Jun 02

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A Dog’s Breakfast

Ari regained consciousness in an alley. She was naked, covered with sweat, and her arms and legs were lined with small, almost invisible cuts from running through the underbrush. They would fade in time. Minor injuries like those rarely survived the transformation. She pushed her hair out of her face and got onto her hands and knees, mimicking the pose she’d held moments before changing back. She didn’t know what time it was. Blackouts were bad like that. Ari used the wall to push herself up, leaning against the brick as she tried to decide where she was. She didn’t recognize the street visible at the mouth of the alley.


Most people in her position, naked in an alley after a total blackout with no memory of what she’d been doing all night, would take it as an omen to stop drinking. Ari just found it irritating. She didn’t remember the circumstances that brought her to this point, but that wasn’t from any drink or drug. It was just a fact of life for her. The main problem was that she was naked, too sore to even attempt changing back into the wolf, and completely stumped as to where her closest stash was.

Years ago, she had hidden bags of clothing throughout the city for situations just like this. Some of them became moldy in the weather, some of them disappeared when a homeless person found them, and some just got torn open by wild animals looking for food. For the most part, the stashes had saved her from countless indecent exposure arrests. It had also saved her the trouble of trying to find shelter, as she would have to now.

The alley had five doors. A few of them had faded named painted on them, but the names were unfamiliar to her. Two of the doors were locked when she tried the knob, but one of them opened at the first pull. She stepped inside, eager to get indoors before someone wandered by and saw a naked woman lurking in the darkness, and let the door shut behind her. She risked turning on a light to get an idea of her surroundings.

Just inside the back door was a small tiled room with hooks on the walls for coats and hats. There was a closet to the right filled with supplies like the familiar red and yellow condiment squeeze bottles, piles of napkins, coffee filters, and other detritus that would be expected in a diner’s storeroom. Between the door and the kitchen entrance were chest-high cubby holes with four identical dresses hanging from them. They were sea-foam green with white bordering the collar, sleeves and down the front row of buttons.

Ari checked the sizes before she picked one of the dresses. She hoped whoever the dress belonged to – Kirsten, according to the tag still attached to the breast – didn’t mind her borrowing it. She stepped into the dress and pulled it up, shrugged into the sleeves and did up the buttons. The Keds at the bottom of the cubby were a little too big for her, but they were better than nothing. Once she was clothed, she felt a little more human. She ran her fingers through her hair and went into the kitchen in search of a telephone.

When the barrel of the gun pushed through her hair, resting cold against the base of her neck, the last piece of the puzzle fell into place. She was still a bit sensitive to smell after her recent transformation, but she had assumed the odd mélange in the diner was due to countless cooks, waitresses, managers and customers passing through the place all day. If she’d been more awake she would have realized the scent was too strong to just be a remnant.

“You picked a bad day to work late, princess.”

“You’re telling me,” Ari mumbled.

The man had been standing on the other side of the door with his back to the wall when she came through. She’d caught a glimpse of him out of the corner of her eye, but it was too late to do anything. Another man was on the other side of the counter, in the customer area. There was an uncomfortable, post-apocalyptic feel to being in a public place while it was closed. Ari had felt the same thing in a supermarket, a library and the zoo. Being alone in public was just strange.

She lifted both hands slowly, palms out. “I’m just passing through here, guys. Same as you. No need for anyone here to be enemies.”

“Well, you ain’t our friend.” The man with the gun pushed her forward.

The other man was looking out the front window, his back to the hostage situation. He wore a black turtleneck and jeans, a balaclava rolled up over his eyes to make him look Cro-Magnon. Ari doubted they would give her their names, so she decided the man at the window would be Laurel and the one holding the gun on her was Hardy. He took the gun away from her head so she could move easier, and he put his hand on her shoulder to shove her into a booth.

Laurel glanced over and sneered before facing the street again.

“Whatever you guys are going to do, I don’t want any part of it.”

“Shut her up, will you?” Laurel growled.

Hardy held up a wad of cloth so that she could see it. Ari didn’t want to know where it had come from. “You want me to stuff this in your mouth?”

The very thought made her gag. She shook her head.

“Then stay quiet.” Hardy walked away from her and joined Laurel by the window.

Ari glanced toward the kitchen. There was a small chance that she could make it, could escape before they caught up with her. But on the small, tiny chance that they were able to catch up, she decided to stay put. She still had no idea where she was, no clue where her closest hidey-hole was. This diner was her best opportunity to get a phone and call Dale to pick her up.

Hardy gestured at the street. “I told you, there’s no one out there.”

“Yeah? Then where’d she come from?”

“I mean there’s no cops.”

Laurel moved away from the window and went to where Ari was sitting. He aimed his gun at her. “Where did you come from? Huh? We’ve been watching this street all night. Hell, we’ve been watching this diner for days and you’re never open this late. So what are you doing here?”

Ari mentally worked through the pieces of what they knew and came up with a suitable lie. “My boyfriend picked me up after work. We went out for a bite to eat, and then we went back to his place. He dropped me off here so I could call and get a ride home.”

“You don’t spend the night with him?” Hardy said from across the room.

Ari shrugged. “I get what I need. Why cuddle?”

Hardy laughed, but Laurel looked less than convinced.

“So how about you guys? Robbing a diner isn’t exactly the Thomas Crown Affair, you know. What are you gonna get, two hundred bucks? Two fifty?”

“Just shut up and stay quiet,” Laurel said.

Ari thought about mocking his orders, but the gun was deadly serious. He walked back to the window and pulled Hardy back away from the glass.

“Maybe it was just a stray mutt.”

If Ari had still been in her canidae form, her ears would have pricked up.

“I know a K-9 when I see it.”

“It didn’t even have a vest or nothing. It was just some stray mutt. Will you calm down?”

Ari took a chance. “You guys talking about that dog out in the alley?” Both men turned toward her, Laurel aiming his gun at her head. She held her hands up. “Whoa, hey. Just making conversation. Put down the bazooka.”

“You saw the dog?”

“Yeah. Just some stray. It didn’t even have a collar. It ran when I tried to pet it, and police dogs are trained better than that. I think you guys are okay.”

Hardy nudged Laurel. “See? You think cops just let their dogs run around free all night? You’re being paranoid.”

“Right.” Ari started to slide out of the booth. “So, um, if you guys are going to be leaving–”

“We’re not going anywhere. Sit your ass back down.” Ari dropped back into the booth. “Even if it wasn’t a police dog, you still picked a bad time to come into work. We’re gonna have to keep you here for a while.”

“Oh, come on.”

“Sorry, toots. Can’t take any risks tonight.”

Toots? For a moment Ari considered the possibility that she was actually asleep and some gangster movie from the forties was seeping into her dream. She looked down at the waitress uniform and discarded the idea. She would never have done this to herself. She slumped against the back of the booth and looked out the front window of the diner. If they weren’t robbing the place, then they were obviously using it as a base to wait for something. The question was, what was it and how soon could she expect it to happen?

But the real question was what they planned on doing with her when it was all said and done. She glanced at Laurel, who hadn’t bothered to pull his mask into place. She doubted their plans involved leaving her behind to identify them.

Some nights it just didn’t pay to be bipedal.

“You cook?”

Ari had moved from the booth on Laurel’s orders, forced to sit with her back to the wall. From that angle, she could only see empty sky through the windows. Sky that was slowly becoming brighter. She had been staring at her shoes, trying to decide the best way to disarm both men without getting hurt. She lifted her head and frowned at Hardy, sure she’d misheard him. “What?”

He gestured at the kitchen with his gun. “I know you’re the waitress, but you gotta know your way around the kitchen, right? How’s about cooking us up something?”

“You can’t be serious.”

Laurel was sitting on the floor underneath the main counter, a position where he could see the front window but he wouldn’t be immediately visible from outside. “I’m a little parched myself. Could sure use a burger.”

Ari rolled her eyes. “Maybe a drink, too, if you’re so parched.”


“Nothing.” She pushed herself up and brushed off the seat of her borrowed dress. “I’ll see what I can come up with.” She went into the kitchen and glanced at a menu as she went by. Evergreen Diner. There had to be at least twenty-thousand places with that name in the Pacific Northwest. The address gave a street name she only vaguely recognized; she was on the north side of the city, a lot farther from home than she would have thought. Hardy nudged her shoulder to get her moving again.

Ari turned on a kitchen light and scanned what she had to work with. The freezer was most likely behind that heavy metal door, she assumed. She pulled up on the handle and opened it, smiling when a burst of cold air washed out over her. Ariadne Willow, ace investigator. No secrets are safe from my highly inquisitive mind.

She found the frozen hamburger patties. They were basically a blood-pink block of ice, and she considered whether they were frozen enough to be useful as a weapon. Hardy followed her into the freezer and she glanced at him over her shoulder. Her gaze dropped to the gun and then she quickly looked away.

“I don’t want you to hurt me. Please, I don’t even want to get involved. You guys are up to something, fine. I don’t care. God knows we all need to get money. Who am I to say you’re getting it the wrong way. Right? So let’s just pretend this didn’t happen. Pretend I spent the night at my boyfriend’s place and never saw you. Can’t-can’t we just do that?”

Hardy shook his head. “We’re not gonna hurt you, okay? Just stay calm and don’t bother us and you’ll be fine. Nelson is smart, okay? He knows he got nothing to gain by hurting you. So just, you know, be quiet and stay still and he’ll forget you’re even here.”

Ari ducked her head and sobbed. “I’m just so scared.”

“Ah, cripes.” He stepped into the freezer and put his hand in her shoulders. “Look.”

Ari swung her arm up and over his gun arm, pinching it tight against her body. She grabbed his wrist and swung his hand into the side of the metal shelf. It shuddered violently on impact, sending down thousands of ice chips over them. Hardy didn’t release the gun, and his hand tightened in the material of her waitress uniform. He tried to push her away, but his arm was still trapped under hers. Ari dug her fingernails into the back of his hand, and he dropped the gun with a shout.

“What the hell is going on back there?” Laurel was still at the front of the diner, but she knew he would come back to check on them if the noise continued. Unless he had a good excuse not to.

“Stop him!” Ari shrieked. “Please, he’s… he’s hurting me…” She made her voice break.

“Christ, Will, at least cover her mouth before you fuck her.”

Ari rolled onto the balls of her feet and then threw her weight back. She and William stumbled and hit the back wall of the freezer. Boxes rained down on them and Ari bent at the waist. She used Will as a human shield, letting the boxes hit him and bounce harmlessly to the floor. He went limp, and Ari let him go. He dropped to his knees, his wounded hand pressed to his head where something apparently very heavy had fallen. Ari kicked him in the head and he went sprawling.

“Stop, stop, please,” Ari said. She dropped down next to him and searched his pockets. No identification, nothing she could use against him. She looked for something to tie him up with and came up empty. She decided that there were other ways to eliminate him as a threat; she peeled his turtleneck off and took it with her as she retrieved his gun. Will was conscious enough that he immediately curled into a ball to protect his newly-exposed skin as Ari left the freezer.

She shut the freezer door quietly and examined the handle. There was a small oval in the frame, and she peered inside to see there was a way to lock it from the outside. Dangerous for anyone who worked there, but perfect for her needs. She flipped the switch and locked Will inside. Because she actually had a conscience, she raised the temperature a few degrees so he wouldn’t freeze to death. She went to deal with Laurel, or Nelson as Will had called–

Ari froze in place and her shoulders sagged.

She was being held hostage by fucking Willie and Nelson.

She moved stealthily back to the front of the diner. Nelson was out of sight, probably back under the counter. She couldn’t sneak up on him, so she had to try the next best thing.

“H-he said to… tell you it was your turn.”

Silence from the other side of the counter. For a second, she thought maybe he would decline. It would have elevated her opinion of him a few – a very few – notches. But he sighed as he stood up, rising from the other side of the counter like a nightmare. He was silhouetted against the glass, the light from the kitchen falling onto his back as he stretched his arms out to the side. He walked around the counter, eyeing her the entire way.

“Sounded like you were a feisty one. I don’t like that. I like it when the girl knows she’s getting treated right.”

Ari forced herself to nod. “Okay.”

“Say yes, sir.”

Ari ground her teeth together. “Yes, sir.”

He came closer and then furrowed his brow. He looked at her dress and then looked into the kitchen. “Where’s Will?” He turned back to look at her just as she brought the coffee mug down on the bridge of his nose.

He stumbled backwards, blood running down either side of his bird-like nose. He cupped his hands over the wound, freeing her to grab his gun. She swung her foot up and buried it between his legs, which made him rise into the air before he crumpled into a ball on the floor. In the kitchen, Will started banging on the freezer door. She could hear him shouting, but she couldn’t make out any words. She looked down at her hand. A piece of the mug had sliced her ring finger, and red blood stung as it seeped out of the wound. She grabbed a napkin and applied pressure to the wound.

“God, this has been a bad night.”


Ari smiled. “You know me, huh? You have two choices. You can get in the freezer with your friend, or I can see how far I can kick your balls. I never played soccer, but I always thought I would be really good at it. Your choice, Nelson.”

“You’re dead…”

Ari kicked him again and his shout turned into a pitiful whimper. “You know, you move about two inches every time I kick you. It’s about ten feet to the cooler. That’s a hundred and twenty kicks. I think my foot could take it.” Nelson rolled over and tried to push himself to his feet. “Uh-uh. Crawl on your belly.”

“Oh, for–” She swung her foot back and he cringed. “Oh, God, you sadistic bitch.”

“Considering what you wanted to do with that thing, I have no worries about treating it as badly as I want. Now crawl, asshole.” He started to crawl and Ari followed him. “So what the hell were you two waiting on? Trying to snipe the really, really fresh doughnuts in the morning?”

“I don’t gotta talk to you.”

She shrugged. She could live with not knowing.

They reached the freezer and Ari pounded on the door with the butt of Nelson’s gun. “Hey, butthead. I got your buddy here. I’m going to open the door and send him in there. If you’re not flat against the opposite wall when I open the door, I’m going to kick him in the balls. Then I’ll send him in there anyway. You wanna be the reason he got kicked in the balls right before he gets locked in a room with you?”

Silence from the other side of the door. She unlocked it and pulled the door open. Will was, as expected, pressed face-first against the far wall. Ari put her foot on Nelson’s ass and pushed him over the threshold. His chest hit the ground and he skidded, then twisted to pull his feet inside after him. He glared up at her and she waved goodbye to him as she shut the freezer door on them both.

The turquoise phone was hanging on the wall next to the kitchen entrance. She smiled as she touched the curly cord, something she thought had been left behind in the last millennium, and dialed a number. “Hello, this is a concerned citizen. I just saw two gentlemen break into the Evergreen Diner on Fitzgerald. They had masks and guns. They might be locked in the freezer.” She looked at the cubby holes and smiled at the idea that formed in her mind. “My name? Inigo Montoya.”

She hung up and went to the cubbies. She took one of the other waitress dresses off the hanger and carried it to the freezer. “Will. I don’t want you to freeze, so I brought you something to wear. Back away from the door again.” She unlocked the door and opened it just wide enough to toss the dress in. She had locked the door before Will slammed into it from the other side.

“Oh, you bitch! I was gonna be nice to you! I felt sorry for you.”

“Shut up and put on your dress.”

She went to the phone and dialed a second number. When she heard the groggy voice on the other end, she sagged against the wall and closed her eyes. The adrenaline that had been pumping through her since the gun was pressed against the back of her head dissipated in an instant, and her voice broke. She rested her head against the wall, her voice trembling. “Dale, I wanna go home.”

The sun had risen, but it was hiding out of sight behind some buildings. Dale pulled up in front of the bus stop and climbed out as Ari stood and walked toward her car. “Ari? What are you wearing? What… are you okay?”

“I’m tired.”

“Okay. Come on.” Dale helped Ari to the car and let her stretch out in the backseat. She went around to the front of the car and got back behind the wheel. “There are a bunch of cops in front of a diner down the street. Anything to do with what kept you out all night?”


“Are you hurt?”


“Good. Sit tight. I’ll have you home soon.”

Ari pillowed her hands under her head, drew her knees up, and drifted off to the movement of the car.

“How much do you remember?”

Ari had changed into a white T-shirt and sweatpants, curling her toes in the carpet of her living room. Dale had driven her home instead of to the office, and she was grateful for the opportunity to sleep most of the day in her own bed. It was late afternoon now, and she felt almost human. She had showered, and now sat on the couch with a cup of coffee cradled between her hands. “Nothing. Most of yesterday is a blur. I think I spent too long as the wolf.”

Dale nodded. “I was worried about that. Shall I exposit?” Ari gestured for her to take the floor. “Yesterday, a man came into our office and asked us to do a little undercover work. His security company had been hired to protect a Congresswoman’s daughter while she was in town. Apparently the Congresswoman made some speech, someone else didn’t like it, threats were made. The bodyguard was worried about leaks about the company, other bodyguards selling information and risking the girl’s life. You went to check it out, and the next time I heard from you was when you called for a ride.”

Ari rubbed her forehead and tried to remember. “I was at the offices. I vaguely remember being myself there, going through some files. But after that I must have been the wolf and had a blackout. But then what? I just stumbled onto the robbery?”

“No, I don’t think so. While you were sleeping, I called a friend downtown.”

“We have a friend downtown?”

Dale shrugged. “Anyway, the guys who were arrested at that diner worked for the same security company that hired us. And it turns out the Congresswoman’s daughter goes there every morning for breakfast. Once she’s inside, the security stays by the door. No one could get past them. But if the killers were already inside, they had a better chance of getting to her before the bodyguards knew what was coming.”

Ari raised an eyebrow. “I must have followed them.”

“That’s what I’m thinking. Followed them, and took care of the situation in grand Ariadne style. Even though you didn’t remember you were chasing them.”

“I could have gotten seriously hurt walking into the room like that.”

Dale nodded. “I wasn’t going to bring that up. I don’t like thinking about it that way. You took ’em out, and that’s all that matters.”

“Yeah.” She stood up and leaned over the coffee table to kiss Dale between the eyebrows. “I’m really glad you were there. If I hadn’t had someone to call, or known there was someone to come get me, I might have broken down a little. Thanks for waiting up for me.”

“Sure, Ari.” She stood up. “I think I’ll head over to the office and call the client. Tell him the case is officially closed. Maybe he’ll have a check ready.”

Ari brightened. “Maybe a nice big check from the government?”

“Sorry. He hired us on his own. Independent security company contractor. Probably not the gold mine client we’ve been waiting for.”

“Drat. Well, one of these days.”

“Yeah.” Dale snickered. “Bye, Ari.”

“Goodnight, Dale.”

Dale went to the door, but she turned back at the last moment. “Hey, Ari. That waitress uniform they found you in?”


“Keep it. Could come in handy if you’re ever dating someone who’s into role play.”

Ari grinned. “I looked good, huh?”

Dale howled and patted her hand over her heart as she walked to the door. She waved over her shoulder as she left the apartment.

Ari stretched out on the couch, legs stretched out and feet crossed at the ankles. From this position she could look out the sliding glass door, over the balcony railing to the bright blue sky hanging over the city. She let her eyes drift shut. Bad guys thwarted, a case closed, hopefully a check in the mail.

All in all, a pretty good day.

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