Undead and Underwater

Page 14

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Argh, enough. She could stare at the tourists all day; it wouldn't make Fehr go away, it would only make everything take longer.

Her phone buzzed and she pulled it, glanced at it, then texted Jonas back: CAN'T SEE YOU NOW BUSY MAYBE LATER. Sure, like that would have any effect.

She pulled her badge and her key card, and headed to one of the side entrances for employees. Not that she was one. But being a mermaid who used to work for the NEA had its advantages: pretty much every aquarium in the world wanted her to have drop-in privileges. Her old boss, Dr. Barb, had given her an ID and the keys to the castle more or less in perpetuity.

Fred didn't give the tourists another thought until she found herself trying to push the blonde's nose out through the back of her head.

Tuesdays! Sheesh.


Betsy Taylor, vampire queen and exasperated wife, noticed the lanky, frowning redhead at once. There weren't many people around, for one thing, and her husband, Eric Sinclair, had gone insane; that was the other thing. Betsy was, therefore, interested in anything that did not involve acknowledging her husband's recent insanity. Thus, the redhead, who seemed in a hurry yet was dithering outside the Big Boston Aquarium or whatever the heck it was called, caught her eye.

Leaving her insane husband to go about his insane business, Betsy followed the redhead, who looked to be in her midtwenties and was dressed in a torn T-shirt (not artfully torn, torn torn, as in, it was old and ratty and the fabric had given way due to wear and tear, as opposed to tear and tear), a pair of paint-spattered jeans (also torn torn), and (shudder!) pastel blue flip-flops. None of which Betsy much cared about; besides, you couldn't make people care about their shoes. The accessories she appreciated were the employee ID around the redhead's neck and, presumably, the key card to go with it. She was too old to be an intern, and wasn't dressed like someone in corporate, but the fact that she was here after hours with ID was promising.

You picked a bad day to linger, Red. And a . . . yeesh! A bad day to skip a shower. Do all the employees smell like that?

As the redhead started to let herself into a side entrance, Betsy walked straight up to her, tapped her on the shoulder (literally speaking), and then seized her brain (figuratively speaking). "Take me inside, please. Right now, no questions." Please had been unnecessary; the redhead had no choice. Still, Betsy hadn't been raised by wolves. At least, not entirely. Though she'd been known to hang out with them now and again.

And in they went.

The first thing that struck her was the immense size of the place; the outside building had been whopping but still hadn't come close to showcasing how the aquarium was essentially a gigantic warehouse on the bay filled with all things fishy.

The second thing that struck her was fishy: the odor. It wasn't awful, but it was pretty constant . . . it was how the woman smelled, but concentrated. She knew her brain would adjust and eventually tell her nose it didn't smell like much at all in there. Get to work, brain, start lying through my teeth! Or whatever you need to do in there to fool my nose.

The third was the sense of desertion. The place was a tomb-literally; there were fish skeletons all over, and the size of the place emphasized how empty it was. Betsy stifled the urge to shout, "Helloooooooo" for the childish pleasure of hearing the echo.

All in all: excellent! Maybe this little cross-country errand wouldn't take long. Maybe she and her insane husband could be back on the plane tomorrow morning, where he could cheerfully continue his insanity at thirty thousand feet. When his insanity ran its course, as she prayed it must, she, too, would be insane, and all their friends. But they'd be insane together! One great big happy family of utter nut balls.

She fished out her cell and double-checked the info. Madison Fehr, former intern at the aquarium. In some kind of trouble, the kind where a coroner had to be called and police reports filed. Madison's mother had pulled a Princess Leia: Help me, Obi-Betsy. You're my only hope. And so here she was.

"Do you know Madison Fehr?" she asked the redhead, who was staring ahead like one of those creepy stuffed animals that could walk or bark or turn a somersault, but did nothing but stand and stare after the batteries ran down. "Is she here?"

The redhead grimaced . . . a good trick, since most people she mojo'd behaved like robots she alone could command. No expression, no input of their own. Just blind, unquestioning obedience. "Yes," she replied, the ugh plain to hear in her voice. "And, yes."

"Okay, take me to wherever she'd be in this cement cavern. Can you do that?"

"Yes. And, yes."

"Then giddyap, Red."

The redhead actually turned around and met Betsy's gaze, which no one mojo'd had ever done. She gave Betsy a look that clearly conveyed what she thought of the instructions, then slooooowly obeyed.

I must be losing my touch! Or she's a special case. People either instantly submitted to her hostile takeover of their brain, or fought like pissed cats. Or it didn't work with them at all. Not this . . . this eventual, sullen obedience. Betsy was less than five years dead; she had no idea what to do but plow ahead. Some people have a higher tolerance for booze, some for drugs, some for ye olde look-into-my-eyes vampire mojo. Live and learn! Or if you can't do both, try for just one. And I know which one I'd try for . . .

She followed the redhead through the semi-gloom, trying not to be distracted by the exhibits of shiny fish, lobsters, and jellyfish. She was surprised to discover that parts of the Aquarium were more like classrooms and research labs-she'd figured the whole fishy warehouse to be one big tourist trap. See the penguins, learn about them, then buy a stuffed one for the low, low price of $49.99.

But, no, people apparently did serious work here as well as hosing down seals, cleaning up the IMAX theater, and selling things no one needed at outrageous markups. Did you have to get a master's degree in marine biology or fish zoology or whatever before you could say, "Ticket, please"?

One of the labs opened into a sort of kitchen area/staff break room, and it was down there that she got a look at Madison Fehr for the first time. She hadn't been able to smell her; all she could smell were smelt. Or whatever they fed the seals and sharks and rays and clownfish.

Well, she'll be relieved to see I'm here, was Betsy's last thought before Madison started screaming and the redhead punched her so hard she flew out of her shoes.

Her shoes!


The girl's shrieks jolted Fred out of her stupor, and she'd never been so glad in her life that Madison had a low stress threshold. Even as Fred let herself be taken by the adrenaline rush, she could feel that other woman's hold on her thoughts slacken dramatically and, the more she moved and thought on her own, disappear entirely. Even her physical touch had been startling and unreal: the woman felt uncommonly cool, like she had Freon instead of blood running through her veins. It was a relief to be away from her in every way.

Hitting someone had never felt so satisfying. Not even when she had killed her father. "Don't you ever," she told her as the blonde sailed over the small break room table, "don't you ever"-and crashed into the wall just behind it-"don't you ever, ever do that to me again!"

Although the woman landed in a heap, that did not allay Fred's rage and fear. So she rushed over, picked her up with both hands by her (rapidly ripping) collar, and slammed her back down on her brain-hijacking blond butt.

"If you ever-" Slam! "If you ever!" Wham! "I will kill you. Not you-borrowed-my-shirt-without-asking-I'm-gonna-kill-you kill you. The-minute-you've-finished-throwing-up-you've-gotta-call-the-cops-or-we'll-never-get-those-dogs-away-from-the-corpse kill you."

She took a breath and kept on: "The police. The police will make slideshows out of what I do to you." She seized the treacherous twat to go for one more wall toss, only to have the blonde catch her by the wrists and gently but firmly thrust her back, a good trick from her position flat on the floor: no leverage. Fred flailed a little but didn't fall. She was again aware of the coolness of the woman's hands. They're cold enough to be a doctor's.

"All right, those I deserved, but now you're getting a little foamy at the mouth, and getting beaten to death is gonna wreck my week, so just . . . settle. Okay?"

Anyone else would be out. Anyone else would have an urgent date with an ER attending. She took it and then she stopped it, and neither act appeared to take much toll. I am in real trouble here.

"Dr. Bimm . . . ohmiGod . . . And you . . . You're here, too . . . Aw, jeez . . ."

Fred had forgotten about Madison, the screaming witness to the beat down. Gad, the poor thing must be scared out of her tiny mind.

Fred took a breath and puffed a lock of hair out of her eyes. She'd torn her shirt again. A pity it hadn't been the woman's face. "Okay, Madison, it's all right. You were right to call me." Never would she admit how that confession stung like acid. "She's down, okay? Madison, look." Fred actually grasped her (heaving) shoulders and turned her twenty-five degrees to the left, the better to see the mysterious blonde who was, incredibly, trying to stand. "I got her."

Or not. But she must know-her ass is still on the floor, she'd better know-I'll put her through the wall, not just into the wall, if she tries even one more thing.

Though having her brain kidnapped had been horrifying, Fred wasn't going to deny being surprised and happy. Surprised because she'd gained new respect for Madison . . . If this woman was after her, her former intern had a serious problem indeed.

Even better, Madison's problem wasn't going to take weeks of her time, or even days. Hell, twelve hours from now she could be snuggling into bed with her fiancé, Thomas. Twelve? Nonsense . . . the Marriott Long Wharf was all of five hundred yards away. Room service sundaes while she and Thomas did their best to make sure they'd get hot fudge stuck in wonderful places . . . a date to remember. She hadn't seen him in weeks, and they'd barely had time to get their shirts off before Madison had called in tears . . .

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