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Home > Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson #7)(3)

Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson #7)(3)
Author: Patricia Briggs

"Oh, come on," she scoffed, determinedly cheerful. "It's Black Friday. Everyone shops Black Friday."

I looked up from the stubborn lid of my poor beleaguered car and glanced around the parking lot of Home Depot. "Obviously," I muttered.

Home Depot wasn't open at midnight on Black Friday, but the parking lot was huge and was doing a good job of absorbing the overflow from Walmart. A bicycle couldn't have parked in the Walmart lot. I wouldn't have believed there were this many people in the Tri-Cities - and this was only one of three Walmarts, the one we'd decided would be the least busy.

"We should go to Target next," Jesse said, her thoughtful voice sending chills down my spine. "They have the new Instant Spoils: The Dread Pirate's Booty Four game on sale for half off the usual price, and it was set for release tonight at midnight. There were rumors that problems in production meant before-Christmas shortages."

Codpieces and Golden Corsets: The Dread Pirate's Booty Three, better known as CAGCTDPBT - I kid you not; if you couldn't say the letters ten times in a row without stumbling, you weren't a Real Player - was the game of choice for the pack. Twice a month, they brought their laptops and a few desktops and set them up in the meeting room and played until dawn. Vicious, nasty werewolves playing pirate games on the Internet - it was pretty intense, and I was a little surprised that we hadn't had any bodies. Yet.

"Shortage rumors carefully leaked to the press just in time for Black Friday," I groused.

She grinned, her cheeks flushed with the cold November wind and her good cheer not as forced as it had been since her mother called to cancel Christmas plans during Thanksgiving dinner earlier this evening. "Cynic. You've been hanging around Dad too much."

So, in search of pirate booty, we drove across the street to the Target parking lot, which looked a lot like the Walmart parking lot had. Unlike Walmart, Target hadn't stayed open. There was a line four people deep waiting for the doors to be unlocked at midnight, which, according to my watch, was about two minutes from now. The line started at Target, wrapped around the shoe store and giant pet store, and disappeared around the corner of the strip mall into darkness.

"They're not open yet." I did not want to go where that line of people was going. I wondered if this was how Civil War soldiers felt, looking over a ridge and seeing the other side's combatants, grim and poised for battle. This line of people was pushing baby strollers instead of cannons, but they still looked dangerous to me.

Jesse looked at my face and snickered.

I pointed at her. "You can just stop that right now, missy. This is all your fault."

She blinked innocently at me. "My fault? All I said was it might be fun to go out and hit the Black Friday sales."

I'd thought it would be a good way to distract her from her mother's patented brand of guilt trip leavened with broken promises. I hadn't realized that going shopping on Black Friday (Thursday still, according to my watch, for the next minute) was akin to throwing myself on a grenade. I'd still have done it - I love Jesse, and the diversion was starting to work - but it might have been nice to know how bad it was going to be.

We drove slowly behind a host of cars also looking for parking places, eventually drifting right by the front of the store where the shoppers lurked, hunched and ready to attack the sales. Inside the store, a young man in the sadly appropriate red Target shirt walked very slowly to the locked door that was all that protected him from the horde.

"He's going to die." Jesse sounded a little worried.

The crowd started undulating, like a Chinese New Year dragon, as he reached up slowly to turn the key.

"I wouldn't want to be in his shoes," I agreed, as the boy, mission completed, turned to run back into the store, the crowd of salivating shoppers hot on his trail.

"I'm not going in there," I stated firmly, as an old woman elbowed another old woman who had tried to slip in through the doors ahead of her.

"We could always go to the mall," Jesse said after a moment.

"The mall?" I raised my eyebrows at her incredulously. "You want to go to the mall?" There are a herd of strip malls in the Tri-Cities as well as a factory outlet mall, but when one speaks of "the Mall," they mean the big one in Kennewick. The one that everyone shopping on Black Friday was planning to hit first.

Jesse laughed. "Seriously, though, Mercy. Five-quart kitchen mixers are on sale, a hundred dollars off. Darryl's broke when my friends and I made brownies with it. With babysitting money, I have just enough to replace it for Christmas if I can find it for a hundred dollars off. If we get the mixer, I'm okay with calling this experiment finished." She gave me a rueful look. "I really am okay, Mercy. I know my mother; I was expecting her to cancel. Anyway, it'll be more fun spending Christmas with Dad and you."

"Well, if that's the case," I said, "why don't I give you a hundred dollars, and we can skip the mall?"

She shook her head. "Nope. I know you haven't been part of this family long, so you don't know all the rules. When you break someone else's toy, you have to pay for it yourself. To the mall."

I sighed loudly and pulled out of the frying pan of the Target parking lot and headed toward the fire of the Columbia Center Mall. "Into the breach, then. Against mobs of middle-aged moms and frightening harridans we shall prevail."

She nodded sharply, raising an invisible sword. "And damned be he - she - who cries, 'Hold, enough!'"

"Misquote Shakespeare in front of Samuel, I dare you," I told her, and she laughed.

I was new at being a stepmother. It was like walking a tightrope sometimes - a greased tightrope. As much as Jesse and I liked each other, we'd had our moments. Hearing her laugh with genuine cheer made me optimistic about our chances.

The car in front of me stopped suddenly, and I locked up the Rabbit's brakes. The Rabbit was a relic from my teenage years (long past) that I kept running because I loved it - and because I was a mechanic, and keeping an old, cheap car like the Rabbit running was the best form of advertisement. The brakes worked just fine, and she stopped with room to spare - about four inches of room.

"I'm not the first person to misuse Macbeth," Jesse said, sounding a bit breathless - but then, she didn't know I'd just redone the brakes last week when I had some time.

I blew out air between my teeth to make a chiding sound as we waited for some cowardly driver a few cars ahead to take the left turn onto the interstate. "The Scottish Play. It's 'the Scottish Play.' You should know better. There are some things you never name out loud, like Macbeth, the IRS, and Voldemort. Not if you want to make it to the mall tonight."

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