Badger To The Bone Excerpt
Zé woke up and stared at the slightly cracked ceiling. He stared at it because it wasn’t that far from him. At first, he thought someone had shoved him inside a tiny hole to wait until his country’s enemies came in to torture him into telling military secrets. But then he realized that there was way too much light in this “dungeon” for it to actually be a dungeon. Usually torturers didn’t let a guy see the sun.
So he turned away from the slightly cracked ceiling and toward the light, and that’s when he knew. He was in a house. A very boring house, to be honest, but definitely a house. The boring dining room of a boring house, to be specific. The blinds were open on the long windows, letting in all that excessive sunlight, which immediately made Zé feel a little better. He still didn’t know where he was, but he definitely felt better about things.
Lifting his arm, Zé reached for the ceiling to see how far away it was. When he still had a few more feet to go before he could touch it, he sat up. He didn’t move quickly, though. The back of his head hurt too much for any speed, but when he explored his scalp with his fingers, he didn’t feel any wounds or major damage. And that was strange, wasn’t it? Because he was pretty sure he’d gotten hit in the back of the head.
Hadn’t he? He couldn’t remember exactly.
“Fuck,” Zé sighed, glancing down. Not sure what was happening to him. That’s when he saw them. Three pairs of eyes, staring at him. Just staring.
“What?” he asked and the three dogs’ heads tilted to the side. “What are you staring at?”
Not surprisingly they didn’t reply, so Zé focused on how he would get down from where he was—on this china cabinet? How the hell did he get on a china cabinet?—without breaking his neck.
As he studied the distance to the nearest windowsill and the dining room table, debating which could hold his weight, two men appeared from another room. They were both ridiculously large and tall and . . . twins? They had to be. They looked exactly alike. Especially the way they loped by, both eating delicious-looking buns.
As they passed, their heads turned toward him and, as one, they both nodded and kept going. As if a naked man on top of a china cabinet was something one saw every day.
A few moments later, Zé heard female voices coming from behind him and two women appeared. One was blond and white; slight, with barely any meat on her. She was barefoot and wearing a very loose sundress. The other was Asian, short but powerfully built. Her hair was dyed purple and she wore jeans and a pair of bright orange Converse basketball sneakers.
Zé narrowed his gaze on the Asian woman. He knew her! From . . . from . . . ? Somewhere! He knew her from somewhere!
“Answer me,” the blonde insisted.
The purple-haired woman stopped and spun to face the blonde. The pair stared hard at each other. Then, abruptly, they bent a little at the knees and . . . hissed? Did they really? Did two grown women just hiss at each other nowadays? Was this due to the damage of social media?
Zé rubbed his eyes. Looked again. Did he also see fangs? Why did he think he saw fangs? That was crazy, right? Human beings didn’t have actual fangs. Especially mouths full of fangs. Not vampire fangs but an entire mouth of fangs.
“Do not bare fangs at each other!” a female voice yelled from another room. “I mean it,” she added after another second. “Don’t make me come out there.”
The two women relaxed until the blonde pushed again, “Just tell me.”
Rolling her eyes, the other began to turn away but she spotted the three dogs staring up at Zé. She dramatically gestured to them with both arms.
“Again?” she demanded. “First the cat, now this?”
“The cat is your fault.”
“That cat starts it.”
The blonde pointed at the dogs. “What are they staring at?”
Both women looked right at Zé. They gazed at him for several moments, their mouths open.
The blonde was the first to speak, turning to the other woman and demanding, “Why won’t you just tell me where you’ve been?”
“I don’t have to tell you anything!” she snapped, walking away; the blonde followed.
Which, Zé had to admit, wasn’t what he expected. Were they not going to question a nearly naked man sitting on top of their china cabinet? If nothing else, he expected them to at least help him down. But they went off, still arguing.
When the arguing became louder, another woman appeared beside the china cabinet. This one was taller and African American. Her curly brown hair reached to large shoulders that fairly burst out of the red sleeveless T-shirt she wore. And the cutoff shorts nicely showed her long brown legs. But those huge feet . . . eesh. He’d hate to get kicked with those.
She faced in the direction the bickering voices came from and Zé assumed she was about to yell at the pair again, but she caught sight of the dogs first.
“Hello, you guys,” she greeted. “And who is your little friend here?”
The smallest dog, at about fifteen or twenty pounds, ran up to her, sniffed her bare feet, then went up on its hind legs, front paws waving wildly.
Grinning, she picked the dog up and cuddled it close. Something Zé wouldn’t do because that dog didn’t look like it had been bathed in ages. The thing was probably infested with fleas and ticks but the woman didn’t seem to care.
“You are just so cute!” she cooed at the dog. “Are you just visiting?”
“Do you really expect it to answer?” Zé had to ask. Because he’d never understood people who actually spoke to dogs.
Still holding the animal, she looked up at Zé. “What are you doing?” she asked instead of answering him.
“Honestly, I have no idea.”
She let out a breath, briefly closing her eyes. Then, with a very healthy bellow, “Max!”
“It’s not my fault!” was the reply.
“I swear . . .” the woman muttered before she yelled out again, “Who is this person on the china cabinet?”
“That’s a cat,” was yelled back. “I rescued him!”
“I thought we agreed. No more strays!”
“Are you keeping that dog I see you holding?”
“He . . .” She lifted the dog with both hands, confirmed its lower bits and finished with, “He is just visiting.”
“Well, so is the cat!”
Rolling her eyes, the woman looked at Zé again. “I’m Charlie,” she said.
“Hi, Zé. Do you need help getting down from there?”
“Yes. I thought maybe I could make it to the dining table but it’s got that glass top . . .”
“Yeah. Don’t do that.” She frowned a little. “Are you naked, Zé?”
“Unfortunately . . . yes. Not sure how I got this way, though.”
“Let’s not think about it. You just stay there—I’ll be right back.” She put the dog down and went back the way she’d come. When she returned, the dogs were still staring at him and now she had the two large men with her.
“I’m getting cats out of trees now?” one of the men asked Charlie.
“That’s a cabinet and yes. Could you please get him down from there?”
“How did he get up there in the first place?”
“Why do you ask me questions we both know I don’t have the answers to? Why are you making this difficult? Is it because he’s naked?”
“Well, that’s not helping.”
“So you want me to help him down while he’s naked?”
“No, no,” the man hurriedly replied, stepping closer to the cabinet with what Zé assumed was his twin.
“All right . . . come on,” the man said to Zé. But Zé couldn’t stop staring at the pair. He really hadn’t noticed exactly how tall they were. Now that they were standing so close he realized they were taller than the cabinet he was on. Like two giants.
“Are you going to move or what?” the man barked at Zé, which just annoyed Zé.
It annoyed him a lot, which was why he ordered, “Carry me,” and held his arms out for them to do so. It was something he used to say to his grandfather when he was little. And, on more than one occasion, he still said it to his grandfather because it annoyed the man and Zé was at least six inches taller. Which was why he was saying it now—to annoy.
And annoy it did.
“That’s it,” the man growled. “I’m leaving.”
“Help him down,” Charlie insisted, laughing.
“This is why I hate cats.” He glared at Zé. “All cats.”
“That’s fascinating. Really.” Zé still held out his arms and each giant grabbed him by a forearm and roughly hauled him off the cabinet, dropping him to the ground from a higher distance than seemed necessary. But Zé managed not to fall on his ass and instead simply wrapped the towel he’d had over him around his waist.
Zé was a tall man. Six-two since he’d turned thirteen. But for the first time since he’d done a little protection job for the NBA playoffs, he felt short. Almost tiny. Especially when these two glared down at him in mutual dislike.
“Problem?” Zé asked. He knew he probably shouldn’t start trouble but he was from the South Bronx. On his street, he had never been known to back down from a fight. Especially when people insisted on annoying him. And these two were annoying him.
Having picked up that nasty dog again, Charlie yelled over her shoulder, “Max, you better get in here if you don’t want your cat to get his ass kicked.”
“Calm down. Everyone calm down.” The one they called Max rushed in and quickly stepped between Zé and the twins. “It’s not his fault,” she explained, which Zé didn’t understand. True, he was being kind of an asshole but he hadn’t actually done anything to warrant an “it’s not his fault” statement. “He doesn’t know what he is,” she . . . whispered. Why was she whispering?
“I don’t?” Zé asked.
“I told you that you don’t,” she replied, looking over her shoulder at him.
“And . . . what am I not aware of?”
“That you’re a cat.”
It all came back to him then. Everything that had happened at the hangar. Everything that had happened with her. Everything that she had done.
“Oh, God,” he said, stepping back and colliding with the cabinet, “it’s you. The crazy woman they kidnapped.”
All of Charlie’s good humor left so quickly, it was like it had been yanked out of her. Continuing to hold that dog, she locked her dark eyes on Max and growled, “What kidnapping?”
Max now glared at Zé. “Now ya see? Ya got me in trouble.”
“Sorry. Let me fix that for you.” Zé faced Charlie. “Don’t blame . . . Max, is it? Yes. Don’t blame Max for being kidnapped. Although her abductors did tell me that she threw herself into their kidnap van and let them whisk her away from the streets of Leiden.”
“Leiden?” the blonde called out before she ran into the room. “Leiden? That’s in the Netherlands. Why were you in the Netherlands, Max? What were you doing in the Netherlands?”
Zé looked down into the now-glowering face of Max and he smiled. “See? All fixed.”