"Freeze. Right. There." The guy at the bar stood up, balanced on the balls of his feet.
Twin glares turned his direction, then eyes widened and they backed away.
"She started it!" One of them jerked a thumb her direction, but his tone was wobbly.
"No, she didn't." Buzz-cut strolled over to the boor. "But she sure finished it. So Finny, you need an ambulance?"
"Ah, no, I can get there on my own!" A breathless wheeze.
"You stupid enough to file charges?"
"We'll take him!" One of the other guys grabbed the boor and steered him out.
The third guy followed reluctantly. "Who is that guy?"
"Oljo!" A not-silent-enough hiss. "Head of the Wrecking Crew."
"Oh shit," Number Three suddenly looked really eager to leave.
Buzz-cut . . . Oljo . . . turned and looked her up and down. "How's your hand?"
Ruin wiggled the fingers carefully. "It's fine." Hurts like hell! Not that I'm going to admit it to . . . is the Wrecking Crew a criminal gang?
"Right. Now are you going to file charges?"
Surely not police . . .
She shook her head. Made it hurt worse.
"Ruin! What were you thinking?" Fayt hustled up. Her dance partner gave Buzz-cut a single glance and faded away. "Geeze, why not dance with that guy?"
"Because I didn't want to." She glanced beyond Fayt to where Granny was glowering at her. "I'll go figure out this Metro thing and see you back at the apartment. Have fun!" You stupid slut. My fault for not listening to the warning signs that your Granny was not . . . never mind. She's not from a small town in the back of beyond. My fault for not being cautious.
Fayt looked at her wide-eyed, then down at the comm in her hand. "Maybe I shouldn't have called Ice."
Oljo started grinning. "Ice? Oh, don't tell me Ice-kah Tall Trees has interns!"
He knows Ice?
"He said he'd come." Fayt's voice got a little high. "This wasn't a good idea, our first day."
Buzz-cut laughed. "First day? Oh, excellent. This I want to see." He stooped to pick up
Ruin's chair, set it down and waved her into it. "Quite apart from poor Fanny standing there with your drink and nachos."
Ruin sank down in the chair. "I don't suppose you could arrest me and get me out of here before my boss arrives?"
"Not a chance."
The cold drink helped her headache and even shopped the shivering a bit. She nibbled on a nacho and eyed the door.
Oljo thought it was funny. "So . . . have you ever considered a career in Law Enforcement? I could use someone who can power punch like that."
She eyed him. "Umm . . . No?"
His grin widened as he leaned back and looked at the entrance. "Oh, you get both of them."
Ice stalked into sight, ignoring the hostess, a woman followed him. Tall, obviously but not hugely pregnant.
Ice nodded to Buzz-cut. "Oljo, good to see you again." His gaze swung over to Ruin, and then Fayt. "I've never had interns before. I really hope bar brawls isn't the usual first day behavior."
Oljo snickered, and stood up and shook hands. "Three men looming, one verbally obnoxious, and grabbed her arm. Was told twice to let go, tried to kiss her. The power punch was, perhaps, a bit of an over-reaction."
He paused to glance at his comm. "Two broken ribs. No big deal. No charges either direction. So . . ." He eyed Fayt and Granny.
Ice nodded. "Good. Now . . . Madam Fear, your granddaughter and her fellow student are here to work. Taking them out drinking is a bad idea any time, let alone on a work night. Not to mention that they are just twenty years old, so taking them to a pickup joint is in very bad taste." He shook his head. "However you are all adults. Madam Fear, if you wish to stay I will take home anyone who wishes to get out of here."
All delivered in a drawling superior tone that had her wanting to crawl under the table.
Granny stiffened. "Oh? Want to get the girls alone, do you?"
The tall woman snorted. "Ice doesn't pick up young women at all let alone in front of his wife with his children waiting in the car." She inclined her head to Ruin and glanced at Fayt. "We were headed for dinner, if you two would like to join us."
A sniff from Granny. "And who might you be?"
"Keiq Withione Gold Port Colorado. I'm the Head of Bank and Securities Fraud, Internal Relations."
Section head! One level below subdirector? Thank the One I have zero financial training. Because I've made a rather poor first impression on someone who might be the boss of a potential boss . . .
"And you're not inviting me to dinner with my granddaughter?" Granny raised her eyebrows.
Oh One! Now they'll have to be polite and . . .
"No. I have children I don't want exposed to you."
Ruin stood up and looked for the waitress. "Let me pay up and I'll be right with you."
Granny jumped in, protesting that she'd get it.
Ruin tried to figure out how to say she'd done enough already without it sounding . . .
Ice handed a cash card to the hovering Fanny. "Let's get out of this linguistic horror."
Oljo laughed. "Linguistic Horror?"
"Yes. The unmangled saying is 'Vive La France.' France being the country, and français the language, which is gendered. The closest thing to 'Franswah' I can think of is François, a man's name. Which, unlike the extinct nation of France, which should have the female 'la,' does not get either 'le' or 'la' stuck in front of it."
Well, at least the worst of the drawl is gone.
Oljo laughed. "Latin's the only dead language I ever had an interest in learning. How many do you speak?"
"Lots. If you find one I don't know, I'll remedy the matter."
Ruin looked back at Fayt.
Who shook her head. "I'd better keep an eye on Granny."
"Then stop drinking and do the driving. Or take an autocab." Ruin turned and followed Madam Keiq out the door Ice was holding.
Bit her lip. "I should make sure Fayt get's home . . ." and turned back. Bounced off Oljo.
"Nope, an obvious sweet innocent like you will attract the the creepers like flies to honey. She's made her choice, she can deal with the consequences." Oljo grinned. "I'll give it fifty-fifty Ice gets a call to bail her out of the drunk tank."
Ruin winced, but turned around and . . . Holy . . . a limo?
"It's an illusion." Ice snorted. "Some people get upset when I show up in a battered ute." He opened the middle door and waved her in.
Ruin stepped up, paused at the sight of the other woman . . . girl.
"C'mon in. I'm Lada." Big brown eyes, sleek brown hair. Beautiful, with a promise of future awesome.
On the inside, the ute looked a lot more like a working vehicle, with three rows of bench seats, each with its own doors, and space behind the third seat for cargo. A head full of black hair and two dark eyes peeked suspiciously over the back of the seat.
"That's Animal. Believe it or not, she's human."
A growl from the back seat.
Ruin slipped in and sat.
Ice started the car and turn for the parking lot exit . . . stopped abruptly.
A thump from the back of the ute.
Ice got out and opened the back door as Fayt staggered around from the back and climbed in without a comment.
Ruin turned in time to see something black slide over the seat back and into the cargo space.
No one said anything as they got started again.
Four blocks and they turned into another parking lot. "Fayt, how are you feeling?"
"Umm, terminally embarrassed? Granny started in on your cop friend, and . . . I suddenly realized I was in training to be just like her, but at a much earlier age."
"I'm glad you decided to come with us. I . . . have no idea whether I'm supposed to even notice if my interns have a private life, but anyone smart enough to get into the School has a lot better prospects than perpetual drunken party girl."