Belladonna Dreams – A Preview

Chapter One – Part One

“Incompetence runs wild, like hedgehogs,” I told Lucas.

“Hedgehogs?”  Lucas asked.

“I know, I’m now picturing little hedgehog armies attacking hamster villages to loot and pillage.  I had something better to insert, but suddenly couldn’t think of it and hedgehog just popped out.”

“Thanks, now I’m picturing hedgehog armies attacking villages filled with hamsters.  I have never even seen a live hedgehog.”

“Me either,” I admitted.  “So why are we attempting another barbecue?”

Lucas and I were meat shopping.  I didn’t understand why Gabriel insisted on having get togethers. We worked together.  We saw each other all the time.  We all lived on the same street even.  However, my complaints about incompetence had nothing to do with Gabriel or barbecues, and everything to do with people not being able to park.

“Because it is important for us to do things together that do not include blood and gore.”

“So, I shouldn’t ask for my steak to be cooked rare?”  I raised an eyebrow.

“That’s not the same,” Lucas said.

“Blood is blood, whether from human or cow.”

“Stop being obstinate.  Have your mooing steak; it will be fine.”

“What are we supposed to get besides a million steaks?”  I asked.  There had been a list at some point, but I had no idea what had happened to it.

“It’s not a million steaks, it’s twelve.  Instead of picking an argument, pick out your steak.”  Lucas pointed at the butcher’s cabinet.  “Oh, that’s the problem. You’re cranky that the VCU is going to be there.”

“Shut up and pick out some steaks.”  I pointed at the cabinet.

I was indeed cranky that the members of the VCU were going to be there.  My life was compartmentalized. While the VCU was work, Malachi was personal, so ne’er the twain shall meet in my opinion.  This was impossible, to be sure, since we both worked for the federal government chasing serial killers.  However, since I had become a US Marshal, we hadn’t really hung out.  When we did, I tasered him, mostly because he was a jackass, but some part of me just enjoyed it.  A lot.

There was serious doubt that any of my teammates were going to let me Taser Malachi during a barbecue.  Unless he did something incredibly stupid, like propose marriage again, then they might let me.

“What do you think?”  Lucas asked.

“What?”  I blinked at him a few times.

“I love it when you are riveted by my every word.  For Xavier’s girl, what do you think?  Should we go with a KC Strip or a Porterhouse?”

“I thought she was a vegetarian.”  I frowned.

“Oh, I…” Lucas paused, “…I don’t honestly know.  I’ll get her a strip and a veggie burger or something.”

“Like Gabriel will let you taint his precious grill with a veggie burger.”

There were staples at Gabriel’s barbecues; steaks, corn on the cob, and portabella mushroom tops seasoned and filled with cheese and a dab of butter.  These three items were cooked on the grill.  Everything was either cooked elsewhere and brought over, or they weren’t cooked.  I grabbed a good looking New York Strip for myself, a Porterhouse for Malachi, and a T-Bone for my mother.

“You live in Kansas City, so get a KC Strip,” Lucas teased.

“I’m really hungry,” I answered.  We finished our search for good looking steaks to toss on the grill and moved on.  I filled the cart with different kinds of potato chips.

“Old Fashioned Potato Salad or Mustard Potato Salad?”  Lucas asked.

“Coleslaw,” I answered.

“I don’t remember that being a choice.”

“I don’t know why you would ask my opinion on potato salad.”  I reached around him and grabbed a container of pre-made coleslaw.  I also grabbed a container of white potato salad instead of yellow.  We grabbed stuff for a regular salad, an apple pie, a German Chocolate cake, a Chocolate Silk pie and assorted cupcakes.  I wasn’t sure why we needed all the desserts, but like the potato salad, I was probably the only one that didn’t know why we needed it.

The cashier gave us a funny look as she rang up our cart full of crap. The thing was nearly overflowing with food, beer, soda, and tea.  We’d gotten stuff to make homemade ice cream, and strawberry or mango peach margaritas.  I had to work really hard not to let my mouth fall open when the cashier gave us the total.

I was often shocked by the price of real food.  Left to my own devices, I lived on spaghetti, TV dinners, popcorn, and take-out.  It was actually cheaper for me to eat this way, although it wasn’t always healthy.  Buying real food always reminded me of how expensive the world was to live in.

We had stopped doing potluck and instead just taken up a collection for sides.  No one was ever sure of anything that came out of Xavier’s kitchen.  For a doctor, he was a slob.  The only time he was sterile was when he was working, although honestly, Xavier was a slob by all standards.

Nyleena was on vacation this week.  My normal leash holder would not be around.  I didn’t do well with new people.  The only new person would be Xavier’s girlfriend, but that was enough.

“Did we get food for the new one?”

“If you mean Wendy, the answer is yes,” Lucas said.

“Wendy?  As in the fast food chain?”

“I don’t believe they are related. They just happen to have the same first name.”

“It works, Xavier’s a little bit like Peter Pan.”

“How?  He doesn’t fly.  He grew up.  He doesn’t use fairy dust.  So, tell me how Xavier is like Peter Pan?”

“They are both brain damaged.”  I shrugged.

“I’m not going to ask. I have a feeling this is a lot like the hedgehogs from earlier.”

“Oh, come on, he flew around and fought with swords.  He had to be hit in the head a lot.  Besides, what boy doesn’t want to grow up?  Obviously, he was brain damaged.”

“Ace, I love you.  Please stop talking.”

“Deep down, you know I’m right.” I put the cart away.  We both climbed into my car.  It roared to life, making enough noise to wake the dead.  It had recently gotten a tune-up and sounded like a monster.  I still wasn’t sure about the new muffler. It seemed to get a lot of attention.  This was not the car for someone trying to keep a low profile to begin with, and the muffler wasn’t making it any easier.

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