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Outta the Bag
Prequel Story to Me, Myself & Why?
By MaryJanice Davidson
MacmillanCopyright © 2010 MaryJanice Davidson
All rights reserved.
"If I'd been a dog person," Clive Better began, "none of it would have happened."
His date du moment blinked at him. "None of what?"
"I certainly wouldn't be walking around with a tube of antiseptic. Or scratches."
"I was going to ask you about those," Hi-my-name-is-Shelly admitted. "It's a good look for you, though. Very, uh, masculine."
"It's very painful," he corrected, touching the purpling swelling. He knew it wasn't possible that the scratches covered him from chin to forehead, but after feeling them sting for the last few hours, it sure felt that way. "She nailed me when my guard was down. One of them nailed me. Maybe all of them. Plus, she had a concealed cat. That's probably against the law right there."
"A concealed what?" Hi-my-name-is-Shelly asked. He accurately read her expression: what the hell am I getting into with this guy?
"Time!" the pathologically cheerful moderator called. "Ladies, move one table to your left. Gentlemen, get ready to meet the one! Maybe. Now," he added (Clive had already blanked on his name), "Now, isn't this way more hard core than regular speed dating? This is hyper speed dating! All right!"
"He's giving me a headache," Hi-my-name-is-Anne commented as Clive sat across from her.
"I wouldn't mind if he wasn't so manic."
"You haven't seen manic. I've seen manic. Just a couple of hours ago I saw it." He touched his cheek and winced. "I've gotten manic all over myself."
* * *
When it began, he'd suspected nothing. He was leaving another satisfied client's home; no more would the fearful and damp Mrs. Klein worry about her Persian rugs once he found the source of the leak and fixed it. She'd been so nice, and so grateful, she'd insisted on taking a dozen of his cards to pass among her friends. Since she lived in Edina, one of the tonier Minneapolis suburbs, chances were good that her friends had as much disposable income as she did.
This is the life, Clive exulted, tooting his van's horn to hear it beep You Better, You Bet back at him. It went nicely with the slogan lettered on the side of his van (tastefully painted in serial-killer green): CLIVE BETTER PLUMBING. NO ONE'S BETTER THAN BETTER!
"Life is good," he said aloud. He didn't mind talking to himself. Solitary by nature, and lonely by same, he was his own best listener. "And once they — whoa!"
He stomped on the brakes. Naw, that wasn't quite right. He stood on the brakes, and thus barely avoided pancaking the cat as the black and white blur dashed across the street.
He was pissed, but realized it was the adrenaline surge, not any particular hatred for cats. In fact, he liked cats. He had two himself, Garbage and Dammit. Though small, his pets were so indulged, so fat, they were occasionally mistaken for discarded footballs.
He pulled to the side of the road and shakily climbed out of the van. Adrenaline surges — he hated 'em. They always kicked in too late. Then you spent the rest of the day dreading the stroke. As a plumber, he'd had his share. (Of adrenaline rushes, not strokes.) He'd dodged facefuls of shit more than once. Maybe he liked cats because, after being a plumber for a decade, he had the reflexes of one.
"Oh gosh, oh jeepers-gosh-drat-rats!"
He turned to look. And kept turning to stare. She was gorgeous. A woman — girl, really, probably early 20s — was wringing her hands, pacing back and forth beneath the tree alongside the road, dressed in khaki capris, a red tee-shirt, and matching red sandals. She had dark purple polish on her toenails; her buttercup-colored hair was shoulder-length. Her big, pretty eyes were focused on the tree. Specifically the top branches where, he realized, following her gaze, the cat had fled.
"I'll never get her back in time," she informed Clive, speaking through her fingers, which were pressed against her mouth. "My friend's going to be super peeved-irked-mega-mad."
"That's your cat?"
"Oh, no. My doctors won't let me have pets. I'm home from school and house-sitting for my friend. And not letting her cat run away. That's my biggest job," she added tearfully. "Not letting Little Pat run away."
"You're not very good at it," he pointed out, then was instantly sorry when she burst into tears. There was no excuse to be such a puke; he'd been dazzled, and spoke without thinking. "I mean, it's not your fault. Since I almost ran Little Pat over."
"With your Better Plumbing van," she agreed tearfully.
"Yeah, with my van. Listen, Little Pat will come down. They always do. It doesn't seem like it, but they do. You just gotta wait."
"No, I have to rescue him and get her back for his medicine. I'm supposed to give it to him every four hours." The blonde checked her watch. "It's already five minutes late! I've only been home from school for eight hours and I've lost Little Pat and broke the dishwasher!"
"Dish — never mind. Listen, what's the rush? What's Little Pat gonna do, blow up?"
"Yowie-zowie, I hope not." She blinked. "Probably get sicker. They all do, it's weird and sad. My friend — we grew up in sort of the same place except she didn't live there like I did — she always picks these sad sickly animals from the shelters. Once she had a two legged dog! And the legs it had? Were on the same side! She carried it all over the place. She had this little pillow for it."
"What happened to it?" Clive asked, interested in spite of himself.
"My sister accidentally killed him with a clothes dryer. Oh gosh." Her eyes widened and she went the color of cheese. "You don't think Little Pat's going to die, do you? What if he dies? I just couldn't tell Cathie a fourth pet died on my watch."
The blonde was starting to hyperventilate. This was distracting, since her gorgeous high breasts were practically shimmering at him beneath her red shirt. He managed to look at everything except that. Tree. Sidewalk. Poop on same. Van tires. Ants. Ankles. Knees. Trim-yet-shapely waist. But not her boobs! So he wasn't sure when it happened.
* * *
"When what happened?" Hi-my-name-is-Anne asked. She was leaning forward, resting her chin on the shelf created by her fingers. "Did the cat come down?"
"I wish," he sighed.
"Time! Ladies, move one table to your left. Gentlemen, sit tight. Go! Go! Go!"
"These things always make me feel like I'm storming the beach at Normandy," Hi-my-name-is-Stacy said. "Hi, Clive. Nice to meet you."
"How was I supposed to know she was crazy?" he demanded, absently waving a hand for her to sit. "She sure seemed un-crazy. Until, you know."
* * *
"What do you think you are doing?"
The sheer coldness of the question made him step back. The blonde wasn't wringing her hands or staring up into the tree or fretting out loud or fidgeting or any of the things he had just watched her do; the blonde was standing stock-still, her hands curled into loose fists.
She was staring at him.
No. That wasn't right. She was glaring at him.
"Uh." He paused. Thought about the question. "Uh, what?"
"You must not get her that excited. It makes work for me."
"Makes work for who?"
"Although I, for one, would not shed one tear if that devil-cat were to perish." She glanced up into the tree. "Little Pat," she sneered.
"Are you all right?"
"Certainly. No need to ask if you are; how all right could you be if you ride around in a van with NO ONE'S BETTER THAN BETTER stenciled on the side?"
"I think I'll go."
"You have a ladder in there, correct? You cannot always assume your customers will have exactly what you need."
"That's right, I can't. That's kind of the core of my business, see — "
"This is very dull for me."
"Because not everybody realizes — "
"I require the stepladder."
"What?" He was participating in the conversation — he was pretty sure — but couldn't follow it. "You want what?"
She shook her head. "Never mind." She stepped toward the back of the van, jerked on the handle, then climbed in when it opened.
Great. Now he had a strange hot crazy hot woman lurking in his van.
"Uh." He knocked on the back window. "Will you come out of there, miss?"
"Ah-ha!" Her butt appeared first, coming toward him. It was one of the finest butts he'd ever seen, but he got out of the way anyway.
She emerged from the van, lugging the five foot stepladder. "My deduction was correct. Now. Assist me, Better."
"Call me Clive," he said, barely catching the ladder as she tossed it to him.
"I decline. Now." She took the ladder, popped it open, propped it against the trunk. "Here I come, wretched beast."
"I kinda should be getting home," he began.
"You will brace this ladder or I will perform periodontal surgery on you with your plumbing tools."
* * *
"That sounds bad," one of his dates said.
"It sure did. So I figured, the quicker I helped her, the quicker I could get in my van and get the Hell out."
He sighed and nodded. "Doesn't it?"
"Ladies, switch! Gentlemen, keep working on your banter!"
* * *
"Obey me, revolting creature!" the blonde ordered.
"So, you don't know a thing about cats," he called up, obediently bracing the ladder.
"I know enough," she grumped. "Stop that wretched hissing and come to me now, creature."
"If you do not cease speaking to me, I will use the cat's claws to cut out your tongue."
His buddies, Clive decided, could never hear about this. They would simply not understand why he wouldn't ask the weird hottie out. You had to be there, he'd say over their hoots of derision. Sure, great to look at, tits that wouldn't quit, sexy long legs, beautiful face, shiny gorgeous hair, but weird-weird-weird. So very weird. Boys, you've got no idea. None at all.
"Almost —" The blonde made a spooky-quick grab which, judging by Little Pat's yowling, the animal did not appreciate. "Faugh! Wretched house pet! Push it."
"Push what?" My luck, he answered himself. He could have been home five minutes ago. Instead, he was holding a ladder for a crazy person and a cat that wasn't his. Or the crazy lady's, come to think of it!
"Push the ladder, dolt. Although an excellent height for close-quarter combat, I am not quite tall enough to scoop up the willful feline. Or close enough."
"What, so just give it a shove?"
"While you're standing on it?"
"Time is ticking by, Mr. Better."
Fine, he thought, and gave it a shove.
* * *
"Mistake," he told his date(s).
"She fell on you," Hi-my-name-is-Sherry guessed.
"The cat fell on you."
"That," he sighed, "would have been nice."
* * *
"It is slipping!"
"The ladder," she snapped. There was a lurch and then the ladder fell past him and crashed to the ground. He jerked back and saw the blonde was barely clinging to a thick branch, legs swinging, fingers laced but slipping. "Disgusting beast," she snarled. "If I concuss myself, I shall skin you alive."
"I hope you're talking to the cat — whoa."
The blonde had done something — he hadn't had the best view but it was quick and athletic, whatever it was — and now she was hanging upside down by her legs. Her head swung back and forth, a foot above his.
"Shiro's sleeping! Ha!"
"Uh, can you come down? If I put the ladder back up, will you be able to — hey!"
She'd playfully snatched at him, and he felt his cap disappear. She jammed it on her own head and was now swinging gently back-and-forth, wearing his BETTER PLUMBER cap. "Coulda shoulda woulda been a plumber," she sang, "but I don't like shiny pipes! No I do not!"
"I think you're scaring Little Pat. And you're freaking me right the hell out."
"Little Pat! Is a little cat! It's fleece was white! As! Snow!"
"Ooookay. I'm gonna — "
"Hello, Kitty!" Raised around cats, Clive had never seen one look so astonished. Somehow the blonde had made another spooky-quick lunge and Little Pat was now suspended from one of the blonde's hands. This was a gymnastic feat that would have scored the blonde the gold, if she wasn't so completely unstable. Little Pat kept trying to curl into a ball of misery. He made a sound that was something between a yowl and a whimper. "Good-bye, kitty!"
"Hey!" He lunged as she let go, and caught Little Pat, who thanked him by raking both sets of claws across his nose and forehead. "Aw, shit!"
He heard a heavy 'thud' and turned, grimly holding onto a severely pissed Little Pat. The blonde had executed another odd gymnastic move ... she'd stood on the branch, ran almost to the end of it, leapt forward, twisted in mid-air, and landed on the roof of his van.
"No one's Better Better Better Better Better Better than Better!" She stood, then sat, then slid down the windshield onto the hood. "Better Better Better Better Better cat catcher! Better plumber! Better plumbing cat catcher! Ha!"
"I'm going to drive my van away from you now," he explained, eyeing Little Pat with more than a touch of suspicion. After the initial clawing, the cat had gone limp and apologetic. Clive slid open the side panel, gently tossed Little Pat inside, then quickly slid the door shut. He turned to say a polite yet fearful goodbye to the blonde.
She wasn't there.
* * *
"Whoa!" Hi-my-name-is-Anne said.
"How could she vanish while you were sticking the cat in the van?"
"Hey!" Clive heard angry stomping, then looked up to see the Speed Date moderator had hurrying over. "I've told you guys three times. Time! Move on!"
Four of the women, and three of the men, turned as one: "Shut up!"
"I only stepped away to get a refill," one of the men whispered to another of the women. "What'd I miss?"
"Weird Girl did like an acrobatic thing, and he stuck Little Pat in his van and Weird Girl she was gone."
One of his fellow date-ees, Hi-my-name-is-Richard, gestured. "So, okay. You turned and she was gone. You've got the cat, you're bleeding from scratches. You're thankful she's out of your life, yet regretting not getting her number. Go."
Clive raised his eyebrows, which hurt his forehead scratches, so he stopped. "None of that is true."
* * *
"Well, Little Pat, I guess it's just — whoa."
She was standing in front of him. Somehow she'd climbed (jumped?) from the hood, came around the side of the van, and took up position behind him without him hearing a thing.
"Don't take this the wrong way," he said, "but you're sort of terrifying."
"Little Pat! Is safe! And I am, too, did you did you did you know? Yes!" Then, even weirder (twenty seconds earlier he would not have believed it was possible), "Little Pat doesn't like geese, either. But it's spring! Okay?" She grabbed his shirt and shook him. "Okay?"
"Yes! Okay, it's spring." It was August fifteenth. "Great. Here we both are, standing next to a van with a small cat imprisoned inside. We're enjoying a lovely spring evening, just the two of us." It was eleven forty-five in the morning.
"There are five of us! If you count Little Brat."
"Sure. Well. Don't take this the wrong way, but I'd like to get the hell away from you now. It's been ..." Surreal? Disturbing? Weirdly erotic?
"Take this the wrong way," she said, then seized him by the ears, yanked him forward, and laid a kiss on him he felt all the way down to his femurs. When she broke the kiss he had to lean against the van for a minute.
"Oh boy." It wasn't possible to conceal a raging hard-on in faded jeans, he discovered anew.
"You are seriously, totally, thoroughly hot. And crazy."
"Bye, Little Better!" She kicked at the sliding door. "Die screaming, Little Pat! Yes indeed, stupid beast-cat! I don't like you! And you don't like me! So I won't squish you with a hammer! Gotta go, gotta grow, gotta get gone before they come back."
He was probably in shock, because he barely blinked "'They' being the cops, I bet."
"Ha! Sister-cops. Cops who are sisters. Sisters who want to be cops, and I don't! Like! Quantico!" She got right up in his face and stared at him, eyeball to eyeball. "They know too many things there and I don't want to want to want to ..." She sucked in a deep breath. Clive braced himself, thankful he was leaning against the van. "I don't want ... to be ... a good guy!
"Okay." Quantico? As in, where they trained FBI agents? What had the blonde said earlier, when she was less crazy?
Home from school. Doctors wouldn't let her have pets. Those two random facts actually made sense to him now, but he couldn't help wondering: did the FBI drive the blonde crazy, or had she been that way to begin with? And —
"Aw, shit! Hey!" he hollered because, of course, the blonde was nowhere to be seen. A loon training to be an FBI agent who was as silent and spooky as Batman when she wasn't turning somersaults in trees and kicking over ladders and freaking out over lost opportunities to administer meds to bewildered felines. "You never told me where Little Pat lives!"
A muted yowl from the back of his van was the answer.
* * *
"What'd you do?" Hi-my-name-is-Debbie asked.
"Little Pat had the address on his collar. I calmed him down with my lunch. Roast beef sandwich with cheese and Dijon dill mustard —"
"Yum," Hi-my-name-is-Shelly commented.
"Barf," Hi-my-name-is-Anne retorted. "Why would you ruin a perfectly good sandwich with dill mustard?"
Excerpted from Outta the Bag by MaryJanice Davidson. Copyright © 2010 MaryJanice Davidson. Excerpted by permission of Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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