A group of happy young Army boys waylaid Neveah when she and Mike emerged from the private lounge. Tank was a little perturbed by that. He wanted to fish for more intell on the Peaceful, but there was still time. He kept an eye on the stripper and bidded his time until his second and the Peaceful returned. Nate and Blake rejoined them from the tip bar.
Brawn was back in under twenty minutes.
Tank raised his eyebrows in a silent inquiry.
Brawn shrugged. “She needed to deposit her tips, enough for about an inch high stack of ones, and pick up dinner for Neveah and herself. Her car looks like a junker but sounds and smells like a well tuned dream, not much flash, lots of substance. She wore an ankle length skirt and a plastic furred parka, white with ears on the hood. She required me to wear my seat belt and had a classical station on preset. It was tuned to soft rock when she started the car, but she rides in with Neveah, so that may be her roommate’s preference. Her uncle does something with car stereos; he worked on the one in her car for her. She chose to use an ATM inside a grocery store, and I think picking up dinner was a side benefit. She’s alert to her surroundings, but not abnormally so. She also spoke with the bouncer and the ticket taker to make sure I wasn’t charged twice for admission. The ticket taker didn’t look happy but let it go.”
A drink server stopped at their table, a blond girl, too skinny, who smelled like something sickeningly sweet was crawling out of her pores. They all covered their drinks and ignored her while Tank sent her on her way.
Blake wrinkled his nose. “I hate the meth-heads,” he growled.
Tank just shrugged and looked at Carl, who resumed his report.
“There’s not much else to say. Her break is over in a few minutes, but she may have things to do ‘back stage’ for a few more minutes after that.”
Tank nodded and leaned back, sipping at his coffee and thinking. The picture of this Peaceful was still blurry, and he wasn’t sure how much weight he should attach to the work she did.
His pack mates talked amongst themselves while he cogitated.
And then they all felt the shock ripple over them from her. The cold, sick feeling nearly pulled a forced change from them all, but the quick numbness that followed gave Tank enough breathing room to push control into his pack mates.
“What the bloody fuck!?” Mike, the youngest of them, hissed. Tank and Carl silenced him.
Jimmy said, “No physical pain. But whatever it was damaged her Peace.”
“Bad news, most likely then,” said Blake.
Mike looked at him and asked, “That was from the Peaceful?”
Jimmy and Carl nodded back.
A tall dwarf, the one Carl had pointed out as the owner of this establishment, came out from the same door the drink servers had been rotating through and extracted Neveah from her latest group of clients. He wasn’t sure, but by the tense, downward stance, the dwarf looked sad and pissed off, and by the angle of his mouth, upset, too. Neveah’s face fell as they walked back toward the door the dwarf had come through.
“I think Blake nailed it with bad news,” Tank commented. “Carl, go watch the employee exit. Jimmy, cover the front. Text me if you see her leaving.”
“Yessir,” they said and departed to their assigned spots.
A long thirty minutes passed before Neveah came back out. If Tank hadn’t been looking for it, he might not have caught the sorrow and upset in her posture and expression. He rose and moved to intercept her.
“Come sit with us, Neveah, tell me what’s wrong,” he said, pulling on vradin magic to pull her under his dominance.
She looked up at him with a kind of bruised look, and managed to keep her voice quiet. “I should have never encouraged her to let Carl ride along. Joe came this close to firing her for it, and she’s going to lose two weeks of work, and Lydia’s so disappointed!”
Tank tensed. “Clare’s being suspended for running an errand?”
Neveah gave a bitter sound that imitated a laugh. “She’s being suspended as an example to the rest of us that we don’t walk out the door with clients. If Joe wasn’t sure she was telling the truth about just running an errand, he’d’ve fired her.”
“That’s harsh,” Tank said, maneuvering her toward their table.
“I know!” Neveah answered. “I just– God! I don’t know if she’s going to be able to make tuition for next quarter if she loses a month’s pay!”
“He’s suspending her and docking her pay?” Tank felt a growl at that unfairness raising up in his chest.
“Suspended for two weeks and on the shit shift for two more. Noon to four Monday through Thursday. It’s the shift he gives when he doesn’t want to have to fire someone, but he wants them to quit.”
Tank frowned and pulled out the chair Carl had been sitting in for Neveah. “We’ll have to see what we can do about that.”
Neveah looked up at him with a kicked puppy dog look on her face. “I don’t know if you all getting more involved will make things any better for her, and that may just make it all the worse.”
Tank spent a few more minutes drawing out the story from Neveah before signaling Mike to take over distracting the dancer while he parsed out what action plans might be worth pursuing.
Dwarves could be tricky about their word, but they could also be moved to reassess in light of new information. It would depend on what the dwarf had actually said, and what he knew about the Peaceful. After all, very few of the dwarven kind had ever been afflicted with the Rage while most all of the vradin and all of the Night Kind this side of the Doors knew it all too intimately.
The Peaceful calmed the Rage. Carriers of the Rage who were still sane attuned to the Peaceful easily and were fiercely protective of them. The insane ones, well, they could be unpredictable at best.
Tank’s phone beeped. Brawn had texted him a single word, “Leaving.”
“I’m going to take a breath of air outside,” Tank announced, making the hand gesture to disperse.
His pack made silent acknowledgment.
Tank caught up with Brawn near the entrance. The big man tipped his head to the right and flicked his eyes that way in Clare’s direction.
She was wearing an ankle-length wrap-around skirt in a shade of blue and a white jacket that drew the eye like a spot light. A man, a little hefty, near enough six feet to make no difference and with sun dark skin and darker hair, had waylaid her. Tank barely paused by Brawn as he took in the aggressive stance of the man before he was heading over.
There was still a good twenty yards between them when Clare shook her head at the man and turned her back on him. The man punched her in the head, just behind her ear, and Clare crumpled to the ground. Tank never even tried to remember how he went from there to just barely holding back from ripping the man’s throat out. It helped that he knocked the bastard unconscious fast enough that there was not enough fight to him to rouse the full Rage.
Brawn spoke into his phone. “And police. Ambulance and police. My friend got her attacker, but she’s, fuck, there’s no blood and I can’t find swelling. Bastard hammered her hard enough to spin her around when he dropped her and she’s not waking up…. Aight. … Aight. Yeah, no, we haven’t moved her neck or back or nothing.”
Tank gave the man who had attacked his Peaceful one more hammer blow of a punch to the gut. Then he rolled the man over so that he was face first to the ground and knelt on the small of his back.
The tall dwarf yelled at them, “What’s going on here?” as he strode toward them. Tank let him see the wolf inside him that craved vengeance for his Peaceful’s pain. The dwarf faltered for a step, but kept coming anyhow.
When he was close enough for them all to speak softly, he asked again, “What happened?”
Brawn was still on the phone, doing diagnostic things that the emergency dispatcher was asking for. Tank answered, his voice gravelly with the suppression of his change, “Do you know what the Peaceful are, oh tall man of the mountain?”
The dwarf sucked in a breath, and said, “I’m fallen, not mountain kin, but even in the skies we know the blessings of the Peaceful. What matter that?”
“A Peaceful was attacked, upon your territory, and vulnerable to it by your action,” Tank accused.
The dwarf looked hard at Clare, and it was obvious to even the nose blind that the man had a fondness for her, though not the fondness of man for woman. Slowly, he said, “I have seen no sign of her Peace, and I sanction no violence in my house. Her own actions led to the disciple she received for I have by my word more to protect than she. She is of my house and she will receive what healing my house can provide.”
Tank growled back, “She is Peaceful to my pack and I find your protections insufficient.” The wail of a siren carried to Tank’s ears and he added, “We shall soon be public, fallen of Rezhim. We will discuss this later, but the Griswald pack will see to the safe keeping of our Peaceful from now on.”
The dwarf watched them for a moment with a furrowed brow, but did not dispute their right to protect. As the ambulance pulled up, a woman, thin with brown hair and brown eyes and pale skin, shorter than the dwarf by a few inches, her face marred by an age that should never have touched it, came up beside him, holding a cell phone in hand. “Joe,” she said, “I have her father’s number at hand. Do we know … Ah, I thought they’d got here already.”
Tank swept the question of her existence on earth to the side. It could be dealt with later, if it needed to be dealt with at all. The paramedics pushed Brawn out of their way.