Book excerpt

Jinx High

A Diana Tregarde Investigation

Diana Tregarde Investigation

Mercedes Lackey

Tor/Forge

Chapter One 
Buffie Gentry pounded the steering wheel of her brand-new Miata, and cursed--though what she really felt like doing was crying her eyes out like a little kid. It couldn't have stalled. Daddy had just picked it up today. There was nothing wrong with anything, it had a full tank of gas--
 
But it had died way out here on 101st, and now it wasn't responding at all.
 
And this was a spooky place to get stranded past midnight. You might as well be in West Texas instead of less than twenty miles from downtown Tulsa. There wasn't anything out here but cows and cicadas, mysterious shadows, and an awful lot of dark.
 
Visions of the Rainy-day Rapist and the Southside Strangler kept popping into her head, making her look over her shoulder as she tried to get the damn car started one more time.
 
No luck. And now the tears did come; she sobbed in what she told herself was frustration but felt more like fear. God, this is like the classic slasher-movie setup, girl stuck out on a deserted road at three a.m.--next thing I'll see is a guy in a hockey mask--
 
She shivered and told herself not to be stupid. There was a gas station not a half mile behind her--it was closed, but there was a phone there. She could call the auto club. That was why Daddy had a gold card with them.
 
Resolutely--though it took every bit of courage she had--she left the protection of the car and started the long trudge back toward the Kerr/McGee station. But she kept seeing things out of the corner of her eye, things that vanished when she looked straight at them, and before long she wasn't walking, she was running.
 
She'd never been so grateful to see a gas station in her life.
 
She fumbled the last quarter out of her purse--this was one of those phones where you couldn't use a charge card, and you had to put a quarter into it even to call 911. She was just glad she hadn't dumped all her change, back at the mall, when Fay Harper had sneered at her for putting cash in the liver-transplant box. Fay had made her so damn mad--just because she'd beaten the senior out on the Teenage America finals, that was no reason for Fay to imply she'd gotten that far by sleeping with one of the judges--
 
Well, neither of them made it to the regionals, so there.
 
Buffie just wished Fay hadn't said what she did, when Buffie had retorted with the truth nobody ever said out loud.
 
"You should know, Fay Harper. You get everything you want by sleeping around and passing out nose candy."
 
And Fay had said something horrible, whispered it in Buffie's ear. So horrible Buffie couldn't remember exactly what it was--just some kind of threat.
 
Or promise. Because it had ended with--"And when you see what's coming for you, remember I sent it."
 
Buffie shoved her coin into the slot with hands that shook so hard she could hardly dial the number, and prayed for a quick answer.
 
"God damn it." Sharon LeeMar looked at the phone resentfully. It would ring, now, when she'd just gotten a new coat of polish on her nails. It was probably nothing; some drunk, like last night, wanting the auto club to pull the car out of the ditch where he'd put it. Or some stupid kid who'd missed her ride home from some rich-bitch party, and wanted them to provide her with one.
 
Well, there was a way around that. It wasn't like she hadn't done it before. She hit the button with her elbow. "Big A Auto Club," she said. "Will you hold?"
 
And before the caller could say a word, she hit the hang-up button.
 
Buffie stared at the phone in gut-wrenching shock, unable to believe she was hearing a dial tone. "No--" she whispered, a panic that she knew was irrational starting to take over. "No, you can't--"
 
She scrabbled desperately in her purse, hoping for one more quarter. Nothing. With a sob, she upended the whole thing on the pavement, pawing through a tangled mess of makeup, jewelry, credit cards, and odd bits of paper, praying for a quarter, a dime, anything--
 
Then she heard the sound; a kind of growl. And looked up.
 
And the scream died in her throat before she could utter it.
 
"What?"
 
Derek Kestrel half closed his lids against the wind that was drying his eyes, and gathered breath for another bellow. "I said," Deke yelled, trying to make himself audible over the bellow of the TransAm's engine and the painfully howling guitars of Motley Crüe, "I can't hear you!"
 
Fay Harper shook her head, her blond shag whipping wildly about her cheekbones. Her hair looked like spun frost under the fluorescent streetlamps, her pale skin glowed in the moonlight, and her eyes were turned to crimson embers by the reflections from the panel lights. "I can't hear you!" she screamed back, turning the volume up another notch until the TransAm's floor panels shook from the bass.
 
Deke sighed and gave up, leaning back into the padded headrest of his seat. It was custom-leather upholstered, of course, in deep burgundy to match the rest of the car; Fay Harper was never seen in less than the very best. Nothing was going to compete with those speakers. Nothing natural, anyway. A B-52 at full throttle, maybe.
 
Hanging out with Fay was hazardous to the eardrums. He wished now he'd brought earplugs or something. First had been the concert, front-row seats, now it was Fay's ass-kicking stereo; he was going to be deaf before the night was over.
 
Then again, hanging out with Fay Harper was hazardous to a lot more than the eardrums.
 
The TransAm tore down Memorial, Fay daring anything to pull into her path. Deke squinted against the headlights of the oncoming cars, assessed his blood-alcohol level by how fuzzy they looked, and came up with an answer the Parental Unit wouldn't like. It was a good thing his dad couldn't see him now. Hell, it was a good thing his dad hadn't seen the concert! While Deke hadn't shared anything but the bottle Fay'd brought, grass had been the mildest of the recreational pharmaceuticals making the rounds tonight. Funny. Dad may have been a wild-eyed hippie back when he was Deke's age, but he didn't know the half of what went on these days. Deke said the word "concert," and he could almost see nostalgic visions of Woodstock drifting through his dad's mind in a sunshine-golden, artistically backlit haze. The Summer of Love. Peace, pop. Like, it's a happening. Oh, wow.
 
He laughed out loud, and Fay gave him a funny look, then cranked the stereo up the last notch. His whole body throbbed and vibrated with the song. He could feel the amplifier overheating--
 
Or maybe the heat he felt was the effect of her hand sliding up his leg.
 
There was a drunken howl from the back seat, and Sandy Foster, football bohunk extraordinaire, leaned forward and handed them both cold beers, after throwing his own empty through the open T-top.
 
"Kick ass, Fay!" he shouted, as Fay gave him a smile that dazzled in the hellfire glow from the instrument panel, and a long, wet kiss in exchange for the beer. She never once took her foot off the gas, but she never swerved, and she hadn't missed a light yet.
 
There was a flash of headlights in the left lane as a couple of hopped-up metal-heads in a chop-top Cougar pulled alongside. The driver shouted something, lost in the howl of engines and the screech of feedback. Fay tossed back her head in laughter, rapped on the horn once, contemptuously. Then she gave them the finger, and blew the doors off their pitiful poser-custom.
 
Deke wondered if his spine was going to have a close encounter with the back seat. The speedometer was in three digits by the time his stomach caught up with the rest of him.
 
Sandy howled again, and another bottle hit the pavement behind them.
 
Deke looked back at the Cougar eating their dust. For a minute, the guy on the passenger's side looked a little like his buddy Alan.
 
He bit his lip, and wondered what Alan was doing tonight--then looked at the bottle in his hand. His conscience awoke, and sanity reared its cold, ugly head.
 
What in the hell am I doing here? How did I ever get mixed up with Fay's crowd?
 
Sandy was screaming along with the Crüe; the simpleminded lyrics of any popular song were all he needed to cover his questions.
 
Yeah, but Sandy's got three answers to deal with everything he runs up against--drink it, screw it, or tackle it. Every Bud's for him.
 
Jillian McIver, Fay's best friend, was nuzzling Sandy's neck like a toothless vampire. The rest of them pretty much match Sandy. Jill's got no life outside the mall. Fay's got anything she wants. I'm the oddball here. So what the hell do they want with me?
 
He glanced over at Fay; she smiled and licked her lips, and her hand reached the Promised Land. Questions began to seem pretty immaterial. . . .
 
However, Fay's luck with the lights ran out at just that moment. She pulled her hand away as the light changed from yellow to red. She might have tried to run it--but there was a little something bearing down on the intersection.
 
Deke wasn't so gone that he couldn't see the semi--and his reactions weren't too blown to grab for the "aw-shit" bar on the door as Fay cursed, locked all four wheels, and put the TransAm into a sideways drift, stopping just short of the intersection.
 
And as the front swung around, the headlights glared right into the eyes of the metal-brains still trying to race them. They didn't see the semi, or the red light--and if their music was as loud as Fay's, they couldn't hear the air horn blasting at them, either. They headed straight into the free-fire zone.
 
The Cougar dragged against the side of the semi's cab in a slo-mo shower of glass and plastic, fiberglass pelting down like candy-apple-red hail--the impact inaudible over the hellish guitar.
 
Fay wasn't fazed in the least. She bared her teeth, mouthed something, and down-shifted; gunned the car, and fled the scene in a cloud of tire smoke.
 
Smiling.
 
Jill and Sandy were in a heap somewhere on the floorboard, mingling with what was left of the cold case Fay had brought to finish off the concert.
 
All that Deke could think of for the first, shell-shocked minutes, was--Sandy's probably enjoying the hell out of himself.
 
Deke pried his fingers off the bar, one at a time. Fay's hands were on the wheel and the shifter, giving him a moment of thought unclouded by raging hormones.
 
He looked back at the wreck, and in a break between songs yelled, "What about them? Aren't you gonna--"
 
"They weren't fast enough," Fay shouted back, interrupting him. "They got what they were asking for. They weren't good enough, and they weren't fast enough."
 
She gave him a long, sideways look, measuring him against some unknown standard. Her eyes narrowed, and she licked her lips, the barest hint of her tongue showing between them. "So how about it, Deke? Are you fast enough?"
 
Shit. He looked back at the wreck; Fay shoved the stick up into fifth and slid her hand over to his leg. Again.
 
Christ. She's crazy! I think that wreck made her horny! Or--hornier-- Deke suppressed a wince.
 
"Fay!"
 
Jillian McIver had a voice like a ripsaw, but the harsh whine was music to Deke's ears about now. Fay pulled her hand away.
 
"What?" she snarled over her shoulder.
 
"What the hell were you doing?"
 
Jill's disheveled head rose over the seat back, her dark curls falling over one eye; her lower lip was swollen and cut a little, and she sucked at it petulantly. Deke watched as Sandy's hand came up and made a grab for her, and she elbowed him away. "I about broke my neck, Fay," she complained, raking her hair out of her eyes with talonlike fingernails. "An' I cut my lip. It's gonna be a mess for a week. What d'you think you're doing, anyway?"
 
My God. The guys in that Cougar could be dead, and all she's worried about is her lip!
 
"Livin' life in the fast lane, girl," Fay replied with poisonous sweetness. "'Smatter? Can't you take the pace?"
 
"But my lip--"
 
"Sandy'll kiss it, and make it all better," Fay cooed. "Won't you, honey?"
 
"You bet," Sandy said thickly, from somewhere below the level of the seat back, and Jill vanished in the direction of his voice with a muffled yelp.
 
Deke hunched his shoulders and tried to become part of the upholstery. Yeah. Life in the fast lane. And me a Yugo. Neep, neep. Oh well; the wreck wasn't that bad. At least those guys walked away from it.
 
Fay had just hit a bad stretch of road on the winding back way into Jenks, and she needed to keep one hand on the shifter, one on the wheel, and both eyes in front of her. Fay was a foot-to-the-wall driver, but she wasn't suicidal. Even this late at night, you never knew when some drunk cowboy was going to pull out in front of you from one of the kicker bars around here.
 
Trees and bushes blurred past, sparked with the occasional flickers of fire that were animal eyes staring, mesmerized by their speeding headlights. Deke blinked.
 
So Fay caused a bumper-bender. Big deal.
 
As he watched the shadows blur past, the memory slowly faded from his mind. All he was thinking about was the speed, the night, and Fay.
 
Seems like there was something I should remember. . . . Aw, hell. Forget it. It's a damn good thing I'm not the one driving, he thought muzzily. This road's right out of Grapes of Wrath. God only knows why Fay's using it. Your county taxes at work. What was it Alan said? The difference between Chicago and Tulsa County is that Chicago politicians steal the money after the roadwork's paid for? Yeah. Then Dad laughed and said that was why we live in Jenks. Good ol' Jenks, Oklahoma. All the benefits of Tulsa, none of the drawbacks.
 
Twenty years ago, Jenks had been Hicksville, and Tulsa wouldn't give the residents of Jenks the time of day--now it was the bedroom community that Tulsa would love to incorporate, and Jenks wasn't having any part of the idea.
 
Now Jenks was the haven for some of the area's wealthiest professionals--doctors, lawyers, top management--who didn't want to give up their well-maintained roads or their autonomously funded school district, thank you. Jenks money stayed in Jenks. Because of that money, the Jenks schools were as good as the private academies over in Tulsa, and a far cry from the Tulsa public school system. That was a big selling point; yuppie parents believed in expensive education. From computers in the classroom to Olympic pools, what Jenks High didn't have wasn't worth having.
 
And a mere fifteen minutes up the interstate from your job. Shit, I sound like a real-estate ad.
 
A yuppie paradise. Every acquisitive dream come true, and no slums to mar the landscaping; no low-income housing, no porno rows, no bag ladies, no "undesirables."
 
It harbored those who lived a sheltered, pampered life. The kids who went to Jenks were used to living their parents' fine lifestyle to the hilt, used to the goodies that came without asking.
 
Like Fay, Sandy, Jill. More money than they knew what to do with, and parents too busy clawing their way to the top to pay too much attention to what their kids did with that money. They'd had expert nannies as babies--the finest shrinks money could buy to get them through their early teens--and once they reached sixteen or seventeen, most Jenks parents figured their kids could take care of themselves. Sort of the ultimate latchkey children. So long as they didn't bring the law down on them, so long as they kept their grades up and looked like they were straight, everything was cool.
 
Copyright © 1991 by Mercedes Lackey. All rights reserved. Mercedes Lackey is the author of the bestselling Valdemar series, the Obsidian Trilogy (The Outstretched Shadow, To Light a Candle, and When Darkness Falls), the Enduring Flame trilogy (The Phoenix Unchained, The Phoenix Endangered, and The Phoenix Transformed), and the Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms. She has written many other books, including Trio of Sorcery, Phoenyx and Ashes, Sacred Ground, The Firebird, The Fairy Godmother, and Alta. Lackey is the co-author, with Andre Norton, of the Halfblood Chronicles, including Elvenborn. Mercedes Lackey was born in Chicago and graduated from Purdue University. She has worked as an artist’s model, a computer programmer, and for American Airlines, and has written lyrics and recorded more than fifty songs. She lives in Oklahoma.