Wolf at the Door - By MaryJanice Davidson
The werewolves were holding hands. They did not share kinship by blood or bond; their relationship was more like a protective secretary looking out for her clueless boss. Her extremely clueless boss.
The female leaned over and spoke softly in his ear. She wasn’t trying to be secretive. The werewolves across the table could hear every word. “We’ve been through this before.”
His nostrils flared. “You have.”
“And I’m still here.”
He seemed to take courage from that, from her neat designer suit, her unmarked face, her unchewed ears and dark eyes. “You’re still here. And so am I.” He glared across the table and she caught an unpleasant whiff . . . a cactus catching fire, maybe. Strong and sharp, enough to make the eyes water.
“Remember the rules,” she reminded him. Her hand was beneath the table, so the other werewolves couldn’t see her nails digging into him.
He swallowed a gasp and nodded. The rules. Right. Show no fear. Ideally, feel no fear. If you do, don’t show it. If you absolutely can’t help showing it, make the fear about something else. Anything else.
“Ow, my suit!” he yelped, and showily yanked her hand away from his lap. “My wife’ll kill me.”
“Nah,” one of the wolves across the table said. “She won’t.”
“Be worth it, though,” his partner said, leering at her blunt, small hand and unpolished fingernails. Rachael resisted the urge to make an obscene gesture or put one of his eyes out with her thumb.
“Won’t be anything left to kill, anyways,” his partner added, and they wee-hawed together like two of the three little pigs. Wee, wee, weeeee-haw!
“Quit that. Anyways is wrong, just like towards is wrong.” Oh, boy, she hated towards. More than plague, she hated towards. “Don’t get me started. Now if you two are through chortling,” Rachael snapped, “maybe we could get some work done?”
The werewolves, a little taken aback by the feisty tone, had a quick huddle at their end of the table (“She’s so little!” “Chortling? Who says chortling?”). Then they manned up (“Shouldn’t it be wolfmanned up?” “Why are you asking me these things? What’s wrong with you?”) and slammed down several thick folders bristling with Post-it flags. The least jarring color was a queasy pale green.
The burning cactus smell intensified, and her client slapped his hand on the table, hard; the crack! got everyone’s attention. “You need to understand . . . this is vital. You understand me, boys? I’m talking life or death here. Critical shit.” Their ears pricked forward. “Our records are one hundred . . . percent . . . accurate.”
“What he said. This audit’s been coming a long time,” the older werewolf said, jabbing his thumbs at (weirdly) himself. “You’ve had years to get your shit together, years of half-assing it, but now time’s up. Now you gotta fight or flight.” He smiled. “And everyone in the room knows you’re not so good at the fight part.”
As one of the people in the room who knew that, Rachael said nothing. Her client spoke instead. “I’m ready. We’re prepped; we can go anytime.”
“Oh-umm?” The younger werewolf paused, and Rachael smiled at the sight of him sifting scents and trying to match them to the wrong sounds. “You are? I mean, you can?”
“Sure.” It was amazing, she thought, how someone could smell so utterly different from one second to the next. The smallest boost to his confidence, and burnt cactus changed to orange bubblegum! “I just thought . . . I mean, I thought Michael . . .”
At the name of the Pack’s leader, all four werewolves eyeballed each other while pretending they weren’t. Rachael Velvela was in the room because she was Michael Wyndham’s cousin.
That was bad news for Tom Fritzi of Fritzi’s Fried Funnel Cakes (FunCakes™), who had been audited with a vengeance yet at first had no idea who she was. He’d hired her because he thought her last name was Velveeta and was so fond of fake cheese he kept her on after he realized the mistake.
The toads across the table, lesser beta-males, had audited Fritzi for the chance to get close to a relative of the Pack leader, and also because they hated FunCakes™. (They were neutral on the issue of processed-cheese food.)
So here they all were.
“I can’t stand suspense, and maybe you can’t, either, so I’ll just come out with it. My cousin isn’t popping in for a cameo.” Rachael was already bored with the proceedings. She had been hip deep in Fritzi’s finances for the last month and