Here’s chapter two of Go Dwarf Yourself, which releases October 4. Are you excited?
Rex and Luther slowly circled their master’s worktable as Johnny, Agent Nelson, and the woman gathered around it. The woman pursed her lips and stared at Johnny with a small, playful smile. “Are you gonna introduce us, Agent Nelson?”
“What?” Tommy slapped the manila folder down on the table and glared at the dwarf. “Yeah, sure. Johnny, this is Agent Lisa Breyer with the Bounty Hunter Division.”
“So you’re doubling up with me, huh? Magical liaison and Bounty Hunter expert working together to bring in Johnny Walker. You’re really pulling out all the stops, Nelson.”
“That was the plan,” Tommy muttered and slowly opened the manila folder before pulling out the top sheet of paper and spinning it around to face the dwarf. “This is a—”
“What are you?” Johnny jerked his chin up at Lisa, his arms folded as he looked her up and down. “Half human, obviously. What’s the other half? Light Elf?”
She smirked and shot Tommy a brief glance. “You have a good eye.”
“Yeah, I know.”
Tommy scowled at the heavy-hitting glances passing between them and cleared his throat. “Like I was saying, we have—”
“How old are you?” Johnny shrugged. “While we’re on the subject.”
Agent Nelson sighed heavily and rolled his eyes. “That’s not the subject, Johnny.”
“And I don’t think that’s an appropriate question,” Lisa added.
“Why? You don’t look older than twenty-five, maybe twenty-six.” Johnny cocked his head. “I just wanna know if I’m close.”
Lisa shook her head. “How old are you?”
Her eyes widened. “Wow.”
Tommy licked his lips in aggravation. “Yeah, yeah. We all wish we had the dwarf’s perky youthfulness. Now can we get back to—”
“I bet you’ve gained a lot of experience in eighty-five years.” The smallest part of Lisa’s bottom lip dimpled between her teeth.
Johnny smirked. “Somethin’ like that, yeah.”
“Jesus Christ,” Tommy whispered and bent his head to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Can we get back on track, here?”
“I’m thirsty.” Johnny smacked a hand down on the table, then wagged his finger back and forth between the two Federal agents. “You want anything?”
Lisa raised her eyebrows. “What do you have?”
“Little bit of everything, but I’m not gonna waste the good stuff when y’all are gonna be heading back out to wherever you came from in…” Johnny glanced at his gold wristwatch. “Two minutes. So how about iced tea?”
She pursed her lips and failed to hide her smile. “Sure.”
“I don’t want anything, Johnny.”
“Good. I didn’t ask you.” The dwarf turned and clomped off into the kitchen.
Tommy let out a heavy sigh and turned to scowl at Agent Breyer. “You too, huh?”
“Me too what?” Lisa’s smile vanished when she met the man’s gaze.
“Falling all over yourself ‘cause Johnny Walker just happens to be in the same room.”
“I’m not falling all over anything, Nelson.”
“Yeah, that’s what they all say. Until they start falling all over him.” Tommy pressed his knuckles down onto the worktable. “I don’t get it. You know? This guy’s bristly as a damn cactus. Scarred all over. Hell, half of him’s a redhead. Forget the dwarf part. I haven’t seen a single woman look at that asshole and not start drooling. What gives?”
Lisa smirked at the worktable and lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “He’s got cookie-dough mojo.”
“Cookie dough. What the fuck does that mean?”
“You know he’s not the best choice, but there’s just something about him that makes you want to eat him all up.”
“Jesus. Tell me you’re joking.”
“You asked, Nelson. I’m just giving you a woman’s perspective. And for the record, I don’t drool.”
In the kitchen, Johnny smirked as he poured the tea over two glasses of ice on the counter. That’s one of the better explanations I’ve heard. Most women can’t even put it into words.
“Hey, she said cookie dough.” Luther trotted across the kitchen, his nails clacking on the floor as he sniffed dutifully toward the fridge. “You think he has some?”
“Yeah, can you get the fridge open?” Rex looked up to shoot Johnny a quick glance before licking the side of the fridge door. “For real. We should work on that.”
“All right. Out.” Johnny pointed at the doorway out of the kitchen and toward the back door. “Go run it off, boys.”
The hounds slid and skidded around the linoleum floors before barreling through the house. Luther knocked against the doorway and yipped. “I’m gonna eat the next one!”
“Not if I catch it first,” Rex called as he leapt through the dog door.
Shaking his head with a tiny smile, Johnny returned to the glasses of iced tea, paused, and grabbed the bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label off the counter. He uncorked it and counted to three as he topped off his own drink. I’m gonna need this to get through the next thirty seconds of Nelson whining that I wasted his time. What goes around comes around, bud.
He swirled his glass, took a long sip, and shrugged before bringing Agent Breyer her uncut iced tea.
“Here you go.” Johnny set her glass down slightly in front of him, and the woman let out an uncertain chuckle as she leaned across the table to grab it.
Johnny sipped at his whiskey-tea and glanced at his watch again. “All right, Nelson. Your time’s up, and I’m still sayin’ no. Good luck, though.”
Tommy glared at him. “Just take a look.”
“I said five minutes.”
“And you spent the whole five minutes deflecting from—” The agent sniffed and glanced at Johnny’s glass. “Are you drinking right now?”
“Huh.” Johnny stared at Tommy as he took another look sip, and when he lowered his glass again, his wiry mustache dripped with whiskey-flavored tea he didn’t bother to wipe off. “And I just figured your sense of smell would’ve disappeared with your hairline.”
Tommy gritted his teeth and jabbed a finger down on the top paper of the file he still hadn’t gotten the ex-bounty hunter to read. “You said you’d take a look. Don’t think I’ll just walk out of here because you poured yourself a drink. We both know how well you hold your liquor.”
“It’s not a drink if it’s a floater.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” Johnny set his drink down on the table and brusquely swiped his hand under his mustache just to get rid of the cold on his upper lip. Then he turned and grabbed one of the rifles he’d mounted on the shelf of his workshop too—the ones he used sometimes, not the ones purely for his collection—and the long tin box beside it. The box clunked down on the table, and the dwarf opened it. With a sniff, he pulled out his cleaning rod, cleaning patches, and solvent, refusing to look up at his unwelcome guests. “I don’t like to say things more than once. And twice is already too many times, Nelson.”
“You’re really gonna make me—” With a grunt of frustration, Tommy abandoned the briefing sheet and flipped through the rest of the papers in the file. One after the other, he slapped down a series of enlarged photographs across the worktable and stabbed at each one in turn. “If you don’t want me to ease you into it, fine. I’ll just pull out the big guns.”
Johnny snorted and removed the bolt from his rifle. Then he glanced down at the photographs and paused.
The scene was laid out in front of him in five parts from five different angles. The first two were blood spatter all over the walls of a middle-class living room. The third and fourth depicted a man and woman, both in their late thirties, sprawled across the light-colored carpet now soaked with their blood. And the last was of a girl.
She lay on her side, her thin arm outstretched beneath her head. Long, light-brown hair matted with blood covered most of her face, but Johnny didn’t need to see her face to know she was way too young to be photographed post-mortem like this.
“We found them like this two days ago,” Tommy said in a low voice. “Bruce and Denise Coulier. Their daughter Claire. She was twelve.”
Johnny grunted. Yeah, he’s pullin’ out the big guns all right. A fucking child.
“She has a fraternal sister,” Lisa added. “Amanda. The assholes who did this took her. And we need to find her.”
Looking down again, Johnny inspected his rifle and grabbed one of the patches to rub down the exterior of his weapon. “How old is she?”
The agents exchanged a knowing glance. Tommy nodded. “Twelve.”
Fuck. He knew exactly what buttons to push with this one.
Johnny sniffed. “And you need me why?”
“It’s a special case for the Bureau. We want the best of the best.” Tommy pulled another sheet of paper from the file, but the dwarf didn’t give it a second’s glance. “Bruce Coulier was an investment banker. Did real well for himself and had personal ties to more than one US Senator. One of whom sits on the Bounty Hunter Department Committee.”
“Huh.” Johnny laid down the rifle and popped open the lid of the cleaning solvent before dipping the cleaning patch into it. He couldn’t look at those pictures again, and all three of them knew it. “So what aren’t you telling me, Nelson?”
“These are the facts.”
“But not all of them.”
“No.” Tommy glanced at Agent Breyer, and she raised her eyebrows in consent. “Amanda Coulier has… special powers.”
Johnny looked sharply up at the man. “You’re gonna have to be a little more specific.”
“She’s a shifter. The whole family was, and they did a damn good job keeping that lineage secret.”
“Until these bastards found out and figured they’d… what? Blackmail a senator and keep a shifter kid hanging over his head?”
“No.” Tommy rubbed his chin. “These bastards have no idea what she is. We got that information from the senator on the department committee. And they didn’t kidnap her for blackmail.”
“Then what do they want?” Johnny stuck the soaked patch onto the end of the cleaning rod and pushed it all the way through the barrel.
“A payday.” Tommy glanced briefly at the gruesome murder-scene photos on the worktable, then looked cautiously back up at the dwarf cleaning his rifle. “The kidnappers are part of an aggressive gang on the East Coast specializing in drugs and human trafficking.”
“This isn’t the first time we’ve tried to close in on the Boneblade, as they like to call themselves. And it apparently stuck. But we haven’t been able to touch them. None of our other contacts have had any better luck, and we just don’t have time to go at this our way. So we need the monster hunter.”
Johnny removed the cleaning rod from the barrel of his rifle and set it gently on the table. “This is what you brought me.”
Tommy nodded. “This is what we brought you. We need your help, Johnny, and this is the only option any of us could come up with. Trust me, a dwarf who’s been in retirement for fifteen years for very good reasons wasn’t anywhere close to our first choice.”
“You’re not making a very good case for yourself, Nelson.” Despite how low and calm Johnny’s voice remained as he reached toward the long metal box of his cleaning supplies, the kind of rage he’d spent fifteen years trying to smother flared up inside him again. Doesn’t matter what he says. He knows I’ll be on this case like a catfish on four fingers. The way I should’ve been for Dawn.
“So what d’ya, Johnny?” Tommy stuck his hands into the pockets of his black slacks. “Amanda needs you.”
The lid of the tin box slammed down into place with a sharp bang. “You need me to save your scrawny neck, Nelson. That’s what this is about.”
“This is about the girl—”
“And you came all this way to rip me out of my goddamn life knowing I can’t say no.”
“You know what?” Lisa briefly tapped the back of her hand against Tommy’s arm to stop him from saying anything else and smiled at Johnny. “I think we should start over.”
The dwarf’s red mustache bristled as he glared at her. “Little too late for that, Agent Breyer.”
“You can call me Lisa.”
“I can call you both a pain in my ass.”
Lisa nodded slowly and tapped her fingers against the worktable. “You’ve set things up pretty nicely for yourself all the way out here.”
“I wouldn’t wanna leave either, if I were you.” She shrugged. “We need to get these assholes, Johnny. And this girl deserves another shot. She can’t go home, at least not the way she’s always known it, but she can be safe. Protected. You can give her the chance to rebuild after what’s been taken from her. This is a one-shot deal. And when it’s over, you can come right back here into retirement. Deal?”
The dwarf’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t make deals. Lisa.”
Tommy slammed his hands down onto the table. “When are you gonna pull your head out of your ass?”
Johnny glanced coolly at the man and smirked.
“What’s so funny?”
With a sniff, Johnny stepped around his worktable and headed into the hall toward the front door.
“What the hell are you doing?” Tommy spun around, fuming. After all this time, the damn dwarf and one of the best bounty hunters the Department had worked with in at least twenty-five years was just as infuriating as he’d always been. “We’re not done here.”
Johnny opened the front door and let out a piercing whistle. Three seconds later, the dog door in the back clapped open and shut behind Rex and Luther, and both hounds trotted obediently through the house toward their master.
Rex licked his chops splattered with swamp water and what might have been blood. “We didn’t do it.”
“I did. Yeah.” Luther’s tongue lolled out of his mouth, bits of ripped-up reeds peppering his soaked, short-haired coat. “What are we talking about?”
Tommy stared at the dripping dogs with wide eyes and took a step back toward the doorway of the workshop.
Johnny folded his arms, and his smirk widened into a slick smile showing his perfectly straight teeth as he stared at his former government liaison. “Boys, it’s time to show Agent Nelson out.”
Tommy gawked at the dwarf as Rex and Luther let out low, matching growls. “Johnny…”
“Give him a good bite in the ass while you’re at it.”
Rex snapped at the agent and darted toward him.
“Shit!” Tommy’s shiny agent shoes squeaked across the hardwood floor as he barreled down the hall toward Johnny and the open front door.
Luther let out a sharp bark and raced after his brother and Agent Nelson. “Hey! Get back here!”
The screen door banged against the outside of the house as Tommy shoved it open and practically threw himself off the front porch. Both hounds raced after him and cleared the porch in a single leap.
“I bet he tastes better than squirrel.”
“More fat on him too.”
“Yeah, right on his fat ass. Get him!”
“Johnny!” Tommy roared. “Get these—oh, fuck!”
The man slammed himself up against the side of the SUV and narrowly avoided being tackled by Rex’s flying jump toward him. The larger coonhound slid across the dirt drive when he landed, throwing up thick plumes of dust. Tommy fumbled with the handle of the driver-side door, finally jerked it open, and scrambled into the front seat with a yelp of pain. As soon as he slammed the door shut again behind him, Luther leapt toward the door, his huge front paws slamming down on the window as he snarled in Agent Nelson’s wide-eyed, terrified face.
Rex snorted and shook his head, spitting out a shredded wad of black slacks and bright-red boxer-briefs into the dirt.
“You got him!” Luther shouted.
“No way is that better than squirrel.” Rex pawed at his snout and snorted again. “Too salty.”
With a short grunt of a chuckle, Johnny swept the front door closed and returned to his workshop. His hounds bayed outside, but whatever Agent Nelson’s next protests were, they were too muffled through his car for to be heard inside the cabin.
Johnny stopped in the doorway of his workshop and found Agent Lisa Breyer standing on the other side of the table in front of his cleaning box. His partially disassembled rifle admittedly looked pretty damn nice in her hands. Her slow smile when she looked up at him didn’t hurt, either.
“That’s not yours.”
Lisa ignored his gruff attempt to shake her and watched him with a raised eyebrow as he clomped slowly toward the table. “You’re taking the case, aren’t you?”
The closest Johnny could get to nodding was a half-assed shrug. If she thinks she can weasel more out of me than that, she’s in the wrong business.
“Then I guess you and I are a team now, Johnny Walker.”
He leaned away from her and frowned. “Uh-uh. You’re barking up the wrong tree with that one, sweetheart.”
“Why? Because I’m a woman?”
Johnny snorted. “Because I don’t do teams.”
“Hmm.” Pursing her lips, Lisa returned her attention to the rifle, and her hands kicked into action. The trigger guard and firing mechanism slid out of the stock, followed by the stock, firing rod, and the assembly rod. “I’m on this case too, whether you like it or not. You can fight me all you want, and I know I can’t force you to play nice.”
In four seconds, she had his weapon pulled apart and raised her eyebrows without looking up at him. Then she slid all the components back into the right place in the right order.
“If you insist on not doing teams, Johnny, I’ll just end up tracking the Boneblade on my own. And you. I’ll probably end up stepping on your toes. Slow you down. Or we can do this together. Who knows? I might even be more useful than you realize.”
Lisa grabbed the rod he’d removed earlier, slid it back into place, and lifted his fully reassembled rifle in both hands. Her smirk returned as she stepped around the table and stopped in front of him to hand over the rifle. “Your call.”
Johnny gazed up at her and narrowed his eyes. She knows her way around a firearm. Gotta admit it’s sexy as hell.
He sniffed. “If we do this, I’m layin’ down some ground rules. Non-negotiable.”
“I’d be disappointed if you didn’t.” She raised her eyebrows and waited for him to take back his weapon. When he finally lifted it out of her grip with one hand, her smile widened. “We leave in two hours for New York City. I’ll get my bag out of the car. Looking forward to meeting Sheila.”
She stepped past him and headed toward the front of his house.
Johnny ran his tongue along the inside of his cheek and clomped across the workshop to return the rifle to its place on the shelf. His cleaning box followed, and he shook his head. Sheila stays the hell out of this.