Heads up: 1.99 e-book sale at most US markets for GBU starts today. [sale]
I got through chapter four in GBU last night in the read-along. (Join in the conversation here or Goodreads) I’d forgotten Rachel dumped the fish tank to get the fish, but I find it interesting that right about the time I was writing this in 2004, I was having a devil of a time with my anti virus program, hence Vanessa knowing how to fix it. And the fish. If you read carefully, you’ll notice that Rachel wishes three times for a car, all while holding it. That was me trying to be clever, but most people don’t catch it until a re-read.
This is not the original chapter I submitted GBU with, but it is arguably the best, smoothly fitting in backstory and dropping the reader right into the world.
But . . .
If you’re interested, I did find the unedited, raw, original first chapter. It’s kind of an interesting study to read both versions and see what I transposed with no change, and what I modified. If I remember correctly, some of the things I was trying to address with the new first chapter was bringing in the Were mythology earlier. I also wanted to preserve the mystery of the wishing fish to allow it to unfold naturally instead of being in your face. I liked the old ladies on the bench, and I liked Jenks’s Soylent fish tirade, but exchanging them for a more “grown up”, faster feel of a high-rise building in Cincinnati and Jenks’s complaint that “I’m wearing dead dinosaur, Rache!” was a fair trade in my mind.
Personally, I like the second version best, but you can read the original here.
From the corner of my eye, I watched the old ladies with their black boots and dry crusts of bread as I waded farther out into the scummy city pond. Perched upon their sunny park bench, they put their gray heads together and gossiped loudly. I glanced away as the water pressed against my thighs through the brown plastic of the waders I had borrowed from Nick, my boyfriend. Only God knew where he got them from or why he even had them.
Apparently one of the old ladies couldn’t hear very well as her voice was overly loud when she asked her companion, “Do you think she’s a mermaid?”
Mermaid! I thought, tucking my sweat-sticky hair behind my ear and shifting the net to my other hand. How lame was that? With the red hair, maybe, thanks to Mr. Disney. But the waders? I was a witch first-class, graduated with—well—high grades if not honors. But it was hard to tell right now, being thigh deep in pond water chasing someone else’s problem made mine by the promise of money.
Rent was due by the end of the week, and if I didn’t have my share, Ivy would have my hide. Not a comfortable proposition when one’s roommate is a vampire. “Jenks!” I shouted, pushing my sunglasses farther up my nose with the back of my wrist. “Where’s that fish food?”
There was a tight hum as the pixy darted over my head. I instinctively ducked, nearly losing my balance. Water splashed as I struggled to keep upright. My green nylon fishnet swung wildly, smacking into the surface with a loud pop.
The old ladies gasped, and I spared them a look as I caught myself. Water seeped over the top of my waders, making a cold trail down my side to pool at my toes. I mentally added dry-cleaning my skirt to the bill. It was a cute little red thing that hit about midthigh, better suited for catching men than fish. But waders were supposed to keep you dry, right? And it had been the only clean thing in my closet. I’d been too busy this weekend for laundry. Tailing a troll accused of eating neighborhood cats was harder than it sounded. It didn’t pay well, either.
“Darn it, Jenks,” I said through gritted teeth as he laughed at me. “Don’t buzz me like that.” I swung the net halfheartedly at him, and he darted back on his dragonfly wings. He was dressed in what I called his gardening clothes: modest long-sleeved shirt and pants made of green silk. I imagined he was saving his black body stocking for when we were gainfully employed in “less savory activities.” A red bandanna of truce covered his blond hair to keep the local fairies working the pond from chasing him off. He looked like a cross between a four-inch Peter Pan with wings and an inner-city gang member. And he was about as much trouble, too.
“I just used your last coin,” he said, continuing his extre-e-e-emely helpful circles about my head. “If you want to keep trying for that fish, you’re gonna have to ask the old ladies for some change. They think you’re either a city employee culling the fish or a nut trying to baptize them. This is the most fun they’ve had since feeding the squirrels love potions last week.”
My gaze went from the coin-operated feeder to the two women on their bench. “Glad I can entertain them,” I muttered, and he skimmed away for more fish food. One of the ladies waved merrily, and I pretended not to see, scanning the surface of the water for a silver form.
This was getting embarrassing. I thought I had timed this so that no one would be here. A hundred yards away, traffic was stop-and-go, the noise muted by trees and distance. It had picked up, and I guessed it was probably after two o’clock, just beginning the span of time when humans and Inderlanders struggled to share the streets of Cincinnati. I’d been up since before noon chasing this stupid fish, and I’d die if someone from the I.S. saw me in waders.
It had been nearly three months since I had snapped under the crap assignments my old boss at Inderland Security had been giving me. Feeling used and grossly unappreciated, I had broken the unwritten rule and quit the I.S. to start my own agency. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. But before the sun had risen, I had saddled myself with a vamp and a pixy for partners and had two death threats set on me. I had survived the death threats. If I couldn’t come up with rent, I might not survive my roommates.
It wasn’t all bad, though, I thought as I waded closer to shore and felt the water temperature rise at my feet. I now had the chance to put my degree to work, stirring spells I used to buy and some I had never been able to afford. But being an independent wasn’t as easy as I had thought it would be. Money was a real problem. It wasn’t that I couldn’t get the jobs; it was that the money didn’t seem to stay in the cookie jar atop the fridge very long.
What I made from proving a werefox had been slipped some bane by a rival pack had gone to renewing my witch license. The I.S. used to pay for that. I recovered a stolen familiar for a warlock and spent it on the monthly rider on my health insurance. I hadn’t had any idea that runners were all but uninsurable; the I.S. had given me a card, and I had used it. Then I had to pay a university kid to take off the lethal spells on my stuff still in storage, buy Ivy a new silk robe to replace the one I’d ruined, not to mention pick up a few new outfits for myself. I did have a reputation to uphold.
But the steady drain on my finances had to be from the cab fares. Most of Cincinnati’s bus drivers knew me by sight and wouldn’t pick me up. It wasn’t fair. It had been ages since I had accidentally removed the hair from an entire bus load of people while trying to tag a Were.
I was tired of being almost broke. Jenks said it was my soft heart. Ivy said it was poor business practices. I thought it was bad luck. It didn’t help that some of my clients didn’t deal in money. But I wasn’t going to turn away a desperate pixy if all he had was a handful of tomatoes, especially if all I had to do was get rid of a wasp nest that was too close to his sídh. How much does a can of Raid cost, after all? This time, though, I would come back with my tag, and Cincinnati’s second, all-Inderland professional baseball team would pay up.
Finding the Howler’s mascot had sounded like an easy run. The coach hadn’t bothered to tell me up-front it was a koi that a rival team had thrown into one of Cincinnati’s numerous ponds. Now, after three days of frogs, scum, and angry beavers, I was ready to give them the first fish that came even marginally close to the photo they had given me.
The shimmer of Jenks’s wings caught the afternoon sun as he flew back, slower from the pellets in his arms. Guilt and my mother’s insistence for good manners prompted me to give the old lady a low wave as she continued to struggle for my attention.
“Oh my God, these things stink!” Jenks said, his tiny face screwed up dramatically as he came to a faltering halt before me. “You know what they got in them?”
I met his eyes. Please, not another free-flowing stream of conscious thought. “Just throw the food, Jenks.”
“I’m not talking about the usual stuff, like cornmeal and shrimp powder. It’s the meat by-products that give me the shivers. Meat by-products? Try horse balls and pig dicks. And you know what’s worse? There’s fish in there too. What we got here is fish soylent green. Yes sir, fish soylent green. And they are sucking it up. Standing in line to get a taste of Uncle Bob. Poor, poor Uncle Bob who went missing last week. Gee, I wonder where Uncle Bob is? Gulp, gulp. Slurp, slurp.”
“Just dump the food,” I said tiredly.
A carp leapt at him, and I gasped. “Jenks! Look out!”
He was eight feet above the water before I had finished. Heart pounding, I slumped as his laugher mixed with the splash of water. I worried about the little twit. It’s hard to be four inches in a six-foot world. “Relax, Rache,” he said slyly, coming close so the wind from his wings shifted my hair. “I’ve been fishing before.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
Grinning at my fading fright, he dropped the pellets. Large pale mouths gulped at the surface. I watched, mesmerized, looking for the glimmer of silver among the predominately gray bodies. “There!” Jenks shouted, pointing as pixy dust sifted from him in excitement.
I flung my arm out, slicing the net through the green water. My pulse hammered as the net bounced. “I’ve got it!” I cried, lifting the dripping net high. Relief flooded me as I saw the foot-long squirming body. It had to be the right fish. It was silver with a black spot on its side, matching the description I’d been given.
From their bench, the old ladies cheered and clapped. I grinned and gave them a thumbs-up. Holding my catch free of the water, I staggered to the shore. I had a silver-colored carp with a black spot. It was going to pay my rent. I was in the clear for another month.
I sloshed forward, struggling with the wiggling fish. “Open the bucket, Jenks,” I called out as I neared the shore. My eyes widened as my foot hit a hole and I lurched to find my balance. I was going down!
Panicking, I flung the net toward the shore. The fish hit the bank and started flopping. I staggered to fall to my knees. The water wasn’t deep, but I was abruptly soaked as warm water filled my waders. On my hands and knees, I watched the fish struggle, edging toward freedom.
“Get up!” Jenks shouted, hovering helplessly over the fish. “Rachel, I can’t stop it!”
I slogged forward, the water in my waders slowing me down. “No!” I cried, flinging myself onto the fish as its tail hit the water. It wiggled and squirmed. A slimy tail hit my face. Black earth and decayed leaves plastered my face. My sunglasses fell off. “Turn it all!” I shouted. “I wish you would stop flopping!”
The fish went still. Gasping, I pulled away. I’d killed it! I’d squished my rent money!
“Pick it up!” Jenks cried, his wings a bright red in agitation.
Jolted into motion, I grabbed it and held it against me. Fish stink rose high as I waddled in my waders to the five-gallon bucket. Breathless, I dropped the fish in. Jenks and I hovered over it, watching the fish take a grateful gulp of water. The two ladies were clapping, their white-gloved hands making hardly any sound over their loud cheers.
The fish was all right, I thought in relief. So why had it stopped struggling? It was almost as if it heard me. Eyebrows raised in speculation, I looked from the two ladies to Jenks sitting perched on the rim of the bucket. “Did you see what it did?” I asked.
“Yeah.” His wings blurred to nothing, but he didn’t rise. There was a wicked glint in his eyes. “It stopped moving when you asked it too. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
I licked my lips. “It’s a wishing fish,” I said. “No wonder they want it back so badly.”
“I wonder how many wishes it has in it.” Jenks flitted upward as I straightened.
“There’s only one way to find out.” Wiping the water from my face, I waddled the three steps to the nearest bench and sat down. Water sloshed at my knees as I mulled the possibilities.
“Well?” I looked up to see Jenks with a wide-eyed eagerness. “Try it,” he prompted.
I sat back against the bench and sighed with a mixed ambivalence. The last time I had used a stolen wish, I had nearly gotten killed. Twice. A simple-worded request would be best, especially from a fish. Trying to be clever would only get me slapped in the face.
My thoughts went to the long, wet, embarrassing ride home I faced on the bus. That is, if they even picked me up. Trying to catch a ride with a bucket of fish would be more difficult than usual. Not to mention my bus pass was soaked and probably wouldn’t go through the reader. And I was out of change.
Leaning over the bucket, I dipped my hand into the sun-warmed water. The bright red of my manicured nails stood out sharp against the fish’s silver scales as I lightly settled my fingers around it. “I wish I had a car that was mine,” I said, trying to negate the possibility of getting stuck with a stolen vehicle.
The fish did nothing. Suddenly I felt foolish. Pulling my hand from the water, I shut the lid and glanced at the nearby empty parking lot. Jenks flitted to the large hoop earrings I wore just for him. “Sorry,” he said, landing on it as if it were a tire swing.
“I didn’t really think it would work.” Jeez. I must be losing it. It was a fish, for crying out loud, not a leprechaun.
I slipped the straps holding up my waders off my shoulders and shimmied out of them. Standing in my damp skirt and soaked nylons, I dumped the waders upside down. Twin rivulets flowed back to the pond, taking bits of twigs and leaves with them. I had to get home and call the Howlers. They would be happy to get their fish back. And I’d be happy to get paid.
My mood soured as I took a quick look around and rolled my nylons down off my legs. They were ruined. The late September breeze off the water was chill in the shade, and ugly goose bumps rose upon my pale legs. If they hadn’t gone along with the red hair, green eyes, and freckles of my Irish, way-back ancestry, one might think I was ill, they were so white.
“Hey, how about that, Rache,” Jenks said, flitting off my earring to hover beside me. “Your wish worked—sort of.”
A big four-door car had swung into the lot to take up two spots. Engine still running, it flashed its lights at me. I deliberately turned away. A black Crown Victoria could only mean one thing. What the Turn did the FIB want?
The FIB, short for the Federal Inderland Bureau, was the human-run version of the I.S. It had been created to take the place of both local and federal authorities after the Turn. On paper, the FIB had been enacted to help protect the remaining humans from the—ah—more aggressive Inderlanders, generally the vamps and Weres. The reality was dissolving the old law structure had been a paranoiac, knee-jerk attempt to keep us Inderlanders out of law enforcement.
Yeah. Right. The out-of-the-closet, out-of-work Inderland police and Federal agents had simply started their own bureau, the I.S. After forty years, the FIB was hopelessly outclassed, taking a steady abuse from the I.S. as they both tried to keep tabs on Cincinnati’s varied citizens.
The old ladies on their bench buzzed over this newest development. I stifled a groan as I went to get my sunglasses off the ground. Brushing the leaf chips from them, I tried to find a dry spot on me to clean them with. The hem of my red halter didn’t work very well as it was mostly nylon and spandex. Stretching awkwardly, I tried to tuck it back in. My damp hands kept getting stuck between me and my skirt, and I quit when I realized I was doing more harm than good for my image, standing in bare feet and jerking at how cold my hands were.
The car window rolled down. “Ms. Rachel Morgan?” the dark man behind the wheel called out, his deep voice belligerent.
Trying to look as if standing barefoot in parks was something I did every day, I found a nasty-looking tissue at the bottom of my bag and wiped the pond water from my lenses. Being slighted by humans wasn’t new, but most knew better than to get aggressive. “Yeah?” I said, not looking up as I put my shades back on and reclined on the bench. I crossed my cold legs modestly at the ankles and stretched out.
“I’m Detective Glenn. I’m from the FIB,” he said.
Jenks snorted as he came back to my earring. “Whoopee freaking do,” he said dryly.
“Yeah?” I repeated. Nervous, I sat up and wrung my stockings out. He looked young to have made Detective. Must be the FIB was getting desperate. “I’ve got a permit.” It wasn’t for fishing in a public park, but I wasn’t going to tell him that.
The man behind the wheel looked up through the roof of his car, his attitude begging for a fight. “Captain Edden wants to talk to you,” he said across the distance.
My shoulders drooped. It was what I had been afraid of. I owed Edden a very large thank-you. The ladies on the bench watched with wide eyes, their breadcrumbs forgotten, their white-gloved hands in their laps.
“It concerns Councilman Trent Kalamack,” the FIB officer added indifferently.
“Kalamack!” I yelped, then cursed myself for having said anything. The wealthy bastard wanted me to work for him or see me dead. It depended on his mood and how well his stock portfolio was doing. I tossed my damp hair over my shoulder in an effort to look disinterested, but it lost much of its effect as the tangled curls got stuck halfway on my shoulder. The old ladies were probably savvy enough to know I was faking my cool. I was hoping the detective didn’t. “Kalamack, huh?” I amended, turning on the bench to see him better. “Why is Edden is sending a detective to fetch me? You on his hit list this week?”
He shrugged. “Get in.”
Not moving from my bench, I lolled my head to the trees’ canopy as I thought it over. “What do you think, Jenks?” I asked.
“I think he’s an ass who needs his ears cut off.”
“Not him,” I said sharply. “About Edden wanting to talk to me.”
A sigh sounding too heavy to come from someone so small escaped him. “Maybe he’s got a job for you.”
“Maybe.” I tossed the wad of my stockings into the open-weave trashcan with my soggy tissue. “But I don’t want him to think he can crook his finger and I’ll come running.”
I ran my gaze down myself in disgust. Everything but my heels tucked neatly under the bench was damp. I reeked of fish slime. The thought of the looks I’d get on the bus weren’t encouraging. I glanced at the old ladies, and one of them waved me to go with him.
“What did you say your name was?” I called out.
“Detective Glenn, ma’am,” he said, an arm now propped up on the window.
Jenks laughed. “Ma’am,” he said. “He called you, ma’am.”
I frowned. I was used to wary distrust from most humans. This guy wasn’t afraid, and it was ticking me off. Maybe he didn’t know I was a witch. “Well, Detective Glade. I’m working a very important case right now.”
Jenks snickered, and the man flushed, the red almost hidden behind his skin’s dark hue. “It’s Glenn, ma’am.”
I pushed my hair behind an ear, purposely chasing Jenks off my shoulder. “If Edden wants to talk to me, he can come to my office like everyone else.”
“Please, Ms. Morgan,” he said with obvious sarcasm. “Have some pity.”
Making trouble when I thought I could get away with it was one of my greatest joys, but I could use a ride. Jenks flitted back to perch on my hoop earring. “It would be easier than dragging that bucket onto the bus,” he said.
“Yeah.” I glanced at the two ladies, and they nodded. “Tell you what.” Pausing, I brushed the dirt from my feet and put my heels on. The red leather had looked good this morning when I was dry, but now . . . and with no nylons to keep from getting blisters? Wincing, I met his eyes. “I’ll let you drive me and my fish home. Once I get cleaned up, we will go see Edden.”
“Whatever you say, ma’am.
My eyes narrowed. I snatched up my bag and stood waiting beside my bucket until Glenn got out of the car, crossed the patch of grass, and lugged it and my net into the backseat. He was a good head taller than me, which was saying something—with nice shoulders, curly black hair cut close to his skull, firm jaw, and a stiff attitude just begging for me to smack him. Comfortably muscled without going overboard, there wasn’t even the hint of a gut on him. In his perfectly fitting gray suit, white shirt, and black tie, he could be the FIB poster boy. His mustache and beard were cut in the latest style—so minimal that they almost weren’t there—and I thought he might do better to lighten up on his aftershave. I eyed the cuff pouch on his belt, wishing I still had mine. They had belonged to the I.S., and I missed them dearly.
As he struggled not to slop the water on his nice creased pants, I settled myself in the front seat and turned the heat on full to blow my hair back. Glenn said nothing as he slammed his door shut, but his clenched jaw made it clear he wasn’t happy. Of course, he might be upset about the fish stink on his floor mats, or that a witch was sitting next to him, or that he had water on his shiny black shoes. Tough toads. I had pond water in my undies.
The old ladies waved good bye as we pulled out, and I rolled the window down and waved back. Jenks settled himself at his usual spot on the rearview mirror where the wind wouldn’t tear his wings. “Thanks for the ride, Glenn,” I said, lolling my arm out the window. I let the air pressure push against my hand as we picked up speed. I glanced at him, noticing how blocky his hands were. His grip was so tight on the wheel that his fingernails were almost white.
“My pleasure, ma’am.”
I smiled, turning it into a nasty face when he looked away. “Call me Rachel.” Settling back in the leather seat, I alternated my attention between the extra gadgets on the dash and the passing buildings flicking sunlight and shadow over me. A call came over the radio about a shoplifter at the mall, and Glenn snapped it off. A frown crossed me as I realized we were headed away from the river, towards uptown.
“Hey, Glenn,” I said as I tugged my damp skirt toward my knees. “My office is in the Hollows. You’re going the wrong way.”
“No, I’m not.”
I shifted my arm inside as he rolled the window up from his control panel. Immediately it grew stuffy. Jenks flitted to the ceiling, trapped. “What the hell are you doing?” he shrilled.
“Yeah!” I exclaimed, more irate than worried. “What’s up?”
“Captain Edden wants to see you, Ms. Morgan.” His gaze darted from the road to me. A victorious glint was in his dark eyes, and I didn’t like his nasty smile. “And if you so much as reach for a spell, I’ll yank your witch butt out of my car, cuff you, and throw you in the trunk. Captain Edden asked me to get you. He never said what shape you had to be in.”
I repeatedly flicked the switch for the window, but Glenn had locked it. Jenks alighted on my earring. “Like I said, Rache,” he said loudly. “An ass needing his ears clipped.”
I settled back with a huff. I could jam my finger in Glenn’s eye and force us off the road, but why? I knew where I was going. And Edden would see that I had a ride home. It ticked me off, though, running into a human who had more gall than me. What was the city coming to?
A sullen silence descended. I took my sunglasses off and leaned over, noticing the man was going fifteen over the posted limit. Figures.
“Watch this,” Jenks whispered. My eyebrows rose as the pixy flitted from my earring. The autumn sun coming in was suddenly full of sparkles as he surreptitiously sifted a glowing dust over the detective. I was sure it wasn’t the usual pixy dust. Glenn had been pixed.
I hid a smile behind a hand, not caring it stank like fish. In about twenty minutes, Glenn would be itching so bad, he wouldn’t be able to sit still.
“So, how come you aren’t scared of me?” I asked brazenly, feeling vastly better.
“You’re just another skinny white girl,” he said. I stared at him, and he added, “A witch family lived next door when I was a kid. They had a girl my age. She hit me with just about everything a witch can do to a person.” A faint smile of remembrance crossed him, making him look very unFIBlike. “The saddest day of my life was when she moved away.”
I made a pouty face. “Poor baby,” I said, and he went back to scowling. I wasn’t pleased, though. Edden had known I couldn’t bully him. And now I was going to have to face an entire building of FIB personnel with fish stink all over me. I hated Mondays.