Undead and Underwater


Page 22


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"We hate that," Jonas said, and Fred nodded. Her saying she hated something was nothing new; it might make a stronger impression if someone as easygoing as Jonas said it. "Every goddamned tourist in the world thinks it's hilarious, and they all trot it out, usually when we're trapped with them on a subway car. And they're awful at it. And have you noticed Fred and I don't drop our rs?"


"I was a little let down," Betsy confessed. "I figured you'd be dropping them all over the place."


Fred tapped the table to direct Betsy's attention to her. "I mean, do you guys like it when HBO reruns Fargo and half the world thinks everyone in Minnesota talks in this here kind of accent, then? And then when yer talkin' in that there kinda accent and sayin', 'Yah, you betcha' alla time with those big head nods, d'you like that there? Or not so much, then?"


"I'm very, very sorry," the vampire said at once. Betsy was the picture of contrite. "You're right. It's awful. We should all just move to North Carolina, then. They've got that there nice southern accent, like syrup, then."


"Well, all right," Fred said, magnanimous in her triumph. "But we're getting off course, again. Madison, I'll need those e-mails, and also-what did these guys look like? How many were there?"


Madison was again unable to look her in the eye, so she stared over her shoulder instead.


"Come on, it's all right," Betsy said kindly. "Like everyone else at this table-in this building, in this city, even-hasn't gotten in over their head? We all have-hell, over my head is the norm in my part of the world. So how do we find the turds who wanna rid the world of the anti-Ariel?"


"Do not call me-"


"Three of them are here now," Madison whispered, still staring over Fred's shoulder.


CHAPTER TWELVE


"Don't look!" Madison hissed.


Too late. "Oh, what fresh hell is this?" Fred muttered, trying to stare without staring.


"They're here? That's them? Yesssss!" Betsy pumped her fist. "What luck! Let's go get 'em."


As Fred tried not to gape at the vampire with admiration, Jonas shook his head. "Luck isn't the first word that popped into my brain," he said, also trying to look without looking.


"Jonas, please get Madison the fuck out of here right now," Fred said, keeping a smile on her face and projecting I'm not worried, I'm not worried, what bad guys? as hard as she could. "Go somewhere safe; do not linger."


"Madison, have I mentioned the deplorable state of your split ends? I know," he said, rising and cutting her off before she could speak, "you've had other things on your mind. But accidentally setting up your old boss to be murdered and then getting your mom to send the king and queen of the vampires to town to hang out in Faneuil Hall drinking smoothies is no excuse. So we're off to a friend's salon. Sure it's late, and sure we're exhausted, but your hair, Madison, your hair. Did I mention the friend's wife is a homicide detective for our fair city? I'm thinking at least three inches off the ends." Jonas unhurriedly strolled with Madison toward the exit opposite the approaching bad guys. Fred had to admire the sheer slickness of the man. She knew he was afraid and she knew he didn't want to leave her. But he also knew Madison was the most vulnerable . . . and the most frightened. I might only have one friend, but he's a keeper. Better one Jonas than a thousand friends not half as wonderful.


"He would have been so perfect for my dead doctor." Betsy sighed.


"How many brains can you hijack at once?"


"Uh, sorry? Oh. Oh!" Betsy was watching the men approach, looking as unconcerned as Fred was-she hoped. "Mojo, you mean. Um . . . one?"


"That leaves me with two."


"Good work, Dr. Bimm! You're, like, soooo good at math."


"You realize when you talk like that you make my ears bleed, right?"


"I didn't before; I guess it's, like, a bonus."


Fred groaned. Vampires channeling valley girls. Maybe I'll luck out and these three will kill us. Death can't be worse than this whole awful evening.


The men approached, taking their time. Dressed, Fred thought gloomily, for ass kicking: casual pants, pressed polo shirts (one in indigo blue, one in brown, one in black), dark socks, loafers. They all had cell phones clipped to their belts, but Fred could see no guns. Their hair color ranged from blond to brown, and all sported military-short haircuts. Two of them had dark eyes; the shortest brunette (short being relative; they were all at least six feet) had blue eyes. All were trim and muscular; they moved like a team. They had done things together. Probably a lot of things.


Soldiers, Fred realized, feeling her heart drop to her ankles. Some kind of soldiers; these are not random baddies. Tell me an entire army doesn't want me dead. Bad enough the entire staff at the downtown Y wants me dead . . .


"We were looking for your friend, Dr. Bimm," the one in the black shirt said politely. Dark colors to blend at night. And in this part of town, those nicey-nice tourist outfits, that's practically a uniform. No one would look twice. "What luck to find you, too."


"Super-duper-awesome-great good luck," Fred said without a trace of a smile. Keep them here and off Jonas. "Why don't you three go fuck yourselves and leave us alone? And go to hell and drop dead and any other disrespectful thing you don't want me to say in front of your boyfriends. Don't worry. We'll wait. Make a list."


"You'll wait; I don't have all night. Besides, all the food stalls are closed now," Betsy added. "You can't get so much as a glass of milk. What good is Nathaniel Hall without the food?"


"Faneuil Hall," Fred corrected her sharply.


"Are you sure? Because that name makes no sense."


"Of course I'm sure, I've lived here most of-"


"We've got team members scooping up your friend and Ms. Fehr," the blond, brown-eyed chap in the middle said, soooo politely. "And we know your other friend has been with you half the night, hearing all sorts of things that should never have come out of your big mouth, so she'll need to come with us, too."


"Awwww, you picked me!" Betsy turned to Fred. "This is so much better than high school. I never got picked first for Phys Ed. This is like high school with goons and guns."


"Shut your mouth!" Fred wanted to punch Black Shirt as much as she wanted to scream; she indulged in the latter for now. "This woman is not my friend!"


"And now you've ruined it." The vampire sighed. "This part is also like high school."


Brown Shirt's phone buzzed, and he and his two buddies smiled. It's a signal; they've got Jonas. Fuck.


"Take them," Black Shirt said, sounding almost bored. "Right now."


"That's just right," Fred began, but stopped when Betsy laid a hand on her arm.


"Don't get your fins in a bunch, Fred. I've got this. Okay, asshats, too bad for you that I'm as badass as I am hot-looking, because now you're in for-"


"Just . . . stop." Fred took three steps, passed Betsy on the right, and in less than a blink had flanked and seized Black Shirt by the collar and twisted. His yelpish bark ("Blaayarrk!") startled almost everyone in their little group. She shoved him back, hard, and didn't have to watch to see he'd gone sailing past the tables and over the railing to crash with a horrid thud on the hard floor one story below.


Even now it had been less than a moment, so she had all the time in the world to turn and dodge Indigo Shirt's hand, his fingers stiffened to chop. She grabbed said stiff fingers and twisted, smiling a little at his pained yowl; then she forced his elbow to bend the wrong way, and smiled wider when his howl abruptly stopped as he passed out. She felt a blow land on her left shoulder and kicked back; the last one flew into their now-empty chairs so hard the chairs imploded on impact.


"Whoa." Betsy was staring. "Chairs don't bust up like that except in the movies. Eww, he's got wood stuck to him-in him-everywhere, he's-Oh my God, he's got a splinter in his eye! What eye, ha-ha. Um, will you think less of me if I throw up now?"


"Stop talking. Must you preface every single thing you do with nauseating endless speculative continual monologues?"


"So, you know, boys," Betsy said, staring. "Let that, uh, be a lesson to you. All three of you. When you wake up. If you wake up." The vampire seemed pleased. "I almost never get saved, y'know? I usually have to do the saving. This trip to Boston, it's like a vacation for me."


"How wonderful for you," Fred snarled, seizing her wrist and dragging her toward the far exit. "Come on, some of their goons have got Jonas."


"I'm guessing all that swimming around in the deep ocean depths makes you ferociously strong as well as ferociously grouchy? You're kind of an effortless badass." Betsy was, thank goodness, allowing herself to be dragged. In fact, Fred was moving so quickly the other woman's feet occasionally left the floor. "It's great."


"What?"


"It's the effortlessness that makes it really cool," she said cheerfully.


"I just want this night to end," Fred groaned.


"Not me! It just got interesting."


CHAPTER THIRTEEN


"They underestimated you," Betsy said as Fred flew through the exit door and raced for the emergency stairs. "Not just a little. They underestimated you by yards and yards. I did, too, which was pretty dumb of me. You did sort of make me fly through the fish warehouse with the greatest of ease. And you're smart, too-a doctor! But not a real one."






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