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"Oh, hey, you're here," Geoff's dad said, relieved. "I fell waiting for you and they got me. So, y'know. Protect your evil henchman. Or something."
Lenny, a male about Sean's size-five-eleven or so-with short wiry limbs and big dark eyes, stared down at the dying human with no expression. That changed when he looked at Lara, and couldn't stop his lip from curling back. "You. This would have been on you."
"Would have been?" Sean looked down at Geoff's dad. "Do you know what he's talking about, Geoff's dad?"
"I have a name," he replied, exasperated. "Is . . . is anyone going to help me up?"
"Oh. Sorry. We should explain." Lara shook her head; how thoughtless. "Yeah, Lenny here was going to kill Geoff's dad. He really was supposed to be the dead human, the third pet, found late tonight or tomorrow morning, which we probably wouldn't have been able to hide like the bat and the fish. Outside law enforcement probably would have gotten involved. Very embarrassing at best, and potentially lethal for a bunch of us at worst."
"What?" Geoff's dad yelped. "Stage two lung cancer's not getting rid of me quick enough for you weird dog people? You gotta speed it along?"
"What do you care?" Lenny's brown eyes snapped with fury. "You're a dead monkey too dumb to know it. When you're all the way dead, you'll be one of billions. Who'll care?"
"Plotting his murder is one thing, but watch your mouth," Lara warned.
"Huh?" Geoff's dad huh'ed.
"Monkey is to human what nigger is to African American: the polar opposite of cool."
"But some of my best friends are African Americans."
Lara was beginning to doubt the man's intelligence, or sanity. She turned back to the new guy, Lenny, who'd started that very week. Who hung around the kitchen. She'd spoken to him about telling Kara about the mess she and Jack made. He'd helped clean it up!
"So use Geoff's dad-"
"I have a name!"
"-to leave your nasty little managerial hints, then kill the messenger to leave a nastier message."
"Dude." Geoff's dad was shaking his head. "Not cool."
Why are they all talking like it's 1995? She shook off the wondering. Lenny was not especially bright, his plan was idiotic, and he'd do something stupid(er) any moment. She just had to pick her moment. Or his. "So we'll probably fight to the death now, but I was wondering if you'd tell me why first."
Jack looked a little startled at her matter-of-fact prediction of how events would unfold, but she knew he was unwavering in his support. He wouldn't interfere when she killed Lenny. If Lenny seemed to be getting the upper hand, Jack would pitch in. If Lenny won, Jack would lose his sanity and eat Lenny's heart, fur or no fur.
Sean, who knew her best, dropped his eyes and muttered to the sidewalk, "Lara, I'm so sorry you got stuck with the alpha card. It so sucks that you have to do this your first week."
She was sorry, too, but wishing it was otherwise was no solution and a time waster, besides. She was getting off lightly and she knew it; most leaders came into their Packs after a murder or two. It was the natural order of things; she dared not complain.
Worse: she wasn't at all sorry for Lenny. Just herself. She supposed she wasn't a very nice woman.
But she wanted answers, dammit. She didn't think that was too much to ask, and if it was, let the cowards sit in judgment.
"Why?" Lenny's tone was so filled with loathing she imagine she could almost see his words oozing like poison gas from his mouth, his lungs, his body, his self. "You're that much of a dumb bitch? Hmm, let's see if I can put my finger on the detail . . ."
"Can't you just tell us and quit with the sarcasm?" Sean asked. "And even as I asked you that, I became aware of the irony."
Lara laughed in spite of herself.
"This is why my son never liked you," Geoff's dad said with odd piety. "Nobody ever knows what you're talking about."
"Because you and yours are freaks!" Lenny burst out. Lara had the impression he'd wanted to make that statement for some time. Years? "In one generation, your sire tore through centuries of tradition! We used to keep to ourselves; we used to let the monkeys be monkeys and the Pack be Pack."
"You forget," Lara said mildly, "I'm half monkey."
"We both are." Sean stepped up, then leaned over and whispered to Geoff's dad, "I'm so sorry about how we keep saying the M-word, we don't approve at all, but I can't let my sister swing out there by herself."
"Forget? None of us can forget! Your sire is dumb enough to get stuck in a city hours before his Change, fucks your monkey mom, then brings her home! Where, after she whelped you, she then set about fucking with the natural order of things, a way of life that went just fine for thousands of years without her input, thanks.
"And if all that wasn't treacherous enough-"
Lara nodded encouragingly. Now we're getting to it. Finally. Thank goodness bad guys always had the need to rant, a quality she had never understood (it wasn't enough he hated her family; he had to explain his hatred. Just kill her and be done!), but was grateful this once.
"-then she and her useless mate make friends with vampires and mermaids-leeches and fish, for God's sake, like they can ever be one of us!-and they're raising you to be just as inefficient and weak."
"If I was a raging vamp-o-phobe and mer-o-phobe, I'd be mad, too," Sean admitted.
"He's made you think the Pack is run by committee." Lenny was so furious he was actually spitting while he raved. "And you'll teach your born-to-be-useless cubs the same. So it's not just him. Just killing him, although it would be really fucking great, won't solve the problem. The seeds have to go, too."
"Huh. Seeds." She thought about that. "I promise you this: one of us has to go." She turned to the man on the sidewalk. "Where do you come into this the-world-has-changed-around-me-and-I'm-too-chickenshit-to-adapt ideology?"
"Oh. Lenny and me-" Geoff's dad jerked a thumb in the smaller man's direction. "He used to be the custodian at CCH and we met up and got to talking."
The hospital. Of course. "You understand him meeting and befriending you wasn't a coincidence, right, Geoff's dad?"
"I have a-what?"
"He went hunting. He needed a very sick human to leave his love notes. Like you said-even if we caught you in the act or smelled you or both, it'd take us a while to catch on to what was really happening."
Geoff's dad said nothing, just looked at Lenny with reproach.
"He, uh, doesn't see you as an equal. You're a pet. Like a bat or . . ." Sean shrugged. "You know."
Geoff's dad looked downcast, then rallied. "Yeah, well, Len told me about that. About how you're friends with vampires and sea monsters and stuff. Where's a human supposed to fit into any of that? It's our planet! And you're all faster and stronger and-where are we supposed to go? If you guys are teaming up-"
"We're not, we're just-" Sean cut himself off when Lara shook her head.
"-what's that leave for regular people? Huh? Six months from now, I won't be here. Where's that leave my boy? And his boys, if he has some? And theirs?"
"So you helped Lenny because you thought that would lead to helping humans?" Jack asked. He'd been quiet so long, if Lara hadn't been conscious of his every movement, every breath, she would have forgotten he was there.
"Don't try to make sense of it," Sean warned. "You'll talk yourself straight into a migraine. If Packers got them."
"You poor idiot," Lara said, and meant it. Fear led people to do the damndest things. She suspected she would spend the rest of her reign being surprised all over again by that. "We've been sharing the planet since your kind were hiding in caves and ours were howling at the moon. Come to think of it, we're still how-"
"Will you pay attention, you giddy bitch?" Lenny nearly screamed. Lara politely pulled her attention from Geoff's dad and gave it back to the villain. "The part I can't stand is you were really going to do it. And nobody was gonna stop you! You were going to betray every last one of us."
"By showing the world our throat! You think it's a coincidence that we've been around for thousands of years?"
"It's longer than that," she said dryly. Ah, a true super villain: he never glanced at a history book. "So have the mers, and the vamps, and the humans."
"It's monkey see, monkey do with you, isn't it?"
"That's enough," Jack snapped, moving forward, but she put her hand on his chest and he stopped.
"Okay." Len had lost the power to hurt her, if he'd ever had it. She had zero respect for him, so what did his taunts matter? It was like listening to a recording of swear words: they were words. Without something significant behind them, they were gabble. "Keep going."
"Well-" Lenny lost a little steam. "I'm done, I think."
"Fine. Have you even met a vampire? Or one of the Folk? They visit pretty frequently. You've had the opportunity."
"I don't have to meet a worm to know it crawls."
She managed-just-not to roll her eyes. "So you haven't. If you'd ever taken a break from your hatemongering, you'd find they're like us."
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