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Quote of the day: “I’d have been dead a long time ago if not for my friends, one of whom had just jumped off the cliff after me.
I’d have been a lot more appreciative if he hadn’t pushed me first." Cassandra Palmer ― Hunt the Moon by Karen Chance

Monday, June 14, 2010

Kitty Goes To War by Carrie Vaughn- Chapter 1 Expert!

Yay!
So, it's no secret, I LOVE Carrie Vaughn and Kitty! I was hooked from book one, and anticipate each new book! I thought Kitty's House of Horrors was amazing, and couldn't wait for the next Kitty book the moment I finished it. Now, that Kitty Goes to War is coming close, I'm so excited I could squeal!!!

For all you Kitty Lovers, here's a Chapter 1 expert:

Kitty Goes to War
by Carrie Vaughn
July 2010 from Tor Books


Chapter 1


I sat at my desk, my monitor and microphone in front of me, maps and notebook paper spread over the whole surface. I was writing down addresses and marking points on the map as people called in.

"So you're saying it burned down and nobody could find out why?" I asked Pam from Lexington.

"That's right," she said. "My friend Stacy who's kind of a witch said it's because it was on a crossroads, and something demonic must have happened there, one of those deal-with-the-devil-type things, and the energy overflowed and incinerated it. Could she be right?"

"I don't know, Pam," I said. "That's why I'm discussing the topic, to find out if these events are all coincidence or if something spooky really is going on here. Thanks for the data point. Okay, faithful listeners, that gives me about a dozen independently verifiable stories about supernatural happenings at Speedy Mart convenience stores all over the country. This is already more than I thought we'd get, so keep them coming."

After the third person suggested that something weird was going on at Speedy Mart, I started paying attention. And wondering. And remembering a couple more stories I'd heard about intersections between the chain of stores and weirdness. Then I decided to devote an episode of my call-in radio show to the subject. It turned out that maybe something strange was going on here. That didn't explain why the Speedy Mart chain would have anything supernatural associated with it.

"My next caller is Al from San Jose. Hello, Al."

"Hi, Kitty. I'm such a big fan, thanks for taking my call."

"Well, thank you, Al. What's your story?"

"It's more of a question: is it true that Speedy Mart hires vampires to work the night shift?"

"Funny you should ask," I said. "I once got a call from a vampire who said he was working the night shift at a Speedy Mart. Now, I don't think this means that it's a matter of policy that Speedy Mart hires vampires. I think this guy just needed a job, and there's only so many places open in the middle of the night. But you can definitely see the advantages of hiring the ageless undead to work behind the counter. I imagine they don't get too freaked out about holdups."

"But there's probably not a whole lot of career advancement for vampires there," he said.

"Does anyone working the night shift at Speedy Mart have a lot of opportunities for career advancement? Although with vampires it would literally be a dead-end job." I chuckled. I really shouldn't laugh at my own jokes so much. "Right, we have Chuck from Nevada. Hi, Chuck."

"Hey, Kitty! How you doing?" He was brash, a real talker. This ought to be good.

"I'm doing just great," I said, the standard line. "Where in Nevada are you?"

"Area 51."

Deadpan, I said, "Really?"

"Okay, yeah, I'm from a little town about thirty miles up the freeway from Las Vegas. Near Area 51. And you want to talk about weird stuff going on with Speedy Mart, I've got a story for you."

"Lay it on me."

"UFOs."

I leaned back in my chair. "Okay, now you're just making crap up."

"No, seriously, we get sightings all the time. We're one of the stops on the Southwest UFO tour. The Speedy Mart parking lot is one of the best places to see them. UFO hunters park out there with their lawn chairs and binoculars looking for them. It's, like, UFO central!"

"If you say so, but like I always say, there's weird and then there's weird. But I suppose a data point's a data point. Thanks for calling." I didn't have to tell him I wasn't actually going to mark that location on my map. We'd call it an outlier. A real far-out outlier.

I continued. "The real question here is: why Speedy Mart? Is it a coincidence? Does the supernatural really have some kind of strange affinity for this specific convenience store chain over any other? Or is it a conspiracy? Is there a guiding hand behind these stories? A dangerous hand? I'm not sure it's possible to answer any of these questions, which is always the trouble with this sort of thing, isn't it? It turns out the Speedy Mart chain is a privately owned company, which makes its records harder to get at. The owner and president of the company is Harold Franklin, who seems to have a typical upper-middle-class white guy upbringing, degree from Harvard Business School, vacation home in the Hamptons and all that jazz. Nothing to suggest he'd be behind any kind of far-reaching conspiracy. But who knows? For a company that's managed to open branches all over the country, not many people seem to know anything about it. It all seems a little strange to me."

I checked the monitor and picked what looked like was going to be a live one: the caller wouldn't give his or her name and city, but claimed to have worked at a Speedy Mart for several years.

"All right, it looks like we have someone from the inside on the line, a former employee of Speedy Mart. Hello, you're on the air."

"Um, hi." The voice was female, hushed, like she was trying to keep from being overheard.

"So you worked at Speedy Mart," I prompted.

"Yeah. For a couple of years when I was in college."

"You were a night-shift clerk?"

"I worked whenever I could get the hours. Sometimes at night."

"And did you notice anything strange during your time there?"

"I don't know. I didn't think it was all that strange at the time. I mean, I thought it was strange, but not supernatural strange or anything. These people would come in around midnight, about once a month. They'd be wearing cloaks. I just thought they were from some science fiction convention or Renaissance fair, driving home late. Strange but harmless. But looking back on it, they weren't really the Renaissance fair type, you know? These were all older guys, middle aged and clean cut, dressed normal except for the cloaks. They came in, walked all over the store, all the way to the back and every aisle, like they were looking for something. They never bought anything—total freak cheapskates. They were just some weird club. I never did anything about it because they didn't hurt anything, they weren't trying to rob me or anything, what was I going to do? I couldn't kick them out just because they didn't buy anything."

"What do you think they were doing?" I said, intrigued. I tried to imagine it, cloaked men walking around the store, every month—during what phase of the moon, I wondered? The whole thing screamed ritual.

"I don't know, that's why I'm calling. I thought maybe you would know."

"Well, that these men repeated the same action every month for—how many months?"

"I worked that shift for maybe six months. It happened every month," she said.

"And do you know if it was at the same time of the month? The same phase of the moon maybe?"

"I didn't pay attention—do you think it's important?"

"I don't know. The thing is, repetition says to me some kind of ceremony or ritual was going on. That means some kind of magic, some kind of power. Or at least they thought so—it may not mean anything. Can you tell me where this was?"

"No, I can't, I shouldn't even be calling, I—good-bye." The phone clicked off.

Dang. I'd have marked that spot on the map with a big star next to it. Of course, it could be coincidence—some weird local club had an initiation ceremony involving nothing more devious than wandering around the local Speedy Mart. Somehow I didn't think that was likely.

I checked the clock, and we had the time, so I clicked the next call through. "Hello, Charles from Shreveport. What's your story?"

Charles from Shreveport talked fast. "You're right about Speedy Mart. And Harold Franklin. He's up to something. And someone has to stand up to him before it's too late."

I assessed the voice: male, quick, a little thin. Kind of eager, or desperate. Not laid back, not a disbeliever calling in to try to get a rise out of me, not someone with a deep personal problem. He didn't have the accent to go along with his Louisiana location. After doing this show for years, I'd become a pretty good judge of voices. Most of my callers fell into certain categories, and I could usually tell which one after a sentence or two. This guy had something to say, and he was the kind of person who thought late-night talk radio was a good soapbox.

"What's he up to, Charles?"

"I've been tracking Franklin's movements for decades. For example, in late August 2005, he spent four days in New Orleans, did you know that?"

"No. What has that got to do with anything?"

He sounded like he was reading off a list. "Biloxi, Mississippi, in August 1969—that was his first big showing. He was supposedly on a fishing trip right after college, but you know what happened next. He's only gotten more ambitious since then. February 1978 in Boston, April 1991 in Bangladesh, October 1991 in Nova Scotia."

How intriguing. My favorite kind of call—devoted and a little crazy. "How do you know all this? Have you been stalking him?" I was buying myself a little time, trying to figure out what Charles's pin markers in space and time meant. I wished I had an Internet browser on hand.

"He always leaves a couple of days before the worst of it hits. Always."

"The worst of what?"

"The worst of the storms!"

New Orleans, August 2005. Matt, my board operator, knocked on the booth window, and I figured it out at the same time I read the scrawled note he pressed to the glass: KATRINA.

Biloxi '69: Hurricane Camille, wanna bet? And if I looked up the rest, I'd probably find other epic hurricanes, blizzards, perfect storms.

I leaned into the microphone. "What are you saying, Charles? That Harold Franklin has really bad luck with the weather?"

"I'm saying it's not luck," he said.

"Do you know that experiments have shown that people have a tendency to find patterns, even when no actual patterns exist? In our attempts to make order out of the universe, we see connections where there just aren't any." Playing the skeptic—the term devil's advocate made me nervous when we were talking about the supernatural—usually got my callers riled up, which had high entertainment value. But it also made them explain themselves. Made them delve, and often exposed more information.

Frustrated, he said, "If he was at any one of those locations it would be a coincidence but not noteworthy. But the fact that he was at all of them? Right around the time of some of the most destructive storms in modern history? And doesn't it make you wonder about the storms before modern history? That maybe Harold Franklin is just the latest in a long line of weather terrorists? Did you know that some people believe that the storm that scattered the Spanish Armada in the English Channel in the sixteenth century was created by English witches?"

"How did you get so interested in this?" I said. "How did you know to look for Franklin?"

"Have you ever met him?"

"No."

"Well, I have. And there's something off about him. I think he should be brought to justice for what he did to New Orleans."

He certainly wasn't alone in thinking someone ought to be brought to justice for happened to New Orleans. But most people were referring to events after the hurricane, not the hurricane itself.

"The thing is, Charles, science provides us lots of perfectly reasonable, natural explanations for how storms happen. Most people will say that Katrina wasn't anyone's fault. There's no need to go looking for malevolence."

"It's a nice little arrangement, isn't it? He wreaks all this havoc and everyone just writes it off on convection currents."

The guy may have been a crackpot or he may have been spot on the money. But I ran into the problem I usually ran into when dealing with the supernatural: how did we go about proving this connection?

"Charles, thank you very much for calling, but I'm running out of time and need to move on, all right?"

"As long as you listen to me. You have to listen. You're the only one who can do anything to stop him."

I highly doubted that. I highly doubted there was anything to do.

Matt gave me a neck-cutting signal through the window, then held up a finger—one minute to go. I'd been doing the show long enough that my sense of timing was pretty good—I'd given myself just enough time for a closing.

"All right, folks, we're out of time. I want to thank everyone who called in for helping me out on my little research project. I'll certainly let you know if anything comes of it. In the meantime, I've said it before and I'll say it again: you never can tell what's out there. So good night, stay safe, and until next week this is Kitty Norville, voice of the night, on The Midnight Hour."

The on-air sign dimmed, and the recorded closing credits rolled, a familiar wolf howl playing in the background. My own wolf howl, my other voice, the other half of my being.

I slumped back, exhausted, pulled my headphones off, and rubbed some feeling back into my ears. Matt came in to stand in the doorway between the booth and studio. He was stocky, and he'd recently cut his black hair short. Way short. He used to wear it in a ponytail, but he'd noticed it was thinning up top and didn't want to end up like our boss, Ozzie, KNOB's station manager, who compensated for his thinning hair by growing his graying ponytail even longer.

Just another little change in the world. If you didn't pay attention to the little changes, you'd wake up one day and the whole universe would be different.

"How do you think it went?" I said.

"I think it went fine," he said. "I always like it when you do investigative stuff. But it's going to suck if you don't actually find some conspiracy. Al Capone's vault, baby."

"That won't matter," I said. "No conspiracy theory ever really dies. I'll be perfectly happy if nothing comes of this, because then I won't have to look over my shoulder every time I drive past a Speedy Mart."

"You do spend an awful lot of time looking over your shoulder, don't you?" he said, and I grimaced, because he was right.

I was sick and tired of secrets and conspiracies. These shadow groups, entire shadow worlds that seemed bent on destruction, with the rest of the world none the wiser. The worst part was how justified I was in feeling like a conspiracy-theory nut. I'd seen the results with my own eyes. I'd bled over it.

No more. No one else should have to die for shitty power games. If something was going on with Speedy Mart, I'd figure it out. If nothing was—then that was just fabulous, too. I'd be happy looking like an idiot if it meant nothing was wrong.

Matt and I said our farewells for the night. Outside the building, Ben was already parked at the curb, waiting to pick me up. My sense of relief and pleasure at seeing him in his car, looking out the window at me, was physical, a warm flush across my skin.

It didn't matter how many times we played this scene out—my crawling into the passenger seat after my shift, leaning into each other for a kiss hello—it never got old.

I leaned in for a second kiss, and a third, this one long enough to taste him.

"Hm. Hello to you," he said, when we finally broke apart. "You okay?"

"Yeah," I said with a sigh. "Just a little tired." I kept my hand on his leg as he drove away from the curb; even that light contact helped me relax. I could feel warmth through the fabric of his pants, and the flexing of his muscles as he pressed the gas pedal.

"Are we going out or going home?" he asked.

"Home," I said. "I don't want to talk to anyone else but you right now."

Ben smiled his crooked smile, and all was right with the world.

#

Trees meant safety. Forest was home. So when I felt trapped, it was in a building, an impossibly vast mansion, with corridors turning at sharp angles, floors rising and falling steeply. I ran, not knowing if I was on two legs or four. It felt like four, but my skin was smooth, furless, which meant I hadn't turned Wolf. I could smell blood, rotting blood, but I couldn't track it. It was everywhere. Sometimes blood meant food, sometimes it meant danger. Conflicting feelings of desire and terror confused me. It meant I ran without resolve, even though danger was close at hand, in the next room. Other people were here, also fleeing, and if we could only find each other we'd all be safe. But I couldn't find anyone. I couldn't save anyone. I was alone, running and cornered at the same time, and when a shot rang out, I flinched, feeling the burning pain through my body—

—and woke up, sitting up, breathing too fast, my pulse racing in my throat, painful.

"Kitty, shh, it's okay. Calm down." Ben was right there, arm across my shoulders, face close to mine, whispering comforts. I'd woken up like this before.

When I could separate myself from it, I knew what the dream was: the building that trapped me was the lodge in Montana where I'd been hunted with a dozen others. Five of us had escaped. We survivors had all been wounded to one degree or another.

I still had nightmares, months later.

I covered my face with my hands and took a deep breath. Part of me was still flailing, terrified, furious, looking for a way to lash out with claws and sharp teeth—my Wolf side, surging to the fore. It took all my self-control to soothe her, to pull her back into the cage. I imagined all that power shrinking to a hard knot in my belly. As long as my heart kept racing it was difficult to listen to Ben, my husband.

"Keep it together," he murmured, nuzzling my neck, a wolfish gesture of comfort. He stroked my hair, and finally my heartbeat slowed, my muscles unclenched, and I could breathe without thinking about it.

Human now—mostly human—I slumped into his embrace, wrapped my arms around him, and let out a sigh. I was safe, I was home. Kneeling in bed, we held each other for a long time.

"You okay?" Ben said finally, his breath ruffling my hair.

"I don't know." My voice was muted by his shoulder, where I rested my head and took in the scent of him. "I dream about them." The ones I hadn't saved; Ben knew.

He pulled away and smoothed my hair back. "You think maybe you should talk to someone about this? Get some counseling?"

Ben's gaze was full of concern, and maybe a little frustration. He'd skirted around the subject before, and I'd dodged because I liked to think I was a tough girl.

I scratched my head and rubbed my eyes, which ached. I needed more sleep, and I was starting to hate sleeping. "I thought I could handle it."

"I know," he said. "I would just really hate to wake up one night and find your wolf tangled up in the sheets. How would I explain the growling to the neighbors?" The condo complex had a no-pets policy. If I ever did lose it and turn Wolf—yeah, that might get a little noisy.

"That would almost be amusing enough to try it," I said, turning a lopsided grin.

"How about I let you talk to them when the complaints come in?"

"How about I just try real hard not to turn Wolf in the house?"

His brow furrowed, giving him a perplexed look. "Do other lycanthropes have house rules like that? No shape-shifting indoors? No silver in the silverware drawer?"

Ben was still getting used to being werewolf. He was good at overanalyzing the situation, which I found endearing. Even in the dark, I could make out his form and features: his lean frame, handsome face, shadowed eyes that would be hazel in the light, and scruffy hair sticking out, begging me to comb it with my fingers. So I did. That pulled him close to me, and we kissed, his warm mouth lighting my nerves. Lingering tension melted away, and I pressed my naked self to his naked self. He pulled me under the covers, and sufficiently distracted, I felt much better.

#

Monday, back at the office, I spread the map from the show across my desk. I'd marked a dozen spots, locations where people had told me intriguing stories about Speedy Mart. The marks were spread all over the country, in no discernable pattern. So much for that idea. I was about ready to pass it all off as some statistical anomaly—it wasn't that crazy stuff only happened at a Speedy Mart, it was just that no one talked about it when it happened anywhere else.

I was still pondering when I got a call. "Hi, Kitty? This is Lisa down in reception, I've got a letter here that you need to sign for."

"Really? Okay, I'll be right down." Now this was exciting. I wasn't expecting anything fancy. Certainly nothing I needed to sign for.

I went down the hallway from my office, and down the stairs to the lobby of the KNOB building, where a reception desk against the back wall faced the glass front doors. Lisa, a prim, professional twenty-something, was standing with a delivery guy. He looked to be from a courier service rather than from the postal service or one of the big parcel companies. He wore a jacket with a company logo, but a plain shirt and slacks rather than a uniform. They both looked up at my approach.

"Are you Katherine Norville?" the guy said. He held an nine-by-twelve manila envelope and a clipboard.

"Yeah."

"Could you sign here?" He pointed to the line of the form on the clipboard, showing that, yes, I did receive the envelope in question. Then he handed me the envelope.

"Have a nice day," he said, with kind of a leering smile, then sauntered out of the building.

"What is it?" Lisa said. "You expecting anything cool?"

"Not a thing." I'd started to have kind of a bad feeling about this. The envelope wasn't all that thick; it probably had some kind of document in it. Something official and important, no doubt, to be delivered by private courier. I opened it right there at the reception desk .

It was indeed a document, only a few pages thick, fairly innocuous looking. But the cover letter was printed on linen stationery and had an intimidating logo and letterhead with a string of names and "Attorneys at Law" after it. I read the text of the letter a couple of times and still wasn't sure what exactly it said. But I got the gist of it.

"Huh," I said. "I'm being sued for libel."

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