“Waiting’s such a pain in the ass.”
I was talking to the lady in line ahead of me. Or rather her planet-sized hat, whose fake ostrich feather was doing Pluto’s orbit on my face. The hat ignored me.
So I turned to the guy behind. He was skinny with a fat butt and a long nose—like a dachshund in pants. “Life’s too short, right?”
Dachshund guy stared at me like I was demented.
And maybe I was. After all, I’d been standing here for—I checked my Juke. Over an hour. Sixty minutes and counting. In sixty minutes a good drama could have solved World Hunger. A comedy would have solved World Hunger, achieved Global Peace, and had a laugh or two besides.
Forget Murphy’s Law. Nixie’s Law: if you were waiting to make a left turn, there was always one oncoming fucktard who sailed through on the red. If you were in a grocery line, whichever line you picked would be run by Nimrod the Wonder-Iguana.
Waiting for the burro-cracy (aka the mule-ass government) to move its fat butt was enough to make the Great McHamburger Clown swear.
Standing in line in the mayor’s office for an hour —to do the government a favor —well, please. Just flay my skin off.
I mean, it wasn’t like you could do anything while you wait. You gotta be alert—
move up move up move up —or someone would jack your place in line.
I amused myself by making up sexual fantasies about the people in line. Behind dachshund guy was a shaggy collie of a woman. I imagined them doing it. Doggie style, of course. Teeny wiener-dog frantically humping Lassie. That was good for a few chuckles.
A surgically enhanced 34-DD paired with dachshund guy brought another round of silent laughs. I mean, his face was level with her chest. Imagine his head on a rubber band, playing paddle ball.
That was good for about ten minutes. After that I thought up seven different ways to kill the guy who wrote “Proud Mary”. The best was to lock him in a room with every band that ever played a wedding reception, each furnished with a Giant Slugger baseball bat.
But even waiting has to end. It was 4:40 p.m. and dark out when hat lady got called to the counter. I was finally at the front of the line. I was next.
Having someone cut in ahead of me was just a fucking insult.
“Excuse me.” I reached up to tap the guy’s shoulder.
The buzz-cut gray head swiveled. Apparently seeing nobody there, the guy turned back.
I’m used to that. At five-foot-nothing I’m shorter than most fifth graders. I don’t make up for it in weight, being a size zero. Don’t envy me. The only thing that fits me comes out of the little girls’ section at Kmart. Since I’m twenty-five, this is a major problem. Never mind trees falling in forests—if the shirt front is flat, do my breasts exist?
“Excuse me,” I said again, tugging on my tormentor’s suit coat.
He whipped around and seared me with a long glare. Aw, shit. I recognized that sharp nose and ratty face. I knew too well that seersucker suit, new half a century ago and hardened since into a shell of authority.
Mr. Schleck, my high school vice-principal.
Schleck hated me. Left over from having to deal with my party-animal sister, but he didn’t have to enjoy torturing me quite so much.
And he did enjoy it. Schleck was the kind of guy who liked to throw his weight around. Abusive Authority with a capital AA. Break one tiny little rule, and he handed out detentions and suspensions like the Ebola virus. And, from his cutting in line ahead of me, was a two-faced bastard about it.
“Excuse me.” I yanked on his seersucker symbol of authority. “You taxed my place. I was here first.”
The veep threw me a sneer. “Not now, little girl.”
At the counter, Twyla Tafel yelled, “Next!”
Enough was enough. Schleck had bullied me as a teenager and got away with it. But I was an adult now. He was not going to screw me any more. I grabbed his coat. “Just hold on there!”
Schleck whirled on me, snarling like an angry badger. “Let go of me, you little twerp.” His fingers closed around my hand and squeezed.
That hurt. But I had stood in that fucking line for a fucking hour. Playing by the rules. I got pissed. “I was here first. I’m next. No joust!”
Schleck’s face went red as a stoplight. His hand jerked back—to hit me. Incredulous, I saw his fat palm rocket toward my face.
I stifled my immediate reaction, which was to Chuck Norris his ass with a roundhouse to the head. Not that I minded shedding a little bully-blood—but not in the mayor’s office. I would have to take it. I squeezed my eyes shut.
“I believe you’re out of line, sir.”
The voice was deep and cultured. The words resonated with an accent I couldn’t immediately place. Proud, almost aristocratic. I cautiously popped one eye open.
Strong, sure fingers held Schleck’s wrist in an unbreakable grip. The vice-principal’s face was white as he stared up. And up. I followed that stare, and—
Towering over us both was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen.
Bronzed skin. Black hair and brows. Outrageously long black eyelashes sweeping over laser-sharp blue eyes. Sensuous dark bronze mouth. A jaw made to run your fingers over. Lean muscular body with biteable shoulders and a flat waist. He made a Chippendale look like a cub scout.
Gorgeous Guy stared down at Schleck with cool contempt. He didn’t squeeze the vice-principal’s wrist, didn’t hurt him in any way. He didn’t have to. The man’s obvious strength was enough.
Schleck, like bullies everywhere, cut and ran. Gorgeous Guy released the veep-creep as if he were slime.
Wow. Not only man-beautiful, but the guy oozed strength. No, more. Power. Power, the kind restrained by a tremendous will. I could have fallen in love. Could have, but not.
The guy was wearing a fucking three-piece suit.
Vest and all. Seriously, had anyone worn those since the ancient eighties? Charcoal gray, looked like worsted wool. Cut like a glove. Reeeeelly expensive. Black Italian wingtip shoes. Shirt so snowy white it glowed. Striped tie, probably from some Ivy League school. Damn. Gorgeous Guy in real life was a straight-laced Suit Guy.
He opened the coat and checked an actual freaking gold pocket watch. “You’re welcome.” A dry note flavored Suitguy’s beautiful voice.
While I was staring at his tailored wool armor he had been looking at me. “Uh, yeah. Thanks.”
He smiled slightly. Oh, stars above. What that smile did to my innards was illegal in Georgia. His eyes flicked to the counter. “You’re next, I believe.”
“Uh, yeah.” I couldn’t seem to think of anything else to say. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” As he turned away, Suitguy added, “Little girl.”
That hit my libido like a bucket of ice water. I gave his broad back an impotent glare. When he didn’t instantly burst into flames I settled for stomping all the way to the counter.
Behind the counter, Twyla Tafel watched me approach. My friend Twyla is the mayor’s executive admin. She was a hundred forty pounds of competence wrapped in seduction. Men drooled over her and didn’t even notice she was doing their jobs better than they did.
I’ve known Twyla since the day we were sent to Schleck’s office for throwing paper wads on the ceiling of the girl’s bathroom. Twyla hid us in a supply closet instead. Even as a freshman she had keys to everything.
“What the hell is it with this stupid line?” I grouched at her. “And where’s Heidi?” The counter is usually Heidi’s domain and she runs it like a POW camp. Or, considering Heidi’s affection for spike-heeled boots and black leather, maybe a medieval dungeon.
Twyla shrugged. “Out sick. I’m trying not to mess things up, but everything’s hit the fan. Thanks to the mayor’s upcoming festival.”
The city-wide fundraiser. The mad cow charity event. Just lobotomize me. “Which explains why my short park and fart turned into a Martin Luther-sized constipation.”
Twyla cocked her head. “What’s got your undies in a bundle, girl?”
“Girl,” I echoed resentfully. “You’re almost as short as me. But no one would mistake you for a kid.” Twyla’s got breasts and hips that stun half the male population into a coma on sight. When she walks, the other half crash. She dresses sharp, wears designer spikes, and carries a lethal bump and grind. I glowered at her. “If I had real breasts instead of these little lumps on my chest—”
“Oh, not that again.” Twyla rolled her cocoa brown eyes. She was half black, her mother an African diplomat. She was half German, too, but you’d never know to look at her. It was kind of strange to hear fluent Deutsche coming out of the mouth of someone who looked like a voodoo queen.
Of course, everyone here in Meiers Corners was half German, whether they had the genes or not. A small-town thing.
Twyla tapped a long Burgundy Blast-colored nail on the counter. “You’re not a skinny-assed kid, Nixie.”
“You’re the one who described me as Shirley Temple crossed with Drew Barrymore.” I glowered at Schleck cowering at the end of the line. “Not just you. Everyone seems to think I’m a kid.” I looked around for the Gucci god. Suitguy was standing right behind Schleck, which explained the cowering.
“What do you expect, with how you dress?” Twyla waved a manicured hand at my clothes. “You’re an adult woman, Nixie. Yet you dress like a punk kid.”
I waved my own short pink-and-black nails in answer. “What am I supposed to wear? Two-hundred-dollar Liz Claiborne suits? It would cost another two hundred just to cut them down to my size. That’s all daggy.”
“Liz charges four hundred these days. Buy a miniskirt. It’d at least cover your knees.”
“Ha-ha. Anyway, I’m a musician, Twyla. I’m supposed to look rocked up.” I glanced down at today’s ensemble. Sequined black Skechers. Purple tights. Red bike shorts peeking out from the frill of a skirt ruffle. Garfield hoodie with the sleeves ripped out. A jean jacket, ditto. To show the butterfly tattoo on one arm. And the tiger on the other.
“Thank God you’re a lot smarter than you look. Or talk. Speaking of which.” Twyla pushed a stuffed manila envelope across the counter at me. “Your instructions. For the festival.”
“Thanks.” I hefted the envelope. “Why is the city trying to raise money, anyway?”
“We’re hiring some hot-shot East Coast lawyer. To protect Meiers Corners from Chicago.”
“Yeah, I heard Chicago wants to suck us up. Although I have no idea why.”
“Nobody knows. But the big boys are pretty serious about it. They’ve gone so far as to introduce annexation legislation with the state.”
I whistled. “Thus the need for a wonder-shark. But couldn’t taxes pay for this legal eagle?”
Twyla arched a perfectly plucked brow. “At five hundred dollars an hour?”
I swore. “That’s a lot of Kraft singles!”
“It’ll be worth it,” Twyla said.
“Worth an HDTV an hour?”
“Where do you buy your HDTVs? It’d take him at least two hours to earn one.”
Twyla was teasing, but I wasn’t. “Why get an outsider—especially at that rate? What’s wrong with old Denny Crane?” Yeah, really. We had a lawyer named Denny Crane. Just like Boston Legal. Meiers Corners was a magnet for weird. Like Cabot Cove attracted murderers. Okay, that was an ancient reference, but I saw Beauty and the Beast as a kid and had a brief hero thing for Angela Lansbury.
Twyla tut-tutted. “You don’t want to mess around with Chicago leet, girl. They’re top of the food chain. They’d eat Meiers Corners and spit out the bones if we didn’t get someone tough on our side.”
“Five hundred per will kill us surer.”
“You get what you pay for.” Twyla shrugged. “Anyway, it’s four-fifty. He’s giving us a discount.”
“Well roll me on my back and wave my legs in the air. How generous. And who is this playa?”
“Some guy from the firm of Quincy, Emerson and Holmes.”
“Great. Sounds like Snobby, Priggy and Prude. Or Dewy, Cheatem and Howe.”
“Ha-ha. Anyway, this guy’s coming to meet the mayor tonight. I had to order up special cheese balls. You know how the mayor loves his cheese balls.”
“Yeah.” Five hundred dollars an hour. I was lucky to make five hundred a month. But it explained the big extravaganza. No way little Meiers Corners could pay that much from taxes. “Well, I’d better let you clear out the rest of the line. Thanks for this.” I patted the envelope. “Guns and Polkas is looking forward to playing for the fundraiser.”
“Playing for it?” Twyla’s perfectly arched eyebrows rose. “Girl, you’re running it.”