It was with grudging defeat that Richard called Anita Blake later that evening, after checking with one of his wolves working closely with the Coalition. Jay the weretiger was pretty unassuming and had not drawn any attention to himself except for the company he kept. One werefox, called Chris by everyone, and a hyena going by Ajo. He was a relative of Narcissus’, the hermaphrodite leader of the werehyenas, and allowed into town only because of that.
Narcissus did not like Ajo because he was an alpha and had no interest whatsoever in his own sex, which meant Narcissus had no real way of controlling the young shifter. Narcissus liked being in complete control of all his people.
So, Elisabeth Summers had not been picked up by one, but three shape shifters, two of which were alphas and one prime material for an omega. Strange company indeed.
Richard wondered tiredly when exactly Anita had forgotten all kinds of phone manners. “It’s me, Richard.”
Immediately the animator’s voice lost some of its openness. The werewolf suppressed a sigh. It had been a long time since he and Anita had been anything to each other and yet they still were in the habit of hurting each other every time they came into contact.
“Hello,” Anta said, quietly. She was waiting for him to bring bad news, he realized.
“I need your help.” He really hoped she appreciated how much it took for him to say these four words, especially to her.
“Who do I have to shoot,” she asked with a sigh. Why did she always assume there were going to be bodies?
“No-one. I need to find out more about one of my students and I thought you might be able to use your connections to the police to help out.” There, he’d said the h-word a second time.
He shook his head at the phone before saying, “No, I’m pretty sure she’s human. She hangs out with a tiger, a fox and a hyena, though.”
“Strange, but not enough for anyone to actually look into it. I’d have to pull a lot of favors for this one, Richard.”
“I think they might be abusing her.”
There was a long silence on the other end of the line. Then, “It’s late, Richard. Can we talk about this tomorrow? I can be at your place around ten and then you can tell me everything. I’ll see what I can do then, alright?”
It was more than he’d hoped for. But then he’d known that Anita had a soft spot for children. Especially children in bad situations.
“Alright,” he agreed, “Thank you.”
Anita had already hung up.
Anita brought breakfast bagels and a criminally large cup of Starbucks coffee for herself. Richard made himself some tea and they sat down in the garden. Open spaces were better for their tempers, for some reason.
“So, tell me what this is about.”
He took a deep breath and started. “Her name’s Elisabeth Summers. She’s an outsider at school since she moved here about a year ago. Talks to no-one, scares the students and even some of the teachers but at the same time, smart.
“I watched her get picked up by a bunch of shifters yesterday after school. The fox touched her and she flinched away as if she was hurt. Not a small wince, Anita, she looked like she really hurt. Then Jay, the tiger that moved here two years ago, you know him, commanded her into the car, while checking if anybody saw.”
He shook his head, remembering her defeated look. “They were all awfully touchy with her, Anita. Pulling and pushing at her like she was some sort of toy and she just let them. They are all older than her and probably ten times stronger and I’m worried. Coupled with her strange behaviour at school…”
He trailed off and watched his ex-fiancé take a slow sip of her coffee. She put the cup down with a thoughtful expression before saying, “How sure are you that there’s something off with her?”
Richard took a long moment to think about the question. How sure was he? He’d been a teacher for close to ten years now. Over time, he’d developed a feeling for his students’ problems, like most good teachers did. He’d known from day one that something was off with Elisabeth. He’d had a bad feeling when he’d watched her get in the car with three older men, none of which she was related to.
The feeling had turned into conviction after what he’d witnessed the day before. “I’m sure there’s something off. Perhaps it’s not abuse, but something is wrong, I know it.”
She nodded. “Then I want to meet her.”
“Richard, if I take this to the police, even unofficially, it’s going to become a mess. Abuse is always big, even more so when the supernatural is involved. You know that. We have to be really sure before we ring the alarm bells.”
“Anita.” Why did he sound like he was whining? “She’s already locked up tight. She’s sarcastic, she’s sharp, she notices things she shouldn’t. She’s….She’s acting like a female Jean-Claude on a bad day!”
The animator snorted around her bagel, almost spitting out a bite. Then she laughed. “She can’t be that
It was his turn to snort. “Worse. Even the jocks are scared of her.”
“Oh my.” She admitted, remembering all too well her own high school days and the intimidation factor of a group on jocks and cheerleaders.
“I still want to meet her.”