An awesome welcome to the Blog Tour for A Chip on Her Shoulder by R.J. Blain!! does a happy dance because she is delighted she is part of this tour
For today’s tour stop I got a big excerpt, a giveaway (open INT, so yay!), and of course book/author information.
Rather than try to talk my brother out of the money he rightfully owed them, the local mafia’s loan sharks opted for a more permanent solution to their problem. They transformed my asshole brother, Jonas, into a chipmunk and saddled me with the bill.
My brother had lost his human life for five thousand dollars.
What a waste.
Since that wasn’t bad enough, the goons my brother had pissed off forced me to watch the entire process, which involved forcing him to drink a vial of clear fluid. The transformation took a matter of minutes, and he started screaming within seconds of consuming their concoction.
It took until he’d shrunk to half his true size to stop screaming, and he squealed instead.
Shapeshifting hurt like hell; I went through the gruesome process every few days, when my thin, human skin drove me to the brink of madness. Some days, I took on my more hybrid form, sporting a tail and my feline ears. Sometimes, I tossed in a light coat of spotted fur to ease my discomfort. Sometimes, I kept the thin, human skin to pretend I fit in with the rest of the neighborhood, hiding my tail and ears beneath my clothes. One day I’d give up on hiding my true nature. Every rare now and again, my hybrid transformation came with a full coat of fur, my ears, and my beautiful tail, something I loved.
My light coat was a mockery of my full glory, and one day, I’d master my magic so I decided which parts of me had light fur, no fur, or a thick coat best suited for wintry mountains.
My spots were my best assets, and I loved each and every one of them. Life would be so much better when I could wear my spots whenever I wanted.
When the mood struck me, the night was young, and the weather was cool, I ran as a snow leopard, displaying every one of my spots and hunting through suburbia for prey, typically one of the more annoying squirrels or rabbits to menace my garden.
I’d be hunting for bigger prey soon enough, and I kept my expression cold and calm. Warning my prey I would be coming for them wouldn’t do.
A wise huntress gave no warning before the ambush, and I would use every opportunity to crush the entire mafia. Unlike the local law enforcement, who played by civilized rules, there would be nothing civilized about me.
They had destroyed my family, so I would destroy their family. No, I would do far worse than merely destroy their family. I would destroy their ambition while I was at it. When I finished with them, ruin and suffering would be all I left in my wake.
Sometimes, I was not a very good person. Actually, no. Most of the time I was not a very good person.
I’d learned early on being good left me taken advantage of, alone, and miserable. When I did good, I did it because I wanted to, expecting nothing in return, for I’d learned that lesson well enough.
What went around rarely came around, and I’d gained nothing from any of the good I’d done in my life.
I kept my breaths slow and even, waiting while doing my best to detach myself from the reality of my situation. Panic would win me nothing, neither would fear. Patience might win me a lot, depending on what I learned in the next few minutes.
One of the thugs, someone who’d gotten into a fight with a fire and lost, held a rather nasty gun to my head to make sure I behaved.
I behaved, but only because we had one rule in our household of two: survival came first. Once I survived my current mess, I would add a new rule to our household of one and a rodent: revenge would come eventually.
I couldn’t win against eight men who’d cut their teeth on violence, not even if I transformed and put my sharp claws to good use. Not yet. I’d keep my claws a secret for a little while longer, and when I brought them out, I would shred their entire outfit.
Revenge would be mine, and I would enjoy obtaining it.
Revenge wouldn’t save my brother. If I had fought against the mafia he’d tangoed with, I couldn’t have saved him anyway. They likely would have killed us both. I’d find some way to do the impossible and restore my brother somehow. The man my brother had been was gone, replaced by a chipmunk with a rodent’s puny little brain.
No, he was still my brother, but he possessed a rodent’s puny little brain. He might remember me. He might even be able to understand English and allow me to keep him outside of a cage.
My brother was an asshole. He probably deserved some form of punishment at the hands of the mafia, but he was my asshole brother, and nobody beat him other than me.
I would make that our third household rule, and I would adhere to it.
I took my time memorizing the faces of those who’d pay for their crimes. Their scars would make them easy to identify. I wouldn’t forget their scars, I wouldn’t forget their faces, and I gave it a week for me to learn their names.
Then the fun would truly begin.
They weren’t the only ones who could get their hands on transformative drugs. It just cost a little money or having the right ingredients available. I could get the money, and I could go where the rare ingredients grew.
So hellbent on revenge, I barely remembered the conversation leading up to my brother’s transformation into a rather small rodent. I remembered the part about the money, where they wanted me to bring it and when, but the rest remained a blur.
I needed to memorize their scarred faces so I could do what an Esmaranda woman did when she got mad.
I’d get even, and I’d charge interest.
My mother, may her soul rest in peace, had taught me that from the day I’d busted out of maternal prison and escaped her womb.
Picking my brother up by his furry little tail, the lead asshole, who had a rather ugly scar over his nose where someone had failed to slice his skull in half, tossed him my way. I forgot about the gun pointed at me, scrambling to catch my brother so he wouldn’t escape. He squealed and squeaked protests before biting the hell out of my hand.
What an utter asshole. I prevented him from running away and losing all chance of becoming human again, and he bit me? When I refused to let my brother go, he took another chomp out of the fleshy part of my hand connecting my index finger and thumb.
The mafia goons laughed, and then they left.
They’d pay for that, too.
Come hell or high water, they’d pay.
* * *
As there was no way in hell I could afford my brother’s debts without selling off the shit he’d spent borrowed money to buy, I stuffed the asshole into a shoebox until I could get him into a chipmunk-proof cage. Earning the money back would take a few days, and I’d have to play the game just right.
To get revenge would require I play dumb and act like I didn’t have all the money, but some of it; I’d need to give them enough of it for them to lure me into the cycle. They’d then charge me extra interest to profit on the situation.
I’d gather information, and once I was ready, I would destroy them.
Jonas squeaked and scraped his tiny claws against the cardboard, which warned me I’d have a limited amount of time to get a cage before I would need to find some other container for him.
“You’re a pain in my ass,” I complained, taping the box closed before I transformed my hand enough I could stab holes into the lid with my claws. Jonas squeaked. “Oh, shut up. I didn’t hurt you.”
While my brother was a pain in the ass, I’d never hurt him. Well, permanently. If he ever became human again, I’d be beating common sense into his thick skull so he’d never cut a deal with the mafia ever again.
He deserved a sound beating, one that’d teach him not to be so infernally stupid.
Spewing curses that would’ve had my mother either beating the sin out of me or laughing at my creativity, I grabbed my purse, which contained the spare keys to my brother’s car. I marched for the street, where the source of my brother’s misfortune waited. The mafia could’ve taken the sporty vehicle and gotten more than they’d ordered me to give them without an issue, but no. That would’ve been too easy.
That wouldn’t have sent any messages to anyone. It wouldn’t have forced me to play their game.
Thugs like them, pasty white trash who thrived on suffering, never wanted the easy way out. They liked the hunt.
Well, they picked on the wrong woman. Not only did I get mad, I would get even, and I would bring ruin to their empire in so violent a fashion even the Devil feared me.
My brother was damned lucky I loved him. “I swear, once you’re back to human, you’re going to be licking my feet and begging for my forgiveness, you furry little shit.”
Jonas squeaked a protest and pawed at the thin walls of his shoebox prison.
“Break out of there, and I might just eat you. You’re dumber than a fucking stump. You’re lucky I’m spending a single penny on you. Tonight, I’m spending at least an hour tearing into you over this bullshit, and you will sit there and take it like a man even though you’re a rodent-brained moron now.” I growled, and when that didn’t satisfy my flaring temper, I hissed. “And the first thing I’m doing is selling this piece of shit car of yours so I can play their game. That’ll teach you, because yes, you asshole, you had to have my name on the title because you’re so shit at money no sane dealership would sell you a car otherwise. I’ll make those goons think they’ve won, and then I’ll show them the true meaning of fear.”
Making the Devil cringe in sympathy would be my gold standard.
As I couldn’t sell his car if I damaged it, I took care with driving to the pet store. Once there, I tucked the shoebox containing my brother under my arm and strolled inside, heading for the rodent section to pick his new home. A bored employee wandered over. “Need something?”
Any other day, the country bumpkin accent might’ve amused me. The kid likely spent more on gas than he earned getting to work if one of his parents didn’t work nearby. A lot of folks with some money and little sense spent two or three hours out of their day driving to jobs that barely paid their bills.
We had an unofficial rule in our household; if we couldn’t make it to work by public transit or within thirty minutes, we moved. If we couldn’t afford the rent, we didn’t take the job.
Since we owned our house, we never moved, and we took jobs close to home to pay the property tax and keep the place from falling down around our ears.
Considering the supplies, I sighed, bit the bullet, and replied, “Actually, yes. I have a rescued pet chipmunk that can’t be released into the wild, and he needs a house. It needs to be a nice house, and I need everything for him.”
“A chipmunk?” He asked, and according to his expression, I’d said the best thing he’d ever heard in his life.
“Yes, a chipmunk.” I patted the box under my arm. “I’ll need a good travel container for him, too. He’ll be coming places with me often.”
“That’s so cool!”
Great. Not only did he likely spend more on gas than he earned, he loved animals enough he wouldn’t complain about the drive or the wasted money. Oh, well. I’d benefit from his enthusiasm even if he tired me out. “Pick out the best stuff for him, and I’ll need food, treats, and toys, too.”
The kid started grabbing stuff off the shelf and adding them to my cart after asking if I liked his choices. As arguing would only extend the pain, I approved everything, expecting to wipe out most of my bank account caring for my idiot brother.
After I got his furry ass back to human, proving the impossible could be possible in the process, I’d make him pay me back tenfold, and I’d make him quake in fear of my wrath if he screwed around again.
In some ways, I envied the kid and his carefree delight in helping me shop. I worked as a slave at the neighborhood grocery store, stocking shelves because the boss didn’t trust me with the customers. He’d caught me on the street with my ears and tail, and he’d brought the CDC into it, but their fancy meters hadn’t registered any diseases, barring me from being fired as I hadn’t done anything wrong.
To keep my job, the CDC sent a damned bureaucrat over to steal some of my blood to feed to their demonic meter, confirming I wasn’t infected with lycanthropy or some other nasty disease someone might catch from coming in contact with me. Usually, they sent some doe-eyed girl to play to my nicer side, the one who wouldn’t punch her in the face for annoying me.
The first and last time they’d sent over some damned baby devil who owed someone a favor, I’d socked him in the nose and told him to fuck off and tell his master hello. The devil had stuck around long enough to steal a drop of my blood for the meter, but I’d made him pay for it tit-for-tat with interest.
Devils pissed me off.
They reminded me of the mafia, and they worked for an even nastier boss.
“There are better chews for rodents at the cash register, but if you can give me a few minutes, I’ll ask my manager if I can use the office computer to check which diet is best for a chipmunk.”
“I don’t mind paying twice, but I’d like to get him into the carry case while you do that. Help on what to feed him would be great.”
I lied in more ways than one, as until I got a chance to vent out my anger over Jonas’s stupidity, I couldn’t care less what the fucker ate, I did mind paying twice, and I only wanted to put him in a better carry case so I wouldn’t have to hunt for his ungrateful, selfish ass if he escaped me.
I did have to give the kid credit; he was as efficient as he was enthusiastic, and while I did have to ring up my order twice, it took him less than five minutes to get the information on what my rodent brother needed to eat. Jonas squeaked his protests and beat on the smooth plastic of his new carry cage, balling his little paws into fists.
I lifted him up, stared him in his beady little eyes, and whispered, “Well, it’s your own damned fault you’re like that, so you just sit your furry ass down and be grateful I didn’t toss you out on the lawn to fend for yourself.”
My brother sat his furry ass down, which offered some hope Jonas was still in his chipmunk body somewhere—or at least understood some English.
Almost two hundred dollars later but with enough toys, treats, and chews to keep my brother fed for six months, I left the pet store, loaded my brother’s car with his new habitat, and returned home.
One of the mafia goons waited for me on my doorstep, and I considered digging out the pistol hidden in my brother’s glove box. Narrowing my eyes, I leaned over, popped it open, and grabbed the weapon, checking the magazine that it had been properly loaded with bullets and making sure a round was in the chamber and ready for duty
I got out with my purse slung over my shoulder, my brother’s gun in one hand and my brother’s cage in the other. “You sent your invitation already, so you get the fuck off my lawn, or I’ll send you back to your family with a new hole. If you’re lucky, I’ll patch it before tossing you into the street so you don’t make a mess on my grass.”
As I’d expected my brother to get me into shit one way or another, I stepped so I presented as small a target as possible, extended the firearm, and waited.
The shock on his face amused me.
Revenge would be far more fun if they offered me a little challenge while I destroyed them. After all, I needed to achieve my gold standard and make the Devil cringe.
I smiled for my unwanted guest. “Did you really expect me to go unarmed after I had a gun held to my head once already today? Obviously, since you’re on my doorstep probably trying to deliver some new threat. Deliver it, then you get your ass the fuck off my property. You’ve finished your business with my brother, you’ve issued your threats, and while my brother may have broken the law, I haven’t, this is my house, and I will call the cops.”
“You’ll call the cops?”
“A bunch of men broke into my house, turned my brother into a chipmunk, and threatened me. Unlike my idiot brother here, I have a clean record and no association with you cockwombles. So, yes. I fully intend to call the cops, and if I have to shoot you first for being on my lawn and trespassing, well, that’s a pity, isn’t it?”
“How did an ass like him have a sister like you?”
“I’d say ask our ma, but she abandoned ship.” That was better than saying she’d died and left me the house since she hadn’t trusted my brother. The way I figured it, she’d been one hell of a smart woman, and I hoped she was taking over heaven along with our pa.
Nobody believed our pa had been a well-respected pastor.
He hadn’t taken the emergence well, growing up with his religious beliefs challenged by the strange and stranger. Some days, I wished the angel hadn’t come calling. My pa might’ve lived a little longer that way.
Then again, maybe not. His heart would’ve given out on him eventually.
While I usually practiced good trigger discipline, I eased my finger onto the trigger to make it clear I’d shoot if given a single excuse. “Well, what’ll it be? You going to leave peacefully, or will I be shooting you before I call the cops?”
“We don’t need to bring the cops into this.”
“You’re a lot dumber than you look. You used a transformative on him. That’s permanent. Law says I’ve gotta report his new status as a chipmunk. If you braindead morons wanted to keep the cops out of it, you should’ve done something else.”
“You’re one of those law-abiding goody-goodies?”
“I get a paycheck for becoming my brother’s caretaker, and they might be able to help me restore him back to human. If you didn’t want me calling the cops, you should have picked a different plan. Now get the fuck off my property. The safety is off, a round is chambered, and what’s one less one of you thugs out to bother people?”
“I have a message for you.”
“Deliver it by mail, then, and don’t you even think about making me pay postage.”
“I’m about three seconds from shooting you, and I really don’t give a fuck if I put the round through your forehead. You got me? If you haven’t figured out I mean business, look really carefully where my finger is resting.”
He checked, and he had enough sense to blanch. “I’ll be telling the boss about this, little girl.”
“Tell him if he wants any money out of my brother, well, you idiots should’ve left him in a form he’s capable of paying in. Leave. Now.”
He did, and he got into a black car. I made a show of clearing the chamber, popping out the magazine, replacing the round, and restoring the firearm to working order before gesturing with the weapon for him to leave.
While shooting out one of his tires would’ve appeased my temper, I let him go.
I had enough troubles without doing more than informing the assholes I wouldn’t go down without a fight.