"Freeze! Nobody move! This is a robbery!"
Wow. Three cliches in a row. Somebody was seriously lacking in the imagination department.
But the shouted threats scared someone, who squeaked out a small scream. I sighed. Screams were always bad for business. Which meant I couldn't ignore the trouble that had just walked into my restaurant - or deal with it the quick, violent way I would have preferred. A silverstone knife through the heart is enough to stop most trouble in its tracks. Permanently.
So I pulled my gray eyes up from the paperback copy of The Odyssey that I'd been reading to see what all the fuss was about.
Two twentysomething men stood in the middle of the Pork Pit, looking out of place among the restaurant's blue and pink vinyl booths. The dynamic duo sported black trench coats that covered their thin T-shirts and flapped against their ripped, rock star jeans. Neither one wore a hat or gloves, and the fall chill had painted their ears and fingers a bright cherry red. I wondered how long they'd stood outside, gathering up the courage to come in and yell out their trite demands.
Water dripped off their boots and spread across the faded blue and pink pig tracks that covered the restaurant floor. I eyed the men's footwear. Expensive black leather thick enough to keep out the November cold. No holes, no cracks, no missing bootlaces. These two weren't your typical desperate junkies looking for a quick cash score.
No, they had their own money - lots of it, from the looks of their pricey shoes, vintage T-shirts, and designer jeans.
These two rich punks were robbing my barbecue restaurant just for the thrill of it.
Worst f**king decision they'd ever made.
"Freeze!" the first guy repeated, as if we all hadn't heard him before.
He was a beefy man with spiky blond hair held up by some sort of shiny hair-care product. Probably a little giant blood in his family tree somewhere, judging from his six-foot-six frame and large hands. Despite his twentysomething years, baby fat still puffed out his face like a warm, oozing marshmallow. The guy's brown eyes flicked around the restaurant, taking in everything from the baked beans bubbling on the stove behind me to the hissing french fryer to the battered, bloody copy of Where the Red Fern Grows mounted on the wall beside the cash register.
Then Beefcake turned his attention to the people inside the Pork Pit to make sure we were all following his demands. Not many folks to look at. Monday was usually a slow day, made even more so by the cold bluster of wind and rain outside. The only other people in the restaurant besides me and the would-be robbers were my dwarven cook, Sophia Deveraux, and a couple of customers - two college-age women wearing skinny jeans and tight Tshirts not unlike those the robbers sported.
The women sat shocked and frozen, eyes wide, barbecue beef sandwiches halfway to their lips. Sophia stood next to the stove, her black eyes flat and disinterested as she watched the beans bubble. She grunted once and gave them a stir with a metal spoon. Nothing much ever bothered Sophia.
The first guy raised his hand. A small knife glinted in his red, chapped fingers. A hard, thin smiled curved my lips. I liked knives.
"Chill out, Jake," the second guy muttered. "There's no need to scream."
I looked at him. Where his buddy was blond and beefy, robber number two was short and bone-thin. His wispy hair stuck up due to uncontrollable cowlicks instead of an overabundance of product. The locks were a bright red that had probably earned him the nickname Carrot at some point. Carrot shoved his hands into his holey pockets, shifted on his feet, and stared at the floor, clearly wanting to be somewhere other than here. A reluctant sidekick at best. Probably tried to talk his buddy out of this nonsense. He should have tried harder.
"No names, Lance. Remember?" Jake snarled and glared at his friend.
Lance's bony body jerked at the sound of his own name, like someone had zapped him with a cattle prod.
His mouth dropped open, but he didn't say anything.
I used one of the day's credit card receipts to mark my place in The Odyssey. Then I closed my book, straightened, slid off my stool, and stepped around the long counter that ran along the back wall of the Pork Pit. Time to take out the trash.
The first guy, Jake, saw me move, out of the corner of his eye. But instead of charging at me as I'd expected, the half giant moved to his left and jerked one of the girls up and out of her booth - a Hispanic girl with a pixie haircut.
She let out another squeaky scream. Her thick beef sandwich flew from her hand and spattered against one of the storefront windows. The barbecue sauce looked like blood running down the smooth, shiny glass.
"Leave her alone, you bastard!" the other woman shouted.
She jumped to her feet and charged at Jake, who backhanded her. He might only have been a half giant, but there was still enough strength in his blow to lift the woman off her feet and send her careening into a table.
She flipped over the top, hit the floor hard, and gave a low groan.
By this point, Sophia Deveraux had become a little more interested in things. The dwarf moved to stand beside me. The silver skulls hanging from the black leather collar around her neck tinkled together like wind chimes.
The skulls matched the ones on her black T-shirt.
"You take right," I murmured. "I've got left."
Sophia grunted and moved to the other end of the counter, where the second woman had been thrown.
"Lance!" Jake jerked his head at the injured woman and Sophia. "Watch those bitches!"
Lance wet his lips. Pure, uncomfortable misery filled his pale face, but he stepped around his friend and trotted over to the injured woman, who had pushed herself up to her hands and knees. She shoved her wild tangle of blueblack hair out of her face. Her pale blue eyes burned with immediate hate. A fighter, that one.
But Lance didn't see her venomous look. He was too busy staring at Sophia. Most people did. The dwarf had been Goth before Goth was cool - a hundred years ago or so. In addition to her skull collar and matching T-shirt, Sophia Deveraux sported black jeans and boots. Pink lipstick covered her lips, contrasting with the black glitter shadow on her eyelids and the natural pallor of her face.
Today, the color motif extended up to her hair. Pale pink streaks shimmered among her cropped black locks.
But Jake wasn't so dumbstruck. He pulled the first woman even closer, turned her around, held her in front of him, and raised the knife to her throat. Now he had a human shield. Terrific.
But that wasn't the worst part. A bit of red sparked in the depths of his brown eyes, like a match flaring to life. Magic surged like a hot, summer wind through the restaurant, pricking my skin with power and making the scars on my palms itch. Flames spewed out from between Jake's clenched fingers, traveling up and settling on the knife. The blade glowed red-orange from the sudden burst of heat.