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Kitty and the Silver Bullet
By Carrie Vaughn
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2008 Carrie Vaughn
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI hated the smell of this place: concrete and institutional. Antiseptic. But all the cleaning in the world couldn't cover up the unhappiness, the sourness, the faint smell of urine. The anger.
The guard at the door of the visiting room pointed me and Ben to empty chairs at a table on one side of a glass partition. The room held half a dozen cubicles like this. Only a phone line would connect us to the other side.
I was shaking. I didn't like coming here. Well, I did, and I didn't. I wanted to see him, but even being here as a visitor made me feel trapped. The Wolf side didn't handle it very well. Ben squeezed my hand under the table.
"You okay?" he said. Ben had been coming here once a week to see Cormac. I didn't come quite as often-once a month, for five months now. I'd never get used to this. In fact, it seemed to get harder every time, not easier. I was so tense, just being here exhausted me.
"I think so," I said. "But this place makes me nervous."
"Don't let him see you upset," he whispered. "We're supposed to be supportive."
"I know. Sorry." I held his hand with both of mine and tried to stop the trembling. I was supposed to be the strong one. I was supposed to be the one who helped Ben keep it together, not the other way around.
On the other side of the glass, a guard led out a man wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. His light brown hair was cut shorter than it used to be, which made his face seem more gaunt. I tried to convince myself that he wasn't thinner. His mustache was the same as always. So was his stoic frown.
My smile felt stiff and fake. Cormac would know it was fake. Had to be cheerful, couldn't let him see me upset.
He was handcuffed. When he picked up the phone to talk to us, he had to hold both hands up to his face. Ben held our phone between us. Leaning close, we could both hear.
"Hey," Ben said.
"Hey." Cormac smiled. Broke my heart, him smiling like that behind the glass. "Thanks for coming."
"How you doing?"
Cormac shrugged. "Hanging in there. No worries."
He was here on felony manslaughter charges. He'd killed to save my life, and now he was serving time for it. I owed him a huge debt, which hung on me like lead weights.
It could have been worse. The only way we could all sit here smiling at each other was thinking of how much worse it had almost been. One or all of us dead, Cormac in here for life-
He didn't seem to begrudge me the debt. Right from the start, he'd approached the prison sentence as doing penance, just like he was supposed to. Just another obstacle to overcome, another river to cross.
Ben handled this better than I did. "You need anything? Besides a cake with a file baked in?"
"No. Just more of the same."
I'd been ordering books for him. It had started out as a joke after I'd accused him of being illiterate. Then it turned earnest. Reading kept his mind off being trapped. Kept him from going crazy.
"Any requests?" I said, and Ben tipped the mouthpiece so he could hear me.
Cormac shook his head. "I'm not picky. Whatever you think is good." I had a list of classics I was feeding him. But no Dostoyevsky.
We had an hour for small talk. Very small talk. I couldn't say I'm sorry, because then I'd get upset. Leave on a happy note. Ben and I wanted to make sure Cormac got out of here in one piece, or at least not any more damaged than he was when he went in.
"Would you believe some of the guys listen to your show?" Cormac said.
"Really? That's kind of weird."
"I tell them you're not that mean in person. I'm ruining your reputation."
"Great," I said, smirking. "Thanks." Ben chuckled.
"You two look good," Cormac said, leaning back in his chair. "You look good together." His smile turned satisfied, almost. Comforted.
He'd told us both to look after each other. Like he couldn't trust either of us to take care of ourselves, but together we'd be okay. He was probably right. Ben and I had cobbled together our little pack of two, and we were doing okay. But it still felt like we were missing something. He was sitting across from us, on the other side of the glass. And we were all pretending like everything was okay.
A guard loomed behind Cormac. Time's up.
"I'll see you next week," Ben said.
Cormac said, to me specifically, "Thanks for coming. Everyone in here's ugly as shit. It's nice to see a pretty face once in a while."
Which broke my heart again. There had to be more I could do than sit here and be a pretty face, however pretty I could possibly be with my pale skin, blond hair tied in a short, scruffy ponytail, and eyes on the verge of crying. I wanted to touch the glass, but that would have been such a cliché and hopeless gesture.
He put the phone back, stood, and was gone. He always walked away without turning to look, and we always stayed to watch him go until he was out of sight.
Ben put his hand on my shoulder, urging me away. Hand in hand, in silence, we left the prison gates and emerged into too-bright summer sun and a baking parking lot. Quietly we slipped into the car, Ben in the driver's seat. Then the blowup happened.
He closed the door, settled for a moment, then hit the steering wheel with a closed fist. Then again, and again, throwing his whole body into it. The car rocked. I just watched.
After a moment, he slouched back. He gripped the steering wheel, bracing himself. "I hate this. I hate that he's in there, and there's nothing I can do."
He blamed himself as much as I blamed myself. If I hadn't needed saving, if Ben had found the right legal out-and there was Cormac, accepting it all without complaint. He and Cormac were cousins. They'd grown up together, looked out for each other, and now they were helpless.
I touched his forearm and squeezed, like I could push out the tension. He sighed.
"Let's get out of here," I said.
Excerpted from Kitty and the Silver Bullet by Carrie Vaughn Copyright © 2008 by Carrie Vaughn. Excerpted by permission.
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What People are Saying About This
"Readers of Kim Harrison's Hollows series and Jim Butcher's Dresden Files will appreciate Kitty's sarcastic wit, ingenuity, and independence." -Library Journal