Strange Brew

Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, Charlaine Harris, Karen Chance, Pat Elrod, Caitlin Kittredge, Faith Hunter, and Jenna Maclaine

St. Martin's Griffin

"Bacon"

 

Charlaine Harris

 

            Dahlia Lynley-Chivers looked good in black; in fact, she looked great – and normally that was extremely important to her. But tonight she wasn’t thinking about herself or about the picture she made sitting alone at the elaborately laid table in the upscale restaurant. Seeleys’ tablecloths might have been designed to set her looks off; the undercloth was black like her hair, the overcloth was snowy white like her skin.

            Dahlia had been dead for a very long time.

            Though she was sitting motionless, her back perfectly straight, Dahlia was conscious of the passing of time. The witch was late. Under any other circumstances, she would have left Seeleys and found something more amusing to do than wait for a human: but she’d gone to considerable trouble to arrange this meeting, and she wouldn’t give up so easily.

            Clifford Seeley, who’d arranged to wait tables at his dad’s restaurant this evening, put a glass of True Blood in front of Dahlia with a theatrical flourish. “Something to sip on while you wait, Madam,” he said very formally. Then he whispered, “I haven’t worked here since I was twenty. Am I doing okay?”

            Dahlia didn’t exactly smile. She wasn’t in the mood. But her face looked a bit less stony as she looked up at the tall young werewolf, and she inclined her head an infinitesimal degree. She liked Clifford, had since the moment she’d met him at her friend Taffy’s wedding reception. Taffy, like Dahlia, had married into the Swiftfoot pack.

            Taffy’s husband Don was the packleader. Dahlia’s husband was dead.

            “Heads up,” said Clifford suddenly, and swooped off to check his other tables. Dahlia saw the headwaiter gliding toward her, a young woman stumbling along behind him. Dahlia’s attention sharpened. Since vampire senses are at least five times more acute than humans on their dullest day, this meant Dahlia might as well have been walking right next to the newcomer. The woman was plump, tousled, and breathing heavily, and she didn’t seem to know how to walk on high heels. Dahlia, who wore stilettos on every possible occasion, let her nostrils flare in contempt, though she made sure to repress any expression well before the young woman reached her chair. That took longer than it should, since Dahlia’s guest was not Ms. Fitness.

            When the newcomer was seated, considerable fuss ensued until she found a place for her purse, yanked at the shoulder of her dress, tossed her head so her long red hair would hang behind her shoulders, and asked the headwaiter for some water (he replied, “I’ll send your waiter, Clifford, right over,” in a rather stiff voice).

“I’m so sorry I’m late, Mrs. Swiftfoot. I caught the wrong bus, and after that, everything seemed to go wrong,” the young woman said.

            Dahlia studied her silently. Making people squirm was something Dahlia did very well. “You are the Circe, the witch?” Dahlia said finally, in her frostiest voice. But her tone was not as cutting as she could make it. Dahlia had gone to too much trouble setting up the meeting to go overboard with the hostility.

            “Yes, oh, yes, I didn’t introduce myself!” The young witch giggled, tossed her head again. “I’m not the original Circe, of course. That was my – well, my many-times great grandmother. But I’m the direct descendant, yes.”

            “And you are a trained witch?”

            “Oh, yes, I went to school and everything.” The Circe wore glasses, and she blinked anxiously at the tiny vampire across the table. “I graduated with honors.”

            “I was under the impression that witches were taught by their predecessors,” Dahlia said. “I understood that the knowledge was passed along by word of mouth, and in the family grimoire. There’s no -- Hogwarts -- in your past, I presume?” The reference to Harry Potter was a real effort for Dahlia, who tracked current culture with some effort. Dahlia had ventured the mild pleasantry to put the panting young woman at ease, but Dahlia was not terribly adept at mild or pleasant.

The Circe recoiled. “No,” she snapped. “And I’ll thank you not to refer to those books again. Everyone thinks we’re cute, now, and we’ve lost a lot of the respect we used to be accorded.”

            “Some would say that any publicity is good publicity,” Dahlia said, curious about this unexpected sign of temper. No one had snapped at Dahlia in, oh, five decades. She’d caught an unexpected glimpse of the darker thing that lived inside the untidy young creature sitting across the table.

            “If one more person asks me where my owl is, or how to get to Gringotts, I’ll turn them into a . . .”

            “Pig?” Dahlia suggested.

            The Circe glared at her. “That was my ancestor’s thing, not mine,” she said.

            Interesting. “Let’s start again, from the beginning,” Dahlia said.