Dangerous Creatures by Kami Garcia


  Necro had been kind enough to walk Ridley to work, saying, “This I gotta see with my own eyes.” Now they both stared up at the sign over the door. Yesterday, it had seemed like the right thing to do. That was three phone interviews, one sleepless night, two pieces of pie—strawberry rhubarb and triple berry—and ten outfit changes ago.

  Today, Rid wasn’t so sure.

  Apparently, to get a job you needed to have had other jobs. It had taken Ridley a few phone calls until she figured out how to say the things people most wanted to hear, which was usually her specialty. She didn’t think of it as lying, not exactly. She thought of it more as charades. You had to pretend to be the kind of person who got jobs, to get a job. What was that jobbish-workery-going-on-elevators sort of person like?

  Ridley learned everything the hard way. She learned that when people ask you to pick one word to describe yourself, you don’t say perfect. You also don’t say hot. After two misfires, Rid went with persuasive. While it didn’t exactly seem to persuade anyone, it wasn’t a conversation stopper, either.

  Lesson learned.

  She had also learned to apply for jobs Sirens could do in their sleep, for starters. She came close to getting a position as a SKILLED COSMETIC TECHNICIAN, but it turned out to be a gig applying makeup to corpses at a run-down funeral parlor in the Bronx, and Ridley had had enough close calls with the Otherworld as it was.

  Rid had been excited about an opening billed as a COUTURE RETAIL EXPERIENCE—until it turned out to be at Connie’s Cat Couture. Maybe Lucille Ball would be fine with it, but Ridley couldn’t stand the thought of being a Cat Couturier. The owner had suggested that Ridley stop by to let Connie the Cat “sniff you and lick you and just love you until you get the hang of her.” Ridley had said she’d rather lick Connie the Cat herself than do any of the above. The owner had told her where she could stick that mouthful of fur, and the conversation had ended pretty abruptly after that.

  By the time Rid got the hang of it, there was really only one gig left, and now she was standing on the sidewalk right in front of it.

  The Brooklyn Blowout

  It was a hair salon, but they didn’t call it that. This was supposed to be a party, or as the brochure said, a “Hair Experience.”

  Ridley wouldn’t be a stylist. She’d be a Dry Girl, which as far as she could tell was like a Fly Girl, but with a hair dryer.

  “You got this, right?” Necro looked through the stenciled glass, where a row of teased, painted, primped, polished Dry Girls were brandishing not only hair dryers and curling irons but straightening irons and hot rollers, as if they were weapons. “How hard could it be?”

  Ridley would have preferred actual weapons.

  Necro touched her blue spiky faux-hawk nervously. “I’d better get out of here before they drag me inside and make me look like Taylor Swift.” She began to back away down the sidewalk.

  “Necro,” Ridley called after her, on an impulse.

  “Yeah?” Necro didn’t look back.

  “I thought you hated me. Why are you being so nice?”

  Necro turned. “For the record, I do hate you. If you say otherwise to anyone, I’ll kick your butt. I’m only here to get out of sound check, which I hate even more than I do you.” Then she smiled in spite of herself.

  “Right.” Ridley smiled back. She turned to face the glass front door.

  “Don’t go soft on me, Siren,” Necro called from safely down the street.

  “Never,” Ridley said as she went inside.

  “Are you telling me I have to put my hands in that?” In the shampoo room, Ridley stood at a row of six sinks, pointing like she’d just seen a snake crawl up and out of the drain. Ten feet away from her, a woman with coarse peroxide curls and dark black roots lay with her head tilted back, into sink number six.

  “Her hair?” Delia, the Blowout manager, looked amused. “Yes.”

  Ridley sighed. Being a regular person wasn’t starting off well. She had taken the Mortal subway here, and the whole way she couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was watching her.

  Again.

  Maybe that’s what Mortals are like. Maybe they really are just always watching each other.

  But Ridley had seen a man standing stock-still on the platform at Broadway Junction, grinning at her through the closing car doors.

  Sirens didn’t spook easily, but New York public transportation had proved to be up to the challenge.

  Rid shook off the memory and glared back at the waiting customer.

  “I’m sorry. Did you mean I had to touch it?” Ridley looked like she was going to be sick. “The skin parts?”

  “Her head?” Delia started to laugh. The laughter didn’t make her seem nice, though. She was completely tattooed and wearing a tank top, so the overall effect was more intimidating than even a manager probably needed to be.

  “With my bare hands?” Ridley took a step back.

  “Have you ever worked in a salon before, Riley?” Now Delia started to look irritated.

  “Ridley,” Ridley corrected her.

  “Well?” Delia didn’t really seem to care what Ridley’s name was.

  Mortals have no manners, Ridley thought. They’re all so rough around the edges.

  “Yes,” Ridley lied. “All the time. I just never worked on heads.”

  “No heads?”

  “That’s right. I worked on—” Ridley tried to think of a less hairy place on the Mortal body. Hair was just so disgusting. She didn’t know why she’d thought she could do this job. Her hair styled itself with the flick of her wrist, like it always had. Another Siren perk. “Feet. I worked on feet. And knees. And elbows. The occasional calf, but only the really smooth ones.”

  “Is this one of those shows where the movie star comes out and says it’s a joke?” Delia looked around the shop tiredly.

  “Does that happen?” Ridley felt interested for the first time that afternoon.

  “You tell me,” Delia said.

  She stood there until Ridley walked back to the sink and put not one but two hands into the disgustingly hairy, greasy scalp of a complete stranger and scrubbed. It was horrific, but at least Delia left her alone after that.

  When the woman in the chair leaned her head back, Ridley could see up her nose. She yanked harder on the woman’s hair. Let’s just get this over with already.

  “Ow! Not so hard!”

  “Beauty is pain,” Ridley said.

  “You’re a pain,” the woman said, sitting up.

  “Well, you’re no beauty.”

  “I need to see the manager,” the woman said.

  “Crybaby.” Ridley threw her a towel. “Dry yourself off.”

  The stupid cow of a woman stared at her.

  “What?” Ridley snapped. “Do you need an invitation? You’re dripping water all over the floor.”

  The woman shook her head, muttering, and began to towel off her wet hair.

  “Back to the chair,” Ridley said. She tried to remember the lines she was supposed to recite as she took her client back to the Drying Chair, but she gave up. “Time for a hairy experience, lady.”

  The woman made it to the chair and kept on going right out the door. It was a real bummer, because Ridley had to pay the store back for the blowout, which was almost forty bucks. She was going to lose money on this job if she didn’t figure something out, fast.

  “Beauty is pain,” Delia said as Ridley cleaned up her station.

  “Am I fired?” Ridley asked. She hoped the answer was yes.

  “I haven’t decided.” Now Delia was back to looking amused.

  It’s hard to keep up with her, Ridley thought.

  “I really hated that lady. She’s been stiffing me on my tip for years,” Delia said. “And she does have one nasty scalp.” She started laughing to herself. “Hairy experience,” she said. Now she was spluttering so hard she was howling, even spitting a little around the edge of her mouth. At least Ridley couldn’t see up her nose.

  Mo
rtals really were nauseating.

  Ridley didn’t know if she wanted to laugh or cry, but it didn’t matter. By the time she got home on the very Mortal L train, she’d done both.

  CHAPTER 13

  Bleeding Me

  I never thought you had it in you, Rid.” Link sounded impressed. Shocked, even. There was that. But Ridley wasn’t sure it was worth it.

  Because regular people suck.

  At breakfast, her feet hurt, her arms ached, and two of her nails were broken. I can’t believe I have to go back to that place, like a regular person.

  I’m a worker. I work. Six whole hours a day.

  Even the thought was exhausting. It was all Rid could do to find the energy to finish her meal, a disappointing piece of Marilyn’s Coconut Dream Pie with an even more disappointing piece of Marilyn’s Apple of My Pye. Still, they were just sweet enough to do the trick. It was a Siren’s version of morning coffee.

  Rid pushed away the plate. “The only good thing about Gat-dung was the pie.”

  “I don’t know. Pecan fried chicken.”

  Ridley’s eyes almost glassed over at the thought. “And Amma’s Tunnel of Fudge cake. The one she only made Ethan. Warm.”

  “How about hot corn and a zombie flick at the Summerville Cineplex?” Link grinned.

  “You mean making out in the back row,” Ridley said with a smile.

  “I mean, makin’ out by the lake with a picnic basket full a biscuits.” His eyes met hers.

  She leaned toward him. “You and your biscuits.”

  He leaned toward her. “I used to wait outside Ethan’s kitchen window on the days Amma was makin’ hers.”

  Link’s lips locked onto hers, and he slid his hand up around her neck. Ridley kissed away the memories, just like the old days and sweet as strawberry jam, until she felt an elbow in her side.

  She opened her eyes as Necro slid into the booth.

  “Adorable.” Necro grinned. “Or should I say Adorkable?”

  “Great timing,” said Link, grouchy.

  Ridley dotted at her lipstick with a paper napkin. Timing aside, she was relieved to see Necro, even if the faux-hawker looked like a hot mess of red leather (jacket), black vinyl (pants), and blue (hair) today. It was nice to see an almost friendly face. They had practically gotten along yesterday, the two of them.

  “Pie?” Ridley slid the plate in Necro’s direction. “Or is that not an approved Goth dessert?”

  Necro flipped open her switchblade and slid it vertically through the quivering piece of deep-dish apple pie, as if that was some kind of answer. “We gotta get moving.”

  “Classy,” Rid said.

  “I take it that’s a no?” Link ran his hand through his spiky hair with a sigh.

  Sampson, the Darkborn, dropped into the seat beside Ridley. Every time she saw him, he seemed even better-looking than she remembered from the game at Suffer. He was hot, if you were into abnormally tall, leather-clad rock gods, with hands the size of dinner plates. Link had thought Sampson was full of himself, “and a whole lotta other things,” he said after their first few encounters. “Besides, there’s only room for one rock god in this apartment.” Ridley had just rolled her eyes.

  “You guys ready?” Sampson asked. Link didn’t look too happy to see him, but then, Ridley didn’t know why anyone would be happy to see a Darkborn.

  She took the opportunity to inch away from Sampson on the pleather booth seat. His disturbing gray eyes matched the gray T-shirt he was wearing over his tight leather jeans. With tattooed arms and a bike chain around his neck, he looked like the kind of guy you didn’t want to mess with. From what little Ridley had learned about him during the epic failure of a game at Suffer, it was true.

  If he’s immune to my powers, Ridley thought, what else is he immune to?

  Rid had searched Uncle Macon’s archives, and the Lunae Libri, trying to find out anything she could about Darkborns this summer after Liar’s Trade went south. But these new Supernaturals were a result of the New Order, so there weren’t any ancient scrolls detailing their history.

  All she had learned since her game with Sampson was that a new race of Supernatural had evolved, radically and permanently, as a consequence of Lena more or less breaking the universe. They were born from the Dark Fire, from which all magic derived—complete and whole, as if they’d stepped out of cryogenically engineered pods. Magic had created them, and yet somehow they defied its laws.

  Casters had no effect on a Darkborn. Beyond that, no one knew much of anything about them, except that they made Incubuses look like kittens.

  Ridley had learned that firsthand. Sampson had caused her more than his share of trouble, that night at Suffer. He smiled at her now, and she resisted the impulse to claw his eyes out the old-fashioned way. I’d like to see if he’s immune to that.

  “You got enough eyeliner on, Maybelline?” Link said, looking at Sampson. “Because we can wait, if you have to, you know”—he gestured to his face—“freshen up.” You put an Incubus and a Darkborn in the room together and they started to go at it within the first five minutes. That much everyone had learned this week.

  “Jealous?” Sampson stretched his arms along the top of the booth. “Not everyone can pull it off.”

  “Or not anyone,” said Link. “Just sayin’.”

  “I wouldn’t say that if I were you.” Necro shook her head at Link. “You know that whole Incubus superstrength thing?” She motioned to Sampson. “Yeah. You can’t hurt him. He’s immune.”

  Link swallowed. “How can you be immune to superstrength?”

  Sampson smiled. “By being stronger.”

  Link held up a spoon. “Bend this fork with your mind.”

  “It’s a spoon.”

  “Trick question.”

  Sampson grabbed it and crushed it in his hand.

  Link swallowed. “So you think with your fists? Good to know.”

  “Let’s get out of here. We’re gonna be late.” Floyd appeared behind Sampson, pounding on the diner table nervously with drumsticks that morphed into her fingers. Floyd looked like a long-lost member of a speed metal band. It wasn’t clear which was more of a relic, her tattered black tour T-shirt—this one was from Judas Priest—or her battered black pants. Either way, Ridley was beginning to think Floyd shopped at some special thrift shop for retired rockers.

  “Late for what? Where are you guys going?” If it meant she could avoid going back to her job for a few more hours, Rid was all in.

  “The big audition.” Floyd picked at the crust of Rid’s pie. “Well, not yours. His. You don’t even have to come.”

  “Wait. Audition?” Link turned to glare at Ridley. “How about that?”

  “Nobody told me he had to audition,” Ridley interrupted. “Just to be clear.” She looked at them. “What are you going to do, not have a drummer? I mean, he has to be better than nothing, right?”

  “Hey,” Link said, trying to figure out if she was insulting him or not.

  “Come on. What did you think would happen? We’d just show up with your boyfriend and start rocking the house, business as usual? Nox isn’t like that,” Necro said, shaking her head. “Anyway, it’s not like a real audition—it’s just one gig, in front of his house crowd. We haven’t even played there yet, so in a way, he’s auditioning all of us. They like us, he likes us, it’s all good.”

  “And if he doesn’t like us?” Link frowned.

  “Let’s just say the last guy Lennox Gates didn’t like isn’t around anymore.” Floyd looked over at Necro.

  “Where is he?” Link leaned forward in the booth.

  “Some say it was a fire. Some say it was a Mortem Cast.” Necro sounded ominous. “Either way, nobody ever saw him again.”

  “Lennox Gates sounds like a swell guy.” Link shook his head. “This day is just gettin’ better and better.”

  “Sirene’s a cool club. I’ve checked it out. At least, it’s a step up from Suffer,” Floyd said.

  “Sirene?
That’s the name of the club?” Ridley looked incredulous.

  “Why, you know it?” Necro shrugged. “It just opened.” She yanked a flyer out of her pocket. At first, it looked like a blank piece of black paper.

  Slowly, shimmering burgundy letters began to appear, one at a time, as if they were ascending from a great depth.

  SIRENE

  There was nothing else—just the word.

  But it was strangely evocative, especially to a Siren.

  Is it a coincidence? Or is Lennox Gates messing with me? Why would he suddenly need my help at a club basically named after me?

  Being a regular person suddenly seemed like the least of Ridley’s problems. There was no way she was letting Link go anywhere near that club without her. Work would have to wait.

  “Enough talk. Let’s blow.” Sampson stood up, and everyone followed.

  Bandmate or not, you didn’t mess with a Darkborn.

  Out on the sidewalk, Rid caught up with Link, a few paces behind the others. “I didn’t know you had to audition.”

  Link looked at her. “Nah, it’s cool. It’s one gig.” He called up to Floyd. “Hey, Floyd. I was meanin’ to ask. What happened to your last drummer?”

  “I heard he sucked,” Ridley said carefully.

  The three Supernaturals stopped in their tracks. “Wait a minute. He doesn’t know?” Necro looked amused, while Floyd looked amazed. Sampson seemed only mildly interested.

  “Know what?” Link looked at Rid. She glared at the others. All three of them were there, the night she lost everything at Suffer. They knew what a mess she was in, and worse, how she’d gotten herself into it. She just had to keep them from telling Link all the gory details, until she fixed things. And until she figured out what the hell was going to happen with her second marker. She couldn’t tell Link about that. It was too humiliating, she was too scared, and he might get too angry. At her, or at Nox, she didn’t know, but she didn’t want to find out.

  But what are the odds of that?

  Floyd clapped her hand on Link’s back. “You realize this is all a scam. Your Siren’s scamming you, bro.”

 
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