This wasn’t the first time chocolate got me in trouble.
I DIED FIRST, SO I MADE COOKIES.
They were popular fare on Pirate night, so I needed to make a lot. Darryl had gotten me a jumbo-sized antique mixing bowl last Christmas that probably could have held the water supply for an elephant for a day. I don’t know where he found it.
If I ever filled the bowl entirely, I’d have to have one of the werewolves move it. It ate the eighteen cups of flour I dumped into it with room for more. All the while, piratical howls rose up the stairway from the bowels of the basement.
“Jesse—” Aiden began, raising his voice to carry over an enthusiastic if off-key whistling rendition of “The Sailor’s Hornpipe.”
“Call me Barbary Belle,” my stepdaughter, Jesse, reminded him.
Aiden might have looked and sounded like he was a boy, but he hadn’t been young for a very long time. We had assimilated him, rather than adopted him, as he was centuries older than Adam and me put together. He was still finding some things about modern life difficult to adjust to, like the live-action-role-playing (LARP) aspect of the computer-based pirate game they were playing.
“It only works right if you think of me as a pirate and not your sister,” Jesse said patiently. Ignoring his response that she wasn’t his sister, she continued, “As long as you call me Jesse—that’s who you think of when you interact with me. You have to believe I’m a pirate to make it a proper game. The first step is to call me by my game name—Barbary Belle.”
There was a pause as someone let out a full-throated roar that subsided into a groan of frustration.
“Eat clamshells, you sodding buffoon,” Ben chortled. His game name was Sodding Bart, but I didn’t have to think of him that way because I was dead, anyway.
I got out my smaller mixing bowl, the one that had been perfectly adequate until I married into a werewolf pack. I filled it with softened butter, brown sugar, and vanilla. As I mixed them together, I decided that it wasn’t that I was a bad pirate, it was that I had miscalculated. By baking sugar-and-chocolate-laden food whenever I died first, I’d succeeded in turning myself into a target.
The oven beeped to tell me it was at temperature, and I found all four cookie sheets in the narrow cabinet that they belonged in—a minor miracle. I wasn’t the only one who got KP duty in the house, but I seemed to be the only one who could put things in the same place (where they belonged) on a regular basis. The baking pans, in particular, got shoved all sorts of odd places. I had once found one of them in the downstairs bathroom. I didn’t ask—but I washed that motherhumper with bleach before I used it to bake on again.
“Motherhumper” was a word that was catching on in the pack with horrible efficiency after “Sodding Bart” Ben had started using it in his pirate role. I wasn’t quite sure whether it was a real swearword that no one had thought up yet, one of those swearwords that were real swearwords in Ben’s home country of Great Britain (like “fanny,” which meant something very different in the UK than it did here), or a replacement swearword like “darn” or “shoot.” In any case, I’d found myself using it on occasions when “dang” wasn’t quite strong enough—like finding cookware in bathrooms.
I thought I was good to go when I found the baking pans. But when I opened the cupboard where there should have been ten bags of chocolate chips, there were only six. I searched the kitchen and came up with another one (open and half-gone) in the top cupboard behind the spaghetti noodles, which made six and a half, leaner than I liked for a double-quadruple batch, but it would do.
What would not do was no eggs. And there were no eggs.
I scrounged through the fridge for the second time, checking out the back corners and behind the milk, where things liked to hide. But even though I’d gotten four dozen eggs two days ago, there was not an egg to be had.
There were perils in living in the de facto clubhouse of a werewolf pack. Thawing roasts in the fridge required the concealment skills of a World War II French Underground spy working in Nazi headquarters. I hadn’t hidden the eggs because, since they were neither sweet nor bleeding, I’d thought they were safe. I’d been wrong.
The majority of the egg-and-roast-stealing werewolf pack was currently downstairs, enthralled in games of piracy on the high seas of the computer screen. There was irony in how much they loved the pirate computer game—werewolves are too dense to swim. Coyotes, even coyote shifters like me, can swim just fine—except, apparently, in The Dread Pirate’s Booty scenarios, because I’d drowned four times this month.
I hadn’t drowned this time, though. This time, I’d died with my stepdaughter’s knife in my back. Barbary Belle was highly skilled with knives.
“I’m headed to the Stop and Rob,” I called downstairs. “Does anyone need anything?”
The store wasn’t really called that, of course; it had a perfectly normal name that I couldn’t remember. “Stop and Rob” was more of a general term for a twenty-four-hour gas station and convenience store, a sobriquet earned in the days when the night-shift clerk had been left on his or her own with a till full of thousands of dollars. Technology—cameras, quick-drop safes that didn’t open until daylight, and silent alarms—had made working the night shift safer, but they’d always be Stop and Robs to me.
“Ahrrrr.” My husband Adam’s voice traveled up the stairs. “Gold and women and grog!” He didn’t play often, but when he did, he played full throttle and immersed.