Peach heard the noise first, and her ears twitched alert. She sat up baring her teeth in the dim strips of light from the boat dock outside. She hissed, scrambling backward into Keisha’s embrace. “Truck!”
“I hear it. Easy now, don’t lose it here, I need your help. You hear the engines, mama,” Keisha whispered into the flattened ears. “Are those the same?”
Peach shook her head. “Other truck.”
“It’s all right, it’s gonna be all right,” Keisha told her, scruffing her neck very gently, stroking the loose furred skin down her spine. It hurt. Her fists ached from pounding on the walls. “Easy now.”
“Over here, bring the lights,” said a man’s voice, soft and accented with Cajun French. “Tee Pom, you got another crowbar? Dunno why those damn church folks ain’t noticed this extra new crap loaded onto this door. They’re blind sinners, too.”
“Here,” somebody else grunted, with the same sort of accent. “Good sign. Guy doesn’t lock things up like this when there ain’t nothing in there.”
“Sneakers, you got that bottled water? If them gals are still here, they gonna need somethin’ to drink–”
Wood creaked, and something popped, and there were multiple cracking noises.
Keisha froze, arms locked on Peach, and Peach’s nails dug into Keisha’s arms, and then eased.
“Yeah, here. Shoulda brung some sandwiches,” said a third man, with a much heavier accent. “Mon Dieu, this shed will fall apart first.”
“That’s why they strung them fence line wires round like that, hold it together.”
The wires creaked and strained, and more wood snapped and screws made squeaking, tearing noises as they popped loose.
“Allez, ladies, if you’re in there, you got nothing to be afraid of now, we goan’ open this thing and get you out. My name’s Tee Pom, okay? You in there? You hearing me? You want a drink of water first?”
Peach twisted, squirming down into Keisha’s side, and those nails were raking holes in her.
“Hey,” Kiesha said. It sounded like a growl, and instantly it went quiet outside. All the creaking and cracking noises stopped. Peach nudged her nose into Keisha’s side. “Leave water,” Keisha tried to say, and just scratchy bits of it came out as words.
“Okay,” said Tee Pom’s voice. “We open that door just a bit and let it sit for you. In your own time.”
A crack of light slashed across the broken floorboards that Peach and Keisha tried so hard to kick apart. Keisha pushed Peach back into a corner, warning her with a touch to stay there, and then she crossed the boards in a crunch of broken wood, and snatched up the water, and retreated back to Peach. She popped open the untouched bottle, warned Peach with more touches to drink small sips, and waited until Peach got a good cup of water down her throat before taking some of it herself. She felt noisy, gulping it too fast.
The men outside must be hunters, she thought, they all seemed to know how to sit quiet and listen.
“Okay,” Keisha said then. “Okay. Who you?”
“Tee Pom Jeansonne, sheriff of this parish,” said the nearest man. “Guy said he was a friend of yourn told us to come find you.”
“Who?” Keisha rasped.
“Guy says his name’s Seung.”
“Ain’t sure what he is,” Keisha said, very soft, whispering, so it won’t hurt so much to throw out that many words.
“Are you okay right now? Need anything?” Tee Pom said mildly. “You want us to bring some blankets up?”
“Good,” Keisha agreed.
“Anything you want?”
“Down the lights,” Keisha said.
“Okay,” Tee Pom said, and the strip of light on the floor narrowed and disappeared.
Keisha stood up as much as she was able to in the low shed, and shifted her legs slowly, trying to stretch aching muscles. “Peach,” she murmured, and felt Peach slide in under her arm, whimpering. “We goin’ out, okay? You gotta be brave.”
Peach whimpered softer.
“I got something with me, might scare y’all.” Keisha said. “She ain’t dangerous, but if anyone shoots at her or shit, I’m gonna be so damn dangerous y’all be sorry you was born, hear me?”
“M’am I assure you, we ain’t gonna bust a sweat. It’s been a busy night, for us an’ you-all, and we got someplace warm and dry and safe to get you to.” Tee Pom spoke softly, as if he were used to comforting little kids in scary places.
“You maybe ain’t gonna like what you see this time,” Keisha growled. “You guys all settled down, you ain’t gonna get crazy on me? I wanna hear your names. All of you.”
“Well, you heard me, Tee Pom,” he said. “Sound off, guys.”
And they did. Eight of them, by God.
“Okay,” Keisha said, and felt Peach shivering. “Open it up, we wanna see you first.”
“Okay, here’s Sneakers coming up here, he’s got some blankets,” Tee Pom said. “You ready? Okay.”
The door came open, cracking and squealing, and she was looking out at silhouettes against a light bounced off into the water, not pointed directly at the shed. Peach shivered. Keisha stroked her fur, and took a step. Peach came with her. Another step. Peach moved with her, but she was still shivering. “You okay mama?” Peach shoved her head into Keisha’s shoulder, turning her back on them all. Keisha put out one hand, and the nearest guy held out a blanket, and Keisha wrapped it around Peach. He held out another one, and Keisha draped it awkwardly over her own shoulders, hanging onto Peach with her other arm.
Keisha blinked again into the indirect light, and looked at what little she saw of their faces in the broken darkness. “She’s a bagheera.”
“Yes ma’m,” Tee Pom said. He was a heavy-built guy, bigger than a high school linebacker, but not big enough to be pro-sized. “Them kitty ears are pretty plain pointers.”
“You guys know about this? Dan said maybe…”
“What Dan is that?” Tee Pom said, still easy, friendly.
“He drove a truck. Guy named Fozzie owned it. I guess they know some folks made like Peach is.”
“Yeah,” Tee Pom said. Still soft, relaxed, calm as hell. That Chuck Yager jet pilot voice some of them used. “We got a passle of ’em living around here, in fact.”
“I took the truck. Had to.”
“How come?” Tee Pom asked.
“Dan got shot,” Keisha said, and felt a little shudder in her leg muscles.
“You know who shot him?”
“Seung does,” Keisha said. She nodded at the shed. “The guys did those locks, they took the truck. I bet Dan’s boss wants it back. You know Fozzie?”
“Yeah, I do. I bet he does want that truck. Fozzie don’t fool around, either. Does Fozzie know you?”
Keisha shook her head slowly. Peach’s snuffling routine wasn’t bringing her anything bad from these guys. “Man… Ain’t feeling so good…”
“Okay, we got a truck with room, we’ll drive gentle for you. I’d like to take you over to the clinic and have Doctor Alexander bandage your hands, take a look at both of you.”
Keisha looked down. Dark crusts on her knuckles, wet black streaks ran down her fingers.
“You’d have bashed your way out through the boards in awhile,” Tee Pom said, and his big open grin shone out in the truck lights.