One of the men shifted, noisily, and Peach jerked around, ears twitching, and bared her fangs.
“Hoh shit,” muttered one of the men further away, and Peach hissed at him, ears flattened, ready to launch off Keisha’s arm at any of them.
Her truncated tail kept flicking from side to side in her sweats, jerking at the fabric. Keisha scruffed the frantic muscles of her neck. “Breath, Peach. Deep breath. Good. Again.”
Tee Pom asks, “Your gal there okay?”
Keisha blinked hard. “Yeah,” she said, “You driving? You let her sniff you, she might calm down.”
“I’d be pleased to,” Tee Pom said gravely, moving around to where the night breeze blew downwind from him, and then he held out both his hands, palm up, as if he met nervous bagheeras every day of the week.
Peach craned her neck forward, eyes wide. She gave a distressed little whine, digging her claws into Keisha’s arm.
“Mama, easy there. He ain’t gonna rush you. Just take your time,” Keisha murmured into the ears. “Talk to me, baby. Tell me what he smells like.”
Tears welled up in Peach’s eyes. “Seung,” she said, more of a half-strangled mew than a clear name. “Blood. Smell of… sick. Two Seung.”
“Two of Seung, huh?” Keisha said.
“Seung hurt!” Peach said, struggling to get it out.
“Yeah, he was, but he’s gonna get better now,” Tee Pom agreed, looking carefully away from Peach’s wild eyes.
“Easy, mama, I hear you,” Keisha said, stroking her neck and the base of her ears.
“I’d like to get you to the clinic so you can see he’s okay now. We took him to Doctor Alexander to get help,” Tee Pom repeated.
“Thank God,” Keisha sighed into Peach’s neck fur. Then she asked softly, “Can you smell that too? Doctor smell?”
“Stinky wash cut.”
“You’re a big help talking, telling me things. I just love you to bits,” Keisha said, hugging her.
Peach looked up at Keisha nervously. “Not bad doctor?”
Keisha drew in a deep breath.
Tee Pom said quietly, “Man, there’s a gal who’s had a tough life.”
“Yeah, she has,” Keisha agreed, stroking Peach’s forearms and neck. “Good girl. Good.”
“Not bad?” Peach demanded, digging in her nails.
“I swear he’s a good doctor,” Tee Pom said solemnly, putting his hand over his chest.
“Good doctor?” she whispered, kneading her nails at Keisha anxiously.
Tee Pom murmured, “Easy now, easy, sweet gal. Seung will be fine. Alexander’s the best doctor he could ever get, I swear. Your friend Seung is gonna want to see you.”
“How bad is he hurt?” Keisha wanted to know.
“You know that thing in his back? Doctor Alexander has to take it out, tout de suite.” Tee Pom said grimly.
“Oh,” Keisha grunted, as if she got hit in the gut.
“Oh yeah. Your guy say he’s not going under without you. Tomorrow, probably. Don’t worry, the doctor takes his medicine seriously. We gotta get you ladies movin’, okay?”
Peach nudged her. Keisha loosened her frozen grip on the girl’s shoulders. Keisha blinked down at her, gave her a kiss on the forehead. “Okay, now? You okay with going to see Seung?”
Peach smelled the wind coming past Tee Pom. “Okay,” Peach growled. “Okay.”
“He smell okay to you?” Keisha asked again, feeling how her legs were shaking, and how Peach was wobbly too.
“Okay,” Peach said, and buried her face in Keisha’s shoulder, and shivered.
“Girl’s getting shocky?” Tee Pom asked.
“Yeah,” Keisha said, feeling a bit shocky herself. Peach, getting fierce like that!
“Truck’s over this way, ma’am.” He gestured, and the other guys moved back, leaving plenty of room.
Keisha took a couple of steps toward the truck. “ID,” she said, a croak with her throat so hoarse.
“Of course,” Tee Pom said, and pulled out his wallet. He turned one of the lights, held his badge into the light. “Some folks don’t believe it when I say the lawman’s gotta be adaptable, workin’ this parish.”
Keisha guided Peach into sitting down first on the truck seat, and then leaned over her, leaning on Peach. When Peach stopped shaking and shivering so much, she urged Peach to get up again, and Keisha slid onto the seat so she’d be holding Peach.
Tee Pom held out another bottle of water. “Want me to open it?”
Keisha nodded, accepted it, urged Peach to drink some more. Then she got them both tucked up into the cab, blankets pulled in, and Tee Pom shut the door. Keisha felt Peach start crying. She just stroked the soft fur, up and down, feeling hair sticking all over her crusted wet hands. Peach was stress-shedding just like a housecat. “It’s okay, mama, it’s gonna be okay. You just cry all you want, it’s okay.”
“Seung hurt bad?” Peach whimpered into her shoulder.
“I don’t know yet, but I’ll find out, mama. I am gonna find out.”
Into their open window, Tee Pom said, “We think he oughta be okay, but the Doctor still gotta figure things out on him. We all were hoping you could help on that.”
Keisha said flatly, “Maybe you should tell your buddy Fozzie he has a problem with his guy Mike. Wolfy boy with pointy Doberman ears. Mike turned Fozzie’s truck over to those… things. The guys who locked us in the shed.”
“Yeah? We will do that,” Tee Pom said. Then he nodded and walked away around the truck, talking to the other guys. “Yeah, you heard right. Mike going bad, that’s the worst kinda news. You got Fozzie’s number? You peel off ahead and get you some cell coverage, you call him right away. Whatever those bugs wanted with that truck, or with these two women, or with that other naga boy, we wanna know it.”
Mutters. Somebody growled, “Oh God, Fozz is gonna blow sky high.”
Tee Pom said, “Sure is. I want Fozz workin’ his end first. Best chance is Fozz hunting Mike down, oh, you bet–and he’s gonna ask that boy what the hell that was about. You might remind him that we might have some different questions to ask Mike too, I don’t want nobody disappearing into some bayou. Now, what I want is Mike nice and clean and pretty in a cell, ready to load up for conspiracy to commit kidnapping and battery, but we’ll be lucky if that ever happens. Still, that’s what I want, if anybody was askin’. Plus, we need pictures of those two ladies right away down the clinic, get some shots of Keisha’s poor hands. Yeah, you know it. Hope she didn’t break any knuckles.”
Tee Pom opened the driver’s side door, watching the flinches of Peach’s ears as he climbed in, as he buckled up and got the ignition going. He acted like he knew just how fast a nervous bagheera can lash out.
Keisha whispered, “I didn’t know till we tried to run away, but those guys, we saw they got these weird white crab arms… and things. Seung… called ’em bug troops.”
Tee Pom put the truck in gear. “Thank you for the warning, Ma’am, that’s a mighty big help.”
Kiesha nodded. She tucked her nose into Peach’s fur, drawing in the dusty-flower smell. Dark trees flashed by, and they just couldn’t go fast enough. All she wanted was to get hold of her boy again.