“Sorry I’m late,” I say, ducking my head as I pass my boss in the hall before making a beeline for the employee’s lounge. I shove my bag and motorcycle helmet into the locker, then rigidly turn to face her. Red leans in the doorway, her auburn dreads pulled back into a thick ponytail. As her brown eyes meet mine, she quirks a brow before sighing and looking down at her watch.
“Only by half an hour this time. That’s a new record for you,” she says matter-of-factly. I’m not exactly known for my punctuality, particularly so after a weekend out partying.
“I know, I know. I’m sorry,” I reply, averting my gaze.
I hear Red sigh again before she says, “You know the rules. Latecomers get dish duty.” She throws an apron at me, and I catch it with instinctive hand-eye coordination. She steps out of my way as I shuffle past her in what I like to call the walk of shame without the benefits.
I cut back through the heart of the Bones Bar and Grill on my way to the dish room. Ten years ago, Scavenge Clan bought this place. An old brick building among a sea of near replicas. It doesn’t look like much from the outside. But with it located on Camp St., just down the road from Lafayette Square in Downtown New Orleans, it’s in a prime location. After events on the square, many drift down to us for food, refreshments, and a good time.
My gaze sweeps over the place as people steadily trickle in. Dark brick walls, weathered wood panels, archways, and exposed pipes give the place a rustic industrial feel. It is personalized with touches of the clan. Antler chandeliers and mounted deer skulls from some of our greatest hunts dot the walls and ceilings. A long wood bar with old tin paneling runs along one side of the room. A dining area surrounds it and beyond that is a moderately sized dance floor, pool tables, dartboards, and places to lounge.
I skirt past the kitchens, making a beeline for the adjacent dish room. A young blonde werehyena leaves as I take over. I pick up her slack with a sigh.
“So, where’d you run off to? Heard you bailed during the hunt.” I pause, looking up from the glassware I’m cleaning. Red leans into the passthrough window. Her head tilts as I meet her expectant gaze. So it begins. The interrogation.
I shrug, trying to play it off as I go back to cleaning. “I was tired. Decided to call it early.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t because of Lark?” I nearly break the glass in my hands, the sound of that bitch’s name enough to make my blood boil. I take a deep breath as she continues.
“I heard what happened through the grapevine,” she explains. Of course, you did, you’re the beta. You know everything that’s going on.
Red Jakobson. One of two betas of Scavenge Clan, the title was passed down to her after the untimely death of her mother, Jen. Despite her youth, only being in her early to mid-twenties at the time, she seemed to take it all in stride, and with her charisma and attention to detail, she quickly won over the masses. She’s the beta that most drift to when issues arise, but I know better than to let my guard down around her. Wherever she is, the walls have ears, and as the primary informant of the Clan, anything you say or do can and will be used against you.
“You know, I never liked the way she treats you,” she continues on. It’s a test. Everyone knows that challenging the alpha’s daughter in any way, shape, or form is like taking a long walk off a short pier straight into shark-infested waters. I know that better than most.
“Well, it is what it is,” I reply with my head while my heart rages in protest. I can feel my hyena stir within me, ever restless. Not now, I growl at it as it shakes the bars of its cage where I lock it tight day and night.
The busboy brings in a huge tub of dirty dishes, and for once, I’m grateful for it. Red sees I’m suddenly swamped and breathes out a resigned sigh. “I’ll leave you to it.”
As she disappears from my view, I let out a breath. The tension dissipates from me until I feel like I can breathe again. I set down the glass on the drying rack, shaking my head at myself. “I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this,” I say to the empty room. It’s a dilemma I face every day I come into work; every time I force myself to go to a Clan function; and every time I act like I’m one of them when every fiber of my being knows otherwise.
I glance around, making sure no one’s watching before I reach into my shirt and pull out a small black flask with the words FUCK MY LIVER written on it in white. I take a swig of the vodka, grimacing as the alcohol burns a path down my throat, before hiding it again. This is going to be a long shift.
I move behind the bar, gliding across the floor as I take orders and fill drinks, totally in my zone. My focus breaks just long enough for my gaze to scan the room every so often, checking to make sure everyone is behaving themselves before going back to what I was doing. While my eyes are busy, my attuned hearing is always on high alert. I look up as I hear the bell on the front door chime to see an all too familiar werehyena walk in.
Scarlett Bonhart, the older beta of Scavenge Clan and owner of the Bones Bar and Grill, strides in with an ever-present air of authority. She has long black hair braided down her back, brown eyes that seem like they could pierce through your soul, and the resting bitch face of the century. As her gaze takes in the packed bar, her nose wrinkles like she smells something rancid.
The drink in my hand slips from my grasp, shattering on the ground. Shit! I quickly grab a dustpan and rags, kneeling down to clean up my mess. My heart thuds inside my chest, hands shaking as I mop up the spilled alcohol. I squeeze my eyes shut as memories of Scar’s hyena ripping into my brother flash through my head like a movie reel. Shaking like a leaf, I stumble out from behind the bar as his screams fill my ears. Not here. Not now.
“Ma’am, are you alright?” I barely hear the concern in the customer’s voice above the roaring noise overtaking my senses. I flee in a blind panic, finding the nearest supply closet and locking myself inside. My back hits the door, and I slide down to the floor, hyperventilating. My body convulses. I cry out in pain as my shoulder pops out of the socket and my muscles tear, my hyena straining to escape. I can feel its bloodlust as if it were a second skin. Nothing will satiate it but the blood of all those who betrayed us, starting with Scarlett’s head on a pike.
In time. In time they will get what’s coming to them, but we must play our cards carefully until then, I plead with it. Unfortunately, it’s damn near impossible to rationalize with a feral beast. I blindly feel around on the shelves, grabbing a rag. I shove it into my mouth, biting down on it as I let out another muffled cry of pain. With shaking hands, I roll up my sleeve before reaching for the pouch on my waist. I pull out one of my knives, the glint of silver causing my hyena to roar.
I scream into the rag as I press the flat of the blade into my arm, searing pain slicing through me. The blood-curdling screech of my hyena fills my ears as my skin burns and blisters. Get back into your cage NOW! I snarl at it.
As it howls, fleeing back into the dark recesses of my mind, I drop the knife. It clatters to the ground, my skin smoking. I rest my head back against the door, panting. I’m getting real tired of this shit.