half-gone sandwich resting on her leg as Dale’s program did its magic.

“The owner of the house is listed as Margo Stone. Probably not our stalker.”

“Doubtful,” Dale said. “What do you think, grandson?”

Ari nodded. “My money is on grandson.”

“Seems like a safe choice. When we get back to the office I’ll dig around to see what I can find.”

“And I’ll keep an eye on the house tomorrow to see if I can keep him from going back to Laska.”

“Sounds like a plan to me.”

Dale glanced at Ari when they were stopped at the next light. Ari was chewing a bite of sandwich, her cheek puffed out, but Dale could see the strain around her eyes from the recent transformation. When Ari wasn’t holding her sandwich, she was rhythmically clenching and stretching the fingers of her right hand to keep it from seizing up. Ari caught her looking and Dale lifted one eyebrow to express concern without nagging.

“I’ll be fine.”

“You know what Dr. Frost said–”

“I know exactly what he said. And I know what you’ve said. If I run back to that over and over again, I’ll build up an immunity to it, and then where will we be. It’s fine. The pain is minor and manageable right now. See?” She opened and closed her hand without stiffness.

Dale said, “If you say so.”

Ari reached over and stroked the back of Dale’s head, then leaned between the seats to kiss her temple. “I love you. Thank you for worrying about me.”

“Even when it irritates you?”

“Especially then. That’s when I need it most.” She took another bite. “I spent my whole life without anyone who cared about me. It’s nice to have someone willing to make me mad when it’s in my best interest.”

Dale smiled. As far as she could tell, the pain from Ari’s transformations wasn’t getting dramatically worse. There had been a few times after wolf manoth when one of her arms or legs would freeze up, and one stressful day in March she’d walked all day with a limp despite nearly emptying an entire bottle of aspirin. Of course, there was something Ari could do to help ease her pain, but she was reluctant. Dale understood why she balked at the medication, but it was completely legal and recommended by her doctor. Dr. Frost, Ari’s canidae physician, said that one factor causing an increase in pain and paralysis had been stress. Dealing with her mother and an influx of wolf hunters meant that Ari’s winter had been less than ideal. But now things were starting to settle down and, though her transformations were still far from painless, Dale could see that things were getting marginally better. She would just have to keep an eye on it in case of future relapses.

#

Later that night, Ari was draped across their bed, feet dangling, staring at the ceiling with her arms out to either side. She had changed into her pajama pants and a tank top after her shower and was currently listening to Hey Marseilles on her iPod. Earlier while they were having dinner Dale pointed out that she was still clenching and unclenching her fist and urged her to take her “medicine.” Ari balked, but Dale argued it would only get worse if she didn’t take steps to stave it off. Ari lifted her hand to look at the joint, the small and disgusting cigarette that smelled as bad as it looked, and reluctantly brought it to her lips for another toke.

When Dale first suggested the drug as a balm, Ari flat-out refused. Dale pointed out research that it helped some arthritis patients deal with chronic pain but Ari countered with the fact that there was no definitive proof that the pot had done anything but act as a placebo. She finally agreed to bring it up with Dr. Frost just as a way to end the conversation once and for all. Unfortunately her trusted physician betrayed her by taking Dale’s side.

“The jury is out on whether it works for arthritis or multiple sclerosis, but being a canidae is different. Ariadne herself is different. If you’re careful with it, as I know you will be, I don’t see any harm in experimenting on a bad day.”

So Dale got her some pot, both in joint form and medicinal, and Ari experimented with both. As much as she hated to admit it, smoking one joint did in fact help manage her pain. Already she felt more normal, and her hands were no longer stiff with what felt like electricity. She rocked her head from side to side on the bed, staring at the ceiling with puffy eyes as she tried to focus on the music. If she could keep track of the music then she would be able to stop herself from getting high.

Dale came out of the bathroom in a towel, changed into her pajamas, and crawled onto the bed so that she was curled around Ari’s head. She stroked her partner’s hair and sat up to kiss her forehead.

“How do you feel?”

“Better. Damn it.”

Dale smiled and lay back down. She brushed her thumb over Ari’s temple. “You know, there’s no reason to feel guilty about it. Pot’s legal now. You can partake.”

“Just because it’s legal is no reason to become a pothead.”

“You’re not a pothead. You have a joint once or twice a week because you’re hurting. That’s perfectly fine.”

Ari hadn’t even been saved by the woman who owned the house they lived in. When Dale brought up the topic of occasionally lighting up, Neka admitted that she was no stranger to lighting up from time to time herself. Foiled on all sides, Ari finally relented, although she made sure everyone around her knew she wasn’t doing it recreationally.

Dale trailed her fingers through Ari’s hair. “Why are you so damn pigheaded about this? It helps you. It’s legal. It’s no different than having a beer, except a beer would give you a hangover.”

Ari almost brushed off the question but Dale deserved more. “Do you know how hard I fought to keep away from drugs when I was on the street? It was literally right there for the taking, but I stayed away from it. And now I have my own business, I have a home, and I’m lighting up a joint at the end of the day.”

“Aw, puppy.” Dale pushed herself up on her elbows and kissed Ari’s lips. “You should have said something. I might not have been such a pest.”

“Oh, you still would’ve been a pest.” Ari shifted and pulled Dale down onto her. Dale squirmed in a pathetic attempt to escape, ending up pinned to Ari’s chest. “You know what else I didn’t have on the street? Someone to care about me. Someone who would risk pissing me off just to make me feel better. I love you.”

“I love you, too.” She packed Ari’s nose and cheeks, then chuckled. “You could open a dispensary. Canidae Cannabis.”

“Sounds kind of niche.”

Dale shrugged and they kissed. When Dale pulled back she wrinkled her nose. “Ew. Go brush and rinse. Your breath smells like pot.”

“Whose fault is that?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

Ari got up and went into the bathroom as Dale straightened the blankets. She retrieved Ari’s iPod and shut off the music. She had spent the evening looking up Margo Stone, discovering that she lived with a grandson named Norman. Currently a dropout from the University of Washington, unemployed as far as she could tell. No criminal record, no registered vehicle, nothing but a whole lot of nothing. Earlier Ari had called Heather with an update and asked if the name sounded familiar.

“Norman Stone,” Heather said slowly in response. “No. I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone named Norman.”

“We’re going to keep looking into him. If he goes back to Laska tomorrow, we’re going to be there. We’ll do what we can to keep him from making you uncomfortable.”

“But if you tip your hand, he’ll know someone called.”

“If it comes to that we’ll tell him our client is the manager.”

Heather said, “Okay. Thank you.”

“And relax,” Ari said. “You did the right thing calling us. Even if it turns out to be a false alarm, it doesn’t change the fact that you felt uncomfortable. You should feel safe at your workplace.”

“I am glad I called,” Heather said. “Today was the first day I went home without my skin crawling and checking over my shoulder the whole way. Thank you.”

Ari came out of the bathroom and shut off the light, so Dale turned off the bedside lamp and sank down against the pillow. Ari got into bed next to her and rolled onto her side. Dale spooned against her from behind and Ari kissed her knuckles. They snuggled together, Dale kissing Ari’s shoulder through the thin veil of hair that had fallen across it. Just as she was falling asleep she heard Dale murmur, “Mm, puppy…” and she smiled as she drifted off.

#

In the dream, Ari was alone on the beach. It was a memory, one of the first nights after being told what her mother had done to her as a baby. She remembered a group of high school kids having a bonfire nearby and knew that they probably would have let her join them if she went over. But they would know. She was a monster, her mother had made her that way, and she would never be normal. She would never be a real person with a real life. She buried her face in the crook of her elbow and cried for the life she would never get to have.

Her arms tensed when she woke, blinking into the darkness for a moment until the dream faded. She lifted her head off the pillow, Dale’s arm comfortably heavy on her hip, and remembered where she was. Dale stirred a little and puckered her lips against Ari’s hair in a lazy kiss.

“Do you need to go for a run?” Dale slurred.

“No.” Ari settled back down and brushed her fingers over Dale’s forearm. “Hold me tighter.”

Dale did as she was told, squeezing Ari even as she fell back to sleep. Ari tucked her arm under the pillow and closed her eyes as well, her lips curling into a smile as she heard Dale’s even breath against her shoulder.

#

In the morning they split up. Dale went to Laska Sandwiches so she would be in place at the start of Heather’s shift while Ari would wait outside Norman Stone’s house to warn both Dale and Heather if he started that way. As she was watching the house, an elderly woman came out of the house next door and shuffled down to her mailbox. She withdrew a handful of envelopes and slowly shuffled through them before she turned to walk back up the driveway. Ari got out of the car and jogged over.

“Excuse me, ma’am.”

The woman lifted a dismissive hand without turning around. “I don’t care if your church camp only needs one more subscription to go on a mission trip. I get all the magazines I need on the internet my granddaughter set up for me, thank you very much.”

Ari smiled. “No, I’m not selling anything. I just wanted to ask you a few questions about your neighbor if you have a moment.”

That stopped the woman. She turned and regarded Ari for a moment before she spoke again. “You want to know about Margo?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She huffed. “Well, it’s about damn time someone worried about her. I haven’t seen her in almost four months! I called the police but they just did a welfare check and moved on.”

“When the police did their welfare check, did they actually see Mrs. Stone?”

“They didn’t even go into the house. They talked to that…” She worked her lips around for a moment as she nodded at the house. “That grandson of hers and left. Not even five minutes, were they here. Who are you? You’re not a cop, not dressed like that.”

Ari looked down at her blouse and jeans and tried not to take offense. “No, ma’am. I’m Ariadne Willow. I’m a private investigator.”

“Humph. Well, if you’re–” Ari’s cell phone rang, but she dismissed the call without looking at the screen. “Well,” the neighbor started again, “if you’re investigating what happened to Margo, I think you should start with that no-good kid.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you for your help.”

The woman continued on into her house, and Ari took her phone out to see that the ignored call had been from Dale. She redialed as she crossed the street back to her car.

“Hey. Sorry, I was interviewing someone.”

“I figured. Listen… we might have a problem. Heather never showed up for work.”

Ari stopped with her hand on the car door. “She didn’t?”

“Manager said she was scheduled to start at ten, and he assumed that she would have shown up early for taking off yesterday. But there’s no sign of her. I tried calling at the number she gave us but there was no answer.”

Ari looked back at Norman Stone’s house. “Her not-so-secret admirer hasn’t shown himself yet, either. She said he usually showed up in the midst of the lunch rush, so I just assumed he was going to wait awhile before he headed out.” She hurried across the street. “I’m going to check things out. I’ll call you back in fifteen.”

“Be careful, Ariadne.”

“I will.” She hung up and tucked the phone into her pocket as she moved up the side lawn. There was a detached garage with an old Buick gathering dust in the center slot. She moved past the garage and into the backyard, crouching so she wouldn’t be seen through the windows. The muffled sound of voices on a television set filtered through the glass, and she risked lifting her head just enough to could see inside. The glass was dirty, but she could see well enough to make out a cramped kitchen dominated by a dining room table covered with garbage and pizza boxes.

She stepped onto the porch to the back door, wrapped her hand around the knob, and slowly turned it just enough to confirm it was unlocked. She didn’t want to simply barge in on the guy if he was innocent. There were any number of reasons Heather might not show up to work that day. There could be a plausible reason she wasn’t answering her phone. She looked around the backyard for any inspiration, then left the back porch and walked back around to the garage.

There was a workbench cluttered with rusted tools and a windblown pile of leaves behind the tires of the car that revealed it hadn’t been driven for quite some time. She cupped her hands to look through the driver’s side window and scanned the far wall in front of the bumper. She had no idea what she was looking for… did she think there would be some sort of hatch leading down into a torture dungeon? The word “HELP ME” scrawled in the dust that was somehow identifiable as Heather’s handwriting?

She crouched down to look under the car – even if she didn’t know what she was doing, she figured it couldn’t hurt to be thorough – and froze when she heard the back door open and slam shut. She moved closer to the center of the car so she would be harder to see from the garage entrance, dropping onto her stomach and watching as a pair of red sneakers appeared.

“Stupid. So stupid!” Norman Stone muttered, thumping the back of the car with his hand. He hit it hard enough to make the entire vehicle tremble. Ari got onto her stomach as he moved to the driver’s side and threw the door open. He was still muttering but she couldn’t quite make out the words as he fumbled with a set of keys.

Ari rolled onto her back and contemplated transforming. She decided against it, figuring there were worse places to strip down but none that she could think of. The car engine rattled and coughed a few times but never successfully turned over. “Son of a bitch,” Norman grumbled, and the chassis shifted as he rose from the driver’s seat. The hood clunked as he released the catch.

“Son of a bitch,” Ari mumbled.

She barely had time to prepare before Norman appeared above her. He was so startled by her presence that she had time to put her leg up and kick him, knocking him back against the workbench. In the movies she could have rolled under the car and crawled to the back of it, but in reality the clearance was much too tight. She got to her feet in an ungainly ballet of legs and arms as Norman corrected himself and lunged at her again. He was holding something in his left hand, something that flashed brightly as he swung at her, and Ari hunched her shoulders and threw herself at his center mass. She threw her right arm to keep him from getting his left arm close to her.

They grappled briefly until Ari was able to get her leg around his. She pulled and he went down, and she snatched the Taser from him as he fell. She flipped the weapon around and took a step back.

“Stay down! I’m not sure how many volts this thing has, but I’ve got nothing to lose by experimenting with it.”

He stared up at her, red-faced and furious, his hands up in front of him. “Who the hell are you? What the hell are you doing in my garage?”

She decided to try a risky gambit. “I know what you did.”

His eyes widened and, despite the Taser, he tried to jump up and rush her at the same time. She pushed him away without much effort and pressed the metal prongs against his arm. She pulled the trigger and he yelped, twisting away and throwing himself against the back wall before he crumpled to the floor in a heap. Ari hit the trigger again, creating an arc of blue light, and Norman flinched away from it.

“Why don’t you tell me what happened? Things went wrong, didn’t they?” She had to figure as much, or else he wouldn’t have been so annoyed with himself. “Did she fight back?”

“There were too many people,” he said. “If I could’ve… if I could’ve just grabbed her… if I’d had the car or something, if I’d…” He put his hands on the back of his head, linking his fingers together. “I just ran. I was hoping maybe she would still be there.”

Ari crouched down and grabbed the back of Norman’s collar. “Where exactly did you just leave her, Norman?”

He looked at her and she triggered the Taser again. He yelped and tried to burrow into his folded arms. After a moment, he began to speak.

#

Ari was sitting on the trunk of her car when Dale showed up. Two squad cars were already parked in front of Norman Stone’s house, a Medical Examiner van was partially blocking the neighbor’s driveway, and Detective Macallan’s sedan was parked a little farther up the street. An officer was keeping people from going down the street, so Ari slipped off the car and went to meet her. First Dale hugged her, then slugged her in the arm. Ari mouthed, “Ow,” and then accepted another hug.

“What the hell is going on here?” Dale said.

“Apparently Norman Stone would sometimes follow Heather home, so he knew where she lived. This morning he went there and tried to abduct her, but she fought back. He beat her up pretty well, but she got in a few good punches of her own. Enough to scare him away, at least. She wasn’t answering her phone because she was at the hospital getting stitches. I happened to show up when he was getting ready for round two, this time with a Taser and some ropes.”

“Holy shit. I guess it’s a good thing we won that free lunch when we did. Who knows what he might have done.”

Ari nodded toward the house and Dale turned to see Detective Macallan, their friend Diana, walking toward them. “I think we have a pretty good idea of what he was capable of.”

Diana smiled. “Hi, Dale.”

“Detective.”

“I was just telling Dale what Mr. Stone was capable of.”

Diana sighed. “Yeah. He’s not a nice boy. His parents kicked him out. Tough love. His grandmother took him in, probably against her better judgment, and Junior started stealing her social security checks. At some point the grandmother passed away and Mr. Stone covered it up and kept cashing the checks when they came in. Grandma went into a hole out back.”

“Oh, God,” Dale said. “The grandmother… natural causes? Please tell me it was natural causes.”

“We don’t know. That’s something the medical examiner is going to have to figure out. For now, Ariadne, you’re free to go. Just don’t go too far. We’ll want you around to give an official report.”

“Thanks, Diana.”

“Good work on this one, Ari.”

She returned to the house, and Dale tightened her grip on Ari’s waist. “Are you okay?”

“Me? Yeah. I can deal with a little rough and tumble. I wish I didn’t have to give that Taser back as evidence, though. It was pretty handy.”

“I’ll see if I can find one for you online.”

Ari nodded. “So, we have the rest of the day free. What do you feel like doing?”

Dale grinned. “Movie?”

Ari rolled her eyes. “Oh, please. Not that insipid werewolf in space thing again…”

“Why are you fighting that so hard? It’s not like we’re going to be looking at the screen.”

“Oh?” Ari raised an eyebrow. “Oh… well. In that case, I guess it doesn’t really matter what we see.” She pecked Dale’s lips and then let her go. “You lead, I’ll follow?”

Dale nodded, lightly patted Ari’s rear end, and went to go back to her car. Ari looked at the house once more and tried not to think about what Norman Stone would have done if she hadn’t been there. All in all, it wasn’t a bad return in exchange for getting a free sandwich. She would wait until Heather was back at work before she redeemed her reward. For now she would leave Norman Stone and his crimes to the police, while she steeled herself to sit through ninety minutes about an astrowolf. She supposed, in the end, it was worth it for the company.

She got into her car and pulled away from the curb, leaving the crime scene behind so she could follow Dale to the movie theater.

 

 

 

 

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