July 2023 Newsletter
HOT AND BADGERED
“Dag! Get the first aid kit!”
“Which one?” Dag called back.
Berg focused on Stevie again. “What do you need it for? A sprain? A cut? Your neck?”
“Gunshot wound,” she replied casually.
So casually that Berg didn’t realize he was yelling, “Gunshot wound!” to his brother until his brother yelled back, “Who the fuck was shot?”
“Char—” was all she got out before Berg dropped the towel and charged over to what the rest of the neighborhood was now calling, “the badger house.”
He ran inside and bellowed, “Charlie!”
She appeared in the hallway wearing nothing but her blood-soaked jeans and bra; her shoulder appeared weirdly fucked up.
“What are you yelling for?” she asked calmly, frowning.
“You were shot?”
She waved it off. “Oh, that. Yeah. I’m fine.”
“You’re covered in blood.”
“‘Covered’ is a bit of an exaggeration, wouldn’t you say?”
She came close and whispered, “If you’re going to get hysterical—”
“I’m not hysterical. You’ve been shot.”
“You were shot in Milan. You didn’t get hysterical.”
“I’m a bear.”
“Which means a .45 isn’t going to do anything to me except piss me off.”
“What about bear spray? Does bear spray work?”
“Why are you asking?”
“Why aren’t you telling?”
Dag ran into the house, a giant metal white box gripped in his big hands. He froze when he saw Charlie.
“Oh, my God!” he gasped. “You’re dying!”
Charlie’s eyes crossed. “Can we all calm down? There’s no need to be hysterical.”
“How are we hysterical?” Berg asked.
“By running in, assuming I’m dying—”
“You are drenched in blood,” Berg reminded her.
“And your shoulder looks really weird,” Dag flatly added.
“That just needs to be yanked back into place.” She scratched her chin. “And a little duct tape on the gunshot wounds will stop the bleeding.”
“You’re not a headlight on an old Chevy,” Berg told her.
She rolled her eyes but before she said anything, she suddenly sniffed the air. “I got a pie in the oven. Wait here.”
Charlie walked away and Berg looked at his brother. Together, they headed toward the kitchen behind Charlie, but Berg’s dog ran in first, his sister’s towel still caught in his mouth. He stopped in front of Berg and stood there. Being annoying.
“You are killing me.”
“Is that Britta’s Restoration Hardware towel?” Dag shook his head. “She’s gonna kick your ass.”
“Good!” Stevie said from behind them . . . and loudly. “You have the kit.”
To be honest, Berg had forgotten about Charlie’s little sister. Looking at her now, he saw something different about her.
First, she was speaking to them without either of her sisters being there. Second, her eyes were open really wide. Like she was perpetually stunned by something. Third . . . back to the talking. She was talking . . . a lot. And fast.
“Thanks for loaning us this first aid kit,” she said, taking the kit from Dag, “we really appreciate it but, wow is it big, I’m really surprised how big it is, do you guys get injured that much that you need such a big case, we do, of course, but that’s not surprising, I mean just today Charlie got shot but that was before what happened, not that I blame them, it was either them or us and so her and Max had to kill all those men, I mean if they hadn’t, no matter what our cousin said, they probably would have held me for a long time, and killed both my sisters, so, yeah, Charlie and Max totally had to kill them all, sorry if I’m talking fast, I sense I’m talking fast, but I just took my meds, and they haven’t kicked in yet, but when they do, I’ll be way calmer, but at least I’m not afraid of you guys right now, but I always feel better after I shift, the problem is that no one else feels better after I shift, right?” Then she laughed, patted Berg on the arm, and reminded him, “Stray dog it!” before disappearing down the hallway toward the kitchen.
Stunned, the brothers stood there. Silent.
Because, really, what was there to say?
Ignoring the excruciating pain in her shoulder, Charlie quickly put her glasses back on before she bent down and, with oven mitts on, pulled the lemon custard pie out of the oven and placed it on the counter to cool.
She smiled at its perfection.
“Bear in the kitchen,” Max said and Charlie turned around expecting to see the Dunn brothers behind her. But no. It was that dog.
“He’s going to eat my pie, isn’t he?” she asked Max.
“If you leave it on that counter, he will.”
Charlie moved the pie to the open window, pretty sure the dog couldn’t lean that far over to reach the pie. But that’s when Max reminded her, “You’re gonna attract bears again.”
Holding the pie in her hands, she studied the kitchen.
Max looked up from the newspaper she was weirdly reading. Weirdly, because it was an actual newspaper. Made of actual paper. Charlie had only seen her use her phone the last ten years to read anything. Books. Magazines. Anything.
Charlie didn’t even know where her sister had found a newspaper.
“You could just get rid of the dog,” Max said.
“I’m not killing a dog.”
Max quickly looked up, eyes blinking. “I meant throw him out; not kill him.”
“Awwwww, I’m glad that’s what you meant,” she happily replied.
Max glared at her before going back to the paper. That’s when Stevie walked into the kitchen.
“Who’s killing a dog?” Stevie looked down at Max. “Why are you killing a dog?”
“I’m not—” Max suddenly stopped talking and stared at Stevie. “Were you outside talking to those bears?”
“Good. And I’m not killing any—”
“I was inside talking to those bears.”
Max closed her eyes and Charlie asked her baby sister, “What did you say to them?”
“I don’t really remember because I was talking so fast, and you know what happens when I’m off my meds and start talking, I just go and go and go, and I kinda just kept going without really stopping because you know how I get when I’m not on my meds but I’ve panic-shifted. And I may have told them nothing, but then again I may have told them everything I’m really not sure but—”
With pie still in hand, Charlie ran out of the kitchen and returned to the living room to find both bears just standing there . . . staring at each other.
“Pie!” she announced, shoving it under their noses. “Lemon custard. Bet you two like that! Want it? You can have it! Take it!”
Berg gazed at the pie and then her before asking, “So how many people did you kill?”
Charlie cringed. They should have locked Stevie in her room, but she could claw her way out if she was anxious enough.
“It’s not what you think,” she promised.
“So, you didn’t kill a bunch of people?”
“Not like that. Like we went on a murder spree. They were trying to take our sister. And they weren’t afraid to get rid of me and Max to make it happen. What did you want us to do?”
“It’s not what you did, Charlie. I don’t know what you did or why you did it. What I do know is that you’ve probably attracted a new problem to you and your sisters.”
“A new problem? What kind of new problem?”
The two look-alike males simultaneously blew out a breath and looked away from her gaze . . .
“All right, bitches! We have a problem!” she yelled toward the kitchen.
“I thought we killed our problem!” Max yelled back.
“Apparently that wasn’t effective.”
“Is it Stevie’s fault?”
Charlie frowned at Max’s question. “No.”
“So I can’t hit her? Because I feel like hitting her.”
“Don’t hit Stevie!”
Charlie looked back at the two bears and asked, “So what do we do now?’
Berg held up a finger because Dag was on the phone. He grunted a few times and disconnected.
“They’re heading this way,” he said to his brother.
“Who’s heading this way?” Charlie asked, but the bears ignored her.
“Who did they send?” Berg asked Dag.
Dag scowled. “A Smith.”
Berg took an abrupt step back, like he’d been struck. “We have to get them out of here.”
“And take them where?”
“Someplace with a lot of people. Smiths don’t like to strike with an audience.”
Knowing the brothers were so busy talking to each other, they were completely ignoring her, Charlie headed back into the kitchen. Max had poor Stevie in a chokehold and was telling her, “Sleep. Just go to sleep. Shhhhhh.”
Charlie walked across the kitchen and placed the pie she was still holding onto the windowsill.
“We have to get out of here,” she told her sisters.
“Why?” Max asked, still choking a pissed-off Stevie. But despite Stevie’s very narrow frame, she was really hard to choke out. Like most honey badgers. The way she was clawing at Max’s arms, though . . . that was all cat.
“Apparently we’ve gotten some attention from . . . I don’t know. The bears, maybe. They didn’t specify, but somebody.”
“Did they give you a name?”
“All they said was, ‘A Smith,’ which I found quite vague.”
“There are two sets of Smiths in this world,” Max said.
Charlie frowned. “I’m sure there are more than two—”
“One set are wolverines,” she went on, “but they’d never come after us because of Dutch. And then there’s the Smith Pack that, I believe, is crazy enough to come after us.”
“Smith Pack?” Charlie thought for a moment. “Didn’t Gramps mention them once?”
Max nodded. “He said we were never to date or have pups with them or he would, without a doubt, disown us.”
“Disown us from what? He got nothin’.”
“Just his love.”
“Oh, shut up.” She looked at her still-bleeding shoulder. “I need a clean T-shirt and jeans and would you let her go!”
Max released Stevie, who spun around on her knees and began slapping at her giggling sister.
“You are such a bitch!”
“Stevie!” Charlie barked, pulling on a fresh pair of jeans and a navy blue T-shirt. “We don’t have time for this.”
Stevie got to her feet, pointing her forefinger at Max. “I hate you.”
“I’m trying to help you.”
“Shut up!” She faced Charlie. “What’s happening now?”
“Find your backpack. We’re getting out of here.”
“Okay.” When it came to being on the run, Stevie had learned over time to simply follow orders.
She pointed at Max. “And you can bandage up my gun shot wounds on the drive out of here.”
The bears walked into the kitchen as Max reached under the kitchen table and pulled out a sawed-off shotgun she’d stashed there. Along with many other weapons she had under the kitchen table. In the cabinets. Under and around the beds. Beneath the dining room table. The living room couch. The end tables.
Max didn’t leave what she called “basic home defense” to chance.
The bears froze in the doorway.
“That’s not legal,” Dag noted.
“You’re so cute,” Max said with a smile, pushing past both males.
“We have a place you can go,” Berg said to Charlie.
She shrugged. “What’s the point if they’re just going to chase us down? Better to face him here.”
“You don’t want to face down a Smith.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“And my goal,” he went on, “is to work out an agreement that will allow you to stay here safely. Without worry. But I can’t do that if you’re having a gunfight on the street with the Smiths.”
Max walked back into the kitchen with a box of shells, although the shotgun was already loaded. Max just wanted to make sure she had extra. “We could win a gunfight.”
Berg glared down at her. “That’s not helping.”
Max grinned and looked at her sister. “What do you think?”
Charlie dug her hands into her hair and said to Berg, “I hate dragging you deeper into this.”
Berg patted her shoulder. “That’s sweet, Charlie, but who gives a shit right now? You’ve got a Smith on your ass.”
“Is it really that big a deal?”
Dag leaned over his brother’s shoulder. “It’s that big a deal.”
Stevie, her backpack securely on, her eyes wide, pointed at the window behind Charlie. “Someone just took your pie.”
Charlie glanced back and saw that, yeah. Her pie was gone. “The dog?” she asked.
“Nah.” Max pointed. “He’s under the table. After he opened the fridge, took out leftover steaks from yesterday, and dragged the entire pan under the table to eat.”
Berg crouched and snarled, “Get home!”
The entire table moved a few feet when the dog stood up while still under it, lifting it off the ground with his back. Stevie grabbed and held it, allowing the dog to keep going.
“What’s his name?” Max asked Berg.
“Oh. Uh . . .”
“You didn’t name your dog?” Charlie demanded.
“Can we please go?” Berg asked. “Before the gunfight?”
Shaking her head, Charlie took a 9mm out from under the kitchen table and tucked it into the back of her jeans. She pulled on a light denim jacket to hide it and, tsk-tsking the entire time, walked past the two bears. Her sisters following her.
“You’re welcome,” Berg said from behind her.
“I didn’t thank you yet,” she reminded him. “And keep that attitude going, I may never.”
The women walked out of the kitchen and Berg scratched his head. That’s when he saw his brother staring at him.
“What the fuck have you gotten us into?” Dag asked.
“What are you talking about?”
“There has to be an easier way to get a date.”
“That’s not what this is about. We’re being helpful.”
“Do they need help? Because they don’t really seem like they do.”
“With Smiths coming here? Of course they need our help.”
The sisters suddenly walked back in, Charlie still leading the way.
“Car just pulled up in front of the house,” Charlie said. “Dutch is gone. We’ll need to steal a car.”
“I can do that,” Max announced, marching by.
Berg grabbed the shotgun she still held, quickly aiming it toward the ceiling. Once he was sure no one would accidentally get shot, he calmly asked, “Can you grab something a little less . . . conspicuous?”
“Oh sure!” she said with a big, friendly smile. She released her grip on the shotgun and moved to the kitchen table. She reached under and came out with a .45.
“A Desert Eagle is less conspicuous?”
“Than a shotgun? Yeah!”
Berg continued to stare at her until she rolled her eyes and said, “Fine.” She dropped the gun on the table and went to the cabinet under the sink. She pulled out a strap with several holsters on it. Each holster held a knife. Stevie lifted up her sister’s T-shirt and Max strapped the knives around her torso. Then she tacked a few more holstered knives to her jeans and Stevie let the T-shirt drop.
“Okay!” Max said with that pretty smile. “Let’s go! I’ve got a car to steal.”
“Or we can just borrow Mrs. Fitzbaer’s car. Nice elderly sow who lives one street over, and she lets me and Dag borrow it all the time.”
Max’s smile faded away. “Fine. But just so we’re clear . . . I find that really boring.”
“It’s all right. I’m just letting you know.”
Max walked out the back door, leaving the brothers with Stevie. She gave them a small half-smile.
“Sorry about earlier,” she said. “But my medication has finally kicked in. I’m calmer. And I amped up the dosage a little bit . . . so I don’t find you nearly as terrifying.”
She cleared her throat. “But . . . should you suddenly decide you have to eat me, I have bear spray in my backpack. A proprietary mixture of my own that will burn the eyes from your head.” She patted Berg’s arm. “I’m not saying I’ll use it. I’m just saying it’s there. In case you have any . . . terrifying ideas. Involving me. Okay?”
Berg nodded. “Okay.”
“Excellent. Very good!” She turned and rushed after her sisters, her overstuffed backpack so heavy and Stevie so thin, it looked as if she should topple over. But she didn’t. Because none of the MacKilligan sisters were quite what they appeared.
Berg didn’t bother to look at his brother. What was the point? He didn’t need to see him to hear him clearly.
“I’m telling Britta what an idiot you are.”