by Lee Roland
July 5, 2011
If, as the Mother insisted, Flynn had to stay with me, he had to know some of my secrets – and accept them without slapping me in handcuffs and hauling me to jail. For him, I’d have to break the veil of obscurity that cloaked the Barrows. He’d be initiated into a new world. Unlike the general uptown populace, he wouldn’t be able to turn away and pretend he hadn’t seen the weird and bizarre. Bigger problem? I didn’t know how I’d conceal some of my more devious retrieval methods from him.
I pulled into the apartment house parking lot and switched off the car. “Are you a shoot first, ask questions later kind of cop?”
“No.” He sounded offended.
“Good. If you shoot my friends, I will be very unhappy.” Not to mention he’d have to shoot me because I’d stand in front of them. “Come upstairs and I’ll welcome you to my world.” When we entered the apartment, I told him to sit at the tab le. I sat in a chair across from him. “Pretend you’re dreaming. It might help. Nefertiti? Nirah?”
Horus dashed across the room and leaped onto the table. Nirah coiled around his neck with her head between his ears. Her tiny forked tongue flicked in and out at lightning speed.
Nefertiti lowered her slender body from a cheap and gaudy chandelier with burned-out bulbs hanging directly over my table until her head was eye level with Flynn. I don’t know how she made it up there. I hadn’t noticed her when we came in. Neither had Flynn.
Flynn sat with his eyes wide and his mouth open. His hand was halfway to his gun.
“No shooting!” My muscles tightened as I prepared to throw myself at him. “They won’t hurt you and you won’t hurt them.”
His hand moved away from the gun, but his eyes never left Nefertiti, Horus, and Nirah.
I reached out and stroked Nefertiti’s head with my finger. She let go and her body hit the table with a solid thump. She coiled herself into a ball.
“Nefertiti, let’s start with you.” I held out my hand and she laid her head on my palm. For her that signified trust. “This is Flynn. He’s going to be staying with us for a few days. I want you to learn his scent so you can recognize him. Now, he’s going to be nervous, so you be easy.”
Nefertiti slid toward Flynn. He had his hands on the table in front of him, both clenched into fists.
“I went to school, Cass.” His voice had an odd tone I didn’t understand. “That reptile has a brain the size of a pea. She could strike at any minute.”
“Maybe she isn’t a snake.”
He gave me a You’ve got to be kidding look.
Nefertiti’s head reached his hands. Her tongue flicked, identifying his scent and body temperature, memorizing him as I would memorize the photo of a child I was hunting.
With impressive courage, Flynn sat still, frozen as someone facing a fearful unknown, determined to hold his ground. Nefertiti inched her way forward until she reached his arm, then stopped.
“She wants to crawl on you.” I gave him a smile I hoped was reassuring. “Can you take that?”
Flynn nodded. A resilient man, facing an uncomfortable situation.
Nefertiti worked her way up his arm and shoulder, the only sound the faint rasp of her body across his shirt. For some reason, her brown markings had deepened to a near black. His jaw clenched when she slid across the bare skin of his neck. She didn’t wrap herself around him, but she laid her head on top of his, mimicking Horus and Nirah.
Flynn’s eyes were wide, but now more in shock than fear.
“Wait.” I held up a finger. “Horus, your turn.”
Horus marched up to Flynn with a cat’s graceful, arrogant dignity, deigning to introduce himself.
“Nirah is small,” I told Flynn. “You need to watch out for her.”
It wasn’t likely he would step on her – she is too fast for that – but unlike Nefertiti, Flynn would need to be aware of her at all times. Nirah isn’t particularly aggressive, but she doesn’t like strangers. Of the three of them, it was Horus’s shitty attitude that really worried me the most.
Horus reached out a paw and flexed his incredible claws.
Oops. Horus the badass tyrant wasn’t a team player. Nirah opened her mouth and hissed, flashing her fangs. Nefertiti darted forward across Flynn’s head to meet Nirah. Her fangs dripped venom and her head swayed back and forth like a clock pendulum, matching Nirah’s moves.
Flynn sat frozen. Formidable control. He might deal well with the Barrows, after all. An unbidden thought jumped forward in my mind. He might deal well with me, too. Did I want that?